Sunday, 31 March 2013


Here's a treat for fans of Diana Rigg - her rarely seen outing in Minikillers. The quality isn’t great but then the version officially released on the bonus DVD disc of The Avengers Complete 50th Anniversary Collection isn’t much better. Minikillers was filmed on the Costa Brava on what looks like a home video camera and follows Diana through four seven minute episodes where she is caught up in a ridiculous Avengersesque plot involving remote control toy dolls that spray lethal liquid into the eyes of their victims, carry bombs in E-Type Jags, and conceal shipments of heroin. In each episode she manages to fight a group of baddies led by a shady geezer with a moustache and a Telly Savalas lookalike. There’s no dialogue just a funky jazz soundtrack which breaks from Avengers background music into freeform jazz into snatches of Laurel and Hardy. I’ve no idea where Minikillers was broadcast (if at all) or why she worked on such a low budget project (if she went for a holiday she was unlucky with the cloudy weather) but Diana is obviously still playing her part as Emma Peel and looks absolutely stunning in a series of bikinis and miniskirts (including the one above) which is reason enough to watch it.

And for more of the same (in much better quality), check this other short film, The Golden Key. 

Thursday, 28 March 2013


New literary fanzine PUSH might better be called KICK or WHACK such is the impact of its writing. Across 42 simply presented pages it features previously unknown writers like Jeff North, Carlton Burns, Ian Scanlon and some character Dirty Boozy Bastard, alongside names familiar to followers of the underground lit scene: Joseph Ridgwell, Michael Kennaghan, That Petrol Emotion’s Raymond Gorman and editor Joe England.

Sold at a giveaway price of £1.50 on the streets, outside football grounds and at gigs, the uncompromising prose isn’t for the faint hearted. Amalgamating pop culture, drug paranoia, rushed sex, football hooligans, and the threat of violence, it is just one glance away from a character in a John King novel. In the way football matches offer a valve to release pressure and tension, these writers hammer their words. By way of balance, the poems offer quieter contemplation and snatches of respite from the onslaught of tough fiction. I asked Joe England about his inspiration for launching a new mag.  

“I suppose PUSH had its origins for me when I recently discovered the wonderful world of the small press, firstly through Blackheath Books which I found out about through back-reading Monkey Picks, and then other doors opened up courtesy of Joseph Ridgwell. I love the whole approach of the small press, the limited print runs and the amazing quality in look and writing. I have a great appreciation of online litzine’s like Melissa Mann’s Beat The Dust, but online/e-reading just isn’t the same as holding a publication in your hands. Same reason why the experience of vinyl still cannot be beaten. What kicked this in motion was four weeks ago when I managed to get my hands on an issue of Kevin Williamson’s Rebel Inc. mag from 1993 and in an email conversation I mentioned to Joseph Ridgwell how the world needs a street lit fanzine right now as much as it did back then. ‘Do one then’, he said and within three weeks I was selling PUSH on the street and posting it to various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Germany. At a football match the other week, witnessing a complete stranger engrossed in issue one was mind-blowing. If the same chap was reading a PDF file of PUSH on a Kindle the impact would have been soul-burning.”

Such is England’s rush of enthusiasm that issue two is already nearing completion. These things tend to succeed or fail on the strength of their editor. Despite making his name and being championed by the small press, Charles Bukowski constantly bitched against them in his letters, claiming they only lasted a couple of decent issues until editors lost their bite and accepted poor quality submissions from their mates or famous poets (even himself). If PUSH can keep the standard of its first issue (Keenaghan’s “Bent” is worth the cover price alone) there’ll be no complaints here and besides, it’s a heck of a lot better than reading the excuses from Sam Allardyce or Harry Redknapp in the match day programme.

Contact for ordering details or visit Joe England Books.
West Ham United legend Julian Dicks models PUSH.

Monday, 25 March 2013


When was the last time you were upset a band spilt? It’s not something that happens often but then bands don’t announce they’re splitting these days, they just fade into inactivity. Shrag spilt on Friday 15th March 2013 after playing their pre-announced farewell gig at the Lexington. I’m a bit upset about this. Not because we have a long history, more that we don’t. We only met in October but I soon became mildly obsessed: buying all three albums and seeing them live the same amount of times.

Their third album, Canines, was one of last year’s very best. I’ve not gone more than a few days without playing it – in its entirety – and it gets better every time. It’s not easy to pigeon hole and it’s not especially immediate but it gets under the skin. This, for an album with so many anatomical references, is pretty apt. I’m pleased I heard their albums in reverse order as, unusually, they improved with each one, each a progression on the last. The first Shrag, a hit-and-miss collection of singles and B-sides isn't entirely serious and not dissimilar in places to a bit of a rubbishy version of Art Brut; the second Life! Death! Prizes! is excellent, no longer played for laughs and full of incessant sharp punk-pop hooks; and finally Canines which is almost unique in how it is more rounded, mature, accomplished, polished, intelligent – words which usually indicate a band has lost everything that made them enjoyable in the first place – yet an album which if they’d carried on for another ten years wouldn’t have improved upon. 

They played nearly all of Canines during the gig including a couple with a string section. Well, a violin and cello, plus a few from the others including what they refer to as their hit, “Mark E. Smith”. They wondered who’d be the first to cry. My money was on singer Helen, but then she looks like she’s about the cry most of the time. I’m told to “Cheer up mate, it might never happen” by people in the street with annoying frequency. I’m not a miserable git but my face’s default position must imply otherwise. Poor Helen must get abuse every time she steps out her front door, possessing - even when smiling - the mardiest, turn-the-milk-sour face in (un)popular music. She also can’t really sing but she marched on the spot, tugged her dress like a petulant child, stamped her foot, shouted, screeched, talk-sung and tried to get the audience to remove their clothes. She’s bloody brilliant. When Bob and Steph join in on songs with a circular rhythm like “Tears of a Landlord” they’re like an unruly classroom singing “Frère Jacques” in rounds.    

Quite why they’re amicably disbanding after ten years is a question for them but not everyone can summon the enthusiasm to be in a band for so long only to play gigs to a handful of people each time (this gig was sold out). Not a concern for fellow Brightonians Comet Gain who’ve stayed under the musical radar for much their 20 year existence. As special guests on the night they asked how long Shrag had been together. “Ten years? Pah! Bunch of kids,” said David Feck before adding they wouldn’t split until outlasting The Fall. When Shrag left the stage a message from Mark Riley was broadcast. “Stop pissing about with all this splitting up nonsense. We all know you’re too good to spilt up”. They came back and did - as they had to do - the ludicrously infectious “Rabbit Kids”, a song that has kept me awake at night more than once as a particularly stubborn earworm. Emotions were running high as the realisation this was finally the end sunk in. It took three attempts to get it right before all ending in a heap on the stage bashing out notes with none of them wanting to quit.

But quit they have. They’ve done their bit. So, for now, that’s it. One day folk might cotton on to what they’ve missed - I almost missed them - and they’ll be a (more popular) cult band. When I get to curate the Meltdown Festival I’m gonna put Shrag on at the Royal Festival Hall and they’ll return, triumphant. See you there. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013


This is taken from The School’s second album Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, released last year on Elefant Records. Really like this new Nell Dunn kitchen-sink style video they’ve made. That’s it girl, leave those grotty Cardiff streets behind and head to Swinging London, you know it makes sense. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Twenty-three years ago today I saw Curtis Mayfield at the Town and Country Club in North London. It was the third and final time and I saw him there, having been to shows in 1986 and 1988. Five months later a gust of wind blew a lighting rig down on Curtis at an outdoor show commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, paralyzing him from the neck down. After an imperious run of singles with The Impressions from 1958 to 1970, then all those brilliant solo albums, plus the countless records and soundtracks he wrote and produced for other artists, he was 48 when the incident rendered him a quadriplegic. Nine years later, on Boxing Day 1999, he died. Even after all this time I still find the whole tragic episode deeply upsetting.

Time as eroded most old gig memories but parts of those Curtis ones thankfully remain. I was just seventeen the first time and mainly knew his most famous songs plus some extra Impressions ones from various Kent albums but, thanks to The Jam introducing him via “Move On Up”, even to my generation (to say nothing of the original mods and northern soulies) he was soul royalty. Being independent from Motown, Stax and Atlantic gave him a special kudos; he stood alone, less recognisable, infinitely hipper. The reception he got at those gigs was something else. You couldn’t help but love him: humble, kind eyes twinkling behind his round glasses, salt and pepper beard, shoulders gently rocking from side to side, serene smile. He was, dare I say, beatific.

It wasn’t easy or cheap getting hold of his old albums back then so I got them in a strange order. For example, I had 1982’s Honesty yet never heard Back To The World or Sweet Exorcist until long after those gigs, I’m not even sure I had the classic Roots. Discovering back catalogues was a slow process then. As handy as it is nowadays to click and hear nearly any song that comes to mind it isn’t anything like as rewarding as slowly piecing together parts of a musical jigsaw. Also, it meant records would be listened to until it they’d been fully absorbed, leaving a longer lasting impression. There’s a lovely song on Honesty called “Dirty Laundry” which I remember him playing and he’d always introduce “Billy Jack” with a speech about guns and “midnight specials” in Chicago. By the time of the third gig it was apparent all his ad-libs were well rehearsed. “Move On Up” would’ve have been the big moment, “People Get Ready” something special, but it’s “We’ve Gotta Have Peace” which sticks in my mind the most with hundreds chanting “Peace! Peace! Peace!” and raising peace signs in the air. It sounds naff but I’d do it all over in an instant. Listening now to the 1988 Live In Europe album is bringing it all back. The keyboard is of its time in places but Curtis was in fine voice and Master Henry Gibson’s played percussion exactly as the same as he did on those early 70s albums. I feel fortunate I have spent those evenings in his company. 

That final time I saw him, Saturday 17th March 1990, was a perfect day. In the morning he was interviewed on the wireless by Paul Jones (I still have the tape somewhere); that afternoon I went to Loftus Road to see QPR beat Spurs 3-1; on to the Town and Country Club before (I’m pretty sure) heading to the 6T’s Rhythm & Soul Allnighter at the 100 Club where they're were – not surprisingly - a couple of people wearing Curtis t-shirts.  

I bought a t-shirt at all three gigs which I proudly wore throughout the year, teamed with turned up white 501s and tasselled Bass Weejuns (Burlington socks or sock-less dependent on season). The design in 1988 used a garish illustration of Curtis with some giant flies. Quite whose idea it was to interrupt Superfly as three-inch long bluebottles I’ll never know. After an argument with my girlfriend she attacked it with a pair of scissors in the style of the Psycho shower scene causing irreparable lacerations. We spilt up. When I got married over twenty years later the last song I heard as I stood as a single man in the Town Hall waiting for Mrs Monkey’s entrance was from Curtis, moving me on towards my destination.

In the days after the accident his son Todd called it an act of gross negligence on the part of the promoters. I’ve not been able to discover what happened at any trial although there appears to have been one against Coca-Cola. Whatever compensation was awarded it could never be adequate. That Curtis still managed to painstakingly record one further album, New World Order, laying on his back to allow enough oxygen into his lungs, recording one line at a time, says much about his spirit. We lose our soul idols at an increasing rate these days. In the last couple of weeks alone Cleotha Staples and Bobby Rogers have gone but to lose a man as prolific and with still so much to give as Curtis was especially cruel. The 1980s were a tough time for soul men and women but Curtis stuck at it, ending the decade with high profile collaborations with artists as diverse as Ice-T and the Blow Monkeys (I always thought Dr. Robert put one over on Weller by having Curtis on his Thatcher-bashing “Celebrate The Day After You”). I often imagine the albums he would’ve made in his later years: striped down like those early Impressions records, his falsetto accompanied only by his simple guitar style of brushing the strings with his thumb.

But let’s not dwell on what might’ve been and be thankful for we have: the music and the memories. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Ten tracks currently on rotation in Monkey Mansions.

1.  Leadbelly – “The Bourgeois Blues” (1938)
Washington DC was the bourgeois town in question when Leadbelly, Alan Lomax and their respective wives tried checking into hotels as an multi-racial group. “Well, me and my wife we were standing upstairs/ We heard the white man sayin’ I don't want no niggers up there”.

2.  Jimmy Jones – “A Wondrous Place” (1960)
My Saturday morning routine involves tuning into old Brian Matthew on Radio 2 for his Sounds of The 60s show. What makes it essential is the way he mixes the familiar with things I’ve never heard before like this, which Billy Fury quickly covered (without Jones's warm, rich vocal).

3.  Graham Bond Organization – “So-Ho” (1964)
Neglected by the reissue market to the point where I’ve never even seen a Best of Graham Bond CD, the recent Wade In The Water: Classics, Origins & Oddities 4-CD set puts that right with aplomb. This swinging jazz instrumental was originally released on an EP by Ernest Ranglin and the GBs and features Ranglin on guitar, Bond on organ, Jack Bruce on bass, Ginger Baker on drums and is one of 96 fantastic (many previously unreleased) tracks in the box.

4.  Johnny Mae Mathews (Johnnie Mae Matthews)  – “I Have No Choice” (1969)
One of those records that stops you in your tracks. Released on Big Hit, it was no such thing, but it is one of the classiest soul records to ever come out of Detroit, where Matthews was the first African-American woman to own a record label and a big influence on an enterprising young Berry Gordy Jr.

5.  Ramones – “Oh Oh I Love Her So” (1978)
I saw a photograph the other day of one of the punchable scrots from One Direction wearing a box-fresh Ramones t-shirt. I’d love to ask him what his favourite track from Leave Home is.

6.  23 Skidoo – “Vegas El Bandito” (1982)
Like a malfunctioning fruit machine attempting to break dance down the Strip only to be confronted by an elephant on the loose.        

7.  Primal Scream – “So Sad About Us” (1987)
Unlike all the other versions - The Who, The Merseys, The Jam etc - Primal Scream actually sound sad about their breakup. Brilliant stuff Bobby, brilliant.       

8.  The Lemonheads – “Pin Your Heart To Me” (1996)
It sneaked out to little fanfare in 2011 but the 47-track Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners/The Best Of shows how many great songs they’ve done including Dando’s masterly covers like this, tucked away on the B-side of “The Outdoor Type” and originally released by Jacobites in 1985.

9.  Comet Gain – “The Kids In The Club” (2008)
The best Comet Gain songs are their garage drunk northern soul ones that sound like they were recorded on a cheap cassette player. 

10.  The Primitives – “Lose The Reason” (2013)
Our friends Tracy Tracy and Paul Court duet on a swirling self-penned new single which teases at the promise of a new album.

Sunday, 10 March 2013


This is wonderful. Simon & Garfunkel live on the Kraft Music Hall show, originally broadcast 3rd January 1968. They perform A Poem On The Underground Wall, For Emily Wherever I May Find Her, Overs, Anji (played by Paul and his brother Ed), Patterns, The Sounds Of Silence and The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). 

Saturday, 9 March 2013


As Wilko Johnson darts across the stage and then pings back the other way on an invisible elastic band there’s nothing to give even the merest hint this is a farewell show in the very truest sense.

Declining treatment for pancreatic cancer he is not long for this world but here he is, fizzing with energy, wide eyes flashing, holding his guitar like sub-machine gun mowing down his audience, stabbing the strings with the back of his fingers to make a chopping crunching noise, giving a lesson in how to play the guitar. If I was starting a band now I’d want to play like this. Woody Guthrie famously labelled his guitar This Machine Kills Fascists, Wilko’s Telecaster did much the same to hippies in the mid-70s, helping lay some foundations for punk with Dr. Feelgood.

That said, I’m not particularly a fan of Dr. Feelgood or that pub rock scene but after watching Julien Temple’s excellent Oil City Confidential a year ago did come away with much more of an appreciation for what they did and seeing Wilko up close increases that further. His influence on the young Paul Weller is well documented but it hadn’t dawned on me how much Billy Childish has also absorbed. Any unease I felt attending my first Wilko gig at this time, and perhaps depriving a long term fan a ticket, was offset by him being the person Mrs Monkey most wanted to see since watching that film and at least we bought tickets in good faith rather than the hundreds snapped up by cold hearted blood sucking mercenaries out to profit via online touting.

Not having such a strong emotional connection did enable us to watch the gig and really enjoy it as a straight forward show, which to Wilko’s enormous credit was totally devoid of sentiment. He made no reference to his situation, no grand speech, no tear jerking thank you. He’d told Claudia Elliott in The Blues Magazine for people to leave their hankies at home and from where I stood I didn’t see anyone need one. It was only during the “bye bye Johnny, bye bye” section of “Johnny B Goode” when hundreds of hands cheerfully – yes, cheerfully - waved at him that the circumstances were even obliquely referenced. Truly inspiring.       

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


To describe something as a toe-tapper sounds like damning it with faint praise but it’s not, it’s an involuntary and welcome reaction, and one that doesn’t happen as often as one would wish. Listening to “Green Grass Grows”, “Petty Lies” and “Into The Light” on Alfa 9’s Gone To Ground  without tapping your toes ranks alongside putting a Fruit Pastel in your mouth without chewing.

That trio of songs immediately leap out but Gone To Ground is filled with solid, tightly composed and sharply produced songs, the likes of which people aren’t supposed to write anymore. Broadly West Coast folk-pop in spirit there’s an unfashionable classicism about them. There’s nothing wildly inventive or original but that’s no bad thing here, sometimes there’s nothing better than a dozen warm tunes to make you feel a whole lot better. There’s a good variety too yet it all hangs together snugly: from those aforementioned pop janglers; to the Californian dreaming of the title track and “Nothing Feels”; the Crawdaddy blues wailin’ of “Old Man Blues”; and the sparkly stomp of “Mad Song”. They all sound like the band are having a whale of a time and exchanging little sideways nods and smiles as they play. However tempting it might be to throw in a seven minute psychedelic jam that’s something they thankfully avoid, keeping the album from drifting from its tight focus. With seven years since their previous album Alfa 9 have had plenty of time to hone these songs to perfection.

I’ve played this about 20 times over the last few weeks without the need to skip any tracks although some of the rhymes on the Oasis-do-Tomorrow-Never-Knows “The Castle” would make even Noel Gallagher blush. A very fine album.
Gone To Ground by Alfa 9 is released by Blow Up Records on 11 March 2013. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013


This is Martin Bramah of the Blue Orchids falling to his knees at the Heavenly Social. I’ll be honest with you, I’d never paid much attention to them until Idle Fret booked them but I always study their bills with interest so looked them up and wonder now how they'd eluded me.

As a founder member of The Fall Bramah quit after their 1979 debut Live At The Witch Trials and took keyboardist Una Baines with him to form the Blue Orchids. They cut some singles for Rough Trade and later released The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain) in 1982 and Bramah has intermittently used the name since.  

I’m no expert on The Fall (owning only three of their 237 albums) but doubtless aficionados debate who originated The Fall/Blue Orchids sound. To the untrained ear they are, at very least, separated at birth with their off-kilter organ, simple guitar lines and vocal delivery. If you like one you’ll like the other. Also the penny dropped about the Comet Gain song “Yoona Baines” and how much their Howl Of The Lonely Crowd (2011) owes to the Orchids.

On Tuesday they put on an engaging set centred on those early tracks ("The Flood", "Work", "Bad Education", "Hanging Man" etc). It was apparent how no band could contain both Martin Bramah and Mark E. Smith. The longer they played, the more animated and chaotic Bramah became; at one point he tried to sing into his microphone stand even though the mic was in his other hand and there was plenty of half-cut stumbling and fumbling around and banter with the crowd. “I’m from up north,” he said, and as if to accentuate his northerness, kept removing and putting on again a terrible flat cap with annoying frequency.  “Manchester isn’t up north,” he continued, “it’s in the Midlands, but don’t tell them I said that,” touching his nose.

I’ve previously discussed the merits - or otherwise - of bands reforming but this one joined up some musical dots and rather than playing only to original fans the Blue Orchids cultivated new ones, of which I’m the latest.