Sunday, 22 October 2017

THE BRITISH UNDERGROUND PRESS OF THE SIXTIES - EXHIBITION AND BOOK


International Times began publishing in October 1966. Taking inspiration from US titles including Village Voice, Los Angeles Free Press and East Village Other, based in London IT was Europe’s first underground newspaper and central hub for the expanding counterculture.

The brainwave of Barry Miles and John Hopkins - Miles and Hoppy - IT provided communication channels to service the growing “creative, underground, grass-roots free-thinking communities”. Music, sex, drugs, police activities, corrupt businesses and political protest all featured heavily and in its first six months alone, outside of domestic concerns, featured literary contributions from Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Jean-Paul Sartre and Ezra Pound.

Poking the The Man was never going to pass without the authorities becoming hostile so when IT quoted comedian, civil rights activist and candidate for Chicago mayor, Dick Gregory, using the word ‘Motherfucker’ in a Q&A, they were promptly and gleefully raided. On 11 March 1967 their offices were completely stripped: back copies, files, address books, everything removed and replaced with the threat of costly court action. Six months later, with no charges and after failure to close IT down, their stuff was returned, all chucked back in at the bottom of the stairs.

After IT led the way, others – most notably Oz – followed suit; increasingly creative with their design and provocative with their content. An exhibition to coincide with the publication of The British Underground Press of the Sixties, edited by Barry Miles and James Birch, runs at the A22 Gallery in Clerkenwell, London until 4 November 2017.

For the first time, every issue of all the most significant underground papers – IT, Oz, Gandalf’s Garden, Black Dwarf, Friends, Frendz, Ink, Nasty Tales and cOZmic Comsic – plus posters and paraphernalia from the period are on display. Space restrictions mean it’s not possible to view the cover of every edition (many are folded over or overlap), but they’re all included in the book alongside commentary from Miles.

British Underground Press of the Sixties, edited by Barry Miles and James Perch, is published by Rocket 88 and out now.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

THE Z - PEOPLE OF THE MIRROR WORLD (2017)


“Slaves to consumerism, the world’s population exists in a zombie-like state of constant connectivity, their only music corporate sponsored pop pap.”

But fear not dear earthlings, from a galaxy far far away, come The Z to lead us by the hand to a place free from the shackles of the modern world. For the Z are People of the Mirror World, a reflection of music not as the soundtrack to supermarket shopping but as a lifeforce, powered up to the mains, pumping energy back into weary hearts and sapping souls.

It’s pop music Captain, but not as we know it, at least not these days. The Z go back to the future, plug in to their analogue docking station, and slip ten capsules of intergalactic new age boogie dreams straight under our collective tongue. It’s a trip, higher than the sun, where space is the place.

Personnel details and background information is scant and with the most unsearchable name on the internet deliberately so. No one ever said it was gonna be easy. The crew are fronted by Zoot, an Italian practicing high priestess, who channels elements of Grace Slick, Julie Driscoll and even Siouxsie Sioux; Gabrielle Drake in a purple wig in UFO. With Zoot’s co-pilots, The Z travel the spaceways, navigate magical swirling seas, shower excess glitter on glam stomps, cast spells with black magic queens and ask to be saved, all in little more than half an hour and with a spring in their step and twinkle in their eye. It’s music for the mind and body, free your mind and your ass will follow.

People of The Mirror World by The Z is due to land on earth, 1 November 2017, via Detour Records.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

THE SOLARFLARES at the WATER RATS, LONDON


Before Noel Fielding bothered cakes for money he played Vince Noir, zookeeper and King of the Mods, in The Mighty Boosh. In the ‘Jungle’ episode Vince comes face to face with Rudi, a jazz fusion guitarist with the Bongo Brothers and High Priest of the Psychedelic Monks who, with a tiny guitar and door in his afro, says with the air of studied mysticism, “I go by many names. Some call me Shatoon, Bringer of Corn; others call me Mickey Nine, the Dream Weaver; some call me Photoshop; others call me Trinew, The Boiler…”. This scene goes on and on, you get the picture.

Some call Graham Day, Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard, the Prime Movers, Escapee Prisoners; others call them Graham Day and the Forefathers, Partytime Songbookers; this weekend, for the first time in well over a decade, they are the SolarFlares, the Great Returners.

With three of the five SolarFlares albums (four proper ones and an odds and sods comp) recently reissued on Damaged Goods they entered the Water Rats’ Zooniverse, incidentally the building that hosted the Prisoners – complete with Star Trek outfits – for Channel 4’s The Tube in 1984 which introduced them to so many.

Taking back to that stage on Friday, sporting the same hair style and similar guitar, Graham welcomed back Parsley, who joined the band after a couple of LPs, on Hammond adding “apart from that, it’ll be the same old shit” suggesting a more recent Forefathers set, drawing from their various incarnations, was in store but they stayed in character and stuck to the script, keeping to Flares songs.

They began with the opening track from their 1999 debut Psychedelic Tantrums, a tribute to Graham Day’s mum, ‘Mary’. “Mary, do you approve of the things you see? Mary, can you hear me?” I’ve no idea if the late Mrs Day was a fan of ballsy late 60s styled melodic rock but she probably could hear them and if looking down, at the first of two shows that sold out before even the posters had been designed, and heard the rapturous response to every track she would be a proud lady.

Both Graham and Allan have spoken fondly about the music they made as the SolarFlares. Graham being of the view he wrote some of his best songs then and, in his words, “learnt how to sing properly”. There was much rejoicing when, after the Prime Movers disbanded circa 1993 in a sea of prog-rock noodling and members embarked on separate projects, the SolarFlares appeared and focused on their strengths: snappy songs with rollicking elements traceable back to the Small Faces/Who/Kinks (okay, and sounding close to the Prisoners) and scattered them with groovy go-go instrumentals from would-be spy and sci-fi films.

Hearing a full set of those songs underlined those opinions, a fact overlooked by many at the time (including, I hold my hands up here, myself) whose interest in the band quickly dwindled after the initial excitement died away. It’s difficult to say why, maybe it was timing, (I was fixated on R&B during the early 00’s and wasn’t seeing bands) but there were rich pickings to be had to latecomers and diehard returnees alike.

‘Medway’, ‘Cant’ Get You Out of My Mind’, ‘Laughing Sun’, ‘Hold On’, all zipped by with considerable groove . I’m rubbish at remembering titles of instrumentals but pretty sure there were four including Parsley let loose on ‘Angel Interceptor’ and ‘Girl In A Briefcase’ plus the ‘Hush’-recalling ‘Moonshine of Your Love’. ‘Miles Away’ and 'It's Alright' from 2000's That Was Then... So Is This stood out as superb slices of catchy 60s pop and ‘Sucking Out My Insides’ as blood curdling as the title suggests.

Graham was concerned the supercharged, 100mph encore ‘Out of Our Minds’ would give them a heart attack but as Allan said, with the world reportedly due to end in two days, “we’ll give it a go”. They fortunately survived and egged on by promoter Steve Worrall of Retro Man Blog they came back to plunder Wimple Winch’s freakbeat classic ‘Save My Soul’.

There were a few quips about this show being the rehearsal for the Saturday night but, as magnificent as that would certainly be, it could surely only be equal – not greater – than this. The SolarFlares, they go by many names, on this form I call them Bloody Brilliant.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

BLACK TEETH AND A BRILLIANT SMILE by ADELLE STRIPE (2017)


Andrea Dunbar is best known for writing Rita, Sue and Bob Too, a play depicting the relationship between an older man and his two babysitters, made into a film by Alan Clarke in 1987.

Andrea was far from the stereotypical playwright. Growing up on the notorious Buttershaw Estate – reputedly the toughest part of Bradford’s toughest area – Andrea’s exceptional writing talent, particularly for dialogue, brought her to the attention of Max Stafford-Clark, who put her first play – The Arbor, written in green biro at the age of 15 – on at the Royal Court theatre in London’s West End. After three plays, all drawn from lives around her estate, Andrea died in 1990, aged 29, from a brain haemorrhage in her local pub.

Andrea’s story is now the inspiration for Adelle Stripe’s debut novel, Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile. The introduction insists it’s a work of fiction – populated by real and imagined characters – but this exceptional book is clearly biographical, the main events undoubtedly true.

It’s a tale of contrasts: acts of brutality and occasional kindness, of rich and poor, belief and doubt, north and south, even stage and screen. That Andrea’s life story – punctuated by sex, domestic violence and alcoholism – mirrors her work is no surprise but she deals with even the worst events with stoicism. There are though, fear not, moments of humour - both in Dunbar and Stripe's telling.

Although dimly aware of the film adaptation, and the furore that surrounded it, Andrea Dunbar’s name meant nothing to me. I’ve not seen the plays, read them or watched the film. I bought Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile because I’ve always enjoyed Adelle Stripe’s writing and poetry for the independent press and trust her judgement. Such faith did not go unrewarded. Not only is this Adelle’s best work to date - it’s a tremendous stand-alone “piece of kitchen sink noir” – it also serves as a very welcome introduction to the life and work of Andrea Dunbar.

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe is published by Wrecking Ball Press.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

THE LIMINANAS at OSLO, HACKNEY


A little over a week ago, I’d never heard of The Limiṅanas, now they’re my favourite new band. Only they aren’t new, having been around since 2009 and with a handful of albums under their belt, I’m just slow off the mark.

After being tipped-off they were playing their first ever London show, which would be “one of the gigs of the year”, a crash course ensued. What revealed itself was The Limiṅanas, from Perpignan, are French couple, Lionel and Marie Limiṅana, who I’m told rarely play outside France/north-east Spain. Marie sings and drums, Lionel sings and plays the other stuff. They don’t fit in one tidy box: they can caress with dreamy pop, the vocals can be his or hers, sung in whispered French or English, they can hit the fuzz, they can take you down the Velvet Underground Says route, whip ya with the Mary Chain, invoke spaghetti westerns, spy movies, La Nouvelle Vague, sitar stylings and, by French law, the smoke of Serge and Jane frequently wafts across the senses. Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre provides guest vocals on rattling new single, ‘Istanbul Is Sleepy’, and Peter Hook lent a very Peter Hook bassline to last year’s ‘Garden of Love’ on their Malamore LP.

The thought of watching yet another guitar/drums duo didn’t appeal yet I didn’t know how they’d transfer to a live setting; whether they’d use backing tapes or be accompanied on the extra instrumentation that give their records the extra, sometimes exotic, flavour.

What appeared on stage on Thursday night was seven-piece band - four at the front, three at the back – who for 75 minutes rocked the living daylights out of a corner of Hackney. Neither Lionel or Marie sang; those duties were handled by a tambourine punishing Monica Vitti lookalike and a curly haired bloke on guitar. Big hipster-bearded Lionel led with his guitar scrunching, propelling songs until a climax when he’d shoot a look to Marie who’d cease proceedings with a sharp emergency break. Marie, positioned stage-left, was the heartbeat. Playing a small drum kit –bass, snare and tom, no cymbals or hi-hat – she struck, with Moe Tucker simplicity, a thumping beat, so effective it made other drummers look silly with all that fancy darting around their kits, crashing cymbals and playing elaborate fills.

The sheer power was astonishing, especially as their records can sound sparse and airy. Tough guy opener ‘Malamore’ - “I’m Robert Mitchum, I’m Bob Duvall” – stomped hard as they asserted “Sit yourself down, and shut your mouth”. ‘Down Underground’ followed (which would’ve fitted nicely on the last Primitives LP) and destroyed the recorded version. Even lighter songs ‘El Beach’ and ‘Garden of Love’ were electrifying.

The further down the line it got the more I was sucked into a hypnotic, wah-wah pedalling, head spinning, metronomic trance; the heel on my right boot worn down to the leather as it hit the floor BANG-BANG-BANG.

Beyond Lionel’s occasional ‘thank you’, they didn’t say anything; they didn’t need to. It was one of the gigs of the year as I’d been promised.

With thanks to man in the know, Grover.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

SUBBACULTURE - ISSUE SIX - OUT NOW


The new issue of Subbaculture hit the doormats of discerning readers this morning with a welcome thwack and, as I probably say each time, it’s the best one yet, packed with sounds and styles from the street.

As ever, the writing and design is a class above your average ‘zine and there’s plenty of substance in the articles too as they drift to encompass various strands of thought and subject matter.

What continues to amaze is how each issue has so many “that’s me!” moments. Editor Mark Hynds and contributors including Peter Jachimiak with uncanny regularity blow dust off teenage memories and tie-in references which concur with my own tastes. Mark recalls playground transactions involving the Quadrophenia albums, I sold the soundtrack one at school to fund my new found interest in Northern Soul; Mark also, in a piece about punk in Norwich, says his favourite Jamie Reid artwork is the Nowhere buses image, a print of which hangs in my hall; and on the same page, Peter revisits the Manic Street Preachers’ early New Art Riot EP and their first venture into London wearing “mod-style jackets with prison arrows sewn on”, a period which made as lasting an impression on me in my early 20s as discovering The Jam did as a kid.

On that theme, there’s a moving account of the relationship between Paul and John Weller with reference to their working class roots; Kevin Pearce tells a wonderful tale about the healing power of soul music; Tony Beesley discusses his books covering mod and punk scenes, with a focus on experiences outside London; Jason Disley provides a poem; the “gorgeous, oblique shuffle” of Trojan records are reflected upon, and where else are you gonna find a five-page spread charting the history of the Harrington jacket?

Copies are limited to 250 so, in keeping with Subbaculture’s ethos, look sharp…

Friday, 29 September 2017

SEPTEMBER PLAYLIST


1.  Claude Huey – ‘Feel Good All Over’ (1966)
On the flip of this sparse but effective soul shuffler is ‘The Worst Thing A Man Can Do’ which, according to Claude, is taking the love of a good woman for granted which displays a disappointing lack of imagination. Still, I’ll forgive him for ‘Feel Good All Over’.

2.  The Wrongh Black Bag – ‘Shake Me, Wake Me’ (1968)
A frantic version of Al Kooper’s Blues Project song and released as 4a 5 on Mainstream Records. On their way to the studio the band were involved in a car crash and the session cancelled, never to be rescheduled. Most unfortunate.

3.  The Lloyd McNeill Quartet – ‘Dig Where Dat’s At’ (1969)
Self-released in 1969, Asha has recently been reissued by the ever-dependable Soul Jazz Records. They refer to it as deep jazz and spiritual jazz, and it is, but it also includes this sprightly flute-led groover.

4.  Young Ladies – ‘I’m Tired of Running Around’ (1969)
Oh, Young Ladies, this is beautiful to groove to on a sunny afternoon.

5.  Curtiss Maldoon – ‘Man From Afghanistan’ (1971)
As I’ve said elsewhere, considering most of the tracks on a new 3-CD set, One Way Glass: Dancefloor Prog, Brit Jazz and Funky Folk 1968-1975, were made by blokes who thought teaming a vest with sandals as the height of dressing up, it’s one of the most rewarding collections I’ve heard for a long time. This track was a fairly arbitrary pick but when I checked the booklet for more info was delighted to discover the Curtiss Maldoon LP it came from featured most of Mighty Baby.

6.  James Brown – ‘Time Is Running Out Fast’ (1973)
From The Payback, this thirteen minutes of heavy rhythms sounds like JB attempting to outdo Fela Kuti at his own game. Irresistible. Check out the lyrics.

7.  Roy Ayers – ‘Aragon’ (1973)
From the soundtrack to Coffy, which stars Pam Grier as a nurse who murders a string of drug dealers in revenge for her sister getting hooked. "They call her 'Coffy' and she'll cream you!"

8.  Supergrass – ‘Richard III’ (1997)
The other day I bought The Best of Supergrass for the bargain price of one English pound. ‘Richard III’ may or may not have been about that bloke they found buried in a Leicester car park.

9.  The Oscillation – ‘Waste of Day’ (2015)
Bug-eyed Floydian psychedelic stew with a bassline that gets under the skin. A few trips around the mind to this is no waste of time.

10.  The Limianas featuring Anton Newcombe – ‘Istanbul Is Sleepy’ (2017)
Moody French couple and the Massacre man wake ya from your dreams with a relentless vibrating noise to rattle the bed.