Album Review: The Beta Band – The Three EPs (Reissue)

By Live4ever - Posted on 07 Sep 2018 at 8:43am

Three EPs

Rip It Up, the National Museum of Scotland’s superb exhibition charting the history of Caledonian pop, devotes a decent amount of wall and cabinet space to The Beta Band along side curated props of Wet Wet Wet, The Jesus and Mary Chain and KT Tunstall amongst others.

This is all (despite being name-checked by John Cusack in High Fidelity) after they never had a hit, their music earned the hurl-worthy tag of ‘folktronica’, they dissolved owing over a million pounds to their label and lead singer Steve Mason went to live on his own in a cottage in Fife for a decade; the band’s story, when set next to that of Jim Kerr’s, could hardly be more different.

And yet whilst Mason continues an evolving solo career, the quartet remain firmly unreconstituted – much to the chagrin of the many who are bored of rent-a-muppets clogging up the heritage tour circuit. If you miss them, or are yet to experience their genuinely intriguing and ever-stoned mash-ups, these re-issues are an essential reference point.

It’s easy, in the rear view mirror of hindsight, to forget that their debut EP Champion Versions – self produced, limited to a few hundred copies and currently trading for upwards of £100 – was released into the post-Britpop miasma of The Drugs Don’t Work, Song 2 and Ok Computer, but then again a thirst amongst the music-forward for an alternative to going faster than a cannonball was arguably key to its enthusiastic reception.

Rarely getting above the pace of smoke going up to the ceiling, Champion Versions folds paranoia over gold on Dry The Rain, a warped paean to Primal Scream’s Loaded full of ugly beautiful soul, while B+A’s lowest-of-fi hip-hop jams ferociously, and Dog’s Got A Bone is a more busker-friendly tumble which ends on a rare note of sweet lucidity.

Founding member Gordon Anderson left after that and on its successor The Patty Patty Sound, the doors of imagination are not so much blown off as left in another dimension. More influenced by tribal rhythms and inculcated with swatches of dub, every corner is full of some sort of curio – from Mason’s Franco/Japanese rap on House Song, or Inner Meet Me’s cosmic synth opening and booming, echo chamber finale.

Its twin centres, however, were some of the most remarkable music released that year; She’s The One’s mesmeric lilt is a sustained nursery rhyme from another Wonderland; ‘Fat girl ticklish/Crazy Miss Stimulus/Falling on your face with your stupid line brace/Saying, Pop goes the weasel as he paints another easel’, while at over fifteen minutes long, The Monolith is nothing short of being a multifarious, nutty professor’s symphony.

The triptych’s finale, Los Amigos Dos Beta Bandidos, is austere by comparison, as if anything else after what preceded it couldn’t be. Back within themselves, the ‘spooky little lizard girl’ of It’s Over seems always out of reach, a vision/dream which Dr. Baker seems unable to cure, the subject a physician who ends up getting advice from his patient on a ramshackle journey which suffers from moments of confusing clarity, the words revealing Mason’s fragility and pronounced gift for speaking in recognisable tongues.
In some respects, reissuing The Three EPs is a worthless exercise given that every household in Britain should have at least one copy of the anthology version which was released in 1999. But problems since then with a rip in the space/time continuum may mean you’ve somehow missed it, them and these, an error you can address on behalf of your soul by drawing deep from their pipe of piece.

The Bay City Rollers belong in a museum – the Beta Band belong in your head.

(Andy Peterson)

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