Saturday, 28 December 2013

FIVE THIRTY - BED (EXPANDED EDITION)


This needs to begin with an admission. I, for want of a better word, was a Five Thirty groupie. From their first single for East-West in 1990 I followed them all over the south of England clocking up 24 gigs in little over eighteen months and kept every press cutting I could find. I was totally smitten. Two years later they had imploded but for that brief period they were untouchable.

Their solitary album Bed, released in the summer of ‘91, is now reissued as an expanded edition double CD containing the original album, all the tracks from their five EPs, a BBC Radio 1 session, and – pick me off the floor – six tracks recorded as demos for a never to be completed second album, Another Fresh Corpse.  

Formed in Oxford by Tara Milton (vocals/bass) and Paul Bassett (vocals/guitar), it was the addition of Phil Hooper on drums which added the missing ingredient, and from an inauspicious beginning as a teenage third-rate punky Mod band in the mid-80s, saw them explode like a supernova into the new decade as young men hot-wired with the heady adrenaline rush of Hendrix, The Who, The Jam, The Stone Roses and Pixies. From a band who in 1985 offered a disinterested audience at a Mod charity ball in Walthamstow five quid if they’d dance, to the hottest live band in the capital, their transformation was as phenomenal as it was unlikely. Their souls seemingly sold at the crossroads outside Paddington Station.    

Expanded or deluxe editions are often disappointing, padded out with filler only the dedicated fan would wish to hear more than once but Bed is stuffed to bursting with brilliance. Five Thirty never cut a bad track and the ten on the original vinyl album – as marvellous as they are – can’t be counted as their best ten songs. Throw all twenty four (ignoring the demos for the moment) into the air and whichever dozen lands first would make an album at least equal to it. The sleeve here lists some as “B-Sides”; I prefer to call them EP tracks. They’d make a superb album on their own. The only song  I ever occasionally skip is the cover of “Come Together”. Lennon and McCartney? Pah, give me Milton and Bassett any day.

Five Thirty had style and substance in abundance. They also were graced with two frontmen. The songs were usually credited to Milton/Bassett but they sang on different tracks and unlike the early Libertines to-come weren’t a two-headed beast but distinct individuals each bringing something different. To crudely divide them: Paul Bassett contributed the sharply kaleidoscopic, melodious powerpop (“Psycho Cupid”, “Strange Kind of Urgency”, “Judy Jones”; and Tara Milton brought dark, knotty, funky bass propelled art-punk (“Songs and Paintings”, “Junk Male”, “Coming Up For Air”). One thing that made them so exciting was they had such depth, they covered a lot of musical ground; they could also do reflective (“The Things That Turn You On”, “Slow Train Into The Ocean”), baggy dance (“13th Disciple”, “Something’s Got To Give”) and they could do fucking racket (“Automatons”, “Hate Male”), yet it all worked.

I thought The Jam comparisons in the press were overplayed at the time but I’ll now concede “Abstain” and “Air Conditioned Nightmare” do have the feel of Woking’s finest and there are clear elements of the Stone Roses and Jimi Hendrix on a few tracks. The Stone Roses though never got to sound anything like as muscular as “Mistress Daydream” until they lavished a fortune recording “Love Spreads” for The Second Coming four years later.

It’s often wrote Five Thirty should’ve been massive but were ahead of their time; had they arrived a few years later during Brit-Pop they would’ve cleaned up. This is perhaps true, to a point, but does them a disservice to imply they could’ve benefitted only in the slipstream of Blur and Oasis’s success. Five Thirty did much of the spade work laying the foundations for Brit-Pop with their pop classicism, a touch of decadent glamour, Modish styling (then deeply unfashionable) and an echo of 60s yesteryear but they had enough in them to lead the charge - in any given year - not just pick up crumbs knocked from the top table. 

Manic Street Preachers were also waiting in the wings writing notes and pilfering what they could, as their first NME manifesto from August ’90 attains: “We are the scum factor of the Mondays meets the guitar overload of Five Thirty/Ride while killing Birdland with politics”. (That was me signed up on the spot). The two were frequently bracketed together (I’d notice the same people going to see both bands) but Tara was having little of it, referring to them as the Janet Street Welchers and rather memorably proclaiming “Their trousers are too tight for their fat legs”. When the bands were broadcast live to the nation on Radio 1 at the Marquee a year later in the Battle of the White Levis (okay, the Yahama Band Explosion), the Manics had little answer to Five Thirty’s powerful (expletive ridden, feedback screeching) performance, although they would – eventually – win the war. 

Their gigs were an exhilarating rush of white heat and a wall of wah-wah guitar. They never really headlined anywhere much bigger than to a few hundred people at the Marquee which created sweat drenched imitate affairs, with Tara in particular – already blessed with a face which hung in a permanent pout - never shy about stripping off his shirt. The dynamics of a band trying to contain two frontmen, alternating vocals, vying for the spotlight, is always compelling (Doherty and Barat, were you watching?) and Milton and Bassett jumped and flailed and trashed themselves and their instruments in fierce competition. In a time of motionless shoegazing and hair swinging grunge it was quite a spectacle.

That they were three good looking fellas signed to a major label and full of mouthy arrogance didn’t endear them to the indie snobs. Mind you, that decision to sign to East-West rather than Creation, was a disastrous one. When Bed finally saw the light of day how did they promote it? By asking fans to buy “You” – already on the first EP and then on the album – for a third time. It was the last thing to come out and after finally freeing themselves from the record label the band lost the will to continue.

I never foresaw longevity in a band featuring two such huge talents, with presumably egos to match, so when they did spilt it was no great surprise. And to be honest, after drummer Phil was replaced, the couple of final gigs I saw in 1992 were as disappointing and distressing as the sight of Paul wearing what appeared to be Suzi Quatro's old purple velour catsuit. Milton formed The Nubiles; Bassett, Orange Deluxe. Both had their merit but instead of getting two for the price of one, fans got half for the price of two. The chemistry lost forever.

The newly made Bed sounds far better than my very worn LP, the remastering is excellent (most noticeably on “Air Conditioned Nightmare”), and the six previously unreleased songs show how much more they had to give, they hadn’t even peaked yet. ”Apple Something”, “Barbie Ferrari” and “She’s Got It Bad” all would’ve topped previous singles with their bigger hooks, increased vocal interplay and cocksure confidence.  Listen how the bimbo-baiting “Barbie Ferrari” struts and swaggers like Steve Jones playing T.Rex riffs whilst Tara Milton preens and purrs like a frisky Mick Jagger and tell me this didn’t deserve to be blasting from every radio on every high street in every land.

I’d held back from writing about this release for a few weeks as didn’t want to rush into penning a hyperbolic review based on my initial excitement (“This is the best thing ever”, I wrote on Facebook). Were Five Thirty really as great as I thought? Do they do still stand up? An emphatic yes to both. Only brief moments like the already-too-late-for-baggy “13th Disciple” give a date stamp (if that’s important, which I’m not sure it is) and if a band released stuff like this tomorrow I'd be all over it and so would you. Bed (Expanded Edition) isn’t an exercise in nostalgia, or a ruing of what might have been, but a testament to Five Thirty’s magnificence, whatever the time.

Bed (Deluxe Edition) by Five Thirty is released by 3Loop Music.
For everything you'll ever need to know about Five Thirty visit Lee Rourke's excellent fan site here.

Monday, 23 December 2013

SEASON'S GREETINGS TO YOU ALL


Just a quick word from Diana Dors and I to say thanks for dropping by and to wish you all a Happy Christmas; I can’t believe how quickly the year has gone. An added thank you to those who’ve shared posts and interacted either directly on here or via Twitter, Facebook, email or the good ole face-to-face method and have nodded me in the direction of cool stuff. Keep them coming. It might take some fruitless digging on occasions but there is plenty of bounty – old and new - out there still to discover. Who knows what 2014 will bring? See ya there. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

KILL YOUR DARLINGS (2013)


Another year, another Beat Generation film. Following Walter Salles’ disappointing adaptation of On The Road, John Krokidas makes his directorial debut with a movie based on the true story of Allen Ginsberg’s first year in New York and the killing by Lucien Carr of David Kammerer.

When young Ginsberg (played by a wide-eyed, round spectacle wearing, boyish Daniel Radcliffe) arrives at Columbia University in 1944 and questions his lecturer’s insistence that poems without rhyme, meter and conceit are like untucked shirts he soon finds himself adopted and in awe of the only other student daring to challenge convention and tradition: the wild, handsome and streetwise Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Possessing verve, a brilliant mind and a strong manipulative streak, Carr was looking for a writer to capture his ideas and in Allen he found the perfect accomplice.

Shy and innocent, Ginsberg’s excitement and confidence grows when encouraged in the pursuit of a literary “New Vision” by Carr (and the sexual tension between them) and the much older William Burroughs (Ben Foster) who is keen to advocate the derangement of the senses and aspiring writer and football playing jock Jack Kerouac (Jack Hudson). Together - all at least ten years away from any work which would make their literary name - they grandly adopt the title “the Libertine Circle” and indulge in practices suitably applicable to their cause.

The central event of Kill Your Darlings – Carr stabbing his long-time stalker and sexual predator David Kammerer with a pocket knife and throwing his body into the river to drown - is well known to Beat readers (Jack, Bill, Allen and others all wrote about it with varying degrees of accuracy) but unlike On The Road there is no sacred text, which makes the transition to film easier. Unlike Salles, who attempted to force a square peg into a round hole, Krokidas’ film stands on its own and works well when taken purely as entertainment. It has characters, a straight forward narrative, and is reasonably well acted. Those who don’t know the Beats from a bar of soap can watch and enjoy it.

There are factual inaccuracies – as in any “based on a true story” film – but I preferred to gloss over those. But, unlike On The Road, this didn’t feel over stylized (the occasional use of modern rock music in a 1940s-set film was jarring, although "Don't Look Back Into The Sun" by The Libertines over the end credits was a nice touch) and for a bunch of cliquey know-it-all university students none of the characters were particularly annoying. As much as they all fascinate me I'm convinced in "real life" - bar Kerouac and Burroughs - the Beat crowd would've annoyed the hell out of me with their pretentiousness. 

Kammerer’s death and the reaction by the others has always intrigued me. Being on the edge of their scene he was well known to all of them (Burroughs and Kammerer had been friends since kids in St Louis) yet Kerouac helped dispose of the dead man’s glasses and Burroughs did little more than shrug and suggest Carr get himself a good lawyer and turn himself in. Both were arrested as accessories to murder. Ginsberg is the only one shown to wrestle with his conscience as Carr requests his help in his trial.

This enjoyable film shows the fledging Beats coming together and Ginsberg, in particular, begin to find his voice. More importantly it makes the Beats - with their thirst for a "New Vision", a new way of writing and living - look like something worth investigating further. Do it.  

Kill Your Darlings is in cinemas now.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

SPOTIFY PICK #7: MONKEY PICKS OF 2013


I didn’t think 2013 had been a vintage year for new music but in compiling the now traditional end of year playlist I failed to whittle it down to the intended 20 tracks, eventually settling on 22, so it couldn't have been that bad.

They aren’t necessarily the best 22 as I’ve stuck to songs available on Spotify. Therefore, “I’ve Never Been To California” by Bronco Bullfrog misses out as do the Hidden Masters and Paul Messis, both who would have seen something from their albums included. Kurt Vile’s wonderful “Wakin’ On A Pretty Day” is omitted due to being nine and a half minutes long and as much as I love the Manics’ Rewind The Film album those songs sound better taken as a whole rather than pulling one out to sit alongside the work of others.

The coveted Album of the Year Award goes to Daniel Romano for his country masterpiece Come Cry With Me and Single of the Year is taken by The Higher State who just pip Baby Strange, with a honourable mention to the great comeback 45 by Suede.

Those with Spotify can listen here. Enjoy.

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages – The Corner Man
Suede – It Starts And Ends With You
The Primitives – Lose The Reason
Alfa 9 – Green Grass Grows
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)
The Sufis – No Expression
Baby Strange – Pure Evil
The Higher State – Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)
The Junipers – And In My Dreams
Camera Obscura – Break It To You Gently
Triptides – Night Owl
Bleached – Looking For A Fight
Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs – Things We Be
The Lucid Dream – Glue (Song For Irvine Welsh)
Foxygen – No Destruction
Babyshambles – Picture Me In A Hospital
Midlake – Antiphon
Mary Epworth – September
The See See – Featherman
Daniel Romano – He Lets Her Memory Go (Wild)
The Monks Kitchen – Shake
Mavis Staples – What Are They Doing In Heaven Today

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

KEEP THE FAITH by TIM WELLS (2013)


Boom! This is what we want.

Blackheath Books have come up trumps with a new poetry chapbook. What sets Keep The Faith apart is the all the poems are born from Londoner Tim Wells’s suedehead passion for soul and reggae. His enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and after turning the last page had me reaching for the nearest Sam Cooke album and a clutch of Trojan releases.  

Wells deftly joins the dots between black American and Jamaican artists in Chicago and Kingston, who created music as their way out of hard times, and how this resonates with British white kids from Dalston who use these sacred records to dance their escape from the drudgery of the working week, dressed in their Saturday night finest.  He captures the excitement of living for the weekend, that moment the needle hits the record, of music as a shared experience, and of being in possession of the secret key which unlocks these joyful moments to those in the know.

The twenty poems are all suitably clean, sharp, smart and to the point. Their direct style and subject matter attractive to folk more likely to be found scouring second-hand record shops than the poetry section of Waterstones.

Published as a very limited, numbered edition of 200, Keep The Faith (surely it’s time for moratorium on those three words and the associated clenched – or rather clichéd - fist) should sell out fast, so get in quick as soon it’ll be easier to find a copy of The Wailers “Diamond Baby” on Coxsone.  Highly recommended for suedeheads, mods, soulies or anyone with a passion for music beyond the midnight hour.

Keep The Faith by Tim Wells is published and available from Blackheath Books, priced £8.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

DANIEL ROMANO - COME CRY WITH ME (2013)


Fear not the Stetson, the dodgy tache, the Nudie-style suit, the fiddles and the pedal steel, Daniel Romano’s Come Cry With Me is my album of 2013.

It’s Romano’s third solo album (previously in Canadian band Attack In Black) and very studiously recreates the warmth of late 60s/early 70s country records. There’s a hint of Gram Parsons here, a dash of George Jones there, a nod to Johnny Cash and so forth.  There are good and bad examples of all musical styles but the country scales tend to weigh heavily in one direction but this is perfect, like an old familiar classic. 

A sign of a truly great album is when it’s impossible to pick a favourite track and the ten here - from weeping ballads of abandonment and death to honky-tonking tales of transvestism and chicken killers – are so beautifully written and performed mine changes on each listen.

Here’s a taste of one song, played in a more stripped down style to the album, recorded for Exclaim TV earlier this year.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

MOUSETRAP R&B ALLNIGHTER SETLIST


There’s still nothing quite like playing a selection of one’s favourite records in a dark club at ridiculously loud volume and seeing people jump and dance. That’s how it was last Saturday at the Mousetrap in Finsbury Park. These were my sets at 11.40pm and 3.15am.

The Hammond Brothers – Thirty Miles of Railroad Track (Abner)
Clyde McPhatter – Thirty Days (Atlantic)
Rudy & The Reno Bops – Rudy’s Monkey (Tear Drop)
Bobby Marchan – Chickee wah-Wah (Gale)
Sugar & Sweet – You Don’t Have To Cry (Pep)
Gladys Tyler – A Little Bitty Girl (Decca)
Jimmy Nelson – Tell Me Who (Chess)
Hindal Butts – In The Pocket (M-S)
Cecil Garrett – Bear Cat (Calla)
Dorothy Berry – Ain’t That Love (Planetary)
Jean Stanback – If I Ever Needed Love (Peacock)
Smokey Smothers – I Got My Eyes On You (Gamma)
Banny Price – You Love Me Pretty Baby (Jewel)
Chubby Checker – Toot (Columbia)
Toussaint McCall – The Toussaint Shuffle (Ronn)
Prince Conley – I‘m Going Home (Satellite)

Big Maybelle – Do Lord (Brunswick)
The Gardenias – What’s The Matter With Me (Fairline)
Lloyd Price – The Chicken & The Bop (KRC)
Bobby Peterson Quintet – Mama Get The Hammer (V-Tone)
Jessie Mae – Don’t Freeze On Me (Dra)
Harold Atkins – Big Ben (-)
Dick Jordan – I Want Her Back (Jamie)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
Lou Rawls – Trouble Down Here Below (Capitol)
Big Daddy Rogers – I’m A Big Man (Midas)
Youg Jessie – Big Chief (Mercury)
Dick Holler – Mooba Grooba (Comet)
Marv Johnson – Come On And Stop (United Artists)
Mary Ann Fisher – It’s A Man’s World (Imperial)
Jesse Pearson – I Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (RCA-Victor)
Billy Young – Glendora (Original Sound)
Frank Minion – How Much Land Does A Man Need (Vik)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

GRAHAM DAY & THE FOREFATHERS, THE HIGHER STATE and THE AARDVARKS at the BETHNAL GREEN WORKING MEN’S CLUB


When Graham Day, Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard reunited to play as The Prime Movers at the Blues Kitchen in May – and then tore a whacking great hole through Day’s songbook – it got Day’s juices flowing after a five year absence. What started as a couple of special shows under a previous moniker has now developed into something hopefully more substantial: a new name, a fresh start but - for now at least - familiar songs from The Prisoners, The Prime Movers, The SolarFlares and The Gaolers.

First up though, taking a similarly nostalgic approach to the Forefathers, were 90s Mod scene attractions The Aardvarks. Cherry Red this year issued Sinker, Line & Hook: The Anthology 1987-1999, which by accident or design has prompted the Ealing dandies to rekindle former glories. Always taking from a slighter later sixties period than their closest rivals The Clique, The Aardvarks dusted off their old Wimple Winch, Easybeats, Fleur De Lys/Sharon Tandy and Who covers but these were overshadowed by their own material, especially “Buttermilk Boy” and the Graham Dayesque “I Threw Her A Line”.  

The band may sport a few grey hairs these days - singer Gary is now less Scott Walker and more Roy Walker (please forward all complaints/credit for that remark to Mrs Monkey, I’m in no position to comment...) – but they did enough to bring back memories of their amazing 1995 Barcelona gig which still gets talked about along the length of the Uxbridge Road. There was surprisingly no “Arthur C. Clark”, which I always think of as their signature song, but maybe next time.

The Higher State also look back but not to their own past. Marty and Mole, as half of The Mystreated, played on bills with The Aardvarks at the St John’s Tavern and Boston Arms twenty years ago but now showcase tracks from their fourth album, The Higher State (matching the score of their previous combo). With chiming guitars and three-part harmonies they gained in momentum, switching between unadulterated folk-rock and intelligent garage-punk. By that I mean avoiding the usual “running round town/tryin’ put me down” garages clichés, although as Marty acknowledged when muttering an introduction to “Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)” there is seldom an upbeat message. “Always so negative,” he sniggers.

Watching The Higher State finish off with a blissfully sunny sounding “Song Of The Autumn” was to be transported to Los Angeles in ’66, to the Troubadour, to the Whisky A Go Go – a far cry from a scuzzy, down-at-the-heel East End working men’s club in 2013.

I expected Graham Day & The Forefathers to romp through their collective back catalogue and that’s exactly what they did. The Prime Movers’ “Good Things”, followed by the lesser-spotted Prisoners B-side “Promised Land”.  There were Gaolers songs (“Get Off My Track”) and a handful of SolarFlares numbers (“Mary”  etc.).

The absence of an organ didn’t matter (I could still hear one in my head) as the Medway powerhouse trio drove through in typically hard hitting style. Day, crunching out his riffs, his purple shirt soaked through to the skin, gets top billing but Crockford and Howard’s contribution to that sound should never be underestimated. They crashed, banged and walloped anything and everything within striking distance. It would’ve been easier to bash a hole in a prison wall than find a weakness in these monumentally tough slabs of songs. There was no let up. A quick catch of breath and then BANG, off again.

I wasn’t taking full notes as I didn’t want the distraction but jotted down the Prisoners ones as I knew I’d forget. “Better In Black”, “Creepy Crawlies”, “Whenever I’m Gone”, “Be On Your Way”. They kept coming. “Hurricane”, “Love Me Lies”, “Coming Home”. I only had a small scrap of paper. “I Am The Fisherman”, “Reaching My Head”. Blimey. And then the finale, “Melanie”. Not only were people cheering, they were dancing. At a gig. In London. Is this allowed? Incredible scenes.

Next stop is back to the old Prisoners haunt of the 100 Club on Saturday 8th February. It’ll be great like this was. There’s no immediate rush for new songs as there’s enough oldies to chop and change but on this form it’s a tantalising thought for the future. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

MOUSETRAP R&B ALLNIGHTER and INTERVIEW WITH MONKEY


This Saturday I'm guesting behind the decks at the Mousetrap R&B Allnighter in Finsbury Park. Been a fair few months since I last DJed at a proper rhythm and soul do, so looking forward to spinning a number of 45s I've acquired recently, plus cranking out personal favourites in this little basement bar.

Promoters the New Untouchables recently interviewed me for their Nutsmag. The result, should you wish to ridicule me, is here: Hey! Mr. DJ  

Also joining residents Chris Dale and Rob Bailey on Saturday are the esteemed Callum Simpson, fresh from opening his Monkey Jump club in Manchester last week, and young gun Louie Thompson from Nottingham making his Trap debut.

Expect the finest Rhythm & Blues, Northern & Club Soul, Ska/Reggae, Jazz and Boogaloo.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

NOVEMBER PLAYLIST

The sadly unavailable Ronnie Lane
1.  Lou Rawls – “Trouble Down Here Below” (1966)
Lou Rawls testifying from the mountaintop. Gospel music taken from the church to the dancefloor.

2.  The Turtles – “Wanderin’ Kind” (1966)
I blame/thank The Higher State for making me think to dig out the first Turtles album.

3.  Hindal Butts – “In The Pocket” (1967)
There was part of me which bought this record because it was by Hindal Butts. Not because I knew anything about him, I just like the name. Hindal Butts. Fortunately it’s a funky, snap-tight Hammond instrumental. Mr. Butts was on sticks, no idea who was letting rip on the organ, and Monkey Snr. speculates the tenor player came from Chicago. 

4.  Elli – “Never Mind” (1967)
When not working as a painter and decorator in Swinging London, Calcutta-born Elli Meyer sang in a string of middling beat combos before friends Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker wrote and recorded this intricate gem on him for Parlophone. It would be Elli’s only release until a collection of ’67-’70 recordings appeared on a Dig The Fuzz album in 1999. Well worth looking out for.

5.  Velvet Underground – “Foggy Notion” (1969)
Oh man, the Velvets really swing on this, one of my very favourites of theirs.

6.  Ebony Rhythm Band – “Soul Heart Transplant” (1969)
As the house band for Lamp Records in Indianapolis, the Ebony Rhythm Band cut a few 45s of their own including this funky-as-hell breakbeat goldmine.

7.  Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance – “Anniversary” (1975)
It seems every other week another newly packaged Small Faces collection taps on the wallet. Just how many times do people need those songs? What the world is crying out for though is a proper reissue of all Ronnie Lane’s albums. Where’s the boxset with all his Slim Chance recordings, eh? It’s a sorry state of affairs.  

8.  The See See – “Featherman” (2013)
The See See have made a couple of albums straddling the twin horses country-rock and West Coast psychedelia. This recent stand-alone 45 is the best thing they’ve done so far, with carousel organ and a great use of strings added into the mix.  

9.  Midlake – “The Old And The Young” (2013)
They’ll never match the brilliance of The Trials Of Van Occupanther but new album Antiphon takes some of their familiar themes and adds a futuristic psychedelic twist.

10.  Beachwood Sparks – “Desert Skies” (1998)
What would’ve been their debut album only now, this month, sees release. “Desert Skies” is the Bandwagonesque title track.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

THE SWAMP DOGG BLUES & SOUL COLLECTION: DORIS DUKE, SANDRA PHILLIPS, WOLFMOON and ZZ HILL


Jerry Williams was no lazy dog that’s for sure as Alive Records release four more remastered albums in Swamp Dogg’s Soul and Blues Collection with original artwork and new offbeat liner notes from the Dogg himself. Unlike Total Destruction To Your Mind, Rat On! and Gag A Maggott, these were cut on other artists but with Dogg on writing, recording and production duties they’re very much his babies from a prolific early 70s period.

Doris Duke’s I’m A Loser is the most familiar album having seen previous reissues and being, quite correctly, considered a deep soul classic. Swamp Dogg, then still plain Jerry Williams, signed Doris in 1969 as the resulting I’m A Loser was released early the following year.  

Nobody does wounded quite like this Doris. There’s a ragged bruised quality to her voice which perfectly suits the songs given to her. Her man leaves her in the opening track and things seldom get much better as she catalogues a series of broken relationships and tough living. In “I Don’t Care Anymore”, she’s destitute, alone on a lumpy bed in cheap hotel room, and doesn’t “know if I’m better off alive or dead” until a smooth stranger offers her a job. Street-walking. Them’s the breaks honey.

Yet despite the title and heaps of misery, I’m A Loser isn’t a particularly depressing listen, thanks to Swamp’s clean and airy production. It’s not overwrought and at times it can sound mildly uplifting if the lyrics aren’t concentrated on too closely. “I Can’t Do Without You” (one of the two non-Dogg penned tracks) is more upbeat although the chorus “Like an addict hooked on drugs, I can’t do without you,” is hardly radio friendly. After the preceding tracks the minor hit single which ends the album, “To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)”, is a strange sort of triumph as Doris convinces herself she’s better off as a mistress than a wife.

As Doris Duke’s star grew, so, according to Swamp’s never-less-than-frank liner notes, did her ego and her drinking, carrying around a half pint of cognac in her purse at all times. “I just couldn’t figure out why I was a sweetheart during the first part of the day and as night approached, I became a sack full of motherfuckers”. With her increasing unreliability Swamp sent out Sandra Phillips in her place to cover appearances. “Thank God all black people look alike”. Not only did they not look alike, they didn’t sound much alike either.  


Signed in 1970, and groomed in Swamp’s mind as Duke’s replacement Sandra Phillips’s Too Many People In One Bed featured eleven of his (sometimes co-written) songs, including a couple already released by Doris.

Swamp couldn’t afford to add horns to Doris’s album but they’re used to good effect here; not too overpowering. Phillips has a wonderfully soulful voice (less battered than Duke, she appears of sounder mind and body) and Too Many People In One Bed is a great southern soul album which improves on every listen and Swamp once again demonstrated his remarkable talent for writing from a woman’s perspective. “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking)” where Sandra listens to another woman bragging about her man, only to realise she’s talking about her own husband, is a masterpiece.

Too Many People In One Bed didn’t see a proper release at the time (Canyon Records going downstream) so Phillips found her vocation as star of stage and screen Williams developed his Swamp Dogg persona, plus created one for Tyrone Thomas, who he named Wolfmoon.

The idea was to create a spiritual theme to Wolfmoon’s self-titled album and Swamp provided a light but funky gospel/R&B groove. Some of the titles alone: “Cloak Of Many Colors”, “If He Walked Today”, “What Is Heaven For” and “God Bless” make the concept clear enough and they’re bolstered by a trio of interesting covers. I usually can’t stand “If I Had A Hammer” – it’s a dreadful song – but Wolf’s Muscle Shoals-style version works far better than any other I’ve heard. An eight and a half minute reading of “People Get Ready” goes from church recital to the outer limits of freaky space travel and “Proud Mary” is the funkiest thing this side of Bootsy Collins’s boot collection.

Swamp’s notes are short on recording details and long on character assassination (“Wolfmoon’s a treacherous, two-faced song thief; with possible cannibal tendencies”) but as far as I can work out Wolfmoon was another album which fell between the cracks in record company shenanigans and only saw a limited release. It’s another strong showing from Dogg’s stable/kennel and deserves belated recognition.


Last up is The Brand New Z.Z. Hill which, as expected from Hill, is a more soulful blues affair. This one definitely did find release; sneaking into the Billboard Top 200 in 1971 and scoring a few hit singles on the R&B charts. It’s okay but not really my bag and especially not when compared to the other three albums here which I’d recommend in the order of writing. 

All releases in the Swamp Dogg Blues and Soul Collection also including albums by Irma Thomas, Lightnin' Slim and Raw Spitt are released by Alive Naturalsound Records.

Monday, 18 November 2013

CURTIS MAYFIELD - "GET DOWN" (1972)


This is the incomparable Curtis Mayfield - a model of heavenly restraint in a sea of funky soul brothers and sisters trying to out do each other with their moves - and a "sho' nuff killer" from his second solo album, Roots. Footage from an episode of Soul Train, first broadcast 25 March 1972. Get down.

Friday, 15 November 2013

THE HIGHER STATE - THE HIGHER STATE (2013)


The world isn’t blessed with an abundance of great American 60s folk-rock albums yet, maybe improbably, The Higher State from the South-Coast of England have made one in 2013.

That might be factually debatable but aurally it’s undeniable. Not that it should cause much of a surprise as after four albums The Higher State have got this stuff down to a fine art. What is noticeable here is a slight shift of emphasis and greater focus. Their unshakeable commitment to authentic 60s recording methods is evident as always (recorded in their own 8-track analogue State Studios) but whereas previous album, the excellent Freakout At The Gallery, was more experimental and had a harder psychedelic edge, this new one is more-or-less straight folk-rock, with the stress on the rock part. There’s no wishy-washy acoustic numbers, everything is resolutely plugged in and a cynical disgruntlement bubbles beneath the surface.  

It’s a tight, economical album – it contains no flab, no wastage, nothing out of place; just neatly picked lead guitar lines running through strong chiming songs containing memorable melodies and ear-catching lyrics.

I’ve written before about "Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)" and it’s the wildest track here and the best single of the year, no question. “Why Don’t You Prove It” also drives fast and angrily and "I'm Going Home Now" owes a debt to Love's "You'll I'll Be Following". Those are among the most immediate tracks (plus the harmonica led "What Is The Deal") but with the pace knocked down a notch on some others they soon shine through.

“You’ve Drifted Far” is a beautiful and gently reflective whilst “Need To Shine” is among the many more Byrdsian moments. Any band adopting anything half resembling a jangle gets a Byrds comparison even when they sound nothing like them and don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. The Higher State capture the feel and spirit of the early Byrds (think of the Byrds 1964 Preflyte demos rather than the cleaner sound which made their name). Yet whilst Preflyte and The Higher State could’ve been made in the same studio one after each other they each retain their own identify.

Twelve songs, none touching three minutes, and the whole album over within half an hour. Their record label, 13 O’Clock Records, call The Higher State “the UK’s foremost exponents of authentic folk-rock”. Just the UK? They’re selling them short.

The Higher State by The Higher State is out on Monday 19th November. Available here.  

Monday, 11 November 2013

YOUNG JESSIE at JUKEBOX JAM, LONDON


Discovering, collecting and DJing old soul and R&B 45s reveals a host of acts where little is immediately known about the people on the record. Records are bought on the strength of the individual track, not necessarily the performer who may have only made one side suited to a dancefloor.

Young Jessie’s “Big Chief” – cut for Mercury Records in 1962 – exploded into Mod/R&B consciousness around 2003. I remember this clearly, as having travelled back from seeing QPR lose the Second Division Play-Off Final in Cardiff, my mood was greatly lifted by hearing Alan Handscombe play it in a club off Mayfair and it jumped to top of my wants list. Once tracked down it was a staple of my DJ sets for a good few years. Yet as the booming novelty of “Big Chief” wore off it was replaced by another Young Jessie number, the classy, gliding “You Were Meant For Me” from the following year, which, thanks to a subtler arrangement , has remained in set lists ever since. Completing a hat-trick, his rarest 45, “Brown Eyes”, is a moody, atmospheric in-demander for the early hours of the morning.

If the 60s R&B crowd were, like me, slow to pick up on Young Jessie’s catalogue the same can’t be said of the 50s scene who were already well versed in his earlier exuberant cuts “Mary Lou”, “I Smell A Rat”, “Oochie Coochie” and “Hit, Git and Spilt” for Modern Records, and his association with Leiber and Stoller, even singing on the Coasters’ classic “Searchin’”.

Seeing Young Jessie – still young aged 76 – perform all these songs and more (minus “Big Chief”) on Saturday was such a pleasure, a real joy. The superb venue, The New Empowering Church - hidden in a dark alley and having the feel of an old semi-legal warehouse party – was packed with a predominately rockabilly crowd (bolstered by a small Mod contingent) who cheered every moment as Jessie oozed charisma and style from the stage. Looking the dapper gentleman in his sharp suit and hat, and backed with a cool rockabilly band led by Big Boy Bloater, he patrolled the stage, shoulders proudly back, and was in good gravelly voice and shape, only occasionally using the wicker chair to take the weight off his legs during the slower numbers.  

Ten years ago Young Jessie was just another mysterious name on a record label to me, now I know he’s an artist with a fantastic collection of recordings. To see him with my own eyes brought him and his music to life in a way I couldn't have imagined a decade ago. A tremendous experience. 

The night was put on by Jukebox Jam to launch Jukebox Jam Volume Two, a double-LP compiled by Liam Large of rocking R&B, so huge thanks to them for bringing Jessie over from America especially for this show.

Jukebox Jam Volume Two is released today on Jazzman Records.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

THE MONKS KITCHEN - "SHAKE" (2013)

I love the song “Shake”. Sam Cooke’s original; Otis Redding’s electrifying version with Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe on Ready Steady Go; Brenda Holloway; Ray Charles; Rod The Mod; The Supremes – it doesn’t matter, it’s such an uplifting number it always lifts the mood.

None of the above versions mess round with the original structure, so hats off to The Monks Kitchen for their new interpretation, completely unlike anything that’s gone before. The Monks Kitchen's Shake soup is beautifully served and extremely moreish. Released yesterday as a limited edition single ahead of their new album, Music From The Monks Kitchen, out 18th November on Wonderful Sounds Records. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

MUSCLE SHOALS (2013)


I’ll be honest with ya, for years I thought Muscle Shoals was simply the name of a recording studio not an actual location on a map. Tucked away down in Alabama with a population of around 8,000, the place is synonymous with the full-fat, funky sound cut deep in the grooves of classic 60s soul sides and beyond.

Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s film tells the story of the small city’s rich musical heritage through contributions from artists who recorded in the otherwise tranquil surroundings of trees, swamp and dirt roads at both FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios within a splash of a gator’s tail from the Tennessee River. An impressive roll call of talking heads (most filmed for the movie with occasional stock footage spliced in) takes their turn to pay tribute: Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Stevie Winwood, Jimmy Cliff, Candi Staton etc. All these and more recorded in Muscle Shoals but why the irrelevant Bono gets his slappable, sanctimonious face on screen without having any connection I known of – physically or spiritually - to the place is never explained. It’s a shame that for all the greatness contained within the 111 minutes it’s the image of Bono’s ego wrestling limelight away from the film’s intended focus which lingers most unnecessarily.

Muscle Shoals covers a wide base and therefore individual stories are kept brief. A lot, like Jerry Wexler at Atlantic sending new signed Aretha - a yet to be crowned Queen of Soul hitherto fumbling around for direction - down south and coming back with “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” with the help of Spooner Oldham’s chord sequence, followed by five albums of hits, or Leonard Chess packing off Etta James during a lean period to be rewarded with “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” are well known vignettes but the main focus isn’t on the established acts whose names appeared in bold letters on record labels but the guys like producer Rick Hall and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section house band, nicknamed the Swampers, who were lucky to make the small print.

Rick Hall is the central figure and his musical highs are offset by his candid disclosure of personal hardship and family tragedies. He’d cut Arthur Alexander’s “You’d Better Move On” in ’61 and followed it with another hit, Jimmy Hughes’s “Steal Away” recorded in his FAME studio. From there the hits kept coming, due in large part to his meticulous approach and the distinct yet adaptable sound of the Swampers, built around a nucleus of Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), Barry Beckett (keyboards) and David Hood (bass). Muscle Shoals shines a light on these musicians and gives them a voice in the same manner Standing In The Shadows Of Motown did for the Funk Brothers in Detroit.

That Rick Hall (who now sports a very stylish and covetable moustache) and the Swampers were Southern white guys playing in such a gritty soul style – even helping to define soul music itself– was a source of regular surprise. A sceptical Wilson Pickett wondered of Rick Hall, “What does this white man know about the blues?” before clocking the cotton picking fields outside FAME and leaving with “Land of a 1000 Dances”, “Mustang Sally” and all his other smashes tucked in his bad ass pocket. Even Aretha – all dolled up, plonked on a chair and filmed from the other side of an empty room as if the bailiffs have removed the rest of her possessions – recounts her shock of how “greazy” the Swampers were; disproving the notion Caucasians ain’t got no rhythm.

In 1969 Hall struck a deal to work for Capitol Records. Meeting the Swampers to share the good news they suddenly announce they’re quitting and setting up their own studios with the help of Wexler and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios is born. After picking himself off the floor Hall assembled a new band, The Fame Gang, and in effect the music world got two for the price of one although both would diversify into fields outside the soul patch.   

Within two years Rick Hall was crowned Producer of The Year and his rivals, after a slow start, got a huge boast to their fortunes after Keith Richards’ snakeskin boots led the Rolling Stones into town to cut “I Gotta Move”, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. A member of the Swampers now insists the Stones – in 1971 remember – were model professionals and weren’t indulging in any drink or drugs; Keith and Mick (good value throughout) both have a cheekily smirk at such a claim. Such was the apparent naivety of the Muscle Shoals musicians Stevie Winwood says Traffic felt guilty taking them on tour with them and exposing them to certain (unnamed) practices.

A squillion recordings have taken place since then – some massively successful, others less so – and Hall and the Swampers have kissed and made-up. Muscle Shoals is ultimately a feel-good movie with a brilliant soundtrack - what I like most about films like this is how they breathe fresh life into familiar songs - and one which puts helps put firmly fix Muscle Shoals to the musical map for many more years to come.

Muscle Shoals is in selected cinemas now. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

OCTOBER PLAYLIST


1.  The Moontrekkers – “Night of the Vampire” (1961)
When North London kids The Raiders auditioned for Joe Meek he was less than impressed with 16 year old singer Rod Stewart. Duly dumped, the now instrumental band were rewarded by creeping into the Top 50 with their first single, complete with Meek screams and a ban from the BBC for being “unsuitable for people of a nervous disposition”.

2.  The Vontastics – “Lady Love” (1966)
Do The Vontastics really sing “She’s a man and I love her so” in the first twenty seconds of this Impressions-style 45? No matter how many times I listen (and it’s a lot) that’s what I always hear.

3.  MC5 – “Looking At You” (1968)
Completed in 2002 but prevented a full release by Wayne Kramer, David C. Thomas and Laurel Legler’s documentary film MC5: A True Testimonial sneaked its way onto YouTube last week. There’s so much to admire about the MC5: their attitude, style, politics, wilful anti-establishment stance but what comes across most vividly from the bountiful footage is what an untouchable force they were as a live act. The original single version of “Looking At You” is the best studio capture of their sound.

4.  Bob Seger System – “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (1968)
Was sent this song the other day and told it had my name all over it. How right they were.  Foot stomping, hand clapping, organ propelled Detroit garage rock. Tamer than the MC5 but then what isn’t? 

5.  The Eddy Jacobs Exchange – “Pull My Coat” (1969)
Funky just isn’t a strong enough word for this tough JBs style bomb.

6.  Leon Thomas – “Bag’s Groove” (1970)
There’s nothing Leon likes more than to break out into a prolonged bout of scat singing. A couple of tracks on The Leon Thomas Album break the ten minute barrier so first ease yourself in gently with this more manageable three minutes of shoo-be-doo-be-doo-wop gibberish set to a swinging groove.

7.  Bob Dylan – “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” (1970)
This previously unreleased take from the recent Another Self Portrait finds Bobby gently crooning and tinkering the ivories. The ten volumes of his Bootleg Series alone wipe the floor with everyone else.

8.  The Kinks – “Nobody’s Fool (Demo Version)” (1972)
Written by Ray Davies and used as the title music for the second series of TV drama Budgie, starring Adam Faith as the consistently unlucky charismatic rogue/unscrupulous bastard title character (“I’ve bleedin’ stood for it again, ain’t I?”). The telly version was released as a single by a studio concoction christened Cold Turkey (thought by many – incorrectly - to be The Kinks under alias). Ray’s demo can now be found on the new deluxe edition of Muswell Hillbillies.

9.  Robyn Hitchcock – “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” (1981)
I’m unfashionably late to the Hitchcock party but what a wonderful discovery Black Snake Diamond Role is. If you like Syd Barrett, fill your boots. 

10.  Morrissey and Siouxsie – “Interlude” (1994)
I usually hate the early chapters of autobiographies but Morrissey’s incredible purple prose, turn of phrase and eye for detail about growing up in dark and brutal Manchester in the 60s and 70s makes the first 100 pages of his the exception. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

JUKEBOX 7"s PLAYLIST - FRIDAY 18th OCTOBER 2013

Jukebox 7"s co-host Long John spins a round vinyl thing.
Friday’s inaugural Jukebox 7’s night went down pretty in the Elixir Bar up from Euston. The non-purist musical melting pot worked and the good sized mixed crowd cottoned on to what was happening, illustrated by the requests I received: The Ramones, MGMT, “some northern soul”, Joy Division, Curtis Mayfield and The Vaccines. All of which could’ve been played and some of which was.

Initially the plan was for the night to run monthly but to preserve the vibe of Friday night, and to ensure its constantly keep it fresh, promoters Long John and Louie Markey have decided that a more sporadic time scale between parties will benefit all future editions of the Jukebox 7"s series. A wise move. I was lucky enough to spin a couple of sets alongside fellow DJs John, Louie and Miles. This’ll give a flavour of the night.
   
The Impressions – Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey) (1969)
The Poets – She Blew A Good Thing (1966)
Mouse & The Traps – Cryin’ Inside (1968)
The Horrors – Count In Fives (2006)
The Byrds – Feel A Whole Lot Better (1965)
The Hollies – Look Through Any Window (1965)
The Higher State – Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy) (2013)
Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)
Mark Markham and his Jesters – Malboro Country (1966)
Eddy Jacobs Exchange – Pull My Coat (1969)
Five Thirty – 13th Disciple (1991)
James Brown – Hot Pants (1971)
Rufus Thomas – Turn Your Damper Down (1969)
Dave Berry – Don’t Give Me No Lip Child (1964)
Brian Auger and the Trinity – Tiger (1968)
Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country (2006)
Teenage Fanclub – I Don’t Want Control Of You (1997)

Aretha Franklin – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1967)
Nolan Porter – If I Could Only Be Sure (1972)
The Kinks – She’s Got Everything (1968)
The Clash – Tommy Gun (1978)
The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (1977)
Manic Street Preachers – Motown Junk (1991)
The Libertines – What A Waster (2002)
The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart Of Mine (1966)
Marjorie Black – One More Hurt (1965)
Darrow Fletcher – The Pain Gets A Little Deeper (1965)
Rufus Lumley – I’m Standing (1966)
Ray Scott and the Scotsmen – Right Now (1966)
Gary Criss – My Baby Left Me (1965)
Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames – Green Onions (1964)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

JUKEBOX 7”s at THE ELIXIR BAR, FRIDAY 18th OCTOBER 2013


Here's something for the diary if you fancy a night of drinking and merriment in ye olde London Town to a pile of dusty old (and maybe a few new) 7 inch records. The plan - such as there is one - is to mix it up with a bit of this, that and the other. It'll be pretty random and varied. Soul, psych, punk, funk, indie, rhythm & blues etc. Might work, might not, but should be good fun with plenty of surprises.

It's being put on by partner in crime and EyePlug scribe Long John and Louie Markey and I'll be one of the guest DJs on the opening night alongside Miles Macleod. I’ve already packed a box including The Action, James Brown, Big Maybelle, The Buzzcocks and Baby Strange. The trick is gonna be to play them in something resembling a logical order.

Come and join us. Friday 18th October 2013 at the Elixir Bar, 162 Eversholt Street, Camden, NW1, 8pm until 3am. Admission a deep sea diver.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

TEENAGE FANCLUB - "I'LL FEEL A WHOLE LOT BETTER" (1995)

Keeping with this week’s Gene Clark theme, here – two years after recording “Gene Clark” on their Thirteen album - Teenage Fanclub perform a faithful cover of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” on Channel 4's The White Room. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

THE BYRD WHO FLEW ALONE – THE TRIUMPHS & TRAGEDY OF GENE CLARK (2013)


Gene Clark did go it alone but it was his refusal to fly which contributed to his departure from The Byrds, less than a year after “Mr Tambourine Man” catapulted the band to number 1 on the singles chart and had them heralded as America’s Beatles.

Jack and Paul Kendall’s new film The Byrd Who Flew Alone doesn’t make it entirely clear whether Clark walked completely voluntary or was pushed but when a panic stricken Gene suddenly got off a plane about to fly to New York his band colleagues weren’t in any hurry to offer much sympathy or persuade him to stay. David Crosby admits it would’ve been impossible to find five more completely different human beings, and when Clark – as their lead singer and main songwriter – was allegedly presented with a cheque for $47,000 and bought a Porsche whilst the others received $4,000 and caught buses it did nothing to bring the band closer together.

Forever grounded, Clark would never achieve those heights again despite a host of figures – including a very likeable David Crosby - now cueing up to declare him and prolific songwriter and genius. “He sang from his heart and he had great songs. Why didn’t it work? That’s the question,” says Chris Hillman. Using archive footage (some never seen before) and new interviews with the three original surviving Byrds, family, friends, record company owners and musicians, the Kendall’s attempt to find out.

His final manager, Saul Davis, states Gene should be regarded and remembered as at least the equal to Gram Parsons and the Father of Americana. Parsons though had the misfortune/good business sense to die at arguably his musical peak and leave a tidy back catalogue whereas Clark soldiered on through a fragmented career of folk, rock and roll and country, never quite able to find a neat fit in the music industry nor cope with the pressures (and pleasures) brought by fame. Carla Olson feels Gene was ahead of his time but Sid Griffin repeatedly claims Gene kept missing the ship leaving the harbour, in particular in the early 70s - the age of the singer/songwriter - a period which was should’ve been tailor made to suit Clark’s sensitive talent and ethereal qualities.    

Two Gene Clark’s emerge. The first is the relaxed poet, living a quiet family life in the woods near Mendocino, and the second is the boozy nightmare stomping around LA forever burning bridges. Not suited to taking any kind of drug, he took most of them: from booze and joints in the Byrds; to Martinis and LSD with Doug Dillard; cocaine; and eventually heroin. Whenever success came (or rather when the big money came like it did when Tom Petty covered “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”) it would bring out the worst in him.

We hear A&M Records released him as he wasn’t prepared to do much promotion for his stunning second solo LP White Light (1971) yet blamed Asylum boss David Geffen for not doing enough to get behind what is now considered by many his masterpiece – 1974’s No Other – launching himself across a restaurant table to grab him Geffen around the throat. Punching the lights out of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood wasn't the wisest career move.

From there on his career remained mostly in the shadows unless reunited with whichever former Byrd was doing the rounds but he kept plugging away through the hard times – including the removal of much of his stomach - until his death in 1991 from a bleeding ulcer, aged 46. The film does a fine job in giving equal measure to all aspects of his career and ends with a captivating and poignant home-video performance of “I Shall Be Released”. I was already a fan but The Byrd Who Flew Alone has reignited my admiration for Gene Clark and is a worthy tribute to the man and his music.

The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark is released via Four Sun Productions on 1st November 2013.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

SEPTEMBER PLAYLIST

Paul Court & Tracy Tracy of The Primitives, 100 Club, 28 September 2013

More than a few of my favourite artists crop up in this month's playlist. Here goes...

1.  Chubby Parker and His Old Time Banjo – “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O” (1928)
There aren’t enough songs about frogs marrying mice performed by fat men playing a 5-string banjo and whistling.

2.  Dick Justice – “Henry Lee” (1932)
A boarding house lady tries to tempt Henry Lee with her cheap lodgings but he’s not having any of it, remaining loyal to his true love. His reward is a pen knife plunged into his chest before being chucked down a deep, deep well, where he lies until the flesh drops off his bones.

3.  Eddie Kirk – “Hog Killin’ Time” (1964)
This was the way to record a blues harp – down, dirty and distorted.

4.  Arthur Alexander – “Where Have You Been All My Life?”  (1962)
Love everything about this record (tucked away as the flip of “Soldier of Love”) - the production, the arrangement and Arthur’s beautifully passionate vocal.

5.  Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – “Ooh Baby Baby” (1965)
Stripped of the Funk Brothers, this accapella version from Studio A of Hitsville is truly hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. Listen here.

6.  Curtis Mayfield – “Back To The World” (1973)
Governer Pat Quinn has declared today (29th September) as Curtis Mayfield Day in Illinois. Every day is Curtis Mayfield Day in Monkey Mansions.

7.  The Primitives – “Dreamwalk Baby” (1987)
It was great to hear the Primitives perform the whole of Lovely last night at the 100 Club. It’s an album so packed with goodies it’s difficult to single out one track but this got the head bobbing somewhat frantically. If that wasn't enough for a memorable Saturday night out, dancing with Mike Joyce to "This Charming Man" made it slightly surreal one too.   

8.  Baby Strange – “Friend” (2013)
Fiery Glaswegian young uns follow debut single (“Pure Evil”) with another raucous blast on white vinyl as thick a dinner plate. 

9.  Manic Street Preachers – “This Sullen Welsh Heart (featuring Lucy Rose)” (2013)
Their 100 Club gig this month was good this but the Shepherd’s Bush Empire one two weeks later was even better with nearly two thirds of rustic folk/Welsh soul Rewind The Film getting an airing; a fair greater amount than they usually afford new albums which says much about how pleased they are with it. “This Sullen Welsh Heart” sets the mood in breath-taking fashion.    

10.  Mary Epworth – “September” (2013)
This is more than a bit bonkers. A short stomping glittery glam rocker about hiding under a leaf instead of going back to school. I think.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF MIKE STUART SPAN - 1969 BBC DOCUMENTARY

This two-minute clip is from a must-see documentary A Year In The Life made for the BBC by Paul Watson during 1968 and 1969 which follows Brighton pop group The Span (aka Mike Stuart Span, best known for their "Children of Tomorrow" 45) and their bid for stardom.  

The stark, cynical realities of the music industry are best summed up by the television producer who books them yet says, “This particular record is like most of the other rubbish that’s turned out by the pop world; it’s ordinary, dull, silly and very predictable”.

Shifty managers come and go, they change their name to Leviathan (very 1969), yet by the time the film was broadcast in September they had spilt up, deciding they could earn more money labouring on building sites.

To view a half-hour edit of the film (and you really should) see Adam Curtis’s blog article Between The Gutter and the Stars which also features an interesting film Gene Vincent’s 1969 trip to the UK.

Since posting this yesterday, I’m grateful to Span vocalist Stuart Hobday for getting in touch with the following background information:

“Just a couple of points you might like to know about this clip. The song, written by Ken Howard and Allan Blakely (who wrote all the hits for Dave See, Dozy, Mick & Titch) was recorded at Radio Luxembourg studios in London and produced by Albert Hammond (It Never Rains In Southern California etc). It was universally hated by the group but our previous single Children of Tomorrow had not sold so we were persuaded to release it by our manager.

At the time of recording CoT we had also recorded a number of demos of similar material, and it was these recordings that our manager had originally taken to Tony Palmer, the TV producer who you see in this clip. He liked what he heard and he booked us when our new record was due to be released. Of course the new record was nothing like CoT and he was, shall we say, underwhelmed; hence the acerbic comments about the song and the manager – both of which were, of course, true.

One more fact – the documentary was actually called ‘Big Deal Group’ and was transmitted first in the series ‘A Year In The Life’. It was actually 50 minutes long (not 30 minutes) and was shown again over the Christmas period in 1989, along with one or two other programmes from the series, under the heading ’20 Years On’. This was an updated version and included contemporary interviews with the members of the group on how their lives had changed. The Adam Curtis blog article is an edited-down version of the original programme from 1969.”

For more on the band see their informative website Mike Stuart Span & Leviathan.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

MANIC STREET PREACHERS at the 100 CLUB


The fierce ambition of the Manic Street Preachers is such that they’ve never shied from working with The Man. When they moved from small independent Heavenly to Columbia Records in 1991 and happily posed signing to the suits they faced howls of indignation and cries of “sell out”. Their goal was to shift seventeen million albums and if that meant signing to a major and talking to Nobby The Sheep on Saturday morning kids’ TV, then so be it.  

Their sales target is now more modest but a week ahead of their eleventh album, Rewind The Film, they’re publicity hungry enough to play a Hyde Park gig for Radio 2 on Sunday - performing down the bill to Jessie J and James Blunt – and follow it with a tiny corporate show for Absolute Radio at the 100 Club show on Tuesday; it’s all part of their original philosophy. They’ve never sought indie credibility. Appearing on Strictly Come Dancing was a recent enough reminder of that.  

There was an obvious appeal to play the 100 Club for the first time and my old mate James Dean Bradfield mentioned how he’d sound checked that afternoon with tracks from Never Mind The Bollocks; Steve Jones’s guitar parts he’d learnt off by heart in the Blackwood bedroom he shared as a kid with cousin Sean Moore. “It’s an honour to be stage on the same stage as Jonesy. Fuck the rest of them”. Although JDB was his usual affable self and Sean sported a pair of punkish tartan trousers, a make-up free Nicky Wire – despite a Sex Pistols sticker on his bass - was glumly going through the motions and looked like he’d sooner be cleaning his kitchen. The sound engineer wasted his time setting up Nicky’s vocal mic (no feather boas or decoration to the stand) as not once did he use it – not even to sing his lines on “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough” and there wasn’t even a glimpse of his loveable Cheshire Cat grin.

Whatever the cause of Wire’s moping I did feel some sympathy for him. The pairing of the Manics and the 100 Club is in theory perfect: standing in the footsteps the Pistols and their early stencil slogan template the Clash. Personally it brought together the band I’ve seen more than any other to the venue I’ve attended more than any other. They’ve both been – and remain - such an intrinsic part of my life that being able to experience them together was very special and I felt honoured to be there, made all the more extraordinary as there were so few genuine Manics fans in attendance. Admission was strictly invite only for Absolute staff, guests, music industry types and a small smattering of competition winners so it created a subdued atmosphere in a half empty club (doubt there was 150 people).  

The band stepped on stage to a ripple of polite applause but from Bradfield opening “Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier” it was immediately apparent how terrible the sound quality is at most big gigs. Being able to see the band in the smallest venue I’ve seen them in since 1991 and able to hear them properly – crystal clear and with all the little nuances in Bradfield’s voice - was a rare treat, as was being stood only a few feet away; a far cry from the 02 Arena gig two years ago. They were – grumpy bollocks on bass notwithstanding – of course, magnificent. 

The sixteen song set contained some obvious choices, one or two less predictable ones, and four tracks from Rewind The Film: Richard Hawley wasn’t there so the title track was sung in its entirety by Bradfield; the brassy soul shuffling single “Show Me The Wonder” sounded wholly appropriate in the venue I’ve attended northern soul all-nighters for longer than I’ve seen the Manics, the renown “Mod Corner” to the left of the stage had been commandeered to hold a rack of twelve guitars so I had to position myself, for once, to the right; and the live debut of two previously unheard acoustic led folk numbers “Anthem For A Lost Cause” and “This Sullen Welsh Heart”. Bradfield’s delivery of that last one was stunning; even Wire was moved to applaud his friend.

The casual listener can always sing along to “A Design For Life” but even diehard fans can be excused for miming a few words to “Revol”. The new material is a long way from the fire and energy of “Revol” and “You Love Us” which were highlights (as was “No Surface All Feeling”) but the band have aged with dignity. I’m the same age and there’s no way I’d throw myself around at gigs any more so don’t expect them to write songs for me to do that. The robe barrier protecting the stage from the audience (the only time I’ve seen it here) didn’t feel necessary in the circumstances but had this been a “proper” Manics gig things may well have been considerably different. It was a real shame more fans couldn’t have been invited.

The Manics’ new found willingness to experiment with different styles is welcome (I never thought I’d see the day I could cut some northern soul moves to one of their singles); the early results speak for themselves and I can’t wait for the new album on Monday. In this wonderful world of purchase power, the Manic Street Preachers have made another sale. That should make even Nicky Wire smile.

My sincere thanks to Mark Thompson and Sean Moore for their generosity and kindness.

Set list: Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier, Motorcycle Emptiness, Ocean Spray, Anthem For A Lost Cause, You Stole The Sun From My Heart, No Surface All Feeling, Rewind The Film, Tsunami, If You Tolerate This You’re Children Will Be Next, This Sullen Welsh Heart, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, Revol, You Love Us, A Design For Life.

Rewind The Film by Manic Street Preachers is released on Monday 16th September 2013.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

GRAHAM DAY and ALLAN CROCKFORD of THE PRISONERS on THE MODCAST

Graham Day, The Prisoners live at the 100 Club, 1985
In the thirty years following The Prisoners and their various offshoots I can only remember two interviews with Graham Day. The first was in Go-Go fanzine circa 1985 and the second was around 2007 in his Gaolers period.

It’s therefore long overdue to hear Graham and Allan Crockford interviewed for a full hour by Eddie Piller and Dean Rudland in edition 29 of The Modcast. Talk is largely centred on The Prisoners but also covers the other bands they've been in together and separately (Prime Movers, James Taylor Quartet, Solarflares, Planet, Galileo 7, The Forefathers, the list goes on).

It was a surprise in 1986 when The Prisoners signed to Eddie Piller’s fledgling mod label Countdown. The band had pointedly kept mod at a safe distance and their gigs were only attended by a few of the more “progressive mods” but after throwing their lot in with Countdown they were guilty by association and, much to their chagrin, still can’t shake an undeserved mod tag.

This doesn’t stop Piller at the outset of the interview continue with his assertion they were a mod band whether they like it or not. A slightly brave (or insensitive) move considering it was his involvement that gave people that impression. I understand Eddie’s logic - if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck - but it was such a restrictive tag and The Prisoners had nothing in common with any other band of the era with that title. And it was a time when music and youth cults stuck to their own – none of this open, cross-pollination of genres like today. One can almost hear Graham and Allan’s grinding teeth and clenching fists before adopting a more conciliatory tone.

Their year at Countdown was far from harmonious and rapidly brought about their demise. What isn’t clear is why the band signed for them in the first place. They’d already made three albums (for different labels) so it wasn’t like they jumped at the first deal offered. Piller describes how they remain the most difficult band he’s ever worked with. For such strong-headed individuals I can’t understand why they made such a dubious choice and then allowed such a patchy album to follow. My initial reaction to the opening tracks on In From The Cold was one of bewilderment. Where was the band I'd been watching for the last year? It’s tempting to play ifs and buts when considering bands who didn’t achieve commercial success and there’s ample opportunity with The Prisoners, yet what they did do was make some incredible records and play some amazing gigs. That'll do me.

Hear the full interview at The Modcast 29.