VILLAGE GREEN MACHINE NEWS
- plus OLD MUSIC, CLASSIC COMEDIES AND FILMS
Hi, we have had a few weeks break from real music business activity however are now refreshed and ready to rejoin the foray. A number of new songs have been recorded in recent weeks, without drums, things like 'Valentine Rd', acoustic Dylan meets The Monkees and The Lilac Time, in a song about, pertinently topically and poignantly, a soldier away at war writing back to his partner. Does he ever get back? I am leaving that to the listener to decide, in this fab new number.
Yeah I know it sounds proud, but it is a good one. Then there's, a major new one called Rushall Churchyard which we have spent ages producing and recording. In the background are the influences of early Jefferson Airplane, Peter Green, and possibly the quintessential Englishness of Odessey and Oracle era Zombies. However I think the Zombies parallel is mostly coincidental. After all this is my song about strolling in an English churchyard- with a ***** but lets not go there. I have sung multi tracked harmonies like I did on the first track of the first Jacobites album. You may know I record in a church hall, sometimes I sit in the church. I may have walked around it in the dark. So those are 2 recent projects. VGM is moving into a new phase soon, suffice to say for now we have not stopped recording and producing and, are currently shaping up the second album. I now consider The Zombies Odessey and Oracle to be the finest British album ever recorded.
They say there's a book in everyone - I think so, if you imagine what a detailed no holds barred account of anyone's life would read like. It is upon this kitchen sink premise that I intend to write future songs. I would like to write autobiographically, and in a detailed way about things I have experienced. No shortage of songwriting source material there! Isn't the stuff of life a good source? I have never copied other lyricists, ever. OK maybe a few times early on, but that's folly. None of that has survived, even in my memory. I think I want to keep writing a personal paragraph in this blog, as well as the reviews and pop history since this is a personal blog, after all.You get someone as neurotically self shielding as Bob Dylan, and wonder at it. Then you get the unwise vulnerability of the later Lennon. But friends of mine read this so its a way of saying hi to them, and of course a blog is something which has mostly parameters set only by its writer- it can go anywhere, or not go anywhere its writer chooses.
And so, right now let me turn to music, which for me started with my father bringing home a pile of throw out demo 45s from the hospital radio where he worked as a presenter and actor. Ludicrously valuable freakbeat 45 I Don't Want You by The Anteeeks was in that pile of records, which I chose as a favourite 45 for my guest spot on the Mark Lamarr show. It is pure 60s garage, in fact if you look for it on myspace there is a page especially for this great track. Fuzz guitar and Vox organ are part of this driving anthem, a total classic. Another song in this pile of records was The City Never Sleeps At Night, by Nancy Sinatra, another big favourite. There were records by The Stones and Beatles, and Searchers. I remember at school, we had a dance class at which a teacher played a CBS 45 by Paul Revere and The Raiders, maybe 'Let Me', which was ridiculously exciting to me as a child. At a school disco there was I Want To Hold Your Hand. I do remember being horrified by the amount of attention I attracted at this disco, as I made these badges which I pinned on my purple flares, with pictures of pop heroes on them. I just went mad when The Beatles came on, I'd never heard them before and I thought they were so great.One time I went to my father's friend's house, who was a BBC engineer. He played me Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly on his posh hi-fi, and I was totally ecstatic. I know now it was the sound of the lo-fi degraded drums going through all the valves and reverb, which made it sound so incredible.
Then I discovered T Rex. I was just a little kid. Telegram Sam and Metal Guru blew my brain off into another orbit, and it felt like the end of the world when my 45 of Metal Guru got broken on the stone floor. I loved Little Bit Of Love by Free. Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones. These records had an incredible groove, which still informs what I do. I adored The Sweet, and other great 45s by the likes of Mud, Suzi Quatro, and Mott The Hoople. Later, I was excited when I heard about The Sex Pistols. Their records delivered, more joy. I bought a lot of punk /new wave 45s by The Ramones, X Ray Spex, Generation X, The Stranglers, Elvis Costello and many more. How well they stand up today. I used to record Jimmy Saville's radio 1 show, where he played the top 10 of however many years previous, which is maybe where my 60s infatuation began to be reinforced. I spent my Saturdays in record shops, all my pocket money went on 45s, many of Jimmy's oldies became mine.
Meanwhile I got into disco, courtesy of Radio Luxembourg, a crackly intermittent broadcast which I tuned into to hear the latest disco charts. I still like the best disco records- it is a much maligned genre to this day I am sure, but records like I Feel Love, Young Hearts Run Free, and You Make Me Feel (Might Real) by the great Sylvester, not to mention Chic and many others, still hold up for me today as being great pop. I bought the first rap records released in the UK, namely by Curtis Blow, and Sugarhill Gang. Again, they had a great groove. Growing up in the 80s I remember saying how rap was the most exciting thing around, I think I was right. I loved the grooves, still do and am influenced by the rhythmic side of rap. However I did not like the gangster side of things when that really emerged. It was always underneath I suppose, but a certain rap band changed the face of rap and took it down a road I turned off a very long time ago. I will always dig the beats, though. Around this time the 80s kicked in, quite healthily at first with the genius of Dave Wakeling's Beat, 2 Tone, and a generally fresh atmosphere after punks explosion opened everything up. I bought various pop 45s, but later could only count the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Smiths as really worth bothering with. By the late 80s I had begun to play music myself, playing with Dave Kusworth's great Rag Dolls, and then Jacobites. After this, I became infatuated with 50s rock & Roll. I had flat top hair, wore a 50s suit for a while. I saw a great theatre play about Eddie Cochrane's last tour, which had a live band featuring Joe Brown. I think he played on that last fateful tour, in '61. It was a tour with Gene Vincent. The play and especially the 50s music- sounding as it did, replicated brilliantly in an old theatre, was such a thrill. I went back to the cheap seats night after night. I bought a load of 50s compilation albums by all my favourites like Eddie, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, and Sun era Elvis. Was influenced by the Elvis '68 TV special. I learnt to play all the guitar solos from these primitive sounding early singles, sitting up night after night alone with a couple of cans of Special Brew and 10 B&H, putting the needle back to the start of the solo again and again as I learnt the parts. It was an essential musical grounding. It taught me how to play guitar, and improved my bass playing a lot.
The Small Faces
Then, along came The Stone Roses. I was friends with their producer John Leckie, who was a fan of my early demo which he heard a while before The Roses. My demo had backwards guitars married with dance beats, before The Roses. I remember speaking to John's wife one day, she said ''The Roses have broken''. Fools Gold had hit the charts in a big way. John rang me every week for a long time. He said he would come to see me play live even in Wolverhampton' lol, but I could not keep a stable lineup together at this point, and as the Roses legend mounted, so his interest in producing me seemed to wane. I was 18. It was a tough pill to swallow, but, it ultimately forced me to learn to produce my own records, which I am happy happened. Of course, I loved The Roses. They were doing what I had been doing, more or less, a couple of years earlier, albeit with a House inspired aesthetic. John and I talked about them, our discussions influenced my own production techniques on stuff like England's Dreaming Spires. He asked me what I thought of The Second Coming. He seemed to agree that the adoption of blues melody in the songs meant something was lost. Anyway I saw the band 3 times, the first couple of times was incredible. Spike Island was great, whatever anyone else says. But the second album was a patchy affair. The gigs were too, the ravers had gone leaving a student following but the bubble had truly burst. I liked a few records by Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets, early Primal Scream and The Charlatans especially.
But change was in the air, with the advent of grunge. Plainly people like Dinosaur Junior and Lemonheads were influenced by Jacobites, and worked with Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks from Jacobites, but grunge did little for me. It was only when the Nirvana acoustic album came out that I saw Cobain's talent for what it was.There were copycat suicides. What a mess. PS I believe firmly music should be life affirmative, it should be uplifting and certainly if it is not, we have to start asking questions. That said, songs tend to emerge from life's less happy experiences. Can I just say this here- I am in love with The Small Faces,
Steve Marriot and Ronnies bass playing, and such cool clothes and hair WOW!!! What a class act, what sophisticated sounds, what great dynamics, an incredible whole musically. This, and a great songwriting team and fantastic production, sound wise. This is where my loyalties really lie. Love to Steve and Ronnie.
Back to grunge, I was and am a big fan of Neil Young, grandaddy of grunge with his Live Rust album. I used to play real heavy like Neil back in those days, but the air cleared for me somewhat with Britpop. Oasis were a revelation, I like the best of the rest such as Common People by Pulp, and occasionally a Blur single. There were other good singles around the fringes, and some crap but I think it was overall not a bad time. Oasis were incredible. Listen to Morning Glory, its opening music states unequivocally who the greatest band in the world were at the time, who were the top dogs. Not all easy people, but songs like Sad Song for me confirm George Martin's claim that Noel Gallagher was the best songwriter of his generation. Sad song and Rock & Roll Star had melodies as good as Joni Mitchell, and they were Noel's. Suede were a great, earlier band. Supergrass and Dodgy were way above average.
The Stairs made a great retro 60s record called Weed Bus - you should hear it, just fantastic. See Youtube?? Sorry the chronology is a little muddled here. The Stairs and Suede were pre Britpop, I think. After this there seemed to be a void. OK Travis made the odd good single, there were always a very few good records about. But it was only when The Strokes came out that I turned on to modern music again. I'm a fan, and White Stripes are an important band for me. I appreciated Franz Ferdinand up to a point. I liked The Hives. There was a major shift in the pop aesthetic, with bands like Kasabian emerging, and the 80s becoming chic. I like early 80s primitive electro, I am still intrigued by the earlier electronic shenanigans of Kraftwerk. I am fond of The Human League, and even Soft Cell.
But, however fascinating the shifting tapestry of pop may continue to be, nothing has come along which fascinates me as much as the primitive, reverb drenched sounds of 50s and 60s music. POP music. It has been recognised by top record producers that digital sound leaves something lacking to many ears, I was amazed when I heard my stuff firstly purely digitally, then through valves. The difference is enormous. The crips clarity goes, when you record through valves. I don't like crisp chilly clarity one bit. And so with my vintage reverbs, valves, and ribbon microphones, and natural room ambience, I make my musical statement. Also we are now experimenting with reel to reel tape, and tape overload. Sounds great. I believe in having a great song to start with. You need a good concise structured song. It has to have great melodies and lyrics. Then, good musical hooks, good sounds on all the instruments, and good production. I hope I can deliver always this to you. The second Village Green Machine album is provisionally titled Life With The Lid Off. It is very strong.
The Killing Of Sister George
Sorry I never got to do a comedy review this week, but will hopefully review 70s classic The Rag Trade next week.
A favourite film of mine is The Killing Of Sister George starring the peerless Beryl Reed, and the lovely Susan George, with Coral Brown playing the predatory lesbian role. I watched this on rotation while on holiday in a caravan in Wales recently. Beryl played an incorrigable rough and ready dyke, who in the film starred in a really corny 60s TV soap about country life. Throughout The Killing Of Sister George we are treated to eminently banal snippets of this dreadful afternoon trash, in which Beryl is a country doctor visiting patients on her scooter. The television company want to oust her from the soap, so the plot of the film proper evolves along the lines of Beryl's removal as a character. She is a drunk, hilariously jumping into a taxi with two beautiful young nuns whom she heartily fancies,
and although the camera does not show it, she has a good old grope of them. They apparently thought it was a diabolical visitation, as becomes apparent when TV company power witch Coral pays Beryl a visit at her flat, to reprimand her outrageous conduct. The nuns had got their mother superior to write a letter of complaint to the head of religious broadcasting. Coral doesn't fail to notice Beryl's very attractive younger housemate played by Susan George, who mentions her poems to her. Coral feigns an interest, out of sheer wanton lust for that young ladies ravishing body! Coral wears couture clothes, and is steely and manipulative. Beryl makes the huge mistake of inviting Coral to a lesbian club where she and her younger girlfriend are in fancy dress as Laurel and Hardy. This footage of the 60s lesbian underground, with dolly bird beat group and smooching females is central, and fascinating. It is here that Coral tells Beryl she is to be cut from the soap in which she acts. Coral takes the younger woman back to Beryl's flat and seduces her, in a graphic way which is still faintly shocking now, and must have had film censors apoplectic at the time (1968?). Beryl Reed's character, in this plot which has an underlying lesbian sado/masochistic thread, and is peppered with dumb entertaining prostitutes, is very much that of a rumbustious, though basically loveable roguish dyke and one feels very sorry for her when eventually...ah but that would be telling. PS I think this film must be iconic for the lesbian community, especially bearing in mind Susan Georges appearance in lacy black underwear and then, the sex scene. And I think it must have been singular and groundbreaking at the time. What I like most is the believability of it, its very realistic depiction of the idiosyncratic everyday catastrophes of life which we all eventually experience. I hardly need tell you how much I dislike the ridiculous formulaic films we are constantly bombarded with on British night-time TV, which are lies. They are absurdly removed from reality, relying on the manipulation of emotion. I prefer something real, the grit of everyday life in film I find humanising, since I can empathise.
This film and Entertaining Mr Sloane also starring Reed are certainly two high points of 60s film for me, unlike The Knack (and how to get it) starring Michael Crawford and Rita Tushingham. It soon curries disfavour as the most notable feature is the systematic, literal demolishing of a very attractive art deco house. To me, it all smacks of 60s avant garde drama, (sixth form drama group vibe) its experimental trickery now light years in the past. However, it does feature some great clothes and cars in black and white, although I doubt it will ever be more than a period oddity to me.