Monday, 1 October 2012

Aztec Camera – Glasgow – 1988

30th January 1988

Glasgow Barrowlands

The Eighties were pretty good times for Scottish bands.  OK, so perhaps the English held down the Number 1 spot with The Smiths, but boasting Orange Juice, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Big Country, The Proclaimers, Friends Again, The Waterboys, The Bluebells, The Associates and (pre-Sparkle in the Rain) Simple Minds, we Scots confidently felt we had most of the rest of the Top Ten tied up.  

Of course, to this list one has to add Aztec Camera: arguably the most accomplished of the lot.

No slight is intended to the talents of the likes of Malcolm Ross, Craig Gannon and Dave Mulholland who all enjoyed stints with the band, but in reality Aztec Camera was primarily a vehicle for the not inconsiderable talents of East Kilbride born Roddy Frame.

The group’s first single Just Like Gold was recorded in 1981, when Frame was a depressingly precocious seventeen-year old.  The debut album, High Land Hard Rain released two years later represented, alongside Orange Juice’s debut album, the epitome of the fresh new sound which was emerging from Young Scotland in the early 1980s.

The lead off track, Oblivious, was a joyous success of layered jangle-pop, at once both quirky and danceable; Frame’s acoustic guitar work particularly memorable.  Pillar to Post and Walk Out To Winter were both hits on the Indie chart, whilst We Could Send Letters showcased Frame’s eloquent lyric writing to the fore, featuring another acoustic guitar solo of sublimely restrained dexterity.  

The album closed with the sprightly Down The Dip – a thinking man’s rewrite of Sham 69’s anthem Hurry up, Harry.  A captivating collection from start to finish.    

There was, however, an audible intake of breath when we learned that Aztec Camera’s follow-up album would be produced by Mark Knopfler.  For Dire Straits were at this point in time well on their way to evolving into bloated Stadium-Rock blobbyness, and Mr K really enjoyed little, if indeed any cache within the UK indie scene.

But the album was remarkably convincing – perhaps lacking a measure of the sparkle of the debut, but certainly a clear cut above most of the dross around at the time.  All I Need Is Everything and Still On Fire were both strong singles, although only the former charted.  

Back Door To Heaven and the strident Birth Of The True were both a treat, but the standout cut was perhaps the nine minute long title track.  I am guessing this song is probably the one where the Dire Straits guitarist’s influence was greatest and, although at times it sounds as if Frame and Knopfler are attempting to re-write Albatross, Roddy's perfectly-phrased vocal performance saves the day.  In fact, I consider it his finest.

This particular gig was the Glasgow stop on the early 1988 tour to coincide with the band’s third release: the rather disappointing Love.  The singles chosen to promote the album were Deep and Wide and Tall, and How Men Are – both distressingly anodyne efforts.  With Roddy only later accepting what we had all realised some months earlier: that Somewhere in My Heart was the Top Five hit in waiting. 

Of the other songs on the album Working In a Goldmine was pleasant enough but smouldered without ever quite catching fire, whilst the soul-influenced Paradise only just managed to keep its head above water; at times almost drowning in an opulent production job (Andean Pipes, anyone?)  

Killermont Street was another Frame masterpiece however: his heartbreakingly poignant paean to Glasgow’s main bus station, a jumping off point for so many Scots going south. 

A first impression when the band took to the stage at The Barrowlands was surprise at just how many folks there were in Aztec Camera these days.  Eight, including a percussionist and two girlie backing singers.  

I think the opener was All I Need is Everything, and I am fairly sure the set included Pillar to Post, The Boy Wonders, and a cover of The Blue Orchid’s Bad Education, but I cannot really be sure after all this time. 

I do recall Roddy’s short acoustic spot; performing Down The Dip, Birth Of The True and Jump – the last named regretfully shorn of the electric guitar blowout.  Oblivious was one of the encores and, unless memory is tricking me again, the evening was rounded off with Frame on stage alone giving a version of Bob Dylan’s I Threw It All Away.

And that was the last time I saw ever Roddy (to date, at least).  No criticism of Aztec Camera intended with that statement, but the Eighties were drawing to a close, and the Nineties were to be my Van Morrison decade.

Setlist  (From memory with internet clues - but it could all be bollox)

All I Need is Everything
Pillar to Post
Lost Outside the Tunnel
Working in a Goldmine
How Men Are
Killermont Street
Birth of The True
Down The Dip
Bad Education
The Boy Wonders
Still on Fire
Deep & Wide & Tall
Walk out to Winter
I Threw It All Away

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