Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tattoos, vinyl and psychobilly



This blog post by a photographer Mrs A has come across in her music business dealings made me laugh out loud. Reminding me of my troubled and haphazard route to Wilko Johnson’s book signing this Summer. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. So cue a non-racing post.

I’m thoroughly enjoying reviewing a few gigs and CDs for my mate’s music website. On Friday I went to see Viva Le Pink in Camden. I hooked up with my old mate and music biz veteran, Cookie and we sought out The Black Heart boozer round the corner from the World’s End. I thought I’d been in most of the drinking dens and music venues in Camden. But not this place. It was a revelation. Neon crucifixes and warped posters adorn the walls and there are more tattoos in your face than on a trip to Southend. And not the LOVE/HATE knuckle jobs either. These were full sleeve fantasy depictions, swirling Celtic images and complicated rose and thorn creations. There was even a stout on tap called Camden Ink.

The place was heaving. We fought our way to the venue upstairs, squeezing between (and sometimes over) sweaty bodies, to arrive mid set for the support act Ruckus dishing out a fearsome punk/rockabilly growl that could only have been the product of a Stray Cats/Misfits one night stand. We hung around long enough to get signed in on the guest list. “We’re on Viva Le Pink’s guest list”, I grinned at the bruising bouncer on the door. He dismissively pointed me to a table on the right. I could see Missy Le Pink, leader of the band we had come to see, sat behind the table, leopard print coat covering up her stage attire. I tried again. “We’re on the guest list”, I grinned at the bloke minding a cash box and a book of raffle tickets. In my quiet little world this is the only time I get to feel like I’ve got some status. I’m special, important, a VIP: I’m on the guest list. Usually, it’s only because I’m Mrs A’s ‘plus 1’. Not this time though. I was there in my own right and I had my own plus 1.

Missy looked over at me and nodded when she heard the words ‘guest list’. The puffed up moment of self importance was very quickly popped. Raffle ticket man pulled out a scrappy piece of paper that looked like second hand bog roll. There were a few blotchy, indecipherable marks splattered across it. He flipped the paper over, looked a bit blank, shrugged his shoulders at us and scribbled an ‘x’ in red felt tip on the backs of our hands. No red carpet tonight then.  

After a pint downstairs, we came back for the end of the ‘Rockin Raffle’. Viva Le Pink had promoted this debut show themselves. This included sponsorship by Missy’s own tattoo lotion business. It seemed at first that every prize in the raffle was a bottle of the said lotion, though I did see a few t-shirts and other merchandise being passed around. 

If the raffle was a good idea, then the pole dancing routine was a stroke of genius. This may surprise many readers, but I’ve never seen a pole dancing routine up close and personal before.

The dancer in question was tiny, lithe, sinuous and 60% tattoo covered. Apparently, pole dancing has been shedding its sleazy, strip joint reputation over the last ten years and is now seen in some of the most respectable gyms and dance clubs. There is undoubtedly an erotic element to the pole dancing experience, but I was more impressed with the athleticism, balance, control, poise and all round strength of the performance. I had barely begun to ponder these conundrums and debate their finer points with Cookie when the band hit the stage. We were treated to a slap of fully charged psychobilly with trolley loads of energy and a good few original tunes chucked into the covers mix. Here's the official review. If the invention and effort of tonight's showcase is anything to judge by, they will go far.

Before the gig, I'd met Cookie in the Euston Tap, a reasonably new boozer shoehorned into one of the two Victorian lodges that flank the former Euston Grove in front of the station. The lodges used to usher horse-drawn traffic through under the iconic and lamented Euston Arch and onto the platforms. I can feel a historical footnote coming on…*

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get here. It’s a cracking pub. Eight regularly changed cask ales on offer together with and a further 16 on keg and a plenty of speciality bottled beers. The adjacent remaining lodge is now ‘The Cider Tap’.

Cookie is a legend at EMI. He's worked there for the thick end of 35 years and has seen it all. He had brought along a copy of ‘Now 82’ for my girls and described working on the very first ‘Now That's What I Call Music’ eons ago. One of Cookies chores at the time was to obtain the permissions from Danish Bacon to use the image of the pig that adorned the first few album covers. What a sexy industry.

Mrs A worked on that first collection too. As it happens, we pulled out three boxes of vinyl from the loft only last weekend to fuel a night of sad musical nostalgia with some friends.  One of the boxes revealed the first six ‘Now’ double albums nestling between a limited edition Metallica 12 inch box set and Bowie's ‘Absolute Beginners (extended version)’. That’s neither alphabetical, not chronological. Who filed them is what I want to know.

It was a cracking night. But the boxes will go back into the loft now and instead I’ll haul out, using an ‘A’ frame and a small electric winch, six boxes and four bags of Christmas decorations. *groan*. Still. At least there is Newbury's Hennessy meeting to get me through the weekend.


* Euston Arch, a widely revered symbol of the railway age was ripped down in a shameless act of architectural vandalism in the 1960s when such treasures were less well respected than now. The demolition was part of the station redevelopment that resulted in a larger “dingy, grey, horizontal nothingness" of a structure. This I can attest to on the basis of 15 years of commuting through this grim, soulless wind tunnel. The two lodges just off Euston Road are all that remain of the original station. Eminent historian Dan Cruickshank spent 15 years locating the stones of the arch. He found that they had reached an ignominious end as in-fill for an off-shoot of the River Lea in the East End. He now heads a campaign to have the Doric arch rebuilt as part of the next generation of proposals to revamp Euston Station. More power to him.



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