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Johnny Rotten plays his own records on Capital Radio, 1977

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Recorded at a moment in time when the young Mr. Rotten was routinely getting his head kicked in by skinheads and hassled by the police, this is probably my single favorite bit of punk rock audio ephemera (actually, it’s a tie with the infamous Slits college radio interview, but that’s another blog post…).

What am I talking about? A guest appearance by Johnny Rotten on the Capital Radio program of deep-voiced DJ Tommy Vance. Rotten/Lydon was invited to play records from his own collection and talk about them. He comes across as whip-smart, honest and refreshingly free from much—if any—social programming and religious brainwashing. He discusses the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McClaren (he calls him the fifth member of the band), being educated in a Catholic school he despised and his passionate love of music. There’s no put-on here or any hint of the deliberate obnoxiousness of later years.

Where did you go to school?

[sighs] This poxy Roman Catholic thing. All they done was teach me religion. Didn’t give a damn about your education though. That’s not important is it? Just as long as you go out being a priest.

Which you haven’t become.

Well no. That kind of forcing ideas on you like when you don’t want to know is bound to get the opposite reaction. They don’t let you work it out for yourselves. They tell you you should like it. And that’s why I hate schools. You’re not given a choice. It’s not free.

It’s an inevitable question, and a corny question, but can you think of any better system of educating people?

No I can’t [laugh], I just know that one’s not right. I wouldn’t dare, it’s out of my depth, I have nothing to do with that side of things. I haven’t been to university and studied all the right attitudes, so I don’t know. No I haven’t.

[fades in Doctor Alimantado - ‘Born For A Purpose ‘]

This is it, ‘Born For A Purpose’, right? Now this record, just after I got my brains kicked out, I went home and I played it and there’s a verse which goes, ‘If you have no reason for living, don’t determine my life’. Because the same thing happened to him. He got run over because he was a dread. Very true.

The music he plays is a revelation.  Can, some rare soul, Tim Buckley, Peter Hammill (he accuses Bowie of copping the Van Der Graaf Generator front man’s moves), Captain Beefheart (he plays “The Blimp”!), Nico, John Cale and of course, lots of reggae. When Rotten plays the dub b-side by Culture (the track with the lopping bass, barking dogs, crying babies and blaring car horns) you can hear the blueprint for the PiL sound that would come along just a few months later.

It must be said that for a 20-year-old he’s got astonishingly good taste in music and for that time period? Please! This really is an incredible thing to listen to. For the musical education alone, it’s great, but listening to the thoughts of this controversial, brilliant young man at the height of powers is a sublime pleasure.

It even contains the radio commercials from the broadcast. This has been making the rounds for years, but this version is clean and in real stereo, the best I’ve ever heard.

A transcript of the interview and a track listing can be found here.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Figures in a Landscape: Classic documentary on sculptor Henry Moore

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When the poet Stephen Spender visited Henry Moore at his home in 1960, he asked the sculptor ‘what were the differences of his aims when he did an abstract drawing, or a representational one, or a portrait.’ Moore replied that there were at least 5 or 6 different kinds of drawing used in the process of creating work.

(1) The kind of drawing he made when he was trying to study the organic form of nature of an object. This was the kind of drawing which consisted of trying to find something out. He said in this connection that it was impossible for anyone to do drawings without making discovery about the structure of objects.

(2) Trying to describe the objects, for example, when he did a drawing of his daughter or some other life figure, or perhaps even of a bone.

(3) The kind of drawing he did when he was trying to clear his mind of an idea for a piece of sculpture: to plan it out, to see it from different angles and so on, to get an idea of what it would look like.

(4) Drawings which he would call exploratory. He would start simply perhaps by scribbling a few lines and then discovering from them a shape which led on to something else. These are the kind of drawings which arise from doodling.

(5) Drawings in which he attempted to explore the metamorphosis of objects. He would draw something realistically and then try to discover how it could take some other shape. He would turn realistic subjects into an abstraction through drawing it first realistically and then abstracting from it.

(6) What he called ‘imaginative’ drawings in order to create an atmosphere of dream. In this category, he would draw figures standing against a background.

Moore was influenced by Picasso (the solidity of flesh, the abstraction of figures) and primitive art, in particular Mexican which he described as ‘a channel for expressing strong hopes, beliefs and fears.’  Moore’s work continued in the tradition of celebrating the human condition. He aimed to bring an affinity between the human figure and the landscape. At times his abstract forms were not as easily assimilated by the viewer as more classical presentations - their scale and lack of identifiable facial features left the viewer to ponder their own humanity and role in the world. Sadly these days this seems to mean stealing Moore’s sculptures for scrap metal.

There was also great repetition with Moore - the lessons he had learnt in sketching the shadowy figures of Londoners sheltering from the Blitz in the Underground tunnels, was re-created time and again, while his attraction to mother and child most likely came from the personal heartache of his wife, Irina’s miscarriages, and the eventual joy at the birth of his daughter Mary.

In 1951, film-maker John Read (son of art critic Herbert Read) made the first documentary on Henry Moore, in which the sculptor explained the tradition of his work, his influences, and the process by which he created his own sculptures - form sketches, drawing, to models and casts.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Pier Paolo Pasolini: A rare interview on the set of ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’

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A rare and brief interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini on the set of his notorious film version of De Sade’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. As ever, Pasolini’s is uncompromising in his views of film-making and politics, which are still relevant today.

There is a lot of sex in it (Salò), rather towards Sado-Masochism, which has a very specific function - that is to reduce the human body to a saleable commodity. It represents what power does to the human being, to the human body.

All my films start from a formal idea, which I feel I must do. It is an idea I have of the kind of film it must be. It cannot be expressed in words, you either understand it or you don’t.  When I make a film, it because I suddenly have an inspiration about the form of that particular subject must take. That is the essence of the film.

As I shoot this film, I already have it edited in my mind. Therefore, I expect a greater professional ability from my actors. So, this film I’m using 4 or 5 professional actors. But even the ones I have collected from the streets, I use them almost as if they were professional actors. The lines have to be said properly, the way they were written, and all in one take. They must have the correct facial expression from the beginning to the end of the shot, etc etc.

My need to make this film also came from the fact I particularly hate the leaders of the day. Each one of us hates with particular vehemence the powers to which he is forced to submit. So, I hate the powers of today.  It is a power that manipulates people just as it did at the time of Himmler or Hitler.

I don’t think the young people of today will understand this film. I have no illusions about my ability to influence young people. It is impossible to create a cultural relationship with them, because they are living with totally new values, with which the old values cannot be compared.

I don’t believe we shall ever again have any form of society in which men will be free. One should not hope for it. One should not hope for anything. Hope is invented by politicians to keep the electorate happy.

 

 With thanks to NellyM
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
A talk with author Henry Scott-Irvine about his excellent new book on Procol Harum
12.06.2012
01:59 pm

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Close to 40 years after first seeing Procol Harum perform live, Henry Scott-Irvine has written the definitive book on the band: The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade Of Pale. It’s a fascinating look into the history of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most under-appreciated groups. Full of never-before-seen photos and insightful interviews with dozens of people close to the band, including numerous members of Procol Harum, family, friends and business associates, this is a motherlode for fans of Procol Harum and rock music in general.

In this interview, Henry Scott-Irvine shares his thoughts on Procol Harum and the reasons that after four and a half decades the band continues to “shine on brightly.”

Marc Campbell: The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade Of Pale is 340 pages long, quite substantial for a band that never achieved superstar status. Clearly, a labor of love and a gift for the fans of the band. When did you first hear Procol Harum and what was your immediate reaction?

Henry Scott-Irvine: The book was estimated to be 340 pages prior to writing it. The biography is actually 308 pages in length. But if you include the narrative pages along with with 50 pictures, then I did indeed deliver 340 pages.

I first heard Procol Harum’s music when “Conquistador” played out BBC TV’s Top Of The Pop’s in March 1972. As a very young teenager it reminded me of Morricone themes from Spaghetti Westerns and alluded to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which had been specially made as a film for BBC TV around this time. I first heard Procol Harum live a year later at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall (which is Edinburgh’s Royal Albert Hall) when they debuted my home town.
During their performance of “Homburg” I heard a familiar chuckle from a couple of rows back. Much to my overwhelming embarrassment my Dad was sitting behind me wearing a Homburg hat and an overcoat that was way too long!

MC: “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” is considered one of the great psychedelic rock songs. I certainly have fond memories of tripping while listening to it. Were Procol Harum acidheads?

HSI: Well they never admitted to it at the time. But some years later (1992) Gary Brooker did tell me he remembered going to a party at Brian Jones house in the summer of 1967, but couldn’t recall a thing afterwards. I think the song ‘Shine On Brightly’ is the nearest thing to a Procol Harum acid trip! Keith Reid must have been on acid to write that lyric!

MC: The original video for “A Whiter Shade…” has almost 12 million views on YouTube. It’s a song that still seems fresh and contemporary…as does much of PH’s music. Is it fair to say they were ahead of their time?

HSI: Without a shadow of a doubt! Place ‘Pale’ in the context of what had come before in the world of Pop and it was like a bolt out the blue. There had been no 45rpm that featured that particular fusion of classical music and blue-eyed soul, until ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. Procol Harum were leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. This is why ‘Pale’ was such a huge hit around the world. It literally caught the imagination of countless millions. There has never been an audit of just how many millions it actually sold globally.
 

Keith Reid, BJ Wilson, Dave Knights and Gary Brooker chat after a sound check at the Constitution Hall in Washington DC, USA in 1969.  Robin Trower and Matthew Fisher prefer to sit. Photograph by William Hatfiled.
 
MC: How did you come to know Procol Harum personally?

HSI: I first met Keith Reid at the time Gary Brooker made his first solo album No More Fear Of Flying in 1979. I went to interview Keith at his offices in Cranleigh Gardens in the rather posh district of Kensington in London. He was running his management company Strongman Production with his associate Nick Blackburn and looking after the likes of Scottish blue-eyed soul singer-rocker Frankie Miller, Southend R&B man Mickey Jupp and Gary Brooker. I heard ‘The Miller’ in concert many times between 1977 and 1981 and I would always track him down backstage in order to meet a rather bemused Keith Reid.  “Are you’ze guys Punks?” ‘The Miller’ would say to us each time with a mischievous glint in his eye. We’d tell him that we were Procol Harum fans. He would never believe us then repeatedly recall how, when he was in his first band The Stoics, he used to cover “The Devil Came From Kansas” from Procol’s third album A Salty Dog.

When Procol reformed in 1991 I was working in TV and I renewed my association with Gary Brooker and Keith Reid. Gary would invite me to his Christmas party gigs in Chiddingfold in deepest rural Surrey, every year. The likes of Eric Clapton, Dave Gilmour, Andy Fairweather-Lowe and Frankie Miller would join him and a vast ten piece band covering everything from Otis Redding, Bobby Bland, John lee Hooker and Procol Harum. A couple of us would then be invited to his local olde English pub on the village green the day after where we would join him and the band for a Christmas lunch that would last all day and continue well into the evening. Gary Brooker and his wife Franky were always warm, witty and kind. Magical times.

I went on tour with the band to Tallinn, Estonia in 1993 for a huge festival where Procol topped Faith No More. Two years later I went to see Procol play the newly re-opened Fillmore in San Francisco where they were supported by surprise guests The Doors. I remember walking up the venue’s red velvet carpeted steps to hear the strains of ‘Road House Blues’ spilling out of the theatre as if it really was 1969, and not 1995, and I was literally in seventh heaven. A couple of days later we sat with guitarist Albert Lee at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles and saw Procol Harum deliver another triumphant set. It inspired me to approach the director of the London Symphony Orchestra later that year, and in early 1996 a dream came true when Procol Harum and The LSO played London’s Barbican to a capacity 4000 seater venue. We have all remained friends ever since and a documentary-in-progress remains in the pipeline.

MC: In writing the book, who did you interview?

HSI: I interviewed virtually everyone who is and was in Procol Harum with the notable exception of the late BJ Wilson to whom the biography is dedicated. The band gave me exclusive interviews.

Here is a list of some of the others whom I interviewed:- Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) Pete Brown (Cream) Will Birch (The Kursaal Flyers & The Records) John Denton (Wilko Johnson’s Solid Senders) Chris Thomas (producer) Dennis Weinreich (producer) Ken Scott (engineer) John ‘Kellogs’ Kalinowski (former manager) Doug D’Arcy (former manager) Derek Sutton (former manager) David Pelletier (former sound man) Ann P Munday (Chrysalis Records) Simon Platz (music publisher).

The book’s Foreword was written at my personal request by Martin Scorsese. The Introduction was also written at my personal request by Sir Alan Parker as was the Afterword by author Sebastian Faulks MBE.

MC: Were there any members of the band who were unwilling to talk to you?

HSI: The bass player David Knights declined to be interviewed for the book. He had decided to put the music business behind him. Almost all of the subsequent bass players were impossible to locate and are not interviewed as a result. The current drummer Geoff Dunn and organist Josh Phillips and I made contact after the book was completed, sadly.
 

Procol’s drummer [the late] Barrie James Wilson relaxing in 1971. Photograph by William Hatfield.
 
MC: How long did it take you to research and write the book?

HSI: It really took a lifetime to research it! In truth I started at the beginning of January 2012 delivered the final version at the end of July 2012.

MC: How did Martin Scorsese come to write the forward to the book?

HSI: I wrote to his office and the reply was almost instant. He was keen to do it and flattered to have been asked. I nearly fell over. What a Goodfella!

MC: Like many bands of the Sixties, Procul Harum made albums that were intended to be listened to in one sitting. They were immersive experiences. You could put a pair of headphones on, close your eyes, and disappear for a half an hour or more. I miss those days. How about you?

HSI: With some Americana and Alt Country I think those days are returning. British bands Muse and Radiohead probably still mirror that ethos, too, I think.

MC: Bands are starting to return to making albums that hang together as a whole entity. Richard Hawley, Jonathan Wilson, Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave are a few artists that make albums that cohere and benefit from being heard as one piece of music. A lot of hip hop artists are also making albums that revive the old idea of the “concept” album. I think it’s important keep the tradition alive. Do you agree?

HSI: Yes I do agree. And I have always liked Hawley - especially his new album. Cave has been consistently interesting throughout his career. Of course there were good Rock Operas and bad “concept albums”  throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many of the latter category were dreadfully pretentious - especially albums by Rick Wakeman, Yes, Genesis, and the Moody Blues who I think are all wrongly bracketed next to Procol Harum to whom they bear little or no resemblance musically or lyrically. As Trower said to me of Yes, “They are are like musos – excellent musicians - like jazz musicians almost - each masters of their own instrument.” Each showing off and musically masturbating like some Jazz musicians, if you ask me! [I stole that latter quote from Beatles’ producer George Martin who said to me in 2000, “Jazz is basically musical masturbation.”]

Five Procol albums were assumed to be “concept albums”: - most of side 2 of Shine On Brightly was indeed a concept [‘In Held Twas In I’]
A Salty Dog was wrongly presumed to be about “the sea,” but in fact only contained two songs about “the sea” and two more songs that alluded to the word “sea”; Home was presumed to be a concept album about “death” and certainly five songs seemed to reflect the spirit of “death”; Broken Barricades seemed lyrically preoccupied with “sex”; Grand Hotel, looked like a concept album because the artwork reflected the title track; and Something Magic was indeed a “concept album,” “reflecting the spirit of Zen” as the Chrysalis Records’ PR insisted way back in 1977. But it was really something awful!
 

Keith Reid, Gary Brooker, Dave Ball. Photograph by Dave Ball (Procol’s guitar player from 1971-1972. He left mid way through Grand Hotel)

MC: In this era in which we all seem to suffer from attention deficit disorder, can a band like Procol Harum cut through the clatter and get people to slow down and really listen?

HSI: I think young people who take an interest in our collective cultural heritage would be very open to Procol Harum, but they are probably in a cool minority. Interestingly Procol are far more accepted in other countries and by many areas of ethnicity. They are touring Japan for two weeks right now and have done lots of TV and Radio. Procol Harum were, and continue to be, far bigger in Scandinavia than they ever were in Britain. They will tour there in March 2013 with the Danish National Orchestra. And there has always been an audience for Procol in North America!

MC: What bands are you listening to these days?

HSI: BMX Bandits (Scottish Indy just reformed) The Electric Stars (new UK Mancunian Psychedelia) The November Five (UK-meets-Detroit Rock) 12Dirty Bullets (new UK Indy) Elliott Schneider (Psych-Meets-Power Pop from San Francisco) Ana Egge (new singer/songwriter produced by Steve Earle) Slaid Cleaves (singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas) and Tandy (new Alt Country from the East Cost of the USA).

MC: Any future book projects?

HSI: Yes one comedy book, and one film maker biography.

Thanks for the interview!

Henry Scott-Irvine - author - Procol Harum & The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade Of Pale published by Omnibus Press and available online everywhere as a UK export through http://amazon.co.uk now.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Welcome to Kill City: Abel Ferrara’s 42nd St. Fueled Thriller, ‘Fear City’

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Abel Ferrara is, in a lot of ways, the quintessential New York filmmaker. For a director who is Brooklyn born, it was only natural for the city to be an omnipresent character in many of his works, including such classics as Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant. If the City is a strong background character in those films, then it is the star of Ferrara’s 1984 film, Fear City. Even better, we’re talking the seamier, pre-Disneyfied era of New York. Fear City features long gone spots like the Gaiety Burlesk as well as adult theatre marquees promoting such X-rated fare as Devil in Miss Jones II and Snow Honeys. The neon-lit sleaze and wonder of it all has never looked better on Blu Ray, thanks to the efforts of Shout Factory.

Locations aside, Fear City is a crime-riddled thriller centering around Matt Rossi (Tom Berenger), a former boxer who got out of the fighting game after accidentally killing his opponent in the ring. Staying in a profession still fringed with underworld connections, Matt, along with his partner Nicky (Jack Scalia), runs the Starlite Agency, which represents a number of exotic dancers. It’s not all glitter and pasties, since right off the bat we get to see Matt and Nicky hassle a club owner for back pay. When not dealing with business, Nicky tries to cheer up his partner, who is still heartsick after breaking up with his girlfriend and their star dancer, Loretta (Melanie Griffith). His angst is further fueled when he discovers that she is having a liaison with fellow dancer, Leila (Rae Dawn Chong.)

However, Matt soon has to put his emotional scars aside, since there’s a killer on the loose who is targeting strippers, a number of whom work for Matt and Nicky. Honey (Ola Ray) is the first victim, who survives but not without having a couple of her fingers cut off for her trouble. It’s only a matter of time before death looms ahead, with the first mortal victim being Leila. Between getting hassled by former vice cop now homicide detective Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams) and trying to rekindle things with Loretta, will Matt be able to reconcile the ghosts of his past and confront a highly dangerous killer?

Fear City is a film that neither wallows or shies away from the seamier side of life. Even better, it is non-judgmental. The women are not murdered because of any loaded sense of puritanical cultural guilt, but more due to the fact that there is a really sick, karate fueled sociopath with some severe repression issues out on the streets. Fear City is a good answer to anyone that makes the blanket assumption that all slasher-thriller type films are fueled by sheer misogyny. (Not bad for a movie ripe with T&A!) Of course, making a movie set in the often sleazy world of exotic dancing without nudity would be a bit like making a film about plumbing with no pipes.

Fear City has garnered a bit of a reputation as a ultra-lurid film and while the very nature of its story features some amount of sordidness, there were films out there that were were way stronger. The key difference, though, would be that a large amount of those more unabashed titles were typically independent from the get go, while Fear City was set up originally to be released by a major studio. In this case, the studio was 20th Century Fox. However, it apparently still proved to be too heady a film for the decades old giant and in the end, it was released by an independent distributor. Despite that, it still suffered some amazingly lame censorship.

Now thanks to this new release, we can finally see the film uncut, for the very first time on the American home video/digital market. Shout Factory have recreated the original cut, utilizing the theatrical print (which is also available on this disc) and an uncut VHS source tape. The most shocking thing about what was cut was the stupidity of any of it being cut in the first place. But then again, censorship rarely, if ever, makes any bloody sense. The raciest footage that was excised includes a kiss between Melanie Griffith and Rae Dawn Chong, which is no more explicit than anything you will see on cable TV. In fact probably less so. On top of that, with it missing, it renders Loretta’s reactions to her lover getting attacked a little less powerful and more over-dramatic. Some of the other footage that has been restored includes extra seconds of the killer exercising, a couple of frames of Loretta’s striptease and some surprising police brutality during Detective Wheeler’s interrogation of Matt. It’s beyond ridiculous that any of this was cut. It is highly doubtful that someone who chooses to see a film about a sociopath who is targeting 42nd St. strippers is going to be overly sensitive to such realities that include two women expressing affection or an officer of the law abusing his power. Audiences being treated like simple children is nothing new though it’s disturbing to think that the trend was still going strong only 30 years ago. Not like censorship has, either. To quote the Jenny Holzer t-shirt, abuse of power comes as no surprise.

Censor gripes aside, Fear City may not be one of Ferrara’s masterpieces but it’s good and features some tight performances, especially from the underrated and occasionally underutilized Tom Berenger. It’s great getting to see Billy Dee Williams, who does a fine job playing such a moralizing, brutal hard-ass. Griffith is fairly good and has never looked better, resembling a less arty version of Tubes chanteuse and Holy Mountain actress Re Styles. Granted, she might be one of the healthiest looking heroin addicts in cinema but as a whole, she’s good. Fear City also has a theme song, “New York Doll” by THE New York Doll, David Johansen and soundtrack composer Joe Delia. The latter’s work goes back to Ferrara’s beginnings, including his first film ever, the adult feature Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy.

At its core, Fear City is a taut thriller but historically, it has become more than that. The era where danger and sleaze bled out on the neon stained pavement on Times Square are long gone, leaving corporate tourism and a sense of loss in its wake. Not that a time period where one could get shanked while trying to watch Snow Honeys or even R-rated fare needs to be romanticized either. But that said, one could argue that the pall of gentrification is even uglier than vice. Ignoring the darker aspects of our humanity is not going to make it go away and if anything, creates a hothouse for dysfunction. The film’s killer is a result of that very attitude.

Abel Ferrara, along with screenwriter Nicholas St. John, have created a film that makes no judgments one way or the other about any of its characters. It is that attitude that perhaps made this film so initially scary to studio execs. Hollywood films ranging from Death Wish to Personal Best featured more violence or sexuality, but the refusal to paint its hero or heroine with a broad brush is more threatening than any breast or blood factor. It might not be one of Ferrara’s best by any means, but it works well and is worthwhile for anyone who appreciates having a film with flawed characters and a peek into a headier time.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
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