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You make me wanna SHOUT: The Beatles, Bowie, Bee Gees, Jimi Hendrix, Sinatra and… Lulu

007lulured.jpg
 
Scenes from an imaginary film about Lulu…

Prologue.

Glasgow 1951. Exterior night. A busy city street. Fogbound. Trams and buses gridlocked—their windows steamy, yellow-lit, blurred faces peering out into the darkness.

Inside one of the buses—a mother and daughter. The girl is about three years old. She is happy, singing quietly. The bus halts. People onboard groan frustratedly, complain about getting home. The girl looks at her mother. She wriggles free and stands in the middle of the lower deck of the bus. The girl is Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie. She starts to sing. She has the voice of a “nuclear reactor” with the face of an angel. The passengers on the bus are enthralled. They can’t believe this tiny child has such a powerful voice. Marie belts out one song after another. The traffic starts to move. The passengers applaud and throw coins. This is Lulu’s first experience of fame.

Scene One.

Glasgow 1962: Exterior twilight. W/S of cranes and ships along the River Clyde and docks. The evening sky is bright orange. The buildings sparkle with the light from tenement windows. There’s a sound of distant traffic—blue trains rattling to the suburbs.

Cut to:

Interior Night: The Lindella Nightclub. Blue wisps of cigarette smoke, tables along one side of room, a bar with a scrum of customers, eager to get drunk, happy to be out for the night. Backstage - a band, The Gleneagles, are ready to go on. They can hear the audience getting restless. The bass player asks if everything is okay? Over the sound system, the voice of the compere introduces the band. This is it. A ripple of applause, a rush, then the band is on stage.

At the rear, a young girl, who looks hardly in her teens, her hair bright red, sprayed with lacquer, and rolled in curlers. She has a cold, but smiles, and looks confident. She holds a beret in her hand—wondering of she should wear it or not. The girl goes on stage. A pause. There’s feedback from the speakers. She checks with the band. The audience are getting uneasy. There are mutters, snide comments (“Away back to school, hen”) and sense of menace. Now fourteen years old, Marie Lawrie is about to change her life. The band are ready. Marie starts to sing.

Lulu: Wwwwwwwweeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!

The voice is incredible. Little Richard, Jerry Lewis and The Isley Brothers all rolled into this tiny redhead at the front of the stage.

At the back of the room—a woman stands slightly away from the crowd. She is mesmerized by the young girl’s performance. The audience that were about to riot are now lapdogs to this girl. The woman is Marion Massey—she is an agent—and she has just found her biggest act.

Lulu: (V/O) When I was fourteen, I was very lucky. I was discovered - to use a terrible term - by a person who was absolutely sincere. Since I was five, people had been coming up to me saying: “Stick with me, baby, and I’ll make you a star.” In fact, nobody ever did anything for me. Then Marion came along.

CU of Marion watching Lulu perform.

Marion Massey: (V/O) She looked so peculiar that first time I saw her. Her hair was in curlers underneath a fur beret. She had a terrible cold, was very pale and wore three jumpers. But I was very intrigued by her. There was something tremendously magnetic about this girl. I knew she had the makings of a great star.

Cut to:

London, 1964. Interior Day: Lulu performs on television.
 

 
Scene Two.

London 1965. Interior Day—a busy press conference. Behind a table covered with microphones sits Lulu with a vigilant Marion Massey. Cameras flash, TV crews jostle for best coverage, journalists talk over each other, shout their questions.

Reporter One: With all this success are you rich?

Lulu: I get £10 a week pocket money. I get through about £5 a week on taxis alone. They’re terribly expensive in London, but I don’t know my way about well enough to take buses and the only time I went on the tube by myself I got lost…

Reporter Two: What do you spend your money on?

Lulu: Shoes are my weakness, I’ve got eight pairs going at the moment plus two that have just about had it.

Reporter Three: Where are you staying?”

Lulu: At Aunt Janey’s.

Marion Massey: My Mother’s.

Lulu: Auntie Janey’s a wonderful cook. She does gefilte fish, boiled or fried.

Reporter One: Do you like it?

Lulu: Yes. I like it fried. (Pause) With ketchup.

Reporter Four: What’s going to be your next hit?

Cut to:
 

 
Interior Night: Lulu comes off-stage having finished singing “The Boat That I Row”. She is approached by writer and film director James Clavell—author of Shōgun.

James Clavell: That was wonderful.

Lulu: Thank you.

(Lulu is surrounded by fans who ask for autograph. The fans disperse happy with their prized signature. Lulu turns to Clavell.)

Lulu: Are you wanting an autograph?

James Clavell: No, no. I just want to tell you…that er…well…You’ve got the part.

Lulu: What are you on about? What part?

James Clavell: I’m doing this feature film and I want you to be in it.

Lulu: Aye, right. Your patter’s pish by the way.

James Clavell: No seriously, you’ve got the part.

Cut to: Footage of Lulu in from To Sir, With Love.
 
More hits and scenes from Lulu’s legendary life, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Big hair and lipgloss: Unsung girl groups of the 70s and 80s
12.02.2016
02:27 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
pop
Eurodisco
girl bands

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Many are called. Most end up in the bargain bin of the local thrift store. For all the great bands like Fanny, The Slits, L-7, The Go-Gos, The Bangles, and so on, there are several dozen—nay, several hundred—who score one hit (or fewer) and then disappear before the ink’s dried on their record contracts.

Then there are bands like these—who manage the record deal, have the hit single and even go on to produce a handful of albums—sometimes well received albums.

These are the sometimes forgotten girl bands of the 1970s-1980s who may have looked like they took their style from a lycra catalog but actually had greater success and in some instances a greater influence on other bands than is recognized….or should I say, admitted.

For example, the Love Machine (above) were originally dancers on the Benny Hill Show and not to be ocnfused with the Italian Love Machine. The Love Machine were one-hit wonders like that other notorious dance group Hot Gossip—who had a major hit with “Starship Trooper.”
 
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Phantom Blue—Heavy Metal band who released four albums between 1986-1997.
 
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The Orchids were a rock/pop/New Wave formed and managed by Kim Fowley—they never quite managed the heights of The Runaways.
 
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Cice-Mace—a Serbian disco-pop band produced by synth pioneer Miha Kralj.
 
More forgotten girl groups, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Rarely seen film footage of hippie bard Richard Brautigan
11.29.2016
10:05 am

Topics:
Art
Books
Heroes
Literature
Pop Culture

Tags:
Richard Brautigan


Photo: Baron Wolman
 
The following is an edited version of an article I wrote on Dangerous Minds back in 2012 when Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan, the then-new biography of the poet, was published. I felt I couldn’t improve upon it so am sharing it again in a different context, as a preamble to this new video I put together of footage I’d never seen before of Richard Brautigan. This is an excerpt from a documentary about The Summer Of Love which was broadcast on the Canadian TV series The Way It Is in 1967. There is very little Brautigan on film, so for fans of the bard of San Francisco this is a short, but sweet, visit with one of our great countercultural heroes.

Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac and The Doors were my saviors in the year of the Summer Of Love. I was stuck in the suburbs of Virginia, surrounded by jocks and greasers, mostly always alone in my room full of beatnik books, magical vinyl and a meerschaum pipe full of banana peel. It was the year I read Brautigan’s second book Trout Fishing In America and the year that I left home for San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury.

Those were the days when a book or a record album could change your life. If literature had a Beatles, his name was Richard Brautigan. It comes as no surprise that John Lennon was a Brautigan fan. They both had a whimsical point of view that started in the square inch field and expanded into the cosmos.

In 1968, I lived inside of a parachute inside of a dance hall in a ghost town near Los Gatos, California. It was my summer of In Watermelon Sugar. I read that book like a preacher reads the Bible. It was my new testament. Brautigan’s poems and prose had this uncanny ability to gently slap you upside the head while disappearing into what is being described. In Watermelon Sugar was Brautigan’s river Tao, a sweet subtle liquid that flowed through the pink flesh of our being.

William Carlos Williams famously wrote “no ideas but in things” and embodied that thought in poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Brautigan wrote from a similar point of view - a kind of American Zen that was ordinary and transcendental, modern and prophetic…

  I like to think (and
  the sooner the better!)
  of a cybernetic meadow
  where mammals and computers
  live together in mutually
  programming harmony
  like pure water
  touching clear sky.

For many of us, Brautigan was a door into a consciousness that was liberating in its playfulness and here and nowness. Reading Brautigan is like taking a pure hit of oxygen. Things sparkle. There is a sense of boundless delight and eroticism in his prose and poetry - a promise of the unspeakable, where language transcends itself.

Watch the clip after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
The secret artists Michael Jackson hired to paint insanely bizarre portraits of himself
11.28.2016
10:26 am

Topics:
Art
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Michael Jackson


Titled “Michael,” this oil painting by David Nordahl depicts Jackson as Michelangelo’s David surrounded by cherubs.
 
In April 2009, just two months before Michael Jackson’s sudden and unexpected death, Julien’s Auctions hosted a four-day public exhibition of 1,390 personal items from Neverland Ranch at the abandoned Robinsons-May department store in Beverly Hills. The exhibit was a fascinating look into the King of Pop’s personal treasures: from his iconic white-jeweled glove to a wonderland of 19th-century antiques and sculptures. One couldn’t help but notice the high volume of utterly bizarre works Michael Jackson had commissioned just for him: A life-sized statue of himself as Batman, a custom hand-painted Beverage-Air cooler, and a custom golf cart featuring an image of himself as Peter Pan painted onto the hood. However, what stood more than anything else was the exotic menagerie of oil paintings and murals of the pop star. Over many years Jackson paid dozens of artists to immortalize himself and his fairy-tale worldviews on canvas in scenes that depicted him as a figure of modern-day royalty in mythical tableaux. Where did Michael Jackson find the artists to help him amass such an insane collection of vanity? Why did somebody who was never satisfied with his looks spend millions of dollars to have his portrait painted?
 

Céline Lavail’s 1998 “Peter Pan” Neverland Ranch golf cart painting (from Julien’s Auctions Michael Jackson Exhibition catalogue).
 
Summer 2003, Leon Jones, a self-taught artist from Buena Park was airbrushing portraits of celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Jennifer Lopez, and Tupac Shakur on the sidewalk outside Café Tu Tu Tango at Universal Citywalk. A strange gentleman approached and asked if he was available to do some work for “his boss.” Jones was skeptical but agreed to meet the man at a gas station in Santa Barbara two days later after being persuaded by $500 in cash. Leon Jones and his nephew then followed the man through Los Olivos, CA, and were amazed when their final destination was revealed: Michael Jackson’s extremely secluded Neverland Ranch. Jones was then commissioned by Jackson to paint two, 15-feet-high murals at the Neverland train depot which took him several months to complete. One of the murals depicted Jackson in knight’s armor donning angel wings and the other showed Jackson surrounded by winged children pointing toward the heavens. “It was unreal, like you were on a different planet,” Jones said of his experience.

47-year-old American painter David Nordahl randomly received a phone call from Michael Jackson at his home in Santa Fe late one evening in early 1988. He thought it was a prank at first, but Jackson convinced the artist it was really him after describing a painting of Nordahl’s he had just seen in Steven Spielberg’s office earlier that day. After their initial hour-long conversation, Jackson invited him to the Denver stop of the Bad tour in March 1988 and soon after a partnership was formed: Nordahl left the commercial art world to become Jackson’s personal portraitist. Over the next seventeen years this creative collaboration resulted in thousands of drawings and roughly a dozen large-scale commissions. Jackson spent millions of dollars paying artists like Nordahl to transform his surreal and mythological ideas into fantasy art.
 

“The Storyteller” Nordahl shows Jackson as a Peter Pan-like figure surrounded by children including his sister Janet who is depicted as a fairy.
 

In Nordahl’s “Field of Dreams” Michael leads children of all nationalities (including sister Janet, AIDS activist Ryan White, actor Macaulay Culkin, and Pippi Longstocking).
 
Jackson paid up to $150,000 for the larger pieces and began referring to David Nordahl as his “favorite living artist” (Michelangelo being his favorite artist historically). Nordahl became a close friend, trusted adviser, and confidant who helped design Neverland Ranch carnival rides and joined Jackson for family trips to Disneyland. In 2004, Jackson and his children paid Nordahl a surprise visit on memorial day weekend, dropping by his Santa Fe home on their plush private bus. Jackson suggested a movie outing. “I thought we were going to a screening room,” Nordahl says. “His driver pulled into DeVargas Mall. He was friends with Roland Emmerich (the director of The Day After Tomorrow), and it was opening weekend. The mall was jammed, and there was no place to park. I took the kids, got the tickets and popcorn, and we went in. Michael came in after the lights went down. The lights came up, and nobody noticed him. He had on a baseball cap and these Chinese silk pajamas.”
 
Portsmouth-based portrait artist Ralph Wolfe Cowan painted Michael Jackson four times around 1993. The pop star bought the first portrait and then commissioned and paid for three more shortly after that. Cowan’s first abstract portrait depicted Jackson wearing a suit of armor, holding a sword with a parrot perched on top of it. Bubbles, Jackson’s pet monkey, was portrayed sitting loyally at his feet. After the first image of the portrait was sent to Jackson’s staff Cowan received back a strange, long-relayed message. “When I painted it, I had these dogs down in the bottom somewhere. German shepherds. Michael Jackson called up his curator, who called the guy at the gallery, who called my business manager Steve (Mohler), and Steve told me Michael didn’t want the dogs in there,” Cowan recounted. Extremely confused, Cowan insisted he hears from Jackson himself. Soon after, Cowan got a call. “Hello, this is Michael. I don’t like dogs,” he said in a soft, gentle voice. “I like monkeys.” Jackson paid about $30,000 for the 8-foot-tall painting, sans the dogs, which he hung in a living room beside his piano and can be seen in the background of Jackson’s well-known 1993 televised living room interview with Oprah Winfrey. Eventually, their working relationship deteriorated. Cowan explained how painting for Michael Jackson was really like working for a king. “He lived in a fantasy world and if he didn’t like something, you felt as if he could behead you. But the way he does it is by not calling you again. And somewhere along the line he stopped calling me and I thought I had been beheaded.”
 
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Leave a comment
Famous monster: Forrest J Ackerman, ‘Father of Science Fiction’ honored on centennial of his birth
11.23.2016
03:08 pm

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:
Forrest J Ackermann


 
Tomorrow marks the centennial of the birth of the ultimate horror film fanboy, Forrest J Ackerman, best known for being the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, who was born on November 24th, 1916. He’s also responsible for coining the term “sci-fi ,” was the literary agent for some of the biggest science fiction writers of that genre’s original golden age, and the creator of the dead sexy Vampirella comic book heroine (who was based on Danger Diabolik actress Marisa Mell as he told me once himself).

It was Ackerman’s boundlessly enthusiastic championing of fantasy and horror movies in the pages of Famous Monsters that saw his influence spread over a generation or two of America’s most dedicated monster movie nerds. You might say that he was a slightly pervy avuncular patron saint of the freaks and geeks of the 1960s and 70s. Many of his avid readers—like Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Rick Baker—grew up to make movies themselves and his home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles saw visits from famous faces running the gamut from director John Landis to Ogre from Skinny Puppy. The Sci-Fi Boys, a 2006 documentary, was made about the many filmmakers who were inspired by Forry Ackerman.

In 1982, Ackerman—an avid punster and devote of the corniest of jokes—told the Los Angeles Times that he came up with the term “sci-fi” after hearing a radio ad extolling the virtues of high fidelity audio:

“My wife and I were listening to the radio, and when someone said ‘hi-fi’ the word ‘sci-fi’ suddenly hit me. If my interest had been soap operas, I guess it would have been ‘cry-fi,’ or James Bond, ‘spy-fi.’ “

The Ackermonster—or “Dr. Acula” as he was also known—represented such literary luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont and A.E. Van Vogt. He was also the agent for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and although Forry was not a Scientologist himself, was someone the notoriously paranoid Hubbard trusted throughout his life.

And then there was his magnificent collection of sci-fi and horror memorabilia, easily the best in the world. Ray Bradbury called it “the Fort Knox of Science Fiction.” Forry gave weekend tours of the collection, opening his 18-room home—dubbed the Ackermansion—to the public and showing off treasures like the stop motion models used in King Kong. Or a life-sized Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Forry owned Bela Lugosi’s ring, which he wore, and also the actor’s Dracula cape. One of Johnny Eck’s outfits. Just imagine the most insanely iconic stuff from classic horror and sci-fi films and he lived among it. Forry had all the good stuff and it was a ridiculous tragedy when the city of Los Angeles declined to take conservatorship of his collection when he offered it to the city in the 90s. Instead the collection was sold off piecemeal over the years, some of it going to Seattle’s Science Fiction Hall of Fame, some to a museum in Berlin and some to Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.
 

 
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sweet Jesus: There’s a ‘hipster’ nativity scene you can buy
11.21.2016
08:24 am

Topics:
Amusing
Belief
Pop Culture

Tags:
nativity scene


 
At first I was like “meh” when I heard about a “hipster” nativity scene for the holidays. That was, until I actually saw it. I have to admit I laughed out loud. It’s pretty darn clever. I mean, the three wise men on Segways bearing gifts from Amazon!? Too perfect. One of these generic “individuals” even has a waxed mustache. Nice detail.

And Mary. Mary holding a cup of Starbucks next to baby Jesus while making a pursed-lip duck face for their selfie. Now I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but Mary looks like she’s on some type of opiate as well. Just look at her blissfully beatific expression! She clearly needs that frappuccino just to keep her eyes open.

Lastly, I giggled at the knitted sweater on the sheep. Because sheep in sweaters is actually a thing. And it’s dumb. And it’s so very, very 2016.

The hipster nativity scene can be purchased here for $129.99.


 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
The inexplicably ubiquitous phenomenon of ‘woods porn’
11.14.2016
09:05 am

Topics:
Pop Culture
Sex

Tags:
woods porn
Cinema Sewer
Robin Bougie


 
Louisville, Kentucky, circa 1982: my best friend and I spent a lot of time exploring the woods on our walks home after school. One fateful day we stumbled upon a not-so-hidden cache of adult magazines which blew our Catholic grade-school minds. I still remember the titles after all these years: Oui, Harvey, Gallery, and two Hustlers. One of the issues of Hustler had an article on Anton Lavey, which I’m sure had a profound impact on my juvenile mind. That same issue had a pictorial I’ll never forget: two female “space aliens” in silver outfits and rainbow-colored afros. It was the first time I ever realized that two women could or would ever kiss each other. My initial reaction was “ewww” right before my secondary reaction of “ohhhh.”

Up to that point I had snuck a few peeks at the old man’s Playboys, but I had never known that there was other stuff under those furry early ‘80s muffs. There were so many revelations in those treasures that at first sort of grossed me out, but then completely fascinated me to no end. It seems, arguably, in retrospect, that these magazines just karmically appeared out of nowhere at exactly the right time in my development. My friend and I split them up. He’d hold on to a few of them for a week, and I’d keep the others, and then we’d swap. To a pre-teen kid, prior to the Internet, finding and holding onto such riches was unparalleled.

It wasn’t until the Internet came along that I learned “woods porn” was a thing that was experienced by anyone other than me. I remember first hearing the term mentioned on a messageboard back in the late ‘90s. I was surprised, at the time, that someone else had had a similar experience to my discovery of forbidden sacred treasures in the woods. Others began to chime in with their experiences and I was shocked to find that it was such a common experience.

Over the years, I’ve seen discussions pop up from time to time where (mostly dudes) reminisce about the stacks of Penthouse and (always) Hustler (it seemed to be the woods porn title of choice) that were found in dry creek beds or under logs or in abandoned shacks or behind construction sites.

I’ve had to wonder if there was some sort of Johnny Appleseed of porn who traveled the country distributing perverse periodicals for the most inquisitive children to find on their explorations. Some have speculated about nasty gnomes or porn-faeries littering the woodlands with titillating treats.

Is it possible that stacks of pornography were left in remote areas as lures for pedophiles with nefarious agendas? In my hometown we had a registered sex offender albino shop-owner whose entire M.O. in procuring teenage boys involved offering them jobs “reviewing” porn tapes. Could woods porn have been bait in a trap that somehow hundreds of kids in the ‘70s and ‘80s managed to snag like mice catching cheese without getting caught? I mean, there’s no anecdotal evidence I’ve ever heard to indicate that this is the case, but then again, maybe the parties involved aren’t able to tell their tales?

The truth is probably more simple and innocent than that: the woods offered some sort of privacy that couldn’t be found in the home . They were the ultimate safe space for kids or homeless dudes or henpecked husbands or whomever might have needed a quiet place alone to reflect on god’s creations.
 

Recreation of a typical woods porn cache. Photo by Bickel.
 
I recently asked friends on social media if they had ever had an experience with finding porn in the woods and within a day I had over 70 people chime in indicating that they definitely had found porn in the woods as a child. The stories of “secret spank banks” of “rain-mangled” magazines seemed to anecdotally indicate that woods porn was ubiquitous and finding it was a widely-shared common experience.

The stories told were sometimes frightening: one describing a massive “trash bag full that we found in the woods and when we shook it out to sift through it, a huge shit and blood-encrusted dildo fell out too,” and another who had found porn in the woods, but then stopped looking when a dead body was found in the same spot.

More after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
‘The Love Witch’: Sex magick meets pussy power in occult movie mindbender
11.11.2016
02:07 pm

Topics:
Feminism
Movies
Occult
Pop Culture

Tags:
Anna Biller


 
On its beautiful 35mm Technicolor surface, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch appears to be a spot-on replication of horror and sexploitation movies of the 1960s and 70s. Imagine a Hammer film directed by Radley Metzger or Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls featuring witches instead of an all-girl rock band. Biller’s film also recalls devilish delights like Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda, Jimmy Sangster’s Lust For A Vampire and just about anything directed by Jean Rollin. But Biller’s cinematographer M. David Mullen eschews shooting in the ocher and crimson hues of the Hammer films or soft focus of Rollin and goes for a luminescent style that evokes Frank Tashlin’s use of primary colors with their cartoon clarity, or one of Aleister Crowley’s paintings. Though Biller herself would tell you she wasn’t influenced by the movies that The Love Witch seems to be paying homage to there is an undeniable aesthetic connection between The Love Witch and dozens of Italian giallos as well as the films and directors I’ve already mentioned. If Biller hasn’t seen those films or is reluctant to spend time discussing her influences in interviews it’s because, in my opinion, she doesn’t want The Love Witch to be classified as some kind of camp artifact but seen as a very modern take on pussy power. In her movie, no one grabs these witches by the pussy and lives to joke about it.
 

 
The Love Witch is a perfect film for these times. As we’ve seen women rising to political power and female artists dominating the music charts and directing major films, we’ve also seen a sexist backlash that hasn’t been this virulent in decades. Our culture still demonizes women who are unafraid to assert themselves through their politics, art, bodies and minds. Strong women are called loud, shrill, bitches. The perception on the part of many men (and some women) is that these successful women got to where they are because they’re good at manipulation, skilled in using their female powers, their cunning. That their success isn’t earned. That they fucked their way to the top, using their feminine wiles to get what they wanted. The classic depictions of women in film noirs of the forties and fifties are back in the form of modern day femme fatales who scheme like Hillary Clinton and beguile like Beyoncé. [For some bone-chilling sexism and racism check out the ‘net response to Beyoncé‘s appearance on the Country Music Awards.]
 

 
The Love Witch is feminist fairy tale that uses the past to reflect on the moment. Within its B-movie trappings, it poetically probes the backlash that occurred when women broke free from sexual oppression during the go-go sixties and how that freedom resulted in a whole new set of problems. Every gesture of openness and sexuality could be misread as a come-on, a seduction, an unspoken “yes.” The Love Witch takes place in 1971 and I remember well when women started going bra-less and wore mini-skirts and let their hair grow long and free. Sexual liberation was fine in theory. But in practice women who expressed their new-found freedom by wearing what they wanted, walked and talked like they wanted, sent a message to men that was misread. Suddenly liberated women were perceived as easy targets. Outside of communities of young, intelligent and sensitive people, free sex wasn’t free. It often carried a high price. The Love Witch is not a horror movie in the conventional sense. But it is horrifying to be reminded of how women have been persecuted since Biblical days right up until now for enjoying their bodies and sexuality. They’re dangerous, they’re from Hell, they’re witches and must be burned on the stake of religion, fear and cultural oppression. A free woman is a threat to the fragile male sense of superiority. Men have done everything they can to keep women under control. Even demonizing them to the point that executing them was acceptable. Male strength is predicated on the subjugation of women. And when women rise up, men become desperate and in desperation they reveal their weakness. The woman who resists male dominance is evil, possessed, a witch.
 

 
Now I realize that I’m making The Love Witch sound like a diatribe against men. It isn’t. It’s a very sly comedy that uses the idea of witchery as a metaphor for pussy power unleashed. The whole movie is as nutty and fruity as a bag of Freudian trail mix. Interpretation is more than welcome, it’s almost obligatory.  Magic potions are created by combining female urine with used tampons—Trump’s worse menstruating Megyn Kelly nightmare. Smoking beakers filled with witches brews of day-glo chemicals could be the bubbling components for birth control concoctions, abortifacients and hallucinogenics. Keys to open the castle doors. After all, wasn’t it the pill and psychedelics that helped free our bodies and minds? Wouldn’t a love witch want to spread the good vibes? Oh, those devilish witches with their magic elixirs.

New age homilies and hippie dippy black magic circle jerks are wonderfully skewered on Biller’s sardonic pitchfork. Scenes have the drug panic of a Dragnet episode. And at times the movie’s like what you’d get if The Wicker Man was a Wicker Woman and lived in Topanga Canyon next door to the Mod Squad. But that’s just part of it. Imagine Hitchcock’s Marnie starring Anton LaVey and The Shangri-Las as Marnie’s multiple personalities. No, that’s not it either. Maybe if Hogtied magazine had sex with an Archie comic and gave birth to a slew of demonic Barbie Dolls dressed in leather and latex? Or maybe just a frugging Anaïs Nin bobblehead?
 

 
What happens when the power between yin and yang shifts and sugartits pulls a metaphoric gun on the guy with his hands on the steering wheel? Biller is both playful and deadly serious in scenes where burlesque dancers bring howling men helplessly to their knees with a mere thrust of the pelvis and witches with Bobby Gentry bouffants reduce men to sobbing little boys who quiver in the wake of the all powerful energy of the sorceress. In these moments of masculine meltdowns I can hear the pathetic voice of Frank Booth sobbing the word “mommy” between each inhalation of his witch’s brew. And off in the distance where the sun bleeds into the desert, Tura Satana is going Jackie Chan on a truck driver with a porn ‘stache.

The film is deep and deeply twisted. There’s a renaissance fair in The Love Witch that looks like the commune scene in Easy Rider directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky while tripping on Orange Sunshine. It’s fucking out of this world wacky. I think there’s even a Unicorn. Or was I hallucinating?
 

 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Dancing on the grave of civilization (New York in the 80s & why I refuse to remove my boogie shoes)


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.

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The Father of Prog Rock speaks: Exclusive interview with Billy Ritchie

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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!
 
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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.
 
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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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