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Sweet Gene Vincent – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Stiff)

Ian Dury Sweet Gene Vincent Collage

The words ‘tribute song’ seldom fill me with great expectations while the mere mention of ‘tribute album’ brings on a feeling of downright dread. A concept beloved of small labels hoping to attract your attention to an artist you love, the typical tribute collection is packed with a bunch of completely inferior cover versions by acts you have probably never heard of and will routinely only ever listen to once.

Of course I am generalising here but as the winter of 1977 set in, the idea of a tribute song really was anathema to my punkish sensibilities with Danny Mirror’s saccahrine I Remember Elvis Presley still hovering around the British charts in the wake of the death of Elvis. (I Remember Elvis Presley? I should hope so, he was hardly in his grave when you rushed into the studio to record your cash-in single).

That November the one and only single lifted from New Boots and Panties!! was released by Stiff. Written in honour of one of Presley’s contemporaries and of one of Dury’s teenage favourites, Sweet Gene Vincent obliquely told the tale of one of the original bad boy rockers, a star who dressed in black leather and possessed a penchant for, well, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. & Guns.

In 1977 I don’t think I would have heard any Vincent song bar Be Bop A Lula and at a time when teddy boys and punks were increasingly involved in regular punch-ups on the King’s Road and elsewhere I wasn’t inclined to look favourably on any song that celebrated a teddy boy hero. And why would anyone want to look back to rock and roll anyway? That was twenty years ago, almost an eternity to the teenage me.

But then again, this was Ian Dury, a witty lyricist, unique vocalist and all round one-off.

On Sweet Gene Vincent, he divides his song in two, the first half being a poignant and poetic ballad with something of a lullaby feel looking back at the singer’s short life. ‘Shall I mourn your decline with some thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief?’ he asks before going on to confess: ‘I miss your sad Virginia whisper / I miss the voice that called my heart.’

The second half gives way to some pure rock’n’roll dynamite with Dury referencing some of Vincent’s best known tracks like Blue Jean Bop, Who Slapped John and Pistol Packin’ Mama throughout.

And, of course, while Danny Mirror had attempted to mimic Presley’s tenor and baritone vocals, here Dury as always sounded 100% Essex geezer. And he was never going to trot out rhymes as predictable as sing and King. Before the song had ended I might even have been blue jean bopping and I was definitely much less likely to knock the rock.

Is Sweet Gene Vincent the best tribute song that I have ever heard?

Very possibly.

The song was ranked at # 13 on NME‘s Tracks of the Year for 1977 and Robbie Williams provided a cover version for Brand New Boots and Panties, the tribute album issued following Ian’s death in 2000 (which you might be able to guess I have never heard). It also featured on the very fine soundtrack of Christopher Petit’s 1979 film Radio On.

Here’s a live version, featuring a guest appearance from a kinetic Wilko Johnson:


Just as tribute songs or albums hold little interest for me, the description ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’ seldom intrigues me. I doubt I’m alone in this regard which is why albums by the likes of Jakob Dylan, James McCartney and Julian Lennon, unlike their fathers, aren’t going to be appearing in any Greatest Album Ever lists any time soon. And sorry, but when Lisa Marie Presley dies I wouldn’t count on any tribute singles appearing.

That said, I have enjoyed the recently released albums by Charlotte (daughter of Serge) Gainsbourg and Baxter (son of Ian) Dury.

Famously, as a five-year-old Baxter appeared with his old man on the front cover of New Boots and Panties!! Nowadays he gets to appear on his own album covers. His latest Prince of Tears is maybe the best of these yet, a short and sometimes savage collection of tracks that occasionlly recall Ian and just as often bring to mind the aforementioned Serge Gainsbourg – mainly due to the superb orchestration and alternating male/female vocals he favours here.

Baxter has certainly inherited Ian’s potty mouth as he demonstrates on the lead single Miami:


For more on Ian, click here and for more on Baxter, click here.

 

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The Silver Jubilee & The Sex Pistols (& Iain Shedden)

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The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen (Virgin)

Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen cover 1977

‘In early June 1977, we took a brief break from our labours to overturn a few tables and piss in the punchbowl at the Queen’s silver jubilee party,’ Steve Jones wrote in his autobiography Lonely Boy last year. ‘I never really paid much attention to all that jubilee bollocks, to be honest. That was more Rotten and McLaren’s end of things.’

As a fifteen year old schoolboy I actively tried to ignore all the jubilee bollocks myself. Apart from the Pistols’ take on events.

Nowadays we’re presented with the idea that the whole country bar a few malcontents went Jubilee crazy. In their Sex Pistols history Young Flesh Required, Alan G. Parker and Mick O’Shea even observed that, ‘No other nation can do pomp and circumstance like the British,’ before going on claim, ‘The whole country became one enormous street party and buried its troubles beneath a sea of red, white and blue bunting.’

This doesn’t convey the whole truth of the matter. Yes in Glasgow the Queen came during May and was greeted by shedloads of loyal subjects (60,000 estimated although these figures tend to be exaggerated by journos). A match to mark the occasion at Hampden between a Glasgow select and an English Football League select, originally envisioned as an all ticket affair with an 85,000 limit, ended up with organisers hoping for 30,000 fans and tickets available to buy at the gate.

The Times carried the headline ‘One million people greet the Queen on her Silver Jubilee Day’ but the slightly less prestigious Glasgow Evening Times led with a story on the whereabouts of Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin together with a report that vandals had wrecked the chances of a planned celebration in Giffnock that night by setting the proposed bonfire alight a day early.

Glasgow Herald columnist Anne Simpson bemoaned the fact that celebrations were relatively muted north of the border: ‘I know Scotland has had its official dose of Silver Jubilation but even then most of us didn’t get to the parties and it strikes me that what we all need just now is a bit of a carnival, a chance to stick paper hats on our heads and be happy.’

No thanks.

Was there a street party outside where I lived? No. Did anybody I know give a flying fuck about the Jubilee? No. Was God Save The Queen really that controversial then?

Well, yes. It wasn’t allowed airplay on Radio One – apart from a couple of spins by Peel. Commercial radio stations banned it too, the IBA judging it ‘against good taste or decency, likely to encourage or incite to crime, or lead to disorder.’

Boots, WH Smith and good old Woolies refused to stock the 45 with the latter two failing to even acknowledge its existence, leaving a blank space on the chart displayed in their stores.

Jubilee_Chart_1977

Top of the Pops refused to show the bands’ promo for the song let alone invite them to perform in their studio. Thames TV & LWT refused to air an ad for it and perhaps most controversially of all, the single was artificially kept off the number one spot.

The song infuriated some patriots enough to attack Johnny Rotten and others with a Pistols connection, as well as ordinary punk fans across the country. Years later, it emerged via former spy David Shayler that the band had featured prominently in a MI5 file named Subversion in the Music Industry.

Remarkably God Save the Queen was only the second Sex Pistols single.

Jamie Reid - God Save the Queen flag

Nowadays even the safest of safe comedians employed by the BBC can happily have a go at the Queen. Many did when her name appeared recently in connection with the Paradise Papers along with other serial tax avoiders like Gary Linekar, Lewis Hamilton and Bono.

Saying that, while hosting Have I Got News for You last year some of Frankie Boyle’s jokes were censored although he was allowed to accuse the Royal family of being ‘the products of centuries of incest.’

Certainly no anti-Royal record could conceivably cause the same kind of Gasp! Shock! Horror! headlines as God Save the Queen today – arguably no record of any kind could. And the odds of any song trying to do so and sounding as thrilling as God Save the Queen are, at best, minimal.

According to Marco Pirroni it is the ‘greatest pop rock ‘n’ roll single ever’ and I would have undoubtedly agreed with this assessment on Jubilee day. Hearing again Steve Jones’s sledgehammer guitar, Paul Cook’s no messin’ drums and Johnny’s scorching voice spitting out those establishment baiting lyrics, I still wouldn’t argue against it.

Released on 27 May 1977, here is the promo filmed at the Marquee a few days earlier:


The night of the Jubilee in London witnessed one of the most inspired publicity stunts ever. Malcolm McLaren hiring a boat (the Queen Elizabeth) which sailed down the Thames with the Pistols playing live, the boys launching into Anarchy in the UK as they passed by Parliament. This provocative jaunt ending in arrests for McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and others there for the show once the boat had been docked.

Nothing in Scotland could compete with that but that same night Edinburgh did see the establishment of a regular new punk night at Clouds, a venue originally opened back in the 1940s when it was known as the New Cavendish.

The Jolt on Jubilee day

Lanarkshire group The Jolt played Clouds a number of times including a Rock Against Racism benefit.

Sadly, while I was writing this post I belatedly became aware of the death last month of their drummer Iain Shedden.

A great live act, I saw The Jolt a number of times, from a wee pub, the Amphora I seem to remember, in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street to the Apollo, where they performed in front of thousands while supporting The Jam.

After The Jolt split, Iain went on to record with other bands, most notably The Saints. Once a junior reporter on the Wishaw Press, he re-ignited his career in journalism when he emigrated to Australia in 1992, becoming a music critic with The Australian, a job that saw him interviewing an amazing array of talents such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Keith Richards.

Here’s a single by The Jolt. Written by Paul Weller for the band, See Saw was released in June 1979 by Polydor. Four months or so later The Jam brought out their own version as a B-side for Eton Rifles.


Iain Shedden: January 6, 1957 – October 16, 2017

For more on The Jolt click here for my post New York, London, Paris, Wishaw.

Carry On Controversy (The Queen is Dead Again)

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Morrissey & Smiths Triology

It’s been an interesting second half of the year for Morrissey fans. Firstly there was the England Is Mine biopic. Not the worst film I’ve seen this year but it stands the same chance of ending up in my best of 2017 list as Morrissey deciding to serve up a platter of halal meat at his next birthday bash followed by a tray of Chicken McNuggets.

More recently there’s been the super-dooper deluxe re-release of The Queen is Dead which I decided to fork out for despite already owning it firstly as a cassette then as an LP and then CD, as well as owning the four B-sides featured on the second disc here.

There are three versions on this package of the title track. Obviously the original from the 1986 album, a demo without the opening sample but with added instrumental interplay with Rourke’s powerhouse bass sharking round some Johnny Marr guitar that call to mind Lou Reed’s choogling style. There’s also a version performed in Boston which sounds like the band have been snorting line after line of the only sulph in the world that hasn’t been cut to fuck. Very unlikely in the case of Morrissey I know. Its breakneck speed even made me think of punk.

The original kicks off with a snippet of the jingoistic Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty lifted from The L-Shaped Room, one of those early ’60s kitchen sink dramas that Morrissey so adores. Me too.

Of course you really know the party is getting started when someone strikes up Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty. Fun and frivolity surely beckon.

Well, maybe not. The lead character, who’s pregnant, collapses during it, hence the song trailing off unexpectedly.

Cue a slow ooze of feedback and Mike Joyce’s furious tribal drumbeat, those thundering tom-tom thumps sounding like they want a square go. Maybe the whole song does. And by the time Andy Rourke’s muscular bassline joins in and Johnny Marr adds some ninja guitar lines you know this would pulverise just about any potential opponent.

Listening to the song now makes me wish I could hear it fresh for the first time again. It must have been thrilling wondering where Morrissey was going to go with these lyrics – and at this point he was undoubtedly penning some of the most imaginative, unpredictable lyrical content I have ever come across (apart from the six minute didactic dirge that had given his last album its title). Here on the Queen he surpasses himself, mixing surreal Joe Orton-esque fantasy with music hall comedy; Carry On comedy with Hubert Selby Jr’s subversive Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Johnny Marr is at the top of his game too, supplying some amazingly inventive guitar to those idiosyncratic words and making it sound utterly effortless.

Here, I’ll air what might be seen as a controversial viewpoint myself. A controversial musical viewpoint that is regarding the best guitar work heard on a record accompanying Morrissey’s voice. For a long time now I’ve cited Vini Reilly’s contribution to Suedehead but when Marr launches into a wah-wah frenzy here I do at least raise an eyebrow at this opinion.

Smiths - The Queen is Dead Deluxe Edition Tracklisting

By turns emotionally charged and exhilarating, absurdist and adventurous, th entire album remains a very special listen. Granted, no matter how many painstaking tweaks and tinkering go into any remastering, I’ll never truly love Frankly, Mr Shankly and Vicar in a Tutu. After all his pessimism and past provocations, though, it was pleasing to hear Morrissey giving way just occasionally to some carefree kicks, even if those two tracks ensure for me that the album just misses out on belonging in the absolute classics category along with The Velvet Underground and Nico, Berlin, Never Mind the Bollocks and Loveless.

Am I glad that I got my hands on a copy?

Hell yeah. Johnny’s glimmering guitar on a demo of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is a joy; the remastered Boy With the Boy with the Thorn in His Side sparkles beautifully as does I Know It’s Over. Listening to the latter pulsing ballad with my Sennhausers on instantly re-ignited my infatuation with this devastating tale of unrequited love. And I did play it over and over and over and over again. Morrissey’s finest ever vocal performance I reckon and a melancholic masterpiece.

Oh, and the demo of Never Had No One Ever with the jazzy trumpet prompted a very different response. It made me laugh. And Morrissey too towards the end of the track.

And at least two of those remastered B-sides, Asleep and Unloveable, are as good as any A-side singles I’ve heard in 2017.

The soundboard recording of the 1986 Boston show is of a pretty high quality too albeit I’ll likely only listen to it sporadically at best. I think too that ditching the British racing green and pink artwork is a mistake but I’m already hoping that my own favourite Smiths album Strangeways receives the same kind of treatment ASAP. Go on Rhino. Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!

Here’s the impressionistic three track promo featuring The Queen, The Boy With the Boy with the Thorn in His Side and Panic directed by Derek Jarman:


Morrissey has also made the headlines this year, especially in the wake of some comments made regarding the Manchester bombing.

Keeping your fingers crossed that this arch contrarian won’t stray into some controversy or other is as daft as hoping that the next series of Game of Thrones might cut out the brutality.

Reviews of his forthcoming album Low in High School haven’t been too enthusiastic. In Uncut Stephen Trousse gave it 5/10 and banged on about his politics as much as his music while Mojo‘s Pat Gilbert awarded it B+ for music but C- for attitude. Yes, marked on his attitude.

I’ll let you make your own mind about recent Morrissey controversies but I do suspect if Bigmouth hadn’t struck again, these reviews would have been much more favourable. The first taster for the new album was definitely promising.

This is Spent the Day in Bed:


Recorded at La Fabrique Studios in France and at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Studios in Rome, Low in High School comes out on November 17 via BMG.

Morrissey will tour the UK and Ireland early next year including a date at the Hydro in Glasgow on February 17.

Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage

New single Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage is out today, the cover being a (cropped) photo by Miron Zownir. Which I like a lot but which Twitter doesn’t.

What the story behind the picture is I have no idea although I do know that it was taken in New York in the 1980s and that the sign says SOHO IS FULL OF SHIT.

Here is Morrissey performing the track live for BBC 6 Music:


For more on the album: http://morrisseyofficial.com/