The Beta Band - Live in Paris - 2004

The Beta Band - all the earmarks of legendary, but with the self-destructive bits too. The self-destructive bits won.

The Beta Band - Live in Paris - 2004
The Beta Band – all the earmarks of legendary, but with the self-destructive bits too. The self-destructive bits won.

The Beta Band – live in Paris – The Black Sessions – June 10, 2004 – Radio France International – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

The Beta Band in session/concert tonight – recorded live in Paris for The Black Sessions on June 10, 2004 by Radio France International.

A puzzle by most standards; a band that had all the earmarks of being several cuts above other bands at the time, they suffered from one fatal ingredient; a propensity for the self-destructive.

The legendary UK publication NME probably has the most comprehensive story on The Beta Band – here’s a snippet to give you an idea:

Remembering The Beta Band, the self-destructive pop saboteurs who did it all wrong in all the right ways
The cult Edinburgh band’s compilation of their mythic early EPs is reissued today

James McMahon
14th September 2018

There’s never been a band like The Beta Band. Chances are, there won’t be again. Not only is there an argument for the Edinburgh group being the 1990s’ great lost band. There’s also one for them being the band that killed off the decade. The house band for the fall of Rome. Or Camden at least.

That The Beta Band were starshaped in a square hole should have been clear from the off, when on the eve of the release of their 1999 released self-titled debut album proper, they described the era’s most feverishly anticipated collection of songs as “fucking awful”. They’d originally planned to record the album in four different continents. They ended up doing a chunk of it in a hut belonging to turntablist John McLean’s grandfather, located on the northwest tip of Scotland. The hut was small. The band had filled it with so many weird homemade instruments they had no space to sleep. Somehow two songs came out of this particular stint; one entitled ‘Happiness and Colour’. The other, fittingly, called ‘The Hut’.

Later the band decided the two aforementioned songs were ‘boring’ so insisted they were taken off the album – a few weeks after advance CDs had been distributed to music journalists everywhere. In interviews they started calling the newly sequenced record “the worst record released this year”.

That sound you can hear is the band’s publicist still sobbing, almost 20 years on.

This week the band kick off a cycle of reissues that begins with the band’s classic 1998 compilation ‘The Three EPs’, which collects ‘Champion Versions’ (July 1997), ‘The Patty Patty Sound’ (March 1998) and ‘Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos’ (July 1998). It’s the perfect introduction to this indie rock chimera. There’s the lollop of the Happy Mondays. The groove of early Verve. The cut and paste ingenuity of DJ Shadow. Arguably it’s better than any of the band’s subsequent ‘proper’ releases. They were the bedsit Pink Floyd. The band that for years Radiohead would have chewed off their own limbs to be.

Cohesive opinion is that the 1990s was the last era when the money flowed freely around the music industry. The dream of strange, highly creative men like the four that made up The Beta Band – raised on punk, emboldened by hip-hop, folk or dance, free to be whatever they wanted – used to be ‘get a record deal, push the envelope, make magic happen’. This was an era that saw the Super Furry Animals buy a tank and convert it into a soundsystem. The Beta Band delivered similar folly in spades.

For a while, they only performed in Velcro suits whereupon felt letters could be displayed, meaning the band could spell out words upon them. A cool idea. One that cost £4,000. The band lost the suits on the tube. When The Beta Band disbanded, in 2004, they were £1.2 million in debt to their record company.

Everything The Beta Band did was tangential. When Mojo magazine requested them for an interview, they agreed on the condition they would be asked the same questions as put to The Beatles before their legendary 1966 Shea Stadium concert. When they were invited to the Q Awards, singer Steve Mason did so wearing a baseball hat that read, ‘If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport’. They refused to perform on children’s television. They claimed that MTV viewed their audience as “vacuous vegetables”. They talked of “breaking into your local police station and stealing a fucking M-16 and heading down to the World Bank and blowing a few heads off”.

For the rest of it, you’re encouraged to head over here –

In the meantime, enjoy.

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