Well by the time of her election in 1979 punk was dead anyway. Except where it wasn’t. Crass and the entire post-punk anarchopunk movement is a good place to look. Here, from a framed copy on my study wall (there’s another version in the record folder on a shelf) is one of Crass artist Gee Vaucher’s most famous images, in which the Queen, Pope John Paul, the Statue of Liberty and, yes, Mrs Thatcher, play in a punk band.
Of course, the picture is a détournment, of a famous publicity shot of the Sex Pistols, from a couple of yards earlier. Perhaps this one, by Barry Plummer (in which, famously, Sid Vicious uses a kid’s windmill to hide a spot on his face).
And, hey, since we seem to be in punk critical nostalgia mode, what about this one by Syd Shelton, I’d not seen it for a while, until I started looking for the Pistols one 20 minutes back. It turns up periodically, though I suspect not because I’m in it?! It’s from Rock Against Racism’s 1979 Militant Entertainment tour (so post-Pistols, and just when Crass were getting going), in north Norfolk, down the road from where I’d seen the Pistols play, and round the time I first saw Crass in Norwich. That’s me front left, looking at the band.
So looking forward to this conference at MediaCityUK, the culmination of our three-year HERA-funded European jazz research project, Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities. We have over 100 delegates coming from 20 countries, and I am especially looking forward to seeing the British jazz historian and photographer Val Wilmer talking, about some of her famous images and her career, on the Sunday. And there’s a photography exhibition, with a special commission, several bands playing live, a music commission too. (The full programme is here.) So we have academics, independent researchers, media practitioners, musicians, all talking as an international community of jazzers. As my friend and colleague—and you know what, we are all friends and colleagues on this project, that’s been one of the many great things about it—Prof Tony Whyton puts it, in his welcome notes in the conference programme:
Rhythm Changes has drawn on the expertise of 13 researchers who work across 7 institutions in 5 European countries, but the growing network of partners, musicians and scholars—including those participating in the 2011 ‘Jazz and National Identities Conference’ in Amsterdam and ‘Rethinking Jazz Cultures’ in Salford—means that the scope and impact of Rhythm Changes is ever widening. Our packed conference programme offers stimulating keynote presentations and panels, plenary sessions, papers, performances, poster presentations and exhibitions, all of which should [will!] generate high quality debate and discussion. Rhythm Changes has sought to encourage people to rethink the way jazz has been articulated, represented and understood, and this conference will be a powerful reflection of this core aim.
Adverse Camber is a double bass duo I’m half of, the other half being Ken Johnston. This video was filmed and edited by Barrie Marshall, Lancaster clarinettist and jazz photographer, at the Robert Gillow pub in Lancaster on Wednesday 20 March. The Gillow has live music on seven days a week, and we were the act that night, two sets, 9-11.30 pm or so. (Swerve Trio has a fortnightly residency there on Monday evenings.) It’s quite brave actually I think for a pub landlord to book an act like a double bass duo as the evening’s entertainment, so thank you Mark Cutter. Barrie emailed me the YouTube link to the footage he uploaded, and we had a little correspondence about the film / music:
GM: Thanks so much Barrie. Very steady and good quality definition video!! Wonderful.
BM: Thanks George, it was good to video because of all the bowing and the bass slapping, means I could move around to make it more interesting, what is the tune and is it one of yours?
GM: We’ve started to move from one piece into another, the first one usually played quite straight and then the second as a vehicle for improvising—so we do ‘Red river valley’ into ‘All blues’. And this one is Ellington’s ‘Come Sunday’ into one of mine, a G minor blues, called ‘Ganzirri Blues’. A simple melody but one thing that makes it more interesting is it’s arco sul ponte, ie using the bow, and playing as near the bridge as possible, to get those thin high harmonic sounds. That leads into a kind of free-ish solo, but still with a blues sense to it. Oh and there’s the percussive part at start and end, where I hit the bass with my hands to connect with Ken’s bass line—hit the back with flat of palm for a bass drum sound and the front / fingerboard sometimes with knuckles for a higher sound like snare a bit. I don’t hit this bass hard like I used to my previous bass sometimes because this one is a much nicer and historic instrument! Thanks again for videoing it.
I left it all so far behind I never thought I could / Now I just can’t understand what made you look so good / Stand and watch the river flow, go back to my dreams / Away from all these people and their stupid little scenes.—’Down by the waterside’
Here is an extract from an unpublished punk rock memoir, OR Boy (say it out loud, it’s about East Anglia), about the truly great English guitarist Wilko Johnson, who once I seem to remember played a benefit gig to raise money to keep some Wordsworth manuscripts in Britain. A romantic, then, a poet, a lyricist and songwriter, and guitarist. A musical innovator and bridge too—between guitarist Mick Green of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll band the Pirates and 1970 early 1980s postpunk art/propaganda band the Gang of Four. I used to go and see Dr Feelgood—Wilko’s original band—and then the Pirates (informed and inspired by Wilko), and then the Gang of Four, all the time during my pre-punk and punk years.
Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson, of Dr Feelgood
A rush, an epiphany I have before I even know there is such a thing is at a gig in April 1977 at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, one of my early punk gigs, the one I know I am a punk at. I am sixteen years old. Everyone moans about St Andrew’s Hall, a kind of church where sound bounces and columns blank the stage, but somehow it’s on the gig circuit, a last choice for tour organisers. I’ve seen the likes of Hawkwind and Gentle Giant there (maybe GG was at UEA). Progressive rock, grammar school throwbacks. We’d sit on the wooden floor surrounded by the stone columns and oil portraits of dead Norwich worthies waiting for our bands. And when they’d come on we’d sit on the wooden floor in the dark and watch them, maybe uncrossing our legs and rising for the encore. The only exception to sitting, the only attractive energy I can remember seeing in the entire pre-punk live music desert is Dr Feelgood, a downstylish British turn, who inflect American R&B with a salty Southend flavour and look. Lee and Wilko, what a pair, a tight suit and a manic grin, blowed harp and chopped guitar. Bob Marley singing on Punky reggae party, a song he recorded not with the Wailers but with heavy Brit dubbers Aswad: The Damned, the Jam, the Clash. Maytals will be there, Dr Feelgood too. At the time including the Feelgoods sounded like evidence of Marley’s ignorance about punk; later, the lyric is more acute, accurate. Many, many years later there is one of those astral conjunctions or some shit of coincidence, when one punk-related singer dies and is internationally mourned, and another dies to a fading coda of short obits. Nevermind Kurt Cobain there is a sad death in Lee Brilleaux, too young. He’s back in the night, now, with his average slide playing. RIP.
My schoolmate Simon loved Wilko too, and had an R&B band in Norwich influenced by them, called Sneakin’ Suspicion. Once they supported Wilko, at the Gala Ballroom, Norwich; I was very jealous. Later (after the madly self-destructive move of splitting from Dr Feelgood) Wilko joined Ian Dury and the Blockheads—well, again, how could I not be impressed. After all, I’ve spent the last five years writing about that band, in part with Wilko in it. Here’s a video of Dury’s ‘I want to be straight’ (in my forthcoming book I call this Dury’s ‘paean to orthotics’. BTW did I say the book is called Shakin’ All Over, after the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates song? See how Wilko resonates?).
Next week I am going up to Glasgow, with my youngest daughter, to see Wilko one more (I don’t want to write ‘last’) time. With of course Norman Watt-Roy, of the Blockheads, on bass guitar. We were going to see them in Morecambe in November, but the dates were cancelled because of his illness. Last year she asked me to get my old posters out of the attic and one she wanted to put on her bedroom wall was a Feelgoods one from the late 1970s. I used to see post-Wilko Feelgoods at UEA in Norwich, and I saw Wilko with the Blockheads a few times, including at a festival in Gateshead where U2 were low on the bill and Doll By Doll’s Jackie Leven silenced the entire crowd with the force of his personality, and periodically with his trio since then across the years. One more time … xxx
And, well, he was on fire in Glasgow. A fabulous gig to a packed and screaming crowd; it felt like a distillation. During the encore when he sang ‘Bye bye, bye bye’ in the chorus to ‘Johnny B Good’, the house lights came up and we all waved to him, while he waved to us. And when he said ‘Goodnight … and goodbye!’ after that song, it was softened only by him coming back for another encore with a great big and very uncharacteristic smile on his face. WILKO LIVES!