Friday, 31 October 2014

Hallowe'en and all that....

When exactly did Hallowe'en become a thing in the UK? When did trick-or-treating begin in earnest? As a kid in the 1960s, my memory is of returning to school in early September, after the summer holidays, and moving pretty seamlessly into standing on street corners next to a pile of old rags in a pushchair, with a saucepan for a head, shouting 'penny for the guy mister?' at passing strangers. I was aware of the existence of Hallowe'en from cartoons and American TV programmes, but the day was never celebrated or recognised round our way - Fireworks Night was infinitely more important. When did the change occur? It must've been in the 1980s when I wasn't looking. Nowadays, at this time of the year, you can't move for costumes and decorations hanging from shop displays and pumpkins rolling around all over the place. I don't think I even knew what a pumpkin was until I was in my 20s!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the harvest from our own allotment is currently taking up every available space in the house - I love 'em now! Happy Hallowe'en everyone!

Here's Charles 'Packy' Axton, in his guise as The Pac-Keys, with 'Greasy Pumpkin' from 1967. Axton's story is a fascinating one and this tune can be found on a terrific compilation of his work entitled 'Late, Late Party 1965-67'. Find out more about the man and his music here.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Brazilia 70 & the Chico Lopez All-Stars

Just a few hours ago, in a charity shop some 40 miles from here, I speculatively handed over 50 of my hard earned pennies in exchange for an LP entitled 'South of the Border', by Brazilia 70 & the Chico Lopez All-Stars. In spite of the long-winded moniker, it's a rather anonymous affair, containing precious little additional information regarding the personnel involved. After listening to the first few tracks, however, it quickly became clear that both the quality of the playing and the production values are far superior to what you'd expect from a 1970 release on a budget record label.

The groovy, guitar drenched 'Trouble Spot' is worth the price of admission alone. Hold on to your hat!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Nobby and Rover

My Great-Aunt Maud was quite unwell and confined to her bed, so to keep her company, and her mind occupied, Mum and I sat with her and sorted through all her old photos. The year was 1969 and Mum knew only a few of the faces staring out of the ancient images, I of course, knew none at all. One by one, we showed them to Aunt Maud and asked her to put names to the anonymous faces, Mum then wrote the details on the back of each photo. Looking back, I'm sure Mum was worried that we might lose Aunt Maud at the time, but happily, not only did she recover from that bout of ill health, she actually lived until 1983, by which time she was in her late 80's.

In the four years since Mum herself passed away, I've often recalled that day sitting at Aunt Maud's bedside. The reason? If I'm ever looking through a box of old photos and wonder who on Earth the subject of a particular snap is, how they relate to my family or where the shot was taken, I turn it over and invariably Mum has provided me with some or all of the required information, written on the reverse. You might think that this isn't unusual, it's something many of us have done with old photos, but Mum took the idea a stage further. I've found that she also added hidden handwritten notations to several of her most treasured possessions. To aid her own memory, or as information for me to find later? I don't know.

Here are two examples. Meet Nobby and Rover, frail mantelpiece ornaments discovered packed away in Mum's loft, who've apparently been in the family since 1955, possibly given as wedding gifts to my Parents.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Fire Engines

I know that I'm over the worst of a bout of the lurgy when the act of listening to music begins to become more comfortable - and right now this old favourite by Fire Engines sounds just about perfect.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Nic and Joe Jones - In Concert

As the house lights dim, Nic Jones appears from the side curtain, puts down his walking stick and makes his way unsteadily across the stage, pausing to wave and bow to the cheering and already emotional audience. Behind him, Joe, rake thin, jet black hair, steps to the microphone to affectionately address his Dad. 'What are you bowing for? You haven't done anything yet!' Later, Nic introduces Bill Worsfold's, 'I Only Spoke Portuguese', by explaining that it's the true story of a couple, neither of whom spoke the other's language, who were therefore unable to speak directly to each other throughout their long marriage. Joe, busy re-tuning his guitar, looks up for long enough to mutter, 'Yes, I expect Mum would've quite liked that...' Badum tish!

The set, beautifully paced, is weighted towards the classic 'Penguin Eggs' LP and for the latter part of the concert Nic and Joe are joined on stage by the original melodeon player on that record, East Anglian native, Tony Hall. The significance of this reunion isn't lost on Joe who stands strumming gently, grinning from ear to ear, between the two men, as they delicately rekindle their musical relationship. Not for the first time this evening, high emotion threatens to overshadow the moment and it's skillfully diffused by Tony Hall's quip after Joe introduces 'The Little Pot Stove'. 'What are we playing now?' he asks, pretending not to have caught Joe's announcement, 'The Little Pot Noodle?'

Joe, an astounding player, prompts approving smiles and warm paternal applause several times during the concert, Father and Son lightheartedly disagreeing about just how much guitar know-how Nic has passed on to Joe. 'Three chords' says Joe, 'No - I just told you how to hit the thing!' counters Nic. Though he's understandably frail, Nic's voice is strong, his phrasing undiminished. A towering presence, thought lost to us forever, but, against all odds, here he is, performing again. Long may he continue. An unforgettable evening.

(Nic and Joe in 2011)
(More Nic Jones here)

Friday, 17 October 2014

By the Sea

Trying to keep any residual coughing and spluttering to myself, we took my visiting Aunt out to the coast for lunch yesterday. A hearty and delicious chick pea, mixed bean & vegetable cassoulet soothed my fevered brow enough to face a bracing walk along the pier, which certainly helped to clear the away the cobwebs.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


Apologies for my recent radio silence, but I'm laid low at the moment with some form of bug, possibly man-flu. This is day three and I'm hoping that it fast tracks out of my system before a long arranged two day visit from an elderly Aunt tomorrow afternoon, as I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Among the current symptoms are very violent cold shivers and the opposite extreme of overheating and heavy sweating, which combine to litter what little sleep I'm getting with crazy, feverish dreams.

I managed to watch a little of the BBC documentary on the Russian space Programme this morning, before passing out again. Was it one of those feverish dreams, or did I really hear Eduard 'Mr Trololo' Khil's singular performance of 'I Am Glad, 'Cause I'm Finally Returning Back Home' playing behind one of the scenes?

You've probably seen this clip a million times, but if not, take a look - you'll be convinced that you're the one with the fever. It has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.

Normal service will be resumed when my brain's working properly again.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Saturday Scratch #40 - Burt Walters

Even in the often confusing world of Lee Perry's huge supporting cast of characters, the contribution of Burt Walters would surely be seen as a minor one, were it not for a typically inspired slice of Upsetter madness. Discovered while singing barefoot on a street corner in early 1968, Walters was quickly whisked into the studio to voice a couple of covers with Scratch at the controls. A re-written 'Blowin' in the Wind' (credited to Bob Dillon), complete with low budget sound effects, eventually appeared on the flip of Perry's own classic, 'People Funny Boy'.

The only single to be issued under Burt Walters' own name was a cover of the 1954 Drifters hit, 'Honey Love', which initially released as a Jamaican only white label 7". It's pleasant enough, I'm sure you'll agree.

At this point, though, either the money ran out or perhaps Scratch just lost faith in Burt's abilities, because instead of recording another tune to put on the flip-side of 'Honey Love', Perry simply plucked the original vocal out of the mix, reversed it and laid it back onto the rhythm, titling it 'Evol Yenoh'. This straight forward act transformed a sweet little pop song into an unhinged thing of disturbing weirdness, featuring Walters appearing to speak in tongues. Unsurprisingly, Trojan in the UK passed on 'Evol Yenoh', only allowing 'Honey Love' to sneak out as the b-side to an unrelated instrumental cut, 'Thunderstorm', by King Cannon Ball in December 1968.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Mysterious Case of the 24 Beat Instrumentals

Did I ever tell you the one about what was, until recently (see here), my second best ever car-boot sale find?* It was ridiculously early one Sunday morning in 1991, in a shady corner of a car park, adjacent to Ipswich Town football ground and as I ambled along a row of tightly packed wallpapering tables, bowing under the weight of a thousand unloved nick-nacks, I spied a cardboard box on the ground, pushed back beneath a table and almost out of sight. I pulled the heavy box forwards and lifted the flaps to discover a pile of magazines, topped by a vintage copy of the Radio Times. Nothing too exciting here, I thought. Delving a little deeper, though, beneath several more old TV listing guides, lay 24 random issues of Beat Instrumental Magazine from the late 1960s and very early 1970s. I got the whole box for a quid.

During that period, Beat Instrumental was a publication where Clodagh Rodgers rubbed shoulders with King Crimson and an interview with Glen Campbell jostled for position with Viv Stanshall's latest column. I had hours of fun ploughing through the magazines, reading about 'underground' band Tyrannosaurus Rex shortening their name to T.Rex, Jimmy Page unveiling the line-up of The 'New' Yardbirds and The Trogg's adventures on a package tour with a new young band called The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Towards the end of the 1990s, with finances a little tight, I sold all 24 of the magazines for an amount that, at the time, it would've been silly to turn down.

The only reason I mention this fairly uninteresting little tale, is that at the weekend I stumbled, in not totally dissimilar circumstances, upon another batch of Beat Instrumentals. The weird thing is that, once again, there were 24 of them in the box. Not consecutive issues, but 24 random ones. I picked them up 50 miles from the location of that initial haul 23 years ago and 120 miles from where I later sold them, so I doubt they're the same magazines, returning like a group of long lost homing pigeons (though I've yet to totally rule this out), but why 24 again? Why not 5 or 10 or 50? Perhaps people only dispose of them in lots of 24 - I did. Perhaps 24 is my lucky number. Maybe it's time I did the lottery. Either way, my spare time reading material for the immediate future just took a turn for the better.

Here's Coxsone Dodd's house band, The Sound Dimension, with a killer Studio One instrumental entitled 'Heavy Beat'. You see what I did there? Instrumental.....Beat..... Oh, please yourself!

(*My number one best ever car-boot sale find? I really must share that, one of these days.)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Jim Jones Revue

By the time you read these words, The Jim Jones Revue will be no more. At the penultimate concert of their 'Last Hurrah' tour on Friday evening, the band, as always, played as if their lives depended upon it, determined to give everything they had right up until the very final moments of their existence. It was hot, it was exhausting and it was loud.

Here are the singles that served to bookend their career, 'Rock 'n' Roll Psychosis' from 2008 and, a personal favourite, 2013's 'Collision Boogie'.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Staves

Following their support slot on Bon Iver's 2012 American tour, Justin Vernon repays the kindness by twiddling the knobs on a sublime new Staves tune, 'Blood I Bled', the title track from their new EP.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Human League

Many happy returns to Philip Oakey, who is 59 today. The hairstyle, and indeed the hair, may be long gone, but the early Human League stuff still sounds great.

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