Friday, 28 December 2012

Heavy Bass

          Now sorry for the interruption in service.... tech problems and all that plus the usual seasonal stuff. Anyway enough excuses - we ended up with Terry Callier going out to the cosmos last time and now sadly it's Fontella Bass, possibly soul music's finest moniker.

          Elsewhere they'll overdo Rescue Me - a fine dancer though it is it was almost irredeemably ruined for me when I saw Cilla doing it on some eighties TV show, miming whilst sailing up the Mersey in a lifeboat, never one for subtlety Ms Black. Anyway there was always so much more to Fontella than that one hit - so in tribute and in hope of widening her appeal beyond cheesy sixties compilations here's one of her pieces that she did in the early seventies with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. What a voice and another one to fly up there with Terry.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

You're gonna miss your candyman

          I drove into work this morning listening to Terry Callier. On arrival I read that he’d died in the past few days and it perhaps had more of an effect than these things normally do. I can’t claim that I’m one of those people who dug him right from the start – there’s not many of those about – but like many I started hearing him during my Acid Jazz years and he’s been a constant presence since. Ordinary Joe is one of the most humane, beautiful songs going and the man could throw an effortless groove together and mix it with his thoughtful, deeply soulful voice pretty much every time he turned on a mike. His songwriting is up there in the stellar region and it’s a crying shame that he never ever got the recognition that much lesser talents found so easily.
          I’m proud of the fact that he was ‘rediscovered’ by my generation of fellow travellers in the mod/soul/stylist/acid jazz scene and gave him at least some of the lift he so badly deserved. On a personal basis his mellow voice has got me through some pretty lousy times and I’ll hold him dear for that if nothing else. The aforementioned Ordinary Joe is a favourite of my kids, and they’re pretty hard to please when it comes to being converted to their dad’s taste.
          So here’s to Terry. A mighty shade of blue, a brother to everyone, a man with few equals. 
          Let him have the last words…  "You can make accessible music and still sing about love and peace and truth and life and death. In the end, those are the only things that matter."

something old
something newer

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Punk and The Modfather (part 1)

          This is a tale that's been a long time coming - I've sort of blocked myself from telling it to anyone much for the last twenty years because, for a number of years before that, I bored everyone rigid with it.... Now prompted by a comment by Monkey over at Monkey Picks I'm coming out. It all starts back in 83 and I was just getting home from working at the local dole office, another drudgy day with nothing much to look forward to... as I walked through the back door of my parent's small-town fenland house that I'd reluctantly moved back to, my mum shouts to me
           'Someone on the 'phone for you...',
           'Oh right,' I call back disinterestedly, 'Who ?',
           'Paul Weller...'
           What ???
           My mum is on the phone talking to Paul Weller ???? You've never seen someone move from the back door so fast, grab the phone and still have time to process the thought that this is probably a wind up from one of my mates. But the first words were enough to confirm who it was - lord knows I'd listened to enough interviews with him to know what he sounded like.

          So rewind a bit - at the time I was writing a lot of stuff for a fanzine called (sorry it's an awful name really) 'Summer Fun (In Violent Times)' - a sort of mod / surf / psych / punk 'zine with a circulation rather smaller than our ambition. Whatever the readership it did allow us access to a lot of bands and gigs, mostly for free, so we certainly had the motivation. A couple of months before I'd interviewed the late and most lamented Vaughn Toulouse (previously of Guns for Hire and Department S), who was then fronting the Main T Posse on Weller's Respond label, along with his backing singers whose names shamefully escape me . Serendipitously a few weeks later I was at the 100 Club and bumped into one of those self same backing singers who started chatting and introduced me to her boyfriend - one Mick Talbot - already pretty pissed before the bands came on....along with a very nice lady from Polydor Records who turned out to be the Style Council's press person. I blagged her phone number off her, told her I wanted to interview Weller (much as I like Mick's keyboard work I figured that he wasn't going to be the interesting one....) and she asked me to send a few back copies in to her. I did, sat back, expected to hear nothing and didn't.

          Then that 'phone rang and instead of some Polydor apparatchik it was Weller himself who'd taken the trouble to call me up and ask me if I fancied getting up to the Smoke to interview him. We chatted for a bit - well, I suspect he chatted for a bit, I was way too monosyllabic with shock - and made a date, said goodbye and hung up. I think at that point I probably started wondering if I'd imagined it all. 

          My mum stood grinning at me in the doorway - she knew exactly how much that call had meant and was quite proud of herself for having had a chat with the man herself. After all she'd endured years of my Jam obsession. She declared him 'very polite'.

          Two weeks or so later I'm on the train up to London, best clobber on, girlfriend and her brother in tow. She if anything is way more starstruck than I am, I'm trying to play it cool. She's about to dump me for Paul should he so much as look in her direction.

          We find the Polydor offices, Paul comes out after about two minutes - with press woman Lee who I'd met previously - and suggests we go and sit out in the nearby square since it's so sunny. My girlfriend nearly faints at the sight of him. I'm thinking this is great, not only do I get to interview him but other people get to see me doing it ! That was important in those days.

          On the short walk over it's apparent that Paul has read and liked the fanzine - he talks a bit about a piece we'd done on Thee Milkshakes and how he likes their early Beatles in Hamburg sound. I'd love to hear a Weller/Billy Childish collaboration, I guess that there's still time. 

          So we sit in the sun, my old tape player hopefully grabbing every word - I haven't listened back to the interview in a long while, though I still have the tape - Weller is more than free with his time and I can remember having to flip the C90 over at some point so I guess we had him for well over an hour. He was direct, funny (not something that usually gets said about him I know), thoughtful , honest and most of all very generous with his time to a young wannabe who asked him stunningly naive questions and a girl who sat there just gazing at him (Hi Hayley wherever you are !). I tried to scan some of the interview - but to be honest it's not great journalism and the print has faded a lot in the last 28 or so years, happy to send a photocopy if you still want it Monkey !.

          What strikes me now is that he must have been about 26 at the time. It was the first year of The Style Council's life and he was still getting some heavy flak from the national music papers for having broken up The Jam. He was heavily into 'youth' as a concept at the time and I guess that him spending his time with us was a good a way as any of putting his ideas into action. Most of all what struck me was just how normal he seemed (what had I expected???) but it was hard sometimes to get past the bloke I'd seen on stage numerous times in front of an almost fanatical army of fans to get to the skinny, casually dressed guy not much older than me  (OK, casual but as ever his attention to what he wore was obvious - even if it was only jeans and a short sleeved tartan Ben Sherman).

          From my point of view we could have spent the rest of the day talking but he had to get on eventually - my girlfriend gave him a box of after-eight type chocolates that she'd found called 'Cappuccino's' and he handed them around. And that, we thought, was that....but it wasn't.....there was still much more to come, of which I shall tell later...

          And this is what the day looked like through my Olympus Trip !

note the state of the art recording equipment....

...and I don't think I was ever good enough after this....

Heavily underrated - time for a re-evaluation....

Monday, 15 October 2012

Wish that I knew what I know now...

          Once again I come late to things, courtesy of a CD burnt a while back by a much better informed friend. And maybe now it's come into it's own because of that distance between the last rays of summer and the onset of that bloody cold autumn rain, but this song has been playing on heavy rotation as the leaves pile up outside the back door and the skies darken far too quickly in the evening. I have no idea whether it's a good thing that Jon Allen sounds like Rod Stewart and I'd be pretty amazed if I was the first person who remarked on that, but this is just a lovely song that makes me feel happier about the evenings drawing in. I know it's almost a Faces pastiche - I know ! But it's The Faces when they were really really good !

          Perhaps it also has something to do with the almost constant playing of Slim Chance in the car recently - I just have this yearning (and absolutely not nostalgia, because I was too young...) for some good uncomplicated adult sounding pop songs that have that wonderfully evocative feel, woodsmoke and waistcoats, the sort that aren't bloody Mumford and Sons and their gurning relentless 'authenticity'.

          Plus of course I am a complete sucker for anything with a swirling Hammond organ.

          Anyway, make your mind up - here's a twofer - something old and something new. Not Rod but Ronnie, but doing a song he wrote for The Faces anyway. Light the fire, wrap up snugly in an old blanket, play the music and wait for Britt Ekland to pop round for a cup of Bovril...

It's almost like Rod was still alive.....

Who can't love Ronnie ?

Friday, 12 October 2012

State of Independence

          Prince Roy Bates has died – now the name probably doesn’t mean a lot to most people, it didn’t to me, but I remembered his exploits from a very young age. I have no time whatsoever for titles but if you’re going to have one then make it as worthless and wonderful as this one.
         Prince Roy was the would-be pirate radio founder who originally set up Radio Essex offshore in the sixties and was subsequently closed down in that most pernicious of moves by the British government – much as Tony Benn has much to recommend himself this was certainly not his finest hour as Postmaster General. So, setting out to find a base further afield in international waters Roy came upon an abandoned second world war fort some seven miles off the coast of Suffolk. You can only assume that he fell in love with the hulking concrete beast set in the middle of the North Sea or maybe had watched Passport to Pimlico one too many times, because he abandoned his plans for more broadcasting and instead proclaimed it the principality of Sealand. The UK Government of course took him to court. They lost. Roy declared himself Prince and his wife Princess and with their son they set about making the relic a home.
          In 1975 a German, backed by Austrian and Dutch mercenaries in, amazingly, a helicopter and speedboats, tried to invade and take over. Initially they took Roy hostage but were overwhelmed by the superior Sealand Special Forces and in turn they were taken hostage by the Bates family - in a rather wonderful move they persuaded the German to take out a Sealand passport and then retrospectively charged him with treason ! An incident which ended up with representatives of the German government travelling to Sealand to negotiate.
Prisoners of the Prince - looking like extras from a seventies  low budget action film

          Plenty big enough to live on the place had no electricity so they restored the old generators, they kept watch day and night for invaders, they looked for and found their own beautifully warped freedom in an ever more conformist world. Roy designed the country's flag, currency, stamps and passports. Few recognised it as a country in it’s own right but who cared?

           Latterly they kept themselves afloat (sic) by selling more wonderfully worthless aristocratic titles to the principality – mind you, they are at least honest about it unlike most of the titles handed out back on the mainland. You can get one here should you be so inclined. 

          It was such a good idea that even organised crime got in on the act – in the eighties a Spanish ex Guardia Civil was arrested for running a scam selling fake Sealand passports, diplomatic plates and so on – how crazy is that, selling fakes of what were presumably worthless documents in the first place? Anyway, he seemed to do OK out of it – at one point he was thought to have sold 4000 Sealand passports to citizens of the then Brit colony of Hong Kong…at £1000 each ! To top it all he ran the whole operation out of a bingo hall in Madrid…. He had, I should stress, no connection to the true and rightful prince of Sealand.

         The principality was often talked about when I was at school – the idea that someone with enough imagination could do this, the practicalities of doing it and the spark that it set that one day we might try to do the same. We might have been born too late for the heyday of the pirates but we knew a brilliantly crazy idea when we saw it. Something of a legend and one worth passing on. Roy once said 'I might die young or I might die old, but I'll never die of boredom' - would that we could all say the same !

          Here's Art Brut's take on the micronation. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

What is it good for ?

          Well, there's not been a lot to shout about (or write about) 'round these here parts of late since the place has been akin to a plague pit with all of us at one point or another falling victim to rather foul bugs, which are now thankfully on the way out. But this being a bit of a Marines' town due to the commando training camp up the road we found the following rather amusing - it's probably been all over the internet by now but it bears repetition. I wish they were all like that on a Friday night.

          If those experiments had worked then we may have had world peace, but we'd never have had the mighty mighty War ! Difficult to call that one in the end....


Sunday, 30 September 2012


Colder here than there - brrrr

           Sorry, it's been one of those weeks where there's not much to say so there's little else I can do today but recommend that you go visit The Insects That Are Not Aliens Surfing Club - not your usual surf site, wonderful pictures that either are or seem to be out of time, strange films, warped words and a good slab of 'sixties garage bands from this Australian site which shows the mellower outsider side of the scene... makes you want to be in off the rocks or hanging by the beach ....but in a paisley shirt that would get you beaten up at most of the breaks I ever surfed when I was there. Leave it on in the background and you've got good music to (not) work by...

          It's a bit coals to Newcastle (NSW) but this one's for brother Kent down on the flip side, keep up the good work....

Monday, 24 September 2012

Ain't It Funny....

          Well, hello there…. it’s been one of those weekends – a weekend of clearing, decluttering, throwing out, trashing and generally trying to reinvent a room. The weather helped at first, it was gloomy, rain-lashed, grey and decidedly stay-indoors. My mood started enthusiastically but got more and more like the weather as the day wore on and the boxes of forgotten stuff poured out onto the rather over-designed faux Axminster carpet. It was perhaps a day which was better in the approach than the execution and which left me feeling more like closing the doors than throwing them open with a newly discovered pride at the possibilities of the room.

          The room in question is currently a combination of deep wine-red and vivid lime green walls, with gold skirting and picture rails – that perhaps tells you all you need to know about how long it has been since it was last decorated. It housed the pc and the vinyl, many books and a desperately underused dark wood piano (that piano just has to go). I intend to make it into my bedroom. The vinyl will of course stay, as will most of the books. The outsize and out of date pc is off to the tip. The piano…well, it will go one day just as soon as I can find someone who will drag it down two lots of steps to a better home.

          The weather slowly insinuated its way into this already dark room as I worked on it – despite moving out the huge computer desk the room never seemed to get any clearer. Despite filling two boxes with belongings that are not mine, ready to move them on, the bookcases never had any more space. Every now and then an old photo would drop out of a book or from between record sleeves and remind me that there was once this person who looked a bit like me and who seemed to be having a good time with some people that looked a bit like some people I used to know….

          So I wired up the decks and pulled out some vinyl – sometimes it’s the only sane solution.

          Playing The Miracles and The Impressions was a start, but they never seemed to hit the spot as the rain battered the back door. Then I came across this one below – not having played it for possibly decades – and I remembered just how good it was and just how Chuck Prophet had made me put aside all my prejudices about country music and opened up the road to Gram Parsons and beyond. It’s not what most people who know me would readily volunteer as my listening choice, but was it good – damn it was good!

          Perhaps it was the iron grey skies – but when you’re down and out there’s sometimes nothing like a bit of suicidally bleak country music to lighten the mood and even if it’s only good because you know that others have suffered too, and hopefully more, then it’s as soulful as anything that you’d hear from James Brown and you can hear just why Otis veered this way so often.

          Plus it has the advantage – certainly that first track, that hoary old Willie Nelson standard – that time will indeed bring about it’s own revenge. Often covered, but rarely bettered in bitterness and explicit threat than on this version. It’s quite the anthem on a desolate day like yesterday. The second is just the way that weather made me feel..

          Ladies and gentlemen, I’d love to put the whole record up here but for now just two selections that made the cold rain and the old photographs that much more bearable.

          The room is still a mess however… perhaps I’ll go back in there in the springtime….

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dead Man's Curves


           Help !

          Please tell me that I’ve not turned into a petrol-head, but I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time talking about cars recently – and here I go again. I’d like to say first that I never knowingly watch Top Gear and cannot stand the reactionary ranting of the terribly unfunny Jeremy Clarkson (made even more foul now I know he’s a neighbour and friend of the Camerons…). What’s more, at the other end of the political spectrum, I have to for once disagree with Billy Bragg when he sings

          ‘It doesn't matter the colour of the car, But what goes on beneath the bonnet’

          Frankly it’s the opposite – I don’t care about the workings of greasy pistons and oily axles, it’s the finish of the paint, the polish of the chrome and the sleekness of the wings that does it for me every time. White walls and walnut dashboard. Style over substance. It is, quite honestly, the mod in me….

          So, after dropping Tin Two at university at the weekend I got caught up in a traffic jam, not normally a good thing but on this occasion it was a traffic jam coming out of Goodwood racing circuit and hundreds of the cars on both sides of the road were classic fifties and sixties sports cars, polished, shining and out for the sheer hell of showing off. There were MGs, Jags, Austin Healeys and more – some so obscure that I hadn’t a clue, but all of them were extremely pleasing to the eye and I’m sure there wasn’t an Astra or Mondeo driver on the road who wouldn’t have sold his or her soul to swap. If they wouldn’t then it would be purely because they had no soul to start with.

          I wasn’t in the MG sadly – I felt invisible.

          As the traffic jam started to break up I found myself behind and then alongside a wonderful green and cream E-Type Jaguar. I know all the theories about bonnet length and male inadequacy but surely this is one of the more gorgeous pieces of British engineering and more than that, it screams 1960s from it’s very core. Every band that could afford it seems to have had a photo shoot in one of these, George Harrison owned one, the coolest film stars drove them and – by way of trivia, it’s the only British car to have made it into a sixties surf/hot rod song – it’s the ill-fated XJS mentioned in Jan and Dean’s ‘Dead Man’s Curve’. Then there’s ‘Danger Diabolik’ – a very cool/camp (take your pick) Italian spy film very much in the modernist groove – think Barbarella or Modesty Blaise, whose eponymous hero drives a jet black E Type. Even Fender tried to trade on a bit of the car’s cool, as if they didn’t think that they could match up.

          And the unifying factor with all these cars – every driver looked like they were enjoying the drive and everyone they passed smiled. That’s got to make it worth keeping them going. I doubt that in fifty years time a 2009 Ford Focus or even a modern Jag is going to have the same effect.

          Now if you want to waste hours - I discovered this new site today the Internet Movie Car Database - now if you think us music geeks are, well, geeky, you should have a look at this - car geeks (sorry, enthusiasts) who have logged every scene that they come across featuring a car and then identified it.... I spent a good deal of time today looking at where all the cars I've owned have featured in films....once you start you won't stop, sorry !

And here's the appropriate music from Boys Wonder turned pretend sixties hipsters on Acid Jazz...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Yes I'm proud of you now !

          Well, the eldest boy Tin has had a week of to university tomorrow to enjoy the delights of all that Fresher's week has to offer. I try not to think of it all too much, partly because it makes me feel too old knowing that I now have two kids at university, but partly because I know exactly what his bleached blonde head has itself set on doing..... He's sharing a house with three of his closest mates from school who somehow all ended up there - I still haven't worked out if that should be reassuring or worrying...

          He also passed his driving test today at the second attempt - I'm very proud and he's probably quite smug, he knows it took me more times than that (I shan't reveal how many more...but suffice to say that one attempt ended when I nearly  ran a traffic cop down, with him having to jump out of the way at the last moment).

          I think it's only fitting that I should post the song below as some sort of tribute to him and to all the other students starting university for the first time over the next few weeks - don't believe a word of what they say about it being easy to get in these days. It takes hard work and some amount of determination, not least because of all those bastard politicians and leader writers telling everyone how easy it is. This is one of his favourite bands and he's been to see them a number of times - he'd be seeing them play locally on monday night if only he wasn't off to university - I think he's quite sad about that.

          Now emo/metal (I don't know what it is - I'm far too old) isn't really my cup of tea, but then again I'm always pleased that each new generation gets off on its own screamy thrashy guitar music and he's no exception. I mean would it be better if he listened to Adele or Rihanna instead? Of course not.

          So enjoy - or not. It isn't for you anyway !

Monday, 10 September 2012

Cars and Girls

          Well, inspired by C's tale on Sun Dried Sparrows and e.f.'s follow up comments, as well as by the hard work being done over at LSORO Again I'm going to come out.

          In fact, better than that - I thought I'd show you some pictures of one of my loves. Actually two of them. I spent the afternoon with the camera out in the back alley getting them tastefully pushed up against the fence, stripped back, top off... That's right, now if you'd just show me some leather, perhaps let me get a shot of the sun glancing off your rear. Oh yeah baby, now you over there, let me see you with that leash...

          OK, enough ! There might be children watching. You know what I'm talking about anyway, this just isn't that sort of blog !

          Now much as I really honestly think of most things I own as just so much stuff, these two give me inordinate amounts of pleasure just from the sheer loveliness of looking at them, let alone using them. Which is just as well really since the board, which I must have had for twenty years, tends to travel with me but hardly ever gets used these days.

          The car on the other hand is a relatively new possession but with a bit of a back story in my life. I bought my first racing green MG Midget when I was 19 - the raison d'etre was that I was getting fed up with my friends cadging lifts when all I wanted to do was be out with my then girlfriend. The answer, buy a two seater. It worked and even though me and the then girlfriend didn't last forever my love of the Midget did. Scroll forwards a few years and I'd moved down South, met the woman who I later married and we bought another racing green Midget, that lasted until the first of the Tins was on the way and the sad fact dawned on us that we couldn't carry three of us in it had to the 9 month stage.... Twenty years on and I'm solo again, I see this car in the local garage and just have to have it... you can call it a mid life crisis if you want to but I prefer the term enduring love.

          When I got the car at 19 I thought it was an old model then. It was only two years older than this one...

          But the course of true love never did run smooth and a few weeks on I'm driving down the motorway, top down, wind in what passes for my hair, 70 mph and a noise like a machine gun comes from under the bonnet. Towed into the garage. The fateful words "Big end gone mate". I don't even know what a big end is, but I knew it was expensive and potentially fatal.

          I couldn't do it, we'd only just met. I took a deep breath, stroked her curved wings lovingly, looked into her headlamps and agreed to part with half as much again as I'd paid for her and get a new engine....

          Now she's back - she purrs, she runs beautifully, she has a DAB radio ! So who cares what anyone thinks, we'll grow old disgracefully together, at least for as long as I can afford to. And maybe I'll get that board back in the water too now the autumn swells are coming in.

I hope you like the pictures.

And despite all the tunes to choose from there was never much competition to this one that dates from around about the same time as the first MG - Does heaven wait, all heavenly, over the next horizon ?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Rhinos, small children, death and surfing...

          The other week I was lucky enough to have a friend staying over who bought his four year old son with him - now I know that isn't everyone's cup of tea but since my Tins are way into their teens nowadays it was a rare privilege. Not least because I'd forgotten how good it is to have a solid intellectual discussion where you just can't get away with the normal bullshit - four year olds demand nothing less than your honest opinion. In this instance I volunteered to read the bedtime story (more of which in a minute) and ended up having a full on hour long discussion about death and what lies beyond the veil.....

          Not for a four year old any religious platitudes or ideas of an afterlife - nope, he wanted to know exactly what happened to foxes, badgers and grandad after they died. It's trickier than you think to explain this. I did make the mistake of telling him that our tortoises would outlive him...then of course he made it personal ! Anyway, it stretched my brain but I hopefully came to some satisfactory conclusion with him and left having much deeper thoughts than I'd gone in with.

          And apologies to his dad for giving his son the impression that badgers might appear in the bedroom at any time and thus making him wake up in the night....but that's another story for another time.

          Stories of course are the other brilliant thing about having a four year old over. Reading aloud and picture books are easily as much a pleasure for me as it is for the children and it gave me an excuse to indoctrinate him with what has to be one of my favourite kid's books. I've always thought that children's books can be a higher art form than many of their more serious high art relations, they have to tread the fine line between being colourful and interesting whilst never patronising or talking down. Plus, they have such an incredible influence on the rest of our lives - I doubt if psychedelia would ever have flourished had not the protagonists and the listeners been brought up on the wildly weird children's books of their generation. Everyone seems to have a favourite childrens's book and they do have a profound influence on how we see the world.

          One thing that's always interested me as well is why the artist usually gets credited below / after the writer. I appreciate that it's a skill to say something meaningful, funny or thought provoking in so few words, but it's always the pictures that stick with me. Give the artists their due - they deserve it. They also work damn hard for it.

          Anyway I digress. The book in question the other night was the rather fabulous Rhinos Who Surf by Julie Mammano (and for the record she writes and illustrates the books) which I picked up in a bargain book shop many years ago when the kids were very young and used it to encourage them to follow me into the water... it seems to have worked ! The rhinos are great big psychedelic waterborne dudes who speak surf dude speak and take on the waves in some style - it's a great book and never fails to enchant - I can commend it even if you don't have children ! It's great art served up with no need to proclaim itself as such.

          Anyway - below are a few excerpts just to give a flavour..

          One word of warning here for those of you in the UK - you might need to explain that your kids should, in later life, be discouraged from 'Dropping in', it means something different over here and might end up in some nasty confrontations....but for now enjoy the mondo waves !

And this of course demands some surf music - although I wouldn't recommend this one from '63 as good way of getting small children to sleep. It is of course on the wonderful Rhino Records