Countin the Blues, Punkishly, with Elli de Mon

Well, that certainly took the serrated edge off Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Imagine an episode where you are Doctor Who. You’ve landed the Tardis nearby a juke joint, deep in 1920s Mississippi. A bunch of wild railroad convicts won’t let you out unless your assistant plays them some songs. Trouble is, your assistant is Siouxsie Sioux. You pray to the timelords of Gallifrey she won’t corrupt continuity, by introducing punk fifty years too early. Just when you think she might have found middle-ground, Ravi Shanker drops in to join the jam!

The score could be provided by Italian multi-instrumentalist and soloist Elli De Mon, who’s forthcoming album, out 18th June, Countin the Blues is packaged like a delta blues album of yore; sepia photo of Elli, guitar between legs, and graphics to match. It weighs in well with sound too, a twangy guitar opening, but it jerks between tradition and modern. Reimaging ten female vocalist, vintage blues rarities from the 1920s, Countin the Blues varies between adhering to the original, or converting it into kick-ass contemporary punk. This works, exceptionally well under the skilled labour of Elli, primarily because those songs are as raw and filthy as punk could be or has ever been.

This album should put Elli de Mon on the UK map, as she’s been thrilling blues audiences across Europe with this unique take on the blues for best part of decade. A prolific one-woman-band, releasing six albums since 2014, she breezes through vox, rezophonic and lapsteel guitars, organ, drums, dilruba, and even an outplaced sitar, on this magnificent album.

Primordial blues being a major influence, during pregnancy Elli penned, Countin’ The Blues: Indomitable Women, a book about the women blues artists of the twenties. Published in 2020, it must’ve been a natural progression for her to decide to record the songs she wrote of, in tribute to these great women. It’s a win-win for documentation of songs which has been forgotten by most. The only tune I’d heard of was Memphis Minni’s When The Levee Breaks, as many would know it from the Led Zeppelin adaptation.

Kicking in, as I said, twangy guitar introduces us, but seconds later Elli’s version Ma Rainey’s Prove It On Me Blues electrifies. One could shrug at this conjunction, pop-punk has the T-shirt on this, if Alanis Morissette coined it, Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain commercialised it. Yet there’s a definite rawness here, a dusky garage punk nod. This notion drags you in, darkened by the second track, Bessie Smith’s Blue Spirit Blues; eloquently macabre, and the theme continues for a further two tunes until Lucille Bogan’s Shave ‘Em Dry pounces on you like a seventies punk anthem.

Proving drugs and music went hand-in-hand since day dot, the overlooked iconoclast Victoria Spivey recorded Dope Head Blues in 1928, yet Elli implements a beatnik lysergic aura to it, by adding a sitar; hence the Ravi Shanker connection mentioned in my Doctor Who visualisation!

Just when you consider reeling in your assistant Siouxsie Sioux, with your extended scarf (because Dr Who will eternally be Tom Baker in any of my imaginary scenarios) dragging her to the crossroads in hope the devil, or Davros even, is up for purchasing a soul, we’re back on the agenda, less Sgt Pepper, and more traditioned twangy acoustic guitar blues is aired now more than previous songs.

Image by S. Carollo

With the sublime acoustics of Elizabeth Cotten’s Freight Train, it feels as if Elli figured it had all gone too far the other way, and returned her salutes the queens of the blues by traditional method.  This acoustic trend continues for four amazing tunes, ingulfing the aforementioned When The Levee Breaks. In my scenario Doctor Who would be effectively saved, these last few tunes would adhere to the angry railroad convicts’ expectations. But just as you assume the cliché happy ending is near, there’s a vinyl only bonus track, Geeshie Wiley’s Last Kind Words Blues, which slivers back into psychedelia sitar, and the Doctor is doomed, to be continued next week!

This album is a treasure, if not for the tremendous tributes to historical blues standards, or the adaptions of unearthed rarities returned to modern times through punk rock, but for the overwhelming effort of this Italian multi-skilled virtuoso who accompanied herself on nearly every instrument, and arranged the whole album in a new key, to align to her personal punkish style.

And Elli, if you read this, I wonder, and I’d imagine you do too, what the mother of the blues, Ma Rainey and the other subjects you’ve so wonderfully recaptured here would think of it all? It may well take some time for them to get their head around music’s progression, but I’m certain you should be proud as they’d nod their approval.


Five Things of Smalltown Tigers

Being fashionably late for a party with a trio of female Rimini punks, their album, Five Things released in April last year on Area Pirata Records, mightn’t be as bad as it sounds, because post-1973 this music is timeless, recapturing the genre’s very essence and roots; welcome to the world of Smalltown Tigers.

Because, the punk the era was a short-lived explosion which although never toppled the rise of disco and funk, surely stamped its mark on everything which followed in its aftermath, from fashion, tenet and sound. Yet the aggressively modern attack of the first wave of punk rock in the face of hippie culture perpetually allowed itself to be watered down and fused. Just as every popular genre tends to do. Concluded new wave and avant-garde art-punk through to the skater contemporary fusion with metal, or oi ska, it’s warped into many guises. Yeah, they’ve got edge, but as dicey as the original simplicity of early seventies punk? I think not.

That’s where Smalltown Tigers pack their sucker-punch, from the hip of the original garage formula, as if post-punk never happened.  They cut their teeth playing Ramones songs at squats and beach parties, spreading their love for surfboards and punk rock. Tommy Ramone stated on the lineages of the youth culture, “punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music. By 1973, I knew that what was needed was some pure, stripped down, no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll.” And from the off of Five things this notion resonates to modern day.

Image: Alex Poni

But it doesn’t allow you time to contemplate any of this, it doesn’t wait for you to come up for air, it doesn’t causally drift in, and it certainly doesn’t stop to excuse itself. It detonates eight under three-minute tunes of punk noise in your face before you’ve time to take cover, and while their energy might leave adolescents jittery and flabbergasted, craving for what they consider a crazy new sound, punk diehards will wink with acknowledgement and welcome its blissful eruption with open arms.

While you won’t find this mini-album settling down to a ballad, or suddenly branching out to experimentation, as time passes obvious influences of Patti Smith and the Ramones slip into elements of Joan Jett and the B52’s fashioned rockabilly, but remain elusive at best. Mostly of what you have here is no nonsense, high-energy, fuzz box punk rock n roll with a calling to its roots, and in this much, it absolutely rocks my world!

Recorded mostly live in the studio with no overdubs, mixed by analogue master Roberto Villa on 2” tape, and mastered by Detroit garage-punk guru Jim Diamond, these eight songs testify that these girls are no Dolce Vita. Time to forget your Busted and Blink 182s; punk has never been so retro or raw since its incarnation, the opening for Smalltown Tigers is gaping.


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Massimo’s; Locale Pizza Paradiso

Talking Pizza today, why? Why not?

Who remembers BT’s friends & family scheme in the nineties, reducing call charges for five selected favourite phone numbers? If you didn’t submit your favs, BT would select them on your behalf based on calls to the number you made the most. Mine, living in Swindon at the time, I’ll confess, went: 1. my mum and dad, 2. my best mate, and 3. Domino’s Pizza. Four may’ve been a girlfriend, it’s dubious but not impossible!

Some years later I moved to Marlborough, where given Ask, Pizza Express and so many others operate today, you couldn’t get a pizza for love nor money. Enter the incredible, if slightly hazardous, Fronkie Fritzheimer, a legend in his own time. From his own kitchen and later progressing to working out of the football club, a move only the fire brigade grumbled about, he serviced Marlborough’s pizza lovers with, darn it, some of the most heavenly pizzas to have blessed my lips.

Fronkie on the move in the late 90s.

I posted on a Marlborough Facebook group, to see if bods recall his presence, or if I dreamed it, and much to my delight, while Fronkie moved to pastures new some years ago, his memory is stamped as firmly in Marlborough’s cultural history as the Earl of Cardigan. From an A4 photocopied leaflet we’d regularly phone our order, and some weeks after his arrival, the delivery operative arrived at our door with complimentary desserts. “Between you and the rugby club,” they thanked us without jest, “are our best customers yet!” We were honoured, proud we ate as much pizza as an entire rugby club!

My case study justified; trust, I know a good pizza when I see/smell or taste one, from a distance of anything up to three hundred yards. With Fronkie fertig, me now living in the Vizes, and Domino’s, face it, is an acquired taste, there was a social media much ado about nothing concerning news of Pizza Express closing in town, which left me wondering why. I am sorry to hear the news for the sake of the staff, but with mixed reviews in the comments, some moaning of the loss is bemusing to me, and I’d wager to anyone else who has sampled a Massimo pizza.

Pizza Express closing is not the end of the world, as overpriced as the mighty Dominos anyway, unless with the latter you take out an offer, where you’re bundled with a pot of watery coleslaw or barely-cooked fries which droop like an impotent greasy baboon’s todger! I’ve moved on from Domino’s, as you can see by my unpolished comparison, I’ve matured.

No, no, no; Massimos will cost you no more, but it is a house of quality, and I guarantee you’ll taste the difference, heck, you’ll smell the difference through the box! If it wasn’t such a generous portion and the sort of taste you have to savour, making it filling, I’d probably have eaten the box too.

You Beauty!

Look, see here, this is no advertorial, they’ve no idea I’m writing this, much to their surprise. Buying local and all that aside, Massimo makes one tasty, fresh pizza, with topping to die for and even the crust is moreish. He’s undoubtedly stolen my homegrown crown from Fronkie. And lockdown is not stopping them, takeaway is available. It’s a crying shame there’s a ristorante left unopened until a better day, a day I was waiting for until I wrote a review for them, but sadly seems we’ve lost the immediate opportunity once more.

So, think this not as a review, do I look like, Jay Rayner? Actually, don’t answer that. Just saying, I love a Massimo’s pizza, the family does, I’d wager Devizions-in-know do. Treat yourself, there’s a full menu to takeaway, the lasagne, ah, the lasagne, speaks for itself. You can call them 01380 724007, message them on Facebook, or, there’s a little bell at the door in Swan Yard, just ring it when they’re open, 5-8:30pm. They’re fantastically welcoming and will bring you takeaway Ring Donuts, Nutella Donuts, Cartoccio with sweet Ricotta filled, Nutella Croissants, any two for three quid… whoa, I apologise; getting a tad over-excited. But, right, the guy won the coveted Gold Star for 2020 for his own Napoletano sauce; how much more convincing do you need?!

hot dang!

@ The Southgate

The Unforgettable Film Scores of Ennio Morricone

Ever seen those videos where some clever-clogs takes out the music to a film clip and it immediately loses all clout? It makes one realise how dependant the film is to the music, how, without it, there’s hardly any emotion, and in turn is symbolic of how music can emotionally move us.

None so much when evoking emotions such as fear or suspense, when the creepy music starts you’re edging on the sofa, feeling for the protagonist, you are beside the sacred little girl in the haunted house, or the cop seeking out the hiding villain in the disused warehouse, dreading what might be around the next corner. Take the film score out and you’d be like, yeah, whatever.

Saddened then to hear of the passing of Ennio Morricone yesterday, the Italian composer and conductor, best known for his work on Sergio Leone’s great westerns, The Dollar Trilogy. Though the films this prolific composer scored the music for are too many to name. Born in 1928 in Trastevere, Rome, when Italy was under fascist rule, Ennio’s father was a professional trumpet player and consequently, was the first instrument the young Ennio picked up. At just six he began writing his first compositions.

By the early 1950s he was composing pieces for radio plays, incorporating American influences, and also playing jazz and pop for the Italian broadcasting service, RAI. From Paul Anka to the Pet Shop Boys he has orchestrated many a pop song, but Ennio’s first love was film scores. After several, his association with Sergio Leone begun in 1964. Hard to imagine now he created those masterpieces of grandeur and suspense with a limited orchestra, the budget wouldn’t stretch to a full one. He used effects such as gunshots and cracking whips, and the new Fender electric guitar. Yet they will never be forgotten, and his work here expanded the possibilities and paved the way for progressive techniques in film scores.

Spaghetti Westerns would never be the same again, but neither would the benchmark for all film scores. Yet Ennio never left Italy, and never learned English, but still went onto working with hundreds of directors, including John Boorman, John Huston, Terrence Malick and Roland Joffé, even Roman Polanski and Quentin Tarantino.