That’s Life

The Sham album reviewed in Canadian anarchist paper Vacant Lot, number 1, Jan-Feb 1979.

That’s Life – Sham 69
If you enjoyed their first album you’ll probably like this one as well. Over all, it’s quite good, except two songs. The worst one, Everybody’s Right Everybody’s Wrong, is really hokey, and sounds like a shitty folk song. Is This Me Or Is This You – I found to be slightly repetitious. The two best songs are Who Gives A Damn which has, amongst other things, excellent vocals, and Sunday Morning Nightmare, is very powerful, and right on tune. As well as good music, throughout the album there are also bits of dialogue which serve as platforms for each song and are generally humorous.
All things considered, it’s probably worth buying, definitely worth stealing and available at the usual places.

– Gerry Useless

Versed, Last & Everything

The Last Poets reviewed live by Danny Kelly in the NME, 23 February, 1985.

First, Last & Everything

The Last Poets
London Shaw Theatre

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO STRUGGLE. A full and hushed theatre. On the stage bathed in a circular pool of light are a pair of congas, a bass guitar amp and two spindly mikestands. Into this oasis of semi-brightness step four men. One carries a bass guitar and sits himself on the amp, one settles behind the drums, and two slouch quietly to the mikes. These, after eight years of “industry imposed Siberian exile” performing live, for the first time, for three years , are …

The Last Poets – the final echoes of the age of poems and essays, the age preceding the time of bombs and bullets. The Last Poets – the group that harnessed the ancient African traditions that survived the galleys and pumped into them the heat and rhythm and jive of America’s streets. The Last Poets – the link between those black radicals of the ’60s, King, Jackson, Seale and the men that threatened to seize time, and Heron and the rap pack. The Last Poets – unique and here.

IT’S A TRIP. Large hands patter on the tautness of drums. The bass whispers a steady, insinuating, pulse. Two voices begin to chant, at first in trance-like unison, then branching off into separate, though intertwined, paths, One repeats again and again the mantra of “cash, notes and credit cards. Stocks, bonds and Mastercharge”, (Prince Charles was hip, but the Poets were first) like a warning signal beeping away in your brain. The other rants and rails, admonishes, spits and cajoles, a wheeling and diving bird of prey. Together the four noises mesh like the hidden rustles of an awakening forest. This is ‘E Pluribus Unum’. This is The Last Poets doing it.

They’re like some Pentagon nightmare, Islam cracked and transported to the streets of Watts or Harlem. Suliman El Hadi is avuncular, stoic, Middle-Aged. In his waistcoats and whiskers he could be a provincial mullah. He is the quiet, humble dignity of the Poets. Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin (Lightening Rod) is their beating heart, their acid tongue. Cool enough to sweat icicles, sharp enough to sell you the clothes you stand in, a crazy philosopher hooked on Mahomet, acupuncture, Luddism and bodily functions. Jalal addresses the audience throughout as a prophet, a harbinger, a huckster, a comic and a friend. It’s an eccentric, high voltage, cascade of language. Most of the mud Jalal throws sticks.

ALL THIS SHIT WILL KILL YOU FAST. Towards the end of ‘mean Machine’, their classic diatribe against the hip chip and the electronic tomorrow, the only piece of transistorised business on the stage, Jamal Abdul Sabur’s amp, splutters to a dead silence. The mind flitted to Paul Daniels. Either way, it was a marvellous moment of vindication, a giggle too.

And the bass loss hardly mattered. For all the agrressive, hectoring, content and revolutionary zeal of this fundamental funk, it remains a quiet, almost unexciting music.
The Last Poets could play in the corner of your living room without disturbing your dinner or Dallas. It’s a communication rather than a broadcast, a two way process. You have to listen actively, to enter into a hypnotic pact with the language and the rhythm, to take it on board.

THIS IS MADNESS. That done, this mixture of jazz from prehistory and poetry from tomorrow showers you with info, sooths, prayers, puns, dogma, opinion, jokes, judgements and a smattering of common or garden bullshit. Jalal treats life as “slavery with fringe benefits”, berates almost every extant power system, lampoons the Pope (“I’m not anti-Christian, just fond of the truth”) and stilettoes herds of holy cows with the adroitness of a Tijuana punk. All the while, Suliman apologises for his rusty voice with a humility that makes you feel hangable-guilty for even noticing it.

Their set was short, an agonisingly fleeting glimpse of a huge heritage, and the problems with the voice and bass prevented ecstatic overload. But still they made you feel chastised, uplifted, simultaneously proud and ashamed, an active part of history rather than an innocent or helpless spectator. Old records – currently fetching £20 in Babylonian collectors emporia – are soon to be reissued while a new set is also on the blocks. We are fortunate that The Last Poets existed, privileged to have them back. Yea verily BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO STRUGGLE.

Danny Kelly


Stalwarts of UK reggae get a feature in Ital Rockers, issue 4, Winter 78-9. The zine was edited by Dougie Thomson from Edinburgh.

So far in “IR1-4” we’ve featured most of Britain’s most popular and established bands (the ones who actually play in Scotland), and obviously we couldn’t leave out the Cimarons who are still going strong after fourteen years.
The Cimarons were Britain’s first ever home grown JA band and formed around 1965, and it is a tribute to their resilience and conviction that they are still together today, and, they will tell you, still in the front line for reggae. The history of the group is pretty well known – session band backing all Trojan’s JA stars on their British tours in the sixties, recording occasionally and touring often in their own right (remember the reggae evening at the Empire Ballroom back in 1973 filmed by “OGWT” with the Cims, Nicky Thomas, Judge Dread and Dennis Alcapone?), cutting two LPs, “In Time” for Trojan and “On The Rock” for the now defunct Vulcan label in ’73 and ’75, but above all staying on the road, spreading the reggae message, from the cabaret stage to black and white audiences, and to listeners all over the world, playing in Spain, Ireland, Thailand and Japan over the years.
Nowadays they’re with Polydor, and still touring as much as ever – in the last year they played Edinburgh three times, a superb set at the Astoria in April, a delayed but worth the wait Freshers’ Ball at the Assembly rooms, and most recently as support to the appalling Sham 69 at the Odeon in November. There have also been two more albums – “Live At The Roundhouse”, and an exciting set dating from 1977, released last year and reviewed in “IR3”, and the interesting, worthwhile “Maka” studio set, that is listenable, if somewhat flawed. The record (pressed on green vinyl!) is divided into two concepts, the first dealing in broader, more African cultural terms, with Earth, while the second side is more loose yet narrow, a celebration of reggae. It’s not an album that I play very often, but it has good moments., such as the single “Mother earth” or “Civilisation” on the first side, “Willin’ (Rock Against Racism)”, another single on the second side, and numbers such as “Truly” and “Give Thanks And Praise”. For all they have done for UK reggae over the years I am very grateful to carl Levy, Franklyn Dunn, Locksley Gichie, Maurice Ellis and Winston Reid. The Cimarons – harder than the rock.

Wobbly Words

Poem from Wobbly Words zine, number 1, 1981.

Wobbly Words

Staring. It’s there
The black on the white,
The white on the black.
Letters make words and words make sentences,
But they’re mixed up, jumbled up, shook up.
Silly sentences
No sense, nonsense
WOBBLY WORDS and silly sentences
But we all believe in the black and white.

Glaring. It’s there
The black on the white,
The white on the black.
Pictures make photographs and photographs make images,
But they’re mixed up, jumbled up, shook up.
Fidgety photographs
Insane images
No sense, nonsense
Fidgety photographs and insane images
But we all believe in the black and white.


Sick Of You

One of the best of the punk singles gets a review from Tony Stewart in the NME, 14 May, 1977.

The Users: Sick Of You (Raw)

Finally . . . in my personal search for the new wave band that would definitely be the future of rock ‘n’ roll I’ve encountered all sorts of problems. Even The Adverts weren’t bad ‘n’ nasty enough for the accolade, and the most likely candidates of all, a group called XTC who claimed to be led by a guy described as “a nuclear-powered Syd Barrett”, just weren’t talentless enough. But today I discovered The Users. Remember the name, because they’re wild and crazy and made this single with dreadful sneering lyrics and a backing that sounds like an even-more-deranged Black Sabbath. Raw sent us a second copy of this record because they claimed the first was badly pressed, but I had a hard job telling the difference. So don’t forget who told you about The Users first … me!

Almost A Hero

Ges Ashby poem from Aquarius, No. 6, 1973.
One of the things I like best about the better small poetry magazines are the voices of poets we don’t know about today. Especially when they’re regional, this particular issue was a Scottish one. Alongside some of the big names of Scottish poetry are some arse kicking poems from poets I’ve been unable to find anything about.
This poem in particular says a lot about poetry, then as now. Open mikers, I’m looking at you.

Almost a Hero

I once knew a Rhodesian; Mick Osborne. He had
a woman four times in one hour, on a cruise,
when I was studying for my ‘O’ levels. She
was thirty-six and attractive. He died on a
motorbike in Wales. Suntanned and seventeen
and going too fast.

There was another guy with him who returned to
tell the story, like a veteran. He wrote a
song about the incident and sang it at the
local folk club and was almost a hero.

Ges Ashby

Reggae Bloodlines

Book review from Edinburgh’s Ital Rockers, issue 4, Winter 78-9.

Reggae Bloodlines – In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica
By Stephen Davis and Peter Simon (Anchor Press)

The Jamaica Tourist Board doesn’t approve of reggae. It’s rebel music, the sound of the slums, and as such has a subversive effect on the image of a tropical paradise promoted by the Board. Therefore reggae has become underground music – you’ll only find it on the radio between midnight and dawn, when decent law-abiding citizens are safe in bed.
For this reason, Stephen Davis and Peter Simon had to go off the beaten track to discover the island’s true identity. ‘Reggae Bloodlines’ is the result of that search.
This thick paperback opens with a brief resume of Jamaica’s fascinating history and then sketches out reggae’s development from the very beginning. The remainder of the book is not entirely successful in showing how the music is interwoven with everyday life but it does make for an engaging read.
Apart from the inevitable Bob Marley, the co-authors also met Fred Locks, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Max Romeo and Augustus Pablo to name but a few. Other chapters are devoted to dub, an interview with Prime Minister Manley, an encounter with the legendary Maroons, descendants of African slaves whom the Spaniards abandoned on realising that the island offered no gold, and a hazardous trip to the ganja fields on Kali Mountains, one centre of a business that probably makes more profit than many more legitimate concerns.
Although falling short of an all-encompassing view of Jamaica, ‘Reggae Bloodlines’ does go some way towards capturing the spirit of the country and its music. The text is good (‘Reggae flew into London with Jamaican immigrants and holed up in a basement flat in Brixton shivering through its first Northern winters’) and the photographs on their own are worth the price of admission. If you can’t afford a plane ticket to the Isle of Springs then this book is the next best thing. Purchase with confidence.

Graham Smith

What Is A Miner Worth?

From the 1985 collection of writing by the children of striking miners, More Valuable Than Gold put out by Women Against Pit Closures.

What is a miner worth?

We’re fighting a losing battle
We’re alone yet not afraid
We starve and we go thirsty
As a compromise is made
No one really remembers the likes of you and me
No one cares
We’re the ones they do not see
Scraping for a living
Giving to the Tax Man first
Holes in our trouser pockets
But what is a Miner worth
To me he’s more precious than mining
More valuable than gold
Working tiring hours
Shovelling tons of coal
So everyone please listen
It’s not a lecture, just a prayer
Bosses with all their money
And us, not a penny to spare.

Ellie Bence, Kent

Clarkey In New Youth

John Cooper Clarke in Hulls New Youth zine, number 4, 1984.

Were you definitely a Punk, or did you just find it coming along at the right time for you?
“Yeah, I was already doing this sort of thing in the period immediately before Punk, but to an extent. Yeah, I suppose I was, plus I definitely altered my style to suit.”

You broke the ground for Poets, it must have taken a lot of guts?
“Yeah, it was a bit dangerous at times.”

But you made poets more acceptable for audiences at rock gigs ’cause there’s a new wave now; Attila, Swells, Swift Nick, Ginger John, etc. It’s easier now…
“Well that may be true, but I wouldn’t say it was easy!”

Has your book been selling well?
“Yeah, great. It’s sold out of the original print run and we’re well into the second set now.”

Is that suit you wear now the one you started with originally?
“(Laughs) No, not exactly. At first it was separate pairs of pants and trousers.”
Tim Dalton, (Spring St.) “First thing he asked me when he arrived tonight was, ‘What suit did I have on the last time I was in Hull’…!
John, “Well I’ve only got one with me you see and I wanted to know if it was the same one as last time. (Laughs) I mean if I don’t set a fuckin’ example, who will!!”

We noticed you hired a flashy car to get here tonight, are you making loads of money these days?
“I owe it all out! I owe my record company £36,000 and the travel agents, who’ve arranged the lat three tours, a few thousand as well!”

Are you bothered?
“Well you can’t take it seriously – I worry more about owing him (a friend) a fiver than I do the record comps… and travel agents.” His friend: “Fuckin’ right, yo should worry!”

Are they your bodyguards? (meaning his two friends)
“Sort of!”
The next few minutes are impossible ’cause his two bodyguard/managers keep singing “One step at a time, sweet Jesus…’!!!

I liked what you said on that programme recently, about you being a socialist in a capitalist world..?
“What you mean ‘I can’t be an Island of Socialism in a sea of Capitalism'”
That was it…
“Yeah, it’s right, y’see I am a Socialist but you can’t decide to live your socialist ideal on your own. It’s impossible. We have to keep going along with capitalism at the moment until we can change it. At the moment I make what I can… I have to, same as everyone. If you do live out your own little socialist ideal… you’ll be left with nothing and you’ll have changed nothing… you’ll just be a martyr, and I mean, a fuckin’ martyr’s no good to anyone (laughs). They’ll just say ‘Oh yeah, he was a nice bloke, but anyway he’s fuckin’ dead now!'”