Saturday, 3 February 2018

ME Smith: The Last Days

And the band, henceforth group, played on.
Hauled up in a dumb waiter, Health and Safety approved,
ranting, chanting, slurring, blurring the line between sense and prejudice,
our hero, henceforth OH, rises, eyes darting right to left, left to right;
one withered hand strapped to the chair as if electric.
The end, the end is literally nigh.

Middle aged punters, male, formative years much formed
by aforesaid OH, cheer briefly, assuming theatrical ploy.
They see the rodent cheeks, the visible fucking agony,
the two microphones positioned to allow OH to fidget
and manoeuvre himself into position
of least pain whilst still vocalising, and gasp.

And the group played on.
Riff number one: bass-led,
guitars trace double-helix pattern,
its DNA of German/Lancastrian CA ancestry producing
regular and these days planned dissonance.

OH wheeled across boards by wife/kyb, b.voc.
Sober-haired hired hands, suntanned arms beneath untorn sleeves.
Planned dissonance. Seconds of eloquence as diamorphine permits.
False teeth provide added bite. Hell to pay, hell to pay for.
Where once OH paced, now slides down the chair, plants feet on boards
and rocks, fractured, enraptured, if only.

Out on the Merch desk, mirthfully self-identified
hobgoblins lay out apparel, yellow vinyl, silver discs
and check for 4G, re: Mobile Pay. Cash tins open
for punters of Luddite sensibility. Cold imperial measure
in plastic glass imbibed. The group plays on,
muffled by fire doors. Planned dissonance.

A steady stream exit. Disgruntled and/or lachrymose, pause at Merch desk
to recall lank-haired pretender, oddly delicate of feature, part-formed;
then newly-polished spokesman in the Colin/AH Wilson vein,
US wife/gtr, b.voc., unwonted solutions
to planned dissonance - cf. No Bulbs.
Both incarnations available on 180g vinyl with shirt XXL.

Riff number two: bodiddley skip, unselfconscious,
blues accidentals permitted, if accidental. Why dissonance?
Why plan? Middle-class revolting suspects fear
of naked written word. Anyone can bark, we say. OH says:
you try, see if your bark gets anywhere
near this one’s bite. That was months ago.

Later, and on the edge of an industrial estate,
briefly in opioid sleep, OH cannot hear the voice
of replicants in Schindler’s lift. Cannot ask what the fuck.
Not that it was ever any better, he might have added.
Wife/non-NHS carer pushes, clicks and holds door,
aids, unzips, unbuttons, lifts immobile arm, places dictaphone
near face for easy access to brain. Capturing all that might escape
in these last days. Damned dissonance.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Clown White (short story)

He took a long, blood-reddening draft of still, salt air. He had been shut away too long in a tiny room whose three walls and scarlet curtain he could touch at arms’ length. Deep orange crenellate clouds made a lush backdrop to the abbey ruin in the windless hour of sunset, but it was too late to be standing around watching clouds. He stretched and exhaled hugely. A little girl, passing, started at the sound and began to cry. A man bent down to comfort the child, then turned to glare. He met the father’s stare and raised an eyebrow. The father shook his head. If one of his victims still feared him outside, he must be doing something right.

There wasn’t time for any of this. He shouldered his duffel bag and half-ran towards the bridge. It was the worst part of the day for visitors; a few of them in a rush, the rest like pillar boxes, and no one going single file - except that, unusually, everyone got out of his way, even if half of them gave him filthy looks. Grateful for small mercies, he smiled at those who let him through, and as he did so, felt a naggingly familiar sensation on his bottom lip. You are kidding, he said to no one but himself, and ducked into an alley which turned into steps leading to a row of holiday cottages. In deep shadows, he removed a set of plastic fangs, and touched his face to feel the baby-soft coolness of Clown White, like touching soap - that and a hint of cherry-flavoured syrup standing in for dripping blood. He hadn’t taken any of it off, although he distinctly remembered doing so. Or was that yesterday? Well obviously it was, he thought, unless it was the day before, or God knows when before that.

No, he had been at work - not jumping out of a cupboard to frighten children, but cooking, then table-waiting - which, he thought again, is where he should be now. He checked himself for cape, syrup-soaked dress-shirt, ghoulish winkle-pickers, or any other day job accoutrements.

Now very late, he crossed the bridge and turned left. La Gourmande At The Red Lion stood bare-beamed and tasteful among the jet shops and tat parlours, like roasted sea bass on a chip shop menu. Hopes of sneaking into the kitchen unnoticed were dashed as he saw Ken outside, finishing off a cigarette.

“I know, Ken, I’m sorry,” he said as he scurried past the chef.

“Hold it right there. No, on second thoughts - Christ, man, what’s that on your face? Just get inside.”

At least it saved him having to serve the public. After twenty minutes Pete/Pierre the head-waiter had to tell the other kitchen staff to grow up and shut up, as their hooting and heckling could be heard in the restaurant. After that, there were only whispers and snorts. Eventually, Ken stepped in.

“Just go and clean it off, and make sure no one sees you. The rest of you, one more word and you’re on notice, all of you.”

Baked on by two hours over a hot gas hob, it took fifteen punishing minutes of Swarfega to shift the makeup. He returned to his post red-faced and sore. Around nine o’clock, as the streets briefly quietened, there was a lull in orders before the last-chance diners filed in. Ken motioned him outside.

“I don’t know what the joke is, lad. I’ve got Pete on my back now.”

“I took an extra shift. I won’t do it again - well I’ve got to do it tomorrow, but I’ll be here on time.”

“Decide what your job is. I’ve been very understanding with you.”

“I know, I know. Tomorrow I promise I’ll be on time.”

“You’d better be, and without the...” Ken mimed blood dripping down the side of his mouth.

An embarrassed smile. “Yeah.”

A series of orders arrived, sparking frantic activity, which only subsided long after the sitting, when the kitchen was cleared and cleaned in preparation for breakfast.

On leaving the restaurant by the back door, he spotted his father and Jeanne crossing the small market square beneath the old town hall. Jeanne’s ponytail swayed. They stopped and kissed. He could, with some effort, have ducked out of sight and waited for them to be on their way before crossing the square himself, but he was too tired for tact. Jeanne tensed and broke off the embrace as he passed.

“’Ello,” she said, dropping the aitch in an accent as cartoonish as her leather jacket and culottes.

“Hello Jeanne. Hello Dad. Been out?”

“Been to your place, son. Impressed by the belly pork, I must say.”

His father took a deep, self-important breath. He glanced at Jeanne, who nodded in agreement and actually licked her lips. He reddened. It alarmed him that he was so pleased that his cooking had won the approval of his father’s pouting, olive-skinned girlfriend. He wished it was because she was French and knew decent food when she tasted it.

“I didn’t know you’d been in.”

His father pulled Jeanne even closer and touched the top of her head with his chin.

“I thought I’d treat her tonight. Didn’t I, darling? It worked out well. The top was like fine pastry - salivant, you might say. Very good indeed.”

After all the face-scrubbing earlier on, his forced smile was not just figuratively painful. A long silence ensued, broken at last by Jeanne, who said: “Well, goodnight. We shall see you soon, yes? Come for dinner, I will cook.”

“Thanks, yes, I’ll do just that.”

“Goodnight, son.”

‘"’Night Dad.”

So now she’s inviting people round for tea; there’s a development, he thought. He turned around briefly as he continued across the square. They were facing away from him. His father was pointing at something. He had his other hand in Jeanne’s back pocket.

How like himself, he thought miserably, to begrudge his father the pleasure of an exotic woman with a perfectly rounded bottom to grope in full view of anyone who wanted to look.

They might, like pilgrims or tourists, have been be about to climb the abbey steps; or else there was the east pier with its lapping waves and romantic sense of isolation, and still no more than a light breeze to disturb them. They were more likely standing in the middle of the square in order to allow him a head start, since all of them lived on the other side of the river, and had to cross the same small bridge to get home. He hurried onward.

By the time he had climbed the hill, to the once grand house in which he had a tiny studio flat, the fresh air had put him in better spirits. Although tired, he carried on to the end of the road, to the cliff edge. Rabbits scattered and disappeared into their warren. On the horizon, cargo ships fought the current towards the Tees. Until the morning, when he would be Dracula in clown white, fangs and a cape, and in the evening, cook.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Written for the Writers Write 12 Short Stories challenge, Jan.2018


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Gem Or Ashtray? (L-M)

Lick - Come / Shirtlifter. If you Google this, I recommend Parental Control. I'm sure I saw this lot, sometime in the late Paleozoic. Guitar line like Cannonball by the Breeders, vocal like almost anything by the Manic Street Preachers. Average. A shame because it's on their own label, catalogue number LICK001 and everything. Ashtray.

Linx - So This Is Romance. Obviously a keeper, but being ruthless I was going to chuck the ones I had on LP, particularly when the B-side is just an instrumental. Good job I checked, because a) it's not on the Intuition LP, and b) the lyrics are cornier than a tin of Niblets, so having the instrumental is a good thing.

Living In Texas - And David Cried. A white label from my brother's old studio, so this isn't going anywhere. However I haven't heard it in years, so... This is as of-its-time as a Flanagan and Allen 78 or a Grateful Dead quadruple LP. Joy Division drums anchor wandering bass and sax. Pootles along in a spacey fashion until the singer incants: "And David cried" repeatedly at the end. The B-side An Dem Bahnhof (nice use of the dative - we're not going to the station, are we?) consists of ranted verses interspersed with the title, accompanied by lo-fi synths. Could be The Normal, stroppy Gary Numan, or anyone from 1984 who had been listening to Kraftwerk. Well I like it. Can't find it on YT so here's another of their songs.

Manfred Mann - 5 4 3 2 1. When I was 12, we went on a swimming-club tour of Scotland. One of the lads I was billeted with gave me this, which at the time I thought was nice of him. Only now does it occur to me that it must have been his Dad's record. So familiar that I thought I'd check if it was any good. Blaring out in mono, it chugs along much better than it does on nostalgia radio. Labelled on the sleeve with my John Bull printing set.

The Maytals - Walk In Love. Intense. Why haven't I been playing this? On the instrumental track B-side, Toots Hibbert's vocal bleeds into everything; must have been recorded live.

Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia - No Cigar. Intense in another way. Scared-sounding woman narrates a short story indistinctly over a malevolent bolero of up-the-neck bass and swirly organ. Like an episode of Silent Witness when it was still good. It's on YT but Blogger won't let me link to it for some reason. Here's another MBICR track.

JC Messina - Time Won't Let Me. Back at the turn of the 90s we used to go out to the Black Horse pub between Aston Uni and Duddeston on Friday nights. Upstairs was indie city: Charlatans, Mondays, Primal Scream, and choice oldies, most particularly a track the DJ (maddeningly I've forgotten his name) wouldn't name, and which in pre-internet days you couldn't just Google. On the last night he told us that our favourite track was Time Won't Let Me by The Outsiders, a mid-60s US band. There y'go. This is not that. I couldn't resist buying a cover version of it, which now that we do have Google turns out to be a northern soul 'classic'. Either immeasurably valuable or a dodgy bootleg. By the awful sound, it must be the latter. Great track though. Weird and creepy B-side called Nice And Easy. "Don't matter to me if her face is too bad but it matters to me if her body's been had." Ick.

Mo-Dettes - Paint It Black. Awful cover version, saved by the much better B-side, Bitta Truth; also the fact that I saw them at Grimsby Central Hall and like having a souvenir. Here's White Mice instead.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Gem Or Ashtray (J-K)

Jefferson Airhead - Scrap Happy. A baggy gem.

Johnny and the Hurricanes - Rockin' Goose. From a job lot at the car boot. It rocks. It makes goose noises. Obviously a keeper.

Grace Jones - Demolition Man/Warm Leatherette. As 80s as Margaret Thatcher fronting Cameo, which is what this sounds like. Better than you'd think.

KC And The Sunshine Band - Sound Your Funky Horn. Gem. Next.

Dave Kelly - Return To Sender. Blues bands bore the pants off me, partly because they're all the same, but mostly because I've never heard one to match the Dave Kelly Band at the Sub in Cleethorpes on (squints) 19th January 1983, probably not at 8.00 pm. One of the last nights I was able to drink illegally.
The version of Return to Sender is pretty dull, to be honest. The B-side is a good country-rock original, Dawn Surprise. I'm keeping it because I don't know where else to keep my ticket signed by DK and the (late great) sax player John Irish Earle.

Kingmaker - Eat Yourself Whole. The Wonderstuff without the wit, tunes or bounce. Ashtray.

June Kingston - Say You. I want to like this. JK used to be in the Mo-Dettes, who I saw when I was 16, and then she was the other voice on Our Lips Are Sealed. But no. Ashtray.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts - I Am. A Coati Mundi gem.

Bo Kirkland and Ruth Davies - You're Gonna Get Next To Me. Great backing track, but the he-says-she-says vocal has all the drama of an episode of The Archers. B-side is better. If you like it, look in the MIND shop on Flowergate.

Gem Or Ashtray (G-I)

General Public - General Public. One that I wanted to like, but never really did. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger's distinctive vocals, but without much of what made The Beat great. 80s sound. Ashtray.

The Gist - Love At First Sight. Another one from someone-who-used-to-be, in this case Stuart Moxham, the songwriter for the Young Marble Giants. As the Gist, he and his brother Phil (also from the YMG) had a great little instrumental on the C81 tape. The A-side is a slight but pretty song with dodgy vocals drenched in 80s sound.  The B-side (below) is better, sounding like a demo for a TV theme, written by another Moxham brother, Lewis. Not a gem but a curiosity to keep.

Girls At Our Best - Go For Gold. Oh, I remember this one now. Absolute gem. It's 80s indie day at Gem Or Ashtray. Callow middle-class female vocals delivering spiky lyrics backed by Wilko Johnson guitar (they wish) and drumkit-last-birthday drums. So many indie bands sounded like this, back then, but hardly any of them had the songs. This is sarky as you like, and catchy as hell.

Celibate Rifles & The Hard-Ons - Where The Wild Things Are EP. Early-90s punky rock, or rocky punk. I used to love this sort of thing. Now I just remember loving it. Give it six months.

Hefner - Christian Girls. Another band I saw live and then bought the single. Hard to believe quite how indie I used to be. B-side includes clumsy pedal steel. Obviously I'm keeping it.

Helen And The Horns - Freight Train. The most middle-class record in the box, possibly in human history. Sounds like a Radio 4 announcer auditioning for Kiss Me Kate. Gem.

Immaculate Fools - Immaculate Fools. A taste of the madeleine. Takes me back to somewhere I'm not sure I want to be - in a Banks's haze and Rothmans fog in the attic room of a large terraced house in Wolverhampton. Masses of acoustic guitars, plenty major 7ths and a gravelly voice that should be him out of the Psychedelic Furs but isn't. I might have seen them the same night as Helen and the Horns (in the  Wulfrun Hall - the little one behind the Civic Hall). Great record though. I'd forgotten. Gem.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Gem Or Ashtray? (D-F)

Dr John: Jet Set. Primitive, concussed hip hop. This ought to be an ashtray but I'm keeping it to hear the line: "Top o'the mornin' t'ya guvnor" at my leisure.

Drugstore: Nectarine. Really liked this band when I saw them live, but it’s comically of its time (1995) - overemotional, overdramatic, over and out.

Echobelly: Insomniac. Another band I saw live in the mid-90s. Hyped to death at the time. I thought this was going to be the same as Drugstore but it’s a proper gem. Live, they sounded a lot like the Smiths, but this is their own thing. Big ambition, big chorus. Love it.

8-Storey Window: I Will. Sounds like an English Pearl Jam. I’m not that keen on the real Pearl Jam. Ashtray.

Fantastic Something: If She Doesn’t Smile (It’ll Rain). Not sure, maybe, oh I think… starts at Simon and Garfunkel and ends at the Beach Boys. Can’t argue with that. Originality isn’t everything. Gem. Instrumental version on the B-side won’t get played though.

Fantasy Funk Band: Smoove’s Fantasy Funk Band. All-sampled semi-bootleg. Sounds like being in between stages at a festival. Not a gem but a keeper.

Farmers Boys: Muck It Out. Great cover, great title, even a great sleeve note. I liked it once and I wanted to like it now, but it’s a parody of the 1980s, from the 1980s, that nowadays just sounds like a standard 1980s track. Ashtray.

Five Darrens: Beggars and Priests. Ordinary. B-side ‘Can’t Think’ is better. Keep for six months. If I don’t have a craving for mid-90s powerpop, I’ll charity shop it. Cute, the feedback at the end goes into the runout groove. Nothing on Youtube.

Floaters: Float On. My copy is pressed queasily off-centre. Singers start their verses by naming their star sign (‘Leo, and my name is Paul.’) The last guy, Larry, is louder than all the others and shouts ‘Cancer!’ just when your end-of-the-disco smooch might have been getting more arousing. Ashtray.

Gem Or Ashtray? (C)

Chi-Lites: Homely Girl. Terrible. B-side? Not bad. I'm wavering. Nah. If you like it, it'll be in the MIND shop on Flowergate next week.

Chi-Lites: You don't have to go. Much better. Gem.

The Cigarettes: They’re Back Again, Here They Come. Skinny tie early 80s mod-punk, somewhere between the Buzzcocks and Eddie and the Hot Rods. Major chords, choppily played; vocals like a fast, squeaky Bob Dylan. Almost all indie pop used to sound like this. Framing the song inside a short piano tune was a nice touch. The cover is a mod pastiche. Looks classy. I wouldn’t buy it these days, but I’m keeping it.

The Cigarettes: Can’t Sleep At Night. Mod sensibilities gone, replaced by post-punk paranoia. Shadow of the bomb and all that. Same label as B-Movie, and with much the same sound. Another non-buyer/keeper.

Patsy Cline: A Stranger In My Arms. Classic and all that. Rinky-dink blues, beautifully sung. The voice is drowned in musical treacle though, particularly the Jordinaires style backing vocals. Don’t know how often I’m going to play this. Might have to go to the MIND shop - which I think is where I bought it. B-sides are saving it though - a small band and no backing vocals. Version of Lovesick Blues is great. I’m sold. Gem.

Coldcut: Stop This Crazy Thing. That thing with swing band riffs over an electro track; Coldcut were doing it decades ago. Corny big beat (Tarzan samples, anyone?) and a Junior Reid vocal that doesn’t say a lot, but I’m keeping it. B-side version without the vocals better still.

The Commodores: Brick House. I got some Commodores singles in a job lot. ‘Easy’ and ‘Zoom’ aren’t going anywhere, but I have no memory of ‘Brick House’. Not surprising because it’s dull. B-side is a Lionel ballad, Sweet Love. Trundles along for ages, then a huge key change, then he starts preaching. I bet he leaves the piano and starts working the audience. Not working on me, I’m afraid. Ashtray.

The Commodores: Flying High. Sounds like an advert for Laker Airways. A bit of a quote from ‘Shaft’, then back to jingle mode. I know it’s incredibly hard to make music as smooth as this, so I feel bad when I say… ashtray.

Nicola Conte: Arabesque. Soundtrack pastiche. 60s Brazilian vibe via Italy 1999. Sax riff and vibraphone. Slow burner with fast drums. Tense. Gem.

Joseph Cotton: Musicians. Plinky-plonky electro dancehall. Growling MC prattles on about black race, white race, Japanese race etc. Probably dodgy as hell but I’m not taking notice and I like it. B-side is a voicing by Don Camilo - breathless and scared, Might be a gem, definitely a keeper. Not on YouTube.

Cowboy Junkies: A Horse In The Country. Total gem. Medium paced, understated, stoical and heartbreaking. I’ll be playing this over and over again.

The Cravats: Rub Me Out. A fearsome artefact of the Thatcher era. On Crass Records. Stencils, Letraset, blurred photos, screeching paranoia, self-loathing with muffled everything except for oddly tuneful sax. A keeper, mostly for historical reasons (“Was the world as bonkers as it is now when you were a boy, daddy?” “Nearly, darling. Listen to this.”)

The Crimea: Lottery Winners On Acid. Too long and drenched in echo, but a soppy love song. B-side tries too hard to be nasty. Not sure, so I’ll keep it for now. If it’s not getting played in a few months’ time, it’s going.