Monday, 12 November 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.22: Beta Band - The Three EPs (1998)

One of the first CDs that I bought after going to university was the Beta Band’s Three EPs. When I first moved into halls I put an advert up in the students’ union advertising for a singer to write some songs with to eventually form a band. The first to respond was a singer and guitar player who professed to hating all female singers (I had been listening to quite a bit of PJ Harvey and Tori Amos in the summer before going to uni, and so found this to be a bit short-sighted), he was also a member of the university rugby team. I’ve never been into sports myself, but I’m not the type of person who will hold something against someone because they like different things to me. On Wednesday nights in the student union, I used to DJ the indie room, and one evening before I’d set up, I saw this guy in the union bar with the rugby team, dressed as they all were with shirts and matching ties. I went over to say hello and he completely blanked me. He didn’t just not recognise me, he acted as if I didn’t exist. I felt a bit embarrassed, said “fine”, and walked away. A few days later, he knocked on my door for a practice and he apologised for not speaking to me at the union and told me that he wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone who wasn’t in rugby team on a match day, or he’d have to do a forfeit – what an absolute bell-end. I made my excuses, saying I was on my way out and avoided him for the rest of the year.

The second guy who responded was a few years older than me and was studying for Masters’ degree in digital music technology. He had a degree in physics, but was a music lover through and through. His main instrument was the harmonica, which meant that all of the songs we wrote had to have harmonica solos, and we always ended up doing Bob Dylan covers. He had an immense collection of CDs, and introduced me to a lot of artists I had never heard of, or hadn’t really listened to: Ride, the Boo Radleys, and the Beta Band. I remember one day we were in his room chatting about music, and he had the second Beta Band EP of the Three EPs on vinyl. He played ‘Inner Meet Me’ and I just fell in love with it: it sounded a bit like Beck, but more psychedelic. The next time I went to the HMV in Hanley, I bought my own copy of the Three EPs and played it nonstop for about a fortnight. We never really got anywhere with the band; we did some DJ sets together and wrote some songs, but nothing ever really seemed to click musically.

The first EP, Champion Versions, opens with ‘Dry the Rain’ - arguably of the Beta Band’s finest moments: a transcendent folk song that builds to an uplifting crescendo, with layered vocals, glorious trumpets and an awesome bass-groove. The song is an anthem, and it’s impossible to hear this song and not sing along with the chorus: “If there is something inside that you want to say / say it ,alright, it will be okay / I will be your light / I will be your life” - simply brilliant. ‘Dog’s got a Bone’ is a laidback sleepy song with relaxed guitars and accordion. It doesn’t have the anthemic feel of ‘Dry the Rain’ - it is more inward looking and existential, but very good in very different ways. Opener to the second EP, The Patty Patty Sound, ‘Inner Meet Me’ is probably my favourite track on the collection. It has surreal lyrics that verge on the absurd (“Last night I dreamt somebody fell asleep between my knees / I couldn't help it all my thoughts were rejected by a boy called me”), an otherworldly sound, and the tune is just mind-blowing. ‘She’s the one for me’ treads similar musical ground as ‘Dry the Rain’ but throws in some high-pitched speeded-up vocals in the chorus, just to throw you off your guard. ‘Dr Baker’ from the third EP, Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos, is another highlight, with its walking piano and hypnotic vocals soaked in reverb and given space to breathe. It’s a great piece of music that I would recommend to any music lover.

Again, I am forced to keep another album, and another charity suffers because of my selfishness, but what can you do?

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