Saturday, 31 December 2011

DECEMBER PLAYLIST


A few things that have been spinning in Monkey Mansions this past month.

1. Jackie Wilson and Count Basie – “My Girl” (1968)
These two cut an album, Manufacturers of Soul, and spruced up this old chestnut with a lovely new arrangement.

2. Dillard & Clark – “Why Not Your Baby” (1968)
I first heard this banjo bluegrass beauty by Velvet Crush and it took years to locate the original until it was added as a bonus track on the CD of The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. A good album made great.

3. Wire – “Ex Lion Tamer” (1977)
Wire knew a thing of two about cutting flab from songs; they crammed 21 prime cuts into 35 minutes on Pink Flag.

4. Chas & Dave – “The Sideboard Song” (1979)
I’ve been to many gigs and seen many things but nothing prepared me for being swept along on a sea of boozing cockneys last week as we engaged in a mightily exuberant Christmas knees-up. They played this twice. The second time I thought me old jam was about to pack in.

5. Pete Townshend – “Rough Boys” (1981)
This needs to be experienced with the promo video to reap the full sleazy, uncomfortable horror as Pete preys on hapless mods and rockers in a snooker hall, wanting to kiss, bite and get inside them. Not for the fair hearted. I’d love to know what Roger and John made of it.

6. Eric B. & Rakim – “Follow The Leader” (1988)
There was something about Rakim’s laid back jazzy delivery that set them apart from the 80s hip-hop herd, but I wasn’t expecting this to still sound so boxfresh (as Westwood might say).

7. Huggy Bear – “Her Jazz” (1993)
Time has done little to soothe the stomach-bending agony caused by this savage kick in the nuts. If you want to see how to play music live on the telly, watch their performance on The Word.

8. Stereolab – “Ping Pong” (1994)
A summer breezy tune cloaking a sardonic attack on economic disasters and bloody wars. 1994 you say?

9. The Lucid Dream – “Love In My Veins” (2011)
A dark, brain rattling, psychedelic stomp that shivers your bones and rises to heat.

10. The Lovely Eggs - “Allergies” (2011)
All the usual offbeat Eggy goodness with the added ingredients of a super furry animal, a gorgeous handclapping break, and a magic swirling sitar finale from the band of 2011.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

BIRTHDAY THOUGHTS FOR RICHEY EDWARDS

Today is, or would have been, Richey Edwards' 44th birthday. To his family I'm sure it is.

Following yesterday's post when I wrote of the Manics Diorama gig in December 1991, here's a one minute clip of it. How I'd love to see the whole thing again. If you look closely around the 54 second mark you'll see myself and Richey engaged in the campiest tug or war you'll ever see with a microphone stand. I'm the one in a white Levi jacket and the faintest hint of a bald patch the size of a five pence; Richey is the one in the red blouse and immaculate hair.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

MANIC STREET PREACHERS at the O2 ARENA, LONDON


“In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.” – T. S. Eliot

Two weeks ago I met Jeff Barrett, the head of Heavenly. I thanked him for signing the Manic Street Preachers and releasing my all-time favourite record “Motown Junk” back in January 1991. A chuffed Jeff shook my hand, we chatted and we spent five minutes enthusing about that record alone: from the opening Public Enemy sample of “revolution, revolution”, to the crunch of plugging in guitars, to the scattering of barely comprehensible slogans over an enraged punk racket, to the winding down outro of “we live in urban hell, we destroy rock ‘n’ roll”, it was – and remains – a defining statement. From that moment I was hooked and I’ve been hanging on their line for over 20 years.

Their gigs in 1991 were for me the best of their career and two in particular stand out. A show at the After Dark Club in Reading was especially thrilling. Playing to a small crowd who were hurling abuse and beer cans they revelled in the confrontation, taunting them further whilst ten of us skidded and slipped on the beer sodden floor as we thrashed around to “Sorrow 16”. They looked brilliant, sounded brilliant, were wonderfully provocative and mixed punk with beat writers and politics with glamour. Barrett said of that time, “They weren’t the best band since the Clash; they were the best band ever”. Their Christmas gig at the Diorama was mayhem. By then they’d amassed a devoted following who went crackers within the white walled arts venue. It’s amazing nobody was hurt in the frightening crush in front of the stage. In the clamour to touch or kiss them (straight men attempting to kiss straight men, the Manics did funny things to young lads) people were screaming in agony. My legs were pressed so hard against the low stage I thought they would break. At times it was impossible to move anything other than my head. Utter chaos but the best gig I’ve ever seen.

Twenty Christmases on from the Diorama there wasn’t much chance of injury sat half way back in the cavernous O2 Arena. The only danger was getting tomato ketchup squirted from someone’s hot dog on to the furry coat I’d borrowed from Mrs Monkey. They’re the only band I’d go to such a venue for, and only then because this was a unique event. It was billed very much as a line in the sand, an everything must go event. They’ve released National Treasures, the (not quite) Complete Singles collection and now as a one-off before disappearing for a few years to have a rethink and perhaps come back in a different form (James claims he’s sick of his own voice), they played all “38 of the fuckers” in non-chronological order. I guess a fair few turned up thinking it might be their farewell gig although at the end James said they’d hopefully see us in two years’ time. After all the build-up it seemed perhaps a lot of fuss had been made over nothing; a two year break isn’t uncommon for bands.

The songs obviously weren’t a surprise but James Dean Bradfield donning his Holy Bible sailor garb was; Nicky began by sporting his Generation Terrorists skinny white jeans and pumps before eventually settling on a dress and a Spillers’ record shop hoodie; Sean wore a black shirt, which was quite something for him. Richey loomed large from the video backdrop and looked like the most beautiful man to walk the earth. It was hard not to imagine what he would look like now but it was also difficult to envisage the Manics lasting this long with him there in person rather than as their spirit guide sat on their shoulder.

They played two 90 minute sets; 19 songs in each set. It might have been a test of endurance for the band who paced themselves accordingly (the big screen showed poor Sean puffing like a middle aged man running for the bus after the third song) but it whizzed by for me. By James’ admission before the last song, the 38 singles are a mixed bag, “some great, some not so good, but it was interesting.” He’s right and they mixed them well, during the first set getting rid of the weak “Let Robeson Sing” (sung by Gruff Rhys) yet following it with the Herculean “Faster”; the wishy-washy “Indian Summer” making way for the bold “Stay Beautiful” and so on, before ending with the magnificent “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next” – the great UK number one single.

The second set followed a similar pattern. I was disappointed when I saw them after the release of Lifeblood they didn’t play the funky synth oddball “The Love Of Richard Nixon” but now I hear why as it sits uncomfortably amongst the guitar based songs. If “Tolerate” was an unlikely number one it was nothing compared to the largely forgotten fury of “The Masses Against The Classes”. The record buying public of 2000, take a bow. “Found That Soul” got a lukewarm reception for the type of fizzing energy that harked back to earlier singles but “Revol”, never a band favourite, was as brutal as a song about “group sex in the Kremlin” deserves. If I had to pick one highlight it would be that, although “Roses in The Hospital” was a contender. Even “Some Kind Of Nothingness” sparkled like the giant glitter ball that accompanied it. Nicky was reportedly distraught when last year it became their first single since 1991 not to make the top 40. “Motown Junk” hadn’t lost any of its excitement although it has lost a few words as James refuses to complete the line “I laughed when Lennon got shot”. This irritated me for two reasons: it’s one of my favourite lyrics (although I’ve no knowledge of the context); and James is far too mature, decent, understanding and darn dignified to sing it anymore and I know, deep down, he’s right. The set closed with “A Design For Life” and Nicky half-heartedly and pointlessly breaking his bass in half.

Jeff Barrett thinks they will come back more experimental and maybe on a smaller label; he’d love to have them back on Heavenly. They’ve always been painstakingly protective over their legacy and careers but with the business of selling music unrecognisable from the one they starred in (I had to buy "Motown Junk" simply to hear it), it’s time to shuffle the pack. Without Nicky’s preoccupation with chart positions it might free them from their own history.

In the set of lyrics Richey left behind before his disapperance he wrote of drawing the perfect circle; on Saturday it felt as if the Manics closed one, perfect or otherwise.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEITH RICHARDS

Our Keef is 68 today which is all the excuse needed for this.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

SPOTIFY PICK #5: MONKEY PICKS OF 2011


Here’s my gift to you dear reader: a Spotify playlist of twenty favourite songs from 2011 sequenced for your listening pleasure. Click on the link after the track listing. You won’t enjoy them all but one or two might catch your ear.

The Lovely Eggs – Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It)
Comet Gain – Clang Of The Concrete Swans
The Primitives – Need All The Help I Can Get
Cat’s Eyes (pictured above) – Sunshine Girl
Crystal Stilts - Through The Floor
The See See – Half A Man And A Horse’s Head
Frankie & The Heartstrings – Possibilities
The Lovely Eggs – Watermelons
Gross Magic – Sweetest Touch
Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Heart In Your Heartbreak
Art Brut – Sealand
J Mascis – Listen To Me
Thurston Moore – Benediction
Gruff Rhys – Shark Ridden Waters
Pocketbooks – Promises, Promises
The Silver Factory – Tomorrow’s Today
Warm Brains – Let Down
The Lucid Dream – Love In My Veins
Yuck – Suicide Policeman
Magazine – Hello Mister Curtis (with apologies)

Click here for playlist

Sunday, 11 December 2011

BLUES AND SOUL HEAVENLY BRANCH


The gates of the Blues and Soul Heavenly Branch welcomed two more additions this week.

Hubert Sumlin passed away, aged 80, on Sunday. rarely credited but it was Sumlin’s guitar lines than ran underneath and between Howlin' Wolf’s growl on all those classic Chess sides. Only two weeks ago I posted a clip of the pair performing a mean “Dust My Broom”, which is worth another look.

Dobie Gray ‘s “Out On The Floor” forms an essential part of every northern soul starter kit. I can’t claim to have first heard it at Wigan but I did hear it most Fridays as a fourteen year old at a youth club in Hayes which doubled as a mod night. We’d smuggle in a small bottle of vodka to pour into our cokes; dance to “Out On The Floor” and “The In Crowd”; and then try to negotiate a safe journey home as car loads of casuals drove around looking to beat the shit out of young mods not even old enough to own scooters. Gray died on Tuesday aged 71.

Yesterday, 10th December, marked the 44th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of, amongst others, Otis Redding and members of the Bar-Kays. Listening to Otis Blue I came across the great photograph above.

And finally, on this day in 1964 Sam Cooke was shot dead in a Los Angeles motel. If you've not heard Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963, try it; it'll open your ears to Sam in way his more saccharine pop hits barely hint at.

R.e.s.p.e.c.t. to all four.

Friday, 9 December 2011

ART BRUT at the BULL & GATE, KENTISH TOWN


Art Brut are now four albums in and each time I see them it's in a smaller venue. At this rate I’ll have to move the settee so they can set up in my flat. It only takes Eddie Argos to midway through their second song to reflect on this. “Here we are, playing in the shadow of the Forum. Why aren’t we playing the Forum? When big bands play there they use this as their dressing room.” For those unfamiliar with London venues, the Forum holds about 2000 and the Bull and Gate about 150. In his words they’ve plateaued, adding they don’t do badly enough to stop altogether just not well enough to make any money. “Buy a t-shirt, a comic, anything. I’ve got no money”. When he does a clumsy version of his microphone wire skipping trick he notes “that would’ve been so much better if we were playing the Forum.” None of this is said with any bitterness just an acceptance that things don’t always work out the way you imagine. Even the star of Eddie’s “My Little Brother” is no longer 22 and out of control; he is now 29 and “he’s a teacher!”

If success could be achieved via the strength of live shows alone Art Brut should be bathing in asses’ milk and arriving at gigs by carriages pulled by the NME’s latest starlets. I couldn’t hand on heart recommend all their records but their shows are always nothing less than brilliant. Argos’s comedic monologues during songs are wonderful self-depreciating interludes and the way the others keep up with instant set-list changes in response to audience requests - or Eddie’s whimsy - shows what a tight unit they are. There are no I’ll-go-the-bar-whilst-they-do-this-boring-one moments as everything is kept in full punk racket mode. Personal favourites like the more ambitious “Mysterious Bruises” and “Sealand” never get an airing but that’s a minor issue when they slaughter the classic Brut templates “Formed a Band” and “Modern Art”.

Right, if you numbskulls aren't going to support this band, someone give me a hand with this settee.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

"JACKIE IS A PUNK, JUDY IS A RUNT..."

What songs did they make you sing in school? The earliest ones I remember are Kumbayah and something about a farmer getting his shotgun to kill a rabbit. Seems an odd thing to teach a class of five year olds. This class have been learning English with the help of The Ramones. At least they'll know one song more than most wearing the t-shirt.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

RECORD ENVELOPE – THE LITTLE LIBRARY OF FACTORY SLEEVES


The highlight of last weekend’s Collectionistas exhibition was the back wall filled with a sample of curator Kavel Rafferty’s paper single sleeves; or record envelopes as she more elegantly calls them.

Record collectors love discussing matrix numbers, labels and exotic picture covers with the humble company sleeve usually the poor relation. Kavel’s collection spins that around and puts the focus on the art and design of these neglected treasures.

Check out hundreds of marvellous examples at her site Record Envelope.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

NOVEMBER PICKS


Yes, technically it is late, but I make the rules around here.

1. Lou Millet – “Shorty The Barber” (1956)
If I were a rockabilly on my way to a haircut I‘d play this before setting out.

2. Brother John Sellers – “He’s My Rock” (1959)
The devil didn’t have all the best tunes; the Lord had a fair few good ones Himself.

3. The Contours – “You Hurt Me So” (1963)
When the Motown barrel looks finally scraped clean, things like this surface. Berry Gordy was insistent the Contours stuck to the fast and furious formula that suited their live performances so this sumptuous mid-tempo magic has, incredibly, sat gathering dust for 48 years before being unveiled on Dance with the Contours.

4. Ronnie Milsap – “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” (1966)
If you’re searching for the lesser-spotted country/northern soul hybrid – look no further than this cotton-picking talc botherer.

5. The Buzzcocks – “Love You More” (1978)
Proof a perfect pop song needn’t be a second over one minute forty five.

6. Crass – “Nagasaki Nightmare” (1981)
The elaborate foldout sleeve is crammed with terrifying accounts from Nagasaki and the record itself is no less chilling. The same sleeve boldly states “PAY NO MORE THAN 99p”, yet those capitalist pigs in Reckless Records charged me four quid. Come the revolution…

7. Tom Waits – “Shore Leave” (1983)
Monkey Snr would attempt to play Swordfishtrombones in the family home when I were a lad. It wasn’t a popular choice. “Daaaaad, we’d sooner listen to Charlie Parker than this!” But, somewhat belatedly, I gotta hand it to the fella; it’s a cracking album.

8. J Mascis – “Listen To Me” (2011)
I wanna come home one morning, smashed out of my head, to find Mascis and Evan Dando sat on my sofa playing guitars and singing stuff like this. Until then, Mascis's Several Shades Of Why will suffice.

9. Pocketbooks – “Harbour Lights” (2011)
As their name suggests, London indiepoppers Pocketbooks are wordy souls, who come dangerously close to tripping over themselves as they crowbar pop-culture references into their lovelorn tales. Here Swing Out Sister get a mention, as do “East Coast 45s in their polythene sleeves”.

10. Gruff Rhys – “Slashed Wrists This Christmas” (2011)
It’s a shame Gruff’s woozy tune mentions Christmas as this misery deserves to be heard all year round.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

HOWLIN' WOLF - "DUST MY BROOM" (1966)

Here comes the Wolf. Hope you enjoy it as much as Son House appears to.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

CROSSFIRE ALLNIGHTER PLAYLIST


The latest Crossfire allnighter down by Great Portland Street was a few weeks back but was so good it’s worth a belated mention. As soon as the R&B room opened at 11.30pm people hit the floor and stayed there, making it a pleasure and a breeze to DJ. I even managed to play close to what I’d planned; that seldom happens so was testament to the dancers who were up for a few less familiar 45s mixed in with classic gems. This is what they got from me.

The Pacesetters – The Monkey Whip (Correc-Tone)
The Downbeats – Request of a Fool (Tamla)
Little Bob – I Got Loaded (La Louisianne)
Jimmy Bell – What’cha Gonna Do About Me (Hickory)
King Coleman – Loo-Key Doo-Key (Dade)
Dyke & The Blazers – Shotgun Slim (Original Sound)
James Spencer – In-Law Trouble (Taurus)
Chicago Cubs Clark St. Band – Slide (Chess)
The Dippers – Goin’ Ape (Diplomacy)
Eddie Holland – Baby Shake (Motown)
Reuben Phillips – High-Low (Ascot)
Jimmy McCracklin – Susie and Pat (Ant-Tone)
Mr. Wiggles – Fat Back (Parkway)
Leon Austin – Turn Me Loose (King)
Ronnie Milsap – A Thousand Miles From Nowhere (Scepter)
Walkin’ Willie – If You Just Woulda Said Goodbye (RSVP)
Lonnie Hewitt – You Gotta Git (Fantasy)
Alder Ray – My Heart Is In Danger (Minit)
Jimmy Merchant – Skin The Cat (Bo-Mar)

Big Maybelle – Do Lord (Brunswick)
Ray Charles – Sticks and Stones (ABC-Paramount)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
Lloyd Price – Who Coulda Told You (ABC-Paramount)
The Gardenias – What’s The Matter With Me (Fairline)
Bobby Peterson Quartet – Mama Get your Hammer (V-Tone)
Freddy King – Now I’ve Got A Woman (Federal)
Buddy Guy – I Dig Your Wig (Chess)
Dick Holler – Mooba Grooba (Comet)
Marion James – I’m The Woman For You (K&J)
Aretha Franklin – Tighten Up Your Tie (Columbia)
Sylvia Robbins – Don’t Let Your Eyes Get Bigger Than Your Heart (Sue)
Jesse Pearson – I Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (RCA Victor)
Dorie Williams – Tell Me Everything You Know (635)
Roy Roberts – Got To Have Your Love (Ninandy)
Rufus Thomas – Turn Your Damper Down (Stax)
Eddie Bo – Dinky Doo (Ric)

Monday, 21 November 2011

ADAM ANT at THE TROXY, EAST LONDON


You can blame Adam Ant for Monkey Picks. He started me off. The first album I ever bought was Kings of The Wild Frontier, from Woolworth’s in Uxbridge, February 1981. I was twelve years old and hadn’t paid much attention to music until seeing him and his Ants on Top of The Tops, twirling around bare chested, drop kicking, and yodelling a cockney apache war cry. Soon after, coming back from a school trip to the Royal Tournament, I managed to instigate the back half of the coach into collectively drumming out the title track on their thighs.

From then, music and collecting records became an obsession and I got hold of his earlier album Dirk Wears White Sox and a couple of pre-Kings singles: “Young Parisians” and “Xerox”. It would suit my purpose here to say I preferred those punkier records but I’m not sure I did. I found them strange and disturbing but when the DJ at the school disco asked for requests it was their B-sides “Lady” (about a naked woman, “I had a good look at her crack”) and “Whip In My Valise” (“Who taught you to torture?”) that I asked for. “I don’t play B-sides” said the snooty DJ. “But they’re better”, I stated in the most petulant what-sort-of-idiot-are-you voice I could muster.

By October I’d bought my first Jam record and for a short time Adam stared out of one eye (he had a patch on the other) from one bedroom wall to The Jam on the other. But then Adam came down for another Jam poster-magazine purchase and was diddley qa qa-ed to the dustbin of childhood fads; untouched for thirty years until I gave Kings a spin six months ago, and Dirk last week. I didn’t appreciate how good an album Dirk Wears White Sox is as a kid. Now it sounds darker and more sordid than I remember it. It was one hell of a leap from playing those songs to a bunch of sexcases in gimp masks one year to having coach loads of kids beating out your rhythms and writing to Jim’ll Fix It the next.

In recent years the only occasions his name has come up has been after his long-standing mental health problems have surfaced. A friend used to love telling me the one about his mate, the market stall, the gun, and a pub full of people singing “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” to tip an already antagonised Ant over the edge. But he is making something of a comeback, certainly as far as performing goes.

Without fanfare, his new band, The Good The Mad and The Lovely, hit the opening sustained chords of “Plastic Surgery”. Adam wanders on. It can only be him even though his head and face are hidden beneath a large admiral’s hat, some bandanas, what looks like false hair, a moustache, blue and brown war paint, and a big pair of black rimmed spectacles. The choice of song, dating back to 1977 and Jubilee, turns out to be a good indication of what follows. He may have rummaged in his dressing up box for a familiar yet now-too-small hussar jacket but it’s his pre-TOTP era he plunders the most, much to the delight of an audience of old and new punks, goths, people in rubber, flamboyant weirdos and fetish freaks. Oh, and at least three mods. It takes a few songs for his voice to warm up and understandably he's lost a little grace with his heavier movements. He carries the unmistakable vibe of someone whose switch is on the blink; it’s uncomfortable yet compelling. There’s a palpable sense that anything could happen; that he could snap at any time. I’m not convinced that should be served as entertainment but it added an extra layer of edginess and as time went on we both began to relax.

I’ve mixed feelings about the band (guitar, bass, two drummers) as they replaced the taut energy of the early songs (“Cartrouble”, “Cleopatra”, “Zerox”, “Physical”, “Kick”, “Never Trust A Man With Egg On His Face” etc) with a slight heavy-metal sludge, yet it helped beef up the songs I didn’t recognise but having since listened to the originals versions I must say they improved them. The disappointing lack of glamour in his choice of dull session men was abated by the introduction of a two young ladies for “Deutscher Girls”. They came and went through the evening, each time reappearing with fewer clothes until down to their smalls. And guess what? He even sang “Lady” (best song of the night) and “Whip In My Valise”. Wonder what that school disco DJ is doing now, huh?

Of course he does the hits too, but we can excuse him for that. I still think “Kings of The Wild Frontier” is an amazing, unique sounding record and “Puss In Boots” nothing short of utter bollocks but it was a very well chosen set that stretched to an hour and three quarters with rarely a wasted moment.

A new album is allegedly forthcoming early next year. It is entitled - wait for it - Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter. It’ll be the first new Adam Ant record I’ll have bought for thirty years.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

MONKEY USA PART 4: STAX, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE


“Can you take me to Stax please?” Best sentence I’ve ever said to a cab driver. “Sorry sir, I’m not a taxi.” He was driving a something called a medical transportation vehicle. So, if you were in a Memphis hospital last month waiting for a new kidney, I apologise for the delay.

It did mean I got to say it again before we travelled the couple of miles from the tourist drinking dens of Beale Street to across the tracks to the noticeably non-tourist area of East McLemore Avenue. Funky part of town is the white boy euphemism for a poor black neighbourhood where it wouldn’t be advised to wander around alone. I hate saying things like this as it casts aspersions on the folk there, who – like anywhere – will consist of the friendly and not-so-friendly. The vast majority of Memphis people we met couldn’t have been nicer. However, had Mrs Monkey and I walked this particularly residential route we wouldn’t have looked more out of place had we been wearing Beefeater uniforms and whistling God Save The Queen. And quite frankly, if I were looking for an easy target, I’d pick on us. For a start, nobody in Memphis walks anywhere. It is eerie to walk streets so deserted. On the occasions you do see somebody they are immediately conspicuous. Later we’d walk a few blocks from Beale Street to the Lorraine Motel, the scene of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination and now home to the National Civil Rights Museum (an extremely uncomfortable and moving experience) and the only person we saw was a toothless dude on a bike harassing us for money. I never fathomed how people got around as there were never many cars either. Maybe the locals have exclusive use of a series of underground tunnels. When the cabby dropped us off at Stax he said not to wander from the front of the building. He needn’t have wasted his breath, we weren’t going anywhere.

Back in 1959 Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton transformed a tired theatre on the corner of E. McLemore Avenue and College Street into the Satellite record shop, recording studio and label that would become Stax. The rest, you know. After Stax went bankrupt in 1975 the building went to ruin. Published in 1997 Rob Bowman’s Soulville USA, the definitive account of the label, ends on a sour note. The final page reading, “Tragically, in 1988 the Stax building was torn down. What should have been a national historic site remains in the late 1990s an empty field containing rubbish and junkie needles. It’s a disgrace, and speaks volumes regarding Memphis’s treatment of its African-American heritage.”

A disgrace indeed but Bowman can now have no complaints after a multi-million dollar investment as produced a tremendous turnaround. Stax – the name and the building - has been rebuilt on the same spot; the façade to the design of the original building, and houses the Museum of American Soul Music. Next door stands the Stax Music Academy, a non-profit organisation which uses “music education as a tool to enrich the lives of potentially at-risk children”. There's soul power, right there.

It’s difficult to fault the museum. Unlike other museum tours on our trip, this one was self-guided. It was huge; packed with over 2000 exhibits within a modern, well designed space. It starts with a short film about Stax beginnings, heyday and resurrection. Although not made too long ago it was noticeable how many artists have since passed away. The scale of the exhibition can be demonstrated by the first area which centres on an old wooden chapel that stood in the Mississippi Delta for over a hundred years. They didn’t just recreate Hoopers A.M.E. Chapel; they picked it up and dropped it here. With a gospel soundtrack playing and video archives around the outer walls, it firmly establishes the roots of soul in the church.

From there in, it’s a chronological story. It makes reference to non-Stax artists from James Brown and Aretha Franklin to the Motown stable and Memphis neighbours at Hi, but its focus is on its own acts, with the higher profile ones each afforded their own display of records, photos, instruments and personal items: Rufus Thomas’s funky boots, Mavis Staples’s dress, Otis Redding’s suede jacket, a suit belonging to Sam or Dave, but the most jaw dropping belongs to Isaac Hayes. Much is made of Stax being the perfect embodiment of racial harmony but after the death of Otis Redding, the assignation of King, and driven on by the new leadership of Al Bell, they became a potent symbol of Black Power. Nothing demonstrated power more than wealth and success and Hayes’s peacock blue 1972 Cadillac El Dorado pimp machine, trimmed with real gold and lined with white fur, with a television in the front and a bar in back, portrayed that in a most ostentatious manner. I’m not one for cars, but this was a sho’ nuff afro turner.

In keeping with the attention to detail spent on the exterior, Studio A has been rebuilt to the exact specifications of the original using previous blueprints, photos and surviving memories. I’d estimate the combined studios of Motown, Chess and Sun would fit within these four walls on this carpeted floor. Again true to the original it had been built on a slope (remember this started life as a theatre) with the raised control room where the stage had been. Set up ready to record another smash was the house band's equipment featuring Al Jackson’s drum kit, Steve Cropper’s guitar and amp, Duck Dunn’s bass combo, Wayne Jackson's trumpet, and the Hammond organ Booker T. used on – amongst other things - “Green Onions”.

There was also the “Hall of Records” which displayed hundreds of album sleeves (loads I’d never seen before) and walls filled with, possibly complete sets, of the blue “falling records” single releases and the yellow “fingersnap” ones. When all said and done, it’s the music that matters. It’s great to see where it was created, to see the stage outfits, to read the stories, to pay tribute, but you can’t put the sound, the feeling, the spirit, the emotion, the soul that comes out of those 7 inch pieces of vinyl into a museum. The subject matter alone makes the Stax Museum of American Soul Music the best museum I’ve been to; it’s as good as it gets, but nothing beats the music itself.

Next stop: Sun Records.


Monday, 14 November 2011

COLLECTIONISTAS at THE MILL CO. PROJECT, SATURDAY 26th NOVEMBER 2011


Those of an artistic persuasion and within reach of the Bethnal Green/South Hackney border may be interested in this forthcoming Risograph print exhibition, featuring 25 posters by collectors, artists, photographers and designers.

Here’s our good friend and curator, Kavel Rafferty, with some words of enticement.

“I love the obsession inherent in collecting. The completist, whether finding that all-important last football sticker to finish their sticker book or one of those committed men (more often than not) standing on a rainy platform furtively scribbling down train numbers. The amateur hobbyist, complete with vast selection of frogs/bottle tops/records/paper fruit wrappers/tram tickets/ whatever; I always admired those kids at school who had a million different shaped and coloured erasers (they were called rubbers then, before Aids)... I loved their dedication and their neatness and I got dizzy just trying to imagine how much pocket money they got... It's all valid!

There something religious about this devotion. It´s repetitive, inspiring and, well, ultimately pointless. Long live the anoraks!”

In keeping with the theme, records will be played by “connoisseur record collectors” including yours truly playing a MonkeyPicks melting pot from 1-2pm plus Niamh Lynch, Alan Handscombe, Will Bourton and others such as Jeff Barrett of Heavenly Records, or as I like to think of him, The Man Who Signed Manic Street Preachers and Released The Greatest Record Of All Time Motown Junk.

Come join us for a Saturday afternoon drink.

Collectionistas takes place at The Mill Co. Project, Lime Wharf, Vyner Street, London, E2 from noon until 7pm. Nearest tube Bethnal Green. Admission free.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

THE STAPLE SINGERS - "WADE IN THE WATER" (1968)

In the world of blogging, everything is the best thing since the last best thing. This is no exception.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

MONKEY USA PART 3: MOTOWN RECORDS, DETROIT, MICHIGAN


Of all the places in the world I wanted to go, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Detroit. If you believe what some people say, Detroit is best avoided. It certainly has earned a reputation and it’s not now for its motor industry or Berry Gordy’s assembly line of hit records. But a pilgrimage to one clapperboard house that stands at 2468 Grand West Boulevard has been top of my wants list for as long as I can remember.

The train journey from Chicago to Detroit took longer than the scheduled five and a half hours as it crawled through the likes of New Buffalo and the wonderfully named Kalamazoo, which sits bang in the middle of the two cities. Most places looked small, suburban, with lots of little detached houses proudly waving Old Glory from a flag pole on the front lawn. That’s until you reach the outskirts of Detroit. The difference is as immediate as it is shocking. Fortunately I’ve never been in the remains of a war zone but that’s how these deserted streets with empty, vandalised, burnt out buildings appeared.

People are leaving the city in their droves. Twenty-five percent of the population have left over the last decade and almost a million since Gordy began his Motown Empire in 1959. According to The Economist, “Those who are left are likely to be the poorest, least-skilled and so least mobile. Only 11% of Detroiters aged between 25 and 34 has a college degree; in Seattle, the equivalent figure is 63%. Around 50% of the city’s adult black males are unemployed, and 38% of all Detroiters live below the poverty line.” The problems that create are obvious. Our waitress later in the day would, with a detectable hint of pride, claim Detroit was the second most dangerous city in America and not to go anywhere on foot.

If I was prepared for that bleak scenario I wasn’t prepared for Detroit train station. I was thinking it’d be a busy station yet it’s a tiny two platform affair. It could’ve been any stop tucked away at either end of the Central Line. I also thought there would be plenty of taxis not only one, hell bent on scooping up as many passengers as he could. Could he take me and Mrs Monkey to Motown? “Moo-tun?” he says. No, Mo-town. “Mar-tan?” No, Motown Records. The Motown Museum. Hitsville USA. Dancing In The Street. “You have address?” Incredibly, a cabby in Detroit had never heard of it. Even when supplied with the address he looked totally bemused but that didn’t stop him scooping up an Austrian couple and squashing them in with us. They wanted a completely different destination and direction and despite Mr. Cabby’s promise to drive there afterwards they looked terrified by the prospect. It wasn’t like they had much choice.

A few minutes later – out of the blue - we were there. Motown’s headquarters and home to Studio A, the building Gordy named Hitsville USA. It looked wonderfully familiar, the same as in every picture, frozen in time: white structure, blue signage, and small strips of green lawn out front where the Miracles, the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and all the other magnificent lesser known artists would take a breather from recording the Sound of Young America and hang out amongst friends. The building is pretty and picturesque but because of how it looks in photographs I’ve always imagined it on a quiet residential street, maybe it once was, but it’s in fact on a busy unattractive main road and now untypical of its neighbours.

In through the door marked Studio A, past the small gift shop on the left, and down a short narrow corridor leading to the tour kiosk. We missed the start and after getting the lift up one floor the door opened into the main museum area where a dozen people were listening to an excited guide. I’ll call him Eivets Rednow. He explained how Berry Gordy needed a family loan of $800 to start his label and how Marv Johnson’s “Come To Me” was the first release on Tamla, the first of his many labels under the Motown umbrella. We heard how Gordy swiftly worked his way onto his first national hit, courtesy of Barrett Strong. Eivets Rednow breaks into song. “The best things in life are free, you can give them to the birds and bees…” He starts clapping his hands, and saying he can’t hear us. “I want money, that’s, what I want.” This set the tone for the tour: all singing and clapping and audience participation. I could feel myself and Mrs Monkey mentally moonwalking back to the lift.

We worked our way, as a group, around the room filled with records, photographs, tour posters and other promotional material displayed in glass cases whilst Eivets gave a thumbnail account of the Motown Story. With such a wealth of talent, for all the hits and misses, it was interesting to see which artists were afforded more space in the exhibits and the tour narration. The Supremes, for all their stature, scored lower than I predicted; the Four Tops were lucky to have their photo in a shared collage; whilst Marvin Gaye would’ve felt vindicated to get top billing with three complete cabinets to himself and Eivets bursting into Pop Idol versions of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Sexual Healing”.

When Berry Gordy bought the premises he had a clear idea how he envisaged his operation to work: he would live upstairs, have his offices downstairs, and would convert the garage into a recording studio. All of which we see. His living area was kitted out with a mix of his own items and period pieces but it’s when the tour moves downstairs that we are spookily transported back to the early 60s. The reception area and desk where Martha Reeves worked as a secretary is there; a leather sofa where artists would wait is positioned just inside the front door reserved for the elite few; Gordy’s office has a memo pinned to the noticeboard from 1965 warning employees that card games are forbidden until after 6pm; a room filled with master tapes overlooks a candy machine stocked with Stevie Wonder’s favourite bar - fifth button from the right - so he always knew where it was; and there’s the control room complete with the original three-track mixing desk. Visitors were forbidden from taking photographs so I can't show you the evidence.

Standing in the doorway of Studio A – the Snakepit as the Funk Brothers named it – and walking down the few steps into it was a once in a lifetime hairs-on-the-back-the-neck moment. Even Eivets shut up as we silently sucked in the moment. It felt like entering a church. It smelt old and musty and damp. It felt cramped squeezed in amongst the instruments and equipment but here it was. Here was the Motown Sound. Here was “This Old Heart of Mine”. Here was open for 24 hours a day between 1959-1972, recording the greatest collection of music ever to come from one studio. Earlier we’d seen the echo chamber where handclaps and backing vocals were recorded (echo chamber is a grand description of a hole and microphone in the ceiling to create a reverb effect) and presently we’d see the room where the horns where recorded, but this was it. Soul Mecca. There were no flat concrete walls; it was all warm timber angles, soaked with sweat and soul. Amazing.

Now, what would have taken this to another level would’ve been to have some big Motown hits pumped through the studio PA. To hear the snap of Benny Benjamin's snare, the rumble of James Jamerson's bass, to hear Levi soar, or Smokey sing. But no. Eivets lined up the girls and made them curtsey and throw some Supremes shapes. I couldn’t look at Mrs Monkey as felt her obvious discomfort and waited instead for the tables to turn. Us boys had to sing “My Girl” and do The Temptation Walk. In the privacy of my flat I happily dance around like David Ruffin – I could’ve been Motown’s great white hope - but this was embarrassing as I performed a half arsed left to right to left shuffle and mumbled something about the month of May. A couple of my fellow Tempts didn’t share my English reserve.

We can now claim to have sung and danced in Studio A. Berry Gordy might not have signed us but what he gave was more than enough. A dream come true.

Next stop: Stax.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

MOVEMBER SPAWNED A MONSTER


I’ve not done charity fundraising before. You'll never find me running a marathon or climbing three mountains before teatime but I reckon I can grow a dashing moustache during the month of November. Sorry, Movember.

So please support my David Crosby growing efforts and the 10,000 men who will die of prostate cancer and the more than 2,000 men who will be diagnosed with testicular cancer this year.

This all I’m gonna say. You didn’t come on here for the sound of me rattling my tin. If you wanna know more and/or feel like chucking in a few quid, the full details are at http://mobro.co/markraison.

Thank you. Here’s Morrissey...

Monday, 31 October 2011

SHAM 69 at ELECTRIC BRIXTON


The reformed Sham 69 (1977-79 line up) far exceeded my - admittedly low - expectations on Saturday by turning in a fiery set. I’ve never taken their cartoonish yobbery very seriously, always considered them a bit of a comedy band, but they set about themselves with an admirable lack of cabaret and bashed out a surprisingly credible show.

A lean, mean, mop-headed Jimmy Pursey remains a captivating ringleader, directing the overweight, follically-challenged crowd at will, and Dave Parsons, Dave Tregunna and Mark Cain played with such bristling intensity it altered my opinion of the group. Songs I’d previously thought weak sounded stronger, full of energy, and sat comfortably alongside the boisterous anthems. If this had been a new band with these songs they’d have rave reviews splattered everywhere. The Vaccines should’ve been taking notes.

Reformed acts can do one of three things with their reputation: tarnish it, preserve it, enhance it. Few manage that last one. Sham did for me. Comedy? Cabaret? The Cockney Kids Are Innocent.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

OCTOBER PICKS


This month's turntable favourites.

1. Elvis Presley – “Little Sister” (1961)
Seeing how I pottered about his gaff this month (very nice it was too) it’s only fair to let the old hound dog have his day.

2. Lonnie Hewitt – “You Gotta Git” (1966)
This stick of dancefloor dynamite comes at ya like a super-charged Ramsey Lewis/Ray Charles love-in.

3. Leon Austin – “Turn Me Loose” (1969)
A James Brown production, and apart from the wonky horns, played with a straighter soul bat than JB usually used himself.

4. Neil MacArthur – “World Of Glass” (1969)
Better known as Colin Blunstone from the Zombies, this is equal, or even greater than, anything from Odessey and Oracle; it’s that special.

5. Muddy Waters – “Crosseyed Cat” (1977)
From the album Hard Again where Muddy’s mojo was most certainly rising.

6. Pulp – “Something Changed” (1994)
You had to be there. Maybe you were.

7. Thurston Moore – “Benediction” (2011)
If this opening track from Demolished Thoughts was a season, it would be autumn; in the same way all Nick Drake’s records are autumn.

8. The Silver Factory – “The Sun Shines Over You” (2011)
I’ve championed these jangle merchants for a while so I’m delighted Elefant Records have finally released it on an excellent new limited edition EP. Snap one up quick before they go.

9. Comet Gain – “An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls” (2011)
The best titled single of the year, and the song isn’t too shabby either.

10. The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy” (2011)
Oh yeah! Go listen to this and watch the video. I taught him all his moves you know.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

MONKEY USA PART 2: CHESS RECORDS, CHICAGO, ILLINIOS


In his autobiography, Keith Richards calls 2120 South Michigan Avenue hallowed ground. He and other Stones love telling how when they arrived in June ’64 to record in the footsteps of their idols, Buddy Guy was there to greet them, Willie Dixon too, Muddy Waters – they claim – was painting the ceiling and helped lug their gear out of the van and up the stairs into the studio. Etta James was no doubt fixing them up something in the kitchen.

Since 1990 the site of Chess Records has been designated an official Chicago landmark, and since 1993 home to the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation. When we turn up around midday we weren’t afforded such a welcome. The glass front revelled little of what’s inside and the place looked empty, so we rang the bell. After a while a man languidly comes to the door. I worry we’ve got him out of bed. His name turns out to be Kevin although we didn’t know that at the time. Didn’t know who or what he was. He picks the post off the floor and asks “you here for the tour?” Yeah, is that alright?

He leads us into a room with a desk and some mugs and t-shirts on display. It would stretch things to call it a gift shop. “You musicians?” he asks. Now, whenever I’m asked this, I always take it as a compliment but it’s not really is it? In my head all musicians look like The Action in ’66, The Stones in Green Park, the house bands of Motown and Stax, the dudes on Blue Note sleeves, where in reality, most are lucky to play a regular pub gig and inevitably wear a faded tour t-shirt and jeans that don't fit properly. “No, but I DJ in London and play old rhythm and blues records including, of course, loads of Chess stuff”. This was the second night in a row I’d thrown in the DJ line and felt myself squirm with uneasy self-consciousness saying it, but in my defence it was to (a) demonstrate we knew why we were here and (b) hope to engage Kevin in some conversation. It didn’t work. He said something about costing us $10 each and watching a video. We paid up.

He led us upstairs to a room filled with stackable plastic chairs and sat us in front of a big television and put a well-worn VHS cassette into the video player. “You watch this and when it’s finished I’ll come back and answer any questions.” With that he was gone. Looking around it was apparent we were in what was once the main recording studio of Chess. There wasn’t much beyond the white pegboard walls to give this impression but the big control room window in front of us gave it away. The video whirred into action and started to play a documentary called Sweet Home Chicago. It told of the blues, Chicago and Chess. It was probably made in the early 90s and was all right. It set the scene. But it went on. And on. We had no idea when it would end. Maybe it was a full 90 minute feature film? It was like watching BBC4 on a Friday night minus the bottle of wine and packet of Twiglets. There we were, sat alone, in the room where hundreds of amazing R&B and soul numbers were wrung from the sweat of incredible musicians; watching the telly.

After about an hour it finished and Kevin popped back. “Any questions?” Er, about the film or Chess in general? “Whatever you want.” I take it this was the studio? It was, and the control room was indeed the other side of the glass, and at the back the two rooms were the audition and rehearsal rooms. How long did Chess use it? Kevin said right up until 1969 when Leonard Chess died. The plaque outside said 1967 when I’ve read they moved to larger premises. Can we have a look around? “Sure, I’ll go back downstairs, come down when you’re ready. Take as many pictures as you want”.

It was difficult to get much sense of what recording in that room was like. It was now simply a rectangular room, high ceiling, with flat walls, and an old piano in the corner. There’s a distinctive echo to Chess records; an open, sparse feel. I tried to hear Little Walter’s harmonica in the walls, feel the stomp of Chuck Berry’s duck walk across the floor. It was difficult. The two back rooms contained some items of memorabilia but nothing much to write about: Dixon’s jacket and hat, KoKo Taylor’s dress, a few guitars, records and various odds and sods. The control room contained a couple of ancient pieces of recording equipment. One, bizarrely, was perched in a metal serving tray on top a wooden cross frame. I’ve no idea whether these were from the original control room or put there for illustrative purposes.

Back downstairs Kevin was sat behind his desk. When asked what the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation is, he came to life and passionately explained how it was set up at Dixon’s request, to educate blues musicians about the music business, to help those who needed assistance in understanding contracts and the legal implications of what they had signed, to help find work and act as intermediaries when third-parties were looking for performers, to help those in trouble etc. “Musicians are artistic people. They need to be free to create. They can’t do that when dealing with contracts they know nothing about”. It was good to hear. He also admitted that they more or less keep the upstairs open for fans to come along, just so they can say they’ve been before getting on a roll about the standard of blues clubs in the city. We mention we went to Buddy Guy’s club and met him. “What was he like?” I think he’d had a few drinks. Was quite sweary. “That’s Buddy. But what were the chances of that? Back in the day, you could see Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon; they all lived here and played here. In those days you had to reach a certain level before they’d even let you in those clubs. Now they put on anything just for the tourists”.

As we leave the buzzer goes. Kevin lets in a couple of fellas. “You musicians?”

Next stop: Motown.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

MONKEY USA PART 1: BUDDY GUY'S LEGENDS CLUB, CHICAGO, ILLINIOS


Chicago likes to call itself the Home of the Blues, even if there aren’t too many bluesmen left at home. Buddy Guy moved to the Windy City in 1957, started cutting records as a session man for Chess in 1959, and is still doggedly keeping the blues alive with his own club, Buddy Guy’s Legends, situated at 700 South Wabash in the studenty part of the South Loop area.

The first things you notice as you approach the club are the large blue and white checker mosaics on the outside wall depicting the likes of John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. Inside, it’s much how you’d expect, with photos, memorabilia and signed guitars hung on plain brickwork. It’s not dissimilar to a better equipped 100 Club with its wide but narrow layout and a bar at both ends and a low stage in the middle.

Me and Mrs Monkey popped in for a look on a lunch time and ended up eating catfish tenders, bourbon shrimp and having friendly locals offering us drinks. None of which is ever likely to happen on London’s Oxford Street. There were a couple of blokes on stage performing for the handful in there and luckily for them I didn’t catch their names. They did an atrocious version of “Goodnight Irene” - not that there has ever been a good version of that hideous song – and some other faux blues like every tin pot bus station busker from here to Timbuktu thinks is acceptable to pass off to the ill-informed or cloth-eared. It did though make us think that it would be a good venue to see someone half-decent.

So we went back that evening and Jimmy Johnson, a long standing Chicago blues guitarist and brother of Syl Johnson (got a couple of his singles tucked away somewhere), was on stage playing Junior Wells’ “Little By Little”. He had a cool laid back soul-blues style about him. Neat playing: nothing too showy, no face twisting histrionics. We stood at the bar with a beer and dug him. “Don’t turn around but I think that’s Buddy Guy behind us,” says Mrs Monk. I naturally turn around immediately and there’s a dude in the corner wearing a hat, blue smock, slouched on his stool, nursing a drink and chatting to a lady friend. We couldn’t get a proper look of his face but if he wasn’t Buddy he had the unmistakable look of being somebody. Not that we waited long for confirmation, it was him all right, as he soon climbed stage to hold court. You know in Raging Bull when Jake La Motta’s boxing career is over and he opens his own nightclub and drunkenly chats to the audience? It was a bit like that. I’ve no idea what got him on to the subject but he told how when he and Junior Wells arrived in Chicago (“you remember this too Jimmy”) the entire Chess crowd called them motherfuckers. “We thought it was our name,” he says, effortlessly breaking the Richard Pryor record for most motherfuckers and shits in a ten minute spell, only interrupted by singing his way through a couple of blues vamps. He also railed against the lack of blues played on the radio and how he keeps the club open as that’s the only way folk get to hear the blues in the city. Unfortunately he didn’t pull a guitar from the wall before the band went into the interval and he went into a photo and signing session by the club entrance.

It wasn’t possible to engage him in much chat but he was gracious in having his picture taken (one had to give their camera to his burly security guy to do the honours) and I did manage to tell him how I and others play his “I Dig Your Wig” single in clubs around Europe. It’s a popular tune. He pauses for a moment as if wondering what the earth I’m on about before a flicker of recognition hits his face. “Man, that’s from waaay back”. We shake hands. It’s a great moment. For me anyway.

Back in the main part of the club Jimmy Johnson was sat by himself with a coffee. He’d almost been upstaged at his own gig so we took the table next to him and asked him how he was doing. He said he was bit bored, which wasn’t the kind of answer we were expecting, but would be okay once he got back on stage. Jimmy turned out to be a lovely bloke and seemingly happy to chat to us. He said he’d been a professional musician since 1959. “What’s that been like? Bet there’s been some ups and downs?” I said, unaware that in 1988 his band’s van came off the road killing his bassist and keyboard player. It was hardly the right time for him to mention that horrible incident, and he struck a very positive note instead. “I been all around the world and I ain’t never bought no plane ticket.” I asked him about Buddy’s cussing; did everyone really call each other motherfucker? “Sure, that’s just how we spoke. We all call each other nigger too, like ‘hey nigger, how ya doing?’ Just how it was, don’t mean nothin’. Except say if you say it, there might be some meaning behind it. You know what I’m sayin’?” I knew what he was saying.

Jimmy asked where we were from and so told him London and that we got married on Saturday. When a man of 82, married for nearly fifty years, offers you advice, you listen. To me he says “you gotta learn to say ‘yes dear’” and to Mrs Monk he says “you’ve got to remember it’s we not me”. He also offered us advice about looking after ourselves when we travel to Detroit, and when back on stage he dedicated a couple of Motown songs to us, thoughtfully doing “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Get Ready”.

It’s hard to imagine how a night out looking for the blues in Chicago in 2011 could’ve been any better. Next stop: Chess Records.

Friday, 21 October 2011

COMET GAIN at the SILVER BULLET, FINSBURY PARK


I bought a Comet Gain record in 1996, “Say Yes! (To International Socialism)”, and then not another until this year’s Howl of The Lonely Crowd, which gets a lot of action in Monkey Mansions. Any band who name a song the same as I named my goldfish - Herbert Huncke - is all right with me. I’ve no idea why I lost fifteen years but I'm gonna enjoy catching up. They were good last night; hanging a poetic lyric on a resolutely ramshackle and wonky beat. You'll find more polish in QPR's trophy cabinet - which is how it should be. They were thoroughly nice folk too, giving me their fab new single ("An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls") and chatting about The Left Banke.

I was on record duty, and as it was a gig rather than club meant my role was that of human jukebox, albeit a slightly self-indulgent one. These got pulled from the box:

The Impressions – Meeting Over Yonder (1965)
Arthur – Garnish Fantasy (1993)
High Priests – Baby Diamond Mind (2007)
The Choir – It’s Cold Outside (1967)
The Ronettes – Do I Love You? (1964)
Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country (2006)
The Lemonheads – Galveston (1997)
The Silver Factory – The Sun Shines Over You (2011)
The Left Banke – I Haven’t Got The Nerve (1966)
The Lovely Eggs – Watermelons (2011)
Dinosaur Jr. – Freak Scene (1988)
The Who – Doctor, Doctor (1967)
The Action – Twentyfourth Hour (1967)
Johnny Cash – The Lady Came From Baltimore (1974)
Hank Williams – I Can’t Get You Off My Mind (1951)
Love – Alone Again Or (1967)
Slim Harpo – I Need Money (1964)
Ko Ko Taylor – Wang Dang Doodle (1966)
Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street (1965)
Pete Molinari – It Came Out Of The Wilderness (2008)
Maurice and the Radiants – Baby You’ve Got It (1966)
Mark Markham and the Jesters – Marlboro Country (1966)
Mouse and the Traps – Cryin’ Inside (1968)
The Horrors – Count In Fives (2006)
Betty Lavett – Witchcraft In The Air (1963)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

CROSSFIRE ALLNIGHTER, SATURDAY 22nd OCTOBER 2011


The latest Crossfire allnighter is on Saturday and although you wouldn't know it from the selective flyer above it features a live performance by 60's UK psych sensations July. If you don't own their eponymous 1968 LP, you really need to remedy that fact. I'll be spinning some tunes in the R&B room later.

Doors open at 2030, July are on at 2200, and it'll cost you £15 with admission to the allnighter after the band. If you miss the band and come after eleven the price drops to £12.

Monday, 17 October 2011

IDLE FRET OXJAM BENEFIT, LONDON, THURSDAY 20th OCTOBER 2011


If you're free in London Town this coming Thursday you could do a lot worse than get along to the Silver Bullet opposite Finsbury Park tube for an Oxjam benefit show put on by Idle Fret Records. Certainly looks an interesting mix of bands and DJs (Comet Gain, Pete Wiggs etc). I'll be playing a few records early doors and seeing as how I'm listed with reference to Monkey Picks it'll be a ragbag mixture of 45s that kinda encompass what you get on here. They may regret uttering the words "play whatever you like". Should be good fun and certainly good value for a fiver or so.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

ON THE ROAD


Monkey Picks is on the road. Will be back shortly with a whole bunch of new stories for y'all. S'laters.

Friday, 30 September 2011

SEPTEMBER PLAYLIST


A selection of tunes from Monkey Mansions.

1. Champion Jack Dupree – “Drunk Again” (1954)
He might’ve been the one sounding sloshed and high but it was Jack’s woman who - with a face like an old sea hag - was so drunk from December to July she couldn’t remember a thing.

2. Jimmy Merchant – “Skin The Cat” (1965)
Go skin a cat – hit it with a bat. Meow!” It’s a good job our cat is deaf.

3. The Zombies – “What More Can I Do” (1965)
There’s more to the Zombies than Odyssey and Oracle. Check out Rod Argent pre-dating a Ray Manzarek style keyboard solo on this from the terrific Live at The BBC collection.

4. Jimmy Witherspoon – “I Gotta Girl (Who Lives On The Hill)” (1966)
The Spoon backed by the crème of UK jazzers (Morrissey, South, Seamen and Bates), dishes up a dollop of Joe Turner’s staple tune with, according to the sleeve notes on Spoon Sings ‘n’ Swings, “a smoking hot freshness”. Monkey Snr was there at the Bull’s Head on the night this was recorded. I can feel the breeze of his nodding head at the bar and faint echoes of “Oh yeah” ripple through my speakers.

5. Jake Thackray – “Lah-Di-Dah” (1967)
I’ve picked this before but with my wedding tomorrow it sprung to mind again. I should stress that all of Mrs Monkey’s family are lovely folk.

6. B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (1969)
An all-time favourite.

7. Bobby Charles – “I Must Be In A Good Place Now” (1972)
If you wish there were more albums by The Band, check out Bobby’s eponymous debut which has them moonlighting throughout.

8. Little Beaver – “Listen To My Heartbeat” (1976)
When the flat is otherwise empty, in the privacy of the front room, with the curtains drawn, I like to hook up the glitterball and get down to some funky camp disco. Not a sight for the fainthearted.

9. Five Thirty – “Automatons” (1991)
Five Thirty’s Bed is now twenty years old. Where’s the deluxe double CD plus DVD set? Where’s the two hour radio documentary? Where’s the glossy collector’s edition of Mojo or Q? It sounded brilliant then and sounds equally brilliant now. In my top 5 LPs. Robbed they were, robbed.

10. The Flaming Lips – “Race For The Prize” (1999)
The Flaming Lips have a new song out. It is six hours long. That time could better be spent be playing “Race For The Prize” 84 times.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

THE RIFLES - FREEDOM RUN (2011)


Despite having the whole history of recorded music at my fingertips there are moments when I don’t know what to listen to. Those moments are inevitably filled by sticking on The Rifles 2006 debut No Love Lost. Not because it’s the best album ever made but its snappy bursts of mid-period Jam wears its heart on its sleeve, gets the head nodding and invites an exaggerated cockney sing-along whilst doing the washing up or pottering around the flat. ‘Andsome. The follow-up Great Escape didn’t quite match that standard but it’s still a decent album, strong on melodies and hooks, and now we come to Freedom Run.

On first play I was so bored it was a feat of endurance to last the course. For something so innocuous it was riling me. I’ve never heard a Snow Patrol album but this trudge through mediocrity is exactly how I imagine one; a stodgy production cloaking a lack of ideas. In the interests of fairness and loyalty I’ve played it another three times. That’s three hours of my life gone. The “Shout to the Top” style strings on the single “Tangled Up In Love” raise it an inch above the others and “Love Is A Key” (terrible title) will translate well in a live setting, but that's all and not good news for a band who’ve built their live shows around a geezerish, beer chucking audience. I’m not suggesting success is measured by the amount of wasted Stella but they’ll be plenty of uncomfortable periods at gigs now when punters are desperate to jump about to oldies rather than stand around arms folded.

The artwork is a giveaway: all moody photographs of mountains and desert highways, which fits the sense of nothingness these tracks evoke but The Rifles aren’t at home driving through Death Valley; their natural habitat is in Walthamstow pubs telling their mates about the latest argument with the girlfriend or their shitty day at work or how West Ham got beat again. To pretend otherwise fools no one and frankly makes them look a bit desperate.

There’s nothing strong enough on Freedom Run to give them the breakthrough hit and win them a legion of new fans; but there’s plenty weak enough to lose them a lot. They could shortly find they do have freedom, only not the kind they were searching for.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

THE OLD DISTRACTION ROUTINE

Sorry to neglect you gentle reader but I've been busy, so here's another picture of Diana Rigg. Gotta be better than me slagging off the new Manics single or Rifles LP hasn't it? Not that either are outta the woods yet...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

RHYTHM AND BLUE BEAT - FRIDAY 23rd SEPTEMBER 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve been behind the decks, so with a clutch of new purchases adding strength to the box and competition for places, I’m raring to go once again.

First game of the new season is next week thanks to the Rhythm and Blue Beat Club in Camden Town. I’ll be in the team alongside Smart Phil, Southern Sam and Si Cheeba spinning sweet smelling dusty old records for hipsters to dance, drink and listen to. Between us covering R&B, Rhythm and Soul, Mod Jazz, Popcorn, Hammond Grooves and Latin Boogaloo, and if anyone creates a hip new genre by then with its roots in the blues, we’ll maybe play that too. I might even take along Monkey Snr’s copy of Georgie Fame's Rhythm and Blue Beat EP – which is in much nicer condition than the one pictured above.

You’ll find us upstairs in a room away from the oi polloi at the Camden Head, 100 Camden High Street, London, NW1 from 9pm-3am. £5 entry.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

JUMPING THE SHUFFLE BLUES: JAMAICAN SOUND SYSTEM CLASSICS 1946-1960


Spread across three CDs Jumping The Shuffle Blues compiles records spun by Jamaican sound systems after the second world war until 1960; which isn’t to say they were Jamaican in origin. If the well-to-do of Kingston could patronise exclusive clubs to hear live orchestras, the rest made do with sound systems rigged up in rooms to play 78s imported from America. In a practice later familiar in northern soul circles, the DJs – or selectors – would be fiercely competitive, disguising their finds by scratching off the titles of popular plays or even conjuring up new titles and claiming them as their own.

Some of the songs and artists here (Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown, Lloyd Price, Lowell Fulsom, Etta James etc) have been featured on hundreds of collections but only those well versed in jump blues, shuffle blues, call it would you will, will know anything close to all 85 tracks. An infectious rhythm tied to a catchy ballin’, brawlin’ or boozin’ lyric is always irresistible and whacking up the volume to “Too Many Women”, “No More Doggin’”, “But Officer”, “Hey Bartender”, “Bloodshot Eyes” and “Drunk” worked for sound systems, juke joints and house parties then and still bring a smile to the face and an itch to the feet now.

Of the three CDs the second one covering the years 1951-1954 is the most raucous and therefore best but the whole collection, with accompanying 24 page booklet, makes a novel way of a repackaging honking stateside R&B and providing something of a Jamaican history lesson along the way.

Jumping The Shuffle Blues is released by Fantastic Voyage, priced around £8.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

THE PRIMITIVES - NEVER KILL A SECRET EP (2011)


If you’re of an age to remember The Primitives, news they are back will bring two thoughts. Initial excitement swiftly chased by wondering what Tracy Tracy now looks like. That shouldn’t be relevant of course but - and I’m digging myself an even more precarious hole here – who doesn’t look at Debbie Harry and grimace ever so slightly. Richey Edwards missed an opportunity not spray painting William Burroughs’s “Beauty is always doomed” on his big girl’s blouse.

Back in ’88 at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town, cute as a button Tracy – our Nico fronting her own Midlands mopheaded Velvets - looked me dead in the eye. I’ve forgotten more gigs that I can remember but those two seconds are beautifully frozen in time. As I pogoed frantically to the bubble gum blitz of “Spacehead” she was captivated by my sweaty face and unruly bowlcut. She wanted me. Oh yes. I was too young to realise bands actually pity or loathe most of their audience.

Despite not being able to capitalise on this encounter, I followed them through all three albums, even if they lost most of their sparkle by the end the early 90s when they spilt. I’m the first one to mock old bands reforming and mock even harder any one that takes any notice, but I did get a copy of their recent Never Kill A Secret EP, which has been out a few months but escaped my notice until now. It sounds exactly like it should, only better. “Rattle My Cage” puts a killer hook to a fuzzy riff and garage chug; when an acid dropping Peter Fonda turns up at the inevitable go-go party scene, Lee Hazlewood's “Need All The Help I Can Get” would be playing; the dreamy folk rock jangle of “Never Kill A Secret” brings the sunshine through the flowers; and Toni Basil's northern soul “Breakaway” swings and shimmers in all the right places. Only one track falls the wrong side of three minutes and there’s no picking a favourite; they’re all equally good and, amazingly, improve the overall quality of their output. I’ve had it on constant repeat for over a week and prefer it to almost all their original records, the majority past the first couple of years now sound hollow and joyless.

If they were a new indiepop band they’d be my favourite new band; as it is, they’ve my new favourite old band. As for Tracy Tracy, on the strength of this it wouldn’t matter if she was now right fugly. She isn't.

Never Kill A Secret is released by Fortuna Pop!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

THE ZOMBIES - "THIS OLD HEART OF MINE" (1966)

The Zombies take my favourite Motown record and perform it in the style of The Action to a room of dandified hipshaking Parisians in 1966. Beat that.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

BEAT SCENE - ISSUE 65, SUMMER 2011


Every quarter Beat Scene magazine turns up at my door, more like a groovy uncle than a foxy new girlfriend, but it’s fiercely loyal, dependable, and I always put the kettle on to enjoy a few hours in its company.

It brings me news and tells tales of days of yore. For example, it reports there will presently be two film adaptations of, in my opinion, Jack Kerouac’s best two books: On The Road and Big Sur. I’m fairly ambivalent about these types of projects. Whether good or bad, they’ll come out and disappear, most won’t even notice, but a handful of observers will go back to Jack himself and possibly the Beats in general. They need all the help they can get these days. When Jack needed help he didn’t get much. As far back as 1959, Beat Scene editor Kevin Ring observes in his thorough account of Jack’s relationship with his agent Stirling Lord, “Jack was disappointed that film adaptations of his books seemed slow in materialising”. Jack, at the time his star shone brightest, already needed the money; ten years later in near poverty and tatters, he drunk himself to death. Ring’s account is close to a classic be-careful-what-you-wish-for story.

Happier news comes in the shape of an excerpt from a forthcoming Charles Bukowksi collection; lots of book reviews; articles about Ed Sanders, Gary Snyder, Janine Pommy Vega and more; and, especially for David Beckham, a 1987 interview with Allen Ginsberg.

A bumper 68 A4 page edition for a four pounds sterling. I’ll drink to that. Find ordering details at beatscene.net

Friday, 2 September 2011

"I SAW THE BEST FOOTBALLERS OF MY GENERATION DRESSED BY STYLISTS"


Although no Joey Barton I quite like David Beckham, but here we see him displaying what appears to be a severe case of Ramones T-shirtitis.

I may be doing him a disservice. He and the missus might sit on their monogramed thrones chucking Allen Ginsberg references at each other for a laugh. Victoria says “Oi Goldenballs, ain’t it time you put your queer shoulder to the wheel and got on with the washing up?”, before he mumbles something about preferring to sweeten the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset.

Whether David will strip to conduct his next post-match interview with his undercrackers on his head remains to be seen.

For a nearly daily dose of everything Ginsberg related go to the excellent Allen Ginsberg Project; from where I pinched this photo.

Monday, 29 August 2011

THE ACTION - IN THE LAP OF THE MODS


The very long-awaited book by Ian Hebditch and Jane Shepherd telling the story of The Action is finally inching towards daylight, with publication now due in early 2012.

The previously mooted narrow title of The Sound of the Birdcage has thankfully been replaced with the more encompassing In The Lap of The Mods and promises contributions from all members of the band – Reggie King, Mike Evans, Pete Watson, Alan King, Roger Powell, Ian Whiteman and Martin Stone; rare informal and promotional photographs and memorabilia; recollections from former club regulars at the Marquee, Watford Trade, the Goldhawk, the Cavern and Portsmouth’s Birdcage; foreword by Sir George Martin; and, a comprehensive chronology of the band including events, gigs played and details of recording sessions at Abbey Road.

If that wasn’t exciting enough, in addition to the standard softback there’s a limited edition hardback including the single “(Girl) Why You Wanna Make Me Blue” – the previously unreleased track cut for a (failed) 1965 audition for Decca Records.

More news and ordering details can be found, from 1st November, at www.theactionbook.co.uk.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

FREDDIE KING - "PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG" (1966)

By way of compensation for yesterday’s football related post, here is something everyone can enjoy. Take it away Freddie…

Friday, 26 August 2011

WELCOME TO LONDON JOEY BARTON


There are many reasons to dislike Joey Barton but at least three to think him not all bad. In reverse order:

3. When Frank Lampard refused to sit next to him on England duty, Barton reportedly said “It’s alright, I’m not going to steal your breakfast, you fat prick”.

2. For a footballer, he has surprisingly acceptable music taste. His Twitter profile quotes lyrics from "Still Ill" by The Smiths.

1. Today he signed for Queen’s Park Rangers.

Gonna be fun. Good luck Joey. Good luck QPR.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

KEITH MOON - PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED PHOTOGRAPHS




Today would be Keith Moon’s 65th birthday, so a perfect opportunity to share what I believe are previously unseen pictures.

I bought them some years back from a chap who had a box of photographs taken backstage at various mid 70’s gigs in America. He couldn’t be any more specific but Keith wore a series of motor racing tops during 1975 so safe to say these are from then.

As they show another other side of Moon The Loon, I love them. Here's to you dear boy.