Sunday, May 29, 2016

Psshhhh

Ironing was really getting on my wick until I realised that I could play along with the electro swing tracks that I was listening to by squirting the steam in time to the music.
Funky, man.

Zine Fairs

Saying that 'young people nowadays' aren't doing anything like we did with punk is not only passé, but also wrong. That's looking in the wrong direction, and sounding like a Daily Mail reader.
There is a thriving underground music culture in the present day, and also a thriving international zine culture. Offsprog One has published five issues of Hidden Eggs and is at a zine fair at Rich Mix today- and you couldn't get a more multicultural and empowered generation of young people, with plenty to say beyond just pretty art and smart design.
I can't go to today's zine fair (more filming and an interview with a radio station in San Francisco about the documentary) but here's a pic of her at the one in Dalston a few weeks go. She made a special wrestling issue with posters, and she does badges as well.
Zines crop up all over the UK and are not the preserve of the middle classes, either- I sent off for one published in the Manchester area that consisted of interviews with young women in dead-end jobs. It was a fascinating glimpse into the human spirit's ability to survive, and even thrive, when the outlook appears to be hopeless.
Big up the twenty-somethings; they have the future in their hands. Try to be nice, too; they will be the ones you/we expect to look after us when we are ancient. A sense of entitlement is ugly no matter what generation you belong to. Better for us to be respected than resented, eh?



Friday, May 27, 2016

Rambling With Rhodes (and Robb)

So it was Friday night (oh no! I've become one of those people who starts a sentence with 'so') and I had tickets to see Bernie Rhodes who used to manage The Clash, at The British Library. Little Bruv said he'd like to come, and we celeb-spotted in the foyer. There was a cohort from Scotland that I knew from work, and Spinningchilli had come up from Brighton. In the distance, I saw Jordan. Everyone else just looked famous but I didn't know who they were, probably because I'm not famous.
John Robb, the interviewer, sat in a chair on the stage and then up popped Bernie, in  black beret and an electric blue suit.
He didn't want to sit down; instead he leaned against the lectern, all the better to regale us with stories interspersed with the occasional short film. "This is a Hundred Club moment", he quipped, "A thousand people will say they were here".
The humour came thick and fast; his sons were in the audience, and he complained about buying a computer for one of them for his fourteenth birthday. "I got a pencil, and was told what Leonardo did with one".
Bernie showed us a film of 1940s London, and talked about the Russian Jewish Ghetto in Stepney. His mother had been a tailor, making suits for Cary Grant for a pittance, and he hung around with 'aunties' who were actually hookers who serviced African American soldiers. He was fortunate to have a bad education, because a good education meant long words, long words meant money, and if you had money you got mugged.
Later, he hung out in a flat where Marc Bolan would strum a single chord for half an hour. "We used to say, for f*ck's sake CHANGE CHORDS".
He told us about his friend who made winkle pickers out of compressed cardboard that you couldn't wear in the rain.
Bernie and Malcolm McLaren used to talk for four hours in the Compendium Bookshop café in Camden. "What did you talk about?", enquired John Robb. "I don't know- I can't remember", was the reply.
Although he appeared to be rambling, Bernie was in full control of the show. He described Steve Jones and Paul Cook stealing David Bowie's back line and storing it in McLaren and Westwood's shop, and eventually persuading them to form a band which Malcolm had hoped to front on his return from New York, where he was following the New York Dolls and writing letters home on brown paper bags. But, he said, Malcolm and he were different: Malcolm liked bad behaviour, whereas he himself was more concerned with making social and cultural change that was serious.
He had a downer on the BBC, who he regarded as corrupt (ahem, they may be but the alternatives are trillions of times worse); and an even bigger downer on music journalists.
Stories flowed and the audience was rapt. The little films showed all sorts of things: Vic Godard, The Clash, New York, and we heard about the passport strike that meant that British bands couldn't get to New York to play, and the young black musicians he was interested in, who had never played live before and didn't know what a sound check was, were given the support slot. That was Grandmaster Flash's first gig.
After two hours and a discreet signal from the organisers, John interjected. "Bernie, I think we've run out of time".
"I haven't finished yet", said Bernie. Nor had the audience, who laughed and sat back for more.
It was an unexpectedly entertaining evening, with plenty of gossip and more stories that I could possibly do justice to. I even bought a signed poster at the end.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tape Box

Thanks to Michael Clunkie for sending this photograph of the tape box for the original Thin Sliced Records Freight Train and Pioneer Town recordings. Pioneer Town is on the new Sharon Signs To Cherry Red compilation. I'm just waiting for my copy to arrive and then I'll share the listening experience with you!
I remember recording these down in Elephant Studios in Wapping, before it got gentrified. Just the studios and a big old pub, an lots of bridges and industrial wasteland. The engineer, Simon Tassano, showed me how to use the mixing desk and I suppose this was my first production. There is a vocal group in San Francisco who contacted me a while ago to ask for the lyrics to Pioneer Town because they wanted to do their own choral version of it. I was chuffed to bits!

FinishingThe Chapter

This morning has been spent editing and amending a chapter that I have written for an academic book. It has been 'resting' for month after taking about 50 hours to research and write (we don't get paid for these things, either). It's a punk chapter and I've written about The Raincoats covering Lola, Linder Sterling's meat dress and various other things. I had to edit out about 300 words by the time I'd dealt with the editor's amendments; the first 200 were very hard and then I came to the bit where I said that women punk bands were no longer edited out of history.
We-e-e-ll....
That bit was easy to take out.
What a conundrum- it was all about not being famous, but because of that nobody remembers what happened, apart from about me and 30 other people. History is just about famousness, isn't it? I think we all need to crown ourselves Queen of this and that, and wear Norman Hartnell coat and hat sets and thick pink lipstick.
Then perhaps history will remember us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Editing the Film

I've just got back from the second editing day, round at Gina's.
The film is starting to come together; it feels as though I should say 'naturally' but the interviewing and logging and loading and discussing takes a lot of time and concentration.
You start to inhabit the world of the interviewees. Have we used this already, or have we just watched it 15 times?
We break off to chat. We get annoyed all over again with things that went on back then.
Our punk was so much better than that black-jackety leather rock man thing. It was technicolour, it was pioneering, it was eccentric, it was brattish, it spilled into reggae and back out again.
Oh the stories! Just wait till you see it!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Recording

Well, I've been recording.
Two weeks ago I spent a seven-hour day in the studio. Both the engineer and myself were rather frail, for different reasons, but somehow we managed to record eight songs, and include a lunch break in Stratford's awful Morrison's (yes, the ones that fined me £50 for parking in their car park) where we waited for a century for our curry.
Today was about repairs, some re-recording and some lead vocals; there will be at least another day of recording and mixing before I've finished. I know how I want to sound; I've got a strong sense of what makes my songs sound right.
After listening to 45 student songs over the last week or so, I also feel that I need to up my game. One or two of those songs were absolutely superb, and although I work in a completely different style I am determined never to release anything that could be regarded as a 'filler' on an album.
Some of these songs I've been playing for ages (Lover When You Leave Me), some have been resting (Who's That Behind The Camera Lens, Feathers), some are newish (Bird Talk, Big Brother), some are new (The Sea) and one has been impossible to get sounding right but finally, By Jove, I've cracked it (Summer Days).
I think the singing sounds like I did when I was in The Chefs: strong. Some vocals I will replace because I think they sound harsh. One song is played on the Spanish Guitar, the rest on the Telecaster, and one will be sent to Indietracks for their fundraiser album.
I selfishly wish John Peel was still around, because I think he would like these songs.

Today's session was five hours long, and I am sitting like a splodge with no bones on the sofa as  result of yesterday's  consumption of thousands of cups of coffee at work because I was concentrating so hard. The caffeine kicked in at regular intervals through the night; waking up this morning was easy, because I was already awake. Later, carrying two guitars and a brick-thick lyric book to the studio and back was quite a workout, and I now have a torso like the Incredible Hulk.

I think 8.30 is too early to go to bed, though.

Friday, May 20, 2016

I Saw The Chewing Gum Painter In The Art Shop

I saw Ben Wilson, the chewing gum painter, in the art shop yesterday. He was resplendent in an orange jumpsuit with painty knees, and he told me he's painting on the Millennium Bridge at the moment, as well as in Stockton and Hartlepool.
He has a patron now, too, which is wonderful news.
I showed him Offsprog Two's miniature embroidery of Poirot's head and he was really impressed.
Oh art, how I love you.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Vivien Goldman's 'Resolutionary'

I jumped that the chance to review this release, and unsurprisingly it's delivered a great morning's listen. Aside from a list of collaborators that include Steve Beresford, Vicky Aspinall, John Lydon, Viv Albertine, David Toop, Carroll Thompson, Neneh Cherry, Bruce Smith, Keith Levene and of course Adrian Sherwood at the controls, it's Vivien's vision and sense of humour that hold the tracks together.
Here are some listeners notes:
Launderette: What a great atmosphere. I listen to a lot of song recordings as part of my job and some of them are brilliant, some very poor; even with the best ones, creating an atmosphere is a rare feat. The sleeve notes say that this was originally improvised, and the vocal still has that fresh ‘just laundered’ feel. From inside the drum of a tumble dryer, the dub section fights against the flying socks and loose coins, moving along at a pace that won’t let your feet stand still. This is one of my favourite songs of all time.
Private Armies: playful vocal experiments subvert prettiness to attack all violence that is glamorized and given validity by being dressed up in uniforms: whether the police, armies of music fans, or anyone else for that matter. Mainly aimed at the police, gun-shot snare drums shoot the message home in the dub section.
The Flying Lizards: Her Story. More formally organised sound-wise, there is a focus on the dance floor here. It’s interesting to hear that the elements of Vivien’s sound work just as well in a much poppier format, even though there is more of an escapist feel here. The electronic sounds and whooshes seem to be reaching across the pond to New York somehow; Ladbroke Grove’s claustrophobia has been left behind in this track.
The Flying Lizards: The Window. I wondered if the subject of this song was the accidental lover of Launderette, returned in metaphorical form to drink blood. Little threads of girl group vocal innocently intrude into the threatening scenario: do, doo, de doo….. There are many layers in this track; the outro features a muffled male vocal. I can’t hear what he says: that makes things even more unnerving.
Chantage: Same Thing Twice: Vivien’s voice is layered over an African-influenced backing. A trombone-heavy brass section punctuates the song, a steel pan band joins in, and a guitar skips along throughout the track. Celebratory and yearning at the same time.
Chantage: It’s Only Money: the practical humour of Launderette returns to the lyrics. Daughter of The Slits’ Shoplifting and the film Cabaret’s Money, in this song Vivien parodies attitudes to money, from the richest to the poorest. A disruptive angel, she sings over a tumbling track that, like the previous one, features a world of instrumentation that includes a gypsy violin. This belongs alongside Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, somewhere in an emergent New York sound of the 1980s. 
Tu M’Fais Rire: this is the most gorgeous acapella and is a lovely ending to the music.
There is an interview here too; the whole release has a joie de vivre and tempered cynicism that pop music needs desperately. Come back! All is forgiven!
Available from 20th May, here: http://www.staubgold.com

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Old Cars and Bikes in Barnet Market

What a surprise: boring old Barnet had a car show in the market yesterday- some jammy old cars and some fab old British bikes.
I don't believe that the VW's colours are original, though.
McMum's friend Fifi (yes, she was French) used to drive us to Tynemouth beach in a Morris Minor like the one below, except it was white, when we were very little. I remember being really, really excited to be driven around in a car with a roof that came off. Even more exciting, the sand at Tynemouth beach was so dirty with pollution that it used to squeak when you walked on it.







Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dave MacDonald and Fan Club

I found out yesterday that Dave MacDonald, of the legendary Brighton band Fan Club, has died. Fan Club existed before punk started, but Dave and Pete were people who were punks-in-waiting- probably like a lot of us.
Their 'gig home' was Brighton's Alhambra, that ramshackle and warm-hearted venue on the seafront that defied the weather and had an almost Venetian patina of homely wear and tear. It was demolished on the same day the cat killed my budgie- one of those awful ground-shattering changes (I'm going through something similar at the moment).
Dave and Pete (Smith, a window cleaner by trade) were defiant, poor (they lived in a house that had no hot water and not even a sink- a tap sprouted out of a wall in the 'kitchen' and yes, it was rented from a private landlord), and were ferociously friendly or unfriendly, depending on who you were. They loved dolly birds who dressed from charity shops and wore red lipstick (their song Deptford Bike Dollies was written about my friends Kim and Charlotte) but hated female sexiness and any sort of pretension. They had a big black bin bag of things like leopardskin cashmere jumpers and Dave would delve into it at random moments and present you with an item of clothing like indulgent uncle.
Around those times,  Dave worked as a breakfast waiter in a B&B.
They were really, really good song writers. I remember the first time I saw them; I'd never seen a Vox Teardrop guitar before and that was what Pete played. He would race across the stage, tossing his lank hair out of his eyes, while Dave roared into the microphone, a mad gleam in his eye.
Once, in the Alhambra, Dave had a whole load of iced sticky buns, which he threw around the place with abandon and managed to land one on the bar manager's head. Ahmed took it all is his stride; they packed venues because they were so entertaining. Dave didn't give a flying f*ck about anything and his richly-embroidered language strung their songs together exquisitely. They brought out a single called Night Caller which I still have a 7" vinyl copy of. They were far too anarchic and abrasive to appear on Brighton's Attrix label, a fact that gave them a certain cachet; by far their best song was a song called Moonbeam, which at a time of general hatred of guitar solos, had an absolutely heart meltingly beautiful guitar hook played by Pete. I had a copy of it on cassette because I was supposed to record some backing vocals on it, but they came all the way to London to a party at my house to steal it from me.
I managed to get a year's lease on a flat and they decided to move in with me, using a pincer movement. Using Pete as a lure (he became my chaste boyfriend for a while), followed up by Dave turning up after his morning shift at the B&B with a foil-wrapped package of hot bacon, half a loaf of sliced white Mother's Pride bread, a box of eggs and a pint of milk, they homed in on me. As soon as I realised what was happening I moved one of my brothers in instead!
I lost touch with them soon after that.
About ten years ago, Helen and the Horns played a gig at the Komedia in Brighton. When I got to the soundcheck, I was told that there had been a call from someone called Dave, and to call back.
It was him- I was so pleased to hear from him. He was working as a cleaner in an office and he had been throwing away that day's copy of Brighton's Evening Argus when he saw the gig advertised. I was delighted to put him and Pete on the guest list.
They sat a table on their own; Dave had changed very little- he was still the same cheeky Scot, cocking his head and smiling his lopsided smile. Pete had been living on the street and had lost a lot of his teeth, but he smiled and chatted as though no time had passed between then and then.
Oh that moment: simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. It was so touching that they had come along, and such a privilege to sit next to them, yet so sad that life had had so little to offer such talented people. Dave and Pete, I salute you, love you and treasure your independence of spirit and the ability to be both bad lads and completely charming at the same time.
This year, lots of our generation's icons have died. I have felt ambivalent about some of them- those remote pop stars that we didn't actually know (though we felt that we did) who sound-tracked our teenage years. Ari and Poly are the people from those times who I would have liked to grow old with, both making new music before they died, and I mourned them along with other people who I now realise belonged to a niche subculture.
But the most important people are the people we have shared the ups and downs of our lives with- the people we chose as family when our nearest were not always so dearest. I wrote about Vi Subversa a few weeks ago, a woman who was a real treasure and who ultimately touched a lot more people with her music than Dave did. But I am writing this because to me, and to the Deptford Bike Dollies and all those other people who packed the Alhambra out on wet and windy Brighton nights, Dave MacDonald was a joy to know- a rogue, a catalyst, a waiter, a songwriter, an adversary, a bright spark and a wonderful friend. Goodnight Dave.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Holloweye

I thought that I was being watched as I walked down the street this morning. It wasn't until this birch tree blinked that I realised where the feeling came from.