Back in the eighties. living in the Black Country and in the sixth form, many of us had Saturday jobs. They generally were with the big chainstores in Wolverhampton and Dudley (C&A, BHS etc). My friend Darren had a job in a clothing boutique in the Churchill Precinct (home of this beauty), which was as trendy as it got – not very, in other words.
I worked a number in Boots in Wolverhampton, in the years before they indulged in questionable business practices (or at least if they did, they weren’t found out). I was hired initially to work on the computer department. I knew nothing about computers, which wasn’t really a problem as neither did anyone else who shopped in Boots in that period. It was really a toss up between a Commodore 64 or a ZX Spectrum. Looking back, it was laughable. I had literally no training beyond my initial blagging of the gig. People were coming in blowing not inconsiderable sums of money on these jumped up pocket calculators – roughly £200 on a 64 and £120 on a Spectrum.
Let’s just reflect on the processing power of these babies:
ZX Spectrum – 48,000b RAM
Commodore 64 – 64,000b RAM
Samsung Galaxy S7 – 4,000,000,000b RAM
It was questionable how much of an issue this was for people by the time they had plugged their cassette player in, waited twenty minutes for a copy for Meteoroids to load only to find the experience could be outstripped at their local boozer on a slot machine, and with beer on tap too.
It wasn’t long before my “unique” skills and were recognised and I was moved up to the top floor record departments. And yes – Boots did use to sell records – vinyl and cassettes.
A wise move corporately – only most of my sage advice consisted of telling Duran Duran fans that they really shouldn’t really be wasting their money on the 12″ version of “Union Of The Snake”
(“Have you considered buying a copy of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat”? You haven’t? It’s over there in the racks. No I understand you haven’t heard of them. (Inner monologue: neither had I until 12 months ago). You still want the Duran Duran single then? Okay and “Baby Jane” by Rod Stewart”? Have you considered the Greatest Hits album (Rod in pair of pink satin pyjamas on the sleeve)? It’s got “Maggie May” on it, much better. Okay – it’s for your mum and that’s all your pocket money gone. That’ll be £3.29 thanks.)
Not surprisingly, I started taking home payment in kind. My wages were going on vinyl and one of the first LPs that I bought there was “High Land Hard Rain” by Aztec Camera.
The guys in the upper sixth had been playing it non-stop. “Oblivious” had been released earlier but tanked outside of the top 40 (it was a success when it was re-released a year or so later). The next single up was “Walk Out To Winter”.
I couldn’t get enough of it. As a budding guitarist I instantly recognised something different in that introduction. It was the first time that I had heard jazz chords. Extraordinarily Roddy Frame was only 3 years older than I was. He had started playing guitar before he was ten and benefitted from a cool record collection courtesy of his sisters.
The sheer quality of “Walk Out To Winter” was startling. Much of the material at the time had a shambolic cobbled together feel to it. This track didn’t. It oozed quality and musicianship. This wasn’t somebody uncomfortable with their instrument, just getting by. Roddy had a Gibson ES-295, and boy was he going to play it.
Let’s just reflect on those opening chords again.
We’re going E to D to start. Fair enough. Oh – what’s that? A C#m7 chord. I can handle that. It’s a minor chord with one less finger. F#9? never heard of it mate. What – there’s a C13 chord too in the verse. Get your gear and get out of here!
It was like nothing I had heard and was certainly nothing I could play.
The arrangement was just beautiful too. Opening with just Roddy – voice and guitar, the band came through after a run through the chorus. I later found out when I started learning jazz guitar that this was a standard jazz technique – start with the “head” of the tune. Mostly though in pop, we start with the verse.
The verse was gorgeous though. I’ve always had “Walk Out” pinned as a paean to the end of adolescence. The pictures of Strummer had fell from your wall. You are walking out to a colder place on your own but don’t worry someone will be there. It obviously resonated with me. Chance buried beneath the blinding snow – there’s hope around the corner. Roddy was still in his teens when he made this record. It was pre-naturally brilliant but it was also at one with us in the sixth form as an audience.
The song has a wonderful balanced structure. The guitar solo is worth a mention. Starting with two notes, it’s relatively simple initially. Roddy moves up the neck for some runs up and down a harmonic minor scale before some dramatic chord flourishes. Again – there was no-one else attempting this at that time in the post new wave environment who pulled it off with such aplomb.
At time Roddy acknowledged where the competition lay for him in an interview with Melody Maker:
I don’t think we’re one of the more left-field bands to come out of Britain. I’ve got more in common with Paul Simon than the Birthday Party
I still play the album. I bought a reissue on CD with some bonus tracks plus the vinyl version bought 33 years ago gets a regular airing. The teenage of version of me doesn’t feel that distant and “Walk Out To Winter” emphasises that.
Here’s a few version to enjoy.
First off, this is the original video. I was never as much of a fan of the single mix of the track. The cheesy synth line was a poor substitute for Roddy’s original guitar and voice introduction. However the low budget film has a certain charm.
Next up is a version for Channel 4’s “The Switch” programme. It was a forgotten programme which filled in the gap when “The Tube” was off air in the summer on a Friday early evening after its first season in 1983. I remember videoing a couple of clips from the show on our VHS machine. This version is closer to the album version. It captures the Glasgow School vibe, enhanced by the matching Sergio Tacchini tracksuit. Roddy is playing the beautiful hollow body Gibson.
And finally, here’s a gig I went to a couple of years ago. I’m not keen on fan filmed videos but I’ll make an exception in this case. Roddy played the album through start to finish after starting the evening playing solo acoustic versions of some of the outtakes. I hadn’t seen him perform since “The Knife” tour in the mid eighties. He still had everything – the voice, the guitar chops and the charm. Long may he continue.
I still play “High Land” now. It has truly stood the test of time in a way that many albums released in that era haven’t. Thoroughly recommended to this day.