Monday, January 25, 2016

Fort Baxter Memories



Let's go campers. It's 10am. Time to start the day.

And so a brief diversion from the torrid affairs of our island home to another place and time entirely. One of the fondest of television viewing memories for many British people over the age of forty lies with a late Fifties American comedy which ran for four lengthy seasons on CBS Television and won seven Primetime Emmy Awards. The show ended while still highly successful -  in terms of popularity and viewing figures alike - and never actually made it through to the Sixties in this specific format.

The Phil Silvers Show - originally titled You'll Never Get Rich - and commonly known as Bilko or Sgt Bilko was shown over 143 episodes between September of 1955 and September of 1959 and revolved around the money-making scams and general mischief making of the Mess Sergeant and his platoon of eejits at military bases in Roseville Kansas and then in California.

It was transmitted in Britain from April 1957 onwards on BBC Television through to the show's cancellation - it would then be repeated on both national channels during the Sixties. During the following two decades however Bilko became a mainstay of late night programming on the BBC though I recall it being shown on the weekday early evening slots on BBC2 which often used to show familiar Laurel and Hardy three-reelers of the ilk of Below Zero, Brats, Any Old Port and Beau Hunks. Around the mid-Seventies in turn I clearly recall Bilko being lodged in the middle of summertime schoolkids' programming in amongst the likes of The Banana Splits, Camp Runamuck, Zorro and Why Don't You.

The profile of the programme has risen of late with the long overdue 2015 release of all four seasons on DVD and the ongoing work of the British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society.  Personally, I hold Bilko in the same regard as I do Elvis Presley's final recordings prior to his own army service in West Germany  - the tracks  A Fool Such as I, I Need Your Love Tonight, Ain't That Loving You Baby, A Big Hunk Of Love and I Got Stung which he cut on June 10th-11th 1958 in RCA Studios Nashville. Utterly timeless, driven, passionate and perfectly crafted echoes from a decade which feels like several lifetimes away today in terms of female style and the buzz of big city life alone. Interestingly one episode of the comedy saw the arrival of the rocker Elvin Pelvin on the base to Bilko's undisguised delight.

Bilko fits into classic comedy archetypes of a frustrated man out of time - Basil Fawlty the misanthrope being lodged in a daily interface with the phlistine public in Fawlty Towers, Sales Rep Tim Canterbury's purgatorial weeks on a Slough trading estate in The Office or Father Ted Crilly's substitution of what should have been a long and happy family life for that of the Catholic church in Father Ted. Bilko basically should have been in political charge of the whole of the USA instead of organising poker games in what is by far the greatest situation comedy in television history.

The popularity of the programme inspired a run of DC comics,  advertising for Camel cigarettes and later the cartoon Top Cat.  Silvers himself would star in the fourteenth Carry On film Follow That Camel in 1967. This Sahara-set movie was filmed at Camber Sands in Kent - which Squeeze sang of on the wonderful Pulling Mussels From A Shell. Silvers' relationship with co-star Kenneth Williams was apparently chilly at first alike the snow that fell on the beach and held up filming. The movie also starred the legendary Charles Hawtrey - referenced by John Lennon in Twickenham Studio dialogue preceding the last great Beatles song Two of Us on the Let It Be album - and the beautiful Anita Harris whose 1965 Bacharach and David London Life single captured the world's greatest city before its long irreversible decline into spiritual comatosity.

When George Best died in 2005 the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson acclaimed the  Belfast star for the million memories he had left behind - all of which were good. Bilko was and IS   that good today - reflective too of times when Britain sailed so close culturally to America in comparison to any European pull and when the affection was often thoroughly mutual.

So as January 2016 limps to closure in Britain take some time out from permanent austerity and cultural marxism to check out daily life at Fort Baxter and Camp Fremont if you haven't already. You will not be disappointed. It is heartwarming to think that in some parallel universe Bilko and his motor pool buddies are still creating havoc, fleecing the naive and chasing women - either way, with the exception of Terry Carter who played Private Sugie Sugarman, literally every person you will see on that black and white screen today  is sadly now dead.

Permission to speak freely Sarge.
Permission? What, are we in Russia? Say anything you want.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

BCR





We are now living our lives through interminable weeks of existential dread, constant angst and the clinical obliteration of vintage pathways to social mobility. This exemplified in modern London with the grim pension timebomb awaiting millions of hard working - and often well paid - private sector workers trapped in the unregulated rental sector which devours so much dead money and which by right should be directed towards savings or even patronising the last surviving local butchers on the High Street at the weekend for retro-liver or cool fusion-sausages.

David Bowie's death has clearly emplaced a significant shadow across the beginning of another dreary and literally pointless groundhog year to come. Yet forging beyond Bowie's magnificent artistic output of the early Seventies - from Starman to TVC15 - for myself personally it is another song from that period that often penetrates the lunatic cultural marxist fog of mainstream media and the awkward mists of modern social observance to celebrate a lost Britain and a clearly soon-to-be forgotten people.

The antithesis of Bowie's mystic ramblings - across Crowley, the Kabbalah and Nietzsche - this particularly joyous combination of terrace chanting, glam stomping and Fifties romantic fluff would directly inspire what is arguably the greatest song in the history of punk rock. Yet ironically, alike the New Year's Eve European television comedy staple Dinner For One - a 1962 German recording of a Twenties British stage sketch which is virtually unheard of in this country  - the song is to this day largely unknown in Britain despite the band having ten Top Ten hits in the United Kingdom between 1971 and 1975.

Bay City Rollers' Saturday Night harks back to a period of British social history when the country was immersed in American culture from Starsky and Hutch to Hollywood action movies and from Marvel comic books to bubblegum rock. The cultural connectivity the average Briton would have felt for mainland Europe at this point would have been severely circumscribed so soon after the Second World War and with most male children of the period being raised on stories of Allied military glory in Victor, Valiant, Battle and Commando magazines before the sobering late-teenage rites of passage transition onto Sven Hassel Nazi pulp. Only ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog alone would eventually bridge this socio-political chasm in saint-like fashion.

A recent documentary about the Edinburgh group -  Rollermania - featured footage of the band peforming the track on American television. The song had been a flop in Britain in 1973 but got to Number 1 on the American Billboard chart two years later at the first attempt the group made to crack the US market.

It cuts to the quick of male teenage DNA of that time - a life guaged towards laughter, girls, physical attraction, friendship, washing your hair and making a bloody effort, young adulthood away from creepy and often violent teachers, dances, finding a life partner, smoking and drinking, working class communities and hope for tomorrow:

Gonna keep on dancin' to the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin' to the rhythmn in our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night
I, I, I, I, I just can't wait - I, I, I, I got a date

At the good ole rock n' roll roadshow, I gotta go, 
Saturday night, Saturday night
Gonna rock it up, roll it up, do it all, have a ball
Saturday night, Saturday night

One must surely assume today - in a period when most children and adults under the age of 30 are catatonically connected to hand-held devices and idiot social media - that "a good ole rock n' roll roadshow" holds little attraction for many to getting off their arses, getting out the door into fresh air and trying to work on their personalities by getting their leg over.

Interestingly a BBC Northern Ireland programme in 2015 commemorating the 40th anniversary of the murders of three members of the Miami Showband in County Down between Banbridge and Newry - The Day The Music Died - incorporated a catchy track the band had recorded called Rock n' Roll Roadshow. Saturday Night in turn was co-written by Phil Coulter who would later write what is considered the definitive anthem of loss as surrounding the Ulster Troubles - The Town I Loved So Well.

Saturday Night's introduction of course directly inspired The Ramone's Blitzkreig Bop - Dee Dee Ramone having magnificently claimed that the group were as influenced by the Rollers, The Wombles and Shaun Cassidy as much as Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls and Alice Cooper. It garners so many memories for me of a period when British social culture - when guaged specifically to a youth demographic - was so encompassing in scope and attuned to market variables affecting pop, television, books, radio, comics, advertisements, toys and even food on such a highly creative and truly fun-packed level. However it also engages with that familiar melancholy that I often pick up upon when listening to British New Wave acts like Elvis Costello, XTC or Joe Jackson in particular nowadays when thinking of the current mauled and obliterated face of a finished London.

At my primary school in North Belfast The Bay City Rollers were without doubt the most beloved of all acts then marketed towards younger female audiences - beyond The Rubettes, David Essex and even The Osmonds. Understandably the rest of their material has little appeal to me beyond this one song though it is important to underscore that in that terribly difficult period of Irish history these five young Celts at least embedded a populist three-letter acronym into society that had nothing to do with murdering, maiming and generally hating the working classes of the other religion. I believe they played at the ABC Cinema in the city centre around 1975 for their legions of adoring fans - also the Tonic Cinema in Bangor.

The Seventies are often portrayed as the grimmest of times in popular television social histories that in turn present modern Britain as a country now luxuriating in broad affluence, sterling opportunity and exciting social fusion by comparison. The blatant fudging and misreading of British history in these smug, sickeningly bourgeois, sneering and politically skewed productions is too nauseating to dwell upon.

For indeed it was fundamentally a decade when only the working people of a then still-industrialised Britain kept the country alive in spirit and soul  - just as they had physically secured our cultural existence thirty years previously in time of war from the Arctic convoys to the Normandy beaches. Conversely those who have clearly destroyed our life security today have no doubt never met a working person in their lives and even if they had listened to the popular music in those days long ago - from BCR to Bowie and T Rex - they would never have really heard it.

They do not know us and they certainly will not miss us - Remember Saturday Night.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Men Shall Not Wholly Die - Messines Ridge 1917


Last week I read an interesting opinion piece in a Belfast newspaper that reflected upon one of the most sensitive and indeed politically inopportune of subjects in modern Irish history - the clear reticence of the Northern Protestant to morally equate the Irish Republican dynamics of the modern conflict since 1969 with historic fissures of yore between Unionism and Nationalism on the island.

This issue of course lies at the heart of political stasis in a Northern Ireland at peace yet is barely discussed in mainstream media alike two of the other unmentionables in the afterglow of war - the ongoing and indeed healthy existence of paramafia in Ireland and the clear historical revisionism being practiced by one particular political party with nauseating connivance of the British state broadcaster.

The latter came to a ludicrous and indeed quite appropriately post-modern head last week with one very popular BBC Radio Ulster programme garnering feedback on the creative legacy of David Bowie from a local politician whose party originated in a body who blew up my local Esso garage, Spar supermarket and newsagents in North Belfast the early Seventies. This at a point when Bowie was probably wearing a dress in Beckenham Kent, painting his fingernails and thinking about cool stuff like Kafka, girls and peace.

A timely airing indeed of an immovable historical quandry as the recent spate of Irish political anniversaries now reaches its apogee with the forthcoming 100th year anniversaries of both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme - the foundation stones and indeed foundation myths of both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland states.

Back on the 50th anniversary in 1966 - a year which commenced when I was not even one-month old - the tensions engendered in Northern Ireland by Unionist political mischief-making about potential Republican offensives lead to three Loyalist paramilitary assassinations of innocent Protestant and Catholic civilians and the path was thus paved to a quarter-century long conflict three years later.

This year is full of desperately sobering memories for the people of Ireland in regard to the political battles undertaken and the physical sacrifices made in 1916 by Ulster Unionists, Irish Nationalists and Irish Republicans at home and abroad. Yet beyond this milestone - and individual reflection upon both the horror, waste and destruction of the subsequent Black and Tan War, the Irish Civil War and the two civil wars in the North of Ireland - lies another sobering anniversary which conversely embodies so much human potential for a genuine shared future.

Much has been written in recent years about the military heritage of the Southern Irish army regiments of a then British Ireland - Neil Richardson and Kevin Myers' studies are both extraordinary overviews of this hidden history and are highly recommended. The volunteers of nationalist Ireland who served in the British Army may have been transfigured into dupes or traitors by the dictates of a certain foregone or random pathway of history but they were clearly as proudly nationalist as Carson's volunteer army were King's Men and they loved their country as much as any Irish Republican.

As discussed in other posts it was at the Battle of Messines in June 1917 - the military engagement preceding the Third Battle of Ypres (or Passchendaele) which in turn followed upon stalemate at the Somme - that soldiers of both the 16th Irish Division and the 36th Ulster Division fought side by side. Irish Nationalists and Ulster Unionists bound together within the genocide of the European working man. The initial bombardment of German lines and the detonation of mine-laid explosives created the loudest man-made noise in history at that point  - it felt like an earthquake in London and was even registered in Dublin. The battle itself to seize Messines Ridge was bloodthirsty on both sides - British military objectives were however secured.

The Irish Nationalist leader John Redmond's brother Willie was Westminster MP for Wexford and joined the Royal Irish Regiment which recruited in Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny.  Redmond had been withdrawn from combat duties on promotion to the rank of Major but actively requested permission to engage in the frontline. The night before this battle - in which he would be fatally wounded - he spoke to every man in the 6th Regiment. The following day he was recovered from the battlefield by Ulster stretcher-bearers from the 36th of whom at least one was a member of the Orange Order. Richardson's history also notes that the Ulster soldiers contributed 100 pounds to Redmond's memorial fund and formed a guard of honour at his funeral. Both Irish Divisions also fought alongside each other later in the year at the Battle of Langemarck.

The 25-year long civil war in Northern Ireland brought nothing to that country beyond shame, hatred, psychotic violence, fear, infusions of bad blood and the destruction of one of Europe's great port cities. Beyond George Best, Van Morrison, Mary Peters, Alex Higgins and James Young few lights shone in the darkness of those wasted years in one of the most physically beautiful parts of the world.

Sadly one hundred years of Irish history in general since Flanders Fields and Sackville Street can be read in a not dissimilarly deflated, sterile and retrograde fashion. Yet for all the struggles and strains of modern day Ireland - from permanent austerity to high levels of immigration - Messines yet stands for something unique and clearly untested. There are of course a myriad of qualifications surrounding the subject but a core dynamic remains of released scope for both a new transcript of history and a literal transfiguration of Irish identity - that unless one wants to forge back to ancient considerations of a Pictish footprint on the Gaelic Irish soil to square an historical circle.

The Island of Ireland Peace Park stands today at the site of the Messines Ridge battlefield near Ypres in the West Flanders province of Belgium. Six hundred miles to the west - where the mighty Atlantic first engages rock and shore - may yet lie a font of decency, warmth and forgiveness in this economically broken and politically lost continent.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie - Sunshine On The Wasteland


She's uncertain if she likes him ... 
but she knows she really loves him...
it's a crash course for the ravers ...
it's a Drive-In Saturday

Over the years I have always wavered in my memory between what was actually the first seven-inch vinyl single I actually bought back in the Seventies. I know I definitely purchased it at Smyth's Records on Royal Avenue in Belfast and it was either Golden Years/Can You Hear Me by David Bowie or A Glass of Champagne/Panama by Sailor - the latter some extremely catchy faux-Roxy for the schoolkids.

Today on Bowie's passing I have made an effort to finally confirm the release dates - Tony went to fight in Belfast on the track Star from Ziggy Stardust in 1972 and I picked up the two singles in that security fence-enclosed city centre three years later in 1975 with British soldiers on the street outside the record shop. Golden Years was released in November and apparently the Sailor track was as well. Hence my understandable confusion over the past four decades.

I followed Bowie's career with interest up to the mid-Eighties and the Never Let Me Down album - probably no other major musical artist with the exception of Neil Young and Van Morrison ever produced such high quality output over such an extended period from a late Sixties starting point.

Bowie's musical legacy is truly breathtaking in scope, merit and eclecticism - from Letter to Hermione to Running Gun Blues to the Hunky Dory outtake Bombers to Moonage Daydream to  Panic in Detroit ....from The Who cover Anyway, Anywhere, Anyhow to Big Brother to Win to Station to Station to Be My Wife. 

Bowie also resurrected the career of what would become one of the greatest of all British Seventies rock groups and indeed was an enthusiastic sponsor of another fantastic American band who should have become globally successful - Mott the Hoople and Carmen respectively.

I also saw him in concert in 1987 at Slane Castle in the Irish Republic when Humble Pie's Peter Frampton was his guitarist on the Glass Spider tour. Support that day was the late Stuart Adamson and the magnificent Big Country - very nice to see another memorial blog reference this. The weather was not kind for such an historic occasion and remained generally overcast. At one point however some weak milky sun broke faintly through the clouds over County Meath and the Boyne Valley. Bowie immediately moved to the right hand side of the stage and mimed for it to come out fully. It actually did. The gig ended with a performance of the cabaret Time from Aladdin Sane and two Eighties pop hits - Bowie got into his spaceship and I got the coach back north to a then-bitter oul Belfast City.

As for Bowie's affect upon the sexual politics of the time, my very old friend from London - who now works on the other side of the world - underscored to me today in a mail how the singer's embrace of Mick Ronson on the Starman performance on Top of the Pops seems innocuous enough now but of course at the time it came across to Middle England as the queerest and most outrageous thing imaginable. A literal sci-fi broadcast from a parallel Universe of the Damned:

I always loved Bowie's flirtation with gender definition and androgyny. A direct challenge to prevailing learnt attitudes in post-war, repressed Britain and beyond. Men were often men, but not all of them wanted to be the stereotype, nor indeed could live up to it. The day we get to a universal acceptance of freedom of gender expression it will largely have been Bowie to thank for leading the way: many boorish lads in their teens went around 'hating queers' but still buying Bowie, Bolan and Queen records. How's that for confusion?

So today the residual spirit of old London dissipates a significant degree further while - as upon George Best's death a decade ago - another chapter of British folk history comes to closure. Both of these men guaranteeing that next weekend would be very different than the one before.

Unique once-in-a-lifetime antidotes to the kind of straight life which is now being thrown up as the only low-risk pathway to the grave - lives without spark, wit, intelligence, erudition, individuality, suss, good humour, cool, originality or even sexual energy.

Good night David Robert Jones of Brixton SW9 - The Only Survivor of the National People's Gang.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

This Bloke Came Up To Me - The Gravesides of Derek and Clive


Some weeks ago I briefly caught a few minutes of a television programme where cocky, smug and privileged presenters and junior comedians - the latter a clear oxymoron in a country now devoid of any laughter - commented on shocking examples of bad taste from British television in the Seventies. Needless to say it consisted of very predictable po-faced and culturally Marxist faux-horror from a bunch of Oul Jinnys - to use vintage Belfast working class parlance from the same fraught era. None of these people of course would ever have heard of this vernacular, this city or this social demographic.

The real thing of course with regard to truly outre material - beyond Spike Milligan's late 1969 Curry and Chips on London Weekend Television or even the filthy ska nursery rhymes of Snodland's Judge Dread - are Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Derek and Clive characters.

Been recently reading William Cook's wonderful One Leg Too Few history of the comic duo - Derek and Clive's third and final album being the last professional work the pair ever completed and before their career trajectories radically diverged on either side of the Atlantic.

Derek and Clive were toilet cleaners and are a nightmarish, unspeakably foul-mouthed, pornographic and utterly obscene extension of their classic Pete and Dud characters. A stream of consciousness comedy bordering quite literally on utter insanity it is as deathly dark as any humour to ever be forged in industrial Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool. This as contextualised by the leakage of vitriol between the two performers and Cook's alcoholism.

1976's Derek and Clive (Live) on Island Records includes material recorded at a concert given in New York's Bottom Line club. Originally circulated in bootleg format it would be followed the next year by Come Again and then Ad Nauseum in 1978 as formal recorded albums distributed by Virgin. The making of the latter is also captured in the movie Derek and Clive Get The Horn. I cannot make a call in general as to how Cook and Moore's final material is seen to have dated or not - in comparison to how their 1967 movie Bedazzled is now quite rightly held in extremely high cult regard - but the public commentary to be read on youtube uploads of various tracks alone seem highly engaged and enthusiastic to this day.

The content of the three albums do however seem to fit perfectly with the changes in musical culture abroad at the time - interestingly Cook himself played a sleazy ballroom manager on the eight-episode ATV late night music programme Revolver in 1978 which included performances from such punk and New Wave artists as The Jam, XTC, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees and X-Ray Spex. In particular check out the extraordinary performances of Curfew by The Stranglers and Ghosts of Princes in Towers by Rich Kids.

Although both Cook and Moore's solo film careers came to radical closure in the early-Seventies and mid-Eighties respectively - and their deaths were extremely premature in 1995 and 2002 at the ages of 57 and 66 - the comedy material they produced for stage and television itself was actually of such high quality that it is often as funny to even read on paper today as to watch it performed. Alas the BBC wiped much of their three classic Not Only But Also series which ran between 1964 and 1970 with as much foresight and acumen as Manchester United displayed in the early Seventies with regard to managing Georgie Best Superstar. Interestingly one speaker at this weekend's memorial service in Los Angeles to Motorhead's Lemmy noted how much he loved listening to them.

As for Derek and Clive - Winky Wanky Woo from the first album, Alfie Noakes from the follow-up and Sex Manual from Ad Nauseum provide a good introduction to much much worse depths of perverted, twisted and scatalogical depravity to be found over those six sides of black vinyl.

Check them out this January as you abide by government advice on alcohol moderation, keep their words to mind as you sincerely framework your yearly career objectives with your line manager and then ask yourself what Derek and Clive would have thought of the modern constructs of both London and Britain. The answer will be obvious...very fucking obvious.