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?