Friday, July 30, 2010
- Don Letts
The relationship was essentially a London thing reggae and punk were thrown together by being mutual outcasts, two fingers against authority and a sense of an established order breaking down. Both were rebel music.
1977 was to be an apocalyptic year in reggae terms...and so it was in music fashion and society generally as white and black street culture found itself with the same aspirations for possibly the first and last time. Punk and reggae became further intertwined because of two of punks most influential figures, Mr Rotten and the boys in the Clash. reggae was very much a part of their musical scene and growing up and each vied to say they loved it more than the other as an influence.
For the Clash they covered Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves, wanted a Notting Hill riot of their own, had Lee Perry produce one of their finest singles Complete Control and worked alongside Mikey Dread on their sprawling Sandinista album while wearing initially clothes with Prince Farianisms like’ Heavy Manners’ sprayed on them. Jah Wobble in PIL would utililise the pounding reggae bass on a many a tune and as Haile Unlikely Vs the Steel Leg recorded his own groovy 12”. Contrasting this is the two very different experiences of the boys visiting Jamaica. For the Clash it was a heavy trip resulting in the song ‘Safe European Home’. For Rotten, him and Letts spliffed out to sound systems and generally had a good time at Virgin’s expense.
The relationship was further cemented as bands like Misty in Roots and Steel Pulse appeared on shared stages at Rock Against Racism gigs with Bands like Generation X .
The relationship between punk and reggae is very much alive and well you can hear it from bands like Rancid, The Aggrolites, The King Blues and many note worthy artist. Now the long awaited testament to the Punk Reggae alliance has been realigned! English Zimbabwean Paul Hussey. A member of F.O.U.R (Factory Of Unlimited Rhythm) a losely knit, innovative new crew of artist, writers, musicians, and ideas people. F.O.U.R.'s members include Peter Couch, Brian Johnson, Suzanne Couch had produced Kingston Calling.
This brave and creative compilation of punky reggae tunes features a host of top Jamaican artists including Toots, CeCille, Anthony B, QQ, Chezidek as well as introducing some new stars. The album is due for release in September 2010 for some mighty tunes do check out www.myspace.com/kingstoncalling
Here's a short answer: Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that predates and has greatly influenced ska and reggae music
Mento is the grandfather of ska and reggae (along with rhythm & blues which is the grandmom of ska and reggae) . Mento draws on musical traditions brought over by African slaves. The influence of European music is also strong, as slaves who could play musical instruments were often required to play music for their masters. They subsequently incorporated some elements of these traditions into their own folk music. The lyrics of mento songs often deal with aspects of everyday life in a light-hearted and humorous way. Many comment on poverty, poor housing and other social issues. Thinly-veiled sexual references and innuendo are also common themes. Although the treatment of such subjects in mento is comparatively innocent, their appearance has sometimes been seen as a precursor of the slackness found in modern dancehall.
Originally a country people music with the banjo, maracas and rumba box needing no electronic amplification, but that somewhere along the timeline of Jamaica’s popular musical development, though, it became relegated to ‘tourist music’, the floral-shirt-clad figures beaming under straw hats and warbling ‘Yellow Bird,’ a far cry from and sad caricature of irreverent, bawdy, witty and extemporaneous mento.
Among the best known original purveyors of mento, that comes to my mind was Lord Tanamo who fronted the Skatalites with his hit I'm in the mood for Ska, Lord Flea and of course The Jolly Boys.
The Jolly Boys were the house band for Hollywood legend Errol Flynn who hosted huge parties at an estate he owned in Port Antonio, Jamaica in the 1950's. Flynn is responsible for the band's name as well, as he was moved by their upbeat songs about drinking, work and women. The Jolly Boys used their house band to the Hollywood elite status to launch a career that has lasted nearly 50 years.
Almost 50 years had passed The Jolly Boys remained to be a driving force behinds mento's staying power they are the house band for GeeJam a then residential recording studio in which they entertained artist working there the likes of No Doubt, The Gorrillaz and Amy Winehouse to name a few. The quality of their performances and particularly the strength and charisma of The Jolly Boys lead singer Albert Minott led GeeJam’s co-owner Jon Baker to co-produce an album of rock covers done in a "modern" mento style.
And now they are back with a new album called Great Expectation. Now all in their 70's and 80's the band is enjoying a resurgence thanks to John Baker. He's helping to revive and reinvigorate the band by positioning them as Jamaica's Buena Vista Social Club with a twist. He's steered them towards an updated sound called 'Modern Mento'. The album includes covers of songs by The Clash, Amy Winehouse, New Order, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and The Doors among others .
Above Video is a sample of what is in store on their newest album coming out this 20th of September.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Morris lived in Hermosa for 16 years, until he left Black Flag, the seminal SoCal punk-rock outfit he co-founded with Greg Ginn. After leaving Black Flag he formed the Circle Jerks with former Red Kross guitarist and Hawthorne high alum Greg Hetson, bassist Roger Rogerson, and drummer Lucky Leher.
The Circle Jerks’ debut album (1980′s Group Sex) and their performance in The Decline Of Western Civilization documentary — filmed at the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach — sent them on a punk-rock odyssey that spanned four studio albums (Wild In The Streets, Golden Shower Of Hits, Wonderful, and VI), several personnel changes, and an appearance in the 1984 cult film Repo Man, before the band splintered in 1989.
Six years later, Morris and Hetson — who’d since joined Bad Religion — revived the Circle Jerks for Oddities, Abnormalities & Curiosities. But the band again imploded shortly after the album hit the streets. Since then, Morris has survived a 2000 diabetic coma, a stint as an A&R rep for V2 Records, and sporadic Circle Jerks reunion tours dating back to 2001.
“I was born at Kaiser Permanente at the southernmost tip of Los Feliz,” says Morris. “We moved to Hermosa Beach when I was seven-and-a-half, so I started third grade at South elementary school on Monterey. We first lived on 2nd Street and Hermosa, then we moved to 10th and Monterey, then to north Redondo over by Aviation and Artesia, then we moved to 9th and Beach Drive.
“My junior high was right there at Pacific Coast Highway and Pier Avenue, where they have the community center now. That’s where I started smokin’ pot and skateboardin’ and listenin’ to music and doin’ all the things that teenage kids do.
“Then I went to Mira Costa High School. I worked at my dad’s fishing tackle store, Hermosa Tackle Box, down on Pier Avenue. It was right next door to the Rock & Gravel record store, which was kinda cool.
“But there was also the Record Hole, which was one of my favorite record stores ’cause they specialized in English imports. It was a tiny little store on Hermosa Avenue, two and a half blocks north of Pier Avenue. Right next to a Winchell’s donuts and this pizza place that made this thing called the ‘pizzaco’ — half pizza, half taco.”
“Yeah, that was good ’cause there was also a Foster’s Freeze right there. You get the root beer freeze and a couple of ‘pizzacos’ and the world is totally happening.
“And there was Rubicon Records, up on Pier Avenue, which was run by Michael Piper, who looked like Michael Bruce — one of the guitar players in Alice Cooper. He played a major role in corrupting my musical mentality. He was the guy who turned me on to Genesis, Gentle Giant, Trapeze, the Tubes …
“Michael was also insanely in love with Greg Ginn’s younger sister, Erica, who’s (artist) Raymond Pettibone’s twin sister and was like this goddess. Erica used to come into Rubicon to hang out and flirt with Michael and Greg would tag along ’cause he was interested in music. At this time, Greg was a big Grateful Dead fan. He was one of those guys who’d get in the VW van or the Toyota station wagon, load it up with all the other Hermosa Beach hippies, and go see the Dead.
“Anyway, they would show up and Michael would be playing Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles — something out of Laurel Canyon. The heaviest thing he would play would be like the first Heart album. I’m not badmouthing these artists because they all have their time and place. You certainly don’t wanna listen to Black Flag when you’re makin’ love, right? I would reserve that time for Marvin Gaye
Polliwog Park breakthrough
“So Greg is now all of a sudden becoming a major person in my life, just based on him coming into the record store two or three times a week. Michael and Erica would split to go hold hands and make out and do whatever young people like to do and I would be in charge of the store. And that would be when I’d put on Ted Nugent, Black Oak Arkansas, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars, the MC5 or the Stooges. Michael would come back in and he would be steamin’, like ‘Why are you listening to this?’ and Greg and I would be laughin’.
“Eventually we started going to concerts. Michael, Greg and I would get in my Chevy Impala and head to the Santa Monica Civic to see Thin Lizzy and Journey. And that’s where the seeds of Black Flag were sown.”
“When we started Black Flag, the local scene was terrible,” Morris continues. “There weren’t any original bands. We’d go to a dance and it’d be a band doin’ Doobie Brothers covers or some chick tryin’ to sing like Robert Plant.
“We weren’t punk-rock guys. We were just guys that were bummed with the musical landscape in the South Bay — and even up in Hollywood, it was slim pickin’s — that channeled our angry energy and turned it into what we turned it into.
“We were the guys who were always picked last in P.E., the guys that were turned down by the girls, the guys that the jocks would pick on. And maybe it was our way of sayin’, ‘Hey, fuck you.’ It wasn’t like we were hopin’ to get harrassed by the Hermosa Beach police, but everytime we turned around they were like breathing over our shoulders …
“Right now, I’m looking at that photo from Polliwog Park that ran in Easy Reader, which is pretty amazing ’cause it was taken from behind us and shows the crowd. So there’s Medea, who was Greg Ginn’s girlfriend, and there’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce [from the Gun Club], Dianne Chai [from the Alleycats], and Jay Bentley from Bad Religion. His dad lived in Manhattan Beach and said, ‘Let’s go to the park’ and it just happened to be the Sunday we were playing. The opening band was the Tourists, who were Red Kross before they became Red Kross, then Eddie & The Subtitles from O.C. [Big Wow, according to the Easy Reader story], then us. It looked like there were 500 people in this bandshell.
“I really felt sorry for Robo ’cause he was sitting behind his drum kit and had no where to go. The rest of us were able to dodge whatever trash — chicken bones, watermelon rinds — that the people who didn’t like us were throwin’.
“I remember the guy from the park was really bummed and he was making us stop every 10 minutes so he could sweep everything up. I basically look upon that gig as our baptism. That when we knew that we made it. That’s when we got under a few people’s skins. We didn’t set out to do that. We just wanted to get out and play, do our thing.
“But the Black Flag gig with the Alleycats and Rhino 39 at the Moose Lodge on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo was pivotal for us ’cause [KROQ DJ] Rodney Bingenheimer was there with [Dead Boys frontman] Stiv Bators and they both were like, ‘Wow, there’s serious excitement happening here.’ That’s when Rodney started playing the Nervous Breakdown EP on Saturday night.
“That really helped out. ‘Cause a lot of people in the music community up here [in Hollywood] looked at us like ‘What are these fucking hippies doing here?’ ‘Cause we looked like beach rats. We looked like roadies for Peter Frampton. We didn’t look like we were part of the punk-rock community. We didn’t look like we were from England. That wasn’t our concern.
“We played the EP at a party up on Fountain and [Masque founder] Brendan Mullen and Claude ‘Kickboy’ Bessey from Slash magazine were there and they were like, ‘What the fuck is this? You guys did this?’ They were goin’ apeshit over it. And it completely changed their mentality toward us. They knew that we were real.
“We made that record at Media Art Studios, which was on the northeast corner of Pier and Hermosa. I remember when we were recording a band was playing in Shenanigans, the bar downstairs, and it was bleeding through, but we were playing so loud it didn’t really matter.
“We put that record out ourselves ’cause we got a two-page contract from [local indie] Bomp Records and Greg read it aloud and we were all just like rolling on the floor. We’re gonna pay for the recording, they’re gonna press it up, and give us like a nickel for every one that’s sold? Are you kidding me?
“And it wasn’t like we were gonna get any kind of better deal from any record company at any level. We put our own record out ’cause we didn’t have any choice — and we didn’t know any better.
“By this time we were living in the [former Baptist] church on Manhattan Avenue, directly across the street from the Altadena dairy, which was like our convenience store. Jim Lindberg (of Pennywise) used to work there. They leveled the church and turned it into this place called Einstein’s [Now Union Cattle]. Some kinda yuppie, happy hour, hang-out kinda thing.
“It was an abandoned church that they were renting spaces in. It was basically a hippie arts community — one guy was a potter, one guy did metal sculpture — that lived in the building. Greg was already renting a big room at the very back of the church and that was where SST Electronics was going down. Greg was manufacturing an attenuator, which soups up the power of your ham radio, so you can pick up who you need to pick up easier. That would’ve been ’78. [And he was writing music reviews for Easy Reader.]
“The church became almost like a flophouse. It became the place to go in the community for all the have-nots, the miscreants, all the kids that are getting picked on in school. I lived in one of the rooms. Ron Reyes [who replaced Keith as Black Flag's vocalist] was living in the basement. All of the punk rock people in the South Bay knew that the church was happening. Red Kross rehearsed in the basement; we rehearsed upstairs in the janitorial storage space, so we’d occasionally throw parties.
“Jill Jordan, who was a backing vocalist in the Flesh Eaters and is now a really popular tattoo artist, was from Hermosa. The Nolte brothers [Dan, Joe and Mike] are Hermosans. We didn’t really know them until we became fans of the Last. They were a big influence on Black Flag, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it by either one of our bands’ music.
“And the Descendents were from Manhattan and Redondo Beach. Billy worked for my dad and our conversations would be like, ‘What are you listening to? OK, why doncha listen to some stuff you’re not listening to? Here’s your homework assignment: Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath … ‘ And he would come back and say, ‘Keith, thank you for turning me on to all of these bands, I like all of them.’”
On the road
“When I left Black Flag, I moved to Inglewood, so after 1979 I didn’t spend a lot of time in Hermosa. Greg [Hetson] and I formed the Circle Jerks and all of a sudden we’re off in the van, goin’ to every little place in America. Goin’ out there without any machinery — no manager, no booking agent, no publicist, no Internet. We’re playing in these clubs to four people, 12 people, a 100 people — that would be a success. Driving two days to get to a place and the only people there are the bartenders and the guy that’s working the door. Doin’ the same thing that Black Flag was doin’, mapping out the route that all these new bands have to travel.
“Like Pennywise, who are from Hermosa. They’re like the ultimate, punk-rock party band. They’re one of the Warped Tour bands. And that’s a whole new generation of kids, who are all tapped into the computer and MP3s. Plus, they were on Epitaph Records and that label certainly knows what they’re doing.
“The Circle Jerks played a Warped Tour a couple of years ago and we were on the old-school stage with the Adolescents, the Dickies, Fear, and all these wonderful bands. Pennywise played with Bad Religion on the main stage and I was just like in awe. There were people who weren’t paying attention to the bands who were playing on the stages in front of them because they were facing the stage where Pennywise was playing. We’re talkin’ like 15,000-18,000 people watching Pennywise.
“And as far as stage-diving, slam-dancing, and all that,” Morris continues, “we’re from Southern California, so there’s lots of guys who ride skateboards, ski, surf, skydive, snowboard. We have this gung-ho mentality — just get on whatever you’re going to get on and go for it and see what happens. You see a swimming pool, you’re gonna jump in. That’s where stage-diving originated.
“And it’s not the mosh pit — it’s the slam pit. Mosh pit is what they call it on the East Coast. It started here with the kids on the West Coast. If you notice the motion of a kid riding a skateboard, it’s almost like a jog, almost like a dance. If you remove the skateboard, it becomes a dance, it becomes the slam-dance.
“[Skateboard legend] Tony Alva’s crew used to follow us around. They loved us, they loved the punk-rock thing ’cause it was aggro. It was taking Ted Nugent and Black Sabbath and ZZ Top, speeding it up, and taking it the next step. It was the perfect music for them to do what they were doing. And if you looked at those kids from Dogtown — which was Venice — they didn’t look punk-rock, they looked exactly like us.
“The legacy would be that we just happened to trip and fall, pick ourselves up, and be there. We didn’t know what we were creating. We didn’t know that we were gonna touch people as far reaching as the Black Crowes and Ryan Adams and Los Lobos. We didn’t know that Bill Ward, the drummer from Black Sabbath, was gonna be a huge fan. We didn’t know we were gonna play a role in shaping the musical mentality of Slayer or Megadeth.
We just went where we were allowed to go — Europe, South America, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii — and just made the best of it.
”I tore knee ligaments, got a crushed vertebrae, fractured ribs. Got my nose broken two nights in a row. And I rolled a van in Texas, turned it over like 10 times, crushed the van in half. All the guys survived. The worst thing that happened was we had a sprained ankle and a bruised shoulder.
“And, yeah, the coma. I was looking at death there. Then they diagnosed me with diabetes and I had to spend about a year figuring it out. I have my days where my feet hurt and I have my days where everything’s fine. It’s one of those diseases where it’s what you make of it.”
“Right now, the Circle Jerks are halfway through making a new record. It’s with the original members Greg and me with Zander Schloss — who’s played with Joe Strummer, Thelonious Monster, the Weirdos, the Low And Sweet Orchestra, and has been playing bass with us for quite a while now — and Kevin Fitzgerald, who’s from Alaska and is currently touring Europe with Eleni Mandell, playing drums.
“Dimitri Coats from the Burning Brides — I worked with them when I was working at V2 Records — is producing. And it’s gonna sound like what a punk-rock record’s supposed to sound like. Because we’ve gotten away from that with modern technology — this device that makes it sound like tape and this super-duper-duper-dizzer that does this. Fuck that. We don’t need to be adding all this shit. We need to strip off the fat like we did in the beginning and just fuckin’ go at it.
“I don’t know if I could say what made Hermosa Beach so different. Yeah, there was the Lighthouse, which was one of the major jazz venues on the West Coast. My dad’s shop was right across the street and during the summer, they would do early shows and they would open the top half of this double door that they had in front and you could watch whoever was performing. My dad used to go there, but I was never old enough to go in. When I was old enough, at that point in my life, I wasn’t interested in jazz.
“But there was also the surf thing. Three of my dad’s best friends were world-class surfers: Dewey Weber, Hap Jacobs, and Greg Noll. They were like the triumvirate down there and they were like the three points of the pyramid. Greg was this guy who was living in a trailer with three different women and all their kids. Dewey was this rambunctious, really energetic family guy. And Hap was like the real conservative out of the three of ‘em. In the South Bay, those are the guys. It all starts with them.
“And there was the Insomniac coffee house. My mom took me there when I was about eight years old. She was always one of those people who wasn’t afraid to go out there and see what was goin’ on, so here we are inside the Insomniac. No furniture, just a few tables and a bunch of pillows on the floor. It was candlelit, dark, looked like something out of Dante’s Inferno. You can damn well bet that the city council were just losin’ sleep over that.
“And Greeko’s Sandals, which started on Pier Avenue next to John’s Barber Shop. The barber was one of the conservative guys: ‘We can’t have Greeko in our town — look what he’s doing to the minds!’ ‘Cause Greeko is the guy who had all of the Doors and the Shrine Auditorium posters and when Santana or Big Brother & The Holding Company were in town, they’d come in and get sandals made. So Greeko moved around the corner, redid the face of the building, and made the sidewalk in front of his shop like a cobblestone sidewalk. The city apparently loved that: ‘Oh, he’s becoming more conservative! Maybe he’s voting for Ronald Reagan?’
“And they jacked up the rent so high they finally ran the Either/Or Bookstore out. It had been there before I even moved there. You’d think a great city like Hermosa Beach would be very open-minded, but they weren’t. It was like, ‘We can’t have these hippies, these Communists doin’ all this stuff!’
“But they’ve just destroyed downtown Hermosa. Their mentality is they want every weekend to be spring break down there. Every other space is a bar. I was stayin’ down there with a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day two years ago and we were just hangin’ out, walkin’ around, checkin’ it out. And at night there’s just people like ‘I’m walkin’ in the middle of the street; whaddya gonna do about it?’ Just lookin’ for a fight. And the police don’t even show up. What the hell’s up with that? They should change the name to Knucklehead Beach.
“But I already went full circle when I became sober. Goin’ back to Hermosa Beach and goin’ to meetings at the junior high that they’d turned into a community center and a skateboard park — which I don’t mind ’cause that’s productive, that gives the kids someplace to go. That’s where I started doin’ drugs so it was totally appropriate.
“Now I still like eating the cheeseburger at the Mermaid, but Taco Bill’s is gone. That was a Hermosa Beach landmark, just like the Either/Or bookstore. I don’t mind going back to the Hermosa pier and taking a walk and checking it out, but that’s about it. When I think about what they’ve done to the city, I wouldn’t want to live there — and I couldn’t afford it.”
Story by Don Waller
Effing hell, thought Suggs, he would never improve on that. Nor has he on this day in Sicily, where he is filming the final leg of his new Sky Arts travelogue, Suggs's Italian Job. Still, he looks pretty good in his white shirt and dark blue cotton suit.
The once-befezzed pop star, whose band, back in the late Seventies, used comedy to wedge itself between the forces of concept-album pretension and punk-rock nastiness, has turned into a legit television presenter. Last year he won a Royal Television Society presenter's award for Disappearing London on ITV.
Admittedly he spoilt things a little with an acceptance speech in which he lightly announced his immediate retirement from the profession, but television eventually forgave him when he said that he was speaking in drink and in jest. The experienced Italian Job production team tell me that they have never worked with a more professional presenter.
The beautifully shot eight-part series is not exactly an intellectual challenge to Kenneth Clark's Civilisation. The only preexisting cultural knowledge you need is that Suggs is driving a Mini because there was once a film called The Italian Job and it featured the same make of car.
Nevertheless, it is still something of a surprise that Sky has chosen him as its face of culture. Thirteen years ago you would have known where Suggs stood on high art. “Pop,” he told an interviewer, “is the only art form over the past 20 years that has communicated to so many people. It can move you to tears or laughter. How many paintings have you actually cried at?”
“That's the great thing about being young,” the 47-year-old explains to me now. “One of the reasons pop music tends to be better when people are young is that they have blinkers on, don't they? If someone's wearing flared trousers, they're shit. You have a very pure vision of the things you like. But no, I certainly wouldn't agree with my 1995 self that the only important thing is pop music. No. Not at all.”
If Suggs has a greater credibility gap as a cultural commentator than would, say, Jools Holland or Jarvis Cocker, it may simply be that Madness were always too funny to be taken seriously. It took, he says, 20 years for a piece of serous criticism to be written about them, and five authors have started and abandoned books about them. Perhaps songs such as My Girl, Cardiac Arrest, Our House, Driving in my Car and Michael Caine simply resist analysis.
Fortified by a lunch of Heineken and risotto balls, Suggs's intellect proves in decent working order this afternoon as he is shown around the Villa Cattolica, a museum that has a collection of works by the painter Renato Guttuso. His son Fabio explains a vast painting of a market scene in terms of a cathedral: Suggs smartly identifies its Madonna.
If he is bewildered by Fabio's explanation of the history of Italian communism or how his father's career echoes Picasso's, he doesn't show it. If anything, I detect in Suggs's mind not undernourishment but impatience. As the furry boom-mike bobs above the two of them, Suggs's eyes dart and his fingers click. Between takes he smokes and chews gum. His presentational style is ironic and relaxed, but I sense tension, too.
Only after filming is complete does he relax - which is more than I do, as Suggs's Mini, now driven by an assistant producer aided by a very confused Italian sat-nav, goes the wrong way up more narrow streets than the original Italian Job Minis. We discuss the Guttusos, papà and figlio. “Nice guy, but he could have paid more attention to his dental hygiene,” says Suggs of poor Fabio.
That evening we meet again in an open-air bar in Palermo. The Peronis stand before us yet again. I suspect that the ruddiness of his face may not be simply a tan. I ask if drinking has ever been a problem for him. Only, he says, when he is very bored.
“Going wild and losing almost every shred of your personality is not a bad thing on occasions. It may have got a bit out of hand in Britain now, but look at Hogarth or however far back you want to go. You've got the Celtic thing mixed into the British and I consider myself part of that, slightly. There is this whole idea that drink can transport you somewhere else, into poetry, magic and lunacy.”
He should know, for his holiday home in southern Italy includes a small vineyard that produces “Suggs Special”, a brew that will get you drunk in a Nordic rather than a Mediterranean manner. Does he ever film with a hangover, I ask. Rarely, he says. “But you just get on with it. It's the Buddhist tenet: drinking is drinking; getting up is getting up.”
That's a new one on me, but the production team have warned me about his serendipitous erudition. For all that, his education, or lack of it, is the background buzz to our interview. An early hit, Baggy Trousers, recalls his adolescence in a tough London comprehensive: “Naughty boys in nasty schools/ Headmasters breaking all the rules/ Having fun and playing fools/ Smashing up the woodwork tools.”
It was, he says, just more exciting at the back of the class, practising hanging his mouth open. Yet in his previous life in Wales he had passed his 11-plus, and at grammar school was “one of the nicer sort of kids”.
He was in Wales because when he was 8 his mother, Edwina, decided that she could no longer cope with raising him alone and sent him to stay with her sister. A failed jazz singer turned barmaid at the legendary Colony Room in Soho (where, decades later, her son records his ITV chat show Suggs in the City), she had been deserted by Suggs's heroin-addicted father.
Mother and son made do in bedsits, which is why Suggs can talk of having “a degree in poverty and hardship”. At Auntie Diana's in Haverfordwest, he did not see his mother for three years. Meanwhile, his aunt's marriage was unwinding. “I began thinking, ‘Why does it all go wrong every time I enter the room?'”
Fortunately he was developing an ability to look at himself objectively. “I suddenly realised that it wasn't my fault and I remember that as a huge release. I could take care of what I was about but I couldn't really be responsible for the grown-ups.”
At 11 he had another revelation, this time in Sunday school. “The geezer would drone on and on and I remember one time he was talking about how lucky we all were. I thought, ‘I don't really think I am lucky. I haven't seen my mum for a while and maybe I don't think these people here are on my side'.
And I remember wondering what would happen if I just suggested in my mind that God didn't exist. I got up and walked out of this church and I have a clear memory of walking down the little path to the gable fence at the end, then going off down the road and thinking, ‘Nothing's happened. I haven't been hit by lightning or anything'.”
Back in London, his mother's spirits having revived, he fell in with some boys from a local school who would know Graham McPherson by his new name, Suggs (after the jazz artist Pete Suggs). By the time he was 17, perhaps subconsciously inspired by his mother's bohemian aspirations to “a champagne lifestyle with lemonade pockets”, Suggs was the lead vocalist of Madness and was enjoying their first residency in a Camden pub called the Dublin Castle.
The ska band, influence as much by vaudeville as reggae, had a hit with The Prince, appeared on Top of the Pops and were soon supporting the Specials on tour.
Despite their chart success over the next ten years, Madness never got rich. Think of a fortune, Suggs explains, divide it by seven band members and take away 40 per cent in tax. It is no longer a fortune. But Madness did enrich Suggs with the family that the only son of a single parent had missed. He says that the group's members are still “ridiculously” close.
I thought he had said over lunch that after a month touring with them he usually felt that he never wanted to see them again? “It's a family but it's a f***ing dysfunctional family. It's all needy kids and no parents.”
Its functionality was first threatened in 1983 when Mike Barson, the keyboard player, quit. “He just got fed up with all the fame business. Bit by bit you'd see he'd be wearing balaclavas to go out and didn't want to be in photographs any more.”
Barson wasn't the only one becoming jaundiced. “We had some great people around us and the record label we were on was very interesting, but they realised that we were a fatted calf and it was just a bit relentless.
We were going round the world relentlessly, and the notion that we were always going to liven up a dull scene got very wearing. Then we sort of fell out ... we were just so tired. It's the old joke, isn't it? We split up for medical reasons: we were sick of each other.”
By now he was married to Anne, better known at the time at Bette Bright of Deaf School, and had two daughters. “You know, it's like the rites of passage. We've been in the forest. We've slain all the dragons and now it's time to go home as a man, not a f***ing juvenile. We were stuck, and I think being a pop star is being stuck permanently as a juvenile. Look at the people who are permanent pop stars.”
Like Jagger? “You said it. And there's nothing wrong with that if that's what you want, but I was very keen that I should get to the next development in my life.”
Despite the good-natured anarchy of his music, Suggs is actually too conventional to be a pop star in the classic mode. Married in church, he remains happily married, although he is having a little trouble persuading his daughters, Scarlet and Viva, to leave their terraced, three-bedroom family home in North London.
His work ethic is not so much Celtic as Protestant. While filming in Italy he has been flying to London at weekends to record Suggs in the City. He returns, his crew tell him, in a filthy mood. But his presenting career, now that it touches history and culture (it started with a karaoke show on Five), seems to have squared some circles for him and is infiltrating his music.
The title song of Madness's forthcoming album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, demonstrates a knowledge of London history that would please Peter Ackroyd.
“Tommy Cooper was a big factor in Madness. Benny Hill - those speeded-up bits at the end - used to tickle us. You knew it was a bit naff but it was also kind of deliberately anti-intellectual. Then in later life you get interested in other things, like Samuel Beckett, for instance, and get this innate feeling that there's a parallel, and find that there is. Beckett was really interested in music hall and Tommy Cooper and Max Wall - that thin line between abstraction and just being an idiot, you know what I mean?”
At dinner with the crew in Palermo, Suggs is in high spirits - the series almost in the can, the Chianti flowing. Then the director Nick Bramford bowls up with tidings from London. Their PR agency has prepared a script for an on-air promo that will require Suggs to dress as a loutish Cockney skinhead and morph into a refined Italian prat.
The idea of libelling himself, and Italy, in an advert for his own programme does not appeal, and as the evening degenerates he suggests alternative approaches. What about, he wonders, Suggs vomiting over a map of Italy, or burying his head in a pile of spaghetti?
Last week I caught a trailer for the series. It was nothing worse than a jolly selection of highlights. Good. Suggs is better than that. I think he is better than the series, but that is another matter.
Suggs's Italian Job begins on August 11, Wednesday at Discover Travel and Living Channel Asia
This article was taken from The Sunday Times from Andrew Billen's Suggs: far from the Madness crowd
Monday, July 26, 2010
And also this coming August 27 watch out for Bing Austria of Juan Pablo Dream's new endeavor with former Put3ska manager Shane Cosgrove they had put out a collective known as Soul Music Manila and they will be having an event entitled MANILA SOUL ALL NIGHTER happening at B Side in Malugay Street, Makati City. This event is strictly aimed at propagating a dance movement that emerged from the British mod scene that was highly influenced by American Black Music mainly Soul. Expect to hear tons of heavy heavy stompers full of lesser known rare Motown-influenced music.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Photos courtesy of Michael Alvin Gianan and Cindy Aquino
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The person replied to me and said "i emphasized "white" since i am not sure what kind of people are going to the show..like if some are against white people or something. its more of FYI and more of security in our end.." This further infuriates me on the choice of words that this person used like WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE and SECURITY.
Its kinda funny that this person told me about his punk rocker friends who would like to play this coming July 10th. Going to a punk show is not like going to a fashion show with full on security on every corner of a venue. Punk rock shows always have an element of danger in them don't expect for security if your looking for security stay at home lock your doors and watch MTV!. And may i say that Bisikleta Productions is color blind we don't care if you are white, black, yellow or green as long as you bring your tolerance with you and you're not being a total dick its fine with us!.
And one more thing if you got a friend who is in a band please at least have the decency to say something about the band you are referring to like sending an MP3 or giving us information like a myspace account. And stop reading and watching the news about my country those fucking media writers are giving Philippines a bad name. Hearsay fucks up a good experience.
If you want to experience our community abandon the fear of us heckling your white friends. Drop by on July 10 at 8PM and see what its like to be part of us. This coming Saturday will be a very special day for SkaMax mainstays the STEADY MOVIN' BEAT because they are launching their highly anticipated, long awaited EP on that day.
The band is highly influenced by the 2 Tone movement in Coventry, England and what it represents. And is continuing to echo in all parts of the world were black and white, brown and yellow kids unite to fight racial discrimination and prejudice.
This all Filipino band kicks ass. So to the person who sent me a message all you have to do is , come and see the local bands and SHUT UP...LISTEN..AND DANCE...