In praise of: Roddy Frame

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In praise of: Roddy Frame

Of all Scotland’s New Towns, East Kilbride arguably managed to prove the one that provided the most cultural interest. Cumbernauld had the kudos of being the home of Gregory’s Girl, but that was greatness thrust upon it. East Kilbride, at least for a while, provided art and attitude that was all its own.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, who begat their drummer Bobby Gillespie to Primal Scream, Iain Harvie from Del Amitri and Davy Scott of the Pearlfishers are just some of the best that East Kilbride has to offer, but the top of the pops is Roddy Frame, with or without his Aztec Camera. If Orange Juice were Postcard Record’s Velvet Underground then Aztec Camera were their Byrds with Roddy playing Roger McGuinn’s chords and wearing his fringe jacket.

Plenty of songwriters deal with the pain of being in and out of love, but no one captures the feeling that can accompany love like Roddy Frame. From the opening bars of debut single Just Like Gold through first chart botherer and radio favourite Oblivious, to Western Skies, the title track from his most recent solo offering, Frame expresses the unfettered joy of being in love better than anyone. Which other Scottish artist would release an album called Love and leave it untouched by weary cyniscism? I can only put forward Teenage Fanclub as a suggestion.

Of course that’s not all there is; Roddy can break your heart with the best of them. But listen below to Still on Fire, Spanish Horses (in fact anything from 1993′s Dreamland which was obviously written while smitten in Barcelona. It aches with emotion for place and person) and Bigger, Brighter Better from the underrated North Star. This is poetry and these clips show that age has not diminished the talent or defeated the romantic. I could say something more about each track, but just listening to them one after the other presents a clear picture of what Roddy Frame does so well:

Aztec Camera – Still on Fire

Aztec Camera – Spanish Horses

Roddy Frame – Bigger Brighter Better (Live on Later)

But it’s only right that I finish with Aztec Camera from the early 1980s doing Down the Dip, as it brings us neatly back to East Kilbride. One of his earliest songs, written around the age of 16, Down the Dip, according to at least one story, is about going to The Diplomat, a pub in East Kilbride that was near Roddy’s old school of Duncanrig. There’s also the wee treat of Oblivious, a song which still gets me every time:

Aztec Camera – Down the Dip / Oblivious

Many people say, usually with reference to sport, that winning is all. I couldn’t disagree more. For me it is the style in which the game is played that’s most important. If I could be any musician it would probably be Roddy Frame, someone who understands it’s not about winning, it’s about how you play the game. Few do it better.

Alistair

Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appear on the first Monday of every month.

Photo Credit: Stir Crazy

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16 Responses to “In praise of: Roddy Frame”
  1. Very nice. Couldn’t agree with you more!

    by Denise
    on 27 Jun, 2010 3:54pm

  2. The best scottish wordsmith since Robert Burns. Heartbreak in a heartbeat or a wry smile – Roddy can cultivate both before he gets to the chorus.

    by Kenny
    on 08 Aug, 2010 3:15pm

  3. I would like to strike a contrary note here that, while I do like Aztec Camera, and am listening to “Surf” right now, I find myself often kept out by just that wordplay that everybody feels so dazzling. Coupled with the musical style there is a real beautiful gloss to the sound, which often says nothing to me at all.
    Is young Roddy always in love, with someone else? I keep listening to plumb the depths that don’t seem to appear.
    However, the Killermont Street track is a most untypical one. The lyrics are very direct, and leave me with some unanswered questions. I wonder why he doesn’t write more like this, and stop hiding in his ‘romanticism’.
    I left EK at the same time as his first album hit. Same time as him I guess, though he is a few years younger. I had a dub copy of the first album on cassette (sadly long gone), because somebody I knew knew his big brother (but nobody ever kent his faither!).
    I went to Duncanrig too, and don’t remember this pub, The Diplomat. There weren’t really any pubs nearby, except at the Westwood shops, where presumably this pub was. I’d be happy to be contradicted. Was there a culture of lunchtime drinking then – I don’t remember that. And I never went to the Westwood shops really, like an East European neo brutalist space, full of drunken neds.
    We went to the Queensway, not far along the road, then the Monty. Everyone from EKOK knows the Monty, in The Village. You kind of graduated there, ‘cos all the women went too. I remember the furore when women first invaded the public bar, which was only for men at the time.
    Ach, I’ve become one of those reminiscers. I shall stop. But I often wondered if that line on “Love”, “From Westwood to Hollywood” was inspired from there.
    Keep on trucking though Roddy, if you ever read this.

    by Neil
    on 28 Oct, 2010 7:58am

  4. Thanks for getting in touch Neil. While I don’t agree with you about Roddy’s lyrics, I do think they can be split into the personal (which covers most things that he writes including, in the case of ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Surf’, whole albums), and the more universal, tracks like ‘Killermont Street’, ‘Paradise’, etc which could apply to any of us. I can see that someone may prefer one over the other.

    As for the Diplomat mystery, I was told by an ex EK-resident that the Diplomat was the original name of The Gardenhall Inn, which I know is a bit of a shlep from Ducanrigg and Westwood. Maybe it is a bit of a myth, maybe it just fitted the song? Anyone who can confirm or deny then drop us a line.

    by Alistair
    on 28 Oct, 2010 9:16am

  5. Thanks for taking the time to salute a lyrical genius who decided to share his thoughts with us.

    “Stupidity and suffering are on that ticket too”

    How old was he when he figured that out, maybe 17?

    Does that line sound falsely romantic?

    In a couple of days Roddy Frame will be 47 and hopefully another record is brewing. In the meantime, I suggest any of his old albums would be well worth a visit and for God’s sake read the lyric sheet it is there for a reason.

    You Scots should be proud that your nation produced the best songwriter in the English speaking world.

    by Mike
    on 26 Jan, 2011 10:03pm

  6. Thanks Mike.
    The older I get the more I appreciate Roddy Frame, aware that we are unlikely to see his likes very often. Because he, and I, were so young when I first heard him I took his music for granted. I now realise that every release must be treasured. You are right to point out the lyrics. People rightly praise Morrisey and Marr. Frame combines the two, a phenomenally individual guitarist and insightful lyricist. Scotland has the correct poet laureate in Liz Lochhead, but if ever they consider musicians Frame will surely be in contention.

    by Alistair
    on 29 Jan, 2011 7:15pm

  7. Yep, ’twas the old Gardenhall Inn…previously the Diplomat Inn in EK. I still find myself listening to HLHR alot, which is my favourite record bar none. And beyond that, I still love some of his gems left behind on the demo tapes of that time that never got the airing they deserved, like Green Jacket Grey and The Spirit Shows. Beautiful work from a guy who was just about out of the school gates. Staggering. Had the pleasure of meeting Roddy a few times down the years due the EK connection and Killermont Street does still make me yearn for Scotland probably more than any other Scottish song.

    by Stevie
    on 30 May, 2011 10:47am

  8. I can confirm (and agree with Steve) that The Diplomat pub (originall name) was indeed in the neighbourhood of Gardenhall …a fair trek from Westwood as I recall. Wether Down The Dip was refering to that particular watering hole – only Roddy knows for sure. But it’s still one of his most awesome songs.

    by Lenny
    on 22 Sep, 2011 3:50pm

  9. East Kilbride is also the hometown of the Laing brothers. Douglas Laing MFA, the sculptor, Stewart Laing, the Tony Award winning costume and set designer and director of theater and opera, Fraser Laing the proprietor of the vintage eyeware shop in London. Old friends, just saying..

    by Daniele
    on 07 Oct, 2011 3:58am

  10. It’s great to find someone writing about Roddy in a way that expresses how I feel about his music; I’m continually astonished at how neglected he is by the mainstream, but yet love the fact that I’m among the few to be privy to this treasury of wonderful music and poetry. However, I’m perhaps unusual in that I get the most pleasure from Roddy’s solo albums, and I struggle to decide if The North Star or Western Skies is my favourite (The North Star is certainly not underrated by me!) I think the song Reason for Living is my reason for living! Can l say to those of you who have not managed to get into Western Skies, keep playing it; it will get under your skin until you realise that this album of two halves (the first half being my favourite) is a poetic and sonic joy(play it on a good audio system- amazing production) and possibly his best. What’s great about Roddy is what is true of all great singer songers, they get better as they get older, as they mature(although reading his early lyrics you’d think Roddy was born mature). Although HLHR is a great album (I bought it when it first came out) I have grown tired of it, sad to say, I feel there’s something missing compared to his later work. And if Roddy does ever read this by any chance: thank you for the moon, thank you for the stars, thank you for turning them on.

    by Alan Muscat
    on 24 Oct, 2011 6:33am

  11. Thanks for commenting Alan. I agree with you about Roddy’s solo material. There’s a simplicity and grace which has seen him mature better than many of his peers. Always a great writer, the music has developed to let the words come to the fore. Reason for Living lifts me every time, while North Star and Surf are two of my favourite all time albums.

    by Alistair
    on 27 Oct, 2011 10:07am

  12. Roddy sure came a long way from rockhampton ave.Would be good to see you again matey,all the best, Gordon ” Gordy” Mackay

    by Anonymous
    on 28 Oct, 2011 12:29pm

  13. A few words to say that France loves Roddy too! One of the best songwriters ever, strangely overlooked and underrated from both sides of the Channel. I bought a ticket for his recent London gigs, but could not go at the last minute. I was quite p….d off! Anyway, thanks for sharing your comments about Roddy! A stellar talent!

    by Anonymous
    on 08 Nov, 2011 9:41am

  14. Roddy is unique, there is no one like him. Sick of hearing about the talent today! What talent?
    What an incredible songwriter he is. The way he plays that guitar, incredible. I have only seen him live in concert once, in London in 2006. I was so fortunate to be second row from the front. I was mesmorised by him. Nice to get the chance to see him up close.
    Hopefully I will get to see him again as I unfortunately missed his recent London gigs . I have been in love with his music for years and have every album. He also has a great sense of humour. I loved his story telling, he is a lot of fun..

    Hopefully a new album is on the way.

    by Sam
    on 10 Nov, 2011 7:05am

  15. Met Roddy once when he played in Edinburgh and found him to be a lovely person with a very modest opinion of himself. Too many wonderful songs for the one person to have crafted but a real gem is ‘Piano and Clocks’ – beautiful music and sublime lyrics – ‘ I’ve been battered and bewildered in the beauty of your ruins’ and, ‘I wish you freedom and forgiveness and a time that is your own , blue is the colour, mine’s the moment brown eyes are gone.’ Absolute genius!!

    by Anonymous
    on 23 Oct, 2012 2:37pm

  16. Couldn’t agree more Anon. Dreamland is one of my favourite albums, one which I discovered when I was living in Australia, and it was wonderful to have a familiar voice singing me these beautiful love songs about people and place. It was this album that made me want to visit Barcelona just to sit in Placa Real and listen to it in situ.

    Lyrically I think he was never better than on this album, and ‘Pianos and Clocks’ is one of the most honest and dignified songs about the ache of a love affair that is over I can imagine, with that piano that always threatens to lose time with the metronome, but never quite does, the influence of Ryuichi Sakamoto who plays on the album (another hero).

    Whenever someone comments on this post it sends me immediately to Roddy’s music. I don’t think I have written anything anywhere else that provokes the warm feeling and memories that this post does. Keep them coming.

    by Alistair
    on 26 Oct, 2012 1:43pm

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