It’s twenty-five years since I first saw the BMX Bandits – albeit a stripped down version – when they supported Teenage Fanclub and Faith Over Reason at Edinburgh’s much-missed The Venue. By that time the BMX Bandits had already been on the go for five years, a veritable lifetime in the longevity of some bands. This year BMX Bandits celebrate 30 years in this business we call show with a sprinkling of gigs.
The patronage of Kurt Cobain was useful in bringing them to a wider audience but Duglas’s heart-on-his-sleeve love songs – written in partnership with an ever-changing cast of Bandits, including Norman Blake, Joe McAlinden and Francis MacDonald amongst many others – had already carved their name deep into the tree of indie pop history.
Thursday night’s gig at Clark’s in Dundee was the 18th time* I had seen one of the many variations of BMX Bandits (they’re second in my all-time gig list behind One Thousand Violins, who I witnessed live on no fewer than 21 occasions in the mid-to-late 80s). While Mark E Smith’s record of ‘losing’ band members may take some beating Duglas’ revolving door is always open and allows friends old and new to return to the fold. Everpresent Duglas’ was joined on stage by Chloe Philip (on loan from No More Tiger and TeenCanteen), Jim McCulloch (moonlighting from Snowgoose), Finlay MacDonald (taking time off from Lenzie Moss), Gabriel Telerman on bass and Jamie Gash behind the drum kit. So if you had any of them on your BMX Bandits band members bingo card you’d’ve been quids in.
Despite living an hour down the A92 I decided to stay overnight in Dundee (truth be told, I had a voucher to use up by December) and found that from the perfectly functional Travelodge room I was in I could see the venue on the corner of Johnston Street (how’s that for an omen?) and North Lindsay Street. Having some time to kill late afternoon I wandered through the streets reacquainting myself with the Caird Hall, where I’d met Morrissey back in 1985, and the statue of Desperate Dan. Having picked up a guide-book for Oslo (for a trip next August) I returned to my hotel room and relaxed with Pointless and The Chase. Duglas and I had planned to go on Pointless together a while back but it fell through. Maybe we’ll try again one day. Duglas and I actually met for the first time at a gig at King Tut’s (I forget who) when I pointed out that we’d both been on the original version of Fifteen to One.
I was a bit early for the gig – the band were still eating and hadn’t done their full soundcheck – but I enjoyed a shandy and let them finish both. Bar owner Kit Clark, he of Danny Wilson fame, was joined in the gathering audience by musical and biological brother Gary.
The hour-long set featured a number of old favourites rubbing shoulders with tracks from the excellent recent album BMX Bandits In Space , as well as a couple of new songs. The band, taking to the stage to the strains of Ennio Morricone’s My Name is Nobody (Il Mio Nome E Messuno, if you’d rather) from a 1973 spaghetti western of the same name, kicked off proceedings with 1993 Creation single Little Hands. Chloe was Nancy to Duglas’ Lee on Do You Really Love Me?, from my own personal favourite Bandits’ album Star Wars, and this was followed by the hit that never was in the shape of the twice-released Serious Drugs. Co-written with Norman Blake and Joe McAlinden, Duglas saw Creation decide to release it at the same time as Radio 1 had an anti-drugs campaign, killing any chance of chart success stone dead! A bitter pill to swallow indeed.
And It’s You, a Duglas-Jim composition from their most recent long player was up next as the hits kept coming. Duglas had nipped off to Lidl pre-gig for a banana and it’s use became clear as the cautionary tale of The Road of Love is Paved With Banana Skins (after a false start) blew us away with its sheer poppiness. Duglas and Chloe duetted on new song Way of the Wolf, with the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist Chloe treating us to a flute solo. The evergreen The Sailor’s Song and I Wanna Fall in Love treated us to a salvo of BMX Bandits classics before we returned to another new song, It’s In Her Eyes.
Bee Stings album opener Take Me To Heaven, written by Duglas and David Scott, began the charge for home (after another false start), swiftly followed by the audience participation of anti-Stephen Stills tune (you had to be there!) Your Class, during which Chloe took the opportunity for a costume change. She returned sartorially refreshed for Disco Girl and we ended the main set with the song that started it all those years ago E102.
Kylie’s Got a Crush On Us was the first of two encores tracks and the band finished the evening off perfectly with Fireworks a track written for the BMX Bandits In Space album by Chloe’s TeenCanteen bandmate Carla Easton.
Duglas and the BMX Bandits continue to be nothing less than entertaining. I look forward to many more years of listening to this hopeless romantic, his comedic badinage and his merry band of musical minstrels. That would make me so happy.
Duglas T Stewart – vox humana, kazoo
Chloe Philip – vocals, banjo, flute, Microbrute
Jim McCulloch – guitar, backing vocals
Finlay MacDonald – keyboards
Gabriel Telerman – bass
Jamie Gash – drums, backing vocals
BMX Bandits continue their anniversary celebrations with a gig at the 100 Club in London on 31 January 2016.
* I miscalculated earlier in the week having forgotten an appearance at the Serge Gainsbourg tribute he curated with friends at Edinburgh’s Jaffa Cake in August 1998 and his Lach recent support slot guesting with Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab.