Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


‘Coronovirus Journal’: Part Two


So, continuing on from the last blog, I’m currently thinking through my possible listening strategies in the case of a need to self-isolate. All this is really a conceit, as we think, in retrospect, that our youngest had the virus a few weeks ago, so we’ve been exposed, but it does not harm to be prepared. Greg Tate’s Wire article has inspired me to perhaps give a thorough listening to those LPs that were my gateway drugs into my long term jazz/improv habit, drugs that I first sampled in 1972/3, and sure enough, it was Miles Davis who proved to be Virdil  for this particular underworld.was my Dante

More ‘Trash Theories’: Punk and Britpop

‘Before 1976: How Punk Became Punk’ is the name of another ‘Trash Theories’ series, and I recommend it as highly as I did the ‘Psychedelia/Hard Rock’ ones earlier.

It starts with Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’, demonstrating an intelligent approach to its subject (’Rumble’ also featured in the vid about the origins of Metal). Also ‘Louie, Louie’ and some garage/freakbeat, which further endeared it to me (almost inevitably, The Monks and The Sonics feature, bands that absolutely no-one among my well-informed friends had heard of in the seventies, but ‘whatever’). This is followed by the usual referents: MC5 (overrated, imho, being basically mouthy hippies), The Stooges (originally The Psychedelic Stooges, remember?), New York Dolls and, of course, The Velvets, everyone’s favourite lodestar.

What I didn’t get, however, was the ‘loungecore’ soundtrack playing in the background? Also, sorry, but I have never heard of Death, who were apparently a precursor of Bad Brains (all black), apparently ‘rediscovered’ in 2009, but then again I was never especially into American Hardcore. So far, so predictable, we then get Horses and The Ramones. Fair enough. Not a bad micro-summary. 

Then we move on to Britpop, punk in a minor key, and with all the the charisma leeched out. ‘Blur versus Oasis’, or as the reliably-tedious Liam Gallagher suggests, ‘Oasis versus Blair’. The fact that this manufactured ‘contest’ remains Britpop’s most famous meme surely demonstrates the ultimate feebleness of this ‘movement/moment’?

Phase One: ‘Country Life’ ‘wins’ the battle of TOTP;  Phase Two: ‘Morning Glory’ ‘wins’ the war; Phase Three: History reveals Blur to be the ultimate winner. Compare Stop the Clocks to Blur; The Best Of. As far as I’m concerned, Blur produce more truly memorable, adventurous numbers in one compact disc than the Mancs do in two. I have a feeling that there might be some who disagree with this summary, however. ‘Catchy’ anthems versus the Slade-like crunch of Noel Gallagher’s anthems? Discuss. Liam Gallagher, however, still stands for everything dysfunctional about ‘rock culture’; now approaching fifty years of age, he comes across like your embarrassingly pissed uncle, with, as ever, absolutely nothing of any substance to say. Rock’s Donald Trump.

Compare this to the wonderful video of The Sex Pistols performing at an Xmas 1977 party for striking miner’s families in Huddersfield. Parts of this were included in Julian Temple’s film, ‘The Filth and The Fury’, but this expands on it, and this viewer even began to  warm to Sid Vicious, which was a first. It’s impossible to imagine the likes of the Gallaghers doing anything even approximating to the un-selfconscious antics of the Pistols band members, equally working class as the Burnage bunch, joyful, childlike (and, yes, childish) ‘getting down with the kids’ at another time of conflict and division in our country. ‘Never Mind The Baubles’ is required watching for anyone who wants a genuine alternative to Malcolm McClaren’s narrative of control and manipulation.

Passing Time in Lock Down

As I’m sure very many people are doing, I’m spending some of my time on YouTube, seeing what comes up from the various algorhythms created by my own obsessive viewing habits. I’ve got bigger projects - putting the finishing touches to my biography of Barry Guy, and recommencing my mothballed history of the London Musicians Collective, but the Tube reliably throws up plenty of previously-unseen stuff. One of these is ‘Trash Theory’, a series of short-ish videos on various rock genres and periods. 

One series of vids that caught my eye is entitled, variously, ‘Early Hard Rock’, ‘Heavy Metal’ and ‘Proto-Metal’. These explore the mutation of Freakbeat/Psychedelic Rock into ‘Hard Rock/Progressive’ (the years of 1967-71 approximately). These dovetail nicely with Mike Barnes’ new book, discussed earlier in these blogs, and with my own adolescent discovery of pop/rock music at that exact period, so it was obviously of great interest to me, and probably put together by someone of, or near to, my own age?

The early importance of the now nearly-unlistenable Blue Cheer, Vanilla Fudge (an unwittingly appropriate name!) and Iron (’In a-Gadda-da-Vida’) Butterfly. You could add Lesley West’s Mountain and Humble Pie to these, and even Grand Funk Railroad, cobwebbed names that will make little sense to anyone under fifty years of age, I would have thought (rock obsessives excepted). On to The New Yardbirds (proto-Led Zep), Steppenwolf (the first band to make use of Burroughs’ key expression, in ‘heavy metal thunder’) and Deep Purple (In Rock being the one), whose great ‘Black Night’ and ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ even hit the top of the poppermost charts in 1970/71.

Then into the real ‘heaviosity’ of 1970′s Led Zeppelin Two and In the Court of the Crimson King and Black Sabbath. These how all stood the test of time, and represent solid achievements after those difficult ‘transitional’ years of ‘67-’69.

‘Before Black Sabbath: How Psychedelic Rock Became Metal’ is an interesting journey indeed. I thoroughly recommend it.

Lee Konitz (1927-2020)

Just a simple one today, to acknowledge the passing of probably the oldest of the American post-generation jazz modernists, Lee Konitz, at the grand age of 92. Sonny Rollins (born 1930) now occupies that position. Both have given seven decades of saxophone greatness to us, and the remaining members of that incredible generation are obviously at risk from Covid-19, and we should all, rather ironically, wish them ‘long life’. The virus has hastened the end of yet another veteran artist in these terrible times, but Konitz lived an incredibly fruitful and generous life, and we should be grateful for all that he has left us with.

His passing is a significant one, an immensely versatile player, who I only managed to see live twice, once as part of a 1982 Company evening, and the other with a ‘supergroup’ of, I think, Konitz, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler and Paul Motion in around 1992. He was, admittedly, never one of my most-listened-to, but I could appreciate his liquid, quicksilver lines being pulled, scarf-out, of a seemingly endless chordal hat. And always with such a tone. He was famously among the first recorded artist to play ‘free improvisation’, with Lennie Tristano’s 1949 sextet with Warne Marsh, and never subsequently shied away from the format, as demonstrated by his weighing in with  Derek Bailey et. al. I’ll leave it to those better qualified than myself to give proper tributes to LK. I’ve only got four other of his recordings,apart from the ones with Tristano, but they are all great, in different ways, all in the small-group format, which was his forte. He was very extensively recorded, just like his contemporary Chet Baker, and I would recommend any of them as a way into his world, both of whom appeared on a myriad of European and American labels, so these entry points may be handy for the newcomer.

Subconscious Lee (the Tristano ‘cool school’ seemed addicted to terrible puns), from 1949 and 1950, gave early promise, and defined his style, along that of Warne  Marsh, with whom he went on to produce the Atlantic Records’ Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh sextet in 1955. My only ‘criticism’ of this music is that I find it subject to the ‘law of diminishing returns’, in that I love it for the first fifteen or so minutes, but find it rather cloys after prolonged exposure (totally subjective, I realise), both Konitz and Marsh’s vibrato-less lines producing rather too much ‘sweetness’ for my tastes. The two recordings that I return to most often are a duo and trio: 1974′s I Concentrate On You, with double bassist Red Mitchell, a tribute to the songs of Cole Porter; and Motion, with Sonny Dallas and Elvin Jones (the latter usually more associated with ‘fire and brimstone’ drumming with the likes of John Coltrane), from 1961. I’m not sure about the availability of the former, which originally came out on Steeplechase Records, but Motion, on Verve Records, generally features in Top 100 Jazz Records of All Time lists, so should be relatively easily to source (I’m speaking here, of course, to those who don’t stream). 

Both recordings share the lightness of touch and a certain ‘tensility’ that made this remarkable improviser stand out from the crowd (which was very crowded at the time). Another great one lost to us.

Jimmy Savile and ‘The Establishment’

Have just finished Dan Davies’ biog of Jimmy Savile, a mental marathon that required considerable ‘pacing’ to get through the psychological barriers that the book provides, over 500 + pages of appalling behaviour, much of it enabled by Owen Jones’ ‘Establishment’, i.e. the people who, as our supposed ‘betters’, should provide an example to us all in terms of which individuals are held up to us as moral exempla. One of the many things that I took away from this book, was an amazement as to how many of our ‘great and good’ thoroughly endorsed the whole Jimmy Saville project, despite the sordid rumours that were well-established by the early 70s, to the point of him becoming the ‘mentor’ to at least two of our Royal Family.

Margaret Thatcher, supposedly the ‘Iron Lady’, pushed continually throughout the 80s to have this serial rapist knighted - (page 416) “…she wonders how many more times his name is to be pushed aside…”. Having somehow impressed Louis Mountbatten, Savile’s reputation as a ‘can do’ guy soon spread to a gullible Prince Charles and then to his equally-dense wife Princess Diana Spenser, neither of them famous for their mental acuity. Savile soon became their Rasputin. With our current Corona crisis, with the inspiring Queen’s address to the nation, and Boris ‘resolute’ Johnson still in ITU, we can surely at least be relieved that we don’t have to put up with Jimmy Saville ‘interventions’, which might have been the case if he hadn’t snuffed it a decade or so ago.

Savile commented, in an incredibly creepy way, that “people don’t realise I’m ‘Deep Cover’ until its too late”, when glorying in the fact that both Charles and Di felt it appropriate that this DJ attention-seeking court jester acted as their crypto-therapist, at the time of their rapidly-unwinding marriage. King Lear’s Fool seems benign in comparison to Savile’s venomously threatening motley.

As the book’s dust jacket promises, Savile was “covering his tracks by moving into the establishment’s inner circle”. It’s salutary, at this point, to remember that both Donald Trump and his Democrat opponent, Joe Biden, have both been accused of ‘inappropriate sexual advances’. In pages 532-3, Dan Davies advises that Savile received “…invitations from Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, and photos recorded visits from Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Ferguson, Barbara Bush and the wives of the G7 leaders”. Now, it can easily be imagined that Ferguson was after money (in which case, good luck, Savile was a notorious miser!), but what can excuse the fawning of Anglo-American ‘royalty’ to this ‘weirdo’? What did they think he could do for them?

Most of Britain’s biggest institutions - the BBC, The Royal Family, the police, the Church, the NHS- all fell for this sociopath, and fell hard. Our new Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, as the then-head of the CPS, in January 2013 had to apologise to Savile’s victims, and “ask for changes in the way that victims of abuse were treated by the authorities”. Thatcher maybe saw something of herself in this ‘outsider’, who she lauded as an example of ‘Enterprise Britain’; Prince Charles maybe wanted some of Savile‘s supposed common touch’ to rub off on him; as for Diana, maybe he pandered to her insecurities? As for Edwina Currie, the Health Secretary who gave him the keys to Broadmoor, who the **** knows?

Whatever, the ‘Case of Jimmy Savile’ demonstrates without doubt, the hollowness of those who claim to be born to rule us. Every level of The Establishment, in this particular case, proved to be dysfunctional and, to be frank, a bit THICK. Our current Conservative also cabinet hardly inspire confidence in the current emergency, but, as ever, we are supposed to defer to their questionable judgements.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby