THE BETA BET BAND

They may not have fol­lowed through on it, but the An­glo-Scots’ early magic still daz­zles.

Q (UK) - - Contents - JOHN HAR­RIS

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

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