Remember that tagline from "Unsolved Mysteries," when Robert Stack would introduce the next segment by intoning: "Watch, and learn. Perhaps...you can solve a mystery."
That's definitely the case here, with this image of this gig poster of the Five Emprees sent by Joe Redman (Rock Island, IL), who says that he's been trying to pinpoint a year/venue for awhile now, but without success. This is what he has to say about it:
"I actually grew up in the city where Tommy James got his start (Niles, MI). Three years behind in high school. I saw him when he was playing at high school dances with the band of Niles boys. Have some other TJ memorabilia. This poster I got some time ago from a friend who got it from his father when he passed away. He had no info on it, but I snatched it up. Sorry I don't have anything for you."
So that's the backstory, as basic as it gets. Readers, that's where you come in -- does anybody out there know when (or where) this gig took place? Were you there, or even if you weren't -- can you help shed a little bit more light on the details? Like the man said....perhaps you can solve a mystery.
****10/17/16: COMING SOON: An interview with Virginia Quesada on "The Humbler," her forthcoming documentary on Danny Gatton....stay tuned: this one will be worth your while! PLUS: My wrapup of Ian Hunter's Chicago appearance, at City Winery (10/11/16).
Right now, I'm looking at this weekend -- say, Sunday or Monday -- because I'm still plowing through a lot of other (less fun 'n' sexy) stuff (that's still gotta be done)....such is life. But you'll all know when I've done the deed, don't worry.
NOW POSTED: Three new spoken word tracks: ["Bring Down The House With Love," "French Kiss (Take 3)," "I Got Your Back"] on....guess where? The "Spoken Word Tracks" page.
AND: A new photo in "Entertainment Or Death: The Strange Case Of Screaming Lord Sutch," in the "Featured Essays" section. For those who can't wait to find out....it's number seven of seven.
PLUS: Can anyone give the provenance for this Five Emprees gig poster below?
BUT WAIT (THERE'S MORE): Three key excerpts from my September 2013 interview for The Verge, about WE ARE THE CLASH: THE LAST STAND OF A BAND THAT MATTERED, which Mark Andersen and I are working on, as we speak....dig in, as the saying goes. In more ways than one. :-)
COMING SOON: My review of PHOTOPUNK, the David Apps documentary....as soon as I've seen it!...and some spoken word performance tracks from the St. Joe Library (4/30/16).
STILL UP FOR GRABS: HAPPY TRAILS (LITTLE BUDGIE IS 47) EP, available as a free homemade download type product...get 'em while they're hot, as they say.
SINCE MOVED: My interview with Michael Rogosin (3/20/16) is now in....wait for it!....the "Featured Films" section.
SINCE DELETED: The Sixth Generation update on its surprise summer hit single, "Livin' In A Small Town."
Comment capability is back for now, but stay on topic. If not...I'm taking the toys away again! :-) In the meantime: stay cool. ****
Remember that tagline from "Unsolved Mysteries," when Robert Stack would introduce the next segment by intoning: "Watch, and learn. Perhaps...you can solve a mystery."
And so, the clock rewinds, the minute hand takes a moment to reset itself, the second hand waits for an encore cue, and we renew our acquaintance once more with Rick Shaffer, former guitarist of those amped up '80s Philadelphia New Wave ravers, The Reds, who's lately racked up an impressive streak of solo albums that shows no signs of letting up.
That's certainly the case for his latest effort, Outside Of Time (Tarock Music), which maintains the standards that we've come to expect from him: high energy, stripped down garage-psych and punk, infused with flecks of old school R&B, and a little hill country blues, too, while he's at it. As usual, Shaffer carries the load (guitar, percussion, lead vocals), with a little bit of strategic assistance from Teddy Rixon (bass) and Russ Mitchell (drums, percussion).
If you've followed Shaffer's work this far, you'll know his albums start off with a houseshaking opening track, and "Killer Time" is no exception. The track builds around a fuzz-laced riff, and a drum/tambourine track that just propels it right along, as Shaffer asks someone -- a business partner, friend, or lover, we don't know -- to just drop the pretense, and deal with life's hard truths, for a change ("Why are you waiting for things you can't see?"). Then, in the middle, the song explodes into a truly paint-peeling, overdriven lead solo that provides an apt counterpart to its theme (a favored subject of previous Shaffer efforts).
This uptempo approach and unapologetic mindset prevails on tracks like "One By One" ("Ask me once, but please don't ask again, where I'm going, and mostly, where I've been"), and "Blowing My Mind" ("I ain't changing, I ain't changing my mind now"), on which Shaffer laces his lyrics with dark flecks of guitar fills. Like I've said before, and feel obliged to say again....if the Rolling Stones are serious about reclaiming their mojo, here's where that mission should start.
"Going Down Slow," on the other hand, is a shot of grungy blues energy that nods to simpler pleasures: in this case, cruising the cityscape, and listening to music, without worrying about where you're going, what you need to do next, or whether you've got to be on time ("Going down, going down slow/don't tell the things that I already know"). It's a fitting subject, considering the site of the album's recording (Del Tone Studios, Detroit, MI). The blues elements return in full force on the closing track, the aptly-titled "Hellhound Trip," which will definitely give a glimpse of a hellhound's pursuit.
Other highlights include "Show Me," a shimmering, moody piece of psych-pop that (honestly) recalls the world-weary, "shrug my shoulders" resignation of the Music Machine's twilight years. As on the other songs, Shaffer leaves the listener to determine just who he's taking to task here, though it's definitely someone that he's happy not to see anymore ("How many times/must I try to explain/Trouble coming down like a pouring rain?").
Other tracks show Shaffer in a more pop-oriented mood. The biggest surprise here, and hint at a direction to explore on future albums, if Shaffer chooses. Notable snapshots include "Blowing My Mind," "Your Charm," whose guitar hook nods to T. Rex's breakthrough ("Get It On"), and "Changing Anything," which boasts an earnestly singlong chorus amid its underdog determination ("This ain't changing anything, no this ain't changing anything/No this ain't changing anything I know").
In less adept hands, the sonic collisions that often occur here -- the layered vocals, persistent leads, and strategically deployed guitar and percussion fills -- would sound soggy and deadly. On Outside Of Time, they sound just right. Ladies and gentlemen, may we present....Mr. Rick Shaffer, Philly guitar slinger, who's bearing down on you with everything he knows....the one-man last gang in town, who hasn't chased the trends. With works of this caliber, he won't feel the need.
Available: Tarock Music, PO Box 675, Blakeslee, PA 18610
Cover Art: "Ballerina," Jenny Gray
Well, here we are again, for what's become a mid-summer rite: the Five Emprees, present and correct, back for another go-round at Hidden Pointe. What else needs to be said? What more needs to be said?
The best answer to those questions comes near the end of tonight's second set, as lead singer Don Cook pauses to catch his breath, and address the crowd. "You make this fun," he says. "You're the reason we do this."
Last year's fiftieth anniversary reunion to celebrate the release of "Little Miss Sad" -- the song that, for a brief time, put the band on the national map -- marked an emotional high point, one that sold out rapidly. Of course, such moments carry plenty of their own implied pressure (as in, how are you gonna top that, kid?).
The answer is equally simple: keep on keepin' on, and leave it there. The Five Emprees hark back to a simpler time, when the night's mission focused on forgetting your problems, and having some fun -- before the extended soloing and lengthy conceptual opuses that typified the counterculture at its best (and worst) kicked in.
At this point, the Five Emprees' only competition is themselves, and they remain tight as ever, as even a casual listen to the interplay of their vocal frontline -- Cook, Ron Pelkey (bass), and Tony Catania (lead guitar) -- suggests. Tonight's set tilts toward the Beatles, as well as R&B nuggets like "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," and "Sugar Shack," which also allow ample room for the gutsy backup vocals of Becky Rotter, and Dale Owen, to shine through. (The latter selections are also a reminder of the band's musical roots, which set them down a different path than most of their more overtly rock-oriented contemporaries.)
Everyone gets their chance to shine, as Catania proves with his energetic delivery of "Back In The USSR" -- or Pelkey, when he straps on a massive blonde Gretsch guitar, for an emotionally-charged rendition of Santo & Johnny's after-hours instrumental, "Sleep Walk." Yes, you may have heard it in countless movies and TV ads, but not this way -- not in this intimate of a setting, where Pelkey sits onstage, wringing new clusters of feeling in each string that he bends.
Then and now, that ability to raise songs to another level is one of the Five Emprees' signature talents. However many times you may have heard songs like "Fun, Fun, Fun," or "The Letter," the band always finds a new twist to interject -- whether it's a burst of acapella interplay between all those onstage, in the former, or the "dueling versions" game that they play on the latter. Hence, Cook leads off with the Alex Chilton version, before yielding to guitarist/keyboardist Steve Phillips -- who raises the rafters with his take on the Joe Cocker version.
Along the way, we also get detours through the worlds of pop ("Eleanor," "Tell Her No"), and garage rock ("You Really Got Me," "Woolly Bully"), driven along by Catania's no-nonsense lead approach -- ah, if only all rock 'n' roll could have scaled such gloriously crunchy peaks back in '65-'66, right? -- with an epic run through the Beatles' Abbey Road medley, "Louie Louie," and "Little Miss Sad" rounding out the night.
Only, there's just one small hitch: nobody's really ready to go home yet, leaving the band to flip through their fake books and sheet music stands for a couple minutes. A brief glance here, a hurried consultation there, and what's the solution? Why, what any self-respecting dance band does -- pull out a crowd pleaser that you've already aired, in mid-set, and try scaling some newer heights in the process.
In this case, the song is "Satisfaction," by the Rolling Stones -- delivered with all the sass and rhythmic drive that characterized the original, with plenty of fist-pumping affirmation from the crowd. Now, the night can officially come to an end, the house lights can flicker on again, and the crowd can file out, leaving another memory to put in its scrapbooks (mental or physical).
Dave Carlock, local uber-producer made good, and I exchange glances, and quick verdicts...."Yeah, this just have been...." He nods. "The best one yet." He nods again. We'll see what next year holds.
Benton Harbor's certified '60s garage band legends, the Five Emprees, returned for their annual reunion last week at the Hidden Pointe banquet hall, off Nickerson Avenue, in Benton Harbor....
....but you'll have to wait just a little bit for the full report and photos, now that I've gotten them off my friendly neighborhood Walgreens photo kiosk.
Here's the set list, which should tide you all over for now, till I post the complete package:
First Set Time Won't Let Me/Pretty Woman/Tell Her No/Day Tripper/I Saw Her Standing There/Laugh Laugh/Do You Love Me/Dancing In The Street/Hey Lover/Ain't Too Proud To Beg/Can't Buy Me Love/Be My Baby/The Long & Winding Road/Walk Don't Run/Mustang Sally/Black Magic Woman/Little Miss Sad
Second Set Blues Brothers Medley/In Dreams/Wooly Bully/Sugar Shack/Please Please Me/Fun, Fun, Fun/Shake/You Can't Do That/Sleep Walk (featuring Ron Pelkey, guitar)/Back In The USSR/Sweet Caroline/Eleanor/Satisfaction/You Don't Have To Say You Love Me/You Really Got Me/Lady Marmalade/ The Letter (dueling versions: Box Tops vs. Joe Cocker's, sung by Steve Phillips)/Beatles Medley/Louie Louie/Little Miss Sad
BRISTOL BOYS MAKE MORE NOISE:
MODS, POWER POP, SCOOTER BOYS: 1979-87
(Bristol Archive Records: www.bristolarchiverecords.com,
AVAILABLE APRIL 1)
Like many buzzwords, the definition of Mod depends on who coins it. If you lived in London, you could plug into a readymade subculture – whether you caught the Who in their '60s prime, or the unfairly-overlooked late '70s/early '80s “second wavers” (like the Chords, for instance) – and connect the dots. So firmly had the late Pete Meaden's now-famous definition (“clean living under difficult circumstances”) imprinted itself on the UK's psyche.
So what did you do, then, if you lived far from the madding capitol crowd, and its oh-so-cool aura? One answer lies in Bristol Music Archive's latest compilation, BRISTOL BOYS MAKE MORE NOISE: MODS, POWER POP, SCOOTER BOYS: 1979-87, featuring 21 underdog nuggets that fell short of wider exposure (either appearing on small 7-inch single runs – or previously unreleased – that ain't limited man, that's incarcerated!). Further reinforcement will come with a novel, TO BE SOMEONE: BRISTOL MOD 1979-85, by Michael W. Salter, which Bristol Archive Records and Tangent Books will co-publish later this year.
“Bristol’s always been an amazing city for producing great bands. Whether it be any subculture (Punk, Mod, Ska, Reggae, Goth, Dark Wave, Rock, Metal), you can always find a great band that fitted the genre,” notes Mike Darby – who staked out his contribution as lead singer of the Rimshots, and now runs Bristol Archive Records. “Mod was quite small I would say in Bristol, Power Pop bands were much more commonplace. But the Power Pop bands were all influenced by the progression from punk into New Wave and then post punk (White shirts, thin black ties, skinny jeans).”
Phil Olerenshaw, drummer of Thin Air – also featured here – heartily seconds those sentiments “The great thing is, that there were dozens of bands gigging in Bristol at the time, and it was a really creative time. The Rimshots were the flagship for ska/bluebeat, and we were certainly grateful to them for giving us a lot of support slots in the early days,” Olerenshaw recalls. “Both bands fitted together well, and had a decent fan base. The Ska 'thing' actually only lasted 12-18 months in terms of fashion, and inevitably we all moved on in different directions.
“Personally, I always enjoyed the 'Arty' Bristol bands like Sneak Preview, The Hybrids, Creature Beat and The Controls. These bands were very clever musically, with plenty of social commentary, and catchy melodies. They were all gigging regularly at a number of venues, and it was easy to get to know their material. The other great thing to mention is that a lot of the bands supported each other, and it was very common to see faces from other bands in the crowd. There was none of the 'rivalry' bollocks that existed elsewhere. That's how it should be.”
Playing in a local band had one other side benefit – the chance to open for your musical heroes. In the Rimshots' case, that meant 2-Tone bands like the Selecter, the Specials, and the English Beat. Of the Rimshots' latter opening slot, Darby recalls: “An amazing experience. The Beat had just blown up HUGE, so the place was packed, nearly 1,500. The whole building was jumping, the dance floor used to be like a trampoline.
“My lasting memory was asking Saxa to sign a copy of one of their 7-inch singles for me. He politely refused, saying that no musician would do this for another, we were all the same. I quickly changed approach and asked if he could do it for my younger brother, which of course he was delighted to do – I have still have that treasured 7” vinyl.”
Thin Air's initial peak – supporting the Jam, at the Locarno – coincided with the horror of John Lennon's murder, (December 8, 1980), as Olerenshaw vivdly recalls all too well: “He was assassinated in the early hours of the morning (UK time), so the whole crowd, and indeed the bands, were in a state of numbness by the time of the gig that evening.” The Jam's singer-guitarist, Paul Weller, responded by dedicating “Start” – which nods melodically to the Beatles' “Taxman” – in Lennon's memory.
“For the gig itself, I remember coming on stage in darkness with the lights down, while the intro music played, and seeing pairs of eyes literally everywhere (there were 3,000 people watching!),” Olerenshaw says. “I remember the silence for a couple of seconds when our first song ended, followed by a huge roar! Finally, I recall Paul Weller telling us to go back for an encore, when we'd finished, because we'd 'gone down' really well, and the crowd were calling for us.
“We also got the best seats in the house to watch the Jam themselves, who were at the 'top of their game' at the time, and had been number 1 in the charts with their album, SOUND AFFECTS, and both singles ('Going Underground' and 'Start'). Finally I remember signing autographs, giving away drumsticks, and getting home at 2 a.m., with school the next day!!”
With all those memories still ringing vividly in their holders' minds, how do we start examining this thing called Bristol Mod? In this case,start with the opening blast of “Too Young Girl” (The ATs: 1980), which combines all the essential ingredients – a smart call and response vocal hook, a rousing chorus and a raveup that would do the Who or the Yardbirds proud – into a rumbling Mod-Pop recipe. Various Artists pull off the same trick on their contribution, “Weekends” – released on their own label, in 1981 – whose length (an epic 5:09) shouldn't put you off, especially after you hear the extended coda that kicks in halfway through, and lifts the song to a whole 'nother level.
As this disc makes plain, the line between its main genres – Mod, power pop and ska – is razor thin, one that Bristol's finest relished blurring, and often to glorious effect. For examples, check out “A Thousand Burning Voices” (Thin Air: 1982, previously unreleased), whose anthemic blast offers a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been – had the proverbial “suits” resisted the temptation to break rock 'n' roll's Unwritten 11th Commandment (Thou Shalt Not Mess With What's Already Good).
Olerenshaw cites “Voices” as an example of singer-guitarist Paul Sandrone's newfound maturity as a songwriter: “We learnt the song in a day (during the school holidays) and it evolved into a clever song with excellent dynamics, having a reflective, acoustic verse, and then it launches into a euphoric punchy chorus. Personally, I loved the way that the tempo goes from half-time in the verse, to standard-time in the bridge , and then double-time in the chorus which makes the song 'take off'. The harmonies on that song were also pretty spectacular and the Beach Boys influence was very evident! It's a clever song, about love and self doubt...and it became popular in the live set.”
This being the '80s – and the twin spectres of yuppie drones and Margaret Thatcher's aggressive monetarism ravaging the British landscape – it's hardly surprising that a fair slice of social commentary runs through the proceedings here. Choice examples include the Rimshots' “I Was Wrong” (1980), and its deadpan sendup of looking for work that doesn't remotely promise any idea of fulfillment ("My mum said I would get a very good job/I went down to Bristol to get a job/I was wrong"), and the Cass Carnaby Five's “November Rain” (1985), a propulsive look at the isolation of urban life (“He looks out of his window, hoping for more than he's seen before/Just another day in November rain”). And, in “Fleet Street,” the Review gives the fourth estate a sound kicking, though the lyrics are a bit hard to make out (I'll have to give that track another shot and try again, I suppose).
Other chordsmiths chose to work the lovelorn angle, such as Huw Gower – the biggest name here, who went on to the Records (and also played on bills with the Jam, incidentally). He turns is a moody, but shimmering slice of pop in “She's Still A Mystery” (1981), which laments that perennially unavailable “girl who knocks you off your feet.” In a fairer world, this song – buoyed by a swirling, insistent guitar and keyboard line – should have snagged a smash hit for its composer. Then again, rock isn't a meritocracy, or else compilations like this one wouldn't be necessary, right?
At the same time, it's also worth remembering that other styles coexisted comfortably under the Mod umbrella – with R&B, soul and ska providing the musical common denominator. Power pop and rock weren't the only flavors of the day – though, in some cases, it meant going back to home base and turning a genre on its head. That's what the Newbeats do on “Somebody's Girl,” whose double-tracked vocals, shimmering guitars and telegrammatic lyrics (“I want to hold her tight through the night”) could slot comfortably in the Merseybeat file (albeit -- released in 1985). By contrast, the Untouchables confidently mine the R&B angle on “Keep Your Distance” (1980) , which barrels along a prominent harmonica hook and solo that would give Lew Lewis a run for his money.
Other outfits preferred to fly the ska banner, as exemplified by Sky High's “Maryanne,” which drives its romantic discontent home with a hefty dose of horns and organ. The CD ends with a pair of live tracks from Blue Riverside, who also show a definite '60s-ish influence. For my money, “Experiments In Colour” is the stronger performance – though both tracks boast plenty of rip-roaring guitar to pull you along. (These bands always had good guitarists, which is only one reason that I – being a musician myself – appreciate this particular sub-genre.)
To untrained ears, ending with these two tracks seems like a curious choice – since the fidelity isn't immaculate – but I'd much rather hear a basement show captured in all its gritty glory than a dull performance recorded immaculately. If nothing else, Mod is about rowdiness, sweat and passion, which is why the Blue Riverside tracks provide an apt exclamation point. Compilations are often hit or miss affairs – depending on who's included, or excluded – but that's not the case here.
Obviously, it helps to have a theme, but there's plenty of strong material on offer (I just listed the ones that caught my attention first) – which is why you should pick up this release, and give it time on your shelf. In short, MODS stands up as a timely reminder of an era that casts a strong ripple effect on today's culture, as Darby explains: “The Mod scene has never really gone away and it’s still fairly big to this day with the following bands having reformed and still out gigging, some to huge crowds – The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, The Beat (three versions), Bad Manners, the Chords, Secret Affair, The Purple Hearts and new mod bands that have just appeared, like The Spitfires.”
“I think it's simply a great era to celebrate,” agrees Olerenshaw. “Mod and Ska has stood the test of time, and to this day, a lot of football grounds play stuff like 'The Liquidator' and 'Double Barrel' before matches. It's the ultimate feelgood music, and I think it will always be popular!”
BRISTOL ARCHIVE RECORDS: http://www.bristolarchiverecords.com/
BANDCAMP PAGE: http://bristolarchiverecords.bandcamp.com/
RIMSHOTS DISCOGRAPHY: http://www.bristolarchiverecords.com/bands/Rimshots.html
THIN AIR DISCOGRAPHY: http://www.bristolarchiverecords.com/bands/Thin_Air.html
Well, the verdicts are trickling in (along with the orders): thanks to those who have shown a willingness to wrap their arms around Desperate Times, the 'zine that sticks up for the right to cut, paste 'n' comment...without a care in the world for where the chips may happen to fall.
Here's what they're saying so far: UGLY THINGS #40: "....A throwback to the classic cut 'n' paste style of the '70s and '80s with collaged Xeroxed images, hand-drawn graphics, and -- ah, yes, I remember them well -- paste-up lines." "Written, assembled and stapled by UT writer Ralph Heibutzki, Issue #1 has articles on Swedish Killed By Death favorite Hemliga Bosse, a reappraisal of the second Jam album, and Sylvain Sylvain stage banter, and some personal commentary pieces." Thanks to my main man, UGLY THINGS Supremo Mike Stax, for his comments there...as you'll gather from the above company, this is one instance in which I don't mind being seen as a throwback....they don't call it "old school" for nothing, right?
MAXIMUM ROCK 'N' ROLL (#391, December 2015): "Mostly punk oriented, Chairman Ralph is putting in work to dig it up; digging through clues in comment threads in old KBD blogs to contact the old '77 punks behind classic singles or making the two-hour drive for a 'storytellers'-style session with Sylvain Sylvain. It's good to know that someone is hoofing it to dig up and preserve the gritty details....Curious to see what gets turned up for #2."
POSITIVE CREED #28 (UK): "All the way from the States, DESPERATE TIMES is a new 'zine with a difference. Ralph has done a good job with this debut effort, and put it together in a Dada kind of way, which gives it an old look, which takes me back to a time when 'zine editors relied on imagination, not modern technology. "Inside this issue, you'll find an interesting piece on the New York Dolls, an article on the Jam which goes back over their THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD album, a brief chat with Paul Shand from The Numbers, a really nice piece of writing regarding theft at work, and various other things which have been thrown into the mix. "For a first attempt, I'm impressed with what's going on here, and my only criticism is that each page is only printed on one side, which makes it a bulky read...and I think it would not only be cheaper to distribute, but easier to follow if both sides were used. Nice work, Ralph, and I look forward to seeing issue #2 soon, my friend." Thanks, Rob, nice on that score, as well!
And, as I freely acknowledge, the last point he raises about the single versus double-sided issue is a fair one....believe me, though, it's not intentional, or some kind of art statement on my part...it's more a reflection of living in a small town where your options are crap! :-) Or, in other words...the best deal I've found on double-sided copies so far is 9 cents a page, versus the nickel per page I currently pay for my single-sided copies....so guess what's winning out? And I'll probably have to stick with the latter, at least for the short run, until I find some clever way around the whole nonsense.
Or, put another way...I could have waited for the ultimate moment, with all the options falling into place...but you don't always happen to get that particular combo, in life or in art...so I followed my instincts, and went with what I had. If you have any interest in the proceedings, I hope you won't mind...for all I know, I suspect you won't. So what are you waiting for?
Check out the contents for yourself, all 44-odd pages, with a color stock cover that'll make you sit up and take notice (trust me)...for only $5 postpaid, to: PO Box 2, St. Joseph, MI 49085-0002, USA. Go ahead -- just take a deep breath, and take the plunge! And it'll beat seeing the usual stacks of junk mail, or bills...more updates to come, as events and space dictate.
The hunger for something tangible seems all the rage these days -- as anyone witnessing the return of vinyl can attest. The same situation seems to apply to 'zines, those gloriously cut 'n' pasted, hand-designed, errantly-stapled samizdat dispatches from some alternate universe where nobody gives a rat's ass about celebrity A-list circle-jerking...the latest auto-tuned pop something-or-other phenom...let alone the latest installment in some mercifully forgotten movie franchise.
No, 'zines serve a purpose, and more people seem to have reached the same conclusion, judging by the turnout I witnessed at the Grand Rapids Zine Fest (7/25/15), which took place at the Kendall College of Art and Design's Fed Galleries. Having planned on doing a 'zine myself for some time now, I decided to go and see how the field looked. After all, pundits and scenesters alike had been sounding the death knell of 'zines since the 2000s, when blogs seemed to have taken over the space that they'd occupied. The '90s era of zinesters-make-good-now-here's-your-book-deal seemed as unthinkable as an ashtray on a motorbike.
However, the energy on display in the room said something else to me, as my wife and I made the rounds of tables -- from anarchist-oriented, to feminist, to personal and back again, all the passion on display made me want to pursue my objective that much more. Given the heavy hand of tech developments like "Mobilegeddon," all of a sudden, paper looks like a better and better bet: you can hold it in your hand, you can put it down again. Hey, what a concept! I suspect that's one reason for developments like the return of vinyl records, and the apparent rebound of indie bookstores.
The day's bigger draws included Matt Feazell, best known for his series of mini-comics: "The Amazing Cynicalman." Fittingly enough, he gave a workshop on the subject -- and, 90 minutes later, I found myself creating my first one! Now that's energy in action, I say. The afternoon concluded with a workshop, where several exhibitors read from their own 'zines -- and, though I didn't have a table, I was able to read excerpts from one of my own 'zine's forthcoming articles. Hear it for yourself on the "Featured Songs" portion of this site.
Somewhere, somehow, an inner ring of true believer is doing its best to keep the cause alive, which makes me want to sign up all the more. The nature of instant publication is hard to deny, especially when you're used to publications sitting on your ideas for weeks -- or even months -- at a time, only to say "NO" anyway...or, worse, seeing them watered down through sheer attrition in the editing process.
While I can't leave these developments behind just yet, I've dedicated that it's time for my own outlet, my 'own zine -- and its name is DESPERATE TIMES, which will combine my lifelong love of outsider music and art with personal commentary, essays and reflections on whatever topic or issue might strike my fancy (though it'll most likely come wrapped up in a social bent). I'm working on it this week as I speak -- creating a look that dips into the currents of Punk and Mod, without permanently dropping anchors into the choppy waters of the past.
DESPERATE TIMES will cut through the fog of those '77-era ills that seem stronger and more noxious than ever -- cultural apathy, glaring social inequity, mindless media content, and narrowing of opportunities for the majority -- with humor, without a concern for the passing of trends, or falling into the common traps of art/cynicism for its own sake, or making lengthy lists of rules that everybody else but the compilers feel obliged to follow. DESPERATE TIMES will offer a voice to music and the culture on the margins, and -- in the process -- reclaim a space outside mainstream cliches of "elevator speeches", "media platforms" and "staying on message." DESPERATE TIMES will stake out a presence away from the gatekeepers' mindless power games of "thumbs up, thumbs down, what else you got, kid?"...and, hopefully, leave its own lasting imprint.
What happens from this point? Stay tuned, as I begin assembling the final product, and figuring out the usual distribution/promotion issues...but all I know is, after seeing all that energy on display, I don't feel like standing still.
Unless you're a diehard punk partisan, the odds are even that you may not know this song -- which gained wider exposure on the BLOODSTAINS ACROSS AUSTRALIA comp CD (1998), having appeared exactly 20 years before then. Like many singles of that era, "Police"/"Underage" was a self-released production, and marked the only one that this Australia band managed to put out. There's a certain symmetry in that fact. But what a great song it is -- if you've heard it, you already know.
One reason is the riff itself, which shows how you can milk one chord (F) to set a mood...a quality it shares in common with "The Leader" (The Clash), which is also based around that same chord, same key (F). The original 45 also features some fiddly bits that my fingers weren't fast to emulate, so I let that go and built my version around the rhythm, which is simple, urgent and driving.
My other inspiration for doing this song is the subject matter, which (sadly) hasn't changed a bit...and is arguably heading backwards, given the recent spate of fatal police-civilian shootings. Twenty-odd years ago, the nation watched transfixed in horror as LAPD officers rained down blow after blow from their night sticks onto Rodney King.
Today, we seem no farther along to a comprehensive solution of the ills that create situations like the King incident (and so many more like it).As the lyrics make amply clear, the situation wasn't much better, then, either ("The police force needs a drastic change/At war with the public, it's time to stop their game"), which has something to do with the militarized aura that characterizes many departments ("They have too much power over us/They try to tower over us"). I had to improvise one line in the latter half of the song, because I couldn't make it out...but it's one that's in keeping with the overall vibe, I think. (I can't recall which one at the moment -- I'll have to listen to it again, and type it out accordingly.)
At any rate, it's a great song from this politically inclined group...and one that deserves a wider exposure than it got the first time around. Go to "Featured Songs" and hear the story for yourself!
The project's been a couple years in the making, but I've been stoked to learn that the long-mooted CLASH BY NIGHT anthology is now available (CityLit Press) -- and I've got two contributions in it!
As the original press release below states, this "lo-fi poetry" anthology is meant to celebrate the Clash's LONDON CALLING album...so contributors were asked to "cover" a song from it -- in other words, write a piece based around the song title that they chose.
In my case, I settled on "Rudie Can't Fail," and "The Guns Of Brixton," which emerged as two perennial favorites the get-go, though I have many fond memories of listening to the album...particularly the obscurities tracks tucked away on side four (and I don't just mean "Train In Vain," whose chugging rhythm made a great soundtrack for skipping rope, while training for some wrestling match-or-other).
However, having been to London a few times -- including a six-month period of living and working at ULU (University of London) -- it's safe to assume the city's beat and mood forms an important backdrop to both of my contributions, which certainly deepened my own appreciation of the two songs that I've just mentioned.
For additional visual punch, CLASH BY NIGHT "will publish initially in an 8x8 pasted-on-board edition to make it feel more like an album," as my final confirmation email stated. That impression will undoubtedly be reinforced by the cover, which is an homage to the original album cover (as those in the know will quickly grasp!).
Gives the Record Store Day experience a whole new meaning, doesn't it? However...
...if you want to get the full lowdown on the mood and theme, you'll just have to read the updated press release right here:
Poetry Anthology Memorializes
The Clash's London Calling Album,
Captures Its Ageless Relevance
Lo-fi Poetry Series
Calling for Proposals to Follow Debut Title
Contacts: Gregg Wilhelm
Press Co-Editor, Clash by Night
London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down...
Released during the Cold War when nuclear annihilation seemed like a real possibility, these first lines off an audacious double-album provided an anthem for a generation of youth. More than 35 years later, forty poets from across the United States have contributed to an anthology inspired by The Clash's seminal record, LONDON CALLING, which attests to the music's enduring relevance.
"LONDON CALLING was a breakthrough record not just for The Clash, but for how we think of genre-it's the album that made ‘punk' popular," said co-editor Gerry LaFemina. "The music is diverse and accessible to multiple audiences, but its snarl -- its attitude -- is still punk."
For a long time, lyric poetry and song lyrics have lived parallel lives, but so many poets love music and rock-and-roll. CLASH BY NIGHT attempts to enter the space between those parallel lines, and engage a dialogue between other poems and the songs of LONDON CALLING.
It is an artistically anachronistic book: it asked poets to "cover" songs, which led to a variety of questions (What does it mean to cover a song vis-à-vis a poem? What do these songs say today? What does the process of writing the poems discover?) that could only be answered through the making of the poems themselves.
"What surprised me most about working on this book is that there are so many people out there who feel the way I do about the album," said co-editor and publisher Gregg Wilhelm. "You have some sort of affirmation all these years later that there were
other odd-ball kids who were going through the same things you were, with their headphones on, too."
"I've been listening to this record for thirty-plus years," LaFemina said. "The song that has become the most meaningful to me is ‘Lost in the Supermarket.' The longing for a childhood that never was. ‘What we call nostalgia,' the poet Gerald Stern wrote, ‘is for the life we didn't live.'"
The co-editors hope the anthology will find audiences among those parallel worlds of poets and rockers.
ABOUT THE EDITORS
Gerry LaFemina is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose including VANISHING HORIZON, NOTES FOR THE NOVICE VENTRILOQUIST, and LITTLE HERETIC. He directs the Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University.
In 2004, Gregg Wilhelm founded CityLit Project in Baltimore and launched its CityLit Press imprint in 2010. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Tampa in 2014.
ABOUT: CityLit Press
CityLit Press, the imprint of nonprofit arts organization CityLit Project, publishes writers who might otherwise be overlooked by larger publishers due to the literary nature or regional focus of their projects. The imprint serves as part of CityLit's mission to unite reader and writers in Baltimore, throughout Maryland, and across the country. www.CityLitProject.org.
The Lo-fi Poetry Series editors are seeking proposals from potential editors for subsequent anthologies in the series. Each book should cover one record and include "cover poems" of each song on the record as well as "liner notes" poems that engage the record as a whole. For complete proposal guidelines, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some ideas just take on a life of their own.
When I started delving into the Unknown Blues' life and times -- and the resulting DVD, ANTARCTIC ANGELS AND THE UNKNOWN BLUES -- I imagined that I'd do a writeup of the film, and call it a day....at the least.
However, that notion quickly fell by the wayside after the filmmaker, Simon Ogston, put me in contact with some of the former Unknown Blues members...one thing led to another, which is how Dave Hogan's interview came onto this webpage...and how you're reading this email chat now with lead guitarist Vaughan MacKay, who's gone above and beyond in providing his own recollections for me. (Thanks to Vaughan for providing all the photos, as well.)
Given the length of this chat session, I thought only fitting to include Vaughan's thoughts separately, so we don't have a super-lengthy block of text to read...so dig in, delve on and don't think you've heard it all...especially when we get to the story of that German military tunic!
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): What made you want to be a musician, and who inspired you -- especially since you switched from drums, to guitar? And how did that percussive approach carry over to your playing style?
VAUGHAN MACKAY (VM): I learned drumming in boarding school and played in the college pipe band. Mainly out of boredom, but once I started learning I was hooked. After leaving school I took a few lessons from a jazz drummer and bought a drum kit. Started playing Shadows, Cliff Richards and Beatles music. Gradually, a few Rolling Stones tracks. As I was drumming I would watch the guitarists at rehearsals and pick up a bit from them. Little by little. I don't think playing the drums influenced my playing style really.
CR: Tell me a bit about your previous band, The Whom -- did they make any recordings, and how were they different (or not) from Unknown Blues?
VM: I played in a few bands before Whom. Whom was a polished outfit, matching Beatle suits. The equipment set up on stage like the Beatles and playing a lot of Beatles stuff. We did play numbers by other groups such as the Searchers, The Kinks, The Animals and a few of The Rolling Stones at my insistance.. The group was tight and strong vocally. We recorded a single with our own song (I can't remember the name) on side one, and "That's How Strong My Love Is" on side two. My one recording as a vocalist. We also appeared on NZ TV playing "Satisfaction" to demonstrate the Fuzz Box...I felt stifled in Whom as they were very conservative. I was getting more and more into the Stones. I was sacked as a result. (Thank God). The Unknown Blues were the complete opposite. We were very serious about our music, but not into uniform dress and a clean cut public image.
CR: What was New Zealand's music scene like before the Stones and the Pretty Things arrived there -- and how did it change from that point on, since bands like yourselves -- and Chants R&B, to cite another example -- drew so much inspiration from them?
VM: I think up to this point Instrumental Guitar bands and American pop were very popular. Bands doing steps on stage and solo performers with show band backing. Conservative.
CR: One of the things that fascinates me about watching the film is how these harder-edged London sounds traveled half a world away. What accounts for the appeal of that music, then and now?
VM: It's easy to play, Is great party music and has a great beat. It is based on american blues and is timeless
CR: I love this description from the Audio Culture entry on the band: "At their peak, they could pack out the swirling psychedelic decorated basement club, playing with local fellow travellers, The Third Chapter and The PIL. One memorable YMCA concert was filmed showing Hancock smashing a redundant semi-acoustic bass, Who-style, in a blistering finale to a hot show. They were not asked back."
Throughout the film, there's an element of "...their reputation preceded them wherever they went." Which gigs were the best -- or most riotous -- and which venues were good for you? (And who were those bands mentioned above -- what they were like? As wild as Unknown Blues, I suspect?)
VM: The Best Gigs we played were The Cellar Club in Dunedin, The Ag Hall Dunedin and a club in Christcchurch. I think it was called Sweethearts. We also played some private dances in Invercargill at Woodend which we ran. They were invitation only and the tickets were about $2.00 each. For this you could drink as much as you could.
After these nights we didn't use brooms to clean the floor. We used Squeegies!!!
Many Invercargill girls lost their "Cherries" at these nights The Third Chapter and The PIL were resident groups at The Cellar Club. They were great musicians and welcomed us to The Cellar. I remember their great parties.
The Dunedin crowds were much different to Invercargill ones. The girls, or some of them, liked to shock. I remember on girl called The Leppy Lady as she was very short, walking into a party in high boots and fur coat. She opened the coat... Stark naked with a very nice figure.. Just one of several memories.
CR: OK, let's talk about that Luftwaffe jacket -- as you probably know, that photo of you wearing it is among the most iconic images associated with the band. As I've mentioned to Dave, and Simon, this is a good 10 years before Johnny Rotten & Co. -- and the New York Dolls, as well -- flirted with such imagery (including the swastika, which we also see in the film).
Obviously, you guys weren't pro-German, or anything like that -- but what motivated you to wear that kind of clothing, and how does it fit into the overall equation of the Unknown Blues' look and sound?
VM: Someone said to me "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story"... So here is the truth.
We didn't dress or act to upset people. We wore what we wanted to. Dave loved white or yellow and wore leather waist coats. Bari loved jeans and always wore blue suede boots. Rocket wore anything he liked and was very fashion conscious. Wombie changed his style of dress during his time with the Blues but was always tidy and well dressed.. As for me, well, I liked uniform tunics. I had my old school cadet jacket. with Sergeant's stripes which I wore a lot. I also had an old redcoat jacket and ripped the sleeves off as it was too hot on stage.
The Unknown Blues stopped playing in July 1969 and up to that point I didn't own a German tunic. I went up to new Plymouth for four months after that time and during that time bought a German Wehrmacht Cavalry Leutnant's jacket. I thought it looked great. When I returned to Invercargill in November or December we did one or two extra gigs and I wore the tunic on stage during this time. I make the point that it wasn't a Luftwaffe tunic. It was a German army one. Nor was it a "NAZI" tunic, but an ordinary army officer's tunic.
We never played at the RSA according to me extensive band archive. I think the photo was taken at St Mary's. There is no way I would have worn the tunic in an RSA as my father was in German capivity for four years. I was brought up to respect our veterans, not upset them. Hope this clears this up once and for all!!
CR: In retrospect, bands like Chants and Unknown Blues could be considered forerunners of punk -- and the film makes a strong case for that, as well. How do you feel about your association with the term, and the movement that exploded during the mid-'70s (and also resonated strongly in Australia and NZ, too)?
VM: This question just makes me smile. We often used to party before gigs and would go on stage in whatever we were wearing that day more or less. We wern't anti social, in fact I would say we were very social. The girls loved our parties. Some of the snobbie girlfriends of other Invercargill bands would leave their boyfriends and then sneak out to our flat. Yes, we were sometimes drunk in public sometimes but were usually happy drunks..
CR: As I've told Dave, your association with the Antarctic Angels immediately reminded me of another parallel to '70s punk (specifically, the Sex Pistols' diehard fans -- the Bromley Contingent). How did the relationship affect your music, and what did they see in it, from your standpoint?
VM: We were kicking around with a lot of the guys who were later Antarctic Angels before The Antarctic Angels were formed. A lot of these guys loved our music and one by one started buying bikes. Roy Reid, the Founder of The Antarctic Angels, was a close mate and was often our Roadie when we went away. He learnt a bit of guitar and was on stage with us from time to time. RIP, Roy!
CR: Between yourselves and Chants, the talent definitely existed to record an album, or two -- though you primarily did covers, in your own way, and were known primarily as a live phenomenon, Why didn't you achieve more in that arena, you think?
VM: We were never interested in recording. We were a live band. I think when we played there was an excitement which fuelled the crowd which in turn fed back to us and took us up higher. This was not drug fuelled as we weren't into that. We drank a lot but put a good performance above everything.
When we were offered to do sessions for Viking in Christchurch we saw it as an opportunity to get there to play and bracketted the sessions with gigs in Christchurch. I think we spent about four days there. One huge party from beginning to end. We arrived at the recording session after a night of playing and parties. Bari's guitar case was full of beer and someone smuggled in a bottle of whisky..
We were surprised to see some session brass musicians in bow ties there to fatten out the rhythm section. They were really square with bow ties. Man what a circus.. We were doing a cover of John Mayall's "Suspicions" and I laid down a pretty good fat solo. Sounded great but a sax player thought he could do a better one. Had to remind him they were backing musicians on this day.. What a hoot. Later in the day we found a party and then off to play a gig. It was a riot..
CR: What do you think led to Unknown Blues' demise -- did it come down to a lack of an audience for original music, or simply a case of not being able to fend off real life any longer?
VM: The demise of the Unknown Blues came over a few months. I became engaged and wanted to see the North Island. Dave, Phil (Sharman) and Wombie wanted to go to Melbourne.
Bari wanted to stay in Invercargill, although he lived in Melbourne later.
We lost interest to a degree I think. Maybe we were burnt out as we were living in party houses and sometimes the parties would go on for weeks with only brief interludes and playing engagements. Our rehearsals often developed into parties.
CR: How long did you continue playing after the breakup, and is music a significant part of your life today?
VM: After The Unknown Blues broke up I played in another group in Invercargill for about a year. I think The band was called Powerhouse. Bari Fitzgerald was in this band with me along with another friend, Paul Kirkwood, on drums. We played in Dunedin, but by this time The Cellar Club was gone.
I then moved to Dunedin in about 1972. I played as a fill in guitarist for Noah with Steve Brett and Richard Lindsay (a fine guitarist!!)
Around this time I also played with a Group called Roach whose members came from Timaru. Still rock but J. Geils type music. I still have a few guitars around the house and enjoy myself with them, but no more playing (in) public.
CR: How did you react when Simon first approached you about making a documentary about Unknown Blues, since the story had effectively been lost to time (and the memories of the participants involved)?
VM: I was very surprised but became enthusiastic about (the idea). I think it was a great experience.
CR: The chemistry between yourselves come through loud and clear in the film. What other factors do you think made the "classic" lineup (Bari, Dave, Keith, Rocket and yourself) so potent, musically speaking? Did you learn anything new from watching the final product?
VM: Not really, except it was a great week -- there is a chemistry there, but it's hard to define. Rocket's bass and Wombie's drums put down a solid beat and Bari, Dave and I bounced off each other. On a good night a single number could go for two hours. The crowds were all important. It wouldn't have happened in an empty hall.
CR: As the cliche goes -- the reunion footage makes it seem like you'd never been apart. Do you see a day when the Unknown Blues will rise again, or has that day passed, you think?
VM: Not really. maybe four of us will but as for the fifth. Nope I don't think so. I love those guys. We lived through a very special time.
CR: Are there any bands in today's Kiwi scene that you might regard as a kindred spirit?
VM: I really don't know. I have lived in Australia since 1979.
CR: And lastly, the million-dollar question -- any regrets, and what kind of footprint did the Unknown Blues leave on Kiwi music?
VM: No regrets. I think we were all blessed to have been born when we were. We were teens during the pop revolution. What can I say? Met so many wonderful people. It was right in the hippie time and many of those people are lifetime friends all around the world.
Some of the most fascinating stories -- from a journalistic perspective -- are the ones that don't get told right away. In some cases, though, "right away" is a matter of definition. Just ask the members of Unknown Blues, who tore up New Zealand from December 1966 to June 1970.
Taking their name from a track by the Pretty Things -- whose August 1965 tour, along with a previous outing by the Rolling Stones, provided the jump-off point -- the Unknown Blues and their biker fan following, the Antarctic Angels, burned a permanent footprint into local fans' memories as a loud, wild and rude outfit to reckon with...drinking heavily from the well that yielded Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters...plus the amped-up white blues of Chicken Shack, Cream, and Fleetwood Mac.
And that's where the story sat after the band broke up. Like many local acts, then and now, the Unknown Blues remained a live phenomenon: aside from a couple of sessions that didn't satisfy the parties involved, the Unknown Blues left no recorded footprint behind.
And that's where paths diverged for the classic lineup: lead singer Dave Hogan has continued playing with various bands (Blues Hangover, Southern Lightning, The Paramounts). So does guitarist Bari Fitzgerald, who plays locally -- in and around the band's Invercargill stomping grounds.
The remaining members (bassist John "Rocket" Hancock, drummer Keith "Wmobie" Mason and lead guitarist Vaughan MacKay), on the other hand, left music and got on with real life. If you didn't catch them in their prime, you wouldn't have seen or heard the story -- which filmmaker Simon Ogston has now documented in this snappy, roughly-hour-long documentary.
The resulting DVD ("Antarctic Angels And The Unknown Blues") emerged, as we'll see, while Ogston set about documenting the story of another long-unheralded local New Zealand legend (Chants R&B) for a totally different documentary project ("Rumble & Bang"). From there, nature simply took its course.
But that's perfectly fine, because the Unknown Blues story is more than that of an inspired local band -- although that's the obvious starting point. It's also a great human interest story of five guys who had the time of their lives, but didn't give a damn, and have no regrets now. As far as I'm concerned...that's the perfect exclamation point.
Having stumbled across the story myself, I threw out some fishing lines to Simon, and the band, as well...and this is what emerged. Enjoy...and long live the Unknown Blues!
SIMON OGSTON (7/12/14 INTERVIEW)
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): First, tell me a little about yourself: how did you end up in the film business, and what did you do before starting Bellbird Pictures?
SIMON OGSTON (SO): I'm largely self-taught, I started working in TV in 2006 as a reporter, then started Bellbird in 2009 with the intention of making family history films, then went off the rails and started making doco's about underground Kiwi music
CR: You stumbled on the Unknown Blues Band while researching the Chants (story). How did that connection come about?
SO: I was interviewing someone about the Chants R&B and he told me that "if you think these guys were wild, you should check out the Unknown Blues". Up until that point very little was known about the band, just a very brief mention about them and the Antarctic Angels in a few NZ (New Zealand) books. Of course this lack of info added to the band's legend. Everyone who ever saw the group in or around Invercargill in the 1960s has never forgotten them.
CR: In a sense, both bands' stories follow the familiar arc that you see in films like "That Thing You Do!": band forms, gets some local notoriety, makes the odd record, then splits up and gets on with real life. What made you decide that both stories were worth telling?
SO: Yes, this is the story for most bands. I guess I'm interested in groups that pursue their own approach and in the process develop something that is distinctive to NZ rather than just mimicking overseas groups. With the Unknown Blues in particular, the story had basically been lost to time and I thought it was worthy of recording just because it was so out of the ordinary at the time - like in most Western countries, the late '60s were a time of significant social change in NZ.
CR: Tell me a bit about the lone Unknown Blues recording that features in the film -- where did you source that clip, and can you tell me where/when it was recorded?
SO: Somebody recorded that live performance off their radio at home, I'm not sure who. The band did record a few songs in a studio in Christchurch but these were ruined by engineers in bowties who insisted on overdubbing a brass section. The recordings have been lost, probably forever.
CR: The talent was certainly there, so why didn't both bands achieve more, you think, recording-wise? Why didn't they write more original material?
SO: Not sure -- I guess the concept of writing your own music was largely yet to filter into NZ at that point, most bands played exclusively covers, although their versions did differ significantly from the originals.
CR: Although both bands had strong blues/R+B leanings, they arguably fall into the proto-punk category, too...to what extent do you think is this perception accurate, or is it more a case of how "polite" (quote-unquote) New Zealand society viewed such endeavors at the time?
SO: I think the rawness of the Unknown Blues in particular is a connection with punk, a general preference for playing loose and raw rather than technical proficiency.
CR: I'm (also) thinking of the swastika affectations and images like (guitarist) Vaughan McKay playing in the Luftwaffe military jacket -- I'm intrigued at how that sort of imagery surfaced well before Johnny Rotten or the New York Dolls were toying with it.
SO: I guess the desire to provoke a reaction among a generally more conservative society has been around a long time. For most people it was the most shocking thing they could think of. Having said that, I would wager that wearing a Luftwaffe jacket into an Invercargill RSA in 1967 was considerably more dangerous than the exploits of Ron Asheton or Sid Vicious.
CR: As a biographer and historian-type myself, I know -- and so do you -- at how difficult it can be to pin down stories that weren't particularly well documented (or only sketchily documented, at best). What were some of the challenges that you faced in making both these films, and how did you deal with them?
SO: The main challenge, as always, is a lack of any funding. I found most band members' memories were pretty intact and everyone was pretty open about talking about it. Having such a wealth of photos was a real plus. It's a shame there's no film footage in existence.
CR: How's "Antarctic Angels" been received since its release?
SO: The Unknown Blues film has been popular among the gang/band's old cohorts, it's been a great way of bringing some old friends together. I think they're very happy the story has been preserved for posterity
CR: And the million dollar question: what's up next? Your website mentions a documentary on the Skeptics -- how's that coming?
SO: The Skeptics film "Sheen of Gold" is out now on Flying Nun Records, and can be ordered from their website. The next film will be on Phil Dadson and his percussive ensemble From Scratch.
CR: Are you done with music for now, or is there another great cult story somewhere in the pipeline, just waiting to be told?
SO: There's a few things in the works, we'll see what happens...
"...WE WERE MORE THAN READY TO BE CORRUPTED":
DAVE HOGAN RECALLS HIS UNKNOWN BLUES EXPERIENCE (8/02/14)
CR: The Keith Richards comments cited near the beginning of the film ("How the fuck can you stand to live here?") are priceless. What was New Zealand's music scene like before the Stones and the Pretties arrived -- and how did it change, since bands like yourselves (and Chants R&B) clearly drew so much inspiration from both of them?
DAVE HOGAN (DH): In short, very conservative. It was the era of short back and sides haircuts and every member of the Unknown Blues was definitely a “post war” baby. I was the baby of the band, born in 1949. When we heard The Pretty Things and Rolling Stones it was like nothing we had ever head before. On top of that they looked like nothing we had seen before and we more than ready to be corrupted.
CR: What other bands and/or musicians proved influential in your development as a frontman, and a harp player?
DH: Before the British R&B bands I personally loved early rock and roll. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, etc. So that was the initial musical grounding.
CR: One of the fascinating elements in Simon's film, to me, is how those harder-edged London blues/rock sounds traveled so far away. What accounts for the appeal of that music, in your mind, and what kind of effect did it exert on the local scene?
DH: Like everywhere else in the world at that time there seemed to be the thought that you were either a Stones or Beatles person. New Zealand was no exception. There were plenty of conservatives and plenty of rebellious extroverts – the Unknown Blues definitely fell into the later category.
CR: Other than those Stones/Pretty Things tour stops -- what, do you feel, was the catalyst in your own band's formation?
DH: At school I was asked by the vocational guidance officer what I wanted to be. To which I replied a singer in a rock and roll band. I was about 14 years old at the time, so I guess what I did was a given.
CR: Throughout the film, there's definitely an element of "...their reputation preceded them, everywhere they went." What were some of the best and/or most riotous gigs, in your opinion? The best venues?
DH: The Cellar Club in Dunedin was always fantastic and our first ever gig at a Christmas Bible Class Dance in Invercargill was probably the most riotous and set the precedent for things to come.
CR: In many respects, you and the Chants could be considered proto-punk forerunners -- albeit with strong R&B leanings -- to what extent is this accurate, you feel, or does it say more about how "polite" New Zealand society viewed such goings-on?
DH: Back in the 60’s a “punk” was prison term for young men who provided sexual favours to other prisoners. We definitely didn’t fall into that category, however I did enjoy the attitude of the Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, etc, when they provided “punk” with a new definition a decade later.
CR: I'm thinking, in particular, of some the more compelling images in the film, particularly Vaughn wearing that Luftwaffe jacket. -- a good 10 years before Johnny Rotten & Co. flirted likewise with such imagery (and six years if you count Johnny Thunder's swastika T-shirt -- don't know if you've seen that photo).
Obviously, you guys weren't fascists, but how does that imagery fit into the equation of the Unknown Blues' look, and sound?
DH: We like to provoke not just with our music but also with how we looked. Alongside Vaughan’s German Gear there were yellow jeans, pink Denim Jackets and our bass player “Rocket” was known to borrow clothing from his eldest sister’s wardrobe – and that was way before Boy George.
CR: Your adoption by the Antarctic Angels is another interesting element -- right away, I thought of the Bromley Contingent's early loyalty to the Sex Pistols as another common element with punk. What do you think the Angels saw in your music?
DH: Those guys were our neighbours, school friends and relatives. They were also up against the system and it seemed only natural that we fell in together and got into some very hard partying.
CR: Between you and Chants, the talent definitely existed to record a full album or two -- you were known mainly as a live phenomenon, so why didn't you achieve more in the vinyl realm, you think?
DH: The Unknown Blues were taken into a recording studio by a representative/manager from Viking Records and laid down two tracks for a proposed single. The tracks scrubbed up pretty well, but the record company representatives decided that we were a bit too rough and ready to be launched onto the New Zealand scene as potential pop star material.
CR: What factors led to the band's breakup? Towards the end, as the Audio Culture entry on Unknown Blues makes clear, you had a fair amount of lineup changes -- was it a case of breaking up the original chemistry, or a lack of a wider audience for original music?
DH: Rocket left the band to move to another city. Vaughan got engaged to be married and plain and simple the gigs had dropped off.
CR: Looking back, what kind of imprint did Unknown Blues leave behind on the Kiwi rock scene?
DH: Internationally known Punk Chris Knox of Flying Nun records has said that we were a direct influence. Thanks Chris. Also, we have been mentioned in a couple of books on the history of New Zealand Rock and Roll. And Hell! We have been inducted into the World’s Southernmost Hall of Fame.
CR: How did you feel when Simon first approached you about making a documentary about the Unknown Blues' life and times? I imagine that you had to be surprised, since the story had effectively been lost to time.
Were there any surprises, for you, in terms of what people remembered (or didn't remember -- this being the '60s, after all)? What does Antarctic Angels say about the era in which Unknown Blues existed?
DH: First off, I thought Simon was stark raving mad to even suggest such an idea. I mean, who gave a shit about us? Then when I met and spoke to Simon he proved to be the nicest guy in the world and somehow he convinced me that such a project made perfect sense. I am so grateful he did.
CR: Seeing the reunion footage makes plain that -- as the old cliche goes -- it's like you'd never been apart.
Do you see a day when the band will play again, or has an exclamation point has effectively been put on Unknown Blues' existence for good?
DH: Playing with the Unknown Blues again after a break of 40 years was truly one of my life’s highlights. However, as much as I would like it happen again, I wouldn’t put any money on it.
CR: Obviously, playing with a guy like John Stax keeps a foothold with your roots. What are your current musical influences, and how do you see yourself fitting -- or not fitting in, as the case may be -- with what's happening now? What's your favorite record of all the ones that you've made since the Unknown Blues era?
DH: I still love the Blues, The Stones and The Pretty Things, so what I play really hasn’t changed at all since I started. I love them all, but here is the time to plug a live album that Southern Lightening have just recorded. It contains all the good old stuff and it should be out by the end of this year.
CR: Lastly, any regrets -- or did everything happen for a reason, in the end?
DH: I have always refused to regret anything, mistakes and all. Rock on everyone.
LINKS TO GO
AUDIO CULTURE: CHANTS R&B PROFILE: http://www.audioculture.co.nz/people/chants-r-b
THE UNKNOWN BLUES PROFILE: http://www.audioculture.co.nz/people/the-unknown-blues
BELLBIRD PICTURES: http://www.bellbirdpictures.co.nz/
DAVE HOGAN'S MELTDOWN: http://www.davehogansmeltdown.com/
THE SOUTHLAND TIMES: "Unknown Blues Band A Blast From The Past": http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/culture/5687368/Unknown-Blues-band-a-blast-from-the-past
Like many charter members of Punk Rock's Year Zero, John Howard Boak's impact proved all too brief – but what a resume he acquired, as one-quarter of the original Adverts, who remain one of the era's most influential underdogs. Renaming himself after the loudest part of a guitar, Boak – now known to the world as Howard Pickup -- carved out his own unique sonic vapor trail on the band's two albums, CROSSING THE RED SEA WITH THE ADVERTS (1978), and its greatly underrated, but equally worthwhile followup, CAST OF THOUSANDS (1979).
In many ways, the Adverts were punk's archetypal “here today, gone next year” story, bookended by two markedly contrasting halves. Where the first album emerged to a near-universal ecstatic reception, the band's main songwriter, TV Smith, freely acknowledges that the critically-pummeled CAST OF THOUSANDS was a bridge-burning, scorched-earth sequel – a declaration of independence from the 1-2-FREE-FOAH! Formula that his peers had perfected in '76 and '77, but also recorded during a time of heavy indebtedness, and precious little help from its new label, RCA.
The band's last recorded gasp, “Cast Of Thousands”/”I Will Walk You Home,” appeared in November 1979 – and, like its parent album, slipped out to indifference and yawns from the public. The B-side, in particular, “had one foot hanging over the outer edge of what most people would call 'punk',” Smith wryly observes, in his sleevenotes for THE PUNK SINGLES COLLECTION (1997). “For most of our fans that particular walk – from Cast Of Thousands to One Chord Wonders – was the one they weren't prepared to make.”
By then, the Adverts no longer existed to kick around, anyway, disbanding after a final gig on October 27, 1979, at Slough College. Smith would endure numerous setbacks to continue his career, but the world would hear no more from Howard Pickup – who'd simply stopped coming to rehearsals a few months before the end,. He never joined another band, and never again lent his telltale spidery guitar parts to a different outfit, or one-off project. That was then, this was now, and he'd simply had enough.
The rock 'n' world heard no more from Howard until his untimely death from a brain tumor, aged 46, on June 11, 1997. (Some online sources give the date as November 7, 1997, but I'm positive that this is wrong – I was writing for Goldmine at the time, and if I recall correctly, the fall date coincides with the issue in which his death was announced. The BBC Channel 4 documentary, “We Who Wait,” puts the timeline at two months after he got his diagnosis, in May 1997. I think I'll put my money on Auntie Beeb here.)
Most chroniclers are quite happy to quit there, and call it a day. However, if you have any sense of curiosity – then and now, an absolute must for success as a writer – your gut suggests that there's always a good human interest story around the corner. In this case, I found myself wondering what Howard's life after the Adverts felt like. How did he look back on the whole experience?
Did Howard ever see one of the many punk documentaries that have splashed across our TV and cinema screens in recent years, and feel a twinge of “what have been”? If so, was it enough to jump-start the interest again? I found an answer while circling the Internet – and reached out to a gent who came back with an insightful slant on all these questions, one that could only have come from someone with knowledge of the person involved.
Read the answers for yourself, and make up your own mind. If nothing else, this particular entry should get us all thinking about the other side of fame – and its effects on those people who don't jump back in the barrel after having their proverbial day in the sun.
Thanks to Steve H. for his recollections, and also, for providing the attached photo. This entry is also dedicated to Tim Cross, who died this summer from cancer, and played such a pivotal role in the Adverts' life and times – not only on CAST OF THOUSANDS, but many of TV Smith's subsequent solo outings, as well. RIP to him, and Howard – a part of the Adverts, now and forever.
MEMORIES OF HOWARD PICKUP (STEVE H.: 12/10/12)
I am happy to say that Howard was a great friend of mine who I miss a lot.
After the Adverts finished he moved to Kingston, which is south of London and worked as a taxi driver before starting his own courier company. I met him when he employed me as a driver and at first we were just worked together, but soon became friends as we seemed to share the same sense of humour and similar interests -- he was an extremely funny chap.
I had worked for him for quite a few months before he mentioned his music past. He had left all that behind him and wasn't interested in playing and didn't really have anything good to say about his time in music. I was never really a fan of punk, so when he lent me copies of the old albums I did my best to get into them, but as I say, it wasn't really my kind of thing.
He was very much into fitness and he and I would go jogging in Richmond Park and even took up doing weights, but I soon lost interest in that.
His interest in music returned when he and I visited a music shop and saw a demonstration of some of the new types of equipment that was around and suddenly he had to have it. He managed to get some money out of the company and brought himself a Roland U20 keyboard that was linked to a PC and we spent many happy hours trying to figure out how it worked. We were old analog boys and this was the new digital stuff. It took us a while, but we got it all working and put a few things together..... If you know of this kind of equipment you will know that it very easy to make loops that sound great........ but only to the people making them.
One day he decided he wanted to play guitar again so after work we drove into London and he brought a (Japanese) Fender Strat, but he found it difficult to get back into playing, so the guitar was soon put behind a door and forgotten.
I worked with him for 4 or 5 years before moving on to other things, but we kept in touch and would speak on the phone every few weeks. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to buy all his music gear as he had completely lost interest. So the next time I visited him I left with most of what he had. Much of it was out of date, but the Fender is still my main guitar and I often think of him when I play it.
As I mentioned, Howard was very fit. He didn't smoke and drank very little, so I was very shocked and saddened when he suddenly became very sick. Even after all these years I can still get quite upset when I think back to that time. I wasn't able to spend much time with him as my Father was also dying at the same time.
I didn't go to his funeral, but there was a get-together at his house for all his friends. When I am in that part of the country I often drive down his road and look at the house where he and I had so many laughs.
He was buried in Carnforth which is a long way from where I live, but I promised myself that one day I would make the journey and 2 years ago I did. I found his grave and spent a few moments remembering a great friend.
History is written by the winners, and rock 'n' roll is no exception. The late Sex Pistols guitarist Wally Nightingale looms large in our "coulda been a contender" file, since information about him is hard to come by...sacked as the classic Sex Pistols lineup began to emerge in 1975, he essentially fell off the map thereafter, save for the odd fleeting glimpse or two that he left behind.
If you've seen Alex Cox's SID & NANCY (1986), you'll meet a character named "Wally Hairstyle." Glen Matlock's account (I WAS A TEENAGER SEX PISTOL: 1991) contains some interesting anecdotes, and -- even though the abbreviated version of Wally's given name (Warwick) translates into Brit slang for "idiot" -- he definitely doesn't come across that way in the two interviews that I've seen from Jon Savage's book, ENGLAND'S DREAMING (2002), and his ROCK COMPACT DISC chat from 1993 (posted on the God Save The Sex Pistols website, www.sex-pistols.net/). I haven't seen an obituary for him, although he apparently died on the eve of the Sex Pistols reunion tour in 1996 (if someone can confirm or rule out this information, this site would appreciate it).
Other than those tidbits I've mentioned, that's it...which makes our latest excerpt all the more fascinating for the questions that David raises about the machinery of fame. Why do some people seem to catch all the breaks, while others get chewed up, and spat out? How do those who don't cross the finish line deal with the inevitable "what might have been" feelings? And finally, what does their treatment say about ourselves, and how rock 'n' roll mythology is shaped for masss consumption? Answers on a postcard, please...otherwise...I'll get out of the way, and let you get on with your reading!
A DRUM BEAT BEHIND, CHAPTER SIX:
The Wally Nightingale story (Edited/adapted excerpt)
For my twenty-fourth birthday, in the April of 1988, I went out with the band for a daytime drink in Camden Town, North London. Drinking with us was Wally Nightingale, a strange guy who I’d met at the 100 Club just a few weeks earlier. He’d been standing talking to the Sex Pistols Glen Matlock and the legendary British DJ John Peel. At first I was more interested in meeting John Peel, as I’d met Matlock before in the toilets at a Damned gig back in 1979. At this point I hadn’t clocked Wally but once I had my mind started working and I asked him if he wanted join me for my birthday pissup.
In the early '70s Wally Nightingale, along with two of his schoolmates, had started a band, The Strand or The Swankers. Later, on Malcolm McLaren's suggestion that they get rid of Wally, he was kicked out and replaced by Johnny Rotten.
On the day Wally arrived pretty messed up, holding a briefcase that contained an assortment of drugs – including cocaine and speed. Behind Wally’s back I kept saying to everyone. “Wally's such a fucking wally.” And I really thought he was, but as I needed him for my plan, I just put up with him and we all got shitfaced.
We left the bar sometime late afternoon and made our way to the back of London Zoo. We all climbed over a high barbed wire fence, not having a fucking clue what animal lived in the enclosure and jumping into. This wasn’t such an easy climb, not for the not so agile Wally, so together Big Jim and Joe pulled him over and we got in for free. As I stood with Wally drunkenly watching the penguins I asked him if he wanted to guest at one of our gigs, he said yes, I jumped in with the penguins and we later set about putting my plan into action.
A few days after my birthday while sitting around his house, where he still lived with his mum in Shepherd's Bush, West London. We all sat drinking tea while Wally told us stories about when he roadied for the Clash, his pre-Pistols days and the time he spent in prison for possession of Class A drugs. He also told us that he’d written the Sex Pistols song: “Did You Know No Wrong,” but was never credited on it. While standing with him and his mum in there garden, he said to me that not being a famous Sex Pistol had played a part in his nervous breakdown. At the time I didn’t realise that what I was planning, was going to end up as such an historical piece of punk history. But apart from mentioning that he’d hung around with Sid Vicious, this is pretty much all I can remember about what Wally told us.
We had a gig booked at the hometown Castle on the 20th of April 1988 and I wanted Wally to guest on two songs for our encore. I knew that our fans would turn out in force, as we hadn’t played there since December, four months previously. This was going to be so different, it was Porky's debut as our new/fifth member, and Wally, the living legend onstage with us as well. All that Wally had to do was learn two covers, the Ramones's “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and “Born To Lose,” by Johnny Thunders; it was as simple as that! As we went to leave his house he whispered in my ear.
“Any chance of some money up front.”
Not prepared for this I simply said, “No.” And we left. For this gig I sent the press just a small flyer of our poster. Over background pictures of ourselves it read: “The Beat of the Beast, with very special guest Wally Nightingale of the Sex Pistols.” This was only 10 years after the Sex Pistols had split up and they were still big business, and as far as I’m aware we were the only other band Wally played in. Although he did tell me he’d worked with the avant-garde New York band Suicide. But he may have made that up.
Before the big night we paid one more visit to Wally's house and while passing his bedroom on my way to take a piss, I noticed that on his wall he had one of our posters. As shivers ran down my spine, I noticed Wally had added a picture of himself to it. I then felt really bloody sorry for the man because he actually had nothing going for him at all, apart from being the punk rock version of Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer before Ringo Star. This broken man was the only other person in the whole world, apart from Paul Cock and Steve Jones, that could honestly say: I started the Sex Pistols. He never fulfilled his dreams and the whole situation had completely turned around. It was Wally who needed us and it must’ve been really important to him. I remember thinking, bollocks! What the fuck have I got myself into?
The day of the gig arrived and so did Wally with his guitar case in hand. He brought us unseen video clips of the Sex Pistols, but we never got to see them because we were all to out of it by the end of the night. After setting up Wally frantically tried to hold down a chord on his guitar but as his hands were shaking so much, he only managed to make a horrible fucking racket. Big Joe eventually shouted out:
“Wally, will you shut the fuck up.” And then, said nicely: “What song do you wanna do first?” This was our soundcheck come first rehearsal with Wally and he replied to Big Joe, saying. “Blitz Bop.” Before he’d even had time to shut his mouth we all shouted out together: “It's fucking 'Blitzkrieg Bop!'” And in Dee Dee Ramone style, I shouted out “1-2-3-4,” and we all went straight into the song, apart from Wally. We were all looking at each other as we realised that our Wally didn’t know the song and for once not one of us said a fucking word. It turned out that he didn’t know either of the songs, so Big Joe tried to show him but he just didn’t get it! Once Wally was up onstage for the encore, he played fret wanker fiddly guitar parts over the songs. But because everyone was drunk and having a good time, this was kind of un-noticed by most of the two hundred people in the audience.
Later the same night I found out that Wally wasn’t such a wally after all and we ended up having a really great time. He was very sensitive and a really nice guy, but he was lost in the what might’ve been head fucks that had been going around in his mind for far too long. As far as I know, this was the end of his musical days, but at least he managed to end his story with a small piece of glory. Sadly after this night, I never got around to seeing him again. The famous Wally Nightingale died in 1996 from drug related complications.
The four original members of The Beat of the Beast are all still alive, Vince the singer is an artist and part-time postman, living in Romford, Essex. Both Big Jim and Joe have lived in Canada for the last 20 years; Porky, the fith member, sadly died on New Year's Day 1999, and I’m living in Upton Park, East London. Today I hold down a full-time job working in a music college, I’m a photographer/artist.
ROLL THE CREDITS, THEN...
For David's limited edition handscreen prints: www.hipposcreenprinters.
For David's photography and designs, visit: www.artificialdesigns.co.uk.
Fancy saying hello? Then visit: facebook.com/davidappsphotography.
Not running across this tidbit before, I naturally had to email the man himself, and here's part I of David's punk rockin' adventures with Beat of the Beast. That should whet your appetites for Part II, where David covers that night in all its myth-bustin', punk-rockin', pulse-poundin' detail. David isn't playing music these days, but remains active as an artist: see www.artificialdesigns.co.uk for the lowdown. He's also got limited edition prints available here: www.hipposcreenprinters. If you simply want to say hello, cruise over to his Facebook page, and send a message accordingly to: facebook.com/davidappsphotography.
Chairmanralph.com is proud to present these excerpts from David's book, "A Drum Beat Behind," which (to my knowledge) haven't seen the light of day before. Without further ado, we open with our email Q&A exchanges, and proceed to the excerpts...note to those sitting in the publishers' chairs: wake up, and give this guy a break! Enough said.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): OK, as you say on your my space: Beat Of The Beast helped kick-start the punk scene in Brentwood, such as it was. What kind of neighborhood was it, exactly, and what kind of scene sprang up in its wake?
DAVID APPS (DA): To start with I didn’t write the MySpace information, The Beat of the Beast's guitarist, Joe, did. What he was saying is that we all came together in a crowd, drunk, played and eventually took over a bar/venue called the Castle and made the town we lived in, like no other. To a lot of people it’s legendary and it was The Beat of the Beast and myself who made it what it was, fucking mental!
Originally, I came from Hammersmith, West London. Coincidentally, the same part of London that Wally Nightingale lived, but this is not where our paths crossed. I moved out of London around 1964/65 to Thames Estuary, Essex, and the dead end streets of a place called Corringham. I was a hyper child, unable to sit still and by the early '70s I’d been labeled as a special child, special meaning I was fucking stupid. I was taken out of my school and put into what was known then as a remedial school, a school for kids with learning difficulties. I was picked on for being dumb, but that didn’t last long because as soon as anyone took the piss out of me, I started to lash and started fighting back. I felt that I was useless and this is why I found music and the dream of being in a band. Music was my only escape.
While still at school in my early teens, by chance in December 1976 I sat and watched the Thames television program with Bill Grundy as he interviewed a then-unknown band called the Sex Pistols, and the rest is history. By November 1978, I moved to another Essex town called Brentwood. Here I met two older punks and from here on the timeline of punks started to grow. I worked my way up the punk rock ladder amongst our scene, and made it to the top. Brentwood today is a wealthy commuter town, just a half hour train journey out of London, but in the late '70s and through to the very early '90s it was full of interesting, odd, arty, violent and fucked up individuals who all came together and had a lot of fucking fun.
By the time I’d reached 35, I was still academically crap so I set out to turn my life around and decided to write a book on my upside down life. At the same time I was teaching myself to read and write and at nearly 47, it’s almost completed and I’ve achieved what I set out to do. Below is an excerpt from Chapter Six of my book, A DRUM BEAT BEHIND, written by Mark Oliff, who managed The Beat of the Beast.
FAME? A CLASSIC ROCK 'N' ROLL DEATH AWAITS!
By Mark Oliff
I first remember seeing David in the summer of 1979. He was hard to miss as he walked along the street wearing creepers, a kilt, Seditionaries cheesecloth, leather jacket, white face and black spiked hair. This was at the tail end of the '70s and punk ruled the world, well, our world at least. I was a Stranglers fan and for David it was the Sex Pistols. I remember drinking in The Castle and seeing him with his friends, all of them looking good. Coloured hair, makeup, safety-pinned shirts and lots of girls! The first time I spoke to him was after Adam and the Ants in December 1980, after that we used to meet up at gigs, train stations, parties, clubs and the Castle.
It all seems a bit hazy now but somewhere between 1980 and 1990 there were innumerable times when I would have not been in the least bit surprised if I were to hear that David was dead. In fact, I was mentally prepared for the time. (If in reality I would have been is another matter). I had a scenario worked out in my head. I am in The Castle, someone comes in and says to me “David’s dead”... “Oh, really, what a surprise... do you want a drink?” I reply. If that sounds callous it’s not meant to be, you see we all knew what he was capable of.
During this time David was about as extreme as one person could be: drink, drugs, self abuse, fights, cuts, scars, broken bones, broken drum kits, smashed windows and many dentist appointments. Finding out that David had, “Got into a fight last night, was in hospital, had 10 stitches somewhere on his body or had shagged a horse” was a common occurrence.
All throughout the '80s David was a bundle of pent-up frustration, unable to express himself verbally, short temper, short attention span and very impatient. Here are some examples: “This won’t work.” SMASH! “I’m bored”(jumps backwards through closed pub window). “Don’t touch my hair/hat” (someone does). PUNCH ! “I don’t want to rehearse anymore” (breaks drumsticks in half and proceeds to stab them through the skins). A comment from a gang of Mods/Casuals/Teddy Boys/Skinheads along the lines of “Wanker, punk's shit” would have David wading into the lot on his own. He usually got hurt but not always. Whatever the outcome his pride was intact and point made. He would always stand his ground and stand up for his beliefs and friends 100%. These were violent times if you were a punk rocker. Looking different usually meant taking a beating, getting chased all over town and not being allowed into pubs. This is why we all hung out in (at the time) a notorious biker’s pub. They didn’t mind us and we didn’t bother them, in fact, we crossed cultures, as punks liked Motorhead and bikers the Ramones. We also swapped our drugs, poppers and speed, for blues and acid. It’s not like today when you can pretty much get a job in a bank with pink hair and a pierced nose.
David is a walking contradiction. Larger than life, almost like a cartoon. In The Beat of the Beast when he smashed his drums up it was never in some rock ‘n’ roll imitation of Keith Moon or Rat Scabies; it was out of pure frustration. You see David has that unidentifiable “something” about him (it’s probably honesty). He also has a big grin, a big heart and is one of the funniest people I know. We all wanted to make it in a band and the fact that it didn’t happen for David probably saved his life.
YOU'VE HEARD THE NAME...
CR: What (if any) aims did you have -- to be just a good neighborhood/local band, or did you have something more ambitious in mind? Who were your main musical influences?
DA: As a band the four individuals all wanted the same thing, to take over the world. We had fuck all, so we wanted music to be our living. But what we achieved on our amazing six-year journey was to course total chaos, without ever compromising once. I/we hated what punk had become, the postcard, red Mohican, Exploited shit. We believed in change and moving on, still with our punk beliefs and attitude, because to us what was what punk was about. By 1982 punk had lost its way and had been taken over by the people who just two or three years earlier had been giving the early punks a beating for the way we looked. Football, racism and narrow-minded punx with an x destroyed the very thing that they thought they were part of.
...NOW MEET THE BAND!
The writing below is taken from Chapter Six, A DRUM BEAT BEHIND, the introduction to the members of The Beat of the Beast.
Vince was on vocals, a fun loving quiet individual, bordering on shy until he’d sunk a few drinks and let his inhibitions go. He then became a female letch, only with great charm. He always looked good, he was handsome, intelligent and a level-headed, likeable man aged 22. He spoke out if need be and over the coming years proved to be an excellent songwriter, frontman and friend. He worked in London's West End for PRS, the Performing Rights Society. His job was sorting out the royalty payments for songs played on television and radio. He was in the music business, bang smack in the heart of London. Because of this I really thought we had that foot in the door, “it's not what you know but who you know” type of thing. How naive I must’ve been? I had a lot to learn.
Jim Guttersnipe, or Big Jim as he was known, was the bass player. A six foot two, massive Herman Munster-built giant aged only 15 years old. Big Jim was a gentle giant (that’s how the police described him after releasing him from a night in the cells.) He’d been arrested in a street fight after battering two grown men who’d started on him. He was an inquisitive, fun-loving, boisterous, clumsy, funny and loveable character. He became my constant companion and guardian angel. Hearing his deep booming chuckle of a laugh always brought a smile to my face and at times we were inseparable. When pushed to the limit, Big Jim could quite easily explode and when he did, it was time to run for cover.
Joe Guttersnipe, or Big Joe as he was known, was the guitarist. A six-foot, massive honey monster-built giant aged 17. As brothers, Big Jim and Joe had the same characters, but Big Joe was even more boisterous.
He once said to me: “When I was at school I thought my name was Get Off!” Joe just wouldn’t leave you alone. He was constantly mucking fuddling his words or as he called it, talking in his joined up speaking. He was extremely funny; fun-loving when happy, but when down, Big Joe became unpredictable, a time bomb just waiting to explode. And when he did, as with Big Jim it was again time to run for cover. As time passed it became apparent that Big Jim and Joe were targets in this world of small town gigs we were about to embark on. The majority of the time it was a gang of lads fighting a solitary giant, but Big Jim and Joe never backed down.
Myself, if I’ve been doing a good job of writing this book you will already know all about. I’m the drummer, aged 19, and less than three months away from leaving my teens forever.
As for our musical influences, we were all into the early punk scene and mostly the British side of punk. We all liked the Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones and the New York Dolls. Vince was heavily into early Adam & the Ants, Big Jim liked Motorhead, Big Joe Chelsea and Roxy Music and for myself, it was Johnny Thunders. We took all our influences and mashed them all together, musically and visually. It’s funny, because with the benefit of hindsight, I really don’t know how we got away with it. It was English eccentricity at its fucking best!
YOU'VE SEEN THE GIGS...
CR: Besides the one-off with Wally, what were some of your more memorable gigs that Beat of the Beast played?
DA: There are loads of memorable gigs, but these are mostly for the trouble. For a time we had a large loyal following and playing in front of fans that were going mad was so much better than playing in front of just the four members of the support band and a man with his dog! But it was a gig in France that stands out the most, for me!
...WHAT HAPPENS BEHIND THE SCENES, EXACTLY?
Edited excerpt from Chapter Six: A DRUM BEAT BEHIND.
On the 19th of February, 1986, I fractured my wrist in a fight and the following day – without any sleep, at seven a.m. – 10 of us headed off to France. To start with the French customs became suspicious and pulled us all in for questioning. They along with the French gendarmes (police) escorted Big Jim and Joe away and 10 minutes later they both walked back to us laughing.
“We've just been strip-searched,” Big Jim started to explain while Big Joe talked over him and said. “They looked up Jim's bum but when they saw my soiled underpants they decided to let me go.”
One by one we were all taken off and received the same treatment, even the two girls were inspected up close. This was odd as no one ever got stopped leaving England while traveling into Europe; it was always when coming back into the UK that suspicious-looking characters were stopped. It was fucking ridiculous, who in their right mind would risk taking something out of England when you can pretty much get whatever you like once you are in Europe?
After driving for around an hour the temperature had fallen and it had started to bloody snow. We pulled over and opened the back door to find Big Jim, Joe and the roadie sat in the pitch black huddled together for warmth. Even Big Joe's sacred bottle of Coca Cola was frozen solid. After building their bedding up over then we went to pull off the curb to rejoin the road and hit a metal signpost. This was like a great big tin opener and it ripped a hole in the side of the van. We called it a small hole when talking to Big Jim and Joe, trying to make things sound better than they really were.
“At least you have some light coming in now,” I said, and then shut up before one of them hit me. It was big enough to get your arm through and once we finally got going again the snow came in and settled on all our equipment.
Once we arrived at our hotel Big Jim and little me fell out and had a fight at the top of the staircase. To start with Big Jim bunched me straight in the face. This was a good hit as he’d got me straight in my black eye. All 15 stone of my good friend, the jolly giant Jim, knocked me backwards and all that was holding me upright was my bad hand grasping hold of the banister rail. As I pulled myself upright we started to fight and I was told after that while I was going for it we’d came close to going over, if not through, the banisters. We soon made up and went to do our live radio interview.
We all sat in the studio with the French DJ in front of us playing one of our songs. He then explained we were from England, just outside of London, and that the gig was going out live on air. I sat looking around and left Big Joe and Vince to do all the talking. After one or two hard to understand questions the DJ then said...
“Do you have a message for the French listeners?” Vince, using his great British sense of humor, replied and said:
”Yes, stop blowing up Greenpeace boats.” All of a sudden there was silence and then someone entered the soundproofed room and talked in raised whispers as another one of our songs came on. On June the 10th, 1985, the French had blown up a Greenpeace boat, the Rainbow Warrior, while in French waters. This was fucking great! Vince had hit a nerve, but that was the end and the interview was cut short. The promoters later told us that strait after the comment the radio station put out an apology, and that probably saved us from being eaten alive by the anti-Greenpeace French.
At our soundcheck I managed to fall off the back of the stage and landed two meters below. I thought I’d broken my fucking back and I couldn’t move. As luck had it I wasn’t crippled, but I’d landed on my coccyx and if you’ve ever hurt your coccyx before then you might feel for me a bit here. The coccyx, or tailbone as it’s known, is the triangular bony thing found at the bottom of the vertebral column, just at the top of your bum crack. And not only was I in complete fucking agony when I did eventually get up again, I could only walk if I was bent over like an old man, I was fucked! But I still played.
We all had our own copy of the setlist but Big Jim had lost his so he was using Big Joe’s, which turned out to be different from Vince’s and mine. Big Jim had started playing one song along with Big Joe while Vince and me were playing another. We all started looking at each other but carried on regardless. I was looking over at the roadie who was standing picking his nose unaware of the chaos that was happening onstage. The nose picking along with our fuckup had started to make me laugh, so I just continued and made it up as we went along. No one even bloody noticed. The venue was packed and we’d had a fucking great audience reaction all the way through our set. We played two encores and finally left the stage at around twenty past two in the morning.
The following day with hangovers from Hell we were taken out for breakfast/lunch by the promoters. I couldn’t lie down, sit up or walk with out being uncomfortable and in fucking pain. I only had my bloody creepers with me so this made walking on the snow and ice almost impossible. Everyone was in shops looking about when all of a sudden a French skinhead came around a corner and bunched me straight in the face, I slipped on the ice, hit my head on the ground and was knocked out cold. At the same time, with his skinhead uniformed steel toe-capped boot, he kicked me straight in the fucking coccyx. As I came around I remember seeing Big Joe spraying the skinhead in the face with a can of CS gas. The French skinhead’s English wasn’t that good and while he was holding his eyes, he just kept saying, “Thank you, thank, you.”
After everything that had happened on the way home we ended up in the middle of the English Channel in an appalling storm. Everyone threw up and I had it all down my last clean-ish T-shirt. The storm was relentless and everyone was so relieved when we finally arrived at the cost of England. We were then told that due to the extreme weather conditions only cars were allowed off the boat while HGV lorries and vans would had to stay on because it was too dangerous for them to leave the boat. The captain then announced that he was going to be turning around and heading back to France. I couldn’t fucking believe what I was hearing, England was next to me outside the fucking porthole. The boat normally carried so many thousands of people and it was empty apart from over wait lorry drivers and our selves. Once the ghost ship left port we had a drink at the bar and made conversation with the bewildered lorry drivers telling them our story, this one that you’re reading now.