Saturday, 31 December 2011


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


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


“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


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

Tuesday, 13 December 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


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 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


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


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


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.