Thursday, 17 January 2013

Jet Boy Jet Table

            I noticed today that it was the 100th anniversary of formica – no great deal you might think, and you would be right. Formica in itself is a fairly unlovely laminate which is, generally speaking, much less alluring than a nicely oiled piece of beech, a slab of varnished oak or some well worn ash. However, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the heyday of the formica kitchen table – it’s appeal lay, I think, in its ability to project us forwards into the space age future that we all knew was waiting around the corner. Like tail fins on a Cadillac or the aluminium wings of English Electric Lightnings  there was something about formica with it’s easy-wipe, brightly coloured, sheer joy of being plastic that spoke of the atomic age (that is, the good bits of it rather than the erm, atomic bits….).

          In every dream home a heartache maybe, but in every suburban and provincial home a formica kitchen table. We had one for years, as far as I can remember it was there from the mid sixties well into the eighties. A yellow the colour of a Mari Wilson dress with arty cocktail hour squiggles that seemed to resemble writhing tadpoles or some other biological objects (much less suited to a wholesome kitchen). It must have been a popular design because a friend’s mum had the same design in blue, but having spent a while trying to find it in ‘vintage’ online formica pattern books and having had no luck I can only assume it was a formica knock-off, passing itself off as the real thing whilst no doubt being considerably cheaper.

          It had the quintessential aluminium legs, that seemed to grow wobblier every year, and at first it added a certain bold newness to our drab brown small town world. But by the time it was replaced it was an anachronistic dated piece of kitsch rubbish – even I could tell that.

          In my mind it’s still irrevocably linked with my growing up, with jets whizzing low overhead almost hourly – the aforementioned Lightnings, big black Vulcans, pretty but hopeless Starfighters – well, the names speak volumes already – and even occasionally a squadron of Russian Mig fighters which the Americans had somehow laid their hands on and flew over East Anglia for training. I seem to remember being told that the pilots (all Americans) wore Soviet uniforms, spoke exclusively in Russian and ate Russian food, all so Uncle Sam could stand a better chance of getting inside the mind of the Red Menace.

          On one occasion a plane on a bombing training run missed the intended target (the marshes some fifteen miles away as the USAF flies) and dropped magnesium flares into the field at the end of our road – it was the middle of the night and the light was blindingly white, bright enough to wake me and the rest of the street who ran out in assorted nightwear just to check that the big one hadn’t finally been dropped. Funny, it never made the papers…

          But I digress (see how evocative laminate tables are?) I’ve got my own kitchen now, with some nice pieces of heavy wood furniture in it; I’ve even managed to get past the stage of worksurfaces made of that foul faux marble. I like it that way. But sometimes, just sometimes, there is a slight yearning in me for the sleek shiny plastic art of the formicalike table with all its promise of a brighter future. I know that I’ll never feel that about the natural beauty of something that is at the end of the day just a bit of tree.

          And for your delight and delectation, enjoy the coolest jet plane this country ever produced – I don’t go much for weaponry, less still attempts to glamorise it, but after four minutes of this I was ready to mix myself a martini, climb into the cockpit, see the night close around me and not care….

(Oh, and watch out for the way the pilot checks his missiles are firmly attached – by giving them a firm manly thump…)


Update - thanks to my mystery correspondent - THIS was the pattern we had - although it was even more atomic in yellow !
Oh and go on - have some music, avoiding the obvious Blondie track here's one from a man I'm proud to have met and had a drink bought by, a legend if ever there was one, alleged inventor of the word 'groovy' and Marvin Gaye's father in law to boot. Awesome

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Solid Sender

          You can keep your Hendrix's, your Clapton's, your Page's and you can even keep Keef - there has always been just the one man with a guitar actually worth watching. Wish we could keep him longer.

          John Wilkinson of Canvey Island - We love you more than we probably ever thought we did til now. All the best.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Groove Line

This is worth a closer look if you haven't seen it before

           This week is a special week for anyone with even half an ounce of fondness for London - it's the 150th anniversary of the London underground - the Tube. Now I love the tube - I'm proud of the fact that I can find my way around with barely a glance at a map, I like the anonymity, I find the classlessness wonderful. Over the years I've used it to get to work, get to gigs, been drunk on it, fallen in love on it, been dumped on it, dreamed many dreams on it and still marvel at the fact that much of it was built when Queen Victoria was still only part way through her reign. 

          On top of all the travel advantages of the tube it's also given us one of the most classic pieces of design in the modern tube map, some of the greatest posters ever to be designed, shelter from the Blitz (well, not me, but you get the gist) and buskers....

          Yeah not all buskers are great, I'd be the first to admit it, but then again I once saw The Clash busking at Tottenham Court Road late on a Friday night - that's a story for another time.

          There are many articles in the papers and on blogs which pay tribute to this anniversary by way of songs about tube stations, some of them quite tenuously, so I thought I'd post something a bit different - what follow are some tracks about the system itself, the arteries, the tracks, the lines....enjoy.

          First stop the Bakerloo Line and this Eddy Grant produced produced corker by UK moonstompers The Pyramids - pure London.

          This next one takes us out on the Jubilee Line, I'd never heard of Brian Olive before but I'm guessing by the look and sound that he listens to more than a little of the stuff that lights our fire around here. Nice poppy stuff that makes that most unlovely of lines almost romantic.


          Next we're off 'round the District Line and out to the South, guided by Yorkshiremen Milburn - a great bit of Arctic's style guitar pop

          The Piccadilly Line seems to have inspired quite a bit of musical activity around the late sixties - this is a bit of psych pop by The Liverpool Five. I used to go to work on the Picadilly Line every day - did you know that Holborn is the deepest station on the line? Full of facts here !

          Then a bit of jazz tinged electronica from Squarepusher as we set off down to the clubs around the Central Line -100 Club here we come. 


          And finally - off on what used to be the most useful line on the whole system. But why the hell doesn't it go in a full circle any more...? I really don't want to spend any more time at Edgware Road than is absolutely necessary.... and should you be tempted to skip this one I'd like to point out it isn't that Blue - this is a bit of dreamy dub to pay tribute to all the times I've fallen asleep on the Circle and gone round and round and round....


Shell Shock

          Things have been a little heavy around here of late so as a way of lightening things up I thought I’d take the time out to introduce you to a couple of friends of mine and consider their role in the world of popular music. Meet Ruby and Donny – a couple of red-footed tortoises who happen to live in my house. Well, that is they belong to the youngest Tin and spend half their lives trying to escape from living in my house.

          I’d be the first to admit that I wasn’t too sold on the idea of a tortoise – its hardly a rock'n’roll pet is it ? I mean I can see the appeal of walking down the road with a panther on a leash, cuddling a crocodile or even perhaps keeping a wombat as a conversation piece (See the glorious Retronaut here)* but a tortoise – I mean what do they do…? except live for an incredibly long while?

           I was wrong of course and over the years have grown to love and respect these little Chellonians, they – anthropomorphically speaking – have such great personalities, they don’t say a lot but they do manage a fair bit of body language for an animal mainly encased in a hard shell. Strangely, and this is true, they respond to my voice and come over when called….OK I know you don’t believe it but its true, apparently they respond to the lower  register so I’ve tried cheering them up by playing some dub to them – it seems like they appreciate the bass and are especially fond of Sly and Robbie.

          Troublesome? You’d think not, but Ruby here escaped at the end of the summer – on my watch as well – never have I had a more panicky 48 hours searching before the kids returned. I sought her there I sought her here to no avail, wanted posters went up around the streets and at the eleventh hour the nice punky lady down the road found her in their garden…relief (and a considerable reward paid out since I really was ready to shell out (sorry) for a replacement that I might be able to pass off as the original).

          But what of the tortoises role in rock n’roll ? Sadly my research didn’t turn that much up – there’s the band Tortoise of course, although they aren’t that much to my taste, there’s also a few folky type songs about tortoises and hares (showing up the paucity of original ideas in folk), but generally speaking they don’t feature on too many tracks. Turtles on the other hand have a plethora of songs, and of course the band, named after them. But we won't go there.

          So the main contribution of the tortoise to musical history has to be one of the strangest and finest covers by one of music's strangest and finest lunatics/visionaries – I refer of course to Mr Julian Cope and his classic album Fried – with Saint Julian labouring under a tortoise shell for a reason that probably seemed like a very good idea to him at the time. Now you’re gonna tell me it’s a turtle shell, just save it and let me believe !

          As for songs – like I said not many – but this does give me the excuse to post the following classic from The Cramps – suitably enough from that wonderful album Songs The Lord Tortoise (possibly…).

You ain't no punk you punk....

* for the record I really don't like the idea of keeping big wild animals as pets...before the ALF start picketing the house....

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Punk and the Modfather (part 2)

 Maureen Barry of The Questions at the !00 Club

           Anyway, for those of you with memories long enough to remember the start of this story back at the tail end of November....  where were we...? 

          Oh yeah, we'd done the interview with Paul Weller and off we went merrily shopping 'round the West End, in the way that only people from out of town do. That was the highlight of our day over - or so we thought.

          Next thing I know I'm in a shop, queuing up to pay and gazing idly out the plate glass window at the front. My girlfriend is standing outside in the sun and suddenly I see Weller appear from nowhere, walk up behind her, put his hands over her eyes and say 'Guess who ?' ! Now if you ever wanted to see the physical embodiment of shock, desire, horror, embarrassment, disbelief and so many more emotions rolled up into one nineteen year old girl bundle - then that was it. I gave up queuing and rushed to her rescue (who am I kidding - I wanted in on this new familiarity with my idol !).

         We wandered along the street with a visibly excited Weller - he was acting like we had been not long earlier and was, he informed us, off to meet Pete Townshend to discuss publishing deals for Riot Stories. It was good to see that he could still be as much of a fanboy as I was. Then he casually asked us if we fancied going to the 100 Club that night. We'd already looked in earlier and we didn't really fancy it - it seemed it was a couple of unknown bands.

          Not so, he told us - it was actually Steve White's, the Style Council's teen drummer, eighteenth birthday and he would be there playing along with The Questions and A Craze - two of the bands then on Weller's Respond label. I'd interviewed both bands before and was absolutely up for it. Weller said he'd put our names on the door and then he cut along to meet Pete.

          So, later that night we make our way down to Oxford Street to find quite a queue already outside the doors to the basement club - word has obviously got out. We saunter down to the front only to find that there's no-one there to let us in, so back to sit on the pavement outside to the bemusement of passing tourists. After about ten minutes we get spotted - yes, we get spotted, not the other way around - this time by Mark the drummer from A Craze who was, I think, about 17 and was a fanzine writer's dream in that he was more excited to be interviewed than we were to interview him. He was great and got us down into the club straight away. We chatted for a bit with the gorgeous Lucy (A Craze singer) and various Questions. No sign of anyone else though. But hey, we were in and happy.

          After a while the club fills with an assortment of mods, casuals, soul boys and the like. We're at the bar when Weller wanders over and buys us a drink - we're invited over to meet his friends, amongst them Paolo Hewitt and a few other faces of the time. For a mod boy from the provinces this was like dying and going to heaven - heaven underground admittedly - we spent the night watching good bands, seeing Steve White do his stuff, then come over and join us, all the while just hanging out with not only Paul but with the London modernist cognoscenti. Everyone else in the 100 club was of course way too cool to approach, but all eyes darted over our way at some point during the night. It was so damn good !

          I remember getting a bit concerned that we were going to miss the last train back - Weller picked up on this and acted as my alarm call. Checking his watch periodically and letting us know when our time was up.

          We floated back home on a soft hovertrain of hipness. Even finding that my old Mk2 Cortina had been broken into when we arrived at the station couldn't burst that bubble.

          As a postscript - I sent him a copy of the 'zine when it came out and he wrote back a couple of times - each time a reasonably long handwritten letter. I didn't expect that either.

          But then about a year later I was at Molesworth cruise missile base in Cambridgeshire - stomping about in deep mud demanding that the Americans take their nuclear warheads back home with them. I think we'd been there a few hours and done the whole perimeter fence when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned 'round to find Weller behind me,

          "Hi," he said, "how's it going ? Don't suppose you've seen Billy Bragg anywhere ?"

          I stopped hyperventilating, told him that I hadn't - I didn't move in those circles. Again we chatted for a few minutes, during which Weller blagged two Rothmans off me. I was just impressed he remembered me. 

          Whatever anyone else thinks about how he's been over the years I can't help but forgive him pretty much anything. No pics of us hanging with Weller at the 100 Club that night - I was absolutely way too cool for that, well it's not what you do when you're one of the in crowd is it ?

This is the best I could find for The Questions, with Tracie Young and Weller on bongos - Not a bad take on the Isley's track - even if they look almost painfully young

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Soul Sister


          Aw hell, not Marva Whitney as well - I blame JB for this thing about great soul singers dying around Christmas, the man did however keep the prime date for himself. Marva isn't an immediately recognised name outside of soul circles but she was a force to be reckoned with and cut some great stuff with the JBs and on her own - not often found on comps but worth digging around for. James Brown dubbed her Soul Sister #1 and that's good enough for me, though it seems James also gave her a pretty hard time (and there's nothing new in hearing that...) and there's still some tracks out there that he never let her put out. Enjoy the track below, with the JBs, oh and those dancers...

          Now I've got tickets for Lee Perry next month - not a soul singer I'll grant you, but I'm feeling mighty touchy as to whether he'll make it through January given his age... I'l let you know.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Heavy Bass

          Now sorry for the interruption in service.... tech problems and all that plus the usual seasonal stuff. Anyway enough excuses - we ended up with Terry Callier going out to the cosmos last time and now sadly it's Fontella Bass, possibly soul music's finest moniker.

          Elsewhere they'll overdo Rescue Me - a fine dancer though it is it was almost irredeemably ruined for me when I saw Cilla doing it on some eighties TV show, miming whilst sailing up the Mersey in a lifeboat, never one for subtlety Ms Black. Anyway there was always so much more to Fontella than that one hit - so in tribute and in hope of widening her appeal beyond cheesy sixties compilations here's one of her pieces that she did in the early seventies with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. What a voice and another one to fly up there with Terry.