Sunday, 23 November 2014

NOVEMBER PLAYLIST


This month I have mostly been diggin'...

1.  Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers - "Slow Down" (1964)
The Larry Williams chestnut given a fat soul club sound indicative of their live reputation.  

2.  The Master's Apprentices - "War Or Hands Of Time" (1966)
This rollicking garage-punk single, with its A-side "Undecided", is the greatest thing Australia has ever given the world.

3.  Paul Jones - "Sonny Boy Williamson" (1966)
Paul Jones and Jack Bruce wrote and recorded this tribute to the man who made such an impact on the British R&B boom after this death the previous year. Tucked away as a B-side, featuring only Jones on vocals and harmonica and Bruce on bass, its simplicity is a far cry from the bombastic (and let's be honest, rather naff) "I've Been A Bad, Bad Boy" on the A-side.

4.  Bob Dylan & The Band - "Blowin' In The Wind" (1967)
There's a heck of a lot to take in - almost too much, if that were possible - in the 6-CD The Basement Tapes Complete but it's great to drop in for short spells to earwig Bobby and the boys having a sing-song. The woozy, bar room band take of "Blowin' In The Wind" is an immediate favourite.

5.  Percy Sledge - "True Love Travels On A Gravel Road" (1969)
Countrified Muscle Shoals soul. From the title, to the pedal steel, to the horns, to Sledge's rootsy vocal, everything here is simply magnificent. If you only investigate one song from this list, make it this.

6.  Kelly Gordon - "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (1969)
I love the Hollies classic but check out the outstanding original version. Gordon's almost unbearably raw emotion gives it the kind of gravitas the lyrics deserve.

7.  The Stovall Sisters - "Yes To The Lord" (1970)
Lillian, Netta and Joyce Stovall began singing in the 1950s as gospel group God's Little Wonders aged just 5, 7 and 2 respectively. By the time of their only album the sisters had embraced elements of rock and roll into their repertoire and here, in a reversal of the more common practice, take a secular song ("My Baby Loves Me" by Martha & the Vandellas) and give it a glorious religious make-over.

8.  Archie Shepp - "Attica Blues" (1972)
Two weeks after George Jackson was killed in San Quentin, 43 people died during riots in New York's Attica Prison. The title track of saxophonist Shepp's Attica Blues is a righteous, defiant, fist-raising soul stirrer. With Henry Hull on lead vocals, it's as funky as hell.

9.  Five Thirty - "Out To Get In" (1991)
Last month I included Ride and they've subsequently reformed. Gonna try and repeat the trick with their superior Oxford neighbours Five Thirty whose 12 inch extra tracks were better than most band's singles. 

10.  John Sinclair - "Straight No Chaser" (2014)
Best known as MC5 manager, White Panther Party founder and counter-culture pot stirrer, Sinclair is also a poet, journalist, performer and major jazz head (check out It's All Good - A John Sinclair Reader for a good sample of his work) . On latest album Mohawk he raps beat poetry in an evangelical manner, backed by a small jazz combo, about Bird. Monk and Dizzy. It's passionate, warm and inspiring; part history lesson, part heartfelt tribute.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

JUKEBOX 7"S - SATURDAY 29th NOVEMBER

I admit this is a very niche post even, by MonkeyPicks standards, but if you're within touching distance of Clapton, East London on Saturday 29th November (unlikely I know), you are cordially invited to join Long John, Miles and myself for the latest edition of Jukebox 7"s.

Biddle Brothers is a cool bar and always a good friendly atmosphere in there with us three (and Reggie the Parrot) playing records in a haphazard higgledy piggledy manner, meaning you could get anything from James Brown to the Byrds to Elastica to Ramsey Lewis to Jilted John to the Masters Apprentices.

Shake yer tail feather Reggie!    

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

ABOUT THE YOUNG IDEA: THE JAM - SETTING SONS (SUPER DELUXE EDITION) and LIVE AT THE BRIGHTON CENTRE (1979)


It’s 15 December 1979 and The Jam are in Brighton seeing out their most successful year to date with a gig promoting their fourth album, Setting Sons. Thirty seconds into the penultimate song of the night and “Heatwave” begins to collapse around them as fans clamber on stage. There’s a cry of “wanker” in the background before Paul Weller spits into the mic, “You can get the kids off stage but don’t fucking smash ‘em about, all right.” These kids are his people and loyalty works both ways. With his bitterness rising there’s more frustrated swearing and then “Fuck ‘Heatwave’, fuck the lot of it”. Knuckles tighten. The tension rises. Some more shits and fucks and a seething Weller slashes his guitar strings through an incendiary “’A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” that ends a show that for over 70 minutes bristled with fire and intensity.

There are many reasons to be thankful The Jam have never reformed and hearing how passionately driven they were during this 21-song gig included in the new 4-disc Setting Sons: The Super Deluxe Edition is a particularly compelling one. In three years’ time the band spilt when Weller’s heart wasn’t in it and there’s been no going back. One can’t recreate the past (okay, I’m talking about the band at the centre of a mod revival here but bear with me) and one definitely can’t recapture that special youthful idealism and arrogance as Weller, then only 21, was already perceptive enough to realise. The themes of age and aging and change peppered his lyrics throughout The Jam’s lifetime, right from their first single, but were especially prevalent during ’79 both with Setting Sons and the stand-alone single “When You’re Young” which warned the band’s young following their dreams and optimism of being grown up would soon be smashed when they realised the world was their oyster but their future a clam. Thanks Paul.  

It’s a toss-up between Setting Sons and The Gift as to my favourite Jam album but I don’t often listen to either often – there’s too much new stuff to discover than to spend time raking over old coals - yet being immersed in this set for the last week has been hugely rewarding to rediscover how good The Jam were, especially during this period. It’s easy to forget, to take them for granted. Weller’s lyrics on “Private Hell”, “Burning Sky”, “Wasteland” etc are among the best of his career and The Jam solidified their sound.

Much of the album, the best parts, was a semi-materialised concept about three reunited friends looking at how their lives had changed from the days when they thought they’d stick together for all time; before faces that were once so beautiful became barely recognisable and the men got bald and fat. All that felt an impossibly long way into the future for the kids at the Brighton Centre but young Weller saw it coming.

Disc 1 of this Super Deluxe Edition is the standard Setting Sons album plus eight non-album period singles and B-sides – “Strange Town”, “When You’re Young”, “The Eton Rifles” (slightly different to album version; basically shorter) and “Going Underground” which, with “Dreams of Children,” really belongs with Sound Affects. In Tony Fletcher’s memoir Boy About Town he recalls his classmates celebrating “Going Underground” hitting number one as if their team had won the cup. It was a scene replicated across schools in the UK. They – band and audience – had done it. It was a band for the kids but not a kids’ band. 

Disc 2 features 18 demos and alternate versions – 14 previously unreleased – and a John Peel session. Fourteen unreleased tracks sounds tempting but don’t expect too many surprises. For the most part they are rough and ready run-throughs; Weller the focus with perfunctory bass and drums. Not much changes other than extra oomph by the final versions, although one take of “Strange Town” has an almost ska rhythm which fortunately disappeared before it made the shops. There are two unfamiliar titles - “Simon” and “Along The Grove” - which unless I’ve missed something will be new to most. “Simon” is a sedately paced song about a shy schoolboy due to start work. There’s a kernel of a decent song there but some of the lyrics are a bit clunky and even if it had been finished would’ve struggled to find space on Setting Sons. “Along The Grove” is far superior. Packed with poetic lines it tells of a lonely, alienated man returning from war considering suicide; it’s haunting, affecting and would’ve sat perfectly on the album. The demo here isn’t complete and Weller growls in frustration as it falls away. Tantalising.    

The Brighton Centre gig is disc 3 and is also available in its own right as a stand-alone 2-LP vinyl edition. For me it’s central to the package and well worth getting hold of. I never had the pleasure of seeing The Jam (it still rankles me that others at school, far less deserving, did so) but there a moments which gave me a shiver in the same way Dig The New Breed did in ’83 when I spent hours listening to it whilst perfecting those illustrations on the sleeve of Paul, Bruce and Rick to adore school books and every available blank space.

Disc 4 is a DVD of the promo videos, six Top of the Pops performances and two clips from Something Else. The box also includes a hardback 70-page book with cuttings, new interviews and rare photos; four prints; a replica 1979 tour programme; a replica 1979 fan club magazine; a teas maid; set of oven gloves; a fondue set and a cuddly toy. I’ve only had access to the music so can’t comment on how worthwhile this stuff is but if you’re a middle aged man in need of a black and white photo of Rick Buckler than I’d start worrying. The Jam were always conscious about giving value for money, not filling their albums with singles, so to have sets packed with useless paraphernalia like this to increase the sale price, when all that really matters is the music, does stick in the craw a bit.     

The Jam drew a clear distinction between us and them; between young and old; rich and poor; the classes; even length of hair or whether people were in employment. Weller in Brighton snidely introduces “Smithers-Jones” as being “for anyone with long hair and who works”, which was harsh on Bruce Foxton. The irony now of course is age has meant a switch of sides for many but for The Jam, forever stuck in 1977-82, aged 18-23, they’ve kept their passion, their soul, their fire. Whatever the softening in some of Paul Weller’s attitudes and integrity over the years – even he’s not immune to compromise and the shifting priorities of age - he’s resolutely stuck to his guns and kept The Jam untarnished by age. More than any other band I think of, The Jam were, and will always, be about the young idea.  

Setting Sons: The Super Deluxe Edition, The Deluxe Edition and Live At The Brighton Centre by The Jam are released on Monday 17th November 2014 by Polydor/Universal.
Top photo: Paul Weller meets Paul Crud, 1979.

Monday, 3 November 2014

THE ACTION: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS - IN MY LONELY ROOM (10 INCH EP)


A new release featuring previously unreleased recordings by The Action. I can't think of a sentence I'd sooner type for you, and there it is, in all it's glory. A few words which read sweeter than Reggie King tackling an Impressions song. In a few short weeks, on 8th December to be precise, discerning turntables will spin in unison as ears catch their first listen to these miraculous discoveries. I don't usually reproduce press releases but will make an exception here whilst I have a lie down....

Four previously unreleased tracks by the ultimate ACTION recorded during 1964 and 1965, on both vinyl and CD EP.

We all tried our hand at getting that Motown sound you know... all the bands in the mid ‘60s. 
The best ones at it were the Action... They were an amazing band.” - Steve Marriott, 1987.

Alongside the Small Faces and the Who, London’s ACTION were undoubtedly Britain’s premier mod band during the mid 1960s, and their chain of five singles for Parlophone from October 1965 to June 1967 are venerated as one of the finest runs of 45s of the period (or indeed of any period really). Subsequent releases of the group’s material such as The Ultimate Action, Rolled Gold, Uptight And Outasight and CD repackages of the band’s EMI output, plus the Action’s period of reformation, have endeared the group to a huge swell of post 60s fans and the band command a level of respect and adulation rarely bestowed on many other groups of their era. Sadly with the aforementioned slew of records and CDs the well of archive Action material appeared to have run dry...until now that is!

The excellent book on the Action In The Lap Of The Mods, published in 2012, shed light on a previously rarely documented aspect of the Action’s recording career, specifically their audition for the Decca record company in May 1965. Indeed some copies of the book included a limited edition vinyl 45 extracted from an acetate recently discovered from that audition, which was a supreme version of the Temptations ‘Why You Wanna Make Me Blue’. That recording, taped six months before their EMI debut, makes a welcome re-appearance here and also emerges on CD for the first time. Unbelievably since the book came out another acetate from that Decca session has surfaced, one side of which features a wonderful interpretation of one of many people’s favourite Action tracks ‘In My Lonely Room’, which incredibly surpasses the later recording for Parlophone and has a real ‘live’ feel to it. Coupled with ‘In My Lonely Room’ was a fine rendition of the Impressions’ ‘You’ll Want Me back’, which finds the Action in a more mellow blue eyed soul groove and showcases perhaps the most Reggie King’s leap in vocal prowess in the comparative short space of time since the band’s recordings for Pye as the Boys barely six months previous.

Not that the Boys’ single for Pye was a slouch – far from it – and Top Sounds round off the EP with another previously undocumented recording. Committed to acetate during their time as the Boys was one of Reggie King’s earliest compositions, and ‘Fine Looking Girl’exposes further the pre-emptive Action in rather good form indeed.

Restored to the best possible standard from the original acetates, the four selections on In My Lonely Room are a fascinating, important and invaluable document of the emergent Action during late 1964 and 1965, and Top Sounds are justifiably elated to place these portentous recordings together for the first time. With the blessing of Action drummer Roger Powell, help from In the Lap Of The Mods authoress Jane Shepherd and delivered in full vintage 60s style packaging courtesy of Bruce Brand, In My Lonely Room is sure to excite Action fans everywhere and in all probability – unfortunately – may well be the final release of ‘new’ vintage Action recordings. Your last chance to catch some new unbelievable ACTION!

Friday, 24 October 2014

OCTOBER PLAYLIST



1.  Maxine Brown – “The Secret Of Livin’” (1966)
Maxine has at least three indisputable Northern Soul anthems to her name and whilst Wand 45 “The Secret Of Livin’” isn’t one of them it’s a neat overlooked pop-soul gem.

2.  The Beau Brummels – “One Too Many Mornings” (1966)
Anything the Byrds can do with a Dylan song…

3.  Dave Pike – “Blind Man Blind Man” (1966)
The Herbie Mann produced Jazz For The Jet Set for Atlantic Records features an air travelling dollybird in green go-go boots on the sleeve and marimba playing Pike in the grooves. Herbie Hancock makes his debut on organ, Clark Terry lends his trumpet, and the whole album has the air of cool sophistication. 

4.  Peter Walker – “Second Song” (1968)
When Timothy Leary invited folks back to his gaff to turn on, tune in and drop out, he’d often employ guitarist Peter Walker to provide a suitable soundtrack to accompany the evening’s main event. If Peter isn’t available for your next acid party his album Second Poem to Karmela or Gypsies Are Important is as trippy as the title suggests. 

5.  The Supremes – “I Wish I Was Your Mirror” (1970)
The first post-Diana Supremes album,New Ways But Loves Stays, has some fine camp classics on it (“Stoned Love”, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”); some interesting covers (“Come Together”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”); and some straight ahead smooth soul movers like this Frank Wilson tune. The Four Tops did a version too but it’s not as good as this.

6.  Syl Johnson – “Annie Got Hot Pants Power” (1971)
Syl reckoned this would’ve been a hit if it had been called simply “Hot Pants Lady” as in his opinion, “Black women are more sophisticated now. They don’t want nobody calling them Annie”. He’d later release a weaker version under that title and claims it was his song James Brown based his big “Hot Pants” hit on. There can never be enough hot pants or songs about hot pants in my book.

7.  Esther Phillips – “Sweet Touch of Love” (1972)
I always hear one of the opening lines as “Sting your furry toes”. That coupled with Ms Phillips on the back cover ofFrom A Whisper To A Scream with her housecoat undone revealing more than a lady oughta is an unsettling image.

8.  The Primitives – “Secrets” (1989)
The Primitives launched their new Spin-O-Rama LP with a great show at the Garage in Highbury last Saturday. Half new stuff like “Petals” and “Hidden In The Shadows” and half old, and one couldn’t see the join. An oldie they didn’t play was “Secrets” which, bizarrely, was the song I woke up with stuck in my head the following morning. When bands can afford to omit singles like this from their live set you know their cup overfloweth.

9.  Ride – “Twisterella” (1992)
It’s impossible to say when Britpop began but when this came out I clearly remember it marking a noticeably shift for both Ride and the mood of the time. More overtly 60s; clean, chiming Rickenbackers; vocal harmonies; underscored by a black and white video recreating The Who at the Goldhawk Road Social Club. Better than almost everything that came in its wake. 

10.  The Higher State – “Wait For My Love” (2014)
In between Easter Everywhere and Bull of the Woods, the 13th Floor Elevators cut “Wait For My Love”, a poppier than usual track earmarked as their new single. Instead, it languished in the vaults for years. It finally makes it onto a white-vinyl 45 thanks to Elevator acolytes The Higher State’s faithful recording for the covers label Fruits De Mer. The earlier Elevators track “You Don’t Know” takes the flip.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

THE PHROGS - "BABY, I'M GONE" (2001)

The Phrogs were a regular fixture as the live attraction in Mod and 60s clubs back in the mid to late 90s. I saw them more times than I can remember and they were easily one of the better bands doing that circuit. They had a fiery British Beat/R&B thing going on and covered things “Leave My Kitten Alone” which sticks in my mind. The other thing I recall, which made them unique, is they had a frontman who didn’t do a great deal other than shake his maracas, blow a bit of harp and sing the occasional song. He did look cool though. The band, from Southend-on-Sea, were centred on the drummer who not only bashed his kit but sang and during a few songs (I think “I’m A Man” was one) played the organ at the same time. Some trick that. Now, they have a 7” single, “Baby I’m Gone”, out on Manchester’s Crocodile Records. Recorded back in 2001 at Toe Rag studios, it’s a right Elevators/Watchband rave-up. There’s also this breathless footage of them filmed at Channel 4 in the same year. If you can avert your eyes from the vest you're in for a treat. The band are still gigging and the single is available now from www.vinylrevivalmanchester.com

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

GRAHAM DAY & THE FOREFATHERS - GOOD THINGS (2014)

There’s a moment after the lute solo in “Sucking Out My Insides”, and just before the orchestra and choir come in, when for the first time in his career Graham Days breaks into a beautiful falsetto to deliver the song’s heart-wrenching final verse.

Yeah, right. No, what the listener finds on the first album by Graham Day & The Forefathers are a dozen new versions of songs from Day’s back catalogue (six Solar Flares, three Prisoners, two Gaolers, one Prime Movers) delivered in a reassuringly familiar manner. In fact, they aren’t really what one would call new versions – there’s nothing like Bob Dylan playing Name That Tune with his audience or even Howlin’ Wolf psychedelicizing his blues – Day’s simply got songs out of storage and blasted the dust off with a crate load of Medway TNT. These are brash and boisterous songs performed with super-charged, pent-up energy. It’s like Graham Day of old, only more so. His vocals and wah-wah guitar assaults are the stuff of legend and with Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard’s formidable rhythm section striking everything with extra gusto it’s a heavyweight collection.

If accepted wisdom tells us Dave Davies’s crunching power-chords gave birth to heavy metal then it doesn’t take a DNA test on the Jeremy Kyle Show to show Good Things as one of its errant offspring. It’s such a hard rocking album one can’t help wonder how much of Day’s audience continues to be populated by Mods whose traditional musical preferences lie elsewhere. There is, it seems, space for at least one guitar hero and rock god in everyone’s life. The only time I take my air-guitar off its stand is to play along to Graham Day and I snapped a few strings giving it a workout to Good Things.

Much of Day’s audience though has dipped in and out over the years so some song choices here will be more familiar than others but Good Things is a great leveller. Covering four bands and about twenty five years of song writing it would take an incredibly perceptive ear to distinguish the origins of each track; such is Day’s singular vision to no-nonsense tunes.  

It’s fleetingly tempting to listen to these tracks back-to-back with the originals versions to play better/worse but that’s not the point. Good Things is best enjoyed without drawing direct comparisons with the originals; I’ve pointedly not listened to the versions back-to-back but my hunch is some are slightly improved. Day’s music has never been something to over-analyse, so think of this as a live-in-the-studioBest Of Graham Day album. Stick it on your record player, whack it up as loud as your neighbours will allow, and enjoyGood Things

Good Things by Graham Day & The Forefathers is released on Own Up Records at the band’s gig at the 229 Club in London on Friday 31st October.