Do You Want Beans With That? (Cafe Culture)

Here in the UK, after 10 days of forelock-tugging, monarchical myth-making & the performative grief of our national broadcaster (luckily I have a TV with an off switch) I was able to raise my Victorian mourning veil to find that we now live in a Kingdom & have a new head of government whose pernicious economic policy has rewarded millionaires, leaving the millions struggling in an inflationary recession to their own devices. Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses only worse, probably. Trickle down economics – you’ve got to be joking but it’s not funny. Feeling a strong disconnection with the country I live in it’s time to turn to Sir Raymond Douglas Davies who, after inventing Heavy Metal with “You Really Got Me”, has for over 50 years cast a sardonic but still empathic eye on the country of his birth. The title track of his 2007 record “Working Man’s Cafe” is a place that I recognise & like & Jah bless Ray Davies for writing a song about it.

Mitchell wasn’t a fan of the Cockney Hut, on that row of shops at the bottom of the high-rise flats on the Camberwell Road, now called Tony’s Cafe, you’ve passed it on the bus. He reckoned that the proprietor had a grubby thumb in the beans as he handed you the heart attack (& beans) on a plate but that didn’t bother me, I was hungry. The Hut was warm, steamy & not-too welcoming, you were left to enjoy your meal in peace which was fine by me. Just 50 yards from my work it was an ideal morning stop for beans on toast, egg on toast to soak up last night’s alcohol & help with the headache. I told my foreman that I may be 15 minutes late but he would get more work out of me if I had eaten breakfast than on an empty stomach & hungover & he bought it (I was good at my job). When Mitchell & I were both off work, lunch at the Hut, a saunter to the bookies, a couple of pints at the pub on Camberwell Green then a few frames at the snooker hall was like being in an episode of “Minder”, the popular 80s TV programme. A long good Thursday afternoon.

I could search for more food related musical selections to accompany these memories but let’s stick to Sir Raymond & his group, the Kinks. “God’s Children” is possibly one of the greatest songs ever recorded, certainly the best song to be featured in a movie about a penis transplant.

A few years & a few jobs later I was knocking the heck out of old warehouses then making them nice enough for office space in Shoreditch, East London. It’s Millennial Central round there now but back then, while the developers were still making plans, the area retained enough of its proletarian past & grimy charm to encourage a spot of instant cash-in-hand overtime if you wanted to spend the night in the Bricklayer’s Arms (oo-er!). The construction crew were a lively, mainly Irish gang & life was too hectic for making sandwiches for work. At breakfast time we all descended on Anna’s, a cafe run by a Greek married couple on Rivington St, a path from Old Street to our site on Charlotte Rd. The rush & push for tea & bacon rolls was eased when the bosses allowed a couple of us behind the counter to vaguely aim the big metal teapots at a row of empty mugs. At lunchtime the home-made Greek-English meals – not many beans in those – were nourishing & for those of us who had drunk our wages before payday (sometimes that was me) there was a line of credit that was happily paid back on Fridays. Anna would tell us that she was only staying around until the “yuppies” moved in, which they would & did. Maybe it was what we wanted to hear but I think she meant it. If I was in the area I always paid a visit to Anna’s.

There are other cafes that merit a mention here – I never got round to writing that guide to the “greasy spoons” of London. We lived just 50 yards from the Regency in Westminster, big, efficient, an Art-Deco classic that had featured in movies. Open until 8 p.m. the take out jam roly-poly (a suet-based comfort dessert) & custard was often irresistible. The Vietnamese place in the Borough where the carb-packed spaghetti bolognese & chips seemed, to me, to be an unlikely popular lunchtime selection. The owner made such a fuss of my girlfriend on the day she joined me – she loved it. At my final regular spot, just off the Walworth Road, the Chinese lady always worried if we were a no-show for a weekend breakfast & she left her station behind the counter to hug me on the day I told her I was leaving London. “It’s only a cafe” said my companion. He just didn’t get it.

Of course most of these places have gone now (the Regency abides), gentrification of humble neighbourhoods has always been a part of an evolving city. I can’t say that I’m, like Larry David, too comfortable in the coffee & chrome joints where avocado has replaced the beans on the toast though I’m too polite to order some “vanilla bullshit”, I stick with a latte, coffee with milk – it’s a thing! In my small town it’s still the mid-20th century & there are still cafes where the breakfast options occupy half of the menu, where, if you ask nicely, they will stick their thumb in the beans when they serve you.

OK let’s end with a song about British food in its multicultural glory written by Joe Strummer, another another perceptive observer of the somethings about England.


Salsa In Africa (Fania All Stars)

In 1974 Don King, bookmaker-turned-boxing promoter & less than 2 years out of prison, was working on his big deal. George Foreman, the 40-0 heavyweight boxing champion was making short work of any challenger, former title holder Muhammad Ali, the most famous sportsman in the world had lost twice since his return to boxing after a 3 year ban for refusing the US’s invitation to join their army in Vietnam. It would be “the fight of the century”, all Don needed was the $10 million to tempt the protagonists into a ring. He found an unlikely sponsor in Mobuto Sese Seko the President of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). The eyes of the world would be on his country & “The Rumble in the Jungle” set for September the 25th.

An injury to Foreman’s hand caused the postponement of the fight for six weeks but Zaire 74, a three day music festival, went ahead. The concert line-ups were curated by South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela & his record producer Stewart Levine. The best home talents , along with international African star Miriam Makeba, were booked along with a stellar selection of African-American artists. The plane to Kinshasa carried James Brown & the J.B.’s, B.B. King, Bill Withers, the Crusaders & the Spinners. Among King’s international investors & facilitators were David Hemmings, the British actor, through his Hemdale Film Corporation & apparently Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator. An original associate of his was Jerry Masucci, NY cop, then lawyer, now founder of the Fania record label. The Fania All Stars, a Salsa supergroup ensemble of some of the best Latin players around, joined the passenger list for the musically packed DC 8 to Zaire.

The All Stars brought along Celia Cruz, the charismatic, Afro-Cuban “Queen of Salsa” who, as a child, had learned the songs of Santeria, a religion derived from Yoruban by the African slave diaspora in Cuba. Exiled from home since 1962, Celia had become a significant representative of the Cuban-American community. Here, singing “Quimbara”, her latest hit, comparing life to dance, in Spanish to a French speaking African audience, we see the Queen in all her glamour & glory. The song was recorded for the “Celia & Johnny” album. Johnny Pacheco is Celia’s bandleader & dancing partner here. Born in the Dominican Republic, the son of a prominent local musician, Johnny had moved to New York when he was 11 years old. As a performer, composer, producer & co-founder of Fania Records Johnny was a central figure in the development & growing popularity of Latin music.

You don’t need an ethnomusicologist to point out the elements of African rhythms in the music of the Caribbean, they came over on the boats involved in a terrible trade in human beings. Drums were banned by the US plantation owners fearing that they carried a language & a message that they couldn’t understand. Those antebellum, antediluvian assholes may have had a point because the percussion on “Ponte Duro” is really saying something. I could list the members of the All Stars present at a momentous concert but would struggle to put faces to the names. The three featured sticksmen though deserve a shout out. Roberto Roena (bongos) led his own star band, Apollo Sound, in Puerto Rico. He later played with Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian saxophonist who was present at Zaire 74. Nicky Marrero, a master of the timbales, was born in the Bronx, New York to a Puerto Rican family & had been playing professionally since he was 14. Ray Barretto (congas) is another New Yorker of Puerto Rican stock. Ray was a big star, when artists across the musical spectrum (or “Sesame Street”) needed a percussionist, he got the call. Individually impressive, together that’s a triple threat trio of energy, showmanship & rhythm.

The progression of Latin music is more complicated than from Rumba to Mamba to Salsa. There’s a whole lot of rhythms in between as Afro-Cuban sounds spread around the Spanish-speaking Caribbean & continental South America before reaching the melting pot of New York’s Latin community. Their clubs were the place to be in the post World War II years the bands jammed & found work with & were influenced by the great Jazz musicians around. In the 1960s a cross-pollination of the sons & daughters of migrants, Nuyoricans, & their Afro-American neighbours in Central Harlem developed into Boogaloo, a Latin fused with R&B which produced many great records & was the very thing in 1969 when Ray Barretto & Mongo Santamaria represented at the Harlem Cultural Festival, the “Summer of Soul”. Here, from that year is Ray’s fantastic “Soul Drummers”. As Celia Cruz would always shout, “Azucar!”.

Dear, Oh Dear, What Dreadful Rowdy People (Faces)

In March 1970 Faces, three former members of Small Faces joined by guitarist Ron Wood & singer Rod Stewart from the Jeff Beck Group, released “First Step”, their debut album. Just three months later “Gasoline Alley”, Rod’s second solo album, with significant contributions from all of his new group, hit the shops, a more confident, more fully realised record than “First Step” which, according for the North American market had Small Faces on the cover! This, Faces still finding their feet in the studio & growing recognition of their singer complicated things. On the 15th of September 1970 they were at the BBC Maida Vale studio to record three tracks for the John Peel radio show, showing that live, onstage, they knew what they were all about & were the most exciting new band in the UK.

The words on the top of the page are the first impression of John Peel, the most influential British DJ for generations of listeners. He soon changed his mind about Faces, they were certainly rowdy, certainly not dreadful & in 1971, when Rod was at #1 with “Maggie May” he was there on Top of the Pops as an honorary Face, wondering what to do with the mandolin in his hands. This was the second session the band recorded for him this year. “Around The Plynth” is the rockingest, rawest track on “First Step”, Ron Wood, a bass player with Beck, playing a filthy slide guitar, Mac, as good a keyboard player as there was in Britain, Kenney Jones, the man to replace Keith Moon in the Who & Ronnie Lane, the nicest guy around. Then there’s the singer, Rod at the top of his game, his “Gasoline Alley” bringing melodicism to the toughest Blues-Rock. “Never knew what it was to be loved – bam, bam, bam” Oh my!

Ah go on, here’s moving pictures from 1971 of Faces performing “Plynth” in Paris. As John Peel said, “ the Faces for me recaptured the kind of feelings I’d had when I first heard Little Richard and people like that and Jerry Lee Lewis, in the same way as the Undertones were a few years later”. By 1971, with the group’s essential “A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse” album & Rod’s damn near perfect “Every Picture Tells A Story”, Faces were setting the standard for British Rock.