Tuesday, 14 July 2015

May 1980

Watch With Mothersbraugh

Devo are wearing Bill and Ben flowerpots on their heads when I meet up with them on a movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I don’t like to say anything -- the daft todgers might take offence and boot me in the flubberglub.

It’s perfectly obvious to them what those pillar-box red plastic hats signify. 


Or, to be more precise, Aztec Winkies! Hats, it seems, are merely penile projectiles in the Devo dictionary of daffy definitions. 

‘They are the sign of a man’s sexuality. They represent the energy of the organ,’ says Gerry Casale, without the slightest hint of a smirk. Brings a whole new meaning to giving head. And, like all Devo concepts, the hat-wearing has a dualistic connotation, or the Tweedledum and Tweedledee syndrome. 

‘They are festive hats,’ continues Gerry. ‘We wear them to create a party atmosphere. We want to be the life and soul of the party, like the guy who gets drunk and sticks a lampshade on his head to get a laugh.’ 

Mark Mothersbraugh gives one of his customary tag lines that always seem to crystallise a particular facet of Devo psychology in one searing, succinct sentence. ‘David Bowie used to wear a plastic hat too . . .’ 

I’m being treated to my own personal preview of their new show − the final one before they embark on a world tour to promote their new album, Freedom of Choice. It’s remarkable. The speakers double up as the light show to produce some stunning monochrome effects and the encore, a medley of songs from Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants using the flowerpots to maximum advantage, has to be seen to be believed. 

After they finish, the band wander up and down Sunset Strip wearing grey vinyl suits. It’s so hot you can actually hear their feet squelching in their pillar-box red shoes. And naturally they wear those hats. They’re posing for a photo session and attract the attention of T-shirted LA types noticeable by their dumb expressions and limited stoned-clad vocabulary. 

‘Hi. Hey. Wha’ . . .? Hey. Hi. Devo, huh? Shit. Hi. Hey. Mind if I, er . . . Yeah? No kiddin’. Hey. Hi . . .’ 

The articulate Devo, gleaming metallic sex pistons of techno-brash, provide a sharp contrast to this ring of mediocrity. 

What lurks behind the clinical, boiler-suited exterior? Do their hearts pump blood or BP? Are they just a bunch of Dunlops rushing in where angels fear to tread, or are they the harbingers of a duty free Tomorrow’s World? Devo are an exquisite enigma. Or is it enema? 

Whatever, they have confused and confounded the British press who seem incapable of accepting them on any serious level. And nobody could believe it when these strange, fragile-looking beings appeared not to see the joke. 

Oh, sure they would, as they do now, sit with you and mock a quasi-intellectual article rejoicing at their ‘reductive synthesis’, but if you went away and wrote a piece with tongue firmly in cheek, they seemed to get hurt. 

‘We answered questions in earnest,’ says Gerry, sipping a glass of Californian champagne. It’s now midnight. We’re in a downtown bar and they’re still wearing fucking flowerpots on their heads. 

‘The British seem to lack a sense of humour about it all. We were just stirring things up for fun. Devo are just playing with reality. In the end, everyone resorts to religion, right-wing politics and disco. Devo are observers of the human condition. But the joke is, we’re part of that condition too.’ 

What does Devo-lution mean, Gerry? 

‘Stripping away the shit. When Bob Seger writes, “I like to watch her strut”, you tell him that’s a fucking joke. You tell him that’s a fucking stupid line. That’s my freedom of choice. Don’t expect me to wear gypsy leather trousers and go out and sing, “I like to watch her fucking strut”. I’m confident that there’s a whole segment of society that doesn’t want to hear about girls strutting or pulling triggers on devils’ guns. 

‘Devo’s programme is the alternative to sock-in-the-crotch rock. Our sexuality is more like Henry Ford and the assembly line. We are sexual in a powerfully clean, technological way. Devo is the cleansing agent for all the awful records out there. Devo presents you with a pure and healthy sex. I’ve never been able to understand why a woman wants a man with a great big hairy belly. They must have a perverted and demented view of sex. 

‘A lot of people represent the medieval kind of sex, like Rod Stewart, while we represent the new sex. Girls in Spandex pants are turned off by Devo because they are into medieval sexuality. After the A-bomb and A-rseholes, Devo will emerge as heads of the post sexual revolution.’ 

And now we must go because the man from the house is walking down the garden path and will be here any moment. Hurry, he’s about to open the door of the greenhouse. 


© Barry Cain 2015

Check out the new Flexipop! Book - www.flexipop.com/bookhome

Thursday, 2 July 2015

December 1979 

Damn the torpedo… 

Old soldiers never die. 
Take Alex Harvey who’s once again on the glory trail after a year in the wilderness. His new album released this week, The Mafia Stole My Guitar, shows that, despite all the health rumours, Alex is fighting fit. 
‘I can run half a mile and swim half a mile right afterwards,’ Alex tells me at his north London home where he lives with his wife and two children. ‘I know some people think I’m a bit of a nutcase but, let’s face it, the oldest cliché in the book is you have to be a nutcase to play rock ’n’ roll. And that’s the only life I know.’ 
Alex was plagued with problems after his manager, Bill Fehilly, was killed in a plane crash three years ago. First the Sensational Alex Harvey Band split, then Alex became involved in a series of legal battles that still continue and which have made him a very angry man. 
‘I’m 45 and I’ve been through an awful lot. Can you imagine how bad it was for me when Bill was killed? But you know something − I’m winning. I loved the band, loved ‘em − but I mustn’t get over-emotional. It’s finished. ‘When I started in this business I knew a lot of kids. Now they’re all dead. I’m the only one left. I’m unique.’ (Alas, Alex ain’t so unique any more. He died of a heart attack a couple of years after that interview while on the road. So much for running and swimming). 

From Flexipop! 1980

The Damned have gone off the radar, love. 
‘New Rose’ is now as dry as a bone, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ has lost its lovin’ feeling, Brian James is living on Dead End Street and even love couldn’t keep Captain and Tennille together. But Rat Scabies’s knob is a sign that the best is yet to come.
It was when he pulled it out in front of a bunch of open-mouthed studio technicians during a session for Capital Radio that I realised just how much I’d missed the Damned. 
Noticing its lack of petrification, I remembered how flexible the band were − eccentric one minute, devout rockers the next. Its jaundiced appearance reminded me of how colourful they were; the presence of varicose veins was redolent of their energy; the lack of any noticeable discharge their discipline (for, despite views to the contrary, the Damned never indulged in more than a controlled chaos); the odour their strength. 
Yes, the Damned were, and are, unique. Forget what critics would have you believe: Messrs Scabies, Sensible, Vanian and new boy ex-Saint Alisdair Ward, are back in business with the release of their new album Machine Gun Etiquette. 
The Damned always did defy the rules, not because of an adopted pose but because the individuals themselves defied description. If any band deserved the appendage ‘punk’, it’s this collection of crazy pavings. Other bands who hiccuped during the winter of ’76 only got so far before drinking water from the wrong side of a glass and regaining their equilibrium. The Damned had no equilibrium. They didn’t hiccup, they BURPED. A thick, rheumy, brown ale of a burp that rejoiced in its own noise. 
It was tragic to see them go. It’s glorious to see them return. The sight of Captain Sensible sitting alone in the Capital Radio studio playing lead guitar would have been little short of miraculous two years ago. 
One thing the Damned never got was praise for their musical capabilities. ‘You look around at other people,’ says Sensible, ‘and then you think, Who’s better than the Captain? Nobody.’ 
Dave Vanian cups his black-gloved hands around a glass of Scotch and Coke. ‘We’re so much better than we ever were. We actually talk to each other now. I never knew we would get back together again. But I’m very glad we did. We haven’t got the limitations we had before when we were stuck in one little hole. Even though the reviews haven’t been that favourable for the new album, I
know we’ve shocked people into realising that we can play. I wouldn’t change a thing.’ 
It’s at this point that Rat brings forth the spider from the fly. ‘I’ve written eight songs this week,’ he says, accompanied by the sound of Sensible’s guitar and the crackle of a downward-moving zip. 
Ex-Saint Alisdair, recovering from laughing at the sight for sore eyes, sits next to me. What did you do when the Saints split? ‘Got drunk on all the money.’ So that’s two pints and a Scotch. ‘Now I’m in a band I like. I really am.’ 
‘Shit,’ interrupts Rat. ‘He won’t even talk to us. He costs us a fortune in extra hotel rooms cos he refuses to sleep in the same room as the rest of us.’ More laughter. 

‘Nah, this is a band I can talk to,’ says Alisdair. ‘We all speak the same language, have the same sense of humour. The Damned is more like a religion among its fans. And there ain’t much humour around these days.’ 
Alisdair is convinced music goes in seven-year cycles. ‘We’ve got another four years to go before something new comes along.’ So, who’d have thought it? The Damned, the first punks to make a single ‘New Rose’, the first punks to make an album, The Damned, the first punks to tour the States, the first punks to split, the first punks to re-form. And maybe the last punks. Ever. But the burning question remains: would you let your daughter marry one of them? And will plonkers be next year’s big thing? 
Er, you can put it away now, Rat. ‘It’s nice out today, ennit?’ 
A few days later, Rat sips tea in a North London caff − and I do mean caff. The sandwiches have as many cracks as the cups. He looks healthy, which is amazing, considering his lifestyle. Rat probably instigated the Demise of the Damned Mark One, which followed the release of their second album Music For Pleasure. Why?
‘I got bored with it all. Oh, sure, it was great being a pop star at first − but it ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. It got to the stage where I just couldn’t go out in public. In fact, it got so violent I wasn’t even able to go down my local boozer. I took a bird down the Hope and Anchor one night and she got glassed in the face by someone who had a grudge against me. And I got beaten up twice through no fault of my own. But I was drunk both times so maybe it was my fault. I can’t remember now. 
‘The songs were rotten, too. Brian James, who’d written most of them, had achieved his aim and, in my mind anyway, dried up. I reckon we’d all got as far as we could musically. After all, you can only take a nurse’s uniform so far. And our reputations were getting out of hand. I was being accused of the most ridiculous things.’ 
So Rat vamoosed. ‘I needed to get completely away from the rock world. I thought I was gonna have a nervous breakdown. My whole personal-defence mechanism decided it was time for me to call it a day.’ For Rat to pack it in is rather like Hartlepool winning the Cup − it just ain’t gonna happen. So he formed Whitecats. Flop. Meanwhile, across the teeming metropolis, Captain Sensible formed King. Flop. The two flops joined forces. 
‘Captain wanted to work with me again. So we had a walk round the block and decided to do a tour. The only problem was, who could we get as a singer? We looked around, then finally came to the conclusion that the best we were ever likely to get was Dave Vanian.’ Vanian had left the Doctors of Madness and spent his days reading the grotesque in his Islington house with the black walls and blacker ceilings, and remembering yesterday. He was ripe for a reunion. 
‘My attitude has changed now,’ says Rat. ‘You get used to people staring at you. You stay in places where you’re known.’ On their last US tour Rat banged nineteen girls in twenty-two days. ‘That’s my record. The only nights I missed out were when we arrived − I had jetlag − and when we had to drive to a gig. If I wasn’t in the Damned I wouldn’t pull nearly as much.’ 
An honest man is Rat…

From Flexipop! 1982

Check out the new Flexipop! Book that features the Damned starring in Saturday Night Weaver! www.flexipop.com/bookhome

copyright Barry Cain 2015

Saturday, 24 January 2015


October 1979

Paul & Andy

The sunshine boys

Paul Weller appears to grow more cynical by the hour.

He hits me with his rhythm stick every time I meet him. After a show in Brighton we chat half the night away in his hotel room. The interview appears in the
Evening News, which is a real coup because Paul refuses to talk to the ‘big’ papers, believing them to be the unacceptable face of capitalism. I’ve also interviewed him for the Daily Star and Daily Record. None of the national journos get to know these bands the way music-paper writers do. We’ve been on the road with these guys, got pissed with these guys, snorted drugs with (some) of these guys. The early bird catches the worms, which, incidentally, my hair has been free of since that fateful haircut late December back in ’67 (oh, what a night!). So . . .

Welcome to the two-tone zone.

The Jam. Two-tone mohair suits, two-tone shoes, two-tone harmonies, two-tone attitude.

Their sound is icky-sticky, neat and tricky. A growing legion of fans has pushed their latest album, Setting Sons, straight into the charts at number seven. The sound is fun, young and even charming, but the lyrics are dark, set in that adolescent void hogged by Jam fans − alienated teenage demi-mondes with no prospect even of a dead-end job. No employment means relentless TV and a dangerously disproportionate amount of self-analysis. Kings of nothing.
But that two-tone approach has finally brought the band the kind of stardom that has eluded them since the beginning when they trod the same London pub boards as the Sex Pistols and the Clash back in 1976. Their single, ‘Eton Rifles’, is currently number three and this Sunday they start a sell-out three-night stint at the Rainbow.

Other bands from that era have since fallen by the wayside, deluded by malignant self-importance and dogged by misfortune. But the Jam, especially guitarist Paul Weller, refuse to inflict their egos on the pop public and quietly continue making a stream of classic singles.

‘I suppose I’ve been cynical since I was fourteen years old,’ says Paul, ‘since my teachers kept telling me what I should know when they knew absolutely nothing themselves. All they were good at was tripping out on acid. I could tell them more than they could tell me.’

It’s been four hours since the end of the show and he’s been drinking solidly ever since. Paul has always maintained that his shoulder is a chip-free zone. But that’s incongruous. Chips are necessary to any rock artist who’s worth his salt and my guess is there’s a whole plateful up there with the odd piece of skate thrown in.

‘I love the English language but when I wanted to read contemporary books at school they insisted on stuffing Dickens down my throat,’ he says. ‘Same with music. All they played was Beethoven and Tchaikovsky when they should have started from Elvis. Christ, I couldn’t even fill in a tax form when I left school. I had to educate myself. I haven’t got any special perception. Many of the letters I receive articulate my sentiments better than I do. It’s just that when I was thirteen I first saw the Pistols and they blocked my brain. At last, I thought, the whole youth culture has arrived. Before that the only bands I’d seen were Status Quo and Wings. You could never be them − but you could be a Sex Pistol.’

Older stars, like Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, infuriate Paul when they start spouting about the young generation. ‘People like that, setting themselves up as spokesmen for the kids, make me spew.

The young are the strength, the future of this country. I’m still young, I’ve got time on my side − what have they got?’

So how will he avoid falling into the same trap when he’s twenty-seven?

‘I’ll know when I’ve got nothing left to say. Then I won’t write things down any more -- I’ll lose my bottle.’

Surprisingly, Paul remains optimistic about the immediate future of music in Britain. Whereas contemporary observers are confidently predicting the end of the rock epoch, Paul firmly believes that the scene now is better that it was in 1976. ‘There are so many great bands around that I can only foresee it getting better. Groups like the Skids, the Ruts and the Undertones point the way − barring outside interference.’

Outside interference? From whom?

‘The Government. I know this will sound really stupid in print, but I wanted to send a copy of our new album to all the heads of state, just to try and make them aware of how the young feel about certain things. But I never did. I didn’t think any of them would bother to listen.’

Paul and his ilk are in touch with their followers because they have largely un-affected lifestyles. He lives with his girlfriend Jill in a London flat.

‘What else can you do but watch TV or go out for a drink? I do exactly the same as any other guy my age. Oh, sure, some people think you’re different, but that’s because they want to. Our fans know we’re just three ordinary geezers.’

The following morning the band poses for some photos on the beach and I dash back to London for an appointment with Andy Williams. From Genesis to Revelation.


‘Andy,’ says the PR girl to the honey-voiced entertainer in his London Hilton Hotel suite, ‘this is Barry who writes mainly about punk.’

‘Oh, really?’ he says, as we shake hands. ‘What -- like the Ramones and the Clash?’

Andy Williams. Shit! Who would’ve thought I’d be getting it on with the moonriver man himself (verbally speaking)? This guy is so laid-back he makes a sloth look like a cheetah. He caught the wind a long time ago, boxed it up and sent it second class to Saturn.

He lives in a breeze-free world that only money can buy.

Still, he’s definitely top of the pops as far as his three children are concerned. Noelle, sixteen, Christian, fourteen, and ten-year-old Robert all call their dad Poppa. And he loves it. ‘Their mother, Claudine, always called her father Poppa, like most French kids, and the three picked it up,’ says Andy, between puffs of a giant cigar. ‘I hope they never stop calling me it.’

You’re it.

Andy is preparing for his first British tour in three years. It coincides with the release of his new album, The Classic Collection. Dressed casually in pale blue polo-neck sweater and jeans, he paces the room as he talks of his divorce from Claudine. ‘The kids reacted to it very well, but then it wasn’t such a bad divorce. Claudine and I were separated for several years before the final split so they were used to it. But we have remained close friends and see each other a great deal.’

After the couple divorced Andy found himself emulating the character in one of his most famous records, ‘Solitaire’. ‘I was very lonely, not for a woman but for a family because, more than anything,

I’m a family man,’ and pretty home-loving too, I hear. ‘I missed the children and Claudine. But there was never any doubt that they would live with their mother.’

Then Andy met a beautiful young actress called Laurie Wright. ‘When I met her she was feeling very down because coincidentally, her parents had just divorced. ‘I invited her as my guest to Las Vegas where I was appearing in cabaret. It was all above board. She slept in a spare bedroom in my suite. In fact, Laurie was a house guest for six months before we started getting involved.’

Would he consider marriage again?

‘Not at the moment. She has her own career and her home in Beverly Hills. But I do like her to come on the road with me.’ Not many.

During the tour Andy will be consuming large quantities of champagne and beer. ‘It helps me unwind after a show. But I never take drugs. Just give me a few good friends, a decent meal, some fine champagne and I’m happy.’

When Andy returns to America he’ll go straight to Aspen where he’s just bought a ski lodge, and where Claudine and the children live. He’ll holiday there before heading for his new home in South Carolina. Then he’ll start work on his first Broadway show − in which he plays a Catholic priest. ‘I’ll have to grow a beard and dye my hair blond for the role. I’m excited about the whole thing.’

Andy, who’s sold more than thirty-five million records during his career, hopes his new single ‘Jason’ will be successful − for personal reasons. ‘I wanted something that tied in with the Year of the Child, and then a woman sent this song about a mentally retarded boy. When I sing it I think of my son Robert. He’s not retarded but he does suffer from dyslexia. It would be great if ‘Jason’ turned out to be a hit for me. It’s funny, the whole world is changing these days.’ He stares out of the window, still talking.

‘Things you read in the papers about some rock star’s sexual secrets wouldn’t have got in a few years back. Although I’m against censorship of any kind, the only thing that bothers me is that just because some star like David Bowie says something young kids might be influenced by it. I wouldn’t like to think that my kids were unduly influenced and that they could stand by their own ideals.

‘Look, I’m not against homosexuality. I think my children can take care of themselves in life and if one of them came to me and said he was homosexual I’m not going to beat him up. Life is over for me now. By that I mean I’m very content in doing what I’m doing. I have no more worries.’

(No worries. He did marry again, not to Laurie but to Debbie Meyer in 1991. He died of bladder cancer in 2012 aged 84, so he’s not almost there anymore. His birthplace in Iowa is a tourist attraction.)

© Barry Cain 2014

Check out Barry’s novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



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