Monday, July 16, 2012

Graham Gouldman: An Englishman in New York

Tom & Amy Bolt To NYC To See 2.5cc!

Graham Gouldman celebrates the 40th anniversary of 10cc

(New York - July 13, 2012) - On Friday the 13th, Amy and I experienced our first Bolt Bus ride, boltin' from Charm City's hot-and-humid Penn Station to an equally hot-and-humid drop-off point on W. 33rd and 7th Avenue outside the seedy Pennsylvania Hotel ("Glenn Miller played here!") and the even seedier Adult Peepworld storefront in the Big Apple.

Amy: "Are we then yet? I'm ready to rock!"

Our mission: to see pop songsmith extraordinaire Graham Gouldman's "10cc Live In Concert" show at a small Upper West Side venue called The New York Society for Ethical Culture (which bills itself "A welcoming home for humanists" - I don't know what that means either, but I'm a human so I figured I'd be welcome!).

Technically it was really a 2.5cc show, with Gouldman the last of the four original 10cc members (Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley were the others) to hoist the 10cc banner, though unofficial "Fifth Member" Paul Burgess - who's played onstage with 10cc from the start, filling in on drums whenever Kevin Godley came out front to sing - was on hand to keep the beat, while Rick Fenn - who played in the Stewart-Gouldman edition of 10cc that carried on after Godley & Creme left to go solo and make music videos in 1976 - was there to play blistering lead guitar.

The Original 10cc: Gouldman, Godley, Stewart & Creme

But that's OK, because of all the mega-talents that made up 10cc, Graham Gouldman was perhaps the most accomplished songwriter, having already penned hits for The Yardbirds ("For Your Love," "Heartful of Soul"), The Hollies ("Bus Stop," "Look Through Any Window"), Hermit's Hermits ("No Milk Today," "Listen People"), Cher ("Behind the Door"), and former Mindbenders leader Wayne Fontana ("Pamela Pamela") before he officially joined ranks with the band in 1972. (For more on Graham Gouldman the songwriter, see my "The Graham Gouldman Thing" blog posting.)

Graham Gouldman's "Thing" was writing hits

Gouldman calls his current touring band "Graham Gouldman and Friends" and, in addition to former 10cc-ers Rick Fenn and Paul Burgess, it also includes multi-instrumentalists Mike Stevens (keyboards, guitar, bass, sax) and Mick Wilson (vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion). Mick Wilson is particularly important to this 10cc lineup, handling most lead vocal duties with an impressive high-octave range comparable to that of the McCartneyesque Eric Stewart. Together, this group (10cc Mk III?) plays all the 10cc hits everyone wants to hear.

Forget-me-nots: 10cc had a string of '70s Top 10 hits

This 10cc concert was truly an historic occasion, as 2012 marked the (gulp!) 40th anniversary of 10cc's birth - and Gouldman himself (who turns 66 this year) had not set foot in New York since 1978's Bloody Tourists tour. Plus, this was the lone US stop on the band's current world tour. Not that any but a few "ethically cultured" cognescetti - like those in attendance here on this night - took notice. Because, for some unfathomable reason, 10cc remain a rock & roll footnote, the answer to a trivia question that never gets asked. Try looking for mentions of them in any rock history book and maybe they'll get a page for "I'm Not In Love" (a UK #1, a US #2) or sometimes be lumped in with a discussion of Prog Rock. (Actually the best bits - and most mentions - I've seen written about the band appeared in Dave Thompson's informative book Children of the Revolution: The Glam Rock Story 1970-1975 - even though 10cc are as far from Glam as one can get!)

In fact, whenever Amy and I mention them to people (especially young people), their faces tend to go blank - this despite being one of the biggest selling bands of the '70s in the UK, with a string of top 10 albums and singles (including three UK #1 records). One kid once remarked, "Oh yeah, didn't they have a song on the Virgin Suicides soundtrack?" And, during the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, why wasn't one news station savvy enough to cue up the band's brilliant anti-Capitalism manifesto "Wall Street Shuffle"? It was there on a plate, ready to be served, program directors! Alas, only those who know 10cc get to "Feel the Benefit" while those that don't, won't.

OK, rant on with the show!

Amy and I are retards when it comes to figuring out the subway system, so we flagged a taxi outside the Herald Square Macy's and arrived well before the 8 p.m. showtime at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The Society is located just north of Columbus Circle and across the street from the west bottom end of Central Park.

Before the show, we checked out the concert hall, which looked like it was a repurposed chapel - our seats were basically wooden pews.

Amy looks for a book of hymns in our pew seating at New York Society for Ethical Culture

We also mingled with a few 10cc fans, including some British medical supplies salesman from Leeds (didn't catch his name) and a young couple named Matt and Miki.

The Brit started off charming, talking about growing up listening to 10cc and how Brian Clough destroyed the great Leeds football club in the '70s (yes, we had to mention having seen the Leeds United soccer movie The Damned United!), but he was pissed by show's end and became somewhat of a drunken boor, ranting about how Graham Gouldman wouldn't shake his hand after the concert ("Wot a cunt!") and later, when Matt and Miki suggested going downtown to former Dictators singer "Handsome Dick" Manitoba's bar (Manitoba's in the East Village), how he didn't get along with Manitoba because of some blah-blah-blah slight I lost interest in. (I suspect it all boiled down to a Leeds vs. Manchester football rivalry, at root, as 10cc were all Mancunians.)

Now Matt and Miki were an interesting couple: Matt was your classic New York hipster with leopard-skin boots who had studied acting and frequented the local rock & jazz club scene.

These boots are made for politicking

But he was also involved in politics; in fact, when we mentioned we were from Baltimore, he raved about our governor and said he was working with a group that hoped to get O'Malley elected as "our next President of the United States." His girlfriend Miki was not only beautiful, but Japanese - when Amy asked where she was from, it turned out she was born on the same island as Amy's mom (Kyushu) and in a town near Amy's mom's birthplace outside of Miyazaki. Small world indeed! When Miki asked if Amy was Japanese, Amy replied that she was ainoko (meaning 1/2 Japanese); Miki laughed and said that was an old-fashioned word for what today's Japanese call hafu ("halfsies") - and Amy explained that was the term she learned from her old-fashioned mom!

The show's promoter had announced beforehand that an opening act would play at 8 p.m., followed by 10cc roughly 45 minutes later. Turned out that opening band was none other than Graham Gouldman - and Friends - playing an acoustic set of Graham's best solo songs.

Graham Gouldman's Acoustic Set
Graham took the stage promptly at 8, sat down on a stool with an acoustic guitar and, after thanking everyone for being there, explained that he was going to play some songs he wrote before 10cc that became associated with other pop stars.

He opened with "Pamela, Pamela" - a Donovan-styled chamber pop ditty that became a minor hit for Wayne Fontana in the '60s (Graham's version is available on The Graham Gouldman Thing). With each new song he played, another musician from his band would join him on acoustic guitar, starting with Rick Fenn, then Mick Wilson, and finally Mike Stevens.

Graham Gouldman opened his set acoustic & solo, introducing the rest of the band song-by-song

Graham also performed two songs from his new album (his first solo record since 2000's And Another Thing) Love and Work, which is set to be released sometime in August 2012: "Daylight" and "Memory Lane." Graham dedicated "Daylight" to his former Wax partner Andrew Gold, with whom he recorded four albums between 1984 and 1996. When Gold passed away in 2011, Graham wrote this song about him and decided to dedicate the entire album to the memory of his dear departed friend. He wrote "Memory Lane" after taking his fiancee Ariella around Manchester to show her where he grew up and went to school; on his web site, Graham claims it's his attempt to write a song in the style of Ron Sexsmith.

Gouldman's new single "Daylight" & new album "Love and Work"

Following is the acoustic set songlist (to the best of my memory, the order may be slightly off), with who recorded the song in parentheses.

1. Pamela, Pamela (Wayne Fontana)
2. Bus Stop (Hollies)
3. Daylight (new song from Love and Work)
4. No Milk Today (Herman's Hermits)
5. Look Through Any Window (Hollies)
6. For Your Love (Yardbirds)
7. Memory Lane (new song from Love and Work)
8. Heartful of Soul (Yardbirds)

"10cc Live in Concert" Electric Set
And now ladies and gentlemen, "10cc Live in Concert"!

Amy thought the 10cc electric set would open with a big rocker like "Rubber Bullets" (a song that thematically should either open or close a 10cc show), while I thought maybe it would be their first hit single, the Doo-Wop parody "Donna." We were both wrong, as Graham surprised everyone with "The Second Sitting for the Last Supper," a song from 10cc's third album, The Original Soundtrack (1975). I suspect no one (outside of the band) expected that!

Rick Fenn and Graham Gouldman whet the crowd's aural appetite with the surprise appetizer "Second Sitting for the Last Supper"

Following is the rest of the setlist (again in "close-enough' proxity of chronological order), including encores. In parentheses, I've identified which 10cc album each song appears on - the 17-song setlist was topped by four songs from the eponymous first LP 10cc (1973), followed by three selections each from Sheet Music (1974), The Original Soundtrack (1975), and Deceptive Bends (1977).

1. The Second Sitting for the Last Supper (The Original Soundtrack)
2. Wall Street Shuffle (Sheet Music)
3. The Things We Do For Love (Deceptive Bends)
4. Silly Love (Sheet Music)
5. Donna (10cc)
6. Good Morning Judge (Deceptive Bends)
7. Life Is a Minestrone (The Original Soundtrack)
8. From Rochdale to Ocho Rios (Bloody Tourists)
9. I'm Mandy, Fly Me (How Dare You!)
10. Feel the Benefit, Pt. 1-3 (Deceptive Bends)
11. Sand In My Face (10cc)
12. Old Wild Men (Sheet Music)
13. Art For Art's Sake (How Dare You!)
14. I'm Not In Love (The Original Soundtrack)
15. The Dean and I (10cc)
16. Dreadlock Holiday (Bloody Tourists)
- Encore -
17. Donna (A capella version) (10cc)
18. Rubber Bullets (10cc)

10cc Mk III: Mike Stevens, Rick Fenn & Graham Gouldman

The image above is taken from an NME review of 10cc's recent UK tour. Below are some of my crappy cell phone photos from the show (I wish I had more in common with my fellow Baby Boomers in the audience, who had fancy iPhones and digital cameras - like the narrator in "The Dean and I" they must be "really earning now"!)

Throughout the show, "Graham Gouldman and Friends" proved their worthiness to perform these songs as "10cc," for like the original lineup, every musician was a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist. That's "the 10cc Thing." Graham sang and played bass, acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, and electric rhythm guitar; Rick Fenn played electric lead guitar, rhythm, bass and acoustic guitar; Mike Stevens played keyboards, electric guitar and bass, acoustic guitar, sax, and percussion; Mick Wilson sang, played acoustic and electric guitar, percussion, and keyboards; and Paul Burgess played drums, percussion and keyboards. Mick Wilson, in particular, was an outstanding utility musician, one whose impressive lead singing and harmonizing were essential to performing 10cc songs orginally crafted for the melodious pipes of Kevin Godley and Eric Stewart. And between Rick Fenn's fretwork and Mike Stevens' keyboard doodling, the band was also able to successfully replicate Lol Creme's signature "gizmo" guitar sound, which I didn't think they could pull off (what do I know?).

The set closed with 10cc's last UK #1 single, the reggae-flavored "Dreadlock Holiday" - an inspired choice because Graham was able close the show with the crowd-pleasing line "I don't like New York - I love it!" For the encore, the band put down their instruments to perform "Donna" once again, this time in pure Doo-Wop a capella style. Then they hoisted their electric gear once more to send everyone home with the sound of "Rubber Bullets" richocheting through their ears.

Fare Thee Well: 10cc don't like New York - they love it!

Reflecting afterwards, we agreed that the evening's standout performances were the extended mini-symphony "Feel the Benefit" (an homage to the power of music from Deceptive Bends that features a great Beatles-y "Dear Prudence" guitar intro), the note-perfect (right down to reproducing all the sound effects from the record, like a bell ringing, etc.) "I'm Mandy, Fly Me," the achingly beautiful "Old Wild Men" (which most of these musicians are!), and Rick Fenn's soloing on "Art For Art's Sake" (which, like "No Milk Today," was another song title thought up by Graham's dad "Hyme the Rhyme" Gouldman). Oh, and of course, the jailhouse rockin' encore jam "Rubber Bullets," for which Mike Stevens - not having a police siren on hand - broke out his sax to wail away the night to a stirring close.

Mike Stevens asks "Do you think I'm Saxy?"...

...and honks goodnight to NYC

The funny Charles Atlas body-building spoof "Sand In My Face" ("Dynamic tension...make a man out of you, you, you") provided lots of laughs - but the evening's most comedic moment came when someone shouted out a request for "Iceberg" (from the original 10cc's final album, How Dare You!); this was the 10cc equivalent of requesting "Freebird"! (In retrospect, it was an inspired choice, as "Iceberg" was one of the few Graham Gouldman-Kevin Godley songwriting collaborations up to that point in 1976 - though the duo would join forces 20 years later to record and tour as GG/06.)

Charles Atlas: A girl on each arm - and one in his pants!

But just as we made the wrong call about 10cc's opening tune, we were equally surprised that Graham didn't play the one song we were sure he'd play - the one he sings lead on: "Sacro-Iliac" from 10cc's 2nd album (and their Sgt. Pepper masterpiece, IMHO), Sheet Music (1974). (See, this is why I gave up betting on ponies at the racetrack; life may be a minestrone, but it's also way too unpredictable!)

In the UK, fans can watch Clever Clogs, a PAL format DVD of Graham Gouldman and Friends' 10cc tribute concert recorded in 2008 at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire. Below is a medley of highlights from that show that closely mirrors the setlist we enjoyed at the New York Society for Ethical Culture show.

Watch Graham Gouldman and Friends' "Clever Clogs" highlights.

After the show, Mick and Miki hung around hoping Graham would come out again, and made plans to head to "Handsome Dick" Manitoba's bar downtown (which I've heard is a great place), but I got tired of hearing the Brit from Leeds ranting excitedly and incoherently, and Amy and I decided to just walk back to our hotel and call it a night.

The Neon Lights Are Bright On Broadway
We figured walking down Broadway was our best option for a well-lit, up-all-night in The City That Never Sleeps route to take home, and were spot on. We ran into all kinds of crazies along the way, from a mobile Statue of Liberty to Spiderman and the Naked Cowboy.

Patriotism and NASDAQ Capitalism on illuminated display on Broadway

Find the Cost of Freedom: Lady Liberty wanted $5 for a photo op...

Whereas Broadway Spidey posed for free!

Amy nipped the Naked Cowboy in the bud

Amy spanks while the Naked Cowboy yanks

It was especially great to finally meet the Naked Cowboy, as there's a Baltimore connection with the guitar-slinging cowpoke in the tightey-whiteys: his personal videographer/editor is none other than Baltimore public access legend Dr. Ron Israel - the maestro who taught Scott Huffines and I the art of video editing back when we started Atomic TV. (Dr. Ron, who was a dentist in his other life, also fixed Edie "the Egg Lady" Massey's teeth back in the day!)

The Naked Cowboy with Ron Israel

Watch our walk down Broadway in Horizontal-View (Manhattan does have a downward slant!):

Hark, the Herald Angel Sings
Show over, we headed back to crash at our hotel...Ok, let me backtrack just a bit to set the backstory to our little weekend adventure...As always when it comes to grown-up activities involving sound judgment and decision-making, I left our travel & accomodations planning to Amy - and was once again richly rewarded. The girl has a true knack for finding the best, booking us for an overnight stay at the charming and historic Herald Square Hotel - former home of Life magazine - which was conveniently situated on 31st Street between 5th and Broadway (and, our stomachs reminded us, just a street down from "Korea Town" on W. 32nd Street!) in what they call the Midtown Garment District. More importantly, the Herald was extremely reasonable as far as rates go - it bills itself as a place where "you can spend the night, not a fortune" and that's just what we po' folk from down South did.

The Herald Square Hotel

LIFE Comes to Herald Square
Life had been housed in two different offices before coming to this location, which was specially built in 1894 by the magazine's founder-editor John Ames Mitchell to house his staff of artists and writers. According to the hotel's web site, the architectural team of John Mervin Carrere and Thomas Hastings (exponents of the Beaux Arts school) designed the building and sculptor Philip Martiny was hired to create "Winged LIFE," the winged golden cherub that was to become the symbol of the magazine throughout it's existence. Martiny's original sculpture still hangs over the doorway of 19 West 31 Street and a larger cherub peers through the plate-glass lobby window.

Hark, the Herald Angel sings!

Knowing the mercurial habits of his mag's creative personnel, Mitchell requested that the architects equip the building with "bachelor apartments" on the upper floors, creating little "homes within LIFE's home" there.

Life's Bureau of Bachelor Beauties

Our renovated "bachelor's apartment" was on the 9th floor, which we reached by taking the world's smallest, and curved, elevator (Amy and I weigh a combined 230 pounds but with backpacks on felt like we were squeezed in tight as sardines.) Either people were inordinately tiny back then or this shaft was a converted dumbwaiter. (We subsequently took the curved stairways as often as could!)

But no worries, for this is what our room looked like when we reached the top floor:

Lay Lady Lay: Amy chills on the big brass bed

Amy checks in on Facebook while sitting at our room's table

"Golly, this bathroom is almost as spotless as yours, sweetie!" Amy lies

Amy was bowled over by our sink

Amy made sure we took home the Aveda soap ("That's high-end product!")

Odd wall ganglia like this revealed that this was a renovated room

Bathroom tile floor

My William Eggleston-style photo of our room's chandolier and high-perched AC unit (I had to stand on a table to adjust it!); this shot reminds me of the cover of Big Star's "Radio City"

Speaking of William Eggleston, I think he'd like this shot of our room's illuminated mirror

Amy's ready for her close-up now

Vintage rotary phone in the hotel lobby

The lower levels of the Herald Square Hotel also once housed the studios where such legends as "The Gibson Girl" - artist Charles Dana Gibson's iconic symbol of elegant feminine beauty and American pluck - were born. The Gibson Girl was the Belle Epoque Barbie, the "It Girl" of her turn-of-the-20th Century times, a pen-and-ink rendering of the spirit of an age. Many writers have attempted to describe the Gibson Girl and in America's Great Illustrators, Susan E. Meyer put it succinctly: "She was taller than the other women currently seen in the pages of magazines.. infinitely more spirited and independent, yet altogether feminine...Though always well bred, there often lurked a flash of mischief in her eyes."

"I'll tell you how I got what you have called the 'Gibson Girl,'" Charles Dana Gibson himself explained. "I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores... The nation made the type. What Zangwill calls the ‘Melting Pot of Races’ has resulted in a certain character; why should it not also have turned out a certain type of face?...There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God."

Watch a video of the Gibson Girl (she looks remarkably well-preserved!) giving a tour of the hotel.

The current hotel has a gallery of vintage LIFE magazine covers from this era lining each floor (as shown below). The first cover below asks "Do you know a girl like this?" - to which I can reply, yes I do: Parker Posey! The hipster indie-film actress has true Gibson Girl qualities, right down to that "flash of mishief in her eyes."

The Gibson Girl, Class of 1930

Pagan LIFE cover

Aquamarine LIFE

"The Honeymoon" cover

Politically incorrect "Wearing of the Grin" St. Patty's special

Down in its underground stacks, Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library has bound volumes of Life going back to 1833. For Baby Boomers like myself, who grew up in the '60s knowing only of the magazine's latter incarnation as a glossy photo-journal, seeing the old Life magazines was a revelation. Life of the '20s, '30s and '40s was more witty and urbane, its pages resembling its more literary cousin The New Yorker.

Out of curiosity, I checked the Pratt's catalog to see if there was anything about the hotel in our collection and found a fascinating story by former New Yorker magazine writer St. Claire McKelway called "The Rich Recluse of Herald Square" (available in his story collection Reporting At Wit's End: Tales from the New Yorker).

It seems that at its old address on 116 W. 34th Street near 7th Avenue, the Herald Square Hotel was famous for being home to Ida E. Mayfair Wood, the aforementioned "Rich Recluse of Herald Square," who checked into the hotel with her sister Mary in 1907 and didn't leave her 5th floor suite until 1931, about a year before her death. There she lived in Grey Gardens-style squalor, smoking small cigars and rubbing her face with petroleum jelly from dawn to dusk (she alleged had a remarkable complexion) while squirreling away over a million bucks in cash (mostly in $1,000 and $5,000 bills), stocks, and jewelry that she stored in mattresses and shoe boxes - this at the height of the Great Depression. She and her sister apparently subsisted on nothing more than evaporated milk, coffee, crackers, bacon, eggs and an occasional fish, brought to them by the elevator operator, who was tipped a dime each time. In one box of stale crackers (almost thrown out until an alert, court-appointed nurse made a last-minute inspection), she stashed a diamond necklace worth $40,000! (No wonder I'm a hoarder - you never know what you might be throwing away in those Cracker Jack boxes!)

According to the New York Songlines web site, Miss Wood was "once a socialite who danced with the Prince of Wales during his 1860 visit to New York, she was married to Benjamin Wood, publisher of the Daily News (not related to the present-day tabloid) and brother of two-time mayor Fernando Wood; she ran the paper after her husband's death. After her own death, it emerged that she was not the daughter of a Louisiana planter, as she had claimed; she was actually Ellen Wood, an Irish immigrant who worked as a domestic servant before creating an assumed identity for herself and her family."

Much Ado About Mandoo
So much for history...more importantly, the Herald Square Hotel was conveniently right around the corner from Manhattan's Little Korea:

Once you go Korean, there is no other Way!

We love Korean food, but our fave eatery here is the Mandoo Bar, which specializes in making the tasty little dumplings Koreans call mandu, which are similar to Slavic pierogis or Indian samosas. It's a tiny, unassuming place, but the service is great and the food comes out almost immediately.

Mandoo Bar on W. 32nd Street

You can get the dumplings steamed (jjimandu), boiled (mulmandu) or lightly pan-fried (gunmandu); I followed Amy's lead (she always orders right!) and got the juicy garlic pan-fried pork dumplings, which were delish! (You can get other things here, including chewy rice noodles and the traditional bibimbap, but we've yet to sample items beyond the namesake main dish; maybe next time!)

Dumplings: It's what's for dinner!

Other than a banana, I don't recall eating anything but Mandoo dumplings the whole time I was in NYC!

Amy: "I can't wait to taste some dumplings!"

Dumplings: It's what's for dinner!

Facebook Status Update: "Satiated!"

After grabbing some dumplings, we made our way to 33rd and 7th to catch another Bolt Bus back to Baltimore. The ride up was fantastic, but the ride home was, well, Ghetto Coach Style. The AC was iffy, the lights didn't work, the seats were smaller and had less leg-room (Amy cramped up, in fact), and the driver insisted on blasting Gospel music for the first hour or so - this after giving us the spiel about having quiet cell phone conversations and making sure everyone used headphones to listen to their music!

Oh well, can't complain; we got to see Graham Gouldman play the great music of 10cc - the closest thing to a 10cc reunion we'll probably see in our lifetimes. We came, we saw, we truly "Felt the Benefit." The things we do for love!

Related Links:
Graham Gouldman Official Web Site
10cc World (10cc Web Site)
The Graham Gouldman Thing (Accelerated Decrepitude)
10cc Celebrate 40th Anniversary Tour (UK MailOnline)

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