In the new issue of Vive Le Rock, we profile rejuvenated Edinburgh post-punks SCARS. Band founder and guitarist Paul Research talked to Vive's Hugh Gulland long into the night, so here's a special interview bonus....
Never Mind The Moloko
As Scars gear up for renewed activity with Tam Dean Burn on vocal duties, guitarist Paul Research discusses their landmark Author! Author!’album and other matters with Vive Le Rock.
Your original drummer Calumn Mackay would have left the band before the sessions for Author! Author! had begun?
Yeah, because we were based in Edinburgh there was a lot of travelling around in the back of a van; basically, it’s very draining… he just said one day he’d had enough. It was a gig in Preston - it’s not actually that far to travel; it’d been a long year, it wasn’t a huge place, it was just another gig. We’d all thought it from time to time, what the hell are we doing this for? But it was a shame, because it wasn’t too much longer after that the opportunity to do the album came; I think he may have enjoyed that.
The band relocated to London not long after that...
We actually started living there for more than a couple of days at time while we were making the album; and then we immediately started doing bigger gigs, and decided to base ourselves in London. And we thought maybe this is what we need, because up to then the career had been quite intermittent, and no one was ever gonna say 'Guys, now is the time to do this', so we just decided ourselves, let’s base ourselves in London. We have a record deal, we’ve got an album, this is the time to make something happen.
That’s traditionally a bit of a divisive move for a band – I think Skids might have gone through this; one guy will want to be out with the party set, one guy will just want to go home…
Yeah, that’s very much what happened… everyone started doing their own thing. We were still spending every day together in rehearsal, but then socially people drifted apart a little bit. We didn’t have the kind of gang mentality so much anymore.
And around this time Penetration’s Robert Blamire comes into the frame as a producer?
Yeah, we already had encountered Rob, because I did some demos with him and Pauline (Murray). They invited me down to play guitar between Penetration and The Invisible Girls. I came home with a cassette, and the notable thing about it was that the guitar part I’d played on it was this syncopated across-the-beat style, which later got repurposed into 'All About You'. So, it was developmental for me, but there wasn’t much follow-up. But it was before the internet, people didn’t talk to each other all the time like they do now. I don’t even know if I had a phone at the time!
I’m not sure, but I think the record company identified Robert as a candidate for the producer. We were like 'This guy, why not?!' He came up to Edinburgh, and we spent an evening chatting about music and that, we all got along really well. To be honest, we didn’t know what to look for in a producer. It’s one thing talking about music, it’s another thing actually getting great musical results, you can’t tell how it’ll play out. The guys from Pre Records tried to produce 'Love Song'; it sounded a bit clinically clean for me. And then before that we were in with John Verity, ex-Argent, but I just got the feeling he didn’t get us. We just thought well, Robert’s such a nice guy, let’s give it a shot, you know!’
I think that worked out well, that album has this whole unique ambience to it…
It did, actually, it’s got this feel; it’s a little bit distant, and a little bit icy, all the things we listed about John MacKay that are quite good, you can apply some of that to Author! Author!. Some people didn’t get past the glossy surface, but I think there’s quite a lot to it really.
The graphic representation that went along with it was striking too…
This is more on Robert [King]’s side of things, he was very friendly with the guys at Rocking Russian; they were based on Berwick Street, just around the corner from the label. We were all chummy with them, we used their address for the Scars fan club; we used to go round there and answer fan letters!
There’s also the visuals of that promo video for ‘All About You’…
It’s kind of the same team… Al MacDowell was involved as art director, I can’t remember the name of the director, the guy who did the shots, but they came up to Edinburgh for a week. We just picked some locations and shot various things, and it turned out there was a story around it all the time; it was loosely based on a certain Power Rangers type idea!
I thought there was a bit of a Lord of the Flies element to it!
It’s got that, there’s a kind of pre-Adam and The Ants kind of tribal feeling, which I think was probably… Celia Matlock was involved in the costumes, and Al MacDowell of Rocking Russian was a big mate of the Sex Pistols and all that. In the actual video itself there’s also a strand of us, playing and being in Waverley Station, and some iconic locations that don’t exist anymore; so, it still gets a bit of historical interest in Edinburgh because of that.
Lyrically there’s a lot going on to Scars material, you never quite let the listener get comfortable…
There’s a lot of variety and Bobby was writing a great deal of material. At the time we were sharing a flat, and he was quite prolific; at one stage we were coming up with a new song every week almost. There’s a huge catalogue of material, most of it not recorded, but we did write a lot of songs, and we did rehearse a lot, and he wrote a lot of lyrics; and the process of getting it down to ten songs was quite a difficult one, cos we had our favourites. There were certain songs that always went down well, there’s a lot of other material, and it’s a pity more of it didn’t see the light of day.
The record was greeted as one of the all-time great debut albums – but the band are gone within about a year of it?
Yeah, we parted company with Mr King, and tried various permutations with different ideas for vocals. John [Mackie, bass] and I still considered ourselves to be the Scars, so we thought it’s a valid approach. But we really did run out of road, in terms of support; it’s difficult to get gigs at a the right level, we didn’t really want to drop down to playing smaller places. We each had a couple of years regrouping and doing other things, and obviously trying to put bread on the table. Which everyone must do, but in the meantime, still trying out various musical ideas. So it’s almost like on the lines of 'We can always do this if we want to', and every few years or so we do actually get together and play.
It's gained the reputation as one of those ‘great lost albums’ - which is nice for collector snobs, but not so helpful for the band that it was out of print for so long! I don’t think it got a digital release till 2007 or so?
It took a long time, and it took a lot of personal effort, so I did it myself and licenced it. People would cry out, and say 'Can we do this?', and I said 'Yeah, that’d be great, I’ll give you whatever help I can', but it all hinged on me being in touch with the licence holder. So I thought, if I’m doing that, why don’t we just do it ourselves then, and cut out the middle man type of thing. We licenced it back in the 2000s, and sold a couple of thousand CDs. For some reason, vinyl is a bit more of an investment, so I’m more tempted to do that this year, but it’s more difficult to do that without investing a big stake up front. But what I’m really struggling with is to get that material online, and I’m asked about once a week why it’s not, and I don’t have a good answer for that. Our demos and the live shows and everything like that are up, but for some reason it’s difficult to get our album on streaming services.
Scars’ profile got a bit of a boost from Lemon Jelly sampling you in 2005…
Fred Deakin had been based in Edinburgh for a few years, a successful club DJ. And I didn’t know him, but he’d been very keen on 'Horrorshow', so that’s how that came about. They’re very good guys, very generous; had us along for the gigs, and were extremely kind to us, and gave us a taste for doing it again. I think we’d got this idea that the music business isn’t a good business to be in, and you’re never gonna make money, there’s always somebody will want to take advantage. And it’s partly true as well, but with Lemon Jelly, it was so positive; we suddenly realised, hey this could be fun! So then, I was already doing solo stuff… and it seemed like a good avenue for us. But it wasn’t till 2010 that we had a fully-fledged show as the Scars.
I saw glowing reports of it, did that Edinburgh gig go well?
Yeah, about this time the internet had fully woken up and become realised, and so it’s all on YouTube, which gives an idea of what it was like. It was a big event, and I think it showed us that Scars are loved in Edinburgh, kind of thing, so we thought, one day we’re going to do this again!