Lets Dust Off The Hidden Classics
Village Green Machine this week, well there's me drooling over something I can have, and indeed do have, which is a gorgeous black 12 string Rickenbacker guitar. It sits just across the room from me, a little dusty. These guitars for a certain kind of musician, represent the ultimate. Of course they go far back into the hallowed annals (no cheap jokes) of pop history, do you know I was perfectly normal until I started watching smutty 70s comedies, but now I spend my life tittering, yes tittering at picture postcard comedy sketches, such as the opening scene to the first Steptoe film where the old man scoops up a load of horse manure, loading it into a bucket with his bare hands. After which, of course, he tucks into his sandwiches. I enjoy the story unfolding as Steptoe and son enjoy the ribald delights of a 1970's strip club, where Harold cops off with the stripper, and the old man meets another absolutely smashing dolly bird. Who happens to be the drag act. He doesn't realise this, ofcourse. Harold and the stripper fall in love immediately and decide to marry, daddy dearest does everything he can to disrupt and destroy the marriage.
Steptoe and Son
But not before they lose the wedding ring, which, they realise, must have landed in something soft when it flew out of the window, since it made no sound when it landed. After a very smelly wedding ceremony, they jet off, with the old man Steptoe, for a romantic honeymoon in Spain. Except the old man gets food poisoning, and has to go home, near death he says, therefore Harold must go with him. Leaving his wife in Spain, with the tour host, who happened to be an old flame of hers. Of course all Steptoes rely heavily on the pathos of the younger man, the son, who is continually frustrated in every endeavour by his possessive father. Harold wants to rise above his social position, but the old man ruins every attempt he ever makes, be it to become an actor, or a ladies man, or a politician or intellectual of some kind. And usually old man Steptoe succeeds in the very thing Harold actually fails at, and usually it is the old man's fault- indeed he normally causes his son's disasters, while triumphing himself. Perhaps the very peak of 1970s comedy, Steptoe and son remains an iconic comedy, with brilliant sets, always clever writing, and great performances always by Wilfred Brambell and Harry H. Corbett. Apparently both were straight actors, Corbett described as a British Marlon Brando prior to becoming somewhat typecast by his role in Steptoe. Brambell was gay and drank heavily, apparently blowing out a performance of Steptoe in Australia leaving his acting partner at the mercy of a comedy hungry crowd, juggling to entertain them. They were reputed not to get on outside the series as well as within, a suggestion denied by the Steptoe inner circle. A film was made about their real life relationship, which I have yet to see, but which allegedly casts the actors as virtual enemies. Sad to think they are long gone, great to remember how good this entertainment was, how amusing and endearing, and how typical of its era and country of origin.
All of which has little to do with my 12 string Rickenbacker guitar. It is taking ages to get the 60's style pickups fitted, but it will be sorted soon and I can't wait to get onstage with the guitar. You have to have the right pickups fitted, and the right compressor pedal to get that great sound. I am told a 12 string Rickenbacker put through a Vox AC30 amp is the most sublime sound known to human kind, soon I will be finding out- it is going to sound great live.
I am very happy to be playing live again, warming up recently with a few open mics in Birmingham.
Next day. The Patrick Kavanagh open mic was enjoyable, I like the people who run it, I like the audience reaction. Some of the performers could be really good live in a proper gig situation, I can see things. Come and say hi if I'm down there again. I will be doing more open mics soon, will be updating my activities on the front page of the website- what is coming up soon will be there on the front page and will be up to date. Of course the open mics are just an entree into doing live work proper, but, they are worthy and fun.
Dennis thanks for your comments on the Action single 'Shadows and Reflections'. It is an incredible record, shame radio 1 were playing Pinky and Perky at the time, and Englebert Humperdink instead of picking up on the many commercially failed brilliant 45s around at the time. Pop history could have been quite different, and better. Its a wonder Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd ever got into the charts.
This week have been listening to Booker T and the MGs Green Onions album. Their music has great atmosphere, Green Onions needs no introduction, I like the story that someone asked the keyboard player how the levers on the Hammond were set to get that incredible sound, and he apparently replied 'you mean those things move?'. I enjoy the bands moody restraint, and superlative dynamics. Always just the best instrumental band, peerless I think. Apparently one of the guys was killed, shot in a burglary incident at his home. I find it interesting that Steve Cropper, their legendary guitarist, was voted greatest guitarist of all time in a guitarists magazine some while ago. To be honest I wouldn't have thought the readers of such a publication would have had such good taste, but there we are!
I found deeper levels to music as I discovered the studio albums by my favourite, mostly 60's artists. Obviously, the Beatles and Rolling Stones made many strong albums, much of the material below the surface of public consciousness. Strange and extraordinary to think many have never heard Revolver, or Aftermath, or Beggars Banquet. Or the Kinks Face To Face, and Village Green Preservation Society. And what about all the great early Monkees albums, they made several killers, and some good later albums. There was good stuff on Hollies albums, and Manfred Mann albums. And The Bee Gees, made ridiculously good early albums which are not far short of The Beatles best, or even of Brian Wilson, in my opinion.
Latterly, cult obscurity Would You Believe by British songwriter Billy Nicholls lifted me into a chemically enhanced state without any chemicals- and of course The Pretty Things fantastic SF Sorrow also emerged quite recently as a strong selling set. A commercial flop at the time, its extraordinary psychedelic experimental songs are now respected very highly by those in the know. An essential acquisition. They were as good as The Beatles, you know. Talking About The Good Times....that song is top flight British psychedelia and there were others on SF Sorrow, maybe extra tracks which were the best Brit psych, which may not have been on the original album but are on my CD. It is as good as it gets and a highly recommended purchase.
I mentioned The Zombies Odessey and Oracle in my last Letter From England, it is a delicate yet hip, English sounding album which has plenty of breathy space, and tastefully arranged songs, a set which like SF Sorrow is now regarded as a classic, and like SF Sorrow, flopped at the time. Maybe it was overshadowed by the brilliant but some might think overblown charms of The Beatles Sgt Pepper. Its failure robbed The Zombies of the recognition they deserved and broke the band's spirit to persevere. They had no resolve to continue and sadly disbanded. But, as they say, 'the good will out' and 'Odessey' is now highly acclaimed, with recent performances by (most of) the band of the entire album. It is beautiful. It is English. And, I think both by default. I cannot believe how great it is, being Mr Paul Weller's possible favourite album. And remember, he's considering there putting it above The Beatles, The Small Faces, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield. That's how good it is.
Odessa by The Bee Gees, I think a 1968 LP, is another album which was no great success at the time, but which is a substantial body of top class songs and music. Again, it is now recognised as being something special.
My run down of at the time flops now highly regarded would not be complete without comment on The Kinks Village Green Preservation Society.
It is this album and its vibe, and Odessey and Oracle, along with the early Floyd singles which inform most the Village Green Machine aesthetic. Village Green Preservation Society uniquely reflected, in wry humour and affection, on a passing England.
People think Ray Davies came from a middle class background, this is rubbish. He is a highly intelligent, politically and socially conscious man, who in 1967/8 was on the fringes of the great social upheavals of 1960s Britain. He could see the old order passing, the breakdown of social class, at least the breakdown of the rigidity of the categories of working, middle and upper class. He was part of the new world, of the rebellious new society of the young, which has taken 40 years to become the new orthodoxy. Evidently he had mixed feelings about the passing of the old, which provided rich pickings for satirists The Beatles.I cannot help but feel Ray was more saddened by what he saw slipping away. The 60s must have been tumultuous times, a period of excitement as old mores were abandoned and new freedoms adopted. Did everyone really want all that freedom? Did Ray? Was there a down side? Of course there bloody well was but I will leave blasting hippydom and its far reaching consequences to another blog. The title song on the Village Green Preservation Society album is a catalogue of delightful Englishness, and although I live in humdrum suburbia, that Englishness is only a stones throw away from me. Walking distance away are the Jacobean mansion Lady Bradford's Hall, with its restored gardens and teashop, next to the sublime high art Victorian church. Outside is the village green. This is where I live, and these are the places I love.
Village Green Machine