Friday, 29 April 2011

Full Frontal Jazz

_______FULL FRONTAL JAZZ__________

in a hall of disconnected
telephones that ring at midnight,
with the high roof of the abandoned
Dolphinarium an infinity above them,
the habits of friendship remain
like the condensation on the wall,
she’s a wasted Left Bank Bohemian,
rodent-black straight hair, shades,
existentialism & a cigarette holder,
she carries a sign “unclean”, & feels it
gnawing at her innards like Spartan foxes

he writes poems in the manner of ticker-tape
print-outs, telling her “the angles of your
face are Cubist paintings intersecting
the dying light of neutron stars”, and
sometimes she even believes him,
and then they leave the looted tins
in tall geometrical configurations
& emerge into the ruins of the city
where the tektites play,
& try to reach the point
on the horizon where
both sides of the
empty highway

...& the beaches
are filled with wolves

Published in:
‘AMBIT no.79’ (UK - August 1979)
‘KRAX no.17’ (UK - July 1982)
(USA - November 1984)
and in collections:
‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press (UK-Oct 2000)
(Bound-into ‘MINOTAUR no.42 vol.9 no.3’)
(USA – September 2004)

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates


Album Review of:
(EMI Gold 2281422, 2CD, July 2008)
(See For Miles CM120, January 1997)

Johnny Kidd (aka Frederick Heath) died auto-wrecked gig-wards on the A58 to Radcliffe, Lancs, near the junction of Ainsworth Hall Road, 9pm Saturday 7th October 1966. His Cortina GT, driven by Wilf Irshwood, husband of his Fan Club secretary, also carried Nick Simper, a Pirate who survived the head-on impact and went on to form Deep Purple. Seventeen-year-old Helen Read in the Mini approaching from the opposite direction was also killed… For Johnny Kidd it’s a near-cliché Rock ‘n’ Roll death climaxing a flamboyant buccaneering chart run that plundered all the way from his May 1959 debut with “Please Don’t Touch” (later re-charting for Motorhead With Girlschool) through to his unlikely make-over of the Italianate ‘La Paloma’ as “Always And Ever” c/w “Dr Feelgood” in April 1964. Although it was a career that managed nine Top 40 hits, while he lived, the vagaries of the record industry, complicated by Kidd’s erratic sales-pattern, never justified a full studio album, posterity has rectified that omission with a vengeance. The original vinyl EMI ‘Best Of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ (NUTM 12-0C05406613M) – a twenty-track compilation billed as ‘the ultimate collection’, came in 1978, followed by a deluge of vinyl and CD’s, re-combining existing material, and rescuing rare unreleased tracks and alternate takes from studio-vaults, plus radio sessions, all confirming the continued simmering interest in one of England’s most eccentric, most visual, and most authentic Rock pioneers.

The EMI album conveniently slices the story into two phases – the swash-buckling pre Beat Boom side one, with a three-piece Pirates crew of Alan Caddy (guitar), Clem Cattini (drums) and Brian Gregg (bass) ludicrously decked out in Pantomime ‘Treasure Island’ candy-hooped T-shirts to back-up Kidd’s Errol Flynn, garbed in white lace ruffles, tight leather pants, thigh-boots, and eye-patch. They played in front of a mock-up galleon, with Kidd wielding a cutlass. Yet their mix of hard Rock covers and original compositions provide a shot of Rhythm & Blues that applies electrodes to the tepid clean-cut mohair British Pop of its time. Born 23 November 1939 Johnny Kidd had taken the Skiffle route into Pop doubling guitar and banjo with Freddie Heath & The Nutters, before an appearance on BBC Light Programme’s ‘Saturday Club’ brought him to the attentions of HMV, leading to “Please Don’t Touch” c/w “Growl”, and a chart debut up to No.25. They were both original compositions. “Growl” explaining how ‘I tried barking like a hungry dog’ and ‘screeching like a dying hog’, but ‘I’m happy when you hear me growl… it’s as simple as that’. But whichever way you count it, Rock was still too new to have built up an extensive repertoire, which meant delving back into pre-Rock compositions which worked only occasionally – the old Music Hall standard “If You Were The Only Girl In The World” became the ‘A’-side of their second single, done unconvincingly twee with sing-along chorus, then “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, the ‘B’-side of the fourth, also only a partial success. Romantic balladeer? – I don’t think so. With or without eye-patch Johnny Kidd was never going to be the clean-cut boy-next-door. There was always a slight edge of menace. Better was Kidd’s own solo composition “Feelin’” (‘B’-side of the second single), which re-plays the “Please Don’t Touch” guitar-run while relating how his girl makes his heart-strings twang. And the cover of Marv Johnson’s “You Got What It Takes” c/w “Longin’ Lips”, which took the group back up to No.25 in February 1960. But – if the eye-patch, passed down from Bowie to Adam Ant, Boy George to Pete Burns, is the theatrical legacy – then “Shakin’ All Over”, thrown together by Kidd with manager Guy Robinson in just six minutes at a club date the previous evening, is the classic aural statement. In the ‘Record Mirror’ chart it reached No.1, in ‘New Musical Express’, it got no higher than No.3, whatever – nothing in British Rock comes close to trapping its energy levels. Writer Bob Solly (in ‘Record Collector: 100 Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Records’) accurately points out ‘there are all kinds of musical exaggerations going on in “Shakin’ All Over”, pizzicato-like dampened guitar-string riffs, ascending and descending guitar runs, quavering high-register chords crashing out of the blue, piercing guitar solos that make you feel the piece might run away at double time, but it doesn’t, the bass and drums keeping the beat steady, like a predator in your dreams that will get you no matter how loud you scream. And over this thrilling background we have the deadpan but assertive voice of Johnny Kidd, measuring the tempo’.

For comparison, listen to other early British Rock – I mean, the very earliest stuff, and it’s obvious that the competitors just don’t ‘get’ it. It seems obvious now. Hell, every little Indie wannabe band playing your local pub gets it. Back then it was adapting to a foreign language, a freer, more sensual language. The Amer-English you only hear on US shellac 78rpm’s. Post-war British kids were still morally-uptight and repressed. And when it comes to Rocking ‘n’ Rolling, it don’t come easy. That’s why, when it came together as it should, the detonations could be seismic. Simply because it was so rare. Marty Wilde’s “Endless Sleep” might be a cover of the Jody Reynolds’ original, but he ‘got’ it. He invests the doom-laden gothic suicide-narrative with an authenticity that still chills. Cliff Richard’s mutant “Move It” got it right, accidentally. It was intended to be the ‘B’-side, so they didn’t bother to compensate the guitar-channel volume down. And created a classic. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates toured with Gene Vincent through February and March 1961, but they had ‘got’ it right from the start. With “Shakin’ All Over” – not even so much of a song, more a performance, not even the Who’s subsequent mega-amplified version… or the Guess Who’s metalised No.1 American cover, can touch the sheer compressed mono power of the original. In the old Tin Pan Alley sheet-music sense of a song, it doesn’t even work. It’s only when the stylus drops down into the groove on your gramophone turntable, or even better – rock the coin right into the slot on the chrome-gleaming jukebox, and just taste the volume. The quivering descending guitar figure – taken by session-player Joe Moretti (ex Vince Taylor’s Playboys), galvanises Kidd’s libidinously hyper-charged knee-trembling vocal – ‘shakes down the knee-bone, tremors in the thighbone’, into realms of raw Krakatoa intensity. Shivering, shaking, quivering and trembling became the Pirates’ default setting, as Kidd growls, rasps, whoops and shudders through his repertoire. The follow-up, “Restless” (c/w “Magic Of Love”) from September 1960, is another eruption of menacing tension, a perfect encapsulation of frustrated teenage sexual energy, a frenzied itch for satisfaction.

There was a career-lull, during which the music-world was changing around him, and he put out a few strong failed singles, such as a cover of Ray Sharpe’s American hit “Linda Lu”.

Phase two – from 1962 to 1964, replaced the original Pirates line-up, who’d mutinied and sailed off to form The Tornados, with Mick Green (ex Cuddly Duddley’s Redcaps, on simultaneous rhythm and lead Telecaster), Johnny Spencer (bass) and Frank Farley (drums). The first single with the revised line-up on board was “A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues” in November 1962, a powerful shot across the bows, promising much. Yet this Pirates operate on the smoother more group-orientated basis required by Gordon Mills’ more mainstream compositions – “I’ll Never Get Over You” (No.4 in July 1963) and “Hungry For Love” (No.20 in November), which nevertheless get Kidd back into visibility at the slight expense of the raucous Greaser edge. There were crashing guitar-chords and a lyric popular enough for Ken Dodd to weave a gag-routine around – ‘I’ll never get over you, so get out of bed and make the breakfast yourself’. The difference was that where the Pirates had been ahead of their time, now the world had caught up. Even the New Wave of Beat Boom groups help promote his credibility, Gerry & The Pacemakers exuberantly reviving “A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues”, and the Searchers adding their own version of “Hungry For Love”. While for Kidd himself, there was now only a run-off into further failed singles, including a strong revival of Marvin Rainwater’s “Whole Lotta Woman” oddly combined with Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, from October 1964. But he was always more than just a straggle of hit-miss singles, as the ten ‘rare’ ‘A’ and ‘B’-sides – backed up with the ten previously unreleased sides, on the ‘See For Miles’ ‘Johnny Kidd & The Pirates: Rarities’ compilation ably proves. And Kidd’s growl is still capable of lifting even mediocre material above their Pop limitations and investing them with considerable swaggering virility. At the time of his fatal accident Johnny Kidd was working with a third Pirates-incarnation, inherited from Buddy Britten’s Regents. And oddly enough, a reformed Pirates – with Mick Green returning to the fold (from a stint with Billy J Kramer’s Dakotas), enjoyed a mid-1970’s revival as part of the Pub R&B scene, and continued working sporadically until Mick Green’s death in January 2010.

Meanwhile, as ‘The Best Of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ (NUTM 12-0C05406613M) stimulated and renewed interest in what had gone before, it was followed by a thirty-two track French double-set titled with admirable precision ‘Johnny Kidd: The Rocker’ (EMI Columbia 2C154-06653/4). Then more – ‘The Complete Johnny Kidd & The Pirates: The EMI Years’ (EMI 0777 79994-823 CDKIDD11, fifty-nine tracks including alternate takes, September 1992), ‘The Johnny Kidd Memorial Album’ (Beat Goes On BGO580, November 2007), and even ‘The Lost BBC Sessions’ (Black Flag BLCD 519, 2005 – forty-one tracks including radio interview-clips with Brian Matthews, plus unreleased studio material). All confirming the legacy of one of England’s most eccentric, most visual, and most authentic Rock pioneers. Johnny Kidd was the closest Britain came to producing a Gene Vincent… he was the English Rocker who first lived – and died, the Rock ‘n’ Roll mythology.

'I Was Elvis Presley's Bastard Love-Child' Video-Clip...

Okay, this is a shameless self-promotion, a crude bit of ego merchandising... but what the hell, it's fun too!

I was Elvis Presley's love-child

Three decades of free love and music journalism

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Brian Aldiss: 'Moreau's Other Island'


(Jonathan Cape 1980, Triad/Granada paperback 1982)

Brian Aldiss is an incendiary writer with a particularly well-informed sense of genre history. Elsewhere he’s integrated Mary Shelley and Dracula into his fiction. Within the Science Fiction continuity, HG Wells’ texts draw a clear and direct line through the work of other writers, from John Wyndham, Christopher Priest, Stephen Baxter and… inevitably, Brian Aldiss too. The genetic link may be stylistic. But it can also be more direct. And Aldiss wrote ‘Moreau’s Other Island’ (1980, Jonathan Cape) consciously utilising Wells’ literary-DNA. In Wells’ novel ‘The Island Of Dr Moreau’ (1896), the shipwrecked Edward Prendick is rescued by a flaxen-haired man known only as Montgomery, who takes him to a remote Pacific island where Dr Moreau carves grotesque human-animal hybrids from living tissue. Moreau’s surgical modifications and glandular injections have populated the island with a bizarre bestiary of mutations ‘civilised’ by their chanted laws. Eventually the Doctor is ripped apart by the Puma Man, one of his own creations, after which a drunken Montgomery is also killed by the Beast-Folk. Leaving Prendick stranded alone on the island as the Beast-Folk begin to devolve, lapsing back into what Aldiss terms ‘feral savagery’. But although Prendick is rescued, his reintegration into society is flawed by his persistent vision of the people around him as ‘animals half-wrought into the outward image of human souls’ who will, presently begin to revert, ‘to show this bestial mark, then that… I feel as though the animal was surging up through them, that presently the degradation of the islanders will be played over again on a larger scale.’ He even suspects himself. Is he really a reasoning human being, or just an animal tormented by some strange disorder of the brain? It’s an image, and a suspicion that stays with you long after you’ve turned the final page. Suddenly, there are Naked Apes in the shopping mall, the supermarket, the fast-food bar. All can be seen as ‘patient creatures waiting for prey’. It’s as eloquently imagined an allegorical comment on the savagery lurking forever beneath the surface of civilisation as ‘Four legs good, two legs bad.’ And a post-Darwinian forced-evolution take on the Frankenstein theme, as vitally current as today’s GM gene-manipulation hysteria.

As Aldiss points out in his ‘Billion Year Spree’ (1973), ‘inside Mary Shelley’s novel lie the seeds of all later diseased creation myths, including HG Wells’ ‘Island Of Dr Moreau’’. And it’s perhaps an expansion of ideas spun-off from researching ‘Billion Year Spree’ that led to him writing ‘Moreau’s Other Island’. An on-going continuity. Movies have already invested the theme with periodic updates. Philip Wylie – responsible for ‘When Worlds Collide’, also adapted the first version of ‘Moreau’ into ‘Island Of Lost Souls’ (1933). Charles Laughton was cast as a sadistic whip-wielding Moreau, ably supported by Bela Lugosi and Leila Hyams in a studio-set jungle island. Yet his ‘House of Pain’ is one of cine-world’s most unwholesome mad laboratories, where the Puma Man is trans-gendered into a sexed-up Panther-woman. Wells was less than pleased with the result, and can’t have been too distressed when the British Board of Censorship refused to grant the film a certificate on the grounds of its sex, horror, and cruelty. Burt Lancaster next inherited the ‘Moreau’ mantle for a 1977 version under the original Wells’ title, in a cast that included Richard Basehart, and the Beast-Folk upgraded as humanimals. More recently, Marlon Brando became ‘Moreau’ in 1996, with Val Kilmer, an airplane crash and DNA injections replacing crude vivisection.

The Aldiss novel is more a parallel history, or a sequel – with just a passing nod to George Bernard Shaw’s political comedy ‘John Bull’s Other Island’ (1904) in its title too. It is set in the future of 1996. Calvert Madle Roberts is the sole survivor of Space-Shuttle ‘Leda’ which nosedives into the Pacific while returning from a Moon-base conference via ASASC (Allied Space & Aerospace Corp). He is Under-Secretary of State in the US Government of President Willson, at a time when global Cold War is about to turn hot – ‘the nightmare, the closing agony of the twentieth-century was unrolling’. He’s rescued by a morose Hans Maastricht, and taken to the island of deformed thalidomide victim Mortimer Dart, who styles himself the ‘Einstein of revolutionary biology’. With Dart resembling a power-assisted cyborg in his prosthetics, as on the moon ‘reality here is only one-sixth of what it is on Earth’. In this Aldiss continuum, Wells’ Moreau was a real person, a pupil of Thomas Huxley (as was Wells himself, splicing truth with fancy) – in fact the genuine Mr Angus McMoreau supposedly even sued Wells for defamation! ‘Wells may have been writing an allegory, but his island was firmly based on a real one – just as the island on which Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ was shipwrecked was based on a real one. You know Robinson Crusoe? Just as there was a real-life equivalent of Crusoe so there was a Moreau’. And Roberts has reached the island – called Narorana, where the descendents of Moreau’s Beast-Folk still live, subservient to their embittered new master.

While closely tracking the contours of Wells tale, the Aldiss novel assumes added dimensions of its own. A cunning elision of literary games and sharply original insight. As it is Aldiss, there’s a knowing insinuation of cultural references. The hybrid creatures remind Roberts of the drawings of Charles Le Brun’s ‘Physiognomic Heads’ and Thomas Rowlandson’s lustful erotic grotesqueries. While ‘Foxy’ resembles the ‘foxes in children’s books who dress in men’s clothes for purposes of deception.’ Meanwhile, an orchestra plays Joseph Haydn on the 3V-screen beamed on World Third channel from Chicago (his music having prevailed over both Bach and Beethoven). Perhaps to throw the morality into more polarised extremes, Madle Roberts professes a belief in god, all the better to appreciate blasphemy (Wells even labelled his own book as ‘an exercise in youthful blasphemy’). The clean-living Roberts is even teased ‘you’re not drinking, not smoking – what do you do?’ Perhaps Adam Ant had been reading ‘Moreau’s Other Island’ when he wrote his “Goody Two-Shoes” hit? There’s a battle of wills with Dart, who holds Roberts prisoner on the island and refuses his demands to radio ASASC, who have announced the death of the Under-Secretary of State on the 3V. Among the Beast-Folk Roberts befriends Bernie the Dog-man, remains wary of brutish hulking George, expresses sympathy for feline Bella, and provokes an early flashpoint by intervening to stop Dart beating her. When Maastricht drowns, his funeral triggers a Beast People’s rebellion led by a Foxy-mutant armed with the dead man’s retrieved riot-gun. Bernie assists Roberts to escape and takes him to meet Jed Warren, the island’s other hermit, who reveals that the US Government he’s relying on to rescue him is subsidising Dart’s experiments and supplying him from a visiting submarine. Something hinted earlier when, before reaching the island, adrift in his inflatable life-raft, Roberts’ encounters a modified suicide-dolphin, tail-branded with the American flag and primed to detonate, suggesting that something in the tradition of Moreau’s vile experiments had been continued, and perpetrated by the militaries of the outer world. That maybe Moreau/Dart was not such a lone eccentric?

The vengeful Beasts tear Warren to pieces and Roberts becomes their human quarry. After hiding out with the Seal People he returns to find Dart ill and besieged in his stockade. With unrestricted access to previously secret labs there are further revelations of the experiment’s ultimate objective. Breeding a radiation-proof human-species – the gnome-like SRSR’s (Stand-By Replacement Sub-Race) adapted to survive and assist reconstruction after the ongoing global war, and funded by his own government department. In the final chapter a wounded Dart and his SRSR creations are rescued by the submarine, while Roberts and his Seal People friends are lifted off by the helicopter he’s summoned. Their conflict will presumably resume back in America, even as the global war breaks out around them.

As with Wells driven protagonist, Dart is ‘probing the borderland between human and animal nature, where the springs of modern man’s behaviour lie’. Aldiss responding through Roberts observation about the Beasts attacking Dart’s stockade, that as ‘they had moved closer to man. I had moved closer to them’. Themes that still make headlines. And a theme that Wells clearly expressed and anticipated in his final ‘note’ to the novel, that, ‘strange as it may seem to the unscientific reader, there can be no denying that, whatever amount of credibility attaches to the detail of this story, the manufacture of monsters – and perhaps even quasi-human monsters – is within the possibilities of vivisection’. A possibility far closer now than it was then.

Georgie Fame: Live In Leeds

Gig Review of:
at the ‘Leeds Folk Festival’,
Temple Newsam Park, Leeds

Re-read that. George Fame? Folk Festival!?!? Yeh Yeh. He’s confused too. ‘Wasn’t quite sure if I’d come to da r-a-a-a-h-t gig tonight’ he slurs laconically. Slouching out to encore in creased fawn trenchcoat and scuffed brown slip-on casuals. He pours down onto a Unigate milk-churn snuck behind a battered Hammond organ flagged with peeling decals and fading varnish, and finger-dances out the first riffing chords of James Brown’s “Night Train” in a deliciously intoxicated rush…

He might not be a droppable name – ain’t been for a decade-&-some, only new-Funk pretenders JoBoxers are smart enough to make the right connections, and revamp his early B-side “Fully Booked”. And sure, watching him backstage accosting strangers to bum cigs you wonder whether this really is the guy who played sessions with Gene Vincent, who did those scorching ‘Flamingo’ Sound Ventures, recorded these albums with the Count Basie and Harry South Big Bands, and whose Blue Flame line-ups have off-&-on numbered some of the UK’s most stunning jazzers. He cranks out the archetypal “Green Onions” he used to gain kudos for in 1966, and unravels more of that same basic roll-call of standards – but his song selection still tells tales. It fuses Blue Beat, R&B, early Rock, Motown, and other references dating clear back to Hoagy Carmichael (through Ray Charles’ “Georgia”) – in fact, it touches all the ideologically correct influences ‘New Musical Express’ tell us we should be impressed by. And they all come smoothly laced with little quotes, motifs, and figures from innumerable sources fed as effortlessly, as seamlessly, into the flow as soda slooshing from a siphon. Despite the sartorial seediness and ambiance of a down-at-heel pub combo the base is a jazz fluidity that the likes of, say Animal Nightlife or the late Rip Rig & Panic’s might envy.

There’s pulsing solos from bearded bassist Jim Richardson on “Roadrunner”, and burlesque cymbal shimmers from Dave Cutler igniting Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (‘one of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll songs ever’), but they all gather in and focus on Fame’s keyboards. The one-time Clive Powell needs no ostentatious flash, and offers nowt too fancy, but his cool slick understatement is honed to intuitive ESP by that decade-&-some gigging. He breathes familiar material without conscious thought. Loping through a slow Ska “Uptight” while playing the milk churn like conga’s, doing a New Orleans “Blueberry Hill” dripping with Fats Domino, “I Almost Lost My Mind” (‘the only C&W song I know’), and the sole original – his no.1 hit “Get Away” which stands up unexpectedly well in such stylish company – and all the while he’s off-handedly flashing group in-jokes at guitarist Ronnie Johnson around superb bragging sax runs from (‘grooveroonie my man’) Steve Gregory… Charts and trends exist in some parallel universe, but in the meantime, inbetween-time, consistency and time-served craftsmanship ain’t no bad thing.