Saturday, 26 February 2011

Only In Archway

I first moved to Archway in North London almost exactly three years ago now (March 2008, I estimate) and used to post the occasional blog about it on Myspace (remember Myspace?). Haven’t written anything about the neighbourhood in ages because either nothing eventful has happened, or I’ve become used to the dysfunctional freakiness of Archway after living here for so long. Until last night ...

Friday night around 6pm after work I was cutting down Marlborough Road (off Holloway Road) on way home from work with my iPod cranked up loud. I noticed a teenage boy walking directly ahead of me. He was only noteworthy because he was strikingly scrawny and unwell-looking: hunched little shoulders, pasty complexion, red-haired, wearing an oversized baggy grey tracksuit that hangs off him.

As I overtake him (I walk fast) he glances back at me and makes burning eye contact, which felt strange and made me almost flinch. Marlborough Road forks in two directions: I walk down Hatchard Road, he stays on Marlborough Road.

But the next thing I know, when I’m almost home, he’s caught up with me and is walking fast to keep pace with me. It feels genuinely odd and almost threatening: he’s right next to me, invading my personal space in a way that brings out the primal skin-prickling fight or flight instinct. Even though he’s an emaciated runt I almost expect him to attempt to mug me, or pull out a knife. I immediately think of the dwarf in the red parka in the film Don’t Look Now ... just because someone is small doesn’t mean they’re innocuous.

I’m naturally a fast walker and keep staring straight ahead and he is really struggling to keep up with me. Finally, he reaches out and taps me on the shoulder to get my attention – which makes me shudder. I stop and turn around. By now am really curious what he wants. I turn and take out my headphones.

Boy: Do you live around here?
Me: (Am so stunned, I answer truthfully) Yeah, on Sussex Way (straight ahead).
Boy: Do you live alone?
Me: Yeah.
Boy: Because I have nowhere to go. Can I come over for an hour?
Me: (Putting headphones back in and walking away) No. Sorry, buddy.

He looks disappointed but doesn’t pursue it. What a strange, David Lynch-ian experience: sexually propositioned on the street around the corner from where I live by this creepy, damaged teenaged waif straight out of a Dennis Cooper novel. It actually felt eerie. He seemed doomed: If he keeps up this kind of behaviour his decomposed remains are destined to be found in a tip or wasteland somewhere.

In a way, it was a flashback to another encounter I had on 11 April 2008. Cutting and pasting from Myspace blog ...

Am still getting accustomed to living in Archway after about five years of living in Finsbury Park, which is only a ten minute walk away but feels like a whole other world. Finsbury Park was pretty impoverished but buzzing and multicultural; Archway seems so defeated, so dysfunctional. Walking home from work last night I estimated every other person I passed on Holloway Road seemed to be either a mentalist or some kind of meths drinker. Most notable was an apparently suicidal, haunted-looking black guy wearing one of those hats with ear flaps who kept wandering into oncoming traffic; he'd stand on the curb until a bus was coming towards him, then turn around and cross the street again, testing his luck. A motorcyclist had to honk at him and swerve.

Tonight after work was cutting down Fairbridge Road to get to Sussex Way and noticed two men walking in the opposite direction across the street. I made the major mistake of making the most fleeting of eye contact with one of them. Sure enough he shouts after me, "Hey! Hey!" and runs across the street to catch up with me. He is compact (shorter than me and I am only 5'6) but tough, Irish and obviously a bit nuts. He is smiling as if he is really pleased to see me. "It's me! I saw you at Mary's last week!" I say, "I don't think we know each other …" and he keeps insisting we do. I was thinking, there are always the alcoholic regulars at The Kings Head on Holloway Road, which is the new venue for the monthly Virginia Creepers rockabilly club. Maybe he saw me there?

He tells me his name, as if reminding me. I instantly forget it because all I can concentrate on is that he is standing too close, he's invading my personal space and rousing that "fight or flight" instinct. He's outwardly friendly, even childlike but volatile, mercurial. He suddenly flings his arms around me and hugs me hard. I brace myself in case he tries to pick my pockets. In a rush he admits he's drinking again, I know what it's like, he's just come out of prison after 11 years. He's got to go meet his probation officer and only has £1 (he holds out his hand with the one pound coin to demonstrate, as if I've asked him for proof), he needs another pound to get there. I thought, I knew that was coming, it was inevitable. He was just setting up the context.

I actually only have small change in my wallet (which is true), which I explain to him as I get my wallet out of my back pocket. He suggests, "You can hit me if you like" and he tilts his head, offering me his jaw to punch, as if this is a fair exchange for him asking me for money. I tell him, "That's OK" and give him handful of small change (maybe 50p). While my wallet is out he clocks that I have a wad of pound notes (my What Katie Did wages, which is what I try to budget to live on during the week) and asks, "Can I have ten pounds until next week?" (As if it's a loan between friends and I will see him again next week), I say "No" and mercifully he bounds off, seemingly happy enough with the small change I have given him.

Am still wondering why he singled me out and stopped me: did he genuinely think he knew me and mistook me for someone else? Was it because he assumed I was a fellow Irishman (people assume I am Irish all the time) and would be sympathetic? Do I look like a soft touch? Anyway, let's hope he isn't a neighbour I bump into on a regular basis.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Valentine's Day 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

/ Slick it back: Chet. Oh, Chet /

For the Valentine’s-themed Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen's Head I’d intended to use Chet Baker as my template and base the whole night around lush, romantic, lingering 1950s Cool Jazz. Even the most cursory glance at my set list shows I didn’t remotely stick to that idea! It would have felt too slow, downbeat and same-y if I had, but in honour of Valentine’s Day there are definite pockets of elegant swirling 50s make-out music amongst the more usual sleaze and kitsch musical selections.

/ A young Nico in her fashion model days circa 1964 /

I played three versions of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine”: the 1954 Chet Baker vocal, the 1952 Chet Baker instrumental and German angel of death chanteuse Nico’s striking 1985 interpretation. In 1964 when pre-Velvet Underground Nico was still a fashion model and occasional actress aspiring to be a singer, she scored a residency at The Blue Angel cabaret lounge on 55th Street in New York. Billed as “That Girl from La Dolce Vita!” she sang jazz standards backed by a trio of piano, bass and drums. One of her songs was “My Funny Valentine.” By then the song was already synonymous with the exquisite but corrupt James Dean of jazz Chet Baker: his version, whether sung or played on his trumpet, was so hushed, so brooding and desolate it was almost eerie. To me Baker and Nico (as an impressionable teenager I had crushes on both) always seemed like psychic twins: so beautiful and talented, so heroin-ravaged and doomed. They both exuded tragedy and ruined glamour. In his definitive Nico biography (The Life and Lies of an Icon, 1993) Richard Witts quotes Nico recalling:

“I first heard (My Funny Valentine) played by the jazz man Chet Baker. He played his trumpet and then he sang it. I thought this was very clever, like a beautiful magical trick. Do you know that Chet Baker introduced me to heroin? (Unsurprisingly, the journalist interviewing Nico asked her to clarify what she meant: did she actually shoot up with Baker?) No, no. I mean I first saw heroin. He first showed it to me. I was about 24 or so, in New York when I first started to sing – he was around. Of course everyone thinks I started when I was a baby. They know nothing. Chet Baker was so handsome, such a beauty, but he was in love with drugs too much to be in love with me. “

Young man with a horn: Chet Baker

/ Below: Baker in 1959 /

Fast forward two decades: Chet Baker died on 13 May 1988, falling to his death from a hotel window in Amsterdam; Nico would be dead by 18 July 1988, dying of a cerebral haemorrhage after falling off her bike in Ibiza. On her last album (1985’s Camera Obscura) Nico played homage to Chet Baker and her stint at The Blue Angel by recording a stunningly bleak rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” Witts notes in his biography that Nico sings it in Baker’s key of C minor – the lowest she ever sang. Death, heroin, high cheekbones, doom and gloom: hope everyone had a happy Valentine’s Day!

Das Ich Dich Wiederseh (Taking a Chance on Love) - Marlene Dietrich
Les Amour Perdues - Serge Gainsbourg
The Man I Love - Hildegard Knef
Someone to Watch Over Me - Jimmy Scott
If I Should Lose You - George Shearing
Hurt - Timi Yuro
Life is But a Dream - The Harptones
Sleep Walk - Henri Rene & His Orchestra
Don't Do It - April Stevens
Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield
Directly from My Heart - Little Richard
Stop Cryin' - Little Esther
Your Love is Mine - Ike and Tina Turner
Imagination - The Quotations
Tight Skirt, Tight Sweater - The Versatones
Night Scene - The Rumblers
I Fell in Love - Mamie van Doren
Bewildered - Shirley & Lee
Sea of Love - The Earls of Suave
Love is the Greatest Thing - Mae West
Ebb Tide - Al Anthony
I Fall in Love Too Easily - Angel Torsen
Blues for Beatniks - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack)
Dansero - Don Baker Trio
The Point of No Return - Diana Dors
It's Only Make Believe - Billy Fury
Kiss Me - Dolores Gray
Cherry Pink - Bill Black Combo
Jezabel - Edith Piaf
Makin' Out - Jody Reynolds
Teach Me Tonight - Wanda Jackson
Pop Slop - Bela Sanders
That's What I Like - Ann-Margret
Make Love to Me - June Christy
That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle
You Can't Stop Her - Bobby Marchan & The Clowns
Crybaby - The Scarlets
Revellion - The Revels
Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel
Jungle Drums - Earl Bostick
Beat Girl - Adam Faith (Beat Girl soundtrack)
When Your Lover Has Gone - Chet Baker
Killer - Sparkle Moore (screaming version)
Take It Off - The Genteels
Let's Go Sexin' - James Intveld
Hot Licks - The Rendells
Men - Lizabeth Scott
Last Night - Lula Reed
My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker (vocal)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - Eartha Kitt
My Funny Valentine - Nico
My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker (instrumental)
Cry Me a River - Dinah Washington
I'm Through with Love - Marilyn Monroe
I'm a Fool to Want You - Billie Holiday
I Put a Spell on You - Nina Simone
I've Been in Love Before - Marlene Dietrich
No Good Lover - Mickey & Sylvia
Moi je joue - Brigitte Bardot
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders & Patti Paladin
Hanky Panky - Nancy Sit
Czterdziesci Kasztanów (Forty Chestnuts) - Violetta Villas

/ Speaking of Violetta Villas -- here's another treasure un-earthed by the sublime Polski sex kitten on Youtube (the title translates as "There is No Love without Jealousy"). I love the little Jayne Mansfield-esque coos and squeals she makes at the beginning /

Thursday, 10 February 2011

31 January 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

/ No, It's Not Marlene: Marilyn Monroe photographed by Richard Avedon in 1958, styled to resemble Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel /

It was a nicely laidback Dr Sketchy at The Paradise this time. The featured burlesque performer was Bettie Bottomdollar (who did a Charlie Chaplin tribute act). The other model was Mam’ Zelle Celine, who more usually is our resident photographer. Clare Marie (the brains / promoter / stage manager behind London Dr Sketchy) hosted the proceedings herself and is becoming an ever more effortless and sparkling emcee.

Some rhetorical questions: Is it possible to play too many versions of “Fever” or “Mack the Knife” in a single night? (The answer: of course not, don't be silly). How did Kurt Weill’s 1920s Weimar Republic murder ballad about a serial killer become a finger-snapping cocktail lounge standard, anyway? I played The Bill Black Combo’s laid-back and swinging instrumental version and Eartha Kitt’s sublimely alluring and feline interpretation, which should be far better known. Maybe because she actually is German, one of the most authoritative versions of “Mack the Knife” you’ll ever hear, though, is by Dietrich-esque Teutonic diseuse Hildegard Knef. She sings it with a steely demeanour over pattering bongos. It's very dramatic, with a sense of building coiled tension. Check out Die Knef’s wonderfully guttural voice and piercing eyes here...

I also played a few tracks from The Party Ain’t Over, First Lady of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson’s “comeback” CD produced by White Stripe Jack White. She’d performed two songs from it as a tantalising teaser when I saw her at Viva Las Vegas in 2010 (Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates) and it was definitely intriguing. Promisingly, Jackson had been quoted as saying she wanted to be challenged by Jack White, for him to force her to make a real 21st century album and not rest on her laurels – how refreshing and inspiring to hear a 73- year old legend say that?

So I had high expectations for The Party Ain’t Over. I put the CD on pre-order on Amazon to ensure I got it as soon as it was available. And finally getting to hear it, it’s ... strange. One of the first things you notice is that for an album by the Queen of Rockabilly – there’s virtually no rockabilly songs. It’s perhaps to his credit that White takes such a provocative and unpredictable musical approach (he did a similar collaboration with Country and Western royalty Loretta Lynn on the 2004 CD Van Lear Rose, but don’t know enough about that CD to comment on it), but then you hear opening song “Shakin’ All Over”. The arrangement seems to be striving for a sleazy punk/soul/lounge revue vibe (think of Jackson’s ex-boyfriend Elvis Presley in his dissolute, baroque 1970s Vegas phase) but its shrill horns and weird stop-start tempo are jarring, and from there the album only occasionally seems to gel. Perversely, White’s production cranks up the abrasive irritation value, seemingly intended to deliberately annoy: the songs are submerged in noise and distortion (even Jackson’s still warm and powerful rasping, caterwauling voice is filtered for a weird echoed effect). In particular the overly-dominant and intrusive soul / funk horn section eventually starts to feel like nails on a blackboard and never meshes with Jackson’s voice.

The mature Jackson’s trademark hairstyle is a gravity-defying, teased bouffant which she keeps dyed jet black. Perhaps inspired by her coiffure, the accompanying artwork in the CD case feature some deliberately kitsch glamour shots of Jackson having her nails painted, and rocking a pair of diamante-studded cat’s eye sunglasses. When this camp aesthetic infects the music (i.e. a gimmick-y calypso novelty version of The Andrews’s Sisters “Rum and Coca Cola”) it’s disastrous. And strangely, even the few rockabilly songs (Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”, Eddie Cochrane’s “Nervous Breakdown”), which should be terra firma for Jackson, feel forced and inorganic.

But with people this talented, things are bound to cohere occasionally and sometimes brilliantly. Jackson re-interpreting “You Know I’m No Good” shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. The disconnection between the 70-something born again Christian gospel singer and debauched skank Winehouse seems insurmountable (they both have big hair, though), but both Jackson and White clearly (correctly) recognise the song is a modern torch song standard in waiting. Over the languid beats, Jackson treats Winehouse’s lyrics about infidelity and tough, hurt feelings like they’re a country & western lament; when she rues, “I cheated myself / like I knew I would” it packs a genuine ache, with Jackson emerging as a blue honky tonk angel. “Like A Baby” and “Teach Me Tonight” radiate with Jackson’s uncontrived charm, and on the closing “Blue Yodel #6” she finally gets the stripped-down, roots-y and sympathetic setting Jackson should have had all along.

/ Below: Wanda Jackson and I when she performed in London in 2007. She couldn't have been sweeter /

/ Present-day Wanda Jackson with Jack White /

/ La Jackson in her raucous late 50s / early 60s rockabilly prime /

Heart to Heart - Little Esther
Everywhere I Go - Ted Taylor
Jean and Dinah - Robert Mitchum
Rum & Coca Cola - Wanda Jackson
Go Calypso - Mamie van Doren
Scorpion - The Carnations
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Groovy - The Groovers
Hush Your Mouth - Huey "Piano" Smith
Sick and Tired - Lula Reed
I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent - Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
Skull & Crossbones - Sparkle Moore
A Cheat - The Earls of Suave
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Willow Weep for Me - The Whistling Artistry of Muzzy Marcellino
I Ain't in the Mood - Helen Humes
Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black's Combo
I Was Born to Cry - Dion
Nobody Taught Me - Eartha Kitt
The Beast - Milt Buckner
The Rat - The Ventures
Like a Baby - Wanda Jackson
Fever - Richard Marino & His Orchestra
Go Slow - Julie London
Shangri-La - Spikes Jonez & His New Band
You're My Thrill - Dolores Gray
Les Amours Perdues - Serge Gainsbourg
I'm in Love for the Very First Time - Diana Dors
Slowly - Ann-Margret
Wondrous Place - Billy Fury
The Stripper - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack)
Give Me Love - Lena Horne
Mack the Knife - Eartha Kitt
Blues in My Heart - John Buzon Trio
You Go to My Head - Marlene Dietrich
Jungle Drums - Earl Bostick
Drums-A-Go-Go - Hollywood Persuaders
Esquerita & The Voola - Esquerita
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
She Wants to Mambo - Johnny Thunders & Patti Paladin
Deep Dark Secret - Lizabeth Scott
Crazy Horse Swing - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack)
C'est Si Bon - April Stevens
That Ole Devil Moon - Chet Baker
Black Coffee - Peggy Lee
Fever - Timi Yuro
Lunar Rhapsody - Les Baxter
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
Mack the Knife - Hildegard Knef
Mack the Knife - Bill Black's Combo
Falling in Love Again - Billie Holiday
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Caterpillar Crawl - The Strangers
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Coquette - Dinah Washington
Dancing on the Ceiling - Chet Baker
Work Song - Nina Simone
Tall Cool One - The Wailers
Pink Champagne - The Tyrones

Finally: two public figures close to my heart and who definitely helped shaped my twisted vision died recently. Rest in peace, ace film soundtrack composer John Barry and one of the screen's greatest bad girls / villainesses, Tura Satana.

Obviously Satana will be forever remembered for her vicious performance as homicidal go-go dancer Varla in Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). But here she is doing a nice striptease routine from the more obscure 1973 film The Doll Squad. If you can tear your eyes off Tura, check out the strange little lounge band combo (with standing female drummer) accompanying her.

I've blogged before about how much I love John Barry's soundtrack for the 1960 sexploitation / juvenile delinquent flick Beat Girl. Funnily enough, I had the DVD on loan from LOVEFiLM when I heard about his death -- watching it again felt like a nice tribute. And the film is every bit as lurid and kitsch as I remembered.

Beat Girl promo from xbbtv on Vimeo.

/ The American trailer (in the US the film was re-titled Wild for Kicks) /