Sunday, 25 January 2015

JANUARY PLAYLIST


This month the walls of Monkey Mansions have shook to the sound of...

1.  Powder - "Turn Another Page" (1968)
Good to see Californian anglophiles Powder back in focus thanks to a new compilation on Big Beat, Ka-Pow! An Explosive Collection and their story told in detail in the new issue of Shindig! magazine. I'm not messin', these boys were superb. Part The Who, part Simon & Garfunkel, all parts immaculate pop music. If you don't know them, check 'em out pronto.

2.  Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm - "Ghetto Funk" (1969)
The part of the ghetto Ike acquired his funk was the smoother section if A Black Man's Soul is anything to go by. It's a mighty fine instrumental album - nominated (i.e. didn't win) a Grammy - and even if not as tough as titles "Getting Nasty", "Up Hard" and "Nuttin' Up" suggest, it moves in all the right places.

3.  Scott Walker - "It's Raining Today" (1969)
From Scott 3. Been reading No Regrets: Writings on Scott Walker in which different writers contribute pieces on the various periods of Walker's career. The chapter "A Dandy In Aspic" by Ian Penman, looking at the largely ignored Middle Scott MOR years (post Scott 4 to The Moviegoer in '72) is music writing at its most brilliant: imaginative, thought provoking, poetic. And means I've now got some gaps to fill.

4.  The Fabulous Counts - "Dirty Red" (1969)
The Fabulous Counts came out of Detroit in 1969 and in Jan Jan made one the most bad ass organ funk LPs these honky ears have ever had the pleasure of encountering. Mose Davis was the organist but the whole band cook and swing and groove and get down and do all the things you'd want on covers and their own compositions. It's a big fat horny sound they create with jazz licks a plenty. Every track a house party winner.

5.  Reverend Charlie Jackson - "God's Got It" (1970)
Rev. Jackson plugs his guitar into a small portable amp and lays down an incessant beat for the congregation. If John Lee Hooker played churches...

6.  Fred Wesley & The JBs - "I'm Paying Taxes, What Am I Buyin'" (1974)
Fred & The JBs cut Damn Right I Am Somebody during the same session that produced James Brown's The Payback album and Mr Brown is never far away, ensuring he gets a cut of the writing credit no doubt. JB introduces the record by saying "To me, happiness is Fred Wesley playing his horn". Mr Wesley left Mr Brown's employment the following year. 

7.  MFSB - "Freddie's Dead" (1973)
A clue to Freddie's death is helpfully provided on the front cover of the Mother Funkin' (cough) Sons of Bitches debut album: a gigantic syringe laying in an open coffin in a graveyard surrounded by red poppies. Subtle. Fantastic symphonic version of Curtis's classic.

8.  Squire - "You're The One" (1983)
Out of the bands spawned by the '79 Mod Revival, Squire were more 60s orientated than the majority. By 1983 and their swansong album Get Smart they had 60's pop nuggets down to a fine art (so much so that for years I thought their "Jesamine" was a cover). Difficult to select a highlight from the LP but "You're The One" meshes The Who's "So Sad About Us" to touches of the Byrds, the Beatles and the Hollies. That'll do. 

9.  Superfood - "Superfood" (2014)
We've now reached such a distance from baggy and Britpop that bands now include members who weren't even born when Blur stumbled around on Top of The Pops with a chicken's head on a stick. Superfood's Don't Say That is an album that falls between the two periods and unashamedly pilfers from both and even throws in an echo of "Sympathy For The Devil" for good measure. I'm all in favour. Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1991. 

10.  Peter Doherty - "Flags of the Old Regime" (2015)
Wasn't Pete supposed to die ten years ago? He's still here but death still stalks our troubled troubadour. When I read this was a tribute to Amy Winehouse I had visions of Pete mumbling along to the Daptone horns, but no, this is a sensitive, moving and even graceful piece of work. Getting new stuff of out him is a bit like getting blood out of one of his collapsed veins but it's usually worth the wait. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

THE SCENE UNSEEN - THE 100 CLUB, THURSDAY 7 NOVEMBER 1985

Andy Welsh, The Scene, 100 Club, 7 Nov '85
As 1.9 billion people turned on their television set on a sweltering Saturday afternoon on 13 July 1985 to watch Status Quo followed by the Style Council kick off Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, two hundred Mod kids were filtering their way into an upstairs room above a north London pub, grandly called the Savoy Ballroom, to watch - in a parallel universe, pointedly oblivious to what else was going on in the world - four of their bands. In order: The Wayout, The Moment, The Combine, and headliners and main attraction, The Scene.

Seeing how well the recent piece about The Rage and the mid-80s Mod scene was received, and in anticipation for this Friday's gig at the 100 Club, today we'll cast our minds back to remember The Scene.

Proud East Londoners with an adopted northerner (that's proper North: Hull) they cut a three singles - "Looking For Love", "Something That You Said" and a cover of "Good Lovin'". The finest 45 - and one of the best of the era - being the harmony driven pop-art splash "Something That You Said" backed with "Stop-Go", their paean to amphetamines, "Now I've got such a taste for... speed".

In an era when groups were cagey about being too closely associated with the dreaded "M" word, The Scene proudly proclaimed to the national music press, "We are the only Mod band". Which was one sure fire way of sacrificing any chance of greater success but endearing them greatly to their fellow brethren.

I saw them many times and loved their gigs; somehow they tied a jangle, that shook rather than jingled, to big Who powerchords and smashed guitars. You knew the guitar destruction was coming when Gary Wood put down his red Rickenbacker and picked up something less precious to bash through a set closer. The song which has stuck in my head most firmly all these years has been "Is She In Love (With Love)" which rather bizarrely and untypically sounds a bit like The Smiths. Me and my mates would come back from gigs singing that one on the tube journey home even though it took about 25 years to hear a recorded version, finally turning up on an album of Scene tracks and those of their previous incarnation, OO7, entitled Landscapes

These photos were taken at the 100 Club on 7 November '85. As you can read from my teenage scrawl below (you think I'm a bit anal about documenting things now, you should've seen me as a kid) it wasn't the most well attended gig and the next month Sounds announced the band would spilt after two years of "urgency, excitement, smashed guitars and a mountain of unpaid debts" which sounded very rock and roll.

Their farewell gig was another Saturday afternoon slot back in Tufnell Park on 22 February 1986. This one was packed, a great show, and saw excited kids invading the stage. With The Scene disappearing, the rest of the scene wasn't too far behind.

Reformed in 2010 with the full line-up intact, the band have a new EP due later this year and perform with The Rage at the 100 Club, Oxford Street, London this Friday 23rd January 2015. 
Gary Wood, The Scene, 7 Nov '85
Russell Wood, The Scene, 7 Nov '85
Andy Orr, The Scene, 7 Nov '85
Monkey Picks 1985 style

Sunday, 18 January 2015

THE VOICES OF EAST HARLEM - RIGHT ON BE FREE (1970)


One of my favourite discoveries last year was the 1970 album on Elektra by the Voices Of East Harlem, Right On Be Free. They're probably best known for their 1973 Leroy Hutson/Rich Tufo/Curtis Mayfield produced single "Cashing In" and whilst that's a great jabbing slice of 70s soul, there's nothing particularly remarkable about it or anything to differentiate the Voices of East Harlem from countless other vocals groups. In fact, Gerri Griffin's dominant lead vocal obscures the very fact they were a group at all. The same cannot be said for their debut Right On Be Free.

Firstly, the sleeve is striking. It's a statement. Sixteen denim-clad, afro-haired, young folk from New York marching, clapping and singing. Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud. Right on. Be free. Rather than a standard group, the Voices of East Harlem were initially a community initiative set up by Chuck and Anna Griffin in 1969. With established gospel singer Bernice Cole as musical director they - up to 20 members, including the Griffin's kids - performed at benefit gigs, prisons, festivals and even on television.

With a rotation of lead singers of all ages, the grooves in the vinyl of Right On Be Free are scarcely wide enough to contain the mass of exuberant and excited voices this street choir frantically pump out backed by a loose yet funky band. They breathe fire into covers such as "For What It's Worth", "Proud Mary" and "Simple Song of Freedom" and original powerful, soul-stirring songs like "Right On Be Free" and "Gotta Be A Change" already sound like established classics.

Listening to the record made me wish there was live footage of them in action. Well, thank the good Lord, there's a whole concert available and it's bang on the time of the album.  Recorded at Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts on 18 August '70 the Voices of East Harlem sing most of the album and also, appropriately enough,  "Young, Gifted and Black". They enter with a choreographed chain gang march and exit after little Kevin Griffin - approximately 11 years old - threatens to steal to the show with his moves during "Shaker Life" and Bernice Cole shows her young protégées how to really sing.

People, be upstanding for... the Voices Of East Harlem.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

THE SEEDS - SINGLES As & Bs 1965-1970


In the accompanying booklet to The Seeds Singles: As & Bs 1965-1970 Alec Palao quickly counters the argument all Seeds songs sound the same by offering "Pushin' Too Hard", "Mr Farmer" and "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" as examples of their range. It's a common assertion and maybe an unfair one to suggest they had one song which simply varied in tempo and length when what the Seeds were, really, was consistent. 

Unlike contemporaries the Electric Prunes and Chocolate Watchband who saw their groups overtaken by record companies and session musicians to an extent they become unrecognisable,  the Seeds - until their last few singles - remained Sky Saxon (vocals), Jan Savage (guitar), Rick Andridge (drums) and Daryl Hooper (keyboards). Like LA counterparts The Doors, The Seeds didn't include a recognised bassist in the band but as this CD reveals their studio sessions were nearly all augmented by bass player Harvey Sharpe. Not the most virtuoso players, the Seeds were a solid unit who played to their strengths, creating well over three albums worth of creepy, crawly, menacing and unhinged psychedelic flower power built around Hooper's keyboard and Saxon's twisted otherworldly drawl and freakish yelps. I could rattle off now a dozen-to-twenty great Seeds songs without much effort. Many are featured here. 

The Singles As & Bs works for both the newish listener, giving an introduction but by no means featuring all their best material - "Evil Hoodoo" and "Chocolate River" being just two humdingers not to make it to a single - and the older fan who may not have all the non-album B-sides including "Six Dreams", "Wild Blood", "900 Million People Daily (All Making Love)".

For most of their original lifespan the Seeds recorded for GNP Crescendo with their established line-up until late '68 when Savage and Andridge left and the band went through a confusing muddle of personnel changes and winded up with a couple of releases in 1970 on MGM: the acid rock "Bad Part Of Town" and the gently trippy "Love In A Summer Basket". Both singles (and their respective B-sides) often harshly overlooked. Alec Palao's liner notes include interviews with some of these band members and sheds light on a previously dark corner of the Seeds story. It's a great insight into the band and the increasingly eccentric behaviour of the late Sky Saxon - a character worthy of his own biography - who told the band they'd go to hell if they ate an egg and how he felt sorry for chopped tomatoes. There are also plenty of previously unseen photographs.

The songs on the collection, the audio quality (original single masters), the packaging, the liner notes, all make this a superb addition to the Seeds already impressive catalogue. 

Singles As & Bs 1965-1970 by The Seeds is released by GNP Crescendo/Big Beat. Out now. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

THE RAGE - THE MOD SUPERGROUP OF 1985 (AKA MY MOD STORY '84-'86)

Derwent, The Rage, 100 Club, 8 January 1985
Steve Moran, The Rage, 100 Club, 8 January 1985
As 1984 gave way to 1985 a "Mod supergroup" appeared on the scene and looked destined to lead the charge of the latest generation of Mod bands (or, to be more accurate, bands liked by Mods) springing up. The Rage featured Derwent Jaconelli (ex-Long Tall Shorty) who'd swapped his drumsticks for a microphone, Jeff Shadbolt (ex-Purple Hearts) on bass, Buddy Ascot (ex-The Chords) on drums and Steve Moran (ex-Long Tall Shorty) on guitar. On Friday 23rd January 2015 the band will celebrate with a 30th anniversary reunion gig - their first UK date in 25 years - at the 100 Club on Oxford Street.

Their first gig took place at the 100 Club on 18 December 1984 supporting a reformed Purple Hearts. Myself and school friends Clive and Jamie went along even though none of us were massive fans of the Purple Hearts (we had one of their records between us) but we'd recently started to go to gigs and this felt like a big deal in Mod circles so we were duty bound to go. Thank goodness we did. From the opening chords of The Rage's set the crowd went bananas. It's almost unbelievable now when I think of it. Here was a band nobody had heard before, playing songs nobody knew (apart from a few covers), and yet the atmosphere was akin to celebrating a last minute winner in a London derby. The energy from the band - and from Derwent in particular; like a bull in a china shop - translated to the crowd instantly and we leapt around and bundled into each other throughout every big ballsy song. It was love at first sight. So much so, one girl jumped on stage and whipped off her top and bra.

Us three kids sat crashed at the back of the club, on the floor, leaning against the wall; Cavern sta-press, Fred Perry jumpers, flight jackets drenched in sweat as we scrabbled together enough money for a drink to cool down. The Purple Hearts did their thing and we enjoyed them but they were from a different era and we felt a little separate from them. All we could talk about after was The Rage.

A few weeks later, 8 January 1985, The Rage were back at the 100 Club for a gig with Makin' Time. I didn't take my camera out very often as it was too bulky to fit in my pocket but made an exception occasionally and this was one of those times as you can see for the rubbishy photos above. Makin' Time, with their instantly snappy rhythm and soul, were good and throughout 1985 got better and better, culminating in their debut album and some incredible gigs during the summer. How "Here Is My Number" didn't make the charts to see them kicking balloons on Top Of The Pops is one of the great mysteries of the hit parade. Anyway, back to The Rage and they followed on where they left off in December, only this time TWO girls paraded their goods as the band knocked seven shades of shit out of "Shout". I was fifteen years old, in a famous rock and roll venue in the West End, watching a loud band nobody outside our little clique knew about, and stood open-mouthed as two half-naked girls shook their tuppennies in my direction. School was becoming less interesting by the day.

What made all this extra exciting was this was a brand new band and we were there from the beginning. Rather than being reliant on fans from their previous bands, The Rage supporters by and large were coming to them for who they were now rather than who'd they'd been. There was a keenness to follow them and see them play whenever possible, which was regularly. The 100 Club put them on almost monthly, including a support slot to Spencer Davis and Brian Auger which was an odd evening of generation clashes. The music press (especially Sounds which was supportive of the Mod scene at the time) were giving coverage and their own songs "Looking For You", "Temptation Into Temptation", "The Face", "Come On Now", "Our Soul" soon became familiar anthems. They hadn't released any records but it surely, we thought, wouldn't be long before we had something to play at home. We were half right.

One Saturday afternoon during a trip up to Carnaby Street I was in The Merc looking at the latest records and modzines. When I say "looking at", I mean this literally. Jimmy in The Merc had tantalising goods (The Action, Creation and Artwoods Edsel LPs for a start) on a display rack but erected a chrome crash barrier in front of them, leaving everything out of reach from prying hands. Young Mods would stand in front of the barrier and sheepishly ask this old geezer, "Please Jimmy, can I look at issue twelve of In The Crowd?" Jimmy didn't speak much English but understood money, would grin, nod, and gently pass it to you, under the tacit understanding that once touched, you were obliged to buy. I ended up with a stack of scruffily produced modzines as a result. On this particular day the music playing in the shop was a tape of the Rage at the 100 Club. I recognised it straight away. Jimmy said he'd be selling copies next week. Fantastic news. The following week they weren't ready. "Come back next week". I went back. Not ready. "Next week, sorry". Went back again. And again. After about six weeks Jimmy finally had the tapes. It was expensive and sounded like it was recorded from the back of the room inside a sports bag hidden under a pile of parkas then put onto the cheapest, poorest quality cassette money could buy. I doubt the band knew about it but it did the job for a while until the inevitable happened and the tape broke, all twisted and tangled inside the player, unable to be repaired. 

Despite our support, The Rage, wisely, were keen to avoid the "Mod supergroup" term, knowing the prejudices held against being associated with such an unlovable species. It was a balancing act for many that year: keeping the mod scene on side without alienating them or, probably more importantly, the rest of the world thus reducing the band's potential audience and income. As Jeff Shadbolt told Garry Bushell in Sounds: "We could say 'yeah, we're a Mod supergroup' and take the Mods' money. But that's not what we want - we want everyone's money!" Thirty years on I doubt they mind the tag.

For most of '85 everything looked rosy but they lost their impetuous with their failure to release any records. They were rightly ambitious and out for a suitable deal. Ascot and Shadbolt already knew some pitfalls of the music industry from their previous experiences and the band were taken under the wing of John Weller who wouldn't have held back with an opinion. The newly formed Countdown Records signed The Untouchables and Makin' Time, and to likes of me, ignorant to the Machiavellian workings of the music business, that would've made a suitable home for The Rage. It's interesting now to reflect on Derwent's words from July '85 when I wrote to him about the possibility: "The deal was shit, bad organisation of the whole label. We have no faith in the long term future of the label." In September it was revealed The Prisoners did sign to Countdown, and we all now know the ramifications of those inky signatures.

By November, weekly Mod newspaper The Phoenix List reported the latest Rage 100 Club gig attracted only 83 people, a far cry from the beginning of the year. I didn't go. Those later gigs weren't helped by no longer appeared with bands Mods wanted to see, so it became a less attractive proposal, especially for a band, as I've said, with no records to give them a boost. It's also worth adding The Rage weren't the only band experiencing a drop off in attendances at the 100 Club; the venue had milked the better bands dry, spread them too thin, and things were moving on fast anyway. 

That elusive record, a single, finally surfaced in well into 1986 on the tiny independent, Diamond, who'd hoovered up many Mod and 60s style bands during the past couple of years. As well as being too little, too late, and feeling after all that promise something of a defeat to sign to Diamond when they could've done that a year previously, it in no way represented the thump, the power, the rebel rousing stomp of The Rage as a live band. "Looking For You", their sole release, had a limp and weedy sound. Even now I can't understand why it sounds more like The Style Council rehearsing "Headstart For Happiness" than The Clash assaulting "Tommy Gun". It doesn't do them justice. But by then, even I wasn't listening. 

The last gig Rage gig I saw was on 9th August '86 at the Hammersmith Clarendon, again with Makin' Time. Clive and Jamie had long since bailed out of the Mod scene so I went with Sue, who was the only "Modette" (it was acceptable to use the term then) within miles of where I lived. I can't recall much other than wearing a red Harrington and red socks, and that I definitely didn't see any boobs that night. 

Things changed dramatically for the Mod scene throughout 1986. People dropped off the scene like flies and found new interests; all the best bands split and that chapter was over, but in 1985 - when we'd go out every week to see either Makin' Time, The Scene, The Prisoners, The Untouchables, The Moment, Direct Hits etc - for that glorious year, The Rage were indeed, for a while at least, all the rage.  

The Rage and The Scene appear at the 100 Club on Friday 23rd January 2015. Tickets available here. Both bands - and all the Mod bands mentioned in this article - also feature on the new 4-CD box set Millions Like Us - The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1989, released by Cherry Red Records. 

Fay Hallam, Makin' Time, 100 Club, 8th January 1985

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

DECEMBER PLAYLIST

This month's choice cuts...

1.  Manfred Mann - "Ain't That Love" (1964)
The Manfreds had such an embarrassment of riches around this time (Paul Jones era) - both in well chosen covers and originals - they couldn't find space to release this group composition until the 1990s. Had it been a 45 it'd be a mod club dancefloor staple today. Just listen to that flute.

2.  The Action - "You'll Want Me Back" (1965)
Recorded as part of their audition for Decca on 31 May 1965, and only available now thanks to Top Sounds' new 4 track EP - this interpretation of an Impressions B-side gives even more evidence (if any were needed) of what a magnificent group The Action were. Reggie King always rightly gets the plaudits, and his lead vocal here is superb, but Alan King and Pete Watson's harmonise in a way no other British beat group were doing, or could even dream about doing as well. This recording is like being in a room with a band on the verge of something very special. Decca said no.

3.  Duffy Power - "Leaving Blues" (1965)
As British Blues singers go, Duffy Power was up there with the very best of them. In fact, listening to the material he cut during 1965 it's difficult to think of anyone who had more natural feel. Record companies though could see any commercial value so a whole album sat on the sleeve gathering dust until Transatlantic put it out under the title Innovations in 1971.

4.  Cleveland Robinson - "Love Is A Trap" (1965)
I've never owned this song in any shape or form - not as a single, on a compilation LP, CD or even homemade tape, yet can sing you every word (should you be unlucky enough to be in earshot) and it's guaranteed to get me dancing as anyone at the 6T's Rhythm & Soul Society Christmas Party the other week can testify. If I trod on your foot, apologies; but who can resist a record that sounds like a one-man Drifters colliding with the theme from the Generation Game?

5.  Ollie Jackson - "Gotta Wipe Away The Teardrops" (1966)
Back when I first started attending all-nighters ("during the war...") this was played all the time and was typical of the style popular then: big voice, mid-tempo, sparse arrangement. Still hard to beat.

6.  Alice Coltrane - "Journey In Satchidananda" (1970)
The whole Journey In Satchidananda LP is deep, mesmerising and otherworldly trip.  

7.  The Undisputed Truth - "Ball Of Confusion" (1971)
"Get me more wah-wah and phasing on the kitchen sink in the left speaker goddammit". The Undisputed Truth was the result of Motown producer Norman Whitfield's stratospheric ego. Nowhere is this clearer than on the ten and half minute version of "Ball Of Confusion". Cheers Norm.

8.  Young-Holt Unlimited - "Pusher Man" (1971)
Eldee Young and Redd Holt cut an album in 1971 entitled Young-Holt Unlimited Plays Super Fly. Four of the ten cuts were tracks taken from Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack and played in a cool laid-back instrumental jazz style.

9.  Manic Street Preachers - "Mausoleum" (1994)
Twenty years since release and the final gigs with its main architect Richey Edwards, Manic Street Preachers played their masterpiece The Holy Bible live in its entirety this month. Thanks to the generosity and thoughtfulness of others I was fortunate enough to catch two of the shows at the Roundhouse. The second in particular was excellent (the first slightly hampered by James Dean Bradfield's lurgy) - truly gripping - and despite the intensity of the material and the extreme emotional baggage the band appeared relatively relaxed and even appeared to enjoy the experience; a far cry from the infamous Astoria gigs of December '94 when I was certain it would be the last time I'd see them. That, of course, only turned out to apply to Richey. Gone but never forgotten,

10.  Gang Starr - "Jazz Thing" (1990)
Not sure it had a name but following rare groove and then acid jazz there was "a scene" around the late 80s and very early 90s where jazz and funk and hip-hop and, for want of a better term, "modern dance music" were all thrown into a pot from which loads of great records were cooked. Gang Starr's "Jazz Thing" is a classic example and the opening track to the first volume of The Rebirth of The Cool compilation series which boldly announced "The nineties will be the decade of a jazz thing".   

Sunday, 28 December 2014

THE JAM in SMASH HITS


Rummaging in the back of a wardrobe in my childhood bedroom I came across a long forgotten collection of Jam posters. Some were so thoroughly forgotten seeing them now only brought back the tiniest flicker of remembrance. These four here though, pulled from the pages of Smash Hits between October 1981 and December 1982, are clear as day. They represent precisely the period of the band's career I was aware of and experienced first hand, albeit from a distance - I never saw them live.

The Jam meant the world to me then and stuck with Blu-Tac to my walls and cupboard doors these "song words", as Smash Hits called them , were quickly committed to memory, where they've remained ever since. The phrase "Repeat chorus and ad lib to fade" entering common parlance to folk of a certain age whose reading matter was still confined to the pages of Britain's glossiest pop mag.

I recall being very annoyed with Smash Hits for their treatment of "Beat Surrender". Here was the Jam's swansong and they gave it the laziest piece of non-design artwork in the history of the mag. Look at it, shocking.