All the Love and Poison of London (& A Reaction Against All the Love and Poison of London)

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Suede and Elastica

This week I’ve been reading The Last Party, John Harris’s take on Britpop, Blair and the demise of English Rock, together with the July issue of Mojo.

I thought I’d given up on music mags, as every time I’ve read one in recent years I’ve felt something akin to déjà vu, with the same old acts cropping up again and again, saying much the same things again and again – while far too many of the newer acts look like geography teachers for my liking.

Suede ad

Suede certainly didn’t resemble geography teachers. And they didn’t resemble the grunge acts that were ruling the alternative roost of the early 1990s either. Suede might have had longish hair but unlike the Seattle bands, they deemed it a good idea to actually wash it more than once every coupla months. And there was as much chance as singer Brett Anderson donning a plaid shirt as me sending a donation to Richard Branson on his private island to help him out during his current financial difficulties.

Live shows saw Brett sashaying around the stage, skelping his thighs and his skinny ass as he did so, that lank fringe of his swaying foppishly back and forth across with metronome regularity, while singing in that arch voice of his about beautiful losers and the underside of the city – or as the band put it on the deadwax of Metal Mickey: ‘All the Love and Poison of London’.

A year earlier A&R departments wouldn’t cross the street to see them but in 1992, the band speedily found themselves the darlings of the British rock press which now included magazines like Q, Vox and Select. Few independent guitar acts had created this level of hype since the early days of The Smiths and The Jesus and Mary Chain. For one front cover in Spring 1992, Melody Maker declared them the best new band in Britain. They had yet to release any music, although when sleaze tinged glam pop debut The Drowners hit record shops the hype machine only accelerated.

The track demonstrated a band with big ambitions, consequently pissing off many indie purists (I’ve just reached the point in The Last Party, where an indie purist accosts Alan McGee and calls him a ‘turncoat cunt’, before spitting on him for selling off just under half of Creation to Sony). These musical puritans must have cursed the rise of Suede, meaning less room in their music paper of choice for Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and other acts with terrible haircuts and even worse music.

NME’s Christmas 1992 issue was reputedly their biggest seller in a decade. On the cover Brett Anderson posed as Sid Vicious, an idea explored around the same time by the artist Gavin Turk in his life-size waxwork Pop, where Turk poses as Vicious singing My Way in The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle. Which came first? I’m not sure but if I had to guess I’d go for the NME cover.

Brett as Sid and Gavin as Sid

Anderson had a way with a quote. Twenty years earlier, David Bowie had informed Melody Maker that he was ‘gay, and always have been.’ Brett Anderson now explained in the same paper that: ‘I see myself as a bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience.’ This struck some as a big deal at the time.

Brett’s father was a Lisztomaniac who even named Brett’s sister Blondine after Franz Liszt’s daughter. His mum an art school graduate. The young Brett caught up with The Sex Pistols in secondary school during the 1980s. And then he developed a taste for Crass and The Exploited, which is a bit like discovering that pre-Britain’s Got Talent, Susan Boyle had been obsessed with, well, Crass and The Exploited.

His musical tastes improved with age, his affections switching primarily to Bowie and The Smiths. As Suede established themselves, their sound reflected these influences, although I thought there was as much Human Menagerie era Cockney Rebel as 1970s Bowie. Brett soon got to meet his heroes, although the encounter with Morrissey soured almost instantly. Anderson complained that Morrissey’s shyness was boring rather than charming and claimed Moz was like ‘some kind of useless teenager’.

The useless teenager volleyed back, decrying Suede as a band ‘with all reference points so tightly packed that it consequently leaves no room whatsoever for originality, should any be lurking.’ His tirade concluded by stating that Anderson would ‘never forgive God for not making him Angie Bowie.’ Oouch, but it was a putdown that raised the question as to why then had he chosen to cover The Insatiable Ones (one of the B-sides of The Drowners) live?

Controversies continued. Stuart Maconie at Select featured Anderson on one front cover with a Union Jack superimposed in the background – a decision guaranteed to get the knickers of most British indie types in a collective twist. A stooshie ensued with some seeing this as a dangerous right-wing statement, while others argued that the time was right to reclaim the flag and that you could be proud of being British without wanting a return to the days of the Raj. Either way, it was a decision that had nothing to do with Anderson.

From the moment Bernard Butler’s guitar took off and soared like Concorde, second single Metal Mickey was clearly going to consolidate Suede’s reputation. Like their stage image, the single’s packaging also showed the benefits of a coherent aesthetic. The first single had featured famous 1960s model Veruschka von Lehndorff on its cover, a trompe-l’œil suit painted on to her body and facial hair stippled on to her face. This time around Anderson chose an intriguing photo he’d found while browsing in a second-hand bookstore. Like The Smiths again, Suede were dead against the idea of any record company imposing their ideas over the band’s vision. The ideas for these sleeves came from Anderson and the boys, albeit a pair of graphic designers, Peter Barrett and Andrew Biscomb, were brought in to execute the finished product.

Suede 3 Singles

The Metal Mickey video saw the reappearance of the sleeve star of The Drowners – okay, somebody else dressing as the Veruschka figure but with a better pimp hat – who rescues a pretty thing from the drudgery of her dead-end job at a meat processing plant, whisking her off to the seedy glamour of a neon lit Soho.

Released on Nude Records in November 1992, here is Metal Mickey:

And now for an act featuring two former members of Suede, Justine Frischmann – who had gone out with Brett Anderson and had played guitar in the band – and Justin Welch, who was their first drummer, although not for long.

Justine decided to react against the music and lyrics of that band.

‘I was sick of the whole “love and poison of London” thing,’ she told Harris in The Last Party.

Elastica Singles

And unlike Suede, their aesthetic was minimalist DIY. Just take a look at the video for debut 45 Stutter.

White background, magazine pages scattered across the floor. Justine out in front, flanked by Donna Matthews and Annie Holland, with drummer Justin at the back. The band mime and a handheld camera captures them in a single take. A perfect match for the music with those crunching power chords, crisp drumming and Jean-Jacques Burnel bass. And didn’t Justine look effortlessly cool as she sings about her frustration at the failures of some guy in the bedroom.

From November 1993, this is Stutter, the third single release on the Deceptive label:

The album Suede charted at #1 in the UK Albums Chart, shifting 100,000 copies on the day of its release. It went on to win the then prestigious Mercury Music Prize, while Elastica also hit #1 becoming one of the fastest selling debuts in British musical history. Soon Suede’s rivals at the time Blur released Modern Life Is Rubbish, which I loved while Pulp were also about to make a hard won and well deserved breakthrough with His ‘n’ Hers.

For the first time since the late 1970s/ early ‘80s heyday of The Jam, The Specials and Dexy’s, my tastes were pretty much in line with what was looking like the new mainstream.

This wasn’t to last too long.

Justine Frischmann Three Paintings

Today Justine is based in California where she works as an abstract artist, utilising a wide range of materials from the traditional (oil paint) to the new (repurposed photography and fluorescent spray enamel).

‘I really enjoy the synthetic, Pop-look of fluorescents, and the magical, almost mystical way they seem to light up a surface,’ she told In the Make website. ‘They only came into existence in the latter part of the 20th century and for me, they are one of the best things about our toxic, synthetic times. Medieval artists used gold leaf to light up a surface; we have fluoro!’ Above are her paintings Lambent 89, Lambent 80 and Lambent 83.

Justine was shortlisted for the 2012 Marmite Prize although she didn’t win – presumably her work completely divided the opinions of the judges. She has no plans to reform Elastica which hopefully rules out any temptation to ever appear at some ‘90s Rewind style weekender at Butlin’s Minehead along with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.

Fingers crossed.

For more on Justine: http://www.justinefrischmann.net/

The World’s Most Tattooed Lady, A Man Playing Snooker And Thinking Of Other Things & Much Much More! – Pop Goes the Easel

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Produced in 1962 for BBC arts series Monitor, Pop Goes the Easel (terrible pun) explored British Pop Art. In a shirt and tie and with fingers steepled, Huw Wheldon introduces the documentary, which was directed by maverick visionary Ken Russell.

‘They’re four painters who turn for their subject matter to the world of pop art,’ he informs his audience. ‘The world of the popular imagination, the world of film stars, the twist, science fiction, pop singers; a world which you can dismiss if you feel so inclined, of course, as being tawdry and second rate but a world all the same in which everybody to some degree lives, whether we like it or not.’

If I had to put my money on it, Wheldon would definitely veer towards the tawdry and second rate category.

Peter Blake and Derek Boshier

Sadly, Pop Goes The Easel is shot in black and white, which fails to convey the sheer fizzing colour of the paintings and some of Russell’s idiosyncratic imagery.

Four twenty-something British artists were chosen to represent the rising movement: Peter Blake, Peter Phillips, Derek Boshier, and Pauline Boty. Pop is usually seen as an American movement but you could easily argue that it was invented in Britain by artists like Richard Hamilton and The Independent Group, Eduardo Paolozzi and Peter Blake himself, just as in the 1970s, punk became associated with Britain although again you could argue that The Ramones, Richard Hell and others kicked off things in New York.

Pop Art was about breaking down the barriers between high and low art and bringing back representation in an increasingly dreary art world where critics were championing an increasingly dry and dreary brand of post-painterly abstraction.

The documentary begins with the four artists hanging out together in London. They stroll along a funfair accompanied by James Darren’s contemporary hit Goodbye Cruel World, typical of the kind of kitsch and (second rate) chart pop that was all the rage when I was in nappies.

Pop Artists at a Coconut Shy

They ride some dodgems, slip coins into slot machines, visit a coconut shy, and then a shooting gallery where they all take aim with various degrees of success. Russell gets appropriately playful, editing in a shot from an old Hollywood Western of a gunslinger firing back – as if at the Pop Artists. Peter Blake draws a couple of clowns. As it’s the 1960s, they smoke incessantly.

Russell then presents single portraits of the quartet. A version of Jorge Veiga’s Brigitte Bardot by Achilles and his Heels plays as Blake pretends to wake up, his bedspread embroidered with a myriad of flags and photos of eminent Victorians. Two feet emerge from the bed but they surely aren’t Blake’s. No, Russell splices in a shot of Bardot’s legs also emerging from a bed as Achilles sings ‘The longest legs in Europe and the cutest nose I know.’ We see some of Blake’s Tattooed Lady series; Siriol, She-Devil of Naked Madness and Self Portrait With Badges. He’s already a highly accomplished artist.

Peter Phillips glances through monster and girlie mags that have inspired his work. In his room, huge canvases like For Men Only and The Entertainment Machine dominate the walls. A mysterious blonde beatnik girl plays pinball. She would be no match for Roger Daltrey’s Tommy from Russell’s 1975 film, though. Phillips points a toy gun at her and she mimes firing back and blowing away imaginary smoke from the imaginary barrel – just like the pretend gunfight in Godard’s Band of Outsiders, shot three years later.

Derek Boshier Studio in Pop Goes the Easel

Derek Boshier introduces an element of criticism into proceedings as he talks about advertising techniques and the commercialisation (and Americanisation) of British life – or should that have be commercialization and Americanization? – as he explains the thought processes behind the making of works like A Man Playing Snooker and Thinking of Other Things.

Pauline Boty Nightmare in Pop Goes the Easel

Cut to the most visually arresting sequence in the film. Pauline Boty lays out some of her works on paper onto a corridor floor and contemplates it. She is startled by the sudden sight of a line of women – who, oddly enough, appear to be social distancing. One speaks angrily in German and walks over the artworks. Pauline slaps her. Pauline is then pursued along curving corridors by a woman with black hair, black clothes and dark glasses in a wheelchair, a cranked up alarm bell adding to the unease, or is it an alarm clock? Yup, it’s an alarm clock finally ending a particularly disturbing and surreal anxiety dream.

‘I’ve always had very vivid dreams and I can remember them very, very easily,’ she tells us as she teases her hair like a 1980s goth. ‘I’ve used the kind of atmosphere of the dreams in my collages.’

The gang gather together at her West London flat. Peter looks at some of her collages. He is said to have harboured a massive (and unrequited) crush on Boty – it’s easy to see why – and once sent a valentine to her. None of your cheapo card shop efforts either. His valentine combined collage and enamel paint on hardboard.

Pauline Boty & Peter Blake in Pop Goes The Easel

Derek and Peter meanwhile, muse on the chance to visit space. The Science Fiction Bookclub is offering to send prospective moon pioneers an ‘authentic moon tour reservation’ which won’t commit them to taking the voyage. Of course, this depends on you spending money on some of their paperbacks. They decide to sign up for it anyway and Boshier quips that he’ll sort out the Mars trip later.

The four troop off to a local market and browse through racks of comic books then spend an evening watching wrestling with Pauline looking genuinely excited by the action of a tag team bout.

Finally, at a crowded studio, it’s time for the big daddy of dance crazes. Forget the locomotion, the mashed potato, or doing the alligator. Twisting time is here and Cole Clay is insisting that ‘everybody twist’. The party-goers obey and the twisting gets frenetic at times – it’s no wonder nobody in the room is chubby!

David Hockney makes an appearance in his big round black rimmed glasses and dyed blonde buzzcut. He jumps and hops rather than twists which maybe gives an indication that he would always follow an unconventional artistic pathway. It maybe also explains why he isn’t included in the gang – he wouldn’t have wanted to be pigeonholed as a ‘Pop Artist’ even though he had leanings in that direction back then.

Everybody’s having a smashing time and the camera loves the centre of attention that is Pauline Boty. She shows off shamelessly, grabs a fur stole and waves it behind her head. She grins and winks at the camera and I think the swinging sixties were at this point inevitable. They maybe even began at this precise moment.

pauline winking

Blake, Phillips and Boshier are all still creating art, much of it still pop tinged. In 2015, all three were all commissioned to create new channel idents for the BBC Four Goes Pop! Season.

Blake has designed covers for Paul Weller, Oasis and The Who (including last year’s WHO album). Most famously, he created the iconic cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, along with his wife of the time Jann Haworth.

Peter Phillip’s paintings have adorned album covers by The Cars and The Strokes. In the early 1970s, Boshier taught a guy who insisted on everybody calling him Woody at London’s Central School of Art & Design. Joe Strummer, as he was by 1978, helped hire Boshier to produce a songbook for Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Boshier also worked with David Bowie on the sleeves for Lodger and Let’s Dance.


And Pauline Boty? She would also enjoy a secondary career in acting, and was shortlisted for the role of Liz in Billy Liar. She didn’t land the part but some have observed that Julie Christie’s portrayal owed something to Boty’s free-spirited appearance in Pop Goes the Easel. Pauline went on to play a blink and you’ll almost miss her cameo as one of Michael Caine’s conquests in Alfie and Russell hired her in 1964 to play a prostitute in his Bartok film. She also acted at the Royal Court and on TV and radio and she and Derek Boshier were selected as regular dancers on Ready Steady Go.

Somehow during all this activity, her art progressed rapidly too. She embraced a more pure pop style (the collages we saw earlier owe more to surrealist Max Ernst than anybody else) and she would soon reach her pop art prime with paintings like The Only Blonde in the World – a rare take on Marilyn Monroe from a female artist – and With Love To Jean Paul Belmondo, a huge rose crammed into the top half of the canvas representing her sexual desire for the French film star.

Tragically, Pauline’s life was cut very short. While pregnant, it was discovered that she had leukemia during a checkup. She rejected the idea of an abortion and also refused chemotherapy, fearing it might harm her unborn child.

She died in the summer of 1966, four months after giving birth to a daughter.

Pauline Boty Monitor

For more on Pauline Boty: https://paulineboty.org/

Dark Alley / Black Star / Four Turkeys in a Big Black Car

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Brian Eno: King’s Lead Hat


Anagrams aren’t really my thing. Offhand, I can only think of one that someone else has coined. That is King’s Lead Hat, which you likely know is an anagram of Talking Heads. I bet Eno, the great intellectual of pop music*, could rattle off a list of thousands of them and given a few seconds could generate one off any random letters he was given to work with.

Eno had been impressed when he saw Talking Heads support The Ramones in the early summer of 1977 in London. He hooked up with them a couple of times after the show and struck up a friendship with David Byrne in particular. Before the year was out, Eno travelled to New York where he met up again with The Talking Heads. He was hired to produce their second album on this visit.

1977 was to prove a vintage year for Eno. He earned glowing accolades for acting as what Tony Visconti called ‘zen master’ on the classic pair of albums Low and Heroes that proved David Bowie truly was music’s great chameleon; he additionally teamed up with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius on the album Cluster and Eno and produced three albums that would be released on his own Obscure imprint, including Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams. Eno also appeared on a Camel track Elke – which I had never heard of until a few hours ago. It’s certainly better than I had imagined it would be although I doubt it’ll be making its way into my collection any time soon.

Most importantly for the artist, he finally finished off his fourth solo album Before And After Science, an eclectic collection of songs that ranged from the melancholic Julie With through to the aforementioned King’s Lead Hat.

The latter track owes something to the jerky, agitated sound of early XTC with an added dash of Devo (who would also soon hire him to produce an album) but at base it’s a salute to Talking Heads. Eno had even originally hoped that the band would accompany him on the track but due to a scheduling clash this couldn’t happen.

Still, he managed to assemble an interesting ensemble of musicians to take their place, including former Roxy pal Phil Manzanera, and Robert Fripp.
With nonsense lyrics such as ‘Dark alley / Black star / Four turkeys in a big black car’, Andy Fraser’s quakes of whiplash bass and unhinged plinky plonky piano supplied by Brian himself, this was Eno at his most infectious. Best of all is Fripp’s usual left side of the brain guitar lines.

Despite the age and experience of these musicians, it’s a track that didn’t sound remotely out of place in the year of punk’s big breakthrough. At the end of November, Eno was showcased on the front of NME with the first of a two part conversation with Ian McDonald inside. There was Old Wave, there was New Wave and there was David Bowie. And Brian Eno.

NME placed Before And After Science 14th best album of the year in their end of year poll, three places above Talking Heads’ ’77. Here is track five, side one:

If you were hoping for more of this kind of glorious racket from Eno, you’d be disappointed as he turned his attention increasingly to ambient music. Before then, he did release a remixed version of the song which came out on 45 in January 1978. This was accompanied by a way ahead of its time B-side, R.A.F. Although to be applauded for its innovative use of sampling, it’s not one that I listen to on any kind of regular basis (mainly due to being allergic to anything played on a fretless bass).

A precursor of 1981’s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts collaboration with David Byrne, which itself was way ahead of the curve, R.A.F. was credited to Brian Eno and Snatch with the songwriting divided between Eno, Judy Nylon and Patti Palladin.

It combined spoken vocals by Nylon and Palladin in the role of passengers on a hijacked plane with a studio recording made by Eno and others a few years previously. The sonic collage was then completed with recordings supplied by Nylon of snippets of West German police telephone communications containing RAF (Red Army Faction) ransom messages and other ominous material. Hear this hybrid of the new, the recycled, and the readymade here.

Roxy Music - Trash

‘Are you customized or ready-made?’ Bryan Ferry asked in the first line of Trash, Roxy Music’s first single since Both Ends Burning in 1975. This wasn’t the high-profile return that Ferry had hoped for. The song sneaked into the charts, peaking at #40.

It’s a decent enough wee ditty but clearly far from the flamboyant retro futurism of Virginia Plain and Ladytron. The new rather staidly dressed Roxy just didn’t look right either, with those shirts and ties and with a former pub rocker (Paul Carrack) and ex-Vibrator (Gary Tibbs) in the line-up. You might argue that image isn’t important but have a gander at either of the photos on the inside gatefold sleeves of the first two Roxy albums, and you’ll immediately realise which of the two line-ups would make the more vital music.

Roxy Music For Your Pleasure Gatefold Sleeve

Finally, if you like Japan (the band) then you’ll love the B-side of Trash, titled Trash 2.

* As I began writing, I chose an Eno Oblique Strategy online. It was Use Cliches and I don’t think this helped. I also decided to devise my first ever anagram and struggled to come up with what retrospectively strikes me as the highly obvious Brain One. Which it now strikes me I’m sure I’ve heard before.