Just to keep things ticking along, here are our European comrades, Les Darlings, with a swirling dollop of garage goodness. Out now on Lust Records.
Wednesday, 7 December 2016
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
1. Tommy Collins – ‘All Of The Monkeys Ain’t In The Zoo’ (1957)
No they’re not. There are cheating conmen and shysters all around, as ol’ Bakersfield boy Collins knew.
2. Willie Bobo – ‘Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries’ (1966)
The Latin percussionist’s haunting yet rather beautiful and tasty groove.
3. The Tages – ‘The Man You’ll Be Looking For’ (1966)
This Swedish beat combo open a new two-disc compilation Svenska Shakers: R&B Crunchers, Mod Grooves, Freakbeat and Psych-Pop from Sweden 1964-1968. At least three of those descriptions apply here.
4. Tyner McCoy – ‘Four By Five’ (1967)
From The Real McCoy, the pianist’s first album after leaving John Coltrane’s quartet, this – fact fans – is played at around 280 beats per minute. I’ve not tried counting but can vouch this is pretty damn fast.
5. Alice Coltrane – “Galaxy In Satchidananda” (1972)
Ms Coltrane’s brand of deep spiritualism as demonstrated on World Galaxy isn’t for everyone as I was reminded on Sunday morning when Mrs Monkey rose from her bed to enquire “What the fucking hell are you listening to?”
6. Curtis Mayfield – ‘Pusherman (Alternate mix with horns)’ (1972)
6. Curtis Mayfield – ‘Pusherman (Alternate mix with horns)’ (1972)
I’m not fussed where folk buy their music, as long as they buy it, but was weird nipping into Sainsbury’s to buy their 2LP Special Edition orange vinyl edition of Superfly. Over double the original length with various additional versions, instrumental cuts, demos and radio spots it had to be done. This alternate mix with added strings and horns is the pick of the bunch.
7. Mose Allison – ‘Your Mind Is On Vacation’ (1976)
“If silence was golden, you couldn’t raise a dime”. On 15 November, at the age of 89, and only four years after retiring, Mose fell silent. For a neat tribute and a top ten picks see my comrade Bill Luther’s Anorak Thing blog.
8. Jesus & Mary Chain – ‘God Help Me’ (1994)
The type of gently stoned, campfire gospel, Spiritualized and Primal Scream also deal in, done here by the Reid brothers with Shane MacGowan taking the lead vocal. Holy.
9. Frankie & the Witch Fingers – ‘Rise’ (2016)
Their Heavy Roller album is aptly named but this souped-up, supercharged, blues-harp wailing, skin pounding, barnstorming rocker recalls the Moving Sidewalks garage classic ‘99th Floor’.
10. William Bell – ‘Poison In The Well’ (2016)
William Bell’s second London visit of the year saw another superb performance, this time at the Barbican Centre, showcasing his latest Stax LP, This Is Where I Live, and a host of his soul classics. Shaking Bell’s hand and sharing a few words after the gig was an unexpected bonus and a magical experience. Legend.
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
|Bronco Bullfrog, Crossfire, London, October 2016 (Mike, Andy & Louis)|
I last interviewed Bronco Bullfrog in 1999 for Shindig! magazine ahead of their first ever London gig, at the Nice Club situated off Tower Bridge. In the finished article, I described them as “purveyors of the finest, classiest, most gorgeous pop gems”. Why use one adjective when you can you three? They went on to record four albums before splitting five years after our chat.
Their debut, Bronco Bullfrog, remains to my mind one of the best albums of that period. Chief songwriter Andy Morten’s attention to the details of everyday lives would be unmatched by his peers, if he had any. A few years ago the band quietly reconvened and have since issued four singles and played the occasional show. The most recent being the Crossfire allnighter in London last month.
Watching them I marvelled, once again, at not only their stunning songs – full of classic pop hooks and three-part harmonies – but what a powerful live band they are. The songs blasted from stage crushed their recorded counterparts to dust, making them sound like cheap demos. It was a very well chosen set too, as if distance has allowed them to reflect and cherrypick their greatest moments. Early favourites from the first two LPs ‘Can’t Find My Own Way’, ‘One Day With Melody Love’, ‘History’, Get To Know You’, ‘Jigsaw Mind’ and more nestled flawlessly with recent singles ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Never Been To California’. The Move and Pete Ham/Badfinger covers being glorious bonus balls. It was one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve seen all year and spent the set and days after wondering how they escaped the attention of just about everyone, then and now.
I rolled back the years with Andy Morten for the New Untouchables’ NUTSMAG to wonder that aloud.
For those new to Bronco Bullfrog, can you give us a quick account of who, how, when and why the band started?
1996. 20 years ago – Jesus. Mike and I had been in The Nerve and Louis had been in The Beatpack, Immediates, Morticians and probably others. He was in garage bands when he was about 10. These bands were playing the same ’60s / mod circuit in London and slowly got to know each other; dogs sniffing each other’s arses, so to speak. I joined Louis’ post-Immediates band Vibraphone sometime around 1990 but left after we were involved in a motorway accident after a gig in Spain. In ’96 all three of us found ourselves at a loose end and decided to try our luck together with something a little different. The garage / psych / mod approach had been mined pretty deep and we’d all started listening to a wider palette of music; country-rock, folk, powerpop, sunshine-pop. The aim was to absorb all of these influences into one cohesive whole while retaining our roots as Who / Kinks / Small Faces-worshipping fanboys. There were no rules at the beginning: if we liked the sound of it, it was in.
The band took their name from Barney Platts-Mills’ 1969 film, and your debut LP included ‘Del Quant’, based on the main character. What was it that captured your imagination about that film?
We’d all discovered the film around the time the band was starting out and I suspect, like many bands, needed a name for a poster in a hurry. It was to hand and it stuck. I had no idea there was a Spanish Oi! label with the same name. We watched the film endlessly and used to run off copies of my third-generation VHS, taped off Channel 4 in the ’80s, for our mates. When we were writing that first flurry of songs, it loomed large in our world and that’s where the lyrics to ‘Del Quant’ came from. Louis and I wrote it in the kitchen in the house we were sharing in Fosse Road South, Leicester. ‘Down Angel Lane’ is also named after a street in Stratford that appears in the film.
Your debut album, Bronco Bullfrog, came out in 1998 on the small independent Twist label. In the preceding few years swathes of bands with even the slightest 60s echo were signed to big labels and had money pumped into them. Bronco Bullfrog had far more depth, imagination and superior songs (I’m allowed to say this, you can agree….) but got overlooked. Why do you think this was and was it a source of irritation?
We’ve talked about this a lot over the years (and over the beers) and we’re still not sure. Laziness? Nonchalance? Ignorance probably. When we started there was very little awareness of a lot of the stuff that most bands seem to crave from day one: we had no desire to get signed up or play at certain cool gigs or support Supergrass or whatever. We’d come up through provincial bands where playing to 40 people on a Saturday night was kind of enough. We weren’t chasing any kind of success or acceptance; we were literally doing our own thing. It all felt very insular; us against the world, getting stoned and buying obscure pop and psych records from Leicester market and writing these little songs.
You enjoyed a greater appreciation in other parts of Europe than in the UK. What were the differences at home and abroad and why do you think that was?
Again, we’ve asked lots people, particularly in Spain, where we’ve achieved a modicum of success, about this as we have no idea. The over-riding impression we’ve been give is that they like the songs primarily, and secondarily the way we try and put them across – with gusto and without fear of failure! Perhaps our tendency to “over-write” songs – to keep adding more musicality, more chord changes and structural elements – singled us out somewhat. I wasn’t hearing a lot of bands playing songs as naively adventurous as ‘Greenacre Hill’ and ‘7:38’ around that time. Still don’t actually. I guess the balance of downbeat, often melancholic lyrics in a spunky, super-pop framework isn’t that common either.
Some of the songs, particularly early on, appear very autobiographical and personal. What emotions do they provoke in you now?
Like I said earlier, this was 20 years ago – we were young men writing about the travails that young men go through: break-ups, breakdowns, high times, low times, girls, films, pubs and cake. Life was easier then – we didn’t have responsibilities like we do now.
What I hadn’t done before (as primary songwriter) was to write about myself and my emotions and those of my friends and the world around me. The Nerve was resolutely a psychedelic rock band; the lyrics were, for the most part, meaningless. The wah-wah and the Hammond were more important. It was only when people started telling me how much the words to ‘Paper Mask’ or ‘Sweet Tooth’ meant to them that I started to consider that there might be some emotional depth to what we were doing. Then we’d get on stage and try and be The Who in 1968 and any subtlety went straight out the window.
How self-critical are you of your albums?
All three of us are incredibly self-critical of Bronco Bullfrog’s recordings – I can’t bear to listen to anything other than the first album and a couple of tracks from each of the others. They were all recorded cheaply, quickly and honestly – which is the way we wanted it – but that method can result in some rather, er, candid performances. We weren’t confident in the studio and would continually swop instruments if the other guy could do it better. That spirit was lost as time passed. And the red light syndrome always defeated us.
Which three songs would you pick to give the best representation of Bronco Bullfrog and why?
Tricky. The first batch will always remain the most resonant as they represent a snapshot of our lives and our friendship at that time; precious, life-affirming memories. After that we tried our hand at all sorts of things but ended up gravitating towards a fairly regulation powerpop / power-trio format and some of that variety was sacrificed. Stylistically, a selection that I like would be ‘Paper Mask’ for its emotional heft, ‘Sweet Tooth’ for its blind pop optimism - poptimism? - and something like ‘Down Angel Lane’, ‘History’ or ‘One Day With Melody Love’ for almost capturing the essence of all those ’60s 45s we adore: punch, power, melody and dynamics. And mistakes.
After years away Bronco Bullfrog have reformed in a very gentle manner, releasing a series of stand-alone 7 inch singles and the occasional gig. Tell us about those. What prompted the three of you getting back in the studio?
I guess we needed some time apart after the band split up in 2004; some growing up had to be done. I’m not saying any of us have grown up but we’re all best mates again now and that’s by far the best thing that’s come out of this reunion.
The singles were a natural by-product of getting back together and not wanting to go straight back on stage; we were more interested in writing and recording a bunch of new songs in as informal and low-key a manner as we could manage. We went to State Recorders when it was in Folkestone, then when it moved to St Leonard’s, as we’d known Mole and Marty since their Mystreated days and liked the rough and ready sound they were busy patenting. I emailed a few labels and lo and behold. We’ve done four 45s on four labels so far.
|The four Bronco Bullfrog 45s: 2012-2015|
So many bands reform years down the line. People have mixed views about this, what’s your take? What makes a successful reunion, both from the point of view of a musician and a fan?
I can only speak from my own experience, which is that the whole time we were out of action we were still getting requests to go and play in Spain, Germany and Italy. After a while we realised that people remembered us and maybe we should give it a shot. We did a couple of warm-up gigs late last year to quell the nerves, then headed back to Spain in December and dived in at the deep end at Purple Weekend. We’ve done two tours over there since then and, while we’ve undoubtedly become less ragged, we’ve also realised that playing those songs for 90 minutes when you’re 47 is knackering.
What can we expect from Bronco Bullfrog in the future? More gigs? Singles? An album?
We haven’t recorded anything for 18 months as we were preparing our sea legs for the Spanish shows. We’re all in other bands too and have assorted jobs and families that require our attention. The plan, however tentative, is to record an album and another single early next year. We’ll probably do it ourselves, in our time and space, on a couple of old four-tracks so (a) it sounds more like the old records we dig and (b) you can’t hear the mistakes so well.
Finally, your 2013 single for State Records included ‘Never Been To California’ (my favourite track of the new BB-era). For someone whose songs have so often included Californian sunshine pop in their grooves, please tell me this isn’t true!
Sorry Mark, it is true. Neither Louis, Mike nor myself have been to the US of A so I thought I’d write a song about it and we’d try and make it sound like a Californian sunshine-pop band. Obviously we failed but that’s what Bronco Bullfrog has always been about really: creating something interesting and exciting by failing!
|The Way We Were|
This interviewed was conducted for, and first appeared on, Nutsmag - the on-line home of The New Untouchables - 21st Century Modernist and Sixties Underground Music Culture. Check 'em out for tons of events around Europe.
Back in 2013 I reported on the launch of a new underground literary fanzine, PUSH. Three and a half years, twenty-three issues, two Best Of PUSH books, the emergence of a raft of exciting writers, a host of literary events, and the giving away of cupboardfuls of nick-knacks and pop culture memorabilia during editor Joe England’s legendary raffles later, the mag is folding.
When PUSH appeared, it took its inspiration from the tiny independent press network, especially Blackheath Books, and since establishing itself as leaders in the field has paved the way for the likes of Paper & Ink and Hand Job to do a similar thing. None though, with respect, has had the bite of the England’s collections of prose, poetry and art.
Neither burning out or fading away, the final Sandinista! issue, is full of incandescent rage from an all-female cast. Some of the pieces make for extremely uncomfortable reading, and this from a series that has never shied away from confrontation or ugly truths. As Joe says, “I love this issue, and really cannot see where I could take the fanzine forwards from here.” I’ve huge respect for people leaving things at the top so credit to Joe, not only for collating a tremendous amount of work but for being a key conduit in bringing like-minded folk – writers and readers – together and giving them a platform. A push, if you will.
A third Best Of PUSH will appear soon, published, once again, by East London Press. The final issue of PUSH can be obtained from Joe here.
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
Fusion only broadcasts for one hour every week but that hour is one of the highlights of the week. Every Sunday a motley crew of music loving freaks hang out, play records, drink and have some fun. Listeners either submit a playlist for head lunatic Mick to deliver or have a stab at presenting themselves.
This week I’m honoured to been entrusted to fill the hot seat in Fusion’s rickety old studio for the latest instalment of Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show. There’ll be roughly 60 minutes of tunes spanning the 60 years between 1956 and 2016: soul, R&B, beat, things with guitars, songs ya know and some you might not, with the odd surprise thrown in here and there.
If you sign up to hosting site Mixlr you’ll be able to join in the chat with the Fusion family (they don’t bite, properly house-trained) as the show goes on, or simply hit the link below in time for 8.30pm and listen in. Bring some booze and enjoy.
Now available to listen at your leisure on the Fusion Showreel here: MWWS Showreel
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
The Primitives began a trio of weekend gigs on Friday with a rollicking show at Glasgow’s Broadcast. Helped by the intimate venue, the low ceiling, the strobe lighting, the rumbustious nature of the Prims material and it being their first gig for a while this felt like the scales of pop and punk tipped more towards the latter than usual. They’ve always walked that pop-punk path with style – every review since 1987 has included bubblegum and buzz saws, Ramones and Ronettes (see what I mean?) – and continue to do so.
They’ve now been an ongoing concern in their second flush of extended youth longer than their initial burst of activity and the two eras seamlessly coexist. Oldies but goldies ‘Sick Of It’, ‘Spacehead’, ‘Really Stupid’, ‘Dreamwalk Baby’ and, of course, ‘Crash’ – tucked away mid-set – in no way overshadow ‘Lose That Reason’, ‘Hidden in The Shadows’, ‘Rattle My Cage’ and ‘Dandelion Seeds’ which already sound like modern classics.
Over twenty songs fly past in a giddying rush. With the band working on new material there'll soon be additional songs to add to their crown on pop gems, and few wear anything as well as the Primitives.
Sunday, 6 November 2016
I like French Boutik. I like how the title of their album, Front Pop, references forward-thinking popular culture and the Front Populaire movement of the 1930s where an alliance of French workers fought for basic rights. That combination of toe tapping melodies and socio-political comment informs their music, not that I can understand it as I don’t speak French but that’s not the point, is it comrades?
I like how French Boutik sing in French - it’s authentic and natural – rather than a second tongue, it strikes me as uncompromising and, frankly, the right thing to do, unlike so many others. Be yourself, be true.
I like that French Boutik are Mods and my sort of Mods. Mods who look good, dress well, know what’s what and don’t make me flinch from the term. They make Mod appear like a cool thing, which it always should but seldom does these days. They are the only current band I can think of who do Mod well. They aren’t a clichéd Mod band or, if you prefer, band of Mods.
I like how French Boutik’s music has undercurrents of soul and jazz but doesn’t actually sound like either. There’s a 60s grasp of strong melodies, elements of 70s new wave fleck their songs, as does 90s Britpop, and sandwiched between is a clean 80s sheen which, probably unintentionally but not unpleasantly, recall early Everything But The Girl, and Swing Out Sister (no bad thing at all, in case there’s any doubt, Kaleidoscope World is a splendid LP) plus the first couple of Style Council albums.
I like how French Boutik look happy on stage at the 100 Club, relishing the moment, and the way they shoot each other looks and smile knowingly when they’ve just nailed a part of a tune. I like how as a support act they make their set feel like the headline slot. People who’ve come specially to see them and those who’ve never heard of them before are in unison: they’re an enjoyable band. They drink red wine on stage.
I like how French Boutik are spilt along gender lines and have a girl on drums who hardly breaks into a sweat. Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies gently glow, as my Granpop always used to say.
I like that the vinyl edition of French Boutik’s LP comes with an inner sleeve with lyrics and even a double-sided colour poster. Posters are proper pop group material. It’s a proper pop record.
I like French Boutik. I like them a lot.
Front Pop by French Boutik is out now on LP and CD.