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Dancing on the grave of civilization (New York in the 80s & why I refuse to remove my boogie shoes)
11.11.2016
10:10 am
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Paradise Garage
 
When I got to New York in 1977 it was to play on a Monday night with my band at CBGB. At the time, CBGB was becoming a magnet for bands from all over the world. But despite its growing rep as a music mecca, CBGB’s early days had the feel of a clubhouse for a very specific type of rock fan: A hang for rebels who loved rock distilled to its essence, poets who found their muse in the mayhem of loud amps and the thunder of drums and a handful of rock critics who desperately needed something fresh to wrap their heads around. Playing to a nearly empty house, my band saw CBGB in a less romantic light. It was a dump. But on those nights when The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Damned, X-Ray Spex, The Dead Boys etc. played, CBGB was the center of the rock and roll universe.

Whether playing CBGB or not I probably spent most nights in 77/78 either there or at Max’s. It was the last great era of rock and roll as far as I’m concerned. We’ll be talking about The Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith long after grunge bands like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden are long forgotten (if they’re not already). As far as music of this new century goes, I’m not sure much of it will be remembered 20 years from now. I’m not hearing anything that really blows me away. I wish I did. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just an old fuck living in the past. But that past, particularly the glorious whole of the New York Club scene of the 70s and early 80s, was pretty fucking wonderful. Seen from a passing satellite I can imagine Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx looking like a giant throbbing meatpit glimmering with copious amounts of sweat and dripping with… (use your imagination).

Punk, rap, disco and Latin music were drifting in and out of each other and the barriers separating uptown from downtown were being shattered. Blondie, B-52s and DEVO were being played at Studio 54 and bands like Liquid Liquid, Bush Tetras and Konk were taking disco’s four-on-the-floor beat and putting some angsty urban edge into the mix. The bottom line is people were dancing everywhere, even in clubs where people had been too cool to get crazy. Leaning on the bar and striking hipster poses looked pretty square when hundreds of people were going mad on the dance floor to The Gun Club’s invocation to “explode to the call… move, move, sex beat, go…!”

My own circuit included Danceteria, Peppermint Lounge, Mudd Club, Club 57 and Hurrah’s where new wave, post-punk and ska bands played regularly and deejays like Mark Kamins, Anita Sarko and Dany Johnson kept the crowds in perpetual motion.The segue from live bands to vinyl was an art that was being mastered as the scene unfolded and the best deejays were being born on the spot.

At downtown clubs like The Paradise Garage and The Saint deejays Larry Levan and Alan Dodd spun dance floor filling beats for predominantly gay clienteles who embraced divas Loleatta Holloway, Donna Summer, Grace Jones and Sylvester as well as euro-disco and the very beginnings of house music. These were the test markets for new singles by new artists and the latest dance re-mixes. If a 12-inch extended dance mix worked at The Paradise Garage it would work anywhere. It wasn’t long before rock bands like The Clash and Blondie were hitting the studios to re-work their tracks into dance mixes. No one was listening to radio. We were all too busy nightclubbing.
 

 
Tim Lawrence’s epic new history of nightlife in the city that never sleeps, Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983, captures everything I’ve been talking about and so much more. In its six hundred thrilling pages, Lawrence gives us a close-up view of a scene that lasted from 1980 to 1983 before AIDS blew out the lights on a party that felt like it would go on forever. San Francisco in the 1960s had hippies, free love and psychedelics. It was the place to go to shake off the straightjacket of religious repression and cultural oppression for a generation of young people. In the less sunny and distinctly more frightening New York of the seventies and eighties, young people also gathered but with fewer support systems in play and far more obstacles than the free-flowing Aquarian era. Still, we made our own new version of paradise. It was rough-edged and more cynical but it was alive with energy that made us all feel that the future was ours. If there’s anything that makes Lawrence’s book ultimately a sad one is how quickly it all ended and how random and bewildering that end was. The openness and freedom we were all feeling was suddenly thrown under the wheels of some demonic subway train that had come rumbling out of nowhere.

When AIDS descended on New York it was a quiet bomb that shattered our world. For me, it hit home when I got a call that a friend of mine was dying from this new mystifying disease. I put down the phone not knowing exactly what it all meant. What the fuck was going on? My friend who was dying was Klaus Nomi. I had known Klaus for several years and had encouraged him in the very early stages of his music career. I helped him pick out a guitar (blue Fender Jaguar) and taught him three chords, enough to get him started. Ironically, we ended up on the same record label. Klaus epitomized New York’s multi-faceted music scene by crossing every possible boundary and creating something modern and new. He was ahead of his time, both wonderful and tragic.

Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 is a remarkable achievement as history and as entertainment. A sequel to his Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979, it’s a celebration and a eulogy of a New York that we may never see again. Dance floors and rock clubs have been replaced by chain stores and condos. The funky storefronts and theaters that housed music venues and discotheques are now homes to the rich and fabulous. No one dances anymore. Everyone is too busy making money to pay for their little bit of real estate that once was the breeding ground for artists, musicians and writers. Where bodegas, pizzerias, bakeries, dive bars and cheap ethnic restaurants once stood we now have Starbucks, The Gap and $100 sushi handrolls. Tim Lawrence’s book is a reminder that the heart and soul of any culture, any city, is in its art. From the great Times Square jazz clubs to the Boogie Down Bronx and CBGB on the Bowery, New York has always been one of the world’s great music centers. Once we lose touch with that magic we’re left with an island of commerce and concrete. We not only lose part of our soul we lose our collective identity. The value of cities are measured by their art. No one comes to New York because it has a better Starbucks or Chili’s. People flocked to Manhattan even in the worst of times because we had clubs, theaters and museums no one else had. People were willing to brave the Bowery because there was something magic going on in a dive bar that stank of beer and urine but seemed like heaven to fans of adventurous new music. CBGB’s heyday really only lasted a couple of years but those years were game changers for rock music and musicians. The good stuff is eternal.

In the past few days I’ve been in a state of shock and awe. Despondent to point of paralysis. This piece I’m writing now is helping me get a grip on myself. As I write it, I am remembering all the battles I’ve fought since I was 15 and marched on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. I am remembering Nixon and Reagan and I’m also remembering that during every dark era the arts have flourished. As war raged and friends were drafted and killed, we saw a golden age of rock and roll emerge in the sixties. The Beatles, Fugs, Sly Stone, Jefferson Airplane all sang songs of peace and insurrection based on liberating our bodies and minds. The art scene of the ‘60s was a massive detonation of mind-expanding paintings, films and literature. In the 1970s, when New York was dying and the government under Ford fucked us off, there seemed to be no light nowhere. But punk rock reared its beautiful spiky head like a pus-filled boil bursting and expelling the poisons that had been building in a city and citizenry under siege. We didn’t run, we didn’t hide. We partied! Dance floors exploded with free spirits moving, grinding, slithering to beats that were sexy, tantric, primal and emancipating. The songs were anthemic invocations to stand up against the machinations of death and doom. Gloria Gaynor led the charge with lyrics that were a call out to each and every one of us to not despair, to not lose hope and to survive!

Do you think I’d crumble
Did you think I’d lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive
Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive

So as we face this very uncertain time it’s important to not crumble to not lose your anger. For me, my anger right now is what clarifies who I am and what I believe in. This is not a time to go soft and get warm and fuzzy and talk about healing. Keep your anger close. Consider it an ally. But be precise and informed when you use it. In the meantime, this is the perfect time to find avenues to articulate and express your feelings without risking your freedom and safety. Nixon once quoted the old proverb “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Fuck him. I have a different angle: “when the going gets tough, the tough get down.” Let’s dance this mess around!
 

Dany Johnson
 
Here’s a mix to get down to. It’s based on a set list from Dany Johnson who was the house DJ at Club 57 circa 1980. Get happy, get healthy and get ready. We have work to do.

Blondie – I KNOW BUT I DON’T KNOW
Joe Cuba Sextet – BANG BANG
Delta 5 – MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
Bootsy’s Rubber Band – BOOTZILLA
Talking Heads – WARNING SIGN
Lynn Collins – ROCK ME AGAIN….
Pylon – GRAVITY
The Cramps – I’M CRAMPED
Spoonie Gee – MONSTER JAM
B52s – DANCE THIS MESS AROUND
Frankie Smith – DOUBLE DUTCH BUS
Marie and Les Garcons – RE-BOP
Fatback Band – KING TIM III
Lulu – THE BOAT I ROW
Bush Tetras – TOO MANY CREEPS

 

 
Update: New York City dance club visionary DJ David Mancuso who hosted groundbreaking Love Saves The Day dance parties and opened The Loft on Lower Broadway in 1970 died yesterday (Nov.14). He was 72. He created an inclusive club scene where everybody felt at home and set the tone for virtually every dance club that followed in his wake.

Posted by Marc Campbell
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11.11.2016
10:10 am
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Discussion
The Father of Prog Rock speaks: Exclusive interview with Billy Ritchie
11.10.2016
09:04 am
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000billyclouds.jpg
 
Revolution starts with a solitary idea that only builds into purpose when shared with others. In early 1967 three Scotsmen started a revolution when they played a legendary residency at the Marquee club in London. The trio was Ian Ellis (bass and lead vocals), Harry Hughes (drums) and a maverick keyboard player Billy Ritchie. Together they were called 1-2-3.

As a band 1-2-3 had a short lifespan—lasting around two years from 1965-1967. Yet, their impact—their musical idea—was remarkable as it spawned a whole new musical genre called Prog Rock. At the heart of their success was the unique talents of keyboard wizard Ritchie who invented this strange new soundscape that influenced the likes of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, the Moody Blues, Jon Anderson, and Robert Fripp. Among their fans was Jimi Hendrix and a young David Bowie who wrote a letter highlighting this new sound to the music press.

1-2-3 were loved by musicians but loathed by some of their “hippie” audience. Their impact was immediate. They were signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein to his talent group NEMS—but his untimely death in August 1967 left 1-2-3 open to the fickle fate of the music business. While other musicians quickly adopted and adapted 1-2-3’s musical style, Ritchie and co. were left to languish by new management who did not know what to do with them.

Eventually 1-2-3 signed a new record deal with Chrysalis Records in 1968. Chrysalis wanted the band to change its name and fit in more with their label. 1-2-3 became Clouds and their unique trademark sound was distilled to fit better with the label’s roster. Three albums and two world tours followed—but it was all too late—The Nice had pinched their act and King Crimson and Yes were already on the horizon.

In the 1990s, David Bowie once again enthused about seeing 1-2-3 play in 1967. It led to renewed interest in the band and their follow-on Clouds.

Not so long ago, I wrote on this site about Billy Ritchie and his creation of Prog Rock. This led to contact with Ritchie who agreed to an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds.  I wanted to know more about the man who had started a revolution and what that had led to.

I started off by asking Ritchie about his earliest memories, his childhood and first interest in music.

Billy Ritchie: My earliest memory is of going to the local school, it seemed a daunting prospect, a rough place, I was faced with aggression, but my response to that was to override my sensitivity and fight for my place, I even gained a reputation as being tough, when I was actually a sensitive soul—just good at covering that up, and dealing with adversity head on, but of course, it all had an effect on me, made me very tense and vigilant, never relaxed. I didn’t have any thoughts about music at all ‘till much later. 

I was the first of six children. I was followed by two sisters, Catherine and Grace, then a brother, George (who died two years ago); then another sister, Elizabeth, then a brother Brian, who was born when I was fifteen.

My childhood seems, in hindsight, to have been stressful, though I have also memories of cowboys and Indians, then playing football in the streets – no cars in those days at all. I fought with my sisters a lot – doesn’t everyone? – there was great sibling resentment on my part, and probably theirs as well. As a young teenager, I built model planes, and dreamed of being a pilot. I also used to pray that I could be Superman, and astound everyone by flying. 

When did you start taking an interest in playing music?

There weren’t many instruments that were deemed respectable in that society, just accordion mainly, though harmonica was OK to play on coach trips etc. I think that I just wanted to be accepted, or maybe to stand out in some way. I certainly didn’t play because of enjoyment, it meant nothing that way. Most guys played in a vamping style with the tune heavily disguised and swamped by the “chords” (as far as I was concerned anyway). I didn’t like the mess of that – without knowing it, I was already making musical discriminations – so I gravitated towards the Larry Adler/Tommy Reilly kind of playing, using a Super Chrominica (that could play half-notes).

Most people around me frowned on all that – perhaps it seemed too pretentious, but I was happier with that clean sound. I played anything that I thought people would like. I remember a school concert with me playing “Danny Boy.” I was pleased with myself, but people weren’t impressed because there was no vamping, so I ended up disgruntled and a bit resentful. When I calmed down I thought I must be no good at it when people didn’t react. I had no thoughts at all about writing songs or even considering if I was any good at any of that. I suppose I was trying to impress my peers any way I could. I wanted to be a great football player, because that’s what seemed to impress everyone most.

Which musicians did you like?

I didn’t have any thoughts at all about music or music artists, I found it boring when my friends got excited about their heroes, like Elvis or Buddy Holly etc. Sometimes I tried to go along with their conversations, so I wouldn’t be an outsider, but I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about, it didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t have any thoughts or influences, none of that was relevant at the time.

When did you start playing keyboards?

When I was about eight, a neighbor threw out a piano, because no-one had managed to play it, I think. My parents took it in because it was something for nothing. For the first week or two, all five of us children banged at the piano all at the same time, so I gave up and let them, I couldn’t stand the discordant noise—always hated jams and tuning up sessions where everyone plays at once, making an awful racket!

When my siblings all gave up and got fed up with the piano, I crept back and began to see what I could do with it. I played by following my instincts about what was right and what was wrong.

What was unusual (without me knowing it) was that I also wanted to know why I was playing the sounds, how it worked as well as making it work. But I didn’t think anything of it, and never had any thoughts about whether what I was doing was any good or not, it wasn’t important enough to me, it was just something to do when there was nothing else, no different to building model airplanes, in fact, not as interesting.

I got bored with things easy, so I found that when I was at a loose end, I could fiddle around with the piano, trying to play things, finding out how music worked, it was a kind of curiosity as much as anything. The background accompaniment was everyone in the house shouting at me to “pack it in”! Good practice for the music business!
 
030Satelites5.JPG
The Satellites.
 
When did you first join a band?

I was fifteen when my friends decided to form a band called The Satellites and become rich and famous. As they were talking about it, I was feeling a bit of panic, wondering how I could fit into all this – it was all about guitars.

My best friend Flam (Robert Fleming) played a bit of guitar (he ended up making a living from it), Jim Stark was in the pipe band, another friend, Duncan Blair was keen to try playing bass, and Jonny Moffat fancied himself as a singer. Jim said “What are you doing to do Wullie?” All eyes on me. “I’ll play electric organ” I blurted out. I could see the others were asking themselves what the hell that was. I don’t know to this day why I said that, it just came into my head.

I felt a bit of a fraud, the Pete Shotton of the band. My main contribution was suggesting my cousin, William Ritchie (“Big Wull”) to play lead guitar, as he had a Futurama and had been taking guitar lessons.

When we got to the first rehearsal, the others were struggling to learn a song, and I was a bit puzzled, it seemed easy to me. I played the whole thing, and my friend’s faces were a picture. I suddenly realized I was good – very good. It changed everything.

What were your first performances like?

The first thing I learned about doing gigs is that you can rehearse all you want, but it doesn’t teach you anything about playing on a stage in front of an audience. So that was a big leap.

The others were scared, but I felt confident, I knew what I was doing, I could feel what had to be done to make things work, even though I had never done it before. I wasn’t so much inspired as exhilarated to be in control and ahead of everyone else, it gave me great confidence.

Before the advent of the band, I had never even thought about being a musician, it didn’t mean anything to me. If my friends hadn’t decided to form a band, I doubt that I would ever have taken the path I did.

Ironically, I never got the same feelings from music that they did, and I was only ever interested in my own music, not anyone else’s. It’s only recently that I’ve realized that this attitude – as bad as it is in some ways – is the reason I “invented Prog.”

I had no influences or attitudes about what I should play, it was all up for grabs as far as I was concerned, I had no barriers and no important influences looking over my shoulder.

When it finally came to 1-2-3, I had a creative freedom that no-one else I knew had. That opened the doors to all that followed.

The early sixties seemed optimistic, like something was waiting to happen. That was even true in the outposts where we lived. Soon after we formed the band, there was the coming of The Beatles, and a new era definitely arriving. The music culture was linked inextricably to the social culture too, everything seemed part of an upward step. Even for a natural pessimist like me, anything seemed at least possible.
 
031Satelites4.JPG
 
You mentioned 1-2-3, can you tell me how you came to join that band?

After a disgraceful redundancy in my first job, I landed another job in an office, and there I met Archie Colquhoun, who was to play a big part in the first days of 1-2-3. He knew Ian Ellis and Harry Hughes, who had a band called The Premiers, and they were thinking about having an organist in the band. Archie (typically) said he knew where the best organist in Britain was, and put me forward.

I didn’t really want to know, as the guys were dead snooty about it all, especially when they knew I came from Forth, which was considered the home of “The Sheep Men.”  They were thinking they would be doing me a favor, when I thought it was the other way round.

I had no intention of joining them. But when I heard them play, I realized they were miles more professional than The Satellites, so I agreed to a rehearsal.

At the rehearsal, the same thing happened as at The Satellites first get-together, I played a song from scratch, and they were hooked, even though they thought my equipment was embarrassing—a linear amp in a wooden box, and a Hohner clavinet on stilts so I could stand and play. They all had shiny Selmer amps with little green lights flickering in a row. They called my amp “the blue box” because it had blue vinyl covering the wood. They said “That fucking blue box is messing up our look!”

Within weeks of my joining, the lead guitarist, Derek Stark left, feeling overshadowed by the organ. For a year or two, we played all the main Scottish gigs, supporting The Kinks one night in Edinburgh.

After a trip to London with Cyril Stapleton the band leader didn’t achieve anything, the band broke up, but after a few months, Ian and Harry and I decided to form a trio, and from that, 1-2-3 was born.
 
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The original Prog Rock band 1-2-3.
 
Billy Ritchie: When 1-2-3 began playing, we quickly found that we divided opinion in the audience.

Half would hate us, and the other half—usually other musicians—would be delirious with shock and joy. We thought Scotland must be too square for us, and thought we could find acceptance in hip London, but when we got there, we found exactly the same equation.

That was to be the situation for all of 1-2-3’s short life.

How did you get the residency at the Marquee club in London?

It was Archie who talked John Gee into giving us an audition. What we didn’t know at the time was that John was a musical snob, he thought “pop/rock” was rubbish. He loved jazz, to him, that was “proper” music.

When he heard us, he thought he had found the missing link, a pop band that played like a jazz band. He got people like Chris Barber down to hear us and sit in with us.

The gigs themselves were chaotic and revolutionary.

As in Scotland, half the audience were furious, fights were breaking out everywhere throughout the club, the other half—musicians—were ecstatic.

John came on stage a couple of times to restore calm. Being John, he had to say “If you want boring R & B, I suggest you fuck off to the 100 Club in Oxford Street”.

The atmosphere was electric. On our first gig, Roger Chapman of Family came into the dressing room—“Great stuff guys, but you’ll never get away with it”.

People like Robert Fripp and Keith Emerson would buttonhole us after the gigs, and Jon Anderson was always hanging about us asking questions and making comments about the music. Not just at The Marquee, but all over the country, 1-2-3 caused the same reaction. Quite often other musicians would be in tears, or hysterical, it was that radical, so different.

We knew we had made a fuss, people from the music business were drawn there to see us, Pete Townshend (as he mentions in his autobiography), and of course, Brian Epstein saw us and signed us up.

We were quite blasé about it all, being young, we thought it was our due! We also felt like we were “making it.” One big regret is not taking a photo of the lifesize picture of 1-2-3 in the Marquee foyer. 
 
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1-2-3 listed as ‘a great new group from Glasgow’ in this advert for the Marquee.
 
Did you know you were creating a new sound?

The sound took care of itself, we knew it was unique at the time, we were the first true Rock organ trio.

Other organ trios soon existed, but they were often more swing/jazz based, the organs were not played in a rock style, the music was soft, not rock. Organ had always been a background instrument until then, guitars led the field on stage till I came along.

Then came the music itself. It was a completely different concept from any other band at that time, that approach would still sound unique today. The arrangements were so radical, and each song had its own character, the band was not defined by any one song. Each song was merely an aspect of a band that took many forms and had no limits. Though all those other bands tried to copy us, it still didn’t end up anything like 1-2-3, all they took was the concept of music that sounded more like film tracks than three-minute songs.

What keyboards did you play and how did this change?

I began with a Gamages mini-keys organ, and then quickly to a Hohner Clavinet that my cousin put on stilts so I could stand and play rather than sit. When I joined the Premiers I graduated to a Vox Continental, then a Hammond M102.

Eventually, my instrument of choice was a Hammond C3. I had the biggest organ sound ever heard on a stage.

I also played everything like two right hands, two organists at once, it made the sound very powerful, octave or harmony solos, left hand as fast as the right.

Till I hit the stage, organs had always been background instruments, but I had no intention of being behind anyone, I wanted to be in front, be the leader.

Most organists then, and even much later (including Keith Emerson) were heavily influenced by the famous jazz organists like Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, but I didn’t like the way the Jimmys and others played, it definitely wasn’t rock! I approached it all completely differently, I wasn’t influenced by anyone, I just played it all as I saw it, and made sure every note counted. I intended to blow any guitarist off the stage.

Rick Wakeman said recently that until synths came along, keyboard players couldn’t get in front of guitarists – that wasn’t true when it came to me – I didn’t do background for anybody.
 
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1-2-3 ‘have created an entirely new sound in pop group music.’
 
How did you get signed with The Beatles manager Brian Epstein?

The fuss we made at The Marquee brought many people down to see us, and Brian Epstein was one of them. He was smooth and charming, and almost aloof/superior. But then, he was The Beatles manager, so we expected that or saw it as his right. We weren’t overawed though. As I said, at that age, we thought it was our right too!

He said: “Sophisticated music must be presented in sophisticated clothes” and dressed us in pin-stripe suits with smart cravats. We looked a lot like The Jam did, only decades later. We thought nothing of it at the time, but in hindsight, it’s intriguing to wonder what he might’ve made of it all. He certainly seemed to understand something that others didn’t, perhaps that’s why he put us on that concert with Jimi Hendrix. Makes you wonder what might have happened had he lived long enough to do something about it.
 
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1-2-3 on the bill with Hendrix.
 
1-2-3’s residency at the Marquee in early 1967 introduced Prog Rock to the world and changed music. Can you tell me more about the response from other musicians?

It wasn’t just the residency at The Marquee – though that was obviously the most important and highest profile. As I said, the same thing happened all over the country, wild reactions and shock from other musicians and clued-in punters, hate and fury from the average punter, which should have told us something!

At The Marquee, as I said, it was Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, Jon Anderson (not Ian Anderson, that connection came much later). I think the Moody Blues saw us when we were staying in Birmingham for a couple of months in a house rented for us by NEMS. I was friendly with Jeff Lynne (who was in The Idle Race at the time) and Bev Bevan (of The Move at that time) was a big fan. The Beatles in general never saw us play, but Paul McCartney used to see us at The Pheasantry club in Kings Road, Chelsea. His girlfriend Maggie was a waitress there. The DJ was John Anthony, who later produced Genesis and others. At the time of The Marquee, we seemed like we were at the centre of the storm.

What other musicians understood for the first time when they heard us was that songs didn’t have to be done in the format presented on a record.

Not only that, you could have different sections, different tempi, different forms of music all in the same piece. You could have inspirational playing and great melody at the same time. To The Nice/ELP, the concept of a rock organ trio playing classics previously reserved for orchestra and the Royal Festival Hall; to King Crimson, the concept of a song like “21st Century Schizoid Man”; to Yes, in particular, the idea of a band without any musical barriers and so on and so on…..

We didn’t know we were pioneering a whole new sound and movement as such, but we knew we were out there on our own in terms of creativity and power, there was nothing like 1-2-3 before or since.
 
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1-2-3 signed Brian Epstein’s NEMS management in 1967—what could possibly go wrong?
 
What happened to 1-2-3 after you signed for NEMS?

Only a couple of months after signing us, Brian Epstein died, and we were left in the hands of Robert Stigwood, who had just signed The Bee-Gees, and already managed Cream.

He didn’t know what to do with us, we were so different from any other band. He sent us on a cabaret tour between fire-eaters and jugglers. That tells you everything you need to know. He lost us our advantage.

How did 1-2-3 change into the band called Clouds?

After Brian Epstein died, and we left NEMS and Stigwood behind, we played some faceless gigs and fell by the wayside till Terry Ellis saw us in a club in Ilford called the Golden Glove.

Chrysalis didn’t exist then, it was only Terry and his partner Chris Wright in a tiny office in Regent Street. Chris managed Ten Years After, who were just beginning to make a name for themselves. Terry wanted his own band, and signed us. He insisted we change the name to Clouds – I hated that name, and I was right, 1-2-3 would have weathered the storm so much better.

He also insisted that the 1-2-3 too-clever-by-half material would have to be scrapped. The only song we were allowed to keep was “Sing-Sing-Sing,” because it was Harry’s drum solo. We never played any 1-2-3 material again, including “America,” which was seized on by Yes as a concept they used (though nowhere near as good in my opinion).

David Bowie used the concept of the middle section of our “America” as the opener in his “Concert for New York” appearance.

Bowie was a major fan of 1-2-3. He wrote a letter to the music press which hailed the group as ‘three thistle and haggis-voiced bairns had the audacity to face a mob of self-opinionated hippies, with a brand of unique pop music, which, because of its intolerance of mediocrity floated as would a Hogarth cartoon in [the children’s comic book] Beano.’

It’s quite funny for me to try and deal with all this Bowie thing now. A bit frustrating too, as people seem to think how privileged I was to know him, when in actual fact, at the time, it was him who wanted to know me!

He was bright, clever, a good conversationalist, we got on like a house on fire, though at the time, I thought of him essentially as a young gofer.

I met him first in Dundee when The Premiers were doing a gig with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, and David’s band were also supporting. We got on, and vowed to meet in London when we eventually got there.

He came down The Marquee when he heard about us doing his song, and we quickly renewed our acquaintance.

When we played the Savile Theatre, I introduced David to Jimi Hendrix, something that has gone down in folklore and legend , as witness the V & A exhibition, where Japanese tourists are trailed round the capital and stood outside the site of The Savile Theatre, then told “This is where Billy Ritchie introduced David to Jimi Hendrix”. I find it quite amusing/bemusing. It seemed no big deal at the time. I similarly shocked Ian Anderson very recently when I told him that David had been in our dressing room (with Jethro Tull and Ten Years After at The Royal Albert Hall). Ian said “I don’t remember that!” But of course, he wouldn’t. David was just a bloke then, not the famous Thin White Duke…..
 
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David Bowie’s fan letter about 1-2-3 as sent to the Record Mirror.
 
More from the Father of Prog, Billy Ritchie, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.10.2016
09:04 am
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Discussion
Stereos from outer space: The golden age of kitschy record player design
11.08.2016
09:45 am
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When rock and roll came along the companies designing and manufacturing record players had to catch up to the teenage dream. Pop music needed pop art delivery systems that reflected a generation’s infatuation with color and style. The drab old wooden players of our parents just wouldn’t do. We wanted to spin our records on stuff that was as fun looking as the music was fun to listen to. Eventually even the higher end stereo equipment, the gear outside of the financial reach of teenagers started to get groovy as well. It was the 1960s and everybody was getting hip.

Unfortunately, as beautiful as many of these designs are they weren’t remotely audiophile quality. With heavy unadjustable tonearms and cheap carts/styluses and speakers the size of clam shells, these were intended for fun not serious music listening. In recent years, the market has been flooded with cheap knock-offs of these cute record players. Don’t buy them. Vinyl records are no longer $1.99 and these players are toys—vinyl killers—that will chew up that 180 gram Mobile Fidelity copy of Blonde On Blonde you paid $49.00 for. The “Record Eater” (see the ad below) was inadvertently truth in advertising.

Here’s some cool ads from an era when pop culture really started to get crazy and magazine ads mirrored the new sensibility that said “yes!” to being cool.

Thank you rock and roll.
 

 

 

 
Many more after the jump…

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Posted by Marc Campbell
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11.08.2016
09:45 am
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Discussion
Wham! Bam! The true history of Plastic Bertrand’s immortal 1977 Euro-punk anthem ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’
11.03.2016
09:34 am
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“Wham! Bam! My cat ‘Splash’ rests on my bed. She’s swallowed her tongue while drinking all my whiskey.” That’s the nonsensical opening line to the 1977 radio hit “Ça plane pour moi” by Plastic Bertrand translated from French to English, however, the lyrics don’t seem to make any sense in either language. Widely considered a caricature of the punk era, the three-chord rocker “Ça plane pour moi” (which loosely translates as “This Life’s for Me”) became an anthem for a generation and remains a cult favorite to this day. However, over 30 years after its deranged pop insanity sold millions of copies around the world Bertrand finally admitted that he did not sing the vocals himself, nor indeed any of the vocals from the four acclaimed albums he released as Plastic Bertrand before vanishing from sight in 1982. So how’d this Belgian prankster pull a Milli Vanilli on the world and get away with it for so long?

In summer of ‘77, Belgian producer Lou Deprijck recorded “Ça plane pour moi” at the famous Morgan Studios in northwest London very quickly over the course of a single night. “Two hours in the studio followed by three hours in the pub next door,” Deprijck recounted. He sang the vocal track himself as a pastiche to the punk movement and an appeal to the pogo-pogo dancing punks he’d seen at nightclubs. Guitarist & engineer Mike Butcher remembers that to speed up the tempo, he did a little bit of tampering in the studio to recreate Johnny Rotten’s vocal style. “The song was recorded at a slow tempo and then accelerated afterward, that’s what gave it that particular sound.” John Valcke from the legendary Belgian pop rock group The Wallace Collection played bass and a local from the Belgian jazz and blues scene named Bob Dartsch played the drums. They were all pleased with the final product when it was complete, however, Lou Deprijck feared the song didn’t suit his particular style or persona.
 

 
A longtime friend of Lou’s, Eric Rie, knew a punk band Hubble Bubble whose 23-year-old drummer Roger Jouret fit the profile perfectly. Roger was fashionable and wore extravagant outfits that were tacky but picture perfect, to them it was as if he fell from the sky at the exact perfect moment in time. He sang terribly, however, most artists at the time were using playback during TV shows. Determined to get his song its due recognition, Lou Deprijck brainstormed a daring plan to form a partnership with Roger.  Roger Jouret was presented as the singer of the “Ça plane pour moi”, and thus Plastic Bertrand was born. “I went to London to buy him a jacket with zippers pierced with safety pins in Malcolm McLaren’s shop, the manager of the Sex Pistols” Deprijck recalls. “When I returned from vacation, three weeks after the album’s release, he was number one everywhere. Honestly, I never thought the song would trigger such a tidal wave. Looking back, I sometimes regret it.”

Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Doug Jones
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11.03.2016
09:34 am
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Discussion
The mysterious ‘Love Is A Drag,’ an album of songs for gay lovers from 1962
11.01.2016
03:38 pm
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Anyone who thinks the vinyl revival is some hipster fad that’s going to fade as quickly as a cloud of Beaujolais-flavored gas from a ten dollar vape pipe is not paying attention. With 1000s of new titles being released every month and instantly selling out, crate diggers who run indie record labels are plunging further down the vinyl mine shaft and coming up with freshly discovered gems that were obscure even in the years they were released. The thrift store and garage sale flotsam and jetsam, the goofy records we used to chuckle at as we ransacked cardboard boxes looking for first pressings of Pink Floyd or 13th Floor Elevators albums, are now the new drug for vinyl junkies. Lunatic lounge singers, hippie dippy regional folk albums, high school band recordings from the astral plane and scores of vanity projects slapped on wax by the delusional, demented and visionary have always had a fan base among a certain kind of hardcore collector, but the audience for outré coolness on vinyl is expanding as music lovers are demanding more than the umpteenth re-issue of Hendrix and Floyd on 180 gram virgin vinyl. We’re all looking for the next vinyl high, the record that drops our jaws as soon as the needle drops into the groove.

The future of vinyl is as endless as its own past. And man I love it. Among the very best labels resurrecting lost titles from the vinyl crypt is Sundazed Music and their new off-shoot Modern Harmonic. With a focus on loungey exotica, Sun Ra’s interplanetary space jazz, experiments from John Cage and soft-pop chanteuse Margo Guryan, Modern Harmonic’s taste in the offbeat and wonderful is impeccable. That’s particularly true of their latest release Love Is A Drag, a five-decade old lounge record that shatters taboos with its low-key subversion.

Love Is A Drag (“for adult listeners only”) has been veiled in mystery since it was first released in 1962. On the surface it sounds like dozens of similar jazz records of the era fronted by a male vocalist with a seductive style of crooning. What makes Love Is A Drag unique and groundbreaking is that all of the tunes on the album are love songs from one man to another. Titles like “The Boy Next Door” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” are Sinatra-like amorous ballads but from a gay perspective. There’s not a hint of camp or irony in the vocals and the backing band, composed of jazz pros, is playing with heartfelt conviction. The subject matter might be gay, but the artists are playing it straight. That’s what makes Love Is A Drag so unusual. It’s not a novelty record played for laughs. It’s as sincere as anything recorded by any A-list lounge singer celebrating heterosexual romance.

Up until a few years ago no one knew who the singer on Love Is A Drag was. From a professional standpoint singing gay-themed love songs was probably not a great career move in 1962. Though the record sold well in certain circles and had admirers like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope (!), anonymity was essential for the guy doing the vocals, particularly if he was heterosexual and married. Finally, the mystery was solved when the identity of the man behind the songs surfaced when J.D Doyle of the Queer Music Heritage project was contacted by a friend of the singer and shared what he knew. Vocalist Gene Howard who fronted Stan Kenton’s big band was the voice that sang so convincingly of the love that dare not speak its name. Gene died in 1993 so sadly doesn’t know that his legacy lives on thanks to Sundazed.
 

 
Love Is A Drag is being released on November 25 as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday event. Even though I own a record store, I avoid Record Store Day for reasons I won’t go into. But this record may be worth fighting the crowds to get your hands on. Or you can wait for it to pop up on eBay and buy it for some inflated amount. Or maybe Sundazed will re-release it for those of us who buy records when and how we want. As a vinyl guy, I can’t imagine owning Love Is A Drag in any other form. Another example of the vinyl revival continuing to surprise and please.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell
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11.01.2016
03:38 pm
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Discussion
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