Wednesday, 18 July 2018

BETTY: THEY SAY I'M DIFFERENT (2018)


Betty Davis cut three albums of ground breaking funk between 1973 and ‘75. Never a household name, Betty was too raw, too raunchy, too real, too much for the mainstream who wanted her to be someone else and soon cut her adrift, an outcast in a business where others would take her lead and her reward.

For the best part of 40 years Betty Davis has remained hidden away, a virtual recluse, unwilling to be seen or revisit those days, until the persistence of film maker Phil Cox persuaded her to be interviewed for his film, Betty: They Say I’m Different

Cox didn’t have an easy task creating his film. After years of trying, Betty finally agreed to be interviewed but not to appear directly on camera, instead we see her like the Mystery Guest round on A Question of Sport: an orderly home, a figure sitting on the side of a bed, a hand lighting a stick of incense, a closing of an eye.

With only one sequence of surviving live footage of Betty in hot pants and afro action, and Betty’s enigmatic commentary, the film relies on contributors to provide insight into her story and employs creative animation scenes (a regular occurrence with films like this but these are among the best I’ve seen) to give the music a visual accompaniment.

The resulting hour is deliberately sketchy on facts and figures, instead it paints a broad, poetic portrait of Betty, the viewer left to fill in the gaps best they can, although it does reveal her early days as a songwriter moving from Pittsburgh to New York, her modelling and marriage to Miles Davis in ’68, where she exposed him to the new sounds of Hendrix and Sly and “filled the trash with his suits”, giving his wardrobe a hip makeover and his music a new direction before suffering violence in return. “Every day married to him was a day I earned the name Davis.”

The Betty Davis of today appears one of quiet contemplation, perhaps finally at peace with herself. Betty was different, and this film goes some way to understanding what she’s been through, while dealing with her story sensitively. Best of all, it brings the focus back to those incredible records and will encourage a whole new legion of listeners. Strap yourself in, just don’t expect any new live shows.

Betty: They Say I’m Different is available to (legitimately) stream here, for a limited time, thanks to Lush Productions: http://player.lush.com/channels/gorilla/tv/betty

Sunday, 15 July 2018

POSTER WORKSHOP 1968-1971



It’s been a heck of a few days for protest in the UK, and the invention of new swearwords, with many individual eye-catching homemade placards displayed among the bulk printed ones supplied by various organisations and groups, thanks to Trump’s visit.

If this was still the late 60s, volunteers at the Poster Workshop in Camden Town would’ve been rushed off their radical feet. Inspired by Ateliers Populaires, set up by students and artists in French art school printmaking studios, the Poster Workshop opened at 61 Camden Road in 1968 and operated an open-door policy where people could print their own posters. Volunteers would show them how and collaborate, if required, to design the work. Customers would pay whatever they could afford for materials and the shop survived on donations.

Examples of these posters can be found in Poster Workshop 1968-1971, a new book documenting the struggles and graphic design of that era: everything from the war in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, factory closures, industrial disputes and greedy landlords to the boycotting of Californian grapes. Some of the designs are little more than to-the-point basic scrawls, others more impressive, but all display a commitment and fighting spirit for change.

Poster Workshop 1968-1971 is published by Four Corners Irregulars, £10. 






Friday, 6 July 2018

THE PRIMITIVES at the 100 CLUB, LONDON


Tracy Tracy is, unusually, perched on a stool singing a three-song interlude as the Primitives drop a gear from their usual high speed throttle. “And I'll be there just with my eyes, And that’s the way it is, And I don't want anything to change.”

‘Don’t Want Anything To Change’, featured on the Prims breakthrough LP, Lovely, being commemorated with a series of shows to mark its 30th anniversary. Unlike five years ago in the same venue, it’s not being played beginning-to-end in its entirety, but most of the tracks get an airing, taking up roughly half the set.

Some things have changed, like the introduction of a mid-set sit-down, but not many. They rattle through, they hit a groove, there’s a roughness that echoes their pre-major label success and the rusty chainsaw scuzz of their early indie days. I’d love to say I saw them playing to ten grebos and a dog in Coventry flophouse, flogging singles out the boot of a car, but that’s not the case. They were already at their commercial peak when I first saw them, selling 3000 tickets for two nights at London’s Town and Country Club at the end of ’87. 

My main memory of that night, apart from me impersonating a leaping salmon at the front of the stage to ‘Spacehead’ and ‘Nothing Left’, is those eyes Tracy sings about. She didn’t move about all that much, an opening of a hand, a bend of the knees, but would seduce the audience with a look. Lure them in, then chew them up and spit them out like a bad taste. 

As a teenager then, the thought of still seeing the Prims 30 years later would’ve seemed ridiculous. Can you imagine how shit they’d be? Bunch of embarrassing old codgers. Yet, mercifully, they’ve retained their sense of style and haven’t forgotten what made them so great in the first place: tasty sweet and sour pop nuggets. 

Tracy’s a far friendly proposition these days and a more confident performer. All eyes remain on her as she spins and sashays around the stage. Forever the star, in a glittering dress so dazzling drummer Tig requires sunglasses as he cracks the snare with increasing ferocity to the opening gunshots of ‘Sick of It’. “Don't say you're having fun, There's no fire in your sun, There's nothing here that is real, Nothing that I'd stay here for, Nothing I'd like to steal, And I'm sick of it all,” she sings.

Au contraire Tracy, au contraire mon petits pois… We are most certainly having fun, mon petits pois. With each song the decibel level of audience reaction moves up a notch to near frenzy level. I’ve seen many Primitives shows since their 2009 reunion but tonight’s atmosphere is extra special. Even Tracy confesses to being emotional. Not only are favourites from Lovely greeted as old returning heroes but recent releases - the dizzying, sped-up Monkees-style ‘Petals’ and the barnstorming ‘I’ll Trust The Wind’ – are embraced with the same passionate response. The Primitives, and their followers, remember the past but aren't stuck there, they celebrate the now. 

'Crash' will forever be The Biggie. In 'Crash', so the song goes, people aren't listening anymore, they've had enough to last a lifetime through. None of those folks are in the 100 Club.  


EPILOGUE

One additional thing that made the night for me was the opportunity to play some 45s around The Primitives and support band Young Romance (who’ve taken up the mantle of fuzzy and snappy two-minute hook laden pop tunes, check out their fab single ‘Pale’). Huge thanks to the Prims and promotors AGMP and all those who kindly took the trouble to say hello, say nice things and ask for great records (none of which I had with me but demonstrated fine taste…). Here’s the list for those who like lists…



Comet Gain – An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls
Huggy Bear – Her Jazz

The Liminanas – Garden of Love
Psychic TV – Godstar
Rolling Stones – Dandelion
Jim Doval & the Gauchos – Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut
The Duals – Shift Stick
Richard Berry& the Pharaohs – Have Love Will Travel
The Stooges – Down On The Street
Primal Scream – Ivy Ivy Ivy
Birdland – Hollow Heart
Shop Assistants – Safety Net
Buzzcocks – Promises
The Velvet Underground – Foggy Notion

Young Romance

The Arrows – Blues Theme
Mouse & The Traps – Cryin’ Inside
The Byrds – Feel A Whole Lot Better
Brenda Lee – What’d I Say
The Shirelles – Boys
Shadows of Knight – Shake
Ann-Margret – It’s A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In)
Little Ann – Who Are You Trying To Fool
Big Maybelle – 96 Tears
Ann Sexton – You’ve Been Gone Too Long
Madeline Bell – Don’t Cross Over To My Side of the Street
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity – A Kind of Love In
The Kinks – She’s Got Everything
Love – 7 and 7 Is
The Lornettes – Something To Remember Me By
The Marvelettes – Locking Up My Heart
The Marvelettes – I’ll Keep Holding On

The Primitives

Ramones – I Don’t’ Care
Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers – Chinese Rocks
Hollywood Brats – Sick On You
13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
Hamilton Streetcar – Invisible People
The Left Banke – I Haven’t Got The Nerve
The Who – Dogs
Billy Young – Glendora
Dee Dee Sharp – Deep Dark Secret
Gloria Grey – It’s A Sweet World
Martha & the Vandellas – In My Lonely Room
The Choir – It’s Cold Outside
Mark Markham & the Jesters – Marlboro Country
The Masters Apprentices – War or Hands of Time
The Stairs – Flying Machine
Felt – Rain of Crystal Spires

Monday, 25 June 2018

JUNE PLAYLIST


1.  The Shirelles – ‘Everybody’s Goin’ Mad’ (1963)
“What is this world coming to, with all the crazy things folks do?” What a lovely world it must’ve been when all the Shirelles had to worry about was girls in wigs, boys wearing sunglasses after dark, beatniks rejecting conversation and diplomats doing the Twist.

2.  Kenny Wells – ‘Isn’t It Just A Shame’ (1966)
The use of space and silence within this utterly exquisite soul record is sheer perfection.

3.  Ann-Margret – ‘It’s A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In)’ (1969)
Ann-Margret in angry, stamping, fuzzed up punk mode. Lee Hazlewood mans the controls.

4.  Paula – Mi Habitaciรณn (1970)
Portuguese songstress Paula Ribas sings in Spanish on this opening cut to fantastico new compilation and summer soundtrack, Desafinado: Spanish Bossa Nova 1963/1975, out now on Adarce Records.

5.  Neil Young – ‘Mellow My Mind’ (1973)
We’ve been blessed with a couple of essential Neil Young releases from the vaults in recent months. First the acoustic The Hitchhiker and now the plugged-in Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live, recorded in September ’73.

6.  Millie Jackson – ‘Tell Her It’s Over’ (1975)
Its predecessor, the love-tanged Caught Up, spawned Millie Jackson a deserved R&B Grammy nomination the previous year for her version of ‘If Loving You Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right’ and Still Caught Up follows the same template, an even split of songs sung from the point of view of a wife and mistress. Soap operas are seldom as enthralling as this.

7.  Ann Sexton – ‘I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)’ (1977)
I’ve been on a massive Ann Sexton high after her incredible show in London this month and have hammered The Beginning, Ann’s second and, to date, last album. Criminal she’s not made more records.

8. The Higsons – ‘Conspiracy’ (1982)
So many questions pale into insignificance next to “Who stole my bongos?”

9.  Tracyanne and Danny – ‘Alabama’ (2018)
Tracyanne Campbell’s voice makes me melt at the best of times but here remembering her Camera Obscura bandmate and friend, Carey Lander, who died in 2015, it’s difficult not to well up. “When I’m an old lady I’ll still miss you like crazy”. Heartbreaking.

10.  Starcrawler – ‘I Love LA’ (2018)
These young Americans know how to put on a show. Guitarist Henri Cash throws the shapes of Wayne Kramer and Jack White while singer Arrow de Wilde, a scrawny pile of bones wrapped in muslin and blood, staggers around zombified like Carrie after her prom. At the Garage in Highbury last week they riffed and chugged their way through a bunch of two-minute dumb ass glam rockers before ending the gig playing on the shoulders of the audience. Pure theatre. Hurrah!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

ANN SEXTON at the 229 CLUB, LONDON

“You’ve Been Gone Too Long!” shouts a fella in front of the stage filming Ann Sexton on his iPad. He does it after every song. To my knowledge this is the first time Ann has sung in London, so you’d think Poundland Martin Scorsese could wait more patiently. “You know I’m gonna do that one,” replies Ann, “I couldn’t get out here alive if I didn’t.” She knows it, we know it.

The song in question, co-written by Ann and her husband Melvin Burton, and originally the 1971 B-side to a now mostly forgotten ‘You’re Letting Me Down’, is one of Northern Soul’s defining anthems. It’s not though especially “Northern” in the traditional 4x4 Motownesque stomp, but a funkier new dawn warning about what happens when a man doesn’t take care of his woman, there’s always a Jody waiting in the wings to move in.

When Ann plays the song, as her encore, the room goes bananas, and mateyboy finally gets the money shot he’s been waiting for. It’s a spine tingling moment but not one which overshadows the previous hour, which was a one of the funkiest, most badass, sets of ball squeezing soul music one could ever wish to see. Ann Sexton is simply brilliant. Her voice astonishing. Add a band who blatantly understand, and can achieve, the guttural power and snap of funk and are flexible enough to follow Ann’s lead is a match made in heaven. Mr YouTuber’s tiresome shouting, quite frankly, disrespectful to an artist pouring her very being into her set, leaving nothing behind. Ann isn't dialling this shit in. 

All too often audiences are presented with “heritage acts” who are a shadow of their former self. Despite their best efforts they’ve either lost what they had through the ravages of time, or neglect, and each song is like riding a wave: one moment reaching a quick peak, then sinking down again. Allowances are made and, even with tepid backing bands, they provide a nice night out and an opportunity to give something back, to say thank you for those wonderful records that have enriched our lives.

Ann Sexton is different. No allowances need to be made. This is as good as it gets. Ever. Caught in a crossfire hurricane, she shimmies around the stage, dancing from side to side, and as unlikely as it seems, I can’t imagine her voice has ever been in better shape nor a band, who by their own admission were under rehearsed, give as much oomph.

‘You’re Losing Me’, the second most popular song in her repertoire, is a sheer dynamite. The bomb. She gives the trumpeter some, then the organist, teasingly toys with the drummer. People are dancing and it’s rare to see a London audience dance like this. ‘I Still Love You’ tears the roof off the mother, as does ‘It’s All Over But The Shouting’, before diving into the swampy funk waters of ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’.

‘Come Back Home’ is slower, cards on the table stuff. How anyone could’ve left Ann in the first place blows my mind. It makes the original recorded version, as great as it is, seem innocuous. By the time Ann is through, she’s wiping real tears away and apologising for getting emotional. This isn’t theatre. This is from the heart. The soul. I wrack my brain to recall being in a room with a voice as moving. Maybe never. ‘I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)’ from 1977’s The Beginning is another winner, equal to anything the marvellous Millie Jackson was doing at her peak.

The sweaty 'Rising Up', an irresistible mix of the church brought to the clubs, before Ann exits the stage only to return for the world's most predictable encore. A truly unforgettable night.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

MONKEY'S WANDERING WIRELESS SHOW - SUNDAY 17 JUNE 2018 at 9.00PM


After one of its infamous breaks, Fusion returned to the airwaves last Sunday for its weekly slot on Mixlr Internet Radio with a tremendous Funk-Up-Your-Soul show hosted by Paul Orwell. If you missed it, I urge you to catch-up pronto on the Fusion Showreel

This weekend, Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show is back for the first time since January. In keeping with its title it’ll be crammed with old stuff, new stuff, dancers, smoochers, nutty instrumentals, rarities, classics and heaven knows what, spanning approximately 60 years in 60 minutes. It would be mighty fine if you can tune in.

If you want to log into the chatroom and say hello during the show, it takes seconds to sign up, that’ll be great but if you wanna just listen that’s equally cool. 

UPDATE: NOW AVAILABLE TO CATCH-UP HERE: 
http://mixlr.com/fusion-on-air/showreel/monkeys-wandering-wireless-show-16/

If you've missed previous shows, or want to listen again, here are a few to enjoy.


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

IT'S JUST BEGUN by THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH (1972)


Jimmy Castor’s second album, It’s Just Begun, the first of two in 1972, represents his group’s commercial and arguably artistic peak.

Containing two big hits, both subsequently extensively sampled, it’s a bona fide classic. The stabbing horns, wah-wah guitar, squalling sax, percussive breaks and pulsating bass of the title track is a pure definition of funk and the thumping, chest-beating, madcap march of ‘Troglodyte (Cave Man)’ fulfils Castor’s “I’ll sock it to you” promise.

Such was multi-instrumentalist Castor’s strength, his nickname The Everything Man well deserved, those pair don’t unduly overshadow the rest as the Bunch pack Latin rhythms, fuzzy psychedelic rock, jazz, doo-wop, breezy pop and orchestral movements into a varied and fun packed set. The occasional jokey moments, including the introduction of Big Butt Bertha, don’t detract from a man serious about hitting the grooviest groove.

Now available as a limited edition red vinyl release by TidalWavesMusic.