Saturday, 23 June 2012

Friends Again – Edinburgh - 1983

22nd March 1983

Edinburgh Nite Club

I baffles me yet why certain bands “make it”, whilst others do not.  I guess some enterprising chap, with rather too much time on his hands, could look into this and perhaps draw up an equation, incorporating such empirical factors as say, talent, hard work, good luck, looks and marketing budget, to predict future success.  My own personal opinion is the last-named factor would probably turn out to be the most important. 

All this speculation is just a preamble to writing a few words about Friends Again – possibly the most underrated and criminally ignored Scottish band of all time.  I saw them supporting The Farmers Boys at the Edinburgh Nite Club back in 1983 and, although I acknowledge I do not remember too much about their set, what did stand out was the impressive dexterity of guitarist James Grant, plus vocalist Chris Thomson’s whopping quiff.

The band released three singles over the next few months, all of which slipped under my radar, me only really picking up on things in early 1984 with the re-released Honey at The Core.  This was swiftly followed by the 5-track double-single Friends Again EP.  In total 7 magical songs - all in all quite brilliant stuff, drawing upon soul, funk, pop influences – the very antithesis of the then hip Postcard guitar jangle – and often augmented with a horn section and girlie backing singers.  All rounded off with some puzzlingly impenetrable lyrics.  The songs were:

  • Honey at the Core
  • Snow White
  • Lullaby No2
  • Wand You Wave
  • Thank You for Being an Angel
  • State of Art
  • Sunkissed

How had I missed these?  And more importantly, how had the rest of the country missed them, whilst patently inferior crud like Thompson Twins, Kajagoogoo and Nick Heyward had somehow been manoeuvered into the charts.  It really was enough to make one lose one’s faith in humanity.

Consequently, I really looked forward to the release of their debut album – what with the above 7 gems, they only needed to add perhaps three of four more and Hey Presto:  the best debut album since The Velvet’s, with world domination to follow.  Hmmmm, I am perhaps over-egging that particular pudding, but the release should have been at least on a par with the first Orange Juice or Aztec Camera efforts.

But sadly, no.

Only 4 of the aforementioned compositions found their way onto the set, two of which (Sunkissed and Honey at the Core) were palpably inferior re-recordings.  All of the new songs had to contend with Bob Sargeant’s over-fussy production, with only South of Love and the charmingly potty Moon 3 shining.

Perhaps inevitably, the album was largely ignored by Western civilization, and even I, as a fan, struggled to track the thing down upon release: and so it came to pass a few months later, Friends Again called it a day.  Most of the band went on to form Love & Money who continued to plough the blue-eyed soul furrow, although Chris Thompson’s heart beat in a different way.

Which leads us, I suppose, to The Bathers, although this outfit was less a formal group, than a vehicle for Thompson’s rather unique musical vision.  Anyone approaching The Bathers from a Friends Again standpoint would find it a rather disorientating experience, for gone were the funk and soul influences of his former band, to be replaced by a rather more stripped down jazz-influenced minimalist approach. 

Thompson’s Friends Again voice was occasionally recognizable, but generally his singing now sounded a cross between Gordon Haskell’s rich baritone, and that whispered grunting which Tom Waits used to succeed in getting away with.  A bit of an acquired taste, although I do feel at times things could have benefited from someone persuading Thompson to consider leaning back an inch or so back from the mike during recordings.  Just an observation.   

Of the albums I have heard, Pandemonia is a wonderfully evocative journey through loves past and present.  Kelvingrove Baby is a rather starker set, although perseverance does bring its rewards in the forms of If Love Could Last Forever, No Risk No Glory and the lengthy title track.

In 2001 Thompson re-recorded a whole wodge of songs from across the band’s back catalogue, releasing them as a Best of collection: Desire Regained.  And this set probably represents as good a place as any to start should anyone wish to dip in for a bathe. 

Just don’t expect to dance.

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