Happy to delete this if anyone else steps in. If not, get on board or step aside. Essential albums ain’t dying on my watch, Baby.
One of The Big Four from my high school years, alongside Crocodiles, Kilimanjaro and You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, High Land Hard Rain remains one of my favourite, most played and most bought albums - vinyl, cassette, CD, purchases for friends, gifts.. I wasn’t cool enough to have picked up on the two Postcard singles Just Like Gold (George Michael’s favourite single?) and Mattress Of Wire, or indeed the initial, Rough Trade release of Pillar To Post. It wasn’t until the end of the year, 1982, when listening to The Festive 50 that I became aware of Aztec Camera as more than another weird name in the NME. I loved the Festive 50 and always viewed it as an opportunity to catch something I might have missed during the year. The other end of year find I recall clearly from 1982 was Shambeko! Say Wah! Remember, which felt like a burst of unbridled optimism in a pretty bleak (for school leavers) time. I remain a fan of Wylie to this day.
After a week of not eating school dinners I headed to Jumbo and bought both singles. Helpful as ever, the good people who manned the counter also sent me home with Seven Minutes To Midnight and Josef K’s Chance Meeting, the only Postcard single they had in stock. A wonderful, shambolic single with some understated horn playing to boot. They also put in an ultimately unsuccessful order for the afore mentioned Aztec Camera singles.
Fast forward to the Spring of ’83 and High Land Hard Rain gets released to critical acclaim. Elvis Costello remarks on Roddy Frame’s talents both as a lyric writer and his magnificent, at times, jazz infused guitar chops. All well and good but I’ve often thought the talents of Dave Ruffy (drums), Bernie Clarke (keyboards) and Campbell Owen (bass) were criminaly overlooked as a consequence of the spot light shining so brightly on Roddy Frame. Did you know he had the bulk of the album written by the time he was 8? That at 3 he’d sit in the kitchen eating soup, listening to the radio and calling out chord changes in Bowie’s Heroes to his mum? Well, there were all kinds of anecdotes like that doing the rounds at the time. Suffice to say he was very talented and very young to be so talented.
Onto the album itself. No let’s have a look at the cover first. Isn’t she beautiful? Yes she is Jon, I hear you say. A marvelous piece of art by David Bland (worthy of his own thread). A rabbit, on a ladder, playing a trumpet while a train speeds by in the background. Sound shocking looks great. The inner sleeve a lustrous deep red with the lyrics, and they are pure poetry in parts, on one side (from memory, I only have the CD here) and a photo of Roddy in one of those Davey Crocket style suede fringe jackets (maybe he was influenced by The Byrds?) silhouetted against a well illuminated store window. Artsy or what?
Anyway, the tunes. Oblivious, an absolute classic of a pop single that, much like There She Goes, needed multiple releases before the public caught on to its beauty. I still pick up on new things in this tune today. I’m sure you audiophiles would have a field day with your preamps and speakers on stilts listening to this, on vinyl naturally.
The Boy Wonders, you know what, I’m not going to go through this track by track, others have done that much better than I could ever manage. Suffice to say I never skip a song when playing this album, it’s all totally wonderful and works as a complete entity. There’s some truly beautiful guitar playing on here. The instrumental bit in We Could Send Letters for instance gets me every time.
For all it’s bright and breezy initial feel and Springtime release date High Land Hard Rain has always felt more like a winter album, a dark night album. I played it to death in my bedroom during my teens, we were always outside when it was light back then. Years later I used to love walking into The Scratcher, my one time watering hole of choice, around midnight to find them playing the whole album. Pints of Guinness, ill advised whiskey chasers, a great crowd,
I don’t know much about most of the bands I profess to love. I don’t have much interest in celebrity. I know a bit about The Beatles and Dylan and Copey but that’s about it, so I can’t even offer anything on that front either. But, the idea was to put an album up, have a listen and see what you think. Give it a go Pop Pickers then do your worst in the thread that follows.
The original album ended with Down The Dip, the additional tunes are B-sides and pretty fine too, even the rockabilly style Queens Tattoo.
It is to my eternal regret that when I had the chance to see Aztec Camera I opted to stay in the taproom of our local nattering with old blokes who are all probably dead now about nothing much in particular instead of getting in a cab with H and a couple of other chums and heading across town to the gig. You live you learn.