Leg­end of the fall

Sex and drugs and vi­o­lence. The story of The As­so­ci­ates was al­ways one of ex­cess. But nowhere more than in the mu­sic it­self, Alan Rank­ine tells Teddy Jamieson

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THE FAULT is I can find no fault in them. It is 1982. I am younger. Top of the Pops is on. A Scot­tish band. Cheeky, charis­matic, beau­ti­ful, led by two dark­haired Adonises (Adoni?) called Alan and Billy. They are play­ing a song called Party Fears Two. A tune that is giddy, ring­ing, mad. A voice – Billy’s voice – climbs in­side it, soars above it. The voice stretches be­yond, way be­yond, my imag­i­na­tion.

I am 19 and in love with pop, the shiny new­ness of it, at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time. And this, this rich, strange glory of a song seems like a sub­lime in­car­na­tion of all it can do.

Jump cut. It is more than 30 years later and I am re­minded of an old pas­sion. BMG have re­mas­tered and rere­leased the first three al­bums – The Af­fec­tion­ate Punch, Fourth Floor Down and the mas­ter­ful Sulk – by The As­so­ci­ates (the de­fin­i­tive ar­ti­cle would dis­ap­pear af­ter the first al­bum).

The band has not al­ways been well served by mixes but this ver­sion, over­seen by for­mer As­so­ciate Michael Dempsey, has brushed off the dust and pol­ished th­ese records to a gleam, burn­ing off some of their in­evitable eight­ies-ness and re­veal­ing their wil­ful am­bi­tion. A utopian idea of ad­ven­tur­ous pop that took its in­flu­ences – Bowie, ob­vi­ously, Roxy, Sparks, yes, but film sound­tracks and 1960s pop too – and forged them into some­thing new.

“I was lis­ten­ing to a song from The Af­fec­tion­ate Punch the other day,” the Alan men­tioned above tells me. “Trans­port to Cen­tral. And I thought, ‘God, this is nuts.’ The things that we were do­ing har­mon­i­cally and melod­i­cally, lyri­cally all at the same time. How did two 19 and 20-year-olds do this?”

Alan Rank­ine has lived a life since then. He has taught mu­sic, made his own, writ­ten songs for a boy­band. But he is un­der no il­lu­sions. Those three records he made with Billy MacKen­zie at the turn of the 1980s rep­re­sent the best of him. “It’s never go­ing to be as good as the As­so­ci­ates,” he ad­mits.

It is the first of May, 2016 and we are sit­ting in Rank­ine’s flat in the west end of Glasgow talk­ing about the past. “It’s a long time ago. Bloody hell. It’s 36 years. God almighty. I haven’t thought of it be­ing that long ac­tu­ally.

“I think some of it is quite hard re­mem­ber­ing be­cause Bill’s dead and has been for al­most 20 years. Some­times you just have to go away and have a wee lucid cry.”

Billy MacKen­zie took his own life at the start of 1997. Scot­tish pop’s lost boy. But when Rank­ine talks about him it is with joy and hu­mour. About how he came to live in a flat with Rank­ine and his then girl­friend in Ednburgh and how MacKen­zie would score the cou­ple’s love­mak­ing from the sofa bed in the other room. About the time Steve Strange in­vited Rank­ine and MacKen­zie back to his flat and tried to get them both into bed. “His bed was pink satin,” Rank­ine re­calls. “It was lurid. There were five bed­rooms and he tried to say they were all taken.”

The leg­end of the As­so­ci­ates is a leg­end of ex­cess. Some of it, Rank­ine, sug­gests, over­played. “The co­caine thing. Be­lieve me we were so small time. We were so green. Other bands were get­ting it by the kilo. Us do­ing co­caine was like play­ing tru­ant from school. It was like a wee treat. I’ve seen peo­ple who say ‘I’m in a stu­dio. I must do a line.’ We worked too hard.”

Then again, he ad­mits, MacKen­zie liked his dexedrines. “Yel­lows or blues. I can re­mem­ber, Bill and I, we’d get some blues and we’d walk around Har­rods all day. In Har­rods there were peo­ple from ev­ery coun­try in the world. They looked dif­fer­ent. They looked ex­otic. We were peo­ple-watch­ing – and speed­ing off our tits. It was highly en­joy­able. But we only did it two or three times.”

There was no stint­ing on ex­cess when it came to the stu­dio though. There is noth­ing re­strained about th­ese records. They are son­i­cally dense, with layer piled upon layer and MacKen­zie’s in­cred­i­ble, show-offy, thrilling voice bounc­ing through it.

“We wanted to go ‘f**k it, pour it in.’ Look, it’s only three and a half min­utes long. Why hang about? Maybe it was over-ex­u­ber­ance. Yes, it makes sense to build things up. But that’s what ev­ery­one does. And they still do it. Why?”

The range and hys­ter­i­cal reach of MacKen­zie’s voice is what ev­ery­one re­mem­bers about the As­so­ci­ates. But Rank­ine’s own mu­si­cal abil­i­ties de­serve credit. Born in Bridge of Al­lan, the son of a school in­spec­tor and a sec­re­tary, he picked up a gui­tar when he was 11.

“It just seemed easy. Yes, it hurt your fin­gers, but just for a cou­ple of weeks. And then I couldn’t stop.” He thinks he maybe took one les­son when he was 17. “The guy said to me ‘I can’t re­ally teach you any­thing, Alan.’

“I had one pi­ano les­son, again when I was 17. And the guy tried to pouf me.” Come again? “He started try­ing to put his hands on my legs so I had to clock him.”

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