The Last Days of Earth?

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Rikki And The Last Days Of Earth: City Of The Damned (DJM)

Music critics enjoyed putting the boot into Rikki and the Last Days Of Earth, mainly due to the fact a number of them hailed from posho backgrounds, one journalist gleefully pointing out that the drummer was Eton educated and that, between them, the band had passed 32 ‘O’ Levels and 6 ‘A’ Levels.

Which, of course, automatically meant that they weren’t as good as a gang of guttersnipes who’d all lived in high-rises all their lives.

city-of-the-damned

Or so some would have had you believe back in ’77, the same kind of folk that have just stopped listening to Kate Bush because she praised Theresa May – nowadays I seem pretty unusual in not feeling the need for artists to agree with my worldview.

Okay, maybe some of the Sounds and NME staff just judged singer Rikki Sylvan to be a dreadful poser and his group to be bandwagon jumpers.

I would disagree at least to some extent with the latter accusation. Yeah, the hair was spiky and at times they employed the same sonic attack as acts judged more credible than themselves but they certainly didn’t lazily embrace any Pistols/Ramones/Clash clone sound and instead explored a similar musical vein to acts like the John Foxx version of Ultravox! and The Doctors of Madness, and which was as near to post-glam as punk rock.

Occasionally resembling that irritating Safety Dance song from the 1980s,
this is City of the Damned, a single that received a miserly 1 out of 5 in the first issue of punk mag Trick. Make up your own minds:


Although I’ve always obviously enjoyed City of the Damned, until a few days ago I had never heard their LP Four Minute Warning released by DJM in the summer of 1978.

This proved to be one of the most frustratingly inconsistent albums I’ve ever listened to, pinballing from the good to the bad to the downright laughable on a track by track basis.

This is a pity as the album starts off with a bang with For the Last Days…, a thrilling (near) instrumental with grandiose guitar lines and the guys sounding like Queen’s younger, punkier brothers, the track ending with the singer proclaiming: ‘I’m Rickki Sylvan, these are the last days of Earth.’

Yes, Sylvan was into apocalypse, decadence, dystopian nightmares (via William Burrough’s Wild Boys) and black magick but he wasn’t all laughs.

Boom boom.

Also on the plus side there’s No Wave (It’s So Simple) with its meaty bassline (listen to it and then listen to Dr Mabuse by Propaganda and you’ll hear the similarity). I’m very fond of the blissful washes of synthesizer that punctuate the song too.

Aleistair Crowley is obviously Sylvan’s tribute to man denounced by the British press as the ‘wickedest man in the world’. Sylvan was a fan of Crowley and the occult but I’m not sure that Crowley would have been a fan of the song. Here the band somehow decided to incorporate a cod reggae feel and the lyrics were delivered with a vocal so arch it borders on the ridiculous. As it does on several other tracks. A shocker.

Mick Farren dismissed the album in NME: ‘Sad to say, what we have as end product is overblown, confusing pomp rock that hasn’t worked out that melodrama isn’t the same thing as energy.’

Music writer Dave Thompson was a fan though. In his book London’s Burning, he painted one of the few favourable pictures I have yet read of the band: ‘They looked great, dripping leather from every limb and never pictured with anything less than their Sunday-best scowls in place, while their live show had to be heard to be believed – a seething, hissing, icy blast, a wall of synthesized menace that sounded like a million dollars and probably cost that much as well.’

I didn’t get to see them myself and I think their only ever Scottish dates were the ones listed in the ad below in Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh but maybe someone can tell me otherwise.

rikki-and-the-last-days-of-earth-nme-ad

Does the Rikki and the Last Days Of Earth revival start here?

Probably not I would have to admit.

It was Easy, it was Cheap, Go and Do It!

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Desperate Bicycles: Smokescreen (Refill Records)

And now for one of the most influential ever British independent singles.

What is independent or indie?

The question was asked in last year’s BBC4 documentary Music for Misfits. ‘Is it a genre of music, generally accepted to involve noisy guitars?’ presenter Mark Radcliffe suggested. ‘Is it a business model, small companies not beholden to major corporations? Is it a state of mind?’

My answers being ‘No. Not necessarily and not necessarily.’

Almost forty years after buying my first independent single I still can’t give you a definitive answer to the question but what I can say is the that some records described as indie or independent are more independent than others. Early on Stiff set up a distribution deal in Britain with EMI and one with Epic for their American releases, while Jerry Dammers arranged a deal with Chrysalis to fund 2 Tone. Independent?

When the Guardian addressed the question last year to coincide with the first showing of Music for Misfits, Jude Rogers stated: ‘Some facts remain unshakeable. At the beginning were Buzzcocks, with their made-for-£500 Spiral Scratch EP.’

Okay, to try and shake the unshakeable, I’ll mention just one of many examples that I could. During the long hot summer of 1976, just as Buzzcocks were setting up a show in Manchester for The Sex Pistols, Abercrombie Fraser – a pseudonym of Kevin Westlake, who’d played guitar in Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – released a version of Marie’s Wedding on Pinnacle, a British independent label label – yes, they did already exist – and distribution company that had some success around this time with the highly irritating boyband Flintlock.

Some facts do though actually remain unshakeable, one of them being The Desperate Bicycles were pretty much as independent as it was possible to be in the late 1970s, no distribution deals with majors and certainly not a penny in funding from them either.

The Desperates were one of those bands like Wire and Subway Sect that made records in 1977 which now sound more post-punk than punk. They formed with the simple ambition to record a single, cheaply and without record label involvement and this before they had even rehearsed as a band, let alone played a live show.

When asked about this by fanzine New Wave, bassist Roger Stephens, explained: ‘I think the only way we could get five people to actually get interested in playing together was to say, well we’re going to cut a record straight away. The whole novelty of it was enough to make sure people turned up. It sounds crazy but that’s a part of it.’

On their own Refill label, this is that debut single, Smokecreen, yes, the very first independent single I ever bought:


Call me lazy but if you want to know about the band and the basic details of how they made their first two 45s, then here’s what they said themselves on the back cover of their second DIY release The Medium was Tedium:

‘The Desperate Bicycles were formed in March 1977 specifically for the purpose of recording and releasing a single on their own label. They booked a studio in Dalston for three hours and with a lot of courage and a little rehearsal they recorded ‘Smokescreen’ and ‘Handlebars’. It subsequently leapt at the throat. Three months later The Desperate Bicycles were back in the studio to record their second single and this is the result. “No more time for spectating” they sing and who knows? They may be right. They’d really like to know why you haven’t made your single yet. “It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it” (the complete cost of “Smokescreen” was 153 pounds). The medium may very well have been tedium but it’s changing fast. So if you can understand, go and join a band. Now it’s your turn…………….’

And if you’re wondering what 153 quid would be in today’s money, then adjusting for inflation that would be the inflation adjusted equivalent to is £664.63. According to Moneysorter.co.uk anyway.

splitting-the-atom-the-medium-is-tedium

Refusing to advertise, the band only played live sporadically. Word of mouth was their main means of spreading the word until John Peel began repeatedly playing Smokescreen, before inviting them in to record a session for his show in the summer of 1977, which kicked off with a version of Smokescreen that surpassed the single.

The Desperates punted their record to independent music shops like Small Wonder and Rough Trade. Happily the initial Smokescreen pressing of 500 sold out with the band putting the profits into a second pressing of 1000 which again sold out allowing them to put the further profits into a second single. That pressing soon also sold out and this time they used the profits to press up 2500 more copies of each of the two singles and to buy some new equipment.

In his book Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds described the Desperate Bicycles as ‘DIY’s most fervent evangelists’. Buzzcocks might have got in there before them and significantly the Manchester group used the back cover of their EP to help demystify the process of making a record by listing the number of takes and guitar overdubs on each track. This would be an obvious inspiration to the Desperates but as Buzzcocks were lured relatively quickly from New Hormones to United Artists you could easily argue that it was The Desperate Bicycles who were more influential to many new DIY bands emerging around this time.

Here’s Simon Reynolds again in the same book quoting Nikki Sudden of Swell Maps: ‘It wasn’t until Desperate Bicycles did their first single that we realised you could actually book a studio and make a record. We thought only major labels could hire them. Which seems ridiculous now!’

Scritti Politti, a bunch of puritanical Camden squat dwellers who spent their days scrutinizing far-left samizdats and post-structuralist theory while plotting the best way how to bring about the immediate downfall of capitalism – and likely existing on a diet on brown rice as they did so – also undoubtedly took encouragement from the example of the Buzzcocks and Desperates, listing not only the cost of making their debut single on the sleeve but also breaking down precisely each of the costs they’d incurred as well as giving out contact details for each of the companies they had used.

The Television Personalties are another band that found inspiration in records like Smokescreen and, in turn, they influenced the next generation like Alan McGee, who had by the mid-80s (when this type of music would be regularly termed ‘alternative’ rather than ‘indie’) established a reputation for signing some of the most exciting independent acts in the country like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream to his label Creation – and, of course, later McGee went on to sell around half of Creation to Sony Music in the early 1990s.

Here’s a question, a hypothetical one.

Would The Desperates have been tempted if – unlikely I know – a major had taken a serious interest in tempting them to sign on the dotted line with a hefty advance?

As far as I can tell, they seem to have refused the opportunity to ever license any of their material for a re-release on CD or as a download, although they have spoken of doing this themselves.

So, the band do still strike me as genuine outsiders.

But hey, you never know.

By the time The Desperates had petered out in the early 1980s, Scritti were becoming frustrated by the limitations of being on an independent (in their case Rough Trade). As the decade progressed, singer Green Gartside took the not very democratic decision to elect himself leader of Scritti, eventually using the band to all extents and purposes as a solo vehicle.

Bob Last was appointed manager. I’m guessing because Green approved of how he’d handled the mega-success of The Human League. When offered the chance Scritti moved from egalitarian Rough Trade to hippy capitalist Richard Branson’s Virgin, something that Green would surely have laughed at back in the days when he would rail against everything from the usual capitalist suspects through to the experimental London Musicians’ Collective (castigated as ‘bourgeois imperialist improvisers’) and fellow leftist acts such as The Pop Group.

Duran Duran became fans and Green found himself in the pages of Smash Hits as regularly as NME, where he would be as likely to praise Tiffany as Marcel Duchamp. In all probability far more yuppies bought his records than squatters.

He took to wearing glossy lipstick and employed Arif Mardin to make his sound even glossier.

Worst of all, though, he somehow started to believe that it was a good idea to wear a shellsuit. Made by Nike.

Uploaded by Hell From The Eighties, sorry, Hello From The Eighties, this is Absolute:


More Scritti to come shortly as, believe it or not, I am actually a fan and should maybe say before I finish that Green/Scritti signed again to the reactivated Rough Trade imprint around a decade ago.

The Independent Group & The Independent Group

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Bryan Ferry: This is Tomorrow (Polydor)

This week I’ve been reading Alastair Sooke’s Pop Art: A Colourful History which includes a long chapter on the rise of British Pop Art.

Sooke is a critic who has been known to take a slagging but I’m especially enjoying reading about Peter Blake, who will always be best remembered as the co-creator of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but who has also designed album sleeves for Paul Weller, Pentangle, The Who and the John Peel tribute album Right Time, Wrong Speed, as well as producing paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures that have found their way into the collections of many of the world’s finest galleries.

It’s fascinating to read about the young artist who in the post-war years looked across the Atlantic with envy. Britain was drab and dreary in comparison, a nation of rationing, a single TV channel and beige wallpaper while for many young people America represented glamour – a world of colour, Coca Cola, fast food and Hollywood.

Even in London it proved impossible for him to find a pair of jeans. He bought some work overalls made with a material that resembled denim, cut off the top off and created his own makeshift version.

Of one of his paintings of the time, he says: ‘Self-Portrait with Badges was about the unusualness of wearing jeans and trainers – people only wore trainers then for sport. And the idea of an adult with a lot of badges didn’t exist. People would have thought I was mad.’

People only wearing trainers for sport? Changed days, eh?

Some see Blake as the Godfather of Pop Art with his paintings of film stars, pin-ups, wrestlers, tattooed women – a far from common sight at the time – and, of course, pop artists of another kind like Elvis and Bo Diddley.

peter-blake-splhcb-album-cover peter-blake-got-a-girl

Sooke contrasts Blake’s work with that of the informal artistic gathering of artists, architects and theorists that became known as the Independent Group. They can also be seen as forerunners of Pop. Formed at the ICA in London, like Blake, the IG were also mesmerized by the shiny new world represented by the USA, especially in their case automobiles, movies, comics and science fiction magazines.

Unlike Blake though, the IG took a stringent, intellectual view of these phenomena, they wanted to analyse the relationship between so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, while Blake simply wanted to enjoy.

‘When are you getting to Bryan Ferry?’ I hear some of you asking.

Soon. Honestly.

just-what-is-it-that-makes-todays-homes-so-different-so-appealing this-is-tomorrow-installation-shot

Just as Blake will be remembered for an iconic album cover, the Independent Group will likely remain collectively best known for a seminal 1956 exhibition that they staged at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

The theme of the collaborative show was the ‘modern’ way of living and the most imaginative representation of this was a collage by prominent member Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? featured in the catalogue and some promotional posters (that’s it above left, next to a photo of an installation Hamilton helped create for the exhibition). The name of the show was This Is Tomorrow – yes, the inspiration for the first single from Bryan Ferry’s fourth solo album, In Your Mind.

Many decades before he got into the whole hobnobbing with toffs scene and raising his son to be immensely proud of killing foxes, Ferry had been a promising art student and was taught at Newcastle Uni’s art department by Hamilton, who like Blake went on to design an album cover for The Beatles, in his case, The White Album.

Actually Ferry had taken the name of the debut Roxy Music single, Virginia Plain, from one of his own Pop Art influenced watercolours of his student days under Hamilton and the older artist went on to influence Ferry in his music career, which Ferry has been happy to acknowledge: ‘Certainly some of the early songs were very collage like – where I’d actually throw different styles of music into the same song,’ he told Michael Bracewell in the book Re-Make/Re-Model. The title of his next album, 1978’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, was borrowed from a conceptual artwork by Marcel Duchamp, a piece Hamilton recreated for a Duchamp retrospective during the 1960s at the Tate.

Hamilton, incidentally, didn’t like being labelled as a Pop Artist and he didn’t approve of the This is Tomorrow title for the exhibition either, telling Bracewell: ‘Nobody can say what tomorrow’s going to be like – let’s concentrate on today.’

A good point maybe but let’s actually concentrate instead for a few minutes at least on a track from January 1977. With Chris ‘Motorbikin’ Spedding on guitar and Roxy’s Paul Thompson on drums, this is Bryan Ferry with This is Tomorrow:


For more on Bryan Ferry, click here. For more on Richard Hamilton, here’s a segment from a Channel 4 documentary that also features Ferry.

*

In Glasgow, The Independent Group was the name given to the collection of musicians that worked with Paul Quinn on his work for the reactivated Postcard label.

Was Quinn, or label boss Alan Horne, inspired by the name of the London based art grouping?

I suspect so but I’m guessing.

Sacrilege I know but I’ve never been that keen on Quinn’s voice, although I did absolutely adore Will I Ever Be Inside of You? where he was aided and abetted by the exquisite, celestial vocals of Jane Marie O’Brien.

From 1994, this is Paul Quinn and the Independent Group with Will I Ever Be Inside of You?:

 
Footnote:

Some years ago I went along to see Hamilton’s show, Protest Pictures, at Inverleith House in Edinburgh, a space where I’ve also seen work by artists of the calibre of Douglas Gordon, Lucy McKenzie, Cy Twombly and Jim Lambie. Inverleith House is a fantastic place to see contemporary art but one which, sadly, will no longer do so after tomorrow. Which is a shame.

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THE LURKERS: SHADOW (BEGGARS BANQUET)

The label Beggars Banquet emerged in the slipstream of new independents like Stiff and Chiswick in the mid ’70s. Over the decades they’ve released music by Gary Numan, The Fall, The Go-Betweens and Bauhaus and also launched a number of subsidiaries including 4AD and XL Recordings, as well as acquiring other labels such as Rough Trade and Matador, these all now coming under the umbrella of the Beggars Group, which can claim to be the biggest independent label network in Europe.

In 1974 though, Beggars Banquet was a single record shop in Earl’s Court in London. It quickly grew into a small chain of stores in the capital and it was in a basement of the Fulham branch that The Lurkers first began to rehearse in 1976.

Mike Stone, who ran this shop, got to know the band and became their manager although he later invited the Beggars owners, Martin Mills and Nick Austin, to step in and take over in this role. They agreed but failed to find the band a record deal so, in the spirit of the times, they hit upon the idea to launch their own label.  Their opening salvo, BEG 1, being The Lurkers’ Shadow and Love Story, or the Free Admission Single as it was dubbed on the sleeve.

Shadow (Beggars Banquet)

Before the year was out, Beggars had also released an album, Streets, with some of the best independent punk/new wave records from ’77 including John Cooper Clarke, The Members, The Exile (from Bishopbriggs) and, of course, The Lurkers. This could be called the first ‘punk’ compilation to come out on a UK label.

By the summer of 1979, Beggars had scored a couple of British #1 singles with Tubeway Army and a solo Gary Numan and in recent years, through XL and Matador, the Beggars Group have had #1 albums in America with Vampire Weekend and Queens of the Stone Age. In between, a number of other artists associated with the network such as The Prodigy and Pixies have had fantastic worldwide success but I still reckon that the run of early singles by The Lurkers: Shadow, Freak Show, Ain’t Got a Clue and I Don’t Need To Tell Her, are right up there with the best of their releases.

Taken from the 1977 documentary Punk in London, this is The Lurkers live with Shadow:


In his biography, God’d Lonely Men, Pete Haynes, aka Manic Esso when he drummed on tracks like Shadow, mentions a recent party held by Beggars that he went along to. ‘It was corporate,’ he wrote. ‘There were chill rooms with toys and games for tall children with beaky faces, glasses, gelled hair and satchels on their backs.’ He concluded: ‘It was a long way from that rehearsal room in Fulham. I thought about Beggar’s at the time, not knowing a lot about music but being in the right place at the right time and there they are now, minus Nick Austin, the company had done well.’

I spoke this week with Pete Haynes. His current version of the band, The Lurkers GLM (that’s three of the original Lurkers who until recently went out under the name God’s Lonely Men) have a very impressive new album, The Future’s Calling, out now on Unlatched Records.

My interview should be uploaded within the next week or so but before then here’s a little extra Lurkers, from Top of the Pops, this is I Don’t Need To Tell Her:

 
For more on The Lurkers GLM. click here.

Here Comes Johnny Yen Again

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Iggy Pop: Lust For Life

British cinema wasn’t in a good place in the mid 1990s. D’you remember highly touted films like Sarah and Jack? Blue Juice? Shopping? Just imagine, a time of such utter mediocrity that some critics actually hailed Sadie Frost as the country’s most promising young actress.

Or what about The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain? It was still officially a hill by the time I’d fled the Glasgow Film Theatre and hotfooted it to the nearest bar, believe me.

Then along came Trainspotting and, what’s more, not a dreary social realist version of what remains Irvine Welsh’s finest novel but an inventive, stylish, visceral and fantastically funny take on it.

You watched Ken Loach’s Ladybird, Ladybird feeling equally bored and depressed but you stepped out of Trainspotting, feeling, well, a lust for life.

Trainspotting is here

One of the best things about the movie was, of course, its soundtrack.

Like Tarantino and Scorcese, Danny Boyle is one of those directors that possess a near perfect knack of combining sound and visuals perfectly to lift a movie.

Just think of that frenetic opening of Trainspotting. Renton and Spud being chased down Edinburgh’s Princes Street by a couple of security guards while we hear the famous ‘Choose Life’ voice-over, accompanied by Iggy Pop’s searing uber-classic Lust For Life.

Renton and Spud on Princes Street

I’d read snippets of Welsh’s novel in several of the Scottish litzines that began springing up in the first half of the 1990s and Scream, If You Want To Go Faster, the ninth installment of the annual New Writing Scotland anthology series. I obviously read the novel too when it was first published and, later, went to see Welsh give a reading at the Paisley Arts Centre. I was also lucky enough to nab a ticket for Harry Gibson’s adaptation at the Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals.

Guess what? I dearly wanted the movie to succeed and by the time Boyle freeze-framed on Renton as he a grins at the horrified man who has just run him over, I was confident that this would be the single most exciting Scottish film I had ever seen. And we were only thirty seconds into the action.

I still can’t hear Lust For Life without thinking of that scene, the combination of the two, in all likelihood, will always be indelibly linked in my head, although usually that hyperactive opening rather than the 5-a-side match, the cooking up and injecting the junk in Mother Superior’s or the friends and family decrying heroin while Iggy’s song surges on, still sounding sensational.

From the album Lust For Life, here it is, one of the very finest tracks ever recorded, with the single greatest drum intro ever, ever, ever – the equivalent of a pitbull on steroids straining at a particularly tight leash – and those pounding, primal drums brilliantly balanced by a stunning, stalking Motown bassline from Tony Sales and some itchy yet glistening guitar work from the genuis that is Carlos Alomar and Scotland’s very own Ricky Gardiner. Not forgetting James Newell Osterberg, Jr crooning his Burroughs inspired badass surrealism and his pal David Robert Jones helping out with the backing vocals:


Instead of putting out Lust For Life on 45, RCA in Britain decided to choose Success, another track from the album. With The Passenger somehow relegated to B-side status.

The reasoning behind this decision remains a mystery to me. Not as big a mystery as why around 100,000 folks thought it was a good idea to watch Chris Martin and his bed wetting brethren in Coldplay headline the main stage of Glastonbury on Sunday night, but a mystery all the same.

I obviously didn’t bother watching this myself but it sounds like it just might have been the cosiest ever moment in rock history, the polar opposite of the days when the Ig would goad biker gangs in his audience, snort angel dust and lacerate his bare chest with broken bottles.* I’m sure the numpty readers of Heat and OK! would have lapped up Martin’s antics though. OMG! Apple & Moses r up onstage @ Glasto 2 sing! Awesome!

~

Iggy has recently released another album, Post Pop Depression, which the New York Times has claimed: ‘picks up where Lust For Life left off.’ I wouldn’t go that far myself but it really is worth seeking out. From it, this is American Valhalla.


For more on Iggy: http://iggypop.com/

* Okay, none of these things are in reality very big or very clever but you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Incendiary Device (& White Night)

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Johnny Moped Incendiary Device

Today sees the release of a new album It’s A Real Cool Baby by legendary punk act Johnny Moped – Johnny Moped being the name of the singer and the band incidentally, just like Alice Cooper once upon a time was a band name as well as being the moniker of the man with the spidery black mascara and fondness for snakes.

‘Moped was enamoured with the biker thing,’ Captain Sensible explained in John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History. ‘He wanted to be Johnny Harley, Johnny Vincent, Johnny Norton – some powerful bike name – but we wouldn’t let him, so we called him Johnny Moped all the time!’

Still as names go it has to be better than Slimey Toad, the band’s guitarist.

Moped remains one of the great eccentrics of the punk era, a spectacularly unreliable performer who sometimes forgot to turn up at gigs and sometimes wasn’t allowed out the house by his wife and disapproving mother-in-law (seriously). He also on occasion had to be kidnapped and forced into a recording studio and he would ask to be dropped off at a bush somewhere in Croydon post-gig where he would presumably sleep.

At different points his band contained the aforementioned Captain as well as, very briefly, Chrissie Hynde. They supported The Damned on numerous times back in the heyday of punk, played The Roxy and appeared on the Live at the Roxy WC2 compilation on Harvest Records that charted in the summer of 1977. Independent Chiswick Records signed them and they released three singles and one album, Cycledelic, before deciding to split up (for the first time).

Johnny Moped AJohnny Moped B

The debut single was No-One but the flip side is the song that best encapsulates the spirit of the band. As original member Dave Berk put it in the liner booklet for The Best of Johnny Moped CD: ‘Our first single was supposed to be Incendiary Device but “stick it in her lughole” didn’t go down too well with Radio 1 so we switched it to the B side and promoted No-One. Our second single Darling, Let’s Have Another Baby was issued one week, gained ‘Single of the Week’ in all 3 music papers the next week.’

Critic Ira Robbins has described the music on 1978’s Cycledelic as being played by a ‘seemingly drunken bunch of grungy simpletons’, while reviewing the album for NME, Monty Smith wrote that stylistically, the band were: ‘all over the shop, ranging from the goonish anarchism of “Mystery Track/VD Boiler”, through the punky & western of “Darling”, to straight-ahead rock’n’roll (“Little Queen”) and the climactic trilogy of hooligan rock, “Wild Breed”, “Hell Razor” and “Incendiary Device”.’

If you’re looking for music that’s delivered with an unhinged machine-gun ferocity and sometimes deranged sense of humour, Johnny Moped should be for you. This is Incendiary Device:


Incendiary Device has been complied on many a punk rock compilation, most recently on 2014 Souljazz release, Punk 45 Vol.2: There Is No Such As Society, where it joined some fantastic independent singles by acts including Josef K, The Prefects, Television Personalities and The Lines. From 1978, this is The Lines with White Night:


On April 23, Johnny Moped play the Lexington in London and then on April 29, they’ll be appearing at the Prince Albert in Brighton.

For more on Johnny Moped (and the documentary on him) click here.

‘I’m an Extraordinarily Bitter Person.’

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Elvis Costello. Alison 
Extraordinarily bitter person? No, not me, I’m only a little bitter myself, the headline quote comes from a man who released a single in 1983 titled Everyday I Write the Book.

Now he has, an autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, which I am currently reading and enjoying more than any of recent Elvis Costello albums I’ve heard (he says, comparing apples with oranges).

It’s a huge book brimming with fascinating details that in typical Costello fashion makes absolutely no concession to the idea of the supposed fast dwindling attention spans of readers.

He’s also chosen to go down the non-linear path of writing. ‘I was born in the same hospital in which Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin,’ he writes. ‘I apologise in advance that I have not been the same boon to mankind.’ This is from page 81.

The big surprise, though, is the sheer depth of personal detail he has decided to go into. Back in 1977, the angry young man who until recently had been known as Declan Partick McManus wasn’t so keen to volunteer this kind of information.

‘I don’t really think that the past – my past – is all that interesting,’ he told Allan Jones in Melody Maker that summer. ‘I don’t see any point in talking about the past, I don’t want to get into that. I mean, I haven’t just learned the guitar in the last 10 minutes, but I’m not going to get talking about what I’ve done in the past.’

’77 was the breakout year for Costello when he progressed from being a virtual unknown to signing with Stiff, gaining that new ATTENTION PLEASE! name and then a new backing band too in the shape of The Attractions. According to some music hacks anyway, he went from potentially becoming the new Graham Parker to potentially becoming the new Bruce Springsteen in a matter of months.

For once the hype was deserved. There was a highly impressive flurry of singles starting in the spring with Less Than Zero, and continuing through Alison, Red Shoes and then that autumn, a taste of things to come with Watching The Detectives, the first single issued on Stiff to chart. Debut long player, My Aim is True didn’t disappoint either, and was an album of ‘often intense brilliance’ according to NME. That December he made an appearance on Saturday Night Live and America began taking serious notice too.

Trouser Press, December 1977 
The bulk of My Aim is True was written at his work, the famous computer operator job at Elizabeth Arden, or on the tube home to Hounslow and here is what the man himself says about the second single and album highlight, Alison:

’I’ve always told people that I wrote the song “Alison” after seeing a beautiful checkout girl at the local supermarket. She had a face for which a ship might have once been named. Scoundrels might once have fought mist-swathed duels to defend her honor.

’Now she was punching in the prices on cans of beans at a cash register and looking as if all the hopes and dreams of her youth were draining away. All that were left would soon be squandered to a ruffian who told her convenient lies and trapped her still further.’

This is a live version of the track recorded some time after its original release:

 
Costello talks in Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink about the one time plan of DJ and author Charlie Gillett to sign him to Oval, his independent label that specialised in putting out some great reggae such as Dennis Brown and Horace Andy and some even better Cajun flavoured tracks that he licensed from the States, the best of which was his coupling of Shelton Dunaway’s swamp-pop take on Betty and Dupree and Johnnie Allan’s joyous Promised Land, a single that is one of my favourite ever cover versions and which almost broke into the British Top Thirty in 1974.

It’s also a song that Costello’s old pub rock band Flip City once played live to the inmates of London’s Wandsworth Prison, probably around the time when another guy called Elvis released his version of the song on 45. Despite having a captive audience, apparently Flip City failed to make the jailhouse rock although Promised Land was the first song in the set that managed to elicit any applause from the assorted crims.

Here is the Allan version, which even outshines the Chuck Berry original:

 
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