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....