Beyond the 130 - The Associates

User avatar
The Modernist
2018 BCB Cup Champ!
Posts: 13454
Joined: 13 Apr 2014, 20:42

Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby The Modernist » 24 Jan 2015, 18:46


Was there any other time that would have produced an act as mercurial and quixotic as The Associates? Probably not, and in that sense they were of their time. Yet musically they seem to stand apart from the post-punk scene from which they emerged. This is partly due to their eccentric influences, which seemed to be Weimar era cabaret, krautrock, disco, Bowie, but most of all the wild and impish personality of octave leaping vocalist Billy McKenzie which seemed to shape the music. He was a one off and as such The Associates sounded like little else before or a since.
Multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine and McKenzie formed their duo in Edinburgh in the late seventies, although Mckenzie originally hailed from Dundee and were supplemented by various musicians, the most important of which was ex Cure bassist Michael Dempsey. Eschewing the usual circuit, their early gigs saw them play the chicken and basket cabaret circuit to a bewildered middle aged audience. When it came to their debut single, they were typically idiosyncratic, choosing to release a cover of "Boys Keep Swinging" a week after Bowie.
So eccentric were The Associates that it's a wonder they had any kind of career at all, but they released a series of extraordinary singles on indie Situation 2 (these are collected on the album Fourth Drawer Down)). Each single sounded different to not only each other, but anything else around and were marked by McKenzie's soaring, Wagnerian vocals, unrestrained and verging at times on hysteria, and Rankine's edgy, scratchy soundscapes. Some selections..

Q Quarters

Tell Me Easter's On a Friday

Message Oblique Speech

Debut album The Affectionate Punch is more rounded and smoother than the provocative Situation 2 singles, although hardly mainstream. It is an obvious bridge to their masterpiece Sulk.

Somehow they found themselves on a major label where they blew their advance on the extravagant and unhinged sessions for Sulk. Stories from this time are legion -submerging a hired drum kit in a tank of water to get a different sound etc. Rankine reminisces here..

How to describe Sulk then? Cramped, dense, spikey certainly, but also sumptuous and rich. Perhaps delirious would be the most fitting description for a multi-layered music that is continually exploding in different directions. It's 80s production won't be to everyone's taste, it's about as far away from organic as you can get, but it's inventive and always surprising, and the melodies are there beneath all the sonic extravagance. Party Fears Two has become their best known track and provided a short lived pop stardom in the heady months of 1982. However we should also consider some of the album's edgier, restless songs. A brief selection...

Sadly this was the peak as Rankine left shortly afterwards, burned out by the band's hedonistic lifestyle and McKenzie's energetic unpredictability. McKenzie carried on the band and the album tht followed is not without its delights, particularly the gorgeous 'should have been a massive hit' Those First Impressions and the moody and elegant magnificence of 'Breakfast'.

But still McKenzie wasn't suited to a mid 80s major label, like a lion in a cage, his music felt restrained and compromised. His solo career is kind of hard to navigate and I rather bailed out at this point, but this was a good collaboration.

Sadly McKenzie was to take his life at 39. I'll leave you with a fitting tribute that I hope you'll have time to watch.

User avatar
der nister
Posts: 15564
Joined: 30 Sep 2008, 18:42

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby der nister » 24 Jan 2015, 18:55

great write up G

a band I can take in small doses
the Bowie sycophancy definitely is either a lure or a turn off
and the music gets increasingly cheesy and slick
but there is no denying Mckenzie had a great voice
and his death a tragedy
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

User avatar
Phenomenal Cat
death on four legs
Posts: 10339
Joined: 07 Sep 2004, 16:52
Location: Presently Shattering the Illusion of Integrity

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby Phenomenal Cat » 24 Jan 2015, 19:14

Really quite brooding and original - I really like the songs you posted.

However -

This is best left unseen:

My mental image wasn't bathed in so much gaiety. :lol:
But somehow when you smile, I can brave bad weather.

User avatar
Posts: 681
Joined: 17 Mar 2014, 19:05

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby Georgios » 24 Jan 2015, 22:02

There's a story about George Michael ringing Mackenzie up to invite him to the release party for Faith but being declined because it clashed with a whippet breeders award ceremony.

User avatar
The Modernist
2018 BCB Cup Champ!
Posts: 13454
Joined: 13 Apr 2014, 20:42

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby The Modernist » 24 Jan 2015, 23:24

I think my favourite MacKenzie story is in the documentary. A record exec from Warners took MacKenzie to a London restaurant to soften him up for the news that he was to be dropped from the label. MacKenzie took it in good grace and asked if it would be okay if the label could get him a cab, which he duly took...back to Dundee.


User avatar
Jeff K
The Original K
Posts: 32694
Joined: 16 Jul 2003, 23:08
Location: Pennsylvania USA

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby Jeff K » 24 Jan 2015, 23:46

The Associates were one of my first BCB bands. I only vaguely knew about them but became more interested after a few folks on here kept singing their praises. I have to confess that I still haven't warmed up to Mackenzie's vocals but musically, they were terrific. They were influenced by Roxy Music without sounding like them.
the science eel experiment wrote:Jesus Christ can't save BCB, i believe i can.

User avatar
Posts: 20918
Joined: 21 Jul 2003, 23:17
Location: ????

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby Jeemo » 25 Jan 2015, 00:52

Just after the release of the first album they played a local pub that put on bands regularly. Although I liked the album I didn't bother going, loads of bands played and you could always catch them later.

The guy I worked with in the record shop went and raved about them for the next week. Then came the fantastic run of singles that became Fourth Drawer Down, then they announced a new album Sulk and a tour playing a gig at the state of the art disco in Glasgow called the Ultratech, gig was cancelled when Rankin left. I did see them when it was Billy and hired hands and it was a great gig.

Sulk is their masterpiece but I find it too dense to listen to all of it in one go. Skipping is a fantastic song and captures MCKenzie at his brilliant best.
Image So Long Kid, Take A Bow.

User avatar
mentalist (slight return)
under mi sensi
Posts: 14546
Joined: 17 Jul 2003, 10:54
Location: Sydney

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 25 Jan 2015, 07:31

Club Country is a great song. Always been one of my favourites.
king of the divan

User avatar
The Modernist
2018 BCB Cup Champ!
Posts: 13454
Joined: 13 Apr 2014, 20:42

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby The Modernist » 23 Jun 2015, 19:58

They're getting such a slagging in the 80s cup that the only appropriate response is to bump this.

User avatar
the masked man
Posts: 27074
Joined: 21 Jul 2003, 12:29
Location: Peterborough

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby the masked man » 23 Jun 2015, 21:54

In the early 80s they were a band I would have given up everything for. In those impressionable teenage years, I felt that the Situation 2 singles they released were just want I needed to hear. This was opulence and ambition on a budget and I thought it was wonderful; a singer from Dundee who demanded the universe gave in to his impossible requests. Of course, it was unsustainable, and like all of the early 80s 'new pop' revolution, they faded quickly, but 'Sulk' proved to be a true landmark LP. I still get goosebumps thinking about the first side in particular.

Billy MacKenzie's biography by Tom Doyle is worth tracking down. The guy was not easy to deal with, but his career was certainly unique. But his suicide was just so sad. RIP, and thanks for helping me through my difficult teenage years.

User avatar
Posts: 14127
Joined: 14 Aug 2013, 11:37
Location: deepest Devon

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby Rayge » 15 Jan 2018, 19:51

In timeless moments we live forever

You can't play a tune on an absolute

Negative Capability...when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”

User avatar
Posts: 6981
Joined: 27 Jul 2015, 09:58

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby Darkness_Fish » 15 Jan 2018, 21:13

Something a bit mad, featuring Billy Mackenzie being out there.
Like fast-moving clouds casting shadows against a hillside, the melody-loop shuddered with a sense of the sublime, the awful unknowable majesty of the world.

Posts: 63921
Joined: 03 Jun 2004, 20:12

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby sloopjohnc » 15 Jan 2018, 22:13

There used to be this underground radio show on Sunday nights where I was and they played an Associates song. I went down to Tower the next weekend and bought the debut album. One of my favorites of all time.

Then Party Fears Two came out and it was a completely different kind of music.

I liked it, but it took some getting used to as it was so much different.
Last edited by sloopjohnc on 16 Jan 2018, 16:12, edited 1 time in total.
Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk!

User avatar
Can I Get To Widnes?
Posts: 9954
Joined: 03 Sep 2003, 20:07
Location: facing the computer

Re: Beyond the 130 - The Associates

Postby slightbreeze » 16 Jan 2018, 00:07

The intro to Party fears 2 is my ringtone.