October 25, 2021

BMX Bandits – “Star Wars” – long ago in a Glasgow far away

LAST NIGHT IN GLASGOW 30th April 2021

Glaswegian chiming guitar pop. Think Teenage Fanclub – not surprising because a fair number of the Teenage Fanclub were at some point in the Bandits’ rotating line-up. Norman Blake et al were to charm audiences with their down to earth Scottish Byrds jangle fuzz but this offering from 1991 is the equal of a number of Fanclub releases. Working through classic pop tropes in a nineties guitar style, always with a slightly abashed ‘aw, gee, it weren’t nothing’ sort of feel to it. The sort of thing that led to Oasis playing support to them while they were labelmates at Creation Records.

Norman Blake had recently left the band when the Bandits got the opportunity to record this, their second album (the first having more or less disappeared in a label collapse). He did pop up to work on a song at the end of the recording but they didn’t include it here. This was to be as obscure as the first album (C86), getting a release only on a Japanese label on vinyl. It finally gets a digital release now, as a thirty year anniversary reissue. Duglas T. Stewart, the pivotal figure of the band seems to have courted cult obscurity throughout the band’s history and many releases.

We have a sound that is definitely Glasgow, definitely nineties and has more than a whiff of the Teenie Fans, yet is distinct. There is a deliberate naivety at times and a wilful openness – take the first track as an example – the sort of insistent demand for openness that you get from Jonathan Richman but in a rock context. They were fans of Daniel Johnston at the time (they cover Do You Really Love Me) and it shows in their original material.

Songs can be rolling or slow gentle things like Smile For Me, with its nicely-constructed backdrop. Green Grow The Rushes O has a great chiming sound and floating chorus, a fully successful transformation of an old folk song. Life Goes On is affecting and the addition of a saxophone adds colour: “all that will be left of our love is this song”. Students of Life is quirky, bouncy and delightfully naïve. Star Wars has elements of Brian Wilson’s later Beach Boys work before becoming an acoustic guitar hippy strum about peace vs the satellite weapons the superpowers were mooting back in the nineties.

Tunes are short and generally sweet. They aim at adopting classic pop forms and establishing an accessible voice. The songwriting voice is surprisingly mature, so that even the naiive songs are deliberately so. The album as a whole has a period charm and holds up decently today. More than worth your time.