Tuesday, 30 December 2014

DECEMBER PLAYLIST

This month's choice cuts...

1.  Manfred Mann - "Ain't That Love" (1964)
The Manfreds had such an embarrassment of riches around this time (Paul Jones era) - both in well chosen covers and originals - they couldn't find space to release this group composition until the 1990s. Had it been a 45 it'd be a mod club dancefloor staple today. Just listen to that flute.

2.  The Action - "You'll Want Me Back" (1965)
Recorded as part of their audition for Decca on 31 May 1965, and only available now thanks to Top Sounds' new 4 track EP - this interpretation of an Impressions B-side gives even more evidence (if any were needed) of what a magnificent group The Action were. Reggie King always rightly gets the plaudits, and his lead vocal here is superb, but Alan King and Pete Watson's harmonise in a way no other British beat group were doing, or could even dream about doing as well. This recording is like being in a room with a band on the verge of something very special. Decca said no.

3.  Duffy Power - "Leaving Blues" (1965)
As British Blues singers go, Duffy Power was up there with the very best of them. In fact, listening to the material he cut during 1965 it's difficult to think of anyone who had more natural feel. Record companies though could see any commercial value so a whole album sat on the sleeve gathering dust until Transatlantic put it out under the title Innovations in 1971.

4.  Cleveland Robinson - "Love Is A Trap" (1965)
I've never owned this song in any shape or form - not as a single, on a compilation LP, CD or even homemade tape, yet can sing you every word (should you be unlucky enough to be in earshot) and it's guaranteed to get me dancing as anyone at the 6T's Rhythm & Soul Society Christmas Party the other week can testify. If I trod on your foot, apologies; but who can resist a record that sounds like a one-man Drifters colliding with the theme from the Generation Game?

5.  Ollie Jackson - "Gotta Wipe Away The Teardrops" (1966)
Back when I first started attending all-nighters ("during the war...") this was played all the time and was typical of the style popular then: big voice, mid-tempo, sparse arrangement. Still hard to beat.

6.  Alice Coltrane - "Journey In Satchidananda" (1970)
The whole Journey In Satchidananda LP is deep, mesmerising and otherworldly trip.  

7.  The Undisputed Truth - "Ball Of Confusion" (1971)
"Get me more wah-wah and phasing on the kitchen sink in the left speaker goddammit". The Undisputed Truth was the result of Motown producer Norman Whitfield's stratospheric ego. Nowhere is this clearer than on the ten and half minute version of "Ball Of Confusion". Cheers Norm.

8.  Young-Holt Unlimited - "Pusher Man" (1971)
Eldee Young and Redd Holt cut an album in 1971 entitled Young-Holt Unlimited Plays Super Fly. Four of the ten cuts were tracks taken from Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack and played in a cool laid-back instrumental jazz style.

9.  Manic Street Preachers - "Mausoleum" (1994)
Twenty years since release and the final gigs with its main architect Richey Edwards, Manic Street Preachers played their masterpiece The Holy Bible live in its entirety this month. Thanks to the generosity and thoughtfulness of others I was fortunate enough to catch two of the shows at the Roundhouse. The second in particular was excellent (the first slightly hampered by James Dean Bradfield's lurgy) - truly gripping - and despite the intensity of the material and the extreme emotional baggage the band appeared relatively relaxed and even appeared to enjoy the experience; a far cry from the infamous Astoria gigs of December '94 when I was certain it would be the last time I'd see them. That, of course, only turned out to apply to Richey. Gone but never forgotten,

10.  Gang Starr - "Jazz Thing" (1990)
Not sure it had a name but following rare groove and then acid jazz there was "a scene" around the late 80s and very early 90s where jazz and funk and hip-hop and, for want of a better term, "modern dance music" were all thrown into a pot from which loads of great records were cooked. Gang Starr's "Jazz Thing" is a classic example and the opening track to the first volume of The Rebirth of The Cool compilation series which boldly announced "The nineties will be the decade of a jazz thing".   

Sunday, 28 December 2014

THE JAM in SMASH HITS


Rummaging in the back of a wardrobe in my childhood bedroom I came across a long forgotten collection of Jam posters. Some were so thoroughly forgotten seeing them now only brought back the tiniest flicker of remembrance. These four here though, pulled from the pages of Smash Hits between October 1981 and December 1982, are clear as day. They represent precisely the period of the band's career I was aware of and experienced first hand, albeit from a distance - I never saw them live.

The Jam meant the world to me then and stuck with Blu-Tac to my walls and cupboard doors these "song words", as Smash Hits called them , were quickly committed to memory, where they've remained ever since. The phrase "Repeat chorus and ad lib to fade" entering common parlance to folk of a certain age whose reading matter was still confined to the pages of Britain's glossiest pop mag.

I recall being very annoyed with Smash Hits for their treatment of "Beat Surrender". Here was the Jam's swansong and they gave it the laziest piece of non-design artwork in the history of the mag. Look at it, shocking.




Thursday, 18 December 2014

HERE IS BARBARA LYNN (1968)


After hitting big with the smoky "You'll Lose A Good Thing" in 1962 and having the Stones famously cover her "Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going") in 1964, Texan singer, songwriter and guitarist Barbara Lynn signed to Atlantic Records where they announced her arrival with the album Here Is Barbara Lynn.

Now lavishly reissued for the first time courtesy of Light In The Attic Records, it's been fully remastered from the original tapes, pressed on 180 gram vinyl, housed in a sturdy gatefold sleeve and includes a colour insert with photographs and an interview with Barbara. More importantly than all that, it's a superb album of classy, understated soul music. It's topped and tailed with two of her most well known songs - "You'll Lose A Good Thing" and "This Is The Thanks I Get" - with everything in between of comparable quality.

There's no need for raving or over-singing, just sit firmly on the groove and simmer until cooked to perfection. "Take Your Love And Run" and "Mix It Up Baby" knock the tempo up a touch but it's the ballads and mid-tempo numbers which excel with Barbara's self-penned "(Until Then) I'll Suffer" a real stop-you-in-your-tracks moment. 

The release of Here Is Barbara Lynn coincided with Aretha Franklin's most successful period at Atlantic (Lady Soul and Aretha Now both charted in the top 3 in '68) so it's doubtful this record or Barbara got the attention they deserved. The fact "(Until Then) I'll Suffer" didn't make it to a single until '71 rather underlines this, but this reissue goes some way to deservedly bringing Barbara Lynn - still out there playing live - back into view. 

Here Is Barbara Lynn is released by Light In The Attic Records.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

THE WEDNESDAY PLAY: THE GOLDEN VISION (1968)


The Golden Vision is another Ken Loach directed gem from the BBC's The Wednesday Play series and a must-see for anyone interested in football in those pre-Sky Premiership days or working class life in the late 60s.  

In Loach's familiar style of the time he blends drama, set around a group of Evertonians, superbly acted by a cast including Bill Dean and Ken Jones, who travel down to London to watch their side play Arsenal, and documentary sequences centered around Everton Football Club and their Scottish striker hero Alex Young, nicknamed The Golden Vision.

Written by broadcaster/newsreader Gordon Honeycombe (that name's a blast from the past) it's the interviews with, and attitudes of, the players which are especially enlightening with a revelations they don't enjoy the 90 minutes on a Saturday due to the pressure and alternatively have to relive the boredom during the week by drinking endless cups of tea. Such innocence. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

IN MEMORY OF IAN McLAGAN


You will have heard by now about the passing of Ian McLagan yesterday. My Facebook timeline is packed today with heartfelt, and in many cases genuinely tearful, tributes to a man none of us really knew although a significant amount had briefly met. There's photo after photo of Mac grinning away and sharing a drink and a laugh with a complete stranger. 

Mrs Monkey and I met him a couple of times and he was as lovely a geezer as you could wish to find. The first was a brief encounter with Kenney Jones at a signing session in HMV and the second was down the pub when Mrs M got him in the headlock she only usually employs on her best mates (see above). He might have been a famous rock and roll star but Ian McLagan felt like one of us rather than one of them.

And where did we all fall in love with the sound of a Hammond B3? It wasn't from Jimmy Smith or even Booker T. Jones but from Ian McLagan and the Small Faces, especially on those instrumental a go-go numbers "Grow Your Own" and "Almost Grown". Now it's up the wooden hills to join Stevie and Plonk. Thanks Mac. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

JUKEBOX 7"s PLAYLIST - NOVEMBER 2014


Was great fun to play a few records alongside Long John and Miles at Jukebox 72s down at Biddle Bros bar in Clapton on Saturday. Friendly crowd and bar staff and free reign to dig out a few old singles that haven't seen light of day for a while. These were my sets.

Barbara Lynn - This Is The Thanks I Get
Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman
The Doors - Touch Me
The Clash - Know Your Rights
Adam Faith - Watch Your Step
The Masters Apprentices - War Or Hands Of Time
The Who - Anyway Anyhow Anywhere
Elastica - Vaseline
Manic Street Preachers - Stay Beautiful
Super Furry Animals - God! Show Me Magic
Dave Clark Five - Concentration Baby

John Lee Hooker - Money
Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers - Slow Down
Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames - In The Meantime
James Brown & The Famous Flames - Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
The Specials - Nite Klub
The Ruts - Babylon's Burning
These Animal Men - Speeed King
Art Brut - Emily Kane
Powder - Afrodisiac
Menswear - I'll Manage Somehow
Blondie - Hanging On The Telephone
The Byrds - Feel A Whole Lot Better

Jan & Dean - Surf City
The Rolling Stones - 19th Nervous Breakdown
Gene - Sick, Sober and Sorry
The Smiths - This Charming Man
The Primitives - Really Stupid
Ramones - Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
The Damned - Neat Neat Neat
Sham 69 - Hurry Up Harry
Chas and Dave - Rabbit
The Trashmen - Surfin' Bird
Chubby Checker - Karate Monkey
Suede - Metal Mickey

Sunday, 30 November 2014

PUSH The Best of the First 10 Issues - EDITED BY JOE ENGLAND (2014)


Not much more than eighteen months ago literary fanzine PUSH was launched onto an unsuspecting public. I liked it immediately and wrote here suggesting "Amalgamating pop culture, drug paranoia, rushed sex, football hooligans and the threat of violence, it is just one glance away from a character in a John King novel". And so it continued.

These things can be a flash in the pan and soon fizzle out but editor Joe England has pumped out the issues - thirteen and counting - whilst keeping the standard exceptionally high. So much so East London Press have published PUSH Best of the First 10 Issues as a smart paperback book. Not only that but John King himself has written a glowing foreword (see, I must occasionally know what I'm on about/throw enough shit at the wall...).

King draws the comparison with these unfamiliar working class writers - all outside the established literary circle and clique - and a similar scene in the 1990s when his The Football Factory and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting were published and "there was similar talk, an amazement among commentators that the common folk could read - let alone read such books".

The problem is finding this stuff. I don't read that many books as it's difficult to know where to find work that connects. As King correctly attests, "The truth is that many people are not interested in contemporary fiction because there is nothing that remotely relates to their lives". Spot on. I was unceremoniously dumped out of my English Literature O Level studies as the teacher believed there was no way I'd pass the exam. He was probably right. Not to diss old Billy Shakespeare but I couldn't make head nor tail of Richard II; was bored stiff by Silas bloody Marner; and didn't give a hoot whether some boy John went to sea or not. I don't know what's on the school curricular these days but it's a wonder I ever picked up a book again. In fairness unless it was about football or music I wouldn't have been interested anyway. Luckily I'd later discover the Beats but even they can be impenetrable much of the time. But Joe England has found enough writers for the likes of me to fill his fanzine every six weeks and edit what one hopes will be a succession of Best Of editions.

Reading these pieces again I'm struck once more how great and perceptive the writing is. Some passages make me wince in horror, some choke me up, some are angry, some downright funny and some are written by right cankerous bastards. Whether short stories, poems (yes, poems for Christ sake), interviews or artwork, I get it. It makes sense. It's alive. It talks my language. I'm not going to single out individuals as I'd have to list too many. It's all good.

Fanzines are fabulous things, born out of the passion and the need to share of the editor, and they're the labour of love of one person who often ploughs a lonely furrow. I'm chuffed and indeed weirdly proud of Joe England for seeing his baby - so far limited to blink-and-you-miss-it print runs sold on the street outside West Ham games (football fans read something other than tabloids or mags with soap actresses in various states of undress? What an audacious assumption on England's part) - recognised by East London Press. East London Press aren't Penguin Books - they are still a tiny independent press - but this feels like vindication of Joe's vision. It's not really, the words of these talented writers were already valid no matter what the format, but in its small way it's a victory, a triumph, for everyone involved. It'll reach more people, it's a step forward. PUSH Best of the First 10 Issues now sits on the bookshelf next to John King, Irvine Welsh, Dan Fante, Tony O'Neill etc. as an essential volume of modern day underground literature.

PUSH Best of the First 10 Issues is available from East London Press, priced £7.99.
For more about PUSH see Joe England Books.
A launch party with readings, music and debauchery takes place at the Orford House Social Club, Orford Road, Walthamstow, E17 on Saturday 6th December. 7pm. Free. Cheap bar.  

Sunday, 23 November 2014

NOVEMBER PLAYLIST


This month I have mostly been diggin'...

1.  Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers - "Slow Down" (1964)
The Larry Williams chestnut given a fat soul club sound indicative of their live reputation.  

2.  The Master's Apprentices - "War Or Hands Of Time" (1966)
This rollicking garage-punk single, with its A-side "Undecided", is the greatest thing Australia has ever given the world.

3.  Paul Jones - "Sonny Boy Williamson" (1966)
Paul Jones and Jack Bruce wrote and recorded this tribute to the man who made such an impact on the British R&B boom after this death the previous year. Tucked away as a B-side, featuring only Jones on vocals and harmonica and Bruce on bass, its simplicity is a far cry from the bombastic (and let's be honest, rather naff) "I've Been A Bad, Bad Boy" on the A-side.

4.  Bob Dylan & The Band - "Blowin' In The Wind" (1967)
There's a heck of a lot to take in - almost too much, if that were possible - in the 6-CD The Basement Tapes Complete but it's great to drop in for short spells to earwig Bobby and the boys having a sing-song. The woozy, bar room band take of "Blowin' In The Wind" is an immediate favourite.

5.  Percy Sledge - "True Love Travels On A Gravel Road" (1969)
Countrified Muscle Shoals soul. From the title, to the pedal steel, to the horns, to Sledge's rootsy vocal, everything here is simply magnificent. If you only investigate one song from this list, make it this.

6.  Kelly Gordon - "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (1969)
I love the Hollies classic but check out the outstanding original version. Gordon's almost unbearably raw emotion gives it the kind of gravitas the lyrics deserve.

7.  The Stovall Sisters - "Yes To The Lord" (1970)
Lillian, Netta and Joyce Stovall began singing in the 1950s as gospel group God's Little Wonders aged just 5, 7 and 2 respectively. By the time of their only album the sisters had embraced elements of rock and roll into their repertoire and here, in a reversal of the more common practice, take a secular song ("My Baby Loves Me" by Martha & the Vandellas) and give it a glorious religious make-over.

8.  Archie Shepp - "Attica Blues" (1972)
Two weeks after George Jackson was killed in San Quentin, 43 people died during riots in New York's Attica Prison. The title track of saxophonist Shepp's Attica Blues is a righteous, defiant, fist-raising soul stirrer. With Henry Hull on lead vocals, it's as funky as hell.

9.  Five Thirty - "Out To Get In" (1991)
Last month I included Ride and they've subsequently reformed. Gonna try and repeat the trick with their superior Oxford neighbours Five Thirty whose 12 inch extra tracks were better than most band's singles. 

10.  John Sinclair - "Straight No Chaser" (2014)
Best known as MC5 manager, White Panther Party founder and counter-culture pot stirrer, Sinclair is also a poet, journalist, performer and major jazz head (check out It's All Good - A John Sinclair Reader for a good sample of his work) . On latest album Mohawk he raps beat poetry in an evangelical manner, backed by a small jazz combo, about Bird. Monk and Dizzy. It's passionate, warm and inspiring; part history lesson, part heartfelt tribute.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

JUKEBOX 7"S - SATURDAY 29th NOVEMBER

I admit this is a very niche post even, by MonkeyPicks standards, but if you're within touching distance of Clapton, East London on Saturday 29th November (unlikely I know), you are cordially invited to join Long John, Miles and myself for the latest edition of Jukebox 7"s.

Biddle Brothers is a cool bar and always a good friendly atmosphere in there with us three (and Reggie the Parrot) playing records in a haphazard higgledy piggledy manner, meaning you could get anything from James Brown to the Byrds to Elastica to Ramsey Lewis to Jilted John to the Masters Apprentices.

Shake yer tail feather Reggie!    

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

ABOUT THE YOUNG IDEA: THE JAM - SETTING SONS (SUPER DELUXE EDITION) and LIVE AT THE BRIGHTON CENTRE (1979)


It’s 15 December 1979 and The Jam are in Brighton seeing out their most successful year to date with a gig promoting their fourth album, Setting Sons. Thirty seconds into the penultimate song of the night and “Heatwave” begins to collapse around them as fans clamber on stage. There’s a cry of “wanker” in the background before Paul Weller spits into the mic, “You can get the kids off stage but don’t fucking smash ‘em about, all right.” These kids are his people and loyalty works both ways. With his bitterness rising there’s more frustrated swearing and then “Fuck ‘Heatwave’, fuck the lot of it”. Knuckles tighten. The tension rises. Some more shits and fucks and a seething Weller slashes his guitar strings through an incendiary “’A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” that ends a show that for over 70 minutes bristled with fire and intensity.

There are many reasons to be thankful The Jam have never reformed and hearing how passionately driven they were during this 21-song gig included in the new 4-disc Setting Sons: The Super Deluxe Edition is a particularly compelling one. In three years’ time the band spilt when Weller’s heart wasn’t in it and there’s been no going back. One can’t recreate the past (okay, I’m talking about the band at the centre of a mod revival here but bear with me) and one definitely can’t recapture that special youthful idealism and arrogance as Weller, then only 21, was already perceptive enough to realise. The themes of age and aging and change peppered his lyrics throughout The Jam’s lifetime, right from their first single, but were especially prevalent during ’79 both with Setting Sons and the stand-alone single “When You’re Young” which warned the band’s young following their dreams and optimism of being grown up would soon be smashed when they realised the world was their oyster but their future a clam. Thanks Paul.  

It’s a toss-up between Setting Sons and The Gift as to my favourite Jam album but I don’t often listen to either often – there’s too much new stuff to discover than to spend time raking over old coals - yet being immersed in this set for the last week has been hugely rewarding to rediscover how good The Jam were, especially during this period. It’s easy to forget, to take them for granted. Weller’s lyrics on “Private Hell”, “Burning Sky”, “Wasteland” etc are among the best of his career and The Jam solidified their sound.

Much of the album, the best parts, was a semi-materialised concept about three reunited friends looking at how their lives had changed from the days when they thought they’d stick together for all time; before faces that were once so beautiful became barely recognisable and the men got bald and fat. All that felt an impossibly long way into the future for the kids at the Brighton Centre but young Weller saw it coming.

Disc 1 of this Super Deluxe Edition is the standard Setting Sons album plus eight non-album period singles and B-sides – “Strange Town”, “When You’re Young”, “The Eton Rifles” (slightly different to album version; basically shorter) and “Going Underground” which, with “Dreams of Children,” really belongs with Sound Affects. In Tony Fletcher’s memoir Boy About Town he recalls his classmates celebrating “Going Underground” hitting number one as if their team had won the cup. It was a scene replicated across schools in the UK. They – band and audience – had done it. It was a band for the kids but not a kids’ band. 

Disc 2 features 18 demos and alternate versions – 14 previously unreleased – and a John Peel session. Fourteen unreleased tracks sounds tempting but don’t expect too many surprises. For the most part they are rough and ready run-throughs; Weller the focus with perfunctory bass and drums. Not much changes other than extra oomph by the final versions, although one take of “Strange Town” has an almost ska rhythm which fortunately disappeared before it made the shops. There are two unfamiliar titles - “Simon” and “Along The Grove” - which unless I’ve missed something will be new to most. “Simon” is a sedately paced song about a shy schoolboy due to start work. There’s a kernel of a decent song there but some of the lyrics are a bit clunky and even if it had been finished would’ve struggled to find space on Setting Sons. “Along The Grove” is far superior. Packed with poetic lines it tells of a lonely, alienated man returning from war considering suicide; it’s haunting, affecting and would’ve sat perfectly on the album. The demo here isn’t complete and Weller growls in frustration as it falls away. Tantalising.    

The Brighton Centre gig is disc 3 and is also available in its own right as a stand-alone 2-LP vinyl edition. For me it’s central to the package and well worth getting hold of. I never had the pleasure of seeing The Jam (it still rankles me that others at school, far less deserving, did so) but there a moments which gave me a shiver in the same way Dig The New Breed did in ’83 when I spent hours listening to it whilst perfecting those illustrations on the sleeve of Paul, Bruce and Rick to adore school books and every available blank space.

Disc 4 is a DVD of the promo videos, six Top of the Pops performances and two clips from Something Else. The box also includes a hardback 70-page book with cuttings, new interviews and rare photos; four prints; a replica 1979 tour programme; a replica 1979 fan club magazine; a teas maid; set of oven gloves; a fondue set and a cuddly toy. I’ve only had access to the music so can’t comment on how worthwhile this stuff is but if you’re a middle aged man in need of a black and white photo of Rick Buckler than I’d start worrying. The Jam were always conscious about giving value for money, not filling their albums with singles, so to have sets packed with useless paraphernalia like this to increase the sale price, when all that really matters is the music, does stick in the craw a bit.     

The Jam drew a clear distinction between us and them; between young and old; rich and poor; the classes; even length of hair or whether people were in employment. Weller in Brighton snidely introduces “Smithers-Jones” as being “for anyone with long hair and who works”, which was harsh on Bruce Foxton. The irony now of course is age has meant a switch of sides for many but for The Jam, forever stuck in 1977-82, aged 18-23, they’ve kept their passion, their soul, their fire. Whatever the softening in some of Paul Weller’s attitudes and integrity over the years – even he’s not immune to compromise and the shifting priorities of age - he’s resolutely stuck to his guns and kept The Jam untarnished by age. More than any other band I think of, The Jam were, and will always, be about the young idea.  

Setting Sons: The Super Deluxe Edition, The Deluxe Edition and Live At The Brighton Centre by The Jam are released on Monday 17th November 2014 by Polydor/Universal.
Top photo: Paul Weller meets Paul Crud, 1979.

Monday, 3 November 2014

THE ACTION: UNRELEASED RECORDINGS - IN MY LONELY ROOM (10 INCH EP)


A new release featuring previously unreleased recordings by The Action. I can't think of a sentence I'd sooner type for you, and there it is, in all it's glory. A few words which read sweeter than Reggie King tackling an Impressions song. In a few short weeks, on 8th December to be precise, discerning turntables will spin in unison as ears catch their first listen to these miraculous discoveries. I don't usually reproduce press releases but will make an exception here whilst I have a lie down....

Four previously unreleased tracks by the ultimate ACTION recorded during 1964 and 1965, on both vinyl and CD EP.

We all tried our hand at getting that Motown sound you know... all the bands in the mid ‘60s. 
The best ones at it were the Action... They were an amazing band.” - Steve Marriott, 1987.

Alongside the Small Faces and the Who, London’s ACTION were undoubtedly Britain’s premier mod band during the mid 1960s, and their chain of five singles for Parlophone from October 1965 to June 1967 are venerated as one of the finest runs of 45s of the period (or indeed of any period really). Subsequent releases of the group’s material such as The Ultimate Action, Rolled Gold, Uptight And Outasight and CD repackages of the band’s EMI output, plus the Action’s period of reformation, have endeared the group to a huge swell of post 60s fans and the band command a level of respect and adulation rarely bestowed on many other groups of their era. Sadly with the aforementioned slew of records and CDs the well of archive Action material appeared to have run dry...until now that is!

The excellent book on the Action In The Lap Of The Mods, published in 2012, shed light on a previously rarely documented aspect of the Action’s recording career, specifically their audition for the Decca record company in May 1965. Indeed some copies of the book included a limited edition vinyl 45 extracted from an acetate recently discovered from that audition, which was a supreme version of the Temptations ‘Why You Wanna Make Me Blue’. That recording, taped six months before their EMI debut, makes a welcome re-appearance here and also emerges on CD for the first time. Unbelievably since the book came out another acetate from that Decca session has surfaced, one side of which features a wonderful interpretation of one of many people’s favourite Action tracks ‘In My Lonely Room’, which incredibly surpasses the later recording for Parlophone and has a real ‘live’ feel to it. Coupled with ‘In My Lonely Room’ was a fine rendition of the Impressions’ ‘You’ll Want Me back’, which finds the Action in a more mellow blue eyed soul groove and showcases perhaps the most Reggie King’s leap in vocal prowess in the comparative short space of time since the band’s recordings for Pye as the Boys barely six months previous.

Not that the Boys’ single for Pye was a slouch – far from it – and Top Sounds round off the EP with another previously undocumented recording. Committed to acetate during their time as the Boys was one of Reggie King’s earliest compositions, and ‘Fine Looking Girl’exposes further the pre-emptive Action in rather good form indeed.

Restored to the best possible standard from the original acetates, the four selections on In My Lonely Room are a fascinating, important and invaluable document of the emergent Action during late 1964 and 1965, and Top Sounds are justifiably elated to place these portentous recordings together for the first time. With the blessing of Action drummer Roger Powell, help from In the Lap Of The Mods authoress Jane Shepherd and delivered in full vintage 60s style packaging courtesy of Bruce Brand, In My Lonely Room is sure to excite Action fans everywhere and in all probability – unfortunately – may well be the final release of ‘new’ vintage Action recordings. Your last chance to catch some new unbelievable ACTION!

Friday, 24 October 2014

OCTOBER PLAYLIST



1.  Maxine Brown – “The Secret Of Livin’” (1966)
Maxine has at least three indisputable Northern Soul anthems to her name and whilst Wand 45 “The Secret Of Livin’” isn’t one of them it’s a neat overlooked pop-soul gem.

2.  The Beau Brummels – “One Too Many Mornings” (1966)
Anything the Byrds can do with a Dylan song…

3.  Dave Pike – “Blind Man Blind Man” (1966)
The Herbie Mann produced Jazz For The Jet Set for Atlantic Records features an air travelling dollybird in green go-go boots on the sleeve and marimba playing Pike in the grooves. Herbie Hancock makes his debut on organ, Clark Terry lends his trumpet, and the whole album has the air of cool sophistication. 

4.  Peter Walker – “Second Song” (1968)
When Timothy Leary invited folks back to his gaff to turn on, tune in and drop out, he’d often employ guitarist Peter Walker to provide a suitable soundtrack to accompany the evening’s main event. If Peter isn’t available for your next acid party his album Second Poem to Karmela or Gypsies Are Important is as trippy as the title suggests. 

5.  The Supremes – “I Wish I Was Your Mirror” (1970)
The first post-Diana Supremes album,New Ways But Loves Stays, has some fine camp classics on it (“Stoned Love”, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”); some interesting covers (“Come Together”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”); and some straight ahead smooth soul movers like this Frank Wilson tune. The Four Tops did a version too but it’s not as good as this.

6.  Syl Johnson – “Annie Got Hot Pants Power” (1971)
Syl reckoned this would’ve been a hit if it had been called simply “Hot Pants Lady” as in his opinion, “Black women are more sophisticated now. They don’t want nobody calling them Annie”. He’d later release a weaker version under that title and claims it was his song James Brown based his big “Hot Pants” hit on. There can never be enough hot pants or songs about hot pants in my book.

7.  Esther Phillips – “Sweet Touch of Love” (1972)
I always hear one of the opening lines as “Sting your furry toes”. That coupled with Ms Phillips on the back cover ofFrom A Whisper To A Scream with her housecoat undone revealing more than a lady oughta is an unsettling image.

8.  The Primitives – “Secrets” (1989)
The Primitives launched their new Spin-O-Rama LP with a great show at the Garage in Highbury last Saturday. Half new stuff like “Petals” and “Hidden In The Shadows” and half old, and one couldn’t see the join. An oldie they didn’t play was “Secrets” which, bizarrely, was the song I woke up with stuck in my head the following morning. When bands can afford to omit singles like this from their live set you know their cup overfloweth.

9.  Ride – “Twisterella” (1992)
It’s impossible to say when Britpop began but when this came out I clearly remember it marking a noticeably shift for both Ride and the mood of the time. More overtly 60s; clean, chiming Rickenbackers; vocal harmonies; underscored by a black and white video recreating The Who at the Goldhawk Road Social Club. Better than almost everything that came in its wake. 

10.  The Higher State – “Wait For My Love” (2014)
In between Easter Everywhere and Bull of the Woods, the 13th Floor Elevators cut “Wait For My Love”, a poppier than usual track earmarked as their new single. Instead, it languished in the vaults for years. It finally makes it onto a white-vinyl 45 thanks to Elevator acolytes The Higher State’s faithful recording for the covers label Fruits De Mer. The earlier Elevators track “You Don’t Know” takes the flip.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

THE PHROGS - "BABY, I'M GONE" (2001)

The Phrogs were a regular fixture as the live attraction in Mod and 60s clubs back in the mid to late 90s. I saw them more times than I can remember and they were easily one of the better bands doing that circuit. They had a fiery British Beat/R&B thing going on and covered things “Leave My Kitten Alone” which sticks in my mind. The other thing I recall, which made them unique, is they had a frontman who didn’t do a great deal other than shake his maracas, blow a bit of harp and sing the occasional song. He did look cool though. The band, from Southend-on-Sea, were centred on the drummer who not only bashed his kit but sang and during a few songs (I think “I’m A Man” was one) played the organ at the same time. Some trick that. Now, they have a 7” single, “Baby I’m Gone”, out on Manchester’s Crocodile Records. Recorded back in 2001 at Toe Rag studios, it’s a right Elevators/Watchband rave-up. There’s also this breathless footage of them filmed at Channel 4 in the same year. If you can avert your eyes from the vest you're in for a treat. The band are still gigging and the single is available now from www.vinylrevivalmanchester.com

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

GRAHAM DAY & THE FOREFATHERS - GOOD THINGS (2014)

There’s a moment after the lute solo in “Sucking Out My Insides”, and just before the orchestra and choir come in, when for the first time in his career Graham Days breaks into a beautiful falsetto to deliver the song’s heart-wrenching final verse.

Yeah, right. No, what the listener finds on the first album by Graham Day & The Forefathers are a dozen new versions of songs from Day’s back catalogue (six Solar Flares, three Prisoners, two Gaolers, one Prime Movers) delivered in a reassuringly familiar manner. In fact, they aren’t really what one would call new versions – there’s nothing like Bob Dylan playing Name That Tune with his audience or even Howlin’ Wolf psychedelicizing his blues – Day’s simply got songs out of storage and blasted the dust off with a crate load of Medway TNT. These are brash and boisterous songs performed with super-charged, pent-up energy. It’s like Graham Day of old, only more so. His vocals and wah-wah guitar assaults are the stuff of legend and with Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard’s formidable rhythm section striking everything with extra gusto it’s a heavyweight collection.

If accepted wisdom tells us Dave Davies’s crunching power-chords gave birth to heavy metal then it doesn’t take a DNA test on the Jeremy Kyle Show to show Good Things as one of its errant offspring. It’s such a hard rocking album one can’t help wonder how much of Day’s audience continues to be populated by Mods whose traditional musical preferences lie elsewhere. There is, it seems, space for at least one guitar hero and rock god in everyone’s life. The only time I take my air-guitar off its stand is to play along to Graham Day and I snapped a few strings giving it a workout to Good Things.

Much of Day’s audience though has dipped in and out over the years so some song choices here will be more familiar than others but Good Things is a great leveller. Covering four bands and about twenty five years of song writing it would take an incredibly perceptive ear to distinguish the origins of each track; such is Day’s singular vision to no-nonsense tunes.  

It’s fleetingly tempting to listen to these tracks back-to-back with the originals versions to play better/worse but that’s not the point. Good Things is best enjoyed without drawing direct comparisons with the originals; I’ve pointedly not listened to the versions back-to-back but my hunch is some are slightly improved. Day’s music has never been something to over-analyse, so think of this as a live-in-the-studioBest Of Graham Day album. Stick it on your record player, whack it up as loud as your neighbours will allow, and enjoyGood Things

Good Things by Graham Day & The Forefathers is released on Own Up Records at the band’s gig at the 229 Club in London on Friday 31st October.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

THE PRIMITIVES - SPIN-O-RAMA (2014)


I was bemoaning recently there hasn’t been any great albums released this year; a remark which prompted a host of suggestions that I duly ploughed through. There were some good songs here and there but very few albums which kept my attention for the duration. Of those that did, I’ve not feel suitably inspired to listen again. Much was far too earnest and not a lot of fun. I thought I was becoming easier to please; maybe not. Maybe I’m more of an old stuck in the mud fuddy-duddy than I care to admit.

And then, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared with the new long-player from the Primitives. Spin-O-Rama is half an hour of glorious pop classism: the intoxicating blend of old and new; of familiarity and discovery. Why reinvent the wheel when it all it needs is a shiny polish? It’s a record packed with tightly constructed songs by a band still enamoured with 60s girl groups, the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, Blondie and eyes-blinking-in-the-morning-sun psychedelia. It was a heady mix when they made their classic Lovely in 1988 and it’s a combination which remains irresistible. Everything one loved in that LP is present and correct here. It’s the fifth Primitives album but feels like the true successor to their sparkling debut. They know pop music boils down to having a couple of verses, a chorus and/or a hook. There’s no need to dress it up too much, to make it more complicated. Sure, embellish the basic guitar, bass and drums a little but keep things short and sweet (or sometimes sour).  

That isn’t to say, by any means, the Primitives are either lacking in imagination or are attempting to regurgitate their past, even if they echo it. There’s so much crammed into this one record - it whizzes past at such a lick (eleven songs in 28 minutes) it’s difficult take all in at once - it begs, and gets, repeated plays. Whether Tracy Tracy is crooking her little finger at the listener or Paul Court takes off on a giddying space flight the effect is close to bliss. The title track introduces itself like a distant cousin of “Crash” with a similar finger picking guitar motif; “Hidden In The Shadows” romps after it with simple rhymes and pounding rhythms; “Lose The Reason” is a big rolling and tumbling duet; and the ludicrously intoxicating rush of “Petals” surely has to be released as a single so I can set the video recorder to tape them playing it on Top of The Pops. “Working Isn’t Working” - with a hint of the Monkees’ “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” - has Paul singing “I just want to sit doing nothing”. That Paul took 23 years since the last album of original Primitives songs to make this I’ll take him at his word. It’s a fab track, thank heavens he finally rustled up the enthusiasm and knuckled down to get it together.

That enthusiasm pours from the grooves. Spin-O-Rama is the sound of a band enjoying what they do, with little to prove, free from expectations, free from record company pressure. For all their perceived perkiness they've had their prickly moments (and aren't half as cheery as one might think). Lest we forget after the Prims brush with fame their first single from album number two, Pure, had them stroppily protesting they were “Sick Of It”. Even though Pure (1989) and Galore (1991) were good much of their exuberant spirit dissolved and only fully returned in 2012 with the joyful covers "comeback album" Echoes and Rhymes. They’ve come full circle, Spin-O-Rama, if you will. Back to their beginning, back to the spirit of those early independent singles – “Really Stupid”, “Stop Killing Me” etc - and it suits them perfectly.

Anyone who has ever cared for the Primitives will love this LP, and anyone coming to the band from scratch should start here. Either way, it could be the most enjoyable new music you hear this year.  

Spin-O-Rama by The Primitives is released by Elefant Records on Monday 13th October 2014. They play the Garage, Highbury & Islington, London on Saturday 18th October (the only UK date in support of the LP).

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

THE SMITHS on CHARLIE'S BUS (1984)

It's April 1984 and The Smiths appear on TV-AM's SPLAT riding something called Charlie's Bus. "Where are we going?" asks one of the many children on the bus. "We're all going mad," replies Morrissey. "I thought we were going to Kew Gardens," says the kid. No flies on that young lady.

Off they trot to Kew Gardens and who should turn up but Sandie Shaw to serenade them with "Jeanne", a song about graves and failure.

Thanks to @binkydawkins for sending in this gem.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

FIVE THIRTY'S TARA MILTON BACK IN THE STUDIO. KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN FOR SERPENTINE WALTZ


Oh Tara, it’s been far, far too long. As one of the driving forces of Five Thirty, Tara Milton released Bed in 1991, an album which to this day sits firmly in my all-time top ten. (See review). In 1998, with The Nubiles, he released the uncompromising Mindblender, a record which sounds more impressive with each passing year. Since then, silence. Until now.

After years in the wilderness, Tara is back in the studio working on a brand new album, Serpentine Waltz. He says:

“It's been a long time, since I've made a record in earnest. That was never intended to be, after my last band The Nubiles split, I felt it was time for me to stand on my own two feet for a while; although as a musician and a song writer, I felt that I was only just getting started. I made a silent pact to myself, that I should return to the world, and come what may, if I were any kind of writer, then surely life would provide all of the necessary ingredients for me to furnish my songs.

Being alone and without a band for the first time since I was 15 years old, I fully expected to get lost, and that I did. In fact, it's true to say that my life skills were so far adrift, I was found floundering… But still there's a unique excitement that comes with being lost.

In March 2002 I landed in Japan, pretty much penniless, or yen less if you prefer? For about 6 weeks I was as sick as a dog. A 'girlfriend' put me up for a while. I can understand her frustration, sometimes she would chase me around her apartment with sharp implements, slashing at the Japanese shoji blinds, like a scene from The Shining. Gleefully, I was forced to consign to my perdition.

This collection of songs, Serpentine Waltz, represent to some extent me getting back on my feet over the years. I'd probably describe the songs as, 'Kitchen Sink Dramas' but with abstract twists and a late night vibe! I will generally tell my story through an emphatic third party.”

With the album approximately half-finished, Lee Rourke, who runs the amazing five-thirty.co.uk site, has helped Tara set up a Kickstarter page to raise funds to complete the project, with Little Barrie’s Barrie Cadogan and George Shilling, who mixed Bed, on board. Pledge your support now and when Serpentine Waltz is released your donation and your album (and perhaps other goodies) will wing its way to you. It doesn't take a great leap of faith to know it promises to be a special record. 

For more info, to hear work-in-progress, and details of how to get involved are available here. This project will only be funded if at least £2,500 is pledged by Friday Oct 24 2014, so get a wriggle on if you're interested. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

SEPTEMBER PLAYLIST


This month I have mostly been listening to…

1.  Lucille Bogan – “Till The Cows Come Home” (1932)
Sexually explicit songs have been around since time began but to hear the language used on recordings by Lucille Bogan in the 20s and 30s still comes as a shock to modern ears.  Check out her “Shave Me Dry” too, just not in front of the kids.

2.  The Brigands – “(Would I Still Be) Her Big Man” (1966)
Snarling vocals and lyrics, a nifty nagging guitar riff and the world’s biggest tambourine lay the foundations for The Brigands’ only 45, a well-produced garage punker straight outta New York City for Epic Records before they mutated into the Third Rail the following year.

3.  The Garden State Choir – “Who’s Over Yonder” (1967)
By jingo, The Garden State Choir were in one heck of a hurry to check over yonder for the Lord. Slow down brothers and sisters, soldiers of the cross, He’ll still be there when your time comes.

4.  Harper & Rowe – “The Dweller” (1968)
Or, as some wag on-line remarked when this was doing the rounds recently, “The P.Weller”. Remarkably Style Councilesque, “With Everything To Lose”/”Have You Ever Had It Blue?” in particular springing to mind. Surely a coincidence... 

5.  The Isley Brothers – “Sweet Seasons” (1973)
The Isleys cut three Carole King tunes on Brother, Brother, Brother; this summer breezey one is a joy.

6.  The Staple Singers – “Trippin’ On Your Love” (1981)
Back in the late 80s a then-current Arthur Miles version of this filtered its way into “our” clubs. I distinctly remember it played regularly at a Northern Soul do at Drummonds by King’s Cross (Chuck Jackson’s “All Over The World” spun next to it). It divided opinion but, trying to be a progressive thinker and embracing modern soul at the time, I loved it. Had no idea it was originally by the Staples. Listening now, Arthur’s version is still pretty good but the Staples one is sublime. Sing along with Mavis to that intro: “I don’t need no speed or weed…

7.  Paikan & The Mighty Mocambos – “Ballad of the Bombay Sapphires” (2010)
Thirsty work being this goddam cool.

8.  Big Boss Man – “Aardvark” (2014)
The new Big Boss Man album, Last Man on Earth, sees the band continue to chance their arm away from the safety of their well-established funky soul-jazz instrumentals by incorporating elements of folk and psych rock to the mix plus a few more vocal tracks. As laudable as that is, and they remind me of Mother Earth in that mode, the highlight of Last Man on Earth is the single “Aardvark”; with swinging Hammond, punchy horns, bongo groove and soul claps it’s Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames at the Flamingo revisited. 

9.  Martin Carr – “The Santa Fe Skyway” (2014)
The Boo Radleys were a bit hit or miss but this sunny lead track from Carr’s new The Breaks album definitely falls in the former category. The “Shaft”-style outro came as a surprise (although it won’t now to you, sorry). 

10.  The Oxbow Lake Band – “Mr. Strange” (2014)
Great opener to their Boy Angus EP, Aberdeenshire’s The Oxbow Lake Band throw everything but the kitchen sink into this fiery floorshaker. Early Dexys horns, some wicked flute, Hammond solos turned up to eleven, and a fag-throated vocalist who sounds a ringer for Chris Dean of the Redskins, who would’ve loved a track like this for themselves. Keep on keeping on.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

THE WHISPERERS (1967)


Dame Edith Evans is most remembered for her marvellous and much imitated exclamation of “A hand bag?” as Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but in 1968 she won a Best British Actress BAFTA and was nominated for a Oscar for her role as Mrs. Ross, an elderly lady, poor and alone in her flat, living on benefits, who hears voices in the taps and the silent wireless and believes her neighbour is being kept against her will in the flat above. 

Bryan Forbes’s film, based on a 1961 book by Robert Nicolson, is as bleak as they come. Frequently confused and deluded (although at times keenly observant) Mrs. Ross is visited by her thieving son who hides money in her flat which she discovers and believes is her long awaited inheritance. As Mrs. Ross grandly tells the Welfare Board she no longer requires assistance and plans a trip to Barbados her real troubles are only just beginning. I won’t to say too much more about events as I never understand why folk would want a full synopsis before watching.

There are no laughs or light hearted scenes to be found. With the exception of the man at the Welfare Board there are few likeable characters, they’re all out for themselves, usually at the expense of the vulnerable Mrs. Ross. Made in 1966 and released in the summer of 1967, The Whisperers was filmed in black and white, which only underscores the dark and gloomy atmosphere and increases the kitchen-sink feel. The clues to the year are few and far between (an old man looking blankly at a lava lamp and a couple of mildly beatniky teenagers) and the crumbling, decaying, slum streets which Mrs. Ross gingerly walks, filled with stray cats scavenging in dustbins, adds to the end-of-days mood.

Evans fully deserved the accolades for her role and there are plenty of other familiar faces to spot throughout: Nanette Newman, Gerald Sims, Avis Bunnage, Eric Portman, Michael Robbins, Leonard Rossiter and Oliver MacGreevy. It’s a tremendous, deeply moving film. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

I’ll TAKE YOU THERE: MAVIS STAPLES, THE STAPLE SINGERS, AND THE MARCH UP FREEDOM’S HIGHWAY by GREG KOT (2014)


The title gives the impression Greg Kot’s new book focuses on the Staple Singers’ contribution to the civil rights movement of the 1960s but that’s only one element as I’ll Take You There provides an overview of the whole career of the Staples family: tracing how - under the leadership of patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples – they gradually and cautiously moved from family gospel singers in the 1950s; to embracing folk, protest and message songs in the 60s; to becoming the most successful group on Stax during the early 70s; and then, after years in the wilderness and the death of Pops in 2000, how Mavis Staples’ star rose again with a series of highly acclaimed albums and concerts since 2007.

Kot interviewed Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis Staples extensively as part of his research so with their assistance I’ll Take You There reads like an official biography and with 43 short chapters it has an episodic feel. The reader gets a strong sense of the family characteristics and bond – they all come across as completely lovely people, which I’m sure they are, you can hear it in their music – but issues of a personal nature are washed over. Mavis’s failed marriage is explained away in a couple of lines and although she reveals a little more about her relationship with Bob Dylan than previously known it invites more questions. Recurring themes throughout the book are integrity and trust – vitally important, especially where Mavis is concerned – so it is understandable how the author didn’t wish to intrude after winning the confidence of the family when dealing with more sensitive issues, including the tragic death of non-singing sister Cynthia. Mind you, the Staples are one of the straightest families in the rock history so those looking for a gossipy tome have already knocked on the wrong door.

The focus is therefore very much on the music, with one eye on the business. The early chapters recounting the Staples driving around the country in their car to sing at churches are especially evocative. It also showed how lucrative this could be. When “Uncloudy Day” took off in 1957 – with Pops’ spooky tremolo guitar sound and Mavis’s big old mama voice emanating from her young little bitty body - it allowed Pops to quit his $65 a week job at the steel mill; the family were coming home from appearances with hundreds of dollars stuffed in their pockets and would go on to play churches holding three thousand people.

But the choices the family made weren’t financially driven, they -following Pops’ lead – were about singing songs with a strong positive message, whether overtly gospel in nature or, later, moving into a more secular field. Even then this came with firm, if not fixed, boundaries and lyrics had to be believed before given the go ahead for Mavis to pour herself in. This philosophy, which stood them so well, was relaxed (after the younger members pleaded with Pops) sufficiently to record Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Let’s Do It Again, the fruity title track giving them a number one single in 1975. That though was the beginning of the end of the Staple Singers as a true force although they continued to soldier on, but the times weren’t as accommodating for their style or for an act that had already been making records for twenty years.

Kot provides commentary on all the albums they made together and individually, and whilst at times (particularly towards the latter stages when the narrative becomes less interesting) it reads a little like one album review after another, it does give a full account of their music. It’s a shame there’s no full discography included as the book highlights just how unavailable much of the Staples catalogue is. Getting hold of their early Vee-Jay recordings and all the Stax stuff is easy enough but what about the records they made in between for Riverside and then Epic? I can’t remember the last time those were issued. Good music books prompt the reader to re-listen or seek out recordings for the first time; I’ll Take You There does that in abundance (I've already begun filling in gaps).  

As a reluctant solo artist, Mavis Staples’ recent albums – One True Vine, You Are Not Alone, Hope At The Hideout and We’ll Never Turn Back – mixing new songs and revisiting ones cut in those early gospel years sit among the best records of her career, ensuring that for the close-knit Staples family and the listener fortunate enough to be fall for such inspirational, heartfelt music, rich with honesty and positivity, the circle remains unbroken.

I’ll Take You There by Greg Kot is published by Simon & Schuster, priced $26 (not yet published in the UK).

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY (2010)


You think you know someone. Clarence Reid is a name whose work is scattered through my record collection. Born in Cochran, Georgia in 1939, from the mid-60s he cut a host of 45s for different labels – Dial, Wand, Tay-ster etc - including the funk classic “Nobody But You Babe” in 1969 as well as working behind the scenes to write and produce for Miami based labels cutting commercially successful records on Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae, KC & The Sunshine Band and countless other small releases on obscure labels. Even for only his rhythm and soul thumper “I’m Your Yes Man” and Jimmy Bo Horne’s sublime 1967 northern glider, “I Can’t Speak”, both co-written with Willie Clarke, he’s earned his spurs in my book. Incidentally, a copy of “I Can’t Speak” on Dade sold for $3746 last month. 

It was after pulling a 1985 Kent Records compilation from the shelf, The Soul Of A Man, that I realised I only knew half the story. Clarence Reid’s, “Part Of Your Love”, from his Wand period opens side one. It’s a heart-wringing deep soul track about an affair with a married woman – proper, classy soul music - and my eyes then scanned Ady Croasdell’s liner notes. “His main source of income since the mid-70s had been recording porn covers of soul hits under the pseudonym Blowfly”. Porn covers of soul hits? What the? How had I missed this?

And it’s true; whole albums of the stuff all through the 70s and beyond; popular songs of the day rewritten with X-rated lyrics and performed by a man in a mysterious superhero outfit. Blowfly’s 1971 debut LP, The Weird World Of Blowfly, includes “Shitting Off The Dock Of The Bay” and “Spermy Night In Georgia”; At The Movies tells how “Superfly, keeps his head between chick’s thighs”;  1977’s Blowfly’s Disco Party features “What A Difference A Lay Makes” and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes “Bad Luck” reworked as, well, you can guess. Not everyone’s cup of tea but if you were a kid at school, a stoned teenager, or heard this stuff at a house party it’d raise a chuckle. The disco tracks and especially his early rap records like “Rapp Dirty”/”Blowfly’s Rap” in fact have more to offer than juvenile humour. Blowfly and the Sugarhill Gang can argue the toss over who made the first rap record (it’s difficult to be precise) but “Rapp Dirty” goes to places “Rapper’s Delight” would not have dreamed.

Filmmaker Jonathan Furmanski caught some of the story in The Weird World of Blowfly in 2008 when he followed Reid and his manager Tom Bowker touring America and Europe attempting to raise the profile of the Blowfly “brand” (argh!) and get his career back on track. It doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing with Reid/Blowfly encouraged to shock (he doesn’t actually need much encouragement to be fair) rather than simply entertain and into coerced into unfamiliar musical areas in an attempt to introduce him to a younger audience. Seeing a 69 year old man with an arthritic knee wearing a glittery wrestler’s mask performing lewd songs to a handful of drunks in a late night bar isn’t perhaps the most dignified way to make a living but need’s must. Although Blowfly records have been heavily sampled and have appeared on smashes by the likes of Beyonce, he doesn’t have a pot to piss in, having sold all his rights to his songs and future royalties to pay off mounting debts. “A million dollars tomorrow ain’t worth a damn if you can’t get two hundred dollars to live off today,” he says with a mixture of pragmatism and regret.

The film also features interviews with friends, family, folk he’s worked with and even Ice-T and Chuck D pop up to talk about Blowfly being a hip-hop influence and one of the original rappers (Blowfly might tell you he was the first but he’s not caught claiming that on camera here). There’s a nice part where Clarence Reid gets to perform in Miami as himself for the first time since 1972 but it’s his alter-ego that draws the most attention and we soon see him encouraged by his manager to record the charmless “Mummie Fucker”.

The Weird World of Blowfly left me with a whole jumble of emotions, as did Clarence Reid who has some “interesting” views of women and black people. It’s not a feel-good movie, there’s no redemption, no happy ending, it’s no Searching For Sugarman, but it is real and does portray something of the struggle of musicians – even ones with countless records behind them - trying to make a living. Bet Blowfly wishes he had a box of that Jimmy Bo Horne single under his bed. 

Here's the film.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

AUGUST PLAYLIST


1.  Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders – “Like I Did” (1965)
This was an unexpected pleasure when sent to me by a thoughtful reader the other day. The B-side of “She Needs Love”, the last single before Wayne and his ‘Benders went their separate ways, is a sumptuous track; neatly written and deftly performed with subtlety and grace. Impressive.

2.  Jimmy Smith – “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” (1966)
The Incredible Jimmy Smith rips it up on the Hammond with such lightning dexterity a whole big band, conducted by Oliver Nelson, gets left puffing in his wake.  From Smith’s Hoochie Coochie Man LP. 

3.  Gary Walker & The Rain – “If You Don’t Come Back” (1968)
Post Walker Brothers, Gary formed Gary Walker and the Rain and they made one album, entitled Album No. 1 - curiously only released in Japan – before splitting. There’s a mixture of styles, from psych to pop to soul to folk, as if they couldn’t quite decide which direction to take but it’s no less enjoyable for it, as it mostly all works. Here they decide to give the Leiber-Stoller song made famous by the Drifters a heavy dose of acid-rock.

4.  Herbie Mann – “Hold On, I’m Coming” (1969)
Mann’s Memphis Underground, recorded for Atlantic, is a funky flute (Mann) and vibes (Roy Ayers) soul-jazz-rock sensation from start to finish. It’s brilliant. This nine minute monster goes nuts around the halfway mark with guitars sounding like they’re trying to communicate not with the underground, but outer space. 

5.  Lonnie Smith – “Move Your Hand” (1969)
Recorded live at Club Harlem, Atlantic City on August 9, 1969, the ever-dapper Lonnie Smith (check his threads on the sleeve of this LP) finds the biggest, fattest, soul-jazz groove and sits on it.  

6.  Smoke – “Dreams of Dreams” (1970)
It’s a mistake been made many times but this Smoke were not The Smoke who cut “My Friend Jack” and “Waterfall”. This young quartet of Bury St Edmunds long-hairs managed to eke out this one super rare 45 for Revolution records before disbanding. However, if York’s The Smoke had continued another couple of years they may well have sounded like “Dreams of Dreams” – sharp riffs and hazy vocals - so the confusion is understandable to my ears at least. Now reissued as a beautifully packaged two-single edition by Spoke Records, mastered from the original acetate and in crystal clear audio, it's available here. 

7.  The Soul Brothers Inc.  – “Girl In The Hot Pants” (1972)
Dead on the heavy, heavy superfunk. The Soul Brothers Inc. can hardly contain their, er, frenzied excitement at the sight of girls dancing in red, blue, pink and black hot pants.

8.  Sonic Youth – “Youth Against Fascism” (1992)
Was digging through an old half-forgotten pile of 45s the other day and gave this a spin. Been on repeat ever since. That bass!

9.  Chuck D featuring Mavis Staples – “Give We The Power” (2014)
If you want message songs - songs about empowerment and self-respect - who better than these two? It’s a pairing so blindingly obvious you wonder why it hasn’t happened before. The result is bang on everything one would wish for. Mavis gets the majority of the work and she rasps and crackles her way through the snaps and beats and Chuck’s raps. Watch the video here for footage outside Chess Studios in Chicago.     

10.  The Primitives – “Spin-O-Rama” (2014)
Here come the Prims, pirouetting out the music box like the opening scene of Camberwick Green to share the secrets of their delightful new hooks and handclapping single, “Spin-O-Rama”. Tracy Tracy takes the listener by the hand, twirls them around in her dainty finger and then, as soon as they’re settled, dumps them by the wayside leaving them wanting more. Short, sweet and very addictive. Paul Court takes the lead on the flip, a version of “Up So High”, a track originally released in France in ’66 by obscure Californian LSD munching garageheads The What’s New. That nagging buzz line could’ve been written for the Primitives. Out 1st September on Elefant Records, limited to 500 copies on clear vinyl. Snap ‘em up.     
The Primitives: In a spin.