Monday, 31 May 2021

Nick Kent reviews Marquee Moon (NME FEB 1977)

Cut the crap, junior, he sez and put the hyperbole on ice.
I concur thus. Sometimes it takes but one record – one cocksure magical statement – to cold-cock all the crapola and all-purpose wheatchaff mix ‘n’ match, to set the whole schmear straight and get the current state of play down down down to stand or fall in one, dignified granite-hard focus.
Such statements, are precious indeed.
Marquee Moon, the first legitimate album release from Manhattan combo Television however, is one: a 24-carat inspired and totally individualist creation which calls the shots on all the glib media pigeon-holing that’s taken place predating its appearance; a work that at once makes a laughing stock of those ignorant clowns, who have filed the band’s work under the cretinous banner of “Punk-rock” or “Velvet Underground off-shoot freneticism” or even (closer to home, maybe, but still way off the bulls-eye) “teeth-grinding psychotic rock” (‘Sister Ray’ and assorted sonic in-laws).
First things first.
This, Television’s first album is a record most adamantly, not fashioned merely for the N.Y. avant-garde rock cognoscenti. It is a record for everyone who boasts a taste for a new exciting music expertly executed, finely in tune, sublimely arranged with a whole new slant on dynamics, chord structures centred around a totally invigorating passionate application to the vision of centre-pin mastermind Tom Verlaine.
Two years have now elapsed since the first rave notices drifted over the hotline from down in the Bowery. Photos, principally those snapped when the mighty Richard Hell was in the band, backed up the gobbledegook but the music – well, somehow no-one really got to grips with defining that side of things so that each report carried with it a thumbnail sketch of what the listener could divine from the maelstrom. Influences were flung at the reader, most omni-touted being guitarist mastermind Verlaine’s supposed immense debt to one Louis Reed circa White Heat/White Light which meant teeth-gnashing ostrich gee-tar glissando and whining hyena vocals. You get the picture.
Above all, one presumed Television to be the aural epitome of junk-sick boys straight off the E.S.T. funny farm – psychotic reactions/narcotic contractions. Hell split the scene mid-75 taking his black widow spider physique and blue-print anthem for the Blank Generation, leaving ex-buddy-boy Tom Verlaine to call all dem shots, abetted by fellow guitarist and all purpose West Coast pin-up boy Richard Lloyd, a most unconventional new wave jazz-orientated drummer, name of Billy Ficca – plus Hell’s replacement, the less visually imposing but more musically adept Fred Smith.
It’s been a good two years now since Television got those first drooling raves – two long years which led one at times to believe that Verlaine’s musical visions would never truly find solace encased within the glinting sheen of black vinyl. The situation wasn’t helped in the slightest by Island Records sending over Brian Eno and Richard Williams to invigilate over a premature session back in ‘75, the combination of the band’s possible immaturity and Eno and Williams’ understanding of what was needed to flesh out the songs recorded, resulting in the taping of four or five horrendously flat skeletal performances which gave absolutely no indication regarding the band’s potential.
Following that snafu, Verlaine became, how you say, more than a little high-handed and downright eccentric in his dealings with other record companies and potential middle-man adversaries to the point where even those who quite desperately wished to sign him threw up their arms in despair of ever achieving such an end.
Reports filtering through the grapevine made Verlaine’s behaviour seem like that of a madman. Even when the ink had dried on the contract Joe Smith signed with the band for Elektra Records late last year; Verlaine was apparently still so overwhelmed with paranoia that he activated a policy of never properly enunciating the lyrics to unrecorded songs in performance for fear that plagiarists might steal his lyrics before they’d been set to wax.
The only number he dared to sing close to the microphone at this point was ‘Little Johnny Jewel’, the one-off cult single of ‘76, a bizarre morsel of highly sinister nonsense verse shaped around a quite remarkably lop-sided riff/dynamic which set off visions (at least to this listener’s ears) of an aural equivalent to the visuals used in the German impressionist cinema meisterwerk Dr Caligari’s Cabinet, spliced in half (the track took up both sides of a 45 – labelled Parts 1 and 2) by a guitar solo which bore a distinct resemblance to, well, yes to Country Joe and The Fish. Their first album you know. The guitar pitch was exactly the same as that utilized by Barry Melton; fluid, mercury-like.
That’s the thing about Television you’ve first got to come to terms with. Forget all that “New York sound” stuff. For starters, this music is the total antithesis of the Ramones, say, and all those minimalist aggregates. To call it Punk Rock is rather like describing Dostoevsky as a short-story writer. This music itself is remarkably sophisticated, unworthy of even being paralleled to that of the original Velvet Underground whose combined instrumental finesse was practically a joke compared to what Verlaine and co. are cooking up here. Each song is tirelessly conceived and arranged for maximum impact – the point where decent parallels really need to be made with the best West Coast groups. Early Love spring to mind, The Byrds’ cataclysmic ‘Eight Miles High’ period, a soupcon even of the Doors’ mondo predilections plus the very cream of a whole plethora of those psychedelic-punk bands that only Lenny Kaye knows about. Above all though the sound belongs most indubitably to Television, and the appearance of Marquee Moon at a time when rock is so hopelessly lost within the labyrinth of its own basic inconsequentiality that actual musical content has come to take a firm back-seat to “attitude” and all that word is supposed to signify is to these ears little short of revolutionary.
My opening gambit about the album providing a real focus for the current state of rock bears a relevance simply because here at last is a band whose vision is centred quite rigidly within their music – not, say, in some half-baked notion of political manifesto-mongery with that trusty, thoroughly reactionary three chord back-drop to keep the whole scam buoyant. Verlaine’s appearance is simply as exciting as any other major innovator’s to the sphere of rock – like Hendrix, Barrett, Dylan – and, yeah, Christ knows I’m tossing up some true-blue heavies here but Goddammit I refuse to repent right now because this record just damn excites me so much.
To the facts then – recorded in A & R Studios, New York, produced by Verlaine himself, with engineer Andy Johns keeping a watchful eye on the board and gaining co-production credits, the album lasts roughly three quarters of an hour and contains eight songs, most of which have been recorded in demo form at least twice (the Eno debacle to begin with, followed a year later by a reported superbly produced demo tape courtesy of the Blue Oyster Cult’s Alan Lanier, which, at a guess, clinched the band’s Elektra deal) and have been performed live innumerable times. The wait was been worthwhile because the refining process instigated by those hesitant years has sculpted the songs into the masterpieces that are here present for all to peruse.
Side one makes no bones about making its presence felt, kicking off with the full-bodied thrust of ‘See No Evil’. Guitars, bass and drums are strung together fitting tight as a glove clenched into a fist punching metal rivets of sound with the same manic abandon that typified the elegant ferocity of Love’s early drive. There is a real passion here – no half-baked metal cut and thrust – each beat reverberates to the base of the skull, with Verlaine’s voice a unique ostrich-like pitch that might just start to grate on the senses (a la his ex-sweetheart one P. Smith) were it not so perfectly mixed into the grain of the rhythm. The chorus / climax is irresistible anyway – Verlaine crooning “I understand destructive urges / They seem so imperfect … I see … I see no e-v-i-i-l-l.”
The next song is truly something else. ‘(The arms of) Venus De Milo’ is already a classic among those who’ve heard it even though it has only now been recorded. It’s simply one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard; the only other known work I can think of to parallel it with is Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – yup, it’s that exceptional. Only with Television’s twin guitar filigree weaving round the melody it sounds like some dream synthesis of Dylan himself backed by the Byrds circa ‘65. It’s really damn hard to convey just how gorgeous this song is – the performance, – all these incredible touches like the call-and-response Lou Reed parody. The song itself is like Dylan’s ‘Tambourine’, a vignette of a sort dealing wiih a dream-like quasi-hallucigenic state of ephiphany. “You know it’s all like some new kind of drug / My senses are hot and my hands are like gloves! … Broadway looks so medieval like a flap from so many pages … As I fell sideways laughing with a friend from many stages.”
‘Friction’ is probably the most readily accessible track from this album simply because, with its fairly anarchic, quasi-Velvets feel plus (all important) Verlaine’s most pungent methedrine guitar fret-board slaughter, here it’ll represent the kind of thing all those weaned on the hype and legend without hearing one note from Television will be expecting. It’s good, no more, no less – bearing distinct cross-breeding with the manic slant sited on ‘Johnny Jewel’ without the latter’s insidiousness. ‘Friction’ is just that – throwaway lyrics – “diction/Friction” etc. – those kind of throwaway rhymes, vicious instrumentation and a perfect climax which has Verlaine Vengefully spelling out the title “F-R-I-C-T-I-O-N” slashing his guitar for punctuation.
It’s down to the album’s title track to provide the side’s twin feat with ‘Venus De Milo’. Conceived at a time when rock tracks lasting over ten minutes are somewhere sunk deep below the subterranean depths of contempt, ‘Marquee Moon’ is as riveting a piece of music as I’ve heard since the halcyon days of… oh, God knows too many years have elapsed.
Everything about this piece is startling, from what can only be described as a kind of futuristic on-beat (i.e. reggae though you’d have to listen damn hard to catch it) built on Verlaine’s steely rhythm chopping against Lloyd’s intoxicating counterpoint. Slowly a story unfurls – a typically surreal Verlaine ghost story – involving Cadillacs pulling up in graveyards and disembodied arms beckoning the singer to get in while “lightning struck itself” and various twilight loony rejects from King Lear (that last bit’s my own fight of fancy, by the way) babbling crazy retorts to equally crazy questions. The lyrics mean little, I would guess by themselves, but as a scenario for the music here they become utterly compelling.
The song’s structure is practically unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It transforms from a strident two chord construction to a breathtakingly beautiful chord progression which acts as a motif/climax for the narrative until the music takes over altogether. The band build on some weird Eastern modal scales not unlike those used in the extended improvised break of Fairport Convention’s ‘A Sailor’s Life’ on Unhalfbricking. The guitar solo – either Lloyd or Verlaine – even bears exactly the same tone as Richard Thompson’s. The instrumentation reaches a dazzling frenzied peak before dispersing into tiny droplets of electricity and Verlaine concludes his ghostly narrative as the song ends with that majestic minor chord motif.
‘Marquee Moon’ is the perfect place to draw attention to the band’s musical assets. Individually each player is superb – not in the stereotyped sense of one who has spent hour upon hour over the record player dutifully apeing solo, riffs, embellishments but in that of only a precious few units – Can is the only band that spring to mind here at the moment. Each player has striven to create his own style. Verlaine’s guitar solos take the feed-back sonic “accidents” that Lou Reed fell upon in his most fruitful period and has fashioned a whole style utilizing also, if I’m not mistaken, the staggeringly innovative Jim McGuinn staccato free-form runs spotlit on the hideously underrated Fifth Dimension album (which no one, McGuinn included, has ever bothered to develop).
He takes these potentially cataclysmic ideas and rigorously shapes them into a potential total redefinition of the electric guitar. As far as I’m concerned, as of this moment, Verlaine is probably the most exciting electric lead guitar player barring only Neil Young. As it is, Verlaine’s solo constructions are always unconventional, forever delving into new areas, never satisfied with referring back to formulas. Patti Smith once told me, by the way, that Verlaine religiously spends 12 hours a day practising his guitar playing in his room to Pablo Casals records.
Richard Lloyd is the perfect foil for Verlaine. Another fine musician, his more fluid conventional pitching and manic rhythm work is the perfect complimentary force and his contribution demands to be recognised for the power it possesses. Bassist Smith is always in there holding down the undertow of the music. He emerges only when his presence is required – yet again, a superb player but next to Verlaine, it’s drummer Billy Ficca, visually the least impressive of all members standing – aside the likes of cherub-faced Lloyd and super-aesthetic Verlaine, who truly astonishes. Basically a jazz drummer, Ficca’s adoption of Television’s majestic musical mutations as flesh-to-be-pulsed-out makes his pyrotechnics quite unique. Delicate but firm, he seems to be using every portion of his kit most of the time without ever being over-bearing. As one who knows little or nothing, about drumming, I can only express a quiet awe at the inventiveness behind his technique
Individual accolades apart, the band’s main clout lays in their ability to function as one and perhaps the best demonstration of this can be found in ‘Elevation’, side two’s opening gambit and, with ‘Venus’, probably this record’s most immediately suitable choice for a single. Layer upon layer of gentle boulevard guitar makes itself manifest until Lloyd holds the finger-picked melody together and Verlaine sings in that by now well accustomed hyena croon. The song again is beautiful, proudly contagious with a chorus that lodges itself in your subconscious like a bullet in the skull – “Elevation don’t go to my head” repeated thrice until on the third line a latent ghost-like voice transmutes “Elevation” into “Television”. Guitars cascade in and out of the mix so perfectly.
‘Guiding Light’ is reflective, stridently poetic – a hymn for aesthetes – which, complete with piano, reminds me slightly of Procol Harum in excelsis. ‘Prove It’, the following track, is another potential single. Verlaine as an asthmatic ostrich-voice Sam Spade “This case … this case I’ve been working on so long” and of course that chorus which I still can’t hesitate quoting – “Prove it/Just the facts/Confidential”. From Chandler, Television move to Hitchcock – at least for the title of the last song on this album: ‘Torn Curtain’ is one of Verlaine’s most recent creations – a most melancholy composition again reminiscent in part of a Procol Harum song although the timbre of Verlaine’s voice is the very antithesis of Gary Booker’s world weary tones. A song of grievous circumstances (as with so many of Verlaine’s lyrics); the facts – cause and effect – remain enigmatically sheltered from the listener. The structure is indeed strange, like some Bavarian funeral march with Verlaine’s vocals at their most yearning. The song is compelling though I couldn’t think of a single number written in the rock idiom I could possibly compare it to.
So that’s it. Marquee Moon, released mid-February in America and probably the beginning of March here. I think it’s a work of genius and had Charlie Murray not done that whole number about “first albums this good being pretty damn hard to come across” with Patti Smith’s Horses last year then I would have pulled the same stunt for this one. Suffice to say – oh listen, it’s released on Elektra, right, and it reminded me, just how great that label used to be. I mean, this is Elektra’s best record since… Strange Days. And (apres moi, le deluge, kiddo) I reckon Tom Verlaine’s probably the single most important rock singer/songwriter/guitarist of his kind since Syd Barrett, which is my credibility probably blown for the rest of the year. But still…
If this review needs to state anything in big bold, black type it’s simply this. Marquee Moon is an album for everyone whatever their musical creeds and/or quirks. Don’t let any other critic put you off with jive turkey terms like ‘avant-garde’ or ‘New York psycho-rock’. This music is passionate, full-blooded, dazzlingly well crafted, brilliantly conceived and totally accessible to anyone who (like myself) has been yearning for a band with the vision to break on through into new dimensions of sonic overdrive and the sheer ability to back it up. Listening to this album reminds me of the ecstatic passion I received when I first heard ‘Eight Miles High’ and ‘Happenings Ten Years Ago’ – before terms like progressive/art rock became synonymous with baulking pretensions and clumsy, crude syntheses of opposite forms.
In a year’s time, when all the current three-chord golden boys have fallen from grace right into the pit to become a parody of Private Eye’s apeing of moron rock bands – Spiggy Topes and The Turds Live at the Roxy – Tom Verlaine and Television will be out there hanging fire, cruising meteorite-like with their fretboards pointed directly at the music of the spheres. Prove it? They’ve already done it right here with this their first album. All you’ve got to do is listen and levitate along with it.

You know that THEY have never even read THE review of Marquee Moon let alone heard the album! 

The Future?

Prince Far I and Creation Rebel Filmed by Don Letts at Dingwalls Camden Lock London (1978?)

As Adrian Sherwood says:
My ex-wife and myself worked at Dingwalls in the early eighties (where we in fact met) so I was lucky enough to see Adrian man the mixing desk on numerous occasions there (I always made sure I took those nights off from working the bar) Anyway I may take this opportunity to allow the mother of my kids to give her thoughts re Mr Williams...but first a tiny pic of a 'Snowball'!
Take it away Angela...
All I can say is lucky we don't get snow on the ground here in Melbourne as I would be so tempted to say 'snowball' in a Prince Far I impersonation EVERY time...

Kevin Richard Martin - Solaris & In Love With A Ghost

Kevin Richard Martin (The Bug, King Midas Sound) releases a stunningly powerful rescore of Andrei Tarkovsky’s seminal 1972 movie Solaris on Phantom Limb. 
In May 2020, British musician Kevin Martin was invited by the Vooruit arts centre in Gent, Belgium to compose a new score for a film of his choice. Having been long inspired by pioneering Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Martin tells us that his 1972 masterpiece Solaris was the “natural choice”. The film is an unattested giant, not only of science fiction and Soviet film, but also in the annals cinematic history. And its original score, composed by regular Tarkovsky collaborator and early Soviet electronic musician Eduard Artemyev, is a magnificent work of haunting majesty, a key element to the film’s brilliance. Martin’s challenge was great: “it was with a certain amount of trepidation I stepped into such large footprints,” he writes. 
The results - Return to Solaris - are breathtaking. The film is intense, psychologically devastating and bleakly compelling. Interweaving themes of love, horror, sorrow, nostalgia, memory and dystopia, Martin’s score expertly mirrors this expansive breadth of psychic weight, from existential dread to heartbreaking poignancy, with immense emotional gravity. Drawn to its “narrative struggle between organic, pastoral memories of a lost past, and the harsh, dystopian realities of a futuristic hell,” Martin employs atonal noise, simmering waves of distorted synthesis, undulating drones and otherworldly, astronomic sound-design to crushing effect. Subtly submerged recurring motifs - reflections of individual characters - rise and fall amidst the fog, occasionally illuminating the doom like motes of starlight, before settling back into the density of space. 
Tarkovsky’s Solaris won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and was screened for an incredible fifteen years uninterrupted in the Soviet Union. It is placed highly in “greatest movies of all time” lists published by Empire and the BBC, among others. Steven Soderburgh directed a Hollywood remake in 2002, starring George Clooney, and scored by Cliff Martinez.  

Music performed, produced and composed by Kevin Richard Martin 
Mastered by Stefan Betke 
Artwork by Simon Fowler 
Released June 25, 2021

Sunday, 30 May 2021

'Black Is' Mix

Includes tracks by The Last Poets, Charlie Haden & Hank Jones, Gary Bartz Ntu Troop,  Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Getto Kitty, Darongo, Sly & the Family Stone, Experience Unlimited, Ghostpoet, Eddie Floyd, Marvin Gaye, William DeVaughn, The O'Jays, The Staple Singers, James Brown, The Temptations, Willie Wright, Syl Johnson, Parliament, Charles Mingus, Sault, Saul Williams, Malcolm X featuring Keith LeBlanc, Kode9 & The Spaceape and Curtis Mayfield
Unravelling the archive: The radical sound of Jean-Luc Godard

Lou Barlow - Over You

An Afropessimist on the Year Since George Floyd Was Murdered
Rob Sheridan: I have a confession to make

Take this with a grain of salt

Searching for prophecy in the midst of a pandemic

Thursday, 27 May 2021


Wednesday, 26 May 2021

The Myth of Coexistence in Israel

Rock Family Trees: New York Punk


Hotel Suburbia: Honeymoon Killers/The Gun Club/T.C. Matic/The Style Council (EP3 VPRO Nederlands 1983)

Episode 1 Episode 2


Artwork by Futura

Radio Kapital: Tygiel Mogiel #7 - Kevin Richard Martin (17/5/21)

Kevin Richard Martin - End Times Video by Pedro Maia

Beats & Pieces #86: E.H Soundsystem & Jorge Paez - On-U Sound VS Zam Zam Sounds (13/05/21)

Knowledge Arena: In Conversation with Adrian Sherwood

As Jethro Binks says: A rare recording of Spin Off from BBC Radio Blackburn (later BBC Radio Lancashire), featuring interview and music from Adrian Sherwood, presented by Steve Barker. 
The interview dates from 1982-01-19, and the programme was broadcast a couple of weeks later, probably Tue 2nd February. 
This is a fascinating piece of audio, I know of no other extant radio interviews with Adrian dating back to these very early days. 
Source: Recovered from 1/4" reel from Steve Barker's archive.

Brian Hamill: 'To Talk' (A poem for Tom Leonard)


Such tragic news

+ Brian's playlist for the Social Gathering last August Trade pays tribute to 'kindest Scottish literature advocate' Brian Hamill

Rock Family Trees: The New Mersey Sounds (1976-83)

Live / Dead


A work in progress 
ACIC Thinks There Are No Legitimate Uses Of Encryption. They’re Wrong, And Here’s Why It Matters
Exploring the Black Roots of Shoegaze and Dream Pop

Depeche Mode by Anton Corbijn

New Coronavirus Detected In Patients At Malaysian Hospital; The Source May Be Dogs
How Did a Censored Writer from the 1970s Predict the Future with Such Uncanny Accuracy?

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Doll By Doll: Night Of The Psychotic Woodsmen (Kris Needs 2007)

'Doll By Doll had a kind of mysterious forward planning which was somehow leading to oblivion.'

Jackie Leven (2007)
In June 1978 I was 12-months into being editor of Zigzag and the previous year's supernova had tapered off a bit. We were still waiting for the second Clash album, anything from the Banshees and there used to be a band called the Sex Pistols. What's more, Zigzag had just switched owners to a mad bunch of underground magazine distributors in pre-Hugh Grant Notting Hill [i.e. funky]. There were changes in the air as punk was often stereotyped, tinny and clichéd with only groups like the Adverts and Buzzcocks flying the flag and moving forward with it. 
I was doing my Don Letts bit in the back room of an Aylesbury pub called the Britannia, playing reggae pre-releases in between bands at what was called the Acme Club. It was mainly local groups, including my own Vice Creems. Our Roxy on a much smaller, provincial scale. Mark the promoter kept going on this group he'd booked called Doll By Doll. He'd been contacted by their manager and already had tales, like they hailed from West London's squatting scene, gave a chunk of their gig money to R.D. Laing's Philadelphia Association charity which gave asylum to the mentally disturbed and were about the most exciting group around at the moment. Their problem was, they didn’t wear the right uniform, their hair was longer, matching their guitar solos and they were a bit older at a time when that was frowned upon. They had histories of mental illness and incarceration. They were a band of outsiders already and I just had this gut feeling they might be rather special and get somehow intertwined with my own life. 
My gut was right. I just didn't know they'd be that special. Or that nearly 30-years later their albums would have [only just] been reissued to confuse or seduce the world again - once again to probably get cold-shouldered by media and masses but picked up on by a few who can see that Doll By Doll hit raw nerves rarely touched in rock music and I would be trying to tell the world about them again. In 1978, the group became one of the personal crusades which I thrust into the magazine because I believed they were amazing, getting overlooked or wrongly treated elsewhere. From the first crashing chords of 'Butcher Boy' on that tiny stage and the spine-chilling vocal howl from singer Jackie Leven which followed, I believed that Doll By Doll were incredible. By the end of the set, as they mercilessly pummelled 'The Palace Of Love' into a searing wall of feedback, I was a gibbering heap and convinced that I'd seen the future of rock 'n' roll. I put them in Zigzag regularly, covering a tortuous career which would implode in the early 80s and leave their four albums languishing in the vaults until now. 
So I'm going to go on about them again because, listening to these remarkable records again, I realise again that not only do I know every chord, holler and nuance but they were an incredible band and still piss all over much of what has happened since. 
Doll By Doll came together in the squats near Warwick Avenue tube station, particularly in a desolate, half-ruined thoroughfare called Formosa Street, the seamy underbelly of Maida Vale and near the same patch which spawned the 101'ers. Jackie Leven and lead guitarist-singer Jo Shaw had met around 1974 in Dorset but gone separate ways. Jo went to Berlin and New York while Jackie toured Europe with, 'stand up Lenny Bruce-style rants interspersed with really hard songs'. The pair hitched up again and, playing mainly Jackie's songs, gained bassist Robin Spreafico and drummer Dave McIntosh. 
Jackie's songs. Heavily based on experience: vivid and intensely personal. 'I've been on the line a few times,' he told me. This included prison for violence, three marriages and head-wracking mental pinball sessions. The words of songs like 'Sleeping Partner' and 'Honest Woman' are harsh and brutal but swept with an irrepressible romance. It was these two polar opposites which gave Doll By Doll their edge, a close-to-the-brink passion which could boot off any moment. The new group started honing their ferocious live assault on London's sometimes-unforgiving pub circuit. 'We need to do a certain amount of work because of the intensity of the set we've got. Otherwise we'd probably kill each other.' They were playing anywhere which would have them, which was why they ended up at Aylesbury's Acme Club. But things happen for a reason and, after being blown away that night, I stuck a stop press in the Zigzag I was hammering down with cow-gum [bollocks to your keyboards!] to rant about this applecart-dynamiting new group. Despite playing around 80-gigs already, it was their first review. 
The next gig was going to be at High Wycombe's famous Nag's Head so I decided to devote four pages to Doll By Doll in the next issue, based around the gig. This being Doll By Doll things took a twist. The night before the group had played a gig at a club in Silvertown. This was when East London's dockland was dodgy and dangerous and three of the Doll By Doll contingent suffered a severe kicking from meatheads who didn't like what they were hearing. Not just a bit of heckling. Smashed teeth, split heads and the rest. Drummer Dave had a fractured jaw, while the band had around 300 stitches between them. Jackie, remembering what had put him inside during his days in Scotland, had to detach himself and step over his mate's unconscious body to avoid the situation resulting in a floating-in-the-dock scenario. 
So as me and Mark the promoter were walking through the Aylesbury town centre subway - same one where they filmed the tramp-kicking scene in A Clockwork Orange, by the way - to meet Jackie and Jo we walk straight into two tall men who've just come from the hospital. Repairing to a nearby house, we find out what happened last night and I embark on one of the most riveting interviews of my journalistic career. I gave it four pages in the June Zigzag and now I'm going to hand over to myself back then for a bit. No amount of clearing away the mental fog will take away the excitement I felt seeing this band and then getting to know them that day. What I wrote then still applies, although I know I was sucked in and open for them to pile on their dark mystique. 
'Doll By Doll are no ordinary band…They're the first new group I've seen in the first half of '78 to get me excited again. This group occupy a real life cesspit where few choose to wallow. They make sneering punk posturing look sissy, other weak trends superficial and much of the rest redundant. Doll By Doll [the name comes from a poem by e.e. cummings - the man who invented no capitals in verse - called the 'the enormous room'] are working on the edge of their minds, in their music, lifestyle, emotions. On stage souls are bared, nerve-ends jangle and emotions run riot…On the surface songs are 'catchy', nodding at Springsteen, Lou Reed, classic rock 'n' roll, the guitar interplay descended from Quicksilver and re-modelled by Television, Dylan…but it's thoroughly shot with outer-limits intensity and an un-nerving unpredictability which'll catapult you cowering under your seat as Jackie, a huge, bearded half-Romany Scot, is suddenly left intoning unaccompanied intimidation over menacing double-echo firing squad drumming [the afore-mentioned 'Butcher Boy'].  
Sometimes the tension builds to crackle and burst, or the sound gets heavy and claustrophobic, other times dense-textured and melodic. Never less than attention grabbing, often mesmerising. There's something about this group that goes beyond simple sound barriers, most apparent when they take off, which is frequent, and you feel your head and heart strain to go too. It's almost overpowering, when every member of the group is peaking and pouring every ounce of passion into a particularly ear-popping passage…like the final screaming rush of 'The Palace Of Love', which recalls nothing so much as the searing orgasmic glory of [the Velvet Underground's] 'Heroin' crossed with 'Sister Ray' at its most crazed, guitarist Jo Shaw doubled over his AC30 scraping agony from his tortured guitar. By the relentless steam hammer crunch-coda the three front men are all in various stages of death-agony approximation to the stage floor. Robin Spreafico on his knees nursing his flat-out bass like a shivering fallen war comrade. This electrifying stretch then brakes into a smashed-glass feedback howl, and there's a stunned silence before the enthusiastic applause, which seems silly after THAT. 
'No histrionics though, Doll By Doll strain at the seams of the emotional jigsaw they're carving on yours and their brain-pans but they're equally capable of pure, inventive musicianship, aural green fields for wounds that won’t heal, won't come to heel and form the often harrowing backbone of Jackie Leven's songs of love, hate and the confusion in between. Sometimes the emotions will falter, like when you try and talk and cry at the same time.'
"I don't think we've had an indifferent reaction yet. That's one good thing", says Jackie. That can be down to a lot of things. Maybe the intense, unnerving music, the something in the air when they play which neither they nor I can define and don't want to, or Jackie's theory that the group show a side to themselves they'd sooner forget, ignore or shy away from, or don't know about. And rub their face in it.' 
Bear in mind that this was early '78. The very traditions and uniforms it had set out to destroy had already restricted punk. The Clash were about to get it in the neck for progressing into a panoramic rock 'n' roll strain that would explode on London Calling. Doll by Doll, although more extreme than any punk band, were often looked upon as too rock 'n' roll, too old, too musical and too…different from what was supposed to be hip. They didn't give a shit. I took Strummer and Jones to see them. Joe was in his vitriolic year-zero phase but Mick saw it, recalling in the current Uncut, 'I followed them for quite a while. I admired Jackie Leven very much. He'd been there, he'd lived it, and that came across in his songs.' 
There was no way you could call Doll By Doll a punk band in the sense of what that meant then. But if it meant people from the street, gutter even, being honest with themselves about themselves and playing emotionally charged music, then this was the truest punk band of all. As Jackie says in his notes to the Remember reissue, 'Even in our own area of the Harrow Road there were loads of pubs you could play. The punk thing was happening but it wasn't happening in the way that it's portrayed now. The image that it was dominated by a handful of bands like the Pistols and The Clash is completely false. There were dozens of bands worth seeing playing every night. We were playing music that was very fierce and were coming up against audiences that were very volatile. It's a myth to think that punk, as we now know it, was all that there was. There was a mutual sense of surprise between bands and audiences that something unexpected was happening all over London. I was excited by punk and we really appreciated its energy, but we had decided to get together and put together a ferocious band without having much awareness of the punk thing happening around us. 'We were intimidating, punk was like going to a funfair where some of the rides were scary but you knew in advance you were going to be scared. Even our live shows where we were absolutely exhilarating; people would love what we were doing but would go away thinking, "I never want to see these fucking bastards again my life". We did like the fact that people were both exhilarated and shell-shocked. We were actually on a real high most of the time even though we were portrayed as being unhappy and unhinged.' He says they used to laugh at the stunned and shaking post-set causalities. I sincerely hope he didn’t mean us lot, who used it as an excuse to get slaughtered and somewhat carried away. Jackie admits that they built a tribe of their own, mainly fucked up people. We're a damaged band and we come from damaged land. Back to that first interview. If the live show pinned you against the wall, talking to Jackie could be fairly intense, delivered with dramatic timing. I've still got the tapes and it was heavy stuff. 
'One thing we've noticed a lot recently is that the degree of upfront emotion turns a lot of people of initially, especially punk audiences. They find it very uncomfortable. "Hey, this guy's singing about being hurt and bewildered", but eventually you hit 'em with something that's so strong as a piece of pure rock that eventually they're back there listening, and that's the way the whole set's realty designed - to catch every fucker one way, and having got them, not let them go. We do get an aggressive vibe sometimes. It's just unfortunate. We don't go out to cause an aggressive reaction.' 
But when some dickheads at the Leighton Buzzard gig decided to give Jackie a hard time onstage, it was swiftly dealt with. 'He persisted in calling me a screaming cunt down my ear hole,' and was rewarded with a kick in the bollocks. 'It didn't hurt him, just made him realise you don't call someone a cunt who's bigger than you!' 
Then there was the darker side. 'One thing that interests us, to say the least, is we have had a few people who, as a direct result of coming to our gigs, have ended up in asylums. They send us postcards and letters regularly. They say, "I saw you at the Music Machine and next day I went crazy. It's really true. It's weird…we use quite a lot of their writing. 
'I think it's very much that we don’t compromise and we have a show which has a real sense of dynamics, and if you're at a vulnerable point in your life and you take the whole show in, then there's no doubt it'll have the effect it's designed to have and that it's going to turn you right round to have a look at yourself. If you don't like what you see in the mirror then it's not our fault. We're only pointing out that facility exists and that's why I think for the same reason we got all shit smashed out of us last night - the same sort of thing.' Or, as he puts it now, 'We were certainly looking for a reaction and shouldn't have been surprised when we got one.' '
We want people to face the reality of their own life. I think the crux of it that we reduce people to individuals rather than encourage a sense of false comradeship the way bands like the Tom Robinson band do. It's you and me as far as I'm concerned. Not US against THEM because I don't believe there is a THEM. That's what it comes down to.' 
Jackie explained how they regularly donate gig money to the Philadelphia Association, set up in 1964 by psychotherapist R.D. Laing to run houses for people who've suffered a nervous breakdown. They go in and figure it out for themselves, among themselves. 'It's an alternative to EST. It's as simple as that.' The group approached Laing himself and, for a while, regularly donated, supporting themselves by doing day jobs. Jackie himself was a necromancer who, 'reveals the future through communication with the dead', which came from his half-Romany background. 
At this time, Doll By Doll didn't use press shots, just a photo of French poet Artonin Artaud taken just before he went in for seven years EST, 'for telling the truth'. The image adorned their first album and all the promo paraphernalia, as well as my Zigzag piece. 'There's no pre-conceived ideas about us at all,' explained Jackie. You could say they made quite an impression that day. So did the ensuing feature. I got lots of people saying they'd been prodded to check 'em out and were similarly turned around. Nobody asked me to put them in Zigzag and I got some stick. I just believed they deserved it. So we continued promoting and following them. They got a record deal - with Automatic records, the new Warners-backed label started by Nick 'Keep Death On The Stage, wouldn't really go with Sounds' latest easy option. 
Let's get this straight. Doll by Doll liked a laugh too. They could also laugh at themselves. 'I'm surprised how it works but it just does,' said Jackie. 'I mean, Jo's brain's all shot away. I look at him stumbling about when we're onstage and think, "How the hell is he doing that?" And I mean standing up! Dave's a lousy drummer. We have to stop him doing all these rolls around the kit, which he fucks up. Robin's all over the place. I just pick a few notes up here…we're like a bunch of psychotic woodsmen swinging around with axes and just missing each other. The Night of the Psychotic Woodsmen!' 
There was my headline. Next came some form of prophecy. 'I don't think we strike anyone as a band who are headed for a happy hunting ground in which we all smile and shake hands with each other and get huge beer guts and phone each other up from our estates all over the country. I don't think that's what's gonna happen at all.' 
It didn't. But then Jackie also didn't 'do a Sid', as he predicted that day as 'some kind of logical fatal conclusion'. He gave himself two years. Mobbs, yes, the same bloke who signed the Pistols to EMI and was forced to unceremoniously dump them. He read the Zigzag piece and Doll By Doll became his first and, for a while, only signing. 
Apart from regular bulletins, next time Doll By Doll appeared in Zigzag was March 1979 on the eve of release of Remember, their debut album. This time I put them on the cover - Jackie onstage. Nick had given me a cassette of the album and it's fair to say I was knocked sideways and Jackie knew Sid Vicious, who used to live locally and, unlike many from back then, he spoke highly, mentioning a passage from Fred Vermorel's book where Sid, 'flips out on films. It's one of the most lucid pieces of spontaneous speech I've ever read in my entire life. It doesn't make me feel I had anything over Sid as an intellect or a person that understands what's going down. It's absolutely lucid to the point of terror. 'Sid was a private person, whereas we're trying to make our private agonies public…I don't think what we're doing is essentially any different to what Sid did and what happened to Sid is understandably a test of extremes. It's not what I see as the ultimate fate I feel somehow awaits this band. In a sense I'd be disappointed if that wasn't the case because it burbled accordingly. The reissue project has been put together by Mick Houghton, who had the job of Doll By Doll's press officer as he worked for Warners [a fine chap who sorted out all my Ramones interviews, among others]. He recalls Jackie and Jo turning up for the first meeting tripping their nuts off. In his reissue liner notes, Mick says Doll By Doll were, 'either reviled by people or they somehow cast a spell over them'. I guess I fell into the latter category. Remember captured the ferocity of the live show: the full-on sonic assault of 'The Palace Of Love', slow-grind menace of 'More Than Human', heart-gouging true life horror story about a former lover brutally murdered of 'Sleeping Partner' to poignant soul ballad 'Janice', which featured the gorgeous harmonies Jackie and Jo liked to slip in. The multi-tiered guitar onslaught of 'Chances' still leaves me drained. I said at the time that it was almost like the music was possessed, demons in the chords or something. That indefinable something again. I still consider it a five star album and thus awarded it when reviewing for current magazines. 
The album was recorded live at Wessex studios, where Mott had worked, the Pistols did Bollocks and The Clash would soon record London's Calling. I was delighted to see that Bill Price, who I knew from Mott, was in charge of capturing their live intensity, and he did a sterling job. The first single was an edited version of 'The Palace Of Love'. 
Having now seen the group ripping their souls apart and confronting audiences at countless gigs ranging from thankless to euphoric, I'd now moved up a notch by being able to play them at home [and still get amazed and shell-shocked] and even got a taste of life chez Doll by Doll. On an early 1979 day when there was snow on the ground I went to number 19 Formosa Street, where their management company Hard ventures had its HQ. Over the next couple of days, I witnessed the band rehearse with the same intensity as they did onstage and hung out in their local pub among the other misfits, junkies and squatters. It was a community, which has obviously long gone into yuppie gentrification.  
First we did the interview. Another weighty session. The group had tried their first support tour with Devo, only to get thrown off for 'not being Devo enough'. In other words they refused to wear flowerpots on their heads and gargle zanily. Any band whose slogan was, but is still around, ploughing an earthier furrow as a captivating solo artist. But talk had turned weightily to death. 'This band is unquestionably involved in a death trip, and when you're involved in a death trip it ends in one thing alone and that's death.'. Jackie then told me that, just before the album sessions, he'd tried to end it all. 'I had a suicide attempt just before Christmas. If Jo and Joni hadn't got me to the hospital ultra-quick it would have been all over. I took a fatal overdose of reds, tenuate, valium and booze. I was enjoying myself. I knew what I was doing. I was really unhappy about things. That would seem to suggest that we'd thrown off our initial objective, and I really can't se me shaking hands with Kenny Everett in the Grovsenor Hotel winking away for the camera, and having a few glib things to say about our latest platinum album.' 
When we hit the pub later, Jackie was a different bloke, one of the boys, pissed and giggling. But that chat made me think and it might have looked drastic in cold print. 
After two years of 'storming ferocity' at gigs, Remember was the start of getting it all out and starting another phase for Doll by Doll. Jackie admits now that his manic-depressive personality got him into 'some seriously bleak places…I was just fucked up and absolutely on my own…I was the lead fucked up person within the band. We all had problems and would happily and cheerfully admit it. There was a magicality between the three of us that we had this shared sense of problems and pain. We never actually sat down like a men's group and said, 'What the fuck is all this about". That would never have occurred to us.' Perhaps we did instinctively, by channelling this into what we were doing as a group.' 
They made a second album, going for a more streamlined approach on Gypsy Blood, probably their masterpiece. In his notes, the afore-mentioned Paul Du Noyer describes it as, 'probably the most neglected great rock record of its era'. Spreafico had now been replaced by Tony Waite, but Doll by Doll never considered their bass players to be full-time members of the group, for some reason. The title comes from Jackie's Romany-Geordie mother. 
Remember got shitty reviews, on the whole, and didn't sell. Nick Mobbs needed a hit album and John Sinclair came in as producer. Having got all the pent-up aggression out of their systems, Doll By Doll were more open to making a radio-friendly killer. Jackie was writing some strong songs, had a few left over, and Sinclair was a sympathetic producer. It didn’t do anything to dull the emotional impact. The songs were just shorter, more melodic and some of his very best. On paper it looks quite simple: some rockers, some ballads, nothing exceeding five minutes. But in the process of being more direct and melodic, Doll by Doll went further into their heart of darkness invoking a different kind of rock 'n' roll drenched in a kind of opiated shimmer the like of which I've not encountered on a record before or since. This is the one which most stands up today as a forgotten classic. 
The older 'Teenage Lightning' and title track were immediate and grabbing but it's from gorgeous ballad 'Stripshow' onwards that the album starts its emotional roller coaster. Cast in a rainy London at night, the song's more accessible in terms of moving images and descriptions but still crashes and resonates to the depths of the soul. `The Human Face' is an episodic mini-masterpiece with its 'Jesus saves' gospel chorus, poignant reflection and surging guitar break. 'Hey Sweetheart' could be an old-fashioned teen ballad but the 'love comes and it takes my breath away' section is pure sonic euphoria. Jo sings the urgent funk of 'Binary Fiction' before 'Hell Games' starts a stunning side two home stretch. Climactic, soaring and drenched in mixing desk shenanigans like naughty chipmunks on acid. 'Forbidden World' was more of a direct love song, still prone to strain at the psychic leash and vent a huge, psychedelic sigh, before 'Highland Rain' brings in what would become recognised as Jackie's Celtic Soul roots with its romantic, windswept feel. By now it feels like being at the end of some kind of journey, with 'Endgame' a short, beatless cry before closing poem, 'When A Man Dies'. I was stunned then when it came to a close and still am. By the way, the cover shot of a severely ruffled Jackie was taken after he'd nearly fallen to his death by the Thames, capturing the moment when he made it back to the bank. 
After this album went the same way as its predecessor, the group continued touring, drugging and writing. In May 1980, Doll by Doll were in Zigzag again. I'd not been to Maida Vale for a while, having spent much time on the road with The Clash and Banshees, etc, trying to run the mag and stop the new wanker publishers from running it to the ground. It wasn't mine any more. It was run by greedy, clueless cretins who never got Doll By Doll. I'd put on a bash at London's Venue to mark ten years of Zigzag with Doll by Doll a raging highlight climaxing with Jo smashing his Stratocaster [much to his regret]. I had not seen so much of them since. It was good to catch up but it would still be another year before the third album appeared. Jackie declared that, after the creative exorcism of the first two albums that would be seen as classics in years to come, it was time to grab some success. Some wedge would be cool too. 
'With Remember and Gypsy Blood we tied up the loose ends for ourselves, and I think, for our audience, both emotionally and technically. Now I think we can award ourselves a larger audience….We've done our heavy-duty part. We've released two albums which are going to continue to surface for the next 20 years at least as musts for bands that are looking for direction. There's nothing wrong with that. We've looked to old albums by the Velvets Underground and the Doors, not lifted ideas but lifted the spirit in which they were recorded and grafted it onto what we've been doing. I like to think that we're part of that tradition.' 
It would actually be another 27-years before the albums got to be honoured again, on a format that was only in the planning stages when Jackie said that. But he was right. The first two can be held as pivotal all-time classics. But in 1980, it obviously wasn't working out with Automatic. They parted company and Doll By Doll signed with a label called Magnet, who put out the third album. Just called Doll By Doll, it marked another stab at mainstream acceptance but still harboured too many demons and moments of pure darkness to hit daytime radio. Doll By Doll were a band out of time, any time. They were too honest, true to themselves and, after the album weighs in with the lush synthesisers and hallucinogenic grandeur of 'Figure it Out', still taking a tortuous voyage into areas many would want to avoid. 'A Perfect Romance' is one of their earliest songs, the thoughts of someone about to slash their wrists in a toilet cubicle. The sound is suitably black and unsettling. 'Bright Green Field' is a fried, howling tear-up. The inner turmoil was still there but Doll By Doll knew that they had to crack it this time. Elsewhere, producer Tom Newman polishes outings which could be considered fairly lightweight: 'Caritas' is a Spanish balcony love call, 'Soon New Life' about a forthcoming baby and 'Those In Peril' injects Caribbean flavours. A song called 'Up' states, 'I want to be up'. Doll By Doll's version of daytime radio pop songs. The single was 'Main Travelled Roads', written by Jackie about leaving his son. This aching lullaby remains one of the most beautiful songs ever written. At one point it looked like it might be a hit. In the June 1981 issue of Zigzag, which was now even further castrated from my original vision, I did a track-by-track with Jackie who declared, 'You just can't go round doing the artistic equivalent of being a terrorist, whether or not you would classify yourselves as such or not, if other people do that's what you are. You can't do it and expect to get away with it.' 
Again, the record didn't sell. This came as a final blow to Doll By Doll, who could have carried on as the ultimate [broke] cult and still one of the compulsive live experiences around. But now Jackie would carry the name to go it alone for one more album, Grand Passion. The others were replaced by new girlfriend Helen Turner, who sang and played keyboards. It was a very pleasant album with some touching ballads and a fine version of the Stones' 'Under My Thumb', but the band were replaced by anonymous session men. Doll By Doll with musos didn’t work so well. 
Jackie sank into smack, suffered damage to his larynx in a 1983 street attack which required further opiated anaesthesias, and I now went to see him for a different reason than finding out what would become of Doll By Doll. In 1985, he kindly let me and my late, then-pregnant missus, move into his then-girlfriend's cottage in Lisson Grove. [The ceiling fell in and we were moved into a welfare hotel]. After beating his problem, Jackie went on to start the C.O.R.E. operation to help drug addicts from the same cottage while I went to New York City. As my 90s went on their chaotic rampage I sometimes thought back to Doll By Doll. These albums being reissued brought it all back. If you're of limited means, you owe it to yourself to at least experience the first two. Nobody with an ounce of soul should be allowed to escape the terrible beauty of Gypsy Blood. In his 2007 sleeve notes, Jackie reflects, 'Doll By Doll was rooted in its own genuine psychic problems - mainly mine - although the other guys had problems too, and our music was about the problematic nature of the world and living in it. We were operating in a world of one. It made a difference that we were that much older and had all had real lives and done things other than dropping out of art college and getting dad to buy us a guitar. The damage that the songs were about was not the sort of damage that you could have experienced in your late teens and early 20s. 
'I don't think I was particularly well mentally. I'm prepared to be quite candid about that now. I took far too many drugs… it made me violent, it made me unpredictable, it made me dangerous. I was a real mess. I had seriously bad things on my mind and I really made the band suffer. I could have done all that better. But I think the band would agree, we probably wouldn't have been Doll By Doll if that been the case.' 

Kris Needs – tMx 29 – 04/07