Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Interview with Billy Bragg

It's not bragging to say me and, Billy B, the Bard of Barking (that's a place in Essex! Billy's not barking mad!), go way back. When we got together at Vazacs in the East Village to chat about his seriously strong new record, "Mr. Love and Justice," and his book, "The Progressive Patriot," the conversation was so heartfelt we decided to bring it to you in four parts. Welcome to Part One. Having not seen each other for yonks, of course Billy and I had to talk about the past. But mainly, we focused on now and the future. In the First Punk Wave, Billy was the sort of man-of-the-people muso who'd drop by the office when I worked on the rock weekly, New Musical Express. Any time there was a front line cultural happening, like for Rock Against Racism, Billy would be there -- one man and his guitar singing of how things really are and how they could be, in the spirit of folk hero Woody Guthrie (whose lyrics he set to music.) Billy's commitment to helping change our society has only grown stronger over his twenty-something year career -- as has his command of music. If his solo singer/songwriter stuff cut through hypocrisy like a knife, the new, almost orchestrated material drops a bomb on the bad in our world -- and hands bouquets to the bright and bold. So there was much to discuss when we met on a brisk but sunny morning, including what the record's name really means, fatherhood, the work he's doing to bring music into prisons, and who William Bloke would vote for if he was a Yank.

Billy Bragg Interview: Part 1
The Punk Professor sits down with Billy Bragg in the first of an exclusive two-part interview.

Billy Bragg Interview: Part 2
The Punk Professor sits down with Billy Bragg in the second of an exclusive two-part interview.

You can also meet up with me again soon for a big ol' reasoning with Mick Jones and Tony James of Carbon/Silicon, who've been lurking in the swamps of punk since they were in The Clash and Generation X respectively. And if you want to join the conversation -- hey, you know where to write.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Glad And Sad

First, the BIG Questions...

From Jay Scheib:

Dear Punk Professor,

I recently began collaborating on a performance work with the punk rock bank The World Inferno Friendship Society. I was confronted by a new world. But I ask you, what exactly does punk sound like? I often hear bands that don't have a sound that makes me automatically think of punk per se. In the case of the World Inferno it is more of a raison d'etre, or more of an energy than any particular sound (their sound is wildly diverse) but just to arm me in the future, what does punk sound like? (and since there are obviously no rules about the sound of PUNK? what makes something punk in the first place...) Surely there is much written on the subject and I could just ask... but I thought I would ask the Professor in hopes of getting a smart answer, and a deeper understanding...J

World Inferno Friendship Society Video

Dear Jay,

Seems like you understand more than you know. You're already feeling what I love about punk, its questioning, collective aspect, which shapes both one-bloke-with-a-guitar-touching-thousands like Billy Bragg and an ever-evolving collective like the World Inferno Friendship Society. It's fab that you're working with this highly-regarded Brooklyn crew and I hope to keep everyone posted on your performance. They wear sharp Moddish suits and do clever cabaret but WIFS somehow remind me of Crass, the great anarchist collective, whose poetic rants and stark graphics represented the movement's ideals. They also make me think of the world/fusion work the Clash's Joe Strummer was doing with the Mescaleros before he died -- cos in punk there shouldn't really be rules, and just like sounds, genders often mix it up in punk just like they do in your Inferno. Siouxsie & the Banshees also subscribed to Weimar Germany cabaret chic, with its whiff of decadence wafted about by the musical Cabaret.

Having said that, of course, the typical Punk groove convention, as you probably suspected, is of the "harder-faster-louder" school; plus with a
bass-heavy reggae, or spacey dub flavor in some cases. When it comes to post-punk, expect to hear some avant-garde trills from an off-key saxophone in an homage to free jazz. And by-the-by our producer Miss Grace says: "I've actually seen the World Inferno Friendship Society and totally dug them!!"

Billy Bragg A New England Video

Siouxsie And the Banshees

Several questions from Maria Catamero:

1) Is the internet killing the independent label?
It really shouldn't as the internet can be used to build a fan base besides keeping punk's DIY spirit alive. The internet's access to so much music does mean, though, that however brilliant you are, it's easy to get lost. Thus just as in the "real" world, all press is good. Here's proof: sales of "What We Want," the dance track by Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the hooker and raver who recently toppled New York's crusading Governor General, Elliot "Steamroller" Spitzer, have soared faster than his reputation vanished.

2) Why don't modern bands have the same longevity the way bands like the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Madonna, etc., etc. etc.?
Frankly not sure I agree on this one. An extended career's really down to artists having the ability to sustain their own musical force. You say it yourself -- Madonna (launched 1980s,) isn't the same generation as the Stones (b. 1960s,) who are a decade older than Bowie (first rocked big time in the early 1970s.) That means new waves of talent keep on rolling in, hoping to crash an audience; and theoretically at least, the internet should make it easier to find 'em (see above). There are many cases of enduring adoration of artists who might have been forgotten, like Morrissey or the New York Dolls. Not to mention the continued fascination with first-wavers who keep cropping up in this column, like the Clash's Mick Jones and his Carbon/Silicon, and the Slits, whose first American tour in three decades is selling out right now to adoring kids not born when they first ripped their fishnets. It all proves that fans' interest in artists -- of every era, including punk -- really does sustain, if only for the nostalgia value. People will still be buying Bjork, maybe directly from an implant in their brains, when she's a pixie-like pensioner. There's no reason to think that artists starting out now won't experience the same long, sometimes fractious love affair with their audiences.

3) Do you think the political climate and energy in the States at the moment will inspire really great music or more crap?
OK, I'll be chargin $35.00 a minute for this psychic insight! If we look back, it's usually said that edgy times of great struggle and stress, e.g., Berlin in the 1930s, Seething London in the 1970s, produce dynamic art. I've always found that a really depressing analysis. Well, America's current depression is certainly about to put the theory to the test. There hasn't been a recent musician or band making unifying anthems that rouse social awareness on a mass level, the way Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, the Clash, George Clinton or James Brown did and still do. Maybe Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is a candidate; or Kanye West's social observation on "Gold Digger." If you, Fierce Reader, have ideas on others, please shemail me.

Kanye West Gold Digger

4) Do you think the declining value of the US dollar will have an effect on American music abroad and international music Stateside?
The dramatic dwindling of the dollar makes Euro-hungry Yank musicians a cheap date for the rest of the world. A comparatively meager international deal swells impressively when translated into our sad little dollars. That's the good bit. They can afford us -- but can we afford them? The bad bit is that some mid-range foreign tours might find it harder to play America, because the money isn't there. Or should I say, here. Certainly, American Immigration policies are far more of a musical killjoy and have a far bigger impact than the exchange rate on the global flow of music. All visa requests by Cuban artists, for example, have been rejected by the INS since 2003. Foreign musicians tell me they're nervous about coming here in case they get tempted into a gig or recording session -- and then get busted for doing what comes naturally, like jamming with the US artists you've been digging for years. Getting the necessary H1 visa is a lengthy, delicate process which cannot be pulled together in time for a quick tour. There's sure plenty to sing about now, if artists feel the need to make socially conscious music - but then, there always is.

5) How long do you think it will be before the CD medium is completely phased out?
To answer this I turned to the multi-talented music industry veteran, producer and DJ Brian Michel Bacchus, who signed Norah Jones when he was a corporate A&R man, and now owns his own label, SoulFeast Music, as well as heading Content Acquisition and A&R for the top digital distributors, INgrooves:ONE Digital. Over to you, Brian.

"I'd say it's 5-10 years, perhaps sooner, before CDs are phased out completely. The CD has basically become a storage medium and even as that, it is inadequate with only 700 MB. People who get CDs now usually put them in their computer to be stored on their hard drives, usually with iTunes, and then listen to them on their computer or on their iPod or some other mp3 device. Labels like Ropeadope have even completely stopped manufacturing CDs. When you look at the sales of devices that play music, only two have been selling in the past few years - iPods and turntables. What does that tell you? Try buying a stand alone single player CD player that is not a high-end model. Almost impossible to find. Although sales across the board in the music business are depressed from previous years, I think the future of recorded music sales is in digital downloads and niche areas like vinyl. Seven-inch 45s are very hot now in rock and roll. The success of magazines like WaxPoetic and stores like Brooklyn's DopeJams only confirm this trend."

And finally...Robert Blank asks:

Was Lydia Lunch underage when she first started performing with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks?
Underage for what? Drinking or joining the Army? (special thanks to Kid Creole)


Some glad news now. In the spirit of punky experimentation the next Punk Professor column will be filmed, so you'll get to see me rabbit on about weighty matters of the day with the noted British Bard, Billy Bragg. He's broken a six-year silence with the new "Mr. Love and Justice," which has generally been hailed as a fantastic work, with B.B. displaying a maturity and mastery that's worth the wait. So get polishing those screens, ready for the Punk Professor to bust out visually, aided and abetted by punk's prominent conscience and humanist, Billy Bragg.

Now for the bad news. In the last column, we mourned producer Joe Gibbs. Now another Jamaican talent has left us - Mikey Dread, the DJ whose rolling delivery and lanky lope were familiar to everyone who dug his work with key collaborators, the Clash. He toured widely with them, produced their popular single "Bank Robber," and contributed to their sprawling 'Sandinista' opus. Like many other music lovers in the first punk era, the Clash got into Mikey Dread through his phantasmagoric singles, notably "Dread at the Controls," also the name of his influential Jamaican radio show which was pirated globally on cassette; and the freaky dub of "Parrot Jungle" which drove everyone wild with its effects and ambiance. The Rasta was too raw and real for his early employers, the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation, who demoted him to the late night slot. But he soon had the station's hottest show, playing strictly dub music and parlayed his popularity into a respected musical career. Mikey passed away on March 15th. He was 54 years old.

Mikey Dread Video

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Melody Lingers On...

Q: I am a Chinese boy; this is the first time to chat with you. I want to ask you what I should do to improve my English level?

A: Dear Xie Yong,

You are so right to Think Punk. There is no better way to learn a language than to follow your passion and tune in to whatever people like you are reading and watching and listening to in the place that interests you. Of course, in the case of learning English, you're lucky enough to get loads of opportunities -- US, UK, Oz, Canada, great chunks of Africa, India and Asia etc -- thanks to the old colonies, whose main upside was making large sectors of the globe able to communicate.

For a start, I recommend you watch BBC America and hang out on this site as much as you can. Really. All the BBC America reality shows like How Clean Is Your House, Bargain Hunt, You Are What You Eat, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, etc. reveal raw British everyday life in all its coziness, like no other TV station. Plus the drama and comedy are dead authentic.

Obviously I think you should listen to punk to get some proper Anglo flavor. Punk isn't exactly associated with great diction, but I kicked the concept around with some fellow punkoids and top punk photog Janette Beckman voted for The Jam "because they're so sharp and clever," while Joly of insists you can't go wrong with John Lydon, ex Rotten, of the Sex Pistols and PiL, "because of his clear enunciation." I like the Raincoats, who sometimes sing quite slowly, which could be helpful. (See below for info on a rare Raincoats gig in London).

My own vote, though, was for the late, great Ian Dury, who was punk's funniest wordsmith. Find songs like "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick", "Clever Trevor" and of course, "Sex and Drugs & Rock'n'Roll" to hear how the likes of Lily Allen learned to sing a story. Try and get the studio versions, though, because on the live versions on ITunes, Dury's cockney accent might be a bit hard for a beginner.

PIL Rise Video

Ian Dury and the Blockheads Video

Q: Is Punk Dead!?

A: Dear Coreen,

When it began in the 1970s, punk had the shock of the new. Now it's part of the social/cultural pantheon. Now we can say that though the ideals of punk may be endlessly betrayed, they'll never die. And a wise word from my esteemed editor/publisher, Miss Grace: "Personally, I don't think it's dead. It's just older now and requires naps."

Punk Is Not Dead Trailer

Q: Hey Punk Prof

I saw some damn car commercial that was using the Clash version of "Pressure Drop" in the background. I think we can agree that Joe’s spinning in his grave (can't we?). But I wonder - is the whole idea of "selling out" passé? Since Moby sold every song on "play" to the advertisers, it seems like what used to be selling out is just cool. Is it just a matter of perspective? A financial necessity for musicians today? Should we still hate it? And I wonder who owns rights to the Clash songs. Someone ok'd that, and I’m old enough to think it ain't cool.

Mescaleros Pressure Drop Video

A: Very perspicacious questions, Kurt, and I can recall many anguished evenings discussing this and other punk ethics questions.

And so did Joe Strummer! Our London Spy, author Chris Salewicz's recent biography of Joe Strummer, Redemption Song, told me on the phone about interviewing Joe on this very point in Spring 2002, when “London Calling” was being used to sell Jaguar X Type cars. Joe had been quite sniffy when a dog food brand wanted to use the band for a commercial; but as Chris described, imitating Joe's voice precisely, "... and I just thought -- Jaguar! Yay! We've turned down millions of dollars, but every group deserves something, specially twenty years after the fact. I can use this money to finance the Mescaleros!" That same year, the Clash's 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' was used in a Stolichnaya vodka ad.

Ultimately I think the answer is found in an old song by Mark Stewart of Bristols's post-punk combo, The Pop Group: "We Are All Prostitutes," with the Margaret Thatcher sleeve. Mark was in post-punk angry pretenders, The Pop Group, whose anguished free jazz yowl and urgent funky groove is much missed. Having said that, Mark's new album, 'Edit,' is coming out very soon. See more info below.

As brand-dependent bands everywhere choke in shock at my cheek, think about this.

You can argue that in allying with corporations, often the Medicis or patrons of today, you are just trying to reach as many people (as well as make as much dosh) as possible. The problem with this argument, of course, is context. So you make a song that has a conscious aspect, something to say. To have it harnessed to sell, E.G. a polluting chemical company, or promote a political party, would make a true fan want to vomit and definitely reduce the credibility of the artist concerned. Tainted love, INDEED.

Ultimately, of course, it's a personal choice, often determined by depth of pocket. But just like you and Joe Strummer, Kurt, I believe that artists should monitor the public use of their music very cautiously so they don't look like total wankers.

And before I get any snide comments about this punk column appearing under a corporate banner, let me say again that I am a genuine BBC America fan and was before I started writing this column, so like Joe Strummer, I just thought, Yay! If I rabbit on about BBC America programming it's because I dig it. So that's that. Drop round my place if you don't believe me. Ask my cat, Laszlo. He's very good at guessing who's shagging who on 'Hotel Babylon.'


For a real wish-you-were-here punk rock London night out, grab a new DVD from the UK, "Ruts: 16th July 2007."

The London gig was the first time original Ruts drummer Dave Ruffy and bass player Segs Jennings had reunited since the death of their lovely lead singer, Malcolm Owen, a man I was super-fond of, who OD'd in July, 1980. The accidental tragedy happening just weeks after Joy Division's Ian Curtis killed himself signaled the end of an era, as John Robb says in his loving liner notes. At the show, Owen's role was taken by long-time Ruts fanatic, Henry Rollins. "It was real thinking music without being boring or too cool. It was fantastic," says Rollins on the interview DVD of why he and his hardcore crew were all so keen on the band.

Ruts and Captain Sensible

Happy jam at the Ruts' finale with the Damned's Captain Sensible at the fore

The Ruts and Henry Rollins

Goodbye to all that -- for now! l. to. r Segs Jennings, Paul Fox, Dave Ruffy, Henry Rollins

The Ruts Video

The show has all the atmosphere of an uncensored, rollicking gig of old comrades who love playing. Captain Sensible from The Damned, still in his trademark red beret and Dave Vanian, complete with cloak, sprint through "New Rose" (the first ever UK punk 45!) as ardent as ever. Misty in Roots display the sort of roots grandeur that made them a favorite of the Rock Against Racism activist organization supported by the Clash. In a nice twist, when the (black) Rasta band started a label in the early 1980s, their first signing was (white punks) The Ruts, whose "In A Rut" and "Babylon Is Burning," made the band loved everywhere punk took root.

Sadly, the show was a benefit for the Ruts' guitarist, Paul "Foxy" Fox, who died in October, 2007. Though Paul looks somewhat gaunt on this DVD, he's very up and chipper and plays like a champ. Big punks appear in support, like Tom Robinson, Splodgenessabounds, the UK Subs, John Otway, TV Smith and Eddie 'Tenpole' Tudor and the Peafish House Band. 

"Malcolm was like Iggy Pop," reminisces Segs. "He used to head butt the cymbals, it usually sounded great. But one night we were in Devon and we'd drunk some local cider before the show and he head butted the cymbals.... I had to take him to hospital in the ambulance after the gig!" They all laugh on the DVD, and I did too -- but under the circumstances, the funny memory has a bitter aftershock; a sad reminder of how "going mental" really can go too far. I miss Malcolm.

The interviews between all the various punks are rambling and hilarious, sometimes poignant. Asked about working with Rollins, Segs says, "It was great! Of course it was a bit funny when Henry did thirty press-ups before the rehearsal! Henry was bang on time, he puts the punk in punctual!" Ta-da!

The Damned Video

It's a big moment for the pioneering women of punk -- our time has come again sisters! (If it ever went away...) Legendary Rough Trade band and Kurt Cobain favorites, The Raincoats, are playing an all-age Saturday afternoon show on March 1 st . in London's St Peter's Church, Kensington Park Rd., W.11, to raise money for a house for Aids orphans in Uganda. They'll be a full band, as originals Ana da Silva and Gina Birch have enlisted Bat for Lashes player Lizzie and drummer Alison from ATV.

The Raincoats Video

And finally, U.S fans around the land can get to see the Slits. For more info on the dates by scene godmothers, the band the Punk Professor jams with on You Tube! and their The Revenge of the Killer Slits e.p., with its unforgettable take on Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine," see below.

The Slits New Record

Large and in charge - The Slits 

It would be kinda sad if after all that great gals' music, the Slits and Raincoats hadn't had some musical daughters. I'm partial to Mika Miko songs, specially the slower ones like "Jogging Song (He's Your Mr. Right)" and "Oh Head Spin." They'll be playing at South By South West and at Noise Pop in San Francisco introducing their new “C.Y.S.L.A.B.F.” album on the Kill Rock Stars label and their “666” EP on PPM, supported by No Age.


l. to r. Michelle Suarez, Jessie Clavin, Jenna Thornhill, Jennifer Clavin, Katelyn Hall

Since We Last Met.....

Singer Alice Nutter and drummer Harry Hammer from the anarchist punk rocker collective Chumbawumba who had a massive pop hit with 1998's irresistible 'Tubthumping' have formed a new nine-person combo called The Sex Patels, playing lengthy, sitar-drenched raga versions of songs by the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads and X-Ray Spex...

The Sex Patels Video

I have spent the morning paying tribute to the Jamaican producer, Joe Gibbs , who died aged 65 on February 21, by listening to the new re-issue on the fine Shanachie label, "Dennis Brown: The Best of the Joe Gibbs Years". In the punk era, the Joe Gibbs label was a brand of excellence. Joe released other classics like Althia and Donna's international pop hit, "Uptown Top Ranking" and the top punk favorite, Culture's Two Sevens Clash -- one of my Top Ten Ever selections, also recently re-isssued by Shanachie in a seriously loving edition. The Dennis Brown/Joe Gibbs work is still a rush of emotional, uplifting power. Mastersinger Dennis's wraparound velvet voice rings out over the energizing glory of the horn sections on "Money In My Pocket" "Ain't That Loving You", "Malcolm X" and "Oh Mother." A great testament.

Dennis Brown LP

Must-hear classic: Dennis Brown on the Joe Gibbs label 


For Mika Miko tour dates and info:

To buy the Ruts Benefit DVD with the Damned, Tom Robinson and many others including the Ruts w/Henry Rollins, go to

For the new Ruts single, a remake of 'Babylon Is Burning' by the Ruts w/Henry Rollins:


Mark Stewart's new album 'Edit' will be out in April (Europe) and May (UK/USA). Two tracks, 'Secret Suburbia' and 'Loner' are on

More details about Mark Stewart's 'Edit' can be found here:

For those smashing Slits, check:

Thursday, February 14, 2008


On February 6, the day Bob Marley would have been 63, I was in his home town of Kingston, Jamaica experiencing some Tardis moments (and if you don't get it, ask Doctor Who). It was fascinating that Jamaica gets all Christmas-y on the Big Man's birthday (or Earth Day, as Rastas say.) Of course, it's also a government and a Christian holiday, but it was amazing to see the whole town so still. People were going round saying "Happy Bob's Birthday" to each other, which I cut to "Happy Bobday."


Actually, I was in the middle of an extended Marley moment anyway, as I was in Kingston to do readings both uptown and downtown: with founder/director Rozylyn Elison and librarian "Happy" Howell at the Trenchtown Reading Centre, that ghetto jewel, and at the University of the West Indies, where my "The Book of Exodus" on Bob and his Wailers' album got its Caribbean launch, courtesy the University of the West Indies Professor and Director of the Reggae Studies Unit, Carolyn Cooper, a pioneer in Caribbean music academia.



My Bobday was spent with some kind folks from the psychedelic Japanese travel magazine, Trip. Their Bob story's being shot by New York/ Jamaican photographer, Nigel Scott, who has four framed portraits of Bob in the show at the Bob Marley Museum, on loan from the Jamaican National Gallery, along with a Bob surfboard he made. Thanks to Nigel for all of these Bobday pics and watch out for his in-the-works book, "Thank You, Mr. Marley."



Nigel Scott's surfboard of Marley in the current exhibition 


My cunning plan was to try and squeeze into the sold-out premiere of "Africa Unite", the new documentary on the Marleys' trip to Ethiopia directed by Stephanie Black, who also made a must-see doc on Jamaica called Life & Debt that explains a lot about the mess the island is still trying to pull out of.

Instead, here's a report from our Spy, the witty Gleaner journalist Mel Cook, who I met at my UWI reading: "I was knocked out because it's far more than a music film. There's not just extremely rare Bob footage, it's the way Black pulled different parts of history into a cohesive whole -- the Marleys visiting Ethiopia, the Rasta homeland, for the first time, along with the whole history of Africa's division and then independence."

For director Stephanie Black, "The trip was very emotional because I was able to see Ethiopia through the eyes of my old friend 74 year old Bongo Tawney, a Rastafarian Elder who was a bred'ren of Bob's, as well as my own. It's been his dream his whole life to reach Ethiopia, so when the Bob Marley Foundation invited him, that was really heartwarming."


But I got sidetracked in a way even Stephanie herself approved of -- at a Rasta drumming session of Bob's songs. Actually, it was a rehearsal over on the verandah at top guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith's house. He was working with the Mystic Revealers, an old-school "nyabinghi" drumming and chanting group -- the real rich roots of Bob Marley's music, onto which any other vibes were grafted. Chinna was an unofficial Wailer who played with them often over the years. One of Jamaica's most respected musicians, bandleaders and arrangers, even he deferred to the blind singer of the Revealers, who's a very regal Elder. Standing on Chinna's garden path with the Japanese posse and a journalist from France, (Chinna makes friends wherever he goes!) it was like being in Rasta Temple. Of course, Chinna knows that material inside out, and it was great to watch him show everyone the subtle chord changes at the intro to the Wailers classic, "Dem Belly Full (But We Hungry); they're quite complex! They also played what Chinna called "The Anthem" -- "One Love". The drummers started after lunch and went on all afternoon. Frankly, the bit that got me weepy was "Fly Away Home," the old gospel song about life and death, that the original Wailers trio used to sing.



The Mystic Revelation Vibration rehearse chez Chinna, Bobday.
l to r:  Herbie, Jahman, Negus and Chinna
Image courtesy Vivien Goldman aka The Punk Professor 

That night, we all hung out at the Bob Marley Birthday Celebration at Strawberry Hill, a unique mini-village of a hotel up in the Blue Mountains behind Kingston, where Rita Marley and Danny Glover were celebrating Bob's birthday and "Africa Unite."


l to r: Danny Glover, Babsy Grange, Judy Mowatt, Marcis Griffiths, MC Tommy Cowan,  PM Bruce Golding and Rita Marley cut Bob's 63rd birthday cake at
Strawberry Hill.


The quaint cottages of Strawberry Hill -- they call them huts -- are one of the greatest places you can ever stay if you like luxuriating on stunning mountaintops. That night the lawn was full of elite Kingstonians - including Bob's widow, Rita Marley and her fellow songbirds in the I Three, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, plus Olivia "Babsy" Grange, the very busy Minister of Information, Sports, Culture Youth and Women's Affairs and the Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding. Truly the furthest possible cry from Bob's rural village of Nine Miles, or the Trench Town ghetto where he was a teenager -- but not as distant from Mr. Marley as you might think.



l to r: The I Three:  Marcia Griffiths Rita Marley Judy Mowatt
enchant the crowd at Strawberry Hill on Bob Marley's birthday
Image courtesy of Nigel Scott
The Punk Professor, Minister Olivia "Babsy" Grange and Sallie Henzell, widow of the Harder They Come director, Perry

Before Strawberry Hill was a hotel, I used to stay there as a young journalist - OK, I was six, right? -- and in my Tardis moment I looked round the elegant uptown crowd and remembered the long-gone little wooden hut that used to be right there, which I shared with photographer Kate Simon. The whisper would go round the big house that Bob was coming up to stay in the hut next door with then galpal, Cindy Breakspeare, Miss World 1977, (now also known as Damian Marley's Mum.) Those tropical evenings are surprisingly noisy with the sound of insects, but late at night we'd hear one solitary car parking outside and know that at least someone was having fun (the Marley marriage was unconventional but lasting.)




The Punk Professor Vivien Goldman and Miss World Cindy Breakspeare at
the Book of Exodus UWI launch. Image courtesy of Floyd Morris


Strawberry Hill is also where Bob, Rita and the band went to re-group after gunmen tried to kill him at his Hope Road house, now the Bob Marley Museum. So when "supers" (VIPs) spoke, like Danny Glover quoting poet Langston Hughes, and Prime Minister Golding saying, "we must work to further Bob Marley's spirit," I did feel that Bob's spirit was very much there. Though the crowd was extremely far from being the actual oppressed underclass whose voice he was, you don't have to be an officially designated sufferer to know pain and lean on Bob Marley.



I'm not a betting person, but I have no doubt that had he still been around, Bob would have enjoyed that event -- and then headed all the way down to Trench Town where the Rastafarian "nyabinghi" drumming went on till past dawn, all the way up from First Street where he used to live and the Culture Yard is now, to Seventh Street, the roads he sings about in "Talking Blues".



The performances at Strawberry Hill were particularly great, seeing young Jamaican artists come up directly influenced by Marley in so many ways, and in the case of the energetic, soulful young Djavan, being groomed by the camp of Marley's sons Damian and Stephen. Everyone was backed by Lloyd Parkes' We The People Band, who've actually backed everyone for many decades, very well; and it was also superb to see one of my very favorite young singers, Etana perform. She used to be in a group in Miami whose big attraction was wearing not very much and who made her straighten her hair. Then she decided to move back to Jamaica, make the music she really loved, grow dreadlocks and wear comfy clothes. Her earthy, vibrant voice and style as well as her great songwriting made her an instant hit over here in Jamaica and the rest of the planet will soon follow.



The Marleys perform at Africa Unite
Image Courtesy of Palm Pictures 



The stars of the night, of course, were Etana's clear influences, the I Three, who used to back Bob and the Wailers. They're really a Jamaican vocal supergroup consisting of Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths. To hear those lush voices melding again on a medley of "Three Little Birds" and "Buffalo Soldier" and the Griffiths-penned, "He's A Legend," surrounded by the dark hills twinkling with the lights of tiny villages, was mesmerizing.




Etana, Jamaica's soulful, rootsy new singer, with the Punk Professor 





You can't keep a good Slit down and after being THE prototypical punk girl group since the 1970s, with all too little overground recognition, it seems that once again, their time is now. We'll have more about the Slits tour that starts in March, but for now here's a Janette Beckman shot of Arri from the Slits at NY's Webster Hall party for Chloe Sevigny's new fashion line for Opening Ceremony. Yes, there were celebs... the Yeah Yeah Yeahs among 'em. Remember how you read here first, that subtle style-setter Chloe was backstage with the Slits last summer in Brooklyn? THIS is the result.



Arri and the Slits wow everyone at Chloe Sevigny's party
Image courtesy of Janette Beckman



Chloe sent us an email saying, "The slits have been a long time favorite of mine. When I was 19 I painted the back of a jacket with their logo, this jacket sparked friendships with several of my still closest friends. When planning my party for opening ceremony they immediately came to mind. They are strong, talented women with some of the best style I have ever seen. Their early photos and video footage have been a huge inspiration to me and many others, the new ep I might even say is better than anything they recorded in their heyday!!!!!!! Ahhhh, attack of the killer slits!"



Arri holds up Chloe's dress, with bassie Tessa 


On Janette's pic you can see how Arri tried to put on one of Chloe's dresses onstage -- but it was too small! At the end of the song, the dress caught on her fishnets and she walked offstage with the dress dangling from her leg. That's Arri stylee!


Opening Ceremony, a fashion store in SoHo, is currently selling both Chloe's line and limited edition hand-printed Slits t-shirts.



Also…Vivienne Westwood on her new line Red-Circus: The great lady, actually OBE! said, "Dressing up is a way of

showing concern about the world... you should be sustainable, not buy too many when you see something you really want and it really suits you, you should buy it and wear it every day. VW's orange crop blended brilliantly with her purple outfit.. "An attitude is great" concluded Westwood after objecting to fashion's pressure to be size sub-Zero...

Opening Ceremony:

Nigel Scott's web site:


Friday, January 18, 2008


How Clean Is Your Ghetto?

Josh Kane: I was wondering how the punk scene of today is compared to the punk scene of the (first) punk era.


Dear Josh - There are so many differences between now and then, and we are communicating via one of them -- the internet. Although it's done a good job of shattering the music industry, there's no doubt the internet functions like one big punk fanzine, in terms of enabling people to communicate and share music more freely than ever before. Back then was also a far less controlled time -- London where so much wild stuff started now has perhaps the highest concentration of surveillance cameras in the world. Also, in punk's Round One, there was the innocence you get from inventing something that feels and is quite new. Now the punk mantra of harder - faster - louder coupled with insignia like tattoos or lurid Mohicans with shaved sides is almost nostalgia. Where will rebel rage go from here in music and style? You tell me, Fierce Readers.





How Clean Is Your Ghetto? I asked myself while in Kingston, Jamaica's Trench Town neighborhood, made famous by Bob Marley and the Wailers. From the crude barricades dividing off neighboring blocks that weren't on speaking terms because of long-time political grudges, to the heaps of garbage round the corner being thoughtfully chewed by some healthy looking goats, the scene seemed to cry out for Our Ladies of the Mop, the ones who put the saint into sanitation -- Kim Woodburn and Aggie McKenzie.

I must confess to an addiction. I love watching the BBC America shows like How Clean Is Your House and You Are What You Eat. In these times of non-stop bombardment by images of “perfect" celebs in immaculate Cribs, it's quite refreshing to see the transformation of everyday schlubbs who are even messier and unhealthier than me. In regular American self-help shows, even the “Befores” seem pretty well put together. But get the likes of Aggie and Kim down in Kingston's tenement yards, and you’d see those rubber gloves scrub a challenge worth the feathers (and if you don't get that gag, watch the show.) Would lemon and salt work on that oily debris in the gully? The Trench Town residents would love to know.


Of course, there wouldn't be much point in transplanting You Are What You Eat to Trench Town -- people here don't have enough food. Not much fun in that, unless Gillian McKeith, the show's stern but fair holistic nutritionist, was planning to fatten kids up.


I was in Jamaica on assignment for Culture and Travel magazine, writing a story about the Revival of Downtown Kingston, which includes the Trenchtown Reading Centre, an amazing indie library in the middle of the slums that gives the local youth access to books in a clean well-lit space.


Lo and behold, there, following in the footsteps of so many UK punks before him (John Lydon, the Clash and the list goes on,) was Sheffield, England's very own Punk Poet, (OK, he's a bit more electro than punk, but he's punky in spirit,) Jon McClure of Reverend and the Makers. He was being shot -- and in a good way, as opposed to with a gun -- by Rick Elgood, a dreadlocked British director who was pioneering punk cinéast Don Letts' frequent partner before moving to Jamaica and becoming one of the island's top film-makers. Thanks to Rick and his doc for the accompanying pictures. McClure's career was kick-started by his friendship with one of the biggest British bands, fellow Sheffield-ers the Arctic Monkeys. "I was the poet who was around the music, shooting my mouth off -- but not about nothing," he told me. Gradually the poems became lyrics, the musician pals became collaborators, and now Reverend and the Makers are a UK rave.


His mates called him The Reverend because he was a sensible and forceful talker; and McClure's honest, critical but compassionate and funny take on human nature on the album, "The State of Things" with songs like "Heavyweight Champion of the World" is being hailed as something of a relief, as, unlike most pop stars, Mr. McC's lyrics are worth your attention.




Jon McClure and Vivien
Trench Town Rocks! Photo courtesy of Rick Elgood



What drew the good Reverend to Trench Town? "I grew up in a Jamaican area of Sheffield and I was exposed to all that great music. What I love about Jamaican music is it keeps on evolving," said McClure. "Not like British indie guitar music, which has definitely stagnated and not really evolved for twenty years, to be honest. It's stalled but over here the music continually re-invents itself."



The Reverend Jon McClure
The Reverend blesses Kingston. Photo courtesy of Rick Elgood



McClure got down with Jamaica by learning the latest dancehall step, the Popitoff. He loved the Reading Centre and plans to send down books -- and hopes to translate his passion for those island sounds by working with some islanders. Watch this space.



More UK poetry came my way

When I was in Jamaica the other day

Linton Kwesi Johnson the Brixton bard

Showed the University he's still "well hard"

(and that's a Jamaican compliment for good.)




Reverend and the Makers video



In other words, the prototypical "dub poet" Johnson, aka LKJ, joined fellow dubby versifiers Mutabaruka and Jean "Binta" Breeze at a University of the West Indies tribute to the late Miss Lou, the gutsy, folksy champion of Jamaican patois poetry and legend. I've been a huge fan of LKJ since his first record, "Dread Beat and Blood," back in the protozoal Punky Reggae era. Now he's one of Britain's most revered artists, with no compromise. Hearing beloved poems like "Reggae Fi Dada," his elegy for his father, in the place his family came from, was pretty moving. One of LKJ's classics is 'Sonny's Lettah' which details how police harassment led to a young man killing a cop to protect his kid brother. I liked how the packed audience chuckled softly when LKJ was explaining the background to the poem, a law called "Suss" that in the first punk wave was a great excuse for arresting mostly young black males on "suspicion" of intending to commit a crime. The crowd's oddly cheery response seemed to be a mix of amazement that such a dodgy law could be -- and recognition that though the law's name may change, the young and the broke are still a target, everywhere.



Jean Breeze
Poet Jean "Binta" Breeze channels Jamaican legend, Miss Lou.





And so to the Slits, who synchronistically for this column, share a producer with LKJ, Dennis Bovell. They're the top girl punk band who paved the way for everyone from Madonna to Avril Lavigne and M.I.A. The Slits had/have not only The Look and The Attitude, but the songs, too. Anyway, as we've reported before, their quality keeps on getting them generations of new fans (Check out the photo gallery for pics of Chloe Sevigny with Arri Up and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth)



Viv Tessa and The Slits
Our Spy Zoe and the reunited Slits Tessa (l.) and Viv (r.)
Image courtesy of Dylan Howe



Our London Spy, author and DJ Zoë Street Howe, aka punky reggae DJ Zoë Paranoë, who's writing a book on the Slits, is here to tell us about a momentous encounter that happened Since We Last Met.... Now over to Zoë in London: Mick Jones’ current band Carbon / Silicon launched their club night Carbon Casino in Ladbroke Grove, West London last week – and it proved to be more momentous than anyone expected …



Carbon Silicon video for The News
The incomparable Mick Jones and crew



Big moment no.1: The legendary Topper Headon turned up to play drums with Mick for the first time in 25 years! (Don Letts was on hand to film the action). They played some vintage Clash – including ‘Train In Vain’: an appropriate choice seeing as the subject of that song – Ms. Viv Albertine – had turned up that night to watch, and to meet fellow Slit Tessa Pollitt…


Big moment no.2: … this was especially amazing because Viv lost contact with the rest of the Slits since the band split in the 1980s, and she made her way as a director.



Don Letts and The Slits
Don the Dread Director
shot them back when and here they all are again.



But I managed to bring the pair together for the first time in 20 years on this potently punky occasion. As you can see from the pictures, they were like a bunch of excited schoolgirls. Nothing changes …



And don't you change, except like your socks and stuff, until we meet again....