This was another tough call – was I to pick one of my favourite ever charity shop finds, the very first self-financed and I suspect quite rare McCarthy single, ‘In purgatory’, or their third, the majestic ‘Frans Hals’, with its brilliant lyrical conflation of the painter exacting artistic revenge on his mean-spirited subjects and life on the dole in eighties Britain? Or indeed one of their excellent later singles, ‘The well of loneliness’ or ‘Should the bible be banned?’ Or should I go for their second, which made everyone in a small circle realise that McCarthy were special?
The latter, I think. ‘Red sleeping beauty’ is a swirl of musical exuberance and lyrical pessimism which the Manic Street Preachers – initially inspired by McCarthy as much as anyone – took on themselves in 2007, not entirely successfully. The original is played quite brilliantly by the group. In Tim Gane they had a melodic genius, and Gary Baker was a drummer so far above run of the mill indie that he was on a different planet. Which brings us to Malcolm Eden. Not naturally blessed as a singer, his weedy, reedy voice is somehow perfect for the songs he chose to write – dry, arch, full of double bluff. Back then, you soon attuned to Malcolm’s voice, and stopped thinking of it as a weak link. Unlike Bob Dylan, with his perfect not-perfect voice, Malcolm never became the voice of a generation, but he was nevertheless hugely important to the people in that small circle whose lives McCarthy touched, including mine.