"You can only go crazy if you’ve mastered the basics - a bit like a Sonny Rollins solo". Perhaps the best feature ever written on the old J.Simons shop. From Arena Magazine 1987.
Lucky Roberts and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, Harlem 1959. Picture by Lee Friedlander. A study in hats, eyeglasses and, well, style.
Manolo Blahnik in yesterday’s Observer :
“Life lessons aren’t really important. Remain dignified, dress well, be good to other people and you’ll be fine”.
He always looks great - Anderson and Sheppard suits cut pretty loose with that distinctive slightly extended but minimally padded shoulder which allows the jacket to drape the body in that aristocratic Roman senator toga kind of style. It’s the very opposite of what most people seem to crave from bespoke which is that tight, high, very fitted look propagated throughout the many online iGent blogs and elsewhere in the wider world of menswear. Putting aside his famous shoes for the gels I nominate Manolo - for his suits, slicked back silver hair, natty spectacles, pyjama-like grade A suits, bow ties and all-round perfect grooming - as a male fashion icon bar none. Manolo is officially ‘hip and in’ with The Syllabus.
On my various trips to Italy I have always struggled to pinpoint my exact fascination with the country - just why does it get under my skin so much? Clearly the millions of us who swarm there every year go for its obvious attractions - an unrivalled artistic heritage, a benevolent climate, wonderful food and drink and much else besides. All of this obviously drew me to the place but it was all the other bits and pieces that really fascinated. I’d loved the place from the moment I saw the industrial sprawl of Milan from a car window as we approached the city by motorway. The buildings were different, the lettering on the factories was fantastic. Here was an industrialised, urban culture, a long way from the cliches of Tuscan rolling hills. So the discovery of the book The Italian Townscape was a revelation to me, for here was a book which understood my passion and explained it back to me. Originally published in 1963 but recently republished by the good people at Artifice Books, the book is a decidedly quirky but incredibly thorough and stimulating tour around a remarkable number of Italian towns, from the famous to the very obscure. The author was a fascinating chap called Hubert de Cronin Hastings who wrote the book under the pseudonym Ivor de Wolfe. He was an eccentric toff and a major figure in the world of architectural publishing in London during the twentieth century. His writing style is wonderfully provocative and amusing and he has a great eye for the texture and detail of the Italian town. He sees it all with the fresh, pleasure-starved eyes of the Anglo-Saxon used to a very different kind of urban landscape and he delights in it all - the postboxes, newspaper stands, road layout, street markets, paving stones, road signs, street lamps, shop windows and much much more. Cheaper even than a Ryanair flight to Venice I commend this very special book to anyone else out there, like me, who regularly craves immersion in the sounds, smells and textures of the Italian city.
I took this from the brilliant Nick Rossi blog ‘A Modernist' which is always a bright, stimulating and well researched read. Nick described the picture thus : “Bill Crow, double bass, Lambretta motor-scooter, West 4th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, 1958.”
Wow. Some picture.
The Button-Down Shirts of Lee Friedlander
Lee Friedlander was the house photographer at Atlantic Records during the 1960s and a good friend of Nesuhi Ertegun. His pictures radiate with the creative intensity of that wonderful time for all genres of music. For fans of the Ivy look the modern jazz section of his book ‘American Musicians’, from which these pictures are taken and pictured above, is truly fascinating viewing. This is just a selection of the better button-downs which Lee trained his lens upon. He’s a great photographer still producing powerful work as his forthcoming book ‘Family in the Picture 1958-2013’ testifies. Not many button-downs in this book but instead a timeless and moving narrative of the human condition. Musicians (only the buttoned-down ones) featured above top to bottom/left to right are Percy Heath, Chuck Israels, Art Blakey, Bob Brookmeyer and John Coltrane twice.
"Love…..slipped through my fingers….!"
In the absence of anything of any substance to offer you, my oft-neglected reader, I post this picture of yours truly attempting to emote and dance northern soul whilst drinking a mug of tea. Jacket by Keydge, shirt by Mercer, tie from John Simons, jeans by Levis, shoes by Cheaney.
Edit : I’ve lost the northern soul one. This is an alternative from the same shoot. Clothes remain the same, of course.
You know you’re an (old) mod when you think, nay you have an unswerving, long-standing conviction, that David Bowie has never looked better than he did in 1965/66, nor has he ever written or sung a better song than I Dig Everything (though The London Boys gets close). Amongst certain old media bores, think Robert Elms or Dylan Jones, the day in the early 70s when Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson and minced around on Top of the Pops singing Starman represents some defining cultural happening. I remain unmoved and much prefer to lose myself in the conga groove of Davy’s sunny depiction of a benevolent mid-1960s London where he walks along beside the garbageman and he digs everything, he feeds the lions in Trafalgar Square and he digs everything, he’s made good friends with the time-check girl at the end of the phone and, yes, he still digs everything. 1966 - was this the last great year for art and music and architecture and clothes of the last century? Certainly nothing conjures up my imagined construction of that year more than this charming melange of hammond organ, flute and conga drums.
Oh how I miss my little Dansette, from which used to blast all my old soul and jazz vinyl. I’ve started to pine recently for that simple, straight, distorted mono blast, somehow simultaneously overloaded with both bass and treble, a sound that made all music sound more intense, more emotional. Having recently done one of those classically predictable middle aged, middle class things and spent stupid money on some vapidly beautiful dinky little Bose speakers I feel like I have committed an act of betrayal on my roots, on the very soul of my musical foundations. I have walked away from music towards soundscape - that perfectly balanced, crystal clear injection of digitised sterility. I used to love the way the sounds boomed from the unsophisticated coffin-like amplifier boxes shoved up on the stage at northern soul venues. You could never get the words, but you certainly always felt the groove and the intensity erupting from these fairground speakers. There is hope of course. The new wave of artists alive to the joys of the old ways of making music, contemporary archivists like Nick Waterhouse and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings cleverly manage to capture an old vibe and convey this through the unavoidable digital medium. And I have long cherished this YouTube clip of Maxine Brown’s sublime ‘Let Me Give You My Loving’ which has somehow been recorded and loaded up here with maximum distortion and crackles and grit and that authentic ‘I’m at the all-nighter’ mood about it. It’s the next best thing to being there and sounds better than anything squeaking out of those perfect but miserable little white boxes now suspended from my walls.