Archive for November, 2012

The Artwoods “Art Gallery”

In contrast to the commercially-successful but artistically-bankrupt pop sensations of the UK’s 1960s beat era there was a small hardcore of bands in the UK who couldn’t get arrested record-sales-wise but whom other musicians would cross continents to catch playing live. Frequenting the trendy London club scene and playing funky tunes that oozed git-up-and-dance, they usually centred round a deft practitioner of the Hammond organ, and comprised the said keyboard god plus fellow musicians who refused to compromise their musical integrity and their blues and jazz influences. Alongside the likes of Graham Bond’s Organization, Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames and the Peddlers could be found the Artwoods, who despite their undeniable talent would have a brief career and only some of whom would find wider success in later combinations.

Vocalist and leader Arthur “Art” Wood was the elder brother of Ronnie, then guitarist with the Birds (sic) and later star sideman to Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and the Glimmer Twins. Having served his on-stage apprenticeship with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Art set about putting together his own band in 1963, finally settling with Derek Griffiths (gtr), Malcolm Pool (bs), Jon Lord (org) and Keef Hartley (drs). (A couple of familiar names there, then, but not till a few years later.) Eschewing the straight R’n’B of the Yardbirds, the Stones and the Animals, the Artwoods stuck out for the jazz-inflected soul mix that would soon be in vogue on the Soho club circuit, covering material by Jimmy Smith, Lieber & Stoller, Eddie Floyd, Allen Toussaint, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and Solomon Burke. For four years they rocked the live club circuit until the trend towards psychedelia began to edge them out; unlike many of their contemporaries they declined to make that shift, electing instead to split in ’67.

The Artwoods did make records; over their four years they issued six singles plus – despite its cheesy title and homespun cover design – this splendid studio album. Predictably, none of these sold worth a damn: perhaps because the band’s oeuvre consisted almost completely of covers, albeit superb ones; perhaps because the recorded product lacked the visceral excitement of their live performances. The singles are indeed a little humdrum, given their attempts to polish their raw sound for commercial purposes, but the album is a gem of ensemble musicianship with flashes of individual brilliance. Recorded in a tiny basement studio in London’s Denmark Street under the tutelage of master Decca producer Mike Vernon, it clearly features the live set and gets as close as one could ask to the live vibe, only limited by the need to trim the tracks down to radio-friendly length. There’s a lot of variety available; the standout tracks include Burke’s “Down In The Valley” done in impeccable Stax style, Floyd’s “Things Get Better” as a superb garage soul opus with Merseybeat harmonies and raw-nerve fuzz guitar, and a scintillating cover of the Jimmy Smith instrumental “Walk On The Wild Side” in the middle of which the band lapse into a pure swing jazz groove and Lord produces an orgasmic solo that presages what he’d do with Deep Purple. Apart from a pedestrian reading of “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” there’s not a dull moment amongst the twelve original tracks. Art’s rough-as-a-badger’s-arse vocal is a guilty pleasure and Messrs Lord and Hartley shine throughout.

The subsequent careers of Lord and Hartley are well documented, but Art himself enjoyed far less success. He briefly formed a new outfit in ’69 with the musicians who would become the Faces; perhaps predictably for an outfit called Quiet Melon, it sank without trace. Art moved into a new career in graphic design with his other brother Ted and Malcolm Pool, singing only occasionally thereafter as a hobby musician till his premature death from cancer in 2006. His recorded legacy is available on the current 2009 CD from Repertoire which also includes no fewer than fourteen bonus tracks taken from the singles and the mega-rare Europe-only instrumental EP Jazz In Jeans.

mp3: Walk on the Wild Side
mp3: Things Get Better

:) Original | 1966 | Decca | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2009 | Repertoire | buy here ]

Primer on Lesser Known 1st Wave Punk

Many a band in recent years has attempted to capture that “trashy” punk rock sound but fail to realize that, more often than not, the classic garage/punk bands either stumbled upon their sound or achieved it through the lack of a proper studio and/or the aid of older, sometimes decrepit equipment (though I’m sure there are some hideous digital plugins that promise to emulate this sound).

 

PACK “Vinyl” (1978-)

Germany’s PACK didn’t have to work too hard at getting said sound seeing that their sole album was recorded in the depths of a dingy old war bunker. This record is a personal all-time favorite of the lesser-known 1st wave punk albums. While the drums, guitars and incredibly pissed-off vocals are certain to decimate what’s left of your eardrums, you will also be surprised to discover a host of tracks that are downright catchy without straying into the sugary pop that often marred many of their contemporaries’ work.  Already veterans of the German rock-n-roll scene when this came-out, it is rumored that these “old” guys were disliked by the younger German punk bands.

mp3: PACK – Nobody Can Tell Us

:) Original | 1978 | search ebay ]

 

The Kids s/t (1978-)

This young—the name doesn’t lie—Belgian trio of juvenile delinquents achieved the commendable and uncommon feat of releasing two consecutive punk rock classics. But of course this first self titled beast was their best and nastiest contribution to a genre that was already on the verge of imploding. This is punk rock in its purest sense. The stripped-to-the-marrow sound and barely competent (and yes this actually is a good thing in many cases) playing only bolster the Kids knack for cranking out unforgettable punk rock anthems like “This is Rock-n-Roll” and “I Wanna Get a Job in the City.” My only complaint is that the guitars could have been rawer and way more prominent in the mix. But itmany merits certainly overshadow this otherwise unforgivable flaw.

youtube: The Kids “I Wanna Get a Job in the City” 

:) Original | 1978 | Phillips | search ebay ]

 

Rokker s/t (1979)

Rokker was an Austin band that released this locally pressed rarity in 1979. Everything about this bandfrom the name and cover art to song titles like “Rock Fever” screams cheeseball loud enough to wake up the entire neighborhood. But don’t be too quick to write it off—its a surprisingly rare example of a great punk album from a non-punk-rock-and-proud band, and they definitely get a kick out of bashing the trendy shopping- mallbound fashion-disease punk would become. It’s like a biker-bar band taking a cue from the Flamin’ Groovies and the Pistols and actually squeezing out something that’s not a pile of dog shit. The lyrics range from full-on stupidity- “You’re mother’s a punk and fathers a wanker” to downright creepy “Daddy, whatcha doing to my sister.” The songs are loaded with hooks and have a strong Teenage-Head-era-Groovies-feel  that are sure to suck you in have you singing along like an idiot to the refreshingly dim-witted lyrics.

mp3: Rokker – Rock Fever

:) Original | 1979 | search ebay ]

 

The Victims “Real Wild Child” (1979)

Another bonafide classic from a New Jersey band that has yet to receive its rightful due. Making its unwelcome appearance in the midst of punk’s last gasp (1979), this one straddles the garage-ier side of the spectrum but does not shy away from the fuck-you attitude and sleaze that will feel like a invigorating breath of NY sewer air to  fans of  the Dead Boys. The guitars have brighter, trebly sound that helps set them apart from buzz saw driven bands of the time, but fear not –they are turned up far too loud to be lumped in with any of that flaccid power-pop that was stinking up the airwaves. This is a solid ride all the way through.

 mp3: Victims – Too Late

:) Original | 1979 | search ebay ]
😉 MP3 album | Victims | buy here ]

 

Consumers “All My Friends are Dead” (1977)

Believe it or not this actually fully lives up the lost classic cliché. There must be something found only in that dry desert heat that could have produced something as sonically brutal and angry as this Phoenix band’s ten song demo. Recorded in ’77 these brief—yet brilliant—tracks anticipate the coming of Hardcore, which would ultimately abandon the loose rock-n-roll feel that made bands like the Consumers way more soulful and enduring. There are some strong nods to the Pistols here and there, but this band had forged its own breakneck-pace and gritty sound that was worlds ahead of most bands the larger cities were producing.

mp3: The Consumers – Media Ogre

:) Original | 1977 | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2010 | In the Red | buy here ]

 

Nasal Boys  “Lost and Found”  (Comp, 1977)

“Hot Love” and “Die Wüste Lebt!” constitute what’s considered by many as one of the finest punk singles ever. And anyone with a functioning set of eardrums should have no reason to disagree with this assessment. These songs absolutely epitomize everything that Punk Rock should be. Both songs are intense, unrefined bursts of energy that always seem to be on the brink of collapse. This is noise that will carve a perplexed frown onto the face of most AC-DC-loving “classic” rock fans. The rest of this collection features unreleased tracks that are not quite as impressive, and sometimes move into even more incoherent territory. Regardless they still stand above the heap of all the second rate imitators and punk cash-in bands of the day.

mp3: Nasal Boys – Hot Love

:) Original | 2006 | search ebay ]

 

Starshooter  s/t (1978-)

Though a bit sub-par in the company of these other releases, one of France’s strongest punk LPs does have a charm of its own. Perhaps more of an acquired taste, the Jacques Dutronc meets Johnny Rotten French vocals may throw some listeners off at first. But multiple spins will unveil a pretty decent record. The guitars are pretty loud and come off a bit mechanical at times—though this somehow works as an asset in the context of the album’s overall atmosphere. At times there are shades of Wire’s early work, heightening the streaks of oddness that hover just at the surface. But it’s still a consistent, good slice of driving and uniquely French rock n roll that deserves a home in any decent record collection.

mp3: Starshooter – A Toute Bombe

:) Original | 1978 | Pathe | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2012 | Elle Aim L’air | buy here ]

 

Further listening (youtube links):
Raxola
Panic
Hubble Bubble
The Gears
Ivy Green
Eater
Suicide Commandos

Racing Cars “Downtown Tonight”

Scene: a cold, draughty village hall in Corston near Bath, winter 1971. The entire audience of your correspondent and a dozen or so other slightly drunk teenage loonies giggle and cavort round the bare floor whilst on the stage a four-piece band manfully reconstructs, note-for-note perfect, the entire medley from the flip side of Abbey Road. The lead guitarist, a stubby, bearded Welshman called Morty, stands motionless behind his Les Paul at stage right. The members of Oswald Orange from the Rhondda are living the rock’n’roll lifestyle . . .

1977, and a South Wales band called Racing Cars appears on primetime TV show Top Of The Pops for the first and last time, playing their unexpected minor hit single, the maudlin ballad “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, inspired by Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film on the marathon jitterbug dance contests of the thirties’ depression. The lead vocalist and principal songwriter is a stubby, bearded Welshman called Morty, or Gareth Mortimer to give him his full moniker. Aside from Morty the most notable name amongst these assorted sons of the Rhondda is that of Ray Ennis, sometime trad jazz banjoist and member of the celebrated sixties Merseybeat ensemble, the Swinging Blue Jeans.

Racing Cars came together in 1973 and belatedly joined the London Pub Rock circuit early in ‘76, playing with a degree of sophistication and instrumental virtuosity that marked them out above most of their contemporaries. Landing a contract with Chrysalis Records, they cut their first album Downtown Tonight just in time to see it swept away by the punk explosion. Very much the right product at the wrong time, it deserved better treatment: the single was briefly in vogue a year on, but the album predictably failed to set the record shop tills alight. Residual popularity on the college circuit kept the band going for four further years and two further albums, but the one-hit-wonders tag would stick till the end.

Apart from the atypical, string-quintet-laden “Horses”, Downtown Tonight features the honest, solidly-constructed sort of electric guitar-based music that the Pub Rock genre is still regarded with affection for: rocking mid-tempo songs mixing blues, country, soul and funk inflections, a powerful twin-lead attack, solid rhythm section, occasional guest piano, and warm rough-cut vocal harmonies. Ennis in particular plays mean slide and crafts some fine harmony runs with partner Graham Hedley Williams on “Pass The Bottle”, as well as exhuming his banjo for some rapid three-finger picking against Williams’s Albert Lee-style Telecastering on the unashamedly honkytonk “Get Out And Get It”. The stirring opener “Calling The Tune” offers some fine pentatonic widdling over its simple riff structure, whilst “Four Wheel Drive” is a butt-kickin’ funk instrumental right out of the Average White Band’s fakebook. Add in the languid ballads of the title track and “Horses” and the unassuming, lo-fi production and all in all it’s a set that would have been a modest pleasure heard live and loud one evening in some smoky tavern.

Racing Cars reunited in 1988 for a modest second career which saw numerous personnel changes – only Morty and Williams eventually remaining from the original lineup – and produced two further albums before finally hanging up their instruments in 2009.

mp3: Calling the Tune
mp3: Get Out and Get It

:) Original | 1976 | Chrysalis | search ebay ]
😀 Amazon |  2004 | Lemon | buy at amazon ]