… your heart out
… a belief in mischief
… a belief in mischief We all have our sacred texts, the words we cling to, the ones that have shaped our dreams. And they can turn up in the strangest of places. You can find some of mine in Jonathon Green‟s Days in the Life, Voices from the English Underground 1961 – 1971. This fantastic book was first published 1988, and features oral accounts of the period from those directly involved, without any accompanying commentary. The oral history approach is not as easy as it may seem, so credit must go to Green for what he put together. He will have had an idea of what story he wanted to tell, and at the time it was first published this was ground that had not really been covered in such a way. It is also worth remembering that the establishment‟s view at the time was reflected by the likes of leading Tory Norman Tebbit, who told The Independent in February, 1990 that: ―The word 'conservative' is used by the BBC as a portmanteau word of abuse for anyone whose views differ from the insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naïve, guilt-ridden, wet, pink orthodoxy of that sunset home of the third-rate minds of that third-rate decade, the nineteen-sixties.‖ It was only very specific parts of Days in the Life that appealed to me, and in particular the book was very good on the mod scene. I was extremely taken with the stories about mischievous mods, the Firm and their “creative villainy”. Or as one of the Firm‟s kingpins Peter Shertser put it: ―We used to enjoy a bit of wrecking. That started from fourteen or fifteen onwards. It was clever wrecking, not just vandalism. We‘d cement a Hoover to a bath. Very Magritte influenced, Man Ray, and all that kind of thing, thinking about Bunuel films.‖ I loved the way Shertser so matter-of-factly told his stories: ―The Firm burnt The Speakeasy down. That was great, sitting outside watching the posers coming out – We thought the prices were bad.‖ And when you later read Alfreda Benge‟s comments in The Soul Stylists you understood what Shertser meant: ―What was great about The Scene was that it was very democratic. It was really cheap to get in, there was no alcohol, just coke, a lot of pills, and this great music. But later on when these hippies came along to save the world, what did they do? They started opening up The Speakeasy and places where they didn‘t let anyone in. It became utterly elitist and all the good places died a death. I thought it was middle class colonisation.‖ It would be many years later that I read more about the Firm in Mick Farren‟s memoirs, Give The Anarchist A Cigarette: ―Our staunch allies in combating the mod/skinhead problem were a motley bunch of Jewish East Londoners known as the Firm. The Firm were ex-mods themselves, but of the earlier, stylish variety whose twin dedications were music – primarily the blues – and creating mayhem and chaos wherever they went. Led by the dire duo of Peter Shertser and Ian Sippen, the Firm had taken a bunch of acid but managed to retain a highly mutated version of the traditional mod vision with making and spending money. They‘d grown their hair and now dressed in sharp, custom-tailored suits of the most outrageous fabrics they could find. These bespoke monsters were made by an elderly tailor in the East End to whom they would present lengths of William Morris curtain material and demand that he sew it according to the same pattern as three-button Tonik. At UFO, the Firm‘s capacity for confusion and disorder reached inspired peaks. They spiked a number of people, including the hapless John Peel, attacked the more disoriented hippies with water pistols and, on one memorable night, let off an assortment of fireworks right on the dance floor. After that, the choice was to ban them or co-opt them, and since they would only treat a ban as a challenge to return by hook or by crook, I suggested that they become our resident mod neutralisation squad.‖
Every once in a while I would think about the Firm, and check the internet expecting to see a dedicated website, detailed history, interviews, precious photos, etc. This was not an unreasonable expectation as there are plenty of people with a very specialised interest in modernism and the „60s in general. But surprisingly whenever I look there seems to be little that can be added to what we already know about the Firm‟s antics. I could be wrong. I could just be looking in all the wrong places. There are certainly sites giving the lowdown on what a mod might do on a wet Wednesday night in a Leicester public house in 1968, and while shared memories may be interesting it‟s not necessarily the sort of magic that attracts me. The stories of Shertser and Sippen need to be saved. I realise Ian Sippen is no longer with us. Blues Unlimited reported in 1973 that he was ―reported missing, believed drowned, while on Morocco, 28th April. Nothing else to say.‖ There were subsequently, as they say, questions in the House. Tom Iremonger, MP for Ilford North, asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs ―what steps he is taking to trace Ian Sippen, one of Her Majesty's subjects, of 35 Cantley Gardens, Ilford, reported missing in Morocco on Thursday 26th April.‖ Anthony Kershaw MP replied that: ―The embassy in Rabat immediately asked the local authorities to institute a search when it was informed that Mr. Sippen was missing. In less than an hour the pro-consul had joined the police and other official searchers at the beach from which Mr. Sippen had been swimming. I am very sorry to say that the search was unsuccessful. A watch continues on this and nearby beaches and the embassy will remain in close touch with the local authorities. The consular department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to keep the family fully informed.‖ Peter Shertser‟s story, however, is one you would reasonably expect to see pursued. If you look up Peter and the Firm on the web the first reference you will find is to a Fleetwood Mac fan site which has reproduced sleeve notes by Neil Slaven from a 2003 reissue of a 1986 LP by The Enemy Within which had been given the title Post-Modern Blues. It had originally been released on Peter Shertser‟s Red Lightnin‟ label as A Touch of Sunburn, and Slaven‟s sleeve notes touch upon the story of Shertser and the Firm as captured in Days in the Life. It seems the LP had previously been released on CD as Two Greens Make A Blues in a rather misleading jewel case that focused on the passing involvement of Mick Green and Peter Green in the recording of this LP. Now anyone who knows their pop history will be aware of the significance of Mick Green and Peter Green in the development of British popular music. And even if you are the greatest contrarian, the fiercest iconoclast or simply side with Norman Tebbit about the „60s, you would at least have to acknowledge the importance others place on those guitarists‟ work. When I think of Peter Green I find myself reminded of the cautionary tale Bill Drummond tells in his book 45. On a plane returning from Germany he finds himself sitting near Peter Green, or as he puts it ―in the presence of God‖, and can‟t resist asking for an autograph and asking a question. After all, as Bill justifies it, this is the man responsible for ―the most moving, distinct, evocative, strange … in fact, the greatest UK number one ever‖. He concludes, however, that you should never meet your heroes. It‟s a theme that‟s haunted me so much that when improbably I once found myself alone in a room with Bill Drummond I
desperately resisted going over and burbling some embarrassing nonsense about what an honour it is to meet and all that. I regret it desperately, but I know I would have made a fool of myself for the umpteenth time. Anyway, on a number of occasions I came across those references to the Firm in the sleeve notes of The Enemy Within LP, and didn‟t really consider it any further. After all, why would anyone be interested in a record made in 1986 by a collection of rock „n‟ roll dinosaurs? It should be mentioned Gypie Mayo from The Feelgoods was involved as well. It really didn‟t sound as though it would be my cup of tea. Even when it registered that the sleeve notes kept referring to the influence of one Captain Beefheart I resisted. Ironically in 1986 there were more than enough groups citing the influence of Beefheart. You could hardly move for them. Dusty pub backrooms were full of them, and so were the fanzines of the time. It was enough to put you off Beefheart. And that‟s been a recurring problem for me, for as much as I love the music of Beefheart and the Magic Band I have been alienated by much of what is written about it and put off by the work of those supposedly inspired by all those great records. It was the name The Enemy Within that eventually pulled me in. It resonated in the right way. And while it has become synonymous with the Conservative Government‟s war with the Miners I think I‟m right in saying Thatcher originally used it in a wider context as part of a speech to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers on 19 July 1984. Her notes for that speech suggest that for her The Enemy Within were: ―Miners' leaders, Liverpool & some local authorities — just as dangerous in a way more difficult to fight, but just as dangerous to liberty, scar across the face of our country, ill motivated, ill intentioned, politically inspired …‖
And that‟s one of the fascinating things about that time, the mid „80s, where you had this firmly elected „revolutionary‟ right wing central government, but locally, particularly in the inner cities, you had some outspoken, staunchly socialist council administrations. Sheffield, for example; Derek Hatton and Liverpool, of course, with the Militant thing; and of course the Capital and its GLC, the Greater London Council, under Ken Livingstone. And these city councils were genuinely popular with „the people‟, both in terms of personnel and policies, despite the vindictive media campaigns. Kevin Rowland, for example, at the time declared that Ken Livingstone was a folk hero. And Livingstone with his power base directly across the river from the Houses of Parliament really did seem to be the embodiment of what Thatcher saw as The Enemy Within, which is why she was so desperate to abolish the GLC. So it was an interesting choice of name for a group of old rhythm and blues survivalists to use in 1986. And I guess it‟s no surprise that the record itself, when curiosity finally got the better of me and I gave it a listen, really is not a tedious affair of blues virtuosity. In fact it‟s a rum old record, quite experimental in its way at times, not that far from Little Axe in fact. It‟s pretty much the vision of an enigmatic figure known as The Raven who adopts a gruff
singing approach heavily influenced by Beefheart, Howlin‟ Wolf, and Dr John, I guess. And it‟s also a useful reminder that the link between Beefheart and the blues would have been what appealed to a lot of the people in the UK whose heads were turned by Safe As Milk when it first started to appear in shops on import in 1967. I often return to the Steve Turner interviews with Peter Meaden, from I think 1975, which the NME published after Peter‟s death in 1978 and which became another of my sacred texts. There was so much I loved about those interviews. One thing I particularly seized upon was the nugget about Meaden bringing Beefheart to Britain for the first time. I always found that a vindication of sorts, as in the person who „got‟ Beefheart and did something constructive about it was the person usually referred to as king of the mods. And he was a real evangelist for Beefheart. I saw a recent report of a tribute event to the Captain where Giorgio Gomelsky, one of the great pop figures, ―related the story of how he first heard Beefheart when shanghaied by Peter Meaden, who proclaimed Beefheart ‗the biggest thing since The Who‘ and played him Safe As Milk for six hours straight.‖ In the context of orthodox pop historical accounts Peter Meaden and Captain Beefheart seemed such a strange random connection, almost too good to be true, but now there is plenty of information around to substantiate the link. Mike Barnes touches on it in his Captain Beefheart biography, though he spectacularly fails to capture the sheer wonderfulness of Meaden and the Captain working together. That biography is the sort of work you can admire for the diligence of the research, but whether it captures the spirit of Beefheart is another matter. I suspect Barnes‟ description of Safe As Milk as ―soul pastiches and exploratory blues-rock‖ would not have been quite the way Peter Meaden was talking about the record in 1967. And Barnes fails to mention that Meaden‟s enthusiasm for Safe As Milk extended to getting his beloved Jimmy James to record a deep soul version of I‘m Glad which really is one of the wonders of the world and deserves several chapters in any Beefheart biography. Most of the mentions of Meaden and the Captain that you will come across now focus on the saga of Beefheart‟s arrival in the UK and issues around the right documentation not being immediately provided. The blame seems now to be put on Meaden‟s administrative skills, and this is largely on account of some Immigration Department papers that mysteriously turned up in 1986 on a rubbish dump and were subsequently published in the Edinburgh Review. They are now widely available on the internet, and Mike Barnes quotes from them in his Beefheart biography. And they certainly make for an entertaining read. The „official‟ version is told in a florid fashion, and Meaden in particular is described in a curiously colourful way: ―At this stage, a gentleman dressed in the American style, with long unkempt hair and with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, approached the control and introduced himself as Mr. Peter Alexander Edwin Meaden, born 11.11.41, British and described in his passport as an artistes manager. Mr. Meaden said that he represented New Wave Records ltd., 17-19 Stratford Place, London, which firm was sponsoring the group's visit to the United Kingdom, in conjunction with the group's American recording company, Kama Sutra/Buddha records ltd., New York.‖ Other contemporaneous accounts vary, and Beefheart fanatics have done an excellent job in collecting up old articles from the music press of the time and making them available online. So, for example, we know Wesley Laine wrote in the Record Mirror dated 1 February 1968: ―All was not smooth sailing getting the band into the country. No trouble occurred when fellow Buddah stars Anders & Poncia and Penny Nichols arrived, but at the appearance of the Magic Band, all confusion broke loose at London Airport. The officials were put off by the bizarre appearance of the band and the fact that the group only had about ten dollars between them, and called themselves 25th century quakers, didn't help much. Also there were work permit difficulties, but these things were cleared up, customs officials were pacified and the Captain entered Britain.‖
International Times (IT) reported events in a similar way: ―There had been various rumours on Friday and Saturday concerning the arrival of Beefheart and whether or not he would make the gig. Here‘s what happened: Beefheart and the Magic Band arrived a day earlier than planned, before work permits had been arranged and without any money. When asked by customs who they were Beefheart replied that they were pilgrims from the 25th century and when questioned about a camera around his neck informed them that it was a member of the group. Immigration officials put them into a detention area where the band took photos, decorated the walls with peace signs and listened to Beefheart play his pan pipes. Then the officials flew the band back to Germany. By the next day their papers had been processed and the band was allowed into England.‖ The International Times article went on to describe Beefheart‟s performance at Middle Earth: ―Beefheart‘s Magic Band consists of the usual pop-group formula of rhythm, lead, bass, drums. Their first number at Middle Earth was original if not the latest sound in West Coast acid-rock, their version of My Home is in the Delta. After this the pace built up and stayed up. With both guitarists using bottlenecks and a pounding Mitchell-type drummer, the heaviness of the sound provided a solid rhythmical springboard for Beefheart‘s amazing voice, which sounds like a young Howling Wolf with a ring modulator in his throat and blends in with the backing like a sixth instrument. Numbers like E-lec-tricity and Robert Johson's Terraplane Blues were enthusiastically received, but some of their use of straight feed-back and various, other basic electronic noises, like amplified flour-sifter, didn't go down so well among Middle Earth's young groovers, but made an interesting addition to the straight rock numbers, giving a John Cage feel to some of the instrumentals. Beefheart's other London appearance at the Speakeasy was in comparison a bad scene; his only comment, 'Man, the bad vibrations in that place!‘" Criticisms of Meaden‟s organisational skills from committed Beefheart fans seem a little odd. What would you expect from someone who seized so enthusiastically upon what the Captain was doing? Meaden was always going to go about things a little differently. In a great interview recently published by Caught By The River Bob Stanley asked Andrew Loog Oldham about Meaden and whether he was a tragic figure. Andrew replied: ―He was not tragic, he just saw too much, took too much, too soon. A more perfect friend you could not imagine. The mind, the visions, the enthusiasm. Not too many get touched by that speed of spirit in their lives. He blessed mine. He took care of me, I was just a NW3 kid until Peter. He took me into town. We had fun.‖ Meaden certainly did his job as a publicist and generated considerable interest among the media while Beefheart was in the UK for the first time. In Record Mirror‘s 26 January 1968 edition, David Griffiths recounts how Peter Meaden took him to meet the Captain: ―Being curious to meet the captain in the flesh I readily nipped round to Peter's office. He was in a feverish state of excitement, his usual self in fact and as we strolled to a nearby building to get a pretty american photographer, Reanne, to come to Beefheart's hotel, Peter filled me in about the personalities about to be seen: 'They're fantastic, not an ordinary pop group, these men are on a higher level of consciousness. They hold simultaneous conversations with each other, and with you, using their own codes and key words. The vibrations in the room are uncanny,' Peter added darkly.‖ Despite the Melody Maker‘s Nick Jones being reportedly scared, Griffiths found that ―there was nothing intimidating or even militaristic about the
Captain - who was wearing a long green robe recently bought from Lord Kitchener's Valet.‖ This, I assume, is the same Nick Jones who co-wrote Something Has Hit Me with Reggie King, and was very much part of The Action/Mighty Baby circle. Reflecting on that first visit to Britain by Beefheart, writing for Record Mirror in April 1972, Norman Jopling recalled: ―Five years ago, the magic name of Captain Beefheart was no more than an imported elpee in the window-display of Clique-ee One-Stop Records. There it caught the eye of Peter Meaden, entrepeneur extraordinaire and ex-protege of Andrew Oldham. So fascinated was Peter with the LP (simply titled Safe As Milk) that he purchased it and upon listening, realised that the Captain was, to quote a recent Warner Brothers press handout 'a cosmic genius'. The rest is history, of sorts. Peter hustled himself almost out of business to bring 'the Buddah package show' to London in 1968.‖
There were close links between Peter Meaden and Norman Jopling. When writing the sleeve notes for The New Religion, ―a study in progressive pop‖ by Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Meaden had paid tribute to Jopling‟s pioneering journalism and the new music he‟d heard at The Scene and very few other places: ―To our minds, it was, and is, the most exciting, melodically attractive and intelligent branch of pop. We were later to find the Record Mirror‘s Norman Jopling, also a long-term admirer of the work of the Impressions, had already given this music its perfect title: NEW WAVE RHYTHM AND BLUES. And this LP is our own ‗New Wave R&B‘ tribute to Curtis Mayfield and his arranger Johnny Pate, for in popdom no other team has contributed more.‖ The liner notes also mention that Doris Troy, Madeline Bell and Goldie (of Gingerbreads fame) helped out on vocals on the LP. Norman Jopling may not have yet become a „national treasure‟ in the way, say, Nik Cohn, Nick Kent, Jon Savage, Paul Morley, etc. have. But there are enough clues scattered around, and those who „know‟ readily celebrate his importance. Andrew Loog Oldham acknowledges that Jopling was the first to rave about the Rolling Stones. Neil Rushton puts him at the heart of the early part of his excellent book of Northern Soul Stories which captures some great tales about the development of soul music in the UK. In it Jopling says: ―I met Guy Stevens at the beginning of ‘63 via my selfappointed role as the World‘s Number One Teenage Rhythm & Blues Reporter. Actually I was the only rhythm & blues reporter, so everyone who loved R‘n‘B used to contact me.‖ He goes on to describe The Scene vividly: ―It was small dark, unprepossessing, not a pulling or posing club, no drinks licence, it was all about digging the music. Modernists, musicians, young music biz people, kids off the street, anyone and everyone who dug rhythm and blues‖.
Richard Williams, in his obituary of Dave Godin for The Guardian wrote: ―Ruth Brown's Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean, heard on a juke box in an ice-cream parlour in the straitlaced world of 1950s Britain, was his own introduction to the emotional directness of black music. Reading Norman Jopling's erudite reviews in the Record Mirror and listening to Salut Les Copains on Europe 1 provided further evidence of the existence of music that made contemporary white pop music sound anaemic and trivial.‖ The jukebox mentioned by Richard Williams was in the Silver Lounge in Bexleyheath Broadway, where I grew up. In 2010 the funeral service for the great British singer Reggie King, once of The Action, would be held in a chapel a stone‟s throw from where the Silver Lounge had been and a very short distance away from Church Road where Dave Godin would start his Tamla Motown Appreciation Society. Ironically, given Dave Godin‟s musical passions, many years later, in the late „70s and beyond, just a few doors along from the Silver Lounge there would be a small record shop called Cloud 9, run by a true gentleman called Eddie, which would be a wonderful place to pick up all sorts of strange and wonderful 7” singles on improbably small record labels which logic now says should never have made it there when there was no „official‟ independent records distribution network. It seemed natural enough at the time. But then it probably seemed natural at the time that an ice-cream parlour in a suburban high street in 1953 was stocked with rhythm and blues 7”s. Interestingly Dave Godin was by no means the only Londoner who was particularly taken with Ruth Brown singing Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean. Tony Crombie, one of the pioneering British jazz modernists, was certainly playing it in the mid-„50s when Annie Ross was singing with his band. And his group backed Lita Roza on a fantastic version of it recorded at the start of the „60s for Ember Records, the label started by Jeff Kruger, the owner of the Flamingo night club which would have its own place in mod folklore with its allnighters, Rik Gunnell, Georgie Fame, and so on. In an excellent July 1997 interview with Jon Savage, around the time the Deep Soul series was being issued by Kent Records, Dave Godin is insistent that Norman Jopling should get credit for his role in promoting black American rhythm and blues music. And in one of his final columns for Soulful Kinda Music, Dave wrote: ―Playing through some truly golden oldies the other day, I suddenly remembered that one of the now-forgotten stalwarts and pioneer promoters of Blackamerican music in Britain was Norman Jopling, who used to write for Record Mirror in the days when it was the only publication that gave reasonable coverage to what Blackamerica was putting down. It was he who introduced an R&B Chart to reflect what Blackamerican records were selling in specialised outlets over here, and who also generously allocated the centre page spread of Record Mirror to an account of my trip to Motown in Detroit when I was the first person from Britain to ever go there. Over the years we've lost touch, but being a pedant for accuracy in recording cultural history and giving full credit where it is due, wherever you are now Norman, here's one guy who still admires and appreciates all you did for our music. Without you being where you were, when you were, and without your Soulful attitude, who knows how the history of Soul acceptance in Britain mightn't have changed for the worse?‖
If you search the internet one Norman Jopling article for Record Mirror you might come across is a profile of Jimmy Radcliffe when he was in the UK promoting his immortal Long After Tonight Is All Over. This was early 1965, when the song crept into the UK Top 40. Now Jimmy Radcliffe singing Long After Tonight Is All Over is indelibly linked to Northern Soul mythology. There is another story I‟ve seen where on the scene an instrumental version of Steve Karmen‟s Breakaway was played in a „cover-up‟ form as Black Ship To Hell by The Johnny Adams Band. Jimmy had provided the singing on the vocal version, which remains an in-demand track. The title of Black Ship To Hell had apparently been suggested by Dave Godin, as a tribute to the Brigid Brophy book of the same name about human self-destructiveness. In 1966 it had been Brigid who had officially opened the Soul City record shop in the Deptford High Street which Dave and comrades had started-up. These sorts of details and connections are so important. Nevertheless it needs to be added that Dave Godin was openly critical of some of the „customs‟ on Northern Soul circuit. He was very much a soul egalitarian, and disapproved of the emergence of DJ as demigod. He just wanted people to hear the music he loved so much. In another excellent interview with Bill Brewster of DJHistory in September 1998 he said: ―I was very into de-mystifying records. For example if I went somewhere and some DJ had some exclusive coverup I knew, I would immediately blow the whistle and review it. Fuck it. Because they were putting their own ego above the singer, the composer, and everyone else and I couldn‘t abide that.‖ While Dave Godin and others were beginning to focus specifically on the soul music of „Blackamerica‟, others were expanding their interests, and going with the flow. Peter Meaden and Guy Stevens were among those who rode the „new wave‟ of progressive music and underground sounds. Meaden even started a publishing company with Norman Jopling which they called New Wave Music. This would have been around the start of 1968. The first of the new groups that attracted Meaden and Jopling was The Peep Show, from Wolverhampton. Through New Wave Music, the pair produced a couple of singles for the group which were released on Polydor. These were not successes but were nevertheless wonderful in a strange, very English folk-rock way, at times reminiscent of what The Kinks were doing on Face To Face and Something Else. The production is oddly understated, and actually sounds very ahead of its time, even suggesting the earlier, folksier songs of The Smiths before the solidity fatally set in. The choice of singles was wonderfully brave, with the spartan sound and unusual themes. Your Servant, Stephen was written in the form of a letter and covered, as the group‟s Stephen Morris has put it, subjects such as ―class and the innuendo of unmarried pregnancy”, which was perhaps more The Wednesday Play than Carnaby Street. Its followup Esprit de Corps was about struggling with self-doubt, the writer realising that at the age he was messing about in the music business his father‟s generation had been embroiled in a war. They really are fantastic singles and rightfully The Peep Show‟s music , the singles and a host of demos, have been given a new lease of life in recent years thanks to a couple of great compilations which have shed light on the incredibly beautiful songs the group was
writing. It‟s hard to think of anyone else who was doing the same thing. Duncan Browne‟s On The Bombsite perhaps springs to mind, but there was nothing whimsical about The Peep Show.
Morning magazine (its title comes from a song by The Peep Show, which is itself as heartbreaking as anything Dan Treacy wrote in the early days of the TVPs) features Norman Jopling‟s story in its first couple of editions. It‟s a beautiful publication put together by artist Iker Spozio, whose design work you might recognise from different sources, such as covers of incredible records by Colleen, particularly the wonderful The Golden Morning Breaks. Colleen or Cécile Schott has been very involved in putting together Morning magazine. In the second edition of Morning, Norman Jopling talks about his time working with Peter Meaden at New Wave. He mentions in passing a single they made with Donnie Elbert, and in Neil Rushton‟s Northern Soul Stories there is an account of a memorable incident involving Meaden and Elbert. The single itself was Donnie Elbert singing a couple of ska/early reggae sides, Without You/Baby Come On Home, which were released on the New Wave label, as a subsidiary of Melodisc, in 1968. These were later released on Deram in 1969, and I believe the single became a big hit in Jamaica. By that time, though, things had unravelled for New Wave, just as Seymour Stein was interested in taking up American options for The Peep Show and Donnie Elbert for his new Sire label. Seymour would, of course, use the term „new wave‟ a lot at a later date. I love the idea of Meaden haring around London getting everyone he came across to listen to Safe As Milk. Nevertheless conventional wisdom has it that it was John Peel‟s patronage that helped to break Beefheart in the UK, and while over in the UK for the first time in early 1968 the Captain and his Magic Band recorded a classic session for Peel‟s Radio 1 Top Gear show, coinciding with John taking on the role of sharing the underground‟s secrets. I guess even in the early days of Radio One any Peel programme was considered to be a niche, specialist show, in effect no different from Mike Raven playing rhythm and blues for one hour a week. Both Raven and Peel presented shows that had a lasting impact on listeners. The difference is that John Peel has posthumously been canonised. This I suspect has more to do with his enduring presence, as he stubbornly stuck to his task.
Mike Raven, however, chose to move on after four years or so on Radio One, and rather more interestingly he became an actor in Hammer movies, a sculptor and a sheep farmer in remote Cornwall. Importantly, though, in the earliest days of official national pop radio he was the person playing soul and blues on a regular basis. And, ironically, he looked more like Captain Beefheart than any of the other DJs around. Like Peel, he came from a privileged background, and he can be heard in the Horace Ové Reggae film, incongruously, declaiming with his „received pronounciation‟. In a related piece, available in the International Times (IT) archive, there is a December 1970 article on reggae music, where Mike Raven is quoted as saying “that reggae is suppressed because of „racism‟. And racism results in more harm done to the racist than to the person on whom the racism is inflicted”. There don‟t seem to be any credits on the feature, but the temptation is to suggest it is by Penny Reel, given his IT associations. It‟s certainly an authoritative piece, mentioning the pioneering R&B label in passing and how “the black labels were the result of Coxsone Jamaican tapes being pressed by Mrs King in Stamford Hill and handed out with the groceries”. In the same article the UK reggae group The Pyramids are quoted in a combative context, issuing a challenge to the acid rockers: “If they think that reggae is crap, let them meet us any time. We will play their Acid Rock, and we mean the good Acid Rock groups, those they call „the best guitarists in Britain‟, let them play reggae like we play it”. John Peel now, belatedly, has national treasure status, and inevitably there are those who seek to be iconoclastic and thus consider him a pernicious influence, too powerful, and having too much of an exaggerated „ordinary bloke down the pub‟ persona. But there can be no denying he was a very important conduit for new music of all sorts. It is pointless to ponder whether this music would have been played by anyone else. It‟s like Guy Stevens. He was the DJ at The Scene club. He was the person who played these rare American imports. He was the person who, as Patrick CampbellLyons of Nirvana so beautifully put it in his spoken-word elegy, “jumped into the lights with fire in his hair and danced the dance of the indiscreet harlequin.‖ So, yes, John Peel is revered, and his career is being minutely curated. Thus we know, for example, that he referred to the Firm on his Perfumed Garden programme on Radio London, on 12 July 1967: ―Anyway, I had a marvelous time when I was off and met some very good people. Went to the UFO Club as usual, had a marvelous night down there. And the next record I‘m going to play you comes from an LP that was leant to me by a gentleman called Peter Shertser, who is one of the more distasteful members of this revolting organization called The Firm, who should be banned from everywhere. And he has an extraordinary knack
for intruding himself upon public places without paying, which is quite a feat. Anyway, this is by Howling Wolf …‖ Of course there is nothing new about the celebrity journalism that plaques us, and almost inevitably Peel had a column in International Times. In December 1967, the Firm got another mention: ―Fontana have several unreleased Misunderstood tracks, uncovered, fresh miracles. Write to them and beg them to release them in some form. Even the Firm, in their confusion, agree that more must be heard of Glen Campbell, lead-guitarist, who, as I have said before, is only on this earth as a result of some cosmic error and whose playing is the wind and the sun.‖ The Misunderstood were a group that Peel championed vigorously, initially when he knew them in the States and then even more so when they were both based in the UK. I can vividly remember hearing The Misunderstood for the first time when Cherry Red put out a 7” around 1981 featuring the astonishing Children of the Sun and I Can Take You To The Sun. Such savage blasts of psychedelia were disorientating in the sense that this holiest of rows seemed more punk than the noise all the leather „n‟ studs circle-A merchants were peddling at the time. And there was Peel playing The Misunderstood, proud as anything, saying: “I told you so”. At that time, the start of the „80s, there really didn‟t seem to be much information around about the UK variety of garage punk, that fantastic phase where mod aggression turned into flamboyant psychedelia. The earliest volumes of the „unofficial‟ Chocolate Soup for Diabetics series were around, featuring The Flies, Fire‟s Father‘s Name Is Dad, Tintern Abbey, but somehow that activity seemed to be for the old „heads‟ rather than the new wave of mods. Edsel were at that time just starting-out, with the compilations of The Action and The Creation completely changing the lives of lots of young kids. And as more and more „shocks‟ emerged, like The Craig‟s I Must Be Mad or The Eyes‟ Blink compilation or Wimple Winch‟s Rumble On Mersey Square South. Nevertheless there remained a clearly defined punk lineage. We all know the litany, the ingredients, the familiar incremental steps towards the punk explosion: garage punk, MC5/Stooges, New York Dolls, a bit of glam/Glitter stomp, some Krautrock, the Feelgoods and pub rock, the CBGBs/Cleveland scenes. But as the „80s progressed and people threw out their old vinyl, more and more exceptions emerged, spurts of activity that didn‟t quite fit in with the official story. One of these missing pieces was the David Peel & the Lower East Side LP The American Revolution. I bought it out of curiosity at a boot sale, and was shocked at what a gloriously nasty racket it was. Surely any record that has songs like I Want To Kill You and lines like “we are the underground and we like it like that” has to be punk? But these were long-haired, stoned freaks, so what about the famous hippy passivity? Then there was their song God with the “stay alive” chant which recurs in the Prefects‟ Escort Girls, and Menace with their Insane Society which has the “don‘t care if I live or I die‖ line from The Lower East Side. It was all very confusing. A similar revelation was The Deviants‟ Ptooff! I sort of knew about Mick Farren and the Social Deviants, but it was only after reading Give The Anarchist A Cigarette that I felt the urge to hear what his group sounded like. And it really wasn‟t what I expected at all. It was, in fact, a glorious mess, and very punk. That‟s punk in the provocative sense, not as in Pistols proficiency. The LP‟s centrepiece I‘m Coming Home is pure Bo Diddley meanacing mutant blues. The rest of the LP is a hash of primitivism, distortion, performance art, experimental collage work and downright silliness. It feels very much in the absurdist punk tradition of Swell Maps, Prefects, Desperate Bicycles, and Alternative TV even. Miles‟ sleeve notes set the scene well: ―The 'orgonome' of modern music. Mix Dylan with the British ArtSchool scene of Pretty Things, The Who, early Stones, Eel Pie Island, pilled-up Mods rioting, and the emergence from the cocoon of the incredible Chelsea loon. So here you go with Mick so mean and nasty or deeply philosophic pondering on the meaning of life, Sid on
'interference guitar', Russ amazing everyone on drums, and Sandy picking up on vibrations that started before he was born‖. The group‟s own sleeve notes are mad, referencing Dylan, Sonny Barger, The Stars by Edgar Morin, William Blake, The Fugs, Richard Brautigan, Che Guevara, Kafka, Elvis, Ricky Valance, Tolstoy, Emerson, Thoreau, Nietzsche, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Gysin, Pete Townshend, Captain Beefheart. I like that kind of heart-on-your-sleeve pretension. In fact I like the late „60s Mick Farren a lot, and love his stories about non-conformists, radicals, freaks, and the whole anti-flower power thing. Farren, I guess, ruins a neat narrative, and by the time of punk was too familiar a face and had upset too many finer feelings along the way. I love the fact he had a go at things. And that he kept on having a go. He, for example, was for a long time a driving force behind International Times, the notorious underground newspaper/magazine. Of course it helped to have a rich patron like Nigel Samuel. And it was his money that funded the label that put the Deviants record out, Underground Impresarios. It was a bold move, to do something outside of the system. Far too much has been made of punk and independence. In 1976 there was nothing new about independence or self-sufficiency. Independent labels and fanzines had been there from the start. One of the most harmful „official‟ lines ever is about punk being the starting point for fanzines and independent labels. It‟s arrant nonsense. Small magazines run by enthusiasts and independent record labels run by eager chancers are a long-established tradition. Pick pretty much any kind of music and there will have been a network of enthusiasts doing something to spread the word. There is an excellent contribution from Tony Cummings in Neil Rushton‟s Northern Soul Stories about the importance of small magazines and special interest clubs in the development of black American music in the UK. These were small concerns covering music hardly mentioned by the mainstream press. Some of these publications have incredibly important places in the history of popular music, such as Blues Unlimited edited by Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier, and Dave Godin‟s Tamla Motown Appreciation Society. It‟s interesting too how some of the enthusiasts who were running soul or r‟n‟b publications to spread the word about their beloved music would go on to play important parts in the pop world, like Mike Vernon, Pete Wingfield, and Roger Eagle. Doing it yourself, cutting out the middle man, dealing direct with fans was a great way for The Deviants to make a point. When, however, it emerged that Nigel Samuel didn‟t have the nous to succeed or didn‟t have the subterranean contacts, Mick Farren had the brainwave of bringing in The Firm‟s Peter Shertser and Ian Sippen to take over distribution of Ptooff! They took to the new role of ‗underground entrepeneurs‘ with a vengeance. They weren‟t the only old East London mods involved in the Deviants set-up, either, as Farren described in Give The Anarchist A Cigarette: ―The second recruit to the team was Steve Sparks. Steve had a Romany gypsy background and was another ex-mod from East London, who thought that pop music had ended with Phil Spector, but still took a delight in anything that might cause trouble. He was one of the old-style mods, the ‗modernists‘ who pre-dated – and rightly thought themselves infinitely superior to – the scooter boys who followed. The ‗modernists‘ were essentially stylish beatniks, working class existentialists who smoked Gitanes, drank Guinness, looked at the pictures in Saluts Les Copains although they couldn‘t read a word of French and worshipped Miles Davis in his golden era of cool, copying his silk suits and perfect mannerisms.‖ Steve, himself, memorably summed up the original modernists‟ code in what became an oft quoted line he used when speaking to Jonathan Green for Days in the Life: ―Amphetamine, Jean-Paul Sartre and John Lee Hooker. That was being a mod.‖
Steve‟s role in the Deviants‟ camp was wonderfully vague. Farren wrote that ―what Steve really wanted to do was produce the album, a process that involved him chainsmoking Gitanes and nodding knowingly with his eyes closed‖. Things didn‟t quite work out that way, though. ―As a co-conspirator, Sparks was the perfect foil. He would support anything outrageous and would even, at times, come on stage with us to set fires and detonate explosions. He also turned out to be a damned good publicist, although there were times when I got tired of being pitched as ‗the worst band in the world‘.‖ Steve Sparks may have stuck to a particular line about the Deviants, saying: ―Everybody was a loser in that band, it was the all-time great losers‘ band and that‘s why the fans were so weird.‖ The Deviants‟ debut did however attract attention of Seymour Stein when he was on the search for talent in the underground scene for his new Sire label in the State. He enthusiastically picked up the Deviants‟ debut, and asked Shertser and Sippen to act as his „talent scouts‟. I assume Stein met them while over in the UK, possibly while arranging promotion for the UK release of the Martha Veléz LP, Fiends & Angels. The remarkable Fiends & Angels had been produced by Mike Vernon, which was natural enough as Sire had struck a deal to distribute his Blue Horizon releases/productions in the States. The LP featured an all-star cast from the British blues scene, but its highlights are the heavy soul blasts such as Tell Mama which has found a following among more adventurous Northern Soul fans. I‟ve read many things in favour of and against Seymour Stein over the years, but he definitely deserves credit for supporting Martha Veléz over a brilliant series of LPs in the „70s. Martha‟s Hypnotized LP is just incredible, and often as emotionally draining as the best Van Morrison came up with around the same time. Rather wonderfully, Seymour Stein managed to get Bob Marley in as producer on an LP Martha recorded in 1975, Escape From Babylon. This was recorded at Harry J‟s studio with The Wailers and even had Lee Perry engineering. I think Martha was the only singer Bob Marley produced who wasn‟t Jamaican, and he apparently agreed to do the record after hearing Martha‟s song Livin‘ Outside The Law and recognising a kindred spirit. Martha had already experimented with reggae on her great Matinée Weepers LP, so it was a logical step to do the next LP in Jamaica and it really works wonderfully. Shertser and Sippen in their guise as Underground Enterprises Ltd. joyously took on the task of sniffing out subterranean talent for Sire Records. The big find was Clark-Hutchinson, featuring the exceptional guitarist Mick Hutchinson who had been in The Sons of Fred, a group whose name is guaranteed to add a twinkle to the eye of any lover of savage „60s punk/beat noise. Having developed a deep interest in combining his love of the blues, experimentation, jazz and eastern music forms, he started working with multiinstrumentalist (I hate that term, but for once it does apply), Andy Clark. Much madness ensued, and somehow the enlightened patrician Hugh Mendl at Decca gave them a deal. A fairly conventional heavy blues LP was abandoned, and instead the astonishing A=Mh2 was recorded in 1969, with the Firm at the controls, ostensibly as an „eastern‟ LP but ultimately it was so much more than that. The LP is made up of five extended tracks. The opener, Improvisation on a Modal Scale, is a blues infused jazz dance track, with fierce brass, rhythmic spirals, and an eastern drone, and it could easily have been on an Impulse! record from the same time. It‟s followed by Acapulco Gold which is a solo Spanish classical or flamenco guitar piece that inevitably will
have some of us thinking of Felt and Maurice Deebank around the time of The Splendour of Fear. The next song Impromptu in E Minor again evokes that era of Felt, particularly with the Red Indian tom toms, but it‟s a lot looser, and there‟s a lot more going on. Maybe this might have been where Felt could have headed if Deebank had been given the freedom he craved, though he did say there wasn‟t a place in Felt for improvisation. Of course it‟s not inconceivable that Deebank heard this LP via one of the older heads he drank with in the pubs around Birmingham. But the big difference is that Felt always played songs in exactly the same way, while I doubt if Clark-Hutchinson ever played a number the same way twice. Impromptu in E Minor really is incredible, with Andy Clark‟s piano picking out an insistent, elegiac melody, then Mick‟s lead guitar coming in heavily distorted, and towards the end Andy‟s vocals are added layer on layer giving a Gregorian choral effect. Textures in 3/4 has a great funky start with Andy Clark‟s squawking away on the sax, before Mick comes in and does his ostentatious raga guitar thing, but there‟s always a sense of a brilliant abstract jazz approach. The closing track, Improvisation on an Indian Scale, adds a rumbling Link Wray menace to the raga and flamenco mix. Salvaged by the excellent Sunbeam label, A=Mh2 now comes complete with the earlier „abandoned‟ blues LP, and features wonderfully revealing sleevenotes by Peter Shertser, which give an insight into the madness of the time and the adventures he and Ian Sippen had looking after the group. He mentions, for example, Mick moving his ―lovely nude-model girlfriend‖ into their office: ―Our landlord was an old-fashioned Tory type with a business
upstairs selling fancy China ornaments. The smells of cooking and sounds of loud music wafting up to his office became somewhat disconcerting for the old boy, and reached a peak one night when Mick and Andy had the entire entourage from the Skatalites playing full blast at 4am, replete with horn section and Hammond B3. Serious complaints ensued, but he adopted a compliant stance – a true example of a staunch, suited Brit trying to come to terms with the cultural revolution whirling all around him. All power to him.‖ The LP itself, which was released on Decca‟s new progressive imprint Nova, featured sleeve notes by John Peel and Miles, in other words endorsements from the underground‟s leading lights. A feature by Miles in International Times, from February 1970, gives a brilliant insight into how the duo worked, and quite rightly they appreciated the role played by the firm of Shertser and Sippen in making the LP: ―Everyone who has got near us has tried to make us into a musical outlet for themselves. Except Peter and Ian that is (their managers and producers)‖.
Miles includes a great description of the pair playing live: ―On stage they are very very British, a tradition of presentation embodying Music Hall and going right back to the Mummers. Always wearing long overcoats they are Mutt and Jeff, the tradition of the English clown, the humorous tramp figure which Chaplin made so much bread out of by taking it to Hollywood. An essentially underground group, very stoned, very hairy, Andy getting off the stage and wandering about in the audience, ‗The stage is just a piece of wood, it‘s not a barrier between us and the people‘.‖ This fits in neatly with Shertser‟s assertion that they were ―punks several years too early: at gigs they would incite the audience, hurl bottles, fire air pistols and spit at them‖. I think it‟s particularly important that the rhythmic aspect of what Clark-Hutchinson were doing is emphasised. At one point in the feature Mick says: ―There‘s no way of writing down the rhythmic thing we‘re into. We can write out all the sheets for an orchestra but they wouldn‘t be able to play it, because there are so many little rhythmic nuances that you can‘t write down.‖ A bit like some of the Nordic early ECM releases from around the same time, there is a real sinew and toughness to the sound, no matter how technically talented they were. Somehow Clark-Hutchinson became a proper group, adding drummer Del Coverly, who played with Carl Douglas‟ Big Stampede, and bassist Steve Fields (or Stephen Amazing) who‟d played with the Skatalites. There were two later LPs by Clark-Hutchinson at the start of the „70s. The second of these Gestalt is at times an astonishingly desolate, beautiful and strange LP with a succession of short tracks often wrecked and cracked, a real „nothing left anymore‟ feel, with tracks like Boat in the Morning Mist having the same „burnt out‟ feel as Reggie King singing Go Have Yourself A Good Time or Gone Away or even Peter Green‟s Man Of The World, which even Mick‟s gorgeous classical/folk guitar interludes can‟t disguise. The other LP Retribution is at times more conventionally heavy and bluesy though there are some crunching, punky riffs, and Death, The Lover sounds curiously like it has the same deranged approach at times that The Fall, Pop Group, Birthday Party would all later have. And After Hours is a ten-minute excursion on a beautiful Horace Silver type piano led theme, with some scorching guitar overlays which in another world, at another time, in another way would be boldly played on the saxophone. Early on in their underground entrepreneurial phase, Shertser and Sippen seized an opportunity to record one of their heroes, Walter „Shakey‟ Horton, Chicago bluesman and harmonica player, while on a flying visit to London. Mick Farren helped out with some of the practicalities of recording, which sounds like it must have been a pretty chaotic affair with Horton knocking back the Scotch. They got Martin Stone in on guitar, and he steals the show with the 12-minute solo psychedelic track, Netti Netti, which is wonderfully at odds with the rest of the LP. Seymour Stein and Sire picked it up for release in the States, and got it leased to Decca in the UK.
Martin Stone‟s involvement is quite fascinating, as he was bringing different worlds together, which is the blues tradition and the more experimental sound of the emerging underground. He was around that time brought into The Action to help find a new direction to reflect changing times and new interests. A piece on how The Action evolved into Mighty Baby which was published in IT in August 1969 sheds light on this wonderfully: ―The original members of the band, Roger, Bam and Ace, once a number starts developing, seem to be entranced with what they‘re playing, it‘s as if all the hangups and misfortunes of the past five years are expressing themselves thru the music, which is, which HAS to be, the ultimate identity. Alternatively it could just be it‘s a music which requires intense concentration, full of eastern and jazz influences bound together with a hard rock foundation. It‘s fairly obvious that Martin Stone just stands on stage, head bowed over his Gibson producing stinging, flying runs of near technical impossibility, and Ian, who behaves like an unassuming clown offstage, his casual appearance and manner belying his serious approach to playing and composition, have played an important part in the musical direction of the band. In fact both Roger and Bam quite happily admit it.‖ In the same article guitarist Bam King recalls his days with The Action, sharing what would become a familiar piece of pop mythography: ―We had an incredible following with the moddies and townies. Whenever we played in Portsmouth, for example, a huge cavalcade of scooters used to meet us outside the town and escort us to the gig‖. In another IT piece some attention is given to Reggie King: ―King left The Action shortly before they became Mighty Baby, after several years of fronting Britain‘s funkiest and most compulsively together people‘s band (the people being the kids who filled provincial ballrooms in their mohair suits and Levi‘s, pilled out of their heads and bopping to First I Look At The Purse and Mine Exclusively). His music developed along less flexible but equally valid and exciting lines than Mighty Baby; chunky, riffy stuff that you‘ll hear on an album currently being cut‖. Ironically Martin Stone in more recent times has achieved a sort of fame denied to Reggie King in his lifetime. In an earlier edition of YHO I wrote about Martin “becoming immortalised by Iain Sinclair as one of the great ‗truffle hunters‘ of the book world: ‗He inspired fictions. He punted at mythical immortality, but let some other bugger do the work‘. I like the fact Sinclair was oblivious to Stone‘s musical pedigree but later came up with a great sentence about how when success threatened, Martin made his excuses and left. Sinclair instead revered him for his frighteningly comprehensive knowledge of books, ability to track down treasures, and live the life of the boulevardier in Paris. Sinclair unwittingly perhaps comes up with one of the best descriptions of pub rock, which is one of elective bohemians playing swamp music for beer money.‖
I didn‟t realise at the time of writing those lines that Martin Stone had also featured prominently in John Baxter‟s book A Pound of Paper, which I‟d seen around for years but had never got around to investigating. The book, ―confessions of a book addict‖, is actually dedicated to Martin, and Baxter too paints a romantic picture of the guitarist as a book runner with an uncanny gift for finding buried treasure: ―Martin Stone is one of those people who found in book selling the same spacious environment and unfettered morality that drew loners to the American west at the start of the nineteenth century. Not for him the formalities that define our lives.‖ I doubt the entrepreneurial team of Shertser and Sippen paid too much attention to formalities. Among the talent they seized upon were a couple of groups at the tougher end of the electric blues boom. One was Ashkan, whose LP In From The Cold became the first release on the Decca Nova label in the UK, and Sam Apple Pie whose debut LP came out on Decca itself. A few years later they would release an LP called East 17. Shertser‟s and Sippen‟s very specific passion for blues sounds found an outlet through the Red Lightnin‟ label which they ran from 1969 onwards. A quick glance at the Small Labels Catalogue that Kris Needs‟ Zigzag published in November 1978 shows that by then Red Lightnin‟ had released LPs by Buddy Guy, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Junior Wells, Walter Horton & Paul Butterfield, Earl Hooker, Clarence „Gatemouth‟ Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, Johnny „Guitar‟ Watson, Ike Turner, and Tommy Tucker among others. Some of these were new recordings, but most were old masters the label had salvaged. In 1980 Red Lightnin‟ put out a single that was a favourite among a new generation of mods, a storming cover of Soul Limbo by Split Rivitt which Peter Shertser produced. The group included one of Humphrey Lyttleton‟s sons on drums, and the son of the actor Peter Jeffrey. Red Lightnin‟ in 1980 also put out a couple of singles by The Method, who featured the splendidly named Paul de Raymond Leclercq on guitar. Paul also played on one of the Desperate Bicycles‟ singles. This incarnation of The Method was a slightly different one to the group that released the fantastic single Kings On The Corner and the even better, tougher flipside Dynamo, which was produced by Robin Scott and issued on his excellent Do It label.
When Girls Do It was the title of a compilation Red Lightnin‟ put out in 1971 to celebrate the fact that the blues was very much a living art form. It featured a whole host of tracks recorded in the „50s and „60s, with a great cover that was I guess also very much of its time. Broadside, one of the labels that formed part of the bewildering Cherry Red family for a while, put out a CD version of this collection in 2009, and it‟s a fantastic set with many highlights such as Junior Wells‟ Things I Do For You and Buddy Guy‟s Hard But It‘s Fair which have a real mod dancefloor feel to them. Little Oscar Stricklin‟s Suicide Blues is just about
perfect as an example of the blues in its most literal sense. Oh there‟s plenty of real classics pulled together on this set which I am pretty sure I would never have got to hear otherwise like the Tender Slim tracks which are from ‟65 and you could almost swear they were the blue(s)print for Dylan and the Hawks at their wildest. And Mr Bo‟s If Trouble Was Money is as deep a cut as you could possibly bear. It makes me smile in a way enthusing so much about a blues compilation. Out of all the mod source sounds the blues is the form I am least familiar with. It took me a long while before I really started investigating the blues. There was no real reason behind this. You can‟t, after all, absorb everything at the same time. But I do suspect that there was a small part of me reacting against what I perceived to be an official line about the sanctity of the blues, the whole Robert Johnson Mystery Train thing, as a signifier for authenticity. One of the things that helped change my mind, and look at the blues from a different perspective, was reading Val Wilmer‟s Mama Said There‘d be Days Like These and getting a real sense of the impact blues music had on her life. That book contains so many stories which I would consider to be sacred texts, right from where as a kid she walks into the Swing Shop in Streatham and asks if they have any jazz records. The book itself contains so many memorable vignettes, such as the writer Penny Valentine, someone who stayed on the soul side according to Dave Godin: “Peeve was a stone Soul fan, who‟d been taught to dance by the Four Tops‟ Levi Stubbs and thought that Aretha was Queen.” Val mentions they had first met at Georgie Fame‟s twenty-first birthday party, and recounts how they later became comrades while working on the male dominated, rather too academic Let It Rock. When I did eventually start listening to blues music it was the more mellow recordings by the likes of Snooks Eaglin, Lonnie Johnson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Percy Mayfield and Sonny Thompson that appealed, as well some of the more gospel oriented sounds like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Maybelle and Wynona Carr. The availability of compilations, officially and unofficially, such as the Stompin‘ series and the beautifully put together Oh, Run Into Me, But Don‘t Hurt Me collection of female blues singers‟ rarities from 1923-1930 which Sub Rosa put out played a massive part in getting me to listen to the blues more closely. It is quite amusing really that it did take me so long to gain an appreciation of blues music. After all, the John Peel show which I listened to religiously for a handful of years from 1977 onwards would always start with a blues theme, which I now know to be Grinderswitch doing Pickin‘The Blues. And in other sacred texts where stories about how Subway Sect began the blues were always mentioned. Vic Godard, we know, was a big Jimmy Reed fan and could play a mean blues harp, as demonstrated on Don‘t Split It. Years later Vic would do a brilliant gnarled cover of Sonny Boy Williamson‟s Conscience Be Your Guide as part of an EP for Postcard Records. Back in the „60s the Firm would go to Paul the Tailor in Berwick Street because that was where Sonny Boy Williamson got his suits made at the time that he adopted an exaggeratedly correct English gentleman look, complete with bowler hat and rolled umbrella, and sang about trying to make London his home.
Blues music was the Firm‟s thing. And I guess one of the downsides of the whole mod thing was the way it disintegrated and splintered, heralding an age of specialisation. So, for example, the hard mods became skinheads and stayed with the true avant-garde sounds of the time, reggae music. And, as much as the stories about the development of the rare soul scene in the North West and Midlands may appeal, there is something sad about the determination to stay on the old soul side, no matter how wonderful the music. I suspect if I had been around at the time I would have gone with the psychedelic tide, like Guy Stevens, Peter Meaden, and so on, with the multi-coloured scarves flowing and the beads around my neck, and Roger Eagle who opened The Magic Village, Manchester‟s first underground club. As Peter York puts it in an article he wrote on Mods: The Second Coming, for Harpers & Queen in September 1979, and later included in his Style Wars collection: ―The embarrassing reality is precisely this: that in 1966/7 most of the top Mods, the originals, the Faces, whatever their backgrounds, went some kind of psychedelic. Mods became hippies. And the only writer I‘ve come across to bring this out explicitly is a man called Penny Reel, on the New Musical Express, in a brilliant piece in April based on his own memories.‖ Penny Reel, at that time, was predominantly known as the NME‘s champion of reggae music, and some of his writing from that time would form the basis of his beautiful book on Dennis Brown. In more recent times Penny Reel hasn‟t written or been published enough, but he has haunted many a web forum where he has maintained a passionate and prickly presence, sharing invaluable insights such this one, part of a thread which mentioned Peter Shertser in passing, which explained: ―Shertser was part of the ‗Firm‘, Yiddish hardnuts and Spurs supporters who lived in Essex in the early 1960s, a friend of Steve Sparks, Lawrence Silver, Malcolm Zure et al, they used to drive about in an ambulance, terrorise customers in Oxford Street's Golden Egg, pose over at Chingford lido and strut around Stamford Hill bowling alley. Anyway, Pete had a partner with a record collection that according to Mickey Farren had three Ral Donner albums among many rarities. This partner was killed in a drowning accident in the early 1970s and this person's mum, incensed that her son had been hanging out with these meshuggenehs, wouldn't let his friends anywhere near her house. Apparently, she gave her son's record collection to a dealer in Green Street for free. It was reportedly one of the biggest collection of records in the whole country.‖ The NME article Peter York referred to by Penny Reel was titled The Young Mod‘s Forgotten Story, and it became a sacred text which I studied in ridiculous detail. What I didn‟t know until the International Times archive became available online was that in July 1974 there had been another short story featuring several of the characters that appeared in the 1979 piece. The IT story was written by Peter L Simons, another name used by Penny Reel (as was Scotty Bennett, I believe, when he wrote for Black Echoes), and entitled Maximum Enjoyment: The Politics of Piss Takin‘. It‟s a somewhat surreal tale set in an East London school, almost an early „60s Cockney Decline and Fall: ―Contemporary in its hideousness with many similar structures throughout the country. An institution of education called Upton House. A Secondary Modern School for Boys. Run on the principles of the English public school, but without the passive, convenience of eccentricity found in these, Upton House was
little more than a reformatory. Morrish, the Headmaster, preached sportsmanship (that unknown quantity), Britain and Upton House. In whatever order suited him best on the occasion. Academic ability remained a steady fourth choice. Not exactly the refuge of the rank outsider, but a poor bet notwithstanding.‖ The story has its serious points: ―The birth of enjoyment, like the birth of the blues and the death of hope, took place in a ghetto. Not a black ghetto, the product of racism, but a white working-class ghetto; disease of heart and mind. Neither was enjoyment a cry against poverty and oppression, although these did exist, but more a nod and a wink in the direction of fatality. An acceptance of the facts of death, squarely faced and bitterly resented. Moreover, enjoyment was never an offspring of love, but one of hate.‖ Within the text there appear some of the characters and events I loved so much in that 1979 NME story. There‟s a reference to throwing stones at Sir Oswald Mosley in Ridley Road, and Beardy Pegley who bought ―a brown bri-nylon mac, a Lambretta, and joined the Mods, the most ironic blow of all‖. The legendary Lennie Tyler, the guy who ―is a very intense and temperamental character, much disposed to extended bouts of broody, sulky silence‖, features as well: ―Lennie Tyler, hands sunk deep in the pockets of his Kingfisher Blue mohair slacks, was doing the Continental Walk and sulking. He brushed, what might have been a speck of dust or might have been imagination, from his light dog-tooth jacket—cut in the French style with pleats and a double vent—and again regarded the minute stain of milk on his pastel jersey; designed by Pierre Cardin.‖ Charley Steiger, another familiar name from The Young Mod‘s Forgotten Story, also appears and after leaving Upton House we learn about what happened next: ―The Charley becoming Chas (without a full stop) - 'discovered' Kerouac, Van Gogh and the road. He learnt that an old raincoat will never let you down, applied for Art School, ate chips and drunk beer in Parisian bistros, loved Yeats and Brecht, and later went to LAMDA. Presently he realises his life-long ambition. An out-of-work actor.‖ Penny Reel, if I remember correctly, was scathingly dismissive of the 1979 mod scene. Peter York, however, in his writing was pretty sympathetic to what was happening. His article at the time gave him an opportunity to air some of his own theories, and he brilliantly closes the piece by coquettishly offering us a tantalising romp through 15-odd years of popular culture: ―Which brings us to Bernard Schofield. A couple of months ago he sent us the manuscript of an obsessive, detailed history of Mod called Neat. It‘s all there, from the post-war modernists and the Wardour Street boys through to skinhead. And particularly the clothes, mainly the boys‘ clothes, because that was what it was all about. The placement of buttons, the pursuit of excellence within a tight framework, nothing fantastic (to the Faces the uniform styles were obvious). And the thing is, Bernard Schofield‘s been writing this book on and off since 1964. ―Bernard Schofield‘s own life is a paradigm. He‘s thirty three, slight, sharp-faced, neat, born in ‗working-class‘ suburbia (Welling, Kent). He started off as tea boy in a commercial art studio, graduated to illustrating a bit himself, was sacked and spent three years doing summer casual jobs on the coast. Then, late, and under his own steam, he went to art school, became a style hippie, produced an underground/ecological magazine called Country Bizarre and has ended up as an author and compiler of books on quirky subjects. ―In his head, as he says, he still feels nineteen, and he‘s felt at home with most of the youth cults since Mod. He likes disco, he loves to dance, he‘s been to the Embassy and all that but he feels more at home in the working-class discos, and the dancing‘s better. Punk hit him hard. ‗It kind of pre-empted everything. For a while everything else looked positively uninteresting‘.‖
Time and time again you see mention of how an original mod has recognised something in punk, as though something that was dormant had been reignited. There are, of course, many examples of where old mods have been active in the late „70s punk scene one way or another, or if not mods then someone associated with that era or scene. You only have to look to Guy Stevens and his work with The Clash on London Calling shortly before his death. The more pertinent line is that it‟s one constant thing, that there‟s never any ending or beginning, just peaks and troughs of activity, different needs at different times. John Le Carré spotted it too, and had a scene in Smiley‘s People on Hampstead Heath where there is graffiti about society not needing punk because it's destructive, and he has Smiley contend that oh society does. The roots and routes of punk continue to fascinate, and old hands and heads are still busy putting the jigsaw together, still unearthing evidence of punk activity in the early „70s which hasn‟t been generally accepted or celebrated before. A Kris Needs compilation or two here, a Jon Savage feature there. Things are still emerging. An unofficial compilation has been circulating called Do What Thou Wilt which collects ―the satanic rites of British rock delivered from acetates and rare pressings 1970 – 1974.‖ The groups featured really are the glorious losers and great unknowns, such as Camelot, Pony, Shado, Heatwave, Grind, Sardonicus, and Bare Soul, playing anti-social heavy psychedelia, and making a right old racket with little sense of wanting to make a career out of their noise and nastiness. The Do What Thou Wilt collection prompts memories of other occasions when the sounds of the „70s have unexpectedly revealed an unmistakeable punk approach. I can recall the shock when John Peel would play the occasional track by Stack Waddy and boast about how he‟d had the original punks on his own Dandelion label in the early „70s. I remember also sometime in the late „80s coming across the bludgeoned blues and assumed thuggery of the first Third World War LP and being astonished that the group wasn‟t included in round-ups of punk roots. Now we know that Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer were fans, and it all fits together, but it took time. It is also fascinating being able to see what the response was to Third World War when they were active. At time of first LP, I assume Mick Farren, admitting to being biased as “he‟d rather listen to early Pretty Things than Neil Young any day”, enthused in IT: ―This album is impressive, not because of the music, which is minimal, but because it is one of the few albums that has the energy and enthusiasm that is, to me, essential in good healthy rock ‗n‘ roll. The lyrics on this album are the hardest since the early Who. Northern-LondonTrashman-skinhead-out-in-the-street-guns-blazing-mean shit with stomping (but hardly complex) back-up. There is almost a feel of 20th century English traditional left songs to them, in that, although they owe a lot to the early Animals, and sound a lot like London late mod/early psychedelia (Small Faces, Creation, Byrds) there is almost a feel of ‗free beer and fags for the workers‘.‖ Another revelation was hearing (about) what Crushed Butler were doing at the start of the „70s. I first heard Crushed Butler doing Factory Grime on Gorilla Garage, a Jesse Hector career overview on RPM, and was astonished by how raw it sounded. I knew about the
Hammersmith Gorillas, of course, and the single they‟d made with the great Larry Page, and knew that the name came from a Third World War song, but I hadn‟t realised that Jesse Hector had already been sporting that fantastic look and pummelling away with Crushed Butler. The other Crushed Butler track on the Gorilla Garage collection, Love Is All Around Me, was written by Glo Macari. Glo herself would in 1971 release a wonderfully bizarre single, Lookin‘ For Love, which features a prototype stomping Suzi Quatro sound with bluesy vocals, crunching guitars, prominent handclaps, and an insanely catchy gospel singalong chorus. Glo had already been around the music business a while by that stage, having for example released a now much-loved version of He Knows I Love Him Too Much in 1965, and quite possibly appearing at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream. Glo and Crushed Butler shared a producer in Roger Ferris, and the names of Glo Macari and Roger Ferris can be seen scattered among the credits of RAK recordings. For example, Ferris wrote a 1975 Arrows hit, My Last Night With You. The first Arrows manager had been Peter Meaden, who had struck up a friendship with Alan Merrill in London when the group was taking shape, circa 1973, and by all accounts he had lots of ideas about how Arrows should develop and look, etc. When Mickie Most and RAK appeared on the scene, Meaden bowed out, worried that Arrows would be pushed too far in a bubblegum/teenybop direction. Nevertheless their debut hit, a Chinn/Chapman composition, Touch Too Much, seemed impossibly glamorous to me at the age of 10. And it is always good to remember Arrows were among the audience when the Sex Pistols played the El Paradise strip club in Soho in April 1976. I wonder what would have been different if Meaden had stayed with his Arrows. Former Crushed Butler drummer Darryl Read once told writer Mark Paytress that he ―watched The Pink Fairies and the Edgar Broughton Band and the audiences were full of rough kids. Sure, hippies were there, but that music was an energy release.‖ Now I really do have to confess that until recently I was not at all familiar with the work of the Edgar Broughton Band. Indeed I didn‟t have the slightest interest in hearing their records, what with all that hair, and the dreadfully dull, seemingly onomatopoeic name. I just expected archetypal heads-down no-nonsense mindless boogie. I really had them down as unremitting blues rockers, and cannot ever really remember reading much to suggest otherwise, although I was aware of the Out Demons Out post-Fugs chants and connections with stoned freaks, free festivals, the West London hippy commune associations. What caught my interest was hearing the hit single from early 1971 where they combined Dropout Boogie with Apache, thus dragging Beefheart into the charts. It just made me laugh out loud with delight, and from then on I was very much on the side of the Edgar Broughton Band. So, by all accounts, was Hank Marvin when he heard it, but then the
great man had been active during the Soho skiffle boom, playing with among others The Vipers who had very pronounced anarchist leanings and were very punk in attitude. I have grown to be completely obsessed with the first five or so EBB LPs. The first one in particular, Wasa Wasa, has some savagely ferocious moments on, and is clearly heavily influenced by Beefheart and Howlin‟ Wolf. It is at times obnoxious and argumentative, but it‟s never heavy rock though. In particularly the vocals remind me of Robert Lloyd with the Prefects and Nightingales. You could almost put Going Through The Motions on that LP, with the group working its way through the sludge, and the vibrato going mad. Maybe it‟s a West Midlands thing. Maybe it‟s why in early 1979 Rob Lloyd told Zigzag that: ―The Prefects are lucky enough to be totally unique – the Prefects music ain‘t original, no way – though it‘ll break Paul Morley‘s and Jon Savage‘s hearts to admit it – but the Prefects‘ attitude is totally unique.‖ What I really like about the Edgar Broughton Band is that they didn‟t just have one or two great moments, but are often brilliant across four or five fantastic LPs. So why wasn‟t this acknowledged early on in punk overviews? Hawkwind, Pink Fairies were mentioned. And the Pink Fairies were really just post-Deviants – that is, the Deviants without the interesting bits – the mad drive of Mick Farren specifically. And it has to be mentioned Meaden was there at the start of Hawkwind, leading Dave Brock astray and getting one of his early groups to record a cover of Beefheart‟s Electricity. It was the fourth Edgar Broughton Band LP – 1972‟s Inside Out – that really caught me. It has a fantastic bleak cover, featuring a guy who looks like an ex-con or aged teddy boy in a sheepskin-look coat, standing grim faced with a smiling kid in front of him, the wife in her best, white coat in the background, standing by an imposing wall which looks like the outside of a prison. There‟s a footpath with someone on a bike, and another person pushing a pram. The sky has clouds like prison bars but vertical. It just tells a fantastic vivid story, somehow. Musically the LP follows-on from the previous (eponymous) record, which is known as the Meat LP for its striking cover featuring slabs of meat, model‟s legs, all hanging on hooks in storage. There are lovely melodic, tender moments, with country and folk influences, as gorgeous as the best of the Faces, Kinks, Mighty Baby. But no matter how tender the songs Broughton and his partner (occasional Pretty Thing) Victor Unitt came up with, what was more remarkable was the content and tone which was often explicitly political, if non-aligned. Hence the shadow of the Black Panthers haunting Sister Angela and I Got Mad, with references to Angela Davis, George Jackson and Soledad. But it‟s the social realism of some of the songs that I love. They Took It Away, for example, starts: ―What happened to their share? You took it away They bin living on welfare. You took it away There's people dying of hunger. You took it away But you're still playing the warmonger. You can't get away …‖ The sense of Ken Loach/John McGrath drama continues on the LP‟s true jewel, Homes Fit For Heroes:
―McCarthy's in our country sending home the spies They're beating up a prisoner in the midst of his surprise Up there in the docklands they're fighting for their rights …‖ But this is not a call-to-arms, glib up-the-revolution record. It‟s quite a bitter, disillusioned record, with a real sense of “we‟ve been on the road so long we‟ve lost sight of what we‟re supposed to be fighting for, but in the meantime what have you done?” with a backdrop of disintegrating relationships, poor mental health, strikes, terrorism campaigns, and so on. The next LP, Oora, I like even better. I think it‟s one of the great blue-eyed soul LPs. It‟s got a really mod feel at times, and it‟s got Madeline Bell and Doris Troy on backing vocals, which makes perfect sense. Among the many highlights of Oora is Eviction, which tackles the theme of the early „70s changing urban landscape, as old communities were being broken up, war-damaged properties pulled down, and families moved to tower blocks: ―Oh my love, what are we going to do? I can't believe that the hour is due, That my whole life here with you is through Now they wanna put is in a fifteen-storey view and I can't stand it. But don't you worry, I'll think of something If there's anything I can do. I don't propose we let them through Do you?‖ Oora came as a complete revelation. I really had no idea it even existed. Amid the weariness and resignation you can hear strange echoes of other things. Roccococooler bizarrely reminds me of Joe Strummer and Death is a Star, while you can easily imagine the best bits of the Tom Robinson Band‟s output has its roots in Oora. Oddly I think too of another great unexpected blue-eyed soul moment, incongruously released at the height of the punk explosion by The Depressions. Written and sung by the group's bass player Dave Barnard, Living On Dreams is amazing, with its references to soft shoes and Ride Your Pony: “And so we live on the street where there is no retreat from our fate. Cloaked in rags, passing by, all the folks, you know we just can‘t relate. And so we move on up to a third class status, get out on the road, but they still try to hate us …‖ The other side of that Depressions single from late 1977 has more of an orthodox punk rage about it, with lines about dad being in the pub and sister being in the club, which the TVPs also used. The song also uses the old Roger Daltrey line about getting a flat in Belgravia and spitting out the window anytime you want to. Another great Depressions single, Messing With Your Heart, has a mention of 100 Faces. The group, however, is usually dismissed as being part of the nastier side of the punk explosion, though Stuart Home makes a good case for them in his work of punk theory, Cranked Up Really High. Dave Barnard would go on to form a more explicitly mod outfit called the Vandells. I suspect now that many of the late „70s punk recordings were influenced by Edgar Broughton‟s racket, and I bet the likes of Strummer and Jones were fans. Critically though it‟s a stranger situation. I guess the group‟s ubiquity worked against them, and that by 1977 they were too familiar a presence. In other words, guys in their mid-20s, who were the
born-again media evangelists for punk, perhaps didn‟t want to be reminded of days in university, army surplus great coats, and their dope daze. That‟s understandable. Punk, after all, was very much about reinventing yourself. It was totally different for those of us who got into punk direct from or via chart pop. The summer of 1977 Marc Bolan TV shows were a perfect symbol of how this came about, where you had Hawkwind, Showaddywaddy, The Jam, David Bowie, Generation X, and it was easy to love it all – quark, strangeness and charm, indeed. To use a legal terms, we were listening without prejudice. Nevertheless I did inherit a strong and enduring prejudice against long-hair and heavy sounds, which is part of the reason why I got to hear The Groundhogs only recently. And, yes, predictably The Groundhogs weren‟t at all what I‟d been expecting. I‟ve been listening a lot to the sequence of LPs that runs Scratching The Surface, Blues Obituary, Thank Christ For The Bomb, Split, Who Will Save The World, Hogwash. Again, I‟ve no real recollection of lots of people making a case for The Groundhogs, in the way say people have raved endlessly about Neil Young or Can, but there were certainly clues if I‟d been paying attention. Cherry Red had taken its name from The Groundhogs‟ best-known song. Mark E. Smith and Wire admitted to liking The Groundhogs, and Julian Cope had raved about the group, and in particular Split, as part of his Head Heritage activities. Cope‟s case for The Groundhogs places them firmly within the realm of his beloved Kosmiche Musik. It‟s easy to see the connections, via Liberty/United Artists and Andrew Lauder (who really is one of the most important people in the story of British music). That‟s exactly the kind of thing that makes you want to be entirely contrary, but the temptation of making something you love fit in with your own outlook on life is a trap we all cheerfully fall into. So, for example, when I first really started listening to the Groundhogs, I found myself thinking about early Pere Ubu, a lot. I don‟t think that‟s a far-fetched connection to make, either. And there‟s even an Andrew Lauder link there, because his Radar label put out the Datapanik in the Year Zero EP in 1978 which was a collection of early Pere Ubu singles tracks. I‟m quite fascinated by the roots of Tony (T.S.) McPhee and the Groundhogs, as part of that wave of kids whose heads were turned irredeemably by first hearing the electric blues in the early „60s, and how experiences backing a legend like John Lee Hooker gave them the confidence to experiment. It‟s worth remembering too that John Lee Hooker had a big hit in the UK singles chart in 1964 with Dimples, so when the young, raw Groundhogs were supporting the blues star on tour it was pretty high profile stuff for a young group, and there are some fantastic clips available on YouTube of The Groundhogs backing the imperiously cool John Lee Hooker on The Beat Room. Tony McPhee‟s roots were in South London, and he pops up in stories of that scene, like Jo Ann Kelly‟s. They recorded together, and both appear on those great Liberty Gutbucket progressive blues sets and the Immediate collections, Blues Anytime, as does Martin Stone on that fantastic Stone‟s Masonry track, Flapjacks. Jo Ann pops up in Val Wilmer‟s Mama Told Me There‘d Be Days Like These, where Val mentions hanging out at The Swing Shop, the record shop in Streatham where she had first discovered jazz and blues music: “There was JoAnn Kelly, too, who played a mean guitar and could belt out songs by the likes of Memphis Minnie with a timbre of voice that belied her retiring, elfin appearance. Over the years we‟d all watch each other move on into some kind of recognition.”
Jo Ann had an extraordinary voice, and while she stubbornly stuck with what she described as the esoteric side of the blues her recording career contains so many exceptional moments, though it is frustratingly difficult to trace these due to the haphazard nature of her catalogue and its availability. She seems to have subsumed her own ego, collaborated often and to stunning effect. She can be heard with T.S. McPhee on the astonishing Oh Death. She sang with bands her brother Dave played in, like the John Dummer Blues Band. She recorded with John Fahey. She turns up playing with Mississippi Fred McDowell as captured on Standing at the Crossroads, a live LP from 1969, recorded in London, which Peter Shertser and Red Lightnin‟ put out. And she sings with Jacqui McPhee and Carol Grimes as one of the Pepperettes, providing backing vocals on Bongos Over Balham by Martin Stone‟s Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, a record which has songs of incredible beauty buried on it, seemingly casually tossed in amid the general goofing about. As wonderful as her eerily authentic country blues recordings are, I find I love Jo Ann‟s voice even more when it‟s trying something a little different. For example, the group Tramp, which featured her brother Dave, close collaborator Bob Hall, and some moonlighting Fleetwood Mac people, released the LP Put A Record On in 1974 which featured Jo Ann singing the title track, an astonishingly beautiful deep soul recording. And Jo Ann‟s 1976 LP Do It features some more folk-infused songs like Little More Time and the title track which are gorgeous. Writing about Jo Ann, though, I am conscious of how few of her recordings I really know. But then I guess that‟s part of the fun of it. And to hell with all those doom merchants walking up and down with their placards asking what we‟re going to do when we run out of history. Even back at the height of the punk explosion there were clues that T.S. McPhee and the Groundhogs were considered to be kindred spirits. That 1978 Zigzag Small Labels catalogue, under the listing for Raw Records, mentions a single by Tony McPhee‟s Terraplane. And that‟s significant as Raw was the best of the punk independents, and the label put out an astonishing series of punk blasts on 45, real surges of electricity from the likes of The Users, Killjoys, Soft Boys, Unwanted, The Now, Some Chicken, Acme Sewage Co. and Lockjaw, recorded at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge where the label‟s trademark racket was perfectly captured.
The label evolved out of an oldies record shop Lee Wood had been running in Cambridge, and his particular interest was in the raw source sounds. So, it made sense that Raw made explicit links to previous examples of punk activity by, for example, releasing a 7” of The Creation‟s Making Time, reissuing the Hammersmith Gorillas‟ debut, putting out Showbiz a fantastic new Downliners Sect single, and getting The Gorillas in to make a brilliant new LP, Message To The World. There was also a brave if doomed attempt to record some of The Mersey Survivors, and a rather more successful go at exploiting a resurgence of interest in rockabilly. Somehow the Tony McPhee Terraplane single never did get released on Raw, but I believe that line-up was the one that backed blues legend Billy Boy Arnold on his 1977 set, Checking It Out, which was produced by Peter Shertser, and issued naturally enough on Red Lightnin‟. In the early „70s Red Lightnin‟ or the Firm of Sippen and Shertser had tapped into a growing demand for early raw rock „n‟ roll, on their Union Pacific imprint where some releases may have been more „unofficial‟ than others. Starting with early Eddie Cochran recordings on A Legend In Our Time, followed by a Link Wray collection There‘s Good Rockin‘ Tonite, which featured Rumble, The Swag and a selection of Swan sides. I think Ace later issued this or a very similar Link Wray selection a decade or so later.
There were a couple of compilations too, one of which was Transfusion, issued in 1972, featuring tracks from the Everly Bros, Nervous Norvus, Vince Taylor, Del Vikings, Ronnie Self, Ronnie Hawkins, Conway Twitty, and Big Al Downing among others. Apparently the sleeve notes by Sippen rage against businessmen muscling in old rock „n‟ roll vinyl: "Collectors that I have spoken with recently are nauseated at having to pay outrageous prices for certain discs. 17 (pounds Sterling) for a Charlie Feathers King 45? 18 (pounds) for a Johnny Carroll Decca disc? Just what the hell is going on? These prices are common. Is any record worth that much? Certainly NOT." The cover itself features a bootlegged cartoon by Robert Crumb from Snatch Comics. Sippen and Shertser were not strangers to the world of bootlegs or unlicensed material, as anyone who has read Days in the Life will know, having handled some of the great bootlegs such as Dylan at the Albert Hall 1966 and so on. I used to think it was ridiculous to be chased down the high street by kids with Mac Curtis flat tops when I was convinced I knew more about primal r‟n‟r, but it wasn‟t worth hanging around to debate the finer points of this. As more and more has been revealed about what was played at The Scene club in the early days so it has become apparent that the music sources were much more diverse than was traditionally reported, and it wasn‟t unusual for what is now considered rock „n‟ roll to be played: Eddie Cochran‟s Weekend, Jerry Lee Lewis, Freddie Cannon, Chuck Berry, and so on alongside blues, soul, jazz, ska, etc. That, of course, is not really surprising because musical lines were wonderfully blurred, although it
does make a mockery of later musical schisms. You‟ve only got to think of the classic clips of Jerry Lee Lewis on Ready Steady Go where The Killer is surrounded by mod girls. Guy Stevens, for example, wrote a piece for International Times in May 1969, which argued: ―Jerry Lee Lewis, is, in my opinion, one of the classic performers of our time. A phenomenal piano player, an incredibly soulful singer, an unbelievably dynamic stage performer: a sensational mixture of country, hillbilly rock and down home blues combined with an ability to perform his music in an utterly electrifying manner. He is often dismissed far too easily, whereas his influence and effect on rock music has been considerable over the years. Certainly listening to Bob Dylan singing I‘ll Be Your Baby Tonight confirms this …‖ That side of Guy Stevens did at least come through in the series of LPs Kent Records (as part of the Ace family) put together to celebrate the UK Sue label. In the final part of that series Tony Rounce and Mike Atherton have a go at imagining what a fourth chapter of Guy Stevens‟ Sue Story series might have featured had he ever got round to putting it together. There, are, as you would expect some wonderful tracks featured, some familiar and some hopelessly obscure. It includes Baby Washington‟s take on the jazz classic Doodlin‘ which is quite simply one of the most perfect things ever put together in the history of art. But then you could say that about a lot of tracks Baby Washington recorded for Sue Records. A closer glance at the credits inside the CD booklet that comes with The UK Sue Story Vol 4 reveals Peter Shertser is among those who helped make the compilation come together. But then it is always worth immersing yourself in the notes that accompany anything from the Ace family. Some of my very favourite writing can be found buried within the pages of the booklets that come with CDs from the Ace family of labels. The Dave Godin‘s Deep Soul Treasures series or the Where The Girls Are series put together by Mick Patrick and Malcolm Baumgart are wonderful examples where we have been provided with sleeve notes that contain such a wealth of information and insight. I would have no hesitation in describing them as examples of what for me are sacred texts which are worth infinitely more than any number of specially commissioned titles, vigorously promoted
… a belief in mischief This started out as a meditation on sacred texts, but soon developed into a celebration of irregulars, visionaries, mischief makers, and people who just aren‟t written about enough. A special mention must be made of the International Times Archive which proved to be an invaluable resource when putting together this issue of Your Heart Out.
… your heart out