NEEDSY’S VIEW (Slight Return)

Jolly old rockers

NEEDSY’S VIEW (Slight Return)

As this is a somewhat special, era-closing issue of trakMARX, which, as you are by now doubtless aware, will be parked up for the next 6-months while our esteemed editor, Monsieur Encoule, takes some well deserved time out to stop being ill, I felt compelled, just this once, to revive a tradition readers of Zigzag were forced to endure every month: my editorial column! In it I’d describe what was going on with the mag, what nefarious deeds I’d been up to, and what goodies lay inside. Hand-written, off the top of my head, live and direct. Often bollocks.

It was 30-years ago today that I scrawled the first one of these missives in the debut issue of Zigzag with yours truly at the helm. Issue number 75: August 1977. I began:

‘Here we are in 1977, and there hasn’t been a more exciting time for music in years . . . I mean, I go to bed every morning and wonder what’s gonna have happened by the time I wake up. There’s so much good stuff developing and being thrown up. And at the same time, the opposition gets stupider every day (as do the number of dopey pretend punks) . . . What’s happening here at Zigzag is a boot up the buttocks of boredom, which has often ruled here. Boring old Californian crooners are out. You think I’m gonna say ‘Punk Rock is in!’ Well, I’m not. Music that’s FUN, EXCITING, VITAL, RELEVANT and created by people who care, is . . .’

And so on. Didn’t matter if it was made yesterday or 50-years before. I still feel the same, and I know Monsieur Encoule does too. The line up: the Slits on the cover, Blondie, Danny Baker sounding off about the Vortex bouncers, prison letters from MC5 guru John Sinclair, Eddie & The Hot Rods, the Criminals, the mighty John Walters, the Boys, reggae roundup and Danny Baker, who really was a great writer back then, raving about this new bloke called Elvis Costello. The next issue would have The Clash on the cover, Motorhead inside . . . and away we went.

trakMARX has been called ‘the spiritual son of Zigzag’. I’ll go along with that. With this landmark sixth birthday belter and changes on the horizon, I feel the time could be right to put forward the Zigzag viewpoint from, ahem, someone who was there. It also fits in with Alex Ogg’s epic chat with Mick Mercer (although editing the last incarnation of Zigzag was but a tiny part of his long and illustrious career).

It seems that Zigzag comes back to haunt me more & more as time goes by. When I DJ-ed at those Buzzcocks, Damned and TV Smith gigs recently, I was happy to greet a steady stream of highly-complimentary people who’d read the mag at the time. There were even a few of these particular ne’er-do-wells at the MOJO awards the other week! It’s pleasant. I’ve just turned 53-years-of-age and have been reflecting quite a lot recently. I’ll be telling the full dread story of the rise and subsequent destruction of Zigzag in the revised Needs Must, which I’m working on now (expanded, remixed and re-mastered, with the best ending ever – now!).

Zigzag was fired up in 1969 by Pete Frame to cover underground music in the UK and US which didn’t get in the mainstream rock weeklies. A no-bullshit outlet for mavericks like Captain Beefheart and Arthur Lee, following their careers in near-obsessive detail, it was the original fanzine, which might devote most of a whole issue to the Byrds, rather like Mojo does now. By 1976, Pete knew something was going on. He actively encouraged it in Zigzag’s pages, and let me take my first faltering steps onto the printed page, blathering about exciting new groups like the Ramones and The Clash (to some abuse from the original readers, I might add!). In 1977, he graciously handed me the reins, which I managed to hold on to until the early 80s, when the nightmare related in Alex’s Mick Mercer piece took over. But for five years(ish), I reported what was going on as it happened, direct from the front line. I tried to make the readers feel involved, striving to publish in depth features on their favourite groups, culled directly from our readers polls, ever up-close and personal. My first issue may have featured the (by then, old school) Slits on the front cover, but elsewhere we also gave relatively new groups like the Banshees and the Fall their first extensive coverage. These were rampantly exciting times that seem almost surreal in retrospect now. Afternoons and nights spent hanging with The Clash seemed as natural as going down the pub with your mates back then, but these days such antics have become almost mythological. Weird scenes . . . or what?

By 1978 we were already getting fed up with groups hearing the first Clash album and trying to reproduce its sound and sentiments, rather than trying to realise their own unique vision. We were more interested in focussing on passion, knowledge and creativity, the desire to move on and discover new sounds, while uncovering previously hidden delights from days gone by, almost in tandem. There was no snobbish dismissal of the wonderful tackle created earlier in the century. Thus was shaped a genre straddling, anything-goes-policy, that I unashamedly admit was inherited from the incredibly open mind of John Peel. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? I know Encoule & others here at trakMARX are bored to death with the rampant nostalgia fest currently infecting the glossies/tabloids/broadsheets like a rash. There are too many pretenders out there right now. Punk happened fast . . . it was over before you could say, ‘Which hospital did the girl with glass in her eye get taken too . . . ?’ Jah Wobble’s piece in The Independent was spot-on. Nailed them motherfuckers! At the end of the day, I’ll be sticking to the original punk principle of positive change and keep venturing ever onward into the unknown. I’ll keep telling the stories as long as people want to hear them, and am doing so in great detail in my book! My only research for this volume, BTW, is what’s left of my memory . . . and now I’ve given up the booze it’s amazing what’s come flooding back! It was a great time, never to be repeated. But I’m also talking about my obsessions with hip-hop, acid house, blues, techno and the Rolling Stones!

So, hurrah for trakMARX: over the past six years, Encoule and co have exhaustively covered many of the artists that really mattered back in ‘76 (actually the true year of punk), while enthusing continually about new ones cut from a similar cloth, carrying their love-not-lucre torch as they go about their business, shining a little non-commercial light into the darkened dressing-up cupboards of an increasingly vaudevillian contemporary scene. This simple approach has brought hits and plaudits from all over the world, pre-empting the current saccharine 30-year-nostalgia-fest with aplomb & panache. More recently, trakMARX has been spreading its wings, covering other strains of conscious music, like dub-reggae, extreme metal & noise. Art, philosophy, esoteric pursuits, ever-shifting-sonic-stratas, nothing is off-limits to trakMARX. They’ve said all there is to be said about Punk Rock (three-chord catalogue!). Now they want to hang on to the punk spirit they’ve so peerlessly propagated over the last six years and see where it ends up with out a safety-pin safety-net. Admirable!

To me, punk is a spirit, not a sound. An attitude, not about ripping up seats, but about blowing up musical categories/preconceptions and people’s minds! Mick Jones was often being ripped into back when I was editing Zigzag, but 30-years on he’s still true, staying free and saying something with the new Carbon Silicon EP via which he gets to make magnificent music with his old mate Tony James. At the recent MOJO awards I found myself sitting at a table with Mick, Tony and Glen Matlock. Someone said it was like Dad’s Army! We laughed our asses off but there was some kind of genuine feeling for a moment there which I can’t explain and wouldn’t try to. Don Letts was also there, presenting the Classic Album award to the Marley family for Exodus. There’s another man who’s survived the punk wars and emerged as a prime mover on his own terms. Still a conscientious punk rocker, but now able to sculpt beautiful television programmes on unsung innovators such as Sun Ra or Gil Scott Heron!

In 1978, one of the greatest punk groups of all time were two guys from New York called Suicide, who, night after night, endured full-on pelting from the more ignorant sections of the crowds on their UK tour supporting The Clash. At the time their startling (and still utterly unique) debut album was sending shockwaves through the scene and Zigzag carried the first full-length interview with Alan Vega and Marty Rev. I ranted about their album, which still sounds ahead -of-its-time/from-another-planet to this day! Suicide have never compromised, sold out or bowed to retro-nostalgia. It’s weird for them to be feted now when they spent their first decade of existence getting abused and pelted. Even weirder getting a MOJO award . . . incredibly, their first ever!

I like the MOJO awards. They avoid the backslapping smugness of most ceremonies, preferring instead a celebration of not only musical genre busting, but the ever simple pleasure of music itself. The common comment is: ‘all these artists under one roof!’. That Peel ethos taken to it’s logical star-studded extreme. I like MOJO, too. I can quite happily write for it as well as trakMARX. It’s when I get to slip into my Zelig role, playing the back end of a pantomime horse in every provincial theatre in the land! MOJO is technically the son of Zigzag, after all, being started after the former’s publishers gained the title, then buried it to start a magazine which traced the careers of major artists in some detail. The main thing is, they have some great writers who know their shit (And I’m flattered to sometimes be allowed amongst them!).

At the awards, the writers are each given a category winner to chaperone – which means greeting your designated artist at the door, showing them to their table for the presentations, and guiding them to the team photo session before dinner and partying commence. I was given Suicide to look after, which was, frankly, a massive honour. As I said, it was the first time they’d ever got an award, 37 years after playing their first gig as Suicide. Before the doors opened, I was told that the photo session was oversubscribed, so Suicide would have to stand down. They shrugged, but slipped in anyway, much to the annoyance of Sharon Osbourne, who protested that, ‘the man in the red beret’ was obscuring Ossie. But it was lovely to see Suicide finally getting respect from the business end of an industry that has shunned them for years. Nick Cave, another long-time fan who asked them to support the savage turbo-orgasm that is Grinderman a couple of night’s later at the Forum, presented Suicide with the MOJO Innovation in Sound award. It was sweet to see Marty and Alan insisting each other take home the sole trophy: ‘You have it’, etc. In the end, they decided on ‘joint custody’, as Marty put it.

Mick Jones and Tony James were on the next table, there to present Arcade Fire with their Best Live Act award. Mick hadn’t seen Suicide since the 1978 tour. Tony, who’d obviously borrowed several Suicide riffs for Sigue Sigue Sputnik, just wanted to meet them. It was a great moment. Then Paul Simonon walked up with Harry Enfield, who started telling me how much he’d liked the Crawley gig on that tour (thinking I was who? – Joe Strummer?). Enough of that, though, this isn’t meant to be a tabloid diary column!

The previous day, I’d interviewed Suicide for MOJO at the Holiday Inn on Old Street. In 35-years of interviewing musicians, this ranks as one of my Top Ten encounters of all time. For nearly four hours we traced their fascinating story from childhood, first musical epiphanies (Marty at legendary jazz gigs, Alan witnessing the Stooges in 1969), to, after about an hour, the formation of Suicide, and the subsequent obstacles thrown in their way on their convoluted path to award-winning acceptance. Lovely people, who, although they started by confronting their audiences, are now genuinely flattered that people actually like them. He’s still into his recent, stunning Station album, but rather disappointed at the sales numbers. But, what can you expect in a world that embraces the Boomtown-Rats-Do-Madness panel beating of the Kaiser Chiefs? It’s quite likely that Suicide will record together this year, but Alan has already written several new songs for his next solo album. Who knows? They’re one of the most important bands of all time and we still haven’t caught up.

Sticking with New York, the city’s skyline will shortly be glittering with a technicolour Bat signal transmitted from the East Village by Certain General, who I raved about in trakMARX last year. I’ve helped put together a two-CD set for Easy Action called Invisible New York and, while hoping that Mr Encoule has done me a big one and reviewed it elsewhere, will only say that this collection of album tracks, live excursions and previously-unreleased tackle is a thing of absolute beauty from one of the most underrated groups of all time: a shimmering hotpot of emotional torrents, haunting epics and psychedelic surf hoedowns, which will cause anyone who leans towards the classic New York groups to fall to the floor masturbating furiously. The exciting news is that original members Parker DuLany and Phil Gammage have been rehearsing together and could be playing London in September.

Meanwhile, August 2007 will mark the 40th anniversary of the closing down of the pirate radio stations: 1967’s equivalent of our recent smoking ban! In order to achieve this objective, the government of the time drummed up a ton of bollocks about pirate stations interfering with nationally important radio signals, and created the Marine Offences Bill! I first heard John Fahey, Captain Beefheart, Love and all manner of weird and wonderful stuff on John Peel’s Perfumed Garden show on Radio London. So did Joe Strummer and many others who didn’t normally touch that dial! Radio Caroline ruled the waves as the psychedelic summer of love got into gear, man! The closing of the pirates was as depressing and oppressive as the heavy-handed Media censoring dished out to punk ten-years later. This might have been the summer of love but, in terms of long-reaching effect, the hippy revolution was bigger than punk which, in essence, was saying the same thing in different clobber (‘Punks are just hippies with long hair’, said John Cooper Clarke! – Ed). I’m not talking about how it later permeated into the pomposity which necessitated punk. That was more like greedy rock stars cutting themselves off plus a terrible political climate! Of course, the original revolutionary ideals of 1966-67 got commercialised, bastardised and ruined, but, with the barriers down for bad behaviour, the shockwaves have resonated into everything truly dangerous that’s been created since. With the advent of the Rolling Stones, then the psychedelic revolution, innocence was lost. Danger and social comment could run riot . . . and, by the end of the decade, we’d got the Stooges! Seeing Iggy Pop in 1969 was the single biggest epiphany for Alan Vega, and did quite a bit for Mick Jones three years later too! In 2007, Iggy provided the only truly great Glastonbury moment, so he’s still at it, and, along with Scott and Ron Asheton, richly deserved that MOJO Lifetime Achievement award.

Another bunch from the mid-60s who haven’t lost their passion and ability to cause a ruckus are, believe it or not, surviving Doors, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger, who got the MOJO Hall Of Fame award. Many of that night’s speeches were quite brief or uncertain, but Manzarek raised his arms and bellowed about getting high and the futility of war, just like his old lead singer. The night before, me and my Doors-crazy missus, Michelle, went to see them in their new Riders On The Storm incarnation. We were blown away. Apart from the fact that the songs they created, like ‘(Break On Through) To The Other Side)’ and ‘Five To One’, are just as galvanising and vibrant now as they were 40-years ago! The energy and mental telepathy flying about on that stage pinned the delirious crowd against the wall. No one can replace Jim Morrison (who died on my birthday, 36-years ago) but new boy, Brett Scallions, sure knows how to get a party started . . . any thoughts of going through the motions disappeared in the first few seconds. They were on fire.

These days, it’s rare to get knocked out of your socks by a new name, but Sunray have done just that over the past couple of months with their second album, Tomorrow . . . and my subsequent investigation of a back catalogue stretching back to the early 90s. Based around guitarist-singer Jon Chambers, and operating with a kind of Primal Scream floating line up, Sunray’s music is an intoxicating blend of the influences: the Stooges, My Bloody Valentine, Sun Ra, JAMC, the Byrds, Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3. In Record Collector (another fine organ I have the pleasure of expounding in occasionally because I like their total absence of bullshit) I gibbered: ‘Jon Chambers forges supernova distillations of his obsessions and zoned-out visions with a hallucinogenic panache that spikes the heart of the sound with results that can be transcendental or mind-blowing’. The album, which mixes new stuff where Jon is joined by guitar-bass-keyboards-drums handlers Will Thomas, Justin Morey and Phil Goss, with previously-released EPs for Earworm, is wildly varied. Centrepiece is the epic ‘Music For The Dreamachine’, a mesmerising 24-minute hypno-monster inspired by the same Lamonte Young-style loop excursions that had earlier inspired the young John Cale . . . but there are also opiate-laden ballads like I Wish You Were Mine that tap into a druggy shimmer worthy of Syd Barrett. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: their aural joy weaves one of the most intoxicating webs of sound I’ve encountered for years. Jon’s next project is a one-sided eight-inch single, which will be limited to just 23 copies with hand-made sleeves.

Finally, a couple of old mates have teamed up again for the first time in 18 years: Dr Alex Paterson and Youth started as punk rockers involved with the turbulent maelstrom of Killing Joke. Childhood friends who’d always been into different exotic strains of music with dub a mutual crossroads. During the early 80s I lived with Youth for three years before Alex moved in – one of the most fun-packed eras of my life (Again, wait for the book!). When acid house came along, Alex and Youth got serious with the taping sessions which had livened up many an evening. This led to DJ-ing, then Alex started The Orb with Jimmy Cauty, who would hit it big with the KLF. Youth collaborated in the early 90s, appearing on their groundbreaking first two albums, which were pivotal in the groundswell that followed the repetitive-beats-revolution of 1987. To my mind, the pair never lost their punk spirit of mischief and mind messing. Throughout the 90s and right up until a couple of years ago, Alex and Youth have followed separate careers which have occasionally crossed paths. The former continuing to steer The Orb through various far-flung galaxies, and Youth carving out a successful carer as a producer, most recently with Primal Scream and the return of The Cult. When they started hanging out together again, the inevitable happened, and new music began to hatch. The result is the return of The Orb and an album called The Dream, which has already done some very pleasant things to my central nervous system, like an aural tickling stick or a sensory massage. Apart from the expected dub and cosmic funk, the speech bites are as intricate and surreal as ever . . . and there are some killer songs, to boot! Also on board is Tim Bran, once of Dreadzone . . . there are guest vocalists . . . several stretches are jaw-droppingly-spectacular: ‘We wanted to make the Orb simple again’, says Alex, although that’s not in Earthly terms, you understand? He means euphoric, brain mashing and decidedly butt-shaking . . . not to mention occasionally hilarious!

That was fun! Haven’t done that for years!

To bring proceedings to a close, I also used to have a regular pop at general things that had just happened to piss me off. Things like this: smoking is now prohibited at gigs, right? This is Blair’s true legacy: banning something supposedly to save lives on the one hand, whilst callously sending thousands of young men & women to possible deaths in Iraq with the other.

Right, enough . . . before I start telling you about my rabbit dying on Fathers Day, or Johnny Green going to see Ken Dodd and bringing me back a tickling stick, and all that!

All that remains to be said is: thank fuck for trakMARX and all it has achieved thus far! Relentlessly keeping the spirit and fire that fuelled the 70s Punk Rock Revolution - and Zigzag – resolutely alive isn’t easy . . . and Monsieur Encoule deserves your support and best wishes during the next few months as he battles with the virus in his bloodstream.

As Pete Frame used to say, Wahoo!

Kris Needs – tMx 30 – 07/07