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BMX Bandits

+ {Duglas T. Stewart and Company} + {Yeongene}

The swift subsidence of Scotland’s Postcard envelope of twee Weegie combos – namely ORANGE JUICE, AZTEC CAMERA and JOSEF K – had meant that similar future acts from the Central Belt had no proper outlet to pursue their fixation with indie-pop. The PASTELS were probably the only survivors from the cull, and it was Stephen Pastel that heralded a fresh beginning via his Edinburgh-based, self-financed 53rd & 3rd imprint. One of the first acts on their roster helped mark the arrival of the “C86” movement north of the border: Duglas T. Stewart’s BMX BANDITS – one of the many young bands from the Bellshill area in Lanarkshire. It was testament to these transitional mid-80s times, that both the ‘Bandits and The PASTELS are still making music nearly 30 years later; always switching and swapping alumni like some fantasy footie free transfer league of gentlemen – and ladies.
Abandoning his short-lived Pretty Flowers project, the aforementioned singer Duglas handpicked friends and SOUP DRAGONS: Sean Dickson (bass) and Jim McCulloch, plus drummer Willie McArdle and “other” singer, Billy Wood. In keeping with their unadulterated aspirations, the Aussie movie moniker of B.M.X. BANDITS was chosen. A couple of double-A discs emerged in ’86 from 53rd & 3rd, both fresh examples of the jangle-pop era: `Sad?’ b/w `E102’ and `The Day Before Tomorrow’ b/w `What A Wonderful World’ (the latter staple penned by Weiss & Douglas).
With commitments for others taking precedence over Duglas’s easy-listening enterprise, the main man – not for the last time – tapped-in to other bands for backing musicians. While The Boy Hairdressers’ Norman Blake had always been at hand to augment the ‘Bandits, two other stylists (guitarist Joe McAlinden and drummer Francis McDonald) were granted leave from their Groovy Little Numbers post, to relieve Norm on his mission to kick-start (for all three) a TEENAGE FANCLUB; Gordon Keen, Eden McNulty and Billy Wood were present and correct on BMX’s third single, `Figure 4’; check out the “Betty Blue” film composition, `C’est Le Vent, Betty’.
The pace slowed a little to let Duglas out to support The SHOP ASSISTANTS; he was also to mime Klaus Wunderlich on the organ and later host a night-time pop-TV show. Duglas, Norman, Francis, Gordon, Joe, and whoever was around in the studio, went to work on their debut LP. Released only initially on vinyl, the aptly-titled C86 (1990) {*6}, unsurprisingly failed to “Click!” – the name of their record outlet – although there were bright spots in `Right Across The Street’, the “Ipanema”-like jazz smoocher `Rimbaud & Me’, `Whirlpool’, `Let Mother Nature Be Your Guide’, and the Eden-sung twee tune, `Disco Girl II’.
Recorded at a local venue in Hattonrig Hotel, the previous January (’89) but left in the can until the great Avalanche Records retailed it December 1990 (other rags might have it incorrectly issued in ’89!), TOTALLY GROOVY LIVE EXPERIENCE {*7}, was just the ticket to proffer up rougher edges of their smiley-face indie-pop; alongside a few C86-esque nuggets, fans were also treated to covers of TV PERSONALITES’ `Girl At The Bus Stop’, NEIL YOUNG’s `Like A Hurricane’ and DEAD KENNEDYS’ `Nazi Punks F**k Off’.
Adding another part-refugee (The VASELINES’ Eugene Kelly), the Dan Treacy/TV PERSONALITIES connection was tied in again on a shared single, the latter act taking on `Your Class’, BMX BANDITS reciprocally clasping their `Someone To Share My Life With’. Keeping personnel changes for another day, and having signed to the London-based/Japanese-owned Vinyl Japan independent, Duglas and Co issued a more up-to-date, jangle-pop sophomore set, STAR WARS (1991) {*7}. With further help by journeyman multi-instrumentalist, John McCusker on the likes of `Green Grow’ (the Rabbie Burns dirge), `Life Goes On’ and `Do You Really Love Me?’, there was certainly an element of folk added to The BYRDS-like BMX BANDITS. Jangle-friendly, buoyant and bouncy, choice cuts came through `Come Clean’, `Disguise’ and the BURT BACHARACH-tinted title track. Missing CAPTAIN AMERICA/EUGENIUS-bound Kelly and mysteriously – but only temporarily top-billing Gordon Keen (& His BMX BANDITS) – Sunflower Records delivered a one-off EP, the first record to introduce `Kylie’s Got A Crush On Us’ (penned by TEENAGE FANCLUB’s Gerard Love), a tongue-in-cheek song about a certain Australian singer. With sanction from the lady herself, BMX BANDITS touted the ditty as a single, and as the finale track on their inaugural Creation Records album release, LIFE GOES ON (1993) {*8}. The line-up was now down to Duglas, Norman, Francis, Joe (soon to form SUPERSTAR), plus newcomers Finlay Macdonald (Francis’ brother) and fellow guitarist John Hogarty. Prior to the album, one could listen out for a cover of PRIMAL SCREAM’s `Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ (one of the flips on their twice-issued `Serious Drugs’ EP), while the set boasted The BEAT HAPPENING’s `Cast A Shadow’, among the group-penned gems: `Little Hands’, `Space Girl’ and `It Hasn’t Ended’.
During the mid-90s, the Bellshill pedal-(steel)-powered supergroup delivered a further two sets of pleasant, harmony-fuelled retro-pop in GETTIN’ DIRTY (1995) {*5} and THEME PARK (1996) {*6}; `I Can’t Stay Mad At You’ (Goffin-King), `That Summer Feeling’ (JONATHAN RICHMAN) – with singer-songwriter DAN PENN in tow – and `Little River Of Spring’ (Okana-Takano), were covers from the former set. Sushil Dade (from the defunct SOUP DRAGONS) had been added to the roster, while producer KIM FOWLEY lent a hand in the studio; the pairing of both FOWLEY and BMX BANDITS combined for a subsequent album (“Hidden Agenda At The 13th Note”), recorded in ’95.
In February ‘97, DUGLAS T. STEWART & COMPANY – basically BMX BANDITS and other compadres, The PEARLFISHERS’ David Scott, for one – delivered what was to be a swansong set, FRANKENSTEIN {*6}. Having already stretched their BEACH BOYS appreciation via `Thinkin’ ‘Bout You Baby’ for a tribute set, this one included a version of BRIAN WILSON’s `Hey Little Tomboy’, alongside a lounge-esque take of DYLAN’s `I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’.
It looked like the end of the road for the BMX biker crew, but as time slowly passed Duglas and Co (Francis, plus Gabriel Telerman), were back on musical terrain through the understated Shoeshine Records comeback, DOWN AT THE HOP (2003) {*6}. Possibly coming across like a poor man’s TFC – for some critics – one couldn’t fault the staid sentiment behind the indie/MOR-generated `Little Kitty’, `Miss Nude Black America’ and `The Daughters Of Julie Evergreen’.
In need of another overhaul of personnel changes; Duglas recruited Rachel Mackenzie on vocals, multi-instrumentalists Stuart Kidd and David Scott for the recording of MY CHAIN (2006) {*6}; all self-penned but the token cover of OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN’s `Hopelessly Devoted To You’ and the Norman Blake collaboration, `The Bold Pirate Kerry’. Fans of the ‘Bandits will love the goofiness-to-syrupy `Something About Us’, `A Missing Tooth’, `Not Knowing You’ and the re-vamped `The Sailor’s Song’ – rawkers beware!
As foil to Stewart’s squeaky monotones, the gorgeous Rachel provided a much-needed variation to the man’s intentionally awkward deliveries on BEE STINGS (2007) {*7}. Very much in the fresh mould of The PASTELS and recalling halcyon days of summery 60s duos – too many to mention. Stewart’s writing has always been his strong point, and in the heartfelt `After I Made Love To You’, `Foggy’, `Doorways’ and `The Last Song’, he proved that trying hard to be the next BACHARACH or GAINSBOURG might yet be fruitful.
Hidden under the pseudonymous guise of Korean lass YEONGENE, the Bacharach-David-scripted BONNIE GENE: YEONGENE IN SCOTLAND (2010) {*6}, took the similarities to a new level; `Wives And Lovers’, `I’ll Never Fall In Love With You’ and `Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, guaranteeing the possible emergence of a new star.
Stewart’s BMX BANDITS were back on track for yet another comeback set, IN SPACE (2012) {*6}. Rachel Allison, as she was now named, was back at the helm (at times alongside Duglas) of this slightly adventurous recording, while David Scott, Jamie Gash, Gareth Perrie, Jim McCulloch, Finlay MacDonald, Akira Fujita, Taisuke Takata, and not forgetting, Norman Blake, spread themselves thinly among the twee pieces on show. Guest spots for Plectrum (on the LOU REED-ish `Still’) and Cineplexx (on `Look At You, Look At Me’ and `Elegant Love’), were nice touches if one wanted a trip away from the tired “TV talent show” triviality.
© MC Strong 1999-2003/GRD / rev-up MCS Jun2013

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