Stuff I like: The Beta Band

Like many others, I suspect, my first awareness of the Beta Band was via the priceless scene in the 2000 adaption of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, High Fidelity, where John Cusack (as Rob Gordon, owner of the record store Championship Vinyl) plays their classic Dry the Rain to unsuspecting shoppers in his store. 

Not only did Rob sink the hook into his customers, he sunk it into me too and I set off in search of this wonderful sound.   At this stage the band was probably pretty close to the zenith of its life. Having started quietly in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1996, they were really hitting a groove by the time of High Fidelity, only to call it all quits in late 2004.  Luckily, they seem to have recorded a great selection of both live and studio work, which remains for us to explore posthumously.

Why do I like them?

Dry the Rain seems to be often cited as their masterpiece and although I really, really like this song, my Beta obsession is founded in the fact that so much of their work is so good, you simply have to take time exploring the whole back-catalogue. 

She’s the One for instance. It’s got tambourines, sleigh-bells, subterranean bass and an epic 4 minute coda complete with extensive tom-tom work by Robin Jones on drums.  Somewhere deep in my brain is a reason why I just like songs with coda’s that are over 6 minutes long  – and the Beta Band have LOTS of these. 

We could also look at their ideosyncratic approach to album covers.  I’m not a graphic designer or even well-versed in their vocabulary so I’m going to fail dismally with any attempt to really explain them beyond just saying that they are very, very cool.  I’m sure someone out there can do better but I’ll just draw attention to them and leave it at that. 

Radiohead and Oasis both seem to have their share of influence from the Beta’s and apparently at different times discussed doing a “Beta Band album” of their own.  Did it come to pass? I’m not close enough to either band to know but the compliment is a good one nevertheless.  I reminds me of a quote from the late Craig Kelly (arguably the greatest, most stylish snowboarder ever) when he indicated that he looked up to a largely unknown local hero at Mount Baker, Washington (Carter Turk) as his reference point.  You don’t need to be famous to have influence. 

Put them down as one of the greatest, almost legendary bands of our time.  Such a shame I didn’t ever see them live.

****************

If there’s something inside that you wanna say,

You can say it alright, it’ll be ok

I will be your light

I will be your light.

(Dry the Rain)

 

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3 Comments

  1. Good article Pete….

    The soundtrack to the summer of 2004 when I bought my first Saab (a brand new carbon grey 9-3 Aero convertible) was Heroes to Zeros. Loved playing it while cruising around the East End of London.

    I got to see them on their farewell tour in London – a great gig. While sad to see them end I have enjoyed the two Aliens albums that have followed.

  2. It’s that too cool samba beat that the second wave of Madchester bands were all over circa 1990;

    The Rolling Stones-Sympathy For the Devil
    George Michael-Freedom
    Happy Mondays-Step On (I know it’s a cover!)
    Primal Scream-Come Together and Loaded
    Soho-Hippy Chick

    The beat was as addictive as the substances being ingested by the night clubbers of the era.

    Any other suggestions?

  3. Thanks guys. I know what you mean about the beat – all those bands had great rhythm sections which really helped define the sound. Stone Roses are probably my favourite from the late 80’s early 90’s era (first CD I ever bought!) , although the Happy Mondays/Primal Scream did some terrific stuff too. Neither were afraid to set up a great groove as the basis for their songs – probably due to the dance scene influence. I wasn’t in the UK at the time, must have been fun though.

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