return of the solo
Bourgie Bourgie released a single with a real guitar solo and it still got airplay. Lucy Yates went to ask how.
Come on. Admit it. The first time you heard Bourgie Bourgie's single "Breaking Point" you'd thought your ears had fallen into a time warp: the vocal was so very David Bowie, and the mad guitar break between the warm gush of cellos and strings could almost have been Mick Ronson.
Ten points for spotting the right influences, but no points for slinging Bourgie Bourgie into a revivalist bag. The Glaswegian-based five piece have no desire to recreate the slicked-up method acting of mid-Seventies guitar heroes; instead they're bent on perverting those stylistic poses and if comparisons are irresistible, well, they'll smile and agree.
Tonight Bourgie Bourgie's lead guitarist Mick Slaven and bassist Keith Band are smiling. (Mick and Keith: yes, that time warp again!) They've just spent the last week putting the final touches on their second single "Careless" (to be released on April 26 on MCA Records) after the encouraging success of their debut effort "Breaking Point". It charted at 46 and enjoyed a fair share of admiration from the music press.
Mick's pleased with "Breaking Point" although it took him a while to come to terms with the single's highly polished overall sound. Makes a difference from his guitars which are not always so mirror like. The favourite at the moment is an old Guild Starfire. "When I took it out of the box, I took one look at it and thought 'THIS GUITAR IS KNACKERED.' We were going to send it back. I mean, the thing was scratched and covered with mud. It was totally wrecked but I thought I'd ignore the tape holding it together and give it a try.
"I couldn't believe it. It was pure Eddie Cochran. It had the cleanest sound and very warm. I played it for hours. It's on all the songs we recorded. I used our own guitars as well, but just couldn't put this one down."
The sparkle on "Breaking Point" he puts down to working with a professional producer for the first time. "It was just so different from the demo, and certainly very different from our live sound. It was a lot warmer than I thought it would be."
Bourgie Bourgie have always planned to make well-crafted recordings while continuing to develop their slightly deranged live shows, but what they'd been doing in the studio didn't really hit home until the finished disc hit the turntable.
"We've worked with two different producers now, Ian Broudie and Mike Hedges," Mick began. "And now we realise that some of the ideas we came up with during the making of the Jazzateers album..."
"...shouldn't have been done in the first place!" Keith finished.
Mick, Keith and rhythm guitarist Ian Burgoyne had been the Jazzateers for quite some time before joining up with showman/vocalist Paul Quinn and taking on the Bourgie Bourgie mantle. They'd been financed by Rough Trade to get the Jazzateers tracks down on vinyl before the band finally dissolved. The resulting work, simply entitled "The Jazzateers", met with mured critical reaction that ranged from "arrrgghhh" to "awesome".
"We went into the studio without any real idea of how the songs were going to come out," Keith remembered. "We practised the songs for a week, but the main fun was actually producing it. We would start out with a nice melody and then go about destroying it! We wanted the ugliest guitar sound possible."
"I used a Maestro fuzz pedal which revolutionised the LP," Mick smirked. "It's a distortion pedal that wrecks any chord, but I wrecked it on that LP!"
The group knew the Jazzateers were never going to become a worthy commercial proposition (too loud, too forceful - TOO MUCH GUITAR!), so as Bourgie Bourgie they decided to curb their more destructive tendencies in favour of trying for a major record deal.
"We took a different approach with the demos," Keith said. "We knew that other people were going to listen to it seriously, so we took a more professional attitude. The fuzz pedal stayed there, but we just toned it down a bit and allowed Paul to take centre stage."
"We put a lot of work into the songs," Mick continued. "We knew the basic chord progression, so we worked on the structures. Then we developed the rhythm sections."
"We eventually picked the most exciting tracks," Keith said. "But all the songs had to go through a lot of changes before they got to the exciting stage. And we were rushed. We never had the time to settle into a song and even now all the guitar bits are written in the studio."
Polydor was interested, but it was MCA who snapped them up even before Bourgie Bourgie had played their first gig as support to Orange Juice at the Hammersmith Palais. It was baptism by fire, and they've survived to play another day... but never with as much uncertainty.
Now Bourgie Bourgie have every technological goody at their ever-ready fingertips and have discovered musical horizons reaching further than they'd ever dreamed.
"We used an Ovation 12-string acoustic on 'Breaking Point'," Mick said. "The lush sweeping sound is great – we'd never used it before. They double-tracked it and the chords are so full – I didn't know how you could get that sound. There's also a 12-string Rickenbaker which I'd never played before.
"I usually use a Yamaha SG2000. It's got a really rocky sound, great for long sustained notes, but sometimes it just doesn't have the right tone. It was too powerful for the type of sound we were after."
"Too much Seventies rock," Keith said.
"It was a bit over the top, occasionally, so we tried other things," Mick went on. "There were four guitars to choose from: the Yamaha, the Guild Starfire, a Stratocaster and a Telecaster. And five amps: an AC30, a Vox, a 100 watt transistorised Fender reverb, a Rockman, and our own JC200 which sounded very rocky.
"I tried every guitar with each different amp. I'd go in very early, just by myself and work through them all and get one that sounded the best after all the different combinations. You could compromise with just one guitar and one amp – but I just love being able to choose!"
Mick was also impressed by the new transistorised Rockman amp. "You can get a good distorted sound with it and because of the echo there's a chorus effect. The Fender amp's got a cleaner sound, but sometimes I find it too compressed, tight and clicky.
"But I still like the transistorised sound of the Rockman because it's alive. You can distort it but it's still clean. The sound is strong and controlled and doesn't get out of hand."
"Valve amps are the best for performing, a lot warmer," Keith continued. Listening to Bourgie Bourgie live reaffirms the importance of an imaginative rhythm section. Drawing heavily upon the searing rolls of early Velvet Underground recordings, Keith and rhythm guitarist Ian Burgoyne (who'd left London earlier in the day suffering from a severe bout of homesickness) entwine around Mick's guitar with a confident panache. Even while they're waiting for Mick to mend a broken string (which is quite often), they're all too eager to splinter the atmosphere without him.
"I started off with a Fender Mustang bass because Tina Weymouth used one," Keith said. "Then I bought a Fender Precision bass and eventually got an Aria Pro SB1000. I thought I'd better get slightly muso, and this was a muso bass after all. But it was rubbish – there was no middle in it!
"I'm back with the Fender, but I'm going to get a custom built bass soon. A Jimmy Moon special. I'll have everything on it, but it'll be quite a small shape. I don't like using big guitars – I'm a small person. Ian's got a customised Telecaster with the pre-amp built into it, but he's getting a Jimmy Moon guitar as well."
But Keith's most recent acquisition is a synthesiser. In an earlier interview hadn't he insisted that synthesisers were for people who couldn't play guitars???
"Well, that'll teach you not to believe everything you read!" he laughed. "A friend of mine had a Yamaha DX7 and it had received really good reviews, so I decided to get one.
"It's very handy for writing songs. Even people who play the piano use it. It's excellent for percussion. We've always used synths when recording, but we've never made them a major feature. We've never used a big wash of synthesised sound, but used it more subtlety."
The experimental use of the synth during the recording sessions has given a more exotic flavour to Bourgie Bourgie's essentially guitar-based sound and has increased their appetite for more adventuring. "Mike Hedges has come up with some good ideas," Mick said. "Congas and different drum sounds. We wouldn't have thought of using a keyboard for sounds like that. We're learning to use the studio to its full extent."
"When you write a song you don't really think that you're writing for a set of instruments," Keith said. "The actual decision about what to use on a song comes in the studio. We go in with a basic structure and then think about adding things or leaving things out. And, again, the budget for our recordings is such that we don't have to think twice about whether we can afford a cellist or not... it's very self-indulgent."
Mick reckons that it's tempting to fall for gadgetry when you've got money to burn, but his experience with the Guild proved that character can't be substituted with glitter. "I kept trying all the guitars in the studio, but I couldn't have got a better sound from the old Guild. You can get good gadgets, but there are brilliant guitars about that just give a good sound with the minimum of fuss. Old Fenders for instance."
"A lot of guitars have a character all their own," Keith said. "Two guitars that've been made the same day at the same factory can have totally different sounds."
"I wouldn't say that," Mick mused.
"They CAN!" Keith vigorously insisted. "Fenders can. There are really duff Fenders and really good Fenders and they're both the same models. The wood, the guy that put them together, all contribute to the sound... it's just the cosmic vibes that make a good guitar," he grinned.
Cosmic vibes indeed! Mick cites his influences as the ever mystical Pete Townshend and a more current guitarist, Charlie Burchill of the mountain-moving Simple Minds. "I used to go and see Simple Minds as often as I could, and that was just about all the time. I've always been into Charlie's guitar because he's so imaginative. He gets a great sound without playing a lot of noise. He uses the guitar in a non-traditional way, but it still works with the overall sound. It's atmospheric. He doesn't steal the show, but he's always there."
With major headlining dates scheduled for the Summer and a debut album geared for an Autumn release, Bourgie Bourgie also plan to be there always, but don't count on them not stealing the show.
Interview by Lucy Yates
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