Wednesday, 20 August 2014


In this world of the internet, social media and instant information it’s testament to the continuous effort of one man near Coventry that his self-produced and fiercely independent magazine is still the first call for all matters connected to the Beat Generation.

Kevin Ring's Beat Scene issue 73 is upon us and, as always, I headed to the reviews sections where I found a look at a new collection of previously unpublished writing by Jack Kerouac, The Haunting Life and Other Writings (Da Capo Press). First I’d heard of it. As the piece outlines there’s debate whether early work like this (from the mid-40s, when Kerouac was 22, and years before the publication of his first novel) enhances or devalues his reputation. Personally, as long as folk are aware of the context of what they’re reading and have embraced the classics then there’s little harm to be done. The Haunting Life and Other Writings is now on my to-read list, knowing full well it won’t compete with even some of Jack’s lesser novels, but for any clues and hints of what’s to come and to build a fuller picture of the man, I’m content for these things to keep trickling out.

Elsewhere in this issue of Beat Scene there’s an interesting interview with Allen Ginsberg from 1978 about Kerouac, at the point when Jacks’s books were beginning to return to print after a period of critical mauling during his final years, and then neglect after his death; a rather sad although not surprising account by an acquaintance of William Burroughs Jr. (aka Billy, author of Speed and Kentucky Ham - both recommended reads by the way); Joyce Johnson; Ken Kesey; Lew Welch and much more. An essential publication for those with a Beat fascination (even with Jack looking awful on the front cover). 

Work is already underway for issue 74 which is focusses of the Beats In Britain including the travels here by Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Richard Brautigan, Kenneth Rexroth and Michael McClure. Should be another good one.

For ordering and subscription details see Beat Scene.

Friday, 8 August 2014


It is 1984 and a fourteen year old me is already habitually recording, cataloguing or listing my interests. I’ve earlier examples (for another day perhaps) and Monkey Picks is simply the latest method of documenting events.

For whatever reason, thirty years ago I decided to keep note of every record I bought. Not only that, but to include where I bought it and how much it cost, and to keep monthly and cumulative expenditure totals (although, typically, I didn’t quite finish it off by calculating the final total in December). Quite why I did all this, I’ve no idea, and I only did so for a year before moving on to a different project in 1985. Maybe I knew I’d be stuck for a blog post in 2014.

As you can see almost everything was Mod or 60s related (interchangeable terms in my young mind) with only a few notable exceptions: The Alarm, The Smiths and even Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” which was such a massive record that summer and cut across the youth cult divide.

Also of interest (to me at least), the list pinpoints the precise moment I developed an interest in northern soul with my first purchase of a Kent Records’ collection in April, On The Soul Side, followed by Shoes two weeks later. Those albums – that entire Kent series - were game changers for kids like me who didn’t know about, or much care for, historic tales of the Wigan Casino but discovered the likes of The Impressions, Bobby Bland, Maxine Brown and Patrice Holloway from these mind-blowing LPs that could easily be bought on suburban high streets.

As for Roland Rat’s “Love Me Tender”, I wonder if my little brother still has it.


The lists can be viewed easier by clicking on them.

Sunday, 3 August 2014


Produced by Ivor Dunkerton and written and narrated by Dennis Tuohy, this Bafta winning documentary was made for the BBC’s Man Alive series and first broadcast on 21 April 1971. The film follows the lads, aged between eleven and fourteen, growing up in poverty and tatters among the rubble of London’s East End. Selected from the area as four of the “least likely to” the outlook for these boys is painted as very bleak. Dennis Tuohy from the outset announces “already these four lives are lives at risk, the future shadows them” and it’s an opinion supported by Vince’s mum who sees her son’s thieving leading to more serious crime and prison.

A couple of the scenes are noticeably staged but the struggles of their and their families’ lives are real enough and the most revealing moments are the interviews with the four real life Bronco Bullfrogs in their button-downs and Harringtons, especially Vince who wants Bobby Moore’s lifestyle so he can go where he wants to get things off his chest whenever he needs. “I ain’t even ‘ad a decent ‘oliday since we went to Bognor Regis a few years ago.”

Watching Vince, Paul, Lawrence & Richard it's impossible not to wonder what became of them. I was fortunate to see the film at the Whitechapel library last year and two of the quartet plus their old youth worker Dan Jones were in attendance. Against the odds, all four are alive and well, have families, none ever went to prison, and despite the gloomy prediction and tone of the film, all made something of their lives. Good on 'em.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


1.  Yusef Lateef – “Psychicemotus” (1965)
Most hipsters were still a couple of years away from psyching everything in sight but by 1965 saxophonist and flautist Lateef had been expanding minds for years with his Eastern infused jazz. I’ve only recently scratched the surface (there’s much digging to be done in Lateef’s vast catalogue) but the few albums I’ve got - Eastern Sounds (1961), Psychicemotus (1965) and Yusef Lateef’ Detroit (1968) - are all different but all great. This track, with its bamboo flutes and sparse complex rhythms, is Moondogtastic.  

2.  The Turtles – “Outside Chance” (1966)
Saturday mornings always begin with Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the 60s show on Radio 2. Yesterday he played this fantastic folk-punker.

3.  Dick Wagner and the Frosts – “Sunshine” (1967)
Debut single from Detroit area rockers Michigan rockers The Frost was a suitably groovy and thinly veiled ode to the lysergic stuff. 

4.  Bobby Womack – “Tried and Convicted” (1968)
Bobby was due to play in Walthamstow this weekend but he got the call from soul heaven so went there instead. Bit of an extreme measure to avoid E17; we might not have a 110th Street but we do have a Hoe Street.

5.  James Brown – “Just Enough Room For Storage” (1971)
The instrumental album by the James Brown Band, Sho Is Funky Down Here, is more of a surprise than one might expect. There’s a funky jazz groove on the title track but what makes the record an oddity is all tracks are co-written credited to James Brown and Dave Matthews. JB never one to give credit (and royalties) lightly, it has to be assumed the vast majority of the work was by arranger Matthews, and that certainly comes across with acid rock guitar leads unlike anything else associated with Brown.

6.  Clydie King – “’Bout Love” (1972)
Although Clydie King is one of countless singers to never really “make it” – earning her crust in the shadows as a backing singer – she’s one of the more unlikely examples. Her vocals on ’65-’66 singles for Imperial – “Missin’ My Baby”, “If You Were A Man”, “Soft And Gentle Ways” etc – are knee-tremblingly  gorgeous and she looked stunning. Her recording career stretched back to 1956 but Clydie had to wait until 1972 to cut Direct Me, the first of only two solo albums, which included the rather pertinent “Ain’t My Stuff Good Enough?” and this glittery stomper.

7.  Billy Swan – “Don’t Be Cruel” (1975)
The new Country Funk II compilation is every bit as good as the first volume. A swampy mix of late 60s and early 70s countrified soul and funk opens with Billy Swan taking “Don’t Be Cruel” at a stoned alligator pace but accompanied by a dope breakbeat. Yes, I’ve just typed dope breakbeat without really knowing what one is. Dig that crazy rhythm. Groovy. Wicked. Whatever.

8.  The Jetset – “Wednesday Girl” (1984)
The Jetset were South London’s maraca shaking, striped hipster wearing, Jetsetmobile driving version of The Monkees as you can see here on Spanish TV.

9.  St. Paul and the Broken Bones – “I’m Torn Up” (2014)
Paul Janeway might look like Alan Carr but, thank the Lord, sounds more like an overwrought James Carr. Alabama born, he and his Broken Bones mixed their debut, Half The City, in Muscle Shoals and not only does Janeway’s possess an amazing voice there appears to be a genuine understanding and love of soul music in the groove. The majority of these new/old soul combos leave me cold but for the most part Half The City positively smoulders.  

10.  Manic Street Preachers – “Europa Geht Durch Mich” (2014)
Futurology isn’t the masterpiece some have claimed but it’s still very good and easily the best Twelfth Album Of A Career a band has ever made.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


Today was Scoot The Thames, an annual London ride out for vintage scooters. It began by Aldgate and criss-crossed Old Father Thames across his bridges - Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Westminster Bridge – before ending over Waterloo Bridge on Lower Marsh Street for tea and biscuits.

With the sun blazing there must’ve been a couple of hundred Lambrettas and Vespas stopping traffic and causing a spectacle for the general public. As always it’s difficult to take snaps that capture the scale of the event or even the sights. Unfortunately it's not easy to flip the camera out the pocket as zipping over Tower Bridge on an SX150 (although I did try) but here’s a little collection to give a small snapshot of the day.

Many thanks to the organisers, marshals and everybody who took part. See you next year.   

Sunday, 20 July 2014


Following that incredible concert at the Union Chapel I've been on a big Mavis Staples binge and found this recording of a conversation with American poet Elizabeth Alexander from 2009. Mavis talks about her career, Pops Staples, President Obama, writing letters to Prince and how the Staples Singers once beat up a white man. She also sidesteps a cheeky audience question about Bob Dylan. Well worth finding time for.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


What better way to see Mavis Staples than to be sat on a pew in a chapel, with the last of the evening sun shining through stained glass windows, on her 75th birthday? It’s an honour to see her any place and time, but this always promised to be something special.

The moment Mavis steps on stage, waving with both hands, a huge smile on the kindest face, she has the audience enchanted. “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” eases her voice in gently but “For What It’s Worth” takes on gravitas and a depth of meaning barely noticeable in Buffalo Springfield’s original. But that’s always been Mavis’s strength, her power to interpret a song, to make the listener hear the message clearly. Nowhere is this more evident than during “The Weight”. Her backing singers – including big sister Yvonne (the recipient of gentle ribbing “Who’s this lady? I think she’s a groupie”) – and members of her crack three piece band take turns on the early verses before Mavis grabs the reigns. Not one to take the easy option, to turn back, she puts everything into the song. “Put the load, put the load, put the load, put the load, put the load on me!” she cries repeatedly. Hairs on the back of the neck stuff. She leaves little room for doubt she could carry anything on those shoulders. It’s an incredible, soul-stirring delivery, which brings the entire congregation to its feet.

The setting and occasion make it an emotionally charged evening. After a rousing rendition of “Freedom Highway”, Mavis explains how her father Pops wrote the song for the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery. “I was there,” she tells us, “and I’m still here.” It brings a lump to the throat, but that’s nothing compared to when Mavis reflects how wonderful it is spend her birthday in a beautiful church with Pops talking to the Elders and looking down proudly on his baby girl. Mavis’s bottom lip isn’t the only one to quiver. As the audience breaks into an impromptu chorus of Happy Birthday, Mavis discreetly wipes away a tear before merrily singing the song herself.   

But the overriding emotion throughout is of joy. Mavis is huge fun with an infectious chuckle, sparring musically with fantastic rootsy guitarist Rick Holmstrom, and making wisecracks and chatting easily to all who shout out. This is the third time I’ve seen Mavis perform in recent years and her set is constantly changing. “Respect Yourself” of course remains, as does the Curtis Mayfield penned “Let’s Do It Again” but “I Like The Things About Me” and a super-sensitive and moving “You’re Not Alone” from recent albums are a sign of striding onward, whilst a version of the Talking Heads “Slippery People” is so new it requires the lyrics brought out on a music stand to act as a memory jogger; not that Mavis can see it straight away in the light. “I thought it was a couple of racoons!”

When the singers take a breather to let the band play a few instrumental numbers, Mavis and Yvonne take a seat at the back of the stage, and instead of using this time to rest, Mavis continues to excitedly pump her arms and wave her towel, caught up in the music.  

The big finale is “I’ll Take You There” which requires some audience participation. “We’ve been taking you there for 64 years,” Mavis reminds us, “you can take us there for one minute.” How could anyone refuse? Reluctantly Mavis Staples leaves the stage to a thunderous ovation. It’s been an extraordinary, uplifting and life-affirming evening.