We’re Not Addicted To Oil But Our Cars Are.

Way way back I had a provisional driving licence but I never got around to actually learning to drive. I delivered milk on a Sunday & surprisingly you were deemed capable of pointing a large electric vehicle in the right direction, on a real road, with no previous experience. My route took me out of town to a couple of villages & it was a good thing that the float knew the way because at 6 a.m. on a Sunday I was likely to be asleep at the wheel. My girlfriend lived in one of these burgs. She taught Sunday School at the church (Really !), I would give her & some of the kids a mild ride in my 3-wheeled wagon. I’m guessing that this would be frowned upon by the dairy & possibly against the law. I liked the job, every day I got the wheels, the empty glass bottles & myself back unscathed was quite a big deal.

Any road up, my family didn’t own a car until after I left home. Dad used the redundancy money he received when his “job for life” became economically unviable. He later upgraded with the compensation he got for the occupational lung disease which killed him before he was 70…the working life eh ? I spent the next 30 years living in cities & joined the twice-daily commotion of rush hour commuter confusion. This metropolitan mayhem got old fast but the more private alternative to public transport seemed no more attractive, all of us, being driven on the bus or driving themselves were in the same dreary boat.Of course I knew people who were car owners, good folk who were kind enough to allow me to accompany them on their journeys. More than that, in fact I gave up my virginity to a lovely young woman in the back of a friend’s Ford Cortina estate. Thanks for the loan Dave.

 

 

Yeah ! Like Iggy, I am the Passenger. Happy to be riding shotgun & never interfering because I have no idea or opinion about what goes on after the turning of the key. Instead I try & be the best fellow traveller around. I can read a map, select a killer playlist, talk up a storm to keep you awake or just shut up, take care of the catering & roll up a doobie in the dark. Let’s see your sat-nav do that. This  combination of Jeeves & Dr Gonzo seems to be what is desirable from the ideal passenger…maybe it’s the company I keep. I’ve been the minder/muscle on cocaine deliveries, the guy who threatened to kill me in a Tesco car park in Leeds put me off that game. I love treks across continental Europe because it’s an rare opportunity  to experience the driver’s eye view of the road. Sacre Bleu ! No wonder I don’t drive.

 

“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are”, says Miller in “Repo Man” (1984). Now Miller is an acid-fried hippie burn out but some of my best friends are a little…well, y’know & I’m not about to take the risk that he may be right. Have you seen those men-but-still boys who present “Top Gear” ? Makes you think. My friend Martin, one of the most considerate & insouciant humans I know, undergoes a Hulkian transformation when he’s behind a wheel. I am always shocked by this when I travel with him. I can bore for Britain on many subjects but I am excluded from the “what do you drive ?” petrolhead small talk. I get to  walk away from any discussion anywhere about shock absorbers, spark plugs, the best way to negotiate every town’s one-way system & that’s the way I like it.

 

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The infernal combustion engine, that’s some invention. Congesting our towns & cities, a 6-lane network of  concrete & tarmac imposed in the name of progress across any bucolic bailiwick. Urban public transport is left to the lumpen while the beautiful National Railway Museum in York is a poignant memorial to a superannuated technology. The automobile won. Henry Ford’s assembly line aimed to put the world on wheels & mass production is pointless without mass consumption & that’s the only reason you own all this crap that your grandparents never had. Cars are still sold with ridiculous associations to “freedom” & “individuality”, constructs that have no relation to the stuff you buy so fuck that noise. The primacy of the car has made the Western world dependant on a cheap, plentiful supply of gasoline…that’s working out well !

 

 

Unlike the Buzzcocks I don’t hate cars, fast of otherwise. I quite like the red ones ! My boss would give me a lift home in his Rolls Royce. You were probably a gangster if you drove a Roller through the city’s ripped backsides of the Old Kent Road & I made sure that my street knew we were coming. I just never got around to learning how to use  them & they seemed to take up to much time, energy & money. I enjoy walking, I talk about the terrible weather to the old ladies at the bus stop, try to put them right about their casual racism & this July I get my free bus pass so that’s it for me then.

 

It’s probably a little ingenuous (who me ?) that I am still gratified when someone turns up in their motor to run me about. It has never been an everyday thing & I would never impose on a friend to provide a free taxi service. What’s today…Friday ? I was in a car on Tuesday & it’s a possibility that I will be again over the weekend…what a life I lead ! I now live in an industrial town surrounded by villages undisturbed since the Viking incursion. My nephew Dan & I get mobile & explore market towns stranded by the Industrial Revolution, picnic in the rolling Wolds, visit an undeveloped perfect beach or make a 30 mile round trip for the best ice cream in the county. I’m the guy being driven around, head out of the window like a puppy, expecting good things around each corner. We make a good team, there’s a division of labour going on. Dan likes to drive & I am very happy being the Passenger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Groove On Brother For We Will Not Harm You (Parliament/Funkadelic)

“Say Brother” was a TV programme out of Boston which concerned itself with social & cultural issues in the Black community. The 1960s becoming the 1970s was a tumultuous time for African-Americans. Black Power & Pride endorsed the progress made by the Civil Rights Movement, personal & political futures were negotiable, everything was open for discussion. Imaginative often scattergun stuff got said about serious issues but debate about racism, sexism, apartheid, things like that, is never wasted breath. In 1969 “Say Brother” opened their studio for the musical equivalent of these strident voices. A wild crew eager to sample & explore the possibilities on offer to black people in the USA. It produced amazing, landmark music TV.

George Clinton formed a doo-wop vocal group with his teenage friends in the late-1950s. The next decade included a stint with Jobete, Motown’s publishing company. George worked out of the New York office run by Berry Gordy’s estranged wife Raynoma. She had bootlegged copies of a Mary Wells hit & trousered the dosh. The label’s head honcho was not well disposed towards any of her proteges. The Parliaments did hit big in 1967 with ” (I Wanna) Testify”, a stomping soul shout but the hits did not keep on coming. In fact their small label hit the rocks & George even lost entitlement to his own group’s name. One thing Clinton did was to keep his friends close. 3 of the 5 Parliaments  were there at the beginning, the 2 who joined in 1965 were still around when George was ready to make his big move. “Testify”‘s success meant that he could employ a 5 piece backing band for gigs. In 1969, those legal wrinkles temporarily smoothed, he convened a new, expanded Parliament. A 10 member collective which intended to tear the roof off the sucker.

Rock Dreams: Chairmen of the BoardGuy Peellaert’s magnum opus “Rock Dreams” imagines the new aristocracy of African-American music as directors at a boardroom table. Established superstar artists were limited by the primacy of the demand for hit singles. Marvin, Stevie & Curtis wanted to make albums despite, in the case of the first 2, label opposition. Stax Records were shafted by the small print of their contract with Atlantic & lost the rights to a wonderful catalogue. Isaac Hayes stepped up with “Hot Buttered Soul”, 3 million reasons to believe that the future was already here (a nod to Sly Stone too). 1969, as Soul was moving to Funk, was time to take care of business.

George Clinton was bang on to that idea. His deal was with Invictus, the label founded by the Holland Brothers & Lamont Dozier after leaving Motown. With his vocal group brand in legal limbo those same musicians became Funkadelic who had a separate deal with another Detroit label, Westbound. Parliament/Funkadelic had a thing, a new thing, they were  “ready to get up and do their thing (yeah go ahead!)… get into it, man, you know”. They were a busy crew. In 1970 3 LPs were released in as many months.

These clips are just dynamite. The primped & pompadoured Parliaments have been replaced by a wild & woolly swarm of boys from the hood. George has a haircut from the future, is drenched with the acid sweats. As the young people say he is “tripping balls” & enjoying the ride. “Soul is a ham hock in your corn flakes”, man, that’s still as strange & as funny as George knows it to be. Thanks for the reassuring “we will not harm you” too because these brothers are not here to dick around. This is authentic “Psychedelic Soul”, not the orchestrated monuments of Norman Whitfield & the Temptations but a magical mystery expedition which leaves no turn unstoned in the search for the Funk.

Clinton recognised & encouraged the abilities within his troupe. Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins had been a trusted partner since the beginning. Here he leads the congregation, sharing the band’s new vision. In the backline Billy “Bass” Nelson & guitarist Eddie Hazell thrived on the freedom. They recruited Tiki Fulwood, house drummer at the Uptown Theatre Philadelphia, & the heart of a great band was beating.

There were 2 LPs in 1970. “Funkadelic” began the P-Funk myth-making, asking “What Is Soul ?” & “Mommy, What’s A Funkadelic ?”. The music emerged from sprawling, exploratory jams. The vocals were raw, reaching back to the field hollers of the plantation. The acid logic of “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow” expresses a credo which continued through the decade as the Mothership Manifesto gained momentum. The band spent a lot of time in the Invictus studio. They hooked up with Ruth Copeland, an English blues-folk singer & made 2 LPs with her which include couple of grandstanding Stones covers as good as this version of “Play With Fire”. This blaze of creativity tempered the sound, they discovered which of their experiments were worth pursuing, which elements of their new music was worth keeping. The 3rd LP “Maggot Brain” opens with a 10 minute long mind-melting title track where Eddie Hazell plays it like he means it. The influence of Jimi Hendrix was everywhere at this time, Eddie got that technique without emotion is just playing with yourself. “Maggot  Brain” is a classic of our music.

It took years of solid touring & recording to finesse this lysergic blend of soul, rock, what ifs & why nots into a noise that a lot of people wanted to buy. When that happened George Clinton was ready with a 3-ring Greatest Show On Earth stadium spectacular. Success brought its own problems as a big band wanted to get paid. The hits just kept on coming for Parliament/Funkadelic & the P-Funkers. George’s vision stayed crazy & encouraged collaboration with other talents. That time at the beginning though, when the new rules were that there were no rules, when you took acid then went into a recording studio just to see what might happen, produced some raw, funked-up, gutbucket music. Just like George had heard that time in “Keep Running Mississippi” that “way back yonder funk”.