Tuesday, January 03, 2023

RIP Alan Rankine

In these days we wake up wondering: “Who next?”.  

And it seems like almost every morning there comes the answer - yet more sad news of another legend, who filled our lives with beauty and illumination, who's passed, and too often, passed earlier than we'd have expected.  

Today’s sickening blow is Alan Rankine, who has died aged 64. Slightly older than Terry Hall. Both were just four-five years older than me (how weird to think of them creating these amazing records in their early twenties, recalling how barely-formed I was at that age). 

Alan Rankine - gentle man and genius musician. I had a lovely time interviewing him the couple of times we spoke. He was the  music director and effectively more than half the backing band for one of the towering singers of our time, Billy Mackenzie, someone else who left way too early. Not that he "backed" Billy: it was a partnership, a made-in-heaven musical marriage, a shared vision. 

In particular, Alan was an inventive and thrilling guitarist - an exemplary exponent of that clean, cold Scottish sound that abounded at the turn of the Eighties - Skids, Scars, Josef K, Altered Images, Simple Minds et al.

The Associates! One of the sounds of our generation. 

Sights too  - remember, ooh gosh, that swoony string of Associates appearances on Top of the Pops in 1982. The mischief, the panache!

Remember, too, the record covers -  what a handsome pair Alan and Billy made together. 

RIP and condolences to family, friends, fans. To you and to me. 


Here's some of the many opportunities I seized to write retrospectively about The Associates. There is also the chapter and a half in Rip It Up and Start Again, a tidied transcript of the first of those two conversations with Alan that appeared in Totally Wired, and the sleeve note for last summer's's deluxified reissue of Sulk, for which I spoke with Alan a second and, as it now turns out, final time. 

I prefer this original wiry and emaciated-sounding single B-side version of "It's Better This Way" although the Sulk maximalist version certainly shows off Alan's potential to be a full-blown guitar hero

Once again, this time the studio version, for my absolute favorite "Skipping", or equal absolute favorite, alongside "Party", "Q", "White Car" and "No"


Roy Wilkinson has a very nice tribute to Alan Rankine on the Facebook Associates group, including a cool bit about "Party Fears Two" and this morsel, which made me want to listen to Alan's solo music:

I feel very fortunate to have done two in-person interviews with Alan. The first was in 1987, for Sounds magazine, talking about his second, post-Associates solo album She Loves Me Not. Alan was living in Brussels at the time. His first solo album, the impressive The World Begins To Look Her Age (precognitive title alert?), had been released on the Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule. In my mind, Alan was occupying a landscape established by one of The Associates richest concoctions, Skipping from their great album Sulk:  “Ripping ropes from Belgian wharfs / Breathless Beauxillous griffin once removed seemed dwarfed.”  (The Beauxillous griffin/griffon was a linguistic twist from dog-lover Billy – a spin on a Belgian breed, the Griffon Bruxellois). What I recall from this interview is Alan being very cool, handsome and quietly authoritative. I asked him if he missed anything about his native Scotland. He thought for a moment: “Just a pint of milk – in a bottle, full cream, a pint of milk you can drink in a one-er.”

From Roy's second Rankine interview, for Mojo, here's a nice bit on "Party Fears Two"

 “Bill and I came up with [Party Fears Two] as far back as 1977. We were in Linlithgow, hungover, Sunday morning, one of the first things we did together. I came up with that lead keyboard line on the upright piano in the front room at my mum and dad’s. It’s just one of those special things that come from who knows where. It just happened. I never contrived to write that melody, it just happened. We both just looked at one another – like it’s really good. We didn’t record it [at that point]. We didn’t need to. Once you’d heard that could not forget it. But this was 1977 – punk. It just wasn’t right to emerge at that time, so we filed it away. Then we recorded a demo in a session in Willesden where we worked through the night. [At that point] it was called I Never Will, with different lyrics. Billy seemed to struggle for ages with the lyrics for a long time. It is a pretty unusual song. It starts in G major, but half way through the second bar of the intro it’s changed key. It changes from G into C then back into G again. Then, with the verse, it’s changing into B minor, then E minor. Then E major. It’s modulation but if you’d said to me that something was modulating that much in that short a space I would have said you’re crazy, but it just works. When that sort of thing’s working it’s when you’re not noticing it – Penny Lane by The Beatles modulates seven times…”

Rankine did a lot of producing while living in Belgium - people like Paul Haig and Anna Domino. This record with Tuxedomoon ally Winston Tong is said to be  more like a full-blown collaboration than mere production.