I hear the sirens calling
As the rain is gently falling

Ralf und Jon

kraftwerktatekraftwerkjonsnowThere are vast numbers of Kraftwerk fans out there and, thanks to a telephone system made of old baked bean tins and a computer server powered by a hamster in a wheel, most of them didn’t get a ticket for the group’s week-long series of gigs at the Tate Modern in London. Somebody who did was Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow, who is pictured here with his 3-D goggles at the “Trans Europe Express” night. The shot was posted on Twitter by Channel 4 News journalist Jennifer Rigby.

You can read a review of the “Trans Europe Express” show, which saw Ralf Hutter and his buddies also playing material from “The Man Machine” and “Computerworld”, at the Facebook page for Electronic magazine. The first two paragraphs of the review are below. Click here for the rest and don’t forget to hit the “like” button on the page while you’re there. I am talking to you too, Mr Snow. If you’re into Kraftwerk, I guarantee you’ll be into Electronic.

kraftwerktatereview


Radio head

radiohatI love Retro Vintage Modern Hi-Fi – “Usually retro, sometimes vintage, sometimes modern, but always hi-fi” – a place for audiophiles, retro futurists, and fans of hi-fi pin-up girls. I’m in on all three counts. Now in its fourth year, this is a blog about valve amplifiers that look like they belong in a mad scientist’s laboratory, speakers far too big for most people’s living rooms, reel-to-reels straight out of a 1960s spy movie, painstakingly oiled and polished walnut and teak cabinets, and audio oddities galore. I particularly like the Two-Tube Radio Hat, which is pictured here on the cover of the June 1949 edition of Radio Electronics. “Totally mobile, no extra aerial needed, covers the entire broadcast band within a 20-mile radius,” trumpets an advert for the hat inside the magazine. “Acclaimed from coast to coast,” it adds. Yes, I don’t doubt it for a moment.


The psychedelic elephant in the room

I’ve been looking at old copies of Billboard magazine on Google Books (I owe fellow former Melody Maker journalist Rob Fitzpatrick a shandy for telling me about these) and I’ve been especially enjoying the adverts. The three examples above – for The Who, The Move and Marvin’s Circus, an obscure psychedelic beat band from Ohio who put out two singles on MGM before melting into oblivion – all appear in the 24 June 1967 edition. Click on the images for larger versions and click here for the full magazine.


My first record, my first music magazine

Disco 45 T-Rex Special
Jeepster by T-Rex (A-side)
Jeepster by T-Rex (B-side)

The first record I ever bought was “Jeepster” by T-Rex. I’ve still got my original copy. I’ve still got pretty much all my old records. I don’t know how many there are, but they take up an entire room. Unfortunately, I don’t have my copy of the Disco 45 T-Rex Special, which I think I am right in saying was the first music magazine I ever bought.

Disco 45 was a monthly magazine consisting mainly of song lyrics and photos. It was published by a company called Trevor Bolton Partnership and launched as a newsprint title in 1970, but was later a full-colour glossy. Despite stiff competition from magazines like Popswop, It’s Here And Now and Look-InDisco 45 kept going until 1981, when it was finally seen off by the phenomenally successful Smash Hits – as were most of the other 1970s teen magazines.


Electronic magazine

As you may have noticed – you did notice, didn’t you? – I have neglected my blog for the last few months. It’s because I’ve been stupidly busy putting together a new magazine called Electronic. It’s the Special Secret Project I talked about back in May.

Electronic is now available at WHSmiths and all good newsagents throughout the UK. You can also order it online by clicking here. Underworld are on the cover, as I’m sure you’ve already spotted, and there are also articles on The Human League, Detroit techno, Can, Gary Numan, A Guy Called Gerald, Minimal Wave, Silver Apples and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, plus a superb Kraftwerk interview from 1977. There’s a free CD too, featuring the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, OMD, Heaven 17, Devo, Ultrazox, Fad Gadget, The Normal and Yazoo. The magazine is published by Future (the makers of mags like Classic Rock and Prog) and at the moment we are just putting out a one-off pilot issue, but there will be more if the pilot sells well.

Please click here for the magazine’s Facebook page (and don’t forget to hit the “like” button) and here to follow us on Twitter.


The Victorian Gentlemen’s Guide To Group Sex

Pussy – For Cats That Should Know Better

Bitch – It's Bollocks And It's The Dog'sThe Victorian Gentleman's Guide To Group SexI’m working on a Special Secret Project with Mark Wernham. I’d love to tell you all about it, but I can’t. It’s a secret, innit. For the initial stages, we’ve been helped by Steve Appleton and Paul Thompson, for which we’re extremely grateful. Paul’s name isn’t a link because he doesn’t have a website because he thinks he lives in 1942 because he’s round the fucking twist.

I’ve worked with Mark, Steve and Paul many times in the past. Our first Special Secret Project was a book called Pussy – For Cats That Should Know Better, which was a spoof of lad’s magazines like Loaded and Nuts. It was published by Bantam Press in 2004 and it sold quite well, at one point managing to scrape into the Amazon Top 100. Our next Special Secret Project was Bitch – It’s Bollocks And It’s The Dog’s, a follow-up to Pussy, which sold pretty well too. Another of our Special Secret Projects was an utterly genius idea for a book called The Victorian Gentleman’s Guide To Group Sex. That was roundly rejected by every publisher in the known universe.

Our latest Special Secret Project is not a book, as it goes, but I’m obviously hoping it ends up doing a Pussy rather than a Victorian Gentleman’s Guide To Group Sex, if you get my driftI am also hoping that, having tagged this post with the words “Pussy” and “Group Sex”, I get a big uplift in the number of visitors to my blog.


Life in 1960

The Trieste in Life magazine, 1960Marlon Brando in Life magazine, 1960Democratic National Convention in Life magazine, 1960I was an avid reader of Life as a teenager. There was always a pile of old copies of Life in my school library, which was weird given that it was an American magazine and my school was in a little market town in rural England. I’ve no idea how they came to be in the library. This was in the late 1970s and most of the magazines were from the 1960s, so I guess somebody must have left them there years earlier. They were far from pristine – pages torn, pages missing, spunking cocks drawn over people’s faces – but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for them. Spending study periods flicking through dog-eared copies of Life was one of the things that first made me want to become a magazine journalist.

The three covers above are all from the year 1960. Click on the link to go to the original article at Google Books.

The Trieste bathyscaphe – US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh writes about his remarkable journey in the Trieste bathyscaphe with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. They took Trieste to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (near the island of Guam), which is the deepest point of the world’s oceans, reaching a depth of 36,000 feet (roughly seven miles down). The feat had never been repeated until just last month, when film director James Cameron (“The Terminator”, “Aliens” and “Titanic”) made the Jules Verne-esque trip in the Deepsea Challenger.

Marlon Brando – Interviewed on the set of “One-Eyed Jacks”, the only movie Brando directed. “I have no respect for acting,” he harrumphs. “Acting, by and large, is the expression of neurotic impulse. Acting is a bum’s life. You get paid for doing nothing and it means nothing.”

The 1960 Democratic National Convention – The Democratic Party select John F Kennedy as its candidate in the 1960 presidential election. “To nominate its youngest candidate, the party elbowed its elder statesmen, broke several taboos and cut loose from a large part of its past,” read the magazine’s editorial that week. “It now invites the country to do the same.”


Won’t get spooled again

If you bought the NME during the 1980s, you’ll no doubt remember some of the compilation tapes given away free with the paper throughout the decade. I’ve got a tall and wobbly stack of NME tapes sitting on a shelf somewhere, but I haven’t heard any of them for yonks – not least because I don’t own a tape player these days. So I am very pleased to have discovered Press Play And Record, a website with digital rips of many of these superb compilations.

“C86″ is perhaps the best known NME tape, its title briefly giving a new name to the jangly guitar music it featured (The Wedding Present, The Mighty Lemon Drops and The Shop Assistants, to name just a few), but my favourite has long been the wildly eclectic “C81″. The highlights include Cabaret Voltaire, The Specials and Robert Wyatt. It’s brilliant to hear the NME‘s jazz, blues and R&B collections again too, especially “Stompin’ At The Savoy”, a neck-jerking assortment of belters and honkers which first appeared on Savoy Records back in the 1940s.

The NME tapes were compiled by journalist Roy Carr, who’s never really got the credit he deserves for these spooled delights. Roy began writing for NME in the late 1960s and put together tapes and later CDs for all the IPC Media music magazines – Melody MakerMuzikVox and Uncut as well as the NME – for around 30 years.


Never mind The Buzzcocks, here’s Joy Division

I saw Joy Division play live once and they really were something special. This was in October 1979, supporting The Buzzcocks at Leeds University. I remember being stupidly excited about seeing them – I’d bought “Unknown Pleasures” when it came out a few months earlier and the vinyl was almost worn out by this point – and I pushed my way down the front to get as good a look as I could. Like most people, I was totally mesmerised by Ian Curtis. He put so much of himself into his performance, it was as though there was a little less of him with each passing moment. By the end of the set, he’d nothing left to give. All that remained was a thin, pale, shivering shadow. I still have a very vivid image of him being helped from the stage by a roadie at the close, the roadie’s arm clamped tightly around his shoulders as he steered him off into the wings.

I’ve been reminded of this after coming across the above review of the gig, which appeared in the following week’s Leeds Student newspaper, in a box of dusty cuttings the other day. I have no idea what happened to Casimir Fouldes (nowt on Google), but I reckon the sub editor ended up at The Guardian. The spelling of “wierd” may be excusable as a missed typo, but an apostrophe in “Hundred’s”? And a hyphen in “them-selves”. Now that’s what I call an atrocity exhibition.


Harold Pinterest

I’ve joined Pinterest. I’m really not sure what I’m expecting to achieve by this, but I’ve been and gone and done it all the same. I’ve created five “boards” so far and I’m pretty pleased with the way they look, although I’m not sure that being pleased with the way your boards look is the point of it all. You can see my boards by clicking here. I’ve put up some old Melody Maker and Muzik clippings from my archive site and a few bits from this blog, but my favourite board is called Harold Pinterest, which consists of photos of Harold Pinter. LOL, eh?

Anyway, I’ve been “pinning” for a couple of weeks now, but I haven’t got very many followers yet. In fact, I have precisely zero followers. Then again, I’m following precisely zero people myself. I have had something “repinned”, though, which means somebody has pinned one of my things on one of their boards. Well, I think that’s what’s happened.


Thank you for the Muzik

Junior Vasquez on the cover of Muzik (1995)

Carl Cox on the cover of Muzik (1995)Josh Wink on the cover of Muzik (1995)LTJ Bukem on the cover of Muzik (1996)Whoever’s responsible for the Muzik Magazine website deserves a hefty slap round the head and a hefty slap on the back. Scanning every page of every issue of Muzik (99 issues between 1995 and 2003) and turning each magazine into a downloadable PDF is an infringement of copyright on a grand scale. The publishers, IPC Media, are almost certain to try to close the site down if they ever got wind of it. Then again, Muzik has been out of print for nearly 10 years and the downloads are free, so nobody’s making any money out of the project. And it must have taken weeks and weeks to do all that bloody scanning and PDF-ing. It’s obviously been done by someone who has a large amount of love for the magazine.

As the editor of Muzik for the first 40-odd issues, I probably shouldn’t be telling you about this site. I also probably shouldn’t be telling you to grab what you can while you can. Tsch.

Junior Vasquez, Carl Cox, Josh Wink and LTJ Bukem photos by Vincent McDonald


Huey Morgan’s wine column

Huey Morgan's Wine Column from Mondo magazine (Issue 1)Huey Morgan's Wine Column from Mondo magazine (Issue 2)Huey Morgan's Wine Column from Mondo magazine (Issue 3)Way back when, I was the editor of a magazine called Mondo. It wasn’t around too long (2000 and 2001), which was a pity because I think we had some corking editorial ideas. But then I guess I would say that. Anyway, one of our regular features was Huey’s Wine Column – a wine column by Huey Morgan of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, who’s now maybe best known in the UK for his shows on BBC Radio 2 and Radio 6 Music. Huey didn’t pen his column himself, mind. It was ghost written by Mondo deputy editor Mark Wernham, who would fill a big box with bottles of wine, grab the office tape recorder, and meet with Huey at some secret location every month. That was generally the last we’d hear from Mark for a couple of days.

I’ve seen mentions of Huey’s Wine Column in lots of different places over the years (it’s on Huey’s Wikipedia page), but the copy has never been re-published anywhere (either in print or online). Not to my knowledge or Mark’s knowledge anyhow. So here, for your delectation and your delight, are scans of Huey’s first three Mondo wine columns, as they appeared in the magazine. Click an image for a large, readable version. Huey’s views are very entertaining, but you’ll find lots of useful tips too. I mean, when he says “Don’t drink wine with shit swimming around in it”, you’ve got to admit that’s sound advice.

Huey Morgan photos by Neil Cooper


Shooting John Lydon

I love this shot of John Lydon, the sometime Sex Pistol and PiL ringmaster. It was taken outside The Limelight in London in 1987 by Mark Baker.

I worked with Mark at a cracking magazine called The Buzz during the late 1980s (after which he became the in-house photographer for Sony Records in the UK) and I was with him the night that he took this picture. John Lydon was going into The Limelight just as Mark was coming out. Or, to be slightly more accurate, Lydon was going in just as Mark was getting chucked out – quite literally, as it goes – having had a bit of a tussle with a couple of the club’s bouncers.

As Mark lay bloodied and battered on the pavement, he spotted Lydon heading up the steps to the club and shouted, “Hey, you don’t wanna go in there John, look what the bastards do to you”. At which, Lydon walked back down the steps, helped Mark to his feet and gave him a big hug. Mark, a consummate professional no matter how much booze he’s necked or how many times he’s been thumped (he was forever having tussles with bouncers), pulled his camera from his bag and asked Lydon if he’d pose for him. “You can have one shot,” answered Lydon – and one shot turned out to be enough. The V-sign was a lovely touch, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Mark Baker has now produced a digital print of his John Lydon photograph in a limited edition of 45 copies at £45 each. The prints are 28 x 24 cm (paper size 33 x 48 cm), numbered and signed by Mark. They also come with a certificate of authenticity. Get in touch with Mark through his website – click here if you missed the link in the first paragraph – if you’d like to have one on your wall or you need more information.


A bit of Guns N’ Roses for your wall

Guns N' Roses at The Marquee in London (1987) by Richard Bellia

My old buddy Richard Bellia has a small selection of his photographs available as prints at Yellow Korner, a website specialising in affordable art imagery. The prints include Joe Strummer (The Clash), Robert Smith (The Cure), reggae idol Lee “Scratch” Perry, two different photos of Nirvana, and the above shot of Guns N’ Roses, which was taken at The Marquee in the summer of 1987, on the band’s first trip to London. Each print is numbered, comes with a certificate of authenticity, and costs €69 – a bargain at twice the price.

I worked with Richard on loads of jobs for Melody Maker in the late Eighties and early Nineties. One of my most vivid memories was when we covered the 1988 Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington, an event marred by the tragic death of two fans in the crush of the crowd during Guns N’ Roses’ set. You can read my review of the festival here and a Guns N’ Roses piece based on a couple of interviews I did with Slash (one of them backstage at Donington) here. And if you’ve not had enough of clicking, you can read more about Richard Bellia here. This last link is an extract from my book Rat Scabies And The Holy Grail, in which Richard plays a leading part (although I’m sure Scabies and I would have found the bloody thing quicker without him).


Morrissey and the NME (part one)

Left: The Smiths on the cover of NME in February 1984 after being crowned Best New Artist in the paper’s annual Readers’ Poll. I went to see The Smiths at the Gala Ballroom in Norwich during the summer of 1983 after reading about them in the NME. I thought they were wet and limp, like a sweaty vicar’s handshake, and the singer was a right chump. Still, I met John Peel that night, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I gave John a copy of my fanzine and he insisted on paying me for it. I believe he bought me a drink as well.

Right: Morrissey on the cover of NME in November 2007. This is a great cover and I could bang on about it for ages, but I’ll do my best to keep this short. The most striking thing is that nice bit of underlining. You can’t beat a nice bit of underlining. The way the main photo is torn along the left side is good too. So is the red blob up in the top right corner. You can’t beat a nice red blob up in the top right corner. Not sure about how those words under Morrisey’s name have been tippexed out, though. That seems weird.


Punk collage (from Sounds, 2 April 1977)

I can’t find the words to tell you just how much I love this. It was printed across the middle pages of Sounds in April 1977, accompanying an A-to-Z of the first wave of UK punk bands. I’ve lost the first and last pages of the article, and there are no credits on the pages that I do have, but I think the A-to-Z was written by Jonh Ingham and I presume the collage was put together by the Sounds art team, in a style in keeping with the fanzines of the time.

Sounds was several leagues ahead of the rest of the music press in covering the embryonic days of punk. The collage features all the obvious names – Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash and so on – but it also includes less well known acts such as The Models, The Cortinas and Suburban Studs. Click the image to see it in its full glory and keep an eye out for The Police (before they got hold of the peroxide bottle), Skrewdriver (before Ian Stuart Donaldson turned into a Nazi bastard) and a terrific early photo of The Slits. One outfit that you won’t see on there is Iron Maiden – but then you wouldn’t expect to, would you? Well, as it goes, Iron Maiden do appear in the A-to-Z, where they describe themselves as “bloody shock rock”. They were fronted by Den Ace at this point and had somebody called Ron Rebel playing drums.

I had the collage on my bedroom wall for ages and ages, so it’s badly discoloured, but I’d say that adds to its historic value. I’m not sure history will look kindly on me for having censored the “Fuck Off” on Gaye Advert’s T-shirt with a biro, though. At least I think that was me. I don’t remember doing it, but the scribbling out seems to be in blue ink rather than being an original feature of the collage. If it was me, I suspect I did it in case my mum ever took a close look at it on my wall.

UPDATE (posted 30/10/2011)

I was wrong about Jonh Ingham writing the A-to-Z that accompanied the collage. Jonh has been in touch to say that he wrote a big article about punk for Sounds in around October 1976 (The “?” Rock Special), but he had nothing to do with this piece. My next best guess is the A-to-Z was by the late Giovanni Dadomo, another early champion of punk in the music press. As well as being a journalist, Giovanni was a member of Arthur Comics (later known as The Snivelling Shits), who appear in the article between Alternative T-TV [sic] and The Boys.


I’m a negative creep

It’s 20 years since the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. But you will probably know that already because there have been several “Nevermind at 20″ commemorative articles in the press over the past few days. There’ll no doubt be more to come.

To coincide with the anniversary, Rock’s Back Pages have put out an E-book called The Nirvana Electric Omnibus, which is a compendium of Nirvana interviews, reviews and reports published between 1989 and 1994. So these are what-happened-at-the-time accounts from Nirvana’s active years, not looking-back-long-after-the-event overviews. I’ve got two pieces in there – a review of “Bleach” and an interview with the band from late 1990, both originally written for Melody Maker – and the other contributors include Everett True, Keith Cameron, John Robb, Simon Reynolds and David Stubbs. You can download the book by following these links to Amazon UK or Amazon US. That’s assuming you’ve some money left after ordering your 2011 Super Deluxe Edition of “Nevermind”, a five-disc box-set released next week and a snip at £75/$110 or thereabouts.

Yesterday, with the spirit of “Nevermind At 20″ upon me, I felt the need to get fully Nirvana-ed up and played the band’s three studio albums in succession. First “Bleach”, then “Nevermind”, then “In Utero”. It took some doing – I had to have a daytime telly break between each one – but the exercise confirmed what I think I’ve always thought. For all the fuss about it, “Nevermind” ain’t that great. Apart from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” and a couple of others, it’s an over-burdened beast, lead-footed and sometimes desperate for breath, like an old packhorse struggling through mud. It lacks the raw exhileration of “Bleach” and the absorbing contortions of “In Utero”. It’s nowhere near as good as either of those albums and it’s also nowhere near as good as Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger”, which came out a week or two after “Nevermind”. I played “Badmotorfinger” yesterday too. That’s still a scorcher, a real high-noon-in-the-desert record.

Many of the “Nevermind” anniversary articles talk about how the album changed popular culture for a generation/the whole wide world and everything in it/the known and unknown universe. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Pffffft. Of course it’s true that Nirvana had a huge impact on the mainstream rock scene – which is actually only a small part of the cosmos – but this was first and foremost because of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and its memorable video. The success of the parent album, a record not universally applauded by the critics at the time of its release, naturally followed on from there. But I guess it’s inevitable the focus falls on “Nevermind”. Rock music is traditionally about albums, not singles or videos. Singles are for pop kids, not serious rockers. Plus it suits the record industry. You can’t make much of a box-set out of a single.

Incidentally, if you are thinking of getting the Super Deluxe Edition of “Nevermind”, please do so via these links – Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon Canada – because then I’ll earn a few quid commission. You really would have to be round the fucking twist, though.


Featherhead

I’m glad PJ Harvey has won this year’s Mercury Prize. I’ve not heard every album that was nominated, but I have heard “Let England Shake” and it’s a pretty special collection of songs. I’m not especially a fan of Polly Harvey as it goes, but my fellow Melody Maker writer and one-time flatmate Ngaire Ruth was one of her very earliest champions. She wrote the first review of PJ Harvey to appear in the national music press – a live review from the White Horse in London in 1991. Click on the clipping for a larger version if the text is too small for you to read.

Ngaire and I were living in Tufnel Park at the time of this review (a short distance from the White Horse and also a few minutes walk from venues like the Town & Country Club, the Bull & Gate and the Boston Arms) and I’ve a vague recollection of Polly popping round the flat once or twice. I seem to recall that she was quite friendly and very polite, but a little on the shy side. I don’t believe she ever wore a feathery headdress thing, though. I’m sure I would have remembered that.


Blog post three

I’ve started this blog as a bolt-on to Pushstuff, an archive website of some of my old scribblings. Most of the Pushstuff stuff was originally written for Melody Maker, the UK weekly music paper, but my site also has a few bits written for other magazines and some book extracts. I have turned the “Pushstuff” in the first sentence above into a handy little link and you’ll find another link at the top of the list to the right, so you’ve no excuse for not heading over there straight away.

I guess I’ll be mainly posting about music on Pushblog, but I’ll no doubt drift off into other subjects every once in a while. I’m easily distracted. Don’t expect too many long essays, though. In fact, don’t expect any. I suspect most of my blog posts are going to be little more than extended photo captions and look-at-this-link things. I’m sure YouTube videos will be featuring quite heavily. All of which assumes I haven’t stopped posting altogether by this time next week. We’ll see.


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