Iggy breaks free….

The new Iggy album is interesting.  Like Iggy I value to be free.  I tire of the grind and closeness of the city, money constraints and so on.  Iggy is tired of endless touring the same old songs. So the theme of Iggy’s album resonates with me.

The two songs I have heard so far are a good sign – they are classy, fresh and simultaneously mature and youthful. Iggy is part beat poet part crooner, a more restrained version of the singer we all know and love and yes he does sound original.  His enunciation and timing are perfect, his voice a self assured confidence even gentleness. It is the voice of a man that has lived life and survived and now wants peace and life.  The youthfulness exudes from the young musicians that back him on this release – the music is fresh, classy, a bit experimental in places and very wonderful. 

The closest reference are the recent Patti Smith collaborations with Soundwalk Collective, the music is different but there is a common ground – spoken word and innovative backing tracks.  The Patti Smith tracks are long, experimental slabs of sound whilst the Iggy songs are concise, unusual, subtle, jazzy, minimalist and dare I say it gentle. I love both sets.

Like Iggy I like to be naked and to me naked is a symbol of being free – every sense is heightened – and as for playing or singing music there is definitely an extra something there – everything is brighter, more focused and inspired – that tingle of nakedness – I hear this in Iggy’s new songs.

I have changed my WordPress picture to reflect these naked thoughts – it is not my intention to offend and apologies if I have caused any offence.

The Fun’s Not Over

The film is a snapshot of South Africa and its culture set in the last twenty years of Apartheid.  Michael Cross is fast becoming thee film maker for music documentaries of the era.   Lovingly compiled one day his films will be shown in museums and art galleries.

James Phillips grew up in a typical suburban house complete with white fence.  His family seems like good people.  Musically his first steps were playing Bob Dylan covers in the local church as a teenager.  The Dylan influence is apparent in the vocal phrasing of the title track to this film.

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When eighteen he joined Corporal Punishment a band I didn’t understand at the time having only heard the two songs on the “Six of the Best compilation”.  In 1979 it sounded to me a shambolic mess with no proper songs.   Their music sounds better with time and now reminds me of the Libertines, all treble, scratchy guitar melody lines and yes there are some good songs in there.  I suspect that James Phillips would have liked the Kinks.  He is a good lyricist but some of the irony leaves me cold.

From the onset James wrote songs from a totally South African perspective, and there is humor in there.  A feisty agent provocateur he could be engaging, intelligent and sincere when he wanted to be.  The description of the tour with Leopard by Carl Raubenheimer is hilarious.

Soon after the Corporals split.  In James’s words “it was pointless”.  Overnight he left Springs and went to Cape Town, the reason “woman trouble” no other details given.

Then to Rhodes University in Grahamstown to study music and played in the Rhodes Jazz Ensemble. I wonder if any recordings exist.

In the holidays whilst in Cape Town he formed the short lived Illegal Gathering and recorded the “Voice of Nooit” cassette.  The songs sound good and fresh and include a Velvet Underground cover “Rock and Roll”.    The title track is a strange stoned collage.

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James became a Christian for a year.  This part intrigues me.  I suspect that part of him just wanted to be a clean living regular guy and then the other side of him was this drug taking, heavy drinking maniac.  The maniac side won of course.

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He changed his name to James the Baptist and went acoustic.

The film then jumps to “Hou My Vas Korporaal” probably his most famous song and there are two versions in the film.   For the song he assumes the character Bernoldos Niemand.  The song is country and western and sung in Afrikaans and great it is too.  Reminiscent of David Kramer (a guilty pleasure) or the Kinks, he sings about the anti-conscription campaign and the disillusionment of fighting a war they did not believe in and it touched the heart and soul of many a white South African youth.  A key line is “it’s not my fault but I shut my mouth.”   There is almost a “homo erotic” element to the song.   A seven single was released at the time with superb picture sleeve.

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James talks about there also being Apartheid between the English and Afrikaner.  “You can’t blame the language on what people do to other people”.  “It’s not the language that is at fault.”

I remember in seventies Durban, local thugs looking forward to the summer holidays when they would pick fights with holidaymakers from the Transvaal or Free State.

The film touches upon his shyness with women and his reliance on drink when talking to them.  I met Corporal Punishment in 79/80 at Jonathan Handley’s huge (for us) rehearsal/recording space. They were difficult to read, so quiet, was it shyness or aloofness or both.  I am shy as well so it was pretty much a quiet meeting.

Another song I like is “My Broken Heart” a song in the vein of “Cold, Cold Heart” or “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams.

Bernoldos Niemand then joins the Voelvry Tour after which the band broke up – “a waste of time”.

Then we jump back 5 years to 1983 the Cherry Faced Lurchers and their residency at Jamesons, a multiracial club.   A live LP was released in 1985.   The stand out song is “Shot Down” which shows things as they were in South Africa at the time.   The song reminds me of Iggy Pop’s “Turn Blue” except whereas Iggy sings about heroin “I shot myself down….I shot myself up”, James is singing about people being “shot down in the street”.

A film “Shot Down” was released in 1987.  The scene shown is of James at the drive in and in his words “Catch an “ouk’s” eye and that’s it” resulting in “Are you checking me out?” followed by violence.  I saw similar scenes in Durban almost every weekend.

One evening sitting on the verge outside a jorl (house party) a bunch of guys came up to me.  “You checking me out?” “No” “You called me a poes” “No” “You think I’m a poes”.  Silence, it is an impossible question to answer.  The guys jump me and start kicking.  I was bruised a bit but nothing serious, the difference being that no guns or knives were drawn.

The film then jumps to his final demos which were released on the posthumous album “Soul Ou”.  The song “Africa is Dying” is where James Phillips finally hits the spot and shows a maturity and sensitivity that had been hinted at all long and it is certainly soulful.  It reminds me of Nina Simone at her best (and I have watched her live close up).  The song still resonates in Africa today with its wars, hunger, poverty, corruption.  You cannot fault his ability and feel and delivery.  It is a great song.

Am interview with James at the time has him looking old beyond his years and almost destitute, dirty, reminiscent of a street junkie or homeless person, matted dreadlocks.  It is a sad portrait and one wonders how low he had fallen at this point.

The “Sunny Skies” album.  The film jumps around a lot so please excuse me of losing track of where one bit fits in the context of the whole picture.  It is confusing when I write, but it does add to the excitement of the viewing experience, or does it really matter.

James talks about Mandela and his release and the end of apartheid.  “There’s going to be good guys and there’s going to be bad guys and we don’t know yet who are going to be the villains”.

The cover art of Sunny Skies “a lot of tension in the air to coincide with what is happening in the country.  A storm is about to break”.

“Sunny Skies” doesn’t really do much for me music wise – technically it is of high standard but to me it sounds dated even then.  Randy Newman and Lowell George are cited as an influence and I never liked their music.  At the same time his lyrics are more politically aware.

In 1994 James joins the Soccer Party, a sardonic, satirical political party which seemed to exist mainly for smoking lots of dagga.

Later that year he collaborates with Warrick Sony and William Kentridge on “Faustus in Africa”.   He seemed more excited about the shows at the Grahamstown Arts Festival than his own shows.  I think this tells me a lot about him.  I think that part of him wanted to break out of his trap of drink, drugs and “the ou’s” and move onto something bigger, more serious, adult and artistic and that working with William Kentridge must have stirred something inside of him. Maybe I am being naive but I can’t imagine Kentridge getting totally wasted – he is a hard worker, prolific and perfectionist.  I think that’s what James wanted but didn’t know how to break out of the cycle.

I also think that recording “Sunny Skies” was a goal that he had set himself and once the recording was complete and the record was out there he lost interest as he had achieved what he set out to do.  It is a recurring thing in his life.

In 1995 James Phillips was badly injured in a car crash.    On 31 July 1995 he died.  He was 36.

He is described as a “bundle of contradictions” “puritanical versus debauched”.

There was no mention of any relationship in the film apart from the girl of “My Broken Heart”.  He did not appear to be in a relationship at the time of his death, he never had a child or responsibilities.  He had very little money but he collected literature by South African writers.  It is a tragic life but one which inspired many.

As an aside, I heard an interview about Chet Baker a year or so ago in which his promoter/tour manager talks about Chet and his drugs.  He described the life of a musician as a miserable one, one seedy hotel room after another seedy hotel room and the only way of dealing with it was to take drugs.  I suspect James never got as far as hotel rooms.

“The Fun’s Not over yet” is a good film about a complicated, conflicted and contrary character.  I watched the film three times and I enjoyed and it made me think.

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Sisters Of Mercy 02.09.17

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The Sisters of Mercy Roundhouse 2 September 2017

Andrew Eldritch is an enigma, a man at war with the record companies since the nineties.   And so it was at the Roundhouse, a shadowy figure who you could barely see his face, hidden by the smoke machine, the lighting, the laser beams.

Surprisingly the band still has a huge following, immediately apparent from the queue that went from the Roundhouse to the Morrison’s petrol station a fair distance down the road.

Inside the audience was 50% the old fans, the bald heads and wizened faces and 50% young goths, grungers, industrials and alternative art rockers too young to be born when the original albums were released.  Eldritch has always hated the Goth connection, having described himself as aiming for more modernist.  Kraftwerk with guitars, not really.   The clues are more in the Sisterhood the collaboration with Alan Vega from Suicide.

The concert is almost more theatre than standard rock show, the drama, the abovementioned seclusion and mystery.  It is a shock to see how much Eldritch has aged, now completely bald, no longer paper thin, dressed in ill-fitting black suit, seemingly quite unhealthy and gawky, an unsure dancer but he still has the drama and some great songs.  It is interesting to note that when compared to his peer Nick Cave, the Sisters have only released 3 albums, but have had more hit singles.  I side with the underdog.   It is also interesting to note that the cover versions they have released/played throughout their career are a clue as to the direction of the Sisters from day one, the vintage ballads, “Gimme Shelter”, the Stooges etc. 

Eldritch is flanked by two rockin guitarists, strutting their stuff with great tone probably the best line up since the Marx, Adams, Gunn days.  Behind them is Doctor Avalanche being operated using two lap tops rap style.  The songs have evolved with time and some are almost unrecognisable.

Eldritch sometimes struggled getting his voice heard, it is difficult I suppose when the songs are more mumbled than sang, and it did not matter, it increased the drama and theatre.  Interestingly his voice came through clearer when he sang from the side of the stage, he could probably hear himself better from there.  It is a problem I used to experience as well so I identify.

In the old days I preferred the early Sisters.  I never really liked “First and Last and Always” and was initially disappointed by “Floodland” and “Vision Thing” but after seeing the show I have revaluated the latter period and now love it.  The gig spanned songs from their entire career from Body Electric to unrecorded new songs like “Summer” and the standard was high throughout.  So time to dig out their two compilations “Some Girls Wander By Mistake” and “A Slight Case of Overbombing”.  I did.

An interesting new cover was “Rumble” and it sounded damn good as well.

Highlights for me where “More”, “Susanne”, “Vision Thing”, “Lucretia My Reflection” and “This Corrosion”.

Below I enclose the set list as printed online and I am not sure it is 100% correct. 

SET LIST:
More
Ribbons
Doctor Jeep / Destination Boulevard
Crash and Burn
Body Electric
No Time to Cry
Body and Soul
We Are the Same, Susanne
Walk Away
Amphetamine Logic
Dominion/Mother Russia
Summer
Rumble
Flood II
Vision Thing
Encore:
Something Fast
Lucretia My Reflection
Temple of Love
Encore 2:
Romeo Down
That’s When I Reach For My Revolver
This Corrosion

RAW POWER

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Today I talk about the making of Iggy and the Stooges seminal “Raw Power” LP.

The seeds of Raw Power were sown when Iggy first met James Williamson who played him the riff that later became “Penetration”.   In late 1970 James joins the Stooges.

In 1971 Iggy meets David Bowie who was a big Stooges fan. In 1972 David signs Iggy to Mainman and brings him over to England.  Iggy was not impressed by the musos he met in England and soon he was joined by James.  Despite being very different characters Iggy and James roomed together in London and this strengthened them as a song writing team.

Once James was in the fold the next step was to bring out the Ashton brothers Scott on drums and Ron on bass. 

Then they started writing and rehearsing.  Amongst other things the use of the drug heroin affected the music. 

James brought in the riff for “Search and Destroy” which was then arranged into a song.  Iggy wrote the lyrics in Kensington Gardens.  The lyrics use the Vietnam War as a metaphor for the attitude and feelings of the band and its audience.  I have read that Iggy sang the song in a higher register than usual.  Was the song pitch altered?  I am curious as that is what happened on some of the other Bowie related recordings including Lou Reed’s Walk on The Wild Side.

Which brings me to Bowie who became the albums producer.  Bowie brought an Englishness and artiness to the mix so it became an English as well as American album.  Like a lot of Bowie records of the time including Lou Reed’s Transformer it has a lot of treble in a bid to get airplay.  The Bowie mix was unusual and at first hard to understand but once you understood it, it became thee mix.  This is a controversial issue as there are many mixes but none as interesting as the Bowie one.  The lead guitar and vocals are much higher in the mix than any of the other instruments giving the music a frenetic sound, and thus the prototype punk guitar style and tone was born and became the blueprint for punk guitarists to this day.  The bass is very audible and pumping but it is quite trebly and so in sync with the rhythm guitar that on some songs what you assume to be rhythm guitar is often bass.  Likewise the drums and bass are so tight that the drums appear almost inaudible. To top it off Bowie added the Time Cube effects unit in the mix the cocaine sound.

The second song up Gimme Danger was written in response to the recording company requesting a slow song and a great one this is too, an answer to the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter.  The guitar is detuned half a step to Eb.  I have read that the main influences on the album were early Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and seeing T. Rex at Wembley a few weeks earlier.  The influence of Led Zep can be heard on some of the heavier songs on the album for example Penetration. 

The remaining six songs are as follows, the glam punk of Raw Power and Shake Appeal, the sleazy blues of I Need Somebody, the swaggering nasty Iggy of Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, the wild freakouts of Penetration and Death Trip. 

And so on to the cover.  In my opinion the artwork to an album is almost as important as the music itself, it is a summary of the music, a visual representation of the sound.  And what a cover this is.    An amazing front pic of Iggy with silver trousers and platinum hair, pancake makeup and vampire lipstick. Iggy hangs from the mike stand a symbol of decadence and danger.  The picture was taken at the Stooges only UK show which was performed at the Scala Cinema Kings Cross London.  One of the few people in the audience was Johnny Rotten who used the mike stand in the same way in the Sex Pistols 4 years later.  The story behind the makeup was that backstage a girl made up James Williamsons face and Iggy said he would like to have a bit of that as well and so the look was formed and immortalised.  The photographer was Mick Rock who also took seminal pictures of Bowie and the cover pic for Lou Reed’s Transformer. 

To truly appreciate the album you got to listen to the original vinyl version of the Bowie mix from 1973, the latter-day reissues cannot compare.  It is also worth listening to the Rough Power CD on Bomp and the Iguana De Banda ‎– Etiqueta Negra de Lugo bootleg.

“Raw Power” was a one off.  The greatest punk album ever. 

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A multi genre multi-cultural collage of feedback, art punk garage with funk, disco, African, jazz, Latino, easy listening vs politico punk, electronic, a glam Krautrock cabaret. 

Good time music. Side A is short songs. On side B the songs are longer a bit more experimental and darker. But even the last song which is more funereal is meant to be positive and uplifting as opposed to depressing. 

A year in our lives. 

The feedback, the synth noises and quiet barely audible keyboard melodies are all meant to be there.

Every song has its own story.

To be released end of March on limited edition vinyl (250 copies) and CD (100 copies).  It is available now on download and Spotify.

Track listing and comments

  1. Kwela Funk “the people got the power”
  2. Caveman Rock “escape civilization and address your mortality”
  3. While Away My Days “pre Brexit optimism recorded 14 June 2016”
  4. Cunts, Traitors, Betrayal and Liars “post Brexit referendum blues written late June 2016”
  5. Neon City “so messed up”
  6. World Cup Theme “incidental music for bars where the crowd chatter becomes the lyrics”
  7. Catwalk “fashion”
  8. Whatever Happened To The Stars “a eulogy”

Music for bars, parties or for listening alone.

“Cunts, Traitors, Betrayal and Liars” is averaging a thousand plays per dayon Spotify.

There’s nothing left alive but a pair of plastic eyes ….

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Gimme Danger was for me a must see.  When I was a teenager in the early seventies there would be occasional snippets in the music press about this shambolic band from America with their crazed front man and chaotic nihilistic live shows. The tales were fascinating and captured my imagination. The Stooges were different and dangerous.  Photos were scarce and where I lived there was absolutely no chance that I would ever see them in the flesh. Distance increased the interest. One could imagine the journalists clicking on their typewriters and faxing their stories to London and then three weeks later we would get the music papers in South Africa. It all seemed very romantic to this young teenager. A postcard from the edge of society and I was intrigued.

The music in the film is of course superb.  It is hard to beat “I wanna be your dog”, “Not Right”, “Funhouse”, “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger” all at max volume. The spirit of the Velvet Underground, avant-garde jazz, James Brown, the Rolling Stones and Bowie all shine through.  Bowie is barely mentioned and mostly in context with manager Tony de Fries who allegedly put the Stooges career on ice. The music industry is not a nice business.

The vintage live footage is stunning and and there are several scenes that I had not seen before. It is great to see the clips in improved best available quality on a large screen at high volume. The footage is truly wild. I was fascinated by how fucked Iggys teeth were in the Cincinnati Festival footage. This sort of clarity is just not noticeable on YouTube or third generation video tape. He looks feral filthy and sweaty, totally primal, untamed.

The story is mainly told in a sit down interview with Iggy. The dialogue is interesting and informative and Iggy is a captivating narrator but it is what lets the film down. It is mainly told from one mans perspective and so it becomes his story. Great black and white pin stripe trousers.

Behind the beautiful portrait on the front cover of Raw Power is a nightmare with no fairy tale ending except for the man on the cover and it took a long time and much injury for him to eventually achieve success. You can’t fault his perseverance which is exceptional. Yet it all seems a little too late and at the end of the film it left me empty. So this is what I waited all those years to see?

This music should have been successful 45 years ago, it is young people’s music sophisticated as some of it is. The film simultaneously destroys the myth and adds to it and I don’t know what to think.  A lot of his audience these days are not even into the music just the spectacle and the coolness of what he stands for. I sometimes wish he would don a shirt buy a smart suit and become the great crooner that is hidden inside of him. Let him be art and jazz and Sinatra. I think he would dig that too but he is trapped in his myth and past.

Like a lot of good art this story is fueled by anger in this case the hurt caused by 5 frat boys who laughed that their cars where bigger than the trailer that Iggy lived in with his parents. Then one day in an act of bullying they shook the trailer whilst he was in it. He has never forgiven them and I empathize. It is what drove him and continues to drive him.

The chilling moment for me is when Iggy talks about the Stooges sharing everything including ownership of the songs which is something he now seems to regret.

The life of a ex Stooge was not an easy one. The saddest story of all seemed to be that of Scott Asheton who spent his life in minimum wage menial dead end work and seems happily stoned in interviews. Conversely James Williamson disillusioned with recording bands whose music he didn’t like left the music scene for a successful career in technology. He seems the lucky one the one that got away. He comes across well in the film intelligent cheerful straight talking and lucid and is absolutely stunning in the early live footage which I had not seen before. One cool dude back in the day.

I also liked the Danny Fields interview scenes and look forward to seeing the “Danny Says” documentary.

So here is the plan. Compile all the vintage clips from the film together with the bare minimum of interview, listen to all the albums from the seventies line ups including the original 1972 Bowie mix of Raw Power and the unreleased till recently original John Cale mix of the debut, read the biographies from the excellent I Need More onward, see the photos and posters and look for the Metallic KO t shirt silver on black screen print, and you got the story.

And if you are young and starting out take a tip from the Stooges example and find your own thing, go into the unknown and be original.

Jiving and Dying

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The Radio Rats story directed by Michael Cross.

Beautifully edited, filmed and compiled by Michael Cross in lovely grainy monochrome the film immediately hooks one in from the opening scene and doesn’t let go until the final credits ninety nine minutes later.  It is visual audio delight with a superb soundtrack presented in hi fidelity quality pumping loud from the cinema speakers.

For me the story is about guitarist songwriter Jonathan Handley and vocalist Dave Davies with a diverse cast of characters along the way.  Two very different personalities they share a dynamic when they work together.  I knew Jonathan back in the day and I remember him as a lovely man genuinely into artists like Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed prescribing but not injecting another girl another planet. 

Dave Davies is a great singer in the vein of Jagger or the other Davies Ray.  My wife says that he reminds her of David Johansen and she got it.  He has an animal magnetism charming in interview and nobody seems to know how he earns a living.

It was great to see the early proto glam punk rock pics but the story really kicks in with ZX Dan one of the greatest South African songs ever, Starman with a country twang and Safrican accent.  It was a massive hit in South Africa and it could have done the same worldwide.  The song was written with the aim of having a hit single and it became their defining moment.

It interests me that they describe their music as pop but that song was their only pop hit.  I guess they scupper their chances by singing about strange quirky subjects like Cyanide Lake.  The other Jonathan, Richman springs (sic) to mind as the closest reference.

And so they became a cottage industry writing and recording many songs with continually changing line ups and name changes and slowly refining and defining their sound and art, the comic art of the bands album covers and posters is very much part of the whole thing.

It is great to see the scenes of the old South Africa towns, and venues and country side, it is a lost time strange and quaint and it is interesting how anything alternative or artistic came out of such an environment yet somehow it seems to happen.

The film is probably the most comprehensive documentary of any single South African music artist or act and probably the best.  It is entertaining but it is also art.   A lot of attention has been paid on the editing and the detail.  Some of the interviews are presented in seemingly uncut form of realism reminiscent of Warhol or Jonas Mekas. 

In the middle of the film some songs display a sixties garage psyche feel of English freakbeat particularly the Creation.  That part blew me away as it is quite an obscure reference and they do it very well.

And whilst not the final song in the film but the song that seems like the end song Perlemoen is a strange one.  It is the song where Jonathan seems to finally fully give in to his South African-ness.

The film is available on DVD as a double pack with a great compilation CD and superb cover art and sleeve notes.  It is a quality package.

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