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SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #32 : BILLY MacKENZIE

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Billy-MacKenzie

I’m on a hiding to nothing this week for no matter what I pick it will not come close to the gems that Sid Law shared with us in his guest series on the late, great Billy MacKenzie.

Thought I’d go with one of covers as it’s quite lovely:-

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – Wild Is The Wind

The most famous version was of course that by David Bowie who included it on Station to Station back in 1976. Billy’s version was released posthumously and is a sad reminder of what great voice he was in, even during his most troubled days.

HE WOULD HAVE TURNED 58 YEARS OF AGE TODAY

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Billy MacKenzie

I recently sent Sid Law an e-mail with a great big ‘thank you’ on behalf of everyone for his words and songs in the recent Billy Mackenzie series. Here’s his lovely reply:-

I’m really glad the Billy posts were appreciated by your Vinyl Villain readers. I am awfie glad that people took the time to download some of the music I sent on to you, I hope it casts a little more colour and light on Billy and the range of his music. Billy and The Associates left behind a legacy of some very fine work which was remastered and expanded in the Virgin re-issues. For me the tragedy was always what was missed from the re-issue schedules, the weird collaborations, the mental B-sides, the long deleted and forgotten, the out-takes, the unreleased stuff. Maybe its all a bit train spotter-ish… but that is being a fan.

I think the work Billy was doing during the last few years of his life was some of the best he had ever done. His vocal work with Barry Adamson, Apollo Four Forty and Loom are of a richness, depth and scope which eclipsed almost everything he had ever done before. He was flying…

Billy would have been 58 on Friday 27 March.

Please find attached two commercially unavailable items of some charm and interest. The fully extended 12″ Mix of “Cinemas Of The World” from Billy’s 1987 collaboration with Uno. The following year The Associates released their last Warners single “Heart Of Glass” and on the four track 3-inch CDEP version (there were many formats…) there lurked “Her Only Wish” a dark little beast of a song which never saw the light of day on any of the re-issue CDs.

Post as you see fit Jim!

All the best – enjoy what we have!

Sid Law

How could I resist??

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie/Uno – Cinemas Of The World (12″ mix)
mp3 : Associates – Her Only Wish

And here’s one from me….fairly widely available but a personal favourite:-

mp3 : Associates – Breakfast (Peel Session)

Enjoy

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES….COURTESY OF SID LAW (6)

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In 1996 Billy was in London trying to get a record deal. Epic and Nude were both interested and while the fine detail and deal was sorted out, Billy had been recording a vocal for yet another collaboration. This time it was with those epic progsters Apollo Four Forty.

Already well-known for their remix and production work on everyone from U2 to The Moody Boys, they had ditched the extended exploration of cryogenic preservation evidenced on their “Millenium Fever” debut LP in 1994 (do check it out – I love it!) to create a sample-icious follow up album “Electra Glide In Blue”, but they needed someone to do a kind of “Billy MacKenzie” style performance on a tune called “Pain In Any Language”. There was only one person to get in for the job.

Top @440 dudester Noko described how “up” Billy was “about the whole thing”. It was the last song Billy wrote, recorded and completed in his life. It is a career highpoint and in a bitter twist turned out to be Billy’s swansong.

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie /Apollo 440 – Pain In Any Language

There is a tiny wee clip of Billy in “The Glamour Chase” documentary showing Billy laughing and having a cup of tea during the recording session with Apollo Four Forty. He looks full of beans. When Nude signed a deal with Billy in late 1996, Apollo Four Forty were given the nod to produce four tracks for Billy’s album for Nude. Listen to this track and imagine what an album that could have been. It was never made.

Sid Law

And that, dear readers, brings an end to what has been a truly wonderful series and one that was I honoured and humbled to have hosted on T(n)VV.  Thank you so much Sid.  Please feel free to share more treasures with us.

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (3)

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TheAudienceThatFellToEarth

Okay it is 1988. It has been nearly three years since The Associates last LP “Perhaps”. The slightly techno friendly cover of Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” has not set the charts alight despite a slew of formats (three 12″ versions, CD single, 7″ single, a 3D printed sleeve with some special glasses inside the sleeve etc). Billy has an album sitting in the can, Shirley Bassey has just covered one of his songs with Yello. In a quick series of moves Warners dropped Billy from their label and stopped the release of the already completed album “The Glamour Chase” dead in its tracks.

Three years of work on “The Glamour Chase” album and a decade of writing, recording and gigging. Now labell-less, deal-less and all his material in the can in a Warners basement and staying there. It is hard to comprehend that kind of blow. But a mighty blow it certainly was. After being dropped from the label over lunch in a Mayfair restaurant, Billy asked the record company executive given the task of dining and dropping him for a cab home on the record company account. The exec readily agreed and in a legendary move Billy took a cab home – all the way from London to Dundee.

“The Glamour Chase” did not surface in a proper release until 2002 when it was thrown in as a non-ironic freebie with the first CD release of 1985’s “Perhaps”. Some of it is fairly pedestrian lightweight, late 80’s funky standard pop stuff but there are some tremendous songs on it (particularly the Boris Blank produced Because You Love, Snowball, The Rhythm Divine and In Windows All) but perhaps the real standout track was a song Billy had been playing live for a few years called “Empires Of Your Heart” and everyone should hear it. Listen to this… can you believe a record company dropped this guy and left this kind of material in the can?

mp3 : Associates – Empires Of Your Heart

I also attach a track from a bootleg called “The Audience That Fell To Earth”. Billy MacKenzie with Paul Haig and some others performing “Empires Of Your Heart” at Wilkie House on 14 September 1986.

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie/Paul Haig – Empires Of Your Heart (live)

Cheers
Sid Law

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (2)

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In 1992 Billy’s “Outernational” solo outing hit the shelves. marred by delays and record company troubles it slid out almost un-noticed, received little attention and neither of its singles troubled the charts. Circa Records folded shortly after its release and Billy’s career seemed stalled again.

So it was that in late 1992, ten years after they had last worked together, Billy’s old Associate Alan Rankine phoned Billy up and the pair began recording again in Auchterhouse. Half a dozen songs from those reunion demos eventually surfaced on the “Double Hipness” CD in 2000. One of those songs was called “Edge Of The World” (it is well worth buying the CD for that and the other 29 tracks!). However in 1992/93 Billy wasn’t keen to tour or perform live – so that Billy/ Alan reunion simply never got off the ground. Those recordings were shelved until after Billy’s death..

However, Billy knew a good song when he wrote one. In 1996 the song was still unreleased in any official form. That summer Billy was back down living in London and heard an instrumental track by Loom. Loom’s members Bent Recknagel and Ralph P. Ruppert (AKA Headman) were London-based and ran the Millenium label.  Billy, having heard their instrumental track on a cassette, had sang “Edge Of The World” over it, his melody and lyrics locked in perfectly.  MacKenzie contacted them, visited their studio on the Portobello Road in London and the track was finished in half an hour.  The result was quickly released as “Anacostia Bay (At The Edge Of The World)”.

It is a blistering raw vocal performance, emotive and right up there with any of Billy’s best vocals, with burbling synths, sequencers and percussion propelling it along. In its original form it is a 12 minute 42 second version and was released on 12″ and CDEP back in August 1996.

This was the last record with Billy’s name on it which was actually released in his lifetime (as far as I am aware).

Over the years between 1992 and 1996 Billy had also worked on the song with Steve Aungle which later led to some confusion over authorship. The title of the song for the Loom release had become Anacostia Bay “At The Edge Of The World” or “Anacostia Bay” (At The Edge Of The World) probably to differentiate authorship from the different versions of the song for publishing reasons.

To add to the confusion a mis-spelled “Steve Neugal” is credited with Additional Keyboards and Programming on the Berlioz Mix of the Loom track!

An edited version of this Loom version of the song was later released on the posthumous “Auchtermatic” CD.   But this is the entire, full-length, spectacular original – unavailable for nearly 19 years….

mp3 : Loom feat. Billy Mackenzie – Anacostia Bay

BILLY MACKENZIE RARITIES…COURTESY OF SID LAW (1)

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It was back at the turn of the year when Sid initially got in touch.  The e-mail was entitled ‘Cheers, Happy New Year’ and it said:-

Still enjoying your blog Mr Villain! Thought I’d be a little presumptuous and send you some Billy in the form of a little-heard version of It’s Over just featuring the orchestra. BEF dragged it out of their vaults a few years back.

Hard to believe that it will be 18 years ago this month since Billy died.

Happy to dredge my vault for anything you might want on the Billy front if you are thinking of a wee post later in the month. I do have an awfie lot.

Orrabest

Sid Law

From there we hatched a plan with the intention of having a whole week’s worth of posts in the run-up to the anniversary but stormy weather and power-cuts in Sid’s neighbourhood led to delays and this change of tack.

After I’d thanked him for sending me the orchestral mix of It’s Over, Sid quickly sent over another e-mail with an example of the sort of rarities he has.

Another from Billy. His take on Randy Newman’s “Baltimore”.

A version of the track (there are a couple) appeared on the ridiculously limited edition posthumous “Wild Is The Wind EP” on Paul Haig’s ROL label (Paul Haig had nothing to do with the actual recording – it ain’t a MacKenzie/Haig number).

The song never re-appeared on any of the posthumous CD album issues of unreleased material and hasn’t been seen or heard since.

Enjoy.

Sid Law

mp3 : Billy Mackenzie – Baltimore

As our benefactor says, enjoy.

I should mention that Sid very generously supplied high-quality rips of all the songs.  It’s my decision to pare these back to mere CD quality for the blog.  At the end of it all, I’m intending to put the hi-quality versions up for a short period of time.

BILLY MACKENZIE : A SMALL APPRECIATION

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Most people with even just a passing acquaintance with early 80s UK pop music will be vaguely aware of Billy Mackenzie thanks to the run of three chart singles – Party Fears Two, Club Country and 18 Carat Love Affair – enjoyed by his band Associates back in 1982. If those three classic 45s had been all that he had ever lent his distinctive and unique vocal talents to, then Billy Mackenzie would still be worthy of having a place at the top table of pop geniuses for they are unlike any other hit songs of that era that more than three decades on still have the ability to impress and astonish with every single listening.

It will be 18 years ago tomorrow since Billy took an overdose to end his life just two months short of his 40th birthday – and there will be a special guest posting coming your way from one of his biggest and long-standing fans  – Sid Law – who for a number of years kept the flame alive in a tremendously informative and quite unique fan site called Whippet At The Wheel (click here).

The site was only up and running for a short period of time and there were only ever 32 postings….but what made it so very special was that Sid was posting songs and music that otherwise had never been made commercially available at any time…and he’s kindly doing the same tomorrow as well as allowing me to put up a piece of music today. I’m really thrilled and honoured.

At the time of Billy Mackenzie’s his death, he had been largely forgotten by most music fans and considered an irrelevance by all but the most loyal of his fanbase. As is so often the case, it took death for a more honest and meaningful reappraisal of his career to happen and if anything he is better known today than he was even at the height of his fame.

A lot of this has to do with the initial 1998 publication of The Glamour Chase by Tom Doyle, in which Billy’s life-story is told with huge affection and honesty. The book led to a 40-minute long television documentary here in Scotland (currently available to view on YouTube – just click this link), and then in 2009 a play was written and performed in his home city of Dundee and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Two years later, Tom Doyle revised and updated the biography, leaning on much of what had been said and written in the first decade of this century, a period in which a poll of many hundreds of Scottish music bloggers had voted Party Fears Two as the greatest ever Scottish single and in which many famous musicians the world over had cited Billy Mackenzie as being as big an influence on them as anyone else.

As with any well-written and well-researched biography, the book filled in a lot of gaps in knowledge in terms of the personal and fleshed out much in terms of the musical. It shed light on the complex nature of Billy’s love for his home city; as a teenager he couldn’t wait to escape its confines in a period when it was in very steep decline – physically, economically and culturally – but it was also his place of refuge when things weren’t going so well for him. It highlights just how hard he and others worked to make his band a success – it wasn’t until the release of their 10th single and 3rd LP that Associates finally had a hit – and tries to make sense of the accompanying madness and chaos that led to the band, in its most commercially successful guise, imploding almost immediately.

In a pre-internet age, when all we could rely on were carefully crafted press releases or interviews in music papers/magazines, fans could only look on and wonder why Billy always seemed to be at loggerheads with his record companies and why his material, when it was released (if it was released!!) seemed to veer violently between the brilliant and the banal with very little in-between.

We now know with hindsight that Billy struggled with the constant commercial failures and was bemused by the success of many others who were making music in the late 80s and early 90s. He put himself under huge pressures to turn his career around but all he succeeded in doing was to make himself more and more ill as time passed – not that he let on to anyone as his public appearances still saw that cheeky, mischievous grin and glint in the eye, albeit he never went anywhere without a beret as he hated the idea of going bald (there’s a great clip in the STV documentary of a performance in which Billy provides evidence that no matter how handsome a devil you are, it is impossible to look good while wearing a wig).

But his death, even to those of us who were long-time fans, came as the most huge shock. Billy had been somewhat out of the limelight for a few years, and it was almost impossible to find any Associates records as they had been long-deleted by record companies. But we had been reading that he was on his way back having just signed a contract with a new label and was busy in the studio.

It’s since become apparent that a series of events, not least the death of his mother, triggered-off a bout of very serious depression for Billy, but it was an illness that he hid even from those who were closest to him as is quite clear from the documentary with his father and a sister making very brave and heartbreaking contributions.

Billy’s death was sad and tragic. But I think, having read The Glamour Chase, that it was an ending that was in some ways inevitable.

His legacy is a volume of work that has highs and lows, and one that is dominated by that 1982/83 era of Sulk. Even as I mentioned earlier, even if it had just been the three singles from that era that he had left behind then Billy would still be a legend in pop music.

He possessed, without any doubt, a unique singing voice. He had attitude and a fierce streak of independence.  And while he had the support of some in the music industry who stood up for him at all times, it was still a requirement that sales had to be healthy, failing which you had better be willing to bow-down before the powerful moguls and do what you’re told.  He failed in the former and he wouldn’t ever dream of doing the latter.

It’s impossible to guess what the past 18 years would have been like if Billy was still alive. He might have found the magic touch for another hit out of the blue (a la Edwyn Collins and A Girl Like You). Most likely however, is that he would still be recording albums to be bought by just the hard-core of fans, for it took his death to rekindle interest in his work and the re-release of most of his material. But as I say, we just don’t know.

I’m just someone who appreciates the music he left behind, whether as a band member, solo singer or as a collaborator with countless others.  When I first penned a tribute to him over at the old place, marking the 10th anniversary of his death, one of the songs I went with was a cover of a Roy Orbison number that he had recorded for Music of Quality & Distinction Volume One, a 1981 project from the British Electric Foundation.  Knowing my love for that particular cover, Sid sent me something a little bit special that I’m now sharing with you:-

mp3 : B.E.F. featuring Billy Mackenzie – It’s Over (Orchestra Mix)

R.I.P Billy.   You were a sublime talent and you are much missed.

PS

Such has been the amount of stuff that Sid has been sending over to me that I will be keeping some of it back for other posts in the coming days.  It really is the most incredible set of emails to ever fall into my Inbox since the discovery of ‘lost’ Paul Quinn songs and videos.

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