Monday, 30 November 2015


After months of eager anticipation The Stairs were back on Thursday night for their first gig in over twenty years. It was, without a shadow of doubt, a brilliant night. Nearly 500 people from all over the country squashed into a sold out Kazimier club in Liverpool, a stone’s throw from where Edgar Jones, Ged Lynn and Paul Maguire established The Stairs at the beginning of the 1990s.

Reformations can be dicey affairs with bands returning without original members, their motives questionable, looking a bit old and shit, and removed from their original period can appear out of date and, at worst, even cabaret. Certain bands are defined by their era and sit uncomfortably once extracted but The Stairs were always out of time; harking back to the 60s beat boom when the prevailing musical trends were an assortment of post-baggy, grunge and shoegazing. The Stairs weren’t the only ones going back to mono and recycling British R&B, US garage and Dutch Nederbeat but they were by far the best: more gifted, confident and charismatic than the rest and possessed an off-kilter humour. Who else concluded songs by asking “What do you think of Tarzan undies? Do they scare ya?”  

From the opening seconds of ‘Mary Joanna’ - Ged’s opening riff, Paul’s thumping drums and Edgar’s thunderous bass and exaggerated Jagger howl – it was immediately apparent this was going to be good. When that was followed by ‘Flying Machine’, from their first EP, my excitement built incrementally with each passing song. The last times I saw the band, ’93-’94, they’d progressed into a heavier psychedelic rock band than beat combo, and whilst still excellent hearing sets of unfamiliar, experimental material was a different experience to two years previously. They’d moved on. I vividly recall The Stairs play a Mod Rally at the Isle of Wight in 1993 and the stunned reaction of the assembled Mods who didn’t know what to make of it all. Well, they did, but frankly that was their loss.

From ‘Flying Machine’, a perfect set unravelled, nineteen songs whooshed past. The majority of the classic (and it is that) Mexican R’n’B including ‘My Window Pane’, ‘Mundane Mundae’, ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Woman Gone and Say Goodbye’, ‘Out In The Country’ all sounded box fresh, as did the double-whammy of ‘Fall Down The Rain’ and ‘Right In The Back Of Your Mind’ which nearly reduced the Kazimier to rubble ahead of its forthcoming demolition by developers. There were some choice EP tracks, ‘When It All Goes Wrong’, ‘You Don’t Love Me’ and ‘Russian Spy and I’; a couple of the later songs in ‘Skin Up’ and ‘Stop Messin’’; the nutjob “new” found-under-bed single ‘Shit Town’ sung by Ged; and even a brand new number ‘1000 Miles Away’ thrown in for good measure. 

Everything was delivered with supercharged power, as if The Stairs had spent twenty years with all this energy suppressed, waiting to explode. The longer they played, the more they locked into each other. If all that wasn’t impressive enough what was bewildering was how the band had remained cryogenically frozen. Edgar looked like he’d walked straight off his record sleeves without a hair out of place and it took me a while to work out he wasn’t wearing the same pink and white paisley shirt from the Bass Clef in ’94 (that had a penny collar, this one pointed…); Ged has kept the same cut-by-himself-in-the-mirror curtains/bob affair and those bug eyes still bulge and his mouth still falls open as he plays guitar; it’s only a few flicks of grey in Paul’s still curly bonce that give any indication we’re now in a different millennium. Like I said, and call me shallow if you will, this stuff is important in bands. Imagine, if you dare, the horror of witnessing a bald Birdland or a fat Five Thirty. They were accompanied on acoustic/electric guitar and organ by Austin Murphy from Edgar’s band The Jones. For what it’s worth, he looked like a young David Hepworth.

There was little chat between songs, certainly no emotional milking of the situation: the music, the audience’s dolally reception, and the smiles of the band said it all. After a pounding ‘Skin Up’ they went off to quickly do that (possibly) before returning for the anthemic  ‘Weed Bus’, given a bizarre cowboy style intro by Edgar about the joys of Liverpool’s public transportation system. With that fantastic finale about knowing you’re in heaven, they were gone.

Apart from missing their old talisman Jason shaking his maracas one more time this gig had it all; any misgivings about spoiling their memory banished. Where The Stairs go from here remains to be seen – and I doubt they’ll want to keep treading old ground for long - but this night, this monumental night, this little piece of history, was nothing short of triumphant and, if anything, elevated their already treasured status for anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed it.

Sunday, 29 November 2015


The Standells

1.  Mark Murphy – “Li’l Darlin’” (1961)
Ace Records this month issued a new comp, Georgie Fame Heard Them Here First, featuring 25 tracks covered by our Georgie. Such was the vast array of tracks to pick from, this, from Murphy’s Rah, didn’t make the cut.

2.  Brian Auger – “Blues Three Four” (1961)
Pre-Hammond Auger, here demonstrating his jazz chops on the piano. It’s the opening track on a new Brian Auger anthology Back To The Beginning. Unfortunately the collection is let down by poor liner notes which don’t supply details of where this track was taken, so I’ve guessed the year. Possibly recorded with Dave Morse? Answers to the usual address.

3.  The Wanderers – “After He Breaks Your Heart” (1963)
Led by Ray Pollard, the Wanderers had already recorded for a decade before they cut this typically clean New York slice of Big City Soul for United Artists. Now included on the superb new Lost Without You: The Best Of Kent Ballads 2 compilation for Kent.

4.  The Pirates – “Cuttin’ Out” (1965)
Tough switchblade slashing rockabilly punk from a Texan combo who left behind a couple of 45s, this being their highlight.

5.  Jimmy Witherspoon – “Man Don’t Cry” (1965)
From Jimmy’s swinging Spoon In London which attempted to place him in a slightly more pop-soul setting. That said, “Man Don’t Cry” is a haunting, big voiced, big band creeper.

6.  David Bowie – “Let Me Sleep Beside You” (1967)
Recorded on 1 September 1967 for Deram, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” was the first Bowie single produced by Tony Visconti who sat a neat bass and drum rhythm on top of a sweep of strings. I'm generally indifferent to Bowie but like this. 

7.  The Standells – “Looking At Tomorrow” (1967)
The Standells production team went to town on this, creating a clanging echo drenched protest number with composer Larry Tamblyn taking lead vocals and putting his organ high in the mix. That’s not a euphemism.

8.  Miles Davis - "Bitches Brew" (1970)
On any given day the same piece of music (and I'm primarily talking jazz here) can either enthral or infuriate. Depending on one's mood, 27 minutes of this one track could easily do either.

9.  Hollywood Brats – “Sick On You” (1973)
After my effusive praise for Andrew Matheson’s recent memoir, Sick On You, it was little surprise to see Mojo magazine crown it Book of the Year. The song of the same name should’ve similarly won accolades in the year of its completion.    

10.  The Stairs – “Flying Machine” (1991)
From side two of their first EP and the second song played at Thursday’s reunion gig in Liverpool, setting the tone for what was a triumphant return, exceeding all expectations. More about this later.

Sunday, 22 November 2015


It’s 1971 and Andrew Matheson, 18, leaves his job in the mines, armed with a tatty suitcase, five LPs (Kinks, Shadows of Knight, Beatles and two Stones), a black Vox Mark VI teardrop guitar and moves to London with a head full of ideas and a template to create the perfect rock ‘n’ roll band stuffed in his pocket.

Cut to 1975 and that band, the Hollywood Brats, have disintegrated, their solitary album, Grown Up Wrong, sneaking out, belatedly, in, of all places, Norway, selling a meagre 563 copies. It was an inglorious conclusion to a band that should’ve been – and actually were, for the blink of eye – contenders.

What happened in between is told with style and panache in Sick On You. Matheson’s creation, the Brats, a mess of eyeliner and spray paint, strutted and preened their way around London without a penny to their name but as that lost album, especially the searing, slash and burn ‘Chez Maximes’ (“We don’t care what you say…”) and the magnificent proto-punk single-that-never-was ‘Sick On You’ testify, they had, way before the class of ’76, the razor sharp, adrenaline fuelled tunes to back their ballsy attitude and they got to the Phil Spector girl group songbook before the Ramones; The Crystals' 'Then He Kissed Me' provocatively left without switching gender. 

Glamourous boys in women’s clothing sashaying around pubs and clubs, indulging in petty crime, in dank early 70s Britain didn’t endear them to many – a kicking was seldom far away - but Matheson’s mouthy prose sparkles on every page, glitter sprinkled on the grime. One line in particular encapsulates life as a Hollywood Brat, “Have you ever tried running for your life in a top hat and clogs?”

Whether you’ve heard of his band or not, and the chances are not, Andrew Matheson has written the best music memoir I’ve ever read, it’s brilliantly told with an array of funny cameos from individuals as diverse as Keith Moon, Freddie Mercury, Malcolm McLaren, Cliff Richard and the Krays. He talks it the way he surely walked it, reducing the opposition to the role of boring dullards. Despite being tantalisingly close to the edge of success – recording at Olympic studios, photos by Gered Mankowitz, limos to film premieres - The Hollywood Brats never “made it” but from the evidence now available they should at least be held in the same esteem as the New York Dolls, who hit on the same idea almost simultaneously Stateside. And in Andrew Matheson it’s impossible not to rue the fact rock ‘n’ roll missed out on potentially one of its greatest, gobbiest frontmen.

Sick On You by Andrew Matheson is published by Ebury Press, out now. 
The Hollywood Brats (photo by Gered Mankowitz)

Friday, 20 November 2015


I raved about Daniel Romano’s Come Cry With Me back in 2013, making it my album of the year (for whatever that’s worth), and his latest LP If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is another stone-cold country classic following the lineage from Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Gram Parsons.

The man’s a story telling genius, totally out-of-time, this is stuff from a bygone era, but a genius nonetheless. I love his rubbery vocals which bend and stretch and then go slack and deep and pull on the heartstrings. Canadian Romano can do one man, a guitar and a bar stool and, as you’ll hear on this surprising new video to the album’s opening track, animated by Chad VanGaalen, he can stand up front backed by huge sweeping orchestration.

The vinyl edition of If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, released by New West Records, is housed in a beautifully authentic thick card sleeve. Out now.
And here's a stripped back version of "The One That Got Away (Came Back Today)" from the same album.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


The latest issue of Subbaculture doesn’t need much of a pitch from me as unless your little fingers move fast all 200 numbered copies will already have homes, and rightly so.

Intelligently written articles on various facets of “street style” housed in a smartly designed A5 ‘zine with Jesse Hector’s feathercut and Hammersmith Gorilla sideburns adorning the front cover. Subbaculture is the hippest zine around and this its best issue so far.

Details, heaps of fascinating photos and more can be found at the Subbaculture site. Look sharp. Always. 

Monday, 16 November 2015


There are no flies on Monkey Picks’ jazz correspondent, Monkey Snr, who following yesterday’s review of Suede's Night Thoughts première spotted a striking similarity between their new album’s artwork and that of Undercurrent, a 1962 release on Blue Note by pianist Bill Evans and guitarist Jim Hall.

The original photograph, entitled Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida was taken by Tom Frissell in 1947. The Suede image is from Roger Sargent's new Night Thoughts film.  

Sunday, 15 November 2015


Suede unveiled their forthcoming album, Night Thoughts, on Friday with a global première at the Roundhouse in Camden. From behind a giant screen they played it live in its entirety as Roger Sargent’s accompanying film provided a loose visual representation.

As one song bled seamlessly in to the next, the film changed scenes: a haunted man walking out into the sea; lovers embracing; kids in hoodies on housing estates; people taking drugs; overdosing; having sex; loving; fighting; brandishing guns; screaming; being desperate and alone. You know, all the usual Suede themes. There were cars so there would’ve been fumes too. To be honest I found it a bit distracting and would’ve preferred to simply see the band play, although a whole album of unheard material isn’t the most entertaining thing in the world. It reminded me of when The Style Council played their Jerusalem film at the Royal Albert Hall gigs and my mates headed to the bar grumbling loudly about “pretentious bollocks”. Suede fans however are far more tolerant of such grandiose artistic gestures.

The album itself sounded big and bold and dramatic. From only one hearing I’m not going to make any final assessment but I’d venture it’s a step up from the previous Bloodsports, and that was good. After the final track they disappeared (not that they could be seen very clearly beforehand) and had their half time orange before returning in the second half for what they promised would be a “Hits and Treats” set.

I don’t know what Suede did during their lost years to come back such a phenomenal live act but that’s what they are. The best there is. I saw them a dozen times when they first started, those early gigs at the South Africa Centre, the Rough Trade shop, the 100 Club, even suffering the ignominy of supporting such doggerel as Kingmaker and they weren’t like anybody else then but the flouncing, foppish, arse slapping Brett Anderson has been transformed.

Brett Anderson is a beast. A beautiful beast. A beautiful, lean, mean, fighting machine, rock star beast. Fitter than an army of fleas in a scuzzy mattress, Brett bounces up and down, leaps off monitors, shouts and does the “come on then, let’s have it” fingers, shakes his head, lassoes his microphone lead a la Daltrey and works the band and crowd into a frenzy. He is magnificent in this role, pulling out all the stops, and Suede have the knockout material to back all his showboating. Big hit singles, album tracks, obscure B-sides ('Darkest Days' had previously passed me, thanks for drawing it to my attention), all relentless in their majestic swagger. Even “The Living Dead”, a delicate lament, is transformed into a joyous lullaby with Anderson leaving much of singing to the audience. “Where’s all the money gone? I’m talking to you, all up the hole in your arm” they chant like it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. A clean Brett grins like a cat with a never ending supply of cream.

They departed for a phony encore with Anderson telling the crowd to wait a minute. They do, naturally, and after beginning the evening with their newest recordings they end with their oldest, all three tracks from their 1992 debut single: ‘The Drowners’, ‘My Insatiable One’ and ‘To The Birds’. Incredible. Where do the years go? ‘To The Birds’ my absolute favourite Suede song – and I have many – what a treat. What a band.

Set 1: When You Are Young, Outsiders, No Tomorrow, Pale Show, I Don’t Know How To Reach You, What I’m Trying To Tell You, Tightrope, Learning To Be, Like Kids, I Can’t Give Her What She Wants When You Were Young, The Fur & The Feathers

Set 2: Moving, Killing Of A Flash Boy, Trash, Animal Nitrate, We Are The Pigs, Heroine, Pantomime Horse, The Living Dead, Darkest Days, New Generation, So Young, Metal Mickey, Beautiful Ones, The Drowners, My Insatiable One, To The Birds

Night Thoughts is released 22 January 2016.