It’s hard to believe that Ari Up is dead.
Only 49 and at the peak of her creative powers.
The Slits frontwoman was one of those forces of nature that would fill a room like a hurricane of energy.
She came out of punk unstoppable and leaves an amazing catalogue of great records and ideas.
I interviewed her a few times and would always come away feeling energised and inspired. This went for her music as well.
The Slits (even the name took no prisoners in the cock obsessed world of old school rock n roll) are one of the key bands that came out of punk. One of the great things about the disparate movement was that it was not the usual lads club that music gets bogged down with.
In punk the way that women made music, on their own terms, in their own way was inspirational- not only to woman but to men as well. It could be argued that this was the most revolutionary thing that came out of punk and Ari Up was right in the middle of this with the Slits.
The band was formed in 1976 right at the heart of movement. They were surrounded by members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols and initially took their cues from the greats before re-inventing punk in the purest possible terms.
They were no mere liggers hitching a ride, they were making music that was more revolutionary than their peers and in many ways defined what punk really was.
I loved their punky reggae party, the way they took dub bottom end and combined it with the shrapnel guitar and prose of punk and made something utterly original and if it ironically took a male drummer called Budgie to eventually define those feminine rhythms they talked about- well it worked, it really worked.
Their records never dated, the initial Peel session where they could barely play were a revelation, I still remember being hooked on it when it was first played now. The songs were dislocated cut and paste punk pop, great tunes and in your face attitude played in a new way. The debut album was smoother but no less inventive- that classic take on Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard It through the Grapevine’ with Ari’s amazing soaring, sweeping vocals- cramming invention into space- total genius- nothing remotely sounded like her…it was all classic stuff- re-writing the rule book in what could be done in music.
The Slits proved that you didn’t have to be a demure dolly bird to make music- this was a revelation in the deathly dull seventies. Ari Up changed what a woman in the public eye could be- the fact that people could wear what the fuck you liked and look out of control and still look amazing changed perceptions. There was Ari Up with her bird’s nest hair and attitude and her wardrobe from hell and she looked fantastic and her fuck you attitude empowered so many people.
They could have had it all but with fantastic attitude they burned brightly and went on their own idiosyncratic paths, Ari deeper into the dub with several side projects- each fascinating and genius. And that’s the crux of the matter, no matter how much they changed attitudes to making music the word genius is still reserved for men. Ari was a true revolutionary and genius and I took as much energy and inspiration from her as any of the blokes in punk.
The reformed Slits a couple of years ago were a revelation, they updated their sound without copying anyone and the shows were packed and thrilling, musically light years ahead and finally getting recognition with a potential Grammy (fuck that- we know how great they were!) and Ari Up still irrepressible- owning the stage and looking cool as fuck with endless dreads and crazy skanking. So full of life, sex and energy.
Inspirational, beautiful and free.
Ari Up RIP.
It’s hard to believe that Ari Up is dead.
Just seen the Creation film.
It’s a brilliant document. Full of energy and madness- like all the best rock n roll. When you watch the film you understand the true context of Oasis- not the yobs portrayed in the media but the perfect Creation band
The pure energy and madness of Creation comes from a different time and place. A time and place when a seven-inch single meant everything and rock n roll could still change the world.
I love the early days stuff in the film- Alan McGee and Bobby Gillespie as kids going to gigs in Glasgow- on the train at 14 and 15 off to their first show- Thin Lizzy and then punk rock totally changing perceptions and forging relationships.
This rush of youthful idealism, fired by punk rock and great records is a prime example of the DIY independent spirit that came out of punk rock. Before punk there is no way this maverick list of characters which now included the even younger Douglas Harte and Andrew Innes would have had a chance. The idea that a bunch of kids from the outskirts of Glasgow pre-punk could kick-start a musical avalanche would seem preposterous.
Alan McGee moved to London with Andrew Innes but in a weird way never left Glasgow- if Creation could talk it would have the strongest Scottish accent- the key players and the attitude came from that fine city and transplanted it to London. And this was their trump card. Whilst they came from the underground and loved the artful possibilities of rock n roll McGee never lost touch with his roots and understood the power of popular culture. That’s how he signed Oasis and Factory turned them down. He got it. He understood.
When it started Creation came out of the indie scene but was far too punk rock for that codified world. Mcgee is a dangerous individual and that’s what makes all this work. Some people don’t believe in the barriers and these people are the real punks. Mcgee is one of those people.
No holds barred dangerous. Genius.
My own links with Creation go back a long way. Before the label had even started Alan Mcgee was running a club called the Living Room, when I say club it was more like a tight, sweaty weekly gig in London above various pubs. The capacity was about 150 and it was here that he persuaded the Membranes to come and play. He had been putting on the Three Johns, TV Personalaities, The Nightingales- which was just about the whole underground scene then.
It was a mixture of paisley shirts and black clothes, a weird interzone of pop culture fanatics.
We had given up on London gigs at the time. That round of dead clubs on Monday nights and rubbish Rock Garden style venues didn’t suit us and were a waste of time. The Membranes were out of control. We were into intense noise and fucking with things, tearing the fabric and causing chaos. We liked feedback and discord. We didn’t give a fuck about being on a major. We certainly were not the kind of band for a ‘showcase’ or a new band night.
We preferred playing round the rest of country on the fringes of punk rock where people were into music- not these cocktail bars. The kind of people that operated in the music biz were on a different planet.
We didn’t want a career, we wanted trouble.
It was somehow inevitable that we would hook up with Alan McGee.
McGee was incessant. He would ring all the time so we came down and played and it rocked. Despite us being full of feedback and noise we were accepted by the indie freaks and psychedelic droogs that hung out at the club and I became good friends with Mcgee and used to run around London with him. He was talking about starting up a record label and we would go round to places like Pink records bedsit or Rough Trade. McGee had no idea about running record labels but he was the only person anyone new who could look after money and he had a proper job! Oddly, he almost seemed responsible but also still a dangerous individual.
The Membranes could have possibly been the first single on Creation, the track would have ‘Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder’ but we could not afford to record the song and Alan could not afford to put us in the studio. We ended up on Criminal Damage records, a small Goth label in Reading, and missed our chance for a place in rock n roll history! Ha!
When we did record the track McGee still came up to Manchester that night on May 4th 1984 and hung out with us and was the first person to hear the song outside the band when he stayed over with us.
I was there for loads of those early Creation gigs and events seeing it all come together. We would stay in London with the Legend who was then part of the initial maverick creation crew- he was nicknamed the legend by McGee as a joke on the shy, gangling skinny kid who loved music as intensely as he did and was forced to be the compere of the club as ‘the legendary Jerry Thackery’.
We all had fanzines, the Legend had his own fanzine, McGee had Communication Blur, I had Rox and we would switch between bigging up genius new stuff and causing trouble with our missives.
We would play gigs with the Pastels, and I would write about the Creation singles as they came out of the first ten singles in their idiosyncratic artwork and bags. I always loved the Revolving Paint Dream as well as the Pastels. Hardly anyone else did. Creation was out of time- the singles didn’t really sell but you always felt that Mcgee would make it work- vision, self belief and determination go very well with an enthusiasm that lit people up.
Mcgee then starting raving about this new band he had found and sent me a demo by the Mary Chain and I loved it. This now sounded serious, here was a band that was operating in the noise area like we were but also made it sound like the greatest pop music.
Their soon to be released debut single, ‘Upside Down’ would be one of the great singles of the decade.
There is a bit more to the Mary Chain story as well, the Membranes played this gig at Reading University in late 1984 and there was a bit of a kick off with the promoters, we kicked over all the gear and attempted to demolish the PA it got us banned form loads of gigs and number one on the PA blacklist.
McGee was unknown to us at the gig and after the show he was buzzing ‘total sex’ he kept saying and gave our mate and Membranes fan Fat Mark a lift back to London Fat Mark was a crazy speed freak and a Doors obsessive, he kept telling McGee to put the Membranes in leathers. The next day McGee phoned up and told us to get leather trousers but we were far too skint to do that.
Weeks later the Mary Chain riot happened in London at North London Poly on March 15th 1985. The leather clad band played for 15 minutes of pure genius white noise you could surf on and some people got pissed off and there was a mini ruck- nothing compared to the riots at punk gigs but unheard of in the indie world and the band became big news catapulting them into the mainstream. Whether Alan had prodded the riot into action is unclear and probably untrue but the energy of the situation would have thrilled him, it would have thrilled anyone who grew up with punk rock and was bored of the mid eighties musical zeitgeist. McGee and the Mary Chain electrified the stale scene in a way that we had all wanted to do. Power to them they deserved it.
The Mary Chain had already come up to Manchester to stay round my house for their first ever-national press interview which I did for the long lost Zig Zag magazine. The Reid brothers, Douglas and McGee, they turned up on the train because Alan could blag these free train fares because he worked at British Rail. I met them in town and we all went to meet the wonderful Linder who was initially being asked to design the sleeve for their debut single.
The interview back at my then rented house on Burton road in Manchester was mainly the band being fantastically surly and Alan ranting away about how they were going to change the world and Creation were going to be massive- oddly it all came true. I also remember him rushing down to the off licence to get a plastic bag full of beer to get the band pissed up.
The band argued about whether you could take a piss on a train when it had stopped, they sneered at the music business and detailed the hatred for them in Glasgow- it was total attitude backed up with great music.
That night I blagged everyone into the Hacienda to go and see Lee Scratch Perry- a gig put on by radio Lancs legendary DJ Steve Barker and Alan got to know the Factory people- an oddly crucial night in the scheme of musical things.
Eventually we signed to Creation and released the Gift Of Life album which was a bit of a mess, McGee called it schizophrenic and maybe it was. I can’t decide about that record now and I couldn’t decide then! I guess what should have happened was that there should have been some discipline but the amazing thing about Creation was that it was total freedom which worked sometimes. If I had signed a band like us at the time I would have got a producer in and forced the greatness out- instead we just splurged out everything that we had with a nervous engineer doubling as producer- if only John Brierley had not retired the year before- his ears finally gone after working on the Membranes ‘Death To Trad Rock’ EP.
The album came out and got rave reviews in the music press but was far too mental for the mainstream but got us a crazed cult following.
By now Creation had moved somewhere else and we were heading for a bust up. We played a night in London at the Riverside in 1985, one of a series of cutting edge new bands put on by Cerne (the following night the Stone Roses were the first on supporting That Petrol Emotion) who would end up the manager of Franz Ferdinand.
We were top of the bill and people came down accordingly- the only problem was that Creation insisted that we drew lots on the running order- which may have been the plan in the first place but no-one told us till we got here! Of course we lost and Slaughter Joe got to headline which pissed off the crew of people who came to our gigs (incidentally I always really liked the Slaughter Joe singles) there was an emotive stand off and lots of shouting down from the stage.
We went back on at the end and played two songs- I have the tape of them somewhere and we basically resigned from Creation live on stage- McGee would have sacked us anyway! It sounds hilarious listening to it now.
The Pastels walked off Creation that night in an act of loyalty that is astonishing.
The odd thing is that despite this a few years later I became friends with McGee again. At the time of the gig we were young, idealistic, headstrong and very crazy. I was into extremes and there was bound to be a collision. We were outsiders and misfits and as the label got an identity we were isolated- that’s cool, that’s the way it’s got to be.
Creation accelerated after that and become one of the key UK indie labels. In many ways I wish it had worked out better at the time. I loved the maverick spirit of Creation and Mcgee’s hundred per cent trust in his mental rosta of bands. We were too out of control though and I would have kicked us of the label if I ran it!
The film documents this spirit and it’s a great rock n roll movie, McGee’s spirit is more exciting than most of the bands he signed and he is sorely missed on the scene.
Green Day remix
What is it about American bands and stadium gigs?
So many British bands get to this level and freeze just like the England team in the glare of the headlights, terrified to lose their cool in the haze of a million flashlights. A British band thinks that studied, sullen cool is the answer whilst an American band pulls out all the stops.
And Green Day certainly pull out all the stops. they don’ t miss a trick in a two hour set that starts off with a giant drunk dancing pink bunny and incorporates, knockabout humour, musical skits, a mental dancing drummer, endless energy and wild passion into an adventurous twisting and turning battlefield of great, melodic songs.
In a blur of powerful, anthemic songs, a stunning LED backdrop, hardcore rushes, massive ballads, serious commentary and daft stunts, Green Day arrive at the sold out 30 000 plus capacity Old Trafford cricket ground on a balmy Mancunian evening in a show of strength that seems to be beyond the mainstream media sense of belief. Whilst the band seemed to be ignored by most serious pundits and don’t seem to exist in the eyes of the heavy Sunday paper music press they have become the biggest group in the world. They happily enjoy the media sins of populist songs, a punk rock heritage and a fierce sense of humour. There is no fake studied cool, just a natural sense of entertainment that comes with a fierce liberal message that connects deep into the heart of suburban culture- just the perfect place to be delivered a genuine, heart left plea for some humanity delivered in a non bombastic and thrillingly exciting way.
The band’s stunning, almost two hour show is 21st century rock n roll perfection. Somehow they have managed to scratch the fabric of their constituent sound and made it work in a variety of styles that would be way beyond most bands. Forging on from their roots in the San Francisco punk rock scene, they have the adventure of the Clash and the Beatles- two constituent influences but have very much moved in their own no barriers direction without the associated genre fear that hampers so many bands.
Their song writing talent and ability to communicate with a huge section of the public has made them one of the biggest bands in the world today and they are using the space they have been given very well.
There are moments in this spellbinding show that are simply beyond belief.
Green Day have taken the emotional highs and lows of a rock n roll concert and turned them into something else. Somehow they manage to combine slapstick humour, goofy neo teen pranks, fierce pop punk, heart breaking ballads, blinding introspection and stadium bombast and sometimes all these in one song. They are at ease with massive anthems like ‘American Idiot’ that stick it to the right wing, pro war media jocks and was still a huge hit, they can deal out a massive ballad or a hardcore thrash or on the neo marilyn manson glam stomp of ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ a rumbling stadium glam workout. They can also clear the stage and leave Armstrong on his own with an acoustic guitar and he still holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
That they can also thread these into some some sort of narrative is their true genius. Their current album, ’21st Century Breakdown’, which forms the backbone of their set is a triumph in modern american story telling. They can do the ‘Abbey Road’style bits of songs made into one huge, long, monster song thing with ease- they can also do this and make it a mosh pit friendly 13 minutes of musical nirvana really underlines their skill.
The band can play tough, the rhythm section is superb and Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the best songwriters operating in modern rock n roll who, despite his mass success, still has the knack to communicate with the small town neurosis and paranoia that is at the heart of his huge constituency. Armstrong is a twitching presence with a low boredom threshold, disgusted at the world- his songs are stuffed full of punk rock polemic but they also switch from style to style with a hyperactive ease. A green day song may start off punk rock but could switch anywhere within thirty seconds- it shouldn’t work but it does.
All this is underlined with an incredible light show on LED screens that is easily the best I have ever seen. Stark, dark and comic book brilliant it subtly underlines the proto power of the songs and helps to fill the stadium with a sound and vision taking you onto a trip into the dark heart of America.
Somehow Green Day manage to entertain and blow your mind…
They are more than ably supported by Joan Jett who has been given some spotlight with the upcoming Runaways film. Joan Jett who still looks effortlessly sassy, sexy and cool at 51 has been touring her greatest hits set for years but still plays the songs with such a power and passion that they could have been written yesterday. Her supreme voice that sounds like it has been tarmacced by rock n roll cuts through the huge PA and the band’s glam rock n roll stomps makes her, oddly, the last survivor of that very British strain of glam rock that was the true sound of the early seventies. The youthful Jett would hang out in the glam clubs in LA in the mid seventies soaking up the British glamtastic rock n roll that was far different from the American glam that was to follow.
Instead of the clumsy appropriation of glam from the likes of Kiss and the LA hair bands British glam was stompingly dark albeit good time music with tribal beats and big choruses. No-one does this music any more apart from Jett, who adds a rock n roll vim and fire to the mix and has created a music that perfectly suits her no bullshit personae. A personae that has seen her lauded as one of the key mentors of the riot Grrrl scene and a cool elder stateswoman of the movement that is still strong at a grass roots level. Joan Jett wanted to play rock n roll on her own terms and succeeded. Her cover of the Arrows ‘I Love Rock Roll ‘- a ‘b’ side from the last great mid seventies glam band is still a totemic moment and one of THE great rock n roll anthems, when she does that guttural scream thing in the middle it still affects your groin in a strange and beautiful way, a way that is the key to all great rock n roll.
Joan Jett rules and its now time for us to acknowledge this.
Green Day, also have some history. The band may still look like teen brats but they have been around for over two decades.
It’s been a long time since I was compering a gig at the legendary and just shut TJs venue in Newport. They were the first band on- some awkward, scruffy kids from San Francisco playing a speedball punk pop set to 20 fanatics at the bottom of some long, lost punk rock bill.
Green Day that night were plying their trade in that curious gap that existed just after Nirvana. Cobains band had reawakened interest in punk rock and a generation of kids were looking for a Nirvana of their own having just missed out on the visceral, raw power of the Teen Spirit band.
Green Day had emerged from the Gilman Street scene in San Francisco- the ultra idealistic punk rock venue that started in 1986 a year before the band were formed.They were virtually the house band in the venue and part of the scene of bands who were shackling melody to the fierce power of hardcore. Gilman street was created out of the maelstrom of idealogical excitement that was at the core of UK punk rock and then American hardcore. An all ages gig, and a no drinking, no smoking, no sexism, no racism space that stood up against the conservative tied of rock n roll culture it still exists. Green Day can’t play there any more because they are signed to a major label but that’s fair enough- they don’t need this space any more taking the initial message to the stadiums of the world.
Hardcore had rewritten the American underground rules and had already spawned its own legends and its own its hardcore crews. Ignored by the mainstream and the mainstream rock critics hardcore has been the backbone of American rock for decades. Green Day, were never hardcore but were part of it’s idealistic take on punk rock and were very much part of the next shift- the Californian twist that added sweet melodies added to the hardcore rush. The initial holy trinity of hardcore Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat changed the way people thought about music and how it was made and propagated, they were the true punk rock moment in the USA. Green Day took this blueprint and mashed it with a love of the Beatles and created something else.
They signed to local label Lookout records and toured their way up the punk rock food chain, their 1994 major label release of ‘Dookie’ saw the band hit the mainstream powered by huge international hit single, ‘basketcase’ .The twitching urgency of the song and the their live performance was a perfect assimilation of nervy teenage neuroses, and the band have somehow managed to retain that youthful excitement with a rapidly developing musical template that is documented in tonight’s show.
Sure they still play their harder punkier tunes, songs played with such feral energy that the dumb claims that they are not punk are swiftly thrown out the window. This had became very much part of the debate about green day…are they or are they not punk.
It’s an odd debate and one that hounds anything remotely related to punk rock. A couple of years ago Mr. butter ad himself, Johnny Lydon, was sneering at green day for not being punk and whilst they are quite removed from the filth and the fury of the sex pistols both bands were straddling the great pop divide. Defining what is or isn’t punk is a treacherous game played by fools and people not sure of how to define the indefinable. Punk is so many different things to different people that to call it as one specific sound style or genre is quite foolish. The argument kinda runs that Green Days success and capability of writing super catchy songs rules them out of the punk lineage but surely it would be the ultimate in selling out if Billie Joe Armstrong suddenly pretended that he could not wrote a catchy song that transcended boundaries and deliberately kept his band underground to attempt to appeal to the ultra snobby purists who have filled the movement with their own petty rules.
The fact is green day write thrillingly catchy pop songs and deliver them with a ferocity that many punk bands seem incapable of. They are also the most influential guitar band of the last two decades with a whole bizarre cross section of young groups picking up guitars in suburban garages to the sound of Green Day- far more than pet bands like the Strokes. They hardly fit into the accepted story of How Things Are and hideous indie snobs run from them, scared of their capability to talk to a whole raft of people.
Old Trafford is a true triumph for a band that has it all. The scope in their song writing is breath taking, the switching of genres and styles astonishing and the way they manage it all within the parameters of the punk rock code is perfect. It’s the way that somehow they filter a whole gamut of pop culture and pop music through the sieve of punk rock and make music that relates to the fractured 21st century that is stunning.
And that they also do this with a great sense of humour and a willingness to engage with their audience that terrifies the snobs. it’s a way that is not only supremely effective but decidedly natural. The set is also full of pranks and moments of supreme silliness that are hilarious and engaging, Billie Joe is like a perpetual, hyperactive, five year old with mad staring kohled up eyes and a supreme warmth that defies boring stuff like rock n roll cool and its associated studied posing. The fact that his band rock so hard that it doesn’t really matter how goofy they become also helps.
Green Day also understand the value of acknowledging your audience’s existence and they also understand that fucking with very fabric of the history of pop, quoting classic songs at ease and dropping their own endless classics in there soundtracking the moment.
They are the ultimate small town band, for all the small towns in the world ganging up on fake city cool and winning. They are also thrillingly powerful rock n roll band the band who took punk rock to the mainstream and won and whose live show is the best stadium show in the world in 2010.
Reverend Sound System
With massive beats and a booming bass, the Reverend Sound System are shaking the room, soundtracking the 21st century. The collective are on stage making music that is a cut up of all the great underground sounds that are everywhere in the modern, fractured British music scene.
Blowing the myth that music is not going forwards the Reverend Sound System are not only re-writing the script, they are re-wiring just what music is in the 21st century.
It’s a tough job but thank fuck someone is doing it and doing it brilliantly.
There is the shuddering bass end of bassline and dubstep, the fractured beats of cutting edge dance, a nod to the rap and MCing of hip hop and also a love of the song from the indie and guitar worlds.
This is a powerful and potent brew and whole new way of making music.
Frontman and the Reverend himself, Jon McClure, is one of the last great rock n roll renegades. Not in the sense of pretending to be a Rolling Stone from the late sixties but in the sense of standing up for all that is good about the remaining possibilities of the counter culture sieved through a Sheffield working class nous and being prepared to say it.
He is impassioned, smart and a rogue, loose canon who speaks it as he sees it. He talks his truth in a music scene where keeping schtum has become the career saving option of the cowardly and the banal.
Mclure is the key figure in the Sheffield scene that sparked the Artic Monkeys where he also fronted his own band, Reverend And The Makers, who had a top five album and took on the whole music biz single-handedly and are still winning.
Reverend And The Makers cut some great pop music- a mixture of styles that never settled into the simple formulae of indie pop and they remain hungry for new ways to communicate on the music frontline.
Revered Sound System is one further, big step into the unknown- into world where indie pop is just one fragment of modern culture along with bass driven dance music.
Of course this is not a discourse on the death of the guitar! I’m still in love with the fierce electric of the six string and with that visceral excitement of the instrument that still dominates the frontline.
But every now and then I personally need something else and the thunderous pulse and endless soundscapes provided by dark technology have always been attractive. Click into Mary Anne Hobbs brilliant show on Radio One or check out the cutting edge clubs and there is a whole new riot going on out there.
The digital that interests Mclure is pushing forwards- stalking the furthermost points of possibility and it’s no mistake that in 2010 some of the most groundbreaking music is coming from the sheer possibilities provided by the technological.
Along with MIA, Mclure represents the radical mainstream fringe getting to grips with the endless rush of new sound out there. The Reverend Sound System make a heavy, heavy sound but they are not pure noise, this is a party. The beats, which are crushed, are superbly kinetic and the gig is quickly pumped into dance action. The Basslines are huge and really pumping whilst the two techie droogs- the legendary Jagz Kooner (worked with Andrew Weatherall on Jah Wobble, New Order, Flowered Up, Future Sound Of London, Psychic TV and Bjork and then put together, with Weatherall, the genius Sabres Of Paradise and loads of other great stuff) and Laura Mclure build up a massive wall of sound that is like a sic fi James Brown in its dancefloor intent allied with a smoking, sound system bass beat rumbling the floor- pure kinetic.
There is something quite beautiful about two tiny bits of keyboard kit providing something as fleshy as this.
On top McClure and his charismatic rap partner, Maticmouth, deal out the lines in tough northern brogue, MCing the whole show and driving the audience to a frenzy.
Reverend Sound System is the sound of the real UK- the mash up of cultures and noise that makes up the Saturday nights just beyond the chain bar hell of the city centres. This is the result of the melting pot mixture of music on the streets that is a million miles away from the jangling indie world of the mainstream media.
Anyone who has ever been to a dubstep night will have been enthralled by the brilliant music and the killer MCS whose constant tough babble is the 21st century equivalent of a punk rock hardcore singer. They have the same clear-headed vision and euphoric relationship with the audience and the same inspirational off the cuff raw power.
The Reverend Sound System capture this but take it somewhere else.
Their journey is the real sound of the suburbs, the real soundtrack to modern UK the sound of a million car stereos, crackling iPods and mobiles, the heavy bass colliding with the trad indie love of the song is a powerful potion and this makes them a very powerful beast indeed.
This a story of musical legends, glam rock genius, pop brilliance, a virtuoso pop star attempting a long awaited comeback and a disgraced singer who has tainted a great back catalogue and a curious and strange evening in Manchester.
We are watching the Glitterband onstage in at Satans Hollow. It’s a strange and interesting night that twists and turns as we await the arrival of Adam Ant whose meant to be getting on stage for a couple of songs at the end of the evening.
Adam has been putting in sporadic appearances on London stages in the last few weeks. He jumped on stage with Gary Numan for a version of ‘Cars’, there was a swift appearance with Zodiac Mindwarp and then last week he appeared at the Glitterband gig in London where he played a bunch of classic old Ant songs like ‘Red Scab’ and ‘Physical’ with his own new band. At the gig Adam looked and sounded amazing and the fact that he was playing the freaky old stuff made it even better.
The clips on youtube wetted appetites and the Glitterband audience is pumped up with old bondage punks, super freaky Goths and Antfans waiting for the return of the dandy highwayman to unplug the jukebox with his sex music for one more time.
Adam Ant is the great-lost pop star. Mistakenly labelled a pantomime pop personae and dismissed by ‘serious’ critics but for those that know he is a pop genius. Those first two albums, ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ and ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ are amazing works. ‘Dirk’ was the ultimate in zigzagging art school rock- it was tough and weird but also fantastic pop- Adam was always one of the great singers and brought his weird songs to life with a deft melodic touch. The early Ants were the heaviest and weirdest punk band of them all and for a year or so were the carriers of the original sex, style, subversion spirit of the Sex shop punk rock revolution before turning into the unlikeliest of pop stars in the early eighties. Their fans were the antfans- the freakiest, heavy duty, looking crew in the country who were a blur of studs, feathers, warpaint and Mohicans before anyone else even knew what these were. They massed from all over the country or from the London punk squats and when the Ants broke through the disconsolate Antfans split to follow the Southern Death Cult and watched shocked as Adam suddenly attracted screaming teenyboppers- there is a great description of this tour in the amazing Vague fanzine from back in the early eighties.
Adam Ant broke though with ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ which was an amazing work- an avant-garde pop kaleidoscope. The album resulted from when Adam asked the late Malcolm Mclaren in to help with the band after the release of ‘Dirk’ he watched aghast whilst Mclaren stole the Ant-band to form Bow Wow Wow.
A desolate Adam phoned Marco and put together the new Ants and adding Malcolm’s ideas created a 3D pop soundtrack that gatecrashed the charts making most people forget just amazingly off the wall this music was.
Pop music in the early eighties was not like this.
Pop music in any decade was not like this.
Arguably even more off the wall than their debut the album was huge in the early eighties. Adam was good looking and dressed up making sure that the serious critics would always brush over his innate genius because good looking fuckers are never taken seriously in the pop cannon- re-listen to ‘Kings’ now and you will be blown away but its vision and its attractive, cinematic strangeness.
It’s because of these fantastic records that we are here- half believing that Adam may turn up and dust the venue with pop magic. We also half believe that he probably won’t turn up atall and privately hope he knows what he’s doing after his well documented battles with his bipolar condition—no-one wants him to make himself unwell.
All night everyone keeps asking me the same question ‘Is Adam coming?’ and I can’t answer because I don’t know.
Adam is not here yet and the first band on- Bad Taste Barbies mash of glam disco, transvestite clobber and over the top camp is both hilarious and quite brilliant , they are followed by Kid Vooodoo’s thrilling swamp punk blues.
The Glitterband hit the stage and sound great- they are a hotch potch of good players and ex members including John Springate on bass/vocals, Pete Phipps on drums and Eddy Spence on keyboards. There are currently and confusingly two Glitterbands out on the circuit- the other one is key Glitter member John Rossall’s Glitterband and this one- both camps of course are not happy with each other and there is dark talk of court orders. Both line-ups, though, sound great.
It’s not like they have got enough problems trying to survive with the shadow of Gary Glitter- who took the glitter to the gutter- hanging over both of them. The disgraced former pop buffoon’s sad descent into paedophilia has tainted a great back catalogue of some brilliant singles and also tainted the Glitterband whose separate career had it’s own signpost hits in the mid seventies.
Gary Glitter was not the whole story though and his depressing and dark behaviour should never be allowed to obscure producer Mike Leander’s genius in coming up with the Glitter sound.
Born in 1941 the late Leander (who died in 1996) has one of the great unheralded careers in British pop music working at Decca and Bell records. Bell itself is a label whose very name conjures up the great days of early seventies glam whilst Leander’s own fingerprints are all over some of the classic lineage of British sixties and seventies pop like Marianne Faithfull, Billy Fury, Marc Bolan, Joe Cocker, The Small Faces, Van Morrison, Alan Price, Peter Frampton, Keith Richards, Shirley Bassey, Lulu, Jimmy Page, Roy Orbison, Brian Jones,and Gene Pitney.
Leander’s skills as a producer/arranger saw him called in to work with Ben E. King and The Drifters as well as being the only person to work on the Beatles orchestration apart from George Martin when he arranged the strings on ‘She’s Leaving Home’ from the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ‘album.
It’s an incredible track record.
One night he was in the studio working on some David Essex sessions when the upcoming singer called in sick leaving ten hours of dead studio time. Leander got on the drum kit and started bashing out a Burundi style drumbeat getting the engineer to tape the twenty minutes of drumming. Building on the tracks with other instruments he had ‘Rock n Roll Part one and two’ in the bag. He drafted in Paul Raven who he had worked with back in the sixties recording a few singles, before Raven hooked up Jesus Christ Superstar,
re-christening him Gary Glitter who became the faintly bizarre glam superstar of the early seventies coasting to success on the back of Leander’s genius. The fact that the records now make uncomfortable listening due to Glitter’s pedophilia is sad.
Leander also later worked with the Glitter band and that distinctive drum sound is in full force tonight decorating all their best songs. The Glitterband still also have that great drone sound that the producer patented back in the early seventies and are a great fun night out romp disguising the great dark glam rock that is the beating heart of their muse.
Tonight they even have Angie Bowie singing three songs with them, her croaking Berlin cabaret voice spins the set off in an unexpected direction and as a curio from the days when pop was really mental she is fascinating to watch.
But the real special guest everyone is waiting for is still not here. Apparently he’s on a train and he’s running late. The Glitterband end their set and Adam is still not here and everyone waits on but twenty minutes after the end of the set it’s announced that he’s not coming.
No-one is angry. Most people hope that Adam is ok and understand the potential stress of playing these gigs could be having on him.
Adam is meant to be playing London at the end of April- hope he can do it- there is potential for a great romantic comeback here…
The death of Malcolm Mclaren is of course shocking. Its hard to believe anyone so vibrant so alive could have passed away. It also puts punk rock into sharp focus again and pushes it further and deeper into the history books- a strange feeling for something that was so of its moment.
Mclaren- arguably the last of old school showbiz managers whilst also inventing the new breed, was one, if not the prime architect of the punk movement, he was also an uncomfortable bedfellow in the punk rock lineage. Many people just didn’t seem to know where to place him in the history of the form not realising that without him all the fun and games would never have happened.
True, he often overstated his case but in a weird way understated his own genius. To understand this genius you only have to look at the clothes and the ideas that were pouring out of the Let It Rock/Sex Shop/Seditionaries clothes shop in the pre punk seventies to realise that what Malcolm and his then partner in crime Vivienne Westwood did was create provocative works of art more than clothes- provocative works of art that challenged everything from the way you thought to the way you walked. They were pushing the boundaries of taste to extremes. Wearing their stuff was asking for it and asking for it in the mid seventies was heavy.
Their clothes were a mixture of fetish wear, firebrand rock n roll originals, situationist pranking, quirky madness and pervy danger as well as a dash of sick and downright nasty- they also looked brilliant and attracted a small coterie of freaks who would coalesce as the original core of the punk movement. The idea that clothes could be both sexy and unsettling was genius and when the Sex Pistols were added as a soundtrack it changed people’s lives and eventually the whole of the UK. In 2010 punk is everywhere- what was once weird is now a mundane T shirt, what was once freakish is another celebrity headline, what was once underground is now, for better or worse, mainstream.
The situationist skree and the brilliant pervy imagination of Mclaren are right at the heart of punk rock. Mclaren’s whole life was a work of art and the best art creates trouble. It’s not comfortable. It’s not about sagging into the sofa feeling mildly satisfied- it challenges you to wake up! wake up! before you really are already dead!
The Sex Pistols were the eventual vehicle for his dangerous ideas of sex, style and subversion- luckily they also happened to be one of the greatest rock n roll bands the UK has ever produced- with a one off frontman who was far smarter than he needed to be and whose vulnerability and intelligence added a huge dimension to the battle plan.
In 1976/77 the Sex Pistols changed everything- don’t let the history re-writers tell you otherwise. Mclaren made Britain sexy and exciting when before it had had been wall to wall denim. His genius was that he realised that music was about so much more than just the music.
The power of rock n roll, of course, will forever stop you in your tracks but what Mclaren brought to the table was all the OTHER STUFF.
Recently I wrote a blog on the Guardian about stand up drummers and the anonymous weirds were out in full force on the comments section moaning about journalists only liking the image and not the music and insisting on drummers being sat down- believing that sitting down behind a drum kit is a sign of authenticity. The nameless commenteers, too, have their own idea of image and HOW THINGS SHOULD BE. That’s what fucked up the mid seventies- the idea that ‘real’ meant grimacing, long guitar solos and blokes playing blues with too much technique and no regard for the form. Middle aged men talk about music in terms of how people play with no regard for the soul power and the passion and the ideas- they missed the point entirely. They don’t get the thrill of the other stuff, they don’t even get the thrill of the music- being to busy getting autistic over the musicianship. Boring.
Mclaren instinctively knew this was wrong. He felt it first and he returned rock n roll to its firebrand, dangerous, sexed up roots. When you first saw a picture of the Sex Pistols as the sexy young assassins in 1976 you were hooked- their hair, clothes, shoes, facial expressions, even the way they stood told you what they sounded like before you could even hear them- how perfect is that?
And when you heard them…wow!
Of course Mclaren was a useless conventional manager, most of the Pistols ‘career’was haphazard and on the hoof but no-one else could have pulled that trick off, no other manager would have surfed the chaos like Mclaren did, all the time creating ideas- in thrall to the love of ideas. He was a machine gun of thrilling ideas- ideas that were more thrilling than a great chorus- ideas that have their own timeless melody. Ideas that fired up a small section of a generation who have gone on to change stuff.
His brilliant mind and his dangerous thinking woke the UK up and changed lives. You just need to look at the clothes from Sex shop, look at Jamie Reid’s (art school situationist chum of Mclaren) artwork, listen to the primal power of the Pistols and understand his catalytic power- his pulling together of maverick minds to create revolutionary moments. That’s a skill in itself- a magnetic charisma that makes things happen.
And it just didn’t stop here- I love the story of Adam Ant paying Malcolm a grand to manage him- he was given a check list of records to listen to that were as insanely esoteric as you would expect- after one rehearsal Adam was sacked from his own band who were turned into Bow Wow Wow by Mclaren who used the band for another catherine wheel of madcap and unsettling ideas and Adam? God knows what became of him!
Mclaren also introduced a generation of kids to hip hop when he went to New York and soaked up the street culture there for 1983’s ‘Duck Rock’, he nearly ran for mayor of London, turned himself into an entertainer with his own hit records and was a brilliant raconteur with a fistful of deadly stories. Of course he could be rude, unpleasant and abrasive- thank fuck for that- the nice people are boring.
Mclaren made Britain sexy, he woke us up from our mid seventies slumbers, he brought situationism to the high street, created a pool of ideas that turned into one of the greatest youth movements of all time.
Vive le Rock.
The revolution is not over yet.
What a great day.
I’m sat there on stage at the Sheffield Library museum. The room is packed and hushed. The atmosphere is charged with emotion.
I’m interviewing Patti Smith who is in full flow- no subject is off limit, no emotion left untouched. You can feel the humanity and the air is charged with a sticky passion.
At one moment she wells up, the next she is hilarious, the next she speaks with a powerful wisdom that so few of her male counterparts have managed in a similar timespan. I sit there and realise that I am talking to the very core- the very epicentre of where rock n roll and poetry, emotion and art clashes- it’s powerful stuff, the dark magic that is at the heart of what makes rock n roll so great- this is the very place and she is do damn modest with it.
She goes off at great tangents and is, of course, eloquent, but also charming, modest and never shirks from the difficult material and tells it all with great grace and humour.
These in conversations are fascinating to do. Stark. Wide open. Two chairs, two mics and a room full of people adding to the kinetic electric of talking. I’ve done loads of them from Faust to Kraftwerk and back again. There’s no space for fuck ups. It’s the real live edge. The thrilling adrenaline of the stage, of living for the moment.
Patti arrives thirty seconds before we hit the stage which can make things awkward but she is so open that talking to her is a dream. I wish it could have gone on for another hour- there’s so many great stories to talk through.
Afterall poet priestess Patti Smith is one of the key figures in rock n roll.
She may never have sold millions of records but her influence is all persuasive. She inspired a legion of women (and men) to take up the cause in the mid seventies and her fingerprints are all over punk rock, post punk and onwards to the present.
When I wrote my punk oral history five years ago her name was dropped as a key influence by an unlikely roll call of people from the Slits to Echo and the Bunnymen, from the Smiths to PJ Harvey to Nick Cave and anyone else who is fired by her free spirit and the truth lies at the heart of rock ‘n’ roll.
She has lived several lives at once- there’s so much crammed in there from tragedy to triumph and it’s all in her poetry that seems to pour out of her. She embodies all that was great about the sixties- all the idealism and the hope and the dream tempered by an urban reality and New Jersey no bullshit that edits the dippyness that threatened to taint the era. She was the link between that period and the edginess of punk, the fulcrum, the point when one generation tipped into another. She led the charge, waking rock from its mid seventies slumber, opening doors and inspiring with her no holds barred artfulness just like her heroes Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan had done before.
When she sings a couple of songs after the interview her beautiful voice, that crackles with emotion and such hope, is as intact now as when we first heard it 35 years ago.
Exuding a warmth and humanity rare in these hard sell days, she is a great raconteur with her New Jersey accent telling great stories of Alan Ginsberg, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jimi Hendrix, the Chelsea Hotel, Andy Warhol, her New jersey upbringing, rock n roll, family, lovers, art and poetry- an amazing shared life that she recounts without embellishment.
She looks fantastic, with that strange, delicious beauty still intact. She has seen the dark side and survived the heartache of the deaths of the two key lovers in her life- Mapplethorpe and her husband- the late Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and the pain is never far away.
We talk about her just released ‘Just Kids’ book- a love story- a romantic tale of two penniless artists running around the bohemian New York of the mid seventies.
It tells the story of her and Robert Mapplethorpe- her first real love. It’s the story of a skint, thrilling existence of two artists on the run- a cut and past Bonnie and Clyde creating and letting it all pour out. It speaks of Mapplethorpe the brilliant photographer and gives you a real insight into his boyish charm and daredevil talent walking on the wild side in pursuit of aesthetic freedom and art with a humility and touching humaneness.
At the event Patti tells a great story of when Mapplethorpe’s mother came to his opening and before she got there he took down all his homoerotic shots because he didn’t want to offend her!
The book and the in conversation by extension are a moving tale of people who lived by raw emotion and talent and threw everything to the wind to create great art- Patti with her poetry fused rock n roll and Robert with his brilliant images.
The book itself is one of the great rock n roll reads, you can feel the breathless excitement of mid seventies New York, you can run with their youthful idealism and smile at the naivety and beauty of living for art before you are hit by the heartbreak of when Mapplethorpe succumbs to Aids at the end of the book.
The interview covers all this ground and the room is going with it. Later on people tell me that they were crying- not upset but crying with the sheer emotion and that’s just from Patti’s talking- the way she doesn’t hide behind smoke and mirrors and deals in pure raw emotion- a free spirit in world of corporate gloss. And that’s the key, Patti is a free spirit- a rarity in these cynical times and that’s why people celebrate her.
Later on she plays a concert in the hall next door and it is spellbinding, she reads from the book and plays stripped down acoustic versions of the songs with her pure, amazing voice. The gig is mesmerising, spellbinding and powerful- 90 minutes of classic songs, freeform improvisation and again, raw emotion.
It makes you realise what rock n roll can really be and why its so damn special and why it holds a place in our hearts- that glimmer of fascination, that moment when the connection is made and people are visibly moved- that’s powerful stuff.
Really powerful stuff.