O.K. Here's the brief. There's a group, without which, there would be no Teenage Fanclub, no Eugenius, no Superstar, no Soup Dragons. Just to confuse the argument, it's a group of unique, original vision which deserves appraisal on it's own terms and not be hidebound by preconceptions. They are the BMX Bandits.
Formed in Belishill, Lanarkshire in 1985, the group revolves around vocalist/composer Duglas Stewart. They evolved from the ashes of another act, the Pretty Flowers - Stewart, longtime friend Norman Blake (guitar), Francis McKee (vocals), Sean Dickson (keyboards) and Hugh McLaughlin (drums). Left with an armful of songs, Stewart put them down on tape and sent the results to various parties he thought would be interested, including Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities and Stephen Pastel of the Pastels. Encouraged by their
positive reaction, Duglas assembled a group, hastily dubbed the BMX Bandits. "I thought we would split up in a week's time," he later recalled by way of explaining the name . The intervention of Stephen Pastel, who encouraged the group to record, ensured this would not be the case. Two singles ensued, 'El02' and 'What A Wonderful World' followed, showing Stewart's love of quirky melodies and the work of Jonathan Richman. Yet the endearingly amateurish sound on offer could not hide a wry perceptiveness. "ElO2 is a food additive," Stewart recalls, "and the song was about not being artificial. Too many people dehumanise themselves in rock. We wanted to be real people saying real things about life."
During 1986 the BMX Bandits line-up had included Sean Dickson, Jim McCulloch and Joe McAlinden. Dickson then decamped to form The Soup Dragons, in which he was later joined by McCulloch. By 1987 Norman Blake was part of the Bandits camp, alongside Stewart, McAlinden, Gordon Keen (guitar) and Francis Macdonald (drums). Sideline projects still flourished, notably the Boy Hairdressers and the Groovy Little Numbers - while in 1990 Blake and Macdonald forged the original Teenage Fanclub. That same year the Bandits forged their debut album, sarcastically titled 'C86' after the notorious NME anorak compilation. An electric set, it ranged from the rumbustuous 'Right Across The Street', through the bossanova swing of 'Rimbaud And Me' to the ironic folknik hoedown of the title track. Such performances were a cheeky riposte to those eager to pigeon-hole the group. A second album, 'Star Wars', appeared in 1992. Eugene Kelly, formerly of the Vaselines, supplemented the above quintet on a collection displaying a more cohesive sound. The highlights included the lovely 'Extraordinary', a moving version of 'Green Grow The Rushes' and the haunting title track which merged a call to arms chorus with a Brian Wilson-styled melody.
The BMX Bandits joined Creation in 1993, while attendant publicity announced that Gordon Keen and Eugene Kelly - who formed Eugenius - would no longer feature in the line-up. A memorable single, 'Serious Drugs', previewed the group's third album, 'Life Goes On'.
Here Stewart had constructed a set detailing personal observations of life with which the listener could relate to his or her own experiences. Buoyed by some of their strongest melodies to date, the BMX Bandits came of age herein. In 1994 the group backed the legendary Dan Penn - creator of such classic soul songs as 'Dark End Of The Street' and 'Do Right Woman, Do Right Man' - on a rare live appearance. Blake's commitment to Teenage Fanclub and McAlinden's work with Superstar wrought further changes in the line-up and the group coalesced around Stewart, Francis Macdonald, Finlay Macdonald, Sushil K. Dade (ex-Soup Dragons) and John Hogarty. "The BMX Bandits have become a real group for the first time," Duglas explains, "not just me with other interchangeable helpers." Indeed for 'Gettin Dirty', Francis has assumed the role of chief songwriter, but those who followed his contributions to the Fanclub, Pastels, Radio Sweethearts and Melody Dog always knew he was more than just a drummer. The new set confirms the Bandit's grasp of classic pop; hook
lines and melody spill from each selection - catch the twists on 'Hello Again' and 'On The Road To Heaven' - while Stewart's lyrics pinpoint feelings and emotions with telling accuracy. It's no surprise that 'Come Out Of The Shadows 'invokes the spirit of songwriting teams Goffin/King, Barry/Greenwich and Mann/Weill. 'Gettin' Dirty' is simply excellent - what a way for a group to celebrate it's tenth anniversary.