Alan Rankine was the maestro of the Associates’ post-punk pop – and an architect of indie

It begins with a constellation of synthesiser drones and a piano riff that sounds as if it’s being performed on crystal chandeliers, and ends with a pattern of smashing cups. In between, the Associates’ Get together Fears Two is 5 and a half sweeping minutes of art-pop perfection – a music generally hailed for the vaulting, otherworldly vocals of mercurial singer Billy Mackenzie but each bit as a lot a testomony to the songwriting and musicianship of multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine.

Shaped by Mackenzie and Rankine between Edinburgh and Dundee in 1979, the Associates have been genius architects of magical, muscular outsider anthems; a febrile cocktail of intercourse, medicine, chaos, breathtaking attractiveness and rampant creativity. For a fleeting interval in 1982, they kissed the sky with three hit singles. As a producer, Rankine helped craft a shimmering swathe of Eighties music for artists together with Cocteau Twins, Paul Haig and the Pale Fountains. Within the Nineteen Nineties, as a lecturer at Stow School in Glasgow, he performed a essential position within the origins of one other seminal Scottish band with a distinctly outsider outlook, Belle and Sebastian.

Born in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, Rankine was a hard-rock child within the mid-Nineteen Seventies when he noticed an in any other case forgettable Dundonian cod-funk band fronted by Mackenzie, a tearaway younger lad with a fantastical voice destined for better issues. Rankine rapidly invited him to hitch his cabaret band Psychological Torture. “He arrived in a taxi sporting straight-leg trousers,” Rankine informed Simon Reynolds in his post-punk historical past Rip It Up. “I had an Afghan coat and flares and hair right down to my arsehole.” Their conflict of worlds had explosive outcomes, and the partnership matured into the Associates.

The Associates: Get together Fears Two – video

Rankine knew Mackenzie was homosexual once they met, although it was by no means mentioned. In juxtaposition along with his fey mannerisms and flamboyant sartorial type, Mackenzie was street-tough and unafraid to indicate it. “He’ll kick your fucking head in 4 occasions over earlier than you may blink,” Rankine as soon as spoke fondly of his bandmate. Someplace therein lay the distinctive pressure on the coronary heart of the band’s music and aesthetic.

Having made their debut in 1979 with a canopy of David Bowie’s Boys Conserving Swinging, the Associates cast a repute as studio addicts, pulling all-night classes and throwing every thing however the kitchen sink at tracks in quest of a sound without delay uncanny and majestic. Rankine performed each instrument on lots of their recordings, and Get together Fears Two producer Mike Hedges known as him “a maestro at just about every thing”. Bizarre sounds have been conjured from experiments together with vocals sung by means of comb and greaseproof paper, and water balloons rubbed in opposition to guitar strings. White Automobile in Germany, the Kraftwerk-y opening observe from the Associates’ 1981 compilation album Fourth Drawer Down, nonetheless feels like the long run.

As file label cash began to circulation, the Associates grew to become well-known for his or her excesses. Throughout classes for their defining album, 1982’s Sulk (“Abba on acid,” as Mackenzie known as it), they have been mentioned to have spent half their advance transferring into particular person rooms in an upmarket London resort, together with an additional room for Mackenzie’s pet whippets which he fed room-service smoked salmon. Enthusiastic if naive drug customers, Rankine and Mackenzie as soon as snorted seven grams of pace believing it to be one gram of cocaine, and consequently discovered themselves facet by facet in hospital on coronary heart screens.

(L-R) Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie operforming at University of London Union, 30 January 1981.
(L-R) Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie performing on the College of London Union in 1981. {Photograph}: David Corio/Redferns

The Associates’ peaked in 1982 with a run of miraculous singles: Get together Fears Two, which broke the Prime 10, the galloping Membership Nation and the extravagant 18 Carat Love Affair. Memorable appearances on Prime of the Pops projected their wit, panache and mischief. In a single, Rankine wore a fencing swimsuit and plucked a banjo; in one other he strummed a guitar fabricated from chocolate which he then tried to feed to the viewers. However the band’s success quickly melted away. Rankine stop in 1982 after a fallout with Mackenzie over the last-minute cancellation of a US tour. Mackenzie carried on the band in identify just for two extra albums earlier than going solo. The Associates burned briefly however phosphorescently. In Rip It Up, Reynolds writes: “If I needed to choose one band that fulfilled the New Pop dream of a chart-busting music that mixed pop’s flash with post-punk’s perplexity, it might be the Associates.”

Their break up didn’t cease Rankine. Highlights of his subsequent manufacturing profession embrace former Josef Ok singer Paul Haig’s underrated 1989 album Chain. And within the late Eighties he decamped to Belgium to make a string of lush solo albums which might be ripe for rediscovery. In 1994 he started working at Stow School in Glasgow, serving to college students arrange their very own file label, Electrical Honey. Their first album, made by a bunch of scrappy misfits, was launched in 1996 and have become an indie traditional: Tigermilk by Belle and Sebastian.

“He was one of many few mentor figures that the early band had ­– anyone that truly kind of received it,” frontman Stuart Murdoch tells me. “We have been tickled, we actually preferred the Associates. The truth that Alan was the category trainer, it was humorous. He nonetheless minimize a suave determine. We solely shaped as a result of Alan mentioned: ‘OK, make this file’. He actually embraced the group and gave us each alternative. The label additionally launched early albums by Snow Patrol and Biffy Clyro.

In 1993, earlier than he started working at Stow, Rankine had reconvened with Mackenzie to start engaged on new Associates materials, producing a lot hype and hypothesis. However Mackenzie couldn’t commit, and the partnership fizzled out for the final time. Mackenzie killed himself in 1997, aged 39. On the Associates’ legacy as one of many nice could-have-beens of British pop, Rankine all the time remained philosophical. “This stuff occur,” he informed Reynolds. “All I do know is I labored with among the best singers on this planet.” The place many may need wilted within the presence of such greatness, Rankine rose to it and matched all of it the best way.

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