Stockholm Syndrome

Kungens Män played a week long tour of small venues last week, starting in Glasgow and then heading south via Newcastle, Todmorden, Manchester, Bristol and then Chelmsford. On Wednesday I saw them play The Peer Hat in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, on a small stage in the basement of a bar tucked away down a side-street. Seeing such a good band close up in such a small venue was a cosmiche treat. Kungens Män have three guitarists- Mikael, Hans and Gustav-  lined up across the front of the tiny stage, kicking up a storm of FX driven guitars, three different parts, riffs, chords and lead lines complementing each other, circling around and building layers of noise. Drummer Matthias keeps a rocksteady motorik groove throughout and stage right Peter Erikson’s table of synths and effects add texture and a psychey, space rock swirl. The second song is powered by a massive wah wah bass riff with the guitars piling on top, hitting the spot for well over ten minutes. For one song, well into the seventh or eight minute a saxophone is brought out and the skronky, free jazz floats and dives around the room. Finger cymbals announce the arrival of the final song, an ambient start soon overtaken by more dreamy, fired up, repetitive krautrock from Sweden. We get four (maybe five) songs in the hour they play, inventive, melodic and noisy, jams that have become something more focussed. A real joy to watch.

The sax playing guitarist with the shaven head entertains us between songs- he talks of it being a pleasure to be in the UK, ironically informing us that it is ‘where krautrock began’, tells tales of a Swedish radio DJ with a husky voice and later on introduces the band, cabaret style. He is unfailingly polite after the gig, selling merch from the table and ensuring I get my change for my purchase. All the band’s members are friendly and happy to chat to members of the audience before and after the gig. Hopefully they can come back soon and play to slightly larger crowds. In 2016 they released Stockholm Maraton, a seven song space rock album but there are plenty of other albums at their Bandcamp site, any one of which is worth your time and trouble.

A Lot Of People Won’t Get No Supper Tonight

A London Calling postscript. On 7th December 1979 The Clash released London Calling as a single. I wrote about the song in the first of my posts about the album here so don’t intend to add much to that. Except this, the video, filmed by Don Letts on a wet night on the Thames on a barge at Cadogan pier. Letts didn’t know the Thames was tidal and that the pier, barge and boat he was filming from would rise and fall- and then it started to rain heavily. Despite all this The Clash, all in black with brothel creepers and quiffs, filmed against the black of the night, give it all.

The B-side to London Calling is Armagideon Time, a cover of a Willie Williams song from 1977. This is politicised righteous Clash rock reggae, the world where a lot of people are going  hungry and aren’t getting any justice, where they are gong to have to stand up and kick it over. Joe had been talking before the recording about the ideal length of time a song should last- two minutes and twenty eight seconds according to Strummer- and at that point in the recording of Armagideon Time Clash fixer/road manager Kosmo Vinyl can be heard on the studio mic telling the group their time was up.

Strummer responds instantly ‘OK, OK, don’t push us when we’re hot!’ all of which adds to the take. Mick later added some electric sitar and there are the noises of fireworks and bombs going off. Armagideon Time is yet another Clash B-side that stands alongside their A- sides in terms of quality and passion. For the 12″ they pushed it even further with a nine minute dub excursion.

Justice Tonight/ Kick It Over

Weddings, Parties, Anything… And Bongo Jazz A Speciality

Flip side three over, the drama of The Card Cheat fading in your ears. Place it on the turntable, lift the arm of the stereo, let’s have it, London Calling side four.

Lover’s Rock opens up side four and it’s the worst song on the album for me, by some distance. The tune is alright and Mick’s guitar playing has some moments but it’s a one idea groove largely. The song’s title is named after the hugely popular, commercial style of 70s reggae, a genre with some brilliant songs from artists such as Janet Kay, Dennis Brown, John Holt and Susan Cadogan. However Joe’s lyrics are confused or confusing. In the first verse he tells the listener to ‘treat your lover girl right’ but then goes on to blame her for forgetting to take her contraceptive pill and warns that ‘no one will know the poor baby’s name’. In the second verse he steps into a book he was reading at the time, The Tao Of Love And Sex, and points the finger at western men who need more self control in the bedroom before setting out what a genuine lover should do-‘… take off his clothes/ he can make his lover in a thousand goes’. I don’t know what Joe was intending with this song- a genuine attempt at dealing with sexual politics? A pisstake of lover’s rock’s lyrics? Shaming men for the way their bedroom technique? Whatever he meant, I don’t think it works and it’s causes the only real dip in quality across the nineteen songs. Best to move on, move to….

Tsk- tsk- tsk- tsk clang! Four Horsemen!

‘Well they gave us the grapes that go ripe in the sun
That loosen the screws at the back of the tongue’

Four Horsemen is a ridiculous song (in a good way) and I love it. After all the apocalyptic mayhem, nuclear errors, card cheats, murders, capitalist alienation and sufferation Joe now imagines the band as the Four Horsemen- not the biblical ones from the Book of Revelation bringing war, pestilence, famine and death but four comical horsemen. These horsemen do not bring the end of the world but are ageing, stoned incompetence-

‘One was over the hill
One was over the cliff
One was licking them dry
With a bloody great spliff
When they picked up the hiker
He didn’t want a lift
From the horsemen’

The Clash loved to write about themselves- see Clash City Rockers, Garageband, All The Young Punks and The Last Gang In Town for starters- but here Joe has his tongue planted well in his cheek. Maybe this adds to the argument that the previous one is a joke and what opens side four is a pair of joke songs. Four Horsemen is definitely here to lighten the mood, not to be taken too seriously, but for all that Mick’s tune is a belter, Topper is hammering those drums full pelt and Joe gives a full throttle vocal performance. The verses tumble by in a mass of words and images, a crashing chorus, a middle eight with a spoken vocal part (a bit of a recurring technique of the album) and over the ending Joe singing ‘we know, only rock ‘n’ roll/we got rock ‘n’ roll’. The band freak out, guitars squealing and Topper pounding leading to an over the top, crescendo. It’s almost Death Or Glory inverted, or a Bizarro World version of it. Then there’s the final one of those clever segueways leading us straight into I’m Not Down.

Mick piles into I’m Not Down with a pair of chords and then Paul comes in with a lovely bass riff, a bar or two of funky guitar and when Mick calls ‘hup’ they lock into a great descending riff. Paul’s bass playing on this is superb and Mick’s guitar shines throughout, several Les Paul parts stacked up. Mick sings I’m Not Down, very much an autobiographical song detailing the things that have gone wrong in his life over the previous year, singing and playing his way out of bad times-

‘I’ve been beat up, I’ve been thrown out
But I’m not down, no I’m not down’

At the end of 1978 his flat had been burgled, he was attacked in the street by a group of Teddy Boys and then early on in 1979 his relationship with Viv Albertine ended. After all the topics Joe has written about on the album, from Three Mile Island to the Spanish Civil War, from drug dealers to working for the clampdown and then the comic nature of Four Horsemen and God knows what of Lover’s Rock, Mick doing a bit of self- affirmation and positive thinking Clash style is rather good. A proper, singalong, arms aloft Mick Jones song.

Revolution Rock then arrives to take us through to what should be London Calling’s end, a cover of a Danny Ray and The Revolutioneers song, the original out not long before The Clash recorded their version. I once played this song when DJing at a wedding and it down a storm. Revolution Rock is introduced by a Topper drum roll and then those frisky, catchy Irish Horns. This is The Clash go party, percussion and cheese graters leading the way, horns and dance rhythms after all the dread. Joe makes a few lyrical changes, turning ‘everybody get off their seat and rock to this brand new beat’ into the punkier ‘everybody smash up their seat…’. At the end of London Calling El Clash combo sign off with reggae and calypso via West London at the tail end of the 70s, a song to raise the spirits and end the night. Joe slips in a reference to Mack The Knife with the line ‘careful how you move Mac, you dig me in the back/ And I’m so pilled up that I rattle’ but ultimately this is a rave up and a celebration with Joe exhorting ‘tell your Mama Mama/ tell your Papa Papa/ everything’s gonna be alright’. The drop in the middle with the organ break and then Joe and the band coming back in is nothing short of wonderful. As the horns and organ and drums/bass/guitar begin to wind up their circling groove Joe goes into full on sequined jacket entertainer mode with the show band end of song announcement…

‘Any song you want
Playing requests now on the bandstand
El Clash combo
Paid fifteen dollars a day
Weddings, parties, anything
And bongo jazz a speciality…’

Revolution Rock

And that should be that but at the very end of the sessions, almost as the amps are unplugged and lights turned off Mick turns up with another song, one written the night before- Train In Vain. Riding in on a chugging railway rhythm, a superb instantly recognisable drumbeat from Topper, some harmonica and a funky guitar riff, and Mick’s feathery vocal about being left and alone, Train In Vain is a Clash pop song and none the worse for it. There’s a nod to Tammy Wynette in the my- girl- done- left- me lyrics (and she had left him Train In Vain being the second song on the album to be written in the aftermath of Mick’s break up with Viv Albertine) and to Ben E King with the ‘stand by me’ refrain. Mick’s in fine voice on the song especially the bit where he sings the ‘you must expl-ai- ai- ainn… why this must be’ part and it’s genuine and heartfelt. Joe was a bit dismissive of the song, a corny love song in his view, making vomiting faces when they played it live sometimes. It broke them in the USA though, a top 30 single. Viv, no stranger herself to being confrontational and spiky not least in song lyrics, says in her book Boys Clothes Music it is one of her favourite Clash songs.

Train In Vain wasn’t listed on London Calling’s sleeve. This led to various rumours and for a while it was going to be put out on an NME flexidisc giveaway but this fell through so it was put at the end of the album, the sleeve having already gone to print but the discs not yet gone to press. It’s difficult to imagine London Calling without it and after everything you’ve listened to and engaged with over the four sides that precede it, it’s a great way to fade out. On 18th February 1980 they played it at Lewisham Odeon, a gig some readers of this blog attended.

I used to work with a man who lived next door to Ray Lowry in Waterfoot, Lancashire. Ray was the cartoonist and illustrator who designed the album’s famous cover and then accompanied The Clash, at Strummer’s insistence, as their official war artist, sending hand drawn and written accounts to the NME as they toured the USA. My ex- colleague said Ray was a lovely bloke, a genuine character with tales to spare. Sadly Ray died in 2008 but there was an excellent exhibition of his work at Salford Art Gallery in 2009/2010 which I went to. There’s lots of his work here.

The sleeve obviously is legendary mainly due to Pennie Smith’s shot of Paul as he brings his bass guitar down on the stage at the New York Palladium, taking out his frustrations at the seated venue and the gig, his skinny, splayed legs instantly part of popular culture. Pennie famously had to step back quickly to take the picture and has always said it’s slightly out of focus- Joe always insisted it was the album cover from the moment he saw it. I’ve always loved the shot of Mick on the back cover too, skipping out of the spotlight onstage in Atlanta, Georgia with the crowd right up against the lip of the stage, no crush barriers or photographer’s pit, no distance at all between band and audience.

Value for money was a punk trope, the importance of not ripping the fans off was paramount. ‘Two albums for the price of one’ Joe claimed regarding London Calling and later ‘no Clash album will ever cost more than a fiver’. CBS didn’t agree. The band took a hit on the price of London Calling with (I think) it having to reach a sales figure of 100, 000 before they started making money from the royalties. The 40th anniversary vinyl re-issue is priced at £34.99, with a transparent sleeve that is removable so you can take off Ray Lowry’s Elvis inspired typography to see Pennie Smith’s shot of Simmo about to destroy his bass on its own. I’ll resist the temptation at that price thank you very much. Even with inflation factored in that’s a lot of money. Maybe, as The Clash pointed out themselves earlier in 1979, that’s The Cost Of Living. Or maybe its just another example of turning rebellion into money.

The punks and the purists say that London Calling is a long way from punk, and I suppose it is a long way from Year Zero, ‘No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones’ and the absolute single mindedness of 1976. But The Clash had realised sounding like 1976 forever was a dead end and as a group they had to move on. The whole point of signing to CBS was to reach as many people as possible. Critics say that London Calling just put the group into the tradition of rock history, aligning them with the very lineage they were supposed to be a break from. They say that London Calling’s rebellion is posturing, a safe and comfortable rebellion, with the familiar sounds of ska, rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, soul, funk and rock all showing that the band were never really punks at all. But there’s plenty in the nineteen songs on these four sides which is exhilarating, confrontational, questioning and infused with the electricity of punk, the raw spirit of what fired them up in the first place. There were bands at the same time going deeper, going to the existential extremities of post punk- PiL released Metal Box in the same year, Unknown Pleasures came out earlier in 1979, both are more internalised, bleaker and more experimental excursions out of the punk. London Calling isn’t an internal expression of bleakness or suppressed emotions, it looks out into the world, takes glee in the colours and varieties on offer, takes shots at those in power and stands up for the underdog. Punk, looking back, wasn’t a new start, it was a full stop, the last gasp of the cycle of garage bands that began in 1955, spun round to 1966 and arced again in 1977. The new start was what came next, the splintering of the new groups and sounds in a thousand directions, something which continued to resonate in the next youthquake of the late 80s. The Clash found their own road out of punk’s cul de sac with London Calling, a record that is thrilling, emotional, open minded and most of all alive.

Paul Simonon ‘I never wanted to go back and relive the glory days, I just want to keep moving forward. That’s what I took from punk. Keep going. Don’t look back.’

Outward Journeys

Today’s musical accompaniment is from another Ghost Box album that I’ve been playing recently, Outward Journeys by The Belbury Circle. The music is all early 80s synths and Tomorrow’s World optimism, sequencers and driving rhythms, a homemade version of the future. The Belbury Circle is the paring of two of Ghost Bx’s main artists, Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly (you can see how they came up with the new name). Two of the songs feature vocals and synth from genuine 80s pioneer John Foxx. Journeys and travel are a recurring theme throughout the nine songs with references to cat’s eyes, transport, departures and heading home in the song titles.

Cloudburst Five is a three and a half minute burst of joy, bullet train rhythms and melodic bass runs with synth toplines that sound like they’ve come straight from the theme tune a semi- forgotten sci fi TV series about a pair of time travelling secret agents who turn up to fight invisible enemies in a quarry in Wales with help from a group of children in parkas and some Roundheads.

Cloudburst Five

People And Places

I found this track at the weekend (while looking for the Intastella one) and it’s struck a deep chord with me over the last few days. In 2017 Geoffroy Mugwump released a compilation album called Moving House with tracks from himself and like minded friends including Roman Flügel who contributed this one- some chilly and emotive electronics, pulsing bass, a rattling snare and sweeping synthesised strings. Plenty of Kraftwerkian vibes going on. Moving house indeed.

People And Places

That’s Just The Beat Of Time, The Beat That Must Go On

London Calling side three- the shortest of the four sides of vinyl that make up London Calling, only four songs compared to five on each of the others (and one that is less than two minutes long). In a way it is the oddest of the four sides. Sides one and two, from the opener and title track through to Rudie Can’t Fail and then from Spanish Bombs on the flip running through to The Guns Of Brixton, have a real flow despite their wide range, from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to reggae. Side three seems a bit like the place where they put the four songs that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. That’s not a criticism of any of the songs as such, more that the jumps from one to the next are bigger, they seem less sonically unified.

Side three starts with the group’s cover of Wrong ‘Em Boyo, originally by Jamaican ska outfit The Rulers in 1967. Paul had brought the song into the rehearsal sessions at Vanilla and it was still there by the time they came to record with Guy Sevens at Wessex. It kicks off with Mickey Gallagher’s organ, the band vamping and Joe bawling out the opening line about Stagger Lee meeting Billy at a card game. At thirty seconds, just like in the original, they grind to a halt and Joe calls out ‘start all over again’. Mick, Paul, Topper and Gallagher come back in with the skank, the Irish Horns are back and everything goes ska . Lyrically Wrong ‘Em Boyo calls out the cheats and the hoodlums- ‘why do you cheat and trample people under your feet?/ Don’t you know it is wrong to cheat a trying man?’ and ‘you lie, steal, cheat and deceit/ in such a small, small game’

The Stagger Lee myth goes back to the late nineteenth century. Stag, real name Lee Shelton, and Billy Lyons had a drunken altercation while playing cards on Christmas Day. Stag shoots Billy dead. Stag O’ Lee (or Stagger Lee) would be picked up later and die in prison. The myth became a standard for song writers and singers from Fred Waring in 1928 to Lloyd Price in 1959 to Nick Cave in 1996.

Greil Marcus wrote about the Stagger Lee myth in his book Mystery Train in a chapter about centred around Sly Stone. In 1991 Joe would go on to star in a Jim Jarmusch film of the same name playing a washed up Englishman freshly abandoned by both work and his girlfriend who gets caught up in a robbery.

From Wrong ‘Em Boyo we head straight into side three’s first Strummer/Jones original, the epic Death Or Glory. Mick wrote one of his best tunes with this one, a full on rocker packed with melodies, lead lines and riffs and Joe came up with a lyric that explores the entire myth of youth, ageing and rock ‘n’ roll, first expressed by The Who a decade earlier, the one about dying before getting old. Mick’s acoustic guitar opens up, Paul’s bass bouncing in too, then an electric guitar picking out a lead line before the moment with the crunching riff at twenty two seconds where they’re all totally on it and in it. Then Joe-

‘Now every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world
Ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl
‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ tattooed across the knuckles of his hands
The hands that slap his kids around ‘cos they don’t understand…’

Clang! Clang! Chorus, Joe and Mick together, in unison…

‘Death or glory
Become just another story
Death or glory
Just another story’

For all the myth making of Rudie Can’t Fail and The Guns Of Brixton, the braggadocio, the group’s rebel image, the court case for shooting racing pigeons and love of trouble with the law this is a counter balance. The cheap hood in the first verse is a frustrated and violent middle aged man. His kids feel his wrath and they don’t know why he’s angry. The rebel rock ‘n’ rollers, the boys in the band, get the same treatment in verse two-

‘And every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock ‘n’ roll
Grabs the mic to tell us all he’ll die before he’s sold’

Joe is surely pointing at himself here as much as Roger Daltry or Mick Jagger and then the killer line-

‘But I believe in this and it’s been tested by research
He who fucks nuns will later join the church’

The rock ‘n’ roll dream dissected in four lines and destroyed. We always become what we once hated. Youth inevitably gives way to ageing. The hippies sold out, the punks have too. Whatever comes next will do the same. Nothing special to see here, just another story. Another crunching chorus and then the song breaks down. Topper runs round the kit, Joe squawks, Paul’s bass runs up and down, Mick peels some lines off and then they start to build back up for another chorus, Joe with a spoken section…

‘Fear in the gun sights
They say ‘lie low’
You say ‘OK’
Don’t wanna play a show
No other thinking
Was it death or glory now?
Playing the blues of kings
Sure looks better now’

After the chorus Joe shouts out to all the groups that haven’t made it, all the garage bands-

‘In every dingy basement, in every dingy street
Every dragging hand clap over every dragging beat
That’s just the beat of time, the beat that must go on
If you’ve been trying for years we’ve already heard your song’

Whether Joe’s sympathetic or thinks they’re wasting their time isn’t entirely clear, the chorus comes in again with the claim that death or glory is just another story. This verse could be a shout out to the unheard of bands or just telling them there’s nothing new under the sun. Strummer, who spent quite a few years struggling and trying to make it and who left his previous band in the lurch when the new thing came along, is saying here that it doesn’t matter, it’s all bullshit, we all kill the thing we love and grow old. I’ve never been able to decide if this is cynicism or realism. But it’s a great song, one of the album’s highlights. It doesn’t stop there either, there’s a rousing final section following the breakdown where Mick’s acoustic guitar and Paul’s bass bubble up again, Joe talking about ‘we gotta march a long way/ fight along time/ we gotta  travel over mountains… we gonna cause trouble/ we’re gonna raise hell’.

So maybe despite the hypocrisy of becoming what you stood against, the struggle is still worth fighting, the pursuit has to take place. Just another story.

The split second gap between songs occurs again, the guitars of Death Or Glory stop ringing and we’re into Koka Kola with some sound effects and Joe calling out ‘elevator going up!’. Koka Kola is a sub- two minute dash, Joe singing about the power of advertising and the corporate world (and with a mention of the White House, politics too). Coked up ad executive goes to meetings, sells products, does more drugs, hangs out with party girls, Koke adds life. It’s an album track on a side made up of of one offs and it’s all over pretty quickly as Joe shouts out ‘freeze, hit the deck’. Slagging off the world of advertising was of course just one of many things that would lead to critics of the band accusing them of hypocrisy. In 1991 Should I Stay Or Should I Go was used to sell jeans for Levi’s. In 2002 London Calling sold cars for Jaguar. In 2012 it was used again, this time for British Airways. 

Then we get to side three, track four and The Card Cheat, the least Clash sounding of any of the songs on London Calling and one of my favourites. It was recorded late on in the sessions, Mick and engineer Bill Price trying to get that Phil Spector Wall of Sound by recording every instrument twice, doubling everything up. Led by a Mick Jones double piano part and slamming drum and guitar parts and Mick’s vocal, totally overwrought but utterly heartfelt, telling the story of ‘a solitary man crying ‘hold me’… because he’s-a lonely’. He’s doomed of course, the card cheat must pay for his crimes (just as Billy did at the start of side three), and ‘he won’t be alive for long’. The card game plays out, the King of Spades is put down but the dealer has cottoned on, something’s wrong, and soon the cheat is forced to his knees and shot dead. The horns swell, the pianos pound away, it’s all very cinematic and grandiose. Apparently Joe wrote the words and Mick sang them and there’s a classic Joe lyrical switch and suddenly we’re back in Death Or Glory territory, Joe looking at the sweep of human history-

‘From the Hundred Years War to the Crimea
With a lance and a musket and a Roman spear
To all of the men who have stood without fear
In the service of the King’

In other words, this has all happened before, it’s just another story, nothing is new- like the dingy basements and dingy streets two songs before. A pointless death over a card game and pointless deaths in wars. Joe then hands out some advice-

‘Before you met your fate
Be sure you did not forsake
Your lover, may not be around’

Mick’s brilliance as a musician, an arranger and in the studio is all over this song, always threatening to cross the line but completely convincing. At the end of the song the first verse comes back in, a re-run and a loop, the solitary man crying ‘hold me’ who won’t be alive for long. Maybe this is the point of side three, the songs are linked by their lyrics and themes: the card cheat and murder in Wrong ‘Em Boyo and a myth that had already been around for nearly a century; the rock ‘n’ roll, hope I die before I get old myth; the adman who’s sold his soul to Koka Kola; the man in The Card Cheat, going through the motions that will lead to his death, the same old story for two thousand years. Everyone missing the point, looking for the quick win and easy money but failing to see that ‘their lover, may not be around’.

The Card Cheat

That’s my thoughts anyway. There’s enough room with these songs that you may have different interpretations. I’ve been listening to side three and getting different things from it since first hearing it in 1989. None of the songs are the band’s best known but two of them (Death Or Glory and The Card Cheat) are the equal of any others on this record. They also set us up very nicely for side four which comes in with a rare misstep but soon puts things right.

Monday’s Long Song

In 2002 Drexciya released Grava 4, yet another inventive and adventurous album from the Detroit duo. Sparse electro, spacey techno and their slavery/science fiction back story in one perfectly realised package. The albums eight tracks culminate in the swansong Astronomical Guidepost, a lengthy, slightly forlorn piece of techno that also points to a way out. The drum machine rattles away, electronic arpeggios come and go, synths buzz and occasionally a voice interrupts to say ‘use the star chart to fix the celestial navigation point, from there you should be able to plot your way back to Earth’.

Astronomical Guidepost

Gerald Donald and James Stinson had a detailed and highly politicised background- their four albums plot out the story of pregnant slaves who were thrown overboard from Atlantic slave ships. Their children evolved to live underwater in a place called Drexciya. They later expanded this- the Africans kidnapped as slaves who became the Drexciyans were originally from Ociya Snydor, a planet deep in the outer space, 700 million light years away from Earth. Stinson died in 2002 and Donald doesn’t talk much about Drexciya so the albums and the highly charged political legend are all that remain- dark Detroit electro/techno that had its feet on the dancefloor and its eyes on the US’s history of slavery.