Ever wondered whether there might be a cache of unreleased Del Amitri songs dating from the seemingly fallow period between the release of their eponymous debut album in 1985 and their reinvention as the rather more adult-oriented proposition which culminated in their second LP, Waking hours, in 1989?
Well, there is. Not so long ago, I came across a reissue of Del Amitri’s first single, ‘Sense sickness’, in my local record shop. The artwork included a set list with titles to a couple of songs I’d not heard before. Online research led not to those songs, but to a blog post from 2010 by my Firestation Records friend Uwe about the Dels’ lost second album, and a link left in the comments to an extremely low-fi download of the songs he mentions, plus one or two more. And then, on a hunch and a quick google to – miracle of miracles – much better quality YouTube uploads of the songs.
Even if the songs don’t quite match up to those on the debut album (which I wrote about here), its admirers will find much to like and perhaps even love in this lost second album. In fact, the more I listen, the more I think these unreleased recordings merit comparison with the (once) lost early demos of Hurrah!, or the shelved post-Steve McQueen Prefab Sprout album which finally saw release as Protest songs, after Paddy and the gang had temporarily become the kings of rock’n’roll.
Save for ‘Nothing goes accordingly to plan’, which crept out at the time on the ‘Abigail’s birthday party’ cassette-only compilation, they’re roughly recorded and nothing like as detailed or filled out as the songs on Del Amitri, but the sparseness serves to differentiate these recordings, and makes you wonder what might have been had they been taken into the studio proper. That they were not quite of the same refined quality, or that they didn’t move the group forwards quite enough might be reasons why that never happened, but this cache still feels like long-lost treasure now found.
The ever-shifting guitar lines and vocal melodies of Del Amitri remain a key ingredient. ‘I am here’ starts messily with a mish-mash of double-time instrumentation before settling into something as plangent as anything on the debut, including ‘I was here’, to which with its present tense title this song is surely a sequel. Featuring a vocal full of yearning and a lyric about standing your ground – ‘I am here, right where I wanted to be’ – it shows that singer and songwriter Justin Currie still had an excess of words and emotion to spill.
On ‘My curious rose’, a quiet groove is established between the weaving lead guitar and sticks tapping out the rhythm on the side of a snare, a groove from which the chorus joyously bursts forth. ‘Tall people’ is slightly odd lyrically (‘Walk into a hospital and give yourself up…’), but is still another wonderful confection of melody and intricately woven guitar. ‘Tears And Trickery’ concerns ‘an impossible girl’ and features fabulous falsetto and guitar lines quite as jaunty as those on the debut’s ‘Hammering heart’.
The set of ten songs ends with ‘The wind in the wheels’, which has the breeziest of choruses and would have made a great double A side with a number apparently not slated for inclusion on the lost album, ‘Out in the wind’. The latter song did in fact see the light of day at the time, though somewhat hidden away on a subscription-only Record Mirror EP. Cleanly recorded, and with initial restraint giving way to a stormy chorus, it offers the best insight into just how good the-album-that-never-was might have turned out to be.
With my taste far broader and more accommodating than it was when I was a ferociously intense and militant teenager, in retrospect I like much of what Del Amitri went on to record in their mature guise, especially the sequence of grown-up love songs that they put out as singles. But if you stipulated that I had to make a cut-and-dried choice between the debut and this lost second album on the one hand, and all of what came after on the other, the teenager in me would still insist on keeping hold of the Dels’ precocious juvenilia every time.