Tuesday, 28 February 2012
I wasn’t planning on writing about Todd Snider’s gig from last week but it would be remiss of me not to mention it; especially as I’m being nagged by Monkey Brother who was beside himself with excitement beforehand (“pissing my pants” was what he actually said) at the rare opportunity of seeing Oregon’s Snider this side of the pond. I warned against building his hopes too high. I needn’t have worried.
I’m never entirely sure what defines the genre “alt-country” but I think its contemporary country music without Stetsons or syrups. Kris Kristopherson once said “If it sounds country, man, that’s what it is.” Snider sounds country most of the time even though he described himself on Wednesday as a “stoner folk singer”. That tag seems more on account of his slightly drawled vocal, hippy idealism, leftish politics and tiny slits for eyes rather than his work ethic. His discography bears testimony to that with an album almost every year since his debut Songs From The Daily Planet back in 1994, none of which have been released in the UK.
Those albums mostly feature a back-up band but this gig was just Todd standing centre stage with a guitar, a harmonica and a bunch of songs. He’s a storyteller and an inventive lyricist; it was hard to second guess the lines as they veered off in unexpected directions, some with a simple knockabout quality, others long, winding, talking blues packed with ideas and rants. Stripped of the more overt country styling of his earlier records, those lyrics were to the fore and it wasn’t all heartaches and hangovers. In one song alone he told the story of The Kingsmen recording "Louie Louie"; Marilyn Manson laying "weird chicks"; dead bodies on television reports; and threw in a snatch of "Let's Get It On". Not your standard country fayre by any stretch of the imagination.
Whether tender or as the self-deprecating outsider Todd’s sense of comic timing bought many a chortle during the songs or the banter in between. It was a masterful performance. There are occasions when one watches artists (or anyone at the top of their profession) and think that’s as good as it gets. Every so often Monkey Brother and I glanced at each other, shrugged, raised our eyebrows and shook our heads. There wasn’t anything to say, it was just an acknowledgement that yep, that’s it. Just it. When I think of the time and money I’ve spent on other would-be troubadours I wouldn’t trust to deliver a letter let alone a song, it makes me feel the waster.
The first half of his set spanned his career from his debut right up to the forthcoming Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables before playing audience requests during the second half. His promise to play them all went unfulfilled but after 95 minutes and ending with "Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight White American Male" he’d earned his corn. If I were a “stoner folk singer” I’d be putting my dope back in the tin and hanging up my guitar.
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Any excuse to post a picture of Diana Rigg and Monkey Picks will take it, so a doff of the bowler to Mrs. Peel You're Needed. They’ve amassed a phenomenal amount of photographs and press cuttings of The Avengers and beyond, including this one of Diana at home with her dog Poopie. Well worth investigating.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Current spins in Monkey Mansions.
1. Bo Carter – “My Pencil Won’t Write No More” (1931)
A right old saucy one was Bo. He recorded 110 songs during the 1930s and from his lyrics I’m surprised he had the time. Some sample song titles: “Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me”, “Don’t Mess My Digger So Deep”, “Please Warm My Weiner”, “Mashing That Thing” and, my personal favourite, “Banana In Your Fruit Basket”. Little wonder he eventually ran low on lead.
2. Clyde McPhatter – “Thirty Days” (1957)
A year before he died, aged just 39, as a result of heavy drinking, a bitter McPhatter claimed he had no fans. Oh Clyde, you did and you do.
3. Eddie Holland – “True Love Will Go A Mighty Long Way” (1962)
Not an early Holland-Dozier-Holland cut but a Holland-Holland-Mickey Stevenson one before he fully hit his stride at Hitsville. Ace Records have beautifully put together a new Eddie Holland compilation It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964 of which this is a highlight.
4. The Ballroom – “Baby Please Don’t Go” (1967)
There are hundreds of versions of this blues chestnut but none as audacious as this mind blowing piece of pulsating West Coast psychedelia.
5. Chris Barber and His Band – “People Get Ready” (1969)
Giorgio Gomelsky at Marmalade/Polydor wouldn’t give The Action a recording deal yet whisked the considerable vocals talents of Reggie King away with the promise of production work. The pair and Chris Barber are credited as producers on Barber’s Battersea Rain Dance, an album of instrumentals bar this track with a pub style vocal. Reg presumably sat behind the mixing desk and pressed the record button. What a bloody waste.
6. Chris Bell – “You and Your Sister” (1978)
Chris Bell left Big Star after their first album yet his solo work, posthumously released as I Am The Cosmos, sounds to me like a perfected version of Big Star with “You and Your Sister” the sibling of “Thirteen”.
7. The Rolling Stones – “No Spare Parts” (1978)
Mick and Keef probably thought “Faraway Eyes” was enough to fill their country quota on Some Girls so this has only seen light since the recent two-disc reissue. I can’t think of an instance when the Stones used a pedal steel without great results and this is no exception.
8. Gang of Four – “I Found That Essence Rare” (1979)
The liner notes of the CD include testimonies from Michael Stipe and that Flea fella from Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Don’t let that put you off.
9. The Boo Radleys – “Wish I Was Skinnny” (1993)
This still sounds good but, please lads, don’t take it as encouragement for you to get back together.
10. Johnny Cash – “For The Good Times” (2003)
A Kris Kristopherson song but like so many of his later recordings Cash convinced the listener it was his own and sung from profound personal experience. Breaks and warms ones heart in equal measure.
Monday, 20 February 2012
Following Saturday’s post, here is the only known surviving video footage of Joe Orton. Broadcast on 23rd April 1967, Joe proudly tells Eamonn Andrews of his library book escapades.
Sunday, 19 February 2012
Not a week goes by without the death of someone whose records sit in my collection. My reaction is usually dependent on two things, both selfish: did they still have anything to offer musically, and did I have any personal contact with them?
In the case of MC5 bassist, Michael Davis, the answer is yes to both. Only last month I wrote about the MC5 Black To Comm boxset that documents an incredible gig from 2008. A year later I was fortunate enough to meet Michael backstage at the Dirty Water Club. Most encounters of this type tend to be along the lines of “Excuse me, would you mind if I had a quick picture with you?” Click. Done. But that night we sat quietly for half an hour chatting and drinking. He was such a mellow, laid back dude and surprisingly open and honest, it felt no subject was off limits as we discussed music, drugs, prison and a load of other stuff. I kept thinking to myself “wow, this is brilliant, remember this bit, remember this bit”. My mate Long John and I were buzzing for days afterwards. “That was MICHAEL DAVIS! Of the MC5!,” we kept saying. It was. It really was. He could’ve been an arse and I’d still love the MC5 but he wasn’t and he made me love them more.
Michael Davis, 5 June 1943 - 17 February 2012.
Saturday, 18 February 2012
Last February I wrote (here) how budding writers Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell helped themselves to books from Islington libraries to create collages on book jackets before placing them back on the sleeves to watch the reaction of browsers. This protest over “rubbishy books” and an early version of guerrilla art, along with wallpapering their flat with torn out pages, earned them both a six month stretch in 1962. The following five years saw Orton’s star spectacularly rise as a successful and award winning playwright (Entertaining Mr Sloane ran on Broadway and Loot won the Evening Standard best play of ’67), Halliwell, previously Joe’s mentor, became marginalised and struggled with jealousy and depression, culminating in nine murderous hammer blows to Joe’s head and his own suicide in their tiny 2nd floor Noel Road flat. Orton was 34, Halliwell 41.
Islington Council were none too impressed by having their book stock “attacked by predators” 50 years ago but now they celebrate their former residents with an impressive exhibition within the borough’s museum. The main focus is on the books they altered. All forty of the surviving ones are displayed as framed works of art rather than the perceived acts of vandalism that resulted in an eighteen month investigation by the council’s legal clerk Sidney Porrett who is quoted as saying “I had to catch these two monkeys”. Monkey heads and cat heads were regular replacements on many books. Some aren’t especially interesting yet others show a mischievous camp humour: John Betjeman is replaced by a tattooed man; Queen’s Favourite is decorated by two topless men grappling on the floor; and best of all, The Steel Cocoon by Bentz Plagemann (which sounds like a name Joe and Kenneth would’ve created but is the genuine author) has a prominent well-filled jockstrap as the new design. There are copies of the original jackets but there’s no comparison really.
It’s wonderful to see the typewriter Joe bought in 1967 for the not inconsiderable sum of £80, and on which he wrote What The Butler Saw and the rejected Beatles screenplay Up Against It, but even that is upstaged by lists of ideas for prospective book and play titles and a volume of his infamous diary covering a holiday in Tangier. I first read his plays and diaries many years ago and being young and green was rather shocked to read such explicit accounts of promiscuity and gay sex. The page open here is typically frank account of a sexual encounter which Joe describes as “very goatish”, which is a new one on me but a phrase I’m looking forward to using at the earliest opportunity. Joe’s diary became a cause of added anguish for Kenneth during their final year until he, in the words of Orton’s brother, “went crackers”. His suicide note simply read: If you read his diary all will be explained. KH. P.S. Especially the latter part.
Malicious Damage is at the Islington Museum, 245 St John Street, EC1 until 25 February 2012.
Thursday, 16 February 2012
Roosevelt Grier, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy and David Jones all played (American) football for the Los Angeles Rams in the mid-60s. According to the wonderfully named Dick Butkus (no, me neither) they were “the most dominant line in football history”. I guess that means they were four brick shithouses difficult to get past.
What I do know is that they appeared on Shindig in 1965 performing this raving rhythm and blues shaker. The song was actually the flip of “Fool, Fool, Fool” credited solely to Roosevelt Grier on Rik Records in 1964 and titled “Since You’ve Been Gone” (not “Since You’re Gone” as per this clip). Grier cut a lot of records whilst a footballer; perhaps his most familiar one in soul circles is “In My Tenement”, before becoming an actor and then a minister.
Another nice piece of trivia is he helped smack Sirhan Sirhan (not a member of the New York Dolls apparently) to the floor after Sirhan assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968. A remarkable man. Enjoy this fabulous clip.
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
I went to St.Ives last week. The coastline with miles of golden sand falls a long way short of the breath taking views of chicken shops, bookies and pawn shops of Bethnal Green Road and other East Ends hotspots, but Cornwall does have an extraordinary amount of local breweries and ales not seen the smoke, including this one, Korev, which according to the glass is a “Cornish Lager With Soul”. And very nice it was too. Here's my pint. Cheers.
Monday, 13 February 2012
Too old to be beatniks and too young to be hippies, Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters bridged the counterculture gap with their On The Road inspired, drug fuelled, 1964 journey across America in a psychedelic school bus.
Their notion was to film the trip from Kesey’s home in La Honda to New York and make a movie along the way. Parts of their adventure has already been cemented in the minds of every wannabe freak thanks to Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test but the film never materialised as the Pranksters spent over forty years trying to forge hundreds of hours of video and audio tape into some semblance of order. The idea it might have been easier to pass the footage to someone that knew what they are doing seems to have taken an awfully long time to dawn but recognised documentary makers Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood have now completed the job, offering us a ride upon the bus. Destination: Further.
The film starts with a stiff History Channel style narration to introduce the swashbuckling Ken Kesey - the ventriloquist loving, football playing, medical drug experimenting, bestselling author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest - and his chief cohorts before settling in to a more fluid journey. Thereon in the film uses the archival material (plus a couple of subtle re-enactments) along with commentary from the participants. The voiceovers are out of shot so you never get to see them in their grizzled old age, instead seemingly staying the age of the footage.
The events unravel like a hipster’s soap opera with relationships, drugs, freak-outs, mental institutions, mishaps, fun, happiness, sadness, acid tests, and the invention of tie-dye. Now, if one was going to carry a vast quantity of hallucinogenic drugs across the country they’d be advised to do it as inconspicuously as possible. Painting a bus in psychedelic colours; scrawling “Weird Load On Board” across the front licence plate; standing on the top of it banging instruments to the personal soundtrack inside fragile minds; stopping travel, wouldn’t be wise. The police regularly pull them over but this being 1964, and hippies and drug culture not yet headline news, the Pranksters gibber something about making a film, show their recording equipment as evidence, and go on their merry way leaving behind mildly amused law enforcement officers. LSD wasn't illegal but marijuana possession could result in a very lengthy stretch as Neal Cassady already knew only too well. It must’ve been a thrill to have the real life protagonist of On The Road behind the wheel but being a speed freak (of both kinds) he would’ve driven me mad with his endless incomprehensible babbling. When they get to New York they meet up with Jack Kerouac at a party who sits puffy faced and grouchy in his chair, disgusted by the uncouth shenanigans surrounding him.
I used to think it would’ve been brilliant to have been on the bus. Nowadays, being somewhat less adventurous, I’m not sure I could've handled it mentally (let alone glugging acid from a carton of a orange juice), so being able to hitch a lift for 103 minutes is the more palatable way to travel, even if it makes me squarer than I'd like to think.
Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search For A Kool Place is released on DVD by StudioCanal.
Monday, 6 February 2012
Saturday, 4 February 2012
Tomorrow would be Reggie King’s birthday so no better way to mark the occasion than by sharing some INCREDIBLE newly unearthed footage of The Action performing “I’ll Keep Holding On” outside the Royal Albert Hall in 1966. Yes, FOOTAGE, courtesy of the people responsible for the eagerly awaited Action biography, In The Lap of The Mods. Click on the link below to see it and get your advance orders in for the book. Wow, I'm knocked out.
In The Lap of The Mods
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
Some people are nuts for the Sun sound. I listen to it, like it, respect it, but it lags a long way behind in my affections when compared to Chess, Motown and Stax. Having already visited the sites of those three meccas Sun had its work cut out to compete, yet a combination of me being less pernickety/knowledgeable about the subject and having the best guided tour of the four meant - bar the shivers of walking into Studio A at Motown – this was possibly the best of the bunch.
I knew Sun Records was at 706 Union Avenue but its surrounding area, a fifteen minute walk from Beale Street, still took me a bit by surprise. Once again my London brain assumed it would be the corner of narrow busy street but it stood alone on the corner of wide road facing what the locals, I believe, call a gas station. With the surrounding buildings knocked down, its uneven brown brick construction like a building left standing after the Blitz; albeit one with a giant golden guitar hanging outside.
Walking through the door we were immediately into a room that operates as the reception, a souvenir shop and a cosy diner; mainly a diner/café. There were a couple of booths by the window and five red leather stools at the bar emblazed with the names Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley across them. I nabbed Johnny’s. Despite the stocks of t-shirts and stacks of gift items it didn’t feel especially touristy; just a cool place to order a bottle of coke and sit listening to the boom-chicka-booming in the background. The big geezer with the big quiff behind the counter was nuts for the Sun sound, it was obvious enough without the need for him to pull up his yellow Sun t-shirt to reveal a huge yellow Sun tattoo across his ample chest. All the people that worked there were undoubtedly Sun freaks first, employees second.
Jason was our tour guide and owner of a fine head of hair and bushy beard. Lord knows how many times he’d conducted this tour but he still sounded so passionate and excited his enthusiasm rubbed off instantly. He led us (a dozen yanks and us two limeys) upstairs to the tiny museum stuffed with old Ampex recording equipment, posters, records, stage outfits, all the usual stuff.
Sam Phillips set up shop here in 1950 as the Memphis Recording Service - he hadn’t yet started Sun as a label - so when Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm drove through the rain in March 1951 to record “Rocket 88” (credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, a decision that must’ve irked Ike for the rest of his life) it was released on Chess, giving Chess in the North and Sun in the South join claims on what is broadly accepted as “the first rock and roll record”. Jason liked talking about firsts, or to be more accurate, “very” firsts, which is before your bog-standard first. He told us about “Rocket 88” and after giving it a big build-up as “the very first rock and roll record, made in this very building” hit a remote control in his hand and bang, Ike’s tinkling the ivories and Jackie’s honking his sax and bellowing about his jalopy. It was a simple idea yet bought the music and the place together perfectly in a way other studios (and I’m especially looking at you Motown with your singing flunkies) failed to do.
Howlin’ Wolf also recorded here during ’51 and as the unsuspecting punters stood before a cardboard Wolfman they got a blast of “Moanin’ At Midnight”. The look on their faces, eyes widening, as the Wolf’s guttural moans came booming out of nowhere was a sight to behold. Most of these people had never heard such a noise. The kid in front of me looked terrified. Hot on Wolf’s heels was the mighty “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas. The gathering had little difficulty in recognising the blatant rip from “Hound Dog” (so blatant the resulting lawsuit almost bankrupt Sun with its first hit), which finally led us to Elvis Aaron Presley.
Public Enemy spat out “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me” on “Fight The Power” which is broadly how I feel (although Chuck D followed that with “straight up racist” which I don’t believe) but its churlish to come to Memphis and be snooty about Elvis. Jason told us about the very first time Elvis came to Sun; he played us his very first recording; we hear him played on the radio for the very first time; and we see his very first television appearance. He was all right though that Elvis. Nice voice, good looking lad.
We then shuffled downstairs into the studio. It felt like a studio because it still is. Vintage equipment was pushed to the sides of the small white pegboard walled room and folk were in the control booth looking like they were working. Amazingly when the premises had other uses (including life as a fishing tackle shop) before reopening as Sun in 1987, it stayed relatively untouched (even down to the light fittings), and if you believe Jason the marks and dents and grooves in the original linoleum floor show where the musicians stood and played. He hit his remote again and led us through a succession of classic cuts. They sounded bloody good too, although Mrs Monk and I disagree on whether Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby” is a good record or not. I say yes but know she’s probably right.
The money shot when it came to the photo opportunity was the chance to pose with a vocal microphone used on recordings here in the 50s, in the shadow of an Elvis picture using a similar one. Jason urged people to have a go and recreate the curled lip. Despite feeling a wally I did quickly attempt to channel Johnny Cash recording “Get Rhythm” and due to the mic being used Johnny Rotten in the “God Save The Queen” video. I got it spot on too. Unfortunately Mrs Monk’s trigger finger was far too slow and snapped me looking like an embarrassed girl instead.
If anyone goes to Memphis they have to brace themselves to be asked on their return, “Did you go to Graceland?” We caught the shuttle bus from Sun and had a nose around “The King’s” gaff. I’d love to live there in its mid-70s time capsule: to chill in his TV/record room; to shoot pool in the pool room; to get smashed with my mates in the jungle room; and to have my cook knock up a few burgers in the tiny kitchen. None of the rooms were big and the main building was a lot smaller than expected. I bet Chuck D lives in a bigger house.
Click on the Monkey USA label below for further adventures: Motown, Stax, Chess and Buddy Guy.