Sunday, 26 June 2011


1. Johnny Burnette Trio – “The Train Kept A-Rollin’” (1956)
The Yardbirds famously tore this up but check this raw and raucous rockabilly version.

2. Jessie Hill – “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” (1960)
Jessie created a disturbance in the mind of the whole of New Orleans and beyond with his nutty call and response smash.

3. The Small Faces – “The Autumn Stone” (1968)
Sheer perfection.

4. George Jones – “Heartaches and Hangovers” (1968)
Thought this was Merle Haggard but like Merle boozy four-time-married George knows a thing or two about heartaches and hangovers.

5. The Byrds – “Your Gentle Way Of Loving Me” (1969)
Pulled from the back of the shelf, Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde isn't quite the unmitigated disaster I remembered it as.

6. Ella Fitzgerald – “Yellow Man” (1969)
In no way is this a recommendation but the racist scat singing needs to be heard to be believed.

7. Elastica – “Smile” (1995)
I hadn’t listened to Elastica’s album until the other week. Should’ve paid more attention.

8. Lampchop – “Nashville Parent” (2000)
It doesn't work so well the rest of the week but on sore head Sundays Lambchop’s Nixon does the trick.

9. Art Brut – “Sealands” (2011)
In which Art Brut successfully navigate away from their usual stormy sea into fresh calmer water.

10. Comet Gain – “Herbert Huncke, Part 2” (2011)
Naming your song after a Beat Generation icon almost guarantees a Monkey Picks mention, especially when put to a chugging Velvet Underground rhythm.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


No matter what John Squire does he’ll always be best known as the art-dabbling guitar hero who helped alter Britain’s musical and cultural landscape after the post-Smiths wilderness years. His plasticine jigsaw globe on the sleeve of Do It Yourself is almost as iconic as his riffarama on “Love Is The Law” or “Happiness Is Eggshaped”. But there is more to life than The Seahorses, as this new exhibition of paintings show.

His illuminating collection of completely new works examines how modern Western society’s idolisation of celebrity culture has devoured our traditional symbols of salvation and replaced them with new gods. Not my words, as you can tell, but from the gallery’s blurb. It then goes on about Babylonian Star Cults and Ancient Sumerians before losing me completely. Squire more helpful says “It’s a brief respite from the endless bombardment of celebrity images. It asks: How often do we really need to see copies of complete strangers’ faces, and why do we collectively choose those particular people?”

The works are all abstract representations of household names, often composed using eight pointed stars to create a mosaic feel. Although it’s near impossible to guess from the paintings who they represent (it’s tempting to try), once you read the caption, the recognition slowly dawns: Sugar Ray Leonard’s boxing-glove-red supernova; Lindsay Lohan’s shambolic scribbled mess; Cheryl Cole’s thinly decorative fluff; a disintegrating Woody Allen; the dark claustrophobic descent of Richard Pryor; Phil Spector’s swirling madness; and, as they used to say on television commercials for albums of all your favourite pop hits, many many more. I couldn’t fathom Alison Steadman (above) but if I were her I’d buy it (£6000) to hang over the fire place, Jock Ewing style. It's testament to Squire all his images live longer in the memory than anything carrying the same name in the Sunday tabloids.

Now, how about another Seahorses record? The gap’s nearly been as long as the one between albums by that other group.

John Squire: Celebrity is at the Idea Generation Gallery, Chance Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 until 3rd July 2011. Admission free.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Bobby Gillespie begins the final year of his 40s today, still with more to offer and looking better than most folk of any age. Here he is at precisely the mid-point in his life to date - clearing the path for the Stone Roses.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Ah, the arrogance of youth. I last saw Oooh-oowoah-Geeenoo in 1984 at the Hammersmith Clarendon. It was my third ever gig and I was snooty fifteen year old ace face in my dog tooth trousers and bowling shoes. Top that up with a lashings of scornful teenage attitude (my school report called me a cynic) and I was ruthlessly dismissive. He was merely an ancient bald geezer (two heinous crimes in one) stomping around in cowboy boots doing covers of standards like “Knock On Wood”. Had it been Eddie Floyd himself I’d have considered him a boring old fart, so Geno didn’t stand a chance. He worked the crowd, had them joining in his hand clapping routine, was an enthusiastic and energetic performer, but so what. Even with a pitiful collection of Kent, Ronco and K-Tel compilations I boldly proclaimed it wasn’t real soul music. It was soul club cabaret. So there.

Times change. As the years tick by I’ve come to view musicians, and ageing - and especially ageing musicians - in a different light. I see acts way past their prime: some still cut it, some are passable, and a few are ropey, but I usually I get something out of it – even if only the delusional feeling I’ve paid my respects and they’ve appreciated it in return. According to his error strewn Wikipedia entry Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band’s Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Funky-Butt… Live! was in the UK charts for 38 weeks during 1966 and was the third best-selling album that year. The earlier elite mod pioneers laid the R&B foundations that allowed Geno to reap the rewards when the movement evolved into a mass market. Credit for that. That Dexys Midnight Runners saw fit to pay tribute shows the esteem he was held in, and I’d rarely argue with Kevin Rowland’s judgement: apart from maybe his garb on the sleeve of My Beauty.

Which brings us to this gig. I’m now older than Geno was in ‘84 and my stance is far more tolerant than my fifteen year old self who argued with his mother that anyone who didn’t know Sam Cooke was the greatest singer ever was an idiot, but – for once – as far as Geno was concerned, I was right all along.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Can you feel the love? Nobody said it but everybody sure could feel it. For the first time ever, The Impressions walked on to a London stage and received the rapturous reception they thoroughly deserved. Northern Soul fans who’ve treasured them for as long as they can remember, who first heard them in youth clubs, all-nighters or on Kent albums, could now finally witness them in person. If you think for one moment that an Impressions without Curtis Mayfield was going to temper that excitement, you’d be wrong. Very wrong.

The Impressions have always been the vocal group of choice for the discerning soulie. Their phenomenal string of imperious recordings neatly spans the whole of the ‘60s. Their consistency was matched by their quality. There wasn't one poor single in that time. As a group they didn’t have the moves of The Temptations or the power and energy of The Four Tops but they had an understated elegance, a quiet dignity, and of course, the genius of Mayfield whose songs, voice, playing and business acumen made them a self-contained unit unreliant on outside forces or influences. Although Curtis left in 1970 they’ve soldiered on with a variety of lead singers joining Fred Cash and Sam Gooden; Reggie Torian who first joined in 1973, and after spells out the group, is now back at the helm.

The three debonair gentlemen stroll on and with a florish ease in to “Gypsy Woman”, sweeping their arms from left to right and right to left. Within thirty seconds a tear is running down the side of my face. There’s Fred Cash! With the friendliest bullfrog smile you’ll ever see. And there’s Sam Gooden! Like the kindly southern doctor in a spaghetti western. Reggie Torian has his own voice, close enough to Curtis not to distract and different enough not to imitate. Everyone is clapping along to “It’s Alright”. Even me briefly, and I never join in audience participation stuff. By now I’m wiping tears from both eyes and I couldn’t have been the only one judging by the obvious thrill being experienced around the hall. It’s unusual to be in a situation where nearly everyone was in the same boat. This was new ground. The Impressions. On stage. In London, England. Where had they been all this time? An orchestra of Acid Jazzers drawn from the likes of the Brand New Heavies and JTQ treated the music with love and respect and the group sang their hearts out. No other backing singers doing the work. Honest soul music from honest soul men.

I could try to pick out highlights but it was all one big highlight so I’ll list the songs at the end. The set was chosen wisely, there was nothing they shouldn’t have sung, and plenty more they could’ve. Special mention though for “You’ve Been Cheatin’” as it caused a spontaneous outbreak of dancing in the aisles and seats. If you’ve ever tried to execute northern soul moves in the tiny space you get in theatres you’ll know how difficult it is – but the urge was too great for many. Also “I’ve Been Trying” was especially good as it gave a chance for Gooden to take a greater share of the lead lines. Mayfield’s is naturally the voice most easily recognizable when listening to the Impressions but those records wouldn’t have been the same without Gooden and Cash and their contribution should never be underestimated. They have their own distinctive qualities and to hear them on “People Get Ready”, “I’m So Proud” and “Woman’s Got Soul” was a very special experience. No other soul group touch as deeply and as emotionally as the Impressions. I was lucky enough to see Curtis a few times before his tragic accident and those nights have stayed with me and this one will too.

After the show they remained behind to sign autographs. If the British are supposed to be a nation who love waiting in queues you wouldn’t have thought so from the chaotic and tetchy scrum that ensued around their table. I’d like to report I engaged them in a chat about growing up in Cabrini-Green but simply to shake their hands and say thank you was more than enough to feel the waterworks stirring again. They didn’t play “You Ought To Be In Heaven”; they didn’t need to.

Setlist: Gypsy Woman, It’s Alright, Talking About My Baby, I’m So Proud, Keep On Pushing, I’ve Been Trying, Woman’s Got Soul, People Get Ready, You’ve Been Cheatin’, We’re A Winner, I Loved And I Lost, This Is My Country, Choice of Colors, Superfly, Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey), Move On Up.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


I’ve been listening to a new double CD called Music To Die For: Death Discs 1914-1960. It contains 52 songs about death. Most of them pretty violent deaths too. Kentucky sounds like a perilous place to live and if you're offered a lift in a motor vehicle be prepared to meet a grisly end. Among the many highlights is a tune about a father drunkenly driving over his own son, a two hour honeymoon, and a school bus swerving off the road killing 27 children.

This one sung by the Louvin Brothers is the best. Look at them. Those haircuts should've been a warning. They think nothing of beating a lover to death with a stick as she pleads for mercy, dragging her by the hair, chucking her in the back of a truck and dumping her bludgeoned body in the river.

Plus, without any trace of irony, they warmly dedicate it to the people of Knoxville.

Music To Die For: Death Discs 1914-1960 is released by Chrome Dreams.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


It’s hard not to snigger slightly at the title of this small exhibition within the National Portrait Gallery. Yes children, believe or not, that old turkey necked pensioner was once a dashing young man. That’s unfair of course; I’m assuming most 67 year olds wouldn’t say no to look like he does now. I wouldn’t mind his waist and I'm not quite 67.

There isn’t much among the sixteen or so portraits you’ve not seen before: shoots for Their Satanic Majesties Request, Out Of Our Heads, Between The Buttons, Beggar’s Banquet and pouting for Colin Jones, Terry O’Neill, Cecil Beaton and co. All very familiar but I never tire at looking at Brian Jones’s suede shoes or Charlie Watts’ seersucker or even Mick’s mauve jumbo cord hipsters in Performance. All of which helps plug Mick Jagger: The Photobook which strays and then stays in less sartorially pleasing territory. Who’d pay fifteen quid for it is anyone’s guess.

But if you’re passing, the exhibition itself is worth ten minutes of your time.

Mick Jagger: Young In The 60s is at the National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, W1 until 27 November 2011, admission free.

Friday, 3 June 2011


It seems a long time since Monkey Picks covering anything Beat Generation-related, so with impeccable timing the latest issue of Beat Scene has landed on the mat.

As usual it wastes nary an inch of space in its 64 pages, as the big hitters jostle with less celebrated writers and activists. Book reviews, interviews and analysis of names including Diane Di Prima, Sinclair Beiles, Gary Synder, Michael McClure, William Everson, plus and an in-depth look at the cinematic experiments of William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Anthony Balch should keep both the beat intelligentsia and novice off the internet for a couple of hours.

Great value at £4. For ordering details see