All Hopped Up and Ready to Go

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Ramones: Sheena is a Punk Rocker (1977) Sire Records.

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Sheena came out in Britain in the early summer of 1977 and as Charles Shaar Murray noted in his NME review: ‘Look, all The Ramones songs sound like hit singles and then don’t sell, but this is so flat-out delightful that not even the nasty boring dull-as-bleedin’ ditchwater Britpublic will be able to resist it.’

He was right. Helped by their British tour that summer which included a date in Glasgow, Sheena became the first Ramones single to make its way into the British top thirty, joining the likes of God Save The Queen, Peaches and, em, We Can Do It by the Liverpool FC football squad – which luckily I have absolutely no memory of.

Something I would like to be able to say about another hit of the time: The Eagles’ Hotel California.

Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker sleeve & ad

The Bruddas might have sold enough records to make the charts with a song that surely couldn’t even offend someone desperate for offence but still the idea of the band playing a show in Glasgow was being resisted by the authorities in the city.

Local Lord Provost Peter McCann had went out on a high not long beforehand, hitting out at a version of Dracula at the highly respected Citizens Theatre that contained male and female nudity: ‘To put on a disgusting play like this where school children might go in is scandalous.’

Of course, he hadn’t seen it.

Some did entertain the idea that the anti-punk witch-hunt in Glasgow might end with his departure but this was soon proved to be wishful thinking. May ’77 saw the announcement of a new Lord Provost, a pensioner called David Hodge who immediately nailed his colours to the mast.

For the second time in a year The Ramones made front page news in the city’s Evening Times, this time with the headline: NEW PROVOST IN PUNK ROCK ROW; Hodge declaring he’d do everything in his power to stop the debut of the New Yorkers in Glasgow at Strathclyde Uni.

Up until the night of the students only (so no me) show on Saturday 22. May, many concert-goers suspected that they would be denied the chance to see The Ramones, fearing a last minute ban would be enforced but in the end, the nearest threat to a cancellation occurred when the PA blew out after support act Talking Heads’ afternoon soundcheck. Opening their set with Blitzkrieg Bop, the band even played Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, the song that had given them their first Evening Times front page.

Punk Rock 1 Glasgow City Council 0.

Here it is live, Sheena is a Punk Rocker:


Times change. Twenty one years later a punk comedy/musical called Sheena is a Punk Rocker was performed at the Glasgow’s bastion of populist entertainment, the Pavilion, Scotsman critic Mark Brown describing it as ‘more Val Doonican than Iggy Pop’. I didn’t bother paying good music to see it myself.

For more on The Ramones click here and for more on The Ramones and Glasgow related punk rock rows, here you go.

Concubine & Big New Prinz

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As someone who was very fond of the music of Casual Sex, I was pleased to hear that three former members of the band – Chris, Samuel and Pete – have reconvened in a new act named I. Solar. Well, it makes search queries a lot easier, doesn’t it?

The sound of I. Solar is not surprisingly related to that of Casual Sex, retaining that 1980ish feel that instantly makes me think back to nights spent in Glasgow clubs like Maestro’s and the Ultratheque.

Signed to Little Tiger Records, a new independent student run label based in Busby, they’ll be playing their first ever show at Glasgow bar The Hug and Pint on April 28 with support from labelmates Fenella who impressed when they were on the bill at Vic Godard & the Subway Sect’s Club Left show at the CCA last year.

With a video directed by Chris McCrory, this is Concubine, the debut single from I. Solar:

This week saw Mark Edward Smith celebrate his sixtieth birthday which gives me a good excuse to feature some Fall. Not that any excuses for that are really necessary.

What can be said about The Fall mainstay that hasn’t been said before?

Well BBC Music Twitter account came up with a new one, erroneously announcing a few days ago that the Manc music legend had croaked it.

Of course, reports of his death were much exaggerated.

I am Kurious, Orange

Length-wise, The Fall did enjoy a just about unparallelled spell in its longevity as one of Britain’s most exciting and innovative bands from the late 1970s right up till fairly recently. I’ve seen the band live many, many times over the years, sometimes their shows have been fantastic, sometimes frustrating. Very frustrating.

The first Brix era is my own highpoint for The Fall and their Barrowlands show from 1988 was definitely one of their better shows. From this era comes this this – with a great stomping intro, Smith’s trademark pub drunk bark and a video featuring Aberdonian punk ballet star Michael Clark (that’s him in the wig), this is Big New Prinz, the opener on the 1988 album I Am Kurious, Oranj:


For more on The Fall, click here and for more on Little Tiger Records, here you go

Big Gold Dream: Play To Win (The DVD)

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Just out in DVD this week is Big Gold Dream, the feature length documentary that I reviewed in roughcut form back in the autumn of 2015.

To the surprise of the team behind the film, the first batch of DVDs completely sold out in just over 30 minutes and when a second, larger batch was put together it sold out in under 24 hours. Deservedly so as this really is a must-see ninety minutes for anybody with an interest in the punk/post-punk/independent scene that developed in Scotland during the late 1970s and 1980s.

As Neil Cooper puts it in his blurb on the back cover of the DVD: ‘Everything you hear today, tomorrow and knocked into the middle of next week started here. Indie-Disco, Art-Rock and Difficult Fun are all in the mix.’

If you want to purchase a copy, here’s your link and if you want to hear about the sequel of sorts made by the same the team, click here for my interview with director Grant McPhee.


Here’s a re-post of my review:

Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream

I’ve rewound to the early days of 1979. By this point independent music labels have started springing up in Scotland; there’s Sensible and Zoom in Edinburgh for instance, Boring in Glasgow, NRG in Dundee and No Bad in Dunfermline but they’re still a real rarity.

I’ve rewound to the early days of 1979. By this point independent music labels have started springing up in Scotland; there’s Sensible and Zoom in Edinburgh for instance, Boring in Glasgow, NRG in Dundee and No Bad in Dunfermline but they’re still a real rarity.

In an NME article titled Product Packaging, and Rebel Music, I read about the most high profile addition to this trend, Edinburgh’s Fast Product, whose first releases, singles by The Mekons and 2.3, had came out around a year earlier.

Bob Last, a former architecture student and theatre set designer at the Traverse, is interviewed and writer Ian Cranna concludes that: ‘Last has the potential to be what Brecht was in theatre,’ a statement that sounds mightily impressive even though at this point in my life I know as much about concepts such as Bertolt Brecht’s alienation effect as I do about quantum mechanics.

Nowadays I’m reasonably up to speed with Brecht and, although I’m still pretty mystified by the science behind the big bang theory, I think I can at least say that according to the new feature length documentary Big Gold Dream, the nearest musical equivalent of any big bang exploding the whole punk and independent movement in Scotland into life would be The Slits and Subway Sect performing on the Edinburgh Playhouse date of The Clash’s White Riot Tour.

‘It was a real Year Zero moment,’ Davy Henderson explains in the film. ‘It was incredible.’

Many young fans were certainly galvanised that evening and a bunch of them would quickly gravitate to the artistic hub of the Keir Street tenement flat of Bob Last and Fast co-conspirator Hilary Morrison, where they would discuss music and literature, try out some William Burroughs style cut-ups and eat a lot of toasties.

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Fire Engines, Keir St. Sitting Room: Photo by Hilary Morrison

‘Glam punk’ Morrison is an always particularly entertaining presence in the film, talking of her delight at Johnny Rotten telling her that he despised her when she asked him to sign a Sex Pistols single in Virgin Records in Edinburgh and recalling the tale of having to break into somebody’s uncle’s remote Borders cottage in order to record the first single by The Mekons. I won’t though spoil the ending of her very amusing story about a photoshoot that involves various Fire Engines, £15 worth of meat from Safeway, baby oil and a visit regarding a break-in unrelated to any recording session.

Alan Rankine also made me smile while relaying a meeting between American impresario Seymour Stein and The Associates, where the Sire head honcho offers them the moon unaware that Billy Mackenzie was far from the average rock star and more interested in whippets than whopping advances, especially if the money involved world tours.

Fast Product release a string of stunningly inventive tracks by The Mekons, Gang of Four, Human League, Scars, Dead Kennedys and even as part of their one-off Earcom series, Joy Division. They also turn down any chance of Joy Division signing to Fast due to their problematic name, turn down the chance to release Human Fly by The Cramps and somehow manage to sell rotting orange peel. The label mutates into Pop:Aural and brings out records by local acts including a Fire Engines single called Big Gold Dream.

A new kid on the block independent makes its presence felt very quickly in Glasgow and the inter label rivalry between Fast/Pop:Aural and Postcard Records is explored. Yes, both labels share the belief that Scottish acts shouldn’t have to up sticks and move to London in order to have a shot at success but they disagree about so much more with Alan Horne branding Fast ‘pathetic’ in one music press interview – although Bob Last denies the feud involved him sending any death threats to his west coast adversaries.

Glad to hear it.

Notably, Alan Horne, a kind of West End of Glasgow Warhol in the early ’80s, passed up on the chance to appear here and I’m sure that, if he is even anything like the spectacularly acerbic young man of the Postcard era, director Grant McPhee could have had great fun intercutting between the pair as they aimed a few digs at each other – like the footage of Alan McGee and Kevin Shields in the documentary Beautiful Music.

‘He was condescending and dismissive of musicians’, Campbell Owens of Aztec Camera complains although David McClymont from Orange Juice remembers him as being ‘a lovely guy’. But only very ironically.

A happier relationship existed between Bob Last and Tony Wilson with Last even offering Wilson advice when he was setting up Factory. It would have been interesting to learn Wilson’s thoughts on Fast but at least we get to hear what the ever reliable raconteur Peter Hook has to say about the two men.

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Scars doing pix for single sleeve: Photo by Hilary Morrison

Anyone who read my Scottish Post–Punk Top Ten a few weeks back won’t be too surprised to learn that I’m very happy that Scars are one of the most heavily featured acts here, with Douglas McIntyre of Creeping Bent Records going as far as to argue that Horrorshow and Adult/ery were Scotland’s Anarchy in the UK but if there is a heart of the documentary it’s probably Fire Engines singer Davy Henderson, later also of Win, Nectarine No. 9 and The Sexual Objects. Henderson is always fascinating, often funny and obviously still haunted by his decision (urged on by Bob Last) to break up Fire Engines. ‘One of the biggest regrets of my life,’ he admits.

Around this point it’s time for the infiltrating the mainstream part of Big Gold Dream, some of the film’s participants achieving this ambition more successfully than others.

Win seem to be on the verge of a real commercial breakthrough after their uber-pop single You’ve Got The Power is used in a very imaginative ad for a third-rate Scottish lager but they’re cruelly denied a place in the top 40 due to the track being chart weighted as such a high percentage of sales were concentrated in one part of Britain.

Aztec Camera, Strawberry Switchblade and The Bluebells fare better as do Orange Juice, who move from Postcard to Polydor, while Alan Horne is offered his own label by London Records which he names Swamplands – the cutesy pussycat Postcard logo replaced by a prowling panther (something I’d strangely never picked up on until Allan Campbell mentioned it here).

It’s Bob Last, however, in his role as manager (or Executive Manipulator) of The Human League and Heaven 17 who is involved in the most stratospheric success aided greatly by his decision to help split the original Human League line-up in two and bring former Rezillo Jo Callis into the shiny new version of the band and later insisting that the shiny new version of the band release Don’t You Want Me as a single despite pressure from Phil Oakey not to.

Despite the global success of Dare and the undoubted influence of Fast Product, Bob Last didn’t go on to equal in music or any other medium what Brecht did in theatre, which is hardly a disgrace. And he did also go on to co-produce one of the most magical animated movies that you could ever wish to see, The Illusionist, which also incidentally features music by Malcolm Ross and Ian Stoddart – who both appear in Big Gold Dream – and Leo Condie in the guise of beat combo, Billy Boy and the Britoons.

Big Gold Dream won the Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and so far reviews have been highly favourable: my fellow blogger the Vinyl Villain, for instance, calling it ‘a joy to watch’.

Richard Jobson, though, isn’t much of a fan, tweeting: ‘Just watched Big Gold Dream rewrite history to fit a story and Bob Last’s ego – fuck off.’

I thought myself that at least some mention of The Skids could have been made – likewise Johnny and the Self Abusers/Simple Minds, but just don’t ask me what I would have cut to make room for these suggestions as there are so many great interviewees here such as Fay Fife, Billy Sloan, Jill Bryson, Vic Godard and Tam Dean Burn to name only a handful.

The film is a vast improvement on the fatally flawed BBC Scotland doc Caledonia Dreaming (no Hue and Cry and Wet Wet Wet for starters). In fact, it is easily the best documentary on Scottish music I can think of and one of the best music documentaries made in the last decade or so and the good news is that a sequel Teenage Superstars: The Fall of Postcard and the Rise of 53rd & 3rd Records will follow on, hopefully in the not too distant future.

Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa

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Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (Sire)

“And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here’?”

Oops, wrong song and anybody that read my previous post will obviously know how I got here.

Talking Heads first came to some degree of prominence at CBGB where they began regularly supporting The Ramones. This would be an inspired though incongruous pairing: while The Ramones enjoyed portraying themselves as glue-sniffing dumbasses, Talking Heads gave off an intellectual air; while The Ramones always aimed for unflinching machine gun ferocity, Talking Heads employed a slower pace that could vary from song to song and whereas The Ramones wrapped themselves in black leather and ripped jeans in a bid to look like Bowery degenerates, Chris Frantz even once spoke of Talking Heads taking to the stage looking like ‘a bunch of Jesuits’.

Both bands, though, shared some kind of minimalist intent, paring down their sound to the point where absolutely nothing extraneous was left – sensing this producer Tony Bongiovi decided to bolster debut Heads’ single Love Goes to Building on Fire by adding horns and even some birds chirping. David Byrne did regret allowing this but I’ve always been rather fond of as it added a little touch of Stax and I’d guess the singer’s Fa fa fa fa fah-ing on Psycho Killer is also a reference to Otis Redding’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).

Again, unlike The Ramones, Talking Heads were soul fans – best demonstrated later with their inspired cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River.

Sometimes associated with the serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the ‘Son of Sam’, the song was actually written before Berkowitz had notched up his first kill. Byrne initially worked on the track while he, Tina Weymouth and Chric Frantz were all sharing a painting studio while students at the Rhode Island School of Design. He asked Weymouth for some assistance on the bridge as he wanted it written in French – which she was fluent in – and Frantz joined in the fun too with a couple of choruses. A classic was hatched.

With that great staccato guitar, urgent and sometimes unhinged vocal and, best of all, that pulsing, ominous bassline from Tina Weymouth, this is Psycho Killer performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test:

 
Berkowitz’s final attack, incidentally, took place in Brooklyn on July 31st, 1977 and he was apprehended on August 10th and later sentenced to 365 years in prison, where he still resides.

Psycho Killer was first released as a track on the album Talking Heads:77 in September 1977. A few months later it came out as a single.

For more on Talking Heads, click here.

Friday Night Film Club #1 – CBGB & Summer of Sam

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CBGB (2013)
Director: Randall Miller
Cast: Alan Rickman, Malin Åkerman, Johnny Galecki

CBGB, the last I heard, was somehow being transported to New Jersey where it is to be relaunched as a restaurant in Newark Airport, which is kind of like re-opening the Glasgow Apollo as a hairdressing salon in Airdrie. Well that idea isn’t that much dafter surely?

I did promise to review CBGB back in 2013 but after watching the film I found it difficult to muster up the necessary enthusiasm.

Alarm bells had began to ring when I caught Malin Åkerman promoting the movie on Craig Ferguson’s chat show where she told Craig that she was playing Blondie. Not Debbie Harry but Blondie.

Unfortunately at times CBGB resembles that show where Matthew Kennedy brought on members of the public to imitate their singing heroes. Tonight Matthew, I’m Going to be Iggy Pop/Cheetah Chrome/David Byrne etc etc. Except at least on Stars in Their Eyes the contestants did actually sing rather than lip-sync their impersonations.

Promoted with the tagline ‘50,000 Bands and One Disgusting Bathroom’, CBGB promised to be the American 24 Hour Party People but was just too mainstream and predictable – the exact opposite of acts like Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith that became synonymous with the venue.

CBGB bombed at the box office with a total U.S. theatrical gross of only $40,400 and critics were largely dismissive, Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times for example branding it ‘merely a mess of caricatures.’

If you haven’t seen the film, it might be an idea to just watch the trailer which contains the only line that I laughed at (regarding Ramones’ song titles). Or, even better, watch any of the many documentaries that examine the club and its influence.


Summer of Sam (1999)
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino

CBGB was also featured as a location in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and it would have to be said that painstakingly detailed research into his subject matter do not feature as one of Lee’s qualities as a filmmaker. Seeing SOS gives the impression that for him punk was something that only really happened in London where Sid Vicious sang with that band The Sex Pistols.

Now I can’t claim to have been a CBGB regular in 1977 (or at any other time) but I have watched a fair amount of footage from the venue and the crowds really bore no similarity to what Lee presents here with his motley crew of extras who all look like those awful so called punks that hung around the King’s Road in the early ’80s, hoping that a tourist would slip them 50 pence so they could be photographed with them. And no Spike, you wouldn’t have seen tongue rings and septum piercings in the summer of 1977 either.

Despite the anachronisms, SOS is not the total flop that CBGB is. Lee was a breath of fresh air in the American independent cinema scene of the 1980s and since his early days he’s always been able to construct a memorable set piece scene.

SOS also tackles some explosive subject matter – a real life serial killer whose murders raise tensions across the city, including an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx. All to the backdrop of the disco phenomenon and emergence of punk.

The cast is very good here too, especially John Leguizamo (Carlito’s Way & Kick-Ass 2) who plays Vinny, a disco dancing hairdresser who classes women into two categories, Madonna or Whore – his wife Dionna (Mira Sorvino) being the former while her pal Ruby (Jennifer Esposito) is the latter.

summer-of-sam-still

There’s also some great music, The Who’s Baba O’Riley, Chic’s Everybody Dance and Got to Give It Up by Marvin Gaye being just three examples, but Lee never combines these tracks with his imagery with the same imagination as, say, Lee’s bete noire Quentin Tarantino, which is no crime but I do have a slight problem with some of the songs being so nail on the head obvious, like when Dionna is packing her bags and walking out on Vinny, Lee feels the need to spell things out with Thelma Houston’s version of Don’t Leave Me This Way.

And of course, he couldn’t resist including Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer either, which is heard in a cafe in the background on the radio, the DJ obviously having been given an advance copy to play as the scene is set in the middle of summer and the track wasn’t released till the middle of September on the album 77, while as a single it wasn’t released in the States till December.

Okay, I’m being a little pedantic.

More worrying is the fact that while Spike Lee has always been quick to condemn any stereotyping of black characters in cinema, not for the first time he could be accused of racism himself for his portrayal of a New York Italian community. In SOS, if your surname ends with a vowel then in probability you’ll be a special kind of stupid, the guys usually women hating bullies with a side helping of homophobia and distrust of anyone different – because he’s a punk rock freak, some of these idiots somehow get it into their heads that Ritchie (Adrien Brody) might just be the Son of Sam.

SOS is a long film and just not compelling enough to justify its length of 142 minutes. Unlike American Hustle, where David O. Russell arguably out Scorsesed Martin Scorsese, Lee’s move into similar territory only makes you wonder what the great man would have conjured up utilising the same subject matter.

If you want a better serial killer film try Zodiac and if you want a better disco movie Saturday Night Fever is for you.


Trivia: John Turturro (The Big Lebowski and Do the Right Thing) supplies the voice of Harvey, the black dog who order Sam to kill.

A 1974 Two for Tuesday

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heavy-metal-kids-kilburn-and-the-highroads

Don’t worry, the words Heavy and Metal are unlikely to be used together in this blog ever again. Thinking about it, I’m still at a loss as to why this mid ’70s act should have chosen to call themselves The Heavy Metal Kids. Yeah, I know they got the name from William Burroughs (that man name-checked for the second post running) but if you haven’t heard the Kids before don’t expect any Iron Maiden style bollocks.

Between glam and punk, several new bands emerged who would be touted as potential next big things – Jet, Deaf School, The Doctors of Madness and, of course, The Heavy Metal Kids being prime examples. And just to confuse matters more, the Kids were often called punks back then when that term was used more loosely than it would be just a couple of years later. I’m sure I even remember someone in the music press referring to Rod Stewart as a punk one time.

A quintet of rabble-rousing droogs, The Kids specialised in blasting out songs about birds and bovver like Always Plenty of Women and The Cops Are Coming. Bovver was big news back then and you wouldn’t have to turn too many pages of a paper like Glasgow’s Evening Times before you’d read about truants, football hooligans, glue sniffers, vandals or violent teenage gangs and their local reigns of terror.

The Kids looked to have all the ingredients of a success story, singer Gary Holton possessed a good bluesy voice and shared a similar sense of onstage theatricality as his pal Alex Harvey – Holton, like Alex, was also what might have been called a gallus case in Glasgow (translation: full of swagger).

heavy-metal-kids-sounds-1975

The band, and Gary in particular, also demonstrated a knack for publicity, One day Gary would crop up in the Sun (I promise to never mention that paper again too) photographed cavorting with some page 3 girl, the next, the band would be filmed playing The Cops Are Coming live in Fulham for a documentary investigating violence at rock concerts by BBC current affairs series Panorama.

They played everywhere in London from the Marquee to Kensington fashion emporium Biba and also supported Alice Cooper in Britain and America and Kiss in the States before getting kicked off the tour. The band it would have to be admitted were no choirboys.

They could maybe have been a (not so) Small Faces for the seventies but earned only relatively minor success, no real hits but one appearance on Top of the Pops and a spot on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Many future punk bands were fans. Tony James from Generation X first met Mick Jones of The Clash at a Kids’ show and several members of The Damned also rated the band. The Kids themselves observed the rise of The Sex Pistols at close hand – members of both groups drank frequently in King’s Road boozer The Roebuck and Gary began to suspect that Johnny Rotten had nicked some of his street urchin image and act. He let Johnny know his thoughts on the matter too.

By the time that the their third album Kitsch was released in the summer of 1977 as the punk explosion peaked, The Heavy Metal Kids were already looking distinctly like yesterday’s men rather than any next big thing.

Those who had predicted stardom for Gary, though, did get it right. Originally trained as an actor, he appeared very briefly in Quadrophenia but was given a much more important role in Stephen Poliakoff’s TV drama Bloody Kids, first shown in March 1980, before landing the role that he’ll always be best remembered for, cheeky Cockney chappie Wayne from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

From their self titled debut album this does start off sounding like one of those awful power/rock ballads but gets better as it goes along with a chorus not a million miles from a Status Quo style boogie. This is We Gotta Go:


Ian Dury was another artist who suspected that Johnny Rotten had borrowed from his act, feeling that he’d nicked his razor-blade earring and the manner in which he leaned in towards his microphone and sang. In fact, according to James Macleay’s book on Malcolm McLaren, Dury went to his grave annoyed at how ‘McLaren and Lydon had aped his style yet never given him any credit for it.’

Certainly both McLaren and Rotten had seen Kilburn and the High Roads on several occasions and The Sex Pistols had even supported them on the Kilburns’ very last show at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall but  while Johnny might have taken note of Ian – and Gary Holton’s – sense of stagecraft, I doubt the influence of either made any real difference to the success of his Pistols.

kilburn-and-the-high-roads-100-club

Chris Thomas was a big fan of the Kilburns and produced their first single Rough Boys. As he told Ian Dury biographer Richard Balls: ‘The funny thing was, a couple of years later I was approached by Malcolm McLaren about possibly doing the The Sex Pistols, he set up a meeting with Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock, and they wanted me to produce them because they’d liked Rough Kids. I didn’t think anyone had heard it.’

Back in 1974, I don’t think I ever heard the single but I doubt it was ever given any airplay on Radio 1 and I would be amazed if any Clyde DJ had ever given the track a spin. I was also unaware that this footage existed until a few hours ago, here is Rough Kids:


For more on The Heavy Metal Kids, click here, and for more on Ian Dury, here you go.

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.

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

Probably not I would have to admit.

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