Thursday 28 August 2014

Dead End Streets: The Kinks Landmarks Under Threat

Little Green "Dead End" Street
I was up in Kentish Town sampling some fine ales in The Pineapple and The Southampton Arms and suddenly remembered there was one location that I'd missed off my last Kinks North London walking tour. Luckily it just happened to be handily situated right between both pubs. Little Green Street was the location for one of the first ever music promo videos, “Dead End Street”, which The Kinks filmed to promote the single back in 1966. The short black and white film is packed full of black humour, intercut with various scenes of slums and poverty, it has the band hamming it up dressed as undertakers trying to carry a coffin under the railway bridge along the cobbled street and into the doorway of number 4. The street has hardly changed at all, it’s a small and beautiful row of unspoilt Grade II listed Georgian terrace houses with bow windows and colourful doors, just off the main Highgate Road, it looks far less depressing in real life than it did in the video.

The street is still cobbled, well, apart from the terrible eye-sore of a huge blotch of tarmac put down by some council contractor with a total lack of regard for the street’s character or history. I was bemoaning this fact when I noticed a large colourful banner and some posters hanging in resident’s windows declaring that the street's future was in danger due to a new property development. When I got home I checked out the web-site address on the banner to find out more and discovered the depressing, but not unfamiliar, news that the residents have been fighting a long battle with Camden Council in opposition to plans to build a gated development of 30 luxury homes with an underground car park. So, this lovely little street, that survived the Blitz, may not yet survive the property developer’s bulldozers and our Government’s obsession with smashing a wrecking ball through any last traces of individualism, local history and heritage. So, please do try and check out the “Save Little Green Street” campaign’s excellent web-site and share it around to help raise awareness and show some support to the residents.

Sadly, Denmark Street, or Tin Pan Alley as it is more commonly known, is another famous musical London landmark with a Kinks connection that finds itself under threat from property developers.

“Down the way from the Tottenham Court Road
Just round the corner from old Soho
There's a place where the publishers go
If you don't know which way to go
Just open your ears and follow your nose
'Cos the street is shakin' from the tapping of toes”

That brilliantly evocative verse is taken from The Kinks’ track “Denmark Street” which featured on the 1970 album “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One”. It was also performed in a stunning scene in the “Sunny Afternoon” musical which we saw at the Hampstead Theatre and previously reviewed on the Blog here. The Kinks recorded some early demos at Denmark Street's Regent Sound Studios in 1963 including “You Really Got Me”, and some of those demos can be found on “The Great Lost Kinks Album” compilation. The studio, which was situated at number 4 Denmark Street, is long since gone and is now home to a guitar shop at street level and the Alleycat Club in the basement. As well as The Kinks, many iconic bands and artists such as The Who, Mott The Hoople, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and The Yardbirds recorded at Regent Sound Studios throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. Ray Davies’ lyrics to “Denmark Street” allude to the Music Publishers that were crammed into the Street and as it was rare at the time for singers or bands to write their own material they all flocked to Denmark Street to hustle for the best available songs to record. Of course this influx of some of the brightest musical talent around made it a magnet for Agents, Managers and Promoters all trying to snap up “Clients” that would hopefully make them a fortune in the charts. One of the main meeting points for all these movers and shakers was the Gioconda Café at number 9, which is now also sadly closed after a re-birth as the Giaconda Dining Rooms an there is now a Blue Plaque above the doorway highlighting the importance of the place. 

The Blue Plaque in Denmark Street
However, Denmark Street’s history and relationship with music goes back way further than The Kinks of course. This small side street, located in the parish of St. Giles, was once home to a leper colony and then became a slum area called the Rookery with stocks and gallows for public executions. There were some good times though, for example in 1687 the street was improved so much so that it was described as “a fair, broad street, with good houses, and well inhabited by gentry” and there are still eight properties on the street that date back to that time. Due to it’s proximity to  Soho's many theatres, Denmark Street became a prime location for printing companies specialising in the publication of broadside lyric sheets which then developed into the sheet music trade. In 1926 the composer and publisher Lawrence Wright started the music newspaper Melody Maker from his offices on Denmark Street and as the music related activity increased the nickname Tin Pan Alley, borrowed from Manhattan, started to appear. In the 1950’s the New Musical Express opened its offices on Denmark Street and the first recording studios appeared in the 60’s. The Sex Pistols recorded some early demos at Number 6 and there’s still some rather amusing graffiti preserved on the walls as can be seen in the DVD extras in Julien Temple’s “There’ll Always Be an England” movie. Denmark Passage is also home to Enterprise Studios where many well known bands have rehearsed over the years, in fact I have just seen it mentioned in Viv Albertine’s new autobiography "Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys".

The 12 Bar Club Denmark Street
So, this historic and atmospheric street is also under threat from property developers and the Cross Rail work that has already seen destruction of The Astoria, the Metro Club, the LA2 and the St. Martin's College of Art where the Sex Pistols once played an early gig. Why we need yet more identikit soul-less shopping malls packed with chain coffee stores and restaurants I will never understand, it is a disgrace. Most depressingly of all though, Retro Man Blog’s favourite London club, The 12 Bar, is one of the buildings under most threat and it will be a crying shame to lose this truly independent venue which promotes and supports unsigned bands 7 nights a week. As regular readers will know, the 12 bar has been the scene of some truly memorable gigs, and I’m sure you will be familiar with the neon bull-horn logo and the old forge behind the stage from many photos featured in the Blog. The Fallen Leaves legendary “Minimum R’n’B” club nights on the first Wednesday of every month are always highlighted in the diary and have become a fantastic social event for musicians and fans alike to relax, mingle and enjoy the great line-ups that The Leaves put on. The main room of the 12 Bar is a historic building in it's own right and as you can see from the two pictures below hardly anything has changed since the top photo was taken 100 years ago!

The Medhurst company forge photographed in 1914
The Fallen Leaves on stage in the forge room, 12 Bar Club 2014 - Copyright Paul Slattery
The producer, writer and DJ, Henry Scott-Irvine has started up a “Don’t Bin Tin Pan Alley” petition on in the hope of gathering enough signatures to force the Council to think again about allowing planning permission for the re-development of the area. He told Mojo Magazine “This should be stopped. Denmark Street and the surrounding St. Giles area should be given full heritage status like Covent Garden Market, Hatton Garden, and Savile Row.” At the moment the numbers signed up in opposition stand at just over an impressive 11,000 and only 4,000 more are needed to reach the required target. You can add your support to the campaign by signing the petition at the link here and we would encourage anyone to please kindly share both Henry's campaign and the “Save Little Green Street” details to help raise awareness and support. Please remember this is not just for fans of Rock music, it’s for anyone who values our culture, history, architecture and heritage and wants to continue to enjoy some sense of individuality on our streets and in our towns.

Friday 22 August 2014

Les Kitschenette's new E.P. "2e étage: lingerie pour hommes" out now on 10" Blue Vinyl and news on their first U.K. Gig...!

The fabulous French Yé-yé group Les Kitschenette's have just released their latest E.P. "2e étage: lingerie pour hommes" on Soundflat Records which takes you right back to the stylish France of the '60's. Six incredible new tunes of French Freakbeat are just waiting to be played loudly and danced to at your groovy parties! The new 10" vinyl E.P. is called "2e Etage: Lingerie Pour Hommes" and is the second of a series of three releases on coloured vinyl; the first one was on red vinyl, this one in blue and the upcoming one will be released on white vinyl, altogether forming the colours of the French flag. It consists of cover versions of well-chosen nuggets from the 60s; all of which the band interpret with their usual dose of melodic organ, a shakin' beat, a hint of sax and flute, fuzz riffs, a stylophone and brilliantly elegant female as well as male vocals. If you like French 60's Garage-Beat, Les Kitschenette's are a must-see band, and you will be able to see them make their very first U.K. appearance at the next Retro Man Blog Night at The Half Moon Putney on September 26th. at their first! Check out the video to "J'ai l'air de Quoi" from the brand new E.P. here...

We are very pleased to announce that, in conjunction with Adaptor Clothing, the next Retro Man Blog Night will be on Friday September 26th at The Half Moon Putney where we will be presenting an Anglo-French battle of three of the best Beat Combos around. We have the splendid adrenaline fuelled Medway Delta Pop of The Len Price 3 headlining along with the rather spiffing Garage Mod-upon-Thames sounds of The Past Tense. To complete the line-up we sail up the estuary to extend a very hearty cross-Channel welcome to the exceptionnel French Yé-yé FreakBeat band Les Kitschenette's for their very first U.K. gig. Zut alors, à bientôt chums...!

Order the E.P. direct from the band's Bandcamp page, or better still come along to see the band play live at the Half Moon on September 26th and pick up a copy at the gig! You can read a review with photos and videos of when we saw Les Kitschenette's in Paris last year here, here's the band performing a cover of The Castaways classic 60's track "Liar,  Liar" from that show. Enjoy!

Les Kitschenette's, Paris 2013 - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Advance Tickets for the Retro Man Blog Night with The Len Price 3, Les Kitschenette's and The Past Tense at the Half Moon on September 26th can be ordered at the bargain price of £8.00 here.


Saturday 16 August 2014

The Fay Hallam Trinity and The Sonic Jewels at The Retro Festival, White Waltham Airfield August 09th

Fay Hallam
This was our first visit to the snappily titled Retro Festival (no relation...) and it turned out to be a big success. The Saturday we attended was really well organised with the festival site boasting a huge array of stalls and shops, everything from vinyl records and gig posters to clothing and nostalgic home artefacts and bric-a-brac. A lot of the crowd were dressed to impress and there were some immaculately costumed aficionados ranging from the 1940's swing era and 50's Rockabilly to 60's Hipsters and 70's Hippie-chic flower children. All ages and tastes for retro, vintage and nostalgia were catered for and there was a pleasant family-friendly atmosphere where Mods mingled with Rockers and Teddy Boys exchanged pleasantries with Punks. Along with the various retail stalls there were many other activities to keep you occupied throughout the day including a tattoo parlour and hairdressers, DJ's, dance tuition classes, live music and Burlesque performances.

Scooters at the Retro Festival
If you preferred your nostalgia motorised there was an impressive and varied collection of vintage motorbikes, cool Lambrettas and Vespas and classic cars on display. If your interests were more historical, industrial or agricultural, no problem, you could get your hands dirty with steam engines, tractors and an assortment of old Army vehicles. Aviation fans could enjoy a helicopter ride to take you up for a perfect panoramic view of the festival site and there were some stunning acrobatic flying displays which defied you to keep your food down as the pilots performed death-defying stunts above our heads. However, as far as we were concerned the main action was strictly of the more down-to-earth variety and most of our time was spent in the Ricky-Tick tent, named in honour of the legendary local Sixties Club of the same name. One of the original Ricky-Tick DJ's Martin Fuggles was the compare for the day and the Sidewinder and 100 Club DJ David Edwards played some great tracks to get everyone in the mood before The Sonic Jewels took to the stage.

The Sonic Jewels at the Retro Festival
The flamboyant London based three-piece opened with "Dark Road To Venus" the title track from their excellent debut album and then proceeded to rattle through a great set of completely new and unreleased songs. "Rattlesnake" was a particular favourite of mine as it had a powerful Wilko Johnson style rhythm guitar riff driving it along at break-neck speed. There's a bit of a mix-up on the intro to "Dancing on Mines" but when they finally get it back on the rails it proves a big hit, reminding me of The Seeds and 13th Floor Elevators. "Bring Back" has a great Hendrix inspired intro and proves that the new album will be every bit as good as their excellent debut. The band are just great together and have a good on stage chemistry. There were some impressive guitar pyrotechnics from Justin, singer and bassist Laurence handles his duel roles perfectly and drummer Danny keeps it all powering along nicely. They announced that the next track "Woland's Candle" would be a future single but it was the next track "Time" that was a real stand-out song, a stunning Garage Rocker that reminded me of The Music Machine. Next came an OK cover of "Helter Skelter" which seemed a bit unnecessary considering the strength of their own material.

Laurence of The Sonic Jewels
This was apparent as they followed it with the excellent "Yeah Yeah No No" which somewhat bizarrely sounded like a mash-up of Nirvana's "Come As You Are" and The MC5's "Looking At You". Although the band might take a lot of their influences from the more progressive rock of Led Zeppelin, Cream and Jimi Hendrix the good thing, for me at least, is that their songs are short and to the point and are stuffed full of melodic riffs and memorable choruses. If you like inventive and exceptional guitar work and great musicianship then The Sonic Jewels will be right up your street but they also have a groove and an underlying edge that will appeal equally to fans of the rawer side of Psych and Garage Rock. The band are currently working on their second, as yet untitled, album and when I caught up with Justin after their set he told me there was also a possibility of releasing an E.P. in the meantime and we will be sure to keep you updated.

Fay Hallam
I had never seen The Fay Hallam Trinity play live before so I was really looking forward to this, especially as I had been enjoying the new album "Lost In Sound" so much. Unsurprisingly, we got a good selection of songs from this latest Blow Up Records collaboration with The Bongolian, but the one hour set also spanned most of Fay's career, all we needed were tracks from The Prime Movers and The Gift Horses to make it a full house. The band started off with the excellent "1975", which you can hear in Episode 8 of Retrosonic Podcast, and it's as evocative of the era as an episode of "Life On Mars" with it's tales of Alvin Stardust, yellow chopper bikes and David Essex. Fay looks great but is half hidden behind the huge wooden cabinet of her Hammond organ and her voice soars on "I Call Your Name" from the underrated Phaze, the band which also featured ex-Prisoner, Solarflare and JTQ member Allan Crockford and drummer Russ Baxter who now both play in Galileo 7.

The Fay Hallam Trinity at the Retro Festival
The pace slows for the stunningly beautiful "In The Fire" which I always thought would make a perfect James Bond theme. Unfortunately, it's the only track they play from the superb "Realm". Then we get two cuts from "Lost In Sound", the laid back Bossa Nova sound of "I Can't Cry" which highlights the excellent drumming of Kieran McAleer and percussion of Fay's son Sam Day. There's a bit of a breather as the band and crowd debate the correct pronunciation of 'scone' and a false start on "Alive" as the lack of lighting meant that Kieran couldn't read the set-list. The instrumental "Astrud" from "1975" comes next and then we are treated to two great tracks from Fay's mid-80's band Makin' Time (who also featured future Charlatans bassist Martin Blunt), the impossibly catchy "Feels Like It's Love" and "I Get A Love From You" with another of Fay's very talented family, Josh Day, taking over on lead vocals. Josh does a great job on piano and organ throughout and his expansive style covers the lack of guitar really well. Indeed, The Fay Hallam Trinity are about as much fun as you can have at a gig without guitars! However, Bassist Dan Wilson injects a bit of the "Rock" element into proceedings to make me feel more at home as he jumps about the stage, he's really into it, totally lost in the sound, if you pardon the rather awful pun.

Fay Hallam at the Retro Festival
Next up is a cover of "Let The Sunshine In" from the musical "Hair", although it's more in the style of Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger's take on their "Streetnoise" album rather than 5th Dimensions' more easy-listening version. In fact Brian Auger's Trinity are probably the closest reference point, not just in the appropriation of the name and the use of the Hammond but in blending jazzy Psychedelia with driving Soul music. "Dancing" from Lost In Sound is one of the stand out tracks of the set and another Makin' Time track "Eating Up The Cold" starts off with Fay's Hammond coming in over the top of a great piano riff. A cover of The Artwoods Ska'n'B stomper "If I Ever Get My Hands On You" is really excellent and of course The Artwoods featured another organist par excellence, Jon Lord, who would later go on to join Deep Purple. The title track from "Lost In Sound" is next and the set ends on a high with my favourite track from the album, the faultless "Freefall", with some tremendous stabbing Hammond chords from Fay. DJ David Edwards leads the calls for an encore and the band return for a cover of The Flirtations' Northern Soul classic "Nothing But A Heartache" which leaves everyone with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.

Sam, Dan and Josh of The Fay Hallam Trinity
Fay Hallam (with DJ Dave Edwards in the background)
Overall it was a really great, well organized and fun day out and I am already looking forward to next year's Retro Festival and if they can get some more live acts to play the Ricky-Tick stage throughout the day, I think it would be pretty close to perfection. Here's some more photos...

DJs Martin Fuggles and David Edwards

Hot Rockin' Ltd - Note flyers for our next Retro Man Blog gig...!
Justin and Danny from Sonic Jewels

The Fay Hallam Trinity
Thanks to Hot Rockin' Ltd. for displaying some flyers for our next Retro Man Blog Night. All Photos Copyright Retro Man Blog 2014. For more photos of the Retro Festival head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook Page and hit "Like" for access to the exclusive photo album.

Monday 4 August 2014

"Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records" by Simon Goddard + unseen Paul Slattery photos of Aztec Camera & Orange Juice from 1980

(L/R) "Simply Thrilled" Author Simon Goddard, Edwyn Collins and Photographer Paul Slattery
Just before we went to see Roddy Frame play at the Shepherds Bush Empire (you can read the review of that gig here) we popped along to the launch party of Simon Goddard's new book "Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records", which is out now on Ebury Press. The party was a well attended gathering at Scottish outfitters Lyle & Scott's flagship store in Carnaby Street and the author was there, along with Edwyn Collins, to sign copies of the beautifully presented book. Retro Man Blog's very own Paul Slattery has some of his early pictures reproduced in "Simply Thrilled" and he caught up with Edwyn for the first time since he photographed Orange Juice as they, and Postcard Records, were just starting to make waves back in 1980.

Author Simon Goddard made his name with three impressively detailed books on The Smiths, Morrissey and Ziggy period Bowie, all crammed full of the minutiae of his subject’s music. These were fact packed Rock ‘n’ Roll encyclopedias and song-by-song guides that satisfied the thirst for knowledge and curiosity of every ardent music geek and connoisseur. However “Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records” is, as the title alludes to, a very different proposition. Whilst researching the book, the author came up against so many differing versions of the same story that he decided to go with Postcard Records boss Alan Horne’s advice to just go ahead and “print the legend” to “write the myth, as that is far more interesting”. Actually, there probably wasn’t that much for Goddard to get his investigative teeth into anyway, Postcard only released around a dozen or so records from a meagre roster of four bands - Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Josef K and The Go-Betweens - and it was all over in a couple of years, hardly the stuff that encyclopedias are made of. So, what we do get is a thoroughly entertaining “dramatic reconstruction” of the Postcard Records story, not written in some dry Q&A format with an endless cast of characters reminiscing on times gone past but in what could pass as a screenplay to a musical Bio-pic. I can imagine “Simply Thrilled” being filmed say in the vein of Joann Sfar’s stunning fantasy “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” or the recent movie “Svengali” which, although a work of fiction does somewhat blur the boundaries between a parody of the music business and real life.

Orange Juice in 1980 - Photo copyright Paul Slattery
Don’t worry, fans of Goddard’s previous books will still get their fix but they will have to skip to the large annotated discography at the back to find notes on release dates, the colour of labels or the meaning of comments etched into the vinyl’s run-out grooves. Don’t expect much on the stories of Aztec Camera or The Go-Betweens either, as there are almost as many pages devoted to Louis Wain, the Victorian Cat Artist whose cute drumming feline became the Postcard Records logo, than there are about those two bands. Josef K fare slightly better in terms of column inches although it is very clear that Horne never really wanted to sign them in the first place. “Simply Thrilled” is very much the story of Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins, from their first encounter right up to the demise of Postcard Records rather than an in-depth look at how a Record Company works. Alan Horne is described as a sensitive and clumsy loner who comes across as Kenneth Williams playing the role of Andy Warhol, spitting out quick-fire ripostes and cutting put-downs. He is introduced to Edwyn Collins via mutual friends and recognises him as the singer of a band called The Nu-Sonics who he saw play at a chaotic and violent gig in Glasgow. With their shared love of The Velvet Underground and Soul music they soon become close friends, bickering and trying to out-do each other like a comedy double act. The Nu-Sonics evolve into Orange Juice, inspired by the slightly fey melodies of Buzzcocks (as immortalised in OJ’s classic single “Rip It Up”), Subway Sect’s embracing of Northern Soul and the scratchy disco rhythm guitar of Chic’s Nile Rogers. The seed of Postcard Records is sown when Horne decides to produce a flexi-disc of Orange Juice to give away free with copies of his fanzine and his confrontational character soon becomes the driving force behind the label.

The "Simply Thrilled" launch party
Alan and Edwyn seem to delight in offending Glasgow’s macho, aggressive elements and Orange Juice seem to equally offend hard-core Punks, hooligans (or “Neds”) and Teddy Boys alike. The band become almost an “Anti-Rock” concept, with their semi-acoustic guitars held high, there are no Peter Hook, Paul Simonon, Dee Dee Ramone style low slung basses and certainly no throwing of guitar hero shapes or poses. With their jumble sale second hand clothes of tartan, plaid and suede it was a somewhat twee look and sound that was to pave the way for countless “Indie” bands to come. The pair’s confrontational approach brings them into conflict with the influential DJ John Peel who they tell to “wise up old man” as they thrust a copy of Orange Juice’s debut single at him. It worked; Peel played the record that very night although he did complain about the two rude Scotsmen who accosted him in the BBC’s lobby. John Peel was later to accuse Orange Juice of “ruining” his favourite band, the Undertones, but you’ll just have to read the book to find out how! Then there’s the running feud with Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis that at one point reduces Alan to a worrying depression. He eventually snaps out of it and gets his revenge by negotiating a deal that amazingly secured Postcard an 85/15 cut of the profits. In his interview with Goddard, Geoff Travis strongly denied this so Horne actually digs out a copy of the original contract (no doubt from his sock drawer that passed as Postcard’s filing cabinet…) to prove to the author that his version was actually the truthful one. Along the way there is an embarrassing meeting with The Velvet Underground’s Nico who, they are horrified to discover, no longer resembles the gorgeous blonde chanteuse from those iconic photos of her New York heyday.

Aztec Camera in 1980 - Photo copyright Paul Slattery
Then in a somewhat “pot calling kettle black” scenario, The Fall’s Mark E Smith refuses to put up Orange Juice and their label boss at his house after a gig in Manchester because he thought Horne was “a weirdo”. Goddard excels in bringing these vignettes to life and he is particularly adept at conjuring up evocative scenes of the violence experienced at those early gigs in Glasgow. Considering that the label’s motto was "The Sound of Young Scotland”, there is not much emphasis placed on the impact that Postcard Records had on Glasgow’s music scene and their influence on Creation Records’ Alan McGee and bands such as Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels, Franz Ferdinand and the whole C-86 “Indie Pop” boom. But that is a minor gripe, this is a book brimming with an enthusiasm that will make you dig out all the records and we are left with a teasing clue from Horne that what came after Postcard was far crazier, whether that is crazy enough to merit another book we’ll have to wait and see.

Simon Goddard has also written the highly acclaimed "Mozipedia: The Encylopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths" and "The Smiths: The Songs That Saved Your Life" as well as "Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust". You can buy the books direct from Ebury or from the usual outlets.

With thanks to Simon Goddard, Maria at Ebury Press and Paul Slattery for the excellent photos.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Fuzzy Vox: Tour Dates & New "Man of Solution" Video...

The French Power Pop trio Fuzzy Vox have a load of live dates lined up to promote their excellent album "On Heat" including a prestigious show at Le Divan Du Monde in Paris on September 26th. The album was mixed by Pelle Gunnerfeldt, the famed Swedish producer who brought us the The Hives classic "Veni Vidi Vicious" almost fifteen years ago and the band certainly capture the same energetic spirit and powerful melodic Garage Rock inspired songs of the well dressed Swedes.

Check above for the tour dates or follow them on Facebook for up-to-date news on how to buy tickets. In the meantime here's a fun new video from one of the album's stand-out tracks, enjoy!