Sunday, 30 November 2014

PUSH The Best of the First 10 Issues - EDITED BY JOE ENGLAND (2014)

Not much more than eighteen months ago literary fanzine PUSH was launched onto an unsuspecting public. I liked it immediately and wrote here suggesting "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". And so it continued.

These things can be a flash in the pan and soon fizzle out but editor Joe England has pumped out the issues - thirteen and counting - whilst keeping the standard exceptionally high. So much so East London Press have published PUSH Best of the First 10 Issues as a smart paperback book. Not only that but John King himself has written a glowing foreword (see, I must occasionally know what I'm on about/throw enough shit at the wall...).

King draws the comparison with these unfamiliar working class writers - all outside the established literary circle and clique - and a similar scene in the 1990s when his The Football Factory and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting were published and "there was similar talk, an amazement among commentators that the common folk could read - let alone read such books".

The problem is finding this stuff. I don't read that many books as it's difficult to know where to find work that connects. As King correctly attests, "The truth is that many people are not interested in contemporary fiction because there is nothing that remotely relates to their lives". Spot on. I was unceremoniously dumped out of my English Literature O Level studies as the teacher believed there was no way I'd pass the exam. He was probably right. Not to diss old Billy Shakespeare but I couldn't make head nor tail of Richard II; was bored stiff by Silas bloody Marner; and didn't give a hoot whether some boy John went to sea or not. I don't know what's on the school curricular these days but it's a wonder I ever picked up a book again. In fairness unless it was about football or music I wouldn't have been interested anyway. Luckily I'd later discover the Beats but even they can be impenetrable much of the time. But Joe England has found enough writers for the likes of me to fill his fanzine every six weeks and edit what one hopes will be a succession of Best Of editions.

Reading these pieces again I'm struck once more how great and perceptive the writing is. Some passages make me wince in horror, some choke me up, some are angry, some downright funny and some are written by right cankerous bastards. Whether short stories, poems (yes, poems for Christ sake), interviews or artwork, I get it. It makes sense. It's alive. It talks my language. I'm not going to single out individuals as I'd have to list too many. It's all good.

Fanzines are fabulous things, born out of the passion and the need to share of the editor, and they're the labour of love of one person who often ploughs a lonely furrow. I'm chuffed and indeed weirdly proud of Joe England for seeing his baby - so far limited to blink-and-you-miss-it print runs sold on the street outside West Ham games (football fans read something other than tabloids or mags with soap actresses in various states of undress? What an audacious assumption on England's part) - recognised by East London Press. East London Press aren't Penguin Books - they are still a tiny independent press - but this feels like vindication of Joe's vision. It's not really, the words of these talented writers were already valid no matter what the format, but in its small way it's a victory, a triumph, for everyone involved. It'll reach more people, it's a step forward. PUSH Best of the First 10 Issues now sits on the bookshelf next to John King, Irvine Welsh, Dan Fante, Tony O'Neill etc. as an essential volume of modern day underground literature.

PUSH Best of the First 10 Issues is available from East London Press, priced £7.99.
For more about PUSH see Joe England Books.
A launch party with readings, music and debauchery takes place at the Orford House Social Club, Orford Road, Walthamstow, E17 on Saturday 6th December. 7pm. Free. Cheap bar.  

Sunday, 23 November 2014


This month I have mostly been diggin'...

1.  Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers - "Slow Down" (1964)
The Larry Williams chestnut given a fat soul club sound indicative of their live reputation.  

2.  The Master's Apprentices - "War Or Hands Of Time" (1966)
This rollicking garage-punk single, with its A-side "Undecided", is the greatest thing Australia has ever given the world.

3.  Paul Jones - "Sonny Boy Williamson" (1966)
Paul Jones and Jack Bruce wrote and recorded this tribute to the man who made such an impact on the British R&B boom after this death the previous year. Tucked away as a B-side, featuring only Jones on vocals and harmonica and Bruce on bass, its simplicity is a far cry from the bombastic (and let's be honest, rather naff) "I've Been A Bad, Bad Boy" on the A-side.

4.  Bob Dylan & The Band - "Blowin' In The Wind" (1967)
There's a heck of a lot to take in - almost too much, if that were possible - in the 6-CD The Basement Tapes Complete but it's great to drop in for short spells to earwig Bobby and the boys having a sing-song. The woozy, bar room band take of "Blowin' In The Wind" is an immediate favourite.

5.  Percy Sledge - "True Love Travels On A Gravel Road" (1969)
Countrified Muscle Shoals soul. From the title, to the pedal steel, to the horns, to Sledge's rootsy vocal, everything here is simply magnificent. If you only investigate one song from this list, make it this.

6.  Kelly Gordon - "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (1969)
I love the Hollies classic but check out the outstanding original version. Gordon's almost unbearably raw emotion gives it the kind of gravitas the lyrics deserve.

7.  The Stovall Sisters - "Yes To The Lord" (1970)
Lillian, Netta and Joyce Stovall began singing in the 1950s as gospel group God's Little Wonders aged just 5, 7 and 2 respectively. By the time of their only album the sisters had embraced elements of rock and roll into their repertoire and here, in a reversal of the more common practice, take a secular song ("My Baby Loves Me" by Martha & the Vandellas) and give it a glorious religious make-over.

8.  Archie Shepp - "Attica Blues" (1972)
Two weeks after George Jackson was killed in San Quentin, 43 people died during riots in New York's Attica Prison. The title track of saxophonist Shepp's Attica Blues is a righteous, defiant, fist-raising soul stirrer. With Henry Hull on lead vocals, it's as funky as hell.

9.  Five Thirty - "Out To Get In" (1991)
Last month I included Ride and they've subsequently reformed. Gonna try and repeat the trick with their superior Oxford neighbours Five Thirty whose 12 inch extra tracks were better than most band's singles. 

10.  John Sinclair - "Straight No Chaser" (2014)
Best known as MC5 manager, White Panther Party founder and counter-culture pot stirrer, Sinclair is also a poet, journalist, performer and major jazz head (check out It's All Good - A John Sinclair Reader for a good sample of his work) . On latest album Mohawk he raps beat poetry in an evangelical manner, backed by a small jazz combo, about Bird. Monk and Dizzy. It's passionate, warm and inspiring; part history lesson, part heartfelt tribute.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


I admit this is a very niche post even, by MonkeyPicks standards, but if you're within touching distance of Clapton, East London on Saturday 29th November (unlikely I know), you are cordially invited to join Long John, Miles and myself for the latest edition of Jukebox 7"s.

Biddle Brothers is a cool bar and always a good friendly atmosphere in there with us three (and Reggie the Parrot) playing records in a haphazard higgledy piggledy manner, meaning you could get anything from James Brown to the Byrds to Elastica to Ramsey Lewis to Jilted John to the Masters Apprentices.

Shake yer tail feather Reggie!    

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


It’s 15 December 1979 and The Jam are in Brighton seeing out their most successful year to date with a gig promoting their fourth album, Setting Sons. Thirty seconds into the penultimate song of the night and “Heatwave” begins to collapse around them as fans clamber on stage. There’s a cry of “wanker” in the background before Paul Weller spits into the mic, “You can get the kids off stage but don’t fucking smash ‘em about, all right.” These kids are his people and loyalty works both ways. With his bitterness rising there’s more frustrated swearing and then “Fuck ‘Heatwave’, fuck the lot of it”. Knuckles tighten. The tension rises. Some more shits and fucks and a seething Weller slashes his guitar strings through an incendiary “’A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” that ends a show that for over 70 minutes bristled with fire and intensity.

There are many reasons to be thankful The Jam have never reformed and hearing how passionately driven they were during this 21-song gig included in the new 4-disc Setting Sons: The Super Deluxe Edition is a particularly compelling one. In three years’ time the band spilt when Weller’s heart wasn’t in it and there’s been no going back. One can’t recreate the past (okay, I’m talking about the band at the centre of a mod revival here but bear with me) and one definitely can’t recapture that special youthful idealism and arrogance as Weller, then only 21, was already perceptive enough to realise. The themes of age and aging and change peppered his lyrics throughout The Jam’s lifetime, right from their first single, but were especially prevalent during ’79 both with Setting Sons and the stand-alone single “When You’re Young” which warned the band’s young following their dreams and optimism of being grown up would soon be smashed when they realised the world was their oyster but their future a clam. Thanks Paul.  

It’s a toss-up between Setting Sons and The Gift as to my favourite Jam album but I don’t often listen to either often – there’s too much new stuff to discover than to spend time raking over old coals - yet being immersed in this set for the last week has been hugely rewarding to rediscover how good The Jam were, especially during this period. It’s easy to forget, to take them for granted. Weller’s lyrics on “Private Hell”, “Burning Sky”, “Wasteland” etc are among the best of his career and The Jam solidified their sound.

Much of the album, the best parts, was a semi-materialised concept about three reunited friends looking at how their lives had changed from the days when they thought they’d stick together for all time; before faces that were once so beautiful became barely recognisable and the men got bald and fat. All that felt an impossibly long way into the future for the kids at the Brighton Centre but young Weller saw it coming.

Disc 1 of this Super Deluxe Edition is the standard Setting Sons album plus eight non-album period singles and B-sides – “Strange Town”, “When You’re Young”, “The Eton Rifles” (slightly different to album version; basically shorter) and “Going Underground” which, with “Dreams of Children,” really belongs with Sound Affects. In Tony Fletcher’s memoir Boy About Town he recalls his classmates celebrating “Going Underground” hitting number one as if their team had won the cup. It was a scene replicated across schools in the UK. They – band and audience – had done it. It was a band for the kids but not a kids’ band. 

Disc 2 features 18 demos and alternate versions – 14 previously unreleased – and a John Peel session. Fourteen unreleased tracks sounds tempting but don’t expect too many surprises. For the most part they are rough and ready run-throughs; Weller the focus with perfunctory bass and drums. Not much changes other than extra oomph by the final versions, although one take of “Strange Town” has an almost ska rhythm which fortunately disappeared before it made the shops. There are two unfamiliar titles - “Simon” and “Along The Grove” - which unless I’ve missed something will be new to most. “Simon” is a sedately paced song about a shy schoolboy due to start work. There’s a kernel of a decent song there but some of the lyrics are a bit clunky and even if it had been finished would’ve struggled to find space on Setting Sons. “Along The Grove” is far superior. Packed with poetic lines it tells of a lonely, alienated man returning from war considering suicide; it’s haunting, affecting and would’ve sat perfectly on the album. The demo here isn’t complete and Weller growls in frustration as it falls away. Tantalising.    

The Brighton Centre gig is disc 3 and is also available in its own right as a stand-alone 2-LP vinyl edition. For me it’s central to the package and well worth getting hold of. I never had the pleasure of seeing The Jam (it still rankles me that others at school, far less deserving, did so) but there a moments which gave me a shiver in the same way Dig The New Breed did in ’83 when I spent hours listening to it whilst perfecting those illustrations on the sleeve of Paul, Bruce and Rick to adore school books and every available blank space.

Disc 4 is a DVD of the promo videos, six Top of the Pops performances and two clips from Something Else. The box also includes a hardback 70-page book with cuttings, new interviews and rare photos; four prints; a replica 1979 tour programme; a replica 1979 fan club magazine; a teas maid; set of oven gloves; a fondue set and a cuddly toy. I’ve only had access to the music so can’t comment on how worthwhile this stuff is but if you’re a middle aged man in need of a black and white photo of Rick Buckler than I’d start worrying. The Jam were always conscious about giving value for money, not filling their albums with singles, so to have sets packed with useless paraphernalia like this to increase the sale price, when all that really matters is the music, does stick in the craw a bit.     

The Jam drew a clear distinction between us and them; between young and old; rich and poor; the classes; even length of hair or whether people were in employment. Weller in Brighton snidely introduces “Smithers-Jones” as being “for anyone with long hair and who works”, which was harsh on Bruce Foxton. The irony now of course is age has meant a switch of sides for many but for The Jam, forever stuck in 1977-82, aged 18-23, they’ve kept their passion, their soul, their fire. Whatever the softening in some of Paul Weller’s attitudes and integrity over the years – even he’s not immune to compromise and the shifting priorities of age - he’s resolutely stuck to his guns and kept The Jam untarnished by age. More than any other band I think of, The Jam were, and will always, be about the young idea.  

Setting Sons: The Super Deluxe Edition, The Deluxe Edition and Live At The Brighton Centre by The Jam are released on Monday 17th November 2014 by Polydor/Universal.
Top photo: Paul Weller meets Paul Crud, 1979.

Monday, 3 November 2014


A new release featuring previously unreleased recordings by The Action. I can't think of a sentence I'd sooner type for you, and there it is, in all it's glory. A few words which read sweeter than Reggie King tackling an Impressions song. In a few short weeks, on 8th December to be precise, discerning turntables will spin in unison as ears catch their first listen to these miraculous discoveries. I don't usually reproduce press releases but will make an exception here whilst I have a lie down....

Four previously unreleased tracks by the ultimate ACTION recorded during 1964 and 1965, on both vinyl and CD EP.

We all tried our hand at getting that Motown sound you know... all the bands in the mid ‘60s. 
The best ones at it were the Action... They were an amazing band.” - Steve Marriott, 1987.

Alongside the Small Faces and the Who, London’s ACTION were undoubtedly Britain’s premier mod band during the mid 1960s, and their chain of five singles for Parlophone from October 1965 to June 1967 are venerated as one of the finest runs of 45s of the period (or indeed of any period really). Subsequent releases of the group’s material such as The Ultimate Action, Rolled Gold, Uptight And Outasight and CD repackages of the band’s EMI output, plus the Action’s period of reformation, have endeared the group to a huge swell of post 60s fans and the band command a level of respect and adulation rarely bestowed on many other groups of their era. Sadly with the aforementioned slew of records and CDs the well of archive Action material appeared to have run dry...until now that is!

The excellent book on the Action In The Lap Of The Mods, published in 2012, shed light on a previously rarely documented aspect of the Action’s recording career, specifically their audition for the Decca record company in May 1965. Indeed some copies of the book included a limited edition vinyl 45 extracted from an acetate recently discovered from that audition, which was a supreme version of the Temptations ‘Why You Wanna Make Me Blue’. That recording, taped six months before their EMI debut, makes a welcome re-appearance here and also emerges on CD for the first time. Unbelievably since the book came out another acetate from that Decca session has surfaced, one side of which features a wonderful interpretation of one of many people’s favourite Action tracks ‘In My Lonely Room’, which incredibly surpasses the later recording for Parlophone and has a real ‘live’ feel to it. Coupled with ‘In My Lonely Room’ was a fine rendition of the Impressions’ ‘You’ll Want Me back’, which finds the Action in a more mellow blue eyed soul groove and showcases perhaps the most Reggie King’s leap in vocal prowess in the comparative short space of time since the band’s recordings for Pye as the Boys barely six months previous.

Not that the Boys’ single for Pye was a slouch – far from it – and Top Sounds round off the EP with another previously undocumented recording. Committed to acetate during their time as the Boys was one of Reggie King’s earliest compositions, and ‘Fine Looking Girl’exposes further the pre-emptive Action in rather good form indeed.

Restored to the best possible standard from the original acetates, the four selections on In My Lonely Room are a fascinating, important and invaluable document of the emergent Action during late 1964 and 1965, and Top Sounds are justifiably elated to place these portentous recordings together for the first time. With the blessing of Action drummer Roger Powell, help from In the Lap Of The Mods authoress Jane Shepherd and delivered in full vintage 60s style packaging courtesy of Bruce Brand, In My Lonely Room is sure to excite Action fans everywhere and in all probability – unfortunately – may well be the final release of ‘new’ vintage Action recordings. Your last chance to catch some new unbelievable ACTION!