Someone once said of George Best that he found the game so easy that by 26 he got bored and just gave up trying (apologies to all Hibees, but he was to all intents and purposes done by the time he rocked up at Easter Road). When The Beta Band split up in 2004 I had similar thoughts. They just seemed to find it all too easy. I’m not saying that Steve Mason is the George Best of Scottish music… although now I come to mention it.
Tom Naylor recently wrote an article in The Guardian which looked at the demise of LCD Soundsystem by stating that more bands should release a minimum of three albums and split up. I think the point he was making was that most bands only have three great albums in them, if they’re lucky (he cites New Order, Public Enemy, The Pixies and Oasis!!! amongst others to back up his point). His exceptions that prove the rule are The Beatles and Kraftwerk. Where that leaves Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Prince, Bowie, Springsteen, Dylan etc I don’t know. And it’s not necessarily about length of service. I would argue that Gillian Welch, PJ Harvey and The Pet Shop Boys have all been involved in four or more great records. I don’t think Tom had properly thought things through, but the general point, if it had been a good one, could have been applied to The Beta Band. Discounting compilations, their three album run of The Beta Band, Hot Shots II and Heroes to Zeros showed a musical vision that was eclectic, inventive and sometimes obtuse. It appeared that they had so many ideas that they were impatient to move on to the next without fully exploring what they had just done. As a result these are three records that bear repeated listening.
Mason has just released a new solo record Boys Outside, and it’s the best thing he’s done since he was one of the Beta boys. Mason, or someone involved, made the surprising (at least to me) choice of the modern day Trevor Horn, Richard X, as producer, but the collaboration is a success. X brings his 80s influenced, slightly grimy, pop sensibilities to Mason’s sparse tunes, and it works a treat. All tracks were originally written on acoustic guitar, and their simplicity is respected. After flirting with other musical genres with King Biscuit Time and Black Affair this is a return to what Steve Mason does best. Here’s the video for Lost and Found:
I think the actor in the above clip played the dentist ex-husband of Suzie Kettles in John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti. But back to The Beta Band. It may be an obvious choice, but here they are live doing Dry the Rain, a song that will always take me back and make me smile: