Sunday, October 3, 2010


A diversion from my usual stuff... 1989 was the year I did my last music fanzine - I did 8 or 9 issues between 1984 and 1989 - most were called Adventure In Bereznik, but the last few had other names, but always with Bereznik in the title. But this isn't really about that so much as it is about a band I haven't thought much about in the last 20 years, but millions of other people have - Manic Street Preachers.

The main source of info on the band's early years seems to be an article in Record Collector, the end of which focuses on the roles of Kevin Pearce and Bob Stanley in getting them their first London gig, and then reviewing it. I was friends with Kevin and Bob, and Kevin had told me about this amazing band who would blow me away, so when they played with the Claim (an excellent but obscure band, one of Kevin's faves) I was there. As the '80s drew to a close, good bands were thin on the ground. 'Independent' music was going corporate and embracing pre-punk 70s rock, which we seriously disapproved of at the time, and of course Kevin always had great taste. Of course there was never a 'fanzine mafia' at all, but this kind of lazy journalistic hindsight would probably have included us.

I was introduced to the band, and probably gave them fanzines. The setting was inauspicious, but typical of the kinds of gigs I had been going to several times a month for years. The lack of a stage wasn't unusual, nor was the damp patch in the corner. I don't remember much else, except that they looked really young and were very nervous; but like a small controlled explosion, they lit up the drab upstairs room of a central London pub for an instant. The set flew by. I remember we laughed (as Bob mentions in the RC article), but it was more like a nervous laugh - they didn't make sense - how could they be so serious, look so silly, but be so amazing?! I didn't talk to them much but they had a friend, like a sort of older brother figure, who wasn't quite their manager, but had something like that role, which included talking to people and being friendly. I think he probably drove the van too, and he gave me a copy of Suicide Alley from it after the next gig in Shepherds Bush soon after. I really don't remember, but for some reason the name Martin came to me as I was writing this.

Anyway, the Record Collector piece also mentions Richey's campaign of writing to fanzine editors to promote the band. So Richey wrote to me too, enclosing a photo. I don't think I have the letter anymore, and I I didn't write back, but I was looking for photos of a band I was in in the '90s when I found the photo. All this time had passed without realising I was in it.

I'm not 100% sure the photo is at the Horse and Groom, it might be from the Shepherd's Bush gig, but it's London, 1989, they are wearing the right stencilled shirts, and they are the support band. I'm there (at the front, in the white t-shirt in front of Richey), as is Kevin. I'm not sure if can recognise Bob from the back of his head, but I think I can see him too. I kind of wish I could say I've been a fan ever since, but I haven't - in my world this was their peak, and I lost interest pretty quickly, but it was a good night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

atypical outstruments

This was published in a zine about the A-Band over the summer, and shows some of the diy instruments that I play. People ask me what I play in the A-Band quite a lot - and this is why my answers are a bit vague. I used to draw comics quite a lot, but slowly gave it up.... There are photos of most things illustrated in this set.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Den Outing: DJ-ing at Kira’s 40th

When Kira asked me to play at her birthday party on Friday night I was flattered and jumped at the chance!

I love DJ-ing, but rarely get a chance these days…

My first regular outing was at the amazing before-it’s-time rock’n’roll cicrus that was Kitsch Bitch in the late 90s, first at what is now the Buffalo Bar, and later at Madame Jo-Jo’s. I varied my sets a lot but would try to get in something like Slow Down by Larry Williams or Sonic Reducer by the Dead Boys, or the National Anthem of Rock’n’Roll – Louie Louie. Rocket No 9 by NRBQ didn’t go down so well, but I’m glad I played it once at least.

After that I was invoved in a much smaller bar thing called the Imperial Pop Museum, with Matthew and Bob, in a place on the edge of Shoreditch, before it exploded into the hipster hell-hole it is today. We would play mostly 60s soul and pop and bubblegum between us, with some psych and garage punk, but not enough to spoil the generally calm vibe. I can’t even remember the name of the place. It had a sort of mod/James Bond theme; I expect it’s closed or has been made over by now.

The next request for my services came from Transfabulous, a trans arts festival run by some pals. I played at a couple of nights for them at the Pleasure Unit in Bethnal Green around 2006/7 I think, playing more uptempo 60s and 70s soul /disco and some 70s punk sort of stuff – Mighty Real by Sylvester was the best received of the night – it was great to see people dancing and loving it!

The next call came from Kira's pal Iris at the Moth Club at the St Aloysius Social Club near Euston. I had free reign here to play whatever I wanted, pretty much a mixture of all of the above, plus stuff like Totally Wired by The Fall, Memphis Soul Stew by King Curtis and the mighty Shack Up! by Banbarra, which I’d only recently bought, after knowing the weedy version by A Certain Ratio for many Years. I enjoyed the DJ-ing, but got busy working on my MA so had to drop it.

And after the 45 party this January, Kira asked me to play at her 40th party underneath the Westway in another social club type place, the Maxilla. It was a great night, with a band playing Ramones and AC/DC covers and Wreckless Eric’s Whole Wide World and a big friendly crowd.

These are the records I played, mostly in order if I can remember. I play all 45s as they are easy to cue up and are cut loud. I only had 40 mins as the band played later than planned, but I didn’t mind…

The Name Game by Shirley Ellis – a good fun record to start! Nobody cares that it sounds exactly like her other UK hit the Clapping Song.

Rip Her To Shreds by Blondie is just one of their best songs! Kira lived in New York for a while and I knew she loves this stuff as much as I do.

Ride Your Pony by Lee Dorsey – no particular reason to play this other than it’s great – it’s got more of a funky New Orleans sound than the also-great Betty Harris version.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Rolling Stones – just another brilliant record, by a band at their absolute peak I think. In the back of my mind I also connected this to Kira through a friend of hers, but I really only played because of the line “I was rayyyzed by a tooth-less bearded hag!”

All I Want by Snatch – Kira is the best connected person I know, which is evident in every issue of her ‘dotty anti-fashion magazine’ Cheap Date and the excellent Cheap Date Guide To Style. Amongst her pals is one half of Snatch. She was invited to the party, but I don’t know whether she made it - I don’t think I would recognise her now anyway. This was the most obscure record in my set – I’m glad I played but not many people were dancing – time for the secret weapon:

Rapper’s Delight – Sugarhill Gang – INCREDIBLE record, and luckliy Kira loves it too! Once a bit over-exposed, I hadn’t listened to it for years, though I’ve heard lots of it in samples! I auditioned it last week and it blew me away. My only dilemma was whether to play the radio edit or the full 6 mins – with time short I went with the edit, but I think this was my favourite of the night along with the next one –

Shack Up! – Banbarra – for so long I just assumed A Certain Ratio wrote this, but glad I found out the truth, because this is one of the best dance records ever, and the anti-marriage message is cool too!

So – you’ve got the dancefloor full for 2 records – what do you play next? Something you love and hope they’ll like, risking the momentum, or something similar to keep it going? Well, floor-fillers don’t come any better that the last 2, and I had to choose between The Night by Frankie Valli which I totally LOVE but not sure how well-known it is, or Shame Shame Shame by Shirley & Co. I cued up The Night, but changed my mind at the last second. As a DJ your duty is to make people dance, not play your favourite records and hope. SSS is a groovy enough tune; I don’t love it – but people danced!

I kept the funky feeling going with Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White – I heard this a while back on someone’s CD player as I walked past the maket stalls setting up in the morning on my way work. It sounded good so put it in the box this week. It went well, but sometimes records drag a little on the dancefloor if they are too long, and this one did I think.

Next up another NYC record – New York Groove by Ace Frehley – this is one of the oldest records I have that I still play and love – sort of genre-defying glam-rock disco bubblegum. Kira is a fan of Frehley’s incredibly mean but funny ghost-written biog Kiss And Tell.

And back to some hard 60s soul – Let’s Wade In The Water by Marlena Shaw – excellent in every way, the original Chess version with the trumpet fanfare at the beginning beats the more piano-y rendition, because it’s longer and has better ad-libs at the end. I love the ever-expanding water-fish-boats metaphors in this this song, which are many miles from its origins in the slavery era – at one point Shaw refers to herself as a “fish-flappin’ mama”!

Feeling the minutes slipping away now, it’s got to be time for I Love Rock’n’Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. A Kitsch Bitch staple, this song was subsequently lost to hipster irony for several years. We want our record BACK! It is not a joke, you wankers! Possibly the best guitar sound on any record ever, and yeah – I do love Rock’n’Roll.

I was going to follow this with Get It On by T Rex, but decided just in time that the only thing rock’n’roll enough to match it would be Born To Lose by Johnny Thunders and the fucking Heartbreakers. “I can’t HIT IT!”

And getting towards the end I allowed myself one indulgence – Head Held High by the Velvet Underground. The floor thinned out a bit, but then who has the energy to dance to 5 records in a row? Not me.

Last record - a request by Charlotte – Nut Rocker by B Bumble & the Stingers, which perfectly epitomises one facet of the great rock’n’roll dumb/brilliant dialectic. Of course the crowd love it and one and the preceding DJs, Poppy, comes over to congratulate me for playing it – she calls it ‘a real stormer’ and she’s right.

While the next DJ set was setting up I got one more, so naturally I went for Lucille by Little Richard. I love the way the backing track sounds a bit muffled at the start and his voice just slices it all open!

So, yeah - I had a blast DJ-ing - thanks to Kira one more time, and to everyone for dancing. Playing records is the easiest thing in the world, but keeping people dancing can be hard, so I did pretty well!

Email me through the address on my profile page if you want me to play records for you too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

the Lou Reed story

Another post about 45s - reworked from a mini zine I did in this, my 45th year. The illustration is from there too.

The Velvet Underground are one of my favourite bands and I like some of Lou Reed’s solo stuff but this one is a different kind of thing. It’s by the Jades, one of Reed’s first bands and his first record, from 1958. I had a ticket to see him on a sunny day in Brighton, and went down early in the hope of getting it signed. I waited by the stage door with a few other geeks for a couple of hours, and eventually he turned up, with Antony Hegarty and an entourage of about 8 people.

He seemed in a good mood as he passed a perfunctory few seconds with his fans. I waved the 45 at him to get his attention, and it worked. He whipped it out of my hands - intrigued, excited even - “Oh my god – where did you get this?” – the inevitable answer Ebay did not go down well, and suddenly he was much more interested in telling Antony about it than talking to me. He told A that he was 16, his first record etc, and "… of course it's terrible".

At this point I tried to get back into the conversation by piping up/ butting in with '"I thinks it's alright!" which earned me a withering look and no further comment. Further awkwardness ensued when I had to explain how the special pen I got worked. Still, he signed the label + sleeve 4 times in all, and quite legibly for a change.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Single I Was On

Third in a series of posts about 45s - I'm 45 this year, I had a party and played 45s all day, and wrote a zine about 45s for the people at the party, and these themed posts are reworked versions of the pieces in the zine.

It was always my dream to make a single, to contribute to the sum total of rock'n'roll happiness in the world, and I came close to this with my car-crash drag punk band Six Inch Killaz around 1998, but it was not to be - you can blame Wayne Morris. The only single I'm on is a hopelessly obscure record by The Legend aka Everrett True aka Jerry Thackray, recorded a decade before. In truth it's quite bad but I do kind of like it, just because I'm on it. I think this is the way of it with Legend records. I remember buying his 2nd Creation single Legend Destroys The Blues and being appalled. I complained about it to Alan McGee and he said 'well, I like it cuz I play drums on it', and Dave Evans who was in McGee's band Biff Bang Pow piped up with 'yeah - and I like it cuz I played bass on it'. At least I liked the cover.

So anyway - I was quite a close friend of Jerry in the '80s, after falling in with the early Creation records crowd, and shared a flat with him and a couple of other friends in north London at that time. I also played music with him as guitarist in the Legend band for a few years. We would occasionally play with bands he/we were friends with, and put out a couple of records. One was a 12" EP for John Robb's Vinyl Drip label, and one was a 45 for Philip Boa's new Constrictor label, in 1987. I co-wrote one side of the single with him I think, but it's the other side I like (or kind of like). I play bass.

It was recorded and mixed in a day at a tiny recording studio near Green Lanes in north London, where the TV Personalities recorded their Privilege album. The owner/engineer guy was only ever referred to as Wilson. Jowe Head from the TVPs produced and played melodica and toy piano. Amongst the other toy instruments and stuff on the floor was a snare drum with SWELL MAPS painted on the side, which was exciting! It was a treat watching him do his noise magic with admittedly quite weak source material. Alex Taylor, who had recently left the Shop Assistants, sang on it too. She had moved to London to launch her new band The Motorcycle Boy. It was a pleasant easy going day with plenty of time - most of my other studio experience is of rushing to record 7 or 8 songs in a few hours, including mixing.

Philip Boa was (and still is) an alt-rock cult figure in Germany, and his label is still going. He was a friend of Stephen Pastel somehow I think, and one of the many people + bands who slept on our floor when I shared with Jerry. Waiting for the bus at Golders Green one night he told me how his life was changed when he travelled to London to see The Damned after hearing their first single New Rose (which I don't have) in 1976…

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Old Records / 1965

Originally uploaded by simonm1965
In my youth I used to read NME from cover to cover every week, and the charts included top tens from 5, 10 and 15 years ago. As the cold death-grip of the '80s took hold I started to notice more and more that the records in the 15 yrs. ago chart were better than the current chart or the mostly even worse 5 and 10 yrs ago charts, and these were only the ones I knew from listening to to Jimmy Saville's Old Record Club on Radio One on Sunday morning.

Saville was almost a proper DJ at this time despite the haircut and cigar, and he played charts from random years, with Ramsey Lewis' version of The In Crowd as the theme tune. It was good, even though he did say 'guys n gels guys n gels' quite a lot.

So I started buying old records, from charity shops and also from Record & Tape Exchange, where thousands of old singles with no sleeves were only 10p each in the basement. There were some good shops in Canterbury where I went to college, including one which seemed to be where a local Northern Soul DJ sent his cast-offs. I wasn't concerned about condition as I had maintained a strict avoidance of hi-fi equipment, preferring basic record players and 'music centres'.

1965 - A Good Year

I would probably say 1966 was better on balance, but I was born in '65, so here are the 10 best singles I have from that year, in no particular order.

Let The Good Times Roll - Alvin Robinson
Jenny Take A Ride - Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
Don't Talk to Strangers - The Beau Brummells
Midnight to Six Man - The Pretty Things
She Don't Care About Time - The Byrds
The Duck - Jackie Lee
The Barracuda - Alvin Cash and the Registers
Whittier Blvd - Thee Midniters
It’s Growing - The Temptations
Out In The Streets - The Shangri-Las

Honorable mention - (I Wish It Could Be) 1965 (Again) - The Barracudas

45 Revolutions Per Minute

singles box
Originally uploaded by simonm1965
I'm 45 this year and did a little zine on the subject for a party where I had all my 45s in one room and friends came round and we listened to approx 10% of them for about six hours straight.

Last year on my birthday I made a joke about playing singles all day on my 45th birthday, and when I started thinking about my birthday, just after xmas, I thought that seemed like a good idea
A day of vinyl indulgence. There isn't enough room to have all my singles upstairs, so most of them are under the stairs to the basement at any one time. I do occasionally have the urge to hear this or that record from downstairs, but rarely is the urge strong enough to go and find it.

I decided to do the zine because records and zines go together. I started doing zines in 1984, around the time I started to get into seeing bands, buying zines and buying records every week. I
carried on doing zines and comics with a few gaps here and there until about 10 yrs. ago. So - another one. A lot of the time what I've written here is an exaggeration of my real thoughts, because that's what my 80s zines were like - lots of exclamation marks!

So the next few posts will be based on pieces from the zine - starting with:

"Why I HEART Singles"

Yes - 45s ARE the ultimate music format. They are explosions of ephemeral pop art instant gratification, yet they are unbreakable under normal use and will be left behind with the cockroaches when our civilisation dies out in a few hundred years!

In the '80s I knew a foolish fanzine writer who proclaimed that he would only EVER buy 7" singles, that he had sold all his LPs, and would NEVER buy a CD in his life. I'm not like that, but I do like 45s best. DJ-ing with them is really easy too, as they are quick to look through and cue up.

On a good single you get two short blasts of music, cut loud, the best 2 songs available to to the artists at the time (with the exception of Phil Spector and Kasenatz-Katz productions), plus a decorative label, maybe a pic sleeve or insert to enthrall and entrance, maybe a cryptic message from the band in the run-out groove. It's all you need.

It's an undisputed fact that the 45 rpm vinyl single of a given song will nearly always sound better than an album or CD version, because they are mastered and sometimes mixed differently (at least from the '50s to the '80s) to sound best coming out of a radio - punchier, treblier, attention-grabbing.

Though I don't take notes I can usually remember where if not when I bought a particular single, and often how much I paid for it. For many years the most I would expect to pay for a used single was 50p or £1. Girls Are Out To Get You by the Fascinations on the original American label - an in-demand Northern Soul classic - was the first record I paid £5 (as much as an album) for, from Rocks Off in Hanway Street in 1983.

Even as a pre-teen in the '70s I gravitated towards singles - I bought various novelty releases in dumb way - coloured vinyls, picture discs, a single shaped like a bar of chocolate - the song from the Yorkie advert - but I don't have any of these any more. But I do still have a lot of singles. One of the few singles that I have from that time is 'Carry On Wayward Son' by Kansas.