Into Album Review: The Bluebells – In The 21st Century
And so the story goes that a band has a lifetime to write and make their first album but only twelve months to produce the follow up due to record company demands. Not so for The Bluebells though, who have taken 39 years to move from album one to album two. Why? Well, the band did of course split up in the mid 1980s and the individual component parts ploughed a furrow elsewhere, while occasionally reforming and gigging live in the intervening years. The reissue of their eponymous debut, Sisters on the Last Night From Glasgow label was, I suspect, the catalyst to record again, with the remastered re-release flying off the shelves as old and new fans embraced the chance to tune in and turn on to those fantastic songs that have truly lasted the passage of time, still sounding fresh and relevant today.
Of course, a lot of water has flown under the (Sugar) bridge in those 39 years, we’ve had nine U.K. Prime Ministers, ten World Cups, countless wars and the death of an iconic Scottish football club in 2012 (more of which later). Do The Bluebells still have the knack, the tunes, the songs? Damn right they do.
First up though is the packaging, a gatefold sleeve, lyrical insert with full lyrics and a front cover that is a kaleidoscope of colour which Jackson Pollock would be proud of (Artwork by Jim Lambie). Too many times bands/artists and record labels miss the point on both content and design, however the band and record label (LNFG) though have got this spot on.
But what about the music? Twelve tracks, split evenly across both A&B sides, so well balanced. First track up is Daddy Was An Engineer. An earworm, bundling along with harmonica front and central, the tune typically Bluebells and the lyrics appear to be autobiographical from the viewpoint of a son looking to his dad for advice on life and its foibles.
Side one also showcases the delights of early single Gone Tomorrow which has a light funk/soul vibe and the wonderful Orienteering, the track reimagined with Ken McCluskey’s vocal the star of the show.
Now, there are countless songs about football out there but rarely do they hit the heights. Step froward Stonehouse Violets, the Scottish junior football club who went bust in 2012. Difficult to pick my own personal favourite on the album but this shades it, the country tinged guitar, links to the likes of Auchinleck, Johnstone Burgh, St.Roch’s and Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, the romantic lyrics (yes, Scottish junior football can be romantic) and in particular the line “You kissed my face in Dunipace, It’s when I knew our love was true“. Majestic.
There is a mix of sounds that keep the interest alive, the simplicity of songs such as The Boy Who Slipped Away, She Rises, the fiddle on Beautiful Mess, the vocal on Blue Train, the Beatles-esque psychedelia of Disneyland, And Rock ‘N’ Roll. These songs emanating a sereneness that simply charms the listener.
The Bluebells are Robert Hodgens, Ken McCluskey and David McCluskey though they are augmented on the album by regular live band members Mick Slaven, Campbell Owens and Douglas MacIntyre (and others) and it’s on Side Two’s opener that the band take an unexpected turn with the punky Anyone Can Be A Buzzcock. A fun, no holds barred homage to a gig at the Glasgow Apollo, back in the day.
Elsewhere The Ballad Of The Bells looks back on the band, their dreams, the highs and the lows, considering the now, mortality and perhaps, what’s still to come. The lyrics are fantastic and I suspect this will be a great when performed live.