Wednesday 29 June 2011

The first gig you ever went to...?

As with the first album you ever bought, the first gig you ever went to is something of a rite of passage.   Perhaps you were, as I was, under-age and with tender ear-drums.  Getting through the doors past the bouncer, in spite of being nearly four years under eighteen (and him being the size of a house), wasn’t a problem (perhaps because I was a girl…?)  Even the process of buying a pint of cider at the bar was painless.  Coping with the volume was something that got easier as the night wore on.  But concealing my excitement at seeing a band I really admired up there on the stage, in all their real, raw glory, playing songs I had only previously heard in session on John Peel’s radio show, was impossible.  For my first, proper gig was (cue drum-roll)…. Siouxsie & the Banshees at a little club called Triad in  Bishop’s Stortford, January 1978.

I say ‘proper’ here because, to be honest, I had sort of seen a few live musical performances prior to this.  The very first ‘grown-up’ one was a few months before when my friends and I stumbled into a 'Rock Club' night and caught a few numbers being played by some local bunch of long-hairs about whom every detail except that escapes me.  The hall was sparsely populated and most of the punters were sitting on the floor, so it wasn’t exactly what you’d call wild.  And as we were being picked up at 9.30pm by my friend’s over-anxious dad (we had school next day) the evening was a bit of a dead loss.  So I’m not going to count that, particularly as I haven’t a clue who the group was.  However my overwhelming delight and incredulity when I heard that Siouxsie and co. were coming to our small, provincial home is something I can’t forget.

I grew up in that quiet Hertfordshire market town, and had been to Triad many times before as a kid – it started out as an Arts Centre and my mum got very involved in it, so I got taken along to see arty puppet shows, strange plays, an evening with Richard Nixon (the ‘70s newsreader) and even an Indian sitar performance which I like to think might have been Ravi Shankar but which I suspect was very probably not…  Then in the late ‘70s it became more of a rock music venue.  It must have had a pretty on-the-ball team doing the bookings because in the space of just a couple of years not only the Banshees but also Motorhead and Adam & the Ants played there (yeah I was lucky enough to see the early Ants too -  pre-mainstream fame, pre-white nose stripe and pre-two drummers…)  Later it became a regular haunt for local punks and was where I spent every Tuesday and Saturday night, taking in bands as diverse as the Newtown Neurotics (local heroes of the time), Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, Crass (who hailed from just up the road), and the Passions.

Siouxsie & the Banshees were seminal, though.  Siouxsie was dressed just as I’d seen her in music mag pics (striped t-shirt and thigh-length boots, black hair short and glossy and  characteristic eye make-up) and performed to an enthusiastic audience.   I bet if somebody was to do a TV drama on early punk they'd show the crowd at an early 1978 Banshees gig in band-name t-shirts, boutique bondage and spiky crazy-coloured hair but it really wasn’t like that then.  There were loads of blokes with longish hair wearing great-coats, and those of us who had just started to adopt a very embryonic punk look were deemed outrageous simply for wearing straight trousers and baggy shirts, etc.   The look was so shocking, apparently, that the local paper sent a photographer along to take some shots of the kids enjoying themselves, including me and my friends. 
We pulled faces for the charming camera man and posed as defiantly as (really rather sweet) fourteen-year-old girls at their first gig could. 

"Don't tell my mum I've drunk a pint of cider"

It all seemed like good, harmless fun.  Funny, then, how the event made front page news in the next issue with a very questionable editorial which suggested that “…these disgusting punks should have been aborted at birth..”   Such was the mood in the media at the time (and it’s really quite hard to believe that anyone should make such a fuss, but it was a common occurrence in the newspapers then.)  My experience, however, was of a truly great night – very much as real, raw and glorious as I had hoped.  I’d got past the burly bouncers, drunk a little too much and passed my initiation into the world of proper, live music with nothing worse than perhaps slightly ringing ear-drums the next morning, seeing a band I had admired from afar.  The excitement lived on for a long while and it’s been fun to revisit it here.  (Thank you, Siouxsie!) 

Maybe it’ll bring back some memories for you too?

Siouxsie & the Banshees a few months beforehand - see what I mean about the crowd?

Saturday 25 June 2011

Going, going, Egon

Oh dear, that is an embarrassingly corny title for a post and I simply couldn’t resist it!  But I have only just found out that there is an exhibition of work by the Austrian artist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918),  in London at the moment - it's been on for a while and closes 30th June. 

I’m a rather disappointed sparrow because I really would love to have been able to get down to the city this week to see it but my current work deadline dictates otherwise.  Still, I thought I’d flag it up in case anybody who stumbles across these pages is interested.

I’ve long been a fan of Schiele’s work but have never seen any ‘in the flesh’ so-to-speak, (and I imagine there will be a fair amount of flesh in there too…)  There is a rawness and intensity in his work that I find very compelling and I'm sure that seeing it for real would be a very special experience.  But meanwhile, the print that hangs on the wall behind me as I type will have to suffice.  Here’s a photo.

Friday 24 June 2011

French connections, (a breathless) part three

The start of the summer holidays means I have two weeks without my usual French evening class.  I know it’s only a fortnight but I miss it.  A few years ago I decided to brush up on my incredibly rusty ‘O’ Level French and got hooked.  Firstly I think it is quite simply a beautiful language (it’s just so sensual sounding, and requires you to form your mouth into interesting shapes!), secondly it’s good for my brain, of which I feel sure I only utilise one side (although I can never remember if it’s the left or the right) because I spend so much of my time working visually.  Thirdly, I have a penchant (oh, how I love the way these French words infiltrate our everyday language!) for certain aspects of the country's culture.  And fourthly, it gets me out of the house…

But as I’m staying chez moi for now I reckon that dipping into some French films will be a fine way to help keep my linguistic faculties in good shape. 

Here’s a favourite from Godard.  Funny too how this trailer is like a French vocab lesson (but so much better than anything we were taught at school…although my French teacher was always on about Johnny Hallyday.)

À Bout De Souffle

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Small but perfectly formed

I’ve got a bit of a fixation for ‘ugly’ things.  I don’t know quite why that is – maybe it’s that instinctive allegiance to the underdogs in life.  It manifests itself most when it comes to nature, where I find that the creatures which are often referred to as ‘ugly’ are really exquisitely beautiful when you get up close and personal.  I’m talking about creepy-crawlies, bugs, critters… whatever you want to call them… spiders, slugs, woodlice, daddy-long-legs, earwigs, etc.  Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder.

Last night something was flying around in the house, it sounded like it had a little propeller whirring as it traversed the room at low altitude and then banged into a wall.  I followed the sound and found what is rather bizarrely known as a cockchafer (ouch).  It looks like one of those humbug sweets with legs; shiny, round-backed, the colour of caramel and over an inch long.  As I have done many times before with various dazed and confused little beings, I put my hand out to catch it and it gripped my finger, I could feel its tiny feet cling onto me as I took it out into the garden and let it crawl to the tip of my nail, where it seemed to assess the evening air before it unfolded its wingcases like a cadillac convertible opening its roof, and took off to freedom.

A fascination for these so-called lowest forms of life started when I was very young. My mum would show my sister and me (and neighbours’ children too, if they were interested) spiders weaving webs or wrapping up a helpless fly and she’d explain it all to us.  It was like being on the set of BBC’s ‘Springwatch’ (but without the Smiths/Manics, etc. song references – three cheers for Chris Packham!).  She encouraged me to put blobs of jam on the garden path to entice ants and then I could watch them all gathering to feast on their sugary treat.  I really got into ants.  I loved watching the way they lugged huge things around with ease; apparently some species can carry items 100 times their own body weight. They frequently stopped to communicate with some kind of rapid antennae talk when they passed eachother. I was an enthusiastic spectator on ‘Flying Ant Day’ when I could watch the big queens and slightly smaller winged males make their maiden flights in swarms from the cracks in the patio paving slabs on a specially chosen hot summer afternoon.  The everyday worker ants rushed about, seemingly fussing over the event - I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them selling miniature ice-creams.  Now that really was a day for putting the jam out.

It’s well-known that all these insects, and lovely slimey things too like slugs and snails, are essential in maintaining our ecosystem and apparently the human race would die out in a shockingly short space of time without them. So I’ll always continue to let spiders spin and watch ants work and rescue stranded cockchafers.  Long live small beautiful ugly things.

Artwork by C / Sun Dried Sparrows (copyright me / Two Bad Mice)

Sunday 19 June 2011

Under slate-grey Victorian sky

In spite of recent concerns about a possible drought, this little bit of East Anglia has been drenched by some heavy rain these last couple of days – so much so that on Friday afternoon it was cascading over the edge of our lower gutter onto the boiler flue below it which then leaked it into the kitchen.  Alone in the house and wondering what best to do I rushed outside to stand on the rickety, rotting wooden bench which threatened to give way under me and scooped some yucky brown stuff out of the guttering with a trowel whilst being thoroughly soaked in the downpour.  I had visions of my sodden body being found some hours later, impaled on a broken leg of the bench and covered in this shitty-looking matter, having been knocked out by a piece of fallen gutter (it’s cast iron…), with the garden implement by my side.  In my rural setting it would have looked like a crime scene out of ‘Midsomer Murders’.  In spite of that though, I still like summer rain!  It makes me want to run outside and, well, dance around in it naked (…I’m not alone in having that desire, am I?!)

Anyway I didn’t – dance naked or get knocked out and impaled, that is – but the rain and wind did make me think of an odd little collage I did a few years ago as a contribution to an urban folk tale about witches in modern day Camden on a wet, blustery day.  I only had a few hours spare to put it together but I had good fun just trying out something different.  The clouds are made of kitchen roll.  I got through a few sheets of that on Friday too, mopping up the leak indoors.

Artwork by C / Sun Dried Sparrows

Friday 17 June 2011

Knights of the idiot's lantern

Now, just for a moment, I want you to forget all preconceptions about what makes great pop, psychedelia, freakbeat, etc. and spare 38 seconds of your time to listen to this, then tell me – is it not good?  Could it not have been the creation of a velvet-clad band called the Purple Raindrops of Oblivion, or a single on Deram by, let’s see…maybe  Marcus Sinclair & the Sugar Tree Explosion…?

OK, maybe not quite.  But isn’t it groovy? As many children growing up in ‘70s Britain would have known at the time, this was the end theme from ‘The Adventures Of Sir Prancelot’, an animated TV series which was first aired in 1971 around the teatime slot (perfect for those of us who had just settled down after getting in from school but hadn’t yet started eating our Vesta Chicken Supreme).  It had a distinctive look - graphic shapes and layered cut-out characters with open/shut mouths like ventriloquists’ dummies.  Its creator, John Ryan, was also responsible for the similarly styled ‘Captain Pugwash’ which for some reason sticks in my adult memory more, perhaps partly because there is an apocryphal tale that it included seafaring characters with the names Master Bates, Roger the Cabin Boy and Seaman Staines; however this has since been dismissed as mere urban legend.  In reality it was all perfectly innocent of course, although Captain Pugwash’s arch enemy did have the rather scary name of Cut Throat Jake, which was at least very appealing to bloodthirsty eight-year-olds.

But back to Sir Prancelot. The series followed the adventures of the eponymous heroic knight, who was also a bit of a would-be inventor, and his family and entourage (with great names such as his wife Lady Histeria, Duke Uglio and serfs Bert and Harry - although the Michael Caine soundalike minstrel, who brings us this catchy theme as well as some cool little musical interludes, remains nameless).  I don’t think they got to do all that much crusading in any holy lands but they did prance about a lot - and with a fabulously neat tune like this one I might just have to replay it a few times while I do so myself.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Aggravation Place

What do you get if you take the ex-drummer of  ‘60s psych-pop band John’s Children, the manager of kooky glam band Sparks (who had also been in John’s Children), add a guitarist, bassist and a singer-songwriter, throw in boots, braces and cropped hair, blend with some teen rebellion lyrics and top with a publishing deal from Mickie Most at RCA?  The result of that rather interesting mix is The Jook.

This mid-‘70s band comprised guitarist Trevor White, vocalist Ian Kimmet, bassist Ian Hampton and aforementioned drummer Chris Townson and were the brainchild of John Hewlett (he of Sparks management and earlier member of the Smashed Blocked psychsters along with Chris).  Being signed to RCA, who were also home to The Sweet and Bowie, should perhaps have helped this bunch to a higher slot in pop/rock history.  But none of their five singles had any impact on the charts – so who would remember them? My own pre-teen recollections of mid-seventies UK chart music are dominated by Mud and Gary Glitter…

Retrospectively, however, I find the look and the sound of The Jook quite fascinating.  It seems so obvious to me that they bridged a gap between the sparks and glitter (literally) of early ‘70s pop and the stripped-down, hard-edged presence of punk which was soon to follow.  It’s kind of power pop too.

Anyway, I present for you the track, ‘Aggravation Place’ as I like its guitar sound - not dissimilar to that of the Clash’s Mick Jones (the intro could have come straight off the ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ album) – plus there are some Jam-like bits in there to my ears, with one of those great stuttered endings - and, well, it just has a great title and sentiment… I do like this.  I also love the pic of them shown here, looking tough and bored in their bovver-boy style clobber, photographed in very un-glam monochrome against that graffiti-daubed wall. 

I’m not so keen on other songs I’ve heard but overall they seem very much to be an integral stepping stone in the path from glam to punk (see also Iron Virgin’s ‘Rebel Rule’).  In fact, The Jook were quoted as saying in the music press at the time that they wanted “ be masculine but not violent. We just want to have a good time.  We want to cater for working class kids, not just on a visual level, but by giving them the music they really want to hear”  - a sentiment which rings a good few bells with the words of many a punk protagonist.

(‘Aggravation Place’ can also be found on the compilation CD ‘Glitterbest, UK Glam With Attitude 1971-1976’ on RPM Records)

Sunday 12 June 2011

Herald Tribute

I’ve little interest in cars these days but in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s I was truly in love with my little jalopy – a 1969 Triumph Herald.  I loved it for the throaty rumble of its engine, its small but significant tail fins (like a baby cadillac!) and a stylish dashboard in glossy walnut veneer that looked as classy as a piece of elegant antique furniture.  Even its distinctive smell of leather and petrol was a heady mixture to me.  This feisty little motor could give cars 20 years its junior a run for their money (if you didn’t mind the vibrations almost making your teeth fall out).  It was famous for its tight turning circle which got me out of many a scrape, and its quirky front-opening bonnet which meant you could almost climb right inside the engine compartment if you really wanted to get down and dirty.  I loved its shiny chrome fittings and its massive steering wheel and I adored the fact that it was a classic ‘60s car.  It didn’t matter that there were no head-rests, only four gears and the wing mirrors felt like they were half a mile away on the bonnet.  I called it - perhaps I should make that “her” - Prudence. She was a sweetie. At least, that is, until her engine finally started to give up which meant I had to floor the accelerator pedal just to reach 20mph.  Then, sadly, she had to go (albeit, very slowly…)

As a little tribute to the Triumph Herald 13/60, my first car, here’s a nice ‘60s ad I recently found:

And here’s dear Prudence!  RIP.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Picture (book) post

Today I just wanted to post some illustrations from a couple of beautiful old books that have been kindly passed on to me, having been in my family for a long time.  These publications date back to the early 1900s, although the originals were created some time before that, around the 1860s I believe.  The illustrator, Randolph Caldecott, died aged only 40 in 1886.

There’s a light sense of humour in his work which would become more evident later when he also illustrated for ‘Punch’ magazine, and he was known for gently poking fun at the establishment.  I’m sure some of the pictures I’ve posted below could elicit some interesting captions (that Queen of Hearts has such a wicked look on her face, I'm sure she's not really thinking about jam)… if you can think of anything, feel free to suggest it!

Tuesday 7 June 2011

The man in black

Finding that old Flake advert led me to look up a few others – ah, Cadbury’s certainly knew how to make ads that stay deeply rooted in our national psyche.  With music by Alan Hawkshaw and scenarios straight out of a Bond movie, who could (or would want to) forget the Milk Tray Man? 

It’s a shame there seem to be no better quality versions of these films (my apologies) but then some of us - well, me anyway -were probably watching them at the time on a cranky old steam-driven black and white TV anyway so maybe it just makes them look even closer to our original memories.

As with the highly suggestive Flake ad, I just don’t think they’d get away with them now.  The adventures of this particular chocolate box hero would probably now have to be accompanied by a warning saying “contains mild peril” (as well as nuts).

And all because the lady loves...

Sunday 5 June 2011

Record shop memoirs, part one

I always liked those little independent record shops found in quiet streets, with narrow, creaky doors, windows displays of faded sleeves, and dingy alcoves containing stacks of LPs that looked as if they hadn’t been touched for decades.  Record shops whose interiors were like a club or bar, dimly lit with dark painted walls covered in tatty posters and flyers, and something obscure with a heavy bassline pounding out from speakers in every corner.  But the one where I worked in my early twenties wasn’t quite like that – it was inside a shopping centre (or a ‘mall’ if you’re in the US).  It was brightly lit, with no front door (just shutters) and no windows nor alcoves.   It was adjacent to the pedestrian entrance of a multi-storey car park and opposite the centre’s main toilets.  The car park’s sliding doors opened and shut frequently all day and acted as some kind of wind-tunnel device which, in the sub-zero temperatures of an English winter, sent icy draughts straight through to the shop, and in the tropical temperatures of an English summer, for some reason sent yet more icy draughts straight through to the shop…  You know, sometimes it was windier in there than it was outside, and the records almost used to flap in their racks. Then there was the constant smell of petrol fumes, diluted only by occasional whiffs of bleach and urine emanating from those facilities opposite.  Lovely!

Yet it was still a cool, independent and popular record shop in its own way, bearing in mind this was the 1980s  – it didn’t have the bland, generic feel of an HMV or Our Price and we were the only place for miles where one could stumble upon a Pearls Before Swine LP or order the latest release by the Fuzztones and not be greeted with a blank look.

Friendly, regular customers earned themselves a kind of honorary status; they were people you were glad to see, with whom you could have a good chat and enjoy thumbing through the weighty Music Master ‘Tracks’ catalogue to locate an elusive 7” for them. There were also some dreaded, very unfriendly faces, and as anyone who’s worked with the public would probably agree, customers can make or break your day.  The enthusiastic gratitude shown by a regular indie fan when we got him a 14 Iced Bears single on the day of its release was enough to keep you feeling sweet all day.  Conversely when you were being harrassed repeatedly by a lost (arse) soul who smelt of glue trying to convince you that the deeply scored slab of warped vinyl he wanted a refund on had never been played – well, I know it’s not like a day down the mines but let’s just say it could be a bit of a bore.

One way we found to keep ourselves halfway sane in the onslaught of such behaviour was to make a note of people’s requests - the ones that they got slightly wrong, that is.  It wasn’t that we were taking the piss out of customers in true Barry-from-High-Fidelity style, honest! But some slip-ups were just too good to forget and these quickly developed into a lengthy list.  It was impossible to resist the chance to illustrate some of these erroneous names/titles so very soon some little drawings accompanied the notes.  And, guess what, I’ve kept a copy!

So, by way of gratitude to to all those anonymous members of the public who inadvertently helped to keep me smiling (and drawing) through some of those draughty, diesel-ingesting days, here are just a few from the list…
"Have you got 'Hounds Of Hell' by Kate Bush?" ('Hounds Of Love')
"I'm after the Elvis album, 'A Lawyer In Hawaii'..." ('Aloha To Hawaii')

"Do you have any records by Pat Benidorm please?" (Pat Benatar)

"What albums do you have by Huey Lewis & The Nose?" (Huey Lewis & The News)

And let's not forget the time a customer said, "The title is something about memories, but I can't remember it..."

Saturday 4 June 2011

Well it's 1969 ok...

(Honestly, it's not as naughty as it looks here!)

On early summer days like this, for some inexplicable reason (other than perhaps an association with fine weather) my mind drifts back to the sunny TV ads I grew up with in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  A beautiful blonde in a Sunsilk shampoo commercial was my idol for a while.  I lived at the top of a hill and I remember trying to run down it in, ahem, ‘slow motion’, with my long fair hair streaming behind me, convinced I looked just like her. Of course this must have been a ridiculous sight given that I was about seven, but in my mind it was real enough…  I recall too the international line-up in the Coca Cola advert where a chorus of attractive, multi-racial young things in traditional national costumes sang so jubilantly the song by the New Seekers: “I’d like to teach the world to sing…”  And I also remember the Cadbury’s Flake adverts which I didn’t fully appreciate until later on  - only when I was much older did I understand why they attracted so much attention and a nudge nudge wink wink reaction.  At the time, though, I just fancied a perfectly innocent, crumbly milk chocolate bar.  Just like that nice lady in the advert did.

1969 UK TV advert for Cadbury's flake
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