Thursday, June 30, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
As she made her way to the podium in Waterloo at the weekend 'Elvis Presley's Promised Land belted out'. Well the notion of manifest destiny and Americans as the new chosen people is a hardy right wing trope, and at one level there is a connection between the idea of the Promised Land and the American frontier.
But we cannot leave the Promised Land in the hands of US Conservatives. The name itself derives of course from the Book of Genesis where God promises Moses the land of milk and honey, not a metaphysical utopia but the actual land of Israel. Over the millennia that tribal foundation myth of a people in the prehistoric Middle East has taken on a universal appeal, holding out the hope of a better world somewhere, some place, some time
It's hardly suprisizing that Bachmann chose Elvis Presley's version of the song, rather than the original by its black songwriter. When Chuck Berry sings it there is no doubt that the songs works on at least two levels. On the surface it is simply a description of a journey from Norfolk, Virginia to California, part of the 1950s/early 1960s mythologisation of travelling across the USA (Route 66, Highway 61, On the Road).
But at another level, the journey retraces a moment in the mass migration of black people from the segregated Southern states. Surely it can't be a coincidence that he 'bypassed Rock Hill' where in 1961 Freedom Riders had been beaten for fighting against racism on Greyhound buses. And at the time Berry was writing the song in prison in 1962/63 Birmingham, Alabama was the front line of the civil rights movement - no wonder the narrator can't get away quick enough once 'stranded in downtown Birmingham'.
A few years later, Martin Luther King brought the Promised Land into the heart of the struggles of the period. In his final speech in 1968 during the Memphis sanitation workers strike, King famously declared: 'I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop... And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land'. The next day he was murdered.
It is this semi-utopian Promised Land that Joe Smooth (and Anthony Thomas) sings of in the early Chicago house classic: 'Brothers, Sisters, One Day we will be free. From Fighting, Violence, People Crying in the Streets... as we walk, hand and hand, sisters, brothers, we'll make it to the promised land'
In Bruce Springsteen's take on this, from the 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, the Promised Land features only as a hazy image of a better life. The singer professes 'I believe in the Promised Land' but he is unclear about what or where this is. It is simply the negation of a life spent 'Working all day in my daddy's garage', a place that can seemingly only be reached on the other side of the destruction of all that stands:
'I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this whole town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart...
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down'.
(see also Springsteen's Thunder Road with its line 'Oh-oh come take my hand, Riding out tonight to case the promised land').
In its Rastafarian and Garveyite inflection, the Promised Land is firmly located in Africa. Dennis Brown's 1979 song, produced by Aswad, pictures Africa as a land of abundance and freedom: 'There's plenty of land for you and I, By and By, Lots of food to share for everyone, no time for segregation in the Promised Land'.
Dennis Brown's song is the starting point for last year's 'Land of Promise' by Nas and Damian Marley. This is a track that bring the Promised Land song cycle full circle, dropping the names of American states just like Chuck Berry but comparing them to African places: 'imagine Ghana like California... Lagos like Las Vegas'.
Speaking from Africa, Nigerian reggae singer Majek Fashek wonders whether the Promised Land is to be found anywhere in the world as it stands: 'Promised Land is not America, is not Asia, Promised Land is a state of mind, Promised Land is a state of mind, Promised Land is not Europia, is not Africa, Promised Land is a state of mind, Promised Land is a state of mind':
So Michele, leave the Promised Land well alone. You wouldn't recognise it if you found it.
(OK just one more... I love Johnny Allan's 1971 cajun verson of Berry's song, which I always associate with the late great Charlie Gillet thanks to whom I first heard it)
Friday, June 17, 2011
'The arrival of the Acid House scene in the late 80s had transformed audiences into participants. At The Hacienda in Manchester and at underground parties in London, I’d experienced a real sense of involvement and social equality. Once that equality had been glimpsed there was no going back to the old rock n roll relationship between performers and audiences. A relationship that – whether intentional or not – reinforced the old power structures of us and them. At the underground parties, the dance floor was no longer the pit for the worshipping minions. No longer a place to gaze up adoringly at some contrived act strutting about on a pedestal. The dance floor had been reclaimed by the people as a free social space – a place where people felt centred, balanced – together. Not a new idea, but one that successive overlords have relentlessly outlawed – and attempted to write out of history'.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
This is a 1983 compilation from the last days of disco, with some decent tracks on it such as Freez's Arthur Baker-produced Brit-funk classic IOU. But that cover, designed so it says by Shoot that Tiger! with an illustration by Paul Cemmick... It's not that it's a bad picture - motorcycle emptiness chic would have been quite acceptable in the period in, say, 2000AD magazine or on a heavy metal sleeve. It's just so not disco. OK obviously there was a whole leather queen gay iconography at the time, but this is more Mad Max than Kenneth Anger. What were they thinking of?
It was released on Ronco records, which I believe focused on TV advertised compilations.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Saturday, June 04, 2011
Alabama 3 set the chemical country template with their debut Exile on Coldharbour Lane album in 1997 (Brixton's Coldharbour Lane is just round the corner from Brady's), and indeed their song Peace in the Valley gave the club it's name: 'she feels so twisted, she ain't never gonna fix it, she's just waiting for the light to shine on a brand new day'. Their genius was (and still is) to recognise that country's melancholic tales of addiction and redemption could speak to a generation coming down from ecstatic peaks.
The band were strongly associated with the club, and truth to be told were arguably the only outfit who successfully integrated electronic sounds with proper Hank Williams-style heartache. Just bringing in a few country elements to clod-hopping 4:4 beats was a recipe for Cotton Eye Joe-style cheese in less skilled hands.So the music policy at Twisted was more a case of playing country alongside techno and hip hop, rather than lots of attempted country/dance music hybrids. For instance at the night featured on this flyer (which I was at with my late friend Katy Watson), Hank Wangford played a straight country set.
|Twisted 1998 - 'This ain't no disco, this ain't no line dance, this ain't no foolin' around'|
This review comes from On magazine, 1997:
‘Genre-bending reaches its illogical conclusion in the deep south (of London) with a new club for techno honkies. Expect chemical country, trailer trash, two step and honkyskunk. At their last hoedown they had the Million Gram Session from the Larry Love Showband fronted by the Alabama 3 singer himself with the Reverend D Wayne Love at his side. Jesus, there must have been a dozen people on the stage at one time, with others from from Alabama 3, BJ Cole on pedal steel, Fliss (from Joli Blon) on fiddle, Hacker on harmonica and guitar and loads others. Slim happened to look in on the club and when they realised he had an accordion in his car, the big man from the Cyder Co was co-opted into the band. Top night –a world-class group of musicans in Brady’s Saloon. Was it a dream? When you hear that they managed to play stuff from Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb and Lefty Frizzell next to Spiritualized, Underworld and Deep Dish, you’ll get an idea of how open things are at this particular ranch’.
The Railway/Brady's closed down in 1999 and remained empty for many years later before briefly becoming a branch of Wahaca (full story at Urban 75 - from where the photo below was sourced)*. Along with the George Canning (now Hootananny), it was a place where drinking went on late into the Brixton night. The front bar in its Railway days was mostly frequented by older African Caribbean men, playing pool in front of murals of island scenes. The back bar was more Irish/squatters/SW9 itinerants - I remember being in there one night at a London Celtic Supporters Club social with a band called Athenrye banging our republican songs. There was also a band called the Dead B Specials who used to hang out there.
Its relaunch as Bradys music bar later in the 1990s didn't signify much change apart from a few candles in bottles - it was still messy and drunken with the occasional punch up and the less occasional table being knocked over.
Twisted meanwhile relocated to the Windmill in Blenheim Gardens a sthe Twisted A.M. Lounger. I remember seeing American singer Chris Mills there in 2000 (flyer below), and Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts around the same time. Twisted co-founder Tim Perry has been running the music at the Windmill ever since, providing a platform for so many up and coming bands.
[updated July 2022]