Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Porky Post … Lost, but never forgotten: Win

In the first post of what may or may not become a regular series – ‘Lost, but never forgotten’ – our good friend Porky reminisces about Scottish band Win, beer adverts, and an album that should have made them world champions …

The Scots have a knack of mixing grimness with humour in culture, and TV commercials are not immune. One such ad for McEwan’s Lager in the mid-80s (clip below) was bleak and dystopian, and photographed in sepia. It featured a litany of people clad in well-worn rags pushing large boulders up a maze-like building, before dropping the boulders onto an assembly line. In the background was a tune that initially appeared to be yet another a synth-led electro radio friendly sound, but soon mutated into a bewitching pop tune with a magnificent chorus.

This was ‘You’ve Got the Power’, by a newly-forming Edinburgh band called Win, a name that’s short and snappy and maps out their ambitions.

More than halfway through this two minute-ad, the lumpen proletariat spot, on the other side of the screen (how that appeared can’t possibly be explained in such a short piece), some revellers in a bar, and use the boulders to smash through the glass and get the goodies (the pint). Smash the state, or at least just smash something to get a drink.

At this time there was a Cuban-style limitation on the lager you could get in Scotland. It was either Tennant’s or McEwan’s, with the arrival of international brands still in the formative stage. But unlike Cuba, these two varieties were utter pish.
The remixed version of ‘You’ve Got the Power’ used in the ad was the first spotting of Win, but the resulting single (all three issues) made little impression on the UK charts, after all the ad was only shown in Scotland.
Why they were even doing this ad bemused the uber-indie fanatic, but the rationale was very simple: Win wanted to be fucking famous and fucking popular and super fucking rich. Alas, they were none of the above, but that was none of their fault.
Win was formed in 1984 by Davy Henderson, the former frontman for cult post-punk band The Fire Engines, with fellow fire fighter Russell Burn and Ian Stoddart. Mani Shoniwa, Simon Smeeton and Willie Perry would also be band members.
Like many Scottish bands, such as the Beta Band and The Associates, Win’s musical style largely defied categorisation. Sure, there were plenty of guitars, but these mingled merrily with drum machines and synthesisers.
Win were bright and shiny, but the people behind Top of the Pops, the charts, and the record outlets, were always suspicious of acts that might try to gate-crash their way into their money-making party, and Win’s religious and Hollywood iconography, plus a love of images of disposable consumer goods, set them apart.
‘You’ve Got the Power’ contained lines such as “You’ve got the power to generate fear …. You’ve got the power to censor what is real”, which fitted like a condom on the lager ad, but perhaps not on Radio Happy pumping out good-time guff to get the drones to work on time and to keep them from resisting the urge to slit their wrists as they served another coffee or stacked another pallet during the day.
Another earlier single, ‘Un-American Broadcasting’, came with a flashy, never-pausing video featuring clips from over half a century of US TV and films, including Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the ad scenes in Blade Runner.

A 1987 single, ‘Super Popoid Groove’, released to promote the album Uh! Tears Baby (A Trash Icon), takes the frantic electro-guitar funk to another level, and in a celebratory, tongue in both cheeks vid, the band adorn puffed-out puffa jackets. 
‘Shampoo Tears’ was a great single, but was, of course, unsuccessful. ‘Charms of Powerful Trouble’ has tinges of Prince in his seductive way, and ‘Hollywood Baby Too’ is magnificent in its orchestral majesty. Yep, this is a classic album.
Uh! Tears Baby was voted into the top 30 (albeit only just) of both the Melody Maker and the NME’s annual albums review, no mean feat at a time when the weekly music press could make or break an act.
Two years later Win gave it another crack, with Freaky Trigger, and this time they were on Virgin Records. It saw Win sound slicker and glossier at a time when music was moving away from such concepts. There was a song about Dusty Springfield – ‘Dusty Heartfelt’, which is built on a chorus that’s both pure pop and as irritating as an itch on the rear that you can’t get rid of or scratch in public.
This was intelligent pop for people who dig tunefulness but had a snooty attitude about “quality”. Freaky Trigger is a mixture of songs that just don’t work and songs that continued the trend from the first album, such as ‘What’s Love When You Can Kill for Chocolate’ and ‘Mind The Gravy’, food clearly bringing out the best in them.
A year later they would split, though a third album was mooted. Henderson’s mercurial talents would be found in Nectarine No.9 and the Sexual Objects, where success was not a consideration - they recorded an album but had just 500 copies pressed.
Here's the irony-embracing 'Super Popoid Groove' ...


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