Thursday, 31 March 2011


When Morrissey instigated the reunion of the New York Dolls in 2004, they played the Royal Festival Hall by Waterloo Station: grand surroundings, carpeted floor, chandeliers and soft padded seats. Last night they returned to Waterloo, only this time to play a makeshift venue in a labyrinth of secret Victorian tunnels that that lie beneath the city: dusty, dirty, damp on the walls and beer served from dustbins. For a band with such a dark history it was so much more appropriate.

But is it still really the New York Dolls with now only two surviving members? I’d say so. Well, you can excuse David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain for recruiting newcomers when the rest of their original band mates are dead. The Who are still, just about, The Who but there the resemblance ends. As much as I love The Who dearly, they are, and have been for decades, stuck in the past, constantly churning out the same old songs or rotating their greatest hits with Quadrophenia and Tommy. The Dolls meanwhile have released three new albums which with admirable ease have moved them from a revival/oldies act to a current rock ‘n’ roll act, enhancing their legacy rather than tarnishing it. “Personality Crisis”, “Trash”, “Jet Boy” and the rest of the classics got, as expected, the loudest cheers but newer material like “Cause I Sez So” and “I’m So Fabulous” follow their tradition of sleazy glam-rock mixed with cartoon camp, as Johansen pouted, hands on his hips, and Sylvain threw around a guitar that looked far too big and heavy even for his fisherman’s frame. Yet their bold new album, Dancing Backward In High Heels, offers more than a rehash of their familiar sound. The guitarless, Farfisa lead, doo-wopish new single “Fool For You Baby” showed these old dogs have learnt new tricks, even if it sounds out of kilter with the rest.

They’ve played better gigs and to more responsive audiences but Johansen kept trying with the banter, probing for a reaction but it seldom came. Never mind, they were still great to watch and latest guitarist, former Bowie cohort, Earl Slick was a natural for the job, looking like he'd been in the band forever.

Backstage afterwards David Johansen couldn’t get out of the place quick enough. His on-stage Cheshire Cat grin replaced by a mouth turned south, although in fairness he did sign my CD and stop for a quick photo on route to the exit. Sylvain Sylvain is probably still there now hobnobbing with a big glass of wine in his hand. What a treasure. A little bundle of infectious energy, he was in his element lapping up the attention from well wishers and folk wanting to say hello and collar him for a picture, chat or autograph. As three girls draped themselves around him, he turned to me and said “isn’t this great?” Sure looked like it. I asked him some dumbass question about when was it most fun being in the Dolls. He said “every day”, before continuing in his best Jewish New York cabbie accent about making the most of everything, then cheekily added, “I’ve got my hand on her tush!”

Sunday, 27 March 2011


You have to love the Four Tops. Not a single line-up change for 44 years until the death of Lawrence Payton in 1997, then sadly they started to tumble, leaving us with Duke Fakir last standing. But let us not dwell on that. Their friendship and solid bond always came across in their performances; looking like four best mates having the time of their lives. Watch them here goofing around Belgium. It’ll warm your heart.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Crazy diamond Syd Barrett. Acid gobbling casualty of the coutnerculture. Who washed his hair in Mandrax. Who left an important piece of his brain somewhere in a club on Tottenham Court Road. Who on occasion could neither play nor speak. Who bite off his manager’s finger. Whose drug-deadened eyes were caught by Mick Rock. Who walked from London to Cambridge. Who became a recluse holed up in his mother’s house.

This is not the Syd Barrett of Art and Letters, which collects unseen photographs, letters and original artworks to offer a far more positive portrait of a creative and sensitive soul. Who wrote and illustrated love letters to girlfriends to arrange visits and patch up quarrels. Who experimented in ink, oil, watercolour, lino print, mosaics, collages and sculptures. Who stood in the garden proudly showing off his latest five foot painting. Who made his first stage appearances with The Tea Set. Who didn’t want to rent “horrid No Coloured Allowed” flats yet didn’t want to deprive others with the alterative. Who excitedly described and drew his first recording session with Pink Floyd. Who larked around with his dandified band mates as new shiny pop sensations. Who didn’t want to brag he’d become rich and famous.

Art and Letters is full of life, fun and vitality. It’s a delight to see and one of the best exhibitions the consistently savvy Idea Generation Gallery has put on; comprehensive and full of fresh insights. In some ways though, the implication art student Syd’s preferred path of painter was derailed by his musical side project only adds to the nagging sense of tragedy.

Syd Barrett: Art and Letters is at the Idea Generation Gallery, Redchurch Street, London, E2 7JB until 19th April 2011, admission free.

Monday, 21 March 2011


Queen’s Park Rangers’ genius maverick showman, Adel Taarabt, was last night crowned Football League Player of the Year at a swanky London reception.

Instead of humbly walking up to collect his award, he nonchalantly slalomed around four tables, double backed on himself and did it again in case anyone missed it the first time, flipped a food trolley over his head, dropped his shoulder, and as the cheese and pineapple fell from the air he dinked it with the outside of his shoe with such reverse spin it hit the back of the trophy, which he caught under his suit jacket before sauntering off.

There are footballers and there is Adel Taarabt; a complete law unto himself. Thank you Adel, in thirty seasons I’ve never enjoyed watching a player as much, and probably never will again. Now go on and help win the Championship, then next season we can bask in Gary Lineker's boyish excitement at your audacious skills, Alan Hansen moaning because you're a liability and don't track back, and Mark Lawrenson sitting there as always as if his colostomy bag has just spilt open.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Current spins in Monkey Mansions.

1. Ray Charles – “Hot Rod” (1958)
I’m never gonna do it. Despite my best efforts, I’m never gonna hear everything I should. When I sigh my last sigh all those recordings I never got around to, or simply passed me by, will go ptooff. Ray Charles at Newport isn’t a rarity yet slipped through my net until this month, but thank the good Lord I made it. Man, from start to finish it sure does swing.

2. The Monitors – “Say You” (1965)
Such was the competition in the Motown group category The Monitors were always destined to be also-rans. They were though lucky enough to grab this song and turn it into a sublime smoocher of a 45.

3. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – “Safe As Milk” (1968)
“Cheese in the corner with a mile long beard/ Beggin’ blue beard, dog eared/ I may be hungry but I sure ain’t weird”. If you say so Captain, if you say so.

4. The Heptones – “Pretty Looks Isn’t All” (1969)
Lovely rocksteady from “the Motown of Jamaica”, Studio One.

5. Can – “Halleluhwah” (1971)
Eighteen and a half minutes of pre-baggy genius.

6. Jackie Wilson – “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” (1973)
Cut from the same silky crossover cloth as “Because of You” (both from his Beautiful Day LP).

7. Lyn Collins – “How Long Can I Keep It Up” (1973)
Soul sister Lyn stays at home waiting for her man. She doesn’t know where he is but he’ll be back sooner or later and she’ll be ready to greet him with a cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich. Written by James Brown…

8. Frankie & The Heartstrings – “Possibilities” (2011)
Would you believe this was recorded in a Tyne and Wear sixth form common room during 1987 on a Sony Walkman?

9. The See See – “Half A Man and A Horse’s Head” (2011)
In LA, me and Gary Garage tried visiting Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors to get kitted out like Gram Parsons or Hank Williams. The store rang a bell with a couple of nutty old locals who didn’t think it still existed. “Ah, gee, I think it had a horse outside” said one. It had closed down so the only thing we went away with was the sound of “faggots!” ringing in our ears, shouted from some rednecks in a passing truck. And you can’t buy memories like those.

10. The Vaccines – “Norgaard” (2011)
Such has been the desperate clamour for a new, half-decent, rock ‘n’ roll guitar band it’s easy to hear why The Vaccines have received so such coverage. They’re more probably the new Fratellis than the new Arctic Monkeys but these 98 seconds of Ramonesy bubblegum pop is enough to win me over. For now.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


It's Sly Stone's birthday. I'm not entirely comfortable with the following clip as Dick Cavett is obviously intent to offer up Sly as a performing monkey to his square honky audience but the clash of their worlds is interesting to watch. The picture quality ain't great but have a look before digging out Fresh or Stand! or There's A Riot Goin' On.

Friday, 11 March 2011


John Stezaker was unknown to me until yesterday when a kind reader (Mr. Vic Templar from Stamford Hill) nodded in the direction of the Whitechapel Gallery where I spent this afternoon. Although I prefer a greater degree of randomness (genuine or otherwise) to careful choices and positioning, his work is certainly interesting and worth investigating. The gallery’s own gumpf describes it far better than I could, so – in collage style – I’ll cut and paste it here.

“British artist John Stezaker is fascinated by the lure of images. Taking classic movie stills, vintage postcards and book illustrations, Stezaker makes collages to give old images a new meaning. By adjusting, inverting and slicing separate pictures together to create unique new works of art, Stezaker explores the subversive force of found images. Stezaker’s famous Mask series fuses the profiles of glamorous sitters with caves, hamlets, or waterfalls, making for images of eerie beauty.

His ‘Dark Star’ series turns publicity portraits into cut-out silhouettes, creating an ambiguous presence in the place of the absent celebrity. Stezaker’s way of giving old images a new context reaches its height in the found images of his Third Person Archive: the artist has removed delicate, haunting figures from the margins of obsolete travel illustrations. Presented as images on their own, they now take the centre stage of our attention

This first major exhibition of John Stezaker offers a chance to see work by an artist whose subject is the power in the act of looking itself. With over 90 works from the 1970s to today, the artist reveals the subversive force of images, reflecting on how visual language can create new meaning.”

John Stezaker exhibition is at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX, until 18 March 2011, admission free.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


There are many things to admire about Ray Charles. How he doesn't wibble-wobble himself off his stall in this clip is one.

Special mention to his Raelettes: Vernita Moss, Susaye Green, Mable John, Dorothy Berry and Estella Yarbrough. Take it away...

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Like a lumbering centre forward with no goals for a while, I’m suffering from a lack of confidence. Chances are being teed up but instead of smashing them in, I’m bottling it completely or laying off a little sideways pass to a team mate. Just about keeping up with play but the fans are getting twitchy. Let’s think back to those wasted opportunities.

There was the Angelheaded Hipsters morning at the National Theatre where the Beat Generation was discussed by a panel including underground figures Barry Miles and Michael Horovitz; actors read Ginsberg, Kerouac, Cassady and Corso; and even a trumpeter had a sad horn to play. Horovitz was incredible. He could’ve spoke, given half the chance, for 90 minutes without pausing for breath and kept the audience entertained with his staggering array of anecdotes, quotes, cultural references and razor sharp wit and intelligence. He then popped up last week to wax lyrically on Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service show on 6Music (listen on BBC iPlayer).

Also last week I bought, amongst other things, the new LP, Hunger, by Frankie & The Heartstrings and an old LP, Free Jazz, by The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet. The plan was to discuss and contrast the formulaic, backward facing, rattling three minute pop song approach of the Heartstrings to the challenging, groundbreaking, and – let’s be honest - patience testing of one 37 minute piece of jumbled improvised free jazz. It would of course have been like comparing an ear to an eye, and the conclusion being I’d want to keep them both.

A new interpretation of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock his hit local picturehouses. I must ‘fess up to having not read it but I like the 1947 film version. This new one is set to the backdrop of rioting mods in 1964 and gave me a chuckle spotting mates as extras. Sam Riley as Pinkie, the young upstart attempting to “run” Brighton, was unconvincing (his firm consisted of an elderly Chalky from Quadrophenia and the lanky Wigan Casino dancer from SoulBoy - hardly menacing) and trying to pass Eastbourne off as Brighton was distracting. There was one sequence where Pinkie was sitting in a London cafĂ©, ran down an Eastbourne street, and then ended up in Brighton, without even breaking into a sweat. Yeah, I know, it’s a film not a documentary. Those things apart it wasn’t the worst way to spend an evening and moved Greene’s book further up the to-read list.

A couple of offshoots from The Horrors should’ve got a mention. Rhys and Joe as part of The Diddlers gave Bo Diddley the full throttle, echo laden, Cramps-rock stomp treatment at the 100 Club, and very entertaining it was too; whilst Faris has turned up to sing at the Vatican (yes, the Vatican) with his new project Cat’s Eyes. The result is as spectacular as it is surprising. See it on YouTube.

Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment has been on DVD before but is out again, in shoddy cheap packaging, with no extras, and at a unjustifiably high price. But, it is a smashing film as the words Vanessa Redgrave, David Warner, 1966, Arthur Mullard, Irene Handl, Karl Marx, monkeys, gorillas, King Kong, sanatorium and John Dankworth testify.

So, no goals but hopefully a boost to the assist column.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


There can never be enough collages for my liking, so, following the Joe Orton piece at the weekend, here’s another collage related post.

This Richard Hamiltonesque work was scissored and Pritt-sticked back in the 80s by the shadowy figure known as El Hombre Invisible, “reflecting my obsession with American imperialism, amongst other things, such as existentialism, which we all thought about between marching against The Bomb and listening to Jazz, you know...oh, it was the 50s all over again...”.

For more examples, and to peek into a hipster's musings on jazz, literature, film, plus random brain spills, click on Include Me Out.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


I took this snap of Roger Daltrey, Mrs. Monkey, her sister and our buddy Long John at the UK premier of Amazing Journey: the Story of the Who back in 2007. Despite his wife obviously wanting to get off home, he was a real gent: spending time with us, signing records, having photos taken and charming us with “you lot look great – I love your style” type chat. Pete Townshend was having none of it, though he did go “Argh! Mods!” and quickly shook our hands as he hot footed it down the back stairs to avoid being collared by anyone else.

Happy birthday Roger.