She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music. The first Lou Reed thing.

The introduction to this was going to be about growing up in a northern English town in the 60s. I had such a good friend through these years, Wink.  A slick summary of those times would not do justice to how close we were. How we worked out those adolescent things together. Another time for that.  I can pay proper respect to the boy who taught me how friends behave to each other.

Our twin obsessions were sport and music. We listened to everything. If it was new and exciting we were on it. There was a lot that was new and exciting in 1966-67. In 1967 the music and the world changed. Hippies were wearing flowers in their hair, getting back to the garden. We loved the new music but we were from an industrial town. We were not ready to sit naked, cross –legged with our balls in a saucerful  of yogurt…not yet. The Velvet Underground made music  we  were intrigued by. The innocent bashing of Mo Tucker, the Teutonic  Nico cool, the dissonant drone of John Cale’s viola and the tales of a druggy city low-life from Lou Reed. We were more likely to be waiting for our mum than our Man but the harsh insistent rhythms of the Velvets reflected life in a steel  town  more than the flower power of the California “Love Generation” as Otis called them.

Fast forward to 1972…I was living the student life. So many new experiences, so much new music. I was still checking for the VU. ”Loaded” was a big favourite. I had suspected that Lou’s songs were influenced by Doo-Wop and soul. I would still listen to “Sister Ray” but the new LP of simpler songs proved he could get his songs on the radio too. I bought the first solo album. The one with the ugliest cover ever. My best mate at university bought a Procol Harum LP the same week. I should never have let him go out on his own !

In 1972 LPs were released in the USA months before they were in Europe. One Monday a  friend returned from London one with a great treat for us. She had an import copy of “Transformer”… Oh My. She brought it to our flat and we did not let her take it away. What a record, so modern, sexy and camp. We played it all day. Women who usually ignored us heard it through the window and invited themselves in. This was proof of the magic of great music. Then we found out that Lou Reed would be playing at the university on his next tour…unmissable. .

My girlfriend attended college about 100 miles away. We had deliberately put some distance between us. We did not want to go to the same town as a happy loving couple. It was better that we  lived our lives and made our own friends on our own terms. If we got through 3 years apart then that seemed to mean something. Once a month she, with a friend, would hitch-hike to my place. The gig was on a day she was due. As the flat buzzed and got ready to go out I was hoping she would get some good lifts and arrive in good time.

She was not too late. Good, because she was excited about seeing such a favourite. Too late though for our usual reunion.  Hey we were 19, we had not seen each other for 2 weeks, it seemed the proper way to show our feelings for each other. A couple of joints and a catch-up, we were ready for a big night out. We had seen some good bands but to see such a favourite in a small hall, this was going to be a BIG one.

Lou did not disappoint. His backing band, the Tots, have been dismissed as a bar band. I remember them as red hot, back then American bands always seemed tighter , more together than their British counterparts. What was more surprising was that Lou put on quite a show. His Velvets catalogue meant that for an hour all you got was classics. “White Light, White Heat”, “Sweet Jane”, “What Goes On”. It’s stating the obvious to say that Lou is one of the great rhythm guitarists. The songs were just set up by his opening chords and rolled away as they gathered momentum.”Sister Ray” was relentless. it was one of those moments when you knew you were lucky to be in the same room. Jenny &  I found some space & danced, it was already the best gig we had ever seen. 

“Heroin” just blew us further away. Lou made it the epic it is on record as he tied off and shot up to the music. There was no big set, just a stark light on the small wiry guy doing justice to this great body of work. “I’m Waiting For The Man” finished the set. None of that live in 1969 chug-a-long but full speed ahead rock song. There had been no songs from “Transformer”. We had been expecting our new favourites but it really didn’t matter. Lou had given us a set from the great work he had done with the Velvets. he had done it as if he meant it as well, none of that New York “I’m too cool for all this” shit. A great concert.

The  first two audios I’ve put with this are from that tour. They are not the highest quality but are recorded just 12 days after we saw the band. “Wagon Wheel” IS from “Transformer” but a check on available set lists shows he played “Walk On The Wild Side” in Manchester and didn’t play anything else from the album on the tour.

Two months later Lou started the “Transformer” tour in the US and began a new phase of his career. The New York Boxing Day gig has songs from his “past” as he now calls it. Half of the set is from the new, hit album. There’s a confidence about this version of “Vicious” that shows he knew what was about to happen,

In the summer of 1973 I went home & worked on my hometown steel works. I was in the same gang as my old friend Wink. It was the last time we hung out together. We talked about the bands we had seen at our colleges. He had seen that Lou Reed tour too. We spent an afternoon raving about it, none of the others having a clue why we were so into it. Wink had a great story. He was in the refectory of Manchester Polytechnic on the afternoon of the gig when Lou walked in by himself and looked at the notice boards. Wink could not miss this. He approached him and asked if he could buy him a coffee.  Lou agreed and my mate sat and chatted with Lou fucking Reed ! Don’t give me the Hollies, Joy division, Smiths or the Stone Roses, a coffee with Lou Reed is as cool as it ever gets in Manchester.

You shouldn’t call the Doctor if you can’t afford the bills.

1974 .February. Monday in the a.m. & it’s cold. Back to University after a weekend in Birmingham. It’s the only way to travel – by thumb – and I’m standing at Watford Gap services with no idea when the next lift is coming,  where it will take me. A white transit van stops. There are 5 rough looking guys in it. I get into the front with the driver and another guy. A different world now. Get into a vehicle with 5 strangers ? Yeah, maybe  I would but I would not think badly of anyone who thought twice and let them go on their way.

They were a band. Been playing in Glasgow and on their way back to Essex. A double good thing. I was into music and  Essex was where I was going. This lift would get me through London without pissing about on the outskirts, trying to hitch on suburban roads jammed with traffic. One of the guys, the one with the pudding bowl haircut and the slightly mad eyes, says “Carry yer sounds do yer ?”.  I never travelled without a few albums and handed them over, not entirely convinced that I would ever get them back. Just my paranoia. They were good, chatty people. The singer was driving. There was only enough speed for one of them to stay awake for the whole journey. The singer had been the lucky one.

  The guy with my “sounds” called them “Hippie shit”. What !!  You can slag my mates, slag my football team but leave my taste in music alone. There would have been no Deep Purple or E.L.P triple albums but, yeah, the hippies of the West Coast of the U.S.A. were well represented. He said they were into rhythm and blues. I was a guest in their motor, I left it at that.

  So, this was Dr Feelgood. The godfathers of punk. Driving the length of the country for any gig going. Lee Brilleaux, the singer, eyes pinned and on the road was chatting, so was the haircut I now knew as Wilko. It was , in fact, the very week they had first been reviewed in the bible of British music, the NME. Of course I read every issue from cover to cover. The review was accompanied by a picture of Wilko. Now it made more sense. I knew where I was and was pleased that I was here. The band were pleased I had seen the review.

  It was election time in the UK. The first of two that year. We left the motorway & it was garden to garden Tory “Vote Heath” placards. A blue rag to us Labour bulls. Where was a megaphone when you needed one ? We rolled down all the windows  and gave it loads.

  It was a mad old time February 1974. A miners strike, a three day working week, staggered power cuts across the country. The last two measures were supposed to show the country just how hurtful the miners were. Sitting in the pub by candlelight, drinking only bottled beer, was a novel price to pay to get the Tories out. The bourgeoisie of Stanmore, Enfield and Potters Bar (spit) despised the working class just as they do now. The difference then was that they were losing. We were the barbarians. A spontaneous  drive-by reminder that the rest of the country didn’t share their politics. We all thought it was hilarious because it was.

“There is one quality which enlivens both the political and cultural denominations of youth protest; which provides its most important innovation; which has the greatest relevance for the future; which is the funniest, freakiest and the most effective. This is the element of play.”  Richard Neville wrote that in “Playpower”. True in the early 70s & still true. Of course politics is serious but protest should never be miserable. The point of an alternative society is surely that people will be happier in it. Capitalism/Materialism just fucks up your head. Let’s try something that doesn’t.

Back on the road we talked about music.  The guys told me they covered “Route 66”,”I’m A Hog For You, Baby”, good calls both. Songs like these were the base of the music we all loved. The cult of technique over  feeling had taken music away from these roots. Wilko told me his favourite guitarists, bluesmen & rockers. These people were interesting. They just didn’t buy the Yes/Mike Oldfield   “ rock is the new classical” shit and neither did I.

As we approached the jauntily named  “Hangman’s Corner”,  the turn-off for Southend, the lads told me they were playing at my university in the near future. I told them I would be there. They said they would be pleased to see me. Even more pleased if I would sort out an ounce of dope to help the night along. Consider it done…makes me Dr Feelgood too. We said our goodbyes. One good lift would get me home. What a fine lift that had been.

 

As I have noted, the revolution was just around the corner in 1974. Well a  Labour government and a decent pay rise for the miners at least.  Essex University had a good rep for radicalism since 1968. In the strike of 1972 we had 300 miners staying with us. We spent days on the picket lines fighting the police, evenings in mass meetings planning the next day’s tactics. It was a heady mix of workers and students which felt worthwhile. The sit-in of Spring 1974 was about student fees. Something I was less interested in. By June I was done with the education treadmill and working in a drop forge…fuck em. I did my bit for the sit-in. Over Easter there were less people about and there was a bigger threat of action by the authorities. We slept in the occupied buildings for a week to stop this happening.

On the day of the Feelgood gig I had my ounce of marihoochie in my pocket  so decided to keep off the campus until the evening. I missed the invasion of police to break up the occupation. There were 105 arrests that day. Plenty of good mates were locked up and I missed it all. Of course the gig was cancelled. The place was on lockdown for a week. I didn’t get to see the band play,  the dope didn’t go to waste though.

 

Fast forward to the Autumn. Not a long time but time enough for big life changes.  I was no longer a student. I was living in Dudley on the edge of Birmingham. Doing good, honest, manual labour alongside good , honest, manual labourers,  planning a wedding and playing house with the (very) lucky woman.

 The music club in Dudley is/was JB’s. Dr Feelgood were playing there so we had to go. I didn’t really care if they remembered me but wanted to see what these guys were about. In the club three of the band sat by themselves at a table. We went over and I re-introduced myself. They remembered Essex and the cancelled gig and we were invited to join them. I think when you are gigging at different places ,where you know nobody,  it’s  good  to meet someone you have a bit of previous with.

 The band, minus Wilko, who liked a quiet time before the set, were really friendly . For an hour we shot the breeze about music, about how I’d smoked the dope I bought for them, about how things were going well for the band. Lee was the talkative one but Figure and Sparko were more awake than they were in the van. Lee, almost apologetically,   explained  that  they  changed into stage clothes. This was not usually done unless you were in Roxy Music or the Tubes. We were really looking forward to hearing them but there was no way we were  prepared for what we were about to receive.

It was as if the bouncers had got on stage. A bunch of villains from “the Sweeney”.  The Big Figure, hair slicked back, an ageing teddy boy behind the kit. Sparko, short and suited carried a Zapata moustache and a big bass guitar. Lee, now in a white sports coat and black trousers,  was out front, twitchy and psyched to get started. Then there was Wilko, the jagged haircut , the mad eyes  a Telecastor, wearing  an Oxfam suit. Oh, did I mention the mad eyes ?  The look was so different from the denim and hair we had come to expect. The band felt different before they played a note.

  Then… BANG ! I mean BANG ! High octane adrenaline charged R & B. “I Can Tell”, “My Babe”, “Route 66” all short and muscled. A solid backline. Lee channelling Howling Wolf via  Canvey  Island and 40 Capston Full Strength a day, shadow boxing and attacking his harmonica. Then there was Wilko. We all know his thing now. The chopped rhythm, the mad solos, caromming cross the stage as if on castors, giving it the 1,000 yard stare. The first time you see it it’s  weird,  wonderful and threatening. The audience were pinned back by the aggression and attack of the music and the band. We bloody loved it. The hour of pleasant conversation we had just shared with three-quarters of the band reassured us that they would not be sorting out anyone who didn’t love it. Maybe the rest of the crowd were not so sure. Jenny, the woman I had fooled into marrying me, looked across at me and gave it a big and silent WOW !

 It was relentless. You may anticipate Wilko’s charges but it did not lessen the otherness or the energy. Lee urged him on, the brains of the outfit. Dr. Frankenstein to Wilko’s monster. The hits kept coming “Twenty Yards Behind”, “Goin’  Back  Home”. The one-note solo in “I’m A Hog For you Baby” ,  a delight every  time I saw it. Finally the menacing “Riot In Cell Block # 9” such a perfect song for them. They left the stage wringing wet. We were thrilled just because we had spoken to these guys. What it must be like to be in that good a band, one that could just flatten an audience.

  After the gig we joined the band in their tour bus. The days of the transit van were over. I met Wilko for the second time & was just a fanboy,  a convert. What Jenny was thinking as we sat with the psycho she had only seen on stage I can’t guess. She did not need to worry. We relaxed with a number of Morocco’s finest cigarettes and just chatted away. Of course you want to get gossip about the band but I remember it as an easy rambling conversation with a new friend who just happened to be the best new guitarist around.

  We said our goodbyes to the band and promised to meet up the next time they played in the area. We rolled down the hill to our bed-sit arm-in arm with a feeling of “What just happened  ?” You know I’m not sure but the night probably held further delights. Hey, if she went straight to sleep it was still a brilliant night.

Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy.

When you start to read a new author I have always thought that it’s a smart move not to start with the masterpiece. If you read the best first then the others may not stand up to it. To get a feel for a writer’s tone, style and attitude takes time. Do this with one of the minor works. You do not want to waste the first 100 pages of something that will stay with you for life wondering just where this stuff is coming from and where is it heading.

Of course there are exceptions. Joseph Heller has written some great books but the range and brilliance of “Catch 22” was never matched. He didn’t try to copy this great success. Read “Catch 22” and you will appreciate the talent and restraint in his other work. T.C.Boyle will try and try again to write a great novel. It is his first, “Water Music”, a barnstorming piece of raconteurism, that makes you give him a fifth or sixth chance to entertain.

If you are going to read James Ellroy and you should, at least, think about it, a warm up or two is in order before you approach his magnum opera, the wonderful ” Underworld USA”  trilogy. The relentless rat-a-tat repetition and alliteration may not be for everyone. When you read it as a development of his style you appreciate it more as a device to get it down, get it done and move on. Ellroy wants to get it all said in the trilogy. a no bullshit style from a no bullshit guy.

  Ellroy is, for me , like  Picasso and Captain Beefheart. An artist who has mastered the essentials of his chosen field . He wants to dissemble  these parts and build something new. The novels before the trilogy establish him as a leading crime writer. There is a definite progression. Each book is more ambitious as he challenges himself. There are six novels before “The Black Dahlia”.They are good books but if you start with any of these you may wonder what all the fuss about him is about. They are solid noir crime. The three Lloyd Hopkins stories are probably an attempt to establish his own brand. Trouble with getting a career writing about the same character is that you can become repetitive and formulaic (Yes you, Robert Crais).

“Dahlia” was the book that Ellroy was building up to. The fact he waited until he was good enough to do it justice is admirable. It is based on the much publicized murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles in 1947 but infused by the unsolved murder of Ellroy’s mother 10 years later. If you are going to use this stuff in your fiction then you want to do it right or not at all. Ellroy did it right.

 It’s the first of the “L.A. Quartet”. Succeeded by “The Big Nowhere”, “L.A” Confidential” and “White Jazz”. Each spins a web of corruption, crime and immorality underpinning the link between police, government and those with an interest in the keeping or gaining influence. Through the books Ellroy’s style  becomes more truncated. Sentences are shorter .Dialogue ,filled with slang and profanity, is stripped down. It reflects his more moral cynicism with the cynical distortions of his characters. He wants to get this shit down quickly and forcefully. The reader is swept along and had better stick with it because the writer is not hanging about. “Post-modern historiographic metafiction” ? Bite me, this stuff is a blast.

The violence in these books is sharp, brutal and shocking. I love Tarentino’s films but he gets nowhere near the abruptness, the banality of the violence in Ellroy’s books. Films have been made of two of the quartet. A  contributing factor to their failure to match the immediacy of the books is that they have just not been able to capture the stark inevitability of the violence in them. Ellroy has set the standard for violence in twentieth century art.

        Los Angeles has a fine literary tradition which often fuses the bizarre reality of a city of dreamers with equally confused fictional characters. From Fitzgerald and Nathaniel West to John Fante  and Bukowski. In cinema, “Chinatown”  and the films of Robert Altman complement these.  James Ellroy has taken the post war myths and legends of the city given them a good kick to the balls and produced four books which not only belong with the greats but have moved the genre forward.

  If you are going to read Ellroy  at least one of the first three and then “White Jazz” is a good start. The author had found the style he wanted. He had confronted the major event in his personal life. He now had the balls to approach the defining events of his generation and his country. The “Underworld USA” trilogy are  big books about big things. When you know a writer’s style starting a new book by them is a pleasure from page one. It would not do the trilogy justice to walk right up and spend the first 100 pages wondering just what the fuck is going on here…and, believe me, that could happen.

Short and oh so sweet.

OK there’s no point trying to change the world first time out so I’m gonna ease myself gently in.
3 songs. All less than 2 minutes long. All perfect. With the world’s attention span shot to hell this could be a way forward for music.
First up the Box Tops first hit. The oh-so-young Alex Chilton, already gravel voiced finding the top 10 success which would evade him when he made  the music he wanted to with Big Star.

The hands of Dan Penn are all over this classic single. Alex must have copied Penn’s demo vocal.You don’t just get a voice like that by yourself at 16 years old.

Curtis Mayfield wrote so many great songs under 2 minutes. The early Okeh singles with the Butler brothers, his songs for Major Lance ,show a young man sharpening his chops. They are not all “Gypsy Woman” but even those celebrating some imaginary dance craze have the lightness of touch unique to him. With the Impressions he hit the motherlode writing hit after hit. There’s more gospel around in this music than there was in the pop-soul at Okeh. “It’s Alright”  is 1.51 straight from the church. Too short for you ? Then listen again.

Finally I got to pay my respects to the good folk who got me here. There’s a bunch of great short punk singles but my people would only want to hear one by some of their own. God bless the Undertones for this optimistic view at a time when it looks as if summer ain’t showing up this year. This clip might be short so that Steve Wright can talk crap out of our telly but the single still comes in under 2 minutes. Style.

You may ask yourself, how did I get here ?

A tentative toe into the waters of the 21st century has brought me to here. If anything is going to happen here, I hope I can reflect a life being interested in life and people and put it down in an interesting and entertaining way. There is gonna be music, movies, books, sport. all that stuff. There will be friends, family, people I like and those I don’t. Right now I hope it will be about positivity. The darker stuff can wait.The only thing to stop it being random is that it is all processed through my eyes and thoughts. I hope they are up to the job

Before I start anything I would like to thank and dedicate this blog to some good friends. To the boys of Bam Bam and the Calling, Paul PJ McCartney and Joe Brown for showing that time is no obstacle to true friendship. Raymond Gorman, for doing the same , for giving encouragement and a much needed kick up the arse. Then to Alcina Officinalis, a Bavarian earthquake who’s aftershock woke me from my narcolepsy. Here I am thinking about the future. This is all her doing and I thank her

I would also say that I own no copyright to any of the material used in these posts. I regard the creators of the original works with both love and respect. I seek to make no personal gain from its use.