Thursday, 28 September 2017

Poem: Bad-Rapping Of God-Cat Charlie


charlie is the god-cat
who digs the slurp-job grope-circle gobble-gobble
and dem teenybopper cuteniks just melt in his heat,
charlie is the cockroach-god
he swagger-jive and groove-talk,
he eyes luminous with lysergic wisdoms,
the four kings of EMI whisper him
death-codex in fat vinyl helter-skelter
stick the piggies where they squeal and mud-wallow
in stinking celebrity wealth, creepy-crawl them
cut and smash them to fuck-meat, see them bleed,
he has Capt Trips stoned-dream in desert vast eternity
of quad-bike dune-buggy apocalypse to
ignite the righteous global war smashback
at every stinging slight, cell-year and head-stomp,
charlie is the god-cat, freakin’ hair down to here
eyes bop to the house-of-blue-lights boogie
brain a dark star radiating ashes, watch out, 
coming down fast, manson – son of man,
when snakey-lake blow him she blow him good
each cum-sperm a glimmering intelligence
toxic with malignance, flood her they do,
sparkling in nova-swirl DNA throb as
she melt in his pulsing genetic-heat
a sewer-rainbow of dandelion-seed storm
spores adrift in idiot-wise fractel constellations
to rain in the mall, burger-bar, designer store
gated community, gay bathhouse, titty-bar
each irradiates infiltrates in lethal acid shine
detonates a hipster-jihad from the spahn ranch
to the if-world of everywhen,
I no longer see straight, bad dreams rape me raw,
my ears crammed with heavy-metal thunder
jaw juice-slack and drooling,
feed my head… now, now, now…

Previously published in:



 For a CREATURE like SIOUXSIE SIOUX, where does persona 
end and person begin? ANDREW DARLINGTON tries 
to discover the girl behind the mask, but winds up talking 
about ‘Hugely Inflated Breasts’ and spooky doppelgangers 
 from ‘THE TWILIGHT ZONE’ instead...! 


Two defining dates. 20 September 1976. And 1 December 1976. The ‘100 Club Punk Festival’. Then the ‘Today’ TV show.

Susan Dallion is there, from the Bromley contingent. Coming on stage, reciting a twenty-minute improvised ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, impromptu, with a one-off pick-up Banshees, their anti-musical technical inadequacies drenched in chilling cacophonies of electronic howl. Steve Havoc (Steve Severin) in bass, future-Ant Marco Pironi on guitar, and John Simon Ritchie (Sid Vicious) on drums – ‘Sid couldn’t play a fuckin’ note’ sneers John Lydon… then, TV talking-head Bill Grundy provoking a ‘tirade of filth’ from the Pistols – ‘not the nice clean Rolling Stones’ he snides. Picking on a punk-girl standing behind the Pistols, that same Susan ‘Siouxsie Sue’ Dallion straight-facing that she’s ‘enjoying myself, I always wanted to meet to you…’ ‘SIOUXSIE’S A PUNK SHOCKER’ howls ‘The Mirror’ the following morning.

These thoughts, and others, as I tube to London Bridge some twenty-years-&-+ later. Cold drizzle on a less angry, less subversive, more aspirationally conformist London. Along Toole Street, by Southwark Cathedral and ‘The Golden Hind’, to the silver door leading off the cobbled street that marks ‘The Italian Job’ PR. Then, with Alissandra to the Covent Garden hotel where Siouxsie is doing press.

Punk is a moment. Unrepeatable. Never intended to be a career. More an incendiary blast of apocalyptical discontent from the margins of society, intent on overwhelming the state in a blaze of insurrectionary filth. Punk said ‘everybody can be a star’. But not everyone was. Siouxsie Sioux is never less than a star. And always an Exterminating Angel. ‘We were never Punk’ she says now. But the Banshees weren’t Goth, and they weren’t New Romantics either. She and Severin have already gone far beyond such limiting definitions by the time of the first Banshees album, ‘The Scream’. Adapt and adopt. Mutate and survive. Neo-Expressionist. Art-Fetishism. Abrasive Outsiders. Austere Metal Postcards.

“Hong Kong Garden”, their debut chart single enters at no.25 on 2 September 1978, it will peak at no.7 a fortnight later, as the Commodores “Three Times A Lady” hangs in at no.1. Albums – ‘Join Hands’ (1979), ‘Hyaena’ (1984), ‘Through The Looking Glass’ (1987) with covers of “Strange Fruit”, and Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”, ‘Peep-Show’ (1988), ‘Superstition’ (1991). And more. Streamlining into a more targeted dissonance, a more angsty unease, as the Cure’s Robert Smith, John McGeoch, John McKay, and Clock DVA’s John Carruthers drift through the line-up. The Banshees highest placing of their twenty singles chart entries comes a little later – 1 October 1983, when their cover of the ‘White Album’s “Dear Prudence” rises to no.3, under “Karma Chameleon”. Three more singles chart-hits happen between 1981 to 1983, coming under The Creatures alias (the dual alliance of Siouxsie and percussionist partner Peter ‘Budgie’ Clarke), whirling it into hypnotic ritual and repetitive electronic incantation, remix vocals reducing to samples of looped distortion.

Now, we talk. And she’s not difficult to talk to, despite what people say. From what it’s like to tour with Nico, and the Human League (through October 1978), to who it was who played ‘Steve Owen’ in ‘Eastenders’ – was it Spandau Ballet’s Gary, or Martin Kemp…?



ANDREW DARLINGTON: In the file of your press cuttings back at ‘The Italian Job’ there’s a quote about your ‘not liking to do interviews. SIOUXSIE SIOUX: I don’t think anyone does. It depends on the interview, really. The last interviews I did... for the Banshees, maybe they were just a bit disappointing. So we haven’t really done any for a long time. And it’s always hard doing your first interview when you’ve not done them for a while. It’s something you need to remember how to do. 

Are you difficult to work with? No. I’m lovely to work with. I’m very very nice. You couldn’t find a nicer person to work with.

Last time I saw you, you were preparing to do dates in Ireland. Yes, we hadn’t played in Ireland for a long time, ‘cos – I know the previous tour we did, didn’t go there. And – I don’t even know if the Creatures ever played in Ireland before then. The Creatures only toured once. So, they didn’t have a clue what to expect. And that’s good, it’s really exciting in a way because it’s good not to have any preconceptions. I don’t even think the Banshees ‘Peep-Show’ tour went there in the late eighties. I know we were banned from the Belfast Hall in Ulster for some reason. I remember we were trying to get to play there around the time of ‘Peep-Show’, but we were still banned from the late-seventies. Which is funny.

It must be nice to know that you’re still considered dangerous, though? YEAH! – well, y’know.

The Creatures third album is called ‘Anima Animus’. That means male/female, right? It’s the woman within the man, and the man within the woman. That there are both elements in both sexes. Interchangeable. It’s just something that I think exists, certainly within a lot of popular music. There’s a lot of stereotype-playing, still. I mean, it used to be really bad, and maybe still is really bad. This sort of macho Rock bullshit. I’ve never liked it – AND I NEVER WILL (done in a gruff comedy Old Codgers voice). Also for the roles that females are supposed to play within music. I always find it really insulting. It usually has been something that’s ornamental, more steered.

You’ve never accepted such restrictions. NOOOOO! No-No! And I was considered difficult because of that. That’s how narrow it was. And to an extent that still exists, although people are now very scared of being accused of being sexist, so they are not openly like that. But it’s still there. You can tell just in society, in the law. They’ve just passed a law that you can now have a Gay relationship – just, at the age of sixteen. While it was always legal for someone to be pregnant and married at that age. So that’s how backward things still are.

Aren’t Boy-Bands marketed in exactly the same way – as decorative sex-objects? I know. And I find it really vacuous. Totally vacuous. And it is very much that the industry seems to be grooming acts visually more and more and more. It seems to be much more the criteria. And it’s something that I was talking about with a friend of mine. It’s like – when we grew up, if we saw somebody – not always, ‘cos there’s always been record-hype to an extent, there’s always been that there, but obviously the ones that were a bit different – they looked that way because they dressed themselves that way. Rather than now it’s gangs of stylists. Y’know – even for a lot of people who are so-called credited with being highly individual and weird and freaky. There is a team of stylists and make-up artists there. You know – you’re talking armies!

You’ve also published a high-profile interview with ‘Attitude’, the Gay magazine. Was that done as a deliberate gesture of solidarity with the Gay community? Oh yes. During my first excursions up to London, my first sort-of pals were always Gay, it was only within the Gay community that I felt any kind of lack of pressure from the clichés that girls seem to go through, about the age of my late-teens. And it was the first sane place I felt I was in, whether it was a Gay Club or whatever. And as far as anyone being homophobic – I’ve never understood that, in the same way that I could never understand racism – or any kind of ‘ism’.

But there’s always been home-erotic elements to the way male Pop Stars have been presented. Even Elvis... Oh yeah... he wore make-up and dyed his hair, didn’t he?

I was intrigued by the track “I Was Me” on the Creatures ‘Anima Animus’ album. Is there a story behind that track? It’s got lots of different levels. Apart from a personal level. It has got elements of an early ‘Twilight Zone’ story to it. And there was also a film called ‘The Double Life Of Veronique’ (1991, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski). I don’t know if you saw it? No, you didn’t. But it’s kind-of a spooky story about – I suppose, not quite meeting your doppelganger. But traces of that person having been there before you. An impostor – you think, of yourself. And I remember the ‘Twilight Zone’ story. It was one of the old black and white ones, and it was about somebody arriving at a Bus Station and people kind-of ignoring her, saying ‘but you’ve already checked that bag in’, and things getting really confusing – ‘but I’ve only just got here!’ Then she’s running outside and seeing the bus pulling away and a guy saying to her ‘but you just left on that bus...’, and she sees the face in the window pulling away as well. And it’s side-face, but it seems to be her! (the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode she’s referring to is ‘Mirror Image’ – first broadcast 26 February 1960, with Vera Miles as doppelganger victim ‘Millicent Barnes’). Then – on a much more frivolous throw-away level, I have been in places that I couldn’t physically be. Clubs, you know. They say ‘oh, but you come here every week. Yes – yes, it’s Siouxsie, I always put you on the door’. And I’m thinking ‘it’s somebody impersonating me’. And of course – in the eighties, even shop windows were dressing their dummies to look like me. Which was quite a double-take when you were walking down the street, and something that once repelled people is actually there looking out of C&A’s shop window at you. It was quite bizarre.

I’d interpreted the song lyric as being about your reactions to seeing a ‘Siouxsie-clone’. I didn’t write it purely from that angle. But there is that element about it, even though it was inspired more directly by the film. I like things that have that ambiguity and different levels to them. I don’t tend to write from just a flat one-way point-of-view. I tend to like to look at things from a number of angles. 

Another interpretation that occurred to me was that perhaps it was about your reactions to watching old videos of yourself, and seeing a person there that you no longer quite recognised. Er... possibly. I mean, subconsciously. That’s very weird. It is very strange to think that you are there on film – as you were, and that it is never going to age. That kind of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ thing... yes, that’s a very weird idea.


What do you remember most strongly about your appearing on the ‘Bill Grundy’s Today TV Show’ with the Sex Pistols? I remember after the TV show we were sort-of whisked off into this Green Room, and you could feel this, like… we’d just opened Pandora’s Box. Y’know – ? Pandemonium. And they put us in the Green Room which is where the switchboard was with all these phone-calls coming in from irate members of the public saying ‘I JUST WATCHED THIS DISGUSTING…’, and we were picking up the ‘phones and saying ‘FUCK OFF YOU SILLY OLD CUNT’ or ‘PISS OFF YOU OLD GIT’. No matter how much McLaren would like to take the credit for orchestrating all that, that was definitely… no-one knew what had happened. A lot of people were taken by surprise by it. He (Malcolm McLaren) had tried various tactics, and none of them really worked. But as usual – when you’re not really trying, something just… happens!

How do you define the difference between The Banshees – who now presumably no longer exist, and The Creatures – who once ran parallel to the Banshees, but are now your on-going project? The Banshees were very much a working band. Very much a live band. Four people. A democracy of sorts, and it had its – y’know, its way of doing things. It had its baggage that came with it. Erm – and, I think, the first time we did the Creatures it happened as a mistake. It wasn’t by any kind of design. It was while writing for the ‘Ju-Ju’ (1981) sessions. And it was during rehearsals. Me and Budgie happened to be in the room at the time while the other two were out of the room. And we just did something together. And I remember it was John McGeogh who actually said ‘oh – this track doesn’t need anything else doing to it’. And that was a song called “But Not Them”, that subsequently ended up being on an EP. At the time we were still going to include it on the ‘Ju-Ju’ album, but we had so much material we decided to hold it back. And we just put it aside for a weekend and thought, because it was just drums and voice it was quite unique sonically. Very unique. Just having those varied primal elements. Almost like using just primary colours. Just very simple and basic. It really had a sound of its own. And an approach of its own. It kinda seemed a lot more visceral. It is a very different dynamic. There’s a lot more air. A lot more space. And because of that, I think, it was just very immediate, and just the combination of elements was very immediate as well. And so – once we’d done something like that we said ‘well – it’d be nice to keep it separate’. So – then we did some more ‘Creatures’ material at the end of the sessions for the ‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ (1982) album, that was New Year’s Eve 1982 into 1983. But, of course, the Banshees schedule got more and more busy, and it was only really when they allowed us some down-time from the Banshees schedule that we had time for anything else. And it was – I think, round about the time of the final Banshees album that I found I was actually looking forward to doing the Creatures. Before, it always kinda just happened when there was a break or some kind of window in there. I actually remember I was longing for a kind of ‘back to basics’. A real simplicity, I think – generally. It coincided with a lot of real changes in my life.

And the demise of the Banshees – after twenty years (longer than the Beatles!), was one of those changes? As a band evolves and grows together, the characters in the band become much more defined and developed. And you tend to... I think it’s inevitable, and it happens with all bands that do last for a long time. It’s not normal that it does last for a long time. Because you know each other so well, or you relax a bit because you know each other so well, but the intuition and the spark of things just happening doesn’t happen the same. There seems to be less surprises with people you know really well.

How does the Siouxsie of today look back on the Siouxsie of 1976? I don’t know. I mean, really – I feel pretty much the same. Inside of me, I pretty much feel the same, I’ve just done a few more things, that’s all. I haven’t mellowed out as far as what appeals to me – whether it be a film or a song. And I know that I do like things that don’t sit in the middle ground. I find those things very safe and a bit cowardly. I like extremes. And I like people to be quite bold about what they do. I don’t see the point of – like, tip-toeing around an issue or something. I just find that really... ‘cowardly’ is the word. I think America has got a problem with sex, generally. England is repressed sexually. But in America it’s the hypocrisy. The acceptance of certain things. And the UN-acceptance of other things. It’s acceptable so long as you’re not caught doing it. Do you know what I mean? And in America you can’t see a film without these inflated breasts – you know what I mean? This overt... and it’s all about sexuality, but it’s all really distanced. It’s not TACTILE. It’s not AT ALL tactile. And they’d be so happy if the woman’s breasts didn’t have nipples. Because, y’know – oh, that’s quite individual there, ‘cos they can go in different directions and shapes and sizes. And I find it ridiculous. Say – for instance, it’s fine if it’s a cartoon, or if it’s phone-sex. It’s all about distance. It’s nothing to do with connecting with people. It’s not about getting close. It’s superficial. It seems WOW! – so explicit and up-front, but it’s not. It’s very clinical. Then they’ll have someone who’s – y’know, relatively small, and yet you can see their nipples, and it’s like – they have to be air-brushed out. It’s like – what the FUCK’S going on? A friend of mine – well, not a friend, an acquaintance, she had the boob-job, and the irony is that afterwards she couldn’t bear to be touched. ‘Cos it was too painful. I find it really bizarre. I don’t find them attractive at all.

When you put the stage make-up on, are you putting ‘SIOUXSIE’ on over Susan? No. It’s kind-of... that’s a very cartoony idea of what my ‘image’ is. It’s not always – I’ve never worn white pan-stick make-up. And I don’t just wear black, that’s a real misnomer. If the external attraction is all there is then I find it quite worthless. There’s got to be more than that. But the make-up is an important part of the spectacle. It’s almost a ritual. Part of the ritual is the preparation. It’s like any drug culture – it’s not just the drug, it’s the whole paraphernalia that goes with it. And with any fetish or obsession of some sort, it’s not just the end result, it is the build-up, the preparation, the lead-up and the whole ritualising of it.

There is a Fetishistic element to your stage persona. I hope so. I suppose there is a lot of Fetishism within the performer/voyeur relationship. That’s what it is really. People are watching something happening. And obviously – to an extent, the performer is responding to the voyeur. And it is two-way. It is interactive. It’s not a bad thing. But you can’t claim that it isn’t that.

So performing provides a sexual buzz. I suppose – yes, it’s got an element of that to it.

You’ve always had a high ‘cool quotient’. Yes and no.

But are you really having the time of your life on stage? Yes – but it’s not... having the time of your life isn’t always – ‘YEEEAAAHHH!!!! – like that, y’know. It can be quite... I don’t know, that’s not the only expression of having the time of your life. It can be frightening. But it can also be very emotional, it can be very uplifting. I think to be uplifted is kind-of... the REAL hooked drug of it. That kind of... elevation, and kind-of getting over frail human weakness and limitations. That is the real thing that makes it so appealing and mesmerising. It gives that addiction quality to it. Keeps you coming back for more.

An adrenaline thing? That as well. But you know – there are down-sides to it. When you’re failing. When you’re not quite making it in your own terms. Quite often you can come off and everyone says ‘great gig, great gig’, but you can NOT be consoled. YOU know IT WAS FUCKING SHIT…! And that’s the worst feeling in the world.

When did you first write your name ‘SIOUXSIE’? Were you practising it while you were at school by writing it on the cover of your school-book during algebra? No – I didn’t. Although I had written ‘SIOUX’ a lot, I hadn’t made the ‘SIOUX-SIE’ connection until just literally – when I opened my big mouth, and said I had a band that could play at the Festival that Malcolm McLaren was putting together in 1976. It was then that ‘SIOUXSIE’ just slipped out, very quickly and easily. I didn’t have to rack my brains too much. So yeah – I suppose, again – a lot of what’s happened to me is all pure accident. There’s certainly not been any design on my part. I just seem to have been responding or reacting at the right time to certain things.

Which Pop Stars did you stick up on your bedroom wall when you were fourteen? Marc Bolan (you did do a Banshees cover of his “Twentieth Century Boy”!). OOO – Mick Ronson. Bowie. Bolan. David Cassidy even – but that was when I was eleven! And pictures of horses. I think it was horses I was really into. But actually it was more Mick Ronson. I loved his first solo album – ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’ (1974). And he had such a pretty face.

I never saw Mick Ronson as a glamorous figure. He always looked more like a Brickie. NO! NO! That picture on the cover of ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’? He wasn’t at all like a BRICKIE! No – some of the others (in David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars band) were. Trevor Bolder. And Woody Woodmansey with the HUGE sideboards – gross, gawd they were HORRIBLE! They were Brickies in Glam-Rags. And I hated Sweet as well. I really wasn’t fooled by the likes of Sweet. But no – Mick Ronson was a sweet pretty face. Not a BRICKIE!

Did you have a difficult adolescence? Julie Burchill once wrote that ‘no sensitive person survives adolescence unscathed’. I tend to agree. To an extent, when adolescence hits you, you tend to – depending on your background, if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or whatever, you either kind of shrivel up and go hide in the corner, or you deal with it by finding some really good armour. By standing in the middle of the road and screaming at the top of your voice. And... that’s the way I went (she laughs). And that’s really what’s underneath. It’s still something that... I know it takes a long time for you to actually understand and feel confident with it. And that’s part of just growing up. The hardest lessons are the ones you learn at that age. If you don’t have a skin like a rhino. They’re very hard lessons. And you learn from that. And you end up toughening the exterior. Hopefully without becoming totally cynical and losing that innocence. ‘Cos I find that really ugly, when people lose the ability to look at things as a child. And that’s what... there usually is a price to pay for over-protecting yourself. You can just harden yourself to everything, and lose what’s really precious. I think people are convinced that cynicism is the modern attitude, they really are convinced of that. And – y’know, to an extent, yes – there is a veneer, and yes – being sensitive and stumbling at every stone that’s thrown at you can be destructive – you’re not going to survive it. But I think you are killing a part of you off when that hardness penetrates the centre…

What TV programmes do you video when you’re away on tour. ‘Eastenders’? ‘Star Trek’? I don’t. No – it’s not the first thing I’d think of. Maybe if there’s an interview with Stanley Kubrick, or a programme on about Man Ray, or one of those documentary-type programmes about ‘The Sex-Life Of A Dwarf’ or ‘The Sex-Life Of A Newt’.

But not ‘Eastenders’? I used to watch it, but of course, since I now live largely in France I’ve got a bit out of touch with ‘Eastenders’. Of course, when I come to London I watch the omnibus thing on Sunday. And I see Gary Kemp’s in it…!

“the surface shiny and silken…” 

THE SCREAM (Oct 1978) Producer: Steve Lillywhite. Includes “Overground”, The Beatles “Helter-Skelter”, “Pure”, “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)”, “Mirage”, “Carcass”, “Suburban Relapse”, etc

JOIN HANDS (Aug 1979) with “Icon”, “Premature Burial”, “The Lord’s Prayer”, “Placebo Effect” etc

KALEIDOSCOPE (Aug 1980) with singles hits “Christine”, “Happy House”, “Lunar Camel” and more

JUJU (Jun 1981) with “Into the Light”, “Voodoo Dolly”, “Spellbound”, “Sin In My Heart” and more 

ONCE UPON A TIME: THE SINGLES (Nov 1981) Compilation, with “Hong Kong Garden”, “The Staircase (Mystery)”, “Playground Twist”, “Spellbound”, “Israel”, “Christine”, etc

A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE (Oct 1982) with “She’s a Carnival”, “Circle”, “Slowdive”, “Melt”, “Obsession”, “Painted Bird”, “Green Fingers”, “Cacoon”, and “Cascade”

NOCTURE (Nov 1983) Live versions of “Dear Prudence”, “Spellbound”, “Cascade”, “Israel”, etc

HYAENA (Jun 1984) with “Belladonna”, “Swimming Horses”, “We Hunger”, “Dazzle” and more

TINDERBOX (Apr 1986) with “Candyman”, “Cities in Dust”, “This Unrest”, “Lands End” etc

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Feb 1987) Covers of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”, Doors “You’re Lost Little Girl”, etc

PEEL SESSIONS (Feb 1987) recorded 29 November 1977 with “Love In A Void”, “Metal Postcard”

PEEP SHOW (Sept 1988) with “Peek-A-Boo”, “Killing Jar”, “Scarecrow”, “Turn to Stone” etc

SUPERSTITION (Jun 1991) with “Shadowtime”,” Silver Waterfalls”, “Kiss Them For me” etc

TWICE UPON A TIME (Oct 1992) Compilation with “Fireworks”, “Slowdive”, “Melt”, “Dazzle” etc

THE RAPTURE (Jan 1994) Produced by John Cale, with “Stargazer”, “Sick Child”, “O Baby” etc


WILD THINGS (Sept 1981) EP with “Mad-Eyed Screamers” – hits no.24

“Miss The Girl” b/w “Hot Spring In The Snow” (May 1983) no.21 single

FEAST (May 1983) includes “Dancing On Glass”, “Festival Of Colours”, “Flesh”, “Sky Train” etc

“Right Now” b/w “Weathercade” (July 1983) singles cover of Mel Torme song, no.14 hit

“Standing There” b/w “Divided” (Oct 1989) single, also on 12” vinyl

BOOMERANG (Nov 1989) with “Pluto Drive”, “Manchild”, “Venus Sands”

“Fury Eyes” b/w “Abstinence” (Feb 1990) single, also on 12” vinyl

ERASER CUT (Aug 1998, SIOUX CD/Ltd ed 10” vinyl) EP on ‘Sioux’ label, with “Pinned Down”, “Guillotine”, “Thank You”, “Slipping Away”

“Second Floor” (Oct 1998, SIOUX 3CD) with “2nd Floor”, a stripped-down 5:10min “Turn It On (Bound ‘n’ Gagged Mix)” + “2nd Floor (Girl Eats Boy Remix)” with 6:11min dance-friendly looped-voice samples

ANIMA ANIMUS (Feb 1999) on ‘Sioux Records’, ten tracks including “Another Planet”, “I Was Me”, “Say”, “Exterminating Angel”, “Don’t Go To Sleep”, “Disconnected”, “2nd Floor”, “Take Mine” etc

“I can see a lot of people getting confused 
about us, it’s amusing…” Siouxsie (1981) 

Published in:
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.17’ (UK – May 2004)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Michael Moorcock: 'The Whispering Swarm'


Book Review of: 
 (Gollancz 2015, Orion paperback 2016) 
cover art by Patrick Knowles – 480pp – £9.99p 
ISBN 978-1-473-21333-3 


Michael Moorcock is more a continuum than a single defining work. Some make claims for ‘Behold The Man’ (1969). Personally I loved his ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ (1972-1977) series. While he’ll he remembered as the creator of brooding albino sorcerer ‘Elric Of Melniboné’ and multi-dimensional Jerry Cornelius, described here ‘as much a technique as a character’. But to select just that one book is problematic.

There’s a magically hidden London street called Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter mythos, which the tyro wizard visits by passing through ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ inn. There’s also a concealed quantum Trap Street in ‘Dr Who’, an alien refuge where the lovely Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is temporarily killed. Moorcock’s Alsacia resembles neither. But, as Brian Aldiss perceptively observes, ‘when one is hard up for secret worlds, one can find them under the Earth, in a puddle, in an atom, up in the attic, down in the cellar, or in the left eyball: and all of these vantage points have been explored by hard-pressed fantasists’ (in ‘Billion Year Spree’, 1973).

This book is probably as close to the fractured Michael Moorcock autobiography as the avid reader is ever likely to get. It’s all here in dense lucid detail. His insider insights into the austerity post-war Welfare State years. A description of Fleet Street at its full power brought alive in taste and smell, so tactile it’s real. He brings the inside out. Those with a fleeting familiarity with Moorcock’s life-story will recognise references to his teenage fanzine ‘Burroughsiana’, graduating to him becoming Fleet Street’s youngest editor of Westworld’s ‘Tarzan Adventures’ comic.

The revelations are delicious, in chunks of conversational anecdote, with unexpected lunges of throwaway prescience about how he ‘almost died in Texas’, or swipes at the Thatcher-Reagan regimes to come. With contentious claims about those rationalist mid-century decades when atheism was taken for granted, before the resurgence of various fundamentalisms marked a return to dark superstitions, or how his was the last self-educated pre-Google generation. Meanwhile, he visits ‘The Globe’ pub, the famous SF watering-hole where writers gather, and he turns in candidly recognisable pen-portraits of the likes of John Brunner, Ted Carnell – ‘dapper in his fashionable casuals, with a Ronald Colman moustache’, and ‘rangy six-foot-three-inch raconteur’ Ted Tubb. This escalates to conspiring with Jim Cawthorn on early plans for something resembling what ‘New Worlds’ would become. Taking elements of SF, and evolving it into new relevances. Although, as far as SF itself, ‘I had no particular interest in the genre beyond what was useful to me.’ This at a time when ‘I was growing quickly bored with Science Fiction, which had never been my first love,’ because ‘I really didn’t like space. Space bored me.’

But there are oddnesses too. Who is writer ‘Jack Allard’? a recurring and respected presence. Until he publishes a thinly disguised ‘The Savagery Show’ (‘The Atrocity Exhibition’), and the suspected penny drops. Allard is Ballard, just as Malcolm Bix, his editor at ‘Ajax’, is Martin Bax of ‘Ambit’. And Hilary Bailey’s brilliant alternate history “The Fall Of Frenchy Steiner” (in ‘New Worlds’ no.143, July 1964) becomes Helena Moorcock’s “The Haul Of Frankie Steinway”. Why this partial evasiveness, why this subterfuge? Is it simple game-playing, or will revealing JG Ballard in some way violate contractual confidences?

But things get decidedly odder. After the young Moorcock is visited by Sam, a smart-ass wisecracking raven, he checks the carpet for bird-shit. And there’s the oaken gates to Alcasia itself, encountered when he ‘turned the corner into Whitefriars Street off Greystoke Place into Carmelite Inn Chambers’. Check your London A-Z. As this is a Michael Moorcock novel the automatic assumption must be that this fabulous harbour, where ‘time and space were truly skewed’, accesses another plane of the multiverse, and that Moorcock is writing himself into his own mythology as a further aspect of the Eternal Champion. ‘Kafka, indeed.’ He becomes Master Maur’s Cocke, in a place where ‘time goes backwards and forward’. He’s initially sceptical. Has he surreptitiously been dosed with LSD by the White Friar in Ludgate Hill’s ‘ABC Tearooms’? Or is the spliff he’s been toking responsible – or is it just a ‘psychotic episode’? Aldiss paternally advises him to lay off the wacky backy.

It all conspires. The Sanctuary lies within a maze of streets between Fleet Street and the Thames. The realm of Carmelite monks with pre-Christian roots and not only a pantheistic but pan-dimensional bent. He first encounters Friar Isidore while proofing ‘Tarzan Adventures’ pages at the typesetters. From there he’s drawn into a parallel reality where the comic-strips he’s been scripting come alive. An elision of real historical, and fictional. Dick Turpin, The Three Musketeers, Kit Carson.

And Captain Claude Duval. I avidly followed the exploits of the Laughing Cavalier highwayman stripped in colour-frames across the ‘Comet’ centrespread. Even then I suspected that the politics was not quite right. The dowdy Puritan Roundheads were, after all, establishing the supremacy of a People’s Parliament. The Cavaliers might have more flamboyant satin-and-tat fashion sense, but they fight to support the dead hand of absolute monarchy. Moorcock, in his own feathered hat and hippie regalia, has similar qualms, yet finds himself aligned with the royalists.

More central is Meg/ Moll Midnight, both a Robin Hood highwaywoman with a social conscience – ‘holding up brass-and-steel electric double-decker trams’ who becomes his lover, and the subject of his profitable run of ‘historical’ text-tales for ‘Tiger’ and fiction-strips in ‘Lion’, as well as a ‘Thriller Picture Library’ edition titled ‘The Haunted Blade’. Was there ever such a theme character? I read ‘Lion’ at the time. I don’t recall her being there. Check out Moorcock’s own retinue of scripted characters in his other oblique foray into autobiography – ‘The War Amongst The Angels’ (1988, Orion 1996), and she’s not there either.

Sometimes the rationalist Moorcock himself doubts Alsacia, as acid hallucination, ‘where coke and speed met the Mary Jane and wine’, or some psychic outgrowth of his own subconscious. ‘It was almost as if I’d brought them to life myself; conjured them from thin air. Maybe I was addicted to these inventions now like a smoker to nicotine?... I had such a lot of questions. Many I was reluctant to ask. Could I really make a world? Were all these people just shadows of my childhood imagination? What we called ‘ghosts’?’ Or the teasing suspicion that ‘we are protagonists in our own novels’, but ‘was I now a character in someone else’s fiction?’

As ‘New Worlds’ begins its iconoclastic New Wave phase, fighting the censorial instincts of WH Smith, he’s also married, living in the burgeoning counter-culture milieu of what he’s elsewhere termed ‘Mother London’. As if his shared life with Molly in Alsacia is a metaphoric elaboration of extramarital complications. A coded infidelity. The separate-worlds confabulation that illicit lovers self-lie in mitigation and guilty justification. The narrative smoothly elides both of these parallel lives, Moorcock the hack-writer up-gearing into novels, married to Helena with two growing daughters, Sally and Kitty. And Moorcock standing sword-in-hand to defend the Alsacia from Roundhead incursions, shoulder-to-shoulder with Prince Rupert of the Rhine and his loyal dog Boye. In a London that time forget where the monks have a quantum Cosmolabe, and a Fish Chalice that might or might not be the Holy Grail. And his awareness of the irony of being a writer of fantasy, caught up in a fantasy only a no.15 Routemaster bus-ride away from Ladbroke Grove.

There’s a long detailed attempt launched by Prince Rupert to rescue King Charles I from the beheading block, which metamorphoses into spiriting the Yoda-like ancient Chief Rabbi Elias over the frozen Thames to safety in Amsterdam. Moorcock, it seems, has a ‘second sight’ talent for ‘stepping over dimensions where the Black Aether ran like a deadly tide.’ He utilises silver roads to a conjunction of worlds, nested one-inside-the-other, where he plays Tarot and agonises over the religious conundrums set up by the Alsacia’s impossibility. There’s a considerable amount of dubious pantheistic spirituality and rumination about the being or non-being of a supreme god. ‘Part of me was a sceptic – even a cynic, but part of me was also romantic and gullible.’ Who knew?

‘The Whispering Swarm’ of the title is a kind of tinnitus that attacks him whenever he attempts to leave Alsacia. While the novel, although a defining departure, remains very much part of the Moorcock continuum. Much of it would be incomprehensible to a browsing reader without at least a prior awareness of its protagonist’s real-life epic journeys. Yet its teasing conundrums bedazzle and intrigue those who already consider themselves devotees.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Simon Clark Book Review: 'Case Of The Bedevilled Poet'

Book Review of: 
(NewCon Press – June 2017 – £6.99, 
106pp – ISBN 978-1-910935-48-4) 

War unleashes monsters. Monsters more terrifying than the most macabre fantasist can conjecture. The conundrum being that those who strive selflessly to rescue a puppy trapped in an underground sluice-pipe are the same species who enter a crowded tube-train to detonate a suicide-jacket explosive device. The two extremes of human nature, the instinct for life – and the dark lure of death, are what concerns Simon Clark in this immaculately-produced novella. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, if indeed it is Conan Doyle’s sleuthing duo – the enigma is never quite resolved, are more into psychic investigation, plumbing the Jungian depths of the subconscious, than straight crime detection. Albeit briefly using a gloriously mad-scientist SF-pulp technology in their hunt for clues to the mind-demons responsible.

Jack Crofton is the bedevilled wannabe poet of the title, reduced to scripting jingoistic propaganda movie-shorts for the war effort as the Luftwaffe attempt to blitz London into submission. There’s much detail concerning the actual duties of ARP wardens, about Goebbels, rationing and the black-out, as though anyone whose ever watched a ‘Dad’s Army’ episode will not already be familiar with such minutia. Unless Simon is consciously targeting new-century readers to whom this history is as distant as the Napoleonic wars, or the American market where maybe these aspects of our adversity are less familiar?

In keeping with Simon’s position as Britain’s finest disseminator of scary thrills, there are genuinely unsettling sequences layered within its multiple levels, with Crofton pitted against his own dark suicidal impulses manifested in horrific forms, catalysed by unresolved issues hung-over from his dead brother, and finally redeemed by love, through the lens of Baker Street’s finest. All set against the continuing existential uncertainty of imminent death from Nazi killware. But Simon has expanded the Sherlock Holmes casebook before, even editing the excellent ‘The Mammoth Book Of Sherlock Holmes Abroad’ (Robinson, 2015). And elsewhere, on the pretext that Holmes is ‘ageless, invincible and unchanging’, Basil Rathbone had already timeshifted him into hunting Nazi agents in the Universal movie ‘Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror’ (1942). War unleashes monsters. Simon Clark is a macabre fantasist who’s conjectured more than his own fair share of fictional terrors. And this fusion of the several results in a blitz of devastating prose.

The official Simon Clark website is “Nailed by the Heart”

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Poem: 'I Have Fantasies Of Balling A Female Gorilla Or Other Large Ape'

                     (Summer 1958, Beverley, East Yorkshire) 

billboard flags
erotic collages
on pre-pubic eyes,
ripped poster Pop Art chic
at the corner Kino beneath
grainy-grey celluloid sky:
overlays ‘GODZILLA’ –
torn strips mix, merge,
flesh, flash, sweat & scales,
bestial copulations rag & blow,
reptilian strange & hugely dwarfing.
A drip-feed of fantasy for months,
mauled by warring females,
and me barely penis-size,
gripped quivering in vast paw,
devoured whole in
moist pulsating caves of flesh
till my head explodes in
rip-tides of celluloid
flash-frame lights that come up
slow through the crowded

 …& now, 1987,
drunk, wired & wretched,
fix on the small-screen late show,
& she’s still 50ft but
barely penis-size
& Godzilla’s a cartoon.
But then again –
I’m not feeling too well either.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Grateful Dead: Bring Me The Head Of Jerry Garcia


A tribute to
mainman  Jerry Garcia 
 1 August 1942 – 9 August 1995

Don Henley saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. In “The Boys Of Summer” he relates how it spoke in a voice inside him ‘don’t look back, you can never look back’. Now it’s time to look back. Jerry Garcia slowed with a bang into the Last Chapter of The Book Of The Dead. And now, when the telecast obit’s need a sharp soundbite, they get a live triple-album.

The deaths of John Lennon and Elvis Presley place a final punctuation on their decades. But they belonged to the world.

The Grateful Dead remain cult. Even after all these decades.

Non-initiates say ‘Jerry who…?’ The ‘Sun’ says ‘DEAD STAR DEAD’. Yet it was the Dead who patented the since-maligned term ‘Community Band’. In the UK we had Man, Edgar Broughton, Pink Fairies… the Levellers. Life-style totems. Benefits. Free Gigs. Personal bonding with their tribe going way beyond anything as trivial or as ephemeral as vinyl or music. With the Dead, that bonding remains… remained. And Jerry Garcia – a stoned moon-faced cartoon from the ‘Furry Freak Brothers’, was always the Head Dead. Reviewing their first LP in July 1967 ‘Melody Maker’ calls him ‘one of the most boring lead guitarists ever to inflict his presence on a group.’ Many years later, when asked what the Dead had learned over their twenty-two years as a band, Garcia smiles his goofy avuncular grin and says ‘we expect to get the hang of it any day now.’

There’s a recent Dead CD made up entirely of different versions of Garcia’s “Dark Star” (‘Grayfolded’, 1994/1995). Great bands usually invent new maps of their lives every few years. The Dead, loose-riffed and loose-trousered, always steered by Zen and the Art Of Endless Improvisation. With Jerome John Garcia at the exact centre of its sprawling psychedelic chemistry. Inactive for much of the nineties the one-time Captain Trips finally unhappened 9 August, following a heart attack in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre fighting heroin addiction. And even Bill Clinton – the dope-smoking President who never inhaled, was moved to eulogy. Adding a warning to the nation’s youth that ‘you don’t have to have a destructive life-style to be a genius and make a contribution.’ Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The 1987 Grateful Dead single “Touch Of Grey” was their only US Top Ten record. Their albums seldom graze the Top Thirty. But what the Dead had was authenticity. When Hippie movie-goers wrangle over whether Dennis Hopper smokes real marijuana in ‘Easy Rider’ (1969) it’s not just nit-pickery. It’s a litmus for the sniff of hands-on authenticity. There was never any doubting that the Dead were for real.

Evolving rapidly out of Folk, Jug-Band and Bluegrass into R&B the then-Warlocks drink Ken Kesey’s LSD-spiked Kool-Aid, and create a beautiful mythology. ‘Synchronicity spoken here!’ says Tom Wolfe, ‘nothing was in perspective, nothing had any touch of normalcy’ (‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, 1968). ‘You can imagine what it was like’ recalls Jerry, ‘to have a whole band completely out of their heads on acid. It’s weird. It’s all out of time and the timing is all peculiar.’ The Skull-and-Roses sleeve-art by Rick Griffin, the spaced ambience, the inventive technical skills of their fully meshing free-form explorations, the ‘Extended Family’ of interactive contributors all play a part. Robert Hunter’s lyrics. The Day-Glo posters. But it’s Garcia’s grizzled presence that’s always the defining point. And he was always grizzled. On the sleeve of their debut album – covering material like “Morning Dew” and “Good Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl”, he wears Uncle Sam’s Stars-&-Bars Top Hat against the molten surface of the sun. And even clean-shaven he already looks grizzled.

But despite playing Woodstock and the murderous Altamont Festivals they’re still $100,000 in debt to Warner Bros due to failed album sales. It’s not until 1970s ‘Live/Dead’ double LP which finally captures something of the Dead’s mystique, and the more accessible Country-Rock of ‘Workingman’s Dead’ (June 1970) and ‘American Beauty’ (November 1970) that they begin to achieve something like commercial recognition. While Garcia is also out freelancing solo with his ‘Garcia (The Wheel)’ (January 1972) album, or with New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Jefferson’s Airplane or Starship. And he’s there – grizzled and grinning on the liner photos of Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s ‘Déjà Vu’ (March 1970), or indulging his continuing taste for the more obscure byways of Americana Trad, Bluegrass and Country with Old And In The Way. Vocally he’s as light as his fretwork. The obvious technical limitations of his voice offset by its flesh and blood human warmth. His first instrument was the six-string banjo, and beyond his chemical Away-Day explorations, it was this simplicity he returns to. His solo ‘Run For The Roses’ (1982), ‘Reflections’ (1976) and the Jerry Garcia Band ‘Cats Under The Stars’ (1978) can be self-indulgent to the point of lethargy. While his down-home projects with the likes of Merl Saunders suffer critical neglect. But his pedal-steel guitar on 1988’s ‘Almost Acoustic’ can be near transcendental.

I saw the early-evening five-hour Dead set 7 May 1972 at the Bickershaw mudbath. We were all chemonauts together. But by the time of ‘Wake Of the Flood’ (1973), ‘From The Mars Hotel’ (1974), and the Dead’s first for Arista ‘Terrapin Station’ (1977), they have become a nomadic touring community, a cultural phenomenon spanning generations, a continuity the survival of which is hardly dependent on record sales at all. More an essential part of the American musical pageant.

Jerry Garcia’s narcotic problems through the mid-eighties are well-documented. He endures Drugs Rehabilitation following a five-day coma, returning to tour onstage with Bob Dylan. Then he’s hospitalised with ‘exhaustion’ in 1991, cancelling concert dates the following year due to ‘ill-health’. The final Grateful Dead concert with Jerry Garcia was in Chicago on 9 July 1995.

It’s barely conceivable that the Dead can exist in any meaningful form without him. But we’re going to continue re-exhuming the Dead for some time to come.

Grateful Dead: Debut LP


Album Review of: 
(Edsel ED 221, 1987, reissue of 
Warner Bros WS1689, March 1967) 

I’ve still got it – the Deadhead ‘Skull & Roses’ T-shirt. I wear it on ritual occasions. I wore it to revisit Stonehenge. I wear it now to revisit this revered and mystic load of old Rock. But does it still stand up? Stonedhenge – just about. The Dead – would YOU after all that spiked Electric Kool Aid? Fact is, Captain Trips and the Warlocks were always something mythic wrapped in something enigmatic. Hank Harrison’s Beat and beatific ‘The Dead Book’ (1973) takes a thick manic-prosed volume tricked out in grizzled archive pix, psychedelic posters and Egyptian tomb glyphs to get this far, and yet still can’t encompass the half of it. Hank’s scrupulously researched biog goes some way to explaining the sheer IMPOSSIBILITY of restricting the lysergic Dead maelstrom to mere vinyl. Already a major San Fran presence, they’d done an unsatisfactory 45rpm for an Indie label (“Don’t Ease Me In” c/w “Stealin’” for Scorpio Records 201, 1966) before pacting with an unsympathetic and somewhat baffled Warner & his Brothers for this debut twelve-incher. And I guess they, with producer David Hassinger, TRIED to make it work within studio discipline.

Lights, acid, roll the tapes – ACTION! Trippy Stanley Mouse art-sleeve – a clean-shaven Garcia wearing big grin and Uncle Sam top-hat collaged onto the solar photosphere. No sleeve-notes, not even full band-names, with the back cover split down the axis in reversed-out mirror-photo and lettering. And there are nine cuts, done over one long four-day weekend They do Sonny Boy Williamson’s lasciviously paedophile “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew”. But where the Yardbirds compress the deviant Blues energy of the former, and Rose (or even the proto-Deep Purple Episode Six cover) explodes the latter in growling electric tension in just around three minutes apiece, the Dead lose the song’s internal dynamic by attempting to apply their loose spacey stage-jam fluidity to them. As they’d first done with “Morning Dew” at the January 1967 ‘Human Be-In’. And – by comparison, it don’t work. Even these were razored down to fit the album’s 34:53-minute playing time. Full extended edits of “Morning Dew” “Good Morning Little School Girl”, “Sitting On Top Of The World”, “New, New Minglewood Blues” and Jerry Garcia’s “Cream Puff War” were finally issued as part of Rhino Records ‘The Golden Road’ box-set in 2001.

There’s an argument that the Dead NEVER mastered studio-craft until ‘Workingman’s Dead’ (February 1970) and ‘American Beauty’ (November 1970) – by which time they were well into a whole different thing anyway. But in the meantime, there are moments here that ignite with enough intensity to make the album worth your pennies. “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” makes for a curious opener, their shot at creating an obligatory contract-fulfilling hey-hey-hey-catchy garage-band single with summery barefootin’ dancin’ ‘in a ring around the sun’, atmospheric transcendental overtones caught by the oriental-tuning of the guitar-break, into the freak-jangly crash-fade. Then Bob Weir takes vocals for Jesse Fuller’s “Beat It On Down The Line”, a jumpy workingman’s song about riding that train to a better life. A busy “Sitting On Top Of The World”, variously done by a primally rasping Howlin’ Wolf, and a hyper-charged Cream, has a long Blues lineage going all the way back to 1930. The Dead variant takes it at a lighter jerky faster lick, ‘Mississippi River, so big and wide, blonde-haired woman on the other side.’ Until, closing the first side, Garcia’s tempo-shifting “Cream Puff War” goes from hard noodling guitar soloing, vehement Dylan-phrasing put-down vocals (‘you’re constant battles are getting to be a bore…’) offset by almost waltz-time breaks, into a Punky echo-reverb finish into the play-out groove.

There’s also “Cold Rain And Snow” – highlighted by Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan’s Vox Continental organ, and “New, New Minglewood Blues” – both trad arrangements, which capture unmistakably Deadheaded sonic weirdness. While the vocal harmonies are raggedly rough-edged in a way that gives a raw spontaneous dimension to a live context, but less so when condensed down onto record. The full closing 10:01-minute duration of “Viola Lee Blues” allows them sufficient time to develop that riffed mantra quality until it starts blowing high-octane sparks towards the eight-minute crescendo end-game, neatly counterpointing Jerry Garcia-Bob Weir’s lead-rhythm guitar interplay over Phil Lesh’s bass pulse, before dropping back into the closing verse. It might’ve been done earlier by Noah Lewis’s Cannon’s Jug Stompers, but extending out with jazz-fluid guitar improvisations it comes closest to catching the Dead’s unique stage presence, unlike anything else across the spectrum of Rock, entering their mythic continuum. With Bill ‘The Drummer’ Kreutzmann’s rangey time-keeping tying it all together.

The Dead leave little beyond that tripped-out image by way of legacy. Even at the time there was an incredible wealth of new music jostling for attention, picking up clues from hints and mentions in ‘Record Mirror’ or ‘New Musical Express’ I was listening to Jefferson Airplane, Love, Electric Prunes, the first Pink Floyd singles. The Doors debut album had arrived in January. The Byrds ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ in February. The first Velvet Underground album came that same March. And that’s before you get to the singles. “Strawberry Fields Forever” was the UK no.2. I later picked up on a copy the Dead’s single “Born Cross-Eyed” c/w “Dark Star (2:50-min edit)” (WB 7186), although it’s impression was muted.

Now, for the uninitiated, there’s little here for 1980s Paisley revivalists to readily latch onto – no clean customised liftable motif like the Byrds Rickenbacker jangle, Syd Barrett’s acid-fried lyrics, or Thirteenth Floor Elevators garage-thrash. No Airplane hard-acid laser-focus, or Crosby Stills & Nash close-harmony. Fact is, with the Dead, it’s ALWAYS been necessary to suspend disbelief and take them on their own terms. And that, now – without all their attendant 1967 hippie paraphernalia, ain’t easy.

So file this one in your library under ‘SEMINAL’, and wear that T-shirt with pride, for strictly ritual occasions only.

Full Album:

Grateful Dead: 'The Arista Years'


Album Review of: 
(Arista 07822-18934-2) 

Dead songs are never finished. Weirdologists already know this. The Dead were a fractured family orbiting their tribe like strange planets around a Dark Star. They began forging future-sounds from chemicals, electricity, and smidges of Jugband Surrealism in the late Sixties, and they just kept on keeping on, from endless promise to tired resignation. ‘Going to hell in a bucket’ and enjoying the ride, all the way through into the Nineties, until they were America’s premier anti-realists in the cold new age of realism. If they’d gone any further they’d be hanging off the edge of the horizon. But they lived fast. And sometimes not so fast. They didn’t die young. But they left a few grizzled corpses in their wake. And they left this double-CD shot through with epic space and time curving away into limitless distance.

Even within the context of an odd career structure the Eighties were odd years for Deadheads (this compilation covering eight albums from 1977 to 1990). But writing as a semi-Dead Fellow Traveller the alleged inconsistencies of the period now seem to achieve an exotic and ruined clarity. There were – for the first time, outside producers on Dead sessions, including Little Feat’s party animal Lowell George. There were shots at new stylistic diversions too. The “Terrapin Station” cycle is loaded with complex shifting textures, a mass choral section, and some of Robert Hunters’ most allusive lyrics, all seamed together by strings from Elton John alumni Paul Buckmaster. “Shakedown Street” was supposedly their sprawling and chaotic answer to Disco, but it now sounds like nothing so much as classic Grateful Dead with a jumped-up bass-line. “Estimated Prophet” has a 7/4 rhythmic core derived from Reggae, as “Alabama Getaway” nods at Chuck Berry. They even borrow a cover, “Good Lovin’” from the Young Rascals But the Dead are bigger than them all, effortlessly absorbing and containing the changes.

And later, with tracks lifted from their unexpected commercial rejuvenation ‘In The Dark’ (1987) and ‘Built To Last’ (1989), it all becomes an alchemy of wonderful strangeness, harbouring wry humour and wistful reflection. ‘Too much of everything’ was just about enough. But because Dead songs are never finished, it’s live that their continuously evolving fluidity is most accurately captured. So there’s inevitable live material too, including a free-form 16:25-minute “Without A Net”, illuminated by unpremeditated sax from Branford Marsalis. Dead/Not Dead. Those improvisations probably continue on some alternate plane of reality, as well as in collective memory – or, as Richard Gehr says it in the sleeve notes, in ‘magnetic and mnemonic form’. Weirdologists already know that.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


Album Review of: 
(Blue City CD 2652292, 1988 compilation) 
(MCA CHD-9273, 1966) 
(Déjà vu DVCD 2032, 1987 compilation) 
(Chess CD 1004) 

all by


In the 1960s Electric Wolf was considered an overwhelming prospect. Now we get electric and digitally re-mastered Wolf to corrode your CD speakers, and it’s truly awesome. The Blues form is welded into our ears, realise it or no. It’s the charged air Rock breathes, with Howlin’ Wolf a huge black bullfrog of a man – 6ft 4ins, 300lbs of haunted howls and harsh resonant growls. ‘Oh-ohh Smokestack Lightnin’, Shinin’ just like gold, Oh, don’t you hear my cryin, Wooooo-ooooo, Wooooo-ooooo-ooooo, Wooooo’. No BB King slick or John Lee Hooker sly wit here, just granite tornados ripped from the bowels of Pluto dripping venom, gore and entrails. The Wolf can be terrifying.

Born Chester Burnett, 10 June 1910 in Sunflower County, Mississippi, he lived generations of Blues, learned his craft during the 1930s hard-travelling with Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, first recorded in Memphis with Sam ‘Sun’ Philips and a youthful Ike Turner, roared through the Chess Golden Decade, to finally lope into the 1970s for Rolling Stone Records (originally COC 49101, 1971) in the overly respectful company of Bill Wyman, Ringo ‘Ritchie’ Starr, Steve Winwood and a tremulous Eric Clapton. Wolf left a pack of originals easily the equal of any Blues vocal meltdown anywhere, with a voice at once raucous, and fluid as gasoline.

“Smokestack Lightning” says it all, but there’s nineteen more titles on the Blue City CD, Willie Dixon’s lecherous “Back Door Man” – ‘…the men don’t know, but the little girls’ – and Jim Morrison, ‘understand’, the R&B showcase “Wang Dang Doodle” sucked appropriately onto MCA’s 1978 soundtrack album to the unrelenting urban ‘Blue Collar’ movie, to Wolfish originals “Howlin’ For My Baby”, “Moanin’ At Midnight” – its seminal version dating from August 1951, and the now-standard “Spoonful”. ‘The Real Folk Blues’ stark, austere and nerve-drawn, is a straight reissue of a Chess original, its twelve titles compiled from 1957-1966 sessions usually in the company of Wolf’s finest guitar sideman Hubert Sumlin. It encompasses his most aggressively lethal invective – “The Natchez Burning” illuminated by the Civil Rights race war, through to “Sitting On The Top Of The World”, “Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy”, and “Built For Comfort”.

Title duplication seems inevitable, with the second twenty-track anthology sharing “Red Rooster” and “Wang Dang Doodle” – but neolithic slabs of pure rusted sheet lightning like “Killing Floor”, “Highway 49”, “Ain’t Superstitious”, “Louise”, and the predatory “The Wolf Is At Your Door” make the ‘Howlin’ Wolf Collection’ as essential to the health of the planet as the ozone layer. The British Blues boom plundered or plagiarised the primitive sophistication of Wolf’s lycanthropic carcass from Manfred Mann to Cream, from the Rolling Stones to Little Feat. But the cross-bred ‘The London Sessions’ – a well-intentioned kickback with the Wolf retreading his catalogue, “Red Rooster”, “Do The Do” and the rest, in a ‘supergroup’ setting coerced by producer Norman Dayron – shows just how far they got it wrong. White sheep in Wolf’s clothing? Only Sumlin and the mighty Wolf himself invest the exercise with authentic dignity.

Chester Burnett died of a heart attack following brain surgery in Chicago, 10 January 1976. But the Wolf is still Howling…

Cult Blues: Howlin' Wolf Second Album


 Album Review of: 
 (Hoodoo Records) 

Chester Burnett was a big man. The primal Wolfman. Motown had the Pop hits. Stax had the Memphis Soul Stew. But Chess had the fiercest roster of Blues ever assembled on planet twelve-bar, Chuck, Bo, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and the spine-chilling Smokestack Lighting Howl of the Wolf. The rawest voice from hell, supernaturally surreal in its doomed menace. So way-down slow it becomes gut-bestial thunder. Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits try, but can’t come close. It’s a scary Howl at the Moon against life and the injustice of living. ‘I’ve had my fun, if I never get well no more.’ That you know every one of these songs through reverent awed white R&B covers is a given. When Jim Morrisson leers ‘the men don’t know, but the little girls understand’ he’s aping the lascivious Wolf prowl. Wolf is the strutting priapic Rooster Jagger was trying to be. Although this was Burnett’s second album, issued in 1962, it was assembled from a series of singles, the earliest sessions as way-back as 1957, yet they’re consistent, the flip-sides as powerful as the ‘A’s. And there are ten valuable bonus tracks, each as vital. You don’t argue with the Wolf. He was a big big man.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ 
Vol.2 No.47 Sept/Oct (UK – September 2014)