On a steaming Saturday in 1976, The Flamin’ Groovies headlined a show at the Roundhouse, supported by The Ramones and The Stranglers. Punk had only just broken through as a genre and the moody madness of the gig combined with the irreverent behaviour and and onstage antics divided audiences. Re the review from NME (New Musical Express) magazine.
Max Bell, New Musical Express, 10 July 1976
Flamin’ Groovies/The Ramones/The Stranglers: Roundhouse, London
MAYBE IT WAS no accident that the hottest, steamiest, dirtiest night of the year was reserved for July 4. It’s not every day that we get to see one bona fide legendary band, and a squad of recherché New York punksters gunning for similar status, and a home grown outfit who exhibit enough moody madness to take them somewhere close to the pinnacle of nasty infamy, all playing on the same bill in one of the seediest halls in London.
The Roundhouse on Sunday came as near to being malignantly swampy sweat box as any auditorium I’ve ever set foot in. The general consensus was it was too damn hot to rock, let alone roll, so all credit to the performers and audience who stood it out to the finish. In between times the atmosphere congealed into globules of body-stained condensation, the chic were forcibly unrobed, and young female worthies were seen baring their ample chests for the cause.
Personally I hadn’t had so much fun in ages, though bending an ear to the post-soiree in-talk revealed that not everybody was of that opinion. Still, if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen. It doesn’t do to be over critical on a night when anyone with an ounce of common would have been soaking in the freezer, and certainly not rocking in the sprawl and stench of fifteen hundred human incinerators fusing to one solid liquid mass.
First to set out into the sauna were London pub band The Stranglers, who I’ve been rather scathing about in the past. What with them threatening to employ sundry kinds of physical violence about my person, and the fact that they’ve improved tremendously of late, they did their thing with a vengeance. Rotating ideas around a sub-Doors vibration, they rattled through ‘Down In The Sewer’, ‘Grip’ (possibly a single for Arista soon), ‘Walk On By’, and my own fave ‘School Ma’am’, where guitarist Hugh Cornwell simulates a distressingly convincing auto-strangulation, and bass player Jean Jacques Burnel turns into a lunatic.
They received a much more polite response than that at the recent Patti Smith gigs, where the crowd were plain rude in their impatience to see them off and back in the changing room. If they keep on driving the same levels of monotony, and pulling off the choice gigs they’ve acquired of late they should get the deserved break.
Armpits lay soggy on the slippery floor and the buzz settled into a hum of expectancy for the band we’ve heard a deal of recently, Manhattan’s own Ramones, who were…absolutely hilarious. I reckon they’re closer to a comedy routine than a rock group.
They succeeded in dividing opinion into believers and open ridicule. The guys on the mixer hated them and The Ramones hated the guys on the mixer back. I laughed solidly for half an hour particularly when on taking the stage, bass player Dee Dee Ramone’s mike farted into silence before a note had been mangled.
“More fuckin’ power!” he yelled. “Piss off!” yelled the knob twiddlers.
“Dese tings shoulda been woiked oit before,” retorted Dee Dee petulantly.
The Ramones left huffily to a barrage of slow hand claps and jeering, only to return five minutes later with their problems far from resolved. I don’t think Dee Dee noticed. He is possibly the most half-witted specimen I’ve ever seen hulk over the golden boards. Him and guitarist Johnny side swiped their rented Marshalls like the fourth and fifth sleepers while singer Joey flapped around centre in a fair impersonation of Batroc. When he stood sideways I couldn’t see him at all.
Thing about The Ramones is you either take them in the intended spirit, or you go home. The appeal is purely negative, based on their not being able to play a shit or give a shit. The thinking process involved in evaluating their performance is non-existent; it’s first step moronorock strung across a selection of imbecilic adolescent ditties whose sole variation lies in the shuffling of three chords into some semblance of order. They were still oodles more exciting than the majority of bands who usually throw up our collective amusement, even if the songs are indistinguishable. ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ became ‘Loudmouth’ became ‘53rd & 3rd’. Durrrgh.
Thirty minutes was enough to get across cos, like Nick Kent said, they could be too heavy for even the hardest punk fan. Their singer is closer to a stick of well salivated chewing gum than a human being, though he was the only one man enough to keep his leather jacket on ’til the bitter end.
And finally the raison d’etre for melting four hours! The Flamin’ Groovies, as much San Francisco as the Ramones are peeled off the streets of Noo Yoik, and they were terrific.
What no-one seems to realise is that the Groovies, despite their mythic status, are not a live force in the States. This was the first gig they’d played since ’72, when on climaxing their poorly handled trip (also at The Roundhouse), things were so grievous that the roadies employed for the occasion refused to give them their guitars or set up the equipment. Despite their magnificence, the Groovies didn’t quite satiate the audience. The reasons for this were two-fold.
Firstly, unlike The Ramones, they can play properly. With the excessive heat this necessitated tuning up after nearly every number, because guitars aren’t made of tissue paper and need to sound just right when you’re unleashing a set as tightly constructed as their new material requires. Some people lost patience with this, and the Groovies not looking “heavy”.
They wear sixties suits and Annello and Davide cuban heeled Beatle Boots instead, which is professional, smart and cute. It fits.
Secondly, they didn’t play their older material and a lot of folk wanted Teenage Head stuff. Understandable; I did myself, but then very few people bought those records when they came out (four hundred copies of ‘Married Woman’?) and they don’t owe their previous landlords anything by way of a plug. So they did mostly Shake Some Action tunes, perfectly, and those are lighter, in a Byrds, Lennon and McCartney vein, rather than greased lightning rockers.
I still don’t think it was necessary to make allowances for the change. Cyril Jordan remains unsurpassed as an exponent of the Wes Montgomery, James Burton and Sun style of pickers. He is a technician with a feel for electric guitar that is virtually unequalled. His solos on the numbers that took the roof off – the Pretty Things classic ‘Big City’ or Paul Revere and the Riders ‘Ups And Downs’ – were magic. The band assault on ‘Please Please Me’, ‘I Can’t Hide’ and ‘Miss Amanda Jones’ were characterised by a type of controlled ferocity that only evolves after years of practice and a genuine understanding of the whole ball game. The Groovies are working within a vacuum because they, along with Earth Quake and Loose Gravel, represent the last of a dying breed, remaining criminally unrewarded for services over and beyond the typical delineations of rock ‘n’ roll (more on that same in interview next week).
But this is no time for getting dewy-eyed. They came, played, and conquered in the grand manner, with a panache that superrogates either nostalgia or progressive deliberation. Chris Wilson sings different to Roy A. Loney, bassist George Alexander is brick-solid as ever, and James Farrell’s 1940’s National cuts another bag of ice to Tim Lynch’s lead of old, so it’s another band. Drummer David Wright is crisper and less demonic than his predecessor, Danny Mihm.
You didn’t need to have any specialised insight into the machinery of the animal to notice that Shake Some Action had a fire and spontaneity missing from the average practitioners’, or that ‘House Of Blue Lights’, and the encores ‘Married Woman’ and ‘Under My Thumb’, reminded one of the days when rock was special all across the board.
When Jordan reached for his microphone, dripping beneath the lights, and said “I recall momma sayin’ to poppa – ‘Let that boy rock’n’roll’” he’d hit upon the core. The Groovies are doused in the stuff.
© Max Bell, 1976
Review provided courtesy of Rock’s Back Pages.