Friday, 28 December 2012

Poem: 'MANIFESTO'




MANIFESTO

I disown word-games.
I despise academic constipation.
I’m sick of literary incest.
I want to write poems fueled by anger.
I want poems grimed with perspiration,
poems that leak like mildew
through tenement walls,
poems punctuated by
the rhythm of factories,
poems of insolence,
poems that belch from
industrial chimneys showering
cities with syllables,
poems that thumb noses.
I want poems that slum children
can play with in gutters.
I want poems to chalk on the
walls of condemned buildings.
I want poems of hope for those
who slouch on street corners.
I want poems to be chanted at picket-lines,
poems set to the metre that measures despair,
poems to inspire insurrection against inequality,
poems that explode myths like neons at midnight,
poems encapsulating hopelessness.
I want poetry that is real.



Published in:
‘XENIA’ (UK)
‘PAPYRUS CACAMA No.14’ (Germany – August 1977)
‘KRAX No.12’ (UK – November 1978)
‘PACIFIC QUARTERLY Vol.3 no.4’ (New Zealand – December 1978)
‘SYDE LINES ANTHOLOGY’ (UK – December 1981)
‘HARD LINES’ (Faber & Faber anthology, UK – January 1983)

IT'S A WONDERFUL ROCK 'N' ROLL XMAS...!!!



“IT’S A WONDERFUL
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL XMAS…” :
THE BIZARRE HISTORY OF
THE CHRISTMAS RECORD

What’s the point of a Christmas single? Why bother?
It’s a shameless merchandising ploy, obviously.
But can it be anything more? A returning reminder of those
we’ve lost – like Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas”.
An obligatory shot at adding your voice to the regularly
regurgitated pantheon of pap – like The Darkness’ “Christmas Time”.
Or an increasingly desperate career-end attempt to wrench
just one more hit from a sadly over-worked formula.
Like Shakin’ Stevens or Gary Glitter. And where to now?
How do you tap into spirituality in a godless age?
Andrew Darlington tries to make sense of it all...


“ROCKIN’ AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE…”

‘They know Christmas is ‘ere when they start hearing that record’ goes Noddy Holder’s relaxed anecdote. Of course, he’s telling me about Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everbody”. But you knew that already. He leans forward, ‘the only thing that pisses me off is when I’m doing me own Christmas shopping and it’s on in every store I walk into – there it is, BLARING out, and everybody’s looking at me, pointing and going (in comic voice) ‘that’s him, he made that record!!!’ That DOES get a bit embarrassing.’ Chances are it’ll happen to him again this year. It’s impossible to avoid.

The Christmas record. Hate them or hate them, you can’t escape them. So be afraid. In an industry not exactly renowned for taste, sensitivity or artistic integrity, seasonal schlock has been responsible for some of the vilest atrocities ever inflicted upon the human ear. Christmas comes but once a year, but when it does, it brings Slade, Band Aid, Phil Spector, Elvis, John & Yoko, the Pogues & Kirsty MacColl… and now The Darkness.

So where do I begin? With the first snowflake and ruddy-breasted robin on sentimental Victorian illustrations? The shopping-mall Santa’s in their Coca-Cola TM colours? Or the cloying yet strangely affecting Yiddish cadences of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, invested with the exact measure of yearning and cosy nostalgia that makes it an all-time hyper-seller. Originally featured in the movie ‘Holiday Inn’ (1942), then spun-off into immortality by the black-and-white movie-clip where avuncular fossil Bing Crosby croons to the wistfully attentive and adoringly rapt June Reynolds, it comes from a time the world forgot, before record-charts and Top Forty radio, to become the biggest selling single of all time. You’ll hear it again this Cool Yule, you know you will.

But oddly – when you take it all the way back to the earliest published Top Twenty charts, listing records cut on shellac as the 1950’s 78rpm gives way to new-fangled seven-inch 45’s, the illusion persists that religion is something of a necessary ingredient to the Xmas hit. Illogical – but after all, this was an age where to be an ‘unbeliever’ was to be the exception, rather than the healthier more tolerant more inclusive reverse situation that prevails today. Hence you get Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy-child” – not only a 1957 chart-topper for seven weeks, but also the first record to sell a million copies in the UK alone, around the same time that saccharine Pop-harmonies are propelling the hit-song story of the “Little Donkey” that carries a pregnant Mary towards Bethlehem. While the “Little Drummer Boy”, using an episode obviously omitted from the gospels, plays his best drum for the ‘new-born king’ as the ‘ox and ass keep time’. The song gets revisited by David Bowie in an uneasy TV partnership with an aging Bing Crosby many years later – on the crooning cardigan’s ‘Merrie Olde Christmas’ TV special, in what Bowie’s biographer David Buckley celebrates as ‘one of the most surreal events in Pop’. Yes – that one-time Scary Monster bisexual coke-snorting Ziggy Stardust. And yes, that same Harry Lillis ‘Bing’ Crosby who’d carved out an early career as a jazz vocalist recording with giants Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, and Count Basie – as well as Louis Armstrong. Odder still, Bing finally found himself charting posthumously with the Thinner Whiter Duke a couple of years after the heart attack that killed him, after completing his last round of golf.

But in tune with that long-lost era, all of these hits work at their most simple-minded ‘Christmas-Story-in-pictures’ level, direct, unquestioning. Designed for an audience soothed by the repetition of their reassuring message. Of course, we now know that the Catholic Grinch had merely stolen Christmas from the healthier pagan solstice rituals. There’s not even any real evidence that the birth of a mid-eastern mystic twenty centuries ago occurs anywhere near this time. Probably it didn’t. Informed consensus says it was more likely some time around Easter. But then – hey, we already have Easter, so why confuse a good party with awkward facts?

“SANTA CLAUS IS BACK IN TOWN…”

Yuletide hits go from the cringingly dire, such as Dickie Valentine’s “Christmas Alphabet” which has the audacity to displace Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” at no.1 for a trio of weeks in December 1955, to the haunting “Scarlet Ribbons” written and interpreted by the incomparable Harry Belafonte. A singer and actor born in the Harlem ghetto, a black sex symbol a decade before Sidney Poitier, Belafonte worked his way up through clubs singing Folk songs, and through the ‘American Negro Theatre’ into acting, until his 1957 movie role opposite Joan Fontaine in ‘Island In The Sun’ led to the Ku-Klux Klan torching cinemas to ‘protect’ the young from his liberating influence. A politically radical life-time campaigner against racial injustice he was able to use his resulting high-profile celebrity to lead anti-segregation marches beside Martin Luther King. Yet in this Festive hit he’s merely a poor man, a loving father, who is tortured by his inability to buy the one gift his daughter most wants – ‘scarlet ribbons for her hair’. Until – returning home later, he finds her bed inexplicably inundated with them. The rich silky depth of his voice rises in mystified awe as he’s unable to explain their miraculous appearance. The implication – of course, is divine intervention. But we’ll let that pass.

With the new popularity of long-playing record albums, it seems that every artist with an eye to maximising their seasonal percentage had to have a Festive set on the market decked out in tinsel and holly-wreaths – Perry Como, the Beach-Boys, Johnny Mathis, the Carpenters… and Elvis, naturally. For Elvis it formed the first phase of his retaliation against the outraged moral guardians who were busy self-righteously condemning his sinful stage-antics. It was also a chance for him to draw upon those deeply ingrained Gospel roots he’d carried with him from those childhood Church Sundays at the ‘First Assembly of God’, and use them to vindicate himself in the sceptical eyes of the great American mainstream. He began by performing a moving “Peace in the Valley” on the nationwide event-TV ‘Ed Sullivan Show’. His interpretation conjuring the power of a transcendent vision of Heaven-on-Earth, one capable of transfiguring the world from weary pain and strife – something Presley, even at this early stage of his career, could find solace in. Emoting his plea for redemption with a deep sincerity sufficient to convince Mr & Mrs White America that beneath the hard-Rocking Satanic sex-animal there was a god-fearing mother-loving good ole boy. Combined with a personal intensity strong enough to touch the stony heart of even the most atheistic ear. Recorded at the Hollywood ‘Radio Recorders’ Studio between the 12th and the 19th January 1957 with the classic line-up of guitarist Scotty Moore, drummer D.J. Fontana, bass-player Bill Black and the smooth supporting close-harmony vocals of the Jordanaires, it emerged as a charting EP soon after.

Never one to miss a commercial opportunity, he followed it up with an album balancing the sacred with the profane in more or less equal proportions, like a hoodlum Santa arriving in a big black Cadillac, his bulging gift-sack generously packed with the future hit single “Blue Christmas” (for both Elvis and Shakin’ Stevens), as well as his own idiosyncratic take on “White Christmas”, and the surreal innovation that must be the first-ever down-and-dirty Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas song, Leiber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”.

The only other Xmas long-player worth your serious investigation is ‘A Christmas Gift For You’, re-titled ‘Phil Spector’s Christmas Album’ for its 1972 Apple-label re-release. Laboured over for almost half a year at the Los Angeles ‘Gold Star Studios’ at a (then)-astronomical budget in excess of £15,000, with his Philles stable of artists, an all-star studio orchestra including Leon Russell on piano, Steve Douglas’ roaring baritone-sax, plus Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert, Sonny Bono (playing the horse’s-hooves effects on “Sleigh Ride”) and Jack Nitzsche, it resulted in what remains indisputably the quintessential Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas album. Only, on its originally scheduled release date – November 22nd 1963, President John F. Kennedy had the inconvenient misfortune to get himself assassinated in Dallas, and in Spector’s words ‘nobody was vaguely interested in buying records, let alone a jolly Christmas album’. As a result, it took almost a decade before its timeless brilliance was recognised, and rescued. A sound that’s never been bettered, exemplified by the Crystals “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, the Ronettes delicious “Frosty The Snowman”, or the infectious enthusiasm of Bob B Soxx & The Blue Jeans “Here Comes Santa Claus”. Spector himself voices-over his own greetings-card message – ‘of course, the biggest thanks goes to YOU, for giving me the opportunity to relate my feelings of Christmas through the music I love’. In print it sounds to be schmaltz overkill, yet somehow, against the odd, it works. For this is also the album from which one of Darlene Love’s four exquisite contributions, Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich’s “Christmas Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”, is lifted by Steven Spielberg to play over the credits of his ‘Gremlins’ (1984) movie, perfectly evoking the warm Frank Capra-style nostalgia of festive small-town USA. As Spielberg well knows, it’s that kind of album.

Elsewhere, things aren’t quite so good. The first phase of Adam Faith’s diverse career – as Pop Idol, is not exactly enhanced by “Lonely Pup (in a Christmas Shop)”, a cutesy-trite proto ‘A dog is not just for Xmas’ warning to us all, with an ineptitude way beyond the damage-limitation salvage that even John Barry’s string arrangements can deliver. But this was a stupid time when, at regular twelve-month intervals the inky Pop press would break out into a rash of silly-Santa covers, with some embarrassed Beat Group or other – say Freddie & the Dreamers, or Gerry & the Pacemakers, kitted out in red suits and stick-on beards for photo-shoots beside the Xmas tree.



More sensibly, the Beatles don’t do things like seasonal hits. What they do do is mail out a series of seven flexi-disc Xmas messages exclusively to members of their fan-club (dated between December 1963 through to December 1969). Now hotly bootlegged and much sought-after the first few are simply a ‘Hi, and thanks for the year’ audio letter. In a limited edition of just 65,000 copies, the second one fades in with a kazoo and harmonica rendition of “Jingle Bells”, and Paul McCartney’s wacky gaffe ‘we hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the records as much as we’ve enjoyed melting them… no, that’s wrong – ‘making’ them’. While the sleeve informs us ‘this disc will not be in the hit parade’ and ‘additional copies will not be pressed’.

But year-on-year these annual bulletins from Beatles-central complexify into the full 1966 ‘PANTOMIME: EVERYWHERE IT’S CHRISTMAS’, with “Yesterday” re-written to include the line ‘I believe in Christmas Day’, a Bob Dylan-styled “Old Lang Syne”, a snatch of the Four Tops “It’s The Same Old Song”, and a threatened “We’ll Gather Lilacs In An Old Brown Shoe”. With the flexi’s previously done as an after-thought tacked-on at the end of album sessions this longest-yet edition is done in time specially booked at the Dick James Music Studio in New Oxford Street and comes complete with surreal audio-sketches in John Lennon’s absurdist ‘Spaniard In The Works’-style, such as “A Rare Cheese (Two Elderly Scotsmen)” and the Spike Milligan oddness of “Podgy The Bear And Jasper” (already performed as part of their Hammersmith Odeon Xmas Show, with Paul as the hero, George the heroine, John the villain, and Ringo throwing snow around as the Props-effects man). There’s even manic Goon-ish songs like “Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back” (‘I wasn’t hardly gone a year / when it became the scene, / banjos, banjos, all the time / – I can’t forget that tune’). The fifth flexi-disc, ‘CHRISTMAS TIME (IS HERE AGAIN)’, ‘another little bite of the Apple’ for 1967, is even issued in a full ‘Sgt Pepper’-style collage sleeve, and opens with John Lennon announcing the ‘Interplanetary Remix Take 444’. He then reappears in the guise of ‘Audition Announcer’, ‘Sir Gerald’, ‘The Quizmaster’ on a spoof TV Quiz Show, and an incomprehensible ‘Scottish Poet’, alongside special guest interventions by ‘the feet and voice’ of Victor U Spinetti (who does a tap-dance routine with Ringo!), Malcolm Lift-Evans, and George Martin playing organ. Interspersed with mock-commercials, manic laughter, songs like “Plenty Of Jam-Jars, Baby”, and ‘augmented applause recorded on location in Dublin’. A good time is guaranteed for all. If you happen to have a full set of these in playable condition, you’re sitting on a rare treat.




“IF EVERY DAY WAS LIKE CHRISTMAS…”

The only sociologically redeeming aspects of 1970’s Christmas Pop is that Jesus no longer gets a look in. From now on it’s the party that’s important. Get dressed up. Get drunk. Fall over. Away from the serious heavy Prog-Rockers the new teen-gods were embarrassingly eager to plug into consumerism’s Yuletide gross-out. All Glam and glitter and already trussed up like oven-ready turkeys, Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everbody” – their final no.1, tops the chart for no less than five weeks in 1973, going on to clock up no less than thirty weeks on the lists. And bizarrely, it’s probably Noddy Holder’s most enduring contribution to chart history. ‘It just goes on and on and on,’ he confides. ‘It’s probably the one everybody will always think ‘THIS IS THE ONE’, even though I personally don’t think it’s the best record we ever made. Funnily enough “Merry Xmas Everybody” never actually gets re-released. It’s just never been deleted. It’s been on sale continuously. If you want to try, you can buy it at any time of the year. You just have to order it. And I don’t think there’s ANY other record that’s been on sale for that long – EVER!’

‘I wrote that lyric all in one night!’ he elaborates. ‘I’d been down the pub, got a bit pissed up, couldn’t drive ‘ome. So I stayed over at mi Mam’s ‘ouse. I’d already got the first two lines – ‘are you hanging up your stockings on the wall’, but I wanted to get the rest finished. Me Mam’d got a little bottle of whisky in the sideboard. So I sat down at 1 o’clock in the morning, got that bottle out, and by four or five I’d finished all the lyrics to the song. I’d set out to get a Working Class Christmassy-type feel to it. So I thought of all the Working Class Christmassy-type things I could think of to cram into the song. And probably two of the best lines lyrically that I ever did are in that song. Which are ‘does your Granny always tell you that the old songs are the best, then she’s up and Rock ‘n’ Rolling with the best’ – and we’ve ALL ‘ad it. Your Granny comes round at Christmas. You put a new record on and she says ‘ah, that stuff’s not as good as it was in my day’. But give ‘er a couple of sherry’s and she’s up and twisting and showing her knickers. It happens in every family. It’s those sort-of things I wanted to capture. And I think it works. Yet if you listen to the record, there are no Christmas gimmicks on it, no sleigh-bells, no jingle-bells at all. The only thing Christmassy about it are the lyrics. It’s a straightforward Pop-Rock song, that happens to be about Christmas. It’s probably the only Christmas hit that’s ever been like that. And funnily enough – in France, it got to no.1 at Easter!’

Meanwhile, Roy Wood was master-minding Wizzard’s more artfully Spectoresque “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” (no.4 in 1973, re-charting in 1981 and 1984), an impenetrably rich layer-cake coated with an inch-thick icing made up of the Suedettes, sleigh-bells, a children’s choir and ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’s in the fade. While Paul McCartney was writing one of his most clumsily inept lyrics for Wings sad festive fare, and Mud were aping Elvis doing it. Their Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman-penned Presley pastiche, “Lonely this Christmas” sat at no.1 for four weeks through December 1974. Gary Glitter did it. Shakin’ Stevens did it. Tediously. And even those seriously-heavy Prog-Rockers got in on the act with Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas” charting 1975, 1982, and then again in 1983. As the Damned say – via the Marx Brothers, ‘there ain’t no Sanity Clause’.

Steeleye Span do it in Latin (“Gaudete”), while Jethro Tull remember the true (Pagan) meaning of Christmas (“Ring Out Solstice Bells”), and George Harrison skips a week and goes for New Year instead (“Ding Dong”). John and Yoko, with Phil Spector in tow, use their Plastic Ono Band green-vinyl single to fuse the trashy yuletide feel-good factor with political purpose – at the time “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” was originally recorded the Vietnam war was still a nightly TV atrocity. And taking yet another course, Johnny Mathis – eighteen years after his first Xmas success with “Winter Wonderland”, gives a bizarrely interdenominational racially non-specific twist to the messiah’s supposed Second Coming with “When A Child Is Born” (no.1 for three weeks in December 1976). While Boney M wear massive white fur coats and take it all back to the 1950’s with their revitalisation of the Belafonte-penned “Mary’s Boy-Child” (no.1 for four weeks through December 1978).

It all begins to beg the question what is the point of a Christmas single anyway? Why bother? It’s a shameless merchandising ploy, obviously. But can it be anything more? A returning reminder of those we’ve lost – like Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” (1984). An obligatory shot at adding your voice to the regularly regurgitated pantheon of pap – like Elton’s genial bounce-along “Step Into Christmas” (1973). Or an increasingly desperate career-end attempt to wrench just one more hit out of a sadly over-worked formula. Like Shakin’ Stevens and Gary Glitter.

And where can it all go now? As the Darkness ask – ‘When Will The Bells End?’ How do you tap into spirituality in a godless age? Cliff Richard is still trying – shamelessly using a seasonal anaesthetic to disguise his cartoon-simple coded Christian metaphors into the chart. And although he’s succeeded time and again, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s Band Aid are more accurately attuned to the zeitgeist, striking all the correct nexuses of consumer moral guilt and charitable benevolence with an all-star cast and a ridiculously catchy hook. “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, the first and greatest of all the charity singles, sells a cool three-and-a-half million copies in the UK alone, stays at no.1 for five weeks in December 1984 while holding Wham’s “Last Christmas” in second place, then goes on to spawn sequel singles and the Live Aid event. Superficial, ego-driven? Sure. But it achieves something more than all of those smugly pious 1950’s songs which merely quote or misquote antique myth-texts. For if Christmas is to be about anything, this is about as good as it can get. Global consciousness. Wealth redistribution. A slight tinge of ‘love’ in a left-over biblical sense for an agnostic age.

Since then – if it wasn’t already so ridiculously ludicrous, it would be tempting to say that from now on it gets really silly. Mister Blobby. “Nelly the Elephant”. East 17. Bruce Springsteen. Jive Bunny. “Bob the Builder”. Even the mighty Chumbawamba. And it’s even more difficult to say where it’s going now. Product targeting is so precise a science it seems to overlook the essentially ephemeral nature of the seasonal hit altogether. Despite the perennially annual air-play reappearance of such phenomena. And as the year-end spending orgy remains the highest sales turnover period, powered with gift tokens and present-purchasing, singles can so easily get lost in the floods of mammon if they don’t get super-charged by the cross-media tie-in incentives of a ‘Pop Idol’ to amplify awareness. But instead, the endless recycling up-gears. Until, surely even Noddy Holder must get sick of hearing his own Xmas hit? ‘No. I’m PROUD of it. When I hear it on the radio, or in a Club or a Pub today, it doesn’t sound dated to me, it still sounds quite fresh. It stands the test of time, which is the test of a good Pop record. And it still sells every year, so it’s a nice little pension for us too. It’s a great record and I think it’s got a fondness in everybody’s heart.’ Well, maybe.

But the greatest of them all? I’m watching a slurred Shane MacGowan and a wonderful Kirsty MacCall doing “Fairytale of New York” on a Festival stage in Leeds’ Roundhay Park in August. Yet even in this late-summer sunshine it’s a transfixing spectacle – evoking a range of reactions from poetic wistfulness to comedy as Shane forgets his own lyrics and she has to coax and lead him, waltzing him gently into the next verse convincing – as if you need convincing, that this is the finest seasonal record ever made.

Published in:
‘HOT PRESS’ December 2003 (Eire)

INTERVIEW: NODDY HOLDER FROM HIS OWN GOB


NODDY HOLDER:
YOU BOYZ MAKE
BIG NOIZE

Glam-Rock Ikon – or Xmas Turkey?
‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ of turning pages
as NODDY HOLDER does a Literary Tour
to promote his autobiography,
telling tales of Phil Lynott, Oasis, Gary Glitter,
Glam-Rock Excess, “MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY”,
and Suicidal Groupies.... while
ANDREW DARLINGTON
tags along. CRAZEEEE...!!!!!


CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE
... OF TURNING PAGES

Two desk-mikes. Red-back Noddy-books in anticipatory piles. A polished table adjacent to the History/Modern History section of the largest bookshop in Yorkshire. And Naomi – in delectably contoured ‘BORDERS’ T-shirt, spikes of hair and black-rimmed glasses, obviously flailing out of her depth when faced with publicly interviewing an amiable icon of an age before she was even born. Behind them, as she fiddles with bits of paper that other staffers have suggested her questions on, there’s a poster for Simon Clark’s exquisitely nasty horror novel ‘The Fall’. Another poster announcing. Terry ‘DISKWORLD’ Pratchett’s signing-visit to this very same bookshop. And in front of her, a patiently waiting block of Slade fans. “Which current CD do you listen to, Noddy?” she begins. “Macy Gray’s ‘On How Life Is’, best album of the year, in my ‘umble opinion” he comes back – live in person, with sideburns, to a mild swell of approval. Naomi smiles nervously, obviously encouraged by her success, and ventures ‘If I said to you ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’, who would you nominate? “You for a start” he teases, “and probably this lot for coming tonight” – indicating the audience, drawing them into the joke. “But Crazee bands? Jamiroquai – he’s crazy. Fun Loving Criminals – like ‘em, but they’re on another planet. And Geri Halliwell. She’s definitely lost the plot.”

So they muddle through, until in a final act of desperation Naomi suggests “alright Noddy, now is there anything You want to ask Me?” He grins mischievously, pulls a lascivious expression. “What colour knickers are you wearing, Naomi?” “NODD-EEE HOLDER!!!!” she gasps in polite shock, before throwing him over to the assembled fans. Lenny is first up. He has a tired Autumn 1972 Tour programme printed red-on-black. Thin Lizzy. Suzi Quatro – and Slade. “First gig I ever saw” he gushes. Noddy smiles indulgently as he sips his Britvic Clear Tonic Water. And signs it. Behind him, Michael has an original gatefold red ‘Slade Alive’ (1972) vinyl album to sign. “How’s the book selling?” he asks. Noddy brightens. “Went in the book charts at no.50” he chirps, “now it’s up to no.24”

Phew…!!! Avarice. Pride. Sloth. Lust. Gluttony. Wrath... and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Noddy’s autobiography ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’* tells it all, travelling from his childhood in the Black Country, through his pre-Slade scuffing bands during the sixties – into Glam-Rock and its aftermath. And this literary tour is designed to promote the book through local radio chat-slots, bookshop talks and signings. Right now he’s in Leeds, down from Macclesfield. And it’s my turn. So come on Nod – be honest, how can this tame literary slog compare with the insane anarchy of a Rock ‘n’ Roll tour? “It’s absolutely different to Rock ‘n’ Roll tours. A lot more civilised” he gags with a shocked expression. “But I’ve enjoyed everywhere we’ve been. And yes, I’ve been asked some STRANGE questions, but nothing I can’t cope with.” So try this on for size – there’s a lot about Rock ‘n’ Roll in your book, but very little sex and drugs. Does that mean that sex and drugs didn’t happen, or just that you’re not admitting to it? “There wasn’t drugs in our career” he straight-faces. “Slade weren’t a druggy band. We were a Boozing band. So we never got into that side of the business. We saw too many fatalities among our mates that were doing it. I mean – they were dropping like flies in the seventies. And we were – in a way, too PROFESSIONAL to go that same way. When we were doing an album, or a gig, we were always very focused, we were always on the money. We never partied until the job was done. Then we’d go overboard. But we certainly wasn’t going to let the partying be the main part of our life.”

And sex? “When you’re in a successful band you obviously have a lot of female followers chasing you around. And when you’re young you make the most of it, don’t you? You’d be daft not to, wouldn’t you? But people think it’s all fun and frolics, which generally it is. But the public only get that one side of it, there’s a downer side too. You’ve got to be careful, certainly in America. I had this one girl who followed me everywhere, today you’d call her a Stalker, but of course they weren’t called Stalkers in those days. One day we did a show in Philadelphia and drove back to New York. And when I got back to my hotel she was actually in my bedroom. She’d bribed the hotel maid to get in. I said ‘You’re going to have to leave.’ She starts crying and all that business, then she says ‘can I use the toilet before I go?’ And I say ‘Yeah’. So she locks herself in the toilet. Twenty minutes – she still hasn’t come out. I’m banging on the door. No sign of her. So I call our tour manager – Swin, we break in, and she’d slit her wrists. There was blood everywhere. We had to call the paramedics. She survived. But that’s the other side of the coin. People throw themselves at you, put their lives on the line for you, so you have to be very careful how you treat them. These things happen. It’s frightening. It’s great being a Pop Star, being mobbed and all that, and I don’t regret a minute, but when you’re at the centre of it all, it can be very scary too.”

Did you ever throw a TV out of a Hotel window? “No. And I’ve never met a band that HAS. It’s a myth. Probably younger bands do it now because they heard somewhere that bands used to do it, so now they feel if you’re in a band you’re SUPPOSED to do it! But sure, we did our fair share of damage, wrecking rooms now and again, but we always paid for it.” So what was your greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll excess? “I drove a car into a swimming pool once. Not my own I might add” he erupts into raucous laughter. “And not on purpose. I was under an excess of drink in this hotel car-park, the throttle slipped, I went over an embankment and the car ended up in the pool. That’s probably the worst thing that ‘appened to me.” Right. Ho-Hum. So – and this one’s for Naomi, what colour Boxer-shorts are you wearing Noddy? Now it’s HIS turn to look just a little coy. “Erm... I don’t wear Boxers, Darlin’” he manages eventually in contrived-camp.

Slade – of course, are the quintessential early-seventies band. Rock ‘n’ Roll without brakes. Sartorial atrocities and rampant innuendo delivered at mega-echo volume. Shiny mirrored hits and more bacofoil that an entire Wal-Mart hyper-store chain. Their “Coz I Luv You” knocked Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” off the no.1 slot in November 1971, to be deposed by... Benny Hill’s “Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West”. Crazzee times?!?!?! But yeah, yeah – whatever, the first half of the seventies was a pretty stupid time, agreed? Old Hippie bands getting older, hairier, and more tediously self-indulgent. While all the young Dudes too new “to get off on the Beatles and the Stones” were busy aggravating their acne by sticking sequins all over their stupid faces. But hey, Pop without morons is like Capitalism without victims, or Catholicism without Hell. And if Marc Bolan was this generation’s new Beatles, then Slade were their new Stones. Only louder. Cruder. And more un-pretty.

Listen to the 21-track ‘Slade Greatest Hits: Feel The Noize’ (1997) compilation now, and it’s a solid wall of loutish volume with bass-lines repeatedly kicking you in the head with the intensity of repetitive brain-injury. From the straight-ahead Rock cover that started it all, “Get Down And Get With It” laced with Little Richard keyboard runs, into the Pure Pop madness of twelve top five hits, six of them no.1’s with football-chant choruses and graffitiised-titles threatening to corrupt the spelling of a generation. Even a ballad like “How Does It Feel” gets a dirty guitar riff slashed across it, while the reflective “Far Far Away” opens with a demented Don Powell drum barrage erupting into a vocal delivered at full frontal tonsil-mangling volume. Later there’s the 1980’s post-Reading Festival metal-revival with “We’ll Bring The House Down”, and the mature anthemic “My Oh My” – which not only became a no.2 hit here in 1983, but also Slade’s biggest ever Top 5 USA hit. And all that’s before you even get to mention “Merry Xmas Everybody” which alone entered the Top 20 no less than seven times. The lives and times of Slade are wondrous tales indeed... but never before have we heard it from Nod’s own gob. Until now.

WALKING ON WATER –
RUNNING ON ALCOHOL

Today, Noddy’s sideboards are sparser, his outfit less flamboyant – purple shirt, long black drape jacket, stretch-side black boots, with his gold-rimmed spectacles worn on a Larry Grayson black expander-twine around his neck. Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder grins. “I was born being rowdy... I was screaming when I hit daylight”. His thick Midlands accent intact all the way from Walsall – just north of Brum, “the opening credits of ‘CORONATION STREET’ always remind me of Newhall Street” he says, getting nostalgic for the tin-bath in front of the fire and the outside lav. He saw Little Richard ‘with his bouffant hair, banging away on the piano’ in the 1956 ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ movie, and “I didn’t think Rock ‘n’ Roll could get any better”. Later, he got to see that same Little Richard headlining at the Wolverhampton Gaumont, with support from The Everly Brothers... and the Rolling Stones.

And soon, early Slade line-ups were moving in a star-system of other stalled sixties launches. Bolan, Rod Stewart and Elton John were all hanging out with routine loser sixties bands that never quite made the grade, all relentlessly gigging, all waiting for that first big career-break, and Noddy’s pre-chart history follows pretty much the same contours. While around this time, as part of the proto-Slade ‘N’Betweens Noddy made his first German trip to play ‘The Star Club’, a venue so wild that the waiters packed guns. It was here he ran into fellow wannabe Paul (Gary Glitter) Raven – ‘a Rocker in lots of leather with an Elvis-style quiff’. Living in red-light Keil, north of Hamburg on a diet of Glitter-recommended pea-and-ham soup the band were ‘farting all week’.

Then came the hits – and new associations. That Autumn 1972 tour with Slade supported by Thin Lizzy, for example. “Yeh, they supported us a couple of times, in America as well. Phil Lynott was a madman. Towards the end of that American tour he actually caught hepatitis, the –whatcha-callit, the contagious sort? We didn’t know until the tour was more or less finished. But when he went back to New York he was diagnosed with it, so everybody who’d been in contact with him on the tour had to have tests, all the bands and road-crew. Then we all had to have shots. They lined us up in a big row, we all had to drop our trousers, and there was this hideous sight of the bands and road crew showing their arses, and all having this hepatitis injection. Not a pretty sight, as you can imagine. And that was all Phil’s fault. Which we never let ‘im forget!”

Slade were always a strange band. Bass-player Jimmy Lea – a quiet, creative, formally trained violinist and the perfect song-writing foil to Noddy (‘to be honest, I think he would rather have been in Led Zeppelin than Slade’). Gum-chewing Don Powell on drums. Noddy. And Dave Hill on guitar, always the most outrageously flamboyant member of Slade, the SuperYob ‘Metal Nun’ in his all-over silver leather costumes. “Yeh. He was a constant source of amusement for us. His stage-gear was never intended to be a great fashion statement.” But unlike Ziggy Bowie or Bopping Elf Bolan, and despite Dave’s flirtation with his ‘feminine side’, Slade were never gender-transcenders. During their second TV appearance – promoting their single “Shape Of Things To Come” on ‘Top Of The Pops’, Dave was jealous of Elton John, also debuting, “because he thought Elton would end up pulling all the girls. How wrong can you be?”

And outrage has always been a part of Rock ‘n’ Roll anyway. Little Richard was doing it in the 1950’s... “sure. Little Richard was doing it. But even before that, the comedian Max Miller was doing it. A lot of the influences for various bits of stuff I wore later on, came from Max Miller. They were all seeds that had been planted when I was a little kid. You get it in every era of Show-Biz. You take a little bit here, a little bit there from somewhere else. Which happened in Glam-Rock just the same. Nothing’s new. Everything comes around from something else. I mean, a lot of Glam-Rock stuff, certainly the platform shoes and that came from the 1930’s. The Flappers were wearing those sort of shoes back then – in their own way. You just turn it on its head and give it a new lease of life. At the end of 1975/’76 everybody was saying platforms, bell-bottoms and flares would never be worn again. But here they are. They’re back. Now everybody’s doing it again...”


But at the height of Glam, wasn’t there ever a time when Noddy looked at himself in the mirror and thought “what the hell am I doing dressed like this?!?!?!?” “No. Never. I mean – it was all a big piss-take. We even used to take the mickey out of each other. We never looked on it as anything other than a lot of fun. Probably the only one in the band who wasn’t into all the dressing up part of it was Jimmy. It wasn’t him at all. He went along with it because he had to. But it wasn’t his bag. And he’ll admit it. He wanted more of that ‘serious musician’-type-thing. With the other three it was different, we weren’t interested in that at all.” But I’d always interpreted the lyrics of “Cum On Feel The Noize” – a song later revived by Oasis, as an answer to hostile critics. After all, Noddy is singing ‘so you think I’ve got an evil mind? well you should know better... so you think my singing’s out of time? well it makes me money’. Was I right? “Erm – no, it was more a statement than a come-back to the critics. We never had no problems with critics really, they were never harsh. Although they never took us seriously as a band. As serious musicians. We realised that at the time. They thought we was just disposable Pop, which all Pop is in a way. But now people look back and realise we wrote some classic Pop songs and made some classic Pop records. Oasis covered “Cum On Feel The Noize”, and it was good. I like it – it helps keep the band’s name alive, and the Slade back-catalogue too. It’s made me a few bob, so I’m not complaining. I went to see Oasis when they played Maine Road, Manchester. They invited me up to see the show and Noel Gallagher actually sent Meg – his missus, up to the place where I was watching them to take a photo of me just to see my reaction when they did that song. They did “Cum On Feel The Noize” as the encore and she took my picture. It was great – 40,000 kids going mad to a song me and Jimmy had written twenty-odd years before, y’know? It shows the song is still valid. So now we’ve got the recognition we deserve. It’s took us twenty-odd years to get that recognition, but it’s come eventually.”

Yet bizarrely, “Merry Xmas Everybody” is probably Slade’s most enduring contribution to chart history. “Yes, it’s probably the one everybody will always think ‘THIS IS THE ONE’, even though I personally don’t think it’s the best record we ever made. Funnily enough it doesn’t actually get re-released. It’s just never been deleted. It’s been on sale continuously for twenty-six years, it just goes on and on and on. Yet I wrote that lyric all in one night! I’d been down the pub, got a bit pissed up, couldn’t drive ‘ome. So I stayed over at mi Mam’s ‘ouse. I’d already got the first two lines – ‘are you hanging up your stockings on the wall’, but I wanted to get the rest finished. Me Mam’d got a little bottle of whisky in the sideboard. So I sat down at one o’clock in the morning, got that bottle out, and by four or five I’d finished all the lyrics to the song. I’d set out to get a Working Class Christmassy-type feel to it. So I thought of all the Working Class Christmassy-type things I could think of to cram into the song. And probably two of the best lines lyrically that I ever did are in that song. Which are ‘does your Granny always tell you that the old songs are the best, then she’s up and Rock ‘n’ Rolling with the best’ – and we’ve ALL ‘ad it. Your Granny comes round at Christmas. You put a new record on and she says ‘ah, that stuff’s not as good as it was in my day’. But give ‘er a couple of sherry’s and she’s up and twisting and showing her knickers. It happens in every family. It’s those sort-of things I wanted to capture. And I think it works. Yet if you listen to the record, there are no Christmas gimmicks on it, no sleigh-bells, no jingle-bells at all. The only thing Christmassy about it are the lyrics. It’s a straightforward Pop-Rock song, that happens to be about Christmas. It’s probably the only Christmas hit that’s ever been like that. And funnily enough – in France, it got to no.1 at Easter!”

Aren’t you sick of hearing it? “No. I’m PROUD of it. When I hear it on the radio, or in a Club or a Pub today, it doesn’t sound dated to me, it still sounds quite fresh. It stands the test of time, which is the test of a good Pop record. And it still sells every year, so it’s a nice little pension for us too. I think Jimmy’s sick of it. But he still takes the royalty cheques. The only thing that pisses me off is when I’m doing my Christmas shopping and it’s on in every store you walk into – there it is, BLARING out, and everybody’s looking at me, pointing and going (in comic voice) “that’s him, he made that record!!!” That DOES get a bit embarrassing. But I’ve lived with that for twenty-six years now, and my ears tend to block it out. But it’s a great record and I think it’s got a fondness in everybody’s heart. They know Christmas is here when they start hearing that record!”

SEVEN YEAR (B)ITCH

A guy from local band Neon shoves a copy of their CD ‘Heroes’ across the table at Noddy. “We’re playing ‘THE ADELPHI’ tonight. Why don’t you come and see us?” “I might just do that” lies Noddy. Then in an aside to me, “you’ve got to do that. When you’re in a band you’ve got to shove yourself.” But during those long early Slade and pre-Slade days wasn’t there ever a time when you thought it wasn’t going to happen, that you were never going to make it? “We-e-e-ell, it obviously crosses your mind. But we always had amazing confidence. We were cocky little gits. It was only a matter of time. We knew we’d got the goods to do it. It was just a case of having the right record at the right time to get the breaks. But we had no doubt in our minds that we would break through at some point. And that when we did break through it would snowball for us. We had that sort of youthful cockiness to think that we were the best band in the land. And you’ve got to have that confidence. You’ve got to have that level of self-belief.” As Blur say it, Confidence is a preference. But Slade always came across as a highly motivated band. “We were very highly motivated. But you have to be if you want to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll business. If you go into it with the intention of making a fast buck, if all you want is quick killing – nothing’s going to happen, it’s not going to work. It certainly wouldn’t in those days, and I don’t think it will today. We always looked on it – me in particular, as a long-term thing, a long-term proposition. And that’s why we stuck at it as a band for so long. We had the same line-up together for twenty-five years. NO band has ever achieved that, with the same line-up for that long. There’s none. There’s bands that’ve been going for twenty-five years – but not with the same line-up.” So will you go and see Neon tonight? “No. I’ll be gone by then. But I will listen to the CD.”

And will there be new Noddy Holder recordings? “I don’t know, people keep asking me, but I haven’t planned anything. After I did a couple of acoustic songs in the last TV series of ‘The Grimleys’ all the record companies were coming onto me to do an album. But that would mean getting used to the corporate structure of the business again. And it’s awkward for me to take that on board. ‘Cos I’m a bolshie so-and-so. You get record company A&R men who are – like, twenty-five, and they’re telling ME what to do, as though I’m a new artist and I don’t know what I’m talking about! And I have to say – LOOK! – I’ve been in the Music Business for over thirty years!... I’ve been through the mill a few times. I know the structure of things, and how things work. But honestly, this year’s been chock-a-block. I spent the first part of the year writing the autobiography. I delivered it to the publishers, and the next day I started out on three months filming for ten new episodes of ‘The Grimleys’. After which I started out on the book promotion. But I would like at some point to go into the studio and record, as a solo project. I’m hoping I’ll have time to write some new stuff next year, and then maybe record it the year after. But at the moment I’m just happy doing the things I’m doing. I’m acting with ‘The Grimleys’. I’ve written the book. I’m doing a lot of music for TV-adverts, I’m doing voice-over stuff. I’ve got my own radio show in Manchester. So I’ve got all these things going on. And I know what makes me feel right. Even if I don’t sell one copy or not one person watches it. I can’t help that. That’s out of my control. It’s not a case of how many records I sell or whatever. It’s more at the end of the day if I think I’ve done that work to the best of my ability – and if I think it’s turned out good, then – to me, I’m successful.”

Naomi shuffles the few remaining unsold, unsigned red-back Noddy-books into a neat pile, and bins the empty Britvic bottle, as Noddy watches the last of the Slade fans contentedly dispersing through the History/Modern History section and back out into the Leeds Briggate precinct beyond. His book is not a complex one. There’s little depth or insight. But he can be a man of unexpected contradictions. A curious oscillation between bragging bombast, and the consideration to care about the sensitivities of the groupies who once demanded his carnal attentions. A one-time Glam-Rock animal who played to a sold-out Earls Court Stadium, yet is now happy to perform to a rabble of fifty fans in a bookshop and enjoy their uncritical adulation. He once wrote a song that went ‘many years from now there will be new sensations, and new temptations... many years from now, there will be new tomorrow’s, How Does It Feel?’ It seems that now those new tomorrow’s are here he’s quite content to simply enjoy them.


 * “WHO’S CRAZEE NOW?: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY”
by NODDY HOLDER (with LISA VERRICO)
(Ebury Press, £16.99, ISBN 0-09-187075-5)

Interview originally published in:
‘HOT PRESS Vol.24 no.1’ (Feb 2000)
‘G.C. ROCKS no.8’ (UK - March 2000)

CD: 'THE GENESIS OF SLADE'


Album Review of:
‘THE GENESIS OF SLADE’
by THE VENDORS, THE ‘N BETWEENS,
and STEVE BRETT & THE MAVERICKS
(NODDY HOLDER, DAVE HILL, JIM LEA & DON POWELL)
(Cherry Red Records CDMRED 173)

There are few bands so essentially matched to their time-frame as Slade are to the tacky glam ‘n’ glitter stomp of the 1970’s. Yet, as this album, and as Noddy’s autobiography ‘Who’s Crazee Now?’ (Ebury Press 1999) shows, the various elements of the band were lurking on the outer fringes of Pop-dom throughout the sixties waiting for the big break that never came. Some of these tracks are lifted directly from carefully hoarded fans’ vinyl, and bear the ‘unobtrusive’ surface-hiss and scratch-noises of authenticity. Other tracks never even got that far, and are salvaged intact from a never-released lost cassette. So pristine sound quality is not an issue here.

Archaeological speaking, the earliest examples date back as far as 1963/64, with the quaint period charm of a privately-pressed EP by the Vendors – a name derived from an instrumental hit of the time called “Peanut Vendor”, and used by youth-club Beat-Boomers Don Powell, guitarist Dave Hill – and vocalist John Howells, who is now Jurassically resurrected to provide the sleeve-notes. They harmonise on Buddy Holly’s “Take Your Time”, write their own “Don’t Leave Me Now” (Hill and Howells), and do a note-perfect cover of the Shadows’ “Peace Pipe”. Meanwhile, as Noddy recalls in his memoirs, his school-age band the Memphis Cut-Outs were recruited by Steve Brett, already ‘a well-known entertainer in the Midlands’, as his new ‘Mavericks’, and it was in this guise that he got his initial ‘taste of the music industry’. “Wishing” was their first of three 1965 singles – all the A’s and B-sides collected here, which provide Noddy with his introduction to studio-time, albeit playing ‘exactly as we did every night on stage’. Essentially a ‘bunch of hicks from Wolverhampton’, they played Germany together with their mix of Brett’s big-voice Country ballad-cover of Elvis’ “Anything That’s Part Of You” and their failed Surf cover of Jimmy Gilmer’s American no.1 “Sugar Shack”. While “Candy” is a cheesily bounce-along Austin Powers Swinging Sixties quasi-TV-theme. Now That’s What I Call Easy Lounge-Core!

But by then Hill and Powell had graduated to become The ‘N Betweens, and tracks 12-15 are regulation Soul / R&B covers about dance-crazes with stupid names like “Can Your Monkey Do The Dog” and their take on the Yardbirds’ “I Wish You Would”, tracks lifted from a ‘cassette recording of a private acetate that has since gone missing’, plus further tracks originally put out on a French-only Barclay-label EP dismissed by Noddy as ‘just basic Blues tracks straight from their live set’ – including an inferior version of the Sorrows’ “Take A Heart”. The final six tracks come from 1966 and – although credited to The ‘N’ Betweens (Mark 2), unite the complete Slade line-up for the first time, with Noddy’s vocal debut clearly not yet at his microphone-wrecking best, but getting there. The sequence consists of one single – a flawed cover of the American Young Rascals hit “You Better Run”, plus the previously unissued out-takes they did with legendary American madman and fractured genius Kim Fowley, its ‘B’-side, “Evil Witchman” which ‘Kim made up on the spot’ around Noddy’s guitar riff, plus studio try-outs of Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich’s “Hold Tight”, and “Ugly Girl” – dedicated to ‘Our Fan-Club President in Afghanistan’. ‘See how beautiful her ugliness is’ Fowley voice-overs, then fades out with ‘buy our next record, it’s even groovier than this one...!’ And, of course, it was. For by the next record they were re-branded by Chas Chandler as Slade. But meanwhile, it’s sadly obvious to see why the 1960’s overlooked these naive and unfocussed attempts, and that it was only when the decade’s real innovators were either dead or creatively burned-out that Slade achieved their long-awaited moment. So this is a souvenir for hard-core fans and tacky Glam-Rock archivists only.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

POEM: 'YOU'LL NEVER FIND A GAY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH'



YOU’LL NEVER FIND
A GAY IN THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH:
MORE SATANIC VERSES

‘After 200 years of Mass
we’ve got as far as poison gas…’
                            (Thomas Hardy)


Our father who art not necessarily in heaven
hallowed be thy name… but only up to a point…
this is my prayer for all you holy-phoney gospel-preaching
moral majority well-respected evangelists who curse out your
neighbours & damn sinners, sorting spiritual e-numbers from chaff
& theological sheep from goats, may your Lord have mercy
on your soul, for I have none – you’re bound for hell,
this is my prayer for all you child-abusing born-again
porn-downloading-again god delusion creationist clergy
who visit massage-parlours and maintain discrete assignations
in motels for the laying on of hands in stations of the crass,
I don’t forgive you fathers, for you have sinned – you’re bound for hell,
this is my prayer for all you fake-Catholic sisters of no-mercy
who take the pill, use condoms, fail to procreate,
whose sacred causes oppose stem-cell research,
same-sex unions and a woman’s right to choose,
no bunch of our fathers and mumbled hail marys
will buy you off this time – you’re bound for hell too,
this is my prayer for obese indulgers who pig out
on junk-food and chocolate, you poets who
commit blasphemous rhyme writing verse that doesn’t scan,
you asylum-seekers, rough-sleepers, furtive smokers,
dope-smokers, binge drinkers, coke-drinkers,
coke-sniffers, glue-sniffers – you’re already in hell,
this is my prayer for all you slacker youth who self-harm,
self-abuse, substance-abuse, pick your nose, play emo,
play gangsta, play x-box, and hang out in hoodies
on street corners – you’re probably in hell too,
with all those unbaptised dead babies, bastards, adulterers,
civil partners, junkies and whores who reside in
unforgiving purgatory for eternity, this is my prayer,
blessed are all you atheists, humanists, rationalists,
Darwinians, pacifists, vegetarians, agnostics, pansexuals,
pagans, heretics, blasphemers, apostates, unbelievers,
recidivists, free-thinkers, doubters, and waverers,
for the rest, come at me, ye legion of horrors
for I would willingly slay thee all,
there is neither fear in my heart
nor compassion in my eyes,
face it, you chose the wrong salvation
you’re all bound for hell…


Published in: ‘PURPLE PATCH no.119’
(UK – March 2008)

THE ART OF THE ARTWOODS: THE STORY OF A CULT MOD-SOUL BAND



THE ART OF
THE ARTWOODS:
THE STORY OF A
CULT MOD-SOUL BAND

Album Review of:
‘ART GALLERY’ by
THE ARTWOODS
(1966, Decca LK 4830,
CD 2,000, Repertoire REP5134)

‘I’m so happy to be here today,
and for all of you that are searching
for the answer to your problem in life,
if you’re ready right now,
we are going to solve it…
and this is all you’ve got to do…’
              (The Artwoods “Keep Lookin’”)

Yes, to get the obvious out of the way first, Art Wood was the older brother of Ronnie – who’s made a forty-year career out of being the New Boy in the Rolling Stones. In fact, while young Ronnie was playing in a sixties beat-group called the Birds, scoring a single near-hit with “Leavin’ Here” (UK no.45), and grabbing press-inches by litigating against the American Byrds for allegedly sticky-fingering their name, brother Art was leading the Artwoods, a highly-rated Mod-Soul R&B group who climbed to no.35 on the chart with their single “I Take What I Want”, made waves with their EP ‘Jazz In Jeans’, and recorded a now very-collectible LP called ‘Art Gallery’. The group ran from, roughly, 1963 to 1967 and, like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, achieved a second layer of celebrity due to the subsequent success of its sides-men. Mighty drummer Keef Hartley recorded a series of classic albums through the seventies. And tyro-keyboardist Jon Lord reached even greater heights as a central component of Deep Purple.

But first, Arthur Wood was born 7 July 1937, in West Drayton, Middlesex, the oldest of three brothers born to Lizzie and tug-boat skipper Arthur. Like Garfunkel he found the full given name he’d inherited from his ‘water gipsy’ father, old-fashioned and somewhat uncool, but by abbreviating it to ‘Art’ it suddenly subsumed imagery of a totally different and more elevated kind. As Art Wood, at age fourteen in 1950, he went through the art-school ‘Beatnik’-era thing at Ealing, developing a useful knack at graphic design, typography and fine art, before being called-up, doing his compulsory National Service stint as Private 23267647 in the army at Devizes, Wiltshire in 1955. He graduated into skiffle until – with demob, he hightailed for London to form his first R&B group the Art Woods Combo, with a repertoire based around Fats Domino and the Chess catalogue, Chuck Berry and Chicago Blues, playing interval gigs at the Uxbridge ‘Regal’ cinema between films. As 1962 picked up its pace he stood in as one of a pool of vocalists contributing to the pioneering protean Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated (with Cyril Davies and Charlie Watts) at the legendary Marquee Club, which in itself invested his name a certain authenticity.

With the die cast, in a 1963 line-up remix he ‘amalgamated’ with guitarist Derek Griffiths and Jon Lord (on Lowrey organ) from Red Bludd’s Bluesicians. Born in Leicester on 9th June 1941, Lord had been educated at Leicester’s Wyggeston Grammer School For Boys, and took piano lessons between the ages of nine and seventeen. He graduated to the Central School of Speech And Drama at London’s Swiss Cottage (of Al Stewart’s “Swiss Cottage Maneuvers” fame!), where his keyboard skills saw him involved with the Bill Ashton Combo, a six-piece modern jazz unit. ‘I left drama college but never got any work as an actor because I didn’t want to leave London’ he recalled, ‘for two years I did virtually nothing, until I joined Red Bludd’s Bluesicians, an experimental blues group’ alongside Derek. Next, Art recruited bass-player Malcolm Pool from the Roadrunners, replacing an injured Don ‘Red Bludd’ Wilson, and finally added Keef (replacing Reg Dunnage) via a small-ad in ‘Melody Maker’. Keef was a survivor of early Beatlemania days, starting his career by replacing Ringo Starr in Merseybeat stalwarts Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, then occupying the drum-chair for Freddie Starr & The Midnighters. Art had booked the Marquee for auditions, but Keef the only drummer to turn up, while coincidentally – in a different part of the same club, the Yardbirds were auditioning a nervous Jeff Beck as a replacement for Eric Clapton! Young Ronnie watched from the sidelines as Art offered the ‘very spotty’ guitarist words of encouragement. Some years later Ronnie would become part of the Jeff Beck Group.

Collectively the reshuffled line-up become the New Art Woods Combo. To start out with, as Art was by now married to Doreen, for convenience Keef crashed over with Art’s mother-in-law – occupying Doreen’s former room, while Jon Lord moved into the Wood family’s boxroom in West Drayton – at £4-a-week all-in. Art’s Mum ‘was lovely. She treated me like a second son. But I was so hard-up I had to think twice about going into London on the tube. I couldn’t always afford the fare.’ Yet from such beginnings the group would evolve into one of the most respected and underrated Blues groups of its time.

Jon Lord made his professional debut as a musician with the Art Woods Combo at the ‘Railway Arms’, Fratton near Portsmouth. From there, the formidable five-piece went on to play all the most influential venues, from ‘Eel Pie Island’ to ‘Klooks Kleek’ in Hampstead, from the ‘Ad-Lib’ and the ‘Cromwellian’ to a residency at the ‘100 Club’, with their fluent takes on American covers. Art indulgently took younger brother Ronnie around gigs at the Harrow ‘Railway Tavern’ – where manager Kit Lambert had first seen the Who, and the legendary Richmond ‘Crawdaddy’ Club. Rhythm-&-Blues formed a vital ‘underground’ movement. The fanaticism that had created the sustained environment for – and launched, the embryonic Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Manfred Mann and John Mayall was then fermenting more powerfully, with greater national interest than ever before. From clubs like the famous ‘Marquee’ all the way to the back rooms of regional Pubs, Howlin’ Wolf chords jostle comfortably with Lightnin’ Slim riffs, while devotees of Charlie Parker or Zoot Sims found the atmosphere loose enough to infuse their own styles into the creative flux.

There’s a significant secret history of Mod music orbiting the resonant sound of the Hammond organ, influenced by American inroads blazed by the likes of Jimmy Smith. Georgie Fame made the biggest commercial breakthrough, but equally active within the same Jazzy-Blues scene was the wonderful Zoot Money, plus Graham Bond… and, of course, the organ was the essential Artwoods ingredient provided by Jon Lord. ‘In about 1961 I heard Jimmy Smith playing “Walk On The Wild Side” and from then on I was enraptured by the organ. I couldn’t buy one, but I got really interested in Hammonds.’ Jon told me ‘I started playing the organ through listening to Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, y’know, the JAZZ organists. And Georgie Fame, Graham Bond – they were organists I listened to way back in the mists of time. So that’s where I came from initially.’ He elaborated about Graham Bond, ‘he was my mentor. I learned from him. The Graham Bond Organisation used to play at the same Blues Clubs that the Artwoods used to play at. We were usually the interval band, so I used to – figuratively speaking, sit at his feet. And I used to pester him with questions about how to get the Hammond to sound like this, like that, like the other. And he taught me an enormous amount. Superb musician. Very odd man, strange man, but a brilliant musician.’

With the Beat Boom on the cusp of evolving into Mod-Soul, groups had to work harder, play better, and as such, the Artwoods were strongly tipped by the music press as natural successors to credible front-runners the Yardbirds or the Animals. Decca records were the first to start sniffing around. Resulting in a studio try-out with A&R-man Mike Vernon, a Blues-enthusiast and fine Blues-guitarist in his own right. It was Vernon, at this late stage, who suggested abbreviating the name from the Art Woods Combo to the more hip Artwoods. The group had already demo’d Muddy Waters “Hoochie Coochie Man”, but ditched this intended debut in a last-minute switch, leaving the song to Long John Baldry and Manfred Mann (although a live Artwoods bootleg version would emerge some years later). Instead, with Vernon producing, they delved back as far as Leadbelly for “Sweet Mary” for their first 45-rpm. A raggedy eight-bar tune from Huddie Ledbetter’s Folkways ‘Last Sessions’, his “Sweet Mary Blues” is alternately known as ‘Guvernor Pat Neff’, although it’s likely the Artwoods based their version on a recent ‘B’-side and later EP-track by the Cyril Davies All-Stars, ironically taken from his final Pye sessions. But, with an overhauled arrangement based around a simple repeated figure throughout, treated with an ascending dynamic that goes from soft to cacophony and back again, they make a fairly decent fist of it. It opens with Keef’s brushed cymbals and Derek’s guitar-strokes, then Art’s talking-style lead-in about how his girl has ‘big bow legs, but she’s alright with me’, then higher, intensifying into a climax extolling how ‘she aint no bumble-bee, but she can sure make sweet hon-ee’ with exaggerated vocals rising as it builds and builds with muted background organ feeding in, into a jaggedy Stonesy guitar-break and a crescendo of powerfully repeated ‘got to find Mary’ before descending abruptly back to quietness.

For the flip they chose “If I Ever Get My Hands On You” a more Pop-centric composition from Ivy League songwriters Ken Lewis and John Carter, their Ska-alike treatment giving the slight song depth and substance. Fronted by Jon’s burbling heaving organ, and broken by a snagging ‘Roadrunner’ guitar-riff, and a humorous ‘I’ll take you anywhere, and I’ll even pay the fare’ lyric, Art delivers the slightly lustful innuendo-title lightly, clear through to its final growled repetition. By the time of the single’s November 1964 release the Stones were already premiering their “Little Red Rooster” – their last 45rpm Blues cover, the Pretty Things and the Animals were also high-charting, and oddly the anodyne Four Pennies were in the Top 40 with their take on Leadbelly’s much-covered “Black Girl”.

On the dark-blue Decca label, details picked out in silver lettering, the Artwood’s debut release was boosted by a live slot on ‘Ready Steady Go’ alongside Donovan and the Kinks, and – although it didn’t chart, it provoked much positive response. OK, it wasn’t a record that was going to start, or stop wars. But it proved the group had legs, and they were going places (and yes, it was still ‘group’ rather than band). Two more singles across the next year established a pattern of covering American R&B for the ‘A’-sides, while serving up their own efforts for the flip. With Jon Lord’s first recorded composition “Big City”, paired with “Oh My Love” in February. An impassioned gospel-flavoured Soul-ballad – ‘when I kiss your eyes, you know that my heart dies’ before Art invites ‘alright Jon’ taking it into the organ break. While the competent urban flip bemoans a city ‘as mean as a snake’, a place ‘where I spend all my bread’ that’s ‘just a pain in the head’. The familiar Blues lyric-theme builds to a plea to ‘please let me make my way back home’. It was followed in August by “Goodbye Sisters” c/w “She Knows What To Do”, which builds like the Yardbirds “For Your Love”, backed up by a mean organ-propelled groove in which ‘she really struts that stuff’.

But the Artwoods achieved their highest visibility by going to the Stax label for Sam & Dave’s “I Take What I Want” (written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter), about ‘a bad go-getter’ who’s going to make you ‘my goyle’. Its single-minded bragging certainty, driven by Malcolm’s bobbing bass, is contagiously irresistible. Even the flip, a slow sinuous “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots”, is a Booker T organ with novelty voice interruptions, that shows inventive potential. The confusion over the single’s exact chart history – argued out in various website dialogues, is due to the nature of the music press at the time. There were four papers simultaneously publishing lists of best-selling singles. And they seldom agreed. The ‘Record Mirror’ Top Fifty was compiled by industry-source ‘Record Retailer’, and it provides the data collected into the authoritative ‘Guinness Book Of Hit Singles’. ‘New Musical Express’ used a different chart, which has also been subsequently republished in book-form. The Artwoods never appeared on either of these charts, hence they don’t figure in the spin-off reference books. But there was also a ‘Disc & Music Echo’ Top Thirty. And there was ‘Melody Maker’ chart. And it was here – and only here, with Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo” at no.1, that “I Take What I Want” entered the ‘Melody Maker’ Top Fifty at no.43 (14th May 1966). The following week it climbs to no.40, to make its third and final appearance, at no.35, on 28th May. Presumably the different papers based their lists on returns from different shops, which explains the anomalies. But it could also be due to chart-fixing perpetrated by over-zealous management. A phenomenon not exactly unknown at the time. As a foot-note, to further complicate an already confused situation, ‘Ready Steady Go’ also presented its own chart, based on a cleverly-contrived aggregated from the four pre-existing charts, which therefore saw the Artwoods chart-run as 51-46-46!

Despite such bickering minutia “I Take What I Want” was widely-played on various Pirate Radio stations, where I heard it, as well as at all the best Mod clubs where its ‘bad man’ self-confidence made it a serious contender. It made the perfect swaggering ego-boost anthem to pych you up to cross the dancefloor of the In-club to that girl you’ve been watching, with all the cock-sure strutting arrogance that, beneath the contrived fa├žade, few of us actually possessed. Meanwhile the group’s punishing touring schedule was taking them hither and yon shoving an intimidatingly powerful live set, with a harsh and provocative dynamic equivalent to dropping a smooth grenade into the club, ensuring them a firm club fan-base. If a breakthrough was ever going to happen, surely it must be – if not now, at least – imminent…?

In press photos the line-up look sharply cool in the Mod Carnaby Street way, long but disciplined hair, ties and neat stylish suits, whether posing with a flash cherry-red open-top MG sports car, or strung out across the stage. It’s true that Art’s voice lacks the distinctive command of an Eric Burdon or Van Morrison. In club terms it may lack Georgie Fame’s fluidity or Zoot Money’s burbling personality. But live, or on record, there were plenty of examples of lesser vocalist unable to match his presence or convincing projection. Contributing sleeve-notes to the expanded CD edition, ‘Melody Maker’ journalist Chris Welch, who knew them well, points out that Art had a ‘sturdy unpretentious vocal style’ combined with ‘just the right unflappable personality to hold a band of restless musos together.’ And, steeped in carefully studied but fluid authenticity, those musos could play. Derek’s guitar-work was never less than tastefully flashy, allied to Malcolm Pond’s active bass. Keef’s forcefully-animated and highly-personalised drum-style was jazz-influenced, yet delivered with faultlessly economical timing. With Jon Lord finally up-switching to Hammond, although focused on R&B and Soul, his virtuoso organ-flourishes were already nudging towards the beginnings of more ambitious prog-Rock projects. Astutely quick to capitalise on a good thing Mike Vernon had the musicians sneaking off for lucrative session-work for his Decca and then Blue Horizon R&B-roster, playing live and record dates for Freddy Mack and Mae Mercer while also backing-up visiting American stars Bo Diddley, Memphis Slim and Little Walter, both financing their otherwise impecunious life-style while soaking up experience.

But 1966 was to be their most high-profile year. Despite another failed single in August with “I Feel Good” c/w “Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book”, with Derek adding skronking fuzz-box to his Gibson ES335 TD, and harmonies punching around Art’s vocal, into a neat instrumental break with strong bass, before it there came the ‘Jazz In Jeans’ EP, and the twelve tracks making up the ‘Art Gallery’ LP. Supposedly recorded originally for France-only release, which explains the EP’s odd song-selection, their reading of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” nevertheless works. A cool easy-swing Ramsey Lewis Trio – or Peddlers, jazzy interpretation with guitar-strum standing in for the famous descending bass-run. It’s impossible to out-weird Lee Hazlewood, so they don’t try, but doing it straight-faced invests the song with unexpected power. The movie-theme “A Taste Of Honey” had already been interpreted by the Beatles, the Hollies and Herb Alpert, but they manage to give it a new spin, at best picked out by jazzy guitar and sprightly organ, at worst, veering towards movie-intermission muzak. Another instrumental film-song – “Our Man Flint” from James Coburn’s 1966 James Bond-spoof, hits a mid-point up-switch into dazzling small-group interplay before returning to the main theme. The EP closes with Jon Lord’s smooth “Routine”, about how ‘pool or a ball-game’ provides a break from ‘the same old scene’ of work-pressures. It completes a neat little package sleeved in an attractive Pop art lettering logo-cover.

The ‘Art Gallery’ cover-design also prominently features a Mod RAF-style roundel overlaying a rehearsal shot of the group, assuring it cult collectability. And, produced by Mike Vernon at Southern Music Studios in Denmark Street, it’s a strong selection. Opener Allen Toussaint’s “Can You Hear Me” comes via Lee Dorsey, with the group adding call-and-response chant to Art’s exhortations, and a strong unison guitar and bass riff behind Jon’s organ solo. It builds through repetition, urging ‘shake off your shoes, jump about, shout about it, you got nothing to lose’, pledging an album manifesto that ‘we’re gonna have some fun’. As Chris Welch recalls, the second track, Solomon Burke’s “Down In The Valley” delivers on that pledge, flaunting ‘the kind of strutting beat that used to send blonde Dolly-Birds boogalooing in their mini-skirts around the West-end ‘In’ Clubs’. With its ‘hey hey hey, you gotta go down deep’, it’s one of Art’s strongest performances. James Ray’s “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Myself” had already been a novelty hit for Freddie And The Dreamers, but the Artwoods reclaim its dignity (and Ronnie would eventually revive it further for his 1974 solo LP ‘I’ve Got My Own Album To Do’). “Walk On The Wild Side” – Oliver Nelson’s arrangement of Elmer Bernstein’s 1962 movie title-theme for hard-bopper Jimmy Smith’s 1962 Verve album, the record that had first turned Jon on to the organ, is a virtuoso showcase that had formed a standout of Artwoods live-set since the group’s beginning. “Be My Lady” is a second Booker T-style funky instrumental. While the jerky rhythms and Keef’s tom-tom accents highlight Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “I Keep Forgettin’”, a US hit for Chuck Jackson, later revived by Ringo Starr and David Bowie. Steve Cropper is an impossible guitarist to equal, but on Cropper’s “Things Get Better” Derek’s stinging guitar turns in a nifty break that neatly sidesteps comparison. It even has a Poppy radio-friendly chorus. So yes, they’re all class tracks. But all covers.

Every sixties name-group started out with covers-based sets, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones through the Kinks and the Who. But by 1966 they’d all evolved to a predominant reliance on original material. Despite the odd ‘B’-side, the Artwoods found themselves stranded on the wrong side of the culture-shift. Album track “Keep Lookin’” starts off with the parody-sermon wiffle delivered in perfect pronunciation by Jon over funereal organ and nervous coughs from the congregation, before exploding into driving rhythms, drum-breaks and ‘badaboomlam-samalam’ high-energy. But beneath its styling, it’s still another Solomon Burke Rock ‘n’ Soul cover…

Despite missing out with home vinyl-consumers the Artwoods developed a strong European following, leading to February 1967 tours in Poland (with Billy J Kramer), and French high-profile gigs at Paris’ ‘La Locomotive’. For the Polish tour Malcolm Pool was replaced by Ron Wright – who was with Lulu’s back-up group the Luvvers on “Shout”. Malcolm had been set upon by a gang of youths in a pub in Bishop Stortford where the group had been appearing, he was hospitalised, given three stitches in his hand and police-escorted out of town. Nevertheless, the tour left the Artwoods “I Feel Good” on the Polish Chart. In July they toured Denmark where “I Take What I Want” had been a January hit. Despite which there was a feeling that, just maybe, they’d passed their creative peak. ‘Melody Maker’ suggested that ‘one of the big drawbacks in the drive for success by the Artwoods has been the fact that they are all nice guys and good musicians. If only they were nasty and talentless, they’d be hitting the chart, folks!’ Chris Welch – writing the CD sleeve-notes, pretty-much confirms this verdict, ‘the Artwoods were not only great players, they were also among the friendliest, most cheerful and intelligent bunch of looners on the scene’. As a young ‘Melody Maker’ scribe he recalls playing a hectic darts contest with the group at the ‘100 Club’. The Artwoods won.

As seismic shifts changed the music-scene, their reliance on covers, apart from a few ‘B’-sides, saw them losing further ground. Jon Lord was their strongest writer, but he still saw himself primarily as their keyboard-player. Standing 6’1/2”, Jon confided to journalist Roy Hollingworth ‘when I was with the Artwoods I heard an album called ‘Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein’ (1961). That turned me on, I thought it was brilliant and original to put a Jazz group with an orchestra. I wanted to do it with a group, but really couldn’t with the Artwoods – maybe we could, but I wasn’t musically mature enough to write it’ (‘New Musical Express’). He tells ‘Melody Maker’ a similar tale, ‘I had discovered classics but I couldn’t fit any into the Artwoods music’ (11 September 1971). Such long-nurtured aspirations would eventually flourish with his ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra’ (1969) and the nuanced grandeur of ‘Gemini Suite’ (1970). But this full writing potential would only become apparent in later bands.

Now, with the Decca contract lapsed, a one-off single for Parlophone followed, but even a sing-along ‘la-la-la-la’ chorus failed to lift “What Shall I Do?”. While for the ‘B’-side, “The Deep End”, the Artwoods veer the closest they were ever going to get to psych-progressive, with Art’s voice mixed back into freak-beat harmonies, with guitar distortion and an experimental wind-down close. When it fell short of rectifying the sales situation they were ill-advisedly pressured, by label-boss Jack Baverstock, to jump the ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ fad. The Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway movie had provoked a kind of 1930’s fashion-fad that took Georgie Fame to no.1 with his “Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde”, complete with machine-gun effects. Maybe the blag would work for the Artwoods? When a defiant Keef Hartley refused to go along with the strategy, he was acrimoniously replaced by Colin Martin, and – launched by a lavish bash at the ‘Speakeasy Club’, the group briefly became St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Dragged up in gangster-chic, they toured their single revival of Bing Crosby’s hit “Brother Can You Spare A Dime?” for Fontana. Despite organ-work and strong guitar not dissimilar to Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, Art’s proletarian lament against the injustices of Depression-era austerity did not perform the required chart magic. ‘B’-side “Al’s Party” takes the theme further, with ragtime piano – the ‘Al’ is Al Capone, his party is the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, ‘Bugs’ Moran is invited, he’s the fall-guy, the track closes with startles of machine-gun fire. ‘Al Capone’s guns don’t argue’, indeed!

Looking back at the period, Jon Lord recalls ‘actually I felt bloody ridiculous. It wasn’t too bad abroad but back in England we had to wear these suits and I felt stupid playing R&B dressed like that. We all did.’ There was some promo, including an appearance playing in the Carnaby Street ‘Lord John’ boutique. But laid low, the group petered out soon after.

When I spoke to Jon Lord he explained how the roots of his work with Deep Purple ran deep. About how, long before the formulation of the ‘Deep Purple In Rock’-style put their album into the Top Fifty for a full year, with a Metal-brand derived out of the classic Cream/Led Zeppelin mould, the scattered members of the future Purple were working within the Blues field, doing cabaret, straight Pop and session-work. Often, until the firming of Purple’s most successful line-up around mid-1969, individual members came close to catching commercial fire – as Jon did with the Artwoods. For Jon and the other future-Purple’s, a series of groups produced a series of records, some of them excellent, sometimes regular Pop-Rock – occasionally even undeniable rubbish. After the demise of the Artwoods Jon admits ‘I had nothing to go to and for eight or nine months I did not work apart from a few sessions to pay the bills.’ He was even touring-MD for the Flowerpot Men – a group of ‘professional flower-children’ assembled by John Carter and Ken Lewis – the Ivy League duo who’d penned Artwood’s first ‘B’-side “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”. Ironically, by cynically exploiting the gullibility of the hippie-fad for purely commercial motives they did what Artwoods had never been able to do, they hit no.4 on the chart with “Let’s Go To San Francisco Part 1” c/w “Part 2” (Deram DM142). Bassist Nick Simper was also with the Flowerpot Men, and through him, around the end of 1967, Jon met Ritchie Blackmore, the core of the first Deep Purple, with former-Searchers drummer Chris Curtis acting as an unlikely catalyst. But for Jon Lord, it was his Artwood’s period that proved to be the vital apprenticeship…

After prematurely exiting the Artwoods Keef Hartley (8 April 1944 to 26 November 2011), went on to join John Mayall, before his own Big Band played a Saturday afternoon slot at ‘Woodstock’. His album ‘Halfbreed’ (1969) with jazzers Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Larry Beckett (trumpet), was well-received and respected, going on to add Ray Warleight (flute) and Barbara Thompson (sax) for ‘The Battle Of North West Six’ later the same year. As a kind of very-British counterpart to horn-driven Blood Sweat & Tears, ‘Overdog’ (1971) with songs by Miller Anderson is another highly-rated essay in loose long-limbed jazz-rock. Keef was later rejoined by Derek Griffiths in Dog Soldier for their 1975 LP. Derek had been doing serious session-work, and playing with Colin Blunstone’s back-up group doing the former-Zombie’s hits “Say You Don’t Mind” and “I Don’t Believe In Miracles”, from his Epic-label albums ‘One Year’ (1971) and ‘Ennismore’ (1972). Meanwhile, Mike Vernon was busy forming his own Blues specialist label ‘Blue Horizon’ for CBS, responsible for early Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack.

So were the Artwoods a failure? Viewed strictly in terms of the quantum jump to hit singles and albums, yes, it’s possible to argue it that way. In subsequent interviews Art himself seems to regard it as such. Explaining that Ronnie’s immense success in the Rolling Stones more or less compensates. But I don’t see it that way. The Artwoods left a legacy of a cool Mod image, and an archive of music on record that is redolent of the time, and still stands up favourably to comparison with other contemporary bands. That’s a considerable success. That’s more than most of us ever get to achieve in our lifetimes. And personally, I retain a strong affection for the group. When I told Jon Lord as much, he told me, the Artwoods? ‘it’s very much of its time though isn’t it? I’m proud of it, proud of it. It was four or five young musicians searching for something a little bit different, and we had a lot of fun doing it. Great.’

Caught within the ensuing fall-out Art toyed with a group called ArtBirds – with Jon Lord, John ‘Twink’ Adler (future Pink Fairies drummer), plus brother Ronnie and Kim Gardner from the now equally-defunct Birds (Art+Birds!). Then he took Ronnie and Kim over, adding some former-Small Faces (Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan) into a venture called Quiet Melon. Fontana kept their options open, offering free rein of studio-time, but they turned down a four-track group-demo, and the group failed to score a contract. Quiet Melon managed a live set at the Cambridge May Ball, then reconfigured into the Faces with Rod Stewart, and Art pretty-much quit music, concentrating on a successful second career in Graphic Art, forming his West Four Design studio business with middle brother, Ted. Married to second wife Angie, he continued to sporadically play sets with the Downliners Sect, and – as critics and cult-archivists rediscovered his 1960’s legacy, by then reissued in various CD packages, there were even reconstituted versions of the Artwoods, until his death from prostate cancer 3 November 2006, aged 69.




PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION:
ARTWOOD’S ART GALLERY

Singles

November 1964 – “Sweet Mary” c/w “If I Ever Get My Hands On You” (Carter-Lewis song) (Decca F 12015) review: ‘A very talented young outfit making a useful name for themselves around London, the Art Woods should break into big time with a well performed disc’. The Artwoods represented by ‘London City Agency’ by Johnny Jones and Barry Dunning (later agency for Mud and Man)

February 1965 – “Oh My Love” c/w “Big City” (Jon Lord song) (Decca F 12091)

August 1965 – “Goodbye Sisters” c/w “She Knows What To Do” (Decca F 12206)

April 1966 – “I Take What I Want” c/w “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots” (Decca F 12384)

August 1966 – “I Feel Good” c/w “Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book” (Decca F 12465)

April 1967 – “What Shall I Do” c/w “In The Deep End” (credited to ‘Paul Gump’ aka the group) (Parlophone R 5590) “What Shall I Do” later featured in compilation LP ‘Hits Of The Mersey Era: My Generation’ (EMI, December 1976)

1967 – “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” c/w “Al’s Party” as St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Fontana H883)

EP’s

1966 – ‘Oh My Love’ (Decca 457.076 M) with “Big City”, “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You” + title track. French EP

1966 – ‘Jazz In Jeans’ (Decca DFE 8654) with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (by Lee Hazelwood), “A Taste Of Honey”, “Our Man Flint” (by Jerry Goldsmith), and “Routine” (credited to the group, but actually just Jon Lord)

1966 – ‘I Take What I Want’ (Decca DFE 8576) with “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “I Feel Good” and “She Knows What To Do” + title track

Albums

November 1966 – ‘Art Gallery’ (Decca LK 4830) with “Can You Hear Me”, “Down In The Valley”, “Things Get Better”, “Walk On The Wild Side” (Jimmy Smith), “I Keep Forgettin’”, “Keep Lookin’”, “On More Heartache” (with its Motown bass and cooing vocal background, this is surely a Northern Soul contender?), “Work, Work, Work” (‘you talkin’ to me Boy?’ demands Art, ‘don’t wanna hear about work, you keep that trash to yourself!’), “Be My Lady”, “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody”, “Stop And Think It Over” (slow impassioned Blues), “Don’t Cry No More” (with a rousing Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout’ build)

1995 – ‘Art Gallery’ (Repertoire REP4533-WP, then REP5134, 2009), includes 12 original album tracks, plus “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “Goodbye Sisters”, “She Knows What To Do”, “I Take What I Want”, “I Feel Good”, “What Shall I Do”, “In The Deep End”, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, “A Taste Of Honey”, “Our Man Flint”, “Routine”, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”, “Al’s Party”

2005 – ‘The Artwoods: Begin Here’ (Traces AD2067) a bootleg claiming to be ‘Live at the Ormescliff Hotel, in Llandudno October 1964’ with 11 mono tracks recorded on a Grundig reel-to-reel, including “Got My Mojo Working”, “The First Time I Met The Blues”, “Smack Dab In The Middle”. “Comin’ Home Baby”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Art’s Blues”, “Green Onions”, “Smokestack Lightning”, “Chicago Calling” + live versions of both sides of their first single

Quiet Melon

November 1995 – An EP ‘Art Wood’s Quiet Melon’ (Lost Moment Records LM12051, reissued as CD LMCD051, 2006) consists of material from the rejected Fontana tapes recorded in Phillips Studio May 1969, “Engine 4444” (by Art Wood) and “Diamond Joe” (by Art Wood), plus “Diamond Joe” instrumental, with Ronnie Wood, Kim Gardner, Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan. An alternate take “Early Roller Machine 4444” also appears on CD ‘Sugarlumps’ (Acid Jazz AJCD161). Art mentions two other lost titles, “Right Around The Thumb” and “Two Steps To Mother” with Rod Stewart sharing vocals

1998 – ‘MoneyDue: Art Wood’s Quiet Melon’ (Japan-only QMECDMO 121649, reissued 2002 as Crown CRCL 4036) thirteen tracks, two original tracks “Diamond Joe” and “Engine 4444”, plus eleven new tracks featuring all three Wood brothers – Ted, Art and Ronnie, “My Resistance Is Low”, “Lady Moon”, “Knee-Deep In Nephews” (by Art Wood and Ray Majors, featuring Ron’s son Jesse James Wood), “Meet Me In The Bottom” (adapted from Willie Dixon), “Am I Blue”, “Hard Time Blues”, “Gee Baby”, “Driftin’”, “Turn In Around”, “Soup In A Basket”. Also features Don Craine, Keith Grant, Ray Majors, Sandy Dillon, Mick Avory. For the album’s 1998 launch Quiet Melon performed a one-off gig at the ‘Eel Pie Club’ in Twickenham featuring all three Wood brothers.

Compilation albums

1983 – ‘100 Oxford Street’ (Edsel EDCD 107, then 1998 Get Back GET524) with “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “Goodbye Sisters”, “Oh My Love”, “I Take What I Want”, “Big City”, “She Knows What To Do”, “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist”, “Keep Lookin’”, “I Keep Forgettin’”, “I Feel Good”, “One More Heartache”, “Down In The Valley”, “Be My Lady”, “Stop And Think It Over”, “Don’t Cry No More”. Sleeve design by Art Woods, with four-page group-history by Derek Griffiths

2000 – ‘Artwoods: Singles A’s & B’s’ (Repertoire REP4887) with “Sweet Mary”, “If I Ever Get My Hands On You”, “Oh My Love”, “Big City”, “Goodbye Sisters”, “She Knows What To Do”, “I Take What I Want”, “I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling”, “I Feel Good”, “Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book”, “What Shall I Do”, “In The Deep End”, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”, “Al’s Party”, “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, “A Taste Of Honey”, “Our Man Flint”, and “Routine”

2006 – ‘The Artwoods’ (Spark SRLM) 11-track vinyl limited-edition, with “On More Heartache”, “Our Man Flint”, “Work Work Work”, “Be My Lady”, “Don’t Cry No More”, “Can You Hear Me”, “Walk On The Wild Side”, “Things Get Better’”, “I Keep Forgettin’”, “A Taste Of Honey” and “Routine”

See also: feature in ‘Record Collector no.153’

http://www.deep-purple.net/tree/artwoods/artwoods.html