Skip to main content

The Male Nurse – The Male Nurse (Decemberism)

There was a time in the pre internet 1990s when some of Edinburgh city centre's darker Old Town thoroughfares were emblazoned with hastily-pasted posters heralding some of the capital's lesser sung future attractions. Around the Cowgate, one could occasionally spot samizdat crosses spray-painted onto walls in a way that suggested some kind of un-named insurgency was afoot even as it seemed to indicate an impending emergency. This graffiti tag was also part of a subliminal insurrection that announced The Male Nurse were in the area. A couple of decades on, a similarly styled blue cross on a white background now forms the Keith Farquhar-designed cover of this long overdue vinyl only compilation of one of pop's most wayward missing links.

The Male Nurse evolved from a band called Lucid, which featured vocalist Keith Farquhar, guitarists Alan Crichton and Andrew Hobson plus Craig Gibson, Spencer Smith and Martin Wilson, who had been at Leith Academy with Farquhar. Having played Edinburgh College of Art's annual Revel in 1993 as Farquhar graduated, The Male Nurse were by all accounts a band for whom the words insurgency and emergency were wilfully appropriate. Inbetween rehearsing in the old 369 Gallery on the Cowgate or hanging out at the Green Tree pub or the City Cafe, their legendary live events are said to have frequently teetered on the edge of substance-fuelled chaos. As this eponymous collection of thirteen largely unreleased tracks confirms, however, The Male Nurse still managed to produce a body of work shot through with fractured beauty.

Over their peripatetic seven year lifespan, the band recorded two John Peel sessions and released three singles on the Guided Missile label, plus a split with similarly off-kilter fellow travellers Gilded Lil on Stupid Cat records in 2000. Somewhere in the midst of all this they crashed, burned, played with fellow travellers The Yummy Fur and Lung Leg, and were banned from ECA's Wee Red Bar. They lost members, including Crichton, who died of drug-induced misadventure in 1999, and acquired others, before imploding in the early noughties.

The material rounded up on this 500-copy limited edition from painstakingly restored tapes dates from the post-Crichton period, and features Ben Wallers on guitar and keyboards. Wallers doubled up as the driving force behind The Country Teasers, who Crichton had also been a member of, and Wallers would eventually co-opt bass player Alastair McKinven and drummer Lawrence Worthington, who both play throughout this album, into the fold. Guitarist Andrew Hobson and keyboardist Alec King complete the Male Nurse line-up here.

The album is released on Decemberism, the record label founded by artist and former member of Glasgow-based instrumentalists, Ganger, Lucy McKenzie. McKenzie was a Male Nurse fan who Farquhar worked with when he invited her to show her work at Deutsche Britische Freundschaft, a London art space founded by Farquhar with German artist Thomas Helbig. Farquhar later took part in Flourish, McKenzie's Sunday night studio-based art-cabaret show-and-tell events in Glasgow. Farquhar also showed work in The Best Book About Pessimism I Ever Read, a group exhibition curated by McKenzie at the Braunschweig Kunstverein in 2002. Since then, Farquhar has exhibited widely in solo and group shows across the world.

Farquhar was already starting to make his mark as an artist while The Male Nurse were ongoing, and his pop cultural eclectica is all over the show here, whether through the references to Joseph Beuys in Road to Moscow, or to Martin Kippenberger in Parting With the Bonus of Youth. Both pointers are telling.

Like Farquhar, Beuys also had a fondness for using crosses in his work, even as the German aktionist revolutionised the international art world following his visit to Edinburgh in 1970 as part of the Strategy Get Arts exhibition at ECA initiated by mercurial impresario Richard Demarco. Kippenberger, meanwhile, was another German, who died in 1997, three years after his work was used on record covers for The Holy Bible era Manic Street Preachers. Like Kipppenberger, The Male Nurse never fully settled on one particular style, picking and mixing from a scattershot set of influences that tugged the band in different directions, often in the same song.

The opening Male Nurse Tower (Intro) is a woozy overture of ambitious intent that sets the scene with some babble about building thirty-five storey high towers. Road to Moscow follows with a darkly sardonic travelogue driven by a wheezy organ, and which contrasts driving a Skoda-load of marijuana across some bumpy Russian roads with Beuys' airborne ride across the same terrain in a Stuka.

German Sleeps in My Bed is an inter-continental romance that shows off Farquhar's softer side, his faraway vocal offset by a spikily insistent guitar pattern.

The Plight of the Remedial Child too starts off as sensitive as a social worker. After a couple of verses, however, its schoolday lament for a failed attempt at kindred spirithood with less academically gifted classmates gives way to primitive bombast worthy of Live at the Witch Trials era Fall, only smarter and more sarcastic.

Esoteric Bookshop is a brief organ-led jingle, the first of three instrumentals on the album. Somewhat contrarily, Channel 4 Theme is an electro-pop ditty that observes with gimlet-eyed fascination the noise made as Carol Vorderman's hands doled out the letters on Countdown. The first side ends with the Kippenberger homage/critique, Parting With the Bonus of Youth, a trippy organ-led hangover of a song that shows off an increasingly mature Male Nurse sound.

The second side's opener, Afraid & Jarring, however, is a wonky instrumental fairground waltz that lollops about as if soundtracking a wilfully ridiculous dance routine, even as it references playwright Alfred Jarry, as the sleevenotes winkingly explain. Male Midwife is the most accomplished thing on show so far, as loping bass and fizzing synths wrap themselves around Farquhar's drawling vocals in a piece of post Madchester indie-dance hedonism with a brain.

Back on the Pills is a jauntily absurdist glam racket and Ducks Over Dachau a scary instrumental march. The keyboard flourishes of Not Sentimental lend a subtle warmth to the song, even as it appears to fade off into the distance. The loose-limbed kosmiche of the final Horse Riding, Painting & Lovemaking, meanwhile, is a heartfelt paean to the simple things that mattered in life to Farquhar and The Male Nurse at that moment, its wiggy climax threatening to break into full-on freakout before juddering to a halt.

Almost two decades on, Farquhar has recently returned to music for the first time since The Male Nurse's demise, as one half of the wonderfully named Edinburgh Leisure alongside guitarist Tim Davies, formerly of Guinness and several other Edinburgh-based bands. The duo are several gigs into their existence and have already generated enough material for an album. In the meantime, The Male Nurse's nouveau Beuysian actions captured here remain a messily evocative and at times wistfully melancholy document of Edinburgh Cowgate’s past. 

The Male Nurse by The Male Nurse is available on Decemberism Records. Edinburgh Leisure play Embassy, Edinburgh on November 25th at the launch of a group exhibition that also marks their first foray into visual art.

Product, November 2016


Popular posts from this blog

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

The Honourable K.W. Harman: Ltd Ink Corporation

31 Bath Road, Leith Docks, March 17th-20th

In a monumental shipping container down by Leith Docks, a Sex Pistols tribute band is playing Anarchy in the U.K.. on a stage set up in the middle of the room. Either side, various constructions have been built in such a way so viewers can window shop as they promenade from one end of the room to the next, with the holy grail of a bar at either end.

Inbetween, there’s a confession booth and a mock-up of a private detective’s office with assorted documentation of real-life surveillance pinned to the walls. Two people seem to be having a conversation in public as if they're on a chat show. An assault course of smashed windows are perched on the floor like collateral damage of post-chucking out time target practice. A display of distinctively lettered signs originally created by a homeless man in search of a bed for the night are clumped together on placards that seem to be marking out territory or else finding comfort in being together. Opp…


Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …