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.


A Heart As Big As…(Gerry and the Pacemakers)

Music Genre and Subcultural Artwork on the Post-war British Fairground

In the Summer school holidays of 1963 the funfair came to my town & I was taken along by the bigger boys, my first chance to do so without the supervision of my parents. It was a midweek & I was broke, any pocket money spent on a wild weekend of drugs, alcohol & women (hang on, that was later, I was 10 years old so make that Penny Arrow bars & packets of Nibbits). I may not have been able to afford a chance to win a goldfish with a limited shelf life but I was free to wander, to experience “all the fun of the fair”, the sights, sounds & smells which, when I recall them, make me smile like Proust & his little cakes. It was free to watch the Dodgems & the Waltzers, the Teddy Boys who collected the money riding on the back of the cars & spinning the girls until they screamed. Maybe one day I could slick my hair into a quiff, grow impressive sideburns & do their job.

Except that by the end of the year I would no longer covet drainpipe jeans (shrunk to fit by wearing them in the bath!), crepe-soled beetle crushers. & records by Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps (I’m lying…I love Gene). Something was happening & a new style was coming. In the Summer of 63 Britain’s youth was in the first throes of Mersey Mania, a home-grown, Liverpool led, rejuvenation of American popular music. It wasn’t all the Beatles either, in June Gerry & the Pacemakers enjoyed their second #1 record of the year with “I Like It” following “How Do You Do It” to the toppermost of the poppermost. It was here, watching the girls & boys do their mystery dance, with the fluorescence of flashing lights & candy floss & the waft of fried onions from the, I’m sure, highly sanitary burger stands, that I heard this music as it should be heard…LOUD! So that’s how it goes, so that’s what it does. Exciting, very much so.

UK Based Beatles Dealers On The Search For Beatles Concert Posters In March  2015

Gerry Marsden passed away yesterday. I had not really thought about him & his Pacemakers for some time though as I said…fairgrounds, y’know. In the early 1960s he & his group were not in the slipstream of the Fab Four but running alongside them, learning their trade in Hamburg then back in their hometown’s Cavern Club. “How Do You Do It”, written by Mitch Murray, was rejected by the Beatles, manager Brian Epstein knew that the talent & the royalties was in their songwriting. Passed to another of his Scouser stable, Gerry & the Pacemakers charged at it with brio & hit the top spot with their debut single. according to the UK’s Official Charts, the first of the Mersey Beaters to do so. Epstein had other, big plans for his proteges & when his star turn established a bridgehead in the USA (having the top 4 singles in the Cash Box chart of March 1964 there was a plan to market their bathwater for a dollar a bottle) Gerry’s group, along with Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas, were in the first wave of British invaders.

Ferry Cross the Mersey (1964) - IMDb

There were to be 5 Top 20 hits in the US, a colourful place that was beyond dreams for working-class kids from Northern England which was still in monochrome back then. The attention & screaming fans at home was something new, to be transatlantically feted as the current thing must have been something else. Six months after “A Hard Day’s Night” the group starred in “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, a tailor-made movie set in Liverpool’s Beat scene. “It’s Gonna Be Alright”, here introduced on “Hullabaloo” by their manager, was written by Gerry for the film. It was not as successful as earlier singles but it delivered the promised Big Beat, I liked it then still do now.

images – Gerry and the Pacemakers

“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”, one of those earlier hits, is credited to all of the Pacemakers. Live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (imagine!) Gerry absolutely suits the spotlight, giving America the good stuff that the crowd at the New Brighton Tower Ballroom had known about for years. In 1965 British music was changing, the Beatles were still in the vanguard while the Stones, the Kinks, the Who & others brought a tougher R&B edge. It wasn’t only me with less interest in Gerry & the Pacemakers. Their final 45 “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” was a Folk-Rock cover of a mild Paul Simon protest song. It failed to bother the chart compilers & in 1966 the group called it a day. The Pacemakers were not to be seen in kaftans, smoking a hookah, pianist Les & bass player Lee bought a garage, Gerry starred in the West End & panto while having a supporting role to Sooty, a much loved TV glove puppet. But he never did go away did he?

Polly James & Nerys Hughes Television: The Liver Birds: Anybody Here Seen  Thingy (1970) Director:..., Stock Photo, Picture And Rights Managed Image.  Pic. MEV-12453133 | agefotostock
Nerys & Polly, the Liver Birds

OK, I’ll not get sentimental here (I’ll try). I’ve made the ferry journey from Liverpool to Birkenhead & while thoughts of Nerys Hughes in “The Liver Birds” may have crossed my mind Gerry’s title song to “Ferry Cross the Mersey” was in there too, possibly because it was being played on the public address system. It’s a fine, enduring North West anthem, as redolent as “Waterloo Sunset”, to a city & its inhabitants that I have always enjoyed visiting. Then there’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song from “Carousel” that was the third of Gerry & the Pacemakers historic run of a trio of #1 hits with their first three singles. Adopted as an anthem by Liverpool Football Club, who were entering the most successful era in their history,. I intend no slight to Glasgow Celtic where it is also communally sung with equal gusto & devotion before games but “YNWA” is recognised as the call off sign of Liverpool fans worldwide & its pre-match rendition can still moisten the eyes of grown men (Hi there Joe, hi John). That’s two paeans to a city that sparked a cultural conflagration with music that twisted & shouted & changed the world. Gerry Marsden & his group played their part & he will always be remembered in association with that city. To complete the title of this post he had a heart as big as Liverpool.

Nothing But Time (2020)

In the first week of February this year my nephew & I drove to the Sheffield City Hall to see Britain’s best comedian Stewart Lee. Both Mike & myself have always enjoyed shooting the breeze about potential world-ending catastrophes, swine flu, climate change, the zombie apocalypse & in the spirit of the upcoming evening we lightly riffed on the infectious bother the Chinese, in particular the Wuhan clan, were suffering. That night, apart from a family wedding with a severely restricted list of guests, has proved to be my final social gathering of 2020. Five weeks on (two weeks too late), the double whammy of age & “underlying health conditions” indicating that it was probably “so long, it was nice knowing you” if Corona called, meant that social isolation it was then & mostly still is. Just me, that pile of books I’ve been meaning to start, intimations of my own mortality & worry about family & friends. A blizzard of depressing, ominous, confusing, changing speculation on the information superhighway hardly helped, relief from introspection & flatlining was called for & admiring my huge stash of toilet paper didn’t do it because that was imaginary. It has always been music that soothed…still is.

I’ve done a lot of listening in 2020, appreciating an opportunity to savour & appreciate the complete works of John Cale, to be stirred by the old-time Sixties idealism of Paul Kantner & Grace Slick & to investigate the dusty, neglected Reggae albums at the back of the stack. Van Morrison & John Martyn have been the ideal companions at the end of another day of not much at all. It’s not all comfortable immersion in my record collection. My end-of-year highlights usually includes at least one new release by an artist of my own generation who has been making music for longer than I & they probably care to remember. Not this time.

Pinegrove "taking some time off" as frontman responds to sexual coercion  accusation | NME

In January Pinegrove released their fourth studio album “Marigold”. A group that had immediately appealed, I bought their record “Cardinal” (2016) within 30 minutes of hearing them & looked forward to their progress. An accusation of sexual coercion against frontman Evan Stephens Hall, then a clumsy apology/statement on social media, followed by the self-release of the “Skylight” record & a year’s hiatus stalled their momentum. Inevitably these events informed listening to the new collection. Hall’s meticulous, contemplative & articulate lyrics are one of the reasons Pinegrove are so distinctive. Such a public airing of his situation was not something the songwriter would take lightly. It’s not all introspection on “Marigold”, Hall & the group are developing their palate & it’s their strongest album yet. The title track, a reflective six minute long instrumental, ties a soothing, ultimately optimistic record together. They are still a band to be reckoned with.

Elsewhere 2 | Pinegrove

Unable to tour in support of “Marigold” Pinegrove retreated to their Bandcamp enclave & released “Elsewhere 2” a short “pay what you can” live set expertly mixed by guitarist Sam Skinner. From what I’ve seen & heard it is on stage that the group really flourishes. The 2016 session they recorded for Audiotree, with sterling support from the sound engineer, is the best showcase of their early work. Playing live the band’s melodic Country-Folk tendencies have more Indie drive bringing late-period Teenage Fanclub to mind. I’m not tech-savvy enough to separate just the one track from “Elsewhere 2” so you’re just a click away from the full 30 minutes. It’s a great mix of new & old material , the rapport between the band & their audience is apparent & it’s this music that has given me the most pleasure in 2020. To close here’s a song from “Marigold”. “I wake up & feel totally the same. I woke up the same as yesterday with no news of any kind”, “Endless” still hits the spot as a song for these times. “When this is over hold me forever”. Damn right!

Daniel Romano's Outfit Merseyside Tickets, Future Yard, 75 Argyle Street,  14th Jun 2021 | Ents24

Bandcamp was also the place to be to try to keep up with Daniel Romano. As a devoted fan, even with time on my hands, it has been a stretch to get a handle on all of his new music this year. I reckon there have been 8 maybe 9 new albums in 2020, solo works, with his band Outfit & collaborations. It’s a list starting with “Visions of a Higher Dream” & perhaps ending with “How Ill Thy World is Ordered”. Daniel’s name got around playing artful old-time Country songs, a classic structure that Buck Owens, George Jones & Gram Parsons could have recorded. His move away from this, a progression that acknowledged his Punk roots while embracing Folk, mid-60s Dylan & psychedelic Rock, was a journey that I was glad to share. Each album has contained songs that linger & grow in stature. From this year’s torrent perhaps “(What Could Have Been) Infidels”, a re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s 1983 record inspired by his iconic TV performance with the Plugz, is a little esoteric while “Content to Point the Way” is a return to that Country thing he does so well. Pick a record, any of them & you’ll find a uniquely talented singer-songwriter with the ability to lasso & shape the many ideas he has about his music.

Daniel Romano's Outfit Announces US Tour - Closed Captioned

It’s another live album that is my pick of Daniel’s busy year. The aptly named “Okay Wow” came around in March, issued under the name Daniel Romano’s Outfit, recorded on their 2019 tour. With his brother Ian on drums, David Nardi (guitar), Roddy Rosetti (bass), Tony Cicero (organ) & Juliana Riolino (vocals) Daniel has assembled a blistering Rock & Roll unit. From the opening “Empty Husk” the band scorch through songs from his extensive back catalogue with a brio & energy that brings to mind fellow Canadian Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. His songs have always been dramatic & even the gentler country tracks benefit from this direct charge. “Hunger Is A Dream You Die In” from 2016’s “Mosey” makes the cut here because I think it’s the best of his many songs & I get to choose. This is 21st Century Rock not some Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen derivative & I can’t get enough. The Outfits set in Kristiansand, Norway was filmed & is an absolute delight. You are busy people, I hope that you can spare 45 minutes to enjoy one of today’s great songwriters & a band at the top of their game.

Here at loosehandlebars three is the magic number so I only have one more choice from 2020. More than honourable mention should be made to the fastidious Prog-Pop, gentle Psych of Tame Impala’s “The Slow Rush” & to “Punisher”, a radiant collection from Phoebe Bridgers, the heartbreak offset by her light conversational style & a dry sense of humour, marking her arrival in the big time. I read that as well as kicking over the statues Black Lives Matter, a timely, important reaction to violent institutional racism, is a Marxist organisation dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism. In the words of the British collective SAULT, “You Know It Ain’t”!

Sault: Untitled (Rise) review – mystery collective make best album of 2020,  again | Music | The Guardian

The two “Untitled” albums released this year by SAULT, a unit that eschews publicity & promotion, are a wonderfully crafted blend of R&B beats, Neo-Soul, house, disco & world rhythms. I don’t know much about SAULT but I know that they know. The seamless. insistent groove of “(Black Is)” & “(Rise)” recalls club nights soundtracked by Bohannon & Roy Ayers. The last time I heard musical influences so capably configured into a whole new thing was when Massive Attack came around. The lyrics concerning the Black experience, oppression, loss, resistance, strength & hope, are in the tradition of Nina Simone, the Native Tongues & even the Last Poets. It’s been 50 years since Marvin told us “What’s Going On”, it’s shameful that this discussion has still to be had & it’s important that it is. SAULT made important music in 2020.

After 9 months of diminished social interaction I am like many of us suffering from pandemic fatigue. Those “what the fuck now?” moments don’t come around here so often, I follow the news less closely, ignore the views of amateur epidemiologists & willingly wear a mask in consideration of the health of those around me. The one statistic that I still find relevant is the daily record of deaths in the UK, a number that is still shocking, saddening & too high. This awful toll confirms that the actions of the British government, a fetid cocktail of incompetence, insensitivity, mendacity & corruption, have not matched the sacrifice & effort made by so many & that they should be held to account for for their failures. I am optimistic that community responsibility & a programme of vaccination offers hope for a healthier future however here in the not-so United Kingdom we are facing further economic uncertainty after the similar mismanagement of our separation from our trading partners in the European Union. I have considered expanding the parameters of this blog to include “Tasty Ways To Cook Your Shoes”, proof indeed that I have had too much time on my hands in 2020. I wish you all a Better, Busier New Year.

2020: The Year When Everything Happened And Nothing Happened (Danny McCahon)

It’s an annual pleasure to welcome celebrated Scottish playwright Danny McCahon to our short series of guest contributions to the blog. I would like to thank Danny for his support throughout the year, to wish his expanding family the Happiest of New Years with the hope that going to the football & to gigs become things again in 2021.

When Mal offered me some space on his blog to talk about highlights from 2020 I thought there wasn’t much point as nothing much had happened in 2020. The highlight for me was the birth of my gorgeous granddaughter, Phoebe, but I’ve bored enough people with tales of her magnificence without continuing it on my mate’s site. (bore away Danny, she really is a beautiful, happy baby)

Incidentally, she likes “Oh You Pretty Things” more than she enjoys “Kooks”.

Loosehandlebars, though, has been one of the constants through this year of unpredictability and something that usually brings me new knowledge and a bit of pleasure, so I felt it only right to pay a little back.

Those of us doing our bit for our fellow man have stayed close to home this year and my three selections here are close to my home. The last gig I saw was Earl Slick playing with Glen Matlock at the start of March, the last time I was in a cinema was to see “Tenet” at the start of September and the thing that stands out most from my memory of TV binge-viewing is “Band of Brothers” which just about everybody saw a couple of decades ahead of me. So I am sticking to records here.

I like old things but try to stay current and avoid being caught up in the vortex of nostalgia. Thomas Leer has been an important name in electronic music since way back and, despite the spotlight missing him for a while, the Port Glasgow maestro has never stopped moving forward. He’s avoided that vortex.

Dark Days: Thomas Leer – Emotional Hardware | Documentary Evidence

That meant the show he played to close a fantastic exhibition celebrating his and his friend Robert Rental’s contributions to UK music was anything but a jukebox of greatest hits. Instead it was an exciting 21st century genre-melding treat. Then in August of the year when nothing happened much of that night’s set appeared on the “Emotional Hardware” album. Here’s track five of six:

Thomas is from the next town to me. Keeping it local, just a few seats along from me at a Celtic home game you are likely to find three of the central characters that form The Bluebells, another lot associated with another time that have kept on keepin’ on. Each has his own current musical projects but when they get together for a Bluebells gigs you are going to hear tunes first aired on their 1984 hit album, “Sisters”.

The Bluebells - Sisters - Music

As the years have rolled on, the album’s reputation has grown and it has become sought after in the vintage vinyl market. The boys in the band, though, had never been totally happy with the album’s mix, the production on some tracks and the running order, so when Scottish label Last Night from Glasgow approached them to re-release the record, they took the opportunity to make it closer to the collection they always wanted it to be.

They added two tracks, replaced two existing tunes with versions produced during sessions with Elvis Costello and swapped the running order of the final two tracks. It’s an album I’ve always liked but hadn’t listed to from start to finish in a long time. My new green vinyl version sounded so fresh and the guys I would have bumped into at Celtic Park during a normal season have told me they are much happier with the mastering this time round.

Here’s a Bluebells song I was enjoying long before I was a father and am now enjoying all over again as a grandfather.

Foxy Orthodoxy | HIGHRESAUDIO

Next up is another Scottish songwriter with a track record. Kev Sherry is best known as the frontman of Glasgow indie band, Attic Lights. And – declaring my very local interest – he has enlisted my son, Roddy, to play drums live and in the studio for a number of side projects in recent years. This year Kev, with a hit graphic novel under his belt, released his first solo album,” Foxy Orthodoxy”, and the reviews have included words like ‘allegorical enchantment’ and ‘poignant lyricism’. Although I don’t disagree with any of that, I don’t think that should overshadow the fact that this is a record full of good pop songs. To me, “Foxy Orthodoxy” follows a Scottish lineage that includes Aztec Camera and Teenage Fanclub while, like those two, totally reflecting the times it was made in.

To promote the album, Kev brought together a young band he’s called Low Fruit, with Ken McCluskey of the aforementioned Bluebells as chief scout, and was ready to hit the road when the pandemic shut the venues, so he had to settle for a series of one-man-and-his guitar live streams.

In a year when we’ve all been looking for things to feel good about, this video brings a smile to my face. Produced by in-demand Scottish keyboardist, guitarist and producer, Kev’s sometimes bandmate Jim Lang, it makes me feel good and I hope it does the same for you.

That Was The Year That Wasn’t (Frannie Says)

It’s time for a select group of invited correspondents, good friends of the blog, to give their thoughts on the past year. It will be understandable, in these strangest of times, if the tone is a little more downbeat. We are though folk who take strength & delight in the small mercies of life & in music. First up, straight outta the wilds of Donegal Ireland, is Frannie Moran a man with plenty to say & when drink has not been taken to excess (joke) makes a lot of sense.

So, it’s that time of the year again and my mate Mal has asked me to put a few words to screen for his always entertaining and enlightening blog ” Loosehandlebars “.(shucks). What a year eh ? I try to avoid any mention of it now but 2020 has been entirely decimated due to Covid-19, no live football, no live gigs, bugger me I have had 2 bloody pints of Guinness since March, small wonder Diageo shares are falling!!  On a purely personal level, my year took a sharp downward curve when my brother-in-law and very close friend, Hugh passed away in early March. There is a void there, it will take a lot to fill it.

Northern Ireland fans in John Prine tribute after coronavirus death -

On the 7th of April there was more bad news when one of my all-time heroes, singer-songwriter John Prine succumbed to the dreaded virus. The hammer had come down fairly heavily at this stage, John was a funny guy who wrote and sang some very comical songs with a dry wit, he made me laugh a lot but then on the other side of the coin, he made my cry a lot, I was introduced to him by my friend Seanan Brennan, I had moved from Ballybofey to Ballyshannon in 1992, like previous transfers I tried to befriend local musicians and man, there were a fair few in my newly adopted hometown, Jason, Michael, Johnny, Stephen and Seanan whom I invited out to my wee gaff one night along with a few others, Seanan now plays with Kila but that particular night it was all about folk songs, ya know, Neil Young, Gram Parsons. He played John’s “Angel From Montgomery” &, I was instantly smitten with an artist I knew very little about. Nanci Griffiths had covered “Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness” a hit of sorts here in Ireland, a couple of weeks later I bought a cassette tape at a local market, it was the “Prime Prine” collection, 10 songs If I recall rightly (he doesn’t, there were 12) and each one a gem. It was soon followed by THAT debut record from 1971. I had long maintained that Townes Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ Round To Die” is the saddest song ever written but then I’d never heard “Hello In There”. The sense of pathos running through that song never fails to move me, makes me want to visit my mother more often and wishing I had visited my old man more often when he was alive, it is a stone cold classic.


Fair & Square: Music

I was fortunate enough to see John Prine perform on two occasions. The first time in Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey,Donegal (his wife Fiona is from just down the road) while he was touring the “Fair and Square” record (2005), his first new material in a decade. Guitarist Jason Wilbur accompanied then and remained constantly by his side until his passing. Fast forward a good few years to Vicar Street in Dublin, John had undergone surgery for a form of throat cancer, his voice was a bit more ragged but it was another memorable gig, Lake Marie being the highlight.  This gig took on an extra emotional dimension for me, it was the last gig I attended with my close friend Pa Roche, myself, Pa and his wife Pat had a glorious night, I will miss John Prine, he was a genuinely good man!

Khruangbin discuss their musical process, uniting styles and cultures, and  their favorite guitarists from around the world | Guitar World

New stuff, well there is so much stuff out there now with the web and all, it really is hard to keep up but one band has drawn me in completely and utterly. They are called Khruangbin and after a sup or two of pale ale I usually refer to them as “that new 3-piece from Texas”, that’s easier to pronounce! Like a lot of newer material, I was introduced to them by Mr Loosehandlebars. An EP recorded with Texan soul man, Leon Bridges, made an immediate impression & on further investigation I found myself loving this band who I for one cannot categorise. There is funk, dub, psychedelia, rock, eastern vibes, there is a whole lotta stuff going on here. The sinewy guitar binds it all together and as for the rhythm section, man, they are tight and the bass player is also stunning to look at (careful now Frannie). Their early records are almost entirely instrumental, on the latest, Mordechai has more vocals although, I suppose, mantras or chants would be a better description, anyway, their sound, it works for me, this one is taken from the aforementioned Mordechai, be prepared to chill.

Live music ha, you must be having a laugh! One bloody gig in 2020, Supergrass in the Olympia on the 14th of February, I always thought they were the best outfit in that whole Brit-Pop thing, 100 hooks per song, choruses to die for, they did not disappoint, Not ashamed to say that my grin was a yard wide when they launched into “Alright”, I bopped like any 59 year old bopper should but I think I may have torn something, no matter, a perfect gig in many ways, Supergrass do what it says on the tin, they entertain, the company I was in that night only added to the occasion, The McDonnell brothers, Pat and Gerry, once again I thank you and all your entourage, it was a mighty night’s fun!

So, this annus miserablis is soon to end. It was what it was and it wasn’t great to be honest but hey, Mayo Gaelic football team, having beaten Tipperary in the semi, have earned another shot at an All-Ireland title. My football team, Tottenham, at this moment in time are top of the Premier League. The coach, Jose Mourinho, is not everyone’s glass of Licor Beirão & sometimes his methods ain’t that pretty at all. If, a big IF certainly, he wins our first title for 60 long years then 2021 will be a year to remember for the right reasons. I’d just like to wish anyone who reads this a happy and peaceful Christmas, stay safe and take good care of yourselves and each other !

Dogs & Chickens In Space.

Up to now, & it has been quite a while, I have avoided slapping a single song on to here, knocking out a couple of sentences about it & throwing it out on to the Internet. That seemed a little easy, even lazy, it didn’t really fit the loosehandlebars template (which anyway happened more by luck than judgement) & it could be the beginning of a slippery slope where I end up posting photos of kittens. I don’t want that, neither do you, no-one wants that, at least no-one I know. But…there is so much great music that I would like to have around the blog. So, here is the first of possibly an endless series, probably one that will run out of steam in the middle of next week.


This is the fantastic Five Du-Tones from 1964 & the stratospheric “The Chicken Astronaut”.



Image result for five du tonesThe Five Du-Tones recorded the original version of “Shake A Tail Feather”, a boisterous variant of “Twist & Shout” which some will remember from James & Bobby Purify & all of us know from “The Blues Brothers”. The group released 9 singles on the One-derful label between 1963-5, most of them expositions of dances that never caught on. “The Flea”, “The Gouster”, “The Woodbine Twine” & “The Cool Bird”, you remember them…no, nor me. Their ragged Doo-Wop, delivered with energy & humour, was never more effective than on this space oddity “The Chicken Astronaut”, a touching tale of a less than intrepid explorer who would prefer to keep both feet on Earth.



Image result for belka space dog badgeWhilst we are on the subject of Mankind flinging its agents “ever outward…into the colourless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end” (Kurt Vonnegut), how about this rather desirable enamel badge of Belka, one of the first living animals to orbit the Earth & survive. In August 1960 Belka, along with another doggie cosmonaut, Strelka, had a grand day out aboard Sputnik 5, lived to wag the tail & became a hero of the Soviet Union. One of Strelka’s puppies was presented by Premier Khrushchev to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy & went to live in the White House which seems a much more civilised way of fostering US-Russian relations than being peed on by prostitutes (allegedly).


They followed in the pawsteps of the, probably more famous, Laika, the “Muttnik” who, it was reported, died after 6 days in orbit when the oxygen supply ran out. It was over 40 years later that it was revealed that Laika lasted only 6 hours before stress & over-heating proved fatal. Belka & Strelka were much less fazed by their trip to outer space &, from the available photos, seem very happy about the experience. They are immortalised in all sorts of Soviet-era paraphenalia & their preserved bodies are on display at Moscow’s Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts which seems like a better place to visit than Madame Tussaud’s.


Image result for belka and strelka space dogsImage result for belka and strelka space dogs


Doh! What do you know? I’m posting photos of cute animals already. There is no hope for me!

Move Over Rover Let Jimi Take Over (Jimi Hendrix)

December 1966, I was just 14, you know what I mean. I’m not sure of the exact date, the TV music show “Ready Steady Go” had the tagline “the weekend starts here” but our regional company now aired it on a midweek evening at 6.30. R.S.G. had been cancelled, this was its penultimate episode & we often missed it because on the night of transmission 4 of us met up to play table tennis. It was a good night, a big room to ourselves, a few games, a lot of laughs & my Dad treated us all to pop & crisps. It was even more fun than that sounds.


Anyway, that night my friend & I held back until the last possible moment. It wasn’t because of Marc Bolan, not yet Tyrannosaurus Rex never mind T…. & his “Hippy Gumbo”, neither was it the Troggs, the Merseys or the Escorts who made us keep our friends waiting. It was the TV debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a chance to see a new sensation who we had read about in the music weeklies, performing their debut single “Hey Joe” that delayed us. It was worth it &, for two music obsessed school boys, our world had shifted a little.



Image result for jimi hendrix engelbert humperdinckJimi Hendrix changed quite a few people’s lives, fans & musicians alike. “Hey Joe” was not the big hit I remember it being, “Purple Haze” & “The Wind Cries Mary” were. My friends & I didn’t have large record collections but the 2 LPs released in 1967, “Are You Experienced” & “Axis: Bold As Love”, were requested for birthdays or Xmas & if Santa didn’t come through then somebody’s big brother or sister was sure to have a copy. Transplanted from the US to Swinging London Jimi flourished in the creative freedom he was given. He could write Pop songs like “Fire” & “Wait Until Tomorrow”, he could journey to the higher realms of the astral plane with “Third Stone From the Sun” & the title tracks of both albums. He was an explorer of uncharted territory for his instrument & for the recording studio, claiming possession of both. I don’t know much about chordal arpeggios and contrapuntal motion, with tremolo-picked partial chords but I know what I like. There may have been other guitarists with skills but no-one combined technique, imagination & personality like Jimi.


Image result for jimi hendrix package tourBritish music may have been leading the world in 1967 but the business of show had not really caught up. In April the Experience undertook a 25 date tour with the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens & “special guest star” Engelbert Humperdinck. The most expensive seats were less than $1 & I’m sure you were guaranteed an interesting night. We never bought that “Wild Man of Pop” tabloid tag, it seemed more than a little racist. Anyone who knew anything about the Blues knew that Jimi followed in a tradition of Black American players who combined ability & showmanship. Later, in 1969, when Jimi derailed the live Saturday evening TV show “Happening For Lulu” it wasn’t shocking it was hilarious. In November/December he headlined another UK tour with the Move, Pink Floyd, Amen Corner & the Nice. $1.10 for that one…bargain! By then Jimi, after an incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (aided by a can of lighter fuel in his jacket), was being reclaimed by the USA. I think that could have been the plan all along.



“Electric Ladyland”, a double album, was released in October 1968 & in the Summer of 1970 we were still listening closely & still hearing new things. We were a little older now, different herbs to Dandelion & Burdock, still needing crisps. “All Along the Watchtower” was & still is a magnificent thing. I love a lesser known, obscure Dylan cover but this collision of two great talents has to be near the top of the all-time great records. 15 minutes of “Voodoo Chile” could take you to some very interesting places while you had to hold tight for “1983…(A Merman I Shall Be). My friend Polly was on that cover of the album & very nice she looks too. She never liked to talk about it but me…I know someone on the cover of “Electric Ladyland” !



Related imageIn 1969 Hendrix was the highest paid musician in the world. He was the headline act at the Woodstock Festival but it overran so much that he appeared at 8 a,m, Monday morning before a tired, bedraggled & greatly reduced gathering. Just 2 years earlier his playing inspired positive thoughts about the possibilities of music & Life in the 1960’s. Here, having been awake himself for 3 days, he closed the greatest show on earth with an astonishing interpretation of “The Star Spangled Banner”, a sonic invocation of a nation fractured by war & violence. The film of “Woodstock” was seen by everyone, Hendrix fired a shot that was heard around the world. His performance has been called “probably the single greatest moment of the sixties”, I’m not sure about that but repetition & memory have neither blunted nor diminished the  power & (yeah) profundity of this startling piece of music.


Image result for jimi hendrixThere was constant touring, the chaos of superstar life at that time & LSD really was not a drug to be taken lightly or daily. Then, in September 1970 Jimi was gone, a great loss & a great shame. We were left with the “Cry of Love” LP, more evidence of his talent & range, the thoughtful, now poignant “Angel”, the furious “In From the Storm”. More perspicacious individuals than myself have had more things to say about Jimi Hendrix in books & movies. I do believe that had Jimi lived, extricated himself from management who insisted on a punishing schedule & allied himself with strong supporting players he would have continued to make music that pushed the boundaries of what the Rock guitar could achieve. There have been wonderful technical & individual guitarists since, all in some way influenced by Hendrix. When we lost Jimi he took his secrets with him & we lost something very special.

Kindness And Friendship, And Dancing (Denise LaSalle)

Image result for cyrille regisStill a week to go in the first month of the year & Death has been felling too many tall trees. In the late 1970’s, when my football team had an away game, I would take the #11 bus around Birmingham’s Outer Circle to see Cyrille Regis play for West Bromwich Albion. A combination of strength & grace allied to a knack for scoring show-stopping goals transcended the parochial tribalism of English football fans & his talent merited greater international recognition than he received. On & off the field his quiet dignity in the face of hateful, ignorant racism inspired the next generation of Black footballers to believe that they too could make their mark. Hearing some of that generation, now retired, overcome by emotion in their tributes was testament to Cyrille’s legacy as a player & as a man.


Image result for hugh masekela 1969Hugh Masekela’s trumpet featured on the Byrds 1967 classic “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star”. The following year he had a #1 hit of his own with “Grazing in the Grass”. Masekela, already an eminent musician, left South Africa in 1960 when, after the Sharpeville massacre the manners of the White government became even more oppressive. Throughout a 30 year exile his music, for the head, the heart & the hips, never left Africa. His talent, his struggle, informed me about the insane apartheid policies of his home country as much as the travails of Nelson Mandela. (A shout here to the late Bill Clayton, a family friend who left Capetown when he was racially “reclassified” by the government. Even my 12 year old self knew that this was not only wrong but batshit crazy!).


Image result for mark e smithThe Fall have been part of the musical landscape of the UK for 40 years. There’s been a lot of wind talked about Mark E Smith who died yesterday. A contrary outsider, a trenchant motormouth &, later, an irascible drunk. “Hey dude! Give the info a rest and use your mind”. The Fall were popular enough to release 36 albums. If you want to hear their best songs well I’ve got 50 of them & a pile more in my pocket if you don’t like those. His voice & lyrics may seem individual but  his accurate, acerbic, archly humorous take on the world is one I recognise & has always been worth listening to. His band, despite a revolving-door personnel, was always on point. Mark’s autobiography reminded me of the year I spent in Manchester & the old boys I met in the pub (drinking at lunchtime…I miss that !). I liked them & I liked Mark E Smith. Over the years, when I have listened more closely, his band, his songs, his book, have been the best thing to have around.


As if this wasn’t quite enough loss there are others less celebrated on their departure who nonetheless made their mark. On the 8th of January the singer Denise LaSalle died aged 78 & it’s certainly worth spending some time with her music & to remember her.




Related imageIf Denise LaSalle had only made one record then “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” would be enough. From 1971 it was a #1 R&B hit when you had to be better than good to get that sort of attention. (It was preceded by the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love & Hate”, displaced by Marvin’s “Inner City Blues”). “Trapped…” is a perfect realisation of the new Memphis Soul sound coming out of Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. The vocal is sad, sweet & soulful & so is the band. It’s a song that’s built to last & in 2013 was central to a key scene in Jim Jarmusch’s film “Only Lovers Left Alive”. You know it, Eve (the White Witch off of Narnia) tells Adam (Loki) that eternal Life as a vampire really isn’t all that bad & they dance to this wonderful tune.


Denise was born in Mississippi & moved to Chicago when she was a teenager. It wa there, with Chess Records that she made her first recordings. “A Love Reputation”, co-written by the fantastic Billy “the Kid” Emerson, is R&B mixed with that driving Motown beat. Northern Soul 4 years before the term was coined, it was a small regional hit in the US & an enduring floor-filler in the clubs of the North of England. In the words of Disco-Tex & his Sex-O-Lettes “Get Dancin'” !



Denise wasn’t a kid when she made that first record & when it didn’t work out at Chess she had it together for the second time around. “Trapped…”may have had the inimitable Hi stamp & Mitchell is credited with the arrangement but the production is by Crajon Enterprises, LaSalle & her husband Bill Jones, who had a deal with Detroit’s Westbound Records for our star & for other artists. The LP recorded on the back of the hit is a classic of Southern Soul, a couple of well-chosen covers & the rest written by Denise herself.


Image result for denise lasalle lick itWillie Mitchell was busy with Al Green & Ann Peebles & in the mid-70’s Disco was the thing so Denise followed the trend. She continued to record regularly, gaining the title “Queen of the Blues”. Her strong voice matched her adult tales of relationships gone wrong. “Lick It Before You Stick It” is not the only song that is not suitable for work. In 1984 she found herself on Top of the Pops when her  synth-pop Disco cover of Rockin’ Sidney’s zydeco “Don’t Mess With) My Toot Toot” was a Top 10 hit in the UK. There are a lot of records & all of them are classy & well made.



Image result for denise lasalleIt’s the 3 records Denise made for Westbound in the early 70’s that, for me, are the real gold. “Here I Am” (1975) employed the arranging talents of David Van De Pitte whose credits at Motown included “What’s Goin’ On”, “Let’s Get It On”, “Psychedelic Shack” & plenty of others you know so you can be sure that this will be listening time spent well. “Married, But Not To Each Other”, another of her own songs, was picked up by Barbara Mandrell & became a Top 3 Country hit. Denise LaSalle left a legacy of fine music, she deserves to be & will be remembered fondly.



Bam Bam and the Calling and The Gweedore

Way, way back in September 2015  an impressive response to a benefit gig for Syrian refugees provide a one-night-only chance to see the best of Derry’s musical community play live. So I made my first journey to Northern Ireland & what a night it was. The clincher was a rare appearance by Bam Bam & the Calling, the same 4 guys I had worked & played out with 30 years ago. They were good people to know & their band rocked, always had & still did. This week they reassembled to celebrate the Gweedore Bar, a touchstone for the city’s musicians, fans & drinkers who came of age in the 1980’s. It was Xmas, I had places to go, people to see, all of them a long way from Derry. These clips, from the set at the well-appointed Nerve Centre, show that I sure missed something.

Derry, indeed all of Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, was a different deal to mainland Britain. Those Troubles, troops & bombs & the shame-faced manoeuvres of political leaders who lacked the will to find a solution, were part of an everyday experience that needed somewhere to go to do good things like play & listen to music. I asked Joe Brown, bass player of Bam Bam & the Calling, for his memories of the Gweedore & an appreciation of its importance to the musically minded youth of his generation

For many of us The Gweedore Bar in the 1980’s was a safe zone. Back then Derry’s city centre  was a different place, other establishments  were  bombed out, burned out, under surveillance (from various factions involved in the conflict) or worse, transforming into a dodgy wine bar attracting people in pastel colours, home perms, no socks and linen jackets rolled up to the elbows…and that was just the blokes!!

The Gweedore itself back then was a dingy, dull hole, the faded decor untouched since the “glory days” of the early 70’s. The place was held together with beauty board, flock wallpaper,and the strong aroma of a new smell of something burning other than war. For all its dull outward appearance it was the most colourful, vibrant, comical, open minded, free thinking joint in the town, indicative of its patrons and staff and at the helm was its Captain.

Willie Barrett…everything flowed through Willie…he championed everything, from awaydays to see Derry City’s games, quizzes, darts tournaments and his influential starring role as “entertainments manager”. He took it on and became a mentor to every musician who played a note in that bar. The upstairs “lounge” became our very own CBGB’s/100 Club… Any list of the bands that played there would be a very long one & there would still be hundreds of faces & noises that we have forgotten.

Image result for the gweedore bar derryNational music magazines, record companies, A&R people, braved the “Troubles” to get a piece of what was becoming the most talked about live venue in the north..and still, the flock wall paper played a starring role…to this day people remember careers being launched/ended and launched again there… Bands came and went, emigrated, recorded, wrote songs, released records, helped one another out and became part of a scene that proved to be both innovative and inspiring.

In the new decade the music continued with new faces, longer hair, and t-shirts over baseball tops. There were new owners, redevelopment & wall paper strippers which cleaned up the joint & it was time to find somewhere else that would have us. The impact of those years still reverberates around Derry & further afield. It was a creative explosion of a different kind. In a city where life could be difficult the dirty Gweedore was a place where things could be said, arguments could be had & new music was created & appreciated. The Gweedore and its ethos will live forever…. SEE THE LOSERS IN THE BEST BARS, MEET THE WINNERS IN THE DIVES….(Neil Young “Sail Away”)

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments, night and concert

photo © Lorcan Doherty Photography

OK Joe, “where the people are the real stars” yeah. Thanks Joe for remembering that & thanks too to Jim Cunningham for remembering to take his camera to the Nerve Centre. Jim’s clips capture a band of brothers with an undimmed passion to play the music they like & like they mean it. It’s great to see the award-winning animator John McCloskey onstage. John unfortunately missed the gig I attended, he knows how these songs go, his guitar adds muscle to the dynamic tension of the band. Bam Bam & the Calling keep the flame of big guitar music, Derry music, burning. This great photo of singer Paul Pj McCartney, a man of individual preference in shirts & immaculate taste in music, turning it up & leaving it on, makes me wish I’d been there for the reunion. Next time for sure.

Ain’t Nothing But A Houseparty

We got back to the flat on Friday evening, it was the 1980’s we probably watched “The Tube”, a spirited attempt to put “the weekend starts here” energy of popular music back in our TVs. There was a message for us, Tony had rung & left an address for a party in South London that night. Good one, always interested in a party, especially one within walking distance but which of the 2 Tonys of our acquaintance had called?


Tony #1 was a Birmingham drug dealer who had crashed with us a couple of years back when he needed to avoid the cops. He became our connection for the best Kashmiri black hash around. Boy that was some Summer, we were very popular among our small circle of friends. Despite smoking more of the stash than we sold & owing money we didn’t have we had parted on good terms. It would be good to see him again, the refreshments would be first class & at least he was not in prison. Tony #2 was a proper acid casualty who stayed at ours when his squats got too weird. He was a freeloader & a little scary for those who didn’t know him but he was harmless, needed help & no-one but us were around to give it. We were no strangers to a squat party, cheap, very cheerful & often a live band rocking out in the basement. Whichever Tony had put us on it, we had no other plans for the night so we were going to a party.



We showed up, just the 2 of us, on the correct doorstep at around 10.30, suitably hydrated at one of our usual haunts, clutching a bottle of wine, our trusty cassette of “You Dancing ? I’m Asking”, a personal mix of favourites (4 of which are featured here), in a pocket. “We’re with Tony” was a pretty lame opening gambit, inviting “Tony who ?” from the justifiably suspicious woman who had answered the door. Shit, we had not thought this through & a long explanation would not help. We were bailed out when someone we knew bounced up the hallway to  greet us. Oh, it was THAT Tony ! We were in !


Tony #3 lived out in Kent & we didn’t see him Uptown much. Always fine company with stories & objects of interest. The only man I have met who has produced a quail’s egg from his coat. While I never told him, his rakishness reminded me of a young Bryan Ferry. I liked him. It was a fine night out, we could do that party guest thing, respectful of the premises, would talk & listen to anyone then drink anything but the wine we had brought. This wasn’t the night that Mitchell woke me up from a very comfortable chair to tell me it was time to go home. I protested that I was having too good a time only to be informed that it was 7.30 in the a.m. & I had been asleep for 3 hours ! This was the night that we were stumbling home on Camberwell’s deserted backstreets & met an equally inebriated Tony #3 looking for our house. He hadn’t said that he needed a place to stay !



We threw a mean open house ourselves. Of course we spent too much time on the music. 6 hours of all killer no filler takes a lot of planning & heated discussion then guests have the front to talk to each other. Still the big room was always jumping by midnight & not a minute of Sting or the Police to be heard. Our big flat was rammed on a New Year’s Eve when we had only invited those who called us (you didn’t call then no invite) & people we met that night down the pub. We had just cleared the debris when our housemates returned from Amsterdam. We told them we had a few people round but they probably sussed out the runnings when everyone who came around for the next 3 months mentioned that they had missed quite a night.


In the late 1980’s the young Irish groovers who I worked with knew of a party most weekends. My new girlfriend was most taken by this raucous company, their all-nighters fuelled by whisky, amphetamine & my mate Scot determined to break on through to the other side. There were some outstanding warehouse parties when we were hanging with Armoury 88, a loose collective of DJs. The best nights were when no-one was playing out & we were back at their flat in Wandsworth, the old Jamaican guys chatting over some dub plates. Come on down it’s dancing time.



Clive’s parties lasted the whole weekend so I usually reserved a room in his large suburban house. It was at one of these that I last saw Tony #3. He & his lovely Pre-Raphaelite wife (apologies, her name escapes) had arrived early & he had partaken of the available goodies before anyone else had taken off their coats. The kitchen became a no-go area as his impression of a dog, barking & crawling around on all fours, was irksome & embarrassing. The next morning, rather than face the walk of shame he had sharply scarpered back to Sevenoaks & it was some time before anyone saw his cold, wet nose again. Hey that’s what happens when the cocaine is free. I was not too bothered by his antics, there’s always someone who peaks too early & I was glad that this time it wasn’t me because, you know, sometimes it was me ! Anyway, like many of the similarly stupified, his bark was, I’m sure, worse than his bite.


OK, where’s your icebox ? Where’s the punch ?