Saturday 22 October 2011

Update Your Browsers, and shit

Because I've got my own blog now. I'll be cross-posting stuff I put on the decade blogs, and adding other stuff that doesn't belong on here. I don't know if my blog will be serious or trivial, because I never wanted to be a blogger, and I don't even like writing. So it'll be a kind of scrapbook-cum-diary thing probably. If I update it that much. Also I need to tweak the design, add more links etc.

Anyway, as we're now starting to get to the big beasts of the Seventies, such as the Sabs and Floyd, here's some AC/DC. Objectively speaking, the best band of all time, of course.

Friday 21 October 2011


"When I first saw [The Exorcist] I was pissed off because I saw it as a return to the ancient views about the Devil and the Catholic Church: part of the nostalgic disease of the 1970s, and a reactionary one at that. When I saw it a second time it was with a San Francisco clinical psychologist...who immediately saw the movie as an allegory. And that enlightened me. People flock to the movie because it is a therapeutic experience. We are all possessed -- by our addictions, our loves, our attachments, our habits, our unconscious, our guilts, our needs, our possessions, our social roles -- and they talk through us. We vomit out our bullshit. We all want to be exorcised."
-- Jerry Rubin, "I am Regan, you are Regan,"
Village Voice, May 2, 1974

"...We weren't so much the Lords of Darkness as the Lords of Chickenshit when it came to that kind of thing. I remember when we went to see The Exorcist that Christmas in Philadelphia: we were so freaked out, we had to go watch The Sting afterwards to take our minds off it. Even then, we all ended up sleeping in the same hotel room, because we were scared out of our minds. It's funny, because years later Linda Blair -- who played the satanic kid in that movie -- ended up dating my mate Glenn Hughes from Deep Purple. She definitely liked musicians, it turned out. She even went out with Ted Nugent once. But she wouldn't go near me.
Not a fucking chance."
-- Ozzy Osbourne, I Am Ozzy

"They just wouldn't fuck off, those satanists. I'd walk out of my hotel room in the morning, and they'd be right outside my door, sitting in a circle on the carpet, all dressed in black hooded capes, surrounded by candles. Eventually I couldn't take it anymore. So one morning, instead of brushing past them as I usually did, I went up to them, sat down, took a deep breath, blew out their candles, and sang 'Happy Birthday.'
They weren't too fucking happy about that, believe me."
-- Ibid.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Some people are on the pitch

One of the great contrasts between 1970s and contemporary sport is the pitch invasion. Now a fairly rare sight, they were once a common ritual to celebrate an act of giant killing or particularly sweet victory. Many of the decade’s classic matches feature pitch invasions: Scotland defeating England at Wembley, Hereford knocking Newcastle out of the FA Cup, the West Indies destroying England at the Oval.

cropped with SnipSnip

It was something of craze at the time and it’s revealing how many children are involved. Not only are they allowed to gather together without adult supervision, but they can actually afford to attend international cricket matches. Perhaps the most striking difference is the TV commentary. Now any unofficial public intervention has to be met with po-faced condemnation: ‘Idiots, not real fans, spoiling it for the rest of us etc.’ There has been a policy for some years now of not showing streakers, leading to a kind of hyper-Stalinism where events are airbrushed from the record as they happen. Nothing must be allowed to interrupt the Sky Sports Continuum. This fear of unscripted public behaviour makes a mockery of TV Sport’s appalling sentimentality towards ‘the fans’ and to ‘the passion of the FA Cup/The Ashes etc’.

70s TV seems more relaxed, even prepared to have a chuckle over youthful exuberance. John Motson is surprisingly mild in his criticism of the Scottish fans breaking the goal at Wembley and then switches to explaining it away in terms of the importance of the fixture.

Compare and contrast:

cropped with SnipSnip

The decline of the pitch invasion is partly put down to the rise of the all-seater stadium, modern security practices and so on. But it must be a change within us as well, with how we think we should behave in crowds. The 70s were a period of assertive working class collective action. Mass picketing at Saltley Gate and Grunwick, the UCS work-in. It was also the time of the folk club circuit, where divisions between audiences and performers were loose.

Now we are ‘alone together’ – not just on the internet but in offline crowds too. Even worse, we self-police crowd behaviour on behalf of TV and advertisers: too many people filming live music instead of dancing; the censoriousness about talking in the cinema. There is whole genre on YouTube of hecklers getting ‘owned’ by comedians. Many hecklers may be unfunny drunks, but there is something creepy about members of the public joining in the pretentious defence of the ‘craft’ of stand up. The nadir is flash mobbing: pointless, self-referential and unthreatening.

A request.

Can anyone suggest any good books on the American 70s, similar to "When the lights went out" etc

Why I don't hate Pink Floyd.

I grew up on Barrow Island, in Barrow-in-Furness. I was born in 1970 and so had a 1970’s Northern Industrial town type childhood. We didn’t have any money, my Dad was a plumber, my mum was a housewife: the house didn’t exactly overflow with entertainment, in fact for any modern-day child in the developed world the 1970s would have been an unimaginable prison house of boredom and isolation. I read books and comics, played in the backstreet, rode my bike around, invented stories, and, of course, speculated widely about the future I would grow up into. Time moved at a glacial pace, the world was barren, bereft of objects and even though I knew no other world I still felt that emptiness, that lack, the imagination alone was not enough to fill it, to transform it. Imagination might mask it for a while perhaps, but eventually it faltered and the world in all its dreary, Spartan enormity crashed in, setting you a-throb with boredom, almost panicked by it. I sat at the centre of all this, I suppose: a child, not unhappy but aware of all the levels on which I was oppressed and suppressed, still growing, my body struggling for mastery of certain basic acts, language and the social world still far beyond my grasp, subject to all the kinds of painful early shocks and buffets of being among other people. Unformed, but, still, aware of my unformedness. I understood that I was a child, and I understood other things too, I understood that we were working class and at the bottom of a three-tier system, I understood that we lived in a small town in the North and that not everyone’s life was like ours, even within that town. I understood that we were socially, economically, geographically and temporally located. I understood these things in abstract ways I couldn’t quite name or visualize, huge, invisible force fields, akin probably to those crystalline rings on which the planets were supposed to sit in a pre-Copernican universe, whose overlapping and interlocking determined the ambit of my existence, where and what I was.
Sensory, sensual stimulation was thin on the ground in that town, at that time, for people in our situation, though I am of course prepared to concede that it was much the same for everyone. Interminable stretches of waiting for the few bright spots in the week, the seemingly eternal Saturday afternoons waiting for World of Sport or Grandstand to finish and the cartoons to start or Doctor Who to begin: the magic of Saturday night, staying up late to watch the Hammer Double bill and then the great yawning chasm of Sunday, more time in the backstreet, or the Docks or on the swings, or if the weather was too bad, playing with a few toys and staring again at the same old comics. The situation was made worse in our house by the fact that my Mum and Dad were saving money to move to the outskirts of town, out of Barrow Island: they wanted a house with a garden (we moved in 1981, they still live in the same place). We weren’t keeping up with the Joneses and so we had a black and white TV for years, lino on the floor, no radio that I can remember, no record player, or rather we did have one, but it was hardly used: it was for us, the kids, but we had very few records.
This wasn’t true of one of my friends, however, who lived just up the road. In his house they had both a colour TV and a few years later, miraculously a video-player, as well as a stereo with four wall-mounted speakers. My friend was called Stuart and Stuart’s older brother, probably about fourteen at the time, when we were nine or ten years old, had started buying records. The distinction between Mods and Rockers still existed to some extent in my backward town at that time. He defined himself as a rocker, was a fan of Status Quo and Nazareth, had shoulder length hair, a cut off denim jacket and a precocious wispy moustache to prove it. He also owned a copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
On Saturday night Stuart’s parents went out to the local Labour club and we had the house to ourselves. Ritually, we turned down the lights in the living room and put The Wall on. The Wall had several advantages and levels of appeal over listening to Quo or Nazareth or the Ram Jam Band, but most immediately because it was cinematically rich and complex, filled with studio tricks and techniques, narrative, literary, dark and frightening, suffused with the cruelty of all the institutions we probably felt we were already suffering under to some small degree, school, the family, or were due to suffer under, work, the State, relationships, the adult world. From the moment it started, with the sheer bombast of “In the Flesh?” resolving into the sound of a dive-bombing Stukka and the cry of a new-born child we were transfixed. Here was an enormous multiform richness that promised to both fill the world and deepen it. TV was small and cold and linear but the stereo effects and the phasing back and forth between the speakers, the found sounds, snatches of dialogue, the different characters, the Operatic pomp, the cryptic lyrics and symbolism, the references to things we could only guess at, the sheer beauty of some songs and the desolation of others seemed not just to come at us from another world, but overtake and overwhelm our own world. The speakers were above the bevelled, smoke glass sliding doors that separated the dining room and living room and there was no limit on the volume we could play the record at, sitting in the semi-dark, silently sunk, rapt, in all its mysteries. If we’d been five years older we might well have abjured it, been punks, but we were children still, waiting to go onto Comprehensive School and had nowhere else to go, no nightlife, no peer group as such, no  attitude toward anything, no stance. We needed to be entertained more than anything, but not in a frivolous way, we wanted access to all the dimensions of experience that were still beyond us, we wanted something as inexhaustible as our desire to grow, something as varied, fulsome and dense as our own worlds were monotonous and bare. And so we listened to it again and again, in a kind of stupefied amazement, luxuriating in its pyrotechnics, aghast at its scale and drama. This is what music promised us and gave us in a way that no other forms seemed capable of, a multivalent wealth of detail, a shared, concentrated rapture, relief.  Outwardly you might be hedged, circumscribed, caged by class, geography, discourse, experience, connections, but that there was a world within the world, an always open door through which you could slip and on the other side, somehow, all these constraints melted away.
I haven’t heard that album actually since I was a child, or early teens at least. Probably the last time I heard it was when I went to see the film, sometime back in the early eighties. I got self-conscious about what was and wasn’t fashionable for people who wanted to be seen as, to feel themselves to be, smart. You know how it is.
 Nonetheless, if you were to play it to me today, I’d know every word.     

Wednesday 12 October 2011

On The Corner

It’s hard to imagine now that Third World War ever existed. They are a singular proposition, Communist (or at least communist-leaning) insurrectionary Yobo Pub-rock as tough, sparse and scathing, as funky and rhythmically driven as anything produced in post-punk, or America’s mid- eighties Hardcore scene, yet their two albums were first released in 1971 and 1972.
There’s plenty of punk-before-punk theorizing and cataloguing going on, but you’d be hard pressed to find a punk band, or indeed any band that doesn’t sound anaemic next to Third World War, the only other band of roughly the era that sound as authentically dangerous are The Sex Pistols and even they can’t quite boast Third World War’s invigorating class-war rhetoric and sheer, driving groove. A large part of their propulsion derives from Third World War’s being unashamedly sunk in the blues and rock and roll while at the same time rejecting heavy rock or prog in favour of an amped up, wired, spit and sawdust, goodtime boogie. The guitar sound, serrated, bright and sharp, the nagging, sinuous bass, the rolling piano and the caustic vocals all tell you one thing: this is a speed band, a pub band, a band that feeds on negative energies, invokes them and uses them to sharpen and hone its already formidable edge, a band that wants to needle, that thrives on confrontation and anti-social energies.
In some sense Third World War feel quintessentially British in their remorseless focus on violence, class and politics. Few bands can have engaged so fundamentally with the underlying tensions of their times as Third World War, few bands feel as though they documented an era as concisely or anticipated the strife to come in the mid-seventies more presciently: it’s hard not to think of Third World War as the real voice of the early Seventies, unfashionable, aggrieved, up for a good Saturday night out (fighting/ drinking/ heads down, no-nonsense mindless boogie) but even more up for the revolution they see just around the corner. In their celebration of politicised, boot-boy thugishness they might also be said to anticipate OI, but there’s a control of tension and dynamics, a muscular, musical intelligence that grants Third World War’s work a kind of cinematic scope: these boys can play and the records seethe with a barely restrained power that occasionally erupts into flailing white-noise jams or clenched, coruscating solos. Few bands have ever swaggered or been so adept at poised violence as Third World War, feeding on the eternal, and endlessly replenished manna of British life, class antagonism. Listening to Third World War almost forty years later, the question as to just why the past fifteen years (with the exception of Grime) has been so dull in British music can partly be ascribed to this, not enough hate, not enough politics, too pretty, too vapid, too keen to make friends. For a moment, under the spell The Great Moderation we forgot who and where we are. Ugly, unsophisticated, angry, pitted against each other, trapped on a lopsided, dank little island.

For Third World War the revolution is inseparable from the power of Unions and the revolt against work, it’s also impossible to achieve by peaceful means. In contrast to many of the overtly polemical Left-leaning bands of the Eighties (The Redskins etc) Third World War’s message is less one of amelioratory, earnest positivity (“go get organized!”) than a revelling in a death-or-glory violent overthrow of the class system (“Load your magazine clip! I’ll be loading mine”). In this sense Third World War understand class relations as a war, and one in which decisive resistance can only take place through fighting fire with fire, that as committed they are to our destruction, so, equally must we be committed to theirs' (“Pull your hand grenade pin/I’ll be pulling mine”). This is of course the “fanatical” character of the 70’s working class that Neo-Liberalism sort to redress. Appeasing it by enfranchising (some of) the working class as part of a share-owning, popular capitalist, property-owning pseudo-middle class on the one hand while also more aggressively attacking the UK industrial base. Anti-union legislation, de-industrializing in the progressive shifts toward becoming a “knowledge economy”, applying downward pressure on wages through reforms in Labour laws and high unemployment. 
A large part of what makes Third World War so valuable in a documentarian sense are Terry Stamp's lyrics, which articulate not just all the suppressed anger, the glowering resentments and unhealthy lusts of the age, but pay a singular and specific attention to the political character of the time. At his best Stamp is a superb lyricist, mordantly funny, balefully ironic, sharply focused on the (sometimes indistinguishable) miseries and pleasures of 70’s working-class life, revealing of it’s prejudices as well as its progressive character. The aim is to provoke, sometimes it’s fatuous, “Coshing Old Lady Blues” (which contains the hilarious line, “Hey grandma/hide your money in your shoe/ I’ve got those/ coshing old lady blues) sometimes both intoxicatingly polemical and wryly hilarious, as in the wonderfully titled “I’d rather cut cane for Castro” (Working in the fields/Fidel’s my neighbour/I’m genuine U.K/Semi-skilled labour.) Perhaps best of all is “Factory canteen blues” (you don’t sit near/ the management’s table/so educated, mathematically able/with their figures on graphs /and Hoi Polloi chatter/you’ll work 5% harder/and they’ll grow 5% fatter) a long tale of industrial discontent that threatens to boil over into “factory burning”. This is social realism from the ground up, in which it’s necks, not hands that are being wrung. Social realism as a mailed fist, exhortatory, lunatic, uncompromised, a report from the Seventies of the Angry Brigade, Saltley Gate, the industrial relations bill and Who Governs Britain?
“I’ve got just the thing for you/ a real cop beater/a sawn off twelve gauge/5 shot repeater.”
This is a band far too good, far too important, to be sidelined as proto anything.
Youtube playlist here.

Didn't he do well?

Thursday 6 October 2011

The Ballad Of Ruby Flipper

Those of you enjoying the current re-runs of every 1976 'Top Of The Pops' will almost certainly have noticed two things: that the charts have always been shit, and the inexplicable and occasionally mindscramblingly cryptic performances of mixed sex, interracial dance troupe Ruby Flipper.

The Flipper, as they have never been known, were only on the show for five months,and never managed to warm the nation's cockle and loins in the same way that their immediate predecessors, Pan's People, had done, despite featuring two former People in their line up. The precise reasons for this may never be known, although BBC Head of Light Entertainment Bill Cotton tried to put his finger on the problem in a meeting with legendary choreographer Flick Colby - 'Flick, no-one in England wants to see white girls dancing with a black man'. Cotton's most notorious programme was, of course, 'The Black & White Minstrel Show'.

Here are some select moments from their short reign of terror.

The Flipper were quite good at the disco stuff, but then, after all, disco is designed to dance to. What they were able to do on a number of occasions is to communicate the energy of the music to the traditionally rather lumpy studio audience, upping the tempo of their shuffling considerably. In this routine, they demonstrate the dual nature of Colby's routines - a confusing mix of lacivious grinding and infantile pantomime.

This routine is as much avant garde theatre as Thursday night pop variety, with a colour scheme pinched from a Czech New Wave film and a concept that has echoes of Dante Alighieri . It's baffling and frightening and the shaking, banging wrists are vaguely pornographic. In my nightmare, the song never ends, and I end up watching them walking in and out of these wobbly doors for all eternity.

Finally, here's their interpretation of Bowie's 'TVC15'. It always reminds me of a fly on the wall documentary set in a secure unit. I keep expecting R.D Laing to wander in with a clipboard. Bizarre, although I'm sure Dame Dave would have approved.

Ruby Flipper,
March 1976 - October 1976.


Open Letter To The BBC

Dear Marmaduke Hussey,

I know you have to make a 20%  budget cut over the next five years, might I suggest the return of this old favourite?

It's better than 90% of your output, and little Carole Hersee and Bubbles are far more charismatic than 99% of your presenters.


"Everyone was Smoking..."

And nearly three decades went by. And then we were told that it was neither here nor there, because there was no spoon in the first place. So we that non-spoon and ran with it.

And then about a decade later, a lot of people had to shrug and say, "Well, fuck me...turns out there was a spoon there all along."


A new form will always seem more or less an absence of any form at all, since it is unconsciously judged by reference to the consecrated forms.”
Alain Robbe-Grillet 

The scream of terror, of pain, of death, still fills my ears as I contemplate the heap of crumpled bedclothes spread like so many rags on the floor, an improvised altar whose folds are gradually dyed a brilliant red, in a stain with distinct edges which, starting from the center, rapidly covers the entire area.
The fire on the contrary, once the match has grazed a shred of lace soaked in gasoline, spreads through the whole mass all at once, immediately doing away with the lacerated victim who is still stirring faintly, the heap of linen used in the sacrifice, the hunting knife, the whole room from which I have just had time to make my escape.
When I get to the middle of the corridor, I realize that the fire is already roaring in the elevator shaft, from top to bottom of the building, where I have lin­gered too long. Luckily there remained the fire es­capes, zigzagging down the façade. Reversing my steps, then, I hurry toward the French window at the other end. It is locked. No matter how hard I press the catch in every direction, I cannot manage to release it. The bitter smoke fills my lungs and blinds me. With a sharp kick, aimed at the bottom of the window, I send the flat of my sole through four panes and their wooden frames. The broken glass tinkles shrilly as it falls out onto the iron platform. At the same time, reaching me along with the fresh air from outside and drowning out the roar of the flames, I hear the clamor of the crowd which has gathered in the street below.  
I slip through the opening and I begin climbing down the iron steps. On all sides, at each floor, other panes are exploding because of the heat of the confla­gration. Their tinkling sound, continuously amplified, accompanies me in my descent. I take the steps two at a time, three at a time.  
Occasionally I stop a second to lean over the railing: it seems to me that the crowd at my feet is increasingly far away; I no longer even distinguish from each other the tiny heads raised toward me; soon there re­mains no more than a slightly blacker area in the gathering twilight, an area which is perhaps merely a reflection on the sidewalk gleaming after the recent shower. The shouts from a moment ago already constitute no more than a vague rustle which melts into the murmur of the city. And the warning siren of a distant fire engine, repeating its two plaintive notes, has something reassuring about it, something peace­ful, something ordinary.  
I close the French window, whose catch needs to be oiled. Now there is complete silence. Slowly I turn around to face Laura, who has remained a few feet behind me, in the passageway. “No,” I say, “no one’s there".

Tuesday 4 October 2011

... And Saturday night, once you allow yourself to think about it, isn't that much better than any other night.

In 1976, there was no getting away from Peter Frampton. Seemed like you couldn't go very far without seeing the cover of Frampton Comes Alive. Wherever you went, there he was -- looking all illuminated and holy like some Byzantine icon. Saint Peter fuckin' Frampton, Bestower of the Communal Good Vibes, with frets held aloft to bless the flock with and whatnot. Staring out at you from record store windows; or from the ads for the Columbia Record Club that appeared in all the magazines; or from posters on the bedroom walls of your friends or their older siblings; or -- most often -- laying at the top of the stack of records propped up next to someone's stereo, where the album itself was in frequent rotation.

Rarely does a live album attain that sort of ubiquity. Because let's face it, nine times out of then live album are dodgy business. No matter how it's marketed, the live album is usually the equiv of low-end product in any given artist's catalog. Not to say that live albums universally suck, but they almost never rise to any level of consequence, let alone -- except for rabid completists -- rank as "essential." But in the U.S. during the 1970s, there were two big exceptions. The first being Frampton Comes Alive, with Cheap Trick's At Budokan following in second place.*

In the latter instance, good timing had a lot to do with it. At Budokan arrived in 1979, right about the time that disco's hegemonic grip on the culture was finally waning and a lot of people were ready to hear something else. The album's lead single "I Want You to Want Me" rapidly climbed the charts. People heard all the girls in the audience shrieking and chanting along and wondered how they'd previously missed out on the band -- how it was that the band could be so wildly popular elsewhere, yet why haven't I ever heard of these guys before? It was a classic example of the "big in Japan" scenario.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Let It Be Written

Second Rule of Musical Thermodynamics: Whenever the elements of fire and water are brought together, they often -- surprise, surprise -- only make steam. At best some good anecdotes might come of it. (At least so long as none of of the involved parties decide to lawyer-up.)