Sunday, 29 September 2013


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


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


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, 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.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


These wonderful drawings form part of an on-going project by illustrator Paul Rogers to record an image from every page of On The Road.

They capture not only America in the late 40s and early 50s but the mood of Jack’s writing; swinging from excited optimism to gloomy melancholy at the turn of a street corner.  

Rogers is approximately a third of the way through so hopefully publishers have knocked on his door already. If not, they need to.

For more images see Paul Rogers at Drawger and for a short interview see The Huffington Post

Thanks for Robin at Include Me Out for the tip-off.  

Sunday, 1 September 2013


A day late but here's a selection of tunes popular in Monkey Mansions over the previous month.

1.  The Hammond Brothers – “Thirty Miles of Railroad Track” (1962)
Burt Bacharach was on a hot streak in 1962 (“Any Day Now”, “Don’t Make Me Over”, “Make It Easy On Yourself”, “Only Love Can Break A Heart” etc) yet this chugging cut written with Bob Hilliard for the Hammond Brothers on Abner Records slipped through the net. Makes a great club 45 now.

2.  The Mamas and Papas – “Straight Shooter” (1966)
America didn’t mind (or notice) John Phillips’ ode to dope smoking but it did get upset If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears featured a toilet on the sleeve, declaring it obscene and forcing a hasty withdrawal from record stores.

3.  Wade Flemons – “Two of a Kind” (1967)
The follow-up to the thumping northern monster “Jeanette” and there’s no denying a touch of showbizzy pizazz but I can’t help like it despite imagining Tarby, Brucie or Leslie Crowther performing it as a game show theme tune. This was the last of Wade’s solo 45s before joining the embryonic Earth, Wind and Fire: the Salty Peppers.

4.  Nina Simone – “House Of The Rising Sun” (1967)
Squillions of version of this – Nina herself cut a slow one five years previously – but the pulsating, thigh-slapping take on Nina Simone Sings The Blues is the one to slap your thighs to.

5.  The Gaylets – “That Lonely Feeling” (1968)
Outstanding Jamaican soul music making loneliness sound like the most joyous feeling in the world.  

6.  Dion – “Purple Haze” (1969)
I stumbled across this on a site I can’t now find but they flagged it up as an example of one of the worst records ever made. How very, very wrong! I love it. Almost unrecognisable from the original, Dion gives it a breezy, flute backed, Fred Neil/Tim Hardinesque folk treatment. Genius. The whole Dion album is like this and suitably wonderful. 

7.  Paul Williams – “Someday Man” (1970)
Williams is better known for his songs written for others; from teh sublime (Kermit the Frog) to the ridiculous (David Bowie). “We’ve Only Just Begun” was in the charts for the Carpenters the year Williams put out his version of “Someday Man”, already recorded and released by The Monkees.

8.  The James Taylor Quartet – “Car Chase” (1989)
From the soundtrack to their imaginary film The Money Spyder. Listening to it again now it’s easy to hear how they kick started the whole Acid Jazz movement and a frenzy of Hammond organ LP purchases; few – if any – were as good as this album.

9.  Kings Go Forth – “Now We’re Gone” (2010)
Fatback funky soul from this Milwaukee ten-piece outfit’s The Outsiders Are Back led by the smashingly named Black Wolf.

10.  Paul Orwell – “Little Reason” (2013)
The sunny psychedelic summer squeezes out one more groovy tune before the nights draw in. Not officially released anywhere yet but can be heard on soundcloud.