Sunday, 15 July 2018

POSTER WORKSHOP 1968-1971



It’s been a heck of a few days for protest in the UK, and the invention of new swearwords, with many individual eye-catching homemade placards displayed among the bulk printed ones supplied by various organisations and groups, thanks to Trump’s visit.

If this was still the late 60s, volunteers at the Poster Workshop in Camden Town would’ve been rushed off their radical feet. Inspired by Ateliers Populaires, set up by students and artists in French art school printmaking studios, the Poster Workshop opened at 61 Camden Road in 1968 and operated an open-door policy where people could print their own posters. Volunteers would show them how and collaborate, if required, to design the work. Customers would pay whatever they could afford for materials and the shop survived on donations.

Examples of these posters can be found in Poster Workshop 1968-1971, a new book documenting the struggles and graphic design of that era: everything from the war in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, factory closures, industrial disputes and greedy landlords to the boycotting of Californian grapes. Some of the designs are little more than to-the-point basic scrawls, others more impressive, but all display a commitment and fighting spirit for change.

Poster Workshop 1968-1971 is published by Four Corners Irregulars, £10. 






Friday, 6 July 2018

THE PRIMITIVES at the 100 CLUB, LONDON


Tracy Tracy is, unusually, perched on a stool singing a three-song interlude as the Primitives drop a gear from their usual high speed throttle. “And I'll be there just with my eyes, And that’s the way it is, And I don't want anything to change.”

‘Don’t Want Anything To Change’, featured on the Prims breakthrough LP, Lovely, being commemorated with a series of shows to mark its 30th anniversary. Unlike five years ago in the same venue, it’s not being played beginning-to-end in its entirety, but most of the tracks get an airing, taking up roughly half the set.

Some things have changed, like the introduction of a mid-set sit-down, but not many. They rattle through, they hit a groove, there’s a roughness that echoes their pre-major label success and the rusty chainsaw scuzz of their early indie days. I’d love to say I saw them playing to ten grebos and a dog in Coventry flophouse, flogging singles out the boot of a car, but that’s not the case. They were already at their commercial peak when I first saw them, selling 3000 tickets for two nights at London’s Town and Country Club at the end of ’87. 

My main memory of that night, apart from me impersonating a leaping salmon at the front of the stage to ‘Spacehead’ and ‘Nothing Left’, is those eyes Tracy sings about. She didn’t move about all that much, an opening of a hand, a bend of the knees, but would seduce the audience with a look. Lure them in, then chew them up and spit them out like a bad taste. 

As a teenager then, the thought of still seeing the Prims 30 years later would’ve seemed ridiculous. Can you imagine how shit they’d be? Bunch of embarrassing old codgers. Yet, mercifully, they’ve retained their sense of style and haven’t forgotten what made them so great in the first place: tasty sweet and sour pop nuggets. 

Tracy’s a far friendly proposition these days and a more confident performer. All eyes remain on her as she spins and sashays around the stage. Forever the star, in a glittering dress so dazzling drummer Tig requires sunglasses as he cracks the snare with increasing ferocity to the opening gunshots of ‘Sick of It’. “Don't say you're having fun, There's no fire in your sun, There's nothing here that is real, Nothing that I'd stay here for, Nothing I'd like to steal, And I'm sick of it all,” she sings.

Au contraire Tracy, au contraire mon petits pois… We are most certainly having fun, mon petits pois. With each song the decibel level of audience reaction moves up a notch to near frenzy level. I’ve seen many Primitives shows since their 2009 reunion but tonight’s atmosphere is extra special. Even Tracy confesses to being emotional. Not only are favourites from Lovely greeted as old returning heroes but recent releases - the dizzying, sped-up Monkees-style ‘Petals’ and the barnstorming ‘I’ll Trust The Wind’ – are embraced with the same passionate response. The Primitives, and their followers, remember the past but aren't stuck there, they celebrate the now. 

'Crash' will forever be The Biggie. In 'Crash', so the song goes, people aren't listening anymore, they've had enough to last a lifetime through. None of those folks are in the 100 Club.  



EPILOGUE



One additional thing that made the night for me was the opportunity to play some 45s around The Primitives and support band Young Romance (who’ve taken up the mantle of fuzzy and snappy two-minute hook laden pop tunes, check out their fab single ‘Pale’). Huge thanks to the Prims and promotors AGMP and all those who kindly took the trouble to say hello, say nice things and ask for great records (none of which I had with me but demonstrated fine taste…). Here’s the list for those who like lists…



Comet Gain – An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls

Huggy Bear – Her Jazz
The Liminanas – Garden of Love
Psychic TV – Godstar
Rolling Stones – Dandelion
Jim Doval & the Gauchos – Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut
The Duals – Shift Stick
Richard Berry& the Pharaohs – Have Love Will Travel
The Stooges – Down On The Street
Primal Scream – Ivy Ivy Ivy
Birdland – Hollow Heart
Shop Assistants – Safety Net
Buzzcocks – Promises
The Velvet Underground – Foggy Notion

Young Romance

The Arrows – Blues Theme
Mouse & The Traps – Cryin’ Inside
The Byrds – Feel A Whole Lot Better
Brenda Lee – What’d I Say
The Shirelles – Boys
Shadows of Knight – Shake
Ann-Margret – It’s A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In)
Little Ann – Who Are You Trying To Fool
Big Maybelle – 96 Tears
Ann Sexton – You’ve Been Gone Too Long
Madeline Bell – Don’t Cross Over To My Side of the Street
Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity – A Kind of Love In
The Kinks – She’s Got Everything
Love – 7 and 7 Is
The Lornettes – Something To Remember Me By
The Marvelettes – Locking Up My Heart
The Marvelettes – I’ll Keep Holding On

The Primitives

Ramones – I Don’t’ Care
Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers – Chinese Rocks
Hollywood Brats – Sick On You
13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
Hamilton Streetcar – Invisible People
The Left Banke – I Haven’t Got The Nerve
The Who – Dogs
Billy Young – Glendora
Dee Dee Sharp – Deep Dark Secret
Gloria Grey – It’s A Sweet World
Martha & the Vandellas – In My Lonely Room
The Choir – It’s Cold Outside
Mark Markham & the Jesters – Marlboro Country
The Masters Apprentices – War or Hands of Time
The Stairs – Flying Machine
Felt – Rain of Crystal Spires

Monday, 25 June 2018

JUNE PLAYLIST


1.  The Shirelles – ‘Everybody’s Goin’ Mad’ (1963)
“What is this world coming to, with all the crazy things folks do?” What a lovely world it must’ve been when all the Shirelles had to worry about was girls in wigs, boys wearing sunglasses after dark, beatniks rejecting conversation and diplomats doing the Twist.

2.  Kenny Wells – ‘Isn’t It Just A Shame’ (1966)
The use of space and silence within this utterly exquisite soul record is sheer perfection.

3.  Ann-Margret – ‘It’s A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In)’ (1969)
Ann-Margret in angry, stamping, fuzzed up punk mode. Lee Hazlewood mans the controls.

4.  Paula – Mi Habitación (1970)
Portuguese songstress Paula Ribas sings in Spanish on this opening cut to fantastico new compilation and summer soundtrack, Desafinado: Spanish Bossa Nova 1963/1975, out now on Adarce Records.

5.  Neil Young – ‘Mellow My Mind’ (1973)
We’ve been blessed with a couple of essential Neil Young releases from the vaults in recent months. First the acoustic The Hitchhiker and now the plugged-in Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live, recorded in September ’73.

6.  Millie Jackson – ‘Tell Her It’s Over’ (1975)
Its predecessor, the love-tanged Caught Up, spawned Millie Jackson a deserved R&B Grammy nomination the previous year for her version of ‘If Loving You Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right’ and Still Caught Up follows the same template, an even split of songs sung from the point of view of a wife and mistress. Soap operas are seldom as enthralling as this.

7.  Ann Sexton – ‘I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)’ (1977)
I’ve been on a massive Ann Sexton high after her incredible show in London this month and have hammered The Beginning, Ann’s second and, to date, last album. Criminal she’s not made more records.

8. The Higsons – ‘Conspiracy’ (1982)
So many questions pale into insignificance next to “Who stole my bongos?”

9.  Tracyanne and Danny – ‘Alabama’ (2018)
Tracyanne Campbell’s voice makes me melt at the best of times but here remembering her Camera Obscura bandmate and friend, Carey Lander, who died in 2015, it’s difficult not to well up. “When I’m an old lady I’ll still miss you like crazy”. Heartbreaking.

10.  Starcrawler – ‘I Love LA’ (2018)
These young Americans know how to put on a show. Guitarist Henri Cash throws the shapes of Wayne Kramer and Jack White while singer Arrow de Wilde, a scrawny pile of bones wrapped in muslin and blood, staggers around zombified like Carrie after her prom. At the Garage in Highbury last week they riffed and chugged their way through a bunch of two-minute dumb ass glam rockers before ending the gig playing on the shoulders of the audience. Pure theatre. Hurrah!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

ANN SEXTON at the 229 CLUB, LONDON

“You’ve Been Gone Too Long!” shouts a fella in front of the stage filming Ann Sexton on his iPad. He does it after every song. To my knowledge this is the first time Ann has sung in London, so you’d think Poundland Martin Scorsese could wait more patiently. “You know I’m gonna do that one,” replies Ann, “I couldn’t get out here alive if I didn’t.” She knows it, we know it.

The song in question, co-written by Ann and her husband Melvin Burton, and originally the 1971 B-side to a now mostly forgotten ‘You’re Letting Me Down’, is one of Northern Soul’s defining anthems. It’s not though especially “Northern” in the traditional 4x4 Motownesque stomp, but a funkier new dawn warning about what happens when a man doesn’t take care of his woman, there’s always a Jody waiting in the wings to move in.

When Ann plays the song, as her encore, the room goes bananas, and mateyboy finally gets the money shot he’s been waiting for. It’s a spine tingling moment but not one which overshadows the previous hour, which was a one of the funkiest, most badass, sets of ball squeezing soul music one could ever wish to see. Ann Sexton is simply brilliant. Her voice astonishing. Add a band who blatantly understand, and can achieve, the guttural power and snap of funk and are flexible enough to follow Ann’s lead is a match made in heaven. Mr YouTuber’s tiresome shouting, quite frankly, disrespectful to an artist pouring her very being into her set, leaving nothing behind. Ann isn't dialling this shit in. 

All too often audiences are presented with “heritage acts” who are a shadow of their former self. Despite their best efforts they’ve either lost what they had through the ravages of time, or neglect, and each song is like riding a wave: one moment reaching a quick peak, then sinking down again. Allowances are made and, even with tepid backing bands, they provide a nice night out and an opportunity to give something back, to say thank you for those wonderful records that have enriched our lives.

Ann Sexton is different. No allowances need to be made. This is as good as it gets. Ever. Caught in a crossfire hurricane, she shimmies around the stage, dancing from side to side, and as unlikely as it seems, I can’t imagine her voice has ever been in better shape nor a band, who by their own admission were under rehearsed, give as much oomph.

‘You’re Losing Me’, the second most popular song in her repertoire, is a sheer dynamite. The bomb. She gives the trumpeter some, then the organist, teasingly toys with the drummer. People are dancing and it’s rare to see a London audience dance like this. ‘I Still Love You’ tears the roof off the mother, as does ‘It’s All Over But The Shouting’, before diving into the swampy funk waters of ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’.

‘Come Back Home’ is slower, cards on the table stuff. How anyone could’ve left Ann in the first place blows my mind. It makes the original recorded version, as great as it is, seem innocuous. By the time Ann is through, she’s wiping real tears away and apologising for getting emotional. This isn’t theatre. This is from the heart. The soul. I wrack my brain to recall being in a room with a voice as moving. Maybe never. ‘I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)’ from 1977’s The Beginning is another winner, equal to anything the marvellous Millie Jackson was doing at her peak.

The sweaty 'Rising Up', an irresistible mix of the church brought to the clubs, before Ann exits the stage only to return for the world's most predictable encore. A truly unforgettable night.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

MONKEY'S WANDERING WIRELESS SHOW - SUNDAY 17 JUNE 2018 at 9.00PM


After one of its infamous breaks, Fusion returned to the airwaves last Sunday for its weekly slot on Mixlr Internet Radio with a tremendous Funk-Up-Your-Soul show hosted by Paul Orwell. If you missed it, I urge you to catch-up pronto on the Fusion Showreel

This weekend, Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show is back for the first time since January. In keeping with its title it’ll be crammed with old stuff, new stuff, dancers, smoochers, nutty instrumentals, rarities, classics and heaven knows what, spanning approximately 60 years in 60 minutes. It would be mighty fine if you can tune in.

If you want to log into the chatroom and say hello during the show, it takes seconds to sign up, that’ll be great but if you wanna just listen that’s equally cool. 

UPDATE: NOW AVAILABLE TO CATCH-UP HERE: 
http://mixlr.com/fusion-on-air/showreel/monkeys-wandering-wireless-show-16/

If you've missed previous shows, or want to listen again, here are a few to enjoy.


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

IT'S JUST BEGUN by THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH (1972)


Jimmy Castor’s second album, It’s Just Begun, the first of two in 1972, represents his group’s commercial and arguably artistic peak.

Containing two big hits, both subsequently extensively sampled, it’s a bona fide classic. The stabbing horns, wah-wah guitar, squalling sax, percussive breaks and pulsating bass of the title track is a pure definition of funk and the thumping, chest-beating, madcap march of ‘Troglodyte (Cave Man)’ fulfils Castor’s “I’ll sock it to you” promise.

Such was multi-instrumentalist Castor’s strength, his nickname The Everything Man well deserved, those pair don’t unduly overshadow the rest as the Bunch pack Latin rhythms, fuzzy psychedelic rock, jazz, doo-wop, breezy pop and orchestral movements into a varied and fun packed set. The occasional jokey moments, including the introduction of Big Butt Bertha, don’t detract from a man serious about hitting the grooviest groove.

Now available as a limited edition red vinyl release by TidalWavesMusic.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU by ROGER DALTREY (2018)


It’s difficult to decide the more eyebrow raising claim: Roger Daltrey’s assertion his first solo album in 26 years is a return to when the High Numbers were a soul band playing in church halls or Pete Townshend’s touching tribute this new record shows his old mate at the height of his powers. Mind you, while not quite taking the mantel of the Morrissey of Mod, Daltrey’s recent interviews have suggested rather than dying before he gets old, he’s living up to the theory people become more right-wing as it becomes harder for them to get around, so let’s stick to his less controversial outpourings.

There is a definite soul flavour in As Long As I Have You but next to nothing young mods would’ve heard down the Goldhawk Road Social Club and the expensive sounding production by Dave Eringa (of long-term Manics knob twiddling fame) is a far cry from the fumbling of a fledging R&B band. The result however is pleasingly better than a causal jaunt through tired 60s soul songs and we should be grateful 74-year-old Roger hasn’t gone down the Great American Songbook route favoured by so many of his generation.

Tackling the title track, Garnet Mimms’ thumping rhythm and soul classic, came as a surprise when it first received plays on the wireless, dangerously overblown in a Tom Jones manner, but after a couple of listens it settles down and powers along with just the right degree of ferocity to – in the unlikely scenario it was ever heard there - lightly splinter the pews of any cosy local chapel.

Pete Townshend contributes over-dubbed guitar to seven of the eleven tracks but it’s only on ‘How Far’ where he battles Roger for the spotlight, picking and licking like a Who’s Next outtake. A comparison I don’t use casually. ‘Where’s A Man To Go’ is a slower soulful blues and one of a number of songs with a gospel backing. Parliament’s ‘Get On Out The Rain’ is a righteous, marching, Primal Scream style rocker with Mick Talbot (a presence on nearly all tracks) laying down churchy chords as guitars wail and saxes honk and squall. Fantastic stuff and adds an extra something to the original. Whether it’s enough to warrant Roger appending his name to the writing credit, as he’s done, is something I’ll leave to Parliament’s legal department.

‘I’ve Got Your Love’ sways to a sea of lighters in the air before a reading of Nick Cave’s ‘Into Your Arms’. Although not doing anything radical it encroaches firmly into late period Johnny Cash territory and could induce a tear in sensitive listeners. It would be remiss not to mention Roger now has a slight lisp and it’s most noticeable on this track and on quieter moments throughout the album. It would have been a simple job to have cleaned/edited in the production so credit to Daltrey for leaving it untouched and offering honest performance full of raw emotional wisdom.

'You Haven’t Done Nothing’ plods along without the nimbleness of Stevie Wonder’s version and ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ is believable storytelling and a vocal highlight. Joe Tex’s ‘The Love You Save’ and the self-penned ‘Certified Rose’ portray Roger as the old romantic devil, the horns recalling Van Morrison, while the closer, a Daltrey co-write, ‘Always Heading Home’, with piano and cello accompaniment, is another delicate moment like ‘Into My Arms’.

There are at least three different Roger Daltreys at play on this album: the microphone lassoing rock star, sensitive balladeer and tender soul man. He can still do the first well but it’s the second and third which impress most, along with the well-chosen, unobvious material.

Going back to those claims by The Two, although full of PR exaggeration and hugely debatable, perhaps they weren’t as preposterous as first appeared. As Long As I Have You exceeds expectations, should delight fans of The Who, and although the competition isn’t strong (Roger’s Going Back Home with Wilko Johnson the only serious contender), is the most satisfying thing either have done for decades.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

THE HUNTERS IN THE SNOW by RW HEDGES (2018)


“You may look at me and think the Lord employed a fool” opines West London troubadour RW Hedges as the introductory line to his first properly released album. By the end of this enchanting record nothing could be further from the truth.

Hedges’ vintage sounding songs, sturdily crafted with memorable melodies, are mined from similar ground to the best of Richard Hawley, leaving collaborator Luca Nieri from labelmates The Monks Kitchen, free to adorn them with glimmering accompaniment and a gorgeous production recalling the first Fleet Foxes album.

These woody outdoor lullabies twinkle in the stars as references to sea and sailors, booze and opium, give a gently woozy and hallucinatory effect. ‘Signal Man’, based on a spooky Dickensian story, echoes down the line with the ghost of Glen Campbell and ‘Best Laid Plans’ waltzes like a tipsy Ray Davies in reflective mood.

Full of understated grandeur, The Hunters In The Snow, is a magical collection.

This review first appeared in Shindig magazine. The Hunters In The Snow is released by Wonderful Sound, out now. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

MAY PLAYLIST


1.  Mary Lou Williams – ‘Praise The Lord’ (1964)
Oh, everybody clap your hands with Mary Lou (pictured above). This is an amazing amalgamation of the sacred church and the smoky jazz/R&B juke joint in perfect harmony.

2.  Johnny Alf – ‘Samba Sem Balanco’ (1965)
His name might make you think of a 1950s East End bin man, but Brazilian Johnny Alf is known as the Father of Bossa Nova in certain circles. His eponymous 1965 LP was a purely speculative purchase from Fopp this month for the risk-free sum of £3; the sun immediately came out.

3.  Patrice Holloway – ‘The Thrill of Romance’ (1966)
The classic Kent comp On The Soul Side has now been released on CD with ten bonus cuts. Some are familiar but this, from the same session as ‘Stolen Hours’, is previously unissued. How and why is nothing short of a mystery. Wow.

4.  Jack McDuff – ‘The Boiler’ (1972)
Rather confusingly McDuff made two albums called The Heatin’ System – one in 1994 and the one we’re interested in, for Cadet, in 1972 which is a steamy, bluesy, funky, proto-Acid Jazz affair. Every track a Hammond and horns scorcher.

5.  The Soul Children – ‘It Ain’t Always What You Do (It’s Who You Let See You Do It)’ (1973)
Gritty singalong from members of the Stax family.

6.  Spiritualized – ‘Smiles’ (1992) 
The version on the first Spiritualized album, Lazer Guided Melodies is good but the five and half minute intergalactic flight on the ‘Medication’ single is the one to hear. Will Carruthers recounts his days in the band, and Spacemen 3, in wonderful prose in Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands, not only one of the funniest music books I’ve read for a while but one which refreshingly (and through necessity) places music and musicians as a countercultural force rather than a business. 

7.  The Schizophonics – ‘Make It Last’ (2017)
Got a stubborn lump of wax stuck in yer lughole? Let San Diego’s the Schizophonics dislodge it with their bone shaking brand of MC5/Stooges rawk and roll. The dial doesn’t go up to eleven; that’s where it starts. Blimey.

8.  Spinn – ‘Who You Are’ (2018)
A pleasant, gently jangling, pop tune from new young Liverpool beat combo.

9.  The Coral – ‘Sweet Release’ (2018)
The Coral seem to be defying the odds and are actually getting better. This rubbery new single could be classic Super Furry Animals. Praise indeed.

10.  Kamasi Washington – ‘Fists of Fury’ (2018)
After witnessing the current poster boy of jazz in a small arts centre last year I wondered how he’d make the transition to a larger “rock venue” such as the Camden Roundhouse. I needn’t have worried, Kamasi and his band – with a new set – were even more spectacular. For the Jackie Chan inspired ‘Fists of Fury’, Kamasi welcomed London saxophonist, Shabaka Hutchings, to the stage. A nice touch and an awe inspiring gig.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

THE PRIMITIVES - LOVELY 30th ANNIVERSARY TOUR


The Primitives hit the road in June, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Lovely, the album which featured the ‘Crash’ and transformed them from cult Coventry indie combo to shiny nationwide pop stars; not that they were entirely comfortable in their new-found celebrity status as appearances on Saturday morning telly proved.

Dripping with sniffy contempt at being asked inane questions by Micheala Strachan at some ungodly hour, a marvellously mardy Tracy Tracy told millions of kids her favourite food was hamsters, and, on another occasion, they signed out of a show with an impromptu live version of the Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Seems kinda incredible now, in this age of tedious cookery shows showing you fifteen things to do with asparagus, that folk could get away with such glorious freewheelin’ on live mainstream telly.

As for Lovely, it was in no way over shadowed by ‘Crash’ (I tend to miss it out when listening nowadays), instead it’s packed with beauties. From clatter and fuzz to jingle and jangle to fizz and buzz to dreamy flower power, it’s all there. It sounded great 30 years ago, sounds great today and will sound great in 30 years’ time.

If all that wasn’t enough, The Primitives are currently making some of the best music of their lives. Before you scoff, listen below to 2017’s ‘I’ll Trust The Wind’.

Tickets available for all shows now. Attendees at the 100 Club show will also have the added “bonus” of witnessing yours truly playing some of my favourite records, in my favourite venue, for one of my favourite bands. Lovely jubbly. 

Saturday, 12 May 2018

JOHN SIMONS: A MODERNIST (2018)



John Simons has never been a major retailer, only ever running one small London shop after another but his influence is immeasurable. Mods, skinheads, suedeheads and gentlemen of a discerning nature with an appreciation of American Ivy League and European styles have made the pilgrimages to his shops in search of corduroy coats, soft shoulder seersucker jackets, madras shirts, loafers and wing-tipped brogues. If you wonder how much sway a single outlet could have made then one only has to mention the word Harrington. Universally understood, it was John Simons who nicknamed the Baracuta G9 sports jacket after the character Rodney Harrington, who wore one in the 60s soap opera Peyton Place. The rest, as they say… But mass market acceptance has never been Simons’ goal, it’s been about doing the little things well.

Now subject of a new hour-long documentary, John Simons: A Modernist, it’s only right a man whose life is driven by the inexorably linked holy trinity of music, art and clothes is celebrated by filmmakers Lee Cogswell and Mark Baxter, following their similar projects about Tubby Hayes and Sir Peter Blake, and written by Jason Jules after the relief on finding John Simons hadn’t, as per rumour, died.

The film is tightly edited with, as clichéd as it sounds, a modernist eye for detail: all contributors add something to the overall effect, nothing is wasted and everything is in its place like a well ordered sock drawer. Whether famous names such as Paul Weller, Kevin Rowland, Suggs, Paul Smith, the ever-effusive Robert Elms or regular customers from Simons’ shops, they all compliment the look, although none are captioned as coolly as the mysterious David Rosen, “Space Agent”.

They, and John Simons himself, give a fascinating account of humble beginnings under the Hackney Empire and on Walthamstow Market; to the move to the suburban blues delta of Richmond in ’64; then the Squire Shop in Soho in ’67; Covent Garden in ’82 and on to it’s current location in Marylebone.

As noted by Robert Elms, Simons was taking stock originally made for American advertising agents but once adopted on the street here they didn’t look like American advertising agents but “well dressed English street urchins.”  A point underscored by Simons, “They were Jack The Lads, no way were they Harvard graduates, let me tell you that”.

You may never have shopped in a Simons shop, you may find the look overly conservative - I used to pop into the J. Simons shop when it was in Covent Garden but at a time I wanted to look like The Stones in Green Park or The Smoke on Beat Club so I found everything too ‘old man’, a position, for some reason, I’ve reconsidered in recent years… - but that’s not central to appreciating this inspiring film.

John Simons: A Modernist is about an unswerving passion and an unshakable belief. The clothes Simons has sold for over half a century have remained true to his devotion to Ivy League style, modern jazz and the beat generation. A place where clothes, music and the arts converge in harmony outside the vagaries of passing trends. It’s a philosophy best described by Paul Weller, who with customary bluntness says, “He’s never diverted from what his passion is, this is what he loves and what he’s into. If you don’t like it, don’t fucking come”. From the mouth of one modernist to another.

John Simons: A Modernist, a Mono Media Films/Garmsville production, is out now and available from John Simons online.  

Sunday, 29 April 2018

APRIL PLAYLIST


1.  The Drifters – ‘I Gotta Get Myself A Woman’ (1956)
Johnny Moore on lead vocals is desperate for a woman he can call his own. “Doesn’t matter if she’s young or old, if she knows to do the things she’s told, and stay in beside me night and day…” You’ve been warned ladies.

2.  Larry Williams – ‘Little School Girl’ (1960)
Larry Williams (above) led, according to his Wikipedia entry, a “life mixed tremendous success with violence and drug addiction”. And that’s underplaying it. Personal stuff apart, his records packed a punch that reverberates to this day.

3.  Buddy Miles Express – ’69 Freedom Special’ (1969)
Get on board this rolling instrumental produced by Jiminy Hendrix (mercifully free on guitar mangling).

4.  J.J. Jackson – ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ (1970)
Tired of New York’s boogaloo beat and noticing “the only difference between me and last week’s ‘soul star’ was 100 pounds and which words got emphasised in ‘Can you feel it?’” Jackson hit it and quit to London where he hooked up again with some of the British jazzers with whom he’d recorded his ‘But It’s Alright’ hit but took a more progressive path on J.J. Jackson’s Dilemma.

5.  C.C.S – ‘Sunrise’ (1970)
Alexis Korner’s bluesy big band project where given an extra dimension by having classically trained John Cameron (he of ‘Kes’ fame) arrange their debut LP. C.C.S still for the most part kick arse but Cameron is unmistakable on the woodwind parts of this.

6.  George Duke – ‘Au Right’ (1971)
Opening track from The Inner Source and the Duke is getting frisky on his Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano. Do you feel au right? Yes George.

7.  CAN – ‘I’m So Green’ (1972)
Make these proto-baggy greens part of your five-a-day.

8.  Jimmy Castor Bunch – ‘It’s Just Begun’ (1972)
Stone cold funk classic from the big butt loving bunch.

9.  Bettye LaVette – ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ (2018)
On Things Have Changed Bettye LaVette braves the treacherous waters of the Bob Dylan cover where previous washed up failures lay broken on the rocks. LaVette makes a fair fist of it and occasionally, like on this from Infidels, reveals the greatness that hid beneath the original’s terrible 80s production. “Maybe I could’ve done some good in the world instead of burning every bridge I cross”.

10.  RW Hedges – ‘Signalman’ (2018)
Released last Friday, The Hunters In The Snow is an enchanting delight from beginning to end with not one tiny morsel of fat or waste. The spooky ‘Signalman’ feels like an ancient classic chiming with the distant echo of ‘Wichita Lineman’.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

SHAKEDOWN GOSPEL by THE FUTURE SHAPE OF SOUND (2018)


An organ stirs. Light beams through a crack in the chapel ceiling. Up above my head I hear music. “I’ll take you down to the river, I ain’t no preacher but come follow me, I’ll help a neighbour with a heavy load, down at the church of rock and roll.” Then – boom! - it’s a tambourine shaking, hand clapping, foot stomping, gospel jamboree. The track is called ‘Joy’ and it sure is.

The Future Shape of Sound are a ten-strong congregation of rock and roll believers led by guitar toting Captain Future, the horn of Stu ‘Lodekka’ Dace and the sultry elegance of lead vocalist Suri Sumatra, who graciously shares the pulpit with a travelling circus of passing waifs and strays, welcomed into their parish: Jim Jones, Sister Cookie, Big Joe Louis, Amani Z, Son of Dave, Janet Kumah and more all testify.    

The aforementioned ‘Joy’ – or its irresistible sister track ‘Rise Up’ with its fat horns, honky tonk piano and gospel choir - would’ve made the ideal opening track to Shakedown Gospel, setting out its stool, but as this motley crew of London based bluesbreakers know, Sunday morning worshippers are Saturday night fish fryers, and for every sanctified moment of praise there’s the flip. Both angels and demons at play.

The album therefore opens with the loose, bottle neck boogie chillun, end of evening lament, ‘Gone All Wrong’, its darkness lifted by the arrival of the Future’s choir promising to make it all right. The soul is pulled again on ‘I’m On A Roll’ following the call of swampy Louisianan blues footsteps. The keys to the highway are provided on the sensational ‘Joy’ and ‘Rise Up’, lead vocals by Janet Kumah and Sister Cookie respectively, with the Futures on a mission from God, bourbon laid down, cartwheeling down the aisle.

‘Number One’ is back beating a woozy rhythm on the late-night barroom table tops: all rattlesnake eyes darting around, jockeying for position, Tom Waits wipes away spillage as the midnight special rumbles past. “People What You Done” is a snaky, jazzy blues moaner, like you’d hear in a Blaxploitation movie after the protagonist’s loved one meets their maker. Following that theme, “The Time Is Now” scuttles along in a hurry, propelled by a duelling Vox Continental and tenor, and frantic backing galloping along as the curtains twitch in a “one horse town with the shutters down”.

Big Boy Bloater menacing Wolfman warning on “Toe The Line” is souped-up John Lee Hooker, a hip shakin’ Slim Harpo, an all down the line exiled Stones with Bobby Keys in hot pursuit. ‘Shakedown Gospel’ is a righteous organ and sax led instrumental, shaking the fragile timber structure of the chapel, before a campfire ‘No Friend of Mine’ passes round the moonshine to any survivors.

It’s a heck of a journey down to the river and it zips by in little over 35 minutes. The Future Shape of Sound have, in their church of rock and roll, studied hard. Their own glorious hymns on Shakedown Gospel are guaranteed to lift the spirit and shake the tail feather of saints and sinners alike.

Shakedown Gospel by The Future Shape of Sound is released on Gypsy Hotel Records on 27 April 2018. The album launch party takes place on Saturday 5 April at What’s Cookin’ (Ex-Servicemen’s Club), 2 Harvey Road, Leytonstone, E11. Admission free.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

BEAT GIRLS ESPAÑOL (2018)


The sun’s out so the ideal time to enjoy a succession of sultry señoritas with single names, as they belt out Spanish 60s yé- yé sounds packed with perky punch and fiery flamenco rhythms.

Without requisite linguistic skills the ear automatically tunes to other elements, such as the arrangements, which are frequently masterful with no expense spared concocting these teenage symphonies, and vocal styles mostly delivered with full-blooded gusto.

There are translations of familiar numbers – Pet Clark’s ‘Colour My World’ converts to Gelu’s modish ‘Pinta Mi Mundo’ and ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ loosely becomes ‘Aquí En Mi Nube’ by Sonia – but it’s Adriángela’s ‘Nunca Hay Bastante’, Lorella’s ‘Tendrás Que Llorar’, Massiel’s ‘Las Rocas y El Mar’ and Soledad Miranda’s ‘La Verdad’ that stand out for sheer drama while Pic-Nic offer soothing respite with the dreamy ‘El Es Distinto A Ti’. Just as the collection threatens to run out of steam, Conchita Velasco turns up the heat with a crazily camp ‘Calor’.

I hazard very few tracks would’ve been considered ‘cool’ at the time, parts invariably stray into Benidorm straw donkey territory and it can feel like you’re stuck in the heats of the Eurovision Song Contest but, curiously, those aren’t negatives, they simply add to the fun of this collection. Don’t fight it, Viva España!

A version of this review first appeared in Shindig magazine and is based on the 24-track CD; a 14-track vinyl edition is also available now on Ace Records.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

KING COBRA by THE SENIOR SERVICE (2018)


Graham D and the Medway Group return for another soundtrack inspired instrumental album following their 2016 debut, The Girl In The Glass Case. The Senior Service know their onions and King Cobra is an exceptional case of the sequel overshadowing the original as they serve up an even deadlier concoction.

Graham Day’s DNA is the most instantly recognisable but he’s only the mastermind behind half the escapades, this is the work of a ruthlessly effective quartet. Jonathan Barker, Darryl Hartley and Wolf Howard the other guilty parties.

It’s a dusty road littered with bodies. Sophia Loren rises from her bed, mysterious strangers appear, a barroom brawl, Clint Eastwood chews a match, a funeral procession passes through town. John Barry and Ennio Morricone, heads together in a Kentish lock-up with twang and trumpets, Hammond and harmonies, paint the landscape.

The foundation of choppy riffs, spiralling organ and hammering rhythms the Service are known for remain, but as moods shuffle and wriggle between scenes intricate details of their meticulous planning reveal themselves: horns and shakers, vibes and accordion, rich textures in their armoury.

King Cobra is non-stop action, a soundtrack album with all the boring bits eliminated. You’ll be charmed.

King Cobra by The Senior Service is released by Damaged Goods on Friday 27 April 2018. Available to order here.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

THE HACIENDA MUST BE (RE)BUILT: THE LUCID DREAM live at THE VICTORIA, DALSTON


Psych traitors, that’s the Lucid Dream, who this week they released a new one-sided 12-inch single ‘SX1000’.

When posted online it wasn’t greeted with universal acclaim from their fanbase. Devoid of guitars and lyrics, ‘SX1000’ is an unabashed tribute to the acid house era that elicited cries of “Utter pap, sozz but shite”, “Dunno if this is a gimmick type tune or what..”, “Come on boys, WTF is this pish, get back to what your good at” and, my favourite, “How do you go from Bad Texan to this?” Apparently, there were worse, but those comments have been removed. Hence the band’s cheekily knocking up a load of ‘Psych Traitor’ badges to give away.

Those criticisms were, of course, in the minority and on Thursday in East London, through a thick fog of dry ice, they showed, once again, what a remarkable live band they are, showcasing new tracks among a selection of established favourites.

The distance between ‘Bad Texan’, one of the jewels in the band’s recorded crown to date, and ‘SX1000’ isn’t that far at all, as the 2016 track already owed far more to the hypnotic rhymical second Summer of Love than the original flower power one and served as a pointer to where the band were heading next. Let’s not forgot, The Lucid Dream’s take on whatever ‘psych’ is, has incorporated garage rock, dark psychedelia, heavy dub and a Germanic motorik beat.

The other new songs weren’t as extreme as the single and meshed easily into the set which included a broken melodica-free ‘I’m A Star In My Own Right’ and the otherworldly Joy Divisionesque epic finale ‘Epitaph’. Standout moment though came in the shape of penultimate song, ‘Ardency’, which, even on first hearing, would’ve raised the roof of the Hacienda, an instant Madchester classic. Watch out for this when the next album arrives (date tbc).

‘SX1000’ might’ve been a radical move for sluggish bands happy to regurgitate the same style but that’s not The Lucid Dream’s technique. ‘SX1000’ hits a trance inducing, squelchy acid house groove with an unforgettable hook and adds yet another angle to a band already blessed a multitude of dimensions. Try to keep up everyone.

SX1000 is out now on Holy Are You Records. 

Friday, 30 March 2018

MARCH PLAYLIST


1.  Don Patterson with Booker Ervin – ‘Donald Duck’ (1964)
Organists like Don Patterson weren’t universally welcomed in jazz when they started cropping up, in fact there was open hostility, even from reviewers like Walter Catt who, when tasked with writing the sleevenotes for Hip Cake Walk, “put the record on my phonograph to brave what I thought would be an unpleasant experience.” Crazy fool.

2.  The 3 Sounds – ‘Yeh Yeh’ (1966)
From the Blue Note LP, Vibrations, comes this swinging piano/bass/drums version of the ol’ chestnut.

3.  Charlotte Leslie – ‘Les Filles C’est Fait Pour Faire L’Amour’ (1966)
Charlotte takes the Capitols ‘We Got A Thing That’s In The Groove’/‘Cool Jerk’ and dresses it in modish fuzz and French flair.

4.  The Producers – ‘Love Is Amazing’ (1968)
A Gamble-Huff production out of the Philly and typically sleek. Wonderful mix of male and female leads, harmonies by a group of angels, and horns and strings sent from heaven.

5.  Earth, Wind and Fire – ‘Help Somebody’ (1971)
“Reach out your hand and help somebody”. Oh yeah baby, let’s groove tonight. The eponymous debut LP by Earth, Wind and Fire is packed with strutting street funk.

6.  Major Lance – ‘Ain’t No Sweat’ (1972)
Released on Volt, and written by Major’s old buddy Curtis Mayfield, ‘Ain’t No Sweat’ is a mini-under-the-radar masterpiece that’s been overshadowed by ‘Since I Lost My Baby’s Love’ on the flip. Dig that violin!

7.  Katie Love – ‘How Can You Mistreat The One You Love’ (1972)
Even to this day not much is known about Katie Love other than she cut this Hayes-Porter song for Stax down in Muscle Shoals. Curiously has the feel for Stax’s old rivals Holland-Dozier-Holland and the stuff coming out of their Invictus stable.

8.  Neil Young – ‘Hitchhiker’ (1976)
There are many Neil Youngs but the best is Neil Young with an acoustic guitar, bag of Californian grass, bit of coke, sat under a full moon, playing songs. That’s what he did to record The Hitchhiker on 11 August 1976. The collection yielded future classics ‘Pocahontas’, ‘Powderfinger’, ‘Ride My Llama’ and more but the record company weren’t impressed with what they saw as an album of demos so it sat unreleased until 2017. It is, of course, brilliant.

9.  Go-Kart Mozart – ‘We’re Selfish and Lazy and Greedy’ (1999)
The Lexington in London was treated to the rare sight of Go-Kart Mozart last Saturday and what a fabulous gig it was. A brisk 40-minute set mostly featured tracks from new Mozart’s Mini-Mart where songs about depression, poverty, executions on the telly, Brummie prophets, knickers on the line and Crokadile Rokstarz, played in a plinky-plonky manner, took centre stage: modern life seen through Lawrence’s eyes and Lawrence’s eyes don’t miss much. If a group of young uns from wherever-is-hip-this-month were making these records they’d be courted across the land. ‘We’re Selfish…’ was one of the few old tracks Lawrence delved back into his trolley for.

10.  The Traffic – ‘Smack My Pitch Up’ (2016)
On the Australian label, Choi Records, comes two blasting funky reworkings of classics given a fresh makeover. Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines’ on one side, and the Prodigy torn a new one on the other.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

SERPENTINE WALTZ by TARA MILTON (2018)



The debut solo album by former Five Thirty man, Tara Milton, has been a long time coming. In the early 90s his cocksure modish three-piece released the classic Brit Pop forerunner, Bed, and appeared on the cusp of making it big but internal fighting split the band in ’92.


Milton now shoulders much of the responsibility. “I just needed a good talking,” he reflects. “There was no one there to do that and I became more and more like crazy Roman Caligula.” Twenty years after disbanding second band the Nubiles, Milton returns to the fray. What took so long?

“I’ve tried to do it before but had a lot of personal problems to deal with after the Nubiles. I’d lost all my confidence, completely, and had to make some decisions about the way I was going to live. One thing I knew was that I love music and I love writing songs. If I was any kind of musician at all I would end up back in the studio doing the things I wanted to do.”

After returning to London from long spells in Japan, “teaching kids music and indoctrinating them with Five Thirty”, and with money scarce, completing the album took time. “The original intention was to do a very quick kind of record with Sean Read from Dexys, who arranges the brass and so forth. It just didn’t pan out like that at all.”

Far from a hastily knocked together record, Serpentine Waltz is lavish, thoughtful production. Some of Milton’s previous problems are meditated upon through its cinematic sweep: dreams and nightmares, twists and turns, characters and scenes blink in and out of view like ghosts. It’s a late-night journey to the dark end of the street, the other side of the tracks.

The extraordinary ‘Double Yellow (Lines 1 & 2)’ begins parodying Bob Dylan’s ‘A Simple Twist of Fate’ with “the intimacy of couple going through a separation. One of the most powerful songs Dylan did and I wanted to do a London take on it.” The sprightly tune then tumbles into a dramatic breakdown, featuring a sample of American writer Henry Miller’s passionate diatribe against the city, set to a freeform Miles Davis style accompaniment.

"Think of an album that blew you away. I felt like that the first time I read Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn. I didn’t know a writer could do that, I thought only musicians could. He lifted a twelve-month depression with two paragraphs of writing. He always wrote from the perspective of the downtrodden individual who simultaneously was on-fire, smoking.”

Serpentine Waltz’s mood is brightened by a folky fingerpicking style and richly embellished with trumpets, strings, piano, mandolins and oude. The sumptuous Beach Boy inspired chorus to ‘Getting It On With The Man In The Moon’ bursts light through the clouds.

"Song writing is still the thing, the big thing, isn’t it? But it’s got to come out of life.”

Tara Milton has seen life from all sides and lived to tell the tale. It’s great to have him back.

This article first appeared in Shindig magazine. Serpentine Waltz by Tara Milton with the Boy and Moon is out now on Boy and Moon Recordings. www.taramilton.co.uk/  Photo by Phil Miller. 
Coming soon: Tara reflects on his time in Five Thirty...