Sunday, 29 May 2016

MAY PLAYLIST


1.  Nolan Strong and the Diablos – ‘Daddy Rockin’ Strong’ (1955)
Pre-dating ‘Daddy Rollin’ Stone’ is this raunchy stroller written and performed by Detroit attraction Nolan Strong and the Diablos. Strong was a big influence on young Smokey Robinson and later doowop loving Lou Reed.

2.  The Beach Boys – ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ (1964)
Brian Wilson, with Al Jardine, played the London Palladium this month and did the whole of Pet Sounds plus a load of other stuff including this, sung on the night by Al’s son Matt. Brian should give Matt Jardine more songs as this was exceptional. Famously one of Keith Moon’s favourite songs, he wasn’t so daft after all.

3.  Judy Stone – ‘4,003,221 Tears From Now’ (1964)
Okay, this isn’t a great record – far too jaunty for someone with that amount of tears to shed - but gotta admire that precise prediction. Reached number 11 in Australia, fact fans.

4.  Tawny Reed – “I Got A Feeling” (1965)
Tawny came outta South Wales aged 17 seeking fame and fortune in London. She was soon back singing in the Cardiff clubs but not before cutting this supercharged version of the Baby Washington’s Sue 45. Now featured on new comp, Scratch My Back: Pye Beat Girls.

5.  Lulu – ‘People In Love’ (1970)
Got to hand it to Lulu for her New Routes album, her first for Atco. Recorded at the end of ’69 in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with all the Swampers and plus Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin at the controls. Tremendous stuff.

6.  Gilbert O’Sullivan – ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ (1972)
I remember this as a kid and didn’t think too much of it, it was just another song on the wireless, yet listening to it properly it’s real tear jerking stuff. Truly heart breaking. There can’t be many sadder songs. Brace yourself and have another listen.

7.  Poco – ‘Brass Buttons’ (1973)
Nothing will beat the Gram Parsons version - Evan Dando has a good stab but does a straight copy – yet Poco alter it but still keep the beauty. Taken from the album Crazy Eyes, the title track also paying homage to Parsons.

8.  Richie Havens – ‘Going Back To My Roots’ (1980)
The Lamont Dozier original was okay, Odyssey’s disco smash was shit, but this is fantastic. Not only does Havens sing it with sincerely and emotion but the opening couple of minutes of funky piano build the foundation of House music. One love. 

9.  Violent Femmes – ‘Good Feeling’ (1983)
‘Blister In The Sun’ has previously put me off going anywhere near Violent Femmes but this is more Velvet Underground and Nico and far less irritating.

10.  Manic Street Preachers – ‘No Surface All Feeling’ (1996)
The Manics have been out commemorating the 20th anniversary of Everything Must Go and I’ve been celebrating 25 years of going to see them. Thing is, I did take a couple of years out when this was released due to the combination of not wanting to see them without Richey and not wanting to see them in super-sized megabowls with herds of newbie fans who didn’t know Richey Edwards from Glyn Edwards. So it was nice to see them at the Royal Albert Hall romp through the album – a stone cold classic – the other week. ‘No Surface All Feeling’ over the years pushing its way up the all-time great Manics songs. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

FOR THE LOVE OF THE ACTION


Those of you who do the social media thing might’ve come across @theactionmod on Twitter posting bits and bobs about The Action. Knowing I was quite a fan they wanted to ask me a few questions and, not needing much encouragement to gush about one of my pet subjects, I was only too willing to answer them. Worth mentioning here also about an excellent Facebook page Mighty Baby & The Action 1964-1971 which consistently posts interesting stuff and has the added attraction of memories from people there at the time and even occasional posts from band members. Anyway, here's the Twitter thing for those not on it. 

Hi Mark, Thanks for your time, how are you?
Pretty good thanks. Always happy to chat about my favourite band.

You've been a follower of The Action for many years now, can you me tell how and when you first heard them?
Like many of a similar age, via Edsel’s The Ultimate Action compilation. As a young Mod in the early to mid-1980s I used to hang out on Carnaby Street on Saturday afternoons and clearly remember buying the LP from The Merc. I guess I knew they were supposedly a Mod band from the 60s and that was enough to invest some pocket money.

Were you a fan of just The Action’s music or did their Mod look also appeal? If so, which threads specifically?
I’m sure I would have gotten around to them eventually anyway but it was their Mod connection that initially introduced me to their music. That said, even though I still pretty green to the world of Mod - I was about 14 - I could tell they sort of lived slightly to the side of it. Songs like ‘Shadows and Reflections’ pushed into more interesting territory to discover. The photos inside the album showed Reggie King in a flowery penny-collared shirt and Alan King’s trousers have a bit more of a flare to them and they’ve both got on these great shaped shoes. I was still wearing clothes more closely associated with The Jam so it was a big influence to see this slightly post-Mod look.

Can you tell us what are some of your favourite tracks by The Action?
‘Since I Lost My Baby’ isn’t just my favourite track by The Action, it’s one of my favourite tracks ever. I love it, absolutely love it. The 12-string intro, Reggie’s lead vocal, the harmonies, oh man. It’s a superb song anyway – credit to Smokey Robinson and Pete Moore – but to improve on the original took some doing, but they did. Other favourites: ‘For Once In My Life’, ‘Wasn’t It You’, ‘Shadows and Reflections’, ‘ ‘In My Lonely Room’.

You have interviewed all the members of The Action including the sadly missed Reg King and Mike Evans. Do you have any further stories you can add from the interviews you have done with the band?
I don’t know about stories but it was a real honour to chat to them over the years. I’ve not interviewed Bam yet, I should try to complete the set. Pete Watson and Reggie King were first, and they were a while before the reformation came to pass. Pete was in temporary accommodation but invited us to his digs and while most of his stuff was in storage he still had his Rickenbacker with him, 25 years after leaving the band. To hear his stories, and have him play a couple of chords then let me touch this sacred artefact was amazing. Reggie was quite a character who I met a few times and on the last time told him how much ‘Since I Lost My Baby’ meant to me and how I thought it better than the Temptations’ version. Reggie didn’t agree and thought I was putting him on at first but once he realised I was being totally serious he was very gracious and, I think, a little bit secretly touched. The song was played during Reggie’s funeral service and the circumstances and the acoustics in the small chapel made hearing his voice like that incredibly moving.

Along with Steve Marriott, Steve Winwood and Eric Burdon, would you say Reg King is as great a white English soul singer?
I don’t think race, nationality, genre, gender or comparisons are relevant or necessary; Reggie King was a great singer, full stop.

Why do you think The Action didn't have the success of The Small Faces, Spencer Davis etc?
It’s been debated a lot but I think they got off to a slow start with their writing, it wasn’t until their fourth single they put out an original song. They were first and foremost a live band. Playing the clubs, taking existing material and putting their own twist on it was great and what they loved doing but it wasn’t the same as having a Marriott/Lane type song writing team. It’s a shame because things like The Boys’ ‘It Ain’t Fair’ showed massive potential even before the Action, and afterwards when Reggie was doing his own things (see Looking For A Dream collection) proved he and they should’ve focused more. But in their defence I don’t think commercial success was especially high on any of their agendas. It’s another thing I like about them, it wasn’t about the fame and fortune, it was about doing something they loved. That’s how I like to think of it anyway.

You were fortunate enough to have seen The Action when they reformed? Was that a dream come true?
If I’m honest, no, it wasn’t. I was contacted early on by Doug Bannon from the New Untouchables as I had a few phone numbers and stuff but I told Doug I didn’t think it was a good idea. Some of them had been out of music for decades and I couldn’t see it working. One of the things I loved about The Action was their mystique and how they were perfect from their recordings to their photographs. I’m not keen on bands reforming at any time, let alone one I treasure so much, and potentially spoiling their legacy. I should stress I realise this is a very selfish attitude and one I changed over time in relation to The Action. It was fantastic for them as people to reconnect and play some shows. I’m pleased they did it and that they were able to do it with all the members present; all fabulous blokes. Those shows feel all the more poignant now, sadly.

Are you hoping for further unseen/unheard The Action delights to be unearthed?
Of course. It’s been incredible over the years for all the additional things to surface: the Rolled Gold material, the things Circle Records and Top Sounds have put out, some old footage, the In The Lap Of The Mods book and such like. I still get a massive buzz just to see a different old flyer or gig advert or the tiniest press cutting reveal itself. The Holy Grail would be for the Ready Steady Go appearances to miraculously appear on-line. I’ve dreamt about it. One day, one day…



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

YAK at DINGWALLS, CAMDEN


The merchandise stall is selling ‘Yak As Fuck’ t-shirts. Twenty-five summers ago my mate Clive wore his Inspiral Carpets ‘Cool As Fuck’ top to the pub. The landlord came over. “Would you mind putting your jacket back on sir, there are ladies present.” He was obviously lying, we were in Uxbridge.

Stood in the maelstrom of this Yak gig loads of memories, of gigs and bands on the cusp of ‘making it’, spring to mind. Some did, most didn’t, but there’s a moment when bands and their audience are gloriously entwined. Yak are at that point.

Giant silver letters adorned with flashing lights spell Y-A-K on stage. Drummer Elliott Rawson emerges from the A-hole and is flanked by Oli Burlsem, singer/guitarist/twiddler-of-knobs, and bassist Andy Jones.

The pulsating punk rock juggernaut ‘Harbour The Feeling’ starts the show. Oli turns from the crowd then falls backwards into it. He’s held up and bashes his guitar as the rhythm section furiously beat themselves like teenagers left home alone. Some older dude called Martin joins with a saxophone and merrily squawks and squeals until his heart’s content.

Yak make a glorious bloody racket. A juttering, gut-punching, screeching, stabbing, trashing, twisted noise akin to terrified passengers trapped on a rickety coach driven by a lunatics hurtling towards the cliff’s edge while listening to Sonic Youth, Albert Ayler, the Stooges and Public Image Limited all at the same time. Backwards. At top volume.

Dingwalls, with its low ceiling and low stage, is the perfect environment. It’s a sweatbox and allows Jagger-lipped Oli to surf the crowd at will. He doesn’t speak between songs but controls the cacophony on stage and the chaos off it. With a few flicks of his wrist his flock part the sea of bodies, the music drops to a heavy rumble, an empty space appears in the crowd, another flick and it’s widened. Oli looks about to launch into the abyss but the band snap into a blistering frenzy of white noise and the gap fills with ricocheting bodies.

‘Victorious (National Anthem)’ and especially ‘Use Somebody’ have noticeable rusty hooks and even a slightly baggy rhythm lurks within ‘Take It’ but elsewhere what old folk like me might call ‘proper songs’ are abandoned and replaced with freeform brutality. Don’t fight it, feel it. Ride the Yak.

Oli grabs a nearby tourist and yanks him by his backback on to the stage. The lad looks petrified and pleads his innocence. Oli takes off his guitar, straps it around Billy Backback and goes flying on to the tops of boys, girls and photographers. Wide-eyed Billy gets the message and flails away at the strings. There’s no discernible difference in sound from what preceded it. Another other kid has a go and acts out his Cobain fantasy. A mic stand nearly takes my eye out, a keyboard appears and disappears. It’s not even the climax. They start another song.

I’m knackered. Happily shagged out. These are the good times. Yak will soon leave these size gigs behind. The distance - physically and otherwise - from their audience will grow. We’ve all seen it happen, it’s inescapable, a by-product of success. Either that or they’ll burn out. Whatever, this is the moment. Trust me son.

I decide a ‘Yak As Fuck’ t-shirt would be unbecoming of a gentleman but do purchase their new long-playing gramophone record, Alas Salvation. The cover painting appears to represent an array of pink cocks and hairy balls in group orgasm, which is nice. Yak as fuck.



Sunday, 22 May 2016

BERRY GORDY on DESERT ISLAND DISCS


Berry Gordy, Jr. was Kirsty Young's castaway on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs this morning. He picks some great records as you'd expect, including one of Smokey Robinson's early masterpieces.

Doesn't need any more sell from me although worth listening for the way Kirsty completely wrong foots Gordy with one question out of nowhere. Here's the link: Desert Island Discs. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

JAMAICA by JOSEPH RIDGWELL (2016)


Back in the 1940s Herbert Huncke – New York thief, hustler, junkie, prostitute and inspiration to William Burroughs and later Jack Kerouac – would lock himself in toilet cubicles off Forty-second Street and, when not partaking in other activities, would scrawl his memoirs, poetry and short stories into tiny notebooks or on whatever else came to hand.

In and out of prison and into his 81st year Huncke was still testing positive for, among other things, heroin and cocaine. It’s an extremely glib way of putting it – and not an ideal lifestyle choice - but Huncke lived on his own terms, by his wits, and by all accounts, by his gift of the gab.

The escape from the drab and predictable nine-to-five existence, of knowing there must be something better out there – somewhere, anywhere – is touched on a lot in Joe Ridgwell’s work and again in his new short story, Jamaica, published by Pig Ear Press. It’s typical Ridgwell: dreams and schemes cloaked in a wobbly cockney swagger. He’s a storyteller. You get the impression Joe could, like Huncke, talk anyone out of their last tenner. Well, at least try. 

What makes Jamaica particularly special is the way it’s been published. It’s not all about the presentation of course but it goes a long way. Pig Ear have done a beautiful job. These aren’t words on a bog roll, shirt shelves or even a piss and blood stained notebook. It’s like a hand-crafted passport and in the few minutes it takes to read will take you somewhere better until, like in the story, reality kicks you back in the balls. 

Jamaica by Joseph Ridgwell is published in a ludicrously limited-edition by Pig Ear Press. Priced £6 with free P&P to anywhere in the world. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

KILL 'EM & LEAVE: SEARCHING FOR THE REAL JAMES BROWN by JAMES McBRIDE (2016)


In 1966 James Brown released his new single ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’ which warned kids that “Without an education, might as well be dead”. Being James Brown he didn’t say it once but he said it loud, fifteen times.

The lyrics to JB’s R&B hits could be secondary to the main purpose of getting in his new bag, getting in the groove, getting ants in his pants and wanting to dance, but ‘Don’t Be A Drop-Out’, perhaps more than any other James Brown single – and I’m including ‘Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)’ - got to the core message of Brother James, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

When Brown died forty years later he left a conservative estimate of 100 million dollars to educate poor children. It was a lifelong passion and a recurring theme through James McBride’s new book, Kill ‘Em & Leave: Searching For The Real James Brown which attempts to explain “the amorphous blend of black politics, culture, and music that helped shape the man.”

Who James Brown was depends on your standpoint. One right-wing UK newspaper recently described him as “a monster of greed and vanity, a bully, a tax-dodger on an industrial scale, a wife-beater and all-round maniac”. For James McBride he was “the greatest soul singer this country ever knew” and “arguably the most influential African-American in pop music history”. Brown could, possibly, be all those things but McBride writes as if presenting a case for the defence.

One early revelation comes that not one dime of the money Brown put aside has made it to help educate those children. A legislative battlefield has witnessed 47 lawsuits with lawyers, politicians, even family members munching on the “carcass and bones”, as McBride calls it, of Brown’s will. If there’s any money left now, there soon won’t be. The Man will have gobbled it up. Taken it.

The book’s most interesting parts are the events following his death and those at the beginning of his life which discover the roots of James Brown, his complicated family tree, and of growing up in the south - the poor south, the black south. From picking cotton and shining shoes, a teenage Brown was sentenced in 1949 for eight to sixteen years for four counts of breaking and entering (stealing cars and parts). He served three and half of those years and when released found the place he spent much of his childhood - Ellenton in South Carolina - is one of six small towns in South Carolina that had been cleared away by the government. Everything and everybody moved out, shattered to the wind, to make way for 310 square miles of the Savannah River Nuclear Site, the biggest bomb factory in the world.  

McBride surmises this played a part in Brown’s distrust in officialdom, which could take away anything they wanted, whenever they wanted. A young James had already seen family members leave, his liberty taken away and now whole communities wiped out. Whatever he obtained from now, he was going to keep. He sure as hell wasn’t going to trust a bank to look after his money. This, of course, would get him in a financial pickle later on. When the IRS came after him for 15 million dollars in taxes Brown claimed he was exempt because Richard Nixon had announced he was a national treasure and also that he was part Indian related to Geronimo. Nice try. Brown dealt in cash – up front – which he proceeded to hide: in suitcases, under the floorboards, buried in the garden, under trees, in hotels he stayed in on tour to which he would much later return. Brown took tight control over everything he did and woe betide anyone who crossed him.

It’s surprising therefore to hear Brown described as generous man but McBride is such a huge fan much journalistic impartially has been put aside. It’s written at times like a pulp detective story with McBride at the centre of the action. As a series of blog pieces it would work better but I don't care about McBride’s music career, his days as a student of journalism, his divorce, his repeated moans about young people wearing their pants around their asses and their caps back-to-front. When interviewing people I want to hear their stories not what they had to eat or the difficulty the author had finding somewhere to park his bike.

The interviewees, by and large, don’t have a great deal to offer. It’s nice to hear from the only survivor of the Famous Flames, guitarist Nafloyd Scott, but he has no fresh insight. He also, to his credit, has no axe to grind. Those who talk remain loyal to Brown preferring to say nothing than badmouth him. Charles Bobbitt, Brown’s personal manager for 41 years and there at his deathbed, chooses not to divulge much; Pee Wee Ellis, such an integral part of the classic JBs line-up, would rather not talk about his ex-boss; and Miss Emma, the wife of Brown’s close friend Leon Austin and the woman JB called “Sis”, when asked about the drugs, relationships with women, the beatings, the cruelty replies "I was taught you don't talk low on somebody. Especially if they're dead".  

On a more positive note, his relationship with Leon Austin dispels the perception - hardened in the Get On Up movie – that James Brown couldn’t do friendship, that he was alone as a man. Also, Brown’s first wife Velma speaks fondly of her ex-husband, the bond that remained between them, and of the shared agony of the death of their son Teddy, killed in a car crash. McBride concludes JB was “more southerner than he was black or white, more sensitive artist than he was superstar".

James Brown, whatever we think of him as an individual, is in a league of one when it comes to his music but this book says little about that. There’s a detailed and rounded biography to be written but this isn’t it. The New New Minister of the Super Heavy Funk is cast in a better light than sometimes afforded but he was a hard man to get to know. He was guarded, his defence built up, he kept his distance, he didn’t like to mingle. “Arrive important, leave important,” he would say. “Kill ‘em and leave, kill ‘em and leave”.

Whatever legacy James Brown left behind on Christmas Day in 2006 when his body finally collapsed it wasn’t the one he wanted: to help kids stay in school. He wouldn’t have felt good about that.

Kill ‘Em & Leave: Searching For The Real James Brown by James McBride is published by Orion Books, priced £20. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

TONY'S DEFENDERS - 'SINCE I LOST YOU BABY' & BBC INTERVIEW (1966)

“A lot of the stuff sounds like it’s been turned out on a computerized conveyor belt” That was the assessment of BBC’s Roundabout show of the hundreds of records (sorry, “discs”) being released in 1966.

BBC’s Keith Harrison can barely contain his disdain for this piffling pop business as he opens his interview with lead singer of Tunbridge Wells’ Tony’s Defenders - Tony Diamond - with the assertion that "a lot of people listening right now wouldn’t call this music”.  Nice opening gambit Keith, who then goes on to compare the band to the Walker Brothers after telling Tony off-air he wouldn’t.

It’s a fascination snap-shot of attitudes of the time and of life in an upcoming pop combo. The disc in question, ‘Since I Lost You Baby’, is, despite what old cloth-ears says, a real beauty (dunno how the beeb would've coped with some of the more innovative records coming out in '66) and would crop up again two years later on the flip of Long John Baldry's 'Hold Back The Daybreak'. It was composed by songwriters Tony Macauley and John Macleod who between them had hands in many hits of the day including 'Baby Now That I've Found You', 'Sorry Suzanne', 'Let The Heartaches Begin' and Scott Walker's 'The Lights of Cincinnati'.

Tony's Defenders, who'd already released the modbeat ‘Yes I Do’ for Columbia, folded soon after the commercial failure of 'Since I Lost You Baby'. Guitarist Brian Bennett joined the Mike Stuart Span, the rest presumably found proper jobs.