Sunday 31 January 2016



her breath smells of French movies (Godard?)
a strange drug, an Indian take-away; she squats
forward, speaking past me, speaking past me,
nipples shimmer cinematically in green light,
hair frowning sideways ‘I’m HERE, on THIS bed
 – my room within the extra-normal parameters of
fuck-faced Harrogate & I’m on this R-E-A-L-L-Y
good blow, right? tripping, y’know? I’m
looking in the mirror & I see all these people
coming out at me, right? & these people,
they’re all ME! You know what I’m saying…?’
Clive rolls a pipe from Bacofoil, squints thru
blurry numbness, Sanyo double-drumming from
2 speakers siding the bed level with her nipples,
a body-language that’s by-passing the brain,
‘…Isle of Wight it was – BUT LISTEN! some
watching the sun go down over the Needles,
& it was ‘DARK SIDE OF THE MOON’ on play,
& it was… like, WOW! ...just so beautiful…’
A dog snorting pilau rice, tail lashing,
luminous green LCD pulsing in the Sanyo,
guests in prison-photo poses, zomboid eyes,
I’ve been through this post-gig party before,
this party before, party before, before, be-4.
From the double-glaze I see Clive’s Mobile Home
asquat the verge, Richard out cold in the back,
the dog-hairs & roaches, the cul-de-sac shrubs
neatly pacing this terminal Harrogate UKIP-zone.
Ian (?) leans into dog-licked polystyrene tray,
thumbs a bean-sprout up, she’s watching from
the duvet-cover, tits shimmering cinematically
green – ‘do you do acid, Andy?’, her breath smells
of French movies (Beatrice Dalle in ‘Betty Blue’?),
odd, I was at THIS party clear through ’68-’72, in
‘Seaview’ Barnsley (no sea, no view) & every-elsewhere,
the stuff was oozing outta the walls, the air heat-dancing
with internal rainbows (TALK TALK TALK TALK)
s’where I first heard all these stories; ‘R-E-A-L-L-Y
good blow, right?/ watching the sun go down/ looking
in the mirror/ over the Needles/ people coming out
at me’ – like some triggered sequencer echo on
diminishing decay, some shared race memory eroded
with repetition, some tele-pathetic chem-raddled
tribal vibe, a collective myth like the regurgitated
taste of Indian take-aways, leaking down decades…
this is a Robert Crumb cartoon brought out like a
faded tourist snap from Benidorm… It was me,
I saw that FIRST mirror. I saw that FIRST sunset.
I also saw the hair on the back of her hands, the
rats hung in the freezer unit, the goldfish drowning.
Ian’s chewing dog-licked bean-sprouts contemplatively,
trailing punchlines, ‘y-e-a-h, wow, right, I know
what you’re saying. And hey, did I tell you?…
Isle of Wight it was… BUT LISTEN!!!’

Published in:
(UK – December 1995)
and in my collection:
(Unibird Publications) (UK – October 1988)

Saturday 30 January 2016

Autobiography: BOBBY WOMACK 'The Poet's Story'


Book Review of: 
(John Blake Virgin Books - £17.99 - 
ISBN 1-84454-148-7) 

 Bobby Womack: 4 March 1944 - 27 June 2014 

The cover-sticker proclaims ‘The True Story Of The Greatest Soul Singer In The World’. Well… yes, since by then Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown were all gone, that was probably true. Bobby Womack was the last of the muscular old-style gritty blue-collar R&B shouters, from an era before the genre sophisticated into insipid vacuous gloss. But he was always more than just that. Sure, he had hits. And they were superb hits. But he was also a hugely prolific session musician and accomplished songwriter who played on so many super-cool records, and wrote more classic tracks than you could shake a funky tail-feather at.

The Rolling Stones first ever no.1 UK single “It’s All Over Now” was his, check the credits in brackets beneath the title. And “Midnight Mover” – which titles this playful autobiography, is another – a defining smash for Wilson ‘The Wicked Wicked’ Pickett. And it’s a great great story related with wit and humour, rich with highly entertaining anecdote and a wealth of insightful pen-portraits of the giants of Soul. Try the passage about the brothers catching a dose of clap from a white whore, and Solomon Burke’s terrifying fatherly advice about how to cure it!

Bobby was born 4 March 1944, a Pisces in Cleveland Ohio, one of five brothers so poor they grubbed through garbage cans for discarded pig’s tails, pigs’ snouts, ears and ox-tails, his father – Friendly Womack, even declaring ‘fasting days’ when they had no food at all. The Womack brothers began singing by mimicking their father’s inept ‘Voices of Love’ vocal group behind their backs. Until his father bartered a guitar in exchange for giving four free haircuts. Risking a beating, while Friendly was out, Bobby learned to play it left-handed, with the guitar upside-down, learning his style by listening to Floyd Cramer – a piano-player! Soon, the results of his first-ever recording sessions with his brothers were ‘stolen’ and released under a bogus name – ‘the record business started screwing me then and hasn’t stopped screwing me since’ he adds ruefully.

Their next singles were done for Sam Cooke’s SAR indie-label, the second – “Lookin’ For A Love” as the Valentinos sold two million, rewritten by Bobby around an old gospel tune. His father promptly disowned them for selling out to the devil’s music. Schmoozing his way into playing a Dean Martin session – and getting thrown out for his pains, Bobby wound up playing on Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Twisting The Night Away” instead. Nevertheless, this burgeoning career ran aground when the man he called ‘my mentor, a second father’ was shot dead in a Motel 11 December 1964, and within three months Bobby married Sam’s widow. He was just turned twenty-one, she was ten years older. The troubled marriage, entered more out of loyalty to Cooke, was violently resented by both families, by fans and record industry insiders. Bobby began using coke to escape the pain.

He got a call from Ray Charles, and toured with his band, but quit because he was terrified by Ray’s habit of piloting the tour-plane himself! He did session-work at Chip Moman’s ‘American Studio’ which brought him into contact with the greatest artists of the era, Joe Tex and Jackie Wilson. He played on Aretha’s ‘Lady Soul’ (1968) and ‘Dusty In Memphis’ (1969). Previously unimpressed by Elvis, he found himself overawed by the King’s charisma when he played the “Suspicious Minds” sessions. Then, dubious about the white boy Jerry Wexler called in for another recording date, he found that Eric Clapton played more authentic Blues guitar than he did! Bobby toured with the violently confrontational Wilson Pickett, but had to fill his own debut solo album – August 1968’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, with covers because he’d given all his own songs to Pickett.

He went through the coke-fuelled madness of Sly Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ (1971), emerging ‘too broke up to work’. He even faked blindness as an avoidance strategy to get out of playing live. Stevie Wonder called round to offer his sympathies. Bobby watched him through the fraying strands of his fake eye-bandages. His next record project was to be a C&W album he titled ‘Step Aside Charley Pride Give Another Nigger A Try’, until the distraught label changed it, and then dropped him.

To Bobby, ‘my view was, I wasn’t a guy you could put in a bracket’. Yet despite much hilarious absurdity, the music flowed, he toured and recorded with the Faces and the Rolling Stones. Until his album ‘The Poet’ (January 1982) provided his major break-through into the big-time, and it’s classic defining Soul, even though record company politics ensured he would never receive his just rewards from its success. ‘I’m a legend’ he acknowledges wryly ‘not a rich legend’. For anyone with a passion for sixties music, for Soul and R&B, there’s a wealth of it here. Even if you don’t like Soul music and never heard of Bobby Womack, this book is still a wonderful trip.

 An expanded version of a review published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.3’
(May/June 2007)

Friday 29 January 2016

Book Review: Kate Farrell 'And Nobody Lived Happily Ever After'

Book Review of: 
(Parallel Universe Publications, 2015, 
ISBN 978-0-9932888-8-3. 186pp)

The colour of pain is white. The text is black. The balance works immaculately. “Mea Culpa” is an everyday tale of domestic violence, the psychological interplay of victim and perpetrator, until the final paragraph rips your head around, rethinks your every assumption, and sends you zapping back to the opening line to check out details you missed. Originally published in Charles Black’s 2011 ‘The Eighth Black Book Of Horror’ (Mortbury Press) it proved a startling debut for Edinburgh-resident Kate Farrell. Then there’s “Waiting”, which I first encountered in the anthology ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ (Parallel Universe, 2015), it gossips along with an unerring ear for voice and dialect, moving through meticulously-observed dialogue which makes you wait until the very last line for the almost-casually delivered kick in the head that leaves you reeling. So obvious, yet so lethal it stings.

As Reggie Oliver’s personalised introduction explains, Kate’s theatrical sense of structure and character-interplay may derive from her thirty-year thespian back-story, ‘dressed up as somebody else’ playing from Chekhov to ‘Chucklevision’, with supporting roles to the likes of Roy Kinnear or Anthony Quayle in national theatre productions during the Thatcher years. Unimpressed by the luvie tendency, and by the unpredictabilty of tours, she begins sketching out her own subtle bite-size dramas of sinister nastiness. In which yes, nobody does live happily ever after.

Seldom supernatural, and yet riddled with an air of tangible evil, these playlets chart the macabre results of perfect three-year-old Martha “Helping Mummy” deal with spiteful toddler brother Adam, each small minutia of detail snared in carefully calibrated phrases building inexorably towards horror. Or the starkly mythic rural haunting of “A Murder Of Crows” punctuated by the silver ice-picks of pain. The vicious vengeance inflicted on the ‘No Junk Mail’ harridan, the fate of the hideously-disfigured former-sixties model, the lethal extremes to which twins Nic and Anton go to avoid the sheer embarrassment of their self-made Bob Hoskins-alike “Dad Dancing”. The smugly evil paedophile priest.

There’s also the original version of teenage-misfit “My Name Is Mary Sutherland”, the lethally-effective short-story of screwed-up adolescent angst later expanded to novella-length for Peter Crowther’s PS Publishing in 2014. These are exquisitely-crafted tales that unsettle and disturb – there’s got to be a word that means more than that, because they’re so easy to read, they’re here and now, in the recognisable world. Eleven of the eighteen are new. All are object lessons in twenty-first century shock.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Live in Wimbledon: BERNARD CRIBBINS

Live, In Person: 
at the Polka Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon (17 January 2016) 

Are you sitting comfortably, then we’ll begin…

Bernard Cribbins stumbles up the wooden steps, flounders onto the stage on all fours for all the world like a huge unwieldy Womble. Before standing to acknowledge the warm audience reception, and shuffling towards the blue-green armchair placed centre-stage. There’s a music stand to his left, and local musician Julian Butler’s keyboard still further away. Bernard Cribbins in 87. This is story-time. He begins by reading the opening chapter of ‘Wind In The Willows’, which – although he reads it with obvious affection, is perhaps a tad too long for some attention-spans. But then again, here at the 300-seater Polka Theatre, it’s not quite clear who is the target audience. The Cribbins cult-appeal spans generations, and each has its own following. Some know him through Cbeebies’ ‘Old Jack’s Boat’ or ‘Jackanory’, to others he’s the station porter in ‘The Railway Children’ (1970). Even before we get to the hit singles, the Wombles or Dr Who.

The Beatles were initially dubious about signing to Parlophone, because the label was best known for its comedy content, even though John Lennon loved George Martin’s work on the Goons’ surreal nonsense, as witness his own ‘A Spaniard In The Works’ effort. And comedy records were a big deal at the time. Charlie Drake had started out on Parlophone by covering Bobby Darin’s novelty Rock ‘n’ Roll hit “Splish Splash” and following it with his version of Larry Verne’s US million-seller “Mr Custer” – about the nervous cavalryman approaching the Battle of Big Horn. Drake found his true comic niche with “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back”, under Johnnie Spence’s direction and George Martin’s production.

Benny Hill scored a series of successful singles before “Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West” gave him a no.1, including “Transistor Radio” which spoofed various Pop Stars, including Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. Morecambe & Wise issued singles – including their answer-disc to Gerry Goffin’s insider tongue-in-cheek “Who Put The Bomp”, responding as “We’re The Guys (Who Drive Your Baby Wild)” (HMV POP957), plus their 7” 45rpm Pop harmony-group TV routine “Boom-Oo Yatta-Ta-Ta” (1962, HMV 1240). It’s probably best not to even linger on Ken Dodd’s successful career-arc as an unlikely romantic balladeer! But there was also a big market for comedy LPs by Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams, adapting or modifying radio shows. A practice that continued with the Monty Python vinyl LPs of the 1970s.

The two hits establishing Bernard’s image as the working-bloke always ready to stop for a fag and another cup of tea. In the former record, he gets the better of an interfering ‘bloke in a bowler’ city-gent, in the latter he’s shifting an object – presumably a piano, by half-demolishing the house around it. When he does a jaunty version of the song now, he uses lyric-sheet prompts from the music-stand, stomping his feet to the simple keyboard accompaniment. The sound-effects of falling rubble, twanging hinges, heavily ascending boot-steps are obviously missing, but he does the fade-out commentary word-perfect ‘I said to Charlie, ‘we’ll just have to leave it standing on the landing, that’s all, you see the trouble with Fred is, he’s too hasty, you’ll never get nowhere if you're too hasty.’ He saves “The Hole In The Ground” as a request item in the Q&A session, standing behind the chair and slapping out the rhythm on the chair-back, apologising in advance for not remembering the words – but remembering them anyway!

Myles Rudge, who penned lyrics for the two hits, also wrote the liner notes to Bernie’s ‘The Hole In The Ground’ EP (GEP-8859), explaining how the record ‘zoomed straight into the Top Ten. Bernie received this information in a stunned silence, then said – ‘How dolly!’ and went fishing to try and work out how it happened. He still doesn’t know. To reporters who asked for some sort of explanation he said – ‘Don’t ask me, I’m just the nit who sang it!’ An amiably engaging figure specialising in a slightly befuddled air, he’d begun as a straight actor – or ‘as straight as it’s possible to be with that kind of face’, according to Rudge, an actor who accidentally stumbled onto vinyl through recording a number called “Folk Song” (1960, R-4712, c/w “My Kind Of Someone” with Joyce Blair) which he’d performed at the Fortune Theatre as part of the ‘And Another Thing’ revue.

He does talk with affection about a track called “The Tale Of A Mouse” on his tie-in LP ‘A Combination Of Cribbins’ (1962, PMC 1186). Even though ‘the love of the mouse was as big as a house,’ the tiny rodent’s romance with an elephant is doomed, so it falls in love with a horse instead! ‘Next time I come here I’ll make sure that I have it in my head and I’ll do it for you. It’s a lovely one’ he promises. It’s one of twelve tracks directed by Johnnie Spence in sessions supervised by George Martin, the comic cover-art pose, with him wearing all-over white ‘combination’ underwear belies his straight melodic interpretation of “I’ve Become Accustomed To Her Face”. Yet the album also includes his third light-hearted single of the year, “Gossip Calypso” c/w “One Man Band” (R-4961) – ‘hear all about it, Yakka-Yakka-Yak, ev-ery woman up at the window, giving out the gossip and getting it back’, written by Trevor Peacock. It enters the ‘Record Mirror’ chart at no.38 (20 December), and crossed over into the new year, peaking no higher that no.25 (3 January 1963), in a chart headed by Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and Frank Ifield… and with the Beatles “Love Me Do” one rung higher than he was!

There was another single the following year, “The Bird On The Second Floor” (R5025) – a slightly skewed Dicks-Rudge love-song interjected with ‘cor, these stairs, why don’t they get a lift in here?’, flipped with a baroque-Shakespearean spoof called “Verily”. A further single, one of a number of covers of “When I’m 64” (June 1967, R-5603, c/w “On My Word”), eventually found itself on the compilation LP ‘Sing Lennon And McCartney’ (1970, Music For Pleasure, MFP 5175), alongside the likes of Billy J Kramer, Cilla Black, Peter & Gordon and Kenny Lynch.

But by then he’d moved on to other things. In today’s ‘Jackanory’-style session, wearing a big sloppy red jumper, he reads one of AA Milne’s ‘Winnie The Pooh’ stories, the one in which Christopher Robin puts on his Big Boots for an ‘Expotition’ to reach the North Pole. It is not one of the stories that Bernard recorded as a ‘Sunday Times: Selected Stories From Winnie The Pooh’ (2002) CD. ‘But we’re here in Wimbledon’ he enthuses, ‘so how could I not read a Wombles story?’ And he proceeds to read “Orinoco And The Rabbit Hole” – ‘getting stuck in a rabbit hole can be a very upsetting experience,’ from Elisabeth Beresford’s debut 1968 collection about the furry eco-friendly rodents whose names were apparently selected at random from a world map, Tomsk, Tobermory, Great Uncle Bulgaria and – ‘a fine figure of a Womble’, Orinoco himself. Of course, Bernard was not only the perfect narrator-voice for the two TV series of 1973 and 1975 (sixty five-minute episodes) which made them national stars, but also led ‘Orinoco’ onstage to guest on Cilla Black’s January 1974 TV special!

‘Underground, overground, Wombling free,’ their celebrity was accelerated by Mike Batt’s catchy series of spin-off hit singles, utilising session musicians of the star calibre of Chris Spedding (guitar), Ray Cooper (drums) and former-Tornado Clem Cattini. Among the eight hits following “The Wombling Song” (no.4 in October 1973), Batt expanded his ambitions into the classical affectations of “Minuetto Allegretto” (no.16 in October 1974) and the lavish Fred Astaire-style “Wombling White Tie And Tails” (no.22 in April 1975), while still finding time for “Wombling Merry Christmas” (no.2 in December 1974). It’s rumoured that for one ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearances the Womble costumes were actually occupied by Steeleye Span, who were also benefitting from Mike Batt production at the time.

As with all character actors you feel you know, there’s a lot more to the Bernard Cribbins filmography than you suspect. You forget that he was ‘Mr Hutchinson’, the pretentious spoon-salesman guest in “The Hotel Inspectors” episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ (10 October 1975). He was in three ‘Carry On’ films – ‘Carry On Jack’ (1963), ‘Carry On Spying’ (1964) and the ill-advised ‘Carry On Columbus’ (1992). He can also be seen in ‘The Avengers’ (1966 and 1968), ‘Space 1999’ (1976) and as ‘Wally Bannister’ in ‘Coronation Street’ (2003). He was also the belligerent barman in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’ (1972). And much much more.

In the final Question-and-Answer wind-down session, one boy – possibly prompted by his father, enquires what it was like working on ‘Dr Who’ with Tom Baker. Apologetically Bernard explains that it was the David Tennant-era Doctor in which he features, as ‘Wilfred Mott’, Donna Noble’s (Catherine Tate) grandfather (from “Voyage Of The Damned”, the Xmas Day Special 2007, recurring through to the two-part “The End Of Time” episode Xmas Day 2009). Although, he does delight in launching into an anecdote about once being auditioned by producer Barry Letts as a possible replacement-Dr for the retiring Jon Pertwee. Suggesting to Letts that he’s handy in a fight-scene, Bernard was tut-tutted with a reprimand that the time-travelling Gallifreyan never hits anyone! Later, tuning in to watch Tom Baker filling the role he’d been turned down for, he was amused to see the new Doctor immediately punching out a bad guy.

Bernard seems agreeably happy to talk, and to reminisce. Yet he, perhaps modestly, fails to mention that the Cribbins name also forms a unique 42-year link in the ‘Dr Who’ mythos by bridging decades back to his earlier appearance in the movie ‘Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150AD’ (1966, Amicus). As bumbling policeman ‘Tom Campbell’ Bernard unwittingly gets caught up with Peter Cushing’s second big-screen appearance as the Doctor, in a rewriting of the TV serial involving Robomen and sinister Daleks roaming the streets of a conquered London. In a neat full-circle plot-device the Tardis even allows ‘Tom’ to revisit the opening scene of a jewellery-shop raid, at the film’s close, moments before it happens, allowing him to take full credit for foiling the crime! ‘Peter Cushing was a giggler’ Bernard once confided, about the film experience.

This is Bernard Cribbins. Are you sitting comfortably, well, there’s no more…

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Book Review: RON ANDROLA 'Confluence'

Book Review of: 
(Busted Dharma Books, 2015 
ISBN-13:978-0692554128. 184pp) 

Don’t be alarmed, you’re inside a poem. And yes, everything is a poem. All that’s required is the insight and perception to see it. Ron Androla is an original. An authentic voice. He’s old enough to know, although we might be made of stars, we’re subject to fleshy failures too. ‘Confluence’ is the act or process of merging. Well, maybe, but this is a singular no-compromise voice. In “Digging For Inspiration” Ron lists Ray Carver, Bukowski, translated Rimbaud, Jack, Beats, New York murderers, dead Russians, dead poets, live poets. Which sets up a notoriously unreliable sat-nav of direction points. In fact, his long grey thin ponytail is a rope to nowhere, and everywhere. Since 1980 he’s located in Erie, Pennsylvania.

We’ve sporadically intersected since the mid-1970s when we appeared in the same disreputable Indie small-press journals, and zipping down the contents-page, his is always the name you riff to first. The debut, apparently, was Richard Peabody’s excellent ‘Gargoyle’, while he grafted at a sewage treatment plant in hometown Ellport. Seldom, if ever since, do his thorn-and-blood word-pits let you down. Ampersands (&) and abbreviations (yr) spatter, as though his mind’s chain-of-detonation races so fast, fingers pecking at keys scramble to keep up. You have to bleed, he says, to know blood. Poetry, he says, reverses our mouths. An unremembered poem wakes him beneath black night sheets. Another poem bursts dopamine into bloodstream on its way to cerebral flashpoint, to nail molecules to the rush of eternity. A place where atoms bloom and germinate, and poems are biological constructs that breathe by way of rhythm and sound. “Shrinking” is also an eerie vid-clip on ‘Belinda Subraman’s Gypsy Art Show’, charting the metamorphosis inflicted by aging, some body-places imploding, others sagging, some hollow, others thickening in a disturbingly malleable switch-trade. The brain ticks and records each fleshy betrayal. Ron says as how he’s always writing his first poem and always writing his last poem and always writing between poems. That’s what writers do, with every twitch and spasm of mortality. And while the world fails us, these poems rarely do.