Remembering Alex Harvey

One of the inevitable consequences of getting older is that your heroes get older too – and sometimes die.

Quite a few of my musical heroes are dead – Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Warren Zevon, Danny Gatton and Ollie Halsall to name but a few – and mostly long before their time, too.

Not all of these people are remembered as well as some – Hendrix does very well, for example – and some who die are virtually forgotten just a few years later.

I’d like to remind people of one such individual – and he truly was an individual!

sahb5

Alex Harvey

I was very upset indeed when I heard that Alex was dead. Not quite old enough to be my father at the time of his death, but almost, Alex was a truly unique character who lived hard, exemplifying the rock and roll lifestyle and providing the world with some truly great music.

Born in Glasgow in 1935, Alex’s first musical influences were skiffle and trad jazz. This soon led to a career in rock & roll and after a talent contest he became known as ‘Scotland’s answer to Tommy Steele’. This places him in a different musical period and context to the Beatles, say, and allies him more to people like Cliff Richard, although Alex was certainly no Scottish Cliff – fuck no. He’d have hated that!

Forming the Alex Harvey Soul Band and recording a couple of albums, Alex spent the ensuing years gigging all over the British Isles, as well as playing regular stints in Hamburg.

In 1967, he somehow blagged his way as a guitarist into the pit orchestra for the London production of ‘Hair’, and this band recorded a cash-in album of their own which featured some Harvey originals.

After a few years leading various bands and recording several albums with limited success, Alex made a move which would bring him real fame at last. He teamed up with a young Scottish prog band called ‘Tear Gas’ and so the Sensational Alex Harvey Band was born – or SAHB for short.

With a young and accomplished band providing the musical smarts and the right framework, Alex could front the act and bring all his music hall brilliance to bear on live shows. 

Never a good singer in the true sense of the term, Alex’s talents lay in his ability to relate to an audience, his frequently tasteless humour and the creation of his own mythology within his songs and stage show. Dressed like some deranged glam-rock pirate, Alex would come on stage dressed in leather jacket, spandex and striped T shirt, along with various props, and then treat the crowd to rock vaudeville backed up by a very classy band indeed. Lead guitarist Zal Cleminson – in green spandex and white clown makeup – was a brilliant player and a great foil for Alex on stage. The rest of the band weren’t slouches either.

People soon took SAHB to their hearts and 7 great albums over 5 years brought them commercial and critical success. With a band capable of playing in almost any style, Alex’ lyrics explored a wide range of subjects such as faith healers, gang bangs, witchcraft, bondage and monsters, mythical or otherwise. Not only that, but the band also chose some great covers. Whilst ‘Delilah’ might be the best known example and their biggest hit, they also recorded the Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’, Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’, Jacques Brel’s ‘Next’ and many, many others.

In 1976, Alex left the band and went solo again with virtually no success, although one of the albums he made post-SAHB in 1979 is a real cracker – ‘The Mafia Stole My Guitar’, which has a scorching version of ‘Shakin’ All Over’ as an opener.

Alex continued to gig until his death in 1982 and actually died when about to go ashore for a gig in Zeebrugge in Belgium.

It was the day before his birthday, so he didn’t even make 47…

It barely seems believable that he’s been dead for 28 years now, although that’s probably more about my perception of time than anything else. However, his recordings with SAHB hold up really well today and I still play them often.

Somewhere on YouTube there’s a great 9 minute plus b&w video of SAHB playing ‘Framed’ where Alex crams some stockings in his mouth in some strange parody of Brando in ‘The Godfather’. It’s quite, quite mad but it’s totally brilliant and even the zoned-out crowd don’t know what to make of Alex’ performance.

File under ‘sadly missed’.

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Six shark jumpers

One of the main problems I have with any successful creative artist, in any field of the arts, is that they often go on for far too long.

Almost any creative endeavour is subject to the laws of diminishing returns, which means that with each successive recording, film, book, TV series or whatever, originality, and the ‘spark’ that first drew me to them, eventually disappears and even artists I admire can end up boring and disappointing me.

However, occasionally an artist will come up with a surprise long after their glory days are over.

Here’s a few choice musical gems that have sparkled for me amongst their career-twilight dross…

Steely Dan – ‘The Things I Miss the Most’: I’m a huge Dan fan and picked up on the band from day one. Becker and Fagen masterminded some stunning music back in the 1970s and 80s and although I realise that their brand of smooth jazzy rock wasn’t to everyone’s taste, there was an edge to it that cut like a knife thanks to Fagen’s world-weary voice. The band reformed in the 1990s and still performs to this day although their two (three if you count a live release) albums since then are mere shadows of what they produced in their heyday. However, this track from their most recent album is a blinder. The lyrics and Fagen’s voice reveal such depths of poignant regret that it stands with their best material, although, it has to be said, Becker should stick to bass and allow a better guitarist to play lead.

The Dictators – ‘Who Can Save Rock ‘n’ Roll?’: One of my favourite US punk acts – I prefer them to the Ramones and Black Flag – Handsome Dick Manitoba’s outfit really have very little new left to say today. However, this track from the recent album ‘Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators’ is a great piece of kickass rock with a serious message, best illustrated by this line from the song – ‘I wish Sergeant Pepper never taught the band to play’. Great guitar work and a macho vocal from Handsome Dick really nail this track as a great example of anthemic no-nonsense rock. It’s one of those songs that make me want to crack out an electric guitar and play it very loudly.

Blue Oyster Cult – ‘Damaged’: I’m not a huge metal fan but I’ve always loved the tongue in cheek attitude of BOC, as well as Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser’s melodic guitar style. ‘Damaged’ is off the ‘Heaven Forbid’ album which was released well after their CBS label years and during a period which saw them gigging a lot, but with no recording success – the days of ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ were long gone. ‘Damaged’ is a fine piece of classic Cult with some fine vocals from Roeser as well as some great guitar. The lyrics – ‘I’m damaged…damaged…it made me what I am’ – remind me of the Who’s ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ in their meaning, although the whole song is much, much heavier with a great galloping rhythm. Great to hear they can still come up with the goods!

Rolling Stones – ‘Undercover of the Night’: OK, this is quite an old track, but then we are talking about a band which isn’t far off its 50th anniversary. The last good Stones album was ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ – much underrated in my opinion – and this track came a good while after it. It finds the Stones in fine fettle with Jagger singing some really very dark lyrics about the CIA and black ops in the world’s trouble spots, whilst Keef riffs away and has some great moments where studio delay effects give his guitar a strange ‘boinging’ sound. Above all, it captures the band being downright nasty which suits the subject matter to a ‘t’. Since this track, the band’s done very little that’s listenable and even the live stuff disappoints.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads – ‘Jack Shit George’ Kilburn and the High Roads produced some great music but, with the Blockheads, Dury really blossomed and the band made some truly great recordings. When Chas Jankel jumped ship, it was downhill all the way and a few albums without the Blockheads saw Dury in the creative wilderness. However, getting together with Jankel and the rest of the remaining Blockheads many years later, Dury’s artistic life went out on a high with ‘Mr Love Pants’ – indeed, this was Dury’s last album before he died. The opening track, ‘Jack Shit George’, has all the hallmarks that made the original band great – funky ensemble playing, cutting lyrics – ‘What did you learn at school today? FUCK ALL!’ (featuring Dury and the band on call and response respectively) – and a classic Dury vocal. It’s as good a track as the original band ever produced and the whole album stands amongst their very best work.

Take That – ‘Shine’: Not that I ever rated the original band very much, but this song from their comeback album is stunningly good and indicates that for at least some of the time, this is one ‘boy band’ which ought to be taken seriously. Fabulous arrangement, melody, chord sequence and harmony vocals all combine to produce one of those tracks that is just perfect pop music. Listen to it on a background music level and you could easily pass it by, but take the time to really hear it properly and it reveals some quite complex depths. The album it comes from isn’t bad at all either, and although much of it isn’t really my cup of tea, it’s well-crafted and a million miles away from some of the cynically simplistic crap that is often passed off as ‘pop’ today. The Jonas Brothers can just kiss my fucking arse…

So, there they are – half a dozen tracks which show that for these artists at least, they could still put out a track that was as good as anything they’d ever done.

You can’t really blame an artist for just carrying on – it’s what they do, all they know and it pays the mortgage, keeps them in drugs, feeds the ego, what have you – but you don’t have to like what they do as they attempt to put old wine into new bottles, or even old bottles as in the case of many of our established ‘superstars’ such as Rod Stewart, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton.

You can tell when such acts are desperate for sales when they put out an album with a boring image (usually of themselves staring moodily into the near distance), often titled with just their surname and having a track listing consisting of covers of their ‘favourite songs’. Such hack jobs really are the last knockings of the creative impulse.

As the Fonz showed us, jumping the shark isn’t always a good idea – even though not jumping may soon remove you from the public eye. However, such is the nature of fame that the public will turn away from you anyway if it’s so inclined.

However, the six recordings listed above wouldn’t have been made had the acts responsible not decided to give it one more try so perhaps they were right to jump after all.

No matter what, though, they sure are six great pieces of music…

‘English Nationalist’ outed

Regular readers of this blog may recall that about 18 months ago, a highly disturbed individual calling himself ‘English Nationalist’ left many abusive comments in response to some of my articles about the English Democrats.

Here are a couple of examples of English Nationalist’s ’wit’:

Steve No wonder, you are so angry, I guess it’s a long time since you got laid !!!!!
I guess you have to make do with the Hand Shandies
Who do you shopping with to get those clothes
David Blunkett ?
What a loser

and

You look like a Cunt and write like a Cunt

Email notifications from WordPress showed that the comments were sent from an EDP mail account and a specific IP address:

Author : English Nationalist (IP: 81.2.97.151 , mail.engdemmail.org)
E-mail : England@EngDem.org
URL    : http://www.EngDem.org
Whois  : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=81.2.97.151

Now, here’s some interesting information obtained from a domain lookup site:

Domain ID:D134828206-LROR
Domain Name:ENGDEMMAIL.ORG
Created On:11-Dec-2006 16:58:24 UTC
Last Updated On:11-Dec-2009 12:33:45 UTC
Expiration Date:11-Dec-2010 16:58:24 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:BB Online UK Limited (R20-LROR)
Status:CLIENT TRANSFER PROHIBITED
Registrant ID:1165856300o89536
Registrant Name:Steven Uncles
Registrant Organization:D****** and*********** ***
Registrant Street1:***** *****
Registrant Street2:
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:**********************
Registrant State/Province:D*******
Registrant Postal Code:D** ***
Registrant Country:GB
Registrant Phone:+44.7*********
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:+44.7*********
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Registrant Email: steven.uncles@d******-*****.co.uk

(The asterisks are all mine as I wouldn’t want anyone’s personal details disclosed on this blog. I’m also not giving the URL for the above domain information for the same reasons.)

Anyway, there we have it.

Steven Uncles and ‘English Nationalist’, who both use the same mail server at Engdem.org – and which is registered to Uncles, are one and the same person.

This comes as absolutely no surprise to me as English Nationalist’s and Uncles’ writing styles were identical. I didn’t say so at the time, because I didn’t want the hassle for personal reasons.

Now, however, I now have no hesitation in exposing ‘English Nationalist’ and condemning Uncles as an inept, ignorant, arrogant, devious, sick fat fuck who hasn’t got the balls to post comments here under his real name.

(OK, I may be ‘SteveShark’ here, but anyone with half a working brain cell could discover my real name.)

Not only that, but he’s done the same thing many times elsewhere under a variety of aliases using the same domain mail server.

No wonder the EDP remains unelectable whilst it has such a total liability funding and publicising the party. 

Any port in a snowstorm?

We’ve been watching coverage of the approaching snow in the UK with great interest as we’re due to visit dear old Blighty next week.

At first, we saw the usual dire predictions of doom and I have to admit that I scoffed at them. However, parts of the UK now have snow, and conditions in some parts seem quite severe.

A couple of talking points have stood out amongst all the usual media guff.

Firstly, the poor reaction of some drivers to snowy and icy conditions. Braking is the worst thing to do – you should brake with your gears – and staying a good distance away from the car in front is a good idea too – about 10 car lengths should do – and, it really should go without saying, keep your speed right down. If you do have to brake then don’t fight the direction of the skid – steer into it.

I’m struggling to understand why some UK weather reports are giving out the Fahrenheit equivalents to Celsius temperatures. The now standard Celsius scale seems to be more logical with 0° being freezing point, whereas it’s 32° in Fahrenheit which doesn’t seem as immediate or informative.

Although I was educated when imperial units were used, I use mostly metric units nowadays and exclusively so here – ounces and inches mean fuck all to the French after all. However, the difference between the two systems doesn’t seem as wide as that between Celsius and Fahrenheit – it’s not like a measurement of length will start in a different place, for example.

When it comes to standard units, money can also be subject to this strange species of nostalgia. You may remember when 12 pence made a shilling and 20 shillings made a pound. Of course, we then went decimal. The French also changed their currency, although going from 100 centimes to the franc to 100 cents to the Euro wasn’t that tricky maths-wise. However, the French still express prices in francs as well as Euros so that a supermarket till receipt will give you a total in Euros and then its franc equivalent.

Imagine going to your local M&S and getting a receipt telling you that the £12.67 you just spent was the equivalent of £12 13s 4d in old money.

Bonkers.

Well, we sail from Caen on the overnight ferry and arrive in Portsmouth next Tuesday. We’re staying a few days in Milton Keynes to see our son and our friends and then it’s off to Gloucester to see our daughter and various relatives.

Snow seems to be forecast for next week both here* and in the UK, so it may be something we can’t escape. So, a shovel, blankets and a flask of cocoa will be loaded in the car as well as all the Christmas presents for the UK and our luggage.

Now, where’s my thermals?

*It snowed briefly here at about 4pm – just a few flakes but the white stuff all the same…

An English Democrat gets his wish

Well, he must have his own private fucking genii because the moronic EDP motherfucker who seemed to want to see a bit more ‘get up and go’ in evidence on the streets of the UK certainly got his wish today.

School pupils as young as 14 decided to take the day off school and protest against the hike in student tuition fees and the involvement of the Lib Dems in all of this.

Fortunately, most of the protests passed off peacefully, although as I’ve just seen on the local London BBC regional news program tonight, it got a bit fraught in the capital – particularly around Whitehall. Indeed, as I write this, I’ve just seen a report from a ‘kettled’ area where a bus shelter has been set on fire. Earlier, steel barriers were thrown at police lines and an isolated police vehicle was cut off by protesters and vandalised.

Even worse, I’ve just seen Lenny Henry – surely one of the most overrated UK comedians of all time – on the One Show cracking a joke that the protests at least meant that students had stopped eating Doritos, put their trousers on, turned off Trisha and gone out to do something.

So what about the 14 year old school kids kettled in Whitehall while you’re in a nice cosy studio, Lenny? Pleased to see them go out and do something instead of that boring old schoolwork – like bunking off school and getting kettled, perhaps?

Cunt.

And speaking of cunts…

Who knows, perhaps the EDP shithead who wanted to see a bit more UK street action has a son or daughter kettled at this very moment in Whitehall!

It’s possible, as I understand that the party has a bit of a presence in Kent, and in its towns such as Dartford, so it must be easy enough to nip up to the capital’s streets where ‘guts were being displayed’ today.

Although it’s easy enough to mobilise large numbers of people – mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc – when the various groups of school pupils got to the protest, many of them interviewed seemed upset that what they had intended to be a 100% non-violent event had been hijacked by certain elements who were intent on violence.

And there’s the danger.

When you’re 14, 15, 16, you’re not always aware that you might be being manipulated and your enthusiasms subverted by people whose aims are rather different to yours. That’s not a criticism, it’s just part of being young, and manipulation is manipulation, whether it’s by anarchists or record company executives. To many people, the young are fair game.

They certainly were today.

I’m not totally without sympathy with the broad thrust of the protesters today. After all, I benefited from a cheap degree with no tuition fees, but then I’ve also seen a blind dogmatic rush towards degrees for everybody at any cost by the last three Labour governments. This created an unsustainable demand on public money for cheap university education which we now simply cannot afford. And that’s another inevitable and inherent problem with being 14 or 15; a failure to appreciate that money will only stretch so far (after all, you don’t have to earn the fucking stuff), such as when you ask your parents for a new pair of £100 trainers. 

So, Mr Englsih (sic) Democrat, I don’t know whether your child’s shivering its arse off inside a police kettle in Whitehall at this very moment, but someone’s child certainly is.

Quite a few of them in fact.

Maybe you should be more careful what you wish for…

Kitteh update

Our two Maine Coons, Django and Oscar, are an important part of our lives here. They’re great companions, marvellous entertainment and very efficient footwarmers now that it’s getting colder here.

We were a little concerned that with pet insurance being so limited here and thus deciding not to bother with it, when it came to vaccination booster time we’d have to hock a kidney or two.

However, we found a recommended veterinary practice a few miles away from us with a vet whose English is good, so we took Oscar for his booster and went away after he’d had a thorough health check and injection, having parted with a mere 40 Euros – about half the cost of a similar appointment in the UK.

I have to say that the two ginger bastards have settled here very well.

Django continues to decimate the wild life and just 10 minutes ago he appeared at the door with a vole in his mouth. As far as we can tell, Oscar doesn’t seem to be a rodent killer but if there’s an insect buzzing around he can be relied on to chase it down mercilessly.

Both cats seem to enjoy sacking out in front of the fire and I don’t think they’ve ever been more relaxed.

P1010457  Oscar

P1010380

Django

Oscar continues to grow and although he’s a year younger than his half brother Django he’s now considerably bigger and heavier. Some Maine Coons can grow to a huge size and I think that Oscar shows all the signs of being one of these.

Mother Fucker in the pub

We’ve just arrived back at the rental place here and found our post box stuffed with ‘pub’. ‘Pub’ – short for ‘publicite’ – is all the same sort of advertising leaflet and catalog bullshit that we used to get in the UK, but stuffed into the local free newspaper.

We call it ‘stuff’.

Anyhow, this ‘stuff’ includes supermarket, DIY store and electricals shop special offers and nestling, like a small but delightful treasure, amongst the pages of one of the Super U offer brochures was this:

P1010458

I saw the DVD on a large display stand in our local Super U the other day and meant to get a photo of it but I forgot by the time we reached the check out so I was pleased to see it amongst all the ‘stuff’ today.

I’m guessing that after ‘cunt’, ‘mother fucker’ (usually one word in the UK and US) is about the most offensive term you can bestow on anyone, but here it means zilch.

Our mega-huge French dictionary gives ‘enfoire’ (m) and ‘enfoiree’ (f) as French equivalents of ‘motherfucker’, but these then translate back into English as ‘bastard’ and ‘bitch’ respectively. OK, not exactly terms you’d use in front of a priest or old lady here, but nowhere near as strong as ‘motherfucker’ in the UK.

The French have a very rich seam of swear words to mine, but they don’t seem to have the force that the limited English repertoire has. I’ve heard some quite respectable people use variants of the verbs ‘foutre’ and ‘se foutre’ which have a very vague similarity to the way the English use ‘fuck’, but it’s nowhere near as strong.

Incidentally, I’ve not heard a single person here say ‘merde’ yet.