The Folly of the Ancient Rebels
Shop Around Ö part 25
This week I got hold of two new curious collections of works by genuine living legends. Two oddly put together sets of songs by the last of the ancient rebels. What stories they can tell. Two heavyweight, hard hitting primitives, driven onwards only ever occasionally but indubitably in touch with what makes howls and hollers so special.

Jesse Hector is a god in garageland, and rightly RPM celebrate this on the great Gorilla Garage set. Jesse still haunts drinking dens of North London, and doyens of dirty blues shouts lap up his tales of torch bearing for the primal rínír urge over the past 45 years. The dogged diligence of online-outfits like Mohair Sweets and Shindig! has helped Jesse claim his place in the pop pantheon. This collection goes some way to demonstrating why.

Jesse is best known for leading the Hammersmith Gorillas, punk precursors, with spectacular sideburns and mod crops crazily grown out, grinding out rambunctious ríníb in a bullish back-to-basics Pretty Things/Small Faces grimy-but-glam way of showing-off. The Gorillasí garage scrapping have worn well ≠ particularly the Larry Page-produced recordings . What is more fascinating though is the unfurled story of how Jesse kept the flag flying for ferocious footstomping mod noise through the dark days of the late-Ď60s and early-Ď70s. Here, as with the recent Jook salvage set, RPM must be given great credit.

The booklet accompanying Gorilla Garage draws heavily on the aforementioned archives of Shindig! and Mohair Sweets, detailing the arch modís forgotten story. In the wake of the Small Facesí demise and mod evolving into psychedelic silliness and pop experimentation stagnating into rock excess, Jesse set about getting back to basics with the now legendary Crushed Butler, generally and genuinely regarded as the first British punk rock outfit, though thereís no mention in the hitherto official accounts of the origins of punk rock that continue to concentrate on the US strands. The recording of Crushed Butlerís Factory Grime upstages your Stooges, and they looked the part too. The centre partings and sideburns Jesse would become known for were already in place.

Crushed Butler were part of a small underground resistance determined to shake up the turgid rock world and the wider one too. Also very much a part of that antagonistic activism were Third World War, who ground out a deeply unpleasant and belligerent basic blues that again had echoes of the Pretty Things savagery combined with Citizen Smith rabble-rousing. I recently picked up a cheap CD of the second Third World War set from 1972-ish, and itís wonderfully argumentative and primitive. The last track on the set is Hammersmith Guerilla, a tribute to urban troublemakers, and a signpost for where Jesse would go next. And if you donít know your Hammersmith Gorillas then grab this collection if only for the awesome stomp of Leaviní Home, which takes the best of Slade and the Small Faces, strips it all down even further, tightens things up, and leaves you grinning like a right idiot.

The other living legend is Mark Stewart, who is celebrated on a wonderful but strange set from Soul Jazz. Full marks must go to the Soul Jazz tribe for persuading Mark to open up his back pages in this way (and it must be said Soul Jazz are having a wonderful time of it of late ≠ particularly the New Thing! Series leading to wonderful salvage sets from Maulawi and Hannibal amongst others). But itís a rum mix. You get a few songs from The Pop Group, half a dozen songs from the frustratingly few Mark Stewart (and the Maffia) recordings between 1982 and 1995, and a few new numbers. Everyone is an absolute classic, but there is such potential for a thorough salvage operation.
The Pop Groupís recordings are ridiculously out of circulation, which seems very remiss when the media and cultural spotlight has been on that area of activity. In a way thatís irrelevant, as (like their spiritual pathfinders) itís the idea, the ideas and the ideals, of The Pop Group that matters and should inspire. Thatís another story. Mark Stewart as singer and seer embodied the commitment and confusion, the aspirations and agitation, the philosophy and the politics, the physicality and perfection of The Pop Group. The few tracks here demonstrate that clearly enough. What becomes clearer though is that his post-Pop Group work was far superior.

Unusually for Soul Jazz there is not a comprehensive booklet to outline Markís career trajectory. So it will be interesting to see what people make of this set stripped of context. Maybe thatís a good thing. Mark keeps the mystery caged, consciously or not. What does need saying though is that most of his best recordings are not represented here. Most though are fairly readily available. I would particularly recommend the 1987 eponymous set. It contains my favourite Mark Stewart song Stranger/Stranger Than Love. Thereís nothing better than when a hard man gets sentimental. The cover of Forbidden Colour will also surprise alongside songs like Anger Is Holy and Hell Is Empty. The later Metatron and Control Data sets are well worth tracking down too.

The partnership between Mark Stewart and Adrian Sherwood, and the backing provided by the Maffia (Keith Le Blanc on drums, Doug Wimbush on bass, and Skip McDonald on guitar) makes for a very special story. I hope that this collection will provide a perfect primer for the many, many great recordings made for the On-U organisation in one way or another. Sadly so many seem out of circulation, but as ever if you shop around thereís plenty of classics available from the likes of Creation Rebel, Dub Syndicate, Singers and Players, African Headcharge, Little Annie, New Age Steppers.

Indeed as the earlier On-U recordings were licensed far and wide, we can at least enjoy some forgotten treasures from the Cherry Red vaults, like the Playgroup (no relation to Trevor Jacksonís output), Voice of Authority, and my personal favourite Threat To Creation by Creation Rebel/New Age Steppers. Also just salvaged is the compilation Wild Paarty Sounds Vol One, which contains some lost On-U classic moments from disparate dissenters like Jah Woosh, Alan Pellay, Judy Nylon, the Mothmen, and the Chicken Granny. Itís absolutely essential. And we should pay tribute to the gems the Cherry Red organisation salvages each and every month.

There is incidentally a great encounter with the recalled-to-life Mark Stewart in this monthís The Wire in the oft-revealing Invisible Jukebox section. The recent (and closely related) Steve Beresford one was fun too, and gives me an excuse to mention his wonderful General Strike set Danger In Paradise. Anyway, the Mark Stewart encounter shows a charmingly crotchetty old codger, still crazy after all these years, carrying on about the mad mixes of sounds out on the streets. I like that. Itís what makes those earliest Pop Group recordings still valid. And why I can be sitting on the train, in my suit on a way to a meeting, listening to Mark One or something dark and dubby in the tech-step way, and hating the designer label scruff with some bleating Coldplay clonesí whine seeping from his i-pod.

Some days you just want to thrust Markís High Ideals and Crazy Dreams or Jesseís Message To The World at everyone you meet, and say a prayer of thanks for the folly of the ancient rebels.

© 2005 John Carney