Music And Movies (Punk)

In recent years Michael Winterbottom has made films in Estonia, India & one which took 5 years to shoot as the director waited for his child actors to grow. His last brush with the mainstream was a well-judged adaptation of “The Killer Inside Me” (2010) with 3 proper Hollywood stars. At the first whiff of controversy this enjoyable film was buried. If you are at all serious about apprehending the spirit of Jim Thomson then your film will contain brutish, amoral, psychopathic violence…I mean really ! Winterbottom’s new film is his 3rd (plus a TV series) made with Steve Coogan, a very funny man who’s big screen career does not reflect his talent. A re-make of “Around the World in 80 Days” ?…with Jackie Chan as Passepartout ? Oh yeah, that’ll work. The Alan Partridge movie has been a long time coming. The Winterbottom films & a cameo in “In The Loop” are, up to now, the only work to stand alongside his TV character comedy.

“24 Hour Party People” covers the Manchester music scene from the arrival of the Pistols in 1976, the adventures of Factory records to an inevitable bankruptcy in 1992 as excess, a groundbreaking but loss making club & allowing the drug-fucked Happy Mondays to record in the crack capital of the world converged to cause a crisis too far. Tony Wilson (Coogan) is the bulls-eye of the tale. As a presenter on local TV news he was already a face but if you lived in Manchester & liked music (as I did) then he was bloody ubiquitous. OK, he had the best club, the best bands were on his label but really he was always there. Just as he was at the Lesser Free Trade Hall for that first Manc punk gig. Winterbottom informs us who the players are in his story & how he intends to tell that story in a different way.

This ain’t no rock/mock/doc/biopic “I Walk the Line” nonsense. It is a proper attempt at rock & roll myth making, playing fast & loose with the facts when it suits, being more concerned with the substance, energy & ideas. The Rock Gospels, from Elvis walking into Sun Studios to Woodstock/Altamont are affidavits guarded by a generation who have taken themselves way too seriously. Let the new fables kick against the pricks, show the art & the artifice.The clip of the real Pistols fused into this scene is from an entirely different gig & it really does not matter. In the later “A  Cock & Bull Story” Winterbottom & Coogan mix it up even more exhilaratingly. It is a cliche about Tony Wilson that he got things done but he was a wanker. He really did seem to love any kind of attention. Well he may have been a fool but he was our fool & “24 H.P.P.” is one of the best films about music around because it is about the people, the drugs, the city. To quote Don Logan,” It’s the charge, it’s the bolt, it’s the buzz, it’s the sheer fuck off-ness of it all” .

“Bringing Out The Dead” (1999) is the 4th &, to date, final collaboration between director Martin Scorsese & writer Paul Schrader. So there’s faith, guilt, redemption then, it’s what they do. This character study (there’s little plot) of a paramedic struggling to see anything good in an Infernal New York is more than “Taxi Driver II”. Frank’s (Nicholas Cage) contact with the doomed & the dying give him  nightmares which have infiltrated his days. Cage gives one of those performances which will prevent you from watching any more than 3 minutes of “Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance”. The script, cinematography & direction grab you by the balls & the throat. The reason “Bringing Out..” is not regarded as classic Scorsese is that there are fewer touches for a broader audience this time around. No Joe Pesci swearing & killing motherfluffers imaginatively, this is black & barely comedy. It could be Scorsese/Schrader “fin de siecle” but I prefer, in the spirit of New York punk, End of the Century.

The film has the usual classy & spacious soundtrack from both Bernsteins through Motown & reggae to R.E.M. But this is Scorsese’s punkiest movie & the use of “Janie Jones” is perfect in this scene with Cage & ready-for-rehab Tom Sizemore crunching through the mean streets taking direction from the disembodied voice of the man himself. Hey, I’m so bored with the USA.

Hey ho, let’s go. I have finally managed to get “Repo Man” (1984) on to one of these posts & about time too. It is not good enough to invoke the spirit of the B-movie, the exploitation movie,  then just stand back & expect to be admired. That spirit, one of imagination & audacity wins over any budget restrictions. I am going to give Tim Burton “Ed Wood” but “Mars Attacks !” had a $70 million dollar budget & $5 of that was for ingenuity. “Repo Man” is as ramshackle as “Dark Star” & “Eating Raoul” , like both these films,it nails an attitude so adroitly that it transcends any cult status & is just a great film.Of course it takes a film made away from Hollywood to get punk on to celluloid properly. Stuff happens in my life every week that makes me think “what would Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) do ?” Look at those assholes, ordinary fucking people. I hate ’em.”…Only joking, or am I ?

Emilio Estevez as Otto, “a clean-cut kid in a dirty business” makes his case to be regarded as the likeable Sheen brother. 30 years later there has been no reason for anyone to doubt him. Director Alex Cox, an Englishman abroad, talked a good fight too, looking back to John Ford & Nicholas Ray as touchstones for his punk rock, sci-fi, B-movie comedy…cheeky beggar. He got the “Sid & Nancy” gig because of “Repo Man”. I thought he did a good job. Both films have a fine sense of the ridiculous, playing fast & loose with facts or reality. Subsequent movies were criticised for being too political, too rough, too clever or too stupid, as if any of these was a bad thing. He had to spend too much time scratching around for enough money to just make the films & they are all worth a watch. Any road up, here is the closing scene of “Repo Man”. “What about our relationship ? Fuck that !”, a flying, glowing car & a song that Iggy Pop wrote for the film. Gotta send you out of the cinema with a smile on your face & a safety-pin stuck in your heart.

Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies. (More Pop/Psych)

There is a definite shortage of  tangerine trees and marmalade skies at the moment. The summer is a long time coming around to these parts this year but I keep finding these shiny happy British pop-psych gems which are made for sunny daze, green fields, good company & perhaps (y’know, for the kids) something decent to smoke. This is the kind of music I mean.

What can I tell you about the Kinetic ? I could put names to faces but would that really help ? The lead guitarist Bob Weston made a couple of records with Fleetwood Mac in that period between blues busting & La-La Land lame. The other 4 Dapper Dans ? Well, I think that “Suddenly Tomorrow” was as good as it got & I think that it is pretty good. The nifty threads allow the musical paleontologist to place this absolutely nearer Mod than Hippie on the pop/rock continuum. It is early 1967 & just a year later the bass player would be picking brown rice out of his beard, the goofy singer tripping over his kaftan & that short, smart guitar solo would be twice as long. The Kinetic worked & recorded their only LP in France where every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man. They certainly seem happy enough in this clip. “Suddenly Tomorrow”…cool song.

There are 2 clips on the Y-tube of World of Oz & this is the rare one, like less than 1500 views rare. “The Muffin Man”, that was their hit in Europe but not in the UK. Click on the link at your peril because it is a song of nursery rhyme simplicity that sticks in your head for a little too long. “Jack”, from the sole LP & a b-side on one of the 3 singles, is similarly facile. The lead singer called himself Christoper Robin…it’s a clue. World of Oz were a little too heavy on the pop & light on the psych for my taste but they loved it in Holland & Germany. The orchestral flourishes, by Mike Vickers off of Manfred Mann, are fine enough but a bit more guitar & more substance would help.

There were big plans for the Birmingham band. They shared management with the Foundations, a successful pop-soul unit. There was plenty of work but cracks showed before the LP was finished & half the group had left before its 1969 release. This is 1968, the singer’s trousers are a crime against humanity & the bow-tie a misdemeanour. The Mod haircuts are growing out but these guys have their eyes on being pop idols…will you tell them or shall I? Hey, I’m a nice guy…it’s a period piece.

Jeez…I find out about these almost-forgotten bands so that you don’t have to. I’m a geek, it’s my job. Rupert’s People are proper work, at first there was a 45 which was getting some attention but no actual band. Later there was less attention & a revolving door on the tour van as no-one stayed for long. The first single “Reflections of Charlie Brown” is a song by Sweet Feeling which was given an “Air On A G String”/Procol Harum revamp. “Reflections” is a minor British psychedelic classic, it’s on the “Nuggets” box set, it’s around. The record was made by Les Fleur de Lys, also in that box with “Circles”, a Who cover .FdL were there & abouts when so much of this freakbeat/psych scene was being made. The only live clip of them was filmed on a day that a member told the others he was leaving. It is desultory, they were a better band than that. When asked to be Rupert’s People they declined.

A new band was formed which did not record. Sweet Feeling, around from the beginning, took on the name & made 2 singles. So here is the last one “I Can Show You” from 1968 & here, amazingly, is a promo film for the record. I could try to name the band but I would be guessing. The boys, in their ritzy Carnaby clobber, visit that trendy thoroughfare, loon about on the Heath &, for little good reason, get muddy by the Thames. All with their best dolly bird by their side.It’s not as magical or as mysterious as some were at the time but the song has the Small Faces R&B vibe with a beefed up organ & it’s good. Man, the 1960s is the gift that keeps on giving & I am a little trapped in that decade. I do love these Brit pop-psych 45s that I can just about remember the first time around. To find actual video of these tunes…well one day I’ll just go Meh ! Not yet though.

Those 70s Movies (Sidney Lumet)

The 1970s is a decade which is rightly regarded as a period of revitalization for American cinema. In 1969 “Oliver”, a worthy old school British musical, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “2001, A Space Odyssey” & “Rosemary’s Baby” were not nominated. The following year “Midnight Cowboy”, a thoroughly modern movie, rated R, was the winner. By 1972 Bob Rafelson’s “5 Easy Pieces” & Robert Altman’s “M.A.S.H” received nominations while George C. Scott’s compelling title role in Best Picture “Patton” (“Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”) won him Best Actor & he told the Academy where to stick their statuette. Better late than never, the energy & attitude of youth which had so affected culture in the 1960s finally reached the mainstream cinema.

I try to avoid lists here but in 1975 the best director nominations were Coppola, Truffaut, Polanski, Cassavetes & Fosse. This was Hollywood not the Cannes Film Festival ! There was a whole bunch more too, some of my favourites, some of yours & they were making a whole heap of creative, challenging, memorable films, some of which were also the most commercially successful of the time. Often overlooked in this blossoming is a director who came to maturity in this decade almost 15 years after his breakthrough. Sidney Lumet was no “movie brat” but an experienced hand at the tiller of  some intelligent, well-crafted work. In 1975 & 76 he was nominated for Best Director in a crowded & talented field.

“The Anderson Tapes” (1971) is Christopher Walken’s film debut, reason enough to watch this film though there are plenty more. Sean Connery stars as a burglar who, after 10 years “away”, gets straight back to the thing that he does. The world has moved on, CCTV & surveillance means that Anderson’s (Connery) heist is followed by a lot of feds & cops. It’s an assured, modern caper movie shot on the streets of New York. The cast keep it rolling. Dyan Cannon sizzles as the hooker-girlfriend, Martin Balsam as camp as a row of pink tents & old-school comedian, Alan King is a perfect mobster. These are characters not caricatures. It is not a classic movie but it is a good one. It is certain that the Coen brothers were digging the scene of the gangster lean. The mob dialogue zings like that of “Millers Crossing” & at the heart of the movie is Connery, the Man Who Was There.

Sidney Lumet’s first film got him a Best Director nomination. “12 Angry Men” is a dialogue-heavy, sweaty, claustrophobic movie. It is one of those 1950s expositions of the liberal dilemma like “High Noon” or “On The Waterfront”. Films that we saw on TV as youths which made us think that there could be more to cinema than cowboys & car chases (could be). Henry Fonda, Hollywood’s favourite Democrat, is the star but there are not many other films which can rival the ensemble playing of this film. It’s another list for another time but some of the great character actors of the next decade made their reputation in “12 Angry Men”.

Sidney Lumet established himself as an actor’s director, In the 60s he worked with Brando, Steiger, Katherine Hepburn. There was a film a year, work in the UK & Europe. A reputation for the transfer of plays on to the screen was earned. His outstanding film of the decade was another male ensemble movie, his first of 5 collaborations with Sean Connery. “The Hill” (1965) is  stark & tough as teak, as anti-military as “Full Metal Jacket”. Set in a British army prison in World War 2 in Libya a range of fine British character actors (& Ossie Davis) revel in being allowed to do that fine thing they do. Lumet’s facility with realism, his preference for  New York  over Hollywood, put him bang on the new cinema & the new audience.

“Serpico” (1973) was based on a true story of a New York cop who made a stand against the corruption he encountered on his promotion to plain clothes. The film starred the hottest new actor around. Al Pacino was a relative unknown when he landed the role of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather”. He did the job well, the sequel placed Michael at the hardening heart of the mobster saga. The movie was not one of Lumet’s signature ensemble pieces, it was all about Serpico, all about this new kid Pacino. The star-maker machinery kicked in, this was a big movie, a big success too for a new face. It was a well told story with a beginning, a middle & an end, reassuringly in that order. The deal with “Serpico” was that he started out as Dudley Do-Right. The deeper he got into the graft, the more isolated he was by his workmates, the longer his hair & beard grew. It was simple but effective, the Hippie versus the N.Y.P.D., choosing sides was never easier. “Serpico” was no counter culture indie art house film. It’s budget was $1 million, the US box office almost $30 million. That’s a language Hollywood understands. Lumet was on the A-list.

Just 2 years later, the same director-star combination, another true New York story, a bigger budget & a bigger hit. The opening montage of “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) shows Lumet’s view of the city. It’s covers more area than that new guy Scorsese who was just making his way from Little Italy to Times Square. Just as Marty’s films confirmed that Robert de Niro had proper movie star chops then Lumet’s double did the same for Pacino. “Dog Day Afternoon” is an anti-establishment bank robbery movie which goes for a fresh, inspired & realistic take on the genre. Sidney Lumet absolutely nails it.

Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) & his wingman Sal (John Cazale) are new to the bank heist business & it is showing. The safe is pretty empty & Police Chief Moretti (the incomparable Charles Durning) has the place surrounded. It emerges that Sonny, a Vietnam vet like Travis Bickle, is a complicated guy with quite a particular set of problems. This movie addresses gender issues with a subtlety rarely found in US cinema. The hostage/hijack dramas of the decade are reflected upon, as is the role of the media & a new perception of celebrity but, as Sam Goldwyn reportedly said “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” This is a movie which tells a tight, taut, moving story. Pacino is magnetic. Cazale shows again that his early passing was a truly great loss to American acting. Spike Lee, another director of New York stories made his homage to this outstanding film with his “Inside Man” in 2006. I enjoyed his film but it really reminded me to get to “Dog Day Afternoon” again.

The next time around Sidney Lumet enjoyed even more success. “Network” is a scathing satire on morality (the lack of it) in a television culture where ratings are everything. Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway & William Holden all won Oscars but a bunch of others contributed to a didactic, intelligent & questioning movie. There were a few of those around & Sidney Lumet made his share. Enjoy “Iron Man 3” & “Anchorman 2” this summer.

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Just singing the some old song he always sang before. The last of the hard-core troubadours ( flaco jimenez)

In the 80s my girlfriend lucked into a job in the music business. The deal was sealed when, as part of the interview, she was introduced to Mick Hucknall off of Simply Red. She was neither flustered in the presence of a “celebrity” nor gave the ginger soul boy the poke in the eye with a sharp stick he deserved. Her sang froid in her dealings with pampered popsters impressed her employers. She once asked me just who Ozzy Osbourne was for him to get so pissed off about her calling him “Ollie” all day ! It was the time she answered  the phone & a voice said “Hello, this is Ry Cooder calling from Los Angeles” that her cover was blown. Ms Cool became a fan-girl, the phone was dropped, papers went flying & the best she could come up with was a very lame “Hi Ry” !

She worked on a Cooder tour which was just the (complimentary) ticket…twice…Brighton & London, fantastic. We often ligged around backstage at these things, sometimes there was free booze & it was always of a better quality than that sold to the hoi-polloi out there. Not this time. There were legends in that band, Chris Ethridge, the 2  Jims, Keltner & Dickinson, Harry Dean Stanton showed out at Wembley , the Repo Man for Jah’s sake. I was better out of those places. I have enough self-awareness to know that my inner idiot drops by at times like these. I would rather Travis off of “Paris Texas” is blissfully unaware of my existence than remember me as that jerk who said that dumb thing .

Anyway, the next year we did get the chance to meet one of the band & what a fine night out we had.

My first Ry Cooder concert was on the “Chicken Skin Revue” tour, January 1977, Birmingham Odeon. He was still playing the solo acoustic dustbowl Depression blues of his first records but his more recent LPs  “Paradise & Lunch” & “Chicken Skin Music” broadened his palette. He was ready to put on a show, world-class guitar picking is just great but Ry wanted to play with a band. The guys he chose were quite a sight at a rock concert in the 70s. It wasn’t satin & tat or denim & hair but these big Mexican dudes in pastel lee-zure suits sure could play. At the heart of the music was Flaco Jimenez who is now probably the most eminent accordionist around.

Flaco is a Tex-Mex/conjunto/tejano (my ear is not yet developed enough to know the difference) musician. It’s a family affair, his father, Santiago, wrote the rulebook for this folk-dance music while brother Santiago Jr knows his way around a squeezebox. Conjunto (group) music is an infectious mix of Mexican & European influences. The Germans brought the button accordion & the polka rhythm to Texas, those already resident absorbed them. Flaco is a master player. If anyone, the Stones, Dylan, Dr John & others, needed a smack of the Texan border then he was the guy. When Ry Cooder takes centre stage & solos it is what you have paid your dollars for. There were 3 singers there to help his voice along but if you are going toe-to-toe with a master you had better be able to bring it. Flaco Jimenez is that good.

Our part of the city was more “Mean Streets” than “Manhattan” & we liked it just fine. London’s glittering West End was just up the Walworth Road, Big Ben, Nelson’s Column, St Paul’s Cathedral…ain’t that pretty at all. We had the Hohner factory, where the best harmonicas & accordions in the world are created…that’s enough. One Friday night we are going about our business, listening to some fine, fine music, getting ready to go see Flaco play at a local venue. Benedicte (lovely name, lovely woman) said that Flaco had called her that day…”and” says I…he needed some spares for his accordion…”and”…I rang Hohner & put him on to them…”and”…we are on the guest list tonight. That seals the deal, this one’s a keeper !

On the guest list…funny…we were the bloody list. The Cricketers Arms in Kennington was a pub gig, a good music place but pretty small. We were early, even if 1 of the 4 Mexican guys at the bar had not been Flaco Jimenez they would still have been the people to talk to. My companion was Flaco’s London contact (oh yes), I wanted to buy this man a beer, so let’s get over there & press the flesh. We had a running start, Benny had helped him out & I knew where Texas was (you would be surprised). The band were glad to talk & we were glad to listen, the next hour was just a breeze. Of course I wanted to hear some stories about Ry Cooder & I got to do that. These polite, unassuming guys were travelling the world, playing their music & had their own interesting, funny stories too. They also had a Friday night audience in London to entertain.

It was a night where the more you drank the better the music sounded. These 4 guys from Texas were the perfect bar band. You remember the group from the Titty Twister in “From Dusk Till Dawn” ? Like them (Tito & Tarantula) only regular, nice blokes not vampires. The clips on the Y-tube of Flaco Jimenez tend to sound a little ” folky”, good but lacking a little attack. Their full set was relentless, an invitation to grab your best gal & to hit the dancefloor. Musically Texas has quite a mix of rock, country & Mexican influences & they all showed out, sometimes in the same song. In the clip we see the Texas Tornados, Flaco with Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers & Doug Sahm, the aristocracy of South Texan music.

It’s cool when you meet someone who’s art you admire & they turn out to be good people. Flaco Jimenez was a charming self-effacing man who’s ability has taken him from San Antonio to give performances all over the world. He has played with some heavy duty musicians but it’s only in houses like mine that he is himself a household name. The only regret he had was that there was so much work that he did not spend as much time in Texas with his family as he would like. He knew that as a working musician he had it pretty good. Man, his father was a respected musician too but I’m sure he never saw the audiences & the places his son had. The following month Flaco was playing in Japan & an Edokko couple would be walking home happy after a proper live musical experience just as this pair of South Londoners were…a nice thought.

There’s one – Born every day. Sing song – Then fade away. (Toppop)

There is a Y-tube channel which has kindly uploaded a mountain of clips from the 70s & 80s off of a Dutch music TV programme called “Toppop” . Of course there is the good, the bad & the Bay City Rollers. There are Europop acts that you have never heard of & there are others that you wish you had never heard . But, every once in a while, among the fool’s gold , the vacuous glitz & bluster there is an absolute nugget. So let’s get on it.

Now those were strange days indeed. The night I saw Roxy Music his position as “sound manipulator” involved attacking a synthesizer with plastic cutlery…golden. Immediately after leaving Roxy Music, long before he became rock’s premier intellectual, young Brian Eno thought he could be a pop star. The music papers loved him &. it seemed, he liked all the attention. A hook-up with pub-rockers the Winkies for a tour to promote his first LP lasted just 5 gigs before a collapsed lung hospitalised the new frontman. Two weeks of the rock & roll life & Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno needed a long lie down.

If it was just down to the quality of the tunes then Eno would have been chartbound. “Seven Deadly Finns” is not on either of the first 2 solo LPs. “Here Come The Warm Jets” & “Taking Tiger Mountain” include jagged, futuristic pop songs like this which easily rank alongside the more cerebral glam rock 45s which were hits. A world where “Baby’s On Fire” & “Burning Airlines” were smasheroonies would be a better, more interesting place. There are tracks on the 2 subsequent solo LPs which could have sold a zillion too. Take a listen & decide which they are. A man with a brain the size of a planet, given an unlimited budget & a free run at the new video art…you know that just might have worked. Anyway, here is a clip of Eno in his medieval glam finery peddling his new single. It was not to become a regular thing.

” Shall I compare it to an atom bomb? a wrecker’s ball? a hydroelectric plant? Language wasn’t designed for the job.” (Robert Christgau on “Fun House”). The Stooges made art from chaos,  as an impressionable teenager I heard the first LP,  I read about Iggy in “Rolling Stone” & I was a little afraid. How great is that ? Scary music ! In the first half of the 70s rock became more subdued. Those LPs by the Stooges, the MC5 & the Flamin’ Groovies sounded pretty good compared to the soporific strains of Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles. The longer the decade went on the more Iggy & his gang improved..

There was a long gap &  Iggy, now David Bowie’s best buddy & a/the “Godfather of Punk”, released 2 LPs in 1977.  “The Idiot” & “Lust For Life” were his shot at showing he could do this music thing. After the contemplation of “The Idiot” he accelerated for the follow up. Surely everyone knows this title track from the first seconds of the Sales brothers stomping intro…a rock classic & no mistake. It was not a hit record. The sight of Iggy rolling around a TV studio, smeared with what I hope is ketchup, ripping up the potted plants, is really funny & the song will never sound less than great. TV could never capture his intensity in a lip-synched performance but he gives them the wild man routine & takes the piss. I love it. There is a contemporaneous live clip of Iggy performing in Manchester. He looks out at his audience & exclaims “I love this music !”. Watching, you believe him & share in his love…that’s proper Iggy !

Well…a Powerpop classic. From 1977’s “Greg Kihn Again” on the Beserkeley label, “For You” does for Bruce Springsteen what everybody was doing to Dylan songs in the 60s. I first encountered Kihn on the “Beserkeley Chartbusters Vol 1” LP which was Jonathon Richman’s first go-round too. I liked what I heard & though I bought too many Beserkeley records, “Again” is a cracker. It’s clean & clear with the opening Buddy Holly cover informing you that the heart of the record is in the right place. “Real Big Man”, “Madison Avenue”…a quality record. The Earthquake & Rubinoos LPs are at the back of the stack but Greg Kihn gets a regular airing. In the US he was the label’s biggest success. He got his Top 10 hit  with “Jeopardy” but I could not hear the freshness & enthusiasm of the first 2 records. The lamest naming sequence ever, a series of terrible puns, did not help but “Again” is all the Greg Kihn you really need. It’s great to find this quality clip of an old favourite by a good band. Less than 300 views….you are ‘kihn joking me (Oh no !).

People started growing, instead of being crushed and people started slowing down instead of being rushed (Carbon Silicon)

After 2 years away there is a new song & video from Carbon Silicon & that is nothing but good news. CS combines the talents of Mick Jones & Tony James, two guitarists who go way back to the days when all the London punks could fit into the The Roxy on Neal St. In fact Tony’s Generation X played at the club’s first gig while Mick’s Clash headlined the official opening. The video for “Big Surprise” is a modern take on the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” film, a snapshot of the diversity & warmth of the good people in our capital city.

There…that’s better isn’t it. Put some friends on to that. It’s a good way to start the day. Stripped down & simple, people who’s ears I trust (though perhaps not their other body parts) have drawn comparisons with the ballads of Mott the Hoople, Mick’s favourite band when he was a lad. “Big Surprise” sounds like the “Higher Power” LP released as Big Audio in 1994. I think that Mick had been ill & I enjoyed those back to basics songs like ” Light Up My Life” & “Modern Stone Age Blues”. If you were expecting anger & aggression then you can’t have been listening since “London Calling”. One of the many outstanding things about the Clash was that did not just rage at the world but sought answers & alternatives. It may be the case that “he, who fucks nuns, will later join the church” but the journey does not have to be from angry young man to grumpy old sod. Strummer & Jones’ lyrics have always had a positivity & if Mick has something to say about the 21st century then I am listening.

In 2007 Carbon Silicon released the best rock CD of the decade. “The Last Post” referenced guitar rock of the past 40 years, combined righteous punk anger with optimism & became the first music for years that I became a little obsessed by. It started like this…

Good morning here’s the news. All of it is good & the weather’s good. After 9/11 this was not the case. Western governments exaggerated the threat of Islamic terrorism & downright lied about Saddam Hussain’s weaponry so that we allowed both incursions into our civil liberties & the invasion of a couple of far-off countries. Movies & TV were rammed with super-heroes queuing to solve problems beyond us mortals. If it was not some end-times fantasy then it was a post-apocalyptic anarchic wasteland. Now I know, & so do you, that for the development of a meaningful class consciousness there needs to be not only a perceived opposition to Babylon but a meaningful alternative, a sense of how things could be better. In the first decade of this century you did not hear or see a lot about a future based on co-operation & consideration. One place I did hear it was from “Here Is The News” by Mick Jones & Tony James, a couple of concerned artists who knew it too.

The songs on “The Last Post” were , I think, based around the band jamming on their favourites. You can hear the Kinks, the Who, a quote from Fleetwood Mac. There’s an authoritative, anthemic, twin-guitar crunch but no retro-recrudescence of an old sound or of redundant punk poses. “National Anthem” is a considered invocation to parents, a recommendation that teaching children the difference between right & wrong is a good thing. I had an early version of this with James Jamerson’s “Grapevine” bass line (thank you Alan McGhee off of Creation Records) but samples need clearance & involve lawyers. I get the feeling that the two of them have had quite enough music business business thank you. These are modern day protest songs written by people who have knocked about a bit & still have something to say about the way things are. If it gets too much, if the arguments just wheel & come again  then, as the song goes, “What The Fuck”.

“Caesar’s Palace” is a brilliant re-write & update on “Lost In The Supermarket” one of the great Clash songs. It’s a contemplation on consumerism & its victory in our tarnished democracies. “The greatest crime was to fool all of the people to spend all of the time”. Oh yes…it is a wrong em boyo. This is another appeal to what may seem like common sense but it’s just not gonna happen. The closing lines…”Brought up in a world of Caesars Palace & the odds are a trillion to one & still I want some.”…nailed it. We don’t like it, we sneer at the excesses but we live in the material world & we would not say no to some of that stuff. “The Last Post” is full of good mature songs played by good mature people for…well, give it a listen. I was down my local record shop (now sadly closed) on the day this was released. it is still highly recommended. Ah here’s the “National Anthem” a manifesto for those veterans of the Punk Wars who are still trying to do the right thing.

The emphasis here has been on Mick Jones because I am a bit of a fan boy about the man. Tony James has been around a long time & maybe it is time that I got over Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I have a friend who knows that Tony is a legend & has been since Generation X. My friend actually gets paid for the words he writes…imagine that ! If Danny would like to select Mr James’ finest moments & add a few of those words the loosehandlebars budget could stretch to a quarter of Kola Kubes & a carton of Umbongo (Google them). We would be more than happy to include them here because Carbon Silicon has wrecked all that hanging about with the blatherskite Billy Idol & we need to know more.

The King Of Regal Zonophone (Denny Cordell 1969)

Denny Cordell was an outstanding record producer & a face on the 1960s British music scene. His 2 smash hits are big old units designed to impress the listener & to launch a new artist. There is though no trademark “Cordell Sound”, he just made records that sold a lot. By 1969 Denny had the run of a label operating under the giant, awash with Beatles money,  E.M.I. Here are 3 records, one produced by Cordell, the others by his company & released through the mellifluous imprint Regal Zonophone. Man, my favourite name for a label…ever !

Denny Cordell learned the ins, outs & roundabouts with Chris Blackwell at Island Records before getting an independent gig to produce the Moody Blues after they hit around the world with “Go Now”. After a #1 with Georgie Fame a hook up with publisher David Platz  gave him a year to make some records for Deram, Decca’s new “cool” label. 12 months later, after 2 Top 10 records for the Move & “A Whiter Shade of Pale”…well, you know how that one goes because skipping the light fandango was the dance craze of 1967, Denny could do whatever he wanted wherever he pleased. Regal Zonophone was known for Australian country & western or Salvation Army pop (strange but true !). It was revived solely for the records the Cordell organization wanted to release.

“A Salty Dog” is the title track of Procol Harum’s 3rd LP. When a group has a record like “Whiter Shade” it can be a tough act to follow. In an industry where merit is measured in sales rather than aesthetics it is unlikely that you are ever going to be that hot again. So commercial pressure on a  hastily assembled line-up, attempting to attain a tricky balance of blues & classica,l made for a rocky road. The follow-up 45 “Homburg” was, I thought, a cracker, the 2nd LP, with a 17 minute progressive rock suite, had more success in the US than in the UK. In 1969 Cordell was a busy man. He was, apparently, a hands-off producer anyway & Matthew Fisher, Procol’s organist was given the responsibility & did a good job.

“A Salty Dog” is a consistent, interesting record. It established Procol Harum as having more than just that song. Fisher, who took great pains to prove his entitlement to some “Whiter Shade” royalties, promptly left the group. The replacements reunited the members of the Paramounts, a band from the Beat Boom, & the guitar convolutions of Robin Trower came to the fore. The consolidation of this record allowed Procol to pursue a successful career for almost a decade only with tunes I don’t think I’ve heard.

Ha ! Any excuse to get the Move into one of these things. Tony Secunda, the band’s maverick manager, was a kindred spirit & lifelong friend of Cordell’s. Like Procol the Move crossed from Deram to Zonophone with the boss. “Curly” was the Brummies’ only single of 1969. Denny had produced all the 45s up to the unsuccessful but wonderful “Wild Tiger Woman”. This time the man who had run Deram, Mike Hurst, came on board for a one-off job for Zonophone. Hurst, a former member of the Springfields, was an innovative & interesting producer who’s ornate arrangements impressed this young boy. He merits & one day may get one of these of his own.

“Curly” is the lightest in tone of any Move single. 1969 was a transitional year for the group as Rick Price came in for Trevor Burton on bass for this song then singer Carl Wayne, who had always seemed a bit spare, left as well. Before the next record, “Brontosaurus”, Jeff Lynne was in & the seeds of the Electric Light Orchestra were sown. At this time my school played sport against a youth prison, a Borstal, like we saw in “Scum”. The kids there had their haircut very short while we were trying to dodge the barber for as long as possible. As we stepped off the coach the bad boy reception party sang “Curly” at us & I am unable now to separate the memory from the song.

In 1968 Denny Cordell produced a big hit for a new star. Joe Cocker, a former gas fitter from Sheffield, was of that same British provincial stock as Van Morrison & Eric Burden, a young white guy who wanted to be Ray Charles & developed his own unique voice. “With A Little Help From My Friends” was a pumped-up transformation of Ringo’s  “Sergeant Pepper’s” song. It was Joe’s 3rd UK single & it was time to make a mark. Joe had an extraordinary voice, the Grease Band a perfect back up; It was as a performer that his full impact was felt. The National Lampoon/John Belushi parody was called “Muscular Dystrophy”. The spasmodic, electrified jerks, the amazing voice coming from a Northern scruff…it could not fail.

Cordell needed material for his new star. He found it in Leon Russell who, after a time in Los Angeles with Spector’s Wrecking Crew, was simmering a fine pot of swampy Southern rocking soul with Delaney & Bonnie. This clip of “Delta Lady” shows how it works better than I can describe it. I bought this single in 1969, it rocks. Denny Cordell was having a busy time in that year. There was more to running a label than having an eye for new talent & an ear for a hit song. He did not have the time to work with the artists he had started with. It was Cordell, Cocker & Russell who were to share a path in the future. With this record, a startling appearance at Woodstock & 1970’s impressive Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour Joe was one of the biggest stars in the US.

This Regal Zonophone disc shows how many plates Cordell was having to keep spinning at the same time. Apart from E.M.I. there is the publisher Essex International. New Breed & Straight Ahead are both companies formed between Essex & Cordell. Why they are both on the label is confusing but maybe pounds, shillings & pence (ask your parents) has something to do with it. Well, Jimmy Miller produced the Move…I did not know that. Artistically Denny was assembling some real talent. He had brought over Tony Visconti as an apprentice & to produce Tyrannosaurus Rex. Both of them went on to bigger things. It is a lot of business on one small label & everyone would be looking to get paid. Cordell liked to get high, to make the scene. Even if he had good accountants you can bet the industry heavyweights had better ones.

In the New World with his new star & his new friends he saw the possibility of more freedom to make some music. He put some distance between himself & the wheeler-dealers & started Shelter Records with Russell. He was now the Lunar Teacake Snake Man, there were more hits & another whole strange new scene. That’s for another time (soon). There are other independent producers who get more attention but Denny Cordell was a free-wheeling guy who could spot, encourage & nurture talent on both sides of the recording desk. He made some records that we all know with some fine artists…respect !

Psych In Black And White. Beatles-Lite (1968)

By the mid-1960s, however assiduously the mass media tried to swing like a pendulum do, they just did not get it (and they still don’t). OK, the Beatles were bigger than Jesus but did “Magical Mystery Tour” have to be so strange ? The Stones only made the newspapers when one of the members got busted or died. In 1966 the 2 major music programmes on commercial TV were scrapped, A year later offshore radio stations which played records 24/7 were made illegal. As youth culture moved through Mersey Mop Top to Mod to Marijuana it was left to the BBC, with the weekly “Top of the Pops” & the new Radio 1, to supply our musical rations. The Beeb assured us it was very exciting but really it wasn’t. Something was happening but you don’t know…you get me.

In 1968 if you did not make the Radio 1 playlist then you did not get heard. I have a vague memory of the Breakfast Show clown choosing VU’s “Who Loves The Sun” as a Record of the Week but I think I must have dreamed that. A generation of children who received a guitar for Xmas 1963 were ready to make some records by 1968. There were a lot of them & there was not a one who had not been influenced by those Beatles boys. There were few opportunities for them on UK screens but, lucky for us there was a little room for some of Pop’s new wave on French TV.

Blossom Toes made LPs on either side of 1968 but neither sold many. In between times the band covered a Dylan song & released “Postcard”, a hoped-to-be chartbound sound which just wasn’t enough of an ear worm to stand out in a very competitive market. It’s a lovely slice of melodic whimsy, more pop than psych, definitely more McCartney than Lennon. Between their baroque, hashish harmonies & the acid dissonance of the 2nd LP the Toes nailed it with “Postcard”. Enough of us remember it but not too many of us bought it & the band broke up. Guitarist Brian Godding had one more try at pop with B.B.Blunder before becoming a noted player of (Jah help us) jazz-fusion. The other one, Jim Cregan played with a who’s who of British rock. Family, Cockney Rebel, Rod Stewart. He also married singer Linda Lewis (left)…lucky, lucky,lucky.

Kaleidoscope are another band remembered as being on the psychedelic side of the street but listening to my favourite of their singles “Jenny Artichoke” I am hearing a good pop song. the band were on it in 1967 with a debut 45 “Flight From Ashiya” (see Nuggets II) causing a ripple. Now I really like these British Love generation reveries, not as abrasive as acid-rock nor as experimental as the folk pixies. from the reaction of my friends I know that I am in a minority but I’m sticking with this, it’s fun. The same line-up morphed into Fairfield Parlour & “progressive rock” making less of an impact than the original band. Here is Kaleidoscope in their Carnaby finery. The clip may be from 1967 & loosehandlebars, as you know, is all about context & the real nitty-gritty.

In 1968 out there was getting further out & there was an audience who had little interest in this magical mystery music. They wanted shiny, happy music like the Beatles used to make. Nothing wrong with that &, of course,  if there is a demand then the market will supply it. In the US there was the rise of “bubblegum”, groups who were cartoons like the Archies or almost cartoons like the Monkees. In the UK there were new teen groups happy to replace those bands now “getting it together in the country”. The Beatles were always able to straddle any divide but it’s a pity that this new breed of pop kids did not quite catch the ear of a bigger audience. A little too much artifice perhaps, good pop records did not always need to over-elaborate & keeping it simple has always been a thing.

Absolutely Beatlesque, Grapefruit signed to the Fab 4’s label Apple & were named after Yoko’s book by John Lennon. The group got plenty of publicity from this connection & seemed set to make a mark. The 1st LP “Around Grapefruit” was pretty much all released on 45, “Yes” is, I remember, a double A-side with “Elevator”. Grapefruit’s mainman was George Alexander (born Alexander Young) who had stayed behind when his family emigrated from the UK to Australia. His younger brother George returned as a member of the brilliant Easybeats while 2 other brothers were in the mega-successful AC/DC. A talented bunch.

If there were a couple of hits they are best described as minor then 1969’s LP “Deep Water” was less distinctive. Before the end of the decade the group, like the previous 2, were done. By 1970 the generation that followed the Beatles had a keyboard player in the band & were making prog-rock. The clips of these bands are in colour too. To finish here is Grapefruit, suited & booted but phasing & flanging with the best of the pop-psych bands with “Dear Delilah”

 

New Music For May 2013

I have not featured for much new music recently because, of course, the new music is not as good as the…only joking…or am I ? It is that singular time in the year  that I find myself not only familiar with the #1 record in the UK but also tapping a toe along with it. Daft Punk have always made music which is good for the soul, good to throw shapes to & still sells in quantities. Sounds simple doesn’t it ? Then how come Will I Am & his acolytes continue to foist such lowest common denominator nonsense onto the world? This new music…bah !

Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is a modern take on disco, vocals by Pharrell Williams, a man once so ubiquitous that we were convinced that he must have, at least, a twin but probably a clone. Pharrell has calmed the heck down recently & produced Frank Ocean’s Album of the Year “Channel Orange” which, I am informed, is pretty, pretty good. However, the French band’s piece of resistance is to collaborate with the fliest of the fly, the most chic Nile Rodgers. A new fluid. infectious Rodgers’ guitar riff…I love “Get Lucky” now where’s that Sheila B Devotion 12 ” ?

So, if the 1980s are back & hot then Neon Neon’s new LP “Praxis Makes Perfect” (Oh yes !) could be the very thing. The Transatlantic duo, Boom Bip & Gruff Rhyss, cranked that handle they have in the front of bandwagons to start them in 2008 with their crackerjack concept album “Stainless Style”. Gruff is off of the Super Furry Animals, a band who’s 9 LPs have always been listenable with a sneaking suspicion that they were clever enough but maybe a little too much so to have ridden that Britpop tsunami of the late 20th century. Boom Bip ?…ah, you got me. “Stainless Style” relates the remarkable, ridiculous story of John DeLorean, the American car designer who’s DMC-12 model (made with stainless steel) featured in the best movie franchise there is because it convinced as a likely time machine. DeLorean’s demise involved the British Government, the IRA, the FBI, cocaine trafficking, money (of course) & a verdict of “not guilty”. You do not have to make this shit up !

A great story matched by a re-creation of 1980s synth-rock which is witty & creative without condescension. “Stainless” is a belter &, from what I have heard of “Praxis”,  Neon Neon’s return has been worth the wait. Music with imagination always hits the spot. The short & very sweet “Mid Century Modern Nightmare” is one of only 2 tracks I have heard but the guys seemed to have stretched the music while keeping to the synths & made some more sharp pop music. Be prepared to learn more about another contradictory individual, the Italian communist publisher Giangacamo Feltrinelli. But this is no stern history lesson. I can’t wait to hear “Hoops with Fidel” about playing basketball with a Cuban dictator. Smart stuff…out this week.

Another duo, debut LP out on May 6th. Public Service Broadcast cut up & sample old movies, archives, propaganda adding their own soundtrack. This track “Signal 30” re-cycles a 1959 US public safety warning, “Spitfire” uses a World War II film starring the wonderful Leslie Howard. It’s a good idea done well & the music reminds listeners of some good bands. I hear a little Neu ! in the repetitive insistency but, more than anything, I hear echoes of Colourbox, a favourite from the 1980s, & that is never a bad thing.

While US DJ/producers were concerning themselves with the breaks & the beats Colourbox were throwing film & TV samples into their tunes with a humour & an intelligence which those who followed were lucky to emulate. In 1987 they proved that where there’s a hit there’s a writ when the sample heavy “Pump Up The Volume” hit big. That was the end of Colourbox but Leftfield, Dreadzone, Underworld were listening & learning. It was not easy to get right, There are hip hop re-mixes by the likes of Coldcut & Junior Boys Own which are just clumsy & embarrassing. PSB sound as if they get it. They don’t try to throw too much into the mix &, after all, it is about the tune. Check for Public Service Broadcasting before they change that rubbish name.

A bit late on this one as Johnny Marr’s LP “The Messenger” has been around for a couple of months but I have not. My good friend Carl Holmes, bass player in Walsall’s foremost punk group the Crimefighters, likes to live an uncomplicated life & has managed to reduce the need to make a decision to around 3 times a year.Carl is a man of impeccable taste so when he does make one you  pay attention, He used one of 2013’s to give this a big thumbs up. Of course Johnny Marr is a bona fide British guitar hero. The Smiths were a fitting addition to the great Manchester bands & only fellow Mancs New Order give them a run for the outstanding British band of the 1980s title belt. The run of singles still thrills while the LPs feel like a bunch of songs which could have been hits.

There are books written about the Smiths so all I need to say is that Johnny Marr had listened to a lot of guitar music & he had it so down. He was Dave Davies to Morrissey’s brother Ray. Their combination, the frisson between their different ideas on perfect pop, made for some exciting records. If you think that the Smiths are just northern miserablists dominated by a self-indulgent singer/lyricist then you are wrong. Get off the Interwebs & get your ears sorted mate ! “Upstarts” is a fine start to a proper rock record. It isn’t “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” but then this new music, it isn’t….oh, as the young people text…STFU !