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Bill Wells – The Loathsome Reel

‘I had a dream that I was on a bus going to a Beach Boys convention somewhere in the USA. The bus stopped and picked up a crowd of beautiful, blonde, suntanned Californian types who, after they had all got seated on the bus and while it was at the stop, stood up and launched into this: an imaginary coda to a Beach Boys song.’

As an illustration of how Falkirk born composer, pianist and bass player Bill Wells’ mind works, the anecdote above to ‘On The Beach Boys Bus,’ recorded by Wells and Japanese band Maher Shalal Hash Baz for their joint ‘Osaka Bridge’ album, is perfect. This gem and others can be found in ‘The Loathsome Reel Book,’ a gorgeously packaged collection of 61 musical scores by Wells, each one no more than a page long.

With illustrations by former Pastel Annabel Wright, this leaves plenty of room for footnotes outlining each piece’s recording history alongside assorted scrap book cuttings of bad reviews, sketches and dedications to a who’s who of left-field music, from jazz trombonist Annie Whitehead, Barbara Morgenstern and To Rococco Rot’s Stefan Schneider, with whom Wells recorded ‘Pick Up Sticks’ for Leaf Records in 2004, to Future Pilot AKA’s Sushil K Dade, V-Twin’s Jason MacPhail and The Pastels themselves. The end result rounds up a kind of musical diary cum autobiography of Well’s development from solitary jazz sound-scaper to off-kilter collaborator of choice

“I always felt like I was having to catch up in some way,” Wells reflects. “Starting off in the jazz scene, it was really difficult to get records out. Now with this book I feel I’m finally getting there. But with this as well, I wanted it to be the kind of thing that people can just pick up, put on a music stand and play without rehearsing. Some parts are quite complicated, but you still don’t have to be able to read music well to play it.”

Published by Wells himself in an edition of 300 and launched with a performance by Wells and viola player Aby Vulliamy at Stirling’s Le Weekend festival, ‘The Loathsome Reel Book’ cheekily nods to ‘The Real Book,’ the semi-legal volume of sheet music for jazz standards that first appeared in the 1970s. That collection allowed players unfamiliar with how each other blew to find a common starting point before veering off beyond the transcribed melodies to invest it with their own musical personality. As Wells himself observes, long before recorded music took over, sheet music was the only way of disseminating the latest sounds beyond their composer.

“There was no sense of anything being definitive,” Wells points out. “Everything was open to interpretation, and even a lot of records are made by brilliant performances, but you can’t write down that performance. Like the one I made with Jad Fair. I don’t think anybody could write that down.”

Beyond his own work, it’s a busy time for Wells. Last year he spent four days with various Teenage Fanclub types recording Kevin Ayers’ last album, and he’s just returned from touring with Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. As we talk, Wells is preparing a two month trip to Japan, where he’ll be recording with assorted Japanese artists who he toured with on the most adventurous of the Tune Up tours a couple of years back. Wells will also be hooking up with former Sonic Youth guitarist and Tokyo émigré Jim O’Rourke. All a far cry from the Falkirk social clubs the young Wells cut his musical teeth in before never quite fitting into the mainstream jazz world.

“Even when I had a jazz band,” says Wells, “I always thought it was a jazz band playing pop tunes.”

‘The Loathsome Reel Book’ is available in Monorail, Glasgow, or from Bill Wells directly at -

The Herald, July 22nd 2008



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