Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher was a constant throughout the 70’s. It was not that I would every get to see him, he was a little too big to play somewhere like Norwich. Occupying a place in the popularity ratings somewhere just above Budgie but below Status Quo, Rory was just there in the background all the time.

I cant remember his records being released with any great fanfare and it was debatable why anyone could make a strong case for preferring Deuce over Blueprint or making a pitch that Tattoo was a better record than Against the Grain. It sounds like damming with faint praise but the unassuming Gallagher was one of the greatest guitarists ever.

 

Firstly he was older than he seemed having been musically active since the early 60’s. For most of that decade he had been tucked away in Ireland and therefore invisible to the rest of the world. While in his teens he had been a mainstay of the Fontana showband  which he managed to mutate into the  Impact which in turn became more blues orientated and eventually became a trio which was to be Gallaghers’s preferred method of working.

 

By this point it was the late 60’s, he had barely turned 18. Already he was flying in the face of convention, the showbands were still pretty much the only outlet for music for most of Ireland and the blues may as well have been a Mongolian death chant for the level of popularity it could garner. It would take a pretty exceptional 16 year old to start to turn this around in conservative Ireland.

Gallagher was starting to play abroad which was the only way forward. Finding that a residency in Hamburg didn’t want to book his trio he sent them some publicity pictures with a friend behind the organ and then went anyway.

By the time he had formed Taste in 1966 he had pretty much arrived at the format for the rest of his life. Taste supported Cream at their farewell gig. I you want blues based power trios I would have picked them over Eric’s boys any day of the week.

 

As the 70’s dawned Gallagher’s solo career was underway, joining up with bass player Gerry McAvoy  who was to be with him for the next 20 years along with assorted drummers and an occasional keyboard player he toured and toured and toured. Gallagher was the antithesis to glam and prog and punk and whatever new fad came knocking. Almost always dressed in jeans and a check shirt and playing a severely distressed Stratocaster, allegedly the first in Ireland that he had bought in 1963,he was regarded as generally humble, decent and hardworking, not always qualities associated with rock gods. Significantly he continued to tour Ireland through what we quaintly called ‘the troubles’ (also known as a war) when most English rock bands simply would not have bothered.

 

If anyone wants a dose of the 70’s Gallagher experience I would direct them swiftly to Irish Tour 74 where Gallagher wows provincial audiences onstage before returning soaked in sweat to the rankest dressing rooms ever, night after night. It’s a real delight to see these purest of performances, Gallagher seems to get by on a guitar, an amp and a lead, there’s no pedal gazing and without any sonic trickery there’s some scarily accurate guitar playing, night after night.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s wings of Pegasus

 

  https://youtu.be/f-tGEQYZRfg

And there was more, Gallagher could play slide and acoustic and mandolin and harmonica.With Taste he even switched over to saxophone, and pretty good it was to!

I liked and admired Gallagher, who couldn’t but he never really moved me. I had an early compilation LP which, naturally was a bargain buy, and I liked it enough, but post Beatles there probably wasn’t enough for me in the actual songs. In my formative musical years I grappled to understand what made his music. Most people said it was blues but it wasn’t the blues like BB King or Clapton.It was only decades later when I began to understand more about folk music that I noticed the uniquely Irish take. Listen carefully and there’s an element of the ‘diddly diddly’, reels and jigs that he must have heard growing up.

Gallaghers’s reputation has grown steadily over the years. There’s a surprising amount of footage available of him in his heyday which is a mystery and a delight. He had a sad end, having survived the 80’s which were the kiss of death for organic music, his liver began to fail. There were mentions of him being a heavy drinker, but if that was the case it never seemed to affect his career which is pretty weird when you consider the amount of out and out drunks who are still with us. I had lost track of him, he still made good records and seemed to have avoided any attempt to spruce him up for the MTV generation. It was a real shock to me to find him in the pages of the glossy new Q magazine clearly ill and bloated on steroids and it was only when we lost him that I realised I missed him. Soon the blues would be back, and the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn would be celebrating the same simple formula that Gallagher has started.

 

Gallagher worked hard, he didn’t seem to have any other interests, his brother was his manager but there were no other significant relationships. His musical achievements are magnified by the fact that he came from a country that would do little to promote his talent when he started out. And his legacy is his music, there are no bad or even poor performances by Gallagher, you could pick any at random and be impressed.

 

So here’s one of them.

 

 

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The Joy of Sax

If you were a young man hoping to make your way in the world of popular music in the 1920’s and you wanted to be the star of the show there was only one real choice of instrument to play and that was the trumpet. Loud, portable and flashy the trumpet was the show offs first choice of instrument. Louis Armstrong was the most influential player of the day and a whole load of wannabes trailed in his wake.

 

Fast forward a couple of decades and the trumpet was still popular but there was a new kid on the block. The saxophone was a bit more versatile, a bit sexier and with the rise of Charlie Parker and Be bop not to mention the swing bands it was the saxophone that had the star potential.

And so, it remained into the 50’s. Obviously there were other musicians available but inevitably the band leader would be a sax player or a trumpeter, so they could stay at the front of the stage and let loose a blistering solo now and again. For 20 years the sax was king.

 

All that changed in Britain with the advent of skiffle. Instead of having to study embouchure for years Britain’s schoolkids had found an instrument that was rewarding to play from day one, namely the guitar. Strange to relate but the guitar was still an exotic instrument in the 1950s being generally the province of cowboys, flamenco musicians and inaudible jazz rhythm sections. The instrument was not even that easily available and generally existing specimens were of pretty poor quality but being British we persevered and eventually we were replete with guitars and guitarists some of whom went on to become Jimmy Page and John Lennon.

And that was the beginning of the end for the saxophone, it didn’t happen overnight, through the 60’s some bands realised the added value of the brass section. In order to get that genuine soul feel the likes of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers were prepared to accept the cost of having a couple of blokes at the back giving it that extra punch.

But there’s the clue, the sax had now moved to the back of the stage along with the bass and drums, the guitar was now at the front. The trouble with the saxophone is it can only play one note at a time so essentially it solos all the time. Most songs only have limited space for solos and the guitarist is going to want to have most of them. The sax has a distinctive sound but it always sounds like a saxophone and if our ears are crying out for new sounds then the saxophone is not going to provide them. Hence Traffic’s Chris Wood would spend a lot of time on stage poking about with keyboards because there was only so much sax the band needed (OK he played flute as well but there’s a limit to how much of that we can take). Even the big man Clarence Clemons used to spend more time underutilised as a tambourine player as Springsteen really didn’t want every song to have another sax solo in it.

And increasingly the sax player is having to multitask, a bit of percussion, some background vocals, even a bit of dancing just to justify their role in the band.

The 70’s saw the sax at a low ebb -more of that in another post, keyboards were opening up a whole new world, guitars were getting more effects there was a whole new sonic palette which didn’t necessarily need a sax parping away over it.

That wasn’t the end though, for some reason as the 80’s dawned the Saxophone crept back into popular music without us really noticing. I blame Spandau Ballet who moved their second guitarist over to Sax and had a huge it with True and marked the Saxophone down as a symbol of the Thatcherite upwardly mobile decade.

As a drummer it hadn’t escaped me that drums seemed to be becoming redundant as drum machines took over. There was also the practical issue that I didn’t have a car and just moving a drum kit about was a logistical nightmare. The saxophone looked appealing, and I could take it on the bus. I spent the next 5 years learning to play the instrument. Like a lot of instruments, it was easy to make a start on but hard to sound really good, but I practised and practiced. Ironically I also bought a car and drums didn’t die out completely so I could have saved myself the trouble really.

The main thing that brought my personal love of the sax as well as the audience’s tolerance of the instrument to an end was its limitation. I did join a band but as we didn’t have a bass player I usually had to fulfil that role instead and when that band mutated into another one there were so many songs where the guitar sounded better than the sax that it just seemed better to stick with the guitar.

For a brief period, the sax was back though, ABC, the Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100 all featured the instrument and were all massive for a couple of years. And if you didn’t have a sax player one would be inserted. I recently caught a clip of archetypical 80’s band T Pau doing their massive hit ‘China in Your Hands ‘on Top of the Pops.  At the end after all the histrionics   the producer has decided there’s just got to be a sax solo. The result is all members miming and trying to convey the gravitas of the song while ignoring the fact that a sax is coming from somewhere else.

 

It’s probably just me that finds that sort of thing entertaining but in the 80’s there seemed to be a whole lot of artists staring off into the middle distance while the mysterious sax was dialled in. From Wham to Whitney everyone wanted the sound that suddenly smacked of sophistication.

 

And, all of a sudden, the bubble burst, samplers became available and from the 90’s onwards a genuine sax solo had suddenly become a thing of the past.

 

Here on thefutureispast we are going to remember the days when the sax still had a role

 

Stay tuned

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Five Forgotten Bands of the 70’s

After my ratings busting last two posts, overrated and underrated, this weekwe are looking at bands who never got big enough to be overrated or underrated, here are 5 bands that time has almost forgotten

As Jung said ‘there is gold in the dark’

 

Mighty Baby

 

I only discovered these guys myself a couple of years back. Mighty Baby are a transitional band, formed in the 60’s split in the 70’s and for a couple of years made great psychedelic rock. They had mutated out of the Action, a mod band who like so many others at the time wanted and needed to move with the times. They didn’t last long after recording an albumbut they had a legacy of sorts. lead guitarist Martin Stone wasprominent on the pub rock scene and, if my memory serves me well, was in the final line up of the 101ers with pre ClashJoe Strummer. ‘Bam’ King the rhythm guitarist was a member of Ace and Richard Thompson became a Sufi Muslim after several of the band had a religious conversion. Their music is pretty good, they would be underrated had they not been forgotten first.

 

Henry Cow

 

Formed at Cambridge university and generally too clever to ever get near the big time. Often described as an avant rock group their left-wing leanings kept them well away from the usual chord structure of decadent western music. The early virgin label was the only one that would probably sign them but because of this the Cow at least got an audience beyond benefits and community arts festivals. In fact, a lot of their music is quite acceptable, at least to fans of Hatfield and the North (yay!) or mid period Soft Machine. Eventually they joined fellow label weirdos Slapp Happy and made the rather wonderful Desperate Straights which was more song orientated but they still confused the likes of me by releasing it as an LP which played at 45 rpm which for the uninitiated made the first couple of spins a challenging experience.

By the end they were virtually exiled from Britain but thrived in the political hotbed that was Europe, their legacy is beyond just music and one day a film will be made with Maxine Peake in the role of Slapp Happy’s Dagmar Krause and then they can be promoted to underrated.  

 

String Driven Thing

During the winter of 78/79 as The Police (band) and Margaret Thatcher (person) were poised for domination I was in my student flatlet listening to String Driven Thing curtesy of my housemate Vince.

SDT were yet another remnant from the 60’s. Originally formed in Glasgow by husband wife duo Chris Adams and Pauline Adams they had come south and lined up with a rhythm section and, most significantly ‘classically trained’ violinist Graham Smith.

As might be anticipated there’s a wiff of the folky singer song writer with some of their songs  but Chris Adams was capable of picking up an electric guitar and coming up with some darker prog riffs. Finding a home with selected misfits on the Charisma label SDT released their masterwork The Machine That Cried but, as bands do, struggled with the whole business and the Adam’s left.

 

Slightly bizarrely Charisma re built the band around GrahamSmith who physically and sonically was the most recognisable member. They weren’t as good as they lost the proggyelements to a pop sheen but did manage to have one of their songs covered by the Bay City Rollers!

After the inevitable split Smith joined label mates Van Der Graff

 

The Count Bishops

 

Around 1975 I bought a sampler record on the Chiswick label, mainly so I could have a recording by the aforementioned 101ers. Chiswick was an independent much in the same mode as Stiff and their first release was by the Count Bishops. The early Bishops were fronted by rhythm guitarist Zenon DeFleur(real name Zenon Hierowski but one of his bandmates saw him crashed out on the floor hence the name). the early line up was the best and DeFleur’s ‘Train Train’ is something of a minor classic. The band then recruited Australian singer Dave Tice who was in the ‘gruff vocalist’ mode and they became a little more mainstream.

They appeared on Top of the Pops with ‘I want candy’ and toured with Motorhead and were quite big fish in London Pub Rock circles. With a bit of determination, they might have made it through to the level of the latter-day Dr Feelgood or Nine Below Zero.

Unfortunately DeFleur was killed in a road accident and although they tried to carry on it was an uphill struggle not least of their problems being they were a multinational  band, Australian, Polish, American Irish,English and members were prone to being deported.

 

Stray

 

At one pointin the early 70’s the sister of my mate Phil bought a sampler on the Transatlantic label and when she was not around we would play it to death as we only had 4-5 LPs between us. One track I loved was ‘Nature’s Way’ by Stray.

The band were almost a parody of the hard rocking local heroes. They weren’t quite heavy metal, it hadn’t really been invented yet, but they rocked hard and had long hair and quite often (at least according to a compilation album I purchased) had some decent songs some decent riffs and plenty of guitar solos.

 

Stray were pretty firmly a London based band, in fact at one time they were managed by Charlie Kray of Kray brothers  infamy. A reunion decades later sold out the Borderline, but that was London, in the provinces they didn’t amount to a whole lot which is why they get a mention here.

 

If you’ve heard of all these bands, you are super special and deserve to make a comment 

 

Who have I missed? as usual there are rules, British,70’s and they have to have made at least one album. Extra points if you can find anyone who isn’t on Wikipedia.

 

 

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Underrated.

Ok, so overrated was hard and contentious and possibly offensive (lighten up it’s just one person’s opinion!). But what could go wrong with underrated , we love the underdog don’t we ?

Similar rules, all British all linked in some ways with the 70’s all score high on the ‘why didn’t they do better?’ scale.

 

Robin Trower

Trying to catch the Old Grey Whistle test in the 70’s was a tricky business as the BBC changed it’s time slot regularly, at one point even putting it on around Sunday tea time. But I did get to catch Robin Trower. Trower had come up through a b listed R&B band called the Paramount’s in the mid 60’s before becoming the second guitarist to occupy that role with Procol Harum. Although formative in starting off what was to become progressive rock Thrower became fed up with competing with an organ and a piano for solo space and joined up with Jim Dewar, who had been guitarist with Lulu and the Luvvers but now fancied some heavy rock action as bass player, in the Robin Trower trio.

Unfortunately having seen them on the Old Grey Whistle Test  I had decided they were terrible, their song went on at a glacial pace for hours, Dewars doomy vocals were interspersed with solos where Trower pulled faces that made him look like a beached fish.

Over 40 years later it sounds a lot better, Trower had the Hendrix thing pretty well sown up and there’s a soulful bluesy edge and a fluidity to his playing that lifts it above the Whitesnakes and Garry Moores of this world. The track they played all those years ago was the title track to their album Bridge of Sighs which is remarkable for its languid pace and opened up the possibilities of Trower having invented stoner rock.

 

This isn’t earth shattering music but it’s done well and, to my ears at least, more supple and expressive than most of the blues rock genre. Trower is still around today and still pretty good, I suspect he’s more popular in America than Britain where he’s forgotten a bit.

 

Siouxsie and the Banshees

When I heard the first Banshees on a John Peel session my first thought was that at last Punk had thrown up something I really couldn’t understand. It seems weird now, but I genuinely couldn’t even comprehend the Ramones when I first heard them either. 40 years on it’s a lot easier on the ear but still a bit challenging and quite shockingly innovative.

 

In the interests of brevity lets just sidestep the rather impressive qualities of Souxsie herself (another  time maybe) and go for the music. The Banshees were really the last band of the first wave of punk to get signed. Instead of copying the other bands they took time out to make something really different, you might not like it but the first two records were shockingly distinctive.

With a change of personnel which was to evolve into a shifting rota of guitarists they were actually a successful band, 11 albums 30 singles some of them hits and by the 80’s the Banshees were a proper rock band with big tours, only the Clash came close from the class of 76.And all the while the Banshees rock was always a bit different.

So where are they now? I never hear them on the radio and they’ve never been revived with an auto biography or a bio pic, it’s as if they split up and were never heard of again (which was the way it used to be). One day they were at the very front of the alternative rock scene and the next they had disappeared.

At the time they influenced everyone from Joy Division to Morrisey. One of the problems with their legacy is that, like Joy Division they influenced a lot of groups who really weren’t that good, and the birth of goth could be traced back to the band although as far as I can see it’s actually a tenuous link.

No doubt a re evaluation is just around the corner but until that day comes they remain underrated.

 

Van der Graaf Generator

OK, if you knew of a band whose line up was saxophone, organ (with bass pedals) drums and vocals wouldn’t you want to see them- I would!

In fact VGG went through a few changes from a slightly normal progressive rock band to an unusual progressive rock band where the organ was replaced by cello and violin, but the above is their classic line up.

Led by the very clever Peter Hammill, VGG could make King Crimson sound like Herman’s Hermits. Hammill would write about literally everything and had a voice that would go from chorister to dalek sometimes in the space of the same line. David Jackson the sax player did things with his instrument rarely found outside the realms of free jazz and most of the harmony came from the doomy Hammond organ. The band had its fans but it was generally distrusted by the critics as overwrought and pretentious. In Italy they were stars, no one knows why really but they clearly captured the spirit of the times eventually leaving the country amid political riots and the loss of most of their equipment.

 

To be honest you’ll either like the band or you won’t there’s not a lot of middle ground and there’s an awful lot to listen to, not so much in quantity but this is dense, heavy heavy stuff and not easy to ignore. The amazing thing for me about the band is that they sound like no one else at all before or since. That must be worth some sort of accolade.

 

Man

I covered  the mighty Welsh band a couple of years ago.

 https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2017/07/02/wales-man-and-another-brother-slips-away/

For the first half of the 70’s Man were everywhere touring Europe and the USA and making a string of records. At their worst they were a lumpy pseudo American rock band.  Deke Leonard wrote most of the actual songs which generally didn’t really distinguish them from  mass of other bands limping round the college circuit. What did lift them out of the morass was their playing. In Mickey Jones they had one of the best guitarists ever to come out of Britain, you might even call him underrated !

Man were able to go off on flights of fancy of indeterminate length at the drop of a hat. This wasn’t the endless riffing of the likes of the Allman Brothers, there would be tranquil moments, feedback, screaming and, yes endless riffing. It was like the Grateful Dead with areally good rhythm section.

Man split up and then reformed continuing to make patchy records and pay great gigs into the 80’s and 90’s but they never managed to break through into popular consciousness. If you want to go straight to the essence of Man try Live at the Padget Rooms Penarth, one of the great album titles of all time*

 

XTC

If you are familiar with the band which version of XTC would it be, the frantic sweaty Barry Andrews model, the pop band of ‘making plans for Nigel’ the quieter song writer orientated model of the late 80’s and 90’s or the symphonic pop of Apple Venus, the smartarses among you might even want to include the band’s alter ego period as Dukes of Stratosphear.

In short how many bands have produced such adventurous and high-quality material consistently throughout their career, only the blimmin Beatles and they only managed it for less than a decade.

Personally, I would put Andy Partridge on a par with Brian Wilson. That’s not quite the accolade it seems as I think Brian Wilson is hugely overrated and in fact Partridge produced lot less crap but he was aided my having Colin Moulding rather than Mike Love to be his second in command.

I covered the 70’s XTC here

 

So that’s my underrated 5. Underrated is a lot easier than overrated as there’s hundreds to choose, there’s probably someone so underrated that I missed them altogether! It’s also a lot easier to do the 70’s, most artists sell so little today they are all underrated.

It also occurred to me that I am drawn to the underrated, that’s mostly what I write about, it doesn’t mean that Man are a better band than the Eagles but I do find them a lot more interesting.

 

Let me know what you think,

 

*for anyone lacking an extensive knowledge of Wales, Penarth is a small fairly sedate seaside town near Cardiff, it’s hard to imagine it being the scene of psychedelic experiments. Coincidentally at the end of the 70’s West Runton Pavillion on the north Norfolk coast was also quite a venue.

 

 

 

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Overrated

When it comes to reputations context is everything, we filter the past through the prism of the present. When I was and impressionable teenager ‘Sgt Pepper’ was officially not only the best Beatles LP but the best long playing record ever. By the 90’s the general consensus was Revolver was superior but perhaps not the best ever LP. Today there seems to be a move to put the White Album in the premier post. The Beatles are a good example, they’ve not done too much to affect our decisions since their split in 1970 but our own tastes have changed.

 

If a band is overrated it’s hardly their fault it’s you and me, the public that are at fault we’re the ones who rated them.

 

So, with this in mind let’s start with a no blame culture. The next 5 bands/Artists are all fine, at least in parts. When I started to consider the whole overrated/underrated thing the more I thought about it the more difficult it became. I soon decided to stick to the UK and the 70’s, at least this time round (watch out America !) so at least I’ve got an equal perspective. So here are 5 overrated bands, all potentially heroes of my childhood whose reputation, in retrospect became a bit overinflated.

 

Led Zeppelin

I’ve written about this before

 

When we think of the mighty Zep we locate them in our memory banks frozen at their peak in 1974. Robert Plant is stage centre, open shirt, leonine hair, Jimmy Page  is working his crooked riffs on a low slung Les Paul and behind them is the mighty thump of Bonzo. We ignore the later period when Plant was developing a mullet and the others started to dress like gentlemen farmers.

 

It was clear the band were running out of ideas before John Bonham’s death but their records were pretty patchy anyway. Unlike AC/DC for example the bands were about more than skull crushing riffs but that’s what they are remembered for and whenever Jimmy Page reached for his open tuned guitar things were guaranteed to get just a bit dull.

 

Their reputation has been cemented by concentrating on just a few mighty tracks, ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ etc and the fact that John Bonham is now widely regarded as the best ever rock drummer. There’s a Zeppelin sound which they managed to distil into one of their final tracks  ‘In the Evening ’   which condensed the Zeppelin sound into 4 minutes of brutally compressed drums and an unstoppable guitar riff.

 

It’s all seductive and influential but also limited. Zep also developed a management model which created and fiercely protected what would later be termed their ‘brand’. Like with Queen there’s been a re writing and reinterpreting of the past through a ‘School of Rock ‘mentality and through that filter Zeppelin are bound to look good.

 

Nothing wrong with Zeppelin but simply not as good as we now think they were.

 

ELP

When Robert Fripp first saw Greg Lake perform he was so convinced of his star quality he knew he had to have him in his band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Even to the point where Fripp would leave the band and Lake would replace him. It didn’t happen of course, it was bass player Michael Giles who got the push and GG&F became King Crimson.

 

It seems incredible now but by the time Lake joined Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer he was regarded as a superstar joining a bunch of similar geniuses. For the first half of the 70’s ELP were huge. During my research (yes really!) I have forced myself to listen to the band and was quite shocked at how much of their music I remembered, especially as I never actually listened to their music on record.

In retrospect Lake was really the weakest link. His songs were pretty drippy at the best of times and didn’t give the other members of the band to show off, so inevitably a Lake ballad would be followed by  20 minutes of tiddly keyboards and rat a tat drumming. Although the weaknesses were apparent ELP were massive and famously toured the USA with a juggernaut for each member and an orchestra.

 

Unlike Zeppelin their reputation hasn’t really survived the passage of time, it’s amazing that a band so huge in the 70’s is largely forgotten today but that’s probably due to the fact that they were hugely overrated even at their peak, by 1975 we had realised we had made a huge mistake and shuffled off in an embarrassed manner hoping no one would notice our faux pas.

 

Eric Clapton

Thanks to everyone who has contributed their own Overrated/Underrated thoughts. After careful consideration I have to bow to popular opinion and include Mr Eric Clapton. I was reluctant since I think he is almost an underrated guitarist.

 

I went to see Ana Popovic a week ago, it was a good gig and she’s a stellar guitarist but despite all her technical skill she didn’t really move me. Clapton has managed to distil the essence of the blues without over refining it which is why, whatever he plays he sounds great. However, can we ignore 40 years of an active career in which he’s produced almost nothing of any value?

 

We can’t; and that’s why Eric Clapton is overrated

 

Wire

 

Almost by definition, for a band to be overrated they must be pretty famous, too famous one might argue. Wire is an exception to that rule. Regular readers will know how much I hate to be sold a duff record (I’ve never forgiven the Beach Boys for that in 1972). In the 90’s I was working in a town where the only daytime entertainment was a visit to Woolworths (now closed obviously). The store would often sell off its old cassettes at a knock down price which I could listen to on my car cassette player as I drove round east Derbyshire. One of my purchases was a Wire cassette for 99p. I may have listened to it once, but it was just so dreary I just couldn’t face it again. I had parted with 99p for a really duff cassette, I never forgave Wire.

 

From the beginning the critics loved Wire and it’s easy to see why. The band first came to light on a live at the Roxy album which was a quick attempt for the ailing punk club to make some money and featured the 2nd or 3rd rate bands who had appeared there (the good ones all had record contracts by this point). In such company Wire really shone like a diamond in a turd. Their first LP Pink Flag was full of short sharp songs with some interesting lyrics and competent playing. I bought the record and it was pretty good. The next couple of LPs raised the bar considerably. The band had bought some new effects pedals introduced some keyboard effects (which haven’t really dated) they has also written some intriguing songs. With Chairs Missing and 154 they had made a huge leap forward in their sound and established a stellar trajectory which they failed to maintain for the next 40 years.

 

But wire have remained the ultimate Guardian readers band. Clearly intelligent and arty they have constantly engaged in projects which are left of centre including fairly dull collaborations and solo projects. The hyperbole outweighs the reality though, to quote from Spotify, the band have focussed on ‘experimentation and process’ and their ‘musical identity constantly changes’. Just like ELP I have been listening to the band and I hear some really good songs from their first 3 LPs and a whole lot of fairly dull stuff from the rest of their career. It feels like one of those modern art exhibitions that have to be justified with extensive notes. In effect Wire have done what every band has done and moved with the times which means in the 80’s they sounded like a less danceable New Order and in the 90’s they started to look towards shoe gazing. There’s nothing actually that wrong with it but really, it’s pretty ploddy pop with the same 4/4 beat it’s not really experimental it’s what all bands do.

 

 

Sir Elton John

 

Sir Elton is a late entry prompted by the fact that there is a new biopic or at least a ‘re imagining of real events’ coming our way. Lets hope it’s as good as Dirt and Bohemian Rhapsody.

 

For me Elton is the sound of the early 70’s, a mashup of rock, glam and singer songwriter. It’s nice to hear his songs on the radio but I’ve never been tempted to listen to an entire album. During my week on Mull with only a record player and a limited supply of vinyl I did listen to one side of Goodbye Yellow Brick road only to find that it contained a track entitled ‘Jamaica Jerk off’, I was quite shocked.

 

If you’re going to have a millionaire Rockstar it might as well be Elton. He’s a genuine music enthusiast whose done a lot for charity but when you look at bit closer there’s not a whole deal of substance in his back catalogue. I like the sound of his voice and the sound of his records and the sound of his band in the 70’s  but songs like ‘Bennie and the Jets’ ‘ ‘Honky Cat’ and ‘Crocodile Rock’ are not going to give Dylan and sleepless nights.

 

And remember he only wrote 50% of those!

 

Elton was in the right place at the right time and with a matter of luck and personality (and good management) he’s stayed at the top for so long we’ve almost forgotten what he’s famous for.

 

 

So am I right, am I wrong ?

 

Have I missed someone really obvious, does Sir Elton really write load of brilliant songs, DO Zep deserve their adoration, who are Wire anyway?

 

Let me know

 

 

 

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Overrated/Underrated

One of the advantages of being 60, as opposed to 40 or even 50, is that I don’t have the 80’s or 90’s as my golden age of music. Let’s face it, being old is at best ok, the time when the most important things happen in our lives are between 15 and 25. And that includes the best music of our lives.

 

The other day I accidently caught a celebration of Blur’s ‘Parklife’ on 6 music. It’s regarded as a bit of a classic apparently, but it passed me by, there were other things happening in my life which were more important to me than the 3rd album by a British indie sounding band.

 

More worryingly/significantly is the fact that it’s 30 (30!) years since the release of the first Stone Roses album. Tributes have been prepared and apparently the Stone Roses are now one of the greatest bands ever.

 

I must admit that at the time I was still engaged in contemporary music and their single ‘Fools Gold’ did rather capture my imagination largely down to the drumming of Reni and the bass playing of Mani (names made for children’s TV). What little I picked up beyond that seemed to be rather disappointing jingle jangle rock music with bad singing. There wasn’t much about the Roses to lift them above the general level of indie bands with jangly guitars and half arsed vocals and I didn’t pay a huge attention to their music.

 

Less than a decade on the Stone Roses were phenomenally influential having influence Oasis who were on their way to becoming the great British hope for music and arguably the last real British rock stars. Oasis had a a similar derivative guitar style and a beefed-up replica of Ian Brown’s vocals with attitude. The Roses themselves had gone down the pan swiftly having swapped the Byrds for Zeppelin and shed members along the way.

For me, the Stone Roses are the epitome of overrated, a band I consider to be highly regarded by history despite having delivered very little of actual substance. It’s an age thing of course if I was a decade or so younger they would have coincided with my formative years and I would have looked at them as uncritically as I regard the Clash or Slade or Yes or Fairport Convention (early years only)

 

And so, I have been considering what it means to be overrated or underrated. When I was writing about Rory Gallager a few weeks back I watched quite a few YouTube videos on the Irish guitarist. What came up time and time again in the comments section was the sense that Gallager was ‘underated’. He’s one hell of a performer and guitarist but there’s the sense that he has never been full appreciated probably just because he isn’t a household name like Hendrix or Beck.

 

At the core of the whole underrated/overrated debate is the sense that there is a gulf between what the artist or band actually were and how, usually in retrospect, they have entered into our collective consciousness. It’s a tricky one, take Queen for example. For years in the 70’s they just seemed a bit irritating with their bloody ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but they soldered on adding and adding material with little sense of direction until they collected a huge shiny pile of nothing. 30 years later the band are at an all-time high, they are officially national treasures and mocking them is now a criminal offence. But.. hand on heart I couldn’t make a case that Queen were overrated. Even though I don’t like them much I can recognise that they produced a whole load of entertaining songs, in retrospect they broke the mould as to what a rock band should be and again in retrospect Freddie Mercury deserves his accolades as an entertainer in the face of sexual and racial prejudice. Another band who escaped my overrated accusations was The Moody Blues, a band who apparently are in the totally pointless rock and roll hall of fame having spent their entire career producing nothing of value. That started me thinking about who actually ever rated the Moody Blues in the first place?. I have never met anyone who like the band, it’s not like the music critics are preparing 6 music documentaries telling us what a great band the Moody’s were, a popular band but barely rated, so free from charges of being overrated.

 

For the next couple of weeks, I will looking at 10 bands who, in my opinion, fit the overrated underrated category. In order to be as unbiased as possible I will concentrate on the 70’s rather than using this as an opportunity to go off on one of those ‘music isn’t what it used to be’ rants.

If you have a favourite overrated underrated band please get involved in some way, all contributions gratefully received.

 

 

 

 

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It was 40 Years ago Today…Blair Peach

This Sunday a large proportion of TV drama lovers will be sitting down to watch the final episode of ‘Line of Duty’. The highly successful BBC show has had a few series, I cant remember how many, and now, I think, it’s coming to an end.

Like with many tightly constructed drama series I only have the vaguest of clues about what is actually going on but the main premise is that the Police are prone to corruption which needs to be rooted out by a special unit, which might be corrupt itself.

It’s possible that the British police are the best in the world, as Tom Robinson ironically informed us in ‘Sing if You’re Glad to be Gay’ but it’s really not surprising if we often feel we cant trust them.

And so, just over 40 years ago the police almost certainly killed Blair Peach, and then tried to cover it up.

For years after that it seemed that images of Peach were everywhere, the same grainy black and white photo on posters stuck to walls and lampposts usually calling for justice for his killers.

 

Until 23rd April 1979 no one had really heard of Peach. He had arrived in Britain from New Zealand 10 years earlier . He became a teacher at a special needs school in East London and entered into a relationship with a woman he had met in New Zealand previously and became a father to her daughters. He was politically active especially in relation to anti-racism. Until the day of his death, the only time he had come to the attention of the authorities was when he was acquitted of threatening behaviour against a pub landlord who had refused to serve black customers.Peach wasn’t a spokesman, he was just a guy who stood up for his beliefs against a rise of fascism in a country he had chosen to live in.

By the end of the 70’s the national front where growing in presence and numbers. They had decided to hold a meeting in Southall which was a diverse area of London and many of the residents regarded this as a provocative act. There has been a prominent racist murder a couple of years before, defence groups had been formed and, inevitably there would be a very visible opposition to the national front.

 

Brought in to police this was the Special Patrol Group (SPG) critically viewed as a force within a force and a mistrusted and symbolic presence at any public order event.

 

The death of Peach can be read in more detail here.

 

 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Blair_Peach

Basically the SPG force exited one of their vans with the aim of dispersing the crowds. They did this with minimum tact and maximum force, Peach was hit on the head, he was take to a nearby house but was clearly in a bad way and was taken to hospital where he died while being operated on.

 

Almost immediately the cover up began, eventually  the subsequent investigation would be dismissed as fabrication but Peach’s death was considered as misadventure. It appeared that Peach had died not from a truncheon blow but from an illegal cosh, examples of which along with, in one case, nazi memorabilia, were found in possession of SPG members.

AT the very very least there has been unwarranted police aggression a theme that would resurface in later years with the death’s of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson.

For a while battle lines were drawn with Rock against Racism and the Anti Nazi League offering a direct challenge to the growth of fascism, most of the new bands from the Clash to Madness played gigs for the causes along with a thousand minor local bands up and down the country.

 

We are never likely to find out how Peach died, it becomes less likely every year to find out how a teacher and a father making his way home  from a protest against fascism came to be hit on the head by a heavy object such as ones known to be carried by the SPG who were in the process of ‘dispersing’ the crowd.

 

What we do know is that his family eventually received damages two years after the SPG, after continued bad publicity, were disbanded.

 

Musically the events around Peach’s death were recoded by the likes of the Ruts and the Pop Group, perhaps the most direct tribute is Reggae Fi Peach by Linton Kwesi Johnson

 

Most fittingly though a school in Southall is named after him

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Journey to Ireland 1979 pt 2

Apparently the aboriginal people of Australia used to have the ability to find their way about the outback, even places where they had never been before. This seems less far-fetched when I consider my own abilities in the 70’s to travel around without the aid of phones or sat nav.

When our ferry docked in Wexford the first task of my travelling companion Dunc and myself was to meet up with the missing member of our party Phil. This didn’t really take long, we went to the nearest camp site and there he was. I don’t know how we did it but this was entirely natural. Being a solo traveller Phil had spared himself an overnight stop in England and had made his way across the water in no time at all. He had missed out on a fatal accident and camping by the side of the road and the hippie van but what he had experienced was the Irish weather. The previous year he had purchased the cheapest tent available to share with Dunc. The previous night’s deluge had turned the tent into a paddling pool and Phil had spent the day buying polythene from a local hardware store and reinforcing his current accommodation. I felt quite smug having shelled out a bit more cash on a fly sheet but also concerned the polythene contraption might not hold up and all three of us might have to cram into mine.

We would deal with this if the rain continued but the evening was young and the weather was merely damp. I assume we had something to eat but for the entire trip all I could remember eating was a tin of cold ravioli. More important was to sample the Guinness which I had been informed was entirely different to the stuff on the mainland.it was, we found a pub nearby with anticipated folk music and a fine night was had by all.

Little did I realise this was to be the highlight of the trip. We later tried some of the other pubs in town but they all seemed soulless neon lit places occupied by three suspicious locals and no one else at all. Every night we had to go to the original pub which was actually a bit of a tourist trap. For the next couple of days we slept off hangovers and mooched about Wexford, it was apparent that it wasn’t going to hold our attention for long so we planned our next move.

We identified a campsite at a place called Red Cross and set off using our usual hitching arrangements which was me with Dunk and Phil on his own. Our first lift was a very nice man with a relaxed demeanour who just chatted away like our personal Terry Wogan. Red Cross was a bit off the main road so the nice Irishman dropped us off and we decided to walk for a while and occasionally stick our thumbs out if a car passed us. Hitching in Ireland was freaky. There were cars occupied by huge families sometimes with five kids all lined up on the backseat, they clearly were not going to offer us a lift. There was also an awful lot of nuns, dedicating their life to a higher power and serving their fellow man didn’t extent to giving us a lift, eventually we gave up trying when someone dressed as a penguin drove by. Finally, there were the older drivers who looked like they were going to stop, mainly because they were going so slow, but never did. Apparently, Ireland had introduced driving tests fairly recently and allegedly never bothered to test anyone who was already the proud owner of a vehicle.

So, we walked, and walked. It was humid and some seriously determined flies began to show us more attention than we really wanted. Equally determined were the dogs who strained at chains as we passed, it wasn’t exactly welcoming. Red Cross itself didn’t really lift the spirits. There was a camp sight and not much else, a group of local youths hung about outside the only shop, bizarrely they had adopted the gang uniform of straw hats.

Phil arrived a bit later, considerably more cheerful than us as he had managed to hitch all the way. We set up camp and sat around on the grass looking at the local hills and fields, there wasn’t much else to do. As evening fell, an unremarkable house suddenly switched on a neon sign and became the local pub. Naturally, we couldn’t resist a visit. It was a week day but the bar was quite full, mainly with tiny men with a collection of physical deformities. There was a Guinness pump and a whisky optic and literally that was it. Darts was probably a bit dangerous in such confines and so there was a game where you threw rubber rings at hooks. It was very popular. In a back room there was a session in force. At this point I was totally ignorant of Irish music but it looked quite fun. Unfortunately, such was the draw of live music that the room was so packed the only way you would get in was if someone chose to leave.

To be honest we weren’t really ready for the real Ireland and we went back to our tents where we listened to dogs barking and howling from a dozen different farms and hoped they were all chained up for the night.

We had had our bellyful of rural life and decided to relocate further north and stage a visit to Dublin. This involved a train journey as we didn’t fancy trying to hitch into the centre of an actual city. It was nice to have a break from hitching. Our cultural plan for Dublin was simple-find an amusement arcade and try some of the new-fangled video games that were just starting to appear. I was freaked out by the appearance of beggars and that started to spoil the day for me. It may seem strange in this day and age but I really wasn’t experienced with this, say what you want about the 70’s but people didn’t have to sleep on the streets. Old ladies would appear from nowhere offering to say some prayers for me in return for money. The whole thing wierded me out, it wasn’t just begging which really, believe me, was not commonplace in England. It was also the religious thing, the beggars who thought that was God’s will, the huge families, the Nuns who seemed to be everywhere, it was very apparent that this was very much a Catholic country and quite simply too religious for my tastes. Having decided to waste our money in slot machines rather than give it to people less fortunate than ourselves we agreed that we’d now had a bellyful of city life and went back to the campsite.

We lasted a couple more days before poverty and inclement weather made us decide our time was up. Night sailings were cheaper so we were able to spend the last of our money in the pub before catching the night boat. It appeared that everybody we came across, hopefully with the exception of the captain, were completely pissed. When I went to buy a ticket the bleary eyed official noticed by student railcard was little more than a scrap of paper having survived a full cycle in my mum’s washing machine. If he had charged me full price, I don’t know what I would have done, I had spent most of the last of my money in the pub. Luckily, he was more drunk than I was and waved me through. The journey was the stuff of nightmares, the ferry pitched and the passengers and crew staggered around in various states of intoxication. It was decided Phil and Dunc would hitch together and eventually I was standing beside the road out of Holyhead, tired and hungover in a grey dawn.

Strangely enough Phil Dunc and me would criss cross and pass each other in the journey from west to east. At one stage they persuaded their lorry driver to stop for me and we travelled together for a while. Apparently on an earlier lift in a truck Phil had jammed his rucksack against the cigarette lighter and shorted out the electrics, apparently the driver was quite understanding as they left him stranded in his vehicle.
I waited for what would be my final lift by a roundabout near Mildenhall. Not long previously a truck had discharged its contents on the road. On closer inspection this proved to be a whole load of raw chickens. I stood there with my thumb out , every time a lorry went past it crushed the chickens into an ever wider and thinner bloody mulch.

It seemed a fitting end to my holiday.

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