Sunday, 30 September 2012


Some highlights from this month's listening...

1. The What Four – “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy” (1966)
Guitarist Cathy Cochran from this New York group said their records sounded “like an all-girl choir from a detention home”. Nice description, fabulous record.

2. Darrow Fletcher – “My Young Misery” (1966)
Darrow was aged between eleven and fourteen when he wrote then recorded this astonishing belter. A full collection of the material he scattered across several labels during the 60s and 70s is long overdue as I’ve not heard a bad one yet, and don’t expect to when he appears at the 100 Club on the 1st of November.

3. Sarah Jane – “Listen People” (1966)
Many thanks to Bill from Anorak Thing for turning me on to this lovely Brit-folk single.

4. The Seeds – “Rollin’ Machine” (1966)
No other so-called garage band had as many brilliant songs as The Seeds. Their closest competitors had three, four or five. The Seeds had thirty or forty. I’ve picked this one at random. I wish Sky Saxon was still with us.

5. Big Daddy Green – “Who Done It” (1970)
From Louisiana, and he sounded like a big fella. What separates “Who Done It” from other swampy R&B 45s is the fuzz guitar that weaves its way through the grooves.

6. The Soul Children – “I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To” (1972)
Public Enemy famously sampled the “Brothers and sisters” introduction for “Rebel Without A Pause” but the whole seven minutes of this Wattstax message song is funky vamping, hand clapping, testifying of the highest order (and cruelly cut from the film).

7. Bobby Womack – “There’s One Thing That Beats Failing” (1974)
There’s no bad track on Lookin’ For A Love Again and none better than this ender which with its spoken word parts, soaring strings, and soul man love throat does in a brisk three minutes what sometimes took Isaac Hayes quarter of an hour. 

8. The Staple Singers – “I Want To Thank You” (1975)
The Let’s Do It Again soundtrack written and produced by Curtis Mayfield and performed by The Staple Singers doesn’t rank among the finest artistic achievements of either (despite the title track being a US Billboard number 1 on the pop and soul charts) but it’s still a collaboration made in heaven and a classy LP.

9. The Adverts – “Bombsite Boy” (1978)
I was always put off The Adverts due to TV Smith being a punk with long curly hair which was unduly harsh on my part seeing how I overlooked that thing on Bruce Foxton’s head.  

10. The Wicked Whispers – “Dandelion Eyes” (2012)
Debut single from Liverpool band the Wicked Whispers could be the umpteenth single from The Coral, which is a compliment in the Psychedelic Jangle Handbook. 

Saturday, 29 September 2012


Time to rest the ears and treat the eyes.

If I were in the process of writing my first novel I’d put my quill and ink back in the desk drawer, close the lid slowly, put the kettle on, and think of another way to make my mark after reading The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. I’d already read Jenni’s poetry in Blackheath publications The Dead Queen of Bohemia and Urchin Belle so knew what to expect theme wise but the writing in The Panopticon is truly exceptional: economical, sharp and knowing.

Anais Hendricks is 15, her adoptive prostitute mum has been murdered, and has been sent into care at the Panopticon - ”a circular prison with cells so constructed the prisoners can be observed at all times” - after being accused of her latest misdemeanour (namely landing a policewoman in coma). Given time to dig beneath all the violence, drugs, sex, and teenage bolshiness – both administered and received – Anais is revealed as a savvy, intelligent young woman with dreams of living a quiet bohemian Parisian lifestyle. The story of her and her fellow “prisoners” is, to put it mildly, tough going (I can’t begin recount the list of horrors) but is dealt with even-handedly and compassionately. It’s a book that should be read by precisely the people who won’t touch it and who’d dismiss the likes of Anais. I, naturally, was rooting for her.     

Like young Hendricks, American writer Richard Brautigan also aggravated law enforcement agencies when he chucked a brick through a police station window back in ‘55. Although done with the intention of being arrested so he’d be fed, Brautigan got more than he bargained for when subsequently sent for twelve sessions of electroshock treatment. Jarvis Cocker presented a 30 minute documentary last week on Radio 4, Messy, Isn’t It? Brautigan shot himself in the head in 1984 and was not discovered until weeks later. Such a grisly death was at odds with the bright playful nature of his most famous work and it was great to hear admirers Holly and David from The Lovely Eggs sing his praises on the wireless. They’ll be pleased to see their man on the cover of the latest issue of Beat Scene magazine which includes an interview with William Hjortsberg, author of Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan, a new book Beat Scene call “a monumental study, intense in detail, history leaping off the page.”

Brautigan always resented being referred to as a hippy writer after his success with Trout Fishing In America in 1967 and also fumed when A Confederate General From Big Sur linked him to the Beats. My favourite part of Beat Scene is the new book reviews which this issue includes Ring Of Bone by Lew Welch. Welch was inextricably linked to the San Franciscan branch of the Beat Generation through his association with poets Gary Synder and Philip Whalen and for Jack Kerouac’s portrayal of him as his hard-drinking buddy Dave Wain in my favourite Kerouac novel, Big Sur. Ring of Bone is a newly expanded edition that collects poems, songs and drawings and a new foreword by Synder. Welch was staying with Synder in 1971 when he took a revolver into a forest and was never seen again. It’s good to have Welch back in print and be able to add some flesh to the bones, so to speak.

One MonkeyPicks reader wrote my Beat posts were the equivalent of finding only toffees left in a tin of Quality Street – he’d eat them but only if there was no other choice. With that, and the misery above in mind, perhaps a new biography about The Smiths will cheer everyone up. They are still all alive after all. A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths by Tony Fletcher is an exhaustive account of the band stretching the best part of 700 pages.  Such is the detail that it’s not until nearly page 200 that Marr knocks on Morrissey’s door looking for a lyricist. Within days they’d completed the classics “Suffer Little Children” and “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle”, which is the point I’m up to at the moment. Fletcher’s Keith Moon book Dear Boy showed what a thorough biographer he is and he’s superb here painting Manchester during the punk and post-punk era. I still find it incredible Morrissey joined Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds in 1978, a year after their “I Ain’t Been To No Music School” single. Morrissey and Marr were the song-writing perfect team, it’s almost impossible to find an unwanted Smiths track. Like dipping in the Quality Street tin and pulling out a caramel swirl every time.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and A Light That Never Goes Out by Tony Fletcher are published by William Heinemann Ltd.
Ring of Bone by Lew Welch is published by City Lights.
Beat Scene is available here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Fun was had at the Mousetrap R&B Allnighter on Saturday. For those who like passing judgement on lists of records from your armchair, here’s what I played. In the cold, sober light of day the second set looks top heavy on the tried and tested but as it was the last set of the night, and quarter to five in the morning, it wasn’t really the time to start pushing boundaries or being too adventurous. And besides, they’re still bloody great records to hear whacked up loud. My only concern was keeping the hard-core that remained on the dancefloor, which they did (see I’m a professional…), and credit to their younger bones than mine to still want more after we were cruelly cut short by the management. Booo...

Lyn Westbrook – Take Your Time (Kimtone)
Junior Gordon – Call The Doctor (JayPee)
The Combinations – Voodoo (Carrie)
The Rollers – Troubles (Bel-Star)
Big Daddy Green – Who Done It (Anla)
Buster Benton – Hole In My Head (Melloway)
Roosevelt Grier – Since You’ve Been Gone (RIK)
Earl Stanley – Fish Eyes (Pitassy)
Jimmy Bell – Whatcha Gonna Do About Me (Hickory)
Clyde McPhatter – Thirty Days (Atlantic)
Benny Spellman – Ammerette (Minit)
Jesse Pearson – I Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (RCA Victor)
Ronnie Milsap – A Thousand Miles From Nowhere (Scepter)
Dick Holler – Mooba Grooba (Comet)

Big Maybelle – Do Lord (Brunswick)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
Big Daddy Rogers – I’m A Big Man (Midas)
Lonnie Hewitt – You Gotta Git (Fantasy)
Marv Johnson – Come On And Stop (United Artists)
Ernie Washington – Lonesome Shack (Chattahoochee)
Ronnie Love – Chills and Fever (Dot)
The Gardenias – What’s The Matter With Me (Fairlane)
JB Lenoir – She Don’t Know (Checker)
Big Jack Reynolds – I Had A Little Dog (Hi-Q)
Slim Harpo – I Need Money (Excello)
Charles Sheffield – It’s Your Voodoo Working (Excello)
Muddy Waters – Diamonds At Your Feet (Chess)
Buddy Guy – I Dig Your Wig (Chess)
Dorie Williams – Tell Me Everything You Know (635)
Gloria Grey – It’s A Sweet World (Warner Brothers)
Verdelle Smith – If You Can’t Say Anything Nice (Capitol)

For future Mousetraps and other events see The New Untouchables.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


The new issue of Mojo Magazine has an interesting eight page article on the last days of The Jam - including interviews with all three members - which prompted me to trawl YouTube looking for footage I’ve not seen for a long time. So much to enjoy in this clip as the band prepare for a gig at Newcastle City Hall in 1980. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


“Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wide, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I went to a West End art dealer the other week to see The Drawn Blank Series 2012 paintings by Bob Dylan. They were in fact prints (or rather “Graphics” as they appear to be called nowadays) and similar to the ones first shown at the Halcyon Gallery in 2008. In numbered, pencil-signed editions of 295 they were on sale for around £3000-£5000. They depicted flowing rivers, fat arsed women, misspelt restaurants, bars, bicycles and - if the Van Gogh influence wasn’t clear enough – sunflowers. I wrote about his paintings previously here, and it still applies.

As I was leaving I was asked if I’d seen anything I’d liked. Not enough. “Well, these are only prints of course. If you’re interested in an original I’ve got one for around half a million pounds.” Oh right, pass me my chequebook. We chatted about Bob and how well his paintings and prints sell and how their resale price has already increased with collectors buying multiple works. Because they're an investment still doesn't make them attractive in my book but I must’ve somehow passed as a potential buyer as she gave the 38 page brochure (price £10) for free. I've flicked through it twice.  

Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album, Tempest, is out now. The CD cost £8.99. For a man of 71 old Bob doesn’t sound a day over 701 as he growls like he’s battling Tom Waits in a throat clearing competition. It’s too soon for me to judge how it compares to his other 21st century albums (they tend to be slow burners) but it has the same old timey, late-night, cigarette smoke and whiskey feel. I’m not keen on the last twenty-something minutes being taken up by a track about the Titanic and a soppy tribute to John Lennon, but there’s nothing wrong with the preceding eight numbers from the steam train chugging “Duquesne Whistle”, to the surprisingly tender and beautiful (yes, beautiful) “Soon After Midnight”, and to singing songs for flat-chested junkie whores in “Scarlet Town”.  Special mention to “Pay In Blood” for a set of Bob’s most savage lyrics.“I got something in my pocket make your eyeballs swim/ I got dogs could tear you limb from limb” and “Another politician pumping out the piss/ Another angry beggar blowing you a kiss/ You got the same eyes that your mother does/ If only you could prove who your father was”. Brutal.

Anyone looking to buy Bob Dylan’s art would be well advised to purchase his twenty best studio albums, a list that - a quick count-up shows - includes Tempest.

Tempest by Bob Dylan is released on Columbia.

Saturday, 15 September 2012


Beyond hailing from the Carlisle area I know very little about Kontiki Suite, except I’m in love with their shimmering cosmic country rock. They did sneak out an EP “Stars” in 2009 and earlier this year an epic 12 inch single “Magic Carpet Ride”, both of which I recommend. The achingly beautiful “Music Man” is their finest recording yet and taken from their forthcoming debut album On Sunset Lake. If you like Beachwood Sparks you’ll adore Kontiki Suite.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


I wrote a gushing review of The Impressions' Barbican show last year so I’ll keep this brief but it would be remiss of me not to mention how wonderful they were again this time around.

Sam Gooden, Fred Cash and Reggie Torian performed with style, grace, dignity and soul and treated Curtis Mayfield’s songs with the utmost respect. “I’ve Been Trying” bought a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye; “Choice of Colors” wasn’t far behind with its gentle yet persuasive power; and the sermon during “People Get Ready” almost made a believer out of me. It was nothing short of a soul master class. I can still hear them by looking at this photo.

To my mind The Impressions are the greatest vocal group of all-time; their shows now - over half a century from when they began - only cement that thought. These are lasting Impressions.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


There can’t be many better record shops in the world than Rough Trade East in Bethnal Green. Every couple of weeks I come away with something unexpected. The other day I went to hear Public Enemy’s Minister of Prophecy, Chuck D,  “in conversation” but as usual came away with a lot more.

Twenty minutes before his scheduled appearance Chuck was there, browsing around the shop. I whipped out It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back from my bag and gently pounced as he idly thumbed the counter display. “Hey Chuck, how ya doin’ man?” That, you notice, was my street voice. “Hey,” he said, a bit like a sleepy Fonz, and offered his hand. “Would you mind signing this please?” “Sure.”  He did his thing. “What you talking about today Chuck?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Whatever people ask me.” “Off the cuff yeah?” I began to sound like an idiot, and then added “In London long?” which confirmed it in his mind. “Excuse me?” “Are you in London long?” “Yeah,” and picks up a copy of the Creation Records DVD Upside Down and studied the contents intently. I took that as my cue. “Cheers mate.” Mates see, me and Chuck D. Not as close as me and James Dean Bradfield but mates all the same.

When he took the low stage he wasn’t alone. In tow were Public Enemy’s turntablist DJ Lord and none other than every clock repairer’s favourite customer, Flavor Flav. Chuck didn’t have anything planned to say; it was whatever came into his head and the first thing was to generously praise Rough Trade, both for the label and the store. “I don’t give accolades lightly, just for bullshit,” he said before noting the difference in this part of the East End from when he came years ago. “Back then you would’ve got slashed,” to which Flav took offence saying that he would’ve fitted in anywhere. “I’m not saying I would’ve either,” Chuck continued, “but some of you would have.” A satchel of Brick Lane hipsters shuffled awkwardly in their chinos.

When Chuck D holds forth on a Public Enemy record or in person, it leaves little room for manoeuvre or opposition. Everything is delivered with such conviction it must be The Truth. It was funny though to see how the thoughtful and serious Chuck and the World’s Oldest Teenager Flav worked off each other; like an old school comedy duo. They call themselves the Rolling Stones of Rap; they are almost the Cannon and Ball of Rap too. Chuck remained seated and spoke in a steady tone earnestly recounting facts and figures whilst Flav leap to his feet and outstretched his arms with every loud heart-on-sleeve outpouring. Their publicist mentioned Flav had slept and eaten, which I took as an unusual occurrence. The clock around his neck said 4 o’clock. It was quarter past six, so don’t ever ask him what time it is. The bespectacled DJ Lord sat stage right looking quietly amused by it all.   

For around an hour they covered a lot of ground. Chuck embraced mobile phone technology as a form of communication and how it enabled people to make music and films cheaply and easily but worried “some folk are closer to their phones than their own families.” Flav was more concerned about people secretly filming him when he was eating (or worse). Chuck couldn’t understand how name DJs got paid so much money “for twiddling a few knobs” and railed against acts performed for 20 minutes. Public Enemy are all about their live shows where they “never give less than a hundred and ninety percent.”  That’s a lot of percent but when he said the group had toured 84 times and visited 83 countries there was no reason to doubt his figures. “That’s why when people ask “Have you been in London long?” I’m like, we’re always here.” Okay man, I hear ya now.

A question from the audience made them recall their performance at the Reading Festival in 1992. I was there and they were incredible. Remember the ballyhoo when Jay-Z headlined Glastonbury in 2008 and ignorant numpties were flapping how a hip-hop act wouldn’t work at a huge festival, as if people only appreciate one style of music? When PE headlined that Saturday night in ’92, coming on directly after Ride and the Manic Street Preachers they were incredible and I’m no fan of big gigs. Everyone in that muddy field was jumping so hard pints of beer were knocked over in Reading pubs. I’ve never seen an act so completely control a gigantic crowd the way PE did that evening.    

Chuck acknowledged that twice during their 25 year career they’ve been buoyed by their music being used in other contexts, namely “Fight The Power” in Spike Lee’s film and now 2007’s “Harder Than You Think” being used for the Paralympics television coverage, giving them their highest ever chart placing in the UK. We still have an official chart? Come back Top of the Pops all is forgiven. He made a distinction between writing songs and making records, and also added “it’s not the artist’s job to sell records, it’s the sales people’s job to sell records. I just make them”. When asked which of his lyrics he was most proud of he said all of them but picked, as a sports aficionado, “He Got Game” for the way it mixed basketball themes with music. Not a winning combination for the Great British public. I like that song mostly for the Buffalo Springfield sample which rather proves his point about song writing and record making. Public Enemy’s strength is how they combine powerful lyrics to interesting samples – like a social, political and music history lesson in one. If people only got their education from Public Enemy records they'd do all right in life.

There was plenty more, including heartfelt tributes to Adam "MCA" Yauch from the Beastie Boys (“they were fighting for their right to party; we were partying for our right to fight”), all of which was a great but the real highlight was the live performance that followed. The lights were low, it was hot, and it felt like a private PE gig in my front room. Amazing to see and hear Chuck and Flav trade raps through a set including “Prophets of Rage”, “911 Is A Joke”, “Harder Than You Think”, latest single “I Shall Not Be Moved” and more, even if Chuck did attempt to text Mrs D mid-song. The performance of the “Fight The Power” was something else altogether.  They hadn’t even got to branding Elvis and John Wayne racists when Flav left the stage. Chuck called him back. Flavor wasn’t having it, “What you doing man? Trying to fight the power with your shit? Ah Jesus man. Fighting the power with your smell?” Yep, Chuck D had dropped his guts and an outraged Flavor Flav wasn’t going anywhere near him. A few minutes of fart gags followed – when in Britain – before the whiff cleared enough to continue. Poor DJ Lord felt the full force trapped behind his decks. I’ve seen some things in my time but Public Enemy being halted by a silent but deadly was a new one. After a couple of giggly false starts they finally nailed it.   

Afterwards they posed for photographs (me and Chuck looking like couple of homies) and signed records. I thanked Flavor Flav. “No, thank you” he said and signed It Takes A Nation. “Cheers mate,” I said. “Cheers mate,” mimicked Flav in a ridiculous over-the-top Cockney accent; half way between Dick Van Dyke and Paul Hogan. We shook hands and he cackled his famous cartoon laugh.

Public Enemy’s latest album Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp is out now and rather good it is too.

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Another date for the diary, this time I’ll be packing a box of up-tempo rhythm and soul humdingers to spin for modernists, soulies, night owls, midnight creepers and plain weirdos at the next Mousetrap R&B Allnighter.

Also on the decks with their trusty 45s will be residents Rob Bailey and Catford Chris plus Mary Boogaloo and Jake Lingwood. Birthday drinks for me and Mary gratefully received and if you’re using Finsbury Park tube, think of Graham Bond. 

Mousetrap R&B Allnighter is at Orleans, 259 Seven Sisters Road, London, N4. £8 before midnight, £10 after, all night bar. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Idle Fret Records have organised a series of five special Friday night gigs at the London Palladium running from an opener with wiggy rockers Wolf People on the 14th September until the 12th October. I’m delighted to be playing records again for one of my absolute favourite current bands on the 5th October, the fabulously stylish punkers The Lovely Eggs. Gigs in scuzzy pubs are fine but his will be a truly memorable occasion in the swish Val Parnell Room, so put on your glad rags and join us. Tickets are a tenner for all shows and can be bought in advance here.

To help promote the nights all the bands featured (including of course The Lovely Eggs and Wolf People, plus the likes of Shrag, Monster Island, The History of Apple Pie and others) have contributed a track each to a free download album, Friday Night at the London Palladium. Available here.

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Watching the Magnetic Mind on Friday made me think how few bands I’ve seen who truly capture the West Coast sound of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, the Strawberry Alarmclock, the poppier end of Jefferson Airplane and even the Mamas and Papas. Psych rock, garage punk and Byrdsian jangle are ten a penny so it made a change to hear a touch of Haight-Ashbury inspired peace and love on London’s Murder Mile. 

Debut single “Maybe The Stars, Maybe The Sun” is typical of the Magnetic Mind style with its three-part up, up and away harmonies and swirly organ breaks, whilst the swinging cover of “Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man” by the Carrie Nations from Beyond The Valley of the Dolls further nailed its friendly freak flag to the psychedelic mast for the gentle people. Light the incense and listen to their 45 here.

“Maybe The Stars, Maybe The Sun” by The Magnetic Mind is released on Heavy Soul Records.