Friday, 31 December 2010
When Reggie King died in October I was privileged to be asked by Shindig! to write an obituary. The result was more well meaning than well written but is published in the January/February edition. Despite the sub-heading claiming I was a “long-time friend and fan” I should clarify that although we met on a number of occasions I’m certain he never remembered me from one time to the next. I had planned to interview him again for a forthcoming project and am now kicking myself for dilly-dallying. A lesson learned. For The Action to lose both Reg and Mick Evans during 2010 was especially cruel.
The other 83 pages are filled with folk with great hair who weren’t afraid to experiment with music or fashion. I direct you to the photograph of 60’s chancers The Nerve in their suits of polythene and Sellotape. Wear your best underpants. I’ve never really got The Soft Machine but will give them another shot purely on account of how wonderful they look on the cover.
Shindig! is available from good record shops, discerning newsagents and via their website. Priced £4.95.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
As usual, a sample of sounds that have rattled the walls of Monkey Mansions during the past month. I’ve not picked them for the lyrics but quoted them to save thinking of stuff to say. They all work better with the music, which you can hear via the Spotify compilation link below. Enjoy, and don’t be put off by the shocking discovery that four songs are from the 1980s.
1. Little Walter – “Dead Presidents” (1963)
“Well I ain't broke but I'm badly bent/ Everybody loves them dead presidents.”
2. The Hytones – “You Don’t Even Know My Name” (1965)
“Yes, you’ve got a whole lot of fellahs hanging ‘round your door/ So you never know just how my love would be, cos you don’t even notice me.”
3. The Kinks – “People Take Pictures Of Each Other” (1968)
“People take pictures of each other/ and the moment to last them forever/ Of the time when they mattered to someone.”
4. Jerry Jeff Walker – “Pissin’ In The Wind” (1975)
“And we're pissin' in the wind, and it's blowing on all our friends/ We're gonna sit and grin and tell our grandchildren.”
5. The Creatures – “Mad Eyed Screamer” (1981)
“With the chatter in the trees/ Your balls are freezing in the breeze.”
6. Orange Juice – “The Artisans” (1984)
“Gonna trade in my snakeskin boots/ Gonna trade in my rhinestone suit/ 'Cause I'm in cahoots with the Artisans.”
7. The Redskins – “The Power Is Yours” (1986)
“We spend our lives waitin' for someone other than ourselves to make a move.”
8. McCarthy – “Governing Takes Brains” (1989)
“You know to be able to run a government you need a bloody good brain/ To be an MP you must be someone well above the common man.”
9. The Flaming Stars – “Like Trash” (1995)
“Everyone tells you it’s the only way/ If you don’t like it you can go away.”
10. Art Brut – “Good Weekend” (2005)
“I’ve seen her naked/ Twice!”
Click for Spotify Monkey Picks: December 2010 Playlist
Friday, 24 December 2010
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
With the future of London’s 100 Club shakier than my walk home after an all-nighter, this Thursday’s Christmas do by the 6T’s Rhythm and Soul Society is even more essential than usual. All those northern and R&B classics that have sat patiently at the back of record boxes all year get moved to the front and welcomed home like returning old friends.
I’m excited and as you can tell from my 1986 notebook I was pretty excited as a seventeen year old too, which translated into a terrible doodle of Jackie Wilson with his hand joined to his elbow and a funny little moddy bloke with Echo and the Bunnymen hair. The right hand page lists an edition of Peter Young’s Soul Cellar show from Capital Radio which I’d religiously record each week. (Click on the picture to enlarge).
This year’s party runs from 9pm until 2am, Thursday 23rd December, with the admission jumping from £1.50 to a somewhat less attractive £12.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Ray Davies, we are told, can be a cantankerous, contrary old sod so it’s best to approach these things with an open mind. With little idea what to expect beyond the Crouch End Festival Choir are involved I wondered whether Ray might “treat” us to a bunch of Christmas hymns or plug his new duets album by dragging out special guests to massacre “Lola”. I wasn’t expecting two sets crammed with classics performed acoustically, with a small band, and finally with a massive choir (well, I predicted that last part).
He started the first set accompanied by Bill Shanly and they transformed the vast hall into a warm informal get-together in a pub back room. Early Kinks punker “I Need You” was given a thoughtful new arrangement with neat interplay between the two guitarists, whilst more familiar big hits were casually tossed off with Ray in a chatty mood and keen to get the crowd singing along. With his music hall grounding and it being pantomime season I’ll let it pass but I’m never keen on audience participation. It makes me cringe. I want to hear you sing Ray, not these people looking like they’re sat in front of the telly. Do I ask you to come and polish my lathe?
One chap from the back bellowed for “Harry Rag” and was rewarded with a quick off-the-cuff version. If I could've picked one wild-card number to hear it would've been that, so thanks to them both. Another lesser-spotter Kinks moment came with a lovely folksy “Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About My Baby”. His small band emerged (they weren’t dwarves) during “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” and kept things nice and simple before going into the interval with a thumping “20th Century Man”. Ray spent much of the time sat on a stall as his sparrow legs are so skinny they can’t support the weight when a guitar is hung around his neck.
That set had started with a song I didn’t recognize but was then - to the best of my memory - followed by I Need You, Apeman, Autumn Almanac, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, After The Fall, Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About That Girl, Well Respected Man, Dead End Street, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, Vietnam Cowboys, Harry Rag, In A Moment, Tired Of Waiting, a bit of Victoria and the opening passage from X-Ray, and 20th Century Man.
When asked recently about a Kinks reunion Dave Davies said “I think the music is so beautiful it shouldn’t be tainted. It would be a shame. You don’t need to see silly old men in wheelchairs singing ‘You Really Got Me.’” An admirable stance but I wonder what he would’ve made of said song performed by brother Ray and a 50 strong choir during the second set. It was bizarre to see rows of well-to-do ladies and gents putting down their knitting and pipes to sing one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most primitive, guttural blasts from a music sheet. Not how I’d choose my music yet it gave an added dimension and though visually odd and sometimes distracting it was undoubtably effective on “See My Friends” and the selection from Village Green Preservation Society. If I wanted to hear them as per the records I could've stayed at home. There can be a fine line between adapting songs and ruining them but they were always on the right side.
As the dirty old river rolled in front of the Royal Festival Hall and millions of people swarmed like flies around Waterloo underground to the rear, “Waterloo Sunset” was especially emotive and although Ray didn’t mention it I couldn’t have been the only one to think then of Pete Quaife. Rest his soul.
So there you have it. No Santa hats, no Paloma Faith, just a thoroughly enjoyable selection of songs with glorious Kinks numbers easily rubbing shoulders with newer material. In a weekend when Davies wasn’t the only national treasure to perform in London (Paul who?), he was the only one who could top that earlier set with Celluloid Heroes, Victoria, Shangri-La, Imaginary Man, Village Green, Johnny Thunder, Village Green Preservation Society, Working Man’s Café, Sunny Afternoon, See My Friends, You Really Got Me, Postcards From London, Waterloo Sunset, Days, and All Day and All of the Night.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
Small yet perfectly formed, Double Breasted once again demonstrates the art of quality fanzine production. Snappy articles on the current mod scene stretching from Edinburgh and London to New York and Berlin give issue nine a strong international flavour. The highlight though is an interview with Ronnie Jones who talks about fronting the Night-Timers and playing the likes of The Flamingo and The Marquee in the mid-60s.
I couldn’t help but chortle at one question posed to a 44-year old be suited fellow sat astride a lights and mirrored SX125: “Do you think there’s such a thing as a ‘Mod Life Crisis'?” Someone should write a book on that.
Double Breasted issue 9 is available now, priced £3. Find it on Facebook or MySpace.
Monday, 13 December 2010
Every man, woman and blog is doing their end of year “best of” list so here are my favourite 20 songs from 2010. They aren’t in order of preference but sequenced for your listening pleasure. Spotify users click on the link at the bottom.
Oh, if I had to pick only one "Heartbreaker" by Girls just edges "You Are Not Alone" by Mavis Staples. Roky Erickson wins best album for True Love Cast Out All Evil.
The Jim Jones Revue – High Horse
The Vaccines – Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)
Frankie & The Heartstrings – Tender
Girls - Heartbreaker
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – Ain’t Blues Too Sad
The Silver Factory – The Sunshines Over You
Race Horses – Cake
The Black Angels – Telephone
Demon’s Claws – At The Disco
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – No Place To Fall
The School – I Want You Back
Belle and Sebastian – Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
Pete Molinari – Streetcar Named Desire
Paul Weller – Fast Car/Slow Traffic
Gil Scott-Heron – Running
The Coral – Two Faces
The Clientele – Minotaur
Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Say No To Love
Manic Street Preachers – Golden Platitudes
Click Here for Spotify Playlist: Monkey Picks of 2010
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Beat Scene has a cover price of only £4 but each quarter plays havoc with my finances due to its coverage of the latest books by or about Beat Generation writers and associates.
Bill Morgan’s The Typewriter Is Holy (featured last week) is covered in detail including an interview with it’s writer; William Burroughs’s Queer has come out again including a new introduction by Oliver Harris who is also interviewed and along with his recent talk in Hackney compels me to buy it once more; John Clellon Holmes – author of the first published beat novel, Go – is subject of a new book by long standing biographers Ann and Sam Charters who – you guessed it – say their piece too, alongside a lengthy Holmes article by Jaap Van der Bent.
Loads of other stuff squeezed in its 64 advert-free pages.
Buy Beat Scene
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
My finger is nowhere near the pulse of up and coming bands. My hand stays tucked in my pocket, nice and warm and cozy, only occasionally poking for life in the chilly outside world that left me behind over a decade ago when I hung up my “indie DJ” headphones.
But now and again a band cross my radar and catch my attention. Frankie & The Heartstrings are one. To start with, I like their name - it has a ring of Wigan Casino about it. I like they mention Mike Leigh’s Naked in one of their songs and watch Ken Loach films on their tour bus. I like their forthcoming LP is named after Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. I like they are from Sunderland, free from associations with the usual tired cities. All these things score heavily in my book without them even playing a note.
I’m conscious I’m twice the age of most of those here to see them. Predicting this would be the case I shaved before leaving the flat, removing the festive white whiskers from my stubbly chin. It took weeks off me. As I hover around the edges of the club I’m hoping the hip young scenesters think I’m the cool mysterious head of Pieface Records. Instead I bet those even seeing me think I’m the bass player’s – hopefully groovy - Dad. Maybe I could pass for the guitarist from a half remembered Brit Pop band? “I used to be in The Bluetones don’tcha know.” On second thoughts, “that’s my son up there”.
Up there, the Heartstrings and Frankie do their thing and do it well, mixing infectious twitchy pop with epic torch burners. Singer Frankie Francis adopts two stances: a camp spasticated dance that’s less Ian Curtis and more Freddie Garrity for the bouncy songs, and the pained furrowed face of the crystal meth woman for the wounded soul numbers. The later style is more impressive. Not the face but the thoughtful romanticism of “Fragile”, “Ungrateful” and the brass backed “I Want You Back” which elevate them above the latest Orange Juice obsessives. Edwyn Collins’s son is manning the t-shirt stall, which makes perfect sense. It’s all good yet falls short of being exceptional or offering anything unique or inspiring – they’re simply a decent pop band. Nowt wrong with that, and one or two "make it" for a brief moment, but I’m not going to sign them to Pieface. Without a huge investment I can’t see where I’d get my money back (although having Steve Lamacq, Simon Price and Ryan Jarman among the hundred people in attendance on a freezing Monday night suggests they’re being backed by someone). Even megabucks Peter Jones got his fingers burned with Hamfister on Dragons’ Den.
Fortunately for the Heartstrings they’re signed to Pop Sex Ltd/Wichita and don’t need my investment, so I’m out. I shall invest in their album though and play it through the spring when I’m doing the washing up and sing along, annoying Mrs. Monkey with my tuneless caterwauling and incorrect lyrics. I’ll spot them on Later With Jools Holland and go all sniffy because I saw them ages ago and they were better then. In July they’ll open for Pulp in Hyde Park and all us Heartstringers will claim them as our own. Then they’ll get forgotten about, eventually knocking out a second album that I’ll never listen to. Finally, before you know it, some old git is saying “I used to be in Frankie & The Heartstrings don’tcha know” and no one will be any the wiser.
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Friday, 3 December 2010
Four Texas gigs from ’72 edited into one show/film with little fuss or razzmatazz: dark lighting, no props, no audience shots, little chit-chat, just the extended Stones band getting their rocks off to the best of Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street and Beggar’s Banquet.
A glittery eyed Stella Street Mick pouts and preens with one hand on his hip and claps and clucks like a chicken. Snaggle-toothed and panda-haired Keef throws shapes, wears a mean pair of Cuban heels, and cackles that he’s “Happy”. No one pays Bill any mind. The Bobby Keys Soul Revue blows a new arse through “Brown Sugar” and “Bitch”. And Charlie propels them down a straight road allowing Mick Taylor to zigzag along it. I’m not one for guitar heroes but when Taylor lets fly – not with solos but with winding lead lines - in, for example, the often overlooked “All Down The Line” – it’s arguably the Stones at their absolute peak.
Ladies and Gentlemen had a fleeting cinema run in ‘74 but has stayed undercover for much of the time since. It’s no Gimme Shelter or Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus but with extras including a rehearsal of “Shake Your Hips”, “Tumbling Dice” and an improvised jam - playing together in a tight circle – plus Jagger interviews old and new, it’ll keep the royalties trickling in for a bit longer.
Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones is released on DVD by Eagle Vision.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
The jacket of Bill Morgan’s book proudly boasts as being “The complete, uncensored history of the Beat Generation”, which asks two questions: can any biography be considered complete and if this is uncensored, what has previously been censored?
Morgan pulls off an impressive feat of editing the lives of its key protagonists: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac, plus their associates, into just 250 pages that zip by. He manages to combine their overlapping lives with conciseness yet provides clarity lacking in similar works, not shying away from Allen’s orgies, Bill’s drug use or Jack’s drinking.
Morgan has studied the Beats for over forty years and that knowledge shows itself in some of the extra detail and correcting of previous misinformation. For example, the killing of their friend David Kammerer: I always thought he was stabbed to death yet he died only after his body was dumped in the Hudson River. Also the death of Neal Cassady’s girlfriend Natalie Jackson after slashing her wrists and jumping off a building is given extra background detail. Cassady, as ever, doesn’t come across in a good light.
The Typewriter Is Holy focuses on their topsy-turvy lives, from the 1940s to the end of the 60s, rather than their works, and as with the stories above can be read as a stand-alone introduction into what can seem a confusing myriad of characters. It’s as complete and uncensored as you’ll need to start picking through the addictive Beat universe.
The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete Uncensored History of the Beat Generation by Bill Morgan is published by Free Press, priced $28.