People's view of Marc Almond is always very telling. Everybody knows Tainted Love and most of people's judgements are based solely on that and his sexuality. However a few devotees are able to quote chapter and verse of the rest of his output - Soft Cell's thoroughly rewarding degeneration from perve-pop into fucked up drug-noise, numerous solo projects and collaborations with everyone from Gene Pitney to Foetus. There are some real treasures lurking in the back catalogue - I would still rate the Marc and the Mambas 'Torment and Toreros' LP as one of my all-time favourites.
And then of course, aside from the music, there is Marc the outrageous tabloid sensation. This autobiography goes into a fair amount of detail about the more obscure stuff - Marc's early performance pieces in Leeds rub up against his gargantuan drug intake (doing more Ecstasy in the early 80s than the craziest ravers manage now).
There are some genuinely eye-popping revelations, like Marc's voyage into Highgate Cemetery with John Balance. Or better, the fact that ex-manager Stevo is the brother of infamous neo-nazi Joe Pierce, who he would regularly wind up by bringing back the cream of the early Some Bizzare roster for an afternoon cup of tea in the family home.
As with all autobiographies, there's a great deal of score-settling going on, which can be entertaining ("We knew that being number one again meant one thing: all of our critics would have to eat shit".) or just plain tedious. There's also a bit of a dip in the interest factor about two thirds in, as his life becomes and endless cycle of drug recovery, luvvie name-dropping and unsatisfactory solo projects. However, when Marc loses it, he loses it with style, turning up in black leather and whipping a critic responsible for a bad review, or totally trashing a record company office.
This a pretty damn fine read if you have even a cursory interest in Soft Cell, electronica, showbiz decadence, etc. The big hit "Tainted Love" is always lurking there in the background, a weird motif that Marc is understandably both attracted to and repelled by. The Soft Cell years whizz by and there are some hilarious sideswipes at various people coupled with some surprisingly self-deprecating humourous comments. Good on him.
Sidgwick & Jackson ISBN 0-283-06340-8
Another brick of a book about reggae. Yo! This got a bit of a slagging on the newsgroups because of the author's grammar. Being something of an anti-intellectual oaf, this isn't really something I give a flying fuck about (I leave it to John to tidy it all up, innit?). OK let's compare it with another recent reggae book - David Katz' Lee Perry biog "People Funny Boy". PFB is well written and equally comprehensive, but it just bangs on and on and bloody on about the tiny spotter details (labels, who played on what, etc) without really getting too much into the Hard Stuff - i.e. the music and why Scratch is such a, uh, "character".
On the other hand, you KNOW why Bradley's written this book - he loves the music and the people - he even ran a Soundsystem in London. He manages to get across the huge emotional attachment and excitement involved in the music. So, for example, Prince Buster comes across as being genuinely filled with rage at the conditions in Kingston around the end of the sixties. The sheer affection that people still have for King Tubby (notably Mikey Dread) does actually affect you whilst reading it.
Some great bits on the role of reggae in the UK, with some quite insightful analysis of Trojan's position in "the market" and the dread/punk mash up of the mid-seventies. In fact Bradley has some righteously irked opinions about all sorts of issues - seeing Bob Marley as being an entirely separate category from reggae, for example. This falls down when you don't agree with him - I think his blanket negativity towards ragga/dancehall is arse (but alright - he argues his case better than me!). Also - you can't distance the music from the environment it came from but a lot of the economic overview dragged a bit for moi.
When I started this I was a bit daunted and wondered if it would actually be all that useful compared to The Rough Guide to Reggae (which at the end of the day does give you some kind of idea about what records to buy!). When I finished it (good bit on the Xterminator label at the end, by the way) I realised that I was a lot better clued up and more than ready for yet another bloody trip down to Dub Vendor…
The small press is a curious beast, often more to do with personal obsessions and enthusiasms than any notions of accessibility or an audience. SMILE continues to roll on, edited by Andy Martin in his own (and it is unquestionably his) style. This issue is almost entirely about science.
There are articles on the solar system, dark matter, the physiology of fear, etc. There's quite a good piece about various psychiatric disorders (including "Socialism"!) and the various drugs used to treat them. Also a couple of sceptical articles about UFOs and the occult. But the bulk of the 60, tightly typed pages deals with pretty high-falutin' subjects.
SMILE is quite accessible in terms of the words that are used (for example a piece on memory poses the question "Why do I find it easier to remember the expression on the face of the person that told me to go back to China than the date on which the incident occurred?"), but the actual layout, format, etc is pretty alienating. It looks like hard work, like a very bad textbook. I find it difficult to read and I already know that I like it. The only pictures (apart from the odd chart) are on the back and front covers.
There is of course nothing wrong with a difficult read and obviously this is partly inevitable given the low/no budget and technology used to put it all together, but one wonders what the point of the magazine is - to educate? To educate who? Who reads this that wouldn't be better off with a copy of New Scientist or Scientific American or some text books aimed at teenagers, or those cartoon "Beginners guides to…" Or the web, of course. The prospect of innocent young students looking for information on the Silicate Volcanoes of Io, or the Tsetse Fly on the web and then running face to face with some of the content of previous issues is a lip-smackingly subversive prospect.
SMILE continues to hack through the jungle, creating its own path, resolute in its refusal to compromise or pander to any particular market or sub-culture. Which is a great example to us all, but you have to wonder if a teeny bit of compromise wouldn't yield more rewards for those involved in its production. A purity of vision is a good thing, but all the better for being tainted by dialogue.
£3 plus 50p p&p from: BBP, Box 81, 82 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB
Selector! Oh yeah, we like mix-CDs. We got them comin' out of our arse, to be honest, but we can't get enough of them all the same! Not those mix CDs you get in the shops, or even the free ones on the front of the dance press. No mate! We mean mix-CDs by people who just mixed 'em, burned 'em and shoved them into our sweaty palms. This is top stuff from the man-like-Paul. 2-step garage that doesn't sound like the stuff they play in my local branch of Halfords (i.e. it won't see top of the pops in the near future, er, probably!). Nicely mixed, wicked tracks (not that I know what I'm on about, but I know a decent bass-line and funky beats when I hear 'em). Paul distinguished himself whilst DJ-ing at a house party recently by being asked if he could "play something people could dance to". Which made me laugh (a result!), but in the right circumstances he'd have the whole place eating out of his hand if this lot is anything to go by.
Underground business so you have to be on the list. How do you get on the list? Ask the nice man yourself if you want a copy and he will S o r t Y o u Aahhhhhhhht!
Brixton Bass Pressure: BM Box 3641, London WC1N 3XX
(send the man fan mail, your own tapes, dubplates, invites to DJ residencies, that sort of thing)
We showed up late because of the confusing posters and our poor grasp of Spanish. It didn't look good - the woman on the door was at pains to point out that it would be cheaper for us to get in if we waited for the "live act" to finish first - and that we'd get a free drink then as well. Hmmmm. Anyway we ignored her advice and went straight in. The Apollo is a pretty cool venue - like an old theatre (guesstimate capacity 1500?) with some nice ornate lighting and suchlike.
Flav was unmistakably "in full effect" - centre stage, all togged up in red (including red spangly tights on his head) - and the classic kitchen clock was in place. He was accompanied by another rapper, K-Req, and the rather embarrassingly-named DJ Machete-X. The sound was up and down, the material was a pretty good mash up of old Public Enemy numbers and new stuff. The Barcelona B-boys loved every minute of it, hanging on Flav's every word, crossing their arms in the air as directed during Machete's excellent solo scratch and burn session, and doing silly things with their hands inna Staines stylee.
Flav was surprisingly humble for a hip hop legend, taking pains to tell us that Public Enemy had not split up, that his delayed solo LP was still on the way and getting da kids involved with some call and responses that bigged up Barcelona more than himself. Sometimes he slipped into obvious "recovery" speak (he's been in rehab as I recall) - when you love you get it back 10 times, we're nothing without the people who come to see us, etc. Also a surprising speech about unity which seems to suggest he's left all that dodgy Nation of Islam separatism behind. A lot of this sounded like total showbizz overkill and left us know-it-alls smirking a bit. Later on Flav would wipe the smiles of our faces.
However, when he rocked it he really rocked it: a long spiel about the last time he was in Barcelona concluded with the line "and so I stepped off the pavement and didn't look the right way, and this great big car….HIT ME" - the last words were the cue for the beginning of an absolutely incredible version of '911 is a Joke' which was just a incendiary as any Public Enemy rendition and all the better for being in such an intimate venue. The hits kept on coming - 'Too Much Posse', 'Can't Do Nuthin For You Man" and on and on (and you don't stop).
Flav didn't seem to want to leave after the last number. You get used to stars telling you that they're having a great time, you've been a lovely audience, etc (well I hope you're having a good time on our money!). But he seemed to mean it. He started free styling and happened to mention that he was now the most sampled voice in music (yes, more than James Brown) and then proceeded to do a series of spine-tingling acapella versions of all those great moments: "rock that shit homey"… "yeaaaaah boyeeee" - this continued for some time and people were just losing it totally. Flav was quite clearly having a whale of a time "Heh heh heh! Remember THIS one?…".
So. Show over? Nope. While the sound engineer and crew sell CDs and mixtapes from the stage, Flav signs flyers, hands, tapes, whatever. And poses for photos. And chats with people. He does this until everyone is taken care of. We watch him. It takes about an hour and ten minutes. The rest of the crew and the other performers are looking tired and twitchy - keen to get back on the bus. Flav carries on signing stuff, our jaws getting closer and closer to the floor. When was the last time YOU saw anybody do that? We leave, stunned by our cynicism and his professionalism. Cold chilling in effect, as the man would say.
Dub Vendor seem a bit confused about what these people are doing because they mix up styles and periods in reggae and One Doesn't Do That. Well I know EXACTLY what they're trying to do - it's an exercise in de-scarifying reggae so that yer average suburban clubber feels ok about grooving all night to it. Basically the same as what Trojan were doing in the late sixties and early seventies. OK, so perhaps it lacks the vibe of more trad reggae bashes, and it is always full of students, and the beer is shockingly watered down, but it's still a top night out.
Some pissed twat managed to spill my own beer over me on the way to the dancefloor but as I am nice person I let him off. Anway it's difficult to get angry when Desmond Dekker's "54-46 Was My Number" is pumping out. However, the dancefloor politics continue as pissed bloke takes his shirt off to reveal horrid sweaty body and starts stumbling around on the dancefloor in a completely inappropriate way. When he inevitably collides with me again, I give his friends "the look" and things improve from then on.
Skinheads are jumping up and down and enjoying themselves so much that they are forgetting to look hard. There are sexy young thangs in crop tops that know all the words to Niney's "Blood and Fire". A raging Geeeeeezah collides with John's enormous sticky-out-ears through no fault of his own and apologises profusely. They then have an in-depth pissed up conversation about King Tubby which seems to involve lots of nodding and raising drinks in the air. It is quite quite mad.
A really strange version of "Armageddon Time" with cheesy disco sound effects comes on....and the hits keep on coming, frankly. Lots of tracks from the compilations, lots of great Motown and James Brown. The last half hour is a singalong floor destroying combination of stuff like Plier's "Bam Bam", "The Harder They Come" and "Young Gifted and Black".
Oh, this could have been really really bad, but what the hell. We were expecting some kind of exploitative "Euro-trash"-fest geared towards package holiday lads seeking a bit of titillation but not having the balls to go to a sex show. The brochure doesn't do it any favours either. But the museum is actually well worth a visit. They've collected quite a lot of rare stuff from around the world - a sort of occult anthropology that is often rigorously avoided by other museums. So lots of phallus statues, kama sutra illustrations in full colour on rice paper and so on, all with some pretty good commentaries.
I found the slightly modern stuff more interesting - some great pervy engravings from pre-Victorian England, and some seriously hardcore photographs from the turn of the century - really quite surreal and stylish in a retro sort of way. I'd often get distracted by the clothing, décor, the look of the people in a shot before being drawn back into the overt biological-penetrative raison d'être of it all. Also in this section were some fantastic pictures of heavily tattoo-ed circus women.
There was a kind of "pro-porn feminist" slant to a lot of the commentary, which was better than I expected, but none of it really got to grips with the subject matter in depth. So, for example, a (brief) theoretical examination of sadomasochism from the perspective of female enjoyment was welcome, but the total absence of any insights into the role of lesbianism in porn (i.e. almost exclusively as a male fetish) was not.
There was a definite bias towards male hetero stuff, which I guess is what most of the punters want and is also who 99% of the material produced is for. Gay men were solely represented by some Robert Mapplethorpe prints. (There are arguments about hetero women enjoying both of these types of material, but let's not get into that here.)
The more modern stuff was ok-ish. Some pretty garish large paintings of Athena/70s album cover women in, eck, "mystical" scenes, some pretty cool fetish photography (bondage, gas marks etc) which are aesthetically pretty fine even if it ain't your (black rubber) bag. Also some nicely surreal photomontages and paintings (sorry, didn't take notes), some dioramas and sculptures (there's an enormous phallus in the entrance hall which is an obvious photo opportunity!). And one film, which was a black & white silent movie-esque handjob when I was there. As with all these things, it's easy to focus on what was missing (sound, manga stuff, lesbian porn, etc), but it's still well worth a visit if you're in the unlikely situation of a being at a loose end one sunny morning in Barcelona.
La Rambla, 96 bis, 08002 Barcelona
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