It was Friday the 13th when Jazzateers supported The Motorcycle Boy at Glasgow’s long lost Fury Murray’s venue. It was also the night the band originally founded by guitarist Ian Burgoyne and bass player Keith Band who had been one of the lynchpins of Alan Horne’s West Princes Street-based Postcard Records of Scotland split up. It had been a long haul for the group, originally fronted by vocalist Alison Gourlay, but replaced in turn by Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski, future Hipsway vocalist Graeme Skinner and Paul Quinn, who would see the band morph into Bourgie Bourgie.
By the time of the Fury Murray’s gig, however, while Burgoyne and Band remained, Matt Willcock had moved in front of the microphone, with extra guitar provided by Mick Slaven, later of The Leopards, and Douglas MacIntyre from Article 58.
“Everything fell apart after the first song,” MacIntyre recalls. “Keith’s mantra was taken from Herbie Flowers, who said you should never change your bass guitar strings, but he broke a string, and he had to go off and ask The Motorcycle Boy if he could borrow their bass. While he was doing that we jammed this version of Garageland by The Clash, and it was horrible. That was the point we realised it was over.”
On the Friday the 13th in question, The Motorcycle Boy’s leather-clad amalgam of former Shop Assistants front-woman Alex Taylor and members of the Fire Engines-inspired Meat Whiplash were riding high. Formed in 1987 by Taylor with guitarist Michael Kerr, bass player Eddy Connelly and drummer Paul McDermott, as well as second guitarist David Scott, The Motorcycle Boy’s debut single for Rough Trade Records, Big Rock Candy Mountain, fused an indie guitar aesthetic with a more polished machine-age sound. The band duly signed to a major label, though, like Jazzateers before them, fell apart before an album could be released.
“Alex and Eddy threw David out, so I left in solidarity,” Kerr remembers. “The rest of the band moved to London and recorded other stuff, but I suspect the record company felt they’d lost momentum by then.”
The recordings, however, remain, and, more than thirty years on, previously unheard works by both bands have been released into the wild within a couple of weeks of each other. Blood is Sweeter than Honey is the third archival release by Jazzateers put out by the Creeping Bent Organisation, run by MacIntyre for the last quarter of a century. This follows on from Rough 46, previously released in 1983 on Rough Trade Records, and Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up to Be a Cowboy, made up of unreleased material recorded at various points between 1981 and 1982.
Scarlet by The Motorcycle Boy is an even rarer find, released on guitarist Michael Kerr’s Forgotten Astronaut imprint after remaining in limbo since it was recorded in 1988.
“It’s been such a long process,” says Kerr of putting the album together after eventually rediscovering Scarlet’s original master tapes. “David lives in Kentucky now, but we talked about trying to release it, and I’ve been working solidly on it for the last year. Listening to it again, some of it sounds dated, but I think the songs are definitely good enough to be released.”
If the sound of Scarlet stems from a period when indie bands were starting to shake off their luddite tendencies and incorporate sequencers into their sound, Blood is Sweeter than Honey shows off Jazzateers as a band who were maturing in a different way.
“The Jazzateers story is the main arterial narrative to the Sound of Young Scotland,” says MacIntyre, “but it’s a hidden story. Jazzateers only released one album in their lifetime, and then at the height of their acclaim they transmogrified into Bourgie Bourgie. This record is also the only document of Matt’s work, both as a singer and as a really great lyricist.”
The release of both records arrives at a time when archival releases from the 1980s post-punk era are at a premium, with Postcard in Glasgow and the Fast Product label being assessed with a forensic line of inquiry. Not for nothing was Simon Reynolds’ 2005 book documenting the history of post-punk called Rip it Up, a title taken from Orange Juice’s biggest hit. The same title was adopted by the National Museum of Scotland in 2018 for its major historical exhibition of Scotland’s pop music.
Meanwhile, Grant McPhee’s two films, Big Gold Dream and Teenage Superstars, remain vital studies of the era. Taking its name from the final single by Fire Engines, Big Gold Dream inspired Cherry Red Records to produce Big Gold Dreams, a five-CD box set of rare recordings by artists from Scotland between 1977 and 1989. Tracks by both Jazzateers and The Motorcycle Boy appear in the collection.
Beyond the Motorcycle Boy and Jazzateers releases, the age of the archive goes on. Cherry Red have just released a 2-CD version of Trapped and Unwrapped, the sole album by Friends Again, whose alumni included Chris Thomson, who would go on to form The Bathers, and James Grant who would later front Love and Money. Future Creeping Bent releases, meanwhile, include collections by The Secret Goldfish and Article 58.
While this reclaiming of lost history has much to do with a punk ethos of seizing the means of production and a recognition of the records as serious artworks, there is geek appeal too.
“You get some young kids now wearing Postcard t-shirts, who are as fascinated with that whole part of musical history as I was with the Velvet Underground,” MacIntyre observes.
Kerr similarly points out how “If you look at a lot of the box sets that Cherry Red put out, like C86 and C87, I think they’re the equivalent of the Nuggets ‘60s compilations that we grew up listening to.”
MacIntyre quotes former head of Rational Records and the Hoochie Coochie Club in Edinburgh, Allan Campbell, to help explain things beyond what happened on Friday the 13th.
“The future lies in the past,” he says.
Blood is Sweeter than Honey by Jazzateers is released by Creeping Bent Records. Scarlet by The Motorcycle Boy is released by Forgotten Astronaut Records.
The Herald, November 7th 2019