Everybody’s responses to my request for book and film recommendations were amazing, …but then there were Brian Morrison`s…..
OK, so these are either old faves that I return to, or things that I’ve encountered in the last 2-3 years. They’re quite varied, and I heartily recommend them to anyone.
Clarence Rook – The Hooligan Nights: This one I became obsessed with. I’m a real sucker for anything London-based, especially the past, counterculture, the seedier side of the city, the darkside and the esoteric. This city is such an interesting and terrifying place, steeped in history and energies. This book is from 1892, and it’s the true / false / reality / fantasy writings of a ‘well known’ London journalist using the amazing undercover pen name of Clarence Rook. If I’ve got it right, the book is made out of daily or weekly columns from the Standard, where Rook uses his well to do position to attempt to shine a light on London’s underbelly, focused on Lambeth Walk. It’s obviously a criminal hotspot at the time, and full of characters, like the young Alf, who ‘The Hooligan Nights’ is centred around. Rook has a sympathetic view of Alf, being both fascinated and terrified of this young hood and his world, but somehow they both end up sharing a mutual respect and curiosity. But Alf is a proper character, and sometimes when reading the book you forget it’s set in the 1890’s. Anyway, tear up’s, scrapes, thievery aplenty… all South of the river n’all.
Will Carruthers – Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands: I literally read ‘Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands’ in 24 hours it was that good. It cracked me up, made me wince, and seemed all too familiar at some points. It’s Will Carruthers, the bass player of Spacemen 3 documenting where, how and when he got into the band, and subsequently Spiritualized. Obviously it’s all there, the back room gigs, the forming of the groups, the inner politics and naturally, the immense acquisition, preparation and endless consuming of narcotics. It really isn’t a glittering scene, there’s a shitload of problems, financial ruin, tortured artistry, kickings and all the rest, but the way Carruthers describes it all is pretty funny, poignant and shocking at times. Definitely one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in recent times. The story around the recording of one of my favourite records of theirs, ‘Dreamweapon’ is funny as fuck, you can visualise it. As well as the endlessly fascinating musical story, the book captures the feel of the UK as it slips from the dreaded 80’s into the 90’s, cultural tribes change, substances change and in turn the whole book shifts with the landscape. Brilliant.
Various – Ego Trip’s Big Book Of Rap Lists: This is an all-time classic. Ego Trip was one of the best music mags in existence. Operating out of NYC in the latter part of the 1990’s, it was the total antithesis of all the other hip-hop mags that were available at the time. It was definitely almost more like a fanzine than a magazine proper, coming from an almost ‘Punk’ POV. The writing was amazing, funny, sharp and you could tell whoever was behind what you were reading, whether it was Jefferson ‘Chairman’ Mao, or Sacha Jenkins or whoever, they truly embodied the subject. It wasn’t po-faced, aggro, myopic or in any way lame, at all. I had quite a few original issues that friends would bring me back from NYC and I devoured them front to back. This is a collection of lists, trivia and articles based around hip-hop and it’s orbiting planets – exhaustive record lists and charts, and beyond – courtesy of the Ego Trip crew and their associates. It really does cover everything, and it will make you laugh, make notes, ‘add to wantslist’, think and like me, pine for a past time where true hip-hop culture was represented in the media as the infinitely rich musical and cultural tapestry it really is. Dive in, you won’t regret it! You may even end up buying 2.
FILMS / DOCS:
Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story: A classic doc in my house. The story of ‘song-poems’ – privately pressed records, written by the public. The were dedicated companies in the USA that advertised in the back pages of newspapers and magazine, promising the public that they could turn their songs into ‘chart hits’ and the like. Obviously 1000’s of people read this and saw dollar signs, posting off their handwritten lyrics with a vague ‘style’ within which to record the track. These would be sent to a handful of companies based around the country who had session musicians on call to knock up a 3-4 minute song dictated by what the member of the public had requested, paid for and could hear in their head! Obviously the results are interesting listening, somewhere between unnerving, whacked-out, genius and downright weird. This doc manages to find some of the public who took advantage of the service and had their dreams cruelly quashed by never having a hit, and it shows the other side of the coin – the session players who tried their best to deliver the dreams of said members of the public. Well worth renting and digging into!
LOOKIN4GALT: Another brilliant independent doc, this time focussing on the coveted, much sampled and admired musical output of Galt MacDermott whose name you may or not know, but whose music you’ve certainly heard in one way or another. The Canadian pianist and arranger was responsible for the cult 60’s soundtrack to ‘Hair’ which became a global phenomena, but his own material and wider output – Nina Simone, Barbara Streisand, Quincy Jones – has provided sampler food for hip-hop and electronic artists for decades. Nas, Busta Rhymes, MF Doom, J-Dilla and even Boards Of Canada have all been inspired by this reclusive Canadian legend`s music and his catalogue is huge and worth exploring. This doc features an epic cross country trip for 2 French hip-hop film makers – Gasface – across the US and beyond to try and track down the man himself, on the way they interview and meet musical luminaries touched by his music such as Bill Adler, Prince Paul, Pretty Purdie, Pete Rock and tons more. A super cool watch, with a few laughs and definitely one for the record nerds out there. Highly recommended.
The Need For Speed: A brilliant, compelling snapshot of mid 1990’s NYC through the eyes of some pretty colourful, and balls out, bike messengers / couriers. There’s a lot of different personalities here, and reading through the youtube comments and googling, you find out that some of the people featured are real legends of that subculture, some still around, some no longer with us. Either way, it’s an exciting 80-odd minute watch and there’s some laughs in it. I also love the intersection between the couriers and the streets in terms of attitude, fashion and outlook etc. Take the X-Men for example, almost like a 2 wheeled ninja street gang whose only mission is to deliver before anyone else, absolute nutters, but if they had your package you’d know it would be across town in minutes. Anyone who watches this film will come away with a favourite character, and it’s a truly fascinating expose of a lifestyle, or subculture, that was once a huge part of any urban landscape. Oh yeah, you don’t need to be into bikes in order to enjoy this one, it is just pure entertainment from start to finish.