Monday, 27 April 2009
Never trust a hippie. I’d trust Jamie Reid though. For someone so closely associated with punk, he’s one heck of a hippie.
Reid began by giving a whistle-stop slide show of his work, covering the last forty years, from paintings and early collages done at Croydon Art Collage (where he met Malcolm McLaren), to the early 70’s leftist Suburban Press flyers and propaganda (particularly liked “This Week Only – This Store Welcomes Shoplifters” which were plastered down Oxford Street), to the Sex Pistols’ work, and on to the colourful esoteric stuff (shitty old crusty “healing properties of colours” claptrap).
Reid was then interviewed by Andrew Bunney. The theme running through the evening was how Reid’s political and spiritual ideals are not mutually exclusive and are inextricably – and naturally to him – linked. He was bought up with strong socialist principles and followed two generations of druids: “I’ve studied druidism but I’m not a druid”. He also somewhat unconvincingly denied being an anarchist: “To have anarchy you need to trust people, and we’re a million miles from that”. Asked how the nihilism of punk and Sex Pistols squared with his own spirituality and political views, Reid was view was that it “wasn’t nihilistic to encourage people to form bands, make music and become artists”.
The interview with Bunney made for some uncomfortable viewing and shuffling in seats. Bunney seemed so far out of his depth that Reid soon cottoned on he was more or less wasting his time, so most his answers were brief, even to the point of starting to explain something and then going “oh, it doesn’t matter”. In fairness to Bunney he probably left silences to see if any more was offered but it looked more like Bunney didn’t know where to go with the conversation. There was no flow, hardly any following up of replies, just the sight of Reid nervously scratching the underside of his jaw waiting for another question. Although again in fairness to Bunny I also wouldn’t have much of clue where to take conversations about druidism or the fact for many civilisations the year of 2012 is destined for some huge change or catastrophe: “the Olympic village under water or something” quipped Reid only half joking. If there hadn’t been two hundred people watching I’m sure one of them would have made their excuses and legged it sharpish. Both Reid and Bunney looked visibly relived when they opened it up to receiving questions from the audience.
Snippets of interest sprinkled throughout included the fact Reid is a Fulham fan (never mind) and was going to the game the next day (they won 1-0, never mind); he had made a point to never sell any of the originals of his work until he reached 60; both the V&A and The Tate now possess some of his pieces; and the famous “buses” design that was used for the Pistols, of which a signed print proudly hangs in Monkey Mansions (along with a 2009 work “God Save Damien Hirst”) was a rehash of work that first appeared in Suburban Press. And he wished people were friendlier to one another.
It only occured to me on way home I should've taken Never Mind The Bollocks to be signed. Oh well.
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Saturday 29th April 1967 and thousands of teenage freaks, performers, artists, musicians, poets, movers and shakers from the underground, and a few bona-fide pop stars, trooped up the hill from Wood Green to the Alexandra Palace for the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream. Fourteen hours of truly legendary psychedelic shenanigans.
Who were these people? Where had they come from? And what had led to the UK’s most famous “happening” of the Sixties? Stephen Gammond’s DVD documentary delves into the underground and attempts to glean insights from, amongst others, Barry Miles, Joe Boyd, Kevin Ayers, Phil May, half of Pink Floyd and, most significantly, John “Hoppy” Hopkins.
The story of the UK underground is also Hoppy’s story. As Pete Jenner, the early Floyd manager, says: “Without Hoppy there would have been no underground”. In tracing the trip from the CND marches of the early ‘60s; to the foundation of the London Free School (a gallant attempt to educate and integrate the new communities around Notting Hill); to packing 7000 people in to the Royal Albert Hall for a drunken Beat poetry reading; to establishing the International Times newspaper; to running the weekly UFO Club; and to the inevitable sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, Hoppy was the one constant throughout.
It’s the coverage of these events in A Technicolor Dream that provide the most rewarding parts of the film; mixing old footage, new interviews and a stirring soundtrack by the Pretty Things and the Pink Floyd. Although a familiar tale to anyone who’s read the memoirs of Barry Miles or Joe Boyd, it is well told and captures the essence of a wonderfully idealised period where music and literature and politics and poetry were all equal parts of a magical mix. An ebullient Pete Jenner still has trouble containing his excitement. “The ‘60s marked that break with the Victorian heritage. Piss off, Victoria!”
As the film continues it increasingly becomes the Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd story. They were, of course, an intrinsic part of the underground, performing at benefits for the London Free School at the Roundhouse and for International Times at the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream but, for me, they get a disproportionate amount of screen time. Much of it is near identical to the BBC’s 2001 Barrett documentary and neither Nick Mason nor Roger Waters offer anything of particular insight. Mason is ambivalent about their contribution to any scene; whilst Waters claims, at best, to not recall anything (“I have no memory of the underground at all. When people talk about it, I have no idea what anybody’s talking about”) or, at worst, is dismissive (“I couldn’t give a shit who Love were. I really wasn’t interested in music”). But it’s easier to sell a Syd Barrett story than a John Hopkins story. Still, the Floyd looked great, sounded great, and I could watch footage all day long of Barrett skipping through the fields playing with a scarecrow.
But as the spaced-out flower children blinked into the Sunday morning of 30th April, the party was almost over. The summer of love would soon turn to winter; imprisonment removed Hoppy from circulation; Barrett could no longer function in his own band; and the bright mood of ’67 darkened throughout ’68. But for one brilliant, technicolor moment, there could not have been a better place to be in the world than high on the top of a North London hill.
A Technicolor Dream is an Eagle Vision release. See www.atechnicolordream.com
Saturday, 18 April 2009
April, come she will. Some songs.
1. Muddy Waters – “Diamonds At Your Feet” (1956)
“She’s got to take sick and die one of these days/ All the medicine I can buy, and all the doctors she can hire/ She’ got to take sick and die one of these days/ When she dead I’m gonna bury her very deep/ I’m gonna bury her very deep, rubies and diamonds around her feet”. Muddy sounds suspiciously upbeat about the prospect.
2. Arthur Alexander – “Go Home Girl” (1962)
After knocking off his best mate’s girl, Arthur suddenly has an attack of the conscience and tells her to go on home. The sly old fox.
3. Ornette Coleman – “Eventually” (1959)
From the LP The Shape Of Jazz To Come, “Eventually” is notable for a three note motif that Coleman employs ten times during his solo. You’re right – I nicked that from the sleeve notes.
4. Banny Price – “You Love Me Pretty Baby” (1965)
Taken about four, five, years to nab a copy of this brilliant bluesy dancer since hearing Roger Banks spin it at the Rocket. What strikes me now is how loaded everyone sounds on it. Price can barely slur the words out, the brass is woozy and wobbly, and when the end is in sight (after a whole two minutes) they all lose whatever concentration they had in the first place.
5. Chris Clark – “Don’t Be Too Long” (1965)
Motown recorded the backing track in 1962 and it sat there for over three years until Clark added her sumptuous, smoldering vocals. Deserved more than the flip side it eventually became (of “Do Right Baby, Do Right”).
6. The Isley Brothers – “This Old Heart Of Mine” (1966)
Talking of Motown, doubt it’s escaped your attention that 2009 is their 50th Anniversary, and all and sundry are being asked what their favourite track is. I must’ve been out when they called, so I’ll tell you anyway - it’s this. Brenda Holloway’s “Starting The Hurt All Over Again” is in second place and maybe Kim Weston’s “Helpless” in third.
7. Patti Smith Group – “Rock N Roll Nigger” (1978)
Never quite “got” Patti Smith as much as I thought I should, but “Rock N Roll Nigger” turns up the heat to a riotous inferno. Honorable mention to Birdland for their 1991 version (which is the one I heard first and occasionally appropriated for the Electric Fayre in 1996).
8. Antony and The Johnsons – “Kiss My Name” (2009)
There’s nothing Mrs Monkey enjoys more than me sticking on Antony and The Johnsons and warbling along at full volume. Loves it she does, loves it.
9. The Rakes – “1989” (2009)
Although a bit Television and a small part Joy Division, the jagged, all-elbows sound of The Rakes comes equipped with dollops of wry observational humour serious lacking in those other miserable bastards. They’ll never match the perfection of “22 Grand Job” but, three albums in, “1989” is the closest they’ve come.
10. The Low Anthem – “Home I’ll Never Be” (2009)
Oh My God, Charles Darwin starts like Fleet Foxes, morphs into Tom Waits, and by the time it gets to track four it’s this moonshine swilling, pistol whipping, mule scaring, railroad rave-up. Yee-fucking-har.
Friday, 17 April 2009
John Sinclair. Manager of the MC5, Chairman of the White Panther Party, cultural revolutionary, political prisoner, marijuana campaigner, gadda gadda gadda. You know all this. Less known is his work as a music journalist and poet. It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader collects a sample from forty four years of writing, and the man is here to celebrate the publication with a poetry reading.
As befitting a man who penned a manifesto that included the commandment “Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock ‘n’ roll, dope and fucking in the streets”, this is no staid, solemn, blanket-on-the-knees poetry reading. The first piece, from “Delta Sound Suite”, sets the tone for what follows: a testifying beat poetry performance. Whereas Jack Kerouac would occasionally perform to a calm jazz accompaniment, John Sinclair sets his words to a wild Delta Blues backing.
Assisted by Gary Lammin on guitar (who scored valuable points earlier in the evening by playing a song with “Queen’s Park Rangers” in the chorus), Buffalo Bill Smith on “blues saxophone” (that’ll be harmonica to you and I), and Charles Shaar Murray let loose with a bottleneck, Sinclair gets down to business. Stands tall, rocks gently on his heels, arms straight by his side, shoulders back, head up, spectacled eyes wide and glazed, snowy Egyptian beard jutting out, and that voice. The deep yet scratchy voice of a million spent spliffs. Half smoky Detroit urbanite, half swampy New Orleans funk, it’s a wise, captivating, storytelling voice.
“21 Days in Jail” begins: “Robert Lockwood Junior was born on a farm between Aubrey & Marvell, Arkansas, around 25 miles west & north of Helena, on March 27, 1915”. That sounds like nothing on the cold page but from Sinclair, and the sympathetic backing, it’s a magical, mythical tale of mystery and suspense. You find yourself willing the verses forward, onwards, go, go, go.
Much is centred on Sinclair’s love of the blues, of jazz, of the original beats. “The Screamers”, written in 1965, starts with a line that could come straight from Ginsberg’s “Howl” (“stagger down overgrown sidewalks of memory, giving hand and giggling”), whilst the aforementioned “21 Days in Jail” contains “secret hero of these poems” which is straight from it.
After a time, he gently bemoans the smoking ban and hot foots it for what one can only assume is some much needed herbal relaxation. Inspiring stuff.
It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader is published by Headpress, priced £12.99.
Friday, 10 April 2009
Less an exhibition and more like rummaging through a Camden Market stall from the early 90’s. Or my old bedroom.
A mass of music and pop-culture items scrunched into the tiny Chelsea Space. A Hank Williams poster and belt bucket, badges, videos, Sex Pistols flyers, Jones’s Clash stage clothes (okay, I never had any of those), gold discs (or those), weather-beaten LPs, figurines of monkeys playing instruments, homemade cassettes, music papers and fanzines, Stan Bowles painting, film stills, recording equipment, books and so it goes on.
Whereas I eventually ran out of space and stopped collecting (also began thinking “just what am I going to do with a Charlie’s Angels figure or another issue of Record Mirror just because it’s got Georgie Fame on the cover”?), Jones got himself a gigantic lock-up in Acton to store his treasure chest of goodies and now wants the public to have access to it. The Chelsea Space only has tiny fraction on display as a taster and the details of how Jones’s Rock & Roll Public Library will work are still sketchy but I can’t wait to say “I’d like to borrow Mod Grooving Part Two please”.
Mick Jones: The Rock and Roll Public Library, Chelsea Space, Chelsea College of Art and Design, 16 John Islip Street, London, SW1P 4JU. 18 March to 18 April 2009.
Last week I was impressed by the antagonistic and provocative manner the artwork depicting Josef Fritzl was displayed in a Bethnal Green shop window (see below). This week I’m less impressed by the seemingly yellow-bellied ease they rolled over and capitulated from the inevitable backlash.
Was it hordes of frenzied torch burning Cockneys storming the barricades in furious indignation? Er, no. The work in question has been replaced by this (admittedly funny) missive from a semi-literate “London resident”. And I quote: “To whom it may concern, If the picture of Hans Fritzel is ment to be ironic, then it is in extremely bad taste. Please keep your sophisticated musing behind closed doors. This is not appriate for a shop window. Name blanked out. (London resident)”.
The lipsticked “Fuck you Fritzl” has been smudged to read “Love you Fritzl”.
Trips to the off license have scarcely been so entertaining.
Neon and All Things Electric @ Neon and Sign Writers.Com, 278 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, E2
Saturday, 4 April 2009
“Disgrace!” I can see the headlines now. “Trendy artist mocks victims of sick pervert Josef Fritzl”.
As the arty world of Shoreditch and Hoxton spreads to Haggerston, Hackney and Bethnal Green there are so many small galleries that you hardly notice them anymore. All apart from the “Neon and All Things Electric” exhibition at the Neon and Signwriters space on Cambridge Heath Road. This dramatically captures the eye of more than just the Hoxton Hipsters.
Slap bang in the window is a three foot by two foot photograph (you know the one) of Josef Fritzl. Unless you’ve been locked in a dungeon for 24 years being raped by your father, you don’t need me to tell you who he is. Top right corner is the Apple logo with their slogan “Think Differently”. That’s it. One minute on photoshop, a willing gallery not too frightened to have their window put through, and you’ve got instant notoriety. Yeah, it is sensationalistic and deliberately provocative but it’s stuck in my brain since I first passed it yesterday and made me think. And judging by the countless folk I’ve witnessed taking photos of it from the street, it’s soon going to gather interest wider than the Hackney Gazette. Today someone had scrawled “Fuck You Fritzl” in bright red lipstick on the window outside, which was a nice addition. As “art” it’s hardly up there with Marcus Harvey’s Myra Hindley children's hand painting but gets a Tony Hart (bless him) thumbs up from me.
The work itself is by Matt Collishaw and I should say the exhibition does feature works by other artists but they were all (including Emin) made to look like a supporting cast.
Neon and All Things Electric @ Neon and Sign Writers.Com, 278 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, E2