Friday, 28 December 2012


Seeing how everyone else is doing one I’ll follow suit with a review of the year; after all it’s a quiet week and easier than writing anything new. Think of it as one of those television shows cobbled together from previous episodes after a main character dies or someone has a dream remembering – in soft focus – all the fun times they had. Cue hazy screen…

The uncovering of only the second piece of film footage of The Action – doing "I'll Keep On Holding On" outside the Royal Albert Hall – was the start of fruitful year for fans of this most treasured band which culminated in the long awaited publication of Ian Hebditch and Jane Shepherd’s superb biography The Action: In The Lap of the Mods and the release of a previously unheard recording. In between those landmarks I was lucky enough to interview drummer Roger Powell and we spent a couple of hours chatting about the band. I was especially interested in the way he compared the mod Action period with the underground Mighty Baby period that followed. If the launch party for the book felt like the final chapter in the Action story, fear not: I can reveal that Circle Records will on the 18th February 2013 release Reggie King’s Looking For A Dream, a fifteen track compilation of recordings he made circa 1969, mostly with his ex-Action bandmates, which will elevate him even higher in people’s estimation. Mark that date on your diary now.

The Action were firmly established at the top of my loves but 2012 saw a new name, Rodriguez, enter high on that list. Somehow he’d evaded my radar until the Searching for Sugarman documentary hit cinema screens in July but now he’s up there as a firm favourite. The film has this month been released on DVD and I can’t urge you enough to watch it. It’s brilliant and incredibly moving, as are the best tracks from his two albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality. It was a real privilege to see Rodriguez at the Royal Festival Hall.

This week has seen the passing of soul sisters, Marva Whitney and Fontella Bass. I don’t usually mark these events as new entrants to the Rock and Soul Heaven Choir are so frequent it would make Monkey Picks read like the back pages of the Eastbourne Church News but I was genuinely saddened by the death of Michael Davis of the MC5 and the indomitable Etta James. The MC5 with Primal Scream show in 2008 is one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and back in 2004 myself and friend were in New York when we saw that Etta was due to play B.B. King’s club in a couple of weeks’ time. We seriously toyed with the idea of returning especially to see her. We didn’t and I’ve regretted it ever since. Special mention here to the Independent newspaper for making her front page news with a massive photograph. If you’ve not read Etta’s autobiography Rage To Survive you’re missing out.

On the subject of books, Dougal Butler’s ludicrously funny Moon The Loon, telling of his time with Keith Moon, saw print again as Full Moon and also made it as a “talking book” read by Moonie’s mate Karl Howman. Dougal, forever the storyteller, entertained us – quite candidly at times - one Sunday morning as we conducted a long interview with him about Keith Moon and his role in attempting to keep his employer out of too much trouble. We (Mrs Monkey and I) met with Dougal a couple of other times, most notably at Pete Townshend's Q&A session down Brick Lane to promote his autobiography Who I Am (still not read it). That night turned out to be a mod episode of Stella Street with Pete, Dougal, Richard Barnes and  supporting cast of us who followed in their desert boots.

On the hobnobbing front it felt slightly surreal talking to Public Enemy's Chuck D and Flavor Flav in my local record shop but a chance encounter with the Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield was something of a dream come true and Mr Bradfield was as lovely a man as I always thought/hoped he’d be.   

Every band you’ve long forgotten has reformed during the last few years but the one I’ve been most taken with is the gradual re-emergence of The Primitives. No big fanfare, just a gentle easing back into view with a gloriously infectious and upbeat album Echoes and Rhymes and a a terrific gig at the Borderline.

The Primitives didn’t in any way feel nostalgic but the same couldn’t be said for early 80’s mod favourites The Truth who played the same venue. It did though give me an opportunity to recount my young mod story and judging from the reaction it received it was an experience shared by many. A rare UK appearance by Todd Snider ("Who?" you ask) was a gig highlight but although I’m always searching for new bands its apparent most of the gigs I saw was by acts over a certain age so I need to make a concerted effort to check younger bands next year. One especially young band I did see was The Strypes and all eyes will be on them during 2013 to see if they make the transition from outstanding covers band to creating something of their own.

One new band who made a huge impression on me were Kontiki Suite and I’ve already banged the drum loudly for their stunning debut album On Sunset Lake which gets a full release in the next couple of weeks. Shrag’s Canines album is the other one which has most impressed me. It’s difficult to describe but it’s a grower and once under the skin stays there. I caught Shrag with The Lovely Eggs at the London Palladium when DJing during a memorable night put on by Idle Fret records.

For twenty of the most memorable songs of 2012 check the 2012 Spotify Playlist.

Roll on 2013.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


It's the late 1920's and Louise Brooks is making minimal effort in putting up the Christmas decorations. I think we can forgive her (almost anything).

Friday, 21 December 2012


“I’ve got ten suits, eight sports jackets, fifteen pairs of slacks, thirty to thirty-five good shirts, about twenty jumpers, three leather jackets, two suede jackets, five or six pairs of shoes and thirty exceptionally good ties.” – Mark Feld.

Aged fifteen and still at school whilst his dad drove a lorry and his mum worked a fruit stall, Mark Feld instinctively knew all about giving good copy years before the whole of the UK knew him as Marc Bolan, so when Town Magazine featured him and his older friends from Stoke Newington, Peter Sugar and Michael Simmonds, across six pages in September 1962 he wasn’t going to let an opportunity pass to take centre stage. I love the way he talks about his ties. Anyone can have thirty ties but his were exceptionally good ties. I also like the way both Feld and Sugar later in the piece both use the word haddock as a derogatory term. “The stuff that half the haddocks you see around are wearing I was wearing years ago,” claims Mark. The article doesn’t mention mod by name - and it’s doubtful the three were even familiar with the term – but that’s what they were an early example of and what acts as a launch point for a small exhibition in Hackney Museum. Yes, Hackney has a museum.

For those unfamiliar with the area, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington are neighbours within the (north)east London Borough of Hackney (as is the case in most of London it’s hard to precisely figure where one place finishes and another one starts) and the exhibition looks at the local mod culture of the early to mid-60s. I’d be interested in this type of display whatever the area but having been resident in the borough since the late 90s it’s especially fascinating to read accounts of the dance halls, record shops and tailors of those near-mythical years. According to Peter Sugar and others, Bilgorri in Bishopsgate was a great tailor and where all the faces went “even though it’s a real haddocky looking place”. At number 282 (later 260) Stamford Hill was R&B Records, a shop owned by Rita and Benny King who also ran their own labels which put out early mod related releases like “Shake Some Time” by Ronnie Gordon featuring The Blue Flames and ska and rocksteady from Jamaica. (Read more about the secret ska history of Stamford Hill). There aren’t many exhibits: a 1962 Vespa GS, a couple of suits and jackets, a few records, the issue of Town etc but it’s the personal memories and photographs that make it. It even graced the front page of local freebie paper Hackney Today.

Did mod originate from Stamford Hill? Impossible to say but Feld and his gang were very visible and their influence would surely have rubbed off on the haddocks of London Town.

On a related note, the Anorak Thing blog has compiled a list of the UK 60's Mod Top 200; an incredible feat which should keep you (and me) busy - and arguing - for hours.

Stamford Hill Mods is at the Hackney Museum next to Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, E9 until January 2013. I’m not sure exactly what date so check with them before travelling. And if you are travelling remember it is a very small exhibition so try and fit it in with something else (not that there's anything else nearby unless you want to stock up on crack or crystal meth).

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


In the downstairs bar afterwards the barman asked the geezer next to me what he thought of the gig. “Half good, half shit,” he replied. A harsh assessment but one that didn’t require any further explanation.

Billed as “Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield” it was difficult to know what to expect but anyone hoping the reunited pair would mark the 20th anniversary of The Lemonheads It’s A Shame About Ray by playing the classic album in it’s entirely were to be disappointed, and I don’t use the term “classic” lightly; it’s one of those rare start-to-finish brilliant records.

With no fanfare the pair took to the stage. Dando strummed an acoustic guitar and began “All My Life” from his only solo credited LP, 2003’s oft-overlooked Baby I’m Bored. When in shape he has one the greatest country-smoked voices one could wish to hear and he was in shape. To his left Hatfield played electric and sung back-up but she was no Emmylou to his Gram; her sharp pitch distracted rather than complimented. Roles were reversed for her “Butterflies”; back to Dando for a slowed down version of “Bit Part” the song most closely associated with the pair during their Lemonheads days thanks to Juliana’s screech of “I just want a bit part in your life!”; and when Hatfield sang her “Choose Drugs” with the refrain “I say it’s me or drugs, you choose drugs” it was hard to miss the huge finger of suspicion hovering above her singing partner.

“Confetti” and “Into Your Arms” were again stripped of their original fizz and bounce but Dando’s songs work however they’re played and brought his singing to the fore before the Velvet's “Pale Blue Eyes”.

The songs were shared out equally even before Hatfield announced they were going to play “ping-pong” and take it in turns with the other taking a back seat. This created a very uneven contest. Dando, casual and mellow, picked off his well-loved and familiar tunes (“It’s A Shame About Ray”, “Being Around”, “My Drug Buddy”) which were greeted warmly like long lost friends; whilst Hatfield, prickly and neurotic, let in a chilly breeze every time she opened the door to introduce unwanted guests. How could anyone expect to follow Dando after he was accompanied by a lady playing a rusty saw to his masterpiece “Big Gay Heart”?  Hatfield’s “My Sister” did register a flicker of recognition but mostly these were songs few knew and had little in common with the simple romanticism of Evan’s. Unlike my drink buddy I didn’t think she was shit, and the audience were generous in their applause, but no one needed Hughie Green to announce the result of the clapometer.  

When Hatfield mentioned they’d been on “an exhausting five date UK tour” she countered the laughter with an insistence she was serious. “Well, I’ve enjoyed it,” was one of the few occasions Dando spoke. As the evening continued it did in fact become exhausting. The ping-ponging restricted any momentum; Hatfield became increasingly dreary; and Dando’s preference of playing all his songs as country ballads didn’t help lift the downbeat mood. Eventually Hatfield cracked and said something about “you’re the real talent, I’m gonna go”. It was awkward to watch. Evan Dando is a real talent (she said he never got enough credit because he was too good looking) but he’s a frustrating one: only two albums of original material in sixteen years since Car Button Cloth is a terrible waste. I don’t think I’ve enough fingers to count Hatfield’s in that same time, not that I’ve listened to them before and have no urge to now. They finished with Mike Nesmith’s song about travelling to the beat of a different drum. They sure do.   

Sunday, 16 December 2012


It’s time for the Monkey Picks of 2012 playlist. There are some notable omissions as I’ve only chosen songs available on Spotify which rules out the year’s highlights from Kontiki Suite ("Music Man") and Jacco Gardner ("Clear The Air") and there isn’t anything from Bob Dylan’s Tempest album as I couldn’t find a way to shoehorn him in without upsetting the rhythm of the sequencing (which was difficult enough as it was) or from Paul Weller’s Sonik Kicks as I wanted to keep it to 20 tracks and thought those interested would be familiar with “Green” already.

Kontiki Suite’s On Sunset Lake wins the Monkey Picks Album of the Year by a considerable distance and should be purchased forthwith. 

2012 Playlist:

Beachwood Sparks – Forget The Song
Dr John – Revolution
Two Wounded Birds – Together Forever
The Primitives – Turn Off The Moon
Jagwar Ma – Come Save Me
Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista
Willy Mason – I Got Gold
Stealing Sheep – Shut Eye
Mary Epworth – Black Doe
Shrag – Devastating Bones
Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
The Sunchymes – Aquarius Summer
The Junipers – Dandelion Man
The Sufis – Sri Sai Flora
Mysterious Monks – The Moneylender
The Lovely Eggs - Allergies
Lightships – Sweetness In Her Spark
Brian Jonestown Massacre – Panic In Babylon
Bobby Womack – Deep River
Spiritualized – So Long You Pretty Thing

Click  Monkey Picks of 2012 for Spotify Link.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


There’s something wilfully archaic about producing a fanzine in the modern age. As a form of communication it is usually limited in content, timeliness and potential readership, so discovering a new one makes me admire the contrariness yet question the motive. Yes, it is preferable to read a physical document than a screen but if one has something to worth saying is it the best place for it?

Issue one of Start! is a slim, colour, A5 production and a slightly mysterious affair. There is no introduction or even an editor’s name, just an email address. It is dated December 2012 and the full-page club adverts within are for this month. Whether this implies a monthly schedule and it is in fact an advertising tool for a group of promoters we’ll have to see. In fairness it does refer to itself as a magazine rather than fanzine which might explain a little the lack of charm but also raises expectations. Either way the best fanzines and magazines are those drawn from the personality of an editor who feels a compulsion to share his or her passions.

Once past the unoriginal name, the uninspiring front cover and photographs of parkas and Union Jacks at the Brighton Mod Weekender there are some pieces to read and it’s neatly laid out. There’s an affectionate reminisce about Paul Weller’s Respond signing The Questions; Small Faces biographer John Hellier discusses his involvement with the early 60s mod scene (and includes his full CV as if touting for work which is a bit odd); and Sean Flowerdew plugs his London International Ska Festival across two articles (which share some of the same text). However, part one of a guide to 1960s television describing The Avengers and The Prisoner in three or four lines is quick filler material, as is another whole page given to six sentences by The Moons. You can decide whether that is enough to part with £2.40 (£1 cover price plus another £1.40 for postage).

Start! may feel it’s not important for me to know their names and communicating with me for two minutes is enough, but I want to feel their passion. I’ve been critical of other first issues of fanzines which have then greatly improved (for example Heavy Soul) so fingers crossed future editions will allay some of my nagging doubts about this one.

Start! is available from

Monday, 10 December 2012


Not all Christmas songs are unwanted tat as demonstrated here by a festive offering from The Primitives, taken from a new compilation A Christmas Gift To You From Elefant Records. Yes it has bells, yes it has bouncing children in the video, but it's also a good song so I kinda wish it wasn't about Christmas so could be enjoyed all year without looking like a weirdo. They spoil us, they really do. And remember Echoes and Rhymes (in the Monkey Picks Top 3 albums of 2012) would make a lovely stocking filler...

Friday, 7 December 2012


I take my hat off to anyone who runs a proper mod club in this day and age and for Sidewinder to make a success of it monthly on a Thursday night is doubly impressive. A good turn out again yesterday when Andy Lewis and I guested alongside Dave E and Gilo. I dusted off these. Some new acquisitions, some regular spins, and some I’d not played since those halcyon Shake nights of 2001-2006.  

The Miracles – If Your Mother Only Knew (Tamla)
Garland Green – Ain’t That Good Enough (Revue)
The Impressions – This Is My Country (Curtom)
Willis Jackson – Goose Pimples (Cadet)
Big Daddy Green – Who Done It (Anla)
Ronnie Milsap – A Thousand Miles From Nowhere (Scepter)
James Rivers – Bird Brain (Eight-Ball)
Roosevelt Grier – Since You’ve Been Gone (RIK)
Lyn Westbrook – Take Your Time (Kimtone)
James Kirk – Tell Me Please (Guyden)
Marvin Gaye – Stubborn Kind Of Fellow (Tamla)
Jimmy Merchant – Skin The Cat (Bo-Mar)
Clarence Carter – Snatching It Back (Atlantic)

Big Maybelle – Do Lord (Brunswick)
The Pacesetters – The Monkey Whip (Correc-Tone)
Charles Farren – You Got Everything (Limelight)
Darrow Fletcher – The Pain Gets A Little Deeper (Groovy)
Grover Pruitt – Little Girl (Salem)
Sugar Boy Williams – Little Girl (Herald)
Jesse Pearson – I Got A Feelin’ I’m Fallin’ (RCA Victor)
Gale Garnett – I’ll Cry Alone (RCA Victor)
Earl Stanley – Fish Eyes (Pitassy)
The Belles – Don’t Pretend (Mirwood)
Bettye Swann – The Heartache Is Gone (Money)
Slyvia Robbins – Don’t Let Your Eyes Get Bigger Than Your Heart (Sue)

Sidewinder Club is at The Wenlock and Essex, Essex Road, Islington, N1 on the first Thursday of every month. 7.30-11.00. Admission free. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012


It’s a game of two halves as veteran midfield workhorse Bobby Womack proved on Tuesday when he performed a couple of sets at the Forum in Kentish Town.

In the first half he lined up to showcase songs from his current The Bravest Man In The Universe album. He began, sat on a stool, with a guitar, by delivering a soul-stirring reading of the old gospel standard “Deep River”. It’s one of the best tracks on the album but to witness it, to experience it first hand, shone a light on how powerful and affecting live music can be. That was true of the whole set which featured mainly new songs plus a couple gospel classics. His small combo featured the album’s producers Damon Albarn and Richard Russell who let Bobby’s voice – soaring high, swooping low and with those gruff bluesy licks like Bobby Bland - take the lead and accompanied it with a fat bass sound, minimal percussion, and various electronic beeps, clacks and squiggles. Womack - in black hat, nice black jacket, shades and striped jersey - sounded timeless yet the music was now and worked well, especially in a live setting. I wasn’t too fussed about the album beforehand but it came to life here and showed soul music can be contemporary yet still keep its church roots. An uplifting “Jubilee (Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around)” ended the first half before Bobby departed and left everyone to “go to the bathroom or go for a joint”.  

The second half, with a completely different and larger band, bought a complete transformation from the instant Womack was introduced with a cry of “It’s Showtime.” And showtime it was: Showtime on an expensive cruise liner or showtime around the pool in Marbella in 1988. Bobby, having looked the model of understated cool, had changed into a red leather cap and jacket mistaking the Forum for a fetish club. The songs were drawn out and embellished with guitar solos, alto solos and a herd of backing singers fighting for attention; all of which threatened to drown out the vocal he’d so impressed with previously.

I’ve focused on the negative and on other occasions I might’ve been content simply to hear “Across 110th Street”, “Harry Hippie” (which I love), “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha”, “Stop On By”, “Lookin’ For A Love” etc (all of which he sang) but it was impossible not to notice the stark contrast to the first set. Judging by the audience reaction to both I was in the minority as what looked like the North London Guardian readers’ convention whooped their delight every time he broke into a tribute to Marvin Gaye or Wilson Pickett or whoever. Womack’s CV - from his Sam Cooke days to Gorillaz - is phenomenal, I can’t knock him and the fella has even been treated for colon cancer this year so to then do shows like this speaks volumes about his character. He wasn’t bad - far from it, he's voice has kept remarkably well - but this soul cabaret "this is for all the lovers in the house" style is horribly dated and does a man of his standing no favours. By the time it got to a plinky-plonky version of “It’s All Over Now” I was wishing it was.

Back in the late 80s The Housemartins scored all their gigs like football results. Applying that here Bobby Womack stormed to a deserved 3-0 half-time lead only to throw it away in the second half. Final score: 3-3.