... your heart out
“I always like to be set up as an antienvironment to something that’s happening”. – Tav Falco quoted in It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon
INTRODUCTION “Routine. To get a job done I need routine.” – Bill Drummond, My Modern Life, from 45 “Their days invariably followed a routine devised by Watts-Dunton. Swinburne, Watts-Dunton reportedly said with a certain pride in the tried and tested correctness of his system, always walks in the morning, writes in the afternoon and reads in the evening.” – W.G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn “In Paris, on Place de la Concorde, a young Surrealist, squinting ironically, said to his not so young admiratrix: ‘If I’m not mistaken, in literary theory, this is known as ‘poetic digression’.’” – Ilya Ehrenburg, The Life of the Automobile
Ian Svenonius is a great romantic contrarian, and he has turned out to be the funniest, sharpest, most serious writer around. His book Supernatural Strategies For Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group is a delightful distraction and a blueprint for change. Thankfully, it does not look or feel like the mass market paperbacks that clutter up the remaining book stores. The timing perhaps is a little odd, in the sense that rock ‘n’ roll has little meaning now, but that’s the point of the exercise really. Supernatural Strategies by Ian F. Svenonius is published by Akashic Books, the organisation that presented us with a new edition of Black Music by LeRoi Jones. It is a publishing house run by Johnny Temple, of Girls Against Boys, whose record sleeve for Nineties vs. Eighties will be where many first came across Ian Svenonius’ way with words. I.F.S. is full of mischief, in the way, say, Bill Drummond or Julie Burchill once were. He is iconoclastic, idiosyncratic, and doesn’t say what everyone else is saying. Supernatural Strategies should make the reader frequently stand up and applaud, if not actually climb up on to the kitchen table and dance in delight, punching the air and yelping: “Yeah!” Even if the reader does not violently agree, they will feel challenged, and should welcome the sowing of seeds of doubt. In Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group, Ian’s modus operandi is to use a séance scenario, and have voices speak from beyond the grave. Those that are heard from include Brian Jones, Richard Berry, Mary Wells, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Big Mama Thornton - and Paul McCartney who may not be dead. There is then, in the second half of the book, an actual strategy drawn up when the spirits “as a committee, write up an agreed-upon instructional pamphlet, a kind of joint statement by the rock ‘n’ roll Comintern of the deceased and renowned.” Unusually, Ian’s writing is never in the first person, and never ironic. His book (like his earlier collection of essays, The Psychic Soviet) is very quotable, and will have the reader scribbling down and re-using the best lines about not selling-out, how suffering is necessary
to maintain the integrity of the group as an object, rock ‘n’ roll as art, Communism, the way influences become more banal each year, codification or commodification, the Vietcong (and remember Peter Meaden’s musings on the mods and the Vietcong), ‘indie rock’, why songs shouldn’t be explicit, and the fascist elite’s digital conspiracy to strip music of meaning. The temptation to quote from this book at length will be resisted here. There has in recent years been a self-help books boom. It is a growth industry. Supernatural Strategies could be seen to be part of that activity. In terms of a pop procedural, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Canty is an easy reference point, but in reality a better comparison would be the series of books by Stephen Potter on the themes of Gamesmanship, Lifemanship, and One-Upmanship. Like Potter, I.F.S. can be deadly serious and incredibly funny, simultaneously. They each have the ability to use a sustained comedic voice, rather than resorting to the sporadic smart-arse one-liners now so often attempted by habitual users of social media forms. What do we really know about I.F.S.? He is opinionated and outspoken, he is hard-working and prolific, like Georgia Ann Muldrow, Mark E. Smith, Billy Childish, but is he an ardent revolutionary or an affected fogey? Or both? He doesn’t give too much away, and doesn’t reveal much of himself out of character. He avoids personal anecdotes and ‘war stories’. But then again, perhaps his use of illustrative references on page 183 of Supernatural Strategies says more than a thousand confessionals: “the Slits, the Velvelettes, the Crystals, Vaselines, Dixie Cups, Raindrops, the Whyte Boots, Edie and the Eggs, the Modern Lovers, Delta 5, Treachorous Three, the Avengers, the Heartbreakers, Minor Threat, Rocket from the Tombs, the Sex Pistols, Young Marble Giants, and Rites of Spring.”
UPTIGHT If Ian Svenonius’ Supernatural Strategies is a welcome distraction from routine, then The Fallen Leaves’ If Only We’d Known is an equally wonderful diversion. It is the perfect tonic, an invigorating concoction to cleanse the palate. If Only We’d Known is the third in a series of LPs that could only be by The Fallen Leaves. It is uncommon beat noise, purposefully put together. The ingredients are familiar perhaps: The Shadows, Searchers, Sorrows, Sonics, Standells, Spiral Scratch, Subway Sect. But the sound is searing, superior, and spectacularly stimulating. Part of The Fallen Leaves’ appeal (for some) is the presence of Rob Symmons from the original Subway Sect line-up on guitar, and there is a certain continuity in the way he plays the guitar. So The Fallen Leaves will attract the interest of those who believe passionately that the Subway Sect’s first Peel session is pop art at its very best. But the old punk rockers can be an unforgiving bunch of sods and snobs, so old allegiances would never be enough to quicken the pulse about a new project. No, The Fallen Leaves have something special of their own.
The beauty of The Fallen Leaves is a glorious contradiction, a dastardly dichotomy even. Are they early or late? When so-called ‘future shocks’ so often turn out to be damp squibs, blind alleys, or red herrings, how on earth can something strangely formulaic seem so ferociously fresh? Those of us staunchly on the side of progress may feel uncomfortable about such a situation. It is completely irrational. But originality is the power of producing something original to oneself. Generally in music new developments have tended to come in fits and spurts, often at a point when a number of people are arriving at the same point together, albeit from different directions perhaps. It’s rare for these things to happen in isolation. These originators often fail to move on, and anyway one theorist’s ‘future shocks’ will prompt a shrug of indifference elsewhere. It just depends on interpretation and personal proclivities. So part of the debate about new forms must include consideration of those who take a specific style as a starting point and create something new from that origin or source, within a defined context. That does not just apply to pop music, but can cover the spy novel or the sports report, etc. The Fallen Leaves are so far ahead they are lapping people, which is why they may sometimes seem to be caught up in a particular pack. They might play the garage punk circuit, and no doubt have a lot of fun doing so. Why not? Generally, though, garage punk resurrectionists reveal a sinister conservatism. There are anomalies, particularly the Dirtbombs’ Party Store, where they cover a selection of Detroit techno standards, such as Bug in the Bassbin, Good Life, Jaguar and Strings of Life. That shows a certain boldness. It is the exceptions that are intriguing, and part of the fascination is what people do with raw materials.
There seems to have been considerable thought behind what The Fallen Leaves do. They don’t just stumble on to stage, which is to their credit. It might be useful to map The Fallen Leaves’ strategies in the light of Ian Svenonius’ book. There is a definitely a specific Fallen Leaves look, which is a good sign. Somehow it is an odd mix of the raffish and bookish, with a certain antiquarian air and suggestions of military personnel’s off-duty activities along the lines of Simon Raven’s The Fortunes of Fingel. Best of all there is a unique chemistry between the singer Rob G. and the guitarist Rob S. Rob G.’s confident crooning complements Rob S’ singular style of jabbing, clanging, slashing, chopping, threshing. They have good heads of hair and appear to be in shape. Worshippers of the Wilko J. and Lee B. school of dynamics will approve wholeheartedly. The artistic success of The Fallen Leaves reflects the rise of the non-professional auteur. Sporting terminology like amateur or part-timer, even hobby or pastime, in a musical context suggests something casual, non-committed. But the matures’ occasional forays are increasingly compelling. This has been said before about a remarkable record by The Girl With The Replaceable Head but bears repeating: “The stark truth is that so much of what is beautiful in the arts is being created on the sidelines, for fun, out of desperation,
because of the DIY impulse. This has nothing to do with careerist, cosy craft whimsy, and it’s a world away from the promotional merry-go-round and the carnival of critical commentary. It’s about people that are old enough to know better, using up life savings, giving up their free time, purely to communicate with a few people, and make small but significant ripples that may become something more.”1
SOUND OF YOUNG AMERICA
Your records seem very much designed for children, much in the way that pop records in the '60s were … Possibly, it's the simplicity, you see. And just elements of incongruity and a strangeness, an attractiveness, a questioning thing. We're not conveying the same points, the formal traditional points. I don't have anything to say about the Glastonbury Festival. I haven't been, I don't want to go. You don't go to concerts. That's just because I find it physically uncomfortable. I don't go to the circus either. -
Ian Svenonius interviews Mike Alway for BB Gun2
Naturally any consideration of Ian Svenonius’ Supernatural Strategies and The Fallen Leaves’ splendid racket will lead to mentions of the Make Up. As a group they were one of the great historical romances, delivering a series of engrossing entertainments. They defined what they did as Gospel Yeh-Yeh music, and declared that they played ‘the untouchable sound’. They constructed a very specific context, with a passionate punk/soul aesthetic. This was at a time when the last thing anyone needed was a voice, guitar, bass and drums aggregation. But the Make Up’s perverse, strategic use of “soul, surf, skronk and stomp” worked wonderfully well. There was no pastiche, no kitsch, but like Dexys, The Fall and the Style Council they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Make Up: it was a great name. They used a number of variations: mAKE UP, The Make-Up, Make Up, Make-Up. The meaning was equally ambiguous: as in “Did I make up the Make Up?” Or as in cosmetics? Maybe as in “not part of my make-up”? Perhaps as in “happy about that”? Oh, they were difficult enough to pin and mount anyway. What were they? Communists, comedians, socialists, situationists, lettrists, luddites, mods, marxists? Who knows for sure? But, like staunch revolutionaries, the Make Up stuck to their five-year plan, just as Felt stuck to their ten-year plan. The Make Up symbolically split up on the day a substantive number of people desired mobile phones and gained occasional access to satellite TV and the internet for leisure purposes. The Make Up above all were a hermetic unit, which meant the submergence of specific identities in the group. But they were very well-balanced in terms of personality, the elements that make up the whole collective. Ian Svenonius as singer was the “paradoxical leftist dandy”, a showman in the tradition of Alan Vega, James Chance, Tav Falco, Lux Interior, or should that be Mark Stewart, Ian Curtis, Kevin Rowland, Adam Ant? Or maybe
Johnny Angelo? Then there was Michelle Mae on bass, inscrutable and elegant, the former Frumpie who had been in the second issue of Grand Royal with her nu skate manifesto, reclaiming skateboarding from the competitive for the kicks affirmative, and listing such cool items as Kim Gordon’s Free Kitten, mods and soul music, black lo-top Converse, and girl skategangs from the early ‘80s. The rest of the Make-Up had played together with Ian in the Nation of Ulysses, which is a different story. James Canty was on guitar and Steve Gamboa on drums. They did what a guitarist and drummer should. “A lot of the music was now known as ‘Soul’ or ‘funky-jazz’, uptempo blues and chants that went back to the church for inspiration. Johnny Griffin even recorded the traditional spiritual Wade in the Water in a stomping declamatory version with his Big Soul Band. Sipping on a brew, we clicked our fingers to Junior Mance strutting through The Uptown or Cannonball Adderley’s ostinato Sack O’ Woe, with Britain’s own Victor Feldman playing a piano vamp as though he’d been born a Holy Roller instead of a London Jew. “Betty Everett, Buddy Guy and Fontella Bass appeared on Ready Steady Go! and got into the charts alongside Cilla Black and the Searchers; and then it began to emerge that practically every soul singer had first performed in the church. A gospel package came to England, featuring renowned artists such as the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and Bishop Samuel Kelsey, a veteran preacher who put on what amounted to a stage version of a Baptist service. The atmosphere was electric, with such singers as Inez Andrews performing magnificent melismatic leaps with their voices and building up tremendous evangelical fervour, yet the concerts were poorly attended. “Gospel music did not have the same popular appeal for Whites as the blues, despite the fact that many white singers were trying their damnedest to sound as though they’d been raised on the moaners’ bench. One of those who admitted to damaging her voice trying to get a ‘Black’ sound was Dusty Springfield, one of the most popular solo singers of the day. Dusty sang songs such as Can I Get A Witness?, nominally copied from Motown’s Marvin Gaye yet echoing an age-old cry that went back to the beginnings of Afro-America. When the gospel package played Croydon, I looked around to see Dusty transfixed, unselfconsciously wearing her spectacles, clapping on the off-beat and cheering, doing her best to be ‘the witness’ the communality of the music demanded. With her were two other ardent devotees of the faith. RSG!’s Vicki Wickham and Madeleine Bell, the wonderful gospel singer from Newark, New Jersey, who had come over with Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity and decided to stay.” – Val Wilmer, Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This
Gospel according to the Make Up: a preacher writhing, jiving, screaming, shrieking, jack knifing, scissor kicking, sobbing, spinning, lurching, lunging, pirouetting, pouncing, prowling, preening, purring, pawing, cajoling, castigating, soul clapping, soul coaxing, collapsing, spent, exercised, exorcised. Feel the fervour, the ferment. It’s electrifying, ebullient, hellfire and brimstone, bearing witness, testifying, and talking in tongues, promising salvation and deliverance. The group’s whipping up a sanctified storm, possessed by the spirit. Wholly communion live! Inter-denominational congregational call-and-response? Yeh-yeh! “And they made a testament of their faith”.
“I give you a study in progressive pop by Jimmy James and the Vagabonds”: Peter Meaden 1966, sleevenotes for The New Religion. “There is little doubt that yé- yé represented the reduction of popular music to astonishingly low levels of creativity and musical ability”: from French Frenzies: A Social History of Pop Music in France by Larry Portis
So Gospel Yeh-Yeh? Yé-yé? “What do you call this noise that you’ve put on? This is pop?” “Yé-yé”. Identifying with the 1960s French form of mass produced pop, pop-stock/chocstock, was a big part of the Make Up’s stance. That act of rebellion in reclaiming the dismissed, the sidelined sounds: boogaloo, brown-eyed soul, bubblegum, blue-eyed soul, girl group sounds, glam rock, rocksteady, rockabilly. The work of staff writers, producers, arrangers, session musicians, anonymous studio outfits . Still rejected? Certainly there is much more available, liberated from collectors, through CD salvage operations, with academic annotations, but overall such pop forms are still looked down on, condescended, patronised, not claimed as high art, discounted as low-brow. Who’s to decide the value of a body of work?
Things that might have been part of the Make Up’s world like Tommy James and the Shondells, the Shirelles, R. Dean Taylor, Teddy Randazzo, Bob Crewe, Sonia Pottinger, Genya ‘Goldie’ Ravan, Maxine Brown, Brenda Holloway, Mary Wells, Fontella Bass, Jackie Ross, Nella Dodds, Jan Bradley, Kleenex, Mo-Dettes, Delmontes, Flowers, Scars: their oeuvre is obviously worth more than those the critical consensus celebrates: Neil Young, Brian Eno, the state-sponsored sentimentality for Bowie/Kraftwerk, etc. It should not need saying, but it still does. In the 1990s context the Make Up’s records and performances were part of a much bigger mosaic, and were enjoyed alongside the latest in hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, techno or other new electronic sounds. Other people used similar inflammatory language. Think of the rhetoric related to Underground Resistance or Alec Empire’s (dated) Digital Hardcore world, and even the Manic Street Preachers with their appropriation of A.O.R forms. Nevertheless the Make Up particularly appealed to a certain demographic: the international pop underground, argumentative kids in v-neck jumpers and desert boots who were into The Pastels, TVPs, fanzines, Say Yes! to International Socialism, Kent ‘60s soul compilations, Dexys LPs, Subway Sect singles, Shena Mackay’s books, old 7”s on the Postcard and Creation labels, new releases on K or Kill Rock Stars, and doing it for yourself.
And re: The Nation of Ulysses, Laurent the Rambler and I were in Blow Up one time in 1996, in our customary avatar as gadflies to the rock underground. Or so we liked to think. ‘Annoying cunts’ was the synonym around Camden. Ian Svevonius, patron saint of the K/Kill Rock Stars axis (and, as we were frequently reminded, Sassy’s Most Eligible Bachelor) was there, and we sought him out for a fun row. I swaggered up and recognised him, and then lit into his James Brown obsession. That was my ‘in’: I had nothing against Svevonius, I liked Nation of Ulysses and Cupid Car Club, but in the Make Up they were flogging a James Brown schtick, and I wanted to smash the J. Brown legend. Drunk on liquor and Laurent’s fondness for trouble, I got Svevonius really riled. He took to spitting venom, retorted with contempt that what was I, I was some Kinks fan, and was in full rant when I realised I had no earthly reason to be arguing with him - I had a deal of admiration for him. I stopped and apologised and ceded sarcasm for candour - “I was trying to provoke you and I really oughtn’t.” Placated in likewise speed, he was soon praising my parka and we left on sweetheart terms. But this is a paradigm of my so-called “interview technique”. Trash the foundations of all diplomacy and then act the innocent. – Fabian Ironsides3 Good times. Good friends. Great clothes. Great memories. Away from the numbers. Practicing my steps. The Shirelles’ The March. The Litter’s Action Woman. France Gall’s Bloody Jack. The Radiators From Space’s Enemies. But remember it was about music and language. And that’s where I think the club came into its own. There we developed a policy of playing Northern Soul instrumentals. The likes of Sam Ambrose’s They’ll Be Coming. And people would get up and start reciting their favourite texts. Over the top of the music. And there was a real mixture of stuff offered up. For instance I remember someone reading from Lenin’s Will The Bolsheviks Maintain Power, while someone else jumped up and read X Moore’s Take Inspiration! words on The Jam’s Dig The New Breed! I can recall hearing words by Dave Godin and Bertolt Brecht. Eric Hobsbawn and David Nobbs. The words to The Red Flag and the sleevenotes from the Style Council’s Shout To The Top.- John Carney, Shivers Inside4 "The other idea we introduced that at the time, which was unusual," comments Svenonius, "was that anybody was a DJ, and at Cold Rice, we just invited anybody to be a DJ. It was a really liberated environment, and it wasn’t a normal dance club. They had a big reggae sound system... and that was what they did most of the time at that club, dancehall. It was very Jamaican and Ethiopian." – Ian Svenonius talking about The Make Up’s spiritual home5 “In line with first proposition, some citizens have tried to organise jazz clubs, European style, to meet in lofts on weekends, with some kind of club structure, to make the whole thing ‘legal’. Until there are public places, the music will have to be heard underground. Another idea was to start a church. I think seventeen citizens is all you need to start a religion or at least get a church cover story. The sanctified (holiness, Pentecostal, God Christ, etc.) churches blow half the night. If you got a church sign, you can go into almost anything and the law will not be able to stop you.” - LeRoi Jones, Apple Cores #1 1964, from Black Music
The Make Up’s strategy used a template drawn up by The Adverts in 1977 under cover of the punk explosion. The groups shared the same dynamic tension. The Adverts had a compellingly charismatic poet/singer, a potential pop heartthrob who wrote words for the eternally enraged and forsaken, plus an impenetrable, enigmatically elegant bass player, and unorthodox, inventive functionaries on guitar and drums. Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts, the best LP of the punk era, was described in The Boy Looked At Johnny as an artistic masterpiece of an album “which, incredibly, was ignored”. Its titles were spelled out in Dymo embossing tape, a disappearing art form: situationist comedy slogans like One Chord Wonders, New Church, Bombsite Boy, New Day Dawning, Drowning Men, Great British Mistake.
Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts remains a rousing racket, with a soaring lightness beyond punk thrash. The participation of John Leckie as producer will have had a lot to do with that. This was part of a remarkable trio of 1978 modern pop LPs Leckie oversaw, which also includes XTC’s White Music and Magazine’s Real Life, an unprecedented run which placed him as punk’s prime shaper behind Martin Rushent. Although perhaps Richard Gottehrer could claim to be that, working with Blondie, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Robert Gordon, and The Yachts. He had previously produced The Angels, McCoys, Strangeloves, Dean Parrish, Mickey Finn, and Martha Velez. That’s a portfolio the Make Up would approve of. John Leckie would later return to prominence in the mid-1980s when he produced Felt and a trio of LPs by The Fall, having the challenge of working with two visionaries (Lawrence and Mark E. Smith) whose minds have never worked in the same way as anyone else’s.
SOUND VERITE When the Make Up took time out from propaganda and intelligence activities and settled down to record LPs in a studio they came up with some strange works. Their modus operandi was to co-opt key characters from the U.S. underground music scene and allow them to mould the Make-Up sound as they thought fit. The first to be offered this opportunity was Calvin Johnson who was at the controls for sOUND VERITE in 1996. This record was credited to mAKE UP and released on the K label. The title is a reference to the cinéma vérité form: the cinema of truth. So it is appropriate that the sound is quieter, stripped down: “truth on tape”. The production and the group’s performance have connections to what Calvin was doing contemporaneously with Dub Narcotic Sound System and their lopsided, dislocated disco dub plates. Dub Narcotic’s Industrial Breakdown was a big hit at the time on Soul Static Sound, the label run by Darryl Moore, who worked in the Covent Garden Rough Trade store. The Make Up also commissioned Casey Rice/Designer, the Tortoise sound man, to do a remix for them.
The album opens with a tribute to the freedom fighter Angela Davis, which is itself a homage to the militant Mersey beat group The High Five and the “voice, bass and keyboards version” of If They Come In The Morning, on their Down In The No-Go LP which was produced by Phil ‘Sextet’ Ault. The Make Up’s If They Come In The Morning is itself a voice, bass, keyboards drums version. There is a strong reggae influence, and Ian squeals and yelps like Lizzy Mercier Descloux or Lora Logic. The group covers a lot of ground on the record. Make Up is Lies in particular has echoes of the first Love LP when it’s like that moment where the red Indians have been lined up across the horizon and suddenly spring into action with the war drums going. Few rock ‘n’ roll groups have succeeded in utilising the sound of that Love record so successfully. The merging of faces on the cover of Sound Verite is itself a tribute to Love, and on a separate single the Make-Up had declared Free Arthur Lee. On At The Tone The Time Will Be the group adopts Phil Spector’s slogan of “tomorrow’s sound today”. Gospel 2000 has Sylvia-style groans and moans: religious ecstasy, sexual satisfaction, physical exertion. Elsewhere there is itchy paranoid funk, akin to Kiss The Book or Genius Or Lunatic by The Pop Group, or Futures Pasts Witch Trials-era The Fall meets Booker T. perpetual mod dance sounds. Throughout Ian howls and screeches non-sequiturs, like a prodded Prince, in a way not dissimilar to Davy Henderson in Nectarine No. 9, another great screamer on the scene. And remember what Davy revealed about the Fire Engines in Innes Reekie’s State of Play: “Girl singers and primitive drums turned us on – and boys who wanted to be girl singers with primitive drums”. He added: “To me Mark E Smith is a soul singer …” The booklet that accompanies the record features a bit of a rant, an entertaining challenge to critics that has echoes of Dexys/ Mark E Smith. It’s a subject I.F.S. returns to in a waspishly insightful way in Supernatural Strategies.
LOOK OUT! SOUL IS BACK! Critics have referred to the sound of Make Up as a “soul punk explosion”. There have been less helpful descriptions of the group’s activity, but the Make Up would do nothing so vulgar as playing straight soul covers or garage punk rave-ups. So, “soul punk explosion”? In terms of a Venn diagram is this where the circles overlap? As in Ed Cobb uniting Gloria Jones and the Chocolate Watch Band, Billy Vera writing Don’t Look Back for The Remains, Jill Jones as the missing link between Bobby Paris and the Electric Prunes, Big Maybelle doing 96 Tears, The Moving Sidewalks appearing on a Kent soul compilation, Johnny Jones & the King Casuals’ cover of Purple Haze which appears on the Kent LP On The Up Beat, The Saints’ prehistoric sounds, The Fall having hits with covers of Mr Pharmacist and There’s A Ghost In My House.
There is indubitably an enduring fascination with the culture of ‘60s soul, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and garage punk. It is something to do with small labels, big dreams, and madly inventive noise made by people from nowhere on their way straight back there. There have been few things in popular culture stranger than the Northern Soul scene in the U.K. when huge swathes of youth would go out dancing to rare soul sounds, records that were already old. In a way this was a rejection of capitalism and the cycle of production, promotion and consumption. In another sense it was an act of atonement, giving the overlooked another opportunity to succeed: R. Dean Taylor, the Fascinations, Robert Knight, Frankie Valli, and Tami Lynn were among those who had hit records belatedly. The sound of ‘60s soul covers many things, but there was an absurdly high level of artistry at work in what was essentially a mass production industry. Advertising agencies and film makers may mine the archives but, despite their machinations, still the music retains a fatal charm. The re-enactment of certain rituals may seem as quaint as Morris dancing, but perhaps that is the point: northern soul as folk art? But ‘60s soul is actually far more interesting stripped of its ‘northern’ context, mutating, several times removed from that ‘all-nighter’ meaning, via compilations and reissues and mixed musical diets. Still a performance by a great unknown ‘60s soul vocalist, like say Ernestine Eady singing The Change, can seem to be imbued with meaning and mystery in a way a new David Bowie record could never be, and maybe never was.
“Myself, I favoured a shifty, shifty side thing, one hand on hip, followed by a hi-kicking peak, a jennylike spin on a drum-roll, a side WAP on a beat-drop, plenty of flambé hand-gestures and orange squash between very violent numbers like With These Eyes by The Fabulous Peps on Wee Records, Take It Baby by the Showmen on Swan, If You Ask Me, Jerry Williams on Calla, and Where Can She Run To by the Jammers on Loma, the more unrestrained the music, the wilder the life.” – from Reverbstorm: Savoy, Soul and Suicide by Paul Temple6
“I say this as one way to get into another thing: namely that even the avant-garde American music suffers when it moves too far from the blues experience. All the young players now should make sure they are listening to The Supremes, Dionne Warwick, Martha and the Vandellas, The Impressions, Mary Wells, James Brown, Major Lance, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops, Bobby Bland, etc., just to see where the contemporary blues is; all the really nasty ideas are right there, and these young players are still connected with that reality, whether they understand why or not. Otherwise, jazz, no matter the intellectual bias, moved too far away from its most meaningful sources and resources is weakened and becomes, little by little, just the music of another emerging middle class. Forms become rigid when they come to exist only as ends, in themselves.” – LeRoi Jones, Apple Cores #2 1965, from Black Music
THE SOUND OF JAZZ TO COME “He knocked out a couple of études and I put on my black tunic top and patterned black tights. I painted my nails silver and decorated them with tiny red hearts. My hair was up in a chignon and I wore all my necklaces.” – Patrice Chaplin, Albany Park
One of the admirable things about The Fallen Leaves’ If Only We’d Known is its correct decision to continue with the striking design format of the earlier CDs. The cover is a fantastic shot of two girls jiving at the Richmond Jazz Festival 1962, very specifically chosen, and used with permission from the photographer Roger Mayne. Some of the street photography and related work by Roger remains the most vivid documents of London life in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Other shots by Roger of the 1962 Richmond Jazz Festival and similar events (e.g. one at Beaulieu in 1961) are very definitely worth seeking out. Val Wilmer has written about how Roger’s work was a major influence on her, and how she knew (of) him from the trad. jazz clubs and the stills he did for the (Free Cinema) short film Momma Don’t Allow by Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson of a Chris Barber Band performance at the Wood Green Jazz Club in 1956.
The 1962 Richmond jazz festival was the second national jazz and blues event. Its line-up featured a mixture of trad. and modern jazz singers and players, including Humphrey Lyttelton, Tony Coe, Chris Barber with Ottilie Patterson, Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Ross, Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Don Rendell, Kenny Ball, and Terry Lightfoot. The programme also reflected the growing interest in rhythm ‘n’blues music. The 1963 event would feature the Rolling Stones, Long John Baldry, and Ginger Johnson’s African Drummers.
“Flywheels, gasometers, chimney stacks, coal dust / newspapers, oranges, broken glass / staircarpet, raincoats, geysers / cigarettes, cinemas. Ah! Ah! / Sausages, bedsteads, rag and iron merchants / basements, cement, up and down / Metropolitan, Bakerloo, Piccadilly / forty-seven, fiftysix, four. Ah! Ah!” - Ann Jellicoe, The Sport of My Mad Mother
In 1962 the photographer Roger Mayne married the playwright Ann Jellicoe. They had met at the Royal Court Theatre where Ann was part of George Devine’s writers’ group. Her first play to be staged there, in 1958, was The Sport of My Mad Mother, an experimental work featuring juvenile delinquents where the words may seem abstract but possess a wonderful rhythmic quality which Kenneth Tynan said had the jazz-like effect of spontaneous improvisation. Her most famous work, The Knack, the comedy that seems to be about sex but is really about how we should treat one another, was staged at The Royal Court in 1962. The play would be produced around the world: Victor Jara was involved with a production of it in Chile, for example. Ann would have little to do with the later Richard Lester film version, however. After moving to the south-west of England Ann became involved with community theatre, from 1979 onwards, encouraging local people to become active in all aspects of play production, with support from professionals. She has steadfastly chosen not to use the term ‘amateur’.
Rita Tushingham played the role of Nancy in The Knack, both in the original 1961 Cambridge production and at the Royal Court. This period, 1961-1963, was a particularly busy period for Rita: she appeared in the film of A Taste of Honey, Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen at the Royal Court, Tony Richardson’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream (with Yolanda Bavan and Ronnie Baker among the cast), George Devine’s staging of Twelfth Night, The Knack (play), and the films The Leather Boys, A Place To Go, and Girl With Green Eyes. Her fierce work rate belies the projected image of the innocent-at-large, and in many ways she was in London as the advance scouting party, preparing the way for The Beatles. In the wider Mersey beat sphere her influence (looking classically wrong in a way that makes everyone else look daft) could very definitely be seen in the excellent Liverbirds who thrived on the Hamburg scene with their glorious racket.
John’s Children - Remember Thomas A Becket: “What sounds like a strangled horse at the beginning is in fact a car skidding into a plate glass window (a crate of empty wine bottles thrown down the stairs at Spot). With a new set of lyrics each time, we managed to get three or four songs out of what was originally a rip off of a Small Faces tune.” “And we are those hollow men” – Purple Hearts, Shell Shock
Another great part of the Fallen Leaves’ approach is to include a quotation on the inside of their CD digipaks, with an endorsement from the group to say: “That’s right”. They have previously shared quotes from Sun Tzu and Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, and this time it is the words of T.S. Eliot from Murder in the Cathedral that feature: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason." The title of the Purple Hearts’ 1986 LP, Pop-ish Frenzy ... (which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched) was a play on the wording of an inscription added to the base of the London monument in 1681, and later removed in 1830. Apart from a shared fondness for tough beat noise and T.S. Eliot’s words, The Fallen Leaves and Purple Hearts have something in common. It’s something to do with an ability to make the ‘everyday’ seem delightfully strange. By choosing to be contrary (“You say I should be that, I’ll be this then”), by opting to look and play a particular way, by keeping certain company, they will fool some people into underestimating their creative ability and mental agility. This has all the hallmarks of one of Stephen Potter’s ‘Lifemanship’ gambits. It is also very much in the non-conformist working-class radical tradition: part Jack-the Lad, part assiduous autodidact. So, appropriately, the Purple Hearts’ songs were partly grrritty kitchen-sink dramas and partly pop-art flash. In fact they represented the British Establishment's deepest fear: the organised aggregate and sublimation of these disparate elements, an emboldened team of earthy, arty, funny, political, vociferous, populist, intellectual, macho, sensitive lads. – Alex Niven7 “The mods’ rebellious stance, rooted in real grievances, had much of the character of play-acting; it depended on the Dadaesque idea of outrage for its own sake. Mod behaviour was consciously aimed against the norms of adult society, one of which was the strangely held opinion that protest should be rational. The very irrationality of mod rebellion, itself a part of the protest, characterised it as non-serious; a vice in the eyes of adult society but a virtue to the mods. Combined with their calculated appearance and dress, this apparently non-serious rebellion created an element of showmanship in everything the mods did. They cultivated a conscious separation between themselves and ‘straight society and played out their roles as actors might play out their parts, on a stage provided by the news media.” – Gary Herman, Extraordinary Sensations (from The Who, 1971)
The Purple Hearts can be best heard on the 1979 LP Beat That! This was overseen by Chris Parry, and forms part of a remarkable trilogy of modern pop works (alongside The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys and The Passions’ Michael and Miranda) which he produced and put out on his Fiction label in 1979/1980. In terms of shaping pop’s direction this was a run perhaps only matched at the time by Bob Sargeant with The Fall’s Live At The Witch Trials, the Monochrome Set’s The Strange Boutique and The Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It. Parry’s pioneering work was very much about a certain aridity in what was a Spartan sound, with few if any effects and only occasional distortion. He preferred a very specific sound separation when it came to instruments. The bass often seemed to carry the melody and the guitar style would generally be very staccato. This is an approach the Make Up would later favour. Sleeve Notes (Pop-ish Frenzy ...) SIDE ONE but not one sided, not this platter; no siree. Kicking off with FRIENDS AGAIN and aren’t you glad we are running hand in hand with your loved one across the eternal filmset of life wow! WHEN I SEE YOU my heart plays Giant Steps by trane at least, boy meets girl and hope she makes my day. CALL OF THE WILD the past is red and the streets are paved with Philip K Dick in this future past tale of massive proportions. I’LL MAKE YOU MINE Written just after Winston O Boogie met the termination of his temperol and I wasn’t even in love GET OUT OF MY LIFE WOMAN But please leave your James Brown and Lee Dorsey records when you go baby. SIDE THE SECOND HI BABY why don’t we ever say what comes into our minds, and if I do will I blow my cool, my stack, my chance of salvation at the feet of woman. SHELLSHOCK Woke up this morning and walked through those doors of aware-ness and there’s no turning back. Angels yes BUT ON SUNDAY Put the kettle on, hancock’s half hour, church bells ringing, ah sweet suburbia. I CAN’T DREAM Do you dream in colour and why should life be grey when you can make it multi coloured exploding like Dylan’s consciousness. GUN OF LIFE And it’s head on grand finale time and while we’re at it let’s expose the macho myth for what it is. Women aren’t objects and Zola was right … Goodnight R J Manton 7/5/86 12.58 AM
The Purple Hearts play occasionally nowadays, for fun. The Fallen Leaves play regularly, for kicks, often putting on their own shows. If the idea of going to a club and seeing a group play seems unpleasant, then YouTube offers the opportunity to watch The Fallen Leaves ‘in the flesh’ live on your laptop. The site seems to feature footage from pretty much anyone who performs live. There are good things about this development definitely, and downsides to this approach actually. It is harder to maintain an aura of mystery if confronted by a host of smart phones. There are times when it’s right to leave things to the imagination. YouTube etiquette has resulted in a series of strategies for uploading and sharing. Beyond the unforgiving live clips there are actual recordings, often wonderfully rare vinyl artefacts, presented with a very specific shot or assorted images loaded with significance and meaning. Some users go to a lot more trouble with the videos they upload, and develop a specific style on their channels, attracting subscribers with their taste in music and imagery. These ‘fan-created’ unofficial videos can be enthralling or exasperating. Certain of The Fallen Leaves’ songs feature in a series of videos uploaded to the channel hosted by Candy Christian. These typically are montages of stills or clips from old Continental (European) movies, some of which seem familiar while others are no doubt hopelessly obscure. These are the sort of black-and-white subtitled films that are not shown on ‘terrestrial’ TV in the U.K. anymore, so are unlikely to be stumbled upon unexpectedly in the way they once were. The Candy Christian video for The Fallen Leaves’ Go Now features images of Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in USA. Another one for Chain Smoking by Subway Sect features shots of Anna in Vivre sa Vie.
"Me and Vic used to read books in his bedroom, before the group started. That would have been when he was doing his A-level French, so there was stuff like Camus and Sartre. And there were a lot of things on TV then - lots of strange French films. Seeing stuff like that was a big thing, as teenagers. 'Clockwork Orange' too, that was a big influence. There was this cinema we used to go to, the Paris Pullman, which would put on all the French stuff, and we used to go down there and sit in the coffee bar. It was because apart from us it was all old blokes in their 40s and 50s, and there we were, a couple of young kids of 16 or 17. But we really liked stuff like Jean-Luc Godard, which was where Vic got his surname from. A lot of the look came from things that as well - we had things like French film yearbooks from about 1964 and we used to sit round looking at all these black-and-white pictures of French film stars. Also, there was a lot of imported Eastern European kids' TV series at the time, which influenced us - all these Polish kids with their hair cut with shears, and I wanted to look like that.” - Rob Symmons, interviewed in Enclave fanzine
“Ironically, it was a French author who first suggested this project to me. Rogério talked about and sometimes read aloud from the works of the writer Edgar Morin, whose discussion of Hollywood stars and comic-book characters as figures within a new mythology opened my mind to a fresh grasp of pop art, an intense assimilation of Godard’s poetic strains, and a total reevaluation of rock and American cinema. No less than Morin, Godard led me to pay attention to the poetry of the American mass culture, to Hollywood, and to advertising. His films were – and still are today – my favourites of that period. Since the moment when Duda recommended that I see A bout de soufflé (Breathless), I realized that I had not only found a new favourite in cinema but also that all cinema had to be reevaluated in light of him. Land in Anguish would be an awakening, but, in a way, what we wanted to do would be much closer, if possible, to Godard’s films. Vivre sa vie, Pierrot le fou, Une femme est une femme are fundamental to the initial ferment of tropicalismo. And Masculin-féminin, with its scenes in a recording studio, its “children of Marx and Coca-Cola”, its adolescent sexuality – I saw it as one moment in our daily lives in São Paulo. Later, La Chinoise and Weekend would serve as mature comments on the adventure that we had already lived through.” - Caetano Veloso, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music & Revolution in Brazil
It is part of the rock ‘n’ roll ritual that one generation will reclaim as valuable what another has rejected as worthless. It has become a rite of passage. Or maybe that’s the way it should be: embrace the discarded, jettison the treasured. The last thing that should happen is everyone liking or approving of the same thing. The Clash said they were into rubbish, what other people have thrown away. Detritus is illuminating. Subway Sect’s Changed My Mind was based on Françoise Hardy’s Je Changerais D’Avis (Se Telefonando). That wasn’t the thing to do at the time. But very gradually it emerged how much great pop music was created in France during the 1960s. Groups like Saint Etienne, Stereolab, and Broadcast (modern day equivalents of Jean-Luc Godard and his circle of cinéastes) did excellent work in exposing the extent of subversive pop activity disguised by intentionally dismissive but ultimately attractive terms like yé- yé. The relationship between pop playfulness and revolutionary commitment is at the heart of a lot of Godard’s movies in the ‘60s (and indeed what the Make Up did in the ‘90s). The scenes featuring Chantal Goya in the recording studio in Masculin- Féminin are charming and loaded with suggestion. But they take on a whole new context when it’s noted that musical direction is by Mickey Baker, who was involved with a lot of French femme-pop at a time when joyless academics were sneering. Baker’s credentials as an exiled rhythm ‘n’ blues populist were peerless. And, with Sylvia Vanderpool/Robinson, Mickey created the most enduringly erotic pop song, Love Is Strange. One of the joys of Ian Svenonius’ Supernatural Strategies is the occasional excellent illustration by the author (and apologies must be expressed here to anyone familiar with Stephen Potter’s gambit of ‘friendly attack’ in Writership). A sketch of Sylvia, randomly included, in the book is particularly delightful, capturing the great image of her circa Pillow Talk with the top knot and gypsy earrings. Sylvia at that time was the most important person in pop, at the helm of the All Platinum stable of labels, writing hits for The Moments, writing Shame, Shame, Shame for Shirley and Company, recording hits of her own like Soul Je T’Aime, and this was only a few years before she changed the world again with Sugarhill Records. French pop in the 1960s was at its best when being brattish and blasé or when it was sneering and senseless: the more cynical, spiteful and knowing the better. As guitars became more fuzzed-up and the organs more swirling, things became much more fun. The memorable sequence in Godard’s La Chinoise where Claude Channes’ savage Mao Mao plays illustrates this perfectly. Another song of the time demonstrating pop culture’s tangled relationship with the potent image of the revolutionary chic figure is Nino Ferrer’s Mao et Moa. The singer growls and cajoles and mocks, having wild fun with ridiculous word play, while members of his cadre (including Bernard Estardy on gospel organ, Manu Dibango on the saxophone, and Pierre-Alain Dahan on drums) get down and dirty. But what do people think of now when a little red book is mentioned? Burt Bacharach? Arthur Lee?
“I’m working on this thing called bomb art with this guy in Vienna, Ian Svenonius, and he’s written a new little red book on kind of politics and music, his band is called Weird War. I’ve just done another action thing in Japan. I’ve found the weird thing that noise has become respectable as an art piece like friends of mine who back in the day would have been on tiny little cassette labels and now working with Cerith Wyn Evans and their noise pieces are being bought by collectors.” – Mark Stewart interviewed for The Wire by Mark Fisher8 I: "Our outfits may be misinterpreted. We're kind of a homage to Mao sensibility, a cultural revolution, but synthesized with a Beatles at Shea Stadium thing. For us there's two similar strains going on, which is the subversion of the individual, the idea of the communal mass mind, the insects, the Beatles, the bug, the Mao..." 9
IN MASS MIND
The second in the Make Up’s teasing trilogy of great studio LPs was In Mass Mind, released on their own Black Gemini label through Dischord in 1998. For the recording of this Royal Trux were invited to take their place at the controls, and chose to bill themselves as Adam and Eve. It was an intriguing liaison: Jennifer Herrema and Neil Michael Hagerty were one of more appealingly odd and contradictory partnerships in pop, and probably one of the few creative teams the Make Up admired. It was a good match. The sound of In Mass Mind is discernibly the Make Up’s mod-din take on gospel music, but there is a strange sinuous c.1986 soulful strut to proceedings (c.f. The Fall’s Bend Sinister particularly, and Felt’s Forever Breathes The Lonely Word and the Jasmine Minks’ Another Age perhaps). It’s a great record for anyone who likes the 13th Floor Elevators, Suicide’s second LP and 5000 Volts’ I’m On Fire. There are plenty of diversions though, including the Jackie Mittoo-style dub instrumental interludes and some odd ‘hardcore’ rave- pop riffs and wrecking effects tossed into the pot to spice things up. Indeed it can be argued the Make Up approach is not dissimilar to that of the artists who released records on labels Kickin and Suburban Base in the very early 1990s. The thinking behind In Mass Mind may well be to draw attention to the ‘hive mentality’ and the dangers of being a drone. Ian does his best to disguise the message though, and adopts the role of shrill irritant factor, mangling meaning through repetition. He might as well be singing in Esperanto or in code. He may just want to be irritating. As with Chica Sato and the Plastics, Ari Up and the Slits, the gibbering and jabbering, the tantrums and strops serve to disguise a canny insightfulness. The antagonism is deliberate, an urge to be ‘not right’, like Kevin Rowland and Kevin Archer rehearsing for hours on end to find a different way of singing, and coming up with something provocative like the falsetto on Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply.
The inner sleeve of In Mass Mind features teen magazine photo-story style shots of the group, and there is an accompanying booklet which features an essay on “downsizing in rock ‘n’ roll”, previewing the archly argumentative style I.F.S. returns to in The Psychic Soviet. There is a temptation to smile wryly at the polemics, but then when you stop and think about, say, hip-hop where are the modern-day equivalents of the Wu-Tang Clan or Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five? Sustaining the sense of 1986-redux is the fascinating cover of Anita Baker’s Caught Up In The Rapture, apparently arranged by Neil Hagerty. It’s got a Soul Coaxing/Soul Limbo feel with Ian sounding suspiciously as though he might lapse into a rendition of Gary Glitter’s I Love You Love Me Love at any moment. It’s great fun, and an intriguing choice. Anita’s version of the song is one of those smooth soul performances that can rub people up the wrong way and make some listeners extremely uncomfortable. Some critics have adopted the position that black music should not ooze such quality and distinction, silkiness and luxury. It’s like the way roots reggae rarities might be seen to be of significance by some who might dismiss sophisticated lovers rock productions as formulaic. There is a nasty sense of ‘know your place’ and ‘we’d really rather you act the freak’ in such comments. Jah Wobble is someone who has said how much he loved Anita Baker’s Rapture LP. His own recording Love Mystery, with Ollie Marland and Shara Nelson, covers similar ground. The same can be said of the Style Council’s The Cost of Loving LP. Anita’s success was very much part of a boom in slick soul productions, the quiet storms and slow jams that got played a lot on pirate radio stations at night. The Jasmine Minks reference this in their song Soul Station, though that’s not the sort of thing that is mentioned in ‘official versions’ of pop history. But, then, underground pop music c.1986 was presented by the media in such a way that the most appealing parts would be systematically undermined, stripped of meaning, deliberately misinterpreted, drearily documented, and brutally lumped in with the obviously worthless. Instead those in positions of influence encouraged the elevation of oceanic drones and blissful drifts. “But that being said, I mean I look at these records being put out by the underground groups and some of them are cool. But most of them, you can't even tell what the group's called. It just seems like obfuscation for the sake of being obfuscatory. Or is that obscurantism? Why bury the vocal so nobody can understand what you say. I like to hear what people say. Even if it's stupid. It should be stupid, it's rock and roll. And how do you expect to make a hit? I still think when I make music I want to make a song that's a hit. Even though I know that's never going to be a hit and nobody'll ever buy it.”10
You must do a lot of research for these books? Quite a bit. Which is, of course, the most addictive thing in the world. You would love to do nothing but research. Why? Because you're reading extraordinary and fascinating accounts by people who were in an important place at an important moment, they think. Frankly, my period, 1933-1944 is
endless. No one will ever tell all the stories, or even know all the stories from that period, because it was such an immense kind of thing – Alan Furst interviewed on the Crime Time site11
There are parallels between the unlikely appeal of The Fallen Leaves’ beat noise and Alan Furst’s reinvigoration of the spy story. Furst’s historical, espionage-themed ‘entertainments’ can be enjoyed as thrilling reads; as tales of ordinary people, quite possibly in exile, doing exceptional things in Old Europe, often involuntarily, in the anti-fascist cause. But the books (and accompanying interviews) are peppered with references and allusions to writers such as Joseph Roth, Olivia Manning, Isaac Babel, Victor Serge, Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Ilya Ehrenburg, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Arthur Koestler, and André Malraux. This is Jean-Luc Godard ‘quotation for fun’ territory, but it’s part of the experience. Furst importantly has immersed himself in the music of that time, too, and is a big fan of Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Lee Wiley and so on. There will be many readers whose lives have been enriched by following Furst’s signposts and carefully placed clues. There will be many who couldn’t give two hoots. Understandably a big influence on Furst’s writing was John Le Carré and in particular his Smiley novels. The contrast is that Le Carré has written best about his own time , and the books serve as valuable historical documents of the Cold War era and capture a particular period in a way all the younger ‘confident’ historians fail to. A passing reference can say more than a university theses: in Smiley’s People Le Carré has his lead character considering graffiti on a park bench on Hampstead Heath: “’Punk is destructive. Society does not need it.' The assertion caused him a moment's indecision. 'Oh, but society does,' he wanted to reply; 'society is an association of minorities.’”
BLUE IS BEAUTIFUL
Ian Svenonius’ book of essays The Psychic Soviet starts with the 1991 defeat of international socialism and refers to the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the most grievous psychological event in recent history”. A certain Cold War nostalgia underpins similarly the film Blue is Beautiful, made by James Schneider to provide an entertaining context in which to place rivetting footage of the Make Up in action. The film was initially released on VHS cassette tape in 1998, and later released on DVD as part of a Make Up In Film/On Video package. At the start of the film the members of the Make Up are seen approaching an unidentified customs/immigration control point. They are on the verge of defecting, about to seek sanctuary or political asylum. They say: “We have to leave.” There have been clandestine warnings, words to the wise, threats, surveillance, counterfeit groups perverting content, and so on. Quite simply the group have got to get out of the U.S.A.
A member of the security personnel asks: “How did you survive?” The group’s response (which the film then details) is that there is a secret network: it exists under the official system of expression, beneath the official perception, often in the wilderness or in the darkness. This has echoes of partisans, the resistance, special operations and undercover saboteurs during WW2. For the Make Up the network consists of record shops, cafés, and comminity spaces where they can meet people and play. This is all pre-digital cameras, smart phones, social network sites, etc. where every movement is revealed and captured. The film is fun: a little bit Pierrot Le Fou or Alphaville perhaps, but maybe more like JerUSAlem, the Paolo Hewitt-scripted Style Council film. Indeed, significantly, JerUSAlem and Blue is Beautiful are the same length at 33 minutes. There is one of Ian’s essays in The Psychic Soviet called The Stilyagi, which starts: “Historical revisionists are at work around the clock assigning false meanings to all events.” It’s really about The Style Council which Ian describes as “the most conceptual, the most politically radical, the most effeminate, and certainly the most interesting” Weller incarnation. He adds: “The Style Council watched foreign films, read Sartre, drank espresso, and dug Italian furniture. They also casually propogated world revolution”. It’s followed by another essay, The Seduction of Paolo Hewitt – The Oasis Story which shows the side Svenonius is always going to be on.
The Make Up of Blue is Beautiful is a group on the run, presenting themselves as moving targets, adopting subterfuge to confuse, changing identity, name, form, regularly issuing statements in the guise of underground pop 7”s. These singles, occasionally shared, came out on a variety of labels. In the pop context this was not the done thing, but in an old reggae and soul environment this would have been the norm, making it hard to track any linear development. Indeed the Make Up are best heard on these singles, now conveniently collected on a crashing, smashing, cracking, ringing compilation, I Want Some. This is the Make Up at their varied and vivid peak, the clatter and chatter of The Fall's rebellious jukebox jive, an erotic neurotic mod dance, a right old row and sweet as candy, corrupt choirboy carry-on and foxfire frenzy girl group dramatics which add up to the chant: “James Canty you're my guitar hero, the keyboard king”. The accompanying booklet uses lots of old (familiar fanzine fodder) Godard imagery and text (e.g. from My Approach in Four Movements), along side a series of ‘dear diary’ entries about the rise of the Make Up resistance movement. It’s entertaining stuff, but there is an irony in that in recent years stories have emerged about rock ‘n’ roll groups and folk singers who really had to go into exile when fascist regimes ruled in Latin America and southern Europe during the ‘hippy era’. There was censorship and suspicion of rock ‘n’ roll music in the Eastern Bloc too, particularly in the post-Prague Spring Czechoslovakia, but in difficult circumstances some exceptional music was made, though this was studiously suppressed and ignored by the US/UK axis. In the digital age unofficial archaeology work (particularly on YouTube) has provided access to a wealth of astonishingly good pop music from the Socialist East: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Russia itself.
There is a dangerous school of thought that suggests admiration for Soviet-era pop, particularly from the latter half of the 1960s, falls into the category of irony or exoticism. This is insulting, full stop. A single listen to, say, the remarkable recordings of Marta Kubisova made in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of the Prague Spring would reveal some exceptional, inventive and torrid pop. The greatest 1960s sounds of eastern Europe were not indistinct copies of Western rock ‘n’ roll: where things got really interesting was when the music took on aspects of local folk music melodies and fused the traditional with the new electric noise. Authentic it may not have been. Oaf-fan-tizzy-tea: people still tie themselves up in knots about the very idea. Dexys Midnight Runners, for example, are ordinarily portrayed as the most painfully sincere of groups, and yet their source sounds and initial inspirations were among the most ‘unreal’: the youth club disco and civic hall soul revues like Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers and Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band; the ‘bubblegum’ soul of The Foundations, Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon, The Fantastics; the populism of Chuck Woods’ Seven Days Too Long, a Northern Soul favourite that was part of Pye’s Disco Demands series, and so on. As for the Make Up: well, the clue is in the name. “No, really, says Willy, there are none. Oh I expect you’ve just got yourself the new Topic album by Peggy Seeger and Ewan Whose Army, but those aren’t Jacobite songs. Those were all written seventy, eighty, ninety years after the event by middle-aged middle-class maiden ladies in Edinburgh New Town sitting-rooms enamoured of the wild Romantic Gael from reading too many Waverley novels.” – Robert Sproat, Stunning The Punters.
THE NEW LOOK Your whole image seems very important. IAN: Of course it is. The way we look onstage is to minimize this association with our individual personalities, to exalt the higher ideology and the meaning of the band. But also to create an aesthetic appearance of unity on stage. Our record covers of course, we love beauty. Just because you're an ideologist doesn't mean you can't love beauty. We're very aesthetically concerned people.12
There may have been some scientific research into this area already. If so it is likely to reveal that groups which give some thought to and take some care about how they look are inherently better. It would make sense. It gets pretty depressing opening up a magazine or clicking on a website and seeing seemingly endless aggregates with beards
and checked shirts. They look as unremarkable as their music sounds. This cannot be coincidental. Quite rightly in Supernatural Strategies Ian Svenonius gives supreme importance to the group photo. This is natural enough. This is a man who loves the camera. He is good in front of the camera. He is probably good behind the camera too. The groups he has been in have taken particular care with their image: this especially applies to the Make Up. A large part of the Make Up’s charm was the way they adopted a particular look onstage, a look that evolved subtly. But the best groups are ones that look distinguished and singularly romantic offstage too. And the Make Up seemed to look just right even when going about their daily business. With the best groups certain images become fixed in the mind. With, say, Subway Sect it is a 1977 photo of the group outside a hair salon offering Jubilee Cut & Blows for £2.75.13 What they were wearing would be studied in great depth. Sometimes that fixed image is not necessarily a logical one. It might be based on a photo briefly glimpsed, but which remains in the mind’s eye. There is one of the Small Faces in the rain with baby alligators on leads which is particularly effective. So, for example, one lingering image of the Make Up is of the group off-duty, hunched up inside matching pea coats. It is a very strong look, with all sorts of bohemian and mod connotations. The pea coat is an excellent choice of apparel for the Make Up. Why? Douglas Hart, a leading authority on the significance of the pea coat, has kindly provided a brilliant explanation for this issue: THE PEA COAT by Douglas Hart Lord Effingham’s seal. 10 buttons showing. Fouled anchor with 13 stars. 30 ounce Kersey wool. Cream Coloured Corduroy …
I buy spare pea coat buttons from a lady called Mary (always signs her letters “god bless America“) who owns a flea market in a one-horse town in Coffey County, Kansas – Pop: 2,674. It is not a port town; it isn’t even near the sea, yet Mary has had many hundreds of pea coats and maybe thousands of buttons. The fact that she has a bucket load of buttons salvaged from dead coats tells us just how flesh thirsty our preceding generation was … or at least just how war mongering the political class who were calling the shots that rained down on the mass produced sailors, soldiers and airmen who went to war in mass produced jackets, jumpers and boots. Even though the legend “quantity has a quality all of its own” was a Soviet term for military material during the great patriotic war, it applies just as well to the men and women who wore the clothes we now seek out in flea markets and second hand shops (it’s “second hand” NOT “vintage”… someone wore that dress before you … changing the name won’t change that fact). By the 1950s, after WW2 and the Korean War, millions of demobbed sailor boys and GIs found themselves back on Civvy Street. Consequently, the uniforms that were not smuggled home from ships lockers and Army barracks, fed an explosion of government surplus, resulting in well-stocked army and navy stores in every town and city, both allied and axis. At first the clientele was strictly working class … every factory worker and picket liner took their lunch to work in an army gas mask haversack, which they slung over the shoulder of an RAF greatcoat, Royal Navy duffle coat, or a US Navy pea coat. The pea coat, in my eyes, was the dandiest of them all. Gathered at the waist, flaring out
around the hips, with lightly padded shoulders creating the classic fitted silhouette we all know and love. The 1940s pea coats particularly would not look out of place in the window of a Saville Row tailor (indeed, the roots of this type of heavy wool, double breasted, three quarter length coat are said to have come from a jacket the Prince of Wales had made by his favourite tailor (the spawn of Victoria 1, not Elizabeth 2). How could you resist such a functional tailored garment of midnight blue 30 ounce Kersey wool?
Generally speaking, as the years went on the coats became less fitted and tailored, with the current issue being shockingly oversized and shapeless (“under the coat, a body is to be presumed”). I imagine it was a combination of this tailored look; the indestructible construction; and the lightness of price due to the incredible numbers produced that appealed to what would later be called beatniks. Every hitchhiking poet, troubadour, San Francisco digger and neophyte actor in the Group Theatre, later the Actors Studio, kept warm and looked scruffy sharp by turning up the collar of their 10 button pea coat, or of its little sister, the N1 foul weather jacket (waist length, made of Khaki coloured canvas whip cord and lined with alpaca). Up until 1980, the US Navy pea coat was made of 30 ounce Kersey wool: heavy, coarse, wool that had been made in the same way for over 200 years. Modern, poncified pea coat manufacturers call Kersey wool “low grade” (not to be confused with Lew Grade, the man that produced the Anthony Burgess-scripted Jesus of Nazareth TV movie). But by this, these half-baked haberdashers mean it’s not as soft and flexible as, say, Melton wool, which is what all post 1980 pea coats are made from (usually mixed with polyester). I get the feeling that Kersey wool cloth is hard to find these days simply because it is so hard wearing and long-lasting: modern freemarketeering manufacturers despise anything that will last a hundred years without having to be replaced. The basic design has remained essentially the same for over 200 years. WW1 and earlier versions had an extra set of pockets at the hip. The slimmer fitting, 10 button design, lasted from the 20s till 1946. The 10 button coat is also described as having “8 buttons showing”(with 2 under the collar). Then, in ‘47, came the 8 button (6 buttons showing, 2 under) design that we see today. This version enabled the, now larger, lapels to sit flat against the chest when not fully buttoned up, whereas on the earlier version, the lapels, being smaller, tend to stick up in a kind of midnight blue sharks fin arrangement. The 10-button version also had a storm flap that that was buttoned flat against the underside of the collar when not in use. When in use, it brings the two sides of the collar together under the chin, and gives the wearer the look of a kitten with a post-op, anti-lick
collar on. In fact, on all versions, it’s this large, stand-up collar that is one of the best, and most distinctive things about the Navy issue coat (cheap copies skimp on material, especially on the collar). Sterlingwear of Boston, who makes the current US Navy issue pea coat, describe the collar as having the feel a gentle hand on the back of your head. The pea coat is often also called a Reefer jacket: the reefer being the sailor who shinnied up the mast to unfurl the sails, otherwise known as reefs. He needed a jacket that was heavy and warm, but that would give him the flexibility in the waist to bend while climbing.
All pea coats have large buttons that feature the fouled anchor design. It dates back to 1588, when it was the private seal of Lord Effingham (he of the “carry on…” name), who was the Lord High Admiral when the British fleet defeated the Spanish Armada. Up until the late ‘30s, the US Navy also added 13 stars in a circle around the anchor. I guess coats with such buttons, from the pre-WW2 navy, are pretty hard to come by, but the buttons do turn up, even at Mary’s flea market in Coffey, Kansas. Why are they called Pea Coats? Well no one knows for sure … and anyone who says they know is a bleedin’ liar. The best guesses are that since the kind of heavy, dark blue cloth used in such sailors’ garments was called Pij cloth in Flemish at a time when Holland ruled the waves and had trading links with the pre United States (think New York’s pre British history name - New Amsterdam), so Pij becomes Pea in the Babel of the mongrel tongued Port city … Or, that, this particular colour of Kersey wool was once called Pilot Cloth … so again, Pilot becomes P, or pea, for short (though Pilot is pretty short and snappy as it is, don’t you all think?!). So take your pick as to which you think is more plausible. Dating a pea coat is pretty easy, though. Before 1967, when they started to embed the year of issue in the contract number (which had been added to the label in 1953) it becomes harder to be specific about the actual year of manufacture. You can tell a WW2 coat by the cut and the label, but not the exact year (though who cares?). It also goes for 8 button coats, from the change over from 10 buttons in 1946 till 1967 when the dated contract number appeared on the label. If you can be arsed, there are several differences in design of these labels, and other little details (the number of rows of stitching on the sleeve), that can help you date a pre ‘67 coat, but I won’t bore you with them now. Though, look out for the corduroy-lined hand warmer pockets, which were discontinued in 1968. Mostly this snug, warm lining was constructed of cream coloured cord, or, more rarely, black or dark green. I love US Navy pea coats for the reasons I’ve mentioned above: the tailoring, the utility, the price, and the beauty of the images of preceding generations, both sailor and beatnik, who wore them. I imagine this was in part what inspired the Make Up and Nation of Ulysses to sport them too. Both bands had a highly developed sense of style. I remember the first time I saw NOU: Bobby Gillespie and me were the only two customers on a slow Tuesday morning in a record store in Memphis, Tennessee. The store was just up the street from Ardent studios, where Primal Scream were recording with Tom Dowd. We both glanced out of the window of the store to see a beat up old VW camper van pull up, out of
which spilled the Nation of Ulysses. They looked incredible … for all the world like five John Cassavetes, circa 1962, with tight suits and slicked back hair. They handed us a flyer for their show that night in a tiny, inky, club just up the street. Bob and I went, taking along Andrew Weatherall who had come to town for a few days. The band lived up to their image that night … coming across like James Chance meets the Birthday Party (I think one of the band wore a hair net, in the style of a 60s street punk from Puerto Rico). We hung out with the band later, and brought them back to a deserted Ardent studio in the wee small hours of the morning to let them record on down time. We have kept in touch with Ian ever since; and two of the others in NOU, James Canty and Steve Gamboa, formed the Make Up with him the year after this meeting in Tennessee.
SAVE YOURSELF “Dear Diary, just as our desires have blossomed and our intentions expanded, so has our arsenal of arrangements and orchestral pronouncements. Our themes have also deviated from the strictly dialectic imagery of our earlier work to include tracts concerning the White Orpheus and the Grey Motorcycle. When the congregate first heard this seismic shift, there was a brief scuffling discontent, which was quickly revealed to be just another counter-revolutionary ruse; oh joy! our zealous and loving cabal’s faith could not be shaken!”
If The Make Up’s life cycle followed a particular pattern it was the mod trajectory, so by the time, Save Yourself, the third part of the group’s series of great studio LPs appeared in 1999 the sound was a little more heavy, the hair a little wilder, the clothes a little more flamboyant, and things generally a little looser. Brendan Canty, sibling of the Make Up’s Brother James, was at the controls for this one, taking time out from his Fugazi activities. And Fugazi, let us not forget, were a remarkable group, becoming undeniably popular despite essentially blacklisted by the official media outlets.
Many mods went psychedelic as the ‘60s progressed, and that was a far more interesting strategy for the Make Up to follow. Later models were far less colourful and bold, such as the ‘80s trend of becoming smoother and over-produced as groups succumbed to business pressures. The sound on Save Yourself therefore has a definite Elektra 1969, Jimi H., Funkadelic/Parliament, Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today, Cloud Nine/Psychedelic Shack etc. ‘heavy soul’ strut about it. Of course things are never quite that simple with the Make Up, but that’s the way things were progressing.
In a British context it’s tempting to think of the Pretty Things and Deviants as handy reference points, but the godlike genius of Eddy Grant would be nearer the mark. What that guy got up to was positively revolutionary, but who was paying attention? He tore up the rule books, and threw them and everything else into a concrete mixer. What he did with The Equals should be enough, but his extra-curricular activities were extraordinary, if hardly documented, from writing ska and reggae hits for The Pyramids and others to his logic-defying virtual groups which released LPs on President/Jayboy. In 1969 there was the 32nd Turn Off LP, which was Eddy with the Sundae Times kids: Wendell Richardson, Conrad Isidore and Fuzzy Samuel. On Young People, particularly, there is a manic Make Up thing going on, with Eddy urging: “You don’t need a bomb to make the people hear ya. You don’t need a gun to make the people fear ya, uh huh, you know what I mean?” And there are mad ad lib references to Dyke and the Blazers, the Camel Walk, Maggie’s Farm, Eddie Floyd, etc. and at the end there’s a pioneering piece of psychedelic rock-meets-reggae long before Chris Blackwell urged Bob Marley down that rocky road. Then in 1971 Eddy, with Roy Knight who had been in The Pyramids, made the wildest of progressive LPs under the name Zappatta Schmidt, which featured sweet soul sing-alongs, with some heavy afro rock, psychedelic reggae, tough Hammond and brass driven funk grooves, and progressive blues dances. The opener Zappatta in the City is a twelve-minute masterpiece about how tough life can be. It is a record that should be wildly celebrated. The same with the 32nd Turn Off one. But these LPs are ridiculously rare. The Make Up’s Save Yourself features some of their strongest songs, but perhaps most significantly it closes with an eight-minute romp through the standard Hey Joe. It’s as if the group has decided to take on the most obvious choice of cover they possibly could. It is one thing to take a painfully hip and obscure number to demonstrate cool credentials, but it is far more of a challenge to take the overly-familiar and make it new again. “We like Love, we like Jimi H., so we’ll do Hey Joe”. Of course. And it works, it really, really works. Brother James is on fire. And Ian is joined by Heather Worley as his foil, and it gets very steamy as she tries to tempt Joe back home from Mexico. In fact it gets rather James White/Lydia Lunch or Sylvia-style Pillow Talk as the song approaches its climax. And was that the end of The Make Up, appropriately singing about being in exile, on the run?
A COMMENT ON RITUAL “Only the titles were changed. In Moscow, the youth gangs that counted had all been named after English pop groups of the sixties, the more obscure the cooler. Wimp suburbanites chose the Beatles and Rolling Stones; inner-city stylists preferred the Yardbirds or Them. On Novokuz, which must always be hippest of all, prime icons included John’s Children, The Action, the Troggs.” – Nik Cohn, The Heart of the World “The story of the Bronx gangs is a dub history of 1968 through 1973, the other side of the revolution, the exception that became the rule.” – Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop
If Ian Svenonius, James Canty and Steve Gamboa looked like members of a gang in Nation of Ulysses then that fits. I.F.S. dwells on the theme of the urban street gang being the precursor of the rock ‘n’ roll group in Supernatural Strategies. He reports Mary Wells’ words and Buddy Holly’s thoughts on the subject. But how many groups are truly rooted in gang culture? One classically bona fide example is The Ghetto Brothers, a Latin Rock ensemble that grew out of what was one of the most notorious of South Bronx gangs. The Ghetto Brothers’ sole (soul!!!) LP, Power Fuerza, from 1971, originally released as a small print run by Ismael Maisonave’s Salsa Records, has been given a deluxe reissue by the Truth & Soul label. The CD comes in a gorgeous hard backed cover format encasing an 80-page booklet, with text by Jeff Mao who recounts the story of how a Puerto Rican South Bronx street gang evolved into a community activity organisation, led by (Yellow) Benjy Meléndez and his brothers, with Karate Charlie. It’s a tale evocatively related in Henry Chalfant and Rita Fecher’s documentary Flyin’ Cut Sleeves. It’s a story also told in Jeff Chang’s excellent Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, a dub history of the hip-hop generation. Curiously, and maybe all the more endearingly, for wild kids The Ghetto Brothers’ record is remarkably sweet and quite vulnerable. They take Latin sounds and progressive rock, but overwhelmingly it is The Beatles’ influence that pervades proceedings, with the lingering impression of “kids in gang colors singing angelic harmonies in the street”. There are elements too of Sly & the Family Stone’s I Want To Take You Higher, Archie Bell and the Drells’ Tighten Up, the Young Rascals, Joe Bataan, and so on, but it’s that cherubic Beatles-style blending of voices that is so striking, particularly when the words being sung by Yellow Benjy are remarkably naked, oddly honest love songs, which sit so easily alongside themes of Puerto Rican nationalism. At the time The Ghetto Brothers’ record was made the gang itself (a massive entity) was one of the South Bronx’s most feared outfits, along side the Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls. There were many other South Bronx street gangs at the time, all fiercely protecting their territory: the Roman Kings, Black Spades, Turbans, Javelin, Cypress Bachelors, Seven Immortals, Dirty Dozen, etc. The Ghetto Brothers, led by Benjy Meléndez, after the death of their ‘peacemaker’ Black Benjie chose to channel destructive energy in a different
way, and become a positive force in the very deprived neighbourhood in which they lived, cleaning streets, helping with homework, and so on.
In this way The Ghetto Brothers temporarily aligned themselves with other organisations such as the Black Panthers and in particular the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican/Chicago street gang which at the end of the ‘60s evolved into a national organisation to promote human rights and community activity. The Young Lords were particularly active in New York, disseminating information through the newspaper Palante, getting involved in causes such as education, welfare and health care, sanitation, living conditions, tenants’ rights, etc. until the forces of repression (CIA, FBI, COINTELPRO) ripped out the heart of the organisation. “I had forgotten how young, defiant and determined we were. We saw ourselves as instruments of change, students of revolution. What we lacked in terms of experience, we made up for with enthusiasm and commitment. Viewing photographs from forty years past, we milled through the exhibit, scrutinizing photos, graying militants remembering, owning our pasts. Like many of those present at the gathering, I had carved my path to activism on city streets. Forty years later, I retraced those early steps. “On September 19, 2008 I gathered my notebooks, my memories, and a tape recorder and traveled to Chicago for a reunion of sorts, a series of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Young Lords Organization (YLO). A militant Puerto Rican organization in the United States, the Young Lords’ bold, innovative, mobilizations garnered the attention of surrounding communities as well as the media and local police.” From: A Common Cause: 40 Years of Struggle and Remembrance – by Martha Arguello14 “The YLP drew up a 13-Point Program that outlined the group’s political objectives. It included independence for Puerto Rico, as well as liberation for all Latinos and other oppressed people. The Young Lords upheld the struggle against women’s oppression and openly denounced the capitalist system, calling for a socialist society. The Young Lords eventually voiced support for the rights of LGBT people. By all definition, the YLP gravitated towards communism.
“These young revolutionaries believed that the power of the people would eventually overwhelm the power of the oppressors. In that spirit, the YLP believed in the right of armed self-defense. This became evident in actions they took while patrolling the streets in areas they organized. Whenever the Young Lords witnessed the police arresting community residents, they would intervene to confront the racist cops and often liberated the arrestees.” - From: Young Lords, Palante: Lessons in struggle - On the 40-year anniversary of the founding of the Young Lords - Carlito Rovira (courtesy of LiberationNews.org)15
From: Crafting the People’s Revolution in El Barrio: The Young Lords’ People’s Church by Darrel Enck-Wanzer16
There is a remarkable, if very brief, piece of footage on YouTube of the young poet Pedro Pietri reciting his great work Puerto Rican Obituary, presumably at a Young Lords meeting in the very early ‘70s. In The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry Pedro described himself as “a Native New Yorker born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1898 and 1943 and 1998 – PoetPlaywright, Wise Guy, Stand-up Undertaker, Ex-Prophet and Member of “LIMCWM” (Latin Insomniacs Motor Club Without Motor Cycles)”. He was one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poets Café and he claimed that he was ordained a Reverend by the Ministry of Improvised Salvation. In 1979 the Folkways label put out Loose Joints, an LP of Pedro
reading a selection of his poetry. In the liner notes he wrote: “I wrote rock ‘n’ roll songs that will live forever in the hallways and rooftops of tenement buildings demolished before the pre-meditated panic of the ‘60s.” In 1974 one of Pedro’s plays was staged at Miriam Colon's Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre in Manhattan. It was called The Masses Are Asses.
LAST TRAIN TO COOL He can’t be contained. He pops up everywhere. They can’t seem to stop him. They put him down, but he bounces back up. Svenonius still refuses to be pinned and mounted. Since the Make Up’s break-up he’s been in the Scene Creamers and Weird War. As David Candy he’s played Dirk Bogarde to Mike Alway’s Joseph Losey. He’s been DJ Name Names, a boutique owner, ‘cruise director’ and MC for the Bruise Cruise, a magical mystery tour of some sort. He’s written witty and wise essays and appeared as a genial and urbane chat show host fronting the Soft Focus shows for VICE TV.
The Soft Focus shows where Ian interviews ‘underground rock’ luminaries are a delight. The episode featuring Ian and Mark E. Smith chatting about astrology is priceless. The Soft Focus concept seems to have been cooked up by Jesse Pearson with I.F.S. Pearson was editor of Vice for a long time. He now runs a new magazine called Apology. Pearson also edited Supernatural Strategies. He did a good job of that, actually. Some of the bigger publishing houses like Faber could try something radical like using a decent editor, or even proof readers. It might help them become less of a laughing stock. Musically, Svenonius has reconvened the Make Up for special occasions; he’s provided vocals and words for the DFA hit number Simple Things (Work It Out) by Shit Robot, which is in the tradition of D.O.S.E’s Plug Myself In with Mark E. Smith and raises the question of why so much great electronic music has such pitiably lame singing on; and with Brendon Canty and Tom Bunnell he’s part of the ‘virtual group’ Felt Letters. For someone who can be painted as a bit of ‘stick-in-the-mud’ the Felt Letters ‘campaign’ is pretty fascinating conceptually and oddly ‘of-the-moment’ in terms of execution. Essentially the Felt Letters way of working is for the group to issue mock singles on YouTube in the way a fan would post their favourite tracks, with a single accompanying image loaded with meaning of one form or another. This was not done in the way, say, Momus operates nowadays, but in a far more ‘guerrilla’ sense, playing with ideas of how the pop process works now. Anna
Travis of The Leisure Manual was particularly astute at spotting what Felt Letters were up to, and wrote a very sharp article on “bait for the new archive predators”.17 Just to mess things up further there has actually been one ‘real’ Felt Letters 7”, which was issued by M’lady’s Records of Oregon in 2009. This paired 600,000 Bands with Lone Wolf – No Club. One goes: “50,000 sound like Can, 50,000 sound like Manfred Mann, I’m starting one like a Kool and the Gang.” It sounds a bit like some of The Fall’s more electronic moments or some of Denim’s even. That’s a good thing. The other side could be a distant relative of a Cramps songtitle or a Suicide number. It sort of seems churlish to hope that the other Felt Letters ‘offerings’ might be collected on a ‘real’ record of some sort: such a wish seems to be missing the point somehow, but you know.. The M’lady’s label has also reissued The Make Up’s I Want Some singles collection on vinyl. It seems to be one of the more appealing and adventurous of the underground pop labels. Among its catalogue are gems by Coasting, Brute Heart and Yellow Fever. But the real highlight is a 7” by Reynosa, which pairs Carinito with Caballeras, and has been variously described as psychedelic cumbia and spiritual Latin punk. Clips of the group playing live, posted on YouTube, are mesmerising, but as these are now ‘historical documents’ it raises very important questions about why on earth this group has not been championed in the way, say, (fill in this blank with the latest b(r)and there’s been a buzz about but who will rapidly be happily forgotten) have. The stark photos of Reymosa that are part of a shoot by Ryan Kost are particularly striking, and oddly suit the trio’s sound.18
When did you start M’ladys and what were your motivations? 2007, my 30th birthday. I wanted to see a record company operate in a way that would be provocative to the status quo. To be a revolutionary concern rather than just a petit bourgeois small business. And to operate at an appropriate level and size, to resist the temptation and urge to act as a cultural vacuum cleaner, which seems to be the impetus of most other businesses. – Brett Lyman interviewed by the Research PDX site19
M’lady’s is run by Brett Lyman and Fiona Campbell, who also play a mean guitar and demonic drums respectively in the latest incarnation of Chain and the Gang, Ian Svenonius’ main musical outlet ‘de nos jours’. They feature on the 2012 Chain and the Gang LP, In Cool Blood, the third in a series of fascinating records which have been released by K Records and recorded at Dub Narcotic. The first couple of Chain and the Gang records were pretty much recorded with the K Records ‘wrecking crew’ of singers and players, but the third LP was a dramatic new start with a new set of musicians making a racket and Katie Alice Greer joining the fun as the perfect vocal and visual foil to I.F.S. Yeah, Ian and Katie Alice: they’re quite a team, quite the tag team, the Yin and Yang of Chain and the Gang. In those all-important publicity photos they look like a pair of crime
busters who might have their own syndicated TV series: a dynamic duo fearlessly fighting corruption in high places. Their hair and clothes look particularly good. On record they sound even better. The chemistry is combustible, the tension palpable, as the pair trade lines, in a call-and-response, classroom taunt and playground chant kind of way. They are a pair of wisecracking wiseacres, razor sharp and whip smart. Pop music is often at its best when boys and girls spar in this way.
Girls against boys? Like Mickey and Sylvia? Oh yeah! Uh-huh! Miki and Griff? Well, not really. Shirley and Lee? Sure. Nancy and Lee? Of course. Peters and Lee? Don’t push it! Keely Smith and Louis Prima? Swing it! Inez and Charlie Foxx? Mmm. Serge G. and Jane B.? Mais oui. Mac and Katie Kissoon? Why not? Bob and Marcia? Definitely. Nino Tempo and April Stevens? Grrr, teach me tiger. Paul and Paula? Indeed. George Jones and Tammy W.? Nice. Marvin and Tammy T.? Now you’re talking. Esther & Abi Ofarim? Fine. Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin? True. Mark E. and Brix Smith? Certainly. Roxanne Shante and Kool G. Rap? Deadly! Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds? Smart. Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly? You know the answer to that one already. Musically, this third Chain and the Gang record is pretty primitive, in the best possible way. It’s even recorded in mono. It makes its position quite clear. It’s unapologetic about being so primordial. And the band certainly whips up one hell of a storm, the drums clattering away, and the electric guitar howling like hellhounds are on its trail, etc. It’s like the Gang’s been banged up with just a copy of a Jukebox at Eric’s style compilation tape, as put together by the mighty Roger Eagle. You know, Bobby Lee Trammell’s New Dance in France, Tommy Blake’s F-Olding Money, and all sorts of other rockin’ madness. Throw in a selection of the sort of stuff Guy Stevens would put out on the Sue label when he could get away with it, and that’s where Chain and the Gang are at. Once again the perverse vitality of this Chain and the Gang record raises ridiculous questions about music and the critical pressure for it to be original. Svenonius and the Gang have obviously decided they don’t want to play that way. They take very basic, highly obvious ingredients, but why not? The approach works. In Cool Blood sizzles incongruously. The sound’s not dissimilar to say Jonathan Richman or the Panther Burns at times. And the funny thing is with those artists, well, say JoJo’s I Jonathan LP from 1992: it now sounds a hell of a lot less dated than say records of the same vintage by The Orb or Cypress Hill. It’s the same with Tav Falco and the Panther Burns: Behind The Magnolia Curtain sounds far more fresh than its celebrated contemporaries like Penthouse and Pavements or Computer World. Actually, accentuating the primal nature of In Cool Blood is to be disingenuous and a mite misleading. The Gang are not philistines, and the Diddley squat thrusts are tough and agile enough to appeal to anyone with an open mind and a basic need to have the occasional jump-start. A fan of the Delta 5 should like In Cool Blood, for example. ESG and the Bush Tetras? Yup. Richard Hell and the Voidoids? Certainly. Snatch? Naturally.
Toni Basil? Oh go on then. The Nectarine No. 9? Now you’re talking. Dexys? You betcha. There’s a funny thing about the assumed simplicity of Svenonius and co. on In Cool Blood. Perhaps that raincoat Ian’s wearing on the cover is a Columbo style prop, deliberately unassuming like the Lieutenant. It’s not exactly playing dumb, because actually it’s an incredibly complex thing to be so straight-forward. It takes a way with words to be so plain-spoken. Certain Kinds of Trash is perhaps the track that just might have been a hit record. In fact it’s a kissin’ cousin of Thrift Shop by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Trash is a sort of inventory of the ‘garbage’ that’s not really around anymore. Jonathan Richman’s Old World springs to mind when this song plays. What’s Svenonius’ take on this old rubbish? Is it an analogy for things that have disappeared being of more value or interest than what constitutes ‘today’s trash’? As in new things ain’t necessarily better things? Perhaps. Pretty central to the whole Chain and the Gang game is the idea that ‘freedom’ doesn’t seem to be doing us any good. That’s where the name comes in: “we’ll keep our chains”. The first LP was called Down With Liberty ... Up With Chains! On this third one they sing about Free Will, or rather how there’s nothing that’s really free: Free Speech? Can’t stand what they teach! Free press? It’s a mess! Free love? Yeeugh, all those kisses and hugs! Free? You’ve gotta pay and pay and pay. They’re right, too. They usually are. And for a bit of light ‘relief’ there’s the very funny, very steamy Heavy Breathing which for connoisseurs of such things would make a nice sandwich with James White and the Blacks’ Stained Sheets and Sylvia’s Pussycat: “Who is this and what do you want?” The Ch-ch-chain’s 2011 release was entitled Music’s Not For Everyone. Andrew Weatherall borrowed the title for an online radio show. The song itself, which is a spoken word Alan Vega Dreams/Kevin Rowland Reminisce affair, gave I.F.S. the opportunity to try out a riff about how certain people should not be allowed to listen to music: it’s not for them. They might listen to it, they might buy it, they might play the part of what they think a music fan should be like, but they don’t ‘get’ it. That’s fine. Some people don’t ‘do’ cars or sport. Different strokes for different folks. But if you don’t ‘get’ music, leave it alone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t consume it because you feel you have to. That may have been the gist of the riff. It’s a riff I.F.S. returns to in Supernatural Strategies in a chapter about critics. Here he almost lets the mask slip, and gets up close and personal. He gets it very right, too. There are music journalists who don’t really like music. There are people at every level of the record industry who don’t really ‘get’ music; they just like the environment, the lifestyle, the opportunities available. It’s something they choose to do, and they have the connections, confidence, and chutzpah to stick around in ‘the industry’. They do a lot of harm, but they don’t care as long as they ‘get on’. Maybe that’s why it’s amusing to watch sectors of their ‘business’ falling like dominoes. Perhaps that’s why it’s more important than ever to get behind independent productions. Like The Fallen Leaves’ If Only We’d Known? That’s right.
Notes and Sources 1.
10. http://blurt-online.com/features/view/934/ 11. http://www.crimetime.co.uk/interviews/alanfurst.php 12. http://svenonius.wolfzen.com/int20.shtml
15. http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/09-07-28-young-lords-palante-lessons-in.html 16. http://www.ibiblio.org/shscbch/ribb/el-barrio.pdf 17. http://www.annatravis.co.uk/?p=238 18. http://instantces.blogspot.co.uk/
Appendix One: Pedro Pietri - Puerto Rican Obituary Appendix Two: The Young Lordsâ€™ Party - 13-Point Program and Platform
Written and produced March/April 2013 With special thanks to Douglas Hart for The Pea Coat www.yrheartout.blogspot.com
They worked They were always on time They were never late They never spoke back when they were insulted They worked They never took days off that were not on the calendar They never went on strike without permission They worked ten days a week and were only paid for five They worked They worked They worked and they died They died broke They died owing They died never knowing what the front entrance of the first national city bank looks like Juan Miguel Milagros Olga Manuel All died yesterday today and will die again tomorrow passing their bill collectors on to the next of kin All died waiting for the garden of eden to open up again under a new management All died dreaming about america waking them up in the middle of the night screaming: Mira Mira your name is on the winning lottery ticket for one hundred thousand dollars All died hating the grocery stores that sold them make-believe steak and bullet-proof rice and beans All died waiting dreaming and hating Dead Puerto Ricans Who never knew they were Puerto Ricans Who never took a coffee break from the ten commandments to KILL KILL KILL the landlords of their cracked skulls and communicate with their latino souls Juan Miguel Milagros Olga Manuel From the nervous breakdown streets where the mice live like millionaires and the people do not live at all are dead and were never alive Juan died waiting for his number to hit Miguel died waiting for the welfare check to come and go and come again Milagros died waiting for her ten children to grow up and work so she could quit working Olga died waiting for a five dollar raise Manuel died waiting for his supervisor to drop dead so he could get a promotion Is a long ride from Spanish Harlem to long island cemetery where they were buried First the train
and then the bus and the cold cuts for lunch and the flowers that will be stolen when visiting hours are over Is very expensive Is very expensive But they understand Their parents understood Is a long non-profit ride from Spanish Harlem to long~sland cemetery Juan Miguel Milagros Olga Manuel All died yesterday today and will die again tomorrow Dreaming Dreaming about queens Clean-cut lily-white neighborhood Puerto Ricanless scene Thirty-thousand-dollar home The first spics on the block Proud to belong to a community of gringos who want them lynched Proud to be a long distance away from the sacred phrase: Que Pasa These dreams These empty dreams from the make-believe bedrooms their parents left them are the after-effects of television programs about the ideal white american family with black maids and latino janitors who are well train to make everyone and their bill collectors laugh at them and the people they represent Juan died dreaming about a new car Miguel died dreaming about new antipoverty programs Milagros died dreaming about a trip to Puerto Rico Olga died dreaming about real jewelry Manuel died dreaming about the irish sweepstakes They all died like a hero sandwich dies in the garment district at twelve o'clock in the afternoon social security number to ashes union dues to dust They knew they were born to weep and keep the morticians employed as long as they pledge allegiance to the flag that wants them destroyed They saw their names listed in the telephone directory of destruction They were train to turn the other cheek by newspapers that mispelled mispronounced and misunderstood their names and celebrated when death came and stole their final laundry ticket They were born dead and they died dead Is time to visit sister lopez again the number one healer and fortune card dealer in Spanish Harlem
She can communicate with your late relatives for a reasonable fee Good news is guaranteed Rise Table Rise Table death is not dumb and disable Those who love you want to know the correct number to play Let them know this right away Rise Table Rise Table death is not dumb and disable Now that your problems are over and the world is off your shoulders help those who you left behind find financial peace of mind Rise Table Rise Table death is not dumb and disable If the right number we hit all our problems will split and we will visit your grave on every legal holiday Those who love you want to know the correct number to play Let them know this right away We know your spirit is able Death is not dumb and disable RISE TABLE RISE TABLE Juan Miguel Milagros Olga Manuel All died yesterday today and will die again tomorrow Hating fighting and stealing broken windows from each other Practicing a religion without a roof The old testament The new testament according to the gospel of the internal revenue the judge and jury and executioner protector and eternal bill collector Secondhand shit for sale Learn how to say Como Esta Usted and you will make a fortune They are dead They are dead and will not return from the dead until they stop neglecting the art of their dialogue for broken english lessons to impress the mister goldsteins who keep them employed as lavaplatos porters messenger boys factory workers maids stock clerks shipping clerks assistant mailroom assistant, assisant assistant to the assistant's assistant assistant lavaplatos and automatic artificial smiling doormen for the lowest wages of the ages and rages when you demand a raise because is against the company policy to promote SPICS SPICS SPICS Juan died hating Miguel because Miguel's used car was in better running condition than his used car Miguel died hating Milagros because Milagros had a color television set and he could not afford one yet Milagros died hating Olga because Olga made five dollars more on the same job Olga died hating Manuel because Manuel had hit the numbers more times than she had hit the numbers
Manuel died hating all of them Juan Miguel Milagros and Olga because they all spoke broken english more fluently than he did And now they are together in the main lobby of the void Addicted to silence Off limits to the wind Confine to worm supremacy in long island cemetery This is the groovy hereafter the protestant collection box was talking so loud and proud about Here lies Juan Here lies Miguel Here lies Milagros Here lies Olga Here lies Manuel who died yesterday today and will die again tomorrow Always broke Always owing Never knowing that they are beautiful people Never knowing the geography of their complexion PUERTO RICO IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE PUERTORRIQUENOS ARE A BEAUTIFUL RACE If only they had turned off the television and tune into their own imaginations If only they had used the white supremacy bibles for toilet paper purpose and make their latino souls the only religion of their race If only they had return to the definition of the sun after the first mental snowstorm on the summer of their senses If only they had kept their eyes open at the funeral of their fellow employees who came to this country to make a fortune and were buried without underwears Juan Miguel Milagros Olga Manuel will right now be doing their own thing where beautiful people sing and dance and work together where the wind is a stranger to miserable weather conditions where you do not need a dictionary to communicate with your people Aqui Se Habla Espanol all the time Aqui you salute your flag first Aqui there are no dial soap commericals Aqui everybody smells good Aqui tv dinners do not have a future Aqui the men and women admire desire and never get tired of each other Aqui Que Paso Power is what's happening Aqui to be called negrito means to be called LOVE Pedro Pietri - Puerto Rican Obituary, Pedro Pietri, Monthy Review Press, N. Y., London, 1973, pp. 1 â€“ 11
13-Point Program and Platform The Young Lords Party is a Revolutionary Political Party Fighting for the Liberation of All Oppressed People 1. We want self-determination for Puerto Ricans--Liberation of the Island and inside the United States. For 500 years, first spain and then united states have colonized our country. Billions of dollars in profits leave our country for the united states every year. In every way we are slaves of the gringo. We want liberation and the Power in the hands of the People, not Puerto Rican exploiters. Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre! 2. We want self-determination for all Latinos. Our Latin Brothers and Sisters, inside and outside the united states, are oppressed by amerikkkan business. The Chicano people built the Southwest, and we support their right to control their lives and their land. The people of Santo Domingo continue to fight against gringo domination and its puppet generals. The armed liberation struggles in Latin America are part of the war of Latinos against imperialism. Que Viva La Raza! 3. We want liberation of all third world people. Just as Latins first slaved under spain and the yanquis, Black people, Indians, and Asians slaved to build the wealth of this country. For 400 years they have fought for freedom and dignity against racist Babylon (decadent empire). Third World people have led the fight for freedom. All the colored and oppressed peoples of the world are one nation under oppression. No Puerto Rican Is Free Until All People Are Free! 4. We are revolutionary nationalists and oppose racism. The Latin, Black, Indian and Asian people inside the u.s. are colonies fighting for liberation. We know that washington, wall street and city hall will try to make our nationalism into racism; but Puerto Ricans are of all colors and we resist racism. Millions of poor white people are rising up to demand freedom and we support them. These are the ones in the u.s. that are stepped on by the rules and the government. We each organize our people, but our fights are against the same oppression and we will defeat it together. Power To All Oppressed People! 5. We want community control of our institutions and land. We want control of our communities by our people and programs to guarantee that all institutions serve the needs of our people. People's control of police, health services, churches, schools, housing, transportation and welfare are needed. We want an end to attacks on our land by urban removal, highway destruction, universities and corporations. Land Belongs To All The People! 6. We want a true education of our Creole culture and Spanish language. We must learn our history of fighting against cultural, as well as economic genocide by the yanqui. Revolutionary culture, culture of our people, is the only true teaching. 7. We oppose capitalists and alliances with traitors. Puerto Rican rulers, or puppets of the oppressor, do not help our people. They are paid by the system to lead our people down blind alleys, just like the thousands of poverty pimps who keep our communities peaceful for business, or the street workers who keep gangs divided and blowing each other away. We want a society where the people socialistically control their labor. Venceremos! 8. We oppose the Amerikkkan military. We demand immediate withdrawal of u.s. military forces and bases from Puerto Rico, Vietnam and all oppressed communities inside and outside the u.s. No Puerto Rican should serve in the u.s. army against his Brothers and Sisters, for the only true army of oppressed people is the people's army to fight all rulers. U.S. Out Of Vietnam, Free Puerto Rico! 9. We want freedom for all political prisoners. We want all Puerto Ricans freed because they have been tried by the racist courts of the colonizers, and not by their own people and peers. We want all freedom fighters released from jail. Free All Political Prisoners! 10. We want equality for women. Machismo must be revolutionary... not oppressive. Under capitalism, our women have been oppressed by both the society and our own men. The doctrine of machismo has been used by our men to take out their frustrations against their wives, sisters, mothers, and children. Our men must support their women in their fight for economic and social equality, and must recognize that our women are equals in every way within the revolutionary ranks. Forward, Sisters, In The Struggle! 11. We fight anti-communism with international unity. Anyone who resists injustice is called a communist by "the man" and condemned. Our people are brainwashed by television, radio, newspapers, schools, and books to oppose people in other countries fighting for their freedom. No longer will our people believe attacks and slanders, because they have learned who the real enemy is and who their real friends are. We will defend our Brothers and Sisters around the world who fight for justice against the rich rulers of this country. Viva Che! 12. We believe armed self-defense and armed struggle are the only means to liberation. We are opposed to violence--the violence of hungry children, illiterate adults, diseased old people, and the violence of poverty and profit. We have asked, petitioned, gone to courts, demonstrated peacefully, and voted for politicians full of empty promises. But we still ain't free. The time has come to defend the lives of our people against repression and for revolutionary war against the businessman, politician, and police. When a government oppresses our people, we have the right to abolish it and create a new one. Boricua Is Awake! All Pigs Beware! 13. We want a socialist society. We want liberation, clothing, free food, education, health care, transportation, utilities, and employment for all. We want a society where the needs of our people come first, and where we give solidarity and aid to the peoples of the world, not oppression and racism. Hasta La Victoria Siempre! http://palante.org/YLPProg.html