Totem recall

Dick Dale Garage, London

The support group The Vibrasoniks appeared to be in a huff, despite having at their disposal marbled guitars, copious fringes, authentically stiff early Sixties casualwear, medallions and more reverb than The Ventures on overload. They even had with them a brace of sequinned Surf Dollies (Babes? Chicks? - the correct application of early Sixties technical jargon is an abiding trial) who vibrated valiantly around the axis of their armpits, but still failed to raise a smile from anyone apart from the drummer. It was hard to see why they were quite so gloomy.

Perhaps there is danger in playing a 12-string electric balalaika with cutlery. Or in having to announce tune titles like "Tijuana Marijuana". Maybe it's simply a bit depressing being in a pastiche instrumental band.

This affliction clearly does not beset Dick Dale, the King of Surf Guitar, who bounded on stage like a cross between Mick McManus and a totem pole on square wheels and immediately confirmed what we all suspected: that the blast of chrom-iumed mayhem at the beginning of Pulp Fiction is typical of his oeuvre.

Dale is what you might call an all-in participatory wrestler-musician. He is jovial belligerence personified. He clumps around the stage in a leather biker jacket, belying his years and never playing his own instrument when somebody else's will do. Never doing anything, indeed, that might indicate for a moment that Dick was not the master of all he surveyed.

For instance, at one stage he joined the drummer for a brief flub-a-dub on the drummer's tom-toms, during which he attempted to do a finger-twizzle with one of the drum-sticks, and dropped the stick. He then got wedged between the drum-kit and the back wall and had to go the long way round to get home, endangering the stability of the drummer, his drums, a wall of amplifiers and a video-cameraman as he went.

Then he played the bass-player's bass with a mixture of thumbs and drum sticks, made everyone in the audience yell "he-e-ey, Bo Diddley!" over and over again and assaulted a microphone stand with the neck of The Beast, his ancient, frazzled Fender.

In between times he did actually play The Beast, with a combustible mixture of brutal intent and limited technique, which usually involved a bit of twangy melody, a lot of mandolin-style high-frequency glissandi up and down the fingerboard and, to conclude, a sequence of pile-driving cadences from truckstop hell. And all of this with his guitar strung upside-down and back to front. It was marvellous for about 20 minutes.

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