Thursday, 29 November 2012



‘After 200 years of Mass
we’ve got as far as poison gas…’
                            (Thomas Hardy)

Our father who art not necessarily in heaven
hallowed be thy name… but only up to a point…
this is my prayer for all you holy-phoney gospel-preaching
moral majority well-respected evangelists who curse out your
neighbours & damn sinners, sorting spiritual e-numbers from chaff
& theological sheep from goats, may your Lord have mercy
on your soul, for I have none – you’re bound for hell,
this is my prayer for all you child-abusing born-again
porn-downloading-again god delusion creationist clergy
who visit massage-parlours and maintain discrete assignations
in motels for the laying on of hands in stations of the crass,
I don’t forgive you fathers, for you have sinned – you’re bound for hell,
this is my prayer for all you fake-Catholic sisters of no-mercy
who take the pill, use condoms, fail to procreate,
whose sacred causes oppose stem-cell research,
same-sex unions and a woman’s right to choose,
no bunch of our fathers and mumbled hail marys
will buy you off this time – you’re bound for hell too,
this is my prayer for obese indulgers who pig out
on junk-food and chocolate, you poets who
commit blasphemous rhyme writing verse that doesn’t scan,
you asylum-seekers, rough-sleepers, furtive smokers,
dope-smokers, binge drinkers, coke-drinkers,
coke-sniffers, glue-sniffers – you’re already in hell,
this is my prayer for all you slacker youth who self-harm,
self-abuse, substance-abuse, pick your nose, play emo,
play gangsta, play x-box, and hang out in hoodies
on street corners – you’re probably in hell too,
with all those unbaptised dead babies, bastards, adulterers,
civil partners, junkies and whores who reside in
unforgiving purgatory for eternity, this is my prayer,
blessed are all you atheists, humanists, rationalists,
Darwinians, pacifists, vegetarians, agnostics, pansexuals,
pagans, heretics, blasphemers, apostates, unbelievers,
recidivists, free-thinkers, doubters, and waverers,
for the rest, come at me, ye legion of horrors
for I would willingly slay thee all,
there is neither fear in my heart
nor compassion in my eyes,
face it, you chose the wrong salvation
you’re all bound for hell…

Published in: ‘PURPLE PATCH no.119’
(UK – March 2008)



Album Review of:
(1966, Decca LK 4830,
CD 2,000, Repertoire REP5134)

‘I’m so happy to be here today,
and for all of you that are searching
for the answer to your problem in life,
if you’re ready right now,
we are going to solve it…
and this is all you’ve got to do…’
              (The Artwoods “Keep Lookin’”)

Yes, to get the obvious out of the way first, Art Wood was the older brother of Ronnie – who’s made a forty-year career out of being the New Boy in the Rolling Stones. In fact, while young Ronnie was playing in a sixties beat-group called the Birds, scoring a single near-hit with “Leavin’ Here” (UK no.45), and grabbing press-inches by litigating against the American Byrds for allegedly sticky-fingering their name, brother Art was leading the Artwoods, a highly-rated Mod-Soul R&B group who climbed to no.35 on the chart with their single “I Take What I Want”, made waves with their EP ‘Jazz In Jeans’, and recorded a now very-collectible LP called ‘Art Gallery’. The group ran from, roughly, 1963 to 1967 and, like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, achieved a second layer of celebrity due to the subsequent success of its sides-men. Mighty drummer Keef Hartley recorded a series of classic albums through the seventies. And tyro-keyboardist Jon Lord reached even greater heights as a central component of Deep Purple.

But first, Arthur Wood was born 7 July 1937, in West Drayton, Middlesex, the oldest of three brothers born to Lizzie and tug-boat skipper Arthur. Like Garfunkel he found the full given name he’d inherited from his ‘water gipsy’ father, old-fashioned and somewhat uncool, but by abbreviating it to ‘Art’ it suddenly subsumed imagery of a totally different and more elevated kind. As Art Wood, at age fourteen in 1950, he went through the art-school ‘Beatnik’-era thing at Ealing, developing a useful knack at graphic design, typography and fine art, before being called-up, doing his compulsory National Service stint as Private 23267647 in the army at Devizes, Wiltshire in 1955. He graduated into skiffle until – with demob, he hightailed for London to form his first R&B group the Art Woods Combo, with a repertoire based around Fats Domino and the Chess catalogue, Chuck Berry and Chicago Blues, playing interval gigs at the Uxbridge ‘Regal’ cinema between films. As 1962 picked up its pace he stood in as one of a pool of vocalists contributing to the pioneering protean Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated (with Cyril Davies and Charlie Watts) at the legendary Marquee Club, which in itself invested his name a certain authenticity.

With the die cast, in a 1963 line-up remix he ‘amalgamated’ with guitarist Derek Griffiths and Jon Lord (on Lowrey organ) from Red Bludd’s Bluesicians. Born in Leicester on 9th June 1941, Lord had been educated at Leicester’s Wyggeston Grammer School For Boys, and took piano lessons between the ages of nine and seventeen. He graduated to the Central School of Speech And Drama at London’s Swiss Cottage (of Al Stewart’s “Swiss Cottage Maneuvers” fame!), where his keyboard skills saw him involved with the Bill Ashton Combo, a six-piece modern jazz unit. ‘I left drama college but never got any work as an actor because I didn’t want to leave London’ he recalled, ‘for two years I did virtually nothing, until I joined Red Bludd’s Bluesicians, an experimental blues group’ alongside Derek. Next, Art recruited bass-player Malcolm Pool from the Roadrunners, replacing an injured Don ‘Red Bludd’ Wilson, and finally added Keef (replacing Reg Dunnage) via a small-ad in ‘Melody Maker’. Keef was a survivor of early Beatlemania days, starting his career by replacing Ringo Starr in Merseybeat stalwarts Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, then occupying the drum-chair for Freddie Starr & The Midnighters. Art had booked the Marquee for auditions, but Keef the only drummer to turn up, while coincidentally – in a different part of the same club, the Yardbirds were auditioning a nervous Jeff Beck as a replacement for Eric Clapton! Young Ronnie watched from the sidelines as Art offered the ‘very spotty’ guitarist words of encouragement. Some years later Ronnie would become part of the Jeff Beck Group.

Collectively the reshuffled line-up become the New Art Woods Combo. To start out with, as Art was by now married to Doreen, for convenience Keef crashed over with Art’s mother-in-law – occupying Doreen’s former room, while Jon Lord moved into the Wood family’s boxroom in West Drayton – at £4-a-week all-in. Art’s Mum ‘was lovely. She treated me like a second son. But I was so hard-up I had to think twice about going into London on the tube. I couldn’t always afford the fare.’ Yet from such beginnings the group would evolve into one of the most respected and underrated Blues groups of its time.

Jon Lord made his professional debut as a musician with the Art Woods Combo at the ‘Railway Arms’, Fratton near Portsmouth. From there, the formidable five-piece went on to play all the most influential venues, from ‘Eel Pie Island’ to ‘Klooks Kleek’ in Hampstead, from the ‘Ad-Lib’ and the ‘Cromwellian’ to a residency at the ‘100 Club’, with their fluent takes on American covers. Art indulgently took younger brother Ronnie around gigs at the Harrow ‘Railway Tavern’ – where manager Kit Lambert had first seen the Who, and the legendary Richmond ‘Crawdaddy’ Club. Rhythm-&-Blues formed a vital ‘underground’ movement. The fanaticism that had created the sustained environment for – and launched, the embryonic Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Manfred Mann and John Mayall was then fermenting more powerfully, with greater national interest than ever before. From clubs like the famous ‘Marquee’ all the way to the back rooms of regional Pubs, Howlin’ Wolf chords jostle comfortably with Lightnin’ Slim riffs, while devotees of Charlie Parker or Zoot Sims found the atmosphere loose enough to infuse their own styles into the creative flux.

There’s a significant secret history of Mod music orbiting the resonant sound of the Hammond organ, influenced by American inroads blazed by the likes of Jimmy Smith. Georgie Fame made the biggest commercial breakthrough, but equally active within the same Jazzy-Blues scene was the wonderful Zoot Money, plus Graham Bond… and, of course, the organ was the essential Artwoods ingredient provided by Jon Lord. ‘In about 1961 I heard Jimmy Smith playing “Walk On The Wild Side” and from then on I was enraptured by the organ. I couldn’t buy one, but I got really interested in Hammonds.’ Jon told me ‘I started playing the organ through listening to Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, y’know, the JAZZ organists. And Georgie Fame, Graham Bond – they were organists I listened to way back in the mists of time. So that’s where I came from initially.’ He elaborated about Graham Bond, ‘he was my mentor. I learned from him. The Graham Bond Organisation used to play at the same Blues Clubs that the Artwoods used to play at. We were usually the interval band, so I used to – figuratively speaking, sit at his feet. And I used to pester him with questions about how to get the Hammond to sound like this, like that, like the other. And he taught me an enormous amount. Superb musician. Very odd man, strange man, but a brilliant musician.’

With the Beat Boom on the cusp of evolving into Mod-Soul, groups had to work harder, play better, and as such, the Artwoods were strongly tipped by the music press as natural successors to credible front-runners the Yardbirds or the Animals. Decca records were the first to start sniffing around. Resulting in a studio try-out with A&R-man Mike Vernon, a Blues-enthusiast and fine Blues-guitarist in his own right. It was Vernon, at this late stage, who suggested abbreviating the name from the Art Woods Combo to the more hip Artwoods. The group had already demo’d Muddy Waters “Hoochie Coochie Man”, but ditched this intended debut in a last-minute switch, leaving the song to Long John Baldry and Manfred Mann (although a live Artwoods bootleg version would emerge some years later). Instead, with Vernon producing, they delved back as far as Leadbelly for “Sweet Mary” for their first 45-rpm. A raggedy eight-bar tune from Huddie Ledbetter’s Folkways ‘Last Sessions’, his “Sweet Mary Blues” is alternately known as ‘Guvernor Pat Neff’, although it’s likely the Artwoods based their version on a recent ‘B’-side and later EP-track by the Cyril Davies All-Stars, ironically taken from his final Pye sessions. But, with an overhauled arrangement based around a simple repeated figure throughout, treated with an ascending dynamic that goes from soft to cacophony and back again, they make a fairly decent fist of it. It opens with Keef’s brushed cymbals and Derek’s guitar-strokes, then Art’s talking-style lead-in about how his girl has ‘big bow legs, but she’s alright with me’, then higher, intensifying into a climax extolling how ‘she aint no bumble-bee, but she can sure make sweet hon-ee’ with exaggerated vocals rising as it builds and builds with muted background organ feeding in, into a jaggedy Stonesy guitar-break and a crescendo of powerfully repeated ‘got to find Mary’ before descending abruptly back to quietness.

For the flip they chose “If I Ever Get My Hands On You” a more Pop-centric composition from Ivy League songwriters Ken Lewis and John Carter, their Ska-alike treatment giving the slight song depth and substance. Fronted by Jon’s burbling heaving organ, and broken by a snagging ‘Roadrunner’ guitar-riff, and a humorous ‘I’ll take you anywhere, and I’ll even pay the fare’ lyric, Art delivers the slightly lustful innuendo-title lightly, clear through to its final growled repetition. By the time of the single’s November 1964 release the Stones were already premiering their “Little Red Rooster” – their last 45rpm Blues cover, the Pretty Things and the Animals were also high-charting, and oddly the anodyne Four Pennies were in the Top 40 with their take on Leadbelly’s much-covered “Black Girl”.

On the dark-blue Decca label, details picked out in silver lettering, the Artwood’s debut release was boosted by a live slot on ‘Ready Steady Go’ alongside Donovan and the Kinks, and – although it didn’t chart, it provoked much positive response. OK, it wasn’t a record that was going to start, or stop wars. But it proved the group had legs, and they were going places (and yes, it was still ‘group’ rather than band). Two more singles across the next year established a pattern of covering American R&B for the ‘A’-sides, while serving up their own efforts for the flip. With Jon Lord’s first recorded composition “Big City”, paired with “Oh My Love” in February. An impassioned gospel-flavoured Soul-ballad – ‘when I kiss your eyes, you know that my heart dies’ before Art invites ‘alright Jon’ taking it into the organ break. While the competent urban flip bemoans a city ‘as mean as a snake’, a place ‘where I spend all my bread’ that’s ‘just a pain in the head’. The familiar Blues lyric-theme builds to a plea to ‘please let me make my way back home’. It was followed in August by “Goodbye Sisters” c/w “She Knows What To Do”, which builds like the Yardbirds “For Your Love”, backed up by a mean organ-propelled groove in which ‘she really struts that stuff’.

But the Artwoods achieved their highest visibility by going to the Stax label for Sam & Dave’s “I Take What I Want” (written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter), about ‘a bad go-getter’ who’s going to make you ‘my goyle’. Its single-minded bragging certainty, driven by Malcolm’s bobbing bass, is contagiously irresistible. Even the flip, a slow sinuous “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots”, is a Booker T organ with novelty voice interruptions, that shows inventive potential. The confusion over the single’s exact chart history – argued out in various website dialogues, is due to the nature of the music press at the time. There were four papers simultaneously publishing lists of best-selling singles. And they seldom agreed. The ‘Record Mirror’ Top Fifty was compiled by industry-source ‘Record Retailer’, and it provides the data collected into the authoritative ‘Guinness Book Of Hit Singles’. ‘New Musical Express’ used a different chart, which has also been subsequently republished in book-form. The Artwoods never appeared on either of these charts, hence they don’t figure in the spin-off reference books. But there was also a ‘Disc & Music Echo’ Top Thirty. And there was ‘Melody Maker’ chart. And it was here – and only here, with Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo” at no.1, that “I Take What I Want” entered the ‘Melody Maker’ Top Fifty at no.43 (14th May 1966). The following week it climbs to no.40, to make its third and final appearance, at no.35, on 28th May. Presumably the different papers based their lists on returns from different shops, which explains the anomalies. But it could also be due to chart-fixing perpetrated by over-zealous management. A phenomenon not exactly unknown at the time. As a foot-note, to further complicate an already confused situation, ‘Ready Steady Go’ also presented its own chart, based on a cleverly-contrived aggregated from the four pre-existing charts, which therefore saw the Artwoods chart-run as 51-46-46!

Despite such bickering minutia “I Take What I Want” was widely-played on various Pirate Radio stations, where I heard it, as well as at all the best Mod clubs where its ‘bad man’ self-confidence made it a serious contender. It made the perfect swaggering ego-boost anthem to pych you up to cross the dancefloor of the In-club to that girl you’ve been watching, with all the cock-sure strutting arrogance that, beneath the contrived façade, few of us actually possessed. Meanwhile the group’s punishing touring schedule was taking them hither and yon shoving an intimidatingly powerful live set, with a harsh and provocative dynamic equivalent to dropping a smooth grenade into the club, ensuring them a firm club fan-base. If a breakthrough was ever going to happen, surely it must be – if not now, at least – imminent…?

In press photos the line-up look sharply cool in the Mod Carnaby Street way, long but disciplined hair, ties and neat stylish suits, whether posing with a flash cherry-red open-top MG sports car, or strung out across the stage. It’s true that Art’s voice lacks the distinctive command of an Eric Burdon or Van Morrison. In club terms it may lack Georgie Fame’s fluidity or Zoot Money’s burbling personality. But live, or on record, there were plenty of examples of lesser vocalist unable to match his presence or convincing projection. Contributing sleeve-notes to the expanded CD edition, ‘Melody Maker’ journalist Chris Welch, who knew them well, points out that Art had a ‘sturdy unpretentious vocal style’ combined with ‘just the right unflappable personality to hold a band of restless musos together.’ And, steeped in carefully studied but fluid authenticity, those musos could play. Derek’s guitar-work was never less than tastefully flashy, allied to Malcolm Pond’s active bass. Keef’s forcefully-animated and highly-personalised drum-style was jazz-influenced, yet delivered with faultlessly economical timing. With Jon Lord finally up-switching to Hammond, although focused on R&B and Soul, his virtuoso organ-flourishes were already nudging towards the beginnings of more ambitious prog-Rock projects. Astutely quick to capitalise on a good thing Mike Vernon had the musicians sneaking off for lucrative session-work for his Decca and then Blue Horizon R&B-roster, playing live and record dates for Freddy Mack and Mae Mercer while also backing-up visiting American stars Bo Diddley, Memphis Slim and Little Walter, both financing their otherwise impecunious life-style while soaking up experience.

But 1966 was to be their most high-profile year. Despite another failed single in August with “I Feel Good” c/w “Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book”, with Derek adding skronking fuzz-box to his Gibson ES335 TD, and harmonies punching around Art’s vocal, into a neat instrumental break with strong bass, before it there came the ‘Jazz In Jeans’ EP, and the twelve tracks making up the ‘Art Gallery’ LP. Supposedly recorded originally for France-only release, which explains the EP’s odd song-selection, their reading of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” nevertheless works. A cool easy-swing Ramsey Lewis Trio – or Peddlers, jazzy interpretation with guitar-strum standing in for the famous descending bass-run. It’s impossible to out-weird Lee Hazlewood, so they don’t try, but doing it straight-faced invests the song with unexpected power. The movie-theme “A Taste Of Honey” had already been interpreted by the Beatles, the Hollies and Herb Alpert, but they manage to give it a new spin, at best picked out by jazzy guitar and sprightly organ, at worst, veering towards movie-intermission muzak. Another instrumental film-song – “Our Man Flint” from James Coburn’s 1966 James Bond-spoof, hits a mid-point up-switch into dazzling small-group interplay before returning to the main theme. The EP closes with Jon Lord’s smooth “Routine”, about how ‘pool or a ball-game’ provides a break from ‘the same old scene’ of work-pressures. It completes a neat little package sleeved in an attractive Pop art lettering logo-cover.

The ‘Art Gallery’ cover-design also prominently features a Mod RAF-style roundel overlaying a rehearsal shot of the group, assuring it cult collectability. And, produced by Mike Vernon at Southern Music Studios in Denmark Street, it’s a strong selection. Opener Allen Toussaint’s “Can You Hear Me” comes via Lee Dorsey, with the group adding call-and-response chant to Art’s exhortations, and a strong unison guitar and bass riff behind Jon’s organ solo. It builds through repetition, urging ‘shake off your shoes, jump about, shout about it, you got nothing to lose’, pledging an album manifesto that ‘we’re gonna have some fun’. As Chris Welch recalls, the second track, Solomon Burke’s “Down In The Valley” delivers on that pledge, flaunting ‘the kind of strutting beat that used to send blonde Dolly-Birds boogalooing in their mini-skirts around the West-end ‘In’ Clubs’. With its ‘hey hey hey, you gotta go down deep’, it’s one of Art’s strongest performances. James Ray’s “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Myself” had already been a novelty hit for Freddie And The Dreamers, but the Artwoods reclaim its dignity (and Ronnie would eventually revive it further for his 1974 solo LP ‘I’ve Got My Own Album To Do’). “Walk On The Wild Side” – Oliver Nelson’s arrangement of Elmer Bernstein’s 1962 movie title-theme for hard-bopper Jimmy Smith’s 1962 Verve album, the record that had first turned Jon on to the organ, is a virtuoso showcase that had formed a standout of Artwoods live-set since the group’s beginning. “Be My Lady” is a second Booker T-style funky instrumental. While the jerky rhythms and Keef’s tom-tom accents highlight Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “I Keep Forgettin’”, a US hit for Chuck Jackson, later revived by Ringo Starr and David Bowie. Steve Cropper is an impossible guitarist to equal, but on Cropper’s “Things Get Better” Derek’s stinging guitar turns in a nifty break that neatly sidesteps comparison. It even has a Poppy radio-friendly chorus. So yes, they’re all class tracks. But all covers.

Every sixties name-group started out with covers-based sets, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones through the Kinks and the Who. But by 1966 they’d all evolved to a predominant reliance on original material. Despite the odd ‘B’-side, the Artwoods found themselves stranded on the wrong side of the culture-shift. Album track “Keep Lookin’” starts off with the parody-sermon wiffle delivered in perfect pronunciation by Jon over funereal organ and nervous coughs from the congregation, before exploding into driving rhythms, drum-breaks and ‘badaboomlam-samalam’ high-energy. But beneath its styling, it’s still another Solomon Burke Rock ‘n’ Soul cover…

Despite missing out with home vinyl-consumers the Artwoods developed a strong European following, leading to February 1967 tours in Poland (with Billy J Kramer), and French high-profile gigs at Paris’ ‘La Locomotive’. For the Polish tour Malcolm Pool was replaced by Ron Wright – who was with Lulu’s back-up group the Luvvers on “Shout”. Malcolm had been set upon by a gang of youths in a pub in Bishop Stortford where the group had been appearing, he was hospitalised, given three stitches in his hand and police-escorted out of town. Nevertheless, the tour left the Artwoods “I Feel Good” on the Polish Chart. In July they toured Denmark where “I Take What I Want” had been a January hit. Despite which there was a feeling that, just maybe, they’d passed their creative peak. ‘Melody Maker’ suggested that ‘one of the big drawbacks in the drive for success by the Artwoods has been the fact that they are all nice guys and good musicians. If only they were nasty and talentless, they’d be hitting the chart, folks!’ Chris Welch – writing the CD sleeve-notes, pretty-much confirms this verdict, ‘the Artwoods were not only great players, they were also among the friendliest, most cheerful and intelligent bunch of looners on the scene’. As a young ‘Melody Maker’ scribe he recalls playing a hectic darts contest with the group at the ‘100 Club’. The Artwoods won.

As seismic shifts changed the music-scene, their reliance on covers, apart from a few ‘B’-sides, saw them losing further ground. Jon Lord was their strongest writer, but he still saw himself primarily as their keyboard-player. Standing 6’1/2”, Jon confided to journalist Roy Hollingworth ‘when I was with the Artwoods I heard an album called ‘Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein’ (1961). That turned me on, I thought it was brilliant and original to put a Jazz group with an orchestra. I wanted to do it with a group, but really couldn’t with the Artwoods – maybe we could, but I wasn’t musically mature enough to write it’ (‘New Musical Express’). He tells ‘Melody Maker’ a similar tale, ‘I had discovered classics but I couldn’t fit any into the Artwoods music’ (11 September 1971). Such long-nurtured aspirations would eventually flourish with his ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra’ (1969) and the nuanced grandeur of ‘Gemini Suite’ (1970). But this full writing potential would only become apparent in later bands.

Now, with the Decca contract lapsed, a one-off single for Parlophone followed, but even a sing-along ‘la-la-la-la’ chorus failed to lift “What Shall I Do?”. While for the ‘B’-side, “The Deep End”, the Artwoods veer the closest they were ever going to get to psych-progressive, with Art’s voice mixed back into freak-beat harmonies, with guitar distortion and an experimental wind-down close. When it fell short of rectifying the sales situation they were ill-advisedly pressured, by label-boss Jack Baverstock, to jump the ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ fad. The Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway movie had provoked a kind of 1930’s fashion-fad that took Georgie Fame to no.1 with his “Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde”, complete with machine-gun effects. Maybe the blag would work for the Artwoods? When a defiant Keef Hartley refused to go along with the strategy, he was acrimoniously replaced by Colin Martin, and – launched by a lavish bash at the ‘Speakeasy Club’, the group briefly became St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Dragged up in gangster-chic, they toured their single revival of Bing Crosby’s hit “Brother Can You Spare A Dime?” for Fontana. Despite organ-work and strong guitar not dissimilar to Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, Art’s proletarian lament against the injustices of Depression-era austerity did not perform the required chart magic. ‘B’-side “Al’s Party” takes the theme further, with ragtime piano – the ‘Al’ is Al Capone, his party is the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, ‘Bugs’ Moran is invited, he’s the fall-guy, the track closes with startles of machine-gun fire. ‘Al Capone’s guns don’t argue’, indeed!

Looking back at the period, Jon Lord recalls ‘actually I felt bloody ridiculous. It wasn’t too bad abroad but back in England we had to wear these suits and I felt stupid playing R&B dressed like that. We all did.’ There was some promo, including an appearance playing in the Carnaby Street ‘Lord John’ boutique. But laid low, the group petered out soon after.

When I spoke to Jon Lord he explained how the roots of his work with Deep Purple ran deep. About how, long before the formulation of the ‘Deep Purple In Rock’-style put their album into the Top Fifty for a full year, with a Metal-brand derived out of the classic Cream/Led Zeppelin mould, the scattered members of the future Purple were working within the Blues field, doing cabaret, straight Pop and session-work. Often, until the firming of Purple’s most successful line-up around mid-1969, individual members came close to catching commercial fire – as Jon did with the Artwoods. For Jon and the other future-Purple’s, a series of groups produced a series of records, some of them excellent, sometimes regular Pop-Rock – occasionally even undeniable rubbish. After the demise of the Artwoods Jon admits ‘I had nothing to go to and for eight or nine months I did not work apart from a few sessions to pay the bills.’ He was even touring-MD for the Flowerpot Men – a group of ‘professional flower-children’ assembled by John Carter and Ken Lewis – the Ivy League duo who’d penned Artwood’s first ‘B’-side “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”. Ironically, by cynically exploiting the gullibility of the hippie-fad for purely commercial motives they did what Artwoods had never been able to do, they hit no.4 on the chart with “Let’s Go To San Francisco Part 1” c/w “Part 2” (Deram DM142). Bassist Nick Simper was also with the Flowerpot Men, and through him, around the end of 1967, Jon met Ritchie Blackmore, the core of the first Deep Purple, with former-Searchers drummer Chris Curtis acting as an unlikely catalyst. But for Jon Lord, it was his Artwood’s period that proved to be the vital apprenticeship…

After prematurely exiting the Artwoods Keef Hartley (8 April 1944 to 26 November 2011), went on to join John Mayall, before his own Big Band played a Saturday afternoon slot at ‘Woodstock’. His album ‘Halfbreed’ (1969) with jazzers Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Larry Beckett (trumpet), was well-received and respected, going on to add Ray Warleight (flute) and Barbara Thompson (sax) for ‘The Battle Of North West Six’ later the same year. As a kind of very-British counterpart to horn-driven Blood Sweat & Tears, ‘Overdog’ (1971) with songs by Miller Anderson is another highly-rated essay in loose long-limbed jazz-rock. Keef was later rejoined by Derek Griffiths in Dog Soldier for their 1975 LP. Derek had been doing serious session-work, and playing with Colin Blunstone’s back-up group doing the former-Zombie’s hits “Say You Don’t Mind” and “I Don’t Believe In Miracles”, from his Epic-label albums ‘One Year’ (1971) and ‘Ennismore’ (1972). Meanwhile, Mike Vernon was busy forming his own Blues specialist label ‘Blue Horizon’ for CBS, responsible for early Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack.

So were the Artwoods a failure? Viewed strictly in terms of the quantum jump to hit singles and albums, yes, it’s possible to argue it that way. In subsequent interviews Art himself seems to regard it as such. Explaining that Ronnie’s immense success in the Rolling Stones more or less compensates. But I don’t see it that way. The Artwoods left a legacy of a cool Mod image, and an archive of music on record that is redolent of the time, and still stands up favourably to comparison with other contemporary bands. That’s a considerable success. That’s more than most of us ever get to achieve in our lifetimes. And personally, I retain a strong affection for the group. When I told Jon Lord as much, he told me, the Artwoods? ‘it’s very much of its time though isn’t it? I’m proud of it, proud of it. It was four or five young musicians searching for something a little bit different, and we had a lot of fun doing it. Great.’

Caught within the ensuing fall-out Art toyed with a group called ArtBirds – with Jon Lord, John ‘Twink’ Adler (future Pink Fairies drummer), plus brother Ronnie and Kim Gardner from the now equally-defunct Birds (Art+Birds!). Then he took Ronnie and Kim over, adding some former-Small Faces (Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan) into a venture called Quiet Melon. Fontana kept their options open, offering free rein of studio-time, but they turned down a four-track group-demo, and the group failed to score a contract. Quiet Melon managed a live set at the Cambridge May Ball, then reconfigured into the Faces with Rod Stewart, and Art pretty-much quit music, concentrating on a successful second career in Graphic Art, forming his West Four Design studio business with middle brother, Ted. Married to second wife Angie, he continued to sporadically play sets with the Downliners Sect, and – as critics and cult-archivists rediscovered his 1960’s legacy, by then reissued in various CD packages, there were even reconstituted versions of the Artwoods, until his death from prostate cancer 3 November 2006, aged 69.



November 1964 – “Sweet Mary” c/w “If I Ever Get My Hands On You” (Carter-Lewis song) (Decca F 12015) review: ‘A very talented young outfit making a useful name for themselves around London, the Art Woods should break into big time with a well performed disc’. The Artwoods represented by ‘London City Agency’ by Johnny Jones and Barry Dunning (later agency for Mud and Man)

February 1965 – “Oh My Love” c/w “Big City” (Jon Lord song) (Decca F 12091)

August 1965 – “Goodbye Sisters” c/w “She Knows What To Do” (Decca F 12206)

April 1966 – “I Take What I Want” c/w “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots” (Decca F 12384)

August 1966 – “I Feel Good” c/w “Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book” (Decca F 12465)

April 1967 – “What Shall I Do” c/w “In The Deep End” (credited to ‘Paul Gump’ aka the group) (Parlophone R 5590) “What Shall I Do” later featured in compilation LP ‘Hits Of The Mersey Era: My Generation’ (EMI, December 1976)

1967 – “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” c/w “Al’s Party” as St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Fontana H883)


1966 – ‘Oh My Love’ (Decca 457.076 M) with “Big City”, “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You” + title track. French EP

1966 – ‘Jazz In Jeans’ (Decca DFE 8654) with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (by Lee Hazelwood), “A Taste Of Honey”, “Our Man Flint” (by Jerry Goldsmith), and “Routine” (credited to the group, but actually just Jon Lord)

1966 – ‘I Take What I Want’ (Decca DFE 8576) with “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “I Feel Good” and “She Knows What To Do” + title track


November 1966 – ‘Art Gallery’ (Decca LK 4830) with “Can You Hear Me”, “Down In The Valley”, “Things Get Better”, “Walk On The Wild Side” (Jimmy Smith), “I Keep Forgettin’”, “Keep Lookin’”, “On More Heartache” (with its Motown bass and cooing vocal background, this is surely a Northern Soul contender?), “Work, Work, Work” (‘you talkin’ to me Boy?’ demands Art, ‘don’t wanna hear about work, you keep that trash to yourself!’), “Be My Lady”, “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody”, “Stop And Think It Over” (slow impassioned Blues), “Don’t Cry No More” (with a rousing Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout’ build)

1995 – ‘Art Gallery’ (Repertoire REP4533-WP, then REP5134, 2009), includes 12 original album tracks, plus “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “Goodbye Sisters”, “She Knows What To Do”, “I Take What I Want”, “I Feel Good”, “What Shall I Do”, “In The Deep End”, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, “A Taste Of Honey”, “Our Man Flint”, “Routine”, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”, “Al’s Party”

2005 – ‘The Artwoods: Begin Here’ (Traces AD2067) a bootleg claiming to be ‘Live at the Ormescliff Hotel, in Llandudno October 1964’ with 11 mono tracks recorded on a Grundig reel-to-reel, including “Got My Mojo Working”, “The First Time I Met The Blues”, “Smack Dab In The Middle”. “Comin’ Home Baby”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Art’s Blues”, “Green Onions”, “Smokestack Lightning”, “Chicago Calling” + live versions of both sides of their first single

Quiet Melon

November 1995 – An EP ‘Art Wood’s Quiet Melon’ (Lost Moment Records LM12051, reissued as CD LMCD051, 2006) consists of material from the rejected Fontana tapes recorded in Phillips Studio May 1969, “Engine 4444” (by Art Wood) and “Diamond Joe” (by Art Wood), plus “Diamond Joe” instrumental, with Ronnie Wood, Kim Gardner, Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan. An alternate take “Early Roller Machine 4444” also appears on CD ‘Sugarlumps’ (Acid Jazz AJCD161). Art mentions two other lost titles, “Right Around The Thumb” and “Two Steps To Mother” with Rod Stewart sharing vocals

1998 – ‘MoneyDue: Art Wood’s Quiet Melon’ (Japan-only QMECDMO 121649, reissued 2002 as Crown CRCL 4036) thirteen tracks, two original tracks “Diamond Joe” and “Engine 4444”, plus eleven new tracks featuring all three Wood brothers – Ted, Art and Ronnie, “My Resistance Is Low”, “Lady Moon”, “Knee-Deep In Nephews” (by Art Wood and Ray Majors, featuring Ron’s son Jesse James Wood), “Meet Me In The Bottom” (adapted from Willie Dixon), “Am I Blue”, “Hard Time Blues”, “Gee Baby”, “Driftin’”, “Turn In Around”, “Soup In A Basket”. Also features Don Craine, Keith Grant, Ray Majors, Sandy Dillon, Mick Avory. For the album’s 1998 launch Quiet Melon performed a one-off gig at the ‘Eel Pie Club’ in Twickenham featuring all three Wood brothers.

Compilation albums

1983 – ‘100 Oxford Street’ (Edsel EDCD 107, then 1998 Get Back GET524) with “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “Goodbye Sisters”, “Oh My Love”, “I Take What I Want”, “Big City”, “She Knows What To Do”, “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist”, “Keep Lookin’”, “I Keep Forgettin’”, “I Feel Good”, “One More Heartache”, “Down In The Valley”, “Be My Lady”, “Stop And Think It Over”, “Don’t Cry No More”. Sleeve design by Art Woods, with four-page group-history by Derek Griffiths

2000 – ‘Artwoods: Singles A’s & B’s’ (Repertoire REP4887) with “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “Oh My Love”, “Big City”, “Goodbye Sisters”, “She Knows What To Do”, “I Take What I Want”, “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling”, “I Feel Good”, “Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book”, “What Shall I Do”, “In The Deep End”, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”, “Al’s Party”, “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, “A Taste Of Honey”, “Our Man Flint”, and “Routine”

2006 – ‘The Artwoods’ (Spark SRLM) 11-track vinyl limited-edition, with “On More Heartache”, “Our Man Flint”, “Work Work Work”, “Be My Lady”, “Don’t Cry No More”, “Can You Hear Me”, “Walk On The Wild Side”, “Things Get Better’”, “I Keep Forgettin’”, “A Taste Of Honey” and “Routine”

See also: feature in ‘Record Collector no.153’



12 April 1920 - 25 August 2012

If ever there was a Golden Age of British Science Fiction,
then former Skipton Postman ER JAMES was an integral
part of it. From 1947 to today his fiction has
been prominent in genre magazines
him down for an interview / retrospective


“Here was a story screaming to be written.
I began to dream of incidents in it.
My brain was on fire. The
typewriter drew me like a magnet ...”
(‘Too Perfect’ in ‘Science Fantasy’
no.19 - August 1956)

“I am rather ancient” ER James admits with sly humour, “tho’ not yet moribund.” To a seventy-seven years young ‘time-traveller like myself’, Science Fiction is a vital pulse that has carried him across not only hundreds of future centuries, but thousands of light years of interplanetary space too. All from the modest confines of his Postal Delivery route through Skipton, North Yorkshire.

But ER – or Ernest Rayer, is maddeningly self-deprecating. Tall, with short spiky silver hair, he sits opposite me now, rubbing his forehead or down-stroking his neatly disciplined moustache as he says “your praise leaves me shattered”. This, from the man who wrote as ‘Somerset Draco’ or ‘Edward Hannah’, whose science-based fantasies are reprinted in German and French magazines and anthologies, while there are over one hundred stunning fictions published under his own name spun out across the years from 1947, to the present day. If there was ever a Golden Age of British Science Fiction, then ER James is an integral part of it. He was there at its inception. His fast-paced action stories jostling for text-space with those of EC Tubb, John Brunner, and Ken Bulmer – often in consecutive issues of the same magazines. While open up a recent 1990’s title – ‘New Moon’, and he’s there too with a fine ecological story of the menaced rainforests.

“I don’t know that there has ever been a ‘Golden Age of British SF’” he argues. “Some of Hamilton’s and Carnell’s magazines of the 1950’s and sixties may have merited ‘gold’ – but it depends on the reader, as does all writing. I merely enjoy trying to write stories. I spent most of my life earning – rather than writing, just to survive. The stories helped me run a car...”

His right eye has a greenish iris, the legacy of World War II enemy shrapnel that ‘peppered him’ after five weeks in Normandy. “At the end of the war I was still in the Army – a Lance Corporal” he recalls, “when my cousin (SF writer Francis G Rayer, who died in 1981) wrote that he knew of an editor who wanted Science Fiction stories. This was Walter Gillings, a very helpful man who took three of my earliest tales.” The first of these, “Prefabrication”, appeared in the slender ‘Fantasy No.2’ – one of the original British weird fiction titles. A collector’s gem that now fetches an outlandish price-tag, it arrived in April 1947, during a time of post-war reconstruction – but his story concerns the prefabrication not of houses, but people! ‘IS SUCH A THING POSSIBLE – TO CREATE SYNTHETIC LIFE?’ probes the magazine blurb, ‘SCIENCE HAD FOUND A WAY TO MANUFACTURE HUMAN BEINGS... IN A WORLD IN WHICH MONOPOLY HAD THE LAW ON ITS SIDE. RESULT – CONFLICT!’

His next editor – John Carnell of Nova Publications, “asked me to meet him in London, and we had a lunch together. London was very different then, and I’m not sure – but I think I was still not demobilised at the time.” Carnell’s stable of magazines became a regular ER James market, with work subsequently appearing most frequently in ‘New Worlds’, ‘Science Fantasy’, and ‘Science Fiction Adventures’. He experienced little editorial interference, although James recalls Carnell as being a ‘very moral’ editor, “he once commented ‘is it really necessary to have the word ‘body’ in this story?’ I mean – ‘body’!”

The ER James novel-length “Robots Never Weep” took the cover of the launch issue of ‘Nebula’ in 1952. Oddly, editor Peter Hamilton Jrn liked the story because it was significantly different to what Carnell was publishing. To further emphasise the ‘clear blue water’ between titles – as James was a recognised ‘New Worlds’ writer, Hamilton initially wanted to publish the story under a pseudonym. James wasn’t keen, and the ensuing dialogue resulted not only in his name being retained, but at an improved word-rate too. ‘HE AWOKE. FINDING HIMSELF IN A METAL WORLD, PEOPLED MOSTLY BY MACHINES, HE STRUGGLED FOR THE RIGHT TO LIVE – AND GRADUALLY THE NIGHTMARISH TRUTH CAME HOME TO HIM...’ ran the blurb. The wide sweep and breath-catching speed of its two-fisted action has many purely Gernsbackian elements, leaving little space for reflection, motivation or characterisation. There are metal raiders with pre-Asimovian tendencies rampaging from a fantastic Space Island built on an orbital ‘volcanic asteroid’. Their leader, the deranged Ursula, is a brain in a metal shell, ‘a woman shut up in a sphere, with lenses for eyes. Human, yet inhuman’. Agent Johnny Found comes to awareness as he’s about to be pitched into an ‘atomic furnace’ by a noxious dwarf and his robotic cohorts, only to be rescued from certain death by the lovely Sacha (‘his stunned soul warmed to her exotic beauty’). He’s had his memory erased and replaced with an artificial identity enabling him to infiltrate the raider’s base, where he finds himself torn between his conflicting loyalties to the ravaged and besieged Earth he’s left behind, and his new allegiances to the evil cybernetic dystopia planned by Ursula. Meanwhile, the armies of manic mechanoids attack, ‘from the sky, between lofty pinnacles of tall buildings, down past upper-level roads, huge rockets soared tail-foremost. Robots moved towards this second wave, even while the roads still glowed red hot’.

Johnny Found’s adventures in the robotic future came with a dramatic cover painting by long-time SF artist Alan Hunter (who died 1 August 2012). James was just thirty-two when he wrote “Robots Never Weep”. But by then he’d already sold over forty articles and stories, some half of which were SF-based. According to Hamilton’s editorial comment he also had a novel placed with an agent – although ‘this (is) by no means sure of publication...’ Well, that novel has yet to appear, but as the 1950’s picked up momentum ER James’ magazine adventures were unstoppable – the powerfully tense “Blaze Of Glory” has three people trapped in an asteroid as it spirals in towards the sun, “Ride The Twilight Rail” – often cited as his greatest tale, is a cover story for ‘New Worlds’ set on the hostile planet Mercury with its silent inhabitants ‘utterly alien beings, outwardly featureless, huge; inwardly a complexity of crystalline structures with a silicon base’, and then, notably, there’s “World Destroyer” for which ‘New Worlds’ set aside its ‘strongest editorial taboo – that of current world politics coupled with the threat of atomic war’.

Beyond the solar system – in “The Moving Hills”, he created the deserted Siemens Planet, a world of dead cities and apparently empty deserts in which two stranded Earthmen become assimilated into the automated self-replicating pseudo-living landscape. There was also “Made On Mars”, “Galactic Year”, “Advent Of The Entities”, “Forty Years On” (a retro-Detective theme as Dormer – as in ‘Sleeper’, attempts to reconstruct events leading up to the explosion off Ceres which cost him four decades of life) and so very many more. His prose is often functional, his protagonists have Euro-friendly names like Johnny, Ricky or Ann, while his female characters are little more than plot confections, and although there’s an unmistakable sophistication as the work evolves, James remains an exponent of basic story-telling skills. The elements he excels in are conflict, hardship, and action, all set against the eerie poetry of the solar system where ‘on one side of the thread of life was the burning heat of killing, on the other the utter chill of death’.

In the 1957 fanzine ‘The New Futurian no.6’, he contributes a rare article touching on his methods of writing. “With me, the idea is the peg for a story” he expands to me now. They were originally written directly onto the typewriter, “but it was already worked out in my head, everything that was going to happen through every stage. Perhaps the ending wasn’t clear yet, but everything else was.” A pause. “In the past I used to have an idea, sit at my new Imperial Companion, and change hardly anything. But now I write and re-write before turning to an electronic machine...”

He gets up. Leaves the room for a moment to return with an original ‘Nova Publications’ share certificate, dated 1st January 1949 and signed by John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham). He passes this rare artefact of SF history across to me dismissively. “You might as well take this. As a souvenir of Skipton!”


Critics were not uniformly supportive. ‘You could go to the bookstalls and there they were on time, the same shaggy old writers in there’ recalls Brian Aldiss (in ‘Crucified Toad no.4’), ‘all those frantic people, ER James and Francis G Rayer, couldn’t put two words together in the right order.’ James’ success throughout this period proves that others thought differently. Lacking the intellectual vigour and experimental energies that Aldiss was to bring to the genre, James’ stories are never less than solidly inventive and often wildly enjoyable, ideally suited to the demands of the magazine market of the period. Born 12th April 1920, Science Fiction was always a part of his life. The influences that shaped his style began when, “as a boy, I read some of the Gernsback ‘pulps’ and the first three volumes of the Martian romances of the Old Master Edgar Rice Burroughs which held me spellbound (but not so much his Venus books)”, while HG Wells “still reads as well now as when I first read them. Then there were boys mags such as ‘Adventure’ and ‘Wizard’”. ‘I began reading Science Fiction stories before leaving school’ he told a ‘Nebula’ ‘KNOW YOUR AUTHOR’ column, ‘and can remember the plots of quite a few stories out of the American ‘pulps’ of Gernsback and his contemporaries. Wondered why these and other such stories were not more popular, and began to write manuscripts with a science flavour myself – and enjoyed doing so, though no-one wanted them’. He continues, “I wrote a little, but submitted none of it. The war altered everything, however”.

The years 1945 to 1950 were an experimental period, testing out markets, trying different genres. He wrote a ‘psychological thriller’ “The Hynotised Murderer” (1946), another titled “Pabulum Of Death” (1946) rejected by ‘Strand’, ‘Chambers’ and John Carnell. “The Circus Thief” (April 1950) was begun – and abandoned, a juvenile Western “King Shadow, Wild Horse” went to Gerald Swan. “The Subconscious Mind Of Luke Frazer” – ‘all rights sold’ to Gerald Swan for £3 (1945), and “The Power Of Speech” for £2 (August 1945). He tried ‘Argosy’ and ‘Tit-Bits’, even sold a series of ‘helpful DIY-features’ to ‘Hobbies Weekly’. Intriguingly he completed 25,000-words of “Twenty-Five Billion Miles Up” during July 1950, before it was rejected by Tempest, and abandoned. But the steady and increasing success-rate of his SF resulted in a growing confidence that determined the direction he’d concentrate on.

As the first stories appeared he “made plans with a friend, also writing and selling, to live together. But instead married Margaret, and altered my address from Somerset to North Yorkshire”. In common with many of his contemporaries he took a ‘bread and butter’ job, with the GPO – perhaps delivering his own royalty cheques, and the occasional rejection slip too. Skipton is a beautiful town for such activity. On the way here today I pass Menwith Hill – a surreal formation of huge Quatermass-like white spheres that house a US radar installation (don’t look for it on the map, it’s not there!), and a Greenham Common-style Peace Camp beyond its periphery. Then I pass through the looming shadow of Skipton Castle. Two very different zones of fantasy. ‘I found that postal work fits in with a career of part-time writing very well’ he told a ‘New Worlds’ author profile. ‘In fact, I declined an offer of an indoor clerical appointment in the Post Office because I felt that the outdoor work left my mind less exhausted and more eager for thinking up stories.’

He was a guest speaker at the Harrogate SF Convention alongside Aldiss, Kingsley Amis, and James White (who was ‘even quieter than I am!’). Organiser Ron Bennett, now a Harrogate-based book-dealer specialising in ERB-iana “had me give a sort of opening speech, at the beginning of which I stood on my head Yoga-fashion to get attention”.

Among the work produced through this, his most prolific period, was “Refrigerator Ship”, delineating the murderous equation necessary when a ship full of deep-frozen colonists emerge from star-drive to find their potential colony-world vaporised by nova, and they have insufficient reserves to return them all to Earth. “Hospital Ship”, which vividly illustrates the horror and absurdity of a ‘strange and remote war of annihilation’ fought 12,000,000,000,000 miles from the solar system’ in the thirteen-planet Alpha Centauri system. Here, James deliberately ignores the usual SF warp-drive conventions in favour of fully involving the logistical difficulties of conducting warfare when ‘the long haul’ involved takes four-and-a-third years! The first punitive expedition is launched twenty-seven years after the initial incident, and ‘each commander, isolated by time and space, was on his own’. Unrelentingly bleak, the action is set on a derelict Biological Study Ship crewed by the victims of ‘Island Of Dr Moreau’-style miscegenation, and the powerfully repellent horror is vividly realised as Cliff Heron is experimentally transplanted into an alien body. Elsewhere, “Friction” is set on Betelguese IV where poor miners are lured away by the fabulous wealth and technological richness of Earth.

There were also a number of collaborations with cousin ‘Frank’ Rayer, beginning with “The Lava Seas Tunnel” for ‘Authentic SF’, predicting the eco-energy crisis when an expedition beneath the Earth’s crust in a boring machine seek an alternative to the exhausted oil and coal fossil fuels. Built up largely by passing manuscripts back and forth, making alterations and additions to each other’s work, he admits to being “never completely satisfied” by such joint efforts. Although they were snapped up by the magazines. He does, however, admit to a certain retrospective satisfaction with his fictional portrayal of Venus as a super-heated desert world, “more as it is, or more as the planet has proved to be” than the lush tropical jungles envisaged there by some of his contemporaries. Among my own favourites is the hauntingly atmospheric “The Truth” from the December 1958 edition of ‘Nebula’. Four survivors of a Space-Time Liner from the 22nd Century are marooned in the ‘endless ooze’ of a world that may, or may not be primeval Earth. The corpses of two other crew members are buried there with the foreknowledge that ‘the atoms of their bodies don’t belong in this time and place’, and inexorably their viral presence infects and alters the biosphere. Meticulously worked out, and forsaking his more usual speed of narrative pacing for a slow claustrophobic intensity, it’s a beautifully worked out story.

“Then TV came along, and the old magazines all suffered. Not just SF titles but all printed-word publications clear down to the text-based boys comics. I transferred to working on the Post Office counter and did less writing.” He did, however, resume with a vengeance following his retirement, selling a number of extremely well-received stories to a new generation of magazines – beginning with “Second Century Koma” in ‘Dream’, and then “The Tree” in ‘New Moon’. His current writing method involves “two large bulldog clips on a sheet of plywood about 12”x18”, or another sheet of plywood about 12”x30” with an adjustable lamp on one end and a slot into which the smaller board will fit. These are excellent when sitting in an armchair. One clip holds notes and the other the narrative on old A4 paper (torn in two and written on the back).” He half-jokingly toys with the idea of writing and submitting a story to one of the current crop of Women’s magazines, ‘Best’ or ‘Bella’, while adding “the necessity of earning a crust, a lack of scientific background and various other circumstances and failings, and competing personal inclinations all held me back from making a real effort to be a success. And now I have advancing years to contend with. But I’m halfway through a novel (‘The Lure Of Far Centauri’) of which I have high hopes – who can have more?”, so perhaps Peter Hamilton’s 1952 prediction will yet be fulfilled?

“I still enjoy other people’s stories. I admire, and subscribe to ‘Interzone’ – but I rarely enjoy the stories in it, many of them seem to me so very depressing. I suppose it must be what most readers like. And I belong to a postal book-chain through which I get issues of ‘Analog’. But I look in the Science Fiction section of W.H. Smith, and there’s no SF there! It’s all Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery. I still wonder why the British public generally takes so little interest in science, and more particularly in the wonderful, if frighteningly vast and terrible vistas which seem only just around the corner of the future in these inspiring times.” And on a more personal note “I just keep trying, somewhat fitfully, but hopefully, to become a little famous” he concedes modestly.

Now ancient – but not yet moribund, he’s not always at ease with current trends, or with all of the stories he shares magazine space with. “I live reasonably well. I survive and write an occasional short story that does more for postal profits than it does for me. ‘Interzone’ seems out of my reach, my ideas don’t suit them (he writes that Ed Gorman’s “Cages” in ‘Interzone no.109’ ‘would have so disgusted EJ Carnell of the old ‘New Worlds’ that he would have lost faith in humanity’*). Perhaps I’m too old, but I find some of their kind of writing very disturbing. There’s so much sex-for-sex sake and sarcasm these days that I try to promote a little romance and sincerity whenever I can. But of course”, the slyly self-deprecating humour again, “it could be said that, as I am no longer so fired-up with youthful ways, some of this is sour grapes – and the rest is a senile tendency to think the best of people…!

 --- 0 ---

Margaret James died on the 25th August 2012. After sixty-six years together, Ernest Rayer survived her by just ten weeks. He died 2nd November, aged ninety-two, leaving a daughter, Hazel, and two grandsons. His funeral was on the 16th November 2012 at 1pm at Skipton Crematorium.



THE REBELS in NEW WORLDS no.4 (1949)

‘WORLDS AT WAR’ by FG Rayer (1949, paperback anthology from Tempest Publ, Bolton, Lancs) with “Scapegoat” (as Edward Hannah), “Masque” (as Somerset Draco), “The Cleverjacks And The Moonstalk” (as ER James) plus “Dodie Slammed The Door” (by ‘Malcolm Ruy Wade’?), and long story ‘Fearful Barrier’ by FG Rayer


THE MOVING HILLS in SCIENCE FANTASY no.3 (Winter 1951/’52)

ASTEROID CITY in NEW WORLDS no.14 (March 1952)

THE WISDOM OF THE HYPRIANS in PHANTASMAGORIA no.4 (Spring 1952) fanzine edited by Derek Pickles

EMERGENCY WORKING in NEW WORLDS no.17 (Sept 1952), reprinted in anthology GATEWAY TO TOMORROW (1953) edited by John Carnell

NOT AS WE ARE in SCIENCE FANTASY no.5 (Autumn 1952)

ROBOTS NEVER WEEP in NEBULA no.1 (Autumn 1952), also includes brief ‘Know Your Author’ biog


UNDER ATOMIC COVER in SLANT no.6 (Winter 1951/2) fanzine edited by Walter Willis, art by Bob Shaw


THE LAVA SEAS TUNNEL (with F.G. Rayer) in AUTHENTIC SF no.43 (March 1954)

BLAZE OF GLORY in NEBULA no.8 (April 1954)

SPACE CAPSULE in NEW WORLDS no.23 (May 1954)

MAN ON THE CEILING in NEW WORLDS no.25 (July 1954)

THE MINUS MEN in NEW WORLDS no.26 (August 1954)

ROCKFALL in NEW WORLDS no.29 (Nov 1954)

REPORT ON ADAM in NEBULA no.12 (April 1955)




HOT WATER in NEBULA no.16 (March 1956)

PERIOD OF QUARANTINE (with FG Rayer) in NEW WORLDS no.48 (June 1956)


CREEP in NEW WORLDS no.51 (Sept 1956) reprinted in German ‘UTOPIA’ magazine as ‘Maschinenschaden im Weltraum’

BEAUTIFUL WEED in NEW WORLDS no.57 (March 1957)

‘THE NEW FUTURIAN no.6’ ER James article on his method of writing (fanzine edited by Ron Bennett & Mike Rosenblum from 7 Grosvenor Park, Leeds)



POMPEY’S PLANET in NEBULA no.22 (July 1957)

MADE ON MARS in NEW WORLDS no.63 (Sept 1957)

TRAINING AREA in NEBULA no.30 (March 1958)


FRICTION in NEBULA no.34 (Sept 1958)

THE TRUTH in NEBULA no.37 (Dec 1958)

HOSPITAL SHIP in NEBULA no.38 (Jan 1959)

SPRINKLER SYSTEM in NEW WORLDS no.85 (July 1959) reprinted in French ‘FICTION Special no.3’ as ‘Dispostif d’Arrosage’

BEYOND REALISM in NEW WORLDS no.86 (Aug/Sept 1959)


SIX-FINGERED JACKS in NEW WORLDS no.119 (June 1962), anthologised by BLACKIE & SON PUBL


FORTY YEARS ON in NEW WORLDS no.135 (Oct 1963)

SECOND CENTURY KOMA in DREAM MAGAZINE no.13 (Sept 1987), reprinted in A BOOK OF DREAMS anthology (1990) edited by Trevor Jones and George P Townsend

THE ABREACTION in DREAM SF no.20 (Summer 1989)

THE SUGGESTION FORM in DREAM SF no.21 (Autumn 1989)

SURVIVING THE NIGHT in DREAM SF no.28 (April 1991)

THE TREE in NEW MOON no.2 (January 1992)

FATAL UNITY in FANTASY ANNUAL no.2 (Spring 1998)

BODY AUCTION in GRYPHON SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY READER no.1 (January 1999, Gryphon Books, USA ISBN: 1-58250-011-8) edited by Philip Harbottle

Other Published Work:

‘HOBBIES WEEKLY’ ER James made a number of anonymously published contributions to this 3d twelve-page magazine from Balding & Mansell Ltd (vol.107 no.2780, 9 February 1949). (no.2781, 16 February 1949). (no.2782, 23 February 1949). (no.2785, 16 March 1949). (vol.108 no.2807, 17 August 1949, ‘Workshop Cupboard’). (vol.109 no.2814, 5 October 1949, ‘Table Extension’). (No.2832, 8 February 1950, ‘Renew Small Windows’). (No.2834, 22 February 1950). (vol.110 no.2861, 30 August 1950, ‘A Practical Dog Kennel’)

‘AFFINITY no.23’ (August/September 1949) 1/- romance magazine published by Gerald G Swan, includes ER James story “The Suspicious Lady”

‘SCRAMBLE ANNUAL’ (1948) 2/6, published by Gerald G Swan, includes ER James text-story “The Twenty-Four Hours Global’

‘BOYS’ FUN no.2’ (December 1952) Monthly comic published by Gerald G Swan, includes ER James text-story “We Answer Everything”

‘CUTE FUN ANNUAL’ (1953, Gerald G Swan Juvenile Hardcover) with “Champion Robot”, lead story

‘SCHOOLBOYS ALBUM’ (1954, Gerald G Swan Juvenile Hardcover) 4/-, with “The Qualtimers”

‘VECTOR no.44’ (May 1967) BSFA-magazine, includes ER James review of ‘The Wonder Effect’ by CM Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl

There were other stories sold ‘all rights’ to various small publishers under various pseudonyms, of which “I now have no record beyond small cash entries”, there’s a letter published in ‘VECTOR no.139’ (1987), another in ‘INTERZONE no.111’* (Sept 1996), as well as the following:

MURDER IN REVERSE – a “time-travel story, if I remember correctly”, accepted by Peter Hamilton for NEBULA, but never used due of premature cessation of the title.

My thanks to ER James for invaluable assistance
and co-operation in compiling this feature

Original version of this feature published in: ‘VECTOR no.209: Jan/Feb’ (UK – February 2000)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012



Joe Brown was one of Britain’s first home-grown
Rock ‘n’ Roll stars with real musical ability.
is his first new album for many years. And while
he’s quite happy to talk about the album, about his work
with Billy Fury, Nick Lowe, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent,
just... don’t ask him to talk about Techno!

“The thing that REALLY bores me is the CONSTANT BEAT! When you’ve got a throbbing beat that keeps the same time all the way through!!! It gets in your BRAIN, y’know?” Joe Brown leans forward, enthusiastically warming to his subject. “Yeh, what I mean is, you get two guys with synths just standing up there and, every now and then, they lean forward and press their finger on ONE note, THAT’S the thing that REALLY BORES me!!! I mean, I sometimes wonder what it would sound like if Beethoven or any of those Classical guys had had synths available. It would still have been great music, obviously, because whether it’s good or not depends how you use the technology. You just use what’s right. And that’s the difference between a good musician and a bad one!”

Joe should know. I guess. Think “A Picture Of You”. Not the Boyzone whimp-erama. But Joe’s no.2 hit from June 1962. The one about Kodak voyeurism, a sneak photo of the girl on the crest of a hill. Then the sharp guitar kick. ‘In the night there are sights to be seen, stars like jewels on the crown of a queen’. A face glimpsed on the Streetcar, or in a cafe. Yeah, that one. It’s on every Sixties hits compilation you ever heard. It’s one of the microdots of all our yesterdays.

And like the Movie title says, Joe’s lived a Life Less Ordinary. He turned fifty-six on the 13th May 1997. He’s issued ‘56 And Taller Than You Think’*, his first new album in a long while, to mark the occasion. It comes through the respected Demon label, and all the evidence you need is here, in its fourteen tracks. Joe Brown has always been a musician, first and foremost. It’s there in the down-to-earth normalcy of his anti-Pop Star name. In the grin they couldn’t surgically remove. And it’s the role the legendary Jack Good originally assigned him for those ground-breaking late 1950’s TV Rock Shows. It was his guitar skills that got him the back-up gigs with Eddie Cochran, Billy Fury, Johnny Cash, Gene Vincent and the rest. Of course, he’s put on various faces since then, Pop Star, Cheeky Chappie, Character Ac-tor, Spikey-Haired youth out for the Craik, Variety Artist, but the music’s always been there as the underlying continuity. And, as (daughter) Sam Brown told me prior to the interview, “I watched Dad go into Cabaret. Then I watched him come out unscathed”. And although the album has some admittedly duff moments, it’s salvaged by some music of genuine power. Some Nick Lowe songs. Some songwriting co-credits with Chris Difford and Roger Glover. And a ragged weary breadth of vision taking in four decades of British Rock ‘n’ Roll culture.

Nick Lowe’s “Rose Of England” is a stand-out. “It IS a good song that, in’it?” he agrees. “It’s a bit Folksy, but it’s nice, it’s a good track that. When my son Peter, who produced my record, started out as a recording engineer a number of years ago, he used to work with Nick. He always liked Nick’s stuff. And I do too. ‘Cos he’s got that natural thing about him. So we looked at Nick’s songs when we started doing the album, and we found two. “Rose Of England” is one, and the other is a nice perky little number that we put in our act called “Without Love”. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek that one, really. But it’s good bouncy Country-style stuff, y’know?”

Joe began in the late 1950’s with Skiffle, and comes neatly full circle back to Skiffle again. He did a recent Four-Part Radio Two Rock-umentary about it, called ‘The Rock Island Line’. And there’s a stage musical written with Roger Cook called ‘Skiffle’ waiting in the production wings. Joe started out as part of a group called The Spacemen who played East End Pub knees-ups and Butlins Holiday Camp Hops. Exploits narrated in Joe’s book ‘Brown Sauce’. “It was quite an interesting era that Skiffle business” he begins. “‘Cos it only lasted two years. But it created havoc when it came on the scene. ‘Cos every kid in the world could play it, y’know? And that’s what it was all about. It was sort-of derived from the American Rent Party thing, where they’d get everybody round their house with some beer, and they’d play their songs. And everyone would chip in a few quid towards the rent. That’s how that all started. They used to use Tea-Chest Basses, Wash-Boards and... anything that came to hand that they could make music on. And everybody could do it. Then Lonnie Donegan really opened the whole thing up over here. At one point in 1957 it was estimated that one-in-nine of the male population was in a Skiffle Group. That’s a fact. There you go.” Other members of that one-in-nine were a young Cliff Richard, and a guy called John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen Skiffle Group in Liverpool.

Discovered at a Southend audition Joe was immediately recruited as featured guitarist for monochrome TV’s ‘Wham’ and ‘Boy Meets Girl’, which soon became personality showcases for his blonde crew-cut and exuberant winkle-pickered Rock Cockney. He got to play as part of Eddie Cochran’s backing band on the American stars fatal last tour, and then played session guitar on what is arguably Britain’s first great home-grown Rock album, Billy Fury’s ‘The Sound Of Fury’ (May 1960). “The great thing about that was that we went in the studio... I think it was round about two o’ clock in the afternoon, and we was out by three! We’d done all the album, everything, and out, finished in one take, the whole thing done in an hour. And it turned out very well.” Then, as Joe’s own hits began, he found himself touring on bills with Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Exciting times? “I remember years ago, the first time I heard Ray Charles. There was a singer / compere guy called Davy Jones on our show. He was American and he’d brought all this Ray Charles stuff over, which we hadn’t heard before. Georgie Fame was on that tour as well. And it just knocked us out. We’d heard nothing like it before. And we didn’t hear it again for another two years. But he was there with it. So – you know, you do get to hear the good stuff if you’re mixing in the right circles.” Brian Epstein promoted some of Joe’s shows in the North of England, ensuring that his protégés the Beatles played the opening slot. They needed the exposure that a big chart name like ‘Joe Brown’ could provide. While Joe’s hits – and there are quite a few of them – “Your Tender Look” (no.31, September 1962), “It Only Took A Minute” (no.6, November 1962), “That’s What Love Will Do” (no.3, February 1963), “Nature’s Time For Love” (no.26, June 1963), and “Sally Ann” (no.28, June 1963), carried him through the Sixties.

It’s fair to say that the clean melodic Hank Marvin was the guitarist everyone aspired to be, but Joe Brown was a respected guitar hero before they even got around to inventing the term. Tucked away on the ‘B’-sides of those hit singles were guitar-instrumentals that young would-be-muso’s listened to with awe, working out the fingering of “The Spanish Bit” or “Hava Nagila”. And you want to know where Jimi Hendrix got that playing the guitar behind the head bit, yes, Joe was doing it way back then. One of his last sixties hits was a cover of Epstein’s protégés “With A Little Help From My Friends”. It lost out in a chart battle to Joe Cocker’s version, but still scored a respectable no.32 (in June 1967), and anyway “by the time the Beatles came along I was already into other things. I was doing TV Shows and Pantomimes and stuff, so it didn’t really bother me that much.”

Ominously it looked for a while as though Joe had become a casualty of the Celebrity Game-Show circuit. There were high-profile Movies and West End Shows, a role in ‘Pump Boys And Dinettes’ with the legendary Cyd Charisse (name-checked on Madonna’s “Vogue”) and three TV series of ‘The Joe Brown Show’, ‘Set ‘Em Up’, alongside guest slots on the likes of ‘Junior Showtime’. And there were some dodgy records too, including an instrumental “All Things Bright And Beautiful” done St Winifred’s-style in 1977 with the Dovedale Junior School Choir! “Ah well – there you go” he comments philosophically. But Joe Brown has always been a musician, first and foremost. More recently he toured with daughter Sam in the experimental setting of the Subway Soopa Stringz quartet. And his 1993 ‘Come On Joe’ album proved to be a major step back to credibility. Part-written out of a song-deal for the US Country market during trips to Nashville, it came with occasional guitar supplement from Alvin Lee on tracks like the gruff “Battle Hymn Of Love” and “He Can’t Hold Still”. “You’ve got to keep up with it” he explains with a verbal shrug. “Even now, when I hear an obscure record on the radio or something, I write the number down and ‘phone up the next day and order it, y’know. Just heard a great one by Junior Wells which is a version of “That’s Alright Mama”, the Presley song, and it’s a great track. Great, different thing. Different groove, you know? It’s not case of availability. It’s a case of going out looking for it...”

And now there’s ‘56 and Taller Than You Think’, an album that quotes from all the most vital stages of his career, with revealing autobiographical material drawn from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life Less Ordinary. All driven by a kick of guitar. His Country influences shine in a Billy Joe Shaver cover, or the tactile instrumental “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”. Then his own songs, “The Corner Of Our Street”, a Cockney ‘Old Vic’ knees-up co-written with Squeeze mainman Chris Difford, the more affectionately reflective “When I Write My Book” about ‘playing guitar with Little Richard on the radio’, or the title track looking back to ‘when I was younger’ and ‘they all saw me on TV’. A song that poignantly concludes ‘in their mind’s eye that boy will never be extinct...’

Been there then. Back for more now. “And you won’t really hear me making derogatory comments about today’s music” he begins tactfully. “I’m very careful about what I say. It’s just that... these days it’s 90% image and about 10% music. In our day you still had to get up and do it. You had to have that bit of music in you. With a lot of groups now, you don’t. As long as you can move, and so long as you look good, you don’t need to sing or anything. You just get up and do it.”

But aren’t there parallels there with Skiffle? Weren’t you just saying that was cheap get-up-and-do-it DIY music as well? “I guess that’s true, because when I started out they said THAT was a load of rubbish too. But you’ve taken it a little bit out of context with what I mean.... anyway.... good luck to them I say” as a throw-away afterthought.

And what about bands like U2 and Oasis? “Oh, they’re good. You see, they’re very good. They don’t fall into the category of what I was saying. I had more in mind...”

Boy Bands, Techno, programmed drum machines, Dance Music? “Yes. THAT’s what I was talking about. ‘Cos I have used drum machines. They lay down a real solid beat, but what happens musically when you’re playing is that you get excited and you try to push ahead of it, but as soon as you start pushing, the bottom falls out of the whole thing. It goes to pieces on you and you just lose interest in it. A real drummer will move around, he gets faster, then slower, and it makes for more life in the music. D’yer know what I mean? It’s weird. THAT’S what I was trying to say. The thing about drummers is that everyone always has problems with drummers. It’s probably ‘cos they wanna HIT things, yeh? But I always prefer ‘em. It’s like anything else that’s got such a wide range. Sure, you have it all available to you, but you don’t have to use everything all of the time. I mean, I have a little 16-track studio set-up that I lay my demos down in. And when I’m writing songs on my own them things are very handy. If I haven’t got a drummer available then I’ll use an electronic beat to keep it together. I always lay the beat track down first with those things, but every now and then I’ll tweak ‘em. Where the chorus comes in I just edge it up a notch, so it gets faster. It’s hardly noticeable but it just pushes it on a little bit. People listen to my demo’s and say to me ‘how do you do that? it’s an electric drum thing but it gets FASTER at the end ?’ And I say ‘well, I just bloody TURN IT UP!’ And they go ‘I never fort of that.’ But I wouldn’t put it out on a record. I’ll take it off afterwards and stick a real drummer on. D’yer know what I mean, mate? ‘Cos the thing that REALLY bores me is – the CONSTANT BEAT! When you’ve got a throbbing beat that keeps the same time all the way through! It gets in your BRAIN...!!!” Joe Brown leans forward, enthusiastically warming to his subject.

Joe should know. I guess.

is available on Demon Records (1997, Demon FIENDED 790)

Saturday, 3 November 2012




...a slim Dark Mood-Fantasy in the tradition of
Michael Moorcock or Jack Vance, 
(28pp) fully illustrated by

exclusively available from
Spectre Press
56 Mickle Hill
GU47 8QU

ISBN: 0-905416-08-2
(all proceeds to charity)