When There’s Things To Do Not Because You Gotta (Summer of 66)

The Summer of 1966 is a very strong contender for an inter-equinox/solstice type of deal Hall of Fame. At loosehandlebars we are often caught looking back but none of us have turned into pillars of salt because we are down with Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” No room for nostalgia here. With an unlikely cultural leap we summon “Dragnet”s Joe Friday,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. In that summer I was 13 years old. On the 30th of July England’s football team beat Germany’s 4 goals to 2 to become the Champions of the World. For 2 weeks in July the #1 record in the UK was “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks.

Image result for the kinks magazine coversThe charts belonged to the Beatles in the Summer of 66. When “Paperback Writer” was released in June the next double sided smash, “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”, had already been recorded. For the 6 weeks of non-Fab Four omniscience the chart-toppers were Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, the Troggs & the Kinks. Britpop carried the swing but acts were having to raise their game because the competition was unforgiving. You were only as good as your last single & who wants yesterday’s papers…you get me ? The Kinks had got the hit single thing absolutely down. After “You Really Got Me” 11 of the next 12 45s made the Top 10 (the other reached #11). There are some great songs in that run, “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” did not match the sales of the big guns but maybe should have. Ray Davies was developing an acerbic, more expansive (did I hear anyone say smug ?) style. “Well Respected Man” was a tentative start, “Dedicated Follower” was just original, funny & brilliant. “Sunny Afternoon” is a multi-layered satire on either the old Imperial aristocracy or the nouveau rock rich & the reaction to Government tax policy. It is a Lovin’ Spoonful song with added cynicism. It is 4 pints in a British beer garden, the dolly birds in their mini dresses. It is languid, lovely & it was everywhere.

There was no cricket season in 1966. Well not until the football was done with. This was the first & the only World Cup to be staged in Britain in my lifetime. It was the first one when TV technology & space hardware meant that the whole world (except the USA) really was watching. My friends & I kicked a ball about all day, new international heroes to admire & to emulate, before watching 2 games in the evening. The first week saw a great victory for Hungary over the champions Brazil. My Uncle Erno, a refugee from the 1956 uprising, was able to show his pride & his enthusiasm for his country for the first time since he fled…splendid. England became the World Champions at the first tournament I had watched so carefully. It seemed to be the natural order of things, Swinging London would surely always be the cultural centre of the world. I wish someone had told my 13 year old self that I should appreciate & relish England’s victory because it would NEVER bloody happen again in my life !

Image result for the who magazine coversThe Who, like the Kinks, were on an inspired run of singles & were reliant on the creativity of a single member of the group. Ray Davies & Pete Townshend were intelligent but fragile talents who did not react well to the demands of their musical partners, business associates & audience. Their respective autobiographies are a litany of complaint, dissatisfaction, even damage when they were living the dream of so many. It may have been tough, it may have been hell but man, it produced a shed load of fantastic, original, world class pop songs. “I’m A Boy” was released in August 1966, the first of a twisted, thrilling trilogy of hit singles. Pete was already beyond his smashed/blocked Mod anthem phase & this clip shows the confidence & talent of the whole band. Not yet the best rock & roll band in the world but maybe on their way. Most of Pete’s work seems to have been part of a more ambitious song cycle. It took some time before he was able to balance the rock operas & the hit singles. “Happy Jack” & “Pictures Of Lily” kept the Who in the Top 10, these strange & wonderful songs of adolescence. I was never dressed as a girl by my mother but…”I wanna play cricket on the green. Ride my bike across the stream.Cut myself and see my blood.I wanna come home all covered in mud”. I was 13 years old & so did I.

Our family holiday was 2 weeks long in 1966. We usually had a week in a caravan (I loved it) but this year we went further for longer & stayed in a B&B. Did we have more money ? I have not the slightest idea ! As the eldest of 5 I had 3 younger brothers to play with/look after. No problem, I loved them then & still do now. My parents arranged for my best friend to join us for the 2nd week as company for me. Y’know I thought that was great then but now…how cool & kind were my folks. Wink & I had a great time. On a rainy day my Dad took us to a snooker hall, a wonderful fuggy place of dim light, green baize, stale smoke. A man’s place. He paid for our game & left us alone to our Fast Eddie Felson fantasies…we loved it. In 1966 there were still illegal pirate radio stations in the UK. Our Yorkshire resort had one moored nearby so reception was loud & clear. In the evenings we took a radio to the cliffs & we listened to a lot of music. Released on the same day as “Eleanor Rigby” & its successor at # 1 was this classic.

Mod was provincial by 1966. Those sharp dressed young men of 1963 inspired by an R&B existentialism were moving from purple hearts to Gold Lebanese, to a new dandyism supplied by Carnaby St boutiques. Out here on the perimeter an army surplus parka, a scooter & a liking for Tamla Motown got you into the club. Hey, it was OK, working class kids still wanted to look sharp, there was still plenty of business for the local tailor, but the first steps from Hard Mod to Skinhead were being taken. In 1966 the Small Faces were absolutely the top Mod band in the UK. They took up permanent residence in the Top 10 with 4 singles & every day of the year they looked as great as this. Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane learned how to write the pop/R&B belters & “All Or Nothing” was their biggest hit. They were becoming a great band but things were changing by the end of the year.

Image result for small faces magazine coversIn May 1966 the Beatles played their last UK concert. There was anyway, a new generation of young girls looking for their own idols. The Small Faces were all good looking boys, they attracted screaming teenyboppers to their gigs when being heart throbs was no longer quite the thing. There was not a lot of money around, they helped themselves to the best clothes in London, living the life while the bills were sent to the manager. When the band’s parents called on Don Arden he grassed them up about the marijuana habit…oh oh. Keyboard player Ian McLagan got busted which hampered US visas at an important time. The band did get away from Arden. He sent his heavies to dangle one potential suitor from a window but they went with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham & his new label Immediate. Still no money but still the talent & interesting times ahead.

We were back at school when the Small Faces were at #1. In that same chart was “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” & “Working In A Coal Mine”. Soul Heaven…sitting on those cliffs, with my best friend, listening to Wilson Pickett shriek “1-2-3 !” that was great. There have been better summers, great places, great times & people but I doubt that there has been a better soundtrack. The day after my Dad took us to the snooker hall it rained again. He asked us what we wanted to do. We said that we wanted to go back there again. He was not too keen but we said, hey, you pay & leave us to it. It’s said that an ability to play a decent game of snooker is the sign of a misspent youth. Well we were doing the best we could back then.

Bam Bam and the Calling (Slight Return)

Last Friday night in Derry my brothers-in-melodic post punk-pop Bam Bam & the Calling stepped onto a stage for the first time in a twelvemonth. The catalyst for this occasion (& it is an occasion) was to celebrate the life of their friend Sean Semple who unfortunately died in July of this year at the terribly premature age of 56. I did not know Sean but it is obvious from the tributes paid & the memories shared about him that a room full of family, friends & music was absolutely the best way of acknowledging a good man & a life lived well. Here from “A Night For Sean” is Bam Bam & the Calling playing “New Surroundings”. These men have been my friends for a long time, they would know if I was shooting them a line. This two chord wonder from back in the day still kicks ass !

Just as there is much respect for Sean in Derry it is the same for the band. The younger musicians of the city know how long these guys have been together & how good they are. My man Fergal Corscadden of the Gatefolds knows it was a great gig while Paul Connolly of the Wood Burning Savages, a band which makes a lovely & interesting noise deserving a wider audience, raved “Bam Bam & The Calling were incredible tonight. Masters of their craft. Watching them is a treat that cannot be measured”. And that’s the truth Ruth !

For a band who plays just once a year there has been other recent activity for Bam Bam. First the Irish music blog, the Fanning Sessions Archive, excavated a session from January 1987. Dave Fanning is a great radio DJ, the Irish equivalent of John Peel. I’m sure that it was a deal for the young band to record the session. “Secret Meeting” is short, sweet & as jangly as the guys ever sounded. Good memories brought back by a tune I have not heard for a long time but has been the song of my weekend

In a dusty attic there is a dusty chest which contains my krusty kassette  which holds a recording taken from the sound desk when Bam Bam & the Calling headlined a gig at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, London. The Fiddler was the only reason to go to Harlesden in the late 1980s. It was a bigger than a pub, a proper rock club, a vanishing breed as gentrification & dance club culture took hold. An old friend of the band went up into his dusty attic this week & his visit produced cuttings from the Melody Maker which reviewed a Bam Bam gig at the Fiddler in August 1986. “…THE surprise package of this entire week, starting off as if we all had only 15 minutes left to live & it was going to be spent reeling under a superbly effective barrage of truly manic pop thrills”. Y’know it really was like that.

Thanks to Jim Cunningham there are more clips of Friday night to appear on the Y-tube. I am tempted to slap them all onto the blog of course but,if you want to see & hear four men who are happy doing what they’re doing, happy doing it right then you are just a couple of clicks away. You are all intelligent people you know what to do. It is a pity that it was such an unhappy event which caused the gig to be arranged. I know that singer/guitarist Paul was affected deeply by the loss of his friend. I hope that by coming together with those who knew & love him to mark his passing & to honour his life that the memories of Sean will be good ones. I also know that Sean loved music & loved Van Morrison so maybe this belongs here for him. Peace.

I Like To Dance Like The Dickens To The West Texas Waltz (Joe Ely)

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Joe Ely & his band came to the UK in 1980 to tour as support to the Clash. There could be no cooler endorsement. Joe had released 3 LPs but they were pretty well-kept secrets over here. It was his heavy friends what got him on to the cover of the NME. “The acceptable face of C & W”, wrote some know-nothing sub-editor for whom the release of “Never Mind The Bollocks” was Year Zero. Well, with the ” the charge… the bolt… the buzz… the sheer fuck off-ness of it all” (© Don Logan) MCA recorded a London gig by the full on, honky-tonk-on-speed boys. “Live Shots”captured a great Texan band. Ponty Bone (accordion), Jesse “Guitar” Taylor & Lloyd Maines (pedal steel) all knew their way around both the country & the rock. There were,really, only 2 cowpunk groups & this is one of them.

“Shots” did not get a US release for a year. The record label was trying to position Joe as a next generation country outlaw troubadour but a young man who grew up in Lubbock, Texas, onstage with an electric guitar & crackerjack band was going to be grokking the spirit of Buddy Holly…no doubt, Joe was ready to rock. He rolled with his new popularity & worked the band harder than they wanted. His next band had hot shot guitarist David Grissom, as good as anyone, Joe did tend to get a little carried away, a little more Jerry Lee than Buddy. The showy, super bar band music was good stuff but it was the quality of the songs he recorded which reminded you that Joe was still a contender.

Before the solo deal there was the Flatlanders, Lubbock boys looking to Austin, the centre of the Texas music scene. Besides Joe the other members were not only talented men but were his lifelong friends. “Boxcars” is written by Butch Hancock, a man who has ploughed his own furrow for some time. After the wonderfully titled “West Texas Waltzes & Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes” his solo releases were cassettes sold at gigs. He is a sensational songwriter, Joe has recorded plenty of them, world-weary does not always do Butch Hancock justice, man those sad songs of his are properly sad. Man, Butch sounds like he’s seen some things. Jimmy Dale Gilmore went from the Flatlanders to an ashram. It was 1988 before he made his own records. Again Joe was able to use some of those early Jimmy Dale songs. If J.D. had done nothing more than appear as Smokey in “The Big Lebowski” (“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules”) then that would have been enough.

It was another live LP. “Live At Liberty Lunch” (1990) which put Joe Ely back on my sound system. The introductory solo, cocky, funny, “Me & Billy the Kid” segues into the rocking “Are You Listening Lucky”, two self-penned songs showing two different sides to Joe. There are no Greatest Hits but there is a set of tried & trusted crowd pleasers/floor fillers that the band knew inside out & Joe knew better. I lost my cassette copy of the LP & bought the CD. If I needed some great Texas country music then this has been a go-to record for some time now.  Here’s a version of the finely titled “Driving To the Poorhouse In A Limousine” from Farm Aid in 1986 with Grissom doing his thing & the all-time great saxophone of Bobby Keyes doing his.

This version of “Billy” is from later, from, as you can see, a comfy sit-down gig with John Hiatt & Lyle Lovett. In the 1990s Joe did a lot of solo gigs & a lot of gigs with a lot of Texan musicians. He entered the 21st century as a near-40 year veteran, dues had been paid & he got his as an elder of his musical tribe. Tours with Lyle & Guy Clark placed him with the heavy hitters, he started to release his records on his own label, Rack ‘Em Records. You can take the man out of the pool hall but…you get me. In 2002, 30 years after that lost first LP, he got the band back together.

Oh yes ! Joe Ely , on the steps of the Texas State Capital, playing a terrifically restrained but powerful version of  “Well Alright”, one of my favourite Buddy Holly songs (well, Top 20 at least). The Flatlanders, Joe, Jimmy Dale & Butch, were well received & the group lived up to the promise of their reputations. The music, 3 new LPs, is a little more traditional, even folkier. Made by musicians who have known each other for so long, who know they are writing for a wider audience, the music has an authority & an appeal. I could have picked a Flatlanders’ clip, “Sowing On the Mountain” is an absolute earworm while “Because Of The Wind”, an old song of Joe’s, is just nailed. “Well Alright” gets it because I hear the rock & roll/country tradition of the Texan flatlands flexing its muscles in 2007 while reaching back 50 years to Buddy Holly, the guy with a guitar from Lubbock  who inspired so many young musicians. Music for grown ups yeah.

Oh right…the other cowpunk band is Jason & the Scorchers, but you knew that right.

100-Proof Women, ‘n’ 90-Proof Whiskey, ‘n’ 14-Carat Gold? (Richard Brooks)

In 1955, Jacques Rivette, a pioneer of French new wave cinema, wrote in the magazine Cahiers du Cinema that Richard Brooks was one of the 4 auteurs of modern American cinema. Brooks’ film “The Blackboard Jungle” (1955) introduced rock & roll to Hollywood & it proved to be an eruptive combination. The story of an idealistic new teacher (Glenn Ford) & his delinquent students (a breakout by Sidney Poitier) attracted a large & exuberant teen audience. In the UK there was a “moral panic” when it became quite the thing for the local Teddy Boys to riot during the film. “Jungle” became MGM’s biggest box office of the year &, naturellement, the dollar shouts louder than some garrulous French critic in “The Big Orange” (What !). Richard Brooks got to make bigger films now.

He spent a decade at MGM. He learned that the short rein of studio control meant that his original screenplays got chewed up by the movie-making machinery. Brooks became known as a talented adaptor of dramatic & literary works. Any writer who attempts to wrestle “The Brothers Karamazov” on to celluloid is going to be a long shot to pin “the most significant novel ever written” (Sigmund Freud). There were more successful undertakings, with MGM & independently, before a lavish & long-planned project missed it’s target audience & lost a lot of money.

Richard Brooks followed “The Brothers K” with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, a Tennessee Williams adaptation which made Paul Newman a star. His first stab at independent production was the outstanding “Elmer Gantry” (1960) from a Sinclair Lewis novel. Burt Lancaster’s charismatic huckster won the Oscar as did the director’s screenplay. After another Williams drama Brooks followed his dream & threw a lot of money at his take on “Lord Jim” (1965). Cinematic versions of books by Joseph Conrad are not always easy…ask Francis Ford Coppola. The film was made in the UK & on Far East locations, Peter O’Toole headed a talented cast. Brooks pinched David Lean’s star cinematographer Freddie Young, he was definitely going after that “Lawrence Of Arabia”/”Doctor Zhivago” market. The broad sweep of history in these 2 hit films was not matched by the Malay tribal wars of “Lord Jim” however beautifully shot. Conrad will give you an adventure but you also get a dark heart. Even Omar Sharif would sweat to make  “the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow” into mass entertainment. Richard Brooks learned that you can lose a pile of your money with an independently produced epic flop. He needed to work fast.

“The Professionals” (1966) is a Western where a Gang of Four, an A-Team, ride into Mexico  a whooping and a whopping every living thing that moves. There are great hats, great guns, baroque explosions, whip-crack-away dialogue, so much good stuff. Oh & there is Claudia Cardinale…oh my. Lee Marvin was 40 years old & silver-haired before he got to play title roles. In “Cat Ballou” he displayed a range not shown in 15 years as Hollywood’s best tough guy in western (“…Liberty Valance”) or gangster flicks (“The Big Heat”). It was his time, Rico Farden was the first of 3 roles that made him the kind of actor that guys like me love. We all knew how good Burt Lancaster was in Mexico, we had seen him steal “Vera Cruz” in 1954. Robert Ryan looked after the horses while watching & learning for his part in “The Wild Bunch”. Woody Strode,as the scout/archer, was quietly tougher than tough. The Dozen were dirtier, the Seven magnificent but this is a great cinematic outfit in pursuit of Raza,  Jack Palance’s mad, bad guy.

In 1966 “El Dorado” was a re-make of “Rio Bravo” by the same director, Howard Hawks. This time around Robert Mitchum played the drunk, James Caan is Ricky Nelson & John Wayne, with the help of a wig & a corset, he played John Wayne. It is a good film but it is rooted in the tradition of the great 1950s westerns. Richard Brooks had a brand new bag.  Something was happening & Howard Hawks did not know what it was.”The Professionals” is a harbinger of not only the new westerns of Peckinpah & Leone but of a new style of cinema. I loved it when I was 13 years old & I still love it. Did I say that Claudia Cardinale is in it ? Oh my, oh my.

Brooks was back on it, his next film was the hottest literary property of the day. “In Cold Blood” is the magnum opus of Truman Capote. The author’s propensity for self-promotion & doubts about the veracity of his reportage have clouded both Capote’s & the book’s reputation. The pellucid prose, matched by few novelists or journalists, meant that the “true account of a multiple murder & its consequences” became an international best seller & a pioneer of both the style & faction of New Journalism.

Brooks was chosen by Capote to adopt his novel for the screen. By electing to film a story of small town USA (Holcomb, Kansas, 1959) in black & white, then to cast two unknown actors in the lead roles, the director went against the prevailing Hollywood snazz. There’s a noirish element to “In Cold Blood” as well as a touch of documentary. The story of the two young murderers is told in flashback, though we know the outcome Brooks is a more thancapable navigator of a disturbing story. Quincy Jones’ Oscar nominated soundtrack does its thing too. This is the benchmark of true-crime movies.

Richard Brooks never got this good again. He directed only 3 films in the 1970s. One of these, “$” (1971)stars Warren Beatty & Goldie Hawn…anyone ? There was a return to the western, with Gene Hackman & “Bite The Bullet”, that definitely merits another look. For 10 years he made intelligent, challenging, adult cinema including one of my favourite westerns of all time, a tough list to get on to. He’s a Face.

I’m Having The Time Of My Life Or Something Quite Like It (Elvis Costello in London1996)

There seemed to be something distinct about London’s summer in 1996. I was working in the belly of the beast, maintenance work on the head offices of a major financial institution smack dab in the middle of the City. A front row seat at the less than brilliant parade of Thatcher’s Children, now grown. The suburban spawn who had fallen hook, line & stinker for voodoo economics. Kids with such a limited world view that their ambition was to be a Yuppie. Technology called the shots, made the scene. Now there were factory farms, batteries of drones tethered to their flickering screens, all eager to make, at least, the weekly vigorish demanded by their masters. You walked into these barns built with imaginary money & were hit by a wave of body odour, with more than a note of desperation. Hey, we got fooled, kicked in the nuts, why should they be any different ?

So what can a wannabe rich boy (or girl) do ? Of course cocaine (God’s way of telling you you have too much money) & alcohol, lots of it, was compulsory. The default setting for these people was to talk a lot of wind. After work, drink in hand, they did the same, only faster. But then there were the pub singalongs ! I don’t really remember those before this year.

June 1996 was the month that Football Came Home. The UEFA European Championships was the first tournament in England in 30 years (of hurt). Football support had mainly been the preserve of working class men but  the national team’s relative success & a subsequent media blitz widened the sport’s appeal. Now everybody & your Auntie followed a team & were not backward in coming forward with their opinions…why I oughta ! London really was Party Central in June. Cafe culture arrived on the pavements as the crowds spilled from packed boozers. Traffic was adorned in bunting, nationalistic maybe but reclaiming the flag of St George from the racist, right-wing meatheads. No flags round our yard but it was open house for anyone who showed up with beer & munchies. And there was a song…“Three Lions” was by 2 comedians who did have some football cred & the bloke from the Lightning Seeds. You know the word “ubiquitous” well that’s what it was. It was sung at the games, in the bars, on the bloody street & got right on your nerves after about 2 days.

The Euros finished & what were we to do. The English found that they liked a song along with their skinful. Even my cynical circle enjoyed the more frequent gatherings. There was no option but to Party On !

The next weekend after the Final found us at the Roundhouse to see Elvis Costello…a double result. EC had not played the old “Great Circular Engine House” in Camden Town since 1978. Not many people had. I attended a benefit in a small space there featuring the varied talents of Vanessa Redgrave & Lene Lovitch just before it closed in 1983. It is a beautiful building, friends have good memories of wasted days & nights, trying & failing to find a corner. Newly redeveloped it had to be checked for. Had Elvis been redeveloped too ? It was difficult to maintain such a high standard of wordplay as swordplay (OK I pinched that) & punishing, er, puns (that’s mine). His work with the Brodsky Quartet & the 1995 curatorship of the Meltdown Festival was not lacklustre but did lack a little lust. We wanted to see our boy pump it up & we were not disappointed.

Another attraction of the gig was that the 3 Attractions were around. Bruce Thomas may have been a paid up member of the Awkward Squad but he was Elvis Costello’s bass player. In the 1970s we had seen the 4 of them invent New Wave before our very eyes. The 1986 Royal Albert Hall concerts introduced us to the Spinning Song Wheel, an element of vaudeville, a sense of humour beyond those with an eye on world domination (Springsteen & U2). This tour was a big European thing, the new LP “All This Useless Beauty” was hardly classic but 20 years of songwriting was just that. There are 7 Costello records which make my all-time Top 5 but by 1996 maybe people had forgotten just how much they liked him. That Saturday night we had a few beers in Camden, mooched across the road, paid at the door & watched a giant of UK music deliver a mighty show.

“It’s Time” was the 24th song of the night (“Accidents…” 19th) before “Alison” & “Peace, Love…” sent us home smiling & singing. We had seen an authoritative, assured bunch who had a mountain of songs & were ready to take them anyway, anyhow, anywhere they chose. It was tough to pick out highlights. The ever-present “Clubland” is always a contender, “Shipbuilding” always beautiful, “You Belong To Me”…thank you. Back in the world rock music was the mainstream for the first time in a long time but it was not this lovely stuff that was being carried shoulder-high through the streets.

The 1995 Britpop Battle of the Bands was purely a media brouhaha, a pile of toss. Who wins ? Who cares ? One year past it was Oasis, those Beatles Burglars, who were everywhere. This Summer 3.6 million applied for 300,000 tickets at a couple of their mega-gigs. “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory” was selling 22 million copies. The LP would be played in pubs & a spontaneous serenade went off. No song sheet or conductor, people knew this stuff. I knew that these Lennon Larcenists made a noise which was reassuringly familiar & ordinary, comfort music but I had never before heard rock music, guitar music, make such an impression on the predominant popular culture. I had spent a lot of time on licensed premises too.

Now “Educating Rita” is not a great film but the scene in a pub on a noisy Saturday night when Rita’s mother is upset because “there must be better songs to sing than this” has always resonated. Here’s just a suggestion, a song written by Mark E Smith & Stephen Hanley about an earlier Madchester beat boom but absolutely prescient about Britpop’s mundanity.

I was not that chump who sat in the saloon bar on the outside of things…watching, judging. I’m British, I’m as hedonistic as the next guy & the next guy is going to end the night in a pool of piss & vomit (maybe not his own). I know him, he’s my friend. So when my very good friend, let’s call her Sue, invited me to a party round hers on a Friday night I assumed that 5 hours in the pub would be the ideal foundation for a good time. Unfortunately my definition of a party is at variance with Sue’s. The late arrival of 5 inebriate pleasure seekers at what can charitably be described as a stoned soiree was not appreciated at all. I did not realise that my friend had such insipid intimates but they did not deserve to have their night interrupted by my misjudgment. I was a barbarian, a beer monster & I was in big trouble.

My penance was an endless stream of apology, the purchase of a new hammock (I broke the old one…don’t ask) & a promise to take Sue to the next Elvis Costello & the Attractions gig. In the 3 weeks since a great night out at the Roundhouse there had been a media blitz & 4 other London gigs. The 27th of July return to the Roundhouse was the end of the European tour & the word was out about what a force EC & the Attractions still were. Unfortunately the word did not reach me until about 12 hours before the concert. That walk up of 3 weeks ago was not to be repeated, this gig was sold out & if I did not get myself together then I was going to be the guy who made promises that he could not keep.

Sue knew that tickets were hard to come by but I let her simmer & told her nothing. I had worked the phones all afternoon with little success. I knew that there would be touts (scalpers) around but that would be expensive & a little sleazy. We walked up to the Roundhouse box office past a long queue of ticket holders. I gave my name, a “plus one” &was given the nod. We were in, no money had changed hands. One of my partners in the previous week’s faux-pas had told me his mother was working the catering for the gig. A couple of phone calls got me to her & I explained my predicament. She knew about our lack of social grace & that  favour from her could improve my standing. We were on the guest list, Sue was impressed & I was on the way, at least, to forgiveness.

What a night it was. “You Bowed Down” the 2nd song of the first of 3 encores, the 21st of a 32 song set. The band segued their own songs into covers of the Stones, Dylan, the Isley Brothers. It was a tour of the force that had made Elvis & his gang the most creative & interesting act in Britain for a long time. After this Costello went on to pursue an ambition to play every musical style in the world with every musician alive. That’s OK because this night he showed he had the rock & roll down. The Roundhouse did it’s thing too, we stepped over the prone bodies of punters who had partied like it was 1969. You never got this at the Barbican !

In the Summer of 1996 I spent too much time with a blank generation who’s idea of a good time seemed to me to resemble a sketch by George Grosz. Maybe alcohol was back as the drug of choice after 5 years of “E’s & whizz”, I’m not sure., I was pissed. I saw Elvis Costello & the Attractions play 2 fantastic concerts. The football ?…our £5 each way on Czechoslovakia at 66-1 was looking scintillating when they were 20 minutes away from winning the thing. Mmm…440 reasons to dislike the Germans ! Peace.

If You Really Love Me Buy Me A Shirt (The Freshies)

Michael Fassbender, crazy German name, crazy Irish guy, is as hot as any film actor in the world today. The title role in Ridley Scott’s movie “The Counselor” is done & dusted. The new X-Men, a Terence Malick joint, “Macbeth”,as the Thane, “Prometheus 2”, possibly “Assassin’s Creed”. Hot, hot, hot. Busy, busy busy. Then there’s “Frank” currently in post-production & the one of this long & heavyweight list which is most likely to get my cash. The imaginative yet deranged character of Frank Sidebottom, a naif with a papier-mache head from Timperley in Cheshire, was created by Chris Sievey. Frank was an endearing, hilarious character to whom I am most partial, a luminary in the pantheon of British comedy. There are those who fail to discern humour in his work…well…move right along because we probably disagree on a whole bunch of stuff. Anyway, before Frank there was Chris Sievey & there was the Freshies.

Young Chris really, really, wanted to be a pop star. At just 16 he hitch-hiked to that London with his brother, headed for Apple HQ & demanded to see a Beatle ! They left after playing a song to the head of A&R then heard no more. You know, I really do hope that that story is true. By 1974 Chris had a scrapbook full of rejection letters & his own Razz label on which he released his cassettes. By 1978 the Freshies were a band & their tunes were being pressed on vinyl. The optimistic “Straight In At Number 2” EP failed to live up to its’ name but the 6th single released by the band in 1980 (those were the days !) stood out from a crowded market & got itself played on the radio.

“I’m In Love With The Girl On The Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk” is a powerpop companion to the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love…”. It charges along & has a similar Mancunian self-deprecating humour. The record was picked up by a major label, the brand name removed from the title &, 40,000 sales later, reached #54 in the UK charts. That was a commercial high point,as  good as it got for the band & I’m just not sure why. “I’m In Love…” is a good song but  there are songs like “Tell Her I’m Ill” with a little less novelty, the same dry humour, which pack a punch & deserve a hearing.

“Wrap Up The Rockets” was the follow-up. It’s just as good but perhaps nuclear disarmament or annihilation doesn’t appeal as much as unrequited love. I certainly did not know much about this song until recently (Jah bless the Internet). There is a Y-tube clip of the band playing this at a “Rock Against the Missiles” gig in Alexander Park, Manchester 1981. It’s tipping down, the audience are getting wet through & the sound is poor. Just another grand day out with the Freshies. “Scrap our defence plans. That’s 12 grand each for everybody in the UK. I’d buy a sports car but I wouldn’t go far just go to Rhyl”. That is good stuff & it is funny stuff, with a musical tip of the hat to Thin Lizzy too.

“I Can’t Get Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes” is another song of  Freshies’ frustration. This time it’s not a girl but a rare record which is out of reach, maybe it’s a metaphor. This was the last of the 3 singles released by MCA, a third strike & the band was back on the Razz. There were other releases but if the Freshies did ever have a shot then the opportunity had gone. Those wry songs concerning life’s small but vexatious torments could break through. Chris would loved to have been as big as Squeeze, hell, he may have settled for one hit like Splodgenessabounds. Anyway this time we get to actually see Chris & the band & that’s great. Any poignancy regarding the stymied record collector is undermined by the “Boing, Boing” refrain but the Freshies liked things to be funny.

There were a couple of solo records in 1982/3. “Camouflage” is a 7″ single with 3 programs for the Sinclair ZX81 home computer written by Chris. There are 2 versions of a game, “Flying Train”, & a video for the aforementioned song. Any of you familiar with this antediluvian form of technology will know that hardly any of the attempts to load the program were successful. Here are the fruits of a very painstaking obsessive’s labour, doing things we don’t understand with machines of which we have even less comprehension. A similar device was used later by Pete Shelley on his electro “XL-1”. This is the 2nd brush with the Buzzcocks on this post…no coincidence.

There are bands who have recorded just one song as good as “Camouflage” & are regarded as powerpop paragons. In 2005 Cherry Red Records compiled “The Very Very Best of the Freshies: Some Long & Short Titles”. It is 23 tracks that got away. There was no more music from Chris. In 1984 he put on the papier-mache head & embraced his inner Frank Sidebottom. It’s a pity that the Freshies were overlooked but a world without Frank would be a worse place. You know it would, it really would. Thank yew !

Stepping In And Out Of That Manchester Beat

The first fulmination of British Beat music is always going to be known as Mersey Beat. Brian Epstein may have thought that his lovable Mop Tops had the potential to make a record or two but he also managed a stable of Scousers ready to follow the ‘Pool pathfinders into the chart limelight flaunting their provincialism, their youth, their “fab” & “gear” & “wacker”, their swinging blue jeans. Down the East Lancashire Road, at the other end of the North West megalopolis, Manchester, Liverpool’s civic & commercial rivals since the Industrial Revolution, had to watch as the British youth coup which spread across the world’s turntables had a distinctive Merseyside twang. Now, 50 years later, Manchester’s musicians have made their mark on our music but their beat group hit-makers were a little exiguous.

The Hollies were bang on it from the very start. The first 45s were the R&B covers from their stage act, lively Coasters harmonies, the music stripped to a basic beat . Success was incremental until Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” took them to the Top 3. From record 1 the b-sides were their own songs. “Now’s The Time” is credited to Graham Nash & Allan Clarke (for the next record Tony Hicks would join in). It is the flip of “Stay” & is featured in the 1963 film “It’s All Over Town”, a forgotten flim-flam which was passing its sell-by-date as it was filmed. What an early shot of the group, the leather look was not a great one, they still have the original drummer, Don Rathbone & their pre-Fab Four haircuts. The song though is a simple variation on the Lennon & McCartney template showing that the Hollies were quick learners.

The band were certainly helped by the production talents of Ron Richards but they made the smart moves at the right time. they began to record original songs, the move across the Atlantic in 1966 made them very successful. So many of those first beat groups were left behind after that first energy burst. The Hollies were better than most , they were talented & had got it going on. More from them soon.

The Swinging Sixties had not yet been declared open when, in 1961, George Formby, a singer/comedian who had been the UK’s highest paid entertainer, passed away. Formby’s appeal was not too apparent to my generation, novelty songs, an innocent demeanour, an exaggerated accent, a “Lancashire half-wit” said one Liverpudlian (though George Harrison was a fan). Peter Noone, a young actor from Manchester was 16 years old when he had his first #1 hit as the singer of Herman’s Hermits.  When he was just 17 (you know what I mean) he & his group had 7 Top 10 hits in the US. Peter was cute, America was in thrall to a rampant Anglophilia, The songs were R&B covers,( think Pat Boone “Tutti Frutti”) or novelty songs, the syrupy “Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”, a Cockney knees-up, “I’m Henry the Eighth I Am”, which were both awful & both hit #1. Peter was innocent, he exaggerated his northern accent & the Yanks just ate him up. What the…? I have no idea what any of the Beatles thought of him.

Mickie Most, the band’s producer, kept the hits coming until the end of 1967 when Peter handed over the title of Sweet Young Mancunian Boy to Monkee Davy Jones. The Hermits still had access to hit songs & had continued success in Europe. Before the Top 10 hits stopped they released this version of “Dandy”. The clip is from “The Dean Martin Show” & OK the song has been sedated & de-clawed, “Well Respected Man” it is not. It is, though, a Ray Davies song at #5 in the US charts & that is a thing.

Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders took that same ride to the top of the US charts. It must have been such a blast for these young men who had grown up in the black & white world of 1950s Britain. “The Game Of Love”, a song by an interesting American writer, Clint Ballard Jr, was the group’s 2nd UK hit & a #1 in the USA. Man, if you were British & in a band in 1965 you were a prince !. So Wayne Fontana (erm, Glyn Ellis) had his head turned & split from the backing group. He did have some smaller hits in the UK but there was an increasing look of desperation in the man’s eyes with each attempt to recapture past glories. Instead, would you Adam & Eve it, the backing group hit paydirt with their very first record post-Wayne. “A Groovy Kind Of Love” is a hit record waiting to happen, an easy lope through one 2-minute hook. Whoever got hold of the song first was the winner. It was a sign of the 1965 times that a young British band, with no great track record, got first refusal of a new American tune. The Mindbenders were not able to repeat their success but were around until 1968. Singer/guitarist Eric Stewart had learned the ropes, used his earnings to build a studio just outside Manchester & came right on back with 10cc. Wayne Fontana came around in 2005 in some weird-ass court case.

And that is about it for Manchester 60s hit-makers. Freddie & the Dreamers were around too but that line between child-like & childish was very quickly crossed…not great. There are those who claim Georgie Fame but he was from Leigh, close but not a Manc. John Mayall played in his first blues bands in the city but he, like Georgie, had to leave for London to find the scenes they wanted. Hey, it was just a short time & the Hollies are just the first of a line of great groups from a music city. It just stung a little that all that music was coming from just 30 miles up the road.

Who Are The Trusted?, And Where Is The Harmony?,(Brinsley Schwarz)

Kippington Lodge, a British pop-psych group, hit the buffers in 1969. Even that trusty stand-by of the swinging decade, the Beatles cover, failed to raise them from the agglomeration of capable, talented bands who only sold records to their friends & family. They re- branded, a new name, new management & a different style of music. Brinsley Schwarz, the name of the band & of the guitarist, hooked up with a former tour manager of Jimi Hendrix, the Irish chancer Dave Robinson. Robinson’s latest hustle was Famepushers & he planned an elaborate, expensive stunt to ensure that Brinsley Schwarz hit the ground running. Flying the British press to New York to see the band play the 3rd wheel at a Van Morrison, Quicksilver Messenger Service gig at the Fillmore East was a jolly jape but a logistical & publicity disaster. A delay to the flight meant that Fleet Street’s finest had spent 4 hours at the free bar while the underground journos smoked up 3 ounces of the good stuff on the plane. The assembly was not in the mood to give the support band a fair hearing, the gig & the debut LP were caned & the word “Hype” entered common usage.

In 1970 that imagined fissure between the straights & the freaks was at its widest. Brinsley Schwarz were seen to be trying to hard & that was just not cool. The band’s name had got around but only as hubristic Humpties who had a bunch of getting themselves back together to be done.

The group did their very best to restore their reputation. The debut LP is a little confused. The single contemporary clip shows a hirsute crew with aspirations to sound like the Grateful Dead while sniffing the British prog-rock breeze. A 2nd LP in the same year is stripped down, looser , more assured & better for it. The band’s reaction to their disastrous launch was to keep it simple but anti-commercialism took time to convince after such a blatant caper. “Despite It All” marks the progress of the group’s songwriter/bassist Nick Lowe as a significant talent. “Funk Angel” is a good example of of a fine tune combined with a lyric of subtle humour, a style that Nick has been finessing for over 40 years now.

The Brinsleys had a record deal & took support gigs to promote the LPs. They became part of a scene in London playing the grubby back rooms of pubs. A small stage, indifferent sound & little money but pleasant company, cheap beer & better vibes than the bigger city venues. “Pub Rock” had a touch of Americana with plenty of lively, energetic rock & roll. There was an agreeable absence of any capes, synthesizers & space operas. Brinsley Schwarz were already heading down the roots rock road. The stoner country rock accelerated a little, Nick got a little more ironic & the covers showed an erudite taste across rock’s rich tapestry.

“Ju Ju Man” is co-written by Lolly Vegas (off of Redbone, “Witch Queen Of New Orleans”…anyone ?) & Jim Ford, a maverick talent who released only one LP while he was alive but wrote some great music. (“Harry Hippie” with Bobby Womack…that’s enough). Brinsley Schwarz backed Ford when he came to the UK for another ill-fated attempt to record some music. The American’s country-rock-soul mix & his cocaine cowboy charisma had a big effect on Nick Lowe who often checks for him as a major influence on his own writing.

Brinsley Schwarz made 6 LPs but they could not catch a break. They were great live, Ian Gomm, a guitarist/singer/writer, joined & they had a pretty good catalogue of original songs. A quality compilation, “Original Golden Greats”, selling for just 99 pence, was released in 1974. Fans bought this instead of the full price “The New Favourites Of…” a record which had more money spent on it & was produced by Dave Edmunds. It seemed that every time the group tried a little too hard to sell some records that there was still a price to be paid for the shenanigans 5 years earlier.

“New Favourites” was the last record the group made before they gave the name back to the guitarist. I saw them on the final tour & they had obviously had enough of playing the same circuit of clubs to a staunch but small audiences. Nick Lowe’s showed near-contempt for the enthusiasm of punters who had not bought enough of the band’s records. They still played a great set. Ian Gomm began a solo career & had a US Top 40 hit with “Hold On”. Brinsley & keyboard player Bob Andrew joined Graham Parker & the Rumour. so we saw quite a lot of them. Lowe hooked up with, of all people, Dave Robinson who’s time had come when he & Jake Riviera borrowed £400 from Lee Brilleaux (Dr Feelgood) to start Stiff Records. The label’s first single was Nick’s debut too. Stiff released 45s by the pub-rockers but the independent label was perfectly placed to attract & sign those  snotty new bands looking to take a new broom to the UK music scene. “New Rose” by the Damned was the first British punk single, out on Stiff & produced by Nick Lowe. his apprenticeship was over.

In the first half of the 1970’s there were a lot of UK music fans who could not be doing with the excesses of Progressive Rock, thought it was a load of Tubular Balls (YSWIDT). We liked music that sounded like the Band &, OK, we fell for some insipid nonsense but at least we liked the Band. Brinsley Schwarz played a British version of this music with a commitment & an originality which had a verisimilitude. They developed from being West Coast derivatives to having a fresh take on straightforward rock which prepared the way for some new young blood who were ready to rock too. Track 1, side 1 of “The New Favourites of…” is a tune which has become a classic, covered on record by Elvis Costello, in concert by Springsteen.” (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding”. It’s a song you know you are going to like just from hearing the title.