Wednesday, 22 May 2019

MICK FARREN: SEX AND DRUGS, SF AND ROCK ‘N’ ROLL




MICK FARREN: 
SEX AND DRUGS, 
SF AND ROCK ‘N’ ROLL


 ‘NEVER ARE TYRANTS BORN OF 
ANARCHY. YOU SEE THEM FLOURISH 
ONLY BEHIND THE SCREEN OF LAW’ 
(Marquis de Sade)


 Retrospective Album Review of: 
‘MONA: THE CARNIVOROUS CIRCUS’ 
 by MICK FARREN 
(1970, Transatlantic Records TRA 212) 

Mick Farren knows the grammar and vocabulary of Rock. He knows the punctuation and the manifesto. He knows the language and the poses. He knows the structure and vernacular, the dialectics and the format. The voice isn’t strictly essential. Most of the greatest recordings of the Rock era were made by technically-imperfect artists. And Mick’s savvy enough to realise that an album lacking any pretention to strong melodic song-content needs the framing ramparts of a reliable fallback structure. Hence the opening (a Fragment) and closing (The Whole Trip) book-ends of Bo Diddley’s “Mona”. And the side-two opener of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”, which – according to Farren, was the first political song in the canon due to its line about ‘I called my Congressman, but he said Whoa, I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.’ These twin barricades shocked full of heavy myth and legend, surround the two ‘suites’ of found-fragments, spoken-word snapshots, docu-veritè sequences and choppy riffs.

The Who were also doing a bombastic “Summertime Blues”, for their ‘Live At Leeds’ double-album (recorded 14 February 1970). But Malcolm McLaren, who also knew his way around the Rock cartography, would contrive Sid Vicious into the June 1979 Top Ten with “C’Mon Everybody” from that same Eddie Cochran-Jerry Capehart writing team. Because Farren uses his grounding in Rock history to anticipate Punk, aligning with the stripped-down minimalist MC5, Stooges and Dictators against the more fey floral aspects of the hippie revolution. The fact that the Rolling Stones had already done a spine-shivering “Mona” on their debut album, which – it must be said, stands head-and-shoulders above this version, is not strictly relevant either. The titanium-plated Bo Diddley riff is an eternal truth that survives the rasping cello and the ‘c’mon Mona get it on… I’ve come here to ball with you’ that the album inflicts upon it.


When Farren uses the riff as the basis for an extended jam, especially on the side two album-closer – ‘This is the best part!’ he growls, he’s leaning on the improvisational dexterity of Johnny Gustafson on bass (spelled Gustavson), with a history extended back to Mersey-Beat pioneers Big Three and forward into Quatermass where he played alongside Pete Robinson who adds keyboard. Paul Buckmaster scores the cello. Victor ‘Sister George’ Gamm had engineered with Farren on the Deviants albums, so they had a functional working relationship, and lead guitarist/arranger Steve Hammond took and helped nudge Farren’s shambling concept into realisation. Twink is on drums, but there’s also percussionist Shagrat The Vagrant, a guise assumed by Steve Peregrin Took (Tolkien was still a secret code exchanged between initiates), who’d soon be on ‘Top Of The Pops’ as part of T Rex. Took takes vocals on “Observe The Ravens”, while during the brief improvisational “Society Of The Horsemen” he infiltrates the lyric-quote ‘it don’t feel good, ‘cos it was made out of wood’ from his own song “Steel Abortion”, later recorded by his Shagrat (with Farren and Larry Wallis).

This is an album that reeks of squats and crash-pads and drifts of intoxicating smoke, where revolutions are plotted in endless rambling conversations, and music is played at mind-shattering volume by what he terms ‘alcoholics, dope-fiends and poets’. It teases with intimations that something just might be happening here if only the encryption can be deciphered. As the rear-cover Marquis de Sade quote indicates, Mick Farren jackdawed across all manner of cult and sub-cult touchstones. From bourgeoning counter-culture journalism through to declamatory rabble-rousing contributions to a newly resurgent ‘New Musical Express’, from incendiary Yippie connections, to spin-off books collecting and sparking from his unique connections.

And Mick’s Deviants band were one of the original groups to work outside the capitalist music industry, by pioneering its own Indie releases. Debut album ‘Ptooff!’ (1967), as the Social Deviants, arrived on their own ‘Underground Impresarios’ label – IMP1, available through mail-order via ‘Oz’ and the like, before being picked up and reissued by Decca in 1969 (as LK-R 4993). It was followed in September 1968 by ‘Disposable’ on the equally-obscure Stable label (SLP 7001), even spawning a rare single, “You’ve Got To Hold On” c/w “Let’s Loot The Supermarket” (STA 5601). ‘Deviants 3’ in October 1969 – with its striking sleeve-art of a Nun sucking an ice-lolly, came through a link-up with Transatlantic (TRA 204), for which ‘Mona’ forms the next part of a promised three-album arrangement.


Although the Biker ‘X-spoitation’ movie illusion of the Hells Angels as an autonomous free-spirited outlaw tribe was somewhat dented by their brutal ‘policing’ of the Altamont Festival, it still exerts a fascination. The UK chapter was a pale imitation of its American progenitors, but Farren carried out interviews with London Angels, with one of those tape-voices fliched into “The Whole Thing Starts”. After an electronic surge and a hard electric kick borrowed from Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters hit “Money Honey”, the track is punctuated by ambient street-sounds. And it’s an uneasy mix of bragging anecdote that begins when ‘an Irishman nicked half of Loser’s gear after the police had raided the squat’ so they seek revenge by ‘kicking the shit’ out of him, he admits ‘I don’t know how he managed to run he was so beat-up’ as they pursue him down Shelton Street, at Covent Garden the Angel’s in their ‘colours’ are stopped and frisked by a Fuzz-jag, and restrained for carrying a razor they ‘whipped us in the station’ where the Angels were beaten-up. The album proudly sports the legend and logo ‘This Album Is Approved By Hells Angels M.C., East London’.

The other inexplicable hang-up, with the diametrical opposite to the hippie idyll, in the totalitarian evil of the Third Reich, manifests itself in the soft-focus red front-cover storm-trooper image lifted from Erwin Leiser’s ‘A Pictorial History Of Nazi Germany’ (1962, Pelican Books), overlaid with the silver ‘Mona’ logo designed by the ‘Ink Studios’ – ‘Think Ink’, as in the short-lived underground newspaper. The brooding-dark reverse-side photo of an enthroned Farren in dark-shades is effectively posed by Keith Morris.


Slipped from the inner sleeve, there’s a single vinyl black band across side one, with three clear bands across side two. With the clean white ‘T’ label, black lettering and mauve logo across the spindle-hole. While there’s Hendrix guitar and manic organ written all over the muddy jam “Observe The Ravens”, with what seem to be random chain-of-thought slogans, phrases from different voices, and stoned manic laughter thrown across it – ‘can you, can you, please explain… I don’t understand what’s going on’. Then the track adopts the narrative style of the noir radio power-drama spoofed so effectively by Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s “Big Shot” (on ‘Gorilla’, 1967), with a nod at pulp crime-novels, as the ‘maniac responsible’ for murdering Mrs Sarah Donaldson emerges, checks ‘a small silver tube’ surgically inserted up his nose ‘as a precaution against the dirt and pollution of the city air.’ The tale is not completed, or even developed far beyond this point, instead there’s a debt to Frank Zappa on the repetitive ‘Who Needs The Egg’ chant that closes the track.

Flipping the album over, into the second suite, following the sinister vocal “Don’t Talk To Me Mary”, the central “You Can’t Move Me” starts out acoustic as a Took conversation recounts his experience of time spent in Ashford Remand Centre where they were ‘generally obnoxious to me,’ and ‘if you’re a vegetarian all you get to eat was potatoes’. As a compressed ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ ‘unscrewing the screws’ forms a major distraction. “In My Window Box” starts as a riffing instrumental break leading into radio distortion, cut-up looped-voices in an artful found-sound tape-collage, midpoint between the Beatles “Revolution no.9” and Shadow Morton’s experimental Vanilla Fudge album ‘The Beat Goes On’ (February 1968, Atco SD 33-237), sampling voices from ‘Of The Cause Of Freedom’ to Lord Haw-Haw ‘Germany Calling’. Where the lines ‘his sergeant-major saw him die… when he died, we threw a blanket over him and left him’ came from are anyone’s guess, maybe a Vietnam TV-commentary? The slurred shouted “An Epitaph Can Point The Way” – ‘you don’t scare me, are you listening?’ is cut with an acoustic insert that even recalls the haunting earth-music of the Incredible String Band.


Occupying a central place in the emerging London counter-culture, the Deviants were there playing ‘The Fourteen-Hour Technicolour Dream’ at the Ally Pally, 29 April 1967, sharing the bill with Pink Floyd, Tomorrow, Flies and Soft Machine watched by an acid-stoned John Lennon. Recorded as the Deviants imploded, with its other members continuing in a refocused way as Pink Fairies, the ‘Mona’ album had a certain assurance of support from the underground press, with a positive review from ‘IT: International Times’, although its influence was negligible, and virtually incomprehensible outside of it. To ‘Melody Maker’ it was ‘badly-played rock and roll interspersed with documentary-type interviews with Hells Angels. One for sociologists.’ While a reissue in ‘Record Collector’ magazine comments ‘it’s difficult to know how much to take this album seriously. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on,’ says one of the numbers, to which one is tempted to nod assent.’

So is this a great lost album? Obviously not. What does it mean? Everything and nothing. A state of mind. Stoned games and pseudo-profound ideas that only partially work. But it is an audio collage, a unique artefact of a strange and volatile period of Rock evolution, with its roots firmly embedded in the past, yet voraciously wide open to future experimental forays into tomorrows that oft never happened.
 

MONA: THE CARNIVOROUS CIRCUS’ 
(Transatlantic Records TRA 212) 41:40-minutes Side One: ‘Mona (A Fragment)’ (3:15), ‘Carnivorous Circus Part 1’ (0:30 – total 15:19), ‘The Whole Thing Starts’ (2:32), ‘But Charlie It’s Still Moving’ (0:59), ‘Observe The Ravens’ (10:33), Society Of The Horseman’ (0:49). Side Two: ‘Summertime Blues’ (2:41), ‘Carnivorous Circus Part 2’ (0:53 – total 13:01), ‘Don’t Talk To Me Mary’ (2:26), ‘You Can’t Move Me’ (3:26), ‘In My Window Box’ (1:21), ‘An Epitaph Can Point The Way’ (4:57), ‘Mona (The Whole Trip)’ (7:25) Recorded at Sound Techniques, London, December 1969 Reissued on Psycho Records in 1984 (Psycho 20), and Esoteric Recordings in 2009 (ECLEC 2121)



Book Review of: 
‘THE SONG OF PHAID THE GAMBLER’ 
by MICK FARREN 
 (New English Libraries, October 1981, 
544-pages ISBN 978-0450053436, £1.75) 

‘Science Fiction, like Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll, or good whisky, is a hard thing to define in words’ he wrote in a vintage backdated ‘Fiesta’. Yet even earlier in his strange strange career-path Michael Anthony Farren got inoculated with a worn and rusty stylus by a heady concoction of cheap vinyl and pulp fantasies. And the contagions remain. When he was leading the Deviants, his anarchistic DIY hippie-band, he recorded the celebratory prophetic “Let’s Loot The Supermarket” on the same demented album as “Last Man” which was written – he told me, ‘after reading the Richard Matheson classic fantasy ‘I Am Legend’, and doing a lot of methedrine!!!’ It was the imperfect collision of two trash cultures, and he’s maintained that sleazy Rock/SF oscillation ever since. For every ‘NME’ column he filed on Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley or Nashville, there’s a short SF shot about urban cannibalism for ‘Oz’, or a novel-chapter for his ‘Texts Of Festival’ (1973) or ‘Protectorate’ (1984). For every track on his ‘Mona: The Carnivorous Circus’ (1970) solo album, each song he wrote for Hawkwind, Pink Fairies, Motorhead or Wayne (MC5) Kramer there’s a short SF for ‘Ad Astra’ magazine about a starship crewed by Gays, or a passage in his techno-‘Easy Rider’ ‘The DNA Cowboys’ trilogy (single volume, 2002).


Once he’d relocated to New York for subsequent album ‘Vampires Stole My Lunch Money’ (1978), and production credits for the likes of Vermillion (‘Ripped And Torn’) Sands, so – according to track record, some Science Fiction counterweight was required! Thus are we duly delivered ‘The Song Of Phaid The Gambler’, an elaborate phantasmagoria of a novel that looks to be his strongest commercial blast to date in either of his multiple disciplines. The fiction-format he assembles is neither vastly original or overly complex, hardly the ‘first truly post-twentieth-century Fantasy Epic’ boasted by the blurb. He takes a custom-built lacerated landscape – a post-holocaust Earth zebra-striped with alternating temperature-zones of deep freeze glaciation to furnace-heat deserts. He peoples it with devolved city-states of decadent humans, malfunctioning androids, subhuman Boohooms, telepathic dogs, super-human Elaihim, and mutated animal species… then garnishes it all with a lethal cocktail of odd hallucinogenics, gymnastic kinky sex, and streetwise humour. The catalyst and narrative element is fed in by Phaid himself, a Maverick-style pro gambler who travelogues it all. Bounced between shifting permutations of nasties, dragged through revolution and drugged through copulatory pyrotechnics, harassed across a variety of cinematic scenarios by the often indistinguishable forces of law and organised crime, as well as by a psionic would-be messiah. 

Although the biro-technique is strictly functional, and the plotting tenuous – and even that shot through with an overkill of wild coincidence, it is a rapid-switch novel that carries you effortlessly through its hefty page-length with no lasting damage to the nervous system. The direct Rock references are minimal – unlike ‘The Texts Of Festival’, in which a future-world of radioactive barbarism reveres salvaged Rock records as mystic revelation and the final massacre is enacted to the backdrop soundtrack of the Doors “The End”, or his ‘The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys’ (1976) in which the ‘home of the blue-scaled whores’ is named Dogbreath after an ancient Frank Zappa title, and a Bob Dylan clone called ‘Minstrel Boy’ acts as linkman. The only reference I can pick up clear through Phaid’s directionless ramblings is a gambling den called ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, but the style is imprinted subliminally. The characters range from Street Hoodlums and Youth Gangs spieling ghetto argot, to thinly disguised Groupies, phony Guru’s, hustlers, Western Movie and Rock stereotypes, all scrambled through narcotic vistas and superfast action. To paraphrase the writer himself, ‘Phaid’ is a hard thing to define in words, if it’s not exactly over-endowed with literary kudo’s then you gotta concede that it DOES set the diodes twitching pleasurably. It IS fun, and it does you no harm.


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