Make you mine, long, long time, today-ee!

I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but inexplicably it’s taken until now for me to notice the feral pleasures of the Monks. I’m not quite sure how this has (not) happened. For a self-proclaimed garage punk, psych fan with more Nuggets-style compilations than is strictly necessary to have to admit this, is more than a little uncomfortable…

But now we’re there, let’s enjoy ourselves, eh?

The Monks

(It’s actually a little worse than that. I bought Black Monk Time for a friend for Christmas a couple of years ago, but somehow never got around to listening to the awkward bugger until now…)

The Monks were five American ex-serviceman based in Germany who decided to stay on and settled in Hamburg in 1964. They eventually took the name “The Monks” and sported authentic Monk’s tonsures. The line-up was originally a standard, three guitars, electric organ and drums combo that mutated quite dramatically (according to the video coming up) when drummer Roger Johnston was forbidden to use cymbals and told instead to concentrate on his tom-toms, and rhythm guitarist Dave Day was told to throw away his guitar and given a mic-ed up banjo.

I gather from this point all bets were off, and the Monks went on to fashion a truly original and genuinely (for the times) shocking sound based on the brutal driving bass of Eddie Shaw, the fuzz guitar sound of Burger and the violent feedback that frequently came from Day’s wildly unpredictable electric banjo.

Get up to speed by watching this interview with guitarist and singer, Gary Burger.

 

Possibly the first of the aforementioned garage band compilations on which I wasted my paper round money as a stroppy youth was Pebbles 2, which as well as introducing an unsuspecting world to Randy Alvey & the Green Fuz (and a whole host of others), featured the oddest of liner notes by one “A. Seltzer”. Enthusiastically taking the mick out of the Lester Bangs school of 25-line sentences, breathlessly banged out in an explosion of keys and typewriter ribbon, it fascinated and defeated me in equal measures. One of the premises of the piece (apart from Mr Seltzer being promised a bottle of Old Catcher’s Mitt) was that all the bands on the record were the authentic sound of Youth but were boundessly “stewpid”, not even being good enough to make it onto Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets.

Those lines could well have been written with the Monks in mind (indeed it’s not surprising but a bit disappointing to learn that the Monks do feature on some of the amplified versions of the Nuggets series). The word “stewpid” is definitely the one that attaches itself to all of the Monks’ output, and not just because of the electric banjo and those rudimentary drum rumblings. As well as this, Larry Clark’s weird, horror-style keyboard stylings and the … erm… distinctive vocals of Burger, by turns squawking and then falsetto, made the Monks genuinely different. Honestly, my great favourites and previous markers of RnB “out-there-ness”, the Pretty Things, are really only skirting around the edges of the Monks’ rare, rash energy.

In fact the whole rawness of the music originated from a wholly different place than the South London R’n’B explosion of the times. As I’ve said, they were all American anyway, and the whole frames of reference for their US chums would more likely have been Dylan and the folk revival than Jimmy Reed or Bo Diddley.

Actually, having been away from the US for a while, living in self-imposed West German exile, a whole other sound developed, (unworried by Carnaby Street – those haircuts – or Ready Steady Go), that in all honesty didn’t owe too much to any contemporary.

In true punk fashion, the Monks recorded one great album and then split, disappearing back to the States and not resurfacing until their symbolic offspring, Mark E Smith, John Lydon, and a gaggle of US oiks started to discover them. Black Monk Time is widely available and as a reissue contains a good few bonus tracks which are OK, but don’t perhaps match the sheer, monochrome dumbness of the original twelve songs.

Fortunately, there are a good few YouTube clips showing them in their ragged, incoherent glory, shaved heads, monk costumes and all, my favourite being this one:

 

Lawks!

The the first track Black Monk Time, the incomparable “Monk Time”, opens in this fashion:

All right, my name’s Gary. Let’s go, it’s beat time, it’s hop time, it’s monk time now! You know we don’t like the army. What army? Who cares what army? Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam? Mad Viet Cong. My brother died in Vietnam! James Bond, who was he? Stop it, stop it, I don’t like it! It’s too loud for my ears. Pussy galore’s comin’ down and we like it. We don’t like the atomic bomb. Stop it, stop it, I don’t like it … stop it!

Lawks!

To be fair, I’d like to think there’s a stylised meaninglessness in all this… In cold war times, where nothing made sense, maybe there seemed little point in soldiering on on the same terms… What’s the point in thinking hard, might as well be stewpid no?

And who’s to say in these miserable, post-truth, edge-of-the-cliff, Brexit times, when we’re governed by liars and simpletons, there might not still be a need for a little bit of Monk Time?

Who wants to join me in a spot of chanting?

Kicking the gong for you (phoria)

There’s a (banjo-toting) elephant in the room, I feel.

I think it’s time somebody, somewhere, said something about the Holy Modal Rounders – clearly someone’s got to tackle this thorny subject, and as nobody else seems to be covering the hippie bluegrass Greenwich Village scene these days, it may as well be this idiot.

Lucky Seven – the Holy Modal Rounders

In as much as anybody spares a thought for the Holy Modal Rounders these days, they’re generally thought of as Fabulous Furry Freak Brother types – daft, ridiculous and tiresome. If you know anything about the Rounders, it’s probably from hearing the novelty strains of “Bird Song” as Jack Nicholson falls in with Hopper and Fonda on the way to Mardi Gras – “Oh, I’ve got a helmet!” (Cue fond memories of seeing Easy Rider in an unlikely midnight showing at the old ABC cinema in Kings Square, Gloucester…)

 

That’s pretty much the Rounders post 1965 career, to be honest, a prolonged stoned, thumbing of the nose to The Man, making records that sound like they were a whole lot more fun to make than they are to actually listen to, the rest of the world playing the part of being the only straight guy at the Rounders’ own Acid Test. There’s quite a bunch of records like this that ran through the rest of the sixties and seventies and included a period working with the Fugs (imagine…).

But, and this is the point I’m getting to, thankfully there were a couple of releases before all this, which are substantially better. The first of these was recorded in the New Year snow as 1964 gingerly popped its little head out, at precisely the same time as, thousands of miles (and another world) away, yours truly was making his own even-less auspicious debut. Fifty four years on and The Holy Modal Rounders remains one of my very favourite records – it’s an infectious, intriguing, intransigent belter of a record, that charms and exasperates in equal measure.

In the early sixties, the Rounders were idiosyncratic Greenwich Village folkies Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel, brought together by a mutual girlfriend and a love of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. They hit it off straight away and started playing what Stampfel called “progressive old-timey” music based on their love of bluegrass, mountain music and psychedelics.

This first record is made up of lovingly produced trad arrs and “original” songs that “evolved in the usual way – hear song, forget song, try to remember song while adding your adding your own person wrinkles”. The “wrinkles” are of course what make the record so great. It’s a bunch of authentic voices from disappearing generations, passed through the fuzziest of lenses, all livelied up by a twinkling sense of mischief.

Each song is based around Weber’s country blues guitar picking and sparingly decorated with Stampfel’s banjo or fiddle playing. The vocals are pretty distinctive, gruff, harsh, often silly – an acquired taste for sure, but if you listen to the Harry Smith stuff, not so very different…

Men like Clarence Ashley and Uncle Dave Macon infused their songs with a sense of jeopardy, a chill even, which now gives them a certain supernatural life in a new century. The Rounders’ versions on the other hand, fooling around at a carefree distance of fifty years, are full of yippee-ish anarchy, fun (and fondness). Never too precious with the originals, Weber and Stampfel felt free to rewrite lines, add verses and “revolutionise” the content. Famously, in “Hesitation Blues” (a Charlie Poole song from the 20s) Stampfel worked in the first recorded use of the word “psychedelic” (alright, “pyscho-delic”).

I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Rounders treated their source stuff with derision, feeling at liberty to ridicule and spice it up, that’s really not the case – the songs are treated with the sort of teasing irreverence that you might reserve for a twinkly-eyed Nan. But some of the songs do manage to retain the haunting sound of the past to great effect – my favourite being, the poignant “Bound to Lose” (“Riverboat gambler’s born to lose…”). Beautiful, graceful music…

This being 1964, there’s no footage of Stampfel and Weber playing before the peyote broke all pretence of self-control, which is a real shame. So, I’ve done a Lucky Seven collection for you to judge for yourself, and if you do find yourself tempted to seek out a little more W&S quirkiness, tell ‘em I sent you:

Lucky Seven – The Holy Modal Rounders:

Bound to Lose; Euphoria; Hesitation Blues; Mr Spaceman; Low Down Dog; Uncle Joe (from the Live in 1965 record); The Cuckoo (+ Clarence Ashley’s original from the Harry Smith Anthology)

(Still sounds a load more “real” than Dylan to me…)

They Gots Beef

Emusic’s been down for a couple of days (cue furious ranting from folk on the message board and a general fear that this Blog’s music provider of choice has finally gone under – it’s going to happen one day…) but this has meant that I’ve not recently bought anything much new. In fact, I’ve been forced to fall back on the sparse resources I’ve built up over a mere 40 years of obsessive music procurement.

This has actually been fun – I’ve been dousing myself liberally in Pere Ubu, the TV Personalities and the splendid brilliance of the Soft Boys (Underwater Moonlight, is definitively in my Top Five) – and has synched neatly with my reading Peter Hook’s book about his time in Joy Division. I’ve therefore had a perversely miserable time this week re-acquainting myself with Unknown Pleasures.

I couldn’t help but be struck by how much the record fitted in perfectly with so many of today’s indie-releases but at the same time felt like opening a musty, monochrome time-capsule from my teen years – even as a middle-class lad growing up in the West, it still evokes the smell of municipal gloom and crumbling warehouses which it’s easy to forget existed in the seventies and eighties (Gloucester Docks anyone?). What times…

Impossible to conceive of this group of dayglo ninnies in times like those.

The Evil Usses

I think I mentioned the Evil Usses before, in my Here Lies Man post, with rash undertakings to return to them Very Soon. If you were hanging on, eagerly awaiting the promised lines, well, I commend you for your youthful optimism and maybe this post will afford you a few more days of wide-eyed hopefulness…

Yes, so Bristol’s Evil Usses supported Here Lies Man on a cold Sunday afternoon in March, the original Friday evening date having been suspended because of heavy snowfalls. Very odd to be walking into a pub of a Sunday afternoon with all the familiar anticipation that a dose of live music still gives this old chap, and as myself and Coleser did so, the slightly surreal feeling was hardly alleviated by the absolute racket coming from the stage area.

Evil Usses had already started and were lumbering and honking through a truly bizarre set of “rocky notjazz, jazzy notrock” that confused and amused by turns. The Evil Usses are a sax/synth-guitar-bass-drums four-piece with clear Beefheart / Zappa love and an ear for squelchy disruption.

Watch this…

 

 

(As was pointed out, you know it’s left-field when even Big Jeff loses the thread)

There were no vocals and nothing lyrical about them at all, just a dollop of saucy smart-aleckery played at enthusiastic volume and a determination to play at at least one step’s divorce from anything else you’re going to hear this week. I should qualify the Beefheart thing, though – they’re a swinging version, more like a post-funk Magic Band (and I’m not talking about the Captain’s own rather creepy, insecure attempts to make a seventies “pop” record). It was enormous fun and left me grinning foolishly to myself until Here Lies Man came on and did their thing.

Despite Coleser’s prudent counsel (I have “form” in this area…), I snuck off to the merch stall and bought what turns out to be the second Evil Usses record, Amateur Pro Wrestling, and I’m glad I did – it’s not quite as exhilaratingly daft as that afternoon’s set, but certainly a fun listen. Turns out their eponymous debut and their just-released third, Muck, are both available on the newly restored Emusic (the latter characteristically mislabelled) and I’ve just spent a blissful Sunday afternoon immersed in their goofy genius…

I also have a couple of recordings from the set, which I’d like to think capture some of anarchic enthusiasm of the afternoon.

Buzz Gots Beef

Grouse

Wellard J Fowler

You’d also be well advised to pay a visit to the band’s Soundcloud page which is full to bursting with tracks and outtakes.

Ridiculous…

I’m not a kid, and you’re not a baby

This is poor, even by my laggardly standards…

Six (yep, six), weeks ago, I went down to The Lantern in Colston Hall to see the dazzling and always rewarding Field Music, and then, apparently fell asleep at the wheel. To be fair, I was convinced I had written a post, uploaded a few recordings and, starting off on another jaunt to Madrid, had very much filed this under “dealt with”. Imagine my surprise…

Hmm. I’m listening to my recording of the evening now to try to regain a little of the frisson and some of the exhilaration of another evening in the company of The Best Band in Britain. And maybe… just maybe…

Think very hard, people, and maybe we can achieve one of those surely not credible time-ripples employed on children’s TV shows to such great effect.

Field Music, The Lantern

Imagine a younger, less grizzled PP, still in possession of a full head of hair – naïve, hopeful, yet to be brought low by the cares and vicissitudes of a pitiless world. Simpler times.

It was under circumstances pretty much similar to these that I found myself alongside a similarly youthful, sable and care-free Coleser, both of us as giddily expectant as any right-thinking man would be, awaiting the arrival of the Brewis brothers. I think I’ve seen them five times now, and it’s still a uniquely assured experience – you know you’re not going to be disappointed.

The new album, “Open Here”, is another entertaining, ambitious and complex affair, with a few straight up, near political statements that confirm the band’s status (if it were ever in doubt) as a couple of Life’s Good Guys.

And so it came across onstage.

Seventy five minutes of apparently effortless precision – noisy bonhomie, fidgety riffing and general goofing around with time signatures. I may be imagining it, but I felt there was something of a leap in confidence in the performance – there was none of the apologetic, almost disbelieving, gratefulness at the audience reaction. It looked to me like it may have recently dawned on the lads that they have a hell of a product; a genuine gifting.

And also, by now, a pretty devoted following. There was a time when I feared for the boys, imagining that grinding under-appreciation and lack of cash might do for them, but actually I don’t worry about it anymore. They look like a band secure in the knowledge that they’re doing it right and that people know they are. They looked happy, secure and confident in a load of good songs and in particular a great new record.

The minutes flashed by and the announcement that they were now on their last song was greeted with puzzled disbelief as a group of enchanted punters, collectively looked at their watches and scratched their heads.

Many, many highpoints, but I give you a couple of sparklers from “Open Here” and their “big hit” of yesteryear (as if…)

Count It Up

Disappointed

No King No Princess

Such a band…

Buen camino!

I’m guessing this is not much good to you, but I do have a great set of recordings from the recent Field Music soiree that I attended in Bristol. And I did fully intend to get them up and dash off a few careless lines about the gig, but well, here we are again…

And now I’m gadding off to Cadiz for an Easter break. I’m guessing it’ll be pretty much like this…

 

 

(I cannot, of course, condone the use of firearms. Or wearing Kiss merchandise…)

I’ll see you on the other side…

Here lies … Here lies man…

Having started watching BBC Four’s wondrous series about minimalist music, my word of the moment is “atonal”. So with a few things to post about, it’s tempting (pretty, even) to surrender to the disorder of modern life, cast off the manacles of time, dip into the repeating motifs of the last weeks and draw a clever, oblique picture of the modern gig-going life.

I have neither the wit, skill or, of course, the general arsedness to bother with all of this, so let’s just stick to going chronologically, shall we?

Here Lies Man, the Exchange

One of the lesser publicised by-products of the snow drop we had at the start of the month was the cancellation of this date – the very day the West Country shut down, cancelled school, lit the fires and went all Cat in the Hat, gluing it’s snubby little nose to the window and waiting for it all to stop.

Fortunately, the date was rescheduled and consequently, Coleser and I found ourselves skimming down the M5 for a rare Sunday afternoon session. I’m growing to like the Exchange with its tiny bar, record loft and wonky stage and it felt strangely louche to be leaving a sunny Sunday afternoon behind and stepping into the twilight.

Support band, Bristol’s Evil Usses were great fun, wildly unconventional and good enough to persuade me to buy their CD afterwards (although, I do have form in this area). I’ll not say anymore because I have some recordings and they merit a post on their own (I promise).

Having come back out to the bar for a refill during the interval, I was waiting to go back in, when a vaguely exotic looking waster leaning against the wall asked us who we were seeing and what they were like. I mumbled some ill-considered foolishness about afro-rhythms and psychedelia:

“Wow! Cool…”

Standing in the hall a few minutes later as Here Lies Man set up, Coleser pointed out a familiar figure plugging in his base and fiddling with his amp. I couldn’t resist going up to him (JP Maramba, for it was he) and jokingly reproaching him about making me look daft outside. He grinned sheepishly, seemed happy to chat and put it down to “research”.

The Here Lies Man record is a pretty basic affair slightly akin to that Goat record of a few years ago. It’s wild and couples its seventies rocker roots with a fair dose of Afro-Cuban rhythms, not that surprising given Marcos Garcia’s Antibalas roots. There’s a good interview with the man here.

The slightly odd, roast-and-Yorkshire-pudding feel of the afternoon situation didn’t seem to put off Garcia and chums – they arrived all tooled up, packing heat and ready to party like it was 1969. In my head, I’d been expecting a lot of wah-wah and a more wigged out, Zam Rock sound than HLM eventually launched into. It was actually a bit of a fuzztone assault (I’ve gone over all music journo, there, a “fracas” at the very least), more early-Zep than late-Yardbirds, and for all the zinging in my ears of the next few hours it was immense, eye-squinting fun. The squiggly splinters of organ that embellished each track were interesting and charming counterpieces to Garcia’s furious riffing, and although the conga player has apparently left, the scuffling, funky drumming of Geoff Mann and Maramba’s driving bass gave each track something of a swing.

In truth, Here Lies Man are more fuzztone than you could ever need but I left the gig, blinking idiotically in the sunlight, ears buzzing, a more than happy man.

The recordings are quite good, although, being the musos they clearly are HLM mostly ran songs into each other and it was sometimes hard to pick out which was which.

Animal Noises

Here Lies Man (by Here Lies Man, from the Here Lies Man album – I love a Full House!)

Letting Go / I Stand Alone

Your gold dress is shaming the stars, a thousand melting Dali Guitars

From time to time, you’ve got to indulge yourself a little, no? We all work (quite) hard, we all need a bit of down time. We deserve this…

Of late, this righteous act of forbearance has been tending to take the form of a few snatched moments of tender loving XTC. Whether it’s enjoying the breathy burr of Skylarking or the breathless industry of English Settlement, there’s nothing quite like the genius of Andy Partridge.

While the local news salivates over a West Country Perfect Storm – “the Beast from the East meets Hurricane Emma” (I think I saw that one. Abbott & Costello were in it), there’s the welcome prospect of a duvet day in the offing. Now seems a good time to draw the curtains, pour myself something warming, chuck another stump on the fire and slide into something melting…

Chips from the Chocolate Fireball

Somebody gave me a copy of this a while back but I don’t think I really investigated it properly at the time, and I’ve only really began to appreciate it in the last couple of days. You’ll know all this, I’m sure, but just in case… Chips from the Chocolate Fireball is a compilation of two wonderfully batty psyche albums released in the late eighties by the Dukes of Stratosphear. “It’s sort of a nostalgia thing, because I just wasn’t old enough to be a hippie.” said Partridge (for it was he) “My parents wouldn’t let me grow my hair long. I really do love that kind of music.”

The initial release, a six-track EP (ask your dad, kids) called 25 O’clock, was intended as something of a playtime away from the troublesome sessions that were producing Skylarking, and Dave Gregory credits the fun and frolics of this wacky side-project as having a large part to play in the band’s survival through the period. And it certainly seemed to have been a lot of fun with an unofficial rulebook being adhered to for the sessions:

  • No more than 2 or 3 takes
  • Vintage equipment
  • and er… “Psychedelic” conventions

Each current member of XTC was involved and they took on the whole adventure with some enthusiasm and a healthy joie de vivre, taking psyche pseudonyms (Gregory’s brother Ian, joining on drums, was “E.I.E.I. Owen”); sporting kaftans and other exotica for the sessions.

But actually, pretty quickly the “joke” stopped being one, and Partridge (in particular) began to become comfortable with a real fondness for English psychedelia and bubblegum bands. And it really shows. As you go through each track, particularly the six 25 O’clock ones, you quickly find yourself ticking the references. Rubber Soul (“What in the World”); Tomorrow (“Bike Ride to the Moon”); Syd (“Have you Seen Jackie?”); the Prunes (“25 O’clock”); Midas in Reverse (“Vanishing Girl”) I am the Walrus (“The Mole from the Ministry”); but with every backwards riff, every farfisa chord, they still can’t help being XTC, all taut, clever song writing and wry observations. There are some real gems here, at least two of which (“Collideascope” and “Pale and Precious”) Dave Gregory ranked with anything the “real” XTC recorded.

It’s enormous fun for anyone with even most passing of acquaintances with sixties psychedelia. The songs are all pretty strong on their own, but like the band themselves are exotically garbed in the dippiest of sixties gear – guitars a-jangling, backwards loops, distorted Pinky & Perky voices, birdsong, Liverpool accents (“Bloody Nora!”), faux Lewis Carroll spoken pieces. The lyrics are also lovingly daft but coming from Partridge’s dazzling palate, avoid too much “whimsy” – subversive moles grapple with sexually frustrated (and confused) youths and menacingly magical women. Phew…

It’s all tremendous cool(aid) fun.

Previous Older Entries