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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Extracts From ~Hoots Mon, Where's Ma Heid?~ prt1: Malcolm Middleton

My decision on my last Blog not to concentrate on a bunch of unrelated songs, connected only through the fact that they were recorded by Scottish bands or artists, means that I am now liberated to write about some of the songs on their own merit, and in a totally recontextualised manner.
So let's begin with what would have led my piece last week, and let's take a look at the mighty Malcolm Middleton....
Malcolm is, of course, one half of Falkirk legends Arab Strap (the musical half, it could be argued), who I was incredibly fond of but came to rather late.
I first picked up on Arab Strap in 1998, having bought their debut album 'The Weekend Never Starts Around Here' from a second hand record store on the Byres Road in Glasgow. From its opening track on I was completely hooked, and thus began my long-standing love affair with them.
The music and lyrics of Arab Strap's first two albums soundtracked a very important part of my life. Between 1994 and 1998 I hadn't really socialised much, a mixture of OCD related depression coupled with some rather messy relationships had seen me practically withdraw from the outside world, rarely escaping the four walls of my bedroom unless absolutely necessary. However, around April/May 1998 I began to break out of the perpetual gloom and start heading out into the big bad world again. This would lead me to finally meeting the girl I would settle down with, build a home with and get married to. As I have said, Arab Strap were major contributors to the backdrop of this occurrence.
These days I find Arab Strap a fairly difficult listen. Not because their music is bad, but because vocalist Aidan Moffat's lyrics are so emotionally bare and vicious. The fact that they are also delivered in a Central Scotland accent very similar to those of us within the ~Streetlamp~ inflicts even deeper lovelorn wounds.
But Hey!....this isn't a Blog about Arab Strap (although one will surely follow)....this is about what musical coordinator Malcolm Middleton did next, and why it became so important to me.
After the amicable break-up of Arab Strap, Malcolm Middleton was first out of the traps with his quite magnificent, and confusingly titled, debut solo album '5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine'. This is a superb album that both follows a similar musical path to Arab Strap (hardly surprising) but which takes a different lyrical path than that of his previous band mate, with more allegorical and metaphorical musings than the bare heart-on-sleeve ruminations of Aidan.
Stand out track for me was the closing 'Devil And The Angel', possibly the only song in which the words 'pish' and 'shite' are used both correctly and non-offensively. The song deals with an artist's fevered visions and of what path in life and art he should take, cajoled by both a heavenly Angel and the very Devil himself. The song is beautiful, haunting and funny:

Why the song has such a special meaning for me is that, once again, it was an essential ingredient to another major event in my life. When I finally left the ancestral pile that had been my home for my entire life, to say that I was in a very confused and bewildered frame of mind is drastically understating the issue. The wrench of leaving the four walls that had been my sanctuary from my childhood, all through Primary and High School, all through my major early life experiences....first kiss, first sex, first love; and of course all those nights when only a pile of 7" singles would ever do, was all a bit too much for me. I suddenly felt emotionally naked and alone and it would take something very powerful indeed to keep me on an even keel. Thankfully then, this album was released at that very time and became a major part of my life at a point when I could have easily unfurled badly.

The other standout track, for me is opener 'Crappo The Clown' (which is not to say that any of the songs in between aren't any good, the whole album is wonderful):

I love the way that he alludes to his new relationship as a holiday camp, a very badly organised, run down holiday camp, and that he is the holiday Rep and camp entertainer. His very moniker reveals just how badly this relationship is bound to go. My only complaint with this superb track is that maybe it goes on just a little too long at the end, never really saying anything new....but maybe that's the point! Maybe it's a musical metaphor as to how this relationship is going to pan out.

Sometimes you need great slabs of pessimism in both life and art, otherwise we'd all become complacent to the great things about both. Something both Malcolm and Arab Strap keep reminding us through their tear stained, alcohol soaked, raw-as-an-open-sore musical musings.

Our round, Landlord!


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