Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tav Falco by Sonic Boom

There are times when I curse myself for the non-appearance of issue 7. Among many great contributions, some already shared and some to come, we had a track by the wonderful Tav Falco's Panther Burns and a Tav Falco interview/article by Sonic Boom (Spacemen III). What were we doing letting this thing slide? So here's that piece on Tav, again from 1987, followed by the track “Ode To Shetar” (which eventually appeared on New Rose's “Red Devil” compilation in 1988). I never actually met Sonic aka Pete Kember, but spoke on the phone and corresponded with him (pre-e-mail days these....) and he'd provided a detailed Suicide discography to accompany a long Suicide interview (which I may run later) also lined up for the magazine. Unlike Sonic I never even got to speak to Tav though I received a number of beautifully penned letters and postcards from this most genuine of gentlemen.

You know something, people used to be so cool back then.....

The Incredible Tav Falco Part One
"First thing I gotta say about this guy, aside from his musical genius, he's HOT with a capital H O T! This man has good taste. With his insatiable taste for good ol' time country blues, this guy loves motorbikes, especially “good old British bikes”, (although a friend has managed to write off his Triumph). As if that aint enough to put him in the annals of cool forever, this rockabilly rebel likes nothing more than a good film, sometimes making them himself. (Videos available from Frenzi). His latest work is a song called “Ode To Shetar” from the upcoming “Blood Diner” movie, which has been made in Hollywood as a sequel to “Blood Feast”. This will be HOT. Also check out a new song “Oh How She Dances”, an old medicine show track on a New Rose compilation, France's grrrrooooviest record label (ROSE 100)
Sugar Ditch Revisited Part Two
I interviewed Tav by telephone, which aint easy as any of you budding zine-freaks may have noticed, and was made none the easier by Tav's reluctance to be interrupted. So here's a summary of what was said – I'm just gonna have to learn shorthand. That said, let's hope some of the following turns a few of you unbelievers into hopelessly lost rock'n'roll aliens.

Tav was, without doubt, BORN with a rock'n'roll heart. The first record he remembers hearing/liking is a nifty little ditty by Walter Harreton called “Kansas City”. Like a fool I mentioned I knew neither the song nor the singer, so Tav decided he'd better sing it to me down the phone. Okay, so it tacked a few quid onto my phone bill, but Wow! it was worth it.

He was easily drawn to Memphis by its rich cultural background of Negro cotton field music, Delta Blues, and Memphis' main claim to fame, the Sun Sound. He started to play with various blues and rockabilly artists from the area, and the folklore and licks that he learnt soon found their way into Panther Burns, and some of the songs he learned are still in his set today. The beautiful “Mississippi River” was taught him by a local lady by the name of Van Zula Hunt. This song is what Tav calls “traditional” and has probably changed little since it was first sung by some weary love-hungry cotton picker. It is the continuation of these songs that make Tav Falco's Panther Burns utterly indispensable. Another traditional tune he's learned from a local luminary going by the name of Nathan Beauregard is the superb stop-start “Highway 61”. For you trivia freaks who have noticed the difference between the UK and US pressings of their first LP “Behind The Magnolia Curtain”, Tav tells me “River Of Love” and various bits of the Tate County Drum Corps were edited out because there was “too much programme on it”. This basically means that the length of the recorded material was too long for the vinyl. Although these pieces are missing, the US copies are undoubtedly better pressings and have a much louder sound.

When Tav and his lady Lorette Velvette aren't burning round Memphis in his black '64 Thunderbird, he's usually holed up in his “Sugar Ditch Mansion”, which is basically a somewhat smaller version of the Southern plantation house, of timber construction, pillars and all. Tav calls this convenience-less style of living “au naturel” which sure sounds pretty for what it is, but I personally prefer the term “sugar ditch” which he tells me is a 19th Century term for “living rough”. I am in no doubt that he would not want to live on a mod cons estate, not for all the blues records in the world (....I dunno though...!)

While we're on the subject of “Sugar Ditch Revisited”, Tav tells me he has no plans to record any more of the Stax type sounding stuff, and that it was just something he wanted to record at the time. The be-quiffed one also seems to have a great love of serial killers, and in the superb “Starkweather”, he's let loose his thoughts on Charles Starkweather, the 1950's “original Charles Manson”. Tav reckons he was the first media mass murderer who had just a little too much rebel to contain inside of him. He was (Tav that is) later chuffed to have his thoughts confirmed on receiving a biography of the bad man himself sent by Lux Interior.

Well that just about wraps it up. Tav seems weary of my questions and, it seems, has to go out. The more “confirmed” Panther Burns fans among you will I'm sure be pleased to hear that Frenzi and Aussie label Augogo have a joint LP out, which aside from two new PB songs (a new version of “Agitator Blues” and a previously unheard “Tram”) contains two songs by Lorette's band, the Hellcats, as well as two tracks by each of Shewolf and Paradoxical Babble. All are from Memphis and this too will be HOT!!
Sonic "

(Cartoon of Tav by Dav)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Captain Beefheart (Part One) - Great Misunderstood Rock'n'Roll Legends No.2 by Andrew Bean

A long time contributor and supporter of the magazine, Andy Bean first heard Captain Beefheart in 1973 and was at the famous Aylesbury Friars show in 1975. He had his own variously named but usually Captain Beefheart inspired fanzine in the late 1970's, and in case you'd not guessed, owes his surname to the man himself. He played "bass (badly) and guitar (worse)" in Nikki Sudden's band before taking over the drums for three years at the end of the 1980's, including playing on Nikki's "Groove" album in 1989. He now lives in London and is manager of a record shop.

Andy Bean & Nikki Sudden

Truth be told, this piece from issue 2 of WANWTTS in 1984, was my real introduction to Captain Beefheart. I had the safe-ish "Safe As Milk" album, but it was only after reading this article that I delved further into the esoteric world of the Captain. It was the second in the series of Great Misunderstood Rock'n'Roll Legends, the first having been Alex Chilton in issue 1 (by Epic Soundtracks) and this was the first part of two.

The Captain & Epic Soundtracks

Its appearance is obviously prompted by the sad passing of Mr Van Vliet at the age of 69 at the end of last week.

Great Misunderstood Rock 'n' Roll Legends No.2
Captain Beefheart – Part One
“A Squid Eating Dough In A Polythene Bag Is Fast And Bulbous”

"If one were to ask the average music fan about Captain Beefheart, you might get one of three replies: many would not have heard of him, while of those who had, most would not see him as anything other than a nutter who makes “difficult music” (joining such similarly categorised artists as Sun Ra, John Cale and so on). This image isn't helped by lazy journalists (hi, David Hepworth) who would rather reel off a few wacky anecdotes than try to enlighten the OGWT viewer as to the man's talent. Then there are the solid core of fans who recognise Beefheart as having made some of the most advanced music of the last twenty years.

He was born Don Van Vliet in California in 1941. At an early age he showed an artistic leaning, appearing on a local TV arts programme exhibiting his sculptures at the age of five. In the late 1950's, he attended the same high school as Frank Zappa. The two became great friends, cruising together and planning various musical ventures, few of which materialised. Zappa had written a film “Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People” which gave van Vliet his new name. Another project was an opera “I Was A Teenage Maltshop” which was rejected by plenty of record companies, but featured an early airing of the Beefheart vocal cords, singing such themes as “Ned The Mumbler” in a voice like a bear with a cold impersonating Andy Williams. One of Zappa's other groups was the Scots, which was basically just he and Beefheart playing basic r'n'b. Zappa once wanted to release a 9-album box set of these recordings, but all that surfaced was a 15 second snatch on his 1967 “Lumpy Gravy” LP. In late 1965 Zappa and Beefheart separated: Zappa to transform the Soul Giants into the Mothers Of Invention and Beefheart to form his own Magic Band.

A&M signed the band in late 1964, and then released two singles. The four tracks were all competent r'n'b, enlivened by Beefheart's exceptional blues voice, and some interesting guitar work. An album was recorded at the same time but rejected by A&M who claimed the lyrics were too unusual. By 1966, the album “Safe As Milk” had been re-recorded and released by Kama Sutra. Although largely ignored in the States, it was enormously successful in Britain, building Beefheart a large following which would last him a long time. Even after 18 years, it's an incredibly fresh sounding album: on a solid base of country blues, the band built up a unique sound. Ry Cooder was in the group at the time, fresh from the Rising Sons with Taj Mahal. His waspish guitar meshed with that of Alex St.Claire, producing a weaving pattern of notes contrasting with Jerry Handley's thumping bass and the mighty John French's rattling drums. The album includes such gems as “Yellow Brick Road”, included on a bubblegum compilation album next to “Sugar Sugar” and also one of Tony Blackburn's favourite records! “Electricity” showcased the awesome power of the Captain's (4, 4½ or 7½ octave, depending on your source) voice...he destroyed a $1500 mike when recording this track, just by singing into it. “I'm Glad” is a slow soul worthy of Otis, while “Abba Zabba”, “Sho Nuff N You I Do” and “Dropout Boogie” were romping hooting psychedelic blues stomps: with all the recent interest in 60's US psychedelia and the like, it's a pity this album hasn't had more attention. It's currenttly available at £3.00 and no home should be without it.

“Safe As Milk” was enough of a success in the States for Beefheart to be invited to play the Monterey Festival. If he had, he would probably have become successful and famous in the same way as, say, Canned Heat. As it was, Cooder left just before the festival and was replaced, too late, by Jeff Cotton. The band set to playing more live dates, including a visit to England. John Peel liked the band and brought them over for a giog at the Middle Earth Club where they were enjoyed by a record crowd. This visit also provided a session for Peel and Beefheart is still the only American artist to have recorded one. Similarly Peel's programme is currently the only place you're likely to hear Beefheart's music on the radio.

Soon after the British visit, “Strictly Personal” was released. It had been recorded before the tour, and mixed by Bob Krasnow (now head of Elektra Records) while the band were away...and that was the problem. Krasnow had evidently decided that the LP wasn't weird enough and added phasing effects. Beefheart was furious but was still convinced of the value of the music. Indeed the album hardly needed any weirding-up by Krasnow; the clean cut besuited young men of the sleeve of “Safe As Milk” were replaced by a bunch of guys with saucepans on their heads, and the music concentrated totally on Beefheart's dark side.

Tracks like “Ah Feel Like Ahcid”, an acoustic blues and “Beatle Bones 'n Smokin' Stones” a sort of tribute featuring the amazing drumming of John French, were matched against long almost-jams like “Kandy Korn” which excels due to a beautiful shimmering multi-layered fade out which is more a band solo than a guitar solo....the track “Safe As Milk” was the world's first psychedelic blues disco record, while “Gimme Dat Harp Box” was a thunderous blues stomp based on the old standard “Spoonful”, and demonstrating that when it comes to Blues, Beefheart is as proficient with a harmonica as he is with his voice. “Strictly Personal” was an important album as it retained obvious links with Beefheart's roots, while showing the direction he was to take in the future, though no-one would have guessed how far he'd go. Many of his fans still regard it as his best album...indeed, after “Safe As Milk” it is his most re-issued.

By late 1968, Frank Zappa had become respected enough to have two record companies of his own, Bizarre and Straight. Beefheart, disgusted with the Krasnow affair, signed to Straight, and began to prepare a new album of music, totally under his own control. Here we enter the realms of legend. He sat down at the piano, never having played it before and wrote a whole new selection of music and lyrics. Next, he re-assembled the Magic Band: Jeff Cotton and John French were recalled and given the names Antennae Jimmy Semens and Drumbo respectively. Two young fans, Bill Harkleroad and Mark Boston (who'd never played guitar before) were recruited and renamed Zoot Horn Rollo and Rockette Morton. Beefheart's cousin The Mascara Snake was brought in on saxes and clarinets. Then the whole band had vanished to the Mojave Desert for 9 months living on acid and lizards, where Beefheart taught them to play his new music. On their return, they went into the studio with Zappa producing (although Beefheart claims he was asleep at the controls) and recorded the awesome “Trout Mask Replica”.

“Replica” while relatively unnoticed upon its release, has since been recognised as one of the most innovative albums ever made. Even now, 15 years after its release, no-one has made a record quite like it. Its four sides contain 28 songs, most of which comprise nothing less than a compendium of American culture. Beefheart's lyrics paint a picture of all aspects of American life, from racism and World War 3 to a sea shanty and numerous visions of some mythical small-town middle America in the late 1800'as. The music borrowed from mainly jazz and blues, two of the three pure American musics, but there was little resemblance. The twin guitars meshed so perfectly, it's as if the strings had been woven into a a mattress, while the bass makes oblique comments, and the drums play around with the beat, rather than with it, and Beefheart recites and sings, or duels with a sax or clarinet, tunes changing on a whim, turning on a dime and thundering like all of life. At first the music sounds incredibly indisciplined, but it isn't...it's just a totally different discipline. At the same time, it's also playful, just like Beefheart's lyrics, filled with puns, outrageous similes and gorgeous language...a remarkable album.

When “Trout Mask Replica” appeared, cloaked in a sleeve which depicted a guy in a silly hat and a fish mask, waving, from the front and on the back, a bunch of weird-looking guys who looked like refugees from the Alpha Centauri Home For The Criminally Insane creeping around in bushes, wearing dresses and waving table lamps aroud, the record buying public were not impressed. A rave review from the late Lester Bangs, which Straight used in an advertisement, helped to save the album from the bargain bins, and it picked up a little. Heartened, he began work on the next album.

“Lick My Decals Off, Baby” (surely one of the greatest titles of all time) featured the additional percussive talents of Ed Marimba (Arthur Tripp). He joined from the Mothers after Zappa disbanded them late in 1969, and was to make an important contribution to the Magic Band with the use of the marimba. It's interesting to note how many musicians have joined Beefheart from Zappa, preferring the more relaxed Magic Band to Zappa's extreme control. This is apparent on “Decal”, an altogether more peaceful, more thought out and less frenetic album than “Replica”. Beefheart's lyrics were as inspired as ever, as in “Bellerin' Plain”, a song about railway pioneers. Some of the songs dealt with philosophical matters, while the title track saw the Captain turn his attention to physical love in uncompromising fashion.

“Rather than I wanna hold your hand
I wanna swallow you whole
n I wanna lick you everywhere it's pink
n everywhere you think
Whole kit n kaboodle n the kitchen sink”

The ideas expressed in “Decals” were fairly similar to those in “Replica”, but the execution was more precise and coherent. Part of the reason for this was that Beefheart had recorded his vocals with the band, whereas on “Replica” he had dubbed on his vocals from memory without the aid of headphones! This dislocation added to the sound of the album.”Decals” may have lacked “Replica”'s impact, but it was actually a better album.

At this point, Beefheart left Zappa amid much abuse, claiming that Zappa had promoted him as a freak. Whatever the truth of this, being on the Straight label meant sharing the catalogue with some fairly, er, unusual acts, from satirist Lenny Bruce, early Alice Cooper and jazz poet Lord Buckley to the GTOs, a band of groupies Zappa had worked with. So the next Beefheart LP “The Spotlight Kid” turned up on Reprise. There was another addition to the band, in Winged Eel Fingerling. As Elliott Ingber, he had been in an early Mothers line-up, and as a blues guitarist had been praised by Jimi Hendrix. Ingber had left Fraternity Of Man, his previous band, after an incident involving his talking to his amplifier during a version of “Rumble”!

The cover of “The Spotlight Kid” depicted Beefheart as a suave nightclub singer, almost...well, if you ignored the fact that he was glowing, anyway....the music was a different mater entirely, sounding as though it had been at the bottom of a river for ten years. There wasn't a single upbeat track on it, musically, though the lyrics were the usual Beefheart wordplay on mostly aquatic themes, apart from”Click Clack”, a marvellously witty train song, “Glider”, a riff looking for a rhythm, and a couple more. The marimba was featured more than the drum kit (Drumbo was in the process of leaving), which combined with the rather gloomy nature of the music makes this album one of Beefheart's most atmospheric. The stand out track “I'm Gonna Booglarize You” is based on a bass riff so evil, it's still wet from coming out of the swamp.

The Magic Band were touring quite extensively at this time, and going down particularly well in Europe. Their stage show mut have been spectacular, with Ed Marimba's green moustache and monocle, Rockette Morton's moustache/antennae and crazy dancing, Zoot Horn Rollo's Chinese hat and peculiar glasses and seven foot tall, and Beefheart in a big embroidered cape prowling the stage and growling like a hungry bear. Rockette Morton had moved from bass to guitar to make room for Orejon (Roy Estrada) fresh from Little Feat and before that the Mothers. Around this time as well, Beefheart began giving strange interviews, using strange wordplay as in his songs,predicting telephone calls and holding forth stream-of-consciousness fashion on everything from whales to Freudian theory in architecture. People started picking out stray quotes (“Everybody's coloured or you wouldn't be able to see them” and “There are only forty people in the world and five of them are hamburgers” are two oft repeated examples) and presenting Beefheart as some kind of weirdo...a reputation he still has I guess. In most interviews, or any conversational or lyrical situation, Beefheart just likes to have a little fun with the language, that's all.

Next time – part two: big-eyed beans from venus, the delights of the shiny beast and it's dinosaur disco workouts and the thousand and tenth day of the human totem pole

Andrew Bean"

Friday, 17 December 2010

To Err Is Human, To Truck Is Sovine by Jeremy Gluck

Whilst this was a piece meant for issue 7 and thus never published, its author, Jeremy Gluck had been both a literary and musical contributor to the magazine since as far back as issue 3. As a long time Barracudas fan, I was never less than thrilled at the interest he took in WANWTTS, and this is the first of several articles he wrote for us that I'll be putting up (though the only one bearing the pen name Cal B Burnholdt III....).

Hello, I'm A Truck – Introduction by Cal B Burnholdt III

“Country singers have been singing about truck drivers for nearly as long as truckers have been listening to country music. The mutual respect of the two professions is deserved, both travel many millions of miles a year and both are experts in their own field. It is not an unusual sight to see at least one country stars bus or car parked in a truck stop. In the USA many powerful Country radio stations devote their night-time radio programmes to truckers. They mix country with road reports, weather and adverts for truck stops, gas and assorted products.”

from “Keep On Truckin'” RCA 1981

A Personal Message From Red Sovine, King Of The Truckdriver Songsmiths:

“I got somethin' kinda special I'd like to say to all of you truckdrivers out there who might be listening right now....also, a truck driver's prayer that I'd like to pass along to you 'cause I think it's kinda special too.
But first, now I've got a few things I've been wanting to say to you guys for a long time and I think right now is a good time to do it. Like, did you know that me and about everyone in Country music who travel a lot have nothing but the highest respect for you, the truck driver....'cause it's a fact that some of the best drivers and the most safety-minded, the most courteous, and the first to stop and help where there's trouble and little things like blinking signal lights to help someone pass...so you gotta be good people.
Like some I've had the pleasure of meeting....down to earth hard working family men, and a lot of you like your country music; and that makes you OK in my book. Sounds like I'm blowing smoke, don't it? But I'm not 'cause it boils down to this...if everyone would drive like you guys do there would be a lot less accidents and deaths on the highways.
So truck drivers....Buddy, you're appreciated more than you'll ever know, and we salute you. Now for the prayer. This truck driver's prayer was sent to me by a truck driver from Oklahoma City – he found it at a truck stop. This prayer meant a lot to him and I think it will to you too. So if you will, give a listen and see if it isn't your prayer too.

Truck Driver's Prayer

Dear God above, bless this truck I drive and help me keep someone alive.
And be my mortal sight this day on streets where little children play.
Bless my helper, fast asleep, when the night is long and deep
And keep my cargo safe and sound through the hours big and round.
Make my judgement sound as steel and be my hands upon the wheel.
Bless the traveller going past and teach him not to go so fast.
Give me strength for every trip so I may care for what they ship
And make me mindful every mile that life is just a little while.

From “The Best Of The Truck Driver's Songs” Gusto Records, Inc, 1975

Hello I'm A Truck....by Cal B Burnholdt III

When the history of popular music is written definitively by some bug-eyed Martian two hundred years hence, what place will the li'l green guy give to TRUCKDRIVING music? Go on, bigshot, laugh your little laugh! You think that pansy crud like U2 and the rest of that bored-again rock (sick) stadium yawn is a big deal because millions of sheep flock to it. Well. Git this straight, pard – Truckdriving music is for real MEN and their womenfolk, not for spotty teens with an Oedipus complex and an allowance from their parents!

It just so happens that 90% of the greatest songs ever written are TRUCKDRIVING songs. “Sgt. Pepper” can't even shine the shoes of an awesome pearl before swine like “East Bound And Down” or “Teddy Bear”. Christ almighty, John, them weirdo pothead hippies couldn't even get into a truck let alone drive the bastard!

“Hello, I'm A Truck” by Red Simpson, is as good ol' boy a place to start as any when praising eighteen wheel wailing. In making a truck narrate a heartfelt autobiographical tract concerning the bovine nature of its human driver, Simpson edged into philosophical regions too uncharted for all but the most Moonied-out of post-EST damage-domes to explore. Not enough for ol' Reddy to merely castigate trucking manhood. No, the talking truck is compassionate, resigned in Christlike poise to endure his ordeal. “There'd be no truck drivers if it weren't for us trucks” goes the gripping chorus, and then this INCREDIBLE closing monologue: “Look at him, sippin' coffee and flirtin' with that waitress. Where d'you think he left me? That's right, next to a cattle truck (moo!). Why couldn't he have put me over next to that little pink Mack? Gosh she's got purdy mudflaps, and talk about stacked – they're both chrome!” It goes on, covering the common ground of truck and man experience in a down home fashion....GULP!

Meanwhile, a feller named Dave Dudley wrote “Rolaids, Doan's Pills And Preparation H” brand names of respectively anti-acid pills, kidney pills and haemorrhoid ointment. The minimal instrumentation common to trucking songs decorates this brill tune, that has a little flanged guitar and hokey harp to back up DD's manly timbre as he relates his list of medical problems resulting from sitting in a driver's seat 18 hours a day. “Well I'm tellin' you, I have had it around the you-know-where”. This sort of awesome realism is quite common to this gene, wherein man's burning existential questions and metaphysical quandaries are levelled by the driving logic (sic) of the truckin' life, reducing the sacred equation of life into a trinity of headaches, bumaches and gutaches.

Now buddies good and bad, it's high time I intr'duced y'all t' Red Sovine hisself, the man who wrote such devastating truck hits as “Teddy Bear” (in the charts again not that long ago, up to Number 10 mind!), “Giddy Up Go” and the eerie “Phantom 309”. Sovine, who pretty much pioneered the incredible “Heartbreak” school of truckin' songs, thrives on eldritch twists to make his stories work, everything from crippled children to ghost trucks and to broken homes of all descriptions.

“Teddy Bear” is the archetypal sob story, all about a little boy whose father croaked helping some motorist and left the kid, a cripple, unable to pick up the pieces and step into his truckin' daddy's shoes. One nigh, a trucker who narrates this epic, hears the little kid on his CB asking to ride in a truck...you can guess the rest: fleets of trucks show up all offering the kid a lift, it makes his day, his mother cries et al. Wonderful stuff, especially as almost every line begins with Sovine's heavily accented enunciation of “But....” said with a weight of meaning that drips with sentiment and manliness

“Giddy Up Go” is another staggering Sovine masterpiece, telling the tale of a woman who moves to the desert with her little boy for health reasons: her truckin' hubby figures she ditched him...it goes on....the kid calls his dad's truck “Giddy Up Go”...finally, years later, they're reunited at a truck-stop...proof of truck-driving being part of the RNA/DNA information passed on.

Minnie Pearl released a record a while after Sovine's called “Giddy Up Go Answer”, from the trucker, as told to Minnie's old pal up north. Remarkable and beautiful, this sequel betters Sovine's original: “Every time a truck would pull in, I could see her stand and stare/ Wasn't long before she had to give up bein' a waitress there.” Weep-a-rama-a-go-go! To err is human, to truck is Sovine!

“I'm a kiss-stealin', wheelin'-dealin', truck-drivin' son-of-a-gun!” - Red Sovine

Typical Truckin' Titles:
“Six days On The Road”
“Give Me Forty Acres”
“Truck Driver's Queen”
“Radar Blues”
“Diesel Cowboy”

Well, friends, that just about rounds it up, but needless to say the songs and artists cited above are a mere fraction of a fraction of the super sub-culture that is truckin'. There's literally thousands of cheapo compilations on the market that shuffle the best songs into all sorts of combinations. Patience and a burning desire will eventually turn up truckin' vinyl in the least likely places! Don't forget, a lot of this music really rocks it, a la rockabilly-boogie or J. Cash “walk-the-line-two-stroke-struttin'". A proper history of the subject is best left to more educated specimens than I; yet, oh novices, TRUCK!

This wouldn't, of course, be complete without adding the song that was track one, side one of issue 3 of WANWTTS. Another of Jeremy Gluck's alter egos, this time as The Psychology Vandals and an early version of "Burning Skulls Rise", clicks and vinyl surface noise 'n all....

Stephen Duffy on The Subterranean Hawks

There are quite a few folk, myself included, who hope that one day history will record that the world at large missed out on one of the very best bands of the early 1980s, The Subterranean Hawks. Birmingham's finest released just the one single, “Words Of Hope” on Five Believers Records, a bunch of demos were recorded, and then they were gone. The album that came with issue 3 of What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen included one of those demos, “Big Store”. The magazine itself included the following, purported to have been written by one Dean Spence, who we now exclusively reveal to have been......Stephen 'TinTin' Duffy.

“Punk Rock claimed a great deal of casualties. But is casualties the right word? Shall we consider head cold? Or Athletes foot? Anyway I've got a note and the Subterranean Hawks are excused from showers. Why five nice boys should take a bloated discredited idea as their divinity, and the decadent enemy they had only just finished fighting, as their role model is not worth investigating. But we shall.

Formed in 1979, the original line-up managed to get as far as Christmas 1981 before falling apart in a myriad of acrimony. They performed.....concerts and recorded......songs. Success makes the best excuses and the Subterranean Hawks had none. Fame allows a rosy hindsight, turning whims into campaigns and darkest hours into hotbeds of creativity. So with a little borrowed rosary; Kusworth was the image and the noise. Twist the leader (from behind at that). Duffy the songwriter. Adams the backbone. Colly the musician. Without management the band floundered. With management, most of the band would have been sacked. The Subterranean Hawks proved that rock'n'roll was either dead or researching hastily into the complexities of death duty and the chances of reincarnation. They proved that it was impossible and implausible to be a rock'n'roll band in the eighties. Ahh, maybe it wasn't rock and roll's fault.

Let's face it the lead singer was a poseur and worse, a pragmatist. (He went on to make disco records). The bass and guitar players although gung ho with rock'n'roll dreams, were sensible chaps and kept day jobs. The Hawks then were not so much gung ho as ho hum. Only Kusworth and Twist remained true to their beliefs. Young men have their idols and the idols of these young men were the inspired, the originals and the innovators from the halcyon days of a sixties childhood. Can anything be as unsound? For them to have thought that the Beatles, Stones, Dylan et al would not've been recording with Rushent down at Genetic if 61 by magic had been 81, was nonsense.

Pop demands new blood and if not blood, a synthetic equivalent. And yet it is easy to be arrogant with others theology. Dog eat dogma. Most innovation in pop is spawned from mimicry. If that alone is the case, can we ask one final question, the Subterranean Hawks, where are they now?

C. Dean Spence 1984

STEPHEN 'TINTIN' DUFFY has released three singles “KISS ME”, “HOLD IT” and “SHE MAKES ME QUIVER”. He is signed to Virgin 10 and lives in London.

DAVID KUSWORTH has released an album “JACOBITES” and an EP “SHAME FOR THE ANGELS” with Nikki Sudden, has scored a top ten hit in Finland with the Dogs D'Amour and plays with his own band the Rag Dolls.

PAUL ADAMS and SIMON COLLY are members of the group SOMMERVILLE and are also signed to Virgin 10.


“Big Store” was written by Stephen Duffy and recorded in August 1979 on a 4 track machine in Bob Lamb's bedroom.”

That just leaves us with including, for your delight, “Big Store” by the Subterranean Hawks.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The End Of The Long Ryders by Sid Griffin

Sid Griffin was a long time friend of the magazine – his band the Long Ryders even supplied a track "Baby We All Gotta Go Down", under the alias of The Spinning Wig Hats, to the album that accompanied issue 6. Besides being a great frontman with his band, he was and remains to this day a mighty fine writer. I have a signed and annotated copy of his “Gram Parsons - A Music Biography” (1985) that remains a most treasured possession, and his two Dylan books, “Million Dollar Bash” (2007) and “Shelter From The Storm” (2010) are two mighty worthy additions to the canon of Dylan biographies.

I'd spent a few hours in a London studio with the Long Ryders during the recording of their final Ed Stasium produced album “Two Fisted Tales”. Yes, that's The Ramones “Leave Home” and “Road To Ruin” Ed Stasium. Anyway, Sid had said he'd write something for issue 7, little knowing, when he agreed, that the band were on the verge of splitting up. But that's what he ended up writing about:

A Brief Description Of The Sad Break-Up Of My Life's Work These Last 5½ Years

Don't worry my friends, it aint the end of the world. It is merely the end of an era or perhaps the end of an error. The Long Ryders have broken up, and you good people/kind readers will be the first to know why. It's even kinda funny in a bitter-sweet, quixotic way.

Okay, do you know who I am/ we are? “Looking For Lewis And Clark”, the Whistle Test appearance, three UK tours, American music played by ex-punks who re-located on the west coast to be in the California sunshine, yeah, that's us. I'm the guy with the map-of-Africa styled sideboards and a bowl haircut. I stood in the middle and said funny things between songs, at least I did when we took breaks between songs (told ya we were ex-punkers). Remember? Good.

Last August 2nd (1987), in a Toronto hotel room, on a day kinda like England but gloomy enough to be Death, Stephen McCarthy, lead guitar and a close personal friend of Sid Griffin's, announced to a stunned audience of fellow band members, that he was quitting the group at the end of the tour. I was so shaken up I could not stand. Stephen quit because of personal reasons and we need not get into that here. I mean, you think we got problems, fuckin' True West had bassist Kevin Staydohar DIE of a BRAIN TUMOUR! There's a sad tale, my friends. He was a great guy too.

But anyway, Tom Stevens had already quit last May, and it was obvious that continually being told “you guys are the next big Yank success story, the next REM, the next Los Lobos, the next Georgia Satellites....” was taking it's toll, and more than just the rats were leaving the sinking ship. For three years plus, victory was right round the corner but it never came and so what....?....The Blasters and X are still out there and they've been around far longer than we have and are AMAZING bands in their own right, as are NRBQ who formed in Goddamn 1967, and are Elvis Costello's fave band period right now, and no-one who isn't a friend of his or mine in the entire UK even knows who they are! So you think I got problems, no way! Ask Neil Kinnock about problems, not me. (I tried to vote Labour when I was in Sheffield last June but they heard my accent and threw me out. I did try though.)

So drummer Greg Sowders and I sat down with Stephen and had a little chat, and we agreed it would be silly to go on stage without Stephen and say we were the Long Ryders, so Greg and I said we would retire the name, which is, I think, the honest thing to do. Even though we have a nice name for ourselves with that particular moniker in certain parts. So Greg and I will have a new band in 1988 with a new name, and a slightly newer or at leat different sound, although it may well be an old sound merely sped up. Which is what ex-punks like me like to do, 'cause it fools people under twenty into thinking you are doing something new when in reality you are just doing something older less well, but as you're doing it faster no one notices. Ask the Pogues. Hey, no lie, I'm going to be on TV with Joe Strummer in two days, no kiddin'!

Anyway, here's the next part. Our label long ago decided we were cunts for some reason, which is weird as up till near the end, I thought they were fine people and honest and all that....which goes to show you how much I've learned about the record industry during my 5½ years in the fucking thing! So dig, we knew since bloody (I use that word 'cause I LIKE you Brits) August we were going to split, so you know what we did? WE DIDN'T TELL ANYBODY SO WE COULD FOOL THE LABEL INTO PAYING A LOT OF BILLS WHICH THEY SAID THEY WOULD BUT WERE TAKING FOREVEER INTO PAYING UP BECAUSE THEY WERE JERKS AND WE KNEW IF THEY KNEW THE BAND WAS NO MORE THEY WOULDN'T HAVE PAID THE BILLS AT ALL!! BUT WE FOOLED 'EM FOR SIX MONTHS AND THEY PAID SOME BILLS SO FUCK THOSE PRICKS!!

And that's where we stand now. Greg and I will have a new band, Stephen doesn't tell me what he's up to but maybe he'll have a baby with his girl as they are in love and THAT'S LIFE. I also lost my girl-friend in late 1987, but so what, I'm back to being friends with my Dad after about 12 years and he and Mum are reconciled to my being a bum/musician for ever and a day AND they bought me this new typewriter, so you know things are on the up and up. GOD BLESS all of you like Chris 17 who were so nice to us, too....you made life worth living. You will be hearing from me again soon. Stay tuned.

Sid Griffin

PS What about the Spinning Wig Hats though?

Sadly, the tale remained untold until this day. Sid of course now fronts The Coal Porters http://www.sidgriffin.com/, Greg Sowders is a bigwig at Warner/Chappell Music, Tom Stevens you'll find at http://tom-stevens.blogspot.com/, Stephen McCarthy was playing with Steve Wynn and was responsible for the title of the latter's 2010 album "Northern Aggression".

Now for that Spinning Wig Hats track, "Baby We All Gotta Go Down" from the album that accompanied issue 6 of What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

John Cale by David J

The very first article in issue 2, from 1984, was a piece by David J, then a solo artist about to release on Glass Records the fellow Northamptonian Alan Moore inspired “V For Vendetta” EP, Bauhaus having split in 1983 and with Love And Rockets not forming until 1985. He'd come to us by way of his contributions to a couple of Jazz Butcher albums, the Jazz Butcher completing a very neat circle by contributing a version of John Cale's “Chinese Envoy” as one of the four tracks on the EP that accompanied issue 2.

An Appreciation Of John Cale by David J

“The soul of anaesthesia. Antarctica starts here....
At the time of writing, I am listening to a bootleg tape of John Cale's solo London concert which took place in January of last year. I remember the gleam of that moment, air chilled by fire. “I Keep A Close Watch On This Heart Of Mine”, a key song always. The stage is a seducer, a doctor, a card you cannot trust. Cale has five aces and a raven tattooed sleeve. Black on black, white light white heat, legacy of Velvet.
Menace menace, viola and time. Vintage violence, etiquette of same. Shadow of the long knives. How green is my rose garden funeral of sores. Sticky fingers in a jeweller's eye. Church of Anthrax, chorale and cry, the Gospel according to Fear Is A Man's Best Friend. You know it makes sense, don't even think about it. Life and death are things you just do.....
Glinting, like violence in the hangman's eye. Where the air is a grappling hook and a legacy of shadows reside.
Time is a seducer, a card you cannot trust. Days are marked and numbered. Fear is a doctor, Preventative medicine at the time of writing. Vintage blade stuck in a raven's eye. Close to the Gospel of Anthrax. Tattooed eye, viola and key. How green is my bootleg at the time of writing. Those remembered times. That moment.
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend.
Honi Soit.”

And to complete this post, here's that version of "Chinese Envoy" by The Jazz Butcher. Only ever released on that EP with issue two, I apologise for the surface noise and the lack of a video proper to accompany the soundtrack.

A Plea From Mike Mills

I thought we'd start with a piece that was meant to be in issue 7. We'd established good enough contacts with REM to get a track by The Musical Kings – Peter Buck and Kevn Kinney (from Drivin'n'Cryin' – a cover of the Stones' “I'm Free” (which I will put up in the next week or so) and the following bit by Mr Mike Mills. A short, sweet and really quite charming “Letter From America”.

“Lately, I have become increasingly concerned over the lack of culinary diversity here in Athens, Georgia. Walter, over at Walter's Pit Cooked Barbecue, has taken to closing early, if he opens at all, and one can eat only so many of Rocky's Buffalo style chicken wings, excellent tho' they are. Even a nice beef and kidney pie would be a welcome change.

What I believe we need here, that you have a lot of in the UK, is an Indian restaurant. The nearest one to us is in Atlanta, an hour and a half's drive away, and even it is not as good as the majority in England.

So could you please send over an entire Indian restaurant on the next boat? D├ęcor is not important, only the quality of that lovely curry. Thanks very much. Yours, Mike Mills (REM)”

Whilst far from being a Letter Never Sent, definitely a Letter Never Printed.

He also provided us with his Top Ten (well, “Ten Of My Faves”) From 1987.

1.Concrete Blonde – Concrete Blonde
2.XTC – Skylarking
3.10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
4.The dBs – The Sound Of Music
5.Guadalcanal Diary – 2 x 4
6.Drivin'n'Cryin' – Scarred But Smarter
7.Cameo – Word Up
8.John Cougar Mellencamp – Lonesome Jubilee
9.Fetchin' Bones – Galaxie 500
10.Buckwheat Zydeco – On A Night Like This

Yes, that's Cameo at number 7.....says he whose Top Ten for the same year appears to have included the Wind In The Willows soundtrack....

NEXT (From Issue 2)

An Appreciation Of John Cale by Mr David J (Bauhaus/Love And Rockets)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

This is what I wrote back in 1983 in the very first issue of WANWTTS.

“This is an easy introduction. No doom laden exercise in dank depression and teenage angst from this source. We're tired of the gloomy darkness and ugly aggression so many others choose to purvey. Not that we're will o' the wisps without a thought in our tiny heads, it's simply a wish for people to enjoy themselves without feeling restricted within needlessly laid down boundaries. How about individual reaction in preference to group reaction?”

....and on and on I went. Remember, this was 27 years ago and I was a very young man. I was also laying it on a bit thick as was the righteous style of a newly re-born fanzine editor already of some five years vintage in 1983. We were coming off five issues of something called “Stringent Measures” in which we'd featured The Orgasmatrons, 3-Way Dance, Dead On Arrival, The Shrinking Men, Persons Unknown, New Antiques, La Peine, Crosstalk A/V, Mothmen, Zeitgeist, Stills and Trick Switch to name a few of the forgotten. We'd also covered the somewhat better known, the likes of TV Personalities, Rudi, in embrace, The Chameleons, The Membranes, Altered Images and seem to have raved constantly about a then little known U2, going so far as to interview Bono in 1981. The final issue had been a special issue devoted to Glass Records subtitled “The Glass of 82/83” that flopped somewhat when the printers failed to get it printed in time for the Glass Records Christmas Party at the Black Lion in Northampton on Saturday 18th December 1982.
Not our finest hour so time for a new identity.

Newly passionate about Phil Spector's “Wall Of Sound”, with no logic nor more specific reason than that, we opted for the mouthful of a title that was “What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen”, after The Crystals 1962 song of the same name. I guess I always kind of liked the way it looked when written out in full in lower case, and it stuck me as being moderately memorable and suitably upbeat. Okay, every English teacher will tell you what a weak adjective “nice” is, but we wanted to be true to the original – incidentally, three years later and after six issues, we were toying with the never to be released (and the reason we're here starting this here blog....) seventh issue enjoying a name change to “What A Goddamn Groovy Way To Turn Seventeen” - ah, so close yet so far.

So this is all about reprinting the best articles and interviews of the six issues that saw the light of day as well as a stack of excellent stuff that was prepared for issue seven but which was never printed. We'll also throw in the odd track that came out on either the 4 track EP that came with issue 2, or either of the compilation albums that accompanied issues 3 and 6 and, you lucky people, tracks that were never released but which were meant for the album planned to go with issue 7. And there are some real gems there I promise you.

So before the presses roll further, here's one of the four tracks that appeared on that very first EP, “Sparrows” by The Rag Dolls.

What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen

The Crystals

My birthday candles have all gone out
The party's through and I'm alone with you
What a nice way to turn seventeen
I feel your sweet lips against my cheek
The lights are off, your shoulder feels so soft
What a nice way to turn seventeen
My friends all bought me so many gifts
But yours is the one I'm proudest of
A golden heart inscribed to me
“Happy Birthday, with all my love”
It feels like heaven here in your arms
Don't let me go 'cause gee I love, oh I love you so
What a nice way to turn seventeen.

(Screen Gems/EMI Music Ltd.)

(Released 1962 (Philles 102) as the b-side to “Uptown”)