Concorde 2, Brighton, Wed 4th May
The Long Ryders weren't necessarily the best band from the Paisley Underground scene.(I'd probably plump for Green on Red if we were giving gold medals.) But that probably bigs up the scene rather than diminishes the band, it was hard to stand tall when surrounded by giants. Because they were a darn good band, and perhaps even the most archetypal of that scene in that they played the concept the most straight. It's recipe proved a potent one; Sixties psychedelia mixed with Sixties country rock – Creedence Clearwater Revival revived – with a dose of punk energy. Their songs served up tales of outlaws, unemployed drifters and guys just out of jail with thumping hooks and aching melodies.
Perhaps by that point American music had come to seem novel all over again. Perhaps to us Brits it felt rootsy and exotic at the same time. And perhaps it seemed a fitting antidote to replace post-punk. Whichever, by the mid-Eighties long macs and serious expressions had fairly rapidly been replaced by pudding basin haircuts, tasselled jackets and cowboy boots. Rocking out replaced studied cool. (Despite studied cool having been devised to replace rocking out in the first place. We were a fickle bunch.)
Besides post-punk was almost auto-innoculated against becoming genuinely popular; the Desperate Bicycles, Josef K and Throbbing Gristle were never going to become household names. People were supposed to not get it, that was part of the point. Whereas these guys felt like they could step from tearing up your local venue to rocking out 'Top of the Pops'. The Paisley Underground could manage a Paisley takeover.
Alas that was never to be. Only the Bangles became a hit band, and they did it by transfusing into a pop outfit. And with mission unaccomplished the scene soon fell apart. The Long Ryders didn't ride for long, a mere five years separating their first release from their last.
And things seem to have languished in obscurity since then. Despite the notion that now nothing gets forgotten, a flick through the internet suggests that many of the scene's best albums aren't widely available any more. Notably most of the audience seemed to be my age or (gasp) older, like they'd not attracted any new fans since their day. (And male. It was one of those gigs with a long queue for the Gents and none for the Ladies.)
And yet they're one of those bands who can stop for years, then pick up just where they left off. They might not be as energetic as times past, frontman Sid Griffin now has a cup-of-tea roadie and trouble reading the setlist without his glasses. But the music still packs the same punch.
Seeing them live, it becomes clear that what makes them is the combination of Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy. While Griffin's roughhandedly rambunctious, unabashed in leading the audience into call-and-response singalongs, McCarthy is more reserved, more melodic, more lyrical. One twangs, one jangles. It's even there in the way they're dressed, Griffin in braces and jeans while McCarthy is jacketed. It's like the difference between Micky Dolenz and Davey Jones. (Well, everything gets compared to the Beatles and Stones. Why not the Monkees?) Of the two, I prefer McCarthy. But the point is that the combination is virtuous.
The band now have a box set collection of their releases, 'Final Wild Songs'. (Though not available at the gig for some reason.) Hopefully somewhere between that and this tour they'll start to be remembered the way they should.
Let's try and prove by point by posting both a McCarthy and a Griffin clip. Mcarthy's 'Ivory Tower' from Valencia...
...and Grifin's foot-stompin' 'Looking for Lewis and Clarke' from Madrid... (I don't know why they're both from Spain.)