Pop entryism moves in mysterious ways.
When Lloyd Cole appeared on televisual cultural relativist musical barometer Later...With Jools Holland in October 2013, sandwiched between John Newman and Anna Calvi, the veteran lord of velveteen louche sang a song called Women's Studies. A typically literate Cole number, Women's Studies is a song steeped in knowingly half-hidden references, and given extra swagger by a backing band called The Leopards.
Towards the end of the song, Cole sang how 'If Josef K Was From Edinburgh / And Fast Product From Prague / Well Baby That Would Be Kinda Funny / Or Maybe Not That Funny At All...'
The Leopards, featuring former Jazzateers and Bourgie Bourgie guitarist Mick Slaven and ex Aztec Camera bass player Campbell Owens, have a pedigree which includes at different times backing separate solo ventures by guitarist Malcolm Ross and vocalist Paul Haig, both former members of Edinburgh-sired, Kafka-styled post-punk existentialists, Josef K.
The Leopards' part-time second guitarist, seen on the small screen to Cole's right, is Douglas MacIntyre. Twenty years ago, MacIntyre, whose musical life began by playing in short-lived post-punk combo, Article 58, before graduating, alongside Slaven, through the Jazzateers and Bourgie Bourgie, started a record label / ideas factory called The Creeping Bent Organisation.
Starting with a roster of fellow travellers that included bands such as Spacehopper, The Secret Goldfish, and, yes, The Leopards, Creeping Bent picked up the conceptualist mantle of the original Sound of Young Scotland. This had been defined by Orange Juice and Josef K on Alan Horne's Postcard Records, and Scars, Fire Engines and others on the Fast Product label and it's successor, Pop Aural, both founded by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison.
As MacIntyre prepares for a pair of Creeping Bent anniversary shows featuring The Pop Group, The Sexual Objects, Lloyd Cole and The Leopards and Jazzateers, the label's past, present and future seems to have converged into one umbilically connected mass personified by Cole and The Leopards performance of Women's Studies on TV.
“I've known Lloyd since before the Commotions,” says MacIntyre, “and he's a big big fan of Mick's from Jazzateers and Bourgie Bourgie days, and is also a big fan of Vic Godard. The Leopards did a version of an unreleased Vic Godard song which Mick wrote with Vic called Rot With Me, which Lloyd had as his ring-tone on his phone. He'd gone out and bought the record in New York, and is a big Leopards fan.
“I think when Lloyd wanted to play with a full electric band for the first time other than the Commotions reunion gigs since Robert Quine was playing with him, he thought of Mick,. I guess there's a direct link between Robert Quine and Mick as guitarists, so he asked Mick to do it, and they needed a second guitarist, so I ended up doing it.
“I start smiling when Lloyd sings those lines, because it does remind me of growing up, and being exposed to all this stuff that would turn you onto things. Now, it feels like a duty, but a pleasurable duty, to try and turn other people onto them as well.”
The Creeping Bent Organisation introduced itself to the world on December 12th 1994 via A Leap Into The Void, a multi-media event named after Yves Klein's 1960 photo-montage in which the artist was shown leaping from a wall, arms outstretched, without anything resembling a safety net. If such an image was the perfect statement of intent for Creeping Bent, the event itself encapsulated it even more.
“That was amazing,” MacIntyre remembers, “because I often think we could've just stopped right there and then after that event. We'd already started working with the groups and had some stuff recorded, but the idea was always to make some kind of major statement. There was a great designer called Paul Sorley, who designed this amazing wooden set for the event, and that gave things a theatrical feel that went beyond it just being about a gig, but which turned it into a special event.”
Other Creeping Bent events have included an end of the century show headlined by The Nectarine No.9, led by former Fire Engine and current Sexual Object, Davy Henderson. Called 09 / 09 / 99, the event took place on September 9th 1999, and featured Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross as special guest with The Nectarine No.9. A few years later, the similarly styled 06/06/06 featured a band called Bricolage, one of a number of bands who'd picked up on the original Sound of Young Scotland as well as Creeping Bent's back catalogue.
“The first record we put out was by a band called Spacehopper,” MacIntyre remembers, “and the music papers picked up on it straight away.”
7”'s by The Leopards and The Secret Goldfish were followed by a 12” remix of Suicide's Frankie Teardrop by an outfit calling themselves the Revolutionary Corps of Teenage Jesus. The RCTJ was producer and former Article 58 and Altered Images drummer, Stephen Lironi, whose work on Frankie Teardrop was heard by Suicide's Alan Vega, who was impressed enough to want to work and record with Lironi on what became the Protection Rat 12”.
“We had to get clearance for the track,” MacIntyre remembers, “and I got this fax off Marty Thau. It's weird to think now how everything was done then by fax, and even weirder that I was getting one off the guy who'd managed the New York Dolls and produced the first suicide album, but he said Alan Vega's heard the track, he loves it and wants to join the band.”
Frankie Teardrop was single of the week in the NME, “when the NME could still sell records, “ as MacIntyre puts it, “so after that we effectively became a business of sorts.”
Ex Primal Scream and Spirea X guitarist Jim Beattie's latest project, Adventures In Stereo, with singer Judith Boyle, were the next band to join Creeping Bent as the label developed into a flame-carrying bastion of underground cool.
“High points since then would be John Peel picking up on the label pretty quickly, doing loads of sessions with Creeping Bent bands, and giving the label a night at his Meltdown festival.
“That was the first time I met Vic Godard,” MacIntyre says. “He was going to come on and do a version of Nobody's Scared with Adventures in Stereo, and when we met him he was still wearing his postman's uniform.”
Creeping Bent went on to forge a working relationship with Godard, who is arguably the unofficial guru of Postcard, Fast and everything in Scotland that followed his band Subway Sect's support slot for The Clash on the 1977 White Riot tour at Edinburgh Playhouse.
Creeping Bent has released two albums as well by Pop Group guitarist Gareth Sager, aka CC Sager, who also recorded with Fire Engine Davy Henderson'[s pre Sexual Objects band, The Nectarine No.9. Tellingly, while Fire Engines few releases had been on Bob Last's post Fast Product label, Pop Aural, the first Nectarine No.9 releases appeared on Alan Horne's second incarnation of Postcard, while their later material appeared on Creeping Bent.
“A lot of the time with Creeping Bent it's been about meeting people you like and putting out records that you like,” MacIntyre says. We've never tried to be a proper record company in terms of business. At one point it did become full time, with everything that entails, and I didn't like that.”
MacIntyre now divides his time between Creeping Bent and teaching cultural studies at the University of West Scotland, where “I talk about Adorno and play them some Aphex Twin.”
Corrupting young minds in this way has brought its own rewards, and led to Scandinavian twins Bjorn and Erik Sandberg to found We Can Still Picnic with MacIntyre.
The Sandbergs play in Glasgow-based Sound of Young Scotland inspired band, Wake The President, who once put out a single called Bill Drummond. We Can Still Picnic may be a record label, releasing records by the latest generation of Scottish acts who include Casual Sex and Post, but, like Creeping Bent, they put out zines and run club nights and radio shows, continuing the Scottish art/pop lineage.
“I tend to point anything new towards We Can Still Picnic, because that's more of an active label,” MacIntyre says. “They tend to deal with the new bands, and I do what I suppose you'd call the heritage stuff. I suppose I'm a kind of conceptual adviser, conceptual dictator, they would say. Bjorn and Erik signed Casual Sex, and I pointed them in the direction of Post, but it's their baby. It's more about passing the baton on. Also, they've got less responsibility's than me, so they can make things happen, rather than me talking about things that happen that only happen 15 years later.”
As MacIntyre is happy to admit, Creeping Bent as a concept couldn't have existed without Fast Product.
“In 1994 when Creeping Bent started,” MacIntyre points out, “Postcard had started its second phase, putting out records by Vic Godard, The Nectarine No 9 and Paul Quinn and The Independent Group. But Fast Product didn't really have any currency, and it's only recently that people are beginning to realise how important it was.
“The Scars single on Fast Product, Adult/ery and Horrorshow was essential. For me that was the record that kicked off Scotland,. A lot of people say it was Blueboy, by Orange Juice, which was also wonderful, but after Adult/ery, everything seemed to move forward.
“I always remember how excited I was going through to Edinburgh to see all these bands. Article 58 supported Scars, A Certain Ratio, Josef K and all these people, but because I was a couple of years younger, it almost felt like I was like the wee brother of all these bands. There was an element of fandom there, and I was in awe, so when I decided to do a label, it was a conscious decision to try and recapture the excitement I'd felt during that era, but at the same time moving forward. There were so many labels around then, like Ze and New Hormones, that burned briefly and brightly, and that's maybe part of the magic as well.”
All the labels MacIntrye cites, which include Factory and Zoo, put as much emphasis on packaging as much as music, effectively releasing one work of art wrapped inside another. In the case of Bob Last, who founded Fast Product before going on to become a successful film producer behind the likes of animated feature, The Illusionist, such conceptualism extended to infiltrating the mainstream.
“Bob really did invent pop entryism,” says MacIntyre. “To take an experimental synthesiser group who played in front of films like the Human League and make them number 1 in America in a couple of years, that's the ultimate pop entryism. In a lot of my lectures I talk about the fact that Alan Horne, Bob Last, Bill Drummond, Tony Wilson, they were all leftist peoples with ideas.”
It's telling too that both Last and Drummond started out as stage designers who worked in fringe theatre. Drummond worked on Ken Campbell's legendary twelve-hour production of Illuminatus produced by the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, while Last worked at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, where he designed another science-fiction play, The Android Circuit.
“It felt like there was more to it than just a record,” MacIntyre says. “To me, all of these people were artists, and part of an art movement. It wasn't about commerce. It was art. Anything I've ever trued to do is an expression of the stuff I like, and the art I like, and is more oriented towards that idea rather than about selling records. As long as we can sell enough records to avoid going bankrupt, which we've managed to do, then I can keep on feeding my habit.”
A more recent example of pop entryism has been Franz Ferdinand, who took the art/pop jangularness of Fire Engines and Josef K into the mainstream in a way which Creeping Bent and all the bands mentioned have benefited from.
“I think that was the awakening of recognition for that era,” MacIntyre says. “After the glossiness of the 80s, with Davy Henderson doing Win and everything, it probably felt when Franz came through that they came out of what went before, with Fire Engines and everyone. I thought it was great, and Franz paid their respects to Fire Engines and asked them to support them, then released a cover of Get Up and Use Me, so there was a real acknowledgement there.”
Any accusations of magpie-like plundering from the original Sound of Young Scotland isn't something MacIntyre is overly concerned about.
“Everything gets recycled,” he says. “If it's a good idea, keep using it.”
Such a post-modern aesthetic is something a post Franz Ferdinand generation of bands such as Bricolage and Wake The President certainly took on board
“It's all cyclical, isn't it,” MacIntyre observes. “We've had post-punk, so now people are starting to look at C 86, which I suppose is something Creeping Bent came out of as well, with Katy from The Secret Goldfish being in the Fizzbombs. So now you've got the Scared To Get Happy box set, and there's a triple CD of C86 apparently coming out shortly as well. There was one that Bob Stanley did a few years ago called CD 86, which had a picture of Katy taken from a fanzine when she was in the Fizzbombs on the cover, so it all connects up. You can see the different strains of where everyone comes from, and that's not a bad thing. It happens in art, so there's no reason why it can't happen in pop music.”
When MacIntyre was publicising A Leap Into The Void back in 1994, an interviewer asked him who Creeping Bent's influences were. His reply name-checked Fire Engines, Suicide, Subway Sect and The Pop Group. Since then, Creeping Bent has released material by key personnel of all those named.
Such inter-connectedness and inter-twining of aesthetic is reflected in the origin of the label's name.
“I've told millions of lies about this,” MacIntyre admits, “but it's a grass. Not drugs, but a binding wild grass that grows in the Highlands. I think it was the first day of the year in 1994, and I went for a walk in Queen Elizabeth Park in Aberfoyle. There was all this information about squirrels and so firth, and I noticed this information about creeping bent being the predominant grass that was important to the landscape, because it tied everything together. I thought that was a nice metaphor, and something I can steal. Up until that point, the working name for the label was L'age D'or. Thank Christ I saw the creeping bent sign.”
As well as the twentieth anniversary events, the last year has seen Creeping Bent put out Rough 46 by post-Postcard act, Jazzateers, originally released by Rough Trade in 1982. There have been live collaborations too between Vic Godard and The Sexual Objects, who did a selection of shows to play Godard's 1980 album with Subway Sect, What's The Matter Boy?, from start to finish.
For the future, MacIntyre cites album releases by Port Sulphur and The Secret Goldfish, the latter's first since 1999. There will also be a second Sexual Objects album. “at some point,” as well as potential reissues of long-lost Creeping Bent albums by CC Sager, Scientific Support Dept and Alan Vega.
“We're also looking at releasing the Jazzateers Postcard archive, which never came out and nobody's ever heard. We might do some kind of exhibition at some point as well. There's no great masterplan. It's a funny one. Because we're not a commercial organisation, it still feels quite normal putting records out. It doesn't feel like twenty years – obviously – but it still feels exciting, because it's just sporadic projects that we've engaged with and been involved with. I've always seen Creeping Bent as an arts organisation, so really it's about ideas, and making those ideas happen, in whatever form we see fit.”
To celebrate Creeping Bent's 20th anniversary, The Pop Group and The Sexual Objects play 02 ABC Glasgow, January 18th, while Lloyd Cole & The Leopards and Jazzateers play the same venue on January 29th. Both shows are part of Celtic Connections.
The Quietus, January 2014