Sunday, 20 July 2014

MAVIS STAPLES IN CONVERSATION (2009)

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

MAVIS STAPLES at the UNION CHAPEL, ISLINGTON


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.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

THE DIRECT HITS - HERE, THERE OR ANYWHERE (2014)

The Direct Hits appeared in the first half of the 80s as part of the next generation of mod related bands after the ’79 revival. Whether they were a “mod band” or not is a moot point but as this latest compilation, gathering 23 tracks from their five years attests, they had far more about them, and little in common with, the macho, sloganeering, Rickenbacker-bothering, punks-in-parkas often associated with the original revival period.

What makes the Direct Hits almost unique now is, when compared against their mid-80s peers, how good they still sound. I recently attempted to listen to bands from that period, including a few I liked at the time, and recoiled in horror at most of them. What separates the Direct Hits, and at their very heart, is the special song writing partnership of Colin Swan and Geno Buckmaster; above all else they lovingly crafted quality pop songs. It didn’t seem to be about being in a band or joining a scene, it was about writing and producing timeless songs. Comparisons were frequently and obviously drawn with Lennon and McCartney – think Rubber Soul and Revolver era – but in their story-telling South London compatriots Difford and Tilbrook also spring to mind. Swan and Buckmaster were fantastic at characterisation. Their songs unfolded like mini-dramas populated with people factual and fictional: Aleister Crowley, Marc Deans, Miranda Berkley, Henry The Unhappy Inventor, Christina, Modesty Blaise, Christopher Cooper.

My introduction to them came via the music paper Sounds during July ’84. A two-page spread entitled Mod ’84, gave the lowdown on this underground world of groups and fanzines loosely gathered under the mod umbrella. It had a profound effect on a fourteen year me, who’d already tied his flag to the mod mast but felt no association with any bands from ’79 (bar The Jam, if they count, and that’s a whole other conversation). To my young mind that era was ancient history (although I thought nothing of adopting the Small Faces and the Kinks). These two inky pages were filled with possibilities; they were for now, this was a new thing, this was ours. We had The Style Council and The Truth but everyone knew them, these were under the radar and therefore more exciting. I can’t recall what the article said about the Direct Hits but I soon splashed my pocket money going to see them, only the second band I’d ever seen live, at the Hammersmith Clarendon third on a bill behind Long Tall Shorty (who made no lasting impression) and Geno Washington (some bald old geezer in cowboy boots doing "In The Midnight Hour"). When next hanging out in Carnaby Street, I bought the recently-released album Blow Up from The Merc.

The Direct Hits were soon emblazoned in silver ink on my school pencil case next to The Scene, The Jetset, The Rage and others, but my enthusiasm for this new found universe was treated with suspicion by more cynical classmates who accused me of making up these bands to appear cool to the girls. Nonsense, I protested, I’ll bring in proof. Exhibit A was my I’m A Direct Hits Fan badge, which only attracted widespread ridicule due to the amateurish nature of said item. “You’ve made that yourself, you moron”. I’d done nothing of the sort but the Direct Hits did inhabit a homespun semi-fantasy world where they created their own cottage industry with a tape label to record their overflow of songs on other artists, and thanks to the incredible efforts of superfan Diane Kenwill appeared in their very own Direct Hits Monthly (modelled on the Beatles and Monkees magazines but with a budget that only stretched to a few felt-tips and the use of a photocopier) which ran for a miraculous 30 months straight.  

Geno Buckmaster (I still don’t know if that’s his real name, it’s a cool one either way) may’ve owned the largest collection of Mellandi button-down shirts since Paul Weller, and the band may’ve forced drummer Brian Glover to invest in a boating blazer, but musically the Direct Hits were more 60s revivalists than mod ones, and had one foot gently placed in the neighbouring paisley park, allowing them access to both audiences, although it did mean they could be either too mod or not mod enough for some. Dan Treacy signed them to his Whaam! Records and they occupied a similar space to the Television Personalties and the Times - somewhere to the left of where the main action was.

Their recordings were cheap and cheerful, something that now adds to their charm. Little touches of backward guitar and fairground sounds cropped up here and there (“She’s Not Herself Today”, “I’ve Got Eyes”) ; occasional forays into Motown territory (“Miles Away”, “Just Like An Abacus”); tracks with a darker edge (“What Killed Aleister Crowley?”, “This Was Marc Deans”); the smattering of feedback on “Girl In The Picture” would’ve been as much as lesser bands could’ve managed in channelling The Who but not so the Direct Hits who audaciously – and successfully – created their own seven and a half minute A Quick One style mini-opera, “Henry The Unhappy Inventor”. This isn’t to say there aren’t any mod revivalist elements at work but think more of The Jam in their experimental and sensitive modes on All Mod Cons.

A previous Direct Hits compilation, The Magic Attic, was issued by Tangerine Records in 1994, so for a band that only made released two albums and a couple of singles (“Modesty Blaise” and “She Really Didn’t Care”) there is naturally a lot of overlap on this new CD. But Here, There Or Anywhere is an overdue reminder of the band and although it unfathomably omits “Ever Ready Plaything” long-time fans are rewarded a smattering of unreleased demos and live tracks (the knockabout “Theme From The Munsters” is at odds with much of the rest).   

The band’s second album, House Of Secrets, was released in 1986 by which time the mod scene, in such rude health two years earlier, was disintegrating and the band, now without much of an audience, folded shortly afterwards. Much is made of the band’s mod connections in the CD packaging and I’m sure Cherry Red knows how to market their product far better than I but if, like me, you usually cringe and steer well clear of such things then be careful not to miss out due to tight pigeonholing. I was sniffy about the mod revival as a teenager and now I’m positively allergic to it; it brings me out in a nasty rash, but Here, There Or Anywhere is an engaging and enduring collection of charming 60s style pop, gentle psychedelia and quaint independent English pop music with modish leanings, and that's something always worth reviving.

Here, There Or Anywhere by The Direct Hits is released by Cherry Red Records, out now. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

"IF YOU TRY AND DO SOMETHING COMPLETELY ORIGINAL IT'LL BE TOTAL SHIT": THE GRAHAM DAY INTERVIEW


Graham Day & The Forefathers, Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, 2013
Graham Day, the Medway powerhouse singer, songwriter and guitarist, formed the Prisoners at school in the late 70s and made four albums, including the bona fide classic The Last Fourfathers in 1985, which continue to inspire and thrill today. After a cooling off period following the demise of the Prisoners he headed a succession of bands – the Prime Movers, Planet, the Solarflares, Graham Day & the Gaolers – all tough and uncompromising; his music – granite slabs of his own unmistakable brand of garage rock with tough melodies – eschewing the vagaries of fashion. After the second Graham Day & the Gaolers album, Triple Distilled in 2008, he hung up his guitar until last year when, with long-standing friends and bandmates Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard, he returned, to the delight of his legion of fans, to front Graham Day & the Forefathers, playing songs spanning the whole of his career to date.

I was delighted to finally pin Graham down (figuratively speaking) for a rare interview. 

What has the reaction been to Graham Day & the Forefathers? Is it what you expected?
It’s been fantastic and pretty unexpected I suppose. We never intended to make it a regular thing but the reaction has been so good we decided to carry on for a while.

You made two great albums as Graham Day & the Gaolers and then disappeared. What happened? What were you doing the meantime?
For me the Gaolers were amazing. I’d sort of retired and had been playing bass with the Buff Medways. Billy [Childish] decided that had run its course and that was that, but my mate Dan from a band called the Woggles was over in England visiting some friends and we met up in London for a beer. He told me I should start a new band with him and the Woggles bass player. Sounded like a great idea so they flew back over a couple of months later and we made the first Gaolers album, Soundtrack To The Daily Grind. There were no real plans to tour as it was a bit of a logistical nightmare with them both being in the USA but it was so good we just had to. It sort of carried on from there. I thought our second album, Triple Distilled, was the best thing I’ve ever done and we did some great tours, but touring takes so much energy and time, and we could never do single gigs as it was too expensive to bring Dan over so we ended up not playing again. I’ve never said it was finished but it sort of fizzled out. What was I doing in the meantime? Retired again I suppose.  

What made you get back out there playing again in 2013?
The Prime Movers did our first album, Sins Of The Fourfathers, on a German label, Unique Records. Last year was their 25th anniversary and they asked us to play a one-off show playing that album at their party near Dusseldorf. It sounded like a fun plan but too much effort to just play one gig, so we added three gigs and made it a mini-tour. It also wasn’t interesting or long enough just to play songs off that album so we added a few Solarflares and Prisoners songs to the set. It was so much fun and went down really well so we decided to carry on doing it. But by the end of the mini-tour we’d dropped most of the Prime Movers songs and were playing more Solarflares, Prisoners and a couple of Gaolers songs so it seemed ridiculous to call it the Prime Movers any more. So we came up with the Forefathers because of the Prisoners reference and stuck my name on the beginning just to tie up the fact we were playing songs I’d written in all the bands over the years. 

The Prime Movers changed quite dramatically across three albums, most notably with Arc in 1993 which had a strong prog-rock feel. What are your thoughts on those albums?
I love the first album. It’s totally raw and full of energy. We recorded it as a three-piece but never gigged as a three-piece. Fay [Hallam/Day] used to join us on stage for half the set and then started writing songs and was soon with us full time. The band changed pretty quickly due to Fay’s influence. I have no idea what really happened to the sound, it turned into Deep Purple during the next two albums, and live I thought it was great, although pretty self-indulgent and very strange. I was quite happy to go along with it at the time because it was something different but looking back on it I don’t understand it at all. It sounds totally alien and often laughable, like a piss take. When people talk about the Prime Movers I’ve subconsciously deleted those last two albums – Earth Church and Arc - and think of it as nothing to do with me although I’m undoubtedly guilty as charged.
The Prisoners, 100 Club, 1985
 How do you feel about the esteem The Prisoners are held in?
It’s always puzzled me how much people go on about the Prisoners. At the time we did okay in London and France but elsewhere we were pretty unknown and played a lot of gigs to bar staff in mostly empty venues. I never thought of the band as being particularly special; everyone we knew was in a band and it seemed just the normal thing to do. I thought we were pretty good live but never managed to make a record which did us justice. It was the wrong time for our music; the popular thing was New Romantic and recording studio engineers tried to make us sound like the music of the time. We had constant frustrating battles trying to explain what we were about and never getting it. The press mostly hated us and said were out of date and just retro shit.

Have the Prisoners overshadowed your work since?
The adoration people have shown that band over the years astounds me. It’s very touching but has also been annoying at times. Most of the stuff I’ve done since has been fairly well received but totally overshadowed by the Prisoners. Every gig people shout for Prisoners songs and it made me feel like they just wanted a nostalgia trip and weren’t prepared to let me move on. Sometimes people get quite aggressive about it and think I owe them something. Promoters would ring up to offer a gig but they wanted a Prisoners reunion, not the current band. For a songwriter that can be quite damaging, as if my musical career ended at age 22 and has been worthless ever since. There’s no point carrying on unless you really think what you’re doing is the best stuff you’ve ever done and with a couple of exceptions I’ve always believed that. So it has been frustrating to think that no-one else agrees with you.

No chance of any more Prisoners reunions then?
There are still people who want the original Prisoners line-up to get back together, which will never happen again, and it still manages to piss me off. We did some reunion gigs in the 90s and although nostalgic it just wasn’t the same. People have to realise that Johnny [Symons] has never played the drums since so was never relaxed or particularly good when we played and James [Taylor] has made a career out of jazz funk and plays the organ totally differently than he used to; which might be brilliant but unfortunately doesn’t work too well with those songs. Promoters will pay ten times our normal fee to get something which simply doesn’t work, that doesn’t make any sense, and I find it quite insulting that they wouldn’t understand that. The best thing about the Forefathers is that finally I’ve been able to stop fighting against the Prisoners. This is not a new band playing new material; it’s just about embracing the past and enjoying it for what it is. For the first time I’ve been able to appreciate those old songs and have found it quite emotional. Of course we’re now giving the audience what they’ve always wanted so the gigs are no longer a battle and are just one big happy party.
  
Am I right in thinking you look back at the Solarflares period the most fondly?
I loved the Solarflares. I wrote some of my best songs during that period and also learnt how to sing properly. It started off being quite popular but support dwindled slowly until it wasn’t worth doing it any more. We did some great tours and I look back fondly because we had such a laugh and got on so well together. For the first time we made some records which sounded like the band and I learnt how to produce decent records. I wouldn’t say I look back most fondly at that period; at the time yes, but I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve done and as I said earlier I always believe the current stuff is the best. Following that logic I would have to say the Gaolers was the best period. The happiest period is right now I suppose but that doesn’t count as it’s just a tribute band of ourselves.  

If the Solarflares had been your first band in the early 80s and the Prisoners later do you think they’d been judged differently?
Maybe it would be the exact reverse but I’m not sure. There was something really cool about the Prisoners, maybe because we were so young and because of the conflict between me and James which made it explosive at times. I think the Flares were more measured, happier and less cool as a result.

As well as fronting bands you’ve been in Thee Mighty Caesars and the Buff Medways. How was it taking a more back seat role to Billy Childish?
I started playing drums in the Mighty Caesars in 1986 while the Prisoners were still going and I loved it. I was getting pissed off with the Prisoners and loved the freedom to literally take a back seat and bash away on the drums in a cracking rock and roll band without the hassle of singing and feeling responsible for it. Some people got really angry that I did that. When we were gigging one night after the Prisoners split up someone from the audience grabbed me and shouted at me to stop playing this shit and get the Prisoners back together. I never played the drums before but loved it and still do. Same playing bass in the Buff Medways; I loved that for the same reasons. I’m not sure I would like playing guitar in someone else’s band, and definitely wouldn’t sing for anyone else, but on a different instrument it’s great fun.  

In what ways are you similar and different to Billy?
Billy and I are very different. We used to live in the same house during the Prisoners days and we’ve always got on really well. He’s much more driven than me, always doing something; be it songs, painting or writing, I’m the opposite and only do something if I’m inclined to. He will record every song he’s ever written and I’m much more self-critical and will bin a lot of stuff before I even play it to anyone else. His life is in the public eye and is a living breathing ‘artiste’ and social commentator; I’m just a normal bloke with a proper job and nothing to say who happens to play in a band for a hobby.
The Buff Medways farewell gig, Dirty Water Club, 2006
What inspired you to learn to play guitar?
 I started off playing bass, playing along to Stranglers and Rezillos songs in my bedroom. When me and Allan Crockford started a band in 1978 I found I was too fiddly on the bass and he was a good rhythm guitar player but couldn’t play lead, so we swapped. When I heard Syd Barrett playing guitar on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn it blew my mind. I discovered how you could make a guitar sound so powerful without being ‘rock’ with loads of unnecessary notes, and it changed the way I viewed the instrument. Similarly with Steve Marriott’s guitar sound and playing, it made me question what a typical guitar player is expected to do.

And to write songs?
I found quite early on that I had some kind of ability to write songs. I suppose it starts off by being inspired by and developing or even copying other people. I’ve found over the years that if you try to do something completely original it’ll be total shit, which is why it’s never been done before. The Prisoners were quite plagiaristic, embarrassingly so at times. Sometimes I did that because I thought a song had a great chorus but rubbish verse or vice-versa and wanted to improve the song. “Midnight To Six Man” is a good example of what I mean. I always loved the song but hated the chorus so I wrote a different one and called it “Be On Your Way”. Generally songs have tended to come to me when I’m trying to sleep at night. I sort of dream about seeing us on stage playing the song and realise I haven’t written it yet. So I have to get up and whisper it into a tape recorder because I know it’ll be forgotten in the morning. If a song doesn’t come together in ten minutes I usually bin it. These days I find it funny to play some of those songs I wrote as an angst-ridden teenager, singing some of those angry misogynistic lyrics now aged 50.

Did you always see yourself as vocalist?
Vocally I struggled for a long time. I never thought of myself as a singer and all the people I loved I tried to emulate to disastrous effect. Phil May, Steve Marriott, all them great soul singers, I quickly realised I wasn’t ever going to be them and had to try to find my own voice. I think I found it sometime during the Solarflares period and I’m only really happy with it in recent years. Just listen to the vocals on Thewisermiserdemelza to hear one of the main reasons I hate that album.

You mentioned about some of the songs you wrote as a teenager. How old were you when you wrote your first album A Taste Of Pink? How do you feel listening back to them?
I think the earliest songs I wrote which made that album were “Say Your Prayers” and “Don’t Call My Name” and I was 16. I still like some of those songs; they have a beautiful naivety and simplicity which can never be recreated. I’ve always been very anal about music and consequently I’m very narrow-minded. I think that’s why on the whole I was still writing songs with 3 or 4 chords, a guitar riff and a simple melody, recording it in the most basic way possible right up until the last album.

Does song writing come easily now or does it involve a lot of concerted effort? What’s your usual writing method?
I still don’t understand how I write songs. As I said they just come to me. If I sit down with a guitar and say right, I’m going to write a song now, it’ll never happen. I’ve never been someone who always writes songs for fun and have only ever done it when I’m inspired to by having an album or a new band to energise me. I think I’m just essentially lazy. Having said that if we’re recording a new album I’ll probably write a batch of crap first, then the juices will flow and I can normally come up with the music really quickly. Lyrics are another matter completely and I hate writing them. I often used to gig a new song and make the words up as I go along and hope something sticks. The only real exception to that is the last Gaolers album. I had so much fun writing those lyrics as they’re all about touring and past experiences, and some of the best things I’ve written. I absolutely detest some of the shitty lyrics I’ve written in the past particularly about conservation or trying to say something meaningful.  

Has the Forefathers got those juices flowing and given you the urge to write any new material?
Not yet. I do have some new stuff I wrote before which was for a possible new Gaolers album and I also started writing an instrumental album but with no real chance of the Gaolers playing again I gave up.

What made you choose “Love Me Lies” as the first single to be released by Graham Day and the Forefathers?
No real reason actually. We recorded the whole set of backing tracks live and when it came to choosing one for a single I just felt drawn to that song.

I assumed it was because you were unhappy with the original on Thewisermiserdemelza. I love that record but you’ve been very critical of it. Why?
Yes I hate Thewisermiserdemelza for lots of reasons. One is the real disappointment with the sound. We had Phil Chevron - rest his soul - as producer; it was the first time we’d had a producer and we had very different ideas about the album. Fair enough but it was our album so he should have listened to us. I’ve already said that at that time studio engineers would try to get you to sound modern and that’s the last thing we wanted. So from the outset we just fought against the engineer and producer. Some conflicts can result in a fiery, energetic battle which can get really good results. This one did the opposite. Secondly I hate the vocals. I just tried to put on some silly gruff voice which sounds completely false. Phil to his credit did try to get me to sing properly but I didn’t listen. It was my 20th birthday during the recording session and I was just pissed most of the time we were there. Lastly I just don’t like many of the songs on the album. I was clearly going through some kind of psychedelic ballad period and just don’t like it.

How has your taste in music changed/developed over the years? What do you listen to now that you wouldn’t have when you were starting out?
I don’t really listen to music that much as I know all my records inside out and I don’t like modern music. I’m cursed by the love of a certain type of recording sound and find it incredibly difficult to like anything if it doesn’t sound like that. I haven’t liked much music since the punk era; although the recording of punk music is really poor I guess I’ve forgiven it because that’s what I grew up with. 

What three records have left the most lasting impression on you and why?  
Piper At The Gates Of Dawn because Syd Barrett inspired my early guitar playing; The Pretty Things first album because it introduced me to blues, great singing and the ultimate sound of rock and roll; and the Kinks Kontroversy because it showed me how good songs can be.

If you had to pick three of your own albums to best represent your career which would they be and why?  
The Last Fourfathers because it’s the best and most representative Prisoners album; That Was Then And So Is This by the Solarflares because we were at our peak then, touring and loving it; and Triple Distilled by the Gaolers because it’s the best album I’ve ever made.
Graham Day & The Gaolers, 100 Club, 2008
This interview was conducted on behalf of the New Untouchables Nutsmag and first appeared here. Thanks to Rob Bailey for setting it up and, of course, to Graham for being so generous with his time and being so open to my interrogation. All photos by Mark Raison.

“Love Me Lies” by Graham Day & The Forefathers is out now on State Records. The band play the 229 Club in London on Friday 31st October 2014, tickets here.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

33RPM – A VENTURE IN VINYL by DEAN BELCHER

The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow
London Philharmonic Orchestra - Peter and the Wolf 
Dexys Midnight Runners - Geno
Adam & The Ants - Kings Of The Wild Frontier
Entering a shop to buy a record for the very first time is a disappearing practice but one which lives forever in the memory of those who used their pocket money to take home a piece a precious vinyl.

London photographer Dean Belcher’s latest project is a series of portraits of 33 individuals each clutching the first record they bought. It’s a great series which captures something of the emotional attachment we have for these objects. It’s not only about the sound we hear when playing a single, album or old 78, but removing the record from the sleeve, reading the small print on the label, and investing time and money into a pastime that’s almost as important.

Dean’s portraits cover all ages and it’s refreshing to see as many women as men. It’s interesting to see how the subjects, for me, fit into different categories including: those who bought kids’ records (Goofy Greats, Yogi Bear); those who purchased the big hits of the day (Sweet, The Police, Arctic Monkeys) and those who struck pure gold by buying some the greatest records ever made on their first attempt (Curtis Mayfield, The Smiths). Some people seem to perfectly match their purchase, others are less obvious, and some quite possibly have a loose connection with the truth. I wish I could claim mine was “Anarchy In The UK” after listening to John Peel under the covers rather than hearing Noel Edmonds play “Captain Beaky and His Band” by Keith Michell in my dad’s car going to see my Granma.

Monkey Picks asked Dean about his photos.

What sparked the idea to take portraits of people with their first record and what did you hope to capture?
 A lot of personal projects I work on are quite long term so I was looking for something I could shoot and show quite quickly. I've never been a vinyl collector per se but I have always bought vinyl. I was in a local record shop recently where I saw two teenage lads going crazy over an old Beatles album and saw the same excitement I got when I bought records every week. I knew I wanted to shoot something exploring this subject and needed something to anchor the theme. One thing about buying vinyl is you generally make a more considered decision (than streaming or downloading) and often have to put some physical effort in. What better link than the first record you bought consciously doing all those things. 

Did you find a theme developing through the series? Did you discover anything you hadn't expected?
I'm not sure anything unexpected happened except I think there may have been a little more fibbing than expected! There was definitely a theme though which I did expect and that was generally joy and laughter and a lot of reminiscing, everyone was emotive in one way or another which is exactly what I wanted.

There are people of different ages in the series. Did their relationship to vinyl differ?
Now that was very interesting. Us of a certain age had little choice but to buy our music this way and it was initially for most heavily influenced by outside sources such as the radio, Top of the Pops and very much the Top Ten; initially in any case, we all of course quickly find our feet and form wider influences. The younger people on the other hand have always had access to pretty much anything via streaming or downloads, what they do not have is an infinite access to new music on vinyl and it's relatively more expensive so the very young with limited funds tended to go for used vinyl, the 30-somethings tended to choose carefully on new releases but still felt that owning the tactile vinyl was nicer and better for their very favourites.
 
Theres a story behind everyones first record. In some of the photographs its easy to imagine what that story was, less so in others. Can you tell us anything about the lady with the Vera Lynn 78? She looks great.
Ah Nana Dewhurst, what an interesting woman. She made wedding dresses including the Queen’s. Her husband was also a very interesting character who after the war worked at The Dorchester. He travelled a lot both during the war and before. One of the interesting things was he was fluent in the languages of all the countries he was based in, including India and Burma. Anyway it was out there he saw Vera Lynn perform for the soldiers. I'm not sure if this was the reason they both liked her but Nana bought that record in Woolworths in Brixton as soon as it came out with one of her first wage packets working for Norman Hartnell, the aforementioned dress maker.

Tell us about the first record you bought.  
I'm not sure I have the very first one. I had a milk round and bought records every week from the age of about 11, very much influenced by what was going on at the time and before I set out my stall, so to speak, choosing which "tribe" I was to belong to. I remember buying New Wave as well as cheesy pop like “Bright Eyes” along with things like “Ain't No Stopping Us Now” and “Happy Radio”. I still have most but can't find the New Wave which I put down to the fact that in ‘79 when I decided Mod was for me I couldn’t possibly listen to this old Punk/New Wave stuff. Funnily enough though I still have “Uptown Top Ranking” which I would have bought before the "epiphany”. Thankfully my blinkered view didn’t last long. Oh, and first album was Plastic Bertrand from Boots. My dad questioned my buying an album entirely sang in Belgium/French but the cover was good and I could hang it on my wall.

What are your plans for the collection?
I had no definite plans but having put it out there the response has been great, within a day a couple of magazines have expressed an interest in publishing it which is great and even better a gallery has been in touch about a possible exhibition. I'd quite like to self-publish it as a book too.

Very many thanks to Dean.
To view the complete completion visit 33rpm A Venture In Vinyl.
To see more from Dean Belcher visit Dean Belcher Photographer.
Vera Lynn - It's A Sin To Tell A Lie
Showaddywaddy - Red Star
Hanna-Barbera - Yogi Bear TV Theme Tune

Friday, 27 June 2014

FALSE MEMORY LANE: THE ALLAN CROCKFORD INTERVIEW


Bass players - stood on the side of the stage, doing their job, rarely seeking attention, allowing the limelight to shine on others to take the plaudits. That’s the natural order of things but on occasions, for one reason or another, the bassist forgets their place and decides they want a bit more attention. They want to write songs, they want to sing, they want to be the focal point. The results, should anyone bother to listen, are seldom welcome: Bill Wyman’s “Je Suis Un Rock Star”; Bruce Foxton’s “Freak”; John Entwistle’s “Too Late The Hero”; anything to do with Peter Hook; you get the idea. All of which makes Allan Crockford’s successful switch from bedrock of multiple Medway beat combos including the Prisoners, the James Taylor Quartet, the Prime Movers and the Solarflares, to become the mastermind behind the Galileo 7 all the more of a welcome surprise.

Following Are We Having Fun Yet? (2010) and Staring At The Sound (2012) the new Galileo 7 album, False Memory Lane is their best yet. Crockford on vocals and guitar - with Viv Bonsels (organ), Mole (bass) and Russ Baxter (drums) - hasn’t been content to stay on familiar ground and regurgitate versions of his previous bands; instead he offers a fresh perspective on his talent. There’s little of the crash-bang-wallop Medway punk ethos in evidence; replaced with a more considered and thoughtful approach to both the writing and recording. The default position, such as there is one – as shown on previous Galileo outings – is of a bouncy English pop-psych band. There’s a strong 60s feel but on this new album in particular there’s an ear for at least the following three decades to stop it sounding like a pastiche or overly contrived. “Tide’s Rising”, “Don’t Follow Me”, “My Cover Is Blown” and “Don’t Want To Know” are business-as-usual, mixing fuzz guitars and organ, and whilst not truly psychedelic there are spacey sci-fi touches with brightness and colour throughout. But where False Memory Lane excels is when it deviates from the template, and it does so with admirable frequency.

The healthy scope of styles indicates Crockford’s willingness to experiment and a growing confidence in his writing. The title track is the most obvious example with Allan’s vocal backed only by a mellotron, handclaps and a finger-picking acoustic guitar reminiscent of Pete Townshend. Even better is the superb “Fools” which transports Strawberry Fields to Rochester High Street. “Don’t Know What I’m Waiting For” is sung by Viv and sounds like a new wave band mercifully cropping up to save an edition of Top Of The Pops in the late 70s and then covered by The Primitives (“Viv wanted a Primitives type song to sing, so I wrote one,” says Allan). “You’re Not Dreaming” has a spiralling melody and is more sinister sounding yet “Nobody Told You” manages to joyfully mix a clippity-clop Syd Barrett rhythm with a bubble gum ba-ba-ba-ba-ba chorus, vocal harmonies and a hint of the Left Banke. No mean feat. “Little By Little” is the heaviest psych-trip on show and had this been on young whippersnappers Temples’ album it’d be on hipper radio stations’ playlists quicker than you could say Their Satanic Majesties Request. Personal favourite is “I’m Still Here” which ties sepia-tinged lyrics to a magnificent melody and almost Big Star guitars in a way I’ve not heard done as well since Bronco Bullfrog’s albums of the late 90s. “I’m still here,” Allan sings, “saying the things that you don’t want to hear.” Au contraire Mr. Crockford, au contraire, on this evidence I want to hear much more. A terrific album by anyone’s standards.

With that in mind, Monkey Picks collared Allan to quiz him about the Galileo 7; revisiting his back catalogue with Graham Day & The Forefathers; and, of course, gently bend his ear about a couple of his old bands.

Give us a little background to the Galileo 7.
It started as me making demos at home and putting them on-line for whoever stumbled on them. I didn’t want to put them under my own name so I invented a band name. The Galileo Seven is an episode from the original Star Trek series and I always thought it sounded like a band. There was another episode called The Cloudminders that I liked as well. Sometimes I wish I’d chosen that one, because ‘Galileo’ is a bit difficult for some people to say. Having said that, Galileo was a good man for many reasons so he got the vote.

What's the fascination with Star Trek?
I liked it when I was a nipper, and any TV or music you grow up with stays with you pretty much forever. It's the power of emotional nostalgia, not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the thing you're remembering. There was a good few years when it wasn't shown on British TV and its reputation grew during the time we couldn't see it. The power of absence. I'm a big fan of Laurel and Hardy as well, and there was also a time when we couldn't see them on British TV for copyright reasons, so all we had was memories of how great these programmes were. And of course they get better the longer you go without seeing them. Like a good footballer who has a long term injury whose reputation grows in his absence while the team struggles. It's the old excitement of digging out records that you've only heard about, or heard fleetingly on the radio a long time ago. It's not an experience that people younger than us really have any more, because everything is so easy to find nowadays. I like the fact that I can now get hold of any piece of music, TV programme, film or whatever instantly, but I also miss that surge of excitement we used to get when we'd come across something long lost, buried, forgotten or unknown. I'm glad that I had that experience. As you can tell, I'm quite interested in the truth or otherwise of memory.

That’s all right then. With your band’s name and The Prisoners appearing on Channel 4 in Star Trek outfits I was worried you were a Trekkie…
No, I'm not a Trekkie! The uniforms on The Tube weren't my idea. I hate dressing up. But there's no doubt at all that it was a good idea, because everyone remembers us, and it did look good. The shirts were hand made by, I think, Johnny Symon's girlfriend and finished off in the van going up to the recording by someone else's girlfriend. I don't go to conventions or speak Klingon.

After all the bands you’ve been in, the Galileo 7 is the first time you’ve taken centre-stage. Was writing something you’d always wanted to do?
I wanted to try it because I’d started writing songs relatively late in my musical life. I’d been playing in bands for twenty years or more before I wrote my first song. I had no idea whether I could do it. I started writing during my time in The Stabilisers but it was more to do with mucking about making home demos than thinking I was ‘writing’. I didn’t really have any inclination before that at all. I thought it was a dark art and that I hadn’t been blessed. That’s why I was always the one in the bands who did all the practical stuff. I thought I had to make up for being uncreative.

Was there ever any frustration in always playing other peoples’ songs – predominately those of Graham Day?
I never felt frustration as such. Why should I feel frustrated playing Graham’s songs? They were mostly great, and he is one of the best singers of the last 30 years, and even up there with some of the recognised ‘superstars’.

Were you nervous about singing?
Not nervous as such but very aware of my limitations. Maybe too aware and self-critical. I’m not the best singer in the world – I’m not even the best singer in the band - and I’ve been in bands with some great singers so I was always on a loser if anyone compared me to them. But I believe in the songs and I had no alternative at that point. And I wanted the challenge. Being out of one’s comfort zone is good for the soul, although sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, especially when my throat is gone after five songs. I’ve got no technique!

Did you have to find a vocal style you were comfortable with?
I haven’t got a style, I’m just trying to remember the words and sing roughly in tune. It’s a kind of artless style if anything. Maybe kind of close to Syd Barrett. Not as good as him but kind of deadpan and underplayed. There’s no point in trying to develop a style at my age. It would be me doing a poor impersonation of someone else. You can do that when you’re young and still developing because most people end up sounding like something different and unique by mistake. At my age I’d rather just get better by doing it more.

What’s it been like trying to get your own band heard? I guess the recent formation of Graham Day & the Forefathers has helped raise the profile of the Galileo 7?
Well it hasn’t hurt. I’ve never been under any illusions about the amount of people who might be interested in our stuff just because I was in the Prisoners and all the other bands. Musically it’s not a million miles away, but I’m trying to do something a little different. A lot of Prisoners fans are very, very focused on just that band and Graham, and are really not that interested about what I’m doing. I accept that and I’d be the same if the bass player in a band I liked starting his own band playing guitar. It’s always the singer and songwriter that keeps the fans, and rightly so. But the Forefathers starting playing has maybe reminded a few people that I’m doing my own stuff and the more open minded ones have given us a listen.

Did Graham Day & the Forefathers come as a surprise or had you felt Graham itching to get out there again?
I don’t think Graham was particularly itching to start playing again, but it sounded like a bit of laugh when we discussed it down the pub. After the first few gigs it was obvious that we were still good, and more importantly, it was fun, especially picking and choosing whatever songs from whatever band we’ve been in together. It’s a big catalogue of songs and playing the Prisoners stuff was bound to get people interested. But it’s also good to remind people of how well the Solarflares stuff stands up next to it and good for me to play some of the Gaolers songs. They’re all new to me and it brings a bit of freshness to the set.

How does it feel trying to push new material with the Galileo 7 and then seeing peoples’ enthusiasm about Graham Day & the Forefathers playing old material?
Completely understandable, as I said before. I know how much those songs mean to people: they mean a lot to me as well. It’s the acceptable face of nostalgia, as long we deliver them with some attitude and aggression then it works. And it’s nice to feel that we’re stirring emotions in people.
Graham Day & the Forefathers: Day, Wolf Howard, Allan Crockford
Talking of nostalgia, the title track on False Memory Lane contains the line “nostalgia’s not what it was” and talks about rewriting old events. Have you seen this with regard to your career? I’m thinking predominately about the Prisoners who in some ways have taken on a life of their own.
Well, the song is about the way we fool ourselves about our motives and actions when we look back, and sometimes adjust the recollection to suit what has happened since, or build a narrative arc onto our lives as if we weren’t just bumbling along making it up at the time. I don’t know if it applies to the Prisoners, although I’ve told the story of the band so many times that it does seem to have a plot line now, and I can no longer be sure what anyone’s motives were for what we did and didn’t do during that time. I usually now say that we did things because we were young, stupid, lazy or drunk rather than through any master plan or rugged independence of thought. I may be downplaying our intelligence at the time but I think that’s more honest from this distance.

We always read how the Prisoners were such an influence on bands like the Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets, Kula Shaker etc. How does that make you feel? Proud? Guilty? Cheated?
It’s hard sometimes not to feel that we missed out a little bit on some substantial success somehow, but on the other hand that means very little now. The fact that we slipped under the radar many times adds a bit of romance to the band. I’m happy with what we did and glad that we didn’t get sucked into the industry too much.

You got sucked in a bit. The end of the Prisoners came with the acrimonious relationship with Countdown records and all the trouble (fan base, outside producer etc) that brought. After the experiences with Big Beat making Thewisermiserdemelza with an outside producer why did you make what appeared to be similar mistakes again?
Our relationship with Big Beat wasn’t acrimonious at all so I don’t think we imagined that we were repeating any mistakes by signing to Countdown. With Big Beat we felt that we’d tried the record company thing and just fancied doing the next record ourselves. We never fell out with them. Countdown was another matter. We sort of knew what we were letting ourselves in for but it was a last roll of the dice to take the band a bit further. We were warned by various ex-Stiff artistes that it wouldn’t be straight forward and that we would have to relinquish control of many aspects of our sound. But I remember that we had the contract looked over by a solicitor and he said it wasn’t great, but if we were going to sign it we had to throw ourselves into it to make it work. We never did and battle lines were drawn pretty early in the relationship. It was a little bit glamorous at first, with Stiff being a proper famous label, in a posh building with Island Records, but it quickly soured when we were saddled with a producer who hadn’t even seen the band.

If you’d carried on putting out your own records would the Prisoners have lasted longer?
If we’d carried on making our own records we might have made one more, but I think we were all a bit knackered by the end. We didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for the whole thing. We needed a rest and we took one.

You've put your new album out yourself, is that a method you'd recommend for young bands starting out, to keep as much control as possible?
It's born out of necessity. If someone actually offered to release our album as we recorded it and promised to work hard selling it, then I'd take that option. It's really hard work. I used to be the person who didn't write songs but did all the boring stuff like promoting and selling and essentially managing the band. Nowadays I still do that, but I've added writing all the songs, singing them, recording and producing the music as well. And managing all the processes of actually getting the product available; I think I've gone wrong somewhere. But it is my thing and somehow I have more time and energy to take on the responsibility than the others in the band. As it happens a label has offered to licence the next album and press it up and do all the boring but necessary stuff. If the offer still stands when we've actually recorded some new material next year, I might well take them up on it. As for young bands starting out, it's always a good idea to do a self-release if they're prepared to work really hard to get people to buy it. Making the music is the easy and fun part. The bit that makes it possible to carry on doing it is actually selling a few copies. But make sure everyone in the band does their share if possible.

After the Prisoners came the James Taylor Quartet. I’ve been playing those first few records again recently and they still sound fresh and exciting. Would I be right in thinking that was probably the time you were in the most commercially successful band?
I like the early JTQ stuff. It was an exciting time because it happened quite quickly. I think the early JTQ gigs picked up a lot of the Prisoners fans as it wasn’t that long after the split. Gigs were pretty packed almost immediately and stayed that way. I suppose it seemed like success in comparison to what went before but it wasn’t commercial success. We were making the records we wanted to make and they were selling okay. That’s about as good as it gets at our level of the business.

For a band central to the appearance of “Acid Jazz” you weren’t especially jazzy.
It’s got an innocence about it and it’s got nothing to do with jazz. Just some Medway herberts having a go at being Booker T and the MGs and coming up with some sort of garage version. As soon as funk reared its head I knew I wouldn’t last long in the band. I’m not that kind of bass player and our efforts didn’t sound too convincing or funky. I don’t really like a lot of what the band has done since. It’s just not my sort of music, although I occasionally hear the odd song that sounds like a throwback to what we were doing in my time in the band.

With all your bands - Prisoners, JTQ, Prime Movers, Solarflares, Goodchilde, Phaze, Stabilisers, Galileo 7, Forefathers - you’ve made a lot of records. Do you keep count? Have you kept copies of everything? Kept a scrapbook?
I haven’t counted recently but it must be around 35 albums or so. I’ve got copies of most of them, but I’m not really anal about keeping or collecting memorabilia. Sometimes I wish I had kept stuff, especially when people keep putting stuff up on Facebook that I’ve forgotten about. But I’m always more interested in moving on to the next thing.

What is the next thing? What have you got planned for the Galileo 7 and Graham Day & the Forefathers?
Plans don’t really exist, we just do what we fancy if circumstances allow. If we sell enough copies of the new Galileo 7 album then we’ll do another one. It’s not cheap to put out a physical product and difficult to sell them. But we’ve had an offer from a label to license our next album so maybe we’ll do that next year. The Forefathers will put out a live-ish album in a few months; recordings of songs we do in the set, done power trio style with no frills, in our rehearsal room. And both bands would like to play more gigs, but we’re up against the realities of life, family, work and middle age.

What are your interests away from music?
I'm not really sure. I like reading when I get a chance, but the opportunity for the kind of concentrated, head in a book for hours on end type of reading I like only happens for a couple of weeks a year on holiday. I always feel my brain waking up again after a couple of days of concentrated reading; taking in other people's words, ideas, philosophies, science. I usually get a few ideas for songs on holiday. Keeping fit-ish takes a bit of time but mostly my head is full of music or thoughts revolving around selling our album, wondering about making another one. I really should get a hobby unconnected with music. I'm kind of into history, philosophy and science but it only goes as far as reading lots of popular books on those subjects and watching lots of documentaries. Time to go back to school...

Huge thanks to Allan for his time and his music. For further info, to listen, and to buy from the Galileo 7 shop, visit the Galileo 7 website. 


Thursday, 26 June 2014

JUNE PLAYLIST


Some tunes to tuck into between World Cup matches. Come on Colombia!

1. The Blenders – “Don’t Fuck Around With Love” (1953)
Whilst recording their strolling doo-wop "Don't Play Around With Love” single for Jay-Dee, The Blenders cut an X-rated under-the-counter version which, unsurprisingly, didn’t see the light of day until 1971. 

2. Elmore James – “Stranger Blues” (1962)
“Shake Your Moneymaker” is up there with the most danceable blues records ever committed to vinyl and “Stranger Blues”, full of fizz and raw energy, ain’t far behind.

3. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – “I Want That” (1962)
Kidd and his Pirates take Crash Craddock’s rather pedestrian US hit and shake it all over with a shot of early UK rhythm and blues. Damn good.

4. Les McCann Ltd – “Fake Out” (1967)
Few things in mod clubs get my goat as much as Latin Boogaloo. I don’t get it what it’s there for and it’s always the same five records. In the privacy of my own home I’m far more tolerate as the purchase of pianist Les McCann’s whole album of his take on the stuff, Bucket O’ Grease, demonstrates. Admittedly some of the attraction was the cool sleeve with three young ladies hanging out by cheap diner. 

5. The End – “You Better Believe It, Baby” (1966)
The recent feature in Shindig! magazine had me scurrying back to my End records. They really were a class act. If you can get hold of In The Beginning, a compilation that came out in 1996, with loads of their early stuff you’ll be well rewarded. “You Better Believe It, Baby” was a Joe Tex cover given a modish fuzz guitar overhaul for a Spanish single release.

6. Pinkerton’s – “Duke’s Jetty” (1968)
Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours dropped a word from their name on successive releases until they were left with only Pinkerton’s for their slightly schmaltzy blue-eyed soul of “There’s Nobody I’d Sooner Love” 45. Much better is “Duke’s Jetty” on the flip with its Mulberry Bush/Spencer Davis Group/Traffic vibe.

7. The Pazant Brothers – “Skunk Juice” (1968)
Don’t know about being brothers, it sounds more like the Pazants were total strangers who bumped into each other on a New York street carrying instruments and cut a crazy funk record there on the spot. More folk should try it.

8. The Violinaires – “Groovin’ With Jesus” (1973)
Oh yeah, over in Vietnam they’re groovin’ with Jesus, and Jesus has the biggest, fattest, meanest funk groove this side of Funkadelic.

9. The Damned – “Anti-Pope” (1979)
I only own one Damned album – Machine Gun Etiquette. Can’t imagine they made a better one.

10. Graham Day & The Forefathers - "Love Me Lies" (2014)
Former Prisoners out on release revisit an old memory, strangle it in wah-wah, and bash the remains to a bloody pulp with riffs of rock. Aided and abetted (on production duty) by someone with the unlikely name of Franc Localdork. These men are still dangerous.