FRETS is delighted to be presenting an acoustic concert by THE BLUEBELLS on Friday 23rd April, 2021, in the Strathaven Hotel.
I saw the Bluebells many times over the years, from their early Postcard Records period through to their chart-topping period. They were always about songs (as recognised by their producer Elvis Costello), with melodic touchstones like The Monkees, The Lovin Spoonful, The Byrds, being complimented by the Bluebells roots in punk (The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Undertones).
The Bluebells debut album, Sisters, is reissued on the Past Night From Glasgow label, and the timing feels right for a new appreciation of the group. We cant wait to see them perform in acoustic mode within the seated intimate concert environs of the Strathaven Hotel, itll be special.
Douglas MacIntyre - FRETS Concerts
In time most things fall into a true place, and take on a kind of original truth. Maybe we come to understand them as we once did. My first encounters with The Bluebells were totally happy ones. They were part of the Postcard gang, usually to be found at 185 West Princes Street where Alan Horne lived with our guitar player, Brian Taylor (and Krysia Klasicki, the artist). Robert Hodgens (Bobby Bluebell) in particular was usually there or thereabouts, a friendly, grinning presence. He helped us get our first single, Songs For Children, together, patiently playing bass with us for hours during an interminable pre-recording rehearsal.
1981 was a good time to be living in Glasgow, the urban renewal programme was underway, it was a time of sandblasted tenements, Bill Forsyth films, Orange Juice and Altered Images. The Spaghetti Factory seemed part of this new confidence with massive plates of spaghetti and lasagne and front of house waiter stars like Clare Grogan and Robert Sharp (Postcard’s dapper photographer). Orange Juice had played there previously but I’d sadly missed it. Where they went The Bluebells often went soon after and I was glad to be there for that. Up first was Aubrey, a charming one-man synth pop outfit with a trusty drum machine. He dedicated a song to Robert. The Bluebells looked like they were having the best time ever, it was almost like they could hardly sing their songs properly so happy was the occasion. I think they knew everyone in the room. They had a gawky gallusness especially when Ken joined in. At the time he was only half in although his wee brother, David, was already holding down the drummer spot with some aplomb.
Postcard announced a Bluebells single, Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, but by then Alan Horne was already winding down the label and it never made the cut. Things were changing and this brief moment of independent adventure was temporarily coming to an end in Glasgow. The Bluebells signed to London Records joining Robert’s then partner, Siobhan Fahey, a member of Bananarama. As their previous archive release, Exile On Twee Street shows, The Bluebells already had a strong catalogue of songs and it’s not surprising that London Records wanted them. I’m sure they thought they were getting some hits and they were right. There’s a brilliant Old Grey Whistle Test appearance from this time where an adrenalised classic lineup Bluebells (Robert, Ken, David, Lawrence and Russell) almost seem to hurtle onto the screen as if they can’t wait to be the next Undertones - full to the brim with winning melodies and rough-hued charm.
It was a time of matching the group, the song and the producer, the high tide of A&R dramatic input. Elvis Costello was a supporter and The Bluebells successfully teamed up with him, and Robin Millar inevitably, and various others too. There was clearly a lot of money available and it was a bit odd to see all these different names on the singles. Now I think I understand it better, it’s the essence of pop music. It’s what Rough Trade at the time was becoming, it’s Vic Godard saying that his songs were for sale, it’s the crossover from the NME to Record Mirror, John Peel to Gary Crowley. The Bluebells were not only having the time of their lives but they were pursuing their artistic ambitions with as much sincerity as most of the people I knew on independent labels. Somehow Orange Juice didn’t take on that much collateral damage for being on Polydor, or even Strawberry Switchblade at Warners. In our small world The Bluebells were seen to be taking on a fair bit.
Stephen McRobbie / The Pastels
I bought “Sisters” on cassette then climbed aboard one of the first Stagecoach buses that ran from Perth to Inverness, grabbed the upstairs front window seat, pressed play on my Walkman. Every time I’ve driven the A9 since I still experience the sheer thrill I felt when hearing your songs as the soundtrack to those majestic views of the Cairngorms, so naturally I’m totally chuffed to be associated with the re-release!
Kenny Anderson / King Creosote