Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Flamin' Groovies in Paris & Blois, France by Rock Photographer Paul Slattery

The Flamin' Groovies by Paul Slattery
My association with The Flamin’ Groovies goes back more than forty years now to the summer of ’72 when I first heard “Teenage Head” blasting out of this pair of massive speakers at a garden party in Cape Cod. I went out and bought the album (which I still have) and became a huge Groovies fan. I picked up bits and pieces of recorded material over the next few years. I got hold of Skydog’s “Grease” EP with the amazing version of “Let me Rock” recorded in Cyril Jordan’s front room in 1973, and then the “Slow Death” EP recorded at Rockfield with Dave Edmunds the same year. But I wouldn’t meet the band until 1976 when they were back at Rockfield with Edmunds recording their first full length LP “Shake Some Action”. Well I couldn’t believe my luck because as a young rock photographer I chanced up at Rockfield on January 1st 1978 and met my long – time heroes for the first time and photographed a lot of their spring tour that year promoting their next album “Now”. 

Victor and Cyril photographed by Paul Slattery
George & Chris photographed by Paul Slattery
I thought this would be the start of a long relationship with the band which it has subsequently turned out to be – what I didn’t know at the time is that I wouldn’t see them play a gig after that ’78 tour for 35 years!  Finally seeing them play a storming gig at the Scala in London was like a dream for me, the songs I had in my mind all those years finally played live again. Well I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity of seeing them play again so last month I spent a few days in France with the band on their European tour and had the Rock and Roll time of my life! Blois is a Loire Chateau town in the middle of an excellent wine area which produces the original Sauvignon Blanc, you don’t immediately think Rock and Roll, but the Maison Begon just on the edge of town is a fantastic venue promoted by local friends. Joe Peckman singer and guitarist of support band The Sharpers is trying to convince me over a glass or two of the local Cheverny that Blois is more Rock than you might imagine which proves to be the case when they come out on stage and on fire with “Rockabilly Tavern” and then straight into the superb “Doctor, Doctor” from their latest album “Number 4”. Steeped in Pub–Rock for more than twenty years, this is a really great band, Joe belts out the vocals backed up by a solid Xavier L. on drums and a very lively Simon J on bass. 

The Sharpers photographed by Paul Slattery
The Sharpers photographed by Paul Slattery
The intensity just increases with “Alligator Moona”, “King Super Rock” and “Django Meets Big Bill” also from the latest album and the crowd rise to support their local heroes with the superb “Mister Green”. What a great show! I hope this lot can get their Gallic backsides over to the U.K. in the not too distant future and show the Brits how to play Pub –Rock because they do it right. I can’t wait to see them again. You can get a copy of The Sharpers new album, which is entitled “Number Four” and check them out at their official web-site here or visit their official Facebook page.

The Sharpers photographed by Paul Slattery
I run into Groovies' drummer Victor Penalosa first and he tells me over more cold Cheverny that the European gigs and crowds to date have been superb, and being a native Spanish speaker himself he felt right at home in Spain. The rest of the band arrive later, tired after a 400 mile drive from their gig in Montpellier (supported by the superb Les Grys Grys) the previous night but mad keen to play this wonderful venue. Backstage there’s a balcony overlooked by a warm setting sun, a superb place to chill out before the gig. Cyril, Chris and George are in fine spirits and tell me it’s been great to finally get back on the road in Europe and they're playing tighter and better than ever. The Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better” is a Groovies standard now but what a song to begin with, Cyril plays those jangly bits to perfection with his finger nails, on the same Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar that’s on the front cover of “Teenage Head”.  Then it’s into the melodic “You Tore Me Down” and “I Can’t Hide” with superb harmonies from Cyril and Chris, West Coast Pop at its best. 

Cyril Jordan & Chris Wilson photographed by Paul Slattery
Victor Penalosa of The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
The pair of them get into duelling guitars at the end of the song and what looks like a crowd who are probably not all died-in-the–wool Groovies fans are starting to get appreciative and lively. “Please Please Girl” is another great harmonic song with Cyril’s guitar now sounding just a touch heavier, starting to show those flourishes that mark him as one of the great guitarists and Chris’s lead vocals soar to new heights on “Yes I Am” – the gig is really beginning to warm up now and the crowd are really starting to love it. Talking of heavy guitars, that Dan Armstrong weighs a ton! But this is a rock and roll band of the first order and “Tallahassee Lassie”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “Don’t You Lie To Me” show the crowd just what rock and roll is all about, then George, apart from bouncing all over the stage with his superb bass lines gets the vocals on “Married Woman” which is  an amazing number anchored by Victor’s fine drumming and giving Cyril and Chris all the time in the world to get guitar sparring which they do outrageously and brilliantly! 

The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
George Alexander of The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
I’m having trouble taking photos down the front now, there’s no pit and the crowd are dancing all over me, so I have to dance with them AND take photos, but for me being down the front of a Groovies’ gig is probably the only place I want to be right now, and the atmosphere is electric  as the band crank into three of their greatest songs to finish the show “Between The Lines” , “Slow Death”, and “Shake Some Action” which makes the crowd go crazy. It’s like those thirty years of not playing together have made no difference, this band has such a great desire to play, and they play utterly unselfishly. Victor and George anchor the whole thing and give Cyril and Chris the space to show off their truly exceptional guitar work. They come back to great cheers and encore with the menacing “Teenage Head” and a simply great “Let me Rock”. What a gig, I’m knackered but elated and the drinks flow backstage, what a great night. I party long and late with Sharpers, the Groovies are beat and retire early but they are all smiling from ear to ear. 

The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
Chris Wilson of The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
The next night I’m in Paris at Le Trabendo on the outskirts of the city in the Parc De La Villette with Mona Soyoc, the legendary chanteuse and guitarist of French “Coldwave” band Kas Product. She’s just played a gig in a prison in Nancy that afternoon and raced to get to Paris in time for the Groovies gig. Kas Product have recently re-released a remastered “Try Out”, their first album from 1982 and if you have never heard it you should do as it is quite extraordinary. I really can’t better Mick Mercer’s piece about their first two albums: “the gorgeously provocative duo of Mona Soyoc and Spatsz who released a couple of singles on their own punk label, then signed to RCA which seemed a remarkably odd union, but which produced two blindingly brilliant albums, 'Try Out' and 'Bypass' that found the haunting, mad vocals hemmed in by and stretched out over the alternately boiling/icy keyboards, and the shattering chatter of arching/dive bombing guitar and stabbing electronic rhythms.” Mona and Spatsz will be back in the studio doing some new recording this summer, I can’t wait to have a listen to their new stuff and I certainly can’t wait to get back to France. I’ve known Mona for thirty years and there’s one of my photos on the cover of Kas Product’s 1989 album “Black & Noir”.

The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
I invited Mona along to the The Flamin' Groovies gig, but it’s not really a happy sight in the tiny cramped shoebox of a dressing room full of the band’s stuff. The promoter has still to find them somewhere decent to stay and they are not happy. I don’t like this place quite frankly; there are loads of classic old venues in Paris they should have played one of them. If the surroundings aren’t really what the doctor ordered the crowd certainly are because right from the word go they know all the songs and jump around like a bunch of punks. It’s the same set list from the previous night in Blois, and I have to hide in this tiny space between the edge of the stage and George’s monitor but it’s a hell of a place to be quite honestly! If it was intense at the end of the gig in Blois it’s at least that intense at the start of this gig and the band just use all of their experience, suck up the vibe from the crowd and spit it back in spades. All I want to do is take photos and let the songs drift through me, those great songs which I’ve listened to for thirty or forty years. I’m in my rock and roll heaven right here, as close to the band as you can possible be and in that privileged no mans land between band and crowd. The crowd go potty after “Married Woman” and  the band just open right up, Victor’s drum flourishes just get better, and George, Chris and Cyril get together in a threesome, during “Between The Lines”  and the guitar interplay on “Shake Some Action” is mind-blowing.  

The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
Mona Soyoc of Kas Product with Cyril Jordan photographed by Paul Slattery
This gig is a rock and roll masterclass. What a privilege to be here. “Let me Rock” is simply a storming end to a brilliant gig. Mona and I share a few drinks with the band after the gig and I take a photo of Mona and Cyril, the French American guitar duo! It’s au revoir to The Groovies, they are tired and happy and they've finally got somewhere decent to stay. I hope the next gig will be in the not too distant future. I’ve still not had my quotient of Flamin' Groovies gigs over the last 35 years and need to get some more under the belt. In the meantime the band have been in Joel Jaffe’s superb Studio D in Sausalito recording some new songs. Cyril tells me that they have finally cut a finished version of “Let Me Rock”, I really cannot wait to hear it – I’ve been listening to that tinny (albeit great) Skydog version for FORTY years! - Paul Slattery July 2015

The Flamin' Groovies photographed by Paul Slattery
With many thanks to Paul Slattery for the excellent feature and photographs. You can hear Paul talking about his experiences with the Groovies in our brand new Retrosonic Podcast Episode 19 which also includes songs by The Flamin’ Groovies, The Sharpers and Kas Product amongst others.

For more of Paul’s photos of The Flamin' Groovies from the 1970’s right up to their reunion please check out the Flamin’ Groovies label in the Retro Man Blog Archive. Please head on over to our Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hit “like” for access to our gig photography archive. We also have a very special Retrosonic Podcast edition with Chris Wilson, where he talks us through his long and varied career and picks out some of his favourite songs.

For up-to-date news on The Flamin' Groovies please check out their official facebook page here.

No comments:

Post a Comment