I’ve Got A Bike, You Can Ride It If You Like

Has Lance Armstrong shown contrition for his cheating or is he a squirming, cheating, arrogant prick who will say anything to re-establish his public persona and avoid losing his money and his freedom ? The debasement of professional cycling, a sport in which the UK is enjoying unprecedented success, may be such that Armstrong was just a better cheat than his competitors. As a kid I accompanied my Dad to watch him compete in athletics meetings. Often these events included amateur cycling races. I enjoyed the sport, met some of the participants & appreciated their commitment to riding their bikes. Whatever the damage done to cycling by drug cheats there will always be people who will enjoy testing themselves honestly without the aid of artificial assistance, unsightly Lycra or ridiculous side-burns.

Here is a story of  such a band of brothers & sisters (The Medway Wheelers) told by the brilliant Wild Billy Childish & The Buff Medways. As an inspiraton for this blog wrote, “against that and on the other hand, a good bicycle is a great companion, there is a great charm about it”, (Flann O’Brien). Syd likes them too.


Monday I Got Friday On My Mind (The Easybeats)

In 1945 the Australian Government launched the rather drastically named “Populate or Perish” policy. British migrants were encouraged by an assisted passage costing only 10 of our English pounds and until the cost was increased in 1973 over 1 million people took up the offer. I have met some of these “Ten Pound Poms” & they regard it as the best decision of their lives. In 1952 this was extended to other European countries, places where white people lived but hey…another time yeah. So in the early 1960s 5 young kids, 3 Brits and 2 Dutch, met in a Sydney migrant hostel. They formed a band which brought the energy, excitement and fan hysteria of the decade’s music to Australia. These guys were a long way from civilization but they certainly got what was going on.

The Easybeats & “Easyfever” were absolutely the thing Down Under in 1965-6. When the band left for England it was big, big news. The early hits were the work of guitarist George Young and singer Stevie Wright. Young formed a new partnership with lead guitarist Harry Vanda. They brought some good songs with them to the UK, brought their old producer too. After a false start Shel Talmy replaced the producer, Shel was fresh from “My Generation” & “You Really Got Me” so obviously knew a thing or two. The first single “Friday On My Mind” was a worldwide smash. It’s a wonderful thing, a living for the weekend classic. The rough edges of the band had been smoothed a little but those lyrics, “even my old man looks good”, benefited from the simple guitar line rather than the power chords of the Who or the Kinks. Surely the Easybeats were on their way.

With a tight, fresh songwriting team and a cocky, energetic front man to sell the songs the band seemed to have the right ingredients. It just did not happen for them. The follow-up single “Who’ll Be The One” did not consolidate the success of “Friday” and the band were never quite able to find their own place in a rapidly changing music scene. They fell between two stools. They were very good at that R&B garage pop but Vanda & Young, like everybody else, had heard “Sergeant Pepper” and wanted to extend themselves.

That first clip of “Good Times” shows that they still had a contribution to make to high energy rock. Despite the lip-synch it is one of my favourite clips on the Y-tube. Those guitar chords are perfect, Steve’s enthusiasm makes me smile (Steve Marriott’s backing vocals are good too) and the knee-drop at the end makes me laugh. This single is one that got away and the LP “Vigil” swung between these lively rockers and more orchestrated psych-pop. The more experimental tracks are pretty good but you just didn’t know where you stood with the Easybeats.

Vanda and Young spent more time on their recording studio and did not want to tour. The band were in debt & had contractual problems and a third LP was largely filled with demos. In 1969 it was done. Stevie Wright went back to Australia where he had a big hit with an 11 minute epic “Evie”. Unfortunately his personal problems with addiction,  a controversial and drastic treatment kept him in the spotlight. Man, I do not want to read a book titled “Sorry – The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright”. Vanda & Young had a hit as Flash & the Pan before hooking up with George Young’s little brothers, Angus & Malcolm, producing the first 6 LPs for their group  AC/DC.

“Friday On My Mind” has been much covered, most notably by David Bowie on his “Pin Ups” LP, Richard Thompson and Earthquake on one of the gospels of Powerpop “Beserkley Chartbusters, Volume 1” (an essential record). “Good Times” turned up in “The Lost Boys” by Aussie song manglers INXS … a joke surely. The more I hear of the Easybeats, I always liked the singles, the more I enjoy both sides of their music. When I need a little musical pick-me-up then it’s the rocking “Good Times” that does the trick.

Good Or Bad, Happy Or Sad (Al Green)

When Rolling Stone named Al Green as one of their 100 Greatest Artists of All Time they wrote “people are born to do certain things, and Al was born to make us smile.” With his peerless run of hit singles between 1971 and 1974 Al certainly did this. With time, consideration of the work on his LPs & perhaps, the triumph of style over substance in African-American commercial music, his music proves to affect the heart and the head  not just the hips and facial muscles. First up, here is one of the classic hits so…smile away !

Al took time to hit his stride, I remember a minor 1967 hit “Back Up Train” by Al Greene. It was not until he hooked up with Willie Mitchell, the new head of Hi Records in Memphis, that he was encouraged to merge the influences of his idols into his own extraordinary voice. “Tired Of Being Alone” was the 5th single released from a 1971 LP & the first to make the Top 20. The great soul idols were addressing the social issues of the time through their albums. There was a gap for a handsome black man who sang about “lurve”. Al Green, aided by the superb productions of Mitchell, hit a run of 8 gold records and confidently became the new sex symbol of soul.

He started slowly on “Soul Train” too. The clip for “Tired” is embarrassing as he lip-synchs the hit dressed in the worst pimp threads ever. He was soon singing live on the show, “Here I Am” slides smoothly and brilliantly along as Al, broken arm and all, shows that he belongs with the great soul singers. The inheritor of the tradition of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye & Stevie Wonder. It was these hook-laden, irresistible singles we heard on the radio. In 1972 a version of the Bee Gees “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” has such a perfect emotional resonance which despite its use in some inferior movies (“Notting Hill”, “The Book Of Eli”, “Sex & the City”) still hits the spot.

So now it gets serious and wonderful and seriously wonderful. It was Al’s touch of gospel which made his smooth, soft-soul formula more attractive than, say, the Stylistics. “Take Me To The River”, a classic and not a single, has the singer celebrating the physical and the spiritual. If he had always had one foot in the door of the church this raw testifying moves him closer to the pulpit. Now I love the music of Talking Heads, love their version of “River”. I am not going to say that they got 3 LPs out of this funk classic, I will say though that they did not better the original of this song.

In 1975 Al Green’s success faltered. In October 1974 a girlfriend threw boiling grits over the singer, causing severe burns, before committing suicide with Al’s gun. This caused Al to get both feet into that church. In 1976 he was ordained as a pastor, the Reverend Al Green of the Full Gospel Tabernacle. The death of the master drummer, Al Jackson, a pivot of the Memphis sound, was a great loss. It may have been that the reliance on a hit recipe meant that the music seemed less distinctive. The Reverend Al continued to record though no longer struck gold. He split from Mitchell to make a record on his own.

“The Belle Album” (1977), self-produced & the most personal of his records is the last secular work Al Green made for some time. It is a lovely thing, not just this title song. Perhaps not as an introduction to the singer but as a work by a mature artist, who knows what he wants and how to get it, it is his “What’ Goin’ On”.

The duality of the Southern thing is at the heart of this modern music that we love. Elvis Presley (“Good Rocking Tonight”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls Of Fire”), Little Richard (“Good Golly Miss Molly”), even Buddy Holly (“Oh Boy”), all good Southern boys, celebrated the carnality of the physical world while knowing that this shit may be good but is probably wrong. The thrilling tinge of guilt is part of the attraction of “the road to sin”. Never, not even in the songs of that beautiful doomed boy from Georgia, Gram Parsons, has the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane been articulated as perfectly, as beautifully and as succinctly than it is by Al Green in the song “Belle”.

There are live, contemporary, versions of “Belle”. Al’s vocal gymnastics are on a Comaneci  scale, intricate, difficult and perfect. I have stuck with the recorded take because it is so, so great. Al Green has made his choice between his (Southern) Belle & his God. “Oh, it’s you I want but it’s Him that I need”, the assurance, the fortitude resulting from having made this decision is transmitted in this slow-burning delight. I could go on, just listen…you get me ?


Reggae In Your Jeggae

On the day I met the young woman who was lucky enough to become my wife she had just spent some of the wages from her Saturday job on a new 7″ single. “The Return Of Django” (inspired by the same spaghetti western that has just unchained Quentin T) was by The Upsetters, the house band for producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. It was released in the UK on the Trojan label, an imprint set up by Island records for the fine music emerging from Jamaica. In 1969  reggae was becoming more audible  in Britain, “The Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & the Aces became the first reggae song to reach #1 in the UK charts. Skinheads were  working-class youth who used to be Mods. Their style & attitude tipped a pork-pie hat to the Jamaican rude boy, ska & reggae was their music. They heard the tunes in the clubs, bought the records which made the charts and were played on the one pop radio station in the country. This woman was not only very attractive but had excellent taste. A fact confirmed when she accepted my request for an assignation at any time of her choice. The rest, dear reader, is her story.

So reggae was always around in the early 1970s, adding a Caribbean spice to the salmagundi of the British music scene with its Glitter, Glam, Soul & Gilbert O’Sullivan. There was always space for at least one tune to break into the charts. Sometimes there was a touch of novelty about these hits & sometimes they were just great records.

“I am the magnificent. I am backed by the shack of a soul boss most turnin’ stormin’ sound o’ soul. I am double u o,o,o & I’m still up here again”. In April 1971 “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansell Collins was #1 in the UK for 2 weeks between “Hot Love” by T Rex and “Knock Three Times” by Dawn. Ansell Collins wrote and produced while Dave Barker yelped this proto-dub rap. Digital recording my butt, 40 years on this still sounds strange & fresh & gets men of a certain age creakily skanking across the room. The duo followed the hit with “Monkey Spanner”, another fine tune. Dave Barker had earlier hits with Lee Perry (“Prisoner Of Love” “Shocks A Mighty”) and is still around. His personal vocal style is instantly recognisable if you are lucky enough to bump into his music.

Trojan knew their market at this time. They began to customise the titles of their releases by adding “Skinhead” to any rhythm. As the image calcified the boots, braces & “aggro” became a bigger part of the scene. It became less safe for people with hair over their ears to enjoy a good night at their clubs. No matter, the Trojan collections of reggae from this time are a smile in vinyl…good stuff.

There is no finer example of the breadth of British music taste than this 1974 Top 10 hit. “Ire Feelings” by Rupie Edwards came from outta space with this dub of a Johnny Clarke tune. My friend Carl was recalling his youth club nights, how strange and wonderful this sounded &, of course, what a great dance tune it was. Rupie Edwards rode this riddim to another hit, “Leggo Skanga” , appearances on Top Of The Pops & an LP of slight variations. 4 years later the Dub classic “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” from Augustus Pablo was on everyone’s turntable. We knew how good Dub Reggae could be because of Rupie Edwards…Skanga ! Skanga !

There are so many great reggae hits from this time. The music was becoming more conscious, the artists more likely to be singing the praises of Jah or of oppression in the world. Bob Marley’s “Live” LP was on everybody’s Xmas list in 1975, the roots reggae of the Rasta was to carry the swing for some time now. It was the quality of the work of John Holt, Ken Booth, Bob & Marcia & many others who were less successful on the charts who prepared the way for this popularity. Man, I am going to have to come back to these times. Wheel & come again !

Before the 12″ singles of disco & the synth bands of the 1980s reggae pioneered the extended mix of a song. A successful rhythm was re-cycled almost endlessly. The hit of 1976 was another Lee Perry masterwork, “Police & Thieves” by Junior Murvin, I am still finding songs by Murvin that are exactly the same tune. Producers were inspired to wilder dub experimentation, pioneers of sampling and drum and bass. Dee-jays/toasters added their own vocals over the hits of the day. In 1976 Punk trashed much of music’s immediate past. Dreadlock reggae, Marley & those who followed, got an approving nod. In clubs at this time you would hear Dillinger & Culture alongside The Clash and the Pistols.

Dennis Brown, a singer with a facility to handle militancy & romanticism equally well, was called “the Crown Prince Of Reggae” by “King” Bob. “Money In My Pocket” was recorded in 1973 by Niney the Observer for the Joe Gibbs organization with a version from Big Youth. In 1978 this re-working was a UK hit. This record has the lot. A good song by an outstanding singer, a rocking dub and Prince Mohammed’s “Cool Runnings” toast keeping it bubbling. This original release sold out its first pressing and deservedly so. It is one of the best examples of how reggae was maturing, innovating and proving to be some of the most vital music around. Dennis Brown made some very good music in his time, this is such a classic that I keep returning to it to check for how it should be done.


Son Of A Gun We’ll Have Big Fun (Louisiana Music)

My tech skills are improving. I am an old dog learning new tricks, though the one where I lay on my back & get my tummy tickled is still the best. Anyhoo, finding the right combination of clicking, dragging and dropping, cutting and pasting, means that I am able to get this clip on to the blog. Here, surely, is the most exciting 5 minutes of Australian TV ever.

I have written about a great day out by the Thames when I saw the irresistible master of the zydeco accordian, Beau Jocque and his band make dancing fools of us all while London went about its business. https://loosehandlebars.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/music-to-drink-and-dance-to-part-one-beau-jocque/    will get you a couple of top tunes from the big man. “One Kiss” is a rolling rush of a song, I wrote before that Beau Jocque music is folk, blues, rock and roll  yet is, in the words of Mr Jeff Lynne, a living thing. Hey Hey !

So, while we are in Louisiana, here’s another all-time classic.

In 1974 Charlie Gillett, dee-jay, musicologist and all-round good guy launched his record label Oval with a cut-price Cajun collection “Another Saturday Night”. This indispensable zig-zag through music from the Bayous introduced us Brits to new sounds and new artists. Who knew how versatile the accordion could be ? Who, in the UK, knew how great the “swamp pop” of Tommy McLain and Johnnie Allan was ? It was Allan’s  cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land”, recorded in 1971 but sounding absolutely timeless, which picked up the radio play and became a minor hit. It’s another short, sharp burst of energy which still makes me reach for the volume control whenever I hear it. Tommy McLain’s sweet double-tracked country Cajun rock ballads are a delight but it was Johnnie Allan who put us on to so much fine music.

In Abbeville Louisiana 14 years old Bobby Charles wrote a song with the lyrical hook “See you later alligator, in a while crocodile”…brilliant ! Bill Haley and his Comets sold a million copies of the song and Bobby had a deal with Chess Records, who probably did not know he was white. Bobby re-located to New Orleans where he wrote “Walking To New Orleans” for Fats Domino and “But I Do” for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Bobby Charles was a very talented man.

After a break from the business Bobby recorded an LP with his friends. 1972’s self-titled record with The Band, Dr John, Amos Garrett and others is a perfect wonder of a record. Languorous and laconic and Louisianan, it is the craft of the songs which make for such a treat. If Randy Newman had been born in the bayou he would have written these songs. “Small Town Talk” is co-written with Rick Danko while “Tennessee Blues” …well, when I first heard this just a few years ago I could not believe that it had been around for over 30 years without me knowing. The whole record is of such a high quality that this track, “staying stoned and singing Homemade Songs”, was not released until the extended edition of 1999. Bobby Charles passed away 2 years ago this week. On Monday I will mark this by listening to this fantastic record. OK see ya later alligator !

If You Remember the 60s You Weren’t There

Well, the music of the 1960s and Y-tube are the gifts that keep on giving. The classic British TV performances are all there, I can get lost trawling through the American shows that we never saw over here…so that’s what the Bobby Fuller 4 looked like ! Then there are the big surprises. Here are 3 songs which were not hits on release but were favourites then, I bought 2 of them, and still are. A big thank you to the kind souls who put these into my computer so that I can keep them in a safe place & never be more than a couple of clicks away from hearing them again.

The Equals were North London boys, Hornsey Rise, Kentish Town, probably Arsenal fans. They were the first visible inter-racial group in the UK and in 1968 had a #1 hit with the irresistibly catchy “Baby Come Back”. There was a smidgeon of ska, a soupcon of soul but mainly they were meaty, beaty, big and bouncy. Their small record label insisted on releasing simple singalong singles and the Equals never really established themselves. They did have something to say about being young and black and living in London but we did not always get to hear it.

“Police On My Back” was not a single but is a stomping classic of a song. When the Clash recorded the song for “Sandanista” they did not have to change a great deal, the breathless punk pacing, the ringing siren of a guitar, it’s all there already. The Equals were always open to new sounds, the 45 “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is nascent funk. There’s a clip from French TV where they do a Hendrix impersonation. In 1971 the guitarist and songwriter suffered a heart infection and collapsed lung, the band disappeared. Eddie Grant, the very same, recovered and prepared for a second assault on the music industry. It took 10 years but in 1983 he got us all to rock down to “Electric Avenue” & showed that he knew how to write a hit song.

P P Arnold came to Britain as an Ikette in 1966 and stayed. The Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was pursuing his Phil Spector fantasy & looking for talent for his new label Immediate. Mick Jagger put him on to P P & she was signed. She made some classy records with help from label mates Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart. Top of the bill at Immediate was the Small Faces, young hit-making mods looking to expand their R&B inflected pop and embrace the new psychedelia. Singer Steve Marriott took  a more than professional interest in the beautiful Ms Arnold. She shared vocals on the band’s earth-shattering rock anthem “Tin Soldier” and, in doing so, made her mark on our music.

“(If You Think You’re) Groovy” is a companion piece to “Tin Soldier”. Similarly written and produced by Marriott and Ronnie Lane, it did reach the British Top 20. What can I say ? An over the top production tamed by P P’s strong vocal, this is a landmark in British R&B/Soul. To promote the record she, the Small Faces and duo Twice As Much went down to Camber Sands, got high and rolled about on the beautiful beach. It’s one of the best ways to spend a day in the South of England & makes for an engaging  piece of film. I recently saw P P Arnold singing in a Sandy Denny  tribute concert. She is still beautiful and still has a wonderful voice, she’s a charm.

(Since this post was published the clip of Tea & symphony has been removed from the Y-tube. So it goes, I did get to see them though)

Blimey ! It was only 2 hours ago that I found this clip on Y-tube. My young self bought this piece of psych-folk whimsy in 1969, played it to death and I had never actually seen any moving pictures of Tea and Symphony until today. “Boredom” is a Fisher/Brooker/Reid song from Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” and it seems to be marimba week round here. This more upbeat version by a Birmingham band of no fixed number just seemed so well produced and to be such fun. Less precious than, say, the Incredible String band I guess that it is stoned folk rather than acid-folk. The Y-tube comments on this (not usually a good indicator) are from Brits of a similar age to myself wondering why this was not a hit record and how come their friends didn’t quite see it either. I’m with those guys. I have never heard the tea and Symphony debut LP, “Asylum For The Musically Insane” but with a title like that…Harvest Records…Jah love ’em.

Aftermath (Rolling Stones)

In 1966 the Rolling Stones released their first LP to consist of all Jagger/Richard compositions. The early records had been reliant upon the Chicago blues and Chuck Berry songs which had formed their repertoire on the London club scene. 1965’s “Out Of Our Heads” included  compositions by Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Barbara Lynn, even Sonny Bono. So “Aftermath” was a move forward for the band. The Beatles, Bob Dylan & other new musicians wrote their own material, it was time for the Stones to  contribute their lyrical take on a tumultuous decade.

In the UK both the Beatles and the Stones did not put their singles onto LPs. “Aftermath” was released between “19th Nervous Breakdown” & “Paint It Black”. There is not the same crepuscular density as these singles but there is some pretty good stuff and “Under My Thumb” is one of the best. There is an element of misogyny in more than a few of the early Stones lyrics. This, “Stupid Girl” & “Play With Fire” are all acerbic but the band were sneering at everything in 1966, it was what they did, better than anyone else.

The Stones were still a blues band on “Aftermath”, there was an 11 minute jam to close side one. They were, though, looking for a new sound and on this record they gave Brian Jones free range in the music shop. Brian’s imaginative contribution to this record, like the sitar on “Paint It Black”, introduces touches of psychedelia and the baroque. “Under My Thumb” is propelled by the marimbas, I don’t think they had any of those in the Chess studios at 2120 South Michigan Avenue.

For “Lady Jane” it’s the Appalachian dulcimer! It’s interesting to see the wild men of rock, in their new dandy finery, sitting down to perform a courtly song of Elizabethan chivalry. I never really “got” this song, “I pledge myself to…” what’s all that about  ? The dulcimer…that’s OK, Brian was not writing songs but was playing his part in the band’s developing sounds. The experiments of the next two studio records are often a result of his involvement. By the time of “Beggars Banquet” (just 2 years after “Aftermath”)  Jones was a spent force, marginalised from the band he formed and too stoned to roll. Next time around the band got this mellow sound just right on “Ruby Tuesday”, “Lady Jane” was a step on the way.

The overall quality of the Stones’ songs at this time could be a little patchy. When they got it right though they made some classics and here’s one now.

It’s back to “Ready Steady Go” the 1960s British TV programme that brought the excitement of the music to our living rooms. They had a head start because the Beatles and the Stones were only too eager to appear on something outside of the confines of the standard variety show which was still anchored in the 1950s. The show was very sharp and spoiled for choice by the music explosion in the UK. As an untroubled young boy in 1964 the only thing that could have improved my life would have been allowed to stay up late enough to watch it !

The dulcimer is around again for “I Am Waiting”. This song is less honeyed, a little ominous and one of the best on the record. At this time the Stones were unable to finish most concerts they played because of the hysteria and chaos they induced. They must have been happy to play these new, more polished songs properly. “I Am Waiting” is used very well by Wes Anderson in his movie “Rushmore”. Anderson is obviously an Anglophile when it comes to music, I was pleased and impressed that he’d selected such a quality but more obscure Stones track.

With “Aftermath” and “Between The Buttons” the Rolling Stones were attempting to find their own voice. The records are inevitably compared to “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” and come up short against two songwriters at the top of their game. Jagger and Richard did get to it by asserting their blues roots and becoming lyrically more sophisticated. From “Beggars Banquet” to “Exile On Main St” they made records for the ages. These two earlier works are pop experiments and sometimes not successful. They are though pretty pretty good.

So Real And So True (Van Morrison)

Wow ! Train wreck TV at its best here. Young Van Morrison has had his hair done, got a new jacket and been rolled out to promote “Ro Ro Rosey” the follow up to the smash hit “Brown Eyed Girl”. On “Greendale” Neil Young wrote “it ain’t an honour to be on TV and it ain’t a duty either”. Van looks as if he agrees with this. It’s a surprise that he makes it through the song because there are times when he absolutely quits on the lip-synch and you expect him just to walk out of shot. He has, of course, a reputation for being an awkward man. I have never bought this, it seems an easy and lazy tag to hang on an artist who obviously creates music of such emotional honesty. If this travesty was a tipping point and he decided that this was the last time he got screwed around by a media that could not care less then all power to him.

I like “Ro Ro Rosey”, it turns up on the collections of his recordings for Bang, it’s a cool little R&B stomper with some good fuzzy garage guitar. So where did those backing vocals come from ? They are not on the version I’ve got in my collection and just fill space that really has no need of filling.

Now, this is better. Just over 2 years later, 1970,  and Van is at the Fillmore East with a cool band, a fringed waistcoat and a great LP “Moondance” to play. I’m not sure if he was headlining shows, I have seen posters for the Fillmore West at this time when he supported Joe Cocker. He has not yet got the Caledonia Soul Orchestra  but it sounds pretty good to me. “These Dreams Of You” is one of my personal favourites from “Moondance” over the better known “Into The Mystic” and “Caravan”. It’s a cracking soul song but here it only lasts around one minute and twenty seconds, not long enough, not enough “Hush-a-byes”. So, I have let the clip run because if there is one thing I know about life it is that you can never have enough versions of “Cyprus Avenue”. This is an outstanding version too. The “It’s Too Late To Stop Now” take is a show-stopper while this builds subtly before hitting a similar intensity, great stuff.

Fast forward to 1997 and a fantastic version of the classic “Saint Dominic’s Preview”. I have a theory about Van Morrison which arose from prolonged listening to and enjoyment of the live record “One Night In San Francisco”. A Van Morrison performance brings elements of over 50 years of popular music together in a unique way. It is adult entertainment played by adults for adults. It is not an attempt to recreate the sound of the records but to play the songs well with the same energy and honesty. I would call it “cabaret” but that word is so discredited. I do know that I would rather see Van Morrison playing his songs with whatever band he decides to play with than almost any other artist of such longevity. Here “Saint Dominic’s Preview” is re-visited and a great song is given a mature treatment by a classy band which includes the Irish singer Mary Black on vocals. It may lack the exuberance even the vituperation (just to be hip and get wet with the jet set)  of the original, no-one wants to see 60 year olds pretend to be 25, that’s no good for anybody.

Music and Movies II

Spike Lee’s no-budget debut “She’s Gotta Have It” proved to be an imaginative and successful calling card for the director and his cinematographer Ernest Dickerson. Hollywood studios were eager to bankroll his company 40 Acres and a Mule and it was way past time that African-Americans wrote films, pointed the camera and got to shout “Action” and “Cut”. I was out of the UK for 1988’s “School Daze” so I did not see it at the cinema. It was 1989 before we got the chance to see a “proper” Spike Lee movie. We did the right thing and went to a flash movie palace in the heart of London’s West End to see “Do The Right Thing”. This is how it started…

The cinema was running some new-fangled THX, George Lucas, sound system and Public Enemy in full effect was the very thing. The highest fidelity for the best music around at the time. It was all very well going round to Run’s House to shake our thang to “A Salt With A Deadly Pepa” but come on. Public Enemy were talking loud and saying something with “Fight The Power”. “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me”…and that’s the truth Ruth ! Here was our first view of Rosie Perez, all dressed up like a female Marisa Tomei, love (or something like it) at first sight. Spike could have gone with the B-Boys on the corner, all head spins and busting moves but he went better than that. A strong, athletic, aggressive, beautiful young woman totally into the thing she does so well, a release and a statement of intent…perfect. As the movie started we were already on Spike’s side. We settled back to enjoy a day in Bedford-Stuyvesant with Mookie, Buggin’ Out, Radio Raheem, Sweet Dick Willie and the rest. ” You wanna boycott someone ? You ought to start with the goddamn barber that fucked up your head”.

You know that the word “chic” is French right ? Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film “Bande a Parte”  is Gallic insouciant cool transferred to celluloid. The scene where Anna Karina and her unlikely partners in crime dance in the cafe is fascinating, funny and straight from the fridge. The movie is maybe not as good as “A Bout de Souffle” or “Une Femme et Une Femme” (no Belmondo) but it obviously affected at least two of America’s best young directors. Quentin Tarantino paid his own homage to the scene when Vincent Vega and Mrs Wallace threw some shapes in “Pulp Fiction”, a film produced by his company A Band Apart.

Hal Hartley took a chance with “Simple Men” in 1992. His first two films had starred Adrienne Shelly, a luminous new star. Without her could Hartley deliver the enigmatic smartness of  “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust” ? He could, “Simple Men”, a story of finding love in the unlikeliest of places at what is probably the wrong time, is a more complex and mature film than those two and is a cracking watch. Hartley finds the time for his own tribute to “Bande a Parte” with his protagonists dancing after an all-night drinking session, always a good way of bonding and moving a relationship forwards I find. His masterstroke for this fealty is to use Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”. It’s a great and modern choice. Americans may not do “chic” like the French but they do “kool” pretty well.

I had been on to David Lynch since “Eraserhead” so “Blue Velvet” (1986) was a delight. OK  strange, disturbing, even perverse but a delight none the less. This is a trip to the dark side of small town America and a whole lot more. This scene, Roy Orbison’s masculine and assertive “In Dreams”, Dean Stockwell’s commitment to the charade and Dennis Hopper’s enchantment is just perfect. It is hypnotic, it is memorable and it is “what the hell ?”. It is my favourite use of music as more than background, more than mood enhancement, in any film.

When we saw “Blue Velvet” the three of us brought more than a little of Frank Booth back home with us. For the rest of the week our house was a profane, aggressive, a little mad and bad. Is that usual after you have seen a movie ? I mean, it was just a movie, Booth was just a character right…right ?

Starting As You Mean To Go On

There’s a New Year to be withstood,  cold reality to be met with a forearm smash firmly to the bridge of its nose. So, before my resolve is at all dissipated by pointless Facebook Madvice from narcissistic Yoga freaks or by early adopters of the latest political hot potato (“Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue and you can wipe my ass with it.”) a little musical reinforcement seems to be the very thing.

We have all been there…sofa…crack…thinking to myself,  ’bout my angel dressed in black. Waiting for your prostitute girlfriend to come home with the cheese so that you can re-up. Too high to do anything but sit there and think a little too much. Actually, I’m with Dennis Leary on this one and would never take a drug named after a part of my ass ! Also the women who have supported me through my times of anomie  (and thank you to them all) have not been employed in any sex trade nastiness. No matter, Warren Zevon, has a great rock song about it, perfectly imagined so that we don’t have to. “Angel Dressed In Black” sounds like his “Hindu Love Gods” record with R.E.M. and is from his brilliant “Mr Bad Example” LP from 1991, a must- have for any lover of reprobate rock.

My favourite clip of this song. Lou’s great band had been on a world tour for a year and were just so tight. “Doing The Things That We Want To”, about Sam Shepard and Martin Scorsese, is a better song for losing the accordion and gaining the attack. Fred Maher (drums), Fernando Saunders (bass) and on guitar, the Sergeant Bilko of rock, Robert Quine were as good a band as you could ever wish to see. I was lucky and saw Lou Reed play in London with these guys. On quiet evenings, with a fair wind, I can still hear their  blistering takes on “White Light White Heat” and “Coney Island Baby”. I can hear it too when I dig out that old bootleg cassette bought just a week after the gig. You could say that I was firmly struck by the way they had behaved.

The man who did the world a favour by placing this cover version on the Y-tube is around on my computer clan. We have had to whisper our appreciation of this song as it’s not really acceptable in the UK to disturb the genuflection afforded to Ray Davies and the Kinks. I like the original B-side sung by brother Dave. The beefed-up live version, omitted from the 1994 UK LP, made the 1996 US double LP, resurrected the song and was featured in “The Sopranos”. Peter Perrett’s record “Woke Up Sticky” was a recrudescence too. A friend, disturbed by Peter’s wasted condition, had urged him to get himself together. The friend was Johnny Thunders…hoo-haa ! The stories of excess and devotion to dereliction would be of little consequence had Perrett not been capable of creating some of the greatest  British guitar rock. To hear this assertive return to form confirmed his talent and that, indeed, he was not like everybody else.

Now…that’s better. 2013…bring it on.