Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Here’s a picture of Art Brut beginning their five night residency at the Lexington yesterday. Not a good photo but it does capture a little of the atmosphere.
I love how bass player Freddy Feedback (unfortunately missed off the photo) beams and sings along to herself as if Jim has fixed it for her to play with her favourite band, and with ringmaster Eddie Argos shouting his drunken confessionals and ad-libbing the songs into unexpected directions, like the ten minute improvised version of “Modern Art” when he goes into the audience and gets everyone – bar us and a couple of ex-These Animal Men – to sit down, more Jackanory than James, there’s not a moment you’re safe to nip to the loo without fear of missing some tomfoolery. Argos wonders aloud why people don’t take Art Brut seriously…
Fourth album Brilliant! Tragic! is still seeping in to the memory but rowdy newies like “Axl Rose” and latest 45 “Lost Weekend”, which although rehashes a stack of familiar Argos themes centred on drunken sex, adopts a more Cockeresque delivery, slotted in next to old singles and swathes from what must now be considered their “classic” debut Bang Bang Roll & Roll.
In a pairing as perfect as Eric and Ernie, earlier in the evening were The Lovely Eggs. I wrote last week how they won over a pub of drunks on a Friday at midnight but more impressively they repeated the trick to a sober room on a Monday at half eight. Opener “People Are Twats” was met with an awkward and confused silence but song by song people cottoned on, and from an ugly duckling grew a beautiful swan. Fucking hell. On that shamefully dreadful analogy and until I think of a better way to end this, here’s another blurry photo.
Sunday, 29 May 2011
From the offices (that’ll be the kitchen) of Monkey Mansions this month.
1. Al Tousan – “Whirlaway” (1958)
Allen Toussaint’s first single. A rollin’ and a tumblin’ New Orleans piano boogie that would have Jools Holland frothing at the mouth and even more incomprehensible than usual.
2. Brother Jack McDuff – “What'd I Say” (1966)
Brother Jack’s A Change Is Gonna Come is a hipster’s shady: half a pint of jazz and half a pint of soul; with a swift blues chaser for good measure.
3. Spencer Wiggins – “Lonely Man” (1967)
Wiggins was, and is, even less celebrated than his Memphis soul brother and Goldwax label mate James Carr. Both shockingly under appreciated.
4. Big Maybelle – “Do Lord” (1968)
It says 1968 on the label but this gospel belter could be from ten, twenty years earlier or ten, twenty years later. Record of the month. (Type it into YouTube).
5. Ann Bailey – “Sweeping Your Dirt Under My Rug” (1973)
From the new Kent compilation Manhattan Soul. Not played the rest, just went straight to this due to the title and wasn’t disappointed.
6. The Rezillos – “Somebody’s Gonna Get They Head Kicked In Tonight” (1978)
Not sure the sight of a bunch of camp glam punkers is very threatening but this is infectious stuff; as is the whole of Can’t Stand The Rezillos. They even polished one of Dave Clark’s turds which is some achievement.
7. Suede – “Killing Of A Flash Boy” (1993)
Seeing as I saw Suede play three different albums this month, it’s only right to pick one of theirs. They did this as an encore on two occasions. Not bad for a B-side.
8. The Balcony Shirts Band – “Taarabt’s Too Good For You” (2011)
A song made by suburban shopkeepers, about a West London football team, named after a maverick Moroccan, makes the iTunes Country Top 20. The reviewer from the Guardian called it “the ‘Hickory Wind’ of football songs.” I so wish I’d thought of that.
9. John Baker – “Rain Falls Down” (2011)
The ghost of Ronnie Lane smiles knowingly over John Baker’s shoulder on his fine debut Merry Go Round album. That said, “Rain Falls Down” is more “Dead Flowers” than “Debris".
10. The Silver Factory – “Tomorrow’s Today” (2011)
The forthcoming Silver Factory LP is the Stone Roses/Byrdsy record I’ve been desperate for someone to make – now they have. When it comes out I’ll tell you more, but for now make a note in your moleskin.
Saturday, 28 May 2011
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Of all the things I’ve posted on here, the most successful in terms of response has been The Lovely Eggs video “Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It)”. Everyone loved it. Others posted it on their sites and blogs, cynical aging indie heads became misty-eyed, parents claimed their kids sing it in the playground, even punters in northern soul clubs told me how brilliant they thought it. It just goes to show the universal appeal of a noisy racket with daft lyrics and a catchy tune.
Further proof of The Lovely Eggs charm was in evidence on Friday night. Holly (singing and guitaring, David speaking and drumming) stepped on to a dark stage in a pub full of non-paying customers, most of whom didn’t know who they were (nor care), and immediately hooked everyone with the tone-setting “People Are Twats”.
They plundered LPs If You Were Fruit and Cob Dominos, scattering a ramshackle mix of what old fuddy-duddies might call “proper songs” and random nursery rhyme nonsense like the 13 seconds of “Muhammed Ali and His Friends”. The albums make a wonky kind of logic but here Holly helpfully explains what some songs are about: mostly the boredom and drudgery of shit jobs like working for a print shop or local newspaper. “I Want To Fall Off My Bike Today” chuggingly repeats the title for a minute and was inspired by a friend breaking his collar bone and getting six week off work, so they wrote about it. “There wasn’t much more to say”, says Holly. Songs can start sweetly sung sing-song style but soon switch to a grungey Sonic Youth/Hole temper tantrum. New single “Fuck It” burns slowly then catches fire in the brain like that poor woman in the stroke advert. Others – some even without swearing - are instantly memorable odes to unlikely subjects like beef bourguignon or collecting snails.
The whole set was impossible not to love. I’ve not smiled at a gig as much since I first saw Eddie Argos use his microphone lead as a skipping rope in Art Brut. They aren’t a comedy act as such; just naturally funny and deliver madcap songs with unexpected comic twists and simple truths. They received a well-deserved and genuine encore for their trouble. Not the usual one bands give themselves because two mates clapped either, but one from strangers desperate for more. “We don’t get that at home in Lancashire. That’s why we’re on tour – we’ve been run out of town”.
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
As YouTube is a Dylan-free zone, here instead is a picture of the birthday boy enjoying himself, and a list of the first ten songs that spring to mind. If you don’t own them, have a word with yourself. Happy birthday Bobby.
Positively 4th Street
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Sad-Eyed Lady of The Lowlands
She’s Your Lover Now
Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues
Ballad In Plain D
Not Dark Yet
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
Love Minus Zero/No Limits
Saturday, 21 May 2011
In 1971 Swamp Dogg triumphantly rode a giant white rat on the cover of Rat On! to an unimpressed public. Before then, as plain Jerry Williams (or variations of) he flitted between record labels cutting a string of 45s with varying degrees of commercial failure. Even now, still working hard, he largely evades the soul radar.
It’s All Good gathers a selection of his singles (from both eras) and a couple of unissued tracks to give a handy introduction or another chapter, depending where one joins us, to his story. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of northern soul will be familiar, over-familiar perhaps, with “If You Ask Me (Because I Love You)” recorded as Little Jerry Williams in 1966, which opens proceedings here. It’s a good song, no question, but I’d love to meet the person responsible for the production and the recording. It’s so bad I always thought it was down to badly pressed bootlegs but Kent’s expert mastering still can’t rescue it. The backing vocals sound like they were recorded a bathroom, the majority of the band were next door with a microphone pressed to the wall, and Jerry was stood in a vast gymnasium with only the drummer for company. This is more a mystery when you hear the earlier “Baby You’re My Everything”, also cut for Calla Records, where the production and arrangement work beautifully to compliment Williams’s soulful yearning. Also on a soul tip is “Baby Bunny (Sugar Honey)”, far more graceful than the horrific title suggests, and his reading of “Oh Lord, What Are You Doing To Me?” is a stop-what-you’re-doing three minutes.
Throughout the rest of the 60s tracks Williams tried his hand writing exuberant Little Richard style rockers, dance fad numbers, soul shakers and anything else to bring in a buck. It’s all enjoyable but in truth had little to elevate him above hundreds of similar acts at the time. Not that that bothers us now and he does possess a distinctive voice, somewhere south of a down home Jackie Wilson, and the jazzy swing of the offbeat “The 1965 King Size Nicotine Blues” had a uniqueness that might’ve caught on had it not been stuck as a flipside. For the enterprising club DJ It’s All Good gives a nudge in the direction of a handful of other possibilities.
Creating the larger than life persona of Swamp Dogg didn’t provide label stability but it did secure a more distinctive character. With his tongue often planted in his cheek, there’s loads of humour in “Wife Sitter”, where with a Joe Tex cackle, he mocks “Why should I get a wife? As long as you got one, I’ll use yours” and the bizarre “Right Arm For Your Love” (“Bop-shoo-bop, Baby I’d chop, off my right arm for your love”). His disposition to giving albums silly titles and being photographed in shorts with rats, maggots and dustbins overshadow some seriously good music. The mellow southern soul groove and eyebrow raising lyrics of 1975’s “Did I Come Back Too Soon (Or Stay Away Too Long)” being a prime example. As cheating songs go, this one has an unexpected twist. Let’s just say his lady was not found with another man.
Although covering the years until 1989, there’s only one track from that decade – so fear not, and that’s tucked at the end, track twenty four. What precedes it, as the title so accurately states, is – and you know this is coming - all good.
It’s All Good by Swamp Dogg is released by Kent Records. Review written for, and first appeared on, Modculture.
Sunday, 15 May 2011
Saturday, 14 May 2011
Whenever I read a fanzine I briefly hanker for my old fanzine producing days. Then I remember how much easier it is doing Monkey Picks and the idea gets dismissed, so full credit to those keeping the faith.
One Two Five comes from a mod/60’s direction but with a focus on new bands is firmly set in the present day, with a strong local (County Antrim) flavour. It won’t win any design prizes, very much a made-and-printed-at-home affair but its spirit and enthusiasm overcome that. It also makes a pleasant change to read someone prepared to tell it like it is. In a small scene like the mod one it’s not easy to do without ruffling peacock feathers, so again, credit for that.
Among all the bands are a few that caught my eye and look worthy of further investigation. Top of the list is Argentinian combo The Omelettes. Well, with a name like that. And with a shop name like Mike Hunt Classic Clothing, the next time I’m in Belfast, I’ll pop in. But the highlight is an interview with the late Mark Tulin of legendary (think they’re just about worthy of that title) garage psychsters, The Electric Prunes. Their relationship with producer Dave Hassinger makes interesting reading. “He discouraged us from writing songs. He told us we stunk. As a matter of fact, for some of the songs that are on the album, we had to go in and cut demos, bring them in and tell him someone else wrote them.”
Twenty four full colour A4 pages, priced three quid. Search for it via eBay or contact email@example.com for further details.
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Four songs into The Seeds eponymous debut album came “Evil Hoodoo”. On a record stuffed with searing garage punk it stands as its highlight, even overshadowing the certified classic “Pushin’ Too Hard”. Clocking in at five minutes, it’s twice as long as the rest of the tracks and like most Seeds songs is simple and repetitive, yet here breathtakingly effective: rib shaking fuzzed up bass takes off like a jet plane with a broken engine; Sky Saxon yodels and babbles a steam of incomprehensible lyrics; disembodied chanting floats in and out of earshot; a tambourine is shaken to an inch of its life; razor sharp guitar lines pierce the skin; an organ and piano take alternate poundings; a harmonica is blown by a force nine gale; and a drum kit is bashed over a fiery cacophony of satanic stirrings.
Recorded on 1st April 1966, that five minutes now – thanks to a new limited edition 10 inch single release by the saints at Big Beat/Ace Records - turns out to be a mere edited version. The full length one is an incredible FOURTEEN minutes. Now, I’m usually the first to champion brevity, and one song the best part of a quarter of an hour is frankly an indulgence best avoided, but not in this case – it simply makes it three times better than the original. It is relentless. Not once does it slow down and pause for breath. Sky never considers saying “I wanna take it down one time”. The band never breaks into a trippy interlude. They chug away at a frantic pace until they’re spent. An exhilarating once in a lifetime ride.
If that wasn’t enough, side two features another couple of unreleased gems in “Satisfy You”, (without the dubbed crowd noises that blighted Raw and Alive), and an alternative take of “Out Of The Question”. Ordinarily I’d be raving about these – they’re both excellent – but fourteen minutes of “Evil Hoodoo” is, and I know I’m prone to exaggeration but you gotta believe me this time, the final word in psychotic garage punk.
“Evil Hoodoo” by The Seeds is released by Big Beat Records.
Sunday, 8 May 2011
This was made by the staff at Balcony Shirts, who downed their t-shirt making tools to produce a tribute to QPR’s promotion to the Premier League. Football songs are almost exclusively rubbish, especially if not for your favoured team, but not many sound like The Band and Teenage Fanclub huddled around a barbecue on Shepherd’s Bush Green. I promise this’ll be the last football related post for a very long time, so kindly allow this indulgence. Any involvement by the Raison family is entirely coincidental.
Saturday, 7 May 2011
Been suffering from laptop trauma this week, hence the lack of posts but I've now added a box on the left hand side of this page where readers can type their email address and receive all new posts directly to their inbox.
So, if you're desperate to know when a barman who served Jack Kerouac publishes his memoirs; it's the birthday of one of The Temptations; or that I've found a 1991 YouTube clip of Birdland at the Windsor Old Trout - sign up now.