Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Book readings, book signings, whathaveyou - not events to usually racquet up the excitement levels but hold tight Walthamstow Waterstones, Andrew Matheson is swanning into town.

As singer of criminally overlooked, and criminally minded, early 70s glampunk superstars in waiting, the Hollywood Brats, Matheson walked the walk and now following the publication last year of his ludicrously funny and sharply told memoir, Sick On You, and their album now subject of a deluxe edition reissue, he’s continuing to talk to talk. With knobs on.

So grab a tube, bus, scooter or shank’s pony to the Walthamstow Rock & Roll Book Club (yes, there is such a thing) on Saturday 6 August to be regaled in style by a man still on a mission to grab the limelight he so richly deserves. Soon to be subject of a BBC4 documentary, hear the story of the Hollywood Brats in person.

Tickets are free but please book, if you can, so the organisers know how much complimentary wine is needed for lubrication.

From host Mark Hart… “Sick On You by Andrew Matheson is the best rock and roll memoir since Motley Crue's Dirt. Matheson's band, the Hollywood Brats, were London's version of the New York Dolls.  Managed by gangsters, it’s Withnail & I with guitars, brilliantly funny, tremendously evocative and hardly believable.”

Link for full info: Walthamstow Rock 'n' Roll Club

Sunday, 10 July 2016


I’ve wanted to see Stax legend William Bell for years. On the occasions he’d cropped up in recent times – from performing for President Obama at the White House to appearing on Later with Jools Holland (how that for spanning the spectrum? From the sublime…) – he’s looked and sounded like he could still cut the mustard. Having now ticked him off the bucket list I couldn’t be happier to report he was well worth the wait.

At the Union Chapel last night he impressed straight from the start. It’s difficult to hear anyone sing ‘Easy Comin’ Out (Hard Goin’ In)’ without breaking into a smile and that expression was present for the following 90 minutes. ‘Any Other Way’ followed, the first of the real classics, and what a set of pipes this man has - tender yet rock solid assured.

Now aged 77, Bell’s voice was as strong as ever, fit as a flea, and managed to make wearing dark sunglasses in a chapel look like the coolest and more natural thing in the world. What I like in soul artists is when they can still feel contemporary rather than a cheesy old cabaret act. Mavis Staples does this supremely well and Bell does too. Half a dozen tracks from his new This Is Where I Live album underscored he’s not reliant on ancient hits to connect to his audience. ‘The Three of Me’, ‘I Will Take Care of You, ‘Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge’, ‘Poison In The Well’ and the title track all being personal reflections and breathed fresh life into his set and the Stax sound.

Bell kept his band on their toes throughout, and they were up to the not inconsiderable task, by frequently “breaking it down” and going off on a tangent. This could in lesser hands be tiresome but here it worked, not least during an already spectacular ‘Everybody Loves A Winner’ when he stopped to testify with the last of the evening light shining through the stained glass chapel windows.

This Is Where I Live takes Bell full circle, back on Stax, and as he reminded us, he was the label’s first solo male vocalist. ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ cut for the fledging label in 1961 and written by Bell when he was 17, “I was an old soul even then”. That Bell is still around, one of the last standing from that era, from the birth of Stax and, with that record, what we now call Southern Soul, is remarkable in itself, that he remains in such shape and voice is nothing short of incredible. There’s no need to make allowances, to overlook any shortcomings, as there are none. Needless to say the song was a highlight.

The Judy Clay role for ‘Private Number’ as taken by Bell’s “attractive lady” backing vocalist whose name I didn’t catch beyond, I think, Suzie. If William really does have her number he’s a lucky dog. ‘Everyday Is A Holiday’, ‘Eloise (Hang On In There)’ and ‘Tryin’ To Love Two’ all got an airing as did ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ and although Bell isn’t a flashy or show-offy soul singer – one of the qualities I most like about him – he did allow himself one moment to hold a note during ‘Lover’ with superb control.

An extended ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, reprised on this new LP – and let’s not forget a lot of these songs Bell at least co-wrote – topped off the evening in a style. Back in ’68 Bell and Booker T wrote ‘Tribute To A King’ for the departed Otis Redding. I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone other than William Bell more worthy of wearing the soul crown today.

Monday, 4 July 2016


“I could be the first pop star pensioner. I’d be happy with that.”

Lawrence’s dream to be rich and famous, to live in a celebrity bubble, remains undiminished with time. Forming Felt at the dawn of 1980, he immediately assumed the status of a star in waiting – no surname necessary – and gallantly swished through the decade, convinced of his genius, releasing ten albums and ten singles before, with immaculate precision, closing the chapter as 1990 approached. Despite occasionally flirting with minor success – ‘Primitive Painters’ topping the independent charts in ’85 and providing Creation with a pop (near) masterpiece in Forever Breathes The Lonely World – their ten year mission to create “an underground/overground thing” was ultimately a commercial disaster.

Going full tilt at what Lawrence imagined would lead to mainstream success with Denim – the 90s viewed through the prism of his 70s childhood – began with being briefly touted as a flagbearer for an emerging Britpop but soon he was passed over once again and would be signing on rather than signing autographs for hysterical fans. After a period of freefall, he’s since settled on more modest ambitions as Go-Kart Mozart, something he describes as “the world’s first b-side band”.

Paul Kelly’s Lawrence of Belgravia, finally released on DVD by Heavenly Films, is a character study of one of music’s nearly-men (if music is judged by fame, and it is here) and plays more as a Channel 4 documentary than a BBC4 music biography. There are no talking heads espousing Lawrence’s influence on music or style; no musicians or colleagues offering a glimpse into his working practices, behaviour or personality; no grainy footage of Felt foppishly treading the boards at the Hammersmith Clarendon or Denim posing on Choppers. Instead the viewer takes a peak at the world through Lawrence’s eyes as he faces eviction from his flat while playing gigs, providing interviews, shopping for hats and creating the 2006 album Go-Kart Mozart On The Hot Dog Streets.

Lawrence, it’s fairly clear, isn’t made for these times. He’s a dedicated student of pop culture – a Lou Reed fanatic - who yearns for gangs of kids to paint his band’s name on the back of their jackets. He’s possesses, on the surface at least, an endearing mixture of naivety and childlike innocence. He’s incredulous when he discovers someone interviewing him doesn’t make money from his website. “Just for the love of it?” he wonders, wide-eyed. “I knew it was crap, the internet,” he says in his soft West Midlands accent. And yet this is someone who sent John Peel such a vitriolic letter Felt were scarcely heard on the radio and his current notebook contains details of small ad entry ‘Looking for love in an intimate relationship’ in which one of the things he is “into” as genital mutilation.

Kelly is sympathetic to his subject and personal issues regarding his finances, criminality, court appearances, drug use and mental health are skirted over, blink and you’ll miss them, as if impolite to pry, although with a noticeable sense of pride Lawrence does confide “I’m legally bonkers, you know” and rueing he wasn’t born in the 16th century when he could’ve had a patron to fund his projects. With a degree of envy, he suggests he would be much better for Kate Moss than Pete Doherty and they could merge their money in a joint account, “She could put in all her millions and I could put in my dole money every two weeks”.

Money is a big issue, mainly because he’s never had any and yet even in poverty he still wears a Vivien Westwood tie and look like a pop star when painting walls. One thing he point blank refuses to entertain, for whatever money, is the idea of a Felt reunion although his reasons aren’t given.

But still Lawrence, keeps his eyes on the prize: craving fame, to be a millionaire and never have to travel by public transport. Whether this’ll happen with Go-Kart Mozart and their synthy 70s TV theme tune style and lyrics about the Queen Mum’s hip operation; drinking Um Bongo; scoring dope; and being “still susceptible to vaginas allure” remains to be seen but Lawrence’s indefatigable spirit will keep him going. Nobody has come this far and failed he notes. Enigmatic to the last, he’s no failure.

Lawrence of Belgravia is out now. 

Thursday, 30 June 2016


Daniel Romano - Mosey
These have provided some shelter from the storm that has been June.

1.  Robert Johnson – ‘Hellhound On My Trail’ (1937)
“Blues fallin' down like hail, blues fallin' down like hail,
And the day keeps on worrin’ me,
There's a hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail…”

2.  Miles Davis – ‘Dig?’ (1951)
From Davis’s first complete LP as bandleader, The New Sounds. Now available as part of Miles Davis: The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection.

3.  The Kinks – ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’ (1965)
Mark Hamill attempted to prod Ray Davies for his thoughts on the referendum vote during their conversation on Sunday at Hornsey Town Hall but Ray made a point of saying he’s always avoided talking politics. He then played this.

4.  Nita Rossi – ‘Something To Give’ (1966)
An exuberant Rossi more than holds her own on top of this thunderous chuck-in-the-kitchen-sink Brit-Soul production.

5.  Gene Harris & The Three Sounds – ‘Black Gold’ (1973)
Gene tinkles the ivories in an almost Mick Talbotesque manner on this stylish splash of summer produced by Monk Higgins. Now there’s a name.

6.  Hollywood Brats – ‘Sick On You’ (1973)
One of the greatest recordings in the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll – singer Andrew Matheson may quibble with “one of” – rings with ever louder resonance. “I’m sick to death of everything you do, yeah, and if I run to up to you, I bet I’m gonna puke on you”. Look out for new deluxe Cherry Red reissue on 6 July of Sick On You with a second disc of previously unheard outtakes, rarities, live tracks and curios.

7.  McCarthy – ‘Governing Takes Brains’ (1989)
“So let me assure you it's no picnic to be in charge of this land
You scruffy people, the lower orders, just know your place
Don't ever you try at governing you might find out how difficult it is
Stupid fools say it's not hard to do what I do
But let me tell you, it's hard, you couldn't do what I do
Don't even dream of it, you would never succeed
People as clever as me are very few and far between...”

8.  Teenage Fanclub – ‘I’m In Love’ (2016)
Rejoice, the Fanclub (I can’t bring myself to call them Fannies) are back. A very welcome shot of loveliness.

9.  Daniel Romano – ‘I’m Alone Now’ (2016)
Highlight of recent weeks was catching Daniel Romano twice in one evening: an acoustic in-store set at Rough Trade and a plugged rocking show at the Lexington. New album, Mosey, on first couple of plays appears startlingly different from previous straight(ish) country releases but once the ears adjust Romano has taken his core sound and cleverly stretches it into new directions.

10.  Ancient Shapes – ‘Navigator’ (2016)
As if to underscore how Daniel Romano isn’t for pigeonholing, he quietly released an album as Ancient Shapes on the same day as Mosey. A speeding pop-punk romp as if Bob Dylan had teamed up with Buzzcocks in 1978.

Monday, 27 June 2016


A long time ago, in a small terraced house not very far away, Ray Davies and his brother Dave began their journey in to the galaxy of rock and roll. Hornsey Town Hall is situated a mile and a half from the then Davies family home in Muswell Hill and played host to one of their earliest performances, pre-Kinks, when the group would be named after whoever secured the gig. In this instance, in 1963, either the Ray Davies Quartet or the Pete Quaife Quartet despite the line-up consisting of three schoolboys with a loose grip of mathematics.

The venue - that regularly held dances with big bands, or "Palais" bands, before the Davies generation ousted them with beat groups - has held sway over Ray ever since, illustrated in a 2010 interview when Ray met Alan Yentob in the derelict building to introduce Julian Temple’s Imaginary Man for the BBC. “There’s something in the walls”, he explained, “I’d love to play here. You have a vision of where you want to be and where you want your work to be presented and this place, probably subconsciously, has been my ideal since I first came here”.

With that in mind, and to raise funds for the preservation of the space and for the homeless charity Crisis, last night witnessed a very special, unique evening billed as Ray Davies and Mark Hamill in conversation with musical accompaniment.

The actor famous for playing Luke Skywalker might seem an unlikely host but he recently evidenced his deep knowledge of the Kinks in a couple of interviews for The Big Issue, one with Ray and one with Dave. As he explained, when offered the chance to interview anyone he liked for the magazine, “I said the Kinks, obviously”. Mark read passages from Ray's Americana book, led the conversation, and generally acted like the super-excited “fanboy” he happily confessed to being.

When Ray entered the stage Mark bowed at his feet, wanted the chewing gum Ray disposed of, and called him a “genial genius”. Ray being Ray, looked slightly awkward and uncomfortable at such adulation but Mark proved the perfect choice (personally asked by Ray) with his effervescent personality offsetting Ray’s taciturn nature as they chewed the fat about America, cowboys, movies and music. The event also served to promote two new “Legacy editions” – with loads of extras - of Kinks albums Muswell Hillbillies (1971) and Everybody’s In Show-Biz (1972) and the conversation was geared around that era which made a welcome change from the usual 60s focus us Brits can’t shake of the Kinks, whereas Mark brought, naturally, a different, more encompassing overview of a band which, in his experience, didn’t really begin in earnest until their US ban was lifted at the end of the decade.

After discussion about Muswell Hillbillies came the first musical interlude when Ray was joined by his regular tour guitarist Bill Shanley to play ‘20th Century Man’ and ‘Oklahoma USA’ from that album. ‘Oklahoma USA’, written with his sister Rosie in mind, was beautifully played and sung. Hornsey Town Hall may have seen better days but the acoustics have remained and this sounded especially moving. After more chat came a brooding ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ and a bouncing ‘Muswell Hilbilly’ before a break.

The second half followed the same format but with more emphasis on Everybody’s In Show-Biz. Mark revealed he drove Harrison Ford mad during the making of the original Star Wars when they, Sir Alex Guinness and a six-foot man in a dog outfit, spent hours confined to the controls of the Millennium Falcon with young Luke singing ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ lyrics “too many people, side by side, got no place to hide” over and over. Discussion around ‘Celluloid Heroes’ had Mark gushing over how Ray stirred so many different emotions during the course of just one song. “Well,” said Ray, “it is quite a long song”. Ray explained how often, as in the case of ‘Celluloid Heroes’, the music was recorded before the rest of group heard any lyrics. This was partly “because they’re blokes” and also Mick Avory poured scorn on anything he considered too “airy-fairy”.

Songs in this half were, appropriately enough, at the beginning ‘This Is Where I Belong’, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ and to conclude a wonderful ‘Celluloid Heroes’ and a jaunty ‘Sunny Afternoon’. Mark again proved an entertaining counterfoil to Ray. When Ray admitted he could sometimes appear a curmudgeon, Mark lost no time in responding with “Nooooo, you?” and a cheeky look to imaginary camera.

A few audience questions ended the evening with Ray being non-specific about the meaning of ‘Days’ but claiming he wrote it in a telephone box.

The whole evening was a joy. Mark Hamill was a warm, inspired host but the night belonged to Ray Davies, noticeably more relaxed singing and "doing a turn” than talking, and his timeless songs played in such an effective manner and heard in the most perfect environment.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


In an English country pub, overlooking a Sunday afternoon cricket match on the green, the Junipers are enjoying a pint and a chat. They’re debating the mono versus stereo version of the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle; the recent Brian Wilson tour; if it’s possible to buy a replica of Paul McCartney’s Fairisle tank top from the Magical Mystery Tour; whether Gideon Gaye by the High Llamas was the best album of the 90s; an approval of 10CC on the cover of Shindig magazine; but most of all they’re analysing the new instrumental stereo mix of ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ from the new 5-disc Beach Boys boxset and how to achieve the clippity-clopping sound that comes after 21 seconds.

Such studiousness serves Leicester’s Junipers well as their new album is every bit as a sumptuous as the pop music they so preciously covert. The opening paragraph may or may not be true but listen to Red Bouquet Fair and then call me a liar. It gently pirouettes, it floats, it glides, it dances. It’s graceful and elegant. It’s meticulously sung, played and arranged without one second feeling forced or overly fussy. In a word, it’s beautiful.

It plays like a true album too, to always be listened in one complete sitting. It’s not a record to pick a couple of catchy hit singles (if there still was such a thing) but to absorb the whole thing; for that reason this review contains no individual track titles. Buy it, start at the beginning, and enjoy the sheer loving craftsmanship and intricate detail on display. It’s spring, it’s summer, it’s bees, it’s honey, it’s a lazy afternoon, it’s proud of its heritage, it’s the days disappearing over the hills, it’s Red Bouquet Fair. Roll up.

Red Bouquet Fair by the Junipers is out now. Available here.  

Tuesday, 21 June 2016


The Higher State return for album number five with a reshuffled line-up (most notably the departure of Mole from the drum stool) and the bit held firmly between their teeth. After the chime and jangle which characterized 2013’s The Higher State, this is a tougher, more abrasive effort and recalls the work mainman Marty Ratcliffe did back in the era of The Mystreated, particularly their Ever Questioning Why period, when Farfisa, folk, fuzz and fuckedoffness was the order of the day.

All of that is here again plus, as always, resolutely authentic garage recording techniques, equipment and (lack of) production creating a thick, claustrophobic air – far more Austin, Texas (home of their record label, the 13th Floor Elevators and the Golden Dawn - how they must love that association) than Sandgate, Kent (where they rest their heads).

Ratcliffe is in snarling and scathing mood - always his most effective setting - taking pot shots at former relationships in ‘Long Someways To Go’ and the scornful ‘I Suppose You Like That Now?’ while artist-in-his-own-right Paul Messis pens four of the twelve tracks, including the two wildest rockers, ‘Forest Through The Trees’ and the scorching ‘Smoke and Mirrors’.

Best of all for bitterness – and no coincidence the album’s highlight - is the acoustic ‘When We Say’ which launches these lyrical rockets: “I’d rather be weak and have feelings than be just like you, strung up and cold” before concluding with “There’s no accounting for taste, but at least I have some”. Ouch.

A couple of tracks on side two don’t cut such a deep impression but overall Volume 27 is filled with spite, rage and good old garage grumpiness.

Volume 27 by The Higher State is out now on 13 O’Clock Records. Available here.