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Summer In The City & (Till I) Run With You

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And the prize for the most obvious blog post anywhere today goes to me.

Yes, it’s been hot. A real rarity, my solar shower has been out and actually worked. The shorts have been on, even for a visit to the shops and the factor 50+ sunscreen has been applied all over to my very pale Celtic skin. My diet has mostly consisted of rum and raisin ice cream.

Unlike most summer related songs, Summer in the City isn’t a paean to the intense daytime heat (which you might’ve guessed I generally find hellish), with ‘All around, people looking half dead’. Instead the song enthuses about the relative cool of the evening. ‘At night it’s a different world,’ John Sebastian sings, ‘Go out and find a girl / Come-on come-on and dance all night / Despite the heat it’ll be alright.’

The Lovin’ Spoonful even in their mid ’60s heyday were often inconsistent. They could be sublime (Darling Be Home Soon), they could be irritating (Daydream, Nashville Cats) and with Summer in the City, they could produce perfect pop, or as they liked to it ‘good time music’.

Donovan visited the studio as Sebastian added his vocal to the song and I wonder how he thought his next single Sunshine Superman would compare in the popularity stakes, he would surely have realised he had some very serious competition if. In the middle of August 1966, Summer in the City replaced The Troggs’ Wild Thing as America’s number one single and stayed there for three weeks, before Donovan briefly replaced them at the top. Greenwich Village 3 Maryhill 1. Sounds about fair.

Summer in the City was one of the first hit singles to use found sound, which likely explains why John Sebastian finds miming it so amusing here, the pneumatic drill and car horn honks only drawing attention to the pretence that the band were supposedly performing the song live.

Fast forward a few years and, as the hits began running out, the band was witnessing a distinct lack of lovin’ within its ranks, with most of the friction coming between Sebastian and drummer and occasional vocalist Joe Butler.

‘John clearly did not respect Joe’s musical contributions or his abilities as a player, and wasn’t making much of an effort to disguise it,’ Steve Boone noted in his 2014 book My Life on the Run. ‘Joe thought John was pretentious, had a false sense of superiority and claimed too much credit for the success of the group.’

This maybe explains why when Sebastian left to embark on a solo career, Butler was keen to continue on, trading under the Lovin’ Spoonful moniker. If they could somehow turn around the bands’ fortunes, then he would have one up on his rival.

By the Autumn of 1968, they were operating as a trio: Joe Butler on drums, lead and backing vocals; Steve Boone on bass and Jerry Yester playing guitar and keyboards and supplying some vocals. A single called (Till I) Run With You was released in America but flopped so badly that the album which was also to be called (Till I) Run With You was renamed Revelation: Revolution ’69.

Billed as The Lovin’ Spoonful Featuring Joe Butler, the album is inconsistent with an unhealthy smattering of duds, the worst offender being the seven minutes long War Games, a collage of dialogue from film clips intended as a protest against the Vietnam War. Did it change a single person’s opinions on the carnage they’d been seeing on their TV screens every night? I doubt it. Maybe some stoned hippies found it ‘far out’ but it’s so abysmal that I couldn’t listen past the halfway mark.

So, the album is not recommended but I have grown fond of (Till I) Run With You, which has just made an appearance on the soundtrack of The Resort, a mystery thriller set in Mexico, that just started streaming in Britain last month. I doubt I’ll be tempted to tune in but the first episode at least has a couple of other imaginatively chosen tracks on its soundtrack in addition to the Spoonful: namely David Byrne and Brian Eno’s collaboration Strange Overtones and Bridget St John’s Song to Keep You Company, taken from a 1969 session for John Peel’s Top Gear show on Radio 1. Has any other Peel session track been used for a TV drama? I can’t think of any.

(Till I) Run With You might not be regarded as a Lovin’ Spoonful classic and it’s never going to receive the renewed attention and chart success that Kate Bush enjoyed with Running Up That Hill due to its use on Stranger Things but it does grow on you and Joe Butler carries out his vocal duties impressively. There’s also a sumptuous bass line and some lovely harmonies. Enjoy:

Time to experience a summer night in the city myself now, though I think the shorts will have to be ditched and the chances of me dancing all night are about the same as changing my mind about War Games, and declaring it an avant-garde political masterpiece.

A World of Twang

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I know there ain’t no surf in Portobello, but I’m not sure if there were any Scottish surf bands as that genre enjoyed its heyday during the first half of the 1960s. Until last week, I hadn’t realised just how international the genre had become – and by surf I’m meaning the reverb heavy guitar instrumentals rather than Beach Boys and Jan and Dean vocal tracks.

There were Jokers from Belgium, Finland’s The Quiets and Thailand’s The Galaxies. Surf influenced acts even existed behind the Iron Curtain, like Sincron from Romania and East Germany’s Die Sputniks, although they are said to have broken up due to pressure exerted by the authorities operating in the GDR. ‘Do we really have to copy all the rubbish that comes from the West?’ Party State leader Walter Ulbricht moaned during one speech to his Communist cronies, fearful that any exposure to Western music might help spread decadent capitalist values – even if the music in question was instrumental.

It’s safe to say, though, that Japan hosted the biggest surf scene outside the USA. There, visits by The Ventures proved extraordinarily popular. They weren’t just big in Japan, they were a true phenomenon. According to Wikipedia, The Ventures had five of 1965’s top 10 singles in Japan and outsold The Beatles.

Arguably, the best of the local acts were The Launchers, who supported The Ventures on their 1965 tour of Japan. Featuring well known actor Yuzo Kayama on lead guitar, fans flocked to see them wherever they played and The Ventures themselves became fans, presenting Kayama with one of their distinctive white Mosrite guitars at the end of the tour. They later even covered a couple of Launchers favourites: Black Sand Beach and Yozora No Hoshi, the latter of which you can listen to here.

Terry Terauchi and His Blue Jeans also notched up hit after hit and possibly peaked with their 1964 album Korezo Surfing (This is Surfing). A movie was even devised in 1965 to cash in on what was known as the ‘Elecki’ craze and punters happily queued to see Ereki no Wakadaishō (which you might know as Campus A-Go-Go). By any accounts I’ve come across this was not a movie that ever aimed at matching the artistry of Akira Kurosawa or Yasujirō Ozu, but it did feature a guitar duel between Kayama and Terry Terauchi and that’s something l’d like to see it.

Then there were The King’s Road, Hiroshi Tsutsumi & His All Stars Wagon, The Adventures (see what they did there?), and even, according to Julian Cope, The Tokyo Ventures, who pumped out ‘Spirited morale-boosting elecki versions of traditional Japanese army songs.’ Maybe not a band I’ll be seeking out.

Japan’s love affair with surf lives on and a version of The Ventures still tour there regularly, while a plethora of tribute acts are popular too.

Based in city of Ōita on the island of Kyushu, prolific garage band The Routes recently released The Twang Machine, a collection of ten Kraftwerk classics reimagined as surf tracks. Is this gimmicky? Yes. Do these versions improve on the originals? Of course not. Do they sound fantastic on a summer’s day? You bet.

Here the guys crank up the reverb magnificently on a rip-roaring Trans-Europe Express:

For more on The Routes, here’s a link for Facebook, and here’s one for Bandcamp.

Theme From Pulp

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Much as I like the Sheffield band, for me the musical highlight of the documentary Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets was when Jarvis and his bandmates throw toilet rolls into an audience, accompanied not by Mis-Shapes or Disco 2000 but by Ennio Morricone’s Giu La Testa (A Fistful of Dynamite).

In his score for the 1972 movie Pulp, George Martin channels his inner Ennio Morricone to good effect. The film starred Michael Caine and Jarvis must surely be a big fan. Its title provided his band with their name (after the original Arabicus part was wisely dropped) and he certainly must have been influenced by the wardrobe and choice of glasses worn by Caine’s character Mickey King (supplied by the actor). I rather like his white corduroy jacket myself.

A few weeks ago, I watched the first episode of Peter Jackson’s Get Back, a series that became the subject of a giant brouhaha when it was first streamed last November. I haven’t really felt any inclination to, erm, get back to it and assume I’ll be in a tiny minority in that I’d rather listen to this largely forgotten theme song composed and conducted by the man nicknamed the fifth Beatle than many of the tracks featured in the documentary.

Pulp was a lightweight comedy set in Italy which reunited the producer/director/actor team of Michael Klinger, Mike Hodges and Michael Caine. It was conceived as an antidote to the brutishness and pessimism of their recent hit Get Carter.

A breezy slice of jazz tinged easy listening, the theme song reflects the movie’s mood well and came out as a 45 in August 1972, to accompany Pulp‘s run in British cinemas. It was a great month for British singles. For starters, there was Starman, All The Young Dudes, Virginia Plain and Metal Guru and even Rock and Rock Part 2 by the now disgraced Gary Glitter (absolutely incredible production by Mike Leander it would still have to be said). During these glammy times, the young record buying public were unlikely to embrace a breezy slice of jazz tinged easy listening. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a hit and while no classic it is worth a listen and should be better known. As I type, a mere 55 views have been recorded on YouTube (with a single like), as opposed to one of the Get Back trailers which has had almost 5 million hits.

Dorothy & The Television Personalities

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This week two of the records that were part of Lawrence’s collection in the Record Store Day video from my previous post. Which, I forgot to mention, was directed by Douglas Hart and Valerie Phillips. And if you want to read what I think of the BFI’s re-released Lawrence of Belgravia Blu-ray, here’s a link.

Okay, first up is Dorothy’s I Confess, released by Industrial in 1980. According to its back cover: ‘When 19-year-old Dorothy first walked into the reception of the Industrial Records office no one was quite sure what to expect. But it only took one play of the tape she’d made with young Scottish guitarist, Alex Fergusson, and our minds were made up – HIT was stamped all over it!’

This might conjure up a vision of a naive teen pop fan from the sticks somehow stumbling into Industrial completely unaware of their reputation as a noisy and confrontational experimental label.

This goes to prove one thing at least, it isn’t only major labels who are less than 100% truthful about their acts. Dorothy was Dorothy Max Prior, who was in her mid-20s when her record came out. And everybody at Industrial knew exactly what to expect. She’d worked in the ICA in 1976, during the brouhaha over COUM Transmissions’ Prostitution exhibition (which she’d helped mount) and got to know the members of Throbbing Gristle, becoming a regular at the label’s Beck Road base. Fergusson, then playing with Alternative TV, was also a frequent visitor. Rema Rema, Dorothy’s band which had just split, had also recently shared a bill with Throbbing Gristle (and I featured a great cover of one of their songs in this post).

I Confess is a list song, where Dorothy tells us about some of her passions like The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Lolita, Herman Munster, and Harry Palmer. She also displays an admirably wide taste in music from Cajun to music concrete (which she really was a fan of); Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers to Subway Sect.

With a burbling synth sound straight out of a 1970s children’s TV show, singalong chorus, cabaret guitar break, chirpy yeah-yeahs and little girl voice, this is a real oddity, and needless to say, it wasn’t a HIT. But I’m happy to confess that I like Dorothy. Best thing Industrial ever put out if you ask me – I’m likely in a very small minority on that one, I know.

In 2016, the track was included in the Sharon Signs To Cherry Red compilation of independent female acts, along with tracks by Strawberry Switchblade, The Mo-dettes, The Twinsets and others. It was also reissued as a single by Sealed Records. Dorothy recently contributed to Jordan Mooney’s Defying Gravity and this maybe encouraged to pen her own autobiography 69 Exhibition Road, which is out in November.

I like The Television Personalities too. Appropriately enough for Chelsea boys, their second release came out on their own King’s Road label. The Where’s Bill Grundy Now? EP featured four tracks and proved highly influential for Britain’s growing independent label movement – which wasn’t ever called indie back then.

Part Time Punks poked fun at the kind of missing the point punk fans who were all about posing and who ‘want to buy the ‘O’ Level single / Or ‘Read About Seymour’ / But they’re not pressed in red / So they buy The Lurkers instead.’ Bet, they all love Record Store Day.

From November 1978, here is Part Time Punks:

Lawrence, formerly of Belgravia

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2012’s Lawrence of Belgravia documentary will be released in the coming weeks for the first time on Blu-ray, so to get you/me in the mood, this week some music by the man himself from various points in his career.

I’ve not been keeping too up to date with Lawrence’s career in recent years and I’ve only just discovered that he is now going under the moniker Mozart Estate and playing at an event at Glasgow University in August called Glas-goes Pop.

I’ve not been keeping up with Record Store Day either. In its early years it had struck me as a good idea but more a good idea for other people to help keep record shops open so that I could visit any day of the year that hadn’t been installed as RSD. I’ve just never felt any inclination to queue up for hours on end in order to get the chance to fork out over the odds for a 12 inch piece of grey vinyl speckled with pink – or something equally hideous – featuring a couple of tracks I already own on CD or could download within seconds.

Jean-Luc Godard is credited with once saying that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun and here we see that a girl and a record collection are all you need for a promo video. With a jingle like simplicity, this is Mozart Estate with Record Store Day from 2021:

Presumably the singles here were supplied from Lawrence’s own collection and the biggest surprise is likely the inclusion of Lio, who featured in my previous post. I didn’t have him down as a Red Noise man either. While I would never classify myself a collector, I have owned a fair amount of the singles featured and have even managed to hang on to a number of them such as Horrorshow, Blue Boy and Ambition by my favourite Godard, Vic, and his band Subway Sect.

That final 45 you see, Felt’s debut Index is one of two copies of the single that Lawrence sent to John Peel – when the first copy wasn’t played, Lawrence guessed that it must have been lost somewhere down the line and sent another but Peelie was just not very keen on it, a fact that prompted Lawrence to then post off what the DJ later claimed was the most ‘vitriolic and nasty’ letter he’d ever received.

Before Mozart Estate there was Go-Kart Mozart, and before Go-Kart Mozart there was Denim. Denim’s music was rooted in the music of Lawrence’s childhood and deliberately rejected the 1980s – the closing track of 1992’s Back in Denim was even called I’m Against the Eighties (you might legitimately ask why he has joined the Glas-goes Pop lineup as the acts are all associated with 1980s indie). In Middle of the Road, though, it is earlier musical sacred cows that he merrily slates: ‘I hate the King, I hate Chuck Berry / I hate Hooker, I hate Leadbelly.’

Lawrence obviously doesn’t hate Jonathan Richman and the Roadrunner guitar riff, to which he added a little glitterbeat (he even hired a couple of The Glitter Band to help out) and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. Yeah, ooh wee Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. Released in January 1993 on Boy’s Own, this is Middle of the Road:

And now for some Felt from 1984, a year that was perhaps the highpoint of independent music in Britain with the releases of Upside Down, Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops, The Smiths’ self-titled debut album and Felt’s Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow.

The latter begins and ends with a bassline maybe influenced by Jah Wobble’s opening of Public Image. In between there are some great strings, a very pleasing vocal interplay between Lawrence and Strawberry Switchblade’s Rose McDowall, and Maurice Deepak’s chimiest of chiming guitars. No video unfortunately but you can hear it here:

On Wednesday 15 June at 7pm, the BFI and Rough Trade East (150 Brick Lane, London E1) present a special launch event, with a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia to be followed by a conversation with Lawrence and Paul Kelly, hosted by journalist Siân Pattenden.

The following day sees the official release of the Blu-ray. For more information, click here.

Elli et Jacno et Lio (et aussi un peu Nouvelle Vague avec un sosie Lionel Messi)

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The Eurovision final is almost upon us – and getting in a bit early, before I head off to the pub, well done to Ukraine on their win. Tonight, a couple of tracks from France and Belgium that both possess what I think of as a Eurovisiony feel. And I’ve also added a cover version of one of the songs sung by a Lionel Messi lookalike, in case you were struggling to translate this post’s title.

Elli et Jacno might look like they’ve stepped off the cover of some French fashion mag of the early 1980s but the pair didn’t meet via some modelling assignment, but rather on a protest march that turned violent in Paris. Or so they say, anyway.

In the summer of 1976, they formed what’s said to be the first French punk band: Stinky Toys, who went on to play at the famous 100 Club Punk Special along with The Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks and others. The following summer Polydor issued their debut single Boozy Creed in Britain but the album it was taken from received some horrendous reviews and was never released here. Later, in Trouser Press, Ira Levin branded it ‘uninspired sub-Rolling Stones rock’n’boogie with terrible vocals by Elli Medeiros.’ Harsh but not entirely unfair.

By 1979, Stinky Toys were no more. Jacno recorded a self-titled solo album with a noticeable Kraftwerk influence. On one track, Anne Cherchait L’Amour, Elli sang.

The pair decided to join forces more permanently and moved even further away from their punkish roots with Jacno specialising in minimalist uber-catchy synthesiser hooks and Ellie providing lyrics and vocals (and a minimalist dance style). Briefly, the pair resembled the Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy of Parisian synthpop.

Here is maybe their finest moment, Main Dans La Main from 1980. Warning – this may trigger a relatively long-lasting earworm if listened to three times in a row. I speak from experience. First up, an introduction taken from a Stinky Toys TV appearance where Elli is asked if she is Uruguayan. She is.

I missed out on the track on its release and only came across Elli et Jacno via the soundtrack they supplied for Eric Rohmer’s Full Moon in Paris from 1984, which is one of those French films where everyone is very sophisticated and keen to discuss philosophy at parties. As opposed to the kind of parties you got in Glasgow roundabout the same time – where you were more likely to take the Buckfast Challenge than discuss de Beauvoir or Sartre. If you ever watch Full Moon in Paris, look out for the scene where Pascale Ogier’s Julie dances to the track Les Tarots – you’ll see Elli strutting her stuff to the left of her.

Now for a bit of Vanda Maria Ribeiro Furtado Tavares de Vasconcelos, or, as she’s better known as, Lio. The Belgian singer’s career got off to a flier. Her first single, a slice of bubblegum yé-yé called Banana Split, reached number one in France. For her follow-up, she turned to Elli and Jacno and a track from their Stinky Toys days, although it’s just about unrecognisable from its source material and no one would ever accuse Lio’s Amoureux Solitaires (Lonely Lovers) of being ‘uninspired sub-Rolling Stones rock’n’boogie.’

A jaunty little poptimistic gem, the single sold like hot croissants, replaced Il jouait du piano debout by former Eurovision winner France Gall at the top of the French charts and stayed there for six weeks. Here it is ‘live’ with some well deserved ‘spontaneous’ applause around the minute and a half mark.

There’s been many covers of the song over the years and fans of Lio include Marc Colin of Nouvelle Vague who bought her Lonely Lovers album on cassette as a youngster. Here’s his band’s laid back and jazzy take on the song with guest vocalist Lionel Messi lookalike Hugh Coltman.

Archangel Thunderbird & The Nearest Thing To Kate Bush Before Kate Bush

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Being only a young ‘un in the spring of 1970, the release of Amon Düül II’s second album Yeti was way off my radar. I was more Archies than Amon Düül II. They might have been pure bubblegum but were at least preferable to much of what was then on offer in the British charts: Lee Marvin croaking out Wand’rin’ Star? No thanks. Likewise the efforts of England’s World Cup Squad, Sacha Distel, Dana and Des O’Connor. Even worse, there was (spits) Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys.

Let’s move on. Before Amon Düül II, there was not surprisingly, a plain old Amon Düül. They’d holed up together in a radical Munich commune and music began playing an important part of life there.

Just as German performance artist and sculptor Joseph Beuys liked to air his slogan ‘Everyone is an artist’, the commune believed that everyone is a musician. You wanted to join in, then you could join in. They even attempted to get audiences involved, handing out bongos and tambourines to them, so they could join in the fun and play along. As John Weinzierl told author David Stubbs in his book Future Days: ‘You didn’t go along to the concert and watch the band; you came to the event and were part of it.’

This was an idea later embraced by some British bands like The Mekons and in some ways it’s a commendable idea. But a flawed one. Have you ever attended a live show and thought: ‘This is pretty good but I bet it would be even better if some random punters were given the chance to tap away on a little drum or bash a tamby?’

Two factions emerged within the band. One specialised in sitting around playing extended and aimless improvisatory jams, which might have been just about tolerable to listen to after a few tokes of Red Leb or a handful of magic mushrooms but otherwise would be an headnipping bore. The others, who took on the name Amon Düül II, wanted to progress musically. Not that they were aspiring towards the virtuosity levels of an ELP or Yes.

Even big fan Julian Cope conceded in his Krautrocksampler that ‘they’ve certainly recorded their fair share of shit,’ but Amon Düül II went on to produce far better music than Amon Düül and enjoy a more interesting career.

For starters, they found fans from John Peel (who booked them for a session) to some leaders of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (who were sent packing from the commune by singer Renate Knaup while attempting to hide from the cops); they managed to fit in a date at the Cavern in Liverpool shortly before it was closed and appeared in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1970 film The Niklashausen Journey. Or to give it its German title Die Niklashauser Fart.

Archangel Thunderbird from Yeti might be their finest moment, a lysergic Louie Louie that sounds like a life or death struggle. It’s gloriously off-kilter, the result of a curious clash of time signatures and Renate Knaup’s soaring Yoko meets Nico vocals, which also look forward to Metal Box era John Lydon.

You could even argue this is where 1970s music truly kicked off.

‘Where,’ you might be asking after that sonic maelstrom, ‘does Kate Bush fit into all this?’

Okay, by the time of Amon Düül II’s seventh album, 1973’s Vive La Trance, precocious young Kate was already composing songs and had even penned an embryonic version of The Man With The Child In His Eyes. She was listening to Bowie and Roxy, American singer-songwriters like Laura Nyro and Judee Sill, as well as a range of folkies from Anne Briggs to The Incredible String Band but she’s such a unique artist that any concrete influences on her work are difficult to detect.

I’ve never read of Kate being a Kosmiche fan but if you listen now to Vive La Trance, you’ll almost inevitably wonder if the teenage singer had been aware of the track Jalousie. It’s certainly a whole lot closer to the kind of material on her early demos and albums than it is to Archangel Thunderbird and if there’s one song that sounds like Kate Bush before she’d ever made a record, this must surely be it.

For more on the band, click here.

So It Goes & So It Goes

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Presented by Tony Wilson, the first series of Granada TV’s So It Goes ran from early July to late August in 1976 and was only shown on three of Britain’s regional ITV networks, none of these being my local channel STV, although I suspect it might have inspired that station to launch Sneak Preview, a late Friday night mix of conversation, film clips and bands early in 1977.

According to Paul Morley’s From Manchester With Love, the title of So It Goes was supplied by Wilson’s then girlfriend, Jane Buchan, via Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel that includes the three words every time a death or deaths occurs. Given that it’s partly set during WWII’s Battle of the Bulge and Dresden bombings, this isn’t uncommon.

So far music-wise, the series has been a little bit pub rock, a little bit hippy and a little bit proggy. You know, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Stephan Micus performing music he’d composed on Afghan rubabs and first up on the final episode, some awful jazz tinged proggers Gentleman, whose bassist thought it was a good idea to take to the stage wearing red dungarees.

Something new and exciting was clearly required.

The pre-Factory Tony Wilson is a bit of a smoothie and looks rather self-satisfied too, but hey, he deserves to be self-satisfied by his coup here. Not only has the debut Ramones album just been recommended but now viewers are about to get their first ever glimpse on TV of an unsigned act who Wilson has already seen live twice in Manchester. Or at least claimed to have seen twice, some disputing his presence at the first Lesser Free Trade Hall show.

They’re led by a young man with severely chopped hair, a razorblade earring and writing scrawled on his torn jacket, which is also adorned with chains. He starts the song with an anti-hippy tirade and looks furious with the world. And then he begins singing about Anarchy in the UK.

Something new and exciting has clearly arrived.

Nick Lowe’s So It Goes also took its title from Slaughterhouse-Five and the single kicked off the Stiff label in the middle of August 1976, just two weeks before The Sex Pistols’ shock of the new television debut.

A press release explained of the song and B-side Heart of the City: ‘Both are under three minutes, use less than three musicians and less than three chords.’

This isn’t the version that appeared on the single but it does have a video shot by David Mallet, who went on to direct a bunch of promos for Bowie, including Boys Keep Swinging and Ashes To Ashes, so here you are:

If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck. So went the slogan.

The Members’ Solitary Confinement, therefore is very much worth a fuck. Released by Stiff in May 1978 as a one-off single, this is a little tribute to singer Nicky Tesco whose death was announced yesterday.

White Bird in A Blizzard (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Last week saw the release of the Mockingbird Love EP, four new tracks by former Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie. They’re all predictably good and conjure up many of those adjectives that critics love to use to describe his former band’s music. Celestial, spellbinding and ethereal for starters.

By a wee coincidence, I finally got round to watching Gregg Araki’s White Bird in A Blizzard from 2014 on the night before I became aware of the Guthrie release.

Sometimes the right piece of music can really set you up for a film. And Sea, Swallow Me by The Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd worked the trick for me here. A perfect mood setter, with Budd’s exquisite soft pedal piano complementing the band perfectly.

You can always rely on Araki for some solid soundtrack choices. He’s one of those American directors like Richard Kelly with a thing for what might loosely be described as British alternative music of the 1980s. It’s easy to imagine rows of shoegaze albums in his record collection, together with everything ever released by New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain and, of course, The Cocteau Twins. In White Bird in a Blizzard, those three acts are joined by The Psychedelic Furs, Talk Talk, Echo and The Bunnymen, Everything But The Girl and others, while Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd also provide some incidental music.

Unfortunately, after having my hopes built up, it turned out that the music is much better than the film as a whole.

Set in suburban America from 1988 to the early 1990s, White Bird in a Blizzard is the story of 17-year-old Kat, played by Shailene Woodley, who comes home from school one afternoon to be told by a pensive father (Christopher Meloni) that her mother Eve (Eva Green) has gone. She’s been threatening to leave him for years, and he doesn’t reckon she will be coming back any time soon.

This isn’t the devastating blow that you might assume for Kat. Through a series of voice-overs and flashbacks, we learn that Eve was never mother of the year material. Or wife of the year material either. Once, her parents had been ‘the quintessential American couple’ – although Eve’s accent is more Paris than Paris, Texas – but it didn’t take long for their marriage to turn sour, with Eve treating her husband like a doormat and Kat not much better. In one particularly disturbing episode a raging Eve wakes her in the middle of the night to grill her on her sex life.

Kat is said to physically resemble her mother, and Eve is becoming inordinately jealous of her daughter’s youthfulness and potential future. She also doesn’t make much of an effort to disguise her sexual interest in Kat’s boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and her behaviour becomes increasingly irrational and her skirts progressively shorter, the longer Kat dates him.

‘Not bad for 42,’ a boozed-up Eve boasts one night to the young couple as she stumbles down into the cellar wearing a skimpy outfit. And yep, she certainly hadn’t scrubbed up too badly.

Like Eve, the film gets a little irrational too. Looking like the sort of thing you might expect to see on some porno website where a young man is employed to deliver pizzas (not that I watch that type of thing, honestly!), the scene featuring a barechested Phil in shorts searching for his mother’s cat as Eve sunbathes in her swimsuit is unintentionally funny.

With Eve still untraceable and Phil showing more interest in gaming and ganja than in having sex with her, Kat’s suspicions about the two maybe having had a thing surface, though not to that great an extent, with Kat maintaining a kind of ‘whatever’ attitude to her mother’s disappearance for much of the movie. And if she doesn’t give a shit about the vanishing act, why should we?

Despite this, she agrees to her dad’s idea that she sees a therapist, played by Angela ‘right here, right now’ Bassett. Kat’s voice-over reveals that she feels ‘feels like an actress playing myself’, while Dr. Thaler reminds her ‘of an actress playing a therapist.’ Bassett reminded me of an actress that deserved a better role.

Lines of dialogue might be clunky and draw attention to themselves, but there are pluses. With some striking dream sequences, the film strays into David Lynch territory and Laura Palmer herself (Sheryl Lee) appears briefly as the new woman in Kat’s father’s life. Of course, Kat has no problems with this turn of events. Initially at least.

Shailene Woodley and Christopher Meloni both put in impressive enough performances and Eva Green does a great line in unhinged, although that accent of hers really should have been explained. Ultimately, the film is a disappointment but one that was still worth a watch.

One huge revelation late on, which is difficult to buy into, is delivered by a voice-over (Araki obviously isn’t a believer in the old screenwriting maxim ‘show don’t tell’) and this is immediately followed by a flashback, though not a flashback of Kat’s, which explains the disappearance with a twist ending that was even more difficult to buy into due to a lack of any real clues given. Not only that but the fact that it was never revealed whether Kat was aware of these events did niggle at me.

*

Here’s another of those inspired Araki soundtrack choices. Sung by Gordon (now Cindy) Sharp, formerly of The Freeze and an old pal of The Cocteaus, this is Fond Affections from This Mortal Coil’s 1984 collection It’ll End in Tears (the video is unofficial in case you’re wondering):

Finally, back to Robin Guthrie, whose new album Pearldiving should be out next month on Soleil Après Minuit. For the time being, here’s Copper, the opening track on the aforementioned Mockingbird Love EP:

For more on Robin Guthrie:

https://www.facebook.com/robinguthrieofficial/

https://robinguthrie.bandcamp.com/

This Is My Happening and It Freaks Me Out!

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Last time around some inventive dancing from La La La Human Steps and David Bowie. To start with this time, some not so inventive dancing from Mark E. Smith and a (presumably) random drunk guy that happened to pass by as the promo for L.A. was being shot and somehow found himself invited to join in the fun. I’m not sure Smith’s pal Michael Clark would have approved.

Never keen on talk about the ‘Brix era’ of The Fall, one of Smith’s resentments was the idea that during this time his then wife glammed the band up. ‘I’ve always tried to dress smart,’ he protested in his book Renegade, where he also pointed out that ‘nobody takes a scruff seriously’ and ‘you don’t want to be walking around like an urban scarecrow.’

The ‘Brix era’ produced some of my favourite Fall albums with This Nation’s Saving Grace maybe edging it as the finest of them with I Am Kurious Oranj not far behind. As for Brix glamming up the band, I’m not so sure Mark E. could ever be glammed up but she certainly injected a glamourous individual element into mix the day she joined. Up until then Fall members had all looked like they spent most nights supping pints of Boddingtons in some dour Prestwich boozer. This didn’t strike Fall fans as a likely habitat for a blonde Californian with a beaming smile but unlike most British independent outfits of the time, The Fall were always good for a surprise.

During 1985, Brix was going through something of an Edie Sedgwick phase and in her parallel career as leader of The Adult Net, she released her tribute to the Warhol superstar on 45 in the wake of This Nation’s Saving Grace hitting record shops. On L.A. Brix provides a mesmerizing Rickenbacker riff and the repeated line borrowed from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls heard in the final quarter of the track that gives this post its title.

Oh, how I missed regularly staging happenings during lockdown even though they have been known to freak me out too!

Equally madcap and melodramatic, if you haven’t seen it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a trashy exploitation film that was frequently screened as a midnight movie in Britain in the mid-1980s, such as when it was paired with Valley of the Dolls at one of the weekend double bills shows at the Grosvenor in Glasgow. I’m guessing Brix saw it around this time, as in addition to that line, she launched her offshoot Adult Net career with a cover of The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints, which was featured in the movie.

Here is L.A., which is said to have been John Peel’s least favourite Fall song. File under ‘Things Peelie got seriously wrong.’

In his foreword to the book Excavate!: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, Michael Clark recalls that the first time he saw The Fall live, a member of the Lyceum audience took to the stage and punched Smith. The singer carried on as if nothing had happened. Clark was intrigued by the singer’s response, and his interest in The Fall grew. Soon that interest was reciprocated, and the band would go to see Clark and his troupe dance, sometimes to Fall tracks. They began collaborating, and the highpoint of this would be I Am Curious, Orange.

This was a ballet based let’s say very loosely on the ascension to the British throne of William of Orange and how the consequences of this were still being felt three hundred years later. I wasn’t lying when I said The Fall were always good for a surprise, was I?

Flamboyant and frenetic, with The Fall playing live numbers from their I Am Kurious, Oranj album (not sure why the album and show were spelled differently), there were dancing fruits, a moving phone box and a game of football onstage which wouldn’t have had Alex Ferguson rushing to wave his cheque book at any of the players involved. Michael Clark was King Billy. Brix was wheeled out while sitting on a Claes Oldenburg style hamburger and a gigantic poke of McDonald’s fries was lowered from the ceiling and spilt onto the stage, killing the dancers. Swan Lake this was not.

I saw the show at the King’s Theatre, where it was part of the programme for the 1988 Edinburgh International Festival no less. None of yer Fringe Festival for The Fall. I didn’t remotely understand most of it – I doubt that was the point – but appreciated its anarchic exuberance and, of course, the music.

And I really don’t think King Billy would have approved.

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