Sunday, 28 July 2013


Ten records that have got the juices flowing this month.

1.  Rev. Sister Mary Nelson – “Judgement” (1927)
Sister Mary’s intense throat shredding growl is offset by the accompaniment of a couple of young whippersnappers keen to warn gamblers, drunkards, liars, adulterers, false pretenders and hypocrites they’d better get ready for judgement day.  

2.  The Bently Boys – “Down On Penny’s Farm” (1929)
I’d always assumed Bob Dylan based his 1961 “Hard Times In New York Town” on Woody Guthrie but the song’s roots can be traced back to at least this recording from 1929, although in his Anthology of American Folk Music Harry Smith wrote “Down On Penny’s Farm” was a regionalized recasting of an even earlier song, “Hard Times”.    

3.  Mello Souls – “We Can Make It” (1966)
Somebody with £12,913 burning a hole in their Oxford bags won this at auction this month. It’s a pretty good record. 

4.  Willie Hutch – “I Can’t Get Enough” (1966)
If anyone asks for an example of a Northern Soul thumper produce this exhibit. All the classic ingredients delivered with a punch.  

5.  Elvin Jones and Richard Davis – “Raunchy Rita” (1967)
This month’s token jazz entry comes from drum and bass Jones and Davis’s Heavy Sounds LP and if I could find more smokin' stuff like this there’d be more; exactly how I like it. The album is also notable for including the only version of “Summertime” worth having.  

6.  Sandie Shaw – “Frank Mills” (1969)
Some of Sandie’s vocals on her early records could shatter crockery so it’s nice to hear her soft delivery on this from the musical Hair.

7.  Tommy James and the Shondells – “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (1969)
Must be honest and say I heard this in Season 5 of Breaking Bad as the main characters cooked their latest batch of crystal meth. Whether the song’s tranquil mood captures that of a crystal meth high I couldn’t possibly say.

8.  Raw Spitt – “I Dig Black Girls”  (1970)
“If you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose, my brothers?” asked Curtis Mayfield. Raw Spitt, aka Charlie Whitehead, knew (or rather Swamp Dogg who wrote it did).

9.  Chas & Dave – “Punchy and the Willer Warbler” (1977)
Not a sideboard, beer, rabbit or snooker table in sight. It’s quite a revelation to hear their earlier records when they sounded akin to a North London version of The Band.

10.  Dolly Mixture – “Everything and More” (1982)
The Scared To Get Happy 5-CD indiepop collection is so packed it’ll take a long time to digest properly so this is a fairly arbitrary pick but a joyous bell-chiming one.

Sunday, 21 July 2013


The Higher State: Marty, Mole, Paul, Dan
There’s an enormous sense of deju vu reviewing the new singles by Bronco Bullfrog and The Higher State. Twenty years ago I was producing a fanzine, Something Has Hit Me, and interviewing and putting on gigs for The Nerve and The Mystreated.

They were two of my favourite bands in 1993 and yet were worlds apart in terms of how they approached their take on the 60s. “One strives for perfection, the other seemingly goes out of their way to be as shoddy as possible,” I wrote. That reads harshly but Andy Morten of The Nerve could see “no sense in producing music to a fraction of our capabilities” and being “sick to death of hearing records that sound like they were done in five minutes in someone’s front room,” whilst Martin Ratcliffe of The Mystreated enthused about being an authentic garage band and loving “anything that was recorded on half a microphone and a biscuit tin. The worse it is the more likely I’m going to like it.” From those bands came Bronco Bullfrog and The Higher State.  

The Nerve released a few singles and a posthumous collection of their work, Seeds From The Electric Garden, before Andy (drums/vocals) and Mike Poulson (vocals/guitar) teamed up with Louis Comfort-Wiggett (bass) to form Bronco Bullfrog. Rather than continue to perfect the Rubble series of UK psychedelic compilations they made three albums of well-crafted powerpop. Had the first been released earlier than 1998 they might’ve seen greater success during the Brit-Pop period. Timing, they say, is everything. 

Andy Morten is now associate editor of Shindig! magazine which specialises in featuring neglected acts who seldom achieved commercial success. Someone should write an article about Andy Morten; such an underappreciated songwriter for over 20 years with The Nerve, Bronco Bullfrog and The Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder, he’s worthy of cult status at the very least. Morten has such a strong grasp of melody and there’s a sepia tinged romantic nostalgia that frequently washes through his songs; from pushbikes in the park to heart breaking accounts of broken relationships.  

It’s claimed by those involved with these new singles, both recorded at Sandgate Sound Studios and released on State Records, that they “piss on” those of their former bands, “from a great height”. What is noticeable is how they’re shifted inwards and thus now sound closer related. Both singles sound like they were recorded live and even if they were still recorded in five minutes care has been taken to record them cleanly, yet somehow leaving in warm surface noise rather than capturing a cold sterile studio sound.   

“Clarifoil” is the first Bronco Bullfrog record since 2004 and picks up their dusty nostalgia theme with a song about the plastic laminate covering found on old albums “protecting nasty ring wear on Nash, Hicks and Clarke and The Kinks on Pye”. It’s so typically the Broncos - marrying ancient pop culture with everyday practicalities through a Ray Davies eye for the details of British life - and then throwing it on a brash Who/Move backing that slashing, stutters then strums with multi layered vocals.

“Never Been To California” is the simpler song, there’s less going on, but is my preferred one due to the bouncy and suitably sunny melody and sounding like it could be straight off their debut eponymous album I love so much. Also, I can’t quite shake the idea that singing about a manufacturer of shiny plastic surfaces is admirably anti-rock and roll it’s also a little silly. Here the band rue, once again from a very British perceptive, how they’ve never had the chance to go to California where orange skinned people can’t pass the sea without going in and throw their food in the bin to keep thin. It’s a glorious track.

The Mystreated made four albums, a mini-LP, and handfuls of stand-alone singles and EPs before calling it a day in the face of the huge indifference. They did move beyond the smash-and-grab raids of their first releases but it was those, including their debut 10 Boss Cuts, which had the greatest influence on me, even being partially responsible for four of us from Uxbridge forming our own band, The Electric Fayre, even though none of us had ever picked up an instrument before.   

We knew we’d never come anywhere close to them but we pinched parts of their songs for our own and cheekily thought one day we might be as good as The Nuthins (headed by current Shindig! editor Jon Mills). Our Gary Garage bought (much to my delight and slight jealousy) Martin Ratcliffe’s Vox teardrop guitar that appears on the cover of their 1994 LP Looking Right Through. Gary could barely play it but it looked beautiful and it looked great hung on him. Without hearing us and despite our protestations of being crap, The Mystreated invited us down to play in Folkestone one Saturday and we spent the afternoon drinking and ignoring, even more than usual, my Two Pints Rule. The resulting gig was predictably atrocious and I spent the longest, most embarrassing, twenty minutes of my life trying to work which member of the band I should try to sing/shout along with as they all giggled to themselves behind me. That night has now passed in to Electric Fayre legend and gets mentions, to this day, every time we are together, mainly to wind me up. Oh, I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.  

But I digress. Back to The Higher State. Formed in 2005 and now working on their fourth LP they contain the same nucleus as The Mystreated, namely Marty Ratcliffe (vocals/guitar) and Mole (drums/vocals) plus Paul Messis (bass) and Dan Shaw (guitar/vocals) they tread very similar ground to their former band although they insist (as they would) they are far superior to their predecessor.

If Bronco Bullfrog are strong anglophiles, take a sideways glance at the 60s, and can only dream of visiting America, The Higher State are (in mind) the opposite. They’re firmly entrenched on the West Coast in ‘66 where Love and The Byrds encouraged thousands of bands to spring up who through imitation and then innovation created their own distinct styles. In that old Mystreated interview, Marty claimed “We aren’t a 90s band trying to be a 60s band, we are a 60s band” and nothing has changed. Authenticity is still the key and their single-minded and unwavering devotion to their vision is a rare thing in music world of fads and scene chasers.  

“Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)” explodes out of the traps on a taut fuzz line, guitars chime, drums snap and crack, and the song hurtles along kicking dust over the lines between folk-rock and garage-punk and West Coast psychedelia. There’s a huge hook of a chorus which pulls away from menacing whirlpool breaks. It’s nothing short of brilliant. They’ve got this stuff down to tee and always sound like themselves rather than mere copyists or revivalists and I’m as excited by this record as I’ve ever been about anything Marty and Mole have made in the past. To come up with something so vibrant you’d think this was their first record.

The flipside “All Ties That Bind” kicks off with a riff tweaked from “The Last Time”, although feels more 13th Floor Elevators than Stones, and doesn’t waste a moment of its one minute and forty five seconds. It’s over so quickly it encourages another play.

Much has happened in twenty years: tastes have changed, attitudes have shifted, people burn out or fade away but I’m sat here (thankfully no longer kneeling on the floor of my bedroom in my parents’ house with a manual typewriter perched on my bed) pleased I backed a couple of winners back then and delighted music made now by some of those same people can still move me enough to want to share it.

“Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)” by The Higher State and “Clarifoil” by Bronco Bullfrog are released as limited edition (500 copies) 7 inch singles by State Records on 22 July 2013
Something Has Hit Me Issue 2 (1993)

Thursday, 18 July 2013


The Lucid Dream’s psychedelic maelstrom made my ears bled in Technicolor last week at the Buffalo Bar.

Promoting their debut album, Songs of Lies and Deceit, this four piece from Carlisle knuckled down, turned up, and turned on the gathered throng with a relentless blast of heavy, pedal-happy, psych rock full of reverb, fuzz and droning effects.  

There was little of the early Mary Chain flavour of second single “Heartbreak Girl” (which wasn’t played) and one lengthy song tended to merge into the next making individual numbers indistinguishable on first hearing but the overall effect was hypnotising, and that they played songs from a second album suggested they aren’t slouches in the song writing department.

If I’ve one criticism of their three singles so far it’s the vocals are the weakest part (pitched too high for my taste) but live that’s not noticeable as they’re swallowed up in the music and their druggy lyrics are perfunctory anyway.  

The album sounds promising and should allow more of the nuances to come through but however it turns out The Lucid Dream live is an experience in itself. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Songs of Lies and Deceit by The Lucid Dream is released on CD by Holy Are You Recordings on 5th August 2013. The 500 vinyl copies have already sold out. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


Still in a Ray Davies mood following his Hyde Park gig on Friday, I welcomed Monkey Picks reader Paul Welden notifying me about this song.

Mark Nevin was in Fairground Attraction but I won't hold that against him as this is a nice little video tribute to his North London neighbour Mr. Davies. As Paul says, echoing Otis Lee Crenshaw, "There's a thin line between stalking and selective walking."

Sunday, 14 July 2013


A sunny summer evening in Hyde Park watching Ray Davies play a free gig and treat thousands of Londoners to 90 minutes of The Kinks’ greatest hits. As Friday nights go, it takes some beating.

I wouldn’t wish appendicitis on anyone, not even Elton John, but that was the circumstance which forced Sir Elton to cancel his headline appearance here and turned this gig into a massive free event with tickets available on a first-come basis.

Elvis Costello did an enjoyable turn playing a hit-friendly festival style set including a cover of “Purple Rain” which raised a few eyebrows but it was Ray who made the headline slot his own. Unlike some recent occasions there was no vocal choir, just a straight forward no frills basic rock and roll band behind him. Think of a big Kinks song from the 60s and he probably played it, only occasionally dipping out of that decade for the lovely “Celluloid Heroes”, “20th Century Man”, the jaunty “Come Dancing” and, I’m reliably informed, something from Sleepwalker.

I’m no fan of huge open air gigs but this had a nice relaxed village green atmosphere about it (decent and plentiful toilets, no long queues for beers, easy to wander reasonably near the stage, okay sound, lack of idiots) and despite my general aversion to audience participation hearing thousands sing along to “Sunny Afternoon” as the sun began to set was actually a heart-warming moment.

Ray’s voice is that of a 69 year old man but his vocals have never been the key to his songs so when he alternates verses in “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” between camp North London accent and his tribute to Johnny Cash it matters little, the song remains. Looking at the hugely diverse audience it became apparent how much these songs are woven into the fabric of our culture. I don’t mean our culture, but the general one of the country. Everyone knows these songs, penned by the gent with the oversized shirt collection and crooked teeth; some have taken on a personal meaning to many and the way he sung the opening verses to "Days" brought a lump to my throat.

The night ended with the air filled with the sound of everyone chanting the name of a hulking, champagne quaffing, Soho transvestite. Ray Davies, in London, in the summertime, telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty. God save the Village Green.

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Tony Fletcher is the author of numerous books including the definitive Keith Moon biography Dear Boy and an exhaustive account of The Smiths, A Light That Never Goes Out. In the 1980s he wrote for The Face, was a presenter on Channel 4’s The Tube and his Jamming! magazine sat on the shelves of WH Smiths (described to me the other day as Smash Hits’ cool older brother).  

Yet for many Fletcher is synonymous, even now, with the late 70s fanzine culture that saw the likes of Sniffin’ Glue, Maximum Speed and his own Jamming! give a platform for enthusiastic young kids to write about their music.

Boy About Town is Fletcher’s memoir of that period and whilst his coming of age story is fairly unremarkable in regard to friendships, football matches, school trips, being bullied, forming a band, dabbling with drugs, milking the lizard and a desperate need to lose his cherry, his activities and associations which stemmed from producing his own fanzine are anything but ordinary.

Inspired by Jon Savage’s fanzine article in Sounds in 1977, thirteen year old Fletcher was soon knocking out his own (fanzine, that is) and within a year and six issues it was fast on its way to becoming one of the most celebrated of the era, boasting interviews with upcoming Adam and the Ants, Scritti Politti and Alternative TV next to big names The Jam and, incredibly, Pete Townshend. Soon after, as told in the book, there are memorable encounters with The Damned, The Fall, The Undertones and many others as Fletcher immersed himself the DIY post-punk and, for a brief time, mod scenes.

A central presence in the book is The Jam and particularly Paul Weller. Of course The Jam were well known for their accessibility: allowing fans to watch their sound checks; letting them in the studio; and removing as many barriers between band and fan as possible. Therefore it’s not surprising Weller was more than happy to give an interview to a thirteen young old but what is striking is how Weller didn’t leave it there but followed it up with invites to gigs, supportive letters and an open invitation to drop by the studio whenever they were recording; not once does he come across as patronising or anything but genuinely supportive of Tony’s endeavours. Fletcher doesn’t say it but it’s hard not to think Weller didn’t see something of himself in his young fan’s quiet ambition, determination and entrepreneurial flair. Boy About Town is recommended for plentiful Jam anecdotes and insights alone, including a few details worthy of quiz questions.

How much The Jam were the people’s band (and the band for the most discerning school kids) is best illustrated by the Tony’s discovery “Going Underground” had gone straight in at number one as he was out of school one Tuesday lunchtime. He rushes back to tell his classmates the news before afternoon registration. “A massive roar went up. We found ourselves jumping up and down together, like we all supported the same football team and they’d just won the Cup”.  It’s my favourite moment in the book but a bittersweet memory “And with that, it sank in. They were no longer our band.”

Fletcher was also a big fan of The Who, discovering them via the Quadrophenia and Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy LPs and going to see their massive gig (on his own, aged 12) at Charlton. His brief encounter with Keith Moon later is very sweet and shows a lovely side to Keith, so much so that when Moonie dies Fletcher promised himself that one day he will “put the record straight”. Most of the book is written from the viewpoint his teenage self (the only excuse for using terms “modette” and “punkette”) but on occasion elements of a grown up perceptive creep in. I can’t quite believe all the observations took place whilst growing up, even for an observer as astute as Fletcher.

And it’s as an observer where Fletcher shines. Although he witnessed (or not witnessed, as he missed the infamous Bill Grundy appearance) punk hit its peak and then again as the mod revival briefly took hold, Tony never threw his lot in with any cult or fad. Only last week I saw Jamming! referred to as mod fanzine, something it definitely wasn’t although it was supportive of some of the bands (notably Southend’s Speedball who feature heavily) and he did see it develop from queues of young mods outside The Who’s Rainbow gig in ’78 to gigs at The Wellington pub in Waterloo and burn out at a rapidly once it appeared on Janet Street Porter’s London Weekend Show.

Fletcher had a healthy scepticism about the mod revival and was furious at being labelled a mod but it’s interesting to read his more dispassionate account of it from the view of an onlooker. Secret Affair in particular are accused cynically manoeuvring themselves at the vanguard of the movement and denying their recent past. “Even if looking good was the answer, looking backwards most certainly was not.”

Looking over one’s shoulder was a good idea back in the late 70s, as violent skinheads (the right-wing moron kind) were omnipresent at gigs. It’s hard to imagine fights at gigs these days but back then it was difficult to imagine going to a gig without that thought becoming a reality. I’ve mainly focused above on the mod element but Boy About Town is about much more than that. Fletcher paints a vivid picture of the time – both through the eyes of a boy dealing with growing up and into the underground music scene of bands, fanzines, small record labels, and a staunchly independent spirit.

The book ends with Tony taking his O Levels and receiving an amazing proposition from Paul Weller. It’s a great read and one which potentially invites the difficult second album syndrome.   

Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher is published by William Heinemann, out now. 
For more info check Tony's

Sunday, 7 July 2013


Here are Leeds combo The Blanche Hudson Weekend with a song and video which sounds and looks like something from the Indie Top Ten run-down on The Chart Show during a Saturday morning in 1989.   

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


Subbaculture is a website I check daily for their celebration of street styles, sounds and fashions of subcultures from the late twentieth century - from the modernist, suedehead & skinhead axis to the teds, rockers and cafe racers through to punk and the NYC gangs that pre-dated hip hop.

They've now produced a limited edition fanzine to compliment the site taking some of their best articles plus a few new ones. Professionally printed and smartly designed it features well written pieces across 32 A5 pages on Mod guru Peter Meaden; writer of the Suedehead books Richard Allen; the graphics of 2-Tone; Ken Russell’s photographs of 1950s East End Teddy Girls and much more.

Numbers are strictly limited to 100 copies so get in quick. More details at Subbaculture.