Friday, 19 September 2014

Poem: 'Page 24' - based on a Vietnam War photo



PAGE 24 
 (COLOUR SUPPLEMENT) 


 – Nick Ut’s picture of naked Vietnamese girl 
 running from Trang Bang Napalm strike 
 8th June 1972, in photo-journalism retrospective 


she dies 
in full color 
between the Sanyo 
and the Nissan ads, 
the fine fire of her hair 
caught by gravure, delicate patterns 
scream across imitation glossy paper, 
taken spontaneously in bad light, 
toning the anger with shadow, 
the slight over-exposure blur 
freezes motion, adds the 
authentic immediacy of 
committed directness 
to her eternalised 
agony 

will 
impress 
readers with its 
radical chic dissent, 
its validity of stance, no 
longer the stuff of awards, 
ten years ago perhaps, 
but good copy 
nevertheless 

and 
there’s always 
the chess 
overleaf 


 Earlier version published in:
‘SMOKE’ (UK)
‘GRAPESHOT no.3’ (Australia - Sept 1975)



Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Music From Sheffield: THE BOX remembered (1983 interviews)



UNBOXED: 
THE BOX INTERVIEW



You know this scene from television…

Concrete and glass hung mountain-high right out into space. Fashion-lepers pacing the crosswalks. Others slink under perimeter-wire and track across mud-slick flowerbeds into this anaemic white strip-light apron. Plate glass doors, corridors and staircases going on down to this planet’s core. I’m plea-bargaining with Official Heavies with the great barrier riff jack-hammering through the wall…

Then into the hygienic cold cavern of learning beyond.

Box on stage at the Sheffield University Students Union on accumulating momentum.

Unannounced, Charlie Collins, shock-bearded as a Russian anarchist, shrapnel bomb in alto, black face-fungus foaming luxuriously deep over black bib-‘n’-brace overalls and striped red-‘n’-black blazer, bayonets the mike with the bell of his sax and feeds a metallic patchwork wind-up into the air. A technique of tuning in, catching the rabble unprepared – off balance, that he used in his prior lifetime with Clock DVA. Then guitarist Paul Widger whips in, a red and orange Gibson, a chaotic autowreck of jaggedy-splinters fragmenting into abrupt chopped-up spat out staccato bursts of electricity wrapped around Terry Todd’s depth-charge Fender bass. A vague Jona Lewie lookalike, Todd spins and dips, to a sound to put your spine on the line, make your backbone flip.

Vocalist Peter Hope wears gold-rim reactalight spectacles and red braces, clings to the mike-stand in a double hand-lock like a man on fire. He ditches his red knitted skullcap and is stark bald beneath but for a single full-frontal quiff. He brays cut-ups of phrases in a voice of sand and glue with a kickback like he’s biting concrete, a voice that goes suddenly geometrical and continues out beyond point ‘x’. Language twists around his tongue like a live thing following a zigzag wandering course that recedes further and further from literal meaning until it’s hanging right over the edge – then jumps back into time. Copping its definitive position between the double-key control of horn and guitar, between outset and finale. Words like ‘atonal’, and ‘extreme’ suggest themselves, with comparisons yet more elusive, though Beefheart is possibly in there. Quotes come unbidden – like Arthur Miller’s ‘Art is made of conflict. It is not made of what we call pleasure.’ Yet in print it all melts down tarnished and devalued, before the sheer non-linear intensity of short antagonistic two-to-two-and-a-half-minute numbers ragged out with lacerations of adrenalin. A Satan’s laboratory in flame-out, no coasting in neutral, tripping out all tricked out in primal assaults so brief they hurt.

Remember ‘if it’s square, we ain’t there’?




Now forget it. With a chart EP – ‘No Time For Talk’ (Go! Discs VFM1, January 1983), due to be followed this month by their first album – ‘Secrets Out’ (Go! Discs VFM4, May 1983), squares they ain’t. Box is shaping up to be what 1983 sounds like.

‘Somebody wrote that Box ‘is for Rock fans only’ which I thought was terrible, a really diabolical comment’ growls Hope, voice like acid burns. (Slumped back heavy in the upholstery, slow, languorous, white-flesh of some recumbent Buddha. White shirt, tie held in place by gold clip.)

‘Yeah. It was a review we got. A really silly thing to write. We don’t mind good constructive criticism, but something as misleading as that, you just think ‘JESUS WEPT. HE’S WRONG! HE’S WRONG!’ Our music can appeal on a very basic level,’ Winged-Eel Widger rationalises. He’s the most verbal Box (short disciplined brushed-back blonde hair, denim jacket). ‘Some people like our music because it’s intricate and they find that interesting. Other people like our music just because they like the beat and the general noise of it. Which is fair enough.’

He shrugs, spears me with cautionary accusation. ‘This is the problem with interviews – it can present us as rather arty, when in fact the way we view it is…’ Suitably chastened I await the approved Party Line, the correct attitude I’m to assume. ‘The individual bits that we put into it aren’t that important, it’s the overall effect. You can listen to it on – not a superficial level, but you can just GET INTO IT if you like without ripping it open and saying ‘what’s he doing here?’.’

‘It’s just something that can appeal to the primitive’ offers Roger Quail, who eases gradually into the conversation as barriers come down. (Sheffield-steel bright, incisive, dark hair razored back at the temples. He produces the stable pulse-drumbeat to Box gems such as “Unstable” or “Limpopo”.)

All classic Rock has been intuitive, inspired accident, I agree. A distillation of the moment, rather than the technique behind it. but Rock is now near thirty years old, and it can’t escape self-awareness. It has technique as well… ‘We are not interested in technique’ rebukes Widger. ‘Talking about technique is a bit silly really. It’s irrelevant. Some things we play are very easy. Other things are difficult. It doesn’t MATTER. Personally I like to play things that are easy as possible. The simpler it is, the better. Simple ideas are usually the best. Our music is not really over-the-top or over-complicated. Some…’ he admits, ‘would disagree…’



--- 0 --- 

Argument, disagreement, don’t come into it. Consciously or not there IS depth in Box – though it’s not necessary to overdose on it to appreciate the sound. The depth is both in the music, and the genealogy. At one point Paul Widger recalls the first time I wrote him up for ‘Hot Press’, ‘there was only a handful of local groups then, now there’s loads.’ And as that might indicate, it’s difficult to write about Sheffield without coming up against some cross-references. Stretching back as far as 1976, that initial handful of groups can be pared down to Cabaret Voltaire, and Future. After taping an innovative, bizarre and as-yet unissued album, Future bifurcated down the centre spawning Human League and Clock DVA (‘The Golden Hour Of The Future’, including “Blank Clocks”, “Dada Dada Duchamp Vortex”, “4JG” and others, eventually appeared on Black Melody Records, October 2002). Clock DVA consisting of ex-Futurians Adi Newton and Steven James ‘Judd’ Turner, plus the Box nucleus of Paul, Roger, and Charlie (Collins, already a veteran of ‘loads of local Soul, R&B and Jazz bands…’).

But ‘I think these connections you keep referring to are a bit misleading’ insists Paul. ‘That is going back a hell of a long time!’ But Clock DVA DID record with Cabaret Voltaire ‘on a four-track machine when Western Works wasn’t quite as sophisticated a studio as it is now,’ resulting in a slice of dense psychotic aural terrorism called “Brigade” – issued on ABC’s Neutron label. Following the critically successful album ‘Thirst’ (Fetish, January 1981), and ‘Judd’ Turner’s death from a heroin habit, the band imploded. Some previously unreleased material from this time survived, to be included on ‘The Last Testament’, a multi-artist compilation from Rod Pearle’s Fetish label (FR2011, live versions of “The Opening” and “Remain-Remain”, April 1983). But in the meantime, Adi retained the name for a new more Funk-orientated line-up, while simultaneously Box came into being, Terry Todd reinforcing the initial trio from a band called the Chants. You with me so far…?

‘We’re more interested in your writing about the Box as a new group, rather than relying on what we used to be in Clock DVA’ – from Roger Quail. ‘It’s history now. We’re pointing forwards.’ But (for the same of symmetry) I can’t resist a final poke. Talking to ABC recently there’d been gossip about the current DVA, inked to Polydor as their ‘token weirdo band’ – existing in a limbo position, with the label at a loss about how to market them. Widger won’t be drawn. ‘Possibly. That’s their concern, they’re really nothing to do with us now. They’re happy with Polydor, and we’re happy with Go! Discs, so everybody’s happy. That’s alright. Isn’t it?’



--- 0 --- 

The first Box gig in its current, and probably permanent incarnation, was October 1982 at Sheffield’s ‘Leadmill’ co-op centre, followed by dates at the Brixton ‘Fridge’, and a scattering of gigs in Holland. Box was named by Charlie Collins, the original ‘white soul in a black suit’. But prior to finding Peter Hope they led an unstable germination period, including a brief vocalist hook-up with Ken Bingley, and another that brought the Cab’s Stephen Mallinder into Box. ‘We were never really a four-piece’ recalls Widger. ‘We were always looking for a singer. We wouldn’t have performed without a vocalist, but Mal (Mallinder) was only temporary. It was understood between us. He did – what was it? two gigs with us. I think he’d have liked to do more but it wasn’t possible with his other commitments’ (he sings “Something Beginning With ‘L’” on the ‘Secrets Out’ album).

How did that instability affect the evolution of the Box sound? Was there a basic set flexible enough to accommodate the changes? ‘Well, when Pete came in, some of the numbers were the same as what we’d done with Mal. He just put his own vocals over it. He wasn’t copying what Mal did at all – it was different. None of us – the original four, consider ourselves talented lyricists, so rather than make a bad job of what we could do, we thought it was better to wait until we found a lyricist who was happy to do it. It wasn’t so much a problem, we just had to find the right person. It took us a long time, but eventually… we found – Peter!’

Hope’s contribution is startlingly effective, selecting words with lethal economy. The stark stripped-down brutalism of the charting “No Time For Talk”, clear through to the hot-wired surrealism of “Water Grows Teeth” and “No Sly Moon” on ‘Secrets Out’ (as the first name-artists to be signed to ex-Stiff records conspirator Andy MacDonald’s Go! Discs). Quail explains that within Box there’s no writing axis, writing ‘is all done together.’ And – to Hope, the lyric method is ‘just getting the right feel. When you’ve rehearsed a song a lot of times you get to understand what’s going on – and I fit things in according to the music they make. Some songs don’t need much, vocal-wise. The voice is basically just another instrument.’

But then, the lyrics he’s written are mixed so far down it’s often difficult to decipher them, like you need subtitles in Ceefax. ‘That doesn’t frustrate me. Our songs aren’t – like, words and music. Separate. It’s everything together. It’s not very useful to split them apart. A lot of the words are used as a sound anyway, more than as a direct message. I structure lyrics to complement, or echo what else is going on. I’m not trying to say anything blatant with an obvious message. If we ever wrote anything with a deep message then we’d maybe do it in a different way. But at the moment, that’s the way I like to work.’ A wall-of-sound strategy with words infiltrated for their phonetic qualities? ‘Yeah. But it’s not like just saying ‘I’m writing a total load of crap just because the words sound good’. It DOES have meaning, but at the same time it’s equally important to make sure it sounds right. It’s expressing the situation that’s around you.’



‘The positive statement comes out of our music’ agrees Widger. ‘People say our music is very modern, very 1983, and in that sense it’s up to date. Being political is not just singing about Margaret Thatcher. You can express it musically through the tension and the general feel of it. The Jam’s approach was completely different, for example, it was a ‘writing on the wall’ thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but our way is different.’

When John Peel played Box sessions he said they ‘worked from familiar reference points’. To me, that suggests Captain Beefheart. ‘That’s what he probably meant. Whether you agree with him, or we agree with him, is another question.’ So let’s ask that question. What reference points WOULD you admit to? DOES Beefheart figure in there? ‘Partly. We like Captain Beefheart. But we don’t make any deliberate attempts to copy…’

Quail rescues the drift. ‘It’s never been, like you see in a paper – MUSICIAN: and a list of influences. Because we happen to like certain people we never formed with the intention of trying to sound like them. You just bring along your own things, and they get – tangled around. And everything gets strained out into the sound we produce now.’

Which encapsulates it. Box ARE what 1983 sounds like. Not the artificial sound-footage you get when you tune into your Top Forty station. The airwaves still operate on the 99% is crap consensus principle. The lowest common aural denominator. Box don’t, and probably never will make good daytime programming material. In this sacrilegious era of mass plagiarism, they’re too extreme for that. Too hard and demanding.

Neither are they a fad tinsel band to get splashed across glossy fan-mag covers for the month’s duration of their fashionable currency value. I can’t ever see THEM making a complete three-minute promo-video episode of ‘The Professionals’ (replete with car chases and thefted ‘Blow Up’ motif) – and yet neglect to make a decent single to go with it. Box are concerned with sound. Sound so puritan-strict that on a scale of 0-to-10 Bo Derek would get around three. Bo Diddley might get more. A sound that is the near-perfect distillation of what 1983 is REALLY like. The tension screwed down on compression, the adrenalin overload, the subversive burn of frustration, the sadistic energy, the harsh complexity and the complex harshness all dismembered and reconstructed in white-heat anger. They define it non-verbally, yet so accurately, so intuitively, you only recognise it through the catalyst of their sound.

Also, despite their denials – I contend that Box retain the most elemental and vital fragments of Rock’s central nervous system. Although Rock is now too old and well-used for naivety, Box absorb the much-abused skeleton of its haunted past and furiously wig it out into the only zones possible thus far into the decade. They are the essence of 1983 in the way that ‘Blonde On Blonde’ is 1966, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ is 1972, or ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ is 1977.

Yes, they are THAT good…





Album review of: 
‘HOODOO TALK’ 
by PETER HOPE 
& RICHARD H KIRK 
(Native NTV28, 1987) 

For those who lost hope when Capt Beefheart went absent-without-brain into abstracts, and for those who can’t decode the electro-pulse of passing Cabs, here’s two new Hoodoo Guru’s. Here’s a crash-course in creative dementia with rhythms chattering the language of chaos in meltdowns of awesome power – ‘hear the frame shake and groan, here the floor BENDS’ (“Numb Skulls”). Peter ‘The Voice’ Hope – formerly the bellow of Box, has a vocal styleé so over the top it’s out somewhere beyond Saturn, spanning octaves with an abruptness that hurts, low exhaust-trail rumblings accelerating through vast black wind-tunnel howls, with a surreal word-scramble targeted to irradiate the nerve-ends – ‘put your head in a noose, hang loose! …one vein to a drip, and one vein to a tap’.

And it’s all sound-tracked with a hyper-stimulus of seize-the-instant sequenced shocks programmed by Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H Kirk who takes modern musics AND GUTS IT until each beat-per-minute strikes like surface-to-airwave missiles. A scattered debris of sonic architecture well-wired to weirdness, and even when Beefheartian analogies surface through the mix there’s some destabilising vox-tricks that even ‘Trout Mask Replica’ can’t replicate. He sings ‘sand drums on hot eyes’ (“Fifty Tears”), then he sings ‘it’s your face in my mirror, and it’s your comb in my hair’ (“Cop Out”), he sings of “Leather Hands” and “Surgeons”. Some’ll dismiss it all as ‘specialist’ music, but there’d be a lot more specialists attuned to its uniqueness if they’d give it a chance.






OPEN THE BOX, 
 AND TAKE THE MONEY! 

Those who watch foreign movies on ‘Channel 4’ for the right reasons will recall the student party scene in the French ‘Lacemaker’ (1977, Dir: Claude Goretta). An attempted intellectual lectures at inordinate length expounding the apparently obvious idea that we live our lives in a series of ‘boxes’ – schoolroom, flat, car, office, coffin. His rapt and enraptured audience, all long black hair and existential dark shades, then debate the political and sociological significance of this boringly mundane concept of Cubism. Perhaps something got lost in the subtitles…?

Us in the know have been aware for some time that Box is important.

‘It was just a name that was short, punchy, easy to remember,’ explains guitarist and main policy spokesman Paul Widger. ‘Because at the time we chose it there was a trend to longer, more involved names. We wanted something short and snappy. I don’t think we could’ve done much better than Box. It’s got a different interpretation for everybody.’

‘The overtones start to come in’ agrees Roger Quail, the dark, deceptively slight drummer. ‘It’s television. It’s inner space. It’s things like that. But that was never the intention when we christened us-selves. It was just something very very simple. There aren’t many three-letter words that end in ‘X’…’

I offer ‘Hex’? But Poison Girls got a pre-emptive strike with that one.

Box is the Sheffield five-piece who first broached the Indie lists with a garishly Peter Care red ‘n’ silver-sleeved five-track EP. Its titles hinting at its ingredients – “Hazard”, “Unstable”, “Burn Down That Village”, a dense morass of rabid rhythms collectively called ‘No Time For Talk’ (Go! Discs VFM1, January 1983). A furiously wigged-out jarringly stop-start sound shot full of dark hordes of jazz. A fast-forward sound that kicks the door down, lambasts eardrums and rearranges brain-cells. A sound so intense it derailed some reviewers, but the to-critical-mass-and-beyond approach now flared wide-screen on their first album should make converts. Box defy category, compartment, pigeon-hole, or geometrical preconceptions.

Their sound symmetrically counter-balances the taped disco soundtrack casting its stupid wrap-around glow over the licensed lounge where I meet the group. ‘No Time For Talk’ perhaps, but we cram in plenty of backchat prior to their onstage set.

Vocalist Peter Hope, who’s sat wall-eyed through most of the conversation, leans forward, his single gold cross earring exploding the light beneath the turn-up of his tight red knitted skullcap. He offers some sign-posts. ‘There’s been reference to us, trying to lump us in with people like Sex Gang Children and Southern Death Cult – which is pretty well off the mark. Seems like a need to categorise bands into their own little box.’ No added overtones intended. The ferocity and attack is ‘just the way we play, and how we’ve always played. It’s natural, not something we work on.’

But other critic’s analogies with the Rip Rig & Panic New Jazz thing are just as emphatically booted. ‘In various songs there’s room for improvisation, or different expression. But it’s not like wild free-form or anything. Most of it’s written. It’s pretty tight.’

‘A lot of crap goes under the banner of improvisation these days. Idiots with trumpets. We find it more interesting playing to a strict discipline,’ expands Widger. And for good measure ‘we don’t like to consider ourselves part of a ‘scene’ in Sheffield either. It’s not that we’re snobby, but we like to remain totally independent from that. I don’t think we’re like any band in this area at the moment. There isn’t one that’s vaguely similar to us.’ Geographically that’s true, but last time I saw Quail, Widger, and bearded saxist Charlie Collins, they were components in the magnificent and hugely underrated Clock DVA. Some of the fanatical commitment of that group seems to spill over into their second coming with Box. ‘Partly, yes, there are slight similarities’ agrees Widger grudgingly. ‘Some of the basic ideals are the same, we haven’t compromised or anything. But that’s history now. We’re pointing forward. We think of Box as a completely new thing.’

There is, however, one further link between the two lifetimes – Psychic TV producer Ken Thomas. He was responsible for DVA’s first album, the neglected classic ‘Thirst’ (Fetish, January 1981). ‘Yes, that’s how we got to know him. We’ve no longer got any links at all with Fetish 9the label run by Rod Pearle, which issued early DVA and Throbbing Gristle tracks), but when we wanted to record as Box we thought we’d like to use Ken again. One of the good things about using him this time around is that studio time is extremely tight. We didn’t have long to work on it, and it helps if you’ve got a working relationship already established. It means you can go straight in and get on with it rather than getting to know each other first.’




‘As a result’ says Quail, ‘our album was recorded at Jacob’s Studios in Farnham over just nine days (from 15 October 1982). And it’s called ‘Secrets Out’ (Go! Discs VFM4, May 1983). The track extracted for the ‘NME’ compilation ‘Racket Packet’ – “Out”, is one of the songs we recorded then, put out as a bit of a taster, y’know…’

‘It’s different for us as well if you think about it – having short songs, if you’re gonna do an LP, you’ve got to have a lot more of them. You can’t just stick down four basic riffs and develop an album out of it. It takes a long time because we take a lot of care over what we write, and we reject a hell of a lot of stuff. So coming up with twelve songs is a tall order.’

‘…We actually recorded thirteen tracks with the intention that – just prior to the LP coming out, one of the tracks (“Old Style Drop Down”), would be remixed and released as a single with a different ‘B’-side which isn’t on the album. I think we’re all happy with the sessions. It was pretty much different to the ‘No Time For Talk’ five-track we did. The sound’s different.’

Some of that newly-vinylised material was unleashed live at the ‘ICA Press Gang Week’, when Box mugged the audience with a shock set sandwiched between a cliquishly diverse circus of performers – and the upwardly mobile JoBoxers. Peter – as a Londoner, the only non-Sheffield accent in Box, found that audience ‘stand-offish, a bit unsure. It was a very strange night.’

‘We were invited to do it, to kick the evening off to a good start’ relates Quail. ‘To make an impact, because the rest of the evening was taken up with Poets, Skiffle groups, that sort of thing. We went on at some ridiculous time, I think it was about eight-o’-clock when the people had just come in off the street and hadn’t warmed to it all…’

‘…And we just played a very very intense set,’ from Peter.

‘We played it very straight, in from the top. No mercy at all,’ from Roger.

‘It was a bit much for some people, they were expecting a hip-type Funk outfit or something. And they got us instead! That’s quite funny. But I thought it was great myself.’

Is that high-energy, short-number, pressure-cooking technique a deliberate strategy? ‘No. they just turn out like that. We don’t flog things to death. We cram a lot of ideas into a short song, so there’s no reason to drag it out to ten minutes.’

On the ‘back to the Ramones’ principle? A disintegration into laughter. But isn’t it more satisfying to allow a song to evolve, to explore and develop it? ‘That’s a very traditional point of view’ Widger rebukes. ‘There’s no ‘getting into’ a song – you’re into it from the word GO! We know what we’re doing. It’s not like two-minute improvised pieces most of the time. It’s written pieces.’

‘There’s a lot in every song’ agrees Hope in a slow drawl that’s rusted around the edges. But the method of song construction ‘varies’.’

‘Usually we start either from a drumbeat or a guitar part – usually, but not always.’ Paul Widger. ‘Sometimes it’ll be (Terry Todd’s) bass or Charlie’s saxophone. Then everyone will think about it and sit around it, see how it grows. Everyone is very actively involved in the writing process. That’s the only way it works for us. It wouldn’t work if one person was writing apart.’

‘We’re still not working at us full capacity’ opines Quail. ‘We’re only warming up in a way…’

Widger closes emphatically. ‘There’s loads of things we can do. And we will do…’

Boxes – whether social, political, or journalistic, only dominate lives if people allow them to. Box bust out beyond all such restraint. Box defy the process, they draw up their own rules, and MAKE them work. That’s what makes them so unpredictably exciting. It may be only halfway into the year, but already their kind of cubism is the shape for 1983 hereabouts.

(Published - in Italian, in ‘Rockerilla’)





RE-BOXED 

Box were formed in 1981 in Sheffield out of the ashes of Clock DVA. DVA members Paul Widger (guitar, vibraphone), Roger Quail (drums) and Charlie Collins (saxophone, flute, piccolo flute) recruited new member Terry Todd (bass) and tried several vocalists including Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire before deciding on Peter Hope. Widger had also recorded as part of They Must Be Russians as ‘Paul Russian’, on the January 1979 EP ‘Nellie The Elephant’ (Not On Label RVS001) recorded at Western Works

January 1983 – THE BOX: NO TIME FOR TALK (Go! Discs VFM1, 12” vinyl EP) with “No Time For Talk”, “Burn Down That Village”, “Unstable”, “Hazard”, “Limpopo” cover art by Peter Care, Producer Ken Thomas. Reaches no.12 in ‘NME’ Indie chart after entry 29 January, and staying four weeks.

 May 1983 – OLD STYLE DROP DOWN (Go! Discs VFM2) 7” vinyl “Old Style Drop Down (Remix)” c/w “Momentum”, with 12” vinyl (VFM3) “Old Style Drop Down (Extended Remix)” c/w “Old Style Drop Down” + “Momentum”, cover-art Peter Care, producer Ken Thomas. Enters ‘NME’ Indie chart 28 May, reaches no.22 the following week

17 June 1983 – SECRETS OUT (Go! Discs VFM4) with “Water Grows Teeth”, “Skin, Sweat And Rain”, “Something Beginning With ‘L’” (vocals by Stephen Mallinder), “Strike”, “The Hub”, “Hang Your Hat On That!”, “I Give Protection”, “No Sly Moon”, “Slip And Slant”, “Old Style Drop Down”, “Swing”, “Out”, cover-art by Peter Care, recorded at Jacobs Studios 19-23 January with producer Ken Thomas. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this is a music free of sentiment, a music of action shot through with nervous energy, channeled belligerence and extravagant ambition’. Box play ‘Brixton Ace’ supporting X-Mal Deutschland (23 June) and the Fall (15 July). Then Newcastle ‘Dingwalls’ (20), Leeds ‘Warehouse’ (21), and Hull ‘Dingwalls’ (22), followed by European dates through August




June 1984 – GREAT MOMENTS IN BIG SLAM (Go! Discs VFM5, also cassette ZVFM5) with “Walls Come Down”, “The Flatstone”, “Big Slam”, “Stop”, “Low Line”, “Breaking Strain”, “Small Blue Car”, “Still In The Woodwork”. Scratchy cover cave-drawing by Pete Care. Produced by Dick O’Dell. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘Stop Press: BEST BOX YET. A fast whirlpool of spittle, grit and polished madness’

1984 – MUSCLE MIX (Doublevision DVR P1, 12” vinyl) after two albums on Go Discs Box link up with Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision label where they release some EPs in a more electronic style. “Crow Bar (Muscle Mix)” c/w “Low Commotion (Muscle Mix)”, remix by Richard H Kirk

November 1984 – MUSCLE IN (Doublevision DVR10, 12” vinyl EP) With “Low Commotion”, “Curfew”, “Crow Bar”, “Spade Work”, recorded at Western Works with producers Mark Estdale and Richard H Kirk. “Crow Bar” later issued as limited edition 12” single

1985 – MUSCLE OUT: THE BOX LIVE (Doublevision DVR P3) with “Bottle Drips Dry”, “Big Slam”, “Jaw Clamp Sunshine”, “Pawn Walk”, “Rose High”, “The Hub”, “Breaking Strain”, “Deeper Blue”, “Stop”, “Momentum”, “Old Style Drop Down”, “No Time For Talk”

‘NME’ (26 January) announce final Box gig at ‘The Leadmill’ on the 29th. Following the break-up Charlie Collins joins Bass Tone Trap, collaborates with Sonny Simmons, Ted Daniel, Beatrix Ward-Fernandez (‘View From The East’, 2009), Eun-Jung Kim, The Bone Orchestra and Hunter Gracchus. He appeared on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with Moloko, and works with Derek Bailey’s experimental Jazz Company. Collins and Peter Hope are reunited with Paul Widger on Bone Orchard album ‘When Will The Blues Leave?’ (1987, BACON 404) and the Flex 13 CD ‘Candy’ (1999, Liquid LIQ022CDL). Terry Todd plays with the reunited Comsat Angels in 2009. Roger Quail drums with Cabaret Voltaire (including 1984 LP ‘Micro-Phonies’)

1985 – LEATHER HANDS by Richard H Kirk and Peter Hope (Doublevision DVR15, 12” vinyl EP) with “Leather Hands (Master Mix)”, “Leather Hands (Radio Mix)”, “Leather Hands (Crash Mix)” recorded at Western Works drum programming and producer Richard H Kirk. The duo also collaborated on October 1987 album ‘Hoodoo Talk’ (Native Records NTVCD28) with “Intro”, “Numb Skull”, “N.O.”, “Cop Out”, “Surgeons”, “Fifty Tears”, “Leather Hands”, “Fifty Tears (Reprise)”



August 2014 – THE BOX @ DOUBLEVISION CD album in a limited edition of 300 copies. | gg189 Klanggalerie now proudly presents the collected Doublevision works by this phenomenal group, including several remixes by Richard H. Kirk - two of which remained unpublished until this CD collection. In the unlikely case of you not knowing what The Box sound like: imagine a Sheffield funk band with elements of jazz & sax, a Cab Volt meets Miles Davis kind of music with a vocalist that could also be Captain Beefheart.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Interview: KURT VONNEGUT in Leeds (1983)





TWO DAYS IN LEEDS 
 WITH KURT VONNEGUT: 
A TENTATIVE 
TANGLING OF TENDRILS 



 ‘One requirement is that the opening of a book be seductive. 
 If he’s smart a writer will begin a little archly, a little cutely, 
 a little too forward. A stranger is going to open this book and 
 either decide to read it, to give it the next few hours – or not. 
 And so, if I’m a little cute, or a little too glitzy in the beginning, 
 this is to hook the stranger. This person will not read the 
 damn book if you do not seduce them. It’s… prostitution, yes. 
 It’s ‘I’ll give you the best night you ever had if you give me $7’ 
                                                 – Kurt Vonnegut (March 1983) 



It was then my biro snapped.

Sat alone in the swish ritz of the ‘Queens Hotel’ reception feeling vaguely displaced and disapproved of, with the nib in one hand bleeding blood-blue bile and the open-mouth plastic tube in the other, drip-feeding my fingers a steady pulse of ink.

Then the vinegar-corpse receptionist starched-smiles at me. ‘You can go up now, Mr Darlington.’

Manoeuvring splintered plastic bits down between my shoes and soft-shuffling them back out of sight, streaking rich pile, I head out for the elevator (chintzy inner décor of Yorkshire Moors) and angle down a corridor of doors, carefully not smear-touching anything. What if Vonnegut wants to shake hands and I fingerprint him… biro ink him? Cosmic confrontation time with the author of ‘Player Piano’ (1952), ‘The Sirens Of Titan’ (1959), ‘Breakfast Of Champions’ (1973), ‘Slapstick’ (1976), and more, and I’m sticky-fingering blue goo…

First floor. Room 116. A room with window gawping out across City Square where cars revolve in endless train and some armoured King in equestrian statue is fenced in behind a scaffold-cage having pigeon-shit surgically sandblasted. Two chairs over-low slung are drawn too close to a gas fire ratcheted too high and in cherry-red intensity. Vonnegut in short red scarf is hunkered down there miserly slurping up a surplus capacity of heat. He gets up, draws me in, his guileless smile plastered aslant. But thankfully, he doesn’t offer his hand…

He’s about my height, but slouched, defensively drawn in slightly, despite the openness of his manner. His moustache is a couple of shades greyer than his hair, which is as tight-curled as clusters of cartoon thought-bubbles, like on the book-covers but a little more disciplined, not as raggedy-tousled – as if he’s made an effort to smarten up his act for this tour. His brown close-check jacket doesn’t match his pants, and there’s a tiredness in his eyes that you pick up on lurking just behind the homely courtesy.

Formalities disposed of, tape-machine positioned between us, I confess I’m writing this up for a Rock-orientated paper (‘Hot Press’), and – priorities up front, ask his views on the state of the art of music journalism After all, didn’t the Grateful Dead name their music publishing company after his ‘Ice Nine’ invention? Didn’t Al Stewart tag a track off his ‘Modern Times’ (1983) album for Vonnegut’s ‘Sirens Of Titan’? and isn’t there, even now out the window and across the square, a band in Leeds called Slaughterhouse Five?

He grins hugely. ‘To be honest, I don’t understand a single word of Rock criticism’ he confides.

Is it true that certain of his books are banned in certain American States? ‘Well, they try to ban them.’ The fact seems not to faze him. ‘It’s illegal, but we have to sue these people again and again. Periodically remind them of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Somebody circulated a list of supposedly bad books and this list has never been upgraded. It just keeps floating round and floating round, and it’s twelve, thirteen years old now, but school boards and parents in small towns lift this list and wonder if these bad books – which they’ve never read! are in their libraries. And they are. And they throw them out!’




Banned or no, his Science Fiction travelogue of the Dresden apocalypse – ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ (1969), was translated into an incandescent film by George Roy Hill (1972) of ‘Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid’ notoriety. Around the same time, Vonnegut’s play ‘Happy Birthday, Wanda June’ (1971) – ‘a simple-minded play about men who enjoy killing, and those who don’t’, less successfully became a TV-movie starring Rod Steiger and Susannah York. Then 1975 saw a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of various elements from the Vonnegut canon whipped up into a low-budget fly-past for American cable and BBC biopic slots called ‘Between Time And Timbuktu’ (13 March 1972) with Vonnegut himself as ‘advisor and contributor to the script’. Since then, Robert (‘M.A.S.H.’) Altman reportedly tried for the stillborn rights to his 1973 ‘Breakfast Of Champions’ novel – and was outbid. It eventually surfaced in a 1999 version with Bruce Willis and Albert Finney, directed by Alan Rudolph. While John Cale even more recently announced he’d completed the score for a short movie based on Vonnegut’s vignette “Who Am I This Time?”. Broadcast as part of PBS’ ‘American Playhouse’ series (2 February 1982) – with Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon, it was directed by Jonathan Demme of ‘Caged Heat’.

Are there other stories he’d like to see filmed? ‘No. I don’t want to push my luck. I don’t think my books make good movies. It’s just the way I write. I don’t praise myself for this, but I am a presence in my own stories. So anybody who tries to make a movie out of a story of mine is gonna wind up a character short. Because I am, in fact, in it. And I can’t act a sour apple.’

He was quoted as disliking ‘Happy Birthday, Wanda June’. Is that true? ‘That was the worst movie I ever saw. There was a big depression in Hollywood when that was made, and when ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ was made. There were only two movies being made in Hollywood at that time – and they were both mine! One was the best movie ever made, and the other was the worst movie ever made.’




‘I, Billy Pilgrim, will die, have died, and always 
will die on February thirteenth, 1976’ 


Of course, he’s absolutely right. Like Billy Pilgrim’s first glimpse of the Dresden skyline ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ is ‘intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd.’ It gives the impression of being spontaneously episodic, thrown together casually like a series of anecdotes. Yet the tone of its vast, absurd sadness is exactly right. ‘There are almost no characters in this story’ writes Vonnegut, ‘and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.’

But with nothing else volunteered, I go for the wide-angle lens. Kurt Vonnegut – destroyer of worlds, black humourist, existential absurdist, are you an optimist? ‘As regards human nature –sure.’ An expansive shrug, a dismissive gesture with his hands. ‘But I think what our culture requires us to do is extremely dangerous. And so ‘the culture’ is a leading character in my books again and again. And the culture is a very stoo-pid taskmaster. It makes these bizarre demands on us – and THERE IS, IN FACT, NOBODY THERE! There’s an actual lack of personality in culture – although television is coming close to being such a person in our lives now.’ A pause. ‘But there have been these acts of mercy on battlefields where someone has declined to kill. THAT’S what they’re there to do! ‘Why on Earth are you here? Why on Earth were you ever born? – in order to KILL this person before you!’ And yet people have declined to do this, and managed to survive themselves.’ Vonnegut talks slowly, humorously, when he talks he focuses his whole concentration on you, eyes at pinpoint attentiveness. When he talks, he talks for you and no-one else.

So he sees social pressures stuck in absurd ruts, while individual acts provide an escape clause? ‘Yes. There’s a great campaign in the United States by people who have guns and ammunition to sell, that every household should own a gun. And of course, it’s very American to have a gun, supposedly. But I mean, this is all just advertising. So much of this culture has been ‘created’. How Americans act has been ‘created’. No American should go out with his shoes un-shined. When you go out a-night, you should get dressed up. These are ideas derived from people with something to sell you. They would love to sell you a tuxedo. And they would love to sell you shoe polish. They would love to sell you razor blades, and look at you with your beard!

‘The culture is so absurd. Most people can’t even imagine stepping outside their culture and criticising it. They assume it’s utterly given, just like the chemical make-up of the atmosphere. And yet it’s clearly an invention that can be added to all the time by vested interests. Look at what Hitler added to German culture! Children came up through the Hitler youth, or whatever, and accepted it. None of it is criticised. But it’s not fear that makes them unwilling to criticise, they just don’t realise, just don’t understand that it CAN be criticised. That it IS arbitrary.’ An odd, quirky smile. A long deep-furrowed fourth-generation German-American face. A man who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden by sitting out the storm in the ‘natural living rock’ bunker of an abattoir numbered ‘Slaughterhouse Five’. That was 13/14 February 1945. Now he homes in for the punch-line. ‘I mean – we’ve gotten in enough trouble trying to imagine what god wants. We’re in worse trouble giving our sole respect to our culture…!’

It’s odd. Vonnegut is on a promotional tour for his current novel, ‘Deadeye Dick’ (1982), the story of Rudy Waltz who accidentally kills a pregnant woman while she’s vacuuming, and who lives the rest of his life feeling guilt and remorse while seeking forgiveness. The tour is a tight round of appearances, cities, press and radio calls, some TV, world-in-a-trunk repetition chaperoned by the brisk knife-edge-crease efficiency of smart upwardly-mobile PR men. But in this impersonal hotel room, slotted in sixty-minute interview segments, he unwinds the whole automatic-pilot pre-programmed rigidly schedule-bound cat’s cradle routine down to a relaxing interlude with an old friend. A neat trick it seems comes natural to him. A calm, slightly-fuddled eye to the promo storm.

The ink on my fingers suddenly not so outta place after all…




‘I thought scientists were going to find out exactly how 
everything worked and then make it work better. 
I fully expected that by the time I was twenty-one, 
some scientist would have taken a color photograph 
of god almighty – and sold it to ‘Popular Mechanics’ 
magazine. Scientific truth was going to make us so 
happy and comfortable… what actually happened 
when I was twenty-one was that we dropped scientific 
truth on Hiroshima. We killed everyone there’ 
                              (‘Breakfast Of Champions’


‘To be is to do’ – Socrates 
‘To do is to be’ – Jean Paul Sartre 
‘Do be do be do’ – Frank Sinatra 
 (‘Deadeye Dick’


Chicks. Sausages. Antlers. Pennants. A clothesline. A Pawn-shop sign. A ‘very poorly cleaned’ chalkboard. Last time I was here at ‘Leeds Playhouse’ it was Ian Carr’s Nucleus a-stage, not this Props Dept detrition of pantomime oddities. Carr blew a stunning set – possibly causally connected to a large chunk of the theatre’s roof coming adrift in subsequent gales, but even then the place wasn’t this full or this abuzz with electric expectancy. The foyer is awash with refugees hunting cancellation-seats or camping out to catch His Master’s Voice relayed on wire through tannoy amplification as a management concession to the punters they’re either shoe-horning in or having to turn away. Press immunity has its advantages. I’ve seen much here from Brecht’s ‘Chalk Circle’ to Mike Westbrook’s magnificent ‘Cortege’, but I’ve never witnessed owt like this. And this night is for a sixty-one-year-old writer who shuffles out in blue two-piece suit, round-toe black shoes, red tie, sleepy eyed. To deliver a rambling idiosyncratic talk (very) loosely pegged out around a thematic clothesline of his life achievements. ‘I want credit as the man responsible for (a) the Kilgore Trout story, (b) the Neuter story, etc etc’ (the latter a reference to Rudy Waltz, who is so traumatised by his accidental manslaughter that he lives the rest of his life as an asexual ‘neuter’).

His humorous, sometimes comic performance is received as holy writ by the sycophantic assembled. Each anecdote rapturously revelled-in, each in-reference smugly responded to, each hint of near-profundity applauded to death. From ‘if you want to hurt your parents and you don’t have nerve enough to become a homosexual, least you can do is go into the arts,’ to ‘I was raised a pacifist. I’m a pacifist now.’ Hi Ho, so it goes.

Courteous Vonnegut – who ‘doesn’t understand a single word of Rock criticism,’ says that ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine gifted him the sixties. They opened up the counter-culture for him. And looking around, I’d guess this is something very like a videofit fake-up of what your statistically average ‘Rolling Stone’ readership might look like in 1983. Still hairy, but also rather threadbare. Brightly crosspatch and fringed in attempted suburban bohemia, but in strict monogamous couples, or student clusters, arty manuscripts is closets, piles of poems in manila folders in drawers filed in with their relevant rejection slips. Low-culture literate. With Vonnegut books programmed in alongside Tolkien, DM Thomas, Mervyn Peake, and ‘Watership Down’

And Vonnegut plays to expectations. Extends the woolly eccentricity of his novels across the stage for around forty-five highly entertaining minutes. A hectically assembled ramshackle self-indulgence of inner mumblings, slapstick monologues and muddle-headed throw-away whimsy. He taps it out with chalk on the blackboard and peppers it richly with ‘Wampeters, Foma and Granfallons’. Random notes? ‘It’s ALL random notes!’




He does his ‘farting tap-dancer’ routine from ‘Breakfast Of Champions’ to illustrate the ‘Kilgore Trout’ technique (Trout is the fictional hack-writer he created who took on a life of his own). The story concerns the ‘alien Zog from Margo, a planet where the natives converse by means of farts and tap-dancing. He lands at night in Connecticut. He’s no sooner touched down than he sees a house on fire. He rushes into the house, farting and tap-dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they’re in. The head of the house brains Zog with a golf club. An example of a tragic failure to communicate.’ He feeds an ad for ‘Deadeye Dick’ – ‘my new book, my wonderful new book’ in off-hand send-up, which still gets the message across to the satisfaction of his PR chaperones.

Then, in what appears to be a less ambiguous vein, he speaks out against writers who ‘present their credentials as educated people. Showing some familiarity with Latin and Greek, and Greek mythology. They – having travelled in Europe some, seen the important Cathedrals, the important paintings. I,’ he protests, ‘make no such allusions. I offer no credentials to prove that I am indeed an educated person.’ Instead, he declares ‘I am educated as an anthropologist, and what impressed me is what the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss said at the end of his career. That he thought all cultures were equally rich and complex. That there is no-one with a deprived culture.’

Elitist academics and writers scorn ‘the sort of population we have in New York today – Hispanics and Blacks,’ but ‘I’m sure the Hispanics and Blacks have myths and a culture as rich as mine, or as rich as those elitist academics and writers, or as rich as anyone’s. What used to be standards for style or literacy – or evidence that you are a good writer, are becoming obsolete. Most critics believe in those standards – that a person SHOULD have a little Latin, a little Greek, and should know the myths of the Minotaur and so forth. This has made it very hard for us to create an American literature. I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana, and when I express that culture, or do honour to that culture, it is scorned by some critics as simply being beneath notice. This is a cultural matter and should be acknowledged as a cultural matter. The cultural standards for judging literature should be abandoned, and everyone should be credited with having a rich culture to begin with. And let’s begin from there, and see what a person can do with his own – rather than the critic’s culture.’

The audience goes ape-shit. Like he’s delivered a personal exoneration on the sanctity of their taste. But it makes me a little uneasy. It comes just a whit too cutesy, a bit like telling the people what they wanna hear. A pat on the head for the collective ego. I mean, I don’t know Indianapolis, but I’d guess that it’s dominant popular mythologies aren’t that different to those of Dublin, Leeds, or pretty much anywhere else in the West-World… TV, Rock and Sports stars, Comic-book heroes and movies. Sure – I’d agree that if a writer wants to reach anything other than a micro-elite then they’ve got to engage with that culture. But to eulogise it on this podium seems slightly over the top. Vonnegut infects this audience with an awe at their own profundity. Rubber-stamps their smug complacency rather than stimulating them to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. Isn’t there just the merest whiff of condescension? And – with security as tight as a drum, there’s no chance to explore the theme, yet. There’s no time-squeeze between his set’s completion and the PR men hijacking him for book autographing chores in the lobby.

But I determine to find time…




‘He walked out into the night with his flashlight. 
He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight 
beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. 
He put his hand on my head, and do you know 
what that marvellous man said to me?... ‘Son’ my 
father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours’.’ 
                                                (‘Cat’s Cradle’


The intense heat from the keyed-up gas fire, and his insistence on poring directly over it to scoop up as much as possible, gets uncomfortable. I want to put to him the question of his condescending to his audience but can’t find a way to do it without running the risk of interview-time being abruptly terminated and winding up back in reception with the vinegar-corpse receptionist and the bits of my broken biro. So I bide my time, with droplets of sweat running down the inside of my shirt. And we talk around his career as an SF writer, through the highpoint books, ‘Cat’s Cradle’ (1963), ‘Sirens Of Titan’ and ‘Slaughterhouse Five’. Then his apparent decline into a clutch of self-referential books content to serve the by-then massive Vonnegut industry. Does this new book break from this sequence?

He capsule-reviews the ‘neuter novel’, ‘Deadeye Dick’ – ‘Rudy Waltz, the hero, has no interest in sex whatsoever’ he relates amiably, ‘because he accidentally shot a pregnant woman when he was twelve years old. He has no interest in anything actually. But he foresees, and I foresee the next big parade up Fifth Avenue is going to surprise American civilisation. Of course, the homosexuals suddenly poured into Fifth Avenue and marched, revealing how numerous they were, how proud they were, and how many votes they had.’ ‘The next flurry up Fifth Avenue is going to be the Neuters. And it’s going to be the biggest parade that New York City has ever seen! There’s going to be women who look like Marilyn Monroe out on the street carrying signs – ‘DID IT TWICE: NEEDED IT BOTH TIMES’. There’s going to be professional athletes, perhaps American Football Players stripped to the waist, holding placards saying – ‘HAVEN’T DONE IT FOR TWO YEARS: NEVER FELT BETTER’. And that sort of thing. This may turn out to be three-quarters of the population of New York City. We have no idea how many neuters there are around, because they send off no sex signals. They’re not signalling to other people to ‘come to me, look at me’ and all that. So you simply don’t notice them. Rudy Waltz – the hero of my novel, this neuter, looks like Gary Cooper! He’s that big and that handsome. And in Greenwich Village, the sex capital of the world, nobody sees him when he walks down the street. He’ll walk into a coffee shop and sit down and not get waited on, because he is a neuter…’

The phone rings. A persistent reminder from the lobby that my time’s up. With nothing to lose I make my play for extra time. One of the things that struck me last night, I offer, was your put-down of ‘high culture’ (knowledge of Latin, Greek etc), in favour of ‘folk culture’ (television and street culture?). It seemed to me rather condescending, I mean, YOU obviously relate to literary precedents as well as Pop influences…?

‘No. But I didn’t – you mentioned television, I didn’t. But these people have…’

Was it just ethnic cultures you were referring to then? ‘Well, whatever. You can get bizarre combinations in a city like New York, where there is a lot of intermarriage and all that. But then, I believe that everyone has myths, which are ways of discussing life. In the same way that the Bible parables say ‘here’s a story, we can talk around that.’ And the Hispanics and the Blacks, for example, or the Eastern European Jews or whoever is in New York, have parables already. You and I don’t know them, or perhaps I do know them. They also have rich music traditions. A lot of Hispanics are part-Indian, and presumably know old legends from pre-Columbian times. Every culture, every person has a parable.’

You mean a common currency of ideas to which people relate. But must that only apply to ethnic groups?

He’s shrugging his coat on. Thinking on his feet. ‘The telly was your invention, because I didn’t say they had a culture built on television.’ Actually he had hinted as much a few thousand words back when he’d accused television of ‘coming close to being’ the ‘personality in our culture.’ But instead I just suggest that the dominant contemporary mythologies would be TV, Rock and Sports personalities, Comic-book heroes and movies, that sort of thing.

‘Well, you can certainly discuss life around them, around those things’ he concedes. ‘That’s not a question of how bad that stuff is, or how good.’ He’s warming to the subject. ‘I wouldn’t mind having somebody be hit pretty hard by some drama on television – but certainly NOT a situation comedy, and choose to refer to it from time to time in the presence of other people who had seen it.’

Coat flapping, glasses now perched precariously on the end of his nose, a giant case bulging in all the wrong places, he turns on me unexpectedly, demanding ‘Now why did she DO that?’ Initially thrown off balance, it’s soon obvious to me he’s acting out possible Soap plot-dialogue. ‘Why was she drunk that night? Did she have to get drunk that night… or was she only pretending to be drunk…?’ He continues the argument, tested it, tasting it in different ways.

Then he pauses for a moment as we head out for the corridor. ‘It’s the same sort of thing as ‘was Hamlet crazy?’ One is reputable, and one isn’t. Ye-e-e-e-s…’ Perhaps that just occurred to him? Perhaps that’s what he meant all along? Perhaps to the ‘Yorkshire Playhouse’ audience it’s Vonnegut’s writing that has created their mythologies, not Shakespeare or TV?

Minutes later, sat alone in the swish ritz of the ‘Queens Hotel’ reception lobby playing back the interview-tape, I see Vonnegut, coat unfastened and dismally blowing, looking vaguely tired and harassed. He exits through the plate-glass doors to be swallowed up by a waiting taxi. En route for Manchester, another stream of interview games and impertinent questions. Another night, another $7!




‘About endings, people complain about the endings of my books. 
Endings do not matter. They don’t. I end ‘Cat’s Cradle’ with 
the end of the world. Somebody thought that was a comment of 
mine of some sort. It wasn’t. It was just a way to end the damn 
book. People imagine the ending is what we’ve been building 
up to the whole time. This is not what we’ve been building up to. 
What we have been building up to has occurred about two-thirds 
of the way through the book. Every message has gotten through, 
every scene has been played. The last part of the book is saying 
‘thank you for coming, really, that’s all there is, the food is gone, 
we’re out of ice-cubes, look what time it is, here’s your coat, 
let’s get together again real soon’. It’s goodbye…’ 
                                         – Kurt Vonnegut (March 1983) 


All quotes and novel extracts courtesy of Jonathan Cape Publishers.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Soul Giants: INEZ & CHARLIE FOXX 'Mockingbird'



‘Mock-YEAH-ing-YEAH
-bird-YEAH-yeah-YEAH’ 

 Retro Album Review of: 
‘MOCKINGBIRD: THE BEST OF 
INEZ AND CHARLIE  FOXX’ 
 by INEX AND CHARLIE FOXX 
(Stateside SSL 6000, 1986) 


The more I hear the likes of Atlantic Starr or Patti Labelle/ Michael McDonald the more I’m grateful for the techno-primitiv of boy-girl duo’s – Inez & Charlie Foxx from Greenboro NC. Stood out in stark relief against the schlock-digital AOR Radio Sweethearts, this stuff is raw, spontaneous, a jolt of sheer joy to the central nervous system. Although never a Tina T or an Aretha F, Inez was pure undiluted Soul of the lighter flash ‘n’ trash school – she could testify on “Hurt By Love” with a scalding scolding finger-pointing outrage plugged direct into Gospel tradition, with elder-brother Charlie’s vocal-sparring chant orbiting supportively, urging her on in much the same way as, live, he’d physically dance around her in the oddest long-leggy spider-bizzaro visual routine this side of James Brown. His elaborate pompadour and beanpole physique perfectly contrasting her sinuously guileless eroticism on the stand-out 1964 appearance I clearly recall on ITV’s ‘Scene At 6:30’

On ‘Mock-YEAH-ing-YEAH-bird-YEAH-yeah-YEAH’ – their highest chart flier, the two call-and-response voices juxtapose counter-harmonies, Inez’ top-line wail versus Charlie reciting hybrid bass. Lines twine and slide, complement and compete deliciously around a schoolyard jingle already oral history when Bo Diddley first plucked it out as HIS anthem, yet still shiny-newer than anything on this week’s playlist. An inspired studio accident – Charlie’s eccentric interjections originally intended as guide vocals for a backing group who bunked off, his phrasing stretches and warps the lyric (‘it’s gonna break this heart of my-yi-yi-yi-yine’) completely out of the realm of language and into pure bliss. “Mockingbird” still deguts all opposition (there IS no REAL opposition!).

A ‘Billboard’ no.7 in August 1963 – on the Symbol label, “Mockingbird” eventually charted here as high as no.33 on a United Artists reissue in March 1969. By then, “Hurt By Love” on the original Sue had already reached the UK no.40 in July 1964, promoted by tours with the Spencer Davis Group, and the Rolling Stones. But there are other blasts from R&B’s age of innocence here, sixteen tracks lovingly transcribed from Henry ‘Juggy Murray’ Jones’ antique ‘Sue’-label originals. There’s “La Dee Dah I Love You” – solid power from the Motown-charged handclap intro through its quirky staccato drum-breaks and honking sax, “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush” – another nursery rhyme re-cast by Charlie (in cahoots with regular arranger Bert Keyes), and “Broken Hearted Fool”, showcasing Inez’ range spun out over a broken-backed rhythm-track thefted from “Mockingbird”. And more…

From what followed – a coupla minor gems for Musicor subsidiary Dynamo, including the excellent “Count The Days” and Northern Soul favourite “Tightrope”, an Inez solo stint with Stax subsidiary Volt, an early-seventies Inez solo scorcher “Circuits Overloaded” (1974), and writer-production credits on product as diverse as the Platters (Inez co-wrote their “I Love You 1000 Times”) and Gene Pitney (Charlie co-writing his final US hit, “She’s A Heartbreaker”) – there was nothing to quite recapture the primal power of what’s en-vinyl-ised in all its uniquely tacky grandeur here. Charlie died of leukemia 18 September 1998, aged just fifty-eight. But, although “Mockingbird” has never quite vanished over the intervening decades and years, it’s GREAT to have it back!


Side one: (1) “Mockingbird” (Charlie and Inez), (2) “Searching For My CC” (Charlie and Inez), (3) “Broken Hearted Fool”, (4) “My Momma Told Me” (Jimmy Oliver), (5) “Don’t Do It No More”, (6) “I Wanna See My Baby”, (7) “If I Need Anyone”, (8) “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush”.
Side two: (1) “Hurt By Love”, (2) “Sitting Here”, (3) “La De Da I Love You” (Inez Foxx), (4) “I Fancy You”, (5) “Down By The Seashore”, (6) “Ask Me” (Windsor King), (7) “Confusion” (Charlie and Inez), (8) “Jaybirds” (Charlie and Inez)… all other tracks written by Charlie Foxx. Liner notes by Bob Fisher

Friday, 29 August 2014

Poem: 'MARTIAN DREAMS'



MARTIAN DREAMS: 
FROM THE SONGS OF 
THE QUANTUM CATS 

(For HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 
Leigh Brackett, EC Tubb, and beyond) 


there are the sands of Mars, and the sands of Earth
the green hills of Earth, and the red hills of Mars
the moons of Mars, and the moon of Earth
there are desert storms on Earth
and desert storms on Mars
there are the mountains of Mars, and mountains on Earth
the airs of Earth, and the more tenuous airs of Mars
the dunes of Mars, as there are dunes on Earth
sunrise on Earth, and the sunrise of Mars
days of light, and evenings of dusk
sunsets on Mars that flood the sky with fire
and sunsets on Earth that reflect that fire
there are canyons on Mars deep with darkness
and canyons on Earth only slightly less dark
some say there are ghosts on Mars, as on Earth
that through broken Martian shadows creatures move
conceived in Earth in wistful yearnings,
memories in flight that conspire fantastic dreams
in the mythology of worlds, of Mars, but dreamed on Earth
winds on Mars that whisper through high towers
in cities that lie beyond something more than death
imagined on Earth, Martian plains threaded in canals
that are mapped by Terrestrial cartographers
there are the sands of Earth, and the sands of Mars…


Published in:
‘HANDSHAKE No.89’ (UK – August 2014)



Thursday, 28 August 2014

Music: GENE PITNEY - He's No Rebel



GENE PITNEY: 
 HE’S NO REBEL


He started out as a songwriter. 
GENE PITNEY wrote “He’s A Rebel” for the Crystals
Then he had hits of his own… and seemed to lose 
the ability to write songs, so when the hits 
stopped, he couldn’t write his way back. 
ANDREW DARLINGTON tries to find out why… 


Who’d would believe it? It’s ten-thirty and the ‘Frontier’ is already cram-full of the usual pot-bellied trendies-that never-were and business-suited twerps trying to pull the perennial birds in a grim half heaven half heartache of fading dreams and phony grandeur, yet they’re jigging up and down, unashamedly blowing their ages and what remains of their cool by singing every word of “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa”. It’s not that Pitney doesn’t have to contend with the habitual rudeness of the club’s chatterers queuing at the Bar, he does, but his determined professionalism in reliving his legacy of well-performed oldies makes for a winning set. And, grudgingly – yes, he still looks reasonably sharp.

And he’s enjoyed a good innings. Something like twenty-three chart-making singles, neatly divided into American and British hits, sometimes with the same record, frequently with different ones, as well as some considerable album success. Even now, when it comes to the grim scampi and chicken-in-a-basket northern club circuit, the ‘Frontier’ is about as big as it gets. Louis Armstrong played here, Shirley Bassey too. But the most reliable tickets are for the golden oldies, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Marty Wilde… and Gene Pitney. Familiar from all those ‘Top Of The Pops’ and black-and-white ‘Ready Steady Go’ appearances, his strong, distinctive tenor works best with big productions which transmute every two-and-a-half-minute Pop song into full theatrical drama, mouth twisting in odd sideways contortions to wring out the full pain and pathos. When he sings “Just One Smile” – the ultimate self-pitying paean to hurt, he grimaces ‘all that I had has been taken from me, now I’m crying and tears don’t become me,’ he’s wrong. Tears do become him. He cried his way through a succession of heartbreak torch-ballads. Each hit single tells a story. And he tells it with absolute conviction.

There’s a strange phenomenon in the inter-relationship between Pop and songwriting that’s worth considering here. There are a number of stars – such as Billy Fury and Leo Sayer, who start out writing their own material. Billy auditioned for Larry Parnes intent on interesting him – not in his voice, but in his compositions, and once signed, his first few singles plus the acclaimed ‘Sound Of Fury’ (1960) album were his own songs. While Sayer not only wrote his own first trio of hits but provided the songs for the Who vocalist’s ‘Daltrey’ (1973) solo album. But once they both achieved stardom, professional writing teams began feeding them hits, and they got to rely on other people’s songs, until it’s as though their own writing abilities atrophied. Once their celebrity burned out, and they were no longer the favoured vehicle sought out by royalties-hungry songwriters, it seems when they most needed it, they’d lost the ability to write their own new material, falling back instead on other’s reject-songs or reviving oldie’s. Neil Sedaka, by contrast, was always a writer. When music changed and his record sales crashed he wrote for other people – The Captain & Tennille, Andy Williams and Tony Christie, until fashion switched back and he had new hits of his own. Songs are the vital component of a career, to keep that commodity in-house is just about the most valuable asset you can have.

Gene Pitney was a writer too. At the famed Brill Building he wrote “Rubber Ball”, an irritatingly catchy hit for both Bobby Vee and Marty Wilde (although he adopted his mother’s maiden name ‘Orlowki’ for the credit). He wrote “Hello Mary Lou”, one of Ricky Nelson’s most enduringly memorable hits, plus “Today’s Teardrops” recorded by Roy Orbison (as ‘B’-side to “Blue Angel”), and “Blue Heartaches” for crooner Tommy Edwards. But best of all, he wrote “He’s A Rebel” for the Crystals. One of the most era-shaping Phil Spector wall-of-sound productions, it’s a career-defining song. At a time when the post-Rock music scene had largely blanded out, dominated by inoffensive songs sung by conformist pretty boys, it defiantly champions the outsider. The guy in Pitney’s lyric is ‘not just one of the crowd,’ he has the inner strength to stand out against mainstream convention, he’s ‘always the one to try the things they’ve never done.’ And Darlene Love, vocalist on the single, is standing by his side, two against the world, ‘just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does, that’s no reason why I can’t give him all my love.’

On the record-sleeve the ‘Rebel’ is a leather-clad biker, a ‘Leader Of The Pack’ direct from Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild One’ (1953), and looking forward to the counter-culture outlaws of ‘Easy Rider’ (1969), even if it must also lay the ground-rules for the devolved Biker chic of ‘Grease’ (1978). If Gene Pitney had done nothing else, this one song would guarantee him a respected place in Rock history. Oddly enough, with the Crystals at the American no.1, Gene’s own concurrent single as an artist – with Bacharach-David’s “Only Love Can Break A Heart” remained one chart position beneath it, sitting it out at the American no.2.

Gene Francis Alan Pitney, destined to be one of the biggest vocal heartthrobs of the sixties, was born 17 February 1941 in Hartford, Connecticut, one of five children – two brothers and two sisters, in a middle-class family. Under the influence of Doo-Wop, the smooth R&B of Clyde McPhatter and the maudlin Country-Blues of Moon Mullican he formed his first group – Gene & the Genials, as a pupil at Rockville High School, and edged into recording as one half of the Jamie & Jane duo, cutting two singles with Ginny Arnell aka Mazarro (“Classical Rock And Roll” and “Snuggle Up, Baby”). His debut solo single was “Cradle Of My Arms”, by-lined on the Blaze record label as ‘Billy Bryan’.

 But his route into mainstream Pop came through his writing, his first credit going to the Kalin Twins who cut his “Loneliness” in March 1960. Encouraged by other writer-sales to the likes of June Valli (“Looking At The World (Thru A Teardrop)”), Billy Bland (“Harmony”), and Steve Lawrence (“Tears From Heaven”), he visited a small Seventh Avenue four-track studio where – for just $30, he demo’d his own song “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away”, impressively playing and overdubbing every instrument, while multi-tracking his voice seven times to achieve the depth of harmonies. He’d dropped out of studying electronics at the University of Connecticut, but this demonstrates a high degree of dexterity over every aspect of the recording process. When it was issued on Aaron Schroeder’s Musicor, he was rewarded with his debut hit single. It reached an American no.39 in 1961, and became his only UK single issued on the London-American label.

But he became best known working through other people’s songs and arrangements. His single “Every Breath I Take” was written by the superlative Goffin-King team, and was a lavish early production at Bell Sound for Phil Spector. Then came movie-theme “Town Without Pity”, which he was astute enough to also record in German and Italian for the foreign market. The 1961 Kirk Douglas film concerns the gang-rape of a German girl by American GI’s, their subsequent trial and her suicide. The song takes the lines – ‘it isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do’, but softens its adult theme into the regular two misunderstood young lovers, ‘ours is not an easy age, we’re like tigers in a cage’. 

As it climbed to no.13 on the ‘Billboard’ chart, radio play brought his strong interpretive vocal talents to the attention of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” for his next single. Although based more closely on another movie plotline – a John Ford Western starring John Wayne and James Stewart, it was not included in the 1962 film itself. Yet session drummer Gary Chester even hits two distinctive drum-strikes to represent the bullets that take down the outlaw, played in the film by Lee Marvin. And while the single becomes his biggest to date, all the way no.4, it also emphasises Gene’s ability to act out strong narrative lyrics. Bacharach-David also wrote “Only Love Can Break A Heart” for him, which was even bigger.

Although Bacharach-David were considered the songwriting gold-standard, with each new tastefully faux-sophisticated song fiercely competed for, and even though their finely calibrated melodies, incessant key changes and melancholy top-notes were picked up and re-celebrated by a later generation of musicians including Noel Gallagher, they essentially came out of the classic Broadway Great American Songbook tradition. They were old-fashioned pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll writers who started out with the twee cutesy fifties Pop of “Magic Moments” and “The Story Of My Life”. Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about taking Daddy’s car and cruising to the hamburger stand. It is taking your high-school Baby to Lookout Hill hoping for a fumbling make-out in the back seat. “Twenty-Four Hours To Tulsa” – opening with its famous two-trumpet phase, is not like that, it is full mature adultery. Written in the form of an apologetic goodbye letter to his wife, the narrator is a comfortably middle-class married businessman heading home for the suburbs from a trade weekend when he’s seduced away by the charms of the girl in the small hotel. ‘She took me to the café, I asked her if she would stay, she said ‘Okay’’ taking them into a whirl of orchestration. This is not teen-kid’s stuff. This is a grown-up Harold Robbins storyline. It was a novel, a movie, at least a Soap-opera plotline. That it was soon to be reconfigured into a drugs-fable by the Eagles torturous “Hotel California” merely adds another dimension. And it was this song that spanned the Atlantic and made Gene Pitney an international contender.




Meanwhile, in another universe, check out the liner-notes of the Rolling Stones debut LP, side one track five reads “Now I’ve Got A Witness (Like Uncle Phil And Uncle Gene)”. Pitney was in London with Phil Spector, hot after their collaboration on “He’s A Rebel”. Andrew Loog Oldham modeled himself on Spector’s cool, and was an arch-opportunist. He spirited the duo down to the Regent Sound Studio where the Stones were recording, sufficient to justify adding the star-endorsement credit, and got them to contribute piano and maracas to “Little By Little” (also the ‘B’-side of “Not Fade Away”). But there was more. Oldham was keen to move his disreputable group away from their diet of R&B covers – which every other club group in Britain was doing anyway, and to get them into writing their own stuff. Like John and Paul. In response they wrote “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday” in the anguished Pitney style.

It’s difficult to imagine Jagger singing it, his limited range seems hardly equal to its vocal contortions, yet a lack-lustre November 1963 songwriter demo – called “My Only Girl” (with a fade-out chorus ‘the girl belongs to yesterday’) has emerged, preserved on the bootleg ‘Unsurpassed Masters Volume 7 (Odds And Ends)’. From this it’s possible to gauge to what extent Gene tweaked and remodeled it, by accentuating and emphasising its modest contours. Re-titled, and with a dramatic Charles Blackwell arrangement, the Pitney single opens with a crashing Spector-style crescendo with descending piano phrase, Gene’s three-octave voice climbing into near-falsetto as its moody drawn-out structure peaks into climax. Until this unlikely link yields a mutually-beneficial top ten hit. The Stones got a respectable writer credit (it also provides their first-ever composition on the US Hot Hundred), while Pitney was oddly ushered into the Swinging London swirl.

 He was on ‘Ready Steady Go’, drooled over by Cathy McGowan, his photo in the ‘Rave’ Mod magazine. There was even gossip about romantic as-close-as-this moments with Dusty Springfield, obviously concocted by the record label publicity department. Pitney’s forays into the London Rock subculture includes a further unlikely collusion. “Lips Are Redder On You” is a fairly inconsequential song written by cult producer Joe Meek for his protégés the Colorados, which caught his attention. With Gene producing to Charles Blackwell’s arrangement – using original guitarist Mick Tracey, it became ‘B’-side to his 1964 single “I’m Gonna Find Myself A Girl”.

At a time when the American Pop-hegemony was collapsing, with established hit-makers as big as Bobby Vee, Ricky Nelson and even Elvis dropping chart-places or tumbling out of the Top Twenty altogether, Gene Pitney began hitting a kind of commercial career peak. Maybe because he hadn’t previously been as big as the others had, or maybe the Stones’ endorsement granted him insider status? If he was sharply-dressed, he was certainly no Mod. Although earlier shots show him with pompadour quiff, by the time of his high-profile post-‘Tulsa’ hits his hair is combed forward into a fringe. But clean, scrupulously tidy. “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (UK no.2) might have been written by top-team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, but it’s uniquely personalised by Gene’s overwrought peak-falsetto in its final moments, rising to express the pain he’s unable to verbalise. It’s followed into the UK Top Three by another of the duo’s songs “Looking Through The Eyes Of Love” (UK no.3), another story-in-song about the anonymous city loser redeemed by the devotion of his lover.

But he was sharp enough to champion new writers. According to Gene’s own account he took demos by struggling newcomer Randy Newman and restructured them into the hits “Nobody Needs Your Love” (UK no.13), and “Just One Smile” (UK no.8), demonstrating again his interpretative ability to arrange and customise songs by other writers. ‘They were awful, as far as being Pop songs’ he told journalist Roger Dopson, ‘you literally had to dissect them! You had to pull them apart and take all the best things out of them, as he’d often just noodle on the piano. You had to think really hard, to extract the right things... sometimes, it was like a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing’ (sleeve notes to ‘Gene Pitney: The Collection’, Demon 2005). So, while not writing the songs, he was focusing his songwriterly instincts to restructure other’s songs. Maybe Randy Newman learned from his revisions? While “I Must Be Seeing Things” (UK no.6) was lifted from a demo by Al Kooper, who would later form Blood Sweat & Tears (although Gene wrote the ‘B’-side “Save Your Love”).




Already there were ‘Greatest Hits’ albums – ‘Gene Pitney’s Big Sixteen’ made the UK LP charts as early as February 1965. Even as the hits continued. Unlike others of his ilk, Gene recorded albums of some integrity. He was never tempted into, or suckered by the psychedelic experiment that derailed some, although it could be argued that his use of ‘world music’ instrumentation as early as “Mecca” (US no.12 in May 1963) prefigures the Beatles forays into orientalism. Probably not, more likely Gene was using them as effects in the same way that Elvis did in the appalling ‘Harem Holiday’ (1965). Instead, Gene reverted to the Country roots that had been an early influence, duo sessions in Nashville resulted in a well-received album with George Jones – ‘For The First Time! Two Great Stars: George Jones And Gene Pitney’ (June 1965) which usefully extended his audience. It was followed by a second Jones collaboration, then an album with Melba Montgomery (‘Being Together’, 1966). Although there were no hit singles from these albums, they proved an astute foray into broadening Gene’s fan-base. Singles remained the most vital Pop currency, but these projects were early examples of what would later be termed country-rock concept albums.

So, with so many positives, why and when the downturn? “Backstage” was another major hit, a song immaculately tailored to his image-requirements. Almost a personal story built around his persona, ‘out on that stage I play the star, I’m famous now I’ve come so far.’ Yes, he emotes the lines with thespian-skill, with perfectly enunciated clarity, an authenticity underlined by the TV-cameras spooling it all in. Yet ‘every night a different room, every night a different club… when I sign my autograph, when I hold an interview’ he’s lost in a lonely isolation that only that special girl can cure. With the implication that maybe – just maybe, that fan watching the screen, could be that special girl. It’s there, in the degree of calculated deliberation that the flaws begin to show.

His uneven chart profile was increasingly tilted towards Europe, where jobbing songwriting teams began offering him custom-crafted material specifically designed around his perceived requirements. Producer Ron Richards acted as go-between for Roger’s Cook & Greenaway – already famous as the David & Jonathan duo, to induce Pitney to record their “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” which required no tweaking whatsoever. It fit effortlessly. He went on to record their lesser-effective “A Street Called Hope”. Anthony ‘Tony’ Hazzard performed the same service with “Maria Elena” – a UK no.25 hit (in March 1969), arranged by slick professional Keith Mansfield. But in some ways it proves a serious miscalculation. The narrative of a young man off to war doing his patriotic chore was at odds with trendy anti-Vietnam sentiment, and distanced him from whatever credibility he retained. 

Another British team, Les Reed and Barry Mason – responsible for Pop-fluff by Edison Lighthouse, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, provided the slight “Twenty-Four Sycamore”, which had earlier failed as a single for Wayne Fontana, but yields a no.34 for Gene. A mildly tuneful if fairly routine song, swathed in weeping strings, it barely provides Pitney’s voice with any challenge, with the lazy ‘whoa-whoa-whoa’ fillers inserted as if in lieu of lyric inspiration. Gene had never done ‘whoa-whoa-whoa’s. His repertoire was always more literate than that. By January 1970 his single “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)” was adapted from a Silvikrin shampoo TV-ad! In fairness, others were doing it too. With one commercial TV-channel, an ad on ITV guaranteed massive awareness, and Honeybus, Bobby Goldsboro and the New Seekers were using it to score hits. But from the man who wrote “He’s A Rebel” and “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away” it’s a disappointing career-development.

Falling back on the Musicor team of staff producer George Tobin writing with Johnny ‘Mr Bass Man’ Cymbal, Gene recorded “Somewhere In The Country” (UK no.19, April 1968), about the social disgrace of illegitimacy, the ‘quiet girl’ spirited off to Aunt Nora’s house to avoid the ‘morning paper social page’ scandal. It was constructed in what ‘Mojo’ called the ‘classic Pitney mould: grand melodrama with a murky backstory.’ Gene performs the role of unreliable narrator, posing the question, is he the errant father? But at the dawn of supposed Free Love and Permissive liberalisation its sensitive sympathy seems quaintly out of time. Now was when Gene Pitney most needed to revert to his own songwriting abilities, to extricate himself from the image he’d been swallowed up by. But it was now that it failed him. There were no new songs. The angry burn that had provoked “He’s A Rebel” had long since ossified. And the material he was being offered was second-rate facsimiles of what he’d already done. “She’s A Heartbreaker” – his final American chart hit (no.16 in April 1968), is a shot at sock-it-to-me R&B underwritten by the writer-producer team of Jerry ‘Swamp Dogg’ Williams and Charlie (brother of Inez) Foxx. It’s outta-sight funky Stax-style horns work. It could have been a direction worth exploring. But it proved to be a one-off.

Not that it was over. Far from it. The hits compilations continued. After all, there were plenty of hits to rummage through. Despite a health scare in 1974 he toured regularly, cutting his on-the-road schedule to six months of each year, but always to good response. And he continued recording. There was even a final hit – his first and only no.1, when Marc Almond invites his participation in his revamp of “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” in January 1989, reigniting a new wave of interest. In much the same way that the Pet Shop Boys revived Dusty Springfield’s career, Take That took Lulu onboard, or the Smiths recorded with Sandie Shaw. The video, filmed in Las Vegas shows Pitney in red cummerbund, looking a little worse for wear, but his voice still packs considerable power.

With the first reports of Gene Pitney’s death, 5 April 2006 in his Cardiff room at the Hilton Hotel, it was difficult not to recall his lines ‘every night a different room, every night a different club’. He died alone, during a British tour. He’d sung “Backstage” at the ‘Frontier’ in Batley the night I saw him. He’d probably sung it more times than even he could remember. But he still sang it with a degree of conviction.



GENE PITNEY: HIT BY HIT… 

27 February 1961 – “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away” (Musicor 10020) reaches US no.39

23 March 1961 – “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away” (Gene Pitney) c/w “I Laughed So Hard I Cried” (London HL 9270) reaches UK no.26

October 1961 – “Every Breath I Take” (Goffin-King) c/w “Mr Moon, Mr Cupid And I” (HMV POP 933) reaches US no.42



18 December 1961 – “Town Without Pity” (Musicor 1009) reaches US no.13. Song revived by Thin White Rope on their late-1988 ‘Red Sun’ EP

8 March 1962 – “Town Without Pity” (Ned Washington-Dmitri Tiomkin) c/w “Air Mail Special Delivery” (HMV POP 952) reaches UK no.32. This was the last song Gene ever sang on stage, as an encore at the St David’s Hall, Cardiff

19 May 1962 – “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” (Bacharach-David) c/w “Take It Like a Man” (Musicor 1020) reaches US no.4. UK HMV POP 1018)

29 September 1962 – “Only Love Can Break A Heart” (Bacharach-David) (Musicor 1022) reaches US no.2. The ‘B’-side, “If I Didn’t Have A Dime (To Play The Jukebox)” (Bert Russell-Phil Medley) charted in its own right, reaching US no.58. UK United Artists UP 1005



5 May 1963 – “Half Heaven, Half Heartache” (Wally Gold-Aaron Schroeder-George Goehring) c/w “Tower Tall” (Mandel-Sachs) (Musicor 1026) reaches US no.12. UK United Artists UP 1012. Gene rerecorded the song as a duet with Jane Olivor on her 2000 album ‘Love Decides’

13 April 1963 – “Mecca” (Johnny Gluck-Neval Nader) c/w “Teardrop By Teardrop” (Halley) (Musicor 1028) reaches US no.12. UK United Artists UP 1021

3 August 1963 – “True Love Never Runs Smooth” (Bacharach-David) c/w “Donna Means Heartbreak” (David-Hampton) (Musicor 1032) reaches US no.21. UK United Artists UP 1030

16 November 1963 – “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” (Musicor 1034) reaches US no.17

5 December 1963 – “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” (Bacharach-David) c/w “Lonely Night Dreams (Of Faraway Arms)” (United Artists UP 1035) reaches UK no.5. Arranged and conducted by Burt Bacharach

5 March 1964 – “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday” (Jagger-Richards) c/w “Who Needs It” (Conrad-Beadle) (United Artists UP 1045) reaches UK no.7, reaches US no.49

April 1964 – “Yesterday’s Hero” (A Cleveland-W Gold-C Spencer-A Schroeder) c/w “Cornflower Blue” (Musicor) reaches US no.64

11 April 1964 – ‘BLUE GENE’ (United Artists ULP 1061) reaches UK LP chart no.7

May 1964 – ‘GENE PITNEY MEETS THE FAIR YOUNG LADIES OF FOLKLAND’ (United Artists ULP 1063)

June 1964 – “I’m Gonna Find Myself A Girl” (Adams, Adams and Avon – the Avons of ‘Seven Little Girls’ 45rpm fame) c/w “Lips Are Redder On You” (Joe Meek) (United Artists UP 1055)

29 August 1964 – “It Hurts To Be In Love’ (Musicor 1040) reaches US no.7. Written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller it was intended for Neil Sedaka who was unable to record it for contractual reasons, so Gene Pitney’s voice is dubbed over Sedaka’s backing track

15 October 1964 – “It Hurts To Be In Love” (H Greenfield-H Miller) c/w “Hawaii” (United Artists UP 1063) reaches UK no.36

7 November 1964 – “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (Musicor 1045) reaches US no.9. Originally recorded by Frankie Laine in 1963

12 November 1964 – “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil) c/w “Aladdin’s Lamp” (Gene Pitney) (Stateside SS 358) reaches UK no.2

6 February 1965 – ‘GENE PITNEY’S BIG 16’ (Stateside SL 10118) reaches UK LP chart no.12. When vinyl albums usually ran to twelve tracks, sometimes ten, occasionally fourteen, sixteen constituted good value!



18 February 1965 – “I Must Be Seeing Things” (Bob Brass-Al Kooper-Irwin Levine) c/w “Save Your Love” (Stateside SS 390) reaches UK no.6

20 March 1965 – ‘I’M GONNA BE STRONG’ (Stateside SL 10120) reaches UK LP chart no.15

20 March 1965 – “I Must Be Seeing Things” (Musicor 1070) reaches US no.31

22 May 1965 – “Last Chance To Turn Around” (Vic Millrose-Tony Bruno-Bob Elgin) (Musicor 1093) reaches US no.13

10 June 1965 – “Looking Thru The Eyes Of Love” (Mann-Weil) c/w “Last Chance To Turn Around” (Stateside SS 420) reaches UK no.3

August 1965 – ‘Geno Italiano’ (Stateside SE 1032), EP of hits sung in Italian

21 August 1965 – “Looking Thru The Eyes Of Love” (Musicor 1103) reaches US no.28

November 1965 – ‘GEORGE JONES AND GENE PITNEY’ (Stateside SL 10147) followed by April 1966 ‘IT’S COUNTRY TIME AGAIN’ (Stateside SL 10173) also with George Jones

4 November 1965 – “Princess In Rags” (Helen Miller-Roger Atkins) c/w “Amore Mio” (Stateside SS 471) reaches UK no.9

20 November 1965 – ‘LOOKIN’ THRU THE EYES OF LOVE’ (Stateside SL 10148) reaches UK LP chart no.15

18 December 1965 – “Princess In Rags” (Musicor 1130) reaches US no.37

17 February 1966 – “Backstage” (Fred Anisfield-W Denson) c/w “In Love Again” (Stateside SS 490) reaches UK no.4. Arranged by Gary Sherman. Produced by Pitney-Kahan

14 May 1966 – “Backstage’ (Musicor 1171) reaches US no.25

9 June 1966 – “Nobody Needs Your Love” (Randy Newman) c/w “Dream World” (Stateside SS 518) reaches UK no.2

17 September 1965 – ‘NOBODY NEEDS YOUR LOVE’ (Stateside SL 10183) reaches UK LP chart no.13, arrangements by Garry Sherman, ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘the little chap with the big voice is not everybody’s idea of a class singer, but you can’t deny his emotional impact and his enormous range’

September 1966 – ‘BEING TOGETHER: GENE PITNEY AND MELBA MONTGOMERY’ (Stateside SL10181), ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘much more country-slanted than most Pitney sides, but there’s still enough pop flavour not to offend Pitney fans’

10 November 1966 – “Just One Smile” (Randy Newman) c/w “The Boss’s Daughter” (Stateside SS 558) reaches UK no.8, reaches US no.64

February 1967 – ‘There’s No Living Without Your Loving’ EP (Stateside SE 1045) ‘NME’ says ‘one of the most distinctive voices around is at its peak on one here, ‘The Rising Tide Of Love’. If you dig Pitney, dig this.’ Three hitherto unissued tracks, plus ‘The Boss’s Daughter’

23 February 1967 – “(In The) Cold Light Of Day” (L Weiss-S English) c/w “Flower Girl” (Stateside SS 597) reaches UK no.38. Arranged by Artie Butler, Produced by Gene Pitney and Stanley Kahn. Coincides with UK tour opening Friday 17 February at Finsbury Park Astoria, as ‘America’s International Singing Star’ with the Troggs, David Garrick, Sounds Inc. Last date Sunday March 19 at Coventry

March 1967 – “Animal Crackers (In Cellophane Boxes)” (Musicor) US only

4 March 1967 – ‘YOUNG WARM AND WONDERFUL’ (Stateside SSL 10194) reaches UK LP chart no.39, ‘NME’ says ‘Pitney cools the atmospherics and presents an album of warm, romantic songs to fit in with his new image of wedded bliss’… he married Lynn Gayton in Italy while appearing at the San Remo Festival

22 April 1967 – ‘GENE PITNEY’S BIG SIXTEEN Vol.3’ (Stateside SSL 10199) reaches UK LP chart no.40. ‘NME’ says ‘he has to class backing throughout and varies the pace from the up-tempo ‘Rags To Riches’ to the slow low-key ‘Born To Lose’’. ‘Record Mirror’ awards it four-stars

October 1967 – ‘JUST ONE SMILE’ (Stateside SL 10212) ‘NME’ says ‘another well-produced album by this talented American hit singer, who varies the intensity and pace but never the quality of his performance’ ‘Record Mirror’ adds ‘the arrangements are superb, and Gene’s vocalistics are really up to standard’

15 November 1967 – “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” (Greenaway-Cook) c/w “Where Did The Magic Go?” (Stateside SS 2060) reaches UK no.5. UK promotion includes (Nov 4) ATV’s ‘Golden Shot’, and Radio 1’s ‘Pete’s People’, ‘Juke Box Jury’ (8), ‘Top Of The Pops’ (9), ‘Dee Time (Nov 11), plus daily on ‘David Symonds Show’




3 April 1968 – “Somewhere In The Country” (J Cymbal-G Tobin) c/w “Lonely Drifter” (Stateside SS 2103) reaches UK no.19. Coincides with UK tour opens April 5 at Lewisham Odeon, with Paul Jones, Simon Dupree Big Sound, Don Partridge

15 June 1968 – “She’s A Heartbreaker” (Foxx-Jerry Williams) (Musicor 1306) reaches US no.16

June 1968 – “Love Grows” c/w “Conquistador” (Stateside SS 2118)

October 1968 – “Billy, You’re My Friend” (E Goldman) (Musicor) reaches US no.92

27 November 1968 – “Yours Until Tomorrow” (Goffin-King) c/w “She’s A Heartbreaker” (Stateside SS 2131) reaches UK no.34

5 March 1969 – “Maria Elena” (Tony Hazzard) c/w “The French Horn” (Stateside SS 2142) reaches UK no.25. Arranged by Keith Mansfield. Produced by Gerry Bron

20 September 1969 – ‘BEST OF GENE PITNEY’ (Stateside SSL 10286) reaches UK LP chart no.8. ‘NME’ says ‘Gene has a way of giving a song an injection which makes it way above average’ while ‘Record Mirror adds ‘sixteen big ballads from the fastest vibrator in the west’

November 1969 – “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)” (P Vance-L Carr) c/w “I Remember” (Stateside SS 2157) reaches US no.89

14 March 1970 – “A Street Called Hope” (Greenaway-Cook) c/w “Think Of Us” (Tony Hazzard) (Stateside SS 2164) reaches UK no.37. Coincides with UK tour with Badfinger, Clodagh Rodgers, Mike Cotton Sound from 20 March at Finsbury Park Astoria

3 October 1970 – “Shady Lady” (Gentry-Lordi) c/w “Billy, You’re My Friend” (Stateside SS 2177) reaches UK no.29

April 1971 – “Stand By The One Who Loves Me” c/w “Pretty Annabelle” (Pye Int 7N 25549), ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘in this attempt at an up-dating of his style (it’s a rumbling slow Country-tinged chugger), Gene is co-prod/penned by Robert John. There can be no disguising that noisily plaintive voice though’

August 1971 – ‘GENE PITNEY SINGS BACHARAC, DAVID AND OTHERS’ (Pye Special PKL 4404) ‘NME’s Richard Williams says ‘ his voice was strangulated, and therein lay his appeal: though motionless, he seemed to be tearing himself apart inwardly’

August 1971 – “Run Run Roadrunner” c/w “Rainmaker Girl” (Pye Int 7N 25564), ‘NME’ says ‘come the verse his voice moves into the stratosphere and from then on it’s all down to an oxygen tent. Strangely, it’s quite an attractive sound and could become a hit’

November 1971 “It’s Not That I Don’t Love You” (John Carter) c/w “I Just Can’t Help Myself” (Pye Int 7N 25573), produced in UK by Barry Murray. ‘NME’ says it ‘may well re-establish Gene on the chart scene’

April 1972 – “I Just Can’t Help Myself” (Barry Murray and Mike McNaught) c/w “Beautiful Sounds” (Pye 25579), coincides with ‘GOLDEN HOUR OF GENE PITNEY’S GREATEST HITS’ (Golden Hour GH805) includes this with ‘Town Without Pity, ‘Liberty Valence’, ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ etc

July 1972 – “Summertime Dreaming” c/w “It Aint The Same” (Pye Int 7N 25585)

October 1972 – “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” c/w “Maria Elena” (Pye Int 7N 25596)

March 1973 – ‘GOLDEN HOUR OF GENE PITNEY Vol.2’ (Golden Hour GH818) ‘NME’ says ‘he possessed a distinctive style like a cultured Neil Sedaka. All good clean American fun from a good clean son of Uncle Sam. His heart was always breaking; but it broke ‘tastefully’ and without mess’

28 April 1973 – “Twenty-Four Sycamore” (Les Reed-Barry Mason) c/w “Billy, You’re My Friend” (Pye International 7N 25606) reaches UK no.34. Europe release only

October 1973 – “Love Grows” c/w “Hate” (Pye Int 7N 25624)

2 November 1974 – “Blue Angel” c/w “Song Without A Friend” (Bronze BRO 11) reaches UK no.49, re-enters to no.39. Produced by Roger Cook for Europe and Australia release only

March 1975 – “Trans Canada Highway” c/w “Take Me Tonight” (Schroeder-Gold-Alfred) (Bronze BRO 14) ‘NME’ says ‘Ol’ Gene’s mellowed a little. He no longer screams like his Big 16 was trapped in a car door.’ Europe and Australia release only

October 1975 – “Train Of Thought” (Alan O’Day) c/w “I’d Still Be In Love With You” (Bronze BRO 19) revival of old Cher hit. ‘NME’ says ‘Pitney double-tracked in octaves, gently lurching sax solo, orchestra in late in the track, and just right’

November 1975 – ‘PITNEY ‘75’ (Bronze ILPS 9314) with ‘Train Of Thought’, plus songs by Albert Hammond, Paul Williams and Elton John

April 1976 – “You Are” c/w “Oceans Away” (Bronze BRO 25)

2 October 1976 – ‘HIS 20 GREATEST HITS’ (Arcade ADEP 22) reaches UK LP chart no.6

October 1976 – “Hold On” c/w “Running Away For Love” (Bronze BRO 32)

February 1977 – “Sandman” c/w “We Wrote The Show” (Epic EPC 4491)

November 1977 – “We got Love On Our Hands” c/w “Walkin’ In The Sun” (Epic EPC 5783)

December 1977 – “It’s Over, It’s Over” c/w “Walkin’ In The Sun” (Epic EPC 5897) revival of old Roy Orbison hit, a twelve-inch edition includes ‘Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’

October 1978 – “Train Of Thought” c/w “I’d Still Be In Love With You” (Bronze Bro 63)

August 1982 – “I’m Gonna Be Strong” c/w “Backstage” (Dakota BAK 14)

April 1983 – “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” c/w “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (Old Gold OG9287), both tracks on September 1977 ‘Soda Pop Vol.2’ compilation (DJM) with ‘NME’ ‘Pitney with the stiff upper lip of ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ and the luxurious agony of ‘Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’, a jukebox rumba of illicit love and flashing motel neon’

14 January 1989 – “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” with Marc Almond (Parlophone R 6201) reaches UK no.1