Goodbye, David King

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Belatedly I learned yesterday that the graphic designer David King had died earlier in the month. King never enjoyed the reputation of Neville Brody or Philip Saville and the name might not be familiar to everyone reading this blog but the odds are you have at least seen several examples of his work.

King put together the memorable covers of The Who Sell Out and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and he was arts editor of the Sunday Times magazine for a decade. Best of all he designed a number of posters, leaflets and badges for the Anti Nazi League in the late 1970s, including the examples below (and all these years later I still have my ANL badge).

David King ANL graphics

These graphics, particularly the badges, became a more and more common sight in the late 1970s, especially when Rock Against Racism (RAR), along with their sister organisation, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) organized a protest concert, that they hoped would be, according to activist David Widgery, ‘the biggest piece of revolutionary street theatre London had ever seen.’

Carnival_Against_the_Nazis

On 30 April 1978, a crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square and began making their long way (around six miles) to Victoria Park in London’s East End, where a concert featuring The Clash, X-Ray Spex and others was to be staged. Coaches from all across Scotland travelled south, over forty from Glasgow alone. This did prove to be one of the most colourful protests in British history, as punks, hippies, rastas, trades unionists, anarchists, liberals, socialists and people who just opposed what the NF stood for marched, sang and waved thousands of ANL and RAR placards and banners, many featuring King designs.

The concert was a huge success. It had been optimistically predicted that maybe around 30,000 would attend. By the time the Clash bounded onstage it’s estimated there were over 80,000 watching and you can see footage of the event on The Clash docudrama Rude Boy. Later a smaller rally took place at Craigmillar Park in Edinburgh and again King’s work was much in evidence.

In the early 1980s, King went on to establish an eye-catching and Pop Art inspired design identity for the London listings mag City Limits and he wrote the book Ordinary Citizens: The Victims of Stalin, documenting some of the victims of Stalin’s grotesque purges. Many of his collection of Soviet era political posters are now on display at London’s Tate Modern and I have to say, when I studied art and design in Glasgow in the 1980s, King was a big influence.

City_Limits_Collage

David King. 30 April 1943 – 11 May 2016.

A 1976 Top Ten (Part Three)

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Last Friday I watched BBC Four’s When Pop Went Epic: The Crazy World of the Concept Album documentary and I wouldn’t recommend it. Not that there wasn’t some good music on offer, Ziggy, Pet Sounds and What’s Going On are all in my collection but for every snippet of one of those, there was an interview with some pompous eejit like Ian Anderson or a long clip of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table on ice at the Empire Pool Wembley.

You know that feeling of wanting to bang your head against a wall when some evangelical nutter in the Mid-West makes a bizarre statement about the Harry Potter books being witchcraft? Or when an Islamic preacher decries the series for ‘paganism, evil, magic and the drinking of unicorn blood’?

I shouldn’t really complain about outbursts like these as part of me does think that every single album made by Jethro Tull and Rick Wakeman are very likely the work of Satan. And the chances of me ever changing my mind on the matter are about as likely as me drinking a glass of unicorn blood tonight with my evening meal.

Oh and while I’m on the subject of religion, what is it with this ‘Don’t Judge People By Skin Colour, Religion or Sexual Orientation – Judge Them By Their Record Collection!’ idea?

I mean I agree wholeheartedly with two thirds of that statement but if you believe that I’m going to burn in hell because of my atheism then I reserve the right to judge you on something other than your record collection (which is likely to be crap anyway if you even have one).

Okay, back to the documentary. I do reckon that the programme confused ‘concept’ with ‘theme’ although maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention and/or drinking slightly too much. After all, you could make a case that the first Clash LP was based round the theme of alienated British youth in the age of Callaghan, Crossroads and the Cod War or that Parklife is themed around an alienated section of the British population in the age of Prozac and Poundland.

In fact, Damon Albarn himself has said that Parklife is ‘a loosely linked concept album’ and you could make an even better case for Modern Life is Rubbish, its unifying theme being that modern life is rubbish (American cultural imperialism being to blame for much of its rubbishness) but according to Wakeman, rock acts stopped making concept albums in the 1990s as they thought they were hackneyed.

Anyway, by 1976, the golden era of the true concept album was coming to a close and once more the 45 was where it was at. Not only that but the fast and furious 45 was beginning to come to the fore across the globe, one of the finest examples coming from New York: The Ramones and Blitzkreig Bop.

Then during the sweltering heatwave of ’76, Keys to Your Heart by pub rock act The 101ers came out on new independent label Chiswick. Eddie and The Hot Rods released their Live At The Marquee EP, four lacerating covers, the pick of the tracks being their take on a Bob Seger song that had scraped into the Billboard charts a couple of years earlier called Get Out of Denver, while in Brisbane, The Saints self-released (I’m) Stranded on their own Fatal Records in September 1976 and Jonh Ingham (no that first name isn’t a typo) in Sounds called it the ‘Single of this and every week’.


Some of the Kosmiche bands even embraced the single and late in the year Can made their sole appearance in the British singles chart with I Want More. The band were introduced by Noel Edmond on Top of the Pops: ‘I wonder if Can will get into the top tin?’ he asked as if this some witticism worthy of Oscar Wilde. To make matters worse, at the end of their slot, the DJ continued in the same vein, ‘We wanted to have them on at the beginning of the show but then realised we couldn’t have a Can opener.’

Just the sort of crap patter that ensures a decades spanning career in television.


In Britain, 1976 was a year of controversy in culture. The tabloids declared war on modern art, firstly ridiculing the cost to the taxpayer and the artistic value of Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII, better known as the Tate Bricks, when they were displayed at the Millbank Gallery for the first time. More savagely (and successfully) elements of the press condemed performance art collective COUM Transmissions’ Prostitution show at the ICA, with a string of journalists baying for the ICA’s funding to be ended. Memorably, Scottish MP Nicholas Fairbairn decried COUM as ‘the wreckers of Civilization’. The following year the gallery’s Arts Council grant was withdrawn.

On television, 1976 proved to be the most scandalous year in the history of British TV. Bouquet of Barbed Wire was packed with sex scenes, domestic violance and what many viewers inferred as an incestuous relationship. I Claudius ramped up the sensationalism with Caligula murdering his pregnant sister (who was also his wife) and then cutting the foetus from her womb and eating it. It’s maybe miraculous that this drama was ever shown. Dennis Potter’s religious fable Brimstone and Treacle wasn’t so lucky and was pulled from the schedules by the BBC due to a particularly disturbing rape scene.

Cinema too witnessed censorship with Pasolini’s Salò failing to be granted a certificate by the British Board of Censors on the legal grounds of gross indecency due to its graphic portrayals of rape, torture, murder and coprophagia – there’s a word I hadn’t imagined would ever be used in this blog – in Mussolini’s Italy.

Then there was the case of David Bowie’s alleged Nazi salute at Victoria Station. The Thin White Duke did later apologise over his deeply distasteful thoughts on Hitler and fascism from this period (when he was so consistently out his face on coke that he was probably incapable of coherent thinking) although he has always maintained that no Nazi salute took place, claiming a photographer caught him mid-wave, which strikes me as plausible enough.

Even the comic Action was debated in the House of Commons after its strips – particularly the series Kids Rule OK – created a moral panic with Mary Whitehouse campaigning to have it banned. Under pressure, Action soon dropped much of its violence and anti-authoritarian content.

The most notorious cultural brouhaha though, strange as it might seem forty years later, would not involve incest, rape or sexual depravity but some ‘bad language’ on an early evening interview on Today of The Sex Pistols by Bill Grundy.

Here, introduced by Tony Wilson on So It Goes, are The Sex Pistols with Anarchy in the UK:


Anarchy did stray in to the UK charts for one week but before the year was out it was withdrawn from shops and officially deleted by EMI (which stands for Every Mistake Imaginable according to John Lydon) as the company came under pressure from senior members and shareholders to end their association with the band.

Even some of EMI’s roster of acts joined in the chorus of disapproval including Cliff Richard, who’d been signed to EMI since the late ’50s. Richard, an ally of Mary Whitehouse and Britain’s most high profile Christian at the time, is quoted in Brian Southall’s Sex Pistols: 90 Days at EMI as saying: ‘I think EMI made a big mistake signing the Sex Pistols for all sorts of reasons. I always thought they couldn’t sing and they couldn’t play so what were they doing in our industry? Who were the crazy people who actually gave them some semblance of success? They had absolutely less than zero to offer the industry, just heartache, broken contracts and a few bits of the public who got spat at.’

After terminating their contract with Johnny and the boys, EMI continued on largely controversy free until a project involving the members of Monty Python persuaded their film division to ditch their involvement with Life of Brian in a manner not dissimilar to the way they had treated the Sex Pistols.

Luckily, an ex-member of a former EMI band – and co-creator of big hitting concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – George Harrison, stepped and created HandMade Films to help ensure Brian went into production. Very funny it was too.

And here is my 1976 top ten in full:

Junior Murvin: Police and Thieves
Ramones: Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
Blondie: X Offender
Klaatu: Little Neutrino
The Quick: It Won’t Be Long
The Damned: New Rose
The Saints: (I’m) Stranded
Can: I Want More
David Bowie: Station to Station
The Sex Pistols: Anarchy in the UK

On another day the list might have been included:

Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation / The Walker Brothers: No Regrets / Roxy Music: Both Ends Burning / Candi Staton: Young Hearts Run Free / La Düsseldorf: Silver Cloud / Flamin’ Groovies: Shake Some Action & The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Boston Tea Party (but I’ve already featured those last two).

A 1976 Top Ten (Part Two)

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Early in 1976 in Britain, EMI rolled out reissues of all The Beatles’ singles – along with Yesterday, released here as a 45 for the first time. All 23 of them featured simultaneously at one point in the Top 100. Perhaps spurred on by this, a number of critics came declared that what the music industry needed was not a new musical movement to shake things up but a new Beatles, an act that could make the same kind of impact The Beatles had during the ’60s.

Twinned with this notion, a growing clamour was emerging for the former mop-tops to reunite. That summer witnessed the mammoth Wings Over America tour, the first time McCartney had played live in the US since The Beatles performed at Candlestick Park in San Francisco ten years earlier. This seemed to wet the appetite of an entertainment industry with big bucks to offer his old band to get back together and this idea peaked in September when American promoter Sid Bernstein, who’d been involved in the band’s early Stateside tours, made a multi-million dollar offer to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr to play a one-off show.

The offer was seriously considered. The Beatles liked and respected Bernstein, who was the first American who put them on live on his side of the Atlantic and who also introduced a succession of other English acts to the States, most notably The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. Bernstein’s part in creating the so-called British Invasion is undeniable.

Ultimately his offer was turned down but I’m guessing you knew that already.

You might well know too that early in 1977 rumours began to spread about an album released the previous August by a group calling themselves Klaatu, who failed to feature photos or credit individual band members in any way on the cover of their album, 3:47 EST (which was simply named Klaatu in America).

The album displayed a diverse range of influences and could in places be called Beatlesque or maybe more accurately, McCartney-esque. Sub-Rosa Subway, for instance, was a slice of infectious powerpop that sounded like it could have been taken from Wings’ Live at the Speed of Sound or one of his early solo albums.

Steve Smith, reviewing the record for the Providence Journal speculated that Klaatu could conceivably be a project by The Beatles in disguise.

I’m guessing that you also knew that The Beatles never made a secret, anonymous album but the rumour that they might have soon spread across the planet.

But why did anyone believe this nonsense when, for starters, when the vocals sounded nothing like John Lennon or Paul McCartney?

Well, the suggestion was that studio trickery had been used and, to be fair, the vocals on some tracks were disguised with a vocoder or some similar device, most notably on Little Neutrino, the album’s closer. Rather than The Beatles – and I am aware this is one of the biggest cliches out there – I think this track sounds more like ELO ‘on acid’ or maybe some members of that band on acid, some on weed, others on other drugs or the bottle. Strange stuff.


Why release an album in this way? Well, coming out anonymously, the music would enter the world and be judged on its own merit rather than the unthinkably huge hype that it would have received had it been credited to the world’s most famous ever group. Although despite this, so the theory went, they still playfully wanted to put clues out there that this was indeed a Beatles album.

Okay, but what actual clues existed that could give anybody the idea that Klaatu was in fact The Beatles?

As is the norm with conspiracy fans, they picked up on many insignificant details and let these percolate a little fantasy in their minds. Some fixated on a line from Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III: ‘he’s the only man who’s ever been to hell and come back alive’; which they decided was a reference to the Paul is Dead rumour which I won’t even go into here. Then there’s the fact that while there’s eight trees illustrated at the very bottom of the front cover of the album, only seven of them have roots shown and guess what?

The word Beatles contains seven letters.

Still sceptical after that?

Well, on Abbey Road, The Beatles had sung about a ‘Sun King’ and the EST album had an illustration of the sun on its cover. Then there’s the fact that the album came out on Capitol, the label that released most of the Beatles’ records in America.

There’s nothing like an uncanny coincidence and none of these are anything like uncanny coincidences, are they?

History will not remember Smith as being one of the more perceptive music journalists who ever picked up a pen but at least his madcap idea brought the Canadian act to the attention of many who would otherwise never have heard them, albeit the whole story came to an abrupt end when somebody took the trouble of visiting the Library of Congress to research the album’s copyright registration information. When any Beatles involvement was proven to be non-existent, album sales immediately dipped and the conspiracy theorists moved on to the next batshit crazy notion. Most of them anyway, some do continue to believe, unless that is, this blog itself is a hoax.

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While Californian music of the mid-’70s tended to bore me rigid, I did make an exception for anything to do with Kim Fowley, one of the real mavericks of the era. While laid back Laurel Canyon luminaries were wearing cheesecloth and sandals and singing dippy ditties about their latest failed relationship, Fowley was launching a noisy, teenage girl band called The Runaways that wore leather and corset tops and spat out lyrics about dead end dreams and being born to be bad. Hard though it is to believe some teenagers actually preferred the former.

Fowley also put out glammy classics under the pseudonym Jimmy Jukebox, and released and co-produced quirky material by acts like The Quick on his Mondo Deco label.

Although hardly a Beatles fanatic, I have to say that a massive majority of the myriad of Fab Four covers out there are distinctly un-Fab when compared with the originals. The Breeders’ take on Happiness is a Warm Gun and The Banshees’ Dear Prudence are two of the few covers that would get a Macca style thumbs up from me and I have to admit that even The Fall failed to get anywhere near the surrealist majesty of A Day in the Life. There is a version of A Hard Days Night that I’m very fond of because it always makes me giggle. Not the comedy version by Peter Sellers but the one here by the redoubtable rockin’ granny, Mrs. Miller. Then there’s The Quick with their clipped and very arch version of It Won’t Be Long from With The Beatles which I might even prefer albeit this is not a song that is ever considered one of The Beatles’ masterpieces. Here it is:


Of course, 1977 meant no Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones but luckily The Damned managed to squeeze in a Beatles cover late in ’76 before the diktat came into action. Help! featured as the B side to New Rose and sounded like they had learned the song by playing the original on the album but at 45. I do like it but New Rose is better in just about every way. Here it is, the first British punk single, produced by Nick Lowe and released on Stiff:


For more on Klaatu, click here and for more on The Damned, here you go.

A 1976 Top Ten (Part One)

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1976 is one of those years that doesn’t tend to be remembered too fondly in Britain. Unemployment was on the rise, inflation was on the rise and the government seemed to lurch from one crisis to another. Before the end of the year, chancellor Denis Healey announced an emergency mini-budget after having to beg the International Monetary Fund for a loan. A package of swingeing public spending cuts came into effect and headlines such as ‘Britain’s Shame’ appeared in the following day’s newspapers.

The long-running Grunwick dispute in London repeatedly saw violent clashes between pickets and cops – the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group even getting involved as tensions escalated. Interestingly, for younger readers encouraged by the media to think of 1970s Britain as a country where racism and sexism were the norm, the strikers were mostly female and this was first major dispute of its kind where a majority of strikers were from an ethnic minority, mostly East African Asian, yet throughout the bitter strike, hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and others supported the Grunwick workers on the picket lines and in many other ways.

The Special Patrol Group were also active that year during the Notting Hill Carnival, where they engaged, along with other police officers, in running battles with young, mainly black, carnival goers although Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of The Clash were also there, events giving the band the idea for a new song, White Riot.

Over one hundred cops and around sixty members of the public had to be taken to hospital in the wake of the, em, clashes and, summing up events, the Evening Standard judged that: ‘Scotland Yard was too heavy-handed on Monday. The whole exercise was an error of judgement.’

Here’s one of that year’s most popular songs during the annual celebration of Caribbean culture. Written by Junior Murvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and produced by the latter, Police And Thieves was placed at #6 on NME‘s Singles of the Year list, just behind So It Goes by Nick Lowe and just ahead of Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free. It was also named Reggae Single of the Year by Black Echoes and, of course, was covered by The Clash on their debut album the following year. This is Junior Murvin with Police and Thieves, this version coming from 1980:

 
Football hooliganism was also becoming an ever more serious problem and tabloids responded to trouble on the terraces by calling for tougher action on the culprits, headlines this year including: ‘Cage the Animals’ and ‘Birch ’em’ (Daily Mirror) and ‘Smash These Thugs’ (The Sun).

In Scotland, in the days when this kind of thing was unknown, early kick-offs for Old Firm matches were introduced in an effort to ensure that fans would at least have less time to get bevvied up before a big game. Behaviour didn’t, though, strike many observers as noticeably improved after the change. I guess alarm clocks were just set earlier.

Another worrying trend, particularly in the West of Scotland was the epidemic in glue sniffing. 1976 witnessed some disturbing statistics about young people and the dangerous craze. According to the Glasgow Health Board, thousands of kids in the city regularly sniffed glue and the year saw a spate of glue related deaths.

James Dempsey, an MP from nearby Coatbridge, had repeatedly called for a ban on selling solvent products to under 18s. When the parent of one solvent abuser contacted him that summer, it set in motion punk rock’s first ever newspaper front page, the concerned parent’s son having just bought an album by a new American band called The Ramones.

‘GLUE-SNIFF DISC SHOCKER’ was the headline in Glasgow’s Evening Times on the 19th of August, and that front page is now an exhibit in Berlin’s Ramones Museum. Yep, they even have a museum dedicated to them nowadays.

Live at the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1977, this is Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.

 
Of course, the Ramones’ hometown was having a hard time too in ’76. In the midst of a fiscal crisis, the image of the city for many was that of an overcrowded, decaying hellhole inhabited mainly by violent gang members, junkies, hustlers, pimps and if you were lucky a vigilante or two. Think Taxi Driver, which came out early that year.

Muggings were rife and the subways covered in graffiti (which wasn’t ‘art’ back then). Local cops even handed out a pamphlet to tourists titled ‘WELCOME TO FEAR CITY. A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York’.

This is how David Byrne describes in his book, How Music Works, the area around where he stayed in Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side in the mid-’70s: ‘In the winter it was sometimes hard to tell whether someone you’d see passed out in the snow was merely drunk or high, or if that comatose body on the sidewalk was a dead person. Our apartment was near an area with the cheapest, skankiest hookers in town. Further east, heroin was sold pretty much openly on the street corners, and the clientele used the abandoned buildings nearby as shooting galleries.’

Towards the tail-end of 1975, and with the Big Apple financially on the ropes, President Ford vowed to ‘veto any bill that has as its purpose a bailout of New York City to prevent a default.’ Or as the Daily News put it: ‘FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD’.

On the plus side, though, some of the finest new music in the world was produced in the five boroughs at this point in time, certainly miles better than the hipster indie of today’s gentrified NYC. Patti Smith or Parquet Courts? Television or Tanlines? The Heartbreakers or Haerts? Blondie or Cerebral Ballzy? You do agree with me, don’t you?

Released in America during the summer of 1976 on Private Stock, this is Blondie with X Offender:

For more on The Ramones controversy, click here.