❉ This impressive collection makes one wonder if Mackenzie’s career would have indeed soared again had he not taken his life, writes James Collingwood.
This new compilation from Cherry Red is a 3 CD set containing the last recordings of one of the most original and underrated voices of the last fifty years. Billie Mackenzie came to fame as the singer with the Scottish band the Associates in the early 1980s. With the guitarist Alan Rankine, the Associates released their classic and idiosyncratic albums The Affectionate Punch and Sulk and the classic singles Party Fears Two, Club Country and 18 Carat Love Affair before imploding and breaking up in 1983.
The 3 CD set is curated by Steve Aungle who was Mackenzie’s collaborator in his last years. It also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mackenzie’s tragic death- he took his own life at his father’s home in Auchterhouse, Dundee in January 1997. The discs include remastered tracks that were released posthumously on the albums Beyond the Sun (1997) Eurocentric (2001) and Auchtermatic (2004) as well as previously unreleased tracks. The compilation also includes photos and sleeve notes by Aungle and other collaborators.
It seems that from an early age Mackenzie was a charismatic maverick who was full of ideas but who tended to sabotage his own career. In the ’80s he was dropped by his record company for wasting thousands (or possibly millions) of pounds. A few of his capers were reportedly hiring a taxi on account to drive him 500 miles from London to Dundee, spending days in a phone box singing ideas down the phone to Rankine and hiring a 5-star hotel to keep his beloved whippets! Aungle explains that he was a demanding person to work with but constantly full of ideas and impossible demands (“Make this sound like the sphinx! Make this sound like the Egyptian pyramids!”) but was a character who seemed to be loved. In fact, there are at least three songs in popular culture that are allegedly about Mackenzie – the Smiths’ William, It Was Really Nothing, Say by the Creatures and the Cure’s Cut Here. Shortly before his death he was on the point of a resurgence having been signed to Suede’s home label Nude Records in the mid ’90s singing a stunning version of Billie Holiday’s Gloomy Sunday at the launch party.
This set is an impressive collection and makes you wonder if Mackenzie’s career would have indeed soared again if he had lived. The first disc includes some impressive ballads – Bowie and Scott Walker influenced as you would expect but also quite individual. His cover of the Randy Newman song Baltimore sounds nothing like the original and his cover of the Nina Simone song Wild is the Wind is magnificent (as is the hairpiece Mackenzie seems to wear in the live performance!)
There’s also an excellent cover of Sparks’ Mother Earth (aka Never turn your back on Mother Earth) that has a Celtic tinge in the instrumentation. There’s strong Mackenzie/Aungle penned stand out songs on the first disc including Sing that song again, Blue it is, Beyond the Sun and the 70s’ “new country” influenced Tallahatchie Pass.
The second disc is the weakest of the three and seems to cover Mackenzie’s more dance influenced recordings of the time. Best on this disc are Gypsies in the Restaurant which seems to have a Heaven 17 influence, Falling Out With The Future seems to be a multitude of voices but they’re all credited to Mackenzie and Fear is my Bride with its Twin Peaks style atmospheric backing. There are also Hi NRG-influenced tracks like Put This Right. A couple of tracks on this second disc I found unlistenable – Consenting Holograms Have More Fun and a weak dance version cover version of the Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain Again – a song I have never liked. There’s even an attempt at mid-90’s Whigfield-style Eurodisco on Mysterious Lover. The weakest of the three discs but interesting all the same.
The third disc is magnificent and is brimming full of ideas which make you wonder in what direction Mackenzie’s career could have gone if he had lived on. Each track is impressive but stand outs on this disc are the previously unreleased Tomorrow People which could have made a great single, the Scott Walker-influenced The Mountains That You Climb, Liberty Lounge and title track Satellite Life. It concludes with the epic instrumental Von Hamburg.
❉ Billy Mackenzie: ‘Satellite Life Recordings 1995-1996’ (CDTRED856 3CD) released by Cherry Red Records on April 22, 2022, RRP £18.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre. His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1