Sunday, 28 February 2016


1.  Billie Holiday – “I’m A Fool To Want You” (1958)
Opening track from the classic Lady In Satin. Ray Ellis’s arrangement and Lady Day’s all-too-believable vocal are exquisitely paired on this Frank Sinatra song. 

2.  Jimmy Gordon – “Buzzzzzz” (1963)
Wicked surf-fuzz instrumental released on Challenge by Hollywood session man Jimmy Gordon.

3.  Hoyt Axton – “Thunder ‘n’ Lightnin’” (1963)
Hoyt’s mum wrote “Heartbreak Hotel”; something for you trivia fans. There’s nothing trivial about this earthy and manly folk tune.

4.  David Newman – “Miss Minnie” (1967)
Fathead Newman swops his tenor for his flute on this nimble little mover.

5.  Sons of Champlin – “Fat City” (1967)
Hammond and horns workout guaranteed to shed a few pounds on any dancefloor. This and the Jimmy Gordon track above are included on a new 3-CD set Looking Stateside: 80 US R&B, Mod, Soul & Garage Nuggets, an excellent compilation to create a club vibe at home.

6.  Brenda Lee Jones – “You’re The Love Of My Life” (1967)
After a few singles as half of Dean & Jean, Brenda threw everything but the kitchen sink into this magnificent soul-pop number.

7.  The Electric Toilet – “Mississippi Hippy” (1970)
I’m not making this shit up, there honestly was a band called the Electric Toilet. Here they sound like a swamp-funk Tony Joe White which isn’t something to be sniffed at.

8.  Roy Ayers Ubiquity – “He’s A Superstar” (1972)
Roy gets spiritual and funky. The sound of the son of a carpenter donned out in a purple flared suit and floppy felt hat.

9.  The Sorcerers – “The Horror” (2015)
ATA Records is an independent, musician owned and run record label based Leeds who create and release a mix of new takes on classic 60’s & 70’s soul, gospel, funk, R&B, jazz, library, Big Band and film music using vintage analog equipment, tape machines and plenty of valves. The Sorcerers self-titled LP is a suitably spooky cauldron of jazz beats and breaks.

10.  Mavis Staples – “If It’s A Light” (2016)
The wonderful Ms Staples has an album of new songs out this month, Livin’ On A High Note, and this one written by Charity Rose Thielen from Seattle’s “indie folk” The Head & The Heart and sung beautifully by Mavis is one of the highlights.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


Forty five years after leaving Blue Note, the greatest living proponent of the Hammond B3 organ, Dr Lonnie Smith, is back on the label and in London to promote his new album, Evolution, at Ronnie Scott’s.

During his first show on Tuesday the Doctor expresses surprise and delight at returning to the label but it’s a move he’s earned on merit rather than sentiment, continuing to work and record throughout the intervening years, but it feels he’s now back home where he cut those classic late 60s soul-jazz albums Move Your Hand, Turning Point and Think plus the fabulous LPs with Lou Donaldson. “Lou’s doing great, I spoke to him the other day,” Lonnie tells me, “he’s family”. The esteem Smith holds the label is demonstrated when he explains the large ring he is wearing he had made using a piece of gravel taken from outside Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs. “I haven’t told Rudy,” he remembers, seeming to wonder why.

Another thing Smith has forgotten is the name of his current album, twice checking with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, and from which record ‘Pilgrimage’ was taken (The Healer). When the audience start chuckling Smith, with an ever-present twinkle in his eye, says “Don’t laugh, I’ve made 50-60 albums.” It’s a fair point. 

Much of the material though is taken from his previous two albums; opening with the atmospheric, New York-in-the-drizzle, cinematic ‘Backtrack’. From there on his trio –the virtuoso Kreisberg is joined with the man with the neatest drum set-up in the business, Johnathan Blake, whose playing is as a funky as his all-on-one-level set-up is tidy – cook up a shimmering potion which, when they bring to the boil at intervals, turns Scott’s club into a furnace of groove.

There’s so much depth in Smith’s repertoire that the practice of tagging it by genre is frankly ludicrous: jazz, soul, blues, gospel, spiritual, classical, funk, rock, standards, whatever. Smith weaves through them all and more. One moment the Doc is pumping away like in a Blaxploitation movie soundtrack, the next scarcely making a sound as an ethereal beauty delicately takes over. Original composition ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ makes its first ever live performance “We’re stepping on to thin ice here. If you don’t like it, listen to the version on the new CD” he jokes, whilst adaptations of ‘My Favourite Things’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’ are more easily recognisable albeit done in a Hammond heavy style.

The good Doctor is mischievous rascal and has one last trick up his robes as he exits the stage gingerly with the exaggerated aid of a walking cane. Once at the nearest table he picks up the cane and begins to slap a rhythm on what is in fact his electrified “Slaperoo” which puzzles one man who appears to ask what it is. “It’s magic,” replies Smith, who continues to merrily circle the club. Watching a man in his 70s play a funky synth-sound on a souped-up silver walking stick/didgeridoo, held like a guitar, before launching his trio into a blistering finale with 'Play It Back' isn’t something one sees every evening. It is, like Dr. Lonnie Smith himself, most definitely magic.

Evolution by Dr. Lonnie Smith is out now on Blue Note Records.

Saturday, 20 February 2016


This Friday night I’ll be digging into the Monkey Selection Box and pulling out records to play as the guest DJ at The State We’re In. I’ll be joining club regulars Andrea, Agent Badlam, Les Petits Feet and Richard in playing R&B, Soul and Motown – sometimes all three in one 45 – at the Pack & Carriage, 162 Eversholt Street, NW1. Some of you may remember this was previously the Elixir Bar that held the first couple of Jukebox 7 nights.

Very nice to be asked, thanks TSWI, and should be a fun night. Free to get in which of course means more money for drink. First record spun about 8pm, the last one maybe around 2am. Hope to see a few of you there. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016


Billy Childish last week released his 983rd record in the shape of a new four-track EP on Damaged Goods under his current band name, CTMF. What makes this particularly waxing interesting to me is how the title track, ‘A Glimpse of Another Time’, pays tribute to a little piece of unsung London gigging history; that of the Wild Western Room at the St. John’s Tavern in Archway, North London.

“Friday nights, we would play, under the gaze of the IRA. A wagon wheel and a cowboy scene, the JCB man smiling at me. It was a glimpse of another time.”

The cover photograph by Paul Slattery shows Billy fronting Thee Headcoats in their deerstalking glory at the Tavern in 1991. It was an odd little place containing two very different scenes. The main pub was a smoky, tatty, weather-beaten old boozer which a few smoky, tatty, weather-beaten old Irishmen rattled around in. The back room, the Wild Western Room, with its wagon wheel on the ceiling, badly painted cowboy scene on the wall and a giant pair of bull’s horns stuck above the tiny tiered stage built into the corner was the domain, during the week, of a character who operated under the name Slim Chance.

“Slim’s hammer was under the table, […] the PA was on top of the table, some drunken idiot just pulled out the cable. It was a glimpse of another time.”

I never knew Slim’s background and thought it best not to ask too many questions but he put on hundreds of gigs in that place. He was quite a bit older than us, and a lot more lived in: he had faded homemade tattoos on his skinny arms and scraggly curly hair which made him look like a wirier Ian Hunter. The rougher and readier, the more garagey, the more punk, the more outsiderish, the better for Slim. He championed bands other promoters wouldn’t touch and was content to repeatedly book bands who didn’t have a hope in hell of bringing in many punters. Quite how much acts got paid, if at all, was subject to a baffling collection of variables that only Slim could calculate.

“The Armitage Shanks, they were there, the Riot Gurls with boy-cut hair, the Guaranteed Ugly were smiling through, the Fire Department and the audience few. It was a glimpse of another time.”

He’d put on mod type bands, and the 60’s pop-pysch stuff but Thee Headcoats epitomized Slim’s ethos and were the venue’s “star” attraction. It was no bullshit rock & roll, where spirit and attitude counted and musicianship was largely irrelevant. Thee Headcoats were one of only a few bands who drew decent attendances despite nights which featured three or four bands of roughly similar ilk.

My mates and I saw a lot of gigs there in the early to mid-90s and it was a definite influence on starting our own band. If these groups can get away with it so can we, was the thought. And that turned out to be the case with The Electric Fayre. I wasn’t a big fan of Thee Headcoats or Armitage Shanks (did like the Guaranteed Ugly though who we played with) but seeing crudely minimalist bands like that did provide inspiration, or rather courage, to learn three chords and stand there in public and loosely play them repeatedly.  

Almost the only time we played gigs out of Uxbridge was for Slim who was unfazed by our incompetence and was always encouraging. We played there every few weeks for a while; I think on one occasion to five people. Slim didn’t mind and still booked us. We were cheap I suppose. “Give it six months and you lot will be really good” he said once. A prophesy that remained unfulfilled. For reasons never explained one day Slim did a bunk. He dumped his contact book on Paul ‘PJ’ Crittenden, who was helping with the gigs now the nights had moved down the road to a bigger location at the Boston Arms under the Dirty Water banner, and vanished into the night, never to be seen or heard of again. All very mysterious.

Those nights at the St John’s Tavern didn’t feel like anything particularly earth-shattering and were taken for granted but can now - with the benefit of hindsight, and nostrils free from the stench of those concrete, freezing toilets - be looked back on fondly. London’s venues for bands starting out with little or no audience are disappearing week by week. It was, indeed, another time.

“Cee Bee Beaumont!”

I walked past the Tavern a couple of months ago and was pleased it’s still a pub but the IRA, the JCB man and fans of Cee Bee Beaumont would not have recognised the place which now serves “Trout fillet with Crayfish Sauce and White Chocolate Brûlé” instead of garage punk at such distorted volume. As for Billy Childish, his records don’t date; they exist in their own time zone. I’m not one to suggest they all sound the same but his latest EP isn’t a million miles away from the sound he made in the Wild Western Room; in fact it doesn’t even stylistically travel as far as Archway tube station. And that is bloody remarkable in so many ways.

A Glimpse of Another Time EP by CTMF is out now on Damaged Goods Records.
Lyrics quoted above by Billy Childish.
Typical Western Room gig list, 1995.
The Electric Fayre at the St John's Tavern, Photo by Sonia Cazzaniga

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


The Independent today shared a post from Letters of Note which highlighted the etiquette expected in 9th Century China if one got sloshed and acted inappropriately in polite society.  The miscreant would copy the following and deliver with head suitably bowed:

“Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.”

Moving on 1160 years and the seventh issue of lit zine Paper & Ink is themed around the demon drink and the dreaded hangover. It is difficult to imagine many of these renegade writers of poetry and prose issuing a formal apology but they offer far more imagination and insight than the usual “you shoulda seen us last night…” tales.

Any mag featuring Joseph Ridgwell and u v ray is worth the investment and Cockney boy Ridgwell’s ‘A Two Day Old Pony’ short story does not feature anything of the equine kind. Ray’s excerpt from his soon to be published stylized new novel Black Cradle picks the beneath the scab of the human existence as only he can. There are plenty of other names within the 40 pages with Vicki Jarrett’s ‘Schrodinger’s Hangover’ sticking in my mind.

As editor Martin Appleby states in his introduction, “After reading this issue you will probably feel like you have been for a night on the booze with Charles Bukowski, but trust me, you will not regret a single second.”

Martin is correct. All this talk of booze is making me thirsty so I’m gonna pour myself a beer, you can pick up a copy of Paper & Ink for £2.50 here.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


Monkey Picks mind expanders of choice, The Lucid Dream, have conjured up another cosmic voyage in to the back of the brain. ‘Bad Texan’ is the lead track from their forthcoming EP and a taster from their work-in-progress third album due in the autumn.

The track has a smidge of an early 90s “always been a dancefloor element to our music” feel in the extended tripped out intro before landing in more familiar wash-of-noise territory during it’s seven minutes. Seems only appropriate it’ll be released on 12 inch (and download) via Holy Are You Records on 11 March 2016 with BBC session versions of previous album tracks “Unchained Dub” and “Morning Breeze”. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


Forever Changes is such a universally acclaimed masterpiece it’s obscured the rest of Arthur Lee and Love’s output, especially work after the ’67 release of that album. Never more is this the case than the seventh and final album issued under the Love name, 1974’s Reel To Real, which only now, for the first time, makes it to CD (plus new vinyl version) thanks to a deluxe reissue package from High Moon Records.

Arthur never escaped the shadow of Forever Changes and his truculent personality and single-minded attitude meant he was going to do what the hell he wanted, not bend to the wishes of others and that included RSO president Bill Oakes who signed Arthur to his label. Providing Arthur with the biggest budget he’d ever worked with, Oakes, in the 32 page booklet/liner notes by David Fricke, holds his hands up. “I was chasing Arthur because of Forever Changes. I was banking on Arthur coming back with ‘Alone Again Or’. That was my romantic idea.” Oakes obviously failed to notice 'Alone Again Or' was Bryan Maclean's song but you catch his drift. 

Arthur, naturally, had other ideas and delivered an album of soulful and funky R&B. Thanks, said no one. The record bombed, RSO tore up the contract for a second album, Lee never recorded for a major label again.

Coming off the back of a few patchy albums, the year it was made, the dreadful artwork, and its scarcity have all contributed to Reel To Real remaining unheard by even fans of Lee. I remember seeing it at a record fair many years ago and recoiling in horror at what I imagined it contained and threw it back in the box. But time, as it happens, has been kind. From this distance and listening now, Reel To Real is a hugely enjoyable album. It’s slick, consistent, Arthur is in tremendously soulful voice, and it grooves. Love, in all their incarnations, was always a multiracial band so excuse me to crudely suggest that if Forever Changes was their whitest rock album, Reel To Real is their blackest soul album.

“Time Is Like A River” eases in like Al Green, Arthur limbers up, backing vocals and horns then escalate to the top. It’s a terrific opener. These were LA horns but there’s a real Memphis via Muscle Shoals feel to much of the record.  “Stop The Music” has an Otis Redding push and pull and “Good Old Fashioned Dream“stays in that bag; hear how Arthur sings “gotta”, pure Otis. “Who Are You?” is disco fever and as eyebrow-raising as that sounds, it works a treat and was strabgely overlooked as a single. This is an album of its time, 1974, but it’s a good album of its time. Arthur was moving with it and in the moment. Forever Changes, yeah? The clue was there. 

“Which Witch Is Witch” takes a more bluesy approach, albeit with a sing-song melody, with a guest appearance of Harvey ‘The Snake’ Mandel providing a suitable slippery contribution. “With A Little Energy” struts with some funky clavinet insertions; “Singing Cowboy” is breezier and has a simpler arrangement than the one on Four Sail five years earlier whilst “Be Thankful For What You Got” has Arthur cruising the hills of LA covering the beautiful Curtis Mayfieldesque William De Vaughn song which was riding high in the R&B charts. “You Said You Would” bounces along and “Busted Feet” provides the most out-and-out rock moment with traces of Arthur's old pal Jimi Hendrix. “Everybody’s Gotta Live” ends the party by the camp fire up in the hills of Laurel Canyon.

If all that wasn’t enough, this deluxe edition features an additional twelve tracks including four never before heard songs (the vinyl edition sticks to the original tracklisting but provides a download code for the extras). Few will claim Reel To Real as one of the greatest LPs ever made but it’s less intense, more focused and has a freshness lacking in Love’s Out Here and False Start; here Arthur Lee is relaxed, having fun, chilling and busting some moves. And all with a little twinkle in his eye. 

Reel To Real is released on CD/LP by High Moon Records on 19 February 2016.

Sunday, 7 February 2016


Here's Memphis Slim popping up somewhere in Europe during 1963 to perform "I'm Lost Without You" - covered in the UK a couple of years later by The Muldoons - accompanied by his regular guitarist of the time, and future Blues Brother, Matt 'Guitar' Murphy. Take it away boys...