Sunday, 23 March 2008
GREETINGS.... recently reported developments in Cloning Technology encourage me to believe that perhaps soon I’ll be able to split off duplicate selves, & do collectively all the things I never find time to do individually. With multiples of myself one can read all the books I want to read, another listen to all the music, a third & fourth can do deep introspective dialogue with me to explain myself to myself, one can create fantastic dream-igniting poems & outrageously subversive stories in a cork-lined room while another types them out mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Of course the scope for exploring bizarre permutations of auto-eroticism might prove a little time-consuming, & some of me will probably decide to leave & follow-up those troublingly incomplete romantic/sexual relationships scattered like aching question marks through our collective life ... & that throws up further alternative life-style possibilities - I can simultaneously become a decadent artist fusing weirdly outrageous acid-Miro with spaced-out Beardsley, I can publish furtive art-insurrectionist magazines, be an eco-anarchist, a squalid junkie rent-boy (purely as fictional research material), a sax-playing Coltrane Jazz-Bohemian redefining the aural limits of electro-sonic expression, & a beach-bum in Crete stoned on Raki and Aegean sunsets mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
But then ... at least ONE of me can devote time exclusively to this site, adding stuff....
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
at ‘Manchester Evening News Arena’, Manchester (25th June 2005)
‘Man-cunians’ pronounces David Crosby slow and deliberate, ‘didn’t think I knew that word did you?’ Visually, this trio form a digital equation that goes 0-1-0. Yes, there’s been some waisting on the way. Stills in a ludicrous Hawaiian marquee. Not that such a sartorial atrocity should be held against him, much less worn. Crosby, hands thrust determinedly deep in his pockets, meandering distractedly around the proceedings in over-stretched denim, white tendril-entanglements out-flowing his blue baseball cap. Only Graham Nash, his hair greying-to-white, stood stage-centre in black, with white sneakers, achieves the equation’s 1. Three fractious quarrelsome millionaire hippies with a back-catalogue to merchandise. Is it getting to the point where it’s no fun anymore? ‘I wish we didn’t have to sing this’ grumbles Nash, about “Military Madness”. ‘We’re sick of it’ adds Crosby. Of course, what they don’t like is the necessity of re-singing it, the continuing wars of ‘the monkey in the White House’ despite their persistent urgings. There’s nothing wrong with using your celebrity-platform to ‘speak out against the madness’, is there? Perhaps it’s even obligatory (and haven’t they done the Berlin ‘Live8’ to achieve just that?). ‘We’re from the other half of America’ explains Crosby, ‘the half that didn’t vote for Bush’. Earlier, pre-gig T-shirt spotting provides a kind of credibility litmus. A Pearl Jam, a Joy Division. Lots of fashionista-shunning Neil Young, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, CS&N, C&N. They open with “Carry On” – less anthemic in the Queen sense, as a genuine anthem in its own right, ‘rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice’. ‘Thank you Manchester. We normally leave it about 25-30 years between visits…’ gags Nash, then it’s into “Marrakesh Express” with ‘let’s go to Morocco and smoke one’. “A Long Time Gone” takes on a darker more intense hue. It’s a solid three-way street. Stone-by-stone theirs are equal contributions. They do duo’s, solo’s – Nash sits at a keyboard for a supernaturally spooky “Cathedral”, while a slurred damaged Stephen Stills adds the title-track of his new album “Wounded World”, and his Stax-organ soul-stew take on Booker T Jones’ “Old Man Trouble”, before introducing “Let The Peace Begin” from ‘our new record’. He says less, but it’s his distinctive guitar-lines that ignite the evening throughout. Until Jeff Pavar (the ‘P’ from Crosby’s CPR side-project) provides the beguiling bossa-nova guitar on Nash’s impassioned solo “Jesus Of Rio”, a plea ‘for people to stop killing each other in the name of religion’. Again, running the risk of coming across a tad sanctimonious. Crosby joins for harmonies, around the time James Raymond (the ‘R’ of CPR, and his long-lost son) contributes keyboard. ‘You shout out your favourite song from over here, and you shout out your favourite song from over there, but when it reaches us it sounds like ‘BLLLEEEUUUGGGHHH!’ And I don’t know that song’ protests Crosby. ‘We have a lotta music with us tonight’ admits Nash – the band’s ‘lyric-police’, ‘we love all the old songs – lord knows we’ve got enough of them, but it’s the new ones that keep us fresh’. Adding “Lay Me Down” and “Milky Way Tonight” from 2004’s Crosby/Nash double-set, tracks as fine as any they’ve ever done. ‘Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now’ warns the lyric, but when sticking to what you know is as much fun as this, it’s churlish to go elsewhere. ‘You need this record’ insists Crosby, ‘I need you to need this record. I still have kids to put through education.’ ‘So stop having them’ chides Nash (who claims this man’s fecundity could ‘get a table pregnant!). An extended “Déjà vu” opens with Crosby’s jazz-scat, through Nash’s harmonica solo, into features for David Santos’ bass, Michael Finnigan’s organ, and Joe Vitale’s drums. Then, after the break, things get even more serious. “Helplessly Hoping”, Crosby & Nash’s acoustic-only “Guinnevere”, Still’s “Southern Cross”. Crosby picks out a cheeky riff from the Hollies’ ‘King Midas’ before explaining the tale behind “Don’t Dig Here”, a nuclear dump beneath the Yucca Mountain. A warning to deter curious excavation designed to last 30,000 years. Who will survive to read it – ‘giant radioactive French cockroaches?’ he asks. It grows into a three-way Stills/Nash/Pevar guitar melt-down of considerable power, before Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” finally gets the crowd up on their feet, dancing, climbing barriers to rush the stage. Crosby berating the ‘bald yellow-jackets’ for attempting to stem them. “Chicago” – ‘we can change the world’. Building through a guitar-heavy “Almost Cut My Hair” into an even heavier “Wooden Ships”. They close with “Woodstock” – yeah, less anthemic in the Queen sense as a genuine anthem in its own right. Encoring with “Teach Your Children”. Me – I bought “Just One Look” in 1964, “Mr Tambourine Man” in ’65, and “For What It’s Worth” in 1967. So resistance is futile. This event is an on-going continuity in my life. Despite myself, how could I not be touched? And for the record, I’m wearing a ‘Bob Dylan 2000 Never-Ending Tour T-shirt’.
REVIEW BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
‘SONGBOOK: Online Extra’ (September 2006 – www.song-book.co.uk)
THAT CAME TO XANTHUS
In these, the last of days, the four human worlds - Venus, Luna,
Terra and Mars, now united within their shared lozenge of air,
are growing unbelievably old. And with the irascible eccentricities
of age come new decadences, new madnesses
... and the resurgence of ancient evils
A story involving characters and environments from the
‘EARTH CLUSTER’ mythos. As featured in, but not part of,
the forthcoming novel ‘BEAST OF THE COMING DARKNESS’
He first begins to suspect that all is not well when Laars Trinkus notices the nine columns of smoke staining the sky above Xanthus.
At first he says nothing. His dark eyebrows merely contracting to a single line of concentration, as the barge noses low, without haste. The broad canal glimmers as it cuts its determinedly straight passage through what he knows is inaccurately called the Dead-Sea Bottom. It is two days since the last lock-gate community. Two days of insufferable silence from his wife, and his sullen daughter. He stays to the stern. They mutter endlessly to each other at the prow. Conspiring together. Glancing coldly at him as he imagines them deconstructing yet another of his inadequacies.
And now there are the worrying columns of smoke over Xanthus. An isolated city. Deliberately so. A city that keeps itself, and its obscure austere faith to itself. Something to do with the Old Gods. Who cares ?
Trinkus is no longer young. He has a wife who resents his failure. His fat useless wife who does nothing but complain and belittle his every slight - and admittedly few, achievements. With her long loud silences saying more than any amount of verbal criticism could have. And a daughter - bloating out into a disturbing replica of her mother, who also plots against him. They resent the fact that he’s brought them here. They share and mutually fuel that resentment. The barge is past its best years. But surely, together, they can accomplish one last trading mission ? One final all-or-nothing get-rich-quick venture ? And where better an objective than a city others shun ? A city lost and otherwise inaccessible in the Marsian wastes beyond bleak Mare Tyrrhenum ?
There’s a sharp chill in the air, carried on the fluttering whistle of the wind. The immediate canal-banks are rich with a profusion of strange growths, weirdly warped man-tall fungus and ugly cacti. An interwoven jungle of trees warped out of shape by the metallic hiss of the wind and jewelled with parasitic bio-systems that have no name. But every now and then, gaps betray thickets of dark flowers, poisonous and iridescent blossoms nodding their heads like hooded assassins, or shapes which twitch and scratch behind them in the thorns so wreathed in foliage and dust that they’re impossible to define, the artificial from the natural, the human from the non-human. And all the while there’s the sinister ticking and cricking of loess-hoppers... or something that only sounds like it could be loess-hoppers ? But worse still are the occasional glimpses of the empty dune-sea aridity beyond, which the waning light reveals. For their expectations are soured by dread - the barge is now moving through the slow wash of the canal into the margins of the Southern tundra region, and these are places where Dune Crawler brigands forage, Dust Devils - said to contain an evil sentience, twist their way across the sand, and the monstrous shapes of huge flying predators glide out of the slow tracking of shadows. Another reason for feminine disapproval. A man of real substance would not put us through this. A man of real substance would find ways to prosper and provide in the acceptable limits of society without resorting to these insanities.
In the hold, weighing the barge down perilously beyond the safety waterline, are negotiable ceramica from Sidonia with geometric design and triskele patterns, crystal wine-flutes from Cytheria with representations of mythic heroes in suitably heroic postures, silks from low-gravity asteroidal islands, jewellery - they’ll love that, these Xanthusians, cut off from mainstream luxuries by their self-imposed isolation. It’s almost visible now. The outlines of the city, its pure white stone gleaming beautifully in the twilight. The worrying columns of meandering smoke. Closer.
But night is approaching still faster. Already twilight is drowning the Dead-Sea Bottoms like a tide of foul fluid welling up from the ground. And there’s something forbidding about the landscape they’re entering. He can’t quite decide why. Mars light, of course, is an eternally low rusty ochre. But it is subtly modulated by the predominant planetary alignments. The eerily cobalt-blue glow of Venus-light, the soft green of Terra, the silvery-white of Luna, and all the usual permutations and occultations they make as they interact together through the skies. Then there’s the chlorophyll-green illumination filtering down through the shifting geography of Sky-Islands. The lower, faster ones visibly scudding across the face of higher slower belts.
A low breeze comes in off the tundra emptiness carrying a freight of fine, hard granules, and infused with strange aromas. Trinkus stays to the stern where the drive-bug hums and whirrs contentedly. He pretends to concentrate his attention on the rudder, even though the precise alignment of the canal means that this is hardly necessary.
And they press on into gathering night ...
Morning. And they are moving through a stone forest of threatening shadows. Massively tall, intimidatingly eroded, whittled by wind-blown grit into columns from a cyclopean maze. The canal continues die-straight through its centre, its rippling movement of wash flecked by the ghost-flash of sleek flying-fish, lurking with crustacea and cephalopods - dark prehistoric creatures from leagues below and aeons ago.
Then the barge is emerging out of its monolithic immensity. And the city lies beyond. Roofs flashing white between sky-storming towers of white metal. All clearly visible now.
The next thing that makes Trinkus suspect that all is not well - after the nine columns of smoke, is the unattended lock-gates, dangerously swollen by sub-polar meltwater from further south. He berths the barge at a deserted quayside, by sets of slimy iron ladderways corroded with neat rust beards, in the tall chill shadows of the city walls. The quay ripples with reflection. Flotillas of weed moored to its edge drool in the slight wash of his barge, sipping and sucking at rough and eaten stone, slapping impatiently at the barge’s tardily caulked flanks. He goes on alone, meeting no-one. His calls go unanswered. The silence giving no response.
The streets, through the unguarded ingress, are also bare of life. An emptiness that is numbing in its completeness. He loiters in a small paved square ornate with statuary, drinks from a marble pool fed by a set of gurgling gargoyle mouths, but samples the water from his fingers first, suspiciously. Disease ? How can you taste the presence of disease ? What does it taste like ? Yet it seems that the very wind carries the echoes of voices in it, the smells of spices and freshly-spilled blood. Decisively he sets out to find the source of the smoke-columns, pacing an avenue lined with great identical stone beasts, with his footfall the only human stir. Until there is a central plaza surrounded by impossible tall multiply-domed buildings. And here are the nine mounds drenched in vivid colours, the nine pyres. And although at first it’s not exactly clear what the guttering mounds consist of... dawn gives shape to their horrors...
It’s only some considerable time later, as the vomit-spasms and crawling revulsion-sickness leaves him, that he wipes his snot-runny nose, and begins to piece together what has happened. This is how the darkness began. In Xanthus. They killed the children first. Constructed the triskele shape of pyres from the small corpses, the four centres, the formation of connecting chevrons. Doused and ignited. Then they use each other to feed the flames. Not in violence or anger. Not in brutal acts of murder. But lovingly. Consensually. In an ordered ritualistic way. Ushering friends into death’s awful embrace as an act of love. With dignity. The end of all things is celebrated. It is anticipated. And they go on to join its finality together.
He sits for a long while. The pyre’s simmering heat on his skin, its breath on his face. There are skulls and thighbones visible in the silt of ash. Clumps of unburned hair and melted flesh congealed black. An unhealthy stench that stings at the back of his throat.
All religious extremism is a form of madness. Particularly when it gets in the way of commerce. But what must it have been like for the very last of them ? Stumbling insane with horror through a city of fever and flies, bloated corpses, pyramids of skulls. A cityscape of slaughter. A pit of death. Or conversely - did he look around with a grim smile of satisfaction, at a task well accomplished, as his children and family burn ? Before gouging open jagged slits in his own wrists and leaping onto the pyre, pulsing sprays of eager life-blood, to join them ?
Trinkus shudders. So the worlds are dying ? Seers, sages, the wizards of the ages, all have predicted the death of worlds countless times before. But we are still here. Why should it be different this time ? Prophecy changes all the time. Commerce goes on. So which malign god of antiquity chose to inflict this vileness on him ? Why this mass suicidal gesture of faith now, before poor Laars Trinkus has even had chance to begin his transactions ? Why now ? And what will he tell his wife ? Already he can see her large cold fish-eyes emphasising her smug ‘I-told-you-so’ scowl of vindication. That hostile huddle of feminine complicity.
He moves away from the morbid glow of guttering flames. Through the darkly colonnaded facades into the nearest of the multiply-domed palaces. At first the interior semi-darkness steals his sight. But there are high windows of some kind of coloured glassine which filter interactions of vari-tinted stains, ruby and saffron, sapphire and green down over the walls, soaking into glowing mosaics, gilded frescoes and brightly phosphorescent icons. Each column, each crossbeam, every alcove lintel and cornice, every available surface is sheened in them. Endless arrays of imagery telling the story of the city and its belief-system.
These are temples. Churches. Basilici. Places of worship.
And this is their creed. Their cave of memories. His eyes follow their dramas. There must be a logical development in which to read them in their correct chronological sequence. But his attention flits at whim from one image to another. It seems to begin with epic struggles against others intolerant of their doctrine. And internecine conflicts designed to enforce doctrinal purity. Then a tribal cult migration across dunes of ochre grit. Hermits lodged in isolation on the pinnacle-tops of what he recognises as the stone forest they’ve so recently passed through.
This is their past. Then there is their iconography of what is to come. The Darkness that is to engulf the city and consume it. A future cataclysm. One predicated by the movement of the worlds in the sky. A rare alignment. A double eclipse which will coincide with the waking of ancient gods, ghastly forms even now immured beneath the crust of worlds, sleeping there, gathering and regenerating their strengths dormant since the beginnings of recorded time.
Could it possibly be that all this is true ? And these are the city’s last days ? Surely not.
He listens. Nothing. Nothing but the steady drip of moisture from a tall ceremonial urn. Each drip. And its echo. And a slow procession of golden centipedes spiralling across the floor, disappearing beneath a bank of ornamental orbs. The tastes and smells of the place reach him. Sniffing the smothering aroma of incense ingrained into the very walls. Old smells. Pious. Dry. And very dead. In the stern reprimand of silvered eyes, their colours varied by the fall of light. Accusing him.
Yet there are no demons or dark gods congealing out of these dry darknesses. There are only ghosts. Vindictive ghosts, the tangible after-image of lives. Molecular memories that still reverberate here in the form of imprinted past experiences. But what manner of mean-spirited deity would do a thing like this, with the single objective of spiting the carefully-laid plans of Laars Trinkus ? Whichever one it is, he curses its unknowable name. Cold sweat slicks his tunic to his back. He turns away deliberately to more immediate concerns. What now ? We’ve come all this way. Only to arrive too late. The stupid populace too impatient for eternity to wait for him. The stink of their mass cremation seeping in even here.
But his eyes have fully adjusted now. And there’s an array of censor’s over there. Thuribles made of silver, probably. Inlaid with gold ornamentation. A complex jewelled chandelier of electrum, its thick mauve candles suspended from the central cupola, but within easy reach, if he were to stand on that bench. Offertory plates of orichalcum and other equally precious metals. Lavish mitres decorated in triskeles of precious stones. Sacramental chalices, each of them shaped from a single flawless diamond. Holy grails. Votive offerings. All this in but a single temple. And there’s an entire city of them out there, palaces of the stuff, just waiting to be pilfered.
Why not ? He can leave his cheap ceramica and junk jewellery here. That’s a trade transaction - isn’t it ? Who is to say if that trade had occurred before or after they’d all gone on to embrace oblivion ? Who is there left to care ... ?
In high spirits now he hunts around for some kind of sack to begin putting them in, making exaggerated mock-genuflection at mosaics of luminous gold tessarae as he passes. He soon discovers a wealth of ceremonial vestments in an alcove - already itching in his eagerness to fondle them. One of these will serve. For now. The people have no further need for these trinkets. They’ve left all of this to those who remain. And it might as well be Laars Trinkus.
He whistles tunelessly as he sets to work.
This will show his fish-eyed wife. And that daughter of hers. This will show them ...
Trinkus casts off, and the barge begins its slow return journey across the wastes of Mare Tyrrhenum, laden with spoils. He turns for a moment, covetously admiring the white-stone walls of the city as they recede beyond the lazy wake, wishing he could have taken more, before returning to the tiller. His wife had even smiled at him. A strange moment. And a strange uncertain expression, almost a grimace. But, in a conciliatory way she has moved down to the centre of the vessel, and both of them are wearing jewellery he’d brought them - as an afterthought, out of the city. With a grunt of satisfaction he critically surveys his handiwork. If only he could have looted more !
Then, even as he settles down for the long uneventful voyage, he glances up, his dark eyebrows beetling into a single line of concern. It is only mid-morning, but the light is dimming. In the sky, a black planet is rimmed with a crescent of fire. An eclipse. As portrayed in the city’s mosaics. And a premature night is falling upon the city. Not once, but twice. For there is also a second black and sombre disc. Shadows growing misshapenly into phantoms of preternatural stillness. But - at least, at first, he has his mind on other matters, and even the incandescent Marsian occultations and the fiery scintillations of sky they engender fail to engage his interest.
Yet he watches the poisonous beauty of the burning Marsian-red sky roaring around two polished anthracite blacknesses at its centre. Two vast perfect discs of blackness that are like holes sucking up the world. It is, he muses calmly, a terrifying spectacle, even to those who understand the planetary mechanics that underlie it. Two black convex holes, formed by worlds in alignment, set in a haemoglobin-coloured vortex forming a mock-triskele above Xanthus. The veined crimson sky shocked with reflected blood.
Suddenly the barge is a shadow gliding through eerie otherness. Then there’s an immense glaring flash flinging new contra-shadows to where, moments before, there’d only been a pale dawn shading the decking. A roar follows, too mighty for human ears to register, and the deck is suddenly trembling like a smitten thing beneath his feet.
Trinkus throws his hands up automatically... but he can’t help but see. At first it seems that the entire immensity of raging sky is collapsing in upon Xanthus. And all that pearly immensity is descending. Spiralling in upon the city. While simultaneously it is as though the light of a new planet is erupting up through some deep rift in the Dead-Sea Bottom to devour the white stone buildings from below. And at the centre of the brilliant disturbance, masonry is falling, followed by the grating shudder of stone avalanching on stone. Squalls of dust erupt in instant storm, bizarrely illuminated by whatever singularity is occurring within, a veil obscuring the city, but from which an eerie orange glow diffuses.
A tormented tide of wind-driven grit the colour of dried blood is raging outwards from the event horizon of the roaring implosion, a concussion wave carrying odours of pulverised stone. Trinkus goes down screaming. Even inhaling its gale scorches his throat in a way no ordinary breath should have done.
Then, some long time later - and only gradually, the scene hardens back into stability. Until the canal water looks wet and the ground looks hard again. While the sounds - numbed to silence, grow and separate out. The barge is riding suddenly high in the water. He breathes deeply, watching the churning sky, waiting for his stomach to settle, his pulse to normalise. The last vestiges of the sudden deluge of light has paled, leaving only a faint reddish glow that quickly fades out at the rim of the world. While the moment of total double-eclipse has also passed, visibility seeping slowly back.
And Xanthus is gone. As though it had never been. And with it, every trace of its sacred wealth too, including every last particle of the barge’s cargo. As though whatever force has taken the city, is also scrupulously intent on taking everything that has touched the city while it lay unattended.
Trinkus sits down suddenly more weary than he’s ever felt before. A draining weakness assails him. And long shadows seem to be weaving patterns before his eyes. Yet even through its drizzling vagueness he can see the cancerous blackness smearing the faces of his wife and daughter. A smudge of stray shadow ? But no. He watches, with absurd fascination as their bloated cheeks fall inwards, their lips curling back to reveal teeth like those of long-dead cadavers. He tries to turn. Tries to run. But there is nowhere to escape to. And, pace by pace, he already feels the urgent sloughing of flesh corrupting on his own bones. He screams. With a shrivelling tongue. Then his tongue is broken, and it’s no longer possible to form coherent sounds.
His hands stiffen into claws. Immobile. The skin visibly contracting to stretched parchment. And even that flaking away to reveal bone-whiteness beneath. Incapable of standing, sinews coming apart from the bone, he falls to the deck, as a living death lingers on in them - he and his wife, and their daughter. Oddly, there’s no terror. Only a dull emptiness. His mind can hold no more. Only their retained senses are sufficient to register the full appalling horror of what is happening to them. He can see through her eyes. He can see through her brain. The blood that runs in her veins. Her body is burning outwards from within. And in their dark agony of corruption they writhe and crawl. Their spasming movements slowing, becoming yet more imperceptible, until even their brains decay to vile grey sludge. Eventually what little is left dries, and blows away.
Now there is only the canal, die-straight, cutting through dreary and unforgiving pools of purple shade which swell and broaden in the hollows between the Dead-Sea Bottom. And the dunes of Marsian desert which stretch on in undulating flatness to the far horizon. Civilisation had only ever brushed over these hills with a light hand.
And now even that is gone.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
‘PREMONITIONS no.3’ (UK – August 2004)
‘PSYCHEDELIC FAIRY-TALES …!!!
A Chocolate Watchband group retrospective through
the medium of a review of their 2005 CD compilation
‘MELTS IN YOUR BRAIN… NOT ON YOUR WRIST’
(Big Beat Records)
Lenny Kaye was supernaturally right to open side four of his original vinyl ‘Nuggets’ double-compilation with the Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”. It’s a track that sums up everything most startlingly dumb and moronically innovative about those neglected ‘arty-facts from the first psychedelic era’ which the album champions. All the feisty R&B thunder of the first Rolling Stones’ LP crashed into a whirlpool of electronic quarks. And the story behind the track is as labyrinthine as Mark Loomis’ strung-out neon guitar-fade that stings in and out of focus all the way into the final groove. The highlights of that story – as stacked up on the 2CD ‘Melts In Your Brain… Not On Your Wrist!’ anthology, plays something not unlike this. The Chocolate Watchband were a Southern Californian five-piece out of Cupertino, San Jose, with the kind of Brit-Invasion shaggy basin-cuts you only ever get to see in dark Indie-band videos today. With Loomis one of the group’s two Brian Jones-alike blonde fringes. They got seduced into studio-time by a certain Ed Cobb – former ‘Big Man’ bass-voice with a white Doo-Wop group called the Four Preps, who was by then the A&R all-rounder responsible for shoving his mutant protégés the Standells into the charts. He was also the guy who eventually got around to writing “Tainted Love” for Soft Cell… you with me thus far? With him the Watchband cut Cobb’s Punk-lascivious “Sweet Young Thing” as their debut 45rpm (December 1966). Over a nag-nagging Yardbirds oriental guitar riff sculpted out with a sharp harmonica edge, vocalist David Aguilar drools about the ‘sweet young thing’ who ‘lives a block away, with sweet sugar lips I like to kiss all day’. He climbs the stairs three-at-a-time to the 13th floor, ‘hey, sweet young thing, c’mon and open your door’, his bratty pout implying an opening of something more physical than just her door. But she’s not there. He ‘drives down the block, with his face hanging low’, until he hears the noise of a party. Peeping in through the blind – ‘who’s that creep she’s with?’ – and an outraged howl ‘what ‘BOUT ME ?!?!?’ Suddenly, she’s sweet no more, but ‘very wise’. Never mind. ‘I’m gonna split, goodbye!’ More sweet young things are a-waiting out there. Soon after, ‘No Way Out’ (September 1967) became the Watchband’s debut album, a treat from the vocals gradually fading up for the title track from beneath Airplane-style noodling, until the song eventually disintegrates in a storm of reverse-tape cut-ups. Next there’s the aforesaid “Let’s Talk About Girls”, a song done earlier in a less frantic incarnation by Tongues of Truth, and later ‘b’-sided wired with nervous tension by an angry young Undertones (probably on a recommendation from John Peel). But this time, during one of the Watchband’s frequent crack-ups, Aguilar didn’t even bother turning up for the session. Hence Don Bennett, a fellow writer and friend of Cobb’s steps over to slur and swagger the mock-Jagger brag over the band’s Bo Diddleyesque rhythms – ‘ah gotta lurve them awl, / nawt just a fyew,/ …let’s tawk about guuuurls, GURLS THAT BEG FOUR MORE !!!’ The saliva still glistens so fresh it adds extra lustre to the CD’s moist sheen. And that’s just for openers. Though it’s fair to say there’s little else that approaches the inspired dementia of “…Girls” on the album, there’s still a wealth of twisted esoterica aplenty on offer. “Gone And Passes By” lays spidery sitar drones over a soft Bo Diddley riff with all the inept enthusiasm of Brian Jones’ cultural tourism. “Expo 2000” and “Dark Side Of The Mushroom” are thinly-veiled instrumental sitar-spattered ambient jazzy chill-out tributes to the powers of hallucinogenic plants. Then they plunder Stephen Stills for “Hot Dusty Roads”, offer a straight cover of the Rolling Stones cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On”, add two versions of “Misty Lane”, and top it all up with period loopiness on overload with – would you believe, “Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?” Here, ‘too many people don’t know where they belong, they need someone to tell them right from wrong’ spat out over a prowling crawling beat stung with guitar breaks, ‘you’d better break away, try to be yourself, don’t leave your future to someone else’… sung more like ‘a sneered threat than a flowery invitation’ according to the liner-notes, as David pledges to ‘choose the right direction when I’m making my connection in this world’, with just the slyest suggestion of a narcotic sub-text. For its eventual CD incarnation the album was pumped up with eight bonus relics (two demos, plus early singles issued through the Uptown and Tower labels). Then, with scant regard for personnel continuity or logical sequence, the band’s second album ‘The Inner Mystique’ was midwived by Ed Cobb the following year, lit up by “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” – one of the period’s better Bob Dylan covers adding Jagger-vocals across a Byrds guitar arrangement via a Them matrix, and the paranoid “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – which fails to equal the malevolent alienation of the Kinks’ original. Next there’s their take on “I Ain’t No Miracle Worker”, a garage-band standard (penned by Electric Prunes’ writers Annette Tucker & Nancie Mantz) best known through its version by The Brogues - this is love, the lyric cajoles, but of a conditional kind, ‘don’t build your dreams too high’, sure – he’ll be ‘tender and true’, but can offer ‘no storybook romance’. No storybook ending for the Chocolate Watchband either, there would be no chart hits. Not ever. A third album – ‘One Step Beyond’, gathered in what bits and particles remained, less manic than before, with some attempts at progressive content wreathed in close harmonies. The Watchband as ‘serious’ musical icons? – naw, I think not. They’re far too valuable, and much too much fun, for that. Later, the soundtrack CD reissue of low-budget teen-exploitation movie ‘Riot On Sunset Strip’ would rescue two formerly overlooked Chocolate Watchband tracks, bringing a rare celluloid fragment of their contribution to the counter-culture back into print, alongside related cuts from Ed Cobb’s other clients the Standells. But even as the movie was enjoying its original Drive-in screenings – around 1970, the original, already well-fractured Watchband were melting away (Bill Flores as ex-bass, drummer Gary Andrijasevich, plus ex-second guitarist and second blonde fringe Sean Tolby), leaving archivist-labels Big Beat and Sundazed as executors of their battered acid-addled legacy. ‘Melts In Your Brain… Not On Your Wrist’ claims, with some justification, to gather the ‘complete recordings 1965-1967’ onto two shiny discs, complete with a corrective “Let’s Talk About Girls” re-writing history with a re-dubbed David Aguilar vocal. And it forms a glorious anthology of strangeness. Both sides of the early single “Misty Lane” c/w “She Weaves A Tender Trap” try for the soft dippy ‘Ruby Tuesday’ side of Pop-psyche. Their Britophilia surfaces most directly on their curiously over-amped early demo of Gerry Marsden’s “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”, a version of the Everly Brothers’ “Since You Broke My Heart” which is surely modelled on the Searchers’ earlier interpretation, and two superfluous Kinks covers – including “Till The End Of The Day”. Then there’s another, more manically inspired lost single, issued under the pseudonym the Hogs for cartoon-maestro Hanna-Barbera’s label, which runs full-throttle motorcycle effects across “Blues Theme”, while “Loose Lip Sync Ship” is a totally deranged studio Freak-Out, throwing in an improvised telly-evangelist ‘reading’ with a sneering spontaneous ‘row row row the boat’ fragment, and an absurd fifties-style cod talking bit ‘oh Baby, without you by my side, my whole complexion is a mess’. We can all give thanks to the ghost of Roky Erickson’s brain-cells for the compiler’s diligence in assembling such previously neglected classics into one well-presented pack. While David Aguilar? – he went on to become Professor of Astronomy at the University of Colorado. So apparently some psychedelic fairy tales do have happy endings…
REVIEW BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND: THE CONFECTIONARY
“Blue’s Theme” c/w “Loose Lip Sync Ship” issued as by THE HOGS (1966 – Hanna Barbera HBR511) the ‘A’-side is a cover of a surf/drag instrumental by Davie Allan & The Arrows
“Sweet Young Thing” c/w “Baby Blue” (December 1966 – Uptown 740 single)
‘NO WAY OUT’ (September 1967 – LP Tower ST-5096) with Let’s Talk About Girls/ In The Midnight Hour/ Come On/ Dark Side Of The Mushroom/ Hot Dusty Road/ Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?/ Gone And Passes By/ No Way Out/ Expo 2000/ Gossamer Wings (re-issued on CD from Sundazed in 1994 augmented by In The Midnight Hour (alt)/ Milk Cow Blues/ Psychedelic Trip, and as ‘No Way Out… Plus’ on Big Beat CDWIKD 118, then Chiswick CDWIKD118) Personnel: Dave Aguilar (vocals), Mark Loomis (lead gtr), Sean Tolby (gtr), Bill Flores (bass), Gary Andrijasevich
“Misty Love” c/w “She Weaves A Tender Trap” (1967 – Uptown 749 single)
“Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?” c/w “No Way Out” (September 1967 – Tower 373 single)
‘THE INNER MYSTIQUE’ (February 1968 – LP Tower 5106) with Voyage Of The Trieste/ In The Past/ Inner Mystique/ I’m Not Like Everybody Else/ Medication/ Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go (Hank Ballard’s original)/ It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue/ I Ain’t No Miracle Worker + She Weaves A Tender Trap/ Misty Lane/ Baby Blue/ Sweet Young Thing (an album put together in late 1967 in the wake of the virtual collapse of the original line-up, and disconnected from active incarnations of the group. The 1994 Sundazed CD has bonus tracks plus Greg Prevost sleeve-notes quoting Sean Tolby, who died in 1990)
‘ONE STEP BEYOND’ (1969 – LP Tower 5153) with Uncle Morris/ How Ya Been/ Devil’s Motorcyle/ I Don’t Need No Doctor/ Flowers/ Fireface/ And She’s Lonely + Blues Theme/ Loose Lip Sync Ship + two tracks from the ‘Riot On Sunset Strip’ soundtrack, Don’t Need Your Lovin’ (alternate version of ‘Milk Cow Blues’) and Sitting There Standing (Third and final album under the original name, a strange mix of last and first sides by the Watch Band, with its scant 24-minute playing time augmented by bonus tracks for the 1994 Sundazed CD)
‘BEST OF THE CHOCOLATE WATCH BAND’ (1983 - Rhino R2 70108) with Let’s Talk About Girls/ Sweet Young Thing/ No Way Out/ Baby Blue/ Expo 2000/ In The Past/ I’m Not like Everybody Else/ Are You Gonna be There (At The Love-In)?/ Don’t Need Your Lovin’/ Misty Lane/ She Weaves A Tender Trap/ Sitting There Standing/ Milk-Cow Blues/ I Ain’t No Miracle Worker/ Gone And Passes By/ Dark Side Of The Mushroom/ Uncle Morris/ Voyage Of The Trieste
‘FORTY-FOUR’ (1984) Compilation including I’m Not Like Everybody Else/ It’s All Over Now Baby Blue etc
‘THE INNER MYSTIQUE/ ONE STEP BEYOND’ (1993) CD two-for-one on which the full original ‘The Inner Mystique’ and ‘One Step Beyond’ both get themselves compressed onto a single CD.
‘SITTING THERE STANDING’ (1996 EP – Sundazed SEP 109)
‘GET AWAY’ (1999) with Strike The Match/ Don’t Lie About Love/ So Screwed Up/ I Miss Love/ you’re The One/ Get Away/ I’m On Fire/ I Want You/ When I See You/ Hope/ Right Coast Girl (after a 32-year lay-off, an unlikely reformation!)
‘AT THE LOVE-IN: LIVE’ (2001) the reformed line-up with opportunistic live set.
‘MELTS IN YOUR BRAIN NOT ON YOUR WRIST’ (2005 – Big Beat CDWIK2249) 2CD compilation, the story continues…
also on various compilations including ‘RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP’ (1967, plus its enhanced CD reissue 1993, on Big Beat CDWIKD 113), ‘NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968’’ original double LP 1972 + 4CD box-set with three Chocolate Watch Band tracks in 1998, ‘PEBBLES vol.7’ (1979), ‘SUNDAZED SAMPLER 2’ (1998) and ‘GARAGE BAND CLASSICS’ (1998)
web-sites include http://www.chocolatewatchband.com
plus recommended http://www.littlestevensundergroundgarage.com/psychedelic/chocolatewatchband which has flashing paisley screen back-drop plus video-clip of the band’s Jagger twitch live at ‘Pandora’s Box’ Club
‘A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS’
DVD Review of:-
‘EXPRESSO BONGO’ with LAURENCE HARVEY,
CLIFF RICHARD, and SYLVIA SYMS
(September 2005 – Prism Leisure/
DD Home Entertainment Special Edition)
In 1960 there was a record issued on big heavy 78rpm shellac called “Old Payola Roll Blues” by humourist Stan Freberg, sending-up that stroppy new-fangled Rock ‘n’ Roll teen-fad. In its comedy grooves label executive Barney Schlock is setting up a recording-session when it’s pointed out that ‘we don’t have a teenage idol’, he says ‘oh yeah, wait here, I’ll get one’. So, with receding sound-effect footsteps, then street noises, he pulls a random kid in off the sidewalk. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘I’m on my way to High School’ slurs this dumb-&-dumber ‘pretty face & a pompadour’. Good. So ‘say High School when I point at ya’ instructs Barney, he does, and it becomes the vocal-line of the record that will shock Clyde Ankle into brief fame. That – extended to movie-length, is pretty much the plot of ‘Expresso Bongo’. Satire. Yet it’s also close enough to the truth of those lost 1950’s origins of Brit-Pop that it functions as an engaging docu-drama of the times. Laurence Harvey, a year on from his breakthrough success in ‘Room At The Top’ is Johnny Jackson, the manipulative would-be manager out for the main chance. He’s kept financially afloat by his girlfriend Maisie (Sylvia Syms), who wants him to use his snappy patter to promote her own stalled singing career, but who works as a five-shows-a-day Soho stripper in the meantime. There’s a long black-&-white tracking shot opening along Compton Street – past ‘Soho Records’, past the ‘Fun-Fair’ pinball hall, ‘Club 100’, ‘Modern Hairdressers’, ‘La Belle Etoile’, past the Hot-Dog stall perched half-on the pavement and half-on the street, past the ‘Wanna come upstairs, dear?’ seen-better-days tart, and into the Intime Theatre’s ‘Non-Stop Revue’ where Maisie dances. It has all the archive authenticity of a lost world. ‘All those bald heads, it’s like playing to an egg-box’ wise-cracks Maisie in a matter-of-fact way, as her dancers shove the boundaries of a 1959 ‘A’-certificate with just tiny conical ‘pasties’ over their nipples. Just as the ‘historical follies’ she introduces conform to that curious prevailing censorship of the time which only allowed immobile stage-nudity to be viewed (pace 2005’s replication in ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’). Meanwhile, further down the street, Johnny stumbles across Herbert Rudge (Cliff Richard) singing in the ‘Tom Tom’ coffee bar. ‘How much lower can you sink?’ demands the record label rep, ‘Just a little lower’ explains Johnny, ‘it’s down in the cellar’. Back then, everyone knew that’s how it happened. Soho’s ‘Two II’s’ was the real-life O’Connell Street expresso-bar where Pop Stars were routinely discovered. And when he tries to cajole Mr & Mrs Rudge into signing the contract – because his newly renamed ‘Bongo Herbert’ is only eighteen, and hence legally under-age, it’s an incident that exactly mirrors agent Larry Parnes getting Reginald Smith’s parents to sign on the line as he launches ‘Marty Wilde’. ‘Expresso Bongo’ was not Cliff’s first film. That was a juvenile delinquent walk-on part in ‘Serious Charge’ which gifted him a no.1 record with Lionel Bart’s “Living Doll” (a song which Marty Wilde had already rejected). But this was the first film built around him, with the Shadows sharp crisp group-dynamics propelling him on the handful of songs that form the spin-off EP – a four-track extended-play soundtrack mini-album. The plaintive “A Voice In The Wilderness” which Cliff & The Shadows perform beneath plastic palm-trees beside the hissing cappuccino-machine also became a huge chart hit. But as Stan Freberg knew, Pop was a teen-fad few took seriously. The manager of ‘Garrick Records’ who reluctantly release Bongo Herbert’s first hit prefers Italian opera and only resorts to putting out Pop because it sells to gullible teenagers. ‘What’s your feeling about the boy?’ probes Johnny. ‘Nausea, nausea’ he responds. TV’s Gilbert Harding appears fronting a BBC ‘Cosmorama’ investigation into how this curious Beat Generation of gyrating kids ‘get their kicks’. The strangeness and incomprehension could not have been greater if they were confronted by hip-hop. That Harvey scams them both into inadvertently promoting his ‘boy’ is both silly, but close enough to prompt real-life analogies. Andrew Loog Oldham ruthlessly scammed for the Rolling Stones. Actor John Leyton was propelled into the Top Ten as the accidental by-product of being exposed to what Harvey calls the ‘telly-hugging imbeciles’ as Pop Star ‘Johnny St Cyr’ in the BBC-TV play ‘Harper’s West One’. Then, when Gilbert Harding chairs an investigative discussion with a bishop and a psychiatrist to earnestly debate the unsettling social implications of Pop music, it only mirrors Adam Faith’s appearance on ‘Face-To-Face’ which provoked incredulity that a teen idol was actually capable of stringing coherent sentences together. Like ‘Clyde Ankle’, Pop stars were not then held in high esteem. And because back then in the musical-Jurassic era, there was show-biz not Rock, Bongo Herbert plays variety at the Palladium, not a stadium. On the same bill he finds himself supporting fading American musical star Dixie Collins. In true ‘Star-Is-Born’ fashion Dixie’s declining star neatly intersects Bongo’s career up-swing. She takes advantage of the photo-opportunities he affords, and seduces him, while planting seeds of doubt in his mind. Yes, he’s a star – sort of, now. But what happens when he hits twenty? If you want to last, if you want a career in music, you must cross-over to the Mums & Dads market. In the late-1950’s, this was the usual expectation. Anyway, as an angry young Rock ‘n’ Roller in a gold lamè jacket – ‘a chip on your shoulder and an H-bomb in your pants, a sneer, a twitch, and hell in your head’ according to Johnny, Cliff Richard was always more cute eye-candy than he was threatening. And I recall the girlie sighs of infatuation in the cinema as the screen fills with his sleeping profile on Dixies’ balcony sun-lounger. With unintended ironic prescience Johnny’s final cynical scam for him is a contrived religiosity, with Bongo singing a weak “Shrine On The Second Floor” to present a newer cleaner Mum-friendly image. Some years later – with his career becalmed by the rise of freakier music-styles, Cliff found solace in real-life conversion through the intervention of evangelist Billy Graham. By then, ‘Expresso Bongo’ was already a unique period curio. A status that has only become more pronounced over the years since. Every filmic attempt to invent a fictional Pop-music career – from ‘Stardust’ to ‘Spinal Tap’ to ‘Velvet Goldmine’, has stumbled over the fact that no matter how gross the fiction, the reality is multiply more absurd. In that sense ‘Expresso Bongo’ is more accurate, more true than most. If it’s sometimes seen as a shallow opportunistic movie, that’s only because it’s the perfect encapsulation of shallow opportunistic times. Pop stars were disposable, when Dixie exposes his management contract as invalid, and he loses his discovery, Johnny Jackson defiantly declares ‘if I can invent one Bongo Herbert, I can invent another…!’ Sam Phillips said pretty much the same thing when he sold Elvis to RCA. But for me, personal own up time – my mother took me to the local fleapit on the film’s first release. I was probably twelve or thirteen. Back then the show was continuously screened, and having seen it once I hung around as it began again. ‘You want to see him do the first song again?’ she assumed. I didn’t disagree. But my real motivation was to eyeball those enticingly-jiggling near-topless strippers in the ‘Non-Stop Revue’… I wonder what present-day Cliff Richard would think of that true confession…?
REVIEW BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
‘VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS…’
THE ORIGINAL MOVIE: ‘EXPRESSO BONGO’ (1959). Director: Val Guest. From the West End musical by Julian More & Wolf Mankowitz. Novelisation by Wolf Mankowitz from Ace Books, 1960, 2/6d. Cast – Laurence Harvey (as Johnny Jackson), Sylvia Syms (as Maisie King), Cliff Richard (Herbert Rudge / Bongo Herbert), Yolande Donlan (Dixie Collins), Hermione Baddeley (Penelope – short-sighted prostitute), Eric Pohlmann (Leon Meyer of ‘Garrick Records’), Avis Bunnage (Mrs Rudge), Wilfred Lawson (Mr Rudge), Patrick Cargill (TV psychiatrist) + Burt Kwouk, Susan Hampshire (as vacuous deb) and Wolf Mankowitz (as sandwich-board man)
THE DVD’s: ‘EXPRESSO BONGO’ DVD - September 2005 – Prism Leisure www.prismleisure.com
DD Home Entertainment Special Edition with bonus features ‘Look At Life: Coffee Bars’ short colour feature, Val Guest interview, and Original Theatrical Trailer’
THE COLLECTIBLE VINYL: ‘EXPRESSO BONGO’ (EP – Columbia SEG 7971) features ‘Love’, ‘A Voice In The Wilderness’, ‘Shrine On The Second Floor’ + ‘Bongo Blues’ (Shadows instrumental) Reaches no.14 during January 1960
45rpm single ‘A Voice In The Wilderness’ b/w ‘Don’t Be Mad At Me’ (Columbia DB 4398) Reaches no.2 January 1960
GIRL GOING UP
/ A SIXTIES POP SONG
She was going up
I was going down
in the Shopping Mall in the town.
She never knew
how could I tell her?
how much I cared,
I couldn’t tell her
as we rode, one up one down.
Every morning, I would see her
riding up the escalator,
every evening, riding homeward
dreaming all my dreams of her.
She was going up
I was going down
and I never knew her name.
Then came that… fateful morning,
it must have been destiny,
she turned, and for one long magical moment,
our eyes met across the barrier.
It must have been at that same instant
that her slender stiletto heel became wedged
in the metal grooves of the escalator step,
and as I watched her reach the highest point of ascent
she tugged that graceful foot, but it would not come free.
And as we gazed into each other’s eyes, helplessly,
I saw – first her toes, then her pretty ankle
drawn inexorably beneath that cold hard metal.
And even as she vanished
with smooth mechanical precision
beneath that cruel cruel floor,
through a spray of internal organs –
spleen, liver, kidneys, heart,
our eyes embraced and spoke
silent longing words of love
until even her eyes exploded,
and were gone…
She was going up
I was going down
the escalator and
I never knew her name.
But now we ride
forever hand in hand,
on the escalators
through the Shopping Mall
of my dreams