Saturday, 3 October 2015


Even by the niche standards of Monkey Picks this post is targeted at a minuscule percentage of potential readers. Still, if you happen to live or are within easy reach of Clapton in East London on Saturday 10 October, then pop in to Biddle Brothers bar and join myself, Long John McNally and Miles Macleod. 

We’ll be playing records of the 7 inch variety to enjoy with the tipple of your choice (we’re not paying by the way, let’s get that straight). We’ve done a few of these before and it’s a nice relaxed bar tolerant of us playing whatever the hell we fancy: from 60s hits, indie classics, funk and punk and soul, to Chas & Dave. Records until midnight and then a quieter wind-down session for anyone still standing. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015


September has been soundtracked by these...

1.  Lead Belly – “On A Monday” (1943)
Huddie Ledbetter sings the old prison song which Johnny Cash later cut as “I Got Stripes”. An arbitrary selection from the wonderful treasure chest that is the five-CD boxset Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection.

2.  Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames – “Humpty Dumpty” (1964)
Was fortunate to attend BBC’s Maida Vale studios this week with Monkey Snr for the recording of Radio 4’s Mastertapes, focusing on Georgie Fame’s Live At The Flamingo. John Wilson interviewed Georgie about the album and the era, interspersed with live performances of Work Song, Eso Beso (with special guest appearances from Blue Flames Colin Green on guitar, Mick Eve on tenor and Eddie ‘Tan-Tan’ Thornton on trumpet), Green Onions, Yeh Yeh and Humpty Dumpty, which as well as appearing on the LP was also on one of the very first records to migrate from my dad’s collection to mine, the Rhythm and Blue-Beat EP.  The show will be broadcast in two parts later in the year.

3.  The Victorians – “Monkey Stroll” (1964)
A whacking, echo-drenched, Gold Star studio, Wall of Sound, monkey dancer. What’s not to love?

4.  Mary Love – “Baby I’ll Come” (1966)
There’s a touch of “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face” about this slow and moody winner from Ms Love. Great vocals, great strings, great song from Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

5.  Cool Benny Velarde & His Stone Swingers – “Wobble-Cha” (1966)
Not generally a fan of Latin stuff but this is cool release on Virgo Records from timbalero Velarde and his Bay Area band.

6.  Modern Jazz Quartet – “Home” (1966)
If you wake up one Sunday with the hangover from hell, The Modern Jazz Quartet’s Blues At Carnegie Hall, with the vibes of Milt Jackson, might ease you back to some semblance of normality. 

7.  The Faces – “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything (Even Take The Dog For A Walk, Mend A Fuse, Fold Away The Ironing Board, Or Any Other Domestic Shortcomings)” (1974)
Now that’s a song title.

8.  Janko Nilovic – “Drug Song” (1975)
Man, this is some super-strength shit. Spectacularly groovy funky flute from Montenegrin Nilovic’s Soul Impressions LP.

9.  Bronco Bullfrog – “Marmalade” (2015)
During the great British pop party of the 90s, Bronco Bullfrog tapped gingerly at the window, outsiders, scandalously uninvited and thus arriving late. It was a shame as the Broncos had much to offer: specifically a holdall stuffed with magical gems, and in a backward looking scene they were masters of evoking old memories, even if tinged with sadness. On the strength of this new 45 they’re now more than content in their isolation, managing to squash ‘I’m A Man’, ‘Funeral Pyre’, some Hollies harmonies and some Who powerchords into a track that finishes before their Mother’s Pride pops out the toaster.

10.  Kontiki Suite - The Greatest Show On Earth LP (2015)
It seems an aeon since I made Kontiki Suite's debut, On Sunset Lake, my album of 2012 but three years later their new one, The Greatest Show On Earth, finally sees the light of day in October and is odds-on to snatch the prize again. Things are slightly more muscular in places this time around, more confident, but everything I fell in love with is here - the meticulous playing, the carefully crafted arrangements and, of course, most of all, the gorgeous cinematic songs and guitars which don't so much jingle-jangle but shimmer and sparkle. The Greatest Show On Earth sees Kontiki Suite canter into view on horseback, with the autumn sun beginning to set, before pitching up to open their hearts under glistening stars and a listening moon. It's a beautiful trip. To put simply - it's bloody magnificent!

The Greatest Show On Earth by Kontiki Suite is available on CD and download from Kontiki Suite's Bandcamp page from Friday 2 October and on vinyl from 30 October via Sunstone Records (Broncos 45 from them too). 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


Last Sunday's Wandering Wireless Show on Fusion is available on their Showreel to listen now (or, if you really want, again).

For your trouble you'll get an hour of brilliant music (I would say that) and a few minutes of me telling you what brilliant music you're listening to.  

Huge thanks to Fusion for letting me loose. Click here.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

MAVIS! (2015)

There are many touching moments in Mavis! - Jessica Edwards’ film about Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers – but one standout scene is when Mavis visits old friend Levon Helm. In 1976 they’d appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz when their groups, The Staple Singers and The Band, performed a film stealing version of “The Weight”, and now Mavis, sister Yvonne and their band, turn up at Levon’s home. It’s immediately apparent Levon isn’t well (throat cancer would shortly, in 2012, take his life) but there’s a twinkle in his eye after Mavis gives him a big hug at the front door. Soon we see the musicians sat around, a few acoustic guitars, singing and clapping, following Mavis’s lead. Levon is visibly lifted, rocking in his chair, beaming, his fragile voice given extra strength, looking like the happiest man alive. It’s a beautiful moment and gets to the heart of the unique magic of Mavis Staples – the singer and the woman – who embodies joy, love and positivity. If scientists and medical professionals could clone Mavis or bottle some of her spirit, what a wonderful world this would be.

At 75 years of age Mavis shows no sign of slowly down as the film follows her touring, rehearsing, and reflecting on her career and life, from singing as young girl with her family in the churches, to the folk festivals, to civil rights’ marches, to soul superbowls, to the rock crowd, through lean times and a creative and commercial rebirth. There’s great archive footage (mostly seen before but some I didn’t recognise) are additional interviews with friends, band members, biographers and historians all giving an insight into her indomitable character and that deep voice which confused early listeners who couldn’t believe it came from a tiny girl, expecting it to be from, as Mavis says “a man or a big fat woman”.    

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who worked so well with Mavis on recent records, says he loves her more than any woman apart from his wife. He isn’t the first person I’ve heard say such a thing. Mavis’s magnetic personality easily draws such affection. She’s funny, has an infectious laugh, kind face, boundless enthusiasm, is serious about her music but balances that with a self-depreciating attitude and she’s “everyday people”. She’s also endearingly bashful when it comes to affairs of the heart; that Mavis gets all embarrassed and flappy when admitting to “a smooch” with Bob Dylan is typical.

The relationship with one man though, her father, is central to everything. Fifteen years after Pops passed away Mavis rescued the tapes they made which was planned to be released as a Pops Staples album and gave them to Tweedy to work on. When they listen to Pops’s voice on the finished version, Don't Lose This, it’s her father singing from heaven. As Mavis blubs her eyes out it takes a herculean effort of cinema goers not to follow suit.

Mavis! is an emotional film. Like its subject, it’s sensitive, uplifting and “feel-good”, and should be available on prescription. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


I’ve only recently, off the back of writing the Faces pieces for Shindig! - gotten around to listening to Rod Stewart’s early albums. It was a mistake to leave it so long but if, like me, you’ve been reluctant then his first five LPs for Mercury – An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells A Story, Never A Dull Moment, Smiler - have been released as a decently priced boxset available in both vinyl and CD editions.

It may be just my imagination but I detect there’s been an attempt at repositioning in Camp Stewart recently with the Faces reunion and boxset; playing less familiar songs at the expense of monster hits at a Radio 2 gig in Hyde Park the other weekend; an Uncut front cover this month. And by jove, it’s long overdue. Everyone loved Rod in the early 70s. These albums were massive – three topped the charts – and he had the Faces running concurrently so, combined, released nine albums in the five years between 1969 and 1974. Folk gave him crap, and continue to this day, for leaving the Faces but I’m surprised he managed to sustain it for so long (but think of the money, you all scream).

Those were the glory years, Rock ‘n’ Roll Rod, and these albums - which years of Sailing Rod, Tax Dodging Rod, Cartoon Rod, Disco Rod, Tartan Rod, Dorothy Perkins Rod, Leggy Blonde Rod, American Songbook Rod and Kenny Everett’s Inflatable Arse Rod made an unwelcome proposition – are tremendous.  Rod’s singing is great (a lost art, to sing like that) and the mix of soul, rock, folk and Dylan rarely misses its mark. My only criticism is Rod didn’t write enough of his own songs. Not because the covers aren’t good but because his own work was frequently exceptional: Mandolin Wind, Gasoline Alley, Lady Day, Lost Paraguayos, You Wear It Well, Italian Girls, Every Picture Tells A Story and that shaggy dog story one without a chorus where he gets kicked in the head.

There are plenty of reasons to give Rod stick – “Rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely”, bitchily claimed Rolling Stone – but with this set and the Faces’ You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything there are nearly ten albums worth of material to love him for. 

Rod Stewart’s Five Classic Albums set released by Universal.

Monday, 14 September 2015


The Primitives release a new single on Friday and, as per usual, it’s a beauty. “Purifying Tone” first appeared on their Spin-O-Rama LP last year but has been remixed by Argentinian band Modular and the result is maybe not what the casual Primitives listener might be expecting: it’s less fizzy-pop and more sparkling water. A refreshing and satisfying change, full marks to Modular and the Prims. The accompanying video featuring the ever-youthful Tracy and Paul works a treat too, although their pictures hidden in the attic must be bloody terrifying by now. 

Purifying Tone by The Primitives is released as a limited edition (500 copies) clear vinyl 7 inch by Elefant Records.

Saturday, 12 September 2015


The 50th birthday issue of Shindig! is now in the shops and, if you excuse me whilst I play a quick little flourish on this here trumpet, includes my article on The Faces and interview with Kenney Jones as the cover story. Toot-toot-ta-toot.

I’d love to say Shindig! editor Jon Mills and I rocked up at Kenney’s country mansion in Surrey for beers on the lawn (which was a possibility at one stage) but the interview eventually took place, five weeks ago, at the offices of Universal Music in Kensington. We sat in one of their swish meeting rooms drinking coffee out of china cups and dunking biscuits whilst chatting for over 90 minutes. We decided beforehand to concentrate on the early days of The Faces with the focus being their first album and stuck to that quite firmly although obviously there was overlap with the Small Faces and later success. Wasn’t entirely sure how much there was to say but ended up with over 4000 words and the mag devoted over ten pages to the band (with some cracking photos). It did mean though I didn’t get to ask about Kenney’s time with The Who and drumming on “You Better You Bet”. One day.

One unexpected bonus was Kenney happening to mention The Action in glowing terms. Stick me within ten yards of anyone who was around the 60s music scene and it’s evitable I’ll ask them about my favourite band but Kenney’s tribute – “They should have been the biggest thing since sliced bread” - was completely unprompted, which made it sound all the more welcome and genuine.

There’s a new five-LP/CD set of the Faces’ four studio albums and a disc of rarities out now entitled You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything. For a two week period I don’t think I listened to anything other than The Faces (with a side helping of early Rod).

And finally, to help Shindig! celebrate their 50th issue, they’re holding a knees-up at Rough Trade East down in Bethnal Green with The Pretty Things playing a live set on Thursday 8th October. Free entry, can’t be bad.