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Being For The Benefit of Mr.Boss

March 13, 2012

First Published November 2010

Following on from the release of the Portobello Shuffle CD key members of the Deviants / Pink Fairy diaspora gathered in Ladbroke Grove to stage a gig that would promote the CD whilst raising funds to help the poorly Dave ‘Boss’ Goodman.  In the days before the gig drummer Russell Hunter, bass player Duncan ‘Sandy’ Sanderson and vocalist extraordinaire Mick Farren were all persuaded to review their legacy.

Fairies/Deviants ingénues begin here. Farren founded the (Social) Deviants in 1967, gradually being joined by Hunter, Sandy and guitarist Paul Rudolph. A disastrous Canadian tour saw Farren parting company from the rest of the band who on returning to the UK re-named themselves the Pink Fairies. The punky single The Snake / Do It was followed by LPs Never Never Land (1971) and What A Bunch of Sweeties (1972).  The Fairies built a reputation for fierce urban improvised rock’n’roll only otherwise available from Detroit. The replacement of Rudolph by (briefly) Mick Wayne and then permanently by Larry Wallis added melodic songwriting to the mix in time for career highspot Kings Of Oblivion (1973), a prophetic title which ended the first phase of Fairydom. Since then there have been sporadic reunions and collaborations which you can read about in Rich Deakin’s book ‘Keep It Together!’ and Mick Farrens autobiography ‘Give The Anarchist A Cigarette’. Rich is also the driving force behind the Portobello Shuffle CD and all-round good egg.

Running through all this sex, drugs and rock’n’roll like the letters in a stick of rock is Boss Goodman. Mick Farren explains “Boss Goodman arrived in my life just when the Deviants needed someone else to carry their gear and drive them around. He thought I was the worst singer he’d ever seen but we lured him in. He is the one continuous figure through the Deviants, Pink Fairies and all the projects that followed. He’s been the mainstay through the whole thing, he’s been a tower of strength. I turned to him often when I took too much acid and he was always there. A lot of people owe Boss Goodman a vast debt of gratitude” . Russell agrees “Boss was the rock on which we foundered. He was always there, learning his trade as a road manager as we were learning ours.”

Sandy has a theory as to why the Deviants and the Fairies still sound relevant today. “It was an after-effect of the Deviants going to Vancouver and then proceeding down the West Coast of the States, that had a real influence on me. Even the covers bands were musically very talented and were very competent musicians.  During our last month in the US we stayed in a house in San Francisco that had a music room so you got up, had something to eat and then made music as opposed to here where it was ‘let’s book a rehearsal room for next Tuesday’.  And of course Paul was from Vancouver and when he joined the Fairies we morphed into a different entity from the tail end of the beat boom”. Russell takes up the story “When we got back to London we tried to recreate that vibe and approach playing music in the way that other musicians played jazz. Not the complexity of jazz but we’d have a verse structure, and a bridge structure and an idea of how it was going to end and then nightly we’d launch into whatever and sometimes when that works it is absolutely magic.”

Russell: “When Larry came along we got much more structured, and we needed it. Larry is the master of the hook and the bridge and the little chorus so from Kings of Oblivions onwards we had songs. We learnt from Larry this idea of structure, and from us he learnt this idea of improvisation. Although the songs on Kings of Oblivion are quite tight, when we interpreted them on stage they were much looser.“ Sandy agrees that Larry Wallis joining the band made a huge difference. “We used to waste incredible amounts of money going in the studio without any songs. We would sit in Command Studios in Piccadilly for twenty-four hours @ £45 an hour – a fair whack in 1971 – and get terribly out of it and come out with nothing. We were trying to put things together the way we did on stage – we hadn’t really learned about demos. With Larry a lot of those songs came to us from his past when he was playing with bands like UFO and The Entire Sioux Nation. City Kids was originally called 52 Card Pickup until me and Larry had some time on our hands one day and it changed into City Kids. “

Even today there is little film footage of these guys in their prime. Sandy explains: “The motherlode for serious Fairies freaks is the promo shot on the set of ‘Oliver’ at Pinewood in the snow where we mimed to Do It and The Snake with dancing girls. Jeff Dexter has done some research but no-one knows who’s got the film. Plus there’s footage from Phun City – a lot of people said there wasn’t even film in the cameras but Jeff Dexter has contacted the director and he has confirmed we were filmed.” The Fairies reputation as the peoples band who would play anywhere, anytime could have a downside.  “We used to shoot ourselves in the foot with live work. One night we’d be charging the promoter of the Cambridge Corn Exchange £500 for our services then after the gig we’d get in the truck and go to some field and play for the same people all over again for free! There were a lot of phone calls to our agents about that.

All three Fairies LPs came out on Polydor, although as Sandy says “we didn’t actually sign to Polydor – we were signed to Deutsche Grammophon, the biggest classical label in the world! It was some kind of tax thing. We never had a lot to do with Polydor. We did some recording in their funny little studio in Stratford Place. We were stretched to finish Kings of Oblivion. They stuck us in there with their eccentric German engineer Carlos and we did most of Raceway then we had to rush off to get a plane to Scotland at 6 o’clock in the morning.  The last thing Larry said was “we’ll be back tomorrow to put the vocals on”.  As soon as we’d gone they pressed the record and that’s why Raceway is an instrumental, although we used to play it live with words. Larry really got screwed on Kings of Oblivion because Polydor took the attitude that Mick Wayne was on the contract so Larry was just a session musician. They never paid him a penny. After Kings of Oblivion we pretty much fell apart – drug problems, we had some personal issues.” What happened next, Russell? “Larry was getting pretty involved with Stiff producing the Adverts, I was falling apart – I spent those years trying to act out the lyrics to Sister Morphine”

Meanwhile Mick Farren had established himself as journalist at IT, Oz and the NME, followed by a series of novels and a move to the US. But now he’s back living in Brighton – how come? “ I was burnt out on LA and there’s no print media in California. Plus storm clouds on the horizon – it could get really unpleasant, the makings of fascism are all there. It’s great being back in a civilised country. I moved to Brighton because I can’t afford to live in London. All my mates are a twenty dollar cab ride from each other. Brighton is much more civilised – I’m a few blocks from the station and it’s where I grew up, it’s where I saw Gene Vincent, Johnny Kidd and the Yardbirds. I went to West Sussex art school. I’ve come home, I guess..” On the writing front? “A book called Speed Speed Speedfreak just came out – a beautiful little book shaped like a Black Bomber, a cultural and political history of amphetamines from 1890 to the present day. There’s also a few confessions from my youth, which is why I don’t have any teeth left.”

Mick still performs what he calls ‘lounge-dementia’. “Getting back on stage with these guys feels really great. In the US I was doing quite a bit with Andy Colquhoun, doing like a William Burroughs and Jimi Hendrix double act, poetry reading against some Jeff Beck type guitar. I’m 67 man, I don’t want to be singing bad rock’n’roll”. He is impressed with the Boss tribute CD “I love it, there’s a lot of my songs on it! I really like Wreckless Erics cover of I Wish I Was A Girl plus I didn’t realise Captain Sensible could sing so well. Wilko’s Wilko and I’m really happy with my track. Where else do you find Felix Dennis, Phil Taylor from Motorhead and Wreckless Eric all on the same record?”

The Inn On The Green is a short lurch from the traditional Deviants/Fairies stomping ground of the Portobello Road. The club boasted a Sold Out notice and an audience composed of Ladbrook Groovers past and present – Carol Price, John Perry, Maria McCormack, a dapper Jeff Dexter and Craig Sams plus the BoB massive – Nick West, Nigel Cross and Gerry Ranson. The first band onstage were unimpressive, as limited rehearsal time left Brian James backed by Russell and Sandy plodding through I’m Waiting For My Man and Route 66. However the musical highlight of the night followed in the unlikely form of Pink Fairies tribute band, Pink FA. The opening trio of City Kids, Street Urchin and I Wish I Was A Girl brought the spirit of Larry Wallis into the room, Larry himself being too ill to attend. Portobello Shuffle was accompanied by a bunch of sweeties thrown from the stage and not even the addition of Nik Turner could scupper them.

Guitarist Tim Rundall did a couple of songs alone (including an unexpected cover of Alex Chilton’s Underclass) before he was gradually joined by a seated Mick Farren, Russell, Sandy plus Jaki Windmill on tabla, Gregg McKella on oboe and Steve Mann on backing vocals  aka The Portobello Allstars. Farren has definite stage presence and the set worked well during his lyrical pieces, less so when the musicians started Hawkwinding amongst themselves. Half-Price Drinks and a singalong version of the Deviants Let’s Loot The Supermarket provided a rousing finish, with Boss making an onstage cameo.

Finally veteran Detroit beatnik John Sinclair performed some spoken word packed by the Dirty Strangers, all the way from Shepherds Bush (as they mentioned incessantly). Their backing of Sinclair was impressively sympathetic, although the songs they performed without him were pubrock at it’s stodgiest. Welcome visual distraction was provided by Angel, a true Pink Fairy in matching pink wings and bob who did her best to summon the spirit of Stacia. A splendid time was guaranteed for all, the CD was well and truly launched, Boss made a few bob and we all did the Portobello Shuffle.

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From → Gigs, Interviews

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