Friday, 28 December 2012

MONKEY PICKS HIGHLIGHTS OF 2012


Seeing how everyone else is doing one I’ll follow suit with a review of the year; after all it’s a quiet week and easier than writing anything new. Think of it as one of those television shows cobbled together from previous episodes after a main character dies or someone has a dream remembering – in soft focus – all the fun times they had. Cue hazy screen…

The uncovering of only the second piece of film footage of The Action – doing "I'll Keep On Holding On" outside the Royal Albert Hall – was the start of fruitful year for fans of this most treasured band which culminated in the long awaited publication of Ian Hebditch and Jane Shepherd’s superb biography The Action: In The Lap of the Mods and the release of a previously unheard recording. In between those landmarks I was lucky enough to interview drummer Roger Powell and we spent a couple of hours chatting about the band. I was especially interested in the way he compared the mod Action period with the underground Mighty Baby period that followed. If the launch party for the book felt like the final chapter in the Action story, fear not: I can reveal that Circle Records will on the 18th February 2013 release Reggie King’s Looking For A Dream, a fifteen track compilation of recordings he made circa 1969, mostly with his ex-Action bandmates, which will elevate him even higher in people’s estimation. Mark that date on your diary now.

The Action were firmly established at the top of my loves but 2012 saw a new name, Rodriguez, enter high on that list. Somehow he’d evaded my radar until the Searching for Sugarman documentary hit cinema screens in July but now he’s up there as a firm favourite. The film has this month been released on DVD and I can’t urge you enough to watch it. It’s brilliant and incredibly moving, as are the best tracks from his two albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality. It was a real privilege to see Rodriguez at the Royal Festival Hall.

This week has seen the passing of soul sisters, Marva Whitney and Fontella Bass. I don’t usually mark these events as new entrants to the Rock and Soul Heaven Choir are so frequent it would make Monkey Picks read like the back pages of the Eastbourne Church News but I was genuinely saddened by the death of Michael Davis of the MC5 and the indomitable Etta James. The MC5 with Primal Scream show in 2008 is one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and back in 2004 myself and friend were in New York when we saw that Etta was due to play B.B. King’s club in a couple of weeks’ time. We seriously toyed with the idea of returning especially to see her. We didn’t and I’ve regretted it ever since. Special mention here to the Independent newspaper for making her front page news with a massive photograph. If you’ve not read Etta’s autobiography Rage To Survive you’re missing out.

On the subject of books, Dougal Butler’s ludicrously funny Moon The Loon, telling of his time with Keith Moon, saw print again as Full Moon and also made it as a “talking book” read by Moonie’s mate Karl Howman. Dougal, forever the storyteller, entertained us – quite candidly at times - one Sunday morning as we conducted a long interview with him about Keith Moon and his role in attempting to keep his employer out of too much trouble. We (Mrs Monkey and I) met with Dougal a couple of other times, most notably at Pete Townshend's Q&A session down Brick Lane to promote his autobiography Who I Am (still not read it). That night turned out to be a mod episode of Stella Street with Pete, Dougal, Richard Barnes and  supporting cast of us who followed in their desert boots.

On the hobnobbing front it felt slightly surreal talking to Public Enemy's Chuck D and Flavor Flav in my local record shop but a chance encounter with the Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield was something of a dream come true and Mr Bradfield was as lovely a man as I always thought/hoped he’d be.   

Every band you’ve long forgotten has reformed during the last few years but the one I’ve been most taken with is the gradual re-emergence of The Primitives. No big fanfare, just a gentle easing back into view with a gloriously infectious and upbeat album Echoes and Rhymes and a a terrific gig at the Borderline.

The Primitives didn’t in any way feel nostalgic but the same couldn’t be said for early 80’s mod favourites The Truth who played the same venue. It did though give me an opportunity to recount my young mod story and judging from the reaction it received it was an experience shared by many. A rare UK appearance by Todd Snider ("Who?" you ask) was a gig highlight but although I’m always searching for new bands its apparent most of the gigs I saw was by acts over a certain age so I need to make a concerted effort to check younger bands next year. One especially young band I did see was The Strypes and all eyes will be on them during 2013 to see if they make the transition from outstanding covers band to creating something of their own.

One new band who made a huge impression on me were Kontiki Suite and I’ve already banged the drum loudly for their stunning debut album On Sunset Lake which gets a full release in the next couple of weeks. Shrag’s Canines album is the other one which has most impressed me. It’s difficult to describe but it’s a grower and once under the skin stays there. I caught Shrag with The Lovely Eggs at the London Palladium when DJing during a memorable night put on by Idle Fret records.

For twenty of the most memorable songs of 2012 check the 2012 Spotify Playlist.

Roll on 2013.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

SEASON'S GREETINGS TO ALL


It's the late 1920's and Louise Brooks is making minimal effort in putting up the Christmas decorations. I think we can forgive her (almost anything).

Friday, 21 December 2012

STAMFORD HILL MODS: THE GENESIS OF MARC BOLAN at the HACKNEY MUSEUM



“I’ve got ten suits, eight sports jackets, fifteen pairs of slacks, thirty to thirty-five good shirts, about twenty jumpers, three leather jackets, two suede jackets, five or six pairs of shoes and thirty exceptionally good ties.” – Mark Feld.

Aged fifteen and still at school whilst his dad drove a lorry and his mum worked a fruit stall, Mark Feld instinctively knew all about giving good copy years before the whole of the UK knew him as Marc Bolan, so when Town Magazine featured him and his older friends from Stoke Newington, Peter Sugar and Michael Simmonds, across six pages in September 1962 he wasn’t going to let an opportunity pass to take centre stage. I love the way he talks about his ties. Anyone can have thirty ties but his were exceptionally good ties. I also like the way both Feld and Sugar later in the piece both use the word haddock as a derogatory term. “The stuff that half the haddocks you see around are wearing I was wearing years ago,” claims Mark. The article doesn’t mention mod by name - and it’s doubtful the three were even familiar with the term – but that’s what they were an early example of and what acts as a launch point for a small exhibition in Hackney Museum. Yes, Hackney has a museum.

For those unfamiliar with the area, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington are neighbours within the (north)east London Borough of Hackney (as is the case in most of London it’s hard to precisely figure where one place finishes and another one starts) and the exhibition looks at the local mod culture of the early to mid-60s. I’d be interested in this type of display whatever the area but having been resident in the borough since the late 90s it’s especially fascinating to read accounts of the dance halls, record shops and tailors of those near-mythical years. According to Peter Sugar and others, Bilgorri in Bishopsgate was a great tailor and where all the faces went “even though it’s a real haddocky looking place”. At number 282 (later 260) Stamford Hill was R&B Records, a shop owned by Rita and Benny King who also ran their own labels which put out early mod related releases like “Shake Some Time” by Ronnie Gordon featuring The Blue Flames and ska and rocksteady from Jamaica. (Read more about the secret ska history of Stamford Hill). There aren’t many exhibits: a 1962 Vespa GS, a couple of suits and jackets, a few records, the issue of Town etc but it’s the personal memories and photographs that make it. It even graced the front page of local freebie paper Hackney Today.

Did mod originate from Stamford Hill? Impossible to say but Feld and his gang were very visible and their influence would surely have rubbed off on the haddocks of London Town.

On a related note, the Anorak Thing blog has compiled a list of the UK 60's Mod Top 200; an incredible feat which should keep you (and me) busy - and arguing - for hours.

Stamford Hill Mods is at the Hackney Museum next to Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, E9 until January 2013. I’m not sure exactly what date so check with them before travelling. And if you are travelling remember it is a very small exhibition so try and fit it in with something else (not that there's anything else nearby unless you want to stock up on crack or crystal meth).





Tuesday, 18 December 2012

EVAN DANDO & JULIANA HATFIELD at the ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON



In the downstairs bar afterwards the barman asked the geezer next to me what he thought of the gig. “Half good, half shit,” he replied. A harsh assessment but one that didn’t require any further explanation.

Billed as “Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield” it was difficult to know what to expect but anyone hoping the reunited pair would mark the 20th anniversary of The Lemonheads It’s A Shame About Ray by playing the classic album in it’s entirely were to be disappointed, and I don’t use the term “classic” lightly; it’s one of those rare start-to-finish brilliant records.

With no fanfare the pair took to the stage. Dando strummed an acoustic guitar and began “All My Life” from his only solo credited LP, 2003’s oft-overlooked Baby I’m Bored. When in shape he has one the greatest country-smoked voices one could wish to hear and he was in shape. To his left Hatfield played electric and sung back-up but she was no Emmylou to his Gram; her sharp pitch distracted rather than complimented. Roles were reversed for her “Butterflies”; back to Dando for a slowed down version of “Bit Part” the song most closely associated with the pair during their Lemonheads days thanks to Juliana’s screech of “I just want a bit part in your life!”; and when Hatfield sang her “Choose Drugs” with the refrain “I say it’s me or drugs, you choose drugs” it was hard to miss the huge finger of suspicion hovering above her singing partner.

“Confetti” and “Into Your Arms” were again stripped of their original fizz and bounce but Dando’s songs work however they’re played and brought his singing to the fore before the Velvet's “Pale Blue Eyes”.

The songs were shared out equally even before Hatfield announced they were going to play “ping-pong” and take it in turns with the other taking a back seat. This created a very uneven contest. Dando, casual and mellow, picked off his well-loved and familiar tunes (“It’s A Shame About Ray”, “Being Around”, “My Drug Buddy”) which were greeted warmly like long lost friends; whilst Hatfield, prickly and neurotic, let in a chilly breeze every time she opened the door to introduce unwanted guests. How could anyone expect to follow Dando after he was accompanied by a lady playing a rusty saw to his masterpiece “Big Gay Heart”?  Hatfield’s “My Sister” did register a flicker of recognition but mostly these were songs few knew and had little in common with the simple romanticism of Evan’s. Unlike my drink buddy I didn’t think she was shit, and the audience were generous in their applause, but no one needed Hughie Green to announce the result of the clapometer.  

When Hatfield mentioned they’d been on “an exhausting five date UK tour” she countered the laughter with an insistence she was serious. “Well, I’ve enjoyed it,” was one of the few occasions Dando spoke. As the evening continued it did in fact become exhausting. The ping-ponging restricted any momentum; Hatfield became increasingly dreary; and Dando’s preference of playing all his songs as country ballads didn’t help lift the downbeat mood. Eventually Hatfield cracked and said something about “you’re the real talent, I’m gonna go”. It was awkward to watch. Evan Dando is a real talent (she said he never got enough credit because he was too good looking) but he’s a frustrating one: only two albums of original material in sixteen years since Car Button Cloth is a terrible waste. I don’t think I’ve enough fingers to count Hatfield’s in that same time, not that I’ve listened to them before and have no urge to now. They finished with Mike Nesmith’s song about travelling to the beat of a different drum. They sure do.   

Sunday, 16 December 2012

SPOTIFY PICK #6: MONKEY PICKS OF 2012



It’s time for the Monkey Picks of 2012 playlist. There are some notable omissions as I’ve only chosen songs available on Spotify which rules out the year’s highlights from Kontiki Suite ("Music Man") and Jacco Gardner ("Clear The Air") and there isn’t anything from Bob Dylan’s Tempest album as I couldn’t find a way to shoehorn him in without upsetting the rhythm of the sequencing (which was difficult enough as it was) or from Paul Weller’s Sonik Kicks as I wanted to keep it to 20 tracks and thought those interested would be familiar with “Green” already.

Kontiki Suite’s On Sunset Lake wins the Monkey Picks Album of the Year by a considerable distance and should be purchased forthwith. 

2012 Playlist:

Beachwood Sparks – Forget The Song
Dr John – Revolution
Two Wounded Birds – Together Forever
The Primitives – Turn Off The Moon
Jagwar Ma – Come Save Me
Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista
Willy Mason – I Got Gold
Stealing Sheep – Shut Eye
Mary Epworth – Black Doe
Shrag – Devastating Bones
Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
The Sunchymes – Aquarius Summer
The Junipers – Dandelion Man
The Sufis – Sri Sai Flora
Mysterious Monks – The Moneylender
The Lovely Eggs - Allergies
Lightships – Sweetness In Her Spark
Brian Jonestown Massacre – Panic In Babylon
Bobby Womack – Deep River
Spiritualized – So Long You Pretty Thing

Click  Monkey Picks of 2012 for Spotify Link.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

START! MAGAZINE - ISSUE 01



There’s something wilfully archaic about producing a fanzine in the modern age. As a form of communication it is usually limited in content, timeliness and potential readership, so discovering a new one makes me admire the contrariness yet question the motive. Yes, it is preferable to read a physical document than a screen but if one has something to worth saying is it the best place for it?

Issue one of Start! is a slim, colour, A5 production and a slightly mysterious affair. There is no introduction or even an editor’s name, just an email address. It is dated December 2012 and the full-page club adverts within are for this month. Whether this implies a monthly schedule and it is in fact an advertising tool for a group of promoters we’ll have to see. In fairness it does refer to itself as a magazine rather than fanzine which might explain a little the lack of charm but also raises expectations. Either way the best fanzines and magazines are those drawn from the personality of an editor who feels a compulsion to share his or her passions.

Once past the unoriginal name, the uninspiring front cover and photographs of parkas and Union Jacks at the Brighton Mod Weekender there are some pieces to read and it’s neatly laid out. There’s an affectionate reminisce about Paul Weller’s Respond signing The Questions; Small Faces biographer John Hellier discusses his involvement with the early 60s mod scene (and includes his full CV as if touting for work which is a bit odd); and Sean Flowerdew plugs his London International Ska Festival across two articles (which share some of the same text). However, part one of a guide to 1960s television describing The Avengers and The Prisoner in three or four lines is quick filler material, as is another whole page given to six sentences by The Moons. You can decide whether that is enough to part with £2.40 (£1 cover price plus another £1.40 for postage).

Start! may feel it’s not important for me to know their names and communicating with me for two minutes is enough, but I want to feel their passion. I’ve been critical of other first issues of fanzines which have then greatly improved (for example Heavy Soul) so fingers crossed future editions will allay some of my nagging doubts about this one.

Start! is available from start1960mag@gmail.com

Monday, 10 December 2012

THE PRIMITIVES - "YOU TRASHED MY CHRISTMAS" (2012)

Not all Christmas songs are unwanted tat as demonstrated here by a festive offering from The Primitives, taken from a new compilation A Christmas Gift To You From Elefant Records. Yes it has bells, yes it has bouncing children in the video, but it's also a good song so I kinda wish it wasn't about Christmas so could be enjoyed all year without looking like a weirdo. They spoil us, they really do. And remember Echoes and Rhymes (in the Monkey Picks Top 3 albums of 2012) would make a lovely stocking filler...

Friday, 7 December 2012

THE SIDEWINDER PLAYLIST – 6 DECEMBER 2012



I take my hat off to anyone who runs a proper mod club in this day and age and for Sidewinder to make a success of it monthly on a Thursday night is doubly impressive. A good turn out again yesterday when Andy Lewis and I guested alongside Dave E and Gilo. I dusted off these. Some new acquisitions, some regular spins, and some I’d not played since those halcyon Shake nights of 2001-2006.  

The Miracles – If Your Mother Only Knew (Tamla)
Garland Green – Ain’t That Good Enough (Revue)
The Impressions – This Is My Country (Curtom)
Willis Jackson – Goose Pimples (Cadet)
Big Daddy Green – Who Done It (Anla)
Ronnie Milsap – A Thousand Miles From Nowhere (Scepter)
James Rivers – Bird Brain (Eight-Ball)
Roosevelt Grier – Since You’ve Been Gone (RIK)
Lyn Westbrook – Take Your Time (Kimtone)
James Kirk – Tell Me Please (Guyden)
Marvin Gaye – Stubborn Kind Of Fellow (Tamla)
Jimmy Merchant – Skin The Cat (Bo-Mar)
Clarence Carter – Snatching It Back (Atlantic)

Big Maybelle – Do Lord (Brunswick)
The Pacesetters – The Monkey Whip (Correc-Tone)
Charles Farren – You Got Everything (Limelight)
Darrow Fletcher – The Pain Gets A Little Deeper (Groovy)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
Sugar Boy Williams – Little Girl (Herald)
Jesse Pearson – I Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (RCA Victor)
Gale Garnett – I’ll Cry Alone (RCA Victor)
Earl Stanley – Fish Eyes (Pitassy)
The Belles – Don’t Pretend (Mirwood)
Bettye Swann – The Heartache Is Gone (Money)
Slyvia Robbins – Don’t Let Your Eyes Get Bigger Than Your Heart (Sue)

Sidewinder Club is at The Wenlock and Essex, Essex Road, Islington, N1 on the first Thursday of every month. 7.30-11.00. Admission free. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

BOBBY WOMACK at THE FORUM, LONDON



It’s a game of two halves as veteran midfield workhorse Bobby Womack proved on Tuesday when he performed a couple of sets at the Forum in Kentish Town.

In the first half he lined up to showcase songs from his current The Bravest Man In The Universe album. He began, sat on a stool, with a guitar, by delivering a soul-stirring reading of the old gospel standard “Deep River”. It’s one of the best tracks on the album but to witness it, to experience it first hand, shone a light on how powerful and affecting live music can be. That was true of the whole set which featured mainly new songs plus a couple gospel classics. His small combo featured the album’s producers Damon Albarn and Richard Russell who let Bobby’s voice – soaring high, swooping low and with those gruff bluesy licks like Bobby Bland - take the lead and accompanied it with a fat bass sound, minimal percussion, and various electronic beeps, clacks and squiggles. Womack - in black hat, nice black jacket, shades and striped jersey - sounded timeless yet the music was now and worked well, especially in a live setting. I wasn’t too fussed about the album beforehand but it came to life here and showed soul music can be contemporary yet still keep its church roots. An uplifting “Jubilee (Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around)” ended the first half before Bobby departed and left everyone to “go to the bathroom or go for a joint”.  

The second half, with a completely different and larger band, bought a complete transformation from the instant Womack was introduced with a cry of “It’s Showtime.” And showtime it was: Showtime on an expensive cruise liner or showtime around the pool in Marbella in 1988. Bobby, having looked the model of understated cool, had changed into a red leather cap and jacket mistaking the Forum for a fetish club. The songs were drawn out and embellished with guitar solos, alto solos and a herd of backing singers fighting for attention; all of which threatened to drown out the vocal he’d so impressed with previously.

I’ve focused on the negative and on other occasions I might’ve been content simply to hear “Across 110th Street”, “Harry Hippie” (which I love), “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha”, “Stop On By”, “Lookin’ For A Love” etc (all of which he sang) but it was impossible not to notice the stark contrast to the first set. Judging by the audience reaction to both I was in the minority as what looked like the North London Guardian readers’ convention whooped their delight every time he broke into a tribute to Marvin Gaye or Wilson Pickett or whoever. Womack’s CV - from his Sam Cooke days to Gorillaz - is phenomenal, I can’t knock him and the fella has even been treated for colon cancer this year so to then do shows like this speaks volumes about his character. He wasn’t bad - far from it, he's voice has kept remarkably well - but this soul cabaret "this is for all the lovers in the house" style is horribly dated and does a man of his standing no favours. By the time it got to a plinky-plonky version of “It’s All Over Now” I was wishing it was.

Back in the late 80s The Housemartins scored all their gigs like football results. Applying that here Bobby Womack stormed to a deserved 3-0 half-time lead only to throw it away in the second half. Final score: 3-3.    

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

NOVEMBER PLAYLIST



1. Rudy and the Reno Bops – “Rudy’s Monkey” (1964)
Sounds like an early Stax instrumental but Rudy Tee Gonzalez y sus Reno Bops were out of San Antonio, Texas where they recorded this for the Crazy Cajun, Huey P. Meaux, and his Tear Drop Records.

2. James Rivers – “Bird Brain” (1966)
When Ian Whiteman entered the studio to record the first Mighty Baby album producer Guy Stevens turned to him and asked what he had in his hand. “A flute,” said Ian. “I don’t do flutes,” replied Stevens. Taking a hard-line mod approach you can see where Stevens was coming from yet mods down the Scene would've blocked along merrily to "Bird Brain". Rivers takes the standard “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” pattern, adds some blues harp, and then drops in some out of sight funky flute. 

3. Sandie Shaw – “Heaven Knows I’m Missing Him Now” (1969)
So this is where Morrissey got that title. Must acknowledge Tony Fletcher’s excellent A Light That Never Goes Out Smiths biography for bringing it to my attention, not only for Smiths trivia but because it’s the best song I've heard by Sandie. Also, it was only the other day Mrs Monkey and I both simultaneous twigged the name Sandie Shaw is a play on Sandy Shore. In all my days the thought had never crossed my mind. Der!

4. The Mayberry Movement – “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right” (1974)
I don’t know anything about The Mayberry Movement but in my mind’s eye they’re dressed in yellow flared suits with large lapels, chunky Mr Silly shoes, velvet bow ties, have huge afros (apart from a short balding fella on the end), and are doing a clumsy dance routine on Tops of the Pops after being introduced by a kiddie fiddler or sex pest.

5. Tim Maia – “Brother Father Mother Sister” (1976)
Maia was the Brazilian Funk/Soul Godfather who named his first four albums Tim Maia; bought hundreds of hits of acid in London to take back to Brazil to share with friends and unwitting record company employees; converted to a religious sect; only wore white clothes and played white instruments; and waited for a flying saucer to come and rescue him from earth. Find out more about this fruitloop on The Existential Soul of Tim Maia a highly recommended new collection released by Luaka Pop.

6. The Sunchymes – “Revelations In Her Mind” (2009)
Always a good sign when bands use “a garage Y” in their name. This isn’t garagey though; more a bedroom Brian Wilson from their charming long-player Let Your Free Flag Fly

7. Chicros – “Can’t Stand Me Now” (2011)
If only some French musicians would do a doo-wop version of the Libertines song…

8. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Driftin’ Back” (2012)
People are given “Be nice to me I gave blood” stickers when they’ve given an armful as it can make them feel a little weak; which brings me to Psychedelic Pill. Old Shakey and his nutty horsemen spend an hour and a half meandering through a mere nine tracks; the first alone, “Driftin’ Back”, clocks up nearly 28 minutes before Neil says he’s going to get himself a hip-hop haircut and disappears. Anyone managing to take the whole pill in one thoroughly exhausting sitting deserves a medal, let alone a sticker. I'm off for a lie down. 

9. DC Fontana – “Pentagram Man (Don Fardon Vocal Version)” (2012)
I wasn’t overly impressed when I saw 60’s freakbeaters The Sorrows recently but did wonder what Don Fardon would sound like given something new to sing. Lo and behold, up he pops lending his lungs to a swirly-soul version of the recent DC Fontana track.      

10. The Lovely Eggs – “The Castle” (2012)
They’ve been edging towards something like this for a while and here it is closing their new - and best so far - LP, Wildlife: a dark droning psychedelic maelstrom tastier than all the sausage rolls in Lancaster.    

Sunday, 25 November 2012

RODRIGUEZ at the ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON



At this time of year Mojo Magazine always ask musicians and industry folk to nominate The Best Thing I’ve Heard This Year. Had I not been out when they called I would’ve replied: Rodriguez.

The real question is why it’s taken me until 2012 and the release of the documentary, Searching For Sugarman, to discover his two albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971). Few outside of South Africa where, completely unbeknown to him, he was huge took much notice of these records on release but the film has done much to change that in the UK as a sell-out show at the grand Royal Festival Hall, sandwiched between shows at the Roundhouse, testifies. The sad truth is had he not been a Mexican called Rodriguez success would surely have been forthcoming a heck of a lot earlier.

As he confirms tonight Sixto Rodriguez was born and raised in Detroit. He recorded his first album there and his second in London both of which were made with background Motowner and Funk Brother Dennis Coffey. His best songs, like “Crucify Your Mind”, set Dylanesque poetry to either sparse arrangements or gentle orchestral ones that recall Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter. I hadn’t given his Dylan influences much thought before this gig but the opener with its refrain of “If I see you again, I’ll just grin”, sung from behind his shades and under his hat, drew an immediate comparison with Bob and “Positively 4th Street”, albeit delivered in warmer and less sardonic manner. I should stress Rodriguez only sounds like Rodriguez and his Bob-bits, although quite frequent, are usually subtle.

The Royal Festival Hall has the best acoustics of all London venues and his voice covered it like well-loved velvet blanket but age has now given it an extra vulnerability that added to his captivating performance. I sat on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, soaking it in. His small band gave the songs an extra rootsy-country feel to the records which worked well, taking more songs from Cold Fact than Coming From Reality. That second album, more fluid than the first, is my favourite so “I Think Of You” was the set’s highpoint for me but “Sugar Man” was the one that received a standing ovation.   

Rodriguez had to be assisted to and from the stage so his eyesight might be failing him but he was all ears when it came to responding to repeated “We love you!” shouts from the audience between songs. For a man who’s spent much of his life as a manual labourer rather than a musician his feet are still firmly on the ground. His best reply was to the wolf whistles that accompanied the removal of his jacket to reveal a fine physique for a man 70 years old. “I know it’s all bullshit but keep talking baby”.

Any slight disappointment he didn’t play the heart-wrenching “Cause” was tempered by the encore of an out-of-character rollicking “Like A Rolling Stone” which came out of the blue yet felt absolutely the right choice. For listeners, it doesn’t matter when we discover music such as that belonging to Rodriguez; it’s timeless. For me, Rodriguez is the star of 2012. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

THE ACTION - IN THE LAP OF THE MODS by IAN HEBDITCH and JANE SHEPHERD (2012) BOOK LAUNCH & REVIEW



Twenty years ago a chance meeting by members of pop dreamers The Wilsons led to us sitting on Pete Watson’s bed in his digs interviewing him about his days in The Action for my fanzine Something Has Hit Me. It was the first time anyone from the band had given their account since they ceased to exist in 1968. In 1992 their story still held an air of mystery, especially to fans such as us too young to have seen them in their mod glory days. We were all chuffed to meet Pete and more so that amongst his few possessions on display was his original 12-string Rickenbacker, such a vital component of their sound.

Buoyed by this discovery fellow interviewer Darren Brooker hatched an idea for us to write a book about The Action. I was always secretly sceptical how we’d achieve this although we did spend a day at the British Library pouring over every issue of the NME and Melody Maker published between 1965 and 1968 for any scrap of information; of which there was precious little. Although we’d set our sights low (a slim John’s Children book and Paolo Hewitt’s Small Faces magazine All Our Yesterdays being our main inspiration) there didn’t appear to be a huge amount to say nor much in the way of a pictorial record to be found. I asked in Something Has Hit Me for contributions which garnered slim pickings but I did receive a nice letter from one Ian Hebditch.

After interviewing Reggie King a year or so later our book idea was quietly shelved. I, for one, had no idea how to proceed with such a project and we weren’t the right people to attempt it. However, those interviews did in a small way plant the seed which led to the reformation of the band for occasional gigs for Rob Bailey and The New Untouchables between 1998 and 2004.

It was at that first reunion gig that Ian Hebditch wandered backstage and enthused how he followed the band at venues like the Birdcage in Portsmouth and the Marquee in the capital. As a friendship developed so did the idea to produce a book. Finally, after a decade of hard work and graft by Ian and Jane Shepherd, The Action: In The Lap of The Mods has been published after a launch party in London last month.

The event was held in two rooms; the first with a bar and DJs and the second with an exhibition of photographs from the book. It was in this room that most of the chat and mingling took place and it was fascinating to hear of people’s introduction to The Action. Some, like Darren's parents Gwyn and Ray, were original mods; others were Ultimate Action post-revival mods and fans; some had journeyed backwards from Mighty Baby and even The Habibiyya; whilst others had their first taste at the reunion shows. It was great to catch up with original members Pete Watson and Roger Powell, and meet for the first time later recruits Ian Whiteman and Martin Stone. Alan King now lives in New Zealand and of course Reggie King and Mike Evans are no longer with us nor, sadly, is Ian Hebditch who died before the completion of the book work leaving Jane to work tirelessly to complete the project.

In The Lap of The Mods is stunning. It looks beautiful and is obviously born out of a deep love and respect for the band. The hardback cover, quality paper and high-end production values are top quality and the design is first class. Flicking through it’s incredible to see so many previously unseen photographs and items of memorabilia. I go dizzy whenever I see a single piece of “new” Action related material; on first look this had my head spinning. The main 176 glossy-paged book is supplemented (in the special edition of 400 individually numbered copies) by a 96 page A4 sized diary compiled by Jane giving details of their gigs and movements and features hundreds of press cuttings. Finally, all housed in clothbound presentation slipcase, is a 7 inch single of the acetate they recorded of The Temptations’ “Girl Why You Wanna Make Me Blue” for their Decca audition on 31st May 1965. This is the earliest known – and previously unreleased - Action recording and although they get off to a wobbly start, once they settle down it gives a clearer idea of how the band would’ve sounded live than their George Martin produced singles that the band have claimed didn’t capture them properly. With Reggie’s vocals, the three-part harmonies and Pete’s 12-string, it’s real hairs on the back of the neck stuff and The Action to a T.

Now, all that would be quite enough. I was bouncing off the walls just holding the thing in my hands but once I got to read the text it took it way beyond a purely visual and audible nicety. I if thought there wasn’t enough to say, I was wrong; if I thought I wasn’t the person to write it, I was right. Ian Hebditch’s narration is superb. He was a mod who saw The Action 40-50 times in their heyday and they couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and articulate biographer. Ian vividly explains how the band’s path was inextricably entwined with the mod movement and how, as they developed in tandem, one subtle shift followed another until they both came to the end of the road. Contributions range from all band members to big names like Pete Townshend (“we were genuine fans of the band”), Sir George Martin (“to this day I am baffled they didn’t achieve superstardom”), Phil Collins (I know, but he has never missed an opportunity to champion the band and there’s no doubting his sincerity) to mods from the clubs but Ian’s own sharp analysis and recounting of prevalent attitudes is the key. His is the best first-hand account by a true mod of the era I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. In addition, Ian's frequent descriptions of The Action playing the clubs are highly evocative and draw a clear distinction between them as a gigging band (who mods adored) and a recording group (who mods ignored).

The issue of the “superstardom” that eluded them – a frequent topic of discussion amongst admirers – is attributed to a combination of the material released; their focus on being a great club band; ineffective management; and the band’s unwillingness to compromise their principles. There was reluctance – a refusal even – to “play the game”. There was nothing contrived about The Action, everything was very natural. Their “image” wasn’t an image, it was who they were. If you look at their clothes, even when they flowed from mod to a more underground scene, there was never any sign of trying too hard and that was how they were as people and that’s how their music comes across; as genuine and honest. They didn't case any bandwagon and didn’t have a succeed-at-all-costs mentality. Ian draws an interesting comparison with The Move. When Tony Secunda failed to overthrow The Action’s management he turned his attention to a fledging Move who, initially, according to Mike Evans “he created in our image” (ever noticed how Carl Wayne nicked Reggie King’s hand-over-the-ear singing technique?) but were happy to do whatever it took, and it paid off commercially.

Over the years we’ve been blessed with so much additional Action material and to bolster the paltry five singles they released at the time: the extra songs Edsel uncovered; the Rolled Gold album; the Uptight and Outasight BBC collection on Circle Records; their live film; archive footage; the reunion concerts etc. Now, with Reggie and Mike’s passing in 2010; presumably no further recordings to discover; and Pete recently selling his beloved Rickenbacker, In The Lap of The Mods feels like the final chapter, but what a chapter it is with loads of new revelations. What a story, what a book, and what a band.  

To order In The Lap of The Mods click here. 
The Action: Reggie King, Mike Evans, Alan King, Pete Watson, Roger Powell
Pete Watson, Monkey, Roger Powell
Ian Whiteman, Monkey, Martin Stone

In keeping with the spirit of The Action - and to keep a few Goldhawk mods dancing - these were the 45s I played at the launch:

Sam & Dave - You Don't Know What You Mean To Me (Atlantic)
Rufus Thomas - Can Your Monkey Do The Dog (Stax)
The Bar-Kays - Knucklehead (Stax)
BB King - The Hurt (ABC-Paramount)
Jackie Wilson & Count Basie - Uptight (Coral)
Bob & Earl - The Sissy (Chene)
The Ronettes - Do I Love You? (Philles)
The Impressions - Meeting Over Yonder (ABC-Paramount)
Marvin Gaye - Baby Don't You Do It (Tamla)
Kim Weston - Take Me In Your Arms (Gordy)
The Action - In My Lonely Room (Parlophone)
Barbara Lynn- Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going) (Jamie)
Etta James - Pay Back (Argo)
Gene Chandler - Nothing Can Stop Me (Soul City)
Major Lance - The Monkey Time (Okeh)
The Temptations - Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) (Gordy)
The Impressions - I Love You (Yeah) (HMV)
Maurice & The Radiants - Baby You've Got It (Chess)
The Lownley Crowde - Shadows and Reflections (MGM)
The Action - Since I Lost My Baby (Parlophone)
Marvin Gaye - Pride and Joy (Tamla)
The Spinners - Sweet Thing (Tamla Motown)
Barabara Randolph - I Got A Feeling (Soul)
Kim Weston - Helpless (Gordy)
Isley Brothers - This Old Heart Of Mine (Tamla Motown)
Four Tops - Baby I Need Your Loving (Motown)
Shorty Long _ Out To Get You (Soul)
Sam Cooke - Shake (RCA Victor)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

THE SIDEWINDER - THURSDAY 6th DECEMBER 2012



A date for London diaries: Thursday 6th December 2012, for the latest installment of the midweek modernist melting pot that is The Sidewinder Club at the Wenlock & Essex down the Angel.

Genial hosts Dave Edward and Gilo are this month joined by yours truly and, taking time out from Paul Weller’s bass duties, ye olde Blow Up man himself, Andy Lewis. Music from small black records containing soul, jazz and blues will fill the air and capture the heart.

Free CD on the night for the first 80 people through the door, courtesy of your hosts. Flyer courtesy of Liam Hughes.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

I DIG MUSIC AND MONKEYS!


Apologies for lack of posts this week - got a few things to tell you about but no time to write them down - so in the meantime entertain yourself with the most excellent Stupefaction site. So many interesting things to discover within its pages including this picture which I just had to pinch. Enjoy.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

DARROW FLETCHER at the 100 CLUB, LONDON



Darrow Fletcher occupies a special place in the hearts of many rare soul fans, in particular to the mod corner that has congregated to the left of the 100 Club stage at 6T’s Allnighters for as long as I can remember. Fletcher’s pair of 1966 thumpers “The Pain Gets A Little Deeper” and “My Young Misery” are super-strength mod dancefloor magnets, with the more traditional northern soul of “What Good Am I Without You” and the classy sophistication of “What Have I Got Now” not far behind.

For Darrow to guest at Kent Records’ 30th Anniversary party was therefore something to savour and an extra week of waiting after his passport was deemed “too scruffy” to travel from Chicago only added to the sense of anticipation. Soul acts can be hit or miss, especially when plonked in front of aficionados after years of inactivity. The night Ray Pollard did a similar performance here in the late 80s will stay with me forever – I’ve never experienced such love and adulation shown to an artist - but others have been less successful although that’s not really the point of these types of event.

Darrow was good, no two ways about it. His voice is understandably a bit rusty and he can’t hit all the notes but he can still hold a tune. I’ve always been amazed that he was only 14 when he recorded “The Pain Gets A Little Deeper” and when he stepped on to the stage it was hard to believe this still youthful man was now 61. Whilst many soul men are all glitz, bling and white suits, Darrow is resolutely “street” wearing nothing more ostentatious than a baggy shirt and pants (that’s American pants by the way). With his tiny stature and small glassy eyes he only needed a hoody and a bike and could’ve passed for a teenage drug runner.

Starting with “Changing By The Minute” he sang nine numbers, each to rapturous applause, including the four mentioned above plus nice 70s ones like “No Limit” and “Secret Weapon” (from his new Kent LP Crossover Records 1975-79: LA Soul Sessions) before returning for an extended “Pain”. It was over far too quickly, which speaks volumes not only for how enjoyable it was but how many great songs like “Infatuation” and “What Is This” were omitted. Kent are putting the finishing touches to a long-overdue collection of Darrow’s 60s material, due out next year; if Darrow can look after his passport they should bring him back.  

Worth a purchase is the excellent CD Kent 30: Best of Kent Northern 1982-2012 which celebrates the label with some old classics and future floor fillers. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

THE STAPLE SINGERS – LIVE IN GHANA (1971)


The awe-inspiring Mavis Staples leads her family through “When Will We Be Paid” and “Are You Sure”, live in Ghana on 6th March 1971. Taken from the film Soul To Soul.  

Monday, 5 November 2012

KONTIKI SUITE - "ON SUNSET LAKE" (2012)



’I’m gonna hang out with the stars in Hollywood, and look at how far I’ve come… I’ll be part of the LA scene.” - Hollywood by Kontiki Suite.

The distance from Kontiki Suite’s Cumbria to their Californian dream is over five thousand miles yet throughout their debut album they effortlessly glide back and forth between autumn leaves of their home and a sun kissed Laurel Canyon. It’s a gentle romanticism that radiates from an album of extraordinary beauty.

For ease of comparison imagine the space between Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers and fill it with an album the Byrds might’ve made with Moby Grape. Any band picking nervously at a twelve-string Rickenbacker has a Byrds reference thrust on them, usually undeserved as they lack anything like their depth and imagination but its valid here. There’s lovely intricate playing - from mild psychedelia to log cabin country - and such care (and presumably expense) taken over the arrangements, the recording and the production. Everything is crisp and crystal clear, and without wishing to come over all What Hi-Fi? sounds even more incredible through headphones when all the delicate little touches can be heard.

I've previously described "Music Man" as “achingly beautiful” – which it is - but it in no way casts a shadow over the other twelve songs, all of which bowled me over with their magnificence. There’s clarity of vision, a confidence and an assurance in their style that makes the songs flow effortless along with no unwelcome interruptions. There’s no wasted moment, no weak song. On Sunset Lake isn’t an album containing great tracks; it’s an album of only great tracks. Most albums are front loaded with the best tracks coming early; not so here, they are all through it, and if anything On Sunset Lake is sequenced more like a gig with songs competing to outshine the preceding one until the climatic (and only long track) “Magic Carpet Ride" and encore of "The Painter". You'll never find a better track 9, 10 and 11 run than "Watching Over Me", "Autumn Fields" and "Music Man". 

I’m struggling to remember when I last fell in love with a record as gorgeous as this. 

To listen and buy On Sunset Lake click here.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

MO BETIDE YOU...



During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces in the UK and around the world. The aim of which is to raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically testicular cancer and prostate cancer.

I know what we fellas are like: ignore something and hope it’ll go away, but when caught early these things are treatable. I’ve been checked for both recently and I'm among the world's worst for putting things off. The first one ended up with a trip to the hospital to have my knackers gone over with one of those ultrasound thingies, not an unpleasant experience (bit weird I’ll grant you), and as for the prostate exam, well, some folk pay good money to ladies of dubious virtue for that sort of carry-on yet it was free from my GP.

If you wish to sponsor my whisker growth - can't promise a Dali in a month - please use the following link. Thank you.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

THIRTY YEARS OF THE TRUTH: FROM THE MARQUEE TO THE BORDERLINE (AKA MY MOD STORY, 1982-83 SEASON)



I wish the first gig I went to was The Jam on their farewell tour in December ’82. For years that’s what I told people but in fact it was The Truth at the Marquee the following year. It should’ve been The Jam but by the time Monkey Snr drove to Wembley Arena they’d sold out. If that wasn’t disappointing enough a group of lads from school went, most of who had previously shown no interest in the band, whereas I’d been a die-hard fan for, ooh, over a whole year. It was so unfair.

In those days all the cool kids “turned” something: be it mod, skinhead, psychobilly, soulie or slightly later, heaven forbid, casual - our football team was full of bloody casuals. It wasn’t uncommon for kids to switch sides on a whim but I eased my way into mod gradually. Following The Jam over that year (more about it here) got me interested, especially after a two-page feature in Smash Hits where Paul Weller discussed his favourite things: sunglasses, cufflinks, the Small Faces and so on. That was a big influence, as was my mate Lee, the goalkeeper in our Sunday football team, who was a young (thirteen/fourteen year old) mod. After training one Saturday Lee sold me a parka. It was gigantic, the pocket was hanging off and it whiffed of Rothmans. My mum wasn’t too impressed when I sheepishly stepped through the front door. “You’re not going out in that. We don’t pay good money for nice clothes for you to look like a tramp.” Mum had a fair point (not that I thought so at the time) but I wondered if she was concerned I was getting myself mixed up with yobbish mods.

This meant I hid the parka in a bin liner over the park that backed onto our house. On the way to school I’d rescue it from inside the tree it was hidden in and return it on my way home. I added some Jam badges to it including a good “Funeral Pyre” and a Who one in a target. This worked fine until the first time in living memory the London Borough of Hillingdon chopped down the trees, gaining themselves a tatty parka in the process. 

School uniform consisted of Fred Perry jumpers, sta-press, tassel-loafers or DM shoes, and the tie tied with the skinny side showing and the kipper tucked inside the shirt, so it wasn’t a huge leap to mod it up a bit, especially with the parka. Out of school the clincher - to seal allegiance to the cause - came with the purchase of my black and white Jam shoes. The badger ones, in leather rather than the more popular suede. That spring of ’83 I proudly wore them to my uncle’s wedding. “Why are you wearing your football boots?” he asked.

With The Jam out of the way, by accident or design (and the timing did seem fortuitous) Dennis Greaves abandoned the pub R&B of Nine Below Zero and moved into modish pop-soul territory with his new group The Truth. Their debut “Confusion (Hits Us Every Time)” entered the charts in early ’83 (bearing more than a passing resemblance to “Beat Surrender”) and was followed by “A Step In The Right Direction”. For us kids too young to really have had The Jam as our own, we had The Truth. It suited both parties for a while; we had a band and The Truth had an eager young audience.

The chance to see them, to go to my first gig, came on Saturday 24th September 1983 on their Sounds Like The Truth tour. They played an under 16s matinee show sponsored by music paper Sounds who printed a 50p-off voucher which I cut out and took along. I went with Lee The Goalie who, in every respect, lived across the tracks from me. I rode round to his house in Ruislip Gardens on my Commando (at fourteen too young for a scooter and, quite frankly, too old for a Commando but it was a couple of miles from Ickenham). I was wearing a dark blue short-sleeved Brutus shirt, blue sta-press and, of course, my Jam shoes. With my wardrobe having not caught up with my new found ideology I still hadn’t a decent jacket so wore this rather plain reversible zip-up blouson. It was grey, or if turned inside out, blue. I had it the blue side.

My discomfort at this outfit wasn’t helped when I turned up at Lee’s only for a load of his mates I didn’t know to already be there and kitted out far smarter than I. I sat quietly on the settee until one of the lads turned to me and said “You can’t wear those.” Those what? “Those shoes. Jam shoes, they won’t let ya.” Eh? “Takes the piss, don’t it? Jam shoes, when they’re The Truff.” You’re joking. Aren’t you? Lee wasn’t a great help, “It’s true, they said in Smash Hits none of their fans wear parkas or Jam shoes”. So what am I supposed to do? “Just have to leave them in the cloakroom.” Oh great, going to watch my first gig stood in white towelling socks.

We eventually got the Central Line into town and after knocking about Carnaby Street went to the gig on Wardour Street. The band were hanging out in the foyer meeting us fans. I had my 50p-off voucher signed by singer/guitarist Dennis Greaves, bassist Brian Bethell and Hammond man Chris Skornia. The gig itself was hot and sweaty as we all leapt around like little mod loons. At some point during the day I’d acquired a navy boating blazer with thin mauve and sky blue stripes. As boating blazers went it was tasteful but meant I was wearing it with that bloody blouson thing tied around my waist. Not a good look but at least I wasn’t required to remove my shoes. I was impressed the band put everything in their performance even though they had an evening show directly after it. Like The Jam before them they didn’t act like pop stars and they didn’t treat us like kids. We all went home in very high spirits.

My next gig, and first grown up one, was also by The Truth (being an archetypical Virgo I created lists of everything including gigs, see above), this time at the 100 Club when they recorded their Five Live EP. The Jam shoes had been replaced by white bowling shoes and I had my mum sew a large patch “The Truth – A Step In The Right Direction” on the back of my green flight jacket. “This will be like having your name on your coat,” she said, “if you get in any trouble you’ll easily be identified.” That was another great gig, as were a few more but they were backpedalling hard to get away from being associated with mods and it created an increasingly acrimonious atmosphere between the two camps.

That was that until last Friday when celebrating their 30th anniversary The Truth were back on stage at the Borderline, only a few street away from the old Marquee, with their original pre-“Confusion” line-up. On the rare occasions I’ve tried to listen to their records since the mid-80s I’ve winced at how of-the-time they sound but hearing them played live again they sounded so much better, much fuller. “Love A Go Go” was pure sing-along Marquee memories; I’ll always associate “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby” with The Truth rather than Stevie Wonder; “I’m In Tune” was another rollicking Hammond workout; “Just Can’t Seem To Stop” had Greaves – still big on audience participation – engaging in some call and response with the crowd, not all who’d seen them back in the day. It was a nostalgia show but far more enjoyable than I’d expected with most songs sounded fresh and full of life. They were having fun but had obviously put in a lot of rehearsal hours. “Not bad for old cunts,” said Greaves. Not bad at all. Oh, I suppose you're gonna ask: APC black corduroy Nehru jacket, Peckham Rye scarf, bespoke dogtooth trousers and black Chelsea boots.   

Sunday, 28 October 2012

OCTOBER PLAYLIST



Popular spins in Monkey Mansions this month include:

1. Grant Green – “Have You Ever Had The Blues?” (1963)
Guitarist Green may have had top billing but Big John Patton’s Hammond takes centre stage. Taken from the excellent Blues For Lou LP which incredibly had to wait 36 years before release.   

2. The Action – “Why Do You Wanna Make Me Blue” (1965)
Talk about unearthed treasure. This was the audition disc The Action cut for Decca on 31st May 1965 and the earliest evidence of their brilliance. They attack The Temptations at quite a lick but once they settle down it has everything we’d come to know and love from our Kings of Kentish Town: Reggie King’s passionate vocal, the three-part harmonies and the chiming guitars. Only available as part of the deluxe edition of the In The Lap of The Mods book which is utterly essential. Full review to follow.

3. Clarence Carter – “Snatching It Back” (1969)
The sound of Muscle Shoals. The whole Testifyin’ album is a bristling soul cracker.  

4. Tony Joe White – “The Daddy” (1971)
Can’t help but think of Stanley Road era Paul Weller. But don’t let that put you off.

5. James Brown – “It’s A New Day” (1970)
“Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all.” – James Brown.

6. The High Llamas – “Checking In, Checking Out” (1993)
With the vogue for bands marking anniversaries by performing “classic” albums, I’m hopeful The High Llamas will play Gideon Gaye next year, for it’s an album worthy of such an accolade.    

7. Andy Lewis featuring Keni Burke – “(Love Is) Alive In My Heart” (2005)
The best soul-pop song The Style Council never made.

8. Tame Impala – “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” (2012)
Second album Lonerism works best as a whole rather than piecemeal but the revolving psychedelic glitterball of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is a typical of its giddy feel.

9. The Urges – “Fire Burning” (2012)
Irish bowlheads add a touch of brass to this frantic and infectious Whiskey-A-Go-Go-esque club shaker.

10. Andre Williams – “Stuck In The Middle” (2012)
Since the mid-50s Williams has been around the musical block and in some dark alleys but he’s back in Detroit and in good shape on his new LP, Life. Opener “Stuck In The Middle” is the best track with Andre’s trademark laconic vocals set against a bar-band Funkadelic groove.      

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

JACK KEROUAC’S ON THE ROAD: IN THE CINEMA and IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY




Having read On The Road half a dozen times the odds were stacked against liking the new film adaptation, and the bookies are seldom wrong. Director Walter Salles had a difficult task capturing Jack Kerouac’s poetic prose, so didn’t bother, instead he went for a stylised fashion-shoot/drinks commercial/pop video look and threw in some extra tits and arse.   

I don’t know how Sam Riley gets these parts; someone must think he’s kinda cute. He was okay as Ian Curtis in Control but as menacing as a bag of greasy chips as Pinkie in Brighton Rock, and here as Sal Paradise (Kerouac's pseudonym) his whole shtick is to look vacant and watery eyed. Jack might’ve been shy but was keen-eyed, even when drunk or stoned, famously logging everything in his prodigious memory. Whenever he’s a bit off his head in the film Salle shakes the camera, just to make it clear. Genius. Riley, I’m told, didn’t bother to read the novel and neither it seems did he listen to how Jack spoke, choosing to adopt a flat, generic American accent. His opposite number Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriaty (real life Neal Cassady) was better - faint praise - but where was the drive, the burn-burn-burn? Kirsten Dunst was well cast as Camille and Viggo Mortensen got the easy but entertaining role of Old Bull Lee.

It makes no real difference what the film’s like, there’ll always be the book, but the worse thing is it won’t encourage many to read Kerouac. There was one short scene when Sal receives Carlo Marx’s (Allen Ginsberg’s) poem Denver Doldrums. He reads the lines, they appear on the screen, and it came alive. People will now be discovering Ginsberg; will they pick up On The Road or Visions of Cody? The film adaptations of William Burroughs's Naked Lunch and Allen Ginsberg's Howl worked as they used the classic Beat Generation texts to create something new and interesting. Salles only creates a poor imitation. 

Jack’s novel has shifted in meaning for me over the years. When I first read it I honed in on the energy, the excitement, the free-wheeling search for kicks. It’s like the opening scene in Easy Rider when Peter Fonda throws his watch to the ground and kick-starts his bike. It’s not the destination; it’s the journey, the experience. On The Road reads much sadder and gloomier nowadays. Jack’s lonely quest for love and belonging in a world “where we’re all going to die anyway” rises closer to the surface.

The original manuscript of On The Road is currently on display in the British Library and is amazing to see. According to legend, Jack wrote it in one three-week spontaneous burst of inspiration and perspiration at his kitchen table to tell his new wife about his travels. To negate the need to interrupt his flow he taped together sheets of tracing paper, loaded up the typewriter and off he went, fuelled on coffee and Benzedrine. When he unravelled the 120 foot long scroll for his publisher he was told where to go and had to wait another six years and make many changes before it finally saw publication. The truth isn’t quite as dramatic as research now shows On The Road was worked on for years until he typed that version. Although punctuated it’s written as one solid block of text with no paragraphs which makes it difficult to read within the special glass case in the library; it was nigh impossible for my eye to follow the next line. Made it like reading a Burroughs cut-up.

Howard Cunnell, editor of On The Road – The Original Scroll (published in 2007) gave a very persuasive lecture at the British Library the other weekend when he argued the exaggerated myth Jack created around his spontaneous prose technique harmed him as it enabled critics to easily dismiss him and his style. Truman Capote’s put-down “That’s not writing, that’s typing” is almost as well-known as any of Jack’s lines. However, the main thrust of Cunnell’s hour-long talk was to champion Visions of Cody as “the real On The Road” and as Kerouac’s masterpiece. The link between the two – both centred on Neal Cassady and covering much of the same ground but in a different style - is complicated so I won’t recount it here but will read Cody again. When I read it 20 years ago I didn’t get it at all – thought it was a mess - and remains the only main Kerouac book I’ve read just once. Salles’s film didn’t inspire but the British Library has.

On The Road: Jack Kerouac’s manuscript scroll is on display at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB until Thursday 27th December 2012. Admission free. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

WHO WE ARE: PETE TOWNSHEND IN CONVERSATION/ MODS AND FRIENDS OF THE WHO IN THE PUB



Side One. The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green.

Fade in.

Two chairs on a stage in front of a projection reading “Will Hodgkinson in conversation with Pete Townshend”. Hundreds of chairs squashed together facing them. Please welcome, Pete Townshend. Pete talks. Feedback screeches. And again. Hodgkinson makes same auto-destructive art gag twice. Not a conversation, more a monologue. Will, wearing nice brown suede boots, and audience occasionally interject but otherwise it’s all Pete for over an hour promoting his autobiography Who I Am. Throw him a crumb and he’ll bake you a cake. Lots about being an art student in 1961. Drifted into pop music. Had to leave pretty college girls to his mate Barney - Richard Barnes - whilst he did gigs and waited for the fight to start. Wrote early songs directly for his mod audience. Was easy as mods were all the same. Now his audience are old and complicated he can’t write for them. As the male mods got more effeminate the female mods got more masculine, no Bridget Bardot glamour: short hair, dark straight shirts. Wrote songs as demos to play to the Who whereas John came in with the music for “Whiskey Man” and “Boris The Spider” written out. Keith and John preferred the lighter songs like “Happy Jack” and dressing up in silly clothes. Roger would complain songs weren’t working class enough. Has no favourite songs from his solo catalogue and doesn’t think of them as separate from his other writing. Doesn’t mind doing gigs but doesn’t love them either even though he says he is great at them. Love for the Rolling Stones. Even when they are crap, Jagger is incredible. Brian Jones gets a bad press but was always nice to Pete and was a musicologist. All of them were cool to hang out with. The Beatles were okay but came from a slightly earlier showbiz tradition and then bridged into the younger generation. More art school reminisces. Lecturer said in 1961 everyone would have computers by 1965. Sly and the Family Stone brilliant at Woodstock. They repeated the refrain “I Wanna Take Your Higher” over and over until the slumbering crowd woke up and got into it. The Who repeated trick with “Listening To You”. Keith had a great way with words and said two girls “were attached” to him and John in van before Woodstock. Pop music is a vehicle for a communal experience for the audience to lose themselves in a crowd and become one. They aren’t there for Bono, they are there for themselves. Can never have a conversation with Bob Dylan. Dylan likes the ladies and happy to chat away with Pete’s partner Rachel. Does impression of Bob talking to Rachel. Tried to attract his attention. Bob eventually looks up and says “Where’s Roger?”

Hundreds queue for book signing. Military operation. Staff open book, bung it in front of Pete, flicks his pen, pick up your book, move on, next. No signing anything except book, no posing for photos. Can you put ‘To Mark and Paula’? Too late. “No, but you look very stylish the pair of you. Really great." Okay, thanks, that’s even better. Said same thing to friends David Edwards and Claudia Elliott moments earlier. Shake hands. Looks older close up Paula and her sister Karen ask for a hug. “No, but I take it back about mod girls, you've got in down pat. You’re both very sharp”.

Side Two. The Golden Heart, Commercial Street, Spitalfields.

Arrange to meet Moonie’s loyal assistant and Full Moon author Dougal Butler in the pub. Off we strut – a procession of mods and Who glitterati - including Richard Barnes and Doug Sandon, drummer from The Detours. Dougal and Barney regale the mod corner with their tales. Dougal tells of he and Moonie nicking jackets from two sleeping policemen, find car keys in the pockets and take it for a spin, sirens blaring, and return before they woke. Does a little dance and sings "We are the mods". People on Facebook ask him random stuff like where Keith bought that jacket he was wearing in photo from 1971. How the fuck should he know? Talking of random questions, where did Keith get his elephant’s foot table? The one in the picture with him playing records wearing crushed velvet trousers, wife Kim in red tights and daughter Mandy playing? It wasn’t a table it was a planter and Dougal still has it. Bought in Mombasa. Keith and Kim also bought a smaller one with a lid for John and Alison Entwistle’s wedding present. Alison recently gave it to Dougal. Full Moon doing well and getting good press in America. Rumours Roger Daltrey has been offered a huge advance to write his autobiography.

Barney signs my copy of his Mods! book. The Bible since I was thirteen. Surprised the pages aren’t falling out. They are. The Scene club had the most discerning mods. Goldhawk Road and his own Railway Hotel were just for locals. Guy Stevens had the most amazing record collection. Calls Dave Edwards the new Guy Stevens. The footage of the High Numbers at the Railway Hotel on the Amazing Journey DVD made him think they were better than he gave them credit for at the time. Didn’t think mods would like them at The Scene as they were so loud and mods would sooner listen to James Brown but they did. The Action were good but The Small Faces were the other great ones, especially for Steve Marriott’s voice. The photos in Mods! and Pete’s book of The Who dancing at The Scene, were they staged or genuine? Genuine. Who was the best dancer? Pete, as coming from a showbiz family didn’t mind making a fool of himself. Roger was too stiff back then and basically a rocker. Pete the only one that really connected with mod. Pete can change like that. Click. Barney's voice sound similar to Pete's.

Landlady chirps in with how she knew Kenney Jones. Been in East End all her life and lived on same street, Watney Street in Stepney, as him. Got lost together in Hampton Court maze. Buddy Ascot from The Chords with us. Nice fella. He’s surprised people are still interested in the mod revival period. I'm not but loved his band The Rage back in ’84-’85. Man approaches to tell us about a Simon Townshend gig. Buddy forced to reveal what band he is in. Man’s face drops. Mouth wide open. Frozen. Still frozen. Oh. My. God. Utter disbelief. The Chords are my favourite band after The Who he says. Mine too says Buddy. Move away. Man says he went off band when they changed logo and put the “o” in Chords into a square. Stumble from pub. Newspaper reports of Kray twins on chip paper.

Fade out.

Many thanks to Claudia Elliott for photographs of Pete Townshend, Richard Barnes and Dougal Butler. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

WHAT THE WELL-DRESSED FOOTBALLER WAS WEARING AND DRIVING IN 1968

Footballers. Dontcha just hate them? If only they still looked like these stylish young men posing with their motors for The Topical Times Football Book 1968-69. I'll even excuse the hideous West London clubs a couple played for.