Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Jamie Taylor, The Prisoners farewell gig, 100 Club, London, 18th September 1986
This was written at the time for Something Has Hit Me issue 4 but has been stuck in a drawer ever since. Probably the best place for it but posted here as a reminder of a great night and to welcome back Graham Day and Allan Crockford (with Wolf Howard) now trading as Graham Day and The Forefathers. 

My, doesn’t time fly? It’s over seven years since The Prisoners whiskey fuelled farewell gig at the 100 Club in September 1986, when I remember Graham Day saying something like “That’s the last song you’ll ever hear us play”. Yet, for allegedly one night only, they are back to receive some rather late appreciation.

In the intervening years, Graham Day and Allan Crockford more or less stuck to their guns and produced some almost Prisoners Mark II material as the Prime Movers but for whatever unfathomable reason, no one in the UK gave a shit so they spent most of the time playing to more welcoming audiences in the rest of Europe. Jamie Taylor started calling himself James, formed the world’s largest quartet, almost single handedly created the Acid Jazz scene, only to influence a host of artists that became more commercially successful (certainly chartwise) than himself; which is precisely what happened to The Prisoners. They spilt and a couple of years later every tin pot indie band was slapping chunks of Hammond on their records and having hits, The Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets being the two most obvious. Johnny Symons dropped out of view, only to be spied at a Booker T. & The MGs gig where he denied ever being in the band.

Bearing in mind towards the end of their original days The Prisoners were struggling to get 100 people to the 100 Club, tonight’s huge sold out over-capacity crowd took me by surprise. Long before show time the place was packed solid.

Their biggest hit that never was, the brick-in-the-face impact of “Hurricane”, opened proceedings swiftly followed by “Reaching My Head”. Naturally enough everyone lapped it up but to my ears they lacked that special spark. Mind you, a bit of stage rust was only to be expected and I was struggling to find a decent vantage point to witness this historic event which didn’t help my mood.

Crockford, always one for the sarcastic quip, announced “Welcome to the golden hour,” and that’s what it turned out to be. From “Thinking Of You (Broken Pieces)” onwards things really started to hot up. I’d nearly forgotten how good songs like that were. Day was loosening up, flopping his long hair about whilst trying to keep hold of his guitar as it took on a wriggling electrifying life of its own. “Deceiving Eye” was a major highlight, delivered with real passion and brought back memories of the Fulham Greyhound and that ridiculous dance routine everyone did to the chorus - “You’ve been running, you’ve been hiding, you’ve been sleeping all over this town…” . I couldn’t spot anyone doing the actions (you can guess them) but they must’ve been somewhere.

The further into the set, the better the heady mix of Medway garage punk, late 60s rock and Small Faces instrumental rip-offs got. Not surprisingly perhaps, Jamie appeared to relish the chance to play the wonderful old go-go tunes again rather than have some rapper prance around in front of him. As far as I can remember, also included in the set were (I think), “Revenge of the Cybermen”, “Be On Your Way”, “There’s A Place”, “Better In Black”, “Explosion on Uranus” and perhaps “I Am The Fisherman” but it all whizzed by so fast it’s hard to recall properly and there’s no way I was going to take notes. “Happiness For Once” was never one of their greatest songs but the sod-you attitude was fully understandable. Then, all too soon, they were gone.

The encore featured an explosive version “Melanie” and Deep Purple’s (yeah, okay, Joe South’s) “Hush”. A touch of self-indulgence crept in here with long jamming sections stretching the song out for ages. Neither the band or the sweaty mass of punters wanted this to end.

Reunion gigs aren’t usually a good idea as they can tarnish a band’s good reputation but somehow The Prisoners were different. There was a definite point to prove and prove it they did. Nobody, but nobody, sounds like The Prisoners the way The Prisoners do.  
The Prisoners first reunion gig, Subterania, London, 16th December 1993. Filmed by Steve Duffield of support band Mild Mannered Janitors.

Monday, 26 August 2013


When the New Untouchables moved their August Bank Holiday Mod Rally from Margate to Brighton a decade ago scooters played a very minor part of the weekend which was focused on three nights of clubbing. Numbers have increased annually and the Sunday afternoon rideout from outside the Volks Tavern is now the focal point for many with hundreds of Lambrettas and Vespas lined up along the seafront and many riders (and non-riders) attending only this part of the weekend.

Here are a few random snaps.

Friday, 23 August 2013


A misleading title as the majority of the 60 tracks featured on this new double CD would give your average dyed-in-the-wool soulie kittens if heard at a local northern do; yet spun in R&B clubs they’d be a gentle purr emanating from the dancefloor.

A number of these singles, cut mostly in and around Los Angeles, are already established R&B club floorfillers: “Cherrigale” (Ed Townsend), “She’ll Be Gone” (Betty O’Brien), “Don’t Freeze On Me” (Jessie Mae), “Make It Now” (Benny C. Oliver), “Troubles” (Joe Simon) and most notably “You’re A Little Too Late” by Danny Owens which topped many Wants List a few years back.  

For a while now I’ve noticed an increasing amount of 45s catching my ear have been from 1962 and the whole second CD here is compiled of tracks from that year (CD1 covers 1955-61). The best stuff is not quite R&B and not quite soul, it falls in the middle ground with traces of blues, doo wop and rock ‘n’ roll. Eugene Church’s “Time Has Brought About A Change” is a great example and the Hammond Brothers’ superb “Thirty Miles of Railroad Track” is another, this time with echoes of Sam Cooke.

H.B. Barnum’s “It Hurts Too Much To Cry” is one of the more familiar tracks (and would get a soul thumbs-up) but hearing it again I’m struck once more by the brilliant arrangement, those fantastic military-style drums and the sheer drama. Just listen closely to the way Barnum strains out the title for the last time.

There’s a few interesting early rarities from future big names. Otis Redding’s 1960 cut for the tiny Alshire label, “Gettin’ Hip”; Billy Preston’s “Volcano”, but best of all is Barry White’s Ray Charles sounding “Tracy” from, yes, 1962.

Soul On The West Coast includes a 32 page illustrated booklet with recording details and short biogs. Not as high production values as Ace Records but the paltry sale price of £7.50 makes this pretty much a must-have for R&Bsters.

Soul On The West Coast is released by History of Soul Records.

Sunday, 18 August 2013


I’ve been listening to The Style Council. Not for the first time of course but thanks to a new six CD Classic Album Selection the first time back-to-back chronologically.

Their career, between 1983 and 1989, neatly spanned my teenage years so it’s difficult to listen to them without old memories spin drifting past. They’ve never been afforded the elevated status of The Jam but in their own way The Style Council had a similar effect shaping the political, sartorial and musical worldview of elements of my post-Jam generation.

I bought their debut single from WH Smiths in Hounslow on the week of release whilst visiting my Granma. I sat in the chair under the grandfather clock, eating a cake mountain, and tried to comprehend The Cappuccino Kid’s gobbledygook on the back cover as Giant Haystacks wandered around the ring with some little fella bouncing off him on World Of Sport. “Speak Like A Child” wasn’t a big departure from The Jam’s last knockings but the emphasis Paul put on the “A” in the title jarred then and jars now. The eight minute politicized funk of “Money Go Round” took “Precious” a step further yet “Long Hot Summer” didn’t sound like anything Weller had put out to that point and if he was keen to severe ties with The Jam’s terrace mentality then a shirtless, greased up, ear stroking frolic with Mick Talbot on the riverbank was one way to go about it.

Those three singles and a few extra tracks make up the first CD here, Introducing, but Café Bleu was the proper album coming out in 1984. There’s five jazz instrumentals with Paul only occasionally taking the main vocals on the album, happy to share them, including giving Tracey Thorn the lead on “The Paris Match” yet driving her round the bend with his unhappiness at her pronunciation of “fire”. It’s a pity the unified jazzy vibe of the first side didn’t continue on the flip but Weller’s restlessness and refusal to get stuck in a groove meant experiments in rap (“A Gospel”) entered the fold. “A Gospel” was dreadful then and sounds worse now – hideously dated - especially as the rest of the record still sounds fresh.

The Style Council’s attempt to turn us (by us I mean me but I was far from alone) into skateboarding, body-bopping B-Boys was mercifully brief (for now) as their primary goal was to mould us into sophisticated Europeans: pastel pullovers draped over shoulders, sauntering down the Champs-Élysées, stopping for a frothy coffee and reading Le Monde before shopping for Blue Note LPs. The reality for a bunch of fourteen year olds was walking home from school in our bowling shoes with grey Fred Perry jumpers tied over our shoulders, pulling out a packet of Gauloises we’d bought from the garage (they didn’t stock Gitanes) and looking down at the other kids with their boring B&H and Rothman’s fags. Those Gauloises tasted bloody disgusting but they rarely touched our lips and our jazz collections consisted of half of Café Bleu and a few Mick Talbot B-sides.

Our Favourite Shop was the most consistent album they’d make; it all fits together and like 22 Dreams many years later is greater than the sum of its parts, however, when listened alongside the others it’s noticeably their least ambitious and experimental LP, which is an odd thing to say bearing in mind Weller sings a track in French and Lenny Henry talks one in Brummie. This album also has the dubious distinction of spawning my first piece of published writing; a review for The Phoenix List, a folded A4 newsletter that grandly claimed to be a “The Weekly Newspaper For Mods”, which landed on doormats every Thursday. In fairness, there was a lot of Mod news in 1985 so the font was tiny. From the dark corner of my bedroom while my little brother was asleep in the bottom bunk surrounded by his Roland Rat posters, I wrote this (brace yourself):

“Although Paul Weller’s not so young anymore, he’s still angry and those of you who thought he’d gone soft should have a listen to this album. Gone are the biting Rickenbacker chords of The Jam which have now been replaced by breezier pop tunes. But Weller’s lyrics have never been more direct and harsh. Throughout the record he tackles a number of today’s social problems, i.e. unemployment, racism, drugs, government, even new towns with such clear and crisp lyrics that it almost makes you feel guilty. The tracks themselves are a mixture of slow acoustic-style numbers; funky “Soul Deep” songs (“Internationalists”); and excellent up-tempo pop songs (“Luck”, “A Man Of Great Promise” and “The Lodgers”), these are the best as they sound happy when you listen to them but their underlying messages are clear. The ace track is “Homebreakers”, sung by Merton Mick and is so classy I can’t describe it. The album is worth buying for that song and “A Man Of Great Promise” alone. Paul Weller, Spokesman For A Generation? Too true. 10 out of 10.”

And yes, I did take that into school, and no, nobody was interested. Apart from squirming uncomfortably reading it now a few things strike me. Firstly, and most disheartening, is how very little my writing has improved. I’m acutely aware I still write like an average 15 year old fanzine editor and here’s the proof but the crux of the review is about right. It is the directness of Weller’s attacks (and that he had come back firing after the largely innocuous lyrics of the previous LP) that stand out here and which he would lose throughout his solo career. I'd later have many drunken conversations with my mate Guy, sitting round his flat playing records all night and when he'd stick on Wild Wood or Heliocentric I’d launch into a rant about how I couldn’t relate to Weller's songs any more, they were either too personal or ambiguous. Our Favourite Shop isn't like that – it’s a vivid scrapbook of Britain in 1985 yet musically (bar only one of two brief moments) has hardly dated. I was over generous with my initial review but I there’s no way I’d give it anything less now than 8 out of 10.

All well and good to this point. We’d moved from being Europeans and were now Internationalists. We were politically motivated off the back of campaigns for CND, miners, even Red Wedge which prompted Neil Kinnock to crack the hilarious gag, “Can I first of all disabuse anyone of the idea red wedge is the name of my hairstyle.” I’d turned a blind eye to Weller’s slicked back hair do and his floppy soul boy wedge but come The Cost Of Loving I was down the hairdressers getting my spiky blonde highlights put in. The rubber cap I had to wear left such a deep indent in my forehead it looked like I’d had a lobotomy so chose to walk home four miles rather than get the tube in case I saw anyone I knew. I wasn't copying Paul Weller, we just had similar taste...

1987’s The Cost Of Loving is the one with the infamous plain orange sleeve. The one which made John Weller splutter “What’s this fucking bollocks? You’re not the Beatles, you cunt”. John was talking about the artwork but he could just as easily been talking about the album. Originally released as a double album with a couple of songs on each side it was only side two with the decent “Heaven’s Above” and excellent “Fairy Tales” that saw much turntable action. The flat singing on the lifeless single “It Didn’t Matter” was bad enough but having a loved up Weller and Dee C. Lee crooning to each other on Anita Baker’s “Angel” or reciting embarrassing lyrics like “I’m gonna love you anyway, I don’t care what people say…” on “Waiting” was atrocious, as was the attempt to transform themselves into a full blown US style modern soul act.

Why “Waiting” was given a single release instead of “Fairy Tales” I’ll never understand. A bonus point though awarded for having Curtis Mayfield mix “Fairy Tales”, even if all Curtis did (bless him) was turn the treble up on the guitar and pocket a few a dollars for five minutes work. But ask most people about the album and I’ll put money on them mentioning “Right To Go”, another ill-advised venture into rap or electro or whatever it was (thankfully it wasn’t Paul and Mick rapping). Nowadays I admire in their balls in attempting to do things like this but then I was near apoplectic. No one liked it, it lost them lots of followers, but they didn’t give a stuff.

This album coincided with Jerusalem, their indulgent satirical film (reasonably funny now, especially Talbot who had a natural comic flare), which showed before their gigs. I was more tolerant than my mates and the majority of a bemused audience at the Royal Albert Hall. It was difficult to hear what was going on, what with being crushed by a stampede off disgruntled punters pushing past, “Fuck this bollocks, I’m going to the bar”. I can’t remember anything about their set. I think I saw them three times but only recollect things around the gigs – like wanting a black and orange TSC college scarf – rather than any music. They did look good though around this period: lots of white denim, Cutler and Gross sunglasses and Bass Weejuns being order of the day. I’d never bought such expensive shoes before.

Like all their albums, Confessions of a Pop Group, bore no resemblance to the previous one. Side one - “The Piano Paintings” – was their take on classical music which prompted Mrs Monkey to scoff yesterday, “The Style Council were so pretentious”, a charge I can’t defend but I like. One again it was a complete shift in styles but this one suited them better (pretentiousness always sat well with The Style Council). Side two played it straighter and the run of “Life At A Top Peoples Health Farm”, “Why I Went Missing” and “How She Threw It All Away” is the best three-in-a-row they ever made. Simply getting the lyrics to “Health Farm” on the radio and television now would be impossible.

The tears of young men splattered many a badger-like shoe when news of The Jam’s spilt surfaced yet throughout the whole of The Style Council’s existence I collected all their records (including imports); had a notebook I’d write all their recording details just in case I needed to quickly check whether Steve Sidelnyk played percussion on “The Story of Someone’s Shoe” ; taped everything I could off the telly on to a couple of video tapes I made special boxes for (“The Style Council: Probably The Best Pop Group In The World. Volumes 1 & 2”) yet their disbandment in 1989 hardly registered.

Polydor refused to release Modernism: A New Decade, which only got saw the light of day on The Complete Adventures of The Style Council box set in 1998. I didn’t buy it so it’s inclusion on this Classic Album Selection was a major draw I wouldn’t ordinarily repurchase things but the set only costs around fifteen quid and is neatly presented with all discs in separate gatefold sleeves.

I didn’t expect to like it. In 1989, deep house (or maybe it was called garage) was the thing. I wasn’t greatly into it but was interested enough to go to Ibiza and root around record shops buying Ibiza House & Love albums of mixes popular on the island. The catch-all “dance music” was everywhere, rave was still around, "Funky Drummer" break beats were on every other record, the Happy Mondays were coming through, The Stone Roses were about to go overground, and bands with guitars would all claim “there’s always been a dance element to our music”. It’s not difficult to understand Polydor’s stance. Those wanting house records were not interested in the Style Council and for the most part the opposite was true. Even we bought and said we preferred Joe Smooth doing “Promised Land”. If the Albert Hall crowd were dismissive of Jerusalem they were openly contemptuous when greeted by an unfamiliar acid house Council in July ’89, in what would provide the band’s death knell. I wasn't there and was more likely listening to Inner City records.

Yet, against the odds, Modernism now, rather than sounding like a tired band about to be put out of its misery, sounds like a band rejuvenated and optimistic of the future. It does sound of its time (although less than I'd expected) and of all the albums this is the one I’ve listened to in the most nostalgic way (despite not hearing it until now). Other "pop" acts were moving in a similar direction (The Blow Monkeys and ABC to name two) but TSC - in retrospect - sound far more convincing and authentic. Discovering it in the recent hot weather with a beer in hand has helped. Mrs Monkey, far less forgiving and unencumbered by an 80s past, asked “What on earth are you playing?” It’s the Style Council. “It’s shit”. It’s the Style Council’s house album. “It’s still shit.” You probably had to be there.

I’d planned to play these six albums through once but have kept going back to them. The ground they covered in little over six years is incredible. Sure, it didn’t always work but they were brave, they challenged themselves and their audience and they never stood still. In Paul Weller’s career this is far from the wobbly part in the middle it is sometimes thought (although there’s been a discernible shift in that) and no one should underestimate the contribution of Mick Talbot.

In 1990 Paul Weller told the NME, “We created some great music in our time, the effects of which won't be appreciated for some time.” Now is the time.
Mickey's Monkey (2009)

Friday, 9 August 2013


Ian Dury was never granted a solo exhibition of his art in his lifetime but thanks his daughter Jemima, occasional Clash manager Kosmo Vinyl and graphic designer Jules Balme, approximately fifty pieces are currently displayed at the Royal College of Art, the college Ian attended between 1963 and 1966.

Almost everything falls firmly in Pop Art territory and the immediate reaction is to think of Sir Peter Blake. This wasn’t plagiarism as Blake taught and encouraged Ian at Walthamstow School of Art in 1961 and ’62 and then again at the RCA from 1964 for three years before graduating. In the meantime Dury saw his illustrations featured in the Sunday Times Magazine and London Life.

A large proportion of the paintings and drawings feature topless or sanctity clan women with no boots and big panties against bright vibrant backgrounds, some works embellished with sequins. Blake suggests his contribution to Dury’s art was to “legitamize” his interests in pin-up girls, cowboys, pop stars and movie actors and it shows.

It’s all very 60s which suits me fine and reveals a previously under appreciated side of Dury’s life. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Ian Dury’s music his art stands on its own merit. 

Ian Dury: More Than Fair - Paintings, Drawings and Artworks 1961-1972 is at the Royal College of Art, Kensington (next to the Royal Albert Hall) until 1st September 2013, admission free.  

Monday, 5 August 2013


Back in 2010 a girl cycling to work was killed by a lorry outside our local pub. A white “ghost bike” was fixed to the railings and flowers, photographs, candles and nick-knacks created both a memorial and a safety reminder for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians using the roundabout.

This remained in place (with regular fresh flowers) until earlier this year when the council removed it after a complaint from the guy who runs the dry cleaners. He’d witnessed the tragedy and told television reporters he didn’t want a visual reminder every day yet someone from the council revealed they’d received a complaint on “aesthetic grounds” and were therefore forced to act. After consultation with the girl’s family the bike and memorial were removed but the episode created division within the small village community and a change in dry cleaners for some.

Heaven forbid the same fate awaits The Chilterns but should they lose their life on the side of a road in their Uxbridge neighbourhood they’ve made it abundantly clear on their debut single they “don’t want nobody to leave a bunch of flowers, or a teddy or a heartfelt poem wrapped up in a plastic sleeve”; which should please shopkeepers down Windsor Street.

The song is countrified – with such mournful pedal-steel it couldn’t be anything else – but lyrically and vocally it’s rooted firmly in the London suburbs; more Neasden than Nashville. There is though a touch of the Gram Parsons Burn-Me-In-The-Desert-and-Have-A-Beer spirit in how The Chilterns would like their passing marked. “Just throw my bones in the Grand Union,at the Treaty for a snakebite and black, two grams of cheap speed, a flaming Sambuca or a vodka, and hit it like you won’t come back”.

I’ll drink to that; only not too soon.

Roadside Memorials by The Chilterns in released today on iTunes, Amazon and that kinda stuff. Yours for a mere 79p. 

Friday, 2 August 2013


Not every photographer in the Swinging Sixties had the imagination of Bailey, Duffy or Donovan as shown by this picture of The Smoke. "'Ere lads, stick a fag in yer mouth, lovely, that's beautiful."

I've said it before but like The Action and The Creation, The Smoke existed in that idyllic period between mid '66 and early '67 when hair and sideburns were longer but not stupidly excessive; trousers were cut to sit on the hips with the correct amount of kick in the flare; and shirts added colour and patterns that still worked with the minimum of fuss. It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment in fashion as only a few months after this 1967 photo The Smoke had succumbed to kaftans, beads and moustaches. A sad day.

I'd not seen this photo before today but it's pretty close to perfection. Mick Rowley, Mal Luker, Zeke Lund and Geoff Gill; I salute you all.