I sometimes tweet clippings from my Sounds magazine archives, and recently posted a piece from 13/5/78 featuring “the woefully under-rated Newcastle post-punk band, Punishment of Luxury.” At the time, I loved Punilux and their unique, idiosyncratic quirkiness. Their imaginative soundscape melded punk with elements of proggier rock, underpinned by wonderful lyrical imagery, delivered in a manic performance style alluding to their origins in English fringe theatre. I semi-autobiographical novel I wrote in 2009, featuring my personal experiences of psych wards and the post-punk music that coaxed me back towards stable mental health, was entitled ‘BrainBomb’ (after a frenetic Punilux B-side).
This led to various exchanges on Twitter, not least getting introduced to Gary Alikivi, a North East English filmmaker/photographer. After explaining about the influence of Punilux on my writing, Gary was kind enough to share some links to his excellent website. The many eclectic projects documented include captivating photo archives documenting life on South Tyneside and interviews with authors like John Orton, whose 2022 novel He Wears a Blue Bonnet, set after Cromwell’s victory over a Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar, gives insight into how POWs were treated in 1650 (many were sent to the New World colonies but 40 survived the notorious Death March over the border, arriving in ‘South Sheels’ to work in the salt panns).
Another interview was with artist Peter Dixon and writer/poet Keith Armstrong, who co-founded Northern Voices Community Projects in 1986 “to give people who are denied a voice a platform to express their views and experiences of living in the North East.” Keith has been a prolific writer celebrating everyday life in Northumbria, while Peter’s striking work caught my eye because he is the graphic designer behind some of Punilux’s seminal single and album covers. Peter got involved with the band after designing background scenery for The Mad Bongo Theatre Company led to singer Brian Bond making contact. He went on to meet Neville Luxury (guitar, vocals) and drummer Red Helmet. Their debut single ‘Puppet Life’ (Small Wonder 1978) was reviewed in Sounds by none other than Bowie and Bolan’s producer Tony Visconti, who described Peter’s sleeve as sick (in that adjective’s original rather than contemporary context!)
‘Puppet Life’ was reviewed in Sounds by none other than Bowie and Bolan’s producer Tony Visconti, who described Peter Dixon’s sleeve as sick (in that adjective’s original rather than contemporary context!)
Gary’s website covers and extensive range of articles he has blogged about the film, music, culture and social history of North East England. He waxes lyrical about potency of music for uplifting spirit (a theme running through my own work like the legend inside a stick of Blackpool or Spanish City rock). “The adrenalin rush of the thunderclap from Icelandic football fans. The guitar intro to Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers. Kurt Cobain’s anger on the Nirvana anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Particularly impressive is his photography. Included is an archive of nearly 2,000 photos displayed on the South Tyneside History website, including Haven Point, Mill Dam, The Word, Seafront, Holborn, Market, North Marine Park, and many more. These arresting images highlight the ever-evolving face of South Tyneside over the decade from 2010-2020. You can easily lose yourself for a while as you head down a mesmerising rabbit hole of everything from ancient shipwrecks and the North Sea churning off Sandhaven to more prosaic shots of architectural renovations. This site is well worth bookmarking.
Keith Armstrong website: http://keithyboyarmstrong.blogspot.com/
Peter Dixon website: https://www.peterdixonart.com/
Gary Alikivi website: https://garyalikivi.com/
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkW7F_6t-GNVMCYLT4BNHfg
Interview with Peter and Keith: https://garyalikivi.com/2019/05/15/pressing-issues-with-peter-dixon-keith-armstrong/
The power of music: https://garyalikivi.com/2018/10/25/sounds-alive-and-the-power-of-music/
I came across a recent Twitter post by Marc Riley, formerly of The Fall. He’d retweeted a link to a Guardian article by Daniel Dylan Wray, entitled Bring that beat back: why are people in their 30s giving up on music?, questioning why so many of his friends preferred wallowing in nostalgia to listening to new music.
Marc is one of my favourite R6 DJs because he so effortlessly balances playing classics (everything from Bowie to Beefheart) to championing new acts. Earlier this year, his show’s opening tracks featured Iggy Pop and The Stooges seminal proto-punk anthem ‘TV Eye’ from 1970’s Funhouse segueing into 2021 psychedelic punk gem ‘I, Moron,’ by The Lovely Eggs from Lancaster, on which Iggy provides backing vocals. As R6 DJ and fellow Man City fan Mark Radcliffe once stated: “Never get too old to listen to something new!”
Wire, who were playing post-punk music long before most of their contemporaries were even punk bands, have released 17 studio albums in 45 years, the most recent Mind/Hive, being released on their PinkFlag label in 2020. Throughout their eclectic career they have steadfastly refused to rely on past glories. If you want to hear them play '12XU' you'll have to dig out their first album, the B-side of their debut single 'Mannequin,' or the compilation album, The Roxy London WC2.
Noel Gallagher has castigated Radiohead for experimenting with 'difficult' electronic soundscapes rather than playing variations of 'Creep,' and Harry Styles for releasing songs without writing middle eights for them. UK Subs, 999, Chelsea, Stiff Little Fingers, The Stranglers, and many other names recognisable to anyone who bought Sounds magazine in the late 1970s are still drawing crowds at 'punk festivals' in the 2020s. Roxy Music are embarking on their 50th anniversary tour later this year. And can you imagine a world where The Rolling Stones stop touring? The potency of nostalgia is a constant.
But surely one of the most incredible aspects of music is whether based on Western music's octaves of eight, seven-note scales (typical of Middle Eastern music) or pentatonic scales of five (traditional Chinese music), there are finite notes available. Yet this source material has allowed the creation of everything from Beethoven to The Beatles to Bowie to whatever song is currently bobbing around someone's head at this precise moment prior to being jammed, fine-tuned, then recorded at some point in the future.
Another post-punk legend, Mark E Smith, once put it to a heckler on The Fall's seminal live album Totale's Turns (Rough Trade, 1980): "Are you doing what you did two years ago? Yeah? Well, don't make a career out of it." So many performers have achieved career longevity by doing just that.
There will always be a place for nostalgia, but it's moving on and exploring the possibilities that ensure music remains so vital to the human spirit. What I love about BBC Radio 6, whether you're listening to Marc Riley, Mary Anne Hobbs, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Iggy Pop, Tom Robinson, Craig Charles, Guy Garvey, The Blessed Madonna, Stuart Maconie et al, is that you are just as likely to hear something you've never heard before, but which might just blow your mind, as a track you're hearing for the Nth time. (Although listening to Captain Sensible's incendiary bassline introing 'Neat Neat Neat' on Craig Charles' 'trunk of punk' will always lift the spirits, Nth time or not.)
Difficult or catchy; rock or dance, here's just a snippet of the many acts I've been introduced to by this essential radio station:
Warmduscher, White Denim, Fat White Family, David Holmes, Floating Points, Crows, Life, Shame, Wesley Gonzalez, Ghost Power, Tame Impala, Father John Misty, Arlo Parks, Cat Power, Mattiel, Lucy Dacus, The Big Moon, Big Thief, Flossing, Courting, Simian Mobile Disco, Japanese Television, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, M83, B.C. Camplight, Broken Social Scene, Working Men's Club, NewDad, Anna Calvi, Anna B Savage, Anna Phoebe, Kelly Lee Owens, Thundercat, Porij, Porridge Radio, St. Vincent, Teleman, Jane Weaver, unloved, The Lipschitz, Bessie Turner, The Bug Club, Yot Club, Jon Hopkins, Katy J Pearson, Pale Blue Eyes, The Oh Sees, Animal Collective, LoneLady, Max Cooper, Mitski, Yard Act, Wet Leg, English Teacher, Dry Cleaning, Penelope Isles, Sharon Van Etten, Sports Team, Metronomy, Port Sulphur ...
Music is the most subjective artform of all, and musicians will always be compelled to consider fresh ways to express themselves, through innovative variations of those stock eight(ish) notes. That list in the previous paragraph. As the late, great Mark Hollis of Talk Talk sang in 'It's My Life' ... It Never Ends ...
This excerpt from 1976 is set inside the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, where I'd been sectioned after a violent breakdown in November 1987. Although surrounded by other patients, I'm consumed by loneliness, trapped inside depression. Then an occupational therapy session sparks long-dormant memories... of punk... and Iggy...
I spend most of my time in the lounge, passive smoking hundreds of cigarettes. Beyond a galaxy of fag burns on the carpet tiles, the focal point is the TV. After the evening meal, chairs are arranged in rows before this altar. Although I watch for hours, news reports and drama plots just wash over me, like the shimmering backdrop beyond a goldfish bowl.
Sportscene does stand out on what must be Saturday. I overhear a nurse chatting during the highlights of Celtic’s 4-0 trouncing of Dunfermline. He was there, in the Jungle. Andy Walker showing how to take penalties. Twice. Frank McAvennie scoring his fifth since joining from West Ham in October. He mentions McAvennie being the club’s record signing. Three-quarters of a million. Souness approached him at last year’s World Cup in Mexico. Wanted him to be Rangers first Catholic signing to signal his bold new direction.
Obviously, Macca knocked the fucking Huns back. Signing a token Uncle Tam’s not going to stop the legions singing The Sash.
Later, a nurse plonks himself down. Winks at me. Jangles his keys. All the staff carry keychains for this locked ward. But his subtle clinking is code. This is how the staff communicate without any of us understanding. I watch him swap the bunch of keys to his other hand. When his keys are delved into a pocket, it’s the cue for another nurse to stand up. Yawn and stretch. Exit.
What messages are being relayed? The longer they keep me trapped in here, the more chance of me cracking their code.
The chairs have been stacked against the walls. A teenage girl places a bulky cassette player onto the carpet. Smiles at the nine patients, introduces herself as Susan, an occupational therapist. For this morning’s keep-fit session we’ve to follow her movements and she’ll allow us plenty of opportunities for breathers. She pokes a button. I recognise Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical.’
I can’t remember when I last paid attention to music. A chasm opened during the summer. After being passionate about the subject, buying albums and singles, playing in bands that performed gigs, recorded demos and albums, even being broadcast on Radio 1 and Radio Forth, I lost all interest. Despite an enthusiasm coursing throughout my teens and into my 20s, I became more comfortable with silence.
It dawns on me this cheesy song, with its dance-lite beat, insipid lyrics but catchy melodies, is the first time I’ve listened to music for months. Closing my eyes, Olivia’s voice implores there’s nothing left to talk about unless it’s horizontally.
Lust is such a prevailing undercurrent of pop music yet individual songs have always been vilified by the Mary Whitehouses of this world. Typified by the BBC banning Gang of Four’s rubbers you hide, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood when Holly Johnson sang about avoiding coming.
While the eradication of sexual desire from my own radar has been an obvious symptom of my depression, I now recall how Anne used to say one ex, Louise reminded her of Olivia Newton-John, especially when she dyed her hair peroxide. That notion does spark long-suppressed emotions. Puts me in mind of another song entitled ‘Physical’ that was way more intense. By Adam and the Ants.
Long before Adam’s chart-topping, swashbuckling shtick, sporting the hussar tunic worn by David Hemmings in The Charge of the Light Brigade, he was reviled by the music press. Prompted to write ‘Press Darlings’ in reply. He was supposed to be a punk but refused to tow what had now become the conformist, anti-establishment line. Ignoring anarchy, fascism and boredom, his songs celebrated bondage, sadomasochism, dominance and submission. Ant music for sex people.
I snigger at everyone following Susan’s lead. Gyrating from side to side. Stretching. Straining to touch toes. Groaning at the unfamiliar muscle strains. Hesitant about participating, I step forward. Now we’re marching on the spot. I stomp my feet up and down.
You can’t help but laugh at the incongruous way we express our love of music by dancing. Moving to the beat. From Polynesian villages to Detroit house clubs to a locked psychiatric unit, the way music inspires self-expression with synchronised movement is one of the most wonderful human instincts.
In the doorway, I spot two nuns nodding to the beat. I’ve no idea how often nuns visit the ward, but one patient has RFC inked into his neck. I wait for the inevitable reaction as he snaps out of exercising to utter something poisonous. He’s too busy jogging on the spot.
The more immediate concern for Susan is Martha, who has materialised behind the nuns in her dressing-gown. Her agitated speech rises above the music. Appreciating her furious four-letter outbursts against God would faze the most dutiful of his servants, a nurse ushers her away. I feel a weird irony performing star jumps in front of nuns, stretching my limbs like St Andrew’s crucifixion. When Susan tells us to take five, a tall bloke approaches me. Someone new to the ward. A nurse or a fresh patient? He answers this by asking if I think I’m Jesus Christ. When I tell him I’m many things, but not the Messiah, he pats my shoulder. Tells me this is just as well. Because he’s Jesus Christ.
A balding guy in a shapeless cardigan overhears. Demands to know if my inquisitor just claimed to be Jesus. When this is affirmed, he announces he is God. The lad shakes his hand with exuberance. Hiya, Dad!
We resume jumping on the spot. Closing my eyes, I’m reminded of pogoing. Taken back to my youth.
Clouds is rammed with tousle-haired kids. Clothes spraypainted. Festooned with pins and chains. My white T-shirt, the one I wore to PE last year, marker-penned with band names.
BUZZCOCKS. DEAD BOYS. THE CORTINAS. JOHNNY THUNDERS AND THE HEARTBREAKERS. EATER. MENACE. CRISIS. ATV. ULTRAVOX! THE SAINTS. WIRE. THE FREEZE. SCARS. GEN X. CHELSEA. THE CLASH. 999.
The heat has plastered its cotton to my skin. My Harrington is tied around my waist, revealing ANTZ: ANTMUSIC FOR SEXPEOPLE daubed across my shoulder blades. The Ants’ London gigs draw cult followers wearing fetish gear, PVC masks, reflecting their song titles: ‘Beat My Guest,’ ‘Whip in My Valise,’ ‘Rubber People.’ Does fantasising about Servalan from Blake’s 7 in her black leather uniforms make me a sex person?
The lights cut. A pregnant pause. Everyone craning towards the stage. Before me, two punkettes, brunette and peroxide blonde. Arms linked. Perfume potent, an intoxicating aphrodisiac. Hair sculpted with egg whites into Statue of Liberty spikes, like Adam Ant’s onetime collaborator and occasional backing singer, Jordan. The blonde in a torn blouse. The brunette a fishnet vest revealing her bra. Homage to The Slits. Unlike the rock bands I’ve seen with my schoolmate Kenny, Blue Oyster Cult and Judas Priest, where the audiences were overwhelmingly denim-clad lads, there are hordes of female fans in this seething mass. Ensuring a frisson of sexual tension courses through this thrilling new music scene.
Thinking of Kenny makes me chuckle. We have frequent debates about the merits of this new wave compared to the boring old farts he still champions. The last time he was round, we arsed a half-bottle of Smirnoff. In the finest spirit of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ he was leaping around my bedroom to The Vibrators’ live B-side, Stiff Little Fingers.
Prescient. A roar from the front, gathering momentum until everyone is cheering, whistling. The stage lights ignite, revealing Stiff Little Fingers. In a gruff Belfast brogue encapsulating fury at the decades of mindless sectarian violence instigated by the partitioning of their homeland, Jake Burns barks, Inflammable material planted in my head, it’s a suspect device that’s left two thousand dead!
They’re so fast. I throw myself into the melee, leaping up and down, the pricks near the front launching salvos of spit. Through the confusion, I glimpse one of the schoolmates I came in with but lost, Ross. He started a band last year. The Accidents. Earlier they touched base with the lad who’s going to be their new guitarist, Graham. He’s a chef in Goldberg’s. His hair is dyed green. I clock several green barnets bouncing in the middle of all this.
Although I’ve got school in the morning I don’t care. An uncertain future might be yawning before me but there’s nothing beyond this moment, and the music’s passion and energy.
Susan presses ‘stop.’ Like everyone else I’m breathless, my heart thumping. I’m visualising the flat-line of my depression starting to pulse again. Tightening my fists, I savour this heartbeat. My life’s relentless drum. I imagine this as the rhythm of so many songs I’ve long forgotten; the records and tapes that have been gathering dust in my bedroom for months.
I need to listen to them again. All of them. Every single and flip side. Every album track, from polished studio cuts to the raw recordings capturing the essence of live performances.
Somewhere inside there’s still the essence of a naïve 16-year-old punk. A disciple of Iggy Pop. Lusting for life.
Penned by former Liverpool police officer and taxi driver Tony Schumacher, The Responder is a gripping crime thriller set in the mean streets he once patrolled. Our introduction to beat copper Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) occurs during a therapy session, revealing a flawed character struggling with the constant boiling point of nightshift on the front line. (“Every night, there’s spit on my face and blood on my boots and it never stops.”) There are also childhood scars, whatever led to his demotion from Inspector, and his attempts to appease his increasingly distraught wife, Kate (MyAnna Buring). Carson's mother, June (Rita Tushingham) is terminally ill in a care home, with mounting medical expenses. He maintains an uneasy friendship with former schoolfriend Carl (Ian Hart), now a mid-level drug dealer. An ex-colleague, Ray Mullen (Warren Brown) suspects his corruption. But the plot is truly set in motion when a streetkid and heroin addict Casey (Emily Fairn) known to Carson steals a stash of drugs from Carl that are worth significantly more than she is aware of.
On one level, this is a taut crime drama featuring familiar tropes. The pawns at the lowest point of the organised crime ladder live in constant fear: of ending up in jail, but far more palpably, the consequences of falling foul of those higher up the chain. Amongst this underworld unfolding in neglected housing a few Google Maps clicks from The Cavern Club, there is also grim humour. A gang member claims to hate bagheads (addicts) despite his career choice being wholly reliant on them. A teenage friend of Casey’s, petty thief Marco (Josh Finnan), will hawk shoplifted cheese one moment, then think nothing of running off with a holdall containing tens of thousands of pounds worth of cocaine the next. He is also aghast to discover people eat salmon that didn't come in a tin - for breakfast.
On another level, it is a psychological character study. Carlson is partnered with a rookie, Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo), saddled with her own personal issues. But the main plaudits go to Freeman. He has made a career out of playing ‘nice guys,’ from Tim, the chirpy counterfoil to Ricky Gervais’ egotistical David Brent in The Office, to Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. In The Responder, as a man on the verge of losing everything - family, freedom, even his life – he delivers a mesmerising performance.
On the verge of losing everything - family, freedom, even his life – Freeman delivers a mesmerising performance.
Crime fiction, whether on our screens or in print, has always held a mirror to the wider world. In 2022, mental health is much less stigmatised than it would have been in the days of Z Cars or even The Bill. Freeman portrays an individual whose attempts to hold it together seem akin to a drowning man lunging for a lifebuoy. From his Scouse brogue to demonstrating a flawed but empathetic humanity, he knocks it out of Stanley Park.
The tide having reached its lowest point a half hour before, the Firth of Forth's daily land grab was well underway. In the meantime, the mudflats were still extending for hundreds of metres beyond the entrance to Fisherrow Harbour, with waders prowling the terrain for shellfish and lugworms. Local dogwalkers were strolling along the shore, keeping a wary eye on brackish channels that can snake around the flatlands. (Traversing the slurping puddles you try not to dwell on thoughts of quicksand!) Headed in the direction of the mouth of the River Esk to the east, then back again, towards Arthur's Seat shaking off the morning shadows.
Playlist: Teleman, Brilliant Sanity (Moshi Moshi, 2016)
The London indie band's second album is an expansion of the wonderful blend of sometimes melancholic but paradoxically uplifting guitar pop they unleashed on their debut Breakfast (Moshi Moshi, 2014). I've read about them planning song structures on a whiteboard. If this seems the antithesis of rock n'roll spontaneity, it doesn't detract from their infectious songwriting. (The thought of Iggy Pop and the Asheton brothers fighting over marker pens does conjure a farcical image, but rock has always been, and continues to be, a broad church, despite one Noel Gallagher's hyperbolic jabbering about Oasis being its last great exponents).
I first heard Teleman on longtime champion Marc Riley's seminal BBC Radio 6 show. If they're spirited enough to be recommended by The Fall's former rhythm guitarist, they're more than worthy of a listen. Brothers Tommy and Jonny Sanders, Pete Cattermoul and Hiro Amamiya concoct an addictive meld of early Pet Shop Boys, Kraftwerk, the Beach Boys, and even Supertramp, with vocal harmonies floating amongst catchy guitar lines. Track after track, from the opener 'Dusseldorf,' to 'Glory Hallelujah,' 'Tangerine,' 'English Architecture,' and 'Melrose' through to 'Devil in My Shoe' hooks the listener.
Post script. I also love the title, Brilliant Sanity. Having experienced bipolar's horribly delusional underworld, sanity, exemplified by the elevating joy of music, can certainly seem brilliant.