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All The Way From Memphis: The Rehabilitation of Give Out But Don’t You Give Up

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Primal Scream releasing The Original Memphis Recordings 2CD (Sony) provides a heaven-sent opportunity for a record geek like me to re-write history and create my own alternate version of the record.

Short history lesson: these sessions were thoroughly mucked around with in post-production by George Clinton, George Drakoulias and Jimmy Miller and ended up on the murky Give Out But Don’t Give Up LP (1994), the follow up to the titanium-bright Screamadelica (1991). I saw the band give a memorable performance in Manchester on the Give Out… tour, as captured for Radio 1 on the Rocksucker Blues CD (recommended). So the mood of indolence and creative confusion that permeated the original Give Out…came as a disappointment.

Hearing these tracks for the first time as they came out of Ardent Studios, Memphis in June and July of 1993 shows a band at the top of their game, consistently hitting the groove laid down by the house rhythm section of David Hood and Roger Hawkins and ably supported by the Memphis Horns and Tom Dowd’s sympathetic production. Of the nine songs only Free remains underwhelming, although I do prefer the version here sung by Bobby Gillespie rather than the Denise Johnson version that was released on the original Get Out…. What the track does spotlight is Duffy’s phenomenal piano playing, a complete Nicky Hopkins throughout – check the coda at the end of Jesus.

There is also an additional CD of outtakes, interesting rather than essential. The medley of Billy (Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid ost) and To Love Somebody (Burritos) is fun, the latter performed in the style of Ooh La La-era Face as confirmed by the guitar picking out the riff from I Wish It Would Rain.

So here is my suggested tracklisting, which makes for a great 45 minute LP (CD), five tracks a side. What’s yours ?

Get Off But Don’t Nod Out – Primal Scream

SIDE A

  1. Rocks  (Jimmy Miller)
  2. Jailbird – (Tom Dowd)
  3. Everybody Needs Somebody  (Tom Dowd)
  4. Sad & Blue (Tom Dowd)
  5. Big Jet Plane (Tom Dowd)

Track 1 from Dirty Hits 2CD version

Tracks 2-4 from The Memphis Recordings

Track 5 from Give Out But Don’t You Give Up

 

SIDE B

1.Call On Me  (Drakoulias)

2. Jesus (Tom Dowd)

3. Cry Myself Blind  (Tom Dowd)

4. How Does It Feel To Belong (Primal Scream)

5. Billy / To Love Somebody (Tom Dowd)

Track 1 from Give Out But Don’t You Give Up

Tracks 2-3 and 5 from The Memphis Recordings

Track 4 from Star 4 track EP

You will note that I favour the Memphis Recordings version of the ballads. The exception here is Big Jet Plane where I go for the Give Out…version partly because of the presence of Jim Dickinson and partly because of how Bobby sings “Jesus Christ!” at the fade ( I do wish the guitar intro sounded less like Octopus’s Garden). Of the rockers, Jimmy Miller made Rocks even more Stones-like by sharpening up the drum sound and replacing the horn section with a wailing harmonica a la Magic Dick (probably Charlie Jacobs). George Drakoulias delivered a faster, snappier version of Call On Me which just edges it over Tom Dowd’s more relaxed swing through the song. And whoever took the horns off Jailbird should be shot – the Memphis Recordings version reinstates them to Exilent effect. How Does It Feel To Belong was cut at the abortive Roundhouse sessions that preceded the move to Memphis – it is a strange VU ballad that no-one can remember recording, with the closest reference point being Big Star Third (also recorded at Ardent).

 

 

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What A Pair Of Cults

June 1 1974 – Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico, Eno and the Soporifics with special guests Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt (Elemental Digipak CD, released May 2018)

The Death of Rock’n’Roll – Peter Holsapple vs Alex Chilton (Omnivore CD, to be released October 2018)

These two CDs have formed my summer listening thus far. None of the parties involved has ever had anything as vulgar as a hit record but there is some fine music to be found herein.

I was 17 when the June 1 ACNE gigs took place – there was a free Hyde Park gig in addition to the Rainbow concert recorded here – and exams prevented me from going. However the LP that resulted was a lynchpin of my teenage years and accordingly my copy is now rather tatty so the chance to get a limited-edition pristine remaster was not to be missed. Sound quality is terrific. No extra photos or added sleeve notes but decently done.

I like the Kevin Ayers side best. His studio LP’s are maddening, each featuring one or two good-to-great songs interspersed with sub-Soft Machine dissonance or limp balladry. So taking five of his best songs and putting a rocking band behind him really ups his game. And what a great band were the Soporifics: Rabbit on keyboards, rhythm section of Archie Leggatt on bass and Eddie Sparrrow on drums, plus Robert Wyatt on percussion and Mike Oldfield and Ollie Halsall on lead guitars. Here Stranger In Blue Shoes sounds even more Velvetine than the studio original, whilst Halsall’s solos on Shouting In A Bucket Blues are simply marvellous. I was too young to see Halsall in Patto and although I subsequently saw him in Boxer the spark had gone by then. The fluidity and precision he brings to his playing makes his under-recognition bewildering. Mike Oldfield (ex-Ayers bandmate) also plays a career-best solo on “Everybody’s Sometimes And Some People’s All The Time Blues.”

On the Other Side the brace of Eno tracks are treasurable since so little live Eno material exists – only Derby 1974 (unlistenable audience tape), a Peel Session and then much later 801 Live. And this was Eno at his poppiest and most playful. Driving Me Backwards benefits from John Cale’s viola, Baby’s On Fire features Cale on piano. Both feature two bass players with Ayers joining Leggat. So there are a lot of people on stage but somehow it all works. Eno lends effective synth to the other tracks here, Nico doing The End and Cale doing a slow-burn Heartbreak Hotel: both striking if not exactly The Chuckle Brothers. The onstage drama was matched backstage with Ayers seducing Cale’s wayward Cindy the night before the gig (remember “The bugger in the short sleeves f*cked my wife…” ?). So the tension manifest here may come from more than just the tunes.

Some kind soul has put together an audience-recorded CD of the songs played on June 1 but not released on the initial LP. If Island still have the original tapes it would be great to stick the whole thing out as a 2CD set. That said, listening to the out-takes does support the initial track selection selection that producer Richard Williams made 44 years ago. Ayers’ Whatevershebringswesing has a lovely Oldfield solo but meanders at over nine minutes: Nico singing Das Lied der Deutschen is not something you would play too often, and Cale has done Buffalo Ballet and Gun better elsewhere. The only omission I would reinstate would be rousing set-closer I’ve Got A Hard On For You Baby.

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Not sure what my 17 year self would have made of Alex Chilton as I did not discover the wonders of Big Star ‘til much later. I think Alex would have enjoyed at least some of June 1 – not sure if he ever came across Kevin Ayers but he was a big fan of Eno and once got thrown out a bar for humming Here Come The Warm Jets too loudly. He covered Velvets tunes – Femme Fatale, Candy Says – and coexisted with Cale on the NYC club circuit. And he would have appreciated Nico’s sense of humour.

Omnivore are to be congratulated on releasing The Death Of Rock, a real rock’n’roll exhumation. The tapes were found amongst the late Richard Roseborough’s possessions. Richard had been engineering at Sam Phillips Recording Service studio, Memphis in the summer of 1978 when these tracks were recorded with him on drums. The other musicians are a pre-dBs Peter Holsapple and a Like Flies On Sherbert-era Alex Chilton plus Ken Woodley on bass.

Just as with June 1, the players may be consistent throughout but the record splits very noticeably into a Chilton side and a Holsapple side. Some tracks we have heard before – Holsapple’s Bad Reputation was a dB’s career highspot and We Were Happy There and The Death Of Rock (later I’m In Control) have also been released elsewhere. Four of the excellent songs that Alex sings – Tennis Bum, Marshall Law, Train Kept A Rollin’ and Hey Mona – were released in lesser quality on the Beale Street Green CD, Punk Vault somehow missing Heart and Soul (Carmichael/Loesser) from the same session. The remaining tracks are largely inessential – Holsapple should not have been allowed anywhere near Baby I Love You. Instrumental rehearsals of In The Street and O My Soul can only interest Big Star obsessives and power-pop karaoke singers.

However if you don’t have Beale Street Green this is highly recommended to LX fans, and the two version of Bad Reputation here are well done. Holsapple contributes insightful sleeve notes with Robert Gordon and previously unseen photos with Pat Rainier.

London 1974 and Memphis 1978. In both places the musicians get real gone, make fascinating music and sell zero records. Forty years later the tunes they made still resonate. Maybe this brace of re-releases indicates an appeal that is becoming less selective…

The Excitement Is Intense!

After our visit to Colombia last summer a change of pace was clearly needed so this year it’s a week in a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Braintree. Clean, comfy, very good breakfasts. Some great pubs in the area such as The Jolly Sailor in Maldon and the Galvin Green Man in Great Waltham. And only a short train ride away from Chelmsford, home of Intense Records. Intense is owned by my second cousin Jon Smith and I spent an entertaining morning there with Jon and his assistant Tom, working my way through the vinyl and having a chat.

Intense grew out of Jon’s DJing and love of drum and bass – indeed when Intense opened it was purely a drum and bass shop. With the renewed interest in all things vinyl Jon has evolved the shop into a more mainstream proposition, whilst still retaining its focus on all things dance-related.

Record Store Day was huge for Intense this year, the busiest to date with over 300 people coming through the doors.  It’s also a busy time for Jon’s wife, Jennie, as her company Get Customised supplies the official RSD merchandise to all the record shops around the country.

Intense is very much embedded with the local music scene.  Once a month they host the Chelmsford Record Fair at The Ale House, a pub two doors down. When I got to the shop Jon was restoring the vinyl racks to their usual position, having moved them out the way to host the launch of a local reggae label in the shop the night before.  And they stock Asylum magazine, a completely bonkers local fanzine and guide to what’s going on locally, which turns out to be a lot. Musically there is a lot more to Chelmsford than just hosting the nearby V festival (now rebranded as Rize).

Ferreting through the Intense racks and boxes turned up a Led Zeppelin RSD 7” (Rock And Roll / Friends) and a Beatles Long Tall Sally EP, both very fairly priced and in good nick. The shop is next to the bus station and across the road from the railway station, making it an excellent place to while away a few minutes / hours / days. Highly recommended, and tell them I sent you.

For more information on Intense Records and four other independent retailers in Chelmsford check out this informative online article in Essex Live.

There’s No Bones In Ice Cream

Sylvain Sylvain’s Story of The New York Dolls (with Dave Thompson)

Omnibus Press

There’s No Bones In Ice Cream is a stupid title, which is never referenced or explained at any point in the book.

And that is where my criticism ends. Sylvain has written a warm, funny and informative account of his life up to the final (pre-reformation) New York Dolls gigs in December 1976. Unusually for a music memoire the pre-band section is as interesting as what came next. Sylvain’s story of growing up in Egypt and then his forced emigration to France and finally the US is used to inform how and why his interlinked careers in fashion and music then came about. Sylvain writes with great sensitivity about meeting and then losing bandmates Billy Murcia and Johnny Thunders. Malcolm McLaren comes off as more clueless but nicer than I expected and Arthur Killer Kane is a real sweety when occasionally sober. There is a sense of distance between Sylvain and singer David Johansen, possibly deliberately widened by inept band management.

Of all the books written about the Dolls this one is the best for gossip and anecdotes ie who wore what, and why. Highlights include Malcolm McLaren helping Sylvain pass his driving test, partying with Lord Montagu at Beaulieu, finding musical common ground with the Pink Fairies and what happened to Johnny Thunders’ spider monkey. Thankfully drugs are not allowed to dominate the tale, although Sylvain suggests that it was game-over for Thunders the night Iggy Pop introduced him to smack, and that Jerry Nolan was a nicer person when taking heroin.

Ultimately what comes through is Sylvain’s immense positivity and his pride at what the Dolls achieved, albeit tinged with sadness that it took so long and that Arthur, Billy, Johnny and Jerry  are no longer around to enjoy the rehabilitation of their reputation. Sylvain also maintains that prime Dolls was before they got signed to Mercury, when they were playing rent parties in NY lofts for a dollar entry. Nick Kent said something very similar in The Dark Stuff.

Too Much, Too Soon ? You said it. My suggested title for the book is Sylvain Sylvain: So Good They Named Him Twice.

Sylvain Sylvain @ London Dublin Castle, July 22nd 2018

Tour merchandise: Signed Copies of Sylvain’s autobiography “There’s No Bones In Ice Cream” if you were quick enough

View: At the bar

Tonight the back room at the Dublin Castle was transformed into The Rock’n’Roll Book Club. A sold-out audience were treated to a mix of sweaty rock’n’roll and anecdotes from Sylvain’s life and misadventures with the New York Dolls, followed by a Q&A with the audience. Sylvain’s irresistible positivity shone through a set littered with Dolls classics such as Pills, Jet Boy, Trash and Great Big Kiss. Switching between acoustic guitar and his characteristic oversize white Gretsch Sylvain was effectively supported throughout by the vocals of Alison Gordy, notably on a cover of the Velvets Femme Fatale and a sensitive encore of You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory. Eddie Cochran’s Something Else and Syl’s own Teenage News were highlights: the less said about the set-closing version of Personality Crisis the better.

Written for Record Collector magazine

The “Ten Albums in Ten Days” Challenge

So, I have just posted my final LPs on Facebook having been challenged by Allan Jones to nominate ten records from my youth that I still listen to today. That list in full:

  1. Even Serpents Shine – The Only Ones (1979)
  2. Radio City – Big Star (1974)
  3. Teenage Head – Flamin’ Groovies (1971)
  4. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971)
  5. Let It Be – The Replacements (1984)
  6. Hunkydory – David Bowie (1971)
  7. Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1972)
  8. Something / Anything ? – Todd Rundgren (1972)
  9. Roxy Music (1972)
  10. So Alone – Johnny Thunders (1978) / Hard Promises – Tom Petty & the Heartbeakers (1981)

I did not think too much about the selection otherwise we would have been into Hi Fidelity territory. What does this list say about me? Mainly that I was fourteen in 1971 and fifteen in 1972 and it shows – three quarters of these LPs were released in those two years, with only Tom Petty and the ‘Mats from the following decade. It is a very white and guitar-orientated selection, and not much has changed in the interim.

The songwriting is consistently strong throughout. And the artwork is striking, and works even when reduced to an iPhone-screen sized jpeg (Even Serpents Shine – not so much). And each record contains about 40 minutes of music – pre-CD notions of quality control were still in operation.

My teenage self would have been amazed that I would go on to see all of these acts live, and in some cases interview them, write about them and even DJ at their gigs.

What is missing are other equally great LPs that I only discovered in retrospect (Something Else, Sell Out, Back In The USA) as well as the teenage LPs that have not lasted so well (Family, Curved Air, Pink Fairies).

I also remember the people I with whom listened to this music – Jeremy Smith, Neil Parison, the Moritzes (RIP), Mark & Lee, Fred The Butcher, Brian, Mick Brophy. A lot of my listening was done alone in my suburban bedroom, gloomily contemplating a life that seemed to be going off the rails almost before it had got going. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the swagger, energy and exuberance of this music was one of the things that pulled me through. I am eternally grateful.

Lou Reed was right – my life was saved by rock’n’roll*

* other versions are available eg I was maimed by rock’n’roll (Jeff Tweedy)

Suppose the Velvets re-united…and nobody noticed?

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico

Le Bataclan, Paris, January 29 1972

Spyglass SPYCD3003 (CD+ DVD)

This is a great gig, badly served by the many recordings that have been released thus far. All the legitimate versions have run too slow, making Lou Reed sound like he was on Qualuudes. However this new 2018 release has been pitch and speed corrected, and sounds immeasurably stronger as a result making it a very worthy addition to the Velvets canon.

The setting is a live acoustic gig at the Le Batclan nightclub in Paris on January 29th 1972. For once the three participants all seem to be getting on well, with Reed engaging in what can only be termed “genial onstage banter”’. The opening Waiting For The Man is performed as a stately acoustic folk duet between Reed on acoustic guitar and Cale on grand piano. Next is a highly effective rendition of Reed’s newly-written Berlin, which he described as “a real nightclub torch thing…kind of a Billie Holiday trip”. The piano part is played beautifully by Cale and the song lacks only its final ‘some sweet day’ coda. Then it’s back to the first Velvets LP for The Black Angel Death Song, played so slowly that you can actually hear the words. Cale contributes an undulating viola part, resulting in the definitive version. From Reed’s first solo LP comes Wild Child, which shorn of its studio prog-bombast fits right in amongst its illustrious neighbours. Finally a restrained Heroin, again with Cale’s viola to the fore.

Having done such a Sterling (sorry) job in backing Lou, Cale’s own solo set here disappoints. Only Empty Bottles – written for Jennifer Warnes – stands out. Had the concert featured his Paris 1919 material from the following year rather than the likes of Ghost Story then it would have all been very different. Nico’s set starts strongly with a Femme Fatale featuring backing vocals from the guys. However we then detour into harmonium territory, before finishing strongly with a double whammy of I’ll Be Your Mirror and an encore of All Tomorrow’s Parties, both arranged for voice and acoustic guitar. Two additional tracks are rehearsal versions of Pale Blue Eyes and Candy Says, taken from the 3rd Velvets LP on which Cale was absent.

In addition to this excellent audio documentary the Spyglass release adds a DVD featuring five tracks – Berlin, I’m Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Ghost Story and Femme Fatale – screened on the French TV show Pop Deux on June 10th 1972. Footage is black and white but perfectly watchable.

The trio never managed to repeat this experience, with a follow-up London gig cancelled. By the time Reed and Cale finally reunited for a full-blown Velvets tour in 1993 Nico was gone.  I saw the re-union tour at L’Olympia in Paris the night they recorded the live DVD and on the whole would sooner have been at Le Bataclan. Six of the eleven tracks of the Velvets debut LP feature here, emphasising their pop-folk tendency at the expense of their monolithic Sister Ray side. These were indeed different times.

In 1972 only a thousand lucky punters saw this gig live.  Now the rest of us can catch up