26.8.13

SNATCH : Compilation (Pandemonium LP, 1983).

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Snatch was never a "band" as such - & certainly not a punk band, though it had many contemporaries & supporters who were active in that circle - but more likely a collaborative avant garde pact between ex-pat American founder-duo Judy Nylon & Patti Palladin, along with whoever else was on hand during it's sporadic existence.

Moving to London in the early '70s with the vague intention of breaking into the city's Glam-saturated music scene, Judy & Patti originally worked together under the name Cha-Cha before eventually settling on the sexually ambiguous (& far more disturbing) Snatch. Judy, of course, had already made something of a name for herself via her creative friendships with John Cale (that's her erotically-charged vocal on "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy") & Brian Eno. Legendarily, she purchased the the album of 16th century harp music that ignited the "Ambient" touch-paper in the convalescing Eno's brain, but also appeared in his little-seen "China, My China" promo & bagged herself a titular name-check on "Back in Judy's Jungle".

The embryonic Snatch recorded a series of demos at Patti's Maida Vale flat in 1976, & eventually released a couple of them - "Stanley"/"I.R.T." - in early 1977 after striking a deal with the Bomp & Lightning labels. "Worth gettin''" according to Sniffin' Glue, & reputedly featuring Captain Sensible on guitar, their debut single made little commercial headway, though Eno was sufficiently captivated to suggest they contribute to "R.A.F.", a phenomenal one-off collusion that would appear on the b-side of his "King's Lead Hat" 45, & which prefigured the inventive production techniques he'd explore & refine during his imminent tenure with David Byrne & Talking Heads.

A second Snatch single, "All I Want"/"When I'm Bored", followed in 1978 (on Lightning again). Recorded with various members of The Heartbreakers & Roogaltor, this wildly infectious paradigm of punk-charged snot-rock actually made the lower end of charts in the U.K. (#54 specifically). Unfortunately, it's Cale-produced follow-up - the Shopping For Clothes e.p. on the trés cool Fetish label - took more than a year to emerge, by which time all commercial momentum had been lost. Some small consolation: it had the distinction of being included in Stephen Stapleton's mythic "N.W.W. list". Their working relationship having irredeemably stalled, Judy & Patti parted company at this point, though they'd both release fine records of their own in the years following the split - Patti forged partnerships with both Johnny Thunders & The Flying Lizards, while Judy made her career-best (so far) Pal Judy album with the On-U Sound crew in 1982 &, more recently, has worked extensively with Swiss art collective Aether9 & French producers Bo'Tox. There's an excellent career-spanning interview with her here.

Released (briefly) in 1983, Pandemonium's Snatch compilation collates most of the singles alongside a handful of those germinal TEAC home demos. Ridiculously - considering how many people are gagging to hear it nowadays - it's been unavailable since the late '80s, which is when I would've first heard it, dubbed onto one side of a C90 that was passed onto me by a friend-of-a-friend. I have no idea what was on the other side of that tape but, significantly, I've never forgotten these Snatch songs...

● Witch 1

24.8.13

(v/a) - I HEAR THE DEVIL CALLING ME (Drag City 7", 1991).

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Back in the early '90s, when New Zealand's long-gestating underground music scene was beginning to emerge internationally from it's secluded Aotearoan pupa, & before the Internet was seen as anything more than a faddish dial-up distraction, the only opportunity that non-Kiwis had of actually hearing any of the country's elusive paraphernalia was via a handful of enlightened N.Z.-friendly d.i.y. distributors (Fisheye's long-suffering Paul Wild, for instance).

What struck me at the time - other than how remote & hermetic this motley cluster of artists seemed, & how unconcerned they appeared to be in trying to (gasp) sound American - was their stubborn adherence to the already semi-obsolete 7" single / cassette set-up, a strategy of necessity that seemed "charmingly" parochial in an era when, elsewhere, the compact disc had achieved sovereignty & vinyl was approaching it's lowest commercial ebb. Tapes, I should add, had already been dismissed as ridiculous charity shop fodder.

One of the earliest & most prominent artefacts from The Year The World Turned Kiwi was Drag City's pocket-sized compendium I Hear The Devil Calling Me. Released in August 1991, just as the label was just becoming financially solvent as a result of Pavement's early & prodigious success, it brought together a dozen N.Z. acts, each of whom handed-over an illustrative 1 minute long track. Compiled by The Dead C's Bruce Russell, & employing his milieu-defining Xpressway label as it's catalyst, most of it's Dunedin & Christchurch-based noise-smiths contributed bespoke compositions, though a couple appeared to be extracted from longer, pre-existing recordings. Inevitably, this enforced brevity worked in some acts' favour more than others - you'd be hard pressed to get the gist of The Renderers' objectives from a 70 second piece like their titular track here, but Gate & A Handful of Dust's prudent hor d'oeuvres made a (dare I say it) refreshing change from the customarily exhausting attack-intensity of their own records. Throughout, accents were conspicuously "regional", maltreated guitars buzzed & purred, crepitating vintage synths spluttered, drum-kits emulated collapsing wet cardboard, fracturing melodies with dissonance while the production values remained defiantly frugal... a vivid snapshot of that scene's tangled synthesis of boldly amateurist music & art. Remarkably, many of the contributors herein are still making music, much of it better than anything that's been released by any European act in the intervening 20 years, & all of it habitually ignored by our music press... never mind.

Issued in a once-only edition of a thousand or so copies, the I Hear The Devil Calling Me 7" has never been repressed & is not available to download from the Drag City website.


18.8.13

HEAVY JELLY : Time Out (The Long Wait) / Chewn In (Head 7", 1969).

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I've just returned from another London trip, memory buzzing with Ian Dury's nascent pop art daubs & a rucksack stuffed with slightly tatty (but very cheap!) back issues of WC2-based counter-cultural bulletin-cum-irritant International Times.

Ironically, amongst the profusion of eye-catching '60s graphics therein, what immediately captured my attention was the relatively tame black & white ad reproduced above - a modest blurb for Heavy Jelly's debut (& only) single. Heavy Jelly were a band with an interesting genesis: their name first appeared in a spoof record review in a 1968 edition of Time Out magazine, interest in which prompted not-1-but-2 opportunistic record labels to rush in & attempt to capitalise on the ensuing palaver. Island Records were first, in May 1969, with the Cream-styled "I Keep Singing the Same Old Song", an overwrought-but-underwhelming proto-prog groaner that was actually the work of an incognito Skip Bifferty. The single sank without trace, but the song is fondly remembered (by some) due to it's inclusion on Island's budget priced & mega-selling Nice Enough To Eat sampler later that year, rather than for any intrinsic musical value. In closely-contested second place came John Curd's tiny Head label, who followed suit a month later with the greasy, muck-under-it's-fingernails heavy blues 45 that I've uploaded below. Heavy Jelly #2 sounded like a degenerate, blotter-warped (P. Green-era) Fleetwood Mac samizdat, & "Time Out (The Long Wait)"/"Chewn In"'s 2 slithering sides of sloppily recorded dropout boogie appear, upon reflection, to be cut from the same crusty loaf of infinite-jam brain-puke that fostered Mick Farren's Deviants &, later, The Pink Fairies. The label claims that it was "produced by Paul Raymond" - but not that one, surely?

Formed by John Moorshead (guitar) & Alex Dmochowski (bass) - 2 fugitives from The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation - & crack drummer Carlo Little (an early member of The Rolling Stones who unwisely ditched them for Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages), Heavy Jelly #2 would only release this lone single before hooking up with battle-scarred singer-songwriter Jackie Lomax, a former Brian Epstein protégé whose career had subsequently been overseen by George Harrison until Apple Records' chaotic demise. Best known for psych-pop near-miss "Sour Milk Sea" - a Harrison composition recorded with Eric Clapton, Nicky Hopkins & most of The Beatles as his backing band - Lomax completed an entire album's worth of songs with Heavy Jelly #2 that, despite being mastered & pressed, was only circulated as a very scarce promotional item until it's belated release in the mid 1980s.

The "Time Out" single has been similarly neglected &, 40-odd years later, it's still not been officially reissued. Unfortunately, the copy I've sourced here has definitely seen better days, in fact it's royally fucked, but I think you'll get the general idea...

16.8.13

PATTI SMITH GROUP : I Never Talked To Bob Dylan - Live in Sweden 1976 (Live recording).

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"What must be recognised is that (Patti Smith) transcends bohemian cultism to be both positive & mainstream, even though her songs go past a mere flirtation with death & pathology. She just saw that it was time for literature to shake it & music to carry both some literacy & some grease that ain’t jive. The combination makes her an all-American tough angel, street-bopping & snapping her fingers, yet moving with that hipshake which is so like every tease you slavered after in high school." (from "Stagger Lee Was a Woman" by Lester Bangs, February 1976.)

Originally released by Stoned Records in 1977, this is what rock bootlegs used (& ought) to sound like. Recorded live at Stockholm's Konserthuset on 3rd October 1976, while Patti & her band were vehemently touring their cooly-received Radio Ethiopia L.P., I Never Talked to Bob Dylan contains the kind of urgent, exultant, phlegmy evocation of undefiled R'n'R gospel that, by the decade's end, would finally be excised by cocaine, commerce & slimy old men in satin bomber jackets. Blasting off with a euphoric charge through The V.U.'s "(We're Gonna Have A) Real Good Time Together"), it cherry-picks the high-points of what must have been a breathtaking show, & culminates in a shattering, empirical 17+ minute suite that one can only imagine is unsurpassable... until the climactic "Land" kicks in. And there's a bawdy cover of "Time Is On My Side" to keep the mums & dads happy too. Better of all, it sounds terrific - some kind of Scandinavian F.M. radio broadcast, presumably? Kick out the jams, motherfuckers...

"Even if you couldn’t understand a word of English you couldn’t miss the emotional force of Patti’s music. It’s that deeply felt, & that moving: a new Romanticism built upon the universal language of rock’n’roll, an affirmation of life so total that, even in the graphic recognition of death, it sweeps your breath away. And only born gamblers take that chance."

Mere weeks after this Swedish performance, Patti's God-reproaching bluff would be called during her spectacular neck-breakin' Florida tailspin. Quite honestly, I'm surprised that Arista didn't step in & put out a stop-gap live album of I Never Talked To Bob Dylan's inspired nature while she was recuperating - a massive mis-step in my opinion, as The Patti Smith Group's performances would never be quite this incendiary again.

Tick Tock, Fuck the Clock

3.8.13

ALEX FERGUSSON : Stay With Me Tonight (Red 7", 1980).

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I've been listening to Alternative TV's unfairly neglected Strange Kicks LP almost constantly this week, having purchased it during a lightning visit to London to take in The V&A's marvellous David Bowie Is... exhibition. Customarily written-off as a final opportunistic cash-in on the maligned "ATV" mythos, it's quirkily melodic synth-based nouveau-pop songs proffered as striking an artistic volte-face from the band's preceding Vibing Up The Senile Man (an album that only now - 30+ years later - is beginning to be fully understood & appreciated) as that polarising set did from their debut, The Image Has Cracked.

In early 1981, ATV's Mark Perry was emerging from a prolific period of uncompromising & sometimes indecipherable experimentation - a cycle that encompassed his collaborations with The Door & The Window, The Good Missionaries, & The Reflections, & culminated in his remarkable solo effort, Snappy Turns. Bankrolled by long-suffering manager Miles Copeland (founder of the Deptford Fun City, Step Forward, & I.R.S. labels), who was on a financial roll due to The Police's prodigious chart success, Perry re-connected with ex-musical sparring partner Alex Fergusson - ATV's original & finest guitarist - who he'd fired in 1978 citing irrevocable personal differences. Mark Perry: "(Strange Kicks) was my attempt to get Miles back on my side, because by that point I'd got so leftfield & weird, so out of it, Miles thought I'd gone mad, he thought I'd flipped". Formerly a member of The Nobodies* with Sounds journalist-to-be (& fellow displaced Scot) Sandy Robertson, Fergusson assembled a string of decidedly wonky but potentially "chart friendly" backing tracks for Perry's pointedly confessional lyrics. Though it naturally sank without trace upon release, the disconcertingly "normal" Strange Kicks is actually one of the oddest & most enjoyable records either of them have had a hand in.

However, back in 1980, following his initial dismissal from ATV & fresh from a brief dalliance with smut-raking pop-biographers Fred & Judy Vermorel for the one-off Cash Pussies single, Fergusson had hooked up with keyboardist Alan Gruner (another ex-Cash Pussy who would also pop up on Strange Kicks) & Mute Records' Daniel Miller, the reclusive figure behind D.I.Y. synth-pop pioneers Silicon Teens & The Normal, who had also worked with William Bennett in his pre-Whitehouse project, Come. The result was this rather fabulous & unforgivably obscure 7" on Red Records - two concise & maniacally arpeggiating cold-wave nuggets that warrant immediate comparison with T.G.'s "United", Dorothy's brilliant "I Confess" (which Fergusson produced & co-wrote - needless to say, he got around a bit!) or virtually anything that Eric Radcliffe & John Fryer recorded at Blackwing Studios between 1979 & 1982. Fergusson's nasal, ingénue-like vocal is a nice touch too - it can't possibly have been his natural singing voice... can it? Overleaf, the amusingly titled "Brushing Your Hair" is a similarly throbbing instrumental piece & something of a hitherto uncharted minor classic, though I wouldn't be surprised if Xeno & Oaklander (for instance) had a reference copy filed away in their library. Both tracks were produced by Miller under his "Larry Least" nom de plume, a knowing wink in the direction of New Faces' Mickie Most, a largely forgotten proto-Cowell '70s prime time television "personality" & self-appointed arbiter of (bad) taste.

In lieu of offers to record a follow-up, Fergusson subsequently reconvened with Perry for Strange Kicks, then slipped off to co-found Psychic TV with Genesis P. Orridge (who had played drums in the embryonic Alternative TV) & Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson. He wouldn't release another solo record until the early '90s. Gruner, meanwhile, would shortly go on to work with Bonnie Tyler - of all people - during her Jim Steinman-directed mid-'80s pomp.

* Back in September 2006, in an installment of The Wire magazine's Rebellious Jukebox feature, G.P.O. alleges that "The Nobodies played only one song which was "European Son" & they would play that for as long as they could, about an hour, & that was the entire set". Sounds splendid!

Kim Fowley manipulated me

2.8.13

LESTER BANGS : Let It Blurt (Spy 7", 1979).

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"Lester Bangs is a drunken slob with the sensitivity of a rhino & the self-control of a 10-ton weight in free-fall, but he's also the possessor of more talent than he knows what to do with & in his way he's a seeker after truth. He loses his way a lot & falls on his ass in the mud a lot & crawls on his hands & knees a lot, & his record is ugly & courageous.

Star-spotters will note Voidoid Robert Quine on some of the guitars & Jay Dee Daugherty from the Patti Smith shower on drums & production (with a John Cale mix to boot, & you probably will), but that's just a footnote. As the band slithers & stumbles, Lester launches into a rant at a girl who got pregnant by him & had an abortion (Strictly imaginary, one hopes). As ugly & unheroic as it could possibly be, Lester's platter debunks hip misogyny by depicting it in the most unpleasant possible light.

Too many people will take it literally & too many people will say,"Lester's just an asshole" & too many people will just go "Huh?", but "Let It Blurt" is, despite it's faults, a serious attempt at getting to the roots of something."

- Charles Shaar Murray, New Musical Express, 2nd July 1979.

The infamous Mr. Bangs' debut 45 was recorded at New York's Big Apple Studios in 1977, 2 years prior to it's eventual release on John Cale's short-lived Spy label. His then-unnamed backing band included, alongside the already mentioned Quine (guitar) & Daugherty (drums), guitarist Jody Harris (The Contortions, Raybeats, Voidoids) & bassist David Hofstra (another ex-Contortion). Spy was founded by Cale & his then-partner Jane Friedman (concurrently Patti Smith's manager), with the intention of according him the opportunity to produce & release records by new wave acts he'd discovered during his New york sojourn. It's logo, designed by Michel Esteban, utilised Cale's own eye, & was snipped from the sleeve of his earlier Fear album. Esteban would subsequently found ZE Records with Michael Zilkha, for whom Cale would record several satisfying solo albums in the early '80s.

● Quaalude romance