Monday, 21 August 2017

Grateful Dead: 'The Arista Years'



WELCOME TO 
SHAKEDOWN STREET

Album Review of: 
‘THE ARISTA YEARS’ 
by THE GRATEFUL DEAD 
(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

Cult Blues: 'HOWLIN' WOLF ALBUMS'



Album Review of: 
‘MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT’ 
(Blue City CD 2652292, 1988 compilation) 
‘THE REAL FOLK BLUES’ 
(MCA CHD-9273, 1966) 
‘HOWLIN’ WOLF COLLECTION’ 
(Déjà vu DVCD 2032, 1987 compilation) 
and ‘THE LONDON SESSIONS’ 
(Chess CD 1004) 

all by

HOWLIN’ WOLF 

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




MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT: 
HOWLIN’ WOLF 

 Album Review of: 
‘HOWLIN’ WOLF (SECOND 
ALBUM aka ‘ROCKIN’ CHAIR’)’ 
by HOWLIN’ WOLF 
 (Hoodoo Records) www.hoodoo-records.com 

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)


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Motown's First Star: MARY WELLS



MARY WELLS: 
 MOTOWN’S 
‘MISS HITMAKER’

 13 May 1943 – 26 July 1992 


Never one to waste an idea on one song when it’s rich enough for two, Smokey Robinson wrote “My Girl” and “My Guy” as a back-to-back matching set. The former subsequently resurfaced into chart awareness nudged by the tacky movie of the same name, and by the still sublime harmonies of the Temptations. Then “My Guy” began getting high-profile radio play too, due to Mary Wells’ untimely death from throat cancer.

Mary was the First Lady Of Motown – at least in the chronological sense. Her light fly-away voice may have lacked the fire of a Martha Reeves, or the aching desolation of a Supremes-era Diana Ross, but she predates them both. And if she was essentially a vehicle for other’s ambitions, arriving at her unique nexus in Pop history as much by chance as by excellence, then the honeyed seduction of her run of American hits still stands up to repeated play.


Intent on a song-writing career she’d initially taken her “Bye Bye Baby” to Berry Gordy Jrn hoping to interest Jackie Wilson in the song. But Gordy took note of the self-assured schoolgirl who’d walked into their regular auditions straight off the Detroit street, listened to her perform her song, and immediately signed her to an artist contract instead. Jackie Wilson’s loss became the Motown label’s fourth single release. Then “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” b/w “I’m So Sorry”, her second record (catalogue no. Motown 1011), charted as high as ‘Billboard’ no.33 in August 1961. And the following year brought no less than three straight Top Ten hits – “The One Who Really Loves You” (no.8 in May 1962), “You Beat Me To The Punch” (no.9 in August), and the mildly risqué tough ‘n’ tender “Two Lovers” (no.7 in December). Starting out ‘I’ve got two lovers and I ain’t ashamed, two lovers and I love them both the same’, she explains how one is ‘sweet and kind’ while the other ‘treats me bad’, until the neat final verse resolution reveals they’re both split personalities of the same guy, her teasing vocal intonation running rings around its torn-between-two-lovers contradictions. 

But close your eyes, listen, it could almost be Smokey himself singing “You Beat Me To The Punch” rather than him just using Mary’s voice as his instrument. Then listen to the razor-sharp handclap backing that will become a Motown production-line trademark. It’s all there in blueprint – the sound that will dominate, not only black music, but the sound of the sixties. Mary Wells’ silk-smooth soul, oozing taste and poignancy, was an essential part of bursting Motown through the Pop R&B crossover map. It was Mary Wells who scored those early vital breakthroughs.


There were other American hits, including the captivating double-header “You Lost The Sweetest Boy” (no.22 in October) and “What’s Easy For Two Is So Hard For One” (no.29 in January 1964), before “My Guy” finally peaked at no.1 in April 1964. It was also Mary Wells’ name on the label’s first Top Ten British single, issued on the Stateside label here in the days before Motown qualified for its own separate identity. In a chart dominated by the new Mersey Beat-group wave, “My Guy” entered at no.37, 21 May 1964, before loping unstoppably to no.5, beneath Cilla Black’s “You’re My World” by 18 June – and, re-issued in 1972, repeated the feat as high as no.14…

There was to be one further Motown Chartbuster, a duet with Marvin Gaye linking “Once Upon A Time” c/w “What’s The Matter With You Baby” (Billboard no.19/17 in May 1964). Making Mary the first of Marvin’s ‘Girl’ partners, for with Mary Wells gone he’d go on to chart with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell.


Mary Esther Wells was born in poverty to a single mother, 13 May 1943, but her career grew inexorably with the burgeoning fortunes of Motown. Through its tutelage she was its first female focal point, recognised and lauded by arbiters of Teen taste from Dusty Springfield to the Beatles on down. When Searchers lead singer Tony Jackson went solo he not only covered “Bye Bye Baby” as his launch single, but followed it with “You Beat Me To The Punch”. Still barely twenty-one years old, ‘Miss Hitmaker’ toured Britain as the special guest of the Fab Four and found them ‘perfect gentlemen’. I caught the Autumn ‘package tour’ at Hull’s ABC Regal cinema, with her slinky good looks showcased in a ten-minute three-song excerpt from the Motortown Revue. She was backed – awkwardly, by Brian Epstein’s Sounds Incorporated, but nothing could diminish the sense of something new and sweetly significant taking place. Yet her celebrity was already running out.

Perhaps intimidated by the wealth of talent within Motown she’d already stopped trying to write her own songs, and in what she mistakenly saw as an astute career move, on the crest of a chart-wave, she unexpectedly re-resigned to Twentieth Century Fox Records. Presented as the face of young black America, she’d always ducked attempts to celebrate her success as part of a racial thing. She saw herself purely as a singer, a performer. But without the black artist’s support structure and the R&B identity of Motown her career nose-dived. Never to recover. When she quit ‘Hitsville USA’, the magic stayed in Detroit. Her final American Top 40 entry, “Use Your Head” no.34 in January 1965, is a fair Motown imitation from her predominantly white new company. But pseudo-Motown was suddenly by no means a scarce commodity, and Mary Wells got lost in the deluge.


There was much subsequent frantic label-hopping to Atco, Jubilee, Epic and Warner Bros with sporadic hints of a comeback that never quite materialised. Positively for Mary there was brief marriage – to producer-guitarist Cecil Womack (they split in 1970, and she married his brother, Curtis), and four children, but creatively there’s a certain irony that even by the mid-sixties her albums consist of a complete Beatles tribute – ‘Love Songs To The Beatles’ (1965), an unlikely Rolling Stones covers – “Satisfaction”, and second-hand Supremes material – “My World Is Empty Without You” both (on ‘The Two Sides Of Mary Wells’, Atco, 1966). Eventually some of her later sides – such as “Ain’t It The Truth”, or “The Doctor” recorded for Reprise, would be rescued by the Northern Soul fraternity where she remained a respected name.

There are distressing tales of her final years, of bankruptcy and ill-health, with her medical bills footed by Rock star fans Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins and Rod Stewart. But essentially, Mary Wells was Detroit’s ‘Little Miss Hitmaker’, Motown’s first First Lady Of Soul. And that brief but lush golden span of hits is more than enough to ensure her a unique footnote in Pop history.


Saturday, 29 July 2017

Poem: "Roll Over Dean Benedetti (& Tell Dave Britton The News)"




ROLL OVER 
DEAN BENEDETTI 
 (AND TELL 
DAVE BRITTON 
THE NEWS)/ 
 OPERATION MOONBEAM 

“The music business was in a mood of high self-congratulation
this week after what is described as ‘the smashing of the biggest 
 bootleg ring in the UK’.” (‘Melody Maker’ 1 September 1979) 


Manchester streets 
squirm unclaimed sound, 
a patina of noise 
collecting in flesh-pools 
oozing in gutters. 
BUT DON’T PICK IT UP!!! 

Manchester caves 
r-e-v-e-r-b-e-r-a-t-e 
with indecent exposures 
of stolen sound, 
sucked from hidden mics, 
stacked in neat piles 
across grotto’s where 
Aubrey Beardsley and 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti dance 
(watched by fabricating 
identi-machine wizards) 

Mandible moonbeams 
light gleams 
stealth shift – 
finger prods the gloom 
sinks into viscous mounds 
of round black sounds, 
various, nefarious. 
R-E-C-O-I-L-S 
in legislative horror, 
image screwed into retina’s 
of vinyl germs 
inviting aural disease – 
wilderness is not a place 
but a state of unordered sound!!! 
Moonbeam wizards 
disinfect ears, 
check palms of hands 
for masturbatory hairs, 
flush offenders into 
neat matrix catalogues, 
and chains of books 
synchronizing 
gratuitous breathings 

Sometimes they hear 
Manchester streets 
v-i-b-r-a-t-e 
with a pulse 
of bass lines 
that coil and 
snare unsuspecting 
feet 

 and they ache… 



(Addendum: Dean Benedetti, who invaluably pirated live Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker sessions in the 1940s, is the legendary first sound recording-Bootlegger. Dave Britton, publisher of ‘Savoy Books’ and co-owner of Manchester’s ‘Bookchain’ shop, was the victim of anti-Bootleg prosecution following the ‘Operation Moonbeam’ Police purge in September 1979)

Published in:
‘GLOBAL TAPESTRY No.9’ (UK – May 1980)
‘IT: INTERNATIONAL TIMES – Frivolous Summer Issue 1980’ (UK)

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Music Interview: KINK DAVE DAVIES



DAVE DAVIES: 
 KINKY SEX IN 
 KINK-SIZE PORTIONS 


TALES OF THE KINKS is a Rock ‘n’ Roll Horror story 
 that shapes three decades of Music History. Expelled from 
school at 15, and no.1 in the charts two years later, 
DAVE DAVIES’ hedonistic life-style of drugs, sleaze, 
paternity suits, paranoia, fashion subversion, a host of 
sexual contradictions and a stream of classic hits defines 
all that the 1960’s are best remembered for. 
 And that’s before he discovered UFO’s…! 

Now he tells all to ANDREW DARLINGTON... 



 KINK (Kink) n (4) a flaw or idiosyncrasy of personality, quirk 
(5) Brit, informal, a sexual deviation 
(6) US, a clever or unusual idea 
(Collins English Dictionary) 

Does Rock ‘n’ Roll stunt your growth? It does if you do it right. And Dave Davies does it more right than most. Dave is, was, and always will, be guitarist with the Kinks. In the Sixties, with his libido knock-knock-knocking up against the inside of his stylish Mod y-fronts, to be a Kink was the greatest high available. “I was very much a show-off, a cocky young sod... a wild and angry kid who suddenly had more money than I’d ever seen before, with an abundance of women and drugs at my disposal.” But the Kinks Kollective body language continued through into the late 1990’s. They are a band who span three decades of hits and fine albums, and are now revered and revived by the likes of Blur, Paul Weller, Kirsty MacColl, the Pretenders, the Stranglers, and hordes of lesser entities.


Dave’s book ‘Kink: An Autobiography’* is a glutton’s feast of kinky sleazoid confessions. Blurbed ‘a man, a band and an era’, it’s a scurrilous Soap Opera of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s rich and famous – and its sick and shameless, in a swirling Jacuzzi of frantic fun. It’s also a profoundly mood-altering substance. So is it real, or is it Memorex? “What helped me remember things was actually the music” he explains now. “It’s sort-of evocative of memory, isn’t it? It reminds you of certain things that happened. I wanted the book to be conversational, and yet factual. It was important for me to get it out the way that I did. And I enjoyed writing it.” Facts? Conversational? Well, yes it is. For example, “I was with a girl whose hymen was so difficult to break that for a moment I thought she still had her tights on!” Or then there’s the occasion when he’s so high on over-indulgence that suddenly and without warning he’s volcanically sick – all over a girl who’s giving him a blow-job at the time. Later, at a party in Hampstead he meets ‘a petite pretty black-haired singer called Lesley’. Back at her flat, asleep in her bed he’s awakened by a naked BLONDE who “licked my stomach and placed my penis fully into her mouth and began to suck on it like the Goddess of Whores. It was ecstasy.” They fuck all night. In the morning “I got dressed and wandered into the kitchen where Lesley was making coffee. The blonde was nowhere to be seen.”


That was all, apparently, a fairly typical week. “It was an amazing time. You can understand why there’s so much romanticism about that period now, can’t you? In 1965 I was walking on water. We could do ANYTHING. I couldn’t do anything wrong. Well – I DID! But no-one seemed to mind” he grins, playfully gleeful. “And I never seemed to be satisfied, despite all the women that I’d been with. I always wanted more.” Dave Davies sprawls in the swivel chair’s plush upholstery opposite me. We’re at Boxtree Books, his London publisher. He’s doing the gabfest for ‘Kink’, and he’s well into it. Stories flow. He laughs at his own jokes, then loses himself in anecdotes about women, music, drugs, UFO’s, aliens, long long weary American tours, and his bare-knuckle relationship with his songwriting arch-Kinkster brother, Ray.

But stardom? “Naw. Rock Stars are still just people playing guitars, y’know? They’ve just got posher front rooms now than when they started.” He’s either deceptively normal, or more two-faced than a gallery of Picasso portraits. In some way it’s this very normality that makes him exceptional. Except that most normal men don’t have pasts like the one laid bare in ‘Kink’.



THE KINKS KONTROVERSY 

“My girlfriend packed her bags 
and moved to another town, 
she couldn’t stand the boredom 
when the video broke down” 
 (The Kinks ‘State Of Confusion’, 1983)

Unlike me, Dave Davies is not circumcised. I know this because on page fifty-nine he writes “I took a girl back to my room after a show and while we were having sex I heard a loud snapping sound. At first I had no idea what it was, then I felt a pain in my crotch. I turned on the light and was shocked to see blood everywhere. The girl was smothered in it. The sheets were full of it. I examined my penis, and blood was pouring from it. I had split the foreskin.” A case of over-enthusiasm, or strenuous over-use?

“I was an angry rebellious kid, and I wanted to try everything, anything that was against the norm, whether it was getting high, or wearing outrageous clothes, or having sex with whoever I pleased. Everyone around us was experimenting sexually” he explains by way of justification. As if justification were needed. All this was, of course, during the amoral flesh-games possible between the advent of the birth pill, and the impact of AIDS, between the inauguration of the Permissive Society, and the kill-joy shut-down of Political Correctness.


During an Australian tour he is shown the ‘basic principles’ of hypnotism and begins practising on any willing person who comes along – including a nightclub dancer who had ‘gorgeous black hair that hung down to the crack of her arse.’ Once she’s under his hypnotic control “we proceeded through the various aspects of love-making slowly, freely, until dawn started to break. It was one of the most sensitive and magnificent sexual experiences I had ever had.” But she leaves the Hotel room still under trance. “I never caught sight or sound of the woman ever again” he muses uncertainly. “Was it a double bluff? Was she PRETENDING to be hypnotised and just got a kick out of it? Did she fool me? Or worse – is there still a hypnotised woman walking around out there?”


Then – as the Sixties give way to the Seventies, and the Kinks score a massive hit with the sexually ambiguous gender-bending “Lola”, things get even weirder. “By 1972 we had acquired a strong, if not unusual following as we continued to tour the States – straights, Gays, Groupies, Transvestites, Transsexuals. There was a group of outrageous transvestite dancers and singers called the Cockettes (a la ‘Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’, 1994), who followed us everywhere.” Naturally Dave becomes an enthusiastic participant here too, experimenting sexually with male as well as female lovers. “It’s this whole thing about Rugby players in the shower, isn’t it?” he asks mysteriously. “It’s kinda like that. There’s a lot of admiration, mutual male admiration that goes on in sport. Did you ever see Richard Harris in ‘This Sporting Life’ (1963)? And did you see that Keith Allen thing about the Gay Footballer? It was a ‘Comic Strip’ piss-take about Gazza, when he was first coming onto the sports scene. In the sketch, he was a Gazza-type player, but it had all these Gay connotations. But yes, I think that if you consider it historically, in imperial Rome it was considered quite normal for people to be bisexual. And in ancient Greece too, wasn’t it? A lot of this male-male coupling thing comes out of mutual admiration as well. Sometimes it’s not so much directly sexual as respectful, or done in admiration. A wanting to get close, and these other things, y’know. Closer...” 


‘Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls’? “There was never any stigma attached to my interest in other young men. I’ve always felt that if you have a genuine respect and love for another person, who gives a shit if the partner is a boy or a girl?” But even these admirably laid-back sentiments can be playfully and mischievously subverted. Bored in New York, he and ‘friend’ Linda decide to temporarily swap clothes. She helps him with wig and full make-up. Delighted with the results they take a cab down to the Greenwich Village Club scene, “I’d dressed up in women’s clothes before, but never quite so publicly. It was very interesting the way men would look at me. I really got a kick out of the fact that no-one knew who I was. It was fantastic. I could observe the world from a totally different perspective. As a voyeur.” In a club called ‘Nobody’s’ at three in the morning they encounter Mick Avory – the Kinks drummer, and “he didn’t recognise me. The dirty old man was letching and leering at me. God, now I realised what it must be like for a woman! I continued to flirt with Mick in the dimly lit bar. I slowly stood up, spread my legs, lifted up my dress, and sexily guided my hand down the front of my underpants and grabbed at my crotch. Suddenly it hit Mick who I was. He was stunned, with mouth agape. You should have seen the look on his face. It was a treat...”


KANDID KINKS 

“Still we watch the re-runs again and again
 we sit glued while the killer takes aim – 
Hey Mom, there goes a piece 
of the President’s brain...!” 
(The Kinks ‘Give The People What They Want’, 1981) 

“While I was out carousing and living it up, Ray was content to observe. I did the partying, he wrote about it.” The tension between the Davies brothers – Ray and Dave, ignites the centre of the Kinks’ furious energies. As it did for Don and Phil Everly. As it does for Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis. To Dave, Ray is both ‘a puzzling dichotomy’ and ‘a fucking arsehole’. I watch them on stage in Leeds last year, or perhaps the year before last. They do a song called “Phobia”. Ray describes it as “a serious Rock ‘n’ Roll message song”, then proceeds to climb up onto the speaker cabinets behind the band. Adding “I’m into psychology. I don’t know why,” as he prowls down the front gesticulating inanely behind the Bouncer’s heads. The song’s chorus goes “everybody got phobia, What you got? – PHOBIA!!!”


It’s easy to probe phobias and try some cheap psychology to explain the Davies brothers. A large warm Muswell Hill family in the late 1940’s. Six sisters. Then Ray, and finally... Dave. DIY psychology says, initially, that Ray – as the firstborn son, receives all that gushing female attention. Until Dave – younger and cuter, came along and ‘stole a bit of his space in the limelight.’ Resentments and jealousies are not always rational, and they can go deep. Secondly, Dave – as subsequent recipient of all that female nurturing, grows to take female pampering and compliance for granted. He adores women (“I loved to sneak a peek at my sisters dressing and undressing...”), and knows exactly how to exploit their affections. Sexual morés, and addictions also go deep. On stage in Leeds Dave sings his solo hit “Death Of A Clown”, and his writing contribution to the Kinks ‘Word Of Mouth’ (1984) album – “Living On The Thin Line”. He plays a Fender guitar that has Seaside Postcard girlie legs climbing all the way up the strap.


“...As I reflect back on this crazy life, I’m still trying to figure out what happened between us then, and what continues to go on between us now. Maybe I’ll never know.” As kids Ray and Dave share a bed, and invent their own private gibberish language. And the Kinks sound gets accidentally – and almost fatally invented during a rainy afternoon in the Davies front room. Dave is sixteen. He wires his guitar through a series of cheap cannibalised amps... and blows himself across the room when the super-charged first chord short-circuits.

He idolises Eddie Cochran, and sees guitarist Duane Eddy live at the Finsbury Park Empire in 1963 (“my devotion to Duane Eddy was not misplaced”). Dave’s own first band – the Ramrods, ends in a brawl at a US Air Base backing a black body-building contortionist on a bill that also includes a couple of over-the-hill Strippers. The band gets renamed The Ravens after a Vincent Price Horror movie, then the Bo-Weevils after the title of an Eddie Cochran ‘B’-side. A singer called Robert Wace wangles them some Society dates on condition that he can sing with the group. One night he comes on, gets as far as the first chorus of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”, and accidentally smashes his front teeth out on the mike. At the last minute, Ray steps in to take over vocals – for keeps. Wace does stick around long enough to contribute the group’s next name change though. The Kinks. “I thought the idea of being called the Kinks was silly, but it was a saucy name for the time. The Profumo Affair was all over the news then, establishing the names of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, and phrases like ‘Kinky Sex’ were starting to appear in the tabloids.”

Brian Epstein comes to watch them. Promises he’ll call. Never does. Instead they follow their first two failed singles with a riff-heavy “You Really Got Me” with a sound so raw it bleeds, and suddenly this ‘scruffy inexperienced bunch of kids’ are no.1 on the chart, and the madness begins. “A lot of the girls I met were quite young, but very willing. Young girls were prepared to do anything to be with their adored stars. By March 1964 when we went out on our first package tour with the Dave Clark Five I was already quite experienced with women, at the ripe age of seventeen.” 


The hits continue – the raucous “All Day And All Of The Night” (No.2, 19th Nov 1964), “Tired Of Waiting For You” (their second no.1, 18th Feb ‘65), the Carnaby Street anthem “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” (no.4, 31st March ‘66), “Sunny Afternoon” (a third no.1, 7th July 1966), the satiric “Well Respected Man” (an America no.15 in Feb 1966), then the wistful melancholia of “Waterloo Sunset” (no.2, 25 May 1967) where ‘Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night’ – in myth it becomes Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, in reality it becomes a perfect elegy for the Sixties London dream, and many more. “We could do anything. It was like one night we were last-minute booked to do a ‘Top Of The Pops’. This was when ‘Top Of The Pops’ was done live in Manchester. We went to the airport, but there were no seats left on the plane. So they immediately took ten people off the plane so they could put us and our entourage on the plane to fly us to Manchester to do the show! You could do literally anything you liked.” 


But within the group, things were changing. “Over those first three or four years with the Kinks, Ray and I didn’t have any problems” he considers carefully. As though he’s explaining it all to himself, as well as to me and you. “I think things started to go wrong with me and Ray personally, after his first marriage ended. When he felt the world had caved in on him, and the world had let him down, kind-of (Ray’s marriage to Rasa effectively ended 12 June 1973). When that support is taken away, it’s kind-of like ‘What the Fucking ‘Ell? What am I doing here?’ I think that was a much bigger hole in the Kinks career than people realise. I also think Ray changed a lot when he felt we were being ripped off by Music Publishers. Which we were. But Ray probably felt it more because he wrote most of the songs. And it makes you a bit bitter. I understood. But I was always a little bit too optimistic for me own good. I used to think if it’s done, it’s done. What can you do? But it really made Ray more thoughtful. Less trusting. More paranoid. A bit bitter and da-da-de-de-da-da. But maybe that helped his writing as well? So you don’t know. You can’t know.” 

In ‘Kink’ he writes “in spite of it all, I love my brother. Maybe that’s all that’s necessary. That it was the love between us that helped to make it all happen. Us against the world.” 

But hey, this is getting to read like a Music Magazine. Let’s hit the sleaze button.


KWYET KINKS 

“Whisky or gin, that’s all right, 
there’s nothing in her bed at night. 
She sleeps with the covers down 
hoping somebody gets in, 
it doesn’t matter what she does, 
she knows that she can’t win” 
(Dave Davies “Susannah’s Still Alive”, January 1968) 

Does Rock ‘n’ Roll arrest your character development into an eternal adolescence? It does if you do it right. When Right-Wing politicians fulminate about the root causes of sexual permissiveness, the break-up of the family and the break-down of social discipline, all – they claim, the product of the 1960’s, they’re attacking all the things that the Kinks at their finest, most perfectly represent. In hits that still sound almost virally infectious. For Dave ‘The Rave’ Davies, the Sixties must seem like Paradise Lust, the greatest high available. For the rest of us, it’s either a second-hand memory you’re a little envious to have missed out on, or an endearing nonsense you’re glad you’ve grown up out of. 


But even as the Sixties nose-dives into extinction Dave scores a run of solo hits, “Death Of A Clown”, “Suzanah’s Still Alive”, and “Lincoln County”. He takes a debauched promo trip to do German TV, which starts out with booze and Diana Dors lowdown (‘her mirrored bedroom ceiling, her lust for men, and general sexual antics’). Then the soundcheck, drugs and complimentary whores in the Hotel, “one of the girls undressed me and laid me on a couch. This voluptuous woman began to give me a massage... my mouth was so dry I could barely speak and my head was reeling, but I felt wonderful. She moved her hand down to my stomach and stroked and kissed my abdomen with the gentle and sensual ease of a consummate artist. I felt her mouth on my penis, it felt as if her tongue was inside my head, touching and stimulating every nerve ending and sensory centre in my brain.” Eventually, for the actual telecast, he’s so blobbed out of it he’s unable to stand, and has to go through the motions of miming to his hit sitting on a stool. 

There are no Black Holes in Muswell Hill. But Dave was creating his own. It was “as if I were being devoured by a dark psychic swamp that was dragging me into its secret world in all its subtle and insidious power.” People he’d Clubbed with – Keith Moon and Brian Jones, didn’t make it through. Yet Dave survives the nightmare of what he calls his ‘psychic death’. He gives up meat, drugs and excess. And tunes into a New Age consciousness wide enough to include UFO-chasing openness to X-File’d millennial possibilities. 


“We have to take a big step into the world of the unknown – now, before the door is closed on us completely” he informs me. “We are living in the 21st Century, and we’ve got so much at our fingertips to actually help create real change in the world. We have everything from metaphysics, to cyber-technology, yoga, and yes – drugs too, if you like. Astrologically, what’s happening is that the outer planets are moving. Saturn has moved into the sign of Sagittarius. It’s really boring if you’re not interested in it, but I find it significant. And to cut a long story short, these things are influencing people to do things. Something big is gonna happen! And I think all the ideas about revolution that everyone was talking about in the 1960s will actually happen in the early years of this new century. It makes more sense now. There are people in Big Business Corporations who were taking acid when they were sixteen or seventeen. There are still people around who were part of that Sixties culture – like you and I. While, I saw a programme on TV the other day about a group of young people who had come through today’s ‘E’ subculture. They were talking about feeling the transmission of love between people. That’s not crazy. Alright – so it’s a chemical going off in the brain, making the nervous system and the brain do this. But is that so bad. They’d decided to set up their own little group in which they were trying to manifest without drugs those feelings of love that they’d experienced from using those things. Now, in that sense, a positive good has come about by their use of drugs. And I applaud that. So there’s certain elements out there now that just need to be pulled together...” 


The 1960s and the 2000s are, it seems, umbilically linked. And by more than just hippie numerology. The two eras share the same restlessness. The same sense that something momentous is about to happen, but no-one knows quite what... apparently. “We NEED to get into the world of the unknown” he emphasises genially. “I did an interview the other week, and we were talking about UFO’s. I was talking about aliens and messages from outer space. This, that, and the other. And the guy thought I was crazy. Yet he probably goes home and watches the ‘X-Files’ on television. So that’s alright, OK? Because we’re detached from that. But the thought of us being ATTACHED to it, that’s a very different psychological process. I think in a way, in a sense... oh,” his voice drops to a conspiratorial intimacy, “I’d better shut meself up. There’s a lot of things I shouldn’t say!” 


Why? Because he knows things it is not safe to divulge, secrets known only to him, Mulder and Scully? Or because his Press Agent is watching him in case he goes too far? 

Dave Davies is a legend in his own Mod y-fronts, much of his anecdotage reflects back on his own (neglected) importance. Mick Jagger comes backstage to bawl and strum “You Really Got Me” to him, badly. Paul McCartney complains to him that the Kinks invented Eastern tunings (on their hit “See My Friends”) before the Beatles got around to it. Jimi Hendrix quizzes him about how he got his amped-up guitar sound. And even within the Kinks “I always felt like Ray’s older brother. He always seemed so fragile, so sensitive.” 

But just when that (defensive?) arrogance begins to become tedious, or when you fear alien ectoplasm is cramping your prose-style, the likeable good guy keeps breaking through. “It would be interesting to see how historians in fifty years time – if there IS a fifty years time! how they will view all these things” he muses. “I’d like to think the Kinks will have a little place of their own...” 

“Thank you for the days, 
I don’t regret a single day, 
believe me...” 
 (The Kinks “Days”, 1968)


 * ‘KINK: AUTOBIOGRAPHY’ 
by DAVE DAVIES 
Boxtree Books Ltd ISBN 0-7522-1695-3 
 £16.99 Pan Paperback - 1997


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Live: The Kinks In Leeds



‘THE KINK KONTROVERSY’ 

THE KINKS 
live at ‘The Town And Country’, Leeds 

I first saw the Kinks at Bridlington Spa, 1966. Since then I’ve seen them bad. I’ve seen them good. I’ve seen them good-bad, but not evil. But I’ve seldom seen them this sharp.

Let’s take “Low Budget” for closer analysis – long, rousing, jagged guitar raunch. Ray Davies geysers a lager-bottle. ‘Sorry, I did the unforgiveable’ while foam-spraying the front crush. ‘I spilled the Heineken. I wasn’t to know. What’s wrong with Tetley’s?’ Tetley’s is the local brewery down the road. As the lurch lumbers on he’s shaking his bum grotesquely at the audience, lifting his trousers to reveal Union Jack socks. Kinks-literate TV viewers will know that he donated his matching Doc Martin’s to a fan on Chris Evans ‘Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush’. He balances the lager bottle on his head. Then feigns harmonica until he gets bored with doing that. So he stops and addresses the audience direct. ‘How’re ya doin’ Chief?’ He side-glances at brother Dave with a cartoon nod, ‘I worry ‘bout this boy.’ And all the while the riff roars and the lyrics run ‘I may look like a tramp, but don’t write me off.’ Tonight, Ray Davies is a tramp shining. As “Low Budget” finally crashes to a halt he shields his eyes from the spots and asks ‘you people upstairs OK? I worry about them too.’

Raymond Douglas Davies will be fifty-years-old this 21 June. The Kinks debut single (“Long Tall Sally”) appeared just over thirty years ago, with their first no.1 (“You Really Got Me”) following it in September of that same 1964. A band of such longevity simply should not be this much fun. Rock ‘n’ Roll seldom comes better.


Solid support band Nine Below Zero open with thick wedges of Pub R&B and a drummer in a Muddy Waters ‘T’-shirt. Mouth-harpist Mark Feltham wears his full Napoleon costume. Denis Greaves does “On The Road Again” and “Don’t Point Your Finger”, and they go down well.

Then this Busker slouches out in a check shirt and long grey perverts mack, his sleeves untidily scuffed back. He strums his way into “A Well Respected Man”. Ray Davies is (almost) unplugged, replaying his TV ‘Return To Waterloo’ cameo as a one-man band. “Autumn Almanac” is complete with its elongated ‘’cos the sun is all gorn’, then “Stop Your Sobbing” and “Sunny Afternoon”. It’s like he’s getting the sixties affectionately out of the way first, before the serious stuff. With “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” he rasps his tongue out in mock-concentration and sings ‘round the boutiques, of old Leeds town’, then shrugs apologetically and adds ‘he’s doing his best.’

A full twenty Kinks texts follow. And each one tells a story. Dave Davies wields a vicious Fender with girlie legs up the strap. This man allegedly invented Heavy Metal with a single gloriously ludicrous solo of monumentally primal ineptitude. And he still defines the Kinks rawness and power. Ray’s quirky lyrical observations and character sketches matched into its huge loom.


I’ve seen the Kinks err to Metal. I’ve heard them err to whimsy. Tonight the balance is near-perfect. “Phobia”, and “Wall Of Fire” from that same album (‘Phobia’, 1993), ram the band’s endless history through the blender. It comes out recharged and vibrant. “Welcome To Sleazy Town” is strung out on a long Blues introduction with Bump ‘n’ Grind dancers and Ray in his umpteenth costume change red tartan jacket and shades. The Oldest Wave of the Old Wave – and here in Leeds they slamdance to the Kinks.

“Days” starts off a-cappella with a touching sincerity. Like it’s a thank-you for all those days drawn out across all those thirty years of Kinkdom.

Before it impacts into a unexpected “Twist And Shout”. Dave holds his guitar out like a relic from Lourdes for fans to touch and be healed.

I swear I too was healed…


DVD Review: The Kinks



‘KINKS: SIBLING RIVALRY’ 

Review of: 
‘THE KINKS’ 
 DVD, H.History GOHC5486 
 44-minutes www.goentertain.tv 


In the sixties the hierarchy went Beatles and Stones. Then Kinks and Who. Then the third tier of Hollies, Small Faces, Yardbirds, Searchers and Manfreds. Each of them unique in their own way. The Kinks more unique than most. This concise career fly-over, extracted from ‘The History Channel’, and retaining its ad-break chapter-headings, is an essentially US-slanted perspective, but captures something of the band’s shambolic genius. It traces their origins as ‘three baby musketeers’ rehearsing in the front room of 6 Denmark Terrace in North London’s Muswell Hill, the home of brothers Ray and Dave Davies, with schoolfriend Pete Quaife adding bass. Joined by drummer Mick Avory they unite with producer Shel Talmy. Their third Pye single, “You Really Got Me” puts them at no.1 in the charts in September 1964, and changes history.

Talmy tells how Dave lacerated the group’s ‘little pug-nosed’ 8-watt amp to achieve the raucous sexually-charged primitive sound he sought, which has subsequently been accused of booting-up the entire Heavy Metal genre. Not that that should be held against him. “You Really Got Me” and its two follow-ups ‘completely killed me’ admits Little Steven of the E-Street Band. With their red hunting jackets and their name conjuring teasing hints of perversity, their rise seemed unstoppable. But the Kinks’ advance into the American market was stalled by a long-standing ban following a chaotic tour.

All sixties bands were cheated. The Kinks were no exception. Their inept rip-off manager Larry Page went out to tour the States with them, ditched them there, and came back with Sonny & Cher instead. So while other lesser names stormed US stadia, they concentrated on developing their reflective very English character studies, nostalgic short stories, and vaguely melancholy themes that went through “Waterloo Sunset” into albums such as ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ (November 1968) – largely neglected and seen as a failure at the time, now recognised as a lost classic.


Despite its brevity, the DVD manages to effectively explore the volatile internal chemistry of the ‘dysfunctional Kinks family’. Extrovert Dave, the model for the ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, living the full sixties Raver life-style of clubs, drugs and multi-sexuality. And Ray, who stays at home documenting it all through his songs. Dave does most to-camera, explaining the nature of his complex and loving sibling rivalry with quieter, more poetic brother Ray, who appears largely through archive footage. I recall Dave struggling to articulate the same mixed emotions when I spoke with him. Contributions from Mick and Pete flesh out the story of a creative process for which anger was the ‘motivating thing’. Pete was the first Kink to bale out, after a run of eleven straight UK Top Ten hits, just as the US touring ban expired and “Lola” re-established the band on both sides of the Atlantic.

Arista label-boss Clive Davis talks about signing the Kinks for an arc of successful stadium-level albums through the eighties before the internal rifts culminated in the Kinks split, and subsequent forays into solo project. Until there’s a touching reconciliation prompted by a double-tragedy. Ray was shot during a botched mugging in New Orleans, and Dave suffered a serious heart attack, two close-encounters with mortality that briefly brought the feuding brothers together. Although the DVD closes on upbeat speculation about the chances of a re-union tour taking in the original four members, this has now been superceded by Pete Quaife’s death 23 June 2010. Poignant for me too because Dave, with some degree of sincerity, pointed out to me that despite the long and often disruptive history of the Kinks, they’d all survived reasonably intact. He seemed both surprised, and more than a little grateful about that.

Featured on website:
‘SOUNDCHECKS MUSIC REVIEW’ 
(UK – September 2010)
http://www.soundchecks.co.uk/reviews/kinkstv1.html


CD Review: Dave Davies 'Rippin' Up Time'




Album Review of: 
‘RIPPIN’ UP TIME’ 
by DAVE DAVIES 
(RED RIVER) www.davedavies.com 

There are two possible meanings to the title. Either it’s time to ‘Rip It Up’, as in the hard-rocking Little Richard sense. Or else Dave is intent on ripping up the very concept of the space-time continuum itself. As it is, this album succeeds in doing both. Ten raw revved-up and out of their mind tracks that mangle nostalgia and novelty, reflection and autobiography with savage upfront energies. There are teasing hints of familiar Kinks riffs – but hell, he created them, he’s entitled to use, reuse and abuse them as he chooses. There’s one about the pub down on Finchley High Street where every Friday night the “King Of Karaoke” croons “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Unchained Melody”… and quotes “Sunny Afternoon” too. “Front Room” tells the Davies’ Working Class family history, as the brothers form a group – ‘with Pete (Quaife), Ray and John (Start) from next door’, using “You Really Got Me” as reference point. It’s also a kind of answer to Ray’s “Back In The Front Room” dialogue passage on his ‘The Storyteller’ (1998) project. The laugh-out-loud prurience of “In The Old Days” retrospects that same dysfunctional childhood, while “Semblance Of Sanity’ with its shambling whispered ‘sh-sh’ offers confirmation of ‘peace, truth, love and understanding.’ There’s some creative input from Dave’s son, Russ Davies. But there’s no maudlin whimsy, there are raucous guitars yes, but snarling synths too. As the only Kink to have solo chart hits, Dave’s albums outside the group have been inconsistent, but largely enjoyable. This might just be his best, his voice effectively expressively slurred, raggedly lyrical, but tight. The Man. The Myth. The Legend. 


Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 No.49
Jan-February (UK – January 2015)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Radical Publishing: 'SAVOY WARS'




‘SAVOY WARS’: 
MICHAEL BUTTERWORTH
 & DAVE BRITTON 

 As a direct result of his shock SF novel ‘LORD HORROR’
Savoy Books and Records supremo and Novelist Dave Britton 
spent time in prison in Manchester. But undaunted he talks to 
Andrew Darlington about Savoy’s CD’s, their comics and novels... 



 ‘Hello Mr and Mrs America, and all the ships at sea...’ 
 – PJ Proby on the ‘Lord Horror’ CD Talking Book 


‘They’re just scum’ explodes Dave Britton. ‘Fascists are scum, you just can’t deal with them, you can’t reason with them or excuse them. They’re shit. They are evil, purely evil. But can you name me one novel – just one, which captures that essence of pure evil? C’mon. Name me one...’ I flounder, before eventually settling on the only, too obvious candidate – ‘Lord Horror’ (1990) by Dave Britton.

‘Right. Ramsey Campbell is promoted as England’s answer to Stephen King. Who said that about him in the first place? I don’t know. He’s a great writer, and good luck to him. But I don’t see that element of pure evil in what he writes. Thomas Harris’ ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1988) is closer, but you tend to visualise Anthony Hopkins in the movie role, don’t you? Clive Barker comes even closer still, particularly in ‘The Books Of Blood’ (1984-1986). Clive Barker can be brilliant, also in the way he smears it across the mediums from short stories to movies. But even he rarely gets it exactly right. And that’s what I wanted to do with ‘Lord Horror’ – I wanted to create a character who is that personification of evil.’

Dave Britton and Michael Butterworth at Savoy

Perhaps he succeeds too well? Dave went to prison, following a series of high-profile legal actions brought against the novel, and related police raids on the bookshop premises then run by Dave with long-term associate Michael Butterworth. This all happened before an IRA bomb levelled the area for municipal redevelopment, or what Dave terms ‘Manchester’s creeping virus of gentrification. A process that involves shipping out the ‘lower orders’ by raising the rents, thereby providing space for yet more designer label dungeons and yuppie watering holes. We wish them the very best leprosy money can buy!’

Original Dave Britton artwork

Savoy is an independent publishing label run by Dave and Mike. Together they’ve created some of the most fiercely controversial and banned work ever to come out of the Science Fiction subculture. Savoy, they say, operates like a family. The Krays. But hey – Mike and Dave do believe in Family Values, even if they are Adams Family Values...! 

In the meantime Dave carefully reads out his entry in the ‘The Encyclopaedia Of Science Fiction’. And within this massive thick-as-a-brick tome, compiler Peter Nicholls writes that ‘Lord Horror’ is ‘a scatological examination of Nazism and the UK traitor Lord Haw-Haw, which made use of pornographic imagery upsetting to the Manchester Police...’ Dave throws up his hands – ‘‘pornographic imagery’ it says! Pornographic! There is NO sexual pornography in ‘Lord Horror’. Deliberately. There’s VIOLENCE, because it deals with a sick violent evil mind, but there’s no graphic depictions of sex.’ But Nicholls goes on to concede that the book is ‘clearly, if very offensively, a satire’. And if people take offence, perhaps that’s because they fail to correctly decode the right parts of the message? ‘Sure’ concedes Dave, ‘all people see is the violence. They don’t see the references.


Savoy dragged ‘THE JOY OF THE MANCHESTER A-Z’ into the harsh realm of litigation. ‘Lord Horror’ is a stunning vortex of deranged surrealism and fantastic imagery loosely based on the exploits and dubious multi/ quasi-sexual adventures of war-time traitor Lord Haw-Haw, ‘a character who is that personification of evil’. And it instantly succeeded in outraging Thatcher’s buttoned-up Britain. It’s a book that – to Elizabeth Young of ‘The New Statesman’, ‘outrages current taboos on racism so strangulating that no-one may transgress them’. Former Punk wild-child Julie Burchill declared that she was ‘up for a riot in Golders Green’ if this would prevent a paperback edition (in ‘The Spectator’), while Michael Winner – movie director of such highly moral fables as the ‘Deathwish’ film-series, self-righteously informed BBC Radio 4 that ‘Lord Horror’ is ‘exactly the kind of book that should be banned.’

Sure enough, on charges relating to the publication and sale of what these – and other self-appointed moral guardians considered ‘objectionable’ material, ‘Lord Horror’ was confiscated, found obscene, and then made publishing history when it became the first novel to be banned in Britain since 1968. Since Hubert Selby’s ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’. Dave blames the ‘cult of anti-Northerness’ for the continued lack of cause celebré publicity over their serial cases, despite the high-profile support in court of people like Michael Moorcock. ‘Yes. The only way we’ll get recognition is when we’re killed by some outraged Nazi’ he snorts with delicious derision. ‘Or when I wind up in jail.’ In fact – as a result of the charges, Dave Britton actually spent time as a guest of her satanic majesty. ‘His experience in Strangeways was the main spur that started him writing. He knew in that moment that he mustn’t waste any more time. If he got out, he must write his novel.’

It sometimes seems that to the London-based Literary Luvvies, Mike and Dave are the cutest couple to come out of Manchester since Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. Something like the crazed motorcycle gang who rode through the toxic waste spill and came out hideously mutated. Outlaws from some alien Northern Hell.



“It’s red-hot, mate. I have to think of this sort of book 
getting into the wrong hands. As soon as I’ve finished 
(writing) this, I shall recommend they ban it...’ 
Tony Hancock writes his novel (Radio Show scripts) 


‘This is Manchester, we do things differently here’ says ‘Tony Wilson’ in the ‘Twenty-Four Hour Party People’ (2002) movie. Mark Twain once claimed he’d like to have lived in Manchester, because ‘the transition between Manchester and Death would be unnoticeable…’

Dave and Mike, Manchester’s Badly-Drawn Boys, are not exactly treasured by this nation’s academic elite. Yet Dave wrote, and together they published this dazzling atrocity of dark enchantment, this black grotesque novel of mayhem and madness hot-wired into a Hieronymus Bosch triptych. This black absurdist comedy that casually opens ‘had it not been for the war, Hitler would have done well...’ The result was that the ‘Sinister Dexter’, the Obi-Wan-Kenobi and Que-Gon Jinn of radical publishing, left that previous dumb and vicious century dragging Horror’s fearful symmetry through the full vindictive contours of human stupidity, from Police Raids to Law Courts to a spell of incarceration.


Curiously, another of the ways you could access ‘Lord Horror’ was by tracking down a copy of their CD Talking Book edition... narrated by fallen 1960s Pop God PJ Proby (1999)! And here Dave’s prose blowtorches images of stunning surreality – a ‘vagina-hat with poppystalk clitorises’, while Proby – oddly, supplies the perfect voice to detonate its eerily visceral menace. Radio static buzzes like clouds of bee-sperm around his rich Texan drawl, intersected by hits of 1940s Swing echoing back through time to Hitler’s rants, and sound-grabs of English traitor Lord Haw-Haw himself, the Nazi propagandist and original model for the diseased Lord ‘Maximum’ Horror. But a line about 1950s Rocker Larry Williams provokes a Proby reminiscence to the effect that ‘Larry Williams? I saw him shoot a guy in front of me.’ The story is probably true. Later, while reciting that Horror’s lips are ‘oddly rotund and effeminate’ he laughs, ‘just for you Baby.’ Then the one-time Jett Powers does an Elvis-style “My Yiddisher Mama”, juxtaposed with demonic distortions direct from the chaos of his soul.

P J Proby on 'Savoy Records'

The seventy-one minute CD consists of three long novel extracts. “On The Isle Of Lord Horror” (the novel’s full first sixteen pages), “Lord Horror: Jew Killer” taking the action to Ladbroke Grove with Horror’s mutant malchicks Meng and Ecker (Pages 57 to 61), and finally into verminous nights of pervy obscenity hunting Hitler through New York’s Bacteria City in “Lord Horror On The Moon” (p 142–162). There are some necessary abbreviations, but some spontaneous interjections too – ‘Lady Labia Major? Y’all can say ‘Labia Major’ here? The labia major is the meatiest and biggest part of the pussy, do you guys know that?’ Yes – they do. Then Proby adds WC Fields vocal inflexions in perfect pastiche over melancholy pizzicato strings, until a Sandy Nelson drum-loop ratchets up the soundscape to the novel-sequence about the fetishistic Frogman’s evisceration and cannibalism into yet more skin-crawlingly atmospheric repulsion. There’s even a savage ‘Hokey Cokey’ that ends ‘and that’s what it’s all about – FUCK YOU!” which pretty much sums up Savoy’s attitude to this nation’s academic elite.

Original Dave Britton artwork

This is Dave Britton: his true story.

Mike is as tall and blonde as Dave is dark and rotund. Dave is in black. Black shirt hung out over black trousers. Black hair and black-tinted glasses. He looks like the guy who’d steal your X-Box if you turn your back on him too long. Butterworth is taller, leaner, pale and interesting. His blonde hair is close-cropped, ‘his ‘Rave look’ jeers Dave. We retreat across Deansgate from the ‘Drum & Porcupine’ where, during the course of a tête-à-tête during which Dave voraciously devours a heaped dish of spare ribs, Mike opting for the vegetarian tagliatelle, we discuss Iron Butterfly’s lost psychedelic artefact-album ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ (1968), Mersey Beat star Kingsize Taylor, the collapse of Factory Records (‘just down the road from here’) and the critical gush-factor accompanying holocaust-titillation novels by Martin Amis and DM Thomas.

Mike lives on the culinary cutting edge. ‘I’ve always been able to live healthily on vegan food. I decided to eat cheese etc at my vegetarian boarding school where I’d been sent by my father to be vegan – to get me away from my mother who thought the vegan diet too extreme for young children and was feeding my sisters and I dairy and eggs behind his back! But at school I found I was the only vegan, so I changed to a vegetarian diet in an attempt to fit in. The school staff turned a blind eye, as I think they thought Dad was too extreme as well. Later in life I swopped back to being vegan, then back to being vegetarian for reasons of convenience. I’m now largely vegan – I won’t eat any dairy produce at all, but I do eat eggs – for convenience, if I can be assured the hens are genuinely free-range and no undue suffering is involved. I am a big supporter of veganism, and I believe if sufficient attention is paid to the diet most people can live perfectly healthily on it.’

Original Dave Britton artwork

Then Dave reminisces about how ‘I used to sit in our bookshop and get first look at all the new second-hand stuff that came in, all the odd and esoteric books people brought in to trade. You got medical textbooks on rare diseases, and you’d go ‘I’LL HAVE THAT!’, and there’s some beautiful phrases in there. And books with antique and outdated terminology, like the guy who was ‘WOBBLED TO DEATH’. Isn’t that perfect?’ He rolls the words around his mouth, tasting them. ‘‘WOBBLED TO DEATH’. And you incorporate all these fascinating references mixed into new contexts. And the reviewers can’t relate to it all because these things are OUTSIDE THEIR EXPERIENCE and hence suspect or disturbing.’

Early Dave Britton magazine

These two unlikely negative role-models have been a volatile outlaw publishing and then recording partnership ‘since 1972 – man and beast’. One at permanent loggerheads with the highly moral Manchester Constabulary who they’ve satirised mercilessly in their various projects. Down the road from Savoy there’s a Survivalist store, and a Scientologist’s Dianetics Centre. Manchester – it’s murder out there, we pun it into Gun-chester, Grunge-chester and beyond. A city decomposing beneath a soggy sky into what Dennis Potter called the ‘quotidian ooze of ordure’, or what Dave and Mike might call the ‘creeping shittiness of ordinary life’. Dave is one of the few people who dare admit to enjoying one of Potter’s final and least critically respectable teleplays, ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ (1993) – but only for the soundtrack. Rock music, and Science Fiction, are his obsessions, and the source of Savoy’s rearguard action against that ‘quotidian ooze’. ‘You can’t avoid the crumminess. But you can have fun trying.’ 

Dave Britton & Michael Butterworth as 'Meng & Ecker'

Upstairs at 279 Deansgate, in an office colo-rolled with ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ wallpaper, there are mounds of Savoy’s inventive ‘Meng And Ecker’ comic-books, and a few lavishly produced hardbacks of Savoy’s book of Michael Moorcock interview, ‘Death Is No Obstacle’ (1992). Dave sits feet-up on the desk, opens a glossy coffee-table non-Savoy book of kitsch-artist Jeff Koons erotically entwined with his pornstrel-muse Cicciolina. ‘LOOK, look – they’re openly selling THIS art-porn at WH Smith’s. And then they seize and impound ‘Lord Horror’. Tell me, where is the sense in that…?’



‘Horror was a sidewinding rattler. The Be-Bop-A-Lula
 of Auschwitz. Dreams in one hand. Shit in the other. 
Blood and disgrace. Drip-Drop on the worthless earth...’ 
‘Motherfucker: The Auschwitz Of Oz’ 
by Dave Britton (Savoy Books 1996) 

Manchester is burning. A monstrous amoebic multi-tentacled beast squats over its skyline farting and belching its foul noxious breath. But – although cloned from the alien growth in ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ which smeared Westminster Abbey with its disgusting excreta, it is star-spangled like the 1950s ‘Quasar of Rock’ Little Richard and roars like every Kurt Cobain CD in the world played at max volume simultaneously. A vulgar nightmare of bad taste fitted with thermo-nuclear teeth shimmying and slavering voluptuously through the soot-silt, decay and pigeon-shit. Rock is the addictive proscribed substance that inoculates you into your most outlandishly primal desires. Rentokil have probably faced greater challenges than the Savoy offices. But maybe not too many.

Michael Butterworth as character
in the Meng & Ecker' comicbooks


‘“Garbageman” should have been recorded by Little Richard’ enthuses Dave Britton. ‘Can’t you just hear it? – ‘DANCE TO THE BEAT OF THE LIVING DEAD…!!!’’ He howls the lines in perfect Penniman, pumping imaginary piano-runs up and down the Savoy desktop. A murderously full-orchestral six-minute version the Cramps song is on their launch CD ‘Savoy Wars’ (1994), in full barking-at-the-moon madness. Because there’s more to Savoy than just texts.

P J Proby covers Joy Division
as Savoy Records 12" single

‘Savoy Wars’ is a sound that’s as easy as ABC – if you spell that Atomic * Bacteriological * Chemical, a stunning cross-welding of Prince with 808 State. New Order bass-player Peter Hook guests, dislocating his “Blue Monday” riff across the Square One Studios killing floor, with artful thefts from the original New Order blueprints. Rowetta – occasional Happy Mondays’ vocalist blends her voice into a nourishing miscegenation of LaVerne Baker samples, while D’Nise Johnson (who sings on Primal Scream’s “Don’t Fight It, Feel It”) does a bend on the vocal refrain from S’Express. And then there’s PJ Proby – star of yet a further Savoy CD, ‘The Savoy Sessions’ (1995). He may no longer even be a household name in his own household, but here at Savoy he’s portrayed crucified on a twelve-inch sleeve tacked to the wall above us as we talk. An icon to Dave and Mike, of martyrdom, the burn-out of those who take it to its extreme, without compromise. It’s audaciously bizarre techno-collage at its most incandescent. The Cream of Manchester...

Michael Butterworth pre-Savoy magazine

The album ties together many of the loose strands that – as a series of pre-emptive twelve-inch singles, were often dismissed as stunts, or just plain Northern weirdness. Perhaps the CD should have come first? ‘No-one told us. It just happened that way because we didn’t plan it’ explains Dave. ‘None of it was planned. It was all just a series of coincidences. We met Proby – and no-one was recording him. He had no contract. He’s the last of the great Rockers, and no-one was recording him. So we had to do it. We had the shops and the publishing, but we didn’t have a record label. We knew nothing about making records. But we saw Proby up there in the stage production of ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ and he’s up there alongside people dressed up to be Gene Vincent, Elvis, and Eddie Cochran. And he’s the only one of them left alive. He was the one most LIKELY to burn out, but he’s still here.’

‘He’s given up the booze now’ confides Mike, ‘and some of the stories he’s been coming out with are... amazing! If only we’d had a cassette recorder handy to preserve them!’


Proby, real-name James Marcus Smith, had a string of Sixties hits, including “Hold Me” and “Somewhere”. The Beatles wrote one of them – “That Means A Lot”, especially for him. Led Zeppelin play back-up on his highly-collectible ‘Three Week Hero’ (Liberty, 1969) album. But he also wrote some fine Pop songs himself, including hit songs for the Searchers (“Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”) and Johnny Burnette (“Clown Shoes”). Does he still write? ‘He comes in the studio and says he wants to record his ‘new song’. It’s always different, but it always sounds like “The Games People Play”, you know the one – ‘da da da diddle dah dah, da da da diddle dah dah’,’ explains Dave. ‘So we say ‘yeah that’s great Jim, but let’s just get warmed up with this one first,’ and we coax him into it. He’s got a great range of voices. When he’s fooling around with the musicians he’s got this camp send-up falsetto voice he uses. We wanted him to do “Sign ‘O The Times” – the Prince song, but we couldn’t get it right. Then we said ‘try it in your camp voice’ – so he does it that way, and it works. Proby really gets into it. Then, at the end of the session he realises that we haven’t done his ‘new song’, and he yells ‘you’ve CONNED me you DUNDERWITS…!!!!’’


PJ Proby’s voice is a metal spike dragged through a breath of gravel. ‘Savoy Wars’ opens with a stretch Cadillac radically customised “Blue Monday”, and climaxes with Proby’s “Hardcore M97002”. The latter is an erotic ‘canzona francese’ for two vices/ voices originally issued on vinyl as an August 1987 twelve-inch. At the time a deliberate scam scored a million tabloid inches claiming that a certain Ms Madonna Ciccone was there in the mix. Needless to say, she isn’t. But the other album stand-outs include Iggy Pop’s “Raw Power”. ‘The first vocalist on the ‘Raw Power’ track was the guy who used to deputise for Ian Curtis when he was too smacked up to appear live with Joy Division’ narrates Mike. ‘The second lead vocalist is Bobby Thompson who, with Kingsize Taylor, made just about the best early Mersey/ English Rock records in the late Fifties and early Sixties, as you well know.’ Then there’s “Reverbstorm” – a stunning Tamla Mo-chester Rare Groove, a Northern Soul Dance-Floor Inferno of Wagnerian Anarchy written by Paul Temple, with Savoy’s Martin Flitcroft, who acted ‘as the go-between who brought Paul to us, and then became our anti-publicity manager’. Unfortunately, well before the final album mix-down, Martin suicided by walking into an oncoming train.


‘And I did say ‘FUNK’ you...’ 
PJ Proby on the ‘Lord Horror’ Talking Book 

Savoy are two room-mates of the mind who mainline on Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, Joe Meek, Little Richard, Henry Treece, PJ Proby, Screamin Jay Hawkins, Klaatu’s eight-foot robot from ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, New York Dolls, LaVern Baker, Michael Moorcock, Prince, Larry Williams, Hawkwind, William Hope Hodgson, Kingsize Taylor, ‘New Worlds’, the Electric Prunes, M John Harrison, Lou Reed, Harlan Ellison, Ted Nugent, Burne Hogarth, Jack Trevor Story, Cramps, Robert E Howard, Lydia Lunch, William and ER Burroughs, Flamin Groovies, Yardbirds, Keith Richard, Cabaret Voltaire, Phil Spector, and Sid Vicious... To Mike And Dave the opening bars of a 1950s R&B single are more potent temporal disruption devices than Marcel Proust’s Madeleine ever was. Rock’s break-beats may get sampled and remixed with accelerating BPM’s, but it’s a tainted love that infiltrates their bloodstream as surely as leukaemia. It (im)matures with age. And it’s music they’d die for.

To Dave Rock ‘n’ Roll ended somewhere around 1960. But Mike discovered House. He likes Prodigy and the Orb, drawing elements from A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State into ‘Savoy Wars’. Because Savoy is an attitude. Relics with a cause. And Rock, at its best, is magnificently over the top. It’s that unifying absurdity that gives the Savoy projects their continuity. The outrage. The energy. The exhilaration.


Britton is the kind of guy who’d stick his head into the run-away Chernobyl nuclear meltdown to see how hot it gets. ‘Why compromise?’ he demands, ‘what’s the point of compromising? Why draw back from the edge? Everyone who ever created anything worthwhile has taken it right to the very extreme limits. Sure, if you take it to the brink, sometimes you fall over. That’s too bad. But that’s the price you pay.’ The end of neighbouring Factory Records in Manchester brought things into perspective. ‘I always used to think how great it would have been to live in Memphis in the 1950s when Sun records was happening’ Dave muses, looking out over the chaos of Deansgate. ‘But then Factory happened just around the corner from us, and I didn’t even realise. It’s like, in an alternate lifetime I might have lived in Memphis in the 1950s and I WOULDN’T EVEN HAVE LIKED SUN RECORDS...! It’s like ‘what the hell do those people think they’re DOING with all that ECHO?!?’ But no, that’s not exactly true. We knew about Factory because they’d all come around to the Savoy shop, all the guys from the bands, probably looking to pick up bootleg albums. Started with Pete Shelley and the Buzzcocks, then all the way down to New Order.’ Then, of course, there’s Peter Hook on the album...

As I leave, the sun is going down over Manchester like an A-bomb explosion in reverse. Rock has been low-life Memphis, New York, Hamburg, Notting Hill, Liverpool, Haight-Ashbury, Detroit, and now it’s burning asquat on the Manchester skyline farting and belching its foul noxious breath. Rock is a social disease that’s seen the best minds of four generations destroyed in madness, screaming, hysterical, naked, feeling sick, dirty and more dead than alive. It wears Buddy Holly’s glasses and Gene Vincent’s leg-brace. It is the self-abuse that gives you acne and grows hair on the palm of your hands. And it’s music you’d die for.

 *‘P.J. PROBY READS DAVE BRITTON’S 
“LORD HORROR”’ (CD SA3)
and
“THE WASTELAND” 
by T.S. ELIOT’ (CD SA4) read by P.J. PROBY 
(Both Savoy Records Talking Books)