Lost and Found #2: Noel Gallagher – The Amorphous Androgynous album

Oasis were always at their most thrilling when they were at their most rudimentary. The visceral in-your-face blast of ‘Supersonic’, the relentless, scuzzy noise of ‘Columbia’ and ‘Slide Away’, the guileless simplicity of ‘Songbird’, the blatant theft of ‘Shakermaker’, ‘Whatever’, ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ and so many more.

The truth is that for all the comparisons made by those who should have known better, both in and out the band, Oasis weren’t really like The Beatles. They just really liked The Beatles – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So when they tried to experiment, they didn’t really innovate the way John, Paul, George and Ringo (and George Martin) did. Instead, they made do with playing with some backwards tape (‘D’You Know What I Mean’), drum loops (‘Go Let It Out’), and superficial psychedelic sheen (‘Who Feels Love’ and ‘To Be Where There’s Life’).

Their greatest departure from the Oasis sound was the sample-laden instrumental ‘Fuckin’ in the Bushes’ that opened the unloved Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. The track was used as a live intro tape for the band for a few years, but didn’t really rub off on the rest of the album or the three that followed before the group’s eventual split.

Oasis – Fuckin’ in the Bushes

So Noelrock and Dadrock effectively became interchangeable terms. Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Meat. Potatoes. Chug chug chug. And Noel absolutely didn’t (and doesn’t) help himself with his old-man-yells-at-sky pronouncements about pop, hip-hop and the rest of the modern world.

Still, it wasn’t entirely fair. Noel was a child of Acid House. He picked A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ as one of his Desert Island Discs amid the usual suspects (Beatles/Pistols/Smiths). Maybe just as striking, he also opted for David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ rather than anything from …Ziggy Stardust… or Hunky Dory.

Given the right collaborators, Noel proved that he was capable of something genuinely experimental. Written and recorded with The Chemical Brothers and released in late 1996, ‘Setting Sun’ is one of the weirdest, noisiest and best number one singles of the decade.

The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun

Sure, it borrowed heavily from ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, but rather than just nicking from or nodding at The Beatles the way Oasis did on songs like ‘She’s Electric’, ‘Setting Sun’ sounded almost as groundbreaking as the band who inspired it.

They repeated the trick in 1999 with ‘Let Forever Be’, but Oasis themselves never picked up that thread. The Noel-sung final single ‘Falling Down’ was the closest they got, even being offered up for some remixes, but by then the group was pretty much done.

When Noel finally pulled the plug on the band in 2009 and went solo, there was the suggestion that he was always itching to expand his musical horizons. That it was Oasis – and his boorish luddite brother Liam in particular – who were holding him back.

Noel launched his solo career with a press conference in July 2011, announcing that he’d already recorded his debut album Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds with Dave Sardy, and that he’d also pretty much finished its follow-up, a collaboration with the Amorphous Androgynous.

Noel Gallagher Press Conference (July 6, 2011)

Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans, also known as ’90s dance superstars The Future Sound Of London, already had history with Noel. The duo had released an epic remix of ‘Falling Down’ back in 2009.

“We turned it into a 22-minute mini-album,” Garry told Teletext at the time. “Halfway in, we wondered ‘What if they only wanted a five-minute mix?’. But Noel gave it its own 12” format, its own artwork.

“Liam loved it too. He came up to me, hand on his heart, saying, ‘I’ve got you to thank for making me look at music in a new way’. I’d never met him before!”

For his part, Noel wrote on his now defunct Oasis blog: “I fully expect 50% of you not to have the attention span to deal with something like that but the rest of you, I hope, will be blown away. It’s a staggering piece of music. Monumental even. All superlatives will apply.”

But despite their previous success, the new project was almost immediately put in doubt. Industry insider Peter Cornish-Barlow reported that Noel had run off to Los Angeles because his team weren’t keen on the collaboration.

“No-one, apart from Noel likes the reworked material AA have done! Its causing problems in camp, so I am told,” he said on Twitter. “Also the feeling is that he won’t get his way, and he will most likely [release] the album that did the rounds last year!

Later that year though, Noel was still talking up the record for a 2012 release. “It sounds a bit like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The sound is similar to High Flying Birds, but more psychedelic and tripped out,” he told Spin. “It’s not an electronic project. People are jumping to that conclusion because Amorphous Androgynous used to be an electronic outfit.”

A month on, he was dialling it back, but only a little. “A lot of people are looking forward to it, which I’m a bit nervous about,” he told the Daily Star of the album. “They’re building it up in their own minds, thinking it’s going to be something it might not be when they hear it. It’s fucking good, but I probably shouldn’t have announced it. But I just thought, ‘It’s finished, so fuck it, here’s what I’ve been working on’.”

When he was heckled about the record at a gig around that time, Noel admitted from the Roundhouse stage that the album was still being tweaked. “Well, I haven’t finished it. Would you buy it unfinished? Really, for a tenner?” he asked. “Give us your fucking address. I’ll send you a shit demo if you give me a tenner, yeah? Anybody else? Fucking hell, it’s the quickest two grand I’ve ever made!”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Shoot A Hole Into The Sun

The first we heard of the collaboration was ‘Shoot A Hole In The Sun’, a remix of ‘If I Had A Gun’, which was tacked on to single ‘Dream On’ as a B-side. Meanwhile, the album was still being spoken about, with Noel suggesting it would finally be ready for 2013.

“I’ve got a break in the middle of this tour in July, so now the plan is to do something then, and then to finish it off after the tour in October,” he told NME in February 2012. “So it might come out at the end of the year, but it’s more likely to be next year now. I set the benchmark pretty high with this record, and I’m not just putting [out] a record for the fucking sake of it. At the moment it’s not a great record – so it won’t come out until it is.”

An Amorphous Androgynous remix of ‘AKA… What A Life!’ emerged as the B-side of ‘Everybody’s On The Run’, but a month later we got the first whispering from Noel that the album itself might be shelved altogether.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – AKA… What A Life! (The Amorphous Androgynous Remix)

“It was supposed to be delivered the night I did that press conference and I hadn’t been involved in any of the mixing at that point due to being busy with other things,” Noel told The Sun that August.

“Anyway, it was a toss-up whether to announce it in the first place, but I just thought fuck it, I’ve done it, let’s announce it. But since then I’ve been on the road and because of that I’ve not been in the mixing, and I’m not happy with any of the mixes.

“They’re going backward and forward so then the plan was to get mixing done after the tour, but this tour has gone on so long that there’s been no time, and that means looking at it next year. But by then I fear the moment may have passed.”

After that, everything went pretty quiet for a couple of years. Noel then suddenly stirred the pot in early 2015, again complaining about the AA mixes of the album.

“Initially when they delivered [the first mix of the album], they managed to pull off the trick of recording the quietest CD of all time,” Gallagher told the NME. “When I got it I couldn’t hear it and was like, ‘Is it broke?’.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – The Mexican

“For all the great ideas on it, I was in the middle of a tour, that last album had blown up, the mixes weren’t right. And by the time I got back off tour I was just like, ‘I’m not fucking putting out another record, I can’t be arsed’. I was frazzled and had glandular fever. I was fucked.”

Apart from the two remixes that came out as B-sides, the only things Noel salvaged from the sessions were ‘The Mexican’ and ‘The Right Stuff’, which he reworked it for his second album Chasing Yesterday.

“‘The Right Stuff’ in this record is vastly different from the first one, which had a lot of noodling and fucking about,” Noel said. “It’s become quite psychedelic, jazz, fucking whatever you wanna call it.”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – The Right Stuff

Having held their piece, Amorphous Androgynous finally piped up. Initially, they were pretty conciliatory. Complimentary even.

“He still fascinates me. He’s a great untapped source,” Garry said to musicfeeds of Noel. “The only thing holding him back is himself.

“He constantly talks about how he’s ‘long accepted his limitations’ but I don’t really believe that… If he placed more faith and trust in himself, Noel could reap magic.”

Soon after, Cobain was a bit more prickly about the whole thing – ultimately suggesting that Noel “became too afraid to be weird”.

“He has been asked about our album a lot, and his rebuttal of it is a disgrace,” he told The Guardian. “It’s doing me a lot of damage.”

Garry said that the sessions had “started out promisingly” and that Noel came into the project “with all the right intentions” but added that things didn’t work out, now agreeing that he had to work around Noel’s “limitations”.

Noel Gallagher & the Amorphous Androgynous in the studio (Shoot A Hole Into The Sun pt 1)

“We tried to force him to write new material. But he dragged his heels and failed to stretch himself,” he said. “We had kids’ choirs, harpsichords, mandolins. We really went to town with orchestras and all sorts of crazy instrumentation. He just needed to cut the pie to suit Noel the solo artist.”

He added: “I believe ours is the album people wanted him to make – a liberated, exploratory Noel Gallagher, cutting loose from Oasis, enjoying his freedom; the Noel who name-drops our Monstrous Bubble albums and krautrock, and who had hits with the Chemical Brothers. He obviously loves that kind of music, but has no idea how to make it.”

Noel, inevitably, hit back. “The album got finished,” Gallagher told Noisey. “We spent a lot of time working on it, but the way that they work is that they get me in and I play all day then they take it away.

“Then the next thing you hear, you go, ‘Well, that’s not what I was thinking’. It became apparent that they weren’t making a record for me but I was making a record for them. You know me, that’s not going to fucking work.”

Noel Gallagher & the Amorphous Androgynous in the studio (Shoot A Hole Into The Sun pt 2)

He added: “There’s no bootleg because I own the master and I destroyed it. My manager’s not even heard it. I wouldn’t play it. It was so underwhelming to me that I never played it to anybody.

“I’m not going to put records out to please people and their imagination, then they hear it and go, ‘Actually, it’s a bit shit’. I know it’s shit that’s why it’s not coming out and that’s the end of it.”

And for a while, it was.

It’s tempting to wonder if after (re-)establishing himself as an arena-filling rockstar with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel felt there was just too much to risk with an album that might well turn off half his fanbase.

To be fair though, while he’s not gone full psychedelic freakout, he’s consciously been trying to push on since then. Chasing Yesterday had its moments – especially those AA remnants – and even had its own remix album.

Noel chucked the whole kitchen sink at follow-up Who Built The Moon? There were waves of different instruments (brass, strings, keyboards, Rhodes piano, organ, tin whistle), a couple of handfuls of female backing vocalists, and guest spots from two past trad-rockers-turned-experimentalists (Johnny Marr and Paul Weller). Most importantly, it was produced by David Holmes.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Holy Mountain

“David’s whole thing was, ‘You can sit there for the rest of your life with an acoustic guitar and do what you do and you’re the best at it and no one will argue. But you know, why don’t you try something different?’,” Noel told i-D, making Holmes’s pitch sound an awful lot like Garry Cobain’s from a few years earlier.

“Do we wear the same clothes every day? No. Do we get dressed up to go out? Yeah. Do you like fancy dress parties? I fucking hate them but it’s a thing. So it’s like, why make the same fucking record every few years?”

It was as though he’d finally recorded the album that he was supposed to have made with Amorphous Androgynous half a decade earlier. On a few moments, it all came together. ‘Holy Mountain’ in particular was an enthralling, squalling racket that saw Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ in a head-on collision with, er, Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’.

That said, overall the ambition definitely outweighed the execution, and it’s striking that the album’s very best song, and maybe Noel’s best moment since the ’90s, was the album’s bonus track/coda – a stripped-down-to-nothing performance of ‘Dead in the Water’ recorded live for Irish radio with zero bells or (tin) whistles.

Noel Gallagher – Dead in the Water” (live at RTÉ 2FM Studios, Dublin)

After that Noel kept pushing, probably too hard. His trio of EPs in 2019-20 (Black Star Dancing, This Is The Place and Blue Moon Rising) added up to much less than the sum of their shuffling parts, despite the open mind, danceable rhythms and smattering of remixes.

At the same time, Noel was taking not entirely unjustified shots at just how by-the-book his younger brother’s suddenly successful solo work was.

“I think it’s unsophisticated music. For unsophisticated people,” Noel told The Guardian. “Made by an unsophisticated man. Who’s giving unsophisticated orders to a load of songwriters who think they’re doing the Oasis thing.”

He wasn’t throwing his past work or past fans under the bus. “You can turn the Marshall amp up to 12 all you want and do a bit of glam, but Oasis’s words were about including people, everyone in it together. And what I hear from him is just a load of bile… angry nonsense.”

Between Who Built The Moon? and his trio of EPs, Noel had nudged open the door to the idea that the Amorphous Androgynous album could one day be heard.

“I did find a copy of it recently in a sock draw,” Gallagher told Matt Morgan when asked about the lost album during a YouTube interview 2018. “The masters, somebody has them, the masters have not been destroyed – but it won’t be coming out any time soon.

Noel Gallagher – True or False with Matt Morgan (August 18, 2018)

“It might be nice to go back and revisit it in years to come, because ‘Shoot A Hole Into The Sun’ is fucking great and there might be more stuff like that in there. Best to give it a bit of distance though I think. It just wasn’t right for the time.”

More recently he told Record Collector: “That’s one regret I have, that thing never being fully realised. I credit them, along with David Holmes, with opening a lot of musical doors for me, music I would never have heard of.

“Gaz is great… We ended up making it at Weller’s studio. The days would start off with a lecture about psychedelic rock and reverb.”

He added: “We’d finished the recording and they’d had it for two months to mix. I was having a press conference and I wanted to announced it. ‘It’s not ready. It’ll be ready the night before. Promise.’ It gets to the night before – nothing. The morning of – nothing.

“So, like an idiot, I just thought, ‘How can shit can it be?’ I’ll just announce it’. Two days later I get it and I’m like, ‘Woah, no fucking way, man. This is not gonna be my fucking debut album. No fucking way!’.

“We tried to make the best of it and then I slowly went off the idea and was like, ‘You know what? Let’s not fucking don the wizard’s hat first time out. Let’s do this gradually’. I think it would have been too much.”

Despite some differences of opinion, Garry still hasn’t ruled out the idea of some sort of release one day, having plenty to say about the whole affair to the NME in 2021. Speaking then, he brushed off any suggestion that the masters were at risk of being either destroyed or drowned in odd socks.

“He hasn’t destroyed the masters because I’ve got them, haven’t I?” he said. “Of course! How has the producer who made the record alone in a room for 18 months and only worked directly with Noel for three weeks not have the masters?”

Cobain made it clear he “wouldn’t release somebody else’s music because he’s paid for it” but hinted that he might well still be tinkering with the recordings.

He also rejected the idea that he and Dougans were always making an AA album on the sly (“I couldn’t be more co-operative if I fucking tried”), and said that they and Noel were “buzzing” creatively despite the odd argument.

Garry also said he and Noel were on okay terms and expressed regret that the project was binned just before the final mixing (“It wouldn’t have taken that much more of a relationship”).

“There was some art, it for to almost being finished and I think it’s a real fucking shame,” he said. “It’s still sitting there and it’s still extraordinary. I think people would love to hear it.”

Lost and Found #1: Del Shannon – Home & Away

Del Shannon may have sounded and looked like a lumberjack but he cracked just like a soda jerk. He was incessantly on the run, broke and alone, and his true loves all betrayed him. In the naked city, there was an eternal thunderstorm and the raindrops mingled with his tears

Rock Dreams – Guy Peellaert & Nik Cohn (1974)

Del Shannon was never a conventional rock ‘n’ heartthrob. That wasn’t because he couldn’t compete with the rugged good looks of Eddie Cochran or raw sex appeal of Elvis Presley. After all, few could.

More than say, Buddy Holly or even Roy Orbison, there was was something captivatingly awkward about Shannon. That’s because rather than singing about loving or even longing, Del sung about misery, heartbreak and betrayal.

Del Shannon – Runaway

Del’s songs don’t have the proto-incel vibe of Morrissey’s work. It’s absolutely not the case that his characters have never had no-one ever. On the contrary, they’ve loved and lost and decided that all things considered it may well have been better to have never loved at all.

Shannon break-up songs aren’t just about pain, hurt, and regret. They’re also steeped in bitterness, revenge and spite (“Hats off to Larry he broke your heart / Just like you broke mine when you said we must part”).

Del Shannon – Hats Off To Larry

It’s no coincidence that the first Rolling Stones song Shannon covered wasn’t the merely unfulfilled ‘Satisfaction’ but the vindictively misogynistic ‘Under My Thumb’ (“Under my thumb / It’s a squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day”).

That rancour didn’t stop his flashes of success in the early 1960s. ‘Runaway’ went to number one. ‘Hats Off To Larry’ and ‘Little Town Flirt’ made the Top 20. After that it was always a rollercoaster, and there were more misses than hits, especially back home in the US.

Borrowed from The Beatles after he shared a bill with them at the Royal Albert Hall, Del’s June 1963 cover of ‘From Me To You’ only peaked at 77 – still making it the first Lennon/McCartney song to reach the Billboard Hot 100. In 1964, less than four years after ‘Runaway’ topped the chart, Del scored his last ever Top 10 single when ‘Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)’ reached number nine.

Del Shannon – Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun)

Shannon kept on going, mixing up covers and his own tunes, but despite (or because?) of his willingness to experiment and flit between genres, nothing really stuck. The speed of the shifting sixties was probably the underlying cause, but label issues certainly didn’t help.

On a UK tour a year into his deal with Liberty Records, Del bumped into Andrew Loog Oldham after a BBC interview at Portland Place. Oldham bundled Shannon and his pal/road manager Dan Bourgoise into the back of his Rolls-Royce and played them the then-unreleased Beatles single ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane’. He also told them how much he loved Del’s take on ‘Under My Thumb’ (which Shannon had co-produced with Liberty’s Dallas Smith).

Del Shannon – Under My Thumb

“It felt like we’d hit royalty here,” said Bourgoise. “Andrew suggested that he had some ideas that he’d like to try with Del, and would Del be up for it? Del was thrilled and eager. Liberty had an office in London and it was pretty easy to push it through with Andrew’s name.”

Del is said to have immediately called Liberty HQ long distance in LA. Sensing the possibility of a hit or at the very least some attention, and with not much to lose, they apparently replied: “Yes, whatever the expense. Go cut with Andrew!”

It all happened fast. Del didn’t have a load of material lying around, but he had ‘He Cheated’, and he and Bourgoise also came up with ‘Silently’ in just one night in a hotel room.

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Having someone as well-connected as Andrew Loog Oldham on board meant that there wasn’t a lack of available contributors, with a load of writers from his Immediate label pitching in.

There was Billy Nicholls (‘Cut and Come Again’, ‘Led Along’, and ‘Friendly With You’), Andrew Rose and David Skinner (aka Twice as Much) (‘It’s My Feeling’, ‘Easy To Say’ and ‘Life Is But Nothing’ – the last of which had already been released by Immediate artist PP Arnold as a B-side earlier that year) and Jeremy Paul Solomons (‘Mind Over Matter’).

PP Arnold – Life Is But Nothing

An astute song-spotter himself, Del brought along Ross Watson’s ‘My Love Has Gone’, a demo of which he’d been hawking around to producers without any success since they crossed paths on a UK tour in in 1963.

Always as much a hustler as he was a manager/producer, Oldham pushed Del to remake his calling card and sole chartopper ‘Runaway’. Del wasn’t keen on the idea, but was eventually worn down/won over.

And Oldham’s involvement meant access not just to Olympic Studios, where the Stones has been recording weeks earlier, but also to the cream of British session talent.

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That included Andy White (drums), Big Jim Sullivan (electric guitar), Joe Moretti (acoustic guitar), Billy Bell (banjo), Eric Ford (six-string bass and acoustic guitar), Clive Hicks (acoustic and 12-string guitar), Nicky Hopkins (keys) and Reg Guest (also keys).

Most notably, also appearing on keys was Steve Marriott, whose Small Faces Loog Oldham had only recently signed to Immediate, and bass player John Baldwin (aka John Paul Jones, soon to be a quarter of Led Zeppelin).

Contrary to popular belief, Jones’s future Led Zep bandmate Jimmy Page wasn’t there, having quit session work to focus on The Yardbirds by this point – and he was off touring with them in Scotland while Home & Away was recorded.

“There were three things that Andrew wanted to condense together. The kind of record he wanted to make,” Bourgoise told Kieron Tyler for the reissue liner notes. “Pet Sounds, the Lou Adler stuff with The Mamas & the Papas, and Phil Spector’s ‘River Deep–Mountain High’. Del was intrigued. Andrew had a very definite idea, and Del hadn’t seen that for a while and was totally excited.”

It’s the sort of grandiose bullshit pitch/mission statement you could well imagine the 23-year-old Oldham delivering, but the incredible thing is that with those songs and studio musicians – and with Arthur Greenslade arranging – they actually made good on it.

Del Shannon – Home & Away

Home & Away is sometimes billed as an attempt at “a British Pet Sounds” but its similarities to Brian Wilson’s masterpiece are essentially superficial. Sure, you can pick out plenty of melodic turns and harmonic whoops that borrow from the Beach Boys, (especially on ‘It’s My Feeling’ and ‘Led Along’), but the album owes almost as much to Spector girl groups, Dusty Springfield’s heavily orchestrated blue-eyed soul, and to Del himself.

The differences from Pet Sounds are as crucial as the similarities to it. Both have a sense of thematic unity, but while the Beach Boys’ album was mainly written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, the patchwork contributions for Home & Away make it feel that bit more unsettled.

Both were effectively recorded by session groups – Pet Sounds by the Wrecking Crew and Del’s album by its London-based approximation – but while Brian led the recording of one instrument at a time in countless hours-long sessions, the eleven songs of Home & Away were knocked out in just four days, giving a sense of spark and spontaneity.

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

The albums both explore melancholy and heartbreak (“I may not always love you” / “All I’ve got’s memory of you”) but where Wilson/Asher are ultimately hopeful and even redemptive (“Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true”), even with his baroque backdrop, Shannon holds on to his essential bitterness and resentment (“When you left I thought of dying / Then I knew that you were lying”,  “He’ll hurt you all over again / ‘cos he cheated and he lied to you”).

The tension of Home & Away builds. The penultimate ‘He Cheated’ is the album’s finest moment and the ultimate synthesis of Del’s utterly overwhelming intensity and the Brit Wall of Sound Loog Oldham was aiming for. Free from Max Crook’s Musitron and Del’s own vocal histrionics, ‘Runaway ’67’ isn’t the barmy masterpiece of the original, but it acts as the perfect closer and coda, giving an incongruous sense of release after all the angst.

Despite the rushed recording, all involved probably had high hopes for what was a fantastic record, but it didn’t work out that way. Bourgoise suggested that the Liberty execs’ jaunt to the Monterey Pop Festival that summer was the death knell for Home & Away. Having switched from suits to spliffs, the label was said to have suddenly decided Del’s album was too square for the new direction.

Maybe closer to the truth was that, not for the first time, record buyers just weren’t interested in what Del was selling. Single ‘Led Along’ failed to chart in the US. ‘Mind Over Matter’ flopped in the UK. Despite hitting the Australian Top 20, even ‘Runaway ’67’ backed with ‘He Cheated’ only reached 112 in the US charts.

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Given how poorly the singles had performed, maybe it’s no surprise that Liberty cut their losses and scrapped the album before it was even pressed.

The remaining seven songs stayed in cold storage until 1978, when all eleven tracks were remixed and released with another three songs shuffled into the running order as …And the Music Plays On. Out of shape and out of time, it drifted by unnoticed.

In the meantime, Shannon was undeterred. He picked up the psychedel-ish thread of the abandoned Home & Away and took it even further. Del recorded the more convincingly lysergic The Further Adventures of Charles Westover before the end of the year, having this time written most of the material himself.

Del Shannon – The Further Adventures of Charles Westover

Despite its bravery and undeniable quality, it wasn’t a hit, and the possibility of renewed chart success continued to recede as the decade came to a close. Shannon dabbled in production, but as depression and drinking took hold, his output slowed to a trickle.

There were attempts to give Home & Away a proper release in the years after Del died, but rights issued scuppered those plans initially. Instead, the abandoned album lent its name to a comprehensive 2004 boxset which included its 11 songs somewhere in the middle of disc five.

Home & Away was eventually given the standalone release it deserved in 2006, with its intended sleeve, tracklisting and a handful of mono/single mixes as bonus tracks. Another reissue followed in 2012, with a much prettier cover and apparently better sound. Both are shamefully out of print, but the album is thankfully available to stream.

The failure of Del to find an audience with either Home & Away or The Further Adventures of Charles Westover wasn’t the end of the story. He had a resurgence of sorts at the end of the ’70s when Tom Petty lent his patronage for the Drop Down and Get Me album (released in 1981). The collaboration even got Del back in the Top 40 with a cover of Phil Phillips’s ‘Sea of Love’.

Del Shannon – Rock On!

A decade on, Petty brought along the Heartbreakers and Jeff Lynne for Rock On! (posthumously released in 1991). There was even talk of Shannon joining the Petty/Lynne/George Harrison/Roy Orbison/Bob Dylan supergroup The Traveling Wilburys when Orbison died in 1988.

It didn’t happen. On February 8, 1990, Shannon took his own life at his home in Santa Clarita, California. He was only 55.

Sources/Further Reading

613 Great Jewish Works of Art: #1 – Ramones

Punk is Jewish. Not Judaic. Jewish, the reflection of a culture that’s three millennia old now. It reeks of humor and irony and preoccupations with Nazism. It’s all about outsiders who are “one of us” in the shtetl of New York.

Steven Lee Beeber in The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGBs

Given that the Ramones perfected the (sometimes sub-)two minute pop song, it’s striking that they’re rarely praised/damned as a “great singles band”.

That’s partly because of their lack of Actual Hits (their three charting singles in the US failed to crack the top 60), but also a testament to how incredible their early albums were.

Their LPs didn’t sell much better than the singles, but their first four albums are absolutely perfect. There’s not a beat out of place or second of wasted space on the 54 songs that make up Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin.

“Tommy had the whole concept already planned,” producer Craig Leon told Uncut years later. “He designed the sets like one long art experience rather than a bunch of songs.”

The quality control plummeted as the ’70s ended, though End of the Century is a half-brilliant album that’s underwritten rather than overproduced. And there’s at least one song on every Ramones album from Pleasant Dreams on that makes it worth shelling out for.

Ramones – Ramones

Even if the Ramones had split after their debut they’d have already done more than most bands could dream of. Recorded in seven days at Plaza Sound above Radio City Music Hall in New York for $6,400, it’s the ultimate punk manifesto.

Leaning on the violence of The Stooges and degeneracy of the New York Dolls, Ramones stripped everything down to a distillation of frenetic pace and raw power.

Everyone knows the formula: 1-2-3-4! This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Johnny’s buzzsaw guitar, Dee Dee’s relentless bass, Tommy’s pounding drums. And above it all, Joey’s utterly unique vocals. Half teenage primal scream, half headcold.

The lyrics are about all those pop perennials – (un)requited love, dancing, glue sniffing, struggling to sell sex before killing a john to prove you’re not a sissy, nihilism and Nazis.

Ramones isn’t just The Best Punk Album, it’s also the best ’50s/’60s pop album of the 1970s. The Sex Pistols brought more phlegm and The Clash broadened the sound with their rock and reggae influences, but no-one could touch the Ramones for purity of punk purpose.

Jeffrey Ross Hyman was born on May 19, 1951, in the Forest Hills district of Queens, New York City, to art gallery manager mum Charlotte Mandell and trucking company boss dad Noel Hyman. Both sets of grandparents were born and raised in Brooklyn.

“I was a misfit, an outcast,” Joey said in Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones. A stranger in a strange land.

Like any good cantor, he knew that if you needed to stick in a few extra notes to make a verse work then that’s what you had to do. This was a man who rhymed “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with “took my baby away from me”.

Joey Ramone bent words around the phrasing to fit a melody the same way he contorted his 6ft 6 in frame over a microphone stand.

Tamás Erdélyi (or Erdélyi Tamás, depending on your source) was born on January 29, 1949, in Budapest, Hungary.

“My parents were professional photographers and they had liberal, artistic friends who protected them,” Tommy told Steven Lee Beeber for his nating and inspirational The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGBs. “But most of my family was murdered in the Holocaust. I am barely here.”

The bruddas birth as the Ramones is often highlighted as a moment of reinvention, but this was nothing new to Tommy. In the face of antisemitism in Hungary, his dad had previously changed the family name from Grunewald to Erdélyi – and when they moved to the US in 1957, Tamás changed his name to Thomas on arrival.

The Erdélyis settled in the Bronx and Tommy was bundled off to a local yeshiva¹. Then came a move to Brooklyn and a less happy year at a hasidic institution. Redemption came with a final move, this time to Queens, and the family settled at Verona Estates in Forest Hills.

In 1974, Yes released Relayer, a 40-minute album of three songs. It opened with ‘The Gates of Delirium’ (21:50), loosely based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It followed the previous year’s double concept album Tales from Topographic Oceans, which gave each of its four songs a side to itself and clocked in at 81:14.

Ramones is 14 songs in twenty-nine minutes and four seconds. That’s an average of 2:06 a song. The longest, ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement’, is 2:35. The shortest, ‘Judy is a Punk, is 1:30.

In the midrash² Genesis Rabbah 38.13, amoraic sage Ḥiyya bar Abba tells the story of Abraham smashing all the idols in his father’s store, before cradling the stick in the largest idol’s arms.

“Our music is an answer to the early seventies when artsy people with big egos would do vocal harmonies and play long guitar solos and get called geniuses”

Tommy Ramone to Rolling Stone.

The Nazi stuff? Unlike the snotty, shlock tactics of their British successors (Joy Division, Sid and Siouxsie’s swastikas, Sex Pistols’ ‘Belsen Was A Gas’), at least the Ramones’ WWII-fixation didn’t feel contrived.

Dee Dee was the son of a stereotypically Aryan German woman and an American soldier who was part of of the post-war occupying force. He moved to West Berlin when he was a kid and stayed there till he was 15, rebelling against his violent dad by collecting Iron Crosses and swastikas. Tommy and his parents barely escaped the Holocaust.

You can’t ignore or excuse Dee Dee and Johnny’s habit for collecting Nazi paraphernalia on tour. Worse still were the antisemitic insults Johnny threw at Joey over the years.

Beeber argues the case for Johnny as Tommy’s own personal golem³, and of Dee Dee and Johnny being ersatz Jews because of their outsider status in Forest Hills.

That doesn’t convince, but with Joey as the frontman and Tommy having the strongest claim to being the band’s architect, the Jewishness of the Ramones was nevertheless undiminished.

When it came to the band’s image and the WWII references in the work itself,the Ramones reeked of Commando and Weird War Tales comics rather than anything more sinister.

And anyway, the only people more fixated on Nazis than antisemites are Jews.

When the Israelites were in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, they sent 12 spies to survey the land of Canaan. Ten of the spies reported back that – despite God’s pledge to his people – the land would be unconquerable.

As punishment entry to the Promised Land was delayed, with the Israelites forced to wander the desert for 40 years, until the most of the spies’ generation had died out.

In 2014, with Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny already gone and just weeks before Tommy died, Ramones went finally went Gold in the US, having sold half a million copies in 38 years.

¹ A yeshiva (literally “sitting”): a Jewish school or college where students study religious texts.

² The midrash (literally “exposition” or “investigation”): the body of commentaries on Jewish scripture.

³ A golem is a creature from Jewish folklore made from clay or mud that is brought to life, often by using a scroll inscribed with one of the names of God.

⁴ Blitzkreig Bop’ was written by Tommy as ‘Animal Hop’ before Dee Dee gave it a lightning jolt (“Blitzkrieg bop… Shoot ’em in the back now”), but it’s still essentially a song about dancing. ‘Today Your Love Tomorrow The World’ was apparently toned down on the insistence of Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, with Tommy changing the words. The lyrics shifted from “I’m a Nazi baby” (though Joey still sung this live sometimes) to “I’m a Nazi shatzi” (German for sweetheart) and “I’m a German soldier” became “I’m a shock trooper in a stupor”.

Nicky Wire – I Killed The Zeitgeist

For his first decade and a half in the Manics, Nicky Wire stuck to what he knew best: writing lyrics, wearing sexy eyeliner, playing bass, and jumping unfeasibly high in tight skirts.

Apart from playing the stuff, he didn’t seem that involved in creating the Manics’ music, and having James Dean Bradfield on vocal duties meant he damn well wasn’t going to sing any of it.

That line began to dissolve with the sprawling Know Your Enemy. On the B-side of joint lead single ‘Found That Soul’, Nicky swaggered up to the microphone for ‘The Ballad of the Bangok Novotel’.

Manic Street Preachers – ‘The Ballad of the Bangkok Novotel’

And what a debut it was. A squalling, sweary, gleefully atonal RACKET. Like the much more trad ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ and then-off-in-the-future ‘Still Snowing in Sapporo’ it’s a tour travelogue, specifically about the dark, destructive side of life on the road (“Breakfast, my mouth tastes like piss … Four sickly boys are losing resistance”).

It’s a significant nod at the lo-fi ’80s UK indie influences the band would increasingly lean into, and also much better than pretty much everyone gives it credit for. It’s more sparky and fun than a good half of Know Your Enemy.

On the album itself, Wire stepped up once more for ‘Wattsville Blues’, which played with fire by having Wire’s spoken word drawl alternate with James Dean Bradfield’s choruses, and even letting them go head to head. They got away with it, too.

Manic Street Preachers – ‘Wattsville Blues’

Where ‘… Novotel’ ripped away the supposed glamour of life on the road to reveal the diseased reality, ‘Wattsville Blues’ flipped things around, celebrating the familiar boredom of home (“And time is leaving me here… I’m so happy, I know I can never leave”).

After the splurge of KYE came the career ellipsis of 2002 greatest hits Forever Delayed and the following year’s B-sides compilation Lipstick Traces, before the band reconvened for the restrained, flawed ambition of Lifeblood.

It’s scary to watch someone you love go into the center of himself and confront his fears, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of going insane. You have to fail a little, die a little, go insane a little, to come out the other side. 

Eleanor Coppola in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Things got properly back on track with Send Away The Tigers (and you can read how in my chapter in Manic Street Preachers: Album By Album), but bridging that gap were Nicky and James’s solo albums.

Both are now seen primarily as stepping stones for the Manics’ return. Released on Columbia, JDB’s The Great Western got to a more-than respectable 22 in the charts, with its lead single ‘That’s No Way to Tell a Lie’ even going Top 20. He’s since released the movie soundtrack The Chamber and a second proper solo album Even In Exile.

Nicky Wire – I Killed The Zeitgeist

By contrast, Nicky’s I Killed The Zeitgeist shuffled out on the (yes, Sony-owned) indie Red Ink, peaking at 130. Even at a time when normal people still bought albums, you’d have thought name recognition would surely have pushed it higher than that.

Critics described the album as “possibly the least anticipated solo record yet released”. Even some of the biggest Manics fans mention it now with a smirk, or at best see it as a necessary housecleaning exercise.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost – Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

The reviews on release were a lot kinder than you might remember, though they all predictability laid into Wire’s singing (“a rough tone that may not be to everyone’s liking”, “something only a fan of vacuuming could love” and “a drone to match Ken Livingstone”).

With uncharacteristic insecurity in both interviews and even in his lyrics, Nicky had the jump on them. He pre-empted and likely encouraged the almost-instant dismissal of the album (“This is my last crusade / No-one is listening anyway” he sings on ‘Nicky Wire’s Last’).

Nicky Wire – ‘Condemned To Rock ‘n’ Roll’ / ‘I Killed the Zeitgeist’

So it’s a surprise to listen with open ears 15 years later to find that I Killed The Zeitgeist is a brilliant, ramshackle masterpiece. It’s thrillingly different, and at least as good as the Manics albums either side of it.

Musically it zips along with real pace and energy. There’s the early Manics bounce and thrash of the opener/title track and the the enjoyably underthought Britstomp of ‘Withdraw/Retreat’, ‘Stab Yr Heart, ‘Kimono Rock’ and ‘You Will Always Be My Home’.

The road has taken a lot of the great ones: Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Janis, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis. It’s a goddamn impossible way of life.

Robbie Robertson in The Last Waltz

And it’s not just quintisentially long ’90s guitar rock. There’s the cavernous echo of ‘Goodbye Suicide’, the strung out New York drawl of ‘So Much For The Future’ and sonic workouts of  ‘Sehnsucht (Neu Song)’ and closer ‘Everything Fades’.

They may not have the shimmer, sheen and style of the Manics own similar experiments in sound, but given the guitar/bass/drums template they’re bound to, they’re every bit as bold.

Best of all is the sense of melody that weaves through everything here, with the pure pop sensibility if anything elevated by how rudimentary the recording and performances are, even with JDB popping up on a couple of tracks.

Nicky Wire – Break My Heart Slowly

The single ‘Break My Heart Slowly’ burrows into your brain pretty instantly.  The deceptively mellow ‘Bobby Untitled’ follows. ‘The Shining Path’ has such a great tune that most of the mid-’00s bands churning out too-eager-to-please radio-friendly material at the time would have gladly pawned their trilbies for it.

Nicky Wire had long been drifting away from the pure sloganeering of the Manics’ early work to incorporate more personal expressions, and on I Killed The Zeitgiest he freely mixes the two without having to worry about the Manics brand. It feels like he’s working without any sort of filter, and the results are endearingly unguarded.

So you’ve got screamed manifestos (“I killed the zeitgeist/ Ground it all to dust”), brazen simile (“Hope dead, like Jesus on the cross”) and art biography (“Break my heart slowly/ Dora Maar said to me”), alongside real emotional honesty (“If the ending fits the words/ If you struggle to be heard”, “We’ll tattoo ourselves and each others hearts”).

The furies are at home
in the mirror; it is their address.
Even the clearest water,
If deep enough can drown.

RS Thomas – Reflections

Like The Holy Bible and the then-yet-to-come Journal For Plague Lovers, …Zeitgiest features snippets of poetry and movie dialogue to add an extra layer.

Lyrically, those records were very much Richey’s albums, and it’s striking how the quartet of quotes on …Zeitgeist – from Eleanor Coppola, Robbie Robertson, RS Thomas and Robert Frost – could easily be interpreted as being chosen for their resonance with his troubles and eventual disappearance.

And the album isn’t great in spite of Nicky’s vocals – his voice is a key part of its charm. Sure, he’s no James Dean Bradfield, but there’s something enthralling about the raw, strangled honesty of an otherwise talented musician struggling to get the right notes out of a strange instrument that’s bound into their physical being.

Manic Street Preachers – Nicky Wire Sings

Since I Killed The Zeitgeist, Nicky’s sung on a few more Manics songs (‘William’s Last Words’, ‘The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever’, ‘As Holy as the Soil (That Buries Your Skin)’, ‘The Left Behind’, plus some B-sides and deluxe edition demos). He’s also written some Manics music (‘Some Kind of Nothingness’, plus co-writing credit on Journal For Plague Lovers and every album from Rewind The Film on).

He’s only been getting better as a songwriter and as a singer. You could paste together a pretty convincing compilation of Nicky-fronted Manics songs from the last 20 years that earns its place among their proper albums.

So what next? As the Manics trundle into their fourth decade with intermittent flashes of brilliance, James recently put out his soundtrack and hooked up with Nicky’s brother Patrick Jones for his second studio album.

Nicky’s also been moonlighting, and as with last time round, he’s already looking to dampen expectations. “All I’ve got to do is get 500 CDs made, print off a lot of polaroids and hand-make them all,” he says.

He doesn’t need to be so modest.

‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton: The making of the pleading country classic

Dolly Parton is an icon not just of country music, but of music full stop.

After releasing her first albums in the 1960s, she took the 1970s by the scruff of the neck (releasing SEVENTEEN albums during that decade alone) and became one of the biggest stars of the century.

Read the full article on the Gold Radio website

‘Candle in the Wind’ by Elton John: The making of the tender pop tributes to Marilyn and Diana

Elton John took control of rock in the early 1970s with a clutch of hit albums and run of peerless singles.

One of those classic hits was ‘Candle in the Wind’, a beautiful tribute to a blonde bombshell who died tragically young.

Read the full article on Gold Radio

Luke Haines in… Setting The Dogs on the Post-Punk Postman

The most laughable pop cliché is the claim that artists are just making music for themselves and, hey, if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus!

It’s especially funny when you hear it from bands chucking out identikit rock ‘n’ roll while constantly pounding the press pavements for attention.

For Luke Haines though, it’s so evidently true he doesn’t even need to say it.

His last album may well have been an unlikely hook-up with bona fide indie rock megastar Peter Buck, but it was a fly-under-the-radar record all the same.

Its askance look at Jack Parsons/Johnnie Ray/Andy Warhol meant that it was hardly going to set the Spotify end-of-year charts alight, even before COVID-19 put the duo’s planned tour on the backburner indefinitely.

And Luke Haines in… Setting The Dogs On The Post-Punk Postman picks up where its predecessor left off.

Like Beat Poetry for Survivalists and 2016’s Smash The System, Haines’s new one is a rare non-concept album for the post 2010 Haines, only in that it doesn’t have a single concept.

Instead, it’s got 11 scattershot stories about subjects that don’t usually show up on records from ex? post? non? formerly Britpop-adjacent popstars.

It’s got songs about scarecrows and pumpkins. Songs about bad gigs in Liverpool, former Eastern Bloc spies, singing on a bus with Ivor Cutler and swimming with Andrea Dworkin.

Where to begin? How about with ‘I Just Want To Be Buried’, the sort of unashamedly pripaic pop song Led Zeppelin (not righteous) would find a bit much but Peaches (utterly righteous) would probably appreciate (“I just wanna be buried / Between your breasts / Between your legs”).

‘Yes, Mr Pumpkin’ has a spoken word bit from Nathan Barley/Boosh/etc. star Julian Barratt. But while Barratt’s partner/fellow modern Britcom legend Julia Davis did a brilliantly straight Kids TV narration job on Haines’s 2013 album Rock and Roll Animals, here Barratt uses just the right amount of BBC newsreader crossed with The Day Today disdain on the snippy outro (“The pumpkin was found not guilty of all charges…”).

Opener ‘Ex Stasi Spy’ is an early-80s le Carré jangle (“Secrets and lies / A memo from the Bundesbank / Wearing a groovy disguise / Driving around in a Trabant”), complete with era-appropriate nods to Madonna and a guest spot from last year’s collaborators Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.

Haines’s taste for and acquaintance of unlikely icons is well-represented. ‘Ivor on The Bus’ is about well, singing a song with Ivor Cutler. On a bus. ‘Andrew Dworkin’s Knees’ is about spotting the radical feminist superstar on the way to the swimming baths in Archway because… well, because this is a Luke Haines record.

Soundwise it’s maybe the most straight rock ‘n’ roll record Haines has done since since 2009’s 21st Century Man, which was just before he started going full concept (everybody knows you ALWAYS go full concept, btw).

There’s a sprinkling of synths and squawks to keep things interesting, but this mainly guitars and bass (Haines) and drums (Tim Weller), all stuck together with those late-era breathy, half-spoken, half sung Haines vocals.

It’s decidedly old-skool, frequently catchy (especially closer/title track ‘Setting The Dog On The Post-Punk Postman‘), and completely untouched by any trends in pop music, recent or otherwise.

Look. In 2021 it’s clear that Luke Haines is making music for himself. And with his strange, silly-but-always-straight-faced, singular outlook, what’s not to like?

Luke Haines in… Setting The Dogs on the Post-Punk Postman is out on April 30 on Cherry Red.

Why fans should also blame themselves for the European Super League

Poorly conceived, badly executed and ideologically rotten, the European Super League was an expensive and hilarious fiasco.

The owners of those 12 “founding” clubs have rightly taken the bulk of the blame for the whole mess. Varying degrees of stupid, greedy and desperate, it’s been wonderful to see the whole thing implode instantly underneath them.

Previously unloved football authorities, broadcasters and even governments have managed to recast themselves as heroes, with their own past avarice and incompetence seemingly forgotten.

And while some have taken a moment to ask whether the likes of UEFA, FIFA, Sky or Boris Johnson really deserve more than the slightest of thanks for their *push-you-and-catch-you* “saved your life!” routine, there’s been wall-to-wall self-congratulation from fans for their role in killing off the ESL.

Of course JP Morgan and the owners of the dirty dozen deserve everything they’re getting, but the fans and football press have failed to take the slightest responsibility for the mess in which football’s found itself.

For decades now, egged on by a media that loves constant sackings, sensationalism and storytelling, fans have played a key role in turning the game upside down.

Winning (and losing) is a vital part of any sport, but the pervasive idea that winning is everything and losing is nothing is necessarily self-destructive.

In a division of 20 teams, only one can win the title. Chuck in a few cups and maybe a bit of winning is spread around. But the idea that nearly all teams are “failures” every year and that these clubs “need” sackings and signings to rectify that sets a perpetual transfer machine in motion.

This utterly destructive spiral has been seen as an inevitable consequence of modern football, and with the honourable exception of The Ugly Game author Martin Calladine, few have seriously explored any of the multiple options for getting out of this whole mess.

And the obsession over player transfers hasn’t just equalled the sensible weekly worry about winning and losing football matches. It’s easily surpassed it. We’ve all read countless articles from journalists who should know better weighing up whether or not winning the FA Cup or even the League will facilitate buying players, rather than rightly seeing those trophies as triumphs in and of themselves.

Fans themselves are frequently even worse. From the terraces to Twitter, the constant cry is “spend some fucking money”.

Ticket prices and the cost of TV subscriptions skyrocket. Matchday employees in the capital are routinely paid less than the London Living Wage. Backroom staff are sacked midway through a global pandemic. All the while, transfer fees, player wages and agents’ fees rise and rise.

Yet for all the crimes and misdemeanours of various club owners, the one thing that routinely got fans of all clubs exercised before the ESL debacle was the worry that rich owners weren’t pumping in more money to clubs by “investing” in players.

Fans always complain that they’re not being listened to. In fact, the thing they yell about the most is what they’re actually getting a fair amount of: spiralling, unsustainable, game-destroying spending on transfers and wages.

If anything, it’s only the relative (if obviously self-interested) restraint of owners that has kept this horrorshow on the road as long as it has.

Clubs who spent beyond their means for years and decades and now face financial worries or even bankruptcy deserve little sympathy.

They reaped the suspect rewards of this “investment” by crushing their opponents on the pitch, collecting trophies like ever-more meaningless baubles and hoovering up fans, commercial deals and revenue at the expense of all the other clubs. And all the while their fans cheered on every galactico’s signature.

Remarkably, even as The Twelve’s owners made their embarrassing public apologies for their part in the ESL affair, the genuine response from a large percentage of fans was, “We’ll forgive you… if you sign Mbappe/Haaland.” They have learned absolutely nothing.

Beyond the laughter, the best bit about the rise and immediate collapse of ESL has been the proof that fans really do have an incredible amount of power. Now’s the time to use it.

Keep picketing. Keep protesting. But instead of urging your club to spend £100m on a player (and £300k a week on his wages), maybe suggest they take a year off buying anyone at all.

Ask them to pay their other staff a fair wage. Ask them to put some serious money into the local community on which the history and culture of their entire commercial venture is based.

Ask them to have cheaper season tickets and a matchday allocation for local schoolkids. Ask them to push for regulations to prevent the changing of match dates and times with minimal notice to please broadcasters. Maybe even ask them to push for a minimum number of free-to-air league games every season.

You’ve proved you’ve got the power. Now’s the time to use it to do more than preserve the rotten status quo.

Telling stories with Daliso Chaponda [2020 re-edit]

The original version of this interview was published in my Northern Quarter fanzine back in Summer 2006.

Around the time of the failed launch of State of Play, I moved back to Manchester. My plan was to take matters into own hands with a self-published quarterly (hence the title), featuring writing from my old London friends and new Manchester work colleagues.

For all the usual reasons (life, lethargy and laziness), it only ran for one issue in the end. The best of my own articles was an interview with up-and-coming stand-up Daliso Chaponda.

Just over a decade later, Daliso appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. Amanda Holden used her Golden Buzzer to fast-track him to the semi-finals, and he eventually finished in third place on the 2017 series.

Daliso ended up with a BBC Radio 4 series Daliso Chaponda: Citizen of Nowhere off the back of it, showing that sometimes talent (eventually) does out.

Here’s that 2006 interview, given a slight edit.

Beat The Frog at Oldham Street’s Frog and Bucket can be a harsh place. It’s a baptism of fire for newbies and still a rough ride for more experienced stand-ups trying new material.

While it’s not as deeply aggressive as some gong shows, it’s still proved to be the last resting place of many comedians and much more material besides.

Some of the very best performers still struggle at the Frog. At least one of the three tipsy judges chosen from the audience on the night will usually stick up their green “get off the stage” card at some point during each set, regardless of quality.

Beat The Frog – a Manchester institution

Even for those who escape three cards and the Frog Chorus exit music, it’s clear that many find filling those five minutes a challenge. The crowd’s attention is often sapped by cut-price lager and the knowledge that hey, it’s a free night.

With all that in mind, a few months back we saw Daliso Chaponda making his Beat The Frog debut. His five minutes passed in what seemed like five seconds. He won the clap-off with ease and walked away from venue a more-than deserved winner.

We had to find out more. Where the hell did Daliso Chaponda come from, and where’s he going next?

The short answer to that first question is well… there isn’t one. Born in Malawi, Daliso spent time in South Africa and Swaziland before a move to Canada to study computer science and literature, taking what he calls “a good steady path to stability”.

His down-the-line schooling then got sidetracked. Unlike most Manchester stand-ups who got their first exposure to comedy via telly and the stage, Daliso took the scenic route.

“I didn’t watch any stand-up early on in my life,” he says. “I watched a lot of humour. I read a lot of humour, like Oscar Wilde, but not stand-up, so I’ve always had a sort of different, odd style.”

And at school in Swaziland he became a storyteller. “It’s a very big African art,” Daliso says. “It’s cheap, you don’t need any props, it’s just a dude who starts talking. Wonderful!

“It’s a very versatile kind of artform and I was very into it, also because I write fiction, a perfect mesh.”

Daliso writes. He writes a lot. His passion is sci-fi, with Orson Scott Card and Octavia Butler namechecked as influences, but there’s also a stash of erotica in his back catalogue.

Daliso Chaponda on his teenage years for Just For Laughs

With credits on literotica.com, some stories in an erotica anthology and his own collection coming later this year, we can’t not ask.

“I needed a quick way to make money, and people are obsessed with porn on the net,” he says. “There’s so much, right? “I thought ‘Well, I can write porn better than this badly-written nonsense’.”

Starting off with the obvious fantasy material, Daliso quickly moved into writing erotic humour. “I thought there’s no point  spending time being ashamed of it, so I may as well write it in a way that I can tell my friends, ‘Look at this!’.”

Back to the comedy then. Daliso’s stand-up features quick, sharp gags, piercing insight and above all else, supremely confident delivery. He owns the stage. So, it’s no surprise that he cites Chris Rock as an influence.

A more unexpected shoutout goes to South Shields-born Sarah Millican, who’s been making big waves on the Manchester circuit. “She really impressed me because her writing was amazing, and the stuff which impresses me is writing, because I write.

“There are a lot of people who are great performers with dodgy material, so the ones who really astonish me are the ones who can write.”

With his storytelling background and focus on writing ahead of performance, Daliso has a different edge to many on the Manchester scene. His four years in Canada have also had an effect.

Daliso Chaponda at the ROFL Comedy Club

He thinks the smaller number of comedians and venues there compared to the endless gong shows here explains why so many Canadians have managed to succeed in the UK and elsewhere.

“Gong shows are a crap way to become good at comedy,” he says. “For your first year you can do one minute, it’s terrible! You never progress.

“In Canada I was doing five minutes every week, or every few weeks. There were only a few clubs too, so you’re forced to write new material.”

Having been repeatedly frustrated seeing potentially interesting comics failing to get off a single gag, and also seeing popular circuit names using identical material for months on end around the city, we’re inclined to agree.

The streets of Manchester are littered with the comedic corpses of unrealised potential but Daliso really feels on the cusp of something big.

Currently playing a mixture of paid gigs and amateur spots to get noticed, is there anything that will take the guy to the next level?

A look back to his time in Canada is certainly encouraging. He toured the full-length Feed This Black Man in 2002, followed by Don’t Let Them Deport Me two years later – that second show being a response to Canadian authorities refusing him a visa extension.

He’s still a storyteller, then. “I like writing novels. I believe that in stand-up you only get started when you’re doing half an hour. I just want to get to the point where I can do one hour shows. I like to think of them as being very structured, almost like a book.

“And I want it that when I’m 60 that you can line up the shows I’ve done and it gives you a story of where my life is at.

“When you do ten minutes, it’s just foreplay. You’re just making people laugh, you can’t say anything. So comedy-wise, I just wanna do shows. I wanna write scripts.”

Daliso’s last show in Canada was called They’re Deporting Me Anyway, performed as a one-off shortly before he was forced from the country. We ask if being a struggling immigrant comedian is any easier in the UK, and are unsurprised to find out that it’s just as difficult here as anywhere else.

There’s been plenty in the news of late about the release of non-British prisoners into UK society. Many in the press have wilfully confused and misrepresented the facts, choosing instead to emblazon their front pages with the words “foreigners” and “criminals” alongside large numbers, tapping into the latent xenophobia in British society.

“It’s interested the way you see the headlines… the words used,” Daliso says. “It’s also capitalised on by certain political parties, it’s just very worrying”.

Daliso Chaponda on Lazy Racists at the Hot Water Comedy Club in 2010

In local elections the day after our interview, the BNP doubled its number of councillors, making its largest gains in Barking and Dagenham and becoming the second-largest party there. Some suggest that fears of the BNP and others like them are overstated. Daliso disagrees.

“Notions of hypernationalists and what they do to countries are a very distant fairytale for people here, but growing up in Africa we’ve seen it straight up,” he says. “My home country Malawi had an extreme dictatorship, South Africa had apartheid and it was very nationalistic.”

And race is still an issue in comedy. We ask if Daliso would consider a permanent move to the US, like other successful Canadian comics. He’s not sure if he wants to move from the UK.

“What I like here is that you’re a comedian. You’re not necessarily a black comedian,” he says. “In the States you’re really a black comedian. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the race thing means more there.

“In terms of the clubs that are gonna book you, ‘Here black comedian, you do Def Jam’. You can do other shows, but certain clubs are gonna book you more.

“Here, I just go everywhere, and I talk about being black but I can talk about other things, and I like that element.”

Daliso wants to perform for everyone. “The truth is I’ll do comedy anywhere”, he says. “I had a hard time about a year ago when I did a golf club, because it was very rich people, a lot of my comedy was about being broke, they didn’t understand.

“Also a lot of them were sports people. I’m not a very big sports guy, but I learnt. Immediately after that I got home and wrote jokes about wealth. I wrote some jokes about sports.”

Daliso Chaponda’s 2017 audition on Britain’s Got Talent

Under all that wit and swagger, is Daliso Chaponda just another bland careerist, then?

Later that evening we dropped by the Comedy Balloon at Jabez Clegg, the comedians’ comedy night where stand-ups try out new material to an audience made up mainly of other comics.

After a few drinks, Daliso explains that as human beings we have a connection with everyone else. There’s always something that connects a comic to their audience, no matter how different they may appear on the surface.

And when you strip everything away, he says it’s the comedians job to draw out this connection and use it to make their audience laugh.

Perhaps it’s a hangover from his storytelling days. A medium where, as Daliso says, “you can go to all sorts of places and you can entertain children and adults”. That desire to take on any audience and find that connection. To bust open the conventions of stand-up and tell a story.

The Indelicates – In Conversation [2020 re-edit]

Before PIFL was a rarely-updated blog, it was an even more infrequently-released fanzine. One of a few I tried to make happen in my teens and 20s.

Warm on the heels of boredom (two issues and out) and Northern Quarter (one and done) were the two sole issues of Play it Fucking Loud.

After (all-too) eagerly sticking a copy of Issue #1 into the hands of Julia Indelicate as she tidied up her gear after a show somewhere, I badgered her and joint frontperson Simon into letting me interview them for Issue #2.

The interview was a thrill, but the article was embarrassingly pompous, overwrought and overwritten.

I’m not just saying that. It used the words “scribes”, “weblog”, and “dèbut” with an accent, for god’s sake. Weblog. Christ..

So I’ve given it a nip and tuck to make it a bit more readable, taken out (some of) the rambling and fawning, and gone back to the transcript to neaten up the quotes

Soon after Play it Fucking Loud #2 was printed up in 2008, I gleefully sold out with an entry-level part time job as a Celebrity Big Brother Reporter at Digital Spy.

It evolved into an eight-year stint as a journalist and eventually news editor before I moved on/out, but not before I took advantage of my fortunate situation to interview Simon and Julia a few more times.

They were always lovely to talk to, and more importantly were always making great art and saying interesting things about it.

The Indelicates have kept on writing, playing and recording. Listen to their stuff on Spotify and then go and buy it from their Corporate Records website.

“Once in a corridor in Memphis / Was a singer took a breath / Wrote the birth of the teenager / Now we come to write his death”

‘The Last Significant Statement To Be Made In Rock ‘N’ Roll’

PIFL has been here before. Ever since we bought our first tapes from Our Price we’ve been bombarded by journalists and musicians telling us that pop is dead.

At the same time, we’ve also seen endless magazine covers yelling the exact opposite, usually while hailing some fourth-generation rock ‘n’ roll facsimiles as our new favourite band.

Fronted by Simon and Julia, what’s striking about The Indelicates is that while their lyrics echo the first view, their songs are actually good enough to make you believe.

After a few sharp singles, their acerbic, explosive debut album American Demo was released in April.

“I’m alright about the album now,” says Simon. “I was really unhappy about it the week before it came out.

“I just felt really exposed. Like I’d walked out on stage at the school play without knowing any lines. Now it’s actually come out I’ve stopped worrying about it.”

Listening to the album, you can understand why its release might make him feel vulnerable. American Demo offers up a pretty singular take on love, life, drugs, politics and rock ‘n’ roll itself.

“I’m the most right-wing person I know, by a clear margin,” Simon says. It’s not the sort of thing you usually hear a musician say, especially one in their mid-20s.

We’ve just asked him about an unhinged review of the album that, among other things, denounced the band as rabid left-wingers and no-good feminists.

The review also suggested that Julia would be better off having a solo career, leaving Simon to write for Mojo.

“It really upset me,” Simon says of that final barb. “It really did bug me to the point where I had to talk about it in interviews and on stage.”

Julia isn’t too keen on the idea either.

“It’s really offensive to me because I’m not stupid,” she says. “I’m not just ‘a female singer’.

“When someone says that what they mean is, ‘You’ve got a great voice and I didn’t listen to a word of what you were saying’. I mean, fuck off! Seriously, what gives you the right to say that to me?

“It’s always men of a certain age – it’s always ‘industry professionals’. They’re maybe late 30s or whatever, they’re just trying to pull is what it is.

“They’re trying to be your friend and you’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to be your friend if you’re not going to be polite!’.”

Still seething, Simon half-quips: “At least The Spectator! If they said I should write for The Spectator I would have been, ‘Fine, alright’.”

Was he really bothered by the ranting of some nobody on a blog you’ve never heard of?

“The reason it got to me is that I don’t think I’ve got any right to be doing anything in music,” he says.

“I’m middle class, for a start… I can’t really sing, to be honest. I can hold a tune, but I don’t really have a range or anything like that.

“It was like, ‘What are you doing, Twat? You should be a lawyer or something. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing’.

“It wasn’t so much that he said it but that I agreed. I was in a really bad mood anyway because the album was coming out and I didn’t want it to because I was scared, but I’m over it now.”

We’re only talking to Simon and Julia today, but The Indelicates are more than a duo. It’s just that outside the music the other members of the band don’t get much of a look in.

On stage in Manchester a few hours after this interview, drummer Ed van Beinum, bassist Kate Newberry and guitarist Al Clayton come into their own. As a group they take the songs up a level, giving them a harder-edged, glammier sound.

Al especially bounces around the venue like a dosed-up Gummi Bear, offering the crowd more than just the frontpeople as a focus.

Do the other members feel deprived of a voice, as well as a place on the front cover of their own album?

“No, because they hate talking to people, so that’s the price,” Simon laughs.

“They don’t mind,” Julia says. “I think they like being the rhythm section. They all joined up because of that, so they don’t want to be in the ‘public eye’ as such, though they do on stage.”

Simon adds: “They’re our words, so it’s up to us to take responsibility for what we said.”

‘Cos if we can’t have a better world / Then at least can we be right?”
– ‘The British Left In Wartime’

Back to the politics. Simon might describe himself as the most right wing person he knows, but he hardly talks like Nick Griffin and The Indelicates aren’t exactly Skrewdriver.

In fact, the band recently donated a track to REPEAT fanzine’s Fuck the BNP right off compilation. So what does he mean by that, then?

Well, along with ‘Our Daughters Will Never Be Free’ – Julia’s swipe at post-feminism – the album has a couple more out-and-out political moments.

‘Better to Know’ is unashamedly pro-liberal, pro-awareness, while ‘America’ hacks at the reflexive anti-Americanism of much of the British left.

We wonder if songs like that make the band feel set apart from other musicians.

“Yeah,” says Simon, “But I’d probably be embarrassed to do it if I didn’t feel a bit out on a limb.

“‘America’ especially is something that I care about. You do get this constant stupidity from the left, which is really disappointing and irritating. It really does bug me.

“It’d be very easy to write songs about how I don’t like George Bush, because of course, no-one likes George Bush.

“Just as it’s very easy to shock the Daily Mail, but it’s kind of pointless. That’s what they’re for – the Daily Mail – to be shocked.

“Anything that runs against the grain of what the people you’re talking to believe seems a lot more worthwhile.

“If you’re having a go at the people directly in front of you, at least you’re not just talking to the choir.”

At PIFL, we’re not demanding that our favourite bands echo our politics. It’s just refreshing to hear a band making a point of thinking for themselves before shooting off their mouths.

At the very least, we want artists to recognise the contradictions that flare up if they start preaching to their fanbase.

Too many hotly-tipped guitar bands in Britain right now seem focused on just three things: their careers, teenage girls, and drugs.

“The popstars who write operas / And make fatuous remarks / The theory quoting upstarts / Who snort fairtrade coke in parks”
– ‘America’

“Coke is the least ethically produced crop in the world,” Simon says. “People’s feet can get burned off when they have to tread it in acid, otherwise they get shot. People won’t go to McDonald’s but they’ll buy coke.”

He adds: “The bands of this generation are a lot less radical than those of their parents’ generation.

“And that in itself suggests a reversal of something which was once interesting and made changes in society as a voice for youth.

“It stopped being that when Kurt Cobain shot himself, and became just a method of selling pieces of plastic to teenagers.”

Simon thinks the idea of rock ‘n’ roll as rebellion has run its course. There’s no longer any evidence of it.

Julia takes up the thread.

“I think indie music’s dead too,” she says. “As in independent, an independent scene.

“With the alternative scene in America the difference is phenomenal. The alternative scene in America consists of a vast number of different things but they’re really supportive.

“There are all sorts of labels that are basically small businesses that will come and support that, whereas in England ours died.

“Ours died and possibly became pop music, which is fine. That’s what happens. But people forget there was a reason it was indie music. That it was independent – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

After a short stint on Sad Gnome Records, the band signed to independent label Weekender. Was it always the strategy to stay free on an indie? Not quite.

Simon admits he always wanted to release the album “on a massive label” and Julia agrees.

“In terms of sound it’s not not commercial, though maybe it is in terms of lyrics,” she says.

“It doesn’t bother me being on an indie, because you have a lot more control over what happens.

“But if a big label ever wanted to sign us up we’d definitely say yes. And we’d say yes having thought it through. We’re not dumb, so we think about it.

“I don’t really have a problem with many people being able to buy your music. The more people that hear about it the better really.”

“When they pin me to the wall, I’ll say / I’m with America / With godless America”
– ‘America’

The band went to the States earlier this year to play South by Southwest. Despite all hype, what they found when they got there was a pretty tedious industry get-together.

“No different from the Tory party conference,” Simon says. “Just lots of men in suits walking around with badges on, talking about fringe meetings and how excited they are about everything.”

The surroundings were something else, though.

“I really liked being in America,” Julia says. “The space in Texas is just phenomenal.

“I was born in Saudi Arabia and I used to live in compounds because my dad worked for an airline.

“The compounds used to be some way into the desert and I’m really used to vast amounts of space.

“It’s so nice to look to the horizon and it’s just immense… it’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to do that. If you live in a city all the time, you don’t get that.

“It’s really, really freeing and it also makes you feel like you could survive it, if you’re a positive person.

“You feel, ‘I could do this, I could walk through this desert, and I could work it out, I’d be able to stand alone’.

“I think there’s a lot of that about America, despite it having loads and loads of problems. There’s something about that, about you feeling able to do something.

“The dark days ahead / And the blood on the bed / And the cover of the NME / They gave us a cheque / And took us by our necks /
And swore undying loyalty”

– ‘New Art For The People’

Back to Blighty. Does being on the front cover of Britain’s oldest surviving pop weekly mean anything anymore? Simon says yes, Julia no.

“To be fair, I never read the NME and I was never into indie music,” Julia says. “I was into dance music and classical music.”

Simon replies: “But I didn’t grow up somewhere cool! Where I grew up, the NME was like a lifeline and I find it really difficult to slag it off because it meant loads to me as a kid.”

Julia says: “I just don’t like the NME because I don’t like music writing. I find the NME to be particularly bad, but I don’t find Plan B that different.

“They’ll be like, ‘Sounds a bit like this band, and this band and this band’. It’s not that I have a problem with it as such, it’s just that it doesn’t make any sense to me.

“That’s what I mean about it not meaning anything. Maybe it means something to some people, but I think it means more in terms of business than anything else.

“The Wombats are on the cover, therefore they’re going get big for the next six months. And then they’re going to get shot down in flames and part of me feels a bit sorry for them because a lot of them are just kids.”

There are still some acts out there who impress The Indelicates. Former Sad Gnome labelmate Lily Rae, Jim Bob from Carter USM, Red Zebra, and The Flesh Happening all get a mention.

“They’re amazing,” Simon says of The Flesh Happening. “It feels like watching Bowie, but with this more aggressively queer, really disgusting edge, a really proper edge, something that really is quite shocking.”

Despite all the undisguised musical nods and reference points, The Indelicates themselves don’t really sound like anyone else in British pop right now.

A very big part of that is their lyrics. They know it, too, if their deliciously snarky ‘Too Schooled For Cool’ T-shirt on the merch stand is anything to go by.

“I’m bitter and twisted / Unaddressed and unlisted / And all of our plans came to nothing, it seems”
– ‘Point Me To The West’

“I try not to lie with everything we do and I think we succeed in that,” Simon says of what the band are trying to achieve.

“I mean, I don’t necessarily think I’m a particularly good singer, and I’m an alright guitarist – I’ve been practising long enough.

“I don’t think there’s anything we say that isn’t something we’ve thought through properly. It’s intended honestly.

“I think if we could be financially stable while not lying to people, that’d be good enough really.”

The cover of American Demo features Simon and Julia behind a freshly-painted white line, bucket and brush in hand. It’s a bold cover, and it makes bold statement.

“Being out on a limb – the cover of the album is mainly designed with that in mind – because I take responsibility for everything I said,” Simon says.

“It’s why the week before releasing the album I felt terrible, just terrified and unpleasantly naked.

“But, I wanted to be on the cover, and to have Julia on the cover as well, going ‘Yeah, it was us’.”