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.