Saturday, 31 July 2021

Poem: IN THE ABSENCE OF BRYN FORTEY

 




IN THE ABSENCE 

OF BRYN FORTEY 

(1937-2021)


lost days are made up of seasons 
each season a different country, 
evenings become dark now, with shivers of cold, 
steam flows from cafés out over sidewalks where 
passersby button themselves tighter into greatcoats, 
it’s time to incinerate a pile of dreams left over 
from previous seasons on a funeral pyre so that 
bright sparks of flame climb high through cloud 
beyond the sky to lodge in spaces between stars, 
where they can erupt into new constellations 
to confound the compilers of horoscopes 
and confuse those who claim 
to know of seasons to come



Friday, 30 July 2021

Interview: CABARET VOLTAIRE

 


CABARET VOLTAIRE: 

‘ANODES FOR A 

NEW GENERATION’ 


Without Cabaret Voltaire the world would be different. 
 At the start of the 1980s they represented the gleaming edge 
 of a cyber-noir future that has never rusted or biodegraded. 
Back then, Mal and Richard were already sucking in 
cultural influences from past visionaries and projecting them 
into futures sheened black and shiny as vinyl. Now 
the Cabs are no more. But their influence is everywhere...



 

‘CUT-UPS’ 
‘What’s your obsession? 
What’s your obsession? 
What’s your obsession...?’ 
(“Obsession” on ‘The Voice Of America’


In Sheffield. In their Western Works studio. The mixing desk they acquired when they first pacted a leasing deal from Rough Trade is littered with polystyrene coffee cups and magazines. While out of the window, across an industrial roof-scape, the heat-haze dances the city into landscapes of foreign planets. In 1980s terminology Cabaret Voltaire are more William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ than they are New Romantic. More Cyber than Punk... theirs is the real ‘Bladerunner’ soundtrack, played out with neurotic clarity. Try the mutilated minimalism and near-perfect art-brutalism of their ‘Technology’ compilation, issued 12.3.92, collecting and reformulating tracks from their Virgin period. From the sheer physical power of “Ghost Talk” codified with Kraftwerkian synth figures, to the hardest of dense Ibiza sequenced pulses on the 808-Heaven remix of “I Want You”, from a time when it was still possible to take Ibiza-references seriously as a creative force. 

From this city Human League first wired the world’s ears, tuned in its eyeballs, then flooded both sensory channels. And from this city Pulp took it into a Different Class. From this city ABC took the Lexicon of Pop to where romance lies – and lies and lies. But this Cab-ish duo would look bad in gold lame suits. They neither look nor act like Pop Stars. Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder (bass/ vocals) sits in a neutral brown C&A sweat-shirt, the only hint of obsessive intensity betrayed by his eyes, a stare that could penetrate steel plate, an eyeballing-the-end-of-the-world stare that’s only alleviated by a wryly mocking humour. And Richard H. Kirk (guitar/ FX). He alternately crouches down by the console, hand irrigating an unruly mass of (artificially?) auburn hair, or hunting the desk-top for matches to light a cig. His shirt at first a garishly tasteless technicolour Hawaiian job, then like some elaborate abstract expressionist silk-screen print. A shirt that bags untidily loose over his slack belt so he keeps shoving it back in place irritably. It’s that shirt, above all, that belies any pretentious to Pop Star posing. 



All of the bands I speak to around this time deny that a ‘Sheffield Electro Scene’ exists. Although if – as self-evidently it does, this Western Works studio is very much its nexus. And Cabaret Voltaire are probably pissed off being asked about it. ‘I don’t think there is a ‘Scene’, now’ asserts Mal. ‘Yes, it seems to have – you know, kinda fragmented a little bit’ agrees Richard, ‘at one time I would probably tend to agree with what you’re saying, in a lot of ways, yes – there was a kind of ‘Scene’. But these days it seems quite a lot different.’ 

‘Going back to about 1978-1979’ continues Mal more expansively, ‘then there was some sort of... it wasn’t particularly a ‘Scene’, but it was just – there were quite a lot of people who were doing similar things, and we tended to know each other. But I think the original people – like us, like Clock DVA, the Human League, Glenn Gregory (of Heaven 17), all the people like that... it’s just a case of, everybody’s gone their own ways! We’re all still loosely in contact but I don’t think there’s any ‘Scene’ or anything like that. Anything that’s come up since then hasn’t had much to do with us, and that’s partly by design. We’ve been doing other things. We got a bit too wary of becoming too bogged down in creating that sort of ‘Sheffield Scene’ and feeling as though we were is some way responsible... or whatever. So we just got on with our own things, as everybody else did. While partly, I think, a lot of groups that have come out of Sheffield since us have been more of a reaction to what was happening here all those years ago. They are a reaction to groups like us and the Human League. They began saying ‘hey look, there’s not only the Human League/ Cabaret Voltaire/ Clock DVA-type sounds in Sheffield’. And in that way the new groups coming up were a reaction to us, so that’s why we haven’t had much to do with those groups...’


 
But Cabaret Voltaire can take it back even further that that. 1974 wasn’t exactly a classic year for Rock. It was Osmonds. It was Chinn-Chapman. It was Abba winning Eurovision. And in retrospect, probably that year’s most intriguing event occurred here in Sheffield. Because that’s when, and where, Cabaret Voltaire were forming as an experimental recording/ studio group of uncertain input and unlimited output. It was Mal. It was Richard. Back then it was Chris Watson as well (synthesiser/ tape sequencing), but he later relocates to ‘Tyne Tees TV’. He is not replaced. But Allan Fish (of Sheffield’s Hula) becomes an added component member, in care of drums/ percussion on stage, screen and record. I get impressions that Mallinder is more inner-directed. Kirk, to a greater degree, outer-directed. Although I could be wrong. Allan denies it, but doesn’t offer a corrective viewpoint beyond explaining an internal ‘fluidity’ of roles within the group. Whatever, the Cabs – operating from Western Works studios, rapidly become art-mechanics of an electro cottage industry. Anodes for a new generation. 



They first commence their steady drip-feed of challenging vinyl releases through Rough Trade in July 1978 (an EP called “Extended Play”). They travel through albums like ‘The Voice Of America’ (July 1980) – crude first-generation beat-boxes, bursts of static, Dalek-voices, a discordant weirdness that swirls like avant-garde electronica recorded in a garage, with distorted samples and reverse voices lost in incoherence. Then, with albums ‘Red Mecca’ (September 1981), ‘2 x 45s’ (March 1982), and classic twelve-inch singles “Sluggin Fer Jesus” (March 1981), “Nag Nag Nag” (April 1979), and “Three Mantras” (January 1980) – it’s all about as far removed from Rockist convention as it is from Cage or Stockhausen. While – unlike the high-grade hedonism of the ‘E’-fuelled Dance-culture that will come later, feeding off their pioneering innovations, the Cabaret Voltaire sound inhabits a dour intensity. One that aspires to an aesthetic of austere purity. Industrial in attitude. Industrial in method. The hedonism is there. It merely assumes different guises. With musics made by the treatment of conventional sound sources by electronic processes and by secondary treatments – such as tape collage, they predate the ‘Sheffield Sound’, the Industrial avant-garde, Electro-Pop, Garageland experimentalists, Hip-Hop, Trip-Hop, Techno, and the C30-C60-C90 cassette-DIY underground by a clutch of years. Ushering in a time for entrancing discord. All the way is far enough... In a decade that draws sampling, scratching, remixology and Rap into the mainstream, they are there anticipating, pioneering, or forming a vital part of the first wave of at least the first three. An impressive ratio. 



Trawl the ‘Guinness Book Of Hit Singles’ and there’s not much evidence they ever existed (although they are an integral part of the concurrent ‘Indie’ charts). But talk to subsequent bands in the electro-Dance zone – Chemical Brothers, Leftfield, Prodigy, and the respect is tangible. ‘The Cabs’ were the original cartographers of the way it was to evolve. And ways in which – perhaps, it should have evolved. Where beats could target the cerebellum as well as the erogenous zones. But August 1983’s ‘The Crackdown’ is the pivotal event in their evolution. As their first product delivered through a Some Bizarre/ Virgin hook-up, it defines the Cabs decisive switch from the Indie cult-ghetto, to infiltrate the megastore mainstream. High-profile highly-regarded albums will follow clear though to October 1993’s ‘International Language’, but this is as good a point as any to put a stop to time. And to take stock. So we meet for verbal therapy at Western Works to talk through the changes on a packed C90. So let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start... 



When you kick-started Cabaret Voltaire you’d have been what – in your late teens? (Mal) Yes. We started when we were about seventeen or eighteen. Were you at Art School or something? (Mal) No. I wasn’t. I was at College, but I did History. 

You began evolving in 1974, which was the year of Slade, Sweet, and the Osmonds. It’s difficult to envisage where you were deriving your style from, because there was nothing remotely similar happening at that time. (Mal) It was more... kind of, looking back on what had been done in the past, and sort-of taking a little bit of inspiration from a lot of German groups who were working around 1969/ 1970. I think the European connection, and the Velvet’s were – like, the two link-points. In earlier conversations you’ve mentioned the Velvet Underground as an influence on the extended pieces that make up your ‘Three Mantras’ (May 1980). And there’s a Lou Reed song on ‘Extended Play’ (“Here She Comes Now”). (Mal) Yeah. That first EP. We’ve always been pretty keen on the Velvet Underground. I think it’s quite an influence on what we’ve done. Also some of the stuff that Eno was doing before then. They were probably the only things we saw as parallels. They were the only places where we could see similarities to what we were doing. (Richard) I mean, it wasn’t a case of just listening to them and copying. It was more a case of, we were doing what we were doing, and then we found out that other people were doing similar sorts of things. So obviously you’re bound to feed off it a little bit.


 
In a ‘Consumers Guide’ column you contributed to ‘New Musical Express’ you favourably mention German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece ‘Mantras’. Is there any direct connection there? (Mal – musing for a long moment) Ummm. No. I think it was the pure similarity of the word more than anything else. So when you refer to a ‘European connection’, it was Kraftwerk and Can you were listening to? (Mal) Yes. Can in particular. They were quite an influence because of their rhythms. They were a lot more rhythm-orientated. They weren’t doing just pure abstract stuff, it was their rhythms that always appealed to us as well. We really respect Can, and particularly Holger Czukay’s stuff. 



Yours is a collage technique of recording, using ‘sampled’ found-sound. (Kirk) Oh yes. That’s always been so, even now. But Can and the other bands you mention never used those methods. They never used pre-recorded sound, found-sound, musique concrete. Although Kraftwerk used short-wave radio on their ‘Radio-Activity’ (October 1975) album... (Kirk) Knowing them, knowing the way that they function, they probably didn’t even use short-wave radios at all, but synthesised the sound of short-wave radio in the studio. But I know that Can – Holger Czukay, used to use old radio sets. I remember seeing him playing – in Doncaster of all places, and he was just surrounded by a mass of tape-recorders and radio receivers. He had started out as bass-player with Can. But by then he’d actually stopped playing bass with them. He was just there, in the middle of all this equipment. Which was good. Seeing someone actually using THAT as his instrument, solely... 



But that was when Cabaret Voltaire were already working as a functioning recording unit. (Kirk) Yes, but it was quite nice to see somebody else using it. We’d been doing it, and so it was really great to find out that someone else was doing it as well. Also concerning origins – Cabaret Voltaire was a name used by the 1916 Dada Absurdist Theatre. And you did a piece called “Dada Man” on an early Industrial C60 tape. What’s the connection there? (Mal) Yes, we were again influenced by the Dada-ist spirit and feeling, and it was also a case of – we were doing a gig and we needed to call ourselves something, and it just became – like, the obvious title... really, in a lot of ways. 

The first live Cabaret Voltaire appearance was an Edinburgh Festival gig wasn’t it? (Mal) The first thing we ever did was about 1975. We did a gig. Just a one-off thing. We didn’t play again then for about a year or so. So that’s when we took the name, 1975. We played again in 1976, and really started playing more regularly around 1977. There’s a track on your ‘The Voice Of America’ album (“If The Shadows Could March”) which is bracketed (1974). Is that the recording date? (Mal) Yes it is. It’s just an old track. (Kirk) We just dug it out. We’ve got – like, archives in the cupboard, of tapes dating back from 1974. All sorts of stuff that might eventually see the light of day, and might not. 



Some of that early material also emerged on an Industrial-label C60 called ‘1974-’76’. When did you first make that connection with Psychic TV’s Genesis P Orridge – the guy who originated Industrial? (Kirk) A long time ago. When they brought out their first Throbbing Gristle album – ‘Second Annual Report’ (November 1977). We just kind of – we wrote to him, sent him some of our stuff, and sort-of had an ongoing relationship with him from there on. We’ve released stuff on their label. First time we met him was in Wakefield actually. When they played the Technical College, I think... (Mal) Wakefield Industrial College it was. That’s why they did it. Because it was an Industrial College. No other reason. I’ve never quite been able to work out how much of Genesis P Orridge’s extremist persona is real, and how much is contrived for effect. (Mal) It is genuine. Yes. Gen’s been doing it for years. It’s not assumed. It’s just the way he is. (Kirk) There’s a Psychic TV album – ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ (1983) which is pretty mind-blowing. It’s all done in holophonic sound. Strange. 

Another early activist of that period, Adi Newton – of Sheffield’s Clock DVA, once told me that he was also involved in early Cabaret Voltaire, as an acquaintance. (Mal) Again, we’ve known Adi for a long time. We knew Adi when he was working on the first Sheffield fanzine – ‘Gun Rubber’. It’s a collector’s item now. That fanzine ran to about seven issues, all of it produced by him and another guy called ‘Ronnie Clocks’ (also known as Paul Bower. He used to be in a group called 2:3). It dates from about then that we knew Adi, so yes, we’ve known Adi for... dunno, a l-o-n-g time. Something like that. A strong aspect of Western Works is that you’ve produced so many other bands here – including New Order, Hula, Eric Random, UV Pop – and “Brigade” by early Clock DVA. So if there is/ was a ‘Sheffield Sound’, then Western Works has got to be its focal point. (Kirk) A few people have... drifted through, shall we say. I suppose that’s because we were the only people who had a studio, apart from anything else. But I mean, it’s always interested us, working with other people. It’s something that’s always – kind of, appealed. To be able to steam in there and play around with other people’s material. Provided they’re into the idea of it, of course. 



Were the slides and films always an integral part of the Cabaret Voltaire concept? (Kirk) Yes. From the very first live performance we did we used slides. Trying to maintain some kind of standard whereby we always present something other than just a couple of people of stage. I mean, it’s more... it’s not there to detract from the fact that we don’t particularly move around much. It’s more a case of creating an atmosphere to go with the music. So it’s kind of, you get a total sense of being surrounded by the whole thing, as opposed to just being stood watching it. There weren’t many precedents to that, when you began, unless you go back to psychedelia! (Mal) No. The only group, when we were doing it, who’d used it before in that sense, was the Velvet Underground. (Kirk)... apart from Hawkwind! (Mal) Yes. But I think it’s too simplistic to say ‘Oh yeah, Cabaret Voltaire use films on stage, therefore they just purely fit into the mould of the Velvets or psychedelia’, which isn’t totally true. Because of the context... I wasn’t suggesting that. (Mal) I know, I’m not accusing you, it’s just that it is too easy to put it like that. But I think there’s a lot of scope for using films and slides. We’ve proved as much because a lot more groups are using it now.... 




‘MICRO-PHONIES’: 
THE INTERVIEW 
‘Spirits walking, Ghost talking...’ 
(“Ghost Talk” from ‘Drinking Gasoline’ June 1985) 


‘The Crackdown’ didn’t top the Indie album chart. For Cabaret Voltaire that’s pretty unique. The biorhythms of the Record Industry depend on hits at regular intervals, and the Cab’s sense of (mis)adventure always resisted that. Listening to each new Cabaret Voltaire vinyl was like walking downstairs and missing the last step. They were never just another picture in the Pop exhibition. They existed in a walled garden of their own devices and strategies. 



But back then, around 1983, you couldn’t help but notice the multi-media circus of the senses (print, radio, video) designed to inform you, the consumer, that Cabaret Voltaire had become the band who’d come in from the cold. And the reason that ‘The Crackdown’ didn’t top the Indie chart was that it’s issued through the good graces of the burgeoning mainstream Virgin empire. While the reason the Cab’s suddenly found themselves thrust under the close scrutiny of a prurient press that had previously done its best to ignore them, had something to do with the Machiavellian talents of one Stevo, the teenage managerial alchemist who was by then very much on their side. So what’s the history behind that Stevo connection, the alleged catalyst in this volte-face? Did he do a sleazo ‘man with the fat cigar’ routine – ‘sign on the dotted line boys and I’ll make you stars’? Or was it the other way round – hit-hungry experimentalists from Sheffield hoping to snort up some of the management-magic that gave a grateful world Soft Cell, The The, and Psychic TV? 

‘It’s a long story’ muses Mal. ‘Stevo’s known us for ages. And he’s always been onto us to do stuff for him.’ ‘Yes, it’s been on the cards for a while’ confirms Richard. ‘It happened really because we were thinking of changing the way we approached things. And Stevo was there at the time.’ ‘We finally thought, the offer was right, and the time was right, so we kind of – WENT FOR IT!’


 
But despite wildly exaggerated claims to the contrary those changes in ‘approach’ seem more cosmetic to me, more concerned with packaging than product. After all, cynical pundits had been eagerly howling ‘Sell-out’ at the Cabs with monotonous and premature regularity for the best part of their career, most vociferously when they first put some jive in their stride and some Funk bass-lines in their mix. Suddenly you could dance to their albums. So suddenly, you can buy them at your local Top Forty store instead of the Indie ghetto – but they continue to make highly unlikely Pop Stars. So with superficials thus disposed of we can get down to specific vinyl issues, and chase up some more ghosts of change. ‘The Crackdown’ album was done 24-track. And the album has an actual producer, John Luongo. For Cabaret Voltaire both these things are firsts. 

‘He only produced the single (“Just Fascination”)’ corrects Kirk. ‘We produced the album ourselves. We co-produced it with Flood, the guy who was with us engineering. He threw in loads of ideas, so we put him down as co-producer. He played quite a big role in the work.’ ‘Previously we’d just worked in conjunction with engineers, and produced ourselves’ adds Mal. ‘‘The Crackdown’ album was an extension of that principle. We got John Luongo in as an objective ear to produce the single. It was just the single that flew off in a slightly different direction.’ 

But isn’t creating song-orientated material – like “Just Fascination”, a departure from the ‘collage’ construction used on earlier recordings? ‘I don’t think we went in and envisaged any of the tracks as ‘songs’’ states Mal. ‘We envisaged them as pieces of music, but not with a rigid song structure. The single – the way it was mixed and produced – came out with more of an organised form. That was like as in a song. But we didn’t go in with the intention of writing ‘songs’. They were still loose ideas that we’d formulated. We had no rigid ideas.’


 
How does that compare with the technique used when recording, say – ‘Three Mantras’? How much of that was preconceived before the sessions commenced? Was there a clear idea of what the finished article would sound like, or was it layered, built up gradually? ‘We knew what we wanted – but not how it would sound. We knew what kind of effect we wanted to create – but not exactly what the end product would be. That was done on four-track equipment anyway, so we were even more restricted in the way we approached it.’ ‘That’s originally all we do have – the idea of an atmosphere or an effect. We don’t have it too tied down when we start doing things’ expands Richard. ‘Three Mantras’ was just the idea of doing two longer numbers. One very much in a Velvet Underground “Sister Ray” vein. The Western mantra. And the other one more like an Eastern...’


 
‘...drone.’ ‘...mantra-type thing. Initially it was just the Eastern side that was supposed to have a mantra quality. But they just sort of fell together and became ‘Three Mantras’. ‘The Western one was just dealing with the idea of repetition.’ 

So you compose and decompose, construct and deconstruct. There’s checks and balances, and a substratum of some logical but intuitive development. That seems consistent with a music like ‘Three Mantras’ – a sound that’s splattered onto tape like Rorschach inkblot tests, random – but with metagenetic implications. I’ll buy that. But, at the risk of becoming obsessive, how can that process result in something as tightly assembled as the single, a neat concise three-minutes that refuses to budge from my sound-centre deck? ‘The single was actually mixed in edit-sections’ explains Mal with infinite patience. ‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with studio work, but mixing is a natural thing that everybody does when they record a song. But on the single, and on the album to an extent, we utilised editing as a technique to bring aspects out, rather than just purely mixing them together. It was a case of mixing it a little bit at a time, and then sticking it all together. So that’s why it does sound ordered – but it’s a case of taking the best bits and sequencing them, repeating them, and maybe taking some of the instruments out at certain points. Then sticking it all together like that. It’s quite a long process, but it does work. The idea of using editing as a positive part of the way you work is probably the only new approach he had.’ 

So what’s been interpreted as greater structure is just the culmination of progressions that have refined and matured a set of basic ideas, album by album? ‘It is a little more disciplined from our point of view, the sound quality is obviously far superior to what we’ve done on eight-track’ concedes Richard. ‘We’re not just sticking a load of things down and leaving it. It’s still spontaneous, but a little more cleaned-up as well...’


 
‘We’ve gone full circle in a lot of ways. The earliest stuff we did – like that first EP, was very simplistic, it was organised and disciplined because of the way we had to record it. Then, as we progressed, there were a lot of little things going on in there, until we’d built it up to the extent that there was perhaps too much, too many frills. So we gradually started stripping back until we arrived at the point we’re at with ‘The Crackdown’ album. We stripped it back to the bare essentials we started with. So it’s not changed radically, it’s just the approach that altered gradually. It’s gone back to the simple approach we had in the first place.’ You’ve stripped off a lot of the found-sound tapes, and cut back to the essential rhythmic base? ‘In some ways. We’re just trying to use a little bit more subtlety. To try and keep one jump ahead of what everyone else is doing,’ from Mal. 

‘But even now, even though maybe the music’s changed and become more ‘musical’, we still use a lot of tapes and things to give it an edge. To create different atmospheres and feelings...’ ‘We still use the tape recorder as another instrument. As much as a guitar or bass.’ And you use the studio itself as an instrument? ‘Oh yes. That is, like, another member of the group.’


 
‘We also use ‘real’ drums to keep certain amounts of it very flexible, also for its pure sound quality. What you get on a rhythm tape or a drum machine is purely what you get. But human nature being human nature there’s allowance for a little dynamics and change of pace. Things like that.’ Richard stands up, renews his hunt for matches, and warms to the subject. ‘We try to achieve a balance between both. We use pre-recorded rhythms on tape, but Alan (Fish) will lay percussion on top to make it more interesting and more spontaneous. But the technology is getting better. The actual rhythm machines you can get now use real drum sounds digitally recorded. You can have any drum sound put into a Linndrum, any particular sound you like that a drummer has. You send a tape of it, and they’ll send you a chip to put into the machine.’ 

‘But you’ve got to get that balance’ warns Mal. ‘You can’t ignore technology. It’s all there to be abused, shall we say. You can’t ignore it, and you can’t afford not to be au fait with it, because by doing so you’re cutting down too many possibilities that are open to you. It’s nice that we use real drums and synthetic drums. It’s important to keep up with things, to be able to utilise technology – but also to have the option to use human beings. Anything is useful. It depends on what attitude or frame of mind you go into it with.’


 
In 1980’s terminology Cabaret Voltaire were more William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ than they were New Romantic. More Cyber than Punk... or perhaps they’d prefer to see themselves as Cybernauts hard-(and soft)-wired into the Punk DIY ethic? On that suitably elevating note the interview winds down. Richard abandons his quest for matches and, shirt rucking up from under his belt, paces across the studio to look out over Sheffield. The temperature has risen, the heat-haze dance has intensified. ‘We’re supposed to be rehearsing’ he confesses over his technicolour shoulder. ‘IN THIS HEAT! The hotter it gets the worse the sound becomes. It’s too hot to do anything. Everything’s over-heating. We just had an amplifier blow up because it was so hot.’ Then, as an unintentional coda, he gives a further conclusive example of the Cab’s ability to unite technology with an innovative human ingenuity. ‘We had to install a fan behind it to keep it cool...!’ 

It seems strange now, looking back. At the time it was all happening, I got sharply defined impressions that Cabaret Voltaire were the precursors of some future low-protein world awash with squalor and low-cost micro-circuitry gadgets. I got impressions that tomorrow’s vitamin-deficient silicon valley cyber-culture would chart Western Works as its William Morris (the DIY self-sufficiency pioneer who originated the Cab’s title “News From Nowhere”). It seemed that Cabaret Voltaire were the original cartographers of the way it was all to evolve. Ways in which – perhaps, it should have evolved. Where beats could target the cerebellum as well as the erogenous zones. Perhaps there’s still time for that vision to be proved right…? 

‘Always work, go to church, do right, 
Respect those in authority over you...’ 
(‘Sensoria’ on ‘Microphonies’)



 
My Cabaret Voltaire interviews featured in: 
‘CABARET VOLTAIRE: A COLLECTION 
OF INTERVIEWS 1977-1994’ 
edited by Fabio Méndez 
(Second Edition June 2021) Spain DL 294-2021 
‘ANODES FOR A NEW GENERATION’ 
from ‘North-East Music Fanzine’ (1983)
‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE WESTERN WORKS’ 
from ‘Terminal Fanzine’ (1983)
from 
‘Electronic Soundmaker & Computer Music magazine’ 
(October 1983)
‘CABS ON FILM’ 
from ‘Rouska fanzine’ (May 1985)

Published in:
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.15’ 
(UK – May 2003)




Thursday, 29 July 2021

Classic Album: Cabaret Voltaire 'The Crackdown'

 




WHY KILL TIME…?
 
Album Review of: 
‘THE CRACKDOWN’ 
by CABARET VOLTAIRE 
(Virgin/ Some Bizarre CV1 CVDV1, 18 August 1983)



 
This Cabaret Voltaire album, their eighth, probably received more media wind-up than all of its predecessors laid groove to groove. But that fact says more about the non-recognition afforded their earlier work than it does about any radical new departures evident on ‘The Crackdown’. Inevitably there are developments, a greater sense of discipline, of maturity, but what they’ve lost in risk they’ve gained in certainty, and largely everyone’s a winner. This time around there’s a higher vocal profile with distortion and effects kept to a minimum. There’s some voice phone-in distancing on “24-24”, odd found-sound tape dialogue in the eerie instrumental “Haiti”, and in the fade of the compulsive “Talking Time”, but to compensate there’s a corresponding up-gearing of dense storming cross-rhythms and percussion, particularly on “In The Shadows”. There’s some frills added by (ex-Soft Cell) Dave Ball and some production ideas from engineer Flood – another name known to those familiar with Soft Cell liner-notes. But ultimately any judgement of loss-or-gain comes down to context.


 


Viewed as the latest instalment of the Cab’s saga there’s key techniques, logical evolutions, and familiar reference points sufficient to satisfy the most discriminating of purist devotees. Yet sucked into the new chart company that the marketing strategy invites, there’s got to be comparisons with the Blancmanges and Passages of this world, setting up the Cabs hypnotic repetition and density, accumulative intensity, and dynamic tension against Electro-Pop’s more immediate hooks and melodic bribes. On repeated plays at high volume ‘The Crackdown’ condenses out favourably, head and shoulders above all such ephemeral analogies, but it’s odd that such comparisons should have to be made in the first place. The album’s lineage predates the entire genre! But this is entertainment. This is fun. “Talking Time” instructs ‘lesson one, you clap your hands,’ and the suggestion is hard to resist as they dance blipping jabs of fizzy electric washes over fast popping mechanical percussion augmented by Alan Fish’s planished sheet-metal drumming. This is state-of-the-art 1983 electric music for the mind and the body. And any slight recidivist preferences on my part for the vintage violence of ‘Red Mecca’ or ‘2 X 45’ should be politely ignore.



Sunday, 25 July 2021

Book Review: 'Swords & Sorceries Volume 2'

 


MORE WIZARDRY 

AND WILD ROMANCE 


Book Review of: 
‘SWORDS AND SORCERIES Vol.2: 
TALES OF HEROIC FANTASY’ 
presented by DAVID A RILEY & JIM PITTS 
(June 2021, Parallel Universe Publications 
ISBN 978-19161109-8-4, 266 pp) 
www.paralleluniversepublications.blogspot.com 

‘We call a story Swords & Sorcery when it is an action tale, 
 derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, 
 set in a land, age or world of the author’s invention – a milieu 
 in which magic actually works and the gods are real – a story, 
 moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with 
the forces of supernatural evil’ – Lin Carter (1973)



 
Two moons. A wild and desolate landscape. A swordsman with an over-fondness for wine. Mike Chinn opens this evocative collection with some traditional elements, a sinister female mystic with a feline familiar, and gaunt fortress with supernatural secrets. In his 1987 study of fantastic sagas – ‘Wizards And Wild Romance’, Michael Moorcock observes that ‘epic fantasy can offer a world of metaphor in which to explore the rich, hidden territories deep within us.’ Not sure if that applies to “The Essence Of Dust”, but Mike Chinn’s tale does open out into the potential multiverse realms of the Internection where time and space melts into contradiction. 

Fantasy has deep story-telling roots that go all the way back to earliest human legends, myth-making and folk-tales of voyages into demon-haunted strangeness. It assumed a separate ‘Swords and Sorcery’ identity, different and distinct, around the time doomed Texan Robert E Howard unleashed the mighty-thewed Conan the Cimmerian for 1930s Pulp ‘Weird Tales’ editions, leading into Fritz Leiber who not only coined the term as a variant on the cheaply-produced Gladiatorial Sword-&-Sandals epic historical movies, but also spun the intriguing Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser tales. Clark Ashton Smith contributes ornate and elaborate fantasia of ‘The Empire Of The Necromancers’ in far-future Zothique, and L Sprague de Camp began anthologizing what he calls ‘a class of stories laid, not in the world as it is or was or will be, but as it ought to have been to make a good story.’ Until Moorcock’s brooding albino Elric of Melniboné adds his existential strife through the pages of ‘Science Fantasy’ magazine, all the wild way through to Sláine of ‘2000AD’ adventuring through warp-spasmed versions of Celtic myth in vivid art panels. 



Although it has elements of Science Fiction, Swords & Sorcery is not bound by physical laws, and embraces all manner of outré magic alongside the generic brand of symbolic elusiveness that Moorcock’s essay identifies. Although beware magical elements, for they also have their own logics, and their trickster rules. As such, it’s a wide field for fictional invention. But, lest it descend into a leaden cliché of repetition, all genres and subgenres must evolve if that vitality is to remain. This new original anthology series from Parallel Universe Publications springs a host of new angles from a range of familiar and less-than familiar names, mixing in regulation heroic fantasy ingredients through the perception of a new generation of tale-spinners. Tais Teng – a Dutch SF writer and illustrator, uses an ‘inland sea’ that stretches from Jorsaleem to Baghdad as a location for twisting historical religions into new configurations, with skilled thief Esme Shadowkind, Shakan the Fleet and Hethor of Samarkand scheming to rewrite sacred text ‘Book Of Ormazd’ in a way that alters the world itself, using a bronze flying horse and a file of the prophet Zoroaster’s blood. Dev Agarwal’s “Stone Snake” uses a grimoire – not a ‘grey mare’, to liberate an entombed giantess in order to halt the evil resurgence of Dagon’s minions from an oceanic time before the human era. 



Also within pseudo-historical times there are ventures transgressing the secure boundaries of the Roman Empire into the barbarian horrors beyond in Martin Owton’s “Out In The Wildlands”, in a foray that such writers as Rosemary Sutcliff might initially have conjectured, albeit without the fiery demon confrontation. While Susan Murrie Macdonald – one of only three writers who also graces the first volume of this ongoing series, entrances with her Market storyteller regaling the beguilement of Azalea Swordmaid with her demon-born half-brother battling corpse-eating ghouls in the Cinader cemetery. 

Phil Emery’s “Seven Thrones” also succeeds because of the deceptive simplicity of its structure, a series of gladiatorial contests fought to the death by swordsman Zain and poet Kazen, for the decadent amusement of unseen watchers. ‘Magic, even dark magic, is somewhat akin to poetry.’ And it is, ‘the cadences of a blade, the flow of a quill.’ 

Yet Steve Dilks’ sticks to what Jason Hardy terms ‘well-written Old School heroic fantasy in the Howard vein’ (on the ‘Echoes Of Valhalla’ website). His “The Amulet And The Shadow” displays all the genre’s timeless ingredients, the medieval assault-towers of the Lomantian Empire that batter the gates of Jadira could just as easily be the siege-engines of Troy or the Idylls of Arthurian legend, with outlaw slave Terach of Amrythia, who escapes through a visitation of eldritch sorcery and blasphemous enchantment in order to exact bloody revenge, only to discover an eternity of dark damnation in the denouement. Swords & Sorcery does not concern itself with social evolution. As an egalitarian in a democratic age, one wonders why the fictional need for a monarch? Must that always be a human cultural constant, if not King must it be Sovereign, Potentate, Tsar or Jeddak? Does its presence answer some Jungian archetype for natural hierarchy deep in the gut of the psych? If there is ever to be a New Wave of Swords & Sorcery it must surely deal with these regressive issues. 

Can a genre based in such antique precepts reinvent itself in new ways? There are powerful indications here that it can. Earlier formative collections such as L Sprague De Camp’s ‘Swords & Sorcery’ (Pyramid Books, 1963), and the entrancing Donald A Wolheim-edited ‘Swordsmen In The Sky’ (Ace Books, 1964) gathered exploits from the pages of antique magazines, while Lin Carter’s ‘Flashing Swords’ series (originally Granada Publishing, 1973) took things forward with new tales by established writers, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, John Jakes and Michael Moorcock. David A Riley’s intention seems to be to straddle the extremes, retaining the best of the old with new inputs and novel concepts. Such as the magical realism of Pedro Iniguez, the bagful of dreams that lap in around the images of his “A Thousand Words For Death”. 

Adrian Cole’s “The Eater Of Gods” strikes the right balance, his new ‘Voidal’ story touches all the essential genre bases, yet breathes new energies into the format with devious thieves Bluug and Hurranok employing all the humorous conman guile of Jack Vance’s Cugel as they bluster their way through the mountain city Yamazantra into the presence of the living god Cadavarion Celestes. 

To admit a vested interest, my own contribution to the anthology – “Antediluvia: Seasons Of The World”, draws on the wonderful Leigh Brackett, a troubadour Donovan Leitch poem, Atlantis and current evolutionary theory concerning an interglacial era in which at least three proto-human species interact as they share the world. 

Liberally illustrated by Jim Pitts distinctive illustrations, Conan might describe this anthology as ‘By Crom, it’s good!’



 

‘SWORDS AND SORCERIES: 
TALES OF HEROIC FANTASY Volume 1’ 
(ISBN 978-191611092-2) 
with ‘Introduction’ by David A. Riley 
‘The Mirror Of Torjan Sul’ by Steve Lines 
‘The Horror From The Stars’ by Steve Dilks 
‘Trolls Are Different’ by Susan Murrie Macdonald 
‘Chain Of Command’ by Geoff Hart 
‘Disruption Of Destiny’ by Gerri Leen 
‘The City Of Silence’ by Eric Ian Steele 
‘Red’ by Chadwick Ginther 
‘The Reconstructed God’ by Adrian Cole 
cover and all interior artwork by Jim Pitts. 

‘SWORDS AND SORCERIES: 
TALES OF HEROIC FANTASY Volume 2’ 
(ISBN 978-191611098-4) 
with ‘Introduction’ by David A. Riley 
‘The Essence Of Dust by Mike Chinn 
‘Highjacking The Lord Of Light’ by Tais Teng 
‘Out In The Wildlands’ by Martin Owton 
‘Zale And Zedril’ by Susan Murrie Macdonald 
‘The Amulet And The Shadow’ by Steve Dilks 
‘Antediluvia: Seasons Of The World’ by Andrew Darlington 
‘A Thousand Words For Death’ by Pedro Iniguez 
‘Stone Snake’ by Dev Agarwal 
‘Seven Thrones’ by Phil Emery 
‘The Eater Of Gods’ by Adrian Cole 
 cover and all interior artwork by Jim Pitts.



Saturday, 24 July 2021

Sci-Fi Movie: 'First Man Into Space'

 


‘…BEFORE YURI GAGARIN…?’ 

 
Review of: 
‘FIRST MAN INTO SPACE’ 
with Marshall Thompson, Marla Landi, 
and Bill Edwards (1959)



 
With reality snapping at its heels, a few slender years before Yuri Gagarin became the real first human in space – 12 April 1961 in ‘Vostok 1’, this barely-remembered British chiller preceded him across that final frontier. One of two sci-fi films made by Amalgamated aimed at the American Drive-In market by pretending to be set in New Mexico (the other was ‘Fiend Without A Face’, 1958), it was actually filmed in England. ‘First Man Into Space’ also suspiciously replicates elements from the far superior ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ (1955) – as an astronaut returns to Earth enveloped in a repulsive, crusty substance that turns him into an inhuman, blood-drinking monster. ‘BEFORE: HANDSOME – AFTER: HORRIBLE’ screams the movie poster reproduced on the sleeve, providing a succinct précis of what could be the plot of either. 

Yet the early stock-footage moments of ‘First Man Into Space’ will please nerdy techno-freak students of Mercury/Sputnik era retro-rocketry – while providing much harmless viewing pleasure for us devotees of 1950s trash-sci-fi. Because – despite its obvious low budget limitations, it is surprisingly good fun. The younger of two feuding siblings, irresponsible maverick Navy Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) test-pilots a small experimental rocket plane Y-12 beyond the ‘controllability barrier’, and wrecks it. But he’s the best there is, so he’s selected to pilot the follow-up shot, against the better instincts of older more mature brother ‘Chuck’ – Commander Charles E Prescott (Marshall Thompson), who doesn’t think ‘it’s in his nature to stay inside any organized pattern.’ Y-13 is launched from a propeller-driven host-‘plane cruising at 40,000-feet, in the manner of Chuck Yeager’s pre-spaceflight supersonic achievements in his X-1A.


 
However, dashing, reckless Dan disobeys orders again – ‘no sir, I’m going straight up’, and takes an unscheduled trip 250 miles above the Earth. He pokes the Y-13’s nose outside the ionosphere with the altitude dial spinning – ‘it feels like she’d go on forever’, so he powers his emergency boost to take him even higher. From the base, grim-faced brother Chuck declares ‘well, he’s on his own now, the first man into space, he’ll either hit the moon or orbit the Earth for the rest of his life.’ As it is, he does neither. Orbital space-shots are now such routine stuff they barely rate a news-paragraph, so it’s difficult to appreciate just how awesome an event it was – or would be. No-one knew exactly what to expect, what unprotected exposure to cosmic rays would do, or the effects of weightlessness, or even what the astronaut would find outside the atmosphere.


 
So there was Dan, floating in a tin-can high above the world, planet Earth is blue, well – a kind of blotchy grey, or rather it would be if special effects allowed you to see much of it, which they don’t. Then… he vanishes from view as his craft disappears into a swirling meteoric cloud, going missing, presumed dead. Inside the cloud, unable to turn, he uses the ‘nose ejector’ pod – only to get plastered with metallic dust. The wreckage of his spacecraft comes ‘down like a dame in a feather-bed’ off Route-17 ten miles south of El Dorado, covered in a bizarre extraterrestrial coating of weird cosmic debris. With no trace of the pilot. But soon after, a Mexican farmer’s cattle start falling victim to something with a thirst for blood. Then there’s electronic music, muffled breathing, and a monstrous moving shadow on the tiled wall of the State Hospital – and the horror begins.


 
Something raids the Blood Bank, kills the nurse on duty and gulps down the blood-supplies. There are more ‘mysterious and terrifying’ deaths as people are found with ‘a tearing jag across the throat’, cut as if by some axe-murderer. The hulking half-human creature responsible – ‘like a huge mobile turd’ according to David Miller & Mark Gatiss, is first glimpsed as it mutilates a trucker outside a Los Alamos diner. More bizarre solid insomniac fodder follows as it prowls the countryside… killing, then vanishing just as quickly. Police bullets merely bounce off it. Noting traces of shiny meteoric speckles on the murdered nurse, and on the dead cattle, Chuck concludes ‘I’m afraid this monster is Dan.’ His metabolism has been transformed by his experiences in space, acquiring a protective coating evolved by space-borne life-forms as insulation against cosmic rays. But, deprived of oxygen by this layer of scaly, sparkly space rock he must ingest blood in order to survive. He’s become ‘a great big lumbering deformed monster’ with a craving for blood, a mutant, vampiric beast with only the ‘instinct to stay alive’. Brother Chuck must find him before he kills again, by luring him into a High Altitude simulation chamber. 



Oddly enough, if you don’t set your expectations too high, once past the cheesy space-flight FX, ‘First Man Into Space’ becomes a competent and surprisingly thoughtful little movie, scoring points for at least trying to emphasise the science in its fiction, and the humanity in its science. As in the Quatermass film there are moments of pathos, as the hideously transfigured Dan tries to communicate with his brother, ‘everything seems strange and dark’ he slobbers, ‘a maze of fear and doubt.’ Then as he apologises to his ‘scientist in skirts’ girlfriend Tia, his single eye pleading through the encrustation, with Chuck sneakily grabbing the opportunity of moving in hastily to comfort her. But to critic John Brosnan ‘First Man Into Space’ is merely a ‘generally derivative and routine’ creature-feature. Well, maybe.


 
Filmed not long after the launch of Russia’s Sputnik and America’s astro-chimp Ham, it benefited from a feasibility legitimised by enhanced public awareness of space-travel jargon and paraphernalia. Trailered as ‘one of the first motion pictures to lift the veil, forsee the future in a spectacular drama of the first man in history to be rocketed into the terrifying unknown of outer space!’ David Miller and Mark Gatiss are less than impressed. In their book ‘They Came From Outer Space: Alien Encounters In The Movies’ (Visual Imagination Publications, 1996) they breathe a sigh of relief that ‘thank god Yuri Gagarin got there first!’ During the same year amiable Marshall Thompson also found time to appear in two other genre-cheapies – ‘It! The Terror From Beyond Space’ and the afore-mentioned ‘Fiend Without A Face’. But it would not be until some time later than he achieved a degree of family-friendly tele-visibility through his role in safari-park series ‘Daktari’, co-starring with Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion. 

Meanwhile there will be Y-14. Paul Von Essen, Doctor of aviation medicine at the University of Albuquerque, adds the ponderous closing moral in his heavy eastern-European accent ‘the conquest of new worlds always makes demands on human life, and there will always be men who will accept the risk.’ But ‘who will ever forget the first man into space…?’ Who indeed. 



‘FIRST MAN INTO SPACE…’ 


THE ORIGINAL MOVIE: ‘FIRST MAN INTO SPACE’ 
(27 February1959, Amalgamated/MGM). 
Director: Robert Day, Producer Charles F Vetter Jrn & John Croydon, Cinematographer/Photography: Geoffrey Faithfull. From a story by Wyott Ordung (original title ‘Satellite Of Blood”), screenplay by Lance Z Hargreaves & John C Cooper. With Marshall Thompson (as Commander Charles Ernest Prescott), Marla Landi (Tia Francesca), Bill Edwards (as Lt. Dan Milton Prescott - IX), Robert Ayres (Captain Ben Richards), and Bill Nagy (Chief Wilson) with Carl Jaffe (Doctor Paul Von Essen), Roger Delgado (Ramon DeGuerra), John McLaren (Carl Atkins), Richard Shaw (Witney), Spencer Teakle (control room specialist), John Fabian (control room specialist), Bill Nick (Clancy), Helen Forrest (aviation medical secretary), Barry Shawzin, Marc Sheldon, Sheree Winton, Roland Brand (truck driver), Larry Taylor, Michael Bell, Franklin Fox, Chuck Keyser (control room specialist). Music by Buxton Orr. Art Direction: Denys Pavitt. Make-up: Michael Morris. 78-minutes. 

OTHER FORMATS: ‘FIRST MAN INTO SPACE’ – VHS – Eclipse/also part of the Criterion Collection Box-Set – September 1999. 73 minutes plus Theatrical Trailer. It was released by ‘Image Entertainment’ as a DVD on 17 June 1998, while it was included as part of the ‘Monsters & Madmen’ DVD box-set released by the Criterion Collection in 2007, with audio commentary by executive producer Richard Gordon 

 
Featured on Website: 
‘VIDEOVISTA April’ 
(UK – April 2008)



Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Poem: TO LIVE AN UNFILTERED LIFE

 

TO LIVE AN

UNFILTERED LIFE



she bleeds from the eyes 
in the painting on the hotel wall 
a trickle of pigment stain 
smears her cheek and neck, 
through bleeding eyes she watches 
the sketch perfectly aligned 
on the opposite wall 
of the sleeping girl 
with blue butterfly hair, 
they watch each other 
across the hotel room 
where illicit lovers snatch 
moments of fleeting paradise, 
married one-time lovers 
now sleep back-to-back, 
lonely travellers jerk-off to 
internet porn, drunks throw up, 
junkies take pharmaceutical trips, 
suicides weep into the night and 
the sad Polish maid dreams of Kraków, 
she bleeds from the eyes 
in the painting on the hotel wall, 
watched by the sleeping girl 
with blue butterfly hair 


Featured online at: 
‘MEDUSA’S KITCHEN’ 
(13 November 2019)

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Rolling Stones Live At Roundhay Park, Leeds

 


“IN SLEEPY 

ROUNDHAY PARK 

THERE’S JUST NO 

PLACE FOR 

STREET-FIGHTING MEN...” 

THE ROLLING STONES 

LIVE IN LEEDS


 
The Rolling Stones, with The J Geils Band and 
The Joe Jackson Band play Leeds Roundhay Park. 
I was there to take its pulse, and check for life-signs



 
When the Sex Pistols finally bust wide open John Lydon (Rotten) pronounced the end of the ‘Rolling Stones of the Eighties’. He was wrong. The Rolling Stones are the Rolling Stones of the Eighties. The Stones are a phenomenon. Like an eclipse, an earthquake, or a tidal wave. Something that occurs naturally, has the potential to transfigure all within range, but the effects of which remain imprecise and defy encapsulation in words. Music comes into it only slightly. Their mythology, longevity, and importance is – in this sense, a phenomenon, but by no means necessarily a musical one. 

If their role in 1982 is talismanic, here in Leeds is where that history and myth must collide with now. 

SF writer Harry Harrison once guesstimated that if everyone alive on this planet were to stand heel-to-toe they’d cover an area equal to the island of Zanzibar. That might look rather like Roundhay Park looks now. I spend the entire George Thoroughgood set sat in a miles-long auto-tailback breathing lead-impregnated air caught up in this human avalanche converging on this place, and taking it all in – yes, it’s an impressive gathering – but oddly so. Like that version of some ‘Stand On Zanzibar’-future this is a mass of largely clean, polite, deodorised, civilised, so respectable people. The fashion-dummy weirdo count is low. A token sprinkling of Mohican ‘n’ leathers, a small percentage joints, long ratty hair ‘n’ granny-glasses, but the majority are passively non-denominational. Some nubiles and not-so-nubiles in very little clothes prompt sexist reactions very inappropriate to such a Family outing atmosphere.


 
I get inside the Press Cage patrolled by Security gorilla’s, rumour thereabouts is Jagger ain’t arrived, others say he’s backstage playing table-tennis with Jimmy Savile. Five ruthlessly efficient rent-a-thug pass-checks discourage me from finding out either way. The surrounding geography is natural amphitheatre with the Hill-Sixty embankment sloping down in perfect audience tiered elevation to enhance visibility. Children on a strict parental leash play in and around tree-shadows and bushy undergrowth. They’re largely unimpressed by the occasion. Or by the Police and Security men evicting (by a combination of cajoling and threat) a thin line of freebie squatters mounting the sloping grey-tiled roof of a nearby Summer House. It provides them with a far more interesting spectacle than the geriatrics posturing on the extravagant stage. I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like…


 
The sun pours down like buttermilk for Joe Jackson to largely win over the audience with his so-far unblooded, untried, new keyboard-based band. He goes back as far as his early “Sunday Papers” hit, then uses “It’s Different For Girls” as a tasty duet vehicle with Julie, a glockenspiel chiming behind them. ‘I didn’t think we’d pull this many people’ he quips guilelessly, shading his eyes to take it all in. Then they do some songs from the current ‘Night And Day’ (1982) album, including “Target” and “TV Age” with Joe on sax. He emphasises the lyrics ‘in the Stone-age, we all got Rocks in our head…’ 

Then there’s a long pause filled with bland American AOR. It’s already getting claustrophobic in the privileged confines of the royal Press Enclosure, so it’s walkabout time, comparisons storming. Thinking Bob Dylan’s Blackbushe Aerodrome Hippies Graveyard (July 1978) – surely an analogous cultural manifestation? that was all brown rice ‘n’ herb, all street theatre groups, psychedelic buses ‘n’ tepee’s, each stall unfurling its phantasmagoric ware of rare precious and beautiful bootlegs, CND and alternative-art texts, hand-carved jewellery and exotic drugs. Here, it’s all red-blood materialism – we got kebabs, curries, real meat hamburgers, pancakes, German sausages, Mexican chilli, pizzas, fruit, filled potatoes and soft drinks. And we got strictly licensed merchandising. Stones posters and flags, Stones programmes and sweat-shirts, Stones badges and patches. Altamont it ain’t. Today no-one gets stabbed, worst thing that happens is you get overcharged for a rather cruddy T-shirt. And over it all that endlessly boring digitally recorded L.A. soft-rock blands on – is this REALLY the company they choose to keep? Less Street-Fighting Men with Devilish Sympathies, more West Coast Under-Assistant Promo-Man…


 
The J Geils Band strive to confirm your direst suspicions, by contriving an hour-long wet fart of faddy ephemera, flim-flam and self-indulgence, a brashly athletic homogenised flavourless flatulence, an airborne detergent composed of the expected hits blended with easily digestible lumps of vintage sixties Soul pulped into good-timey inoffensive mush. They do the Showstopper’s “Nothin’ But A Houseparty”, Wilson Pickett’s “Lookin’ For A Love”, and the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” which succeed only in freeze-framing their paucity of originality. Peter Wolf raps in largely incomprehensible jive rhyme, which he drops long enough to gush ‘We’d like to thank the Rolling Stones for inviting us so far,’ then they conjure a circus acrobat’s pyramid with Wolf, Magic Dick (mouth harp), and guitarist Geils himself as the lower tier. Seth Justman (keyboards) and Danny Klein (bass) above. Topped by drummer Stephen Bladd squatting at its apex raising his fists in bragging self-congratulation. Then they’re gone, leaving no taste at all. 

I watch up-and-down the l-o-n-g stage as Roadies vacuum its panoramic length and the video screen is assembled above them on spiderworks of scaffolding. To their left there’s the phallic sausage-car and the sexy Eiffel Tower flying-‘V’ guitar, as on the live album sleeve. On the right there’s a big blue zig-zaggy sax and a constellation of Miro-esque liquorice discs. The two drapes connected by a shabby rainbow bridge of balloons. The sun goes in and a breeze gets up. The PA syncs at last – and barrages a spectrum of Yardbirds, Hendrix, “Anarchy In The UK”, Chuck Berry, Free, “London Calling”, Eddie Cochran – this might be the Stones museum phase, but THIS is the company they SHOULD be keeping. 



‘Each person an island within his own nostalgia’ wrote ‘Oz’ editor Richard Neville after the Stones’ Hyde Park free bash. Me, I’ve seen the Stones now in each of their evolutionary phases. I saw ‘em play to two-hundred at Bridlington Spa Theatre circa 1964 with Brian Jones, intense anarchic art-school R&B, elitist, purist, the anger of frustrated energy screwed down tight, raw and violent with a loutish sexuality and an amphetamine burn of painful amplification. I saw ‘em a decade back at Leeds University when Mick Taylor had already etched his vibrant block-chords onto their ‘Kings of the Underground’ albums, ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971) and ‘Exile On Main Street’ (1972). Then they seem cynical, demonic, menacingly depraved, narcissistically narcotic, dangerously decadent. But even then they were facing the underswell of a newer less sardonically mocking glam generation. Preparing to accept their less ambitious ‘Only Rock and Roll But I Like It’ role for the seventies.


 
6pm sharp and the rainbow-bridge fragments, balloons cascade upwards everywhichway, and the Rolling Stones are on stage. “Under My Thumb”, “When The Whip Comes Down”, and “Let’s Spend The Night Together” before the sound gells and gets into step. “Shattered”, “Neighbours” and ‘an old Blues song’ “Black Limousine” before the pacing crystallises. Then “Just My Imagination” comes as near-perfect as the Stones will ever be live, and you simultaneously let it sluice all over you, and start to separate out its parts. Jagger is stage-centre, and that’s as should be. He’s the focus for the entire projection, red headband, technicolor pants, yellow knee-sox, leopard-skin jacket. He’s no longer remotely threatening, no menace or fin de siécle subversion, unless you count ‘I don’t wanna be anybody’s doormat, I don’t wanna be shit on, shoved about. I don’t want to be no-one’s Beast Of Burden ny-ther.’ And later on just the hint of sarcasm when he leers ‘I know there’s a bit of wind, blowing the sound down towards the centre a-town,’ delivered to cosy laughter. But more he’s the grotesque comic jester, his actions so mannered they’re absurd, like he’s deliberately sabotaging himself through a more exaggeratedly garish caricature than his most boorish TV parodist would ever dare, and he’s ridiculing the punters for buying it, and for gullibly taking in the whole outlandishly ludicrous premise on which it operates. Yet he’s also magnetic, mesmerising, trapping all eyes. It’s showbiz, it’s performance, but they don’t come more charismatic.


 
His vocals on Cochran’s fifties opus “Twenty-Flight Rock” are ragged. And once “Going To A Go-Go” and “Baby Please Let Me Go” have passed effortlessly he’s into ‘the chic part of the show’ – his first costume change. A blue jacket and red beanie hat to attempt the Stones’ first ever US Top Ten hit “Time Is On My Side”. By every objective criterion it’s a disaster, its slow churchy pacing hunting out every inadequacy in his range, bending the melody to accommodate those notes he can no longer reach. But it don’t really matter any more. He might not be the apoca-lips he once was, but it’s still clearly The Singer Not The Song. His clownish stagecraft is slyly exacting and no-one gets short-changed. 

Bill Wyman is stood immobile behind him in blue unzipped tracksuit. It’s easy for him to get eclipsed. And Charlie Watts stays near-invisible behind the gantry of amplification stacks. But it comes apparent that their combined primitive rhythmic strength is by no means slight. The Stones sound is unique, and a large part of it rests on the steady reliable organic interaction twixt bass and drums. If anything of the early Route 66 Chicago Blues (or even Croydon Blues) raunch remains it’s to be found here in their constantly thunderous gangling millstone grit. And it lays down the tight base for the essential looseness all around, making it possible, giving it shape and anchoring it to form. It allows the long improvisations to be spun out around Jagger’s callisthenics on “Beast Of Burden”, where he mounts a hydraulic lift and gets shunted out over the audience heads, then dances back along the catwalk scything a ritual bucketful of water in campy tease over the sea of collectively perspiring faces.


 
Then he goes into dilettantishly slow balletics as Ronnie Wood plays in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on a gleaming steel guitar. Ronnie don’t move around much, adds harmonies here and there as required, largely stands to stage left with Surf-white sleeveless jacket over blood-red shirt, as Jagger co-ordinates various sections of the mob in community singing. ‘Get yer lungs and yer hearts out and we’ll do this one together.’ 

Keith’s trademark lurches and shambles, are by contrast, hyperactive, healthy – even paunchy, and competing for frontman status by playing out rough-hewn guitar-lead along the full length of the elevated platform, then with radio mic to take it even further. He grates the vocals for “Little T And A” hunched in around his axe in denim-dark jacket with Stones logo-flash down his spine, and comes through every inch the ravaged hero even without Jagger’s sense of immaculate presence. No more the World’s Most Elegantly Wasted HumanTM, but something of that aura hangs on tenaciously, like burrs. He started out with three or four appropriated Chuck Berry runs, and two decades on he’s still determinedly advanced no further, still as crude, still fumbling the run-in to “Honky Tonk Women”. There’s ten local band guitarists in Leeds and twice that number in Sheffield technically 10,000 light years ahead of him, not that it matters. This is Keef. Bum notes figure large in his legend, operating on the Gerald Ford falling-over-gets-you-acceptance principle.


 
Jagger emotes ‘Angie – when will those clouds all disappear?’, and as the perfect punchline the sun breaks through like a red belisha spotlight on the vamping gesticulating sometime Lucifer, veins stood out like cables on his neck. He headstands and rolls down the ramp as gross theatrical interpretation to a churning “Tumbling Dice”. Then there’s “She’s So Cold”, “Hang Fire”, and Wyman’s finest bass-pumping on an excellent “Miss You”, Jagger joining on guitar. Behind him there’s Ian Stewart’s piano, and a tight American brass section, Jack Lavell from Macon on additional keyboards, Gene Bruge from Chicago on sax, and the brilliant Bobby Keys from Texas taking the gut-twisting solo on “Brown Sugar”. 

It’s close on two hours before they run up to climax with “Start It Up” and “Jumping Jack Flash”. Midway Jagger, now topless, Dachau-thin and androgynously hairless, produces a huge Union Jack to wear like a cape, hurtling up and down the canvas like some fake grounded Superman, casting it aside derisively as if there really is an anti-establishment content left to the whole spectacle – instead of the smugly patronising façade you keep suspecting. There’s an encore, the only number they could possibly do, a shabbily breathless “Satisfaction” with Jagger reappearing from a hole in the tapestry onto the hydraulic grab back down to the ground. Then the whole thing detonates with “Land Of Hope And Glory” roaring from the speakers, drowned out by a blindingly iridescent firework blitz. You kind-of hope it’s meant to be derisive, but keep getting sneaky suspicions there’s more – or less, to it than that. Flags and anthems are for spitting on, perhaps Their Satanic Majesties forget?


 
‘Relevance’ has a lot to do with the buzz in the air, a lot to do with the subjective perception of critics, a lot to do with saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. It is stance and often pose. It is the indefinable pulse of something elusive. It can’t be quantified with any degree of objectivity. But judged impartially ‘relevance’ must also have something to do with what is ‘relevant’ to people’s lives. Tonight’s community disintegrates across acres of garbage and pulverised flowerbeds, and in the Aftermath kids with black bin-liners collect returnable bottles in a spirit of Free Enterprise Jagger might smile on. But, twenty-five numbers they’ve done (count ‘em!), and I could list twenty-five more equally essential texts they missed. And it was, above and beyond all else, an EVENT. A victory, if a rather ragged, vaguely dog-eared one. Dinosaurian they might be, Out Of Time, talisman of dead decades, but Roundhay Park proves… confirms, that they are also relevant to the lives of more people now, and have been with greater intensity over a longer period and in more global areas than just about anyone else you could lay a tongue to. 

That means a lot… 

Published in: 
‘HOT PRESS’ 
(1982 – Ireland)



ROLLING STONES: 

FROM THE VAULT 

‘ROUNDHAY PARK’


 
(DVD, Eagle Vision) 

I was there, in the press enclosure at Leeds Roundhay Park, 25 July 1982. I taped this concert on cassette. Driving home afterwards my in-car tape machine chews it up and spits it to shreds. Now – at last, I’ve got the perfect digital-quality replacement. I wandered around the backstage cage but the rent-a-thugs kept it tight, the talk was that Jagger was playing table-tennis with Jimmy Savile who lived just across from Roundhay. They don’t brag about that now. There’s a rainbow-balloon arch over the stage, a red flying-v guitar stacked Eiffel Tower-wise, and a huge blue cartoon sax. From “Under My Thumb” – Jagger’s jester costume with yellow-stripe codpiece and ‘MICK’ on the back, as if we need telling. A bemused Wyman – yes, he’s still there, with minimalist black bass and white headband. Ian Stewart with plastic beer carton close to hand on his piano. Keef, chain-smoking and dangerously Punk. Ronnie’s whiplash grin like he still can’t believe his luck, closing with Keith for harmonies, playing off each other. It’s tuneless, rough, ragged, absurdly posturing, lyrics reduced to nonsense slogans, but uniquely shifted outside of every mainstream critique into a singularity of their own. Beyond comparison, because there’s literally no-one else. A force of nature, recharged by five tracks from ‘Tattoo You’ (August 1981), including Bobby Keys’ muscular sax on “Neighbours” and a brutal climaxing “Start Me Up”. It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll after all, but I like it. 

And I look, but no, I can’t see myself. 


Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 56’ 
(UK – March 2016)


 

ROLLING STONES – 

‘LIVE IN ‘75’ DVD 


Review of: 
‘FROM THE VAULT: 
L.A. FORUM (LIVE IN 1975)’ 
by THE ROLLING STONES 
(EAGLE VISION) www.eagle-rock.com

 


Own up, the Stones have always been inconsistent. After a series of careers-best albums from ‘Beggars Banquet’ to ‘Exile On Main Street’, the 1970s saw an abrupt quality decline with ‘Goats Head Soup’ the first of a run of bummers – at least until ‘Some Girls’ (1978) resurrected their relevance. The onset of Glam wrong-footed them into a loss of confidence, Jagger in sequins and sailor suit was missing the point. And Mick Taylor was gone. The press lay odds about Jeff Beck, or even Eric Clapton replacing him, but they go for the safe pair of hands with Ronnie Wood. It’s he who coined the ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, But I Like It’ attitude which seems just a little close to surrender. This 1975 American tour was Ronnie’s try-out as a Stone. And as Richard Havers liner-notes point out, the Glimmer Twins had just tipped the dangerous thirty age barrier. A lot was a stake. The 44-date tour took in five nights at the L.A. Forum. This DVD – with two CD’s, in its lavish fold-out pack, documents the 12 July set.


 
Opening with the grandiose pomp of ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’, Jagger is pretty in pink, primped and preening. The cameras follow his preposterous bum-wriggling even when Keith is singing “Happy”. Keith – before Jack Sparrow took him, is night-black and crouched like a Z. Ronnie in all-over red, with wink-hat. Bill like a rhinestone cowboy. Billy Preston in huge Afro, slipping in sly keyboard quotes. Jagger’s voice is tunelessly shot, redeemed on new stuff such as the ‘young lady who went astray’ at the core of the euphemistically retitled “Star Star”. The Stones always were inconsistent, but they’ve still got the greatest back-catalogue in Rock to draw on. 


Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 50’ 
(UK – March)