Sunday, 1 March 2015

MR DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN (2014)

Sat in front of the gogglebox last night, imagine my surprise and delight when BBC2 screened Alex Gibney's 2014 documentary, Mr Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown. What a brilliant film. Loads of rare footage (I regular scour the internet and there was plenty new to me), archive and new interviews, band members doing funny impressions of their leader, insight, context, the lot. If you missed it, or want to watch The Hardest Working Man In Show & Business repeatedly, it's available on the BBC iPlayer for the next month. Get up, get into it, get involved.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

FEBRUARY PLAYLIST

Gene McDaniels. Over the moon at making the February Playlist.
1.  Billy Fury - "Don't Jump" (1962)
In Tony O'Neill's latest book, the brilliant Black Neon, one of the main characters - a half Haitian, one-armed, murdering, thieving, junkie, black magic practicing, lesbian (it's that kind of book) - states "This is undoubtedly the best rock 'n' roll song about someone thinking of throwing themselves off a cliff ever recorded". Don't argue with the nice lady.

2.  Dean Jones - "Women (Ska-Da-La-De-Da)" (1964)
Don't let the word Ska throw you, Dean Jones is a white TV actor and star of the film The Love Bug but somehow cut this storming Latin/popcorn dancefloor filler.

3.  Gene McDaniels - "Hang On (Just A Little Bit Longer)" (1965)
Marvellous, although surprisingly not one of McDaniels' big hits. Can only assume Scott Walker/The Walker Brothers didn't hear it or else they'd have been all over it and would've had a smash on their hands.

4.  Donald Byrd - "Brother Isaac" (1965)
Byrd's I'm Tryin' To Get Home LP was released under the title Donald Byrd Brass With Voices, for that's what it was. The voices are used rhythmically - there's no actual words, just what I suppose is scat singing. Sounds a terrible idea but works a treat, especially on the opening soul-church jamboree. Should add there are musicians of neither brass nor voice as a stellar line-up including Freddie Roach (organ), Herbie Hancock (piano) and Grant Green (guitar) testifies.

5.  Steve Cropper, Albert King and Pops Staples - "Big Bird" (1969)
In May 1969 Stax released something like 27 different albums and I've yet to hear one which isn't great (makes note to collect all 27). On Jammed Together the three guitarists all compliment each other, allowing the listener to clearly identify their distinctive styles. 

6.  Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy - "Fire (She Need Water)" (1970)
Light In The Attic Records last year released a lovely limited edition orange-vinyl version of the Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy album. Jamaican-Canadian McGhie - Studio One veteran and Jackie Mittoo band mate - warmly blends reggae, soul and funk.

7.  Jerry Reed - "500 Miles Away From Home" (1972)
Bobby Bare's 1963 country hit given a more low-down swampy feel by Jerry Reed who's "feeling dirty" apparently.

8.  Four Tops - "Are You Man Enough?" (1973)
Spend a day watching Shaft, Shaft's Big Score and Shaft In Africa. This was the used over the opening credits to the final film and demonstrates how even post-Motown the Tops could still deliver. Their LP for Dunhill, Main Street People, is jammed with other equally great tracks - "I Just Can't Get You Out Of My Mind", "It Won't Be The First Time", "Sweet Understanding Love", "Am I My Brother's Keeper" etc. Co-produced by Brian Potter. Pre-Phoenix Nights I guess. 

9.  The Style Council - "Big Boss Groove" (1984)
After seeing the Style Councillors at the 100 Club on Thursday I've slightly altered my opinion about tribute acts, or at least am prepared to make an exception in this case. Done with meticulous attention to detail I thoroughly enjoyed them. Largely centred around the '83-'85 period it highlighted what a purple patch it was in Paul Weller's career; such a range of styles although with a strong soul influence. The Councillors well chosen set even included covers the Council only did live - The Impressions "Meeting Over Yonder" and Chairmen of the Board's "Hanging On To A Memory" - which was indicative of where songs like "Big Boss Groove" came from; a track I'd clean forgotten about until hearing it played live the other night. "Get on up."

10.  Hookworms - "Radio Tokyo" (2014)
The rocking organ intro sounds like the greatest few seconds the Inspiral Carpets never made before the pained screeching vocals take it some place else. Some scary, noisy, but exciting place.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

THE LUCID DREAM - THE LUCID DREAM (2015)


It wasn't so long along Italian Vogue declared Dalston "the coolest place on earth". Such is the way of these things that title will have passed on to the next faddiest part of town by now. Not that the vagaries of fashion are of much concern to The Lucid Dream who rocked up on a visit to East London on Tuesday and took the stage wearing four different Carlisle United football shirts; a garish colour clash even the most psychedelic imagination would have trouble conjuring. It's symptomatic of their uncompromising and willfully outsiderish nature.

They've already released about half a dozen singles and an album, 2013's Songs Of Lies And Deceit, yet with their eyes always looking ahead they played almost exclusively from their forthcoming album, The Lucid Dream, which isn't out for another month. It's a cracking album which opens with two almighty tracks. "Mona Lisa" sets the tone, an eight and a half minute instrumental of Kraut rock rhythms, pirouetting guitar shapes, a wall of white noise, phasing and supersonic (boom) space travel. "Cold Killer" follows in a similar style, with vocals this time plus stabs of jagged guitar piercing the skin, and two tracks in I'm already thinking this could be the best UK guitar album since I don't know when. Brain meltingly good.    

The opening moments of "The Darkest Day/Head Musik" offer respite from the full bodied attack but with a thump-thumping rhythm it doesn't take long for more guitar to increase the pace and off into its slipstream the listener is pulled again before it explodes into a frenzy of feedback with squealing sax a la Stooges Fun House. "Moonstruck", with its pulsating keyboard lead, was a single that received some radio play although don't take that as any lessening of the intensity. "Unchained Dub" is all dubby squiggles with use of a melodica offsetting the dark industrial metallic scariness. "Unchained" is closer to slightly straighter pop (all things being relative of course). "Morning Breeze" shows these are hardened northern lads. Their breeze feels to me like the iciest wind that would strip the skin off even an Eskimo's face, but after that initial shiver the track settles down and recalls the gliding levitation Verve did so well on early singles like "Gravity Grave". Finally "You And I" is almost a sweet 60s Phil Spector girl group song (okay, via the Mary Chain) before the almost inevitable feedback finale.

The more I listen to The Lucid Dream the more impressed I become. Hearing it live it one swoop perhaps some of the nuances were lost a little but as these tracks become more familiar that'll soon change, although by then they'll have moved on again. Keep up if you can. 

The Lucid Dream by The Lucid Dream is released by Holy Are You Recordings on 30 March 2015. LP and CD. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

HAND JOB ZINE: WHAT MUSIC ARE YOU INTO?


Hand Job Zine is a UK literary mag run by Jim Gibson and Sophie Pitchford with contributions from a range of writers, poets and artists from the margins. With six issues already to its name it's uncompromising in content whilst its design harks back to the punk DIY aesthetic of scissors and glue and a borrowed photocopier. Unlike fellow zines PUSH and Paper & Ink which focus almost exclusively on the physical page, Hand Job compliment their mag with (in contrast to its print form) a neatly presented web version featuring different content.

Jim contacted me recently to see if I'd be up for writing something about my "music philosophy", how important music was to me and my general attitude to it. I'm not usually keen on writing stuff to order but gave it a bash and the result was posted on the Hand Job Zine site last week. It generated a considerable amount of comment over the next few days, far more than my usual offerings, so I'll reprint it here. Details of how to get hold of a Hand Job can be found at the foot of the page. Take a look.
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What type of music are you into? On the face of it a simple enough question but the answer is inevitably more complicated.

Back when I hit my teenage years in the early to mid 80s it was easier. We had clear lines of demarcation: mod, punk, psychobilly, goth, heavy metal, soul, new romantic, etc. The lines were so clear, the battle dress immediately evident, the question rarely needed to be asked. You could see the answer. Today, with the noticeable absence of defined "tribes", a common response is "oh, I like a bit of everything" which, when you get down to it, really means most people aren't passionate about any of it. Music is there in the background, stuck on in the car, added to an iTunes account. For me though, it's dead centre of my existence. It's an obsession, definitely. An addiction, most likely. It occupies nearly every spare moment I have. Outside of the drab, dead-end, un-music related job that gets in the way for 41 hours a week, it's music, music, music: not as a creator, but as a consumer. 

It's partly hereditary. Like most young girls at the time my mum took an interest in pop music and loved going out dancing but my dad was hooked on modern jazz, on be-bop, after his parents took him shopping as a kid in Hounslow and he came home with the Sonny Stitt Quartet album Personal Appearance in 1957 because something about the sleeve - a sharp looking Stitt fixing a slightly menacing stare into middle distance with his sax poised near his lips - connected with him. My mum hates jazz. That she married a man who could, and still does, merrily listen to the most out-there, way-out jazz he can find every waking hour is one of those mysteries of young romance. Dad's attempts at playing Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra in the family home - to this day - are futile attempts which only last long enough for mum to cotton on and make him put his headphones on. As kids, me and my sister would scream, "Daaaad, they're just making this up as they go along!" To which he'd answer, "And what's wrong with that?" Of course, in the way we all become our parents, I now drink real ale and recently bought a 1969 album by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which is the epitome of making stuff up as four men run around a recording studio crashing, bashing, blowing and plucking as many disparate instruments as they could lay their hands on. And what's wrong with that?

My Sonny Stitt moment, the record that everything leads back to is the Jam's single "Absolute Beginners". Purchased from WH Smith's in Uxbridge, Saturday afternoon, October 1981, a couple of hours after they'd performed both sides of the record on Swop Swap on BBC1. I wouldn't claim it's a brilliant record, it's not even one of the Jam's best, but although I'd bought a few records already this was when it became serious. I'm fairly confident I can trace a line from almost everything I've bought or enjoyed since back to that record. That's one of the fascinating and rewarding things about music: how one song leads to another and how the tree grows branches and twigs.

The Jam gave me an initial interest in all things "Mod". I was twelve years old and via them there were new off-shoots to gradually explore: the obvious 60's Mod-related groups; well known 60's hitmakers; no-hit beat combos; US psychedelia and garage punk; UK pop-pysch; the catalogues of Motown/Stax/Atlantic; northern soul; rhythm and blues; blues; jazz; gospel; folk; as well as punk, new wave and small independent guitar-totting bands. That's building on a strong foundation. And for every artist thrown up in this haul it begs the question, who were they influenced by and who subsequently carried the flame? 

Quite how I was ever going to discover all this music, frustratingly out of reach, was a big problem. It still is, but the internet and the ability to hear almost anything immediately is a blessing. After leaving school I started work around the corner from the big HMV by Bond Street tube. Most days I'd go in there and marvel at the records and buy as much as I could. Flicking through the albums, if I wanted to know what The Doors' Morrison Hotel or James Brown's Live At The Apollo sounded like, I'd have to buy them. There was no other way. I remember thinking if I could have one wish it would be to have every record in the shop. In some ways the internet has provided that. Mum soon spotted me coming home regularly with something new. "You should be saving, not wasting all your money on records". Wasting? I resorted to stuffing them inside my coat when entering the house and quickly making a dash to my bedroom to unload the loot. One advantage of paying for music is it encourages repeated listens. Clicking around the internet today if a song doesn't connect within the first 20 seconds it's missed its chance. That's a terrible thing really, especially as the more immediate a song is, the less longevity I find it has. It's revealed its hand too quickly.

Songs and records were practically one and the same thing then. Although less the case now it's still my preferred way to experience music: in the format they were made for. To root around a record shop or market stall and travel back on the tube - in the same way I did with "Absolute Beginners" - with albums or singles in a carrier bag is a massive buzz. There's no real need to buy things without hearing them anymore but I still enjoy that leap into the unknown, that anticipation, that ritual of carefully removing it from the sleeve, of the smell, of the pop and crackle of old records. What's this going to sound like? There's a name of a previous owner neatly written on the cover or record label. What was their story? They must've loved this when they took it to that party in 1966 or 1976 or 1986.

Old records have a history. Each copy has had a life of its own, quite separate from any life of those involved in its creation may have had. Of all the records in my collection, it's the obscure R&B records that contain the most magic. Made by individuals I know nothing about. I could look them up these days, do a bit of research. Sometimes I do but mostly I like the mystery. Pulling a few randomly off the shelf now: "Rudy's Monkey" by Rudy and the Reno Bops; "Hey L. Roy" by L. Roy Baimes; "When Things Get A Little Better" by Oscar Boyd; "Son-In-Law" by Louise Brown; "Who's Over Yonder" by the Garden State Choir. Who were these people that made these 45s 50-60 years ago for small American labels? Doubtful many of the people responsible are here now but they've left something for us to discover. They've made their mark. Achieved something. Make a record and you live forever.

Each day is a fresh search to discover something brilliant I've not heard before and as time marches on there's that acceptance I'm never going to be able to capture it all. Ain't that fantastic? If I only liked mod or punk or country or soul, I'd have had this licked long ago. There's plenty of okay stuff out there but it's the big what-if-I'd-never-heard-this-in-my-life fish that's I'm always looking to catch. And what are those songs? I've been trying to think if there's a common thread between all my favourite records. They've got to have soul, I guess. By that I mean truth. They've got to be believable. In Bob Dylan's MusiCare's Person of The Year acceptance speech last week he quoted Sam Cooke as saying "Voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth." That's the key. It's only possible to have a true emotional connection if one believes what they're being told. Three chords, or more, and the truth.

When Gram Parsons recounts the death of his bride-to-be in "$1000 Wedding", I believe him. When Jerry Butler, after one more heartache, moans he's "Giving Up On Love", I believe him. When the Action sing about crying all night and the sun feeling cold in "Since I Lost My Baby", I believe them. When Howlin' Wolf growls knowingly about little girls understanding in "Back Door Man", I believe him. When Big Daddy Rogers insists he's got a lot of meat and is hard to beat in "I'm A Big Man", I believe him. When The Byrds "Feel A Whole Lot Better" when you're gone, I believe them. When Manic Street Preachers fire a barely decipherable assault throughout "Motown Junk" I don't quite know what they're saying but I believe they mean it. When Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples, Curtis Mayfield, Chuck D sing, I believe them.

So, tell me, what music are you into?

For more details please visit: Hand Job Zine

Saturday, 21 February 2015

POPS STAPLES - DON'T LOSE THIS (2015)


In the late 90's, according to Mavis Staples in Greg Kots's I'll Take You There, Roebuck "Pops" Staples knew his days of performing with his family were coming to an end. Already into his 80s, "I just gotta get one more record out" he'd tell Mavis. Weak in body but determined in mind, the sessions concentrated on capturing Pops leaving daughters Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha to add their vocals later.

A few days short of his 86th birthday in November 2000, Pops fell outside his home and died from concussion. It's taken until now for the album to be completed, finished by Mavis and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Released this week, Don't Lose This, is beautiful record and one lovingly made. Wherever the joins are, I can't hear them. Pops's vocals are as captivating as they ever were, as if coming direct from heaven.

Watch this emotional short film about the record (if you shed a sneaky tear, it's okay...) and then go and buy it. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming documentary Mavis! by Jessica Edwards coming this spring.

Don't Lose This by Pops Staples is released by Anti- Records, out now. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

LAURIE CUNNINGHAM and SHOOT! MAGAZINE (1976)


As a football mad kid, one of the highlights of my week was collecting our comics from Hamer's, the newsagent at the top of our street. Reserved and kept behind the counter would be Look-In! for my sister and Shoot! for me. When a new football title, Match, was published in 1979 I had that too but Shoot! was the main event. So much so that when we moved to Spain for a year my Nana would post it out to me along with jokes she'd copy down from Tony Blackburn's radio show. It was about two weeks out of date - the magazine, not Blackburn's jokes , they were waaaaay out of the date already -by the time it arrived, but that was how I kept in touch with the scores and what was happening back in England. News traveled slowly in the late 70s.

One thing that made Shoot! stand out was their famous League Ladders. At the start of each season they'd giveaway a piece of folded card with a slot for each position of all the English and Scottish divisions and fiddly little cut-out tabs for every club. With the Sunday Mirror in front of me I'd lie on the floor and painstakingly arrange all clubs in their current league position so, at a glance, I could tell you throughout the week - should anyone care to ask, and they never did - that Sunderland were sixth in the second division and Torquay were 15th in the fourth. I didn't support one specific team for many years; I just loved football, full stop. 

Last week I bought a few old copies - three for a quid - down the market. From 1975 and 1976 they are a few years earlier than when I started getting it but they're exactly as recall them and the features the same. There are big-name columnists like Liverpool's Kevin Keegan and QPR's Gerry Francis who weren't scared to offer an opinion. Francis expresses his pride in being named England captain aged 23, "the youngest international skipper in Europe" and then takes a journalist to task for inaccurate reporting, "I am afraid Mr James has unjustly wronged me and devalued the Daily Mail in my eyes". Like Mr Francis's mullet, some things never change.

You Are The Ref was another popular feature. "Before a match you see a player inserting contact lenses into his eyes. Do you (a) take no action or (b) refuse to allow him to play?" Then there was the Focus On... questionnaire in which players revealed with predictable regularity their favourite food as steak and chips and their favourite singer Olivia Newton-John.

One player who stands out in the issues I bought is Laurie Cunningham. I loved Laurie when he played alongside Cyrille Regis for West Bromwich Albion; such exciting players. Black players weren't a common sight so always seemed that little bit cooler to me, especially with flair like Cunningham. WBA had three in 1978: Cunningham, Regis and Brendon Batson, which allowed manager Ron Atkinson to name them the Three Degrees without anyone batting an eye. Cunningham would go on to play, with great acclaim, for Real Madrid - including a European Cup Final but in 1976 he was still plying his trade in the second division for Leyton Orient. In his Focus feature from the 9th October 1976 issue Laurie doesn't come across as the archetypal mid-70s footballer. His favourite singers are Isaac Hayes and Bob Marley and I get the impression his heart was somewhere else. If he wasn't a footballer he thought he'd be a professional dancer and the story goes he would pay his fines for being late for training by winning dance competitions.

He was certainly his own man. Look at these answers. Favourite Player: Nobody. Favourite Other Team: None. Most Difficult Opponent: Nobody. Personal Ambition: None. In fairness Laurie did have an ambition of playing for England, something no black man had done, which he would achieve six times.    

Tragically Laurie Cunningham died in a car crash, aged 33, in 1989. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

SUBBA CULTURE - ISSUE THREE


Born from the website of the same name, the latest issue of Subba Culture has hit the streets and it's the best one yet.

Whilst the internet version focuses predominately on pictorial evidence of the evolution of youth subcultures, Mark Hynds's fanzine contains well written and thoughtful articles on the same. There's an emphasis this time on how those movements spread from away from the main cities into other areas and the impact they had. The opening piece perceptively links the artwork of Jamie Reid (specifically his "two coaches" graphic) to the Medway music scene featured in the recent The Kids Are All Square book; John South discusses skinhead and suedehead styles after moving from London to Norfolk in 1972; Edward Ian Armchair describes the late-70s punk scene seen from the eyes of a resident of Tamworth in the West Midlands; and Peter Jachimiak provides a fascinating look at "Minets" - considered the early 60s French version of Mods. Not to exclude London, Rob Lee - the cover star of the (in)famous Mods Mayday '79 album - gives his recollections of that era. There's more besides, from desert boots to borstals.

Limited to 200 copies which are already flying out so get on this quick-smart. Click on Subbaculture for full details.