Scottish bands have been no strangers to the American pop charts. Think Bay City Rollers in the '70s, Simple Minds in the '80s and even Snow Patrol right now. But the best Scottish bands have never come close to charting in America and some never even released much of any music here.
So, Domino Records' reissues of the classic alternapop of bands like Orange Juice, Fire Engines and Josef K come as a revelation for those of us who loved this quirky, poppy music 25 years ago. And they will help introduce these bands to younger alternative music fans who will adore the unadorned precociousness of these guitar-fueled bands.
Might as well start at the top. Orange Juice was started by Edwyn Collins (at left in photo above), Stephen Daly and James Kirk in Glasgow in the late '70s thanks to a Velvet Underground fixation and the swirling influence of contemporary bands like The Slits and Subway Sect.
Collins' unmistakable guffaw of a voice and the intermingling guitar lines he and Kirk traded made Orange Juice's early Postcard 45s treasures. They helped get the band a major label deal and the first three Polydor LPs were also awesome (although purists will scoff at that premise).
"The Glasgow School," packaged like a small hardcover book, collects the nine tracks released on the four original Postcard 45s and adds the 12 songs recorded for the Postcard LP never issued at the time (but later released as "Ostrich Churchyard"). Two previously unreleased tracks round out this reissue that comes with great song-by-song liner notes penned by Daly.
With all due respect to Aztec Camera and the rest, Orange Juice was by far the best band in the Postcard stable and the one that has had the most enduring effect.
But don't discount Josef K, appropriately named after the Kafka anti-hero. Also taking cues from the Velvets, Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross (who later joined Orange Juice) and company added a dose of the herky-jerky artiness of bands like Pere Ubu and the out-there-ness of Captain Beefheart to create a frantic sound that always felt close to crumbling, but never did.
And tunes like "Sorry for Laughing" and the debut Postcard 45 "Radio Drill Time" are unheralded classics of the era (1980-'81). But the band's music and personal quirkiness prevented it from acquiring the same success as the more accessible Orange Juice.
However, "Entomology" shows a band on fire with imagination and passion and just enough skill to make it all work. Included are seven songs from Postcard and Crepescule 45s, six tunes from an aborted debut LP and six more from the actual debut LP, "The Only Fun in Town." Three Peel session tracks are added at the end.
Fire Engines get a less ornate package for "Codex Teenage Premonition" -- no booklet, no liner notes and spare documentation. It all seems pretty appropriate though as this Edinburgh band that took its name from a 13th Floor Elevators song. (They'd pay it forward by writing "Candyskin," which ignited Oxford's The Candyskins in the early '90s).
The band released one mini-LP and a couple 45s before breaking up in 1981, two years after forming. Two members later formed the beloved -- in Scotland -- but mostly unknown quirky band The Nectarine No. 9.
"Codex" has 15 live recordings, two tracks from a Peel session and a one song recorded in 2004 for a split 7" with Franz Ferdinand (who covered the Engines' "Get Up and Use Me").
The shards of guitar provided by Davey Henderson and Murray Slade combined with the frenetic rhythms of drummer Russell Burn and bassist Graham Main to create an urgent sound a la Gang of Four, but also a la Richard Hell and the Voidoids (a more apt comparison thanks to the Henderson's vocals, which we Hell-ish).
Can't wait to see what Domino will give us next (early Aztec Camera, including the 9-minute unreleased "Abbatoir"? An anthology of all 13 Postcard 45s?).
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.