Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Cal Gill, The Velvelettes
It’s a year shy of 50 years since Berry Gordy sent the cream of his empire to the UK for the Tamla-Motown Revue:  The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Stevie Wonder and the Earl Van Dyke Six. The Tamla Motown Revue of 2014 for the second night at Modstock – a four night affair in Central London organised by the New Untouchables - is more modestly scaled but the acts flown in are still greeted by an excited appreciation society including some of those fortunate enough to witness the original tour.

Brenda Holloway, favourite female Motown artist for many (count me in), enters with ‘Just Look What You’ve Done’, looking every inch the glamorous star. Not bad for a grandmother to seventeen and she mixes class with straight-talking street-funk. "I'm gonna have a collection for new bra," she announces. "This one ain't working," she adds, hoicking her ample bosom back inside her dress. The elegance and sophistication in her singing voice though is evident during ‘When I’m Gone’, ‘Operator’ and her classic ballad ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, but it’s the up-tempo pairing of ‘Reconsider’ and ‘Crying Time’ which shine brightest. The only disappointment is the shortness of the set which ends after ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’. Given the limited opportunities to see Brenda a few more songs (including ‘Starting The Hurt All Over Again’ which was sorely missed) would’ve been welcome. Keep them wanting more? She did that.

Like Brenda, The Velvelettes were never high on Motown’s pecking order with only six releases to their name. But with producer Norman Whitfield, itching to prove himself to gain access to the Temptations, they cut some of the label’s most enduring 45s; spanning the decades ever since in youth clubs, Mod clubs, scooter rallies and soul nights.

“We are the original, the only Velvelettes!” they proudly announce and they’re not kidding. With wonderful synchronicity with an event marking fifty years of Mod culture, the four family members who cut ‘He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’’ – Cal Gill, Millie Gill, Bertha Barbee and Norma Barbee – are all here opening their set with that song they recorded in 1964.     

One common problem with seeing Motown acts is the backing band rarely does justice to the sound of the original records. With the best will in the world, how does anyone recreate the depth and feeling of the Funk Brothers in the Snake Pit? Despite the efforts of Mick Talbot and company they sound a little sparse and plinky-plonky which puts greater emphasis on the vocals. Fortunately lead singer Cal Gill is impressively up to the task and keeps in firm control as the group add harmonies and gentle loose choreography.

‘Lonely, Lonely Girl Am I’ and ‘A Bird In The Hand’ are full of exuberance, the sassy ladies shaking and shimmying in glittering gold, whilst ‘I’m So Glad It’s Twilight Time’ and a lovely reading of ‘Everybody Needs Love’ drop the pace. 'Boy From Crosstown' gets an airing;‘These Things Will Keep Me Loving You’ is a guaranteed winner; ‘Nowhere To Run’ fuels the growing party atmosphere but the best moment is the addition of a spine-tingling gospel style intro to launch ‘Needle In A Haystack’. For a track often unfairly derided due to over familiarity and, for folk of a certain standing, thoughts of grass skirt wearing scooterboys on cut-down Lambrettas pouring snakebite over their heads, few resist the urge to “do-lang, do-lang” in joyful unison.

For the finale Brenda Holloway returns and takes the lead on a barnstorming ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’, the perfect Motown/Mod crossover thanks to versions by the Marvelettes and the Action, and an ideal choice to close a night celebrating the entwined pillars of everlasting music and style.

A version of this review also appears as part of a fuller Modstock review for Shindig! Magazine.
See also My Life Has Been Beautiful: The Brenda Holloway Interview

Sunday, 27 April 2014


Apologies for the two-week absence. These are some of the things that’ve been on the old stereogram this month.

1. Sonny and Jaycee – “You Keep Doggin’ Me” (1958)
Harmonica man Sonny Terry taught his nephew J.C. Burris to play the blues harp from the age of seven and together – many years later - they blow a mean storm. As a bonus, click here for footage of Burris demonstrating his puppetry and hand jive skills in 1978.

2. The Rob Hoeke Rhythm & Blues Group – “When People Talk” (1966)
Hard hitting, Cuban heel stomping, Dutch beat from pianist and vocalist Rob Hoeke and his group.

3. The Misunderstood – “Find The Hidden Door” (1966)
A Yardbirdsian pop-art rave-up which almost unbelievably sat unreleased gathering dust for years. Now forms part of Love, Poetry & Revolution: A Journey Through The British Psychedelic and Underground Scenes 1966-1972, a three CD set from Grapefruit/Cherry Red Records.

4. Savoy Brown Blues Band – “The Doormouse Rides The Rails” (1967)
All the guitar virtuosity Martin Stone would bring to Mighty Baby is evident here on his self-penned track from Shake Down, the only original on the Savoy Brown Blues Band’s debut album.

5. Eddie Floyd – “That’s All” (1969)
It was sheer lunacy on the part of Stax to release 27 albums all on the same day in May 1969, meaning many fine records fell through the gaps, one being You’ve Got To Have Eddie. Admittedly it was no game-changer but it was a solid enough cruise through mainly covers, including this old Nat King Cole song given a smooth finger-clicking makeover.   

6. Dave Davies – “Creeping Jean” (1969)
The highlight of April was, of course, meeting Dave Davies and catching his show at the Barbican. His voice might now be a little shaky but he was as likeable on stage as he was off it. Dave picked a good set too including "She's Got Everything" and “Creeping Jean”, a track which deserved more than being tucked away on the flip of his 1969 single “Hold My Hand”.

7. Sonny Phillips – “Black On Black” (1970)
Sonny’s third album, Black On Black!, is a corker from start to finish. No slow blues numbers, no boring standards, just five in-the-pocket soul-jazz numbers as cool as Phillips looks on the front cover.   

8. Irene Reid – “I Must Be Doing Something Right” (1971)
Don’t know anything about Irene Reid except she cut this electric piano and funky flute dancer for Pilgrim Records.

9. The Primitives – “Rattle My Cage” (2011)
Coventry’s finest came down to the smoke for a couple of stand-alone shows at the Lexington this month. After suffering the woeful June Brides whose song delivery was as welcome as a wodge of soggy pizza leaflets smacking on a door mat, it came as a blessed relief to see The Primitives pick up their instruments. There was Paul Court, magnificent hair silhouette, like the Ronettes’ kid brother, and Tracy Tracy, twisting and turning wearing a pair of glittering gold kitten ears. With a set neatly balanced with old classics and second-era Prims they have an innate understanding that pop music is built on both style and substance. The three brand new songs bode well for the next album.

10. RW Hedges – “A Broken Heart” (2014)
New release on Uxbridge’s Balcony Records from local troubadour RW Hedges. Lovely production and banjo-led instrumentation with a melody which soon nestles in the brain.   

Monday, 14 April 2014


I should be used to seeing the Manic Street Preachers without Richey Edwards by now. It’s been twenty years since I last saw him throwing rock ‘n’ roll shapes on the left hand side of the stage. Guitar slung low, nonchalantly hitting a few chords, looking beautiful. Even before his disappearance in 1995 the Manics played shows without him when his fragile mental state required professional attention. In a frank interview with Gary Crowley prior to their Reading ’94 appearance about Richey’s condition, James Dean Bradfield described how they’d resemble “a shitty mod trio” without him.

Every Manics gig still brings thoughts of Richey, from his unoccupied space on the stage, to the songs he left behind, to the lyrics Nicky Wire has written since which so frequently bring his absence to mind, whether intentional or otherwise.

Half an hour into the final date on their latest tour - a second night at Brixton Academy - the Manics play “Rewind The Film”, which reflects on a life nearing completion (“So rewind the film again, I’d love to see my joy, my friends”) whilst a film projects behind them of people in their later years pottering about playing bingo, the camera honing in on their wrinkled faces. It’s very poignant and hard not to think not only of Richey but friends and family no longer with us.

With those images fresh, they followed with an unexpected rendition on “Die In The Summertime”, one of three tracks to be played, none singles, from the most bleakest, brilliant record imaginable, their masterpiece, and Richey’s parting shot, The Holy Bible. The narrative being played out in my mind, at least, continued with a rousing and emotive “Everything Must Go” as Bradfield bellowed “Nothing but memories, MEMORIES!”  

All this makes it sound a somber and depressing affair but it was anything but. They put on a show; it’s an intelligent, thought-provoking show but a show nonetheless. James Dean Bradfield from the opener “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next” wanted to see those clapping hands in the air and did. As much as I treasure those early gigs in front of a handful of hostile people bouncing cans and bottles off Bradfield’s bonce it was never the Manics’ intention to be a credible but unsellable product so any slight rockisms are par for the course I guess.

During the first half Nicky Wire looked absolutely fabulous in his black jeans, black leather jacket, dark punky air and panda eyes – like Sid Vicious’ wealthy, clean-living uncle – and jumped and leaped and bounced like he’d finally been given the new bionic knees he’s so long craved. Second half he returned dressed as a camp milkman.  Wire’s favourite part of the evening, he told us, is thousands of people yelling “fuck off” at him mid-song. During “Stay Beautiful” his smile couldn’t have been wider.

I’ve never much been a fan of Bradfield’s acoustic interlude – my clearest memory of those final Richey gigs at the Astoria isn’t of nosebleeds and destruction but of me sulking off to have a piss during “Bright Eyes” – but his handling of “This Is Yesterday” and “This Sullen Welsh Heart” was truly exceptional music from and for the soul.

With their twelfth album, Futurology, imminent – only six months since the last one - there’s a wealth of material to draw from and although they continue to rate “Tsunami” and “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” far higher than I, it was a superb set list choice. The big hitters “Design For Life”, “You Love Us” (“We love you”, sings Bradfield back at the crowd), “Motorcycle Emptiness”, “The Masses Against The Classes” (seems incredible now to think the general public made that the first number one single of the new millennium), “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough” were present and although “Faster” was absent, a spectacular, lesser-spotted “Archives Of Pain” was more than enough consolation with around ten songs not released as singles. As for “Motown Junk”, I could listen to that on repeat all night and the thrill would never diminish.

Throughout the past 23 years I’ve never seen a bad Manics gig, I’ve always enjoyed them, but on occasions they’ve maybe treaded water. Not now. Following the post- National Treasures hiatus there’s real fire in their bellies and in the three spiky new songs – “Europa Geht Durch Mich” (yes, parts were in German), “Futurology” and “Let’s Go To War” – showcased on Saturday.

There's nothing shitty, mod or even trio about the Manic Street Preachers (a couple of other musicians discreetly do their thing), just a remarkable band. As much as they, and I, reflect on the past, it's the present and future which still excites. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014


1965 was the year Motown exploded into the consciousness of the American people. The label had seen hits but now they could be viewed – as Berry Gordy intended – as a succession of hits leaving one central assembly line.

Such was interest in the label that an edition of Detroit-based CKLW Channel 9's show Teen Town devoted a whole hour’s edition to what presenter Robin Seymour refers to as the Motown Records Corporation.

Some of the studio performances by the Marvelettes, the Miracles, the Supremes with a gurning Ms Ross, the Temptations and Little Stevie Wonder are familiar but what makes this all the more fascinating is Berry Gordy and Barney Ales talking the host through behind the scenes footage recorded at Hitsville of the artists, writers and producers rehearsing material. Listen out for Seymour's fully justified gasp of "Oh my!" when the Marvelettes' Wanda Young comes into view.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


The first thing Dave Davies says when we meet around the corner from the Muswell Hill street he grew up in is “I like your jacket”. I tell him it could be one of his old cast-offs. “Maybe it is,” he adds, proudly showing off his new Ben Sherman suit before talk turns to different types of rounded shirt collar. As an introduction to one of the most naturally stylish musicians of the 60s it’s near perfect.

Now, fifty years from the first Kinks records and the unleashing of his incredible guitar sound that took “You Really Got Me” to number one, thirteen years since his last London show, and ten since suffering a major stroke, Dave is back to play the Barbican in London this Friday.

Fifty years in the music business, are you looking forward to celebrating it on Friday?
Oh yeah. We’ve done shows in the States and the audiences have been great so when an opening came up at the Barbican and I thought it would be the perfect gig. Well, it could be, might be the worse one. People become really obsessive about these anniversaries. I said to Ray we should do something for our 51st anniversary. We’re talking about doing some things, we not sure yet. He’s always busy, I’m always busy. We get together for a pint now and again and talk about football. I think we’re getting closer to it but we’re getting older.

On your recent album, I Will Be Me, there’s a song “Little Green Amp” that describes you as a kid at home, practicing your guitar, slashing your amp to create the sound you’d soon be identified with, the neighbours banging on the wall and you full of rage. What was the root of that rage?
I think primarily it was my childhood sweetheart, Sue. I fell in love at 14. These days it’s quite normal but in those days it was frowned upon. Sue got pregnant and they put her in what they called an Unmarried Mother’s Home to have the baby. It was devastating. My mum and her mum conspired to keep us apart. I didn’t find out until 1992.

Why did they do that?
[Twists finger to his temple] Her mum was already crabby and her daughter was an only child. The thought of her being pregnant and having a child out of wedlock and all that bollocks was too much. My mum I think she saw music as a way out for me, being a boisterous sort of kid. I hated school. I hated that talking-down mentality, that condescending attitude. She thought she was being smart, but smart for whom? On “Little Green Amp” I tried to reflect on how I felt at the time. The rage I had, the anger, but tried to keep it funny. The ultimate knife, dig, is the fact that me and Sue went to Selfridges and I bought her an engagement ring for a fiver. The look of horror and disappointment on my mum’s face. It took me quite a few years to come to terms with it. Who has the right to tell you what age you can fall in love? It’s not a science. I think that made me a bit disrespectful to women later on going out on the road with different girls and that.

The power of those early riffs was quite extraordinary. What would’ve happened if you hadn’t come up with that noise for “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” that no one had really done before? After your first two singles weren’t hits, suddenly you were huge stars sitting at number one.
I think great things happen by accident. You can over-think things. I was talking to someone the other day about the guitar riff and people forget it wasn’t just about the guitar sound or the records, it was about the music, the fashion, the attitude, it’s all a package. That whole period was very unusual. That thing about working class people doing something, expressing themselves. Whereas before it was rare for working class people to get the limelight or to get important jobs.

Do you think that being working class influenced your music?
Of course it did. When I listened to a lot of the early blues players you could sense the oppression in what they were doing. Although it was a totally different culture you could relate to the emotions. My uncle worked at King’s Cross on the railways, we didn’t get much money, and all these feeling about having to try hard to keep a family together, these feelings and emotions were the same.
Once you’d made it, you lived the 60s pop star lifestyle to the hilt didn’t you?
Just about. It was amazing. Fresh out of school, cocky as hell, eying up all the chicks, you know. It was wonderful. Parties, people I met in the art world, the intelligentsia of London, I loved it.

And music gave you that. Without music you’d never have had access to that world.
I think my mum knew that. As a way of getting us out there, of doing something more relevant. I think music saved me from a lot of things. Crime maybe, who knows? That’s why it’s very important for young people to have an artistic interest. We use the mind differently; thoughtful and more considered.

One of the things that comes across with your work with The Kinks is it’s not one over-studied playing style, it’s inventive, from “All Day and All Of The Night” to the “See My Friends” to “Waterloo Sunset” to “Victoria”, it’s always different styles.
It comes from a background where there was so much music. My six sisters loved music, my Dad played the banjo, my oldest sister Dolly would listen to Fats Domino, Doris Day. They were all songs. When we got working in the studio we started to realise the importance of structure and where the guitar went, it’s not just all the way through. Songs need something to embellish it, not to get in its way. It was an interesting learning curve the first couple of albums. Also, because Ray being the main songwriter, with things like “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”, where he really began to develop as a writer – or as I like to say, as an observationalist - we realised certain sounds fit with lyrics or a line or melody. It gives it a different aspect rather than just playing a few riffs and going to the pub, although we did that as well.

Ray would come with the main idea of the song. How did the rest of the band add their contributions?
In that early time, in something like “Sunny Afternoon”, Ray would have the seed idea – the riff – and I’d always loved songs and riffs that go down – those descending chords - and then up. That’s why “Dead End Street” has always been one of my favourites. I suggested to Ray to have a counter-riff on “Sunny Afternoon”, making it stranger. I was always interested in the unusual. On “See My Friends” I think it was before they even had sitar music in local Indian restaurants. That was really a great thing to realise about the recording studio was if you had a sound in your head you could try to recreate it by detuning and exploring tones. You can change a whole mood of a song just by tuning it differently or even by using a cheap instrument. It might sound tinny but it might fit the style of the song. Whilst everyone else out there was buying up the whole London contingent of sitars, we were doing it on a cheap Framus guitar. I liked experimenting with music.

And you liked experimenting with fashion too.
It’s very important. Me and Pete Quaife would meet for lunch when he worked as a graphic artist for The Outfitter and I worked at Selmer for a bit and we’d meet up and go to Berwick Street and down Carnaby Street – although it wasn’t really Carnaby Street then, just a few men’s tailors, a few women’s shops – and we had a thing where we’d buy anything. A silly hat, something like that, and if the older generation didn’t like it, and turned their noses up, we thought that was good. 

I love that orange, red and purple felt hat you had. Do you remember it?
It was a cloth floppy hat I could turn inside out and wear all day. Yeah, it folded up. I got it from a ladies hat shop at the back of Carnaby Street, Kingly Street.  It was like a tea cosy I could put on my mum’s teapot. I was down Carnaby Street the other day having a look around. The Shakespeare’s Head is still there, that’s where I met my lifetime long friend, a guy called Mike Quinn. He worked in one of the first John Stephen shops and we got pally. I’d go in his shop to see what he had and he’d go “Dave, I’ve got this jacket. Take it out” and I’d sneak it out the shop. So I had an eye for fashion, as did Pete who was into the same stuff.
Where Did You Get That Hat? The Kinks: Dave Davies, Ray Davies, Pete Quaife, Mick Avory
 Did you feel any affinity to the Mod movement at the time?
I did but I didn’t embrace it as much as Pete Quaife did. He had his Vespa and his parka and was really into it, he was the original Modfather. I liked the more elegant type things. I had a girlfriend who had centre parted hair with the bouffant at the back and I’d copy that. Men’s fashions were so boring. Pete was the purest Mod in the band but I liked elements of both Mods and Rockers. I liked the pill taking of the Mods. I think The Kinks were maybe the first Mod band but The Who were the first Mod band that looked like it. The Small Faces were a real Mod band and The Action were absolutely great. Pete was into the Motown influences and making us do wretched versions of “Dancing In The Street”. We did a tour with the Earl Van Dyke band, and Earl taught Pete the bass parts he used to play on the keyboard in some of his songs. That’s where the idea for “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy” came from. If you listen to the bass parts, those chromatic things, they came from Earl Van Dyke. 

After the first few Kinks hits The Who came out with “I Can’t Explain” which was very much in your style. What did you think when you first heard it?
As The High Numbers they opened for us a few times in Shepherd’s Bush and in South London so they’d had the chance to really suss us out. I remember the first time I saw them I thought “cheeky little buggers!” They were an extraordinary band. When everyone was copying the Kinks for ideas it was only really Pete Townshend that owned up to the fact we were an influence. It seemed to me when people don’t know what to do they dig out an old Kinks song, we do it. And David Bowie, he’s not exactly a closet Kinks fan but we were mates when he was Davy Jones in The Manish Boys, so he’s a secret fan. The Manish Boys were obviously lesser known so when I couldn’t really go out of hotels because of the screaming girls I’d get David to bring a couple of girls up for me.

I hadn’t realised “David Watts” was a real person. Can you tell us about him?
We did a gig, ’64-’65, in Rutland run by this David Watts, a retired Major in the Army. He was all dressed in his tweeds. “Jolly good show boys, why don’t you come back to the house afterwards and we’ll have a little drink”. So we go back but the dead giveaway was when he sat down and he was wearing pink socks. You have to realise homosexuality was still illegal right up until 1966. I was amazed when we first got into show business how many gay people there were. But they were always the funniest and the most creative. Anyway, this party progressed, we were getting a bit pissed, and David owned this land, lovely Georgian Manor, and Ray was going to sell me, to pimp me off, to this David Watts in exchange for this house. Cheeky cunt.

Were you tempted?
No, I tried. I did try [with men] but I loved women too much. David took me upstairs and he had this training bicycle. “Why don’t you try it?” So I’m cycling away and he’s being all flirtatious. We had a great time making “David Watts”. I often wonder about when The Jam did it. Paul Weller being quite a serious guy I wonder if he knew the full backstory to that song. I used to take my son Martin to see The Jam at the Marquee and the Rainbow. When I was making my album ALF1-3603 in 1979 there was a knock on the studio door and Paul Weller walked in, very quiet, and under his jacket he had a 45 of “Susannah’s Still Alive” which he shyly asked me to sign it for him. Really sweet.

Do you think all the reports of fighting within The Kinks – not just you and Ray but you and Mick Avory - has been over-played?
It’s definitely been over-played. Of course there was fighting, and we had difficult times when me and Mick were bumping heads, but we’d get sick of working that close all the time, in each other’s pockets. In the end you have to say “Why don’t you just fuck off? Get out my face.” But Mick became like an older brother, and Pete. But Pete was a fun guy and just couldn’t stand it when the business when all dour, so he thought fuck this and left. We were really good friends and he was a really good musician. Apart from mine and Ray’s many differences with music and ideas, the sense of humour we had, you learn like only siblings do. I think the humour really showed through a lot of The Kinks music. Even “Waterloo Sunset” is quite amusing. The guy in the song could be a dirty old man in a mac. “I don’t need no friends.” Not to put it down, as it’s an epic piece of observational writing, but we always had that other side to The Kinks. All that camp thing. Me and Pete loved it, camping it up, pouting. Even Mick Avory who was very macho in his expression would try it, even though it didn’t really come off on him. There was always humour.

Ray was under a lot of pressure to come up with the songs. Did you think if he didn’t come up with a hit record all this would disappear?
No I didn’t. I don’t know why but I had this automatic optimism. I think that was because I was working with family. Our immediate family were big supporters of what we were doing. When you dry up, or think you have, all it might take is a visit to the pub and play shove h’penny with your Dad or your mates and it would give you ideas. When you think back to Kinks music, so much of it was drawn from family, friends, surroundings, who we were, holidays as kids, everything.

Do you think The Kinks were quite nostalgic looking?
No, I think we were quite forward thinking. There’s this character on I Will Be Me – partly me, partly someone else – on a song called “Living In The Past” about this longing for nostalgia. We all do it as somehow we think the past is better than the present. Is that to do with loneliness? I think for a lot of people always looking back at the past is a sign of being fearful for the future. We need to embrace the future a lot more, especially older people. There’s a line in the song that I really like “No matter what they do or say, the future’s here to stay”. So that was my advice to the guy in the song.

Dave Davies plays the Barbican this Friday 11th April 2014, info and tickets available from davedavies.com

Huge thanks to Dave for being so generous with his time and to David Walker for asking me to conduct the interview on behalf of Modculture, where it first appeared yesterday. Thanks also to Paula Baker for helping conduct the interview and for the photo below.