Friday, 31 December 2010
When Reggie King died in October I was privileged to be asked by Shindig! to write an obituary. The result was more well meaning than well written but is published in the January/February edition. Despite the sub-heading claiming I was a “long-time friend and fan” I should clarify that although we met on a number of occasions I’m certain he never remembered me from one time to the next. I had planned to interview him again for a forthcoming project and am now kicking myself for dilly-dallying. A lesson learned. For The Action to lose both Reg and Mick Evans during 2010 was especially cruel.
The other 83 pages are filled with folk with great hair who weren’t afraid to experiment with music or fashion. I direct you to the photograph of 60’s chancers The Nerve in their suits of polythene and Sellotape. Wear your best underpants. I’ve never really got The Soft Machine but will give them another shot purely on account of how wonderful they look on the cover.
Shindig! is available from good record shops, discerning newsagents and via their website. Priced £4.95.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
As usual, a sample of sounds that have rattled the walls of Monkey Mansions during the past month. I’ve not picked them for the lyrics but quoted them to save thinking of stuff to say. They all work better with the music, which you can hear via the Spotify compilation link below. Enjoy, and don’t be put off by the shocking discovery that four songs are from the 1980s.
1. Little Walter – “Dead Presidents” (1963)
“Well I ain't broke but I'm badly bent/ Everybody loves them dead presidents.”
2. The Hytones – “You Don’t Even Know My Name” (1965)
“Yes, you’ve got a whole lot of fellahs hanging ‘round your door/ So you never know just how my love would be, cos you don’t even notice me.”
3. The Kinks – “People Take Pictures Of Each Other” (1968)
“People take pictures of each other/ and the moment to last them forever/ Of the time when they mattered to someone.”
4. Jerry Jeff Walker – “Pissin’ In The Wind” (1975)
“And we're pissin' in the wind, and it's blowing on all our friends/ We're gonna sit and grin and tell our grandchildren.”
5. The Creatures – “Mad Eyed Screamer” (1981)
“With the chatter in the trees/ Your balls are freezing in the breeze.”
6. Orange Juice – “The Artisans” (1984)
“Gonna trade in my snakeskin boots/ Gonna trade in my rhinestone suit/ 'Cause I'm in cahoots with the Artisans.”
7. The Redskins – “The Power Is Yours” (1986)
“We spend our lives waitin' for someone other than ourselves to make a move.”
8. McCarthy – “Governing Takes Brains” (1989)
“You know to be able to run a government you need a bloody good brain/ To be an MP you must be someone well above the common man.”
9. The Flaming Stars – “Like Trash” (1995)
“Everyone tells you it’s the only way/ If you don’t like it you can go away.”
10. Art Brut – “Good Weekend” (2005)
“I’ve seen her naked/ Twice!”
Click for Spotify Monkey Picks: December 2010 Playlist
Friday, 24 December 2010
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
With the future of London’s 100 Club shakier than my walk home after an all-nighter, this Thursday’s Christmas do by the 6T’s Rhythm and Soul Society is even more essential than usual. All those northern and R&B classics that have sat patiently at the back of record boxes all year get moved to the front and welcomed home like returning old friends.
I’m excited and as you can tell from my 1986 notebook I was pretty excited as a seventeen year old too, which translated into a terrible doodle of Jackie Wilson with his hand joined to his elbow and a funny little moddy bloke with Echo and the Bunnymen hair. The right hand page lists an edition of Peter Young’s Soul Cellar show from Capital Radio which I’d religiously record each week. (Click on the picture to enlarge).
This year’s party runs from 9pm until 2am, Thursday 23rd December, with the admission jumping from £1.50 to a somewhat less attractive £12.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Ray Davies, we are told, can be a cantankerous, contrary old sod so it’s best to approach these things with an open mind. With little idea what to expect beyond the Crouch End Festival Choir are involved I wondered whether Ray might “treat” us to a bunch of Christmas hymns or plug his new duets album by dragging out special guests to massacre “Lola”. I wasn’t expecting two sets crammed with classics performed acoustically, with a small band, and finally with a massive choir (well, I predicted that last part).
He started the first set accompanied by Bill Shanly and they transformed the vast hall into a warm informal get-together in a pub back room. Early Kinks punker “I Need You” was given a thoughtful new arrangement with neat interplay between the two guitarists, whilst more familiar big hits were casually tossed off with Ray in a chatty mood and keen to get the crowd singing along. With his music hall grounding and it being pantomime season I’ll let it pass but I’m never keen on audience participation. It makes me cringe. I want to hear you sing Ray, not these people looking like they’re sat in front of the telly. Do I ask you to come and polish my lathe?
One chap from the back bellowed for “Harry Rag” and was rewarded with a quick off-the-cuff version. If I could've picked one wild-card number to hear it would've been that, so thanks to them both. Another lesser-spotter Kinks moment came with a lovely folksy “Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About My Baby”. His small band emerged (they weren’t dwarves) during “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” and kept things nice and simple before going into the interval with a thumping “20th Century Man”. Ray spent much of the time sat on a stall as his sparrow legs are so skinny they can’t support the weight when a guitar is hung around his neck.
That set had started with a song I didn’t recognize but was then - to the best of my memory - followed by I Need You, Apeman, Autumn Almanac, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, After The Fall, Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About That Girl, Well Respected Man, Dead End Street, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, Vietnam Cowboys, Harry Rag, In A Moment, Tired Of Waiting, a bit of Victoria and the opening passage from X-Ray, and 20th Century Man.
When asked recently about a Kinks reunion Dave Davies said “I think the music is so beautiful it shouldn’t be tainted. It would be a shame. You don’t need to see silly old men in wheelchairs singing ‘You Really Got Me.’” An admirable stance but I wonder what he would’ve made of said song performed by brother Ray and a 50 strong choir during the second set. It was bizarre to see rows of well-to-do ladies and gents putting down their knitting and pipes to sing one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most primitive, guttural blasts from a music sheet. Not how I’d choose my music yet it gave an added dimension and though visually odd and sometimes distracting it was undoubtably effective on “See My Friends” and the selection from Village Green Preservation Society. If I wanted to hear them as per the records I could've stayed at home. There can be a fine line between adapting songs and ruining them but they were always on the right side.
As the dirty old river rolled in front of the Royal Festival Hall and millions of people swarmed like flies around Waterloo underground to the rear, “Waterloo Sunset” was especially emotive and although Ray didn’t mention it I couldn’t have been the only one to think then of Pete Quaife. Rest his soul.
So there you have it. No Santa hats, no Paloma Faith, just a thoroughly enjoyable selection of songs with glorious Kinks numbers easily rubbing shoulders with newer material. In a weekend when Davies wasn’t the only national treasure to perform in London (Paul who?), he was the only one who could top that earlier set with Celluloid Heroes, Victoria, Shangri-La, Imaginary Man, Village Green, Johnny Thunder, Village Green Preservation Society, Working Man’s Café, Sunny Afternoon, See My Friends, You Really Got Me, Postcards From London, Waterloo Sunset, Days, and All Day and All of the Night.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
Small yet perfectly formed, Double Breasted once again demonstrates the art of quality fanzine production. Snappy articles on the current mod scene stretching from Edinburgh and London to New York and Berlin give issue nine a strong international flavour. The highlight though is an interview with Ronnie Jones who talks about fronting the Night-Timers and playing the likes of The Flamingo and The Marquee in the mid-60s.
I couldn’t help but chortle at one question posed to a 44-year old be suited fellow sat astride a lights and mirrored SX125: “Do you think there’s such a thing as a ‘Mod Life Crisis'?” Someone should write a book on that.
Double Breasted issue 9 is available now, priced £3. Find it on Facebook or MySpace.
Monday, 13 December 2010
Every man, woman and blog is doing their end of year “best of” list so here are my favourite 20 songs from 2010. They aren’t in order of preference but sequenced for your listening pleasure. Spotify users click on the link at the bottom.
Oh, if I had to pick only one "Heartbreaker" by Girls just edges "You Are Not Alone" by Mavis Staples. Roky Erickson wins best album for True Love Cast Out All Evil.
The Jim Jones Revue – High Horse
The Vaccines – Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)
Frankie & The Heartstrings – Tender
Girls - Heartbreaker
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – Ain’t Blues Too Sad
The Silver Factory – The Sunshines Over You
Race Horses – Cake
The Black Angels – Telephone
Demon’s Claws – At The Disco
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – No Place To Fall
The School – I Want You Back
Belle and Sebastian – Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Pete Molinari – Streetcar Named Desire
Paul Weller – Fast Car/Slow Traffic
Gil Scott-Heron – Running
The Coral – Two Faces
The Clientele – Minotaur
Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Say No To Love
Manic Street Preachers – Golden Platitudes
Click Here for Spotify Playlist: Monkey Picks of 2010
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Beat Scene has a cover price of only £4 but each quarter plays havoc with my finances due to its coverage of the latest books by or about Beat Generation writers and associates.
Bill Morgan’s The Typewriter Is Holy (featured last week) is covered in detail including an interview with it’s writer; William Burroughs’s Queer has come out again including a new introduction by Oliver Harris who is also interviewed and along with his recent talk in Hackney compels me to buy it once more; John Clellon Holmes – author of the first published beat novel, Go – is subject of a new book by long standing biographers Ann and Sam Charters who – you guessed it – say their piece too, alongside a lengthy Holmes article by Jaap Van der Bent.
Loads of other stuff squeezed in its 64 advert-free pages.
Buy Beat Scene
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
My finger is nowhere near the pulse of up and coming bands. My hand stays tucked in my pocket, nice and warm and cozy, only occasionally poking for life in the chilly outside world that left me behind over a decade ago when I hung up my “indie DJ” headphones.
But now and again a band cross my radar and catch my attention. Frankie & The Heartstrings are one. To start with, I like their name - it has a ring of Wigan Casino about it. I like they mention Mike Leigh’s Naked in one of their songs and watch Ken Loach films on their tour bus. I like their forthcoming LP is named after Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. I like they are from Sunderland, free from associations with the usual tired cities. All these things score heavily in my book without them even playing a note.
I’m conscious I’m twice the age of most of those here to see them. Predicting this would be the case I shaved before leaving the flat, removing the festive white whiskers from my stubbly chin. It took weeks off me. As I hover around the edges of the club I’m hoping the hip young scenesters think I’m the cool mysterious head of Pieface Records. Instead I bet those even seeing me think I’m the bass player’s – hopefully groovy - Dad. Maybe I could pass for the guitarist from a half remembered Brit Pop band? “I used to be in The Bluetones don’tcha know.” On second thoughts, “that’s my son up there”.
Up there, the Heartstrings and Frankie do their thing and do it well, mixing infectious twitchy pop with epic torch burners. Singer Frankie Francis adopts two stances: a camp spasticated dance that’s less Ian Curtis and more Freddie Garrity for the bouncy songs, and the pained furrowed face of the crystal meth woman for the wounded soul numbers. The later style is more impressive. Not the face but the thoughtful romanticism of “Fragile”, “Ungrateful” and the brass backed “I Want You Back” which elevate them above the latest Orange Juice obsessives. Edwyn Collins’s son is manning the t-shirt stall, which makes perfect sense. It’s all good yet falls short of being exceptional or offering anything unique or inspiring – they’re simply a decent pop band. Nowt wrong with that, and one or two "make it" for a brief moment, but I’m not going to sign them to Pieface. Without a huge investment I can’t see where I’d get my money back (although having Steve Lamacq, Simon Price and Ryan Jarman among the hundred people in attendance on a freezing Monday night suggests they’re being backed by someone). Even megabucks Peter Jones got his fingers burned with Hamfister on Dragons’ Den.
Fortunately for the Heartstrings they’re signed to Pop Sex Ltd/Wichita and don’t need my investment, so I’m out. I shall invest in their album though and play it through the spring when I’m doing the washing up and sing along, annoying Mrs. Monkey with my tuneless caterwauling and incorrect lyrics. I’ll spot them on Later With Jools Holland and go all sniffy because I saw them ages ago and they were better then. In July they’ll open for Pulp in Hyde Park and all us Heartstringers will claim them as our own. Then they’ll get forgotten about, eventually knocking out a second album that I’ll never listen to. Finally, before you know it, some old git is saying “I used to be in Frankie & The Heartstrings don’tcha know” and no one will be any the wiser.
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Friday, 3 December 2010
Four Texas gigs from ’72 edited into one show/film with little fuss or razzmatazz: dark lighting, no props, no audience shots, little chit-chat, just the extended Stones band getting their rocks off to the best of Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street and Beggar’s Banquet.
A glittery eyed Stella Street Mick pouts and preens with one hand on his hip and claps and clucks like a chicken. Snaggle-toothed and panda-haired Keef throws shapes, wears a mean pair of Cuban heels, and cackles that he’s “Happy”. No one pays Bill any mind. The Bobby Keys Soul Revue blows a new arse through “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch”. And Charlie propels them down a straight road allowing Mick Taylor to zigzag along it. I’m not one for guitar heroes but when Taylor lets fly – not with solos but with winding lead lines - in, for example, the often overlooked “All Down The Line” – it’s arguably the Stones at their absolute peak.
Ladies and Gentlemen had a fleeting cinema run in ‘74 but has stayed undercover for much of the time since. It’s no Gimme Shelter or Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus but with extras including a rehearsal of “Shake Your Hips”, “Tumbling Dice” and an improvised jam - playing together in a tight circle – plus Jagger interviews old and new, it’ll keep the royalties trickling in for a bit longer.
Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones is released on DVD by Eagle Vision.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
The jacket of Bill Morgan’s book proudly boasts as being “The complete, uncensored history of the Beat Generation”, which asks two questions: can any biography be considered complete and if this is uncensored, what has previously been censored?
Morgan pulls off an impressive feat of editing the lives of its key protagonists: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac, plus their associates, into just 250 pages that zip by. He manages to combine their overlapping lives with conciseness yet provides clarity lacking in similar works, not shying away from Allen’s orgies, Bill’s drug use or Jack’s drinking.
Morgan has studied the Beats for over forty years and that knowledge shows itself in some of the extra detail and correcting of previous misinformation. For example, the killing of their friend David Kammerer: I always thought he was stabbed to death yet he died only after his body was dumped in the Hudson River. Also the death of Neal Cassady’s girlfriend Natalie Jackson after slashing her wrists and jumping off a building is given extra background detail. Cassady, as ever, doesn’t come across in a good light.
The Typewriter Is Holy focuses on their topsy-turvy lives, from the 1940s to the end of the 60s, rather than their works, and as with the stories above can be read as a stand-alone introduction into what can seem a confusing myriad of characters. It’s as complete and uncensored as you’ll need to start picking through the addictive Beat universe.
The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete Uncensored History of the Beat Generation by Bill Morgan is published by Free Press, priced $28.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
1. Big Sambo and the House Wreckers – “At The Party” (1960)
When flicking through sales boxes certain things will catch the eye, like this. The reward being a honking blast of a party where big fat chicks looking like bears wanna fight. Where’s my invite?
2. Roscoe Shelton – “Question” (1964)
Tuff R&B horn blower perfect those midnight to six hours.
3. Paul Peterson – “Don’t Let It Happen To Us” (1967)
Motown obscurity corner. Not the most talented singer but the Frank Wilson’s song and production are enough.
4. Paul Jones – “The Dog Presides” (1968)
Dogs a-barkin’, Jeff Beck a-riffin’, Paul McCartney a-thumpin’, Paul Jones a-blues wailin’ and Paul Samwell-Smith, er, playing the bass. Marvelous rocks-off madness.
5. The Delfonics – “I’m Sorry” (1968)
Before Thom Bell truly established his Sound of Philadelphia with The O’Jays and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes he cut his teeth on The Delfonics, lead by the distinctive swooping and soaring vocals of William Hart.
6. Mary Love – “Born To Live With Heartache” (1971)
Not one of Love’s better known singles but a cracker nonetheless. Imagine Shaft strutting his stuff as he leaves a trail of heartbroken ladies in his wake.
7. David Bowie – “A New Career In A New Town” (1977)
“Groovin’ with Mr. Bloe” recorded in outer space - and in the future.
8. Ride – “Chelsea Girl” (1990)
Shame they plunged so rapidly downhill as “Chelsea Girl”, “Drive Blind” and “Like A Daydream” had far bigger balls than their later stuff would suggest.
9. Siouxsie and the Banshees – “Stargazer” (1995)
The Banshees swop monochrome for dazzling Technicolor as they climb aboard their magic swirling ship and dock right next to a collection of Rubbles and British Psychedelic Trip compilations.
10. Pulp – “The Trees” (2001)
They’ve promised to play all the favourites – well, Cocker and co, this is mine and I’ll be waiting.
Friday, 26 November 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Interest on Modculture about The Action has prompted me to start making available on-line the various fanzine interviews in did with them in the mid-90s. I’ll show them in the order they occurred (Reggie King and Mick Evans to follow).
This first one with original lead guitarist, Pete Watson (on the right in the picture), took place in 1993 and appeared in my Something Has Hit Me and also in Bill Luther’s Smashed Blocked. Myself, Pete and Darren Brooker and Richard Merrett from local pop combo The Wilsons were huddled together in Pete’s room not far from Heathrow.
How did you meet the rest of the band?
It all started in Kentish Town. My Mum and Dad had a pub there and that’s where the rest of the band also lived. I used to demonstrate guitar at Sound City in Shaftsbury Avenue on Saturday mornings and they came in to see me. They were already together the four of them, and called The Boys, but they needed a lead guitarist so asked if I wanted to join them. We did a few gigs at the start but weren’t any good so we took a year off. Just practiced and practiced. Originally we started the gigs in ’62 and then started again to do more and more around the end of ’63.
There was that Sandra Barry and The Boys single, were you on that?
Yeah. Sandra Barry, whatever happened to her? “Really Gonna Shake” it was called. We wrote that. Reg King wrote it and we all helped arrange it.
Why did you then change the name to The Acton after The Boys solo single “It Ain’t Fair”?
The Boys wasn’t really the sort of name to put to the music we were playing. The sounded too clean-cut.
The Action had a very strong mod image; was that a deliberate ploy or was it something you were really into?
Oh yeah, we were all really into that. Tamla Motown, soul music. That’s all we were into. We didn’t play any pop chart numbers at all, just soul numbers.
Did you collect soul records?
We used to go down Saville Row where there were these studios that Kenny Lynch worked in. We used to go and raid their library of all the American soul songs. We used to sort through them and pick the ones we liked, then put our own arrangements to.
What ones were you doing in your live set?
Well, “Land of a Thousand Dances”, we were doing that right from the off. That song was really a part of us wherever we went. We used to finish with that one. It used to last about twenty minutes!
What were the gigs like?
Great. We did the university circuit which was good. Before that we did the Goldhawk, as well as the Marquee on every Tuesday night. We took over The Who’s Tuesday night slot. We were their backing group for a time, until we got the sack. Their manager Kit Lambert sacked us for taking too much of the limelight away from The Who. But not long after that they got their record going and left the Marquee, so we stepped in. We used to go back to Keith Moon’s flat in Shepherd’s Bush after playing the Marquee. He was a nutcase, good parties though. And Roger Daltrey still owes me a fiver. Imagine the interest on that now.
What other bands did you play with?
Most of them really. The Small Faces. Rod Stewart used to be in our backing band. Loads of gigs we did with him. Especially up north. Any gig up there and he always seemed to tag along. He was pretty much the same then as he is now. Always said he had no money. We did a Beatles Spectacular show as we had the same recording manager, George Martin.
How did you meet George Martin?
We kept phoning him up. We just wouldn’t leave him alone. In the end he came with his secretary to see us at a gig in this dancehall above a pub in Putney. He listened but said he couldn’t really tell much from that and he would know better once he got us into the studio.
What was he like to work with?
He was great. Lovely fella. You weren’t nervous about going into the studio with him. You’d play the song a couple of time and he’d just say “change that bit” or “try and do it like this”. Then he’d come ins and play the piano as well. Quite a few of those records had him on piano, things like “Since I Lost My Baby”. When The Beatles were recording George used to ring us up and ask if we wanted to come down. So we’d pop down there, have a cup of tea or coffee with them. We’d play cards with Ringo while the others were putting their vocals on. They were a good crowd. The only funny one was John, he was a bit off. You’d never know how to take him; he’d just take the piss basically. The rest of them were great.
Did George Martin alter the sound a lot in the studio or was it pretty much played live?
It was pretty much live, the vocals were double-tracked or whatever. He altered it a bit. Everyone said we were better on stage than on our records. People would say we were twice as good on stage. I don’t know what he did but here’s not enough bass for me. Not enough depth.
Were any of the concerts recorded?
Yeah, there was down at the Marquee. I don’t know whatever happened to it, whether it was for radio or television or what. There were cine cameras there as well. We did these things but I never knew what they were for.
What about television?
We did three Ready Steady Go’s, we did the Beatles Spectacular for television. We did some television up north. One of the Ready Steady Go’s had David and Jonathan, Dusty Springfield, The Mindbenders, us and a couple of others.
Tell us about the album that was recorded. Why didn’t it come out?
We did an album in ‘66/’67 for EMI, and a lot of it was our own songs. “The Place” from the compilation album was going to be on it. We just cut a load of songs and were going to piece it all together after that. I think it was not long after that that we sort of broke up, we didn’t even get as far as giving it a name.
Who picked the covers that got recorded? George Martin?
No, we’d choose them ourselves. George would then listen to it and tell us if he thought it was any good or not. Usually we’d do something and he’d say “that’s not going to be a number one!” t really bucked us up. They were really good days. It’s a pity we didn’t write as well as we played other people’s songs. Really it was only Reg and the bass player Mike who could write songs. I started to try and write but it always seemed too difficult for me. I’d sooner let them get on with it.
Why do you think the records never quite made it chart-wise?
I think mainly because we were playing great gigs all over the country and the public expected us to bring out something “different”, something totally unexpected. If we had recorded something unusual of our own rather than cover versions we might have done a lot better. That’s what we were getting towards near the end. We always tried to be different; we didn’t want to be like anyone else. The Who were playing the same songs but in a more outrageous way, we just did them differently. Also, with the right manager things might have been different.
Why? What did he do?
He just ripped us off. He was the bloke that did that Bob Dylan concert at the Isle of Wight. Took the advance ticket sales and buggered off with it. That’s the sort of bloke he was but we didn’t know it at the time. He ripped us off badly with the money. We only found out after he said he didn’t want to manage us any more, then we discovered all the debts. Every time we went up north it wasn’t just for one night, it was four or five, and we were staying in hotels, we had our own road managers who’d do everything for us. But none of the bills were ever paid. They had writs out against us all over the place. That’s why I left. The others carried on for a while. For about eight months they worked for nothing, just paying back debts. I didn’t want to go through it all again. I was so sick of what he had done to us, and us breaking up. I mean, we were nearly there, we were. We knew all the right people, we knew everyone, we had George Martin, what more could you want? But when that bastard did that to us I just washed my hands of it all. I went back to my Mum and Dad’s pub; just shut myself off from everyone. Watched all the others over the years getting richer and richer while I was getting poorer and poorer. At least I’m not dead though like Moonie. I knew he’d kill himself. He was always into drugs and stuff in excess.
Did any of you lot take anything?
The only time I ever took stuff was in the early days when I drove the van. I took speed to keep awake driving all night. It used to keep me awake and keep me talking. Bleedin’ jaws used to ache! No matter what people were discussing, no matter what subject, you knew about it. You could talk them under the table. Didn’t know what the hell you were saying though. I never went on to the heavier stuff like LSD or anything. Reg did. He fell off the stage one night and we had to pack up and go home.
Going back to The Ultimate Action, what’s your favourite song from it?
Apart from “Land of a Thousand Dances” which is sentimental because it was the first thing we did in the studio with George Martin, my favourite has to be “Since I Lost My Baby”. Everyone used to like that one, it’s always been my favourite. “The Place” is one we wrote for the album because there was this club called The Place that we used to do regular. To me “Hey-Sha-Lo-Ney” is a lot of bleedin’ rubbish. We only did it for a b-side because we didn’t have anything else. A lot of people seem to like it though.
That’s a beautiful Rickenbacker in the corner of the room.
That’s the original guitar on all The Action records. 1962 I bought it. Thirty one years old and I’ve never had to touch it; never had the neck straightened, nothing. It’s a twelve-string but I only use it as a six- string now, just to mess about with. Van Halen wanted it for studio work. Offered me £800 and a brand new Fender on top but I turned it down. It has got too much sentimental value.
Have you kept in touch with any of the band?
I’ve not seen the boys from that day to this. None of them. One of them joined Ace, who were one-hit wonders. Roger the drummer married an American, I don’t know if he went to America or not. Mick went funny, wears one of those funny hats and goes around praying all day. Reg went into record production for a while. I’d love to see them all again. I’ve not seen them for twenty-five years. Maybe I should get Cilla [Black on Surprise, Surprise] to arrange it.
Saturday, 20 November 2010
Isn’t it good when you stumble across something quite by chance? Tucked away on a Shoreditch backstreet is Ever Young a collection of photographs by James Barnor. Barnor took portraits in his studio in Jamestown, Ghana before moving to England in 1959. His earlier photographs of local folk and passing dignitaries are interesting enough but what caught my eye (unsurprisingly) were the Swinging London shots he took for Drum magazine. All the usual backdrops are present and correct: sports cars, bright red postboxes, pigeons in Trafalgar Square, but the use of black models adds another dimension, highlighting London just before it began its rapid (and welcome) shift into the multicultural metropolis it is today, as the 1966 picture of Erlin Ibreck above neatly demonstrates.
Ever Young: James Barnor is at Autograph ABP, Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London EC2 until 27 November 2010, admission free.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
Seeing artists of a certain vintage fall into three categories: the “to be honest they were pretty crap but at least I can say I’ve seen them” category; the “they’re okay and played all their old hits”; and occasionally there’s the “instead of living off former glories they’re still moving forward and producing the goods”. Bob Dylan can straddle all three in a one night and Mavis Staples right now is proudly rooted in the third.
With a set consisting almost exclusively of her new album, You Are Not Alone , she is in commanding form, pushing herself with grace, dignity, infectious humour and fierce determination. For 60 years she’s worked audiences from the churches of Chicago, to civil rights marches, to large rock venues, so an intimate club gig like this is a doddle, yet everything looks so natural and not in the least contrived. There’s plenty of patter with the crowd and a smile and an aura of inspiration that radiates around her - she’s impossible not to love.
Old spirituals like “Creep Along, Moses” and “Wonderful Savior” stand shoulder to shoulder with well chosen covers of Little Milton’s “We’re Gonna Make It” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “I Wrote A Song For Everyone” whilst the fabulous album title track is the song of the year in my book. The Staple Singers had a happy knack of making gospel songs accessible to pop audiences and giving pop songs a gospel grounding and that tradition still holds.
Her band is a simple guitar, bass and drums three piece who subscribe to the less is more style of playing, leaving plenty of space of Mavis and her three backing singers – including Staples Singer sister Yvonne – to do their thing; although it only takes Mavis, a solitary guitar barely brushed, and Randy Newman’s “Losing You” to engulf the place in a reverential hush - apart from one dick at the bar to loudly exclaim “Ten quid for a glass of wine?!”
The only classics are “The Weight” and “I’ll Take You There” but it matters not. It's testament to Mavis I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
My, how the London Film Festival spoilt us this year with not one, but two, Beat Generation themed films. Following William S. Burroughs: A Man Within came Howl, a celebration of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman weave a recreation of the 1955 Six Gallery debut reading (with help from Lawrence Ferlinghetti about how it looked); the obscenity trial court case (with the suave Jon Hamm playing the hip defense lawyer); Ginsberg interviews (nicely underplayed by James Franco); and an animation of the poem (which sounds horrible, well it does to me, but was okay).
All the dialogue is taken verbatim from the original court transcript; Ginsberg’s own interviews and “Howl” itself, which gives a strong documentary feel rather than that of a staged and scripted drama. Without being extremely picky there’s little to fault in it, so I won’t. You might take that for laziness and you might be right but even watching it tired, emotional and more than a little drunk (hence this flimsy - and late - review), I thought it interestingly made and thanks to the different styles and settings moves at a surprisingly brisk pace.
Howl is due for release in cinemas in February 2011.
Monday, 15 November 2010
What a pleasure it was to DJ at the Boiler in Barcelona on Saturday. So refreshing to play to such a packed knowledgeable crowd whose primary instinct was for non-stop dancing. They queued down the street and those lucky enough to get in really went for it. If you ever get the chance – go. It’s a unique experience.
Many, many thanks to the organizers Cristina Alfonso, Alberto Valle and Jordi Duro for inviting me, treating me well and running a well organized club; to the other DJs for being such nice chaps, especially enjoyed Moonwolf’s 50s R&B and Mr. Fine Wine’s wide ranging set including some serious oddball choices that worked a treat; to all the people I met and chatted to from around Europe and beyond; and to Kavel Rafferty from Galleria Kavel for getting us around the city and ensuring I managed to find some tapas that didn’t include cheese.
The Dippers – Goin’ Ape (Diplomacy)
Marion James – I’m The Woman For You (K&J)
Gloria Grey – It’s A Sweet World (Warner Bros)
Dee Dee Sharp – Deep Dark Secret (Cameo)
The Dalton Boys – I’ve Been Cheated (VIP)
Ray Scott and the Scottsmen – Right Now (Decca)
Aretha Franklin – Tighten Up Your Tie Button Up Your Jacket (Columbia)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
The Gardenias – What’s The Matter With Me (Fairlane)
Lloyd Price – The Chicken and the Bop (KRC)
Bobby Peterson Quintet – Mama Get Your Hammer (V-Tone)
JB Lenior - She Don't Know (Checker)
Sugar Boy Williams – Little Girl (Herald)
Leo Price Band – Hey Now Baby (Up Down)
Eddie Holland – Baby Shake (Motown)
Dorie Williams – Tell Me Everything You Know (635)
Mary Ann Fisher – It’s A Man’s World (Imperial)
Ernie Washington – Lonesome Shack (Chattahoochee)
Dick Jordan – I Want Her Back (Jamie)
Dick Holler – Mooba-Grooba (Comet)
Lonesome Sundown – I Had A Dream Last Night (Excello)
George Cameron – My Heart Tells Me So (Portrait)
The Rollers – Troubles (Bel-Star)
Bob and Earl – The Sissy (Chene)
The Marvelettes – I’ll Keep Holding On (Tamla)
Martha and the Vandellas – In My Lonely Room (Gordy)
James Brown – Good Good Lovin’ (Federal)
Smokey Smothers – I Got My Eyes On You (Gamma)
L. Roy Baimes – Hey L. Roy (BJR)
Friday, 12 November 2010
It’s the opening day of Mick Rock’s retrospective but the man is not kicking back and admiring his work. As the faces of 70s superstars and 60s supernovas stare blankly through altered eyes from the walls, he is snapping the latest collection of wannabes huddled on the floor in a state of calculated dishevelment, seemingly convinced torn and frayed jeans are still a rock and roll statement.
Rock’s more famous subjects had a bit more about them and some of his album covers are as familiar, if not more so, than the music they house. I bet more people recognize the Transformer sleeve than could hum “Vicious” and more identify Raw Power than whistle “Search and Destroy”. Every article ever written about Syd Barrett has been accompanied by one of Rock’s shots and he had something to do with David Bowie but I only think about that in an attempt to obliterate the thought of Queen.
Little Johnny Rotten looks chirpy and The Ramones look like they’re throwing a strop after being forced to wear an inch of make-up for End of the Century. There’s one amusing set of photos from a house party down the Portobello Road where Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood turn up (like they do) and start jamming until two local bobbies turn up: “Do you mind turning the noise down a bit lads?”
There are one or two surprises and more recent portraits but it’s the old classics that keep Rock in dark glasses.
Mick Rock - Rock: Music is at the Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, Bethnal Green, London E2 until 16th January 2011. Admission free.
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Keith Richards’ autobiography Life is out now. You know this. I’ve not read it cover to cover yet but have randomly dipped in and out and it’s packed with fascinating details and untold stories told in Keith’s what’s-all-the-fuss-about way. He describes Altamont as “no hairier than getting out of the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool” and “if it hadn’t been for the murder, we’d have thought it a very smooth gig”. Very smooth gig? Brilliant.
One passage that caught my eye was William Burroughs giving Keith advice on how to get off on dope and procure good quality stuff, and then giving him and Gram Parsons a sadistic and ultimately useless drug cure which resulted in Keith and Gram shitting and pissing themselves, sharing a sick bucket, and twitching so hard they kept falling off the bed they were tucked in. “I wondered if it was Bill Burroughs’s joke, to probably send me the worse cure he’d ever had”.
And there’s more. Read it yourself.
Life by Keith Richards is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £20.
Friday, 5 November 2010
Monday, 1 November 2010
Saturday, 30 October 2010
In the nick of time, October’s playlist…
1. Mary Ann Fisher – “It’s A Man’s World” (1962)
Predating James Brown by four years, Fisher served her dues as a Raelette so knew all about being in a man’s world. But for these two and a half minutes of gutsy R&B the world belonged to Ms Mary Ann Fisher.
2. Bob Dylan – “All Over You” (1963)
Even the crumbs from Bob’s table, dusted down nigh on fifty years later for Bootleg Series Volume 9, would make a feast for anyone else. “Well, you cut me like a jigsaw puzzle/ You made me a walkin’wreck/ Then you pushed my heart through my backbone/ Then you knocked off my head from my neck”.
3. The Action – “Just Once In My Life” (1966)
“I don’t foresee a rags to riches story for me“ predicts Reggie on this rarely mentioned Righteous Brothers song.
4. Doris Duke – “To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)” (1970)
In true deep southern soul style Doris was proud to play second fiddle to another man’s wife. The hussy.
5. Reg King – “Go Have Yourself A Good Time” (1971)
This was heartbreaking enough already.
6. Chairmen of the Board – “Chairman of the Board” (1971)
The chairman, General Norman Johnson, retired from the board this month leaving Invictus with a stack of valuable assets. This 45 didn’t bring home so much green stuff but its bluesy funkadelicness contrasts nicely with their earlier handbag hits.
7. T. Rex – “Born To Boogie” (1973)
John Lee Hooker in glittery eye make-up, a feather boa, and with a gleaming silver tank for a cock.
8. Loop – “Soundhead” (1987)
For five gallant minutes Loop surge through the swamps of distortion and wrestle giant alligators of wah-wah.
9. The Silver Factory – “The Sunshines Over You” (2010)
A band that understand you can’t have too much jingle-jangling in your life. It’s simply not possible. Of the four songs on their home produced EP there’s barely a tambourine shake in quality between them. One to watch.
10. Belle and Sebastian – “The Ghost of Rockschool” (2010)
This and “Calculating Bimbo” from Write About Love have made me fall for B&S all over again – like in ’97 when I wore out the grooves of If You’re Feeling Sinister. Didn’t actually believe that was possible – but it is.
Sunday, 24 October 2010
I don’t know where to start. I’ve sat here all day trying to think what to write. What can you say when you wake up to find reports that your all-time favourite singer from your all-time favourite band has died?
What I have done is play The Ultimate Action three times, Rolled Gold once, Reg King once, Missing In Action once, “It Ain’t Fair” by The Boys, and I’ll get to the rest later. I humbly suggest you dig out a few too.
I first met Reggie in 1994. Dave Edwards, to my eternal gratitude, put me on to him and I sent Reg a copy of my Something Has Hit Me fanzine asking if he’d be interested in being interviewed. I received a slightly bonkers letter back from “Reginald King” suggesting we meet for a chat when he could tell me about Jimi Hendrix, John and Yoko, Eric Clapton and Robert Plant. I didn’t want to know about them.
I’d only seen a handful of pictures of Reg back in his Action heyday so had no idea what to expect when I turned up at his flat in Thamesmead on a dark winter’s night. I buzzed. The door eventually opened. A little chap in big glasses, sporting a mullet, wearing a waistcoat too small for him answered the door. He looked like a down-at-the-heel Cliff Richard or Mike Read. “Are you Reggie?” He was. He invited me in and we chatted for an hour and half until he started itching to get to the pub and I made my excuses and left.
It was one of the greatest evenings of my life. Sat amongst piles of yellowing newspapers and rubbish, drinking milky tea, we went through the Action in detail as he kept unbuttoning and buttoning his waistcoat and quietly belching. He was fairly nuts and his memory was obviously shot to pieces for more recent events (he lent me some photographs which he said were a year old – they must’ve been at least 15-20 years old) but his recall of the early 60s was incredible. No one had paid him any interest for 25 years yet he was talking as if events had happened yesterday.
The thought of an Action reunion seemed like a ludicrous idea to me but it eventually happened and Reg reveled in it. Having the band back appeared to give him some purpose and focus and if his expectations were unrealistic it was lovely for him to see the high regard he was held in. I saw him a few times at those gigs including a memorable all-nighter in Spain when he was sat with a very young leggy lady straddling him and snogging his face off. “I’ve still got it” he said on the journey home. It certainly looked that way.
The last chat we had was backstage after a gig in 2004. I tried to convince him that The Action’s “Since I Lost My Baby” was/is better than the Temptations’. He wasn’t having any of it, complaining – incredibly - that he was never happy with his vocal, but at least I made him believe I thought it was. It is. It’s the greatest Motown cover ever. Reggie said in 1965 of The Action, “it’s American rhythm-and-blues without the blues; it’s sort of rhythm and soul”, and he was exactly right.
Reg was to my mind the finest soul singer this country ever produced, and The Action - a bunch of white kids from Kentish Town – produced some its finest soul records. But that wasn’t all. The later Rolled Gold material showed a comfortable progression with the times and there are tracks on Reg King that can also send a shiver.
Earlier this year Mick Evans died (see here) and now, it's been confirmed, Reggie died on the 8th of October. I still don’t know what to say without sounding like an idiot. Maybe I’ll go and play “Since I Lost My Baby” again, or “Wasn’t It You”, or “In My Lonely Room”, or “Something Has Hit Me”, or “Gone Away”, or, or, or…
Friday, 22 October 2010
No resting on their laurels, no boring bassist, no bald drummer, no sitting behind a keyboard, no indulgent crap, no time-to-go-for-a-piss songs, no feet nailed to the floor, no holding instruments under the chin, no let up, no half measures, no competition. A rock 'n' roll masterclass.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
The UK premiere of Yony Leyser’s feature length documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within is as good a place as any to see what Bill’s readers look like. Do a spot of profiling. I like to imagine they’re a motley crue of misfits and outsiders on the margins of society with fierce independent and individualist elements. I’m sure they are, but beside counterculture legend and Burroughs photographer John Hoppy Hopkins who shuffles in to the NFT still resolutely anti-establishment with his long grey hippy hair, little knitted hat and luminous trainers, the rest have learned well from “El Hombre Invisible” and go about their business drawing as little heat as possible.
Leyser’s film opens as a standard documentary “William Seward Burroughs was born…” etc but soon unravels into a segment exploring his sexuality and relationship (or not) to gay culture. It’s relationships in general that the film looks at and Burroughs’ reluctance or inability to give or accept love. In one clip Allen Ginsberg asks if he wants to be loved. “Weeeell, that depends on from whom or from what”. Pause. Pursed lips. “From my cats certainly”.
Instead of a chronological story the film lumps together themes and uses archive footage and talking heads in an attempt to unveil Burroughs the man rather than Burroughs the wife shooting junkie queer who wrote a bit. Although there is still plenty of that amongst the sections on guns, drugs, sex, the William Tell incident, cut-ups etc. As a thorough life story it wasn’t particularly strong and details of his work were lacking but it still managed to offer plenty to attract the interest of new viewers and enough new snippets to please the old guard. You won’t find me complaining; I’m eager to watch it again when it gets a DVD release.
The interviewees were a mixed bag. Some, like Iggy Pop, were presumably only there for marketing purposes but John Waters was entertaining, Victor Bockris enthusiastic, Peter Weller larger than life and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge thoughtful, personal and curiously attractive. These people look like Burroughs readers. They’re not in the margins, they’re off the page. More revealing though were the contributions from the likes of people closer to him like his friend James Grauerholz, his gun dealer and a young boyfriend whose name unfortunately escapes me. They all do great impressions too.
Burroughs achieved much during his surprisingly long life yet watching this it’s hard not to think it was a sad, painful and lonely life with little happiness. His friends did find comfort in the very last words he wrote in his spidery handwriting in his journal just days before he died in 1997. “Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE”. He was talking about his cats.
Friday, 15 October 2010
I regularly use this page to mark the anniversary of the passing of various musicians and writers. Guy Sisson was neither of those although he did DJ for me at Shake! in Bethnal Green and of all the guests he always pitched it just right, totally understanding the mix of gritty R&B dancers and big unashamed Motown monsters the night thrived on. Oh, and gallons of beer and an after party that continued for days afterwards. The only writing skills I saw was a penciled list on his kitchen notice board of Things To Do Today: “Number 1. Kill Thatcher, 2. Win lottery, 3. Take over the world”.
I always thought he was indestructible but Guy finally buggered off a year ago today after using up more lives than a multi-storey cattery. He wouldn’t have wanted to go to heaven; he definitely hasn’t gone to hell; but wherever he is you can bet is a better place for having the old goat skinning up, causing mayhem and shouting “hurrah for us” with a wonky raised fist salute.
Hurrah for you my friend.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
I was asked a few questions by a glossy Italian style magazine a while back for an article about the Beat Generation. I’m still waiting to be flown to San Francisco for the photo shoot of me sagely thumbing the paperbacks in City Lights or supping a beer in Vesuvio’s with The Subterraneans casually placed on the bar.
Why do you think there’s an ongoing fascination with characters like Ginsberg, Kerouac etc?
They were groundbreaking in their writing; shaking up the staid, conservative, dull and frightened America. They looked it dead in the eye and challenged it. That alone would be enough but when you discover further controversy, court cases, links to the criminal underworld, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness, lobotomies, murder, suicide, mysterious deaths, firearms, alcohol abuse, drug experimentation and addiction, travel, religion, wife sharing and bigamy, you’ve all the ingredients of a fantastic soap opera that continues to develop with every new publication of their correspondence (see the recent Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters).
Were the Beats perhaps more a cult than anything else?
For me, the Beats were solely Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and their close associates – nothing to do with the cartoonish Beatniks that followed. The Beat Generation term came from a drunken Kerouac which Ginsberg was savvy, passionate and generous enough to use as the means to get his friends published in the aftermath of Howl. There’s little stylistically to link Howl, On The Road and Naked Lunch so it’s difficult to categorize them as a genuine literary movement; really they were/are a media phenomenon – even if they created it themselves.
Do they have a true legacy when it comes to poetry and literature?
They do, but time is dusting over the tracks of that legacy. The obscenity trials of Howl and Naked Lunch paved the way for greater freedom of expression and people like City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti shouldn’t be forgotten in all this. They made poetry and literature exciting, even dangerous. On The Road reads somewhat quaintly these days but the rhythm and phrases in Howl, exploring and questioning the soul of America, could be hip hop lyrics of today and if Naked Lunch was published tomorrow its nightmarish visions could scarcely be any less powerful.
What are you expecting from the Howl film? Do you think Coppola’s On The Road project is a good idea (what I mean is, can you really hope to capture the essence of the book on film etc?).
From the short trailer, I can’t wait to see Howl . Visually looks spot-on, Franco looks convincing, a gripping courtroom drama and the greatest poem of the 20th Century. Looks like a winner to me. On The Road is a harder task to pull off. I can’t see any film doing the book justice but I’m not precious about it; it’ll come out and be forgotten just as quickly whereas Jack’s novel will continue to be read for another fifty years.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Thursday, 7 October 2010
Today, apparently, is National Poetry Day. I’ve no idea what it involves nor do I care, but it's a good excuse to share one of my most treasured possessions with you that hangs proudly from the marbled walls of Monkey Mansions.
Above (click on it) is the original manuscript straight out of Charles Bukowski’s typewriter of “Pacific Telephone”. As you can see he wrote it on 1st November 1976, signed it, and posted it to his publisher John Martin at Black Sparrow Press. It appeared in Love Is A Dog From Hell the following year. The black pen marks are by Bukowski and the pencil marks by Martin.
It is so typically Bukowski and you can hear him so clearly reading in that slow lazy drawl and then adopting the whiney voice he used whenever speaking on behalf of the women in his life.
Bet old Hank would’ve loved National Poetry Day…
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Sunday, 3 October 2010
“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” Someone (Chuck D) said it, the Manic Street Preachers quoted it, and I pinched it. It’s a recurring theme.
I wouldn’t say I’ve any heroes as such but I wouldn’t deny The Jam, and Paul Weller in particular, musically and sartorially shaped my early teenage years and a decade later the Manic Street Preachers, and Richey Edwards in particular, had an equally profound and lasting effect ideologically and culturally.
The streets were covered with snow in January 1991 when I bought, unheard, the Heavenly 12 inch of “Motown Junk”. Time hasn’t diminished the thrill and rush of that garbled punk urgency which flew acid in the face of everything around it, then and now. It’s difficult for newcomers now with the Manics far removed from the mess of eyeliner and spray paint that first dazzled from the pages of the NME spouting off about William Burroughs, Karl Marx and Harold Pinter to believe how vital and exhilarating they were in an flimsy era of post-baggy "we've always had a dance element to our music" desperation and faceless shoegazing dullness. The Manics were a fascinating, intelligent, well read, educated, cynical, unfashionable, working class band kicking against the pricks, yet slowly – and frustratingly – unraveled as often willfully subservient and compromising.
Ben Myers’ Richard tells two stories in parallel. The first recounts the story of four insular school friends from a Welsh mining town that became the Manic Street Preachers who invited and provoked hostility and adoration in equal measures. Edwards, with little to no musical ability being enlisted because he was their best friend, driver, looked fantastic, balanced the symmetry, could write lyrics and be their Minister of Information a la Public Enemy’s Professor Griff. It proved a smart move but one that came at a price. There’s little in Myers’ imagining to cause too much indignation from Richey acolytes, as it effectively blends established “fact” with Richey’s well documented sense of worthlessness. After only selling a handful of their first homemade single Richey was already saying “There is more self hate in this band than anyone can realise. We hate ourselves totally”. Yeah, yeah, nice quote mate, makes good copy for the music press, play the game. Prove it they said.
The second, potentially more difficult to accept book, is the one told in Richey’s voice from the time he disappeared from the Embassy Hotel in 1995 never to be seen again. Myers uses the few alleged sightings as stepping stones to construct a version of events and a version of what could have been going through his mind. How would he know? Well, he doesn’t, does he? The book jacket pointedly says Richard - A Novel, not Richey Edwards - The Unauthorised Biography. It paints a distressed Richard driving on autopilot back to Wales, trampling the hillside, seeking solitude and release from the taunting voices in his head telling him what an insignificant, useless coward he is. Kurt Cobain, he proved it. He was 4 Real.
Myers was always going to court controversy with this (“how very dare he?”) and the technique has been done better before (David Peace’s The Damned United) but I managed to easily separate fact from fiction. Richey fans should be an intelligent bunch but that didn’t stop the clatter of protest before publication. If somebody had done the same to a personal friend of mine my instinct would be to want their severed hand on a stick but I didn’t know Richey; I only canonized my own interpretation of him. The interpretation based on his interviews and lyrics so I struggled through the first third of this book as I couldn’t hear Richey’s voice. The words attributed to him are at times simple and clichéd, as is some of the text, and not as eloquent and as carefully measured as I’d expect. But that slowly sinks away and the comparisons drift apart. I stopped reading it as an account dictated via Doris Stokes and started to appreciate it as a novel in its own right. It’s an increasingly uncomfortable and terribly sad read (and I’m certain no bundle of joy to write) but its contemplation on misery and confusion, alienation and despair, self loathing and suicide are surely food and drink for followers of Richard James Edwards.
Richard by Ben Myers is published by Picador, priced £12.99.
Friday, 1 October 2010
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
“Where you going Shaft?” asks honky cop to the private investigator out on the freezing New York sidewalk. “To get laid. Where you going?” And with an exaggerated laugh he saunters off leaving said cop looking useless and impotent.
It’s a great exchange and one of many in a film I’ve not seen for so long I’d forgotten how good it is. So it was doubly cool not only to see it at the NFT on Sunday, but for John Shaft, actor Richard Roundtree, to be there too.
Can you dig it?
Gone is the immaculate fro, gone is the bushy moustache, gone is the leather trench coat, and most definitely gone are the ball breaking black leather strides, but Richard Roundtree is still the man. Albeit a 68 year old man in a conservative blue blazer over a canary yellow v-neck sweater. But there’s enough in his chat with DJ and presenter Iyare Igiehorn to let you know he still ain’t a dude to be messed with. For well over an hour he’s happy to yak about the Shaft films but when the topics stray into more personal or touchy areas he stays resolutely tight lipped.
He starts by explaining how he came to play the role: he had done a little theatre acting he was mainly employed as a model but put in for the role anyway. During an interview with photographer/writer turned producer Gordon Parks, Parks puffed on his cigar and pointed to an advert in a magazine on his desk. “We want somebody who looks like that”. That somebody was Roundtree himself. Parks gave him his break and throughout the interview Roundtree heaps mountains of praise on a man that clearly had a huge influence on not just his work but his life as well. One audience member later rates Parks up there with Duke Ellington and Paul Robeson in the pantheons of great 20th Century black cultural figures.
Igiehorn, who refreshingly for this type of event, gallantly tries to stick to fan type questions – rather than technical filmmaking questions – asks how he dealt with suddenly being an unexpected star after the huge success of Shaft in 1971. Roundtree thinks carefully. “I didn’t have to use toilet paper. You know what I’m saying?”. I’m thinking he was such a big cheese he had bitches wipe his hairless butt (more of that later) but he was trying to politely say he believed the hype and thought his shit didn’t stink.
Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
Without using the words Igiehorn tries to ask about the superstar lifestyle: the parties, the women, the drugs. Roundtree is having none of it. “The 70s were great” he says. That’s it. “Come on man, you can’t leave it at that?” But he does. “Lean on him” shouts someone. “You want me to lean on Shaft?” Still no dice. Attempts to extract juicy gossip about likes of Pam Grier are met with an impenetrable silence and a steely look.
They say this cat Shaft is bad mother –
We do though get a glimmer into one party though, held by Miles Davis. “Good job”, says Miles, “but you gotta learn to say motherfucker”.
Shut your mouth.
A fight scene from Shaft’s Big Score (1972) is shown, as is a bonkers scene from Shaft In Africa (1973) where a naked Shaft waking up next to a horse and then – still naked – engages in a spot of stick fighting before burying himself in sand. “What did you think when you read that in the script?” he’s asked. Roundtree doesn’t really answer but does say that Shaft In Africa is his favourite Shaft film as it was only then he felt comfortable with the role. And by the look of it comfortable prancing around waving his big stick in the air; although he had no idea his daughter’s classmates would discover the film years later.
The thorny issue of the blaxploitation genre – its portrayal of pimps, junkies and whores received negative vibes from within the black community - is touched upon and Roundtree how he’s met people in Mississippi and beyond who’ve told him how empowering the films have been to them and how he gets angry when people talk about exploitation. Watching Shaft again and seeing such a strong, cool, no nonsense, intelligent black man in a leading role you can see his point. And as Igiehorn remarks “it’s a movie where the black guy lives to the end!”
An audience question about the short lived TV series of Shaft is met with an obvious understatement of “I was not overly enamoured with it” and the Samuel L. Jackson remake received equally short thrift “needless to say I was underwhelmed”. Although he didn’t quite say it, it was apparent he was upset Jackson got the gig instead of him, which contrasted with Isaac Hayes’s reaction when he thought he’d get the original Shaft role but was still the “consummate gentleman” and such a “mellow human being”.
After a career that includes eight pages of an acting CV, Roundtree is forever going to be known as Shaft and expresses some regret almost all his subsequent roles have been as authority figures (not hard to see why), and leaves with the line “sometimes you just got to ride the horse in the direction it’s going”.
Sunday, 26 September 2010
For September gurls and boys.
1. Porgy and the Monarchs – “If It’s For Real” (1965)
Not much seems to be known about Porgy and the Monarchs but a listen to the brush then swish of the strings, the empty room acoustics, the tearful atmosphere, the consoling harmonies, the impeccable arrangement, the drum clicks like footsteps walking in to the lonely night, the heartache and the heartbreak, and it tells you all you need to know.
2. Bo Diddley – “Ooh Baby” (1966)
What a groove.
3. July – “The Way” (1968)
Not the album version by these UK psychsters but the even freakier sitar molesting pots and pans version on the flip of “Hello, Who’s There?”
4. The Staple Singers – “You’ve Got To Earn It” (1971)
Horns ‘n’ harmonica, flute, the kitchen sink and some typically right-on fist clenching positivity are thrown in to this not-much-like-the-original Tempts number by the fabulous Staples.
5. Pigbag – “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” (1981)
Let’s have a look at Queen’s Park Rangers’ scores so far this season: 4-0, 3-0, 2-0, 2-2, 3-0, 3-0, 2-0, 3-0. All together now: “Dood dood, dood-dod, HOOPS! Dood dood, dooo-doo/ Dood- dood, dood-dod, HOOPS! Dood dood, dooo-doo”.
6. The Black Crowes – “She Talks To Angels” (1990)
Long ago and worlds apart I was sat in a Vegas bar and told I looked like Chris Robinson. I didn’t but it made my night.
7. Race Horses – “Cake” (2009)
Watch the video on YouTube, then come back and thank me.
8. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – “No Place To Fall” (2010)
Hawk covers much ground including a crafty reworking of Bettye LaVette’s “Let Me Down Easy” (“Come Undone”), some spiky blues (“Get Behind Me”) but the highlight is the graceful folk/country/soul of “No Place To Fall”.
9. The Black Angels – “Telephone” (2010)
Phosphene Dream finds the Angels cutting back on the fat to show a leaner, meaner, laying off the munchies side. It’s still dense with heavy stoner rock but the load is lightened with a couple of blasts of twanging garage punk with Barrettesque breaks.
10. The Crookes – “Backstreet Lovers” (2010)
Their Smiths-scented new 45 won’t change anyone’s life but it bobs along pleasantly enough.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
When a chap named The Hammer appears in Tony O’Neill’s new novel you immediately dread how he earned such a moniker. It only takes a couple of pages to discover it’s on account of the shape of his fourteen inch todger which he uses as the template for a hand crafted, monogrammed dildo that’s shoved so far up a young man’s arse it gets stuck inside him, kills him, and has to be gruesomely retrieved before the body is disposed of.
Sick City follows the degenerate junkie theme of previous novels Digging The Vein and Down and Out On Murder Mile but it’s less overtly personal and deviates, and expands upon those, by moving away from first person to a third person narrative, giving O’Neill ample scope to create a vast cast of increasingly grotesque characters, which he does with obvious relish. This is a writer letting loose and enjoying himself. The Hammer dildo passage (if you excuse the pun) is but one of many wickedly funny moments amid the scuzzy world of sex and drugs that equalizes LA junkies and whores with Hollywood execs, TV doctors and police chiefs.
The story centers on bereaved faggot Jeffrey and shittypants outcast Randal’s not unreasonable plan to sell a Hollywood sex tape (including Steve McQueen giving a portion to Sharon Tate and Mama Cass…) to the highest bidder and thus getting clean, straight and living happily ever after. Easy as that. But on their trail comes Pat, a psychopathic speed freak with – in a nod to that other American Psycho – a Phil Collins fixation who thinks nothing of pulling off nipples with pliers to the sound of Phil’s Greatest Hits.
Sick City’s vivid cinematic quality begs it to be made into a film. Whoever gets the screenplay gig will have a piss easy job, it’s all here already. As is Primal Scream’s soundtrack.
Sick City by Tony O’Neill is published by Harper Perennial, priced $13.99.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
I’ve served my dues as fire safety officer, offering advice on how to protect people and property from fire. Most is blindingly obvious: training, fire alarms and extinguishers, maintenance of electrical items, not leaving candles unattended, not smoking, general housekeeping, protection from arson etc. Fascinating stuff I’m sure you’ll agree. Those souls still doing that job may now like to add the Jim Jones Revue to their risk assessment because, believe me, they are red hot and likely to spontaneously combust at any moment.
There’s little change since 2008’s eponymous debut, it’s still full-tilt in-the-red rockaboogie delivered with a ferocious intensity and conviction it destroys not only everything in its way but everything that came before. The only hint of difference from the first LP being the distortion is occasionally turned down from eleven to ten and three quarters, allowing the merest waft of air in to the recording.
“Dishonest John” smacks down a marker and they shake, rattle and roll their way through another ten at breakneck speed as the flames lick around their heels. The MC5 meet Little Richard comparison has been done to death (presumably by those who’ve not heard the Five’s weedy cover of “Tutti Fruitti”) so by way of a change let’s say songs like “Premeditated” are more a souped up Black Crowes playing as if they've been pushed over a cliff and fronted by a wild and bug eyed Noddy Holder who’s been told it really will be Christmas every day. Not every track matches the giddy heights of the singles “High Horse” or the thunderous “Elemental” but there’s nothing to change my mind that they are the most electrifying and thrilling band in town.
Do not leave unattended.
Burning Your House Down by The Jim Jones Revue is released by Punk Rock Blues Records.
Friday, 17 September 2010
Those days of sitting on the bedroom floor with a pile of Kent compilations to create Northern Soul tapes for work mates have long passed. Instead - and it’s a poor substitute really - a quick flick around Spotify can do an okay job. So, with that in mind, and with the emphasis on quality over obscurity (just as well working with Spotify’s thin collection), here are twenty tracks to glide around the floor to. Enjoy.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
And now for something completely different. Taken from the ever excellent theQuietus site. Inspiring stuff. Can forgive Nicky's misguided attempt at singing (again) on the new Manics album now. Although forgiving them for such a fluffy album will take longer.
In Conversation: Tony Benn MP & Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers from theQuietus on Vimeo.
In Conversation: Tony Benn MP & Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers from theQuietus on Vimeo.
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Friday, 10 September 2010
Stoke-on-Trent 1974 and Joe (played by Martin Compston) has left school, delivers flour with a Tom Jones enthusiast by day and gets drunk in a local bar for local people who dance to Mud records by night. Then he becomes wrapped, tied and tangled in the world of Northern Soul…
Beneath the spins, acrobatics and sweaty vests of Shimmy Marcus’s SoulBoy is an ordinary coming of age film about a lad who falls for the walking-in-slow-motion-with-blonde-hair-blowing-in-the-wind Jane (Nichola Burley), whilst the (supposedly) plain bit-frumpy-at-school brunette Mandy (Felicity Jones) harbours a secret crush and teaches him to dance in his bedroom. You know what follows. It’s formulaic and clichéd but thanks to the setting, music, period detail and gentle humour actually hard to dislike and difficult to watch without a slight smile.
Northern Soul itself is the star though. Hearing Yvonne Baker, Patti and the Emblems, Luther Ingram, Jason Knight, Billy Preston, Dean Parrish and co blaring out cinema speakers instead of the rattling ones at the 100 Club brings on the old goose bumps, and whoever managed to squeeze in Porgy and the Monarchs “If It’s For Real” deserves the keys to Wigan. Set in the Casino it blends archive footage with new scenes making the joins difficult to see.
The cringe worthy moments were unexpectedly low, although I did wince at clapping in unison to “Tainted Love” and any scene with Huey Morgan as the ridiculous cartoon hippie record shop owner cheapened the overall effect. Also Jane’s boyfriend who ruled the roost with his dancing at the front of the Casino stage was too old and ugly to be dating the belle of the ball. But generally it looked good and made the scene out to be an exciting place to be, covering the dancing, records, fashions, drugs and violence with admirable believability. It's not a documentary or a gritty drama, just a nice way to spend a hour and a half. Nowt wrong with that.
If you’ve ever been bitten by the soul bug there’s plenty to enjoy and recognize; if not, this might – just – tempt you out on the floor.
Sunday, 5 September 2010
Lee Rourke’s unsettling debut novel is centered on a nameless man and a nameless woman sitting on a bench, gazing at the Regent’s Canal between Hackney and Islington, sometimes speaking, mostly not. That’s the surface but, much like the feet of the swans as they glide past, it kicks up a lot of turbulence underneath. The Canal is about boredom, about life, about love, death, dreams, fears, loneliness, solitude, truth, and thoughts you wouldn’t share in polite company. It’s also about towpath etiquette (ting-ting) and uses words like crepuscular but don’t let that put you off. I read it in two days, finished it over a week ago, and am still thinking about it now.
The photo above is one I took of that stretch of the canal by my flat about a year ago and somehow captures the mood better than I can in words.
The Canal by Lee Rourke is published by Melville House, priced £9.99.
Thursday, 2 September 2010
Thursday, 26 August 2010
Been having a dig back through some oldies this month, helped by a mysterious white cat.
1. Ed Bruce – “I’m Gonna Have A Party” (1964)
According to Wikipedia, Ed Bruce is a country music songwriter and singer best known for his 1975 hit “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”. I’ll have to listen to that one in bit but around here he’s best known for a couple of big voiced, string laden singles for Wand including this morose mid-tempo mover where he invites only heartache, blues, misery and memories of you to his party.
2. The Graham Bond Organization – “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf?” (1965)
Bond, Baker, Bruce and Heckstall-Smith all hurtle headlong into Jimmy Smith’s instrumental desperate to steal the limelight. Bond wins of course, managing to play organ and mellotron simultaneously, and then organ and alto simultaneously. Magick.
3. The Distant Cousins – “Let It Ring” (1965)
I always imagined The Distant Cousins as a groovy moptopped beat combo a la Standells. They weren’t. Raymond L Bloodworth and L Russell Brown actually looked disappointingly square, not that you’d ever have guessed from this infectious and irresistible would-be Merseybeat stomper.
4. Etta James – The Same Rope (1967)
The indomitable Ms James has a message for her wayward lover: “The same rope that pulls you up – sure can hang you”. Consider yourself warned, boy.
5. The Us Too – “The Girl With The Golden Hair” (1967)
Like countless others, Cincinnati band The Us Too served up covers to the local kids at the hop. What those kids made of this moody garage rocker with a wonky organ and a runaway flute is anyone’s guess.
6. Powder – “Gladly” (1968)
I’d forgotten how brilliant Powder were until revisiting their Biff! Bang! Powder compilation the other day. The closest thing the US had to The Who in their pop art pomp.
7. Big Joe Turner – “Two Loves Have I” (1969)
“Two loves have I, and both of them are you”. Big Joe’s ode to his schitzo girlfriend was a big hit around Shoreditch and Old Street back in the halcyon days of 2002. “Shoobie-doo, shoobie-doo”.
8. The Stairs – “Fall Down The Rain” (1992)
9. The Coral – “Two Faces” (2010)
Sounds more like an amalgamation of The Byrds, The Hollies and Buffalo Springfield than even Crosby, Stills and Nash.
10. Pocketbooks – “Sweetness and Light” (2010)
Who or what replaced yuppies? Pocketbooks sound like a bunch of them who, when collecting Joshua and Honeypot from playgroup, pinch their kids’ instruments and tunelessly lisp passages from their novels-in-progress over the backing of toy drums and Bontempi organ. I can find no rational explanation for playing their Flight Paths album at least twenty times this month but I have, and bizarrely love it.