Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Listen to Vanita Smythe as she sings, “Hangs his hat up in my play room, Starts to weaving upon my loom, He's my idol and I'm his fan, He's my back door man”. Oh yeah. And then watch around the 1:50 mark as she hitches up her skirt and does a sexy wiggle. My, what a little minx.   

Sunday, 24 February 2013


A band of four women called Savages beating life into the neglected corpse of post-punk artsy rock. It’s such a perfect a concept it’s a wonder it’s taken so long.

Hardly a year since their first gig and with only one single and a live EP behind them Savages are packing a thousand people into the Electric Ballroom. The anticipation is palpable, only a few months ago they were playing small pubs and now they’re being touted by sections of the music press as the best band in Britain. Tonight they’re under scrutiny. Are they really that good?

Savages’ two most common (and easiest) comparisons are Joy Division and Siouxsie & the Banshees and there are elements of both, not least with Jehnny Beth’s manic arm pumping, Curtis hair and stare and the way she punctuates her vocals with sharp Siouxsie-like yelps and howls. They don’t sound as much like the Banshees as I expected or hoped apart but they are dark, intense, abrasive and have knotty rhythms driven by bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton. Gemma Thompson less plays a guitar and more plays with it – throwing out shards of scratchy sound and waves of crashing noise.

The head battering raw power of “City’s Full” and “I Am Here” stand out but with only five released songs there’s much unfamiliar material. Lacking any real immediacy - there’s nothing as corny as big choruses, catchy hooks or instant melodies – the set drags in the middle when the pace drops before a speedy livener (my notes read “fast loud shouty one”) followed by their ace-in-the-hole “Husbands”, which is frightening on record and bloody terrifying live. They close with a repetitive funk chant of “Don’t Let The Fuckers Get You Down” which feels a cheap shot, too calculating, and unbecoming of them. 

Savages are at the in-between stage of being too big to play 35 minute sets in Dalston pubs and not offering enough to sustain interest here for a full hour. A few more “Husbands” would help but it’s early days and the real judgement will come with an album. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013


"Sitting on a cornflake, riding on a roller skate!” Those opening words to the thumping  “Total Destruction To Your Mind” show Swamp Dogg’s worldview doesn’t necessarily come from the same place as us ordinary folk but he was writing and singing about the things relevant to most. As he explains, “Commencing in 1970, I sung about sex, niggers, love, rednecks, war, peace, dead flies, home wreckers, Sly Stone, my daughters, politics, revolution and blood transfusions (just to name a few), and never got out of character.”

And what a character it was. With the release of It's All Good: The Singles Collection 1963-1989 I wrote how Jerry Williams created Swamp Dogg after years of relative obscurity, knocking out records and productions under a variety of guises. His first two albums recorded under his most enduring moniker have now been legitimately reissued for the first time on vinyl (plus CD and download etc) and they’re both excellent throughout.

In his brief liner notes Dogg suggests these albums sold millions due to bootleggers ("thieves", he calls them). There’s no way of proving that but a couple of things strike me about them now. Firstly, they are as solid a pairing of soul albums as you’ll find from that period. They have moments of humour (Swamp possesses one of those voices which make things sound funny even when they aren’t) but they aren’t jokey or over the top, he plays it straight. Lyrically he addressed the same issues Marvin Gaye did on What’s Going On; this was Soul With A Conscience. Marvin’s album though was a no-expense spared affair with a lavish production and Gaye on the cover looking moody and serious standing in the rain with his expensive collar up; whilst Swamp recorded his with a tight funky band of Muscle Shoals soul men and was pictured sitting on a garbage truck in his shorts and cheering while straddling a giant white rat. Which brings me to my second point, those silliness sleeves don’t communicate how good the music is and how under appreciated these records are and Swamp/Williams is within the soul universe. When Rat On! has been mentioned in the intervening years it’s been in the Worst Album Sleeves of All Time lists, a fact Dogg acknowledges now. “This left-handed accolade has helped this masterpiece continue to sell and avoid obscurity”. That was him calling his own album a masterpiece. I wouldn’t go quite that far but Total Destruction To Your Mind is essential listening and Rat On! isn’t far behind.

Total Destruction To You Mind and Rat On! by Swamp Dogg are released by Alive Records on 5 March 2013. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


The !!!! Beat (hereafter referred to simply as The Beat) was a music television show like no other. Across twenty-six half hour episodes during 1966 it featured exclusively R&B, blues and soul acts. The artists were backed by a house band, The Beat Boys, lead first by the grinning Gatemouth Brown and later Johnny Jones after Brown realised he could make more money from touring than doing the show. On podiums local go-go girls danced and shook their thangs as if hearing songs for the first time and Frank Howard and the Commanders would occasionally run on to perform a routine of manic soul spins, splits and their trademark marching-on-the-spot dance.

Keeping it all moving was host and man behind the show William “Hoss” Allen. Hoss - a big name Nashville DJ - had worked for Chess, ran his own Athens and Hermitage labels, had promoted black artists since the late 1940s and managed many of the acts that appeared on The Beat. Unlike most other music shows at the time The Beat was not filmed in front or amongst an audience but in television studio in Dallas (as Nashville didn’t have facilities capable of filming in colour). It was a smart move by Hoss as the colourful purple and green pop-art set and the artists’ stage outfits would’ve been wasted in black and white. Hoss introduced the songs and would have a quick word with the acts, calling them “honey” and “darling” – and that was just the men. It’s funny to watch this portly, sometimes tipsy, older white guy jive talking with his guests who seem to find the whole thing rather amusing. The majority of songs were performed live but some were (badly) mimed and the finale involved Hoss bringing all the acts back and them having a rave-up and all dancing and singing together. Watching Hoss’s obvious enjoyment as his two flat left feet try to keep up with his more nimble guests is a highlight of every show.

All 26 episodes were released on DVD by Bear Family Records in 2005 and I can’t recommend them enough, although having to buy six individual discs is expensive. It’s interesting to watch the dated doo-wop harmony groups side by side with the new James Brown Sound ushering in a brand new bag. Brown doesn’t feature in person but his songs frequently do. The mixture of artists ranged from seasoned performers like Etta James, Joe Tex, Little Milton, Carla Thomas, Freddie King and even Louis Jordan to nervous teenagers still at school. Nerves though weren’t a problem for six year old Little Gary Ferguson who sang about being a “Bad, Bad Boy” and grabbed his crotch inappropriately whilst stomping around in oversized Chelsea boots.

There are too many highlights to mention but a guitar chopping Barbara Lynn is coolness personified and being able to now visualise Rodge Martin, Big Amos, Bobby Powell, Mamie Galore and Gwen Davis who’d only previously existed as names on records labels in my DJ box is priceless.

The final episode was a bitter-sweet affair. It had one of the strongest line-ups - Sam & Dave, The Bar-Kays, Garnett Mimms, Percy Sledge, The Ovations, Patti LaBelle and Otis Redding – but Hoss was so distraught his show was being axed he reportedly got so drunk the producers gave presenting duties to Otis. There are plenty of clips on YouTube if you can’t get hold of the full shows. Hossman, thank you honey.

Monday, 18 February 2013


At long last, Looking For A Dream, the collection of previously unreleased demos Reggie King recorded with his former Action band mates circa 1968/69 is available to purchase from Circle Records. I reviewed it here and for Modculture last month so if you need any further persuading have a read but suffice to say it’s at least equal to The Action’s Rolled Gold.

I know a lot of people don’t like paying for music these days and there are other ways of hearing these songs but the quality of the vinyl and CD editions is far superior to online streaming and without small dedicated independent labels where would we be? If you can spare £12.99, buy it direct from Circle. You won’t be disappointed.      

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Slow news week so... These good looking courting folk enjoying Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames or someone back in the mid-60s are my parents, Ma Monkey and Monkey Snr. And yes, they are holding a baby monkey. Ah, simpler days, when it was perfectly acceptable to dress primates in little sailor outfits and lug them around smoky nightclubs and take photos of them with young modernists to earn a few bob.

Friday, 8 February 2013


There are a couple of Facebook pages I’ve been trawling through recently which feature hundreds of fascinating photographs. They have self-explanatory titles, the first being Mod Photographs which covers all eras but the 60s pics are the most interesting. The above shows lads and lasses from Earlsfield, South London circa ‘64/’65 including Roy Clarke (on the centre Vespa) and Roy Baldock (to the left of the Deerstalker).

The other is The Great Mod Revival Bands 1978-1987 which isn’t quite my bag but the photo section again throws up loads of period pictures and acts as a good memory jogger for anyone who sported a parka and skinny tie during those years. Thanks to Subbaculture (one of my favourite sites, go look them up too) for putting me on to this one.

Altogether now... 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


My gig list for 2012 resembled the invited guests to a Darby and Joan Club tea dance so I've vowed to make a greater effort to see younger bands on an upward trajectory rather than those whose peak has long since passed. Glaswegians Baby Strange meet the criteria perfectly. The combined age of Johnny Madden (lead vocals and guitar), Aidan McCann (bass) and Connaire McCann (drums) is less than one member of The Who and they only played their first proper gig in October. Their one release was 50 copies of a cassette (a cassette! How brilliantly contrary) but with the minimum of fuss they’ve made and uploaded three videos to YouTube. Those, along with sharing a name with a T.Rex song, were enough to drag me out on a chilly Tuesday night to witness their first London gig.

“Pure Evil” is the song that grabbed me first from those videos and is their standout song tonight. A blast of pulsating and sinister rock and roll. “Ooh! Ahh!” it punches to the ribs, “I’m tired of my generation,” they complain. Remember those first three minutes when the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released "Whatever Happened To My Rock 'n' Roll?" and seemed exciting? It’s a bit like that. “Want It/Need It” is a frantic wash of distortion with the equally dismissive sentiment, “I don’t want it” snarled out. I’d expected the whole set to sound similar but other songs unexpectedly echo the punk Class of ’77: short sharp snaps – “Never Understand” only a minute long – delivered with hooks and the bristling energy of a young Joe Strummer or Wilko-infatuated Weller. “Violate Me” is as dark as the title suggests but if they’re still finding their feet stylistically they’d do well to avoid the slower lighters-in-the-air blandness of “Mess” (watch that become a big hit now). My only other slight criticism is Aidan’s newly shaved head. Come on son, you’re a young lad, plenty of time for a slaphead – ask Pete Townshend. Hair is important in rock 'n' roll. Remember what James Brown said, "Hair and teeth. A man got those two things, he's got it all".

It isn’t easy or a lot of fun travelling 400 miles to play 25 minutes to 50 people as a support act but bands starting out have to do it and in Baby Strange’s case it won’t be for long, especially when “Pure Evil” gets a vinyl release in April and makes all the Best Single of the Year lists come December. During “Want It/Need It” they claim, “It’s all right, it’s okay, we’re not gonna make it anyway” – I wouldn’t bet on it.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


I heartily approve of the band name and album title, both of which make me think of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the line “Who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy”. Even if this was unintentional it scores them early points and although the LP doesn’t do me up the wrong un it still brings joy. It took a few plays to settle as there are loose jangles, surf harmonies, Parisian boys and girls singing over each other, and a frazzling distorted shoegazing wall of noise. My first impression was it was a bit jumbled and messy but that makes me sound like a trainee studio engineer at Gold Star saying “Er, Mr. Spector, don’t you think that’s quite enough layering?” It’s good though; I like it, especially the Swervedriver-style feedback drenched melodies of “Am I Five” and “Electric” and the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart pop hooks of “Son Thomas Hunter” and “People Of Your Kind”. None of the tracks break the four minute barrier (always a bonus) and the pace seldom drops below a brisk jog. If they’d been around in 1991 Alan McGee would’ve signed them to Creation; being 2013 they’re on Cornershop’s Ample Play label.
Howls of Joy is released on Ample Play on 18th February.


Beaulieu Porch is the recording name for Simon Berry who, like flavour of the month Jacco Gardner, does it all himself. And what he does is create huge sounding psychedelic symphonies. I can picture Berry in a technicolour tuxedo swishing and thrusting his conductor’s baton toward the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through “Keep On Screaming”, “Love 80” and “Greencroft Street” like it’s the Last Night of the Lysergic Proms. The only part of Beaulieu Porch I’m not mad about is the high pitched vocals but the instrumental work and the arrangements are outstanding; full of depth, detail and invention.
Beaulieu Porch is released on Tillsammans Records.


Look at these guys, they’re smokin’. Yeah man, all sitting on the stoop showing off different ways of smokin’ tabs. There’s the Inside The Hand hardened smoker style (with added frown); the Between The Fingers learner smoker (exhaling through the mouth, not taking it down); and Pout Your Lips (and leave hanging for the photo). These are John The Conqueror, they’re the men, they’re aged 21, and they’re gonna make all you pretty women stand in line. Oh yeah baby, smokin’. Musically – and it took me a long time to summon up the enthusiasm to play it - bluesy bar room rock by numbers. It isn't entirely dreadful - if you like that kinda thing - and The Black Crowesy “Time To Go” is listenable but I’d rather stub cigarettes out on my arm than hear the album again.
John The Conqueror is released on Alive Records.

Friday, 1 February 2013


I’m going to abandon Spanish classes and learn the language solely by listening to Band Á Part, although unfortunately they've only released two EPs so far on Madrid label Elefant. I mentioned their song “Blankets” in my January Playlist but here they sing something about normal people with metal glasses. No idea what they’re on about but love the song and love this really sweet video which includes an important message for bands going on tour: don’t forget the key to your Pop-o-Matic.