Sunday, 19 March 2017

Chuck Berry

Charles Anderson 'Chuck' Berry died yesterday at the age of 90. He was survived by: Themetta, his wife of 68 Years; four children, Ingrid, Chuck Junior, Aloha and Melody; and by Rock'n'Roll to which he gave birth on a lonely road outside Chicago Illinois in 1955.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. It was Chess Studios and not a lonely back road.  The song was Maybellene and without it things might have been so different.

Charles was born into a Middle Class black family in St Louis Missouri on 18 October 1926.  His father, Henry Berry was a carpenter and a deacon at Antioch Baptist Church while his mother, Martha was one of the few black women of his generation to go to college.  In those days, St Louis was so segregated that, growing up in the Ville, a self-contained community where all businesses and churches were run by black people, Chuck was three years old before he saw white people for the first time when some white firemen came to put out a fire.

One musician who said Chuck Berry was a great influence, was Keef Richards.  Although I'm pretty sure Keef never did the duckwalk like Chuck.  As well as Keef, Chuck Berry often played with other musicians, such as John Lennon (and Yoko Ono), Tina Turner and even Gerry and the Pacemakers

I think my favourite song from Mr Berry was 'Memphis Tennessee': yes despite the cutesy or creepy (depending on point of view) ending.  In 1972, he recorded a version for Top of the Pops on BBC TV which was one of the funniest attempts at making the miming obvious, not equalled until the Stranglers.

Of course, Chuck famously sang Can't Catch Me back in 1956 but the truth is, he did get caught and was incarcerated several times, in 1944 for armed robbery while still at high school.  He served three years in a reformatory during which time he learned to box (something Keef Richards would later learn to his regret) and formed a singing group.

He was released from the reformatory on his twenty first birthday but he also had further periods in jail as an adult.   1n 1959, after he allegedly had sexual intercourse with a fourteen year old girl who he had hired as a hat check girl and transported across state lines he was sentenced to five years in jail.  However, his appeal that the judge was biased on the grounds of his racism was upheld and after a retrial with a different judge, he was sentenced to three years of which he served 18 months in 1962 and 63.  As a result of his conviction, when Chuck was awarded the Polar Music Prize in 2014, Queen Sylvia and her youngest daughter Princess Madeleine of Sweden refused to attend the award ceremony in Stockholm.

In 1972, Chuck released a novelty single "My Ding-a-Ling" which he had often played as "My Tambourine".  This was castigated by Mary Whitehouse' Viewers and Listeners Association, now known as Mediawatch-UK who claimed it was about masturbation.   Chuck never lost popularity though, even playing in the White House for Jimmy Carter in 1979.

A month after playing for the President, Chuck again went to prison, this time serving 4 months and 1000 hours of community service (the latter consisting of free concerts.)

He continued performing write until the end but on 18 March 2017, police were called to his house and found him unresponsive and he was declared dead at 10:40AM (17:40 GMT).








Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Phase Transition

For too long, I've been toiling away at a shitty job with the Department of Health.  Yesterday was my last day.  Wahey! And so on to vistas new, but first let me 'review' my own leaving do, because I loved it.  We played at the Alleycat, under Regent Studios in Denmark Street - the original Tin Pan Alley, where the Rolling Stones cut their first album and where the Kinks recorded, You Really Got Me.

Because I'd hired the venue not for a commercial gig but for a private party (although I kept the doors open for anyone who wished to come in) the barman/soundman did not know what to expect.  I told him to expect punk.  "Ah but what kind of punk?" he asked so of course, I told him.  New York Punk.  I'm gratified that he instantly came back with "Like Richard Hell and the Void-Oids".  Yeah, a lot like that I hope.

I had planned originally to begin with Edelweiss Pirates UK but with Sho and Chris on their own tour in India, John Giltrow and I played the shortstaffed version.  In the past, John and I have played as the shortstaffed version of e-Cog Zero so last night, we decided instead to be, just for one night, "Weaponised Kafka" (since John has been a vaping activist since he stopped smoking two years ago).

There's no recording of us as yet, but much of what we did was covers, beginning with Bella Ciao and ending with Edelweiss.  I messed up several times, forgetting words and once or twice getting lost.  Didn't matter cause we played it for laughs and even had one song (Effervescing Elephant) where I did nothing.

Next came Spirit of the Age, despite the name, they cover Hawkwind but they're not a tribute band, they're more punkadelic than psychedelic. Imagine if you will, Hawkwind played by Devo.  The acoustics in the Alleycat is such that I could hear every word Paul Maybin spoke or sang.

Next came e-Cog Zero and this time, I made no mistakes.  We sang eight of the nine songs we'll be recording on our forthcoming album, which we will be recording in March.  We're still working on number nine, Lipgloss, but in its place we played our beloved Cherry Bomb and then for an encore, Sympathy for Lilith.

Finally along came Guttfull, womonfully stepping into the breach due to the non availability of the Wimmin's Institute, who split up this month.

Guttful were marvellous.  I've seen a review suggesting singer, Moe sounds like Kathleen Hanna, and the band does have some resemblance to Bikini Kill, but in my head, the resemblance is more to Honey Bane and the Fatal Microbes.  Regardless of who they sounded like, they were awesome.

So a great evening was had by all and as my bass player said, We'll have to get Guttfull to play at Tottenham Chances because they are brilliant and will soon be big... and we've got to get Spirit of the Age to play there because it would be awesome to have them play with Captain Rizz.

Watch this space.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

These are the dead

It sure seems to have been a bumper year for daisies being pushed up by those who have mattered to us, musically.  Here are a few, and no, not all because I'm not that kind of obsessive.

1) Bowie
  • The year began with Blackstar and the end of Bowie.
  • Suddenly, the buskers of London, who for as long as I had been here had played House of the Rising Sun, began playing Starman. Not as well as Bowie but what the hey!.
  • We had a gig early in January and we'd already planned tributes to Lemmy, namely Silver Machine and 1916 so there was no room for a Bowie tribute song so what did we do?
  • Instead I inserted Future Legend into Abyss and we played a chorus of Jean Genie in the middle of our version of Sympathy for the Devil.
  • I never got Bowie when he first came out.  I saw Space Oddity on Top of the Pops as a child and liked the SF theme because that was my specialist subject at age nine but I never understood Bowie after that until Heroes came out and I saw the blessed Nico doing it.
  • Around the same time, I saw Christiane F and understood Christiane's obsession with him as he stood above the adoring Berlin crowds and sang Station to Station.
  • So then I looked at Bowie's back catalogue and discovered such brilliant gems as Running Gun Blues, Panic in Detroit, John I'm Only Dancing and Rebel Rebel.
  • And I'd forgotten how good Mick Ronson was!
2) Prince
  • Prince too, what is the world coming to?
  • Not much of his work is available out there on the Internet.
  • I love 1999, and When Doves Cry and Sign O the Times
  • But here's Purple Rain!
  • Of course, another artist associated with Prince, namely Vanity also died this year.
3) Viola Beach
  •  But this was the year that we were reminded that you don't need to be a celebrity for your death to be heard worldwide.  When Viola Beach plunged into a Swedish Canal and died along with their manager in February, their songs Boys That Sing and Swings and Waterslides went straight into the charts.
  • In August their debut (and only) album "Viola Beach" reached number 1 in the Album Charts.
 4) Vi Subversa
  • Vi Subversa aka Frances Sokolov died in February aged 80.
  • Not only was she a punk icon in her own right in Poison Girls, but she was also the mother of Pete Fender and Gem Stone of Fatal Microbes and later Rubella Ballet.  
5) Leonard Cohen 

Friday, 8 April 2016

Chinn and Chapman top 5

Chinn and Chapman were powerhouses in seventies pop. I for one, think I might have enjoyed the seventies more than I did if they had composed more of the music that formed the soundtrack to what I experienced as an horrific decade. These are my top five.

1. Can the Can by Suzi Quatro was the song that had everything. Starting with those lovely drums. And then Suzi's voice, and the clapping in time, and the words and the images it invokes. This to me was beautiful. Suzi was beautiful. Hell, she still is!

2. Heart of Glass by Blondie brought delicious irony to disco. Or rather, it made explicit the irony that had already been there. I love this. It's my karaoke party piece.

3. Teenage Rampage by Sweet well what can I say? From the start with the sinister sounds of the Sweet fans, calling for them as if they were fascist dictators, Sweet wanted to do hard rock but Chinn and Chapman made them do pop. Yeah but it was magnificent pop. Hard pop. Dirty, rocky pop. Love it? Not 'arf!

4. Mickey by Toni Basil! Oh Mickey you so fine, you so fine you blow my mind! Toni may have been a one hit wonder but Chapman definitely was not.

5. Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar is more lovely pop. I first saw it on a mixtape sent by a dear friend just after she went home to St Paul Mn. (glad to say she lives in Portland Or. now). And then it was used in 13 going on 30. It reminded me of the adolescence of the girl I never was but longed to be.

Hurts to leave out. Devil Gate Drive, Living Next Door to Alice, Ballroom Blitz, Fox on the Run. Probably more but I got distracted and listening to Queen and smiling and remembering good times.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Pogues Top Five

The Pogues.  What can I say.  Not my favourite band of Irish musicians but they WERE the band that got me listening again as an adult to music I'd only listened to as a kid because I had no choice because it was part of my heritage.  I borrowed my brother's cassette copy of Rum Sodomy and the Lash and in the year I kept it, I damn near wore it out.  These are my favourites, probably, although this is subject to change.

1) A Pair of Brown Eyes
My folks, those who came from Ireland, had, I believe I've said before, left before Wolfe Tone was a hop in his father's beer.  This song speaks to me in clear tones with ancestors speaking to a transplanted son in another bog with forty different shades of green.  We're drunk we are, so many of us and everything is as everything should be, and we should have fought but we never did.  And the shame of it could have killed us, or it could have been the making of us.  And the only thing that I could see was a pair of brown eyes that were looking at me, but when we got back, labelled 'parts one to three' there was no pair of brown eyes looking for me.

2) Thousands Are Sailing
To leave home and become an immigrant.  That's the thing that happened to so many.  And it happens still.  I could have been an economic migrant myself and many of my ancestors were.  That is why in my mind, refugees are always welcome here even if we hadn't cause them all ourselves.  A song like this, so beautiful, so brave.  I wonder how it would sound in Arabic, or Syriac or Pashto?

3) Body of An American
A song my feet won't sit still for and words that are poetry to stir my heart.  There's many a wake from my time as a child.  I remember them as better than weddings because at weddings the whole clan was on its so-called best behaviour.  Not for a wake though.  No not for a wake. Come on lads, "I'm a free-born man of the U S A".

4)           If I should Fall From Grace With God
These tinker feet were made to dance to this.  A perfect dance tune oh yes it is, and the lyrics are so damned good, a prayer to a god who isn't listening.  What's not to like? A scream a scream and a rebel yell.

5) The Boys From The County Hell
Traditional this one so it is, and there has to be something traditional with a band that worked so hard to keep the old traditions even as they screamed the rage of PUNK! at the city in which they found themselves. London Irish at its best.

Hurts to leave out...  Sally MacLennane, Sick Bed of Cu'chullain, London Lullaby, Dirty Old Town, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, The Leaving of Liverpool, The Irish Rover and yes, of COURSE A Fairytale of New York.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

5 de Brel et 5 PAR Brel

I first came across Jacques Brel in my teens when I saw the film Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris directed by French-Canadian wunderkind, Denis Héroux.  The film was released to universal critical disacclaim (or whatever the opposite of acclaim is) but to pretty, fifteen year old unreconstructed Emily (my good self), it was marvellous.

I'm going to begin with my favourite covers of Brel because that means, I get to listen again to my favourites from Héroux's film, and dear old Joe Masiell and Mort Shuman. Alors!

1) The Port of Amsterdam by Dresden Dolls.
It's the Dresden Dolls, the fucking Dresden Dolls.  Brel was invented for Amanda Palmer, and she was invented for Brel.  This is my favourite song by Brel and this is my second favourite version (and my favourite by anybody whose name is not Brel)

2) The Bulls by Nastascia Diaz  
Now I can't find the version by Joe Masiell from the film (obviously) Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. I could see why the bull was pissed off that day.  I was snorting and growling along with him and with Joe Masiell's Marine.  And so, here's one from a live version of the film. Ms Diaz brings different qualities to the song, and yet, I am just as delighted by this version.

3) The Statue by Joe Masiell
When I first watched THAT film, I barely noticed this one, but now, listening through.  I come to this and think, yeah.  They make statues of the assholes, and even the assholes weep. I love it, and so...

4) The Old Folks by Elly Stone
I loved Brecht's September Song, which ploughs a similar furrow, but this is horribly beautiful.  You always live too far away when you've lived lived so long.  Elly's voice is clear as a bell and the words pierce straight into the centre of the brain, and that barb carries Brel's delicious venom.  The old folks never die, they just go to sleep one day.

5) Jackie by Camille O'Sullivan
I first heard Camille covering Nick Cave's the Mercy Seat.  I once dragged my wife to Edinburgh JUST because Camille was playing at the festival.  Still never saw her then though.  And so, this too makes the cut.

And so, without any of Marc Almond's fabulous oeuvre.  Without Mort Shuman's version of Amsterdam.  Without Bowie.  Without Piaf. Yes, it hurts to leave all those out but you know what?  It is Brel himself that matters most.

And so let's carry on to see my top five numbers by Brel himself.

1) Le Port d'Amsterdam
Time was, my favourite would have been les Taureau until a Greek friend sent me a link to the video in which Brel sings so passionately the song which has become my favourite.  Brel is so deliciously ugly that Emily pines for him and so filled with passion that when Brel sings this, I too want to sing.  Marvellous.

2) Ne Me Quitte Pas!
There are so many cover versions of this that I could take or leave, but this, the original with Brel himself singing.  Mois je ne lui JAMAIS quitterai.  Never would, never could.  How could anyone.

3) Les Bourgeois
I love it when Brel sings these vicious little pieces in such a jolly voice.  It sounds like a song you could sing along to... and yet, listening to the words, we are reminded that Brel was a punk and a beautiful punk at that.

4) Jef
There is always that we have lost.  There are always times we wish to smile and show we have no regrets.  This is sharky for me.  A trigger but I love it. Et moi je ne regrette rien!

5 Les Désespérés
I heard this for the first time today.  A song of broken hope.  Of course I'm going to love it and listen until the blood comes out of the dansette.  And some time from now, this may become my favourite.

And it hurts to leave out every song I mentioned in the covers, plus Quand Maman Reviendra, and Seul, L'Amour et Mort,  Fernand, Jojo, Mathilde, Marieke, Ces Gens La, A Suivre and so on and on.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Nirvana Top Five

As Kurt Cobain fades into history and poor old Courtney remains to be withered by age like the rest of us, Nirvana become less a band and more an icon.  Cards on the table city. I own a copy of Bleach but for some unreason never bought Nevermind.  Nevertheless, I do love both and I'm not going to just pick from Bleach, cause I'm not that kind of pretentious.

1.  Lithium - There is little I can say to this.  I love this because I've lived it so often and so long.  When Kurt died, well you know, it's only because Courtney said "A fucking lie" as she read his suicide note.  Courtney saved a lot of lives that day.  This is my favourite.

2.  Sliver - Still hurts so damn good to listen.

3.  Heart Shaped Box has beautiful lyrics and beautiful music to compliment Kurt Cobain's lovely, lovely voice.  I love the way the guitars shred as Kurt's voice starts to change from melancholy melody to an angry fractious scream.

4.  Smells Like Teen Spirit - I am not one of those people who pretends not to love this because it's been done to death.  So no, Weird Al, this song does make sense to me and I love everybody's version, even Paul Anka's, but nevertheless, Nirvana's performance of this was seminal.

5.  About a Girl, in which Kurt Cobain sings melodically like Neil Young's choirboy and on Bleach there was some awesome guitar work to back it up, but yannow, thought I'd give the unplugged version a go, cause I loves it so.

Hurts to leave out In Bloom, Tourettes, You Know You're Right, Sifting and that's just the ones I'm thinking of right now.  Oh wait, Come as You Are, can't forget Come as You Are can I?  And on and on it goes.