Sunday, November 23, 2014
Thursday, November 20, 2014
A little over a quarter century ago, I had the privilege of putting out the debut album by Girl Trouble entitled “Hit It or Quit It” here in Europe. This kicked off a lifelong camaraderie that found all of us together in Benidorm, Spain of all places. In a giant UFO, that doubles as a venue for the biggest annual outright rock’n’roll party in Christendom.
And I finally got to see Isaac Olsen’s “STRICTLY SACRED”, a documentary film that explains exactly why the whole world should care about this crew from Tacoma, WA. Watching it, even on a TV screen and one of those pull-down screen contraptions in a resort pub, was an emotional experience. Here were people that I’ve only ever met a few times but they feel like family. Always did, always will.
Hopefully the flick will get to play in a few places over the coming months ahead of its eventual release with a ton of additional material on DVD in the not so distant future. Ideally it would be shown alongside a performance but ain’t there always logistical hiccups actually doing that. Not least with what it might cost irrespective of the outcome being the most valuable commodity on earth. So anyway, I’m on a mission. I want to be able to hang out with my Pacific Northwest crew again so maybe you know people or have connections to a film festival, or a pop-up cinema or any damn thing that can get this great work of art out to the people who need it.
Which is pretty much everybody, as the world trundles toward hell in the proverbial handbasket.
If you do, then please contact me and together we can maybe bring a little joy to folks ahead of the conflagration. There’s a line in the film that states, “every once in a while, we do land a good gig” or words to that effect. As we ponder the UFO gig after they raised the rafters, that is THEE proverbial understatement. Viva T-Town and then some.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
On the spot report and photos by TRH Lenny Helsing.
Lord Rochester pic by @missrockinrolla
I was thrilled to be attending this year's Funtastic as The Wildebeests were added to the bill as a replacement for young USA fuzz 'n squeal combo The Neumans! Arrived lunch time Friday 31st October in tow with fellow 'Beest Russ Wilkins, as he and his good Lady Muck, as Lord Rochester were slated to perform just a few hours after our arrival. So we missed the opening Thursday night but heard from folks around that it was a top night with Spain's Medway style showcase Loss Cesareas and Autoramas (from Brazil) singled out for praise! And so after driver Sam brought us in from Alicante airport to the Pierre et Vacances hotel / timeshare apartment style facility booked for us we had a wee relax and then headed downtown to see what was happening.
The "being knocked on the head with a hammer over 'n' over again" style of one man band King Cayman was already ringing out when we arrived at RockStar, a bar on one of the numerous "hello is this little England I thought it was Spain" type streets that litter this sun-trap bolthole city... After a beer we await the arrival of Lord Rochester's drummer for the day, the very dapper Jorge from Dr Explosion and head janitor at Estudios Circo Perrotti. Plagued by a few pre-gig sound problems but we were soon on the way with Lord Roch's larger than life Bo Diddley-itis show which was of course proved a surefire winner with the swelling crowd, "Deadly Daddy", "Seven Steps To Heaven" and the utterly infectious strains of "Lucy Lou" gave way to their tasteful cover of Los Mockers' "My Baby" with Jorge out front on harmonica and yours truly behind the traps. They ended with an alternately stomping/hushed Bo Diddley, with your humble scribe adding vocals to "Cadillac" and finally a frantic romp through "Boys". They've plenty of forty-five fayre out on Spanish label Saturno so there's no excuse for including them in your next lil' soirée.
The main party venue for all the evening shenanigans is Ku, which kinda looks like a giant spaceship. You go inside to the main hall with the stage and a few drinks bars and then you step outside but you're still sort of inside; everything bathed in ultra-violet light with more bars, plastic booths etc. This was where all the record and clothes stalls were dotted throughout. Hey, being Hallowe'en there were some pretty weird 'n wonderful costumes to spy too such as the telephone box man, the half-a-tomb with fairy lights inside and a cross on top guy, not to mention a mega plethora of Monster Club style patrons, oh yeah and some giant sex organs who were wandering nonchalantly about. That night's live group action included such as the howling, thumping tones of Cyclops from USA, a one man/one woman apparition of swampy and trashy sounds played out in basic fashion on guitar and drums and a barrage of caterwauling vocals.
Then came The Limboos, a new-ish Spanish group that includes lead guitarist Roi and lead vocalist Marky from The Phantom Keys - one of the saving graces in the Spanish-grown r'n'b garage stakes these last few years. The Keys also used to have former Thanes Mal Kergan in their ranks - just thought I'd mention that ... So anyway yeah, the Limboos - well I dug the more basic stuff they played in the beginning of the set but as soon as they started to get a bit tricksy and almost kinda too clever etc and then bringing in the brass section and ... well it's all a bit too soul revue and polite for my more primal rock'n'roll tastes but a lot of the kids seemed to dig it so who am I to criticise? Except that I do prefer the less is more approach.
For me the absolutely best group of the evening, without a shadow of doubt, were The No-Talents. Of French origin, they are a punk-style group who's wild thriving pizzazz, goose-bumping levels of whirling energy and pure rock'n'roll drive was always gonna put most other groups to shame; guitarist Lili Zeller is one of the best adverts for ever wanting to pick up a guitar and play, while the frantic, whirling dervish moves and vehement sounding, spat-out and hollered vocals of Cecilia are perfect for such a group as this - hers is a name synonymous with many action-packed garage beat and punk projects over the years: Wild Wild Records, the Loud Mufflers, and various other groups to which her first name has been affixed, and more recently, of course, there was the similarly absorbing Operation X.
Anyway, The No-Talents take the fierce spirit of punk rock when it was still great, with just a pinch of the early Slits and Kleenex (cliche I know but it's still what comes through in Cecilia and Lili's shrill staccato vocal outpourings) and the beat and melodic tuneage of some 60s garage beat essence, and they stomp and writhe and jump and shout like the world's about to explode any minute. As I've said all this bluster and frenzy is matched up to wildly absorbing garage sounds, their teetering on the brink assaults jaggedly appealing and seriously good fun, yet still with an edgy pop sass and nous which is what carries them beyond mere regurgitation or blank xerox mo-chines: bassist Ivan le Terrible and drummer and schooled rock'n'roll scribe Laurent Bigot (Ugly Things...) are also thoroughly integral pieces that so enable the group's furiously rhythmic, strident approach By the end of the set everyone was spent, the players as well as the recipients of the onslaught. Outrageous and punk-rockingly great! Was great hanging out with them and Jacko again too. Also great to bump into old pals like Tony "the Tyger" Sanchez who I've not seen for many years!
Following that was always gonna be a tough spot, irrespective of might, brawn, rock credo etc ... Jorge introduced me to a couple of folks I'd never met before like Ana (At First Sight) and Jake from Austin's The Black Angels and so we had a good yakkety yak about all the great 60s TX punk bands, Ana spinning some cool discs in the process and she told me about this book she's just put out all about Tonto & The Renegades, of "Little Boy Blue" infamy. It's the first in a series called "Still Spinning Around at 45 rpm". Wow, not only that she then gave me a copy so I can review it ... so I'm looking forward to sharing that soon probably in Shindig or Ugly Things or...
I missed The Dragtones so I had another wander around the different stalls just taking it all in and then I had a nightcap. It didn't take too much more for my brain to say ya know what I've almost had it for live groups tonight, although I first tried a little of famed US combo New Bomb Turks. Truth is though I never really liked much of what I heard on record from them, too heavy? Hmmm so maybe it was a given that I wasn't gonna be swayed by their live show. There's just something that's way too - I dunno - is it like hardcore sounding or something? For me it's altogether too grungy and rawk for my delicate or discerning tastes. My main gripe is that I find it really difficult to locate any real tunes or hooks that if they are there then must be buried under the mounds of cranked distortion bludgeoning bass and drums and phlegm-coated vocal growl that seems to inform much of their oeuvre! Anyway don't wanna slag them off too much seeing as I didn't watch the show and hundreds did and seemed to be really enjoying them. I really needed to get some beauty sleep and preserve the energies as our lot, we Wildebeests were gonna be playing a set in less than 24 hours.
Saturday's afternoon session didn't start the way it might have as someone forgot to bring the Girl Trouble movie/documentary DVD so some of us sat around awhile and wondered when this would happen. I left to go to soundcheck around 2 O'clock and it still hadn't appeared but I am reliably informed that it did eventually get shown and was apparently really good. I'll need to get a look see at that someday. Set up done'n'dusted, we went in search of food then came back to RS for a few cool beers before dispersing to prepare for that night's live entertainment etc.
The UFO was again full to the gunnels by the time I got there. First group I saw anything of was Magnetix who we've shared stages with a few times, I like what they do most of the time but tonight I only caught little snatches as we were busy preparing our set list, having a drink and blether with the Dirty Water Gang - Paul Manchester ever so keen to show off his precious (empty) merch box he'd been trailing around with him all day. I do recall Magnetix having quite a full on thing going with some abrasive, clipped drum bashing, blustery incoherent (to me) vocals and some fairly nasty sounding guitar.
Portuguese lot TT Syndicate were up next and put on an energetic show with a few cool, uncluttered showings but, like the Limboos the previous night, went for the big soul/r'n'b revue style approach after awhile and flung in some cheesy "popcorn" which was all fluffy and a bit too sugary and kinda hurt my teeth a little ... not salty enough I guess? But, again, they seemed to go down well with the by now well-lubricated party-goers.
I can't say too much about the next band because I play drums and provide some of the vocals but I will say it was great party atmosphere for The Wildebeests to play at and I think we rose to the occasion in our commando pirate get-ups ... Paul Revere RIP and off we went blazing through "Just Like Me", some of our tunes - it was great to see/hear people singing along to "One Minute's Time" and "Lucinda" - and a load of punk r'n'b shenanigans the likes of "Mongoloid", "Diddy Wah Diddy", "Clarabella" and "Action Time Vision". It got pretty hot in the costumes and Russ had to use a Vox Phantom-style guitar once or twice as he kept on bustin' strings; two or three drumsticks went the same way too. We encored with "Suzy Is A Headbanger" and we were done! The best compliment amongst many was that "we brought it back again".
US combo Danny and the Darleans took to the stage next and were really pretty cool although it took a little while for some people to realise they might be missing something so they better amble back in smartish ... Danny himself (former Gories string breaker) does a pretty good beat / garage turn and the bass and drums held together well. The drummer is one of these top breed loons in the finest Moon/Prince fashion. "You Drive Me Insane" was a highlight although some of the other songs they played were pretty exciting in that sloppy/not-sloppy garage beat vein.
I wasn't sure I was still even gonna be around for last group of the night / morning as Russ, Saskia and I were gonna have to be up and out before half-eight Sunday morning to make our 11am flight back to Edinburgh ... but seeing as it was Tacoma Washington's mighty Girl Trouble I thought I would at least make a valiant effort to catch the start. I'm glad I stayed and at least caught their first few numbers, as after the warm up and intro piece they burst into a kickin' version of the Shadows Of Knight's great n groovy "Gospel Zone". And by the time I managed to snake my way through the heaving throng, taking in a couple of minutes to say some buenos noche's to stray pals etc I could still hear Girl Trouble's "crappy garage" noise echoing all around... but it was now time to make my way out and along the short walk back to hotel and Zzzzzz!
Sunday, November 09, 2014
So by now you know how sceptical I am. Stories of the Funtastic Dracula Carnival over the years have entered into the annals of legend. Some of them may or may not have been picked up and been given urban myth status. The blurry reality of the situation is that, as an event, what might be considered hype is actually 150% for real. You really have to be there because it’s about the big picture, the people perhaps even more than the bands. So it came to pass that I actually got to attend. Some of the crew were unable to get there this year but I did my very best to represent those that were missing in action for whatever reason.
The FDC is exquisite and the fact that there just happen to be some great bands and stellar DJ action to be had is just the icing on a particularly yummilicious big sticky cake. I’d never been to Benidorm before and it must be utter hell in the summer but the balance of elderly retirees and the rock’n’roll folks makes for a pretty damn good chemistry. Like some kind of Mediterranean Blackpool.
And let’s be clear about this, it is rock’n’roll. Of all persuasions. You might not like all of the bands , all of the time but when that happens you just step out on to the patio where there’s always music in the air. When the bus that’s going to town is carrying kids wearing Ramones and Hellacopters t-shirts then you realise you’ve made it to the right spot.
The venue was something else I’d heard about but took some time to get to grips with just how unique it is. Between this and the curation, there’s no way this could not be something else entirely. I think it sort of blew my mind and I just wandered around wide-eyed for an hour or three. The scepticism transfusion was complete by the wee small hours and I didn’t feel like an interloper anymore. By the time The Autoramas came on I was fully integrated into the vibe and they were fantastic. I don’t know what I expected of them but it sure wasn’t what I got. Of all the combos I saw over the days, these kids from Brazil could go furthest. They have the chemistry and the shapes to send of the Food Fechters scurrying back under the stone where they belong. If only there was a commodity along the lines of justice. Maybe a drawback is that there aren’t too many songs in English but like in all good music, lyrics can become an instrument irrespective of language. Their swinging pummel is utterly contagious.
To tell the truth, I was a little afraid to hear them on record after this account but can happily report that they have captured whatever the heck it is their peddling sonically. To see Flavia and to check out Bacalhau’s wee dance though, you’ll have to go to a show and I can report that they’re playing Hipsville this coming May here in the UK.
Day two started at Rockstar a downtown bar with several aperatifs and the very wonderful Lord Rochester who dignified and diddley-fied us with their presence. The assembled throng loved them and they set the bar very high way before teatime.
Frannie and Ruth, being the foremost host and hostess took me along for some tutti frutti ice cream on the beach front in Villajoyosa. It was fitting that there was some TF in this episode as it took me back to the Blue Whale speeding toward Madrid city limits with the Quattros in 2008.
Now that I was acclimatised it was time to get down to the business of socialising. And due to the efforts of Steven Tagg-Randall, I can keep the gig gab to the minimum and you can sample the musical goods at leisure. All of the sets presented in glorious FUNTASTOVISION black and white and colour for all you’re wishing you were there pleasure.
I’ll tackle the GT movie as a separate entity in due course. It piqued the excitement of getting to see them for the first time in, I think, 18 years. Kurt maintains that the gig we saw in San Francisco was awful but my memory serves me different. My defence is that Girl Trouble could never be less than monumental but you know how these artistic types are. By the time they were ready to go on stage I was wound up like a kid at Christmas. By the time they were done, I was covered in and coughing up glitter in addition to being somewhat out off puff. As I remarked to Bon earlier in the evening, I would have been happy just to keel over in such hallowed company.
Exhaustive coverage of the event can be found at MagicPopcat. This in conjunction with Steven’s excellent videos would provide a fine Christmas getaway should you feel the urge to escape to another world for a bit. Just hop on board the UFO that Ms Paloma and Snr Varo curated.
“Spanish jetlag” is a known condition that is not caused by actual time difference in relation to the regular body clock. SJ comes as a result of special powers that manifest themselves as soon as you hit whatever city in Spain you happen to be visiting. My previous bouts have been of the Wurlitzer strain, a particularly agreeable way to run oneself into the ground. FDC is likewise a place that would not be unlike my idea of heaven. Not one obnoxious blowhard or drunk in sight, just kids of all ages raging against the all-enveloping tide of shite that they have to deal with in everyday life rather than the light.
Doctors should fucking prescribe this as a treatment but be warned, it’s not for lightweight. I have the added bonus of looking like one of the retirees I mentioned earlier that cut about like The Banana Splits but by night, the mutant stamina kicks in and it’s away we go. I like to think that Ralph Kramden would be proud.
So now I’ve been bitten then I pledge allegiance to the frat. Resistance is utterly futile.
The Excitements returned to the daftest wee country in the world a couple of weeks ago. I’d missed them earlier in the year. This isn’t an act that should be consigned to a Sauchiehall Street basement. This is a big show that requires a stage that is at least 4 times as high as this one. They would appeal to a wide swathe of people if those individuals actually knew they existed.
It’s difficult to get people out to shows but this is surely compounded when there’s no visible sign of posters. Are we to assume that everybody checks websites? Er, that would be a major ASS-umption that is literally not happening. But the criminally underattended show didn’t hamper the energy level and I’m pretty sure that word of mouth – and maybe a Friday or Saturday – show should determine a bigger audience next time.
Anyway, them Excitement types more than live up to their name. Utterly unphased that the joint wasn’t exactly jumping in terms of bodies it sure was by the time they hit their stride. Barcelona’s primo R’n’B powerhouse tore it up in a fashion of a true showband. If it hadn’t been for the Alvin brothers hitting town the next day then I would have gone to the Edinburgh show too.
In keeping with the notion of the road going on forever, and maybe a wee bit beyond that, the last few weeks have presented several revisitations of my past. All of them good. It makes me feel pretty damn fortunate despite what you might read from my actual fizzog.
30 + years ago, I met Dave and Phil Alvin when Art Fein was managing The Blasters and also The Cramps. I’m happy to say that it’s a friendship that has endured the years and seeing them back together with The Guilty Ones on a stage in Glasgow was nothing short of phenomenal. I completely plotzed during the encore. It was like the roadhouse in Twin Peaks. When they broke into the instrumental section that was “So Long Baby Goodbye” it was like time froze and before I knew it tears were streaming down my face. No drink or any other substance was taken. It was like watching a stop motion film. When all the instruments blew back in, it kind of jarred me back to pretending I had something in my eye. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t kidding anyone at that point. I can’t say what a privilege it is to see something like this. So many acts just go through the motions but this was fiercely life-affirming and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Between needing to be up to go to the salt mine early the next morning and heading for Spain at stupid o’ clock the day after, I didn’t see them afterwards. I had also been through the emotional wringer but I don’t think I would have had it any other way. We’d all witnessed one of the greatest sets played by anyone ever. It was even better than the Opry show and the venue was excellent too. Dave reckons they could do with some ramps to get the gear on stage but apart from that...