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The Whistlers: A Mystery Within A Mystery

I watched this  2019 thriller online via Curzon Home Cinema and found it intriguing, albeit difficult to follow. It is always stylish and Catrinel Marlon is sensational as Gilda: just her name tells you she is going to be a classy noir female and so it proves.  The setting on the Canary Island of La Gomera makes you want to visit, and the whistling language used throughout the film really does exist.

Then from the film’s Wikipedia page I discovered that the films director, avant-garde Romaninan film-maker Corneliu Porumboiu, has edited the film so it plays non-chronologically. Would it make more sense if I watched it in the “right” order ? I bought a DVD on eBay with English subtitles and investigated.

The answer is yes, it makes more (but not complete) sense watched in the chronological order. And there is a happy ending (I think)

Here is the chronological order, together with start times for each chapter:

1. Szolt 15:47

2. Mama 40:17

3. Gilda 4:03

4. Kiko 27:44

5. Whistling language 12:26

6. Pako 49:56

7. Magda 56:37

8. Cristi 80:00

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are in the “right” order. I don’t know when you are supposed to watch 0:00 to 4:02 so I suggest you start with this piece.

It is worth the hassle – the film it reminds me of most is Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which played similar tricks with time and that is praise indeed.

 

The Real Austin Powers (only much better)

As an impressionable teenager one of my favourite books was The Great Spy Race (1968) by Adam Diment, purchased for two shillings from The Effingham Junction Railway Station paperback exchange – the source of many of my formative literary experiences. Seeing a cheap copy on eBay last month I re-aquainted myself with the book and found that it holds up weell.

The Great Spy is a great romp through late 1960’s Swinging London. Its protagonist Phillip McAlpine is a reluctant hero who usually ends up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. He is more Harry Palmer than James Bond, only whisky is replaced by dope and acid and I can’t imagine Len Deighton putting Harry into a lime green suit.

I then set out to acquire the other three Phillip McAlpine novels – The Dolly Dolly Spy (1967), The Bang Bang Birds (1968) and Think Inc (1971). All are good, although Think Inc does contain rather more musing on the human condition than is entirely desirable in a thriller. Each one of them would have made the basis for a thoroughly entertaining film, and it is surprising that they did not although according to this Esquire article David Hemmings planned to follow up his success in Blow Up with the lead role in The Dolly Dolly Spy.

As far as I know Diment has published nothing since 1971, although there seems to be a resurgence of interest in his books according to this Guardian article. If you see a copy of any of the quartet I strongly recommend that you investigate. There are also some terrific cover designs to enjoy.

And at no point does anyone say “Groovy baby”

Eyes To The Sky – Alan Mair

Here is a hot new release from Alan Mair (Beatstalkers, Only Ones)  – released a mere 35 years after recording!

The song itself is a catchy blend of Alan’s multi-tracked vocals and a host of Zal Cleminson’s guitars with keyboards from Paul Rabiger. Hints of David Bowie can be discerned in Alan’s vocals and thankfully the track is free from overtly 1980s style production. The track started in Alan’s home studio with additional recording at Aosis Studios in Camden paid for by the A&R department of Arista Records. Why Arista did not pick up their option is beyond me – it is a very commercial sounding release and would have made a cool single back in 1986.

The video for Eye To The Sky was filmed by Alan’s friend Maggie on Hampstead Heath and features a walk-on appearance by Charlie the dog, see it here. The song is already available on Spotify and iTunes and a physical release on CD is imminent

The Best Kinks Live LP, Ever

The Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds and the Small Faces are all revered today for their live performances. Their contemporaries The Kinks: not so much. They were certainly an erratic proposition in the early days, not least because of onstage disagreements. This  1965 live LP is as about as good as it gets.  Later on they would become variously a music-hall act (on RCA) and heavy rockers (with Arista). But in between these eras, from about 1969 – 1971, there was a sweet spot when they played some really good gigs.

Unfortunately well-recorded recorded evidence is hard to find. There is an oft-booted recording from the Fillmore West in November 1970 which is an audience recording of an average gig. The Fillmore West show from 1969 is available as a soundboard recordng on CD as Back In The USA (Tendolar, 1999) and offers better sound and a more focussed performance.  Weirdly there is virtually nothing in decent quality from the UK or Europe during this time.

So I was delighted to find online a recording of the Kinks March 27th 1971 performance at Queens College, Flushing, New York.  The recording is very listenable. The instruments and vocals are clear but there is also a fair amount of audience noise. So it is not a straight soundboard recording, but the quality is too good to have been recorded by someone in the audience with a cassette recorder.  My guess would be a reel-to-reel onstage recording through some decent microphones. Does anyone know more ?

The audience response adds excitement to the gig and clearly enthuses the band, who are in fine form. The first three minutes sees Ray trying to do something complicated with the lights without success, culminating in his flouncing off with a “Tell you what, forget we came here.” Of course he is soon back onstage for the first surprise of the night, Johnny Cash’s  “Give My Love To Rose”.  Then a slightly hammy intro to regular set opener Til The End Of The Day, followed by an excellent take on Brainwashed.  The Lola… LP had been released the previous November and four of its songs are included: Apeman, Get Back In Line, Powerman, and the title track, which gets the best response of the night  Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Sunny Afternoon both inspire audience sing-alongs.

The second major surprise of the set is the inclusion of two rarely played gems, Mr.Pleasant and Autumn Almanac. According to the BB Chronicles blog this was possible because student Ben Rosenblatt introduced himself to the band before the show and was invited to sit in on piano for these two songs.  Ben does a marvellous job , particularly on Mr Pleasant. On the original record the piano part is played by the legendary session-player Nicky Hopkins: Ben takes Hopkins’ part, replicates it and even improvises around it. Autumn Almanac is slightly less sure-footed , but that is down to Ray – he introduces the song as “one that even I don’t know.”

Then it’s a brace of medleys, long a feature of the Kinks live performances. The first kicks off with a tough version of Milk Cow Blues, sung by Dave with Ray on harmonica. The segue to Powerman is handled well and the two songs fit together well., which is more than you can say for  the heavy-metal version of You Are My Sunshine which follows. Ray seems to realise this as he does a standalone version which fares better.  Then another mighty medley to finish off the set, this time You Really Got Me / All Day Of the Night.

Encores are demanded and delivered. Ray starts Waterloo Sunset alone before the band drop in around him, John Gosling’s piano and  Dave Davies’ guitar provide delicate support: the harmonies are spot-on, even on that tricky finish. A driving Victoria is built around Dave’s rhythm guitar and Gosling’s boogie-woogie piano and provides a rousing final number.

Even if you are only a marginal Kinks fan you will enjoy this and if like me you are enamoured of their every move between Face To Face and Lola then you will love it.

God Save The Kinks!

Download the full set here

The_Kinks_-_1971-03-27_-_Queens_College_Flushing_NY.rar

The Tightrope Walker / Hermine Demoriane

 

 

Seeker & Warburg Hardback  1989

This is a slight but beguiling book. Ostensibly about Hermione’s enthusiasm for walking on elevated ropes it actually provides a chronicle of London’s artistic set between April 1971 and March 1975. During this time Hermine was in an open marriage with the poet Hugo Williams and much of the book provides ample evidence of Hermine’s amours. Wandering predictably through the pages are Andrew Logan, Derek Jarman, Brian Eno, COUM, Allen Jones, The Moodies and a whole bunch of other luvvies. Less predictable is Hermine’s enthusiasm for Brinsley Schwarz, Dr Feelgood and Nick Kent  – indeed it is her professional and personal relationship with Nick that drew me to the book. Interspersed  with Hermine’s musings are a selection of writings and pictures on the history and cultural significance of tightrope walking. Educational but not as interesting as Nick Lowe having to playing two games of patience before he can face the day. If you were around during this period you are probably in the book and you’ll love it  – for the rest of us it is a period piece, a snapshot of when being a tightrope walker was enough to get you in The Times (even if you fell off a lot).

Cops And Robbers EP – The Rolling Stones

I have wanted to own a copy of this 7″ vinyl ever since seeing it featured in Roy Carr and CSM’s 1976 book The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record. Thanks to the BBC On Air official release and a plethora of bootlegs we now know what the tracks sound like – speedy and great fun. Fanny Mae provides the tune for The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man. Memphis Tennessee and Roll Over Beethoven crackle with youthfull energy. Cops And Robbers itself provides the inspiration for the brilliant William Stout cartoon cover, as good as his design for Tales From The Who. Thank you Jo from iorr.org for having a clear out!

New Vinyl Release: The Byrds Live Rome 1968

Available now from http://www.1960s.london

Side One

  1. You Ain’t Going Nowhere (Bob Dylan)
  2. Old John Robertson (Chris Hillman)
  3. You Don’t Miss Your Water (William Bell)
  4. Hickory Wind (Gram Parsons and Bob Buchanan)
  5. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better (Gene Clark)
  6. Chimes Of Freedom (Bob Dylan)

 

Side Two

7. The Christian Life (Charles and Ira Louvin)

8. Turn! Turn! Turn! (Pete Seeger)

9. My Back Pages  (Bob Dylan) /

10. Baby What You Want Me To Do? (Jimmy Reed)

11. Mr Spaceman (Roger McGuinn)

12. You Ain’t Going Nowhere (Bob Dylan)

13. This Wheel’s On Fire (Bob Dylan)

Tracks 1-11 recorded at The Piper Club, Rome on May 7th 1968 for VPRO radio (Holland) with assistance from RAI radio (Italy)

Tracks 12 & 13 recorded for Playboy After Dark, September 28th 1968

 

Personnel

Roger McGuinn – Lead 12 string guitar, lead vocal, harmony vocal

Chris Hillman – Bass, harmony vocal

Gram Parsons – Acoustic guitar, harmony vocal, lead vocal (1-11)

Kevin Kelley – Drums

Doug Dillard – Banjo (1-11)

Clarence White – Guitar, harmony vocal (12 & 13)

John York – Bass (12 & 13)

Gene Parsons – Drums (12 & 13)

 

Sleevenotes

Posters for The First International European Pop Festival promised The Bee Gees, Big Brother, James Brown, Bo Diddley and Buffalo Springfield (and that’s just the B’s). It soon transpired that these were acts who had been invited to appear rather than acts that had actually confirmed their attendance. Nonetheless the Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Donovan and Traffic were amongst the bands who did play. After the Move had let off some pyrotechnics on the third day the festival was forcibly moved from the 20,000 capacity Palazzo dello Sport to the much smaller venue The Piper Club for the fourth and final day. Apparently the whole event was appallingly organised and sparsely attended. A documentary was made for the BBC but never shown.

The version of the Byrds that took the stage at the Piper Club had recently undergone a change of personnel, hardly a novelty for this most mercurial of groups. The departure of founder members Gene  Clark, David Crosby and Michael Clarke had reduced the Byrds to leader McGuinn and Chris Hillman. The drum stool was quickly occupied by Hillman’s cousin Kevin Kelley. A short series of early 1968 college gigs indicated that touring as a three-piece was not viable. Enter Ingram Cecil Connor III aka Gram Parsons. “I thought I hired a piano player.“ said McGuinn “Gram turned out to be a monster in sheep’s clothing. Good God! It’s George Jones in a sequin suit!”. Gram had already been exploring country music with his International Submarine Band but he jumped at the chance of promotion to the Byrds. Although Parsons would be a Byrd for less than  six months he took the band in a completely new direction via the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo LP, in the process inventing country rock, Americana and The Eagles. Recording sessions at Columbia Studios in Nashville and Hollywood continued up until May 27th when the band flew to Europe for a short tour. Parsons had tried to persuade McGuinn to add a pedal steel player, compromising on banjoist/guitarist Doug Dillard who had recently been playing with Gene Clark.

Of the eleven songs played at the Piper Club, four were from the forthcoming LP, which was not released until August 30th. One of these was set-opener You Ain’t Going Nowhere, although this provided a link with the past as one of many Bob Dylan songs covered by the band. Hillman’s Old John Robertson had featured some country-picking when it appeared on the Notorious Byrd Brothers LP and it fits right into the new direction here. Parsons heartfelt vocal on You Don’t Miss Your Water supported by Dillard’s banjo provides irrefutable proof of the bands new direction delivering what Parsons would later term “Cosmic American Music” – a hybrid of country, rhythm and blues, soul, folk, and rock. Gram’s Hickory Wind is a haunting requiem for lost youth, written on a lengthy train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles. It’s back to more familiar territory with I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better, McGuinns’ 12 string and vocal taking us back to June 1965 (albeit with added banjo).  From the Byrds second LP Chimes Of Freedom and Turn! Turn Turn! both receive an enthusiastic welcome, harmonies immaculate throughout. In between comes another soulful Parsons vocal on The Christian Life.  An upbeat My Back Pages features some interplay between electric guitar and organ (probably played by Parsons)  as it evolves into an improbable boogie version of Baby, What You Want Me To Do ? Finally Mr Spaceman – another early Byrds song whose country leanings are emphasised in this arrangement.

When The Byrds played at the Middle Earth Cub in London later that week Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were in the audience. Parsons developed an immediate rapport with Richards based on a mutual love of country music and the sound of the South. When The Byrds returned to  London in July en route to a tour of South Africa, Keith Richards was not impressed. ”He was not aware of apartheid or anything. He’d never been out of the United States. So when I explained it to him about apartheid and sanctions and nobody goes there he said “Oh just like Mississippi?” And immediately “Well fuck that”. Gram’s refusal to travel to South Africa got him fired from the Byrds, freeing him up to spend the summer of 1968 in London with his new pal.

Parsons later reflected “Being with The Byrds confused me a little. I couldn’t find my place. I didn’t have enough say-so. I really wasn’t one of The Byrds. I was originally hired because they wanted a keyboard player. But I had experience being a frontman and that came out immediately. And Roger McGuinn being a very perceptive fellow saw that it would help the act, and he started sticking me out front.” Parsons made sure he was the front man in his next band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, formed with Hillman in 1969.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo became the lowest selling Byrds LP to date, reaching only number 75 in the Billboard charts. It had been a brave experiment which would not bear fruit for many years.  The line-up that made the LP played so few gigs that we are lucky to have this well-recorded memento of a band that was over before it began. 

Finally two bonus tracks. Recorded for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark TV series an understandably distracted McGuinn is interviewed about his haircut by Hefner before the Byrds perform excellent live covers of You Ain’t Going Nowhere and This Wheel’s On Fire. Parsons place is taken by Clarence White who gave the group some much-needed stability, notably on the live portion of 1970’s LP Untitled. There is also a new rhythm section in place with John York  on bass and Gene Parsons  on drums.

Sleevenotes: Captain Soul

 

All Our Times Have Come

Jon Savage has been reeling in the years through a fascinating series of year-by-year singles compilations from Ace, starting with 1966 so as to correspond with his book of the same name.

With All Our Times Have Come he reaches the period 1972-1976 and this is my era. I was delighted to find that of the 44 tracks arranged across 2CDs I have 26 on 7” vinyl. A prominent exception is Eno’s Third Uncle which would appear to have been released only in France and Germany and is now ultra-rare as a result (love that ping-pong bass intro). I do have a ferocious version from 801 Live so that sort of makes 27. The title of the compilation is from Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper, included in truncated form with the guitar solo excised: the most important piece of single editing since Light My Fire! The full tracklisting is here .

Of the tracks I have not heard before I am pleasantly surprised by the muscularity of Neu’s After Eight and I liked the heavenly choirs in Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity. I can’t match Jon’s enthusiasm for Easy To Slip (Little Feat) or Full Circle (Byrds) – both bands made much better singles. Andy Warhol by Dana Gillespie and Max’s Kansas City by Wayne County are interesting but period pieces.

However the good stuff is incendiary. Do Ya by The Move has just the best riff ever and a massively bonkers ending. End Unkind is a welcome reminder of Nils Lofgren’s early songwriting talent. The Groovies Slow Death and Big Star’s When My Baby’s Beside Me are part of my DNA by now. The compilation ends with the casual off-hand lyrical brilliance of Nick Lowe’s Heart Of The City and the otherworldly blues of the Count Bishops Train Train, which for some reason reminds me of the (original) Charlatans.

Jon’s sleevenotes are typically thoughtful, making the case for the punk breakthrough pre-empted by this era being only one possible outcome: other musical directions were available. But I for one am very happy that music took heart from the ingenuity and passion shown here and got spiky and snarly (for a bit)

I love that Jon praises Brian Hogg’s Bam Balam magazine. In a pre-internet age Bam Balam educated Jon (and me) about the best of the 1960s bands, raving about the Yardbirds, the Move, the Small Faces, the Byrds, the Springfield. Brian also loved the Groovies, Big Star, the Stooges and the Dolls so his magazine bridged the gap between hard pop and nascent punk. I still cherish my battered and over-read copies of Bam Balam.

By a total coincidence the CD cover features Rod Melvin of the Moodies, a high concept / low output setup who feature in my current bedtime reading, The Tightrope Walker by Hermine Demoriane. More on this anon.

The Great Lost Kinks Single

(Almost)

I have no idea who was in the group Cold Turkey, who released the single Nobody’s Fool on Pye in 1972. However there is great deal of Kinkiness involved. The song is credited to Raymond Douglas Davies. It uses great chunks of Animal Farm. Dave Davies can be heard singing (and playing lead?).

All of which would be irrelevant if it were not such a fine song, as you can hear here . To the best of my knowledge there has never been a Kinks version released, although Ray’s piano demo came out on the expanded version of Muswell Hillbillies. It’s good but I prefer the full band version. It’s inclusion would certainly have improved the Percy OST.

Nobody’s Fool was the theme tune to UK TV series Budgie, starring Adam Faith. According to Popsike mint copies of the single could set you back as much as £80, so my recent purchase of a Mint copy on eBay for £30 looks reasonable. A lower-cost alternative would be this fine Ace compilation of songs written by RDD and recorded by others.

 

Cale / Hynde / Cave

Does anyone remember a BBC2 late night series called Songwriters Circle ?

“Singer-songwriters get together to perform their own classics, chat and collaborate”

It used to be recorded at Subterania in my old stomping ground of Ladbroke Grove and the episode I saw filmed featured John Cale, Chrissie Hynde and Nick Cave (in the words of Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad…). All three were in fine voice and happy to explain how the muse had struck.

Last week I saw that Organ Grinder Records Inc of Spain (yeah, right) had put the show out on CD. My copy arrived yesterday and it turns out my memories are not rose-tinted – it was a great afternoon. Cale comes out ahead thanks to Dying On The Vine, Fear and Thoughtless Kind but Chrissie is not far behind with Talk Of The Town, Kid the best version of Back In The Chain Gang I have heard. To be fair to Cave his Into My Arms is performed decently. As the session progresses solo performances become duets culminating in a three-way I’m Waiting For The Man which is absent from the CD but you can find it here

I was shocked when I checked the recording date July 9th 1999 – just the 22 years ago then.

Back in the days when spending a few hours drinking in a packed nightclub and listening to live music seemed a completely ordinary thing to do…

Tracklisting

  1. Ship Of Fools (Soundcheck) – Chrissie, John, Nick
  2. Dying on The Vine (Cale)
  3. Talk Of The Town (Hynde)
  4. West Country Girl (Cave)
  5. Thoughtless Kind (Cale)
  6. Kid (Hynde)
  7. Henry Lee (Cave)
  8. Fear (Cale)
  9. I’ll Stand By You (Hynde)
  10. Into My Arms (Cave)
  11. Ship Of Fools (Cale)
  12. Back On The Chain Gang (Hynde)
  13. The Ship Song (Cave)