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!

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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 ?

 

 

 

Random Notes (June 2017)

Oof ! At the start of June our government was telling us that the Leader of the Opposition would take us back to the 1970’s & was an IRA sympathiser. A new generation of voters, raised on & unconvinced by Austerity, replied “When?” & “Who?” then exercised their democratic right in favour of a politician they perceived as principled & fighting their corner. Jeremy Corbyn may not be Prime Minister but the Tories, anticipating plain sailing to an increased majority, are a sinking ship, their “strong & stable” banner in tatters. My own cynicism ( a trait I thought to be an attractive one) was refreshingly challenged by the optimistic younglings of my company. This new passion found a focus when terrorist attacks led to criticism of cuts to emergency services & a tragic fire in London exposed policies which favoured profit over respect for the rights of others to fatal effect.

 

I’m no Corbyn cultist though there is much to admire about his successful acampaign in the face of the vilification from the media. I would prefer a united Labour Party confident enough to articulate & endorse the concerns of their support rather than wait for a hopeless, rudderless, all-but minority government to run aground as they blindly attempt to negotiate the choppy waters of our exit from the EU. Whatever the outcome, something has changed.

 

That’s enough politics & certainly too many maritime metaphors. Let’s put some sounds on…

 

 

My musical month was always set to be dominated by “The Nashville Sound” the new much-anticipated (well, by me) new LP from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It seems that I’m not the only one & it’s selling more copies than the previous 2 award winning collections “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free”. Whether Jason is rocking out with the band or getting reflective with his acoustic guitar, his wife Amanda on fiddle & harmonies, his mature, assured songs hit the spot more accurately than anyone else around at the moment. That heart-wrenching line “I’m just lucky to have the work” from the title track of “Something…” is still tearing me up now here’s another 10 tracks to have around the house & to get to know.

 

Image result for the nashville sound jason isbellThis time around Isbell is stretching himself lyrically. He & his protagonists, mainly Southern American men, are living in Trump’s America, something needs to be said about the frustration & anger that brings. “Hope the High Road” & “White Man’s World” are not political with a capital P, his character studies are accurate & sympathetic. Any false steps, there is sometimes a slight lyrical clumsiness, is offset by great contributions from all the musicians involved. Hey I’m being picky here. The last 2 records have been very good company, taking their  time to reveal their full depth & qualities. “Cumberland Gap”, “If We Were Vampires” & “Tupelo” are  are already welcome guests. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the rest of “The Nashville Sound”.

 

 

I’ve been an admirer of Steve van Zandt since he was consiglieri to Bruce & the E Street Band before doing the same job for the Soprano family. Hell, I even hung around “Lilyhammer” long after it had jumped the reindeer. Now his immaculately curated Underground Garage (every show archived somewhere around here) is my Interweb radio show of choice. Little Steven’s Rock & Roll sensibility & taste sit very well with me & it only took a listen to a couple of tracks off of his new LP “Soulfire” & I was on it (new fave phrase, courtesy of the hilarious Count Arthur Strong) like a German Shepherd on chicken !

 

Image result for steve van zandt james gando;fini“Soulfire” is infused with Steve’s abiding belief in music’s redemptive quality. Older songs, 2 that he gave to Southside Johnny, are spiritedly resuscitated. “Ride the Night Away” reclaims that great opening riff to “I Found Love” a co-write for Lone Justice. Strong new songs cover similar ground, there are 2 covers, a Blues from Etta James & a spectacular version of James Brown’s “Down & Out In New York City” (from the movie “Black Caesar”). The bold, brassy Spectoresque Wall of Sound, employed by Steve & Springsteen back then, is made loud & clear by master engineer Bob Clearmountain & it’s so good to hear the Persuasions, a classic vocal group, back on record. No new ground is broken on “Soulfire”, it’s traditional American Rock done well by one of the guys who set the standard & it’s glorious.

 

 

Image result for kwyet kinksOK, it’s not all new music round our end, it never is. This month it’s been the Kinks that have made it to to the front of the stack & stayed there. Back when the money from my paper round didn’t stretch to expensive 12″ vinyl discs record companies offered EPs, Extended Plays, 4 tracks for less than double the price of a 2 track 45. Of course the Beatles led the way with  “Twist & Shout” (1963) & “Long Tall Sally” (1964), a great collection of previously unreleased recordings. Both sold more than many hit singles. The Stones matched these with “Five By Five” (1964), new cuts from sessions at Chess studios, & “Got Live if You Want It ” (1965). EPs were mainly recycled material, a chance to buy a couple of singles you had missed. The Kinks were one group who had songs that never made the A-side but were more than album filler.

 

Image result for well respected man kinks“Kwyet Kinks” came around in September 1965, a year when the group had 5 Top 20 hits. Their early energy had converted R&B influences into aggressive, punk Rock & Ray Davies, still  just 21 years old, was developing a more introspective songwriting style. Both Summer hits “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” combined a wistful lyric with a distinctive, inventive guitar sound. The oh so good, oh so fine “Well Respected Man”, a first excursion into sly social commentary, was picked from the EP by offshore pirate radios & played to an audience of over 10 million as often as any new hit. The Kinks’ record label & management doubted the group’s new direction but their fans were already on it. “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along” was the first song to be solely credited to the younger Davies, guitarist Dave. It would be a couple of years before Dave made his own hit solo records but the talent is there to see on this one. The other 2 tracks “Don’t You Fret” & “Such A Shame” were not saved for “The Kink Kontroversy”, their 3rd LP.  In 1965 the Davies brothers, Pete Quaife (bass), Mick Avory (drums) & their producer Shel Talmy were mining a very productive seam.

 

Image result for dedicated kinks epThe following year “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, a sharp lampoon of Carnabetian Swinging London, was the first in a series of acutely observed, distinctively British, classic Kinks hits. Pye, never slow to capitalise on their back catalogue, released the “Dedicated Kinks” EP, the title hit, “Set Me Free”, “See My Friends” & the raucous, rocking “Till the End of the Day”. Now that sounded like value for my hard-earned to me. A good reason for a Saturday, the one day I was holding folding, visit to the local record shop.

Random Notes (May 2017)

The days fly by & this month the UK has endured an election campaign instigated, ostensibly, by a government wanting to mask its bluff & bluster in negotiations with our former EU partners, more likely hoping to exploit the disarray of any opposition in England & Wales. The Tory party will remain in power (I’ve been wrong before) but the flakiness of their “strong & stable” mantra in the face of a half-baked “Dementia Tax” on the sick & the dead & a Labour manifesto which, at least & at last, promoted an alternative to austerity will prevent the landslide victory anticipated & hoped for by the government & most of our media puppets (“Crush the Saboteurs!” Oh fuck off!)

 

Image result for manchester tony wilson we do things

 

This week’s horrific massacre in Manchester, a great city which has shown the empathy & community that is the best of Britain, will inevitably highlight the issue of national security. Already Mr Corbyn is being attacked for pointing out that the disastrous intervention in Libya contributed to chaos, anger, frustration & the rise of a new focus for militant Islam. The murder of innocent people enjoying a concert by their favourite Pop star is inexcusable & heartbreaking but atrocities are occurring across the Middle East in the name of the West’s War On Terror, in the cause of strength & stability. Robert Fisk is a journalist who I trust & respect…

“As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.”

OK, here’s some music…

 

 

Almost the best of the month, stick around that comes later, any new song by Bunny Wailer raises my spirits. As the last of the Wailing Wailers Jah Bunny is the keeper of the flame & he represents the great & influential group with integrity & style. “Baddest” is a Rub-a-Dub rework of Peter Tosh’ anthem, first recorded in 1967, “I’m the Toughest” in alliance with Dancehall queen Ruffi-Ann. Like everything Bunny releases on his Solomonic label it has a freshness & a vitality. He is a musical great who knows the spirit of Reggae &, at coming up 70 this year, is still able to capture it. “Baddest” may not be up there with the best music he has made but it could be the Feelgood Hit of the Summer. ♫Any Dub that you can play I & I can play it better♫ Yes Sir!

 

 

Image result for daniel romano modern pressureA new Daniel Romano record is always a big deal round our yard & even though “Modern Pressure” has not been here for long toes are tapping & choruses becoming familiar. Mr Romano is prolific, an album a year in the last 3 & a couple more from Altered Shapes, his Punk offshoot band. He’s become a bit of a shape-shifter too, the traditional Country, three chords & the truth about heartbreak, of his early records has all but disappeared. The lovely “Roya” would easily fit on those records while an expanded musical palette, Dylanesque organ swirls, treated guitars, everything louder makes “Modern Pressure” a Country Rock album. “The Pride of Queens” sounds like an epic to me, the closing, urgent “What’s To Become of the Meaning of Love” instantly appeals & the poppy “When I Learned Your Name” sounds like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz & that’s a good thing.

 

Like the best records last year’s “Mosey” took its own good time to reveal all its delights. At first it seemed to be quite a switch by Romano but it has become the album of choice for journeys of any distance, a collection of good songs which come together as an atmospheric whole. “Mosey” will still get played round here. Daniel Romano is a very talented songwriter & musician, his restless streak is matched by his inventiveness. Wherever he wants to take his music my interest is piqued enough to want to follow. I have high hopes that “Modern Pressure” will become a new favourite.

 

 

I’ve had my fancy-schmancy Internet powered TV for some time now. It’s an idiot box of electrickeries most of which I neither grasp nor have need of. The 7 (that’s 7!) channels of 24/7 sport are enough to sustain a sense of wonder about the Modern World. So it was more luck than judgement that the appropriate buttons were pressed to record the full series (8 episodes) of the 2005 BBC production of “Bleak House”. Fortuitous perhaps but it provided a televisual experience to rival this year’s superb “Taboo”, another of the Beeb’s finest.

 

Image result for phil davis smallweedI love Charles Dickens, what’s not to…, his satire, his social conscience his unmatched balance of sentiment & melodrama & his finely drawn parade of eccentric characters. It was all there on the screen. “Bleak House” was written as a serial & the series was originally shown in 15 30-minute parts, a pot-boiler yes but certainly not a soap opera. Writer Andrew Davies is the doyen of literary adaptors, it was beautifully filmed & the extensive cast is a delight. It’s a list, Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther), Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) & young Carey Mulligan (Ada) led the way in Dickens’ only book with a female protagonist. Charles Dance was a dastardly Tulkinghorn, the contributions of Burn Gorman (Guppy of Kenge & Carboys), Phil Davies (Smallweed, “shake me up Judy”), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket) & Johnny Vegas (Krook) were all perfectly pitched. I’m going to include Michael Smiley (Squod) here because I have recently enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” & “Free Fire” & he shines in both of them. Actor of the month.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of period drama but I do enjoy the grimy streets of London Town seen in “Bleak House” & “Taboo”. I appreciated too Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” (Kate Beckinsale “always watchable”). Either these things are getting more modern or I’m becoming more old-fashioned. Oh Christ, it’s the latter isn’t it ?

Out Here On The Perimeter (Prince Far I/Creation Rebel)

ARTEFACT DESCRIPTIONWell, look at this ! I have not seen this poster since…I have never seen this poster before… but I made the gig on the 23rd of April 1979. There were only the 3 of us going to see Prince Far I when we were usually team handed for any chance of a good night out. Not only was it a Monday, the night best spent relaxing on a saline drip after a bloody good weekend & an hallucinatory first day of the working week but also the gig was in Stockport . We were in Manchester, only 7 miles distant but a long way away.

 

I was good with the small turnout, just me & 2 young women, always a good balance. S was my girlfriend…ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with ? That’s her. J was a new friend who, at a time I needed good friends, was as solid as a rock without me ever having to ask. We were in Janet’s car for the first time. I wonder how good a driver she would be ? She, like myself, liked to get high. Hey, it probably improved her driving…probably. She had only just splashed her cash on the vehicle to make her commute to work easier. Fortuitously Janet worked in Stockport so she knew the way.

 

Image result for prince far iThis journey into the unknown was being undertaken because a chance to see Prince Far I was too good to miss. Reggae, you know it…the music that goes chang-a, chang-a, was moving on up in the late 1970s. Bob Marley & the Wailers’ popularity had opened ears to the Rastafarian inspired Roots music from Jamaica. At house/blues parties we heard Dennis Brown & Gregory Isaacs. Dillinger, Culture & Burning Spear featured in Punk DJ sets while John Peel, the national treasure of British music radio, always attracted to the outre & the surprising, played the latest Dub plates & plenty of Prince Far I. His first LP “Psalms For I” (1975) was simply that, a voice of thunder intoning sacred songs over simple, similar rhythms. “Under Heavy Manners” followed in 1977, less religion more politricks. Whether Far I’s proselytising was sacred or secular he convinced you to sit up & listen.

 

So, put yourself in Ray’s Place yeah. Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic, that’s the definition of cheesy. I’m not the guy who’ll make cracks about Stockport & sophistication but it was a faded aspirant nightclub & there was a good reason why I avoided joints like this. In Manchester we had the Apollo & the Free Trade Hall for the bigger gigs (no 20,000 seat arenas then). The Factory/Russell Club in Hulme was the perfect post-Punk hangout, rough & ready with the best music of the time right in front of you. If you just wanted a beer, a band & a night with your mates then you went to see Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds at the Band on the Wall in Swan St. OK, this was…er, different but the company was good, the bar was open until 2 a.m. & we had a “Reggae Spectacular” about to start. Happy Days !

 

 

Image result for creation rebel 1979The show, known as “Roots Encounter”, was quite special. Creation Rebel took the stage & made themselves comfortable. they were staying for the whole night. The band already had their own LP “Dub From Creation” (1978), rhythm tracks recorded in Jamaica, polished in London. The addition of drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott, through the Far I hook up, added class, Dr Pablo’s melodica made for a distinct sound. With subsequent releases Creation Rebel would find their deserved place in our collections, usually finding the turntable at around 1 a.m. after a night of smoking it up. Tonight they were the backing band, first for the toaster Prince Hammer then vocalist Bim Sherman.

 

Natty dread was taking over Ray’s Place. The hard edges were softened by rhythms that demanded that you dance. The crowd were moving together at the front of the stage & everything felt a little warmer. Adrian Sherwood was a young fan with a talent for mixing tracks & for getting things done. He was already involved with all of the acts on tonight & after a couple of false starts he formed his own label, On-U Sound. Sherwood had intriguing & experimental thoughts on production & the label soon became a hallmark of quality, its varied output of Reggae & beyond always worth investigation. Tonight was his idea of how a Reggae show should go, Creation Rebel stretching out & taking up the slack between sets, the music never stopping. A good idea it was too.

 

 

Image result for prince far iWhen the star of the show arrived onstage there was definitely a surge of energy in the place. The man had presence, his individual growl serious & impressive. He described himself as a “chanter” rather than a toaster, whatever it was it worked. Creation Rebel were dubbing it up, heavy on the bass to match the lyrics. Prince Far I trod his own path & I was reminded of another unique talent, Captain Beefheart. There can be no higher praise. I have no idea what songs he played, refreshments had been taken & I was having a time. I’ve included “Message From the King” here because I love the combination of Prince & Culture’s Joseph Hill. If you have the time & the inclination towards fine music then check the Peel Session from June 1978 which gives a better idea of what we heard on the night.

 

There’s a lot of Prince Far I’s music about. His alliance with Adrian Sherwood worked to their mutual benefits, Far I got his records released & Sherwood gained access to Jamaican artists recorded by the Prince. Between 1978 & 1981 4 chapters of “Cry Tuff Dub Encounter” were produced alongside a couple of other LPs in each year. In 1983 Prince Far I was shot & killed during a robbery at his home in Kingston Jamaica. He was a great loss to not just Reggae music & his lyrics continue to stir & inspire today. I was privileged to be able experience his live show. It was worth visiting Stockport after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreadlocks In Derry (Lee Perry)

I didn’t really need an excuse to return to Derry, on my two previous visits not only friends but everyone I met seemed happy to see me & to share stories. It had been 10 months since the last time so a concert by Lee “Scratch” Perry, a musical legend whose influence extends beyond his chosen field of Reggae, was a perfect focal point around which another long weekend could be planned. The gig was on March 18th & apparently, I don’t keep up with these things, the day before is St Patrick’s Day, a rather big deal to the Irish. Shoot, it was a dead stone bonker that this would be hectic…so let’s go !

 

 

Image result for lee perry“Dub Revolution Part 1”, the first track on the 3 CD “Arkology”, the ultimate collection of Scratch’s work at his Black Ark studio round the back of his house in Washington Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica. In this yard he practised nothing less than alchemy to pioneer techniques that anyone with a laptop now takes for granted & to produce music of unrivalled  imagination & quality. If ever I was exiled to a desert island & could only take one piece of music then it would be “Arkology”. Lee Perry’s rhythms demand that your hips sway, the conscious lyrics are from & for the heart & his Dub explorations hit upside your head. It’s a perfect package with sunshine in the grooves.If you could grow weed on that island then that would be nice but this music would still get you as high as that palm tree.

 

The gig in Derry was the day before Scratch’s 81st birthday so he probably wouldn’t be leaping around the stage (I know I won’t be at that age). Much of his best work was done in his producer’s booth. We were not sure what exactly we were going to get  but we would be sharing oxygen with Lee Perry, a legend, a man who’s bona fides justified the tag “genius” & that was enough. So, after Ireland’s surprise victory over England at rugby (I was the only Englishman in the packed bar. That was interesting, I thought these people were my friends!) we made our way to the Nerve Centre buoyed by an anticipatory buzz.

 

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We were not disappointed, The 4-piece band played us into the room. They were the Upsetters, not Scratch’s original house  group but as his backing band they have the right. Back in 1969 the woman lucky enough to become my wife had spent the money from her Saturday job on “The Return of Django” by the Upsetters, Perry’s first UK hit, on the day I met her. It was Love at first sight…with the record, the rest came later. Reggae gigs smell  a little differently nowadays with the ban on smoking, the star of the night entered to acclaim from the big crowd. He’s a small man, big coat, big hat. He looked happy to be there & we were happy to see him.

 

One of the things about Lee Perry’s music is that he does the simple things beautifully. Susan Cadogan’s “Hurt So Good” (1975) is perfect Pop Reggae while Max Romeo’s LP “War Ina Babylon” (1976) showed that rather than setting the controls to the heart of the Dub, powerful, passionate music just needs strong songs & a wonderful groove. Tonight we got “Chase the Devil” from that record, “Police & Thieves” came around too & man that hit the right spot. What we didn’t get was an old man trying to recreate past glories note for note & word for word. He rode the rhythm smoothly, maybe chatting whatever came to him in the moment & he never missed a beat, a rhythm rapper, comfortable on stage, showing off his bright red hair. You could hear why Lee Perry is such a great producer, he knows what is in a song & he knows how that song goes.

 

Image result for lee perryOf course Scratch was instrumental in the early career of Bob Marley & the Wailers. His set included his versions of “Punky Reggae Party”, “Crazy Baldhead” & “Sun is Shining” before closing with a driving encore of “Exodus”. Again these were echoes of the tunes we know, with only a whisper of Dub. Lee Perry is the Dub Adventurer but that is for another time. We did see the natural mystic & we heard some great Roots Reggae. I don’t get around much anymore but if there are places where there are as many smiling faces as tonight at the Nerve Centre then perhaps I should be there too.

 

 

 

OK…so much things to say. My hosts & fellow concert-goers, Joe & Gayle, don’t need a shout out (oh, I just did !) I think they know just how much I value their company. On the bus from Belfast Laura & Shirley, two Glaswegians on a mission to drink Derry dry, insisted that I be included in their fun. The following day I was able to return the favour & they squeezed into a packed Sandinos bar to join my small circle of friends in celebrating St Patrick. They fitted right in.

 

Finally Derry has lost two of its favourite sons in the past 48 hours. Martin McGuinness was radicalised by the growing demand for civil rights in his community & the violent response by armed forces employed by the British government in the late 1960s. Until January of this year he served as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. His struggle & his progress embodies that of the community into which he was born. Ryan McBride was born in Derry in 1989, different times. On Saturday he captained the city’s football team, the Candystripes, to victory & was found dead at his home the next day. Out here on the perimeter of my country, Derry has an individual, often troubled history. It welcomes strangers with an open hand & with respect. It keeps a special place for those of their own who make a difference because it is a special place.

He was Butch But I Was No Sundance (1969-70)

I was not the only clever kid at our school. Our whole form was force fed facts so that we could pass our exams a year earlier than others our age. It was some bullshit exercise in school pride but if it reduced the time spent under the archaic, cruel (the cane was still used by the headmaster) & unusual (an English teacher made transgressors write out chapters of Genesis) punitive system then we would go along with it. This meant that I entered the sixth form when I was 15 going on 16. The 17 year old girls in my classes were a lot further on down life’s road  & 68/69 was Peak Mini Skirt as I remember. I was amazed that they would even acknowledge my presence, it was months before I was able to say anything that made any sense back to them. The guys were already drinking at the weekend (only a year underage so…y’know) & that seemed better than the Youth Club. On their 17th birthdays some of them got cars. That was certainly an upgrade on taking the bus !

 

 

Image result for morris 1000Butch had a Morris 1000, a classic car now, cheap & cheerful in 1969. His name was Keith but his Dad had a butcher’s shop on the High St so…His girlfriend, Natalie, worked in the local record shop Rushton’s, a place that sold instruments & sheet music before awkwardly adjusting to the demand for small discs of vinyl. After college Butch & I would drive into town to keep her company for the last hour of her working day. To keep us out of further mischief she gave us free range in one of the soundproof booths to listen to any of the latest records that took our fancy. They didn’t always hit the spot. That second Blood Sweat & Tears album, David Clayton Thomas singing, no Al Kooper, may have sold by the lorry load but it was no “Child is the Father to the Man”. One non-album single with a red Atlantic label, “Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton, had us opening up the booth for the other customers to hear & irritating our favourite shop assistant.

 

Image result for delaney and bonnie comin homeDelaney & Bonnie Bramlett had done musical time before they were married, D as a member of the house band of the “Shindig” TV show, B as a fake-tanned Ikette. Their first LP was recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis with Booker T & the MGs. By the time of the follow up they had assembled a smoking band, people who would go on to make a pile of good music. Their brand of Southern Soul, Gospel & Rock attracted an influential friend in Eric Clapton, happy to play the sideman after all the attention attracted by Cream & Blind Faith. Eric brought along the newly ex-Beatle George & his stinging, ringing contribution to “Coming Home” made it more than notable. Delaney’s mate Leon Russell needed to assemble some Mad Dogs to back Joe Cocker on a hastily arranged tour & he borrowed the whole band except keyboard player Bobby Whitlock who left for England to write with Clapton. When these two needed a rhythm section for “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” they were joined by Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) to form Derek & the Dominoes. Now that is a good record !

 

 

Butch lived above the shop, just a walk away from mine & I would go round in midweek to listen to his records. At night the front was closed up & you entered the house through the back of the shop past simmering pots of pig’s heads. Brawn is some kind of peasant jellied terrine (my Mum loved it). It’s apparently called “potted heid” in Scotland & in France “pate de tete” & that sounds no better. Now I’m a Big Meat Eater (yes I am…now there’s a movie you have to see) but I don’t always choose to get that close to its production. I would hurry through that steamy, funky room. Butch had some good records. I particularly remember 3 double LPs, Cream’s “Wheels of Fire”, Jimi’s “Electric Ladyland” & “Streetnoise” by Julie Driscoll, all good long listens as the music got & was taken more seriously. We had a couple of bottles of cider & a coloured light bulb for atmosphere…that’s all. We didn’t know where to buy any hash back then. Our town had not yet done with Modernism. The cool kids were robbing chemists of their good stuff, waking up in the park with blood leaking from their ears. That sounded like not much fun at all.

 

Image result for julie driscollThere were no women like Julie Driscoll in our town either. Julie, with organist Brian Auger, Long John Baldry & Rod Stewart had been part of Steampacket, a Mod Soul-Blues revue who, despite their popular live act, never recorded. In 1968 her & Auger’s take on Dylan’s “This Wheels on Fire”, an urgent psychedelic classic, shifted the ground for British female singers. Her expressive, distinctive vocals put Cilla, Lulu, Sandie, even Dusty in the shade. She became a beautiful, instant icon of cool, replacing Emma Peel as the object of my affections. “Streetnoise” reflects the times, musical boundaries were to be ignored. There are old songs, new songs, Jazz & Blues songs, all given the individual stamp of Driscoll & Auger that still sounds fresh today. “Indian Rope Man”, one of the band’s best, written by Richie Havens, is promoted here on German TV but was only released as a b-side in the UK. Julie married jazz pianist Keith Tippett & stepped away from Rock & Roll to make more experimental music. Whatever she chose to do was just fine by me.

 

 

Image result for family a song for meAh Family…Leicester’s finest. Butch had their 3rd LP “A Song For Me”, released in January 1970 & a Top 5 record. At the end of 1969 the single “No Mule’s Fool”, a gentle daydream of a song had totally hit my spot but only grazed the Top 30. Their debut “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) was a more than interesting slice of post-Sgt Pepper’s British psychedelia & “Family Entertainment” (1969) consolidated a reputation as a band on the rise. The loss of 2 founding members, multi-instrumentalist Jim King & bassist Rick Grech (he joined the aforementioned Blind Faith) was a setback just as they were ready for prime time. The idiosyncratic, forceful presence of vocalist Roger Chapman made Family’s live show memorable.They were one of the first big concerts I attended & Hull City Hall rocked that night. The new-ish group were possibly less textured, a little more full tilt, than previously. There were 3 Top 20 UK singles, an LP a year until 1973 before diminishing returns & a failure to make an impression in the US called a halt. Family don’t really get the credit they deserve. If you have an interest in psych-prog they merit further investigation.

 

Image result for bath festival 1970We hung out a lot over the next year. The 4 of us (rather surprisingly I had a girlfriend too) tore around in the Morris looking for pubs, parties & places of interest. We both studied Geography & a week’s “field study” in North Yorkshire became an alcohol-fuelled exercise in besmirching our college’s good name. Butch was a good guy to have around, a dry sense of fun & humour, a little more grown-up than the other happy idiots I called friends back then. He was the perfect companion for an adventure to the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June 1970. Over 2 days we joined 200,000 others to see a musical line-up that can only be described as awesome. We saw a lot of things that you didn’t see in our small town that weekend. The Hell’s Angels were cool & the casualties of the purple acid were not. It was a great time, we could see the attractions of this Hippie thing but we were Northern lads, this stuff wouldn’t really fly back at home. I’ll repeat myself, he was the right guy to share the experience with. He drove me there, he got me home & we had approached things correctly.

 

Butch left college that year. I had to hang around to make up for that year I had jumped. The next year I left town & only returned for flying visits to see my family. Keith is actually on Facebook & we live in the same town though we would probably pass each other in the street these days. I’ll send him this & hope that he has the same good memories about the short time that our paths intertwined all those years ago.