THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

French Ticklers

Author: Tana French

As part of my library's Adult Summer Reading Challenge, I started reading Irish mystery writer Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. Here's my summer reading report:

I picked up the last two Tana French Dublin Murder Squad series books (THE SECRET PLACE #5 and THE TRESPASSER #6) at a used bookstore and the Rehoboth Beach Public Library, respectively. I was instantly hooked by the poetry of the writing, the author's eye for descriptive details, and the intelligence of the ever-twisty plots. But the real hook here was the depth of the characters (especially the women, to wit: Cassie Maddox and Antoinette Conway) and the skill with which French gives a revolving cast of narrators their changing point of view in the narratives. You get equal parts whodunit and psychological study.

THE SECRET PLACE and THE TRESPASSER team feisty chip-on-her-shoulder Antoinette Conway with the more socially fluent Stephen Moran. THE SECRET PLACE is told from Moran's POV, as the young detective seizes an opportunity to join the Murder Squad by solving a case with the contrarian Conway. The plot involves a murder of a popular young Romeo at an Irish high school that points at the involvement of two rival cliques at a nearby girl's school. In THE TRESPASSER, the voices are reversed, with Antoinette narrating a story about the murder of a pretty young blonde that on its surface looks to be an open-and-shut case against a jilted boyfriend - but that is rife with office politics and potential corruption at the Murder Squad. I hope the next Murder Squad installment continues the adventures of Conway and Moran, though French likes to move on with her narrators, like a relay race runner passing the baton.

By the time I went back to read her debut, IN THE WOODS, I was rewarded with another guy-gal pair of detectives, but instead of the walking-on-glass tension of Conway and Moran's relationship, the team of Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan are almost like a married couple. Both are thoroughly likable, though with mysterious backstories that will come back to haunt this narrative about a murdered child from a troubled family in a troubled town. By the time the case is resolved, more than just a child’s life is lost. The collateral damage is significant and will affect the Murder Squad in unforetold ways.

IN THE WOODS is told from the point of view of Rob Ryan, a man on a secret quest. Ryan lays it all out in the first chapter when he confesses, "What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this - two things. I crave truth. And I lie." Beware, reader. All is not what it seems, nor is it headed where you think. But it's too late to turn back; as with all French's stories, you've already bought your ticket. As you buckle in for the adventure, get ready to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

BritFest 2018: God Save the Queen!

A Celebration of All Things British

June 9, 2018
Maryland Polo Club
Jarrettsville, MD

On Saturday, June 9, we ventured north to the green and pleasant grounds of the Maryland Polo Club in Jarrettsville, MD, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's official 92nd birthday and "all things British" at BritFest 2018. Now in its second year, organizer Hugh Anderson's "Anglophile Woodstock" gives Limey-leaning fans in the Mid-Atlantic region an opportunity to toast Britain's longest reigning monarch while enjoying a full day of events celebrating Old Blighty.

Tottenham Tommy congratulated "Lizzie" (Her Highness to youse) at BritFest 2017

In addition to the day's big sporting event, a polo match pitting the US of A against England (whose team quartet included the veddy English-named Lolly Stanhope-White), attendees got to enjoy sampling British food (fish & chips, sausage rolls, meat pies, haggis, bridies, Welsh Cakes!), beers (stouts, lagers, IPAs and the creatively named Orkney Skull Splitter!) and spirits (Pimm's Cup, Gin & Tonic!), crafts, and British rock music courtesy of Mrs. Thatcher and Shag the Band.

Newlyweds Harry and Meghan apologize for not inviting Amy to their nuptials. "It's OK," Amy said. "I was having brunch at the diner with my parents in Dundalk anyway!"

While my wife may boast that she is more English than me (41% to 38%, according to our Ancestry.com DNA results), my name alone makes me an honorary "Tommy," and together we form a powerful alliance dedicated to celebrating all things British - except, perhaps, their dental hygiene. The weather report called for thundershowers throughout the afternoon - I guess it wouldn't be a truly British experience without a downpour (and unreliable weather is the reason why Queen Elizabeth's actual April 21 birthday is celebrated in the summer, usually the second Saturday in June)  - but when we arrived shortly after 11 a.m., the sun had put the nip to any thoughts of precip: it was bright and cheery in this pastoral stretch of Harford County.

"I say old chap, fancy a cuppa?"

Actually, Bob WAS my uncle! (Robert Soulsby to youse!)

Wearing my Go Brit! t-shirt (from the famous Rehoboth Beach fish & chips restaurant) while Amy donned her classic Beatles tee (and toted her showin'-her-dad's-roots Welsh dragon purse), we proceeded to get our Brit on.

First up was listening to the Swinging '60s it's-trad-dad British rock sounds of Mrs. Thatcher, whose set list included the usual suspects - Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks - as well as a much-appreciated mini Faces homage (hearing "Oo-la-la" and "Maggie May" back-to-back made my day!) as Amy sampled Welsh cakes and sausage rolls and I tried a Pimm's Cup. I had always heard of this English cocktail (my well-traveled brother had brought a bottle back from one his many trips across the Pond) and wanted to try one; sad to say, this traditional thirst-quencher for cricket matches was too sweet for me (though I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more last year, when the inaugural BritFest was unforgivably hot and humid).

Q: And 'oo's Mrs. Thatcher when she's at home? A: Rockers who're conservative in name only

As we walked past the various vendors (including the annoying hard-sell home improvement tent - the answer's still "No, thanks! Ta!"), we enjoyed meeting many Brits from all over the Isle (London, Berkshire, Essex, Wales), including Birmingham Brummies "Barry" (who told us his name was Celtic for "spear chucker" - alas, he left his spear back home in Reston, VA) and BCPL librarian John (a former Bookmobile driver - it doesn't get cooler in the library field than these guys!).

'Sup Holmes? Tom dons his deerstalker as he tries to deduce whether rain is imminent

Following a bagpipe and drums musical prelude (courtesy of the John F. Nicoll Pipe Band), we lifted our cups to toast the Queen on her official 92nd birthday with British consulate rep David Hunt (who guaranteed another English World Cup victory - erm, wonder what was he was drinking?). Speaking of footy, Britfest presenter Hugh Anderson is a Man U supporter and their kits were the most frequently spotted, along with 2 Man City, 2 Arsenal, and a lone West Ham supporter, not to mention several England national football and rugby jerseys. (Though no one sported a Tottenham jersey, every Brit I talked football with had kind words for my Spurs; could it be that, except for Arsenal supporters, Spurs are the beloved "Ringo's" of the English Premier League that no one has a harsh word for? Hmmm, a theory...)

Amy loves a man in uniform - and certainly had no beefs with the Beefeaters at BritFest 2017

As the day progressed, the rains that were forecast duly came, not once but twice, turning the fields into muddy marshes and curtailing the polo match (the US was ahead 3-1 last time I looked). (Mental note: next year wear "Wellies" like the polo riders!) Good thing Amy came prepared with her emergency rain poncho and Mod English polka-dot rain cap!

"I say old chap, did you happen to bring a brolly?"

As the rain poured down with a fury, like the opening scene of Kurosowa's Rashomon, we sought refuge under a nearby tent and ravenously ate not one, but two meaty-beaty-big-and-tasty "Bridies" (meat pies). Props to the Loyola University Rugby Football Club (2018 Mid-Atlantic Cup Champions!), whose rain-soaked players braved the muddy plains to take carry-out orders and return with ice-cold beers for the grateful imbibers under the big top.

We waited out the deluge while Hugh Anderson took to the stage and urged attendees to stay the course, like Churchill's "We Can Take It" retort to Herr Hitler during the London Blitz. "Don't leave yet," he pleaded. "I still need another $5 from every one of you here to break even." He went on to promise sunshine and good times by 4 o'clock, when the day's final musical act, Shag the Band, were set to perform. I must say, Hugh was true to his word, as the rain dried up and the sun reemerged on the dot of 4.

"Sun's back," Old Bill bobby Amy advises the rain-soaked crowd. "Keep dry and carry on!"

We were then once again treated to the note-perfect Post-punk/Britpop stylings (Cure, Verve, Jam, Oasis, Depeche Mode, et al) of Shag the Band (who had previously performed, along with the Beatles tribute band Beatlemania Again, at the inaugural BritFest 2017). Where opening band Mrs Thatcher left off in the '70s, Shag picked up in the '80s and '90s and their backing tape loops enabled them to replicate the keys and synths on those Verve and Depeche Mode covers.

Shag the Band revived '80s and '90s Britpop

Over the (oft times muddy) course of the day, we ran into our friends John Rose and his son, Kelly Corin Burkhead and, natch, fellow Anglophile Karen Karen & her crew; Amy especially enjoyed trading "crazy mom" stories with Karen's half-Japanese friend Margaret, who regaled us with a tale about her mom sneaking a Japanese plant back to the States concealed in her underwear! And Detectorists fans take note: I think Lance was there, as an Inca yellow Triumph TR7 was spotted among the classic British cars on display. All in all it was, as Wallace and Gromit would put it, A Grand Day Out!

Let's see, did I leave anything out? Oh, yes, yada yada yada - and Bob's your uncle!

Tom strikes an avuncular chin-wag pose (or is he having an heart attack from eating all those meat pies?)

Related Links:
BritFest 2018 (Facebook)
Shag the Band
Beatlemania Again

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Vintage Underground (*****)

205 Second Street
Lewes, Delaware
Web: undergroundlewes.com
Facebook: undergroundlewes

The Vintage Underground is literally underground!

On our way to Rehoboth Beach for a much-needed break from work and home-repair stress, my wife Amy and I stopped in Lewes to visit the wonderful Biblion (meaning "little book" in Greek) used bookstore on the corner of Second and Market Streets. Since discovering this treasure trove of contemporary and antiquarian books (not to mention the best greeting cards and buttons) in the heart of historic downtown Lewes, it has become a regular stop on our Lower Shore getaways. Once inside, we noticed a sign that said a record store was around the corner. Cool, we thought, let's check it out, for we love records as much as we love books. (Yes, we are from the pre-digital streaming Physical Media Era.)

Biblion Books: Home of used books & rare finds 

Walking around the corner to Market Street, we descended the stairs and immediately heard a familiar-sounding "non-Kansas" Kansas accent. "Hey, that lady sounds just like the Biblion owner," I commented. "That's because it is her," observant Amy observed.

Yes, it's true! Biblion owner Jen Mason now also runs The Vintage Underground, where her finely curated "Inventory of Cool" features vintage vinyl and CDs, groovy vintage clothes, eccentric cards (Simon Drew! Edward Gorey!), snarky buttons, hip vintage rock mags like UGLY THINGS, miscellaneous tchotchkes and geegaws and, yes, even more books (and even more by Edward Gorey!).

Vintage Underground is split into two rooms. On the left, before you enter the record store proper, is a room full of men and women's clothing ranging from mid-century to the 1990s, with selected vintage pieces mixed in. As Mason explained to Cape Gazette writer Nick Roth ("Vintage Underground is hip new Lewes Shop," May 31, 2018), Vintage Underground is not a thrift or secondhand shop; she picks out all the clothing and music herself. And, sign-o'-the times, clothing is not separated by gender: "It's wear what you like. We have tops and tops."

Given my wife's flair for fashion, needless to say it took a good 30 minutes before she was able to pull herself away from the clothing racks to the music racks, where the collection includes a mix of new vinyl records from independent labels (like Jack Black's outstanding Detroit-based Third Man Records) and a carefully curated selection of used records. Mason takes pride in the shop's collection of jazz, blues, funk and soul - as well she should. Her Blue Note/Verve Jazz selection alone was worth the trip, and Anglophile Amy naturally managed to uncover a British Invasion compilation CD of bands appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. And as an Elvis Costello Completist, Amy also had to pick up the soundtrack to Wim Wenders 1991 film Until the End of the World because it had an Elvis song she didn't think she had (Elvis covering Ray Davies' "Days").

I went hog wild when I discovered a CD cache of Rhino's long-out-of-print New Wave Hits of the '80s because, well, where else am I gonna find digitized versions of oddball singles like The Normal's "Warm Leatherette" or Flying Lizards' "Money (That's What I Want)"? But the real find for me was scoring The Flashcubes' Bright Lights, an anthology of  21 punk-powerpop tunes by this classic '70s Syracuse rock group, who I had previously only heard one song by ("It's You Tonight" on Yellow Pills Vol. 1). All of these CDs were steals at $5 a pop.

Vintage Underground's decor is creative, the vibe is fun, the hip factor is off the hook, and the owner is genuinely warm and engaging. And in honor of Miles Davis's Memorial Weekend birthday, Jen told me that if I said "Happy Birthday, Miles!", she would give me one CD for half-off - I did (I chose a Dexter Gordon CD - I think both Miles and my dad would approve) and she did. Hey, that's swell!

Vintage Underground proprietess Jen Mason

So if, like us, you like to get physical with your media (books and records and CDs, oh my!), then Biblion and The Vintage Underground are not to be missed! You can spend hours in these shops - and we certainly did! Oh, and let the record show: I bought The Velvet Underground at The Vintage Underground! How's that for poetic justice?

Related Links:
"Vintage Underground a hip new Lewes Shop" (Cape Gazette)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Under the Big Top

@ Naughty Dogs Restuarant Pub & Grill
306 E Churchville Rd, Bel Air, MD
Saturday, April 28, 2018

On Saturday night we ventured far north past the deep suburban sprawl of Bel Air into the hinterlands of Churchville to witness the debut performance of Under the Big Top at a roadhouse pub & grill called Naughty Dogs (formerly Bull On the Beach).

Big Top reunited longtime friends Mark O'Connor (keyboards, vocals), Chuck Gross (bass, vocals) and Bruce Crawford (guitar, keys, vocals) from '70s Parkville popsters The Toys, with the addition of young-gun beardo Korey Hershberger - a hard-pounding drummer who also played with opening R&R covers duo Russ & Korey, featuring singer-guitarist Russ May.

Big Top's Bruce Crawford, Chuck Gross and Korey Hershberger

Russ May introduced the band as purveyors of "'60s psychedelic rock" and the quartet proceeded to play over an hour's worth of all-original rock 'n' roll that got greater Bel Air shaking its collective ass. The teeming standing-room-only crowd (apparently featuring a lot of Chuck Gross' workmates) was really supportive, enthusiastically dancing and hooting their approval. Which was a welcome surprise to O'Connor.

Mark O'Connor dials up the keys on "Rotary Phone"

After openers Russ & Korey finished their Great American Songbook set of popular Classic Rock to a rousing sing-along reception from the roadhouse crowd, a nervous Mark was worried that Big Top's unfamiliar original music would go over like the Sex Pistols playing to Texas cowpokes in 1977. "I just hope we don't get run out of town," he joked. He needn't have worried. Both crowd and performers were great.

Big Top's Bruce Crawford, strummin' and a-hummin'

According to Mark, all of Big Top's songs - with the exception of his "Lost and Found Ring" and "Valerie" (a solo electronics-heavy effort he recorded for the Fellow Commoner album) - were new, with about half of them written since the band got together this year. And, according to ertswhile Western High math teacher Bruce Crawford (whose open-air noggin was the exception-to-the-rule of the otherwise all-behatted Toppers), the songwriting was pretty evenly distributed, with each composer singing their tunes. "I think we did about four of my songs, four of Chuck's and four of Mark's," he said afterwards. Even drummer Korey chimed in, singing while keeping the beat on his own psychedelic-sounding original.

Though I didn't know any of these songs, and hadn't seen O'Connor and Gross play together since their days in the legendary Marble Bar all-star group The Beaters (featuring Joe Manfre and Mikel Gehl from Neige and vocalist Cindy Borchardt, later of the Monuments), nothing was lost in translation: the poppy tunes - always melodic, always well-played, invariably clever - were easily accessible and the hard-driving beat hard to resist. These guys are pros, well-seasoned with years of experience and with hundreds of songs in their repertoire.

Amy and I, along with former Towson University WCVT DJ (and current WVUD-University of Delaware jock) Rod Misey, were the lone representatives of the Marble Bar fanbase who might recall The Beaters. Rod Misey even has a recollection of Bruce Crawford getting up on stage with the Beaters once to play a Beatles song (which would make sense since the Toys used to dress up in Sgt. Pepper's outfits to do a Fab Four revue). But no one else remembered this, for, as I said, these guys have played a lot of songs in a lot of bands over a lot of years!

I shouted out a few requests for songs from Chuck's days playing with Mark in the synth-and-drum machine dominated Laff Clinic (nee Mad Habits) - like "Career Girls" (Chuck's Mid-Atlantic Song Contest winner from the early '80s) and "Monkey On His Back" - but they were surplus to needs, like bringing sand to the beach. Big Top already had plenty of new tunes to unveil, without needing to reach into their back catalog. Some of Chuck's newbies included "Jaundiced Judy," "Lava Lamp," "Mr. In Mezzo," "Gravity Hill," "Photograph" and "I Know You Left Me."

In a set full of memorable tunes, highlights included rock-opera-in-the-making "Rotary Phone" (chronicling, in Mark's words, "the tragic consequences when lovers can't reconcile the repercussions of one's attachment to outmoded technologies"), Chuck's scorching  "Lava Lamp," and Mark's rousing set-closer "Basement Revolution." Russ May even strapped on his acoustic guitar to get up and jam along with the band during the big finale.

This KORG is a Weapon: Mark O'Connor plots his "Basement Revolution"

Listen to Under the Big Top dial-up "Rotary Phone" (a partial recording, as my phone battery died!):

Listen to Under the Big Top play "Lava Lamp":

I didn't know the name of the following song, but Chuck sang something about everyone wanting to be happy (after all, "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" as Buzzcocks once observed) and as far as Big Top's debut, everyone here tonight was indeed happy - so "Mission Accomplished!" [Addendum: Subsequent to this gig, Mark texted me that this ditty is actually entitled "Jaundice Judy," yet another fine song about gals named Judith - see "Judy Is a Punk," "Mad Mad Judy," "Judy in Disguise," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Judy's Turn To Cry," et. al.]

And here's more good news! Under the Big Top will be back at Naughty Dogs for an encore performance sometime in late June 2018. Happy now?

Related Links:
Mad Habits (Media Maxi-Pad)
Balto Band Bash 2014 (Accelerated Decrepitude)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Punk at 45 RPMs

Soul Jazz Records' "PUNK 45" Series
PUNK 45 Vol. 7 - Les Punks: The First Wave of French Punk 1977-1980

The only pride I take in my underwhelming career as a lowly public servant at a large urban library is in curating our pop music collection with worthy Jukebox Heroes. To wit, that means ordering anything and everything put out by Soul Jazz Records, the UK independent record label dedicated to the herculean task of documenting "the sounds of the universe."

Lately I've been listening obsessively to French rock 'n' roll - yes, that is NOT an oxymoron! - specifically, a Soul Jazz compilation called Les Punks: The French Connection - The First Wave of French Punk 1977-1980

PUNK 45: Les Punks: The French Connection - The First Wave of French Punk 1977-1980 (Soul Jazz Records, 2017)

This the latest entry (Volume 7 by my count) in Soul Jazz's PUNK 45 series, which documents assorted punk singles (many previously only available on vinyl) from around the world, though mostly by American punk and proto-punk groups. Les Punks follows on the heels of the previous PUNK 45 releases Kill the Hippies (Volume 1: USA Punk), There Is No Such Thing As Society (Volume 2: UK punk and post-punk), Sick On You! One Way Spit! (Volume 3: US proto-punk), Burn, Rubber City, Burn!(Volume 4: Akron, Ohio punk), Extermination Nights in the Sixth City (Volume 5: Cleveland, Ohio punk), and Chaos in the City of Angels and Devils (Volume 6: Los Angeles punk).

PUNK 45: Charting the forgotten corners of punk rock, one 7-inch record at a time

(Although this title and others in the series are available as LPs and MP3 digital albums, this review looks only at CD format releases, as this is the lingua franca of the Non-Hipster Modern World for us Baby Boomers - at least for now.).

PUNK 45 is an invaluable resource, collecting and digitizing songs otherwise lost in the record bins, as many of these bands either never released a long-player or disbanded into obscurity after a sole single or EP. Or as Louis Pattison observed in his Pitchfork review:

Soul Jazz’s Punk 45 series has made it its mission to chart the forgotten corners of punk rock, one seven-inch record at a time, training its magnifying glass on the obscure groups or regional scenes that familiar histories overlook. In particular, its more localized iterations suggest that how punk sounded depended very much on where its seeds fell. 

Indeed, Les Punks' accompanying 44-page booklet (another invaluable resource, with liner notes by S. Baker and interviews with major players like Marc Zermati of Skydog Records, Michel Esteban of Harry Cover/Rock News and Ze Records, Patrick Eudeline of Asphalt Jungle and Eric Debris of Metal Urbain) argues how punk in France "emerged out of the country’s history of rebellion and revolution" (from Serge Gainsbourg to the Paris ‘68 riots) and even how the seeds of its artistic and intellectual ideas (Dadaism, Surrealism, Rimbaud, Voltaire, et al) influenced punk's eventual emergence in New York and London.

"Parlez-vous anarchy?": Johnny Rotten goes Continental in Paris, September 1976

The Sex Pistols (whose manager Malcolm McLaren clearly learned a thing or two from the French Situationists) played in Paris in September 1976 and while that no doubt inspired a number of groups to emerge from their garetts to "dare it," bands like Marie et les Garcons ("Rien a Dire," "A Bout de Souffle"), Dogs (whose "Here Comes My Baby" sounds like a perfect Rezillos retro-rocker), Angel Face ("Wolf City Blues"), Les Olivensteins ("Euthanasie"), and Fantomes (here presenting a pretty straight-forward cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" - in English, no less) were already wearing the influences of the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Johnny Thunder's Heartbreakers and especially Iggy's Stooges on their French-cuffed sleeves.

This was due in no small part thanks to Marc Zermati's Skydog Records; founded in 1972, the label was one of the first independent record labels of its time (preceding Stiff, Chiswick, and Greg Shaw's Bomp! by three years) and was responsible for releasing the Stooges' legendary live LP Metallic K.O. (which documented the Stooges' last-ever show at Detroit's Michigan Palace), as well as important records by the MC5, Flamin' Groovies, and Johnny Thunders, while Zermati himself organized the first-ever European punk festival in Mont-de-Marzon in August 1976. Small wonder that eight of the 19 tracks collected here are sung in English. After all, as Marc Zermati observed, "If you sing in French, you reach a Belgian guy or a Swiss guy. In Africa, they don't care."

Marc Zermati's influential Skydog Records, founded in 1972

Iggy and the Stooges - "Metallic K.O." (Skydog Records, 1976)

Zermati recorded practically every punk band of the time (often under pseudonyms, in case a group was signed or planning to sign with a major label), but never released an full-length album - 7-inch singles and compilations were Skydog's modus operandi. As S. Baker writes in Les Punks liner notes, "The label's French punk releases captured a moment in time and place similar to that of, say, Dangerhouse in Los Angeles, or Factory in Manchester, Clone in Akron, Ohio, or Postcard in Scotland." That's elite company, indeed.

Despite Skydog's efforts, Punk Francaise was pretty much lost in translation across the channel and the Atlantic (where the Village Voice critic Robert Christgau famously quipped "Somebody tell Claude Bessy zat zere is no such thing as French rock and roll!"), unless your name was Plastic Bertrand (aka Roger Jouret, who wasn't even French - he was a native Brussels Sprout! And Bertrand not only wasn't French, but he didn't even sing his hit - later admitting that his producer Lou Deprijck sang as Bertrand in exchange for a cut of the royalties, making Jouret the Milli Vanilli of Punk!) Bertrand's hit "Ca Plane Pour Moi" inspired countless cover versions and prodded the major labels to try and land more Continental punks; Polydor quickly signed up the Stinky Toys (whose September 1977 single "Boozy Creed" was perhaps the first non-English punk record) and Guilty Razors, but they turned out to be commercial failures.

Guilty Razors - "I Don't Wanna Be A Rich" EP (Polydor, 1978)

Guilty as Charged

Which is too bad, because the Guilty Razors - represented here by two of the three songs ("I Don't Wanna Be a Rich," "Hurts and Noises") from their 1978 Polydor guillotine-sleeve EP (which was pressed but never released to the masses after Polydor got cold feet over the group's violent reputation and behavior) - sound pretty good. Though only a few copies of the (indefinite article-challenged) "I Don't Wanna Be a Rich" single that were sent to journalists for review were saved from being pulped, pirated audio tapes soon spread the word to avid collectors and bootleggers and created an underground buzz about the band.

Les garcons mal: Guilty Razors. Note the "Provocate" shirt, advertising a song from their 1978 EP.

Guilty Razors acting au so contraire

Guilty Razors didn't want to be "a rich" and thanks to their record label shelving their EP, they were'nt. A similar fate kept the full-length album they recorded for Polydor in 1978 from seeing the light of day until 2006, when Seventeen Records CEO Steve Hoffman tracked down the tapes from the surviving members of the group (singer Tristam Nada and bassist Jose Perez - R.I.P. guitarists Carlos Perez and Jano Homicid), as he considers them "probably the best punk rock band that ever existed." On his Music Forums page, Hoffman waxes:
They were more dangerous than Sid Vicious or the most hardened skinheads : they would threaten punters with knifes in front of gigs, in order to steal their wallets, and would smash their way to any party, drinking and eating anything they could find, including the ladies. Stories of stolen motorbikes from their own audience, trashing pop singers at parties etc abound, and are legendary. Some of them are true, other false, but you get the picture...

Guilty Razors were famously associated with The Slits - frontman Tristam Nada had a "love/hate" relationship with young singer Ari Up (whose mom Nora later married John Lydon) - who were in the studio when the Razors were recording "I Don't Wanna Be a Rich." (Hmm...I wonder if that's Ari's voice introducing "I Don't Wanna Be a Rich"?)

Slits singer Ari Up

Never mind les bollocks, here's the Guilty Razors playing "I Don't Wanna Be a Rich":

And here's the photogenic band lip-synching to "I Don't Wanna Be a Rich" on French television:

Though the French TV presenter above name-checks the Sex Pistols, to me Guilty Razors sound like they were more influenced by The Damned. They delivered short, fast and furious songs and "Hurts and Noises" even opens with a stolen riff (or is it a knowing loan) from the Damned's "New Rose."

Fight the Power: Paris Calling

Guilty Razors were also friends with Metal Urbain and played most of their gigs with them. The synth- and drum-machine propelled Metal Urbain stood out from the field, holding the distinction of being the first group to sign to - and release a single on - Rough Trade Records (1976's French Resistance homage "Paris Maquis"). Influenced in equal parts by the gnarly guitars of the Clash and Sex Pistols and the grating industrial noise of Lou Reed's experimental Metal Machine Music, they dispensed with the traditional bass-and-drums rhythm section in favor of an EMS synth-and-Linn drum machine base to create a unique electro-punk sound. They were post-punk before it was even a genre.

Metal Urbain - "Paris Maquis" b/w "Cle de Conact" (Rough Trade RT 001, 1977)

Watch Metal Urbain lip-synch "Paris Maquis" on French television:

And here's a clip of the band performing their first single, 1977's "Panik" on French television:

Metal Urbain were, briefly, the exception to the rule of not finding success across the Channel. "Ground-breaking, subversive, challenging and controversial - and perversely more commercially appealing than Stinky Toys, especially in the UK, even though they sang in French," was how S. Baker described their appeal. "Panik" was even named "Single of the Week" by New Musical Express in 1977.

The Dangerous Minds blog picks up the story of Metal Urbain in their "Anarchy in Paris" review:
Métal Urbain were Francophone contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Formed in 1976 by Clode Panik, Hermann Schwartz, Pat Luger and Eric Debris, the French punk rock group’s harsh and noisy sound replaced the rhythm section with a synthesizer and drum machine. Sonically, they came across as aggressive—if not more so—as their English or American counterparts with the exception of maybe Suicide or The Screamers. Lead singer Clode Panik sounds a bit like a French version of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. 
The group’s second single, “Paris Maquis” was Rough Trade’s very first record release and John Peel showed his support on his BBC 1 Radio show, going so far as to record a “Peel Session” with them. Sadly they never really made it and broke up in 1979 as there was no appreciable French punk scene to begin with and the media in their home country just couldn’t be bothered with them. Métal Urbain’s distinctively raw guitar sound is said to have had an influence on Big Black’s Steve Albini and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Listen to Metal Urbain's 1978 "Peel Session."

Metal Urbain later renamed themselves les Metal Boys and (later still) Dr. Mix and the Remix, continuing to tour and record into the early '80s until guitar-playing brothers Jean-Louis Boulanger (Hermann Schwartz) and Patrick Boulanger (Pat Luger) left to form Desperados. Metal Boys strike me as having a similar aesthetic to the John Foxx-era Ultravox (circa the Systems of Romance LP).

Listen to Metal Boys play their 1979 Rough Trade single "Sweet Marilyn":

Happiness is a Warm Gun

But while Guilty Razors and Metal Urbain may be the marquee names of this collection, for me the standout French punk outfit here is Warm Gun (formerly known as Bitch or Bitches). This Parisian quartet (energetic vocalist Paul Ersatz, guitarists Philippe K and Thierry Dioniso, and drummer "Patrick") released a lone four-song EP on Isadora Records in June 1977 (produced by Paul Pechenaert, ex-Les Dogs), from which Les Punks samples "Broken Windows"...

...but for my money this EP is the stuff of legend, a spiritual brother-in-arms to Buzzcocks' DIY classic Spiral Scratch.

Warm Gun EP cover sleeve (Isadora, ISE-110, June 1977)

Warm Gun EP, back cover

In "Broken Windows," Ersatz sings (in heavily accented English), "I would quit your boring jobs/That's just a threat from me to you...You wanna tell me about your pent-up frustrations/You wanna tell me I belong to the Blank Generation...Smashing windows, having lots of fun/Breaking glass, and watch us run/Smashing windows, don't need no gun/Breaking glass and a run run run."

I had previously only ever heard their "Crapy Hands" (aka "Crappy Hands"), but it was the stand-out track (and the only one not by a New York or London band) on a vinyl-only RCA Italian import 12-inch called Punk Collection.

Punk Collection (RCA, 1977)

Listen to Warm Gun play "Crapy Hands":

Though heavily influenced by the usual suspects (New York Dolls, Velvet Underground, Stooges), Warm Gun's embrace of melody sets them apart - they had a very commercial pop-punk sound and a charmingly charismatic singer.

The other outstanding punk bands gathered here are Marie et Les Garcons, Electric Callas, Dogs, Asphalt Jungle, 84 Flesh and A3 Dans les WC.

Tous les Garcons et la Fille

Marie et Les Garcons debut double A-side single was so strong that both tunes are reprised here: "Rien a Dire" (literally, "Nothing to Say") and "A Bout de Souffle" (perhaps a nod to Godard's "Breathless"?).

Marie et les Garcons - "Rien a Dire" 45 picture sleeve (Rebel, 1977)

This Lyon-based band was founded by in 1975 by a group of Lycée Saint-Exupéry students, whose core players were drummer Marie Girard (who was initially the vocalist), main songwriters Patrick Vidal (erstwhile bassist turned vocalist) and Eric Fitoussi (guitar) and bassist Jean-Pierre Charriau. Heavily influenced by American proto-punk, they were clearly big fans of Velvet Underground (listen to their cover of "White Light, White Heat") - you can hear it in Vidal's Lou Reed vocal stylings and "A Bout de Souffle" could easily have appeared on any VU album - as well as the early Modern Lovers (listen to their "Roadrunner"), Television (listen to their version of "Little Johnny Jewel"), Patti Smith and The Seeds.

Marie Girard a la batterie, 1978

Marie et les Garcons at CBGBs, 1978

Skydog Record's Marc Zermati invited them to perform at his Mont-de-Marzon punk fest and Michel Esteban released their debut single on his Rebel label in December 1977. After hearing their demos, John Cale produced their second single, "Attitudes" b/w "Re-Bop" in New York in March 1978, where they played in support of X-Ray Spex at CBGB's before returning to Paris to support Patti Smith and Talking Heads during their tours there. The teaming with the Heads made "heady" booking sense, because les Garcons definitely leaned toward the more New Wavish (or should I say Nouvelle Vague-ish) side of Punk; their debut album (again produced by Michel Esteban) even featured a Lacoste polo shirt - shades of the preppy attire the early Heads wore onstage. Blondie is another musical signpost.

Marie et les Garcons LP (Celluloid, France, 1980)

Marie et les Cretins - er - Garcons!

Listen to Marie et les Garcons perform "Rien a Dire" live at the Olympia Paris:

Marie Girard later left the band to join Electric Callas, where she reunited with her brother Patrick Girard, who was the original drummer in Les Garcons when they formed in 1975. Upon her departure, the remaining trio became simply (and accurately) Les Garcons. Alas, Marie Girard died of an aneurysm in 1996, age 40.

Lyon was a legitimate music scene at this time, with Electric Callas and Starshooter also calling it home.

Electric Callas shared the same American rock influences as Les Garcons, not to mention Roxy Music and David Bowie, as exemplified on their scorching "Kill Me Two Times."

Listen to Electric Callas play "Kill Me Two Times":

Dogs formed in Rouen (also home to Les Olivensteins) in 1973, recording two EPs during 1977-1978 before releasing their debut LP Different in 1979. They would go on to sign with Phonogram and, later, Epic Records. The Rezillos-sounding retro-rocker "Here Comes My Baby" is taken from their 1978 Go Where You Want To Go EP and features core members Dominque Laboubee (vocals, guitar), Hugues Urvoy de Portzamparc (bass, vocals) and Michel "Mimi" Gross (drums). Laboubee, who died in 2002, was the only constant member through the band's long history.

Dogs - "Go Where You Want To Go" 12-inch EP (Melodies Massacre, France, 1978)

Rouen's Dogs

Dogs' pedigree owes more to the influence of '60s American garage rock than punk, as the band was weaned on listening to Gene Vincent, Shadows of the Knight, Chocolate Watch Band, Flamin' Groovies, Pretty Things and other Nuggets-y influences, as well as Stooges, Velvet Underground and Brit Invasion bands like the Kinks.

Listen to Dogs play "Here Comes My Baby":

Asphalt Jungle was the brainchild of Best magazine scribe Patrick Eudeline, another journalist-turned-musician following in the footsteps of Pretender Chrissie Hynde (NME), Pet Shop Boy Neil Tenant (Smash Hits) and Morrissey (Record Mirror).

Eudeline was originally the frontman for proto-punks Angel Face, but left them after a year to join forces with Angel Face guitarist-turned-bassist  Riton in Asphalt Jungle, along with former Metal Urbain guitarist Rikky Darling and drummer Chino. Asphalt Jungle recorded just three singles for Skydog - including the one included here, 1978's "Plante Comme un Prive" - before ceasing to exist. As to why the group disbanded so early, Eudeline says, "Too much too soon. Ego and junk. When I split with Rikky the guitarist, it was the end. The band was Rikky and me."

Asphalt Jungle - "Plante Comme un Prive" 45 (Skydog, 1978, picture sleeve by Bazooka)

Asphalt Jungle - "Plante Comme un Prive" b/w "Purple Heart" (Skydog, France, 1978)

Listen to Asphalt Jungle play "Plante Comme un Prive."

Incidentally, the cover of Asphalt Jungle's single was produced, like many of the releases in this collection, by a Paris arts collective called Bazooka. Bazooka was formed at art school in 1974 by Christian Chapiron (aka Kiki Picasso), Jean-Louis Dupre (Loulou Picasso), Olive Clavel (Electric Clito), Berard Vidal (Banana), Ti5 (Phillipe Bailly), Dominque Fury and Lulu Larsen. Their provocative work eschewed galleries - preferring self-publication via newspapers, magazines and record covers - and was heavily indebted to the ideas of the Situationists. S. Baker characterized Bazooka's aesthetic as being "based primarily on the politicized use of collages using images taken from newspapers, comics etc., reworked with a variety of drawing and painting styles, taken to extremes and subverting original meanings," and acting as a graphic counterpoint to the music. They were, in the words of Loulou Picasso, "Political without an ideology" and "Activist without a doctrine."

Bazooka created signature work for numerous Skydog singles, including covers for 84 Flesh and Starshooter. They also did Iggy & The Stooges' 1977 "(I Got) Nothing" single, and later created works for Elvis Costello (working with Barney Bubbles) and James Chance.

Iggy and the Stooges - "(I Got) Nothing" (Skydog, 1977, cover by Bazooka)

In the liner notes to Les Punks, Asphalt Jungle's Eudeline traces the roots of Punk Francaise to New York and Detroit: "The turning point was The Dolls and the writers of Creem magazine. And a French book written in 1972 by Jean-Jacques Schuhl called Rose Poussiere. As John Lennon said, the hippy dream was over. We were dreaming of mods, rockabilly, decadent cinema or writers. A rock 'n' roll attitude, far away from a hippy way of life."

Jean-Jacques Schuhl's "Rose Poussier": a study of life's impermanence

Proto-punks Angel Face formed in 1975 and recorded demos with Cobra, Rough Trade and Pathe Marconi, but the tapes sat on the shelf until the mid-'80s. On the Stooges-indebted "Wolf City Blues," which first surfaced on 1985's A Wild Odyssey LP (Pacific Productions), the line-up is comprised of vocalist Eric Tende (who replaced Henri Flesh, who himself replaced Patrick Eudeline), guitarist Riton Angel Face, bassist Pascal Farrey and drummer Frederik Goddard.

Henri Flesh and Frederik Goddard would go on to join the short-lived 84 Flesh (previously named 1984), who thankfully released the rocking single "Salted City" on Skydog before splitting in 1978.

Listen to both sides of 84 Flesh's lone Skydog single "Salted City" b/w "D-Section":

84 Flesh - "Salted City" b/w "D-Section" (Skydog, France, 1978)

84 Flesh picture sleeve by Bazooka

Below is the lyric sheet included with 84 Flesh's "Salted City" single:

Another Rouen group, Les Olivensteins, took their unusual name from a French psychiatrist who specialized in addiction. Ironically, the real-life Dr. Olivenstein caused the band to split up after his refusal to let them use his name cost them a record deal with Barclay. Sacre bleu! Well, at least they got to record their lone three-song single in 1979 on the Melodies Massacre label.

Watch Les Olivensteins play "Euthanasie" in their one and only appearance on French television:

One of the most interesting groups appearing here is Gazoline. They were founded in 1977 by Alain Kan, who is considered one of French pop's great mysteries: after starting his career in 1964 with Paul Anka covers, he worked with Serge Gainsbourg and singer Dani in the '70s before embarking on his punk phase with Gazoline. According to legend, he disappeared without a trace after boarding a Paris subway train in April 1990.

Gazoline - "Sally" b/w "Electric Injection" singe (Egg, 1977)

Alain Kan (left) with Gazoline

Listen to Gazoline play "Sally":

Calcinator's brisk 2-minute rocker "Electrifie" is the final track on Les Punks. It was the B-side of the band's lone single "Billard" (F.L.V.M, 1978; later re-released on Euthanasie, 2013) and also appears on the compilation LP Skydog Commando (Skydog SGSC 0018, 1978). There's not much information about this band (unless you speak French) other than the group consisted of  songwriting guitarist-vocalist Mick Giani, bassist Jef Eddedguy and drummer Pat  Vandenbroeck.

Calcinator - "Billiard" b/w "Electrifie" 45 (Euthanasie, 2013)

Listen to Calcinator play "Electrifie":

Cold Wave, or New Wave Francaise

So much for the punk tunes. The remaining tracks by Kas Product, A3 Dans Les WC (aka WC3) and the cleverly-named Charles de Goal are actually a brand of minimal post-punk synthwave that France (and the Belgian trio Telex) embraced in the '80s called "Cold Wave."

The standout Cold Wave track is Charles de Goal's Wire-y "Dans le Labyrinthe" (from the 1980 New Rose LP Algorithms). Charles de Goal was the nome de sythnwave of Patrick Blain, who went solo after the 1979 break-up of his Devo-esque band C.O.M.A. An introspective programmer-turned-musician who didn't perform in front of audiences until 1985, Blain liked the anonymity of creating music behind a mysterious alter ego.

As he told French music blog Rockfort, "...it was about anonymity, not knowing who was in Charles de Goal because the group was really just me. I made the music by myself with the assistance of other people on some tracks. I was quite shy at that time and I didn't really want to put myself in the limelight. It had the added effect of creating a buzz, with people asking who Charles de Goal really was. So it was partly timidity and partly an artistic idea that was suggested by a friend Philippe Huart, a graphic designer and painter who played with me in the band I was in before, C.O.M.A. He had the specific idea of making sleeves that were anonymous, so you would never know who I was."

As far as his programmer background, Blain told Rockfort, "As much as you need a logical side for IT, I tried not to apply that to the music. In an analogue synthesizer it's the mistakes that are interesting, rhythms that are a bit unsteady, that kind of thing. However, I did apply the logical side to the writing of lyrics and the structuring of songs. For example, there's a song called 'Dans le labyrinthe' which I constructed as a labyrinth, so there's a phrase at the beginning which you find again later with some pieces removed, so it's as if you're in this maze and you turn around and find yourself back where you started... that relates to the programming side. Obviously with lyrics, emotions come into it, you write about what you know but there are some more artistic, intellectual exercises, even if I'm not someone particularly intellectual... I like mixing both, I'm not someone who goes just one way, I like mixing up experiences and information. I don't like things to be black and white."

Listen to Charles de Goal's "Dans les Labyrinthe":

A3 Dans Les WC (for "Water Closet")'s "Photo Couleur" (from 1981's Poupee Be.Bop LP) is also worth a listen. Later named just WC3, this guitar-synth tune is quite catchy.

A3 Dans Les WC

You can sample more from  A3 Dans Les WC/WC3 at Bandcamp, which sells their 1978/1980 compilation album in various digital formats.

Kas Product was the Nancy-based duo of Lydia Lunch-sounding chanteusse Mona Soyoc and former psychiatric male nurse Spatsz on synthesizers. Their "Mind" is an acquired taste, but if you like your synthwave cold, this just might be your cup of tea. Looking at photos and videos of the photogenic Mona and the crassly-coiffed Spatsz, I am struck by their visual similarity (i.e., ugly guy-hot chick) to UK popsters Haysi Fantayzee.

Kas Product - "Mind" EP (Punk Records, 1980)

And there you have it: tous les garcons et les filles de les Punk Francaise from Soul Jazz Records.


Soul Jazz isn't the only label to celebrate French rock music. But it's the only one I've found that speaks my native language. But if, like moi, you're interested in checking out more French Punk, one of the best resources is one native to the Gallic nation: the Parisian imprint Born Bad Records.

Founded in 2006 by former art director Jean-Baptiste Guillot, Born Bad's awesome catalog offers Garage, Punk, Psyche, Ska, Rock Steady, '50s-'60s-'70s, R&B, Soul, Exotica, Hardcore, Surf, Post-Punk, Cold & New Wave, Electro, Street Punk, Shoegaze and more. Their Punk Francaise compilations include Paink: French Punk Anthems 1977-1982 (which overlaps with several bands and selections presented on Soul Jazz's Les Punks and features a cover designed by Bazooka's Kiki and Loulou Picasso) and BINGO: French Punk Exploitation 1978-1981 (featuring a cover design by Bazooka's Loulou Picasso).

"Paink: French Punk Anthems 1977-1982" (Born Bad Records, 2013, cover by Bazooka)

"BINGO: French Punk Exploitation 1978-1981" (Born Bad Records, 2017, cover by Loulou Picasso)

These come with booklets, but I'm not sure if they're in English.

Au revoir, mon amis!



Some More Related Links:
Punk 45 series (Soul Jazz Records)
Born Bad Records
Franco Mix: French Punk New Wave 1975-1985
Messthetics series (Hyped2Death Records) - Another singles-going-digitized catalog