Saturday, May 07, 2022

RAVING UPON THAMES: AN UNTOLD MUSICAL HISTORY

The Generalist has a great interest in the history of British music and a belief that the true story has not been told or not told properly. This why 'Raving Upon Thames' by Andrew Humphreys - a former Time Out editor  - is so valuable and why its garnered 4 stars from Mojo.

Back in May 6th 2016 I published a post entitled on two books: COUNTERCULTURE UK & THE BRITISH BEAT EXPLOSION. The second publication, edited by J.C.Wheatley was subtitled Rock 'n' Roll Island and was focused on Eel Pie Island in the Thames - one of the hotspots of the music scene in Britain from the 1950s onward. A 160pp paperback with lots of photos it was the first proper account of this place that I had read. 


Andrew Humphreys book is twice the size and focuses not only on the Island but the whole scene around Richmond, the Kingston Art School, the early music festivals and the counter culture  of the town and district in exceptional detail. Two maps on the inside covers of the book give a geographical outline. All quotes are carefully sourced and indexed and must represent years of work methinks.

It is well known that Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck were all living in the district. This area was the training ground for the Rolling Stones and the starting out showcase point for a wide variety of musicians and musical styles, from Blues, R& B, folk, metal, psychedelia and punk rock, It was bohemian quarter of great importance in the development of  British music, comparable to Soho and Liverpool. Wave after wave of successful bands and musicians passed through and enjoyed the coffee shops, record shops and hang-out places of which only some survive today. Its a grand story, well told. 

 'Raving Upon Thames' has a lot to say about the Yardbirds. In a previous post in April 22nd 2012 THE TOP TOPHAM/JOHN IDAN BAND: THE YARDBIRDS AND BEYOND there is an interview I did with the bands first guitarist Top Topham.

I did take the stage at Eel Pie Island once as a DJ with my brand new copy of Led Zeps first album which had just been released on 31st March 1969. Can't remember the gig.

Andrew is not only the author of the book but is also the publisher as he's set up his own imprint called Paradise Road which aims to publish books about London. Two planned titles are The Marquee Story by Robert Sellers and Nick Pendleton and Denmark Street by Peter Watts. Looking forward to those.  




Thursday, May 05, 2022

FLAMIN' GROOVIES by NICK KENT

This is the Flamin' Groovies playing their first gig in Britain for many years at the Pattern Club in Brighton on May 1st. They played a tight set of sharp songs that hit the spot from note 1. Led by Cyril Jordon's guitar work the band line-up is Chris Von Sneidern (vocals and guitar),Tony Sales (drums) and Arom Ellis (bass) - all fine players with  impressive musical cvs. The last time I'd seen the Flamin' Groovies live was when they played back-up band to Iggy and the Stooges first legendary gig in the UK on July 15th 1972 at the Scala in London. We hung out with them at that time and Cyril remembered those days. I gave him a copy of our underground newspaper Frendz from 23rd June 1972 which features this great piece by Nick Kent published here for the first time since then.
                                                                              *

As I recall it was the second week of July back there in 1970 — prime time for a righteous dose of dem ole Summertime Blues. At that time, Frendz' celebrated rock writer was living in a one-horse town, still picking his nose and possessing a touching appearance of dog-eared innocence which the excesses of Ladbroke Grove were so soon to remove from his benign features. But believe me readers, I was going through the torments of hell. Let me clue you into some of the weights then being forcibly placed on my frail shoulders. My folks were hustling me to get some sort of vocational job. I was sweating and itching a lot and my girlfriend was having a period. Jesus, there wasn't even a good dirty movie on worth going to see. I was somewhat distraught over my circumstances and my condition may well have degenerated even further into the realms of self-abuse or even a possible teenage nervous breakdown were it not for a hot tip given to me by a good friend of mine concerning a piece of black plastic which he claimed could cure all ills and turn frantic desolation into unrelieved ecstasy. This record was 'Flamingo' and had been made by a group with the, uh, shall we say 'unlikely' name of the Flamin’ Groovies.

 Well I sold my Crosby, Stills and Nash albums, trucked on down to the nearest record store which stocked imports, suspiciously surveyed the cover (who were all these ugly mothers in their high fashion psychedelic clothing anyway?) and finally laid out the cash.

I had been informed, by the way, that this album contained the most killer rock n' roll recalling a spirit which had been celebrated before Chuck Berry left Chess to go to Mercury, Jerry Lee Lewis took up with country music and Pete Townsend had started believing he was a genius.

 Well, I got home, put the platter on the player and sat back waiting for the charge. About eight beats through the first number, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, twelve beats later I almost puked. What is this shit? God, the band sounded like they were working out in a garage somewhere, while the lead singer seemed to have been doing the vocal track while he was f...ing a dog and eating boiled sweets at the same time. It was certainly primal but then so is gorilla fart.

This, of course, was before I had been fully turned on to the deliciously joyful noise of pure punk rock, preferring the more 'civilised' sounds going down and around at that time. However I persevered and by the end of July I had become quite attached to it. By the middle of August, the album was the only thing I ever played. Yes, friends, it took some doing but I had eventually broken down the barriers and turned my back on the flaccid bourgeois 'music' of the 'progressive rock' musician, in order to really get my rocks off from listening to high energy punk consciousness rock-a-boogie.

 The Flamin' Groovies were the acorn gospel and I, in turn, became a fanatical believer. I now recall how my social life was almost completely ruined when, at 'hip, cool' parties, I insisted on subtly slipping in a Groovies album between 'Atom Heart Mother' and Joni Mitchell. This would cause hippies to drop their joints and tear up their kaftans in fits of rage and impotence.

 The answer was simply that they couldn't take it, and many times the Spirit of Woodstock was temporarily destroyed as I was bodily thrown out of their parents' houses. I even started getting a bad reputation as some kind of hoodlum, but by that time, I didn't care.

 I was well stocked with killer records by the Kingsmen, the Seeds, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, the Cordettes, Question Mark and the Mysterians — you name it, I was on the look out for it. But my Groovies' albums always took precedence over everything else and I'd play 'Roadhouse' and 'Have you seen my baby?' as a kind of ritual every night before I crashed out.

But enough of this unnecessary banter and down to business The Groovies have since moved over to low-energy complacent old England to become what I hope and am quietly confident over, the ace partying rock n’ roll band that this country has needed for so long. Sort of like the Pink Fairies but without the constrictively tight community thing and a far flashier stage act. To put it simply, the Flamin’ Groovies deliver in no uncertain manner- you wanna hear some hot licks? Well drummer Danny Mihm and bassists George Alexander are the crew to check out. Wanna hear some real neat songs? Well hits just keep on coming when the band starts working out – everything from ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and 'Nervous Breakdown' to third generation rockers like 'Sweet Jane' and the band's own 'Teenage Head'. Tell ya, if the full force of the Groovies doesn't get you up and jiving, then you'd better check yourself out at a morticians. Call them the best rock n' roll band currently resident in this country if you want to, I won't argue with you, and until Iggy Pop starts showing off his class, and the MC5 prove themselves more together and capable of 'doin' it', than what we had to put up with on their last tour, that's the way it's going to stay.

The Groovies can cut any English band under the impression that they're playing 24 carat rock n' roll to a frazzle. Simple as that. What those greasy rock revival bands who work the circuits in this country can never comprehend is that rock n' roll in its pure '50s form never really died. Sure, it went down a lot of times during the '60s but the energy was always there whatever games we as a generation got ourselves into. Rough diamonds were being produced all down the line, whether they were the Stones' work-outs or those early vital Who tracks or the Kinks, or the Young Rascals and the Velvets in New York City. And now we're thick into the third-generation rock comin' at ya straight from the frayed nerve-ends of the Teenage Wasteland.

What makes the Groovies a vital and exceptional band in this context is their ability to work on the music of all three generations and make everything they do quite believable. The four tracks they have laid down in the studios since they've been here, really show this. 'Talahassie Lassie' ('She my Talahassie Lassie/Down in FLA') which is pure delicious first generation camp, and three original numbers. 

The originals, and all of them are classics, are 'Shake Some Action' which is kinda like second-generation Who, worked with an energy and enthusiasm that the 1972 Who would find hard to muster; 'You To re Me Down' has vocal harmonies somewhere between Lennon and McCartney and the Everley Brothers, a song styled around the kind of stuff the Beatles used to do when they were really a group, a middle break straight out of early Who and lyrics recalling first generation teenage heart-break confessions fodder: the production, as Danny Mihm states, sounds just like 1964 Beatles produced by Phil Spector, but the overall sound is pure Flamin' Groovies, and it's a gas. 

Best of all, though, is 'Slow Death' which is pure lethal third-generation mainline rock. The song's about smack and as such stands right there with Lou Reed's 'I'm Waiting for the Man' and 'Heroin' as the ace song to deal with the subject. Building on one fine, fine riff, the whole thing moves with an urgency akin to some of the better stuff the Stones have just put out. The song was written in Detroit by Jordan and the old vocalist, Roy Loney. 'We'd moved out of 'Frisco because there was nothing happening, and headed over to the Mid-West. When we got there though, we found that everyone was 'jonesed' out. Roy just wrote the lyrics down as a natural reaction to what was going on there.' 'Slow Death' is being released as a single with 'Talahassie Lassie' as the B side. Watch out.

The Groovies, as the Chosen Few, were one of the very original San Francisco bands, along with The Charlatans and the Mystery Trend. Always a freakish band (using the word to recall a time when it really meant something) they found themselves often rejected, as their style of rock n' roll conflicted with the psychedelic music being laid out at the time. "Everyone was taking acid and laying out those long jams and raga solos, and when we came on and played short, straight rock numbers, they'd either think we were a comedy act or else they'd throw things at us." 

The Groovies were one of the prime movers in the whole San Francisco movement, though. They took over the old Fillmore Auditorium after Bill Graham had moved the Fillmore West set-up to the Carousel Ballroom, in order to put on dances which captured the spirit of the original environment. Also they took the weird step of cutting and releasing their first record themselves. The record, an EP entitled 'Sneakers' was recorded and mixed in ten hours. Ten thousand pressings were made and the whole bitch is now a real collector's item. Finally a neat contract was signed with Epic, who paid so much for the actual contract they couldn't afford to give them adequate publicity so, they moved to Kama Sutra, who again left them hamstrung by lack of publicity.

 The critics dug the music though. Guys like Richard Meltzer would turn up to sessions and the band became the all-action partying combo to see. By the time 'Teenage Head', their third and best album so far, was released both Loney the vocalist and Tim Lynch, second lead guitar player, had split. Lynch had been busted for dope, while Loney, originally an actor, had lost interest and had therefore become a pretty uninspiring front man. 

So Jim Farrell, a fine slide player, took over from Lynch (mostly all the guitar playing on 'Teenage Head' is Cyril Jordan's work by the way) and Chris Williams, just 18-years old and the front man for ex-Charlatan Mike Wilhelm's band, Loose Gravel, became the vocalist. Pissed by the lack of action and the apathy of San Francisco, and scared by the zombie-like state of places like Detroit, they decided to get it together to move to England.

 Cyril, easily the leader and decision maker of the band, came ahead to check out the outlets and general potential of the country, liked what he saw and moved the whole shebang to these fine shores. The band then went up to Rockfield to cut some sides produced by Dave Edmunds (who has just released his excellent first album 'Rockpile'), played the Bickershaw Festival, and are now busy or mixing the new sides, drinking and smoking dope and getting ready for the live gigs they are going to be doing towards the end of June.

The Groovies themselves are one of the few real groups I've met. They all live together and drink and socialise together and their personalities seem to complement each other. Danny's the drummer so naturally he's the funny one. George is the bass player so he's sort of quiet but blends in nicely. Jimmy's the second lead guitarist so he looks dedicated and smiles a lot. Chris is the vocalist so he looks kind of moody (he has two front teeth missing which is classy if nothing else) and he went to the same mental hospital as James Taylor (a good conversation topic) and there's Cyril who's the leader and main hustler for the band. Cyril learnt his hustling techniques under the careful tuition of his old buddies Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer. Together they used to crash Beach Boys and Jan and Dean concerts and get backstage and talk with Brian Wilson (that was before Brian freaked out, by the way).

Cyril is a real rock n' roller who wears mirrored shades and clicks his fingers a lot but if anyone is going to be the superstar it'll be Chris. He's not that strong a vocalist and his moves are derivative, but, like Rick Derringer who took over Johnny Winter's band even when Winter was on the stage, he's got a certain charisma which stems directly from his youth and enthusiasm.

But he's emphatic when he states: "There's only one real superstar in the world, and that's Elvis. Listen, for the last ten years, Elvis has been recording crap and making shitty films, but everyone just dismisses them, y'know, and says — 'Elvis—oh wow! he was great'. Now when someone like McCartney turns out crap, everyone really puts him down but Presley is above everyone, man. He can do anything and people won't condemn him outright."

"What disgusts me about the old rockers is like how they cruise on their reputation. Chuck Berry — I love Chuck Berry — I mean we wouldn't be here right now if it weren't for Chuck Berry and his guitar licks but nowadays he just goes to a gig, picks up with just any band he's given — no rehearsals, nothing — he doesn't even tune his guitar. He goes on and plays this lousy set with this song called 'I want to play with myself' or 'My Ding-a-ling' — it's the old 'Reelin and Rockin' thing y'know — which he plays for about 15 minutes. And the crowd eat it up. God, when I saw him I was puking up backstage. It was disgusting . I mean Bo Diddley is fat and old, y'know, and the Everley Brothers put on this crappy show, but at least they can still sing. But Chuck Berry — and this man is an artist." Ah, what old age and show business can do to an inspired rocker! 

The Groovies are concerned with pulling all the stops out on the track —drawing forth all the innocence and pure teenage excitement the original possessed. And they succeed. No more, no less. Because the band knows exactly what rock n' roll is all about — where it was way back when and where it is now. They're hip to its sense of fun and fully aware of the drive and urgency needed to get behind an inspired performance. And there's nothing artsy-fartsy or pre-conceived about their act.

The band eventually go back into the recording booth to put the finishing touches to the track they're doing tonight, which is 'Talahassie Lassie'. Freddie Cannon, who did the original, has grown a paunch and a goatee, appears occasionally on things like the Dick Clark Show and tries to trade off his lack of talent on his former name-and-intentions — they just wanna play the music they love and make a success of it —and if that sounds corny then it's supposed to. Just pick up on the double-album released by Buddah — 'The Flamin' Groovies which is actually 'Flamingo' and 'Teenage Head' in one package. Put it on with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. You'll only be disappointed. Just let it get to you and then the rush will be all yours. No shit. Hey, and by the way, does anyone know where I can get hold of some old sides by Cannibal and the Headhunters?