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Sunday, 30 January 2011

~Kitten Wine~#24: 'Strawberry Dross Killed The Boss'

Blah blah blah.....Summer of '83....blah blah blah....last days of school....blah blah blah....sensory evocation of lost time....blah blah blah....Marcel Proust.....yada yada yada.....little rooms smelling of orris root....yada yada yada....same old same old.................

Yeah, it must be said that I do tend to furrow the same old groove in these Blogs but, like my literary hero himself, I really don't know of, or have anything else to write about. Sounding totally pretentious, my life really is my art!

And so we find ourselves once again on the streets of Bannockburn under the blood red skies of a Summer's evening. That Summer between school and work was a special time, one that only now I wish I'd kicked back and enjoyed just a little more. All of my friends were, like myself, upon the very threshold of manhood....the 9 to 5, the nights at the pub, the sensible behaviour were what we believed we were heading for, just as our parents before us had. But, as we would soon discover, we were also heading into a time of wild drunken revelry, of the pursuit of that special girl, of playing live concerts with our best friends, of that short period of time when you actually LIVE!
And one band that was special to me in that strange Summer of expectation was The Damned. Now it has to be said that The Damned were a curious band who had arrived on the waves of Punk, but quickly developed their own divine brand of psychedelicized pop-rock. It could be argued that after Morrissey(both as solo artist and of The Smiths), The Damned are the band that I have seen live on most occasions. I've also seen them do randomly massively different shows; from all out Punk thrashalong(Govan Town Hall, Autumn 1988), perfect mainstream pop act(Edinburgh Playhouse, Winter 1986) and curious melange of both(Glasgow Barrowlands, Summer of 1989 with both Brian James AND Captain Sensible on lead guitar duties).
In October 1982 The Damned released what I still consider to be their masterpiece, 'Strawberries', a tremendous blending of psychedelic pop and punk energy. It also came with a strawberry scented lyric sheet which stills smells to this day and which has more of a nostalgic pull than all the orris root in Paris! It was an album I played endlessly, and one which even at the time, I knew I would play in years to come to remind me of those days.
"And always remember// This is the happiest days of your life".
But it wasn't just the album itself that conjured up such an evocative sense of time and place, but some of the ephemera and doodles that accompanied it, so let's take a listen to some of those choice offcuts....that, my friends, is why we're here.
First up is a track from the 'Friday The 13th' EP which consisted of tracks that didn't make the final album cut. Amongst them is one of the most nostalgia tweaking songs I know of; 'The Limit Club'. Beginning sounding uncannily like the theme music to Current Affairs TV programme 'World In Action'(which many people used to believe was performed by Pink wasn't!), the song tells in beautiful psychedelic hues of a love affair being enjoyed as the world heads to an apocalyptic end, "I saw the sun set low on you// In a blood-red suns final rays"....aaaahh, just those lines take me back to that Summer and those last times we would play football until it became too dark to see the ball. What a beautiful piece of music.

At about the same time as 'Strawberries', Captain Sensible was ploughing his own solo field to great populist acclaim, and on his second solo single 'Wot' he included, for the B-side, a small compilation called 'Strawberry Dross' which was demos and short pieces of music that had been intended as rough sketches for songs for the album. The songs are all recorded on a portable 4-track studio with Sensible playing everything and singing. The tracks last between 30 seconds to a minute and are quite indicative of the 60s flavoured music Sensible hoped to include on the album, "Kaftan, grow my hair// I wanna be a Hippy 'cos i really don't care". There are a couple of dreamy little instrumental sketches as well which, for me, are my very own 'Vinteuil's Sonata', dragging me kicking and screaming back to world where strange aches and twinges in your arms and legs would be patronisingly described as 'growing pains'.....

.....which brings me to 'Seagulls'. An instrumental B-side(to the single 'White Rabbit') which again transports me to a world where getting to stay up after 11:00p.m was a result, where we no longer needed a baby-sitter on a Saturday night, where meeting girls from your class out of school gave you weird electric shocks in your chest.
About a year later, the band I was in at the time decided that we would stop all the Punkish nonsense we had been playing and would start writing 'proper' songs. We used this track, 'Seagulls', as the basis of our new sound. Listening to it again here just now I realise we actually didn't just base our sound around it, as rip it off completely. Musical magpies? No, thieving bastards more like!!

And we end with the musical sigh that is 'Life Goes On', one of two vocals that Sensible contributed to 'Strawberries'. And what an aching, poignant, Jack-Daniels-at-4:00-in-the-morning-discussions-on-the-meaning-of-life track it is. Over a bassline that Nirvana stole for 'Come As You Are', Sensible finds himself in disparate, melancholy mood reflecting on the hardships and dreariness of life before jubilantly exclaiming that life is there for the taking, just grab it by the scruff of the neck and make it yours! "And always remember// This is the happiest day of your life".....I remember listening to this line back at school and wondering if they really were. You are always being told that they are, but I wasn't so sure then. I knew they were special but didn't reckon on having to wait over a quarter of a century to find out.

A lot of what I write is about the summoning up of lost memories or treasured experiences through the beauty of my favourite records, and sometimes I find that the deepest memories are evoked by the oddest of records. Can a bunch of unused demos or out-of-character instrumentals really take me back to happiest days of my life?

Damned right they can!!


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