Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Solo Beatles: RINGO





Book Review of: 
(Sanctuary 2005 – ISBN 1-86074-647-0 £7.95)

When Ringo was briefly hospitalised for a tonsils-removal operation in 1964, his Beatles-logo’d drum-seat got temporarily filled by stand-in drummer Jimmy Nichols for a European tour. That doesn’t happen much these days. Now, they just cancel the bloody tour. But back then, Ringo merely posed for a ‘Melody Maker’ cover-photo with a placard saying ‘I Feel Fine’, as his contribution to their current hit. Of course, it’s easy to write Ringo off as fame-by-association. He wasn’t there for the ‘Backbeat’-period Hamburg group-bonding. He wasn’t even there for the rejected Decca audition. Instead, he was drafted in last-minute for “Love Me Do” as the acceptable fringe when Pete Best refused to sacrifice his quiff. On such whims are history made. In some alternate time-stream could it have been John, Paul, George… and Jimmy Nichols – or Pete Best? If so, how would things have panned out differently?

Alan Clayson uses meticulously exhaustive research to navigate his eventful path, the years that lead up to him joining the Beatles – through Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. To how American fans single him out as ‘cute’ from the first tour. ‘If you had to be in a band’ he quipped, ‘it might as well be the Beatles.’ Probably the worst track the Beatles ever recorded was “Octopus Garden” – Ringo’s second-only writing contribution. Although afterwards he charts with a number of half-decent solo hits of his own. He plays on George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ sessions (1970), then on John Lennon’s first solo ‘Plastic One Band’ album (1971), when they could have had their pick of just about any drummer in the world. He even drums on McCartney’s ‘Tug Of War’ album (1982). So – why Ringo?

He’s the jester, the good-guy, the cohesive force defusing the in-group tensions around him. His role throughout was not just to drum for the Fab Four, but to arbitrate between their internally warring poles. A demilitarised buffer-zone. But across the decades since, there’s only the indulgences, the rehab, and the long inactive spaces between, the occasional mediocre albums, and the mildly entertaining movies. Ringo’s amiable comedic talent first surfaced in the ‘Hard Day’s Night’ movie-sequence by the river. Although his subsequent acting career failed to develop whatever potential it indicated, sleep-walking through movie-adaptations of Terry Southern’s cult novels ‘Candy’ (1967) and ‘Magic Christian’ (1970). Yet the Beatles story must still be chockfull with secrets and untold stories unvoiced through loyalties to the dead, or to the living. And if Ringo won’t write it, and McCartney’s never likely to divulge it, this is about the best we’re likely to get. It is by turns sad, touching, comic, and never less than informative. But betrayingly – rather than checking out the ‘Ringo’ index-references, you tend to search out the more creatively-interesting names around it. 

(First published 1996 as ‘Ringo Starr: Straight Man Or Joker’, this revised edition 2005) Sanctuary Publishing Limited, Sanctuary House, 45-53 Sinclair Road, London W14 0NS

 Published in:- 
‘THE SUPPLEMENT Issue.30’ (UK – October 2006) 
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.1 Jan/Feb’ (UK – December 2006)



Album Review of: 
(1998, Mercury/ Polygram 538-118-2) 

“With A Little Help From My Friends” is ‘the song that gave me a thirty-year career.’ Ain’t that sad? Best drummer in Rock? Naw. Ringo was hardly the best drummer in the Beatles. And he was their fourth best writer. As they simultaneously disinter a Lennon box-set of ninety-four out-takes complete with John’s “I’m The Greatest” written for one Mr Richard Starkey, Ringo assumes his ‘Thomas The Tank-Engine’ persona as laconic drone-over link-man for a live traipse through his own back-catalogue. Songs that might have been perfectly adequate if they’d been written by a member of the Searchers or Gerry & The Pacemakers, but which got sadly over-shadowed when compared with Lennon-McCartney. Or even Harrisongs. He’d been kicking “Don’t Pass Me By” around for years to general Mop-Top ridicule until they eventually donated space for it on ‘The White Album’ (‘Let’s hear it for ‘The White Album’. Let’s milk it for all we can get...’). And his ‘you were in a car-crash, and you lost your hair’ does have an attractively stoned oddness. But semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower it is not. 

He follows it with “Octopus’s Garden”, his aquatic ‘Yellow Submarine’ retake from ‘Abbey Road’, probably the most skipped-over track in Rock history (‘I’d had one of those ‘herbal’ cigarettes’ he explains lamely). Then – a handful of solo hits co-written with ‘the one-and-only George Harrison. Let’s hear it for George...’ (“It Don’t Come Easy”), or taped after a night of drunken indulgence with Marc Bolan, ‘a very good friend of mine, god bless him...’ (“Back Off Boogaloo”), clear up to “I Was Walking” from last year’s ‘Vertical Man’ album. The ‘VH1 Storyteller’ project is a step on from ‘Unplugged’. Plugged. But with audience intimacy. And, as required, they hang on every Ringo-ism, ask questions (“who yells ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers’ at the end of “Helter Skelter?” – hey, it was Ringo!), and supply rapturous ovations at the slightest provocation. The band includes Joe Walsh, plus a bunch of adequate session non-entities. And it all makes for a very undemanding pleasantly jog-along wallow in the soft thirty-year underbelly of amnesiac nostalgia. 

Album Review of: 
(2004, CNR Records 22.999052) 

It’s a thankless task, being Ringo. Eight years as a Fab. Then the longest lost-weekend retirement in Rock. Now he hollers ‘What’s my name?’ and they all holler back ‘RINGO!!!’ ‘It’s the only reason I’m here’ he adds. So at least he’s under no illusion, he knows it too. But apparently in the States that’s enough to keep the ‘All-Starrs’ on the road. This time round, it’s a live set in Detroit during an eighth tour, and there’s the solo Ringo hits, in lifeless facsimile. Beatles hits even more so. Paul Carrack is on piano and vocals (“How Long”), Colin Hay who I once interviewed when this – “Down Under”, was first a hit for Men at Work. John Waite (“When I See You Smile”), Shelia E (Prince’s “Glamorous Life”). Two songs each from these disparate also-rans. Updated with Ringo’s tribute to Sun records “Memphis In Your Mind” from his recent ‘Ringo-Rama’ (‘like you bought it, right?’ he mocks truthfully). Then “Don’t Pass Me By”, Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” from the ‘Beatles For Sale’ album, and – inevitably a bored karaoke “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Utterly pointless. An appalling abuse of CD-space. 

Published in: 
‘SONGBOOK no.5 (Autumn)’ 
(UK – December 2004)

DVD Review of: 
(2012, Image Entertainment) www.watchimage.com 

Own up, who really needs another Ringo Starr DVD? With Global Warming, Syria, and Simon Cowell to worry about, does anyone still give a toss about another amiable jog-through of the usual suspect old clunkers? Even now they must be camping outside HMV stores and crashing websites with orders for this fifty-six minute package, NOT! The same old one-track-per-LP Beatles songs get dusted off alongside the handful of post-Fab solo hits, all to no real purpose. Done live at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois, and first broadcast in 2005 for PBS, Ringo’s without his regular All-Starr Band, but manages to rustle up Colin Hay (of Men At Work) to guest on “Who Can It Be Now?” And obviously a good time was had by all. But is that enough? Ringo was on TV’s ‘Loose Women’ a while back, talking-up his useless retread of Buddy Holly’s ‘Think It Over’ from his ‘Ringo 2012’ album, provoking pretty-much the same conundrum. Who needs it? What possible audience-need is this targeting?

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 33’ 
(May/June 2012 – UK)

Thursday, 21 January 2021

DVD: John Lennon 'Love Is All You Need



Review of: 
(2010, DVD A2B Media, Odeon Entertainment) 83-minutes 
plus bonus features ‘Memories Of John’ about the Liverpool Cavern Walks 
project, ‘Interview With Tony Palmer’ director of early Beatles TV-documentary 
‘All My Loving’, + ‘Here There & Everywhere’ trailer

Plastic Ono Band images

He came to save the world, and they crucified him. John Lennon, that is. By now it’s possible to reconstruct the entire path of his eventful life through the medium of biopics, from Sam Taylor-Wood’s ‘Nowhere Boy’ (2009) covering his childhood, through the Hamburg years as Ian Hart in ‘Backbeat’ (1994), then into Christopher Eccleston’s ‘Lennon Naked’ (2010) taking in the Epstein years. There’s even Christopher Münch who fabricated his film ‘The Hour And Times’ (1991) around John and Brian Epstein’s much-discussed much-mythologised twelve-day Barcelona holiday jaunt together. While this documentary fills in details along the way, ably enhanced by lots of archive newsreel footage, with absolutely no Lennon or Beatles music whatsoever, but with linking narrative from Paul Gambaccini in a pink shirt. He could probably do this capsule history on autopilot, but there’s added comment from Bruce Channel – who topped a Liverpool bill over the early Beatles, Sting – who points out how the Beatles legitimised Motown by recording lots of Smokey Robinson songs (they actually recorded one, “You Really Got A Hold On Me”), plus George Martin. 

It tracks through all the usual Beatlemania shenanigans, what George Melly calls ‘turning mass-hysterical masturbation to profitable account’ (in his ‘Revolt Into Style’), punctuated by its fab mop-top crisis points. There’s the ‘Bigger Than Jesus’ Bible-belt controversy whipped up from a throw-away Lennon quip, an outrage magnified by the same kind of religious retards who now promote creationism onto American school syllabuses. Then the shock of Brian Epstein’s death, and the coming of the Maharishi. Film of the hippie era resembles distant footage from a strange lost realm of outlandish quaintly evocative oddness, something that can only have happened in a parallel less-cynical continuum, a flowering flower-powering Middle Earth in a fantasy realm similar to that of the pre-Raphaelites or the bohemian Romantic Poets. Did all that really happen? With the Fab’s as presiding deities. 

Feminist theorist Camille Paglia eloquently describes the intervention of Yoko One into the enchanted circle. She was a strong woman, inviting sexism, she was Asian, so leaving her open to racism, and she was older than John, hence going against the perceived natural order of male-female relationships. Worse still, she caused the Beatles split. Guilty as charged, according to fans and tabloids. Cynthia and Julian Lennon, talking to each other by the fireplace, are more generous. Whatever Yoko represented, she was good for John. She was the healing force he needed. John was art-school. That’s where he’d met Cynthia in the first place. His art was evolving. He explains how Dylan – ‘Bob, not Thomas’, had expanded his lyric horizons. Pop songs didn’t have to be ‘I love you, you love me’. They could be more than that. They could be ‘semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower’, or ‘plasticine porters with looking-glass ties’. Yoko opened his head up further. She – as Stuart Sutcliffe had begun to do a decade earlier, influenced, confronted and seriously altered John’s consciousness. And he was strong enough to accept, and integrate those changes. Questioning the Northern cultural misogyny that had characterised his relationship with Cynthia, and expressed in songs such as “Run For Your Life” (‘I’d rather see you dead little girl, than to be with another man’). By the time of “Jealous Guy” he was apologising for such deeply-ingrained behaviour patterns, and struggling to amend them. He would emerge from the process a more complete human being, more at ease with himself. 

Yoko was already established as an artist. That was how they’d met, at one of her exhibitions. Soon, “The Ballad Of John & Yoko” became a no.1 single, incorporating their romance into the ongoing Beatles legend. It could be argued that Yoko sacrificed her own already high-profile art career to Lennon’s celebrity, getting a degree of mass-media scrutiny and access by way of trade-off which they were able to exploit into a series of prankster exploits. Bed-ins, Bagism, “Give Peace A Chance”. It’s all here. And the art-stunts they perpetrate together are as off-kilter as anything that Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst would much later concoct. In one clip Yoko explains to a baffled David Frost why the fragments of a broken cup placed on a podium is sculpture. Or perhaps David’s amused bafflement is affected for the benefit of the TV-studio audience, and the viewers out there in television-land, for surely he’s not unaware of the mainstream of conceptual art since Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists, of which Yoko is a fairly creative representative? 

‘I’m a Peacenik’ says John, and as a thematic thread running through their arc of adventures, it’s a pretty healthy one. Yet after the way-out excesses of the experimental albums they inflict upon a confused fan-base, it’s interesting that Lennon later reverts to more conventionally acceptable Pop. As Paul Gambaccini points out ‘he got his chance to be a private citizen’ during his house-husband period. Until the final frames in the Lennon-life biopic. ‘Five gunshots are not a rare event on the streets of New York,’ but when they’re fired by what Gambaccini dismisses as an ‘attention-seeking creep’ – he refuses even to mention Mark Chapman by name, because that would only fulfill the assassin’s intention, the sixties was finally blasted into oblivion. It’s not mentioned in this DVD, but ironically Mark Chapman would be held in the same Attica Correctional Facility that Lennon had once themed on his double-album ‘Some Time In New York’. There, John sings ‘we’re all mates with Attica State’ in solidarity with the rioting prison inmates. 

(2010, DVD A2B Media, Odeon Entertainment) 83-minutes plus bonus features ‘Memories Of John’ about the Liverpool Cavern Walks project, ‘Interview With Tony Palmer’ director of early Beatles TV-documentary ‘All My Loving’, + ‘Here There & Everywhere’ trailer.

Featured on website: 
(UK – September 2010) 
& edited version published in: 
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.24 (Nov/Dec)’ 
(UK – November 2010)

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

DVD: Young John Lennon 'NOWHERE BOY'





Review of: 
 Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, with Aaron Johnson (as John Lennon), 
Kristen Scott Thomas (as Aunt Mimi), and Anne-Marie Duff 
(Julia Lennon) (2009 Icon Films, DVD/Blu-ray May 2010, 
with extras ‘Lennon’s Liverpool’ featurette, Director 
interview & commentary, ‘The re-creation of 
Lennon & The Quarrymen’ featurette, and 
‘Anatomy of the scene: That’s When I Stole Him’) 

If ‘Genius is pain’, as John Lennon later claimed, this is where the pain begins. The film opens with a single crashing chord, a ghost-anticipation of “A Hard Day’s Night”, and a solitary teenage Lennon running, pursued by the faint future-echoes of teen-screams to come. As he cycles to school he passes the stone gates of ‘Strawberry Fields’. He sketches ‘walrus’ into his schoolbook pages. Then the vindictively punitive headmaster scolds him ‘you’re going nowhere’… with teasing hints and suggestions. All the events in this film have been explored and evaluated any number of times in a library-full of academic, trashy or scrupulously-researched authoritative books about Lennon individually, or the Beatles collectively. Seeing it all acted out on-screen gives flesh to the dry text sketches, adds emotional and period depth.

First-time director Sam Taylor-Wood, former Turner prize nominated Young British Artist, invests it with an accessible immediacy that goes beyond archivist musicology, and makes it real. There’s no attempt at replicating the character’s physical appearance, unlike – say, Ian Hart’s John Lennon in ‘Backbeat’ (1994), a movie that begins where ‘Nowhere Boy’ leaves off. Aaron Johnson does not resemble John Lennon, and there’s no way of contriving it. Instead, it’s more an inner portrayal. This is a fucked-over young Lennon caught up in a bewildering storm of adolescent hormones, half-memories, glimpses of things, the sounds of his mother’s sex-life in the night, pain and confusion, with the deep swirling tides of the Irish Sea to suggest hidden depths and unfathomable currents, topped off by the tawdry Blackpool funfair to suggest his aggressively-posed frivolity. 

Contemporaries continue to refer to the young Lennon as a ‘rebel’. Reviews of ‘Nowhere Boy’ routinely describe him in that way. Which is deceiving. Rebel is now the default setting. For an adolescent not to rebel is now in some way unnatural. It was not so in that conformist time. Elvis might have been perceived as a rebellious force, but at heart he was a patriotic god-fearing American good ole country-boy. Cliff Richard might have been briefly a disruptive Rocker, but he was into show-biz, not rebellion. To be the rebel then was not a marketable pose, it was to be the marginalised outsider. A trouble-maker, out of step with society. For Lennon to be a rebel was to mark him out as different. And his was a complex dilemma. 

John lives in the pleasant middle-class Woolton suburb three miles from Liverpool city centre, in a neat semi-detached called ‘Mendips’ on Menlove Avenue, with his morally uptight and elegantly respectable Aunt Mimi. There’s a photo of the real infant Lennon on Mimi’s mantelpiece. He listens to Tony Hancock & Kenneth Williams on the radio, unaware that his uncle George has collapsed on the stairs outside his room. Distressed when he dies, Aunt Mimi rebukes him for being silly. Then mother Julia reappears. She lives for ‘Fun Fun Fun’ – sorry, wrong sixties band! She takes young John to Blackpool and plays “Rocket ‘88” on the pier café juke-box, crediting it correctly to Ike Turner even though at the time she wouldn’t have known that, because it was issued under the Jackie Brenston alias. ‘You know what it means, Rock ‘n’ Roll?’ teases Julia ‘– sex’. In the film she takes him to see Elvis on the local fleapit newsreel. Others claim Lennon saw Elvis at his most surly in ‘Jailhouse Rock’ at the Palais de Luxe with early girlfriend Thelma Pickles. Perhaps Goldsmith graduate Taylor-Wood conflates the two incidents, enabling John to ask ‘Why couldn’t god make me Elvis?’ So that Julia can jibe supportively ‘Cos he’s saving you for John Lennon.’ Yes, we know, bigger than Jesus. Nevertheless, he greases his hair into a Presley quiff as “Shake Rattle & Roll” corrodes the soundtrack. 

John and sidekick Pete Shotton shoplift some jazz records from a music store – maybe NEMS? He trades them with a ‘Cunard Yank’ for a copy of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You”. Julia is turning him on to R&B. She blows into his harmonica, ‘your spit’s my spit anyway.’ Then she teaches him the basic banjo-chords for “Maggie May” – a song the Quarrymen will use to open their first set. And a forty-second snippet of which will be squeezed into the play-out groove of the original un-stripped ‘Let It Be’ album. ‘Who’s Maggie May?’ he queries innocently. ‘A Whoo-er’ reveals Julia flirtatiously (whore). Soon he upgrades to a red £7 acoustic guitar, and rehearses “That’ll Be The Day”. ‘Nowhere Boy’ essentially charts the formative three-way love-pain equation that is John, Julia and Mimi. Julia wears red, and Mimi wears prim black. A moral colour-coding. With John torn between two mothers. Mimi, who provides stability and security. Julia who represents bohemian escape. ‘In Freudian terms’ explains ‘Observer’ film critic Philip French ‘the stern Mimi, a practitioner of what we now call ‘tough love’, is at work on John’s super-ego, while the rebellious Julia, offering unconditional love, is exciting his id. In religious terms they’re his good and bad angels.

But the film also puts in place the roots of the next big equation in his life, the one that goes ‘Lennon-McCartney’. The Beatles narrative begins when sixteen-year-old Lennon meets Paul McCartney in the leafy grounds of St Peter’s Parish Church where the Quarrymen play the annual Woolton Village Fete. That Sunday – 7 July 1957, is one of those fateful dates that has since assumed epic world-shaping significance, but at the time meant very little to anyone. Not even to its participants. It was a shy and awkward meeting. Former Quarryman bassist Ivan Vaughan introduces a boyish Paul in white sports coat and pink carnation. ‘Paul plays too’ prompts Ivan. ‘What? With himself?’ teases John, then more conciliatory ‘I do. All the time. It’s good for the wrist muscles.’

John notes that the new kid can play guitar, upside-down, pretty good for a left-hander. And he knows his way around the chords of some American Rock ‘n’ Roll. That’s something worth knowing. Paul works his way through Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” as John appraises him critically. For Apple publicist Derek Taylor, this is the moment that ‘the Twentieth Century’s greatest romance’ began, when the two met and ‘clicked’. Was it really as ‘Nowhere Boy’ imagines? It seems feasible. It must have been something like that. Perhaps this is about the closest we’re ever going to get? They check each other out warily. ‘You don’t seem like the Rock ‘n’ Roll kind of guy’ accuses John. ‘Why, because I don’t go around smashing things up and acting like a dick?’ responds the ‘Scouse Duane Eddy’, ‘it’s the music. That’s it. It’s just the music. Simple.’ But when Paul admits his Mother Mary recently died of cancer, that firms the forming bond. Now Paul wears pointed-toe shoes. And there’s a running gag about John not wearing his glasses, despite Mimi’s regular prompts. It recurs when Paul is taken aback as he fumbles his specs on, the better to see his fingering as they rehearse “Blue Moon” together. ‘My Buddy Holly look’ he snaps defensively. 

Paul suggests ‘we should write our own stuff.’ He’s already astute, ‘that way you don’t get stiffed by record companies.’ This introduces a drawback, which also afflicts ‘Backbeat’. Movie-makers can soundtrack Duane Eddy’s “Movin ‘n’ Groovin”, and Paul croons “Love Me Tender” to Julia (‘that was for her, wasn’t it, your Mum?’ she says), and a bunch of studio-muso’s including Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory add incidental links, but the rights to Beatles songs are not so easy to acquire. After a evening of family revelations splurged out during a big Mimi-Julia confrontation on John’s birthday he walks out drunk into the Liverpool night, gets turned away by the bouncers at ‘The Cavern’, and sleeps on a bench overlooking the Mersey. The brief family reconciliation that follows is violently exploded when Julia is killed in a hit-&-run as she leaves Mendips. As John premiers his first song, “Hello Little Girl”, to Paul. The Beatles will do the song for their failed Decca audition. 

Gerry Marsden claims he turned the song down when John offered it to him to record. Eventually Brian Epstein bequeaths it to the Fourmost, as their golden ticket into Top Ten. Meanwhile, as the post-Julia family axis shifts, the new configuration emerges. John thumps Paul. Then they embrace. There’s an envelope left for him by Julia, with ‘a few bob in there’. A guy called Percy F Phillips has a small monophonic recording and mastering facility set-up in the front room of his Victorian terraced house at Number 38 Kensington. The group use Julia’s legacy to record “In Spite Of All The Danger” in his front-room studio, for 17s 6d. Oddly, the song constitutes the only extant McCartney-George Harrison collaboration, which is now available on ‘The Beatles Anthology 1’ double-CD. They also record Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” during the same one-take session. After which the group are set to embark for Hamburg. Mimi has to fill out the documentation. ‘What am I, parent or guardian?’ she wonders. ‘Both’ says John firmly, in final reconciliation. 

For the ‘White Album’ John writes “Julia”. He names his first son Julia-n. The credits roll over the third original song, an out-take version of John’s primal therapy “Mother”, from the ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, recorded to exorcise the demons of memory. Turning pain into genius. To listen to “Mother”, is to hear the adolescent John Lennon screaming out the pain and confusion of separation, isolation and loss, crying out for his dead mother. And it’s possibly his finest ever artistic achievement, for this is an album that retains its ability to provoke highly unsettling reactions in its audience. Watching ‘Nowhere Boy’ now helps you understand it better. But what is there in the film for those not sufficiently steeped in Beatles-lore to tease out all the subtlety? Well, everyone is in on the tale far enough to get a powerful jolt from this movie.


Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood. Screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh (who also scripted the Ian Curti bio-pic ‘Control’). With Aaron Johnson (as John Lennon), Kristen Scott Thomas (as Aunt Mimi), Anne-Marie Duff (Julia Lennon),Thomas Sangster (Paul McCartney), Sam Bell (George Harrison), Josh Bolin (Pete Shotton), Eric Griffiths (Quarryman Eric Griffiths), Christian Bird (Jimmy Tarbuck), and David Threlfall (Uncle George) (2009 Icon Films, DVD/Blu-ray May 2010), 97-minutes with 54-minutes of extras ‘Lennon’s Liverpool’ featurette, Director interview & commentary, ‘The re-creation of Lennon & The Quarrymen’ featurette, and ‘Anatomy of the scene: That’s When I Stole Him’) www.nowhereboy.co.uk 

Originally featured on website: 
‘VIDEOVISTA’ (UK – June 2010)

Thursday, 31 December 2020




I will be the magic that has gone away, 
I will be the shapes that swim in oceans 
where all the fish have vanished, 
the shrub on the common land 
that is a charcoal sketch at dawning, 
the night bird that screeches when 
all owls are driven from their hollows, 
the leafy branch that scratches the window 
when they’ve cut down all the forests, 
I will be the whisper of the bees 
on the sunshine breeze, the eye of newt, 
the dream of ladybirds on sunflowers 
the fire of toxic particles to light the sky 
the ghost of wolves to howl at dark moons 
the lost voice of worms, beetles and spiders 
the echo of the fox in the phantom farmyard 
the long silence of a world 
where magic has gone away


Featured online at: 
‘IT: INTERNATIONAL TIMES’ (19 December 2020) 

Wednesday, 30 December 2020




Book Review of: 

($22.50, Grove Press, ISBN 0-394-52270-2, 
Grove Press, 196 W Houston St, New York NY 10014, USA)

On the road, accelerating into overdrive, destination board set to FURTHER, trailing necrophile clouds of glory from its stylishly-rusted exhaust, the Dead Beats industry has seldom been so hyperactive. It’s accumulated renewed momentum since the 1974 publication of Ann Charters’ tentative biography ‘Kerouac’ (Warner Paperback Library). That monumental tome carved out a four-hundred-plus-page archaeological-sleaze survey that succeeded in achieving energy levels sufficient to pass massive voltage through temporarily dormant hipster Beatnik memories, and shove them from subsurface into kitsch collectability. Novelist Jack Kerouac, who died 21 October 1969, was the thinking eye of the Beat Generation, slouching rootlessly into Frisco from New York, from Lowell to Mexico City, travelling cross-continent high on visionary jazz and Buddhist bohemia. His was the gift of complex simplicity. His roaring Bop prose illuminated his ragged milieu and embryo subculture in an adrenalin rush of emotionally-charged verbals. He was both technically innovative, and – through boozily emotive imprecision – relentlessly accessible to the non-schooled non-technical reader.

Everyone from Bob Dylan to Tom Waits theft their best affectations from ‘Old Angel Midnight’ Kerouac. Yet his appeal is not, strictly, rational – but intuitive. He lived his language too closely for detachment, while simultaneously his personal weirdnesses and unresolved ambiguities cut it loose from strict reportage. The contradictions in his work are the same contradictions that drove and destroyed him. Let me count the ways. As a human being he was a mess, primed to self-destruct, a wino, poet, bum, intellectual, an American doomed anti-hero of romantic melancholy darkness – and a slob. Personally charismatic, unkempt and moodily handsome, his ‘Beat’ was abbreviation for ‘beatific’, fiercely at odds with Normal Mailer’s ‘White Negro’ manifesto of existential hoodlum. Imprinted by early Catholic guilt he had a yen for Zen that he lacked the application to ever consummate. 

But there’s more. Too many cross-references attest to his shyness for it to be pose, to his edgy moral Puritanism and macho traditional values for them to have been insincere. But just as legion are the legends of his multi-sexual promiscuity. Gore Vidal brags of being recipient of a Kerouac blowjob, while claustrophobically close associations with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassady – incestuously sharing women, narcotics, and intimacies – backs up such brags. And if, as Ginsberg claims, Kerouac was never able to resolve the conundrums of his own sexuality, there’s a nagging back-up diversity of support inconsistencies. Kerouac idolised jazz master Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker to the extent of attempting to breath the black musician’s Bop spontaneity into his writing. Yet there’s a tale Nicosia here relates of the late-period Kerouac burning a racist cross outside the Black ghetto of Orlando. If true the act would be obscene if it weren’t so pathetically inept. 

But Kerouac is cult. And following Ann Charters came the deluge – Dennis McNally’s ‘Desolate Angel’ (1979, Random House), autobiographical data from daughter Jan Kerouac (‘Baby Driver’, 1981, St Martin’s Press), ex-lover Carolyn Cassady (‘Heart Beat’, 1976, Creative Arts Books – which became a 1980 Sissy Spacek-Nick Nolte movie!), and fan acquaintance Joyce Johnson (‘Minor Characters’, 1983, Houghton Mifflin), then there’s Beat archivist journal ‘Moody Street Irregulars’, the ‘Beat Brotherhood’ cassette-label from Birmingham, and an ongoing small-press multiverse of Xerox and offset typescripts intent on preserving each minutiae of the mythos. Nicosia’s massive and obsessively-researched book (ten years in the compiling) is the culmination of the tsunami – so far. Critical – but to a degree, it’s the definitive primer for potential Kerouac converts, a crash-course taster in Beat-ology, as well as an essential purchase for those already Beatphiles, documenting life, work, and the tangled inter-relationship between the several.

The problem with cults – whether dedicated to Duran Duran or James Dean, Elvis Presley or James Joyce – is that they invariably obscure with overkill the real value of the sacred object of their deification. Cults polarise opinion and create critical backlash by myopically overstating their case with unqualified fervour. Viewed objectively, the later Kerouac could be maudlin, over-sentimental and reactionary, but at his best he has few equals. ‘On The Road’ (written 1947-1951, published 1957), ‘Desolation Angels’ (written autumn 1956 to summer 1961, published 1965), ‘Dharma Bums’ (written November 1957, published 1958), ‘The Subterraneans’ (written 1953, published 1958), and ‘Big Sur’ (written October 1961, published 1962, which Nicosia inexplicably relegates to minor novel status) still speak in tongues. Written by feeding Telex-rolls into his typewriter, feeding his head on Speed and Bennies, and working furiously on solid red-eyed sleepless eight-ten jags, he wrote with the fluency and breath-punctuation of immaculately stoned rap, introducing the use of paragraph-long sentences studded with multiple adjectives to each noun. Technically such strategies unravel all wrong, but poetically and evocatively they come so right they’re stunning. He lifts prose from flat two-dimensional passivity and MAKES IT DANCE. For a new writer – that’s a method that can’t be ignored. For a new reader – that’s an addictive strategy that’ll terminally suck in the unwary. 

‘Memory Babe’ is contagious. It’s a milestone on the Beat Route. It should not be missed.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

The WHO & Pete Townshend



DVD Review of: 
(DVD, Bio. Go-Entertain goentertain.tv 44-minutes)

“Pictures Of Lily” is about masturbation. And in case you failed to pick up on that, Keith Moon decorated his drum-kit with saucy pin-ups. “Pinball Wizard” is about a deaf-dumb-&-blind kid who smell-tracks the ricochet-dance of the pinball with his nostrils. Right. But what the hell is “Happy Jack” about? A seaside donkey on the sands of the Isle of Man… and, kids drop things on his head… right, so far, and… what the hell was Pete Townshend on? Well, later he did all the usual Rock & Roll chemical stimulants, it’s part of the job description, but back then it was strictly purple hearts and maybe the occasional puff of dope. The mind-altering content of those lyrics was strictly his own. Apparently he had a serious grudge against the world, because he was self-conscious about his big nose. But Townshend was just one corner of the four-sided construct that was the Who. 

Seldom in Rock history have each member of a band been so integral. Roger Daltrey gives voice to the lyrics Townshend lacked the confidence, or the vocal range to sing. And as a front-man he’s got few equals. While it’s impossible to imagine, say, “My Generation” without John Entwistle’s muscle – he plays bass like it’s a lead instrument, or indeed, the Who without his sinister “Boris The Spider”. And Keith Moon? well – nuff said. He ensured the drum-riser was as much the focal point, and more, as any other element of the band. ‘A Destructive Tour De Force’ yells the DVD cover, ‘On Stage They Personified Rock & Roll’ it asserts. And just for once the hype is justified. Extracted from the History/Biography Channel, this painfully-abbreviated DVD hurtles you through the story at breakneck speed, crammed with shrapnels of explosive visuals, guided by the group’s biographers Richard Barnes (‘The Who: Maximum R&B’, 1999), Dave Marsh (‘Before I Get Old: The Story Of The Who’, 2003), Andrew Neill and Matthew Kent (‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicles Of The Who 1958-1978’, revised 2005), plus Keith’s personal assistant Pete Butler, John’s personal assistant Mike Bratby, and John’s wife and mother. Lenny Kaye too.

There’s a sense in which, because the Who felt they’d arrived late at the sixties banquet, they had time to make up. Subsequently, everything about them was writ large, larger and largest. From Pete and John meeting at Acton County Grammar School, to Pete at Ealing Art College to their techno-destruction at ‘The Railway Hotel’ they were a seriously out-of-kilter proposition. They’d already cut a sharp Mod single as the High Numbers (“I’m The Face”) when producer Shel Talmy got them into the Brunswick studios. He saw them as a viable variant on his previous wards, the Kinks, but was so uncertain of their abilities he got Jimmy Page, Nicky Hopkins and the Ivy League in to dub the more technically demanding bits onto the session. It could be argued their “My Generation” single is a more clumsily phrased spin on teen-anthem “The Young Ones”, and – although early stutter-free takes exist, Daltrey’s speed-damaged stammer gives its eloquent inarticulacy a kind of instant juve-speak relevance. While ‘why don’t they all f-f-f-f…’ invites an obvious missing word other than ‘fade away’ at a time when you couldn’t say ‘fuck’ on record, with or without ‘Parentally Advised’ sticker. Even on the sleeve-photo of their debut album – ‘My Generation’ (December 1965), they look malevolently deranged, not even in the Rolling Stones’ sense of stylish danger, more a damaged dysfunction that was nevertheless the alchemy that powered them, a spluttering popping Pop-Art dislocation of pure envinylised anger. The album is made up of direct Mod narratives, fattened out with some regulation Soul-covers. When Pete outraged the ‘Daily Mail’ demographic by claiming the only time he ever felt patriotism was watching Mods wrecking Margate, we knew exactly what he meant. This was extreme tribalism. Yet their subsequent albums surfed a precipitously steep learning-curve.

There were hits, and tours, but a financially-disastrous record-deal, complicated by their expensive instrument-trashing, ensured they were permanently bankrupt through groundbreaking LP’s ‘A Quick One’ (December 1966) and ‘The Who Sell Out’ (January 1968). The relative chart-failure – only no.10, of the magnificent “I Can See For Miles” provoked Pete, ever handy with a pertinent quote, to ‘spit in the eye of the British record-buyer’. Until ‘Tommy’ (May 1969) rescued them into the global Rock-aristocracy – magnified wide-screen through high-energy shock-appearances at the ‘Monterey’ and ‘Woodstock’ festivals, then through Ken Russell’s inspired intervention, into cinemas too. Yet behind the blue eyes their teenage wasteland left a trail of devastation. Keith inadvertently ran over and killed his chauffeur. Eleven audience-members at a Cincinnati stadium were trampled to death. Original drummer Pete Meaden committed suicide, and Keith overdosed to death within months of each other. ‘Keith couldn’t survive Keith’ observes David Wild of ‘Rolling Stone’. Then Entwistle, despite his ‘the Ox’ nickname, succumbed to a cocaine-induced heart-attack in a Las Vegas hotel. Although Daltrey and Pete Townshend continue – as they have the creative momentum, and every moral right to, with stand-in drummers Kenney Jones and then Zak Starkey, they are only two corners of what was essentially a four-sided construct. This DVD omits their ‘Live8’ vindication, but ends on a positive high with the release of ‘Endless Wire’ (October 2002), their first album of original material for twenty-four years. They’re now battered, heritage Rock. But still angry.

Featured on website: 
(UK – October 2010)



DVD/ CD Review of: 
(EAGLE VISION) www.eagle-rock.com 

Pete Townshend was a man with a grudge against the world. With his anger ventriloquised by Roger Daltrey and targeted by the Who it exploded into some of the most lyrically-distinctive high-energy singles of the 1960s. But for each Who album he took at least one lead vocal, and during the group’s gradual wind-down, issued a series of solo albums more critically respected than commercially successful, including ‘Empty Glass’ (1980) and ‘All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes’ (1982). But in this live set, the Ace Face is centre-stage with vocal authority and assurance, filmed in Cannes for German TVs ‘Rockpalast’ on 29 January 1986 – now issued in a CD/DVD pack. In white buttoned-up shirt and black jacket – with grimaces, gurning and trademark jump-kicks, it might be a more matured anger, but it’s still as spring-loaded. He does a bruising take on Daltrey’s album track “After The Fire”, makes the mistake of using wrong guitar for “The Sea Refuses No River”, and does what for anyone else would be considered Dad-dancing for the title-song. But beneath the tight dynamics, he retains that same ambition, as if there’s something yet to prove. The set is built around his concept album ‘White City: A Novel’ (1985), with all-star big-band back-up including a ‘very interesting guitar part’ on “Give Blood” by ‘special guest’ Dave Gilmour – who adds a long loose “Blue Light” from his own catalogue, plus Rabbit Bundrick from Free and Medicine Head’s Peter Hope-Evans on wailing harmonica. Pete’s spidery “I Put A Spell On You” is included on the DVD only, while naturally he throws in a fat-free solo “Pinball Wizard” and ‘another old Who song for you’ “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. He wrote them. He sings them.

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 62’ 
(March/April 2017)

Friday, 18 December 2020




CD review of 
(Sanctuary Records Double-CD SMEDD013)

Mick Jagger’s done solo stuff. Including collaborations with Bowie and Dave Stewart. But – “Memo From Turner” excepted, outside the Stones’ canon, it loses meaning. Keef too. Pete Townshend’s done solo albums. Some of them pretty great. But outside the Who-context they lose, something. They’re career add-ons, footnotes to the authentic text. Daltrey more so. As an exact quarter of one of the previous century’s finest bands he’s up there forever. And there’s seldom a band in which all four corners were as equally vital. But cut loose from Townshend’s unique lyric-skills, particularly as his own writing is so slight, he’s at the mercy of other creative inputs. And considered apart, as a freelance singer, he has limitations.

Moonlighting from his Day-Job as a useful unemployed vocalist-for-hire, he has a powerful voice, sure – we all know that, and it’s integral to so much classic vinyl, yet he lacks both the Blues rawness or melodic range of – say, a Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, or a Stevie Winwood, to enable him to create new relevancies. So he picks up early on young Leo Sayer to chart with his “Giving It All Away” (from ‘Daltrey’, his 1973 debut solo album). Through to Elton’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down”, taking in stabs at Gerry Rafferty’s “Stuck In The Middle”, Springsteen’s “Born To Run” (blustering ‘what’s the bloody first line?’), and even “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (with what sounds suspiciously like the original Led Zep backing track). Elsewhere – as a ‘one-man band’, he drifts from liquid funk – using some of the best session players around, to the plaintively attractive acoustic “Say It Ain’t So Joe”, from Gospel choir, to the big-band orchestration of “Free Me”, plus original-cast show-songs (“Mack The Knife”). With no direction, cohesion, or unifying elements. Sure, “Get Your Love” is a vibrant shouter with girl-group back-up, there’s a massive voice-roar on “Proud” (both from his second solo, 1975’s ‘Ride A Rock Horse’), but there are also passages veering dangerously close to Meatloaf bombast. 

The title-track from his 1976 third LP, ‘One Of The Boys’, traces the evolution of a stammerer-on-the-dole into a Blues-player, and it’s tempting to pick over the lyrics for autobiographical references. Is ‘he knows his generation, like he knows his A-B-C’, or ‘the face in the mirror’ chock-full of clues? or what about ‘they were rebels in their day’ (“Martyrs And Madmen”)? and isn’t that the “Baba O’Reilly” synth-figure underpinning the Rock Operatic “Under a Raging Moon” (his tribute to Keith)? Predictably, the biggest cheers go to his live takes on Who songs, bringing on ‘one of my oldest friends John Entwistle – The Ox’, for “The Real Me”. Like his movies (“Without Your Love” comes from the 1980 ‘McVicar’ soundtrack), or his fish-farming, these are all entertaining distractions, away-days from the firm. Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps the image-associations of the Who are so indelible they skew his separateness out of frame? But it’s inescapable, we all know that his real contribution has been made elsewhere. It doesn’t need more. Nothing here convinces you of a viable alternative career. 

Further Details from: 

Published in: 
‘SONGBOOK no.7: Summer 2005’ 
(UK – August 2005)