Monday, July 30, 2018

Saturday Buddha currently on sabbatical...

The Saturday Buddha blog is on a wee sabbatical at present - in the meantime all previously published Irish historical and cultural content from Louis MacNiece and Stewart Parker through to George Best and Horslips can now be found over at Saturday Buddha will return in 2019.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Catweazle - The Future Holds The Most Terrible Adventure of All

Catweazle, Geoffrey Bayldon, Childrens Television, Seventies Television, British Television

When growing up in Seventies Belfast some of the children's comics I remember reading regularly down at my grannys on Saturday included The Beano, Knockout, Krazy and Whizzer and Chips. In one of these there used to be a strip called Toad-in-the-Hole. It was basically about an English village that time forgot. So your average chirpy whistling milkman venturing into it - circa 1975 and looking for bored housewives out of the corner of his roving eye - would be faced with loads of people in English Civil War-period garb and idiots dressed like Captain Hook or Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder General spouting Olde English riddles. In hindsight the idea was probably lifted totally from Catweazle. The name in turn being a cheeky wordplay on Cotswolds villages such as Stow-on-the-Wold or Moreton-in-Marsh.

I was watching some retro British television over the past few weeks and LWT's Catweazle starring Geoffrey Bayldon has certainly stood the test of time with a vengeance - let alone in comparison to some particularly leaden and lazy ITC Entertainment content I ploughed through. Richard Carpenter's story is basically about an English wizard who escapes marauding Norman soldiers by time-travelling through to modern Britain with his toad familiar Touchstone and where - in the course of his crazy adventures - he finds the technology around him to be clear manifestations of paranormal hokuspokus subterfuge afoot.

There were two 13-part series made and broadcast in 1970 and 1971  - these were filmed in Surrey and Hertfordshire respectively and had separate storylines. The first series was set at Hexwood Farm and the second at Lord and Lady Collingford's country mansion King's Farthing - a provisional third series would have returned to the first location. There is a fair amount of commentary on the series available including two wonderful overviews Under the Wizard's Spell and A Magical Spell in the Countryside by Alan Hayes and Paul Pert.

In certain respects the figure of Catweazle shirking in terror from "electrickery" is a bit of a precursor to the modern Everyman - banjaxed and bewildered by both the scale and speed of technological change and the clear fact that every socio-economic dynamic in our maxed-out society is irrevocably geared towards rank bedlam in the very near future. Like for so many of us as well, the melancholy subtext to the programme is that the Anglo-Saxon Catweazle - minding his own business with mediaeval chemistry in his wee man-cave before becoming accidentally sucked into a cosmic vortex - feels he belongs nowhere and just wants to go home. Both storylines end on bittersweet dramatic notes.

Personally I see the show as the clear British qualitative equivalent to The Banana Splits and HR Pufnstuf as utterly perfect children's television. There is wonderful casting - Jon Pertwee turned down the lead role just as Bayldon passed over the part of the first Doctor Who - and the script is tight, pacy and genuinely funny. The animated credits and theme tune remain literally bewitching to this day and every single publicity still I have ever seen of the Catweazle character himself is pure iconographic perfection.

I am not sure if there were any toy or game merchandise produced beyond what appears to be a hand-held finger-manipulated "bendy doll" Catweazle head but Puffin Books published novels by Richard Carpenter for both series - an eponymous title and Catweazle and the Magic Zodiac - and there were three Christmas annuals released by World Distributors Limited. There was also a black and white strip based on the show in both the Look-In and TV Comic magazines of the period. I have seen images on the internet of some long-playing German vinyl records with Bayldon on the cover which I suspect may be a reading of the novels with musical accompaniment. A set of Catweazle magic cards providing trick instructions was also given away with one breakfast cereal in the UK.

The late British professional wrestler Gary Cooper from Hexthorpe near Doncaster based his entire comedic fighting persona on the Catweazle character following ribald crowd catcalls to that end. He replicated the fictional character down to unkempt facial hair styling and entering the ring in a brown sackcloth with a plastic frog.  Luke Haines of The Auteurs included a song about him I Am Catweazle on his 2011 concept album 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early 80s.

In very old British vernacular "Catweazle" would be used to reflect upon a lack of male sartorial elegance blended with generic or even slightly malign oddness. In fact in some respects there is a definite folk horror tinge to the series alike quite a few children's programmes of that strangest of decades such as Lizzy Dripping, Worzel Gummidge and even Ken Dodd's sinister-looking Diddymen (whose Knotty Ash gang incorporated an aggressive Irish member Mick the Marmalizer alongside his English better Nigel Ponsonby-Smallpiece).

The programme retains a very healthy public cult appeal to this day though on a sadder note in respect of the first series all four of the main male actors have now passed away - the crazy wizard and his boy protector alongside the father and the farmhand. However no finer compliment can be passed on Catweazle than that it remains a lovely warm dimension of time and place to even briefly revisit  - both in itself as a creative narrative and as a memory of simpler and more contented days in Britain.

The first episode - The Sun in a Bottle - transmitted on the ITV network at 5.30pm on Sunday 15th February 1970. I was just over four years old then and Northern Ireland would have recently entered a year of complex political flux where - devolving to the world of real history - the outplay of rolling hatred and horror lieing ahead were not as yet foregone. Three nights after the first transmission a loyalist bomb destroyed a 240-foot high radio mast across the Irish border at Mongary Hill, Raphoe, County Donegal which had increased the reach of RTE television coverage into Northern Ireland.

As we finally leave the deadness of winter and head towards Beltane and the greening of our island home be sure to revisit the world of Catweazle and those fleeting days he walked amongst us - ritual, magick, spells, merriment and wonder - as soon as you possibly can.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Stairway to the Stars - Amazing Tales of Glam Rock

Slade, Glam Rock History, Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds' Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and it's Legacy which was published in 2018 is an excellent narrative companion to Dave Thompson's Children of the Revolution which was a month-by-month breakdown of all relevant record releases of the period - still essential and retrospectively throwaway alike.

Reynolds' work is an incredibly intelligent, witty and well-written deconstruction of the Glam phenomena as played out on both sides of the Atlantic - that comparatively brief half-decade-long crafting of pie-eyed lovestruck Fifties nostalgia onto hyper-commercial Seventies musical soundcraft. Intriguing to read how this transcendental marriage played out across the board and beyond the more obvious linkages to be heard on the records of Roy Wood's Wizzard, Mud or the poppier Rubettes for example. The author also traces the afterglow of Glam which of course can be found in the music and stylistics of Hanoi Rocks, Manic Street Preachers, The Darkness and many others.

I was way too young to have caught the Glam tide at its peak though am extremely proud to recall that the first record I ever bought back in an especially glitter-free downtown Seventies Belfast was the faux-Roxy of Sailor and their classy girl-magnetising Glass of Champagne single in 1976. Finally got to see David Bowie at Slane Castle in County Meath in 1987 and over the Eighties and Nineties in London I also caught the Hunter Ronson Band, Steve Harley and a certain gang show at the Hammersmith Palais. During my time in the capital I lived for a few years very near the site of Marc Bolan's fatal car accident on Queen's Ride in Barnes in South West London and for a longer period resided close to North London's Waterlow Park which was the subject of a well-regarded 1971 Mott the Hoople album track.

The take-off of Glam rock I assume can be fundamentally sourced to the T Rex singles Ride A White Swan and Hot Love in 1970 and 1971 though it's hard to pin down an end point beyond the obvious historical qualifications that David Bowie, Roxy Music and Sparks' careers cantered on way beyond the end of the decade. 1975 was clearly the year that the run of great Glam singles came to closure - these would include The Sweet's Fox on the Run, David Essex's Stardust,  T Rex's New York City, Cockney Rebel's Come Up and See Me and Sparks Something for the Girl With Everything. However even though I always have loved the former's gloriously macho bluster on Stairway to the Stars from 1977 - alongside Maid in Heaven by Be Bop Deluxe and late T Rex's Funky London Childhood - I personally like to ground the final hurrah of the genre within the revival of Slade's fortunes following upon their 1980 appearance at the Reading Festival.

The Black Country group were added to the bill at the last minute to replace Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz on the August 24th lineup. Guitarist Dave Hill was uncertain about reconvening the group for the concert in light of a radical decline in their commercial fortunes of late but was encouraged by manager Chas Chandler to see it as a significant public farewell for their career at the very least. The reaction from the 65,000 crowd to their 13-song set - as discussed in joyful detail on the Official Slade in England site - was unexpected and completely uproarious. Youtube commentary upon the event notes:

Probably the greatest and most underrated performance ever. 

I was there,everyone went mad,they worked hard got the crowd behind them and made up for all the dodgy stuff and showed what they could really do,crowd would not let them go,one of the most unexpected triumphs I have ever seen. 

I think they really shut everybody up by being so IN YOUR FACE that day. I had been a fan since puberty almost and feared for them when I heard the day before they had replaced OZZY of all people but they came on Nod just leering at the knockers who were throwing beer cans etc at the stage and they started rather weakly but song by song they grew in popularity and volume that by the time they left that stage even old whistle test whispering Bob was leaping around whooping. Slade were on fire!
I was there,bloody brilliant , as previously stated they took Reading by the balls and shook it . 

they were totally awesome at Reading.....remember Def Leppard came on after them and people were still shouting for Slade. 

I remember, I was there. 19 years old at the time and grew up with the band. One of the best and overwhelming sets of theirs I'd ever experienced. The atmosphere was indescribable.

so true, they blew everyone away, but that never surprised me,,,,it just reinforced my belief in the fact that slade were as good as any live rock band bar none,,even years after their explosive introduction to our youthfull ears,legends,

Slade's musical output continued on throughout the Eighties with significant success - My Oh My was a number 2 British hit in 1983 while the following year the Celtic-tinged Run Run Away would reach numbers 7 and 20 in the UK and American charts. Their last hit was the wonderful metal chant of  Radio Wall of Sound of 1991 which affectionately namechecked Bolan's Telegram Sam and reached number 21 in the United Kingdom.

Returning to Reading and there is one song I particularly adore from their legendary performance that day - in my personal opinion the last Glam classic of all. Alongside the run through of Seventies yobbo hits - Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Get Down and Get With It and Cum On Feel the Noize - sits the effortlessly magnificent When I'm Dancin' I Ain't Fightin'. Sunderland punk band The Wall brilliantly covered this in 1982. The Slade original would appear on a live EP culled from the Reading gig and also on the 1981 album We'll Bring the House Down alongside two lifted singles - Wheels Ain't Coming Down and the title track.

When I'm Dancin' I Ain't Fightin' by Noddy Holder and Jim Lea is a criminally overlooked yet truly classic slice of driving British hard rock. The title alone is reflective of how the dynamics and iconography of the gender-bending Glam wave diffused through to the more ultra recesses of youth culture in the scary uncontrollable Seventies - from English football hooligan hordes to Ulster's Tartan gangs.  The lyrics may not attune easily into the political sensitivity of the modern day but pay direct tribute nonetheless -  in the most proletarian hard man fashion imaginable - to live-and-let-live sexual inclusivity:

Let me tell you bout' the ins and outs of love
Let me tell you bout' a bit of push and shove
Let me tell you when the holy terror strikes

He's a ladykiller doin' what he likes
Doesn't matter if you're naturally one way
Doesn't matter if you're actually, well gay
There's nothing like it when sensations coincide

Hidden mysteries that lies can never hide

During the Seventies Slade had an extraordinary 17 consecutive Top Twenty singles in Britain including six Number Ones. By virtue of their singles sales alone they were probably the most successful British group of the decade. Their influence was recognised by many major artists across the world from The Ramones to The Sex Pistols to Kiss - at one point Holder was considered as Bon Scott's replacement in AC/DC. On a personal level my connectivity with the group goes way way back to 1973 and my sister's Arcade 20 Fantastic Hits by the Original Artists (As Advertised On TV) compilation which incorporated their first hit Cuz I Love You alongside Edison Lighthouse's Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, The Piglet's Johhny Reggae, Melanie's Brand New Key et al.

To this day I sincerely hold that the 1972 clip of Slade peforming Take Me Back 'Ome with their female shadow dancers on London Weekend Television's 2Gs and the Pop People is one of the most joyous moments in television history - I always half expect to see Witchiepoo stomping in the background with Jack Wild. In turn, and although it received a mixed critical reaction at the time, Slade's 1975 venture into cinema Flame is very highly regarded today by serious film aficionados as a core slab of gritty British noir. Indeed the group continues to be frequently referenced within many popular British modern social histories of the Dominic Sandbrook/Alwyn Turner ilk. 

Slade's 1977 studio album Whatever Happened to Slade followed upon a career sojourn by the band in North America and was named after some London graffiti that had been spotted during this period. In similar fashion the Reynolds volume notes how Slade are in essence rarely talked about or recalled  much today compared to many of their peers - this beyond their obligatory inclusion in generic television documentaries of British pop history and despite the genuine authenticity of their hard rock profile as displayed on album track, b-side and compiled BBC studio sessions of 2009.  (Full previews of all fourteen Ambrose Slade/Slade albums by the way can be found on Ashley Smith's youtube video uploads).

Last week while perusing Spotify I noticed that barely a handful of Slade's songs were available for listening to and no albums whatsoever - this even compared to The Sweet or Mott and let alone the enormous Bowie and Bolan digital footprints. A melancholy reflection on the distance between the warm grounded memories of our shared folk past and the unanchored drift of the British now. Or to quote the world-weary, common sense and earthy wisdom of one magnificent Slade b-side no less - OK Yesterday Was Yesterday.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Time When Time Didn't Matter - Remembering The Likely Lads

The Likely Lads, Rodney Bewes, James Bolam, BBC Seventies Comedy

                                                       Oh what happened to you?
                                                       Whatever happened to me?
                                                       What became of the people we used to be?
                                                       Tomorrow's almost over - today went by so fast.
                                                       It's the only thing to look forward to - the past.
In these very trying times the attraction of literally disappearing into a retrospective
counter-millennial Sixties and Seventies Anglo-American socio-cultural safe space has such a fundamental and logical appeal. However a permanent return to the world of hard rock albums, Vesta prawn curry and and beef risotto, Sven Hassel and Ed McBain pulp, dimpled pint glasses, Hai Karate aftershave, Walls' Count Dracula ice lollies, Triumph Stags, Rancheros, Commando comics, Afghan Hounds and Fiesta Summer Specials may well be a celestial joy reserved for the other side of this life. Let's frigging hope and pray so.
An earlier blog has went into considerable detail about the utterly wonderful football culture of that period - days of real renegade talent where goalkeeper John Osborne of West Bromwich Albion was once pictured smoking a fag during a match itself while Georgie Best played one game intoxicated in Scotland.

Yet another blog post touched upon the female British  and Irish solo singers of the Sixties and Seventies and how well their material has dated. Actually to go completely off-message it is a moot point to say that some of our national artistes of that period were as beautiful and talented as any performing across the world at that point. I think off the top of my head here of Anita Harris, Linda Thorson, Suzy Kendall, Petula Clark, Caroline Munro, Susan George, Sandie Shaw and the Geeson sisters. Even in the world of situation comedy both Nerys Hughes and Paula Wilcox were stunningly attractive women.

This week has seen the passing of  two major stars from the Seventies in David Cassidy and Rodney Bewes. I know little of Cassidy's music though am aware of where he sat in the narrative of teen pop stardom and the world of  revolutionary Jackie magazine mass marketing. As for Bewes, I am too young to remember the Sixties BBC black and white episodes of The Likely Lads but of course clearly recall watching the colour Seventies sequel as a kid.

I was reminded too this week in the obituaries for Bewes that he was of course the first human assistant to Basil Brush who tweeted his own sad farewell to Mr Rodney this week. Once again I am not old enough to really place the two together as opposed to clearly remembering Derek Foulds and Roy North as the now 54-year old gentleman fox's fall guys. What I will never forget in turn however is Mr Roy's own ITV Granada pop programme in the late Seventies and its extraordinarily grating theme tune - Get It Together.

The two series of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads (1973-74) were set in North East England and guaged around the tensions between Terry Collier's instinctual working class drives and his friend Bob Ferris' middle class aspirations.  Since the time of the three original 1964-66 series Bob had moved into white collar office work while Terry was readjusting to life after Army service - in fact he may even have been one of the brave squaddies on the streets of the Belfast I grew up in. Both characters however relate to the social changes they see around them in a changing Britain and their own lost youth. A feature film was released in 1976.

The music that was played over the opening and end credits of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads seems to this day to still resonate hugely with thousands of people all over the country. The song was written by Mike Hugg of the Manfred Mann group and series writer Ian Le Frenais. Performed by Hugg's session band under the name Highly Likely - and sung by Tony Rivers - it reached number 35 on the British music charts in 1973 and spent a total of four weeks in the Top Fifty.

Even though the chorus of the track effectively underscores the sadness that any disconnectivity with the past brings it is interesting that both the verses too strike very similar chords. These of loss, longing and a surety that fundamental life security lies a long way from the present day's travails and rank awfulness:

                                There was a time when time didn't matter - only the time of day.
                                And living was living in hope which would never pass away.
                                Well it was a Monday morning when weekend was done -
                                fear was the fear of being what we had become.

                                You say I'm a fool in a fools paradise - let my life slip away.
                                Waiting with my head in the clouds - lookin for a sunny day.
                                Never go back you tell me - it's the worst thing you can do.
                                But I must go there till I find out where it is I'm going to.

A brief survey of public commentary left on Youtube uploads of the track from BBC Records (b-side God Bless Everyone by Hugg and Bewes) brings up the following incisive observations in turn:

"Most evocative tv theme of the seventies..."

"Always bittersweet as the opening titles are the Newcastle I remember aged about 9 or 10 when the old city was being cleared and all the soulless concrete going in. Plus look at all the fishing boats then! What a difference now."

"Beer, loneliness and drugs brought me here..."

"Now I'm a forty-something I've become "stuck in the mud" Terry not yet Victor Meldrew! I really quite disliked Terry's character because he was deliberately trying to hold Bob back. In my 20's & 30's I considered myself as "progressive" fellow but you hit an age then deep down the emotions kick-in & realise this old soul hankers for the old days. Perhaps cherishing the past is what maturity is about....& they say it is better to not look back, but I don't see an improvement with present."

"It's basically Let it Be, but it's brilliant...."

"... with a smidge of "Mighty Quinn" thron in for good measure."

"Guaranteed to make the hairs rise on the back of the neck for any Geordie over 50 - this was our time. Expats all over the world, look back with pride, but don't come back, you'll just trash your memories. There's no smoke any more over Geordieland, but there ain't no soul either."

" I didn't understand the series or the song's lyrics when I first saw it as a teenager in the 70's. Now I do. I know lots of Bobs, but I have to admit I am definitely Terry."

"I've always loved the intro and outro song of this series. The strings make the song sound so tragic. Like recalling a time in which one can never return. Longing to be back there but knowing you can never return. It makes your heart race but then tears it down...."

There is truly little more to elaborate upon here about what would appear in  hindsight to be a much more important piece of art than the creators could ever have imagined it to be at the time. This as tieing in 44 years later with what British people think today of the state of the nation, the reward for our labours, the sum of our lives' worth and the likelihood of a better tomorrow - both individually and collectively.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Starburst 76 - Lynyrd Skynyrd at Knebworth

Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, Knebworth Festival, 1976

Been recently reading some very well-researched and humorous overviews of solo Beatles material on the Holy Bee of Epheus blog. The rollercoaster quality ranging from I Found Out to The Luck of the Irish, Junior's Farm to Wonderful Christmastime, I'd Have You Anytime to Ding Dong and It Don't Come Easy to No No Song. The same author has also recently put together some sound reviews of the post-Exile on Main Street period of the The Rolling Stones' career which covered the three often overlooked mid-Seventies albums Goat's Head Soup, It's Only Rock n Roll and Black and Blue.

Some months after the latter release the Stones appeared at the 21st August 1976 Knebworth Fair in Hertfordshire in England. This was the third major concert to be held on the grounds of Knebworth House - in July 1974 the Bucolic Frolic drew a 60,000 crowd to see a line-up headed by The Allman Brothers Band while the following July 100,000 attended the Knebworth Festival to watch Pink Floyd and others.

In 1976 five acts supported The Rolling Stones who appeared very late in the evening and would not finish their set until 2am - these were Todd Rundgren,  Jefferson Airplane offshoot Hot Tuna, 10CC, The Don Harrison Band whose rhythm section were Creedance Clearwater Revival's Stu Cook and Doug Clifford and of course Lynyrd Skyrnd.

The seaport of Jacksonville in North Florida would steal the entire day from surburban Dartford Kent on the River Derwent - Lynyrd Skynyrd performed third in the bill before 10CC and their eleven-track Southern Rock set makes for extraordinary viewing to this day. It has never been forgotten in British rock history as one of the most amazing live superstar performances ever - and by a support act at that. The electrifying picture of singer Ronnie Van Zant punching the air at the lip of the stage with guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins - with a Confederate battle flag to the forefront amongst the ecstatic 120,000 crowd - remains perhaps the most instantly recognisable image of the group for tens of thousands of music fans over the world to this day.

Growing up in Belfast in the Eighties - long after the 1977 Mississippi plane crash that killed three of the band's lineup - I had a double album compilation of the group but at the time never really got fired up on their music beyond the classic rock station stalwarts of Freebird and Sweet Home Alabama. In recent months however Lynyrd Skynyrd's music has really came together for me over the course of some prolonged listening and it is quite clear that - like Little Feat - they represented an unparalleled fusion of incredible individual virtuosity, raw passion and deep soul on both album and stage.

Between 1973 and 1977 the group released five studio albums - Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, Second Helping, Nuthin Fancy, Gimme Back My Bullets and Street Survivors. The existent fanbase seems to have certain qualitative reservations about the third and fourth albums though I personally cannot hear that significant a downturn - from the pallid and bereft perspective of 2017 anyway. Tracks such as Simple Man, Poison Whiskey, The Needle and the Spoon, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Saturday Night Special, On The Hunt, Every Mother's Son, Searching, One More Time and That Smell are utterly magnificent - driven, thoughtful, exciting and intelligent by turn. Workin for MCA may indeed be the most underrated Seventies hard rock song in the entire genre - check out the cool Hamburg concert footage of this track from 1974 on youtube for original guitarist Ed King's smokin' smoking alone.

Soberingly of course, if one looks at footage of the Knebworth concert from that endless summer of 1976, seven members of the ten musicians on stage have now passed on. Beyond Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his backing singer sister Cassie - who all died in the crash - four others are no longer here. These are bassist Leon Wilkinson, guitarist Allen Collins, keyboardist Billy Powell and backing singer Jo Jo Billingsley. The original drummer Bob Burns was killed in a car accident two years ago as well.

After 1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd under various lineups have produced nine further albums to date - the two original guitarists also put out a pair of albums as the Rossington Collins Band in 1980 and 1981 with a further short-lived Allen Collins Band releasing one more album in 1983. I know little about the later Lynyrd Skynrd material so far though have found the three other albums mentioned very listenable.

Gene Odom's biography of the band from 2002 - which includes a fantastic black and white picture of Rossington, Collins and Powell strutting down a dreary British high street that is worth the price of the book alone - also lists fairly comprehensive tour information. With other dates and venues gleaned from online it appears Skynyrd played 48 gigs in the four years between 1974 and 1977 in England, Scotland and Wales.

In 1974 the group played in Glasgow November 14th, Edinburgh November 15th, Newcastle November 16th, Liverpool November 18th, Bradford November 19th, Birmingham November 20th, London November 23rd, Leicester November 26th, Manchester November 27th, Brighton November 28th, Bristol November 29th, Southend-on-Sea November 30th, Bournemouth December 1st and London December 2nd.

For 1975 the venues were Portsmouth 25th October, Birmingham 26th October, London 27th October, Brighton 28th October, Liverpool 30th October, Sheffield 31st October, Glasgow 1st November, Oxford 3rd November, Cardiff 4th November and London 5th November.

In early 1976 they played in Bristol on 10th February, Manchester 11th February, Glasgow 13th February, Leeds 14th February and London the following day. In August two days before Knebworth they performed on the 19th in Hemel Hempstead.

Finally in early 1977 a British tour incorporated London on the 27th-29th January, Bristol 31st January, Portsmouth 1st February, Birmingham 2nd February, Manchester 4th February, Sheffield 5th February, Liverpool 6th February, Newcastle 8th February, Glasgow 9th February, Lancaster 12th February, Leeds 13th February and their last ever British concert was at Leicester on the 14th.

Other European countries that the band performed in over these years included West Germany, Holland, Belgium and France - Lynyrd Skynyrd never appeared to have played in either part of Ireland. The specific venues for the London gigs over the four years were at Finsbury Park's Rainbow Theatre in 1974 and 1977 - long gone as a concert venue - and the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 and 1976. Their famous performance for the Old Grey Whistle Test was recorded at the BBC Television Theatre Shepherds Bush Green on November 11th 1975.

Many of the memories and reminiscences of the group at Knebworth 41 years ago that can be found across the internet appear of similar dumbfounded regard to seeing Georgie Best's explosive breakthrough into public consciousness in the September 1964 midweek match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - this from the ukrockfestivals website will suffice entirely:

Then Lynyrd Skynrd hit the stage in mid afternoon and the whole place just lit up. They played that incredible, now legendary set. Great, good times boogie rock n roll with lashings of rich guitar playing. Lanky Alan Collins was a very striking figure, dressed all in red like the stage, he became the focal point visually. Huge flares, impossibly long hair and a jutting Gibson Firebird. "Freebird" was the greatest moment of the whole festival and perhaps the greatest of any live performance I have ever seen, for the generosity of the musicians and the sheer joy of the crowd.  Thousands of people jumping around and cheering in unison. As the barefoot Ronnie Van Zant sang the last refrain, he threw his mike and its stand over the back of the amp stacks, took Collins under one arm and Rossington under the other, and led them down the sloping stage to the crowd, as the two began their furious soloing, it seemed to last forever, coming to a long drawn out final crunch in front of a standing ovation. An impossible act to follow.

This year I have been properly reacquainting myself with the music of Lynyrd Skynrd having left London permanently and taking a few months away from that rank madness in a truly beautiful North European country. At the start of the summer on some days here I even saw a real life Freebird eagle type thing flying over the next field to where I am staying - no shit.

Listening to the lyrics of the band - which cover a lot of ground within the human condition as regards kinship bonds and life priorities alone - they reflect such a contrast to the times I left behind in Britain. The Ponzi greed that has toxified the soul of London and much of the country, a Kafkaesque job market which seems to offer up the polar opposite of everything libertarian souls claim to aspire to on social media, rundown and seedy public infrastructure, mainstream media silence on both historic demographic shifts and their even more sobering secessionist consequences, the cultural marxist remodelling of every complex historical issue under the sun for peurile adolescent mindsets and the general air of sadness and directionless. 1976 was a long long time ago for all its own godawful problems with bogeymen unions, butcher dentists and damp sparkplugs in the winter.

The folk tales of Lynyrd Skynrd of course recall communities forged in financial hardship and want
but also flag up the positive aspects of a simpler and less cluttered life away from the speed, harshness and fetidity of modern urban existence. The appeal this offers to so many of my own middle-aged peer group today - our future security clinically betrayed on every socio-economic front imaginable by pure short-term venality - is now overwhelming. Ironically the very same future in fact that four generations of my own family fought and put their lives on the line for I assume.

Much of the social culture of the American South of course - and indeed the blood composition of its now vilified military formations who fought bravely from Manassas through to Appomattox Court House and right up to Stonewall Jackson himself  - originated geneologically from the historic Scots-Irish Presbyterian footprint that arrived in British America from Ulster in the 18th Century. The irony is not lost on me - and many contemporary visitors alike  - how in the modern United Kingdom that Northern Ireland is one of the few regions to have retained a deep rooted sense of place, moral decency, spiritual faith and individual warmth for all the bad history the country has had to work through together.

From their very early material recorded in 1971 at Muscle Shoals Alabama such as Comin Home and Was I Right Or Was I Wrong and through to I Never Dreamed and What's Your Name on the final Street Survivors album the vista of Lynyrd Skynyrd's music touchs upon loss,  regret, love, lust, brotherhood and ethics - the common sense fundamentals of life and how to live it well.

Truly in our beginning is our end.

Every time you feed that face
Do you look around
For somebody right in your own neighborhood
Sleepin out on the ground
If you've ever felt the pain inside
I know you'd understand
When you see somebody who's down and out
Lend a helpin' hand

Monday, June 19, 2017

Midnight Summer Dream - Folk Horror and the Ancient Kindred

Folk Horror, Adam Scovell, Thomas Sherdian, The Druid Code

Last month I watched two fantastic pieces of vintage British television horror. Shalcken The Painter was the 1979 continuation of the festive A Ghost Story for Christmas slot on the BBC and whose plot revolved around an artist’s lost love and her terrible fate. The Beast was an episode of the West Country Tales series of the early Eighties involving a city dweller’s encounter with a ghastly aggressive entity in the Cornish woods - the creature being played by the familiar character actor and former wrestler Milton Reid who can be seen in three of Mary Millington’s features.

In light of the latter work I have recently finished Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange by Adam Scovell which was published some months ago. Forging beyond the main cinematic trilogy associated with this sub-genre - Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw - and the short stories of MR James, the book incorporates analysis of a truly comprehensive scope of Sixties, Seventies and Eighties film and television material from the Play for Today features Robin Redbreast and Penda’s Fen to the Hammer horrors Plague of the Zombies and The Witches and the Dr Who Jon Pertwee serials The Sea Devils and The Daemons.

Beyond the obvious association of these works with the British landscape and countryside - and of course the occult - there is consideration of similarly eerie creative dynamics that were transfused into urban settings right through to Public Information Films for children in the Seventies. The writing is academic in part but it was still a fascinating text and comes highly recommended.

In a not dissimilar context some months ago I read Thomas Sheridan’s absolutely intriguing fourth book The Druid Code. I am huge fan of Sheridan’s work by way of his Velocity of Now broadcasts and the incredibly interesting discussion of politics and Forteana to be found on his youtube channel and website.

At first I expected this book to have considerably less appeal to me than his previous book Walpurgis Night on the occult roots of Nazism but found it an extradordinary deconstruction of ancient British and Irish history as relating to the complexity of megalithic remains across the British Archipelago, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.  It also traces the passage of magic theory from druidic sources into witchcraft and freemasonry. Years ago I got engaged to my partner at the Holestone in Doagh in County Down and in turn have visited many of the places that Sheridan talks about in Ireland and the English West Country. Sheridan is both an insightful mind and a genuinely good humorous soul - his recent documentary works on occult Dublin and the mythology of Germany’s Odenwald Forest have been exemplary.

Both of these books of course hold particular relevance at this time of acute political and cultural strain in Britain as harking back to the purest of connections with our folk past - yet untrammeled and unsullied in this world of avarice, directionlessness and idiocy.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Messrs Hancock and Rimmer

Tony Hancock, The Rebel, Peter Cook, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

Revisited two truly great British movies over the recent Bank Holiday that in different ways reflect very stark modern-day realities in the United Kingdom - Tony Hancock's 1961 The Rebel and Peter Cook's 1970 The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer. Hancock's movie was the sixth most successful British film of that year at the box office while Cook's political satire was a commercial and critical failure - having had its release held back so as to not coincide with the General Election of that year when Labour's Harold Wilson lost to Edward Heath's Conservative and Unionist Party.

Whereas the latter half of The Rebel tends to fundamentally stall in the main - and I personally have never seen the appeal of Hancock's second and final film The Punch and Judy Man of the following year - the earlier segments of the movie remain utterly joyous. Hancock portrays a thoroughly disgruntled and soul-destroyed banking clerk who dreams of the bohemian life and one day leaves surburban London commuter hell and goes for it in cool France. The scene where he is down to his last sous in a Boho Parisian cafe and becomes so inspired to be even within hearing distance of impassioned artistic debate all around him is priceless. The hook of the movie being that his utterly crap, infantile and shitty art suddenly becomes seen as valid cutting edge product off the back of his own hamstrung idiotic misinterpretations for the awestruck Beatnik cognoscenti.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer sunk Peter Cook's career in one fell swoop as a solo headline performer though alike Cook and Dudley Moore's 1967 Bedazzled time has been very kind to this work. The movie is essentially the story of a marketing and PR genius' rise to prominence within political Conservatism - without ever breaking sweat or questioning the moral codes of society in truly psychopathic fashion.

The cast of both films are interesting in turn - The Rebel has John Le Mesurier as Hancock's dreary City boss and one of the angry artistes in the cafe in the beginning is a young Oliver Reed. The Cook movie has a great peformance from Le Mesurier's Dad's Army superior Arthur Lowe as an advertising manager whose cushy life is about to be obliterated by the amoral Rimmer down to the point of having to sell his own furniture and car under his wife's nose in the wake of his slick rival's career light flight. Other well known cast members include Graham Chapman, Ronnie Corbett, Diana Coupland, Michael Bates, Ronald Fraser and Denholm Elliott - all of whom are now deceased.

In reality Tony Hancock and Peter Cook were complex personalities on so many fronts and lived fundamentally foreshortened lives - Hancock committed suicide in Sydney in 1968 at the age of only 44 while Cook died of alcohol-related liver damage in 1995 when 57 years of age. Both The Rebel and The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer do seem so clearly relevant to irreversible societal changes of the modern day and especially with regard to modern London - vile greed, grotesque media spin, avarice that has altered the national DNA forever, the distancing of the general public from the political classes, staggering social immobility and the retardation of creative endeavour among them.

Indeed recently while on a walk through the bland remnants of Soho to see the new blue plaque to Mary Millington in Great Windmill Street I noticed a chain of art shops in the West End whose frontage was emblazoned with the legend TURN LONDON INTO A CITY OF ARTISTS. The irony being almost overwhelming in a city whose experience of one of the biggest population transfers in global history in the past decade now overlaps with what would certainly appear to be an imminent
collapse in property values off the back of grim Ponzi mischief that will end in very big and very bitter tears. In turn having a creative talent today that is even the equivalent of being in Birkenhead in 1959 with a flashy Rickenbaker and a good voice may alas count for sweet fuck all in the scale of things.

Check out both of these films at some point with regard to a devastated London, a lost England and a mangled British value system.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Say Anything You Want - Sgt Bilko and Fort Baxter Memories

Sgt Bilko, Phil Silvers, Phil Silvers Show

Let's go campers. It's 10am. Time to start the day.

And so a brief diversion from the torrid affairs of our island home to another place and time entirely. One of the fondest of television viewing memories for many British people over the age of forty lies with a late Fifties American comedy which ran for four lengthy seasons on CBS Television and won seven Primetime Emmy Awards. The show ended while still highly successful -  in terms of popularity and viewing figures alike - and never actually made it through to the Sixties in this specific format.

The Phil Silvers Show - originally titled You'll Never Get Rich - and commonly known as Bilko or Sgt Bilko was shown over 143 episodes between September of 1955 and September of 1959 and revolved around the money-making scams and general mischief making of the Mess Sergeant and his platoon of eejits at military bases in Roseville Kansas and then in California.

It was transmitted in Britain from April 1957 onwards on BBC Television through to the show's cancellation - it would then be repeated on both national channels during the Sixties.  Over the following two decades however Bilko became a mainstay of late night programming on the BBC though I recall it being shown on the weekday early evening slots on BBC2 which often used to show familiar Laurel and Hardy three-reelers of the ilk of Below Zero, Brats, Any Old Port and Beau Hunks. Around the mid-Seventies in turn I clearly recall Bilko being lodged in the middle of summertime schoolkids' programming in amongst the likes of The Banana Splits, Camp Runamuck, Zorro and Why Don't You.

The profile of the programme has risen of late with the long overdue 2015 release of all four seasons on DVD and the ongoing work of the British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society.  Personally, I hold Bilko in the same regard as I do Elvis Presley's final recordings prior to his own army service in West Germany  - the tracks  A Fool Such as I, I Need Your Love Tonight, Ain't That Loving You Baby, A Big Hunk Of Love and I Got Stung which he cut on June 10th-11th 1958 in RCA Studios Nashville. Utterly timeless, driven, passionate and perfectly crafted echoes from a decade which feels like several lifetimes away today in terms of female style and the buzz of big city life alone. Interestingly one episode of the comedy saw the arrival of the rocker Elvin Pelvin on the base to Bilko's undisguised delight.

Bilko fits into classic comedy archetypes of a frustrated man out of time - Basil Fawlty the misanthrope being lodged in a daily interface with the phlistine public in Fawlty Towers, Sales Rep Tim Canterbury's purgatorial weeks on a Slough trading estate in The Office or Father Ted Crilly's substitution of what should have been a long and happy family life for that of the Catholic church in Father Ted. Bilko basically should have been in political charge of the whole of the USA instead of organising poker games in what is by far the greatest situation comedy in television history.

The popularity of the programme inspired a run of DC comics,  advertising for Camel cigarettes and later the cartoon Top Cat.  Silvers himself would star in the fourteenth Carry On film Follow That Camel in 1967. This Sahara-set movie was filmed at Camber Sands in Kent - which Squeeze sang of on the wonderful Pulling Mussels From A Shell single. Silvers' relationship with co-star Kenneth Williams was apparently chilly at first alike the snow that fell on the beach and held up filming. The movie also starred the legendary Charles Hawtrey - referenced by John Lennon in Twickenham Studio dialogue preceding the last great Beatles song Two of Us on the Let It Be album - and the beautiful Anita Harris whose 1965 Bacharach and David London Life single captured the world's greatest city before its long irreversible decline into spiritual comatosity.

When George Best died in 2005 the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson acclaimed the  Belfast star for the million memories he had left behind - all of which were good. Bilko was and IS   that good today - reflective too of times when Britain sailed so close culturally to America in comparison to any European pull and when the affection was often thoroughly mutual.

So as January 2016 limps to closure in Britain take some time out from permanent austerity to check out daily life at Fort Baxter and Camp Fremont if you haven't already. You will not be disappointed. It is heartwarming to think that in some parallel universe Bilko and his motor pool buddies are still creating havoc, fleecing the naive and chasing women. Either way, with the exception of Terry Carter who played Private Sugie Sugarman, literally every person you will see on that black and white screen today has sadly passed away.

Permission to speak freely Sarge.
Permission? What, are we in Russia? Say anything you want.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

BCR - The Bay City Rollers and Saturday Night

Bay City Rollers

We are now living our lives through interminable weeks of existential dread, constant angst and the clinical obliteration of vintage pathways to social mobility. This exemplified in modern London with the grim pension timebomb awaiting millions of hard working - and often well paid - private sector workers trapped in the unregulated rental sector which devours so much dead money and which by right should be directed towards savings or even patronising the last surviving local butchers on the High Street at the weekend for retro-liver or cool fusion-sausages.

David Bowie's death has clearly emplaced a significant shadow across the beginning of another dreary and literally pointless groundhog year to come. Yet forging beyond Bowie's magnificent artistic output of the early Seventies - from Starman to TVC15 - for myself personally it is another song from that period that often penetrates the lunatic cultural marxist fog of mainstream media and the awkward mists of modern social observance to celebrate a lost Britain and a clearly soon-to-be forgotten people.

The antithesis of Bowie's mystic ramblings - across Crowley, the Kabbalah and Nietzsche - this particularly joyous combination of terrace chanting, glam stomping and Fifties romantic fluff would directly inspire what is arguably the greatest song in the history of punk rock. Yet ironically, alike the New Year's Eve European television comedy staple Dinner For One - a 1962 German recording of a Twenties British stage sketch which is virtually unheard of in this country  - the song is to this day largely unknown in Britain despite the band having ten Top Ten hits in the United Kingdom between 1971 and 1975.

Bay City Rollers' Saturday Night harks back to a period of British social history when the country was immersed in American culture from Starsky and Hutch to Hollywood action movies and from Marvel comic books to bubblegum rock. The cultural connectivity the average Briton would have felt for mainland Europe at this point would have been severely circumscribed so soon after the Second World War and with most male children of the period being raised on stories of Allied military glory in Victor, Valiant, Battle and Commando magazines before the sobering late-teenage rites of passage transition onto Sven Hassel Nazi pulp. Only ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog alone would eventually bridge this socio-political chasm in saint-like fashion.

A recent documentary about the Edinburgh group -  Rollermania - featured footage of the band performing the track on American television. The song had been a flop in Britain in 1973 but got to Number 1 on the Billboard chart two years later at the first attempt the group made to crack the US market. There are two wonderful clips on youtube of Saturday Night - on Midnight Speical (introduced as The Pride of the Tartan - the Bay City Rollers!) and another with an appropriately-clad Ann Margret in front of an audience of enthusiastic British OAPs which is absolutely joyous to behold.

It cuts to the quick of male teenage DNA of that time - a life guaged towards laughter, girls, physical attraction, friendship, washing your hair and making a bloody effort, young adulthood away from creepy and often violent teachers, dances, finding a life partner, smoking and drinking, working class communities and hope for tomorrow:

Gonna keep on dancin' to the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin' to the rhythmn in our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night
I, I, I, I, I just can't wait - I, I, I, I got a date

At the good ole rock n' roll roadshow, I gotta go, 
Saturday night, Saturday night
Gonna rock it up, roll it up, do it all, have a ball
Saturday night, Saturday night

One must surely assume today - in a period when most children and adults under the age of 30 are catatonically connected to hand-held devices and idiot social media - that "a good ole rock n' roll roadshow" holds little attraction for many to getting off their arses, getting out the door into fresh air and trying to work on their personalities by getting their leg over.

Interestingly a BBC Northern Ireland programme in 2015 commemorating the 40th anniversary of the murders of three members of the Miami Showband in County Down between Banbridge and Newry - The Day The Music Died - incorporated a catchy track the band had recorded called Rock n' Roll Roadshow. Saturday Night in turn was co-written by Phil Coulter who would later write what is considered the definitive anthem of loss as surrounding the Ulster Troubles - The Town I Loved So Well.

Saturday Night's introduction of course directly inspired The Ramone's Blitzkreig Bop - Dee Dee Ramone having magnificently claimed that the group were as influenced by the Rollers, The Wombles and Shaun Cassidy as much as Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls and Alice Cooper. It garners so many memories for me of a period when British social culture - when guaged specifically to a youth demographic - was so encompassing in scope and attuned to market variables affecting pop, television, books, radio, comics, advertisements, toys and even food on such a highly creative and truly fun-packed level. However it also engages with that familiar melancholy that I often pick up upon when listening to British New Wave acts like Elvis Costello, XTC or Joe Jackson in particular nowadays when thinking of the current mauled and obliterated face of a finished London.

At my primary school in North Belfast The Bay City Rollers were without doubt the most beloved of all acts then marketed towards younger female audiences - beyond The Rubettes, David Essex and even The Osmonds. Understandably the rest of their material has little appeal to me beyond this one song though it is important to underscore that in that terribly difficult period of Irish history these five young Celts at least embedded a populist three-letter acronym into society that had nothing to do with murdering, maiming and generally hating the working classes of the other religion. I believe they played at the ABC Cinema in the city centre around 1975 for their legions of adoring fans - also the Tonic Cinema in Bangor.

The Seventies are often portrayed as the grimmest of times in popular television social histories that in turn present modern Britain as a country now luxuriating in broad affluence, sterling opportunity and exciting social fusion by comparison. The blatant fudging and misreading of British history in these smug, sickeningly bourgeois, sneering and politically skewed productions is too nauseating to dwell upon.

For indeed it was fundamentally a decade when only the working people of a then still-industrialised Britain kept the country alive in spirit and soul  - just as they had physically secured our cultural existence thirty years previously in time of war from the Arctic convoys to the Normandy beaches...that generation in the Ann Margret audience to be specific. Conversely those who have clearly destroyed our life security today have no doubt never met a working person in their lives and even if they had listened to the popular music in those days long ago - from BCR to Bowie and T Rex - they would never have really heard it.

They do not know us and they certainly will not miss us - Remember Saturday Night.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie - Sunshine On The Wasteland

David Bowie, David Bowie Death, Drive-in Saturday

She's uncertain if she likes him ... 
but she knows she really loves him...
it's a crash course for the ravers ...
it's a Drive-In Saturday

Over the years I have always wavered in my memory between what was actually the first seven-inch vinyl single I actually bought back in the Seventies. I know I definitely purchased it at Smyth's Records on Royal Avenue in Belfast and it was either Golden Years/Can You Hear Me by David Bowie or A Glass of Champagne/Panama by Sailor - the latter some extremely catchy faux-Roxy for the schoolkids.

Today on Bowie's passing I have made an effort to finally confirm the release dates - Tony went to fight in Belfast on the track Star from Ziggy Stardust in 1972 and I picked up the two singles in that security fence-enclosed city centre three years later in 1975 with British soldiers on the street outside the record shop. Golden Years was released in November and apparently the Sailor track was as well. Hence my understandable confusion over the past four decades.

I followed David Bowie's career with interest up to the mid-Eighties and the Never Let Me Down album - probably no other major musical artist with the exception of Neil Young and Van Morrison ever produced such high quality output over such an extended period from a late Sixties starting point.

Bowie's musical legacy is truly breathtaking in scope, merit and eclecticism - from Letter to Hermione to Running Gun Blues to Moonage Daydream to  Panic in Detroit . Then in turn from Big Brother to Win to Station to Station to Be My Wife. 

David Bowie also resurrected the career of what would become one of the greatest of all British Seventies rock groups and indeed was an enthusiastic sponsor of another fantastic American band who should have become globally successful - Mott the Hoople and Carmen respectively.

I also saw him in concert in 1987 at Slane Castle in the Irish Republic when Humble Pie's Peter Frampton was his guitarist on the Glass Spider tour. Support that day was the late Stuart Adamson and the magnificent Big Country - very nice to see another memorial blog reference this. The weather was not kind for such an historic occasion and remained generally overcast. At one point however some weak milky sun broke faintly through the clouds over County Meath and the Boyne Valley. Bowie immediately moved to the right hand side of the stage and mimed for it to come out fully. It actually did. The gig ended with a performance of the cabaret Time from Aladdin Sane and two Eighties pop hits - Bowie got into his spaceship and I got the coach back north to a then-bitter oul Belfast City.

As for Bowie's affect upon the sexual politics of the time, my very old friend from London - who now works on the other side of the world - underscored to me today in a mail how the singer's embrace of Mick Ronson on the Starman performance on Top of the Pops seems innocuous enough now but of course at the time it came across to Middle England as the queerest and most outrageous thing imaginable. A literal sci-fi broadcast from a parallel Universe of the Damned:

I always loved Bowie's flirtation with gender definition and androgyny. A direct challenge to prevailing learnt attitudes in post-war, repressed Britain and beyond. Men were often men, but not all of them wanted to be the stereotype, nor indeed could live up to it. The day we get to a universal acceptance of freedom of gender expression it will largely have been Bowie to thank for leading the way: many boorish lads in their teens went around 'hating queers' but still buying Bowie, Bolan and Queen records. How's that for confusion?

So today the residual spirit of old London dissipates a significant degree further while - as upon George Best's death a decade ago - another chapter of British folk history comes to closure. Both of these men guaranteeing that next weekend would be very different than the one before.

Unique once-in-a-lifetime antidotes to the kind of straight life which is now being thrown up as the only low-risk pathway to the grave - lives without spark, wit, intelligence, erudition, individuality, suss, good humour, cool, originality or even sexual energy.

Good night David Robert Jones of Brixton SW9 - The Only Survivor of the National People's Gang.