Wednesday, August 29, 2007

TIM HEMENSLEY ARCHIVE

SID SINGS : A RE-EXAMINATION & REVIEW

In the closing bars of the Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle's title track, Ten Pole Tudor (a welcome addition to the film, tho' a less than adequate replacement for Johnny Rotten, a position he was touted to be filling at the time - '79) shouts, "Sid Vicious - a rock'n'roll cliche," a slogan that came to pass as a summation &/or condemnation &/or epitath for the man, and stands (along with two posthumous tributes : "Sad Vacation" by Johnny Thunders & "Love Kills" by The Ramones) as the only musical acknowledgment of John Beverley's short existence on this wretched mortal coil. As for Sid's own musical legacy, apart from his few "contributions" to the above mentioned double sound-track L.P. (pedants will note that I'm including amongst these the live version of "Belsen was a gas" on which he indisputably plays bass - altho' credited on "Never Mind the Bollocks", it's commonly known that Sid's bass parts were played by Steve Jones or Glen Matlock on all Pistols recordings issued during his tenure with the band) & a handful of live bootlegs recorded from '77 to'78 with the Pistols, we're left with "Sid Sings" - a live L.P. of dubious quality issued by Virgin to cash in on his death in '79. Slim pickings, indeed, & not much to base a legend (even a "rock'n'roll cliche") on. Huh? Well, I'm here to tell you that that aint so, & that in my view "Sid Sings" (much derided in its day & almost universally forgotten/ignored now) is a fucking gas, if you'll pardon my French! In fact it's one of my favourite & most played records, from the time I had my Dad purchase it at Gaslight Records on the way home from his work in 1981 to the present day, & it's this very same scratchy, well-loved copy that I drag out to liven up every party I have & is in fact playing on my scratchy, well-loved stereo as I write this (at the god-forsaken hour of 2 in the morning, no less!). Due to its lack of credits, it's virtually impossible to know who the musicians on the L.P. are, tho' I've read numerous suppositions over the years. My own theory is, as the L.P. is culled from one (or more) of the four Max's Kansas City gigs (booked by Sid's "manager" of the period, Nancy Spungen) Sid played in late '78, early '79, the rhythm section is (definitely) Jerry Nolan, of Dolls/Heartbreakers infamy, on drums, Arthur Kane (ex-Dolls) on bass (I'm guessing here - photos exist of the "Killer" on stage with Sid at Max's) & as for the guitar - someone who does a very good Johnny Thunders impersonation - I've heard Clash's Mick Jones mentioned, but I'm placing my bets on Walter Lure - surely Jones would've been too busy w/ the Clash's own vigorous touring & recording schedule in 1979 to be bothered slumming it with the cream of N.Y.'s junk-rock crop at this stage of the game. As you'd guess from the players on the L.P., the set-list leans very heavily towards Dolls' & Heartbreakers' songs, but who's complaining? Some of these uppity & straight-arse contemporary punkers should take notice of this L.P., 'cos in my humble opinion, this is a close to unbeatable selection of bona-fide punk rock classics, which raises another important issue. "Sid Sings" single-handedly introduced me to the work of some of the genre's pioneers & is still seen by me as a virtual "classic" punk text-book. This was the place I first heard "Born to Lose", "Chinese Rocks" & "Take a Chance on Me" by the Heartbreakers; these were the first versions of "Search & Destroy" & "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by the Stooges I ever heard. It was this version of the Dolls' "Chatterbox" that I transcribed (I'd assumed Thunders' own version on the 2nd Dolls L.P., "Too Much Too Soon", was sung by a female vocalist, making it (perversely) unintelligible to my untrained, male-dominated 9 year old ears!)(side note : I'd read that female singing group The Stillettos backed up the Dolls, so at this point in my life I imagined it was Debbie Harry singing "Chatterbox"! or maybe that was just wishful thinking : remember, that was the era of "Heart of Glass" & "Rapture", & it wasnt easy getting my primary school chums to tune into this punk rock garbage I was getting into... Perhaps if that spunk Blondie was in on this racket I'd gain some schoolyard cred!!). The album's only dud moment, to my ears, is the studio out-take of "My way" - presented in this setting minus Steve Jones' ripping guitar track, & Sid's greatest Rotten-inspired vocal of the more commonly known version (off, once again, "Swindle"). The one original, perhaps the only song Vicious actually wrote, "Belsen Was a Gas" (& introduced fittingly by the man himself as "Belsen Was a Gas - By Sid Vicious", making a mockery of the bogus label-credits, which suggest the rest of the Pistols to 've been co-writers of the track... Anyone who's read Jon Savage's exhaustive book, "England's Dreaming", will no doubt have noticed the original lyric sheet of the song, originally composed for Sid's 1st band, Flowers of Romance, in Sid's handwriting, reproduced within) is presented in the Ramones/Heartbreakers style one imagines Sid originally conceived the song to be &, as such, rocks along very nicely indeed. As does the entire album by the way. Not convinced? Here's some other reasons why Hemensley considers "Sid Sings!" to be such a clas-sick : great RAW AS SHIT low-fi sound quality, with loud guitars, & a primal rhythm section BIG BEAT that cuts thru the NOISE like a hot knife thru stubble. So, what have we got? Exciting, fun versions of GREAT rock'n'roll songs ("Something Else" shits on the "Swindle" studio version, & "I Wanna Be Your Dog" rocks with the kinda conviction only somebody with Sid's total lack of self-esteem & extreme nihilism could muster - not to mention a genuinely PROPULSIVE & gut-thudding bass performance : one note has never sounded so good!) by the Stooges, Dolls, Pistols, Heartbreakers, Eddie Cochran & The Monkees (a version of "Stepping-stone" every bit as good as the Pistols & better than the Heartbreakers in my estimation); oh, and one other important factor that used to be a prime consideration in this type of rock'n'roll - ATTITUDE. The type of attitude that may've made Sid "a rock'n'roll cliche", but a hell of a more entertaining one than some of those alleged "survivors" of the same era, who got out of their lives minus their integrity. "Sid Sings" is everything a live rock'n'roll record should be : raw, trashy, powerful, dirty-mouthed FUN. Turn it on, turn it up, TURN IT OUT!

--Tim Hemensley
[This piece written on front & back of a Commonwealth Employment Service letter to Tim, dated 27th February, 1997, advising him of changed date of appointment with the department's psychologist... I imagine Tim's "re-examination & review" of Sid Vicious as preempting the CES's own examination of himself!]

4 comments:

razzle said...

attitude = entertainment in my book anyways.

wazza brown said...

hi ya..i just heard about your timmmy h. blog here...nice to see,though it has stirred up some sad feelings about tim again..anyway i own/run greville records, where many a regular ,like tim,has stood and talked raved and argued, for many an hour about rock n roll,books and films.. and we always loved tim,s raves ,he had such brilliant,intelligent insights about the art he was in love with..he also knew exactly why he hated somethin to..he listened ,read and had watched an amazing variety of stuff. sometimes we agreed and often not..our taste where sometimes poles apart.but he didnt simply such state a record was fuckin great and leave it at that, he could look right into the music and poeteticly explain,with vivid,clear insight into why it was a great lp., and by the end of his rave id simply be so inspired id have to hear the lp,..and id hear with new ears and i recall him giving me such a long rave as to why sid lives was one of the most influentual and brilliant lp,s he,d heard and rather me have the opinion that it was just another dumb record ive grown to see exactly why he loved it so..i miss him and those days when guys would come in and hang out and talk the shit about rock n roll...tim was a genius poet as far as im concerned ,id love to read more of his writings..have you considered putting together a book?

Anonymous said...

Great fucking writer. Particularly to make me able to appreciate the positives about the idiotic and hideous Sid Vicious. Takes some doing but how can you argue w/that? That was his introduction to some of the best rock ever!Tim's letters, phone messages, birthday cards...Just a fucking brilliant brain able to easily transmit it's most crucial pus onto paper. And he was like that since he was a kiddie until the day he dropped.
Love, Love, and pain since you've been gone my brother.

collectedworks said...

Thanks for your love & comments... A small group celebrated the 5th anniversary of his death on Monday night at the front bar, Young & Jacksons. Amongst many memories was Johnny Nolan's wonderful photo of himself & Timmy backstage, early 90s, with Alice Cooper & friends! I placed a notice in The Age on Monday, 21-7-08, quoting Patti Smith, "The misfit is one who is true and troubled and filled with shining blood." Ah well, always in our hearts.