This month’s ‘Lost in Music’ is inspired by seeing Davey Henderson play at the launch Neu Reekie’s record label at Mono last month. Henderson is one of those musical geniuses who make it all seem so easy that it is sometimes possible to take them for granted. I first heard Henderson’s music when he was in The Fire Engines, a 80’s post punk band from Edinburgh who were just about the best around alongside Orange Juice and Josef K.
What came next was both out of time and ahead of its time. Henderson and his fellow Fire Engine Russel Burn put together a band called Win and they took the white soul sound that was so popular at the time, and brought it kicking and screaming into the late 80s, introducing it to Prince along the way. In doing so they made no bones about the commercialism that they aspired too and simultaneously criticised. In an interview Davey Henderson stated “We’re well wicked basically baby! We want the charts, we want to pack them with our little tunes and our groovy lyrics. We won’t stop until we get EXACTLY what we want. That’s all really. That’s Win”. Win wanted to beat them and join them
They only made two albums, and both are worth a listen, but the first was a beaut. Uh! Tears Baby… (A Trash Icon) was incredibly ambitious, but on the band’s own terms. They weren’t going to sell out, but were going to sell if at all possible. You might think that the fact that central track ‘You Got The Power’ accompanied an advert for McEwan’s Lager contradicts this, but this was a band of contradictions, and what an advert. Calling on inspiration from the like of Escher and the Myth of Sisyphus, and allied to Win’s terrific ‘jangle/electro/pop’ music, this was not like anything Scottish TV has seen before. It wasn’t so long before that McEwan’s was known in advertising simply as ‘the best buy in beer’. Now it wasn’t even mentioned, or seen, until the very end. And what better way to promote your single than to have a great video made that was on TV every night, and you didn’t pay a penny for it. Unfortunately the lager still tasted piss-weak, but you didn’t have to drink it, just enjoy the ad. For a bit of nostalgia, here it is:
But unfortunately the ad did overshadow what was a terrific album, and the other singles didn’t do so well. Win were bright, shiny and therefore didn’t really fit in with the faux ‘reality’ that blighted a lot of pop music at the time. Win offered lots of religious and Hollywood iconography coupled with images of disposable consumer goods. They saw what was to come in terms of sloganeering, the fixation with ‘brand’, in a similar way to how Malcolm McLaren had tried to promote the Sex Pistols. It was interesting that Win chose to re-record The Fire Engines track ‘Un-American Broadcasting’ for the album, as they were taking a look at what was being broadcast from America, and warning us as to what to expect. As usual not many listened.
Nearly every track on Uh! Tears Baby… (A Trash Icon) is superb, and I think, unlike some albums which may be written about in this column, it stands up well today. Or maybe I just love it that much. It’s a bit like The Jesus and Mary Chain if they had been produced by Trevor Horn, or had Paul Morley planning their agenda. I know as I type this that many people would think this is the worst thing that they could imagine, but you’re wrong, and apparently it nearly happened. There are not many Scottish albums from that time that I play regularly (Rattlesnakes and High Land, Hard Rain are two notable exceptions) but I often dig Win out, if only to remind myself that someone once wrote a pop song called ‘It May Be A Beautiful Sky Tonight, But It’s Only A Shelter For A World At Risk’. This, instead, is ‘Super Popoid Groove’, a song which sums up what Win were trying to achieve:
Davey Henderson continues to make music for discerning ears, but would never come as close again to reaching the audience his music deserved, at least as yet. It was great to see him play live the other night, and a bit disconcerting to discover that he doesn’t seemed to have aged, but what is still unmistakable is his distinctive vocals and the effortless charm and style that he brings to everything he touches. Groovy.
If you want to know everything you could ever want to about Win you should visit Win: A Discography a tremendous site with interviews, pics and other information run by Mick Scannell.
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