Out On The Street (Notting Hill Carnival)

The August Bank Holiday means that it’s Carnival time in London. The rest of the world organise their “carne vale” or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) around the religious fast of Lent. The Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street party, waits until later in the year & gives the unpredictable British weather at least a chance to make a positive contribution to the 2 days of celebration. The first Caribbean carnival cultural cabaret was an indoor event, organized in 1959 as a reaction to race relation problems & riots in West London. In 1966 a children’s street party became a procession when the steel band went walkabout. Such a spontaneous idea was too good a time to remain as a one-off & by 1975 the word was out about the best thing happening in London on a Bank Holiday weekend.

 

 

My first time at Carnival was in 1976. We joined a stream of people walking down the Portobello Rd from Notting Hill Gate to Ladbroke Grove & encountered an exhilarating blur of colourful costumes, steel pan music, dancing & people having a good time. Under the Westway flyover dub rhythms ricocheted off the concrete walls. Every street corner sound system was spinning the reggae hit of the summer, Junior Murvin’s seductive, ominous “Police & Thieves”, an instant classic produced by the master Lee Perry. After a great & different day out, in the fading light, we made our way up Ladbroke Grove. The streets were being left to the (predominantly) black youth & an increased police presence. Back then we were regulars at football matches, we knew when things were about to go off. Sure enough the next day’s banner headlines told of riots & attacks on police. 150,000 people enjoying themselves at a street festival is not news. 66 arrests (with 2 eventual convictions for carnival-related offences), that’s enough to cause a moral panic.

 

My wife shot a bunch of photographs of the day & developed them as colour slides (ask your grandparents). She taught in a Birmingham school with the highest proportion of Anglo-Caribbean pupils in the city & when the kids saw these photos they wanted to know just where they had been taken. After 20 years of residency their own community was still largely invisible in the mainstream media, these young Black Britons were unaccustomed to seeing their own culture celebrated. The racist shibboleth “Send them home !” was meaningless when “home” was a 50p bus ride away. “Inglan is a bitch” wrote Linton Kwesi Johnson, a multicultural one & people had better get used to it. The Notting Hill Carnival was more important than just a good day out.

 

 

In the 1980’s I was living in London & Carnival became a fixture of my (ahem !) social calendar. Attendance numbers continued to rise & every year I went with different people & had a fine time. Like “Police & Thieves” there was always a big tune that the sound boys adopted as the event’s anthem & in 1983 Arrow’s “Hot,Hot,Hot”, an irresistible soca hit, reflected Carnival’s wider Caribbean roots. It was that year we, Jackie, Mitchell & myself, made our way through the packed crowds in All Saints Rd to Meanwhile Gardens over Westbourne Park way to see Aswad play. When we arrived at the small community space there was just enough room left for the 3 of us. We were in the right place.

 

Aswad, Brinsley, Drummie & Gad, were a Notting Hill band. I have seen them play great sets at festivals, a Sunsplash, even the Royal Albert Hall. This was their manor, their crowd & their songs often reflected life in “a concrete situation”. Man, didn’t the hometown boys make good ! Reinforced by a veteran brass section Aswad were confident & assertive & so were the audience. I’ve never known such a connection between performers & their public. Jackie & I danced madly to the fine, fine music  with new friends (Mitchell didn’t…he don’t dance !). We left Meanwhile Gardens on a night lit up by smiling faces. The following year I saw a repeat performance in the same venue but this gig, documented on the “Live & Direct” LP, was just the greatest thing.

 

 

Through the 1990’s things had changed. Notting Hill, more than any other area in London, was super-gentrified. The eponymous movie made the place an unlikely tourist attraction. There are not too many black faces hanging out with Hugh Grant (maybe Divine Brown ?) & Julia Roberts. Carnival organisers & police, having to deal with up to a million visitors over the 2 days & concerned with an enduring reputation for disorder, introduced crowd control barriers, invited sponsorship, even considered a move into Hyde Park. The music was changing too. Under the Westway first Rap then House, Garage & Jungle was replacing the Reggae rhythms but, of course, you could still find the sounds you wanted just around the corner.

 

In 1997 I attended with Sue (we had first shared the experience back in 1984) & the rammed crowds on the parade route seemed more like spectators than “revellers”. We chose to spend the afternoon round & about DJ Norman Jay’s sound system, a fixture at Carnival. Norman (my favourite MBE) had been on the radar since his Shake ‘n’ Fingerpop parties, then a fine show on pirate radio Kiss FM before, in 97, joining Greater London Radio. His sets always included prime grooves, rare or otherwise, spanning all labels & decades of Black dance music. That year’s feelgood hit was the “NuYorican Soul” LP by production team Masters at Work, “Little” Louie Vega & Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez. A mix of revamped classics & new material, “It’s Alright I Feel It” by Jocelyn Brown, a great singer from back in the day, was just one of the stand out tracks. We knew that Norman would play this new anthem & so, it turned out, did half of his crowd. The place was joyous, dancing in the street, waving our hands in the air, waving like we just don’t care. Sue & I had a great day, ate some good food, saw Soul II Soul & had this Carnival moment that we had come for.

 

While writing this memoir I haven’t ignored the incidents of crime & disorder which prove to be so newsworthy. I lived in South London so I guess I was a tourist in Notting Hill too. I was aware of the problems between Black youth & the police, had friends who were victimised because of their colour. Plenty of times I’ve wanted a riot of my own. In 1984 the event passed off peacefully while the police were otherwise engaged with striking miners…just saying. I only bought weed at Carnival once (going unprepared), it was cool & it did the trick. There were times when I or my companions felt that we were probably in the wrong place but these were a few minutes in the many hours we were there. I would rather remember hundreds of thousands of people getting along, organising themselves & enjoying themselves, celebrating the culture of a community that has contributed so much to London’s & Britain’s life. I now live 150 miles from London & my old bones ache if I dance for too long. When August Bank Holiday comes around I wouldn’t mind getting down there & getting down one more time.

 

 

Mr Pink Makes A Movie (Steve Buscemi:Film Director)

Remember back in the mid-90s when Steve Buscemi was in every movie you saw at the cinema or rented from the video store (ask your parents, it’s what we had to do to see a film). Now he’s more likely to be known for his star turns in 2 landmark TV series. In series 5 of “The Sopranos” Tony Blundetto, a mobster from the old school, drives his cousin Tony Soprano to (spoiler alert) murder. “Boardwalk Empire” chronicled the rise & fall of another New Jersey gangster over 5 series. Buscemi dominated this outstanding show in his role as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson & deservedly picked up all the acting awards going.

 

Back then, in the 90’s, Steve’s restless performances & his exophthalmic eyes made him noticeable in whatever part he played. He appeared in all the Coen Brothers films, a couple by Tarentino & Tom DiCillo, Robert Altman’s “Kansas City”, John Carpenter’s “Escape to L.A.”. He was, of course, one of Bruce Willis’ gang who saved the Earth in “Armageddon”, the “Marietta Mangler” in “Con Air”. None of us who have seen the delightfully odd “The Search for One-Eye Jimmy” (1994) are going to miss it from this list. I found this film for just £1 ($1.57) & it’s a jewel of my DVD collection. Steve Buscemi obviously liked to work & he was in demand by the top directors of the day. On a very busy schedule he also found the time to direct his first feature film.

 

 

 

If you have not seen “Trees Lounge” (1996) & you have just watched the trailer then you know that you have missed out on something  very fine. The film stars & is written,& directed by Steve Buscemi, who plays Tommy, a man with a broken past who is hoping to find a future at the bottom of a glass. He’s too high to make good decisions, too wasted to care that much. He takes a job driving an ice cream truck around the Long Island ‘burbs, helped out by 17 year old Debbie (Chloe Sevigny) & that’s never going to end well. “Trees Lounge” is a study of drinking culture that hits home, the bar is not “Cheers”. There’s a touch of Bukowski in the story but Tommy arouses compassion & sympathy despite his obvious failings. Now this may be my own projection (I’ve had my own dodgy moments) or the great performance by Buscemi. I’m going with the latter.

 

Tommy is no loner & “Trees Lounge” no one-man band. The large ensemble cast all make convincing contributions. It’s too long a list to include everyone here. Mimi Rogers, Carol Kane & Seymour Cassel come to mind (as Ms Rogers often does !) but another day it would be another 3. David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos” employed the same casting agency for his series & 4 of the actors, including Michael Imperioli (Christopher Soprano), moved across to New Jersey. I watch a lot of low budget American indie movies & “Trees Lounge” , along with “The Station Agent”, endures as a benchmark for its dark humour, authenticity & humanity. 5 stars (out of 5).

 

 

After such a first-rate debut Buscemi’s next film was an adaptation of Edward Bunker’s prison novel “Animal Factory” (2000). Bunker, Mr Blue in “Reservoir Dogs”, had served his time in the joint & his books pull no punches. Among the film’s co-producers with Bunker was Danny Trejo, “Machete”, who the writer had met in Folsom State Prison. Trejo is part of another excellent cast led by Willem Dafoe as a veteran con who takes Edward Furlong under his wing. Remember Furlong, such a nice young man who was flying back then with “American History X” & “Pecker”. In 2002 he lost the part of John Connor in “Terminator 3” &…well, what happened ?

 

Also in the cast is John Heard, a leading man in the 80’s (“Cutter’s Way”, “After Hours”) who spent too much time having a good time but always gives good value. In the clip the transvestite Jan the Actress is played by Mickey Rourke, whose star was later to rise again in “Sin City” & “The Wrestler”. He had been a fine actor before getting distracted by boxing & plastic surgery. “Animal Factory” is a good film, the assembly of tough guys all doing their thing. It’s more “Midnight Express” than “Shawshank” & that will always get a thumbs up from me.

 

 

In the next 5 years Steve Buscemi was great in Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World”, hilariously robbed a bank in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish”, handled return gigs with Jim Jarmusch, Robert Rodriguez & Michael Bay. His return to directing with “Lonesome Jim” (2005) was a very low-budget affair. The film is written by James C Strouse, a specialist in stories about mixed-up, miserable men. When Strouse directs his own scripts he’s a little over-sentimental, though the new one, “People, Places & Things” (2015) with Jemaine off of Flight of the Conchords, is worth a viewing. In Buscemi’s directorial digits “Lonesome Jim” is a charming study of one man’s despondency.

 

Jim (Casey Affleck) an aspiring, failed novelist, returns to his family home super pissed off, convinced that everything he touches turn to crap. His family, Dad (Seymour Cassel), Mum (the delightfully mad Mary Kay Place), brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan) & Uncle Evil (Mark Boone Jr),  are of little help though that’s another great cast. Into Jim’s life comes Anika, a nurse, an optimistic, straightforward, ray of sunshine. She is played by Liv Tyler…well, what can a poor boy do ? Before this film I thought that young Casey made movies because he knew some people who knew his brother Ben. He certainly delivers as the morose Jim, showing a potential that was delivered on in “The Assassination of Jesse James”, “Gone Baby Gone” & “The Killer Inside Me”. With “Lonesome Jim” Steve Buscemi showed that not only was he a top-notch actor but also an assured director who had been paying attention on all those film sets.

 

In 2007 there was another feature, “The Interview”, a two-hander with Sienna Miller which I have not seen. He directed 4 episodes of “The Sopranos”, including the unforgettable “Pine Barrens”, Paulie & Christopher taking a clueless walk on the wild side. There have been 6 episodes of Nurse Jackie & a web series “Park Bench with…” which is definitely at the top of my to-see list. Steve Buscemi has a proven track record as a director & I hope that now he is done with Nucky & “Boardwalk Empire” that there will be more of his films to entertain us.

New Music For 2015 (Glasgow Edition)

At the end of the year a number of hand-picked arbiters of taste are invited to contribute their choice of the previous 12 months to this blog. Last December Danny McCahon, a man who has seen the world & can take it or leave it, elected to stick close to home. He highlighted 2 bands from Glasgow, both of them yet to make any recordings. Danny is a man who seems to be around 8 months ahead of the game because both Lola In Slacks & Veloninos have new, noteworthy tunes which are imminently to be released.

First up Lola In Slacks, named I assume from Nabakov’s “Lolita”, who are now so famous that they have been on the telly. They performed 2 songs “Bisous du Mistral” & their debut single “Tramlines” on the Riverside Show for Scottish TV & it’s great to have some proper sound & vision of a band that surely deserves a wider audience. After Danny’s tip I checked L.I.S’. tunes on Soundcloud & was instantly caught. I guess that the group’s languid, chic, European vibe is epitomised by singer/songwriter Lou Reid (real name, great name) but guitarist/composer Brian McFie’s soundscapes and sympatico support from the rest of the band make them the real deal.

I’m not going to drop the obvious names but this week I have been enjoying the later recordings of Marlene Dietrich & Lola In Slacks are right up that strasse. “Tramlines” is released at the end of August on Stereogram & I look forward to an album where the group can stretch out & properly hit the atmosphere they are aiming for.

Veloninos were formed in 2013 but the members have been around before. Davie Duncan (vocals, rhythm & er…moothie) & Kenny McLennan (guitar) were part of the Shakin’ Pyramids (1980-83) the Scottish rockabilly trio whose debut single was “Reeferbilly Boogie”, 1st LP “Skin ‘Em Up”…ahem. The pair have joined with old friends Laurie Cuffe (guitar) & Shug Jamieson (big bassman) & are playing music inspired by their early influences, Hank Williams, Gene Vincent, the Everly Brothers & others, playing it very well too. The available Y-tube clips can lack the more electric charge of their recently released 6 track digital EP so I’ve included a sampler of all 6 tracks here. Over at www.veloninos.com you can learn all you need about the band, watch the videos & buy the EP.

Lastly (but by no means leastly) is a group who shared the stage with the above & others at the annual Merchant City Festival last weekend & this clip is from that gig. The Debris Rose is David Ritchie’s group & this is a driving R&B transposition of Don Cherry’s train song “Clicky Clacky” that Cherry recorded with Codona in 1983. If that sentence is not enough to confirm his impeccable musical taste then take it from me it is. David has been promising to record new Debris Rose material but life, lassitude & line-up changes (not necessarily in that order) have got in the way. David is the guy on our stage left, the one wrestling with the uppity guitar. On drums is Lesley McLaren who, the sharp-eyed among you will have already noticed, is also the drummer with Lola In Slacks. Lesley appears to be a member of a few groups & on this track she shows why her talents are in such demand. She also appears to be wearing the same hooped T-shirt on both occasions. If they are different garments from an extensive though similar collection then I apologise for my presumption.

So, next December, when Danny makes his, now traditional, return to these pages we should take note. I may disallow the inclusion of the industrial metal of Seraph Sin on the grounds that his son Roddy is a member but when Danny is listening at Xmas, Glasgow & ourselves shouldn’t take until the following summer to catch up.

That Girl Can Sing ! (Lady J)

Last Summer loosehandlebars was delighted to mark the marriage of 2 much loved members of the Derry music community.  ” One of the best wedding receptions ever combined with one of the best rock ‘n roll shows ever” reported our special correspondent & the photos of the smiling gathering confirmed this. The snaps of Ruairi O’Doherty & Jeanette Hutton, still in her wedding dress, performing together on their happy day were the most charming thing I saw all year. This morning the Summer of 2015 was brightened when the postman called with a surprise package containing the debut LP by their group Lady J (with a personal message from the Lady herself….Get me !). It starts like this…Turn It Up !

 

 

It’s OK, you can come out from behind the sofa now. Well maybe not, Lady J make a fierce noise & the album doesn’t take a breath until track 6, “Girl With A Mojito”. The sound is based on a rock solid foundation of a rhythm section of Ruairi (drums) & David Doherty (bass). You would expect no less that a Derry band would get the guitars right & Marty McGill takes it easy on the solos, favouring a more dense, dramatic sound wash. Then there’s the singer. In my e-dealings with Ms Hutton she has never been less than civil (I might go so far as saying she is very sweet). Holy Moly ! Give the woman a microphone & she is a force of nature. “The Creeper” opens the album & is followed by this cracker.

 

 

The lyrics for all 11 songs are written by Jeanette & of course she sings it like she means it. There’s a power & a control which is very effective. No faux-soul shrieking, no reliance on over-enunciation as a substitute for emotion. She reminds me of Maggie Bell, the talented Scottish vocalist from Stone the Crows, another singer with a gift, with control & who rocked. Arrangements are by the band & it’s a big old noise which never runs to the tried & tested, stays tight & never overstays its welcome. The barrage of sound which ends “Take Me Home” is doing it for me right now.

 

At the moment the Lady J LP is only available at Cool Discs in Derry. The staff, I hear, are a bit rough & ready, but I’m sure that they will steer you right. Later this month there will be an online release so head over to the band’s F-book page for all the necessaries.  I know that Jeanette Hutton has been singing around Derry for longer than a gentleman like myself should point out. I also know that this album has been a long held ambition & that she wanted to do it right. Well, she’s happy with it & so she should be. It’s a pleasure to have my copy at hand & let’s hope plenty of other people get to feel the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zimmermania 1965 (Bob Dylan Covers)

By the Summer of 1965 the US music scene had been in thrall to the Beatles-led British Invasion for 18 months. Phil Spector showed that he still had the moves with the irresistible epic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for the Righteous Brothers while Motown injected the same energy & imagination into African-American pop music that the Fabs & their followers did into Rock & Roll. In April & May Freddie & the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits  & the Mop Tops had consecutive #1 records. (Whisper it but in the UK we were moving on to the 2nd wave, the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds). When the Byrds struck a gold record with their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” they not only invented folk-rock but signposted a short-cut back to the Hit Parade for American groups. Recording Dylan songs became quite the thing after the success of the Byrds.

Of course the world’s folk singers had known about this wrinkle for some time. The lovely Joan Baez, romantically involved with the young poet, was an early adaptor & proselytiser for his talents. In 1963 Peter, Paul & Mary, no doubt encouraged by Albert Grossman, the manager they shared with Dylan, included 3 of his songs on their LP “In the Wind”. Their 45 “Blowing in the Wind” shifted 300,000 units in its 1st week of release. Bob Dylan was becoming more widely known & anyway an astonishing burst of  creative development, lyrically & musically, became a declaration of his independence from the other 136 (or 142) protest singers. At the end of 1964 the LP “Beatles For Sale” included John Lennon’s “I’m A Loser”, obviously influenced by Dylan. Similarly Dylan was surely affected by the vitality (& the commercial success) of  music made by a generation raised on the same Rock & Roll/R&B records as he was. Folk diehards shocked by the release of “Like A Rolling Stone” in June 1965 & the electric appearance at the Newport Folk Festival the following month had not been listening very hard to “Bringing It All Back Home”. Those of us who had welcomed him over to our side.

Dylan & the Hawks (who became the Band) recorded”Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”in October & it was released in December intending to continue the hit streak after “Rolling Stone” & “Positively 4th St”. Whoever was responsible for the Vacels cover of the song was certainly on the case, the single hitting the shops in the same month. Ricky & the Vacels started as a Doo-Wop harmony group & had released a couple of Beatle-ish singles before coming around with this great record. At first listen I thought “Oh Yes ! A Garage Rock version of a Dylan song” but the arrangement (by Artie Butler, the man who played keyboards on “Leader of the Pack” !) has too much going on for it to be the product of some carport crew. There’s a glimpse of garage, a bit of Byrds, even a little 4 Seasoning. The proclamatory vocals match the urgency of the music & I love it. The record was obviously aimed at the charts, it missed & the Vacels never recorded again.

The Turtles included 3 Dylan songs on their debut LP & the title track, “It Ain’t Me Babe” took them to the Top 10. Two of the biggest American hits of the year were Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”, almost an answer song to “It Ain’t Me…” & “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, a protest song in the style of…The Byrds & Cher both released “All I Really Want To Do” while the Association, soon to find their own light folk-rock style hacked away at a preppy attempt on “One Too Many Mornings” which was deservedly overlooked. Dylan was suddenly a major influence on popular music. “Eve of Destruction” sounded fresh at the time but it was an odd construct which you don’t hear much nowadays. It was the Rolling Stones’ first US #1 “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” which matched the impetus & innovation of Dylan’s Rock & Roll. 40 years later Rolling Stone ranked “Satisfaction” as the 2nd greatest song of all time, 2nd to “Like A Rolling Stone”. 1965 was some year for music.

Of course not everyone got it. At a rather incredible but probably typical press conference in London in 1966 Dylan is credited with writing “Eve of Destruction”, asked how many protest singers there are (for the answer see above) & whether he is “the ultimate beatnik” before fielding a photographer’s request to suck on his glasses ! Eddie Hodges had won a Grammy when he was only 12 for his part in the original Broadway production of “The Music Man”, a fine musical in which he played Winthrop Paroo (Winnie the Pooh !). In 1960 he was the lead in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, a charming movie that put a young boy (that would be me) onto Mark Twain. By 1965, still only 18, he was a would-be teen idol of the type left floundering in the backwash of the Mersey tidal wave. The decision to record a version of “Love Minus Zero/No Limits”, a beautiful love song with surreal lyrics referencing visionary poets & the Book of Daniel, omitting the top half of verses 3 & 4 , delivering the remnant with the passion & perception of a rocking horse while the go-go dancers do the Frug seems more than ill-judged. Something is happening but you don’t know what it is. Do you Master Hodges ?

In the late-1950s songwriter Burt Bacharach was happy if his tunes were picked up for the B-side of a record. He took a job as accompanist/musical director for the great actress/singer Marlene Dietrich & travelled the world’s great cities & theatres, arranging & conducting her concerts & recordings. When Bacharach, with lyricist Hal David, became the new benchmark for sophisticated popular music he continued to work with the international star. Bob Dylan recorded “Blowin’ in the Wind” for his 2nd LP “The Freewheelin’…” in 1963. The tune was adapted from a spiritual, the rhetorical lyrics a progression from his folk ballad style. Peter, Paul & whatshername put the song on the charts & it was immediately adopted as an anthem by supporters of civil liberties across the world.

In 1964 Johnny Cash & Sam Cooke recorded their versions but Ms Dietrich had beaten them to it. Bacharach, looking to expand & contemporise her repertoire had recorded this cool, classy arrangement for a German version in 1963. In 1965, with Dylan all the rage it was re-released, this time in English. I like this take on the song, it reminds me of Nico. My good friend Paul Pj McCartney once remarked that there’s not enough Marlene around our computers & he was right. I do what I can.