Viv Albertine: Clothes, Music, Boys

If you haven’t read it yet – what have you been doing?

Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, is a masterpiece. It is a story of growing up different, adventure, experiment, doubtful self-confidence, and the misogyny that even afflicted punk rock, liberated though it may have been in so many other ways. If you still put out a Xmas stocking, suitably ripped and torn, this should be in it.

One of the highlights of the book explains the guitar part on Newtown:

I stand alone in the darkened studio. Everyone else is up high in the control room. Dennis’s disembodied voice comes booming through my headphones, with Ari excitedly shouting instructions in the background. I try with all my might to concentrate and get the part right. I get a few bars into the song but the tape stops abruptly. ‘You went out of time on the beginning of the intro, I’ll drop you in,’ says Dennis. I count the bars until I have to come in and start playing just as before, so I’m up to speed then I’m dropped into the track. I’m completely focused on the task, absolutely determined to get it right this time. Phew, did it. The tape stops. ‘You were a fraction early. Try again.’ I can’t believe it, seemed all right to me. I try again. On and on it goes. We spend half an hour on the first few bars of the song. I want to cry but hold it in. I honestly don’t know what to do differently. I’ve lost all my self-confidence, all sense of judgement. I keep playing and replaying the part, not knowing what on earth to do to make it better. They play the tape for about the twentieth time, I flip. I thrust at my guitar furiously, not caring about timing, chords or tuning, I just smash my hand over the open strings, I run out of steam and stop. I wait for them to tell me off for losing my cool. ‘That was brilliant! Don’t stop! Do it again!’ And that’s how the guitar part of ‘Newtown’ comes about.

(Dennis is Dennis Bovell, of course.)

Here are my mystified memories of seeing the Slits and the Banshees in Croydon.

And here is the wonderful Flowers of Romance tree, which documents it all.

Alberta Hall: Oh! How I Need Your Love

Alberta Hall

The problem with having the name Alberta Hall is that Google thinks you are a misspelling of The Albert Hall. Nevertheless there is such a person, with an extraordinary voice, on this 1955 track:

Which we discovered on this incredible New Orleans compilation.

And that’s about all we can find out about her, unless this is the same person, strutting her stuff 60 years later?

Freaks, Geeks and the Grateful Dead


Hands up if you’ve seen Freaks and Geeks? Came across it by chance on Amazon Love Film. A series produced by Judd Apatow starring James Franco and Seth Rogan, who have been in the news for other reasons lately. A charming account of high school life in the 1980s in the overlapping spaces between the Freaks, into Zeppelin, hanging out, soft drugs and just about getting through at school, and the Geeks, into sic-fi, maths and anxiety. It also features the Jocks and Cheerleaders. Many Family of Rock rebels will identify with both the Geeks and the Freaks, though perhaps less so with the Jocks. I refrain from comment about the Cheerleaders.

But the main interest was that it made me listen to Grateful Dead’s album American Beauty perhaps for the first time, but certainly for the first time for decades, which features strongly in one episode. Very calming, which is its role in the plot, after all. And the Dead are there in the trees, of course, which is a perfect excuse for this post.

 

Pete Frame and Rock Family Trees Back At The Barbican!

Pete2
Following on from the success of the brilliant Rock Family Trees exhibition at the Barbican last summer, the discerning folks at the Music Library (thank you Michael Southwell!) have decided to put on another, on an even bigger scale. Not only that but they have twisted Pete’s arm (not his drawing arm, thankfully) to come and talk about the Trees and the characters in them, his experiences as editor of Zigzag, and as Pete himself puts it, generally ramble on about his bizarre life in the music business.

An Audience with Pete Frame – a rare event indeed – takes place on July 2nd, at 7.00pm. Tickets, from the Barbican Music Library, at the amazing bargain price of £6. You’ll kick yourself if you miss it. Email [barbicanmusic@cityoflondon.gov.uk] or telephone [020 7638 0672] to reserve your place.

The exhibition – a summer spectacular – runs from July 3rd to August 30th. No ticket necessary.

Farewell Pete Seeger (3 May 1919 – 27 January 2014), from Pete Frame

SeegerI was 21 years old when I saw Pete Seeger at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank of the Thames in London. Saturday 29 February 1964. It was the most inspirational concert I had ever attended. The core of his programme was the same as that preserved on the album ‘We Shall Overcome’, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, just over eight months earlier – old songs, traditional songs, Woody Guthrie songs, a selection of the best new contemporary songs by Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton and other Greenwich Village folkies, and a whole section of Civil Rights songs. An amazing repertoire.

I went with my friend Mac (who had been at school with me and who now toiled, as I did, at the head office of The Prudential Assurance Co in Holborn) and we came out of there with our hearts bursting. We were both deeply affected; Mac more radically than I. He went to work on Monday and handed in his notice . . . dropped out and began an odyssey which took him around the world. Being more cautious, I remained at my desk for another five years – until I could stand it no longer, and I dumped my day job too. Although I had no experience whatsoever, I was going to be a writer, I had decided. The magazines that Seeger and his friends had created – Sing Out! and Broadside – and the underground press which followed in their footsteps, had much to do with my decision. I wanted to be part of their world, the world that Pete Seeger inhabited.

Fast forward to 1994. I was doing a lot of work with Kevin Howlett, an inspired maverick producer at BBC Radio, who was always thinking up interesting projects for us to dive into. His latest was a series of four one-hour documentary programmes to be called ‘Signs Of The Times’, exploring the voice of protest in popular music – and, as usual, he rolled me in to do research and interviews, and to help construct the programmes. What a plum gig! I got to meet and talk to Bernice Johnson Reagon, Billy Bragg, Judy Collins, Michael Franti, Joan Baez, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Gary Byrd, Labi Siffre, Jackson Browne, Gil Scott Heron, Country Joe MacDonald, Mary Travers, Tom Robinson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bruce Cockburn, Steve Van Zant and various others – in such exotic locations as New York, San Francisco and Charleston – but, the icing on the cake, I got to meet my hero, Pete Seeger!

On Monday 14 February, from my room at the Paramount Hotel, just off Times Square, I phoned for instructions on how to get to his place – and Kev and I duly caught the train from Grand Central Station to Cold Spring, where Pete met us and drove through the snow, along open roads and winding tracks, to his ‘cabin’, as it was usually described, overlooking the Hudson. Just as I had pictured it. Rustic, warm, unique and instantly comfortable. His wife Toshi had prepared an exquisite meal for us, a rice-beans-okra-courgette delicacy that Gordon Ramsay could only dream of, accompanied by home-made bread. I was delighted to find that no piece of crockery or cutlery matched any other piece. To complete the repast, Pete produced several tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream: the partners in that firm sent him a selection every month, just for being Pete Seeger. How cool is that?

We met his daughter and two grandchildren, who were visiting, and then sat down beside a crackling log fire to conduct the interview – during the course of which, I told him that I had been in the audience at his seminal 1964 Royal Festival Hall concert and I showed him the programme I had saved. Of course, although it was a life-changing event for me, he didn’t remember it as being any more important than the many hundreds of other concerts he had played, at all of which members of the audience had no doubt experienced the same sort of road-to-Damascus conversions as I had.

After the interview, he drove us back to the station, stopping en route to visit his friend Seth, who had an old machine shop, which he proudly showed us. He also gave me a jar of honey. Pete had given me a songbook and a CD, and memories to last forever.

I got to my hotel bed about 1.30 am and when I awoke the next morning, the whole episode seemed like a dream sequence. But I had the cassette tapes to prove it had really happened.

Pete Frame