Snow

We’ve had fair old amount of snow this week. We woke on Wednesday to what for south Manchester is a good covering, a few centimetres, ungritted roads and an iffy journey to work. Work, up in east Lancashire, had its fair share too. Everything that was still on the ground then froze as the temperature barely got above zero all day. Yesterday we got more snow and driving home I stopped on the moors to photograph the Pennine hills that six months ago were on fire.

I’ve posted this before but it seems appropriate to post it again, a throbbing and wintry ride through the Scandinavian snow, by Stockholm’s Paresse.

Hunters In The Snow

I’m going to see Steve Mason tonight, touring to promote his excellent new album About The Light. Back in the 90s his group The Beta Band made one of that decade’s best songs, setting a standard that even they found it difficult to live up to. This song- slide acoustic guitars, Steve’s doleful vocals, the shuffling rhythms and bass, the crescendo to the trumpets- is a beaut.

Dry The Rain

The Cow’s Wrong

The Beta Band released 3 e.p.s in 1997 and 1998 that sent lots of people into a spin. They were then anthologised as The 3 E.P.s and turned up in High Fidelity (and have just been remastered and re-released on vinyl if you’ve got £50 to spare). Then in 1999 they put out their debut album, a record the band themselves said it was ‘fucking awful’ and Steve Mason claimed it was ‘probably one of the worst records that’ll come out this year’. They said they’d been rushed, not been given enough money, not finished the songs, not been allowed to put out an ambient disc as a companion and that the production was poor. And you can imagine how that went down with the record company.

Twenty years later it’s difficult not to feel like the 3 e.p.s  were the peak and that the debut album was a bit of a mess (and they followed it with 2 further albums both of which were much better). But it’s also true that not all of The Beta Band is without merit and some of the songs are very good. Listening to it now it is also abundantly clear- and it was at the time I think- that they were doing something new, creating a new psychedelia for the late 90s which was not just a rehash or revivalist version of a 60s psychedelia. The loose structures, the mix of acoustic and electronic instruments and textures, hip hop beats and rapping, the use of dub and delay and repetition, layered vocals, the longer jam sections and stoner parts and the stuff that is chucked in from the wilder corners of their imaginations (barber shop quartets, marching bands), the sheer love of sounds- this is not a disaster, not ‘fucking awful’ and not the worst record of 1999 (that year saw the release of Californication and Stereophonics’ Performance And Cocktails not to mention a Kid Rock lp. There’s 3 for starters). There are a few mis-steps on The Beta Band but there are also some gems. Like this one.

The Cow’s Wrong

B Is For Black Affair

Steve Mason’s 2009 side project Black Affair was an 80s electro inspired project, which was great in small doses but wore a bit over the course of an entire lp. Still, in a field of his own is Steve Mason- most people wouldn’t record let alone release an album like this, so far removed from what he’s known for. This was one of the highlights.

Sweet

In a slightly belated tribute to United’s 20th league title our picture shows Bobby Charlton, presumably in the aftermath of the Munich air disaster or an early anniversary of, with a cracking quiff. Bobby was present as a player for United’s 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th league titles and he’s still there, although he doesn’t make the netting bulge anymore. The Premier League is a million miles from this picture. Yesterday’s post-Beta Band group The Aliens had a song called Bobby’s Song which I should’ve posted instead really.

A Is For Aliens

Some of The Beta Band turned into The Aliens following their break-up. A million pounds owed to the record company and being pressured to accept advertising money to clear the debt, Steve Mason called time. Which caused some friction between the band’s members. Steve Mason went off into various solo projects (King Biscuit Time, Black Affair, stuff under his own name). The other three, John MacLean, Gordon Anderson and Robin Jones, put out two albums of upbeat, psychedelic silliness (in a good way)- I’ve only got Luna from which I always liked this one.

Sunlamp Show

B Is For Beta

Listening to Steve Mason’s recent solo album has led me back to The Beta Band. They were real one offs- maybe the only reason their second and third albums aren’t given their dues is because they set their standards so high early on with the three e.p.s, later anthologised imaginatively as The Three E.P.s.

I drove to Leeds Irish Centre to see them play at some point in the late 90s, on a school night as well. We’d got free entry by claiming to be reviewing the gig for a Manchester music/arts magazine or something on those lines. It was hotter than hot inside- the sort of heat where you can feel beads of sweat running down the inside of your arm and the small of your back. This made moving difficult. And I was driving, so couldn’t attack the heat with beer. Carl from Cud stood at the bar, his time long gone. The Beta Band were out of this world that night, versions of spooky trauma song Dr Baker and the trippy Needles In Your Eyes sticking in the memory for ages afterwards. And Dry The Rain of course.

Dry The Rain

Fight Them Back

Can you tell I’m on holiday? Posting twice a day, I should really do something more productive with my time.

I just found this from Steve Mason’s new album, Monkey Minds In the Devil’s Time. It sounds really good- those doleful, multi-tracked vocals from The Beta Band, the part hip-hop, part indie-dance beats. There’s more going on here instrumentally than on the Boys Outside album. And he’s pretty pissed off about the stuff you see on the news. Righteous anger.

Then I found the single from back in February.

Anyone got the album? I may have to add it to the list of records I need to buy.