Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Back On The Chain Gang

The Universe forced my hand, now Universal Credit insists I shine my light.


Following a brief spell of employment that now seems like an hallucination, I am back at Kennington Park Job Centre Plus, where all has changed. I now go up the fag stench stairs to the first floor, where we abide by the code of Universal Credit. If I obey the regulations scrupulously, on March 5th I shall eventually receive payment.

Under the old rules of Job Seekers' Allowance, I contracted to apply for a specified number of jobs each week, which was relatively easily done: search the Universal Jobmatch online to choose a few positions I wouldn't mind filling, in the unlikely event that they were disposed to take on a sarky, middle-aged left trans-radial amputee, & fire off my exhaustive CV, with a more-or-less facetious covering letter. I never had a reply.

Now, though, I'm expected to prove I spend 35 hours each week actively looking for work, or striving to improve my income. Seeking jobs must be one's full time preoccupation. Failure to demonstrate that I've done sufficient job seeking by filling in my online Journal could eventually result in a 'sanction'. This means I may be punished by not receiving any money for a month or more. That will teach me an important life lesson, no doubt.

"You get a bit of leeway for the first few weeks," explained Moses at my first work search review meeting, "but then they start to get heavy." I sat across the desk, relishing his choice of pronoun. Not, "we," and certainly not, "I," even though it was he and his colleagues who would be applying the weight. I briefly considered a quip about Nazi concentration camp guards, but thought better of it. Even though Moses had criticised my journal keeping and said my CV was useless, I didn't want to fall out with the fellow.

His name is not actually Moses; that's the person I was supposed to meet, as it had been on my previous appointment, the commitments meeting. On that occasion, another chap conducted the meeting instead of Moses and so it was this time, too. I suggested in banter that Moses was a mythical figure, but he seems more likely to be their Trainer. Neither geezer was local: the first was #NorfLDN, with a faint whiff of Gooner; the second from the Near East, plausibly Crackney. Nobody wants to be seen administering Universal Credit on their own manor, innit.

'Moses' told me I'd better re-do my CV: 'Change your format. Only put 3 of the most recent jobs. More in-depth profile based around your strengths.' He told me that Arial is the only acceptable font for a CV, but mine is in Liberation Mono. Arial is not among the suite of fonts offered by LibreOffice Writer. 'Moses' told me to follow the guidelines in a pdf document that he displayed on his desktop, but was unable to send me and seems beyond the ken of Google. Still, I shall comply, Google Docs willing, and thereby create fresh fodder for this, my blog, which is hereby re-launched.

'Moses' told me to play to my strengths, which consist of stringing words together like the ones you're reading, but I stopped trying to get paid to do that aeons ago. Which is not to say I haven't pimped myself out as a copywriter over the years because, believe me, I know copy. I craft the wittiest copy, as everybody agrees, at very reasonable rates. But one has inevitably dealt with sub-literate nitwits who feel their opinion of words' meaning and use of language is equivalent to one's own. In which case, they may as well write the damn thing themselves. No doubt they will pay themselves more promptly.

Sooner than soldier on as a word smith, as I entered my seventh set of seven years more committed to an occult path than a career in consensus reality, I chose to do manual work, mostly for a Yoda-like Jack of all trades from Lee Green. But to be a handyman one needs a pair of hands and I find myself one short. Still, I can type with the stubby digits of  my remaining hand, made for stabbing keys. Blogging the experience of claiming benefit must count towards my weekly work search commitment by showcasing my skill over 750 words. At least, that's what I'm planning to tell 'Moses' when I next see him.


Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Times I Saw The Clash #3, 26.01.80


Bankrobbers: 16 Tons Tour @ Deeside Leisure Centre, Chester. 

 

No longer quite so Bored With The USA, The Clash had been over there and got clobbered up with their engineer boots and retro suits.  Sartorially, the Last Gang in Town now looked the business and, as a live act, The Clash took no prisoners.

 

'London Calling' had come out in time for Christmas, but no-one gave me a copy. Following disastrous A level results the previous Summer, I had eventually been dispatched to Merseyside, where I lived with my Granny Peggy at 39 Greenbank Drive, Pensby, Heswall, Wirral while attending the Sight & Sound College in Liverpool, where I was supposed to be learning to touch type. The 'college' was upstairs in a City Centre office building, not too far from Mathew Street. If I went to The Grapes at lunchtime, I probably would not return to the S&S for the afternoon session.

Swimming back there in memory, I remember a lad, one lunchtime, the image of Sid Viscious. He had the hair and the white tux, modelling the classic Rock'n'Roll Swindle look, like Gavin Turk's Pop waxwork a dozen years later. This was in the pub in Matthew Street, within spitting distance of Eric's, the punk club in a basement opposite the car park where The Cavern had been back in the days of The Beatles. He may well have been affiliated with Probe, the intimidatingly hip record shop where the late Pete Burns was a frightful apparition behind the counter.

Away from home as a grown-up, technically, dressed in my dead dad's old suits and accompanied if not quite chaperoned by my cousins, Jayne & Lynne, driven by Jayne's future husband, Dave, I was let loose on Liverpool. Eric's is legendary, not least for its jukebox, which occupied a dingy corner near the coat room that frequently flooded and contained an amazing collection of crude, swampy rockabilly. Holly Johnson - shaven-headed, clad in furry cowboy chaps - was on the door!

I'd like to reminisce about classic gigs at Erics, but the most famous name I can conjure is Wreckless Eric and I'm sure Mr Goulding would be the first to admit that his unique hit, Whole Wide World, as good as it goes, hardly qualifies him as unforgettable. My quintessential memory of live bands at Eric's was Mick Hucknall's punk group, The Frantic Elevators, who put out several singles on Eric's eponymous record label. After one performance, as I recall, the bar staff improvised an encore of their own, banging tin trays on their heads, like Bob Blackman singing Muletrain on Opportunity Knocks, whose demented tray bashing act had been revived by the Saturday morning kids' TV show, Tiswas.

Not my actual ticket!
So, anyway, we got tickets to see The Clash play this ice rink at Deeside and Dave drove us there. Dave's  memories of that night were probably sharper than mine when we reminisced about it, not so long ago. He married Jayne and their kids are grown up, now. My cousin, Lynne, came too, with her mate, Lynne's  story was not to be so happy and it came to a sad and premature end a few years ago, R.I.P.

According to Dave, the ice on the rink, which had been boarded over for the show, melted and we paddled about in inches of melt water, but I don't remember getting my feet wet. Perhaps that's why I didn't get too close to the stage? The closest I got was towards the Mick side of the stage (Joe's right) but mostly I  remember the group of us being  huddled together, a bit back from the action, but with a decent view of the stage.

The sound was boomy for Mikey Dread, who opened the show. Mikey, who had a great dub reggae album, Dread At The Controls, performed without a backing band, facing a hall full of punks alone onstage, toasting, barely audibly, over a muffled backing track. The audience was not impressed and started throwing missiles, to the point where the Rastaman retreated into the wings. But then, the reggae police arrived. Four of them skanked on from stage left, clad in voluminous overcoats, with hat brims tipped low and bandanas over their faces, although there was no mistaking who they were. (Actually, there was: in the annals of Clash lore, Kosmo Vinyl has noted how the heavy disguise enabled himself, or other crew, to deputise for band members - hello, Mick - who weren't really into what became a regular feature of Mikey's set on that tour.)

I cannae find a setlist for this particular show, but imagine it followed the pattern of the average for the tour as determined by Setlist.fm: possibly opening with Clash City Rockers and definitely not closing with White Riot (I am informed). Outstanding in the dim light of my memory are Mick singing Stay Free, a sentimental song from Give 'Em Enough Rope that had been a sixth form anthem, and a majestic, Police & Thieves. It was probably the first time I heard, Armagideon Time and my first hearing of, Bankrobber, if they played it. They may well have been joined onstage by Mikey, who produced it and memorably toasts on the flip side of the single that came out later in 1980, Rockers Galore UK Tour. When he played Glastonbury in 2004, Mikey Dread delivered a spiffing version of 'Robber, in memoriam Joe before following him to the grave four years later, felled by brain cancer. 

Since his death in 2002, Joe Strummer has undergone beautification as a saint in the punk pantheon. While, I yield to none in my reverence for Strummer as an icon of righteous indignation ('Stay angry! Keep fighting!') we all know that Mr Mellor's daddy was far from being a robber of banks. Joe spoke in a peculiar West London accent that didn't sound entirely natural, because it wasnae, any more than 'Strummer' was his real name. As Strummer was a poseur, he was prone to being hoist with his own petard. Most hilariously, he instigated a boycott of Top Of The Pops, because it was uncool. Consequently, ToTP celebrated Bankrobber getting to no.24 in the pop charts with Legs & Co. acting out the lyric dressed as sexy bank robbers. Like trousers, like brain, innit.

Speaking of trousers, I had a red pair frequently worn with the souvenir t.shirt from this gig, like those some of the kids have on in the video, below, with the chunky red lettering. Both items - along with my two tone 'Jam' shoes - were in my suitcase, which got nicked out of Steve Blackbourne's Renault 5 in Italy, whence we drove (he drove; I am eternally the passenger) that Summer for the European Cup in 1980; the one with the tear gas drifting onto the pitch in Milan. At least, Steve went for the football. I was only there for the violence.



Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Prince, Guitar Hero

Prince, rated #33 in the Rolling Stone Hot 100, was a guitar hero to Eric Clapton, rated #2, behind Hendrix. Indeed, Mr Slowhand chose Purple Rain as his Castaway's Favourite on Desert Island Discs. Apocryphally, if not really asked about how it felt to be the world's greatest living guitar star, the man known to 1970s rockers as, 'God,' replied: "I don't know. Ask Prince". Which is odd, because the flip side to the Purple Rain single is entitled, God!

 

"I love you, baby, but not like I love this particular guitar!"


Tom Morello, in Rolling Stone, says, "When he plays the Purple Rain solo, it's life-changing. Put that on right now and try not to cry. And at the end of the movie, he conjures this genre–destroying guitar storm – and does it in high heels on top of a piano while his guitar is squirting." If you don't have a 12" vinyl copy  to hand, perhaps you need to reassess your priorities. Still, you may revisit the first ever live performance and recording of Purple Rain on YouTube from the legendary benefit concert held for the local Dance Theatre at First Avenue in Minneapolis on August 3, 1983. I emphasise, 'may,' because it comes and goes, so any link I give you today may die tomorrow. 'C'est la vie,' as Prince may have quipped before he abruptly expired.

Consider the climactic, elongated, near 20 minute version of Purple Rain from The Revolution's performance at Syracuse, NY, on March 30, 1985. This important video document regularly gets taken down by the Paisley Police, who patrol YouTube on behalf of NPG Music. Since Prince passed, however, it can more easily be found using the additional search terms, 'extra longue' and 'insane guitar solo'. The image quality may be poor, but turn it up!

Using ears rather than eyes to assess his performance protects one from being prejudiced by Prince's attire, as the dude is sporting what I can only describe as  a sparkly snood (its hood tended to slip over Prince's eyes, somewhat comically, if you check a video collection of his funniest moments.) Prince once asked his road manager, Alan Leeds, why he was under-appreciated as a guitarist: 'I foolishly suggested that he should consider a brief tour of elite concert venues concentrating solely on his musicianship, performing without his usual bells and whistles,' Leeds recalled, "even to the point of dressing down, perhaps in blue jeans and a turtleneck. Dripping with sarcasm, his deeply patronizing response was, “What? And look like you?”

Prince conceived Purple Rain as the ultimate rock ballad, along the lines of Faithfully, by Journey. There's nary a smidgen of funk amid its bombast ("Country & Western as Hell," according to Dr. Funkenstein, "but you don't relate it to that because he put that nice, pretty Jimi Hendrix tone over it, which is really slick!") It starts quietly with Wendy playing solo, Prince not joining her until some four minutes in, playing jazzy licks on what all true fans will immediately recognise as the ole' MadCat: a Telecaster copy that was Prince's favourite guitar and the one he probably wrote this song on. After a minute, he pauses and retreats into the dry ice for a mo.

Gee, baby, that's a curvaceous model!
When Prince's guitar speaks next, half a minute later, it is in the more strident tones of his White Cloud, with its peculiar curlicue, as  seen in the movie, after Apollonia presents it to The Kid (right). Prince commissioned Dave Rusan at Knut Koupee music store in Minneapolis, to make it for him in 1983. It's modelled upon the lascivious lines of a bass guitar used for Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad, but with an extra horny design flourish to make it more Princely.

Armed with the White Cloud, Prince then proceeds -  from about halfway through the song, some ten minutes in - to execute what Rolling Stone concedes is 'arguably the greatest power-ballad guitar solo in history,' but which many of his most devoted friends and ardent admirers (Prince disdained the term, 'fan' because it's an abbreviation of 'fanatic' and that cannot be healthy) are convinced is the Greatest Guitar Solo Of All Time, Ever. Not being over-endowed with false modesty, I doubt Prince would agree. 1985 was a mighty long time before he finally popped his pick and his playing only improved with incessant practice.

According to Morello, Prince was underrated, 'because his phenomenal guitar-playing was just one arrow in a quiver full of remarkable talents.' If Prince's awesomeness on the guitar was not always apparent, it's because he was often busy doing everything else, onstage & in the studio: singing & dancing; playing every other instrument & banging every drum; writing & arranging & producing & generally running things. Plus, he said 'No' to Activision! Prince may not register on peoples' radar as a guitar hero, or a super hero, but he had absorbed all the lessons that Carlos Santana, in particular, had to teach; knew every trick that Hendrix and Clapton and Beck and Page had pulled throughout their pioneering careers. He could reproduce any of their licks, sequenced into his own flow, while keeping it on the one.

As a promiscuously endowed multi-instrumentalist, Prince could run through a whole concert without picking up his axe, but when he did strap on one of his statement guitars - the Cloud, or latterly, one of his truly unique Love Symbol guitars, then He, Him, His Bad Self, was unlikely to put it down before he has destroyed every thing and anyone within ear shot. Then, he developed a penchant for tossing away the spent guitar, not like a workman laying down his tool but more like a painter throwing down his brush upon the completion of a master piece.

Only four Cloud guitars were originally patented - known as 'North, South, East & West' - all of which have been resprayed over the years. They are made all of maple using Gibson’s 24.75” scale length and have 22 medium/jumbo frets with a 12” radius on the fretboard, equipped with EMG active pick-ups and Schaller hardware. There's one volume control, one tone control and a 3-way switch. The whole guitar is finished in two-pack paint (including the fretboard) and is equipped with Jim Dunlop strap locks and a brass nut & truss rod cover. All hardware is gold plated. Or so it says here. And here.

Naturally, a subculture has grown around Cloud Guitars, which only nerds need dive into, but here's some fun factoids:

Legend has it that the original White Cloud, featuring ‘spade’ symbol fret markers, was destroyed. Wendy has said that Prince 'broke all his guitar strings during Purple Rain and walked off' at the climax of the last Revolution show at the Yokohama Stadium in Japan, but he probably didn't smash it up. That was not his style.

On 09/26/09, james reported: 'Bizarre thing happened last night. I was in Jazz After Dark (well known hang out of Amy Winehouse, etc) and there was a charity auction going on. The first item was Prince's White Cloud guitar, like the one in Purple Rain! Only it had gold knobs and gold symbols on the frets. The story was that Prince gave it, at some point, to the bar owner. There were only about 30 people in the tiny back room, only 2 people bidding, and it sold for £3000! It was most probably a replica, like the Knut Koupee copies that sold for about $5000 in the early 1990s, or the cheaper copies by Schecter, mass-produced in an edition of 310 to celebrate 3121 in 2006, which were sold via NPG Music Club for $1000-$1500.

Prince's 'Yellow Cloud' electric guitar up for auction!  Born 1989 & well used in the Diamond and Pearls era until its neck broke on a French TV show in 1994, the repaired Yellow Cloud will be sold by Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills on June 24-25 along with other rarities that include a 1970s demo tape with track listing written in Prince's own hand! The opening bid is $30,000, which seems paltry, but the sky is surely the limit for real authentic, played-by-Prince Clouds, n'est ce pas? (PS: it eventually fetched $137,500!)

There's a rival Yellow Cloud in The Smithisonian! Several Yellow Clouds were made to be sold at the Minneapolis & London NPG shops in the early 1990s; each was numbered and sold with a Certificate of Authenticity. The one in the collection of the National Museum of American History - acquired for an 1993 exhibition about the invention of the electric guitar - is the real deal, obviously. The museum’s records list David Rusan as the builder in 1989, along with Barry Haugen of Knut-Koupée Enterprises in Minneapolis. It's on display until Septemer 5, 2016, at the Behring Center so visitors can see for themselves if it really looks like its been played by Prince!

Other noted Cloud Guitars include the Peach model from Sign O’ The Times, which was given away as a prize and has not seen since. Black Cloud #1 from Parade was the only one with an unpainted fretboard, but a natural maple finish that was later customised with bat symbol fret markers during the Batman era to become Black Cloud #2.

The Lovesexy era Blue Cloud (left) is often called The Blue Angel (hear it sing here!) and should not be confused with Blue Cloud #2, as seen in the Rave Unto The Year 2000 video, which has gold plated knobs rather than the black plastic ‘mini JB’ knobs found on earlier guitars and a more rounded profile to the body.

Laughing in the purple rain.
The later Clouds were made by Andy Beech, who is now known, at least by Rolling Stone as The Luthier Who Made Prince's One-of-a-Kind Guitars having built some 31 of them over the years. "I feel unbelievably privileged," Beech said. "When  I started doing this, many years ago, Prince only took somebody's word that I was capable of doing it." Beech is best known for his Love Symbol guitars, which have been spotted  by members of prince.org in half a dozen different colours. Despite its peculiar structure, the Symbol guitar is as much a tools as a show piece. Prince most famously utilized its shape at his legendary Super Bowl half time show in 2007 (right), which left Andy Beech "breathless" and "screaming at the TV." (Maybe he missed what Prince did with it on TV a decade earlier!)

Although Prince was somewhat involved with the process of crafting his guitars, albeit remotely, Andy Beech never actually met his client in person and he passed up the chance several times. "That opportunity, sadly, will never be available to me again," he commented, rather fatuously.  Nor shall Simon Farmer, AKA Gus of Gus Guitars,  who made Prince’s last guitar get to meet the man he made it for. Gus hand-made the custom Purple Special  on spec. nine years ago, but only got it to Prince a few weeks before He died and, in a photo taken only days before his death, Prince is showing Gus’s guitar off to a select audience at Paisley Park.

Late period Prince in Guitar Hero pose: check the FX!

Prince was never loyal to any one luthier, but promiscuous in his love of guitars right to the end, with 3rdEyeGirl, when he insisted that Donna & Ida as well as his bad self all play VOX 77’s through Mesa Boogie amps. Prince had a black one - as used at The Billboard Awards in 2013 -  and another with a custom paint job (above) to co-ordinate with one of his unique outfits (not worn here)!

In 2010, Prince commissioned a unique gilded Stratocaster from his good friends at Fender, which he played on his Welcome To America tour before it was sold for $100,000 in a charity auction to Lewis Hamilton, the F1 champ. Prince told George Lopez that it was going to be hard to part with his gold guitar , but he had only played it on tour for five months, so it wasn't THAT special. Not like his beloved MadCat Guitar!

Lopez asks if he still has his first guitar and Prince says, with a rueful pout, "a lot of my stuff gets stolen." Of course, despite his self-mythologising and playful denials, Prince could not tell a lie. Giving up his gold guitar would've been a wrench, even though it was always his intention, and the MadCat telecaster copy with which Prince destroyed 2011’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony was almost definitely not the  one he wrote Purple Rain on. But the MadCat (top pic.) was Prince's first, last and all-time favourite guitar, of that there is no question.

Who knows what drew Prince to this cheaper Japanese Telecaster knock off? Although its headstock was clearly copied from Fender, the MadCat, designed in 1973 by Hidesato Shiino (the H.S. in, 'H.S. Anderson' -  aka, the 'Japanese Leo Fender') was unusual in terms of its construction - based around a walnut centre strip, with sen (a cheaper, Japanese ash) sides and tiger maple top and bottom - and equipped with unusual hardware that evidently suited Prince's sound. Not to mention the distinctive leopard-style pick guard which may, after all, be what caught the teenage wannabe's fancy, as suggested by Prince’s Most Notorious Musical Instruments.

Certainly, the MadCat looked classier than its price tag might suggest and Prince acquired two of the 500 odd MadCats that were made during the ‘70s - including a small batch made for Hohner USA, the German harmonica maker's venture into electric guitars -  before production ceased in the mid 80s. Subsequently, Prince tasked other luthiers to make copies, but in 2012 the original MadCat was revived and re-released.

Deep down, beneath his periodic bouts of uncertainty, Prince always knew he had it in him to be the most lethal guitarist. He made sure of it by playing every day and most of the night. Really, Prince was probably unparalleled as a rhythm guitarist, but he could could peel off jaw-dropping solos at the drop of a hat. Likesay, upon occasion, Prince - whose musical genius gave him a form of synæsthesia in which he saw sound as colour - would signal the conclusion of his musical statement by tossing away his guitar, as a great painter who has just executed a masterpiece may throw down his brush.

See this lovely old guitar? Now, watch...

He did such a thing on TV, 01.03.13, on the Jimmy Fallon Show, as a preview to his Live Out Loud tour with 3rd Eye Girl. Unfortunately - possibly because Fallon has switched channels - the footage cannot be found online, but they played a couple songs. Screwdriver was the single and the new girl on guitar, Donna Grantis, from Toronto, got on it about two minutes in, with a blazing solo. But, as Spin magazine reported, 'no one can touch Prince when he rekindles a classic track'. And Bambi, a prototypical Prince guitar squealer from his second, self-titled album in 1979 (revived in 1995 on the obscure live-in-the-studio set, The Undertaker) , was one of the most lethal weapons in the diminutive demon's sonic arsenal. So, he stepped forward sporting a mildly controversial afro hairdo and wielding an unfamiliar white guitar. Which he then proceeded to shred. Job done, Prince tossed the used guitar away and exited stage left as if to escape the host, Fallon, who was moving in from the right with his hand outstretched...

Bravo, Prince! As Black Thought, MC of house band, The Roots, commented via Twitter, '#RockGodStatus'! However, his band mate in The Roots, Kirk Douglas, was less than amused, seeing as the guitar in question was a beautiful 1961 Epiphone Crestwood Custom with mini humbuckers that belonged to him! Prince had apparently seen it at rehearsal and asked to borrow it for the show. And then he went and smashed it! 'Captain' Kirk tweeted a photo of its splintered neck with the caption, '#purplepain'. Later, Prince publicly denied it had happened, but privately he apologised and made it right and Kirk forgave him because he knows the P when he sees it.

The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Inductions in 2004 gave Prince a chance to prove himself the King by making his Guitar Weep Last, Longest & Loudest.


The video was well loved with nigh on 20 million views on YouTube before his demise, but upon news that sweet Prince was dead and with other clips in short supply, its score swiftly rose past 28 million. A supergroup featuring fellow Travellin' Willburys, Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne, plus lil' Stevie Winwood, gathered to perform a polite tribute to their recently-deceased colleague and old friend, George Harrison, by playing his classic song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. As the song gets going, one notices a fellow lurking stage right, wearing a crimson shirt under a dark suit and matching Fedora: gangster glam. He is clutching a guitar that seasoned Prince observers will immediately recognise as the afore-mentioned MadCat.

For the first three minutes or so, Prince takes a back seat and strums along while the former Wilburys harmonise on the choruses, but then, at 3:27, he steps forward to take his solo. And he does not stop. Prince just keeps on soloing - making his favourite guitar not only weep but squeal and sob non too gently - for the next three minutes, full on until the end of the song. As Tom Petty said, Recalling Prince’s Hall of Fame Guitar Solo: "You Could Feel the Electricity."  At 4:45, to the evident delight of an incredulous Dhanni Harrison, Prince turns to face the ensemble musicians and, still soloing, falls backwards off the stage!

Only, he does not fall because Prince employs a burly body guard to catch his regal self. After he has owned that stage and made his unequivocal statement about whose guitar is most likely to make you weep, Prince finally unstraps the MadCat and throws it straight up, where it disappears. It does not land with a sickening crash, because Prince employs someone - presumably lurking on the lighting gantry - to catch his goddam guitars. Especially the MadCat! We might assume that it was more than Prince's guitar tech's job was worth NOT to catch the precious MadCat. But, in the moment, Prince affected to care less about the instrument he has just used to stake his claim as Top Gun as he strutted off stage, not pausing for applause.