Published on October 1st, 2018 | by voxx0
The Beta Band – The Three EPs 20th Anniversary Edition
Their jerry-built antidote to Britpop was shortlived, but sweet…
In the hangover year of 1997, with UK music looking for ways forward amid the dog-ends of rump Britpop, a mostly-Scottish four-piece touting a scruffy brand of psychedelic dub-folk-house were the unlikely next big thing. A repudiation of everything shiny, corporate and poptimistic then extant, their music felt almost stridently homegrown, with improvised percussion instruments combining with hack-wired electronica and singer Steve Mason’s doleful mumbles. Live, the group were camouflaged amid on-stage foliage and odd films showed them rolling backwards uphill – a convenient metaphor for their seeming opposition to the times.
Over 1997 and ’98, The Beta Band released three EPs – subsequently compiled on one CD compilation, now remastered and recombined. The first, Champion Versions, begins with the defining ‘Dry The Rain’: Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ remade in a shed by (and for) rave casualties. ‘Mason’ is “a junkyard fool with eyes of gloom”; the union of sequestered strangeness and overgrown funk-naïf, over all four tracks, remains thrillingly hypnotic.
Although ‘Dry The Rain’ co-writer Gordon Anderson had departed, the second EP, The Patty Patty Sound, suffered not, with pop sensibilities sharpened on the mantric ‘Inner Meet Me’. Although their lo-fi Revolution 9 side is over-indulged on the 15-minute ‘Monolith’, it is mercifully less prominent on EP3, Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos.
Here, for the first (and possibly last) time they crafted a fully satisfying “experience”, with the Robin Jones/Richard Greentree rhythm section sparingly brilliant on the haunting ‘Push It Out’ and the bass-rumbling rave-up of ‘Needles In My Eyes’. It was a masterpiece and – as long as you looked past Mason’s weird nightmares full of tears and pain (“I crept in and I stole your mind/I think I’m having trouble with mine”) – the group appeared set fair.
But Beta Band music was to prove as impossible to emulate as that other trumpeted trailblazer of 1997, Radiohead’s OK Computer; neither by fans, including Noel Gallagher (whose brief infatuation is written all over Oasis’s ‘Go Let It Out’), nor by The Beta Band themselves, who – freaked by the attention, budget, deadlines and the surfacing of Mason’s depression – produced The Beta Band, a fragmented, largely charm-free follow-up album. Two more – the much-better Hot Shots II and knowingly titled Heroes To Zeroes – followed without adjusting the impression of a group whose unique attributes had frazzled the instant they ventured into the light.
But the Beta Band legend persists; its shadow cast across Mason’s solo career – excellent in parts. DJ/keyboardist John Maclean, who also guided the group’s artwork, including their magazine, The Flower Press (reproductions of which will be included in vinyl editions of The Three EPs sold in independent record stores), had a smarter idea. He became a film director. The moment he makes a film as good as The Three EPs, an Oscar beckons.
- By Jake White