Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Autobiographies are usually only read if one has an interest in the author but Tracey Thorn's Bedsit Disco Queen is hugely enjoyable even if you have scant knowledge or fondness for her music. I read the entire book in a weekend (a feat I seldom achieve) after only intending to have a quick flick through. It’s written so engagingly I was gripped by the opening chapters and then ploughed right through. There’s little about her early childhood, what her parents did for a living, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap but starts with her discovery of music. Her diaries note in 1976 she bought six records; then eight in 1977: the first two Jam singles, Dr Feelgood, the Adverts, Elvis Costello, the Vibrators and two by the Stranglers. That’s a creditable haul yet she’s honest enough to admit the pages also contain entries “Steve Jones – CCORR!!” and the mystifying “Bob Geldof is so gorgeous”.

Tracey's earliest experiences of being in bands are funny and self-effacing. Asked to move from rhythm guitar to vocals her shyness forced her to audition by singing from inside a wardrobe and a cassette label of The Stern Bops is scrawled in a way only teenagers can with DO NOT PLAY EVER in angry biro. Her first band of note was The Marine Girls, an all-girl group who made decidedly lo-fi recordings in a shed and Kurt Cobain made frequent reference to in his journals. This period reveals a charming bygone era from the yellowing pages of the NME when bands released their own albums on cassettes; John Peel played tapes on the radio; and the music press happily covered these fledgling DIY bands. It wasn’t that easy for everyone but it was here and would continue with Tracey’s first solo album, A Distant Shore, and then into the early days of Everything But The Girl which she formed at Hull University with Ben Watt.

The first Everything But The Girl gig took place at the ICA in London in 1983 during the weeks between Paul Weller flinging down his Rickenbacker with the The Jam and dancing awkwardly on an open top bus with The Style Council. Nowadays bands put a restraining order on Weller to prevent him from turning up unannounced and pestering them whilst they’re working, it doesn’t mean much anymore, but when he appeared on stage with EBTG singing – quite incredibly – “The Girl From Ipanema” it was a massive deal. I remember reading about it and later repeatedly playing Tracey’s version of “English Rose” that featured on a Cherry Red cassette. She devotes a fascinating chapter to this episode which reveals much of Paul’s way of working and how difficult it was to keep up with his rapidly moving mind and ever changing mood. The similarities between the early, jazzy EBTG and the Council’s CafĂ© Bleu (with Tracey singing “The Paris Match” and irritating Weller with her pronunciation of “fire”) are there for all to hear.

Even after their first album, Eden in 1984, Tracey was well aware Everything But The Girl were considered in certain quarters “soppy wimps, wallowing in easy-listening blandness, making jazz-tinged soft-rock background music for bedwetters.” It’s an accusation she gently yet persistently pushes against and with some justification aligns herself to the post-punk generation and if her music later took a different road her political path and feminist ideologies remained fixed.

After this a progression through a series of phases: The Smiths phase (watch the near perfect Morrissey impression in the video to "When All's Well" there’s good stuff here about Morrissey and his early championing the band); the orchestral phase with their best album, the grand Baby The Stars Shine Bright (highly recommend that LP); the huge “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” hit (I don’t buy her surprise at being labelled Housewives’ Choice by claiming they were covering a cool song by Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten); the middle-of-the-road/MOR phase; and then, just as they’d been dumped by their record label, a surprise worldwide club hit with “Missing”. Bands often – sensibly – try to distance themselves from scenes and movements but I got the impression EBTG felt a sense of unwelcome isolation from much of the music industry and Tracey could’ve used some support from those of a similar mind. Part of the tale is like any other musician’s book with ups and downs and episodes of The Record Company Doesn’t Understand Me but notably there are no I’m Not Proud Of My Actions nor My Drug Hell chapters. Tracey comes across admirably level-headed; a little fiery at times; shy, self-deprecating and insecure at others. It’s a super book about music life and everyday life and wonderfully told (not least for the description of a young Bobby Gillespie…)

Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn is published by Virago on 7th February, priced £16.99.       

Sunday, 27 January 2013


The first published interview with William S. Burroughs appeared in the 1961 issue of Journal for the Protection of All Beings, a periodical edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and published by City Lights. Conducted by Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg it began with Corso asking “What is your department?” to which Burroughs replied “Art and science”.

Burroughs is of course primarily known for his writing but using today’s terminology he was a multi-media artist and his reputation as such grows with each passing exhibition and event. There have been a number in London alone over the last few years: paintings and shotgun art at a series of shows at the appropriately named Riflemaker Gallery; tape experiments at IMT Gallery; films made with Antony Balch at the National Film Theatre; collaboration with his close friend (and in some ways mentor) Brion Gysin at the October Gallery; and a major retrospective at the Royal Academy which featured elements of all those things and more, including photo-montage, text-image collage and even sculpture.

This latest exhibition focuses mainly on the abstract/action paintings he produced during the last ten years of his life until his death, aged 83, in 1997. Those years don’t account for his most interesting or innovative period but there’s still much for the Burroughs enthusiast to enjoy (and by implication those who will wonder why he stuck photographs of lemurs to paintings might find it bewildering). The best pieces are ones like Death by Lethal Injection (1990), a combination of yellow and black spray paint, ink and stencils. The more one looks the more things gradually appear. There is definitely a figure in a prison cell but is that really a shadowy man in the bottom left corner? Is there really a ghostly face laughing in the foreground? Is that somebody pulling a belt around their arm? Burroughs would've studied this closely. For him events weren't random acts and what might look like haphazard chance was the manifestation of unseen forces and agents controlling his every move. Similarly it is possible to get inside the thick blood red and bright yellow psychedelic heat of Radiant Cat (1988). If I had £8000 burning a hole in my pocket that small painting would be on my wall tomorrow.

The manilla folders Bill decorated with swirls of paint splodges are reminiscent of primary school children painting one side of a butterfly on a piece of paper and then folding it to create the other half; only not as effective. Cue “Modern art? What a load of rubbish. My five year old could do that.” The crude black marker-pen outlines of figures Bill set up in his yard to shoot holes in have debatable artistic merit but are amusing nonetheless as they reinforce the cartoon image of a gun toting Burroughs we know and love. The metal No Trespassing sign spray painted and peppered with shotgun blasts is “very Bill” and spells out his opinion of law enforcement - again, agents of control.

My favourite part of the exhibition is the glass cabinet containing odds and ends from his studio including some of his stencils, not least the one of a penis. Yes, William Burroughs’s penis stencil. Not necessarily a stencil of the penis belonging to William Burroughs but certainly a stencil which belonged to William Burroughs in the shape of a penis. Glad we've got that straight. My, what started as a look at the artistic achievements of one of the 20th century’s most influential writers ends with knob gags. Don’t blame me, for all my highfalutin pretensions there’s no getting away from the fact that deep down I'm controlled by the spirit of Sid James.

William S. Burroughs: All Out Of Time and Into Space is at the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL, until 16th February 2013, admission free.   

Thursday, 24 January 2013


That old Donovan geezer (terrible hair, bad teeth, bit deluded, you know the one) loves to whittle on about how he invented the 60s, flower power, drugs, grooviness, free love, bananas, beat poetry and heaven knows what else dribbles into his hurdy gurdy bonce. If he hears “Shelter Song” the sunny debut single by young Midlands band Temples he’ll claim he wrote it whilst Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and the Maharishi looked on in astonishment.

The track, released by Heavenly, has been doing the rounds for a couple of months but is worth a post here in case you've missed it. I'm particularly encouraged by “Prisms” – the B-side (in old money) – being equally as good. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Ten tunes currently creating merriment at Monkey Mansions.

1. The Louvin Brothers – “The Great Atomic Power” (1952)
Considering Ira and Charlie Louvin feared mushroom clouds of destruction would rain down from on high blotting out the works of man they sounded remarkably upbeat about it. The reason?  God will surely save His children. Phew, that’s a weight off my mind.

2. Mel Williams – “Send Me A Picture, Baby” (1955)
When waiting to cut his new 45 for Federal Records I wonder if Mel asked for something people can whistle along to. If he did, they took him literally. What otherwise would be a standard big voiced R&B stroller is made more interesting (or perhaps annoying) by employing a whistling passer-by.

3. Faye Richmonde – “Sadie’s Still Got The Rag On” (1957)
Boys, if you’re thinking of knocking on Sadie’s door and asking her out to play, her mum reckons you’ll be wasting your time because she’s still got the rag on. Mumps, she says, but I’m not convinced. From the album My Pussy Belongs To Daddy released, presumably under the counter, in 1957.

4. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – “When The Words From Your Heart Get Caught Up In Your Throat” (1968)
That’s such a typical Smokey phrase. You can just imagine him coming up with the title and knocking the rest of the song together over lunch. The competition would’ve killed for songs like this yet Smokey could afford to chuck it away on the flip of “You Can Want”.

5. Os Mutantes – “Bat Macumba” (1968)
Mixing their Brazilian rhythms with imported US and UK psychedelic rock Os Mutantes eponymous debut album is wonderfully wigged-out from start to finish.

6. Darrow Fletcher – “(Love Is My) Secret Weapon” (1975)
I have to be careful to play this sort of stuff out of the earshot of Mrs Monkey as a pound to penny she’ll go “Turn this disco shit off” or “What’s this Luther Vandross bollocks?” If that’s also your natural reaction to a silky mid-70s soul dancer then you’d best steer clear too.

7. Siouxsie & The Banshees – “Supernatural Thing” (1981)
The Banshees wouldn’t be top of the pile of expected coverers of Ben E. King’s funk classic but they did it. The studio take appeared as the B-side to “Arabian Knights” but I’ve been playing the live version recorded for a Richard Skinner BBC session; all quirky rhythms and jagged shards of metallic noise. I'm still hoping they'll return one of these days. 

8. Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays – “How Long” (2011)
Introducing Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays is the best new soul album I’ve heard in years, not that it sounds very new, more an amalgamation of every cool Blaxploitation soundtrack. “How Long” contains just enough of a hint of hip-hop to pull it away from mere pastiche.       

9. Band A Part – “Blankets” (2011)
Despite the title this is sung in their native Spanish tongue. My grasp of the lingo is too shoddy to grasp what they’re on about but they sound enough of a sweet blend of St Etienne and Camera Obscura to get un abrazo from me.

10. Ballard – “Pretty Colours” (2013)
A rough and ready pill-eyed adrenaline rush written, recorded and released by Darren Riley quicker than it takes the Rolling Stones to assemble their stage set. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013


This is truly the stuff of dreams. An album of unreleased Reggie Kings tracks, the majority backed by his old band mates from The Action. These aren’t scrappy demos of familiar songs but twelve songs never heard before with an additional three on the CD previously only available on the limited edition 10 inch EP Missing In Action.

Full recording details aren’t available but these were made after Reggie officially left the band in 1968 until the end of 1969. During this period The Action kept the name (only changing it to Mighty Baby in time for their A Jug of Love LP) and the box to the master tape containing eight of the songs which form the heart of this collection is clearly marked “Reggie King and The Action, Screen Gems demos, March 1969”. To call these songs demos is to do them a disservice; they are full blown recordings and to my ears finished and of releasable quality. I don’t know how they could’ve been improved. I’m going to assume readers are fully aware of The Action and their “unreleased” 1968 album Rolled Gold. That record subsequently added much to the band’s legacy, demonstrating their ability as a song writing unit no longer content or reliant on interpreting the music of others. I know many listeners prefer their second phase and for those in particular Looking For A Dream is essential. Albums of demos are often of such sub-standard quality it does little to enhance the reputation of the artist and is merely an item for fans to buy out of curiosity and loyalty rather than something that warrants repeated plays; none of that applies here. It is among the very best work Reggie King ever made and raises his stock even higher.

Plenty of the tracks feel like a natural progression from Rolled Gold (some, not even a progression, they could sit there without revealing the join). Songs like “Let Me See Some Love In Your Eyes” with its harmonies, bongos, Roger Powell’s beating rhythm and Ian Whiteman’s flute is pure Action, as is the fantastic “Picking Up Nancy’s Grin” and others. Although all band members contributed ideas to Rolled Gold they concede it was mainly Reggie’s songs. Whiteman at the In The Lap of the Mods book launch said to me the band after that point needed to break from Reg (and vice-versa) as their interest in playing drawn-out and experimental pieces was not compatible with his more traditional and firmly structured song writing. That is very apparent here as Reggie was writing from the position of a singer of songs. They are tightly constructed pieces that skip along and could just as easily be played on an acoustic guitar or piano in the way Reggie wrote them. If you ask me to choose between Reggie King’s ideals and his instrumentalist colleagues’ jams extending beyond half an hour there’s only one winner.

Reggie thought the band couldn’t get a deal for Rolled Gold as record bosses couldn’t hear a hit single. I’m not convinced all record buyers in the late 60s only wanted material that sounded like singles but perhaps that fate fell on these recordings too. It’s a mystery to me why they’ve languished in total obscurity especially when Looking For A Dream is far superior in every respect to his Reg King LP which trickled out with no fanfare in 1971. I was lucky enough to write the liner notes to the Circle Records reissue of Reg King and although I genuinely like it I acknowledge that’s more on account of its creator than his creation. It doesn’t do Reggie many favours as a vocalist or, to a lesser degree, a songwriter. Looking For A Dream brightly highlights both attributes. Listen to his tender, soulful voice on the beautiful “Suddenly” or “In and Out”. This should’ve been the real Reggie King album.

Most of the audio quality is faultless but allowances need to be made for one acetate and three tracks which came from a different source (thoughtfully placed at either end of the compilation so as not disturb the flow). One of these is in such stark contrast to the upbeat cheerful nature of the others it needs a special mention. People who knew Reggie are all very protective of him. When talking to them they almost all readily admit – with a smile - he could be a real pain in the arse at times but offer little more when it comes to him “losing the plot”. Reggie introduces “They Must Be Talking ‘Bout Me” by telling those gathered in the studio “This is a song about a mental home” which elicits a giggle by a couple of people. As he pads then pounds a piano he recounts doctors whispering when he’s near, drinking tea from a broken cup, eating bread with a spoon, frowning doctor’s telling him to lie down and not worry, and having to take 400 micrograms at breakfast time. The next time The Most Harrowing Songs Ever list is drawn up, check for this; extremely uncomfortable yet darkly spellbinding. It would be wrong to take the content as entirely autobiographical yet Reggie is utterly convincing and no one is laughing when he finishes the song.  

As Kevin Pearce writes in his accompanying notes, “It’s always dangerous to succumb to the temptation of playing ‘could’ve, should’ve, would’ve’” when talking about Reggie, so I won’t but it is nothing short of criminal these amazing recordings remained unheard during Reggie’s lifetime. That said, I’ve nothing but huge admiration (and gratitude) for Peter Wild at Circle for his persistence and patience in finally getting this out. What started as a straight forward project around the time of the Reg King release in 2005 turned into drawn out affair getting the tracks cleared by all relevant parties and then cleaning up some of the tracks. As always with Circle releases the packaging and meticulous attention to detail is apparent. The vinyl edition is beautifully done (although if you don’t have Missing In Action then I recommend the CD to get the extra tracks). I’ve had to secretly sit on these and not even play them to anyone since Peter shared them with me eight years ago when working on Reg King. Listening to them again constantly over the last three weeks I love them more than ever. They serve as a final and worthy tribute to an astonishing talent. I’m loathe to award anything full marks but Reggie King will always score highly in my book and for a collection as wonderful as this I couldn’t justify not giving it 10 out of 10.

Tracks: Get Up Get Away, Let Me See Some Love In Your Eyes, You Gotta Believe Me, All Up To Heaven, So Full Of Love*, Merry Go Round*, Suddenly, Picking Up Nancy’s Grin, In and Out, Put Something Together, Live Forever, Magenta*, Thinkin’ ‘Bout Getting Out, They Must Be Talking ‘Bout Me, You’ll Be Around    *CD only.

Looking For A Dream by Reggie King is released by Circle Records on 18th February 2013

Thursday, 10 January 2013


There’s a lot of music around at the moment professing to be psychedelic – it must be hip this week – when in fact it is often little more than glorified indie bands adding backward guitar, phasing and regurgitating lyrics about dandelions and kaleidoscopes. The term covers a wide spectrum and psychedelia can be clumsy and lacking in subtlety and imagination; none of which apply to Jacco Gardner’s debut album Cabinet of Curiosities; which whilst not truly mind altering does possess an enchanting hallucinogenic quality.   

Like the best of anything, Gardner – who plays all the instruments on the record except the drums – builds on the past to create his own present, albeit one assembled from vintage components. Wisely eschewing the tired and tatty twin pillars of American acid rock and UK village fete psychedelia, Dutch Jacco conjures his own magical garden scenes liberally sprinkled with Tinkerbell’s fairy dust. His songs don’t swirl; they gracefully pirouette.

I couldn’t tell you much about baroque music beyond The Left Banke were described as such – I think because they were familiar with a harpsichord rather than an intimate knowledge of early 17th century compositions – and they’re are an obvious reference point and no review could ignore the guiding voice of Syd Barrett.

The single "Clear The Air" caused gasps of astonishment when shared around the internet last year and it’s still the track to beat. The other eleven don’t reach that height nor do they try, instead Gardner is content to poke a silver cane at the undergrowth to reveal dusty treasures. As beautifully executed as they are, they do turn at a slowish speed – like a ballerina on a music box – so once into the second half of the album an occasional increase in tempo or a song with a more immediate melody would help maintain interest as it does run out of steam slightly. I’m looking forward to seeing Jacco play the Beat Bespoke weekender in March and how these songs work in a bustling live setting as Cabinet of Curiosities needs time to grow gradually in the mind; those expecting a trip to the UFO Club like "Clear The Air" hinted at might be disappointed.

(7 out of 10)

Cabinet of Curiosities by Jacco Gardner is released by Trouble In Mind on 12th February 2013 and Jacco plays the Beat Bespoke in London on 31 March. 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


If, like me, you consider the music that danced out of 2648 West Grand Boulevard and associated Detroit studios the greatest collection of records ever produced under the stewardship of one man – take a bow Mr Berry Gordy Jr. - then there’s gonna be a whole lot of shakin’ going on in your heart once you meet the Motown Junkies site. 

Motown Junkies is an on-going attempt to review both sides of every Motown single released between 1959 and 1988. As I write, they are up to posts #565 and #566, both sides of Kim Weston’s April 1965 “A Thrill A Moment”. It sounds like a daunting task and their ambition is multiplied when you read their reviews. Theirs is not a quick four or five lines but an in-depth study of the song, the recording, the musicians and the context in which the records were made and released. Each essay is beautifully written and open new ways of listening to these marvellous (and, sometimes, not so marvellous) songs. There’s a slight danger over-analysis can dull some of the magic so it’s good a steady stream of knowledgeable and equally passionate aficionados and fans are able to add comments beneath the entries and argue over the final mark out of ten score. 

It’ll always be what’s in the grooves that count but those grooves now have extra depth. 


Thursday, 3 January 2013


These photographs of young Mark Feld caused such excitement amongst the Marc Bolan and mod communities after I posted them on Twitter that I don’t know why I didn’t feature them here first.

They were all included at the recent Stamford Hill Mods exhibition at Hackney Museum but tucked away in a plastic folder rather than used on the main exhibit boards (I snapped them on my phone hence the picture quality). Information is sparse but the four lads at the top are believed to be Anton Dobrin, Gerald Goldstein, Chico Kovlosky and Mark Feld. The pictures weren’t dated but captioned “50 years ago wearing Raybans” which would make them circa 1962 the same year Feld appeared in Town magazine aged fifteen. Mark looks similar to those Town photographs taken by Don McCullin although his face is slightly slimmer here.  Notice he’s the only one of his group to compliment his outfit with an overcoat and scarf draped over his shoulder (although all thought to take shades with them despite it seemingly autumn and a bit chilly). According to Marc Bolan later, the Town feature “came out [September 1962] about seven months after they’d come down to see me and taken the pictures. During that time a Face’s wardrobe would’ve been completely transformed seven times over”.  The pictures were provided to Hackney Museum by Richard Brockhume and according to Bolanologists far greater than I have not been previously published.

Even less information is available for the group of Stamford Hill/Hackney mods gathered near a gentlemen’s’ toilet but it looks a couple of years later and beautifully captures the fashions of the day including hair, hems and hats. Whoever you all were, you looked brilliant.  

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


Let’s start the New Year with an old favourite. Of all Motown acts none bring a smile to my face quicker than the Four Tops, especially when watching them. They had an easy going casualness and charm about them as demonstrated in this clip from '66 were they look like four favourite uncles getting up to do a turn at a family party before settling back to the brandy and cigars and telling jokes and chatting about sport. They always looked friendly and comfortable with each other and unlike the Temptations weren't about to jack up in your toilet, make a play for your wife or kick their girlfriend down the stairs. When the Tops do their “rocking top” dance half way through they know they look a bit silly but don’t mind too much as at least it means they don’t have to learn anything more intricate. As great as the Temptations were they never came close to the warmth of the fabulous Four Tops.