A Shel Talmy Two for Tuesday

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Ace Record’s Producer anthologies are always worth investigating – previous compilations have included Jack Nitzsche, Kim Fowley and Shadow Morton – and this week I picked up the latest instalment in the series, Making Time, which features the work of Shel Talmy.

Shel Talmy cover

Shel is certainly a fascinating guy. He worked closely with The Kinks, The Who and The Creation and he also briefly crossed paths in the studio with the young David Bowie (when he was still Davy Jones), Lemmy when he was a Rockin’ Vicar and Jimmy Page when he was a humble session guitarist. He recorded Lee Hazlewood – oh how I wish I could sing like Lee – and also Goldie & the Gingerbreads, who it is claimed were the first all-female rock band to be signed by a major record label – and whose Spectoresque mini-masterpiece titled That’s Why I Love You is one of many highlights here.

Making Time features all these artists as well as some fascinating music by acts that have only ever featured at best peripherally on my radar: Belfast’s Perpetual Langley, and Oliver Norman, whose Drowning in My Own Despair is the best The Four Tops rip-off you will ever hear and then there’s The Rokes, who I’ve just discovered were a bunch of English expatriates who became one of the biggest bands in Italy during the mid ’60s.

The only drawbacks for me is the inclusion of an schmaltzy track by Chad and Jeremy while his production job for The Damned, Stretcher Case Baby, fails to make an appearance.

Here’s something special by one of England’s most under-rated bands of the 1960s. Originally released on Talmy’s Planet Records, this is The Creation and the track that gives the new compilation its name:

 
When Sheldon S. Talmy first arrived in London in 1962, it’s highly unlikely that it would have been described as swinging this being the Britain of Harold Macmillan, heavy smogs and kitchen sink dramas but the American liked the town anyway and in order to extend his stay he hatched a money-making plan, setting up a meeting with Dick Rowe at his Decca office.

Talmy by all accounts was not a man whose motto in life was necessarily ‘honesty is the best policy’. He did possess some experience of working as a recording engineer in L.A. but exaggerated this to the point where he had actually produced a number of records, The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari being maybe the most notable example.

Rowe gave the songs a spin and liked what he heard. Shel landed a job but there was a downside. His first assignment was cutting a single for terminally unhip Dublin act The Bachelors – the track Charmaine was a top ten hit though and Talmy was given the choice of more credible bands.

Within a couple of years he had become synonymous with edgy mod combos playing razor sharp pop with guitar pyrotechnics, the kind of thing that’s usually referred to as freakbeat nowadays.

Talmy certainly captured the blazing crash-bang-wallop of these new acts with a rarely matched panache but, before the end of the decade, he had also succeeded with folk rock in the shape of Roy Harper and The Pentangle and soul in the shape of the aforementioned Perpetual Langley and Oliver Norman.

This, though, is one of Talmy’s purest excursions into commerciality, a wonderful slice of poignant pop which I’d mistakenly thought was called Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. Jones. Extensive research though – thanks, Wiki – tells me that this was indeed the original title given to the song although a modification was made when it occurred to the Manfreds that their recently departed vocalist Paul Jones (who had only just been replaced by Mike D’Abo) might suspect that the song was some kind of dig at him.

From 1966, here’s the first big British hit record to feature a mellotron. This is Manfred Mann and Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James:

It was 50 Years Ago Today

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Sgt Rutters

Exceptional bands often possess a history that is almost as intriguing as their music. Take The Sex Pistols: hooking up with Malcolm McLaren; swearing live on TV and making front page news; getting the heave-ho from EMI and later A&M; banned shows; God Save the Queen being denied official number one status; breaking up in America at the climax of a tour and the sad demise of Nancy Spungen and then Sid Vicious. All that in just a few years.

Compare that to the story of Coldplay where the most interest generated was a celebrity wedding to an over-rated actress.

Imagine trying to write a page turning book or make a gripping film about that lot.

The history of The Beatles was consistently fascinating: their residency at the Star Club in Hamburg; the infamous rejection from Decca; their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance; Beatlemania and Shea Stadium; MBEs and LSD; John Lennon’s ‘more popular than Jesus’ controversy; the death of their manager Brian Epstein and the retreat from playing live until the Apple rooftop concert – these are all just off the top of my head.

Likewise The Rutles stand firmly in the bands with an exceptionally engrossing history camp. And that history does parallel The Beatles to a spookily bizarre extent: just think of their Ratkellar residency in Hamburg; mass adulation in the shape of Rutlemania; their concert at Che Stadium; Nasty’s bigger than God controversy (when sales boomed as devout Christians bought their records just so they could burn them); the weekend near Bogner in the company of Surrey mystic Arthur Sultan and the Stig is dead rumours.

Released fifty years to the day, their phenomenally successful album Sgt. Rutter’s Lonely Darts Club Band undoubtedly had a seismic influence on music and popular culture and remains for many their high point. From it, this is the closing track, the achingly sad Cheese and Onions:

 
You remember the very awkward date between gangster’s moll Mia Wallace and hitman Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction? Mia telling him that: ‘There are only two kinds of people in the world, Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally.’

If the choice was between Beatles and Rutles people, I could claim that I’m actually more a Rutles man myself but claiming to prefer a spoof act (however talented) to the band that gave the world A Day in the Life, Revolution and Helter Skelter would border on striving to become the Katie Hopkins of musical opinions – even if I am happy to acknowledge that The Beatles also gave the world a number of rank rotten ditties like Rocky Raccoon, Wild Honey Pie and Ob-La-Fucking Di, Ob-La-Fucking Da.

I may well, though, honestly prefer The Rutles to Oasis.

From their Tragical History Tour, this is Piggy in the Middle:


Oh, I’ve just remembered something else about Coldplay which might be at least of some interest (and which you likely already know yourselves). Chris Martin once invited David Bowie to collaborate on a track that Coldplay felt would be perfect for the Godlike genius to contribute backing vocals to.

Bowie gave them a knockback, explaining: ‘It’s not a very good song, is it?’

For more on The Rutles, click here.

Initials BB, FG, VS & EB (Yé-Yé Sunday)

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Ye-Ye_book

After featuring the track Bonnie and Clyde in my last post I searched out my copy of Yé-Yé Girls of ‘60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, a book that will appeal to anyone with a liking for the golden age of Gallic grooviness (that’s me) or just a liking for photos of pretty young Parisiennes wearing very short dresses and kinky boots (that’s me again).

The book really will do nothing to dissuade people like me that everybody in 1960s France looked like they had just walked on to the set of À bout de Souffle. We are talking tres, tres chic here.

First up today is Serge Gainsbourg, who as someone pointed out in a comment last week, once made an arse of himself live on French TV, telling Whitney Houston that he wanted to fuck her.

Sadly for the clearly pished up, ageing Lothario, the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Back when Serge was at the top of his game, his affair with Brigitte Bardot was put on hold when the actress flew off to film Shalako along with Sean Connery in Almería in Spain, the home of the spaghetti western.

Saddened by the situation, Serge penned Initials B.B.

With some vocal help from Bardot, here is that track, the opener on his 1968 album also titled Initials B.B., with a little of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 thrown in for good measure:


The 21st century has definitely witnessed a revival of interest in Yé-Yé.
For starters Belle & Sebastian and The Arcade Fire have both covered Poupée de cire, poupée de son while TV and film have also embraced the movement with Zou Bisou Bisou making an appearance on Mad Men and Françoise Hardy’s Le Temps de l’Amour being included on the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Maybe the most high profile ye-ye moment, though, came via Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof.

This would be his first film to prove, at least in relative terms, a commercial and critical failure,* although few would complain about the quality of its soundtrack, with music ranging from Jack Nitzsche to T. Rex; Ennio Morricone to Joe Tex. The film closes with a version of Serge Gainsbourg’s composition Laisse tomber les filles, re-named Chick Habit with English lyrics supplied by April March.

But here is the original and superior version by France Gall:


Next up is Victoire Scott and her single 4ème Dimension.

The video is taken from her appearance in 1968 on French TV show Au Risque De Vous Plaire and includes surreal artworks by Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux and Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher occasionally superimposed in the background.

Here’s the Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe verdict:

‘ “4ème Dimension” is a baroque pop masterpiece, a Paris Existentialism-meets-American psych rock kind of thing. Its string arrangements, atmosphere, and texture created a unique vision.’


And finally Clothilde, or Elisabeth Beauvais to give her birth certificate name.

The career of Clothilde was short and sweet with the teenager apparently never enjoying her brief spell in the spotlight, disliking the clothes that she was told to wear and the songs given to her to sing. Which surprises me as Fallait Pas Ecraser La Queue Du Chat is a crazily catchy slice of frothy 60s pop with a tinny harpsichord (I think) riff that’s unlike just about anything I’ve ever heard before and a fantastic arrangement that includes French horns presumably played by Frenchmen or French women – which is pretty, um, French.

The Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe verdict: ‘Her two EPs were like a beautiful Hollywood set hiding a desolate landscape, or a nice little semi-detached house in a very cozy suburb, in which a desperate housewife has just turned on the gas and is hesitating before striking a full box of matches.’


* I put this down at least partly to the Jungle Julia character being nowhere near as cool and charismatic as Quentin obviously wanted her to be – and if you’re gonna make a case for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich being a better band than The Who, it might help if you didn’t repeatedly call them Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch & Tich.

Prince of Players, Pawn of None

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T. Rex: Dandy in the Underworld (EMI)

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Like most 50-somethings I truly believe that I was lucky to grow up with some of the most exciting music imaginable.

Even before I’d reached my teen years there was Bowie, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Sweet (yeah!), Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Cockney Rebel, Sparks and more who all seemed to routinely bring out a sparkling new album every year (or maybe even two albums in the same year) and make regular must-see appearances on Top of the Pops to be dissected at length in school the very next morning. Bliss it was in that glittered and feather boa’d dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Well, that’s how it felt at times.

Firstly though there was T. Rex fronted by glam rock trailblazer, Mr. Mark Feld, better known as Marc Bolan.

Bolan’s first words to manager Simon Napier Bell back in 1966 were supposedly: ‘Hi, I’m a singer and I’m going to be the biggest ever British star.’ Marc really did patholigically crave fame and although not many would argue that he achieved that particular mid-’60s prediction, for a couple of years at the height of T. Rextasy in the early 1970s, few would have totally dismissed the idea as his band let rip with a string of pure pop classics with crunching guitar hooks that instantaneously lodged in your brain – Ride a White Swan, Hot Love, Get It On, Jeepster, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru – that my fellow children of the revolution lapped up.

They all still sound fantastic today.

The world of pop was fast-changing back then and, by 1972, Bolan was already talking of how his success couldn’t last, that the fans’ tastes would change as they got older, how they would want to find new stars to adore and how pop music was all based on cycles anyway.

This proved to be a more accurate prediction. Soon there were no sell-out shows at enornodomes throughout the country, no ex-Beatles wanting to colloborate on films and diminishing sales returns. Bolan’s Zip Gun, released in February 1975, failed to even chart in Britain, although a single taken from it, Light of Love was a minor hit; the follow up, though, Zip Gun Boogie, stalled just outside the top forty.

Critics at NME and elsewhere loved to sneer, especially about the few extra inches that had been added round his waistline. By 1977, Marc looked to many like yesterday’s man, a little washed up, still capable of making some very good music but far from the sensation of his Electric Warrior days.

Yesterday’s man, though, had a few aces up his sleeves. He recorded an album Dandy in the Underworld, which was likely his best since The Slider and he notably became one of the relatively few elder statesmen of rock and pop to fully embrace punk, persuading The Damned to support him on his British tour and launching Dandy that March at London’s punk central, the Roxy in Covent Garden.

marc_bolan_glasgow_apollo_1977_ad-2

He also agreed to host the late afternoon ITV pop show Marc where he showcased many of his own tracks as well as inviting on the likes of The Jam (or Jam as he introduced them), The Radio Stars and Generation X. ‘They have a lead singer who’s supposed to be as pretty as me,’ Marc cooed as he introduced that latter group while sniffing a flower. ‘We’ll see now.’ He didn’t look too convinced by the possibility.

In his new book, The Age of Bowie, Paul Morley describes Marc’s presenting style as: ‘a cross between kindly wizard, scatterbrained sweetheart and lapsed hipster, as though his years as pop star had made him possessed by a general sense of mind-altering cosmic jive.’

Marc, as you’ll see, may have looked kindly on the new breed and even went as far as to introduce a ripped T-shirt into his wardrobe but he wasn’t quite ready to completely ditch the satin, mascara and Tolkien.

Taken from Marc, here is Dandy in the Underworld:


The highlight of the entire series promised to be the duet with David Bowie that would close the sixth and final episode of the show. Since the 1960s the two men had been involved in a (usually) friendly rivalry, with Bolan winning the race for superstardom before Bowie came up on the rails, racing ahead in both the artistic and commercial stakes with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.

In fact, by 1977, the rivalry looked as lopsided as the footballing one between England and (West) Germany. By this point Bolan maybe wished that he had set himself up in competition against someone who didn’t quite possess the stratospheric capabilities of musical invention and consistent reinvention of Bowie; Ian Hunter, say, of Mott the Hoople or Steve Harley – who incidentally provided some backing vocals on the Dandy album.

The tour and album and even the TV series did though help rehabilitate Bolan but as you’ll know, his comeback was cut sadly short. On the sixteenth of September, Marc was killed instantly when his Mini 1275GT, driven by girlfriend Gloria Jones, crashed into a steel-reinforced fence on Barnes Common only a mile away from their home, before hitting a sycamore tree.

Recorded only days before his untimely death, the final episode of Marc was shown eight days after his funeral (attended by Bowie, Tony Visconti, Steve Harley, Rod Stewart, members of The Damned and hundreds of fans). Their race against the clock jam was an anti-climax and ended embarrassingly for Bolan, who tripped over a wire causing him to fall off the stage, although the incident is mostly hidden by the programme credits.

Better though is Bowie in his solo slot. This is “Heroes”:


Footnote.

Bolan had also taken on the task of penning a regular column for Record Mirror and, a month before his own death, Marc had commented that it was sad that Elvis was gone but that it was probably better that he went before he turned into the Bing Crosby of rock’n’roll. Bizarrely enough, not long afterwards Bowie agreed to bridge the generation gap by appearing on Bing Crosby’s annual Christmas TV special, the pair performing Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

Goodbye, David King

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

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

David King ANL graphics

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

Carnival_Against_the_Nazis

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

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

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

City_Limits_Collage

David King. 30 April 1943 – 11 May 2016.

JOIN THE FUTURE

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We all like a bit of melodica, don’t we?

Think of that curious, melancholic opening that hooked you instantly into New Order’s Love Vigilantes; the deliciously woozy feel it contributed to Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood and to Cabinessence from The Beach Boys’ original Smile sessions. Think of how it helped those fine tracks by Augustus Pablo stand out from the reggae pack, inspiring Jon King of The Gang of Four to pick up the instrument too and use on that band’s incendiary early material. Think maybe best of all the wonderful way the instrument supplies a slightly eerie edge to Golden Years by David Bowie.

Steve Mason in his various bands and guises over the years has utilized the melodica repeatedly and it has made a comeback on his new album Meet The Humans. Back at the start of February I mentioned that if his third solo album approached the quality of Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time then I was in for hours of happy listening.

Guess what?

It’s even better (and without the segues that became unnecessary for me after a few listens to Monkey Minds) and I seem to be playing Meet The Humans on a loop during any spare time I have and so was heartened to see that it went straight to numero uno in the Official Record Store Chart Top 40 last month, beating off some lesser talent known as Adele in the process.

This is Alive, the new single lifted from the album, which, in addition to referencing the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum (Well did you vote it all out/ or did you have your wee shout) also features the melodica and another instrument I love – the bongos. And we all love bongos too, don’t we?


Steve will be playing a number of festivals this summer including Electric Fields together with Primal Scream, White,  C Duncan, Neon Waltz and Tuff Love.

For more information:

Facebook: http://smarturl.it/SteveMasonFB
Twitter: http://smarturl.it/SteveMasonTW
Instagram: http://smarturl.it/SteveMasonIN

Leith based Posable Action Figures consist of Gareth Goodlad (vocals and guitar) and John Alexander (drums, samples, backing vocals). They cite a range of influences from Queens of the Stone Age through to doo-woppers The Ink Spots and this week they launched their debut E.P., produced by David Lloyd of Stillhound/Discopolis, which you can help yourself to free of charge here (email required).

Vic Galloway played one of the tracks, Mainline, on his BBC Radio Scotland show on Monday night and the guys have recently filmed and edited in a DIY stylee, a video for another E.P. track, Not at All, which you will hopefully enjoy:


The band will make their Glasgow debut at Bloc on the 31st of May and if you want to find out more they are on Twitter: @p_actionfigures and Facebook.

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.

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