Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Mick Farren (with Marble Sheep and Nabeji from Slunky Side) - To The Masterlock - Live in Japan 2004

Mick Farren (with Marble Sheep and Nabeji from Slunky Side)
To The Masterlock - Live in Japan 2004

Released 2005 on Captain Trip Records CTCD-513 (Japan)
Reviewed by arsydd, 22/10/2005ce

OK. Maybe this release is too recent to qualify as bona fide "unsung" classic just yet, but anything by Mick Farren is generally overlooked in the long run (except by Seth Man - see his Farren, Deviants, and Pink Fairies reviews elsewhere in Unsung), and it still contains enough Deviants and mid 70s Farren solo material to qualify it as unsung in my opinion. Not only that, the backing musicans are the hot Japanese psychedelic rockers Marble Sheep, and Nabeji out of Slunky Side, and they certainly deserve more recognition!

Anyway, hot on the heels of Mick Farren's latest trip to Japan for a performance at the Tokyo Hipsters Club in September 2005 comes a live CD recorded on his tour of Japan in November 2004. On Mick's latest outing - To The Masterlock - Live in Japan 2004 - he is backed by the Japanese band Marble Sheep and Nabeji, the guitarist out of another Japanese band called Slunky Side.

Having seen the track list some weeks ago I awaited the release of this CD somewhat with bated breath, and I was not disappointed. Whereas the Barbarian Princes LP Live in Japan 1999 contained material mainly culled from the more recent canon of Farren and the Deviants' work, this new CD contains thirteen tracks in total, spanning Farren's entire career, including at least one track off each of the original 1960s Deviants LPs as well as three from his mid-seventies solo re-appearance. This is not to disparage the previous live release - far from it - but anything that has new versions of old Deviants classics has got to be a cause of interest, and even excitement.

Of the more recent spoken pieces, of which there are fewer on this outing than there were on the live Japanese album from 1999, Arts of Darkness, Long Walk With The Demon, and Ghost of the Yellow Dog perhaps suffer slightly from just a little too much echo on the vocals. However, Diabolo's Cadillac particularly benefits from the treatment meted out to it here, and is transformed into a spacey Hawkwind like piece by the synth effects, not too dissimilar to Sonic Attack in fact. Mick and the band also perform a variation of an old Deviants song called Rumbling B(l)ack Transit Blues. That Mick actually performed this song is somewhat surprising given his usual disdain for the third Deviants LP, from whence it came. On this version, the original title being shortened to Black Transit Blues, Ken and Nabeji even give Paul Rudolph's original guitar work a good run for its money - and that's really saying something! Black Transit Blues magnificently segues into into the aforementioned recent poetry classic Dogpoet before returning for Black Transit's finale.

There is certainly no doubt about the technical prowess of the backing musicians, and these boys - and girl! - have really done their homework, and in the process have done the legacy of the Deviants and Mick Farren proud. Take I'm Coming Home for example, Sid Bishop's original blistering guitar work is capably reproduced, and then some more, as the two guitarists Ken Matsutani and Nabeji attack it with the ferocity of a Stuka attack on Warsaw! Although it has been the subject of some debate in the past, Mick's voice has become gruffer over the years. But, even if he can no longer really hit some of the higher notes after a lifetime of enjoying whiskey,and smoking cigarettes and the 'erb, he now growls out his lyrics with all the panache of Captain Beefheart on eighty Rothmans filters a day, and his voice is well suited to this latter day style of spoken delivery. If Mick's voice falters occasionally and seems a little unsteady - on Slum Lord for example - the band more than make amends and Mick is back in fine fettle once more as they careen through a breakneck version of Lost Johnny. Faithful to the speed and booze fuelled Ramones influenced version Mick recorded for the Terry Ork recording sessions in upstate New York in 1977, Lost Johnny fairly romps along at a speed of knots in comparison to the relative mogadon plod of the Hawkwind original, or even the Motorhead version for that matter!

Like most recent Mick Farren / Deviants releases over the last few years there is at least one ironic cover of a fifties or sixties standard. Recent classic covers have included What Do You Want? off the Dr Crow LP, whilst the Japanese release of Dr Crow also included bonus versions of the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Strawberry Fields Forever, originally recorded for a tribute compilation CD, and a collaboration with Johnette Napolitano and Concrete Blonde for a free download respectively. In this case it's Heartbreak Hotel that he obligingly covers in his own inimitable style - a new Farren recording just wouldn't be the same without one, although Mick might argue that irony doesn't come into it!

On the subject of cover versions, tellingly enough, Farren himself has recently said, "no punk band worth it's line of crank ever failed to cover Waiting For The Man, or Sweet Jane before moving on to its own material " - Slaughter and the Dogs and Eater both covered these tracks respectively on their debut albums back in the day, and lest we forget, the Pink Fairies also performed it live on occasion too, most memorably being recorded for posterity on their Live At The Roundhouse -1975 LP. It therefore comes as no surprise to find Farren and the backing musicians dutifully replicating Waiting For My Man, is if to reinforce their own credentials by pre-empting Farren's reference point. In yet another nod to one his contemporaries and influences from the sixties Mick and co. also perform a version of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's Trouble Coming Everyday. Originally covered by Farren on Vampires Stole My Lunch - a previous live version can also be found on the Deviants' Human Garbage live LP at Dingwalls from 1984 - this version, clocking in at over eight minutes, is the longest track on the CD. On first listening one assumes that Trouble is the last track as silence descends after the closing cacophony dies away in a hail of guitar and drum fury. However, after a significant gap later, having not changed the CD, and contemplating a literary endeavour I was then working on, I was snapped out of my meanderings by a totally unexpected but suitably shambolic and welcome version of Papa Oo-Mao-Mao in the form of a 'hidden track'. In a final crescendo of "whoops", "Oo-Mao-Mao's", frenzied drumming, and "papa-pas" this really does finally close the proceedings in magnificent style.

On the whole this is a very satisfying live CD made all the more enjoyable by the range of the songs performed, and the brilliant performance of the backing musicians Marble Sheep and Nabeji out of Slunky Side. This is essential listening, and an important addition to your collection if you're into Mick Farren and the Deviants, and even if you're not, for that matter, see the light and get it now anyway!

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