Random Notes (November 2017)

Hold The Front Page ! November ended with birthday cake for breakfast, the memory of the Rebel Girls, Marissa (10) & Mika (6), singing “Happy Birthday” still making me smile. As I reflected on the best things about the past 4 weeks the first day of the new month marked the unveiling of a wonderful addition to the Interwebs. It’s been some time since a new website has seemed to be so thorough, comprehensive & genuinely exciting.

 

 

Image result for neil young 1973I’ve been listening to Neil Young’s music for over 50 years now, initially with Buffalo Springfield then as a solo artist & a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash &… Some of his music ranks up there with anything produced in that time period. The albums that are less fully realised, with less appeal to me, still feature tracks that are good & worthy of my time & consideration. There are 39 studio albums, many live sets, compilations, collaborations &  soundtracks. Plenty of them have been on my shelves over the years. The guy who “borrowed” my copies of “Hawks & Doves” & “Journey Through the Past” is welcome round to mine any time for a warm beverage & to discuss why he never brought the flipping things back. Now here comes www.neilyoungarchives.com & what a lovely e-thing it is.

 

Neil has been talking about curating his extensive assortment of unreleased material for almost 30 years. The first “Archive” release came around in 2006 & “Live at the Fillmore East”, recorded in 1970 with Crazy Horse, was hotter than Georgia asphalt, raw, raucous Rock & Roll power. There have been 7 more subsequent releases, some of which I have missed through my own penury or because I’m still listening to those great nights in New York (see above). The website has got it all, official, unreleased, the films. Everything from the last 55 years, Blimey ! It’s a well-designed, attractive place & Shakey himself guides you though the controls. I’m being tempted by the classic records & I’ll be re-visiting neglected ones like “Old Ways” & “Everybody’s Rockin'” for the first time in a while.

 

I’ve been told that this resource will be free for the next 7 months when a “modest” subscription will be introduced in June 2018. I’m getting the feeling that that the current, produced by algorithm, one size fits all, Netflix Original fare (have you seen the “War Machine” movie ? A missed opportunity.), is not giving enough bang for my buck. When asked to commit my hard-earned to an artist whose body of work has given so much pleasure & inspiration & will continue to do so then I’ll be joining that queue.

 

 

Image result for the only onesThis year’s Peter Perrett LP, “How the West Was Won” continues to give up its many charms & November has had me flipping through the back of the stack for the 3 fine records by his old group The Only Ones. A little Y-tube investigation yields 3 radio sessions for John Peel from 1977-80, some of the performances eclipsing the recorded versions. Back then we also had a bootleg of the band playing live in 1979 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, they really did pump it up onstage.

 

Now Peter & his new band are back on the road & back, 38 years later, at the Paradiso. He’s got some outstanding new material but it would be impossible & unreasonable to neglect his back catalogue. The clip of the month is this capture of the monumental “The Big Sleep” from “Baby’s Got A Gun” (1980). The acerbic Rock & Roll sleaze of his best songs resonated then & it still does. It’s great to see him working again after such long absences & while a prior commitment kept me away from this tour I really do hope that there is more to come.

 

 

So this month I went to the pictures to see “Thor:Ragnarok”, #17 of the billion dollar merchandising tent poles from the Walt Disney conglomerate (© Movie Bob). The first Thor movie reminded me of just how much of the Asgard, Loki, Rainbow Bridge, big hammer stuff I had absorbed as a kid spending too much time with Marvel comics. This one, the third one, is directed by Taika Waititi whose last 2 films “What We Did in the Shadows” & “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” are essential viewing. It was his name rather than the chance to see a shirtless Hemsworth that got me to the multiplex. The film was fun, it was funny & er…that’s it. Candy floss would have been more appropriate than popcorn. Asgardians of the Galaxy. Next up for Waititi is a starring role in “Corpse Tub”, a comedy about the ritualistic suicides of a deranged cult. Count me in.

 

Of much more viewing resonance was the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary “The Vietnam War”, a 12 part epic shown by PBS in the US & the BBC in the UK. This ill-judged & wrong-headed American incursion into South East Asia was a major influence on my own political viewpoint. I knew about the failure of 3 Presidents to bring order to the chaos, about the massacre at My Lai, I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches”, had seen “Apocalypse Now”. But I was a kid in the UK when this thing started, other things to preoccupy me, no nightly news bulletins, no draft to dodge. Burns’ film covers all the bases, is even-handed, blends current interviews with contemporary footage brilliantly. You know that “the next episode will begin in X seconds” nonsense ? This was too serious, too affecting for that. The thoughts it provoked deserving of consideration rather than a binge watch. The whole series can be found on the Y-tube, it’s an achievement.

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This Week’s Pick Of The Pops (New Music)

It’s not even the middle of the month but this can’t wait. In March my head was more than turned, it was spun around, by 3 new LPs all of which made it into my collection & will be played for a long time. This week it’s been 3 individual tracks, clear, crisp, just 3 and a bit minutes each, that have been doing the trick. I’m not sure that any new lovely 7″ vinyl discs are still being manufactured, there’s probably not a radio station that’s going to pick up on these very same songs so I’m going to put them somewhere where I can easily find them & I can play them to my heart’s & ears’ content. That would be here then…

 

 

This is, for me, genuinely exciting. It’s been 20 years since the last new music from Peter Perrett. “Woke Up Sticky” (1996) was released as P.P & the One & that came 16 years after the last studio LP from his group the Only Ones. Peter’s affection for serious drugs is well chronicled & has hindered continuity in his musical creativity. It is a measure of just how good he can be that 39 years after we first heard “Another Girl, Another Planet”, the one song of his you all know, we are still enthusiastic to listen to any music he wants to make. In those uncertain, monochromatic, early-Thatcherite years when the 1970’s became the 1980’s the Clash provided political idealism & calls for unity while the Only Ones soundtracked a cogent, more personal reaction, acerbic cynicism leavened by heart & humour. “Why Don’t You Kill Yourself”, that was meant to be funny.

 

Related image“How the West Was Won” is recognisably Perrettian, verse, chorus & a blazing guitar solo. A slow “Sweet Jane”/”If Not For You” riff, the Velvets & Dylan, classic Rock influences. The lyrics are a forthright, caustic condemnation of the Evil Empire, the verse in praise of a Kardashian rear-end seems a little incongruous but it’s making me laugh. There was a planned LP when the Only Ones reunited in 2008 but steroid use for  a lung condition led to Peter’s voice developing a helium-tinge & it never happened. It’s great to hear him sounding so much stronger. This is the title track from a new LP, backed by his sons Jamie (guitar) & Peter Jr (bass), produced by Chris Kimsey whose long CV includes co-credit on many Rolling Stones records. 10 new songs to come, it’s gonna be good. Domino Records, 30th June 2017, say hello if you see me in the queue.

 

 

A new track from Jason Isbell will always cause a stir round our yard too. It’s a taster for “The Nashville Sound”, a new LP due to surface on June 16th (man, I’m going to have to save my pennies!). “Southeastern” (2013) & “Something More Than Free” (2015) deservedly placed Jason at the forefront of American singer-songwriters after over a decade of honing his craft with Drive-By Truckers & on 3 earlier solo records. The blend of Country, Blues & Soul influences is perfectly balanced. His getting clean, his marriage to Amanda Shires, gave him great material & his skill at translating the personal into something sympathetic & more universal made for 2 great records. Jason’s doing well, he gets awards, he’s playing bigger halls. I know people who like this kind of thing but don’t know this music, he should be flipping massive !

 

Related imageSo, if I’m going to listen to anyone sing about Trump America then it’s Isbell. “Hope the High Road” is no call to arms, more an acknowledgement that many people are feeling pretty pissed about the way it went down in 2016, that “there can’t be more of them than us” & well, let’s hope things get better.  I’m reminded of the anthems Springsteen & Jackson Browne used to write & if “Hope…” lacks the authority of those then these are different, less certain times. The new record is credited to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, his touring band who have all played on the last 4 LPs. Maybe, as he says, “I’ve sung enough about myself”, Jason is smart enough to know that relying on autobiographical lyrics for a third time could be one too far. The postman brought me tickets for his Autumn tour today so c’mon, let’s get Summer over & done with !

 

 

OK, after a couple of artists I have followed for some time here’s something that I was only recently put on to. Ette’s “Attack of the Glam Soul Cheerleaders (Part 1 & 2), (how could I resist that title ?) is from last summer’s “Homemade Lemonade”, a collaboration between Carla Easton & Joe Kane. “Attack…”‘s  bustle, brio & catchiness (I’m still on a Pop poetess Shirley Ellis kick at the moment) brought to mind the early records of the Go Team & I liked that. 2016 was a busy year for Carla, her band TeenCanteen released their debut LP “Say It All With A Kiss”. Just one look at the 4-piece group’s videos that’s all it took.

 

Image result for teencanteenTeenCanteen have been around Glasgow since 2012. Carla’s voice is strong, individual & her songs are equally impressive. Their C86 lo-fi indie take on the Wall of Sound has echoes of the classic girl-group sound (Oh yeah, the 4 members of TC are all female) & the retro/modern balance is just right. They have a Sunshine Pop charm & you can never have too much of that. “Millions”, with its crying that is so Shangri-Las, is in the shops on the 22nd of April, part of a 4 track EP “Sirens”. In a parallel universe where the attraction of a 3 minute blast of pure pop music has not been diminished “Millions” would be the follow up to 2 or 3 big hit records (here’s one of them, “How We Met (Cherry Pie)“) & I wouldn’t have to carry on about just how good they are.

Starting As You Mean To Go On

There’s a New Year to be withstood,  cold reality to be met with a forearm smash firmly to the bridge of its nose. So, before my resolve is at all dissipated by pointless Facebook Madvice from narcissistic Yoga freaks or by early adopters of the latest political hot potato (“Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue and you can wipe my ass with it.”) a little musical reinforcement seems to be the very thing.

We have all been there…sofa…crack…thinking to myself,  ’bout my angel dressed in black. Waiting for your prostitute girlfriend to come home with the cheese so that you can re-up. Too high to do anything but sit there and think a little too much. Actually, I’m with Dennis Leary on this one and would never take a drug named after a part of my ass ! Also the women who have supported me through my times of anomie  (and thank you to them all) have not been employed in any sex trade nastiness. No matter, Warren Zevon, has a great rock song about it, perfectly imagined so that we don’t have to. “Angel Dressed In Black” sounds like his “Hindu Love Gods” record with R.E.M. and is from his brilliant “Mr Bad Example” LP from 1991, a must- have for any lover of reprobate rock.

My favourite clip of this song. Lou’s great band had been on a world tour for a year and were just so tight. “Doing The Things That We Want To”, about Sam Shepard and Martin Scorsese, is a better song for losing the accordion and gaining the attack. Fred Maher (drums), Fernando Saunders (bass) and on guitar, the Sergeant Bilko of rock, Robert Quine were as good a band as you could ever wish to see. I was lucky and saw Lou Reed play in London with these guys. On quiet evenings, with a fair wind, I can still hear their  blistering takes on “White Light White Heat” and “Coney Island Baby”. I can hear it too when I dig out that old bootleg cassette bought just a week after the gig. You could say that I was firmly struck by the way they had behaved.

The man who did the world a favour by placing this cover version on the Y-tube is around on my computer clan. We have had to whisper our appreciation of this song as it’s not really acceptable in the UK to disturb the genuflection afforded to Ray Davies and the Kinks. I like the original B-side sung by brother Dave. The beefed-up live version, omitted from the 1994 UK LP, made the 1996 US double LP, resurrected the song and was featured in “The Sopranos”. Peter Perrett’s record “Woke Up Sticky” was a recrudescence too. A friend, disturbed by Peter’s wasted condition, had urged him to get himself together. The friend was Johnny Thunders…hoo-haa ! The stories of excess and devotion to dereliction would be of little consequence had Perrett not been capable of creating some of the greatest  British guitar rock. To hear this assertive return to form confirmed his talent and that, indeed, he was not like everybody else.

Now…that’s better. 2013…bring it on.

The One and The Only Ones.

Peter Perrett has stubbornly remained a cult figure on the British musical scene. The one song of his that has reached a wider audience needed the endorsement of a mobile phone company to extend it’s shelf life. I’m not sure that people who know the song from the commercial know the band who performed it or the guy who wrote it.In 1980 three of us lived on the top floor of a house in Deptford, South London, (living the dream !). Perrett and his group, The Only Ones, along with the Fall, provided the soundtrack to that year. The acerbity of both bands accompanied those early-Thatcher years. If we were gonna meet the 80s head on then we were going to have to toughen up.

The Only Ones released three LPs. “Another Girl Another Planet”, a new wave/pop punk anthem, got them noticed but was not a big hit. The song became somewhat of a millstone. They recorded songs the equal of this but big old jaunty anthems about a relationship with heroin were never their stock-in-trade. There was, rather, a laconic, fatalistic theme to the songs. Perrett, a heroin addict, accepted the weakness of taking a moral stance about others and about living while choosing such a destructive lifestyle. “I’m in love with extreme mental torture. I’m in love with the way you hold your head and cry. I’m in love with all these affairs of the heart” . (No Peace for the Wicked). Perrett chronicled the machinations and manipulation of a relationship better than anyone. In “Trouble In the World” he wrote, “If you do happen to be stronger. It only means you take longer to go under”. The mix of romanticism, cynicism and contempt was the perfect riposte to a decade marked by individualism and ego at the expense of communality.

The group were standing still and facing diminishing returns by 1981. The drug problems within the band were certainly not helping. On the 8th of March we went to the Lyceum in Central London to say our goodbyes at their final gig. They had played the same venue just the year before. It was a great night. The set they played felt like a greatest hits only there were no hits. On the final night they opened with ” A.G.A.P” and “Trouble in the World”. I remember thinking that in some parallel universe it was these songs and the Ramones singles which were toppermost of the poppermost. At the time our drug of choice for a Sunday night gig was L.S.D. (not as strong in 1981 as it was ten years earlier). I got a little down that I was watching this top band for the last time. After the storming opening Perrett told us all not to be sad about it. OK Peter, whatever you say. Susceptible to suggestion whilst under the influence of hallucinogenics…who me ? It was a memorable night. Every song we wanted to hear got played. “Another Girl” got played again and that was it.

It was indeed it for 13 years. Perrett retreated to his home in Forest Hill (just down the road from me) and into his addiction. He showed out irregularly if a junkie friend had a gig. There was an album of demos. We had a bootleg from Amsterdam which got extensive play but really we were left with the three LPs. It was not until 1994 that he began to gig again with a new band, The One. He had been invisible for so long, the band received little coverage. I completely missed the LP, released in 1996. If it weren’t Britpop in 1996 then you did not get to hear it. I have only recently come to appreciate the quality of the “Woke Up Sticky” LP. The 21st century re-union did not interest me. As I heard more of The One I could hear some great Perrett songs and it was 20 years since there had been new ones to listen to.

I love this clip. Peter got cleaner (clean would be going too far) to promote the album. He is looking well, he has a fine new song to play and a good band to play it. There is a trace of a smile on his face throughout the performance which is so good to see. The nudge of encouragement to Jay, the guitarist, is a sign that all is going better than expected. Perrett always liked a classy rock guitarist on his songs. The music, because of this, is maybe less direct or unconventional than his peers. Me ? I think it makes the songs classic and timeless. Watching this video cheers me that Peter got it together enough to do the new song justice. The second clip from the LP is still outstanding but less cheering.

The second fantastic song from the album.Darker than “Woke Up” but a perfect Perrett lyric about a relationship heading for the rocks & little to be done about it. There is love in his songs but it’s usually concerning the difficulty of being so close to another human being rather than a hearts and flowers romanticism.

It is obvious that he is back, at least, on the pipe by the time this was filmed. The shots of him lip-synching with the band look almost unusable. he has said that he smoked crack to prevent returning to heroin but then did both. Hey, it’s not a shock, he is a junkie, it’s what they do. The One could not continue with Peter in this state. We were not to see him again until the Only Ones re-union on the back of the phone ads. The money had bought him a new set of teeth, sunglasses to hide the 30 years of abuse. However his South London, Bowiesque, drawl was shot and his voice sounded like he was on helium.

I rate Peter Perrett alongside people like Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers and Robyn Hitchcock. He is one of the great British renegades. At that final gig it occurred to me that maybe too many of his fans were too out of it to do things like go to a gig. His junkie outlook, his tough love has always seemed authentic to me. His cynical take on life and everything that goes with it was articulated perfectly and he found some damn fine musicians to help him along the way. In a way I don’t really want him to be re-discovered, re-evaluated and regurgitated. I’m happy enough to re-visit the LPs and to get to know those few songs he came up with in the missing years.