or the return of the Associates
NOT MANY pop people say things like this: "I appreciate heart surgeons more than I do pop stars. I appreciate shop assistants who don't bother you when you go to buy a pair of jeans more than I do Paul Weller. Everybody should be striving for good manners more than being number one in the charts." Billy Mackenzie does.
Mackenzie is back with a new collection of Associates, back with a new single and back with a bang. The pacey swoops and dives of Those First Impressions' are his calling card, the spirit of release and adventure still his guiding light.
It's been two years since the last Associates release, the classic 18 Carat Love Affair'. Two years in which Mackenzie and partner in crime Alan Rankine parted company. Two years and only one dispatch from the most dramatic voice in pop - Ice Cream Factory'. What's been going on? Obviously when a performer like Mackenzie hits productivity levels something akin to your average Tory minister for Employment, something must be going very wrong. Rumours abounded. The Associates had had an LP rejected by their record company, were in danger of outstripping Charlton Athletic to the bankruptcy court... Billy just what have you been up to these last two years...?
"Working. I've not really stopped since Associates One keeled over. I was stopped by Warners coz I was spending two much money. I didn't see it like that - to develop the musical avenues we were going in I needed plenty of studio time. We never used rock'n'roll bass lines in our music and production stems from bass and drums foremost. Our basic lines can be neo classical and funk at the same time. They're very hard to produce. Every single part of our music has to be pieced together to be heard properly...
"Still, I think I've proved that it wasn't just lavish expense. This kind of music needs money spent on it for what it is. Something like Duran Duran for instance would be very easy to knock out."
Attention to detail, the pursuit of excellence - "To write a good song, a song with an authentic feeling you have gotta go though a lot of rough and emotional experiences." - is important to Mackenzie. But the man isn't all work and no play.
"I've been up in Scotland a lot of the time. I've been going to quite a lot of horse racing. I've learnt to do Tai Chi. I've been appreciating old people. Meeting lots of people between sixty and seventy. They're a lot more interesting than people of our age. They have a wealth of emotional experience. They know how much you've gotta suffer in life..."
Does he ever see Alan Rankine? "Alan, no. It's a shame between us. We needed to split for musical progress. We'd used up most of our insight of one another - which used to produce interesting-ish results. A lot of me really likes Alan Rankine, but a lot of me can't bear the rubbish lifestyle we led. I've got an intense dislike for some of the people from that time.
"You get out of school and get a job in the musicbiz and there's more people you dislike than like. When you get older, you begin to ask yourself what it's all about. You see it for what it is - you don't want glory you just want your independence and enough money to support it."
Despite his regrets about past debaucheries, Billy still has the highest regard for Mr Rankine's abilities.
"Hardly any band could accommodate Alan Rankine's talent. Alan could do anything musically and it would be good. At the moment he's working with people who don't warrant his talent. Musically he's got it.
"I never really understood him though, he was more for the money side of things while I was for the adventure of things. I suppose it was the different way we were brought up."
Since the departure of Rankine. Billy has carefully built a new band. Focussed around old buddy Steve Reid - guitar - the rest of the new Associates are Ian Mackintosh, rhythm guitar, Roberto Soave, bass and L Howard Hughes, keyboards.
"It's like all my old pals from school who normally wouldn't be given a chance to express themselves," says Billy. "I like to see talent in people and bring out the best in them.
"Like Roberto our bass player had never been in a big studio before, and he was really nervous when he went in, but I was more nervous for him than he was. Howard Hughes and Steve Reid want to get their own projects together - and the clout the Associates have got in the business might just help them to do that."
With his hometown line-up safe and secure, Billy looks forward to a profitable future. There'll be an LP - Perhaps' - released in September, possibly a tour and... "I'm really excited, we're going in to record our next LP in October - we've got three LPs' worth of stuff and I'm raring to go. I feel really great about it. That's what happens if you take two years off. People don't give themselves enough time to be happy, sad, perplexed, disgusted etc to write pop songs.
"In a couple of days I'm going back to Scotland to rehearse. We've got all the material rehearsed and it sounds really good. We've got enough songs to say what the Associates an supposed to be about, though I don't know what that's supposed to be.
"I'd really like to tour with the stuff we've got. But I feel really horrible about money things. I'd like people to come along for 50p but people would think that anything that goes out for 50p must be a load of rubbish. People have a funny relationship with labels"
With his own house in order, Billy turns his attention to the trials and tribulations of modern pop. "Pop's always chasing after the naivety of youth. But youth is running away from you as soon as you're emotionally crushed...
"Some of the Associates' music has a sixties feel, but I hate the celebration of the sixties. The only thing free and with no sin on its soul is Motown.
"With so much modern pop, we're not dealing in authenticity but in the reproduction of a so-called 'golden age'. Because human beings have such a narrow emotional range, love or hate, nothing much is going to be original...
"All pop was, was a novelty. Like things like robots. They were sixties novelties, very out of this world. People try to get out of this world but reality is hard enough. Reality is bad enough to control without taking drugs. It freaks me out if I can't buy a pair of shoes."
Mackenzie pauses, and my pen scribbles furiously in the wake of his train of thought. He turns on that impish grin and is of again...
"To me things are either black or white. I love it or I loathe it. I don't kinda like anything, I just enthuse or go 'rubbish'...
"Sometimes I think I'm more like Telly Savalas, I don't know why. I just think we have the same way of looking at people...
By Jim Reid