Thursday, 30 July 2015



“so we poor terrestrial castaways, 
lost in that wild-growing moon jungle, 
 crawled in terror before the sounds 
that had come upon us… ”

by H.G. Wells - 1901) 

pteradons glide my room
each morning before dawn,
I taste the audible smile
of their scales
through the hooks
beneath my flesh

I know such yearnings

my hands become claws as
fluid dissolves in soft curves
through the silence
of hall and landing,
I know the instinct to simpler forms
in the low cellular echoes
aching down the spinal staircase
towards phantom primeval suns

my room submerges, liquid,
ebbing memories of primal slime,
flakes of time float loose
leaving salt reptile aftertaste,
in such moments the urge
to devolve becomes real

through the barbs
beneath the cortex
I share their stillness

I pace slow,
leave web tracks
in the warm mud
across the rug
while lizards
slither & coil
in the moist stink
of rich decay,
beneath all that’s
rational and cold,
moving slow, pared down
to guiltless indolence,
they’re millennia-deep,
glimpsed in sharp echoes
at the pit of my eyes,
I remember the mindless reptile purity
that’s now resurfacing…

and all the while,
beyond the pteradon’s glide,
through the casement,
the silver ribs of mud-flats
leak away without end,
achingly soft

Published in:
‘SF SPECTRUM no.7’ (UK - October 1985)
‘ONOMA no.5’ (Belgium - September 1988)
‘PURPLE PATCH no.44’ (UK - November 1990)
In anthologies:
(USA - September 1986)
anthology Ocean View Books - June 1989 - USA
(this poem singled out for review and extensively quoted by
Steve Rasnic Tem in ‘BLOOMSBURY REVIEW’ Sept/Oct 1987)
Sol Publications - edit Steve Sneyd (UK - Aug 1999)
And in personal collection:
(UK- Oct 2000)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015



 Album Review of: 
(Sony Music, 2011) 


In a coffee-house Sebastian sat, and after every number he’d pass the hat. There was music in the cafés at night, and revolution in the air. There’d been Folk music on the charts before. There’d even been what they called the Hootenanny fad. Traditional songs by the Kingston Trio and the Highwaymen once topped the Pop charts, and the Rooftop Singers took twelve-string guitar onto mainstream radio by adapting the 1929 Folk-Blues “Walk Right In”. But suddenly there are new possibilities. The English invasion shook the American music scene literally to its folk-roots.

What was to become the Spoonful came together in Greenwich Village in 1964. Centred around John Benson Sebastian. Born 17 March 1944, he was a local boy, son of a classical harmonica player who cut singles for Cadence in the 1950s. ‘You hear a cat practicing in the next room six hours a day, and you gotta pick up something.’ Neglecting NYU college work, John was soon backing Judy Collins or Jesse Colin Young on stage, or playing mouth-harp on sessions for Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, the Even Dozen Jug Band and others. He’s there on Tom Rush’s 1965 Elektra album. Through such studio connections, producer Erik Jacobsen encouraged John to put a group together to record his own songs. 

First link was to guitarist Zalman ‘Zally’ Yanofsky, a ‘tall Russian Jew’ born in Toronto (19 December 1944). Zal said he’d once lived in a Laundromat for seven months. In fact, he’d been one of the folky Halifax Three, and briefly with John Sebastian in the Mugwumps, alongside future Mamas & Papas Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty. John and Zal were there, in Cass’s front-room, to watch the Beatles US TV-debut on ‘Ed Sullivan’. A nudging prompt to them that to be a proper electric beat-group, they need a rhythm section. So they found a rhythm section.

Joseph Campbell ‘Joe’ Butler (born 16 September 1943 in Glen Cove, Long Island) was one of the few non-jazz drummers in the Village and Steve Boone (23 September 1943, North Carolina) – who claimed to be related to frontiersman Daniel Boone, was a rhythm guitarist in search of a group. His brother, Skip Boone played bass with Autosalvage, a unit who benefitted from Frank Zappa’s patronage. Steve and Joe were both versed in the rigours of Long Island dancehall bands, from the Sellouts to the Kingsmen. While John and Zal came out of Village Folknik sensibility. John and Zal were freer, looser, bluesier. Steve and Joe were harder, tighter, faster. Together, it made for a unique synergy.

Taking their collective name from a Bluesman John had backed onstage – a Mississippi John Hurt lyric from “Coffee Blues”, all four Spoonfuls share an extrovert sense of zany humour, and what ‘Village Voice’ journalist Richard Goldstein calls ‘longhaired striped shirt roundglasshiphugger dirty-booted uniforms.’ Together, they take elements of traditional Folk and a smattering of Blues with a streamlined jug-band sound melded into cohesion by pouring on what ‘Melody Maker’ termed an updated ‘heavy blood-bucket Rock ‘n’ Roll’ topping. What they produce got termed ‘Good-time Music’, an East Coast riposte to California’s vibrant Folk-Rock scene.

At the time it seemed everyone else in the States was doing the Beatles thing, while the Spoonful were among the first few to devise a genuine American variant to the English invasion. They inhabit a big goofy Gosh-Wow cartoon image that’s never allowed to impede their musical interactivity. Yielding seven successive American Top Ten singles plus three more in the Top Forty between 1965-67. In the UK there were only two Top Ten hits – “Daydream” at no.2 and “Summer In The City” three months later at no.8. “Nashville Cats” never got higher than no.26 while “Darling Be Home Soon” stalls at no.44, but their visibility was always greater than this suggests.

Never as glacially cool as the Byrds, or as menacing as the Stones, to me, at the time – with the Byrds and The Mamas And The Papas, they were easily part of a trinity of American groups who were turning the world around on its axis. Disarmingly sweet, fox-footed lyrics eliding with delightful summery harmonies, joyful jangles and tingling tambourine, ‘brandywarm, doghonest, moonpure’ (Goldstein again). And that’s surely enough? John Sebastian might never have been at the poetic-intellectual edge of Paul Simon or Dylan, but he was a supreme Pop craftsman and an unashamed homespun romantic. At his best when mood-capturing – the sweat-sweltering compression and urban tension of “Summer In The City” – their only American no.1, or the sweet rural idyll of “Rain On The Roof”, onomatopoeic guitars shimmering sympathetically like speed-filmed opening flower-petals as strolling lovers sit out the summer rain-shower in a convenient barn.

 (Peter Stampfel liner-notes to ‘Do You Believe In Magic’) 

Lillian Roxon, a journalist who wrote up the burgeoning music scene for the ‘New York Sunday News’ drafted a detailed account of the group’s formative earliest days in her ‘Rock Encyclopedia’ (Grosset & Dunlap, 1971). For her, ‘the Lovin’ Spoonful was Liverpool – in Manhattan. Our own little moptops, born, bred and raised right here in the streets we walked each day, hanging around outside the coffee shops, playing in the basket houses, making a nuisance of themselves in Izzy Young’s ‘Folklore Centre’.’

They play the Greenwich Village ‘Night Owl Cafe’ situated on the corner of 118 MacDougal and West Third Streets, just down from ‘The Café Wha?’ and ‘The Gaslight Café’. A venue celebrated in their instrumental “Night Owl Blues”, entered through the marquee into a 75x20ft concert room with a stage so miniscule Joe has to play his drums on the floor. But it wasn’t always good. Initially they go down so poorly with the finger-poppin hipster folk-purist audience that club-owner Joe Marra takes them aside and tells them to go practice.

Zal and Joe happen to be sharing a room at the Albert Hotel – a few blocks north of Washington Square, where they also stash their instruments, getting sweet-talking Denny Doherty to distract assistant manager Miss Feldman when they’re unable to scrabble the rent together. When they strike up rehearsing there, Miss Feldman complains that angry residents are upset, but helpfully suggests they use the hotel-basement instead. So they take the freight elevator all the way down. Which is where they locate the magic, there was Voodoo in that basement, despite the cockroaches and seeping drip-drip-drip of toxic water. Volume screwed so high they were shaking plaster from the ceiling.

The group’s first recordings – from 1965, were issued by Elektra as part of their pioneering ‘What’s Shakin’’ compilation album, designed to expand the label’s previously elitist catalogue into the more experimental end of the new Rock wave. There were four Spoonful tracks, a curious version of the Coasters “Searchin’” – already covered in the UK by the Hollies, Chuck Berry’s “Almost Grown”, plus two Sebastian originals, “Don’t Bank On It Baby” and the virtual group manifesto “Good Time Music”. Set to a kind of ‘Hi-Heeled Sneakers’ twang, John autobiographs about how ‘I’ve been listening to my radio, for two or three years’ and the music’s so doggone bad it’s offendin’ to his ears, until ‘them kids come over from the Mersey river’ and make him ‘think about the Blues, and start all over again.’ Its energetic ‘all I want is a guitar, a harp and drum, just to set my soul on fire’ was quickly lifted by folk-rockers the Beau Brummels, to became a ‘Billboard’ no.97 hit as the group’s fifth single.

After Jac Holzman’s near-miss at signing them to Elektra – the Spoonful came out of the deal with new amps, they ink to Kama Sutra, a distinctive label launched in mid-1965 by Artie Ripp and distributed through MGM. One-time member of the Folkie Plum Creek Boys, Erik Jacobsen had cut two albums for Mercury as banjo-player with the Knoblick Upper 10,000 trio, before switching his attentions to production and management. He soon succeeded in launching the first two Tim Hardin albums. John adds Blues harmonica to “Ain’t Gonna Do Without” on the first, another playful joke on “Hi Heel Sneakers”. While ‘Tim Hardin 2’ was produced by Charlie Koppelman and Don Rubin, the same duo now developing the electric Folk group that Jacobsen had helped build around Sebastian. It was Jacobsen who stumped up the money for their first 45rpm record – his last $790, which was more than well-compensated by the success of “Do You Believe In Magic”. For the group’s publishing was signed to Jacobsen’s ‘Faithful Virtue Music’.

John later illustrates how he took and playfully accelerates the three-chord play-in to Martha & The Vandellas “Heatwave” to arrive at the “Do You Believe In Magic” intro – but he used that as a basis to transform and transfigure it into a joyful eulogy to the appeal and power of Pop Music which ‘makes you feel happy, like an old-time movie’. But more than that, ‘don’t bother to choose, if it’s Jug-Band music or Rhythm and Blues’, it’s about the mystery and magic of explaining that intangible-lure to someone whose never experienced it, ‘like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout Rock ‘n’ Roll’. As Pete Frame perceptively observes in his ‘Melody Maker Rock Giants’ essay, ‘Zal’s guitar, beginning in mellow tones under the second verse, moves into a basic solo which somehow manages to catch fire in a final ripple that just curls your toes up’ (2 February 1974). Do you believe like I believe…? Faced with the Spoonful’s contagious energy-rush, a spectral fountain of notes pouring in golden luminosity, it’s impossible not to believe…

There’s a monochrome concert-movie – ‘The Big TNT Show 1965’ (AIP, Director Larry Peerce) filmed to an enthusiastic audience at the LA ‘Moulin Rouge’ club, consisting of a live series of brief sets with the Spoonful slotted in between a limpid Petula Clark and an electrifying Bo Diddley at his most awesome. There’s a false drum-start as they play in to “Do You Believe In Magic”. As the song falls apart, Zal clown-dances around joyfully, rubberfacing, running on the spot, apparently enjoying the embarrassment, while covering the awkwardness, until they pull back together and start again. Owl-eyed bespectacled John plays autoharp, leaning in close to the mike. The two front-men play off each other with obvious chemistry. They follow it with a note-perfect “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, acquitting the group as both humanly fallible, and effectively targeted. Later in the film the Byrds do “Turn Turn Turn”, already promoting their second American chart-topper, McGuinn getting higher, but that’s what he was aiming at.

The success of the single obviously prompts a tie-in album. And the debut Spoonful LP – ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ (November 1965), features six of John’s songs, one of them a four-way collaboration (“Night Owl Blues”). But stacked up against that are five traditional adaptations – a slap-happy Lightnin’ Hopkins variant “Blues In A Bottle” (‘don’t want no woman, who goes around sniffin’ glue…’), the slow bluesy living-wrong “Sportin’ Life” with John’s cutting harmonica-blowing, “My Gal” (‘my gal she’s drinking old shoe polish, she’ll get drunk just the same’), “Fishin’ Blues” – lifted from the Holy Modal Rounders, and “Wild About My Lovin’”. Then “On The Road Again” tips its hat at Jack Kerouac. Plus one by Fred Neil (“Other Side Of This Life”, later done in a heavier live version by Jefferson Airplane) and a sweetly harmonic “You Baby” from the Mann-Weil-Spector team. First done by the Ronettes in 1964, it’s not the same “You Baby” recorded by the Turtles and The Mamas And The Papas, which is a PF Sloan-Steve Barri song. For a debut album, this covers-to-originals ratio was not unusual, and reflects the balance on the first Beatles albums.

While each of the originals is a gem. “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” – written in the taxi on their way to the studio, was lifted as a single in its own right as late as April 1966 when it reaches no.2 on ‘Billboard’. The humorous storyline finds the narrator torn between his girlfriend with ‘deep blue eyes, cute as a bunny, with hair down to here and plenty of money’ and ‘some mousy little girl’ who’s stolen his heart. The drop-in deep-voice line spoken by her father ‘better go home, son, and make up your mind’ is a device referencing back to Eddie Cochran on “Summertime Blues”.

The album also spun off covers. An opportunistic British version of the title song by the Pack siphons off some of the Spoonful’s Pirate Radio airplay and confuses sales, so that neither record actually makes the UK charts. But “Younger Girl” fares better. Although it’s adapted from a 1930 “Prison Wall Blues” it becomes very much Sebastian’s creation with its aching adolescent yearnings verging on the statutory, ‘should I hang around, acting like her brother? in a few more years, they’d call us right for each other’, with its anguished ‘if I wait I’ll just die.’ Covered by the New Jersey-based Critters its easy-rolling wistfulness takes the song into the UK chart and up to no.38 in June 1966. While Surf-group the Hondells do the same across the Atlantic, taking it into the American hundred as high as no.42.

Some people don’t understand the sixties. Even some people who were there, and should know better, don’t understand the sixties. It was more than just catchy Pop songs, dance crazes, groovy fashions and vinyl records with brightly-coloured labels. It was the meltdown from the stultifyingly repressive conformity of the fifties towards the kind of liberal freedoms we now take for granted. It was the start of all the loosening-up liberational anti-racist, gender discrimination-challenging, tolerant pro-Green issues. Not that the Spoonful were ever explicitly political. They never issued a record denouncing anything or taking a stance on anything. But they were part of it. In their cool relaxed informality and open friendly inclusiveness they were ahead of the social game. To be within the cartoon Spoonful world was to be in a kind of post-Beatnik proto-hippie idyll.

Next, “Daydream” – the lazy-paced eulogy to grooving on a summer’s day, became their biggest UK hit, utilising the same descending bass-line and relaxed vibe as the Kinks “Sunny Afternoon” – no.1 in July following the Spoonful’s no.2 in May. The two records also advocate a shared directionless, Ray Davies adding the political class ingredient of stately home and taxman, while John Sebastian is just a feckless day-dreamin’ boy, and ‘even if time ain’t really on my side, its one of those days for takin’ a walk outside, I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun, and fall on my face on somebody’s new-mowed lawn.’ Of course, attuned to the time, there were drug-connotations teased around the nature of John’s ‘bundle of joy’, but chances are he and Ray were both just lazing on that same sunny afternoon. The other comparison to be drawn must be the beautiful coincidence of “California Dreaming”, like “Daydream”, being written during bleak East Coast winter in thoughts of better times and good climes.

Again there’s a tie-in album – ‘Daydream’ (March 1966), and again, like the first, it carries the tag-line ‘The Good Time Music Of The Lovin’ Spoonful’. Although it’s tighter than its predecessor in that ten of the tracks are Sebastian originals (one with Zal, two with Joe, two with Steve), there’s still ample diversity. As “Night Owl Blues” had closed the first album, so group-composed instrumental “Big Noise From Speonk” closes this one, punningly referencing Gene Krupa’s “Big Noise From Winnetka” and a hamlet in New York’s Suffolk County. For the sole cover Zal takes lead vocal on a raucous retread of Dr Feelgood’s “Bald Headed Lena”, with a laughter-break and gargling solo!

For “Butchie’s Tune” Joe sings smooth lead. “There She Is” is strong guitar-driven Monkees-sharp pop, while there are the sweet harmonies of “It’s Not Time Now” (John and Zal) and “Warm Baby” (much later the UK ‘B’-side of “Rain On The Roof”). The fifties-slanted “Let The Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll” lyrically references ‘Johnny B Goode’. But in many ways the comic highlight has the Doctor prescribing “Jug Band Music” for a number of ailments, with the final verse sending-up Sebastian’s own geeky persona by getting totaled by a Beach Boy while out floating on the ocean. The muscled hunk drags him ‘like a child’s toy’ to the beach where as ‘everybody knows that the very last line’ is to supply that rejuvenating elixir of Jug Band Music. Like “Younger Girl”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” is a delicate yearning paean to teenage love, deservedly a hit too (its understated lyric settling for ‘I would’ve liked you’ rather than ‘loved’ you anyway).

By now, like soft fall-out, the Spoonful influence was reaching out to touch others, including the Beatles whose “Good Day Sunshine” catches the same carefree Spoonful good-time attitude. But by 1967 they’d begun to dissipate their energies by producing other things. At this point, it was almost de riguer for smart film-makers to use Rock music to add a contemporary edge to their soundtrack. Mike Nicholls’ ‘The Graduate’ (December 1967) uses Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Fonda uses a pick ‘n’ mix of definitive counter-culture statements from the Byrds to Steppenwolf for ‘Easy Rider’ (July 1969). Antonioni had the Yardbirds onstage live for ‘Blow Up’ (December 1966), and a Spoonful song playing in the background. And the Spoonful contribute to Woody Allen’s playful cut-up ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?’ (April 1966), with the gloriously ragged “Pow!”. Then Francis Ford Coppola commissions Sebastian’s uneven score for his ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ (December 1966). Adapted from a David Benedictus novel Coppola, who had previously worked on low-budget quickies with Roger Corman, adds coming-of-age counterculture elements to give it a currency-value that results in his first mainstream critical box-office success.

The soundtrack albums – with both films later issued on the same CD, consist mainly of scene-setting instrumentals, lit by orchestral touches, but the original songs are still stand-out. The strongest being the aching separation of “Darlin’ Be Home Soon”. It begins acoustically, deceptively simple, with striking lines about ‘now, a quarter of my life is almost passed,’ and ‘I feel myself in bloom,’ before soaring into one of the few examples of an enhancing orchestration that really works. Tumbling out of the bridge into exhortations to ‘beat your crazy head against the sky, try to see beyond the houses in your eyes’ because ‘it’s OK to shoot the moon.’ Closing with the effectively stilted ‘the great relief of having you to talk to…’

The Henry Ditz photo-sleeve for ‘Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful’ (November 1966) catches a visual taste of the group’s appeal. 4-Eyed John beaming owlishly in sideburns and steel-rim glasses, Zal plucking banjo on the reverse, or wearing cowboy hat – an example of his extravagant headwear often matched to bear-like knee-length furs. Contra-fashion, with no attempt to catch trendy Mod-gear. This, their third full studio album – its title alluding to AA Milne’s 1930 ‘The Hums Of Pooh’, is their first made up of eleven all-originals, and also the last to feature the full original line-up. And it spun off some of their most enduring hits. “Summer In The City” peaked at no.7 on the ‘New Musical Express’ chart – 20 August 1966, the same week the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” took the no.1 slot, with the Beach Boys “God Only Knows” climbing to no.3 beneath it. I was watching the promo-clip on TV, the shimmering New York urban street-heat coming up from the black-and-white film format that preceded video, John’s Hohner Pianet keyboard figure and Steve’s Vox Continental organ overlaid with the sound of car horns – a taped VW Beetle, leading into the jackhammer of Zal riding away on a powerful motorcycle. For the Spoonful, it’s an uncharacteristically powerful track with the energies screwed down claustrophobically tension-tight. John’s writing assisted by Steve Boone, and by brother Mark Sebastian.

Their ornery folksy roots are given free rein to cavort on the album’s first side, referencing ‘Bes’ Friends’ and ‘Darlin’ Companions’ rather than lovers, with Jews harp and Zal’s slide-whistle on hoedown “Henry Thomas”. Zal takes vocal for the thinly-disguised Howlin’ Wolf swampy-riffing “Voodoo In My Basement” and Joe for “Full Measure”. For scratch the boho city veneer, and it’s a country mile from rural down-home. But flip the vinyl and it runs the range of classic Folk-Pop Rock with a Brill Building sensibility, and the clarity of Roy Halee engineering (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). Refusing to stand still long enough to be classified. “Summer In The City” was not also followed by pristine acoustic hits “Rain On The Roof” and “Nashville Cats”, but by Bobby Darin taking his cover of “Darlin’ Companion” into the Top 40 (later covered again by Johnny Cash), with John’s lyric ‘as long as I’ve got legs to stand on, I’m gonna run to you.’

Some later argued that the Spoonful failed to ‘progress’. But that’s very much an of-its-time accusation. Just because the Beatles and Dylan evolved album-by-album, charting new pathways others were expected to follow. A principle that doesn’t necessarily apply during other music phases. Instead, each Spoonful album negotiates a collection of songs, nearly always Sebastian’s, or re-workings of traditional songs, with good humour and practiced ease, from which hit single after perfect hit single could be lifted. John Phillips cheerfully admits that the Mamas & The Papas albums didn’t ‘progress’ either, because they’d started out at such an elevated plane, they didn’t have the scope to take it that much further.

But there are undeniable upgrades. Like “Do You Believe In Magic”, “Nashville Cats” is a jumpy paean to the seductive power of music. ‘Those yellow Sun records’ actually came from Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis, but thanking the maternal parents of those guitar-pickers who ‘play clean as country water’ enables John Sebastian ‘a chance to say a word about’ those ‘mothers from Nashville’, slyly infiltrating that most verboten of expletives. But after their early easy Folk-Rockin’ style, the later less-celebrated tracks – “Six O’Clock” and “She’s Still A Mystery” are more mature works of considerable power. A friendly toss of the head at those who would soon be wearing flowers in their hair.

                    (“Coconut Grove”) 

The group break-up was precipitated by a non-musical narcotic event. An August 1967 drug bust in San Francisco results in Zal’s arrest, he was caught in a trap, under threat of deportation – he was still technically a Canadian national, it was lose either way, so he does a trade-off deal snitching on others involved in the city’s drug scene. You don’t do that. You don’t rat on community to the narcs. The rest of the group only caught up through a newspaper report minutes before going onstage for a New York show. It was to be Zal’s last Spoonful gig. With the group ostracized by their Rock peers, he was forced to exit the group anyway, sucking some of the magic away with him. Zal was promptly replaced by Jerry Yester, ex-member of the Modern Folk Quartet, and producer for the Association and Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye And Hello’ (Elektra, August 1967). He was part of the original musician’s pool the Spoonful had condensed out of. He recalled working on an early demo of “Warm Baby” with John and Jesse Colin Young. He was about as good as you could get, but the group was never quite the same again.

The cover-art cartoon for ‘Everything Playing’ (September 1967) shows the group on the beach cavorting with various strange green and blue-meanie creatures. By contrast the reverse-photo is primped and fan-mag pretty, hair combed in neat fringes in ways that the earlier line-up never was. Even John wears sensible spectacles. Yet the two lead singles are stand-out, with the wistful “She Is Still A Mystery” catching the haunting feminine mystique with ‘the more I see, the more I see there is to see,’ while the sharp electric chimes of “Six O’Clock” – ‘one of the best intros in the history of rock and roll’ according to ‘NME’s Charles Shaar Murray, defines the restlessness and remorse of lost opportunity, leading into a ‘Summer In The City’ fade.

Elsewhere, Zal’s presence is replaced by more elaborate 16-track arrangements, soul-girl voices on “Try A Little Bit” and a phased-voice sequence to “Only Pretty, What A Pity”. And it’s not a good trade-off. Again there are eleven originals, Steve writes “Forever” – an expansive widescreen MOR soundtrack-style instrumental, Joe writes a patronising “Old Folks” and collaborates with Jerry for “Only Pretty, What A Pity”. John writes the rest, sharing credits with Jerry for closer “Close Your Eyes”. “Money” – a spin-off single, casts a hayseed eye on the group’s ramshackle finances (‘now a piece of paper from me, won’t seem half as flimsy’), set to banjo and tap-tap-tap typewriter clacking. “Younger Generation” explores John’s serio-comic trepidations about impending parenthood – ‘I must be permissive and understanding… all I’ve learned my kid assumes, and all my deepest worries must be his cartoons.’ He would carry this over into his ‘Woodstock’ solo set, where its gushy sentimentality puts it at odds with the hard-rock extremism of the Who, Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane. Times were a-changing. Maybe the hotel “Boredom” hints at John’s disillusionment with touring, ‘I feel about a local as a fish in a tree’? With the line ‘and the ‘Late Late Show’ died long ago, with a few words from a Priest’ recalling a time before cable and 24-hour rolling-TV. Whatever, he hung up his folk-rock spoon and quits the group in June 1968 after ‘two glorious years and a tedious one.’

The Spoonful briefly continue as a trio. With ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (1969) sleeve-billed as ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful Featuring Joe Butler,’ Steve and Jerry Yester’s participation taken on the nod. Joe writes the liner-notes and also features on the front cover-photo running naked alongside a naked woman – her nipples coyly airbrushed out and a strategically-placed lion eclipsing their naughty groinal bits. As a shot at catching the new liberation (think Hendrix 1968 ‘Electric Ladyland’ sleeve), one glance at this cop-out makes it immediately suspect.

Is this still Good Time Music? There’s little trace of the Spoonful’s inspired simplicity. Steve had only ever sung lead on one Spoonful track (“Priscilla Millionaira”), but in the same way that each Beatles album found space for a token Ringo song, Joe’s blander vocals were highlighted on “Butchie’s Tune”, “Old Folks” and the attractive “Full Measure”. Now he’s featured vocalist. Joe writes or co-writes a couple of the numbers with producer Bob Finiz, “The Prophet” and the title-track, but other credits are out-sourced to Turtles-writers Garry Bonner & Alan Gordon, or Ralph Dino & John Sembello – who wrote “Pearl’s A Singer” for Elkie Brooks, and who contribute “Jug Of Wine”, the most Spoonful-sounding track. To the ‘New Musical Express’ reviewer ‘gone are the days of light pleasant songs, now it’s all ‘yea, man, valid statement, take a trip, do your thing’ and, frankly, I don’t like it.’ The writer goes on to call “War Games” ‘a mess of dogs barking, babies crying, guns firing and kids playing,’ it’s a 7:03-minute failed-“Revolution no.9” audio-collage set to a heartbeat pulse and climaxing in full-on nuke apocalypse! But the best-received song is by country-singer John Stewart (who wrote “Daydream Believer” for the Monkees), his “Never Going Back” is the closest thing the set came to producing a hit, peaking at no.73. Afterwards, the group tactfully split.

Erik Jacobsen continued to break new ground with Kama Sutra, a fascinating project with the Charlatans, chart hits with Sopwith Camel (“Hello Hello”), plus the Tradewinds (“Mind Excursion”) and the Innocence (“There’s Got To Be A Word”) – both guises for the Anders & Poncia duo. But after the Spoonful’s demise the label slid into decline, and in 1970 was dumped by MGM to become a Buddah subsidiary. While Jacobsen lifted Norman Greenbaum from playing the ‘Troubadour’ to trans-Atlantic no.1 with the enduring “Spirit In The Sky”.

John Sebastian could have been a Crosby Stills & Nash. He’s there on ‘Déjà Vu’ (March 1970), adding keening harmonica to David Crosby’s title song. As a part of the extended collective they return the favour as the cast of his debut solo album indicates – the credits to ‘John B Sebastian’ (January 1970) lists Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Harvey Brooks (bass), Buzzy Linhart (vibraphone), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel) and others. Paul Rothchild, responsible for Doors and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band albums for Elektra, quit to produce the album. It spun-off a charming hit single in “She’s A Lady” – a brief 1.47-minutes, recalling incidents from John’s Village ‘scuffing days’. Then he made a kind-of comeback in 1970 when he takes the stage impromptu in sunburst tie-dye at the ‘Woodstock Festival’ during a storm – ‘a mind-fucker’ he calls it, and for a couple of years his records sell well and his live appearances draw the crowds, though largely on the strength of his Spoonful back-catalogue. His new material struggles to be as good, rather more like his newly adopted stage persona, it’s too hippie-dippy cloyingly sentimental. Bizarrely he scored a novelty one-off solo no.1 in 1976 by writing and performing the title-song of popular ABC-TV sit-com ‘Welcome Back Kotter’, featuring a young John Travolta.

Zal did one bizarre solo album, ‘Alive And Well In Argentina’ (Buddah, 1968) – the title apparently referencing runaway Nazis! which was co-produced by Jerry. He’d gone on to work with Judy Henske on cult ‘Farewell Aldebaran’ (1969) – on which Zal plays bass, issued on Frank Zappa’s Straight label. Zal toured with Kris Kristofferson, then returned to Canada to set up a restaurant in Ontario. Meanwhile, Joe had joined the Broadway cast of ‘Hair’. The full Lovin’ Spoonful line-up did eventually reunite to cameo in Paul Simon’s underrated movie ‘One-Trick Pony’ (1980), following Sam & Dave on stage in a ‘Salute To The Sixties’ sequence, announced as ‘one of the best-loved bands of all time.’ They do “Do You Believe In Magic” with the unmistakable spark between John and a bearded Zal rekindled.

It’s all a long way from Zal, Denny and Sebastian sat – at the ‘Night Owl’, when after every number they’d pass the hat. For by then, the venue had converted into a poster and button shop, then into ‘Bleeker Bob’s Records’.


January 1964 – ‘EVEN DOZEN JUG BAND’ (Elektra EKS-7246) only album they ever issued, with Stefan Grossman and Peter Siegel plus Steve Katz, Josh(ua) Rifkin, Fred Weisz, Pete Jacobson and John Sebastian (as ‘John Benson’). Leading John into subsequent session work, producer Paul Rothchild proved a useful connection (he’d go on to work with the Doors)

18 September 1965 – “Do You Believe In Magic” c/w “On The Road Again” (US Kama Sutra 201) US no.9, in UK on Pye it was selected ‘Spin Of The Week’ by ‘Music Echo’. Collected onto 1977 compilation LP ‘Golden Hour Of Simon Says’ (GH862) alongside ‘Rain On The Roof’, ‘Nashville Cats’ and ‘Darlin’ Companion’ plus Lemon Pipers and 1910 Fruitgum Company. Covered in the UK by The Pack (Columbia DB7702), and revived in 1977 by Keith Barbour (Private Stock PVT125)

November 1965 – ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8050) with side one: (1) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, (2) ‘Blues In The Bottle’, (3) ‘Sportin’ Life’, (4) ‘My Gal’, (5) ‘You Baby’, (6) ‘Fishin’ Blues’. Side two: (1) ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’, (2) ‘Wild About My Lovin’’, (3) ‘Other Side Of This Life’, (4) ‘Younger Girl’, (5) ‘On The Road Again’, (6) ‘Night Owl Blues’ with liner-notes by Peter Stampfel and Antonia. Reaches no.32 on ‘Billboard’ LP chart. CD bonus tracks are ‘Alley Oop’ (the Hollywood Argyles no.1 hit written by Dallas Frazier, with Kim Fowley producer credits), ‘Younger Girl (demo)’, ‘Blues In The Bottle (alt)’, ‘Wild About My Lovin’ (alt)’, ‘Other Side Of This Life (instrumental)’. Fred Neil who wrote Nilsson’s hit ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ wrote ‘Other Side Of This Life’ for his August 1965 debut LP ‘Bleecker And MacDougal’ (Elektra/ Sundazed 5107) on which John Sebastian plays harmonica. Jefferson Airplane do their version of the song on the 1969 live LP ‘Bless It’s Pointed Little Head’. ‘Younger Girl’ is a US no.42 hit for the Hondells, and a UK no.38 hit for the Critters (London HL 10047)

12 November 1965 – “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” c/w “My Gal” (US Kama Sutra 205) US no.10. Covered in UK in 1968 by Glass Menagerie (Pye 7N 17568), later collected onto 1988 ‘Rubble Vol.7: Pictures In The Sky’ (Bam Caruso KIRI 083)

12 March 1966 – “Daydream” c/w “Night Owl Blues” (US Kama Sutra 208) US no.2. In the UK as Pye International 7N 25361 it reached no.2, 12 May 1966, below Manfred Mann’s ‘Pretty Flamingo’

14 May 1966 – “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” c/w “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” (US Kama Sutra 209) US no.2. Song featured on the soundtrack of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie ‘Blow Up’

March 1966 – ‘DAYDREAM’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8051, reissued in 1990 as Castle CLACD194) with side one: (1) ‘Daydream’, (2) ‘There She Is’, (3) ‘It’s Not Time Now’, (4) ‘Warm Baby’, (5) ‘Day Blues’, (6) ‘Let The Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Side two (1) ‘Jug Band Music’, (2) ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, (3) ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, (4) ‘Bald Headed Lena’, (5) ‘Butchie’s Tune’, (6) ‘Big Noise From Speonk’. Reaches US no.10, in the UK issued as Pye NPL 28078 it reached no.8 on the album chart during May 1966. CD bonus tracks include ‘Fishin’ Blues’, ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, ‘Jug Band Music’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘Night Owl Blues’. ‘Jug Band Music’ and ‘Summer In The City’ later featured on 1970 compilation ‘Buddah In Mind’ alongside Lemon Pipers, Captain Beefheart, and Melanie

June 1966 – ‘WHAT’S SHAKIN’’ (Elektra ELK4002/ EUK 250) earliest recordings by Lovin’ Spoonful from 1965, John Sebastian’s ‘Good Time Music’ and ‘Don’t Bank On It Baby’ plus Chuck Berry’s ‘Almost Grown’, and Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller’s ‘Searchin’’. Other tracks by Paul Butterfield Blues Band (including Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’), and Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse. Re-issued March 1994 as Elektra 7559-61343-2, and as Edsel ED249

1966 – “Jug Band Music” c/w “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” (Kama Sutra KA-301X) Canada no.2

23 July 1966 – “Summer In The City” c/w “Butchie’s Tune” (US Kama Sutra 211) US no.1. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 200 it reached no.8 in July 1966. ‘Summer In The City’ revived in July 1977 by girl-group April (EMI Int 535), then as a September 1978 Disco 12” by Evolution (EMI 2849) and as an August 1989 single by Fiction-label alt-Indie band Eat

September 1966 – ‘WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY?’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8053) with side one: (1) ‘Introduction To Flick’, (2) ‘Pow’, (3) ‘Gray Prison Blues’, (4) ‘Pow Revisited, (5) ‘Unconscious Minuet, (6) ‘Fishin’ Blues’. Side two (1) ‘Respoken’, (2) ‘Cool Million’, (3) ‘Speakin’ Of Spoken’, (4) ‘Lookin’ To Spy’, (5) ‘Phil’s Love Theme’, (6) ‘End Title’, reaches no.126 on ‘Billboard’ LP chart. Combined with full ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ LP for 1991 ‘A Spoonful Of Soundtracks’ CD (Repertoire REP4115, and Sequel NEX CD176)

22 October 1966 – “Rain On The Roof” c/w “Pow” (US Kama Sutra 216) US no.10

November 1966 – ‘HUMS OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8054, reissued in 1990 as Castle CLACD193) with side one: (1) ‘Lovin’ You’, (2) ‘Bes’ Friends’, (3) ‘Voodoo In My Basement’, (4) ‘Darlin’ Companion’, (5) ‘Henry Thomas’, (6) ‘Full Measure’. Side two (1) ‘Rain On The Roof’, (2) ‘Coconut Grove’, (3) ‘Nashville Cats’, (4) ‘4 Eyes’, (5) ‘Summer In The City’. Reaches US no.14. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this album – a big Stateside seller already, shows the Lovin’ Spoonful to be a humorous, good-time group with very strong roots in country blues, which no doubt stems from leader John Sebastian, an old-hand at the blues.’ ‘Darlin Companion’ is covered by Johnny Cash & June Carter on 1969 ‘Live At San Quentin’ LP. ‘Coconut Grove’ covered by Vertigo-label Jazz-Rock band Affinity on their debut 1970 LP. By the late-1980s ‘Lovin’ You’ was used by a Swedish TV condom advert

31 December 1966 – “Nashville Cats” c/w “Full Measure” (US Kama Sutra 219) US no.8, and ‘B’-side US no.87. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 204 it reached no.26 in January 1967

25 February 1967 – “Darling Be Home Soon” c/w “Darlin’ Companion” (US Kama Sutra 220) US no.15. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 207 in reached no.44 in March 1967. Their fourth and final UK hit. Orchestration arranged by Artie Schroeck

May 1967 – ‘YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8058) with side one: (1) ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’, (2) ‘Lonely (Amy’s Theme)’, (3) ‘Wash Her Away (From The Discotheque)’, (4) ‘Kite Chase’, (5) ‘Try And Be Happy’, (6) ‘Peep Show Percussion’, (7) ‘Girl, Beautiful Girl (Barbara’s Theme)’. Side two (1) ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, (2) ‘Dixieland Big Boy, (3) ‘Letter To Barbara’, (4) ‘Barbara’s Theme (From The Discotheque’, (5) ‘Miss Thing’s Thang’, (6) ‘March’, (7) ‘Finale’. Reaches US no.160. ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ later covered on ‘Joe Cocker’ 1969, Joe’s second album, and on Slade’s ‘Slade Alive’ March 1972

20 May 1967 – “Six O’Clock” c/w “You’re A Big Boy Now (Finale)” (US Kama Sutra 225) US no.18

September 1967 – ‘EVERYTHING PLAYING’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8061) with side one: (1) ‘She Is Still A Mystery’, (2) ‘Priscilla Millionaira’, (3) ‘Boredom’, (4) ‘Six O’Clock’, (5) ‘Forever’, (6) ‘Younger Generation’. Side two: (1) ‘Money’, (2) ‘Old Folks’, (3) ‘Only Pretty, What A Pity’, (4) ‘Try A Little Bit’, (5) ‘Close Your Eyes’. Reaches US no.118. CD bonus tracks are ‘She Is Still A Mystery’ (alt), ‘Only Pretty, What A Pity’ (alt) and ‘Try A Little Bit’ (alt)

1967 – ‘THE BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra, reissued Marble Arch MAL 1115) with side one: (1) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, (2) ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’, (3) ‘Butchie’s Tune’, (4) ‘Jug Band Music’, (5) ‘Night Owl Blues’, (6) ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’. Side two: (1) ‘Daydream’, (2) ‘Blues In The Bottle’, (3) ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, (4) ‘Wild About My Lovin’’, (5) ‘Younger Girl’, (6) ‘Summer In The City’. An amusingly tepid ‘New Musical Express’ review commends this ‘popular American group’, and says ‘it’s easy on he ears, tuneful, folksy music, with a good-time air about it’

11 November 1967 – “She Is Still A Mystery” c/w “Only Pretty, What A Pity” (US Kama Sutra 239) US no.27

1968 – “Money” c/w “Close Your Eyes” (Kama Sutra 241) US no.48

1968 – ‘THE BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL Volume 2’ (Kama Sutra, reissued Marble Arch MAL 1116) with side one: (1) ‘Six O’Clock’, (2) ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, (3) ‘Lovin’ You’, (4) ‘Boredom’, (5) ‘Full Measure’, (6) ‘Nashville Cats’. Side two: (1) ‘She Is Still A Mystery’, (2) ‘Rain On The Roof’, (3) ‘Old Folks’, (4) ‘Darlin’ Companion’, (5) ‘Money’, (6) ‘Younger Generation’

1968 – “Never Goin’ Back (To Nashville)” c/w “Forever” (Kama Sutra 250) US no.73

1968 – “(Til I) Run With You” c/w “Revelation Revolution ‘69” (Kama Sutra 251)

1969 – ‘REVELATION: REVOLUTION ‘69’ (Kama Sutra KLPS-8073) with Joe Butler (drums, vocals), Steve Boone (bass) and Jerry Yester (guitar, vocals, keyboard). Side one: (1) ‘Amazing Air’, (2) ‘Never Going Back’, (3) ‘The Prophet’, (4) ‘Only Yesterday’, (5) ‘War Games’. Side two: (1) ‘(Till I) Run With You’, (2) ‘Jug Of Wine’, (3) ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’, (4) ‘Me About You’, ‘Words’ with CD bonus tracks ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (single edit), ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (vocal mix), ‘Me About You’ (single edit). ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘a pleasant, mostly beat-ballad collection, well-produced with some catchy songs’

1969 – “Me About You” c/w “Amazing Air” (Kama Sutra 255) US no.91

1970 – “Younger Generation” c/w “Boredom” (Kama Sutra 505)

1970 – ‘THE VERY BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra KSBS 2013) twelve tracks, first of various compilations, including ‘Greatest Hits’ (Kama Sutra, 1981), ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Greatest Hits’ (Buddah, 1985), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: The EP Collection’ (1988, See For Miles), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: Anthology’ twenty-six tracks (1990, Rhino), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: Gold Greatest Hits’ (1996, Gold 204) and many others

January 1970 – ‘JOHN B SEBASTIAN’ (Reprise RS 6379/ MGM SE-4654) Billboard no.20. Includes single “She’s A Lady” c/w “The Room Nobody Lives In” US Cashbox no.62. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this new album, although slightly flawed, is still full of that whimsical joie-de-vivre which always marked the Spoonful’s best work.’ His subsequent solo albums deserve a separate feature. While his list of collaborations is extensive. He guests on the Doors track ‘Roadhouse Blues’ (on ‘Morrison Hotel’ LP) as ‘G Pulese’, and on Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ LP (1971) tracks ‘It’s Alright’ (guitar) and ‘Saturday Clothes’ (autoharp). He contributes to the ‘Aztec Two Step’ debut LP (1972, Elektra K42118), wrote the title track for the Everly Brothers ‘Stories We Could Tell’ (1972, RCA) and plays guitar and hormonica on it, he also plays harmonica on David Bromberg’s ‘Long Tall Mama’ on 1989 album ‘Sideman Serenade’ (Rounder Records 3110)

1976 – “Welcome Back” c/w “Warm Baby” (Reprise 1349) US no.1. Theme song to TV series ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’. The tie-in LP ‘Welcome Back’ was the last studio John Sebastian album until 1993’s ‘Tar Beach’

1998 – ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN OUTTAKES?’ (Tenderolar TDR-049) twenty previously unreleased and rare Spoonful tracks, (1-2) ‘Do You Believe In Magic Takes 17-23’ and ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, Bell Sounds Studio NYC 1966-67, (3-6) ‘Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘There She Is’ live on ‘Hullabaloo’ 1965-66, (7-8) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ and ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’ live on ‘Shindig’ 1965, (9-10) Do You Believe In Magic’ and ‘You Didn’t Have To Be Si Nice’ live on TNT Show, (11-15) ‘Nashville Cats’, ‘All The Stories’, ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, ‘Darlin Be Home Soon’ and ‘She’s A Lady’ John live in California 1973, (16-18) ‘Respoken’, ‘Wash Her Away’ and ‘Girl Beautiful Girl’ alternate soundtrack versions, (19) ‘As Long As You’re Trying’ Zal solo single, (20) ‘Amazing Air’ final Spoonful single

2011 – ‘ORIGINAL ALBUM CLASSICS: THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Sony Music) full five albums – excluding soundtrack LPs, with reproduction original sleeves, plus bonus tracks in CD slipcase

Monday, 27 July 2015



 ‘Celebrity Users’ give product endorsement to junk abuse. 
 Writers, artists and musicians legitimise their narcotic dependency 
 with philosophical, spiritual and creative justification. They always have. 
 Whether it’s Coleridge writing “Kubla Khan” on opium, 
Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker creating Bebop Jazz on heroin,
 or drug role models like Jean Cocteau
 William Burroughs, Lou Reed and Timothy Leary
 they all give sleaze its invitingly seedy glamour… 

ANDREW DARLINGTON explores the culture of addiction 


‘I can feel the heat closing in…’

‘Naked Lunch’ (1991), the unfilmable novel that David Cronenberg filmed, is one long sense-scrambling howl of heroin withdrawal, obscenity and macabre madness. William Burroughs’ black ceremony of dense prose was pieced together in Tangiers, first published by the porn imprint Olympia Press in Paris in July 1959, and has inoculated junk culture ever since. Burroughs legitimises addiction. Burroughs intellectualises drug dependency. Transfigures the fix and the cold cellular craving that precedes it into the twentieth century’s last great adventure. He injects seedy splendour into a squalor that’s passed down like a ‘contact high’ to imitators.

‘I found a silver needle, I put it into my arm, it did some good, did some harm, but the night was cold, and it almost kept me warm.’ Leonard Cohen uses the tacky glamour of junk. Lou Reed closes ‘in on death’ as ‘the smack begins to flow’ in Rock’s most celebrated hymn to “Heroin”. And Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Taking” squats in an identical subterranean milieu of fine white powder and the ache of unfulfilled need…

High profile users and substance abusers? We name the guilty men.

To Burroughs, junk dependency and its supply is metaphor for control, alienation, power, frightful poetry and visions of truth. A viral infection only partially trapped in print, and impossible to visualise on celluloid. Only Cronenberg – in the wake of his diseased mutational reinterpretation of SF shocker ‘The Fly’ (1986), could get close, and he had to fabricate a narrative from Burroughs’ life outside the monstrous surrealism of the novel to do it. The movie draws back from the typewritten sheet to see the man sitting at the typewriter. It adds emotional dimensions that do not exist in the book. It creates a ‘literary high’. 

But Burroughs is just one writer who has used narcotics as a creative trigger. He’s a thinner whiter duke from a pantheon of Heroic Dope Fiends. While Burroughs was pseudonymously publishing his first book – ‘Junkie’ (as William Lee in 1953), Aldous Huxley was experimenting with hallucinogenics in California. ‘Thus it came about that, one bright May morning, I swallowed four-tenths of a gramme of mescalin dissolved in half a glass of water and sat down to wait for the results...’ ‘Animal’ Huxley, later credited as an influence on the liner notes of the Mothers of Invention’s ‘Freak Out’ (Verve, June 1966) album, sucks various elements of Zen into the druggy melange to explain its effects. Graduating to LSD he links seamlessly with psychedelic hit-man Timothy Leary’s day-glo crusade to turn on, tune in and drop out America. Huxley’s ‘The Doors Of Perception’ (1954) both arrows forward to Jim Morrison’s deliberate appropriation of its title, and back to visionary William Blake from whom Huxley lifted the quote in the first place – ‘if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything will appear to man as it is, infinite.’ Huxley’s name was dropped as regularly as acid. Like Burroughs, like Leary, he legitimises drug use. Gives it intellectual credibility.

Doing drugs, they say – is not just a good groove, not just a recreational high. Nothing as trivial or inconsequential. It is spiritual quest. It is cerebral odyssey out beyond the rippling rim of eternity, then back down through the grey room of the brain and into the DNA helix and the fractel hum of sub-atomic particles. It is seeing god through the ululation of energies in a sunflower or the susurration of sounds in the timeless improvisations of the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star”.

But Hey Kids! Don’t try this one at home!

Heroin. Mescalin. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Cannabis. Cocaine.Marijuana. Peyote. Opium. MDMA. Ecstacy. Crack. Hashish. Speed. Kif. Pot. Grass. Ganja. Tobacco. Uppers. Downers. Purple Hearts.

Before Huxley there is ‘Bird’. Altoist Charlie Parker, like jazz musicians before and since, uses benzedrine from early – to stay awake, to concentrate for long stretches of time, for jags of artificial energy. But he also gets high on whatever is available. Nutmeg, taken with coffee or floated on top of an orange soda, produces spectacular highs but rips the stomach lining raw. From age sixteen he’s buying ‘sticks of shit’ (marijuana) for a dozen a dollar, and he’s already snorted cocaine. By twenty-one – and 1941, he’s on New York’s front line, establishing the legendary pattern of his frenetic improvisational genius. Creating Bebop in the heavy-gravity forcing house of heroin addiction. ‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse!’ Howls Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg, ‘Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace & junk & drums!’

The equation is beguiling. Heroin destroys Bird, but in the process it ignites supernatural levels of creativity. Detonates complex harmonic changes, an oblique and elastic relationship with the beat, chromatic excursions, a hard-edged passion run ragged through megatechnical levels of dexterity. But Parker’s habit is merely writing huge what’s been there from Storyville’s first honk. Dope was always part of Jazz culture, floating up the Mississippi on the same riverboats that take Dixieland north.

Every immaculately stoned muso plays with Bird’s ghost in his head. Hunting the same San Andreas Fault-line he straddles.

Like Lenny Bruce – ‘I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing god.’

Before Bird there’s Cocteau, Rimbaud, Coleridge, Shelley, Baudelaire. And there’s Thomas De Quincy’s ‘Confessions Of An English Opium-Eater’ (1821), a cult book up and down drug subcultures since the nineteenth century. An apology and a celebration of the indulgence that births the poetry of dreams. Procol Harum and Frankie Goes to Hollywood later theft his imagery, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge took laudanum – which is liquid opium, and out of its delirium he ‘read’ a wild and exotic poem flying a magic carpet ride of exquisite beauty. On coming down he begins speedwriting as much of it as he can remember – ‘in Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure-dome decree,’ before his manic scribbling gets distracted by ‘a person from Porlock’... the rest is subsequently lost.

A systematic derangement of the senses produces great art. Produces Coleridge and Byron. Bird and Coltrane. Huxley and Burroughs.


I first get high in Barnsley, Yorkshire, edging sideways into underground journalism as the sixties decays into the seventies. The ritual is mesmerising. Fashioning a pipe from crinkly tinfoil. A camelshit pearl of cannabis resin. The first faint wisp of its breath. There can never be any question of questions. I’ve been too well primed by gurus of the cellular frontier. I was embarrassingly eager to imitate Bill (Burroughs) and Tim (Leary)’s Excellent Adventures. I’d been well-suckered by the product endorsement of other celebrity users too – the wacky exploits of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ (1968), Ed Sander’s hymn to “Marijuana” on the Fugs LP ‘It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest’ (1968), Allen Ginsberg, Captain Beefheart’s “Ah Feel Like Ahcid”, ‘Dharma Bums’ novelist Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure, and the rest. I’d read Jean Cocteau’s claim that an opium addict ‘who inhales twelve pipes a day all his life will not only be fortified against influenza, colds and sore throats, but will also be far less in danger than a man who drinks a glass of brandy or who smokes four cigars. I know people who have smoked one, three, seven, up to twelve pipes a day for forty years’. In ‘Junkie’ Burroughs makes even more fantastic recommendations for heroin, ‘junk is a cellular equation that teaches the user facts of general validity. I have learned a great deal from using junk.’ It can even – bizarrely, lead to longevity, ‘when you stop growing you start dying. An addict never stops growing!’

Inevitably I drop acid a little later. Although perhaps I had too many psychic ghosts to benefit from its full cosmic beneficence, too much of a tendency to fight its effect and retain control rather than going with the flow. In flashback I’m on my way to the ramshackle ‘Styng’ office, the sun up and the black blossom of tarmac melting beneath my Beat sandals. Beyond the staircase the door is locked fast – indicating that some kind of illicit indulgence is in progress. So in high humour I start pummelling the poster-splashed door yelling ‘OPEN UP, IT’S A BUST! IT’S THE PIGS!!!’ The door sheepishly imploding to show two constables already within, smoking joints rather self-consciously, squatting like Cheech & Chong guesting in a frame from a ‘Furry Freak Brothers’ strip.

I’ve never particularly sought it out since, but it’s always been there. Touring and performing, writing and interacting, it’s seldom been difficult to find. Opening the morning mail, there are even friends who tape small sachets of intriguing white powder to their letterheads. But despite it all there are certain skills I’ve never managed to acquire, like rolling an acceptable joint. After I’d read at a Festival, back home with the stylishly deranged organiser in his bohemian squat, a gilded dung-heap crawling with naked kids and feral cats, he leaves me with the ‘stuff’ to roll up while he gets the wine. I’m watched critically by a sneering ten-year old brat as I fumble. At the inept completion of my efforts the absolute derision of her ‘you call THAT a joint!’ still chills me. She then takes over to demonstrate the correct technique.

In his ‘Opium’, written in 1929, poet movie-maker and artist Jean Cocteau observes that ‘everything one does in life, even love, occurs in the express train racing towards death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving.’ Escape is a powerful motivation. Escape from the mundane. From boredom. From meaninglessness. Drugs are an adventure when no other adventures remain possible. Previous generations had Passchendale, the Blitz. We have acid, heroin, solvent inhalation. Every reformed user selling their confessions to the tabloids – ‘MY DESCENT INTO A DRUGS HELL’, have a story to tell, a heroic struggle with demons of the soul. A flirtation with danger. Closing in on death. Narcotics form an exotic fantasy world, an alternative reality parallel with, but separate from, normality. A secret society with its own rules and behaviour patterns.

The dope subculture is a continuity. To Allen Ginsberg it walks ‘with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares.’

Liverpool Horror Writer Ramsey Campbell catches the drugs demi-monde with an experienced eye, from the doper no-hoper conversations to the compulsive cross-city quests for fresh blow, the lethargy, and that stage where your whole life revolves around the point of scoring. ‘I had a whirl there’ he tells me. His story “Missing” (in ‘The Height Of The Scream’, 1976) opens with graphically depicted dope-smoking. ‘I was watching the skin of the joint roll back from the glowing glans as I inhaled, my head sailed back, I heard the glittering flutter of a bird outside the window.’ Now he tells me about the deliberate ceremonies of scoring – ‘they sit down and say just four lines, and roll a joint, and it all takes ten minutes. I remember that well. There was this terrible ritual about having to go in there and sit for a couple of hours while people brought out vegetarian cookies, and you couldn’t actually SAY ‘well, have you got any?’, because there had to be the ritual of everybody rolling up first, until somebody would get up very s-l-o-w-l-y and say ‘OK man, c’mon we’ll weight it out on the scales’.’

The gutter romance of scoring is well documented in Rock. From the Small Faces’ “Here Comes The Nice” (‘he knows what I want, he’s got what I need, he’s always there, when I need some speed’), through Lou Reed (‘$26 in my hand, up to Lexington 125, I feel sick and dirty more dead than alive’) and into Jesus and Mary Chain (‘I’m going down to the place tonight, to see if I can get a taste tonight, a taste of something warm and sweet, that shivers your bones and rises to your heat’). In on the scam, artist-poet Jeff Nuttall explains that ‘it takes a quick and sophisticated eye to detect the over-confident speech and movement of heroin and methedrine users. It takes an experienced eye to identify the benign dreaminess of pot-smokers or the blinks and grinding teeth of amphetamine and cocaine users. But LSD is the drug of visual dreams and visual experiences and advertises itself immediately’ (in ‘Bomb Culture’, 1968).

LSD is the Holy Grail of drugs, the Philosopher’s Stone that turns base metal lives into gold. A form of chemically synthesised mescaline, it is anabolic steroids for the brain cells.

As Leary points out, life is a process of cycling various substances through your body which alter or affect behaviour, mood or metabolism. Food is ingested and excreted, air inhaled and exhaled. Exact separation of the inner from the outer world does not exist. The body is a processing unit acting and reacting on what it extracts from its environment. You are what you eat – right? (Tony Blair hasn’t yet been SEEN eating slimy toads, but surely it’s only a matter of time.) And further – the body and brain are already controlled by an internal biochemical balance of adrenalin, endocrine, hormonal and other glandular secretions. That equilibrium is constantly nudged in random and unconscious ways. Drugs are merely a more precise and more potent tool for effecting and fine-tuning change. Aldous Huxley calls the brain ‘a reducing valve’ designed to filter out the overwhelming torrent of inputted information received by the senses. It reduces the flow down to the trickle of data necessary for day-to-day survival. Mind-altering substances provide a way for spiritual sleuths to ‘cleanse the doors of perception’. A way to break on through to the other side and touch a more real reality... according to Leary. Hallucinogenic experience often carries with it tantalising whispers of great perceived truths that evaporate with a return to normal awareness. Oceanic feelings of oneness with the multiverse.

Enjoy this trip, and it is a trip, and it is a trip…

All societies that have ever existed in the world have sanctioned some form of consciousness-altering devices – from alcohol to peyote, from hashish to aeroplane glue, from caffeine to opium. Just because the drugs that killed Elvis Presley were legally (if over-) prescribed doesn’t mean that they killed him any less dead. The first colonists on Mars will begin fermenting locally grown lichen and separating it out into various grades like connoisseurs. And hey! Take a hit offa this Venusian grokk-weed. Man, is THAT heavy shit!

But beyond the feel-good factor, all religions are based in, or utilise narcotic-like perceptions. Fasting and flagellation are merely ways of inducing organic highs. Central American religions were grounded around mescaline visions. It has been suggested (in ‘The Sacred Mushroom And The Cross’ by John Marco Allegro, 1970), that the Judeo-Christian myths are the result of an over-indulgence in psychedelic fungii native to the Levant. Timothy Leary – a former Director of Psychological Research in Oakland University, got tripped out by the spiritual potential of early lysergic acid. Like Huxley before him he saw the chemical apocalypse in his head as a philosophical tool, a way of inducing instant trance states of meditation, an evolutionary route to new modes of perception and wisdoms. His ‘The Politics Of Ecstacy’ (1968) became a crash-pad handbook for mind voyagers. Busted and jailed, escaping into exile, he became High Priest of the hyped high. The Moodyblues wrote a song for him. The Who roared ‘I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked the Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary...’, a paean to the poet of the interior odyssey, the most visible missionary for New Age acid. To Leary, LSD is a ‘sacramental ritual’ which not only reveals the face of god, but takes you beyond that to the shamanistic mystic impulse that lies behind the fabrication of all gods. It not only reveals the solar systems in the dirt beneath your fingernails and the universes in a grain of sand, but confirms that latest advances in particle physics too, the dance of quantum cats in the most infinitesimal loops of the quark.

All matter is ultimately energy, and cosmic energy is the intercourse of gods. Says Leary. The drug is Love – and Love is the drug. ‘Alcohol turns off the brightness, methedrine jiggles and speeds up the image’ he writes, ‘LSD flips on eighty-seven channels at once, pot adds colour, meditations, mantras, prayer, mudras sharpen the focus. It’s your head, baby, and it’s two-billion years old.’

But is drugged perception real or more profound than straight vision? Or just the confused interplay of sensations inside the skull? The mind-boggling revelations written while tripping read ‘ELECTRICITY COMES FROM OTHER PLANETS’ or ‘FORTY-TWO’. Cryptic clues to imaginary crossword puzzles. The incandescent solos played with endless sheet lightning by the stoned musician replays on the tape deck boring and repetitive. Decipherable only to another Day Tripper. Objectivity gets lost in a maze of distorting mirrors. After such excesses the come-down had to be hard. No gain without pain. Hear John Lennon’s tortured withdrawal from heroin addiction on the Plastic Ono Band’s “Cold Turkey”. Check out the functioning brain-cells of acid casualties. Where are Syd Barrett and Peter Green now? Check out the other side of acid with Charles Manson’s dune-buggy death squadron. 

Jack Kerouac once wrote about smoking the ‘most perfect of all blackhaired seeded packed tight superbomber joints in the world.’ Poet Philip Lamantia gives him peyote promising ‘technicolour visions’, instead he has a powerful revelation of how it feels to die. In January 1961 Leary persuades Kerouac to try LSD, but he has a bad trip, fighting paranoid attacks. He emerges from the experience convinced LSD is a Soviet subversion plot to infiltrate and destroy the moral fibre of America. Huxley, who dies in 1963 – the same day as Kennedy’s assassination and a month after Cocteau’s death, had invented the fictional benign drug ‘moksha’ (in his novel ‘Island’, 1962). But he also predicted ‘soma’, a narcotic instrument of dystopic State Control (in ‘Brave New World’, 1932).

From ecstasy bridge with the rainbow apocalypse rising, Timothy Leary’s ticket exploded.

Ramsey Campbell tells me ‘I certainly got into psychedelics in a relatively small way, then I precipitated myself a flashback in the late-seventies (‘...I spent a night trying not to see things such as my face becoming mouthless in the bathroom mirror...’) and that was me done with it, as far as LSD was concerned. It was fun, but it was a phase one went through. But then the culture turned to harder and to my mind, considerably nastier drugs. We’re going into heavier drugs now. I’m not personally – god forbid, part of it.’

With eloquent regret poet Dave Cunliffe tells me ‘it’s been impossible to get good acid since Operation Julie,’ referring to the massive police action that smashed co-ordinated LSD production in the north of England. Even Leary, re-emerging from jail, redirects his megabyte proselytising to the safer arena of the electronics revolution. Punk arrived to smash the last vestiges of the hippie dream. Its preference is for harder more violent drugs, amphetamine, speed, sulphates. ‘Sid And Nancy’ (in the 1986 Alex Cox movie) take it into the terminal zone. All their love in vein.

In its wake, the biomorphic horror, cold eyes and thin lips of William Burroughs re-emerge as newer cyphers for drabber more cynical days. His sado-erotic collages, cut-ups and metaphors are exactly attuned to the Electro-Industrial underground of the early eighties. Cabaret Voltaire. Throbbing Gristle. Clock DVA. The new downers of infected needles and virulent viral plague. ‘I need all that stuff, give me some of that stuff, I want some candy, I want your candy, I want stuff...’ Jesus and Mary Chain against discordant drones of whining feedback.

Each milieu, each demi-monde, each subculture has its drug that both creates and matches its own essential vibe. From cocaine all the way down to solvent abuse. From Sniffin’ Glue to Totally Wired. From Coleridge to tales of contemporary madness. Bret Easton Ellis’s Blank Generation novel ‘Lower Than Zero’ (1985). Julia Phillips’ ‘You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again’ (1991), a real life horror trip by the co-producer of movies like ‘The Sting’ (1973) and ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ (1977), her talent destroyed by her habit. Then Irvine Welsh graduates from the ‘Rebel Inc’ magazine into ‘Trainspotting’ in 1993 with his anti-heroes Sick Boy, Renton, Spud and Begbie soon transferring to film on the back of the emerging Dance culture, ‘Acid House’ (1994) taking him further into the low-life world of druggies and tripsters. For this is around the time the Madchester ‘Rave’ scene coincides with newly formulated strains of acid so prevalent they say the pass-grades for Manchester University become just two straight E’s.

Smak are a cult Yorkshire band. Their much in-demand adrenalin Funk white-label 12” “Feel the Heat” lifts its title from the opening line of ‘Naked Lunch’. Yet despite massive potential, major labels fight shy of signing a band with such confrontation reference points. ‘Perhaps we should choose a different group name’ suggests saxist Kevin Roberts wryly. ‘Perhaps we should become The E’s?’

When the smack begins to flow…


‘I can feel the heat closing in…’

‘Naked Lunch’, the unfilmable novel that David Cronenberg filmed, has Burroughs’ alter ego William Lee played by Peter Weller. Encased in steel and cybernetics Weller’s previous role was as the original ‘Robocop’ (1987). It’s not an inappropriate progression. The text is a wasteland of alienation seen in snatched glimpses of the Beat Generation’s sophisticated louts eaten up by their addictions, genetic, homo-erotic, and narcotic. It’s a trawl through Interzone with giant cockroaches, unhuman sex, melting typewriters metamorphosing into monstrously bizarre mutations, talking assholes, copulating centipedes, and imaginary drugs made of Black Meat or Bug Powder. It’s a mesmeric movie, an exorcism drawing in elements from Burroughs’ own life and his other books ‘Exterminator’ (1973), ‘Queer’ (1985), and beyond.

Burroughs wrote ‘Naked Lunch’ while living in one room in the Native Quarter of Tangiers during withdrawal from fifteen years of addiction, ‘at the end of the junk line.’ ‘The needle is not important’ he writes, ‘whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same – addiction’. He admits to ‘no precise memory’ of writing the endless fragmentary notes that become the novel. ‘I had not taken a bath in a year nor changed my clothes or removed them except to stick a needle every hour in the fibrous grey wooden flesh of terminal addiction. I never cleaned or dusted the room Empty ampoule boxes and garbage piled up to the ceiling.’ Allen Ginsberg collects and edits the manuscript. Jack Kerouac types up vast tracts of its delirium – a fast typer, 120-words a minute. He also names the novel that results, misreading the scrawled ‘NAKED LUST’ into the title of the key work of twentieth century drugs literature. Its fractured disgust and weird terrors form a stomach-spasming descent into a junk-sick hell. But Burroughs is, above all, an unrepentant celebrity user. ‘I was on the junk in New York. I know ten different ways of getting a pill into my mouth under closed-circuit TV’ (in “Ali’s Smile” from ‘Exterminator’).

High profile users and substance abusers? We’ve named the guilty men.

‘Is it true that the great majority of heroin addicts start with marijuana?’ asks Richard Neville in ‘Playpower’ (1970). ‘Yes’ he answers. ‘Even more of them begin with milk.’

Rock has taken drugs product endorsement into the AM / FM medium of three-minute public relations commercials for tripping. Up from every Acid House Smiley that ever grinned from every T-Shirt saying ‘I WANNA TAKE YOU HIGHER, HIGHER, UP AND AWAY-AY’. While a pantheon of Heroic Literary Dope Fiends legitimise and intellectualise it all. Against such a cultural continuity of hype, what price a Government ad that goes ‘HEROIN SCREW YOU UP’ or ‘JUST SAY NO’?

Enjoy this trip, and it is a trip, and it is a trip… 

Published in:
(Australia - December 2001)

Sunday, 26 July 2015



CD Review of: 
RECORDINGS 1948-1956’ 
 (2008 – Smith & Co SCCD 1142)

When you hear Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues” you’re hearing the source of Paul McCartney’s piano-riff for “Lady Madonna”. Of course, Humph was there, part of the British jazz scene since the mid-forties as trumpet player, occasional clarinettist, bandleader, broadcaster, raconteur, writer, relentless propogandist, and as a catalyst of changes. But more than that, he was a continuity around which popular culture swirled as it evolved, surviving – and thriving within currents that swept lesser jazzmen to obsolescence. Beginning as a staunch traditionalist – at a time when there was no tradition of jazz in Britain, and when American jazz was already sophisticating into Be-Bop, his greatest affections lay with New Orleans bands, and Louis Armstrong in particular.

The Lyttelton band with Jimmy Rushing

Born in ‘a small house in the Eton High Street’ on 23 May 1921, an ex-Eton public schoolboy, Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton scorned the establishment expectations such credentials might suggest by bunking off from an Eton-Harrow match to buy his first trumpet in Charing Cross Road, compounding the tendency by attending Camberwell Art College, growing a hipster beard, and becoming a focal point in the post-war traditional jazz wave. His forthright playing first attracted serious attention as part of the pioneering George Webb’s Dixielanders, their line-up modelled on King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. By the time Humph joined – in 1947, they’d already reached widening audiences through live radio broadcasts. 

When Webb broke up the band Humph assumed control of its remnants, remodelling it into his own first band during January 1948, gathering other future-bastions of UK trad – including Webb himself, clarinettist and cartoonist Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes in 1951 – announced by the track “Humph Meets Trog”, and later, Kid Ory-influenced brothers Keith and Ian Christie on trombone and clarinet. Just as Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner would do for blues, he – and the likes of Ken Colyer, faithfully attempted to replicate the sound of carefully hoarded and shared American 78rpm recordings. And the double-CD set ‘As Good As It Gets: The Original Jazz Recordings 1948 - 1956’ (2008) shows the band drawing on archive material from Kid Ory (“Get Out Of Here And Go Home”), WC Handy (“Ole Miss Rag” and “Careless Love”), and King Oliver (“Working Man Blues”), and yes – there’s a quaintness about them that requires a great deal of historical perspective to appreciate.

Yet there’s also early evidence of Humph’s own compositional flair, taking those roots and reconfiguring them. Humph’s lusty original “Mezz’s Blues” most obviously picks up from their recording of Mezz Mezzrow’s “If You See Me Comin’”, and runs with it. And while these recordings demonstrate the strength and blowing power of their conviction, the band’s July 1956 single “Bad Penny Blues” even scored a top twenty hit – a first for jazz, some time before the Kenny Balls and the Acker Bilk’s of the Pop Trad Fad. The record was produced by IBC studio engineer Joe Meek, standing in for Denis Preston. And as a further notable first, it was Meek’s innovative idea of mixing Johnny Parker’s catchy piano riff to the fore, to Humph’s original disapproval, that put the disc into the same chart as Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”. A young Paul McCartney was taking note of both records.

Lyttleton’s horizons broadened through the 1950’s, modernising further, grasping more mainstream zones with both hands, much to the dismay of trad purists – ‘musicians interest me more than formats’ he told ‘Melody Maker’, drawing in the influence of Buck Clayton – who later guested on one of Humph’s most accomplished albums ‘Me And Buck’ in 1963, and earning respect by taking his band to the States in 1959. For Humph, what was happening was ‘just time. Time for the fans to find out what was going on under their noses. Time for musicians to mature. Time for jazzmen to establish their own identity and not base their playing on their American counterparts.’

Humph’s cavernous ‘London Jazz Club’ at 100 Oxford Street was meantimes providing a fertile and prestigious venue for the likes of the Chris Barber Band – with Lonnie Donegan on hand to ignite the Skiffle boom, at a time when jazz clubs were viewed as vaguely disreputable bohemian dens of beatniks, CND cells and radical left-wing politicos. But he was always more ‘hot jazz’ than he was ‘cool’. From 1953 the freewheeling alto of Yorkshire-born Bruce Turner added a more muscular dimension to the Lytteltonians, while newer musicians such as saxist Tony Coe, Alan Barnes, and tenor-player Jimmy Skidmore featured on Humph’s 1959 highpoint ‘Triple Exposure’ album (re-issued in expanded CD form in 2004). A further more frivolous Pop-culture connection was provided by the launch of BBC radio’s Light Programme ‘Saturday Club’ on 4th October 1958 for which Brian Matthews presented every significant name of the era, from the Beatles on down. The show’s theme was Humph’s swinging “Saturday Jump”. Ironically, as the sixties hit its groove, Trad was effectively eclipsed by the Rock groups the programme showcased, although that sideways shift conversely liberated Humph to produce yet more diversely interesting music.

Respect for his track record legitimised an interaction with a newer more radical generation of jazzers, with Ray Warleigh’s alto and John Surman’s baritone added to the nine-piece line-up assembled for his ‘Duke Ellington Classics’ album for the Black Lion label. Helen Shapiro and Elkie Brooks were also vocalists with the Lyttelton bands. But he was just as adept at slipstreaming back to guest with the Alex Welsh Band during the early seventies, then recording his own ‘Take It From The Top’ (1975) which stands as one of the finest albums of his long career. It showcases his remarkable capacity for refreshing the classic swing format while finding new ways of expressing old musical truths, coming up with fresh ideas and new takes on old favourites. Retaining his loyalty to the musicians who’d first inspired him, his long-running (1967-2007) Radio Two ‘Best Of Jazz’ evidenced his ease with looser definitions too, and a wider respect for jazzers across the whole genre spectrum. And beyond. With a new century he was not above collaborating with Radiohead, contributing to their ‘Amnesiac’ track “Life In A Greenhouse” (2001).

Amiable, self-deprecating, with a wickedly deadpan sense of humour – a ‘rumpled dandy’ in Melyvyn Bragg’s phrase, he also authored witty, perceptive and authoritative books about the jazz he loved, in the autobiographical ‘I Play As I Please’ (MacGibbon & Kee, 1954), ‘Second Chorus’ (MacGibbon & Kee, 1958), and as an elder statesman, ‘Take It From The Top’ (Robson Books, 1975) and his ‘Best Of Jazz’ compilation (Robson Books, 1998). In the midst of all this, it’s important to recall that when he started out there was no real tradition of jazz in Britain, by the time he died – on Friday 25 April 2008, there was a creatively rich, diverse and internationally respected British jazz scene. The fact that this is so, is in no small part due to the continuity of his own lasting contribution. Of course, Humph was there.

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.11
(Sept/Oct)’ (UK – August 2008)