A few years back, in my mid-50s, I decided to go to university. Living in Scotland I was convinced by a lecturer at University of the West of Scotland to apply, even though I left school at 16 and only had a handful of very old O levels. Getting in to an MA on music business was an eye opener. Old feelings from my last years at school resurfaced - resentment, outrage, a feeling of being trapped - and that was just on the first day.
We were taught by a motley collection of Scottish ex and current musos, some of whom had a certain amount of success, some of whom had academic knowledge to pass on, others who were obviously frozen at the moment that their success peaked. I learnt how to analyse some elements of the music business, a few new words to describe things I knew instinctively or through experience, but, most of all, I learnt that, if angled wisely, a small amount of success can get you a long way when teaching the arts.
Alan Rankine embarked on a solo career that included production and, eventually, teaching at Stow College in Scotland after The Associates became Billy Mackenzie’s solo project. The band had achieved spectacular success in the UK, especially considering their ornery attitudes and this was largely attributable to the partnership between Alan and Billy, as evidenced by Billy’s later solo career which switched about like a lost otter. Their biggest hit, Party Fears Two is a masterclass in unique, classic and original pop music, from the Light My Fire referencing keyboard motif that tugs at your heart to the frankly barmy arrangement and the climax of the impossibly relaxed high note that gives way to (on the extended mix) a minute or more of choir boy meets Sioux warrior wailing. To have achieved that, alone, would be enough for Alan Rankine to be given whatever opportunity he needed to teach whatever he wanted to, in my book. But, add to that two incredible albums and more singles that seemed to stride both in the avant garde and the sticky back plastic worlds of British pop without breaking a drip of sweat means that he was a crucial part of an actual seminal moment in pop history.
Various people I met in Scotland, who either knew him or were taught by him sung his praises and he remained respected, even though he was no longer, apparently, writing and recording. It takes immense taste and class to know when to stop. I’m projecting here, but I imagine it would always be hard to top the early work of The Associates and perhaps teaching and talking (and helping younger musicians with the university in-house label to launch themselves) is probably a nobler way out than that chosen by people like me who never know when to give up.
Tim London is a musician, music producer and writer. Originally from a New Town in Essex he is at home amidst concrete and grand plans for the working class. Tim's latest thriller, Smith, is available now. Find out more at timothylondon.com
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