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Sunday, 31 July 2011

~Kitten Wine~#29: Golden Days At The Icerink

When we first started this Blog, over a year ago, the blurb at the side saying what we all contributed used to be a little different, especially my section. It used to say, amongst other things, that I would be writing about record labels like Sarah, Sha-La-La, Subway and Icerink. I later removed this because I thought it was a bit esoteric, especially as virtually nobody I know seemed to have any knowledge about Icerink Records. And, as I never seemed to get round to writing about Icerink, it seemed totally redundant.
But let's change that now.
Let's look back at a special, and tragically ignored record label that put out some very high quality releases.
Icerink Records were the brainchild of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs who were, along with vocalist Sarah Cracknell, St Etienne; one of the finest British bands of modern times and who I hope to cover in a full Blog at a later date.
Pete and Bob not only ran Icerink, but wrote, produced and arranged some of the tracks that appeared on their label. The label ran from 1992 to 1994, with most of it's more interesting releases emerging in that first year.
As always, let's do a bit of contextualising first and look back at the era the records were released in, and why some of them came to mean so much to me.....

1992 was an odd year for me.
It was the first full year I had to suffer with the tattoo of the black dog's bite upon me. The first crash of depression had struck me in October of 1991, and like all first bouts of depression it had completely floored me. It had also destroyed the relationship I was in at the time, and had taken a fair chunk of 'the old me' with it. There's a rather splendid book called 'Sunbathing In The Rain' by Gwyneth Lewis which tells of an everyday 'normal' person's battle with depression, and I swear that it is so unnervingly accurate that at times I felt I could have written it myself. It seems that everyone who is ever stricken by depression finds that first time the worse, and almost everyone experiences the same traumas and self-questioning in uniform.
1992 was also a time that music was changing. My friends who had been so 'rockist' through the 1980s were now attending raves and pretending to like Dance Music. It was more down to their newly acquired taste for MDMA rather than any populist move.
Dance records were odd things in the early 1990s. There were some really blissed out attempts at Dance/Rap (which begat the later Trip Hop) like Digable Planets and PM Dawn that had a pleasant feel to them, but I was still too stuck in my Indie cul-de-sac to claim to like them. But there was always St Etienne who, even as an Indie Saddo, I couldn't fail to love. And it was while browsing for one of their records in Sleeves Record Shop in Falkirk that I stumbled upon one of the most important records I would ever own. I handed the 12" record over to the scruffy, laconic figure behind the desk (Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap, fact fans!) who, as usual, sneered at the purchase and then handed it back in the once iconic 'Sleeves' bag.
The record was 'Anglo-American/Don't Destroy Me' by Golden.
And it literally saved my life.
Getting through 1992 unscathed was a difficult process. The strain of depression that I suffered (and indeed still suffer from) was linked to both OCD and Intrusive Thought Obsession, so a great deal of time was spent trying to clear my mind of any negative shit, and to try move my line of vision and focus away from any troubling thoughts.
I had taken to playing 'Super Mario Brothers 3' on the Nintendo. I am not much of a Games fan, and this is really the only time I ever took to playing any kind of computer game with any kind of enthusiasm. I would often get in from work and, for the next five or six hours solid, I would play this ridiculous and increasingly difficult computer game. By the end I must have had reflexes like an over exuberant kestrel, and thumbs blistered into whole new shapes. I also soundtracked the whole playing procedure with laid back, purely electronic music including Momus's career changing album 'Voyager', and the aforementioned single by Golden.
'Anglo-American' and it's accompanying remix(which I preferred and have included below) filled the air with gentle, soulful beats and the childlike femininity of the three voices of Lucy, Canny and Celina. But it was the B-side, 'Don't Destroy Me' that cut deeper into me, filling me with an inner contentedness and harder resolve, ironic for a song so light and fresh. The song seemed to surround me like a protective shroud, a gossamer thin vapour reminding me of the beauty of life. There was something about the refrain "Don't destroy me...don't destroy me" that connected, and I realised later that this was becoming like a prayer or a mantra that I was sending out into the dying of the light. It was like I was accepting that I was merely ill and not forever changed, and that if I conquered this illness I'd get 'the old me' back again.
And that is why I an forever indebted to Golden, to Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, and to this beautiful record....

Over the next couple of years Icerink would release some other fabulous recordings, almost uniformly of a very high standard, but almost all ignored by the public, and even many of the Indie kids.
A further release by Golden, a superb cover of Pulp's 'Wishful Thinking', backed up my belief that Golden were about to become the next St Etienne and 'my new favourite band', but sadly that was really about it for them....very little followed...a great pity!

There were releases from bands like Oval, Supermarket and Sensurround, who all got coverage in the inky music papers but just couldn't make the breakthrough.
The wondrous Melody Dog (again who I hope to follow with a full Blog in the near future) released a cover of Brian Wilson's magnificent 'Don't Worry Baby', but again Icerink seemed to prove to be the kiss of death for this band, for they released precious little after this too.

And then there was Shampoo!
Like my beloved Huggy Bear, I just LOVE it when I admit full on devotion to a band that my friends absolutely LOATHE! I should point out that when I say 'friends' I don't mean Griff and Ray, I mean people who maybe weren't even really friends, just drinking partners. Guys who bought in totally to the 'boys-own' world of piss poor guitar rock, and even more disparate nose-bleed banging techno! They HATED Shampoo both on a musical and sexist level....but, of course I cherished them dearly.
Unfortunately, these days Shampoo are remembered for their rather lacklustre One Hit Wonder 'Trouble', but early releases like 'Blisters And Bruises' and 'Bouffant Headbutt' saw them adopt the whole Riot Grrrl schtick before Riot Grrrl even happened. Perhaps had that rather diverting Hit Single never occurred, Shampoo might have been awarded a bit more cool kudos; but Carrie and Jaqui....we, the ~Streetlamp~, salute you!

One of the best songs ever released on Icerink, and indeed one of the best songs ever released....period! was 'Year Of the V-Neck' by Elizabeth City State. This song is absolutely FANTASTIC and yet, bizarrely and annoyingly, it was the one and only song they ever released.
The video which accompanies the song below is also very interesting, for it features scenes from the extraordinary 1970 Czechoslovakian movie 'Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders', which stars the unspeakably beautiful Jaroslava Schallerová.
The film is shot like a hazy, dreamy fairytale but deals with the sexual awakening of the titular goddess, and if you've never seen the film before then for pity's sake seek it out pronto! Hopefully the scenes included in the video below will give you some idea of the film and all accompanied by what will hopefully be your new favourite song.

When Icerink wrapped it up in 1994 they left us with a catch all compilation called 'We Are Icerink' which also featured the heavenly Jaroslava Schallerová on the cover. I cannot recommend this fine compilation enough and you can download the whole shebang here.

So that was it!
Icerink may not be spoken of as reverentially as Sarah Records, and it may never have had the sales figures of Creation or Rough Trade, but for a couple of years in the early 1990s, they really made life worth living. And maybe now Griff and Ray will get off my case and stop berating me for saying that everything released in the 1990s was shite.
Of course it wasn' just had to get your skates on to find the good stuff!


You can download Golden's 'Wishful Thinking' EP here

Sunday, 24 July 2011

~Musical Prozac~: Toasting

If there appears to be an air of trepidation hanging over tonight's Blog it's because I'm wading into uncharted musical territories and writing about music that I'm not 100% au fait with. I can easily write about Indiepop or Crass or The Monkees without any fear of the Pop Pedantry Police coming knocking at the door, but tonight I am writing about Reggae and in particular that form of Reggae that evolved in the early 1980s known as 'Toasting'.
Thanks to John Peel and the coalition with Punk, I'm not entirely ignorant of Reggae and do like a fair amount of it, but in no way could I ever claim to be a connoisseur of the subject, and therefore if my Blog tonight is riddled with inaccuracies and blatant naivete then I apologise up front about any discrepancies or signs of ignorance. I hope that you will understand that I compose this Blog, like all my previous Blogs, purely through pashernate love of the music covered.
As this is a 'Musical Prozac' Blog, all the songs featured are songs that bring a big Cheshire cat grin to my rather dour chops, thus being my main reason for covering them tonight.

We begin with the rather superb 'Here I Come' by Barrington Levy.
Now, rather oddly, I was introduced to this track by Tony 'Dead Eyes' Blackburn way back in the Autumn of 1984. I had just started my first job and was working Saturday mornings, the first time I had seen Saturday mornings probably since Primary School. In those days Tony Blackburn used to do a show between 8 and 10a.m and I would always catch the last hour or so. One Saturday he played 'Here I Come' by Barrington Levy and completely out of the blue I was hooked. From it's bizarre (to my young inexperienced ears) "skiddlydiddlydiddlydiddlydiddly way-oh-oh" intro, right through it's hypnotic pounding main section, through the "broader than broadway, sizer than sizeway" throwaways, the whole song sounded like nothing I had ever heard before, but something I knew I had to own. As soon as I finished work at around 12:30 I headed up to local Vinyl Emporium 'Groundbeat' rather pessimistically assuming there would be no way on Earth they would have it.....BUT, there it was on the wall, a 12" picture sleeve with 'Greensleeves Records' emblazoned all over it. I bought it immediately, took it home and played it to death. When we all discussed which records we had bought or loved that week when we gathered together in our local under-age drinking hostelry, rather shamefacedly I failed to mentioned the purchase of this fine disc in fear of ridicule or of being thrown out of the Indiepop Club!
All these years later I still get a jolt of deep joy whenever I hear the track begin, and it still remains my favourite Reggae song of all time. Or rather favourite Reggae song of all time not recorded by Althea & Donna....if you get my drift!

As I'm sure must be obvious to everyone, I was one of those typical teens who hid under his duvet with a tiny radio and a singular mono earpiece, listening to John Peel when I was supposed to be asleep. In those days I was mainly listening to John for Punk, Post Punk and New Wave records but, as anyone who listened to John will verify, he played masses of Reggae in those days, especially that homegrown British Dub music that seemed to be every where then (except on mainstream radio!).
One particular artist that John championed in those days, and who to my under-the-duvet-inexperienced-naive ears, sounded beamed in from another planet entirely, was Eek-A-Mouse.
Over the most laid-back, sweet sounding dubbiest Reggae, Eek-A-Mouse would deliver all kinds of odd sounding "biddlydebiddlydeboing" skanking that, to me, sounded SO alien it didn't sound possible that any human could be making these weird noises.
When I was on Thatcher's exploitation racket the Youth Training Scheme, there were several older boys who all seemed purveyors of "Jazz Cigarettes" and who seemed to know the entire recorded output of Eek-A-Mouse down to a tee. Though never a fan or user of herbal fags myself, I would often spend time with the guys learning more about Dub Reggae and the likes of Eek-A-Mouse.
I can't claim that the examples of his music below are typical or not, but they are perfect snapshots of the overall sound of his that attracted me in the first place.

In the Summer of 1985 there hadn't been much to laugh or smile about; football had suffered the double whammy of the Bradford fire and the Heysel Stadium disaster, both of which played out on live TV and both of which I had the misfortune to witness unfold in front of me. Music also suffered with the Live Aid concert which saw not only the death of everything Punk had sought to eradicate from the bloated pomposity of music, but also the birth of the careerist Rock Star. Throw into the mix the fact that it was one of the coldest, greyest, wettest Summers on record and you'll agree it was a pretty bleak time all round.
One shining example of upbeat, unconventional, dazzlingly provocative music was Smiley Culture. Again, championed by John Peel, Smiley (real name David Emmanuel) brought a mix of satirical stories mixed up with almost incomprehensible toasting wordplay, years ahead of Dizzy Rascal (in every sense).
Smiley has scored a huge cult hit with 'Cockney Transaltion', a song so diverse and bewildering to the masses that it failed to get any mainstream airtime or chart action, yet was still massively popular amongst left field music fans.
Follow up 'Police Officer' however couldn't fail and, thanks to the video receiving several plays on The Tube, as well as Smiley himself appearing regularly on the show, the song sailed all the way up to Number 12 in the charts, quite a big deal for an unknown Reggae artist back in those days. 'Cockney Translation' also entered the charts on the back of this success.
Smiley would bother the charts one more time with the song 'Schooltime Chronicle', another Reggae record I bought and which received a huge boost being featured on a series of videos sold to Pubs in the days before they were allowed to show MTV!
After that, Smiley still recorded but remained a cult artist, although he kept his profile high by turning in acting performances and appearing on TV shows.
Earlier this year we were saddened to hear of the tragic death of Smiley Culture, killed in a police drugs raid. The irony of his biggest hit lost on nobody! Smiley's death remains a bit of a mystery, killed by a single stab wound in a house filled with police officers. Very little official information has been released and his family and friends are campaigning for justice. You can find out more about the campaign here , and below you can enjoy his three biggest hits....

Finally, as a bit of an addendum; it was 9 years ago this very week that myself and my then girlfriend/now wife moved into our own house together. We moved in on the Friday and then on the Saturday we set about putting the new house into order. All that day we had the music center playing and one song that seemed to keep coming around again and again, virtually soundtracking the whole day was 'Ali Baba' by John Holt, which was on a CD given away with Mojo magazine that month.
Once again I have to proclaim this as one of my favourite Reggae songs and the one song that evokes the Proustian rush of that first day in our new house.

Like I said at the start of the Blog, I realise that this Blog may be full of errors that will have Reggae fans going apoplectic over, but I write this only through my love of these songs. I hope that that, above all, shines through.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sexploitation Music - Part 2

Welcome to Chapter 2 in my grim series exploring the murky, sexist world of pop. Our exploration of how this malady extended even into the comparatively enlightened realm of the punk and post-punk cultures continues with the story of Annabella Lwin (pictured).

Annabella was born to a Burmese father and an English mother in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar) in 1966; the family came to England from Burma when Annabella was 5 years old. Annabella, of course, went on to become famous as the lead singer of Bow Wow Wow, nowadays most famous for their one US hit, the execrable, MTV friendly, 80s cover version of The Strangeloves 'I Want Candy'. Bow Wow Wow's version of this tune peaked in the US Billboard chart in May of 1982. One year later the band was defunct. So what happened?

Here's how our story begins...It's 1979 and Adam and the Ants, at that time still a punk band, have just released their debut album 'Dirk Wears White Sox'. Looking for inspiration for a new band image, they approach ex Sex Pistol's manager Malcolm McLaren and hire him as an image consultant for a fee of £1,000 (a not inconsiderable sum in 1979). So what does Malcolm suggest? Well, after coming up with a combination of American Indian and pirate clothing as the best way forward, he then lures away the guitarist and rhythm section ( Matthew Ashman, Dave Barbarossa and Leroy Gorman) effectively breaking up the band; Malcolm, you see, has his own ideas for a new band. With his musicians in place , he set out to find a singer. Reportedly, he had something very specific in mind. He wanted a girl, preferably someone exotic, with a very clear voice to enunciate the lyric. Basically, a kind of female Frankie Lymon. Reputedly McLaren, along with a few close acquaintances, hung around local schools in an attempt to spot their girl, but all to no avail. Eventually, a friend of his came across the 13 year old Annabella Lwin, working part-time in a dry- cleaner's in Kilburn, London, and singing along to a Stevie Wonder song on the radio. Following a successful audition for the lead singer position in McLaren's new group (the yet-to-be-named band Bow Wow Wow), he had her transferred from a mixed comprehensive school in London to the Sylvia Young Theatre School.

McLaren, by this time working furiously on a (yep, you guessed it) pirate theme for the band, already has a song specifically written. With his personnel in place, McLaren was ready to launch them on an unsuspecting public. Bow Wow Wow’s first release came in the form of the world’s first-ever cassette single. In July 1980, EMI released 'C30, C60, C90, Go' only on cassette in the U.K. with 'Sun, Sea, and Piracy' to accompany it. It reached number 34 in the UK singles charts, not a smash hit by any means, but it caught this writers attention. I must admit that I still love this song despite McLaren's crap production (a musician he's not!). On this song, the band combine ferociously punky guitars with fierce Burundi-style drumming. Annabella, her voice still not properly matured, shrieks and hollers over the top to great effect. Here's the video for the song:

Does, it, even at this early stage, sexually exploit the 14 year old, Annabella? Well, the band were dressed by McLaren who was making great play, at the time, of the singer's young age. Not convinced? OK, here are the Youtube tags (below) for the video you've just watched :

* bow wow wow
* nude
* c30 c60 c90 go
* tits
* bow
* wow
* c30
* c60
* c90
* go
* big boobs
* feet
* see thru
* seethru
* annabelle
* Lwin
* teen
* teen tits
* boobs
* ass
* teen boobs

Some lovely people out there in webland, don't you think?
Anyway, the Bow Wow Wow sound was certainly interesting, a pastiche of African beats, chanting, surf instrumentals and Spaghetti Western soundtrack music. And genuinely, I did, and I still do, like it. But where did it come from? Here's the story as McLaren told it:

"What happened was, I was involved in a French independent record company called Barclay. On the side they used to make porno movies and they wanted to get me to put some music to it. They said, “Don’t fucking give us a hard time with any music that’s copyrighted. Use African music or something.
I went up to the library at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and they had a big music collection. I fancied the girl there so I would go every day and look at her and listen to ethnic music. She played me one of these records, mistakenly, at the wrong speed and it fucking blew my ear off. I thought, “What the fuck is that? It’s a hell of a beat.” So I took the idea back to London and I gave it to these kids who were called Adam and the Ants."

So, basically, the Bow Wow Wow sound, and that of other British bands of their time, was influenced by, if not occasionally outright plagiarised from, the music of native African nations and tribes such as the Royal Drummers of Burundi and the Zulus. Controversial, certainly, but forgivable to some extent as they did add a lot of other musical strands into the sound to produce something quite fresh and exciting.

But there was greater controversy to come. McLaren had decided to use Bow Wow Wow as a medium for his anti-youth and anti-music tirades, and in the vehicle of the teenage Annabella he had the perfect medium; a naive and pretty young girl who simply sang the lyrics that McLaren handed to her, and dressed as he told her to. In 1980, the band went into the studio to begin recording an album and McLaren, ever the opportunist, decided to launch a magazine, with record company EMI's backing. At the same time, the BBC was invited to shoot a documentary about the marketing of Bow Wow Wow. McLaren claims that the magazine, first called "Playkids" and later "Chicken," (from paedophile slang for a child) would be about "pleasure technology for the primitive boy and girl." Here's the story as told in Simon Reynolds' book Rip It Up and Start Again, postpunk 1978-1984:

(Fred) Vermorel (an old friend whom McLaren hired as film editor) believes McLaren's master scheme was "to create a child porn scandal implicating as many people as he could." Not just EMI, who was financing Chicken, but the BBC, too. A documentary crew headed by Alan Yentob had been following McLaren around for a program on the marketing of Bow Wow Wow. Partly impelled by his usual lust for maximum media mayhem, McLaren also wanted to make a serious polemical point, exposing pop music as porn for children...and pop as porn using children to titillate adults.

With typical ruthlessness, McLaren, in his eagerness to embarrass the music and media establishment, showed no concern whatsoever about the youngsters (Annabella and the other teenage models) or old friends (Vermorel) who would have been embroiled in the scandal. When he went to remonstrate with McLaren, says Vermorel, "Malcolm just laughed and said, 'You should be telling all this to the judge! When the shit hits the fan, I'll be in South America.' So I told EMI what was going on. And they told Yentob, and he freaked out, and those tapes have been in the BBC vault ever since."

...Chicken never hatched. According to Vermorel, the only physical evidence of Chicken's existence was the rate card for advertising in the magazine."

Creepy as fuck, right? The footage of photo sessions taken at the time apparently include McLaren asking Anabella to pose nude (she declined) and then badgering a different 13 year old girl into stripping nude, during which she is crying. Thankfully, Vermorel realized he had to put a stop to this whole mess, telling New Music Express that while at the beginning, he thought the project would be an edgy alternative to Smash Hits, it turned out to be "a magazine for adults that features kids as objects." In response, McLaren called his estranged friend a closet puritan. The project disappeared after that and the photos went largely unused, aside from a handful that ended up on later Bow Wow Wow releases.
Meanwhile, behind the furore, Bow Wow Wow's second release, 'Your Cassette Pet',an extended cassette EP featuring eight tracks, was now ready for release, in December 1980. But sadly,it continued to exploit the underage-sex angle. Here's the track listing:

A1 Louis Quatorze
A2 Gold He Said
A3 Uomo Sex Al Apache
A4 I Want My Baby On Mars
B1 Sexy Eiffel Towers
B2 Giant Sized Baby Thing
B3 Fools Rush In
B4 Radio G String

The songs, as is apparent even from the titles, are mainly about sex, and it's hard to believe that Mclaren wasn't getting some kind of kick about putting his words in the mouth of a 14 year old girl.The most controversial of the songs at the time was undoubtedly 'Sexy Eiffel Tower'. Apparently, a song about masturbation, this track is infamous for Annabella's extended and overdone heavy-breathing and orgasmic moans throughout. It has to be heard to be believed:

Hmmmm, not much I can add to that really. The other notable song on Cassette Pet is 'Louis Quatorze', in which Mclaren gets Annabella to sing about being seduced (raped?) by Louis XIV, and includes the lines;

"With his gun in my back
I start to undress
You just don't mess
With Louis Quatorze

He's my partner in this crime
of happiness, 'cos I'm just fourteen"

As, indeed, she was. McLaren did like to constantly remind us of this fact, though. Once again, Mclaren is the producer for this record and even his ham-fistedness can't quite destroy the energy and exuberance of the band, who really do create something musically interesting despite the distractions of the Mclaren hype and mayhem. And it did get worse, at one point, McLaren decided that Anabella wasn't fitting in with her older, male bandmates because she was a virgin, and convinced them that one of them needed to deflower her. Apparently, guitarist Matthew Ashman drew the short straw, but, thankfully, failed to complete the task. And, of couse, next, came the 'Le déjeuner sur l'herbe ' cover art fiasco.

During 1981, the band had been recording their first, proper, full-length LP, to be called 'See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy'. McLaren decided that, for the record cover, the band should pose for a photographic recreation of the 1863 Manet painting, “Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass). For those not familiar with this art-work, it depicts a fully naked woman, casually lunching by a riverside with two fully dressed men.The men are dressed like young dandies and seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman's clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background a lightly-clad woman bathes in a stream.

In McLaren's version, the photo featured Annabella, completely naked, surrounded by her clothed bandmates. Since she was only 15 at the time, her mother alleged exploitation of a minor for immoral purposes, and instigated a Scotland Yard investigation. As a result the band was only allowed to leave the UK for a US tour after McLaren promised not to promote Annabella as a 'sex kitten' and included an agreement not use the nude photograph on any of the band's cover art. However, the cover was used as planned in some European countries, such as the Netherlands, though not in the UK or the US. In fact, as I remember from the time, the picture was printed fairly regularly in the UK in both the music and news press. Later, also, the picture was used as the cover of an RCA EP,'Last of the Mohicans', released in the US in 1982. Without intending to provoke or titillate, here it is (below):

As regards not being promoted as a sex kitten, suffice to say that , once she reached 16 years of age, the average Bow Wow Wow cover looked something like this:

The press in the UK made much of the controversy at the time and Annabella was almost made to quit the band such was the backlash. In the end,the UK and US versions of the album cover presented Annabella only slightly covered in a see-through white dress. The album spawned Bow Wow Wow’s first U.K. top 10 hit, the frankly not awfully good, 'Go Wild in the Country'. Thankfully too, McLaren stepped down from the producer's post for this album and instead hired in a host of other producers, which was better if still not doing the band's sound much justice.

It's this album that features my favourite Bow Wow Wow track; Chihuahua. I sometimes feel that I shouldn't really like this, as the lyric shows McLaren at his most vicious, heartless and manipulative. However, I've long been of the opinion that this song is somehow Annabella's moment of triumph. Despite the words Mclaren puts in her mouth, she seems to transcend and transform them through a combination of (by now) knowing cynicism coupled to a stubborn youthful bravado. I first saw the video for this on a Saturday morning kids' TV show back in 1981 and I remember vividly the profound effect it had on me, particularly those shots where we see a close-up of Annabella's facial expression as she sings those vile lyrics. There's something indefinable going on here, a subtlety to her demeanour that suggests that Annabella is rising above the poisonous crap that Mclaren had fashioned into a lyric for her. The song wasn't a hit, and I never saw the video again until it surfaced over 20 years later on Youtube, but the image of her, by turns serene, then defiant, but always perceptive expression as she performs her ugly, yet somehow beautiful, pop hit stayed with me all that time. Here it is below:

Surprisingly, if you search on Google for the lyrics you can't get them, except for a few crazily mangled interpretations containing numerous, often quite funny, errors. So, in a Streetlamp internet exclusive, here for the first time, is the full lyric of the song, which I'm 95% sure is accurate (get in touch if you know better):

I can't dance, and I can't sing, I can't do anything,
I can't even find my way around town,
And I'm 15 and a fool, can't you see?
So don't fall in love with me.

I'm a rock and roll puppet in a band called Bow Wow Wow,
Better off to be a rabbit, at least they have more fun with a gun,
I just go on and on, and on and on and on,
I wasn't supposed to sing that one,
Pop, pop, pop, pop gun!

And the Greeks had a word for it, it went like this,
Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Chihuahua,
Bow wow, wow, wow, wow, Chihuahua,
Everybody try it now, 'cause this fool's always wrong.

I'm unintelligent, and no one can stop it,
So don't think of this fool, this little girl too,
I'm a horrid little idiot, can't you see?
So don't fall in love with me.

My moronic gestures keep on pestering you,
I'm forced to some energy, don't drink to this fool,
Call a doctor, don't be cruel,
Don't you know nothing can stop me drooling over you?

And the Greeks had a word for it,
Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Chihuahua,
Bow wow, wow, wow wow, Chihuahua
Everybody try it now, cos this fool's always wrong, Chihuahua.

The band never bettered this moment and by 1983 it was all over. Here's how Annabella relates it:

”Yeah, tell me about it. I read it in the press! I was kicked out of the band and they never told me. I read it in the NME. We had just done a really long tour around the world and we were about to go to Australia ... and our lead guitarist fell of stage. The next thing I know we were meant to take a month off, but then the three guys went to do a demo for RCA and I was told by the guy - who was kind of managing us at the time – that RCA wanted to sign me as a solo artist. Which I didn’t understand."

And that was it. Annabella stayed in pop music and, older and wiser, never let herself be exploited by the likes of McLaren again. She still makes music now,dancey-funky-poppy stuff, and her website is 'here'. Amazingly, like Honey Bane, who I wrote about 'here', she seems to possess no rancour for those whom she might be expected to, and like Honey, comes across as a remarkably balanced person. I like to think that she took all the shit that was thrown at her, rose above it and gave it all right back when she recorded Chihuahua. Annabella Lwin, The Streetlamp salutes you!

Below is a link to a free MP3 I've made from my own vinyl copy of the song. This version matches the video and is slightly diffferent from all the CD releases now available. It also has a cleaner production than the badly re-mastered CD versions.





Gordon's Addendum:
Furthermore to the sleazy stupidity of McLaren's gross exploitation of young girls comes this gruesomely unhealthy tale of when Bananarama asked McLaren for some career advice at the outset of there career. What did McLaren propose to the three young women stood before him? Why, a song called 'Don't You Touch Me Down There, Daddy!"....a song which manages to encapsulate both taboos of incest and paedophilia!
Here's an excerpt from an online interview in which the girls discuss it:
"There's a rumour that Malcolm McLaren once wrote you a song called Don’t You Touch Me down There Daddy. Is this true and if so, why on earth did you not record it?"
Ben Harris, Watford
"Sarah: Yes it is. We were looking for a manager at the time and we went to him and it was like going to see the headmaster. We all sat in a row like naughty school girls, giggling and not really knowing what to say.
Keren: And I drifted off at one point and he roared at me you, on the end, what did I just say?" I was petrified.
Sarah: And he was like, "Listen, do you wanna be Bucks Fizz or The Slits?" He told us he had a song called Don’t You Touch Me Down There Daddy and we were like, er, we don't really wanna sing that.
Keren: We weren't really sexual by then, we looked like little boys, still wearing little monkey boots, and we hadn't really grown up. The thought of singing something like that horrified us.
Sarah: Whereas now, it'd be like the most natural thing in the world... [laughs]

And here is Siobhan discussing the same thing on video:

Unhealthiness abounds!!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sexploitation Music - Part 1

Gordon's last blog (see below) was an interesting one for me, as I also obtained a copy of PIL's Death Disco at the time (although not by the nefarious means of tricking my innocent old Grannie into purchasing it for me) and I like to think that this demonstrates that Gordon and I were bonding over something more meaty than just The Barron Knights at the time (see 'here' if that reference makes no sense).
His passing reference to Honey Bane also was timely as she is someone who has been on my mind recently. Most particularly, I've been thinking, with not a little despair, on the horrible and almost predictable downward spiral of her career and how it serves as a cautionary tale on the insidious and incessant sexism and exploitative nature of the music industry.
In Gordon's recent piece on feminism in music he rightly praised those smart and assertive women who were able, through the punk and post-punk movements, to be treated with respect, as serious artists with significant and credible messages. However, that they did so at all, is testament to their determined and indomitable characters, as the default position of the 'industry' is, and always has been, to sideline and trivialize female musicians. Indeed, the music industry only ever seems happy when they can promote female artists based on an overt, and occasionally disturbing, sexuality.
The success of artists like The Slits and Poly Styrene was also, to some extent, a demonstration of the prevailing attitude of the time; an inconoclastic and egalitarian attitude that allowed outsiders of all types to stand up and make themselves heard after years of silent deference to authority. Don't be fooled into thinking, however, that in those days everything was bright and auspicious and that 'the man' could only stand by impotently as we forged our brave new world. Oh no, in time, punk, and its offshoots too, were corrupted by commerce like all other art-forms, and tonight I wanted to talk about the first of two young women, contemporaries in the post-punk era, who both produced pieces of music which remain dear to me and who were both eaten up and spat out by the all-devouring pop monster in the most shoddy and exploitative manner.

The first of the young women is, of course, Honey Bane. Born Donna Tracy Boylan, in 1964, London, Honey reputedly had a difficult and unstable childhood, gaining the reputation for being a 'problem child' by her teens. Finally, at the age of 14, as she became increasingly involved in the nascent punk scene, she ran away from home. With her mother seemingly unable to cope with her behaviour, in the summer of 1978, Honey was placed in Youth Treatment care.
At that time, Honey had formed her first band, The Fatal Microbes, with herself as lead singer. Other band members were Gem Stone (Gemma Sansom) on drums, Pete Fender (Dan Sansom) on guitar, and Scotty Boy Barker (Scott Barker) who was briefly replaced as bassist by It (Quentin North). Interestingly, the Sansom siblings were the children of Poison Girls singer Vi Subversa. Fatal Microbes first record was A 12" split with the Poison Girls and was released on Xntrix/Small Wonder records in October 1978. The outstanding track on this release is the Microbes' eerie and ominous ‘Violence Grows’, written by a young Honey. This track was later released,along with the songs ,‘Beatiful Pictures’ and ‘Cry Baby’, as a 3 track EP on Small Wonder Records. It was this release, and in particular the song Violence Grows, which received repeated airplay on the John peel show and achieved single of the week in Sounds, that brought Honey Bane to the attention of this writer. If you've never heard Violence Grows, then you're in for a treat. Here it is below.

Isn't that just amazing? The menacing bass-line, the phosphorescent, reverb-laden guitar, and Honey's precocious lyrical and sinister vocal talent all combine to make this song one of the outstanding punk releases of 1978, in my opinion. Once you've heard this song once, you never forget it, the mood of the music, with its clever restrained use of the guitar and its unusually slow tempo for a punk song, match perfectly with the lyrical theme of urban alienation. It undoubtedly marks the high point of Honey's career and from here on in it becomes a tale of diminishing returns. With the Microbes fallen apart before they can release anything else and Honey now serving a sentence at the St. Charles Youth Treatment Centre in Essex, the future doesn't look bright. Undeterred, Honey went on the run from Social Services and spent the next 12 months living on people's settees until she was 16 and legally outside the system's reach. During that time, Honey began a collaboration with Crass who, as well as giving her a place to stay, provided the musical backing for her 1980 EP release 'You Can Be You'. Released under under the name Donna and the Kebabs, this is the first non Crass release to came out on the Crass records imprint.
The music is actually pretty good, if not quite to the standard of Violence Grows. The A-side is the ironically-titled 'Girl on the Run', which documents Honey's real-life experiences 'on the lam' and the B-side features 'Porno Grows' (which bears a passing resemblance to the Microbes' Violence Grows and in which she rails scathingly against the pornography industry) and 'Boring Conversation'.

Now, if at this point, Honey had stuck with the Crass label then I wouldn't be writing this blog. Unfortunately, she didn't and soon after this, her one and only Crass release, Honey formed a new version of The Fatal Microbes and began touring extensively. The pretty, and very young, punk naïf with the 'enfant terrible' reputation began to attract the attention of the music press and to give you a flavour of the sort of things written at the time here are some excerpts from a 1980 Sounds interview with the loathsome Garry Bushell;

"On the phone Donna had been adamant that this was to be a
group interview and she'd sounded put out about something —
probably all the sexist rubbish some wag keeps slipping in Jaws
about her, y'know, references to her breasts looking like 'a pair of boxing gloves out looking for a fight', and so on."

"Despite the unflattering jumble safe chic you can see she's a looker. A little on the dumpy side perhaps but that's just puppy fat. She's still only sweet 16 after all, not that you'd blame the guv'nor for not batting an eye when I order her a large CC and coke."

This is the main pic they ran with the article:

This version of The Microbes never released any recordings and soon fate intervened in the shape of Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 fame. Pursey, at this time was talent scouting for EMI/Zonophone and, as well as signing her to this label on a 5 year contract, he also became her manager. This period of Honey's career gained her a minor hit and a Top of the Pops appearance but also undoubtedly marks the nadir for her musically. EMI soon changed her image, marketing her at first as a glossy and pouting young New Wave star, and had her recording terrible songs with ageing session hacks. Her second single for EMI, in 1981, is an abysmal pop reggae cover of Holland, Dozier and Holland's 'Baby Love', which has to be seen and heard to be believed. Unfortunately, that's what I'd now like you to do:

Now here are some press excerpts from this period. This is from an interview in Zig Zag in 1981;

"Yeah alright mate. 'Ow yer doin?" Jimmy
Pursey grinned down at me, patted the
offended organ and pushed a pretty, but
crumpled little girl at me. "This is Honey
Bane, I'm 'er producer and she's gonna be
a fuckin' star." If she survives this lot. The
doors opened and changing into a surfboard
I was swept inside leaving Jim and his
protege hopefully about to ride the next
When I next met Honey she had just signed a five year
contract with Zonophone records, She looked
completely different. Taller than I remembered with a
Marilyn Monroe body. She assured me she was the
same person, "But I was only sixteen then."

"Simon (the photographer) wanted to take pictures, Honey stood up, tightened her belt and said she didn't want anything too sexy as that wasn't her image. Perhaps he should photograph just her shoes in that case. Actually even they were quite sexy. Red suede affairs on thin heels, clinging seductively to her black stockinged curvaceous foot."

Tragic, isn't it? A desperate EMI next gave Honey a perm, and a pop makeover, and released two more instantly forgettable singles. Both of them flopped and, just like that, by 1982, her calamitous involvement with one of the majors was over. In 1983 she was thrown back into obscurity with her punk credibility in tatters and her pop career down the drain. It gets worse though, Honey spent the remainder of the 1980s as a model for the very porn industry which she had castigated on her Crass release in 1980. I don't mention that though in a cheap attempt to prove hypocrisy. Far from it. I believe instead that a talented but young and vulnerable woman was cheaply exploited and abused by a shallow, vulgar and profit-obsessed music industry until she was at a point where the degradation of pornography seemed almost normalised. Like I said, tragic.

I can't end it like that though, and I won't. Violence Grows is, in my opinion, one of the great British punk singles and if you're hearing it for the first time then I envy you. Honey never reached those heights again, but she did return to making music in the 1990s and can still be found today on Myspace. In anything recent I've come across from her I'm struck by how grounded she now seems and I'm heartened to see that despite the trials she has faced she comes across as a decent and unembittered person. The Streetlamp salutes her!

Below are MP3 downloads of copies I made from my very own, very old, Fatal Microbes EP (complete with vinyl crackles):

Violence Grows

Beautiful Pictures

Cry Baby



In the next installment: Annabella Lwin

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Where Is The Soundtrack cont; No Birds....No Doves...

When I was still at Primary School I asked my Gran to buy me 'Death Disco' by Public Image Ltd. To me, now, this seems completely mad! My Gran had asked me if I wanted a record, which were still a luxury for a pre-teen, and I had asked for this particular disc having seen the band perform the track on Top Of The Pops earlier that week (which now seems every bit as mad!!). The reason I say it seems mad is because 'Death Disco' is an extreme put it mildly! When people gush about how John Lennon's debut album 'Plastic Ono Band' is the ultimate example of Janov's Primal Scream Therapy within music, it often occurs to me that these people have never heard 'Death Disco'.
'Death Disco' is John Lydon's howl of rage at the slow wasting death of his beloved mother through cancer. It's a pretty tough listen even now, never mind for a child not yet reached his teens. But I loved it. Something about it's madness appealed to me directly and probably shaped my taste for 'outsider music' there and then.

The reason I mention all this is because it was actually the B-Side that would prove detrimental in removing the starry blue-eyed wonder of innocence from my child's mind.
The B-Side was called 'No Birds(Do Sing)' and can really only be described as apocalyptic. Up until then I recall that I was safe in the knowledge that there would never be a third World War. The previous two wars now seemed so long ago, and we were friends with Germany now, and I had even once overheard my Granpa say to my Dad that "There'll never be another World War".....of course what he meant was there would never be another huge land war within the theater of Europe.
'No Birds(Do Sing)' was the first chink in the armour, the first sign that other people may not share my cheery Utopian view and that maybe some impending holocaust was just around the corner. Pretty soon the reality of Thermo-Nuclear Destruction would slip into my consciousness and soon, like everyone else of my generation, we felt like we lived in constant fear of annihilation.

The early 1980s in particular seemed a pretty worrying time to be alive; Thatcher would repeatedly tell us that "there can never be a nuclear war whilst nuclear weapons exist!" Um, no Maggie, I think you'll find that there's far less chance of a nuclear war if there are NO nuclear weapons....I mean, call me mad by all means!
TV shows, especially political comedy shows repeatedly insisted that nuclear destruction wasn't just inevitable, but imminent. How on Earth did we stay sane in those days? Maybe we didn't!

The apocalyptic image of there being no birds in the sky, singing or otherwise, would be put to good use in another superb single of the times, 'No Doves Fly Here' by The Mob.
The Mob were an Anarcho-Punk band and, though they had released a couple of singles on other labels, 'No Doves Fly Here' was released on Crass Records and would prove to be one of it's finest releases.
First off, 'No Doves Fly Here' sounds nothing like what one would expect from a Crass Records release. Far removed from any kind of Punk-by-numbers, the song is a huge, slow-burning, atmospheric epic of a thing with synthesizers and sound samples creating a haunting post-apocalyptic vision.
The lyric is set in the immediate aftermath of nuclear attack as the protagonist views the forever altered landscape; "The sky is empty and it's changing different shades of colour// It never did before and we never asked for war" before concluding every verse with an angry "AND NO DOVES FLY HERE!" insinuating quite correctly that all beauty, as well as all life, has been destroyed.
Like 'No Birds(Do Sing)', something about this image of no birds in the skies must have triggered something in my psyche for I have always associated a lack of birdsong with the end of the world.
Of course, The Mob could argue that the lyrics refer to there being a lack of 'doves' within the then current UK and US governments, that both countries military's were rather full up on 'hawks' with nary a 'dove' to be seen. Both analogies work perfectly.

The B-Side was a track called 'I Hear You Laughing' which seemed to suggest that too many people within the British Public simply weren't taking the whole nuclear threat seriously and that unless they did, the government were going to keep piling up the warheads. While less impressive musically as the A-Side, I think there is a fair amount of righteous, indignant anger within the vocal to give the song a vital edge.

'No Doves Fly Here' shoots down all the rubbish that right-wing music journalists used to fire at Crass and their record label that all they peddled was cheap imitators of themselves. A lot of records released by Crass Records(many of which I hope to cover here soon) were every bit as diverse as those released by Rough Trade or Factory.
Bands like The Mob sounded nothing like Rudimentary Peni, who in turn sounded nothing like The Alternative. There was also the feminist soundscapes of Annie Anxiety; the experimentalism of Icelandic noise terrorists KUKL(featuring a teenage Bjork); Ireland's D&V who used nothing but drums and vocals(hence the name); future Pop star Honey Bane; the radical music and politics of Poison Girls; and the spoken word releases of Andy T.
Crass Records really should have been taken a lot more seriously than they were at the time, not only as pool of diverse musical output, but also as a forum for radical leftist political theorising.
Just the kind of thing we could be really be doing with today....


Both sides of The Mob's single can be downloaded below:

No Doves Fly Here

I Hear You Laughing

Friday, 15 July 2011

Naebody Move, There's Been A Murdoch! Part 2

When you live in an essentially conservative country, like the UK, and you are somewhat to the left on the political spectrum then you quickly become familiar with a sense of almost endless disappointment; obvious corruption in public life gets ignored or whitewashed, light-weight politicians with the sincerity of used-car salesmen become Prime Minister, the main political parties offer an almost identical intellectually and morally bankrupt take on the prevailing neoliberal agenda, and these parties are supported and maintained by a venal, unscrupulous and mercenary media that panders to the worst of human instinct. Yeah, that's modern life in the UK right there, and sometimes the smell of shit rising from the whole bloated and fetid mass can make you despair.
And then there are weeks like this one. We've already posted (below) on The Streetlamp team's joy at the demise of the repulsive and nasty News of the World, but this story just continues to grow and grow, and with today's news of the, long overdue, resignation of the Medusa of Wapping, Rebekah Brooks, we couldn't resist the opportunity to indulge in a little more grave dancing.
As this story unfolds it will soon become apparent that the whole corrupt Augean stables of British public life needs to be thoroughly cleaned out once and for all. The mainstream parties, the mainstream press, the toothless Press Complaints Commission, the Metropolitan Police Force (and possibly other forces elsewhere in the country) are all culpable to some degree in either colluding with or cringing before Murdoch's despicable empire. It is time for ordinary, decent people to demand something better, something braver, something more transparently honest. The only party to come out of this whole affair with any honour is the outstanding Guardian newspaper which has refused to let this affair be concealed and has demostrated admirably what the real job of investigative journalism entails. More power to them!
One other thing that has annoyed us is that many newspaper columnists are indulging in "we are all guilty" excuses and justifications; claiming that the British public and their apparent love of celebrity gossip was ultimately responsible for the criminal behaviour of the News of the World journalists. Bullshit! Only 2.7 arseholes read the News of the World; the paper was written by scum and read by scum and the vast majority of the British public wouldn't have deigned to wipe their arses with it. Here at The Streetlamp, we long for the day when; Murdoch himself is brought to book, The Sun newspaper disappears for ever, Andy Coulson is properly investigated for his role in this affair, and slick charlatan David Cameron is finally dismissed from office. On days like these we tell ourselves that it could yet happen!
Longtime Streetlamp favourite, and all-round good bloke, Billy Bragg, evidently feels the same way. He has just released a cracking new song about the News of the World scandal called 'Never Buy The Sun'. A wonderful studio version is available as a free download from his website. Here's
a video clip of him singing it in his dressing room before a recent gig at Garforth Arts Festival.

With Love From The ~Streetlamp~ Gang

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Naebody Move, There's Been A Murdoch!

As the three ~Streetlampers~ dance and piss on the grave of the News Of The World; and as we gaze on with gleeful eyes as Murdoch's corrupt empire crumbles around him, we only have on thing to say:

Andy Coulson

Rebekah Brooks

and especially paymaster Rupert Murdoch:

"Legalized theft
Leaves me bereft
I get it straight in the neck
Somehow expecting no less
A court of justice
With no use for truth
You pleaded and squealed
And you think you've won
But sorrow will come
To you in the end
And as sure as my words are pure
I praise the day that brings you pain
QC's obssessed with sleaze
Frantic for fame
They're all on the game
They just use a different name
You lied, and you were believed
By a JP senile and vile
You pleaded and squealed
And you think you've won
But sorrow will come
To you in the end
And as sure as my words are pure
I praise the day that brings you pain
So don't close your eyes
Don't close your eyes
A man who slits throats
Has time on his hands
So don't close your eyes
You think you've won
OH NO!!"

With Love From The ~Streetlamp~ Gang

Sunday, 10 July 2011

~I Misplaced It At The Movies~#1: 'D.O.A'(1980)

The first in a new series looking at important films, music based or otherwise!

Lech Kowalski's 1980 movie 'D.O.A'(sometimes referred to as 'D.O.A: A Right Of Passage') is a fascinating documentary, and massively important document of one the most extraordinary and much misunderstood periods in the history of Popular Music.
Following two threads, the film at once follows the Sex Pistols ill fated tour of the Southern States Of America, while at the same time heads over to Britain to find out exactly WHY Punk evolved in Britain and to focus on the new acts following in the wake of the Pistols. The film is full of extreme juxtapositions as we shall discover, but more importantly it is one of the only movies that exists that captures fully the feral, incendiary power of Punk Rock.
There exists two movies which try to tell the story of the Sex Pistols, both directed by Julien Temple, but both telling radically different views of what went on. 'The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle'(1979) tells manager Malcolm McLaren's view of how he did everything and was practically involved in in every single aspect of the Pistols except for the actual playing and singing. 20 years later in 'The Filth And The Fury', Temple allows the members of the Sex Pistols themselves tell their version of the story, which as you can imagine is completely at odds with the popular notion the public had been fed by McLaren.
'D.O.A' on the other hand, cuts through all the bullshit and simply allows the music to speak for itself, and thus we are treated to some of the most visceral live music captured anywhere anytime.

Watching the Sex Pistols perform before varying moods of crowds dispels many myths that exist around the Pistols. Firstly, the idea that the band were always a shambles live, and especially on this tour, is utter crap. The band are SCORCHING and deliver truly ferocious performances night after night like a well honed unit(remember they had been playing live almost constantly for three years by this point). Secondly, the idea that Sid Vicious could not play a single note is also dismissed as horseshit. Sid is quite clearly playing(and more than competently), as can be verified at a moment when Steve's guitar cuts out and all that can be heard are Sid and Paul's bass and drums. Sid is quite clearly playing in time, and in tune, traducing all the nonsense that McLaren fed to the music press.
In the live footage, the band sound fantastic and Johnny Rotten looks and sounds every bit a star. Full of charisma, he seems completely unswayed by the indifferent audiences, even taking a full glass of something suspicious in the face without flinching.

The American audiences do themselves no favours whatsoever. Either sounding like spaced-out loony tunes or IQ-free Rednecks, they spout the most outrageous twaddle to the camera. The Rednecks on one hand believe that the band piss, crap and vomit on the audience and offer nothing but physical violence as response. Those who 'dig' the band seem every bit as mad, blethering all kinds of mystical and hippyish arsewords and acting like a bunch of precocious kids who've just found Mummy's dressing up box. The unreality of the American audience leads to the greatest juxtaposition within the movie.....the difference between the Americans getting off on the band, and the British kids from where Punk emerged....

The footage shot in Britain circa 1979 shows the country in a very bad way indeed. Young people, from where the Punks themselves manifested, are interviewed in grotty, rundown play areas in rain lashed council estates. Their language is more than a little peppered with 'F' and 'C' words and they offer very little promise of any kind of bright future.
An up and coming band called Terry And The Idiots are featured and front man Terry Sylvester also paints a grim picture of life heading into the new decade. He insists that young people these days have virtually nothing to live for; no money, no prospects, television which shuts down about 11:00pm. When his band are featured they turn out to be awful; a drunken hybrid of The Fall and The Swell Maps but with absolutely NONE of the talent of either. In a quite touching moment an audience member chucks a pint a Terry while he's 'singing' and the band simply let the 'song' meander to a halt, to no audience reaction whatsoever.

While in Britain, Kowalski and his film crew manage to capture some excellent footage of bands following in the Pistols jetstream. Generation X are seen recording the quite superb 'Kiss Me Deadly'; the Rich Kids are captured performing 'Pretty Vacant' with Glen Matlock and Midge Ure sharing vocal duties; an impossibly young looking X-Ray Spex are filmed performing a raucous 'Oh! Bondage, Up Yours' while looking like school kids. But the most fascinating footage belongs to the much maligned Sham 69 whose leader Jimmy Pursey is seen on several occasions begging his audience to stop fighting before launching into some admittedly quite powerful performances including a blistering 'Borstal Breakout'. Sham 69 have been denied the kudos dealt out to other Punk bands mostly because their concerts often attracted an unwanted Fascist Skinhead element, and regardless of Jimmy's endless protestations, the mud often seemed to stick.

Back in America we are shown some homegrown Punk.....some, like the Dead Boys and the Dicks seem to get it; others who never appear to be named, quite clearly don't, performing some grotesque pantomime of watered down rock with shock theatrics.
But also back in America we are 'treated' to the centerpiece of the film; an interview with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen......oh dear!
In hindsight of the deaths of both Sid and Nancy, the interview seems skin-crawlingly ghoulish; Sid can barely stay conscious for more than five seconds, often passing out mid-answer and accidentally burning himself with lit cigarettes. Nancy, while not trying to wake Sid up either opens her legs suggestively to the camera or strips topless. I hate to speak ill of the dead but when Chloe Webb played Nancy in Alex Cox's 'Sid And Nancy', she was criticised for playing Nancy as a shriekingly unpleasant caricature; all I can say is that Chloe actually underplayed the reality. Nancy really comes across as grossly unpleasant.

So, to recap then; this is a fantastic movie capturing the Sex Pistols at their best and showing how Punk HAD to evolve from dead-end Britain. It also shows that most Americans of the time seemed to lack any sense of irony and either simply didn't 'get' Punk, or those who claimed they did merely saw it as a continuation of the burnt out, opiated counter culture dream that evolved in the 1960s.
It also paints a grim picture of the emerging 1980s Britain which would become a reality under Thatcher with the Brixton and Toxteth riots only a year away, and with the Iranian hostage situation and the storming of the Iranian embassy in London by the SAS just as Ronald Reagan slithered to power, the film captures that grim Post Punk feel beautifully.
And what of Sid? Watching the film you wonder if he had never got involved with Nancy and all the Class A bullshit that she encompassed, could he, and indeed the Pistols have gone on to greater things? The final image of the movie; John and Sid captured together defiantly on stage suggests this very thing.
As far as I am aware the film is not currently available on DVD. I know it was once available on a VHS release, and I seem to recall that it has only played once on British TV, way back in 1991, and it's a recording of that which I own.
Hopefully the film will one day get a full bells-and-whistles release but I wouldn't hold your breath.
Whatever you do though, please try and see this brilliant movie, and rediscover just why the Sex Pistols, and Punk in general, is so massively important to the history of popular music!

Kiss This!!


This is the final 10 minutes of the movie which features a storming version of 'Bodies' plus Augustus Pablo's beautiful 'A P Special' playing over the doomy end credits:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Griff says; Welcome to Glasgow's best kept secret

If any of you out there in blogland ever decide to visit the dirty old town of Glasgow then the one must see visitor attraction in the city, which I would advise you to take in at all costs, is the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. The reason that I mention the Sharmanka tonight is that I paid it an overdue visit today in its swanky new premises at Trongate103. Whilst there I learned that it is now being used as a venue for live music, with the first performance due tomorrow, Thursday July 7th at 20:00.

But more of that later, firstly I'd like to explain a wee bit more about the unique Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre experience itself. Sharmanka is the Russian word for hurdy-gurdy and if you think of what that instrument evokes; a clanking, mechanical contraption belching sinister fairground music and operated by a shabby, disreputable vagabond; then you have an inkling into the ambience conjured up by this strange and uncommon theatre collaboration.

Imagine hundreds of carved figures and animal bones mounted on huge mechanical machines composed of bicycle parts, antiquated sewing-macines and other pieces of old scrap suddenly lurching into ominous life. Now imagine them performing an incredible choreography to a programme of haunting music and the whole perfectly synchronised to a marvellously inventive light show. Can you imagine that? If so, congratulations on your wonderfully gothic creative inner life. If not, then get yourself down to Trongate103 in Glasgow to see the real thing. You won't regret it. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre describes itself as, "telling funny and tragic stories of the human spirit as it struggles against the relentless circles of life and death."
And that sums up the whole experience really; it's a spooky, darkly humorous dance of grotesque figures underpinned with comic religious and erotic imagery. Here's a video of the installation, Master and Margarita, to give you a flavour of what to expect:

The theatre is a collaboration between sculptor-mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, theatre director Tatyana Jakovskaya, and light and sound designer Sergey Jakovsky.
Eduard Bersudsky (b. 1939, St.Petersburg, Russia - then Leningrad, USSR) is a self-taught, visionary artist. He started carving in his late 20s, while making a modest living as a metal worker, electrician, skipper on a barge, night guard and boiler man, and acquired his education in museums, libraries, exhibitions, and evening classes for drawing and sculpture.

In 1974-80 Bersudsky took part in some exhibitions of “non-conformist art” - a movement of artists who wanted to avoid the control of the official Soviet ideology.
In 1974 he found a job with his local park department; his remit, to carve giant figures out of fallen trees for children's playgrounds. At the same time in his only room in a communal flat he began producing kinemats - kinetic sculptures driven by electrical motors and controlled by sophisticated electro-mechanical devices, incorporating pieces of old furniture, metal scrap and grotesque carved figures. Until 1989 his kinemats could be seen only by few friends and acquaintances.
In 1988 he met Tatyana Jakovskaya (b.1947), a theatre critic and director. Together they founded Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre (opening in St.Petersburg in 1990). The third member of team – Sergey Jakovsky (born 1980) – joined Sharmanka at the age of 13 and gradually became responsible for light/sound design as well as technical management.
In 1993, Sharmanka was driven out of Russia by an economic depression and a lack of support for art. At this time, Glasgow Museums bought some of its exhibits for the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and invited it to provide a personal show at the McLellan Galleries in the city. Eventually, in 1996 Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery/Workshop opened permanently in Glasgow. Initially, it took up premises in King Street, before a short sojourn in Osborne Street and now it finally has a permanent performance space in the Trongate at Trongate103. I first visited the Sharmanka several years ago and have returned numerous times, each time I go I pick up on something new. It truly is a wonderful experience.

As mentioned at the start of this piece, Sharmanka now plays host to live music. Tomorrow, sees them welcoming, at short notice, the combined talents of Howie Reeve (of Tattie Toes) and Drew Wright, aka Wounded Knee, to the theatre. Wounded Knee, an experimental vocalist and singer, recently relocated to Glasgow from Edinburgh. His music; dark experimental folk; can be found, and downloaded free on his bandcamp page. Here's his version of Hamish Henderson's classic, alternative Scottish anthem, Freedom Come-All-Ye, released this year in support of the popular uprising in Egypt.

And here's his version of Shane MacGowan's, A Pair of Brown Eyes, released in June of this year:

Howie Reeve is the bass player in Tattie Toes, and has previously played in other Glasgow luminaries, most notably Maxton Grainger and Shlebie.
Tattie Toes; who trade in quirky, experimental, European-style jazz-folk; have an album which will be in the shops in September 2011, but you can get an advance copy 'here' and also pick up three free MP3 tracks while your at it. Here are Tattie Toes performing live at the CCA, Glasgow last year.

I'm not sure how Reeve and Wright's collaboration will sound but it should be mighty interesting. I'll try to get there myself but as I only learned of the concert today and have plans to head to the Highlands tomorrow I might not make it back in time. If you're in Glasgow, do try to get along and feel free to send us your review. The duo will perform amidst Eduard Bersudsky's marvelous mechanical machines and donations will be collected for the artists as you leave the gallery following their performance.