Friday 31 August 2018


(Beautiful South, no.14 November 1994, 
Go Discs GODCD 122) 

adrift on Cathedral precinct
the corner by the Polish Deli
a tousle-haired busker
in battered leather jacket,
I spare a half-glance
and a spin of coin
into his big acoustic case,
no-one to meet,
nowhere to go,
but hurrying anyway
until, as some triggered
juke-box track
blue-toothed to my soul
his pulse of words
tangle up my head
in one last love song
to share my desolation,
spines that riff my mind
snag into those memories
rip out my heart
in such sweet torture,
I know this song, know its
weary country melancholy,
its heartbreak bitterness
rinsed in hard liquor
yet still that beautiful ache
of separation and loss,
Neil Young, Phil Ochs,
Waylon Jennings?
can’t place it, but it replays
in my head on endless repeat,
I miss you now you’ve gone,
the cheap lyrics of forgotten hits
fold those moments in glistening chords,
drifting back through Cathedral precinct
on the corner by the Polish Deli,
and he’s gone
his work done, the ghost of
his song… echoes…

Thursday 30 August 2018



at ‘The Odeon’, Leeds 
(Thursday, 8:30, 10 November 1966) 

I saw Lulu live at the Leeds Odeon late 1966 supporting the Beach Boys. She drops an ear-ring in mid-“Shout”, turns her back on the audience and stoops to retrieve it, gifting the first four rows a revealing flash of her knickers – a memory I carry with me today as she’s doing “Shout” yet again on ‘TOTP2’. The tour billed as the ‘Pop Music Event Of The Year’ had opened with the Golden Brass, introduced by jovial host Jerry Stevens. Sounds Incorporated play an energetic set, before David & Jonathan take it to the intermission. The songwriter duo had broken through with a cover of “Michelle” from ‘Rubber Soul’ (December 1965), but took it even higher with their own “Lovers Of The World Unite”. Then it’s Lulu… and the headlining Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys are so tight and exciting, despite the short-sleeve vertical-striped shirts and white slacks. Newly-bearded Mike Love does the stage links, and clumsily acts out the lyrics – the ‘got into a fight’ in “Sloop John B”. Brian Wilson has been replaced by Bruce Johnston (‘I Guess He Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’), which is disappointing, but it still works, even down to performing a note-perfect stage replication of the labyrinthine “Good Vibrations”. So good that I stay on, miss the last train home and spend hours walking the city centre, the harmonies echoing inside my head. I wind up crashing overnight with an Irish immigrant worker with a mangy kitten that craps all over the carpet at 02:17am while the shimmering chimes of “Good Vibrations” are still ringing like the lure of endless tomorrows in my head… 

Chances are you know all the songs on their DVD ‘Made In The USA’ (2007 – 103 minutes – Liberation Entertainment LIB6046) – “Be True To Your School”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “California Girls” (as done on a US TV-show sketch, interrupted by surfer comedy from Bob Hope and George Burns), the later “Rock & Roll Music”, and more. For each new Beach Boys ‘Greatest Hits’ album is a re-shuffle of your own personal history. These are some of mine. I tried losing my cherry to the blissful harmonies of ‘Pet Sounds’ (“God Only Knows”, “Caroline No”) which I judged the perfect seduction atmospherics, she later confessed she’d quite enjoyed the fumbled sex but found the music ‘distracting’. There used to be a covers-band called Tony Rivers & The Castaways who’s set consisted entirely of xerox Beach Boys, they did a pretty tidy “Sloop John B” the night me and a friend got off with some convent girls and managed to kiss them off at the gates while Nuns hover in the background like predatory penguins.

I first heard “Don’t Worry Baby” on a big chrome Rockolla juke-box in an Expresso bar on a rain-stopped-play Blackpool coach-trip… The first motorbike I ever owned – a Honda 205cc, was a choice directly influenced by the Beach Boys track “Little Honda”, a piece of catchy product-placement that earned the group a set of freebie mini-mokes from a grateful Honda Corps… There’s a story about Jan & Dean snarled up on the ninety-seventh abysmal take of an aborted next single, and ‘taking five’ Dean Torrence strolls into the adjoining studio where his old friends are cutting their ‘Beach Boys Party’ (November 1965) album, he grabs co-vocals on a raggedy one-take jam around the Regents’ “Barbara Ann”, then goes back for more attempts at their own record. “Barbara Ann” goes no.1 worldwide – and later even turns up as a chocolate-biscuit TV-ad. But whatever happened to that Jan & Dean 45rpm…?

The interviews on the DVD tactfully skirt around the psychological damage inflicted on the young Wilson brothers by father Murray, and falls short of the later tragedies that inflicted the group. The Beach Boys weren’t the first surf band, but they did lift surf-music out of cultdom and take its appeal to landlocked teens in the mid-west, in New York, and even as far away as Hull. And although they mature their themes into other areas, the beach continuity stays there through to “Do It Again”, “Surf’s Up” or “Don’t Go Near The Water”. Influences? Brian suggests Chuck Berry, and the Four Freshmen. Diametrically opposed artists who nevertheless demonstrably fuel what followed. “Surfin’ USA” lifts its tune intact from Chuck’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”, and “Fun Fun Fun” opens with a perfectly Berry-esque guitar-run. While “Please Let Me Wonder” and “In My Room” tie it all in with immaculate Freshmen-pure harmonies. In fact the voices weave so beautifully you almost miss the lyric-point of “In My Room” which is as introspective-dark as anything the Smiths ever did.

But memories, and ‘Endless Summer Greatest Hits’ albums tell lies. Relatively late, “I Get Around” was the first UK Beach Boys single to become a hit. It peaked at no.7, 27 August 1964. Above it was (no.1) “Have I The Right” by the Honeycombs, (no.2) “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann, (no.3) “I Won’t Forget You” by Jim Reeves, (no.4) “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, (no.5) “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles, and (no.6) “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens. In other words, all those records sold more copies than “I Get Around” at the week of the peak of its sales. “Surfin’ USA” had only crawled as high as no.34 a year earlier (15 August 1963). But all of the American hits between the two had totally failed to register. Even the mighty “Fun Fun Fun” gets zero chart action. Unfortunate timing maybe, UK Pop was obsessed with UK beat groups. US Pop was temporarily out of the loop.

Yet “I Get Around” is such immaculately concocted Pop. The harmony arrangement deceives the ear. For the lyric is masterfully minimal. Each verse consists of a single statement, plus a qualifying statement. Sharp precise lines, but how rifted image-heavy with meaning! ‘I’m getting’ bugged driving up and down this same old strip’ is amplified by ‘I gotta finda new place where the kids are hip.’ Tightly sketched slang-poetry, but the most exact phrasing. Bored, with the itch to go. Rooted in California, but with a restless need for movement that’s Teen-global. Then ‘my buddies and me are getting real well known’ is qualified by ‘the bad guys know us and they leave us alone.’ They’re the good guys, but as tough as the bad guys. They’re a gang, a group so hip and so cool they’re even respected by the ‘bad guys’, and isn’t that what adolescent status has always been about? From doo-wop groups hanging out around the stoops, to Mods on formation Lambretta’s, to Punks swaggering through the precinct, to Hip-Hop on the block. It touches the right nerve. It says it all. Speed. Movement. Adventure. No syllable wasted. I was snared. I was sold on it.

Yet the hits that follow didn’t do too much better, “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” no.27, “Dance Dance Dance” no.24, “Help Me Rhonda” no.27, and “California Girls” no.26. Before “Barbara Ann” finally elevates them into the Top Three. In 1965 the Beach Boys turn in a sloppy performance of “Dance Dance Dance” on a monochrome ‘Ready Steady Go’ show (now available as part of a Dave Clark owned DVD series), with its irresistible punch-line – ‘after six hours of school, I’ve had enough for today, I hit the radio dial and turn it up ALL THE WAY’ – which still has the contagious power to ignite the drabness with its undiluted adolescent energy-charge…

By 1966, when I see the Beach Boys in Europe for their “Good Vibrations” tour promoted by Arthur Howes, they were at their most fashionable. Derek Taylor – former Beatles PR, calls them ‘Maverick Millionaires’ when he writes the programme. The balding Beach Boy caricatures who play the first ‘Live Aid’, complete with their Ronald Reagan Presidential-endorsement as a star-spangled ‘All-American Band’, does such flashbacks a disservice, even though their then-current single of John Philips’ exquisite “California Dreamin’” (embroidered by Roger McGuin’s spacily fragmented Byrds twelve-string) is still capable of raising the hairs along the back neckline of your T-shirt…

“Good Vibrations” later became a single for Psychic TV, and the Leeds Odeon is now a Primark… There’s a wealth of rare promo-TV clips on the DVD too, salvaged interviews, and even previously-unseen studio footage – including Brian singing “Surf’s Up” alone with just his piano... I pay £100 for tickets to see Brian’s ‘Smile’ solo-tour in Manchester – some forty years after that original Leeds Odeon memory, and instead – on the evening, wound up in A&E for peritonitis and a gall-bladder extraction. I still have the unused tickets… But above and beyond it all, the music remains superb. All you have to do is add your own memories…



Album Review of: 
(1998, Giant/ Warner 2-24703-AB) 

Take the boy from the beach, you can’t take the beach away from the Beach-Boy. For Brian Wilson, since the last truly epic material, it’s been an Endless sandbox Summer of chemical weirdness, lawyers, psychiatrists, and all those oh-so-near re-unions and partial come-backs. But ‘Imagination’ is proof positive that the Mozart of harmony is still (largely) intact and capable of delivering genius. He now deliberately allows a self-conscious haunting of earlier glories to echo in ‘I take a trip through the past/ when summer’s way out of reach...’ But he’s less concerned with the close-editing smart-aleky trickery of the great lost ‘Smile’ sessions, and more into the lush life-enhancing sweep of ‘Pet Sounds’. There’s that familiar Spectoresque textural depth of chimes, muted woodwind, descending bass and horns on the album’s first single, “Your Imagination”, then an all-you-can-eat feast of sinuous harmonies lubricated by delectable ripples of falsetto on “She Says That She Needs Me”. Into the immaculate orchestration of the 4:56-minute “Cry”, and the confidently good-timey “South America” (‘out of this world/ without travelling in space’) which seems like a nudging answer to the Beach-Boys post-Brian American no.1 “Kokomo”. If so, it’s a triumph too.

But autobiographical glimpses are slight. There are brief allusions to ‘emotional rescue’ from pain that ‘not even my wife’ could reach in the deceptive darknesses of “Happy Days”, an otherwise upbeat made-it-through-the-storm album finale. Instead, Brian seems reconciled to ‘let the paparazzi flash/ let the tabloids scream,/ I’ve been around too long/ to care what anyone says’. But that lack of confessionals is largely down to him working through lyric collaborators, calling in Van Dyke Parks for the perceptive ‘sunny down snuffs’ of old, and now the likes of Carol (“Groovy Kind Of Love”) Bayer-Sager. It’s Brian’s role to shape direction and impose tensions. St Charles Illinois, where these eleven tracks were meticulously crafted, is a long way from Californian Sun ‘n’ Surf. But every vocal sound is Brian’s – up to ninety-six multi-layered tracks, exactly the way he constructed that wealth of Beach-Boys hits. While for litmus comparison he includes new takes on two old songs, “Keep An Eye On Summer”, and the don’t-go-with-him, go-with-me teen-romance of “Let Him Run Wild” (B-side of “California Girls”) which, if they’re not exactly radical re-workings, and if his voice is not quite as pristine pure as it was, still show he’s capable of doing it. And they slot seamlessly into the newer material. If forced to choose without prior knowledge, you’d never pick ‘em out. He sings ‘another bucket of sand/ another wave at the pier...’ And suddenly, Surf’s Up, uh-huh.

 Published in:
‘GIG CENTRAL Vol.6 No.1: July/August’
(UK – August 1998)

Tuesday 28 August 2018



 Review of: 
 With James Ellison, Frances Dee and Tom Conway. 
 Producer: Val Lewton. Director: Jacques Tourneur. 
Original Release: ‘RKO Radio Pictures’, March 1943 
DVD, included in ‘The Val Lewton Horror Collection’, 
 Warner Home Video, 2008 

 ‘I walked with a Zombie. It does seem an odd thing to say. 
 Had anyone said that to me a year ago I’m not at all sure 
 I would have known what a Zombie was. I might have 
 some notion that it was strange, and frightening. 
 Even a little funny…’ 
                                      (introduction voice-over)

Yes – Zombies, but not as we know them. These are not decomposing flesh-eating ‘Walking Dead’ Zombies. Or brain-munching George A Romero ‘Day Of The Dead’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, ‘Land Of The Dead’ Zombies. Or even Will Smith ‘I Am Legend’ Zombies. These are slower, more poetic zombies-as-metaphor. Zombies in the original Voodoo sense of the rich undead mythology. An elegant slow-paced meditation on the state of un-death. After all, they made Horror films differently back in 1943. Today, this might not even qualify for the genre at all. Horror? Where’s the horror…? But it’s there. Even if it works in subtler more insinuating ways.

Frances Dee is a ‘nice level-headed’ girl. Cool and attractive in the way that 1940s movie stars were cool and attractive, prone to wistful longing gazes from liquid eyes. Popular, if never quite part of the Silver Screen’s pantheon of Matinee greats. She first came to attention opposite Maurice Chevalier in the musical ‘Playboy Of Paris’ (1930), then played alongside Bette Davis in W Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ (1934), and the western ‘Wells Fargo’ (1937). But there’s no real other horror on her extensive cv.

Her dialogue scenes with Tom Conway are formal and stilted, with the kind of theatrically precise elocution that’s not been heard on screen since, punctuated by lush creakily romantic orchestration. They’re on a ferry from Antigua to Saint Sebastian beneath a cloudy sky. ‘Everything seems beautiful because you don’t understand’ he chastises her. ‘There’s no beauty here, only death and decay… everything good dies here, even the stars.’ With immaculate timing she gazes up at an abruptly clear sky to see a shooting star falling to its death. With his pencil-thin moustache reinforcing the ‘cruelty and hardness’ in his voice, Conway is ‘strong, silent, and very sad.’ As an MGM contract player he’d just commenced a run of ten movies as the suave gentleman-detective ‘The Falcon’, and would later replace Basil Rathbone as radio’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’. But first, this was his third Horror outing for Val Lewton, following the much-respected ‘Cat People’ (1942) and ‘The Seventh Victim’ (1943). It was also the second of three Lewton collaborations with director Jacques Tourneur – along with ‘Cat People’ and ‘The Leopard Man’ (1943). Lewton would go on to make a series of low-budget RKO horror movies, while – among Tourneur’s diverse output, he created the classic ‘Night Of The Demon’ (1957).

Onscreen here, Tom Conway is ‘Paul Holland’, troubled owner of a West Indies sugar plantation. Frances Dee is ‘Betsy Connell’, recruited in Ottawa for the $200-a-month position as nurse for Holland’s wife, Jessica. Unthrown by the interview question ‘do you believe in witchcraft?’, Betsy notes the Canadian snowstorm outside the window, and takes the job. She arrives at the ‘strangely dreamlike’ Fort Holland house with its figurehead of the saint after which the island is named – pierced by martyr’s arrows as in the Derek Jarman ‘Sebastiane’ (1976) film. Taken from the slave-ship that ‘brought the coloured folks to the island’ the figurehead has been placed in the garden, as a reminder of the sad legacy of that history, what Holland terms ‘the glitter of putrescence’ threading the story.

If the overwrought literary voice-over recalls Hitchcock’s gothic ‘Rebecca’ (1940), the plot consciously steals from Charlotte BrontĂ«’s ‘Jane Eyre’ (1847), in which the brooding tragic Rochester has a mad wife locked in the attic. Although charming half-brother Wesley (James Ellison) befriends her, Betsy is strongly attracted to Conway’s English-educated Paul – ‘quite the Byronic character’, who is abrupt and taunting. Words are his weapon, as other men use their fists. But she senses his inner hurt. During her first night on the island Betsy hears sobbing, and glimpses through the blinds a figure in white moving through the night garden, and follows her through dark shadows. In a shock-horror confrontation, she learns this is Paul’s wife, Jessica (Christine Gordon), a woman without will-power, a sleepwalker who can never be wakened. ‘She makes a beautiful zombie’ quips the Doctor.

An overheard calypso tells the back-story as she and Wesley sit at a cafĂ© table. How Jessica was ‘burned in the fever flame’ (it’s interesting that the song, written and performed in the film by Sir Lancelot, was adapted into “Shame And Scandal In The Family” – a no.37 hit for comedian Lance Percival in October 1965!). But herein lies the film’s central ambiguity. Is Jessica ‘a mental case’ who should be shipped off to the asylum? Can she be cured by shock-treatment? Wesley even says she’d be better if Betsy administered a mercy-killing. Or – ‘there are other doctors’ suggests black maid Alma (Theresa Harris), implying that Jessica is the victim of Voodoo, of the overheard ‘mysterious eerie’ jungle-drums. Betsy is sufficiently persuaded to follow Alma’s directions and secretly takes Jessica out to seek the Houngan, the Voodoo priest.

Voodoo is the origin of the zombie myth, although that connection has long since lost its currency. Although it absorbed elements of imposed Christianity, Voodoo was the slave-religion of the Afro-American diaspora, a defiant subversion through which the displaced black population of the Caribbean maintained their connection to surviving strands of their African tribal origins. From Haiti to New Orleans it developed different, but related, strands through periods of suppression and demonization. Yet its presence remains as a belief-system with a powerful psychological undertow, its rituals even portrayed outside the Horror genre in James Bond’s ‘Live And Let Die’ (1973).

Hugh Lamb, writing in ‘The Penguin Encyclopedia Of Horror And The Supernatural’ (1986, edited by Jack Sullivan), points out that unlike Dracula, Frankenstein and the rest of the grisly crew, Zombies have no real origins in literature. Zombie conventions were instead picked up and developed largely through films – first by director Victor Hugo Halperin in ‘White Zombie’ (1932) in which Bela Lugosi revives corpses to work on his plantation. The film established many of the blank-eyed stares and Voodoo drums conventions that defined the undead for its follow-up ‘Revolt Of The Zombies’ (1936). Turned to comic effect by Bob Hope in ‘The Ghost Breakers’ (1940), the lumbering Zombie menacing him and the lovely Paulette Goddard nevertheless replicates this pattern. Until what Lamb calls ‘one of the most atmospheric of all zombie films… one of the best and the only film to date to portray a zombie we actually care about.’ In ‘I Walked With A Zombie’ ‘the lurching monster theme was eschewed in favour of a creepy tale of possession.’

And yes, the film works largely through suggestion, with ‘the glitter of putrescence’ in the guilty legacy of the island’s brutal history. There’s haunting wind sighing through tall cane vegetation on the spooky way to the crossroads, an animal skull, a stripped animal corpse suspended from a tree, a human skull in a circle of stones, and the scary bug-eyed Carre-Four (Darby Jones), all set to the intensifying throb of tribal drums. The two women are drawn into the ritual, which takes the form of energetically frenzied chant-driven dancing. But behind the mandala door Betsy finds – Mrs Rand (Edith Barrett), mother of the two feuding half-brothers! Further muddling the message, she admits to utilising the mythic autosuggestion power of Voodoo to benefit the superstitious locals.

More revelations follow. She reveals the truth behind Sir Lancelot’s calypso, that when Jessica and Wesley had an affair that threatened to destroy the family, she’d called upon the Houngan’s help. So that when tropical fever left Jessica ‘dead, living and dead’, Mrs Rand felt guiltily responsible for her zombie-like trance state. The ambiguity is left open. Supernatural powers, or merely belief in supernatural powers? Back at the house there’s a shuffling figure in the night. An owl. Then a visit from the tranced-out Carre-Four. While the ritual continues. As the dancers draw a voodoo-doll, Jessica responds. Wesley opens the gate so she can wander off into the night. With fatalistic resignation he extracts an arrow from the garden figurehead, and follows her down to the beach. As the voodoo doll is pierced, he stabs her with the arrow and carries her body down into the surf, where Carre-Four waits.

Finally, torch-carrying spear-fishers find their floating bodies.

They made Horror films differently back in 1943. No decomposing flesh-eating brain-munching zombies. All of that had to wait until Hammer revived and reimagined the genre with John Gilling’s ‘Plague Of The Zombies’ (1966) with monsters more grotesquely recognizable to modern audiences. Jacques Tourneur is more subtle, more insinuating. Balancing the clinical against the psychological. But ironically, while it was Wesley Rand cast as the half-brother with the drink problem, it was Tom Conway who was destined to die of alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver, aged sixty-two in 1967.


‘I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE’ (‘RKO Radio Pictures’, March 1943) Producer: Val Lewton. Director: Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay: Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray based on a work by Inez Wallace. With James Ellison (as Wesley Rand), Frances Dee (as Betsy Connell, and narration), Tom Conway (as Paul Holland), Edith Barrett (as Mrs Rand), James Bell (as Dr Maxwll), Christine Gordon (as Jessica Holland), Theresa Harris (as Alma, the maid), Sir Lancelot (as Calypso Singer), Darby Jones (as Carre-Four), Jeni LeGon (as Voodoo Dancer). Music by Roy Webb. 69-minutes. DVD, included in ‘The Val Lewton Horror Collection’, Warner Home Video, 2008

 Review originally featured on website:
‘VIDEOVISTA’ Retro (August 2015)
Reposted as that link no longer survives