Sunday 20 September 2009

A South London Story ... part three

And it’s almost a year since Your Heart Out began to take shape. Just trying to remember the reasons and aims at the time of starting out ....

Well, there was an enforced amount of leisure time, a lack of money, a growing frustration at not finding a music magazine worth reading or if there was one worth reading (Wax Poetics) it would be a little too specialist. I wanted the Mo-Dettes, Marcos Valle and the Soulful Strings together. There was also something about giving something back. Over the preceding months I’d been totally inspired by the time and trouble bloggers were taking to share their passions, to give new life to lost musics. They had opened up so many new vistas, and I owed them.

So it was the old punk impulse of get up and do it for yourself. On a practical note, historically I’d been hopeless at IT, but I’d taken some free courses and acquired the rudimentary skills to enable me to create a magazine of sorts. It had to be a magazine too, as I loved reading in odd places away from computers, and liked the idea of something that had structure as opposed to the randomness of blogs. I liked structure, and the discipline of doing something regularly. I had a bit of a track record with previous projects (as John Carney) kindly published by the Tangents site where I’d been providing weekly instalments as part of a year-long series or three.

So, the aim with Your Heart Out was to produce something monthly. And for ten issues this challenge was met. It even expanded into a blog, with regular posts that gave a little more detail and colour in a lopsided way. The feedback on YHO has been fantastic, which has meant a lot, but overall for something ‘freely’ available the download stats are not encouraging. It was easier to reach people with cumbersome fanzines. Work that one out! Anyway, circulation figures aside, and that doesn’t really matter because if you’ve got something to say you’ll say it anyway, the real point is all this YHO activity became ridiculously time consuming, and took over many aspects of daily life.

I think a point has been made with YHO. It’s been proven that pop writing can be fun, passionate, informative, that you don’t have to write about the usual suspects, and so on. It’s been shown it’s possible to do something a little different. Thus, for now, it’s time to take a breather, park YHO, and get some other things up and running. Perhaps not quite ‘stop the world I want to get back on’ but along those lines. In the meantime, the London songs project will continue relentlessly. So, please support that and spread the word. And participate!
The infamous YHO library on the left will remain open. And that just leaves me to thank all the people, new friends and old comrades, who have stood up and waved a clenched fist in support of YHO. Oh, and in case you wondered, the name came about because I had this song on my brain ...

Saturday 19 September 2009

A South London Story ... part two

It's 20 years ago today-ish that the Manic Street Preachers played their first London show, which was at the Horse and Groom in Great Portland Street. I've read quite a lot about this, including the group's own account, but I don't remember being asked about it. Odd really.

At the time I was running a small record label called Esurient, with a fantastic roster featuring The Claim, Hellfire Sermons, and Emily. Richey from the Manics had made contact in his inimitable and persuasive way, saying he'd loved Hungry Beat, loved The Claim, hoped I'd love the group he was involved with, that their name had come from the Jasmine Minks' All Good Preachers mini-LP. A passionate correspondence ensued, with lots and lots of quotes from Kevin Rowland and Paul Weller and William Wharton and Jack Kerouac. I don't remember him mentioning Guns 'n' Roses or Public Enemy. He sent rehearsal tapes, photos, poems, diatribes. All of which led to this show, with the Manics supporting The Claim in this quaint upstairs function room, where once mod/soul nights had been held. It cost £10 or so to hire. The West End at that time was dead on a Friday night, strange as it now seems.

It had been booked as a jazz night, which I'd forgotten to tell the Manics. So they were a bit confused when they got there, and were waiting outside in the van when I rolled up. I wish I'd taken some photos. They looked brilliant. They had these matching blue jackets, with arrows stencilled on, like prison uniforms. Very short hair. Tight, white Cavern jeans. The shirts were the infamous slogan ones. They were overwhelmed at the response, and refused to take any money saying it should be put towards a new Claim single as the world needed more of their sense of attack. And the rest is history, or is it?

I doubt if there was anyone in the room that night who doubted that of the two groups playing The Claim were the ones who were gifted and special. But the Manics, lovely lads and all that, were shockingly determined and driven. They wanted to be heard and to get on. They wanted to play an Esurient show every week, to be noticed, but the whole point of these events was to create a sense of occasion. To do something different. The best shows were at the Covent Garden Community Centre. One had The Claim, and a play by Vic Templar, and northern soul disco. The other had The Claim plus Billy Childish reading some of his poetry, though I thought he'd never shut up and we were as a consequence running dangerously to going over the allotted time and losing our deposit though the day was saved when the whole audience pitched in to help clean up the hall. Punk rock eh?

I guess I could have done a Manics single on Esurient. I had a sense it would have sold well. But it didn't really seem the thing to do. Instead they did a record with Damaged Goods, because it would lead to more gigs, and in time signed with Heavenly. Me, I never got the hang of pragmatism or expediency.

Esurient had started with ridiculously rough recordings of Hurrah! and the Jasmine Minks. This was a political protest, or strop, because the Hurrah! on Arista was not the Hurrah! I'd fought for, and because Creation was not agreeing to put out a Jasmine Minks 7" to go with the Another Age LP. In fairness, despite my stroppiness, both Kitchenware and Creation gave their permissions, and it all seemed very neat. A protest against gloss and polish, but with quite beautiful sleeves to make up for the 'organic' straight-from-tape recordings.

Then all hell broke loose. The music weeklies all ran big stories about Esurient putting out this illegal Hurrah! bootleg, and there were suitably mortified quotes from Keith Armstrong at Kitchenware. I couldn't work out what was happening. I had a letter from Keith giving his consent, and suggesting it should be an LP rather than the cassette I had proposed. The original idea had been along the lines of The Fall's Chaos tape or ACR's Graveyard and the Ballroom. Anyway a few days later Keith rang up to apologise, and explained he'd simply stirred things up to generate publicity for me. Oddly Alan McGee had suggested that this was what was going on. I couldn't get my head 'round it. The nedia had taken Keith's words at face value, not even contacted me, had no interest in seeing the letter, didn't apologise afterwards or print a retraction as it was old news. Then while this was going on James Brown asked if I fancied doing some writing for the NME. Hmmm ...

Anyway, Keith was right. The records sold like hot cakes, and we made enough money to be able to release an LP by The Claim, which was called Boomy Tella. Listening to it again after many years, I still feel proud to have been part of something so special. Anyway, the deal was that Rough Trade and The Cartel paid for manufacturing then distributed the records and claimed back their money through sales. The only trouble is they didn't actually get any records into the shops, because they were concentrating on the records that would sell well. The Smiths, Creation, etc. Fantastic logic. So piles of records languished in warehouses. The Stockholm Monsters wrote a song about all this. Personally I called it censorship. People deciding what others could buy. If my records were in shops and people didn't buy them, then fair enough. But when they're not making it to the shops because of a policy decision, that can't be right.

So future Esurient releases were self-funded and self-distributed. Unintentionally the process of putting out records had again become something of a political act or protest, when really all I'd wanted to do was be as special as Postcard. Somehow Esurient put out another six or so singles over the next few years. Initially this was through money I got as a grant for going to the London College of Printing to do their prestigious journalism course. Don't ask me what I lived on. The groups all paid for their own recordings, and never got a penny in royalties. I am amzed they still speak highly about being a part of something significant. They weren't very good at compromising themselves though so I suppose the major label thing would never have worked for them either. I do still have nightmares about not doing enough for the groups involved. They deserved to be heard, and our contrariness can't have helped that cause.

To cut a long story short, I called it a day with Esurient for an accumulation of reasons. One of these was a desire to pursue my own writing projects. This in turn led to a book, Something Beginning With O, which Heavenly published. The book was intended as a sort of blueprint, primer, or something for an imaginary group that was part of a continuum. That group may just have been what I'd desperately hoped the Manic Street Preachers would become. The book dealt with my own feelings of betrayal by an industry that had turned its back on things I'd believed in. It was originally far longer in length, but using skills learned on the journalism course I'd stripped it down to the bare bones because I hated all the drooling over Jon Savage and Greil Marcus. I wanted it to be more like the Terry Rawlings Small Faces book Paul Weller put out on Riot Stories. A pop single as opposed to a concept LP. Ironically the Jon Savage edited Faber Book of Pop features a quote from my book about pop being all about singles ...

So those Esurient singles. Well, when you're emotionally close to something you can get to a stage where you become estranged from something you love. So for years I didn't listen to any of the Esurient releases. A friend then posted on his blog a track by Emily, and I thought wow! Then by chance I was able to introduce The Claim to the Cherry Red salvage empire, which has resulted in a compilation which is all but out. Caught up in the excitement about this, I came across a YouTube clip of the final Esurient single from The Claim. Well, one side of it, and it was on the sort of day when you doubt yourself, and I played this clip and thought well it was worth it ...

Friday 18 September 2009

A South London Story ... part one

Readers of a certain age will remember comedian/mimic Mike Yarwood would finish his shows with a song which he'd introduce with the line: 'And this is me ...' Well, in a similar vein a flurry of online activity which has focused on ancient fanzines reminded me that it is pretty much 25 years to the day that the first issue of Hungry Beat appeared. I had been involved with fanzines before, but this was the first thing I'd done on my own. Actually that's not strictly true because three of the articles in that first issue were written by one Pete Whiplash, who in some circles is better known as Bobby Gillespie. I'd met Bobby the previous summer, just after he'd left The Wake, and we'd struck up a fevered correspondence, swapping tapes, real you've-gotta-hear-this type stuff, as you did. Actually there's a funny story where someone came up to me at a Bodines/Laugh show and asked if I was Pete Whiplash, and said well no, but he'd dashed off in shame before I could explain. The funny thing is hardly anyone knew Bobby was a contributor, which we thought was quite funny, especially when he wrote about the Mary Chain in the second issue. And why not, he was a fan. But I'm sure I could have sold many more copies if I'd used the 'Bobby' factor. Just didn't seem the thing to do though.

That first issue seems odd now. It reminds me of that old song about Camp Granada. Things did look grim, so we were writing about old music. Lovin' Spoonful, Love, Fire Engines, Vic Godard. I hated pretty much everything else, with the exception of Felt, Go-Betweens and my beloved Hurrah! Then gradually in the summer of 1984 things began to get interesting again, with the Jasmine Minks, June Brides, The Loft, Mary Chain, Primals, Biff Bang Pow! all beginning to come good. That was reflected in the fanzine.

There is a tendency to lump everything together. So naturally there is a view that the fanzine world was one big happy family, that the underground music scene in the mid-'80s was a big happy family, and so on. No chance. There were more schisms and factions than you could shake a stick at. I didn't help. I pretty much hated everyone and everybody. I actually hated the fanzine tradition. There had only ever been a few fanzines I thought worth reading. I hated interviews, local focus, jokes, cartoons, bad spelling, poor punctuation. I hated most of the groups most of the fanzines featured. I had definite ideas that writing about pop music should aspire to be as special as the music being written about. I am sure I didn't succeed. But some people were extraordinarily enthusiastic about Hungry Beat. I particular treasure a comment about it making someone wanting to go out and buy records they already owned. I am very proud the fanzine popped up on the front of the first Biff Bang Pow! LP. I am grateful it brought me into contact with people I love dearly to this day.

There were two further editions of Hungry Beat. I honestly haven't seen them in years. Lawrence (a celebrity fan) suggested severely limiting the numbers of the second issue to make it a cult collectors' item. Inadvertently this turned out to be the case because of a bit of a mess up on the printing front when the coloured backgrounds went horribly wrong, and I couldn't afford to get the thing reprinted. The third edition if I remember rightly focused heavily on Dexys' Don't Stand Me Down and the accompanying live shows which made most underground pop outfits seem pretty daft.

Abandoning the Hungry Beat brand for some reason a fourth fanzine came out under the name The Same Sky. This featured the Happy Mondays around the time Freaky Dancin' came out and a number of very poorly attended live shows in London just blew me away. I hope I mentioned Sweet Tee and Jazzy Joyce's It's My Beat. I certainly mentioned in passing a group called The Claim who I'd seen support the Jasmine Minks at the 100 Club. They played to about six people, but were magnificent, and seemed to have that spark, clout and difference-ness that the underground had been missing. So would begin another chapter. The Same Sky also dealt with disappointment about Hurrah! not turning into the group I selfishly needed them to be. Take a few of those things together, and you'd have the ingredients for the next part of this story. In the meantime, here's a reminder why we used to get so excited about Hurrah! The eagle-eyed among you will recognise stills from single sleeves. "Take it Dee Dee ..."

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Less lolly in our pop ...

I can never get my head around the way this music industry thing works. But what do I know? Anyway, if you have been following our London songs project you will be aware that Saint Etienne were handed a three match ban early on in the season. Although there was an appeal there original decision was upheld. What wasn't widely reported at the time was that a further ban was imposed when the disciplinary committee realised that the Finisterre film omitted Soft Like Me from its soundtrack. What was that all about? Soft Like Me was the Etienne's finest moment. It's the song I imagine our readers like most of the Etienne's work. And Wildflower's rap is just sublime, and works perfectly with the acoustic setting. Cor you could win a Mercury wotsit with that sort of thing.

Except that, as we point out in the tenth issue of Your Heart Out, which oh yes you can download in the library on your left gratis, Wildflower hasn't had the breaks. As far as we can tell she's not even had a record out of her own. Oh I hope I'll be proved wrong. But given the fact it's 10 years or so on from her scene stealing appearance on Roots Manuva's debut it's a pretty sad state of affairs. It makes Vic Godard seem prolific. I have no idea of what went on or wrong. But I have strong thoughts about the injustice of it all. But then in her appearance on Skitz's Domestic Science she has some wise words about the way things are.

So to celebrate some of the collaborations Wildflower has been part of, here's some treats, starting with The Herbaliser and Good Girl's Gone Bad, which was Wildflower's last appearance on record.

This gives some suggestions about what we're missing, and what complete idiots there are out there in the music industry who can't recognise something special. Grrr ... It's just the way things are Joe ...

Sunday 13 September 2009

I haven't got any money so I always have to pay

If someone tells you that the most important person in the 1980s Manchester music scene was a guy called Wilson just don't assume they're talking about a Factory owner. Chances are they'll be talking about a DJ named Greg who played in clubs like Legends, had a show on Piccadilly Radio, championed early electro funk in the clubs, was the first person to 'scratch' live on UK TV, and so on. People like A Certain Ratio say that they would have preferred to have a track played by Greg Wilson than be in the NME, or words to that effect. Others like A Guy Called Gerald cite Greg Wilson as the number one catalyst for what happened with house music.

Wilson in 1984 seems to have disappeared from the DJ game. His interest in electro though led to his management of Manchester's first b-boy crew Broken Glass and the next step would be actually making music for the Streetsounds UK electro compilation. With electro mutating into hip hop Wilson would start his own label Murdertone, and elements of Broken Glass would evolve into the Ruthless Rap Assassins, an outfit whose back catalogue is celebrated in the tenth issue of Your Heart Out (which can be downloaded in the library on your left).

Another fantastic example of Manchester's hip hop is MC Buzz B's Never Change. I would urge anyone reading this to check out Buzz B's work by hook or by crook.

And finally because it's great fun, and because you can impress loved ones by knowing which Manchester hip hop oitfit had a video featuring guest appearances from Noddy Holder, Frank Sidebottom and the Ruthless Rap Assassins, here's Kiss AMC and their Docs.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Stealing Stereotypes

There was a bit of a theme going on in the tenth issue of Your Heart Out (which you can download for free in the library on your left) about cities and compartmentalisation. Fitting in with the theme of celebrating UK hip hop we looked at Manchester. And how you know there's this thing where at the end of the '80s into the '90s you have downbeat Bristol, rare groove and acid jazz in London, and Manchester's your house nation. Simples. Yet one of the great downbeat acid jazz classics is Black Whip by Chapter and the Verse, a Manchester outfit. So Manchester in fact its classic debut LP would be called Great Western Street, with a classic track about Claremont Road. Moss Side locations. The LP itself, from 1991, is a wonderful mix of hip hop, jazz, house, soul and more. The clue's in the opening lines which refer to legendary Manchester DJs Hewan Clarke and Colin Curtis, who were among those that played their part in shaping Manchester's musical map. But you might not know that if you read the official Madchester stories. When was the last time someone reeling off a list of Manchester classics mentioned this Chapter and The Verse moment?

The vocals on that track are by Beverley Bygraves, whom the Chapter production team also worked with as part of The Bygraves, producing soulful house (swing bleep?) tracks such as this:

And this track. You'll have noticed The Bygraves' connection to Rham! The same label that released the early Chapter & The Verse records. I guess if Rham! is known for anything it is for its A Guy Called Gerald releases, including the Hot Lemonade LP.

And the Chapter production team had close links to A Guy Called Gerald, performing with him live and so on. But despite that what do we know about Rham! as a label? Well, apart from the fact that it was based on Merseyside, put out records by Manchester's crown prince (what was going on with Factory and other Mcr-centric concerns?) and had a wonderfully diverse repertoire.

That track record included this wonderful piece of home grown techno which if it had been released on Warp would have been legendary. One of the other tracks on this EP, Veda, appears on a tape of a Grooverider set from '91, but I can tell you little else. I really am intrigued. Does anyone know the story and people behind Rham!?

Monday 7 September 2009

Recognition overdue

In the tenth issue of Your Heart Out, which you can download for free in the library on the left, there was some thought given over the question of perception and the way the official media works. On one hand if you say something often enough it seems to stick. I guess that's why the 20th anniversary of the Stone Roses' first LP is celebrated so vigorously. But what about the flip side of that? Why are things under valued? Why do people persist in peddling falsehoods? You know, like the perennial underwhelming UK hip hop scene. Then for whatever reason you go back and listen to some of the rap records made here over the past 20 odd years, and you think eh? Underwhelming? Nah. You just lack the imagination to create a context where some of the best and most vital sounds are suitably celebrated.

Lie number one about UK hip hop (and here there is a tacit acknowledgement that in music as Alex Fergusson's Cash Pussies said 99% is rubbish) is that it is a pale imitation of its US relation. Some on the scene did strive to use their own voice, their native tongue. The London Posse and the Demon Boyz were among the first to use their own accent, to bring in Jamaican influences too from the reggae/dancehall scene. And the Demon Boyz would come through with what is now in certain (but not enough) circles as a bona fide hip hop classic LP in 1989's Recognition, which is now available on CD. Its youthful zest is totally infectious, and if you need a nudge here's Vibes.

There is to this LP the same sort of gauche cockiness that was present in early punk recordings. Indeed watching rare footage of the young Demon Boyz it's impossible not to break into a goofy grin the way you do watching The Jam or Orange Juice.

Funnily enough Recognition didn't take off in the way the Stone Roses did. And by the time they made a second LP, which came out '93ish, the lyrical content was a lot harsher, the rhythms much rougher, more in line with what was happening with jungle. Ironically by that time the pirate radio stations were awash with MCs spouting freeform nonsense and the Demon Boyz disappeared from view.

And the great thing about the proliferation of digital outlets is that there are so many opportunities for long term fans and new converts to share passions, so YouTube and the blogosphere is rife with references to the brilliance of the Demon Boyz with material posted to back these claims. Thus outside of the official media channels new truths take root. Maybe in time they will be repeated enough for momentum to grow and recognition to flow ...

Friday 4 September 2009

Some call me MC. Some call me DJ

Back in the real world I used to want to run and hide when people started to talk about joined-up thinking. So I'm wary of saying that in a rare burst of joined-up thinking the tenth issue of Your Heart Out (which you'll be wanting to download for free in the library on your left) referred to its companion site, the London songs project.

The reason for this cross-referencing was to explain how in collating contributions for The London Nobody Sings ... a lot of fun had been had digging out old forgotten records, following up half remembered links, and generally following odd leads. It's a useful discipline actually to approach music from a different perspective. And it's keeping me out of mischief. And it's interesting watching which tracks are getting the most attention. Among the front runners are Bridget St John's I Like To Be With You In The Sun, Weekend's View From Her Room and You're Nicked by Laurel & Hardy. Intriguing.

The quest for London songs has, on a personal level, reignited a dormant passion for the UK's reggae and hip hop traditions. This was reflected in the tenth issue of YHO where a case was put that we undervalue the achievements in these areas, constantly missing opportunities to celebrate classics and innovations. Early on in the process of putting together The London Nobody Sings it became clear the MC or DJ or toasting or chatting cuts made particularly in the early '80s would be a rich source for songs. And to date we've been able to use the aforementioned You're Nicked by Laurel & Hardy, Fare Dodger by Papa Benjie, New Cross Fire by Raymond Naptali & Roy Rankin, Cockney Translation by Smiley Culture, and Shot Gun Wedding by Ranking Ann. And there're more on the way.

A number of these tracks have links to the south London based Fashion label, which had considerable success as a reggae independent in the early/mid '80s, and had real crossover appeal with Smiley Culture. From its ranks another local star would be Asher Senator, whose story is told in an excellent post at the dependable Uncarved blog. One of Asher's early hits, Fast Style Origination, tells the tale of how the UK fast style of chatting developed. And I think I'm right that Fashion's first LP would be a UK vs JA soundclash featuring Asher and Johnny Ringo. There is an argument to be put forward that some of that era's MCs like Smiley, Asher, Tippa Irie, Laurel & Hardy used humour to make some serious points in an almost music hall way. Asher's Talk Like Animal is a brilliant example of this. And if you want to hear some long lost Laurel & Hardy at the BBC then pay a visit to our comrade at Fruitier Than Thou.

While wonderful souls have been busy posting long lost 12"s on YouTube the fact remains this area of musical brilliance is poorly served salvage wise, but some of the Mad Professor related works are being excavated, and there can be little excuse for not investigating Ranking Ann's works. Her A Slice of English Toast is a real favourite and particularly recommended if you're looking for something in a more militant style. We will return to Ranking Ann both in Your Heart Out and at The London Nobody Sings ... So in the meantime here's some wonderful footage of the Saxon Sound System with Papa Levi in action on the mic ...

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Which side are you gonna be on?

There was metaphorically speaking a bit of waving of ye olde stars 'n' stripes going on in the tantalising tenth issue of Your Heart Out, which has become known as Folklore (and can be downloaded for free in the library on the left). So, yeah, we were celebrating some great Americans. Pete Seeger, Helen Merrill, Leadbelly, Jo Stafford, and so on. And Tav Falco. Tav got full honours for introducing us to the Bourgeois Blues, which he mixed in with a bit of Ginsberg's Howl! One thing I like about Tav is that he's not afraid to wear his passions on his sleeve. And it's not all Memphis either. He's a big tango fan. Now I have to confess I'm not that familiar with the world of tango (yet) but one book I do recommend is The Tango Singer by Tomas Eloy Martinez, which is a fantastic story about searching for this elusive singer that sings these lost tango numbers in spectacularly secret locations around Buenos Aires. And talking of Tav and the tango ... fades in slowly as dear John would say so talk among yourselves for the first minute or so.

Another of the great Americans in the tenth issue of YHO was Jonathan Richman, and the case was made for Rock 'n' Roll With The Modern Lovers being the most subversive album ever. Revolutionary in its content. In the context of punk. Kids' songs. Folk and traditional numbers from around the world. Rockin' minimalism. Reggae influences. And a massive instrumental hit. Check that on YouTube and if you're not distracted by egyptian reggaeton (well I was) then you might stumble across the bizarre Top Of The Pops interpretation of the song that is more Carry On Up The Khyber than Wilson, Keppel & Betty's old music hall turn. Spectacularly surreal!

And a third great American mentioned in passing and indeed quoted in the tenth issue was Ian Svenonius. I guess it's de rigeur in these troubled times to carry a copy of Ian's Psychic Soviet in your shirt pocket to whip out and rifle through in search of inspiration. A real all-rounder is Ian. Go on tell me you've seen Ian's interviewing technique and in particular that one where he gabs with Bobby Gillespie. If you've not seen it, go seek! And here's to Bobby by the way. It was he who got me to listen to the Panther Burns. And as for Ian ... well, lest we forget how special the Make-Up was, this is what pop music's all about.