Kinky reggae believe it, Kinky reggae now.

Student gigs could be pretty free form in the early 70s. A benefit for the cause of the week could have 20 bands in two adjacent venues running for 15 hours. You could spend all night walking between them vainly looking for something listenable. There were also the great ones. Dr John, in full Night Tripper regalia seemed to enter from another more magical world. At a time when sitting cross legged and nodding along was the norm I saw, the J. Geils Band demand that we dance and play a storming set of soul blues. My girlfriend and her mate recovered their admission picking up money spilled from carelessly abandoned clothing.
You had to expect the haphazard and the unexpected though. Syd Barrett (I think & hope it was him) stormed off stage after a row with a roadie just as he was about to start his set. Captain Beefheart and the “Clear Spot” Magic band had a P.A. the venue could not handle (Yes I have known heartbreak in my life). John Martyn took a spliff from the audience, broke a string and was too wasted to change the bloody thing !
The campus had empty halls and anyone who wanted could put a gig together. The film Society ran one on Tuesday May 8th 1973. Three movies and a band , all night, on a Tuesday , lovely, a multi-media extravaganza. The chairman of the society was a good mate. I stayed at his home in Willesdon many times. His Irish mum never let me leave without a full Irish fry up in my belly and the bus fare in my pocket. I adored the woman. Frank booked a band cheaply, they were having trouble getting bookings because they were thought to attract a skinhead following.
So I watched two movies one of which was “Quiet days In Clichy”. “ Joey and Carl fuck, suck and eat their way through Paris” (Time Out) .Refused a UK certificate but we were a private society so we could see private parts. Then I saw the band .Bob Marley and the Wailers… the bloody “Catch A Fire” Wailers. The Marley/Tosh/Livingstone Wailers walked onto a bare stage. Five of them gathered around a small man who played bongos .They invoked inspiration with the primordial “Rastaman Chant”. Audiences were open- minded in those days. The unexpected is often the best. We appreciated it respectfully. The small man who I now know as Bunny Wailer, an inspiration to me for half my life, put down the bongos and the band took up their places on stage.


Reggae had been along with Motown the youth club/disco music of my youth. I loved to dance to it. We now heard the more mature conscious reggae which has become so much part of our musical lives. I would love to tell you that I recognised “ Lively Up Yourself “ and “ Get Up Stand Up”. Six years later I saw Tosh play “ 400 years” and thought I was in heaven. The only tune I really knew was “Stir It Up”. The sound then had the wacka-wacka guitar at its core, the change to Family Man’s bass drive, key to making the music more commercial, was yet to come.
But what a band they were. The rimshots from Carlton Barrett filling the spaces in the loping rhythm. The harmonies of the three singer-bredren. The Impressions with a Trenchtown filter. At the centre a small man, woolly hat over his early dreads, leading his gang into strange new territory because of his belief in the strength of the music they were making and could make in the future.
The only link between the band and the audience was the drug of choice. Hashish for the watchers, a herbal version for the musicians. I was accompanying the most striking Scottish woman. Seriously batting above my average there. We danced to the whole set. Can you imagine these white students dancing to these new rhythms ? If you do you will not sleep well tonight. It was 3 maybe 4 a.m. and life gets little better than a beautiful dance partner and a bit of Bob. I found that out this night. Repeat of similar dosage never failed to delight.
The last movie was “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones”, the antidote to Altamont. Jagger being very careful to not summon up the Devil this time around. When we left it was morning. Spring in the air and in our step. We didn’t know we had seen a future superstar but had enjoyed a different music , a new rhythm.

Frank , the organizer, was a dude. He introduced me to London, to the films of Bunuel & to conscious reggae. All of these things have had a major influence…cheers mate.
I saw Bob Marley’s last appearance in Britain at the Crystal Palace Bowl. His reggae on steroids anthems now filled stadiums on every continent on the planet. We went to see an icon and we got one. It was a good day but I thought back to when it started and a bit of the Kingston dance hall had thrilled our lecture theatre. I think I preferred that.. JAH RASTAFARI !

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My head’s attracted to a magnetic wave of sound.

Roy Wood does not get the place in the Britrock scrapbook he deserves. He missed the great pop art splurge of 1965-66 which produced figures still considered (rightly) iconic. As these bands went to the country to “get it together” he was busy writing  & playing on 9 hit singles. He is best remembered for a Xmas hit from a couple of bands down the line. His “real” band, the Move, made some great pop singles. His less successful contemporaries have their records recycled & re-packaged as Freakbeat or pop-psyche while his Top 10 records are overlooked

 

I love this clip. Roy in dodgy crusader chic, the rest of the band in their Carnaby finery. Except for the T-shirted Bev Bevan ,quietly planning world domination for E.L.O. Despite having a free hand at I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, Ace & Trevor still look like the Brummie  rough boys they were. Ace Kefford was not long for the band. Off to an unsuccessful solo career. Carl Wayne had originally been the lead singer, he had always had a touch of the cabaret act about him. Roy’s songs became the 45 releases & Wayne pretty much became the “Bez” of the band. He hung around though, knowing a good thing when he saw it.

“Fire Brigade” was the 4th in this run of hits. The first two were lyrically psychedelic, all 3 were musically muscular pop. “Fire Brigade” was the most poptastic yet. Their shyster manager Tony Secunda was fond of a publicity stunt to keep the group in the public eye. As they became more established this became less necessary. However the very next single bombed.

Was it because Carl sang lead ? Was it the Move trying to go “Heavy” ? Whatever, it was a great song. A few years later when we had a Regal Zonophone collection it was this track which got played. Other Move singles raced up the charts. This one just never gathered any momentum. The next single “Blackberry Way” was their only #1. So “Wild Tiger Woman”, a lost pop hit of the 60s. Play it again, it rocks.

Wood hooked up with Jeff Lynne from the Idle Race , an unsuccessful Brummie band. The Move were now down to 3 members & they were all planning the next stage of their career. A band using a classical string section, the Electric Light Orchestra. There is a fascinating clip for the single “Tonight” but it is not comparable to the rather astounding final 45 release by the Move.

The b-side “Do Ya” is pure E.L.O .only better. The Move had never made a name for themselves in the USA. It was this song which gave Jeff Lynne an entry there. What the hell is going on in this video ? “California Man”  is pure Rock n Roll pastiche, a style Wood used increasingly for the rest of his records. Touched by the brush of Glam the expanded band just look a mess. The contrast between the rock threads and the 70s hair, Wood , forsaking the guitar so that he could roll around on the floor while pretending to play the saxophone. the saving grace of the whole dog’s dinner is that it is a great vibrant single.

Joe Boyd, producer & all-round music man, in his very readable memoir “White Bicycles”, was very impressed with the early Move. A successful residency at the Marquee led to consideration that the band could replace Pink Floyd as residents at the hippie UFO club. How different would things have been if this had happened ? Instead the band chose the road to Top Of the Pops.The quote at the end of the clip from Rolling Stone is a fair way to end this. I might come back to Wizzard because I quite liked them. I will leave though by underlining the quote & repeating that the Move have been underrated for too long.

You better stay away from him. He will rip your lungs out Jim.

So, to the next Warren Zevon LP, “Excitable Boy”. Much anticipated by myself & most of the people I knew. We had played the last one until the vinyl was wafer thin. However great “Warren Zevon” was it did not sell  a light. Just got into the Top 200 in the USA. There was a buzz about him because of Ronstadt’s covers & because of his famous mates. I suppose his record label, Asylum, wanted to make him a star with this one.

The 9 songs on the album total just 31 minutes. The production, by Browne & guitarist Waddy Wachtel is rockier, with perhaps less variety than before. But that’s it…it is an essential LP of the 1970s. The title track rushes along getting stranger by  the verse. It ends with the sociopath boy building a cage from the bones of the girl he had earlier raped & killed…macabre mayhem…just an excitable boy ! The track that everyone knows Zevon for, “Werewolves of London” follows. A Top 30 single with perhaps the greatest lyrics of any hit single. I had missed a chance to eat at Lee Ho Fook’s in the early 70s, before this song. When I finally did go there, in the 90s, I was pleased that there was a poster of Warren on the wall with the lyrics to “Werewolves”. Yes, I did get a big dish of beef chow mein !

You’ve heard those. Of the “strange” songs I have opted for “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner”. The story of a mercenary’s ghost who seeks out his murderer across Africa to get revenge. Now these are stories for pop music ! “Knee deep in gore”..go Mr Zevon. The song builds from just piano through the chorus to a climactic last verse. “In Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine & Berkeley. Patti Hearst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson gun & bought it”. End of the song, no last chorus, no fade out. No judgement just the fact of a world of political violence.

 

“Accidentally Like A Martyr” was always going  to be one of my choices here. This live show is from 1982 & does not have the subtlety of the record. No matter, it’s a lovely version. A killer ballad which, in 3 minutes encapsulates the end of a relationship. “The hurt gets worse & the heart gets harder”…oh yeah. The line “should have done, should have done we all sigh” has resonated throughout my life. There will always be a “should have” but there is never any point in any of them. I’m not saying regret is for assholes, just learn & try not to do it again. Jesus , I think you can tell that I have listened a little too closely to Warren’s lyrics…they are just so precise, so good. It’s a great tune as well. He’s is never just about the lyrics.

Another non-album version to close. This, again, is a great version (or why choose it ?) and a chance to see Warren say “improbable & grotesque mischief” (Oh no, this video is now blocked). “Lawyers, Guns & Money” is a short story about a playboy getting hooked up in some overseas shenanigans. The “shit has hit the fan” & the appeal is to his, presumably wealthy, father to bail him out. The protagonist, like that of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” expresses some astonishment at his predicament…”the innocent bystander” down on his luck. An American abroad. “Excitable Boy” was a Top 10 LP in the USA. Warren was on his way…yeah sure. His taste for the darker sides of life was gonna bite him in the ass.

At the time of this record I was living in Birmingham. There were a group of guys I knew who would take 3 months leave from work & travel to India. For the scenery, you know what i mean. There was always someone over there, someone just returned & others preparing for the journey. We had said our goodbye to one of our friends earlier. We werejust saying how he would be missed. The doorbell rang & it was Micky. We thought we would not see him again for 3 months. He had come to get a copy of “Werewolves of London”. He didn’t want to go to India without it. The thought of this gentle hippie, somewhere in the mountains of Kashmir, listening to Warren’s song still makes me smile. OW WOO !

She took me back to the Hyatt House, I don’t wanna talk about it !

You finally get on the world wide Interweb & you look for something intelligent about some shit you know about. You know, to find out more stuff , maybe connect with some like-minded people. Like you would with a book (remember them ? ) or a good magazine. You pretty soon find out that’s not so easy. There’s a bunch of cool fansites dedicated to completism but when it comes to discussion…well  you may as well read Y-tube comments. It can be THAT dumb.

OK. I’m gonna have a go at writing something proper about Warren Zevon. You know Warren…OW-WOO ! Werewolves of London…that’s the guy.I’m just going to do the first LP . There are some of his LPs that are so important to me that I would not do them full justice if I banged 3 together at one time. The LP (not his first, but if you were on to the 1969 one then you were one of the very few) was released in 1976. Produced by Jackson Browne, endorsement enough in those mid-70s. Aided by the rock aristocracy of Los Angeles. There was even a Beach Boy & an Everly brother on backing vocals.

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I’m going to start with “Desperado Under The Eaves” because it was the first track I heard from the album. One morning in Birmingham the local station, BRMB, played this on the morning show. I stopped my routine, I had been waiting to hear some of this. My wife would have to wait for her coffee in bed…boy, she had me trained well. The string section  intro echoes “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. The two verses are conventional enough. Then the pay-off…”I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaian hotel, I was listening to the air conditioner hum. And it went….hmm, hmm, “. OK. Harmonies from the air con, that’s new.

After years of listening to the song I still hear those Newman references. In the field of erudite, literary, ironic cynicism it is these two writers who carry the swing. The line ” but except in dreams you’re never really free” marks Warren as either a pessimist or a realist.I still love to hear the sweet hum of the air conditioning. As the song ends looking away down Gower Avenue what does he see ? The “Hollywood” sign symbolic of the city of dreamers. I am aware of the biographical genesis of the song but, y’know, I think Zevon aimed for something more in his work. Something which applied to the more general condition than to just his own screw ups.

I bought the LP & loved it. I knew that L.A. music. in the 70s it could have a softness to it not always to my liking. This was tougher, more sardonic & more imaginative. The songs, the arrangements, sometimes have the veneer of L.A. smoothness. It perhaps takes repeated listening to get to the subversion that is going on here. Linda Ronstadt, the sweetheart of the Cocaine Cowboy Rodeo, recorded 4 of the album’s songs. Her hit version of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” takes an hilarious macho boast about excessive female attention & reduces it to blancmange.

“Mohammed’s Radio” is a song which has gained resonance over the years. “Everybody’s desperate trying to make ends meet. Work all day, still can’t pay the price of gasoline & meat. Alas their lives are incomplete.”. Soothed by the sweet & soulful drum of Mohammed’s radio, the General knows that watchfulness is necessary. Man, this is the USA in the 21st century ! I make no claims for Zevon as a prophet. I do think that  his songs could capture aspects of Life’s condition which are universal. The performance of the song we see here, with Jackson Browne’s band is as good as British TV got in the mid-70s.

I’m spoiled for choice for the final clip. the beauty of “Hasten Down The Wind”,  the class of “The French Inhaler”, the junkie lament of “Carmelita”. I am going with “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” because this is Warren at his most hellacious. He & Hunter S. Thompson captured that “what the fuck ?”, boundaries are there to be crossed spirit better than anyone. Whenever  things are too much fun or my mind is racing with a shitstorm or I just get offered another line…Hey ! I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead !

In December 1976 my wife & I travelled from Birmingham to London to see Jackson Browne play. We wanted to be with good friends who had listened to this music with us. Warren was the support act. I don’t know if the rest of the audience knew the album but our posse thought it was the record of the year. We cheered every introduction, sang along with every chorus & generally went nuts for the man. I’m sure the people around us wondered what was going on. Jackson Browne was superb that night. he was promoting “The Pretender” & had some body of work behind him at that time. Seeing Zevon perform almost all of this record was an unforgettable treat. I don’t really have a favourite Zevon LP, different one’s for different moods. This one is possibly the strongest collection of songs he ever got together at one time.

didn’t do so bad for a lad from batley

I first saw Robert Palmer live at a school dance. He was singing and playing bass with the Mandrakes.A decent band who played around the North of England. I did not really start to go to gigs until a year later & they were good. A couple of Traffic covers where he really stretched. He moved to the Alan Bown (Set) to replace Jess Roden but they were on their last legs really. Not gonna have any hits anyway. Then on to Vinegar Joe, Elkie Brooks & her husband’s rock band. I saw them, they were not very good. Certainly nowhere near Stone The Crows, fronted by Maggie Bell who really did rock.

Elkie went off to cabaret & Palmer went solo. Hmm…nothing that went before showed a great deal of promise &  there were a lot of good solo British rock singers in the early 70s. So the  debut LP by Robert Palmer “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” was on of the surprises of 1974. Here’s the title track.

What about that ? Fantastic. An Alan Toussaint song, previously recorded by Lee Dorsey. The band is the Meters augmented by Lowell George. Enough pedigree to piss it at Crufts mate. This band played on 5 of the 8 tracks. On the other 3 it was the finest New York session men money could buy. Man, he didn’t know if he was lead singer of Little Feat or of Steely Dan !  Some choice. If it weren’t Zigaboo Modaliste drumming it was Bernard Purdie !

Another Palmer trademark can be seen in the video. He was usually seen in the company of an attractive woman, or later women. Island had obviously flashed the cash to make the record. Reached #107 in the USA. Everybody I knew bought it & played it to death. The 12 minute jam “Through It All There’s You” is a fine track.

The 2nd LP was “Pressure Drop”, the title track a Toots cover. This time Little Feat were the backing band. In 1975 Feat were the best band in the world. The album is a little smoother than the first. A little less New Orleans, a bit more blue-eyed soul. The best string arranger in the biz, Gene Page,(200 gold records. Barry White’s man) was brought to slick up a couple of commercial soul songs.

That’s Robert Palmer & Little Feat with another Allen Toussaint song. YOW !

Hey, what the… I  was gonna take a track  from the first 3 Palmer albums but I think we can stand 2 from “Pressure Drop”. The 1978 LP “Some People Can do what They Like” is a good record but it retreads the styles of the first two , not as well. Anyway we have to have the spectacularly cool LP cover on here somewhere. “Pressure Drop” reached #136, So no progress there then. One of the reasons is that there were no live shows to promote the records. It’s cool to get your cool mates to play on your songs but it’s too damn expensive to get them on the road with you.

That’s one of the Page arranged songs. good quality audio but no sleeve. Here it is then. Palmer made 2 great LPs and then he made some good ones. He dropped the blue eyed soul and tried a touch of the gary numan’s for a while. Finally with more than a nudge from MTV and some slick vids he was successful. me I preferred the solo stuff he really wanted to make.

dorky, dorky, dorky, dorky, dorky, dorky, dorky.

I’ve just looked at a bibliography of William Kotzwinkle & , Jeez, he was prolific. I’m not gonna check for the hows whens & whys of UK publication & how I missed some of these when I would have been looking. Kotzwinkle (crazy name, crazy guy) is one of the great hippie novelists. In the 70s if you had not read his books then you did not know what was what. There’s a lot of love for his books around the Interweb but when did you last meet someone who was raving about his books ? Like the individual beatnik/hippie stylist Richard Brautigan he is a neglected writer. Some of his novels are not the most profound. Of his later work a children’s book ,”Walter The Farting Dog” is the most well known. Between 1974 & 1979 he wrote three major satirical novels at a time when others were pissing about with zen & motorcycles or writing shitty pop philosophy about seagulls.

In the early 70s Granada,  the publishers, launched Picador Books. The quality control was so good that it became like Island Records. If it was a Picador book it was worth checking out. Among the many that passed through my hands were 2 collections of short stories that made an impression & sowed seeds for some very enjoyable future reading. “Pricksongs & Descants” by Robert Coover was a dazzling, nightmarish re-telling of fairy tales which marked him as a man to watch. “Elephant Bangs Train”, William Kotzwinkle’s first adult collection was made more surreal by it’s randomness. The title track is the story of an African elephant watching the arrival of the first train in the area.. His elephant harem is very taken by this shiny, sexy new beast in town. The bull is not having this rival to his masculine dominance stealing his thunder. He strolls over to the train, flexes his muscles, tips the train over on it’s side ! The natural order re-established. “A Nurse Romance” has a stern nurse methodically obtaining a sperm sample from an adolescent boy who is, of course, regarding the episode as his first proper sexual experience & is falling in love.

In 1975 I got a brand new book from the local library. “The Fan Man” was the first Kotzwinkle novel I had seen in the UK. I snapped it up. I was hooked from page 1. It was one of those books that made other people in the room wonder how a book could be so much fun. A book that just was not long enough.

“Fan Man” is the story of Horse Badorties, a product of the new ideas of the late 60s. He is a super hippie dedicated to his own personal path to enlightenment . From the squalor of his pad through the streets of New York we read his inner dialogue. Every sentence ending in “man”. Horse’s obsession with doing it right include a hat with anti-Puerto Rican music flaps. “Dorky day” where his consciousness is cleansed by the repetition of this word. The recruitment of a choir of 15 year old girls for a concert which you know is not gonna happen. A collection of hand-held electric fans, vital to his comfort. Horse likes to be comfortable.

Horse is a comic character comparable with Ignatius O’Reilly from “Confederacy Of Dunces”. He is similarly convinced of the rightness of his own world view, dismissive of the concerns of others and similarly unsuccessful in his quest. I would add parallels with Don Quixote and the characters of Rabelais but I am not to go lit-crit on your ass.

I was busy telling anyone who would listen that they should read this book. At the end of the week the NME, the muso’s bible, ran a full page review by Mick Farren. This probably had more effect than my effusions. Anyone who read the book was not disappointed and it became quite a reference point among the folk I knew. Dorky days may only last a matter of minutes before dissolving into laughter but I still have the hand-held electric fan I was bought all those years ago.

The next novel was “Doctor Rat” & we were not gonna miss it. We were not disappointed. A wonderfully innocent, romantic fantasy is intercut with scenes from a vivisection laboratory where the eponymous rat extols the virtues of twisted scientific experiments on victims who are starting to join the worldwide revolt of animals against the brutalities of Man.  WOW !

It is so imaginative, the anthropomorphization of the wild animals so convincing. My female friends, a little put off by the more base parts of Badorties’ self indulgence , were now convinced of Kotzwinkle’s ability. It is an ecological manifesto. One of  humour & humanity. One in which the logic of  a kinder world is simple and irrefutable. Here’s a couple of quotes..

“This is the sort of gratifying sight the taxpayers don’t usually have a chance to see–two young scientists in front of the oven, baking a trayful of cats. This is where your taxes are going, fellow Americans, contributing to a better and lasting etcetera.”

“Elephants can be an awful bore if they get to philosophizing. When they start blabbering about the unreachable fruit and the deep immutable roaring of creation, I give them a fast bite on the tail and disappear before they know what hit them.”

As I get older I am frustrated that important debates about how we live our lives in relation to each other do not seem to have moved forward. Arguments I thought we have resolved are conducted from starting points which,I thought, were settled years ago. This book simply outlines the case that we are not here to fuck about with the world. It is 35 years old. It won awards at the time and it is still a must read. I will not reveal the ending. When lovers of the book discuss it any mention of the ending just brings a joyous smile to the gathering…really’.

Initially set in 1860s Paris “Fata Morgana ” is a stylistic leap by Kotzwinkle. Inspector Picard is sent to investigate the conjuror Rick Lazare whose fortune telling machine is the craze of the city. The book moves across Europe, across time. It is about magic, illusion,delusion, temptation, debauchery. It is about the power of the story and of dreams. The novel is a detective story set in a Hammer movie, one of the good ones. It’s a masterful involving tale which again has an ending which is surprising and satisfying.

I am not gonna go into any more depth.If you have got this far then you are gonna read these books. You are aren’t you ?

By now Kotzwinkle was the favourite writer of a lot of people. He had a celebrity fan in Melissa Mathieson or Mrs Stephen Spielberg. She persuaded the director that Kotz was the man to write the “novelization” (horrible word) from the script of ” E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”. It had to be major bucks and the writer accepted. It’s actually a good effort. E.T. falls in love with Elliott’s mother and the outcome is hilarious. The gig was so ludicrous and lucrative, (I remember the incongruity of seeing his name on an annual best seller list) , his next book was a similar job on a “Superman” movie.

Kotzwinkle continued to write. There are novels that are enjoyable. That have moments that only he could have imagined and described. There did not seem though to be the ambition to extend himself that we had seen in the 3 novels. I am not accusing him of selling out though he hardly subverted the movie novelization racket. I think that the financial success just took the fire, the sense of injustice from his work. Still, those 3 great books are unchanged and, I feel, unrivalled. Check em out.

all dressed up and laughing loud

1968. I was 15 for most of it. Don’t be fooled by those “Swinging Sixties” documentaries. England was not swinging like a pendulum do.                                                   The media had no clue . They wanted to reduce new ideas  to a haircut, strange clothes, a freak show. It was a great time to be young and inquisitive and one of the reasons was that the “straights” just did not get it. Chuck D called rap CNN for Black people. Similarly, in 1968, it was the music that informed the youth of the changing world. The music was changing too.

 

  The release of “Sergeant Pepper” the previous year had given carte blanche to musicians to expand their sound. The drugs helped that too. Some of the music was just dumb. The classic 3 minute pop single was now overshadowed by a sense of grandeur that the music did not always deserve (yes you The Moody Blues). 1968’s best albums  ? The “White Album”, “Beggars Banquet”, “Electric Ladyland, “Astral Weeks”. There were artists who grasped the new freedom and moved forward musically & lyrically. The audience looked to them for not just new sounds but for new information. There was nowhere else.

I first became aware of Nirvana with the 2 1967 singles. I was always a sucker for a bit of intelligence in my rock (as we now called it). “Tiny Goddess” & “Pentecost Hotel” both made an impression on me. “Goddess” , a string section,harpsichord, a stately progression & build. British psychedelia, always more pastoral & whimsical than it’s transatlantic counterpart, at it’s finest I thought.It’s “Pentecost Hotel” we get to see because it seems to be the only TV appearance by the band. It’s a fine example of black & white TV trying to freak out to the new psyche & having no idea what they were doing. The song is a little more upbeat than “Goddess” but the wistful vocal kept it anchored. The performance is lip-synched. It must have been impossible for the band to recreate the sound live. I loved this sound. A touch of the baroque without wearing it on it’s sleeve. Jesus I hated any pop/classical link even then.The band were Patrick Campbell-Lyons & Alex Spyropoulous.Just the 2 of them then & such a full sound. The 2 singles showed that here was a band to keep an eye on.They did not disappoint. The 3rd single “Rainbow Chaser” just blew me away for the whole of the 1968 spring. THIS was where our music should be heading. The 2nd Nirvana LP was titled ” The Existence of Chance Is Everything and Nothing While the Greatest Achievement Is the Living of Life, and so Say All of Us”.Try getting that on a CD cover. So, here’s what did it for me.Still does it now. The wistfulness replaced by optimism. Wonderful phased strings & brass, ethereal backing vocals, it was bloody ethereal mate. I knew that a song’s worth was not necessarily reflected by it’s sales but this was the new sound. Surely the rest of the world could not help but pick up on this. The record stalled in the mid-30s of the chart & I was as mad as hell. Come on if the industry & the audience could not get behind this then what hope was there ?I stopped buying the music papers. Didn’t wanna know about the next big thing or the new single from bands I loved. Music had had it’s chance & I it had been ignored. Of course it did not last. There was so much great music about & I was addicted to the effect it had on me. Still am. The wind went out of Nirvana’s sails after this. There were good singles & further LPs but if the masterpiece did not cut it then the others were not gonna be the breakthrough.The last cut is a cover of a Nirvana song , an almost note-for-note cover of the track. The Alan Bown Set were an established live soul act. Seeing which way the wind was blowing they dropped the “Set” & went “progressive”. This fine piece of whimsy was a minor hit.You Tube would not let me show a version which is a Super 8 movie of a TV show. Makes as good a job of it as German TV would have.

There were bands before Nirvana that I loved & that did not sell records but I kinda knew it was not made for mass appeal. Nirvana’s 3 minute songs had more lyrical & musical ideas than many of the inflated rock operas of their contemporaries. The sound was fresh & innovative. New pop for the Age of Aquarius. 1968 should have been their year. Seriously, i may have been 15 but i knew & cared about these things.

like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll

1967 was a terrible year for the Lovin’ Spoonful. As it began they were USA’s pop poppets. 7 consecutive Top 10 hits, a run of success rarely emulated. by the end of the year the 2 dominant personalities had left the group & they were a spent force in terms of commercial success. While this tumult went on they produced 3 singles that year the equal of the big selling 45s  that preceded them. It is the third of these, “She’s Still A Mystery”, a song which bewitched me on first hearing & continues to enthrall today, which has inspired this post.

This has it all. John Sebastian, looking Lennonesque. His lovely ballad, from Coppola’s film “You’re A Big Boy Now”, given gravitas by the addition of brass & string sections. Building to the wonderful pay-off “for the great relief of having you to talk to”. Pop was growing up & the Spoonful were on the bus. So, what the fuck was Zal Yanowsky up to at the front of the band? His incongruous mugging is totally at odds with the feel of the song. Did he think he was selling the song ? Was he stoned ? Well yeah, he was.

“Darlin” did not reach the Top10 in the US. A  band on the pop conveyor, which Spoonful were, was judged on the success of their last single. New product was needed and quick. As the next single “Six O’ Clock” was being pressed Yanowsky was busted for possession of marijuana,. A Canadian, he faced trouble on re-entering the country. He ratted out his supplier in return for leniency. Is this what they call a cleft stick ? The pop fans of the band’s clean cut image would not accept a drug user . The new hipper audience rejected such finkish behaviour. Yanowsky, the zany personality of the group, the guitarist on “Nashville Cats”, left sharpish.

There are no clips of the band promoting the single. a new member,Jerry Yester, came in but they were not yet ready for prime time. “Six O’ Clock”  is a good radio friendly hit in the vein of their only No 1 , “Summer In The City”. Again it did not make the Top 10. A more interesting audio here is Zal’s single from his first solo album. The song got to the lower reaches of the Top 100.

So to “She’s Still A Mystery”. Here’s the glorious 3.05 minute track. Crap stills but a glorious sound. The lazy intro to John’s verse about the mystery & innocence of young girls kicking into the rolling chorus. I was growing up. The music was growing up. I thought that here was the Spoonful’s masterpiece. A move away from the brilliant but simpler early singles.

Now here’s the shorter TV promo. Leaving out the play- out harmonies, defeating the balance of the song. Sebastian is in buckskin. The rest of the band are hippified, bassist Steve Boone reluctant to ditch the turtle neck. It’s the Summer of Love and these pop stars are trying not to be left behind.

Despite my thoughts that here was the future for a more expansive Spoonful sound the 45 made No 27 in the charts. Too sophisticated for pop fans & too tainted by pop success for the hippies to accept. Sebastian left the band in early 1968. He had written many hit songs & had been worked far too hard to keep the band at the top. There was no Crosby, Stills Nash & Sebastian. He appeared at Woodstock as a tie-dyed, happy hippie burn out. The talent for innocent, good time songs seemed to desert him. His 4 year old hits already nostalgia for 20 year olds.

Everybody’s got a “Best Of” by the band haven’t they ? There on the end of side 2 with the pleasant post-Sebastian 45s sung by Joe Butler is a classic of American harmony pop. To stand with the Beach Boys, the Association & the Mamas & Papas. It was the wrong time & and wrong place for the band. It stands as a brilliant swansong for a band that, along with the Byrds, came up with the best answer to the British Invasion.

We’re gonna have a real good time together. lou reed, second part

Y’know if you asked me about the second time Isaw Lou Reed I would have guessed around 1981. If I was wrong then I would have said later. On consulting Mr Google it seems that it was October 1979. OK, those years were good years. The serious drug years. The timeline  gets a little buckled.

1979 was a busy year. My marriage broke up. I spent the 4 months of the summer in Greece trying to get a handle on what sort of future I wanted. On returning to England I moved to London. Had a lot of good friends there. the move seemed logical & a little inevitable. I do know I went to the concert with a good friend from Birmingham who had just relocated, or would soon do so, to London as well. Sorry for the vagueness but I’d rather do that than lie.

Changes for Lou too since the 1972 gig. “Transformer” had moved him  into rock & roll centre stage. He had followed with the masterpiece that is “Berlin”  the live show on “Rock & Roll Animal was pumped up stadium rock Velvet Underground. It worked for the larger audience but it was the dirt under the fingernails, the detail, that made the Velvets so great. Not some theatrical glammed up grand guignol. “Metal Machine Music” has to be mentioned. Art or a great fuck off to the business ? I found it barely listenable .I didn’t really care because “Coney Island Baby” is such a wonderful piece of  work  that all was forgiven.

This was the tour for “The Bells” ,an album not in the 2nd division of his work. Hey it was Lou live & that was enough. 3 nights at Hammersmith Odeon. We went on the first night. I have seen the set lists for all 3 shows. Look, I may have been in a state but I would NEVER forget seeing a performance of “Coney Island Baby” or of “Kicks”. He did not do either of these on the Wednesday. The Odeon was the biggest gig in London now. It was too comfortable. A sit down place. An old cinema and known for the worst bar staff in the city.

  1. The 1978  “Take No Prisoners” LP had shown just how good Lou could be live. The twin rock gods  had been ditched. The “Prisoners band could handle the range of his career. It was these guys who played with him tonight. Moose Boles (bass), Michael Fonfara (keys) and Marty Fogel (sax) were all class acts.
  1.  Look at that set list. Jesus. There are only 2 songs from the new LP. The rest are not just great Lou Reed  songs but some of rock & rolls great songs. He wasn’t giving them the 1966  treatment & that was OK. You did not expect or want a facsimile of the records. It was cool to get 2 Velvets songs early on but “Heroin  so early in the set was a treat. The 5 songs from “Berlin”.  OH MY GOD. Just more than you could hope for.
      The friend I went with (anonymity necessary) got good drugs. Let’s see 1979 that would be amphetamine then. Plenty of joints too. We always took plenty of ready rolled with us. Never quite enough though to last out the night. We were smoking in the hall. A guy in front asked for a toke. He had a bottle of rum in his hand. I suggested a swap, he agreed. Hey, it helps the buzz along. My mate went off. He needed a piss & to roll a couple more. With hindsight he had maybe gone to shoot up as well. It was a Lou Reed show. No better music to take heroin to..no doubt.
    He was though missing “Street Hassle” the highlight of the Prisoners album. The updated dirty boulevard New York street life stories. It was magnificent, epic and masterful. Lou still at the top of his game, not relying on the old songs to pull him through. Fantastic. After that it was fun. “I’ll  Be Your Mirror” and “Pale Blue Eyes” are not “Sister Ray” & “White Light” but welcome surprises.The audio of Mirror, same band , earlier in the year shows how great it is. Don’t ask me about the closing medley. More than one toke over the line by then. “You Keep Me Hanging On” ? I would bet money…and lose…that I had never heard Lou Reed sing that.
    It was some years  & some patchy albums before Lou was re-invented as a grand old artist & poet. What I saw that night was an artist. He took songs we knew & re-worked them for the time &  for his new musicians. He put on a show, playing songs people wanted to hear. He gave us a chunk of “Berlin” because he knew it is a great work. Christ I got to hear “Sad Songs”. That don’t need no symphony orchestra to make that song amazing. He also showed us with “Street hassle” that , for grimy low-life tales, there was still no one better. What a show.
    Don’t ask me what I did the next night or the weekend coming. I got high, that’s a fair bet. I would, though have been raving about how Lou Reed, remember him, is still a great night out.

You may call him a tramp, but i know it goes a bit deeper than that. he’s a highway chile.

I bloody loved hitch hiking. When I was a student it seemed the natural way to get about the country. My girlfriend was in Birmingham & I was in Colchester. Too expensive on the train & I really wanted to get to see her. I had never hitched before…nothing to it eh ? Just stand by the road, thumb out, somebody stops & away you go.

It seemed that easy the first time I tried it. My first lift was with with an American serviceman in a left hand drive MG sports job. He had a couple of one-skin pure Vietnamese grass joints in the glove compartment. We shared these for breakfast. So, I’m on the A12 sitting in the unfamiliar “driver’s” position off my nut as we approached London, lovely. In those early 70s the M1 out of London started at Harrow. I walked to the motorway wondering just how easy, or not, the rest of my journey would be. I took my place in a queue of others waiting for a lift & watched a constant stream of traffic pass me by.

As a more experienced hitcher you know that 500 cars can drive past you & then 1 will stop. The 1 is all that matters. When you are new & unrealistic you expect every vehicle to be a potential lift. As they drive past you, warm, travelling while you are cold, stationary & asking, it’s an affront & a rejection. I was not at the wrong end of the motorway for too long. It just felt like too long. A lorry stopped, I ran up to it, threw in my bag and jumped in. when you have been waiting you just want to move, does not really matter how far he is going. This guy was going to Birmingham, within 5 miles of where I wanted to be. My thumb’s job was done for the day. I could get a bus to her college. Hey, it’s not a matter of honour to go from door to door for free. I’m a realistic guy.

I got back after the weekend too. Didn’t get stoned but I got back. I enjoyed the lifts. People who stopped were doing you a good turn. If they wanted company & a chat then that’s OK by me. The success of that first trip meant I would do that journey for the next 3 years. It was time to turn pro about it. You got to know where to stand. Motors flying past at 60 m.p.h. are not gonna stop . How to stand too. “Naked with a chain saw & a sign saying I’m going to kill your children” was not a good look. Have your bags together so if someone stops you do not give them time to change their mind. Look human. Signs were a little more tricky. they could be useful to get you in the right direction but meant a little organisation. I improvised signs if I had to.  I looked forward to the journey. The weekend starts here. I liked the randomness of the whole thing. No time table, no schedule.” It’s the charge, it’s the bolt, it’s the buzz, it’s the sheer fuck off-ness of it all”, as Don Logan would put it.

    <-  (she got a lift before I did)

I never blew it. Never spent the night in a ditch by the side of the road. It was close on occasion. I sometimes hitched with a friend. One weekend we arrived too late to blag ourselves into a women’s hall of residence & slept in a park shelter. On the return journey we were diverted in a Hammersmith pub. The ditch did seem the only option when 2 friends drove past after their weekend away and rescued us. I did enjoy travelling with my girlfriend. It was easier for a couple to get lifts & we would just have a laugh if we got a little stuck. We almost missed my sister’s wedding though by deciding to hitch across the country the day before.

I once went from Birmingham to Colchester on a Monday. From there to my hometown, Scunthorpe, on the Tuesday. There was an F.A. Cup game I needed to attend. On the Thursday I hitched back to Colchester. I don’t know, over 500 miles and totally worth it. It became the way I wanted to travel long distances. Another time a journalist picked us up in London. We got on really well. He dropped us at the bottom of our road in Manchester. Result.

When we were no longer students we would hitch to London & back to see friends. it was an easy hitch. One Friday, when we had  to wait some time to get away from the starting point, I went to her and said that we were both freezing, getting pissed off and had plenty of money in our pockets. So why did we not catch  the fucking train ? We travelled rather more stylishly after that.

Later, in the 90s, I got by the side of the road again. there were people I wanted to see. The bus was dull & the train fares exorbitant. Again I got there . It was mostly lorries that stopped for you now. I will admit that on a journey from London to Lincolnshire, when I had done about a third of the journey, it felt like a bloody long way to go.

Of course the world has changed now. Drive along the motorway & you just don’t see hitch hikers. People are not gonna let a total stranger into their private space. Would I want to get into a car with someone I didn’t know ? Are there too many psychos out there now ? I’m not sure, there always were strange people about. I don’t judge people for not picking up strangers. Don’t blame travellers for not taking the hitching option. I am though, pleased that, for myself, it was a great way of getting around the country.Hoping for & receiving the kindness & company of strangers.