Monthly Archives: October 2022

Five Aside

Delta 5 and Basement 5 live in Sounds, 19 July, 1980.
Two great bands, Basement 5 were a particular fave of mine, and a much loved and much missed Hammersmith venue.

Delta Five/Basement Five
Clarendon Hotel

Five aside night at the Clarendon and the Delta Five kick off with their brand of tense music that jangles and jars like the score for a late night thriller.
But the sharp taut rhythms are spoiled by too many chanting choruses, though it’s not the chant itself that irritates – it’s a valid and effective sound – but rather the repetition of one phrase ad nauseam, reducing the role of listener to that of stupid child. Then having put you in this debasing position Delta Five continue to reveal their own childishness through their lyrics, which display ridiculously vicious and destructive attitudes toward men/women relationships. “I want to be alone” – the hysterical rantings of someone who wants to go home alone, no explanations why, and ‘You’, more hysteria in the form of accusations of infidelity. They’ve set themselves up as oracles but they’re setting a bad example.
After a protracted interval witness the counteraction to white men playing reggae: black men playing punk. Basement Five (and there are four of them) play an arresting combination of a heavily reggae-influenced bass line plus hard punky drumming and savage guitar. It’s the bass that alters the music, just saving it from punk mediocrity and changing the immediate pogo reaction to punk into a sort of uneasy skanking. But I’m not sure it’s enough, being disappointed by the singer Dennis Morris’ Rottenesque raspings which, when they were audible, were uninspiring – not another song about a riot? And with mock-siren wailing guitar. Yawn.

Sharon Amos

Swells On Smack

Seething Wells reads into the heroin trade, NME, 9 November, 1985.

Heroin Thrills The Businessman
Big Deal – The Politics Of The Illicit Drugs Business
Various (Pluto £4.50)

This collection of essays varies greatly in style and presentation. A piece on women and addiction by Betsey Ettore is little more than series of dry statistics stuck together with dull lifeless prose whilst Drugs, Style And Money by Lee O’Bryan manages to make several interesting points about the changing social usage of heroin (now that is is no longer the exclusive preserve of the rich kid), despite being written in a sociological shorthand where empiricism and generalisation are clumsily combined. And fashion journalist Robert Elms is quoted as an expert on working-class youth culture.
It is in the chapters Serious Business by Roger Lewis and Love Seeds And Cash by Tim Maylon that the thick veil of humbug that surrounds Thatcher and Reagan’s ‘crusade’ against drugs is ripped away. The fact that Thatcher has sacked hundreds of customs officials is well known and the interest that the Drug Squad takes in cannabis users, presumably at the expense of investigations into heroin pushing, is part of street-lore and an accepted truth in most inner-city areas. Lewis and Maylon take a global view of the drugs industry and the level of hypocrisy attained by our wrinkled representatives is made all the more apparent.
The ‘heroin problem’ can be placed fairly and squarely on the good old British Empire which, in the shape of the British East India Company, flooded China with cheap opium in the 19th Century as part of its plan to dominate the Far East.
Today many more economies are totally reliant on the export of opium or finished heroin and many more still on the cultivation of marijuana (lumped together here simply because both substances are illegal in the West). It should be noted that marijuana is America’s second biggest cash crop whilst many Caribbean nations, notably Jamaica, would be bankrupt without the dope-hungry Yanks eager to blow all the ganga grown.
The US turns moral outrage not so much on its home-grown (sic) producers and users but uses it, quite cynically, to whip its smaller neighbours into line with its own expansionist foreign policy (where countries a thousand miles away and more are considered to be in the ‘backyard’). It should also be noted that several US backed terrorist and guerrilla movements – notably the Contras in Central America and the Afghan tribesmen – are funded by their involvement in the illicit drug trade (in the former case marijuana and in the latter heroin), and that involvement is actively encouraged by the CIA, although, ironically, US anti-drug agencies often spend millions of dollars attempting to persuade or force these very same people not to produce or handle the drugs. Consequently, very little actually gets done. It is simply not in the interest of US (and therefore British) foreign policy for these front line troops in “the war against Communism” to be deprived of such lucrative sources of income. And so, at a stroke, all Nancy Reagan’s damp-eyed posturings and all Thatcher’s blistering rhetoric about the horrors of the drug menace become just so much hot air. They don’t give a shit.
William Burroughs once described heroin as “the ideal product . . . the ideal merchandise”, and it is a point that has not gone unnoticed by that class of person who will sell anything – plutonium, rocket launchers, nerve gas – as long as they can be guaranteed a profit, those sleek entrepreneurial types that Mrs Thatcher once referred to as those special people”. Heroin is big business., megabucks, most of which are laundered through legitimate business fronts. Recent US investigations revealed that $2 million of Mafia heroin money was being laundered by respectable New York finance houses. One finance house squealed to its Family friends who were thus able to clear out before the net was tightened any further. Perhaps it would be unwise to ask how many of Reagan and Thatcher’s “entrepreneurial” friends are tainted with such money and what proportion of the filthy lucre ends up in the campaign chests of the Conservative and Republican parties?
As Charlie Marx said: “Capital eschews no profit . . . there is not a crime at which it will not a scruple, not a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring profit, it will freely encourage both.”

Steven Wells

Brixton Crisis

Poem by working class poet Sharon Dunham from her 1984 collection Sub Animal Yells about the 1981 Brixton riot.

Brixton Crisis

Violence bursting onto the Brixton street
Don’t pity the policeman,
He chose his own destiny,
A dread picks up a brick,
And hurls it with force,
Born of 400 years of frustration
And we all look on,
And the blind politicians,
Ask what went wrong?
And the blood runs freely,
Down Railton Road,
And we all hear the question,
It’s the answer we know,
The blind will never understand.

Sharon Durham

The Black Woman

Inspired by the book by Chester Higgins, this special episode of Black Journal from 1970 features a discussion between Joan Harris, Vertamae Grosvenor, Martha Davis, Marian Watson and Amma Baraka. A separate conversation between Nikki Giovanni and Lena Horne. Poetry by Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Kali. Plus performances by Roberta Flack, Loretta Abbott and Novella Nelson. Interview with Albert Cleage, Jr. of the Black Madonna Church. Executive Produced by Tony Brown. Directed by Stan Lathan.

Reach For The Ska!

The Untouchables and the, rather good, Makin’ Time reviewed in the NME, 9 November, 1985.

Reach For The Ska!
Glasgow Strathclyde University

Fun. D’you remember fun? Fun is when you get all dressed up in your favourite fashion on a Saturday night, is buying drinks that don’t need a bank loan and come without straws, dancing the night away to two good bands – luxury! Couple all that with ridiculous youth, a hallful of even younger mods (looking smart), R&B, irrepressible energy, a bit of nostalgia, good tunes and manic movement and you have…well one of the best gigs I’ve been to this year, at least.
Makin’ Time are already known to this audience through their excellent debut album ‘Rhythm And Soul’, an R&B/early soul/’60s thing that singer Mark Gounden mention repeatedly during the set in the hope someone might buy it. One of the nice things about Makin’ Time is that they look like they need the money rather than looking as though they’ve been sitting in a rehearsal studio for the last two years. You can afford to be shambolic (and they are, making more mistakes than there are extra-thin ties in here) if you’ve got both a total lack of pretention and good songs on your side, like ‘Take All You Can Get’, ‘Gotta Move’; and ‘Feels Like It’s Love’. Gounden looks like an even more nervous Lloyd Cole with a heavy ’60s fashion fetish, but then that’s endearing too.
Makin’ Time do little wrong in my book, not even by dashing through a ramshackle version of soul classic ‘Show Me’. Maybe they’ll spend some of the money on guitar lessons, maybe they won’t, who cares?
The Untouchables look so cool it could almost convince you that there is hope for the American music industry yet; so slick they could make your head spin they somehow manage to completely avoid the sickly cabaret that some US bands drown in. The Untouchables haven’t minded showing their ska roots, but they look more influenced by Madness. The bassist wears a bandana half-way down his nose, the guitarist poses endlessly, Jerry Miller (the tall one with the wacky glasses) towers comically over Chuck Askerneese (the little one with the rasta locks) – it’s the all-singing, all-dancing Untouchables and even the trumpet player, Anthong Brewster (the cute one), steps up to sing ‘What’s Going On?’.
Even if they’re funnier than most, The Untouchables aren’t a joke band, but when they’re being serious it is to the point of the ridiculous – as in ‘Future On My Mind’, a song about “the future of the world” with classic lyrics like “I smile at you/You smile at me/But everybody’s pissed/What are we living for?”
The thing to take most seriously is the breadth of their musical influence. They are not, as might be implied by ‘Free Yourself’ or ‘City Gent’, simply a ska band, dipping as they do into soul (‘Soul Together’), reggae and rap. It’s all a glut of fun, humour and ability and the assembled sharp dressers make pigs of themselves.
After a dancefloor-breaking version of ‘I Spy For The FBI’ it almost seemed that they could do no better – until they re-appeared for a bash at ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’. Too right, there isn’t anyone to touch them.

Andrea Miller

Pen Knife

‘Pen Knife,’ the debut novel by Jim Westover, sets itself during the miner strikes of 1984 in a small town in Essex called Brightlingsea. The book centre’s around the coming of age of Jarrod Brooks, who’s expelled from his state boarding school and returns home to find his mum has given his bedroom to a striking miner. Through association Jarrod finds himself serving time in prison and it’s here where he discovers his future possibilities.

I haven’t turned my television on for the past three years because I was finding that there was increasingly less to watch. I find middle England programming so dull and predictable. The working classes have been almost wiped from our television screens. Where are the new Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Boys From The Blackstuff going to come from? I’ll say nowhere because the days of providing shows that the working person can identify with are a thing of the past! What do I do instead? I’ve always read since I was a young child, but I’ve found myself reading more and more literature these days as a replacement for proletariat realism. In recent years I’ve enjoyed debut novels by Joe England, Graeme Armstrong, Colin Burnett, Tim Wells and now Jim Westover. Literature is the only true place for representation of wage slaves.

I find with books they either pull you in instantly that you can’t put them down, or they’re a hard read that require much perseverance until the end or they canter along at a steady pace. ‘Pen Knife’ sits in the third bracket because it pulls you in with easy prose and a hang at the end of each chapter. I didn’t find myself with much empathy towards lead character Jarrod within the first two parts, but I could identify with the sense of belonging and of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve all been there! The characters throughout the book bring back memories of players that I’ve encountered during my own personal journey. The end of the book sees Jarrod having navigated into adulthood through a series of life challenges. I wonder where Jarrod goes next?

So why don’t you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead? Maybe try reading ‘Pen Knife’ that you’ve bought direct from the author or from an independent book shop because we need to keep these supply chains open during these difficult times. ‘Pen Knife’ is a strong debut novel that saunters along at a steady pace with seductive notation that deserves support.

Roual Galloway

The Violators

The rather good Derbyshire punk band reviewed in Sounds, 10 April, 1982, by Garry Bushell.

The Violators
‘Gangland’ (No Future)

Yer average Joe Pogo might vote this a no-no cos manic thrasherama it ain’t, mate. It’s hard, sinister and driving. If anything like cantering street -level Joy Division. Oi Division? Call it what you like all I know is it’s got real muscle and real power, a savagely stomping and stifling stroll through the teenage gangland wasteland. A Warriors requiem, a modern day drama delivered with coarse compact force. The sort of menace music Alex and the Droogs would make if they got locked in a studio all night.
I admire the Violators for this cos they could have so easily exploited Helen’s good looks via some bouncy pop work-out. But instead of playing Smash Hits Banshees they’ve majored on the darker side of the streets with Cass in the vocal saddle singing darkly instead of hoarse-hollering.
“They wanna be anti-heroes” go the fade out chants. The Violators are mine already.