Hailing from East Kilbride, Roddy Frame began learning to play the guitar at the age of four inspired by the sounds pouring from the family stereo by the likes of The Stones and The Beatles. Forming Aztec Camera in 1982, the band released a couple of well-received singles on the Scottish independent label Postcard which was also home to the likes of Orange Juice and electro-pop renegades Josef K. In 1983 Atztec Camera signed to Rough Trade and released what is still regarded as their masterpiece, High Land, Hard Rain to a world just waking up to the genius of the touseled haired teenager or, as he was quickly christened in indie circles, “The Boy Wonder”.
Opening the album is the ridiculously catchy pop gem Oblivious, which in itself underlined Frame’s songwriting prowess and ‘older than his years’ sense of melody and song structure, but it’s on the remainder of this glorious album that his real gifts emerge. Those early videos of Frame, seemingly drowning in a guitar two sizes too big for him, portray a songwriter as cool as a young Dylan and as thoughtful as Cohen. If there is a route map to the heart of adolescent love, Frame appeared to have ridden every single B-road and backtrack. ‘We Could Send Letters’, ‘Pillar To Post’, the utterly divine ‘Walk Out To Winter‘ would be highlights of most artist’s careers yet here, on an album that truly stands the test of time on all levels – sound, songs, and soulful integrity – flow one after another like a fresh mountain stream cascading down the tallest emotional peaks. Let’s not forget Frame was eighteen when ‘High Land, Hard Rain‘ was made,unbelievable fifteen when he started writing it, barely old enough to vote yet already in total command of his craft . As if the gift of songwriting wasn’t enough to have hearts swooning, as a guitar player Frame is still criminally underrated and back then was throwing away Byrds-esque licks and jazz florishes as if they were confetti. With all that said, this is an album that is still ‘childlike’ in many ways which, arguably, is a major part of the attraction. Its clear that Frame’s head was exploding with all manner of musical influences – from the post punk of the likes of Richard Hell and The Fall – Frame was a huge fan – to funk, soul and especially the jazz guitar of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Its all here, laid out for us to marvel as somehow these young Scottish teenagers manage to put all the pieces together to create a sound that is very much their own.
Upon release the album broke into the lower echelons of the UK chart but on the independent scene it quickly became the ‘go to’ record for anyone looking to discover something both aurally stimulating and intellectually fulfilling. It carried a certain kind of ‘knowing’ if you dropped it into conversation, and ‘Oblivious’ aside – which was seen almost comically back in the day as ‘the pop track’ – these were songs that soundtracked love, loss and heartbreak like no other.
Listening back now, all those emotions come flooding back. This is an album that still oozes invention and class and these are songs that are universal in their outlook and easy to relate to today’s emotional trials and tribulations. Frame has gone onto build a hugely successful musical career and rightly so. But, it’s on that debut nearly forty years where the teenager became a man – we all did I guess – and where we became hooked on his every word.
Del Day and Danny Wilson run Union Music Store
in Lansdown Place www.unionmusicstore.com