Last week brought the unwelcome and unexpected news that long standing MPT favourites Book Group have called it a day.
They originally come together as The Bad Books in 2011 featuring Graeme Anderson (vocals/guitars), Michael Morison (guitar), Scott Finnegan (bass) and Andrew Brodie (drums). Initially a short-term venture (they knew the name was taken) they quickly built a reputation as one of the live bands to see in Edinburgh.
MPT caught their third show (I think) supporting Cancel the Astronauts at the Electric Circus and an abiding memory of the show was singer Graeme prowling the bar at the circus wielding a megaphone during final tune ‘Victory Lap’.
There was no doubt that ‘Victory Lap’ and its associated spectacle was a big part of the band’s early appeal but, as they added new songs to the initial live set, it rapidly became clear they were no one trick pony.
It seemed to take them an eternity to commit some of these songs to record but, renamed as Book Group, debut EP ‘Homeward Sound’ appeared (finally!) in 2013. Whilst it was great to hear some of the songs on demand, in truth there was something a bit restrained about the record and a couple of the tunes didn’t quite capture the excitement of the live show. ‘Year of the Cat’ was just a smidgeon off the pace but ‘Summer of Lunches’ didn’t translate even as well. And, of course some were disappointed that ‘Victory Lap’ wasn’t on the record.
That was saved for the follow-up release – a double A-sided 7” single on Gerry Loves Records paired with newer song ‘Lowdown of a Loud Sound’. These songs sounded much better, with a pop sheen applied that particularly suited ‘Lowdown’. But as good as ‘Victory Lap’ was there was still a slight notion that it hadn’t been quite been captured . Mind you, how that might have been achieved, short of a pop-up holographic Graeme emerging from the record player every time you played the single, may prove to be owe of life’s ultimate mysteries.
The next EP again featured 4 songs although rather than being live favourites, only ‘A Rough Wooing’ had been aired regularly whilst ‘Best Regards’ was a more recent addition. With a harder edge that ‘Homeward Sound’ would have benefitted from, ‘Tantrums’ is without a doubt the best sounding Book Group record and it’s as strong as anything they’ve done with lead track ‘Here Is Too Near’ in particular an instant classic.
Bassist Scott left the band shortly after the EP’s release to be replaced by Kevin Fisher, who made his debut at one of the band’s biggest shows, opening for Broken Records at the Queen’s Hall.
By this time, with a full album’s worth of material already in the bank the band were turning their thoughts to new material for their first formal long-player. ‘Late Show’, ‘Mayonnaise’, ‘Kickstart’, ‘Actress/Model’ (aka ‘Opening Night’) and ‘The Art of Underachieving’ debuted around the same time and became live staples.
In the end, following a path trailed by many early 90s bands, they largely moved onto new material for the record. Whilst several older tunes were apparently considered, in the end a re-recorded ‘Year of the Cat’ was the only nod to the past and ‘The Great Indoors’ appeared in 2016 with a return to the pop sheen of the 7”.
It’s an engaging collection of songs and , whilst there’s a difference in influences, it does remind me of the eclecticism of dEUS’s second LP. But whilst the rock songs on the album play to the band’s existing strengths but there’s more diversity too, from the pretty mini-masterpiece ‘This Little House of Mine’ to the more dance orientated ‘Actress/Model’. It really only has one fault – it’s too short!
Yet almost as soon as it was out, the band seemed to start to lose momentum. After the initial push to promote the album, shows became infrequent even though, in the last handful, around a dozen new tunes were road tested with a view to making up the bulk of LP number 2.
But the show supporting Wozniak in November turned out to be their last as they announced the end of the road last week.
In a lot of ways, Book Group followed a much-travelled trajectory. Having deservedly attracted a lot of early attention, they were unable to make a breakthrough to that next level despite having the songs to do so.
Perhaps their insistence on using their best songs on the early records worked against them. Certainly, around the time of releasing the second EP, they had the songs for a great LP – the four ‘Tantrum’ tracks could have been supplemented by the two single tracks, a couple of re-recorded songs from the debut EP (‘Year of the Cat’ and ‘Summer of Lunches’ perhaps) and a couple of new tunes (‘Late Show’ was certainly in the live sets at the time).
In terms of building a profile that was probably the time to release an album including most of the songs that had propelled them forward. But in putting out the EP, they effectively shut off a lot of tunes from making the debut.
It’s impossible to criticise a band for continually wanting to work on new material, and there’s no doubt that the second batch of songs, which did make the LP, did represent a shift in tone away from the longer, early songs into a shorter and more pop orientated format.
Nevertheless, I’ve got loads of great memories of the band in terms of both the records that they did make but probably more for the live shows. It was a fun ride but it’s just a pity that more people didn’t get the chance to hear them.
Here’s some photos from different shows over the years which hopefully capture some of the joy of seeing the band live: