The Motors: Walking the thin line between New Wave and Status Quo.
Once upon a time, two little boys in France named Guy and Thomas saw this on the television and decided that when they grew up they too would be pop stars wearing space helmets. But when they told their friends of their dream all they said was “Don’t be daft, punks!”
It’s Thanksgiving here today so I thought I’d start the weekend early with this marvelous clip. Another one to come tomorrow.
Notice there aren’t any girls trying to jump on Ron Mael. I think one does near the end but she probably just felt bad that his brother was getting all the Teenybopper action.
Originally posted April 2007
“They are the first band not to shrug off their political stance as soon as they walk out of the recording studio. The first band with sufficient pure, undiluted unrepentant bottle to keep their crooning necks firmly on the uncompromising line of commitment when life would be infinitely easier — and no less of a commercial success — if they made their excuses and left before the riot.”
Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons
“The Boy Looked At Johnny” (1978)
It’s hard to overstate what a ballsy move it was for Tom Robinson to follow his catchy, radio-friendly Top 5 pop hit “2-4-6-8 Motorway” in 1977 with the strident anthem “Glad To Be Gay” but that was a time when lines were being drawn all across Britain and a lot of people felt they had to declare which side of the barricades they were on. It’s a lot easier being openly gay these days, cool even, than it was back then when homosexuals were often thought of as either perverted kiddie fiddlers or John Inman. A mate of mine at school told me he threw away his copy of “Motorway” in disgust when he found out Robinson was “a bloody shirtlifter” — but he joined the Young Conservatives when he left school so I guess he had issues.
Their third single “Up Against The Wall” is one of the most blistering records to come out of punk, a riot of guitars and pulverizing drumming (the terrific Danny Kustow and Dolphin Taylor) that hits you like a boot in the groin — or a truncheon over the head. This led off their classic 1978 debut album Power In The Darkness which, along with the first Clash album, is the best snapshot of the tense, angry atmosphere in England at the time. Some of it seems like naive sloganeering now but back then it felt like life and death, you were either on Tom’s side or you were with the National Front and the SPG.
Originally posted January 2008
A lot of you probably recognize the blond bird in the middle of this photo as Britt Ekland: actress, sex symbol, Bond girl and former main squeeze of Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart. Some of you might know that the guy on the left is actor/director Lionel Jeffries, best known for his roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Railway Children. But who’s the bloke on the right grinning like he’s the happiest person in the world at that moment? That’s my old man, that is.
The picture was taken in 1972 on the set of a movie called “Baxter!” that Jeffries was directing and my old man had a bit part in it. In the 60s and early 70s Dad was a London taxi driver with dreams of being an actor, and one day he picked up Jeffries in his cab. The two got chatting and my old man told him he was an aspiring actor so Jeffries offered him a part in his new film — playing a taxi driver. If you’ve never heard of “Baxter!” that’s because it was a flop and sank without trace when it came out, it’s never even been out on video far as I know. I’ve only ever seen it once and if you blink you’ll miss my Dad and his one line of dialogue (he picks up Britt in his cab and says something like “Cheers, love” when she tells him to keep the change.) It wasn’t much but still, he was in a movie with Britt Ekland — not bad for a cab driver from Shepherd’s Bush. Unlike me he preferred blonds which partly explains his huge grin in the photo.
After this brush with fame Dad bought himself an old Rover P4 which he called Baxter. It was a beautiful car, tan exterior with cream leather seats and an 8-track player which was the latest in high-fidelity mod cons back then. Of all the albums my Dad had on 8-track the one that most reminds me of that car is Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, especially the track “Joy Inside My Tears.” It was never my favourite on the album, it followed the ridiculously catchy “Isn’t She Lovely” and always seemed such a downer after that — it sounds like it was recorded at the wrong speed and sort of plods along like it’s all woozy on cough medicine. But there’s something hypnotic about it and when I hear it now it’s that foggy and muggy warmth which reminds me of sitting in that car on a cold day with the windows misted up, having a day out with my Dad which usually involved a lunch of egg and chips with a banana milkshake and going to the pictures.
Download: Joy Inside My Tears – Stevie Wonder (mp3)
The acting thing didn’t work out for my Dad, after the movie he had small parts in television commercials for The Sun newspaper and Slimcea bread but that was all far as I remember. He did far better behind the scenes though and became a Stage Manager at the National Theatre in London where he had a very successful career — his first boss was Lawrence Olivier and he counted many famous actors and writers among his friends. He even got to meet the Queen, not too shabby.
Thought I’d do another repeat post from the archives to make up for the lack of new stuff I don’t have time to write. I chose this one because this album still hasn’t been reissued since I first wrote it back in 2007 and these tracks are too great to remain expensive cult collectibles.
Most Saturday afternoons in 1977 you’d find me in my bedroom listening to the Kenny Everett show on Capital Radio which was the perfect way to fill some of that dead time between getting back from the shops with my Mum and the football results coming on Grandstand. It wasn’t just the adventures of Captain Kremmen (which you can listen to here) that kept me listening, like myself Kenny had a major ELO obsession and was constantly playing their then-new Out Of The Blue album. He must have played the entire double album (parts of it several times over) and this was before I got my own copy so I was glued to the radio. Kenny’s musical tastes leaned heavily toward the polished and elaborate like ELO, he was the sort who thought “Sgt. Pepper” was the pinnacle of western civilization and that snotty punk stuff was just horrible. I thought so too at the time, it just sounded like a moronic racket to my ears and whenever my sister played the first Clash album I’d take the piss by singing “White Riot” in a retarded D.P. Gumby voice.
Another album that got heavy play on his show was Looking Over My Shoulder by Scottish singer/songwriter Chris Rainbow. If anybody has heard of him these days it’s as lead singer of The Alan Parsons Project in the 1980s (I’m so glad to say I never knew he was) but in the 70s he recorded three solo albums which are to The Beach Boys what ELO’s were to The Beatles — full of sunny, intricately-arranged pop symphonies with heavily multi-tracked vocals. While a lot of the album now sounds as dated and cheesy as the shirt he’s wearing on the sleeve, some of it still quite gorgeous.
“Dear Brian” is a fan letter to Brian Wilson who at that time was still a recluse, drugged out of his head in a sandpit somewhere. Over it’s sublime six minutes he laments the destroyed tapes and lost outtakes that ended up on a studio floor and implores Brian to “step in the sandbox” and make music again. The ghostly “In And Out And Round About” washes in like a mist coming off the North Sea and gets a bit Proggy (but in a very pretty way) with some highly pretentious lyrics and a grand church organ arrangement. Kenny played this a lot and would get all wobbly over the whispery ending.
All of Rainbow’s albums are out of print now and go for rather large amounts of money as he’s something of a minor cult amongst fans of 70s soft pop.
It’s a Battle of the Bands between Hawkwind and The James Last Orchestra.
Marshall Hain‘s singer Kit Hain left a comment on this blog once many moons ago. I’d posted a track from their only album and she asked me if I could repost it as she didn’t have a copy of the album herself. Sadly the comment was lost (along with a gazillion others – those were the days!) when I moved from Blogger to WordPress.
So if you’re still out there Kit, pop in and say hello again sometime and I hope you have a copy of the album by now.