LE BEAT BESPOKE 8
Easter Weekend 2012
The weekend starts here.
The eighth Le Beat Bespoke Weekend – once a mod stronghold – kicks off in rocker mode. Well, kinda.
Entering The 229 Venue quiffs, leather and tattoos mingle with a swathe of older music fans and a few '60s and mod types, but in reality the full room felt like "a gig" rather than a club. No one really stood out or looked out of place. LBB has grown magnificently from a '60s/mod gathering to a fully-fledged music London festival centring itself around all manner of "vintage" culture.
Having been a life long Hypnotics fan it was with great anticipation that I entered the hall to see singer Jim Jones' latest and biggest venture: The Jim Jones Revue. After interviewing the enigmatic frontman for Shindig! the one thing that I was aware of was how professional he was. This is a man dedicated to his craft. You want success, you work for it. And he has.
After receiving accolades for their records, having been voted New Band Of The Year by Mojo in 2011, touring the World and appearing on both The Late Show and Later With Jools Holland, the Revue really are the hardest working band in show biz... And they have earned their stripes.
Witnessing their 2012 incarnation – with wonder kid spiv pianist Henri Herbert – one is struck by their democratic stage presence: all musicians are mighty forces, filling their space, jumping with guitars in hands or pummelling the Joanna with hair in face. Surrounded by his powerful outlaws Jim Jones testifies, clenched fist to chest, eyes upward. Jerry Lee, Mick, Little Richard, Mick, Iggy and now, a slight dose of Robert Mitchum in Night Of The Hunter all inhabit the on stage persona of Jones. This isn't a man it's a rock 'n' roll creation. And perfect at that.
Playing material from their two/three albums with a new song about the London riots thrown in, they don't let up for over an hour. Okay, so not that much has changed since Thee Hypnotics embraced us; that evident influence of the high octane ramalama of The MC5 is still central, but the greaser looks marked by Orton's Paul Simonon-esque swagger take things further back and their fuzzed up 12 bar rock is comparable to everyone from The Sonics to The New York Dolls and Gun Club. Yet, like both The Ramones and Motörhead The Jim Jones Revue are the keepers of the key. This hybridised homage to rock 'n' roll culture is all theirs and no one else's. It's as if the music of 1956, 1969, 1983 and 2012 all inhabit the same space.
What is especially apparent with an event like LBB is that in an era where multi channel TV, the Internet and iPhones feed our every whim the more honest and timeless forms of music and fashion have a bigger place in our hearts than ever before. Rather than hydrogenated space age food we want pies like grandma used to make and The Jim Jones Revue are the biggest, unhealthiest and most satisfying meat pie you'll ever eat.
Jon ‘Mojo’ Mills
LBB’s weekend of festivities continues on Friday evening, and The 229 Venue is full to bursting with collected mods, longhairs, hipsters and freaks, all letting their proverbial “freak flags fly”, and getting down to the mother lode of ’60s sounds (heavy on the pop, psych and freakbeat). Friday night boasts three bands, all performing live versions of their most celebrated albums.
Tonight July is preceded by a Moomin witchdoctor with oversized embroidered tongue, stamping a witchy voodoo staff in counter to hypnotic psychedelic sounds. The crowd is “up for it” – one reveller has a nifty Tourettes moment, screaming "psychedelia" at the top of his lungs as July graced the stage. Tonight July includes original members Tom Newman and Peter Cook (a guitarist who still has the chops, no nonsense searing fuzz), augmented by a trio of young upstarts, featuring the dynamic Alasdair Mitchell (late of Bangtwister and now of Hidden Masters) on bass overdrive. Al is a natural choice – he lives and breathes July, providing a faithful and energetic delivery. July plough through the album in its running order with the addition of ‘Dandelion Seeds’ to close the set, and 50 odd minutes later I'm reeling, a firm believer that July is the epitome of UK psych, with tracks as ‘A Bird Lived’ and ‘Friendly Man’, who can argue?
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown gave the crowd a flamboyant display of circus craft, wizardry, and pyrotechnics – all to the beat of an astonishing, and oft overlooked ’68 album. CWAB's take is looser and neatly fits the live setting, stretching out and adding "theatre" to the proceedings (there's even a levitated keyboard at one point). Mr Brown continues to command an audience, with the sturdiest pair of lungs and an unfaltering performing energy. Although they’re young and hot, Mr Brown is non-reliant on his current Crazy World, unlike others on the “classic album” treadmill. I had to laugh though, as I can’t remember the last time I saw Rob Bailey so aghast with childlike exhilaration from witnessing all that freaky shit going down onstage. Waiter, may I have a "Spontaneous Apple Creation" with my coffee?
Phil May, who once proudly claimed to be longest haired man in the UK, is no longer the recipient of that title. Actually, he probably hasn't been for several decades: several styles of music have developed in the wake of the trail blazed by The Pretty Things, including assorted types of metal, and it isn't in that much evidence at the front either. Why any such trivia should matter, when after 50 years he's still fronting a band this good, is inexplicable – but such is the nature of the fact-collecting, stat-quoting anorak fandom that the best psychedelic and progressive rock seems to bring out in people.
And tonight, being just that little bit more than just another Pretties gig, is the one event of the entire LBB weekender guaranteed to do this: in the last 15 years I've seen them do the entire SF Sorrow album several times, play entire R&B sets specifically devoted to the first two albums, and even threaten to grace us with Parachute in its entirety (that's still in the pipeline, by the way, folks) and dip into all manner of obscurities, but never before have they devoted almost an entire set to material from the several albums' worth of soundtrack music composed and recorded for the De Wolfe library under the name of Electric Banana.
The name, plundered quite possibly from the lyrics of Donovan's ‘Mellow Yellow’ and later namechecked as an imaginary Greenwich Village rock club by Rob Reiner's alter ego Marty De Bergi in the intro to This Is Spinal Tap, drips with pure myth: Reiner's East Coast beat haven never existed and nor, technically, did the band, except for contractual reasons. Thus, by default, the Banana are the legendary, imaginary psych-prog band your older stoner mates talked in reverential tones of searching for albums by, the one about whom much apocrypha is told, the one whose florid name both The Dukes Of Stratosphear and Porcupine Tree subconsciously parodied in their nascent efforts two decades later, and the one you never thought you'd see. Except, of course, you had probably seen them several times already under their real monicker, performing the tunes they were best known for, in venues ranging in size from The Boston Arms to The Royal Festival Hall. You just didn't know it. Or if you did, maybe you forgot.
But that, my dears, is only half the story – because it was these songs, knocked out hastily in London basements over a period of four to five years, that soundtracked over a dozen British horror, exploitation, sex and psychedelic caper films now beloved of collectors and Shindig! readers from Aberdeen to Alperton. To these eyes and ears (which have revelled in such delights since I was knee-high to my old man's nadge) the prospect of such a gig was a dream come true.
So, did they live up to such high expectations? Pretty much (uurgh, bad play on words there), but only given the caveat that you go into these things fully prepared for the fact that it'll never quite sound the same as it did “back then” Without Wally Allen, it couldn't do anyway, but those of us who follow the band regularly have got used to that fact by now. And, as I commented on another website some time ago, the introduction of a younger rhythm section, even though the drums occasionally still bear the unwelcome reverb of “big rock” (that might just be the PA though) has repositioned the Pretties as close to their classic sound as they are ever likely to be again.
The people who come to LBB every year (even though there were a fair few older “heads” in the audience who departed as soon as the last live note had been played) want it raw, garage, freakbeaty and jagged, and for the most part this is exactly what the band dish out: Dick Taylor may look like Are You Being Served's Young Mr Grace, but name meone other guitarist from the ’60s still working today (with the possible exceptionof Tony McPhee) who can still wring riffs, licks, melodies, solos and sheer overdriven fuzz of such intensity from his instrument, and I'll buy you a round of the most expensive beer available (which, in this venue, it has to be said, could be almost anything on offer). Similarly May's vocals retain the sniding, sneering power of yore, from opener 'Alexander' through lysergic delights like 'Grey Skies' – veteran of several Britsploitation titles including the ultra-sleazy Take An Easy Ride – and 'Walking Through My Dreams' (even if the rest of the band seem to have forgotten how the vocal arrangement to the coda of the latter goes) to the one-two R&B thrashes of 'Midnight To Six Man' and 'Get The Picture': a veritable mountain of uniquely British vocal energy that personifies that strangely beautiful 1965-75 era better than anyone else with the possible exception of Rog D himself.
New bassist George Perez and percussionist Mark St John take lead vocals on the rarely-aired ‘Love Dance And Sing’, while rhythm guitarist Frank Holland,(the third longest serving member after the two originals) steps up to the mike to trade verses with May on a pulverising, pummeling ‘I See You’, maybe the only true psychedelic power ballad – and I mean that in the most powerful, overwhelming way possible. Smitten by memories of its usage in Haunted House Of Horror, I can feel Proustian chills of joy crawling up my spine: ‘It'll Never Be Me’, once grooved to by Clare Sutcliffe in the window of a
Berkshire record emporium during the evocative ‘I Start Counting’, is, even though I fully expected to hear it, almost aural and cerebral orgasm enough to make me cream my linen flares.
Conversely, the title song from What's Good For The Goose, introduced by May as "a song we really didn't wanna do in the film and I can't believe we're doing it tonight" is playful, cheery and as daft as you would imagine any song from a film pitting Norman Wisdom against the swinging boho set to be. In the corner, a small gang of us, including lifelong mods/ psych-heads, DJs and at least one (De?) Wolf Person (flanked by Diagonal types on the right), also dance unshamedly like they did in the pictures back then, and like you did in '68 not just to the DJ, but the band: the oldest of us were probably still only in nappies when the Pretties cut these original tracks, but if anything that is proof of their cross-generational transendence and timelessness.
That said, LBB is definitely an event for those of us who like to party like it's 1969 (and dress accordingly) and hearing any of the above songs, the melancholic ‘Walk Away’ or for that matter the Motowny uptown strutting ‘Danger Signs’ played here, in front of an audience who look like they've walked out of one of those films, by the band that either did play in or soundtrack them, is, and should be, a pivotal moment in the career of any informed journalist or unashamed fan of both film and music. Not only that, but THIS, nfriends, defines in one fell swoop true "UK psych", true "Swinging London", and encapsulates more than any other gig seen in the last two years the very reasons why I left Glasgow and came back home. This truly is the very essence of the Britsploitation experience in excelsis, even if the Pretties themselves haven't seen half the films their songs so illuminated. OK, nobody invited me ghost-hunting in a disused mansion in Middlesex afterwards, but that also meant nobody stabbed me in the bollocks ala Frankie Avalon either. A case of swings and roundabouts... ‘Mr Evasion’, followed by a breakneck thrash-out which sees the band flanked for the second time by raven-haired exotic dancers ("where's the girls? May was won't to quote at several intervals) bring the main set to a close: the R&B explosion follows soon after, before the final hammer-blow of ‘LSD’, seguing perfectly into the proto-metal stroke of genius that is and always was ‘Old Man Going’ smashes our jaws to the floor in wonderment at what we've just seen. In the aftermath, it's almost inconceivable that we wondered if they were going to pull this off, or that we still question how long they can keep it up.
Two men pushing 70, another two in their 50s and their brace of young cohorts in perfect collusion conclusively prove, yet again, tonight that age is merely a state of mind. The only downside is that there isn't enough time to do all of this stuff: I knew I wasn't going to get The Monster Club but I thought ‘Walking Down The Street’ from the recently-released-
on-DVD Some Like It Sexy might have got an airing. Still, there's time. The Pretties, for a band who've survived what they've survived already – including playing with Jasper Carrott on Top Of The Pops –are by now surely immortal, the ephemeral and elusive Electric Banana even more so. Now, could somebody please start making films in that style again so they can show the lesser mortals what they're still capable of? Aspiring Jenny Agutters, Mark Wynters, Christopher Matthews's and assorted nameless Scandinavian hopefuls, kindly form a queue by the door.
Darius Drewe Shimon
I was initially a little taken aback to be stung for £7 entry despite having bought Saturday and Sunday night tickets, but three bands and a record fair at midday has to be worth that, so in I went, just in time to catch the first act of the afternoon's “Dirty Water Showcase” spot, Thee Vicars. These are a great young band, delivering an excellent set compromising elements of garage, Merseybeat and good old fashioned rawk ’n' roll, I enjoyed ’em a lot – heard the records, first time in the flesh though! Next up were Spanish three piece The Hollywood Sinners, who snarled their way thru a spikey set, well received by a fan club I think they'd brought along for the ride! But to round off the afternoon was the highly anticipated The Sorrows, yeeeaah!
I was actually surprised that a band with their stature was playing at this time, and in essentially a splinter event for the weekender, but with them being managed by the guy who organised the event, I wasn't going to dwell on his rota. Waiting for them to hit the stage, I was speaking to a few round me and it seemed most had travelled to London with this band highest on their radar, from places as far afield as Birmingham, Leicester, Edinburgh, Sheffield and San Francisco – no pressure on the Coventry boys then! As the band took the stage, I was immediately struck by the size of legendary vocalist Don Fardon – he's huuuge! I have to say he did look pretty nervous, the room although not the biggest was very full, much more so than for the other acts, but as they launched into their first song it was immediately apparent that his rich baritone sounded great! And a well thought out set, of Sorrows classics, a few inevitable covers and entertaining banter was soon underway, nailed by a tight unit of Don, fellow ’60s journeymen and a great 17-year-old guitarist; standouts for this punter being ‘No No No No’, ‘Cara-Lin’, ‘You've Got What I Want,’ ‘Pink Purple Yellow And Red’, and of course the band's “Magnum Opus” ‘Take A Heart’. No forced encore, they blistered through the lot, intersplicing and entertaining between songs with tales of their heyday exploits, Don kept referring to his bandmates as “this current line-up”, which did make me wonder how permanent an arrangement it actually is! But his lead hench, and vocalist on a couple of numbers was full of banter with the big fella, and aptly filled in with a second blast of ‘No No No No’, when the big fella was strangely AWOL when the very appreciative audience wouldn't let the band leave stage, he eventually reappeared looking dumbstruck at the reception to give us a couple more!
I inevitably feel a slight tinge of disappointment when I see most vintage artists these days, unoriginal band members, rusty sets, aging vocals, etc... No complaints here, okay they didn't exactly look sharp in a '”uniform” of logo tee shirts and black slacks, but with tags over the years as “British garage pioneers'” and “foremost exponents of Freakbeat” The Sorrows certainly didn't disappoint at all; I think they'll be around quite a bit over the next year or two, and I'll be joining the far-flung travellers if they don't come to my doorstep.
Really glad I got to see ’em, then. I won't forget The Sorrows... nope, certainly not!
After a brief respite for some much needed sustenance and a spruce up, it was back to 229 for the evening's (er - and morning's) festivities.
As we walked in, The Screamin' Vendettas were just taking stage, a band that I'd heard a lot of hype about, but if I'm honest they really didn't move me. The song choice was fine, some sterling British rock ’n’ roll, a smattering of rR&B and a fair few garage classics, but something was missing in the execution, and their gimmick of bizarre masks disguising the identity of the members soon wore thin, although judging on this performance it's not a bad idea to stay anonymous.
After a circuit of the music rooms, which always confuses in the labyrinth this venue is, (the R&B room was surprisingly quiet, the psych room buzzing as ever) we settled back into the busy main room for a good atmosphere and a cracking rockabilly, tittyshaker and garage set until the weekend's headliners arrived, The Trashmen. We were warmed up by a gushing, but unnecessarily overlong film of tributes to the band made at a Spanish weekender, which had it been just a couple of minutes long would've been entertaining, but as it was I could literally feel myself getting old watching it. And, they duly arrived. I was wondering how, despite an unquestionable pedigree and a lot of rekindled interest after an online campaign for a Christmas chart topper came close to success, what is essentially a “one-hit wonder” band over here would justify top billing. But I soon got my answer. They were loud, fast, energetic, and I enjoyed every minute. Their takes on Ventures, Surfaris and Dick Dale classics were great versions, Trashmen style; a short Link Wray tribute faultless, and they linked with stories of the numbers they were nailing – unbelievable to hear they first played together nearly 55 years ago!
Soon enough a pair of stunning go-go dancers arrived on stage to signal their finale, ‘Surfin' Bird’. The girls shook, the crowd shook, the ground shook and that was it. Tight, talented and entertaining – Trashtastic!
This was amazingly their first British appearance; “We'll be back” they said. You'll be welcome...
And so to Sunday, and what could be a better way to nuke those cobwebs and get us in the mood for shaking our tired butts than some out and out Raunch ’n’ Paunch Garage Revival Revival courtesy of Austria’s Wild Evel & The Trashbones. Taking to the stage like a perverse hybrid of Fuzztone Rudi Protrudi and Max Wall, Mr Evel sounds like he has some scores to settle as he gets busy with his young cohorts for a heads-down snarl-athon about cavemen, untrustworthy girlfriends, revenge, global warming (okay, maybe not) and any other subject on the checklist of Garage Grievances, all interspersed with some spirited Mummies-style farfisa wobbling. Admittedly the bones and bowlcuts cartoon schtick does start to pummel the senses after a while so it is with some relief that the Go-Go dancers come on board, if only to briefly divert our attention from Mr Evel’s Everton Mint stripey leggings. They do what it says on the tin, they play trash, they wear bones, they are The Trashbones and there’s very little danger of their next LP sounding like Bauhaus. As they leave us all grinning from ear to ear and ready to face the night ahead, we can only thank them profusely for that.
Next up are the recently reformed The Poets from Glasgow, who, as any freakbeat/psych fan worth his/her salt knows recorded some of the most immediately identifiable and haunting singles of the ’60s. Consisting of core members George Gallacher on vocals and Frazer Watson on guitar, The Poets are more than ably assisted by members of Scotland’s other beat legends, The Thanes. Gallacher initially appears to have a slight sense of unease about what we are all going to make of it, even admitting that he’s not sure if he’s so keen on some of the material himself. However, such butterfly-induced self-deprecation is short-lived and it becomes immediately apparent with opener ‘Now We’re Thru’ that this is a man who is totally at home with performing and who has not lost any of his chops as a vocalist. ‘Some Things I Can’t Forget’, ‘Baby Please Don’t Do It’, ‘I Love Her Still’, ‘Here Are Some’ and ‘I’ll Cry To The Moon’ are all delivered confidently to an open-mouthed, spine-tingled audience. The Thanes, as Poets devotees, give a performance that’s respectful of the original recordings but not to the point where they are merely trying to recreate the records. As seasoned performers themselves, they understand the live dynamic and so help bring a new energy to the music of The Poets without losing the spirit which makes Poets material so unique in the first place. No mean feat indeed.
Unfortunately supposed time constraints denied us the remaining two songs on the setlist – ‘Wooden Spoon’ and ‘In Your Tower’ – and there was a palpable sense of disappointment that they weren’t allowed to continue. “That wasnae bad” a beaming Gallacher pronounced at the end in his distinctive Glaswegian accent. George, we couldn’t agree more