Archive for Music

Nine Below Zero – Live At The Marquee 

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Nine Below Zero in action.  From left to right: Peter ‘Pete’ Clark (Bass), Kenny Bradley (Drums), Dennis Greaves (lead vocals & guitar) and Mark Feltham (vocals & harmonica).

IN THE PAST I’ve provided a few random reviews for Counter Culture.  However, it’s always been my intention (and ambition) to review as many of my own books, CDs & DVDs as is possible.  Now that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands – and I’m still looking down at the daisies as opposed to looking up at them! – I thought that now’s a good as time as any to start.  So, in the words of the Ramones, Hey Ho, Let’s Go!

With the above in mind, I thought that I’d kick off with Nine Below Zero’s brilliant CD Live At The Marquee.   

I first heard about Nine Below Zero from a friend from East London many, many years ago, probably in the early to mid 80s.  He highly recommended both the band and their live CD.  I’ve listened to it lots of times over the years and have always thought that it was probably one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard; not only does it convey the music but also seems to capture the shear energy of a live gig.  

I must admit that (at the time) I’d never heard of the band.  However, my friend had been over to South London a couple of times to see them.  He’d described how frenetic they were – effectively a Blues band that performed with the speed & energy of a Punk band.  Therefore, I’d a rough idea of what to expect on the live album.  But having an idea of what to expect & listening to the real deal are two different things.  Suffice to say that I was blown away by the CD itself.

I’ll leave the actual review of Live At The Marquee until another time.  However, I thought that it might be helpful to provide a little background information about the band themselves.   

Nine Below Zero started off life as Stan’s Blues Band in 1977 and consisted of four South London lads who found inspiration in the Rhythm and Blues.  Led by Dennis Greaves (lead vocals & guitar) the band included his schoolmates Mark Feltham (vocals & harmonica), Peter ‘Pete’ Clark (Bass) and Kenny Bradley (Drums).

Graves was obsessed by the Blues.  But to form a R&B band in the late 70s was a bold, almost reckless, move.  This was the time when Punk was exploding, and had literally blown other music genres – like R&B and Progessive Rock – out of the water.  (I think I’m right in saying that Dr. Feelgood were probably the only well-known British R&B band at the time. They’d formed in 1971 and hailed from Canvey Island in Essex and were known for their driving R&B which had made them one of the most popular bands on the growing London pub rock circuit.)

Despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of Punk, the sharply dressed Stan’s Blues Band played in local South London pubs like the Apples and Pears, the Clockhouse, the Green Man and the Thomas ‘A’ Becket.  Playing six to seven nights a week they built up a loyal following.  Like Dr. Feelgood they went hell for leather and played at a frenetic pace.  Mixing original songs with covers at their gigs, they were soon playing all over London.

Stan’s Blues Band changed their name to Nine Below Zero (they were named after a song by Sonny Boy Williamson II) on the advice of former musician Mickey Modern.  He’d seen them play at the Thomas ‘A’ Becket (in the Old Kent Road, Southwark, South London) in 1979 and was so impressed that he offered to manage them.

In a bold – but completely justifiable – move, Modern decided that Nine Below Zero’s first album would be a live one.  And so with just one change of personal (Micky Burkey for Kenny Bradley on Drums) Live At The Marquee was released in 1980.  

The album was recorded at the well-known music venue, the Marquee Club (in Wardour Street, West London) on Wednesday 16th & Thursday 17th July and was billed as a live recording.  The admission fee was £2 with a reduced rate available for students & Marquee Club members.

Apparently, it’d been an ambition of Dennis Greaves and the rest of the band to play at the Marquee – even in the capacity of a support band  Therefore, to appear as the headline act & record your first (live) album must have been out of this world.  Prior to this gig, Nine Below Zero were well known as an brilliant high energy act.  However, I’m wondering if their desire to play at the Marquee spurred them on to go the extra mile and produce such an electric album?

I feel that the CDs sleeve notes excellently conveys something of gig itself:

‘Fourteen high octane R&B monsters – including three Greaves originals Straighten Her Out, Stop Your Nagging and Watch Yourself – merged Chicago chops and cockney charm in a ferocious homebrew of adrenalin which never once seemed out of step alongside the ten regular live favourites: the aforementioned Freddie King’s Tore Down, Otis Rush’s Home Work and J Geil’s version of Pack Fair and Square line up with the John Mayall and Paul Butterfield collaboration, Ridin’ On The L&N, Lloyd Price’s Hootchie Cootchie Coo, Sam the Sham’s Wooly Bully, Muddy Waters’ Mojo Working, and Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, plus Motown stalwart’s The Four Tops’, Can’t Help Myself and Marvin Gaye’s Can I Get A Witness, are all nailed down before the band signs off with their instrumental wig-out, Swing Job.’

(With the sleeve notes in mind, they were printed on thick glossy card which served as part CD sleeve cover, part poster & part information sheet about the band.)

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Nine Below Zero released a new album in October 2019.  Unlike a lot of anniversary releases which tend to be ‘The Best Of’ albums, Avalanche refreshingly featured 12 brand new original songs.

In addition to their anniversary CD, they’d kicked off a new tour in Belfast, with many further dates set.  However, as we all now know, the world effectively stopped spinning when Covid-19 reared its ugly head.  Therefore, they had to cancel all of their gigs from mid-March onwards.  According to the band’s web-site – https://www.ninebelowzero.com – their next scheduled gig is early September in Fleet, Hampshire. Here’s hoping!

Hopefully this brief potted history of Nine Below Zero has provided readers with some insight into the band.  Now the only thing to do is to review the album itself. However, as mentioned earlier (and to absolutely cement my Counter Culture reputation as the slowest reviewer in the world!) this’ll appear in the next thrilling instalment.

Reviewed by John Field 

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Better than the Beatles!

I began writing my latest novel Better than the Beatles! in early 2016, but its real beginnings were around the turn of the millennium when I purchased a book called Raw Vision, a large coffee table style tome that was essentially a compendium of articles and photographs from the magazine of the same name, a magazine that was, and is, dedicated to the subject of Outsider Art Welcome to Raw Vision Magazine | Raw Vision Magazine.

There is no fully accepted definition of Outsider Art, but the attempt by the man who first identified it as a distinct entity, the French artist and collector Jean Dubuffet, is perhaps as good as any:  

We understand by this term works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part... These artists derive everything from their own depths, and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art.”

 Originally, Dubuffet used the term Art Brut to denote his newly patented genre. It was the English art critic and writer Roger Cardinal who renamed it as Outsider Art in his book of the same name: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outsider-Art-RogerCardinal/dp/0289701686/

Through my reading of Raw Vision, of Cardinal and other sources, I discovered the collection of loners and misfits who made up the Outsider Art cannon, if there can ever really be such a thing, including such marginal luminaries as Adolf Wolfli, Henry Drager, Madge Gill, and Sabato Rodeo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outsider_art.

Although Outsider Art would become an enduring interest, it was my discovery that this primarily visual art had spawned the sonic off-shoot of Outsider Music that led me to immerse myself in a whole new world of creative exploration.

It was the American Disc Jockey and writer Irwin Chusid who adopted the phrase ‘Outsider Music’ and publicised it as a distinct genre in his book ‘Songs in the Key of Z’, which was followed by an accompanying two volumes of illustrative C. D’s.

I am not without my criticisms of Chusid. For me, it was a mistake to incorporate into his book and C.D. collection such artists as Syd Barrett, Scott Walker, and Captain Beefhart, artists whom, whilst occupying a space well beyond the musical mainstream, were too well known to be classed as true outsiders. He also included material that I regard as revealing a knowing ‘so bad it’s good’ attitude that I found rather patronising. For instance, a recording of an old man suffering from dementia singing fragments of songs hazily remembered from his youth may be either sad or sweet, but it is not particularly musically interesting, and is therefore not, in my opinion, Outsider Music.

Nevertheless, it is primarily Chusid whom I must thank for my discovery of the work of the likes of Jandek, the Shaggs, and Daniel Johnston, artists who have continued to fascinate and inspire me to the present day. The first and last named of this trio have had great, niche films made about them, both of which are well worth checking out https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jandek-Corwood-DVD-Byron-Coley/dp/B0006FGHDS/

Although a work of fiction, the movie ‘Frank’, written by Jon Ronson and based (loosely) on a combination of the stories of papier-mâché headed Mancunion outsider Frank Sidebottom and the bizarre story of the making of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s weird classic Trout Mask Replica, also gives a great feel of the nature of Outsider Music  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-DVD-Michael-Fassbender/dp/B00NIPIIQM/

It was however the story of The Shaggs which had the most impact upon me, and which was the catalyst for the writing of Better than the Beatles!

The Shaggs was the family name of the three sisters who initially made up the band, Dot and Betty on guitars and Helen on drums, with a fourth sister, Rachel later joining them on bass for live performances. The band were founded in 1968 in their hometown of Freemont, New Hampshire, and were set on their musical path by their father Austin Shaggs. He claimed to have done this in response to a premonition by his late mother, who had apparently correctly predicted the hair colour of the woman he would marry, and more interestingly, that the couple would have three daughters who would go on to attain musical stardom.

In response to this prediction, he took the then teenage girls out of school, bought them instruments, paid for singing lessons and encouraged them to write songs. In 1969, he paid privately for recording studio time, and for the pressing of 1000 copies of the resultant album, an album which was named Philosophy of the World after one of its best loved tracks on the album. Allegedly, the man responsible for pressing the album absconded with 900 of the 1000 copies of the album, and it’s been suggested that he, whether as a form of artistic criticism, through shame at his involvement in such a project, or for more prosaic reasons, simply dumped them. This left around 100 copies to be distributed, mostly locally and for free, by Pappa Austin.

The music of The Shaggs is perhaps best described as the sonic equivalent of a naïve-primitive painting. The ten songs on the album are conventional in structure, but are written and performed in a manner that suggests that they have been produced by ‘musicians’ who have only recently been introduced, and in a very quick and basic fashion at that, to the rudiments of melody, harmony and rhythm. In addition, the lyrics, about such topics as fidelity to one’s parents, self-acceptance, the joys of pet ownership and much else besides, have a charming, child-like quality that is a perfect accompaniment to the music.

Whilst recording their album, the producer of Philosophy of the World is said to have suggested that Austin allow his daughters more time to hone their musical and vocal skills before letting them loose in a recording studio. Austin’s response, which has gone on to become a part of Shaggs folk-lore, was to say that he wanted to catch them ‘whilst they are hot.’

Philosophy of the World would have disappeared without trace had a copy not somehow found its way into the hands of legendary muso Frank Zappa who played a couple of tracks, and professed his love for the album, whilst appearing as a guest on a radio show presented by a DJ by the name of Dr Demento in the early ‘70’s. From there, its reputation grew by word of mouth amongst lovers of left-field music, until it was eventually re-released by Rounder Records in 1980.

It should be noted here that it is Zappa who is often erroneously credited with ironically describing The Shaggs as ‘Better than the Beatles,’ the phrase that I used as the title of my novel. In fact, the phrase originally came from the headline for a Rolling Stone magazine review of the re-released album by iconic music journalist Lester Bangs.

The album was given a further boost in the 1990’s when Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain placed it no. 5 in his list of his all-time favourite albums. This helped it to gain a CD release by RCA Victor in 1999. Its popularity/notoriety was also greatly aided by the growth of the Internet.

Initially, and until quite late on in the writing process, my novel was called triplets, which is also the name of the Shaggs-like band in the book, as well as of their sole recorded album. In addition, when I began writing the novel, I took the decision to transfer the action from small town America to the North West of England, and the time of the band’s slim recorded output from the late ‘60’s to the late ‘70’s. ‘Write what you know’ they say, and this approach also had the advantage of allowing me to work a potted history of British rock music into the narrative, from fifties rock ‘n’ roll, through Merseybeat, psychedelia, and onwards to punk/Mew Wave and the mostly localised Lo Fi ‘cassette culture’ which emerged from it MESSTHETICS: U.K. DIY/postpunk 1977-84, Hyped to Death (hyped2death.com).

Much of this was done through the character of the father Sam Curtis who, in the manner of many 1950’s British rock ‘n’ roll hopefuls, was gifted a new, larger than life name by representatives of noted show business impresario Larry Parnes, in this case Sam Singer (see real-life examples such as Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Vince Eager, Duffy Power et al) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Parnes

 In the true story of the Shaggs, the father Austin Shagg was a key player. By all accounts, in particular by the accounts of his children, he appears to have been a driven, pushy and authoritarian figure in the manner of music biz dad’s such as Joe Jackson of the Jackson family and Murray Wilson of the Beach Boys’ Wilson clan. It’s probably no accident that the Shaggs disbanded as a band (despite some latter-day reunions once Philosophy of the World belatedly found its fan-base) in 1975, immediately following the death of their father. In my novel, Sam Curtis/Singer plays an equally key role in the story, although I did try to make him a touch more likeable and sympathetic than his real-world counterpart.

In my previous novel, Special, I drew on my twenty five years of experience as a social care worker in order to tell the story of a fictional woman with a learning disability. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Special-Anthony-C-Green/dp/1788033442/  In writing Better than the Beatles! I again decided to make use of this experience, by incorporating into the narrative the suggestion that the triplets have a form of high functioning autism. Although I have never seen it explicitly stated that this was also the case with the real-life Shagg sisters, my reading and observation of their public comments, their music and lyrics, and the testimony of those who worked with them suggest that this is not entirely out of the question.

Speaking of lyrics, as something of an ‘outsider’ singer/songwriter myself, although I’m not sure that one can be knowingly such, one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing the novel was my writing of excerpts of triplets songs in the naïve style of the Shaggs themselves. At one point I even considered writing these songs in full, and then seeking to find three suitable females to record them with, or perhaps one suitable female to sing each vocal in, to use a phrase that re-occurs throughout the novel, ‘near-unison’. In the end however, I decided that some things are best left to the imagination….

 I won’t give away any more of the plot. In my opinion Better than the Beatles! In my opinion, it is by far my best novel to date, a novel that I enjoyed writing very much, such that I felt a distinct sense of loss when I finally decided that it was finished. It’s a novel that I’m proud to have written, and I only hope it will find a readership. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait as long as the Shaggs for it to do so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shaggs

Anthony C Green, January 2021  

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The Myth of Night Magic

The original poster for Night Magic

Night Magic is a 1985 Canadian-French musical film written by Leonard Cohen and Lewis Furey and directed by Furey. The film stars Nick Mancuso as Michael, a down on his luck musician whose fantasies begin to come true after he meets an angel (Carole Laure). The film’s supporting cast includes Stéphane Audran, Jean Carmet, Frank Augustyn, Louis Robitaille, Anik Bissonnette, Nanette Workman and Barbara Eve Harris.

Article By Nick Mancuso

I starred in Night Magic. And I feel guilty about it. A marvelously original musical by two geniuses Leonard Cohen and Lewis Furey. Take a listen. Find this lost Canadian film.I say geniuses because there is no doubt that Leonard Cohen remains one of the great legends in music history, poetry, and writing in the latter part of the 20th century in the period known as the 60s. As for Lewis well take a listen.

Leonard Cohen. A legend. Night Magic the unknown unsung movie he wrote starring myself Carol Laure Stephan Audron Jean Carmet directed by Lewis Feury first time at the bat. Cinematography by Phillppe Rouseleaut. Choreography and dancing by Eddie Toussant Ballet de Montreal and Frank Augustine of the National Ballet of Canada.

A class act of a film and a complete flop.It reflected a time of mythic figures in cinema and music Fellini Kurosawa, Godard. the Beatles. the Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, and from the frontier country of olden Canada Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and all the other illuminated crazies that infused my generation with the sheer force and hope for a shimmering bright new future. It reflected the echoes of a time that would once and all-time end the war to end all wars.And bring about a time of peace and love.To my mind at least this was the subtext of Night Magic. Yes, it was to be peace and love and this unknown little film spoke about it all. Success. Fame. Love. Immortality

We started in Montreal Canada in the late summer of 1984. It was a wonderful summer that year in Canada in my favourite city. Night and Magic. The Baby boomers sing and dance.Just watch us.The Baby Boomers born from desperation and sprung from parents who had survived the worst event in human history and who were not one of the corpses piled in the millions into mass graves. Who had not been transmuted into hot ashes or evaporated by the nuclear flash of Hiroshima. We children were survivors and children of survivors. We had done something right to be alive and to stay alive and therefore had a purpose a reason to be.A reason to sing and dance.Leonard Cohen was to be the voice of our generation. He was one of these amazing children born in Montreal in 1934 a Jew who was not hatched in Europe but born into a safe harbor called Canada. His father was a successful merchant his mother the daughter of a distinguished rabbi.His teacher was one of Canadas greatest poets Irving Layton.His guitar teacher who was an immigrant Spaniard taught him some basic chords and then committed suicide. He was an artist through and through. A true Bohemian not a hippy or a yippie and certainly not a yuppie or the X generation. Leonard learned 3 chords and started strumming along to the song of the Universe.Leonard was a born poet but he wanted to be like David to play the harp and sing. To God and for God. And my character Michael was modeled on this modern cinematic David.These are the thematics of this little unknown orphan of a film shivering in a snowbound lane way. Lol as the theologically correct cynical children of today smirk.Buried and forgotten.

The film is in fact a very biblical and religious fairy tale and Carol Laure is not only a perfect angel but she is the Virgin Mary and Suzanne all wrapped up into one brunette Marianne. A modern fairy tale lost and forgotten in a Quebec winter.How odd in the Age of Beyonce and Lady Gaga and COVID to think that a film like this could ever be made.And yet it was.Another era.In 1964 Leonard was at the perfect age and the perfect time. And in the perfect country; Trudeaus Canada the land of peace.Hope and brilliance were in the air.One day in 1965 my old friend then young now-deceased Alex Gottlieb announced to me that Leonard was writing songs and singing.At the University of Toronto, we knew him only as a poet a protege of Irving Layton.Alex put on the scratchy disk.”Susanne takes you down to her place by the river/ you can hear the boats go by/ you can hear the river answer…”What?An awful voice tuneless like fingernails on a chalkboard…..hopeless he was. There was no future for this unknown Canadian poet. Who the hell wants to hear songs about razor blades in the age of the Midnight Rambler? Alleluia. It’s ironic and fitting that Night Magic which he wrote with Lewis Furey should remain unknown hidden in the amnesiac snows of Canadian Cultural History. Like all things Canadian which do not exist until they exist in the outside world until they are recognized and lauded by the Americans or the British or God forbid the French. Night Magic disappeared into the night. I feel guilty about Night Magic and this article is by way of an apology to make amends to this little gem of a film playing that singing poet. I feel guilty because I did not go to Cannes when the film was accepted into the Directors Fortnight Category. I feel guilty for not walking the red carpet with the paparazzi screaming “Over here! Over here!”. I feel guilty because I helped bury the film by not suiting up and showing up. Because you see, this film is a gorgeous work of art musically and visually imaginative and more than deserves to be remembered. The film is about lost love and love found and lost again and the egocentric selfishness of the artist and his obsessions with himself and the consequences thereof. In the context of the larger picture I was perfect for the part at the time. My Salad days though slightly wilted.When Carol asked me to star in it while shooting Bobby Roths Heartbreakers with Peter Coyote I balked.I’m neither a singer nor a dancer and Michael was both. Stage fright paralyzed me.” I know you can do it” Carol told me. We had worked together on several films going back to the time of John Hirch’s CBC and Gille Carl. So I took the leap.Rehearsals began in Montreal a month before principal photography and that time I learned to sing and dance. Somewhat. I did it all by the numbers with much help from some marvelous people.But my voice was to be Lewis. I had done this sort of dubbing thing before when I filmed the rock star in “Blame it On the Night” original story by Mick Jagger. I gave a concert for 3 days at the San Diego Sports Arena singing in Ted Neeleys Voice ( Jesus Christ Superstar) in a 4-octave range and blowing out my voice in front of 10,000 people I was on stage with Billy Preston and Mary Clayton. Faking it. Pretending. An actor’s utter madness. But no risk no gain. And here’s the kicker.No gain means no fame and vice versa. Cosmic law in showbiz.And as Charlton Heston once told me while shooting a film called Motherlode with Kim Bassinger directed by Heston and written by his son Fraser: ” The trouble with showbusiness is that its business that is show and show that is business.” Ya cant win unless you get the loot.Leonard never cared much about the loot.

Night Magic made neither loot nor fame.It cared not a whit.“It is to such as you /that we were sent/ to speak directly to your deepest shame/ and light the fires of experiment…” So sang Michael in Night Magic so sang Leonard Cohen.” we claim you now…in the name of that which/ you have never done before /the victim shall be smitten on his Sore/ The Haughty One shall have a Visitor” What language!! Not exactly Rocky Horror!! Almost Elizabethan. Chilling words. Michael loses everything including the Angel that loved him “I burned the House of Love tonight” . Again Leonard. This film is very much about the fires of experiment. To my mind the fires that electrified the 60s. My generation. And Leonard’s even more so born 14 years earlier. The hope of a generation that betrayed itself. Look around you and listen to the music in this film beat its heart out against the diminishing rattle of a shifting Schumann Wave, the heart sounds of Gaia our Planet. A cacophony of sound. Splintered chords in syncopated 7/8 time.The music of Shtokhausen divided by Bertold Brecht. And so it began.We had a nothing budget and Robert Lantos who had produced the movie ran out of money so we the principal players threw some of our salaries back in.So why would I not go to Cannes? That was the question. Was it indifference? No, I had massive stage fright. I hated the red carpet. How bizarre.” I never thought / I’d get this far: ” Michael ” we always knew you would! “ The Angels

Fear is an ugly thing. Fear of success. Fear of the red carpet. Fear of judgment.Leonard had neither fear of success nor failure. He was a free man. But the film did not liberate itself.Was the film afraid?It was afraid of its own genius.Afraid it would be captured and compared.Afraid of its novelty.Who was the villain in the story? No one. It was self-betrayal . It was treason which according to Dante was the greatest of all sins. Night Magic betrayed itself and I like a good Mephistphelian actor played along. But for Leonard it was different.His Buddhism and dharma and Sangha kept him balanced. He bought a small house in the immigrant section of Montreal. To which he returned every now and then to “renew his neurotic affiliations.” He chopped wood and carried water for his old Roshi on Mt Baldy In California. He knew the score. He was not afraid.He stayed humble because from the get-go he knew everyone was in trouble.He didn’t kid nor kill himself much as he sang about it. He loved women and he loved song and he loved life and he was grateful to his maker the Creator of heaven and earth.He understood the essential magic of the universe. There’s a crack in things. That’s how the light gets in.

I first met Leonard Cohen in a macrobiotic restaurant in Montreal at midnight.We became instant friends. He asked if he could come and watch us rehearse at the National Theatre School.Of course. Dancing and sweating every day with Edie Tousant Ballet of Montreal and Frank Augustine of the National Ballet he, asked if he could bring me water or a coffee. Thank you.He was of service to others at all times.When he offered me the rights to Beautiful Losers his first novel I accepted. I was a beautiful loser and did nothing with the rights.The film itself became a beautiful loser.”I burned the house of Love tonight/ it made an aweful ring” Michael/Cohen Night Magic

Leonard was kind and gentle and sweet with an impish sense of humor. There was no anger nor frustration in the man. He had the feeling of a man who knew the jig was up. With him, everything seemed possible because there was a smile at the end of the Universe. The cold razor blade reality was not his. Its something he wrote about.“everybody knows/the war Is over/ everybody knows/ the bad guys won:” So drink eat sing and dance deep into the night for tomorrow you will pay the bill.

Night Magic was originally entitled The Hall.I think it was Robert Lantos the producer of the film who gave it the name Night Magic. The Hall a classic Cohenism was too prosaic for Mr. Lantos. He went on to become along with Garth Drabinski Canada’s most successful producer and yet when I asked him years later how it felt to have succeeded he told me he felt like a loser. “Why?” I asked?

Because I wanted to produce….you know…films.” He was, of course, talking David Korda films, MGM …you know films. Gone With the Wind films, The Red ShoesStar Wars, The Godfather, Rambo. In a relative world, we are all of us…losers. It’s hard to believe Night Magic the film was ever made. Before the existence of MTV and music videos, a film totally ignored by Canada written by a Canadian legend. How utterly fitting. It’s a marvelous gem of a movie and I am happy to have been a part of it. Thank you Leonard Cohen. Thank you Night Magic.

Nick Mancuso, Paris 2020

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Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats

Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000jjr5

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The Boomtown Rats in Ireland

This documentary about the Boomtown Rats has its faults but is hugely entertaining and informative. Director Billy McGrath records and analyses both the band’s history and its music. He highlights key (sometimes iconic) footage documenting its huge success and subsequent fall from popularity. Guests include Bono, Sinead O’Connor, Dave Stewart, Jools Holland, David Mallet and Sting, as well as music writers, photographers, and historians all give their views on the history and social impact of the Rats.

I should declare my interest. I am a Boomtown Rats fan. I loved ‘A Tonic for the Troops’ when I first heard it. I loved the mix of punk rebellion with people who could actually play instruments and carry a tune. I loved the relative complexity of the lyrics.

The Boomtown Rats originated in Ireland. An Ireland that was economically grim and socially frozen. Ireland was dominated by the allied Church and State and to many young people was depressing and corrupt. All many wanted to do was escape. That was certainly true of the members of the Boomtown Rats. Added to that sense of alienation or estrangement was there disrupted family backgrounds. All in all a mix for anti-authority, questioning and rebellious positions. And that’s exactly what you got.

For me, the relationship between their Irish roots and the state of that nation was one of the most fascinating aspects of the documentary. The lyric of Banana Republic written in response to the band being banned from performing in the Republic is uncompromising. Take the chorus:
“Banana Republic
Septic Isle
Suffer in the Screaming sea
It sounds like dying
Everywhere I go
Everywhere I see
The black and blue uniforms
Police and priests”

The Irish establishment took a dim view of this song and Geldof’s earlier “denunciation of nationalism, medieval-minded clerics and corrupt politicians” in a 1977 interview/performance on Ireland’s The Late Late Show. The Irish Times described the band as “a thorn shoved into the skin of church and state”.(1)

Yet the Rats were also one of Ireland’s most successful exports for a time opening up opportunities that other Irish bands followed. And Geldof never abandoned Ireland itself whilst maintaining his criticism of the system there.

There are many ‘might have been questions’ raised by the documentary. The Rats were ahead of their time in terms of producing music videos but there was no dedicated music video channel at the time. Had there been maybe they would have broken through in the United States. If Geldof had been less abrasive and understood America and Americans better perhaps they would have done better there. As the Irish Times put it: “Geldof, for whom keeping his mouth shut did not come naturally, went out of his way to alienate US audiences by deriding the sainted Bruce Springsteen.” (2)

You can mark the end of the band at different points but I would place it when they failed to breakthrough in the United States. It didn’t help that the anthemic I Don’t Like Mondays was blocked by legal threats from being produced as a single there.

Bob Geldof kept busy. He starred in Pink Floyd the Wall (released in 1982) cast as the mentally deranged Fascist leader Pink. He brought his energy to organise the massive 1985 Live Aid charity concerts and the Xmas hit Do they know it’s Christmas? and many associated efforts for famine relief in Africa.

The Rats reunited as a part-time touring act in 2013 and in 2020, 36 years after their last release. They also produced a seventh album, Citizens of Boomtown (after which the documentary is named). Although keyboardist Johnny Fingers and early-era guitarist Gerry Cott are both absent, the Rats of 2020 — Geldof, guitarist Garry Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette, and drummer Simon Crowe – are all original members. The album received mixed reviews but the live gigs were said to be filled with energy and passion by those who attended.

In both the documentary and in an interview with Rolling Stone Geldof insists that the band’s older songs aren’t nostalgia but are relevant today:

““When I sing ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ I’m not in 1979,” he says. “I’m in last night’s school massacre, which nobody anticipated at the time. When I’m doing ‘Rat Trap,’ it’s not for the hopelessness of the people in that abattoir I wrote it in, but hopelessness now. When I do ‘Banana Republic’ it’s not for the Irish Republic, which eventually grew up and matured. It’s for the American republic as it descends ever further into political infantilism.”

“When I do ‘Lookin’ After No. 1′ it’s not about the conditions of life in 1979,” he continues. “It’s about Google and Facebook and [Mark] Zuckerberg always on, always monitoring, collating every thought you have, every friend, every choice, packaging and selling it to a third party who in turn exploits you and your preferences. It’s utterly now. That rage, that animus propels the Boomtown Rats.” (3)

I can’t hope to cover all the informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining aspects of this documentary. It is so full. Though there are still aspects missed such as Geldof’s support for Father’s Rights and his opposition to Brexit.

I said at the start that it had flaws. There is a very contrived ‘interview’ with Bob Geldof at the beginning which I think is meant to be funny but isn’t. I didn’t make much of the rather ‘art-schooly’ of the band walking through a tunnel behind a figure wearing a gas mask and pulling a board laden with rocks. Each to their own though! It is also a little self-congratulatory but given the band, and particularly ‘Saint Bob’s’ contribution to humanitarian relief and social progress maybe we can forgive them that!

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

(1) https://www.irishtimes.com/…/the-boomtown-rats-citizens-of-…
(2) https://www.irishtimes.com/…/citizens-of-boomtown-bob-geldo…
(3) https://www.rollingstone.com/…/bob-geldof-interview-boomto…/

Picture credit: By Author unknown; Photo courtesy Orange County Archives – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ocarchives/5486877395/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14267259

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The Romantic Rocker – Some Thoughts on Phil Lynott

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Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy, Chateau Neuf, Oslo, Norway

What made Phil an ‘outsider’? Well, was this rowdy rocker and party-goer, really an outsider? I think so. Of course, just the hue of his skin in Dublin at the time would have ‘marked him out’. A black Irishman in the 50s and 60s – there was a novelty. Either he had to live up to that difference or retreat from it – Phil, ostensibly, lived up to it. In fact, he had been born at West Bromich in the West Midlands of England close to where I grew up. But Phil was sent to Dublin to live with and be brought up by his grandmother and family. He pays tribute to her in one of his songs titled ‘Sarah’. He wrote another ‘Sarah’ for his first born.

Phil was ‘black’, living apart from his mother, with an estranged father. He was brought up in Catholic Ireland – so different at the time, say, from ‘Swinging London’ and more generally the ‘swinging sixties’ – the decade when he first began to play music. Phil was tall, very leggy and eventually grew an impressive ‘Afro’ hair cut. There was no mistaking him. But there was always a dichotomy about his nature. I met and talked with him a few times (I’m lucky to be able to say) even got to play drums along with him once! With his doleful eyes, lush Dublin brogue and gentle demeanour OFF-stage (I never witnessed his wild side) – this was contrasted with the posing rocker, ‘eye-for-a-lady’, ‘jack-the-lad’, ‘twinkle in the eye’ hard rocker ON stage. Thin Lizzy was a SUPERB live act. They made their reputation and career from their live performances. And they had (to quote a song and album title) a ‘bad reputation’.

There was though, more to this rocker than one would expect. Yes he could write heavy songs with swagger such as ‘The Rocker’: ‘I am your main man if you’re looking for trouble’ – but also some of the most beautiful ballads, such as ‘Still in Love With You’:

‘Think I’ll just fall to pieces
If I don’t find something else to do
This sadness it never ceases
I’m still in love with you.’

Or there were the songs of yearning, ‘Wild One’ being an example with its lines:

‘How can we carry on, now you are gone, my wild one.’

There were many songs imbued with Irish legend of myth and adventure and with more contemporary reference such as, ‘Freedom Song’:

‘I believe in the freedom song
Long live liberty
I believe in the freedom song
Doesn’t matter what you do to me.’

But there was also his religious/spiritual side. I’m writing these words now because the following lines often pop into my head, from the song ‘Dear Lord’:

‘Dear Lord, this is a prayer, just let me know if you’re really there
Dear Lord, come gain control, oh Lord, come save my soul
Give me dignity, restore my sanity, oh Lord, come rescue me
Dear Lord, my vanity, oh Lord, it’s killin’ me, it’s killin’ me.’

Phil had a sense of the Divine… a sense of the world beyond…I even think he had a sense of his impending mortality. This mix of rocker and romantic gave his songs a quality so often lacking from his contemporaries. Thin Lizzy’s songs had this mixture of Rock; Romance; Celtic History; Religion/Spirituality.

Phil was an outsider by nature not by choice. He was ‘Johnny’ the character popping up in many of his songs – he was ‘The Cowboy’, his childhood reflecting children’s awe then of the Wild West and he bringing these romantic adventures to life in the raw 1970s: ‘I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail…’

Well if you don’t know, Phil succumbed to the effects of drugs and their long-term use in the mid-80s. Perhaps that was always going to be his destiny. Never to grow old. Always remembered as the rocker, the gypsy with his dangling, hooped earring. His playfulness and talent. But it’s still a damn shame he’s gone. These words reflect just a slight insight into the man and his songs. If you don’t know him and Thin Lizzy check out their back catalogue. ‘Vagabonds of the Western World’ is a raw, solid, Irish, romantic flavoured album from the band as a three-piece; ‘Nightlife’ is a soulful peculiarity (and my favourite album); Jailbreak is the ‘Classic Line-up’ at its height, containing their most famous hit song, ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.

If you don’t know Thin Lizzy and you like your rock delivered with feeling and intensity and yet with some beautiful slow ballads and thought-provoking lyrics – you will be highly delighted when you do. If you already know them – you’ll understand everything I have written. Phil’s life was a romantic-tragedy – with all the paradox that those two words combining bring. I’ll leave you with this stanza from his song, ‘Spirit Slips Away’. Written when he and the band were on the cusp of real stardom.

And when the music that makes you blue
Unfolds its secrets, the mysteries are told to you
May the angels sing rejoice to you
That fateful day when your spirit slips away

By Tim Bragg.

Tim Bragg is the authour of ‘Lyrics to Live By‘, a book which looks at the life lessons in twelve song lyrics.

Picture: Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy, Chateau Neuf, Oslo, Norway by Helge Øverås [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

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Interview with Aletia Upstairs

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Patrick Harrington with Aletia Upstairs

Interview with Aletia Upstairs who is currently starring in her fringe show ‘A Queer Love of Dix’

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a performer?

I come from Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve lived in London for the last 12 years. Apparently, I had an hour and a half of singing repertoire at the age of 18 months. My parents met on stage in a school play, so it was my destiny.

Do you hold strong political opinions? How would you describe them?

I come from South Africa….Our country changed a hell of a lot during my first few years at university. I couldn’t really see myself being involved with political cabaret in South Africa because everything had to be so PC. And of course, cabaret SHOULD be political. A Queer Love of Dix is my most political show to date and it is still quite mild, I think.

My political opinion is simply that everyone should be treated equally. I grew up seeing the inequality in South Africa…and I became more and more aware of that as I grew older. My idea of feminism is tied in with this view.

You cover some great songs from the Weimar period in your show, (“Pirate Jenny”, “It’s All a Swindle” and “The Lavender Song” to give a few examples). Do you have a song that you like to listen to more than the others and is that different from one that you really like to perform?

I don’t really listen to my show music when I am performing it, as I would get sick of it, and because I listen to it A LOT when I’m learning it. Recently I was listening to ‘Just a Gigolo’ in German (‘Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo’) the Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester version, on a loop… constantly…on my bicycle, in the tube, in order to learn the German words. This song was composed in 1928 by Leonello Casucci to lyrics written in 1924 by Julius Brammer. I am interested in the history of the songs (maybe because of my Musicology studies) and with that – especially Lavender Song (‘Das Lila Lied’), which was composed by Mischa Spoliansky under the pseudonym Arno Billing.

You describe Weimar as a ‘utopia’. How far do you think our impression of 1924-29 of Weimar in this period is skewed by Berlin’s reputation as a city where “anything went”? Do you think this vision of Berlin has made us forget that it wasn’t typical of the country, traditional attitudes persisting particularly in small-town and rural areas and amongst the older generation?

I think, most of what we are aware of through say the Cabaret movie – as this is the first taste of that world for many, is the decadence and hedonism of the period…but then there is a part in the movie where the people in the countryside sing a folk song and make the Nazi salute. This makes me think a lot about Brexit, since it was mainly the people in the rural areas who voted out. The people in the cities – London, at least, were generally not that positive about Brexit.

Berlin, in the 1920s, was a forward-looking place though. There were many lesbian and gay bars. People had this little taste of freedom just before the worst event in history set in. When you go on a walking tour in Berlin, specifically The Christopher Isherwood’s Neighbourhood walking tour http://www.isherwoods-neighbourhood.com/  you learn a lot about the LGBTQI community at the time, but also about how people were taken away to concentration camps. There are these little plaques at the entrances of certain homes with people’s names and when they were taken, whereto and when and where they died.

During the Weimar Republic, homosexuality was certainly tolerated but it wasn’t legal (The 1871 Code which criminalised it wasn’t repealed until 1994). Also, outside of Berlin, social attitudes were still very conservative. The Eulenburg Scandal in 1907-8 drew attention to the goings-on in the Kaiser’s own circle, where the death in 1908 from a heart attack of the Chief of the Military Cabinet while dancing in the Kaiser’s presence dressed in a ballerina’s tutu added to rumours that the Kaiser was bi-sexual. The point, however, is that it WAS a scandal. The magazine “Simplicissimus”, the “Private Eye” of its day, made sure of that. The Nazis hated Weimar culturally as well as politically. Would you accept that, to a degree, they reflected the opinion of many in this regard?

In the show, I say it was ‘permitted’. Of course, generally, social attitudes were still very conservative, but we always think about the majority being cisgender. Is that really the case though? Was that the case then? Is that the case now? Or are many, many people just going along with societal norms which are based on gender norms dictated by the main religions?
Are you saying that the general public didn’t agree with the liberal lifestyle practiced in the Weimar Republic? I guess not…and that’s one reason for the Nazis rise to power. They had the populist support in combination with the support of those who were fearful of opposing them. Of course, we know that the Weimar Republic was, as I say in the show, ‘an attempt at a perfect democracy’, but it failed because it had some major flaws.

This makes me think of Apartheid South Africa, again, where I know, for a fact, that white people were killed who opposed the government, so, as a result, some people just took the easy way out, ignorant, or oblivious of what they were actually supporting.

Have Brecht, Weill, Isherwood, etc. captured our imagination and distorted our perception of the country and period?

Generally, people are more au fait with Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret than with any of them. Based on the movie, I wanted to be Sally Bowles. When I was in my early twenties, I used to write my bio as ‘Aletia Upstairs wants to be Sally Bowles’, but Isherwood’s Sally Bowles is quite different from the Liza Minelli version everyone knows. Naturally, I wanted to explore the period more and more.

None of them paint a purely utopian picture of the Weimar Republic and Berlin of the time, however, I would say that Otto Dix with his New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) style gives us a much more realistic view of the period. This is why I had to combine his work with the music, some of which quite well-known, of Brecht and Weill.

Do you think that our own period in our own country where homosexuality is legal, and discrimination outlawed still struggles with negative social attitudes amongst some?

Absolutely, yes. There are still numerous homophobic attacks taking place. The two lesbians who were attacked on a bus is in London, for example…that happened on May 30th.

What can we do to win hearts and minds and change these attitudes?

Keep preaching…to the non-converted. I’m trying to change some people’s perceptions with this show. I rejoice in the fact that cisgender people can sing along to the words ‘We’re not afraid to be queer and different’. It is educational in a subtle way. And if they didn’t know that we say intersex these days, rather than hermaphrodite, they will when they leave the show. I hope that experiencing the show might open their hearts and minds and make people more accepting of the whole LGBTQI spectrum. I think, in a small way, I am accomplishing that.

What attracts you to the culture of the Weimar period so strongly?

I had that image of Anita Berber, used for the poster, as an inspirational picture for many years before I made the show. Although cabaret did not originate in the Weimar Republic or, more specifically Berlin, it is the kind of cabaret similar to how it was performed in South Africa when I was growing up and the way I was trained in cabaret.

Why do you think that many are fascinated by the Goldene Zwanziger (“Golden Twenties”) of Weimar?

This was a moment in history when, like I say in the show, the outsider could be the insider. It was a time of an explosion in artistic activity and personal freedom. The New Objectivity style, used by Otto Dix, originated during this time. Androgyny was fashionable, as documented by Dix’s painting of Sylvia von Harden. It was the time when women cut their hair in the bob hairstyle. This act, in particular, indicated more freedom for women, in particular.

You feature the work of Otto Dix in your show as a backdrop to your singing. What connects his work to the songs for you?
I see it as his work illustrating the songs. I have never seen Brecht and Weill performed in, as I call it, the world of Otto Dix, but I feel that they were talking about the same things, so I thought it would work well in combination.

Who/what do you blame for Hitler’s rise to power and how might it have been prevented?

As I say in the show, in the Weimar Republic, the left and the right could not come to an agreeable compromise, and meanwhile, nationalism was rising. The Weimar Republic’s democracy was flawed. The people were too passive; they went along with the Nazi party for what it promised them – employment and so on which was necessary following the Depression and the period of hyperinflation. I think a lot of people didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for until it was too late.

How has the audience reaction been to the show? What kind of feedback have you had?

People have said it’s been educational, thought-provoking and enjoyable. That’s my intention…exactly that. I don’t want it to be like a lecture, but I do want people to feel that they’ve learned something from it: maybe take another look at their own attitudes to the Other. Some have said it was unique, which is nice to know.

Have you ever thought of presenting the content of your show in another format – a documentary or book for example?

No, not at all, but on a previous project I collaborated with a documentary writer, so it’s not out of the question. I just have to see what opportunities come my way.

What plans do you have for shows in the future?

I am hoping to tour this show to other parts of Europe. I am in negotiations about taking it to Romania and Germany. I don’t have a plan for another show at the moment. It will come when the time is right.

Tickets for A Queer Love of Dix are available from:https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/queer-love-of-dix

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Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

Director: Nick Broomfield

Runtime: 1hr 42mins

marianne and leonardNick Broomfield’s documentary opens with a BBC television news report from 2016 of Marianne Ihlen’s death and reports of a last email sent to her by her one-time lover, the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen; who was himself to die some three months later. These are the ‘words of love’ from the film’s title.

Nick Broomfield then tells the story of how Marianne and Leonard met on the paradise Greek island of Hydra when he was a struggling young Canadian poet and she was emerging from an abusive marriage.

Broomfield has crafted this compelling documentary from a lot of archive footage – including some of his own – and he’s made good use of interviews with friends and recorded recollections of Marianne and Leonard themselves.

Both Marianne and Leonard had a whole lot of love to give – in that brief period in the Sixties which was the era of hedonistic ‘free love’ and ‘open marriage’. The effects on the younger generation only emerged later. The Johnston family – who mentored Leonard when he arrived on Hydra – lost their mother and all but one of the children to mental illness and suicide when they left the island and tried to resume normal life back home in Australia.  Marianne’s son – ‘little Axel’ also developed a number of mental issues and had to be admitted into a mental institution in later life.

Both Marianne and Leonard also had to deal with depression. Both sought comfort in the arms of others: Leonard with Janis Joplin, his other muse Suzanne Elrod and others; and Marianne who had brief relationships with Nick Broomfield before remarrying and returning to Norway. It was her encouragement that persuaded Broomfield to make the first of many successful documentaries.

This is a revealing and passionate film. I reckon that two-thirds to three-quarters of the audience in my local cinema were women of a certain age; probably in their mid teens to early twenties around the time of the 1970 Isle of White festival when Cohen first came to prominence in Britain. He never lost that magnetic appeal to many women.

The ‘words of love’ in the title came from the email Leonard sent to Marianne in 2016 after hearing from their mutual friend, Jan Christian Mollestad that she was dying from cancer;

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey.

“Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

This story became public shortly after Marianne’s death. Leonard died some three months later. What we didn’t know then was that she was filmed on her deathbed by Mollestad as he read Leonard’s final letter to her. I have never seen anything more moving in my life; what an emotional punch this film packs. The old cliché, ‘not a dry eye in the house’ was no exaggeration this time.

Circumstances and events drew Marianne and Leonard apart and into the arms of others for a while; but despite this, they had a deep bond that never entirely faded away. From her earlier recollections to footage of Marianne singing away to herself the familiar words of ‘her’ song, So Long, Marianne in her front row seat at his Olso concert in 2008, Broomfield faithfully documents their intertwined stories and their complicated lives. It’s powerful stuff.

David Kerr

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Morrissey – California Son

morrissey-california-sonCALIFORNIA SON, Morrissey’s twelfth studio album, is a collection of covers including a few familiar old classics and some maybe lesser known American protest and social justice songs from the 60s and 70s. Morrissey and his band never shy away from imaginative musical arrangements, often seeking out unusual instruments, and there are influences here from New Orleans, the old-time crooners and a touch of Broadway. No doubt this is a nod to his recent sell-out residency at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City (NYC).

The album opens with Morning Starship, the 1973 song by Jobriath. Morrissey has talked about covering this song for many years, and his version does not disappoint. He strips back the glam rock just enough to emphasise his wide range of vocals. It is an uplifting track and was well received when he sang it live on Broadway.

Next up is his version of Joni Mitchell’s Don’t interrupt the Sorrow, a song about women standing up to male dominance from her 1975 The Hissing of Summer Lawns album. Originally a folky song with lots of hand drums it is given the full Morrissey crooner treatment. Now in his 60th year, Morrissey seems to be embracing the role of modern-day crooner and it is a sound that repeats on several tracks throughout this album, not least on the very good Wedding Bell Blues on which Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong adds backing vocals.

Morrissey is never one to shy away from a song with a powerful message and chose to include the 1964 Bob Dylan song Only A Pawn in their Game, written following the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. The message in this song is that the killer was as much a victim or “pawn” of the elites in power as was his victim. The song was sung at the rally where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. It’s an interesting choice, as is his excellent cover of Days of Decision. This is taken from the 1965 Phil Ochs album Ain’t Marching Anymore, with its lyrics: “you can do what’s right or you can do what you are told.” Maybe in these choices, Morrissey is encouraging the listener to look at the lessons of history and to question things a little more?

Buffy Sainte Marie’s Suffer the Little Children is given the full Broadway treatment with big instrumentals and hand clapping. Buffy, in an interview, said she loved it.

There are very good versions of Carly Simon’s When you close your eyes and Dione Warwick’s Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets. Gary Puckett’s Lady Willpower is also very well done. Tim Hardin’s eulogy to his friend Lenny Bruce, Lenny’s Tune is perfect for the melancholic signature sound of Morrissey, and whilst this version is not as haunting as the Nico cover it does justice to the original.

Roy Orbison’s It’s Over stays true to the original and is one of the best tracks on the album. He closes with Melanie Safka’s 1971 Some Say (I got Devil). The vocals here are excellent and the addition of instrumentals on what was originally an acoustic guitar ballad gives the song new depth.

There really is not a bad track here but the real gift of this album is that it brings to a new generation a selection of protest songs about freedom, social justice and liberty that have a message relevant to today. It encourages you to seek out the original recordings and the stories behind them. Morrissey is not afraid to try new genres, or of working with material that others might now find too controversial. It is why his music endures despite the controversy, the bad press, the lack of radio coverage and the constant personal attacks. He has already recorded an album of new material for release later in the year. Retirement does not appear to be on the horizon just yet.

Reviewed by Jacqui Cosgree

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California Sun – Morrissey

CALIFORNIA SON, Morrissey’s twelfth studio album, is a collection of covers including a few familiar old classics and some maybe lesser known American protest and social

morrissey-california-son

justice songs from the 60s and 70s.  Morrissey and his band never shy away from imaginative musical arrangements, often seeking out unusual instruments, and there are influences here from New Orleans, the old time crooners and a touch of Broadway.  No doubt this is a nod 

 

to his recent sell out residency at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City (NYC).  

The album opens with Morning Starship, the 1973 song by Jobriath.  Morrissey has talked about covering this song for many years, and his version does not disappoint.  He strips back the glam rock just enough to emphasise his wide range of vocals.  It is an uplifting track and was well received when he sang it live on Broadway.

Next up is his version of Joni Mitchell’s Don’t interrupt the Sorrow, a song about Women standing up to male dominance from her 1975 The Hissing of Summer Lawns album.  Originally a folky song with lots of hand drums it is given the full Morrissey crooner treatment. Now in his 60th yeapeats on several tracks throughout this album, not least on the very good Wedding Bell Blues on which Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong adds backing vocals.

Morrissey is never one to shy away from a song with a powerful message, and chose to include the 1964 Bob Dylan song Only A Pawn in their Game, written following the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.  The message in this song is that the killer was as much a victim or “pawn” of the elites in power as was his victim.  The song was sung at the rally where Martin Luther King gave his“I have a dream” speech.  It’s an interesting choice, as is his excellent cover of Days of Decision.  This is taken from the 1965 Phil Ochs album Ain’t Marching Anymore, with its lyrics: “you can do what’s right or you can do what you are told.”  Maybe in these choices Morrissey is encouraging the listener to look at the lessons of history and to question things a little more?

Buffy Sainte Marie’s Suffer the Little Children is given the full Broadway treatment with big instrumentals and hand clapping.  Buffy, in an interview, said she loved it.

There are very good versions of Carly Simon’s When you close your eyes and Dione Warwick’s Loneliness Remembers what Happiness Forgets.  Gary Puckett’s Lady Willpower is also very well done.  Tim Hardin’s eulogy to his friend Lenny Bruce, Lenny’sTune is perfect for the melancholic signature sound of Morrissey, and whilst this version is not as haunting as the Nico cover it does justice to the original.

Roy Orbison’s It’s Over stays true to the original and is one of the best tracks on the album.  He closes with Melanie Safka’s 1971 Some Say (I got Devil).  The vocals here are excellent and the addition of instrumentals on what was originally an acoustic guitar ballad gives the song new depth.

There really is not a bad track here but the real gift of this album is that it brings to a new generation a selection of protest songs about freedom, social justice and liberty that have a message relevant to today.  It encourages you to seek out the original recordings and the stories behind them.  Morrissey is not afraid to try new genres, or of working with material that others might now find too controversial.  It is why his music endures despite the controversy, the bad press, the lack of radio coverage and the constant personal attacks.  He has already recorded an album of new material for release later in the year.  Retirement does not appear to be on the horizon just yet.

Reviewed by Jacqui Cosgree

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17 Million Fuck Offs

DominicFrisby-Edinburgh-headshot-3-sparkles-A4

17 Million Fuck Offs.  Written and performed by Dominic Frisby.  Music composed and played by Martin Wheatley (based on a traditional Devon folk song).  Video directed by Anon.   Audio mixed and recorded by Wayne McIntyre.  Assistant Director Mark “Yeti” Cribbs.  Available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/17-Million-Fuck-Offs-Explicit/dp/B07PKY39CK/ref=sr_1_3_twi_mus_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1552953132&sr=8-3&keywords=dominic+frisby

INDIVIDUAL TRACK reviews for Counter Culture are like busses – you wait ages for them to arrive and then two come along at once!

Eagle-eyed readers may recall that – towards the end of last month – I reviewed a track called The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right!  You can read the review here https://countercultureuk.com/2019/04/25/the-dirty-fucking-hippies-were-right/ and listen to the track here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKEZoY-TMG4 At the time (and to the best of my knowledge) I’d never reviewed an individual music track before.  Little did I know that I’d be at it again so quickly.

As with last months track, I can’t recall where (or when) I first became aware of 17 Million Fuck Offs but I somehow came across it on YouTube.  You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiUFPjulTW8

Remarkably, there are several similarities and differences between The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right! and 17 Million Fuck Offs.  For instance, both deal with important subject matters.  The first was a track about an entire counter cultural movement – the Hippies – which had its origins in the 60s.  The second track is about a specific event, the EU referendum of 23rd June 2016.

Mystery surrounds those who wrote and performed The Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right! although it’s been attributed to George Carlin (1937 – 2008) the American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic.  However, there’s no mystery about 17 Million Fuck Offs which is the work of Dominic Frisby.  According to his web-site – https://dominicfrisby.com/ – Frisby is a libertarian and a ‘writer-performer’.  However, this brief description is very modest indeed, for he combines straight stand-up and character comedy with writing books about the economy as well as acting, presenting, voiceovers and public speaking.

So much for the differences between the two singles.  The one obvious similarity is the use of the Anglo-Saxon word, ‘Fuck’, in both titles.  Whilst it’s still considered a reasonably offensive swear word, many people seem to use it – maybe even unconsciously – in everyday speech.  To this extent, the word has become somewhat ‘normalised’.  However, I believe that it’s used on both tracks for description and emphasis.  The hippies were way, way before my time, and I’m far from an expert on them, but I believe that they were sometimes described as ‘dirty fucking hippies’.  That would explain its use on the first track.  On 17 Million Fuck Offs it’s used to great comedic effect – especially as it appears like a bolt out of the blue.  Based on a traditional Devon folk song, Frisby sets the scene at the start of the track and sings in a very authoritative manner:

‘On the 23rd of June, 2016
The people of the United Kingdom – and Gibraltar – went to vote
On an issue that for some had been burning for years
The question in full – and unaltered – was – I quote

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union
or leave the European Union?

It was the greatest democratic turnout in British history, I do not scoff
And when the time came to speak the British said fuck off.
Fuck off.’

I’ve shown the YouTube video to a few people and they’ve always reacted with a great big belly laugh when they first hear the words ‘fuck off’.  Have a listen to it yourself and you’ll know what I mean.

Dominic Frisby spends most of his time on the track ridiculing the warnings that the establishment made in the run up to the EU referendum.  Known as ‘Project Fear’ the electorate were warned, if they voted for Brexit, that ‘you’ll lose your job’, ‘you’ll lose yourhome’ and that there would be all manner of food shortages, no medicines, grounded planes and the stock market would collapse. However, most terrifying of all, there’d be ‘an outbreak of super gonorrhea. They seriously said that’. 

He also calls out various members of the establishment who promoted ‘Project Fear’.  They include politicians like David Cameron, Theresa May, George Osborne and Tony Blair – who, in my honest opinion, should be doing serious bird for war crimes – right the way through to ‘celebrities’ like Gary Lineker, JK Rowling and the deliberately (yet delightfully) misnamed Benedict Cumbertwat.  At the end of the list comes Labour’s Lord Adonis.  Frisby proves that he’s truly a great iconoclast when he asks the question on everyone’s lips:‘Who the fuck’s he anyway?’

Listening to the track, it struck me that this was the first time I’d heard a pro-Brexit comedy song.  Indeed, 17 Million Fuck Offs was only song in support of Brexit that I’d come across, no matter what genre it hailed from.

This is odd – to say the very least!  Brexit should’ve provided plenty of material for various mainstream artists & comedians to work with.  For instance, for three years now we’ve been in the ridiculous position of having those MPs who ‘represent’ their constituents in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ trying to overturn the democratic will of those very same constituents.  It’s absolute comedy gold!  So where are all of the mainstream artists and comedians – shouldn’t they be calling out these MPs on their failure to carry out the express will of the people?  After all, we live in a democracy, don’t we?

Despite the reluctance of many ‘household names’ to point out the obvious – that representative democracy is no longer representative or democratic – Dominic Frisby has managed to do so using both gentle humour and biting satire.  This makes 17 Million Fuck Offsvery important as it reminds us why the electorate voted for Brexit and why the public is so frustrated with the current political stalemate.  To do so using music must be a nightmare for Remainers – that’s because music is universal and can cross so many barriers.  Indeed, music has the ability to touch everyone, no matter who they are.

Have a listen to both the original track – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiUFPjulTW8– or the Ramona Ricketts Mix –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD-Sz8S7bA0– which has a slight Irish lilt to it.  And don’t forget to let Counter Culture know what you think of  Dominic Frisby’s highly original work – both in terms of musical comedy and the message it conveys.

Reviewed by John Field.

• LOOK OUT for Dominic Frisby’s Libertarian Love Songs later this year at the Edinburgh Fringe.

 

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