Don’t dilly Dalai
Alastair Mabbott finds that some of the most blissful pop is hanging determinedly in the fringes of the mainstream, specifically Sean O’Hagan’s High Llamas.
There is a little hit of Sean ()‘l-lagan. the tnusical mastermind behind The High Llamas. that's embarrassed by ‘this whole pop rmtsic thing'. as he puts it. ‘l'm 36.‘ he says. ‘I did it ten years ago and I‘m doing it again now. and most people who do things ten years on are sort of greying majestically and they've got this very safe A()R sound together. You know when you get to that age and you sort of say. “Well I found tnyself when l was 31. 3- and this songs about my first child." that sott of thing'.’ lrjuite like the idea of that. l was doing that when Microdisney were a relatively pop .mainstream thing and we‘re going the other way just now.‘
The High Llamas havent yet taken the tnainstrearn by storm. though their music is a balm to the cars. and since I‘M-1's (Hr/eon (Jaye their following has swelled to healthy cult proportions. ()‘Hagan was more out of step with the rest of the world in Microdisney (1982—88). creating smooth soundtracks to cushion and complement the bile of singer Cathal Coughlan. After Microdisney spiralled into self-destruction. (‘oughlan went on I
to flashes ofexcoriating brilliance in Fatima Mansions. while ()‘I lagan drove vans for Friends Of The Earth and deliberately avoided es-popster' professions of the A & R ilk on the bunch that it would make it harder for him to come back as a tnaverick outsider later on.
His patience paid off. though the solo work made little impression at first. Quite frankly. I wasjigging around with three-part harmonies and songs that sounded like they could have been recorded in Woodsth in ‘6‘) or with Van Dyke Parks or Leon Russell in California at the same time. So I was sort of derided. But there w as a total sea-change around three years ago.‘
Although he‘s half-joking when he says that success would llattcn his ‘carefully-constructcd hottsc of cards‘. ()‘llagan does refuse to play certain industry games that could launch thetn onto a higher plane; The High Llamas are one of those bands who look like they dress down to take the stage. Nevertheless. their sartorial stubbornness didn’t pttt off Herb Alpert. who tried to sign the Llamas to his Altno label last year.
Herb would have been chuffed with Hawaii. a new Z‘Hrack follow-rip to I‘m-1'sjaw-slackening (in/eon (love. Ilrnruti allows classic pop, great instrumentals and film soundtracks -— along with a hint of (Ms easy listening and its attendant csotica - to meander into each other in a timeless. summery haze. Much like ()‘Hagan's mates Stcrcolab tfot‘ whom he arranges strings and plays keyboards). the
High larktng with the Llamas
Llamas let their love of (ierman electronic espcrirnentalism show as a hypnotic umlertow. Brit there are three names which are always called upon when a description of The High Llamas is sought.
‘()h. yeah. Marc Bolan. l)cmi.s Roussos and. er. 7'
He knows perfectly well who I mean: Burt Bacharaclt. Steely Dan and . . .
‘.-\h. The Beach Boys. Well. during the years of .\licrodisney. l was hammering away on old Beach Boys stuff. and if you‘d said that in the 80s people would've gone. "You're mad. it‘s the Velvet l'ndcrgrourul. for fuck’s
'sake." ()r. “It's The Doors.” And in
l‘)‘)() the world opened up and everyone got bored with tltc w hole navel-gazing stuff and people got more open to music. .\'ow it‘s gone to ridiculous measures and you've got the Mike l'ilowct‘s l’opsl'
l)on‘t get him wrong: ()‘Hagan has a lot oftirnc for Mike Flowers. But it‘s unlikely that he'd feel comfortable about his own group profiting frotn a kitsch wave. So don‘t expect The High Llamas to make a '\\'ondcrwall‘ out of their forthcoming version of ‘Frankly.
.\lr Shankiy‘ on a multi-artist retnakc of
The Queen Is Der/ll. commissioned by esteemed French rock organ Les l/tmckn/rrt/ﬂvs for its tenth anniversary. Checsiness is not in this man's vocabulary. And by the time he really is
i greying majestically. Sean ()‘Hagan
might be spoken of as reverentially as his key influences. The High Llamas /)/(l_\' The (til/muse. (ilusgmr (H1 l’ri [2.
_ Boston blue notes
Tommy Smith: Berklee ground-breaker
When Tommy Smith went off to Berklee College in Boston back in [98-1 as a raw sisteen-year-old. few in Scottish jazz circles could have predicted the substantial part which that' famous jazz school would come to play in the development of the indigenous jazz culture.
Jazz education has taken huge strides in the decade or so since Smith made the initial crossing. spurred by changes to the school-level syllabus which encouraged a much greater emphasis on improvisation and invention. Specific developments within jazz education have reached new levels this year with the launch of the National Jazz Institute in Glasgow. and the choice of the award-whirring Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra to take part in a prestigious BBC film (for transmission in June as part of the Young Musicians ()6 series).
A number of young musicians have followed Smith's road to Boston. including Steve llatnilton. Paddy Flahetty. Laura MacDonald. Nicol Thompson and Gail McArthur. but that policy is reversed this month when Berklee comes to Glasgow. A consignment of tutors will work with students in the city for a week. although probletns with the administration of the scheme made it unlikely that the target ligure of [50 students would be reached this time around.
It is. Smith believes. ‘a great opportunity for students to get a taste of Berklee. and not just from Scotland'. and he and his fellow organisers hope that it will become a regular event. Not everyone is as convinced of the benefits of this kind ofeducation'. some. like HEP Records owner Alastair Robettson. sees a danger of it leading to standardisation of approach. while others wonder where the gigs are going to come from to support this new. well- trained generation of musicians.
These are valid concerns. but the trend now seetns irreversible. and Berklee in (Elasgow marks another significant step in that direction. Ziggy Zigman at Pizza Express has arranged a couple of gigs to coincide with the event (see listings for details). (Kenny lylathieson)
Berklee in (i/usgmr lakes p/(u'efnr enrol/ml students at ./(H'(/(llt/Iff/ Cunrpus from Sat 6— Fri [2 April.
The List 5-18 Apr 1996 35