Wednesday 4th April
Aztec Camera – Again this may surprise you, who think I only like Sixties music. This band came along in 1980, along with other bands like Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue – they weren’t New Wave, they weren’t Post-Punk, but they were incredibly talented, had usually one great songwriter and made immaculate records. The band was really Roddy Frame, a young and talented songwriter, guitarist and singer from Glasgow. Each Aztec Camera features different band members, as Roddy seems to have outgrown his fellow players quickly. The last three albums are simply Frame himself with Session players. But since the mid-nineties he has recorded under his own name, and then only very sporadically.
I suppose I became interested on hearing a couple of singles, specifically ‘Good Morning Britian’ recorded with and sung by Mick Jones from the Clash – although definitely not punky at all. And then I went and bought the albums…working mostly backwards.
Their debut was High Land, Hard Rain, released in 1983. Best song is ‘Oblivious’, a poppy classic with great words. I also like ‘Walk Out To Winter’ and ‘The Bugle Sounds Again’, but quite a few of the songs sound a bit under-produced, just acoustic guitar and voice. Oh, but what a voice Roddy has. Full of yearning and sadness, with only a trace of his native Scots accent. And the songs are quite varied, some poppy, some ballads and a couple of faster numbers. A nice debut. The follow-up Knife was a bit flatter, less upbeat, almost dour. Only really good song was ‘The Birth of the True’. Three years later and Roddy came back with Love; And what a comeback. This is the essential Aztec Camera album. Every song is just right, from opener ‘Deep and Wide and Tall’ to the haunting closer ‘Killermont Street’. I simply love this record. Roddy’s voice is so soulful, almost a match for George Michael, who was of course around at the same time. He had been quiet for three years, mainly in America, quietly re-assessing how he wanted his music to sound. And the soul influence is undeniable, but infused with that touch of white rock and roll it is magical. Best songs – ‘How Men Are’ and ‘Somewhere in my heart’ – but really it is hard to choose. Actually maybe it is ‘Killermont Street’ that is the best….hard to choose I must admit. Two years later came Stray, a more up-beat album, more punky almost, more rocking…with songs like ‘The Crying Scene’ and ‘Good Morning Britain’ and ‘Get Outta London’. But there are some gentler songs in there ‘Over My Head’ and ‘Notting hill blues’ – A very good album again. Dreamland followed in 1993; this was noticeably a quieter album, far less poppy too. Apart from the wonderful ‘Spanish Horses’ no really outstanding songs. Having never been on the ‘hit’ album and single treadmill I can only wonder how hard it must be to not only keep on writing and recording, but to come up with original ‘hit’ melodies. Not that the album isn’t perfectly pleasant – it just feels like a step back, something that Roddy has continued to do more and more often. You get the idea that he just wants to curl up into a ball and send out the occasional song – and if we like it okay, if not then that is okay too. Mind you, ‘Spanish Horses’ is an incredible song. The rest of the record pales into sad Northern rainy skies compared to this wonderful Hispanic ode – “with Gaudi’s shy confusion’. The last Aztec Camera album came out two years later – Frestonia – and again it is quite good. Best songs ‘Sun’ and ‘Rainy Season’. After this Roddy buried Aztec Camera and reverted to his own name. (see F) I did buy his first solo record – but somehow it left me cold, it lacked the exuberance, the passion, the feeling of most of Aztec Camera. A very good compilation (if you are interested…) is Deep and Wide and Tall – all the hits and a good selection of other songs.