Archive for December, 2008

The Drones – Valer Records – 1977

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Just Want To Be Myself

Bone Idol

Second 7″ single from this Manchester band, first release on Valer Records though, text below courtesy of allmusic.com.

The Drones were a British punk band from Manchester, comprised of guitarist Gus “Gangrene” Callendar, bassist Steve “Whisper” Cundall, vocalist/guitarist M.J. Drone (Mike Howells), and drummer Peter “Perfect” Howells. They began as an R&B-influenced pub band named Rockslide but made the transition to punk after its first waves struck. Having gigged in their first incarnation since early 1975, the band made the change of name and style after acquiring Howells in October of 1976.

 

 

Most bands in the thriving Manchester punk scene stayed in the city, but The Drones relocated to London. They became one of the pioneering punk bands that performed in the first few months of the now-legendary Roxy Club in Covent Garden. Unappreciative XTC fans took to rioting during their opening set. They supported The Vibrators in January 1977, headlined in February, and supported X-Ray Spex and Chelsea in March.

 

Later that year they supported The Stranglers on tour.

 

 

The Drones set up the O.H.M.S. label to release the  7″ E.P ‘Temptations of a White Collar Worker’ in July of 1977; the EP was produced by Manchester scenester, future NME scribe, Art of Noise member, and author Paul Morley, who managed the band for a brief period. The group landed on the Valer Records label for their second release, the rather successful ‘Bone Idol’ single, which was issued only a couple months after their debut. The band appeared on two influential early punk compilation albums ‘Streets’ and ‘Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus’.

 

 

The LP ‘Further Temptations’ was released in November, containing both sides of ‘Bone Idol’ and re-recorded versions of two songs from their first 7″. Morley had acrimoniously extracted himself from the group just in time to review the record; much of the shared venom had to do with Morley’s support of the group’s competition, including a young band called Stiff Kittens — the band that would later become Joy Division. After their first LP, the Drones signed with Island offshoot Fabulous. The sessions were never completed and the band split in 1979.

Rico – Fab Records – 1967

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Silent Night

Jingle Bells

Not Rico’s best moment by far, but still a nice slice of christmas spirit 1967 reggae style.

Text from geocities.com.

Rico attended the Alpha Boys Cottage School in Kingston where he learned to play trombone. His tutor was another pupil of that school, two years older than Rico, the now legendary Don Drummond. Many of the other important musicians from the early days of Jamaican recorded music have been his school mates. Classical music was in the center of his timetable at this school.

His school education was followed by an apprenticeship as a mechanic during 1952 to 1954.

From 1954 to 1957 Rico continued his musical education at Stoney Hill Music School. During these years his musical influences were the two jazz trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding who released several common albums in those years.

Rico had his first studio engagements, among them (we think it was in 1956) Rico participated as a member of Clue J. And His Blues Blasters in C.S. Dodd’s very first session to record Easy Snappin’ with Theo Beckford.

During 1957 and 1958 Rico was playing three months with Eric Deans Orchestra, replacing Don Drummond (mostly in Latin and Cuban styles). He won at Vere John’s Opportunity Hour and thus built a name in the local music scene. Life was hard and it doesn’t wonder that Rico lived from hand to mouth. He had to play for food with the fishermen on the beach near Kingston. In Rico’s words: “Because you were poor and had to eat, you stay down where the fishermen draw their nets, so you’d have food every day. Fishermen always give you fish, they like to hear you playing.” (from an interview in 1973, quoted by Cane-Honeysett, 1995)

He spent much time in Count Ossie’s rasta community in Wareika Hills near Kingston. Percussionist and burru drummer Ossie teached Rico another side of music – Sheet music at school, jazz on the streets and African vibes over there in the hills -. Rico remembered his experience: “They’re more developed, mentally and musically, than the average musician. When you play with them you can really explore. Most of what I know I learned from playing with them.” (Williams 1981)

While he lived in the Rasta camp with Count Ossie in Wareika Hills, he worked at a barber’s shop in Kingston.

While the Jamaican recording industry changed and grew rapidly in the field of self-produced popular dance music, Rico got more and more involved as a sought-after session man. He went on recording with various session groups, namely Clue J & The Blues Blasters, Count Ossie’s Group, Smith All Stars, Drumbago And His Orchestra and for all the important producers – Clement Dodd, Duke Reid, Vincent Chin, <Lloyd Daley – and as Rico’s Group or All Stars for Prince Buster. Duke Reid (producing classics like Derrick Morgan’s “Lover Boy”) and Vincent Chin (Randy’s) engaged him for their very first recordings. While Rico helped at Randy’s, Chin produced Rico’s first sides under his own name: “Rico Special” and later “Rico Farewell”, the second as his goodbye to Jamaica and shortly after released in the UK by the young Island Records label.

At the end of 1961, at the age of 29, Rico emigrated to England.

Thanks to the imported Jamaican music on records Rico’s name was already known within the immigrant community in London when he arrived. Thus it was no problem to start recording for the same people: Importers like Emil Shallit, Siggy Jackson (Melodisc/Blue Beat) and others started to produce records in London. Rico’s first sessions were done already in 1962 by Planetone; at the same time he played the London club scene, for six month with Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames.

Clement Dodd remembered in an interview from 1994 that it was Rico who inspired the Beatles to let their hair grow. It is said, that the foursome attended a lot of West Indian parties where Rico played because “he really kicked up a storm”. (Hardbeatnews, 2004)

More and more singers came from Jamaica to London, composed a tour band and recorded in London studios. For instrumentalsts like Rico this meant work and it’s no surprise, that he can be heard on many records, e.g. on tracks by Prince Buster, one of the best tracks was “Barrister Pardon”.

Finally, in 1969 two LPs had been released with Rico as the featured artist: Reco in Reggaeland (on Pama), Blow Your Horn (Trojan) and another one with him as mayor soloist Brixton Cat, credited to Joe’s All Stars and released by Trojan.

Despite of being active in the music scene money was never enough. Occasional jobs and assembly-line working were necessary to earn a living.

Jamaican music had changed from ska to rock steady to reggae. Rico Rodriguez joined a group which is completely unknown today but was described by him as one of the most talented reggae bands in the UK: The Undivided lived as a backing band for Jamaican reggae artists touring the UK.

When Island Records re-entered the reggae market Rico came onto the list of session musicians for the fast growing enterprise. His first sessions took place in 1975 and were released as Toots’ Reggae Got Soul and Jim Capaldi’s (non-reggae album) Short Cut Draw Blood.

In the Island studios Rico met a man named Dick Cuthell, with whom he went together for a good seven years. Cuthell, an engineer on Island’s paylist, recorded a demo for Rico which opened the way to Rico’s first trip to Jamaica in 15 years and the seminal recording of Man From Wareika with some of the best Jamaican studio musicians; the release follows in 1977.

With an critically acclaimed sols album Rico was engaged as a support act for Bob Marley & The Wailers on his 1978 tour in Europe. Rico had a chance to play in front of audiences and to build his reputation towards the European public. Island prepared a new album for Rico, but tried to direct him towards a more easy listening style. Some 12” single had been released which were planned to become the core of this new album. Already given a catalogue number it was never released.

Meanwhile Rico had received a phone call by a certain Jerry Dammers, who looked for Rico to play with his band, The Specials a remake of “Rudi A Message To You”. The song was already recorded in two version by Rico, one for Dandy (Livingston) in 1967 and one credited to Rico himself from 1969. After the success of the Special’s music Rico (and Dick Cuthell) became associated members of the group, participating in their touring and recording activities. Rico played on the groundbreaking albums Specials and More Specials, he contributed to The Selecter’s debut.

“Despite the exposure he’d been given by working with The Specials, Island surprisingly did not renew his contract when it expired in January 1980, leaving him free to record for 2 Tone. They did make a half-hearted attempt to get The Specials to back Rico on a live take of “Guns Of Navarone” to be released on Island, but nothing came of it and so that it was.” (George Marshall, 1990, p. 65)

In 1980 Rico was going to release his first single “Sea Cruise” on the 2 Tone label. He toured with The Specials but left for Jamaica accompanied by Dick Cuthell where he was in the studio to record for his next LP That Man Is Forward. Later in 1980 Rico toured with his own band and on Dec. 21 he joined the Police in their concert for “So Lonely”.

In 1981 he played another great solo on the Specials’ last single “Ghost Town” maybe the best single of the 1980s and surely the best horn solo in pop history.

Ian Dury made him public to his audience while singing “… listening to Rico…” in his hit “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt.III)”. All these activities made him a central part of the 2 Tone story: he represented the Jamaican roots within The Specials’ and the other group’s music and made his instrument and his style attractive to the pop music market.

The history of a Christmas festival dates back over 4000 years. Ancient Midwinter festivities celebrated the return of the Sun from cold and darkness. Midwinter was a turning point between the Old Year and the New Year. Fire was a symbol of hope and boughs of greenery symbolized the eternal cycle of creation.

The term “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” is Greek in origin. The word for “Christ” in Greek is “Xristos.” during the Sixteenth Century, Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name…the “X” of “Xristos”…in place of the word “Christ” as a shorthand version of the word “Christmas.” Although early Christians understood that the “X” was simply another form for the name of Jesus Christ, later Christians, who had no knowledge of the Greek language, mistook “Xmas” as a sign of disrespect. Eventually, however, “Xmas” came to be both an accepted and suitable alternative to the word “Christmas.”

Many of today’s Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ Child was born. The Twelve Days of Christmas, blazing fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals or parades complete with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, holiday feasts and church processions are all rooted in the customs observed by early Mesopotamians.

Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of the New Year. The Mesopotamians worshipped many gods, the chief of whom was Marduk. Each year as winter arrived, it was believed that Marduk would battle the Monsters of Chaos. In order to assist Marduk during his struggle, the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. They called this celebration Zagmuk and the festivities lasted for twelve days.

The King of Mesopotamia would return to the Temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The tradition called for the King to die at the end of the year and then return with Marduk to battle at his side. To spare their King, the Mesopotamians utilized a “mock” king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all due respect and the privileges of a true king but, at the end of the celebrations, the “mock” king was stripped of the royal garments and then put to death, thus sparing the life of the real monarch.

The ancient Persians and Babylonians celebrated a similar festival which they called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places within the community…slaves would become masters and the original masters were obliged to obey the former slaves’ commands.

In Scandinavia during the winter months, the Sun would disappear for great lengths of time. After thirty-five of such dark days, scouts would be dispatched to the mountain tops to await the return of this life-giving heavenly body. When the first light was espied, the scouts would hurry back to their villages bearing the good news. In celebration, a great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Huge bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the welcome return of the Sun. In some areas, people would tie apples to the branches of trees as a reminder that Spring and Summer would eventually return.

The ancient Greeks held ceremonies similar to those of the Zagmuk and Sacaea festivals. The purpose of this feast was to assist their god Kronos, who would battle against the god Zeus and his army of Titans.

Members of the pagan order have always celebrated the Winter Solstice…the season of the year when days are shortest and nights longest. It was generally believed to be a time of drunkenness, revelry and debauchery. The pagan Romans called this celebration Saturnalia, in honor of their god Saturn. The festivities began in the middle of December and continued until January 1st. On December 25th, “The Birth of the Unconquerable Sun” was celebrated, as the days gradually lengthened and the Sun began to regain its dominance. It is a general pagan belief that the Sun dies during the Winter Solstice and then rises from the dead. With cries of “Jo Saturnalia!”, the Roman celebration would include masquerades in the streets, mangificent festive banquets, the visiting of friends and the exchange of good-luck gifts known as Strenae…or “lucky fruits.” Roman halls would be decked with garlands of laurel and green trees, adorned with lighted candles. Again, as with Sacaea, the masters and slaves would exchange places.

Saturnalia was considered a fun and festive time for the Romans, but Christians believed it an abomination to honor such a pagan god. The early converts wanted to maintain the birthday of their Christ Child as a solemn and religious holiday…not one of cheer and merriment, as was the pagan celebration of Saturnalia.

As Christianity spread, however, the Church became alarmed by the continuing practice among its flock to indulge in pagan customs and celebrate the festival of Saturnalia. At first, the holy men prohibited this type of revelry, but it was to no avail. Eventually, a decision was made to tame such celebrations and make them into a festive occasion better suited to honor the Christian Son of God.

According to some legends, the Christian celebration of Christmas was invented to compete against the pagan festivals held in December. The 25th was sacred not only to the Romans, but also to the Persians whose religion of Mithraism was one of Christianity’s main rivals at that period in time. The Church was, however, finally successful in removing the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and transferring them to the celebration of a Christian Christmas.

Christmas means “Christ’s Mass” and is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth and baptism. Although December 25th is generally accepted as being the time when the Christ Child was born, the exact date has never been chronicled with any degree of accuracy. There is neither scriptural nor secular evidence to establish the exact moment. One thing is relatively certain, however, the event did not take place in December. Since the child was born when shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8), it is unlikely that shepherds in Israel would have been sleeping outside with their flocks during the month of December. In Winter, the herders would have led their sheep outside only during the daylight hours…the nights would have been far too cold. It is known that during the very early Christian centuries, the birth of the Christ Child was not celebrated in any manner. However, tradition dictates that the occasion has been commemorated since 98 A.D. In 137 A.D., the Bishop of Rome ordered that the birthday of Jesus Christ be observed as a solemn feast. In 350 A.D., Julius I (another Bishop of Rome) selected December 25th as the observance of Christmas. This date was made official in 375 A.D., when it was formally announced that the birth of Jesus would be honored on this day…the announcement also allowed some of the older festivies (such as feasting, dancing and the exchange of gifts) to be incorporated into the observance of Christmas. The use of greenery to decorate homes continued to be prohibited as pagan idolatory but, over the centuries, this too became an accepted custom of the festivies.

HOPING YOU ALL HAVE AN ENJOYABLE AND SAFE CHRISTMAS

All the best from Tony D, Gerard, Alistair and Penguin x

Mission Of Burma – Ace Of Hearts Records – 1980

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Academy Fight Song

Max Ernst

Punchy debut 7″ single by the godfathers of ‘Grunge’ Mission Of Burma, bands like Dinosaur Jnr, Volcano Suns and Buffalo Tom would follow in the demise of this band in 1983. Text below, a christmas gift to KYPP from allmusic.com.

Of all the punk-inspired bands that came out of Boston in the early ’80s, none were better than Mission of Burma. Arty without being too pretentious, capable of writing gripping songs and playing with ferocious intensity, guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, drummer Peter Prescott, and tape head Martin Swope galvanized the city’s alternative rock scene, and despite a too-short existence, set a standard for excellence that has rarely been equalled — a standard the band upheld when they unexpectedly reunited in 2002.

Burma’s music is vintage early-’80s post-punk: jittery rhythms, odd shifts in time, declamatory vocals, an aural assault similarly employed by bands such as Gang of Four, Mekons, and Pere Ubu — Burma’s peers as well as their influences. Also, conspicuously present in the mix was the proto-punk of the Stooges and Velvet Underground (with just a dash of Led Zeppelin and Roxy Music), bands that inspired Burma’s darker songwriting impulses and tendencies toward longish, repetitive jams capable of boring holes into your skull. What Burma added was a sonic texture through the use of extreme volume. Roger Miller’s guitar enveloped the band in thick, distorted cascading chords, erupting into squealing solos and (intentional) squalls of feedback. With Prescott and Conley furiously bashing in support, the band’s sound was extremely physical (ask anyone who saw them live) to the point of leaving the audience feeling slightly bruised, battered, but extremely happy.

After releasing an explosive single (“Academy Fight Song,” still one of punk rock’s greatest songs) on Boston’s then-hippest indie label, Ace of Hearts, Burma released two excellent records in just over a year: the Signals, Calls and Marches EP and their only full-length studio album, V. The former was poppier, but in a breathtakingly intense way; the latter dark and ominous, lacking in riff-heavy punch, but still delivering a wicked blast of aural chaos. Unbeknown to fans, this was the beginning of the end. The massive volume, a key element in Burma’s sound, had taken its toll on the band members, especially Miller, who developed a severe case of tinnitus that hastened the band’s demise. (Always the trooper, Miller played the band’s final tour wearing a protective headset used on shooting ranges to prevent his ears from absorbing more punishment.) After a bittersweet farewell tour in 1983, the shows were released as a live LP entitled The Horrible Truth About Burma, an occasionally thrilling example of their considerable stage prowess. Miller since went on to a career as a solo artist and with his non-touring band Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Prescott formed the wonderful Volcano Suns, who released a half-dozen records all worth checking out, before starting Kustomized with ex-Bullet la Volta singer Yukki Gipe. Clint Conley produced the first Yo La Tengo record and then left the music business. He went on to work as a producer at Boston television station WCVB.

N.E.M.B. – Green Records – 1981

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Torture

The Middle Room

Non Erotic Male Bonding N.E.M.B. has to be one of the weirdest names for a post punk group around. I have no information at all on this outfit, except the record sleeve tells me they are from Baltimore and the record label is based in Tampa.

Does the band name suggest they are part of the gay scene over the pond, or does the ‘Non’ part of the name suggest the exact opposite? I neither know nor care which way the band members (all male) swing, but I DO hear The Gang Of Four, I also hear a touch of Classix Nouveaux, or perhaps ‘Pornography’ era Cure mixed up with Big Black. Can you imagine such a sound?

Only Nic can help with this post as I know nothing more of any value to add…sorry!

Joe Strummer 21/08/52 – 22/12/02

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Bankrobber / Rockers Galore

Tribute to Joe Strummer who passed on way way too early, six years ago on this day.

Presenting his finest moment (in my opinion) on record and the orbituary from The Times newspaper. 

Joe Strummer, rock singer and lyricist, was born in Ankara, Turkey, on August 21, 1952. He died of a suspected heart attack at his home in Somerset on December 22, 2002, aged 50.

His only rival as the main spokesman for the punk revolution which transformed British youth culture in the late 1970s was Johnny Rotten. Yet unlike the Sex Pistols’ singer, Strummer maintained his punk radicalism. When he was interviewed in this paper last year about his most recent album, Global A Go-Go, the writer observed that he was “the only rock star of his generation . . . who hasn’t mellowed with age”. Only last month, he was to be found playing a benefit gig for the striking Fire Brigades Union with his new band, the Mescaleros.

The son of a British diplomat, he spent his early years living variously in Turkey, Mexico, Germany and Egypt. Educated at a Surrey boarding school and art college, he had a spell busking on the London Underground, after which he formed his first band, the 101ers, playing amiable R&B on the mid-1970s London pub-rock circuit.

But he was frustrated by what he saw as the stagnation of the music scene of the time. In April 1976, the 101ers were supported at a London date by an emerging group called the Sex Pistols. Their volatile and nihilistic garage rock sounded crude and unrehearsed. Yet Strummer became convinced that the energy of the emerging punk movement could be harnessed to revolutionise British music. Within two months he had teamed up with the guitarist Mick Jones, the bass player Paul Simonon and the drummer Nicky “Topper” Headon to form the Clash.

Managed by Bernie Rhodes, an associate of the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm MacLaren, they swiftly built a following at punk venues such as London’s 100 Club. Then, late in 1976, they joined the Sex Pistols on their “Anarchy in the UK” tour. With punk already making front-page headlines for its alleged violence and moral threat to the nation’s youth, all but three of the 19 planned dates were cancelled by anxious promoters.

Such notoriety only enhanced punk’s appeal. Major record labels were soon jumping on the bandwagon and after making some demos for Polydor, in January 1977 the Clash signed to CBS Records. Their first single was the provocatively titled White Riot, a raw, aggressive, streetwise song with Strummer’s angry lyrics snarled at breakneck speed.

It reached only number 38 but the band’s debut album, The Clash, made number 12 on its release in the spring of 1977. Taking unemployment, alienation and rebellion as its subject matter and recorded in a matter of days, it remains, along with the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, punk’s definitive statement.

In many ways, Strummer’s songs were responding to the same events and sense of political drift that led to Margaret Thatcher’s radical Conservatism. But Strummer moved in the opposite direction and was spotted at gigs wearing a T-shirt supporting Brigade Rosse, the Italian Red Brigades held responsible for the murder of the former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. He also expressed his support for Germany’s Red Army Faction, better known as the Baader-Meinhoff gang.

Given the group’s provocative attitude, trouble inevitably followed them. During their 1977 White Riot tour, Strummer and Headon were arrested and fined for spray-painting “Clash” on a wall. The same pair spent a night in jail in Newcastle, ludicrously charged with stealing a pillowcase from a local Holiday Inn. They responded by calling their next tour “Out on Parole”. The group even managed the not inconsiderable feat of inciting a riot when they performed in genteel Bournemouth.

They put their money behind their political convictions, and in April 1978 they headlined a free Anti-Nazi League festival in London, organised by the pressure group Rock Against Racism. But their politics and growing commercial success were always in potential conflict, as Strummer recognised in the single White Man in Hammersmith Palais in which he struggled with the dilemma of punk rockers “turning rebellion into money”.

The group’s second album, Give ’Em Enough Rope appeared in November 1978, and went straight into the charts at number two, kept from the top spot by the soundtrack to the film Grease. The recruitment of the top American rock producer Sandy Pearlman smoothed over some of the group’s rougher edges but did nothing to lessen their political anger in songs such as Guns on the Roof and Tommy Gun, which gave them their first British Top 20 single. “Protest songs, that’s what you’d call them. Folk-songs with an electric guitar,” Strummer said at the time.

A four-track EP which included a suitably venomous version of Bobby Fuller’s I Fought the Law was released in summer 1979 as a holding operation while they broke America and began planning their third album, London Calling. Produced by the veteran Guy Stevens, the double album is widely regarded as the group’s finest, as reggae and rockabilly tunes take their place alongside raw punk aggression on songs such as The Guns of Brixton and Revolution Rock.

London Calling reached only number nine in the British charts, but it remains one of the most influential rock albums. Among those to fall under its influence was Bob Dylan’s son Jacob, who now leads his own band, the Wallflowers, and recently cited London Calling above his father’s work as the record that “changed his life”.

The group’s politically charged fourth album, Sandinista!, appeared in 1980. The first to be produced by the group themselves, this sprawling, 36-song triple- album was released at a special budget price, after the group agreed to forgo royalties on the first 200,000 copies in return for CBS’s co-operation.

In 1982 Strummer mysteriously disappeared for three months, later claiming that he was in Paris where his girlfriend’s mother had been in jail. The mystery helped the next album, Combat Rock, to number two in the British charts and gave the group there first American Top Ten entry.

Strummer still sounded confrontational and the album produced hit singles in Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Yet paradoxically, it was the beginning of the end for the group. Headon left, and when the Clash joined The Who on their farewell tour of America in late 1982, many felt that the latterday punk heroes sounded tame in comparison to the 1960s veterans.

The following year Jones was evicted from the group. Strummer and Simonon soldiered on with two new recruits, Vince White and Nick Sheppard, and played benefit shows for the striking miners. But after the group’s final album Cut the Crap was savaged by critics, they called it a day at the end of 1985.

As a rock icon who had achieved everything before he was 30, Strummer appeared unsure what to do next. He played on Bob Dylan’s album Down in the Groove, organised a “Rock Against the Rich” tour, played with Latino Rockabilly War and released the 1989 solo album Earthquake Wonder. But that was to be his last album for a decade as he turned to cinema and deployed his chiselled good looks to effect in such films as Straight to Hell, Sid and Nancy, Mystery Train and Lost in Space. He also worked on several film soundtracks including John Cusack’s Grosse Point Blank.

After a brief spell deputising for Shane MacGowan as lead vocalist with the Pogues, he spent much of the 1990s resisting invitations to re-form the Clash as various compilations kept them in the charts and a reissue of Should I Stay or Should I Go? became the Clash’s first number one single, following its use in a Levi’s jeans commercial. Strummer reportedly refused an offer of more than £3 million for the group to tour America. “That was never the Clash way of doing things,” he later told The Times. “We all agreed it would have been sickening to have been playing that music with the pound signs hanging over us.”

It was not until 1999 that he returned fully to the fray with a new band, the Mescaleros, and the album Rock, Art and the X-ray Style. A second Mescaleros album, Global A Go-Go, followed within 18 months. “It took ten years to recharge my batteries. I felt isolated and wanted to wait until I’d stopped being the singer from a once-famous group and was this guy who needed help,” he said.

Although he moved to Somerset to bring up his family, his political fire remained undimmed. “The spirit of rock’n’roll helped to stop the Vietnam War,” he told The Times last year. “Perhaps it’s a bit crazy for me still to feel like that. But I can’t help it. Someone’s got to keep the faith.”

In March he was due to have been inducted with the Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when it was expected that the group’s original line-up would perform for the first time since 1983. Fate has decreed that the Clash will now never reunite. He was also working on a track written with Bono and Dave Stewart for Aids Awareness in Africa.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a stepdaughter.

Baby Aaron celebrating The Clash.

Happy Winter Solstice 2008 – Inner City Unit – Riddle Records – 1980

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate Children’s Day to honour our children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origin as “holy days”. They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.

In the northern latitudes, midwinter’s day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the turning point of the year. The romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.

The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life’s continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets.

The custom of mummers visiting their neighbours in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland in U.S.A, is descended from these masked processions.

Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).

In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.

Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home celebrations.

In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favoured day because it was thought to be Jesus’ baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. The merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. During the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, many of the old customs were suppressed and the Church forbade processions, colourful ceremonies, and plays.

In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious.

Solitary Ashtray

So T Ry As I D

Debut 7″ single by those festival pranksters Inner City Unit, text below from the I.C.U. site doremi.co.uk.

In April 1979 the first I.C.U. converged at Turners Caddilac Ranch; the guilty parties were:

Nik Turner – Vox & Sax,
Dead Fred – Vox & Keys,
Trev Thoms – Vox & Guitar,
Mo Vicarage – Synth
Dino Ferrrari – Drums

After 4 days Rehearsal the band went to Foel Studios in Wales and recorded 4 Tracks: Watching The Grass Grow, Cars Eat With Auto Face, Alright On The Flight + Solitary Astrid. This line up played 1 gig in Liverpool and also at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival as SPHINX this show was filmed by the BBC and an edited version was shown in 1980.

Mo Vicarage retired from live playing and Nik, Fred, Trev + Dino were joined by Baz Magneto on Bass. After playing Stonehenge and various other festivals Dino returned to Rome and was replaced by Dave Dog. In September the band released its 1st single Solitary Ashtray on its own label and begins to rise on the club-dump circuit. (The first ICU single, was written about German Terrorist Astrid Proll, one time resident of Brougham Road in Hackney. To avoid controvosy this track was later re-named “Solitary Ashtray”, the dub on the “b” side was the favorite dub of renouned Reggae producer Dennis Bovell).

Dave Dog leaves + Fred takes a bad trip, (The first of many… ..he’s cured now though) meanwhile Mick Stupp takes the Drum Chair. Fred returns and the band records demos of Space Invaders and Polyethylene for a Major Label. (Polydor) December 1980 see’s our heros turning down the major label + staying with their own label (Riddle records) to record their 1st Album – PASSOUT at low cost in 3 days. The 3rd and final release on Riddle was the single PARADISE BEACH in March 1980. It was during this time that the “Insolence accross the Nation” half of “Ersatz” was recorded..

After the release of Passout Baz leaves the band & is replaced by Man of Mystery ‘Little Bit’ for a tour supporting Sham 69 – Skinhead violence becomes a part of the bands persona. Little bit leaves and is replaced by Speed Machine who destroys any credibility he may have had by falling on his head off of the Music Machines 9 ft Stage during his first live apperance… NEXT!

May-June 1980 Dead Fred is now on Bass + as a last resort Pstupid Steve (Pond) joins as miming Keyboard player and synthi anarchist. Blithering Idiots tour starts 1 week late in Leeds. (Does anyone know where we can stay tonight?)

In the summer the band plays the Stonehenge festival and supports Horsewind at 2 Lyceum gigs in London. Mick Stupp slips away + Dave Dog returns to support Psychadelic Furs at the Lyceum. Pstupid leaves to join the magnificent Three Laws, the rest of the band reconverge at the Caddilac Ranch.

Dino Ferrari returns to drum stool and band now a four piece Nik, Trev, Fred + Dino start to rehearse and write material for THE MAXIMUM EFFECT. Following the release of the album in the summer of 1981 the band begins a 6 week residency at the Marquee. After various gigs through the summer (including 2 with Hugh Lloyd Langton as Guitarist) ICU played its last gig at Sizewell.

English Subtitles – 10 Seconds Too Late / Glass Records – 1981

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Tannoy

Cars On Fire

A decent 7″ single by English Subtitles, a West London band sounding a little like North London’s Lack Of Knowledge., which is no bad thing…

The text below is from downwithtractors.blogspot.com

English Subtitles released one single on Small Wonder Records “Time Tunnel”, then this single, a flexidisc which came out on Crepuscule and finally a compilation album which contained one side of their studio recordings, and a live set on the other side.
This single is just WONDERFUL, a doomy slice of malevolent goth-rock, full of foreboding and self-loathing; Karl Burns from The Fall plays drums on the track, but not many other details survive….

“They’re calling my name, over the Tannoy, they’re paging me…what do they want? What do they want?”

Hey, who knows. One thing is for sure, the singer, Roy Gordon wasn’t just putting on this display of paranoia for show: he genuinely had some severe “issues”. The single comes with a facsimile of a N.M.E. cutting, detailing an “episode” he had whilst on a tube train – this culminated in a radical act of conceptual art as his friend Pete Davis drove a six inch nail right through the palm of Gordon’s hand in front of horrified commuters, whilst Gordon calmly collected the resultant flow of blood on a sheet of plastic. This pool of blood was used for the sleeve of the single (see above). Classy.

1974′s Coum Transmissions would have been proud!

The Shapes – Sofa Records – 1979

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Wots For Lunch Mum? / College Girls

I Saw Batman (In The Laundrette) / Chatterboks

Debut 7″ single from The Shapes, slight Rezillos vibe on these tracks. The detailed biography below courtesy of hyped2death.com.

Like many of their contemporaries, The Shapes were amongst the first wave of bands that formed in the wake of the Great Swearing Incident of December 1976. Whilst having the satisfying by product of terminating the career of the rather oily Bill Grundy, and launching that of those lovable moptops the Sex Pistols, it’s quite hard to see in retrospect quite why hearing the word “fuck” would send an entire country into a paroxsym of self loathing and have questions asked in the House of Commons, as one could hear this same fine piece of Anglo Saxon just about everywhere one went in Britain.
It’s a little hard to see what all the fuss was about now, but back then it all seemed rather exciting, especially to two ex public schoolboys in lovely Leamington Spa in Great Britain. Having both been given their marching orders from a less-than-stellar minor British public school for painting the school ocelot orange, they decide to form a punk group so that they can say “fuck” more often and maybe change the course of a thousand years of British history, whilst getting free beer and signing on the dole. Also, the prospect of a shag or two wasn’t exactly far from the top of the list. Thus with the meeting of Ben Browton and Gareth Holder, Seymour Bybuss and Brian Helicopter were born, The Shapes’s story take flight,and hopefully I can stop writing this in the third person. The origins of our nom-de-plumes departed from the usual choices that were de riguer for the punk elite in those days, and reflected a singular property of The Shapes, that of being too clever for our own good. If we had been proper punks, we would have chosen names like Barry Arse or suchlike, but there you go. Ben chose Seymour Bybuss from the legend “See More By Bus” that was printed on the back of every Midland Red Bus Company ticket in Leamington Spa. Not only did that joke not travel well, noboby realised it was a pun, which was endlessly annoying. People just thought he was French or something. My more obviously fake moniker came from the awful daily TV news magazine programme and haven for skateboarding ducks, Nationwide. Some poor sod from a local borough council was on, and despite being the sort of appallingly dull little chap that infest local government, his interview was much enlivened by the mispelling of his name at the bottom of the screen. Transposing two letters in his name, they had changed it from Tony Havercroft into Tony Hovercraft. I found this so hysterical obviously, that I concocted the name Brian Helicopter on the spot, and was then stuck with it for the next 20 odd years. Oh how we all laughed. The names had a secondary purpose too. Leamington Spa is a small place, and we wanted to be able to sign on the dole without being caught.

So here I am, stuck in Leamington Spa. I haven’t got a single clue of what to do with myself, but I know that whatever it is, it probably wasn’t going to be what I was doing at the time, which, being as you ask so nicely, was working as a clerical officer at the local government offices. The Midland Road Construction Unit to be exact. Our function was to compile a list of all the listed buildings in Great Britain, along with all the national parks and areas of natural beauty, and then build motorways through them. This, funnily enough, seemed to be viewed rather dimly by the segments of the population who were informed that their house was scheduled for demolition next Wednesday to make room for said motorway, or failing that, they would graciously be allowed to remain where they were, but advised to be a bit careful when hanging out the washing in the back garden, which would from now on be referred to as the A234 Bromsgrove aterial by pass or some such similar nonsense. Having already seen the Sex Pistols in the flesh, and having dyed my hair bright green, it might also be safe to say that any long term career plans centered around local government were probably unwise.

It was truly a vessel of lost souls. Corridors of the damned, shuffling from grey office to grey office, ticking away their lives, with that all important Holy Grail of a secure pension, the meagre reward for a life unlived. I didn’t really think of all of that though, I was just a lazy little sod who was bored shitless, and had job tenure. It was impossible to get sacked from the job, no matter how incompetant you were, and believe me I tried, as you couldn’t get state assitance if you quit. I would come in after two hours sleep and slump over my desk for hours on end. A combination of the green hair, and the fact that at that time, anybody who looked vaguely punk rock was regarded as coming directly from Beelzebub’s bottom stopped anyone from saying a word to me lest a sound thrashing result. Funnily enough, there was one other person in the office who behaved in a similar manner. He is currently the guitarist for Dr. Feelgood, so there you go. I would spend the nights at local clubs seeing bands like The Damned, Rezillos, Wayne County, Buzzcocks, and just about every other punk band I could manage to find. This did not contribute to a prosfessional demeanor the next day at work, and clearly something was going to have to give.

Down the very same street in another government office wastes the lovely, soon to be, Seymour Bybuss. His situation is the same as mine, only his hair is dyed orange. He works in the Unemployment offices, and is scheming about ways to make use of it’s facilities as a customer rather than an employee. We meet in the pub at lunchtime over restorative pints of bitter to plot our escape. I had played in bands before, and actually had a bass guitar, albeit a totally crap one. He, on the other hand, bore a passing resemblance to Rat Scabies of The Damned, and so it was deemed that fate had decreed that he become a drummer. Thus, armed for greatness, with this the totality of our plan, and ignoring the fact that neither of us had access to a drum kit, we set off to find our fortune.

Practice for the fledgling band takes place in the luxurious confines of Seymour’s parent’s garage. We know it’s their garage, because they keep coming in to tell us to turn it down. We manage to cadge a drum kit off a friend of mine that I had been in a band with, and armed with sticks, Seymour commences upon his new career as a percussionist. Left handed as he is, and possessing the meter of a badly loaded Hotpoint washing machine on spin cycle, it fast becomes apparent that even given the vast lassitude of the punk rock genre to tolerate a wide variety of styles, Seymour’s future in the music industry does not reside behind the drums. The nearest we get to a musical interlude resembles nothing so much as a crockery-filled warddrobe descending a set of basement steps. We regroup, and realizing that whilst we do not possess any left handed guitars, we do however possess a left handed microphone. Thus Seymour is destined to be thrust to greatness as the singer. A deftly timed move it is too, as the owner of the drum kit appears and demands to know what the fuck we’re doing with it. Seymour completes his audition for the singers job by miming to At The Hop wearing a gorilla mask. You had to be there. We set about recruiting others immediately to fill the ranks.

It soon becomes clear to us that the selection of like minded musicians in Leamington Spa is somewhat limited. I’d like to say that we auditioned and rejected many hopeful applicants, but it would be more truthful to say that nobody would come and play with us. In the provinces at that time, punk was regarded at about the same level as child molestation, and one wasn’t really afforded the kind of counterculture respect for the whole enterprise as one might have expected in London. Oh yes, and we were also shite. However, we persevere, and by a combination of luck, and a general lowering of standards, we cobble together The Shapes Mark I. Seymour is responsible for the name. I am responsible for not being able to think up anything better. We are joined in our endeavor by two guitarists and a drummer. The guitarists are a Nigel Greenway and a Nick Hadley, and the drummer is a fresh faced 15 year old called Charlie Pullen. Nigel and Nick are both also rejects from the public school system, whilst Charlie’s mum owns a hotel with a rather fine basement area for the practicing in. Our initial excitement at having a line up is tempered somewhat by the fact the guitarist’s favorite groups appear to be Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash respectively. It is also tempered by the fact that they both bear personalities that if one was to search for an accurate description of them, the word that would come to mind would probably rhyme with punt. We can’t complain too much though, as we have already committed to our first public outing, and it would be nice if we actually could play a tune or two by the time we appear to an enthralled public.

The day of The Shapes public unveiling dawns. We are to play at Warwick University, which bafflingly is situated neither in the town of Warwick, nor indeed even in Warwickshire, but in Coventry in the West Midlands. Such was the excitement surrounding punk rock at that time, that not only were we able to get on the bill for the evening’s entertainment sight unseen, but we weren’t even on the bottom of it. The rest of the bill is comprised of other notables who all go on to varying degrees of fame and fortune. The headline act are Raw records favorites The Killjoys. Their singer is notable for two things. Firstly, he is Kevin Rowland, soon to trade in his punk rock credentials for the more lucrative position of mastermind of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and from thence to dress up as a woman in a a rather alarming attempt to curry public favor. The second notable thing about him is the level of hatred that the rest of The Killjoys appear to have for him. The Killjoys also have a rather fine female bass player in Gil Scott Weston. She is remarkable for two things also. Firstly, that she goes on to better things with the all female heavy metal combo Girlschool, and secondly, that she rather quite bafflingly refuses an offer of sexual congress from yours truly. Bugger. She’ll come around though, they always do. Mind you, as of this writing in January 2002, she has yet to call. Maybe she lost the number. Second on the bill are The Models, whose single Man Of The Year is doing rather nicely thank you in the independent charts. They are notable for having as their guitarist, a rather portly gentleman by the name of Marco Pirroni, who goes on to fame as Adam Ant’s cohort. Third on the bill are The Shapes, who are notable for being crap, and stealing anything that is not either nailed down or red hot. Last on the bill is Spizz, who goes on to fame as, well, Spizz, and is doomed to sing Where’s Captain Kirk for the rest of his life. He is notable for two things also co-incidentally, getting picked up after the gig by his mum, and receiving a punch up the bracket in the course of the evening courtesy of The Shapes’ Nick Hadley esq. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I’m sure he deserved it.

Suffused with success and stolen property, we make our way back to Leamington Spa where we get another gig, this time as support for the Coventry Automatics. They, dear readers, also benefit from the magical touch of The Shapes, change their name to The Specials, and pretend that they never had to associate with the likes of us. The Shapes however, decide that having served the lengthy musical apprenticeship of three or four gigs, we should commit our art to tape. We decamp to Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios in Leamington Spa. Woodbine Mobile Recording Studio is singular in it’s immobility, located as it is in the basement of a house, and is a four track owned and run by the delightful Mr. John A Rivers, who despite batting for tthe other team, is genuinely pleased to have us. We record four songs for the grand total of 27 pounds. We sound exactly like what we are, five spotty herberts with crappy equipment and minimal skills, but we are happy with the result. I have a Zenta bass guitar that also cost all of 25 pounds. Every note I play results in a resounding “bonk” note. I have an amplifier that I bought from the back of the Melody Maker for practically nothing. Fame clearly awaits. What could possibly stop us from the stardom that beckons ? Alas, we are to find out.

It’s 1978 and we have just been rehearsing. Actually, to be honest, in this instance, rehearsing is more like a code word for arguing about why The Shapes should sound more like Thin Lizzy or Wishbone Ash, as this is what we do most of the time. Seymour and I are most dischuffed with this approach to writing, but we don’t really have a lot of choice in the matter at the time. It’s a fairly easy thing to avoid though, by just pretending to be unable to play anything that didn’t suit our tastes. It clearly can’t go on like this, and it doesn’t, though not for reasons that we could have anticipated. After the rehearsing/arguing session, it is decided that Chinese food shall be consumed. Now, gentle reader, this is 1978 in the provinces of merry England, so Chinese food means chips served from the local take away, because everywhere else is closed. For reasons lost in the mists of time and substance abuse, I decide not to go, and ride off valiantly into the sunset on my trusty Honda 400-4. Actually, it was probably to the Warwick Hotel to drink copiously of the watery lager, but that’s not important. The rest of The Shapes, comprising Seymour and assorted oafs go to the Ming Kee take away for comestibles, and this is the point at which matters deteriorate alarmingly, for in said establishment lurks the bane of all provincial towns, the casual boys. Dressed in Oxford bags, with star jumpers, and looking not unlike the bastard children of the Bay City Rollers and a factory chicken, they have been out on the town and are in search of badly fried food to soak up the gallons of best bitter they have been drinking, and trouble. They find the former at the Ming Kee,and the latter in the form of The Shapes, punk rockers heaven sent for this purpose. Now the numbers are actually in The Shapes favor, so that when they lurk outside and attack the band unawares on the way out, one would think that a good account would have been given of themselves by The Shapes. Unfortunately, as soon as trouble is spied, the rest of the band run away with all due speed, presumably in search of a collective spine, and leave Seymour on his own to receive a vicious beating that nearly kills him. His head is repeatedly kicked into a curb until he is rendered unconscious, and left bleeding in the gutter, from where he is discovered and rushed to hospital where he is nursed back to some semblance of normality. It is safe to say though, that the trauma does not leave him unaffected, and he is never quite the same person. The rest of the band escape without injury, but we never really forgive them for their cowardice, and the relationship between me and Seymour and the rest never recovers. We miss all the gigs that we were to play, and the writing is on the wall for The Shapes Mark I.

Slowly, Seymour recovers and we start to gig again. We have by this time, and for reasons that I don’t fully understand even now, acquired a manager. His name is Rob Atkins and he seems like a nice bloke. He has two step-daughters called Sharon and Tracey, which affords me no small amusement. They go out with two of the group. He has another step daughter called Beverley. She goes out with me. This relationship is spectacularly shag free, much to my chagrin, but which at time was becoming somewhat of a pattern in my life. He manages to get a producer from EMI to come and see us. We, as usual, stink the place up, but because EMI is still mortally embarrassed by the whole Sex Pistols fiasco, they agree to put us in the studio and see what comes of the enterprise as long as we record some material that they will prepare for us as well as our own stuff. The warning bells should have been ringing at that point, but dear reader, we are just poor naive lads from the country. What do we know of such things? We know only of the simple pleasures of life, like farming, or sitting on an air hose. We knew one thing though, the chap from EMI was certainly a hippie of the first order, and introduced The Shapes to their first taste of the dear old Bolivian marching powder. Suffused with this fine pharmaceutical, we all said “Yes !”. Mind you, at that point, we would have said yes to having electrodes attached to our genitals and being flogged senseless with a knotted rope. In retrospect, I think this may have been preferable to what followed.

We are told that we will be changing our name to The Racket and recording a song called “My Hero”. We listen to a demo recorded for our listening pleasure. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete shite of the first order. It is sung in a sort of strange nasal mockney, a la Ben Elton, replete with Rottenesque sneers and pretend bad playing. We listen appalled, but perhaps we can make something of it when we re-record it. Then we are told that this is actually the finished product, and that all we are required to do is to mime it on Top Of The Pops and other TV appearances. We are to be a front band it appears, for a scam by some old hippies on EMI’s roster to cash in. We will sacrifice our dignity for some small consideration. Basically, we’ve been had. It’s all too much for Nick Hadley, and he decamps, never to be seen again, so it wasn’t all bad I suppose. He continues to play, surprisingly enough, linking up with Wishbone Ash at some point, so he must have been happy. The Shapes now continue as a four piece, with Nigel Greenway as the remaining guitarist.

It’s a funny old time for The Shapes. We are thoroughly “handled” by our manager and the selection of people foisted on us by the producer at EMI. Suddenly, there is a change in plan. The whole nonsensical Racket/My Hero nonsense is dropped and we shall be allowed to continue to be known as The Shapes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will still have to record complete arse written by someone else as well as our own songs. I rationalize this by reminding myself that this seemed to work out for The Sweet. However, The Sweet had the writing team of Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman, and we have a fellow called Nick Brind of little known EMI tax loss Joe Public. A seemingly nice chap, but a pathological liar where money and plans for my future are concerned. At this time, Tom Robinson was enjoying some success with a song called 2,4,6,8 Motorway, a song about the rigors of such a non new wave activity as truck driving. The Shapes, courtesy of a piece of doggerel written by the aforementioned Mr.Brind, are forced into Bird Sound studios with a forked vermin stick to record a tune entitled “Truck Drivin’ Man”. It is an appalling piece of derivative crap, and are all thoroughly ashamed of it, with the notable exception of our guitarist who I secretly suspect of being satisfied that he was recording a “real” song for once, and none of this punk nonsense thank you very much. We also have to record a song for Mr. Brind call “Stick It PSU’ ,a supposedly punk song about the delights of taking up the cable locker. Mr. Brind takes the lead vocal on this to surprising silence from Seymour, who wanders outside to improve his voice by chain smoking Player’s No 6. He’s clearly not as daft as he looks. We are allowed to record “Chatterbox”, a song of our own. It is completely ruined by Mr.Brind’s insistence on doing backing vocals a la Chas and Dave. The production is quite simply the worst I have ever heard, and the whole affair sounds like it has been recorded underwater. Seymour and I leave totally disillusioned, whilst the others seem quite happy with their days work. The pictures taken at the time show just what a delighful experience it all has been. The only good thing about it is that I have finally managed to purchase a fine Fender Jazz bass, and a Marshall bass stack, so the days of resounding “bonk” noises are at an end. What is also drawing to an end is The Shapes Mark II, but not before the world rights itself somewhat.

One good thing comes from all of this though. Under the watchful eye of our handlers, we are actually getting to be very proficient. Being forced to rehearse correctly and stopped from fighting incessantly has produced a rather efficient little unit. Our rehearsal space leaves a little to be desired though, as it is in the Commonwealth Club of Leamington Spa, which is a drinking repository for the Indian community. They are less than pleased to be sharing their space with us, and it is not unusual to find one’s equipment covered in the remains of cold curry. I take my guitar home with me as a result. The amplifier dries off on it’s own eventually, although we do get followed by packs of wild dogs whenever we leave the house. One other thing that comes out of this is that is becomes clear that dear little Charlie, who has hung on in there so far, really isn’t up to the next step at this time, and so in our first act of cut throated behavior, we fire him and hire instead the lovely Dave Gee. Also clearly a hippie, but we can soon sort that out. He was a good drummer and we desperately need one at this point. Charlie goes on to become a fine drummer in his own right, and does sterling service in many local bands. We start to gig again, and surprisingly start to go over well, as we have mastered the art of playing the same song simultaneously. We have also mastered the art of song writing a little better, and because by this time, the EMI chaps have got bored with us and forgotten about us, I write a couple of fine songs. We record one of them “College Girls”, at Woodbine, and things come together. It is fast, well played, tight as a duck’s arse and for the time, commercial as all get out. As we are wrapping it all up, who should turn up but Nick Brind. He’s been alerted to the whole affair by our guitarist. Seymour and I are totally gobsmacked at this, but Mr. Brind seems genuinely impressed by what we did all on our own, and he disappears with the guitarist. Something about this strikes me as odd, so I make sure that I have the master tapes with me when we decamp from the studio when all is done.

Sure enough, it appears that dear Nigel and Mr.Brind have conspired to give Mr.Brind the song “College Girls” and ditch us. It’s the end for The Shapes Mark II immediately. Nigel decamps forthwith to find his fortune, and is never seen nor heard of again. Mr.Brind has a nervous breakdown and is not seen again, so there is a plus side to all this, and The Shapes are now years ahead of their time as a drum and bass combo. Our manager Rob also takes his cue and leaves, but as part of our negotiated settlement, we can still use his van to get around to gigs in. It’s been 18 months of hard miserable work, and we are back where we started, older, wiser, with no record out and only half a band, and certainly no money or management. We had to make the decision to either continue or to knock it on the head and go back in defeat to our day jobs. The thought of the silent satisfaction of our coworkers was enough to convince us to try again, only this time under our own terms. The trusty Honda was sold, as it was pretty much the only asset that we had, and armed with this cash, we set out to find some new Shapes, record a record, get it out, and get Dave Gee a damn haircut and some straight trousers. The last of these tasks was to prove the hardest to accomplish.

Having learned from harsh experience, the folly of trying to recruit like-minded souls from the stagnant pond that is Royal Leamington Spa, we elect to look further afield, and to this end place a wanted advertisement in the hallowed pages of all-that-is-cool, namely the New Musical Express. We get many replies, not because we are that well known or good, but because we dramatically overstate our prospects and achievements. We start auditioning guitarists, and are surprised to find that although we were quite specific about what sort of band we were, and what sort of guitarists we were looking for, we are inundated with the inept, the bearded, the be-flared, and the just plain nonsensical. However, one does stick in the memory, and we elect to try him out. He is Steve Richards from Andover, and despite the fact that he thinks Andover is a borough of London and being three feet tall, he is promptly lied to, promised fame, wealth and a shag, and induced to sign on. We don’t mention that the shag is possibly going to be provided by the recording engineer, and that Steve will be playing a less active role at this point, it has to be said. Dave wakes up at some juncture, and insists that we try out a friend of his for the second guitar spot and we agree, mainly because no-one else looks good, and to shut Dave up. The guitarist in question is quite good, but is also a rampant hippy, and so addled by recreational relaxants, that he is borderline psychotic. His behavior is so erratic that even Dave doesn’t try to foist this one on us, especially after said lunatic steals Dave’s car. Dave does suggest another person though, and with great trepidation, we contact him. He turns out to be relatively normal, although we find out later that he is indeed a lunatic, but in a more acceptable manner to us. He is Tim Jee, and he completes the line up of The Shapes Mark III. Both guitarists have already schooled themselves in punk, although Steve does alarmingly know the entire Deep Purple catalog by heart. He also knows all the Shadows tunes too, which is somewhat bizarre, but we end up stealing a lot of that and speeding it all up to disguise it, so it came in handy I suppose.

After a little rehearsal, we return to Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios, still as permanently fixed in place as it was the last time we visited, and we record what is to become the Part Of The Furniture Ep on our own label, Sofa Records. We record four songs, (I Saw) Batman (In The Launderette), College Girls, What’s For Lunch Mum (Not Beans Again), and Chatterbox. The versions are faster and more urgent with the two guitarists, and we retire well pleased by the whole affair. The Honda money is duly spent on pressing and sleeve inserts and we dutifully spend an evening stuffing the inserts into the records. That took us up to the point that we knew, so after persuading everyone we knew to buy one, we sent one to just about every DJ at every radio station we could think of. We never really expected anyone would play it, especially not John Peel, because we had played a road show of his not long previously as the old Mark II Shapes, and had quite frankly gone down like a fart in a space suit. But play it he did, not once, not twice, but incessantly. The phone started to ring, and suddenly we were a hot property. We couldn’t get rid of the records fast enough. We re-pressed and re-pressed and loaded up Dave’s car, which he by now had pried back from the grasp of the psychotic hippy, who had relocated to a hillside in rural Wales to await the spaceships, or just to avoid a severe thrashing by Dave. We would drive to London and starting at Westbourne Grove, start unloading them at Virgin, Rough Trade, Fresh, Cherry Red, and all the way up to Small Wonder in Walthamstow to hawk them to the lovely Pete Stennet and his even lovelier wife Marie. A cup of tea would be cadged and then off home again. The week would see trips to all the other major distributors, Red Rhino, Dead Good, and a host of others. Suddenly, places that wouldn’t let us in were calling us, and the gigging never stopped. We started scoring supports all over, and so began the never ending swathe of gigs that became the Part Of The Furniture tour of 1979.

We support The Fall in Nottingham and find them to be every bit as miserable as we are led to believe from their recordings, except for their delightful female keyboard player to whom I, as tradition demands, offer the hallowed resources of my deluxe body. As tradition demands, she refuses and spends the rest of the evening staying as physically far away from me as possible without actually leaving the building. She’ll come around though, but she’ll have to line up behind the others. Their guitarist Martin Bramah uses Peavey Amps, and is most disdainful of our Marshall backline. “Bloody heavy metal” I seem to remember him sniffing. The Shapes go on and are for once very good, and retire to the dressing rooms if not conquering heroes, then at least not beaten up by the audience, which is all we were looking for at that juncture. The Fall start. Halfway through the first song, silence erupts. 30 seconds later, the door to the dressing room bursts open and in comes Martin Bramah. His amplifier has exploded, can he use our heavy metal backline ? This is almost as embarrassing for us as it is for him, as we are caught in the act of going through The Fall’s stuff while they are on-stage in the hope of finding something worth smoking, eating, drinking or stealing. We come to an arrangement whereby he can use Tim’s Marshall and we won’t nick any of his stuff. Honor is restored, and we part ways happy. Well, at least The Shapes do. The Fall drift off in a cloud of existential ansgt. I’ll tell you, those guys know how to party.

On to Sheffield where we support The Cure at the awful Limit club. They have just signed to Polydor, and their single Killing An Arab is doing rather well. We arrive to find that The Cure are there and although a three piece with minimal equipment, they take up the whole stage and refuse to move so much as a plectrum allow us on. The drummer in particular is a complete git, complaining that we shouldn’t even get a dressing room. I get on all right with the bass player, and Dave works out a compromise with the Cure’s drummer. Their drummer will move his kit back enough so that Dave can fit his on the stage, and in return, Dave won’t hammer the Cure’s drummer to an unrecognizable paste. This seems to be an acceptable solution to both parties, and we go on only to find that The Cure’s crew have sabotaged the lighting rig and we are forced to play under the minimal house lights. We’d done a lot worse in the past, so we got on with it and did really well with the crowd. We load the van, and just before The Cure go on, Dave suddenly remembers he has to do something. He disappears back inside and reemerges a little while later looking somewhat flushed and suggests that we make our egress with all due speed. Apparently, he had reneged on his part of the agreement with The Cure’s drummer, so the chances of further outings with them were minimal to say the least. We were just disappointed that we were not asked to join in. We do however, have a nice fight with each other on the way home, so the evening wasn’t without it’s little share of excitment.

We work with a nice lady from the Cowbell agency in London and for some strange reason we find ourselves playing the Music Machine in London’s Camden town with the 14 piece disco band Gonzalez. They have a hit record at the time and so do The Shapes, but The Shapes find themselves playing to 2000 bemused disco fans. The silence after each number is deafening, but about halfway through, we start to enjoy ourselves, mainly because this is the sort of absurdity that we are used to. We leave the stage to the sound of crickets chirping and retire to the dressing room where we, as tradition demands, help ourselves to everything not nailed down or hot. We stock up on the tools of the disco craze in the form or shakers, castanets, and things that go “boing”. But what it this ? Steve Richards has scored! The diminutive one has pulled ! This can’t be right, it’s clearly my turn. However all is not as it seems. He has indeed pulled a rather dodgy looking punkess, but he’s been beaten to it. She actually came in with Lemmy from Motorhead who is now looking for her at the stage side bar. My job is to keep giving him 10p pieces to play the video games until Steve and his date can finish their tryst, if tryst not too grand a word for a knee trembler in the stage lavatory whilst standing on a box to make up for the height differential. We drive home minus two of us. We have no idea of which two, except that I wasn’t one of them. We all arrived somewhere eventually. The night is not without it’s rewards. We get paid, and we also get the London Evening Standard’s award for the Worst Mix Of Bands on a London stage in their 1979 year end round up.

We go and play at all the dives in London with the famous, the no so famous and the soon to be famous. We play with The Reaction, who shortly thereafter benefit from the magic Shapes touch and change their name to Talk Talk and go on, as is usual by now, to fame and fortune. The singer is once again bereft of all personality and I see him later trying to staunch a flow of blood from his nose. Apparently he had been negotiating with our drummer again. If this doesn’t stop, we’re going to get a reputation. This behavior is continued by Steve who threatens Sounds music journalist Gary Bushell the next night when we play in West London with all women (don’t call us girls, we’re not fucking girls, we’re a feminist all-women collective), Tour De Force. Inexplicably, he writes a great review of us. We must threaten journalists more often. It must be said though, that had we had known that he would eventually become the right wing homophobic, race-bating asshole and all around media nightmare that he became, we would have foregone the review and just given him the sound thrashing that he is still grossly overdue for. It must also be said that I did not offer the delights of my deluxe body to the charming women of Tour De Force. I’m not that stupid.

We are reviewed in the papers, appear on the TV, and generally whore ourselves around anywhere that will have us. These are the good times, and very satisfying they are too. We have finally got to go where we wanted, and for once, under our own terms. We actually have a road crew now. His name is Graham. He comes to see us at a gig somewhere, and never goes home. We carry him in with the gear, and out again with it. He is perfect as a roadie, except for having little or no understanding about where stuff goes, but he’s willing to work for what we pay him, i.e. nothing. We give no thought for the future, because we are too busy in the present, and that dear reader, sows the seeds of our undoing, but not before much more fun can be had.

So after years of false starts, life is suddenly a blur of gigs, interviews, vans, chips, motorways, and social relaxants. Very nice it too it has to be said. We go and play the opening of a new punk club in the delightfully quaint northern hamlet of Burnley, a place that clearly gave rise to the phrase “It’s grim up north”. We find that our support is the ever lovely Not Sensibles, and that the club is actually a genuine working mans club rented for the evening. The manager shows us to the stage and says, “you can move the bingo machine, but leave the organ alone”. These are fine words to live by indeed as a general philosophy, but whilst the disposal of the bingo machine is easy enough, the organ presents us with a problem. It clearly last saw duty on the Titanic, and is about the same size. Unless we actually play inside it, there’s no room for us on the stage. We decide to move it anyway, and the assorted might of The Shapes is brought to bear on it while the club manager has buggered off to get chips and race a whippet or something. After much straining, there is a deafening tearing sound and the organ moves. We then find why we shouldn’t have moved it, as it was actually plumbed into an elaborate bellows system substage. Strange gasping pipes stick up through a gaping maw in the stage. All is not lost though. We remember that prior to becoming a drummer, Dave had a huge organ (insert Kenneth Williams noise here), and he might be able to diagnose the problem and it’s solution. Dave is summoned form the van where he is busy rolling Moroccan Woobines and asked to give his considered analysis of the situation. He brings his experience to bear on the situation and delivers his considered opinion. “It’s fucked”. So there you are. See, it always pays to get a qualified opinion. Over the horizon, we see the shape of the club manager hoving into view, loaded down with flat caps and black puddings, so we resort to plan B when he arrives. We blame the Not Sensibles. As the manager is led away weeping, we retire to the bar to allow the road crew to finish assembling the backline and destroy what little is left of the club’s infrastructure. The Not Sensibles sit in a corner dealing us black looks.

The Not Sensibles do a surprisingly good set, which is always a nuisance, and we go on to thunderous reaction. The crowd go wild, but as I play, I can see at the back that the club is still filled with all the usual patrons. Old men with flat caps and whippets playing dominoes, oblivious to the mayhem that is going on up at the front. It should be pointed out to avoid confusion, that it was the little men in flat caps that were playing dominoies, not the whippets. They just sat under the tables. Most surreal. After we finish, the stage is mobbed, and in a moment where the karmic wheel is realigned, the crowd steal anything that is not nailed down or hot. I think I saw them carry out Steve Richards at one point. I am surrounded by people, and by the time I stop signing autographs and the like, my watch has disappeared. I was almost as annoyed as the person I stole it off must have been. Tim is distressed because someone has stolen all the strings off his guitar as well as the bridge. He’s playing a rare Rickenbacker 420A and this is pretty much the last time it’s ever played, as the bridge is almost impossible to replace. He’s not well pleased I can tell you. We depart the lovely town of Burnley later, glad to not all be wearing cartoon barrels instead of clothes. We are stopped by the police in the wee hours of the morning during the drive home, for weaving about above and beyond the call of normality. This however, does not deter Dave from constructing and lighting a joint the size of a sewer pipe to pass the time whilst I bullshit about the state of the van. There’s a reason he has to sit in the back with the equipment, besides the smell, and this might be one of them.

We move on to the equally delightful town of Bradford, where we play the Royal Standard on Manningham Lane, just up the road from the Yorkshire Ripper’s house. He didn’t come though, as he was unavoidalbly detained. The trip up is enlivened by Dave falling asleep against the passenger door of the car and Steve reaching around from the back and opening it whilst we are travelling up the M6. Dave dissapears from view, only to awake heading for a solo jaunt up the shoulder of the road. In a remarkable display of restraint, he claws his way back in, and a small disagreement ensues. We arrive in Bradford having been involved in what is basically a movable brawl for the last three hours. Not to be outdone, there has been a little contre temps at the venue the night before with the local motorcycle gang the Satan’s Slaves. Consequently, they are out in force outside, and nobody has the courage to actually enter the venue. We play to four people, whom we invite up on stage. The rest of the audience sit outside and listen by proxy. The promoter had tears in his eyes as he counted out the money. We are promised that we will never forget the fish and chips in Bradford. They are correct. They taste like a stool sample from a circus animal. With great foresight and planning, out next gig is in London, so we wearily head off again. We must stop arranging dates alphabetically, and do it by date like everyone else.

After that it’s down to Gloucester to support punk legends Slaughter and the Dogs. Like many legends, they are better in the telling than in the flesh, as they decline to turn up, leaving The Shapes to fill the entire evening. It’s safe to say that their crowd and The Shapes are not usually the same, and this crowd are not well pleased at the non appearance of their Mauncunian heroes. Therefore after the set, we retreat with all due speed to the dressing room, where we are besieged by angry skinheads. Slaughter’s most famous song was “Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone?”. I could have answered that for them right then. They were outside our fucking dressing room. Trying to get in. It’s all right though, because Tim has a plan. He starts a fight with every single one of them by passing out autographs signing himself as Hitler. In the ensuing melee, we hear the sounds of the van revving and we throw ourselves into it and away, never to darken Gloucester’s door again. We do however, continue with our door-darkening behavior just about everywhere else in the free world.

Down in the west country, we are stopped from performing by the police before we even unload the van and advised to piss off smartish. We stay only long enough to collect our contracted fee from the bemused local promoter, and retire to the local hostelry. We inform him that this is the best gig we have ever played, and that in future, the next time that he wants to book us, he can just mail us the fee and save us the drive. We then let him buy drinks for us all to show that there is no hard feelings. We are about as far as we can be in the west of England with actually falling into the sea, so rough cider is the order of the day apparently. I’m lucky enough to be served last and I see that rough cider is a milky white substance that clearly has things growing in it. I also get a chance to look at the locals and see what it’s done to them over the years. I order a lager instead. The pub grows silent, the piano stops playing and all eyes are on me, whilst the landlord looks up the word “lager” in a dictionary. I insist, and muttering, the landlord wanders off mumbling to himself and returns with a dusty pre war bottle of an indeterminate beer with a picture of Goering on it. That will have to do, and do it does very nicely, as the journey home is broken by frequent stops for various Shapes and crew to throw up and/or defecate explosively, sometimes simultaneously. At one point Tim falls into a ditch whilst indulging in this retching/farting/revolving behavior and demands that we leave him there to die. We relent and carry him into the van. He’s left enough of himself in there as it is.

Then we receive a phone call. John Peel has clearly forgotten just how rank the early Shapes were and has invited us to do a session for his BBC program. We wander down to the BBC studios in Maida Vale and are promptly mistaken for Adam and the Ants. Obliging as ever, we sign autographs as such for the adoring and presumably visually impaired fans that are there to see them. We record a blinder of a session for the program, and have a generally wonderful time at the license payers expense. We wander into the largest of the BBC studios where the BBC Symphony is set up. Dave, star percussionist extraordinaire, decides that he needs to play the timpani drums. He does so, and promptly breaks them. We slink out, complete the session and head back out on the never ending tour. On the way up the Edgware road, the door falls off the van. It is a refreshing return to normality for us all. We also find that Trevor Dann, the esteemed BBC producer, has nicked one of our songs to use as the theme tune to his radio show. We’re still waiting for the cheque.

In a two week gap, we head back to dear old Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios, still where we left it, and record our second single, the provocatively titled Airline Disaster/Blastoff double A side. It’s all rather fine too. We start to ship that around for a release as we are now so busy that we don’t have time to do it for ourselves. It is at this point that we fall in with the delightfully insane Terri Hooley and his label Good Vibrations, and The Shapes story takes another twist towards the bizarre.

Now, it has to be said that Terri was, and probably still is, an unusual man. Having catapulted The Undertones to fame via their first single, Teenage Kicks, on his Good Vibrations label, he found himself in the position of running a respectable independent label, despite being located in Belfast, and possessing of what can only be described as unorthodox negotiation skills. As an example, the first time that we met him, he had just returned from negotiating The Undertones signing to CBS which he had concluded by throwing a brick through their front office window. Over pints of beer in the local pub, we found this quite impressive, and in lieu of any other serious offers for our services, decided to join our label to his and release our second single. We also agree to go and play the first festival of Punk and New Wave to be held at the Royal Ulster Hall in Belfast, forgetting that Belfast is is Nothern Ireland, and to get The Shapes there will require an organisational effort similar to the Normandy landings. Luckily, Terri does not conclude this arrangement with us by throwing a brick through my window, but he does take his glass eye out in the pub, which is a little alarming to say the least. This all goes swimmingly otherwise, but trouble is once again brewing in The Shapes camp, and we are due for another upheaval.

Relations between Steve Richards and the rest of the band begin to sour. It’s nothing that can be generally defined, but it’s there. He doesn’t like Seymour, and Seymour doesn’t like him. Actually, it’s Seymour’s girlfriend that doesn’t like him, and Seymour knows which one he has to please to continue to receive the sexual favours that he has become accustomed to. It’s causing us to slip into a torpor from which we are unlikely to recover if something is not done. We all still like him though in our own way, so the decision is a hard one. In an act of particular brazen cowardice, we write him a note declining further use of his services, post it through his door, and fuck off smartish. He is not well pleased, and well he might be. The Shapes now continue as a four piece, allowing the wonderful and by now, completely unstable Tim Jee the assumption of all guitar duties. This actually works out rather well, as the sound is tighter and easier to manage, and so we start writing again, and we can all travel to gigs in one car. To prove this, we all go off to Belfast to play in one car. Well, by that we mean that we are going to to travel there together in one car, not actually go there and play in the car, but you get the general idea. Such is the mounting paranoia of the band for the trip that we are all convinced that we will be kidnapped and murdered the second we set foot in Northern Ireland, and so it is with some trepidation that we arrive in Belfast at 1:00 a.m. and due to a faultless piece of navigation by yours truly, promptly get lost in the dockland area, which it has to be said, is less than salubrious.

Many panicked phone calls later, we are rescued by Terri Hooley, who finds us all hiding under the car, whimpering and practicing Irish accents. We are collected and taken to the warm confines of his house, where we all bed down for the night after he tells us all a bedtime story. The subject of this story appears to be that we are bunch of soft cunts, but it was late and it may have been about a fluffy squirrel called Eric. In the morning I get up and go outside in a perfectly normal residential neighborhood and check under the car for bombs. I look like a complete lunatic apparently, because I draw a curious crowd and once again, have to be rescued. Our idiot drummer goes into a newsagents and asks for a petrol bomb for his lighter, and this and various other potentially fatal faux pas are committed before we can all be collected and taken to the venue where it is our pleasure to be supporting that fine antipodean punk beat combo, The Saints. Chris Bailey seems a genuinely nice fellow, but that’s because he is drunk I suspect. The Saints now have a very pretty female bass player, to whom, as tradition demands, I offer my availability. I expect she must have lost my number. We go on and do rather well. At least no one shoots at us, which is pretty much all we were hoping for at this point. We’re above Protex and Rudi on the bill as I remember, and that is rather satisfying. We hang out the next day before returning home and denude Terri’s record shop and drinks cabinet. The die is cast, we are now established Good Vibrations artists.

Back home, the gigging is getting rather old. We slip from one endless succession of dates into the next. We support The Photos on their British tour. They used to be called Satan’s Rats but not surprisingly, this name was not exactly making inroads into the charts. They were doing rather well, with an album at number 4, and we were doing rather well supporting them, especially at the London Marquee. For some reason, Tim has taken to wearing a full length wool coat and scarf onstage. Under the bright lights, his body temperature triples, and he resembles a psychotic beetroot. His appearance is so alarming, that even in the most crowded venues, a space opens up in front of his part of the stage. We follow The Photos around promoting the second single, and find time to record a third, the rather fabulous “Lets Go (to Planet Skaro), My House is a Satellite, and Jennifer the Conifer. We follow The Photos all over hell and creation until Brighton, where once again, we do rather well in front of a crowd more punk than pop. In fact, we’re starting to go down better than The Photos, so it’s probably a good thing that the tour is winding up here. At one point during The Photos set, they seem to be doing rather well, and it transpires that this is due in no small part to the sight of a rather friendly girl getting rogered senseless stage left by one of the crew in full view of the audience. After they have finished, she stands up and wipes herself clean on a stage curtain behind The Photos bass player. And they say romance is dead. Tim and I get a good view of all this, as she getting rhymically knocked against a piano that he and I are sitting on. Oh well, you take what you can get I expect. After this, The Photos really can’t top this unless they all start doing their female singer Wendy, and she doesn’t look like she’ll be allowing that any time soon. Anyway, I’d already offered. The sky becomes grey with bottles and cans. Tim, Dave, and I return fire from behind the backline. Suprisingly, this does not improve the situation. Seymour is off with the venue organizer pretending to be from the third band on the bill The Exclusives. He signs for and collects their 50 pound fee, before I go and collect ours. I have to wait behind the singer for The Exclusives, who is trying to find out where their 50 pounds has dissapeared to. We leave just after Dave punches the lighting supervisor. Oh dear, he’s at it again. We do the long drive back to Leamington that night, getting hopelessly lost in the dark deserted streets of London’s City to the sounds of Robin Trower’s Day of The Eagle. Most surreal. There are no more dates to play on this tour, so we are done. Little did we know how true that was, for The Shapes dear reader, are never to play live in Britain again.

We are suddenly becalmed. We’re too big to keep playing the places we have been playing, but not big enough to make the next leap to larger venues. We don’t have the cash to play any more support tours, and the mood of punk has changed. We’re totally burned out with gigging anyway. We’ve been there since the very start, playing every toilet and hell hole the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. We’ve been spat on, beat up, ripped off, and ragged out, and that was the fun part. There is a second harder wave of punk now, led by such bands as Discharge and The Exploited, all leather and mohawks. This new group of punks have no time for the lovable orange and green haired mop tops of The Shapes, and to be quite frank, The Shapes have no time for them. We went from seeing an audience full of smiling faces singing dumb songs about beans, to seeing a war zone from the stage. It all began to get too wearing, and got to the point that when bad enough, Tim and Dave, and even Steve when he was still with us, would dive into the crowd to sort it out. I’d sit back, light a number 6 and wait for the nonsense to end. Unfortunately, it never did. So we wait in Leamington Spa, stuck between fame and obscurity, local heroes but national curiosities, success and failure. While we do so, it becomes painfully obvious that we have had our 15 minutes, and been lucky enough to play it out for three and a half years. Somehow, songs about nuclear war and endless diatribes about Margaret Thatcher are de rigeur, and The Shapes are not. We are suddenly declared irrelevant. This is news to us, because we always considered ourselves completely irrelevant anyway, but it was nice to be agreed with for a change. We’ve done things that most other bands only dream about, but in the end, we arrive where most bands do, at the realization that time moves on. We decide to go on hiatus, only to play one last gig, back in Belfast for Terri Hooley. It’s a downbeat end to a short flash of a career, but we’re all off doing other things at that time. I am currently touring with another band, (which may or may not be detailed later,) and fly out to the gig from a tour date with them in London. It’s a little bit of rock star treatment after all the years of playing. After the gig, we return to our lives. We never stop hanging out with each other, we just stop playing and recording. We drift from being a band to being friends, which is more than you can ask for really, and so the story of The Shapes appears to end, but dear reader, that would be just too downbeat an ending so…

 

 

The Congos – Upsetter Disco Cork – 1977

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Neckodeemus

Solid Foundation

Uploaded for you the debut release by the Jamaican vocal harmony duo The Congos, released on a Lee Perry Upsetter Disco Cork 12″ and one of the best from the Black Ark Studio in Washington Gardens, Kingston.

This 12″ single is also worth a whole wad of cash which make me want to hug the record even more!

Dedicated to W.Og from the Puppy Collective, who has just landed onto this site with a bump.

Go Feet UK Issue 1981                   Jah Live French issue 1979

For your shopping list The Congos LP ‘Heart Of The Congos’ on Black Art / Go Feet / Jah Live etc…but perhaps easier nowadays the CD on Blood And Fire or download via ITunes.

Text below by David Katz, who’s books on Lee Perry and Reggae music are well worth getting hold of…

Since its initial release in Jamaica in 1977, the Congos’ debut album Heart Of The Congos has never diminished in popularity. The impact of its initial pre-release pressing was such that it would eventually surface in many different forms in several different nations. This myriad of different pressings has led to much confusion surrounding the different presentations of the album. Along with an examination of the album’s content, this article seeks to alleviate some of the confusion by tracing the various pressings of the disc and to highlight the differences and similarities of each. I hope this will clarify exactly what has been issued and make plain precisely what is currently available.


Several elements combined to make this an exceptional album still favoured today by roots music fans around the globe. First, there are the songwriting talents of Cedric Myton and Roy Johnson, the founding members of the group. Cedric particularly imparts a visionary quality to his words, painting a musical canvas of everything to the life of the “Fisherman” and the “Congoman” to the “Solid Foundation” of Rastafari versus the hypocritical “Wrong Thing” of destructive Christianity. Roy manages to make use of religious allegory in a way that is never stale or ordinary, be it in his vision of “Sodom and Gomorrow,” the 30 pieces of silver that “sold Jah Rasta” on “La La Bam Bam” or the deliciously obscure “Noah Sugar Pan” eulogized on “Ark Of The Covenant.”

When I spoke to Cedric recently by telephone, he told me that he met Roy through contact with people like the producer Leggo Beast and the top ranking DJ Big Youth. The duo’s vocal partnership formed the perfect vehicle for their interesting lyrics. Cedric’s falsetto raises the songs to higher heights, and his seasoned delivery reminds us that his singing career stretches from the days of rock steady (when he was a member of the Tartans) to the roots era (when he contributed to some of the Royal Rasses’ most memorable works). Roy, who had been active with Nyahbinghi groups like Ras Michael’s Sons of Negus and the Rightful Brothers (formed by a repeater drum player called Brother Joe) has a strong tenor that provides a fitting contrast to Cedric’s upper tones.

On the album, a fuller vocal chorus was provided by the great harmonizing of the Meditations, with additional input from Gregory Isaacs and Full Experience vocal trio member Candy McKenzie. Also present was the baritone anchor of future full-time Congos member Watty Burnett (AKA “King Burnett”), of whom Cedric says “It’s only ‘Fisherman’ he did work on. After that album we consider Watty Burnett, and we work with him on the second album, Congo Ashanti .” Cedric also pointed out that his wife Yvonne co-wrote some of the songs on the album: “I really should endorse my wife for some of the works that we put together. At that time, her name not even mentioned, but on Heart of the Congos , she did some of the work… She’s a writer; both of us work together.”

Then there are the players of instruments. At the core, Mikey Boo and Sly provide the beat, peppered by plenty of percussion from Scully; melodic yet surprisingly intense bass lines from Boris Gardner; atmospheric organ from the late great Winston Wright; macka piano from “Fat Keith” Sterling; sparse rhythm guitar from Robert “Billy” Johnson; and typically expressive lead guitar from true veteran axe man Ernest Ranglin. Other noted session men appear on some tracks, including the multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Chung (who, sadly, has recently passed away) and his brother, Mikey “Mao” Chung. The crew members on this musical ship were among the top players of the day, providing a textured backing for the Congos’ vocal dynamism and lyrical spirituality. Cedric recalls there was “a great feeling itself, between all the musicians. It was a great experience for me myself, for even after doing the lead vocals, I go back and do background vocals too…it’s just a whole vibration.”

The final necessary element in the creation of the work was the man who could pull all the other elements together, to get the music into a form where it would make an impact on the outside world. This man, of course, was none other than the Black Ark skipper himself, Lee “Scratch” Perry. When the album was recorded, Scratch was approaching what many believe to be his artistic apex. Refining his easily identifiable yet eminently inimitable Back Ark sound, Scratch was delving further into the realm of sound with then unknown applications of Echoplex and phasing, dropping sounds and rhythms in and out of the mix, and adding spontaneous bursts of his own Africa inspired percussion.

The location of the Congos under Scratch’s guidance at the Ark produced not only what is arguably the best music of their career, but also a disc that is possibly the most interesting Scratch-produced album of a vocal group. As Blood and Fire head honcho Steve Barrow notes, “Heart Of The Congos is, together with Bob Marley and the Wallers’ Natty Dread , Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey , and the Mighty Diamonds’ Right Time , a definitive statement of Jamaican vocal group artistry. It is exemplary roots music of the highest order. It is also the most perfectly realized album to come from Lee Perry’s Black Ark.”

Cedric says he first met Scratch in the late ’60s, sometime after the demise of the Tartans. “I know Scratch from longer time, even before he hook up with Bob (Marley), and all of that, from the Downbeat days. We used to work at the Studio One studio, pay our money and make songs, me and Devon Russell, working on our own material. Those songs never been released… (Perry) used to be one of Coxsone’s men, he used to be around Coxsone those days. We meet all over still, for Jamaica is a small place. When you’re in the music business, you only have so many places to go.” After forming the Congos, Cedric says he and Roy planned to do an album. “Then I really check Perry, and we all go in and check Perry together.”

“You know, Perry have a little thing about him, musically, as a musical scientist. Upsetter, he really is a very powerful musician, he have a feel for producing. He was still nice, but he was stern when he was doing his work. If it would take him the whole day, he’s going to finish the work.”

I asked Cedric about some particulars regarding the recording of the songs, beginning with the first song, which had to be recorded twice. “That was ‘Fisherman’. The first day… I think we could get a better vibe. We catch ourselves, talk about it, and we kids out some musicians, but that was an experience in itself. It was about what was happening in my life at that time, like you see [the lyrics]: ‘Three kids on the floor,’ there was three kids sleeping on the floor at that time, ‘and another one’ was on the way ‘to make four’. So it was my own insert, a personal thing. And at that time, we were living in the ‘seaport town’, the old harbour. It’s like a picture painting.” Cedric remembers how the next song, “Congoman”, uses a different bass. “That bass was played by Winston Wright. When we was in the studio, I’m not quite sure of Boris [Gardiner] was there, but Scratch say ‘Winston, I prefer you to play this bass.’ He put a lot of influence in the work. I think we did six songs that day, that song steal the show.”

One of the most moving songs for me is “Solid Foundation”, so I asked Cedric about the inspiration for it. “‘Solid Foundation’ was the first song that was ever written in that period. Getting back into the groove, for after Tartans and after certain period I take a break. It’s a spiritual song, telling about His Majesty, ‘living in a solid foundation, for no matter what the people of the world might say, I and I holding on to Jah, solid as a rock.’ It’s the foundation of our faith.”

I also asked Cedric about the images of Africa that are so prevalent throughout this album and the work of the Congos in general. “I am a culture just deals with cultural music. And I am a Rastaman, so I deal with strictly the culture, strictly the Rasta culture, strictly the African culture. I portray that it in my music as a major key, spiritually, musically, physically, culturally. My whole family: my children, my kids, my wife, brethrens, everybody, we just live the culture way.”

When I asked Cedric how he feels he can maintain a link to a place he has not physically reached yet, he said “These things is an inward born conception. Our main thing is repatriation, we have to think of going back to Africa, and a centralization movement. Right now, we’re in the motion of organizing the centralization of the unification of all the Rasta people, not only in America, but universally, right over the world.”

In terms of the actual release of the work, it is worth noting that this album has already been pressed at least seven different times on vinyl, and twice more on CD. With the exception of one vinyl re-press and one CD re-press, each pressing is somewhat different from the rest. I want to emphasize that the first pressing is very different from the others in that it has a totally different mix; all subsequent pressings use a second, alternate mix. It should also be noted that most of the different pressings vary in length.

The first pressing with the unique mix appeared in limited number in 1977 on the Jamaican Black Art label. The jacket of this original issue has blue stripes framing the photo on the front, whereas all others have black stripes. It also has a number of typographical errors on the back cover: organ is credited to Winston Riley instead of Winston Wright, and Keith Sterling is listed as Keith Stewart. The disc’s actual label, which is cream-colored with black lettering, lists the album as Heart Of The Congo Man by “The Congoes” (the matrix number is LP 4049). For those who have heard only one mix of this album, the difference between this original mix and all later ones is quite startling. Perhaps the easiest thing to spot in the original mix is the absence of the mooing cow on “Children Crying” and “Ark of the Covenant.” The piano is also much higher in the mix throughout, and the presentation of vocals and percussion is different from later versions, particularly on “Open Up The Gate,” where some prominent bells can be heard. There is not much delay on the vocals or phasing of the keyboards, and a section of “Congoman” sounds like it has a tape fault or rough edit left in the mix. The total running time of the songs (excluding gaps) is just under 46 minutes.

In early 1978, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me at present, Perry pressed the album a second time on his Black Art label, this time with a completely different mix. When I asked Cedric about this, he said “Perry did more than one mix, Perry did that on all the songs. That was just a tradition.” Perhaps Perry thought that the original mix could be improved upon, or maybe the original mix-down had been lost. Whatever the case, this mix is clearly different from the first. The piano is far fainter; the vocals, keyboards and guitar are bathed in excessive doses of delay; some songs roll on into extended dub mixes; and manic percussion and cow sounds had been added. The total running time of this second pressing is just over 53 minutes. This pressing would form a kind of blueprint for all subsequent pressings, although most would be shortened, and some would have differences of timbre and pitch (probably just due to being mastered on different machines, but possibly augmented through studio post-production techniques).

Sometime around the pressing of this second disc, the Congos and Perry had a falling out. When interviewed by David Rodigan on Capital Radio in London a while later, Scratch said that the song “Evil Tongues” (from his great Roast Fish Collie Weed And Cornbread album) had been directed at the Congos. It is hard to know if he wrote the song specifically about the group, or if he was just being flippant with this remark, but he said “The song based upon the Congos, their attitude – dreadlocks – what you call it? Vampires. Sorcerers. People who keep or hold blessed people and nature’s work to ransom.”

Of course, the Congos were not the first to be denounced by Perry, nor were they the first to be dissatisfied with Scratch’s business ethics. Cedric now has nothing but praise for Scratch, and seems to hold no grudge against him. “We owe him a lot, he really did a great work… It’s not a matter of friction. At the time, Perry was going into at different dimension, or direction, in other words. Certain things used to come up on him that maybe he can’t control; spiritually, he was going in a different direction.”

When they parted company with Perry, the Congos quickly issued their own pressing of the album on their newly formed Congo Ashanty label. To ensure that the ball of confusion surrounding the disc would roll with greater momentum, some copies of the Congo Ashanty pressing surfaced in Black Art record sleeves, seeming to be identical to the second Black Art press. Although it uses the same mix as the second Black Art issue, the Congo Ashanty pressing is by far the shortest version of the album even pressed, with a total running time of about 34 minutes. “Fisherman” is the only song left close to its full length; all the others fade out early. Side two gets particularly short shrift, with songs such as “Sodom and Gomorrow” being bumped down to half their previous lengths. Sound quality is also particularly rough on this pressing, so those who have this pressing only may feel they have missed a lot.

A version of the album was also pressed in France in 1979 on the Jah Live label, with most songs longer than the Congo Ashanty and imprint, but still not quite as long as on the second Black Art pressing. The back cover of the French issue featured the lyrics to all the songs, plus the information that “Congoman” is “dedicated to the Black Nation,” while “The Wrong Thing” is “dedicated to the Pope of Rome.” Although the sleeve’s claim that “This album contains the original and never released mixings of Heart of the Congos” was not strictly accurate, it is worth noting that “Solid Foundation” was longer than on previous issues, clocking in at close to the five-minute mark. The pressing also seems to emphasize the treble end of the spectrum, particularly on side two. The disc’s total running time is just under 44 minutes. In 1981, a pressing appeared in England on the Go Feet label with a total time of about 41 minutes. Still shorter than the first Jamaican and French editions, but longer than the Congo Ashanty, this pressing has a more even quality of sound.

At some point, the album appeared again in Jamaica on the Sunfire label, basically identical to the second Black Art pressing. When I asked Cedric about this edition, he said “I don’t know nothing about that. There was a lot of piracy involved, mainly by Pauline (Morrison, Scratch’s Jamaican wife). We’ll catch them all one day.”

It has been said that Cedric and Roy had some differences themselves in the early ’80s with supposed allegations of obeah dealings being flung at each other. Whatever the case, Roy left the group to pursue a solo career as Congo Ashanty Roy, and the Congos eventually ceased to be active. When I asked Cedric about Roy’s departure, all he would say was “That was the time that Roy have to go. These things do happen in life sometimes, like when the wine get ripe.” Throughout the ’80s, not much was heard of the Congos in general, although many of us hoped that the group might consider a reformation. As the ’90s rolled around, VP records in the US issued Heart Of The Congos on CD. Although it uses the same standard second mix, it was mastered at a faster tempo than than previous editions. It clocks in at around 43 and a half minutes. Heart Of The Congos has also surfaced on a CD on the Spalax label in France, identical to the Jah Live vinyl pressing, something Cedric said he was not aware of.

Whether or not you’ve already managed to obtain a copy of this album, there is now some good news for us all. After making arrangements with Cedric and Roy earlier this year, Blood and Fire have gone back to the master tapes to present a repackaged Heart of the Congos that is longer, cleaner and brighter than it has ever sounded before. The songs have been restored to the full potential lengths as heard on the second Black Art pressing, and “Solid Foundation” here appears longer than on any previous album pressing, just under six minutes. They have also spent considerable time and effort cleaning up the sound. To hear the Blood and Fire pressing is to hear the album with new ears. As Cedric puts it, “This one that Blood and Fire have is the real deal.”

Along with this full-length enhanced version of the disc (over 55 minutes long), Blood and Fire have added the rare 12″ Upsetter Disco Cork mix of “Nicodemus,” (a chilling composition from “Jah Sedrick” also taken from an original master tape), plus the often-sought but long-scarce Biblical epic “At The Feast” (an extra 11 minutes of music). All this is available on CD and double-gatefold LP, but vinyl junkies, take note: The CD release includes a bonus CD of rare Perry-produced material, namely the Island 12″ versions of “Congo Man” and its dub, “Congo Man Chant” (again taken from master tapes), plus 7″ dub cuts of “Fisherman” and “Ark of the Covenant,” and the Disco Cork extended version of “Solid Foundation” thrown in for good measure (a total bonus of 26 minutes).

The best thing about the bonus CD is that it highlights Scratch’s exceptional skills of remixing. Scratch can always show other sides of songs we may think we know inside out. Scratch’s ability to transform vocal lines into mantric stabs of wordless sound is stunning on these versions, particularly on “Congoman Chant” and on the dub portion of “Solid Foundation.”

As usual, the packaging is lavish, thanks to the conceptual artistry of Mat Cook at Intro, which particularly pleased Cedric. “There’s a lot of work that has gone into that, spiritual work. Things that I wasn’t even thinking of, Blood and Fire come right up, at the surface. Some artwork that Blood and Fire dig up really untouchable.” The biographical and technical research put into the project was also extensive, further illuminated by quotes from Cedric to put the making of the music in its proper context. In short, this is what we have come to expect from Blood and Fire: rare, quality material, sanctioned by the artists who receive their share of the profits, lovingly presented in creative packaging.

Psychic TV – Some Bizarre Records – 1982

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Just Drifting

Breakthrough

Debut 7″ single by Psychic TV, with the Holophonic 3D effect featured on the B Side track ‘Breakthrough’. Great Velvet Underground inspired stuff. The A Side ‘Drifting’ is all about Genesis love for his, then, new born daughter Caresse which sounds as far away from Throbbing Gristle as you could ever imagine. Think that may have been the point though!

I have also uploaded the debut 12″ version of this Psychic TV release as it features different tracks.

Just Drifting / Just Drifting Midnight

OV Power

After Genesis P-Orridge dissolved the seminal industrial rock outfit Throbbing Gristle, he and Gristle cohort Peter Christopherson, plus Geoff Rushton and Alex Fergusson (ex Alternative TV), formed Psychic TV in 1981 as a means of continuing their confrontational, shock-oriented approach to music and their multimedia live performances. Paula P-Orridge, Genesis’s then wife and mother of his daughter Caresse also joined up a little later on, in the career of the band. Psychic TV draws much of its inspiration from the literary underground, including situationist philosophy, William Burroughs (a professed fan), the Marquis de Sade, and Philip K. Dick. The group also claims to be the mouthpiece for its own quasi-religious group, the Temple Ov Psychick Youth. P-Orridge has been branded a dangerous deviant in several publications, and police raided his home in 1992, seizing videos, books, and magazines following a television show concerning child abuse in which a Psychic TV performance art video was shown out of context. P-Orridge settled in the U.S.A after this trouble with the police.

As for the music itself, Psychic TV’s earlier years continued in the experimental vein of Throbbing Gristle’s work, encompassing melodic pop, barely listenable white noise, gentle ballads, industrial found-sound collages, spoken word pieces, and experiments with ethnic instruments and world music, all tied together by a dadaist sensibility. ‘Force the Hand of Chance’ the group’s debut LP, was released in 1982 on Some Bizarre via WEA Records. The second most excellent LP ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ was released on Some Bizarre via CBS Records – Stevo the Some Bizarre supremo was definately up for a Malcolm McClaren style business deal! After falling out with Stevo in 1984, Psychic TV set up Temple Records to release material from Psychic TV, and other likeminded and sympathetic artists and bands, independantly of the major record labels. During the mid to late 1980s, Psychic TV’s prodigious output totalled over 20 LPs and several 12″ singles. Much of this stemmed from a publicity stunt beginning in 1986 for which the group attempted to release one live LP, each from a different nation, on the 23rd of each month for 23 months. After 10 LPs were purchased the collector could then send off for a limited picture disc LP only available for the loyal fanbase, there were tickets in the packaging of the first 10 LPs to collect… Even though the group didn’t quite achieve its goal of 23 live LPs, the 14 LPs Psychic TV released in 18 months were enough to get the group into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Christopherson and Rushton both left the group late on in 1983 to form Coil, and Psychic TV has since become an open-ended collective with contributors such as Alex Fergusson leaving and returning, John Gosling, Rose McDowell, Marc Almond, Mathew Best, Monte Cazazza, Dave Ball, ex KYPP collective member Mouse and David Tibet.

Psychic TV scored a minor U.K. pop hit in 1986 with “Godstar,” a tribute to Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, and 1988 saw the group’s first LP  release Stateside with ‘Allegory and Self.’

Plenty more rare Psychic TV material on this site if you care to search it out.


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