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John Clarkson finds that Scottish dance/rock act Hipsway's 1986 eponymous debut album, which has just been released in a double CD thirtieth anniversary edition, remains substantial
In the mid-1980s a wave of Glaswegian bands – Love and Money, the Big Dish, the Bathers, the Silencers etc – all signed to major labels. Of them, only two – Deacon Blue and Wet Wet Wet – achieved durable mainstream success. Of the others, Hipsway came the closest.
Hipsway’s rise was meteoric but brief. Over the space of a year between early 1986 and early 1987, it seemed that Hipsway were on the cusp of becoming a stadium act. Their third single, the sultry ‘The Honeythief’, reached no. 17 in the UK charts and no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. A non-single track, ‘Tinder’, with singer Grahame Skinner’s anthemic chorus line of “I’ve been setting the world on fire,” also became well known in their native Scotland when it provided the soundtrack to a popular advert for McEwan’s Lager of the time.
Hipsway played support to Simple Minds at Ibrox Stadium in their native Glasgow in the summer of 1986 and concluded the year with a two month tour of Europe with the Eurythmics. Despite their eponymous debut album also having done well, nestling just outside the UK Top 40, tensions had become frazzled within the group and Hipsway’s decline began when bassist Johnny McElhone left the band to form Texas, taking the band’s manager and his brother Frank with him.
The group’s three remaining members – Skinner, guitarist Pim Jones and drummer Harry Travers – carried on, but a second album, the under-rated ‘Scratch the Surface’, fell victim to record company internal politics and by the time it finally came out much delayed three years later in 1989 Hipsway had already effectively broken up.
Three decades on the ‘Hipsway’ album has just been re-released by Hot Shot Records, an offshoot of Cherry Red Records, in a double CD ‘30th Anniversary Edition’, and a line-up of the band, featuring Skinner and Pim Jones, has recently reunited for three triumphant sold-out shows, one in Edinburgh and two in Glasgow.
Inevitably, as they are by their greater fame most closely associated with a particular period in time, it is ‘The Honeythief’ and ‘Tinder’ which seem the most dated. What, however, stands out listening to the nine songs on ‘Hipsway’ all these years on is how timeless they are. Part of this is down - even in the 80s, that decade of musical bombast and excess - to Gary Langan’s and Paul Staveley O’ Duffy’s crisp, meticulous and subtle production. Grahame Skinner points out in the sleeve notes that accompany the new edition Hipsway’s varied influences and, an edgy conglomerate of rock riffs, pop sounds and dance beats, much of it is also down to the fact that these are simply great songs.
The soulful ‘Ask the Lord’ (“Black money pays for suffering/I don’t need it/I say why lord) and ‘The Broken Years’, with its echoing chorus line (“Are you broke?/Are you broke by the broken years?)” – which were both inspired by lyricist Travers’ upbringing in the notorious Eastern Glasgow scheme of Viewpark and that of Skinner in the West of the city in the equally down-at-heel Drumchapel - sound as contemporary and relevant in austerity-torn 21st century Britain as they did in the Thatcher era. The melancholic ‘Long White Car’, which has a crooning Skinner reflecting on a dying romance, is a classic old school ballad (“I saw your face in a long white car/Move away from here/Get away from here”), while the smouldering ‘Forbidden’, which opened the recent live shows, is an equally ageless tale of temptation and illicit romance (“Begone is the fear/Come close and you will hear/Of days of indecision/Of nights far and near”). Another anthem, ‘Set This Day Apart’, with its chiming keyboards and torrid girl backing vocals, brings ‘Hipsway’ to a sweltering conclusion.
It remains to be seen whether the recent live shows were just one-offs or the restart of something more permanent ‘Hipsway’, however, thirty years on continues to stand up well to the testament of time.