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Brother on the Slide: the ‘clunky, funky’ story of the RAH Band. A British success borne out of soul weekenders, jazz arranging and noodling to emerge ahead of his time.

Timeless dance music made in the 1980s, using guitars and pedals at first and later augmented by an early synthesiser – all manipulated by an avowed jazz man and largely self-taught studio creative who never went clubbing…

We’re not talking Prince but rather the UK’s Richard Hewson however there is a similar sense of a one-man band doing his own thing to stunning effect. Back in 1985 the Richard Anthony Hewson Band aka the RAH Band peaked in the charts with Clouds Across The Moon. Without wanting to take anything from that achievement, it’s perhaps Richard’s intentional work for the dance-floor that truly marks him out as a lone visionary.

RAH Band
MOONING OVER MUSIC: The RAH Band

The impending release of the Producers Choice album, a compilation of the RAH Band’s club tracks from 1980 to 1988 by Martin ‘Atjazz’ Iveson, shows how productive and funkily successful Hewson was back then – and how potent his tracks still are today.

Richard is now in his mid-seventies and still putting in the hours in his converted garage studio. He was born in Stockton-upon-Tees, County Durham, in the North-east of England, where he stayed till he was ten. His dad moved the family to Cheshire and then Croydon post-World War 2, but the Surrey suburbs didn’t appeal and Richard joined the Navy, inadvertently starting off his musical career in the process.

‘That’s where I started doing music really as somebody left a guitar in my cabin. I ran ashore and bought a book, ‘How to Play the Guitar’. That would have been in the Fifties. The first ever tune I learnt was Green Door,’ he said down a phone-line with a note of glee in his voice. ‘I was coming to music quite old as I was 16. I progressed along and after leaving the Merchant Navy after a couple of years. I got quite good. I had a day job and was doing jazz gigs in the evening – I was a jazz head, not really a pop man at all, and started to make a living as a jazz guitar player. This was ’63, ’64.

‘I’d moved to London at this point. I met Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon fame. His sister, Jane, was going out with Paul McCartney at the time, so I met Paul. He had this gig at the time with Mary Hopkins, the Welsh folk singer. I went to college for a night course to learn orchestration. Peter said Paul was looking for an arranger, but he didn’t want one of the ordinary pop arrangers around at that time. So he said ‘why don’t you try Richard? He’s a really good guitar player and he’s studying orchestration so give him a go.’ So that was my first gig in the pop business [arranging The Long and Winding Road] for The Beatles.’

Still a jazzer at heart, Richard recounted how London luminaries Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott were around in the mid Sixties. ‘I played in Ronnie’s a few times with a guy, Kenny Wheeler [trumpeter long associated with Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker]. We had a little band, played around town with some great musicians. They’re all gone now – except for one guy I occasionally use: Pete King, a brilliant alto sax player. I believe he’s still around but he’d be my age, in his late Seventies.’

As a young man, Richard had reasonable ambitions by any modern rule of thumb. ‘I was a jazz head and had these ideas of jazz guitar playing, I wanted to be like Jim Hall [esteemed guitarist who worked with Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Ron Carter, Sonny Rollins], but I was getting married and had a young family, and jazz does not pay. It was, like, £5 a gig if you were lucky, in Ronnie’s and other places. So, as the Mary Hopkins thing did very well, I got drawn into the pop arranging side simply because of the success of that which paid a lot more than jazz.’

Richard had already started composing in his own right: ‘I wrote little tunes, not pop. But the arranging side of things really took over and I spent most of my time in the Sixties arranging. The list of people I worked with is endless. I didn’t meet all of them, that’s the funny thing. You just worked on the analogue tape, almost like you do today, except the tapes were flown across the Atlantic.

‘Some people like Supertramp, they recorded in the studio and I was there… …Carly Simon, Diana Ross – she just sent the tape over and I had to work on it and send it back. With Art Garfunkel [when still working with Paul Simon], he came over to London. The big artists usually would send a producer and a tape, and you’d work to that. I did that up until the mid Seventies.

‘After that, I started to realise that arranging was not the future for me. It was okay money but you don’t get royalties for arranging. There’s no residuals at all. I was watching all these guys make millions out of things I’d worked on and I was making forty quid. I thought ‘This ain’t it. I’ve got to start writing and producing my own stuff’.

I hired a little multi-track machine, did something in my bedroom, was one of the first bedroom bands I suppose, and made The Crunch. That was huge – still is – and I thought this is better, there’s a few bob coming in now, so I cooled off on arranging and concentrated on production.’

The Crunch is of its time, all punky and glittery if not a slight football terrace stomp. Although it’s a galaxy away from Richard’s later work, he valiantly and understandably still appreciates it. ‘It’s the first one I did on my productions so I was cobbling together whatever I could lay my hands on, play it myself then add on the brass in a professional studio to finish off the track. In those days, instead of using the reggae session guys, I used the jazz players, like Pete King who’s on that track. It’s got quite a jazzy feel to it. I did that one and it did very well, and I kept working and did the RAH album, which was basically jazz funk. I wanted to have a hit but with a pop jazz record.’

If one sees the multi-racial line up (including a black female guitarist) of the RAH Band on a 1977 edition of Top of the Pops, ‘The Crunch’ appears to put the lager into schlager; it’s more Oi! than anything else, but Richard laments that the footage available on YouTube and other sharing sites doesn’t have the actual song he composed and played.

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THE REPLACEMENTS: Two of the group hired for the Top of the Pops pretence

As for the diverse group who stomp their way through the performance? Not a single one of them was known to Richard and he himself did not appeared on camera. ‘I was so busy with arranging. You only get a day’s notice and I couldn’t do it as I was already booked to do an orchestral session, so RCA Records in their wisdom decided to just hire some guys off the street. Just some random guys. In those days you had to play live, you couldn’t mime.’

With The Crunch reaching No. 6 in the pop charts, the R(ichard) A(nthony) H(ewson) Band were up and running… if not stomping quite like before. An instrumental release Jiggery Pokery/Porridge emerged in a similar fashion to its precursor; this was then followed by Is Anybody There, a reggae-influenced 1978 single with a male vocal refrain singing the title. It’s more substantial as a track – and also more restrained than the slightly frenzied Crunch – and Richard was amused to hear of Jiggery mentioned as he reported that he had recently responded to an industry pitch looking for a reggae pop record. How ever much success a man can have, he still feels the need to hustle.

With the release of Electric Fling, the RAH Band‘s releases took on a more blacker sound with what sounded like an organ, front and centre of the single, backed by some subtle keyboard and FX work in the background alongside wood percussion. It’s a little reminiscent of George Martin‘s Theme One (1968) – where the Beatles producer merged Bach, James Bond themes and the sounds of the Fab Four – with Hewson outlining how creative he had to be in the studio.

‘I didn’t actually own a synthesiser. All those sounds on that and going back to The Crunch were manipulated guitars through pedals. I was eventually given some synths by Roland. One I still use, the first one I got, was the Roland JX8P, which was fantastic, and then the SH5 [analogue mono synth with ring modulator, released in 1976]. But I was trying to develop electronic sounds without using synths. Synths like the mini-Moog were only just coming out at that time and I was busy developing my sound through pedals. I didn’t worry about it but when I was given the synths, I thought ‘oh, this sounds good!’

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THE KEYS OF LIFE: Roland‘s SH-5

 

1980’s Tokyo Flyer was the first track to feature Richard’s synth work and its pulsing synth lines showcased his new-found ability to use a sequencer. He was now indicating his innate affinity with the dance-floor, but un-beknownst to dancers brought to the floor – he was very much a homebody instead. ‘I rarely went out to clubs and such, only if it was a party. The biggest influence on me at that time because of the synths was Giorgio Moroder. He got into synths around the same time as me, perhaps earlier, and that famous backing track for I Feel Love uses the JX8P.’

Richard was now playing guitar, bass, drums and keyboards on every RAH release but the next change in his musical direction/set-up came when The Falcon was released the same year. Unlike the previous singles, Richard dropped the pace to a two-step rhythm and a sax took the lead, with a guitar line still present though muted.

‘A young of friend of mine who’s sadly not with us any more, Ray Warleigh, a young alto sax player, and a drummer who, again, has gone, Barry de Souza [respected session man who played on Lou Reed‘s Transformer LP], those two guys were good jazz mates. I’d written everything for The Falcon but thought it would be nice to have some sax on it so that brought it more into jazz-funk, and took it up a level.’

1980’s Tokyo Flyer was the first track to feature Richard’s synth work and its pulsing synth lines showcased his new-found ability to use a sequencer. He was now indicating his innate affinity with the dance-floor, but – un-beknownst to dancers brought to the floor – he was very much a homebody instead. ‘I rarely went out to clubs and such, only if it was a party. The biggest influence on me at that time because of the synths was Giorgio Moroder. He got into synths around the same time as me, perhaps earlier, and that famous backing track for I Feel Love uses the JX8P.’

Richard was now playing guitar, bass, drums and keyboards on every RAH release but the next change in his musical direction/set-up came when The Falcon was released the same year. Unlike the previous singles, Richard dropped the pace to a two-step rhythm and a sax took the lead, with a guitar line still present though now more muted.

‘A young of friend of mine who’s sadly not with us any more, Ray Warleigh, a young alto sax player, and a drummer who, again, has gone, Barry de Souza [respected session man who played on Lou Reed‘s Transformer LP], those two guys were good jazz mates. I’d written everything for The Falcon but thought it would be nice to have some sax on it so that brought it more into jazz-funk, and took it up a level.’

 

DJs like Chris Hill at the Caister Soul Weekenders and Greg Wilson at Wigan Pier were the first to pick up on the record, according to Richard, and it became a club record before it crossed over into the pop charts. ‘We had quite a lot of success at Caister. I never went myself but I had a great champion in a guy called Greg Edwards. He probably helped to break the RAH Band more than anybody in the dance scene.

‘Greg was on Capitol [Radio] at that time. I think his show was Soul Spectrum on a Friday and a Saturday. I would put a white label of a track in the post in a mailer and send on a Thursday to Greg [Edwards]. On the Friday he’d been playing it on the radio! This is how it was then. Back in the day there were no committees or playlists; it was just straight on the radio and gave a great exposure to the record.’

For themselves, the two Gregs are still positive about the RAH’s work. Mr. Edwards remembers Richard as ‘a very talented one man band’, whilst Mr. Wilson put Richard’s work into context: ‘They fell into the newly emerged British Jazz-Funk movement, along with bands like Shakatak, Level 42, Freeez and Linx.’

At Wigan Pier as elsewhere, Richard’s productions proved to be potent. The support he received from radio and club DJs was essential as there was little in the way of press exposure for the RAH Band. Compounding this was a lack of gigs. Richard admits there was no touring, no personal appearances at Caister or other soul weekenders. In his defence, he thought it was common knowledge that the band was only him, but he now knows not everyone was cognisant of that.

‘Mostly everyone realised it was a one-man band and it wouldn’t have been practical [to tour] but, funnily enough, I was invited to the Jakata Jazz Festival.’ On the phone, Richard emphasises the name of the city and festival, partly still amused and partly still in wonder, perhaps, as to why he didn’t board a plane to Indonesia.

‘[The festival organisers] didn’t know it wasn’t a real band. On the bill at the festival was the first guy I ever worked commercially with as a jazz musician, Herbie Hancock. He was booked to do a film called Blow Up [1966]. Herbie was the same age as me and he was playing with Miles Davis at that time. I was at college at that time and my teacher said he had a gig with Herbie. He said he was going to plunge me in at the deep end and I’d take it over as Herbie didn’t know anything about orchestration so I had to go away and work with him on this film. Oh my gawd!’

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A HEAD: Master pianist Herbie Hancock circa late 1960s

‘So when that Jakata thing came up, I wondered if I should put a band together and go and see Herbie again, but I didn’t.’ Would the necessary inconvenience of assembling a band and then rehearsing them not have been a small price to pay for travelling around the world on someone else’s dollar? Richard replied, a little ruefully: ‘It was not in my blood to play tours. I’ve never tried it… it might have worked, [but] I just didn’t have it. I didn’t feel I had the stage presence that you need to do that. I was just a musician and I loved playing in a studio, recording. That was the heart of it and still is.’

Although he and the chief Headhunter, one-time Miles Davis band member, weren’t to meet again, Richard was able to touch bass with other jazzers close to his heart. ‘During the early Eighties, I did enjoy doing a few jobs in Los Angeles and working in a different environment. One of the biggest thrills then was working on a film called Xanadu [starring Olivia Newton John] as an arranger-cum-composer. They wanted a big band for a few tracks in the film and they asked me if I could do it even though they had all these great guys over there.

‘I thought it was a great chance so when I got to LA, the contractors asked me who I would like to use and I said I didn’t know… I asked him if he had any of [Count] Basie‘s band members? He said [adopts a laid-back voice], ‘yeah, I think we’ve got quite a few around here’. He got them together and on the day, I put the music on the stands and these guys, all older guys, very cool, wandered in and sat down, ‘Hey Ben, how you doin’? How’s the family?’ Not looking at my music and I was thinking ‘oh dear, I hope you start looking at it in a minute’. But I stood up on the podium, ‘One, two three four’ and bam! I’d never heard anything like it. There’s something about the American jazz players… …that was amazing, a great, great experience.’

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MAN ON FIRE: The label for ‘Slide’

Back to Blighty and such was Richard’s love of working in his home studio, a next release quickly emerged in 1981. Accompanied by Warleigh and de Souza once more, Richard came into his own. For its time, Slide would have a commercial chart-friendly sound with the sax at the forefront, but the whole track chugs along very nicely still most notably because of its growling, dirty bassline. ‘The whole album revolved around those two tracks,’ said Richard and his work started to become ever more blacker and ever more efficient at filling dance-floors – then and now.

Riding on a Fantasy (1981), a track which might have sneaked out under the name of Donald Byrd, was a still-commercial but tightly-controlled piece of jazz funk. ‘I guess it was my way of interpreting my idea of what pop music was, I guess. I was still heavily into jazz but through the arranging I grasped the construction of pop records as I worked with lots of people who were good at that. My approach was a combination of jazz music, which is linear, and pop music which tends to be four-bar, eight bar structures. I did a bit of both and mixed it up a bit.’

The B side to Riding… is Rock Me Down To Rio. It has an uninterrupted groove with what appears to be a vocoder on top of proceedings… except, as usual, Richard wasn’t using one. ‘It was all my jazz guys playing the brass bits and I was singing in unison. I could sing quite high then… I can’t now!’ A brief attempt followed but Richard quickly protested that it wasn’t possible.

So is it not difficult to to make dance music if you don’t leave the studio? ‘I do a lot of listening to the specialist shows and pick up what’s going on. I am a frustrated dancer, probably. I can’t do what’d I’d like to do but I know the moves I’d like to make if I could! My sons and grandchildren will be listening to something and I’ll say ‘Have you heard the new Post Malone track?’ he chuckled. ‘With dance music, even today, a lot of people start off with a groove and don’t think about the song until afterwards… I know I’ve done that many times. But first of all you build a groove, that’s the most important thing.’

Ramsey Lewis is another jazz man whose career easily took in disco and funk and Richard admitted ‘I was probably influenced [by him] as a lot of the things he did have a ‘stop’ at the end, a dramatic pause, and I did pick up on that.’

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THIS WAY UP: The 12″ release’s label (Discogs)

Such pauses are a recognisable RAH trademark and can be heard on Downside Up, his third single released in 1981. Cut from the cloth as Slide, its irresistible groove and part-Italo, part-Loft vibe is just as important as its minor keys, springy bass and hefty kick drums. The B side Dream On continues with the space theme – ‘astronomy was a hobby of mine’ – but the A side showed that Mr. Hewson had now honed his skills to a raised level.

Downside Up and the other 12 tracks on the Producers Choice compilation are going to be ‘beefed up’ by Martin Iveson as Richard outlined: ‘He’s going to re-master them, not edit them, and put them out in their original form.’

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CUTTING CREW: The hugely talented Michael Jonzun

Tears And Rain (1982) showcased the first vocal on a RAH track. Everything was much more subdued due to the angelic, youthful voice of Richard’s ex-wife and a typical love lyric. Again, the B side is an altogether more interesting affair. Hungry for Jungle Love is (seemingly) another vocoder track with electro vibes, redolent of the Jonzun Crew, courtesy of the now embedded Roland technology.

‘The session girls did the vocals for me which was a bit of a departure as I didn’t normally use them. I wanted a bit more of a hungry, jungly sound. There were two great vocalists, Sue and Sunni, who did all the soul and jazz vocal sessions. I was using the Roland a lot at this point, added to guitar and bass. It was a busy time for me. Still string arrangement work and the RAH Band at the same time. I had a good set-up with a 24-track which I’m still using now, still rumbles on.’

‘My way of working is quite clunky by most people’s standards. I have a digital recorder, a multi-track one, which edits brilliantly. If I wanted – like with this new album – to do remixes of old tracks, I can feed the analogue into the digital track to work on it. I’m not using digital machines to finish masters though. I’ve still got all of my old gear, though a lot of it has broke. My son, who’s a jazz musician and writer, when he comes round and asks if we can switch on something and I have to tell him it’s not working. I have an old Soundcraft desk which is brilliant but a lot of the channels stick and some of the buttons don’t work. It really needs a big overhaul.’

Richard continued to work with his then-wife on songs like Perfumed Love Garden and on and on dance-floor-orientated tracks such as Messages from the Stars (1983) [remixed by Atjazz back in 2010]. Its synth work complements the vocal well and the Long Wave mix is especially effective with so many different keyboard parts. 1983’s Sam the Samba Man explored echo with bass to the forefront and 1984’s Dream Street had the spirit of Sharon Redd and top electro boogie label Prelude. By 1988, and Nice Easy Money with its spoken word samples, he’d changed with the times and tried to keep his sound fresh after having issued at least two singles every year between 1980 and 1989. Technology was beginning to speed ahead with the limitless possibilities of capacity if not creativity…

‘When I think of using computers compared to my way of working, I think there’s too much choice. I went to a show the other day and this guy was telling me he had a new sequencer pack which you could put in your computer and you’d have 30,000 different drum sounds and I thought ‘Which one would I pick today!’ I have three drum sounds so I have to use one of them. It sounds primitive but when you have a blank canvas that’s three miles squared – blank – where do you start drawing? Whereas I have one that’s about six inches squared, if you like, and I know where I’m going. It’s kind of clunky, funky….’

Producers Choice has a vinyl release scheduled for Record Store Day on April 18th with a digital release on the 26th.

 

Music: Bubblegum and leather vs psychedelic tension: the merits of Siouxsie Sioux and her Banshees’ B-sides

It’s now decades after their numerous hits first charted and led to fame and success: Siouxsie Sioux has largely vanished from the public sphere and retired to France whereas Debbie Harry has continued to tour and register on our collective consciousness, prodded as we are into collective recognition by PR companies and major labels, because of both her and Blondie‘s music and also due to her eminence as a style icon. Harry is afforded more praise in London than her native New York whereas the former is perhaps now filed away in a drawer marked ‘Difficult to appraise’, or ‘too young to die, too old to enthuse over’.

Each is unique and unassailable in eternal hipness if for only one instance: playing a prime part in the Grundy interview of the Sex Pistols for one; the other a Fab Five Freddy and a Grandmaster Flash shout and persuading fucking graffiti don Jean-Michel Basquiat to pretend to be a fucking DJ in your video. Their cool cannot be dissed. Both are worth a million Taylor Swifts, needless to say.

One was a visible member of the ‘Bromley contingent’ originally, who were relatively high-profile dilettantes sprung from London borough suburbs who peacock’d their way into newspaper coverage through attendance at pivotal punk concerts and clubs in the English capital. Across the Atlantic a dirty blonde, who screamed of attitude and insouciance regarding any ambition she might have, was fronting a band of spindly New Wavers who looked at home with bubblegum and comics as much as leather jackets and piss-stained drain-pipe denim.

Blondie (six UK Number 1s and 19 songs that were Top 40 hits) have the superior chart stats compared to two Top 10s and 18 Top 40s for Siouxsie‘s group, The Banshees; Parallel Lines (1978) was the only one of my parents’ LPs which fizzed with a truth and energy borne out of the tail-end of the Seventies.

1988’s Peek-A-Boo however unexpectedly merged something of the buoyant and brassy funk of Prince with backward drums that spoke of an English-nay European whimsical psychedelia (no wonder Basement Jaxx, another crew not tethered by musical boundaries, roped Sioux into singing on their Kisk Kash album). Where and when Blondie’s pop sense deserted them, the Banshees came back hard.

Both of these pioneering women made a sizeable mark in music – Blondie were semi-permanent mainstays in the pop charts throughout the Eighties – however it’s Siouxsie’s Banshees whose music, A and B sides, deserves another listen today.

Hong Kong Garden was their first hit – sounding now like Big Country meets Aneka‘s execrable Japanese Boy. Second single Mittageisen (named after a Hermann Göring quotation and later covered by Massive Attack) married a German lyric to an pull-and-push oompah band rhythm redeemed by a poppy chorus. Its B-side, Love In A Void (here on-line on Tony Wilson and Granada’s So It Goes TV show with a white-shirted Bernard Sumner impersonator swaying at the side of the stage) is a slice of amphetamine rock on a par with the urgency of Joy Division.

The Staircase was a dour vocal performance with scratchy guitar and ponderous backing (one video does show stage moves and a costume which Simple MindsJim Kerr and Teardrops ExplodesJulian Cope would later emulate), but Happy House toned down the thunderous invocations to the punk gods in favour of some silvery delightful notes from ex-Magazine and PiL guitarist John McGeoch amidst crisp drums. It’s playful and cheerful, allowing space for the song to thrive and settle, and it’s not a million miles away from New York’s ESG with a stately yet involving pace.

B side Drop Dead/The Celebration is a methodical, stalking but lovely workout dominated by drill drums and skittering guitar, almost proto-Metallica, with embittered yowls, yeeows and taunts from Siouxsie. While it’s experimental, it avoids the sprawling and aimless lack of direction of previous Bs.

A tale of a ‘banana-skinned lady’, Christine (1980) is a subtle, short and sparse builder that survives some dodgy rhyming (purple and turtle) and an oddly fun flanged bridge to call to mind the off-beat beauty of Arthur Lee and Love. B side Eve White/Eve Black sees the group return to more goth territory: its first minute is an eerie, unsettling listen – Sarah Kane on wax – as Siouxsie asks for help. Her difficult and upsetting childhood comes to mind, but it’s clear the group as a whole were now demonstrating their collective strength when it comes to the upwardly-mobile shift of their changing musical compositions and arrangements.

Israel (1980) has new arrival McGeoch‘s self-duetting guitar upfront from the start and throughout what was perhaps the group’s most subdued and conventional song albeit one with a bridge that marries a choir and drone to winning effect. The hypnotic tom-tom rolls of Red Over White underpin Siouxsie’s barely there vocal and nursery rhyme-like delivery.

The following year’s Spellbound is fantastic; a catchy and tight call-to-arms, as it were, and it’s to be hoped it caused a rush of Pernod and blackcurrant-toting teens to throw their finest ennui-affected shapes and lose their shit to this earworm. From the now-recognisable nursery of Banshees-associated sounds, Follow The Sun is a ’33’ to Spellbound’s breakneck ’45’ with Siouxsie a beguiling narrator amidst other-worldly tinkering, ceremonial drumming and crashing gongs. The song title is drawled out as ‘…falling sun’ towards the end and there’s an ambiguity over the the strength of the inherent defiance in the lyric. It’s almost a collapse of sorts, coming after the breakneck and building euphoria of the A side, but still worth a listen.

Released later in ’82 Arabian Knights falls between those two songs in both tempo and in its cleaving of instrumentation and urgency. The B side though, Supernatural Thing, written by Patrick Grant and the late Gwen Guthrie of Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent fame [they also wrote the majority of Sister Sledge‘s debut album together], is a reasonably faithful cover of Ben E. King‘s 1975 song with those wiry guitars, a rubbery bass and drum fills taking the place of brass and backing singers in the mix. Whether The Banshees deliberately tried to de-funk the song or not, they don’t succeed (but they did presage the stop-start see-saw shuffle of Breaking Into Heaven by the Stone Roses).

Later came the beautiful boinks and quirky bongs of Cities In Dust, a song as quintessentially ‘Eighties’ as The Breakfast Club. That year, Heart of Glass/Hanging on the Telephone was re-released as a double A-side as Blondie’s only single of 1985. The echoes of the Bowery and its rude boys and girls were still to be enjoyed in this double slice of power pop and in the subsequent reissuing of their other memorable 45s, but it was the Banshees who sped on with Siouxsie as a spiky, artfully formidable Boadicea at the helm, stretching the horizons and continuing to break new ground for English post-punk pop.

As with another Eighties success story such as The Cure, a linked and kindred awkward squad, Siouxsie and the Banshees might seem an anachronism – certainly in opposition to the now-canonised Glastonbury tea-time gloss of Tide Is High and Denis – but the music made by Sioux, Steve Serverin and company is anything but.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeve Story #2 – Claustrophobia amongst the fleshpots with 3 In The Attic…

As jury selection for the Harvey Weinstein rape trial begins this week in Manhattan (he is incidentally still a Citizen of the British Empire (CBE)), it’s hardly novel but it is timely to point out the dispiriting history of Hollywood from which the Miramax co-founder sprang from, specifically the flood of schlock made by US and UK studios that must have been as depressing and mind-numbing for actresses to appear in as it was for audiences to suffer them.

For every Some Like It Hot or Midnight Cowboy, there were hundreds of piss-poor B movies and X flicks made for the sole purposes of displaying flesh and soliciting dumbshow acting.

3 In The Attic, a sexploitation flick, is about a lothario – or slag as might be better known today – who is cheating on three women. These voluntary sex objects provide semi-nudity and titillation for hypocritical dads who scorn hippies… They exact their revenge by sexually humiliating their former sweetheart in a university attic. It’s hardly female empowerment, but rather par for the course.

The shamed shagger is played by Christopher Jones who plays support to his hippie signifier, a bead necklace, and to the three actresses whose washboard stomachs, shapely shoulder blades and bouffant hair took centre stage on screen and on the sleeve.

Judy Pace is black and at the back on the front of the cover. She was a frequently-seen guest star in US TV soaps and dramas (and whose daughter followed in her footsteps with her two-year run in The Young and the Restless and a small appearance in the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious). C’est plus change.

Maggie Thrett on the left of the sleeve cover made the cracking single Soupy for esteemed poppy soul songwriter Bob Crewe and also dated Byrds-affiliate and smackhead songwriter Gram Parsons two years later in 1970. Her on-line biography is thin to say the least.

At the front on the right, someone who perhaps didn’t get a crack of the whip: Yvette Mimieux, celebrating her 78th birthday today. She regularly appeared in largely or wholly silent and supine roles – a mentally simple girl, an uncommunicative alien, a surfer on her deathbed for example – opposite the intellectual beefcakes that were Charlton Heston, Rod Taylor and Richard Chamberlain.

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Mimieux is credited with being the first person (i.e. woman) to show her navel on American TV but by the early 1970s she had voiced her unhappiness with the parts offered to her. “The women [male screenwriters] write are all one-dimensional,” she said. “They have no complexity in their lives. It’s all surface. There’s nothing to play. They’re either sex objects or vanilla pudding.”

She later wrote the screenplay for the 1974 TV film Hit Lady which attempted to go one step further than 3 in the Attic in depicting a female killer at work. If you wonder how successful Mimieux was at sticking to a man and then another, clips have been posted on YouTube by porkypricklypants and warriormale which perhaps show how that one worked out…

Back in 1968, The Beatles couldn’t supply every film soundtrack with memorable hits. Every beat group who each owned a shiny suit, possessed vaguely decent teeth and lived within a thirty-mile radius of the River Mersey has long been snapped up by record companies. What to do? Step forward Chad & Jeremy and their ‘Oxford Sound’ (albeit with one of them hailing from Windermere in the Lake District in north-west England. Their record company simply billed him as being from ‘outside of London’. Harumph).

chad jeremy

A slightly straightened Scaffold or a Righteous Brothers gone wrong, this English duo pumped out benign songs which didn’t scare the horses or the suburbs so they were  viewed no doubt as a safe pair of hands for the score. The Small Faces produced Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake and The KinksVillage Green Preservation Society that same year, putting their shared English foibles through a psychedelic mincer to great effect so Chad & Jeremy had to tap into similar vibes.

Their five songs offer the promise of a sample or two for beat-makers, but, largely, it’s all a bit meh… a more than fitting judgement given they were scoring an inter-racial sex comedy – and few four-word phrases have dated as badly as this one.

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A GRIM TALE: The back of the soundtrack sleeve promises viewers oodles of female nudity with Jones’ meat and two veg grumpily hidden to spare his shame.

 

As a post-Tarantino genre, blaxploitation films like Hell Up In Harlem and Superfly have largely been given a pass, though they were quick to shove the likes of Pam Grier in a bikini, so it says something that such two-a-penny films as 3 in the Attic have neither been critically re-discovered nor quietly sustained throughout the years as cult classics.

Given this occasional series is focused on vinyl sleeve covers, let’s look past the lamentable premise of a forgettable film as the artwork does have a certain kitsch appeal (even if little else does). There might not be room to swing a cat in that attic let alone harness a ’68 free love ethos to get it on; the atmosphere is stifling and not sexy; but the semi-transparent drapes and lampshades are to die for.

Poetry: ‘Flit’ and ‘For Sons of Daughters’ in #58 of The Journal

I’m happy to have had two of my poems printed in the Welsh poetry magazine  run by @originalplus. Here below are the first two stanzas of ‘Flit’ and the first three of ‘For Sons of Daughters’.

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Flit

Old lore it was – a form of love –

that held a mode for living.

Heed fast the roles to follow

through en-route, ascension, heaven.

 

Band rates survived the loss of life;

a ledge for new fry flew anew,

as it then done – respectful sons –

a guided stance with atrophied moves.

 

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For Sons of Daughters

Pick up the pegs, avoid her bend

is my sole thought when I survey

these colours splashed outside their house:

this rained-down game, no box or rules.

 

Might next-door spurn this plastic vommed,

not corralled right, but they, their backs,

look well-broke scrat, corners

ornered, destitute.

 

There’s scant chance of a friendly wave

as each follows their own standard,

flower tips afore brought Eid meals with

hasty greetings only then thrown.

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If you want to read the whole of both poems, and other great work, visit https://thesamsmith.webs.com to discover how to subscribe.