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Frantic Romantics - Alan McCredie, The Shrimptons and How Brit-Pop Lost Owt

In the early 1990s, Baggy may have been on the verge of morphing into Brit-Pop, but in Edinburgh's bohemian Stockbridge district, something was stirring in the form of what can now be seen as a missing link that had absolutely nothing to do with either of those era defining musical movements. Nor indeed would it.

Weaving together a mish-mash of musical incongruity that defied both style and substance, The Shrimptons burst onto St Stephen Street, where Velvet Underground vocalist Nico had once held court and where Punk Rock's luminaries once played, to massive indifference. Like all prophets in their own land, however, The Shrimptons were both ahead of and seriously behind the times.

In a parallel universe, and with something resembling decent management instead of the shifty, dole queue lowlifes who attached themselves to the band, bumming drinks and favours off anyone who'd have them along the way, they could have been contenders. As it is, all that is left of the Shrimptons are a couple of hard-to-find cassettes (yes, really), including the seminal (and indeed gents toilet vending machine referencing) Packet of Three, and, for those in the know, a few hazy memories of nights spent chatting at the bar to their mates or else trying to get off with posh student girls while the band were actually playing.

From their name, one might have expected The Shrimptons to be led by a groovily bouffanted chanteuse in full possession of a retro chic mini skirt and pin-up good looks. In actual fact, with a line-up that included a couple of fly-by-night actors on vocals and a rhythm guitar that barely got through a song without its strings being hammered into submission, a public schoolboy drummer, a pair of hippy types on keyboards and percussion, and an actual real live proper musician on bass guitar, the nearest thing The Shrimptons had to a girl was lead guitarist and songwriter, Alan McCredie.

With a Prince Valiant style Bob of curly dark hair reaching his shoulders and sporting an ever-present pair of hip-hugging white jeans that topped off a look that cried out for unisex toilets, McCredie was androgyny in action (or inaction, most likely). Onstage, McCredie flaunted his fop-like sartorial sense of adventure in a way that hadn't been seen since Mick Jagger wore his mum's blouse at the Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert in 1969. Like Jagger, McCredie had the moves, wiggling about like someone had slipped a nest of ants into his necessarily tiny undercrackers, while his floppy hair shook in the strobe lighting like he'd just discovered the word 'grunge' without anyone actually telling him what it meant.

An insight into McCredie's status as a musical guru came when a then unknown Oasis played Edinburgh for the first time at the tiny Wilkie House venue on the Cowgate, an area that was home turf for the Shrimptons and the place where most of their back catalogue was forged over yet another desperate Saturday night. Here, however, was a band already being talked up by Creation Records svengali Alan McGee as the best band in the world muscling in on the Shrimptons territory. But, you know, what did he know about music?

What to do? The answer came in the form of long lost Greenock band Whiteout, whose cheeky brand of laddish pop had seen them supporting this new Oasis group on tour. For some reason best known to Oasis' so-called manager McGee, however, in Edinburgh the bands played in separate venues. On the same night.

“Oasis sound shit,” said the Shrimptons guitarist. “Let's go and see Whiteout instead. We've seen them before and they're lush.”

Having turned his back on the chance to rub shoulders with the future messiahs of Brit-Pop, McCredie's cult status as a legend in his own bathroom mirror was guaranteed. Nights at Moray House and a Stockbridge Festival appearance showed the world that the Shrimptons could more than hold their own with a whole lot of other local bands you've never heard of, and songs like Frantic Romantics became instantly forgettable pop classics.

Following the Oasis incident, however, the Shrimptons were toughening up, and while their finest moment had yet to come, when it did, it proved so controversial, so near the knuckle, and so downright taboo-busting that it was destined to be swept under the carpet and never unleashed onto a musically and morally moribund world.

As a song, Laura's Satchel may have been shot through with The Shrimptons trademark feelgood chirpiness that bordered on teeth-grating, but lyrically it was mining something more profound in a way that cleverly counterpointed its simple, gossamer-light structure.

Here was a Play For Today in miniature, a tale of chance meetings, unrequited yearning and forbidden fruit that crossed generations, even as the song's protagonists – the waif-like Laura and the more comically worldly if increasingly desperate and, oh, alright, then, downright pathetic figure of Captain Mersey – were destined to only ever meet once.

Laura's Satchel was rumoured to be based on a real-life incident involving the band's sponging wastrel of a manager, and which may or may not have occurred one Friday night in the summer of '92 in long lost Cowgate pub the Green Tree, later on beside the piano in the former Traverse Theatre bar in the Grassmarket and maybe, just maybe up a nearby close, though due to legal reasons I don't honestly recall, Your Honour.

The song may have referenced Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita, but it also nestled dangerously alongside others based on similar themes. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's Young Girl, Don't Stand so Close To Me by the Police, Mary of the Fourth Form by the Boomtown Rats and little known Eddie and the Hot Rods B-side, Schoolgirl Love, were all in the mix.

Where McCredie's opus might have gone on to become a cult crossover classic, instead, like all of those songs mentioned which have been mysteriously airbrushed from pop history, Laura's Satchel has languished in obscurity. Until now, that is. Maybe the moment is right for those with curious ears to listen to both Laura's Satchel and indeed the Shrimptons entire canon, without prejudice. Well, not too much, anyway.

Proving themselves even more provocative, The Shrimptons were yet again ahead of the pack when, with the zeal of admittedly slightly confused converts and their recently discovered sense of political commitment in a divided nation still reeling from the onslaught of Thatcherism, they played a show advertised as 'Say No To Westminster With The Shrimptons.'

For the die-hard fans who had lapped up the band's mix of pop bubblegum glory days as a stray cat might with curdled milk beside a puddle until they were sick, such flag-waving revolutionary antics were a step too far.

A lacklustre benefit show for a radical feminist children's theatre company at Edinburgh College of Art's Wee Red Bar, however, spelt out the beginning of the end when, during an inexplicable encore, the aforementioned free-loading excuse for a manager stopped trying to get girls to notice him for a minute to display an all too rare insight into the state of his charges by loudly pointing out how “You don't deserve it.”

As art school rock n roll legends go, such out and out moaning minnyness was on a par with The Who's iconic lynchpin Pete Townshend – an obvious role-model for McCredie – when he appropriated Gustav Metzger's theory of auto-destructive art by smashing up his guitar mid-set. If only Townshend had McCredie's girly hair and a pair of white jeans instead of an industrial size coke habit, he too might have become the voice of a generation, even if that generation had either all gone home for the weekend or were in the pub.

Edinburgh will never forget Alan McCredie and the Shrimptons. Even if they did get the dates mixed up and went somewhere else instead. Yet for McCredie, a cross-dressing myth-maker in excelsis, history has spoken far far more than his songs ever did. Notwithstanding some inevitable wedding reception reunion, it might be best to keep it that way, lest the legacy become tarnished forever.

Written for a fanzine, produced and edited by Daniel Gray, on the occasion of Jenny Ryan and Alan McCredie's wedding on June 27th 2015, this was penned by some chancer calling himself Group Captain Leon O'Price III (nee Mersey). Everything here is true.

ends



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