Tuesday 28 February 2012

Poem: 'A Kind Of Achievement'


seemed to
attract attention.
Started on a small scale.
two inches of local newspaper
column depth. A story headed
age (15) parenthesised
after his name.

Didn’t stop there though.
Soon after he was a face in
that sullen crowd on the regional
TV report, stood slightly bewildered
behind the Spokesperson urging
Govt subsidy for industrially
depressed areas.

Three years later
he died in Iraq,
half-tone blood on
half-tone uniform,
made the front page
of the nationals,
lead story in
one of them.

Made his

Published in:-
‘MOTH no.2’ (UK - Dec 1976)
‘IMPACT vol.1 no.4’ (USA - Nov 1978)
‘IT - INTERNATIONAL TIMES vol.5 no.5’ (UK - Jan 1980)
‘SLOWDIVE no.2’ (UK - July 1985)
‘LUCKY JIM’S no.4’ (USA - Dec 1985)
and the anthology:-
LET THEM EAT CAKE (Sepia Anthology)’ (UK - Oct 1986)

The ZOOT MONEY Interview


Zoot Money was the ‘Big Time Operator’
of 1960’s Club R&B. Later he was known as a
character-face on TV. Was there never a danger
of the TV eclipsing the music...?

‘When Marvin Gaye recorded this song, he didn’t know he had a cocaine problem. When Marvin Gaye recorded this song, he didn’t know he had a Father problem. But he recorded it anyway.’ Thus spake the legendary Zoot Money, introducing his own live version of “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow”. This night he neglects to mention that the song was also a 1965 Big Roll Band single! And by a neat word substitution it could be said that when Zoot himself recorded that song he didn’t know that twenty-something years later he’d write charting material with Jim Diamond, that his guitarist on that single – Andy Somers, would rack up mega-hits with Police, that his (Zoot’s) rubber-faced visage would be familiar to mass-audience TV-viewers via a comic lager-commercial, or that RSO would re-issue his long sought-after ‘Zoot: LiveAt Klook’s Kleek’ as a budget-label CD, to a gentle ripple of nostalgia cult approval.

It’s Thursday, 29th November 1984. The ‘Dortmunder Bierkeller’ slotted into the giant ‘Clockwork Orange’ ‘Merrion Centre’ complex of uptown Leeds. For the record, Zoot Money’s looking good, and he’s on fine form. He’s just delivered a hip-shakin finger-popping fifteen-number set chockfull of stone classics. A rapid re-run, in capsule form, of an amazing career. On stage he wears a head-mike for greater mobility, and a bright red Micky Mouse ‘T’-shirt for visual effect. He dances absurdly, cajoles and parties generously, with a tight-but-loose double-sax, drums & bass Roll Band behind his keyboards. Now we’re sitting backstage in the instant-party bare-brick cell that pretends to be a dressing room, indulging in the indulgencies familiar to generations of musicians. He’s still wearing the Mickey Mouse stage ‘T’-shirt, but now it’s partially occluded by black leather jacket. He’s also wearing cartoon-style lime-green socks that glow in the dark. He’s shorn of the beard and the exaggerated locks he adopted during his phase as back-up keyboardist to the likes of Kevin Coyne, Steve Ellis and Kevin Ayers. He’s leaner, slimmer and fitter, like some Thatcherite recipe for industrial efficiency.

I mention his stage announcement that runs ‘when I think of all the royalties Duran Duran make’, introducing the Ray Charles song “It Should’ve Been Me”…‘Oh, that was just a little fun.’ I realise that Zoot, but why not mention Police as examples of platinum-status Rock zillionaires, instead of the Duranies? ‘Well, I could have done. But I’ve no hard feelings towards Andy. Andy’s doing very well. Police were a good band.’ And Police completists could do a lot worse than hunt out the ‘Zoot: Live At Klook’s Kleek’ re-issue. It’s a perfect time-capsule of mid-sixties Club Jazz/&&B fusions. With a heavy dose of young Somer’s fretwork. ‘Forty-eight minutes of hip listening’ quoth ‘New Musical Express’ on its initial release, and it still stands comparison with today’s new jazzers. Less cool, more fire perhaps, including the full James Brown medley that always highlights the Big Roll Band’s volatile Club set. With the Godfather of Soul still a hip name to drop, even across the intervening decades. No Rap, Urban or Electro act can hope to compete without its JB samples.

‘That’s right. Well, he did start doing some quite…’ we get derailed by an obscure query from his current bassist – a former Nucleus sideman, and Nick Newall, original Big Roll Band tenor saxist, a man who still boasts ‘all his own hair’. ‘Brown Bag?’ answers Zoot confusingly. Nothing, apparently, to do with James Brown’s ‘Poppas Got A Brand New Bag’, no – nothing as obvious, this relates to a real lost bag. ‘It’s outside. Up behind the stage, just up the stairs.’ Then he burrows helpfully in another brown bag of ‘T’-shirts and assorted changes of underwear. A Louis Jordan cassette surfaces. ‘Yeah, well…’ It all disintegrates into ludicrous laughter before he resumes. Because, although his concerns are emphatically of the present, with a little effort he can be side-tracked…

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Own up time. First saw Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band through the sound-stunned multi-coloured twilight of the Hull Arts College, must have been 1965-ish – and the sight of George Bruno ceremoniously lowering his trousers to the stampeding Soul Classic “Haunted House” is an image that’s stayed with me intact across the intervening decades. I hoped he might do “Haunted House” this night. Zoot pulls a garish face of infinite comic resignation, shrugs a huge shrug, ‘well, you know, I try to get through as many old songs as possible. But in fact, the support band played a little longer, so we only had an hour or so.’ He hedges expertly, ‘we were gonna play for an hour and a half, and I would’ve included – not “Haunted House”, but some of the other old ones. I was gonna do ‘em, yeah, but it’s just the time thing, y’know.’ A manic gleam takes possession of his eyes, ‘HOWEVER – if people would like to come back – Folks!?!?, I’d be only too glad to play them ALL!!!’

Zoot Money – the legendary ‘Flamingo Club’ flasher, a mental aerobics master, flickers that famous visage through a range of expressions faster than a pickpocket through a bankroll. He knows his music every-which-way out, but hangs it all on an entertainer’s perception of pure joy. They say he tried on a serious expression once, but it didn’t fit right. So we talk through archive music. From his native Bournemouth through a stint with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, to his own chart hit “Big Time Operator”, and on… In Michael Moorcock’s apocalyptical novel ‘The Final Programme’ (1969), hermaphrodite Sci-Fi hero Jerry Cornelius plays “Zoot’s Suite” by Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band on his transistor radio. The perfectly hip soundtrack for the beautiful people of Swinging London. We talk through the devious exploits of Svengali-managed Rik Gunnell and then Zoot’s psychedelic Dantalian’s Chariot (with Andy Somers, Zoot? ‘That’s right. The main instigator’ he self-quotes). Their mesmerising single “The Madman Running Through The Field” remains a ‘Nuggets’-style collectors’ gem…

Nick Newall still calls Zoot by his real name – George. So why and how did it become Zoot? ‘It was Zoot Sims really. I saw him play a long time ago, and got nicknamed Zoot when I got home’. Home was the sedately respectable south-coast resort town of Bournemouth, where GBM was born on 17 July 1942, to an Italian immigrant family, although with paternal English roots. A ‘Melody Maker’ musicians’ file documents those early days. ‘My musical education started when I played French horn at school – but even before that, I could often be found messing about on guitar. Even while I was still at school I played guitar with local groups (the Black Hawks, and the Sands Combo – with Colin Allen) and then had a spell on bass and sometimes piano with a local palais band’. I heard that once he got to London he played with seminal UK Blues Master Cyril Davies, but ‘I only actually sat in with Cyril Davies once. No, it was Alexis Korner I worked with – not Cyril Davies’. So, in 1963 he was part of Blues Incorporated, ‘before the first Big Roll Band, yes’. Then ‘the original Big Roll Band was a semi-professional band. I still see the members of the Big Roll Band from right back then…’

The line-up that signed to Decca in 1964 consisted of four musical refugees from Bournemouth, Zoot (vocals / Hammond organ), Nick Newall (tenor sax), Andy Somers – later Summers (guitar), and Colin Allen – later of Stone the Crows, Georgie Fame, John Mayall, and Focus (drums), plus Clive Burrows (baritone sax) and Paul Williams – later of Juicy Lucy and Tempest (bass and vocals). The liaison resulted in a fistful of sides including the band’s debut 45rpm – “The Uncle Willie”. It was a ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ variant with a casual nod at the Jimmy McGriff organ style. It attracted attention and press coverage, but failed to chart. Instead they played the cult-clique club ‘The Flamingo’, taking over a residency vacated by Georgie Fame, and in-crowd credibility was assured.

In retrospect it seems a vastly fluid period. Club-bands were fusing R&B with Soul, and both of them with free-blowing high-flying jazz. ‘During the early sixties? Yes, you’re right. There was a lot of free-association between styles, a lot of ‘bridging-of-the-gap’. But of course, it didn’t happen everywhere. Some of us had to, sort of, be pioneers in that respect, to be a bit pioneering. Trying to free things, to get someone to listen to a jazz solo in the middle of “Johnny B Goode” or something. It was pretty good. But I always saw them as mixing anyway. I never saw them as being separate. Music is music, you should listen to as many forms as you can. The more you mix together, the more influences you’re open to, then the more international you are. That means the more ‘human’ you are, I suppose. The common denominator of any good music is SPIRIT! The only exception is when it sounds sort-of, slightly crass. Bad is still bad. Bad music is bad music. Good music is good.’

There was a jump to the Columbia label, and the singles cover-version of Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, followed by a live album ‘Zoot: Live At Klook’s Kleek’. It was recorded 31st May 1966, the first production job for Elton John’s future producer Gus Dudgeon, who also scripted the gush of sleeve-notes. The band’s personnel had by then switched Burrows for future Mayall saxist / flautist Johnny Almond, to form what Dudgeon called ‘a classic example of the showmanship, professionalism and inventive musicianship of a great big gassy band!’ Reviewers tended to compare Money’s playing with Jimmy Smith’s. But was Smith a prime keyboard influence? ‘Not prime perhaps. Not prime… but listening to him helped me get, I suppose, a reasonably good sound.’ But James Brown? The highlight of the Big Roll Band’s club set, the opening slice of the album’s second side, was the “James Brown Medley”. ‘Yeah, well, JB, the Emperor. He was quite novel, in fact, very innovative at the time. First band I ever saw with more than one drummer. First band I ever saw who used TWO drummers, at it all the time, v-e-r-y good. But, it’s like, the medley I play on “Tribute To James Brown”, is more as he was then. Not the rhythm-machine-cum-electronic funk thing he later became.’ Point taken. ‘Zoot: Live At Klook’s Kleek’ catches James Brown as it happened. Not a retrospective style-theft. ‘This can never change, this is archive music.’

The act captured on live vinyl was spiced with rampaging humour. Zoot came to epitomise the after-hours ‘looning’ of a hellfire Mod elite represented in the Klook’s Kleek audience that night by Eric Burden, Brian Auger, Chas Chandler, and Georgie Fame. The attitude remains. ‘My gig is, I treat it with a little bit of jollity, a little big of seriousness, as much music as possible. I don’t hold people down. What they wanna play is what they wanna play.’ And outside the ‘looning’ circuit there was inter-band poaching as well as fraternisation, fights as well as interactions. ‘Actually, there’s some great bands that broke up during that time (he guffaws) – and I helped to break two of them up! I was stealing people. NO – it was like that in those days. There was a lot of sharing of musicians, and then, well, not totally sharing. If they go – they go. If they stay they stay. You could go join someone else BUT DON’T EVER COME BACK!!!’

On such a fluid basis the lifelines of Big Roll Band membership gets complex. ‘It all gets confusing ‘cos there’s been so many’ he agrees. ‘They go on and on. There will be a book out, a brought-up-to-date book on the Big Roll Band some time next year (in 1985?). I’m working on it now. I’m not actually doing it myself, somebody’s writing it for me (ghosting it). We haven’t sorted the publisher out yet – we haven’t actually got to Chapter 3 yet to be honest! But we will, by next year some time. It’ll be an informative book with a few anecdotes thrown in. Not really a sort of ‘faction’ book, it’ll be FACT. A book to put people straight on what they all want to know. People ask who left when and why, they all want to know. So THIS WAY I don’t have to go through the motions EVERY time.’

The nominal support structures for the Band throughout this period was a promotional organisation known as the Rik Gunnell Agency (‘I’m afraid so, yes’ he admits with a grin), with Zoot Money under the personal management of Bob Hind. And some strange stories come out of that period, ‘yeah, most of them are true. If they’re anything to do with Rik Gunnell they’re true! Actually he’s still alive and well. I’m not supposed to tell the Taxman that, but yes, he had us, he had John Mayall, Alan Price at one stage, Georgie Fame, the Shevells, they go on and on. He had Chris Farlowe too. They go on and on and on…’ There was a run of highly-rated singles, benefiting from heavy-rotation on the Pirate stations, culminating in the chart-hit “Big Time Operator”. Its lyric lists Zoot’s fictionalised career-cv, as he ‘started off a newsboy on a paper, for a time I worked in an elevator’ delivered in a picaresque gravel-growl, then ‘I drove an excavator, I became a wine and brandy waiter (yes I did)’ with honking unison-horns punching out emphasis, adding ‘airline navigator, crime investigator, commentator and administrator’, but all the time there’s the lurking ambition to ‘be a big time operator’ fading out with ‘now listen to me, I’m telling the truth’. With the inference that just maybe his Big Operation will turn out to be of a fringe-legal nature.

Writers Tony Colton & Ray Smith tailor the material to match Zoot’s exuberant persona, “Nick Knack” is a raucous roughened take on the kid’s rhyme, given a ‘this old man got rolling stoned’ twist, while “The Star Of The Show” gently mocks Pop by lamenting ‘been around a long time, working with my band, playing music people just didn’t understand’, until he launches into an insanely catchy la-la-la chorus which brings instant stardom. They are Mod Club and air-play hits, I dance to them at the ‘Gondola’ and ‘Kon-Tiki’ clubs in Hull and listen to them on the Pirate radio stations. I bought them, played them on my Dansette, and follow their progress through the music press, from singles’ reviews and club dates, into chart positions and interviews in ‘Record Mirror’, ‘Melody Maker’, ‘Rave’, ‘Disc’ and ‘NME’. Never less than soulfully-charged, with fluid keyboard skills, and funk-infused horn section – best showcased through instrumental ‘B’-sides located between Ramsey Lewis and Booker T, the unique quality Zoot brings to R&B is the full not-inconsiderable force of his character. And that is irrepressible. But a scene that boisterously explosive was bound to end. Despite much fine good-timely Jazz-Blues music and a series of excellent near-chart hits Zoot’s reputation (as far as the Press was concerned) began to rely increasingly on his ebullient stage eccentricities, his extra-curricula antics as lunatic comedian. Mythologies grew spontaneously around him – stories of him ‘debagged’ by Eric Burdon on stage at the ‘Paris Olympia’, the shorts thus revealed with slogans or Union Jack across the broad seat…

And even the Mod club-scene itself began decaying. The sudden Media celebrity of its ‘Swinging’ life-style robbed the movement of its exclusiveness, and the rival attractions of the psychedelic avant garde from America’s West Coast stole its prestige. Almost overnight the place to be seen was no longer the ‘Cromwellian’, the ‘Scotch of St. James’ or the ‘Bag O Nails’ – it was the ‘Middle Earth’, the ‘U.F.O.’ or the ‘Roundhouse’. Hair was longer, clothes more gaudy. Zoot’s strategy was an effortless metamorphosis into Dantalian’s Chariot; a new line-up unveiled at the 1967 Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival.

Psychedelic London 1967. Eric Burdon, embracing Love ‘n’ Peace, marries in full hippie regalia, while Zoot Money – larger than life – is his Best Man in contrasting top hat and tails. He’s changing horses in mid-stream, with Dantalian’s Chariot on full frontal assault, a band now slimmed down to Zoot, Allen, and Somers, with in-comer folk-rock bassist Pat Donaldson. ‘New Musical Express’ records that they ‘specialised in all-white costumes and instruments, had what was for a while regarded as the best light-show in town – and lost a small fortune’. They entered the vinyl zone almost immediately with a stone-classic of English psychedelia that still stands comparison with anything from early Pink Floyd, Tomorrow, or Soft Machine. “The Madman Running Through The Fields” employs all the studio devices and electronic trickery associated with the genre – reverse tapes, tempo-changes, surreal schizoid Laing-ian lyrics, and a mid-point dream-sequence, all ignited by a contagious melody-line and liquid harmonies. ‘Strong guitar, and a bit of messiness in other places’ says ‘Record Mirror’, while making it a Top 50 tip (a status it was never destined to achieve!), ‘a psychedelic pot pourri of monstrous proportions’ says ‘Record Collector’. As Zoot had earlier spoofed – ‘too far way out, working on a limb’, inevitably “Madman…” remains a much sought-after collectors item, a quintessential slice of vintage English weirdness at its most breathtakingly pure.

Zoot remembers the time ‘with great affection. It was good. We had a great, good time, for as long as it lasted. For as long as the money lasted, it was good’. It offered ‘a chance to be more creative, to move on to writing our own material and try out new things’. An album – ‘Transition’, was recorded over a twelve-month period, and as such it documents the stylistic transformation from Big Roll Soul (“Stop The Wedding” and “River’s Invitation”) to the new phase, best epitomised by Somers long Eastern-flavoured instrumental “Soma”, composed with his sitar-tutor Narzir Jarazbhoy. ‘They were all our own songs, folks! We wrote them all’. Previously there’d been self-penned ‘B’-sides, often instrumental cuts like “The Mound Moves”, but with the Chariot ‘we got into writing, so no real complaints about that’. With Andy Somers as an integral part of the process.

But looking back, it couldn’t last. In retrospect psychedelia and the style-progressions of the sixties takes on a certain inevitability. Through repetition and over-zealous journalism the whole period assumes an inflexible logic that now seems obvious, predetermined. But at the time there were no guidelines, things were wide open. ‘I was just, sort of, basically inexperienced about presenting any kind of image or anything. I was just DOING it, y’know. We got a little bit too… introspective, I feel. We lost some of the extrovert-expecting audience that was about at the time’. Dantalian’s Chariot split. Zoot and (by a different route) Somers flew out to join Eric Burdon’s New Animals in San Francisco. They arrived in time to contribute to the July 1968 ‘Every One Of Us’ album (MGM). Although never issued in the UK at the time, it remains an intriguing set, in some ways continuing the ‘Transition’ theme of meshing Blues (“St James Infirmary”) with the ‘new thang’ (“Year of the Guru”). Six months after its release came ‘Love Is’, a varied double-set packaging “River Deep Mountain High” and “Ring Of Fire” alongside a seventeen-minute re-run of Zoot’s “Madman…”, before the Animals too disintegrated in multi-coloured dayglo fragments. Zoot briefly formed a pick-up band with Jim Gordon and Lee Underwood, and cut an album called ‘Welcome To My Head’ with ex-Animal Vic Briggs (‘It was deleted within a year!’) It was a hectic period, one I have a lot of affection for. ‘It WAS great’ he concurs, because – or in spite of its wild unplanned momentum. ‘I was just doing it. Like I am now – but now, I hope, with a little bit more experience.’

Writing in ‘New Musical Express’ (January 1971) Roy Carr points out that ‘when having the now rare pleasure of seeing Zoot Money perform, one is inclined to try and separate the artist from the enigma which has grown up around this most loveable of original hirsute looners. Only to realise that it is this near legendary aura that makes him the incomparable entertainer.’ Elsewhere Chris Salewitz wrote of Zoot’s ‘perpetual eighteen-year-old’s smile’ even in a later band in which everyone ‘is over thirty’. And – although it’s true that Zoot’s wide-screen reputation was built up through his sixties bands (reinforced by often unacknowledged sessions jaunts, such as adding keyboards to Jackie Lynton’s 1967 single “I Never Loved A Girl Like You”, for example), he went on to several more careers-worth of adventures that deserve an article apiece to do them justice. Adjustment to the cold realities of the seventies after the heady optimisms of the counter-culture was traumatic for many – terminal for some. But Zoot had his musicianship to fall back on, and that was never in question. Associations with a number of names followed, largely in a support capacity.

There was ex-Love Affair star Steve Ellis re-launching his career as ‘Ellis’. ‘Ellis – the little chap. Yes, that was good stuff. Steve had all these songs in his head and he wanted to get them out. So I said ‘let’s get a band and do them’. CBS went with it for as long as they could – two albums worth, and then that was it really. Ellis was a good Rock ‘n’ Roll band. Nice and loud. Lots of hair’. Of the two Ellis albums I prefer the brilliantly-titled ‘Riding On The Crest Of A Slump’. ‘Yeah, we tried to have a little poke. We didn’t really get into politics as such, they were just songs that HAD to be done. Ellis – yes, it was great stuff. And Steve, he’s living in Brighton somewhere now.’

Ellis did a BBC ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ TV-session. ‘Yes, ‘Whistle Test’’, he smiles. ‘They keep replaying old ‘Whistle Test’ things don’t they? Did they ever regurgitate any of that? Did they bring that back?’ They didn’t. ‘They should use the Kevin Coyne stuff they have in the vaults as well.’ Zoot played with the legendary eccentric Coyne. He nods, ‘Mmm, Kevin Ayers too’, played ‘six countries in three weeks!’ There was the epic Centipede project inaugurated by jazzer Keith Tippett, and the occasional Grimms jazz / poetry review made up of former Scaffold and Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band members. ‘I’m seeing John Gorman tomorrow. I don’t know what he’s up to now. He’s in Tyne-Tees television – maybe we’ll get something together there, I don’t know.’

We talk some more about Eric Burdon, and how Zoot co-wrote (and performed on) eight of the ten tracks on Burdon’s come-back album ‘Survivor’. Clear through to the 1990 ‘Blues Relics’ tour with Chris Farlowe… and then with the ‘Alan Price & Friends’ revue… interspersed by occasional Big Roll Band re-unions – like this one, now, in Leeds. A self-indulgent, effortlessly enjoyable journey back through the ‘Flamingo’ / ‘Klooks Kleek’ repertoire. For strictly train-spotterish reasons, the set-listing consisted of “Poppa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, “Out Of Sight” and “I Got You” – forming the James Brown medley, then “It Should’ve Been Me”, “Hide Nor Hair”, “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow”, “Big Time Operator”, the moving slow “Please Stay”, “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”, “Smack Dab In The Middle”, “Nothin Shakin”, Robert Parker’s “Barefootin”, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “Uncle Willie” and Phil Upchurch’s “You Can’t Sit Down”…

And how does your new Roland Juno 60 compare with the old Hammond organ used on the ‘Klook’s Kleek’ album? ‘It compares very well. I like it a lot.’ Much more portable. Although his concerns are emphatically of the present, with a little effort he can be side-tracked… And the future? ‘I’m open to all suggestions. I don’t say no to ANYTHING…!’

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By the late 1970’s Zoot was extending his career, moving sideways into TV and Movies. There was a role in the cinema spin-off from Ronnie Barker’s comedy series ‘Porridge’ (1979), shot entirely at Chelmsford Prison in Essex. Zoot plays ‘Lotterby, the thickest bloke in the nick’. The Hazel O’Conner Punk movie-vehicle ‘Breaking Glass’ (1980) followed, with Zoot as her sinister promo-manager figure, then a walk-on part in the movie of Colin McInnes novel ‘Absolute Beginners’ (1986). His parts in TV crime dramas ‘The Professionals’ – as an over-the-hill Pop star, and ‘Shoestring’ – as a DJ, got spliced in with legit stage-work – a National Theatre role as a picket in ‘Line ‘Em’. He was musical director for BBC1’s retro ‘Tutti Frutti’ series (1987). With character parts for telly commercials – a Teddy Boy for Knorr’s Knoodles, and a tourist jetting home from Benidorm for Carlesberg.

Pity you can’t get Carlsberg to sponsor the Big Roll Band, like Coca Cola did for the Jacksons, eh, Zoot? ‘Carlsberg wouldn’t go down to that level.’ He erupts in a fit of laughter that’s a joy to behold. ‘No, no, I’m just employed as an actor on those things. It’s a different life. It’s just who I am for that day – what they want. If they want a silly face…’ He pulls a silly face by way of illustration, and it’s a classic.

In fact, for the audiences who watched him doing an infectiously absurd parody-spoof of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” in a Spanish Bar sequence in the ITV series ‘El C.I.D.’, it’s possible that Zoot Money was becoming known more as a face, than a musician. So, isn’t there a danger of the TV eclipsing the music? ‘Well, yes, some people might see it as that’ he concedes. ‘But with a bit of luck they just see the character I’m playing. They don’t see me as me.’ Another deep volcanic laugh. ‘Me – as me, appears on the stage, live! As you’ve just seen. I’m a conglomeration of all those things, I suppose. Music is a very big part of my life, and it’ll never go away. So I keep playing. I’ve got to sing and play. I’ve got to do that. I do the odd straight acting parts, as you’ll have seen. It depends on what I’m doing how I treat it. But I don’t neglect music even when I’m into a part for – say, an advert. I sing and play, and film the thing during the day!’

And ‘a recent Jim Diamond single had a song of mine on the ‘B’-side. A song we wrote together. It’s on his album too…’ his voice switching to heavy-promotional falsetto, ‘it made no.1 ON THE ALBUM CHARTS TOO FOLKS!!! Yes, I’ve worked with him. He produced my last album actually, Jim Diamond did.’

I fumble for something polite to say about a figure of such stunning banality as Jim Diamond. Wasn’t he in, er, Sad CafĂ©? ‘PhD’ Zoot corrects me. Then stabs a finger at my cassette recorder, ‘I’m sorry, freeze that a minute, business is business.’ And he rips a ring-pull off a can of (the opposition’s) lager. Smiling genially as the spray erupts…


1964 ‘R&B’ (Blues Roots 6, re-issue Nov 1978) a compilation including two Big Roll Band tracks alongside John Mayall, Alexis Korner, Graham Bond and others

August 1964 As ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND “The Uncle Willie” c/w “Zoot’s Suit” (Decca F 11954) produced by Noel Walker under the musical direction of Mike Leander. Later included on multi-artist LP ‘Hard-Up Heroes ’63-‘68’ (Decca DPA 3009, 1974)

1965 “Bring It On Home To Me” c/w “Good” (Columbia DB 7518)

June 1965 “Please Stay” c/w “You Know You’ll Cry” (Columbia DB 7600) vocals by the English Paul Williams

Sept 1965 “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” c/w “Something Is Worrying Me” (Columbia DB 7697)

‘IT SHOULD’VE BEEN ME’ (Columbia 33SX 1734, October1965) debut LP, produced by Rik Gunnell, with “I’ll Go Crazy”, “Jump Back” (Rufus Thomas song), “Along Came John”, “Back Door Blues” (Eddie ‘Cleanhead Vinson song), “It Should’ve Been Me” (Ray Charles hit), “Sweet Little Rock And Roller”, “My Wife Can’t Cook”, “Rags And Old Iron”, “The Cat” (an instrumental written by Lalo Schifrin), “Feelin’ Sad”, “Bright Lights, Big City”, “Fina”. Reissued in July 2005 by Repertoire, with bonus tracks “Uncle Willie”, “Good”, “Bring It Home To Me”, “Please Stay”, “You Know I’ll Cry”, “Something Is Worrying Me”, “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow”, “Big Time Operator”, “Zoot’s Sermon” and “It Should’ve Been Me (alternate take)”. Original sleeve notes by Alexis Korner. CD liner-notes by Chris Welch

Nov 1965 “The Many Faces Of Love” c/w “Jump Back” (Columbia DB 7768)

March 1966 “Let’s Run For Cover” c/w “Self-Discipline” (Columbia DB 7876) enters ‘Melody Maker’ chart 16 April at no.43, moves up to no.40, then gets a final placing at no.50. ‘B’-side, written by Ray Smith, comments on boozy indulgences by rhyming ‘better get a lesson in, self-discipline’

July 1966 “Big Time Operator”/ “Zoot’s Sermon” (Columbia DB 7975) a Tony Colton & Ray Smith-penned ‘A’-side backed by a Zoot Money & Andy Somers-penned instrumental flip, produced by John Harris, it entered the ‘Melody Maker’ chart 13 August at no.42, rises to no.37, then no.32, it peaks at no.25. It reaches no.22 on the rival ‘Disc’ charts on 24 September, and no.7 on ‘Radio 270’ Pirate Radio chart. It stayed on the charts for eight weeks according to the ‘Guiness Book Of Hit Singles’

1966 ‘Big Time Operator’ EP (Columbia SEG 8519) with “Florence Of Arabia”, “It Should’ve Been Me”, “Chauffeur” and the title track

‘ZOOT! LIVE AT KLOOK’S KLEEK, LONDON’ (Columbia SX 6075, October 1966, reissued on RSA SPELP79, then December 2003 on Repertoire CD) recorded live at Dick Jordan’s legendary Hampstead club, with “Chauffeur”, “One And Only Man”, “I've Been Trying”, “Florence Of Arabia”, “Let The Good Times Roll”, “James Brown Medley: I’ll Go Crazy, Poppa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Out Of Sight, & I Feel Good”, “Mashed Potato USA” (with strong Andy Somers guitar solo), “Nothing Can Change This Love”, Barefootin’”. Sleeve-notes by studio-engineer Gus Dudgeon. ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘this is one of those few live LPs where the artiste or group has succeeded in putting across a variety of atmosphere, instead of just the usual frantic heat and muzzy vocals’

December 1966 “Star Of The Show”/ “Mound Moves” (Columbia DB 8090) another Colton & Smith song, produced by Bob Hind. ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘a novelty in some ways, but bluesily and gustily sung. Must be a sizable hit’

April 1967 “Nick Knack” c/w “I Really Learn How To Cry” (Columbia DB 8172) ‘Record Mirror’ Top 50 Tip, ‘Zoot invests it with his own hardly-shy sort of personality – with modern lyrics and a wonderful sense of power and fun. Instrumentally it’s darned good, too’

1967 Jackie Lynton single “I Never Loved A Girl Like You” c/w “Answer Me” (Columbia DB8224) with Zoot on keyboards

September 1967 As DANTALIAN’S CHARIOT “The Madman Running Through The Fields” c/w “Sun Came Bursting Through My Cloud” (Columbia DB 8260) Zoot Money & Andy Somers ‘A’-side, Colton & Smith ‘B’-side, credited as ‘A Rik Gunnell Production’. ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘strong guitar and a bit of messiness in other places, but it builds well and with ingenuity’. Both tracks later featured on 1996 fix-up LP ‘CHARIOT RISING’ (Wooden Hill WH CD005) with Money & Somers songs “World War III”, “This Island”, “Fourpenny Bus Ride”, “Four Firemen” & “High Flying Bird”, plus Colton & Smith songs “Recapture The Thrill Of Yesterday” and “Coffee Song” plus Colton & Somers “Soma”

May 1968 As ZOOT MONEY ‘TRANSITION’ (CBS Direction 8-63231, reissued in October 2009 as Righteous Psalm PSALM2319) produced by Bob Hind, with “Stop The Wedding” & “Let Music Make You Happy” (both by Money & Somers), “Soma” (Colton & Somers song with druggy drift and sitar), “Problem Child”, plus “River’s Invitation” & “Deadline” (both by Curtis Mayfield), “Watcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It” (Carroll, Garvin & Payne), and three by Colton & Smith “Recapture The Thrill Of Yesterday” ” & “Just A Passing Phase” & “Coffee Song”


October 1968 ‘LOVE IS’ is as a single album (MGM CS8104), then as the full US double-set in 1971 (MGM 2619-002) includes extended reworking of “The Madman Running Through The Fields” plus another from the live Dantalian’s Chariot set, “Gemini”

1969 ZOOT MONEY ‘WELCOME TO MY HEAD’ (US only, Capitol ST318) arranged by Vic Briggs (guitarist with the New Animals), with “ The Man Who Rides the Wind”, “Eight Is the Colour”, “Heavy Load”, “You Got to Believe It”, “Landscape”, “Her”, “The Music Shop”, “The Door”, “Hideaway” and “The Decision Hour”. The liner-notes by Debbi Smith (of ‘Strobe’ magazine) announces ‘all hope abandon, ye who enter the head of Money…’

May 1970 “No-One But You” (Polydor 2058-020) a solo Zoot Money single written by Philip Goodhand-Tait, from October 1970 ‘ZOOT MONEY’ (Polydor 2482-019) solo album produced by ex-Animal Alan Price, with Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” plus songs by Leonard Cohen (“Story Of Isaac”) & Philip Goodhand-Tait (“When Tomorrow Comes”). Other tracks are “When Will You Know”, “Leaving It All Behind” (by Julie Driscoll), “Listen To Me”, “The Prisoner” and “I Need Your Inspiration”. Musicians are Micky Moody (guitar), Lem Lubin (bass), Bernie Berns (drums), John Beauchamp (trombone) and Mike Cottom (trumpet). Has the same sleeve-notes as the US-only ‘Welcome To My Head’

July 1973 ‘SNAPE: FEATURING ALEXIS KORNER & PETER THORUP (ACCIDENTALLY BORNM IN NEW ORLEANS’ (Transatlantic) Zoot plays piano on track “Gospel Ship”


1973 ‘ELLIS: WHY NOT?’ (Epic EPC 65650)

1974 ‘SECOND HAND DEALER’ (Dawn DNLS3054) album by Scots singer-songwriter BRIAN FRIEL, with Zoot & BJ Cole playing back-up

February 1974 ‘ATLANTIC JAZZ EXPRESS’ (Atlantic ATS20082) compilation LP with Zoot and Albert Lee contributing to one Eddie Harris track. Recorded in London

June 1975 ‘ARRIVEDERCI ARDROSSAN’ (Dawn DNLS) second BRIAN FRIEL album, with Zoot & Paul Vigrass playing back-up

1976 ‘HEARTBURN’ (Virgin) by KEVIN COYNE, with Zoot Money as group member

January 1977 ‘IN LIVING BLACK & WHITE’ (Virgin) by KEVIN COYNE

March 1978 ‘DYNAMITE DAZE’ (Virgin V2096) by KEVIN COYNE

February 1978 ‘SURVIVOR’ (Polydor) by ERIC BURDON. Produced by Chas Chandler, with Zoot Money instrumental and song-writing contributions

1979 ‘ALEXIS KORNER & FRIENDS: THE PARTY ALBUM’ (Castle Classics CLA CD290, reissued 1992) with Dick Morrissey, Duffy Power, Paul Jones, Eric Clapton, John Surman, Dick Heckstall-Smith alongside Zoot

September 1980 “Your Feet’s Too Big” c/w “Ain’t Nothing Shaking But The Bacon” (Zoot Money solo composition) (Magic Moon Records) ZOOT MONEY solo update of Jazz novelty number, both lifted from LP ‘MR MONEY’ (Magic Moon LUNE 1 through Paul McCartney’s MPL Communications), produced by Jim Diamond, with musicians Jim Mullen, Nick South, Les Davidson, Paul Robinson, Dick Morrisey, Martin Drover, and Francis Monkman. Other tracks are “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” (by Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlen), “Two Of Us” & “Can I Get Closer To You” (both written by Zoot with Colin E Allen), plus “Hello”, “Riders In The Sky”, “It’s Too Soon To Know”, “Careless Hands” and “Sentimental Journey”. Album ‘cover concept’ by Zoot Money & Paul McCartney

1988 ‘FARLOWE, DAVIS, YORK, HODGKINSON, MONEY, ANDERSON; EXTREMELY LIVE’ (Inakoustik insak 8905CD) – Chris, Spencer, Pete, Zoot, Colin & Miller

1998 RUBY TURNER ‘CALL ME BY MY NAME’ (Indigo Records IGOX CD511) Zoot Money produces, plays keyboards and sings, with Bobby Tench (guitar) and Boz Burrell (bass)

September 2000 ZOOT MONEY ‘FULLY CLOTHED & NAKED’ (Indigo) with “Let The Good Times Roll”, “The Rock”, “Let’s Run For Cover”, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”, “Hallelujah I Love Her So”, “Bare Footin’”, “People Gonna Talk”, “Smack Dab In The Middle”, “Nothing’s Gonna Change This Love”, “Florence Of Arabia”, “Your One And Only Man”, “Look At You Now”, “Arkansas”, “Good To Be Alive”, “Following You”, “It Ain’t Easy” and “Six Days On The Road”

April 2003 ‘ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND: SINGLES A’s & B’s SCRAPBOOK’ (Repertoire) 24 digitally remastered tracks including “No-One But You”, “Prisoner”, “Stop The Wedding”, “My Sly Sadie”, “I Really Learnt How To Cry”, “You Know You’ll Try”, “Gin House”, “Rocking Chair”, Jump Back” plus singles

September 2005 THUNDERCLAP FEATURING ZOOT MONEY ‘PICK ‘N’ TELL’ (Speakeasy, then Thunderclap OMP, January 2011) with Pete Goodall (guitarist with original Thunderclap Newman), co-writing with Pete Brown, and Zoot Money (keyboards & vocals), Nick Payn (saxes), Dick Heckstall-Smith (sax), Noel Norris (trumpet), Richard Bailey (drums), a new version of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air”, plus “Own Way Home” (with Pete Brown vocals), “Sunshine In My Life”, “Thunder”, “Don’t Come Down”, “Waiting Here For You”, “Love Is Only You”, “Along Again”, “Tear In My Heart”, “The Mask”, “The Old Soul Singer” and “No Shape No Form”

November 2005 ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND ‘BIG TIME OPERATOR’ (Castle 2CD) compilation of 39 vintage 1960’s tracks

June 2007 ‘BEST OF ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND’ (Repertoire) 19 original recordings remastered

July 2007 ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND ‘FULL CIRCLE’ (Universal RC001, Wrasse Records) with “Captain America” (also on 1995 ‘Alexis Korner Memorial Concert Vol.2’), plus sessions from 2003 and 2004 with Gary Foot (sax), Ronnie Johnson (guitar), Steve Laffy (drums), Paul MacCallum (bass), “Roll With My Baby”, “Heaven & Earth & The Stars”, “Born To Live The Blues”, “Hide Nor Hair”, “Watcha Gonna Do?”, “Fog On The Highway”, “May The Circle Be Unbroken”, “It Never Rains But It Pours”, “Medley: Barefootin’ & Walking The Dog”, “It Should’ve Been Me”, “Wild Women & Desperate Men”, “Promised Men”

February 2008 ZOOT MONEY’S BIG ROLL BAND ‘WERE YOU THERE: LIVE 1966’ (Indigo) a kind of bootleg companion to the original ‘Klook’s Kleek’ album, these archive live sessions recorded at the ‘Flamingo’ include “James Brown Medley” and “Big Time Operator”. Soul Star Herbie Goins guests

January 2010 ‘HAMMOND HEROES: 1960’s R&B’ (Bear Family) compilation with Brian Auger, Graham Bond, Georgie Fame, and Zoot’s “Zoot’s Sermon”

This Discography makes no pretence of being complete!

This is an amended version of an original
interview published in translation in:

Saturday 25 February 2012


Album Review of:
(2CD - Inside Recordings, May 2010)

‘We may lose and we may win but we will never be here again’. Hola! was there ever a lyric that compressed so much into one neat stanza? Vagabond restlessness, sexual anticipation, existential truth, teenage lust, and careless freedom, all expressed with poetic economy. Was there ever a singer who had it better than Jackson Browne? Supernaturally gifted, impossibly good-looking, none of the curmudgeonly contrariness of Neil Young, or the acid vituperation of Dylan, just beguiling paeans to the redemptive power of love.

This double-CD catches him live on the March 2006 Spanish leg of his tour with prolific collaborator David Lindley, his essentially romantic imagery strewn with romance-language interjections. Not so much a live greatest hits, more a reinvention of his history, with a familiar core of musicians, including Jeff Young whose keyboards can be heard to advantage on Jackson’s ‘Looking East’ album, plus Spanish guests stepping in, percussionist Tino di Geraldo, and occasional vocalists. Lindley joined the Jackson Browne story in time for ‘For Everyman’, the second album in 1973. And some songs are drawn from Lindley’s own back-catalogue, including “El Royo-X”, title-track of his 1983 Jackson Browne-produced album. For Browne this was obviously an intimate evening in good company, although for the rest of us, the regular introduction of these ‘very good friends’ proves a distraction. But program them out, and it’s still a pretty neat set. In a live career overview he reaches back to before his own debut album, to when Tom Rush recorded “These Days” prior to the release of his own version. Although here it’s sung by Luz Casal. Even the ‘famous Eagles song’ “Take It Easy” comes in two versions, one done straight, one as “El Tranquilo” sung in Spanish by Kiko Veneno. And why is he ‘looking for a lover who won’t blow his cover’ anyway? – is it a drugs thing, something to do with those ‘seven women on his mind’, or just a convenient rhyme? But when he’s most himself, singing about his ‘god-sized hunger’ with just ticking congas on one of his most effecting song, ‘Looking East’, this package can be everything you hoped it would be.

Muchas gracias.



Retro Book Review of:
(Orion Publishing Group, November 2002,
ISBN 0-7394-3179-X)

‘These are our ancestors, and their history is our history’
– Jack London (‘Before Adam’, 1906)

Stephen Baxter emerged at an inauspicious time in the evolution of the genre. All the major writers had already written their major works, all the tropes had been established, explored, and chased down to the final gasps of their expression. Science Fiction had begun to eat itself in pastiche repetitions and reformulations of increasing dullness. Yet Stephen Baxter has something of Brian Aldiss about him, genre-literate, and well-capable of illuminating its embers with re-ignitions of stunning invention. Aldiss had emerged during the 1950’s – also an inauspicious time for British writers, with SF dominated by formulaic if often-entertaining storytellers. He casually tossed incandescent prose as potent as intellectual hand-grenades into the incestuous pool of complacent spaceship and robot romances. Until he was rescued by the New Wave eruption of like-minded innovators. Like Aldiss, Baxter knows and honours the genre. But rather than regurgitating it as many of his contemporaries do, he flicks and tweaks with restless invention. His ‘The Time Ships’ (1995) took and expanded HG Wells’ seminal novelette in ways that ‘The Father Of SF’ could never have suspected. It remains possibly his best-ever novel. ‘Evolution’ (2002) aims not for Wells, but at Olaf Stapledon, another mind-ripping English writer of stunning consciousness-expanding scope. Maybe this time, Baxter falls a tad short of his ambition. Maybe. Yet it’s nothing less than a Stapledonian tour through the immensities of time from way-back-when to unimaginably distant futures, a seismic novel that challenges his time and his contemporaries.

He writes ‘in hope of long perspectives’, illuminated by a quote from Charles Darwin. There’s a brief framing-scene set in 2031, in which primatologist Alyce Sigurdardottir explains how her childhood discovery of a fossil-tooth set her on her career path. Then there’s a narrative plunge back along the tooth’s DNA-history to its original host-mouth, a shrew-like rodent called Purga who lived sixty-five-million years ago. In fact, the time-frame worms tangentially even further back to the birth of the ‘Devil’s Tail’ extinction-event comet at the slow condensation of the proto-solar system planetesimals. Until the comet becomes the ‘fragile ice structure’ falling ‘back towards the light’. Purga’s world-scape is lit not only by this impending juggernaut – which also figures in Brian Aldiss’ iconoclastic ‘Dracula Unbound’ (1991), but by Baxter’s vivid flair for imagery. A diplodocus is ‘constructed like a biological suspension-bridge’, dinosaurs move like ‘walking skyscrapers’, and a raised dinosaur-foot hovers, before crashing down like a ‘falling moon’. Purga has whiskers that fan out before her ‘like a tactile radar sweep’, as she’s hunted by a vengeful fast-moving Troodon named ‘Wounding Tooth’. Yet Purga, with mate Third, and her cub Last, survive the cataclysm that kills off the dinosaurs, and live on into the cruel aftermath of the Yucatan strike, as they must for the DNA-link through to time-distant Alyce to happen. All of which takes us only 14% of the way into the novel.

Then, in an episodic sequence of linked narratives, the plot leapfrogs through time in odd lurches down ‘a shining unbroken molecular thread’. Each contained segment a kind of short story resembling instalments from BBC-TV’s CGI ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’. No dialogue – obviously. No real characterisation – in healthily direct contradiction to every current marketing logic and ‘Creative Writing’ tutorial directive, as individual self-conscious has yet to arise. Just days of savage predation. And dollops of straight science explaining the continental shifts in a choreography of slow collisions and separations. Sixty-three million years ago, there’s squirrel-like Pless (plesiadapid) in a world-forest. Thirty-one million years ago, there’s Noth, a notharctus proto-lemur primate in a revenge-battle with murderous Solo in the long summer of Arctic north America. Thirty-two million years before present in the Congo a Skrat-alike monkey-anthro called Roamer drifts on a raft of storm-fallen mango-trees across the ocean from Africa to Yucatan, in an essay illustrating species-diversification. And ten-million years BP (before present) Dig competes with surviving dinosaurs stranded in a cooling Antarctica in their long slow extinction. And Capo, a dominant proto-chimp five-million years ago in the shrinking north African forests takes another accidental evolutionary step, by leading his group on a forced migration into the tree-less grasslands.

It’s earthy at every stage, with shit, piss and jostling erections. And random deaths. But watch those Attenborough wildlife docs and, without an internal consciousness, life consists of little more than eatings, excretings and matings. For Baxter ‘this intense evolutionary drama’ is driven ‘by the endless shifts in Earth’s climate’ – with the animals and plants ‘as helpless as bits of flux on a great terrestrial forge’. It’s a well-reasoned and scrupulously-researched tale ignited by Baxter’s calculated insertions into the evolutionary past. Life-forms that left no fossil-record to betray their existence. Air-whales that graze the Cretaceous stratosphere. And Listener and her mate Stego, Jurassic ornitholeste-creatures who have language, use weapons, and wear belts of woven bark. They are part of a culture of Hunters of Pangaea that survive for a few thousand years, and leave no trace, yet despite Baxter’s detailed description, they conjure up a mental-image of ‘Predator’ from the movie franchise.

by HG Wells (‘The Idler’ May-August 1897)

Prehistory is a respectable long-established sub-genre of SF. In 1906 Jack London’s ‘Before Adam’ went where HG Wells had already ventured, using dream-regression through layers of genetic-memory as a narrative device to tell of Australopithecine Big-Tooth of the Cave People. More recently ‘The Clan Of The Cave Bear’ (1980) and its popular sequels, by Jean M Auel, speculates about Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal interactions. Stephen Baxter does something similar, and conveys it well, but he does it differently. Unlike with his ‘The Time Ships’, there is no single protagonist to provide human perspective. Instead, the unifying character is the selfish gene itself, which involves a menagerie of creatures in a rapid-tumble through time, rather than a lasting impression of the immensity of the evolutionary chain. The process of adaptive change also seems, as it must be, deterministic. As though evolution has no reverse gear. As though it operates empirically, with humanity at its apex. Generally, in popular imagination, dinosaurs are seen as a kind of failed biological experiment, yet they were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for 135-million years. Longer by far than what was to follow.

Although with exact genetic links to those who have gone before, the novel’s second section shifts into more recognisably homo sapiens terrain – bringing the trigger to consciousness with it. Where Arthur C Clarke interposes alien intervention as the key, in the form of the ‘2001’ black monolith, Baxter offers no such catalyst. In his 1897 short fantasy “A Story Of The Stone Age”, set 50,000 years ago, HG Wells portrays humans as ‘a sort of monkey gone wrong’, Ugh-Iomi, with mate Eudena, is exiled from their tribe and almost accidentally invents the first axe and becomes the first horse-rider in order to escape dangers. Baxter’s Walkers of the Kenyan Rift Valley – a mere 1.5-million years ago are hominids, but direct descendents of shrew-like Purga. They have words, but no grammar. They’re not hunters, they’re still the hunted, although they care for their old, forming an extended family which in turn provides support-structure for the young, to the benefit of the group. As with Baxter’s previous protagonists he animates their tale when a bush-fire separates nine-year-old Far from what Wells’ calls her tribes ‘squatting place’, and she wanders through various hazards before encountering a new tribe. In this unemancipated prehistory, females gain acceptance through becoming pregnant, so she mates with tool-maker Ax.

Vaulting ahead to their Pleistocene Neanderthal progeny, Pebble’s hunter-gatherer tribe use identifying body-paint that constitutes the simultaneous ‘birth of art’, the ‘birth of nations’ and the ‘birth of war’. In popular perception Neanderthals are seen as a failed human-blueprint, yet there’s evidence that they survived for a not-inconsiderable 100,000 years. Torn from their village by violent conflict Pebble encounters Harpoon, a near-human with a domesticated wolf. The mating between ‘robusts’ and ‘skinnies’ that ensues is the same species-jumping ‘Romeo & Juliet’ theme as conjured by episode four (“The Survivors”) of BBC-TV’s 2003 ‘Walking With Cavemen’. Here the meeting between Neanderthals and modern humans instantly results in murderous violence. Would that have happened? Europe was a large and sparsely populated place. Neanderthals were enthusiastic carnivore hunters while modern humans were more omnivorous. Yet they were competing for the same prey. Apes are territorial, yet when encountering rival groups there’s much display and threat before any actual combat occurs, and an act of submission usually ends fighting without actual killing. Yet these were not apes. It’s a human trait to fight to the death, for a cause, for family and nation, due to peer pressure or fear of losing face. Yet they were not quite human either. In Baxter’s tale there is trade and mutual attraction. On TV there is also sympathy extended across the gulf separating the two offshoots of the same evolutionary tree. In his notes for the novel Baxter writes ‘I hope my story is plausible’. And as evidence has emerged since the publication of the book that Neanderthal genes are present in humans today, something like what Baxter envisages must surely have happened.

by Philip Barshovsky aka MM Kaplan
(‘Wonder Stories’, November 1934)

Along the way, taboos are rationalised. Excrement is kept outside the huts not for hygiene, but so as not to attract flies. Corpses are buried not as part of ritual, but to discourage scavengers. First among the individual innovators is Mother, a pattern-maker in the Sahara 60,000-years ago. Her migraine-visions transform into wall-art. Her intense bereavement for her dead son, Silent, leads to a revenge murder, and to the creation of a religious sensibility when she sets his skull on a stake. There’s rain-making sacrifice too, igniting a ‘plague of thought that would quickly burn through the entire population’. Through the personification of this original Mother of Africa, Baxter conjectures a process that must surely have had some equivalent in real prehistory, exploring its gradual stages. Soon, with humans spreading out of Africa, he catches them devising outriggers to reach the raft-continent of Australia, and gradually altering its unique ‘laboratory of marsupial adaptation’. Jo’on uses Dreamtime tales to navigate his journey to the coast, uses fire to flush out prey, and eerily notes the exaggerated cave-painting shapes of creatures his kind have already driven to extinction.

Another leap in time. 31,000 years ago into Ice Age western France, where tall blonde humans use slave-race ‘bone-head’ Neanderthals as pack-animals to haul their sleds. So far as I’m aware there’s no archaeological evidence for this. But prehistory is vast enough to lose any number of ‘Conan’ Neolithic cultures, their remains eroded to dust by glaciation, or Atlantis civilisations drowned by rising post-glaciation sea-levels, and lost to science forever. Stephen Baxter’s speculations don’t extend that far. They stay within the realm of the reasonably possible. Although there is a kind of thematic repetition, replayed here, as young Jahna and her brother Millo are once again split away from their group – this time by a freak blizzard, and forced to travelogue the strangeness of their world during their wanderings. They find unlikely sanctuary with a lone bone-head ‘Old Man’ in his shore-line cave. Does his hospitality result in gratitude, reconciliation with the ‘skinnies’? No, his generosity is rewarded by the children’s father only with a brutal death.

The closest he gets to Robert E Howard is Baxter’s flip back 9,600-years to Anatolia, in Turkey, when pregnancy forces sixteen-year-old Juna to flee her tribe with a travelling stranger called Cahl, to his town where agriculture, animal husbandry, and beer have begun to have their transformative effect. Not always in a beneficial way. Then she uses newcomer Keram to escape Cahl to the shambling city of Cata Huuk with its sprawling population, disease, squalor, and new power-hierarchy. Baxter’s theme is clarifying further, human presence which has already upset the balance of the natural world, caused extinctions and environmental shifts, is going into overdrive, ‘suddenly people no longer bred like primates. They bred like bacteria’. The roots of the contemporary malaise afflicting the twenty-first-century world lie deep, and are maybe an integral part of the species. As Baxter points out, ‘hunter-gatherer communities were innately egalitarian’. By contrast, the new cities wage ‘a kind of slow war on the Earth itself.’

Already there’s a sense of tragic endings. When he next advances through time, to Rome, it’s not to the peak of its power, but to its sad decline, with the light of civilisation ‘already fading’. In 482CE (common era) he ties off connections and makes the links with what has gone before even more explicit. Cultured Roman Honorius and his Gaul pupil-companion Athalaric cross the divided post-imperial empire to Petra in search of relics – the skull of a homo erectus he calls the ‘animal man’. Then, in Emperor Augustus’ abandoned Bone Museum they find fossils dating back to Purga’s time, mistaking them for evidence of the Griffin, yet fumbling towards some concept of the evolutionary sequence. Until Honorius is murdered in an Atlantic-facing cave as he uncovers the bones of Jahna’s murdered ‘Old Man’.

The pivotal sequence appears 78% into the novel. The long-anticipated switch from past, to future, with a 2031 conference in Darwin, north Australia, with the world facing threats not only from global warming, unsustainable population-growth, mass species-extinctions, and ‘4th Worlder’ terrorism, but from titanic eruptions emanating from New Guinea’s Rabaul volcanic faultlines too. With the ‘gen-riched elite’ forming virtually a new species and self-replicating robot-probes on Mars, programmed to learn and adapt, there’s the prospect of a viable ‘Blade Runner’ future for the world, even if comes at the price of Darwin’s ‘tangled bank’ complex eco-system. Present for the conference is Dr Joan Useb. And primatologist Alyce reappears – from the introductory framing-sequence, to pose the equation that ‘humans had become smart enough to damage their planet. Now, just given a little more time, they might have become smart enough to save it. Just a little time…’ But that window of chance is vanishing fast as the Rabaul eruptions send seismic shock-waves around the planet.

Chapter 17, ‘A Long Shadow’, adopts a ‘Rip Van Winkle’ strategy to navigate its way around this convulsive end of the world. An idea not even new when Philip Nowlan used it to transport ‘Buck Rogers’ in suspended-animation into the 25th-Century. Five members of the UN Protection Force are revived by chance from cold sleep in a ‘place and time unknown’. They emerge from a cryostore into the ‘vegetable silence’ of a forest that is already ancient, and inhabited by only a depleted species diversity. They are castaways in time, in post-human England. ‘As the natural systems of the planet broke down’, humans had discovered ‘that they were still, after all, just animals embedded in an ecosystem, and as it died back, so did they’. Could it happen so swiftly? within the space of a single millennium? Yes, according to the doomsday scenario Baxter sketches. Consider, there’s a long nuclear winter resulting from greater cataclysmic volcanic activity than that of 1815, or the ‘Little Ice Age’ of the 1400’s. But although it constitutes the largest destructive-event in 50,000-years, there’s sound scientific evidence for precedents. Within its turbulence there are resource-wars and multipolar atomic-exchanges during civilisation’s dying spasms.

Gaia shrugs, and the irritating human infestation, the ‘most dangerous killers who had ever walked the Earth’, is gone And with it, evolution’s brief experiment in self-aware consciousness. Science Fiction has dealt with the apocalypse many times. As long ago as HG Wells’ ‘Things To Come’ (1936) an endless European war drives civilisation back to a kind of medieval feudalism, only to be resurrected by the coolly scientific ‘Wings Over The World’ organisation based in Basra, Iraq. Later, fictional nuclear wars destroy civilisation over and over again, only for it to be painfully reconstructed, in John Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’ (1955) and Walter M Miller Jr’s ‘A Canticle For Leibowitz’ (1960) through the imposition of austere new religious regimes. For George R Stewart’s ‘Earth Abides’ (1949) the exterminating agent is global pandemic, out of which the scattered survivors gather to rebuild what has been lost. Repeatedly in fiction, there is drastic near-terminal change, but battered humanity survives. Even across vast gulfs of time, in Olaf Stapledon’s mind-stretching ‘Last & First Men’ (1930), charting centuries through near-extinctions and a bizarre category of evolutionary mutations, even Earth itself is swallowed up by the Sun, yet consciousness flourishes two-billion years into the future where the Eighteenth Men have relocated to the planet Neptune. Jack Vance’s ‘The Dying Earth’ (1950) novel series and Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Dancers At The End Of Time’ (1971) sequence are set in the unbelievably distant future, yet are populated by recognisably human characters. Only Stephen Baxter dares wipe out consciousness completely. His four UN Adams and one Eve decline to reproduce. They split up and wander apart. One of them encounters an animalistic female he names ‘Weena’ (after HG Wells’ time-traveller’s Eloi companion). Her scavenger tribe are ‘neither quite natural, nor human, neither one thing nor the other’, as a result of the mutational effects of toxic pollution run-off during the world’s uncontrolled collapse and, as in the ‘Planet Of The Apes’, they have lost the power of speech. Meanwhile, beyond Earth, the Martian Replicators continue humanity’s unfulfilled dream of expansion across the solar system’s worlds using solar sails, fusion drives and antimatter engines, devouring Mars in the process. On Earth, there is only a genetic legacy, just as Dr Joan Useb was descended from the Namibian San peoples, in direct descent from the ‘mitochondrial Eve’, so the gene will survive into the future.

There are less stop-overs into future-time than there have been glances into the long past. But that’s neither evidence of a loss of ambition, or scale of imagination.

The African savannah. thirty-million years into the future. The story of tree-dwelling Remembrance, who is carried far away by a predatory owl-eagle, and must journey home through strange hazards, constitutes a regression to the tales of early-hominids Capo and Far. This is evolution’s missing gear – not shifting the process into reverse, more returning it to its default setting. Linking back into a single ongoing continuity in which the entire ten-thousand-year rise and crash of human civilisation has been but a brief aberration. This is the ‘Kingdom of the Rat’ where rodent-survivors of the crash have diversified into rat-cheetahs that hunt rabbit-gazelles and duck-billed goats. ‘The processes of variation and selection’ have sculpted ‘the descendents of the survivors to fill shattered ecological systems.’ The human gene has split into Remembrance’s hairy-tribe and the Chattering Folk, mutually competing against this bizarre new eco-system where elephantine-posthumans are herded by mouse-raptors, and there are blind burrowing mole-people. Her wanderings take her to the beach of a new shore of what had once been the Great Rift Valley – both ‘the cradle that had shaped mankind’ and the ‘final refuge of man’s last children’. Like Purga, she watches a descending light in the sky, which is the asteroid Eros hurtling in for a further extinction-event impact. Even as life is losing its capacity for renewal and innovation. DNA itself is growing old.

The final plunge through time reaches 500-milion years into the future, in what was once Montana, on the desert-continent of New Pangaea, at the end of time. In a great desiccation, the red planet Earth has warmed to resemble lost Mars, inhabited by termites, lizards, rat-mouths sunken in the ground, and even a transparent predator ‘the greatest and strangest of all mankind’s legacies’. Ultimate is a small monkey-like being, a genderless ‘she’ symbiotically attached to a Borametz tree. Those struggling to find comparisons for this future-phase, must turn to the ‘Tummy-belly’ men – attached by umbilicals to their nurturing Tummy-tree, as encountered by Gren & Poyly in Brian Aldiss’ audaciously-imagined plant-based biosphere of ‘Hothouse’ (1962). A previous protagonist in Baxter’s trans-time sprawl – Juna, is allowed to save her baby. Not Ultimate. Striving to avoid her predetermined destiny and the ordained death of her child, she has nowhere to go. There is no place left to escape to. She encounters a sphere, which has evolved from a star-swarm of Martian Replicators, with machine consciousness. Will the sphere receive the child in a final act of reconciliation? A neat full-circling idea? But no. After returning to Earth seeking the answer to its origins, it finds no clues on this bleak world, and heads off back into space, disappointed. And Ultimate returns to the tree, retreating into drugged vegetable dream. Embedded within Ultimate’s story is a projection still further into more distant futures, to the final end of the solar system, just as the history of the Devil’s Tail comet is embedded into Purga’s story, extending the narrative back to the birth of the solar system. Fifty-million years hence, as the Sun’s relentless heating intensifies, the final traces of life will flicker out. With the lifeless Earth swallowed up by the solar nebula, its spores will survive in meteorites seeding new as-yet unformed worlds.

If Stephen Baxter emerged at an inauspicious time in the evolution of the Science Fiction, with the genre nailed down tight as a marketing category with its own expectations and limitations, ‘Evolution’ – and much of his other work, stands out from the pack as challenging those conventions, and recapturing some of the adventurous imaginings and sense of limitless wonder SF was designed to convey.

In a final add-on sequence, there’s a brief full-circling back to Joan, daughter Lucy, and Alyce, who end up at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the immediate post-Rabaul Galapagos. A place of special significance to evolutionary theory.

Completed in May 2002, Baxter selects an appropriate closing quote from Wordsworth ‘no motion has she now, no force / she neither hears nor sees / rolled round in Earth’s diurnal course / with rocks, and stones, and trees…’ (from “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal” – 1798, from ‘Lyrical Ballads’). Wordsworth dedicated the poem to ‘Lucy’, which was also the name given to the Australopithecus Afarensis skeleton found at the Leakey site in Ethiopia in 1974.
The immensity of time in layered stratas of text.