White Heat It Tickle Me Down To My Toes (Lou Reed Part 3)

There is a customer review on Amazon of “Pass Thru Fire: The Collected Lyrics of Lou Reed” which bleats, ” more than 70% of it cannot be read, lines and words are both faint, upside down… looks like a photocopy of words that are not flat on the screen…I want my money back”. Now this book is a treasured possession. The cynicism, even nihilism, romanticism, humour & downright common sense it contains can reinvigorate a body when getting mean seems to be the only option. There’s also that rhyming of “Robert Mitchum” with “never catch him”, still audacious & perfect over 40 years on. “Pass Thru Fire” is a typographical wonder too. Some of the lyrics are unreadable but they are still beautiful & it does not matter. Lou Reed was a poet but he was really a songwriter…words & music. It was his art. He challenged himself & those who listened. Now sometimes the words seem “faint, upside down” & you want your money back !

“They say things are done for the majority
Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear
It’s like what my painter friend Donald said to me,
“Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done”        WORD !

It is obviously a pisser that it has taken such a sad event as the artist’s passing to rescue this post from the draft limbo where it has been stuck for too long. Lou Reed’s music has been in my life for a very long time & it has been some of the best music around. These thoughts were always meant to hook up with those about the other concerts of his I was lucky enough to experience & that’s not changed. This is no obituary, Jah, how long would that take & anyway there are plenty of people doing that very thing. I do, though, want to spend some time thinking about Lou, celebrating his music & the effect it had on me.

So…1984, the Brixton Academy, the third time I got to see Lou Reed play live. Brixton was our playground. The “Old White Horse “, comedy, cabaret & drinks. The “Fridge”, dance music & drinks. The “George Canning”, live music & beer. The “Ritzy” for cool movies, a smoke, delicious melon & stem ginger ice cream. Christ, the “Garage” an unlicensed basement where the bands & the sound system only played 60s US garage music. Our secret place for a couple of months until word got out & it was too full to be comfortable. Such a perfect hang out that sometimes I think I only dreamed about it.

It’s a list & the Academy, a converted cinema, was on it. We were in Camberwell, a comfortable stagger home from Brixton. An easy rock down to Electric Avenue & let Cold Harbour Lane carry you home with a pit stop for a filthy kebab at half way home, regretting it before we hit the Green. The Academy opened for gigs in the early 1980s. We could walk there, no schlep across London by bus & Tube to see the good music. I saw some memorable concerts there & now Lou Reed was playing just  down the road. This was a definite night out, tickets were sorted pretty damn sharpish.

It was 5 years on since we had last visited. Since 1979 the live rock & roll cabaret “Take No Prisoners” LP  had repaid regular listens, more than covering any inconsistencies in the almost annual studio albums. “I do Lou Reed better than anybody, so I thought I’d get in on it,” Fair play. In 1982 Lou hit 40, was married,  clean & got another great band together. Two guitars, bass & drums,  “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords & you’re into jazz.”. This new band made “The Blue Mask”, Lou’s best (that’s most consistent) record for a while. Then, when Lou wanted to play out again, they hung around for 18 months to make some great music.

“Waves Of Fear” is a paranoid epic from “Blue Mask”. This clip is from the Bottom Line, New York, a home game at the beginning of the “Legendary Hearts Comeback Tour”. The set begins with “Sweet Jane”, “Waiting For The Man” & the new song “Martial Law” just as it did on every setlist I have seen from those next 2 years. Just as it did here in Brixton. Now, how about that band ? Fernando Saunders, bass, was solid with Lou for some time, both he & drummer Fred Maher co-produced LPs with him. Lou is, alongside Keith Richards, one of the great rhythm guitarists, just watch him now. The hectic relentless speeding of those first VU records can have the brakes applied for the lovely logical chug of the live in Dallas 1969 record & both versions of the same songs are perfect. “Sweet Jane”…a riff that has never been bettered. So add to these 3 an innovative guitarist, influenced by & committed to getting into the face of Lou’s music. Light the blue touch paper & retire.

Lou Reed, Robert Quine, “Coney Island Baby”…a flipping masterpiece. The original song of regret, sport (Lou playing football !) ,the redemptive power of love was a surprise to those who regarded Lou as some kind of Drug Nazi. Others knew about the warmth & compassion in “I’ll Be Your Mirror”,”I Found A Reason”…a bunch of songs. Quine looked like Sergeant Bilko & had made a rep while playing with Richard Hell as a Voidoid. In the studio his staccatto, spitfire interjections complemented Lou’s rhythm & riffage. On stage they gave the songs a work out, added muscle to them.  If there was anything lost on the subtlety swings it was certainly gained on the robustious roundabout.

So here we were, myself & my great friend Mitchell, watching this all star band knock out hit after hit, in a venue where you were not fixed in a seat, could move around, get a beer, have a smoke. “Coney Island Baby” followed by “Waves Of Fear” then the closer, “Rock & Roll”…it does not get much better. There was to be no “Heroin” tonight, nothing from “Berlin” but I’ve never seen the point in defining anything by what is absent. This was the “New Sensations” tour & the set was a little heavy on this new LP. No problem, at least 3 of these are damn good songs & tonight it was all about the band.Quine had missed the recording of the album but he was on these songs. They were giving us “Wild Side”, “Satellite” even “Sally Can’t Dance”. Whatever they wanted to play from whenever in his career. This was the last night of the tour, back to the US for Xmas, a London audience who knew how tough & how well this group (I missed Peter Wood on keys) was playing.

Just the 5  Velvet Underground (out of 20) songs this time. It was expected. Lou did not revive his greatest hits as a golden oldie nostalgia night. Any attempt to recreate the spirit or sound of 66 would be dumb. What you got was where he was at the time. Whatever & however the songs went with these musicians. You know, to hear “There She Goes Again”, off of  “VU & Nico” was a surprise & …well, what a song ! Like Patti Smith, Lou knew he was playing to fans, people who had shelled out their hard earned. He may have been Mr Awkward  with know-nothing hacks & their ill-researched questions but he was the Boss here & was putting on a good show.

It was “White Light White Heat” which absolutely stopped the evening. I remember thinking that if Quine played any faster then his hand was likely to drop away from his arm. Man, they brought some drive to this song. It’s here on one they made earlier, Fernando’s loping bass sounding pretty good too. On quiet evenings, with a fair wind I can still her this blistering take on “White Light”. I can hear it too when I dig out that old bootleg cassette we bought up Camden just a week after the gig.

The South London winter night was no problem. Our legs knew the way home so we were free to just groove on the great night it had been. At the end of the decade Lou was’ once again, the current thing when the “New York” LP made him some kind of elder statesman/rock laureate. Another comeback ? Nah, if you had used your ears he had never been away. So now…no more revivals, no more live shows but I have listened to some fantastic indestructible music this week &, of course, the glory of love, might see you through.

When My Friends Become Successful (Cousteau/Liam McKahey)

When you live in London you don’t always play out with the people you work with. You may get along just swimmingly while you have punched the clock but you could live 20 miles or more away from each other. Anyway you, & the one’s you would consider spending any out-of-work time with, have a life of their own. It was different on the building site. “Coming for a drink after work” may have sounded like a question but it was really an offer that needed a pretty good excuse if you were going to refuse. I was not unfamiliar with a post-shift beverage or few but now the dust of the day needed washing away & the company was nothing more than a blast. This mainly Irish crew were young men just left home & making their way in the big city with a few quid in their pockets. To call it the “craic” would be lazy. There was a joy of vivre, a tangle of language & laughter where you did not need a loud voice or sharp elbows to make yourself heard. If you were giving it out then you had better be able to take it but there was no malice in the humour, it was not at anyone’s expense. That was why I was in the pub with these guys, a beer in my hand & one waiting for me at the bar.

We were knocking the bejaysus out of  some funky old warehouses. After the sweat, the dust, the graft I would paint whatever was left, try to make it nice y’know. “Nice” was the best I could do, I was a painter not a fucking magician. I attempted this alchemy alongside a young dandy from Cork, a bequiffed rockabilly rebel without a clue who was ready for a bigger world than the one proffered by the South-West of Ireland (no Cork-sucker this guy). Liam & I shared an interest in at least knocking on the doors of perception which led to some late & extreme nights. We also agreed that, as we had been given a brain, it made sense to make use of it. I recognised in Liam a fellow moralist. Someone prepared to examine & challenge their own actions & motives before raging against the lame-brained, blockheaded solipsism of the world. We became very good friends for a good while before Life & London got in the way & we lost touch. This is how Liam McKahey looked…& sounded.

Now…”Later With Jools Holland” is a late Friday night TV music show. At the time our thing was to drink 2 or 3 over the 8 then home to watch the music & the roll ’em, smoke ’em, put another line out routine. Hey, it doesn’t make me a bad person ! So…on comes this group & here is this singer & Double Yew, Tee, Eff ! My first look at Cousteau confused me. I got the reference points, the smooth modern cabaret of Scott Walker sings Bacharach tousled with hints of the Bad Seeds & Tom Waits. It’s all good, “Last Good Day of the Year” is a stand-out song from the eponymous debut LP but what was wrong with this picture ? That young Sinatra on vocals was troubling me. He had appropriated, lock, stock & two smokin’ cheekbones, my friend Liam’s own very individual style. Now, if you are going to steal then steal from the best but mate, just what is your game ? Get your own ! I was confused but I said nothing. The Friday night heebie-jeebies & I were on better than nodding terms at the time.

The next day, in that brief window of weekend discernment, I checked for Cousteau. What do you know ? The singer of this fine new band was our very man, Liam McKahey. Well brilliant, knock me down with a rad roller ! I’ve got information man! New shit has come to light! It all made sense. When he was a decorator, doing no music, he still had a presence about him. If you had a band then he’s a guy you would want out front. Liam & I shared a love of music, he brought me the fine later work of Iggy Pop, the Cramps, while I introduced tunes from when it was too soon for him to know. “Last Good Day…” was a near-thing. The most popular breakfast DJ in the UK gave it more than a nudge which almost became a push. This debut TV performance is a little tentative but they had some good songs on their LP & Liam was a quick learner as an audience came around. Here’s that one fact everyone knows about Cousteau…they were Big In Italy.

 

 

I love this clip. Starting at 3.33 Cousteau playing “Talking To Myself” in a Roman amphitheatre in Sicily. A unique venue, a big audience, TV cameras winging about to capture the moment. Liam Maximus, a gladiator with a quiff & some decent threads, leads his men into the arena & nails it. His voice is rich & deep, the whole thing sweet & dandy. On the 2nd LP both writer/multi-instrumental Davy Ray Moor & the band hit their stride. The elegance & romanticism is more their own, less an homage to their influences.”Sirena” (2002) is an individual piece of work & I don’t play it as much as I should but I will.

So…let’s all meet up in the year 2000. I was in Birmingham & Cousteau were coming to town. I called by the club, Ronnie Scott’s, after work & did not have a long wait before a familiar scene transpired. I gave the guys some time to lighten the loaded van before going across to find my friend. Man. we were pleased to see each other but that was going to be a given. I arranged to see Liam later, he was working after all. It was a great night to catch up. He was fit (too fit) & well, the band were good company . It was so cool to see his committment to & relish in making  the music. The band’s performance, in an intimate club with an appreciative audience, was the very thing, sophisticated, considered tunes for grown ups.It was still an odd conjunction between the young construction worker becoming a cool modern cabaret crooner. I liked it, it made me smile & was a memorable night.

Cousteau did not train on. Davy left, Liam stepped up as a songwriter. Now the electronic wonders of the 21st century has made the world a smaller place. I am in the North of England Liam on the other side of the planet in Canberra, Australia but I get his stuff in my computer &, I assume, he gets mine…Cool. He is a family man, still sickeningly handsome & still making good music. Liam Mckahey & the Bodies released “Lonely Road” in 2011, “Lovers & Fools” is a cinematic stroll though some sad, bad things from the past that reminds us of Lee Hazlewood & of just how good a singer our boy is. I think that there is new music to come from the band, they are certainly still gigging in the Australian Capital Territory (Oh yes !). Any news about the band can be found on their F-book page, right here.

I have stories about this man & our adventures that would perhaps surprise you. “You gotta say yes to another excess” could have been a motto back then.  No-one was hurt, no harm was intended, we were younger & dumber. Those stories belong to & will stay in the past. Just a couple of things…after preparing an outstanding meal (though I say it myself) for Liam, Eddie & Dave, I was told that I must be middle class because working class people don’t cook that well ! Funny bugger ! On yet another hungover morning at work Liam announced that he was a  “Social Alcoholic”. “How so ?” inquired innocent me. “I can’t stand the idea of any of my friends getting drunk without me !”. One of the funniest, most insightful one-liners I have been lucky enough to hear & steal.

Seeing my friend do well with his music, use a talent which was evident but could have been neglected is a source of pride & admiration. More than that though is knowing that the the honesty & friendship that passed between us those years ago will sustain a friendship from a long, long way away. Cheers my brother.

It’s A Family Affair (The Isley Brothers)

On the long ago, momentous, Xmas Day that Santa kindly brought me a record player he also provided two 7″ vinyl discs by the most popular beat combo of the day, the Beatles. The 4 track “Twist & Shout” EP was matching the sales of that single about holding someone’s hand. Surely no vocalist had ever matched the wild drive & urgency of leather-lunged John Lennon on the title track. Wasn’t this powerful energy an innovatory part of the the sound that was taking over the world ? Of course the Fab Four’s music introduced my generation to the rock & roll originators. Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, they were from the olden days of the 1950s. On the first LPs their Mop Top take on Motown opened a lot of doors for Detroit’s soul label. it was no archaeological stretch to unearth the original Twisters & Shouters.

The Isley  Brothers’ first successes made them the Sultans of Screech & they were then always around. The trio were not always consistent hit makers but  now & again they found themselves at the cutting edge. A talent for reinvention, to react to the changes in music, has become a requisite for long term commercial success. The Isley Brothers knew this before many others did. It was 10 years after the Beatles covered their song that the group’s new sound struck gold records & brought a rich funk/disco vein that they were able to mine for the rest of the 1970s.

album-3-3 Here come the incredibly expanding Isley Brothers. Ronald, Rudy & O’Kelly, the original trio are joined by 2 more brothers Ernie & Marvin along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper. So, “3 + 3” geddit ? “That Lady” is the opening track of the 1973 LP which put the group back into the US Top 10 for the first time since 1969. Then “It’s Your Thing”, the first single on their own T-Neck label, had socked it to Berry Gordy & Motown. The Isleys made some classic Motown records but were, they felt, never given a fair shake. Independence, success & confidence led to more than 10 LPs in 4 years, that’s a whole lot of variants on “things” & “thangs”. The records before “3 + 3” had included the junior Isleys & there had been a gradual move to this new sound. Now, with the marketing might of Epic behind the group for the first time a lot more people got to hear it & a lot more records got sold.

“That Lady” is a reworking of a 1964 Isley song. Back then the trio were copying the Impressions but now they could unveil a couple of new weapons while still keeping it in the family. The influence of Jimi can be heard in the funk of the time but Brother Ernie had a direct line to the source when Hendrix had lived in the Isley house while gigging with the group. Now the 21 year old was ready to wail, a black guitar hero bringing the rock to the funk. Chris jasper was on to the ARP synthesizer thing. He hooked up with Malcolm Cecil & Robert Margouleff, programmer/engineers who had worked so effectively with Stevie Wonder. The Isley Brothers had been in music for 15 years & they were bang at the front of it with this record.

“3 + 3” included covers of tunes by James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Seals & Crofts. The group made it there thang to turn soft rock melodies into quiet storm soul ballads. They had full LPs of this, a 10 minute long version of a Carole King song ! For an audience unfamiliar with the group but who knew the songs it was a wrinkle that appealed. Now I have no great beef with this side of the sound, Ronald Isley stepped up & showed himself to be a great & distinctive vocalist on these tunes. I just think that the song choice leans towards the cheesy & I do have a serious problem with the still-around “Summer Breeze”. I mean, come on, here is the worst excess of hippy-dippy nonsense, a mush-minded meaninglessness. I am no neurological expert, I am not prepared to ask Mr Google. I am pretty sure that there are, never has been, never will be, any such thing as “the jasmines of my mind”. Bah !

“Hello It’s Me” seems to be a more imaginative selection, a Todd Rundgren song, the only cover on 1974’s “Live It Up”. In the early 1970s Todd wrote a lot of songs that could have, maybe should have, been hits. The Isley Brothers were sussed enough to know this. Here on “Soul Train” Ronald knows that he has work to do, that people are listening to his slow songs on national TV & he wins in a canter. “Hello” is the best of the Isley ballads.

It was the slabs of funk what did it for me. There was an LP a year, 1975’s “The Heat Is On” was a #1 album, black groups just didn’t hit that market. Each record had a couple of variations on a theme by Ernie that just hit the spot & kept on going into Part 2. “Live It Up”, “Fight the Power”, “The Pride”…it’s a great & longer list… especially “Fight The Power”. Man, this was before the 12″ extended mix. Some 10 minute jam of these songs would have been solid. The brothers had always tended to stick with what worked. By 1978, with disco ubiquitous & Ronald’s sexed-up ballads a little complacent, they had perhaps been to the well too often. There were still platinum records though & the Isleys were still one of the world’s biggest bands.

“Harvest For The World”, prelude & all, opened the 1976 LP of that title. I know that the uncomplicated, catch-all lyrics have a touch of “I believe that children are the future” about them but come on…this is a perfect pop-soul anthem, anthemic & uplifting. The Isley brothers had a worldwide audience at this time. A slice of social-conscience was surely better than being growled at by the Walrus Of Love or slimed by the Stylistics (post-Philly). “Gather every man, gather every woman. Celebrate your life, give thanks for your children”…a great record.

Just before the release of “3 + 3” the Isley Brothers released a “Greatest Hits” LP, a fantastic collection of  their work on their own T-Neck label. Earlier Motown had a “Best Of” from the group’s years on that label. The three original brothers had already compiled a seriously impressive body of work. Then along came the next generation of the family & new blood brought new inspiration & energy. Now there were “Ultimate”, “Essential” even “Definitive” collections with a whole shedload of new hit records to be collated. For a few years there the Isley Brothers were as good as gold.

Shooting Pool With A Comedy Legend (Malcolm Hardee)

I have never read Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, “I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake”. Such a beguiling & worthy title surely demands the attention of us all. Malcolm was a pivotal figure in London’s (particularly South East London’s) comedy domain. He was a comedian, compere, club promoter, manager, parliamentary candidate & (my favourite) “amateur sensationalist” (The Guardian). He may have been a King of Comedy or a court jester, I’m not sure & Malcolm would not have given a toss. I do know that, while I have not been keeping score, I have seen Malcolm’s impressive genitalia more times than any other man’s ever.

When I moved to London I was lucky enough to live around Greenwich & Deptford. The River Thames provided a natural border to the North which kept out the crosstown traffic & meant that if anything socially or culturally interesting was going on then pretty much the same crew showed out, I liked this, friendly, funky but not chic. . Malcolm was around this scene. His youthful petty crimes had led to prison sentences but he decided that “Prison is like mime or juggling – a tragic waste of time”. He hooked up with Martin Soan, an actual real-life Punch & Judy Man, in The Greatest Show On Legs, a comedy trio. At this time “alternative” comedy was becoming a thing. There were many new acts performing in the upstairs rooms of pubs & GSOL’s random, even surreal, humour not only fitted right in but was a delight. I’m sure it beat working for a living.

By the time GSOL performed on the comedy show “O.T.T.” in 1982 I had seen the Balloon Dance a few times. I knew it as the “Romans In Britain Cha-Cha” after a Howard Brenton play which was unsuccessfully prosecuted for obscenity when the solicitor of a noted puritanical busybody, sitting at the very back of the theatre, thought that he may have seen something which may have been a penis.  It really is amazing how memorable the TV appearance was. The Greatest Show On Legs were never a big name, you would explain that they were the most enjoyable night in London to blank looks. Drop the Balloon Dance though & a light would go on.

Malcolm & TV were never a perfect fit. In his work with Martin there was a lovely art to the near-chaos. Their Red Arrows display to the theme from “Dambusters”, the properly nuts parody of a game of snooker, were both shambolic & hilarious set pieces with a beginning, a middle & an end just not always in that order. Television with its precise time slots just did not suit Malcolm’s approach to comedy. Similarly you will have to trust me that his putdown of a heckler, “F*ck off, you’re the c*nt”, was genuinely funny if you were there. It was the spirit of the thing, the casual catchphrase “F*ck it” was not said aggressively but genuinely stressed that whatever it was it was not that important.

Similarly many of the stories about Malcolm involve him exposing himself. I have seen people shocked by such a splendid sight but (this may say something about the type of person I hang with) never appalled. On a sunny afternoon on the Crossfields Estate in Deptford  the balloons were replaced by A4 posters of our Lady Prime Minister. The sight of a naked Malcolm, his unit protruding through Thatcher’s face, is a permanent memory, but in a good way you know. There was a night at the stylishly retro Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley billed as a “farewell” when all GSOL’s former members participated. On the way home Carol announced that she had seen more cocks tonight than she had in the last 5 years. Oh how we laughed. That night we approached Malcolm to tell him how much we enjoyed his work. It was not a goodbye but it might have been so it had to be said.

I never went to the celebrated Tunnel Club which Malcolm started in 1984. It was not the bearpit reputation, an act was likely to be booed off but could also be booed on. A comedian who began “Good evening, I am a schizophrenic” was heckled “Well, you can both fuck off !”. It was just too far away from my new manor in Camberwell. Stuck out on the arse end of Blackwall with no tube it would be a long late night trek to get home. But, as any fool in South East London knew, the Albany Empire in Deptford was the best place for music, theatre, comedy, drinking, dancing or hanging out. The weekend cabaret shows became The Fez Club, startlingly random evenings overseen with a lightness of humour by Mr Hardee. Guests for the weekend ? A day traipsing around the tourist “attractions” & a night out at the Albany, 100% good time guaranteed. That 2.40 a.m. night bus got you home at 3 a.m. whatever state you were in. Win-win.

Next it was “Up The Creek”, his club at the Greenwich end of Creek Rd. He had tartly described the Albany as a club for social workers from Blackheath, only in Deptford. There was a touch of this on the packed weekends at the Creek. it was the less crowded Sunday night, open mic slots, a loose, more extemporary set from the headliner, which was the scene to make. An hour of Johnny Vegas’ seemingly drunk, possibly deranged, certainly dangerous Butlins Redcoat gone wrong act is the funniest thing I have ever seen. Malcolm drank in the Lord Hood before the show. Once a month he ran that pub’s quiz night, not to be missed. I knew him well enough to be on nodding terms by now. After beating him at pool I returned to my friends & claimed I had just beaten a comedy legend. There was no dissent because it was true.

By 2005 he was running a floating pub, living on a houseboat on the Thames. Malcolm loved the river though stories from those who visited him do seem to involve both drink & an element of jeopardy. In February of that year his body was discovered in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe close to his home. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. Greenwich without Malcolm…unthinkable.

There are memoirs of Malcolm round the Internet written by people who knew him very well. So many comedians testify to the help & encouragement he provided & to the money he owed them. Everyone has a story involving drink, recklessness & laughter. There’s an absence of spite, nastiness & regret. I just want to remember a man who contributed to many happy nights out with my friends & one of the funniest men I have ever seen on a stage. Oh yes, he did steal the £4,000 birthday cake off of the lead singer off of Queen. he gave it to a local nursing home so the police were unlucky when they showed up at his home…looking for crumbs ! Oy Oy, Knob Out !

Tryin’ To Make It Real Compared To What! (Gene McDaniels)

Gene McDaniels was even before my time. The singer had his 3 Top 10 hit ballads in those pre-Beatle early 60s. Gene was a dude, he was suave (& that’s good). A handsome young man with a strong assured voice he worked out of Los Angeles with producer Snuff Garrett, a young Texan tyro with a facility for the confectionery pop of the day. In 1962 the role models for young African-American artists were Nat King Cole & Sammy Davis Jr. Sam Cooke wanted to play the Copacabana nightclub before realising, too late, that a change was gonna come. Gene’s trademark dramatic delivery was certainly more pop than R&B, his background more jazz than gospel. Liberty, his label, got 5 LPs out of him in 2 years. When the winds of change blew through US black music he was too far into the mainstream to take advantage. There were less successful 45s but no LPs for 7 years.

“It’s Trad Dad” (1962) is a British musical film, an early work by the great American director Richard Lester. The anemic line-up of Brit acts is augmented by American imports so cue Gene McDaniels with the over-emotional “Another Tear Falls”, beautifully shot in black & white, wreathed in cigarette smoke like a Herman Leonard photo come to life. Lovely. Looking on are the precocious teenager Helen Shapiro & the milkman turned teen idol Craig Douglas. Ironically it was the ineffectual Douglas who had appropriated McDaniels’ first hit “A Hundred Pounds Of Clay” for the UK market. The same thing happened to another hit “Tower of Strength”, when Frankie Vaughn, an “all-round entertainer” (huh !) made the Top 10 with a distinctive & punchy song.

Gene had access to some good songs. “Another Tear Falls” is by Bacharach & David. In 1966 the song was a hit for the Walker Brothers, lead brother Scott obviously picking up a few pointers from the original. A year earlier a Goffin & King song he recorded, “Point Of No Return” was covered by Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames. However , while the mid-1960s  soul explosion brought success to many new artists, McDaniels was stranded on a golden oldie nightclub circuit. Frustrated by a lack of respect for his music & by the political situation in the US he left to live in Scandinavia where he applied himself to his songwriting. In 1969 a song of his recorded by Roberta Flack became a hit when covered by 2 jazz artists.

Well OK. Gene may have been oh so square that no-one cared but with “Compared To What” he was in the vanguard of the conscious black music which punctuated the end of the decade. The urgency & frustration matches both Marvin & Sly. Pianist Les McCann & saxophonist Eddie Harris expand the Jazz-Soul palette of Ramsey Lewis & Cannonball Adderley, introducing a militancy which hauls it from the path to the supper club & back out on to the street. This incredible clip is of the Montreux Jazz Festival concert, recorded for the hit LP. It’s almost a happy accident, trumpet Benny Bailey sitting in & fitting in where he can. An absolute classic.

There was a new bag of royalty money, a new confidence, a contract with Atlantic Records & a new name. It was Eugene McDaniels who began a second, more mature, phase of his career free from the nightclubs. His 2 LPs with Atlantic from 1970/71 were this great.

“Jagger The Dagger” is from “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse” a wonderful stew of psychedelic soul, funk & jazz. The rhythm section from Weather Report, drummer Alphonse Mouzon, bass Miroslav Vitous, kept the music away from any well-travelled path. Eugene’s lyrics were always conscious & considered. In fact the legend is that vice-president Spiro Agnew contacted Atlantic to protest about the incendiary lyrics. “No amount of dancing is going to make us free,” seems to be a fair & balanced opinion but back then Spiro preferred both the majority & the minority to be silent. There was a lot of very memorable African-American music around at this time. “Headless Heroes” fits right in with Sly’s “Riot Goin’ On” & Miles’ “On The Corner”. It’s good.

Eugene continued to write & in 1974 Roberta Flack recorded his song “Feel Like Making Love” which went to #1 on any chart it was eligible for. He got some producing gigs. Flack’s hit & the 250 plus covers & samples of “Compared” allowed him to live comfortably as  a self-confessed “hermit” in Maine. He appeared in 2010, an engaging, still handsome 75 year old happy to talk about his career & to perform this charming, edifying version of his first hit “A Hundred Pounds Of Clay”. Eugene died in the next year, 2011, a talent who got & took a second chance after a first career at a time when any artistic development was a very poor second to selling some records. From this clip he seems to be a man comfortable in his own skin & that’s enough.

You’re On Ten On Your Guitar. Where Can You Go From There? Where?

I’m still buzzing from the brilliant clips of last weekend’s show by The Everlasting Yeah. There was an agglomeration of anticipation from a lot of people who knew that musicians they had respected for so long won’t , like an old raincoat, ever let you down. Now there is genuine exhilaration that the new tunes absolutely hit the spot, are exactly the racket you require from an imaginative rock & roll band in 2013. So, apologies to friends who have been pointing me towards music which seems a little more delicate because this week I need the drummer to hit things as hard as Ciaran McLoughlin does while some noisy boys take charge of the guitars.

This is Parquet Courts based in Brooklyn, New York City. They have a new EP, “Tally All The Things That You Broke” & are in the UK at the end of this month. They will hit the right radio stations but if they get in the TV then they could become this year’s Strokes. It really is that easy in this country for a young, energetic, cool American band to become the flavour of the month. You have to be careful, there are people who used to think that the Kings Of Leon were half-decent. I’ve wanted this clip on loosehandlebars since this Spring, it is a proper noise & marked them as a band to watch. The boys wear their influences on their sleeves, Pavement, Sonic Youth & (I’m sure) That Petrol Emotion. All new bands do this, the trick is to get enough of yourself into it & I think they’re pulling it off. The track is from 2012’s LP “Light Up Gold”. “Stoned & Starving”…well, we have all been there. Some of us will be there again at the weekend.

The Flamin’ Groovies…hold me back. It’s a Flamin’ frenzy round here at the moment, exactly how I want to a rock & roll band to sound. I know that the band’s reputation hangs around the double whammy of “Teenage Head” (1971) & “Shake Some Action” (1976) but I have a more than sneakin’ suspicion that 1978’s “Flamin’ Groovies Now” is not far behind the 2 classics. It’s a record that I played constantly, a shake me, wake me collection, a Groovie situation is a good place to be.

“Take me Back” is a “Shake” re-write, that same lovely big Byrds guitar build, no heaving rush trying to impress with pace & bluster. The whole LP, produced by Dave Edmunds, is an affirmation that all the band want to do is rock as if the Summer of Love never happened. Their Anglophile leanings are indulged with a bunch of covers (Beatles, Stones, even Cliff Richard) of varying quality but all raucous & energetic. “Don’t Put Me On” is another Jordan/Wilson cracker. “Flamin’ Groovies Now”…recommended.

So last week I was introduced to the debut single by Dublin’s the #1s. The splendidly titled “He’s Too Good For Everyone Else But He’s Not Good Enough For You” may have been the B-side but it’s a pop-punk powerhouse that you think you have heard before because it is straight outta 1977/78. In fact the band’s cover versions are from the top shelf of powerpop, the Rubinoos & then, from the properly respected New Zealand Flying Nun label (Chills, Verlaines) the Clean. This month sees the release of “Sharon Shouldn’t”., another hook-filled, pogo-inducing, shouty singalong with an admirably lo-fi video. It’s a cracker & next week our Irish correspondent is being dispatched to check for the quartet. There are a couple of other young groups pushing the retro rawness rush who were contenders on this post. I prefer the #1s, let’s hope we need to hear more of them.

Apologies then are owed to friends waving shiny new music created from 2 turntables & a microphone in front of me. I’m sure, Danny, that the Outfit have a contribution to make to our culture but I will have to consider it some other time mate. This week if it don’t rock then I ain’t rolling with it. Now I’m sure that the Dictators’ LP is somewhere at the back of the stack Jack.

I Can’t Stand Up For Camden Town (The Everlasting Yeah)

After just a couple of gigs in the back rooms of pubs The Everlasting Yeah played their first proper London gig at the Roundhouse on Saturday night. The 4 members, Damian, Brendan, Ciaran & Raymond have been playing together for 20 years now. As 80% of That Petrol Emotion they had played some pretty big gigs. Their challenging, influential rock music gained critical praise & a discerning audience but greater commercial success came to contemporaries more interested in repeating the rock conventions than subverting them. So, these men know enough to know what’s what & what’s not. They would not be doing this if they did not believe that the noise they make together could stand a wider hearing. Here is the proof just how damn right they are about that .

Two guitars, a bass & drums…the foundations of our rock & roll. There’s a million bands using extra instrumentation & that’s OK but when  “it’s got a back beat you can’t lose it. Any old time you use it. It’s gotta be rock – roll music. If you wanna dance with me”. This is “Tell Me” by the Everlasting Yeah. It is solid, driving & dramatic. This is how our 4 instruments are used properly, you gotta use your head but you know that the heart is more important. I am reminded of the Flamin’ Groovies & that is never a bad thing. “Tell Me” can only be found on this Y-Tube clip so keep it where you can find it until the band get this tune recorded & you can own it for yourself.

“The Grind” was the final track of the set, almost 11 minutes long but doesn’t time fly when you are enjoying yourself. I am reluctant to use the word “motorik” because I have already dropped the Groovies in here. To invoke the German greats would really be blowing smoke up their backsides but it is Can & Neu ! that I’m hearing in this rigorous, relentless, gorgeous rhythm. Reluctant too because there is no pseudery about this music. The best I can say is “Turn This Shit Up…LOUD !”. It’s a long tune, go do some stuff, let it cheer the whole house, the whole bloody street.

I was not at the Roundhouse on Saturday, Life & a lightness of wallet (£100 on the train !) got in the way. The rave reviews of those who were there, people who had made great efforts to attend, who had been waiting a long time to see these guys play together again, were on the F-book yesterday & I knew I had missed something. Today we have these great clips, there are others on the Y-Tube & you know what to do. Any band, new or experienced will worry about how new material will be received. I listen to a lot of music. There are fine young bands like the Joy Formidable,& Parquet Courts who aspire to sound as good as this, who can learn from The Everlasting Yeah that letting it flow is better than trying too hard. This is some of the best music of 2013, ain’t that the truth.

So now…just how does this music find a wider audience because people are gonna like this if they hear it. Y’know that’s for later. Let’s enjoy these brilliant new songs from an impressive new band doing that thing they do on a Saturday night.

Mo’ Motown. Clean Out Of Sight.

In May 1965 Tamla Motown started to release records on their own UK imprint. Now we all love a list but the Motown discography really is a thing of wonder. The first three 45s are “Stop In The Name Of Love” (Supremes), “Nowhere To Run” (Martha & the Vandellas) & “Ooh Baby Baby” (Miracles). It’s like…how did they do that ?

The label did take a little time before it became the nonpareil Hit Factory. That first year saw releases by Choker Campbell’s Big Band, crooner Billy Eckstein & rockabilly Dorsey Burnette. I’m sure that these, like others who did not trouble the chart compilers, had merit but they were hardly “The Sound Of Young America”. There were other acts who were around, who even made a significant contribution to the label, but are not considered to be in the pantheon of great Motown artists. And here’s one now.

A new year, a new name for the Elgins who recorded their first Motown release as the Downbeats. The female singer, Saundra Mallett was new too. The band were produced by Holland & Dozier & got first shot at some pretty good songs by the ace team of Holland, Dozier, Holland. Both “Heaven Must Have Sent You” & “Put Yourself In My Place” were Top 10 R&B hits in the USA & were absolute dance floor fillers in the UK. 1966 was an annus mirabilis for H-D-H but I’m surprised that “Heaven” was not held back for Diana, Mary & Flo’ because it is an absolute Motown classic stomper. A 3rd single from their only LP, the lovely “I Understand My Man”, bombed & the Elgins were over by 1967. Thanks then to “Swingin’ Time”, a music show out of Windsor Ontario just across the river from Detroit, for capturing this charming, pure 1966 Motown moment. Five years later the Elgins had hit records in the UK when re-issues of these golden oldies captured the next generation of youth clubs & soul dances. Top stuff !

Brenda Holloway in May 1967, in colour…oh yes ! Berry Gordy Jr signed Brenda to his label when she was just 17. She was from California & chose to remain on the West Coast rather than re-locate to Detroit. This independent streak did not always serve her well but a hit record on her first go around positioned Brenda as the female solo star to replace Mary Wells, the “Queen of Motown” who left the label in 1964. “Every Little Bit Hurts” is an emotional blockbuster of a song, a soul classic. Brenda toured with the Beatles in 1965 but Smokey Robinson gave her Wells’ old songs to record & the hits were not repeated. By the time “Just Look What You’ve Done” was recorded she had her problems at Motown. Her self-determination was regarded as trouble-making & more amenable acts got more promotion. The track, written by Frank Wilson & R. Dean Taylor, is vintage Motown & sold quite well. Brenda wanted more &, in 1968, walked out of a Detroit recording session, returned to Los Angeles & never went back.

To say that Brenda is looking good in this clip is a statement of the bleeding obvious, She was a striking  woman &  40 years later she still is. We know because her music has not been forgotten, especially around the UK Northern Soul scene. “Every Little Bit Hurts” has been recorded by Aretha & Alicia. Here in Britain the Spencer Davis Group, the Small Faces & the Clash have paid their respects. After Motown Brenda almost retired. It was the interest from the UK which encouraged a return to performing & a chance to see an artist who made some great records but who’s potential was perhaps never fully realised by the label.

In 1966 Jimmy Ruffin got the break that all singers looked for. His recording of “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” caught the wave of Tamla tenderness & became a world-wide smash. Jimmy had passed on an offer to become a Temptation to his younger brother David. It seemed that he had done the right thing. “I’ve Passed This Way Before” was the next along. The same team of James Dean & William Weatherspoon (without arranger Paul Riser) wrote the song & it made the Top 20  but Jimmy struggled to establish his own identity as a performer. There were diminishing returns for subsequent 45s. In 1970 the Ruffin Brothers made an LP together which can still make you sit up & listen to it’s sweetness & passion.

Jimmy remained at Motown & around 1970 records which meant little in the US became big hits in the UK. This is because Jimmy had not been forgotten. Over here we do try to value quality over the latest bright shiny thing being waved before us. It is also because “I’ll Say Forever My Love”, “Farewell is a Lonely Sound” & “It’s Wonderful (To Be Loved By You)” were all good songs, well produced, that were certainly worth having around.  Jimmy Ruffin, like Edwin Starr & others, moved to England because there was money to be made & a greater appreciation of the enduring worth of his music. In this country we can be a little obsessive & excessive with regards to Soul Music. These songs & artists, from a halcyon time for African-American music, deserve to be remembered alongside the pantheon of the Supremes, Marvin, Stevie, Smokey & the rest. It’s a freaky, geeky job but someone’s got to do it.

Moving Towards The Pulsebeat (The Gatefolds)

There was an extra spark about the Gatefolds’ gig on Friday night. The band were playing at Sandinos in Derry to mark the launch of their 2 track CD released on the Nervous Pulse label that very day. There have been tracks available on the Interweb for some time but these new fandangled digital downloads are just not the same as a lovely polycarbonate plastic & aluminium disc with some original artwork in a nice case…no they are not. Just look how happy this fan (a Foldette ?) is to get her hands on the new actual thing by the Gatefolds. Her weekend just got better because, really, this music is bloody great.

 

Nervous Pulse has 3 releases now by Derry musicians.
The label’s by-line is “This Is Not Pop” but Sean Mason, the Berry Gordy Jr of the Pulse operation & I are going to have to differ here. “Overleaf” is, to borrow a phrase from a friend, Pop That Goes Crunch. The track has the hustle & drive of early REM & that’s good. Sean’s production is crisp, clean & loud, 3 more good things. Jason, Sean, Fergal & Joe have all put in a great shift to nail the 2 new songs. “Gloryhunter” is longer, there’s a hint of psych-drone in it’s more considered pacing. The sweet, loud (again), layered guitars just keep on coming. The connection between these 2 sides of the Gatefolds is that they sound like tunes to be played live by a band. An eye, an ear & a nod to the dynamics of a song’s performance can only help.

I’m sure that there are photos, even video clips of Friday’s gig but I really do want to get this posted for the weekend. GC Photographics of Derry took some great shots at a rehearsal, I hope they don’t mind me lifting this one. We have all helped to spread the word when a friend’s band is gigging or recording. I’ve been throwing these tracks around & the news has been nothing but good. It is my pleasure to be Johnny Appleseed for the Gatefolds because this music is the real deal. The tracks are around in both electronic & real form (I’m a luddite…what no wax cylinder ?) from the Nervous Pulse site where you can hear those other releases too.