Tuesday 31 May 2022

Poem: 'Death Is An Important Number'



in the romance of theft 
I steal for you what you need, 
we are transient bones 
with skulls behind our eyes, 
we are echoes in the deathhouse, 
yet while we live this despair 
I feed you as I can, 
drugs, burgers, pizza, medication, 
is this the sound of tomorrow 
or just sound? 
if they play this at Glastonbury 
would they dance? 
when I have nothing to give 
I will give you sad poems 
and abstract art made up of 
indelicate syllables, 
in light as chill as the moon, 
I want to gift you wonders 
yet I feed you trash 
bruise-fresh in frozen ripeness

Saturday 28 May 2022

Greece: Festival Time In Epirus





The Varkarolla festival celebrates the Pargans return home 
 from exile. It’s a patriotic event in ways that Brits no longer 
do patriotism, but it’s a whole lotta fun too… 

The woman on the next-door balcony says Lichnos Beach is just a twenty-minute stroll through the olive groves that scent the air, so we start out along the path, which soon becomes a dirt-track, then a steep trail marked only by red paint-spots on occasional stones up and up ever-higher to an ancient white church by a dry stream, where the path begins to descend the other side of the ridge towards the small cove of Lichnos Beach. In the full day-heat, it’s quite a hike. We take the water-taxi return instead. 

The Yannis taverna has a display of old pre-Euro drachma notes tacked behind the cashdesk. Some Greeks are nostalgic for the old currency. The balcony of our studio looks down on chickens strutting and scratting where olives bend low and local veg thrives. Barbara asks do we want tomatoes? I anticipate a gift of maybe half-a-dozen. She fills both my cupped hands with shiny ripe cherry tomatoes. Organic, because there’s no such thing as chemical fertilisers here, turned around neatly to natural advantage. Greece has come a long way. It has a broad fiercely-individualist anarchistic streak that I love. We could learn from their passion. If that translates into a disregard for central authority, that’s partly due to geography. Each island has its own distinct character, and a deeply-ingrained sense of self-sufficient autonomy. Loyalty to family, to community and island, if not necessarily to a government a hundred miles across the wine-dark sea. This is the way it was explained to me. 

In 1963, the final pre-Beatles months in which Cliff Richard and the Shadows could confidently divide the British Pop chart between them, the movie ‘Summer Holiday’ was doing – embarrassingly enough, the year’s highest-grossing box-office returns. Long before Ken Kesey’s psychedelic Pranksters, Cliff and the gang (including Una Stubbs and Melvyn Hayes) took a converted London Routemaster bus on an all-singing all-dancing trip across Europe, through weird Balkan incidents and down into a virtually unrecognisable Greece. Cliff sings the achingly wistful heartbreak no.1 hit “The Next Time” using the Parthenon as a visual backdrop, long before mass tourism and European Union membership, and within years of the Colonel’s far-right military junta seizing power in a violent coup. Clubbers at Malia and Falaraki may not be entirely aware of all this traumatic history. 

I’m talking to Spiro, who is not yet twenty-four. He loves Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. I argue back that surely there must be angry young innovative Greek musicians out there? Maybe a website operating from a basement studio in Piraeus doing startling new things. All it needs is that one breakthrough act. Jamaica was a miniscule player on the global musical map before Bob Marley. Swedish Pop didn’t exist before Abba. Aphrodite’s Child, with Vangelis was a long time ago, but they proved it could be done. No, says Spiro, not so. I think he’s wrong. Because there’s music in the cafés at night, and freedom in the air. 

As the planet becomes less a place of awe and wonder and more a novelty theme-park, it’s reassuring that in the Epirus region of NW Greece they have the Kanaria Festival. Not a spectacle for tourists. Nothing to do with tourism. But just the procession of Orthodox priests in full regalia down to the harbourside, a group of willing assistants struggle beneath the weight of a hugely unwieldy religious painting, as others carry icons and elaborate Byzantine crosses. Precariously they transfer their sacred load onto small boats – not special boats, just the water-taxis and caïques used to reach nearby Valtos or Lichnos, or local fishing boats. With the huge painting shrouded in a bunting of decorative plastic flowers, eager volunteers help the most aged and venerated white-bearded priest across the hazardous step from jetty to gently-bobbing deck. A crush of the curious close in to catch every incident on iPhone and mobiles, as local police stand back tolerant but vigilant. Until the priests are arranged across the stern, in order of status. 

Then a slow flotilla – devoted to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, moves out into deeper waters as every ship begins banshee-horns wailing and phoop-phooping in a celebration. Parga has its origins with the sea. The restaurants have every kind of seafood. Regular links to other near Ionian Sea islands, Paxos, Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and beyond depend on Poseidon’s ancient realm. So it makes perfect sense to bestow blessings and thanks on the tides. Even in a time of wavering faith, observation is strong here, and for those lives dependent on the sea, why risk the chance? The flotilla circles the harbour, out around the Pavloukes islets at the harbour mouth as the first stars begin to appear above the castle, to land for celebrations on the Panagia mini-island. 

The Festival has a complex history. In 1401 an already ancient Parga came under the protection of Venice, who built the impressive castle on the rocky peninsula just north-west of the town, they rebuilt it in 1572 after the Ottomans destroyed it. Under constant threat of Turkish encroachment, following the decline of Venetian power first France and then Russia guaranteed the region’s independence. Until the British assumed protector status after the fall of Napoleon, and Thomas Maitland, High Commissioner Of The Ionian Islands, promptly sold it to Ali Pasha of Ioánnina in 1817, for just £150,000! Just can’t trust those perfidious Brits. We have a lot to answer for.

Originally from what is now Albania, although he became Ottoman regional administrator, the flamboyant Pasha had ambitions to carve out his own autonomous enclave. Byron visited Ali Pasha’s court in 1809, both repelled by its barbaric cruelty and impressed by the sumptuous oriental indulgences of its decadent sexuality. He could perhaps be excused, he was far from the only western outsider to be hoodwinked by its fleshy odalisque fantasy. The exoticism of the seraglio was a favourite subject for lush pulchritudinous Pre-Raphaelite art, as John William Waterhouse’s excuse for draping female nudity across canvas. Anyway, meantime, resenting the imminent prospect of Muslim control the local people undertook a mass migration to neighbouring islands on 15 April 1817 – even digging up the bones of their ancestors, and burning them so they could carry the ashes with them. The triumphant Muslims arrived to find Parga a deserted ghost-town. One hundred years later, after the fall of Ottoman power, the diaspora ended. The Varkarolla event celebrates the Pargans return home.


The harbour-front is thronged with a compressed good-natured mass of revelry, all the tavernas are full to capacity, and those with balcony-views fully-booked with marked-up reservations. Bizarrely, for an event so emphatically Epiran, it opens with Petros Antoniou drawing in Greek-flavoured Pop versions of U2 (“One”), White Stripes (“Seven Nation Army”) and even Robbie Williams (“Real Love”). Obviously designed as an inclusive invitation to seduce unwary visitors. After which things become more reassuringly Pargan, with the intoxicatingly dense textures of Teo Kokkoris and Konstantza Melidi. There’s a musical tribute to Greek-Albanian lyricist-poet Alkis Alkaios, a naturalised Pargan, who collaborated with Notis Mauroudis to create the ‘Embargo’ album, and zeimbekiko hit-song “Erotiko” (he died of cancer in December 2012) – followed by a four-strong patriotic reading of the history underlying the event, the Greek national anthem, and spectacular fireworks, until the Parga Orchestra close the event – with its own powerful Prog-Rock interpretation of Greek traditional music. 

While Britain is going through its absurd Brexit contortions, Albania is awaiting accession into the EU. We talk to Aleksio, who works the ‘Costa Azul’ on Valtos beach as a waiter. Later on we happen to see him in a bar, and raise a glass ‘Yamas’. He takes that as an invitation to join us, pulling up a chair. Tall, with cropped greying hair, he’s serious and impressively intelligent. In Albania he’s a teacher. But during recess he can earn more per-hour slipping across the border to work the tavernas and restaurants of Epirus. We talk a lot, despite occasional language glitches. I tell him that it’s beholden on the richer countries to help the less fortunate. He says emphatically ‘no’. It’s up to the poorer countries to help themselves, through their own sweat and industry. As he is. He shows us photos of his children in Tirana. He is a powerful presence. His children will hopefully see more and better changes, in a more inclusive Europe. 

But for now, there’s music in the cafés at night, and freedom in the air.


Published in: 
‘THE SUPPLEMENT no.88’ print and PDF 
(UK – November 2018)

Thursday 26 May 2022

Pop Music: Chubby Checker, The King Of Twist





Michael Jackson was the Prince of Pop. 
Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul. 
Elvis was simply the King. But there 
was only ever one King of Twist!

‘Who’s that, flyin’ up there? 
is it a bird? No! is it a plane? No! 
is it the twister? Yeah’ 

I’m gonna tell my tale, and it won’t take long, we’re gonna do the Twist, and it goes like this. The Twist was the big Rock ‘n’ Roll era dance craze. Everyone was twisting. Jackie Kennedy was twisting in the White House, and even used Air Force One to fetch a Chubby Checker record she’d left in Palm Beach. ‘The Daily Mirror’ provided a helpful guide on how to do the Twist, suggesting that you move your feet as though you’re stubbing out two cigarettes, while moving your upper body as though you’re towelling your back. The Twist was the first dance craze where a partner was not a necessary adjunct. You could dance it with a partner if you wanted to, but that was by no means a prerequisite. And that defined its importance as a cultural fire-break. 

Dance was always there. It always has been. Dance has a primal ritualistic element written into the human DNA. Toddlers grin and move to syncopated music in a rhythmic way before they can even talk. Every culture in every age dances. In that between-the-wars period Flappers doing the Charleston had enlivened the world’s bleakness. Just as the early Rock Hops had danced the jive. The Twist was different. You could dance it on the spot. You didn’t need a big dancehall, it was designed for a new culture of small clubs and discotheques. Sam Cooke was “Twisting The Night Away”. When they spun “Rock-A-Hula Baby” off the soundtrack of the Elvis Presley ‘Blue Hawaii’ movie as a chart-topping single, they tacked (Twist Special) onto the title as a trend precaution. And – lest we forget, the Beatles scored massively with their late cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist And Shout”. There have been other massive dance crazes. The Macarena in 1995, danced by Al Gore at the Democratic Convention, Gangnam Style from South Korean Rapper Psy in 2012, through to The Floss – which also has the advantage of a kid’s code that was indecipherable to adults! 

But Chubby Checker was the undisputed King Of Twist. Born Ernest Evans, 3 October 1941 in Spring Gully, South Carolina, the oldest of three brothers, he was raised in the Philadelphia projects. He was working after-hours from South Philadelphia High School at the Ninth Street chicken-market when boss Henry Colt heard him singing as he worked. Impressed, he contacted Kal Mann – a staff-writer with local Cameo-Parkway records, who introduced him to label-boss Bernie Lowe who promptly signed Ernest to a long-term contract in 1959. Ernest then became ‘Chubby Checker’ – an alias coined by DJ Dick Clark’s wife who happened to be visiting the studio and claimed that he resembled a young Fats Domino (Fats=Chubby, Domino=Checkers) and his first record “The Class” – written for him by Kal Mann, was modestly successful (no.38). But it was his fourth disc that would change the course of Pop history. 

“The Twist” had been the b-side of the Hank Ballard & The Midnighters hit “Teardrops On Your Letter” in 1959, as a routine devised to match the group’s onstage dance-steps. The Midnighters had been scoring hits with the slightly risqué ‘Annie’ songs – “Work With Me, Annie”, “Annie Had A Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fanny” all on King Records’ Federal subsidiary, with their ensuing fallow patch switched around by an elevation to King itself, and with Hank getting separate headline billing. According to Pop mythology Dick Clark – of the ‘American Bandstand’ TV-show, phoned Chubby in as a last-minute replacement when Ballard failed to show for rehearsals. He quickly cut his own lighter more commercialised version of the song in order to lip-synch to it. 

It was never meant to be a record to sit down and listen to. It was a record to forget sleazy political scandal and the Cold War superpower chill, and just party to. Spinning at 45rpm it was a call to toe-tapping terpsichorean action, no two ways about it, ‘come on and twist, Yeah Baby Twist, Ooh Yeah, just like this, come on Little Miss, and do the Twist!’. The original Rock ‘n’ Roll eruption had faded, there was a lull in Pop music. Chubby was an engaging performer, permanently illuminated by a big contagious grin, and his “The Twist” became an American no.1 hit – twice, for a solitary 19 September 1960 week – dethroning Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never”, then for two weeks from 13 January 1962 – subsequently knocked off the top spot by “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee & The Starliters. It’s been suggested that this double hit-status was due to its initial teen-fad notoriety, then – after national exposure on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’, it was taken up by the older parent-generation too, assimilated as a chic and amusing novelty for sophisticated suburban parties where adults could vie with each other over their dance proficiency. Whatever, it sold three-million copies, spent thirty-eight weeks on the chart, and unleashed the global dance-craze. Its success even prompting King to repromote the Hank Ballard original, which also sold a million! 

Oddly, British audiences were initially unmoved by the Twist fad. During its first release the single made two grudging chart appearances, the highest at no.44. In fact it would have to wait until June 1988 when Chubby teamed up with the Fat Boys on their Rap remix “The Twist (Yo, Twist)” which finally took the song up to no.2! He guested on their fun video too. But meanwhile, when Chubby sings ‘come on, let’s Twist again, like we did last summer’ – we hadn’t actually been Twisting last summer at all. Instead, the Twist caught fire here with “Let’s Twist Again”. Chubby introduced the follow-up with an appearance on the ABC-TV Pop Show ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ (30 December) alongside Helen Shapiro and Billy Fury, after which it entered the ‘NME’ chart at no.15 (6 January 1962) before busting him up to no.2 by 27 January, below Cliff Richard’s “The Young Ones” which it eventually replaced at no.1 for two weeks from 24 February. Over on the ‘Record Mirror’ (‘Record Retailer’) chart the record stalled at no.2 and got no higher, compensated for when a reissue of “The Twist” followed it up to no.14 (1 February 1962). But the Brits swiftly made up for lost time. Once he’d made that breakthrough, more UK hits followed. ‘The Twist was bidding fair to become the biggest dance sensation since the Charleston’ observed a staid Christopher Booker (in ‘The Neophiliacs’, Collins, 1969). “Slow Twistin’” climbed to no.23 (April 1962), “Teach Me To Twist” (no.45, April 1962), and “Dancin’ Party” (no.19, August 1962). A reissue combining “Let’s Twist Again” c/w “The Twist” returned Chubby to no.5 as late as November 1975. 

But The Twist was more than just that. It became a global phenomenon! It blossomed into an overnight craze in France to rival the hula-hoop, and since – at that time, Paris fashionistas led the world, if they considered the Twist fashionable, it was by default fashionable. It became obligatory to add ‘twist’ to the song-title for a record to even secure release, whether it was a Twist or not. “Ya Ya” had been a 1961 American hit for Lee Dorsey, retitled “Ya Ya Twist” it was simultaneously a French hit for both Johnny Hallyday and Petula Clark, with Petula’s version crossing-over into the UK Top Twenty, at no.14. Where the most unlikely opportunists began recording cash-in Twist numbers. Jess Conrad adapted the traditional French ‘Frere Jacques Dormez Vous’ into “Twist My Wrist” – ‘twist with me, my Cherie, let’s embarrass all of Paris, when you twist with your charm, you don’t have to twist my arm,’ which didn’t chart, but secured a prominent place on the ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars Volume 1’ TV-show spin-off album. Lord Rockingham’s XI – formerly house-band for Jack Good’s ‘Oh Boy!’ TV-show, reformed to do a cludgy “Rockingham Twist” and “Newcastle Twist”. 

Sax-player Dave Ede & The Rabin Band, host of BBC Light Programme’s ‘Go Man Go’ radio Pop show attempted a kind of Twist-Trad fusion with “Twistin’ The Trad”, then adapted ‘Three Blind Mice’ with just a nod at Hanna-Barbera cartoons into “Twistin’ Those Meeces To Pieces”. Veteran Music-Hall hoofer Frankie Vaughan hopped the bandwagon by grabbing a taste of the chart with “Don’t Stop, Twist”, a no.22 in February 1962, and even Frank Sinatra was hauled in for a tedious “Everybody’s Twistin’” which also got as high as no.22 that same April. 

‘The Twist was like the Atom Bomb in the music business’ Chubby enthused, ‘its energy is timeless.’ But although his records impinged on the American R&B chart, he was never seen as a heavy serious artist in the way that other R&B artists are considered. He was more a fun addition to the scene, an entertaining adornment. Yet a young Thom Bell, later one of the producer architects of seventies Philli-Soul, did arrangements and played piano on Checker sessions. While music academic Richard Williams wrote ‘Chubby’s best records had a tight precision and a chunky beat which made them ideal for dancers’ (‘Melody Masker’, 13 January 1973). A talented drummer and piano-payer in his own right, Chubby went on to capitalise as ‘King Of Twist’ by recording more dance songs – Don Covay’s “Pony Time” (American no.1, 30 January 1961), “Limbo Rock” (US no.2, 29 September 1962), “Let’s Twist Again” (no.8, 3 July 1961), the “Slow Twisting” duet with Dee Dee Sharp (no.3, 10 March 1962), “The Fly” (no.7, 2 October 1961), and more – over the next six years, most of his releases achieved chart status if few created enduring musical landmarks. 

While there were other pretenders to his dance-king status. The Goffin-King team wrote “The Locomotion” – a US no.1 (25 August 1962) for Little Eva who Pop mythology insists was the songwriting duo’s babysitter. Chubby wasn’t impressed, during a London TV interview he derisively described it as ‘Man, that’s not a dance, it’s just a hit record’, although she followed it into the charts with “Let’s Turkey Trot” – ‘gobble-gobble-doodly,’ and more. While Dance crazes proliferated, all based around the no-partner Twist blueprint, the Mashed Potato, the Hitch-Hike, the Monkey, the Frug, the Jerk, and the Watusi, all with their attendant wannabe hit singles. ‘If I told people that dancing as we know it today is my own invention, they wouldn’t want to talk to me’ he protested, ‘but dancing as we know it today started in 1960. The Twist is the invention of dancing apart. No-one’s touched since.’ 

His success led Chubby further, into movie cameo roles in ‘Twist Around The Clock’ (1961) – a partial reconfiguring of the 1956 exploitational ‘Rock Around The Clock’, with Dion and the Marcels. Then ‘Don’t Knock The Twist’ (1962) – a remake of the 1956 ‘Don’t Knock The Rock’, with Chubby, Gene Chandler, Len Barry and the Dovells. He guested in Richard Lester’s debut movie for Amicus, ‘It’s Trad, Dad!’ (1962) – ‘The Kings Of Dixieland Jazz Together With The World’s Top Recording Stars’ with Helen Shapiro and Craig Douglas, and much later in the concert-movie ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ (1973) – ‘A Movie That Makes You Feel Good!’ But to Rock historians Phil Hardy & Dave Laing, Chubby’s subsequent records were ‘largely nasal tenor chants accompanied by somewhat tuneless vocal choruses and stereotyped rhythm/saxophone band-tracks’ (‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock: Volume 1’, Granada Publishing 1976). Yet, although Chubby delivered no less than thirty-one chart entries up to Parkway’s 1968 demise, he regularly featured on TV and in movies to demonstrate his dance moves.

There were new fads, fancies and fashions. Rock got harder, heavier and less enamoured of The Twist. Chubby married former ‘Miss World’ Catharina Lodders – dedicating his single “Loddy Lo” to her. He made a brief comeback on Buddah in 1969, with his version of the Beatles “Back In The USSA”, was arrested and charged for possession of hashish and marijuana in June 1970, then made a disastrous foray into reggae and progressive sounds on Chalmac in 1971 with a ‘Chequered!’ psychedelic album which was not critically well-received. ‘It’s mostly filled with would-be portentious and highly derivative lines like ‘goodbye Victoria, everybody’s going to the Moon’ or ‘stoned in the bathroom, on a Sunday afternoon’’ complained ‘Melody Maker, ‘the first song “How Does It Feel’ is unpromising, sounding suspiciously like “Like A Rolling Stone”.’ 

But whatever other talents Chubby may or may not have had, his career had been effectively hijacked by The Twist. And while he eventually settled into a comfortable niche on Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival shows, his legacy persisted. He was namechecked on Billy Joel’s 1989 hit “We Didn’t Start The Fire” – ‘Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo’ as one of the highlights of the previous forty years of political history, and he guested on the TV ‘Dame Edna Experience’ (Season 2 Episode 1, 4 November 1989). ‘I’m like Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse’ he told a contemporary ‘Radio Times’, ‘a household name who sooner or later everyone gets to see’ (4-10 November 1989). His two Twist hits were extensively sampled on both 1989 no.1 hits by Jive Bunny & The Mixmasters, who remembered those days when ‘things were really humming.’ 

‘No-one really knows about Chubby Checker’ he divulged to journalist Sue Russell, ‘the difference between Chubby Checker in 1960 and in 1989 is the difference between a 1960 and a 1989 Rolls Royce. I’m the same guy – but I’m a little different.’ 

So, I’ve told my tale, and it didn’t take long. All about ‘The Twist’. And it goes like THIS!!!!!!


June 1959 – ‘The Class’ b/w ‘Schooldays, Oh Schooldays’ (Parkway 804), US no.38 

1959 – ‘Whole Lotta Laughin’’ b/w ‘Samson And Delilah’ 

1959 – ‘Dancing Dinosaur’ b/w ‘Those Private Eyes’ (Parkway 810) 

August 1960 – ‘The Twist’ b/w ‘Toot’ (Parkway 811), US no.1, UK Columbia DB4503 no.44 

October 1960 – ‘The Hucklebuck’ b/w ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ (Parkway 813), both sides chart, no.14 & no.42. A revival of a late-forties dance tune, later a 1964 hit for the Irish Royal Showband. 

January 1961 – ‘Pony Time’ b/w ‘Oh, Susannah’ (Parkway 818), Pop chart no.1, no.9, R&B chart, UK Columbia DB4591, no.27. ‘Pony Time’ was a Don Covay rewrite of a classic pre-war piano-boogie record by Pinetop Smith, ‘Pinetop’s Boogie-Woogie’ 

May 1961 – ‘Dance The Mess Around’ b/w ‘Good, Good Lovin’ (Parkway 822), both sides chart, no.24 & no.43 

July 1961 – ‘Let’s Twist Again’ b/w ‘Everything’s Gonna Be All Right’ (Parkway 824), US no.8, UK Columbia DB4691, no.2

October 1961 – ‘The Fly’ b/w ‘That’s The Way It Goes’ (Parkway 830), US no.7 

1961 – ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ b/w ‘Jingle Bell Rock Imitations’ with Bobby Rydell (Parkway 205), US no.21, UK Cameo-Parkway C205, no.40 

1962 – ‘Twistin’ USA’ b/w ‘The Twist’ (reissue Parkway 811) ‘They shimmy in Charlotte, they shake in Baltimore, in Detroit and Dallas, and down Miami shore, so, baby, oh, baby, what are we waiting for?’ 

March 1962 – ‘Slow Twistin’’ b/w ‘La Paloma Twist’ with Dee Dee Sharp (Parkway 835), US no.3, UK Columbia DB4808 with alternate b-side ‘The Lose-Your-Inhibitions Twist’, no.23 

March 1962 – EP ‘King Of Twist’ (UK Columbia SEG8155) with ‘The Twist’, ‘Mr Twister’, ‘Let’s Twist Again’, ‘Twist Train’ 

1962 – ‘La Paloma Twist’ 

1962 – ‘Teach Me To Twist’ b/w ‘Swingin’ Together’ with Bobby Rydell. UK Columbia DB4802, no.45 

July 1962 – ‘Dancin’ Party’ b/w ‘Gotta Get Myself Together’ (Parkway 842), US no.12, UK Columbia DB4876, no.19 

September 1962 – ‘Limbo Rock’ b/w ‘Popeye The Hitchhiker’ (Parkway 849), both sides chart no.2 & no.10. UK Cameo-Parkway P849, no.32, written initially as a Champs’ instrumental by Kal Mann with Billy Strange 

February 1963 – ‘Let’s Limbo Some More’ c/w ‘Twenty Miles’ (Parkway 862), both sides chart no.20 & no.15 June 

1963 – ‘Birdland’ (Parkway 873), US no.12 

August 1963 – ‘Twist It Up’ (Parkway 879), US no.25 

October 1963 – ‘What Do Ya Say’ b/w ‘Something To Shout About’, UK release only Cameo-Parkway P806, no.37 

1963 – EP ‘Chubby Checker & Bobby Rydell In London’ (Cameo-Parkway CPE554) with Chubby’s ‘What Do Ya Say’ and ‘Something To Shout About’ plus two by Rydell 

November 1963 – ‘Loddy Lo’ b/w ‘Hooka Tooka’ (Parkway 890), both sides chart no.12 & no.17 

April 1964 – ‘Hey, Bobba Needle’ (Parkway 907), US no.23 

July 1964 – ‘Lazy Elsie Molly’ (Parkway 920), US no.40 

May 1965 – ‘Let’s Do The Freddie’ (Parkway 949), US no.40. A new dance-craze based around the Freddie & The Dreamers stage cavorting! 

1965 – ‘Everything’s Wrong’ c/w ‘Cu Ma La Be-Stay’ (Cameo-Parkway P959) 

July 1966 – ‘Hey You Little Boogaloo’ b/w ‘Pussy Cat’ (UK Sept, Cameo-Parkway P989) 

December 1966 – ‘Karate Monkey’ c/w ‘Her Heart’ (US Parkway) 

May 1969 – ‘Back In The USSR’ b/w ‘Windy Cream’ (Buddah 201-045) 

September 1971 – LP ‘Chequered’ (London sSHZ8419) with ‘How Does It Feel’, ‘Stoned In The Bathroom’, ‘No Need To Get So Heavy’, ‘Let’s Go Down’, ‘My Mind’, ‘Goodbye Victoria’, ‘Love Tunnel’, ‘Slow Lovin’, ‘He Died’, ‘If The Sun Stopped Shining’. Melody Maker says ‘the effect isn’t improved by the sub-Hendrix heavy accompaniment and a muddy mix which almost buries the vocals.’ 

October 1973 – movie soundtrack LP ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ (Bell) includes ‘The Twist’, ‘Pony Time’ and ‘Let’s Twist Again’ 

November 1975 – ‘Let’s Twist Again’ b/w ‘The Twist’ UK London American HL10512, no.5 

January 1976 – LP ‘The American Dream: The Cameo-Parkway Story 1957-1962’ (London Records Dream-U 3/4) double-vinyl includes ‘The Class’, ‘The Twist’, ‘Pony Time’, ‘Let’s Twist Again’, ‘Dancin’ Party’ and ‘Limbo Rock’ alongside tracks by Dee Dee Sharp (‘Mashed Potato Time’), Don Covay, Bobby Rydell, the Orlons (‘Don’t Hang Up’) and the Dovells (‘Bristol Stomp’) 

March 1976 – LP ‘Chubby Checker: Greatest Hits’ (London Records HAU8492), ‘Melody Maker’ said ‘a fine reminder of how catchy American punk Pop was’ although ‘the strain of constantly coming up with new dances was showing and the result was the feeble “Do The Freddie” and “At The Discoteque”.’ 

April 1976 – ‘Dance Party’ b/w ‘Limbo Rock’ (London American HLU 10524) 

December 1976 – ‘The Rub’ b/w ‘Move It’ 

June 1988 – ‘The Twist (Yo, Twist)’ The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker (Urban URB20), UK no.2 

May 1990 – movie soundtrack LP for Roseanne Barr- Meryl Streep ‘She-Devil’ (Mercury), includes ‘Party Up’ by Chubby Checker featuring the Fat Boys

Tuesday 24 May 2022






Review of: ‘ALPHAVILLE’ 
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, with Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, 
Akin Tamiroff and Laszlo Szabo. Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard 
(1965, Pathè Contemporary/ Chaumaine-Film, Studio/Canal, DVD)

 ‘Sometimes reality can be too complex to be conveyed 
by the spoken word, legend remoulds it into a 
form that can be spread all across the world…’

This is not the real world. This is not orthodox storytelling. Although ‘Alphaville’ is Jean-Luc Godard’s only venture into SF, it’s not even exactly SF. There’s an argument that his ‘Weekend’ (1968), a vision of autowreck and social degeneration into cannibalism, can be viewed as a Ballardian dystopia, but that’s open to interpretation too. Maybe repeated viewing of ‘Alphaville’ will clarify some difficult points. And it does. Up to a point. But the film sets up a continuum where narrative is not necessarily cohesive. It is playful, and infinite in possibility. ‘You never understand anything, and in the end, it kills you…’ There’s a lot that’s not meant to be clarified, preferring a maze of allusions culled from a disparate variety of sources instead. The fairly typical SF pulp theme of individualism resisting techno-totalitarianism, is transfigured into ambiguous allegory.

Intergalactic secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) arrives from ‘the outer countries’. He neglects to use a spaceship to get to Alphaville, by simply piloting a Ford Galaxy saloon through an ‘intersidereal space’ that closely resembles an ordinary highway. The city itself is a thinly disguised Paris, with selective perspectives of modernist glass-and-concrete standing in for the future. Its surface tone is cool and clear. Yet the luminous realism of the night-dark city is deceptive. At the time of its first release it all seemed radically innovative. The decades since have blunted some of that shock-of-the-new, subsuming it into various continuities. 

The earlier French films of Jean Cocteau now seem closer than was apparent at the time, especially his ‘Orphee’ (1950). Godard was a lead activist in the French New Wave, the movement swirling around the ‘Cahiers Du Cinèma’ journal. And ‘La Nouvelle Vague’ films, such as Alain Resnais’ ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (1959), or ‘Last Year In Mariebad’ (1961) were influenced by ‘nouveau roman’ fiction and the disjointed abstract art movements where conventional images are dislocated and re-ordered. That’s part of the non-linear game. There are pause-frames, direction arrows, E=MC2, pulsing neon lettering, and a grit-gravel voice-over. The aphoristic dialogue is deliberately non-realistic and absurdly poetic – ‘no-one has ever lived in the past. No-one will ever live in the future. The present is the form of all life’ delivered over a sequence of sketches and diagrams, words, surreal cartoons. Sometimes there’s genuine poetry. Jorge Luis Borges. Lemmy Caution destroys the central computer by countering its logic with poetry. And Natacha is shown reading from Paul Eluard’s ‘Capital Of Pain’ (‘Capitale De La Doleur’ 1926). 

Another vital input is previously-overlooked critically-derided Hollywood ‘B’-movies. Caution is not an original character, but one lifted from a series of tough-guy ‘Sam Spade’-style detective novels by Peter Cheyney. Eddie Constantine had already played him in a number of popular Euro-movies, from ‘Poison Ivy’ (‘La Môme Vert-De-Gris’, 1953) clear through to ‘Your Turn, Darling’ (‘A Toi De Faire… Migonne’, 1963). According to such fiction, New York-born Caution is hard-bitten, fuelled on cigarettes and drink. In his slouch-hat, trenchcoat and bad complexion he’s a ridiculous noir cipher, further mocked by his punning 003 codename.

He registers at the Alphaville hotel as Ivan Johnson, supposedly a journalist for ‘Figaro-Pravda’ magazine. He’s tetchily uncommunicative, taps the walls of his room suspiciously, and flash-photos everything. According to Godard’s dictum that ‘all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’ there’s a level-three seductress in his room, a big chrome juke-box, and a man with a gun. ‘Are you on drugs, sir?’ asks the girl. ‘no, this is normal’ he responds. His mission is to deal with the omnipresent Alpha 60 computer used to suppress the populace in the name of the Orwellian new-speak ‘universal good’. He visits Henry Dickson (Akim Tamiroff), who is sick, in a low-rent hotel in the forbidden zones. He encounters Natacha Von Braun (Anna Karina), daughter of the city’s controller, although she claims never to have met her mysterious all-powerful father. Her pointed teeth remind Caution of the vampires in the ‘old films they used to show.’ She speaks direct to camera with ‘the voice of a pretty sphinx.’

Through sequences of Kafkaesque bureaucracy he’s asked cryptic questions, and replies with conundrums. Is he a spy? Will there be a pre-emptive war with the outer countries? There is no ‘why’, there is only ‘because’. He escapes – unconvincingly, by smashing through matchwood doors and shooting four security guards. In a final confrontation Caution confirms his suspicions that Von Braun is really rogue scientist Leonard Nosferatu (Howard Vernon), banished in 1964. Not so, insists Von Braun, ‘that man no longer exists.’ He taunts Caution, ‘look at yourself, men like you will soon be extinct.’ Then tries to bribe him by offering gold, women, his own galaxy.

With this film Godard is at his most pranksterist. Alphaville is an impressionistic dystopia, a symbolist totalitarianism. Women have control numbers printed on their bodies. Are you crying?’ asks Caution. ‘No’ she responds, ‘because that is forbidden.’ A man who displayed grief by weeping when his wife died is machine-gunned into the swimming pool for his irrational failing. The Bible is a dictionary that does not contain the word ‘conscience’, and words are systematically deleted – robin redbreast, weep, tenderness, autumn light. Yet the effect is not unsettling. It’s not disorientating or subversive, except in the form of its structure.

This intriguingly mesmerising film mix-matches and splices genres into an artful cinematic comic-book – there are two scientists introduced as ‘Dr Heckle & Dr Jeckle’. Caution asks ‘is Dick Tracy dead? What about Flash Gordon?’ in what seem to be Pop-culture name-checks or in-jokes. And the traditions of SF are exploited as part of the same playfulness. When he uses the phone they enquire ‘galaxy, or local call?’ There’s a Heisenberg Park, ‘Nosferatu’ is a reference back to the 1922 FW Murnau movie, and the villain’s alternate name Von Braun obviously draws from the architect of the American space-shots. But ‘like all the other components of ‘Alphaville’, SF is used merely as a means to an end by Godard’ as critic John Brosnan points out (Peter Nicholls’ ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’). ‘You should call this dump Zeroville’ deadpans Caution. Yet, as in fairy-tale and wish-fulfillment fiction, he not only succeeds, but wins the love of the mad scientist’s elfin daughter too.

As the city, and its people malfunction in a series of negative anti-matter sequences, he rescues Natacha and they drive away together through the night of ‘intersidereal space’. ‘Don’t look back’ he warns her, in a conscious allusion to Orpheus. She struggles to pronounce the unfamiliar language of emotion. Until perhaps, as she finally manages to utter ‘I love you’, it’s an indication that, just maybe, the city will also recover, regenerate.

‘Everything has been said, provided 
words do not change their meanings, 
meanings their words…’



Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Producer: Andrè Michelin. Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard. With Eddie Constantine (as Lemmy Caution), Anna Karina (as Natacha Von Braun), Akim Tamiroff (as Henri Dickson), Howard Vernon (Prof Leonard Nosferatu aka Von Braun), Michel Delahaye (Von Braun’s Assistant), Jean-Andrè Fieschi & Jean-Louis Comolli (as Prof Heckell & Prof Jeckell), Laszlo Szabo (Chief Engineer), plus Christa Lang, Jean-Pierra Lèaud, and Valèrie Boisgel. Music by Paul Misraki. 99-minutes (5 May 1965 France, November 1965 UK, Pathè Contemporary / Chaumaine-Film, Studio/Canal, Optimum Releasing DVD 2007 with bonus features Colin MacCabe Introduction, Trailer, Posters, ‘Alphaville, Pèriphèries’) 

‘THE ALPHAVILLAINS’ John Brunner reviews ‘Alphaville’ in ‘New Worlds no.165’ (August 1966) and obviously fails to understand it, judging it on its merits as a ‘science fiction film’ – ‘it certainly is not science fiction even in the loosest sense of that term.’ Opening ‘Let’s get one thing straight to start with. ‘Alphaville’ is a disgracefully bad film, reflecting no credit to anybody – especially not on those critics who have puffed it as a major artistic achievement.’ Nit-picking details such as his ‘Ford Galaxie’ is clearly a Ford Mustang. He closes ‘Miss this film. There are so many better things to see.’ 

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UK – March 2011)