Bert Weedon - 'Rockin' At The Roundhouse' (1970)

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The early seventies rock ’n’ roll revival threw out some unexpected contributions to the trend, but none more strange than Bert ‘Play in a Day’ Weedon’s Rockin’ At The Roundhouse. The music is a so-so set of instrumentals, covers of Duane Eddy, Johnny Kidd, Elvis, and some originals. Nothing here to get the Roundhouse freaks moving. By way of explanation for this bit of exploitation of the youth scene the cover notes tell us: ‘A few months ago Rock gradually started to come back into the pop scene, and a big Rock Revival show was put on at London’s Roundhouse - the mecca of pop and beat music. All the rock stars were invited to appear, and the concert was a big success, but the hit of the show according to the press was not surprisingly guitar star Bert Weedon.’ At which point Fontana get him to put this album together. Sticking Weedon on the cover would have blown the ruse so they went for this blonde model in a superb Hell’s Angels t-shirt, and a studded leather jacket draped over her shoulders. The bit of dog chain she’s pulling on adds a touch of violent frisson to her display, well that’s the pose anyway: Altamont via The Bath Festival . . .

‘Keef’ gets credit for the photograph and album design. I’m guessing he’s Marcus Keef, aka Keith MacMillan (1947-2007) who was responsible for a slew of Vertigo label albums. See here and here

The album was twice reissued on Contour, once with the original art work and the other time with a moustachioed Bert kicking out the jams – you can see why the original went for the blonde . . .

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In the words of Duane Eddy: ‘Bert is a great guitar man’ but not much of a looker . . .

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I can’t imagine the East London chapter of the Hells Angels would have given their approval to Bert’s Rockin’ at the Roundhouse as they did to Mick Farren album Mona – The Carnivorous Circus, also released in 1970, which featured an incoherent Angel telling it like it is . . .

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While we’re on the subject of East London Angels, it’s time to give this 1973 Paladin edition of Stanley Cohen’s Folk Devils & Moral Panics a showing. Punk DIY ethos on full display here . . . as it is on NEL’s 1971 publication of Chopper by Peter Cave where the biker dress-up box is filled with their dad’s war souvenirs

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Where’s the original from? Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, 1970? Isle of Wight? Weeley? Wherever, those are superb homemade patches, 666, 13 & 1%er.

My thanks to Eddie who tipped me off to this album and for the gift of the Cohen book

screen grab from BBC  Man Alive   ‘What’s The Truth About Hell’s Angels and Skinheads’  (Dec. 1969) – smells like teen spirit

screen grab from BBC Man Alive ‘What’s The Truth About Hell’s Angels and Skinheads’ (Dec. 1969) – smells like teen spirit

The Deviants have a Secret to Share

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The third and final Deviants’ album lacked any track or personnel information on the sleeve and came supplied with a chapbook of sorts.

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Accompanying the credits was a short rant from Mick Farren that included a manifesto of a kind:

For the past 13 years Rock & Roll has been the secret language of a generation, despite lapses into gibberish and side-tracks into academic obscurity. Rock & Roll is a secret language that the rulers cannot understand.

Which raises the question of how well kept was that secret?

Scans of the complete text and some background on the album can be found on Richard Morton Jack’s blog, Galactic Ramble . I hope he doesn’t mind me ripping off the three I’ve used.

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Mick Farren – DNA Cowboy Trilogy

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The Quest for the DNA Cowboys, Farren’s third novel, is the first part of a ‘science fantasy’ trilogy published by Mayflower; it was followed by Synaptic Manhunt in the same year, 1976, and The Neural Atrocity the year after. The novels’ plots, characters and settings are all interconnected as if he had written a long novel that was then split into three.

The opening salvo in the trilogy is a picaresque tale of two future-tense cowboys, Billy Oblivion (love that name) and Reave, who carry replica Navy Colts and porta-pac stabilisers to help them navigate a world literally falling apart. Bored, they quit the town of Pleasant Gap and step over the edge into the ‘nothings’. Spatial mapping and co-ordinates are nowhere to be found and the pair, by ill or good luck, drift from one dimension to another. On their travels they encounter characters such as Minstrel Boy (Bobby Dylan, for sure), Rainman (he makes weather), Jetstream Willie (a trucker), and Burt the Medicine (an albino with breasts). These figures help or hinder them on their journey to somewhere or other. Places in the nothings (or outside it) resemble a truckstop, where Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ plays on a loop, a Western ghost town, a prison, a war front, a desert landscape, an oasis, a port, and finally a lake and swamp that takes them to a city being eaten alive by its rulers .

All places and characters are thinly sketched and the plot, like Billy and Reave, appears lost in the nothings. As Minstrel Boy explains (or rather doesn’t): ‘I’m just telling the story. I don’t have to account for inconsistencies’. That also seems to be Farren’s line; the science fantasy genre allowing him to shift to something new whenever he tires of, or exhausts, any given situation. The characters drift. Beyond averting boredom, they are unmotivated, without goals or set destination. The novel’s title suggests they are on a quest for something or other, but it’s not described: ‘Where are you fellas planning to go from here?’ asks Burt the Medicine, ‘No idea, we’ll just travel on until we come to something.’ says Billy.

They eventually stumble upon a ruined city overshadowed by a vast tower in which live the ruling elite, who are utterly depraved. A. A. Catto, a woman with the body of a 13-year-old, indulges in incestuous sado-masochist trysts with her brother and makes Reave her captive play thing. We learn that desire unbound is a wretched state of being, but we don’t learn just what a DNA cowboy is.

The novel ends in a state of uncertainty, with the two pals separated from one another and the reader still asking who are the three phantom ladies depicted on the jacket? The trio appear fairly randomly throughout, always in italics and given the pronoun ‘She/They’ (how prescient). Early on, one ‘She/They’ appears to have been shot by a western gunfighter and is then subsequently carried by the other two spirits. How will all of this play out in episode two . . .?

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The second volume in the trilogy, Synaptic Manhunt, has another terrific title that is also pretty meaningless. There is a hunt of sorts, but what it has to do with the fusion of chromosomes is as clear to me as the singling out of Billy and Reeves’ double helix in the first volume’s title. Right at the start a new and significant character is introduced, Jeb Stuart Ho, a name that conjoins a Confederate Major General with the revolutionary leader of Vietnam’s Communists, Ho Chi Minh. In actuality he is closer to David Carradine’s character in Kung Fu (1972-75). An assassin and member of the Brotherhood he is given the task of finding and killing A. A. Catto. To help him in his endeavour the Minstrel Boy, who has unique wayfinding powers to guide him through the nothings, is unwilling recruited. Before long he is reunited with Billy and Reeve, who are still caught up in the child-woman’s sadistic orbit.

The book has more action and conflict than its predecessor, but is still wholly reliant on the principle of deus ex machina to solve problems and to keep things mobile. Farren is at his best when the world he is depicting is close to the world he knows, the barroom and hotel lobby scenes work particularly well, getting lost in the ripped dimensions of the nothings less so. The characters remain poorly motivated, little more than ciphers who I don’t much care for and have only a bare interest in. I kept wishing that the world he populates was a bit more like Ladbroke Grove and a lot less like the horizon line in the illustration on the front of Hawkwind’s Warrior on the Edge of Time.

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Farren’s three graces, if that’s what She/They are, were absent from the middle volume, but make a return in the final part, again given a nice but meaningless title: The Neural Atrocity. The key characters are pulled into a tighter orbit around the now fully insane and megalomaniacal A. A. Catto. She is hell bent on the conquest of the earth (or what’s left of it) and to that end is using the ‘stuff machine’ to create a zombie army to do her bidding. When she’s not building a mighty military force, she entertains herself by ordering life copies of Elvis Presley and Oscar Wilde, but what should have been a dinner party for the ages turns out to be a dull affair. Oscar lusts after the Memphis Flash and throws out a few half-hearted bon mots and Elvis responds with mumbles and homilies. Elvis is a good looking man, it must be said, and Catto has him dine between her thighs. Elsewhere things drift toward an apocalyptic ending with Dylan/Minstrel Boy still unable to offer any answers.

I expected Farren’s early fiction to be more carnivalesque, or at least more attuned to the freak underground’s preoccupation with putting all and sundry up against the wall, but alas it was all a little too polite, reserved and, frankly, dull. His fantasy world is based on Westerns – the nothings are like those vast empty spaces that exist between frontier towns and outposts; a dead terrain where savages wait to attack wagon trains and cowboys drift aimlessly. Distraction is found in a game of chance, a bottle and a whore’s embrace. Life is cheap and death is how debts are paid. Farren catches all of that well enough, but in the end nothing really matters. I don’t believe in his characters like I do in James Coburn’s Pat Garrett, Robert Mitchum’s Jim Garry, Walter Brennan’s Judge Roy Bean, or Jeff Bridges’ Wild Bill Hickock. Those actors make the fictive worlds they occupy real for me, Farren’s characters not at all.

Mick Farren is a product of St. Martin’s School of Art, Phun City, IT, Nasty Tales and an Old Bailey obscenity trial. He now writes full-time and has two previous novels published.

Author’s bio in all three volumes

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Red Lightnin' – blues reissues – J. Edward Barker

letterhead, circa 1972, for Sippen and Shertser family of labels

letterhead, circa 1972, for Sippen and Shertser family of labels

Like the Union Pacific releases (see below), Ian Sippen and Peter Shertser’s collections of postwar blues wore their underground credentials on their sleeves.

I’m guessing the early releases were all unlicensed, certainly the first issue on Red Lightnin’, Buddy Guy’s In the Beginning (RL001), looks like a bootleg with its cheaply printed monotone matt image pasted onto a blank sleeve.

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Later pressing of the label’s early titles were treated to slick upgrades. OZ’s Felix Dennis was responsible for the design of the first four volumes: Little Walter (RL002), John Lee Hooker (RL003) and Albert Collins (RL004). Denise Brownlow was credited for the design work on the five issues released by Syndicate Chapter and for the various artist compilation Blues in D Natural (RL005). The two subsequent Red Lightnin’ releases employed the graphic talent of J. Edward Barker, Mick Farren’s pal and illustrator at large for International Times and Nasty Tales.

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Barker’s design for the label’s 7th release, Junior Well’s In My Younger Days, uses a photograph that looks as if it has been cropped from a minstrel scene in a Hollywood movie, though not one known to me. Whatever its provenance, it pulls in the same direction as the ‘Three Ball Charlie’ image on the front of the Stones’ Exile album. Both albums were released in 1972. The double LP anthology When Girls Do It (R.L.006) also sports a Barker design.

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The three panels are fair summations of his interests and art: the mirrored picture of monks with pasted on devil’s eyes in the gatefold; montaged found images clipped from erotica and porn (lesbian, school girl and a Weimar-era nude) that surround a photograph of the Daughters of the American Revolution (with Abe Lincoln glued over the face of the sitting dowager and the open palm placed like a cockerel’s crown on her head) are in keeping with the aesthetic of the period’s underground publications: male adolescent salaciousness at the apparent service of political satire. On the sleeve’s rear you get a feast of backsides; this 1930s fetishism plays to the album’s title – the posterior posturing as gratuitous as anything on the front. It also echoes figures used on Barker’s sleeve for the Pink Fairies’ What A Bunch of Sweeties, another album from 1972. Fair enough?

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The conjunction of rock’n’ roll revivalism, blues resurrectionism and the freak underground is fascinating in itself, but it also had me searching for some kind of appreciation, book or webpage on J. Edward Barker. I haven’t found much yet. Until then, there is always his and Farren’s Watch Out Kids, also from 1972 (a productive year)

Barker to the left, Farren to the right

Barker to the left, Farren to the right

Raves from the Grave – Blasts from the Past

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A recent bit of deep digging uncovered Transfusion: Rave from the Grave – Blast From the Past Vol.1 (Union Pacific, UP004).  The compilation features the Del Vikings, the two Ronnies – Self and Hawkins – Conway Twitty, Nervous Norvus, Everly Bros, Al Downing, John Greer, and Vince Taylor and the Playboys with ‘Brand New Cadillac’ – a great collection. What sets it apart from, and at odds with, other early 1970s compilations is its sleeve featuring a typically salacious panel from a Robert Crumb comic. No Teddy Boys in the company of a Bardot-like leggy model and a late-sixties styled custom chopper, nor fifties convertible outside a diner, not even a Rock-Ola jukebox. Pasted together in 1972 by Ian Sippen and Peter Shertser, the album connects the period’s rock ’n’ revivalists with the British underground culture of the day as represented by the likes of International Times, Mick Farren and the Pink Fairies.

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Volume 2, Loose Ends (UP005) is an all-instrumental collection bookended by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and The Fireballs. In between, Duane Eddy battles it out with the Fenderman, Jerry Lee Lewis and a half-dozen other contenders. The sleeve continues the graphic connection with the underground, featuring a tattooed greaser mauling a hot chick in a state of dishabille who threatens to stab him in the ‘puddin’. The panel is given a context of sorts by the incongruous tag-line: ‘Sexism is out! If you like pussy: treat it equal.’ It’s culled from the back page of George DiCaprio and R. Jaccoma’s Greaser Comics (New York: Half Ass Press, 1971), which suggests a transatlantic counter-culture mirroring of interest in rock ’n’ roll.

‘A new exciting label featuring oldies but goodies, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll’

‘A new exciting label featuring oldies but goodies, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll’

Sippen and Shertser were Jewish East End Mods who made a name for themselves on the scene as The Firm. They ran in the same circles as the likes of Miles at Better Books and IT fame, and Dave ‘Boss’ Goodman, later Pink Fairies roadie and manager of Dingwalls dance hall. The Firm were involved in the UFO club, helping Mick Farren to keep out ne’er-do-wells when they weren’t pulling pranks on John Peel. With such connections, and a deep love of American rhythm and blues, the duo helped to produce and distribute The Deviants’ debut album. They sold the LPs’ American rights to Seymour Stein’s newly formed Sire records and then acted as talent scout for him, the results of which included an album they recorded in 1968 in London with Walter ‘Shakey’ Horton and another in 1969 by psych blues rockers Sam Apple Pie.

Shertser is a singular contributor to Jonathan Green’s pop-vox history of the sixties underground, Days in the Life (1988), which is where most of the references to him and Sippen are drawn from, including Clinton Heylin’s Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry (1994). The Firm were responsible for the first tranche of illicit Dylan, Stones and Beatles albums in the UK. The two volumes of rock ’n’ roll obscurities and hits are essentially bootlegs; there is nothing to suggest these tracks were licensed. Other releases on their Union Pacific label included collections of Eddie Cochran, Link Wray and Little Richard rarities.

Ian Sippen went missing, presumed drowned, in Morocco in April 1973. Shertser continued to run Red Lightnin’ and associated labels (Syndicate Chapter), which he and Sippen had set up in 1969.

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You can read Greaser here. The hard-on in the pop corn seen in Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) gets an earlier recounting. Perhaps, like the filthy lyrics in ‘Louie Louie’, this courtship ritual is part of American teenage folklore.

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Depending on which version you’re looking at, the Pink Fairies debut 1971 album, Never Never Land, has the legend ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ on either its inside sleeve or on its rear cover. The illustration that adorns the front is about as rock ’n’ roll as Robert Crumb’s fedora.

Mick Farren, Armageddon Crazy (1989)

Mick Farren

Armageddon Crazy

DelRey-Ballantine USA, 1989/Orbit-Sphere UK, 1990

‘2000AD. The year of America’s ultimate special effect . . .’ The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Religious zealots, fanatics and Elvis believers control the USA, and rock ’n’ roll is banned. But the show that never ends is just refashioned by the God Botherers to mount ever more impressive demonstrations for the brethren. The latest planned extravaganza, sponsored by the White House, is to put giant holographs of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse above Manhattan. Are you ready to testify?

 

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A member of the revolutionary Lefthand Path is working deep undercover at the Deacon’s HQ, an old-school cynical police officer walks the street between loyalty and insurrection. As he climbs higher, an ambitious Deacon looks to pull them both down. The outcome of the impending confrontation is uncertain and then complicated when a key figure in the establishment turns out to have a Machiavellian disposition for intrigue and is about to stage coup. Which side are you on?

Very much a post-William Gibson cyberpunk novel, with cowboy hackers, a matrix which jockeys can jack into through implants behind the ears, but it is also an old style story of the underground rising up to fight the good fight. I give nothing away when I tell you that the smart and beautiful fifth columnist ends up in bed with the hard-bitten cynical cop. A formidable team beneath the sheets and on the streets.

 This is my first encounter with Farren’s fiction. It all moves along at a speedy pace, I never got bored even when the exposition felt laboured and the, sometimes, clunky dialogue made me wince. His heroes are all counterculture surrogates, all born to lose but smart enough to survive to fight another day. Motorhead bootlegs are the new currency and The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, Farren and Wayne Kramer’s musical, wins a Tony. There’s a future worth holding out for. . .

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