A Medway Christmas Alphabet: Q is for ‘A Quick One (Pete Townshend’s Christmas)’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

And, amazingly, we have another actual Christmas song today. Although this is Medway, so it’s hardly going to be Shaking Stevens, Wham or Mariah Carey…

Billy Childish and the MBEs - Christmas 1979

A Christmas album from Billy Childish was never going to be a schmaltzy, tinsel garbed romp through snow-filled streets past log fires and carol singing children.

A large chunk of Christmas 1979, a festive offering from Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire in 2007, is a reworking of highlights from Childish’s non-festive back-catalogue, be they original songs or songs he has covered – with a Christmassy twist added for good measure. And, as you’d expect, it’s no bed of Christmas roses

And so we have ‘Christmas Lights’, a Yuletide-ified version of The Buff Medway’s ‘Strood Lights’, ‘Comanche (Link Wray’s Christmas)’, which is self-explanatory, and album opener ‘Santa Claus’ which takes as its inspiration The Sonics’ ‘Davey Crockett’, a regular staple during the era of Thee Headcoats and Thee Headcoatees. It all makes for a Christmassy tinged greatest hits from Billy Childish and friends.

Amidst all this comes ‘A Quick One (Pete Townshend’s Christmas)’, taking the ‘You Are Forgiven’ section from The Who’s ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ medley.

The Buffs had first recorded a cover of the song, under the ‘Ivor’ moniker, on their album Steady the Buffs. The song, in part a documentation of Townshend’s abuse as a child, no doubt had a resonance for Childish whose own experiences are recorded in his song ‘Every Bit of Me’ and elsewhere.

And apart from a generally upbeat rendition of the song, celebrating how “presents will be given” (in place of “you are forgiven” on the original”) and the excitement of how “I can’t believe that it’s Christmas again”, there are still worrying lines about how “[I] later with him had a nap”; him, in this case, being Santa Claus.

Despite this – and it’s probably a big despite – ‘A Quick One – Pete Townshend’s Christmas’ is bouncy, even joyous sounding tune where the band sound like they’re having a great time of it. We even get an “Enjoy Christmas” at the end of it.

The same level of merriment is definitely not present in the closing song from the album, the title track.

If you ever worried that there wasn’t a Christmas song that met your punk/mod/garage band needs, your search may well be over.

Read more about Christmas 1979 in my album review and buy the album on Amazon or iTunes.

Find out more about Billy Childish, The Musicians of the British Empire and plenty of other music acts from Medway in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.


A Medway Christmas Alphabet: P is for ‘Pop Star Party’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

The Prisoners - In From The ColdThe Prisoners were two bands.

There was one band who wanted to keep everything authentic: to recreate the sounds they had heard on recordings by The Small Faces and The Nice and put their own spin on. And there was the second band that craved commercial success – of MAKING IT.

Sadly, as this was the 80s, the era of Duran Duran, The Style Council and ABC, it was unlikely both bands could co-exist harmoniously. There would have to be give and take. And eventually, the fight between the two sides of The Prisoners destroyed them.

The Prisoners’ albums reflect this tale in an all too neat way. Album one, A Taste of Pink, was recorded on a budget, entirely self funded; album two, The WiserMiserDemelza, saw The Prisoners signed and having real money thrown at them (while creative control was removed); their third album, The Last Fourfathers, often regarded as their best, sees them go independent again – and win back their creative control; and their final album, In From The Cold, finds the band trying their luck with a label again.

It could only end in tears.

‘Pop Star Party’, to be found as a bonus track on In From The Cold, finds the band at its bitter end.

The song was recorded as a parting shot to their record label who, they felt, had let them down. And although, on signing to Countdown, a subsidiary of Stiff Records.

The Prisoners had had to make compromises they were none too happy about, but things weren’t helped by the unfortunate timing of In From The Cold‘s release: Stiff went under around the same time as the release date – so there was little that could be done to even promote or sell the album. For some time it was just a “lost” record.

Against this backdrop, out of a sense of utter frustration, The Prisoners decided to call it a day.

‘Pop Star Party’ commemorates the end in spectacularly vitriolic fashion. Never known as a particularly happy bunch – DJ and music journalist Steve Lamacq remembers them specifically for their grumpiness: ‘the most sullen, angry, embittered and endearing four-piece I’d ever heard’, he writes in his book, Going Deaf for a Living – this song more than any other shows just how grumpy they could be:

You’re the biggest load of fakes that I’ve ever seen.
This is a farewell to your lies.
You’re finished taking us for a music whore…

It was a spectacular way to go out: a band at their peak as a group, regaining complete control of themselves and their music for one final bridge burning hurrah.

Find out more about The Prisoners and many other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy In From the Cold from Amazon or iTunes.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: O is for ‘One More Letter’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

The Daggermen EP
What would you do with a time machine?

There’s the obvious stuff, of course. You could go back to July 1888 and try persuading Mrs Hitler she’s got a headache. Or perhaps you could head back to 1555 to see if Queen Mary really was the spitting image of Dennis Waterman.

Then again, it could be fun to find Cellar Number Five beneath Rochester Bridge at some point in the mid-1980s and see if The Daggermen are rehearsing down there.

Maybe it’s me over-romanticising things, but there seems something just a little bit magical about the tales you hear about three lads kicking up a storm in a room not tall enough to stand in. If the stories are to believed, whenever the doors were open, there was a party going on down there.

It wasn’t just The Daggermen who practiced down there. It’s where a band called The Pressure went to rehearse (and have their amplifiers cannibalised) and where The Prisoners recorded ‘Gravedigger‘ – which features as a bonus track on their final album, In From The Cold.

And it wasn’t just down in ‘The Hole’, as they called it, where the party happened. Wherever they went, The Daggermen took the chaos with them. Their performances at The Nag’s Head saw them get thrown out by the landlady, Angie Minto. They would try to secure gigs under an alternate name, but she soon got wise to it.

The band would take their play fights – or bundles – out onto the street, or even across the Channel to France. And they would wind up overseas promoters by making out they were too drunk to perform.

The Daggermen form a cornerstone of much of the music that followed. Two members, Johnny Barker (bass) and Wolf Howard (drums) in particular have appeared in many of Medway’s bands from the 1980s to the present day: The James Taylor Quartet, Johnny and the Bandits, Goodchilde, The Kravin’ “A”s, The Prime Movers, The Solarflares, Dodson’s Dogs, Micky and the Salty Seadogs, Sergeant’s Mess, The Vandebilts, The Musicians of the British Empire, CTMF and, most recently, Senior Service have featured either or both members of the The Daggermen’s rhythm section. And it was a fondness for The Daggermen that saw Billy Childish form The Buff Medways alongside Barker and Howard. The Buffs even released an EP tribute to The Daggermen.

‘One More Letter’ comes from The Daggermen’s EP, Introducing the Daggermen released in 1985. It conveys all the frantic energy you would hope to find from a garage band who practiced in a cellar and terrorised landladies with play fights.

The song hurtles along against a basic blues chord progression with all three band members throwing everything the have into it: David Taylor on guitar and vocals, Johnny Barker on bass and Wolf Howard smashing into his drumkit like it would be of no use come tomorrow.

Writing about it doesn’t really do it justice. You’re just going to have to listen to it for yourself.

Find out more about Jon Barker and Wolf Howard’s latest project, Senior Service (also featuring Darry Hartley and Graham), on their Damaged Good page.

Read more about The Daggermen and many, many other bands and artists from Medway in my book: Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.


A Medway Christmas Alphabet: N is for ‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas*. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

(On second thoughts, maybe I should have posted this one nearer to Hallowe’en).

Hand of Stabs

Should you ever have any trouble getting yourself – or a small child – to sleep, you might be tempted to go to Youtube and find any one of a large selection of pieces of soothing music, up to eight hours or so in length, to help secure a restful night’s slumber.

There might, entirely conceivably, exist some reason why you might want the exact opposite: to stay awake all night in a state of restlessness and unease; Should you wish to subject yourself to such self-inflicted insomnia, may I recommend the work of Hand of Stabs?

Hand of Stabs are a band like no other. But that’s almost implied in their name. Not for them the conformities of a couple of guitars, a bass, a drum kit and someone of vocals. Instead, their line-up is advertised as follows:

Captain Rex Standish – signal
Jocelyn von Bergdorff – interference
James Worse – pulse

In practice, this means creating sounds and – yes, I would call it music, from all manner of objects, most notably a bicycle wheel. And the result is haunting, eerie and really rather beautiful.

‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’ is typical of their atypical sound. It can be found on the Medway Eyes ME5 compilation from 2013.

A Theremin’s howling ill-wind gathers pace around wheezing squeeze boxes, the most minimal of percussion and a gentle clatter of playing card against bicycle wheel spokes. Added to this is a barely decipherable, distorted with echoes and reverberations until it sounds like a the loneliest of platform announcements at a long forgotten railway station.

Despite the name of the piece, there is something rather terrifying about it: a creepy, other-worldliness which doesn’t fit in with our understanding of what music should be. This, of course, makes it all the more compelling and fascinating.

File under “Don’t have nightmares”.

Find out more about Hand of Stabs on their FacebookBandcamp and Soundcloud pages.

Find out more about music from Medway in my book: Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

Of course, James Worse, of “pulse” fame, will be familiar not just to lovers of experimental, warped music, but also as a rather astute political commentator. As the following video shows (see 30 seconds in).

A Medway Christmas Alphabet – the story so far

Tradition dictates that the lead up to Christmas comes with some form of countdown – or, strictly speaking, a countup – often involving chocolate.

Here at Reviewage Heights we don’t have any chocolate on offer (as I’ve eaten it all myself), but I can point you towards a song for every letter of the alphabet – with two to come of Christmas Day.

As we’ve reached the half way point – and you might have missed some on the way – here’s the songs that have featured from A to M.

These songs are in no way meant to represent a “best of” – although I would maintain they’re all pretty darned good. But hopefully they do give a broad overview of the wide range of music Medway has had to offer over the last few decades.

So, here we go:

A – The Singing Loins – ‘Alien’

B – Funke and Two Tone Baby – ‘Bella’s Kiss’

C – Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society – ‘Call Me Dave’

D – Brigadier Ambrose – ‘Decembered’

E – Thee Headcoats – ‘Every Bit of Me’

F – Wheels – ‘Forget It’

G – The Dentists – ‘Gas’

H – Bob Collins and the Full Nelson – ‘Holy Man’

I -Theatre Royal – ‘I Believe in Father Christmas (Don’t Get Me Socks)’

J – Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris – ‘Jump at the Sun’

K – Frau Pouch – ‘Krakthulu’

L – The Claim – ‘Losers Corner’

M – Broken Banjo – ‘Might As Well Be Hell’

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: M is for ‘Might as Well be Hell’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Broken Banjo - Repeat OffenderBroken Banjo can always be relied upon to kick up one hell of a decent blues-rock storm. And, on more than one occasion, they do themselves an injury in the process. Back at the Nags Head launch night of the Medway Eyes compilation, ME5,  guitarist and singer Liam Lynott managed to inexplicably split his forehead open mid-set.

Such are the risks associated with the life of a heavy rocker. It’s unlikely these problems have ever affected the likes of Joan Baez.

Broken Banjo’s latest EP, Repeat Offenders, presents plenty more opportunities for band members to do themselves injuries. If one of them doesn’t inflame their vocal chords, reduce their hands to bloody stumps or impale themselves on a cymbal, they’ll probably end up bursting a blood vessel as pure rage and self-loathing courses through their body.

It’s a fantastic display of anger mismanagement as injustices are addressed (in ‘Caroline’), and a sense of self-hatred leads to the bottle (“drunk again – it’s the only way I know” as one lyric puts it), or simply a feeling of absolute confusion (see the fantastically raucous ‘Hide Your Face’ with its chorus of “I’m guilty/I hate me/I love you”).

The one let-up appears in ‘Gone in the Morning’ with its Tom Waits-on-amphetamines growl describing a night of unadulterated hedonism.

Although Broken Banjo are heavily steeped in a Led-Zeppelin venerating blues-rock tradition, there are diversions from that path. ‘BirdCage’, a plea to “get back with me”, is text-book grunge with its quietly brooding and then explosively noisy formula.

Meanwhile ‘Leros’ is much more restrained, a beautiful, if tortured account of how ‘I can’t live – I won’t live – without the girl from Leros’ which only unleashes its full arsenal at the very end. They’ve caused each other pain but now it’s over “my broken heart has turned to sand”.

The mix of grunge with blues-rock, the combination of set backs and self-recriminations, climax spectacularly in ‘Might as Well be Hell’:

For all the trying and failing,
For all the train-wreck flailing,
For the all the words I’ve swallowed,
All false prophets followed,
This might as well be hell.

It’s a grim, intense blast of angst that goes well beyond the usual caricature of emo self-absorption. The barbed-wire guitars, the bottom of a whiskey bottle vocals and the written in blood lyrics all point towards some dark place you really don’t want to go.

It’s bleak stuff – but then some of the best music out there is just that.

You can buy the Repeat Offenders EP direct from Broken Banjo’s Bandcamp page.

Read more about the abject misery of Medway music in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: L is for ‘Losers Corner’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

The Claim - Black Path
Would it be such a bad thing, such a wrong thing, such a deluded thing to say The Claim should have been a much bigger band than they were?

Listening to ‘Losers Corner’ some 25 years after it was released as single, the song has all the ingredients of an indie classic. There’s a poetry to the lyrics that recalls both Morrissey and Ray Davies. And there’s a lilting, fairly simple melody that will haunt you long after the song has finished.

Mixed together, you have a song full of yearning and dissatisfaction and frustration set against the most heartbreakingly beautiful of tunes.

If a song like this drew large audiences for The Kinks (‘Autumn Almanac’), The Jam (‘Smithers-Jones’) or Blur (‘Charmless Man’), why, apart the whole thing about being in the right place at the right time, having the right management and having more than a little bit of luck on your side – apart from all those trifling little issues – why did the same thing not happen for The Claim?

It is, I’d dare to argue, only because a song like The Smiths’ ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ is so familiar, compared with The Claim’s ‘Losers Corner’ that we feel inclined to believe the former of these is a better song. And that ain’t necessarily so.

“It seems, yes it seems, that it’s gathering speed/to find a home and a car and a new family” runs the chorus of the world-weary song. It’s a song about suburban dreariness, the boredom of keeping up with the Jonses and the futility of working hard to achieve very little.

And yes, these themes have all been dealt with by all of the above – and more – but, in ‘Losers Corner’, there is an eloquence that makes these musings seem fresh and so very vital.

“To be told you’re too old to learn a trade/to be placed at the gates of the unattainable” goes the song’s opening couplet.

The poignancy of such lines, mourning the triumph of inevitability and mundanity over the seemingly powerless and unutterably bored, is so intense that, for the four and a half minutes during which the song runs, there never have been any Kinks, Jam or Smiths. There has only ever been The Claim retelling tales of infinite tedium and sadness.

You can buy The Claim’s best of, Black Path, featuring ‘Losers Corner’ from Amazon and iTunes.

Find out more about The Claim and plenty of other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: K is for ‘Krakthulhu’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Frau Pouch - All Hail Space Chicken

If ever you popped round to our house for a cup of tea – and you would be most welcome – you might, conceivably, take a look at the CDs I have, neatly arranged in alphabetical order, in a couple of cupboards in the living room.

Therein your eyes might be drawn towards any number of musical treats: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks got an this morning, Gogol Borgello probably need to be played again soon. And – if you’ll just excuse me while I pluck something else at random – there, on the bottom shelf of the first cupboard, are the haggard, fearful eyes of the cover-boy of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King.

For all my forays into the worlds of Britpop, punk, prog-rock, various bits of electronica, folk-rock, morose singer-songwriter gloominess (there’s plenty of that), the all too loosely termed “world music” and even a smattering of hip-hop, there’s not much in the way of shambolic art punk disco filth, as Medway band Frau Pouch describe themselves, filed away.

But maybe there should be.

Frau Pouch’s charm lies in their blend of dark humour, ear destroying noise and their ability to switch from mischievous, cheeky scamps to purveyors of the most corrupting of filth.

Despite all that, they are ridiculously lovely people and it’s always been a pleasure to meet them.

With a back catalogue of songs about the moon hatching to release a chicken which solves the world’s hunger problems or about Godzilla getting a little frisky with a skyscraper, you know you’ll be in for a fairly old warped time of it with Frau Pouch. And ‘Krakthulhu’ is no exception.

The song, the first thing you’ll hear on 2013’s All Hail Space Chicken EP, is a typically noisy, rambunctious old tune.

Ollie Crook’s grainy bass guitar jerks convulses around as if it’s going through some kind of electro-shock therapy while Joe Wise (singer and guitarist) shouts through his tale of a debauched kraken life style.

And all the time Suzanne Wise bashes out seven shades of sea monster effluent from her drum kit.

I remember once going to The Command House to see various bands play at an Oxjam gig. Being a charity event on a Saturday afternoon, it was full of young families out to have a good day – despite the rain. Of all the bands who played that day, you can probably guess who it was who got the toddlers dancing.

Fortunately, Joe Wise’s vocals were particularly distorted that day. Otherwise the band’s set might have provoked a series of awkward questions.

Frau Pouch. They’re good. They’re not particularly clean. They’re far from wholesome. But they are great fun. Book them for your children’s party now.

Read more about Frau Pouch, Joe and Suzanne Wise’s promotional project Motherboy and plenty of noisy sounds to come from Medway in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy Frau Pouch’s All Hail Space Chicken EP from their Bandcamp page.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet – J is for ‘Jump at the Sun’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Wolf's HEad and Vixen Morris - Unearthed
In my desperate attempt to bring as much of Christmas as I can into an alphabetically themed list of Medway  published in the days leading up to the Big 25, let me tell you a tale. It’s about Boxing Day.

I’m not from Medway originally. I’m not even from Kent. I grew up in Gloucester, a place made famous for its cheese (doubly so, in fact), for its cathedral’s use as the set for many a corridor and quadrangle scene in the earlier Harry Potter films. And, of course, rather famous for our own mass murderers, the delightful Mr. and Mrs. West.

Everyone hates (or, at least, has special dispensation to hate) their home town. And I’m no particular exception. If you’ve ever visited the place, you’ll no doubt tell me how utterly wrong I am. “It’s simply wonderful,” you might say. “The countryside, the docks, that beautiful cathedral.”

And yes, it has all of that. But it’s also got a lot of concrete. In the 1960s, developers seem to have got rather jealous of the fact that Hitler completely destroyed the beautiful city of Coventry, leaving town planners to start from scratch with a mass of substandard architecture. “Why couldn’t he have bombed our beautiful city?” they asked themselves. “Then we could have started from scratch with our own substandard architecture.”

And, innovative bunch that they were, they decided to do what the Fuhrer had failed to do themselves. Not bomb it exactly. But certainly knock it down.

The result was that where the city centre would have once had the appeal of Rochester’s High Street, complete with its higgledy-piggledy rows of historical buildings – and something of a soul, it now resembles something like the rather less photogenic Sittingbourne, albeit with a beautiful cathedral seemingly dumped somewhere over to the left for no particular reason.

It was outside this cathedral that I spent every single interminably dull Boxing Day standing in a circle on the car park’s tarmac, watching the same old mummers’ play in which various apparently comic characters fought each other badly with swords until one of them got knocked out, only for a doctor to arrive, produce a ping-pong ball from his bag and proclaim that said ping-pong ball-cum-tablet could cure – all together now – “the itch, the pitch, the palsy and the gout, pains within and pains without – AND PAINSWICK OVER THE HILL” – a joke you can only properly get if you know about, well, Painswick Hill.

The mummers’ play (never to be performed outside of the gates of the city, heaven forefend!) would be sandwiched between performances by various sides of Morris dancers, some clad in white and waving handkerchiefs, the omnipresent bells jingling at their feet as they danced, others in tanned leather waistcoats bashing sticks together for no reason I could ever quite gather.

This was accompanied by Santa Claus passing over-rich Christmas cake around the gathered throng, a man hiding his identity beneath a giant plastic horse’s head which he then used to headbut those who had come to watch, and another man hitting members of the audience with an inflated pig’s bladder.

It’s what we did for fun in Gloucester.

Eventually, my friend Peter and I took to leaving our respective parents to it while we took a walk around the cloisters, alternatively complaining about how rubbish the whole thing was while quoting extensively from the script of the mummers’ play. Ironically of course.

It was probably something to do with my name.

For someone who was regularly dubbed “Morris Minor” and “Morris Dancer” at school the prospect of having to see Morris dancing or – worse still – be seen seeing Morris dancing was not something I was particularly impressed with.

And then, with a few detours via Lancaster, back to Gloucester and then over to Sevenoaks and then Dartford, I eventually arrived in the Medway Towns where, among other things, I discovered they had a whole three day long festival devoted to the art of the sodding Morris dancer.

I still don’t entirely get Morris dancing. I imagine that’s the problem most of its detractors have. Of all artistic performers, the Morris dancer is probably the least understood. But I don’t quite have the same negative feelings as I did when I was growing up in a city far, far west of where I now live.

The cooling of my distaste has, in large part, been down to the existence of Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris. They do Morris dancing. But they do it in a more interesting way. They’re covered, head to foot in black, for a start and they seem to have a bit more of an attitude – and a bit spirit – than I’ve generally seen with other Morris dancers.

Part of their allure is that they wear their allusions to pre-Christian traditions on their jet black sleeves, looking to explore a past that extends beyond the rise and fall of kings and queens, of politics and organised religion. ‘We quite consciously work with ideas of shamanism,’ one of the Wolf’s Heads, Philip Kane told The Independent back in 2008. ‘It’s a form of ritual theatre, a magical space embracing both dancers and audience.’

The fact that Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris do things differently should make it of no surprise that in 2011, they released a CD, Unearthed, filled with the music to which they dance.

‘Jump at the Sun’, by John Kirkpatrick, appears as the finale to the album. And it’s a belter of a tune; gleefully chaotic, it seems impossible that anyone – let alone any group of people – could play so fast.

Violins and squeeze boxes race against each other in a furious display of spirit and skill which provide an insight into what the soundtrack of a Keystone Cops movie might have sounded like if it was performed by a bunch of Goth clad folk musicians.

Weirdly wonderful.

Bob Dylan: “Christmas in the Heart”


I love a good Christmas record, me.

Not the Noddy Holder and Cliff Richard stuff. Oh no. I like digging out things that are just a bit different. Last year I put together some reviews of some of my favourite alternative Christmas records.

I’ve already re-published one, Smoke Fairies’ Wild Winter, re-released this year. But there can’t be any harm in taking a look at another one, can there?

Cue Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart.

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