Sunday, August 5, 2012

JACKSON C.FRANK - By Dave Coburn - Folks Magazine

This article was written by Coventry folk singer DAVE COBURN (now living in Suffolk) but who, in the early 70's, co-ran the Rude Bear Folk Club with Rod Felton, for FOLKS magazine issue No 4 Nov / Dec 1978 - the Coventry Folkies Magazine, put together by Pete Willow and Arol and others. I remember Dave Coburn telling me all about Jackson C. Franks when giving me a lift home to Willenhall sometimes after a session at the Rude Bear Folk Club.

JACKSON C. FRANKS - The Spirit of Soho ' 65 - by DAVE COBURN (From FOLKS magazine No 4 Nov / Dec 1978)

Les Cousins in Greek St. is now a disco; Paul Simon is now a millionaire, Al Stewart is far removed from his bedsitter images but Jackson C. Franks (Wiki link) seems to have realised his ultimate wish - he is alone.

For many people it was Paul Simon, the archetypal poet and one man band, for others the eclectric hybrid style of Bert Jansch or Davy Graham and for many more Al Stewart's bedsitters, that epitomise Soho in 1965, but for me Jackson C. Frank IS Soho 1965.

I only have to pick up my guitar and play Frank's Blues Run the Game and I'm back in those back-breaking Cousins' seats, listening to this tortured young man cutting to the quick the neurosis that ran through those Soho nights in 65.

Les Cousins Folk Club, Greek Street, 
1965 was a big year for Les Cousins; they opened its doors at 7.30pm every night of the week and there were late night sessions every Friday and Saturday until the early hours and sometimes even dawn. I've often stumbled out into the crisp and silent Sunday morning before London awoke, my heart pounding and my head still full of music. It's an experience I've never been able to recapture and  that I can't begin to describe here. The residents of the Cousins that year included Gerry Lockran and Noel Murphy and on Thurday evenings Jansch and Renbourn held court. So why was I so impressed with Jackson C Frank?

Jackson was so different fro the rest of us. At a time when even the Jansch's and  the Stewart's were lucky to have one workable beaten up  piece of rubbish to play on, his collection of  guitars was legendary. I saw some of them in Twickenham; there were two old Gibsons, a Martin and what seemed like half a dozen more. I remember someone saying something about one of his 'boxes'. Jackson looked more pained than usual and said "Look, your instrument  may be a box but these are guitars!".

I still cringe when I hear people describing really good guitars such as the ones Rob Armstrong produces, as 'boxes', and I still think of that Aladdin's Cave of musical instruments down there in Twickenham.

I was never close enough to ask how he got scarred or why he limped. "No bottle of pill, babe, can kill the pain" he wrote in Here Comes the Blues, and looking at him you felt sympathy for a pain threshold long breached and passed, but he did not want sympathy, it was communication that he craved.

Prior to coming to London, he had been a journalist in the States and was obsessed with words. He said of one song 'Don't tell me whether you like the song, just tell me as one writer to another, does the imagery work?'  Actually he was probably at his best taking old cliches of the blues and splitting and twisting them into something new and exciting rather than spinning poetic images Paul Simon style.

His songs spoke for the whole crowd of already weary-eyed innocents. Most of us much younger than him, who gathered on those smoky nights at Cousins nd the Wednesday night sessions at the Marquee in Wardour St. His lifestyle of taking boats here and there and renting hotel rooms to drink away the blues was far in the future for us, but we understood the anguish and in Soho we had a common backdrop. Jackson's songs were non political and it was this aspect that I had taken to heart. We expected Americans to be East Coast lefties or alternatively to write without bitterness (like Simon).

Jackson's songs were bitter sweet and I found myself latering my own writing to eliminate the political elements, but to follow his pattern of cynicism rather than the purity of Paul Simon.

Jackson C Franks at Les Cousins 1965
I had one of my songs accepted by "Folk Scene" magazine and was  waiting for its publication when Blues Run the Game was published by the magazine in late 1965. My song Smoke in the Wind (which thankfully I have never performed since) was my last political effort and although it had strong lyrics they paled to insignificance beside's Jackson's song. I was changed forever and have never recovered, thank Christ!

I believe that Jackson had discovered the inner world has its conflicts every bit as shattering s the political imbalance of the real world, but whereas this was no new discovery, he was able to convey this lyrically in a way that his contempories could not. He sang for that whole generation of kids who crowded into Soho clubs and coffee cellars in 65, 66 and abandoned all hope before the flame was ever kindled. We were later to look on in amused cynicism at the naive aspirations of the flower generation of the late 60's who aped our life style but never came within miles of our state of mind.

Jackson once said "I want to share with you some of the incredible blinds I have seen myself walk into and crawl away from, more from knowling instinctively that each of us does the  same thing than for any particluar pride in the manner I personally have or have not survived.

"To sing is a state of mind that can include all ' frames of mind' and there lies the danger in communicating through song alone. I cannot defend and will not, your or my judgement of them, for they are only a passing opinion, statements given in absence."

"To this end I write songs, to this end only they can stand. If my songs communicate to yu any measure of something valued, remembered or recognised in the streets that you have walked, then they are success within very limited qualifications. That is, you and I have met once more."

The quotations above encapsulates my own feelings and my own motivations as a songwriter. The words belong to Jackson C. Frank but the spirit is also mine though I freely admit that it is easy to dismiss this type of commentary as pretentious hogwash, derivative of all the self-analysis stemming from the Beatnik fifties thorugh the intellectual atmosphere of Soho 65, because that is exactly what it is! But doesn't the fact that the statement is true state a case for the pretensions to be excused or forgiven?

Many of us tried to become notable songwriters or poets but it was not our lot to become Ginsberg or Kerouac, for times had already changed and we had become lablled and bagged. Many self tortured souls were to arise and claim the position of singer-songwriter but the position as an outsider, dissecting his own psyche was already obsolescent and the inner working of the head was of interst only when the state of mind of the performer and the audience co-incided. This is perhaps why the recorded work of singer songwriters has continued to sell whilst their live presence is treated now more often with politeness than enthusiasm.

Lacking media approval which would allow a Bob Dylan or Paul Simon to continue to sing without becoming the pet creature of his audience, Jackson C Frank took a more honest way out than the rest of us. Many struggled on with a sort of 'cult' status which allowed us to continue playing our own material, others moved into Rock, but Jackson cshed in all his chips and quit the game.

Jackson C Frank has stopped singing and has reportedly retreated into himself. There have been many attempts to get him to make a comeback over the years but so far he has refused. I hope that he is wise enough to stay in retirement. I loved what he did and am thankful for his influence, but the world has changed and it sems sometin=mes that the lyrics just don't matter anymore. The re release of Jackson C Franks (first on Columbia 335X 1788 in November 1965) must be regarded with suspicion. What are the motives behind it? Jackson contributed more and deserves more than to be treated as an antique, a curiosity who represented that generation of children of Sigmund Freud. I hope that the  re release does more good than ill. i hope that people listen to the songs and don't try to enter some sort of time warp. The songs are good enough to stand on their own.

I leave you with the song Blues Run the Game itself, one of the great songs of Soho 65, if not the great song. Many people do fine versions of this, but this is the transcription of the original..(lyrics added later!)

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