Tag Archives: Uncut

Cockney Rebel’s Make Me Smile: exclusive pop trivia included in this post

There are some songs I have listened to all my life, without really stopping to think what they are about.

So it is with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel’s “Make Me Smile (Come And See Me”), which I’ve spent around 20 years assuming was some sort of love song.

When I wrote about the song in this month’s Uncut, Harley told me the song was actually a rebuke to his old bandmates who asked for more money and then left him – he felt – in the lurch – shortly before he entered the recording studio. Harley’s response was to immediately write the accusatory “Make Me Smile” (‘Blue eyes, blue eyes, why must you tell so many lies?’) and sing it with a Dylanesque sneer, but bury the sentiment beneath a layer of perfect pop production. So a song written in a despondent stew made his fame and fortune and still follows him all round the world.

The favourite thing Harley told me though, was that one of the backing singers for the song’s famous ‘ooooh la la’ chorus was the actor and singer Clarke Peters, now better known as Lester Freamon from The Wire. You won’t find that on Wikipedia. Yet.

https://greatwen.com/2011/12/05/cockney-rebels-make-me-smile-exclusive-pop-trivia-included-in-this-post/

Slade in London

I have a piece in the latest Uncut magazine about Slade, the glam rock bovver boys who became the most successful British group of the 1970s.

Slade were proud Black Country band – all raised in and around Wolverhampton and Walsall – and they never really took to life in  London, something that may have explained why it took them so long to break through. As Don Powell, the drummer, told me, ‘We didn’t really feel comfortable in the London scene when we could just be in the pub with our mates in Wolverhampton.’ Even today, all four remain wonderfully faithful to their roots and have the flattest vowels of any band I have ever interviewed.

But London still had an impact on their career. In 1966, beanpole producer Kim Fowley spotted the band – then called the N’Betweens – playing Tiles nightclub in Oxford Street and promptly hustled them into the recording studio. This was the result.

Tiles was a Mod club. John Peel played there once but his hippie tunes didn’t go down too well with the audience and he recalled: ‘It was certainly not the kind of place where they wanted to hear what I was doing. And there were waves of irate customers coming up over the footlights to try and persuade me to play whatever it was they wanted me to play. Which certainly wasn’t the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish or whatever I was playing. They didn’t like me at all.’

This terrific Pathe newsreel shows The Animals playing at Tiles, and it was ex-Animal Chas Chandler who gave Slade their next big break after he saw them performing at Rasputins on Bond Street. Noddy Holder told me, ‘Chas wanted to see us live. So we were booked to play a tiny place called Rasputins in Bond Street and we played our usual set there. People stopped dancing to watch us, which didn’t really happen at the time, and as Chas came down the stairs he said we were that good he thought it was a record being played. He thought it was fantastic and signed us the next day, no second thoughts. We started working a lot of London clubs and bigger venues around the country.’

Thereafter, Slade became regulars on the London circuit, and were the first band to book Earl’s Court (Bowie played a show before them, but had booked it after Slade). While Bowie’s show was plagued by sound problems, Slade were able t learn from his mistakes and their concert was deemed a great success.

Their favourite venue was probably the Top of the Pops studio in Elstree, where their rabble-rousing songs and remarkable outfits meant they practically became the house band.

Sadly, though, two of their greatest London moments have been lost forever. As one fan writes here, the band recorded two promo videos for Top of the Pops, one at Chessington Zoo for “Look Wot You Dun” and another at Greenwich Observatory for “Gudbuy T’Jane”. Both films have been wiped and seem to  be lost, among with many other studio Top of the Pops appearances.

Finally, here’s the band just before they made it. Still known as Ambrose Slade, this promo for their first album was filmed in Euston Station. The band had recently come out of their skinhead phase, and are nothing like the colourful eccentrics they would soon become.

How about them Silver Apples

I have a piece in the latest Uncut about 60s electronica pioneers Silver Apple. If you’ve never heard them before, you should. Their main instrument is The Simeon, a bank of nine oscillators mounted on plywood and played by 86 different colour-coded buttons and pedals.

Here is their amazing country-electronica jam from 68, “Ruby”, on which they also play a banjo.

After forming by accident – everybody else in the previous band left, leaving just singer and oscillator-player Simeon Coxe and drummer Danny Taylor – the band had to split in 1970 when they created an LP cover that featured the pair in a Pan Am cockpit on one side, and with a plane crash on the back. Pan Am sued and that was that.

The band reformed in the mid-90s, however, although now it’s Coxe on his own after Taylor died of a heart attack in 2005. Silver Apples play Corsica Studios in Elephant on October 27. Check them out.

The Monkees and Alf Garnett

I have a piece in the latest issue of Uncut magazine about the making of The Monkees 1967 hit “Alternate Title”, originally titled “Randy Scouse Git”.

The song was the band’s biggest hit in the UK reaching No 2 in the chart, which seems pretty appropriate given that it was written in London and is full of London references.  When Mickey Dolenz said it was called “Randy Scouse Git”, the English Monkee, Davy Jones, was a little perturbed. ‘They asked me what it meant,’ he told me, ‘and I tried to explain, but they just didn’t get it.’

Dolenz wrote the song during a visit to the UK. As he explains: ‘We were in London doing press and the Beatles threw us a big party . We were staying at the Grosvenor. Mike Nesmith and I had turned up on Top of the Pops to surprise everybody by saying hello – they’d smuggled us in in the boot of a car. That’s where I met my first wife Samantha who was a Top Of The Pops DJ, the record girl. We must have had a party and the next morning there were still a few people hanging around and Mama Cass was in town, and the Beatles were huge and I’d met this girl and I just start doodling with the guitar and singing about Samantha and my friend in the room and the waiter who came in with breakfast and the girls outside screaming day and night. It was like a diary, word association. There’s no deep hidden meanings in there.

It was an amazing experience in London. I am told I had a great time. And of course I met Samantha and we had a massive love affair.  Lots of stuff was going on. Brian Jones hid in one of our rooms when he was hiding from police and we got a letter from Princess Margaret asking if we could keep the fans quiet because she could hear them screaming over in the palace.

‘I must have been watching TV and Till Death Us Do Part was on and Alf Garnett called the kid, Tony Booth [later Tony Blair’s father-in-law], a “randy Scouse git”. I had no idea what it meant, no clue, but I thought it was funny. He said that line right in the middle of me writing the song and as was the way in those days I was just spontaneous –  ‘Wow man, what a cool title!’ – and wrote it down.’

So that is how you go from this…

…to this…

Eel Pie Island

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My feature on the birth of British R&B at Eel Pie Island is in this month’s issue of Uncut.

It includes interviews with Pete Townshend, Ron Wood, Kenny Ball, Top Topham and the inventor Trevor Baylis, who still lives on the island and told me.

 ‘I moved to the island in the 1970s when I’d made enough money as an underwater escape artist in Berlin to buy a plot of land, but I went there regularly from 1957. They were wild times. If you wanted to get your leg over, that’s where you went. It was notorious. There was no bridge, the only way to get there was on a chain ferry. On the island, a little old lady sat in a tollbooth and stamped the back of your hand. The hotel was very Dickensian, a bit of a tramshed just about hanging together, but it had a dance floor that was like a trampoline so if you couldn’t dance when you went in you certainly could when you came out.’

South-west London was a fertile territory for music in the early 1960s, and the likes of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and Jimmy Page all learnt their craft in the venues of Richmond and on Eel Pie Island.

As Ian McLagan of the Small Faces explained: ‘The audience was full of musicians. Loads of them. You’d see them all in the front row – “Do you see that?”, “Yeah”, “Well I can do that too”. We were all kids, but when you saw the Stones it was “Fuck me, it’s possible…” ’

Diamond Geezer visited Eel Pie Island recently and writes about it here.

To whom it may concern: Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall

The new issue of Uncut magazine contains my feature about the International Poetry Incarnation, which took place 45 years ago this month on June 11, 1965. It begins like this:

Allen Ginsberg is drunk. Big, bald and bearded, like a Jewish bear stuffed in a suit, the beat poet stands tall in the Royal Albert Hall, London’s sacred haven of the high arts, and proclaims to 7,000 fellow thinkers:

“Fuck me up the asshole”.

In the crowd was Heathcote Williams, the future poet, playwright and artist. Williams recounts what happened next: “A man with a bowler hat, beside himself with anger, shouted out: ‘We want poetry. This is not poetry’, and Ginsberg retorted, looking up towards the gods: ‘I want you to fuck me up the asshole.’”

And it goes on in a similar manner for another 2,400 words. If you think that sounds like fun, head down to your local newsagent now.

The International Poetry Incarnation – which featured Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Mitchell, Gregory Corso and Michael Horovitz – is said to be the moment that signalled the arrival of the 1960s counterculture movement in London. However, in ‘White Heat’, his otherwise splendid history of the 1960s, Dominic Sandbrook writes dismissively: ‘Seven thousand people was indeed an enormous attendance… on the other hand, it was still considerably smaller than the typical crowd for a Second Division football match… to millions of people, the event meant absolutely nothing. What is more, it had not even been a very good reading.’

Oh, really? Watch this extraordinary clip of Adrian Mitchell from Peter Whitehead’s film of the reading, ‘Wholly Communion’, and tell me it has the same impact as Torquay vs Rochdale.