Live review: The Fugs at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

June 11, 2011 (Ray Davies’ Meltdown)

Every once in a while there is some debate over whoever was the first punk band. I don’t know why there is ever any doubt. On New York’s Lower East Side in 1964, The Fugs originated the idea that you can form a band without knowing either how to sing or how to play. Caterwauling and bashing things, they were led by two beatnik poets: Tuli Kupferberg, who died last year (he was only 86, and appeared in Ginsberg’s “Howl”) and Ed Sanders (who has a Simpsons character based on him).

Their objective was to test to the limits the freedoms guaranteed by the US constitution. They also invented poetry-rock (whatever Dylanapologists might tell you), swearing-rock, anarcho-peacenik rock, profanity-rock, and so forth.

I had to go, all the way to that London (from Gwent City). It was only polite. I wanted to see The Fugs, a thing I thought would never happen. My friend’s car has FUG licence plate. We had to stop for the Slutwalk crossing. We were directed by a SATNAV, which assumed we would know the names of London streets, along something called “Constitution Hill” which isn’t even a hill. Fugs synchronicity, eerily, spookily.

We had to stop to let the Slutwalk pass. The Fugs, we were later told, had to stop to let by a cavalcade of naked cyclists. Imagine that: Ed must have briefly thought his work was done.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall was half full, as not everyone is as polite as me, and we politely sat through Lewis Floyd Henry, a barely competent one-man-band. I had been told “you will like him, he is quirky” but quirky is seldom enough.

“We’re the Fugs, ” Ed said. He looks like Mark Twain. He may as well BE Mark Twain for all the weight of history he carries. He looks well for 73, and very well for a man who survived Manson family creepy-kill. He read from bits of paper quite a lot, as befits a heavyweight bardic academic.

They launched into “Slum Goddess”, a song written in 1965, with additional words added when they reformed in the 1980s. Unlike the original, barely competent Fugs, these remnants of the revived Fugs from 1984 are pretty good musicians, and Ed learned to sing sometime along the way (it took him long enough but he got there). Their fancy harmonies are easily good enough to grace much of that C21st post-Gorky’s folk blokerama prevalent on Jools Holland’s Boogie Woogie Shitebox, but these songs were magnificent when flailed by bansheeing novices, so it doesn’t really matter.

The hits-from-a-parallel-universe just kept on coming. The perennial Zen chant “Nothing” (“Johnson and Nixon humungous pricks, son”¦”) and, as Sanders wryly pointed out, the still-topical (in light of Bin Laden’s exit-via-the-sea) “CIA Man.” From 1965, it was far from being the oldest number on offer – “Swinburne Stomp” and “Dover Beach” were pre C20th, and “When The Mode of The Music Changes” had roots in the 4th Century BC.

And the Fugs could not play on his home patch without a shout out or two to Lambeth lad William Blake. When I did my Eng Lit degree I got a mild ticking off for mentioning the 60s in a Blakean context. The Fugs are living proof that I was right to do so. But hell, those people thought Pride and Prejudice (the tragic tale of a dumb girl suckered into marrying a Bullingdonesque closet) was some kind of classic.

“Shuffling old men,” twattered some malcontent who exited after five numbers, but I meantersay what does anyone expect? Indeed, the Fugs addressed this aspect of their career with “You Cannot Wade in the Same River Twice”. Of course, I would have been happier if I’d been drenched with spaghetti as a metaphor for Israel/Palestine (a conflict addressed in “Backwards Jewish Soldiers” a reasonably contemporary Kupferberg hymn/revision) but you can’t have everything.

Why? Why can’t you have everything? Not for the want of efforts on the part of Ed, Tuli and pals.

The Fugs: they tried to change the world by levitating the Pentagon. Grope for peace, LAMF.

Colin B Morton

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3 comments on “Live review: The Fugs at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London”

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  1. I was there…it was very very good

  2. Peter Hill Jones

    Thank you for a well written review that not only encapsulates what we saw on the night but also shines with your affection for The Fugs and mirrors my own. You were also more than kind to Mr Lewis Floyd Henry whom I found excruciating but sat through his set (politely) galvanised with horror!

    • Wednesday, 14 December 2011
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      Councillor accused of being a paedophile resigns (From The Argus)

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      Councillor accused of being a paedophile resigns

      5:00pm Thursday 26th May 2011 in News
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      A councillor has resigned after he was accused of being a convicted paedophile.

      Peter Jones had served on Yapton Parish Council for eight years and was most recently a member of the council’s playing fields committee.

      He stepped down yesterday after a resident contacted the council and The Argus claiming he had details of Mr Jones’ conviction in 1997 for two counts of indecent assault on a 15-year-old girl.

      Court papers attached to the email show a Peter Hill Jones was jailed for three years for a sexual offence in which he also threatened to rape a girl and get her pregnant. The sentence was later reduced to two years on appeal.

      Yesterday Mr Jones refused to comment on his resignation, which comes just three weeks after he was re-elected.

      A statement released by Yapton Parish Council confirmed it had “received an email from a local resident making certain allegations about an unnamed parish councillor having a previous serious criminal record.

      “David Tansley, clerk of the council, contacted the police and forwarded to them a copy of the email concerned. The police in turn responded to the email and we understand subsequently spoke to the complainant.

      “Peter Hill Jones who was re-elected as a parish councillor for the Yapton Village Ward of Yapton Parish Council at the elections held on May 5 has since submitted his resignation as a councillor and this has been accepted.”

      The resident’s email, which was also sent to The Argus, said: “I feel deeply sickened and worried for my kids and all the children of Yapton. I have recently found out I am living 100 yards from a sex offender and to make matters worse he sits on Yapton Parish Council.

      “What concerns me even more is that he managed to get on your parish council which I have no doubts is highly involved in kids’ activities.”

      In 2007 Arun District Council issued advice to all its town and parish councils that councillors should be subject to criminal background checks.

      At the time council leader Gillian Brown said: “Becoming a councillor puts people in a position of responsibility and trust and that is why it is necessary to introduce these checks both for councillors’ own protection and as a reassurance to the community they serve.”

      Mr Tansley insisted parish councillors had never been subject to the checks as they do not have direct contact with children.

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