2007 - 2022

The Nectarine No.9 – 9.9.99

Look Back in Languor With The Men Who Fell to Earth. As a legendary live show by one of Edinburgh’s greatest bands is unearthed, Neil Cooper tunes in to the past.

Welcome to the Bar…

If the past is another country, listening to The Nectarine No.9’s 9.9.99 album is like stepping, not just into last century, but into another world. Released on 2.2.22 on The Creeping Bent Organisation’s Patreon site, 9.9.99’s unearthed live recording captures Edinburgh’s premiere voodoo beat seditionists (copyright whoever came up with that phrase) in full flight, but also in flux. Recorded at Edinburgh’s Bongo Club on the sort of date that might prompt all manner of numerologically inspired conspiracies, they weren’t alone. 

As history tells it, the generation of tech heads and geeks who inherited the earth regarded 9.9.99 – September 9th, 1999 – as a precursor to Y2K. This, they prophesised, would be the day the machine stopped and the world went into collective meltdown. As it turned out, two years into New Labour, and the Scottish Parliament a mere four months old, the tech heads were wrong on all counts, and the century ended with more of a whimper than a big bang. 

This unexpected survival of the masses was hosannaed with  revisionist zeal, with one article in a publication that probably only exists in digital form these days headlined, ‘It’s 9.9.99 and we’re still here!’.

Maybe the hi-tech prophets weren’t as smart as they made out. But then, given that these days you can make an album on your laptop and a movie on your mobile phone, maybe they just didn’t have the equipment.  

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne  may have set up shop in 1976, but to late twentieth century luddites, Apple was either a Beatles vanity project or one of your five a day. For many, the idea of having a home computer was still the stuff of Tomorrow’s World. 

In terms of musical outlets, vinyl had been all but scratched out, and for aspiring sophisticates, the Compact Disc was the format of choice. Google was just a year old in 1999, while Spotify wouldn’t begin its world domination enterprise until 2006. SoundCloud and Bandcamp followed two years later. Patreon, meanwhile, wouldn’t begin its own irresistible rise until 2013, though only recently does it seem to have been embraced by DIY types. 

The very idea that one day you would be able to listen to a recording of a twenty-three year old gig through a computer, a pocket phone, and something called an app would have been considered pure sci-fi of a most fantastical kind. And yet, here we are with 9.9.99, listening to yesterday on something that makes it sound like tomorrow. 

Un-Loaded for You

For the uninitiated who weren’t there, and are maybe not au fait with The Nectarine No.9’s own history, the back-story goes something like this.

Having blazed a post-punk trail with Fire Engines and scrubbed up the ‘80s with Win, Davy Henderson’s 1990s musical adventures saw him get back to his rock and roll roots. This saw him and a new set of cohorts reinvent the wheel with a three-guitar melting pot of Beefheart, Bolan and the sort of skew-whiff glam racket rifferama that sounded sired from a dockland fusion of Downtown New York and Sunny Leith.

The Nectarine No.9 was the best part of a decade and three full albums in by the time they got to 9.9.99. These began with1992’s A Sea and Three Stars (or C***, if you will), released on Alan Horne’s fleetingly reignited Postcard label. This was followed in 1995 by Saint Jack, then in 1998 by Fried For Blue Material. 

Henderson led a line-up on all those records that also featured guitarists Simon Smeeton and John ‘Todd’ Thompson, bass player John Thompson and drummer Ian Holford. While Henderson, Smeeton and Holford were in attendance at the Bongo for 9.9.99, the no-relation Thompsons were geographically indisposed. This necessitated drafting in a trio of local heroes for an ad hoc alliance that made the version of The Nectarine No.9 who headlined the end of the century affair a veritable supergroup. 

On guitar, they were joined by Malcolm Ross, the Sound of Young Scotland’s very own Zelig, who had provided taste and texture to Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, before ploughing his own impeccable furrow with The High Bees and a couple of underheard solo records. On bass, Douglas MacIntyre’s pedigree dated back to the Ross produced Article 58 before moving through The Jazzateers en route to founding The Creeping Bent Organisation, keeping the flame of Fast Product and Postcard alive. 

Also on board playing keyboards was James Locke, who cut his musical teeth with The Beat Freaks, Paul Haig and The Bathers, before hitting the charts as one third of The Chimes on their club-flavoured cover of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

After seeing in the twenty-first century with two more Nectarine No.9 albums – 2001’s Received, Transgressed & Transmitted, and I Love Total Destruction in 2003 – the core quartet of Henderson, Smeeton, MacIntyre and Holford would eventually morph into The Sexual Objects. With former Bricolage guitarist Graham Wann on board, thus far the band has graced the new millennium with two albums; Cucumber, in 2010; and Marshmallow, plus the Cream Split Up! mini album, in 2015. 

The sole copy of Marshmallow was auctioned on Ebay for a cool £4,213, with the winner releasing the record two years later on Triassic Tusk Records in an edition of 300. 2015 also saw a twentieth anniversary re-release of Saint Jack by Heavenly Records, with The Nectarine No.9 having regrouped the year before to play the album in full at Rutherglen Town Hall.

With all this yet to come, and already wrapped up in an ever-expanding criss-crossing panoply of what today’s twenty-first century bright young things might call networks, The Nectarine No.9 of 9.9.99 was already making history.

The date of the show had been chosen for the palindromic propensities of its once a decade numerical alignment of date, month and year. This fitted together with the alliterative conceptualism of the band’s name, co-opted from a Japanese love hotel.

Bear in mind as well that 9.9.99 and 2.2.22 are as far apart as the end of the twentieth century was from 1977, that mythical Year Zero of musical revolutions to come. But if numbers make the world go round, who knows where the time goes?

Fading Memory Babe

9.9.99 took place at the original Bongo Club, the damp and dilapidated former New Street bus depot off Edinburgh’s High Street that was transformed into a rough and ready arts lab where the city’s underground could play. Eventually, developers knocked it down and left a gap site for ten years before the soulless corporate village now known as New Waverley was set in motion after the crash. The Bongo moved to the old Moray House student union building down the road, before finding a third home underneath Central Library on the Cowgate, where it currently resides.  

Meanwhile, back at the end of the century, fin de siècle fever was in full flight. In terms of the stats, 9.9.99 is a heroically well-preserved bootleg that showcases the six-piece Nectarine No. 9 playing a fifty-three-minute, nine-song set. This includes interpretations of three numbers from Fried For Blue Material – Walter Tevis, Adidas Francis Bacon, and The Port of Mars. There are nods to Saint Jack by way of the title track and My Trapped Lightning. All five studio cuts were collected along with nine others on the 1999 retrospective compendium, It’s Just the Way Things Are, Joe, It’s Just the Way Things Are.

There is a great leap forward as well to the then unreleased Constellations of a Vanity, Foundthings, and the opening (sic), all of which would appear on Received, Transgressed and Transmitted. The N.N.9 would call it a night with a sublime Extra Time encore of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 Brill Building homage, I Saw the Light.

As past, present, and future are pressed up close against each other in one perfect time capsule, 9.9.99 evokes a spirit that falls somewhere between T.S. Eliot and The Shangri-las. 

The Magic Numbers

Davy Henderson’s drawled intro to the band at the start of 9.9.99 can’t help but recall that of another posthumously released live LP recorded by some New York beat combo thirty years earlier. But hey, the ‘90s were just the ‘60s turned upside down, after all, so what goes around, comes around, etc. Whatever, Henderson immortalises his thinly disguised magic band by way of a series of extravagant nom de plumes. Robert Cult, Dalai Lemon and Soft Malcolm were all very much in the house.

Some dumbass reviewer with the same name as me wrote how Henderson was nervous at the start of the show, but full of bluff with it. He also wrote how Henderson was on his knees with his guitar within the first few seconds of (sic), cutting loose and getting totally wired. 

It sounds like a great image, but is hard to conjure up through audio alone. It’s a shame no-one filmed it. These days it would have been on YouTube in shaky handed 5G before the first song was even over. Then again, if any footage of 9.9.99 does exist, it may be best it left on the cutting room floor and let our unreliable memories do the work. Photographs of the night have surfaced, taken in glorious black and white, on real film and everything.

On (sic) itself, the heckle and jive of the chatterboxes in the heart of the crowd are audibly recognisable. There is some debate later among the audience over what year it is, with one wag summing up an era by declaring it “fucking Giro Day”. 

There is badinage as well concerning 1970s TV wrestling. This spit and sawdust Saturday afternoon spectacle featured middle-aged men made of lard, who entertained millions with extravagantly choreographed pantomime battle royals as a warm-up to the football results. The Wrestling did this for thirty-three years before being cancelled in 1988 after the powers that be decided it was too low rent for modern times. But I digress. 

Like (sic), the 9.9.99 performance of Walter Tevis is The Nectarine No.9 in the raw. Sounding like a slow dance at some parallel universe rock-and-roll hop, the song was named after the great American writer, who penned six novels, including The Hustler (1959), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963), The Queen’s Gambit (1983), and The Color of Money (1984). All four have been adapted for film, with Paul Newman playing pool hall genius Fast Eddie Felson in both The Hustler (1961), and its sequel, The Color of Money (1986), the latter made after Tevis’s passing. 

Most appealing for punky young minds was David Bowie’s turn as a strung-out alien in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 adaptation of The Man Who Fell to Earth. More recently, Scott Franks’s seven-part adaptation of The Queen’s Gambit (2020), co-created for Netflix by Moray-born writer, Brit-film bigwig and whisky priest Allan Scott, put both chess and lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy on the map.   

After popping the jagged little pill of My Trapped Lightning, there are more film references ahoy in the 9.9.99 version of Saint Jack. This pounding call and response travelogue draws from Peter Bogdanovich’s 1979 film of Paul Theroux’s 1973 novel about Jack Flowers, an American pimp trying to make it big in Singapore. The film came about after actress Cybill Shepherd sued Playboy magazine when they published topless photographs of her poached from Bogdanovich’s earlier film, The Last Picture Show. Bogdanovich and Shepherd became an item, and Shepherd fell in love with Theroux’s book after being gifted a copy by Orson Welles. Well, who wouldn’t? 

Saint Jack starred Ben Gazzara as Jack, a role not that dissimilar to the one he played in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, directed by John Cassavetes three years earlier. A sample of Gazzara’s final line as Jack Flowers at the end of the film can be heard on It’s Not my Baby Putting it Down, a sonic collage that appears on The Nectarine No.9’s Saint Jack album just prior to My Trapped Lightning.

Adidas Francis Bacon is a voodoo primitivist assault that offloads machine-gun electric guitar shards driven by Holford’s military two-step on the skins. The result art 9.9.99, at least, sounds like an assassination attempt on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.

Beyond the sci-fi synths that peep through the squelch-funk riffage of Foundthings it is the instrumental crescendos where The Nectarine No.9 ascend to the jaggiest heights at 9.9.99. This is especially the case on The Port of Mars, where the song’s terrace chant doo-wop cuts loose with multiple guitar wigouts that seem to spar like lightsabers, zapping in different directions across each other’s space with a calculated chemistry egged on by their own synergy.  

Once the gloopy synths of the then unknown Constellations of a Vanity conjure up a new strain of euphoria, that’s seemingly it until a familiar voice from the bar hollers a refreshed “Encore une fois!” and Henderson and co return, as they must, for I Saw the Light. “We just wrote this today,” tongue-in-cheeks Henderson, before launching into a sublime stab at a piece of pop perfection modelled in their own magnificent image. 

For the record, digital or otherwise, I Saw the Light is most categorically NOT a ‘hoary old rocker’, as the same dumbass reviewer from earlier wrote back then. They might have had the same name as me, but it was a completely different person, I swear. Whoever it was, they’re a stranger to me now. I know where he lives, but I don’t talk to him anymore.

Either way, Nectarine No.9 covers were always a joy. They went on to do OutKast’s Hey Ya! at the Tron in Glasgow as part of the now long gone Triptych festival. At another show at what was then the Café Royal Upstairs in Edinburgh (now The Voodoo Rooms, sensation seekers), they did a magnificent take on Three is a Magic Number, Bob Dorough’s groovy maths-based singalong originally written for 1970s educational TV show, Schoolhouse Rock! 

Drawing from ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras’s own love of numbers, the song was later reimagined for the 1980s daisy-age by De La Soul before the Nectarines worked their own magic on it. That night in the Café Royal was the night as well they encored with Vic Godard’s song, Johnny Thunders, when a kimono-clad Paul Reekie leapt on stage to take the lead. But they were different nights and different times. Only hearing 9.9.99 do they stop blurring into one.

Given the occasion, a cover of Zager and Evans’s 1969 one-hit wonder, In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) might also have been an appropriate blast from the future-past if anyone had thought of it. Then again, the song’s ruminations on a technological dystopia at 1,0010-year intervals across ten millennia are probably a long way off yet. 

As it is, back at the Bongo, that’s it. They’re off. The men who fell to Earth on 9.9.99 have left the building. 

Curdled Fragments

As with all live albums, 9.9.99 isn’t just about the music. It’s the Being There that counts, the sense of occasion and the adrenalin rush of a warts-and-all shared experience and a possibly even messier good night out. There is something Proustian in hearing a recording of a gig you were at a few months shy of a magical twenty-three years ago, with all the sense memory inducing heckles, rude intrusions and noises off that go with it. 

For all of us who swear they were there, such recordings are like eavesdropping in on an aural diary of a time and a place. There were ghosts in the house at 9.9.99, alright. You can hear them. LOUDLY. By the sound of it, the whole gang was there, not knowing or caring how the legends they were helping create would become part of a collective history of magic and loss that followed.  

One of the many joys of hearing this long lost Nectarine No.9 recording is considering how the fin de siècle finally turned out. Despite everything that’s happened since, it’s 9.9.99, and it’s still here. Now 2.2.22 has been and gone, and so are we. 9.9.99 is the noise of art. Wipe yr tapes with lightning, and let’s Zoom.

 

9.9.99 by The Nectarine No.9 is available to subscribers to The Creeping Bent Organisation’s Patreon site at www.patreon.com/creepingbent. Images by Gavin Fraser.

 

 

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