Monday, August 13, 2007

Singles going steady 9: The mighty Beta Band

Next up on my journey though my CD singles is one of my favourite bands of all time – The Beta Band. Despite their all-too-short existence, they burned bright, and given time will no doubt prove to be one of the more influential bands of recent years. You can see this already in reviews which compare new bands to The Beta Band, in some attempt to covey a sense of leftfield, oddball-ness.

Steve Mason, Richard Greentree, Robin Jones and John MacLean burst onto the music scene back in 1997 with the now legendary Champion Sounds EP, a vinyl only release which soon became a sold-our rarity, fetching high prices in second hand record shops (in these pre-eBay days). Here was something unique in these times – a band with a broad musical palate, which combined indie, folk and a clear love for black music – mainly reggae and hip-hop.

So it was with some anticipation that the next two EPs were released – The Patty Patty Sound EP in March 1998 and Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos a few months later. These too sold out quickly, and prompted the release of a compilation, naturally called The 3 EPs in September that year. It’s still the greatest collection of Beta Band songs ever.

Their first album proper, The Beta Band, received a bit of a critical cold shoulder when it came out in June 1999. Maybe because after the 3 EPs, expectations were so high. Maybe because the band themselves disowned the album, citing record company pressure not allowing them the time they’d have liked to record it. It’s not a terrible album, but there are better Betas records. One of these is the follow-up, 2001’s Hot Shots II. This was great, and even generated some top 40 ‘hits’ for them. But it wasn’t quite enough. The band seemed to be plagued by financial problems, and never quite made the money that their label was probably expecting them to. Not even John Cusack in High Fidelity could help them sell enough records. It was not long after the release of final album Heroes to Zeroes in 2004 that the band announced they were splitting up. The word was not that there were inter-band problems (though there may have been), but that they just owed the record company too much money. Perhaps a salutary reminder that an idiosyncratic band and major label politics are always uncomfortable bedfellows.

Whereas on record they were sometimes patchy, but often brilliant, it was live where they really excelled. To put it simply, they are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them a good few times (around 10 I think). My first encounter with them was back in May 1998. I still remember it well. A sticky hot night in some venue near Great Portland Street tube called the International Students House. Basically a gym hall in student accommodation taken over by the Beta Band for the evening, and decorated with plants and their big collection of gear on a stage that seemed too small. It was the first time that I had experienced the whole visuals-as-part-of-a-gig thing, with the low-budget home-made videos for each song. But that aside, it was on stage where the real action was. Samples, scratching and mad drumming were all added to the standard guitar-bass-drums mix, and I hadn’t seen anything like it before. I was blown away and it still counts as one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

They always put on good shows, even when they were touring The Beta Band, which they made sound much better than it was on record. That tour they even left their greatest live favourite Dry the Rain out the set, but it was thankfully restored by the time the Hot Shots II gigs came around, when they were accompanied by rapper Exodus 77. The last time I saw them was at Summer Sundae in 2004. I thought that this was going to be their last ever gig, but they announced a farewell tour shortly afterwards. They sold out two nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a fitting final testament to the esteem they were held in by music fans. I’m still wondering why I didn’t go. Maybe I felt I achieved closure in Leicester a few months earlier.

Since the split, Steve Mason has continued with his King Biscuit Time project, though he has suffered from mental health problems of late. Richard Greentree has a new band called The General and Duchess Collins, and Robin and John have teamed up with Beta Band founder member Gordon Anderson, aka Lone Pigeon (Anderson left the Beta Band at the very beginning because of health problems), to form The Aliens. I saw The Aliens last summer, and though I like their debut album Astronomy for Dogs (I’m well overdue a post on that one) my main problem with them is that they’re not The Beta Band. Maybe I’m being unrealistic in my expectations, but that’s just how it is. I just love the Betas a bit too much. Probably more than if they had still been around. But that’s how mythology is made, innit?

I’ve no problems giving you downloads for this, because I have everything they’ve ever released. Here are some tracks that I have on CD singles.

Download: The Beta Band – Inner Meet Me
Download: The Beta Band – Needles in My Eyes
Download: The Beta Band – To You Alone
Download: The Beta Band – Won
Download: The Beta Band – Human Being
Download: The Beta Band – Squares (Bloah Mix)
Download: The Beta Band – The House Song

Buy Beta Band stuff – I recommend starting with The 3 EPs, though for a handy catch-all, you could do worse than get the best of comp.


Anonymous said...

thanks for all this great info - - i love the beta band too. Never had the chance to see them live unfortunately but at least i have some feel via recordings of their live shows. i also love King Biscuit Time (KBT) - - I think Steve Mason is king of infectious beats, layered guitars and instrumentation, hypnotic refrains, and innovative melodies. Check out the song Kwangchow as well as Kwangchow (doctors of Love Remix). Other KBT favorites include "I Walk the Earth" and "Time to Get Up." KBT is gone now, sadly, but Steve Mason has been resurrected now as Black Affair. I've heard 2 songs: "Japanese Happening" and "Tak! Attack!" They are growing on me and I'm trying to love it out of respect for Steve's artistry but it's not working for me like my favorite Beta or KBT songs. It's only 2 songs so i'm going to hang in there.

steve mason said...

i am poor. stop giving away my music. the boys may be have to be sent round. ras clat

steve masoooooon

The Daily Growl said...

Steve, it's been a long time since these songs were up on this site. Tracks are only here for a couple of weeks. The aim is to get people to buy stuff. Every home should have a copy of the Three EPs. I will not rest till this is a reality.