Sunday, 30 May 2010
Stood at the bar as Booker T. Jones performs soul classics he helped create isn’t the worse way to spend a Friday night. He was recording for Stax before it was even called Stax and as house band for the label Booker T & The MGs would feature on hundreds of hits (and misses) that defined the Memphis soul stew. Add to that the songs Jones wrote, arranged, performed and produced and you’ve got yourself a bona fide legend.
For all that, he is synonymous with “Green Onions” and that’s always going to be a defining moment whenever he plays. He plays it surprisingly early – third number in – to get it out of the way. It wasn’t just his Hammond organ that made that record so timeless, it was Steve Cropper’s sharp guitar slashes, Lewis Steinburg’s walking bass groove and Al Jackson Jr’s taut drum snaps. Beyond Booker’s playing not much survives. The economy of delivery replaced by the fussiness of his MG-less band who indulge in extreme eyes-closed guitar wanking.
“Born Under A Bad Sign” the song he co-wrote and played on for Albert King comes next and he takes on vocal duties. He’s a jobbing singer, nothing more, and hearing him strolling through “Hold On, I’m Coming”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Take Me To The River” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” only shines a light on how much vitality Sam and Dave, Bill Withers, Otis Redding and co infused those recordings. It wouldn’t have gone a miss to hear him on organ on those rather than barely audible guitar either. He does thankfully give the Hammond a poke for “Soul Limbo”, “Time Is Tight” and “Melting Pot”. Whether “Melting Pot” is improved by a rapping drummer is doubtful.
I’m sounding very negative and grumpy but it wasn’t bad. It was just, you know, all right. I don’t like Booker T and the MGs any less now and after nearly fifty years in the business, achieving everything he has, I doubt he gives a monkey’s about some jumped up punk’s minor quibbles. And they are minor quibbles, like I say, seeing someone at close quarters who shaped so many records in your collection isn’t something to be too sniffy about.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
I ain't got time to sit around here trying to put a bunch of words in order, so here is a picture of the Action proving bands can sometimes look as good as they sound, even if they are freezing their tits off.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
It wasn’t planned but there’s nothing from the last 30 years. That’s a sad state of affairs.
1. Sonny Boy Williamson – “Keep Your Hands Out Of My Pockets” (1958)
“Keep your hands out of my pockets/ I ain’t nothing that belong to you”. Simple yet effective from the Goat.
2. The Little Red Riders – “Juicy” (1958)
From the less-than-legit looking compilation Titty Shakers Volume 1 comes this twangy John Lee Hooker-goes-surfing breast mover. I’ve been standing on a chair wobbling my beer gut and swinging my man boobs like there’s no tomorrow. (Note: The references to beer gut and man boobs are merely for comedic effect and bear no resemblance whatsoever to the author’s Apollonian physique).
3. Marion Jones – “I’m The Woman For You” (c.1965)
She has a name like a Welsh dinner lady from the 70s but the only dish served here is a spicy concoction of call-and-response R&B, soulful testifying, and dollop of showbiz pizzazz, all gobbled down in a greedy one minute and fifty five seconds.
4. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity – “A Kind of Love-In” (1968)
Not only did the NFT show Driscoll in Season of the Witch the other night, they also showed a fantastic live version of this recorded for Frost On Sunday in August 1968. Can’t see it on YouTube so you’ll have to take my word for it…
5. The Penny Peeps – “Model Village” (1968)
Hold tight to your floppy hats and penny collars as the Peeps whizz around their plasticine model village fuelled on heavy Hammond and super strength Who inspired freakbeaty psychedelia. Whooosh.
6. The Gaylads – “There’s A Fire” (1969)
What I know about Jamaican music can be written on Nick Griffin’s knob with a Stanley knife but rocksteady like this is simply soul music by another name.
7. The Rolling Stones – “Plundered My Soul” (1972)
If Exile On Main Street wasn’t bloated enough already, it now has another ten tracks. Scraped from the barrel maybe but most are still pretty good. “Plundered My Soul” has a “Tumbling Dice” vibe and however hard the Faces, the Black Crowes, the Scream tried they never matched the easy rock and soul charm of the Stones on top form. (Their best album is still Goat’s Head Soup though).
8. The Ruts – “H-Eyes” (1978)
There is a horrible irony that the flip of the Ruts first single contained the lines “You’re so young, you take smack for fun/ It’s gonna screw your head, you’re gonna wind up dead”, when singer Malcolm Owen would do just that a mere two years later.
9. The Chords – “Maybe Tomorrow” (1980)
Like flesh eating zombies The Chords are the latest band of decomposing carcasses to rise up uninvited and drag their lingering remains of life back on stage. That said the only time I’ve got for the whole sorry Mod Revival Class of ’79 is the time it takes to play their convincing Jam pastiche. How Weller must still be pissing himself.
10. Magazine – “A Song From Under The Floorboards” (1980)
“But it’s got a synth on it,” I hear you cry. True, and that’s usually enough for instant dismissal, but I’ll let this one pass due to Howard Devoto’s lyric (“I am angry, I am ill, and I'm as ugly as sin/ My irritability keeps me alive and kicking”) and John McGeoch’s unmistakable guitar colouring. McGeoch would next use his plectrum on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ masterpiece JuJu. Add Public Image Ltd to his CV and you wonder why he’s never on Guitar Greats lists.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
May’s cultural highlight came yesterday at the NFT for the Flipside screening of Season of the Witch, a BBC Wednesday Play made in the summer of ’69 with Julie Driscoll playing Mel who runs away from London, her parents, and her job and heads to Brighton. There she meets various “beats” (interestingly there are plenty of references to beats and beatniks – no one is a freak or hippie) and they mooch about doing very little.
Mel takes tips on scavenging for food (get a skinny dog and plead with the butcher for meat) and sleeping on the beach before hitch hiking to Cornwall, traipsing back to London for a rally, getting arrested, moving on again, getting a pad with Jake (Paul Nicholas) and Shaun (Robert Powell), and upping sticks again.
With plentiful location shots, unscripted segments of dialogue, a few “what’s it all about?” moments mixed with genuine interviews and footage (greasy bespectacled longhairs arguing half cocked political idealism and watching drug education films at a youth drop-in centre), Season of the Witch is as much sympathetic coming of age documentary as it is Beat Girl On The Road. As such, it’s aged well. Da yoof may not say “scenes” and “pads” anymore but the spirit can’t be much different.
Julie Driscoll is a far better singer than actress but the role suited: neither ditzy dolly bird nor down at the heel desperado; it made a change to see a portrayal of a together, likeable and eminently sensible young woman in a 60s film.
The best line came from Mel’s Dad (played by Glynn Edwards, better known as Dave from the Winchester Club in Minder), who in a long rant about the state of young people today said “I saw one of ‘em the other day wearing cowboy hat. In ‘arrow. There ain’t any cowboys in ‘arrow”. Director Desmond McCarthy gave a good Q&A session afterwards and explained all the lines in that monologue were taken from a real Panorama documentary. He also confirmed the sign in a B&B window of “We reserve the right to refuse beatniks and other undesirables” was also genuine.
Add to all that a soundtrack by Brian Auger and the Trinity and a bit of Blind Faith in Hyde Park and you’ve a real treasure that’s screaming out to be issued on DVD.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
When Harry Goodwin was asked in 1964 to take photographs for a new BBC series, Top of The Pops, he had little inkling he’d continue to do so for the next nine years. First from television studios in Manchester and then down to London, Harry snatched portraits in dressing rooms, corridors and staircases of home grown artists and visiting US stars to amass a comprehensive Who’s Who of popular music from the period.
The V&A have a small exhibition which gives a peak at the scope of Harry’s work. The usual suspects are present but more exciting are the likes of an ebullient James Brown, a dapper Chuck Berry, a suitably enigmatic Bob Dylan, a sultry set of Ronettes, and a butter-wouldn’t-melt Syd Barrett all accepting of Goodwin’s bright flashbulb.
Worth a look but took me longer to find it within the bamboozling labyrinth that is the V&A than it did to view the pictures.
My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock. Photographs by Harry Goodwin is at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Room 104), London, SW7 until 30 August 2010. Admission free.
Sunday, 16 May 2010
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Monday, 10 May 2010
When Allen Ginsberg died in 1997 the internet was rapidly moving away from the preserve of geeky computer nerds and popular social networking sites were looming on the horizon. How different and easier life would have been for the Beats had those things existed back in their day.
Most were compulsive and extensive letter writers, none more so than Allen Ginsberg, who corresponded with a vast network, offering encouragement and acting as unofficial, unpaid, self-appointed agent and conduit for poets and publishers around the globe. In a long 1958 letter to fellow Six Gallery poet and friend Gary Synder he mentions he is on his ninth letter (17 single-spaced pages) of the day and it’s obvious he can scarcely get the words down fast enough. The two men exchanged more than 850 letters between 1956 and 1995, zigzagging America, Japan, India, Europe and beyond, often impressively hitting a moving target as they hotfooted from place to place. A selection covering over 300 pages are featured here, edited by renowned Beat Generation scholar Bill Morgan.
And it is a volume aimed squarely (who you calling square?) at the scholar rather than the casual reader as they discuss the minutiae of their lives. Not a riveting read then, but little passages do add to the overall picture of both men. I’ve never been fully sold on Ginsberg; I find him interesting but his work (bar one of two notable exceptions) doesn’t do much for me, and he suffered from windbagitis, yet I liked him more here. His unwavering generosity with his time and energy is both inspiring and deeply commendable. He also seemed sweetly star struck, especially whenever Bob Dylan came into view. In one episode Allen poured all his money into a recording project where Dylan played a bit of guitar. When Bob refused to have his name credited no record company was interested (can’t blame them) which left Allen financially “ruined” yet he showed no resentment or bitterness.
As expected the more interesting (i.e. sex and drugs) letters occur during the earlier years – I’m a liberal kind of fellow but some of the sex stuff raised my eyebrows - before they adopt a more businesslike approach, albeit still a very warm and deeply respectful one. I bought this on impulse at my local bookshop (hello Broadway Bookshop, Broadway Market, Hackney) so a big tip of the hat to them for stocking such niche items; whether you’d invest goes depends how close your Beatness barometer touches the scholarly level.
The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Synder edited by Bill Morgan is published by Counterpoint Press, priced $16.95.
Sunday, 9 May 2010
The BBC has pissed a load of our license fee money up the wall for its flimsy new series I’m In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. Rather than giving air time to no-marks and nonces from Bon Jovi and filling the screen with ghastly animation, the following footage of the MC5 would’ve told the viewer all they need to know about what a rock ‘n’ roll band should be. Take it away motherfuckers…
Saturday, 8 May 2010
Letters of Note: Correspondence deserving of a wider audience is a fantastic site edited by Shaun Usher. It gathers fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes and memos and posts a daily entry. A quick flick through has uncovered a host of goodies not least the above letter written by Jack Kerouac in early 1957 to Lucien Carr. Kerouac had travelled to Tangier to help William Burroughs assemble and type-up sections for what Kerouac would later be credited in titling The Naked Lunch; an experience that would famously give Jack nightmares.
As you can read, it wasn’t just Burroughs’s writing that played on Jack’s mind as he describes his host’s unpredictable behaviour, including the hilarious line “he keeps saying he's going to erupt into some unspeakable atrocity such as waving his dingdong at an Embassy party & such or slaughtering an Arab boy to see what his beautiful insides look like” and later “his message is all scatological homosexual super-violent madness”. Marvelous.
Click on the letter to read in Kerouac’s own hand or click here to read the transcript at Letters of Note.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Fanzine editors, don’t know they’re bloody born. Back when I were a lad (cue Hovis music) I’d be there in my bedroom, kneeling on the floor, leaning on the bed, using my Prehistoric Animals book as a table, armed with a portable Woolworth’s typewriter, some scissors, some Pritt Stick and a wad of third generation photocopies of pictures of The Action, spouting off about records, books, clubs and whatnot. You can imagine the result: not unlike an uglier MonkeyPicks but with more spelling mistakes and even worse grammar (if you can believe that).
But that was then, things move on, and I’ve nothing but admiration for those who continue to self publish in paper and ink like the trio responsible for the unashamedly Mod, Double Breasted. Issue six is the first one I’ve seen since the first couple and it has really come on in leaps and bounds. Along with a strong layout and design (no sign of Pritt Stick) there’s plenty to read. Next to the usual club pieces, record and book reviews, and adverts dressed as articles, the big scoop for me is the interview with Stan Lewis who formed the R&B label Jewel Records in 1963. Good work. I also like the interview with Dave Walker from the Modculture website whose curmudgeonly mood contrasts nicely with the everything’s fab tone of much of the rest. If I was going to offer one piece of constructive criticism (which I am) then it would be for a stronger editorial personality to come through.
I got my copy from my tailor George Dyer (Threadneedleman), who is featured here and now I’ve given him another plug I’ll be looking for a few bob off my next hipsters, but I think it costs about £3. Find them on Facebook or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next issue is due in June.
Sunday, 2 May 2010
Here’s a bank holiday treat for those with Spotify: a right rollicking playlist of bluesy soul, soulful blues, and meaty beaty big and bouncy ballbreakers that defy easy categorization. Make some space in your living room, crack open the JD, and cut some rug to these outtasight babies. Enjoy.