Friday, 30 March 2012
“This country's in a weird, feeble, grotesque state and it's about time it got out of it. And the reason it could get out of it is rock music! And I think that Pete Townshend, The Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon, could rise this country out of its decadent, ambient state more than Wilson and those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!”
Ken Russell talking to Russell Harty, 27 March 1975.
Bless old Ken. I don’t think many people still entertain the idea that rock music can change the country but credit to Roger Daltrey for trying to make a difference with his long-standing patronage of the Teenage Cancer Trust and his efforts in pulling together his annual fundraising gigs at the Royal Albert Hall. The trust, which receives no government funding, build specialist units within NHS hospitals to provide care and an environment designed to give teenagers the best chance of a positive outcome. The money raised by the TCT gigs, like the one on Wednesday, goes some way to change the lives of teenagers like Andrew, who shared his experiences on the big screen, and Jen and Katie there in person, on stage, to “celebrate their survival”. All three are inspiring young people and you'd need a heart of stone to not be moved by their stories and courage.
The night was billed as An Evening With Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller and Kelly Jones. There were guests. Some were special. Mostly they were Roger’s mates helping him out, and for that, I’ll ease off any heavy critique of the night. The help in financial and publicity terms given to TCT far outweighs any pithy comments I might usually make.
Roger began by playing a couple of folk tunes backed by fiddlers and an accordionist. Paul Freeman (no idea) played what he told us was his new single. Kelly Jones played what I assume were three or four Stereophonics songs backed by a string quartet, before bringing out Paul Weller to play keyboards and Ronnie Wood to play guitar on “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Ooh La La”.
Weller’s own set was next and I was looking for him to inject some life into proceeding but rather than strutting around sonically kicking he sat with four other geezers on stools playing guitars. They looked like a mod Westlife. “English Rose” was nice to hear and the arrangement of “All I Wanna Do” worked well, but even just seven songs dragged a bit for me.
After a beer and bog break Roger returned for “Who Are You”, a ropey “Kids Are Alright” and a decent “Behind Blue Eyes”, before making way for Amy MacDonald to sing three songs. She in turn made way for Steve Winwood who played “Higher Love” before a barnstorming “Gimme Some Lovin’”. Stevie's still got his pipes and pulverised the Hammond like a good un; unquestionably the highlight to that point.
Roger was then back for good and with his voice warmed up threw himself into an extended set of mainly Who classics beginning with “Pinball Wizard” and including “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “I Can See For Miles” and a brilliant – and I mean brilliant - version of “Young Man Blues”, complete with his customary demonstration in the art of microphone swinging. I can’t think of many “rock stars” as likeable as Roger Daltrey. He cuts through any bullshit, has a lack of pretension, and comes across as sincere and passionate without preaching or sounding condescending. Quite how he’s managed fifty years with Pete Townshend…
After over three and a half hours, the show closed with Roger, a ukulele, and one of Townshend’s forgotten gems, “Blue, Red and Grey” from The Who By Numbers. I’ve seen Roger do this before but, under the circumstances, hearing him sing about liking every minute of the day was especially poignant and a lump-in-the-throat choice to end the evening.
To find out more about the Teenage Cancer Trust or to donate, click here.
Monday, 26 March 2012
Every day I try to discover new music. These are among the ten best things to turn up this month.
1. The Reuben Wilson Quartet – “Rod Run” (1961)
Taken from the new Mod Jazz Forever compilation. Some of the tracks in the Mod Jazz series are a bit too lightweight but that’s not an accusation I’d level at “Rod Run” which, becoming of a former professional boxer, packs a mean Hammond and horns one-two.
2. Alex Chilton – “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” (1970)
Last month’s playlist featured a post-Big Star track by Chris Bell, this is a pre-Big Star one by Chilton and equal to anything they did together. It'll stop you in your tracks. Discovery of the month.
3. Andrew Leigh – “Magician” (1970)
Between stints in Spooky Tooth and Matthews Southern Comfort, Leigh cut an album with his buddies including Kevin Westlake, Gary Farr and Reggie King who plays piano and contributes clearly audible backing vocals on this title track, a looping folksy rocker. For an album sounding like it was made by people wearing collarless cheesecloth shirts, it’s a very good one.
4. The Temptations – “Zoom” (1973)
By this point they should’ve been called Norman Whitfield and The Temptations; a fact which disgruntled the Tempts so much it ended the relationship with their producer after the 1990 LP. This closing track is pure street-funk Whitfield.
5. The Clash – “1-2 Crush On You” (1978)
I’m guessing the politicised “Tommy Gun” was predominately the work of Joe Strummer whilst this innocent 60s Tin Pan Alley style B-side was more Mick Jones.
6. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – “Arthritis Blues” (2006)
Nicky Wire wrote this month that the arthritis in his knees has made his stage jumps a thing of the past. Listening to Jack’s painful account, that’s the least of his worries.
7. Sissy and the Blisters – “We Are The Others” (2011)
I miss the goth-garage days of The Horrors. Sissy and the Blisters missed them so much they formed a band.
8. Hooded Fang – “Clap” (2012)
There are illustrations of Mexican wrestlers on the sleeve of their 23 minute LP Tosta Mista. I so wanted that to be the band. It’s not. I’ve seen a picture of these limp indie kids and wouldn’t fancy their chances folding a letter let alone executing a quebrador con grio.
9. Jagwar Ma – “Come Save Me” (2012)
If Brian Wilson hears this on the wireless he'll wonder if he’s due any royalties. It'll certainly confuse him.
10. Paul Weller – “Green” (2012)
Not very long ago it was possible to dismiss Weller’s music in a single word: Dadrock. He was so much older then, he’s younger than that now. Or, to use one of Monkey Snr.’s phrases, he’s not as green as he’s cabbage looking.
Sunday, 25 March 2012
How many boxes does this photograph tick? Excited QPR fans proudly show their match tickets on the streets of Shepherd’s Bush before the FA Cup 6th Round tie against Chelsea on 21st February 1970. Somehow Loftus Road managed to squeeze in an incredible 33,572 people that day (current capacity around 18,500), yet despite goals by Terry Venables and Barry Bridges for the home side, Chelsea fluked a 4-2 win.
Thanks to Rob at the ever fascinating Another Nickel in The Machine for posting this picture on Twitter.
Friday, 23 March 2012
More bands should play the Hackney Empire. It’s a beautiful Victorian theatre offering excellent views even from the Upper Circle and a decent sound system. The only trouble is it’s in Hackney; great for us locals who can wander along but a right rigmarole for the rest of London who can’t be arsed to navigate their way using public transport; which might explain why I still was able to buy a ticket the day before and why more bands don’t play here. One assumes Spiritualized only played it to road test new material before hitting the bigger venues, making us among the first people to hear tracks from their forthcoming LP, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light.
As the curtain opened (see, I said it was a theatre) they set their dials straight to the heart of new nine minute single “Hey Jane” which encapsulates all the elements that make up Spiritualized: Velvetsy garage-rock, gospel choir, washed down with a gulp of druggy soup. The song, such as it is, only really lasts about three minutes; the rest is an elongated coda. That’s not an unusual occurrence, one idea or riff or chord repeated and repeated and repeated to create a hypnotic rhythm. There’s no point fighting it, it’ll drive you barmy, just feel it.
Later on, mid-way through a lengthy droning synth instrumental I started to hallucinate. My eyelids became made of stone and I swear to God the stage morphed into a giant white rug made from a polar bear and the monitors became its head and feet. I hadn’t been rummaging through Jason Spaceman’s medicine cabinet; this was a natural high, albeit one greatly assisted by two hours sleep the previous evening, a warm theatre, a thick pea coat, and a few cans of Guinness. Therefore I can only offer Spiritualized half the credit for this, if indeed nodding off at a gig deserves any credit at all.
I can’t tell you for certain what was new and what was old material as it’s a long time since I’ve played their early LPs and their aversion to snappy choruses and verses make recalling tracks, let alone titles, problematic. Jason isn’t one to say “Hey Hackney, how ya doing? This is a new one, hope you like it”. He of course says nothing; doesn’t even face the crowd, he stands sideways and plays across the stage to the other guitarist Doggen, who also stands sideways and faces him. There were a couple of times when the drawn out nature of unfamiliar songs did begin to test my patience but they threw in a few southern soul torch burners as relief. I’m struck by how many gospel and blues/heaven and hell references there are and wonder whether the fact everyone on stage right is dressed in white and everyone on the left black was a coincidence or divine intervention. Probably neither.
There was no “Come Together” which was a surprise, nor “Soul On Fire” which was a shame, nor “Death Take Your Fiddle” which would’ve blown my mind, but they did crank out “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)” and “Electricity”, and ended with their finest fifteen-minutes-plus, the cinematic “Cop Shoot Cop”. On this showing Sweet Heart, Sweet Light might be a patchy album; bit like this gig.
Sunday, 18 March 2012
Black Power Mixtape isn’t an old cassette featuring The Last Poets, James Brown and Amiri Baraka but a Black Panther documentary by director Goran Hugo Olsson, consisting of nine chapters of news footage filmed by Swedish reporters between 1967 and 1975.
The film opens with Al, a 50 year old white man running a small beach diner in Hallandale, Florida. He confidently believes America to be the land of equal opportunities where any man with a little ambition, who isn't lazy, can always make a living; an America where ordinary working men have more protection, more freedom of speech, than anywhere in the world. “If you don’t like your president you can tell him where to go without being put against the wall and shot”. The next 90 minutes don't tally with Al’s assumption.
The film runs chronologically touching on some of the major incidents in the story of the Civil Rights/Black Nationalism/Black Panther/Black Power movement. Where each of those banners start and end is complicated and open to individual interpretation. Even the leading players adapted their ideologies and agendas over time causing conflict within their ranks and little of this is covered within the scope of the film, instead it offers short snapshots that encourage further investigation.
It was Stokely Carmichael who popularized the concept of Black Power and who would be given the title of Honorary Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party, formed by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California. Carmichael is shown in 1967 giving a speech to an almost exclusively white audience outlining the difference in how he saw his generation’s philosophy to that of Dr. Martin Luther King advocating nonviolence. “His major assumption was that if you were nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption. In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none”. Carmichael is a compelling orator: persuasive, passionate, yet composed and witty.
If the Panthers didn’t necessarily advocate violence they didn’t discourage it either. Fight fire with fire. They had members and supporters killed by the police and the police also lost numbers. Their revolutionary rhetoric and their military styling, in berets and shades, openly carrying guns and rifles was deliberately provocative. Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, claimed “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” All of which obscured their efforts in securing medical care, education and food for the oppressed and poor. In 1969 their Free Breakfast for School Children was launched where Panthers, as the program suggests, fed local poor kids before school. This program grew nationally and at one point reached 10,000 children every day. Their own schooling methods looked interesting too as kids sung about joining in the struggle, fighting for liberation, picking up guns, all to the tune of “Land of a Thousand Dances”. “Oh yeah!”
As well as the original news commentary there are newly recorded voice-overs ranging from Panthers like Angela Davis and musicians like Erykah Badu plus a new soundtrack by Questlove and Om’Mas Keith. The mix of old and new works fine and doesn't distract as I thought it might. Black Power Mixtape in educates, inspires, and due to the subject matter; high death toll; desperate women forced into prostitution; hard drugs; and a scene with a new born baby undergoing cold turkey, thoroughly depresses. Stirring stuff.
Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is released on DVD by Soda Pictures.
Saturday, 17 March 2012
Rather than turning to Newsnight or Question Time for considered political analysis I go straight to Billy Childish, his poster technician Harry Adams, and The L-13 Light Industrial Workshop and Private Ladies and Gentlemen's Club for Art, Leisure and the Disruptive Betterment of Culture.
Thursday, 15 March 2012
Washed up has-beens reform and make an album of cover versions. On the surface a difficult one to sell yet the first Primitives LP for 21 years is a triumph from start to finish.
The death of their bassist Steve Dullaghan acted as the catalyst for their reunion but rather than any sense of gloom this is a gloriously upbeat album of songs originally recorded by female-fronted 60s bands. Covers LPs can sound like randomly knocked together compilations but even though there’s a healthy variety of styles they slot together as fluidly af walking through different themed rooms at a big 60s club night like Le Beat Bespoke before ending back at an after-party.
I’ve witnessed many a swirling freak across Europe swish a technicoloured batwing to Bonnie St Claire’s “I Surrender” and it’s never been a favourite of mine but I like it here and that Euro psych theme is continued on “Amoureux D’Une Affiche” which is so ludicrously catchy it kept me awake last night as it sang through my brain.
If the more psychedelic beat numbers could’ve been predicted on past form, their venture into the soul cellar is perhaps more surprising. Little Ann’s “Who Are You Trying to Fool?” was a biggie a few years ago and whilst the soul purists may baulk at it being given the rumbling fuzz treatment it works a treat.
In fact, there isn’t anything that doesn’t work: from the pop-punk, psych-fuzz, soul-beat to dreamy-folk. I’ve played it a dozen times so far and not skipped a track once. Of the fourteen songs only one is longer than two minutes something seconds so it invites repeated plays. My favourite track changes each listen but right now it’s either the girl group swing of "Till You Say You'll Be Mine" or the sweet jiggering pop fun of “Turn Off The Moon”. And that’s it; it’s a fun album of shiny pop innocence heard through the flowers in the park on a cheap pink transistor radio.
You can keep your cash hungry big band reformations and your cynical marketing of “classic album” tours. Where’s the love of music? It’s here in Echoes and Rhymes.
Monkey picks eight out of ten bananas. Released by Elefant Records on 30th April 2012.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
Apologies for lack of posts this week but when you see what I've been working on you'll understand.
In the meantime, check this debut 45 from Jacco Gardner which glides effortlessly across The Left Banke in Syd Barrett's slipstream.
In the meantime, check this debut 45 from Jacco Gardner which glides effortlessly across The Left Banke in Syd Barrett's slipstream.
Sunday, 4 March 2012
Thursday, 1 March 2012
You may have seen Mary Epworth featured in the latest issue of Shindig! or heard the fab “Black Doe” on BBC6Music, and now, at least for those in reach of London, comes the chance to catch her live as part of the latest Idle Fret night.
On the strength of that track I’m very much looking forward to trying to get my head around whether she is psychedelic-folk, folky-psychedelia, or none of the above. I’ll also be packing a box of 45s to play a couple of sets of indulgent randomness – a MonkeyPicks for the ears.
If that wasn’t enough there are two other acts, more DJs, and an art exhibition; all for free. Full details above. Try and make it.