Drinking, Dogshit and the Stones

By the beginning of the summer 1978 and finding myself without a girlfriend, a band and, temporarily, without a family (they had gone to the USA to see relatives) I decided it was time to get a job.
After a visit to the job centre I found myself being interviewed by a couple of council officials. Impressed by my possession of a driving licence and my ‘can do’ attitude they hired me on the spot, and so began my stint as a temporary parks and gardens maintenance worker.
I spent a couple of weeks based at a local park with a selection of other newbies. Due to my parents being on the other side of the Atlantic I drove to work which impressed my colleagues no end although they soon started to cadge lifts at the end of the day. The most notable of my new friends was a guy without any teeth for whom gardening was just a step on the ladder to his dream job of toilet attendant. At lunchbreaks he would regal us with tales of the easy life that without doubt awaited him when he finally achieved his goal.
I don’t know if he ever made it as I was moved on to some sort of peripatetic position being dropped into any part of the city with more than its fair share of weeds and long grass. For a few weeks I was paired up with Davy a slightly tramp like figure who was only a few years older than me but was a different league. Finding that I enjoyed a pint was Davy’s cue to embark on lunchtime drinking, sometimes solo and sometimes with me in tow. Once, after a visit to the pub we came back and smashed the tools, on another occasion, thanks to a late lunch I achieved the goal of getting drunk three times in 24 hours; and my school had called me an underachiever!

Rolling Stones-The 'Some Girls' Tour Rehearsals

One day in an effort to liven up our day Davie brought a transistor radio along. We had Radio 1, that was all but really that was enough, music was good. My main musical memory while hoeing and pruning was of the Stones who had just realised their LP Some Girls. Everyone seemed pretty excited, at last the band seemed to be giving a shit. Bear in mind this was just a couple of years after Black and Blue which not only featured a terrible ad campaign featuring violence against women but a few really half arsed tracks bunged together to make a record.
Everything about Some Girls seemed a bit lighter and sunnier, the sleeve was memorable and funny, Keith had started looking like a human being again and, best of all, there was a hit single.
‘Miss you’ was just great. It upset a few die hards because it sounded a bit disco. Disco was everywhere by the end of the decade, it was really massive with the general population and, lets face it, it produced some great singles. After a couple of years of full frontal attack some rock bands were beginning to capitulate and introduce the ‘four to the floor’ bass drum (see also my piece on the Only Ones a couple of weeks back). Eventually even the Grateful Dead would record a ‘disco’ track the music was unstoppable.
‘Miss You’ started life with Mick Jagger messing around with Billy Preston. Does this mean the afro wielding keyboard player got a credit? No need to ask of course because at the end of the day the Stones are the product of two men. Billy Wyman came in to devise the distinctive bass line, does that mean he got a credit? Well if he wasn’t going to get any acknowledgement for writing the riff to Jumping Jack Flash there was no way he would get a look in here. The song remained the intellectual property of Jagger and Richards despite the latter having very little to do with its inception.
No matter, the strength of the song was some pretty good ensemble playing including Ian McLagan on electric piano and harp from Sugar Blue, allegedly discovered busking on the streets of Paris. Flip the record over and there was ‘Faraway Eyes’ which was a fairly straight bit of Bakersfield Country with an outrageous Jagger vocal.
The single was enough to creep out a devoted Stones fan but back into the rest of the LP it was business as usual with some grungy rock with the occasional rather thoughtful Jagger lyric. As well as Richards return to something approaching health the return to form was attributable to new recruit Ronnie Wood. Ron may well be some sort of childlike musical savant but he must also be one of the most generous musicians in rock being willing to play what’s needed without any real consideration of his own needs. This is why he’s never been regarded as one of the guitar greats in the same way that Page is. On Some Girls he meshes with Richards, when it works it’s great when it doesn’t it sounds a sloppy mess but it’s always difficult to tell who is playing what. On Some Girls he also introduced us to more of his pedal steel playing and as expected it’s perfectly decent. With ‘When the Whip Comes Down’ Jagger presented his first openly gay lyric while on the album’s title track, which sounds like it was played by a bunch of 12-year olds, he manages to be a bit racist a bit provocative and also quite funny.
Again, it was the punk effect, it was as if there had been a thunderstorm and now everything was clean and new, even the Stones were a bit different.
It all went a bit down hill from there, blame the 80’s, I always do, but the band became a bit tired and Jagger and Richards fell out and I didn’t really think the band was worth listening to. As usual I was probably wrong ‘A Bigger Bang’ sounded surprisingly good and their last (final) album of blues still sounds absolutely fantastic to me.

Back in 1978 the forces of oppression decided that I shouldn’t be working with Davy anymore and I was dispatched to a base on a housing estate where I spent the rest of the summer moving grass and learning new card games when it rained. I was on the brink of change again having accepted a place at Trent Polytechnic on a humanities course. The rest of the summer was notable for drinking and dogshit. I was young and had a constitution where I could soon recover from a drinking bout, it was summer and I had money at last and was quite happy to spend it in the pubs. The dogshit was everywhere on the estate, I’m sure no one thought to actually pick it up. The worst thing was when I was sent out to mow the overgrown grass verges. Lurking in the greenery was many a ripe turd which would explode on contact with my strimmer, my ample flares soon had a green and brown line about six inches above ground level where the shit mulch hit me. There was, of course no safety equipment, no ear protectors, no goggles, not even a fluorescent jacket. Occasionally I would combine both elements of my summer and after an evening’s drinking would collapse on a grass verge realising only too late the secrets the grass had hidden.

But at least I never had to watch Celebrity Love Island

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Led Zeppelin “what is this shit?”

A few months ago I was lucky to spend five night on the Scottish island of Mull. Late enough for some warm sunshine and early enough to avoid the midges, me and my wife had rented a remote cottage with no TV, no radio no phone signal and no internet. For entertainment there was a proper record player and a small selection of vinyl. The musical selection reflected the tastes of the children of the original owners veering between 80’s pop and 70’s rock, I had opted to play the latter.
I started off light with Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, who doesn’t have some love for that record ? I moved into proggier waters with no complaint from Mrs Future. Close to the Edge by Yes (“not bad”) was followed by Viva by Roxy Music (“I’d forgotten how good they were”). With my fourth choice introduced to the turn table we watched the hills opposite the loch turn purple in the twilight. “What is this shit?” asked my wife.
The shit in question was Led Zeppelin’s third album, I listened for a couple of minutes then removed the offending disc and went in search of some early Genesis.
It had got me thinking though, Led Zeppelin had always been present in my life just like the Who or the Stones but was it possible they were just a bit shit?
Like most of my generation I was introduced to the Zep by the use of their ‘Whole Lotta Love’ on Top of the Pops. The adopted theme tune was actually a kind of big band version by a group called CCS but the riff was there, waiting until we could hear the real thing. The thing about the band though was they were rather elitist and weren’t prone to turning up on children’s TV so the chances of hearing them by accident was rather non-existent, they wouldn’t release singles so, ironically, they were never on TOTP, if you wanted a dose of Zeppelin you had to by an LP which was what they wanted all along of course.
The next time I can remember hearing the band was when ‘Trampled Underfoot’ was played on The Old Grey Whistle Test, because the band would never do anything as poorly paid as a live appearance we had a classic Whistle Test film of dancing girls from the 1920s to entertain us though what, for me, was one of the most tedious riffs ever which just went on and on and on.
Having just turned 18 I spent a week on a boat on the Norfolk Broads with just two cassette tapes, Monty Python and Led Zeppelins 4th. I learned to appreciate the riffage of Black Dog and the grandeur of Stairway to Heaven’ but still found ‘When the Levee Breaks’ tedious and the one where Plant sings with Sandy Denny a shapeless mess.
Sucho, the guitarist with my first rock band was a Zeppelin fan and occasionally we would tackle the proto punk of ‘Communication Breakdown’ or the basic rock and roll of ‘Rock and Roll’. I never actually listened to an LP by the band until I went to Polytechnic. One of my flat mates, Vince, was such a fan that he was on his second copy of the second LP and he gave me his initial, well scratched copy. I started to warm to the mix of rock and hippie bollocks. The band’s first record was, in retrospect amazing primitive featuring joys such as ‘Good Times Bad Times’ alongside overwrought and overplayed material such as ‘Dazed and Confused’. At that point they were still the New Yardbirds in their own heads but by their second record they were something more.

Leaving aside the possibly shit third record, Houses of the Holy (number 4) was a bit of sidestep and long regarded as their weakest. It is, of course my favourite Led Zeppelin record (apart from the remasters compilation) and the untypical ‘No Quarter’ my favourite Zeptrack.

By the time I got to relisten to Physical Graffiti ‘Trampled Underfoot’ had started to sound better and, of course there was ‘Kashmir’ which, as our tastes changed, had replaced Stairway as the classic Zep track. That wasn’t the end of course. Despite the fact that they had taken to dressing like farmers they were still making records that sounded as good to me as anything else they had done.
Then Bonham died and Plant grew a Mullet. Page continued to be entertaining if only for his ability to butcher the most basic solo whenever he turned up to guest with a band while completely off his face, for more evidence of what was wrong with the 80’s just take a look at their Live Aid performance (if you dare).
Zeppelin are now regarded as one of the best rock bands ever, no one apart from me wants to knock them but really are they that good (actually to be fair no one is that good if you look hard enough)
In the winter of 1977 a group of my college friends including the aforementioned Sucho of course, crammed ourselves into a college theatre to see a showing of the band’s film ‘The Song Remains the Same’. The film had been out a while and generally rubbished by the critics who pointed to the lack of stage dynamics, the lumpy playing and, most of all the pathetic fantasy sequences (although you needed something to distract you from Bonham playing ‘Moby Dick’). They were right for once, the film was a turkey, none of my friends were impressed. There followed a period where Led Zeppelin were falling out of favour, their last two LP’s were not acclaimed critically. There was a wide acceptance that the band were now a huge money-making machine and little else, Page, Bonham and manager Peter Grant were getting messed up, the band was a huge carcass rotting from the inside. When Bonham died I can’t remember any national mourning but then again Rock was still young, we probably thought something else great would come along.
What did come along, of course, was nostalgia and the Band’s reputation grew and grew (as long as they didn’t try any Live Aid reformations). But why do people love Zep? Clearly, it’s because their music makes people of a certain age feel young again, don’t knock it! If that was just the case however however we would all be clamouring for a Chicory Tip reunion, to be honest I would rather go and se that than the reunited Zep. The more I think about it their popularity may be a case of the parts being more than the sum of the whole. By which I mean the individual members are more reveared than the band itself.
Page is still the blueprint for the guitar genius. Someone who could play the blues and folk based Celtic music (ie he knows how to tune a guitar to DADGAD).Page is the third member of the Home Counties guitar heroes (see Beck and Clapton) and his reputation is cemented, despite the fact that there are 6 year olds who can play better today Page is the original. He certainly has a way with a riff and studio layering but how many solos has he done that are iconic? The only one I can get into is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which is basic pentatonics (sounds great). The rest of the time it just sounds like he is burbling away over a backing track to me.
Robert Plant was the archetypical preening lead singer. He seems to be a great bloke, a human face of the band. But how many lyrics can you quote, at least ones that weren’t nicked off blues singers. He’s shouting something above that noise but I haven’t got a clue what most of it is. And there’s a limit to the number of times you can sing baybebaybebaybebaybebaybebaybe and get away with it.
John Bonham ‘Bonzo’ to his mates. Like Keith Moon and many others, a man lucky to dead before the advent of social media. Bonham is probably the greatest drummer of all time and every year he gets greater. Like Page what he does isn’t that tricky but he did it first and did it well. Despite his towering presence people would still love to see the band without him.
John Paul Jones was the bass player, he was bloody good but still the bass player.

While they had the talent Zeppelin didn’t really have the songs, some of their noise can sound great especially after 60’s production values had improved but are they a band that can move you to tears? I suspect not

Quite clearly Zeppelin are not shit, that’s just clickbait from a desperate man but I suspect they were never as good as we think they were now.
I read an interview with Plant a while back. He seems to be one of the few people in the music business, at least from the 70’s, who seems to have given any thought to what he wanted his musical life to be. As a consequence, he’s released a squillion records, some horribly reflective of the era they were created. He’s now settled on a rather appealing ethnic brew which, to my ears, is a lot more interesting that his old band’s catalogue. Wouldn’t you rather go and see Robert doing something he cares about in a small venue rather than trying to recreate music of his youth at Milton Keynes Bowl?

I thought not

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An Evening With Warren Harry

Recently, YouTube has wisely targeted me with some old editions of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Anyone not alive or resident in Britain in early 70’s just wont grasp the significance of the OGWT. This was quite literally the only chance to see rock music ‘live’ on the television for many years. Due to the fact that the BBC had a healthy distain for rock music the program shifted slots, sometimes appearing at a ridiculously late time (bear in mind TV had shut down by midnight) sometimes turning up on a Sunday afternoon. The production values were minimal which is made very apparent in these YouTube clips which appear to include rough takes sometimes preceded by a studio hand counting a clock down in second intervals. It does serve to make the presenters look more together than might be remembered as they repeat the same introduction for the fourth take.

The main OGWT guy for me (and anyone of my age) was ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris who lounges about in a comfy chair chain smoking and grinning inanely at the camera. Because of the low production values most of the bands in the early days had to mime or at least sing over a backing track which rather weakened the whole affair, Top of the Pops was equally false but at least you might see Rod Stewart or at least the Sweet. And that was the biggest shock for me 45 year’s later, the quality of the artists. Because of the limited space solo singer song writers were over represented and so we get the likes of Claire Hammill, Rab Noakes and Jim Croce. So far so indifferent but there are names that crop up which I have never heard of Bloodstone, Cousin Joe, Judi Pulver and Cashman and West, bear in mind to even get on the OGWT you had to have released an album. Here were bands (or solo artists; I don’t know!) who had probably sweated their way through hundreds of gigs and yet have almost been lost to time.
This got me thinking about bands I might have seen and virtually forgotten and in turn that awakened a misty water coloured memory.

Spring 1978, I was at a bit of a loose end having been between jobs for about 3 months. I decided it was time to pay a visit to my old school friend Phil who had departed to study mechanical engineering or some such joyless subject at Warwick University. Pre-internet we had been in regular contact via letters and so I assume that I wrote to him and informed him of my intention to visit and then bought a bus ticket for Coventry. These days we anticipate our children might visit South America or at least Thailand. As I had invented the ‘gap year’ it was still in the experimental stage though . No working with Nicaraguan street children for me, I had already gone 3-4 years without a holiday at all let alone a foreign adventure. And so, a bus journey to Coventry was quite a big deal. The city itself was predictably grim, no one had a good word to day about the city, it had been badly bombed in the last war and built in true 50’s/60’s style (in a hurry). It was grim then and I bet it’s grim now, I was not stopping though as the University was a new build in the middle of nowhere which at least meant it was in the middle of fields.

Phil had grown a moustache which, outside Liverpool, was style disaster but at least he had had the courtesy of warning me before hand so I had time to prepare for what was not a pretty sight. We spent our time drinking tea eating biscuits and listening to LP’s which he had borrowed from other residents in his student block. Just like national service in the 50’s further education was a great leveller. You just didn’t know who you might be living with until it was too late to change your mind. It had introduced Phil to northerners (which might have accounted for the moustache) and we marvelled at the fact that some of them had adopted straight leg jeans, the times were a changing alright.

The ‘highlight’ of the trip was to be a gig/party before everyone broke up for Easter. A band had been announced, Warren Harry.

I was a little disappointed, I had been hoping for a real punk band but essentially most Universities and Polytechnics were deeply conservative establishments. Some student unions had actually banned punk bands it would take a couple more years before further education started welcoming musical diversity. The punks didn’t actually help matters tending to be pretty unpleasant to student audiences, it was a jungle out there.

Like John Otway and Marillion, Warren Harry was/were from Aylesbury where, one suspects, they were relatively big and got to play Aylesbury Friars on a regular basis. The band were mainly a vehicle for songwriter Warren Harry. Not having appeared on OGWT or having had a record played by John Peel I knew little about them/him but they had recently had a small and rather ambiguous live review in one of music weeklies where it was noted that the singer liked to pick arguments with the audience.
The hall was packed on the night and I suspect I was quite drunk as I was now approaching all gigs with a 4 pint minimum rule. Warren Harry appeared to be pushing the newly fashionable style of jerky pop which required a keyboard. XTC were prime exponents and I liked them a lot but it has to be said that this was whiter than white music which could only be danced to in a jerky way, think Hazel O’Connor (and then forget at once)

Mr Harry was indeed a bit of a provocative fucker, he looked a little like Steve Harley and seemed possessed with the same attitude. It wasn’t long before he was engaged in a slanging match with an audience member and, it appeared, considered it part of his job to go out into the crowd to give someone a good slap. Today of course this would create a twitter storm but in 1978 no one even had a camera on them let alone a high-tech video recorder, it was fairly safe to assume that there would be no ensuing legal case for whiplash and emotional trauma from the victim.

What did happen though was everything started to turn very nasty. There was a pretty bad vibe developing among the academic elite many of whom seemed to be pretty much off their faces. Glasses and bottles were thrown pretty randomly. It was all getting very nasty, Mr Harry was getting even more angry, even his drummer came out from behind his kit to tell us what he thought of us, more things were thrown, Phil and me left I think it was when the gig ended in disarray but I’m not sure, as I mentioned, I had been drinking.

The gig was a bit of a shock to me, back in Norwich we would have sat cross legged on the floor at a student gig but in the midlands, student seemed to be recreating the Punk festival in the 100 club in 1976, perhaps it was the straight leg jeans.

I don’t know if this was a normal night’s work for Warren Harrry, let’s hope not. As a band Warren Harry became the Yum Yum band and Warren Harry himself metamorphised into Warren Bacall. Warren Harry had had a contract with Polydor Records and released some singles, the most well known (it’s a relative term) was ‘I am a radio’ but there’s not much of him left even in the internet age to remind us he was once a contender.

He had a second career as a songwriter and apparently wrote ‘When We Were Young’ for Bucks Fizz (no I don’t know it either). That would have taken us to the mid 80’s but after that there’s not much information about him

Around 30 years after the Warwick gig Warren Harry died of a pulmonary embolism at his home in Wales.

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Trouble in the World

My musings on the tragic career of the Only Ones awakened a memory of a single I had thankfully forgotten, until now.
1980, thanks to a student grant I had enough money to buy singles and the Only Ones had a new release. I was still pretty excited about the band, their previous album had been one of my all-time favourites, I bought the record without previously hearing it.
It was ‘Trouble in the World’

I while back I gave some advice to bands about how not to make a terrible record (no need to thank me guys)

The Only Ones had already broken one of the rules by becoming more interested in drugs than the music itself. They had become a little sloppy in their focus, and when that happens there was always someone willing to take over.
Record company CBS where now getting seriously worried about the lack of return on their investment. Peter Perrett might look like Andy Gibb on drugs but the expected record sales where not happening. In the 70’s, until time when recorded music became almost valueless, a company would sign a band they loved and then proceed to change them into something else. The first warning sign was usually the dodgy cover version, then it was time to bring in the producer.

Colin Thurston was brought in to produce the album Baby’s got a Gun. To be fair he didn’t do a bad job on most of that but his previous record had been Second Hand Daylight by Magazine which had announced keyboards where back in town. For some reason someone somewhere had decided that the thing that had been holding the Only Ones back was a lack of state of the art keyboard frippery.
Something was wrong from the first bars where drummer Mike Kellie was forced to keep a four to the floor disco beat but this was compounded in a matter of Nano seconds by the introduction of keys.
There’s a problem with technology, it might sound great when it first comes out but within a couple of years it sounds terrible, it might possibly sound retro and great again but that could take years. The Only Ones were a classic rock band with great drum and guitars and bass. On this recording John Perry is allowed one bent note just to show he hadn’t disappeared completely. The rest is a record that declares it is from 1980, it was shit then, it hasn’t aged well either.
Naturally the fans of the band liked the band because of the sound they made, if you are going to change the sound you had better be confident lots of new people will like it because the old fans won’t.
But there was worse
By the chorus the nasal Tones of Perrett had been joined by what could only be described as ‘girlie vocals’ in a call and response episode. I’m sure by this time most of the blood had drained from my face such was the horror. Occasionally I would play the single again just to check it hadn’t been a trick of my mind but every time the experience was just as horrible. It’s not a bad song but it’s a bad record which, of course, did the band no favours at all.
It’s a familiar story, occasionally it works for a band, Simple Minds were transformed by agreeing to cover ‘Don’t You Forget about Me’ which transformed their fortunes and their credibility. Billy Bragg was subject to a significant record company investment around the time of ‘Sexuality’ which made no difference to his album sales whatsoever. More often this is the last ditch for a band, the change of direction just alienates everyone.
It took record companies a long time to learn their lesson. Eventually music became so financially worthless they have let anyone with a following just get on with it, or they sign artists on the musical equivalent of a zero hours contract and sack them at the first sign of faltering income.
In retrospect it started my disillusionment with the star maker machinery and heralded the start of the 80’s (there had been a phoney war since 1978 but now shots were being fired on anger). Colin Thurston was ready to embrace the new age to the point where he produced ‘Rio’ for Duran Duran.
It was going to take a while for rock to come back into fashion, critics were sharpening their knives for the band and were suggesting Perrett would be a lot better off without the thumping drums and Perry’s fluid guitar. Luckily, by the time the band limped to a halt Perrett was in no shape for any musical adventures.
Anyway, make up your own minds, do let me know what you think, dud or forgotten classic ?




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More Junkie Business with the Only Ones

1997 a boy child is born.
My wife and me were pretty smug. We already had a daughter, now we had the full set. The new arrival appeared healthy and happy, quite a bundle of fun.
There are those who will tell you that the more children you have the easier it is, it’s not true, having two was more like having 40. There was also the issue that, unlike my daughter who had settled into a routine after 6 months, my son didn’t sleep through the night AT ALL for two and a half years! The end of the 90’s passed in a state of semi psychosis, if there had been a world war during this period I would have missed it, luckily it did mean Britpop largely passed me by.
Naturally we got ourselves down to the doctors pretty pronto to put my name down for a vasectomy. The great day eventually came and I went for my first ever operation. I had no time for nerves, this was one of the best days of my life, I was off work and I had no childcare responsibilities. Anyone who has had young children will appreciate the sheer bliss that exists from being without them for a while, my op seemed to be delayed but I was happy, just me, a bed, a hospital gown, and a good book.
My chosen reading matter was Nina Antonia’s biography of Peter Perrett. I had bought this from a proper bookshop and it had cost me a bit. Pre internet (in my house anyway) there was precious little information to be had on anyone who was not fit to grace Q magazine, who seemed to feature Pink Floyd every week anyway . Perrett had effectively been missing for over 15 years, I wanted to find out where he was.
Perrett’s band the Only Ones had been huge favourites of mine in the post punk years. I had seen their 12 inch single ‘Lovers of Today’ in the window of a Norwich record shop and had been impressed at how guitarist John Perry seemed to be wearing some sort of body stocking which I would subsequently realise would make him look rather like a character from the comedy series ‘Little Britain’. This was, in fact to prove to be one of the all-time great singles of the 70’s but it wasn’t until their first album that the public in general started to pay any attention. Journalist Nick Kent was an enthusiastic supporter and once you had made the NME the world was your Lobster.

lovers of today
The Only One’s were a rock band. They were a bit older (but not that much) than the punks. Perrett was from South London where he was rubbing shoulders with the nascent Squeeze. He had previously fronted England’s Glory who achieved enough interest to record some demo’s but nothing else. What was notable about the band from the press’s point of view was how good Perrett was at aping Lou Reed. Strange to imagine now, but Reed was a huge musical and cultural influence in the mid to early 70’s. If you liked Lou Reed you were probably OK.
Post England’s Glory Perrett recruited John Perry to play Bass. The reason for this is he had Squeeze’s Glen Tilbrook along to play lead guitar. Tilbrook always comes across as a nice, well balanced chap (and a very underrated guitarist), naturally he didn’t last, Perry took over on lead guitar.
For the rhythm section Perrett further signalled that the band would be filed under ‘Rock’. On drums was Mike Kellie, a seasoned professional who had started with 60’s band Spooky Tooth and more recently had backed France’s only rock and roll star Johnny Halliday. The Bass player was even more 60’s. Alan Mair had been in a band that really were the Scottish Beatles. Pre the internet age it was possible to be huge in Scotland yet unknown south of Carlisle. The Beatstalkers were massive, playing to screaming teenagers in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen (probably). The population of Scotland is not enough to sustain a career however and Mair had been running a clothing stall in a London Market where at one point he employed no less than Freddie Mercury.
Band in place the Only Ones followed the typical rock trajectory of playing everywhere with the hope of getting signed to a big label. CBS took them on and their slide into obscurity began.
Their first LP cunningly called ‘The Only Ones’ was a bit of a gem despite the useless 60’s cover. The whole appeal of the band was set from the opening track ‘The Whole of the Law’
I used to have the notion
I could swim the length of the Ocean
If a knew you were waiting for me
Yes it’s pretty much 50’s pop pap but the group invest the song with such a sense of opiated beauty the lyrics are almost immaterial, it’s another of those songs that is greater than the sum of it’s parts, wrapped up by a pre Baker Street sax solo from Raphael Ravenscroft.
And that’s pretty much the appeal of the Only Ones, simple lyrics with the odd twist to catch the attention, simple (but not too simple) chord sequences and some shit hot playing. Every now and again the band would approximate a punky thrash a bit like Chrissy Hynde would trot out with the Pretenders which was ok but they weren’t the Clash. The band were also at risk of drifting over completely into rock, Kellie had a cowbell and was going to use it. Closing side one is rock epic The Beast where Perrett seems to have put in a bit of work on the lyrics spinning a tale of the Beast for which it’s pretty to read addiction.
Run from the Beast,
There’s danger in his eyes
He’s been looking for you, for a long time.
The Only One’s debut is also noteworthy for that other drug song (there’s only 10 on the record), ‘Another Girl Another Planet’. This track has just about eclipsed everything else the band did. That’s a terrific shame, it’s a great song but the band are about so much more. Suffice to say though, if Perrett had heard the Vibrators ‘Whips and Furs’ at this point he might owe someone some money.
Another year of tours and another album. ‘Even Serpents Shine’ was, if anything a better record, perhaps less highs but more constancy, it sounded like an album. Produced by Perrett and Mair the band had recruited Who Keyboard player ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick to fill the gaps and Perrett had come up with some of his best material including the beautiful ‘In Betweens’.
The cracks were beginning to show though ‘Out There in the Night’ is a sugary concoction apparently written after Perret went search for his cat (really!). It was released as a single and the vultures began to gather.
Later that year I saw the band for the first time. It was at the Glastonbury Festival, a ramshackle affair which was demonstrated that during a blistering set they blew the Sound system twice. On the second occasion Perry lit an enormous joint and waved us goodbye.
The band had two problems which were entwined. The first was Perrett himself. A completely spoiled bastard, Perrett was used to being the centre of attention and his needs came first. The rather touching exception to this is his long term relationship with his wife Zena Kakoulli whom he had married when they were both teenagers. Kakoulli over time was to become his backing vocalist, manager and carer in a relationship that endured against the odds. Apart from that it was Peter’s world. Perrett was as sharp as knife, he was an accomplished poker player, he was an even better drug dealer, he liked to pit his wits against anyone who wanted to take him on, and win . The second problem of course were that the drugs were slowly taking over. Mair was occupying the Roger Daltrey role in the band while the rest of the band were slowly unravelling. Rather than running from the beast Perrett had pretty much invited it in for a saucer of milk. There was something slightly unpleasant in the band’s world of drugs though. The likes of Ronnie Wood could sustain a party vibe whatever the substances but the Only Ones just seemed to become more elite distant, unpleasant and selfish.
Added to these difficulties was the fact that he band were not selling what CBS thought they should be and when drugs become more important than the music the record company takes over. The band’s final record ‘Baby’s Got a Gun’ was a huge disappointment to me and everyone else, there’s a duet with Pauline from Penetration with SINGLE stamped across it. There is even a track on which Perrett doesn’t sing (and it’s not the worst track on the album).
There was inevitably the drug fuelled tour of America where Perrett deliberately drove his car into a parking attendant, the band had to run and that was the end of the Only Ones.
Perrett spent the next couple of decades holed up on the house his parents had left him. He made a solo album but never followed it up. His other activities began to catch up with him. The house was extensively fortified to prevent attacks of police raids. The family might have to decamp at short notice. John Perry reported visiting Perrett week after week where it appeared the latter had not changed clothes or even moved position, their life had become an even more joyless version of the film Performance.
Time is a great healer, if you can live long enough, and in 2005 Mair had persuaded the band they could reunite. I went to see them at a local venue, disappointingly a smaller one to the one originally booked. I wanted to grab passers by and point out one of the greatest bands of all times was about to perform, I genuinely did not understand why everyone did not want to see the Only Ones one more time. As the band opened with ‘Lovers of Today’ it was simply magnificent, I had to wipe away a tear.
That was until Perret started singing. His voice had shot up an octave. Suspiciously he was blowing his nose a lot, also despite the hair dye, false teeth and enormous shades here was a wizened man. The rest od the band had aged pretty well but Perrett had shrunk in every respect, even his guitar seemed too big for him. I have to say that despite that it was a great gig but that was almost in spite of Perrett rather than due to him. It was a bit like a Brian Wilson concert were the music is sublime but the artist is not, you can’t have one without the other but really you wouldn’t care too much if you couldn’t hear Wilson singing or if he never plonked another note on his piano.
Again, the band fell apart, there was a suspicion that Perrett was still up to his old ways which might include taking the Lion’s share of the money. It appears that he did, at some point, stop heroin but fell straight into crack use (who could have seen that coming). Zena, after years of providing for her husband had also fallen deeply into drug use. Today apparently, they both have COPD, basically an incurable lung disease as a result of too much smoking of just about everything
It’s weird how time changes us. Not long after their ‘comeback’ I re read the Nina Antonia book. At this point I had had over 10 years of being a parent, I had also had over 10 years’ experience of working in the alcohol and drugs field, I was a different person.

I re-read about how the couple had had two sons who, thanks to Zena, they were able to raise in their fortress house visited by dealers. Eventually Social Services were involved, perhaps it was not right to grow up in this environment, perhaps it was wrong to have to wake the kids in the night to move them somewhere safer on occasions, and perhaps it was right that social services should investigate the safety of the two boys. In the end of course, nothing happened. The two boys are now men, musicians themselves and unsurprisingly they have had their own issues with addiction, hopefully they have all come through it now. But what had chilled me, which I had missed the first time round was Perrett saying that while they were under investigation he had obtained the address of the Worker ‘just in case’ she tried to have them removed.
I realised that I had just about had enough of wasted Junkie glamour bollocks. Every Junkie is someone’s father or son or brother or sister and it’s the 3rd parties who are the real victims, drug takings pretty selfish and I had had enough of it.
Naturally I should have thrown all my Only Ones memorabilia away in a grand gesture. I did sell the book on Amazon, it was still pretty hard to get hold of and worth a couple of quid. The music was harder to forget. The best record the band ever made is probably The Peel sessions CD where you can hear the band virtually live, even the ‘Baby’s Got a Gun’ material sounds pretty good.
I’ve still got that CD and yes, they were one hell of a band.

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‘So Alone’ The Junkie Class of 78

Whatever our attitude to drugs was in the 70’s there was a general consensus that heroin was a bridge too far. We knew it killed people, Janis Joplin, Tim Buckley, the lead singer/guitarist of our favourite local band Meals had been found dead of an overdose. There was a kind of expectation that heroin would inevitable kill you and LSD would make you mad. It wasn’t exactly the truth but if it killed famous people it was likely to finish off us plebs.
There wasn’t a whole lot of older role models to suggest that heroin could be a long term thing and just one look at a dried up junkie like William Burroughs was enough to act as a deterrent.
One the other hand I have always had a weakness for Junkie music. It started with the Velvet Underground through to the Only Ones, even extending as far as the opiated cocoon of Spaceman 3. I don’t know what it is about heroin music that I like, perhaps it’s the constant underachievement that renders Junkie bands relatively unmarketable. You just know that at any point it could just fall apart. It makes there music kind of genuine.
And so it was probably no surprise that in 1978 I became the owner of So Alone, the first and best LP by Johnny Thunders.

johnny thunders
Despite his best intentions Thunders had become punk royalty. He was old enough (26) to have been part of a different generation which had given him a bit of a head start, learning to play guitar in time to join the New York Dolls. This was probably very fortunate as by 1973 Thunders had developed about as far musically as he ever would.
A very significant reason for this was the death in London of the bands first drummer Billy Murcia. Portentously Murcia died when friends asphyxiated him trying to help him recover from an overdose. It was a death that was probably totally avoidable, these were naïve times. Murcia’s replacement was Jerry Nolan, a significantly older guy who became a father figure to Thunders. Unfortunately new dad was an enthusiastic heroin user and very soon Thunders was also hooked.
Unable to fully integrate their interests into the Dolls Nolan and Thunders were first to leave and eventually settled on their own band the Heartbreakers. The band landed in Britain at the end of 1976 like a bunch of latter day GIs. Underpaid under sexed and over here. Instead of nylons and chewing gum they had brought heroin, and Nancy Spurgeon. These were to have catastrophic consequences. Ever since Charlie Parker there has been a confusion between lifestyle and talent. Parker was talented because he had practised a phenomenal amount of hours but there were plenty of lesser players who thought that by copying Parker’s heroin habit rather than his practice regime they would attain his skills. In 70’s Britain New York was as exotic as Mars, these new creatures had landed with their strange ways. Certainly post 76 Heroin started to make its presence felt, certainly among the new generation of musicians in London.
The Heartbreakers managed to shoot themselves in the foot fairly quickly by failing to translate the power of their live performances to vinyl. Quite whose fault it was that their LP LAMF was such a muddy damp squib still rages (it was Nolan !) but one can’t help but feel that if they had all been a bit more together it might have turned out a bit better.
And so, the Heartbreakers were no more but Thunders was still a contender hence his solo record So Alone. And there’s Junkie John on the cover looking all alone and vulnerable bless. The irony being that a Junkie never have to be alone because around the corner there’s a whole lot of potential mates just like them. Thunders has accumulated a load of ‘heavy’ friends many of whom were unaccountably between jobs. Steve Jones, post pistols had been dabbling in the strong stuff, his old mate Paul Cook was along for the ride as was their new best friend Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. The three of them would soon be recording an uninspired Christmas Single before the year was out, there was a feeling they were coasting a bit, a suspicion that would continue for the next decade or so. Steve Marriott was also present post half arsed reformation attempt of the Small Faces and he was joined by a couple of the Heartbreakers similarly at a loose end. The only people who potentially had a bright future were Peter Perrett and Mike Kellie from the Only Ones; let’s just say they were there for a reason.
Musically it was a mixed bag, Thunders tastes are strictly retro, he hadn’t exactly been burning the midnight oil on the songwriting front but he had come up with something, namely ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Round a Memory’, possibly his best song, poor Johnny, he’s so alone. In fact, Thunders had another song ‘Leave me Alone’ at the end of side 1, there’s a theme developing here! Thunder’s other new contributions were ‘London Boys’ a ranty put down of Johnny Rotten, written in Heartbreaker days , ‘Downtown’ a bluesy groove and ‘Ask Me no Questions which sounds like it took more than 10 minutes to put together thanks to Peter Perrett’s contribution. Finally, there was (She’s So) Untouchable. The sort of song the Stones would start to write in the 80’s which is enlivened to Baker Street proportions by the sax of John “Irish” Earle (who was to do the same thing on ‘Dancing In the Moonlight’ by the aforementioned Lizzy).
With a fairly slim selection of songs there’s space for some covers which actually are the most fun. ‘Give Her a Great Big Kiss’ is the old (i.e. about 15 years previously) Shangri La’s Number. ‘Daddy Rollin Stone’ is a similar pub standard which is great until Steve Marriott starts showing off and ‘Subway Train’ is a recut of a Dolls song complete with sloppy out of tune guitar and Chrissie Hynde on backing vocals.
It sounds like a mess, and it is but I still have a soft spot for the record. Thunders wasn’t a great guitarist or singer but he was great at being Johnny Thunders. The opening track is the instrumental ‘Pipeline’ a tune so simple even I can play it but in the hands of Thunders and the Sex Pistol boys it is a pretty exhilarating noise. On ‘Daddy Rollin Stone’ his whiney sneer completely obliterates Marriott’s soul stylings (Lynott is effortlessly cool on the middle verse). It’s on the covers that you feel that thunders can relax and enjoy himself, there’s more joy on show than you would expect from a bunch of smacked up punks. Producer Steve Lillywhite deserves a lot of credit for shaping what must have been chaotic sessions into a coherent record.
This was the high-water mark for Thunder’s career, he had created a character from which he couldn’t escape. For the rest of his life he would be surrounded by people who wanted to take drugs with him or sell him drugs or use his drugs or watch him OD on stage. There was no way out,its impossible to write anything about Thunders for long without using the word Junkie, his musical legacy is a thin one.
Culturally his impact was more significant, I’m sure the likes of Marriott and Lynott had discovered heroin entirely independently of Thunders but ‘So Alone’ marked a coming together and a coming out of the London community of heroin using musicians. Inevitably it would have it’s consequences, the deaths of Lynott and Marriott, the wilderness years of Perrett and Steve Jones even more tragic was the fate of Heartbreaker’s guitarist Walter Lure who eventually became a stock broker. Heroin doesn’t have to be a life sentence but it certainly screws you up.

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When to Wear the Hat

It was Bobby Elliott who started it all. Elliot was drummer for Shane Fenton and the Fentones who I touched upon in my Alvin Stardust post a few months back. Elliott then joined Manchester band the Hollies just as they started to get hits. He’s a really cracking drummer far more so than the beat group styling of the Hollies would suggest but, if in doubt, just cop a listen to their first hit ‘Stay’ where Elliot is packing a fair punch. I’m sure if he’d have fallen in with Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck he would have come forward as one of the very best drummers of the 60’s but he’s stayed with the Hollies all his musical life and played with practically no one else. So reliable is Mr Elliott he’s also been married to bandmate Tony Hick’s sister for just about as long.
But this is about hats.
Elliott was losing his hair big time by his early 20’s, in fact you can date his appearances in the early days by the degree of his comb over. It soon became apparent that no amount of brylcreem would hide the issue indefinitely and so Elliot became the first one to wear the hat.
Initially it was quite a cool John Lennon cap, it looked good, but times move on and he adopted a wide brimmed piece of head gear, it looked like the sort of thing my mum would wear for a wedding but I assume that in 1966 it was quite hip, Keith Richards had been sporting a similar style for a while. I feel unreasonably sorry for Elliott during this period, it didn’t look an easy hat to wear, it had a wide brim and surely was prone to be dislodged at inopportune moments which was not what you wanted from a hat you had to wear. There was also the fact that although it hinted at Carnaby Street foppery the band were having to play cabaret dates in the late 60’s and Elliott had to wear the hat with a frilly shirt which again made him look like my mum at a wedding.

In a further twist, around the time of ‘he aint heavy he’s my brother’ Elliot emerged wearing a full wig as if to try and fool us he had been hiding a full head of hair all this time. I’ve never understood why people find wig wearing funny, it seems quite sensible to me but it must have been hot trying to drum in that mother.

bobby elliott with wig
As follicle related science has developed it’s a lot more possible for rock stars (and world leaders) not to be bald but for the musician strapped for case it’s always been a case of wearing the hat. As with every thing familiarity brings acceptance. We expect to see guitarist Richard Thompson with a beret jammed on his head, it’s been so long we’ve actually forgotten he is bald. Ditto Slash who is apparently sporting a fair bald patch although presumably he could afford some treatment unless he spends all his money on Marlborough’s. Pop down your local to see any bunch of old blokes on stage and note how the hat quota has rocketed, hats are cool thinning hair is not.
Believe it or not, there was a time when rock was a young man’s game apart from Bobby Elliot no one had to wear the hat. Roger Glover of Deep Purple grabbed a hat before hair loss became apparent, fellow bandmate Ritchie Blackmore did the same thing for a while but these days he appears to have more hair than ever, a man with 20 year old hair and a 70 year old face, I’m beginning to reconsider my position on wigs.

There are two acceptable ways to introduce the hat. The first is to dabble with it for a while, put it on, take it off. ‘Look’ this says ‘I don’t need to wear a hat, it’s my choice’. The trick with this approach is to time it so as soon as any thinning is visible the hat is firmly jammed on never to move again. It needs a lot of discipline but also raises the possibility of introducing a toupee by stealth and doing the reverse trick by using the hat less and less.
The other option, which is not always one of choice, is to disappear for a while and return with a hat. ‘Look’ this says ‘I’m back and I’ve chosen to wear this great new hat. The best example of this is Adam Ant who has not only returned with a striking new hat but is utilising the double protection of a bandana.
Speaking of which, lets just pay tribute to the number 1 70’s man with a hat. I speak of Miami Steve Van Zandt. A man so cool that he had a nickname but also a mysterious reason why he had to wear a hat (motorcycle accident scars-so terrible you wouldn’t want to see them honest). Van Zandt is so dedicated I have never seen him without some head covering. Wisely he seemed to have realised the risks with a broad brimmed titfer and has settled down to the more comfortable bandana. Even when he was in the Sopranos he was able to get away with what was almost a comedy wig. Mr Miami is one of those people who just looks so good on stage that it’s easy to forget he actually looks fairly ridiculous. I watched a clip of him being shown round a guitar factor a while back. Here was a tiny portly man in his 60’s wearing what appeared to be a suit made out of carpet, with matching hat naturally. Bet it would have looked great on stage though.

By way of ending lets have a favourite video which I can never use in a 70’s-based blog. It’s Mr Elliott again, great drummer and nice guy who I suspect never gave a shit about his hair (bet it was the manager’s idea) He’s looking very relaxed here.

Today, of course Bobby Elliott is wearing a flat cap in deference to his northern roots

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