The Who - My Generation

There’s aggression in the air. The cover says it all. Four Shepherds Bush mods hanging around oil drums in Surrey Docks staring up at the camera. They excude style, menace and attitude, which is amply supported by the music. From the moment that Pete Townshend’s solo guitar chords blast out of the speakers and Roger Daltrey growls “out in the street”, you know that it’s a full on assault.

Produced by Shel Talmy , The Who’s debut album was recorded, reputedly in seven days, in the Autumn of 1965. The original record showcased early Townshend compositions along with the essential elements of the live R&B set they had honed into shape with residences at venues as disparate as The Marquee in Wardour Street and the Railway Hotel in Harrow. Some of the arrangements have dated, especially the non-originals, the harmonies in particular are of the era. But underneath there is the same raw energy that was to characterise punk a decade later.

There are three R&B covers. “I Don’t Mind” and “Please Please Please” are hard edged versions of James Brown songs, belted out with all the passion that you know they must have had when played live. Daltrey’s over the top vocals on Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” have been much discussed. Less often trumpeted is the use Townshend makes of the song as a vehicle for feedback.

One of the highlights is the drumming of the young Keith Moon, which on every track is superlative. Moon hammers his way through, drum roll after drum roll, attacking his kit with venom. He is augmented perfectly by one of the great bassists, John Entwistle, whose playing drives the sound forward. And then there is Nicky Hopkins, who adds his own brand of aggressive piano to the mix.

Talmy had already made his mark on the mid-sixties music scene by his production of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. He was the perfect producer for The Who, possessing an instinctive ability to capture the raw sound rather than attempting to smooth it out. This is particularly effective on the originals. There are three total Who classics on this album. If Townshend’s reputation rested with “The Kids Are All Right” and the stuttering anthem “My Generation”, it would be assured. Not bad for a night’s work – both of these songs were recorded in a single graveyard session on 13 October. Add to this “A Legal Matter”, on which Townshend takes vocals and shows a youthful awareness of the responsibilities of the adult male which he would return to a decade later on The Who By Numbers.

But there are other, less well-known, gems. Daltrey sneers his way through “The Goods Gone”, an end of relationship song par excellence. Townshend’s guitar never sounded so angry, adding brittle chords which attack the mix and drive it through. “Out in The Street”, “Lies” and “Much too Much” are similarly hard. “Its Not True” is one of Townshend’s great lyrics. “You say I’ve been in prison, you say I’ve got a wife, you say I’ve had help doing everything throughout my life”. Rumours and lies. The bane of the urban male.

“The Ox” is proto hard rock. Driven by Entwistle’s bass, it is his finest moment on this album, giving an instrumental showcase for the band to let rip. It is a spectacular achievement. The conclusion, “Circles”, is another highlight, bringing an effective chord progression together with a delivery that works perfectly. I imagine it must have been excellent live.

Could this be The Who’s greatest album? It certainly has a strong claim. This unique band fused the foppishness of the urban English dandy with attitude and aggression. They never did so as effectively as on this album. It is essential.

The Total Sound - The Studio 68!

I love the sound of Hammond in the morning. James Taylor, Jimmy Smith, Stevie Winwood and the rest. Add to that maestros Richard Bradshaw and Will Bevan. Put the needle on the Italian mod coloured vinyl and head into the technicolour night and youthful dreams of a reincarnation of Swinging London. “This is my happening and it freaks me out” is the opening Valley Of The Dolls gambit to Groovin’ With Mr B which unlocks the door to mayhem and beat heaven that stretches across the fourteen tracks on this brand-new release, courtesy of Detour records.

The Studio 68! were a riot live, as anyone who witnessed them will attest.  They also recorded a raft of great tunes, most of which have been under wraps for over three decades.  That is, until now.  This compilation of fourteen songs, all recorded during the late eighties and early nineties, showcase their defining modernist sensibility and panache.  There’s an inventiveness and creativity about these tunes that pushes forward into the future, while taking, in true mod magpie style, the influences and inspirations of the past.

Let’s go back to the opener.  The maelstrom of Hammond and guitar that is Groovin’ With Mr B blasts on all levels, setting the mood and announcing a manifesto that exudes maximum groovability.  From then on, it’s a roller coaster ride, through the psychedelic tones of The Feeling, the audacious mash up of Cliff Richards’ Devil Woman, smashing up the parts and putting them together into a brand new take, and the Byrds-esque vibe of Searchin’. 

With main songwriter Paul Moody on guitar/vocals, Pat O’Sullivan on bass and Simon Castell on drums, The Studio 68! produced a raft of up-front, quality tunes, many of which are contained here. There was a tape in circulation, sometime around 1986/87, which included live favourite, Closer Than Close, which is featured in all its glory. The title track The Total Sound is another blow-the-house-down instrumental and Get Out Of My Hair a call to arms of full-on proportions. Your Side Of Things was a definite live classic and it comes across as well here as I remember. Add to that the hundred mile an hour version of Back In The USSR and the eminently danceable Bradshaw composition Living In A World Of Your Own and it’s a selection that demands to be played at maximum volume.

But that’s only a sample of the range of tunes on this record. The album comes on very strictly limited green with white flashes vinyl and red label with “68” emblazoned in wonderful Mexico 70 lettering. As sharp as the creases on a Moody button-down and a Castell loafer, it’s one of the most anticipated releases of the year and one that doesn’t disappoint on any level. Do yourself a favour, head over to the Detour website and get hold of a copy. Put it on the stereo and set the house ablaze like it’s 1987 all over again.

Pop Versus Subterranean

This little collection arrived on my doorstep the other morning, to be perused at leisure, over strong coffee and a soundtrack of Jimmy Smith, which suits its vibes perfectly.  Jason Disley’s latest book on Beatnpress is a pocket sized collection of modernist beat poetry entitled Pop Versus Subterranean, with an introduction from poet and artist Becky Nuttall.  As Jason explains on his website, the underlying ethos of the collection is the relationship between popular and underground culture, that what is underground today could be popular tomorrow. 

But it’s scope is so much wider than that.  I’ve been delving into the book a lot over the last few days.  The thirty poems here draw you in with their rhythms, take you on a journey with their imagery that conjure up a vision of modern living – pre covid and beyond – mixed with beat literary themes and references.  There’s Pop art, jazz, culture, society and suburbia, with an underpinning of social conscience and morality – from the excesses of over-privilege, through Black Lives Matter and revolutions of the past, to reference to Les Zazous of forties Paris.  Along with much more. 

These are subjective descriptions of Pop art sensibility with, like the very best beat poetry, a turn of phrase, a shared viewpoint into the madness out there.  There are those wonderful moments when experiences cross, when you know that you see the world the same way.  “A dented tin on a shelf”, “raindrops pooling in my mind”, “peacocks leaving a trail of hypnotic eyes” are a few such instances. They are phrases that conjure up images, ones you won’t quickly forget.  

The opening description dedicates the book to “those who are creative.  The bohemians, the artists, the mavericks.  The go getters and the dreamers.  The stylish and the cool.”  I would exhort any of the above to get a copy of Pop Versus Subterranean.   It is an inspired collection.

Dexter Blows Hot And Cool

So Springtime is upon us and the light nights are here.  It may be a dull, overcast Sunday, but what the hell.  Let's stick on some more vinyl and blast it out like we mean it.

I've found myself reaching for a jazz masterpiece of perfection.  I bought Dexter Blows Hot And Cool in my sojourn in the capital some time in the eighties, when I was full of my
love of modern jazz, that seemed to effortlessly combine with my equally strong love of beat-inspired poetry and prose and left bank Parisian outpouring of ideas and beliefs from the twenties.  All Henry Miller and F Scott meets Kerouac and the rest.

Somehow it was all combined with records like this one.  Dexter Gordon, the great early bebop tenor saxophonist, and his band, including young pianist Carl Perkins, released this in 1955, though my copy was a re-release from Boplicity records with sleeve notes from Honest Jon from 1984.  The sleeve notes say the record was originally released on "the obscure Dooto label" when Gordon was 32.  It also relays a little tale that the opener Silver Plated had been on a local village bar in Jamaica in the 50's, which I find particularly inspirational.  I love the power of music to connect people, from that wonderful sunny island on the other side of the world seventy years ago, to me in overcast England in the third decade of the twentieth century.  Sit back, sip a beer and imagine the hip cats doing their thing.  Music and words can do that.  And the sax has a language its own.  

I was always impressed by the fluent, fluid style of playing on tunes such as  Silver Plated, the heartfelt cover of Cry Me A River and the invitation to get up and dance that is Bonna Rue.  Gordon of course has an appearance in On The Road, where Jack waxes lyrical about his bebop classic The Hunt.  That's certainly a tune to dig out, so easy with the wonders of the web, though less authentic than finding it in a dusty second hand shop.  The same goes for Go, his seminal album from 1962.  The perfect way to follow Dexter Plays.  So very good.

 So what's it to be on this bright March lunchtime, the day the clocks go forward and Spring in England is really about to start.

First off, I dig out my Brunswick box set from The Who which I acquired a few years back. It would be wonderful to own the originals of these slices of brilliance. They're on the holy grail of the second hand records list. I always keep my eyes open for them when I'm checking out vinyl in dusty vintage shops, or at least I did before lockdown. But the chances of finding original copies of I'm The Face/Zoot Suit and I Can't Explain are pretty remote. But I keep looking, along with a few other gems I could mention and probably will at some point.

So it's I Can't Explain first and those crisp, chiming chords blast into the mind and put a smile on the Face, just like they have all my life, since my twelfth birthday, when Beaty Meaty Big And Bouncy came into my possession for the first time. I Can't Explain could very well be the greatest record ever made, with its teenage questioning and wonder at life, its exuberance at what it all holds and vital, furious vocal fire, which precedes the pilled up modernist excess of My Generation and, in a sense, exceeds it. I Can't Explain is totally authentic, the genuine article, as far as these ears are concerned. Plus it sort of summarises all of Jean Paul Sartre's philosophy into a two minute pop song, which is no mean feat.

A couple more from the box set follow, both sides of the debut High Numbers single, Zoot Suit and I'm The Face. Penned by the late, great modernist guru, Peter Alexander Edwin Meaden, they ring as true today as they did when the record was first issued on Fontana back in the sixties. Love them both. And both have Quadrophenia connections, of course. The intro to Zoot Suit takes me straight to that clip in the film when Jimmy's getting ready to hit the tiles on Saturday night. And I'm The Face is of course reprised on the album in Sea And Sand. All quality stuff.

And after that, what then? Next up is a move to Tamla Motown and Junior Walker's greatest hits. First off the magnificence of Shotgun with its full on sax and driving beat that just make you want to dance round the kitchen. Some of the others we know well. How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You and Roadrunner are Tamla staples. Others are less familiar. What Does It Take is a beautiful, soulful tune that just gets inside and takes you off to those heady days when soul was young and the world was opening up to new ideas.

But there you go. Coffee's ready and its aroma's wafting across. The sax is screaming and the rhythm hard hitting. There are more records to be listened to, books to be read, films to be watched. And, yes, it's almost Spring. What more could a boy about town want out of this glorious life?

On Sunset

I’ve been buying his records for a long time, from that first introduction in 1977 with In City, through to his latest release On Sunset.  There have been well-documented changes in Paul Weller’s musical style along the way.  But those have been superficial.   What has never been in doubt is the authenticity, quality and self-belief that has gone into making those albums.

The new release comes on the heels of the back-to-basic primarily acoustic album True Meanings, which contained some of Paul’s finest songs of recent years.  You had a feeling there that it was the start of another purple patch, that the change in style had unleashed something new.  So it has proved.

Swap Nick Drake for Marshall Jefferson, John Martyn for Marvin Gaye.  Throw in some horns and a little bit of electronica.  Sing from the heart, about what really matters.  Push it all a stage further.   Come up with one of the best, most soulful, albums of your career.

After living with On Sunset for a little over a week, one in which it has been playing on rotation, with the only gap being that needed for a few hours sleep, I can say without a doubt that it is up there with some of the finest albums he has produced.  There’s something about this record that gets deep into the soul and stays there, uplifting your very being.

It starts with Mirror Ball, a gloriously melodic tribute to the ecstacy of the dancefloor – “Mirror ball, when will you spin, light up the room and our lives begin”.  You can just picture a club filled with northern soul dancers in slow motion as the song weaves through its multi-textured delivery - “‘til everyone’s a shining star”.  Its followed by one of the highlights, those Booker T style Hammond organ refrains (of a Time Is Tight variety) that begin Baptiste, another paeon to soul, what it means, how it gets into the heart and makes life worth living – “when I hear that sound it goes through my heart, straight to my soul”.   Add in some horns and it grabs you completely.

It goes straight into early house piano on Old Father Tyme. Imagine another dancefloor, a Chicago house one, etched with the same euphoria.  Its one of the standouts on the album, another glorious soulful tune that gets inside.  As he does elsewhere on the album, he’s singing about ageing, about moving on, but with anticipation rather than foreboding, combining the virtue of experience with new things that are still there to be found. 

Its followed by the singles Village and More.  The former celebrates individuality, recognition of the important things in life, appreciation of what matters on a personal level - “here I am, ten stories high, not a single cloud in my eye” - and a rejection of commonly recognised measures of success – “I don't need all the things you got, I just wanna be who I want”.  More takes it further, celebrating constant searching, moving forward in a direction of your choosing, towards a goal that inspires and leads you onto more important things than society holds of value – “there's always something else in store that keeps me running down that road….to an unknown place I think is more”. 

The title track, On Sunset, is perhaps one of his best tunes ever.  Its pure optimism, combining echoes of the past with acknowledgement that there is something else out there, something better to move into. From its George Harrison-esque introduction it takes you on a soulful journey, through memory, from earlier times in life, where you would “take a drink in the Whiskey….move on to the Rainbow“ (substitute a watering hole or two of choice, from a past life,we’ve all got them) to a new time where “the world I knew, has all gone by....”belongs to someone else's life”, to a brand new, exotic place, where things can be just as good, where “palms trees sway, and a warm breeze blew, and the sun was high, high, higher than it ever been before”.  Luscious strings, horns, funky guitar, soulful vocals. This tune has it all.

There are a couple of Ogden’s era Small Faces/Kinks references in Equanimity and Walkin. But, if there’s one place you want to be while listening to this album, its Ibiza and nowhere more so than on Earth Beat, which just pulls you into its joyous vibe – “it’s a new day, a new morning” – and makes you want to get on your feet and dance.  The main album concludes with Rockets, widely interpreted as a tribute to David Bowie.  It’s another anthemic moment, a tune that you can imagine working well live.

There are bonus tracks, of course.  The glorious soulful 4th Dimension, along with alternative versions of Baptiste and On Sunset, among others.  But they’re the icing on the cake.  What you need from On Sunset is contained within the grooves of the main album.  One of the things I love about this album is the references.  Every time you put it on you hear a new one.  There’s a glam rock guitar chord halfway through Mirror Ball, Booker T organ on Baptiste, George Harrison on the title track. I even heard 10cc at one point, not to mention David Niven’s autobiography.

Since he started releasing records, Paul has written about a certain mindset, the things that are crucial to those of a modernist viewpoint, whether that was ever changing moods, high street connections or moving into tomorrow.  So it is here.   There’s the love of the dancefloor, the devotion to music and how it gets into the soul, the importance of individuality and appreciation of what matters to you and the constant pushing things forward, to new discoveries and new inspiration.

I’ve seen it described as mellow.  It doesn’t strike me that way.  At its deepest, most soulful, it takes you somewhere special.  Its about something deeper than the norm.  The uplifting moment when a mirror ball spins its magic across a dancefloor, when luscious strings get into the soul, when those horns blast out and take you off to wonderland. Put this record on and prepare to be blown away. 


So it’s 1992 and you’re a hip young gunslinger and a native of Paris. There’s a wave of beautiful house and garage sweeping the underground club scene. What do you do?   Embrace it, of course. Put your own stamp on it. Form a duo and put on your own club nights, with your unique identity, forged from those heavenly grooves. Collaborate with other like-minded purveyors of night time wonderland, such as Daft Punk. Push it as far as you can.

Mia Hansen-Love’s 2014 film Eden has appeared recently on Mubi and serves as a source of inspiration.  It is in part a love letter to the clubland of the nineties and beyond, and also a universal tale of youthful hopes, dreams and loves, combined with the folly of youth and its aftermath. The early scenes see Paul (Félix de Givry) and Cyril (Roman Kolinka) and the rest of a group of burgeoning musicians, artists, writers and dreamers as they navigate underground Paris and all it has to offer. In so doing, they offer a kaleidoscope of nightlife, moving from club to club and rave to rave, exuding optimism and enthusiasm, oblivious to tomorrow or anything else outside their garage house orbit.

No film I’ve seen has managed to capture club culture so effectively as this film.  Think of the moment when Daft Punk appear, to spin their seminal Da Funk for the first time to a small dancefloor of like-minded connoisseurs.  Or a crowd singing the lyrics to Joe Smooth’s Promised Land.  Devour the soundtrack of Frankie Knuckles, Terry Hunter, Kings Of Tomorrow and the rest.  Add to that the beautiful scenes of Paris in all its glory, daytime and night time, parks and streets and apartment interiors, including the canal path that looks very much like one in Godard’s Bande A Part, updated perfectly for another generation and another time.

The main protagonist, Paul has it all. From his music and his inspiration to girlfriends Louise (Pauline Etienne), Julia (Greta Gerwig) and others who he meets throughout the film. Then, later, much later, life and its realities kick in. The film effectively portrays the life cycle of a scene, any scene for that matter, from its first, idealistic incarnation of a few like-minded cognoscente,  to its final death throws, when every leach on the planet seems to have descended on its rotting corpse, when even the creators - Daft Punk themselves - are turned away from the period’s most happening club. As a rule of thumb, the appearance of large men with “security” on their t-shirts, along with dancefloor violence, signals the beginning of the end of any scene.  So it transpires with this one.

There’s love here, along with its cousins, loss and tragedy.  There are some heartbreaking moments, as well as uplifting ones.  But belief and hope and creativity are there right through, and will continue long after the credits have rolled.  In the end, the music is replaced by a creative writing group and by poetry, that of Robert Creeley.  As Paul lies on his bed, alone for the first time, he reads the words of a poem and you know that inspiration will continue, it will just take another form.

What really matters is the joyous journey to the stars that this film celebrates.  It all comes across as an outpouring of love for a scene that may have passed, but will stay with those who were there forever.

Sometimes you see a film that blows you away, that takes you on a magic carpet ride to the land of hopes and dreams and ecstasy, in its many splendoured, glitterball flecked forms, where the protagonists are ravers and the currency beats, melodies and vibes that touch the soul. That takes you to Eden.

Paul Weller

So we're into a heatwave.  Adjourn to the garden and crack open a beer and stick on some tunes.  What is it to be today?  There's only one candidate, right now, from where I'm sitting.

A warm evening in early Summertime is made for the debut solo album from Mr Paul Weller.  I remember buying the album back when it was released in 92 and being blow away by the whole feel of the record.  I was a huge fan of both The Jam and The Style Council and missed the vibe of creativity when the latter disintegrated.  I never got into the arguments about the merits of each band, they were a continuation of the same vibe, as far as I was concerned, if you didn't "get" one, you didn't "get" the other.  From the first chords of In The City, it was a start of a musical journey that took you to places where the kids knew where it was at, where your mind went blank in the humid sunshine, where you could sit and reflect on your ever changing moods.  It was about optimism, creativity, positivity.  And the perfect wardrobe.  Of course.

All that was there in abundance on the first solo record.  I loved the jazz funk post-Style Council elements that fused perfectly with the moves towards a bluesy, guitar-based sound that would emerge in a year or two.  There's the laid back feel of Above The Clouds, the going back too your roots of Uh Oh Oh Yeah, the childhood memories of Amongst Butterflies, the late night midsummer stillness of Remember How We Started, the guitar that ends Bitterness Rising, the heartfelt anticipation of Clues, the perfect, out there, ascent into magical, heavenly vibes of Kosmos. 

It sings of afternoons in laid back sunshine, just enough alcohol to enhance the moment, filled with optimism and belief and a deep soulful touch, What's Going On meets the funkier edges of Small Faces' instrumentals, perhaps, with a little Stevie Winwood thrown into the mix and a shade of psychedelia of different varieties in there as well.  

Then there's the harder edge of Into Tomorrow, as near perfect a modernist classic as you could find.  And it was all conceived and put together in the period when The Style Council had gone and he was on the verge of being forgotten.

As Noel Gallagher commented on the cover photo - "does he look like a man who's washed up?".

This album started one of the great trilogies of music.  Paul Weller/Wildwood/Stanley Road is up there with certain other runs of perfect albums from the sixties onwards.  In some ways its my favourite of his albums.  And that covers all his incarnations.  

For now, I'll pour another beer, enjoy the sunshine and listen to the grooves of this record as they float across the evening.  Its what life is all about.   

Paul Orwell

First It arrived in lovely blush pink vinyl. Then in red. There have been a raft of releases from Paul Orwell and his “side project” The Shoots that have been essential listening over recent months and years.

Blowing Your Mind Away and Organised Blues

Paul Orwell’s music first came to my attention a few years ago with some limited edition forty-fives on Heavy Soul, which were snapped up after only a few hours following their on-line release. Then came an album, Blowing Your Mind Away, in 2015. It was initially only available on vinyl, was limited to 500 copies, and, like the singles that preceded it, was sold out within hours. That album was packed with instantly memorable tunes, harmonies and the sort of guitar refrains you might have encountered at Haight Ashbury, or the Kings Road, in 1966. The monochrome video for one of the most memorable tunes, You’re Nothing Special, was trailed on the Fred Perry Subculture website in the weeks before release, complete with models and authentic Blow Up references. The reverse of the sleeve proclaimed that “this music should be played loud”, a piece of advice that was followed on many occasions.

It was followed, the following year, by Organised Blues, an album of Hammond organ instrumentals, designed to get you grooving round the dancefloor - or the kitchen - as effectively as the debut. I remember reading an interview Paul did with Merc where he described this new record as "an album that kids would take to a party in the 1960's". You couldn’t argue with that as a rationale for the album. Don’t Do As I Do (Just Do As I Say), Coke Without The Cola, Red Telephone and the rest were equally infectious and full of pent up mod energy that fired up the soul shoes on your feet. You had to admire the attitude that led to the recording of Organised Blues. It was the record Paul wanted to make so he went off and did it, eschewing any consideration of making a "sensible" follow up to Blowing Your Mind Away. Then there was the Hard Shakes ep, a four track forty-five, which came out at a similar time, covered similar ground and did so with panache.


More singles followed. Then, last year, The album Smut arrived and was rammed with a selection of full-on garage rock anthems that blast the cobwebs away. This is the one in the blush pink vinyl.  Its more 1969 than 1966, dirtier, naughtier than its predecessors, the tougher edges of Let It Bleed compared with Revolver, perhaps.

Stick on Smut and, two drumbeats later, we’re in. The opener, Use Me, comes through fast and furious, with its straight ahead attack to the senses, complete with the immortal line “Juliet is in the sewer, Romeo is in the gutter”, and a wonderfully trashy edge that sets the tone for the album. Its followed by Son Of A Loaded Gun which has always struck me as possessing more than a little bit of a Bolanesque vibe. This tune and others, particularly, Out Of Here, make me wonder if this is how T Rex would have sounded if they had started today. The whole thing comes at you full on, a delicious mixture of hot guitar hooks, organ and piano refrains. Hear them in the guitar motif on Hot Bitch, the piano introduction on Hot Air – Loud Noise, I’ll Be Your Murderer, Hey Hey Junkie and the rest. Then there’s the dirty bass and guitar introduction on Out Of Love. And the whole thing concludes with slightly more laid back Hello Apollo.

Then, just when you thought this particular seam had been exhausted, along came Use Me the ep. It’s the one in red vinyl, a lovely deep red. Its a complete package, the design and music complementing each other perfectly.  The new tunes were recorded at the same sessions as Smut. Along with the title track, there are three more new tunes on here: the classic garage rock of Running Scared, all hard guitar chords mixed with full-on keyboards, the down and dirty groove and “sex, drugs and rock and roll” of Lose Control and the more heartfelt vibe of Live A Little Die A Little, a tune that hints at Orwell’s work with The Shoots.

The Shoots

Then there's that side project. For most, The Shoots would be a full-on career. They are a collaboration between Orwell and Kevin "Lord" Essien, who is It described as "vocal extraordinaire" on the tin and you wouldn't argue with that sentiment one iota.

They released an album of classic R&B anthems last year, full of garage beats, up front guitars and pure soulful vibes. Add in a strong northern soul element and the whole thing quickly gets deep inside. The vocals are tinged with emotion, touched by a mood immersed in the black plastic that would be spun every weekend at Wigan Casino and elsewhere. The straight ahead feel of the opener, Black Widow, takes you quickly into the action and gets the adrenalin going. The heartfelt vibe on tunes like Two Steps, On The Sunnyside Uptown, Lay Some Hurt On You, Mr Rain and Wash it Down With Whiskey is interspersed with a vibe that makes you want to put on your soul shoes and head for the dancefloor. And the hundred mile an hour northern soul pace of Forget Me, in particular, makes it worthy of frequent plays.

Then, they too, release an ep – Mr Doom & Gloom - to follow it, again comprising tunes that got away that were recorded at the original album sessions. The ep features songs that encapsulate the harder, more British R&B flavoured feel than the soulful vibe of the album. Catch My Breath, Mr Doom & Gloom, The Wild Walk and Taste all contain those hard-edged guitar riffs, strong, screaming, bluesy vocals add keyboard refrains that come in and out, augmenting the overall sound perfectly. There are the “aaah aaah” Mony Mony reminiscences of The Wild Walk - “we’ll do the jive and monkey too, the mash potato and the boogaloo, we’ve got a new dance and it goes like this”, the swampy guitar introduction and keyboards on Taste, along with hard, bluesy guitar on the introduction to Catch My Breath that wouldn't have been out of place at the Ricky Tick club (think The Yardbirds in Blow Up) or elsewhere around '65. All in all, a welcome addition to R&Beat.

Paul Orwell is reputedly working on a new project, intriguingly entitled Acid Goth. I’m looking forward to its release, to see what direction he’d going in next. But, if you can’t wait until then, or if you’re looking some full on garage rock tunes, this little package is perfect.  If you can find them, of course.  All brought to you, like so many great records of late, by Heavy Soul.

“Lord can you save my soul, Lord can you save my rock and roll”, he sings on Save My Soul on Smut. On this evidence that thing called rock and roll is saved.

Out Of Our Heads

Been digging through the Stones back catalogue. It's taken me back to this gem. Out Of Our Heads was released in 1965, at the heart of the first incarnation of the band, featuring founder member and multi instrumentalist Brian Jones (or Elmore Lewis if you'd prefer). The record mainly comprises their staple repertoire of the period, covers of soul, blues and r&b classics, by the likes of Sam Cooke, Sonny Bono and Don Covey, amongst many more, along with a handful of tunes by the burgeoning Jagger/Richards songwriting partnership.

What jumps out immediately is how hard it is. How in your face. How they've taken a tune and added their unmistakeable style and panache. The opener She Said Yeah is a full on call to arms, blasting out of the speakers and into the senses. The guitars are hard and the tempo is fast and Jagger sounds like a young punk starting out on his road to rock and roll domination, setting the template for generations to come. For all those rock and roll troubadours destined to bash guitars, basses and drums in garages and bedrooms across the planet.

The tunes that follow are of the same quality. Mercy Mercy has a tougher feel than other versions I've heard and the melody is so infectious you'll wake up with it buzzing around your head. The same goes for Hitch Hike, Sam Cooke's Good Times (a Mad Men outro if ever I heard one), Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going) and the rest. Then there's the Nanker Phelge (the pseudonym they used in the mid sixties for a band composition) tune The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man, a dig at the attempt to chaperone the Stones on an early tour of the States, and three Jagger/Richards tunes Gotta Get Away, Heart Of Stone and the finale, a prime example of an early Glimmer Twins classic.

I'm Free promotes the sentiment that defined the decade and, for free spirits everywhere, those that came afterwards as well. It was covered admirably by The Soup Dragons in the early nineties. But the original's still the greatest in my view.

A great set of tunes. Indicates where they came from, capturing them perfectly as they were in this early developmental stage of their career. Strongly recommended if you want to dig into the archives. Put the needle on the record and listen to the sound of 65.

Great social isolators of history - Stephen Tennant

So here were are, stuck in lockdown, and it’s a moment to reflect on the great social isolators of history. You have to give recluses credit. Maybe its what we should all do when the time has passed and we've partied and grooved our lives away. Perhaps, just then, its time to retire. Let the next generation take over.

Lets take one example of a party boy who did just that, who was at his peak around a hundred years ago and then, once the good times had started to fade, decided to leave the stage. You could see it as the application of pure modernist principles, if you wished to do so.

Stephen James Napier Tennant (1906 – 87) was described as “the brightest” of the group that became known as the “bright young things” in 1920s Britain. Other members of this group included Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh, Rex Whistler, the Mitford sisters, Noel Coward, Clive Bell, and Anthony Powell, amongst a cast of many more. They were what might be described as original party animals, throwing fancy dress parties and other bashes, carousing across night time London on wild treasure hunts, acting outrageously, indulging in substances that might be more linked in public perception with the swinging sixties than the decade in which they were most active, the one following world war one. With their hedonist excesses, along with the desire to dress up with abandon, they wouldn’t have been out of place in swinging London, or even at the Blitz or Studio 54 in the eighties.

The group was never far from literature. Nancy Mitford’s Love In A Cold Climate, Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time and Evelyn Waugh’s satirical Vile Bodies (later made into the film “Bright Young Things” by Stephen Fry in 2003) portrayed the scene. Stephen Tennant was regarded as the model for Cedric Hampton in Love In A Cold Climate, Miles Malpractice in Vile Bodies and was reputedly an influence for Sebastian Flyte in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. His later life is depicted as a landlord by V S Naipaul in The Enigma Of Arrival (he was Naipaul’s real life landlord). Tennant also had a celebrated relationship with war poet, Siegfried Sassoon and reputedly spent much of his life trying to start and finish a novel – Lascar: A Story You Must Forget.

They became the celebrities of the day, appearing regularly in magazines like The Tatler. They were, of course, ridiculously privileged. Tennant was the son of a Scottish peer and there were plenty of other connections to aristocracy; their lifestyle was not one open to the majority. As the roaring twenties slipped discourteously into the recession-blighted thirties, their antics were increasingly out of step with the mood of the times. In any case, time inevitably moves on. The party days couldn’t last forever.

So what happened next? The rest of the group went on to be Royal photographers, best-selling authors, art-critics of note. What did Stephen Tennant do? He returned to his ancestral manor at Wilsford cum Lake in Wiltshire and went to bed. It is rumoured that he spent the last seventeen years of his life there. Who knows if this is true or not. But, in a sense that doesn’t matter. It cements his reputation as a recluse and social isolator of note.

Stephen Tennant was an IT boy before the phrase was invented. He was an incorrigible louche, party boy, idler. He got himself talked about, to the extent that three, perhaps four, literary characters were based on him. Not bad for someone who spent the last seventeen years of his life in bed.

On The Road - The Original Scroll

I’ve recently been reading “On The Road - The Original Scroll”. For Kerouac afficionados, its publication of in 2007 was an moment off some importance. For the first time, it was possible to read the uncorrected manuscript, as Kerouac first wrote it, on a single scroll, in those three mad weeks over half a century ago.

When you first open the book, the first thing that hits you is that the manuscript is a single paragraph, with very little conventional punctuation. More importantly from the perspective of the history of the novel, the characters are there with their real names. So, instead of Dean Moriarty, we have Neal Cassidy, and rather than Carlo Marx, there is Allen Ginsberg.

There are also significant differences in the text. Contrary to legend surrounding the non-editing of spontaneous prose poetry, Kerouac clearly made changes (such as adding paragraphs) to ensure publication. As an example of textual alterations, compare the first lines. In the traditionally published version, this reads:

“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split up and my feeling that everything was dead”.

The original scroll, on the other hand, reads:

“I first met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had something to do with my father’s death and the awful feeling that everything was dead”.

I also love editor, Howard Cunnell’s, description, in the “Note On The Text“, of the opening line suggesting the “sound of a car misfiring before starting up for a long journey”.

I find “On The Road - The Original Scroll” to be fresher, more immediate and having a greater clarity than the traditional published version. As the New York Times put it (quoted in the blurb on the back cover) “the sparse and unassuming scroll is the living version for our time”. I cannot recommend it more highly. It is available in paperback at the usual places.

The French New Wave - an introduction

Gauloises cigarettes, stylish girls in cafes on the Champs Elysees, three friends running through the Louvre, or over a bridge. These are images that embody a genre of filmmaking that made a considerable impact half a century ago. Its influence continues to resonate today.

The roots of the French new wave - or nouvelle vague - can be found in Paris in the early fifties. A group of young film connoisseurs came together to work on the magazine Cahiers Du Cinema. At the heart of this group were figures such as Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Louis Malle.

The group developed their own philosophy of cinema, rejecting the conventional “cinema de qualite“, which they cited as old fashioned “cinema de papa“, and substituting a concentration on the modern. Costume drama was replaced with social realism and contemporary attitudes and settings. Of equal importance was the role of the director. They promoted the concept of the "auteur", where the director was the creator of the film, which bore his vision and trademark style.

The first new wave films were shorts. Truffaut’s Les Mistons (1957) and Rohmer’s The Girl At The Monceau Bakery (1963) are typical. Filmed in grainy black and white, these are the equivalent of cinematic short stories, with clearly defined characters, neatly devised plots and of course, stylised settings.

Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958) is often cited as the first full length nouvelle vague film. Starring Jean-Claude Brialy and Gerard Blain, it was influenced by Hitchcock and covers themes such as guilt and redemption. Shortly after this came Alan Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), starring Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada, which focuses on the lives of two lovers over a 36 hour period and is revolutionary for how it addresses the passage of time.

Then came Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959). Starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, its theme is the life of the eleven year old Antoine Doinel, which draws heavily from Truffaut’s own experiences in Paris. It won the Palme d‘Or at Cannes in 1959 and was the first of a sequence of films directed by Truffaut and starring Leaud, in which he played the character of Doinel, taking his story up to adulthood. Others in the series include Antoine And Colette (made for the 1962 anthology Love At Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968) Bed and Board (1970) and Love On The Run (1979).

Perhaps the film that is most identified with the nouvelle vague is Godard’s A Bout De Souffle (or Breathless). Starring Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, it follows a chancer and his on-off lover on the run from the police. The settings in Paris are exquisite, the Miles Davis theme is magnificent and the words “New York Herald Tribune” are unforgettable. Why? It is worth watching the film to find out.

There is not room here to chronicle every nouvelle vague film. But there are some that deserve special mention. Godard's output was spectacular. Bande A Part (1964) tells the story of three outsiders. It stars Godard’s wife Anna Karina, Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur. The race through the Louvre is a celebrated cinematic moment, as is The Madison Scene - a dance routine in a café. Masculin Feminine (1966) is a semi-documentary, starring Chantal Goya and Jean-Pierre Leaud and exploring the attitudes of what Godard called "the generation of Marx and Coca Cola“. It is interesting to reflect that this was made two years before the May 1968 uprising. Alphaville (1965), starring Eddie Constantine and Anna Karina, follows detective Lemmy Caution and his investigation in a distant space city. It was typical of the nouvelle vague that Godard used contemporary Paris for the setting rather than create a new city.

Truffaut’s Jules Et Jim (1962) may, at first sight, seem an unlikely nouvelle vague film, since its timeframe is not contemporary but the early part of the twentieth century. But the themes of the film tell another story. Truffaut was inspired to make it when he came across, by accident, a book written by Henri-Pierre Roche which recounts a menage a trois involving the author, writer Frank Hessel and his wife Helen Grund. Truffaut made a film of this relationship - with the main characters depicted as Jules (Oskar Werner), Jim (Henri Serre) and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) - with the approval of the book’s author. Its themes of free love and open relationships were ahead of their time. And it includes that scene on the bridge.

Other notable new wave films include Malle’s thriller Lift To The Scaffold (1958), starring Jeanne Moreau and with another memorable theme from Miles Davis, Rivette’s Paris Nous Apartment (1958), Alan Resnais’ dreamlike Last Year At Marienbad (1961) and Godard’s Made In The USA (1966). But there are so many great films I am bound to have missed many out.

Of crucial importance to the nouvelle vague was technique. These directors use hand held cameras, with impromptu locations on Paris streets. Jump cuts were used most notably in A Bout De Souffle, which one scene cutting instantly to another, which gave an instantaneous, dramatic effect. Tracking shots - long single takes - were introduced, perhaps the most well-known being in Godard‘s later work, Weekend (1967), which includes a seven minute take of a traffic jam.

Strictly speaking, the nouvelle vague lasted from 1958 to 1964. But many of the films made by these directors stem from after this period. Godard’s work with The Rolling Stones produced the excellent Sympathy For The Devil (1968) documentary. Pierrot Le Fou (1965) is considered one of his greatest works and, as described above, films such as Weekend and Masculin Feminin are from later.

Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series (which includes early shorts) and Comedies And Proverbs are particularly worthy of mention, tastefully analysing the internal workings of romantic relationships and attracting a devoted, cult fanbase. My personal favourites include My Night At Maud’s (1969), Pauline At The Beach (1983) and La Collectionuse (1967) (look out for a shot of the cover of The Stones’ Aftermath album in the latter). Claire’s Knee (1970) was widely admired and was described by American film critic Vincent Canby as “something close to a perfect film“.

The influence of the nouvelle vague was widespread, almost immediately. Early modernists would watch A Bout De Souffle with the aim of studying how to walk like Jean Paul Belmondo, or copying Jean Seberg’s haircut. Filmmakers have ever since been inspired by the concepts and techniques. For example, The Devil Probably (1977), a later film by new wave fellow traveller Robert Bresson, incorporates the themes of the movement. And the nouvelle vague directly influenced the German new wave of filmmakers such as Wim Wenders.

More recent examples of nouvelle vague influence can be found in Quentin Tarantino‘s dance scene with Uma Therman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, which is a direct interpretation of the scene in Bande A Part. Set in the student uprising of May 1968, Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Dreamers (2003) (with a screenplay by Gilbert Adair and starring Michael Pitt, Eva Green and Louis Garrel) is, in part, a tribute to the new wave, with a cameo appearance from Jean-Pierre Doinel and a recreation of the run through the Louvre in Bande A Part. Christophe Honore‘s Dans Paris (2006), also starring Garrel, references the new wave and Michael Haneke‘s masterpiece Hidden (2005) starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, makes use of long takes throughout the whole work.

Overall, the nouvelle vague is all around us, in style, attitude and filmmaking. The auteurs were creators of short stories, which they brought to life on film. There is no better way of getting to the heart of what the movement was all about than going back to the originals. For a start, why not get hold of a copy of A Bout De Souffle and spend an evening in the company Godard, Belmondo and Seberg. It will be an evening that you will not quickly forget.

Alan Fletcher

An interview from a few years back.  Worth reposting, I think.

Alan Fletcher was an original mod in the sixties in Nottingham. A decade later, he worked as story consultant on Quadrophenia. And then, in the nineties, he published three novels – “Brummell’s Last Riff”, “The Learning Curve” and “The Blue Millionaire” – collectively known as “The Mod Crop”, with the central theme of the sixties mod scene. In 2009, “Brummell’s Last Riff” will become a stage production at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. Rob put some questions to Alan – all about Nottingham in the sixties, his novels and the forthcoming stage show. Along with his views on punk, the Mod Revival and Britpop.

1. Many of us are fascinated by the sixties and in particular the Mod scene back then. The bulk of commentary has concentrated on London. Were there a significant number of Mods around in Nottingham like, say, in London. Or did you feel you were a small pocket of like minded individuals?

There was a thriving Mod scene in Nottingham and all over the county. I remember one Sunday night in the summer of 1965 when there were more than a hundred scooters parked on Stanford Street outside the Dungeon Club. In my early days of mod …in ’64 in Newark, there were only a handful of us and it was like being in some kind of exclusive club…pretty soon though a lot of the town’s youth got the message and the numbers began to swell.

2. What were the big venues in Nottingham in terms of bars and clubs?

There were no Bars as such…the culture and the social landscape of Nottingham (like every city or town then) was radically different in the 60s to what it is now …we used to frequent the pubs and some of the coffee bars and cafes. “The Royal Children” and “The Salutation” were popular in Nottingham…because they were close to “The Dungeon Club” as was “The Sawyers Arms” (where HMV stands now at the entrance to The Broadmarsh Centre) The “Kardomah” coffee shop on King Street was a good place to hang out… along with The “L” Shaped Room on Goldsmith Street (now part of the Nottingham Trent University campus) and “The Belvedere Club” off Fletcher Gate in The Lace market.

3. Which bands did you particularly like?

I got into most of the groups who were in the vanguard of the British Beat and Rhythm and Blues scene in the early to mid 60s… there was a healthy touring circuit you could see most of them live for five shillings or seven and sixpence…that’s around 25p to 35p in new money ! I used to like Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds…Them (with Van Morrison), Who, Small Faces, Rod Stewart in his many manifestations, Long John Baldry and The Hoochie Coochie Men….slightly more obscure were outfits like The Roulettes, who were Adam Faith’s backing group, later to form the nucleus of Argent and I saw a band at The Sherwood Rooms once called The Tea Time Four. …they were a really tight band from London I think…I only ever saw and heard of them the once…now that would be a good research project on Google….. Most of the stuff we we were listening to on records down the clubs ( early Tamla and Stax imports) was really good music to dance to …and that was the criteria really …you liked it if you could dance to it.

4. Over recent years, various outlets have emerged in the city selling classic Mod attire. How easy was it to obtain the Mod clothes in Nottingham in the 60’s?

There were no shops you could say were dedicated “Mod “ shops, that is where you could go into a shop and come out with a complete set of Mod clothes. The scene in the 60s was one where you had to be creative and inventive…you got your stuff from anywhere you could ….and you protected your sources ! It didn’t matter who or what the shop was; as long as it had what you wanted that was fine…you might go to D and P School outfitters, Army and Navy Shops, Sports shops …even Woolworths !! There were a couple of good shops in Nottingham, which had set themselves out to be “modern” and where you could buy good clothes…Jeffs Menswear on Alfreton Road at Canning Circus and The Birdcage” boutique on Bridlesmith Gate were patronised by the Mods..but so were C and A and Milletts.. The boys designed their own suits which could be made by the big chains like Burtons, Hepworths and John Colliers or maybe the bespoke tailors like Hannafords (opposite The Birdcage) There was a mens’ clothing shop on Pelham Street where they guy who owned it used to take a photo of every suit he made for the Mod youths… I can’t recall his name but he went on to work for Ben Sherman…now that photo collection would be some rare kind of window on the local scene in the 60s… …a lot of the girls made their own clothes, as Mod in essence was a very neat minimal style and quite easily “run up” on your mother’s Singer machine…..

5. Let me turn to Brummell’s Last Riff and the rest of the trilogy. There’s a scene that stands out in my mind. Where Rod “The Mod” Stewart is holding court outside The Salutation flanked by Vespas. I assume that was based on a real incident – was that type of incident a regular occurrence?

This was all before stadium rock. Most of the venues were quite “intimate”. The stage at the “Dungeon” was easily accessible from the dance floor and consisted of no more than a raised dais really…in fact when we saw the Small Faces there for the first time we could just about make out the machine head of Steve Marriott’s guitar from where we were standing about 10 feet away from the group. The rest of the band were obscured by the clamouring audience and dancers. Most of the members of the groups who played at the local clubs all used to drink in the pubs in the locality and they all mingled with the Mods…..this was what made that connection…that solid bond … this was all broken when the bands realised they could make more money playing football ground an the like. I recall being with The Nashville Teens one Saturday night in the Sawyers Arms during the break in their set….yes, it was fairly regular occurrence. The incident described in the book would have been typical of what happened regularly … I think most 60s Mods in Nottingham would have what could be loosely termed a “Rod Stewart” story. Many of the people who performed in those early days of their careers weren’t making a great deal of money and a lot, including Rod, would quite often have nowhere to stay after a gig and no spare cash for a hotel and would end up crashing on someone’s floor for the night.

6. When did you write Brummell’s Last Riff and the other books?

“Brummell’s Last Riff” made it into print on the August Bank Holiday of 1995. The Learning Curve” in 1996 and “The Blue Millionaire” in 1998. I’d had the stories of “Brummell” and “The Learning Curve” in my head for years though, before their eventual publication dates.

7. What led you to publish Brummell’s Last Riff in the nineties?

I’ve no idea really !!! It just seemed right the right time…I think there is in fact a right time for most literary or artistic projects…When I was writing “Brummell” for the page I had this feeling that there was something bubbling underneath it…but not something I could put my finger on I had no idea that there was still such an interests in the period or such a wealth of fanzines and magazines still keeping the faith.

8. Is Brummell’s Last Riff your favourite of the trilogy?

To be truthful I like them all. I suppose “Brummell”, being the first born of the Trilogy makes it kind of more special for me…..although I’m told that “The Blue Millionaire” is a better book than the other two, in terms of literary construction etc etc. “Brummell” is probably the most raw of the three……

9. All the novels in trilogy – starting with Brummell’s Last Riff – contain a central point – a particular Bank Holiday weekend in 1964. Is that an autobiographical description of that particular weekend?

All the books are “loosely” based on real life characters…me and a couple of my mates…one of whom I’m still in contact with…most the events portrayed in the books actually happened, although not necessarily to the characters in the book. The incidents may have been from the stories of people we knew at the time or people we knew of. The idea of having a common time frame in all of the books appealed to me. It is not a word for word portrayal of the Bank Holiday weekend of August ’65 but there is, in the “Skegness” sections of all three books a lot of “drama” based on actual incidents… I think in the books what I wanted to try and create was more of an ambience …an atmosphere of what it was like to be Mod out on the streets of England in the mid 60s. Kevin Godley of Godley and Cream read the books a few years back and he mentioned to me in a telephone conversation that reading the books gave him a yearning after that time of life….whether the books are successful commercially or artistically it’s that sort of comment which makes all the hammering on type writer keys worthwhile.. job done !

10. I understand that Brummell’s Last Riff is going to be on stage. Tell me a bit about it.

This really is the story coming full circle. “Brummell” started its life as a visual piece. Last year I went to see a musical at The Theatre Royal, Nottingham, written by Steve Wallis and Joshua Goodman, This was entitled “Make Do And Mend” and was based on Steve’s grandmother’s recollections and experiences in wartime Nottingham in the 1940s. I liked the show and emailed him the following day with the proposition of turning “Brummell” into a musical… the upshot of this is that the musical will premiere at The Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 2nd June 2009 where it will run for a week. The show is titled “Mod Crop – the musical” and will have a soundtrack of iconic songs from the 60s, sung live and also with a lot of underscoring from the actual records themselves. The songs are all well known and part of our collective psyche…not all are pure “Mod” tunes but all are classic 60s songs. We have already cast some of the leads….Mark Joseph is playing the part of Andy (me !) and we also have Dave Berry on board with a cameo performance of “The Crying Game”. Without wishing to sound conceited the story would work with or without the songs If we can get clearance on the ones we want then it really should be quite a spectacle. I have bought a 1965 Lambretta Li 150 series 3 scooter which was partly restored…the guys at Scooter Restorations in Nottingham are currently finishing the project off for me. This will be on stage, along with Dave Wyburn’s “Quadrophenia “ Vespa – VCB 160 (Sting’s machine). There is a web site for the show currently under construction, to be finished shortly –

11. Tell me about your role in Quadrophenia.

Well it all started with a film script I’d written in the mid 70s. This was called “Two Stroke Sonata” and was in fact the first incarnation of “Brummell”. I had tried to get it produced on TV, with some encouraging “reviews” but with no offer of production. I saw Townshend on television one night and he was saying they were getting into films so I sent the script down to him asking him if they were able to produce it. I put a PS on the letter saying I could write them a script for “Quadrophenia” if they were interested and that’s where it all started. To cut a long story short I was credited as a story consultant on the film and also wrote the Corgi novel which tied in with it.

12. Did you and the rest of those involved anticipate it would be such an iconic film?

No. I had no idea that it would become so huge. I thought the album was just so atmospheric. It had that feel about it and the photos in the booklet which accompanied the original album were so perfect a re-creation of “the look”. “Quadrophenia” seems to have slipped into the nation’s collective psyche. Everyone of a certain age seems to have a spot for it in their lives. I think it will remain a near perfect study of growing up and all the attendant adolescent pressures…from peers, from society. There is a web site in America, apparently, which regards “Quadrophenia” as akin to the Bible ! ..and this is despite all the chronological mistakes and continuity gaffs in the film. It was the class of ’79 made good, when you consider the careers of the actors involved with it.

13. What did you think of punk?

I thought it was just fantastic. Although I was a tad too old to be actually involved in the scene I followed it quite closely….there are so many analogies to be drawn between Mod and Punk. In essence Punk captured that same spirit of inventiveness that drove Mod forward in the 60s but with the attitude levels ratcheted up a lot more. The beautiful Punk priestess in a black bin liner was living a life parallel to the cool Mod diva dancing in a long leather coat. I thought it was a real breath of fresh air after the excesses of Glam Rock in the early 70s…in much the same way as the new British “R and B” and beat groups blew away the sanitised pop of the late 50s and early 60s. I was able to pitch in my two penn’worth about Punk in “The Learning Curve” – the second book in the trilogy. In fact I have been criticised for not putting enough about the new wave of Mod in the “Curve” ……

14. As an original sixties Mod, the 1979 Mod Revival, stemming from both punk and Quadrophenia, must have an interesting development. What was your take on it?

I overheard a conversation in a pub shortly after “Quadrophenia” came out in which this guy was saying that the Mod revival movement was engineered by all the Army and Navy type stores to sell more fishtail parkas!! I don’t subscribe to that view !!! The Jam, when they first came out, were almost note for note Who but they evolved and made it happen for a new generation faith keepers. I know many people of my generation can get so “sniffy” about the new wave of Mod…. but it’s all a matter of what gets you through your life. Some of the pseud journalists who have written so vitriolically about bands like Secret Affair and the rest of the tribe have probably never experienced their breast bones being vibrated by the notes in a buzzing bass guitar riff. When it came around again it was…had to be…. different from the experience in the 60s…times had changed social attitudes had altered. The landscape was different. At the end of the day it was a group of young musicians telling the story of their generation’s life…..this is a time honoured tradition from the medieval troubadours through to Cold Play.

15. For many who weren’t there in the sixties, the Britpop phenomenon appeared to contain definite Mod elements. Would you agree?

Yes undoubtedly. Again it was a peculiarly British thing …a mirror to the working class credentials of Mod in the 60s. The Blur / Oasis axis springs to mind. The Britpop scene was again reflecting the times…you keep coming back to Peter Meaden’s epithet…”trying to live cleanly under difficult circumstances.” Oasis, and their association with Weller, were probably the most closely allied with the spirit of Mod in whatever decade….although the notion of the Gallaghers as Mod fashion icons is not something I’m too comfortable with… I like their music though.

16. The Mod influence appears to have continued to this day. Bands like The Small Fakers, The Carnaby’s from Leicester, and Nottingham’s own Censored – to name but three – are flying the flag. Are there any current bands you would mention?

Now this is where I do sound like a really boring old fart and so out of touch with the culture of youth as it is these days……I don’t have much knowledge of current Mod bands… I have performed on stage with Paul Hooper- Keeley’s “Threads” a few times , including a gig at The Small Faces Convention at The Ruskin Arms in Manor Park and I’ve appeared on the same “bill” as Mark Joseph…..apart from that you could write all I know about the current Mod music scene on my bus pass…… but who knows….. all that could change in the not too distant future?

17. What does the future hold – are you planning more writing?

The show is taking up quite a bit of time at the moment…the script is completed and the couple of “read throughs” so far have confirmed its on the pulse of the period….although when you start rehearsing then you really start writing !! There will be a couple of exhibitions to tie in with the Musical next year…one at Newark Millgate Folk Museum and the other in the foyer of Nottingham Central Library on Angel Row. The Newark exhibition will have more space so we are aiming to make this a rather quirky and eclectic showing of Mod…not just throwing in a couple of scooters and mannequins decked out in Mod gear….. and it won’t just be 60s Mod. I have enough material to make the Trilogy in a quartet …and the time is right to look back on the ‘90s – which is the period in which the main part of the fourth book would be set (again flashing back to August 1965). There are a couple of other things in my head. One of them is a “time slip” story set in Italy and revolving around Mod. However whether any of these ideas will materialise is in the lap of the Gods……..

Ian McLagan

From the archive:

It isn't always easy to remember when a musician first found his way into your consciousness.  With Ian McLagan, I can pinpoint almost the exact moment.  It was approaching 8 o'clock on Thursday 7 October 1971.  The first single I bought, Rod Stewart's timeless classic Maggie May, was enjoying the first of a five week stint at number one and I was enthralled by the shambolic scene of The Faces loafing around the Top Of The Pops stage.  Among the troubadours, was the organ player, with a perfect black barnet, sitting quite still, occasionally mouthing the lyrics.  He was undoubtedly the coolest of the lot, the kid in the playground who everyone wanted to emulate, playing the keyboards in his own peerless manner, adding the glue to the various elements of the tune.  Years later, I would marvel at the keys on that song.  They are the bit that you don't notice at first, yet are crucial to how the whole song fits together.

And so it was elsewhere.  If you love your music, you will dig a bit further and keep on digging.  So I soon found out that three of The Faces had been in another band, The Small Faces, that Mac (as he was known) had joined them around 1965.  He had been a key element of the gang that had lived for a period at 22 Westmoreland Terrace, Pimlico and produced some of the most memorable tunes of the sixties. Before that, he had been a member of The Muleskinners and The Boz People (with future Bad Company member Boz Burrell).

You don't have to listen to too many records to gain an understanding of Mac's influence.  From the music hall flavour of Lazy Sunday, to the soulful vibe of The Faces' Glad And Sorry, and the wistful brilliance of Debris, his playing is integral.  His contribution to other bands' work, particularly The Rolling Stones, is also significant, for example the electric piano on Miss You from Some Girls.

But Mac's influence surpasses that of a musician.  As soon as the news of his passing emerged, Facebook and Twitter were full of tributes to the man.  Many people had a story to tell about meeting him, of how he took time to talk, of his generosity and warmth.  He was no aloof rock star but someone who loved people, took his fans for who they were and spoke to them on the same level.

I met him a few years ago after a gig by his band, The Bump Band, at The Maze in Nottingham.  I spoke to him after the gig, he signed an autograph, and answered my questions about his music and the bands he had played with.  One question had been at the back of my mind for years.  Its the sort of trainspotterish question that only the true fan has any interest in.  It related to the line in Debris when Ronnie Lane sings about "that old familiar love song", which he would hear "at the top of the stairs".  Which song was he talking about?, I had wondered.  Was it a specific one?  Early Tamla Motown?  Or Stax?  Or, probably (given its author's age) something much earlier?

I asked Mac this question, half expecting him to laugh.  He didn't.  He spoke, matter-of-fact, like it was the most obvious question in the world.  "He never knew", he said.  "He'd sit there and his Dad would come in, whistling this tune.  He never knew what it was.  But it stuck with him all his life".

What a star, I thought that night.  Here is a man who has played with the vast majority of the true greats and he's answering questions from a punter he's never met before, talking as if you've known each other for years.  And, judging from the comments on Facebook, I wasn't the only one.

A brilliant account of his life and times is contained in his autobiography All The Rage, which comes strongly recommended.  And then listen to the musical legacy - the instrumental Grow Your Own ("people ask why I never play it, he said that night at The Maze - it was a jam!"), the title track on Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, the introduction to Love Lived Here, the peerless beauty of All Or Nothing and The Autumn Stone, the playful mood of  You're So Rude.

Mac was a musical presence whose loss has genuinely made the world an emptier place.  It would be nice to think that he's up there somewhere, right now, jamming with Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. That's a thought to conjure with.

Ian Patrick McLagan, Born Hounslow 12 May 1945 - died Austin, Texas 3 December 2014, RIP.

Quadrophenia Documentary

Iconic is an over-used word. It should be reserved for only the most culturally significant. Bobby Moore holding the World Cup, Andy Warhol's picture of Marilyn Monroe, The Sex Pistols at the 100 club. You can add to that list The Who's 1973 Quadrophenia double album.

I got my copy more Christmases ago than I dare remember and I still have it, battered, after years of use. It would not be overstating the case to say that it is one of the key albums of my life - and that it still sounds as good today as it did back then, in fact, if anything it has grown in stature and resonance over the years. Its existential portrayal of a sixties mod, fuelled by adrenalin and purple hearts, confused by the world around him, has a universal potency that each new generation can lock into. A little like On The Road, or The Catcher In The Rye, or Absolute Beginners.

I recently caught a screening of a documentary that originally aired some years ago on BBC4. Another viewing is well worth it. The documentary takes you through the album - its conception, creation, execution - through the eyes of its auteur, Pete Townshend. There are contributions from, amongst others, the man whose vocals never sounded better than on this record, Roger Daltrey, Who aficionado, Mark Kermode, Ace Face and legendary Who fan, Irish Jack Lyons, Townshend's former flatmate and author of the book "Mods", Richard Barnes, and manager Bill Curbishley. The input from recording engineer Ron Nevison, writer Howie Edelson and photographer Ethan Russell (who took those timeless pictures that accompanied the album) was particularly illuminating. And the inclusion of Maxine Isenman and Julie Emson - the mod girls who appeared in those photographs - was inspired.

Sadly, Terry Kennett - the "mod kid played by Chad" - could not be represented in person, as he passed away in 2011. His presence in those photographs was central. But there was a significant degree of commentary on his behalf, in particular from Isenman, Emson and Russell. The documentary told us how he was discovered by Townshend, a little bit of his background and how he was almost forced to be elsewhere during the shooting. He "stole a bus", as Russell explained, along with a description of how his commitments with The Who led to him being let off at his subsequent court appearance.

Among the points of interest were the fact that the first piece created for the Quadrophenia project was the short story that appeared on the cover of the album, which Townshend wrote one afternoon at his home by the river. I always thought that short story augmented the double album perfectly and set the scene neatly for the music that was to follow. It was interesting to hear about the personal interaction within the band, as well as the isolated vocals and instrumental parts, a good example of which is the riff of 5.15 in its naked form, with the horns (that were such an important part of the overall feel of the album) stripped away. And the conversation about the mod scene involving Lyons, Barnes and Townshend was invaluable, as was Lyons' visit to the legendary Goldhawk, where the band played many of their early shows.

Then there was the tomfoolery of a certain Mr Moon, along with a priceless anecdote about the invoicing arrangements for his Rolls Royce. "What was Keith Moon like in 1973?", asked Daltrey. "A little bit more drunk than in 1972". He added that Moon was "at the top of his game" in 1973/4. Few Who fans would argue with that.

Overall, the documentary is well worth watching for both Who devotees like me and anyone who has an interest in the album.

"Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents....".

Keep The Aspidistra Flying


Re-read George Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying recently. Orwell may be best known for 1984 and Animal Farm but he wrote a huge amount of other fiction and non-fiction which has a resonance today. Sandwiched between A Clergyman's Daughter and The Road To Wigan Pier, Keep The Aspidistra Flying from 1936 addresses that age old dilemma for the creative free spirit - do you sell out and work for "the man", or keep your dreams alive and live in penury?

The novel's main character (hero or anti-hero?) "aged twenty-nine and rather moth-eaten already" Gordon Comstock is a poet who has had one slim volume "Mice" published, to decent reviews, and is living in his garrett (Orwell describes the squalor in some detail) "working" on his next project, the sprawling, unrealised London Pleasures.

More importantly, Gordon is at war with "the money god". He has come to the conclusion that everything in society comes down to money. You can't function without it and it has a power over you which goes beyond its mere worth. Orwell effectively describes the benefits, social and practical, that come from money. "Money and charm; who shall separate them?".

Gordon eschews the whole materialist, money-orientated world of western civilization. Perhaps in sixties London, he might have met up with some like minded spirits, hung out with the beautiful people in Ladbroke Grove or crossed the Atlantic and sold London Pleasures for a room at the Chelsea hotel. He would also have had a welfare state to fall back on. But the nineteen thirties were not like that. He was on his own, his alternative to be one of the army of "clerks scurrying underground like ants into a hole...newspaper in left hand, and the fear of the sack like a maggot in his heart." And later "Did THEY know that they were only puppets dancing when money pulled the strings?".

He has given up a "good job" at advertising agency the New Albion, and despises the crude advertisements he sees on billboards. His loyal yet despairing girlfriend Rosemary doesn't understand his motives. His friend Ravelston, a wealthy dabbler in aesthetic and socialist issues, publisher of "alternative" magazine The Antichrist (in the sixties it might have been Oz or IT and he would now be described as a champagne socialist) helps him where he can. But nothing can lift him out of his squalid life except money and the power it brings.

And he rejects money. The very notion of it.

Some of Keep The Aspidistra Flying has dated over the decades. But there is much that resonates with the contemporary world. There are the clerks in fear of the sack, people underselling themselves and the all pervading temptation of money as glamour. And the night in the watering holes of central London, going from pub to pub, could almost have been written today. Orwell was certainly an aficionado of the English public house (see his essay The Moon Under Water) and he conveys the bonhomie of pub culture admirably.

There are also hints of ideas that, for Orwell, would develop into something bigger. The advertisements on city walls that influence opinion, the power of the corporate organisation over the individual, who can easily be crushed by the might of the corporation, the downtrodden masses in the city's outer limits (echoes of the proles in 1984?). Gordon Comstock and Winston Smith inhabit the same section of society; the salariat lower middle class, and each are as vulnerable as each other, in their own way. (Gordon does, of course, reject the notion of a salary. But the crucial point is that it is his choice. A return to his natural place in the social order is for him to choose, should he ever decide to do so).

Fast forward almost a century. There are millennials taking jobs for which they are overqualified, unable to find deposits for mortgages. Office workers in fear of takeovers and redundancy. Billboards offering the temptation of the latest fad. And the pile of papers that formed the manuscript London Pleasures put me in mind of Benjamin Trotter's life's work in Jonathan Coe's latest novel Middle England.

"There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows." You could substitute various phrases today. "Sky boxes underneath televisions", "talent shows on TV screens", "digital downloads for instant purchase". Pick your own.

And read Keep The Aspidistra Flying to see which choice he takes.