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Parallel Lives, Blondie (Book Review)

Parallel Lives, Blondie by Dick Porter & Kris Needs (Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-1-78038-129-9)

Now THIS is a story, and while many of the revelations are not necessarily of the pleasant variety, it certainly fills in a lot of the gaps for those of us who followed the New York scene of the early 70s and early 80s so closely.

The great, long lost, rock magazine Rock Scene was the first place I vividly remember reading about and seeing Blondie. In amongst the (mostly pictorial) pages and witty one-liners dedicated to rest of the nascent “punk/new wave” scene-makers Blondie stood out as the group most dedicated to fun, 60s music and pop as art. That is not to say that they didn’t take their craft seriously, they certainly did, but Blondie was out to be creative and have a good time doing it. Maybe this is why some of the jealousy and competiveness of their counterparts crept in. Possibly Blondie just didn’t take themselves seriously enough and spout enough of the hollow clichés preferred by the “hipper than thou” set to be considered more relevant or worthy? They certainly end up suffering for their art that’s for sure! Naive business decisions, pathetic record company choices, marketing and support, and the long arm of the IRS all play their typical parts but Blondie certainly never seems to have had a problem idea wise.  Sometimes a bit of creative tension sure, and that is also part of the band’s story. They pushed the boundaries that the “punk elite” seemed to shun and while we may be grateful for it now it wasn’t always the case back then. Remember the controversy in some quarters on “Heart of Glass”? I certainly do.

Included here as well is up to the present details of Deborah Harry’s solo career, Chris Stein’s label work and illness, and the Blondie reunion shows. Band members Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri, Frank Infante, Nigel Harrison and Gary Valentine all get their say too and, again, it isn’t always pretty but at least it comes across as honest which is something often missing in a book like this.

Kris Needs (Zigzag magazine, numerous rock bios) and Dick Porter (Glam Racket!, Trash! The Complete New York Dolls) do a fantastic job here interviewing all the relevant parties, taking us back to the seedy crusty, scummy and dangerous New York of the 60s and 70s, and introducing up close and personal into the world of one of the most iconic hit-making bands of the 70s and early 80s.

*Eyeplug says: Dick Porter was also one time Editor and Author for Eyeplug.net and Kris Needs has also written for Eyeplug so if you dig us, then support this fine publication! Best of luck with the project chaps!

 

 


Colin -Mohair Sweets- Bryce

One of Canada’s late 70’s “punk” rock crowd and from 1997 to 2007 the fellow behind Mohair Sweets print and webzine. Currently passes the time by playing the odd gig or two, shaking his head, wringing his hands and pondering whether or not the tape vaults of the legendary Pirates are really exhausted.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Culture Eyeplugs Features Front page Heroes Icons Literature Picks Punk Reviews Tags:, , , ,
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Watch The Closing Doors – A History of New York’s Musical Melting Pot Vol. 1 (1945-59)

(2 CD set, Future Noise)

Often, the hallmark of a genuinely brilliant concept is that one is immediately thinks, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’ This is especially true of the first instalment of Watch The Closing Doors, the start of a projected six part series in which Kris Needs documents the Big Apple’s musical lineage decade-by-decade.

Fittingly, Volume 1 is a sprawling broth of inter-related musical styles, most of which have their origins in locations far removed from New York City, the artists responsible for creating them having graduated toward the almost irresistible pull of America’s cultural epicentre. As Suicide’s Martin Rev (who played a significant role in the genesis of this set) rightly observes, ‘New York was like the centre of the arts, like Paris and Vienna before them. After those, in all the arts and music, everybody came to New York, all the different varieties; opera, classical, dance. Everyone was in New York. Miles Davis came to New York, everybody.’

Like so many of the artists he has selected, compiler Kris Needs also felt the magnetic draw of New York, ultimately relocating to the city in the mid 1980s, to experience its glamour and grime in more or less equal measure, and adding his own creativity to a lineage defined by this collection. ‘This first run of tracks is intended as a rapid fire illustration of the amazingly diverse musical styles coursing through New York in these highly formative years,’ he explains.

Although the generic specifics of the material included here ranges from gospel to the electronic avant garde (and all points in-between) much of Watch The Closing Doors is interconnected – via the relationship of its content to the city, the cross-fertilisation of musical styles and the way in which certain artists (Dizzy Gillespie for instance) seem to pop up time and again as the history unfolds. Genre distinctions are irrelevant – as Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie asserts, ‘Music’s the only place where there are no frontiers apart from what you lack in your own imagination.’ Structurally, the collection is well thought out – the first disc establishes a firm sense of location and era, while the second expands upon this to demonstrate the way in which New York provided the setting for successive waves of groundbreaking creative development.

New York’s subway system provides a recurrent motif throughout the collection – from Needsy’s eye-catching sleeve art, through the manner in which doo-wop titans the Paragons used station platforms as acoustic caverns in which to hone their harmonies, and – most literally – in the opening track, Duke Ellington’s ‘Take The “A” Train’, which provides a wholly appropriate theme for the compilation as a whole.

The sense of this material acting as a starting point for much of New York’s subsequent creative progression is well defined; Cozy Cole’s visceral backroom beats can be viewed as a germinal indication of the way in which hip-hop subsequently employed raw rhythms; Frankie Lymon, as Martin Rev asserts, is very much a prototype Johnny Thunders; Machito’s Cubop polytheism and Cab Calloway’s style point the way forward to August Darnell and Coati Mundi; groups such as the Almanac Singers established a Greenwich Village folk tradition that would be developed and popularised by the likes of Bob Dylan; while the sonic experimentalism of the incomparable Raymond Scott and Thelonius Monk’s unsettling, perverse beauty connects with the way in which Suicide spliced electronics to bebop and doo-wop to create their own unique brand of Ur-punk.

Kris Needs’ extensive sleeve notes (it’s basically a book) are essential to appreciating the full resonance of the New York Stories being recounted on the two discs. Watch The Closing Doors features a wealth of tracks that wholly evoke the city in various forms – Cab Calloway and Big Maybelle embody Harlem’s seamy underside; the Five Satin’s anthemic doo-wop encapsulates night time Manhattan; the Paragons transport the listener to an era of street corner singing battles; and Charles Mingus’ ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ seems to have informed the incidental music to innumerable NYC cop shows.

This is also a social history – while Billie Holiday’s ‘Autumn In New York’ represents a profoundly personal valediction to a city in which she lived and died, Harry Belafonte’s calypso infused ‘Matilda’ became popular with migrants who interpreted the song as a bridge back to better, less impoverished and oppressed, times back home. Similarly, the social development of New York is fully examined – Faye Adams’ ‘Shake A Hand’ being indicative of the way in which gospel influenced rhythm and blues and provided a religious release from the difficulties of hard times.

The polyglot nature of the Big Apple provided a battleground amid which racism was encountered and largely overcome, and this aspect of the city’s history is well represented by the likes of Louis Armstrong (who transcended racial boundaries through his talent and positivity), Dizzy Gillespie’s punkish rejection of a mainstream from which he was excluded, the New Lost City Ramblers’ opposition to the politics of oppression, and Allen Ginsberg’s embodiment of the manner in which New York lined up at the vanguard of dismissing the paranoid ultra-conservatism of the McCarthy era.

There’s also no shortage of pioneering music on offer here – key elements of rock’n’roll’s sex-orientated DNA can be found within the scatology of Danny Taylor’s ‘Coffee Daddy Blues’ and Sonny Terry’s ‘Custard Pie Blues’, while Big Joe Turner’s ‘Morning, Noon and Night’ is nothing if not rock’n’roll in its most primal state. Additionally, the way in which existing musical forms cross-pollinated to create new sounds is represented by Horace Silver’s fusion of blues, jazz, latin and gospel, or the Drifters providing a bridge between gospel, doo-wop and the nascent rock’n’roll.

Having spent the best part of a enjoyable day traversing the tangled lines of this era of New York’s musical biography, I caught up with Needsy and asked him if there was anything that he regretted being unable to include on the set. ‘I really wanted rampant excess king genius Charlie Parker but, like several others, couldn’t get past record company licensing bullshit,’ he reveals. ‘As I said in the notes, you could write what I knew about experimental music on a gnat’s scrotum, same going for 50s jazz, but a crash course told me about whole new worlds – and also that I must be mad attempting such a project.’

So what about Volume 2? ‘The 60s is shaping up, but even harder to get everything on to two CDs. So far, we’ve got the Velvets, Albert Ayler, the Chiffons, Shangri-Las, Nico, Karen Dalton, Tim Rose, Sun Ra, Lenny Bruce, West Side Story, Miles Davis, plus I really want Machine Gun by Hendrix – he started and was discovered in NY, the track’s live at the Fillmore East and remains the most devastating comment on Vietnam war, which was raging at the time. There’s also another Marty Rev chat coming up, plus I’m hoping for handy hints from Chris Stein, It’s like a snowball which could assume Empire State proportions by the 80s at this rate!’

Watch The Closing Doors is a landmark document – that not only comprehensively represents its subject matter, it will – as it did both its compiler and myself – expose you to forms of music that you might never otherwise engage with. It looks good, it sounds good, and by gum, it’ll do you good – go check it out.

June 16, 2015 By : Category : Beats Blues DJs Exotica Folk Front page Music Pop Soul Tags:, , , ,
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GIL SCOTT-HERON (1 April 1949 – 27 May 2011)

I stopped taking hip-hop seriously round about the time it started turning into high pantomime and dollar-grabbing clichés in the early 1990s. Gil Scott-Heron had always represented the original message, refined from the Last Poets’ withering salvos into eloquent, often satirical, comment. This was in an early 1970s, coming off the back off the radical changes which fermented then solidified after the social turmoil and riot-riddled late Sixties, the time when Martin Luther King’s message of hope was blasted away on a Memphis balcony. This was also before corporate record companies started waving dollars in exchange for characters and rhymes originally honed on desolate streets, now willingly moulded into stereotypical cartoons, rebellion turning into money accompanied by clichéd over-production and Autotune sheen, often missing the crucial ghetto humour, even diluting the punk-style DIY party spirit which had started uptown in the early Seventies. Even graffiti, once so vividly eye-blasting on trains, now adorned expensive boutiques. 
 

Whereas the Last Poets, hip-hop’s founding fathers, fired out their early messages as stark, confrontational minimalism over bare drums, Gil Scott-Heron arrived like the Harlem spoagraphic clan’s musically-educated older brother, planting his own barbed urban missives and political assaults over mellow jazz or superfly soul. One writer called him, ‘the black Bob Dylan’.
   

Talking about the modern hip-hop generation a few years ago, he remarked, ‘They need to study music. I played in several bands before I began my career as a poet. There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music. There’s not a lot of humour. They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing.’
   

This from a man who ‘kept it real’ as it comes, even succumbing to the very demons he had spoken against as he did time for cocaine possession towards the end of his life. Scott-Heron’s pressure-cooker anger struck endless direct hits at the injustices in his country; all the more dangerous and threatening because of his brilliance as a writer. He was a unique figure, whose influence runs much deeper than often painted, possessing the ability to express the rage and frustration of his people through catchy sound-bites, like ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘, while able to convey in words the anger and passions which were previously the domain of free jazz dissidents such as Archie Shepp or Max Roach. Gil never said anything would be easy, and lived that out to the end.
   

While his rich, innately musical voice slid down like brandy-spiked cream, just the track titles on 1970’s Small Talk At 125th Street & Lenox debut album unveiled his mindset and manifesto: ‘Omen’, ‘Brother’, ‘Evolution [And Flashback]’, ‘Plastic Pattern People’, ‘’Paint it Black’, ‘Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul’. Then there’s the ‘Whitey On The Moon’, one of his most profoundly concise, compulsively eloquent but bitter lyrics; ‘A rat done bit my sister Nell, Her face and arms began to swell, I can’t pay no doctor’s bill, Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still, the man jus’ upped my rent last night, no hot water, no toilets, no lights’, each line punctuated by the incredulous but seething punchline: ‘But whitey’s on the moon’. It’s easily applicable to modern scenarios, such as the immeasurable hardship being caused by government cuts as a countryside-flattening high-speed rail link costing more than the national debt is on the cards just so people can get from London to Birmingham a bit faster.
   

Obviously, Scott-Heron was a supreme proto-rapper, but his jazz-soul excursions with Brian Jackson took the spoken word into new, previously-unheard dimensions, notably on the Pieces Of A Man and Winter In America albums of the early 1970s, although last year’s I’m New Here showed him battered but still biting, now infusing his comments with electronica.
   

Although born in Chicago (weirdly, Gil’s Jamaican dad, nicknamed ‘The Black Arrow’, played for Celtic in the 1950s), his parents’ separating sent him to Tennessee aged two, then back to his mother at 12, now living in the Bronx. He was already writing, which won him a scholarship to the Fieldston School, before attending Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University (partly because his biggest influence Langston Hughes had chosen it too). Here, he met pianist Brian Jackson, the pair forming a band called Black & Blues, while writing the novels The Vulture and The Nigger Factory. A Last Poets gig at Lincoln was his epiphany, inspiring him to return to New York City, where he began his recording career with the afore-mentioned debut, voicing his lyrics over congas and percussion like the Poets, recorded live in a club at that location. With subject matter dealing with TV superficiality, the hypocrisy of some black activists and inner city life, he started on similar turf to the Poets, listing rich influences, including Richie Havens, Coltrane, Otis Redding, Billie Holiday, Malcolm X and Nina Simone.
   

1971’s Pieces Of A Man brought in song structures, with Scott-Heron singing too, backed by sublime rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter (who had played with Eric Dolphy and Miles Davis’ early 60s group, among many others) and ace session drummer Bernard Purdie, plus Jackson on keyboards and Hubert laws on flute and sax. The music referenced blues and jazz forms, which Scott-Heron described as ‘bluesology, the science of how things feel’. This was the album which solidified his politics, wisdom and lyricism, brutally but beautifully woven into tracks such as ‘Home is Where The Hatred Is’ and aforementioned ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. The same musicians featured on 1972’s Free Will (Carter replaced by Jerry Jemmott), featuring ‘Then He Wrote Meditations‘ in tribute to John Coltrane and foreboding warnings such as ‘Speed Kills‘. 1974’s Winter In America was another masterpiece, more stripped down and containing ‘The Bottle‘, another of his most acclaimed ghetto observations, inspired by the morning queue for the office. In 1978, he scored an R&B hit single with ‘Angel Dust’. The rest of the decade saw a live album and spoken word set, The Mind Of Gil Scott-Heron, in 1979.    
   

Scott-Heron only released four albums during the 1980s (1980, Real Eyes, Reflections and Moving Target], temporarily ceasing recording after being dropped by Arista in 1986, but returning on TVT in 1993 with Spirits, which included the classic ’Message To The Messengers’, which laid into the modern hip-hop of which he had been dubbed Godfather, decrying modern rappers’ greed and boasting over-shadowing concern for change social comment, even the lack of writing ability.
   

Living in New York in the Eighties, the decimating effect of crack’s dramatic rise on the poorer areas was startling in its swiftness. By the 1990s, although a renowned critic of Reaganomics during the previous decade, Scott-Heron had also fallen victim of the devastating new escape valve, busted for bugle in 2001 and sentenced to one to three years in a New York state jail. He was released in 2003 but sent back for another two to four years for leaving a drug rehab centre he had agreed to attend as part of a drug possession plea deal. He was released in 2007, confirming that he was HIV positive the following year, but returned to playing live and recording new versions of his old songs. In 2009, he signed to XL Recordings, at the behest of label boss Richard Russell, a long time fan who produced I’m New Here in New York, released in February, 2010. It was a smoking, atmospheric return after 16 years, led by stunning single ‘Me And The Devil’. Earlier this year, the album was reworked by Jamie xx, taking black rhymes into areas they‘ve rarely ventured in the past.
   

Gil Scott-Heron died on May 27 at St Luke’s Hospital, New York. ‘RIP GSH…and we do what we do because of you,’ said Public Enemy’s Chuck D, while Eminen declared, ‘He influenced all of hip-hop.’
   

I love the Sugarhill Gang as much as anyone but, while they provided the escape, Scott-Heron struck at the problem. He didn’t just influence all hip-hop, that‘s too restricting. Like all great writers, Scott-Heron’s words will never date as they encapsulate an era in history, while his impact will always be felt, no matter how subliminally. Unlike many of today’s hip-hop megastars, he didn’t set himself up as a role model or god-like entity, remaining a vulnerable commentator who lived the life until it claimed him. The tragedy is, many simply will have never heard him. If that’s the case, a Youtube frenzy is definitely in order; witness a master at work.

Kris Needs

EYEPLUG is delighted to have Needsy on board as our resident living leg end. An author, journalist, editor, DJ, broadcaster, producer, rabbit herder and musician in his own right, Kris has embraced the widest range of music across several decades and music has wisely hugged him right back. In addition to contributing to Mojo and Record Collector and popularising the gnu, Kris is currently co-hosting the weekly Needsy and Hutchfever broadcast on fnoob.com, with his lovely wife, Michelle.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Front page Tags:, ,
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Kris Needs Presents… Dirty Water 2 – More Birth of Punk Attitude

(2CD set, Year Zero)

Happily, the overwhelmingly positive response to Dirty Water – The Birth of Punk Attitude has enabled journalist, DJ, broadcaster, and all around living leg end Kris Needs to again take us by the hand and lead us through many of the dimly lit tributaries that ultimately combined to lend their fetid waters to the great punk torrent.

In my review of the initial 2CD set, I made the connection between Kris’s inclusive approach to defining punk attitude and James Burke’s interconnective approach to explaining sequences of historically significant events. If anything, this comparison is even more apt the second time around – to understand why this happened in 1976, you have to go back to here.

In some cases, the lineage to punk rock is self evident – the likes of Death, the Velvet Underground, Suicide, Patti Smith, Jayne County, David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Kilburn & The High Roads, the Hammersmith Gorillas, the Doctors of Madness, the MC5 and Blondie all have acres of printed paper establishing their varying roles in shaping the scenes that would burst out of tiny pockets of defiance in New York and London. However, many of these artists are represented by seldom heard cuts such as the Motor City maniacs’ epic set closer ‘Black To Comm’ and Vega/Rev’s startling ‘Creature Feature’. Similarly, the historical connection between primal rock’n’roll and punk is also a matter of historical record, and trailblazing greats such as Bo Diddley and Eddie Cochran are duly represented here.

These, however, are the basics – dig around the period when the likes of Diddley. Cochran, Gene Vincent and Link Wray were laying down the fundamentals for generations to come, and you’ll find all manner of other stuff going down. Through drawing lyrical inspiration from the lives of the disenfranchised, and subsequently influencing Joe Strummer (a.k.a. Woody Mellor), Woody Guthrie’s rough hewn folk can be readily identified as one of the germinal building blocks of what would later be identified as a key aspect of the punk mindset. One only needs one listen to Guthrie’s ‘Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad’ and Patti Smith’s ‘Piss Factory’ to realise that they are coming from the same benighted place. ‘Strip away and Woody was a punk in the old-fashioned way,’ explains Kris, ‘a short, scruffy, road-wise, quick tempered, skirt-chasing, chauvinist boozer, who couldn’t be controlled by any political party, but campaigned in a much broader sense against homelessness, poverty, racism and inequality.’   

Moreover, by following the folk path along a möbius strip of drug-fuelled weirdness and inspiration, Needsy also establishes the contribution of freaks such as the Godz and the Holy Modal Rounders in developing a conviction that each generation of young people should start at Year Zero, disregarding the ideas of their elders as moribund and irrelevant. Specifically, the sense of wild abandon embraced by both these bands provided a gateway to the kind of free-thinking non-conformity that found its apogee in the late, great Don van Vliet’s Captain Beefheart. Indeed, not only did the Captain and his Magic Band’s wilful disregard for the established parameters of rock’n’roll provide a mutable template for punk rock, it also pointed the way forward into post-punk and all subsequent experimental and courageous readings of the form. Fittingly, given our host’s epoch-making tenure as editor of the much-missed Zigzag magazine, Beefheart’s ‘Zigzag Wanderer’ has been selected to open the two-disc set.

Of course, rock’n’roll was hardly the only ingredient bubbling in van Vliet’s voodoo stewpot – jazz, bebop and doo-wop all broiled among the gumbo. Perhaps the true genius of Dirty Water 2 is the way in which Kris Needs has taken artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Albert Ayler, the Silhouettes, and George Clinton’s mighty Parliament collective and clearly demonstrated how they too fit into the mad parade. This is achieved on a number of levels – not least by identifying the way in which bebop and free jazz marginalised audiences in exactly the same way that punk would do decades later, as well as establishing the direct influence of doo-wop on groups such as Suicide.

Like its predecessor, Dirty Water 2 stands as a monument to defiance, transgression and self-determination, 150 minutes of exceptional music are matched by a robust booklet in which Kris recounts a history that through his own personal experiences and lunatic adventures intertwines with his selections to provide an enjoyable, inclusive experience. From the artists mentioned above to several nicely soiled nuggets of garage frustration, via the titanic storms of sedition whipped up by Blue Cheer or the Edgar Broughton Band, Needsy’s selections provide an object lesson in the advantage of keeping mind and ears open. And surely, if nothing else, that is the idea that underpins the punk attitude.

Order Dirty Water 2 direct: www.futurenoisemusic.com/product.aspx?id=718

Catch Needsy on fnoob radio, every Wednesday from 7pm: http://fnoob.com/

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Exotica Folk Front page Funk Garage Genres Glam Music Post-punk Punk Reggae Rock Rockabilly Tags:, , ,
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Hawkwind, Wilko Johnson – Aylesbury Friars gig

Hawkwind, Wilko Johnson and Kris Needs to play landmark Friars gig, 28 May

Aylesbury’s legendary Friars will be club celebrating its 42nd birthday in customary raucous style with a bang as both Hawkwind and the mighty Wilko Johnson tread the recently refurbished boards. Our very own Kris Needs will be the DJ for the night – EYEPLUG caught up with him in a rare free moment, ‘On Saturday May 28, Hawkwind will be able to boast the distinction of playing all four phases of Friars Aylesbury, having debuted at the original venue at Aylesbury Ex-Servicemen’s Club in 1970, playing with the Lemmy lineup at the Borough Assembly Hall in 1972 and later the Civic Centre. They’re promising stilt-walkers, dancers and all sorts of inter-galactic whoopee,’ he explained.

‘Wilko Johnson is an old Friars hero from the early Dr Feelgood gigs in 1974, appearing with Normal Watt-Roy from the Blockheads (the man who played the bass on the Clash’s ‘Magnificent Seven’). Therefore, the sounds I’ll be spinning should be an interesting blend of space rock and rock ‘n’ roll, sandblasted by punk and psych classics.’

In addition to this, for those of you who can’t bear to pull yourself away from the exciting world of corporate sporting events, the venue will be showing the Champions League Final on a big screen.

More information can be found on the Friars’ website www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk/index.html

You can score tickets from www.ambassadortickets.com/2601/806/Aylesbury/Aylesbury-Waterside-Theatre/Friars-Aylesbury-Tickets

June 5, 2015 By : Category : News Newsplug Tags:, , ,
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