Three days after seeing my first concert ever (The Police, Synchronicity tour) I went with my next-door neighbor, Alex, to see Elvis Costello and the Attractions on their Punch the Clock tour at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.
The date was August 28, 1983.
And to my 16-year-old mind – my first two ever concerts – in one week mind you – The Police followed by Elvis Costello – this was mind-blowing! Yes, I got the Synchronicity and Punch the Clock t-shirts (why do t-shirts have to disintegrate over time?)
What I did not expect was the opening band: Aztec Camera. It was a great performance. The lead singer, Roddy Frame – from East Kilbride, Scotland – was wearing a very Buffalo Springfield-ish fringe jacket, which he suddenly made hip again just by the audacity of wearing it. All the songs were high-quality song smithery and played well, displaying a wisdom beyond their years.
The was fresh and different music, this was Acoustic Pop that sounded like it was being played by a Flamenco maestro and with a little bit of a punk edge jumbled together with XTC, not a 19- year old whipper-snapper from the outskirts of Glasgow.
Aztec Camera’s debut album, High Land, Hard Rain, had been released just four months earlier. I don’t think I had heard the album before I saw them open for Elvis C. When I did get High Land on vinyl, shortly after the concert, I was not disappointed – the lyrics, chord changes and songs arrangements came from someone who had seen a lot of water under the bridge.
The hit single from High Land was Oblivious:
The esteemed rock critic, Robert Christgau, gave this album high praise indeed:
High Land, Hard Rain [Sire, 1983]
At first I did the obvious thing and pigeonholed this as high-grade pop–richer and truer than Haircut 100 or even the dB’s or the Bongos and ultimately feckless anyhow. Now I think it’s more like U2 with songs (which is all U2 needs). For sheer composition–not just good tunes, but good tunes that swoop and chime and give you goosebumps–Roddy Frame’s only current competition is Marshall Crenshaw, and unlike Crenshaw he never makes you smell retro. His wordcraft is worthy of someone who admires Keats, his wordplay worthy of someone admired by Elvis C.; he sings and arranges with a rousing lyricism that melds militance and the love of life. These are songs in which sweet retreat can’t be permanent, in which idealism is buffeted but unbowed–songs of that rare kind of innocence that has survived hard experience. So far, anyway–Frame is still very young. How unusual it is these days for youth to add resonance to what used to be teen music. A-
The Knife album that followed in 1984 refined the formula of High Land, with the addition of Mark Knopfler at the production helm to smooth out the sound. Dylan had utilized Knopfler to positive effect on his Infidels album a year earlier. According to Wikipedia, it was Frame’s love of the Infidels album that had caused him to ask Knopfler to produce Knife.
The B-side of All I Need is Everything from Knife featured an inspired take on Van Halen’s Jump, which Frame viewed as a tragic look and what happens after entanglement with the music business. Aztec Camera’s Jump (Loaded Version) climaxes with Frame’s own own take on guitar histrionics to engaging effect.
Aztec Camera made a few more albums every few years, including a fun duet with Mick Jones of the Clash called Good Morning, Britain.
In June 1993 I saw Roddy perform a solo acoustic show in San Francisco at Bimbo’s 365 Club. Roddy was in fine form, telling animated stories about traveling to Spain with his new best buddy Ian McCullough from Echo and the Bunnymen. Roddy also cranked out a stellar cover version of Bob Dylan’s I Threw It All Away and Fried Neil’s Dolphins.
However, after 1995, Aztec Camera was winding down.
In 1998, Roddy release his first solo album The North Star. His second solo effort, Surf, was a powerful full-circle return to the potent songwriting of High Land, Hard Rain.
Surf signaled that Roddy had found his Mojo again, and all of his efforts since that time have been fantastic on all levels – from the song quality to the guitar playing and singing.
Roddy is one of those true artists that releases an album or plays a gig when when the muse strikes, and in Roddy Frame’s case that muse is always worth waiting for, though far too infrequent for my liking (Roddy puts out an album every five years or so).
Hey Roddy, how about a return gig in Minneapolis? I will be there.
Roddy Frame fansite: