Thursday 19 June 2008

(Cordova Bay CBR-0352)

We all know the story, how Paul McCartney intended “Please Please Me” as a maudlin Roy Orbison-inspired ballad, but how George Martin thought different. He got them to speed it up, then speed it up some more, until it became the catchy spring-loaded Pop-anthem we know today. What Victoria DC-born singer-songwriter Wyckham Porteous does is rewind the tape. Slow it back down to their original Orbisong blueprint, his rasping drawl emphasised by the melancholy whine of John Ellis’ pedal steel, with the resonance of Steven Drake’s sitar to reference a later Beatles phase. And it works remarkably well, so well that it grabbed immediate listener-response when Bob Harris gave it a spin on Radio Two. Oddly so, because this is the same Wyckham who once said ‘it’s easier for me to create than to copy’ by way of explaining his early aversion to covers. In fact, he’s been around awhile with an already impressive rap-sheet of original songs, think ‘sexanddrinking’ (2001), and the original “3am” on ‘Looking For Ground’ (1996) produced by Austin-based Jimmy LaFave for the Bohemia Beat label. Yet each stand-out cover here is matched to original songs that shift around, nudging and colliding with each other like atoms in some diverse molecular structure. Songs awash with out-of-sync time-shifted narratives – ‘it’s 3am by your clock, and it’s midnight by mine’ which, in the hands of lesser lyricists might sound indulgent and angsty, a tone that starts from the opening words - ‘if you look around tonight, you see the world is not alright’, augmented by Angela Harris’ background voice and Ellis’ banjo. And after a while, just when you feel his pained vocals might start to grate, he pulls out a new take on Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, or Ben E King’s “Spanish Harlem” that sends you back to admire the lyric-sheet afresh. It’s difficult not to draw analogies – “Deep In The Water” has an early Cat Stevens “Father And Son” feel to it, the stand-out “Ancient Highway” is a Kerouac narrative come adrift from ‘Blood On The Tracks’ (“Shelter From The Storm” perhaps?), and the compelling “Young Man Walking” is ripped from the Leonard Cohen songbook. But, like he sings it, ‘there is truth in contradiction’, and his battered croon draws those well-worn roads together into thematic unity. Working towards this end there’s Immediate-veteran Andrew Loog Oldham out-back of the production desk, although he’s ditched the London ‘wall of sound’ that was once his specialty, in favour of a stripped-down predominantly acoustic set-up, 39:17-minutes laid down virtually live in three December days, with sympathetic additions input by a pool of well-honed musicians. We all know these stories, but a great tale is worth re-telling…

More details from:
Indiscreet PR, PO Box 48683, London NW8 1AT Tel: 07813 290474

Wednesday 18 June 2008


I was... almost there to get the details.
In preparation for a scheduled interview I did the research,
re-listened to all the familiar tracks, re-read the bulging clipping
files and books. Until, when the interview was cancelled
at the last minute, why waste all that work?
Why not visualise an imaginary Virtual Interview…?

‘When Smokey sings, I hear violins…’
(“When Smokey Sings” by ABC)

Hull is a long way from Detroit. But late-winter 1966 I drive my Honda 305cc clear across from one side of Hull to the other, deep into the fringe-hazardous dockland old town, because the jukebox in the ‘Queens Head’ back-bar has the Miracles “Going To A Go-Go” on it, and we play it on repeat. Smokey Robinson wears many faces. He’s done this interview-thing before. How do you break through the fact that he’s talked to more journalists than are recommended for your mental health, and been asked every question you could possibly invent, plus countless more than you couldn’t? Only connect, perhaps by starting with a personal memory like that one? Check out the cuttings of old interviews. He tends to talk softly, politely. His voice is high and melodic, what more would you expect? When the mood takes him, he can provide answers that are way-briefer than the questions. ‘Yes’. ‘No’. Sometimes less. A nod of the head, stylishly of course, or a dismissive ‘uh-uh’. He’s been through this before. For you, this is the one-off you never thought you’d get to. He’s sitting down opposite you. Taller – at six foot, and neater, than you’d anticipated. Take a good look at his face. Light-skinned, light-green eyes. Unexpected, despite watching all that immaculate old TV concert-footage. The sharpest suits. The finest hooks. Film-clips and choruses that flash-flood you down nostalgia boulevard.
So, another tour, more dates, don’t the attractions of performance ever get tedious? ‘Never, never, never, man. There’s always something left to do in show business. Another song, better than the last one. Another record. I love live work, it’s a big part of my life. The challenge goes on and keeps me feeling good. Retire? It would kill me!’
The Miracles were Motown’s debut signing. William ‘Smokey’ Robinson was only seventeen, still scoring excellent grades at high school, when he first met Berry Gordy Jrn. Smokey had already written over a hundred songs, neatly typed into a school notebook, ‘and they were all rhymed up pretty good’. It was 1957. It was Smokey who suggested that ex-Boxer Gordy should use his songwriting royalties from hits by Jackie Wilson to set up and distribute his own records. So Gordy quit his day-job in the Ford factory, borrowed $600, and the Miracles dancey “Way Over There” became the first release on his upstart Tamla label at the very dawn of the sixties. Then “Shop Around” broke both group and label nationally – an R&B chart no.1, climbing to no.2 on the Pop chart, although it was issued on the distinctive black/silver London records for its UK debut. Gordy had struck multi-platinum, and the young Detroit North Ender went on to provide him with a multitude of hits. The Beatles’ second album features a stand-out version of Smokey’s “You’ve Really Got A Hold Of Me”, a song of addictive masochistic-dependency. Yet even before that, schoolgirl Popstrel Helen Shapiro had covered “Shop Around” on the old green Columbia label. Then the Rolling Stones did “My Girl”, before Otis Redding got around to it. The Stones also later covered “Going To A Go-Go” as well. It must have been bizarre for Smokey, in far-off Detroit, to suddenly discover his songs were being fanatically collected, performed, and recorded by long-haired beat groups somewhere on the far side of the Atlantic. When did he first become aware that there were foreign audiences devoted to his music? Stranger still, that as Motown was sophisticating black music into a slick radio-friendly Hitsville USA – a calculatedly vanilla ‘Sound Of Young America’, the Rolling Stones and their blue-eyed Soul ilk were breaking back through onto the American charts with a rawness directly derived from Motown’s older discredited Chess rivals in Chicago.
When I saw the Beatles at the Hull ABC they’d deliberately selected Mary Wells as their guest support. The Fabs were big Motown-fans. And Mary Wells was Motown’s biggest star. She was the first Motown artist to chart in the UK, with “My Guy” – one of a number of songs Smokey wrote for her (“Two Lovers” was another). It must have been weirdly disconcerting for the other members of the Miracles to see Smokey giving away his finest songs to other artists. How did they react? He wrote hits clear across the Motown stable, from the Temptations (on the first volume of their ‘Greatest Hits’ eight of the twelve tracks are Smokey songs, including “The Way You Do The Things You Do”) to Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar”), from the Marvelettes (“Don’t Mess With Bill”), Four Tops (“Still Water (Love)”), and the Contours to The Jackson Five. Then artists beyond Motown began recording his songs too, Linda Ronstadt (“Ooo Baby Baby”), Elvis Costello (“Head To Toe”), Bryan Ferry (“Tracks Of My Tears”), Aretha and Otis, and much more of the same, and that’s no shame. Someone estimated around four-thousand songs in total. So how did that operate? Did he specifically set out with a brief to script a hit for a specific artist, or did he write what came to mind, and then farm them out later as he deemed appropriate? After all, Motown operated on conveyor-belt principles replicated from Detroit’s auto-industry. He’s spoken of writing “My Guy”, then calculatedly gender-switching the formula to craft “My Girl”. Can genius arrive by equation? ‘Some people say they write from experience. Not me’ he commented. ‘I write songs no matter what mood I’m in. It’s my work, dig? When I write a sad song, it isn’t consciously because of some personal experience. I’ve never consciously written a song from personal experience. You see, I can just feel it. I just feel it, you dig? I can’t force myself to write about things that don’t naturally occur to me.’ Can creativity work to a schedule? ‘You can never tell in this business’ shaking his head ruefully, ‘I only wish I could.’
‘Not a day goes by that I don’t write something’ he told journalist Yvonne Roberts (‘Observer’ 2nd February 1992). ‘I’m not a moody songwriter, I don’t need to go to the Caribbean to produce. It’s a gift from god, it just comes. Matter of fact, you could say a phrase right now that might inspire me to write a song.’ He elaborates, out buying pearls with a friend, he told the sales assistant ‘I just hope the wife likes them’. ‘I second that emotion’ said the friend. A slip of the tongue, and the superfine “I Second That Emotion” became a hit in 1967 (no.27). And an even bigger hit two years later for Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations (no.18). Startled to hear a new riff improvised by Miracles’ guitarist Marv Tarplin, who he’s worked with some thirty years, he found himself thinking ‘I’ll be doggone’. And the bitter-sweet “I’ll Be Doggone” was a hit for Marvin Gaye in 1965. ‘I hate to hear haphazard songs where it says one thing in one verse and then something else in the next’ he rationalises. ‘That’s a drag. Or a song which doesn’t mean anything at all and it’s a hit. You see a lot of those. They’re nothing, and they’re a hit. Very bad. For myself though, I’ve always believed in sticking to the basic thing that will never die, and by that I mean the relationship between man and woman. When that’s over, everything’s over. We have no new words or chords or notes. You’ve just to take the same tools and express them differently. Forget the moon in June, and never press the same buttons.’
Way back then, we grooved to the Miracles. But they weren’t really up there with the Temptations, or Wilson Pickett, or James Brown. It was possible to lose a Miracles’ record in the blizzard of more muscular punching soul. Yet oddly, as the years accumulated into decades, in retrospect, my appreciation of the craft and beauty of Smokey’s songs has only escalated. His writing skill. His melodies. His instantly-recognisable spun-sugar honeyed vocals woven into the swooping interplay of voices. Of course, there’s schmaltz and sentimentality, but we listen to Smokey where we wouldn’t listen to the bloated bombast of Alexander O’Neal, Luther Vandross, or even Barry White because there’s a vulnerability, a sensitivity behind even the most saccharine Smokey. The real hidden voice of soul. Mods and Soul-boys revered him from the start. They watched avidly as the Miracles did “Mickey’s Monkey” on the 1965 ‘Ready Steady Go’ Motown TV-special, a show guest-hosted by a gushing Dusty Springfield. They might even have made it to the groundbreaking – if poorly attended ‘Motown Revue’ tour, appearing through dismal March 1965 dates at ABC movie-theatres alongside The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and special guest star Georgie Fame. But it was only with “Tracks Of My Tears” – as late as May 1969, that the Miracles finally cracked the UK Top Ten. He’s told the story any number of times. ‘I was dealing with a sad story, a cat who’d been cut deep, hurt by heartache. I knew my man was suffering strong. What I lacked though, was a chorus…’ So what if you cried so hard that it etched channels into your face? That’s the way he described it. Like… yes, but surely it’s also a metaphor for other, more narcotic forms of addiction than love? Isn’t that what track-marks are about? And the seductive ache, the hurt you can touch?
Then there’s the superlative “The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage” which – even after playing it across years, is still one of the few songs that has the ability to literally choke me up. No-one can break a heart like Smokey does, effortlessly falling just the right side of over-sentimentality. If there’s a more desolately beautiful song of hurt than “The Love I Saw In You”, I’ve yet to hear it. As the verses unfold and he stretches out the clever internal rhymes, her ‘untrue kisses’ lured him on ‘just like the desert shows a thirsty man / a green oasis where there’s only sand’. Her illusion of sweetness is used to rhyme ‘mirage’ with both ‘heartache’s camouflage’, and ‘the way you wrecked my life was like sabotage’, more ludicrous – yet more perfectly apt images are impossible to imagine. He dextrously springs the most unpredictable metaphor and simile, a writing process that’s quite unconscious if you accept the clues he trails to tease inquisitive interviewers. It was crusty old Ezra Pound who said that ‘every popular song has at least one line or sentence that is perfectly clear – the line that fits the music’. Smokey fits more than just about anyone else
Bob Dylan’s most provocative and repeated quote named Smokey ‘America’s greatest living poet’. Beyond anything else, the claim was intended as a teasingly calculated smart-ass stab away from the pretensions of literary academia into an alignment with street-Pop. But that’s not to imply it was also insincere. Smokey rhymes like no-one else in music, combining the honed writing-to-demand sparkle of the Brill Building with an ear for polished melody to challenge the best of Bacharach, Jim Webb or Lennon/McCartney. Only a handful of writers have ever fused the eloquent to the populist the way Smokey does on “Tracks Of My Tears” with ‘just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid’, or turn such marvellous economy as the couplet from “If You Can Want” that goes ‘just like ‘push’ can turn to ‘shove’, ‘like’ can turn to ‘love’…’. But has anyone ever asked Smokey about his favourite poet? There’s something about his current set that suggests he might nominate George Gershwin. Relating more to the traditional crafts of lyric-writing. As though he feels he’s parascended above R&B, or black music, and evolved into the more rarefied air of the ‘classic’ Great American Songbook Pop. Where the clever rhyme and lyric-fit reached its purest expression.
Packaged as a 2-CD ‘50th Anniversary Edition’ (2006) Smokey’s ‘Definitive Collection’ now comes bound-in with his thirteen-track ‘Timeless Love’ – interpreting velvety jazz and big-band Swing items from the decades before Soul existed. Taking knowing melodic liberties with Sammy Cahn’s “Time After Time” and Cole Porter’s “Night And Day”, the orchestra expansive and perfectly rehearsed for Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon”, plus songs by Kurt Weill and Gershwin. ‘Cats like Cole Porter were really writing songs. When you heard a song it meant something,’ he explains. He oozes new silky phrasings into the oh-so-familiar “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, emotes “You Go To My Head” and even transmutes “Tea For Two” into some kind of contemporary relevance. And sure, he does them immaculately… of course he does, you’d expect nothing less. While such studies are redirecting his own energies, to become more intimate than before, more personal. ‘I want to take my time now, and try to write standards, songs that will live for decades...’ But what about Jackie Wilson, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke…
‘The slyest rhymes, the sharpest suits,
in miracles made real…’
(“When Smokey Sings” by ABC)

When and why was he first called ‘Smokey’? Did his mother really advise him to “Shop Around”? ‘I was loved when I was a child’ he concedes, ‘I mean really loved. Perhaps that’s why I came through’. Influences? – ‘there were a group of things, but it boils down to one thing – the music we grew up with. The Spaniels, the Dells, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, oh, and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. Not only them, but the Five Quills, which is a group maybe you never heard of… because they were a group in our neighbourhood. And we wanted to sing better than them. There were ten-thousand groups in our neighbourhood, and we’d have parties, try to shoot them down, see who’s best.’ So who was best? ‘The Four Tops’ after only the slightest moment of hesitation. ‘That wasn’t even their name, Motown gave them that name. But they were the most dynamite group. They could really sing, they had harmonies together. They were the feared group.’
Smokey’s own purest doo-wop high falsetto bothered him at first. ‘Should a cat like me be singing like a chick?’ But soon it became his trademark sound. At nineteen he married fellow-Miracle Claudette Rogers. They stayed together twenty-seven years. But in his autobiography he admits ‘my heart was changing, my soul rearranging. It’s the man thing. The wandering eyes. I just can’t help it.’ A musician to his finger-tips, even his prose chimes like a lyric. Just as the closely-woven matrix of the Miracles harmonies enhanced his signature ‘sound’.
A wrinkle in time ago, a Chinn/Chapman group called Smokey emerged from Bradford. It was mid-1975. They were advised to change their name to Smokie to avoid litigation from Motown. By then the label was enjoying a $40-million turn-over. And Motown was evolving, well advanced in the process of splitting its acts in two. It began by adding ‘Diana Ross &’ to the Supremes credits. Then it was Martha ‘Reeves’ & The Vandellas. Soon, it was ‘Smokey Robinson &’ the Miracles too. The next step was divorce, and twice the chart acts. The Supremes had hits. So did Diana Ross. Smokey had hits (starting with “Just My Soul Responding” in 1974). So – briefly, did the Miracles, with replacement frontman William Griffin (remember “Love Machine” in 1976?). Was that the plan all along? Was it part of a corporate policy over which he had little control? Or was it merely… inevitable? In fact, as he’s pointed out, the separation would have come earlier. Instead, a guy called John Marshall of UK Motown intervened, he lifted a previously overlooked four-year-old album-track, “Tears Of A Clown”, and issued it as a single in September 1970, giving the Miracles their only UK no.1. A success that was rapidly repeated in America, revitalising the group and extending their career for a few years more.
Smokey rode every aspect of the sixties, writing and producing, harmonising and performing, while also working as vice-president within the administrative structure of the company, the architect of some of its finest moments. There’s got to be a million stories there. But where to start? Yet it was only later that he developed dependence problems with cocaine. Perhaps that was due to Motown’s relocation from the hard industrial disciplines of chilly Detroit to the laid-back hedonism of Los Angeles? But no, says Smokey. Los Angeles? ‘I adore the place. It has so many celebrities, I don’t have to allow my life to be a prison. I can run, play golf, meet people, act normal.’ Perhaps it was the changing times, the loss of the corporate ‘family’ vibe as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Smokey spun-off into their own separate star-continuums. And as the politics got harder. After all, Smokey was changing tack too, and was soon contributing some pretty uncompromising tracks himself. “Just My Soul Responding” is based around a Native American tribal chant performed by Navajho singer Tom Bee, emphasising a more direct lyric-content than anything he’d attempted before. Starting ‘I was born and raised in the ghetto, my skin is black’ it then questions the on-going Vietnam conflict with ‘don’t try to tell me I’m unpatriotic, I deserve an explanation’. But no. Apparently the coke thing was nothing as profound as that. ‘I got into cocaine’ he admits, ‘ninety-nine percent who get off on drugs get off having fun with their friends. And I mean fun. Then, one day, they look up, and the fun is killing them. I was doing nothing but sitting at home alone, listening to my answering-machine and taking this stuff. My head would be pounding, veins bulging, heart going on, cold sweats, shortness of breath and still I’d be taking the stuff…’ Until he found Jesus. But all the while, despite some flawed moments and lack-lustre albums, there were more major landmark hits such as 1979’s feel-good “Cruisin’”, the smoky-hued no.1 “Being With You” (1981) and the infectious “Just To See Her” (1987) to re-establish his credentials as a poet of the close-up zone while proving beyond doubt he’s still more than capable of doing the do.
Now, he’s vegetarian, teetotal, and he works out. How does he set about selecting a set-list to perform from such a wealth of back-catalogue? Are there songs he particularly enjoys singing, and – conversely, are there songs that are now too difficult for him to perform? He’s spoken of deliberately lowering the pitch of his ethereal falsetto to a counter-tenor, adjusting it to accommodate the changing range of his age. What other preparations does he undertake for a tour? Does he have regrets – ‘no’. A smile delivered with all the confidence that four decades of success can bring, ‘if they’d given me a questionnaire the day before I was born asking what I might like to be, I’d fill it out exactly the way I’m living…’

‘I believe in miracles,
if you can dream it, it can be done…’
(“Sweet Harmony” on the album ‘Smokey’ Motown, 1973)


Quotes sampled and mix/matched from ‘SMOKEY: INSIDE MY LIFE’ by Smokey Robinson (Headline Books £14.95), references also lifted from John Laycock (‘Melody Maker’ 5th February 1972), Yvonne Roberts (‘Observer’ 2nd February 1992), Jacoba Atlas (‘Melody Maker’ 15th September 1973), Jane Ennis, Richard Williams and many others, to whom respect and grateful thanks are extended.


And people say ‘Andy, over some forty years of
gig-going, which is the greatest gig you’ve ever been to?’
And there’s a hell of a lot, Bob Dylan, Beatles, Flamin’ Groovies,
Ramones, Rolling Stones, Who, Cabaret Voltaire, Kinks, Prodigy…
but there’s one name I keep returning to – the amazing Bo Diddley.
So the best gig I’ve ever attended? - it was in the music lounge of a pub
in Leeds, which has now been closed down because of its drug notoriety. 
I wrote about it twice, for two different magazines,
under two different aliases. Both of them are here.
Bo Diddley died on Monday, June 2nd 2008.

at ‘Fforde Green’, Leeds

In 1963 he toured with the Rolling Stones. In 1979 he toured with Clash. Tonight he does a fifties rap back to when ‘some of you wasn’t even born – BUT YOU WAS BEIN’ DISCUSSED!’ An allusion of names he’s worked with on boards and plastic over a slow growling bass figure, ‘Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, the magnificent Elvis Presley’. He jive-wires the tremelo on his custom-made angular oblong Kinman, adds some Doo-wop vocal effects in the style of his antique “I’m Sorry”, then cranks up to ‘Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, the Rolling Stones – I’VE SEEN ‘EM ALL. I’ve been on stage with ‘em all!’ He’s indisputable proof of his macho bragging, but he ain’t no mere aspic-preserved artefact, no walking repository of Rock’s vintage violence. Some things get meaner as they get older, and the Diddler’s the 1950’s last delinquent, his Diddleybeat developed so heavy it needs an HGV license, and it’s all lit up by a big avuncular grin like a fluorescent Wurlitzer jukebox cram-full of hits. ‘The line I shoot / will never miss’, a gaudy earthy earthquake, a stumbling, lurching, shuddering, juddering, reverberating, beatific beat that crawls up inside your skull and plays your eyelids like drums. It’s a synthesis, a copulatory coupling of the hypnotically ponderous na├»ve with the cunning, shell-shocked complexity in all directions and dimensions simultaneously, like a rhythmic Jackson Pollock chromatic explosion. He might not have actually invented the riff that bears his name – some claim to detect its spoor all the way back to African drum-choir slave-chants, but its chrome’s not even tarnished, and it’s good for some considerable mileage yet. He runs through “Mona” (which the Stone’s mis-track list as “I Need You Baby” on their premier album), “Roadrunner” with its slide quivering in glissando glide-paths up and down the pleasure-centres of your spine, and “Hey, Bo Diddley” which extends its booming shuffling primeval rhythm for ever, and is never one microsecond too long. And that’s his survival strategy these twenty-eight years, and still fresh, each number (from the first chord instantly recognisable) is spun out over the low burn of the Diddley Daddies’ extemporising into such incessant compulsions that the actual token verse ploughed in there arbitrarily along its vapour trail is just punctuation, a reference point to orientate by. The rest is immediate, no fade-off, no drop-out, just famous axe in place, famous feathered bejewelled hat on head. “I’m A Man” becomes an entire theatre of effects and humour, musical talking guitar conversation with Stuff Smith (Fender Stratocaster), and ball-bouncing pitch and toss on the bass-strings with Brother Ron (Fender Jazz Bass). This is his regular American band, all blacks-&-reds with headset radio-mics, their sound moulded tight as traps forcing Big Bad Bo to new highs of lethal natural electricity. No pick-up musicians they, there’s Terri McDaniel sensuously programming a Rhodes Opus 3 Moog, and Bo’s other daughter – Tammi, deliciously flagellating the Pearl drum-kit while feeding in soulful vocals. As Offspring they are a first-division force in their own right as their warm-up set proves, a Funk mutation of eighties R&B, street-hard on “Not Alone” and “Hard Times”, outstanding with “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” making connections that by-pass the fey Diana Ross version and plugging directly into the socket of Frankie Lymon’s bratty original. And with the Daddy Diddley they’re more than just background ornamentation, but a superb foil to his ageless Diddleyitus, his key jungle-rhythms, his Chicago-blues based energy, raw and throbbing as an open wound. From the intro to the outro it’s peak experience with the ‘Fforde Green’ Music Lounge sweat-dripping crush-full, the epicentre of aural storm, the whole room megaton-trembling and shaking in seismic stun-waves from floor to ceiling with every tribal denomination in attendance, Skins, Punks, Teds, Hippies, Angels and Rockabilly Rebels – and all attentions fixed on the paunchy gunslinger. That’s exactly how it should be, and no-one can do it like Bo Diddley do it. Mr Diddley is 53 years old. His biggest British hit – “Pretty Thing”, reached no.34 on the chart in October 1963.

Published in:-
‘HOT PRESS Vol.6 No.12’ (Ireland – July 1982)

at ‘Fforde Green’, Leeds

Bo Diddley might have opened the door for Beatdom legions, but he was sho’ ‘nuff left holding the handle! In the 1940’s it was white Benny Goodman who was ‘King Of Swing’, not Duke Ellington or Count Basie. Just as Elvis Presley was ‘King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, not Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. Just as the Rolling Stones became ‘Kings of R&B’ in the 1960’s, rather than Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed… or Bo Diddley. The process is identical. So now Mick Jagger sells out the Roundhay Park arena, while Bo Diddley crams out the Music Lounge of a downtown Leeds pub a little way down the road apiece. He ain’t ‘bout to complain, ‘I wanna thank you Ladies and Gennlemen’ he booms, ‘for my survival through the Rock ‘n’ Roll crisis’ – he might’ve been using that same line at least since 1971, but he sure as hell means it. ‘Indeed he-deed he-do.’ We’re talking Titans here, I’ve got to confess, from the first riffling shimmering chords of “Bo Diddley” all critical faculties get bludgeoned and we’re into a totally submissive situation, it’s like five-hundred bands I must have seen thus far into 1982, and this gig destroys them all effortlessly, obliterates ‘em with a grin, stomps ‘em into derisive mush. Bo’s the self-bragged ‘Original Originator’, the ‘Gunslinger’ with the .38 pistol on his hip and the rose on his chest, the Roadrunner, the Grand Diddley Daddy of ‘em all, the man who is five-hundred percent M-A-N! Flamboyant, unsubtle, a raucously dirty urban thunder that’s an undiluted amalgam of heavily accentuated backbeats so primitive, so instinctive, they’re practically antediluvian, in combination with a tremulous muzzy distorted sophistication and technical skill. A shaman rhythm pattern set to the pulse of his near-phonetic soubriquet. But setting stage we first got some ‘Chicken-Shack-Fleetwood-Mac-John-Mayall-Can’t-Fail’ Blues from Leeds five-piece One O’Clock Jump, a carefully observed blend of sweaty rhythm ‘n’ booze with all the right inputs. From Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry”, to “How Blue Can You Get?” stood out on Chris Davis’ honking sax, a band to see, but a taster this night. Ellas ‘Bo’ McDaniel’s prime-time Golden Decade stuff might’ve been cut at Chess (2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago) a quarter-century back, but there’s still sweet nuthin’ to touch it. After his autobiographical vinyl-debut – “Bo Diddley” from 1955, comes “Roadrunner” with resonating Exocet runs up and down the fret, a groove-talking jive-dancing golden crazy argot full of exuberant celebrations of his own self-mythology, the “I’m A Man” riff leading into a glorious ten-minute work-out of self-sabotaging humour, musical ingenuity, mock guitar conversations and sharp tricks. With all the natural pacing and energy theatrics that come with twenty-eight years of touring. A feast of incandescence channelled thru Turbo five-speed oblong guitar punched in over his paunch. His pink two-piece suit with glitter seams and deeper pink two-shade shirt with balloon sleeves rapidly getting sweat-stuck to his solid totem-like body. A guru of Rock ‘n’ Rhythm from feather-brimmed voodoo hat down to sensible black-tie shoes. ‘Are you serious – about Rock ‘n’ Roll?’ he demands of the audience, as his tight family band – the Offspring, quiz him back, ‘Are you serious – Bo?’ Daughters Terri (on keyboards, crescent tambourine, and bump ‘n’ grind Duchess dance) and Tammi (on drums and back-up vocals). ‘Brother’ Ron on bass and send-ups, and ‘Stuff’ Smith on second lead. A group fully-wired and miked-up, supporting, driving and revving Diddley in a way that, for e.g., Chuck Berry’s last-minute tour pick-up bands never can. They provoke comparisons with the vinyl originals - recorded with Jerome Green, Frank Kirkland, Billy Boy Arnold and half-sister the ‘Duchess’, and in every way such uneven parallels prove complimentary. This could be Bo’s best-ever live band, and his performance / rapport is inspired, fired on stoking internal combustion. Through “Hold On”, “Mona”, “Let Me See You Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “Fifties Rap”, and “Hey, Bo Diddley” every one’s a stone killer, the seminal bantering riffs become long chugging launch pads to stratosphere-high R&B eternities. But the encore he plays exclusively for Mike and Maggie who just got wed. On stage he greets them, and advises – with a furtive glance at his band, ‘I don’t wanna put no bad luck on you – but, GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY!!!’ They ask for “Diddleyitus” which comes at full-tilt on guitar distortion, then Bo doubling with Tammi on drums in a percussive jungle that not only shows up Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” as derivative (and even THAT is second-hand Strangeloves!), but shows ‘em the door, handle and all, politely but firmly. Diddley’s the original, but the original is STILL THE GREATEST!

Published in:-
‘MUSICIANS WEEKLY 3rd July 1982’ (UK – July 1982)


Don’t need no god.
Don’t need no eternal paternal god.
Don’t need no reassuringly protective
good and evil in perspective god.
Don’t need no imported distorted,
inflated updated,
holy roller, save your soul, or
anaesthetisingly opiate gods.
Don’t need no “all creatures that on Earth do dwell”
be good or you go to Hell god.
Don’t need no Hare Krishna Hare Krishna,
Hail Mary, Hail Mary god.
Got no yen for zen, Baghavad-Gita or Gurdjieff.
No Mormon, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist god,
no absolutes beyond refute,
no reverential preferential Judaic Messianic god.
No Bibles, no Mahayanas, Delai Lhama
instant dharma gods.
Don’t need no spiritual suicide or
prefrontal lobotomising god.
Don’t need no stoic sexless
anticeptic god.
Don’t need no neon crucifix,
no jade Buddhas, no Vedas or Upanishads,
no camels or needles or Papal decrees,
no mail-order ikons, Koran’s or Mandala’s,
no Sri Chimnoys, Meha Baba’s, or Ayatollah’s,
no Guatama’s, no Manitou, Ouspensky or Marx,
no yin/yang, no tao, no tarot or incense,
no sacred mushrooms
no dianetics,
no Tibetan prayer mats
no “Immortal invisible gods only wise”.
Don’t need no televised circumcised
incessant incandescent god.
Don’t need no god.
I need human beings.
I need some kind
of love.
I need

From my collection
(Purple Heather Publications, UK – January 1988),
(UK – June 1988), and on the telephone
‘DIAL-A-POEM’ (Liverpool 27th November 1980),
also on the vinyl album
‘NO SONGS TOMORROW’ by U.V. Pop (Flowmotion LP, UK – April 1984)
U.V. Pop track played 'a couple of times' on ‘Radio Aire’ by Len Liggins on his
‘alternative/ Indie’ spot.