THE BETA BET BAND
They may not have followed through on it, but the Anglo-Scots’ early magic still dazzles.
A welcome reminder of the great space-pop contrarians’ 1998 classic, The Three EPs.
THE BETA BAND THE THREE EPs BECAUSE MUSIC, OUT NOW
By the high summer of 1997, the commercial frenzy known as Britpop was dwindling away. Oasis’s overcooked Be Here Now was about to serve notice that even for the era’s kings, everything was entering the call-the-taxis phase. With Blur having already taken a left turn with their selftitled fifth LP and Radiohead’s OK Computer working its wonders, there was a rising sense that the commercial ecosystem built around midweek chart positions, daytime radio play and Chris Evans’s garish TV show TFI Friday was something not to aspire to, but to somehow leave behind. This was the moment that The Beta Band’s debut EP Champion Versions tumbled into, not much more than a year after they were formed. The métier of these three Scots and lone Englishman was an ever-evolving mixture of looped beats, samples, acoustic guitars and gnomic lyrics. Most of what they initially created brimmed with originality and promise: their problem was the way the music industry’s continuing fixation with commercial success and playing the promotional game quickly collided with a band who wanted neither, something encapsulated when singer and guitarist Steve Mason was asked about the celebrities who were suddenly showing up at their gigs, and snarlingly maligned them as “fuckwits”. In truth, they were never going to sell out stadiums or make nice with Jo Whiley, but as evidenced by the array of music now being released in remastered form, that was hardly the point. Among the 12 songs first released on three stand-alone records and then glued together as The Three EPs, the fact they could write wonderfully crooked pop music was proved by such stand-outs as Inner
Meet Me and Dry The Rain, the evocation of musty-smelling bohemia that arguably still stands as their single greatest achievement. Their more out-there side peaked with Monolith, the 15- minute mélange of found sound, jamming and deep bass that dominated 1998 EP The Patty Patty Sound. And the rewards of fusing together its astral designs with their more accessible side were there in the same record’s closer, She’s The One, and Dr. Baker, a shaggy-dog story about death from the Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos EP that combined its arch humour with the compelling eeriness that defines their best work. Part of their identity was a sloppiness that went nuclear on the very patchy debut album proper in 1999, whose new edition also forms part of this reissue series – something clearly evident here on B+A, a half- cocked experiment with the kind of lyric musicians tend to make up before they think of something better (“Put in your pocket for a rainy day/ Sing your song and you know you’re wrong now”). But even if it flickered, their magic rarely deserted them completely. The Best Of compilation re-released alongside The Three EPs is a very up-and-down affair, but on such later tracks as Squares ( 2001) and 2004’ s Troubles, you hear their early ideas developing and mutating – and their posthumous reputation quietly being sealed. Like many great lost bands, they remain a byword for possibilities that no-one really followed up, and a cussedness evident in the fact that this anniversary edition features no bonus tracks – just the original work, the cream of which sounds every bit as beguiling as it did back in those strange, distant days.
“Their magic flickered, but rarely deserted them.” The Beta Band (from left, Robin Jones, Steve Mason, Richard Greentree, John Maclean) in 1997. Listen To: Dry The Rain | Dr. Baker | Inner Meet Me