Saturday, 12 May 2018

JOHN SIMONS: A MODERNIST (2018)



John Simons has never been a major retailer, only ever running one small London shop after another but his influence is immeasurable. Mods, skinheads, suedeheads and gentlemen of a discerning nature with an appreciation of American Ivy League and European styles have made the pilgrimages to his shops in search of corduroy coats, soft shoulder seersucker jackets, madras shirts, loafers and wing-tipped brogues. If you wonder how much sway a single outlet could have made then one only has to mention the word Harrington. Universally understood, it was John Simons who nicknamed the Baracuta G9 sports jacket after the character Rodney Harrington, who wore one in the 60s soap opera Peyton Place. The rest, as they say… But mass market acceptance has never been Simons’ goal, it’s been about doing the little things well.

Now subject of a new hour-long documentary, John Simons: A Modernist, it’s only right a man whose life is driven by the inexorably linked holy trinity of music, art and clothes is celebrated by filmmakers Lee Cogswell and Mark Baxter, following their similar projects about Tubby Hayes and Sir Peter Blake, and written by Jason Jules after the relief on finding John Simons hadn’t, as per rumour, died.

The film is tightly edited with, as clichéd as it sounds, a modernist eye for detail: all contributors add something to the overall effect, nothing is wasted and everything is in its place like a well ordered sock drawer. Whether famous names such as Paul Weller, Kevin Rowland, Suggs, Paul Smith, the ever-effusive Robert Elms or regular customers from Simons’ shops, they all compliment the look, although none are captioned as coolly as the mysterious David Rosen, “Space Agent”.

They, and John Simons himself, give a fascinating account of humble beginnings under the Hackney Empire and on Walthamstow Market; to the move to the suburban blues delta of Richmond in ’64; then the Squire Shop in Soho in ’67; Covent Garden in ’82 and on to it’s current location in Marylebone.

As noted by Robert Elms, Simons was taking stock originally made for American advertising agents but once adopted on the street here they didn’t look like American advertising agents but “well dressed English street urchins.”  A point underscored by Simons, “They were Jack The Lads, no way were they Harvard graduates, let me tell you that”.

You may never have shopped in a Simons shop, you may find the look overly conservative - I used to pop into the J. Simons shop when it was in Covent Garden but at a time I wanted to look like The Stones in Green Park or The Smoke on Beat Club so I found everything too ‘old man’, a position, for some reason, I’ve reconsidered in recent years… - but that’s not central to appreciating this inspiring film.

John Simons: A Modernist is about an unswerving passion and an unshakable belief. The clothes Simons has sold for over half a century have remained true to his devotion to Ivy League style, modern jazz and the beat generation. A place where clothes, music and the arts converge in harmony outside the vagaries of passing trends. It’s a philosophy best described by Paul Weller, who with customary bluntness says, “He’s never diverted from what his passion is, this is what he loves and what he’s into. If you don’t like it, don’t fucking come”. From the mouth of one modernist to another.

John Simons: A Modernist, a Mono Media Films/Garmsville production, is out now and available from John Simons online.  

Sunday, 29 April 2018

APRIL PLAYLIST


1.  The Drifters – ‘I Gotta Get Myself A Woman’ (1956)
Johnny Moore on lead vocals is desperate for a woman he can call his own. “Doesn’t matter if she’s young or old, if she knows to do the things she’s told, and stay in beside me night and day…” You’ve been warned ladies.

2.  Larry Williams – ‘Little School Girl’ (1960)
Larry Williams (above) led, according to his Wikipedia entry, a “life mixed tremendous success with violence and drug addiction”. And that’s underplaying it. Personal stuff apart, his records packed a punch that reverberates to this day.

3.  Buddy Miles Express – ’69 Freedom Special’ (1969)
Get on board this rolling instrumental produced by Jiminy Hendrix (mercifully free on guitar mangling).

4.  J.J. Jackson – ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ (1970)
Tired of New York’s boogaloo beat and noticing “the only difference between me and last week’s ‘soul star’ was 100 pounds and which words got emphasised in ‘Can you feel it?’” Jackson hit it and quit to London where he hooked up again with some of the British jazzers with whom he’d recorded his ‘But It’s Alright’ hit but took a more progressive path on J.J. Jackson’s Dilemma.

5.  C.C.S – ‘Sunrise’ (1970)
Alexis Korner’s bluesy big band project where given an extra dimension by having classically trained John Cameron (he of ‘Kes’ fame) arrange their debut LP. C.C.S still for the most part kick arse but Cameron is unmistakable on the woodwind parts of this.

6.  George Duke – ‘Au Right’ (1971)
Opening track from The Inner Source and the Duke is getting frisky on his Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano. Do you feel au right? Yes George.

7.  CAN – ‘I’m So Green’ (1972)
Make these proto-baggy greens part of your five-a-day.

8.  Jimmy Castor Bunch – ‘It’s Just Begun’ (1972)
Stone cold funk classic from the big butt loving bunch.

9.  Bettye LaVette – ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ (2018)
On Things Have Changed Bettye LaVette braves the treacherous waters of the Bob Dylan cover where previous washed up failures lay broken on the rocks. LaVette makes a fair fist of it and occasionally, like on this from Infidels, reveals the greatness that hid beneath the original’s terrible 80s production. “Maybe I could’ve done some good in the world instead of burning every bridge I cross”.

10.  RW Hedges – ‘Signalman’ (2018)
Released last Friday, The Hunters In The Snow is an enchanting delight from beginning to end with not one tiny morsel of fat or waste. The spooky ‘Signalman’ feels like an ancient classic chiming with the distant echo of ‘Wichita Lineman’.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

SHAKEDOWN GOSPEL by THE FUTURE SHAPE OF SOUND (2018)


An organ stirs. Light beams through a crack in the chapel ceiling. Up above my head I hear music. “I’ll take you down to the river, I ain’t no preacher but come follow me, I’ll help a neighbour with a heavy load, down at the church of rock and roll.” Then – boom! - it’s a tambourine shaking, hand clapping, foot stomping, gospel jamboree. The track is called ‘Joy’ and it sure is.

The Future Shape of Sound are a ten-strong congregation of rock and roll believers led by guitar toting Captain Future, the horn of Stu ‘Lodekka’ Dace and the sultry elegance of lead vocalist Suri Sumatra, who graciously shares the pulpit with a travelling circus of passing waifs and strays, welcomed into their parish: Jim Jones, Sister Cookie, Big Joe Louis, Amani Z, Son of Dave, Janet Kumah and more all testify.    

The aforementioned ‘Joy’ – or its irresistible sister track ‘Rise Up’ with its fat horns, honky tonk piano and gospel choir - would’ve made the ideal opening track to Shakedown Gospel, setting out its stool, but as this motley crew of London based bluesbreakers know, Sunday morning worshippers are Saturday night fish fryers, and for every sanctified moment of praise there’s the flip. Both angels and demons at play.

The album therefore opens with the loose, bottle neck boogie chillun, end of evening lament, ‘Gone All Wrong’, its darkness lifted by the arrival of the Future’s choir promising to make it all right. The soul is pulled again on ‘I’m On A Roll’ following the call of swampy Louisianan blues footsteps. The keys to the highway are provided on the sensational ‘Joy’ and ‘Rise Up’, lead vocals by Janet Kumah and Sister Cookie respectively, with the Futures on a mission from God, bourbon laid down, cartwheeling down the aisle.

‘Number One’ is back beating a woozy rhythm on the late-night barroom table tops: all rattlesnake eyes darting around, jockeying for position, Tom Waits wipes away spillage as the midnight special rumbles past. “People What You Done” is a snaky, jazzy blues moaner, like you’d hear in a Blaxploitation movie after the protagonist’s loved one meets their maker. Following that theme, “The Time Is Now” scuttles along in a hurry, propelled by a duelling Vox Continental and tenor, and frantic backing galloping along as the curtains twitch in a “one horse town with the shutters down”.

Big Boy Bloater menacing Wolfman warning on “Toe The Line” is souped-up John Lee Hooker, a hip shakin’ Slim Harpo, an all down the line exiled Stones with Bobby Keys in hot pursuit. ‘Shakedown Gospel’ is a righteous organ and sax led instrumental, shaking the fragile timber structure of the chapel, before a campfire ‘No Friend of Mine’ passes round the moonshine to any survivors.

It’s a heck of a journey down to the river and it zips by in little over 35 minutes. The Future Shape of Sound have, in their church of rock and roll, studied hard. Their own glorious hymns on Shakedown Gospel are guaranteed to lift the spirit and shake the tail feather of saints and sinners alike.

Shakedown Gospel by The Future Shape of Sound is released on Gypsy Hotel Records on 27 April 2018. The album launch party takes place on Saturday 5 April at What’s Cookin’ (Ex-Servicemen’s Club), 2 Harvey Road, Leytonstone, E11. Admission free.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

BEAT GIRLS ESPAÑOL (2018)


The sun’s out so the ideal time to enjoy a succession of sultry señoritas with single names, as they belt out Spanish 60s yé- yé sounds packed with perky punch and fiery flamenco rhythms.

Without requisite linguistic skills the ear automatically tunes to other elements, such as the arrangements, which are frequently masterful with no expense spared concocting these teenage symphonies, and vocal styles mostly delivered with full-blooded gusto.

There are translations of familiar numbers – Pet Clark’s ‘Colour My World’ converts to Gelu’s modish ‘Pinta Mi Mundo’ and ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ loosely becomes ‘Aquí En Mi Nube’ by Sonia – but it’s Adriángela’s ‘Nunca Hay Bastante’, Lorella’s ‘Tendrás Que Llorar’, Massiel’s ‘Las Rocas y El Mar’ and Soledad Miranda’s ‘La Verdad’ that stand out for sheer drama while Pic-Nic offer soothing respite with the dreamy ‘El Es Distinto A Ti’. Just as the collection threatens to run out of steam, Conchita Velasco turns up the heat with a crazily camp ‘Calor’.

I hazard very few tracks would’ve been considered ‘cool’ at the time, parts invariably stray into Benidorm straw donkey territory and it can feel like you’re stuck in the heats of the Eurovision Song Contest but, curiously, those aren’t negatives, they simply add to the fun of this collection. Don’t fight it, Viva España!

A version of this review first appeared in Shindig magazine and is based on the 24-track CD; a 14-track vinyl edition is also available now on Ace Records.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

KING COBRA by THE SENIOR SERVICE (2018)


Graham D and the Medway Group return for another soundtrack inspired instrumental album following their 2016 debut, The Girl In The Glass Case. The Senior Service know their onions and King Cobra is an exceptional case of the sequel overshadowing the original as they serve up an even deadlier concoction.

Graham Day’s DNA is the most instantly recognisable but he’s only the mastermind behind half the escapades, this is the work of a ruthlessly effective quartet. Jonathan Barker, Darryl Hartley and Wolf Howard the other guilty parties.

It’s a dusty road littered with bodies. Sophia Loren rises from her bed, mysterious strangers appear, a barroom brawl, Clint Eastwood chews a match, a funeral procession passes through town. John Barry and Ennio Morricone, heads together in a Kentish lock-up with twang and trumpets, Hammond and harmonies, paint the landscape.

The foundation of choppy riffs, spiralling organ and hammering rhythms the Service are known for remain, but as moods shuffle and wriggle between scenes intricate details of their meticulous planning reveal themselves: horns and shakers, vibes and accordion, rich textures in their armoury.

King Cobra is non-stop action, a soundtrack album with all the boring bits eliminated. You’ll be charmed.

King Cobra by The Senior Service is released by Damaged Goods on Friday 27 April 2018. Available to order here.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

THE HACIENDA MUST BE (RE)BUILT: THE LUCID DREAM live at THE VICTORIA, DALSTON


Psych traitors, that’s the Lucid Dream, who this week they released a new one-sided 12-inch single ‘SX1000’.

When posted online it wasn’t greeted with universal acclaim from their fanbase. Devoid of guitars and lyrics, ‘SX1000’ is an unabashed tribute to the acid house era that elicited cries of “Utter pap, sozz but shite”, “Dunno if this is a gimmick type tune or what..”, “Come on boys, WTF is this pish, get back to what your good at” and, my favourite, “How do you go from Bad Texan to this?” Apparently, there were worse, but those comments have been removed. Hence the band’s cheekily knocking up a load of ‘Psych Traitor’ badges to give away.

Those criticisms were, of course, in the minority and on Thursday in East London, through a thick fog of dry ice, they showed, once again, what a remarkable live band they are, showcasing new tracks among a selection of established favourites.

The distance between ‘Bad Texan’, one of the jewels in the band’s recorded crown to date, and ‘SX1000’ isn’t that far at all, as the 2016 track already owed far more to the hypnotic rhymical second Summer of Love than the original flower power one and served as a pointer to where the band were heading next. Let’s not forgot, The Lucid Dream’s take on whatever ‘psych’ is, has incorporated garage rock, dark psychedelia, heavy dub and a Germanic motorik beat.

The other new songs weren’t as extreme as the single and meshed easily into the set which included a broken melodica-free ‘I’m A Star In My Own Right’ and the otherworldly Joy Divisionesque epic finale ‘Epitaph’. Standout moment though came in the shape of penultimate song, ‘Ardency’, which, even on first hearing, would’ve raised the roof of the Hacienda, an instant Madchester classic. Watch out for this when the next album arrives (date tbc).

‘SX1000’ might’ve been a radical move for sluggish bands happy to regurgitate the same style but that’s not The Lucid Dream’s technique. ‘SX1000’ hits a trance inducing, squelchy acid house groove with an unforgettable hook and adds yet another angle to a band already blessed a multitude of dimensions. Try to keep up everyone.

SX1000 is out now on Holy Are You Records. 

Friday, 30 March 2018

MARCH PLAYLIST


1.  Don Patterson with Booker Ervin – ‘Donald Duck’ (1964)
Organists like Don Patterson weren’t universally welcomed in jazz when they started cropping up, in fact there was open hostility, even from reviewers like Walter Catt who, when tasked with writing the sleevenotes for Hip Cake Walk, “put the record on my phonograph to brave what I thought would be an unpleasant experience.” Crazy fool.

2.  The 3 Sounds – ‘Yeh Yeh’ (1966)
From the Blue Note LP, Vibrations, comes this swinging piano/bass/drums version of the ol’ chestnut.

3.  Charlotte Leslie – ‘Les Filles C’est Fait Pour Faire L’Amour’ (1966)
Charlotte takes the Capitols ‘We Got A Thing That’s In The Groove’/‘Cool Jerk’ and dresses it in modish fuzz and French flair.

4.  The Producers – ‘Love Is Amazing’ (1968)
A Gamble-Huff production out of the Philly and typically sleek. Wonderful mix of male and female leads, harmonies by a group of angels, and horns and strings sent from heaven.

5.  Earth, Wind and Fire – ‘Help Somebody’ (1971)
“Reach out your hand and help somebody”. Oh yeah baby, let’s groove tonight. The eponymous debut LP by Earth, Wind and Fire is packed with strutting street funk.

6.  Major Lance – ‘Ain’t No Sweat’ (1972)
Released on Volt, and written by Major’s old buddy Curtis Mayfield, ‘Ain’t No Sweat’ is a mini-under-the-radar masterpiece that’s been overshadowed by ‘Since I Lost My Baby’s Love’ on the flip. Dig that violin!

7.  Katie Love – ‘How Can You Mistreat The One You Love’ (1972)
Even to this day not much is known about Katie Love other than she cut this Hayes-Porter song for Stax down in Muscle Shoals. Curiously has the feel for Stax’s old rivals Holland-Dozier-Holland and the stuff coming out of their Invictus stable.

8.  Neil Young – ‘Hitchhiker’ (1976)
There are many Neil Youngs but the best is Neil Young with an acoustic guitar, bag of Californian grass, bit of coke, sat under a full moon, playing songs. That’s what he did to record The Hitchhiker on 11 August 1976. The collection yielded future classics ‘Pocahontas’, ‘Powderfinger’, ‘Ride My Llama’ and more but the record company weren’t impressed with what they saw as an album of demos so it sat unreleased until 2017. It is, of course, brilliant.

9.  Go-Kart Mozart – ‘We’re Selfish and Lazy and Greedy’ (1999)
The Lexington in London was treated to the rare sight of Go-Kart Mozart last Saturday and what a fabulous gig it was. A brisk 40-minute set mostly featured tracks from new Mozart’s Mini-Mart where songs about depression, poverty, executions on the telly, Brummie prophets, knickers on the line and Crokadile Rokstarz, played in a plinky-plonky manner, took centre stage: modern life seen through Lawrence’s eyes and Lawrence’s eyes don’t miss much. If a group of young uns from wherever-is-hip-this-month were making these records they’d be courted across the land. ‘We’re Selfish…’ was one of the few old tracks Lawrence delved back into his trolley for.

10.  The Traffic – ‘Smack My Pitch Up’ (2016)
On the Australian label, Choi Records, comes two blasting funky reworkings of classics given a fresh makeover. Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines’ on one side, and the Prodigy torn a new one on the other.