Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Steve Strange and Jack Nicholson

It may be an unfashionable view but I really like Steve Strange. His journey from working-class skinhead kid to Wigan Casino attendee, to Welsh punk, to New Romantic supremo is, I think, an interesting one. Yet whenever I suggest that his autobiography, Blitzed!, is a great read and an excellent insight into ‘80s club culture, people just scoff. You see, there’s something about him that seems to, unfairly, invite ridicule. Perhaps it was the sartorial excesses of the 1980s; or the now infamous teletubby shoplifting incident, that's to blame. I admire the way that he edged his way into the showbiz limelight through sheer hard work and natural chutzpah. He had always been resourceful. In Newbridge he would arrange punk rock gigs by the likes of Generation X from the public telephone box down the road, because he didn’t have a phone at his council home. In London he slept on friends’ sofas or moved around various squats. He was always one step away from homelessness but still somehow managed to have a packed social calendar. There were brief stints working for Malcolm McLaren’s Glitterbest company; and a short-lived musical collaboration with Chrissie Hynde. His breakthrough came when he detected that punk was on the wane. Sensing that people wanted to dress up again after the aesthetic constraints of punk he began – along with Rusty Egan – to host club nights for ex-punks and residual Bowie fans. Billy’s, Blitz, Hell, Club for Heroes, and the Camden Palace were his most famous haunts. Entrance could only be gained if you had made a proper effort with your threads. It was a snobbery of sorts but not one based upon wealth or class. Basically, if you looked outrageous or were a dab hand with a needle and thread you were in. Consequently, at Blitz, working-class kids rubbed padded shoulders with the likes of Bowie and other celebs. Of course, everything eventually came apart at the seams for Steve Strange, with the inevitable slide into drug abuse and a nervous breakdown. He has recently, however, bounced back by doing some TV work - so good luck to him.

There’s an excellent YouTube clip of Steve Strange hosting his 21st birthday bash on the Circle Line of the London Underground in the early ‘80s, that's worth investigating. The above picture is one that I stumbled across online and shows him with Jack Nicholson, no doubt pondering whether the Hollywood actor is actually cool enough to enter his club.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Victor Spinetti in Pink Orgasm

Having appeared in A Hard Day's Night (1964), Help! (1965) and Magical Mystery Tour (1967), Victor Spinetti is perhaps best known for being a veteran Beatles associate. But he has done plenty of other cool stuff too, including performing at the Arts Lab in Jane Arden's radical feminist play, Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (1969). Another interesting (well, it interests me anyway) phase of his career saw him turning up in various British sex films. For instance, there was the eye-popping and actually quite watchable psychedelic romp This, That and the Other! (1969). In 1977 he even starred alongside Fiona Richmond in Hardcore. My favourite, though, was his appearance in the unfinished sexploitation flick Pink Orgasm (1975). Only a few sequences were ever filmed and a mere 15 minutes worth of footage ended up in the can. Co-starring were Heather Deeley and porn superstar Harry Reems, who in 1972 had appeared in the most famous hardcore movie ever made, Deep Throat. Amazingly there is a snippet of Pink Orgasm on Youtube in which the Cwm actor makes a fruity phone call.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jon Langford in Newport

Jon Langford formerly of Newport, now residing in Chicago, will be performing a hometown gig on February 5, 2011. This intimate yet tumultuous acoustic event will take place at the Barnabas Arts House, New Ruperra Street, downtown Newport. Tel: 01633 264581 for ticketing details. Also, check out Jon’s website for all kinds of interesting stuff including, I notice, a really fascinating TV interview for ABC.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lawrence Ferlinghetti in Cardiff

Lawrence Ferlinghetti co-founded City Lights bookstore in San Francisco in 1953. Such has been its subsequent success that it is certainly a candidate for the title of most famous bookshop in the world. Two years after its inception Ferlinghetti set up the publishing arm of the operation. City Lights is particularly famous for having put out work by the Beat generation of writers. Literature by Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, amongst many others, has been championed by City Lights. Ferlinghetti has also published his own poetry. A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) is said to have sold more than a million copies worldwide. He is also remembered for reciting a poem at The Band's last performance, which was filmed by Martin Scorsese. Ferlinghetti is still going strong today, aged 91. Back in 1988 the Beat guru showed up at the Oriel bookshop in Cardiff, where he was promoting his novel, Love in the Days of Rage. This splendid picture taken by poet John Gimblett records that momentous visit.

*The above photograph is the exclusive copyright of writer John Gimblett. John's latest book, Monkey, is published by Cinnamon Press and is on sale now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Y Niwl

Y Niwl have justifiably been picking up plaudits left, right and centre, for their eponymous debut album. This twangy offering is replete with instrumental, riff-driven delights that recall the nifty-fingered ghosts of Link Wray and Dick Dale. Unencumbered by distracting vocals it is ideal for giving one’s mundane life a complete surf soundtrack makeover. For instance, this is the best album ever for doing your ironing to. Household chores whizz by in a veritable firework display of guitar wizardry. And just to prove that it wasn’t all put together by unfeeling robots on computers in a lab somewhere in California (actually it was David Wrench in Bethesda) here is Y Niwl in hot live action.

Seek Out the Guilty

Seek Out the Guilty is an early example of a Welsh true crime book. Published in 1969 it is the memoir of ex-DS David Thomas of the CID, and features some of the most notorious criminal cases in south Wales. These include the story of ‘the Butcher of Cwmdu’, Michael Onufrejczyk, a Pole who cut up his victim into such fine pieces that no part of the corpse was ever discovered. You’ll also find here the revenge slaying of an unfortunate fellow by the Cardiff Race Track Gang, for which two gang members were eventually hanged. I’ve come across this book before sans dust jacket so was surprised to discover just how grisly the cover actually is. It shows the corpse of Granville Jenkins who was stabbed to death by Tehar Gass ‘the Crazy Somali’ on the outskirts of Newport.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who in the Hell is Tom Jones?

I’ve just finished reading a book called Slimetime by Steven Puchalski, a catalogue of the worst bad-taste movies ever made. Amongst titles like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, I Dismember Mama and Return of the Killer Tomatoes is Tom Jones in Las Vegas (1981). The author notes: “Tom Jones moves across the stage with all the grace of a gazelle with a brain tumour, sweats like a chunk of rancid pork, keeps his shirt unpleasantly unbuttoned down to his navel, and has a hair perm...”

Jones’s particular brand of cheesy, hip-thrusting, balladry has never been to everybody’s taste. In fact, there is a stellar cast of naysayers. Scott Walker, between shows in Cardiff in 1968, infamously dissed TJ comparing him unfavourably to Sinatra. The Manson Family didn’t like him either – they put him on an assassination hit-list.

Another in the ‘anti’ camp was cult writer Charles Bukowski. In his book Hollywood (1989), a roman à clef about the making of the movie Barfly, Tom Jones is transformed into a thinly disguised Tab Jones. Henry Chinaski – Bukowski’s alter ego – attends a Jones show in Vegas and is suitably appalled. In a brilliant extended demolition of the Welsh singer he observes: “His shirt is open and the black hairs on his chest show. The hairs are sweating. He wears a big silver cross in these sweating hairs. His mouth is a horrible hole cut into a pancake. He's got on tight pants and he's wearing a dildo. He grabs his balls and sings about all the good things he can do for women. He really sings badly, I mean he is TERRIBLE.”

Bukowski also wrote a poem Who in the Hell is Tom Jones? which, although not directly critical of the Pontypridd crooner, implicitly suggests (via its title) that Jones, as an ageing stud, is less potent than Bukowski himself. Here it is:

I was shacked with a
24 year old girl from
New York City for
two weeks- about
the time of the garbage
strike out there, and
one night my 34 year
old woman arrived and
she said, "I want to see
my rival." she did
and then she said, "o,
you're a cute little thing!"
next I knew there was a
screech of wildcats-
such screaming and scratch-
ing, wounded animal moans,
blood and piss. . .
I was drunk and in my
shorts. I tried to
separate them and fell,
wrenched my knee. then
they were through the screen
door and down the walk
and out into the street.
squadcars full of cops
arrived. a police heli-
coptor circled overhead.
I stood in the bathroom
and grinned in the mirror.
it's not often at the age
of 55 that such splendid
things occur.
better than the Watts
the 34 year old
came back in. she had
pissed all over her-
self and her clothing
was torn and she was
followed by 2 cops who
wanted to know why.
pulling up my shorts
I tried to explain.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Maralene a Gareth

Back in the 1970s when Wales were still good at rugby the mercurial figure of Gareth Edwards reigned supreme. He was a jinking, side-stepping, demi-god – his sporting prowess matched only by the luxuriance of his sideburns. To capitalise on his folk-hero status it was decided that he should release a record. In 1972 he teamed up with promising young folk singer Maralene Powell from Pantydwr, near Rhayader, to do exactly that. Innocent-looking Maralene would go on to release a couple of middle-of-the-road albums. The song they recorded together, Wyt Ti Weithiau?, was a Welsh-language cover version of an old Sixties track, Did You Ever?. Issued by Cambrian records their duet topped the Welsh-language charts. Despite this modest success Edwards somehow resisted the temptation to pursue a career in rock’n’roll, preferring instead the delights of running around a rugby field caked in mud.