Tuesday 12 March 2019

Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex - New Book "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" by Celeste Bell & Zoë Howe, Paris Exhibition & Forthcoming Documentary "I Am A Cliché"

Following last year’s 40th anniversary of the seminal X-Ray Spex album "Germfree Adolescents", an update from the Poly Styrene front includes a new book, exhibition and further news regarding the film "I Am A Cliché". Singer songwriter, lyricist, artist, free thinker, postmodern style pioneer and lifelong spiritual seeker, Poly Styrene was a true punk icon. This rebel queen with the cheeky grin was also a latter day pop artist with a wickedly perceptive gift for satirising the world around her, and her brightly coloured playful aesthetic was sharply at odds with the stark monochrome style and nihilism of punk. In "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" published by Omnibus Press on 28th March, the vibrant jigsaw of Poly’s inspiring and often moving story has been lovingly pieced together by her daughter - singer songwriter Celeste Bell - and acclaimed writer Zoë Howe who's other works include biographies on The Slits, Wilko Johnson, The Jesus & Mary Chain and Lee Brilleaux. "Dayglo" tells Poly’s story as an oral history together in one place for the first time, and includes testimonies from Vivienne Westwood, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Jonathan Ross, Neneh Cherry, The Slits’ Tessa Pollitt, Thurston Moore, Jon Savage, and many others. "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" honestly and openly explores Poly’s exceptional life right up to her untimely passing in 2011. Growing up mixed-race in Brixton in the 1960s and being at the forefront of the emerging punk scene with X-Ray Spex in the 1970s, Poly balanced single motherhood and sometimes debilitating mental health issues with a solo music career. She went on to find faith with the Hare Krishna movement. "Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story" is fully illustrated with personal photos from Poly’s family collection, handwritten lyrics, hand drawn artwork and band logos, short stories and entries from her diary. The book beautifully captures Poly Styrene’s creative and personal legacy, reminding us that if anyone had the power to turn our worlds dayglo, it was her.

In further news, items from the Poly Styrene archive will be included in an exhibition titled the "Paris-London Music Collection 1962 -1989" looking at the parallel music scenes that emerged as a result of immigration in both Paris and London in the mid to late 20th centuries at the Palais de la Portee, Paris. The exhibition will open on the 12th of March.

Also the hugely anticipated film "Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché" is slated for a 2020 release. In this feature-length documentary, the jigsaw pieces of Poly’s life will be brought together for the first time. Original interviews, new research and previously unseen archive material are combined to present a thrilling, poetic and at times impressionistic portrait. Underscored with Poly’s music from throughout her career, "I Am A Cliché" celebrates one of punk’s most uncompromising icons as well as an intimate look at the relationship between mother and daughter.

Words by Debra Geddes at Great Northern PR. With thanks to Zoë Howe and Debra Geddes. Zoë & Celeste will be appearing at Rough Trade East on March 28th for a talk and book-signing, details of the event can be found here. Keep an eye on Zoë's Facebook page for announcements of other events, along with info on her other books of course. "Dayglo" can be ordered via Amazon or Omnibus Press. Book photo cover by Falcon Stuart.

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Taking Candy From a Dog - An Evocative & Heartwarming Autobiographical Novel by Vic Templar

Vic Templar, the author of "Taking Candy From A Dog" might be better known to music fans as Ian Greensmith. Ian is a Writer, Drummer, Vibraphonist, Gardener and retired Cricketer whose favourite writers include Alan Silitoe, Graham Greene and Keith Waterhouse. This is his sixth book since the first was published in 1987 and Billy Childish’s Hangman Books have published three of them. Ian was a mainstay of the Medway 'scene', drumming with The Dentists and then Armitage Shanks and Ye Ascoyne D’Ascoynes along with Bob Collins. More recently he has played with The Sine Waves and the superb Nuevo Ramon 5 (the story of which is well worth checking out) and has just released a debut single with The Dirty Contacts on State Records. He now lives near Hastings where he runs the regular Fratcave club events and the yearly Beatwave Weekenders with Justin Ellis. 

The book opens in the present day with our hero rummaging around in his Dad’s loft searching in vain for Luke, a long-lost monkey sock puppet. The search evokes memories of a contented childhood and we are spirited away back in time to Chatham, Kent in the late 60's and placed right in the heart of the Smith family. Is this an autobiography, a novel or a metaphorical tale of a man searching for those idyllic days of childhood? I guess it is a bit of each. What I do know is that "Taking Candy From A Dog" is a heart-warming portrait of a ‘normal’ family from the late 60's to the mid-70’s. I put normal in inverted commas there as I can really relate to this book and I always considered myself fairly normal! There are no great dramas or hardships in the young Ian Smith's life but the beauty in the writing is to keep us entertained by the evocative vignettes and lovingly described characters that surround him. So, where does Luke the monkey come in? Luke is a well travelled woollen sock puppet with a nice line in sardonic humour. Each chapter is interrupted by his sarcastic take on events as seen through his (button) eyes and this adds a nice touch of world-weary cynicism to Ian's cheerful reminiscing. Luke explains about his creation and early life in San Francisco and how he ended up in a family home in the Medway. Along the way he drops in some withering put-downs and observations on his new English owners. These owners are Ian and his younger sister Kes. Ian's world revolves around Football, particularly Chatham, Gillingham and George Best. He loves Sure Shot Hockey, Subbuteo, Airfix Models and I-Spy books. 

The writing style perfectly encapsulates the era and many familiar brand names from my own youth spring from the pages. The Six Million Dollar Man on TV, drinking Tizer and R. White’s Lemonade and reading Sweeney annuals. There’s celery and Primula and paste sandwiches for tea. Ian observes all the adults around him, his family and their various friends. The men wear beige slacks and tan shoes and drink beer. “Lager is seen as Continental and treated with suspicion”. They have tattoos of “hearts, anchors, snakes or the bust of a raven-haired woman” and their cars “smell of leather and cigars”. The women wear Crimplene and nylon and discuss whether Pontins in Bognor Regis is better than Butlins. Throughout the book there are amusing Billy Liar style fantasy sequences in which Ian sets off on a road trip to Manchester for tea with George Best and later appears on the Michael Parkinson chat show. We move on to 1977, it’s the Queen’s Jubilee and the seismic rumblings of Punk Rock start to make waves in Ian's world. Suddenly, his older cousin Lee cuts his hair short and gets hold of a copy of the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen”. Ian is desperate to hear what all the fuss is about but Lee makes him wait until one day when the whole family are sitting around together having their tea. Lee puts the black shiny plastic disc on the Ferguson record player, places the needle down and unleashes all that venomous sound and fury. Finally, the wait is over for Ian. “This is it. The record begins. The guitars and drums and then Johnny Rotten starts screaming. My life changes. It sounds like the Charge of The Light Brigade. It sounds like World War I. It sounds like Krakatoa. It sounds wonderful. Grandad says “Bloody Hellfire”, Nan says “What’s he singing?” and Mum says “What a load of bollocks!” Jack and Kes start singing “No fuchsias, no fuchsias, no fuchsias for you”. Life will never be the same again. 

Indeed, there are after-school fisticuffs, girls and parties and attempts at forming bands. There is a superb chapter on a quest of Holy Grail proportions trying to track down a copy of Buzzcocks “Spiral Scratch” on the day of release as advertised in the NME. Those were the days when buying records involved an actual physical journey and Ian traipses from record store to record store in vain. Hastings, Tunbridge Wells, Margate, Maidstone, no luck. Finally, it takes an elderly and unlikely shop assistant in Hythe to tell him that the release date had actually been delayed. Ian struggles with the various fashions and youth cults of the time and tries to cultivate his own ‘look’. Inspired somewhat by The Fall’s Mark E Smith he decides on ‘eccentric’ but ends up looking like Percy Thrower with Tweed jackets, bri-nylon shirts and woollen cardigans with leather buttons. There is a bittersweet tone to the last few chapters but I guess that just reflects the reality of getting older. Family bereavements, leaving school and having to deal with becoming an adult. Thatcher closing down the Dockyard. “400 years of Chatham history flushed down the pan overnight”. Jobs are either lost or people are relocated to start new careers. Close-knit communities drift apart. There is a big clear out for the move. It’s time to say goodbye to childhood trivialities as once loved toys are consigned to the local Cub Scout jumble sale. It is a poignant moment. His sister’s dolls and teddy bears are next and she picks up Luke and hesitates, looking at the black plastic bag destined for the sale and then back again at Luke… So what happened to Luke? Did the adult Ian ever find it up in his Dad’s loft or did the tatty sock puppet end up on a trestle table at the Cub Scout’s hut. Maybe it was picked up for a few pence and spirited away on another adventure. I am not telling. You will just have to buy the book to find out.

The Author (2nd left) with the Nuevo Ramon 5 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Taking Candy From a Dog by Vic Templar is published by Blackheath Books and available from their web-site. For more information on this year's Beatwave Weekender please check out their Facebook page. You can read a report on last year's Beatwave in the Blog archive here and a review of The Dirty Contacts at the Lexington here. Please click on the highlighted links throughout the feature for more info on the mentioned events and bands.

Friday 1 March 2019

Jan Martens "Voices - Part 1" New Solo LP from the Nymphet Noodlers & Free Fall Bassist

Jan Martens with Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Jan Martens originally made his name as the bassist with the Karlstad based Nymphet Noodlers who, according to our in-depth Retro Man Blog retrospective, would go on to become one of the most underrated yet influential bands in Sweden. After all, Jan and his band-mates, vocalist Mattias Hellberg, guitarist Mattias Bärjed, keyboard player Martin Hederos and drummer Jesper Karlsson certainly had a lasting impact on the Swedish music scene. The Hellacopters, Nicolai Dunger, A Camp, The Solution, Stefan Sundström, Dundertåget, Henrik Berggren, Diamond Dogs, Refused, Tonbruket, Sofia Karlsson, Anna Ternheim, Nationalteatern, Håkan Hellström and of course The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Free Fall…the list of bands, artists and projects that each has been involved with in some way or another over the years could be longer than a telephone directory!

Jan, whose inventive and thunderous bass playing has seen him compared to John Entwhistle, has just released a brand new solo LP entitled "Voices – Part 1". The seven track album starts off with the stomping fuzzed up robotic sound of "Big Muff Strikes Again" and then takes us on an eclectic journey that encompasses the catchy guitar driven Pop of "Reaching Out" to the free-form jazz of "U&I" and the atmospheric Pink Floyd influenced dreamy Psychedelia of "Coming Down/Below". So, let us speak to Jan and get a bit more background information on his journey from Nymphet Noodlers right up to the present day and the release of this intriguing new album.

Jan & Martin Hederos, Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: Jan, Nymphet Noodlers called it a day rather unexpectedly after releasing just the one full length LP "Going Abroad", what did you do after the split?

JM: Well, I joined up with ex-Noodlers’ guitarist Mattias Bärjed in the band Mindjive for about six months. We toured Sweden and Germany (with Refused). Then I moved to Stockholm and got into Rocket 99 with Jesper, another ex-Nymphet Noodler and Andreas Byhlin from Singer. We made one album in 1999 but then that ended so I formed The Jan Martens Frustration, also with Jesper. At the same time I toured with Text, a very loose, improvisational band/project started by, among others, David Sandström from Refused. I was also a member of David’s backing band when he toured his first solo album after Refused. I’d recommend “Om det inte händer något innan imorgon, så kommer jag”. An entire album about his grandfather, a farmer in northern Sweden. It’s a fantastic record, really unique.

Q: I love The Jan Martens Frustration album, especially the track "Pole Position" which has such a superb bass line. It was a shame that this project was also short-lived. What happened?

JM: The recording of the JMF album was very troubled, mostly due to a conflict regarding the financial deal between the record company and the producer. It led to huge delays in the recording, which was horrible. This was a time when the whole music industry went through major changes and things were very insecure. Also one member, Olof, got very ill in 2002. Jesper started playing with Diamond Dogs and I started thinking of getting an education. I got me one in psychology. JMF grew into my next band, Convolutions.

Q: Did you stop music while you were studying?

JM: For a while I was in Thomas Rusiak’s touring band along with Christian Gabel on drums and Free Fall Producer, Martin "Konie" Ehrencrona on guitar. During this period I also rehearsed and recorded with The Plan although that material was never released. During my university years I rehearsed and recorded with Convolutions, a duo featuring Olof Korlén, Jesper’s younger cousin. He had also played guitar solos on four songs on the JMF album and played live at most of our shows, sometimes with Robert 'Strings' Dahlqvist on second guitar. Unfortunately, they both died within less than four months of each other, not long ago…Olof very sadly killed himself in late 2016. He suffered from a severe mental illness, with psychotic episodes, that first broke out when we were playing in JMF. The song "x7009" on the new album is about him.

Q: Of course we know about Martin Hederos and Mattias Bärjed joining The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but you have also had some association with them too haven’t you?

JM: Yes, I also played on some songs on Mattias Bärjed’s soundtrack to the TV series "Upp Till Kamp" and the movie "Call Girl" and was a member of the fictitious dance band "Marzipan" in the "Gentlemen" movie and TV series. I also stood in for Kalle for some Soundtrack of Our Lives shows in 2011 and 2012. This year, in addition to "Voices – Part 1" I’ve also done some sessions for Daniel Haeggström’s Haertz Arkestra. He’s not performing himself, he’s producing and he likes to get different people together to see what happens. He has chosen and rearranged several songs from Björn Olsson’s "Shellfish" albums… When we were mixing the NN album in '94 me, Mattias and Mattias stayed in Björn's apartment. He then played us some of his peculiar home recordings that later came to be TSOOL songs. Also, Ebbot produced the NN album.

Jan with Free Fall, Paris 2012 - Photo by Retro Man Blog
Q: You released a critically acclaimed classic Heavy Rock album with Free Fall in 2013 with Mattias Bärjed, vocalist Kim Franson and drummer Ludwig Dahlberg and many people have been waiting for a follow up. When did the idea for a solo album come about? After all, it’s been 14 years since the last album to bear your name (Jan Martens Frustration) was released.

JM: Well, I began working on this album sometime in the summer of 2014 when it had become clear that the motivation was not where it ought to be for every member of Free Fall. I decided that this time round I didn’t want to try to form a new band again as it is very difficult to find the right chemistry. However, I definitely didn’t want to give up playing - not at all - as during the Free Fall years I found myself getting more into music again after studying psychology for half a decade. I wanted to try a bunch of ideas that I found interesting and original but that had either been rejected or met with disinterest or just didn’t work out well in earlier bands. "Voices – Part 1" is much more of a solo project than the Jan Martens Frustration, which was after all, meant to be a band. I’ve never really been interested in being a solo artist, for the most part I simply prefer bands. Always saw myself as a band person. Had to change that, though.

Jan & Ludwig Dahlberg, Free Fall, backstage London 2013 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: You’re not only playing bass on the album are you, you’re also playing guitar and singing?

JM: Yes, and piano and percussion and drum programming… I thought I should try to do as much as possible by myself this time which meant that I needed to get better at playing guitar. I mean I really had to learn to play the guitar the way that I wanted it to be played on these songs. I’m very keen on improvisation, I want a loose, spontaneous, jazzy feel. To me that’s the highest art, most of my favourite bands improvised a lot, especially live. And I think in rock music that part of it since has been lost, to a large extent. So, for 3-4 years I’ve been annoying my family with hours and hours of noisy guitar, practicing at home using Marshall and Hiwatt amps.. Listening to someone practicing controlling guitar feedback can’t be too rewarding…

Q: Were you nervous about singing?

JM: Yes. I needed to improve my singing. In fact, I ended up singing more than I first intended as originally I was thinking of asking people to sing guest vocals quite a bit. But as time went by I came to decide that it would probably be necessary to also try to do that myself. There was lots of trial and error with what keys the songs should be played and sung in, as my vocal range is quite limited.

Jan Martens, Free Fall, London 2013 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: You said you had a clear idea of how you wanted the album to sound, how did you go about making it happen?

JM: Quite clear at least. One more thing that I needed to do was get the right gear to be able to record and produce the music at home, to make it sound the way I wanted it to. I have never been satisfied with the production on anything I’ve played on before, especially not with the bass guitar sounds. So I began searching and trying out guitars, microphones, guitar and bass speakers and even different strings that actually can make huge differences in sounds and playability. I also tried and learned to control various fuzz pedals and other stomp boxes and different methods of recording too. I love fuzz boxes, they’re like instruments in themselves. Extremely dynamic and sensitive to touch and guitar volume and tone controls. I ended up with a basic set-up of one small guitar speaker, one small bass speaker and three not so small amp heads - I must use an attenuator to avoid me and my family getting evicted! I recorded everything in a room in our house using three different microphones, always just one at a time, and all the editing and mixing was done on my laptop.

Q: There’s a 'real' drum sound on the LP; did you play and record the drums at home yourself? 

JM: At first I thought I might record everything with MIDI drums or drum loops but it didn’t take long until I felt the need of a real drummer on several songs. So I asked a childhood friend that I thought could fit well. For this we needed to record in a real studio so I booked Studio Cobra, where Free Fall recorded everything we did. It went well and he has since come to Stockholm from Karlstad once more, playing on nine songs so far. He played along to the tracks that were already recorded with drum loops, which were then deleted afterwards. That’s not too easy to do, but he did well and was really quick. I also asked another friend to play trumpet on one song and synthesizer on two, and asked my wife, stepdaughter and Kim Franson from Free Fall to sing backing vocals.

Jan & Kim Franson, Free Fall, London 2013 - Photo Retro Man Blog
Q: Lyrically, what sort of subjects do you tackle on "Voices – Part 1" and do you enjoy this part of song writing?

JM: Lyrics are always slow, and quite painful, work for me and I tend to write them late in the process. Subjects this time range from pretty nonsensical stuff to my close friend’s mental illness and suicide. Most songs turned out pretty relationship-focused although that wasn’t my plan, that’s just where they ended up…I always let the atmosphere 'decide' where the lyrics may go.

Q: So, are you already thinking of a "Voices – Part 2"?

JM: Yes, I recorded more songs than those that ended up on the album. I chose these seven to get the right length for a vinyl album and so they would work OK together. So Part 2 might not take too long to finish since there’s quite a lot more material that has already been worked on…

Jan & Mattias Hellberg, Nymphet Noodlers, Uppsala 2017 - Photo Retro Man Blog
With many thanks to Jan for his time. For more information on how to order "Voices - Part 1" please check out the official Jan Martens Facebook page. LP cover art by Hans Selander at SelanderArt. For our in-depth feature on the story of the influential Nymphet Noodlers including a feature on their reunion showin December 2017 please check the Blog archive here.