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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This Is Pop

A quick perusal of this month’s Shindig magazine has convinced me that 1968 is back in fashion. It’s 50 years ago of course and so it is time to convince the ageing punters that still buy CD’s that now is the time to but another version of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake or The White Album or Electric Ladyland.

We all love nostalgia of course we do, I remember in 1976 that the New Musical Express was listing all the great albums that had been made in 1966. To be fair they had a point, it was a great year for music, but then 1966 seemed as far away as 1968 does to the present day.

And so, with my Futureispast head on I thought I would look at 1978 to see if it held the same sort of treasures as 1968. The latter, of course was when psychedelia and ‘progressive’ music was becoming heavy and ‘rock’ was being born. You can hear the Beatles doing it before your very ears on ‘Helter Skelter’ on the White Album.

So, onto 1978, a mixed bag as might be anticipated, the nearest to a classic might be Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town which has grown in stature over the years. A genuinely great British eccentric, namely Kate Bush was emerging and there was interesting stuff from the likes of Pere Ubu, Television and The Only Ones.

Inevitable there was going to be variety, these were interesting times, my overall memory of the end of the 70’s however was the emergence of post punk and the re-emergence of pop.

These days pop is hotbed of force-fed acts where the songwriter and producer are king (or queen). It is the sound of radio one and the X factor, I don’t like it, it’s too artificial. But then again, I am 60.

In the late 70’s however pop was a broader church, the weight of the Beatles still laid heavy on us all, they had been the ultimate pop band, they had spent years playing covers in clubs trying to entertain everyone with everything from showtunes to Elvis. There was a lack of snobbishness about the band but also a lack of desperation. The Beatles were happy to play pop.
After a couple of years of punk, we were beginning to consider there might be more to life than going to be insulted by a bunch of people who couldn’t play very well and risk being beaten up by whatever local subculture had turned up looking for a fight. However, Punk had opened some kind of door to other possibilities and one of these was the need for a bit higher energy playing.
All of a sudden, the time was right for a bunch of people who had been biding their time on the side-lines waiting, watching and making sure they could play their instruments. Notably  Glen Matlock’s Rich Kids were ahead of the pack. Since leaving the Sex Pistols Matlock was free to indulge in ‘wanky Beatle chords’ and this time we were willing to listen. In his new band he had recruited Midge Ure, a talented and opportunistic young Scottish Guy who would have been laughed offstage in 1976 but now was newly credible.
The Rich Kids were a very short-lived phenomena but others were in it for the long term (which in the 70’s was about 4 years)

Blondie had been lurking around as a kind of joke band since the mid 70’s. They had toured Britain with Television and during the attractive women shortage of 1977 Debbie Harry was everywhere. Blondie never got that good at playing live but Harry was a brilliantly charismatic front person. Their other strength was their songs were melodic and energetic. Likewise, Elvis Costello was transforming from county influenced  angry young man to angry young man with good pop songs. His Armed Forces was in the pipeline, chock full of tunes that had allegedly been deconstructed from Abba. Costello’s old producer Nick Lowe had released Jesus of Cool which mixed rock with pure pop. Spikey Swindon band XTC were on the verge of jettisoning their experimental keyboard player for Drums and Wires. Squeeze had suddenly revealed a real flair for melodic song writing as had Buzzcocks. The Police had now left their individual Jazz Rock and Prog Rock projects behind and after flirting with punk for a while had stumbled across a kind of pop reggae that would take over the world.
All of a sudden musicians seemed to be having a bit of a good time and getting paid for it. At the Polytechnic Disco we could dance to ‘Oliver’s Army’ ‘Heart of Glass’ ‘Can’t Stand Loosing You’ and ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ without any real self-consciousness. These were all proper bands with proper musicians who just happened to make great records. There was more to come, the Two Tone movement and then the advent of electo pop recognised the importance of tunes. We had a couple of years before it all started to get a bit silly or miserable.

But by then it was the 80’s

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1: Sylvia’s Mother: Dr Hook and the Medicine Show

The first couple of years of the 70’s are a dark hinterland to me. It was dark literally all the time it seemed but also I didn’t really have a clue about what was happening in the world. Like most pre teens, school was the most important thing in my life and thanks to school I became aware of music as a ‘thing’. There was no realisation at this point that I could seek out sounds and make my choices, I listened to whatever my parents had on the radio, whatever musical acts appeared on variety shows on the television and from occasionally playing one of my parents’ collection of 9 LP’s.

Top of the Pops was an incredibly important show. Placed firmly in the middle of a Thursday evening it was watched by generations some of whom came to sneer and others came to watch in awe. To be fair it was always the deal that you had to sit through a lot of crap, in fact in the mid 70’s you could go for weeks without seeing anything exciting but there would be the nuggets, Bolan, Bowie, the Faces, that made the wait worthwhile.

And somewhere, it seemed out of nowhere, there emerged a record called Sylvia’s Mother by Dr Hook and the Medicine show that made its way, almost to the top of the charts. 

 

I must admit, at the time, that I was underwhelmed, largely because this sort of music was outside my comprehension. There’s a bit of Norfolk that is forever Tennessee, country music was incredibly popular even in the village halls out in the sticks. It was the music of mums and dads and I didn’t really like it and Dr Hook sounded a bit like that. But I was also a little impressed, they were clearly American and so weren’t going to schlep over to the BBC studios so all we had was a blurry piece of film which only really conveyed the fact that one of them had a hat and an eyepatch. He clearly must be Dr Hook although it was the hairy guy who sounded like he was about to burst into tears who was doing the singing. There was also the fact that this was a story song. Clearly, I hadn’t realised that this was written by Shel Silverstein writer, cartoonist and general renaissance man. The song was about an actual experience he had had and there’s a certain pathos about the author trying to contact the titular Sylvia while her mother fields the call and the operator asks for more money.

In the 70’s you had to sell records to get into the charts and it amazes me how the British public decided to simultaneously purchase a record by a bunch of freaks who had only just recorded their first album. Dr Hook and the Medicine Show had been plugging away for years in the states but this single broke them in Europe, Australia and the USA without warning.

48 years later, YouTube decided I needed to watch an old clip of the band live in concert and so I did (thank you YouTube), and then it decided I wanted to watch more live performances and interviews from all around the world, so I did.

And what a great band! Basically if the Bonzos had been born in Alabama  and raised on soul and country instead of Jazz, given a big bag of weed and told to go out and entertain the roadhouses they would have been Dr Hook. Its was almost impossible to conceive how talented American bar bands could be. Eggs over Easy started the whole pub rock scene when they decamped to Kentish Town in the mid 70’s and impressed the pub crowns by being able to play almost anything the audience wanted. Dr Hook (soon to loose the Medicine Show)  were a 7 piece where just about everyone could sing lead (and did), instruments were swapped, musicians came to the front of the stage to dance and sing and despite seeming hugely stoned they all weighed in with vocal harmonies at a moment’s notice. There was no Dr Hook of course, Ray Sawyer was a soul singer who had lost his eye in a near fatal car crash. We all got a bit confused, Ray didn’t have a hook, Captain Hook, on the other hand didn’t have an eyepatch and wasn’t a Doctor, we didn’t really think this through at the time.

The real voice of Dr Hook, as he would later bill himself, was Dennis Locorriere, initially drafted in as the bass player,Locorriere was a sweaty hairy ball of pathos who, along with Sawyer, was incredibly popular with the ladies. Between them they had an incredibly intuitive onstage relationship and just seemed to be having the best time ever when they performed.

Its taken me some 48 years to appreciate just how good they were, they diversified into disco and soft rock but even at their blandest they had Locorriere’s voice and Sawyer’s maracas. If I could have a time machine gig Dr Hook would be pretty near the top of the list. Only the Faces approached their level of onstage camaraderie.

I wonder if, in retrospect they set the seeds for my love of American roots music. Things were so grim in the late 80’s that many of us were checking out country music again and Dr Hook began to make sense.

Inevitably the band came to an end, Locorriere estimates they spent 17 years playing 300 gigs a year which if true is pretty incredible. There were the inevitable fallings out but we won’tsee the band ever again, some are no longer with us including the estimable Sawyer (only 8 years younger than my dad!) who left us just over a year ago. 

But despite life’s setbacks there’s always YouTube.

https://youtu.be/7LXpnNKNxJI

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The Tracks of my Years

Splitting out lives into decades is, at best, an arbitrary experience. Its not possible to divide a century by 10 and expect life events to follow a pattern. The first part of the 70’s were really just the end of the 60’s, the bad end when things had gone wrong with the hippie dream. The charts featured bands like Atomic Rooster,Hawkwind, even Jimmy Hendrix. Everybody had long hair flared jeans and occasionally an afghan coat. The 70’s ended with young men jerking about frantically while they played. The likes of Squeeze, the Police and Elvis Costello were only a couple of years younger than the early bands, but they had short hair and tight trousers and seemed like a different species entirely. Most significantly, waiting in the wings were the likes of the Human League and Depeche Mode who were to stage their own quiet revolution, in ten years’ time music would be completely different again.

Sandwiched in the middle was the real 70’s (about 5 years), glam,prog, punk, disco,reggae and some genuinely good pop and rock. The thing that united recording in those days (with a few notable exceptions) was that it was played, usually in real time, by real people. Apart from rudimentary drum machinesall music was created by musicians, quite often in the same room at the same time. In the 70’s music was recorded, by the end of the 80’s it was being assembled. Technology hadn’t really taken off, there might be more tracks to record on but the recording process was not greatly different in 1980 from 1970, in fact it wasn’t hugely different from the 50’s. 

Today its quite possible that, given a couple of hours, I could create and record a song using my phone, technically it would be better quality than anything from the 70’s  but, lets face it, it would be crap. For me there no substitute for the sound of people playing together and to a large extent that was the unifying sound of the 70’s whether it was a band of childhood friends or a group of session musicians.

And so. I’m intending to write about some of the individual pieces of music that shaped the 70’s and influenced me. I was hoping for a pithy heading for this. Alas ‘the tracks of my years’ has already been used by the Ken Bruce* show on Radio 2 who also created ‘the sounds of the 70’ back in that decade. I lack the creativity to come up with anything memorable (any suggestions welcome) so the best I can do is number each track as they appear. It’s a count up not a count down, I’m not sure where this will end.

Number one is next week.

*thats his picture, it’s not me !

 

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The end of Rock?

20 years ago, along with friends and family, I was stood on a grassy bank in Northumberland waiting for the grey light to reveal the first day of the new century. Not all of us who were there then are still alive now, the children are all adults and the world has changed a great deal since then. I can remember using a friends top of the range Nokia to play a game called snake, we had just bought a computer which cost a month’s wages, if you wanted to listen to music you bought a radio or a CD. As usual 20 years ago seems simultaneously like yesterday or a lifetime away. 

 

The scariest thing is if you take those 20 years and project them into the future. More of that group won’t be alive but some of them may have had children of their own. The evolution will take place slowly enough for us not to really notice its happening, Twitter and Facebook and WordPress seem to have been there forever but if you had told me in 2000 that I could use a handheld device to watch almost anything I wanted or listen to any music I wanted from almost anywhere in the world at anytime my mind would have been blown.

 

But what is the future for people like me who like to see music played by real people in real time? 20 years ago, there had been a final flourishing of rock. Thanks to Oasis showing us how easy it was to write and play a song, sales of acoustic guitars were on the increase. We were used to the ebb and flow of popular music. Commentators were making noises about the end of rock from the mid 70’s, following the purge of punk it came back even stronger but each time it changed the after effects were less cataclysmic, grunge and Britpop gave dance music a run for it’s money, but really hip hop came and conquered all and there was no comeback.

 

When I used to go to gigs in the late 70’s I was surrounded by people between the age of 16 and 26, anyone over the age of 30 would have been treated with extreme suspicion. Today I would be surrounded by people from 35 to 75 with the average age being around the 50’s. It’s a wider but broader demographic but it’s a hell of a lot older. At a grass roots level, a lot of local bands are playing to sparse audiences of older people, worse still those bands only survive by playing covers at best or being a tribute band at worst. When I started playing live an unlistenable post punk band could fill a pub on a Thursday night now there’s no appetite, young people don’t care and old people want to hear ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ just like the record (and to be in bed by 10:30).

 

But the most significant thing will be that very soon we will lose all our classic rock icons. I’ve been racking my brains to think of any band from the 60’s that could actually reform without the addition of session players or band members children. The only band from Britain I could think of who could do would be the Holies and that’s assuming bass player Bernie Calvert is still with us. Leading on from that the only really big 60’s act I could think of was CSN (&Y) who could still delight us with a new record or tour. Apart from that every band from the Beatles downwards has been decimated. On an individual level though think of a world where there is no Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Elton John,Springsteen, Mick Jagger or whoever matters to you most, it’s a bleak thought but it’s going to happen…soon.

 

When I was young learning a musical instrument served several functions, it was a chance to be creative and a bit different. In turn this created more opportunities to meet other people which for a lot of us meant girls. Also, let’s not underestimate how boring life in the 70’s could be, music was a godsend.

 

Compare that with the young person today, their dad probably used to be in a band and is dying for the fruit of their loins to pick up a guitar. But; there are so many more things to do that provide a more instant reward and getting to know people (at least at some level) is the easiest thing in the world, why would anyone want to learn to play an instrument just so they could waste their weekends playing to 6 old people in a pub.

 

Of course, this type of music will continue in some form. Just as trad jazz thrived between the 20’s and the 50’s. A bit of diligent searching and it’s still possible to find a trad jazz band today but it was a lot easier in the 70’s and 80’s when the guys who had been playing in the 50’s were still around. Its like that now with Rock Musicians but like with the Jazzers there are not enough young people coming through to sustain it. People will still listen to what might be loosely called rock music just like they have continued to listen to Jazz or even Classical, but it won’t be the same.

 

And that’s the point, rock music has become as much about nostalgia as anything, that’s why the back pages of the glossy rock magazines are advertising the Australian Pink Floyd or the Bootleg Beatles or, at the very least one of those performances of an entire ‘classic’ album Live and new artists are struggling to half fill a room above a pub.

 

And yes, there’s loads of great music around but there’s too much, its so diluted as to be almost invisible.

And even I don’t want to spend all of my life banging on about how great the 70’s were and like everything The future is past is going to have a limited lifespan it’s certainly not going to outlive Paul McCartney (imagine a world without sir Paul). This year were are going to introduce some sounds of the 70s looking at some great music including America which I have tended to shy away from and of course there will still be the usual navel gazing and half remembered anecdotes from that golden decade.

 

And then I’m taking up birdwatching!

Finally apologies for a low level of grammar this week. I usually write on a proper computer and edit in the WordPress app. This week the app has a life of its own and I the digital equivalent of Caxton’s printing press.

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Neil Innes

If I had been born in Manchester or London, I would, no doubt have a stock of anecdotes about sitting next to Joe Strummer on the bus or being at school with Peter Hook or delivering mail to Ian Dury or whatever. Living my formative years in Norwich I was denied these casual brushes with fame. The most exciting it got was when a school friend had a text book which had been once used by Neil Innes. We knew this for a fact because school rules stated that you had to add your name to a list pasted in the front of the book in case you lost it. As Innes had been at Thorpe Grammar School well over 10 years previously this was a very old and dog-eared book with a long list of previous owners, but it was highly coveted by the small group of us who cared about such things.

 

Innes loomed unnaturally high in my adolescent life because he was a moderate sized fish in a very small pond (a puddle really). Innes was born in Essex but his career really began in London, the Norwich years were a really small part of his career. By the late 70’s he had lived the exciting part of his professional life. As part of the Bonzo Dog (doo dah) band he had been in the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour film and subsequently had ‘Urban Spaceman’ (which he wrote) produced to hit level by Paul McCartney. Viv Stanshall was the creative genius of the group who otherwise were a bunch of jazz eccentrics along with Innes who was the real musical force in the group. Initially on piano Innes played more and more guitar as the group became more rock orientated. A disciplined songwriter he was responsible for the musical substance of the band which otherwise would have collapsed under the weight of surreal lyrics and bass saxophone solos.

 https://youtu.be/xVr2hbE6aW0

Post Bonzo’s he fell in with the Monty Python Team, providing music as needed and a little bit of acting. Post Pythons there was the inspired Rutland Weekend Television with Eric Idle which led to his most creative venture in creating the Rutles. The ‘pre-fab four’ were, of course a parody of the Beatles. Innes wrote all the songs which although parodies (most of the royalties went to the Beatles in the end) stand up as the best Beatles record you never owned and certainly a lot better than anything Oasis ever recorded. Ironically Noel Gallagher had to part which his own royalties as one of his band’s hits copied one of Innes’s songs rather too closely, there’s some sort of karma at work there.

https://youtu.be/I-DgIU4E9Mo

From the 80’s onwards Innes had the sort of career that intelligent ex pop stars are lucky to sustain, bits of radio and TV work, adding musical bits to comedy and low-keyreformations of the Bonzos and the Rutles.

 

His Bonzo band mate Rodney Slater remembered him as a ‘stick insect’ prematurely balding and with a black cloud of depression hanging over him. Innes had got married as the band had hit the endless touring circuit, he wasn’t happy with life on the road. 20 years later Slater remarked on how he had gained about 7 stone shaved his head and was a happy family man an ’enormous fellow obviously enjoying life’.

 

Neil Innes died unexpectedly in the period we are learning to call ‘Twixmas’ . On one level it’s sad to start a new decade with another obituary and he’ll be greatly missed by family and his many friends but it’s also a celebration. Innes achieve the almost impossible accomplishments of a happy life and a swift death.

 

And that’s as good as it gets.

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Lonely this Christmas..Mud

I always had a soft spot for Mud. Even in the unsophisticated world of zits and glitter in the mid 70’s the band was relentlessly unglamorous. Hailing from a satellite town  inSurrey Mud, rather like the Sweet or even the Jam were going to be perennial outsiders in the London orientated music Biz. 

With guitarist Rob Davis they were able to create a bit of gender confusion pre Boy George but lead singer Les Graylooked like he worked in an insurance office and drummer Dave Mount actually worked in insurance after the band folded. I suspect that posters of the band were underrepresented on teenage girls walls

They were good musicians ( https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2019/09/22/4-manufactured-acts-who-were-actually-pretty-good-musicians/) but unlike the Sweet or Slade they didn’t feel the need to prove or progress. In their heart of hearts, they probably liked rock and roll like most adult musicians in the 70’s, it was the music they had grown up with and, best of all, Les could do a pretty good Elvis impersonation. 

Svengalis Chinn and Chapman had the monopoly on the song writing  and decided to play to the band’s strengths with ‘Lonely this Christmas’ which, contrary to popular belief was neve recorded by Elvis but would have done his career no harm at all had he done so.

Realising that the best they could achieve was a pastiche, Mud played it for laughs on Top of the Pops with a ton of snow and a ventriloquist’s dummy doing the spoken part. Millions would have watched this together on the Christmas day Top of the Pops. Like Slade, Mud were always able to give the impression they were having the best time ever for every appearance. We were waiting for punk to happen, clearly Mud were not about to become the next Beatles but for 3 minutes they were all we needed at Christmas.

https://youtu.be/xAZjiLeDWlc

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Music vs Politics vs Music

In 1979 I had my first chance to vote in a general election. Naturally the people I looked to for advice (this being the days before social media) were the rock musicians of the time.

Punk had just about boiled over, we had a general consensusthat there was no future and things were generally bad. Most of the wrath of the new bands was directed at authorityfigures in general and record companies in particular. To be fair there was a rate of unemployment unprecedented since the second world war and Britain was generally dirty and run down, the police were generally pretty nasty and the anger that was gently bubbling amongst the youth tended to find an outlet in minor rioting and the occasional organised protest march.

Pre-punk most of our rock idols hadn’t really got a political clue. The big exception was John Lennon who was trying on a variety of political hats in his quest to become an artist but really rock stars were the ultimate in the self-made business person. Almost all of them were genuinely working class and they’d worked hard to get where they were, really all they wanted was to make music, take drugs, have sex with whoever they wanted and generally be left alone. By the mid 70’s the likes of Jagger, Stewart and Elton John were pretty much on a par with royalty. They were also making more money than they had ever thought possible and unsurprisingly they didn’t want the Labour government to take nearly all of it away through taxation.

The inevitable exodus from the country of their birth was seen as a betrayal by some and when the likes of Bowie and Clapton started flirting with the extreme right wing the poorer musicians staying at home began some sort of involvement in more left-wing politics notably Rock against Racism and various anti-fascist movements. This was my background to 1979.

 

To be honest, this was manna from heaven for struggling musicians, ‘benefit’ gigs were a major source of unpaid exposure, people went to benefits, if you played there you could get a crown and a bit of a reputation.

Although most grassroots and even established musician s would not declare their love of the conservative party neither were they usually labour supporters. At the time of the 1979 election the Labour leader was Jim Callaghan. Gentleman Jim seemed impossibly old, in fact he was in his 50’s but he was a different generation, the labour party made next to no attempt to connect with the post Woodstock generation, if you were young and working class you probably voted for them anyway. Labour didn’t really seem to offer a lot for me, the only real alternative were the Conservatives under their new leader Margaret Thatcher. To my amazement many of my friends and acquaintances at polytechnic were active Conservative supporters. I hadn’t really encountered this before, my friends in Norwich had been fairly bohemian types and although all mainsteam politics was regarded as terminally unhip the Conservatives did not really even register on our political radar. 

 

The lucky party to get my vote in 1979 was the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. It seems incredible now that not only would such a party exist but that it would actually put up candidates but there were an awful lot of fringe left wing parties around the most active being the Socialist Workers. Naturally they all hated each other. 

The Workers Revolutionary didn’t win of course, the Tories did. I maintained a soft spot for the WRP for a while, one of them used to come round my house and sell me a paper once a week. After a few months I pointed out that most of the predictions they were making weren’t actually happening and he decided I wasn’t a believer and stopped coming.

All through the 80s I voted for someone who never got to power which means I voted for someone who wasn’t a Conservative, election after election it was the same. Labour had decided to woo the youth with their Red Wedge project, there was Billy Bragg (inevitably) and Paul Weller and the Communards (probably). My admiration for Billy continues to this day but I would rather go and see him without having to listen to a speech, so I never caught the red Wedge Tour when it rolled into Nottingham.

And it made no difference whatsoever to the Labour vote.

I cannot really remember the labour victory when it finally happened, for some reason the 90’s remains a blur. I cant even remember if I voted Labour or not, I had voted for so long with no positive outcome that I might even have had a punt on the Lib Dems or Green Party, I probably did vote Labour but the fact I cant remember it suggests it wasn’t the high spot of my decade.

With Tony Blair however, we at last had a leader from the Rock generation. Blair had been in a band at university and ‘Cool Britannia’ attracted a whole load of creative types- and Oasis. Like Red Wedge this didn’t really end well, musicians and politicians are very different types of people and really the musicians just wanted to make music, take drugs and have sex while politicians are happy to attend a reading of a draft manifesto. Essentially politicians are not cool in any respect although, ironically Boris Johnson actually has a more musician mentality than any other PM this century. (believe it or not, many years ago Billy Bragg took him to the Glastonbury Festival which was filmed for the BBC)

And talking of festivals, it was amazing to see Jeremy Corbyn being lauded at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. Young people now being more intelligent than I ever was were able to accept a man in his 70’s who clearly has virtually no rock credibility because they though he had some good ideas!

For a very brief moment a Politician was like a rock star without having to make any concessions to that audience. 

 

Last Thursday I went to vote as I have done in every general election since 1979.

 

Guess what happened!

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Ginger Baker

I found this post as a draft. For some reason I wrote it and never posted it.

Oh well, want not waste nothere it is

When I was a very young man I knew the names of two rock drummers, one inevitably was Ringo Starr, the other, less predictably, was Ginger Baker.

This was largely because the BBC did a documentary ‘Ginger Baker in Africa’, I never saw it at the time but I caught the trailer and that was enough to get me impressed by the wild looking guy with a mop of ginger hair pounding the drums along with a load of African guys.

Since then I held an unhealthy interest in Ginger. His autobiography ‘Hellraiser’ is an absolute must read. I’ve also got the DVD of ‘Ginger Baker in Africa’ I seen the documentary ’Beware Mr Baker’, I even have a drum tutorial by the man from the 80’s.

What I don’t own is any music created by Baker. I did once own their first LP ‘Fresh Cream’ which could best be described as disappointing, but I don’t own it anymore. Blind Faith were just about OK, Airforce passed me by and then there was the 70’s. By the time I was old enough to recognise Baker he was in the Baker Gurvitz army who were just the dullest of 70’s rock bands.

For someone who was a Jazzer at heart I don’t find his playing moves me in the same way as, to use an obvious example, Mitch Mitchell did. Baker was heavily influenced by African music and is one of the few white players to hold his own in afro beat. Baker had the chops, there’s no doubt about that but I never felt the groove from him.

 

He always tuned his drums beautifully though, even in the 60’s his toms cut through the mix.For the last couple of decades he mainly played jazz, it was a good choice and enabled him to have a lighter touch than he showed as a rock player.

 

Its not entirely about skill, Baker was one of the best but there are kids of 11 who can play like him these days. Baker was a pioneer, like Keith Moon (who he was pretty contemptuous of) he literally and figuratively moved the drums forward. He was one of the first rock players to have a double bass drum set up, he had a featured drum solo (Toad!) and generally made the drummer position desirable for anyone who fancied showing off a bit.

 

Much is made of his personality. His autobiography is full of incidents where he seizes defeat from the jaws of victory and each time its never his fault. I do wonder if he had autistic or even a psychopathic personality, he was extrodinarily brave,for example setting up a recording studio (it all came to an end-not his fault) in Nigeria in the 70’s. He was also extremely insensitive, such as when he had an affair with his daughters’ best friend during what should have been a sedate polo business enterprise. Baker seemed to recognise no barriers either physical or moral or geographical to his lifestyle. It fitted the freewheeling 60’s and decadent 70’s, he would portably be in prison if he had tried a fraction of this today; different times indeed.

 

Towards the end of his life Baker was extremely bad tempered, he was old and in pain and very very angry. Famously he broke the nose of the maker of the documentary ‘Beware Mr Baker’, he was estranged from a lot of his family life as Ginger Baker wasn’t a lot of fun.

 

There’s a lot to remember and celebrate , there’s a lot to regret, there will probably never be another musician like him he was an absolute force of nature but one Ginger Baker in anyone’s lifetime is probably enough.

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