Wednesday, 25 May 2016


The merchandise stall is selling ‘Yak As Fuck’ t-shirts. Twenty-five summers ago my mate Clive wore his Inspiral Carpets ‘Cool As Fuck’ top to the pub. The landlord came over. “Would you mind putting your jacket back on sir, there are ladies present.” He was obviously lying, we were in Uxbridge.

Stood in the maelstrom of this Yak gig loads of memories, of gigs and bands on the cusp of ‘making it’, spring to mind. Some did, most didn’t, but there’s a moment when bands and their audience are gloriously entwined. Yak are at that point.

Giant silver letters adorned with flashing lights spell Y-A-K on stage. Drummer Elliott Rawson emerges from the A-hole and is flanked by Oli Burlsem, singer/guitarist/twiddler-of-knobs, and bassist Andy Jones.

The pulsating punk rock juggernaut ‘Harbour The Feeling’ starts the show. Oli turns from the crowd then falls backwards into it. He’s held up and bashes his guitar as the rhythm section furiously beat themselves like teenagers left home alone. Some older dude called Martin joins with a saxophone and merrily squawks and squeals until his heart’s content.

Yak make a glorious bloody racket. A juttering, gut-punching, screeching, stabbing, trashing, twisted noise akin to terrified passengers trapped on a rickety coach driven by a lunatics hurtling towards the cliff’s edge while listening to Sonic Youth, Albert Ayler, the Stooges and Public Image Limited all at the same time. Backwards. At top volume.

Dingwalls, with its low ceiling and low stage, is the perfect environment. It’s a sweatbox and allows Jagger-lipped Oli to surf the crowd at will. He doesn’t speak between songs but controls the cacophony on stage and the chaos off it. With a few flicks of his wrist his flock part the sea of bodies, the music drops to a heavy rumble, an empty space appears in the crowd, another flick and it’s widened. Oli looks about to launch into the abyss but the band snap into a blistering frenzy of white noise and the gap fills with ricocheting bodies.

‘Victorious (National Anthem)’ and especially ‘Use Somebody’ have noticeable rusty hooks and even a slightly baggy rhythm lurks within ‘Take It’ but elsewhere what old folk like me might call ‘proper songs’ are abandoned and replaced with freeform brutality. Don’t fight it, feel it. Ride the Yak.

Oli grabs a nearby tourist and yanks him by his backback on to the stage. The lad looks petrified and pleads his innocence. Oli takes off his guitar, straps it around Billy Backback and goes flying on to the tops of boys, girls and photographers. Wide-eyed Billy gets the message and flails away at the strings. There’s no discernible difference in sound from what preceded it. Another other kid has a go and acts out his Cobain fantasy. A mic stand nearly takes my eye out, a keyboard appears and disappears. It’s not even the climax. They start another song.

I’m knackered. Happily shagged out. These are the good times. Yak will soon leave these size gigs behind. The distance - physically and otherwise - from their audience will grow. We’ve all seen it happen, it’s inescapable, a by-product of success. Either that or they’ll burn out. Whatever, this is the moment. Trust me son.

I decide a ‘Yak As Fuck’ t-shirt would be unbecoming of a gentleman but do purchase their new long-playing gramophone record, Alas Salvation. The cover painting appears to represent an array of pink cocks and hairy balls in group orgasm, which is nice. Yak as fuck.

Sunday, 22 May 2016


Berry Gordy, Jr. was Kirsty Young's castaway on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs this morning. He picks some great records as you'd expect, including one of Smokey Robinson's early masterpieces.

Doesn't need any more sell from me although worth listening for the way Kirsty completely wrong foots Gordy with one question out of nowhere. Here's the link: Desert Island Discs. 

Friday, 20 May 2016


Back in the 1940s Herbert Huncke – New York thief, hustler, junkie, prostitute and inspiration to William Burroughs and later Jack Kerouac – would lock himself in toilet cubicles off Forty-second Street and, when not partaking in other activities, would scrawl his memoirs, poetry and short stories into tiny notebooks or on whatever else came to hand.

In and out of prison and into his 81st year Huncke was still testing positive for, among other things, heroin and cocaine. It’s an extremely glib way of putting it – and not an ideal lifestyle choice - but Huncke lived on his own terms, by his wits, and by all accounts, by his gift of the gab.

The escape from the drab and predictable nine-to-five existence, of knowing there must be something better out there – somewhere, anywhere – is touched on a lot in Joe Ridgwell’s work and again in his new short story, Jamaica, published by Pig Ear Press. It’s typical Ridgwell: dreams and schemes cloaked in a wobbly cockney swagger. He’s a storyteller. You get the impression Joe could, like Huncke, talk anyone out of their last tenner. Well, at least try. 

What makes Jamaica particularly special is the way it’s been published. It’s not all about the presentation of course but it goes a long way. Pig Ear have done a beautiful job. These aren’t words on a bog roll, shirt shelves or even a piss and blood stained notebook. It’s like a hand-crafted passport and in the few minutes it takes to read will take you somewhere better until, like in the story, reality kicks you back in the balls. 

Jamaica by Joseph Ridgwell is published in a ludicrously limited-edition by Pig Ear Press. Priced £6 with free P&P to anywhere in the world. 

Friday, 13 May 2016


In 1966 James Brown released his new single ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’ which warned kids that “Without an education, might as well be dead”. Being James Brown he didn’t say it once but he said it loud, fifteen times.

The lyrics to JB’s R&B hits could be secondary to the main purpose of getting in his new bag, getting in the groove, getting ants in his pants and wanting to dance, but ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’, perhaps more than any other James Brown single – and I’m including ‘Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)’ - got to the core message of Brother James, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

When Brown died forty years later he left a conservative estimate of 100 million dollars to educate poor children. It was a lifelong passion and a recurring theme through James McBride’s new book, Kill ‘Em & Leave: Searching For The Real James Brown which attempts to explain “the amorphous blend of black politics, culture, and music that helped shape the man.”

Who James Brown was depends on your standpoint. One right-wing UK newspaper recently described him as “a monster of greed and vanity, a bully, a tax-dodger on an industrial scale, a wife-beater and all-round maniac”. For James McBride he was “the greatest soul singer this country ever knew” and “arguably the most influential African-American in pop music history”. Brown could, possibly, be all those things but McBride writes as if presenting a case for the defence.

One early revelation comes that not one dime of the money Brown put aside has made it to help educate those children. A legislative battlefield has witnessed 47 lawsuits with lawyers, politicians, even family members munching on the “carcass and bones”, as McBride calls it, of Brown’s will. If there’s any money left now, there soon won’t be. The Man will have gobbled it up. Taken it.

The book’s most interesting parts are the events following his death and those at the beginning of his life which discover the roots of James Brown, his complicated family tree, and of growing up in the south - the poor south, the black south. From picking cotton and shining shoes, a teenage Brown was sentenced in 1949 for eight to sixteen years for four counts of breaking and entering (stealing cars and parts). He served three and half of those years and when released found the place he spent much of his childhood - Ellenton in South Carolina - is one of six small towns in South Carolina that had been cleared away by the government. Everything and everybody moved out, shattered to the wind, to make way for 310 square miles of the Savannah River Nuclear Site, the biggest bomb factory in the world.  

McBride surmises this played a part in Brown’s distrust in officialdom, which could take away anything they wanted, whenever they wanted. A young James had already seen family members leave, his liberty taken away and now whole communities wiped out. Whatever he obtained from now, he was going to keep. He sure as hell wasn’t going to trust a bank to look after his money. This, of course, would get him in a financial pickle later on. When the IRS came after him for 15 million dollars in taxes Brown claimed he was exempt because Richard Nixon had announced he was a national treasure and also that he was part Indian related to Geronimo. Nice try. Brown dealt in cash – up front – which he proceeded to hide: in suitcases, under the floorboards, buried in the garden, under trees, in hotels he stayed in on tour to which he would much later return. Brown took tight control over everything he did and woe betide anyone who crossed him.

It’s surprising therefore to hear Brown described as generous man but McBride is such a huge fan much journalistic impartially has been put aside. It’s written at times like a pulp detective story with McBride at the centre of the action. As a series of blog pieces it would work better but I don't care about McBride’s music career, his days as a student of journalism, his divorce, his repeated moans about young people wearing their pants around their asses and their caps back-to-front. When interviewing people I want to hear their stories not what they had to eat or the difficulty the author had finding somewhere to park his bike.

The interviewees, by and large, don’t have a great deal to offer. It’s nice to hear from the only survivor of the Famous Flames, guitarist Nafloyd Scott, but he has no fresh insight. He also, to his credit, has no axe to grind. Those who talk remain loyal to Brown preferring to say nothing than badmouth him. Charles Bobbitt, Brown’s personal manager for 41 years and there at his deathbed, chooses not to divulge much; Pee Wee Ellis, such an integral part of the classic JBs line-up, would rather not talk about his ex-boss; and Miss Emma, the wife of Brown’s close friend Leon Austin and the woman JB called “Sis”, when asked about the drugs, relationships with women, the beatings, the cruelty replies "I was taught you don't talk low on somebody. Especially if they're dead".  

On a more positive note, his relationship with Leon Austin dispels the perception - hardened in the Get On Up movie – that James Brown couldn’t do friendship, that he was alone as a man. Also, Brown’s first wife Velma speaks fondly of her ex-husband, the bond that remained between them, and of the shared agony of the death of their son Teddy, killed in a car crash. McBride concludes JB was “more southerner than he was black or white, more sensitive artist than he was superstar".

James Brown, whatever we think of him as an individual, is in a league of one when it comes to his music but this book says little about that. There’s a detailed and rounded biography to be written but this isn’t it. The New New Minister of the Super Heavy Funk is cast in a better light than sometimes afforded but he was a hard man to get to know. He was guarded, his defence built up, he kept his distance, he didn’t like to mingle. “Arrive important, leave important,” he would say. “Kill ‘em and leave, kill ‘em and leave”.

Whatever legacy James Brown left behind on Christmas Day in 2006 when his body finally collapsed it wasn’t the one he wanted: to help kids stay in school. He wouldn’t have felt good about that.

Kill ‘Em & Leave: Searching For The Real James Brown by James McBride is published by Orion Books, priced £20. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016


“A lot of the stuff sounds like it’s been turned out on a computerized conveyor belt” That was the assessment of BBC’s Roundabout show of the hundreds of records (sorry, “discs”) being released in 1966.

BBC’s Keith Harrison can barely contain his disdain for this piffling pop business as he opens his interview with lead singer of Tunbridge Wells’ Tony’s Defenders - Tony Diamond - with the assertion that "a lot of people listening right now wouldn’t call this music”.  Nice opening gambit Keith, who then goes on to compare the band to the Walker Brothers after telling Tony off-air he wouldn’t.

It’s a fascination snap-shot of attitudes of the time and of life in an upcoming pop combo. The disc in question, ‘Since I Lost You Baby’, is, despite what old cloth-ears says, a real beauty (dunno how the beeb would've coped with some of the more innovative records coming out in '66) and would crop up again two years later on the flip of Long John Baldry's 'Hold Back The Daybreak'. It was composed by songwriters Tony Macauley and John Macleod who between them had hands in many hits of the day including 'Baby Now That I've Found You', 'Sorry Suzanne', 'Let The Heartaches Begin' and Scott Walker's 'The Lights of Cincinnati'.

Tony's Defenders, who'd already released the modbeat ‘Yes I Do’ for Columbia, folded soon after the commercial failure of 'Since I Lost You Baby'. Guitarist Brian Bennett joined the Mike Stuart Span, the rest presumably found proper jobs.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Weekends are neatly topped and tailed with two radio programmes. Saturday begins with Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the 60s on Radio 2 and Sunday concludes in the company of small-but-perfectly-formed internet station Fusion.

It’s always a cracking hour on Fusion with a mix of listeners sending in their playlists for head honcho Mick Collins to present, or a few regular Brian Matthew wannabes chancing their arm with their own shows. One of which, I’m very honoured to say, is Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show which returns this Sunday.

There’ll be music stretching from the mid-50s to the current day. Quite what I haven’t decided yet but, trust me, if you even occasionally check Monkey Picks it’ll be up your alley. Grab a few beers, put thoughts of Monday morning to one side, and tune in. Starts 8.30pm, on the knocker. Don't miss it. 

Update: Now available to listen at your leisure:

Sunday, 1 May 2016


A lovely Sunday afternoon brought upwards of 300 scooters into the West End today for the annual Buckingham Palace ride out. Clogging up the capital with two-stroke fumes, the procession garnered admiration from pedestrians and annoyance from fellow road users, as it set off from Carnaby Street, down to Trafalgar Square, passed Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, along the Embankment, passed the London Eye, through the City and then stopped for tea and medals at the Strongrooms in Shoreditch.

The trophy winners above are for Best Lambretta (my SX150), Best Mod Scooter (Jane, Series II Li) and Best Vespa (Dave Galea, GS150). Yes, my scoot won a prize. All very surprising but fair play to judges Nick from Bar Italia Scooter Club (who mentioned “originality” and “character”, certainly has character all right) and Rob from New Untouchables for recognising quality… Felt a bit weird considering the time, trouble and money some folk spent on theirs and I don't do anything, keeping it au naturale, but obviously chuffed that decision was recognised. Wish I’d given it a clean though. Two QPR supporters - me and Dave - picking trophies; make your own gags.

Anyway, enough show boating. Here are some pictures of the day and some nice YouTube footage posted by Beccy Lee Rodger (from The Mod Closet) which captures the sheer numbers of scooters. Thanks to everyone - including the marshals - for making it happen. Now, where's that polish?