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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Love Like Anthrax

One of the consequences of the digital age is that we don’t really have to listen to music we don’t want to anymore. When I was young I listened to the 6 LP’s my parents owned and whatever was played on the radio stations they tuned in to. As I got older I started buying my own LP’s but I was still reliant on the radio, in this case Radio 1 and as I might listen for hours and not hear very much I actually liked  I started to find pleasure in unlikely areas, I was forced to adapt.

The last time I had to listen to modern pop music was when my kids travelled in the car with me and wanted their updated version of Radio 1 on. Again I began to adapt, I wasn’t wild about the music but I did appreciate the odd banging tune and as Radio 1 seemed to have a playlist of about 6 records for months on end I at least became familiar with what was happening in the world of modern music.

These days I am less adaptable, my only exposure to modern music is when Radio 2 plays something contemporary. I don’t usually like it, there’s a modern voice sound which I don’t like at all and it’s horribly produced. Modern pop seems to resemble music in the same way as cheesy string resembles a mature cheddar, it’s kind of similar in theory but very different in practice.

The worst thing for me though are the lyrics, it seems that the only topic on the table is relationships. When Ed Sheeran began a very successful musical career with ‘The A Team’, I actually stopped and listened , although it’s a kind of modern day ‘Streets of London ‘the impact for me was far greater, here was someone singing about something other than their own feelings.it was very unusual.

It wasn’t always like that, sure the whole experience of being human is going to rely heavily on our relationships with  people we fancy quite a bit but there are other things going on in the world to sing about.

Punk was pretty low on the whole relationship experience unless it was our relationships with people we hated. Post punk no one was going to talk about love, PIL even had a song titled ‘This is not a Love Song’ although clearly it would have been for more radical if they had created something that was a love song.

Politics were on the agenda, not necessarily traditional politics but personal politics, anti racism and anti sexism were high on the list although ageism was still allowed in. The phrase political correctness hadn’t been invented but this was its birth.

The Gang of Four had their origins at Leeds University. People were now safe to be students again, for a couple of years they were hated by the punk cognoscente for their supposedly cushy lifestyle but now things were getting more intelligent. Naming themselves after a group of Chinese Communists Gang Of Four had already nailed their colours to the mast hinting they were intellectual and subversive.

I had a somewhat troubled relationship with the band. They produced some of the best music I have ever heard.GuitaristAndy Gill took the Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson guitar sound and mixed in punk, funk dub and noise. As a musical three piece the band did all they could to make guitar bass and drums interesting. In effect this meant each instrument had an equal role and, influenced by dub, instruments would drop out at various points to create simple textures.

The down side was that Jon King was a fairly rubbish vocalist and the lyrics (keenly avoiding the L word) could sound a bit like a sociology essay. It might be a bit po faced as could most post punk but I have to admit the lyrics have stayed with me to this day. The phrase ‘see the happy pair smiling close like they’re monkeys’ from Essence has led to a lifelong aversion to having my picture taken (and certainly never smiling).

 

Inevitably the band would tackle the thorny subject of why bands are expected to write songs about relationships in one of their greatest hits ‘Anthrax’. Involving lots of guitar noise and two intersecting vocal lines Anthrax sets it clear

 

Woke up this morning desperation a.m.

What I’ve been saying won’t say them again

My head’s not empty, it’s full with my brain

The thoughts I’m thinking

Like piss down a drain

And I feel like a beetle on its back

And there’s no way for me to get up

Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax

And that’s something I don’t want to catch

Ought to control what I do to my mind

Nothing in there but sunshades for the blind

Only yesterday I said to myself

The things I’m doing are not good

For my health

 

“Love crops up quite a lot as something to sing about,

cos most groups make most of their songs about falling in love

or how happy they are to be in love,

you occasionally wonder why these groups do sing about it all the time –

it’s because these groups think there’s something very special about it

either that or else it’s because everybody else sings about it and always has,

you know to burst into song you have to be inspired

and nothing inspires quite like love.

These groups and singers think that they appeal to everyone

by singing about love because apparently everyone has or can love

or so they would have you believe anyway

but these groups seem to go along with what, the belief

that love is deep in everyone’s personality.

I don’t think we’re saying there’s anything wrong with love,

we just don’t think that what goes on between two people

should be shrouded with mystery.”

Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax

And that’s something I don’t want to catch

Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax

And that’s something I don’t want to catch

 

Why isn’t anyone writing songs like this anymore? This isn’t my Desert Island Disc (I’d rather have something by Joni Mitchell about relationships) but is it impossible to find songs that are looking external rather than internal experiences?

Its not just pop, its Americana, Rock, Singer Songwriter, it’s not as if there aren’t things to get angry about anymore but perhaps we’d rather listen to people telling us about themselves.

On the other hand perhaps its just the case now that music is so integrated into our entertainment pleasure that its completely devoid from documenting radical experiences or thoughts perhaps its joined the ranks of synchronised swimming, tap dancing, or knitting as something we do to unwind.

 

There’s a Spotify Playlist for every occasion.

 

Here’s the Gang of Four

https://youtu.be/aj-h3zmGVO4

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Punk invents Post Punk

In early 1978 the Sex Pistols had imploded after a terrible tour of the states. A year on from a terrible tour of the UK the number one punk band were no more.

It was pretty clear to us all that Sid Vicious wasn’t about to come up with a masterpiece and the other two musicians in the band had chosen to stick with Malcolm Mclaren and whatever dreadful ideas he might invent.

Johnny was our only hope, he was now John Lydon again and by summer it was clear that he had gathered some musicians together and was making something happen. Drips of information were leaking out to a waiting nation. Keith Levene, one time guitarist with the Clash had been recruited. Levene had apparently felt himself an outsider in Strummer’s band, Lydon had felt the outsider in the Pistols, if this was true it was probably a reflection of their personalities as much as their respective bandmates but they at least had something to bond over.

On bass Lydon  had recruited one of his school gang of the four johns. Given the last recruitment had promoted John Beverley (aka Sid Vicious) one might deduce that Lydon was not exactly learning from experience. Jah Wobble (John Wardle) could be a violent thug when drunk and had been around the Pistol’s camp creating mayhem for the last couple of years but he turned out to be a fantastic intuitive bass player whose dub styled bass lines were the most distinctive feature of the early band.

The drummer, despite owning a leather jacket ,looked out of place. Jim Walker had been a student and drummer in Canada and the west coast. He realised the only way to progress his career was to move to London and soon he was living in Lydon’s house and playing drums in his band.

 

The previous year Rotten/Lydon had appeared on a London radio show playing some of his favourite tracks, despite the fact that most of the country would never get to hear this it caused a minor stir as he chose the edgier end of progressive music as well as the anticipated reggae. Lydon was clearly a man with a musical hinterland and we were interested in what he might create free of the shackles of the Pistols.

 

By October the band had a name ‘Public  Image’ later to have a Ltd tagged on just to show how ironic Lydon could be about  his public persona. We also had the first ever song from the band. ‘Public Image’ by Public Image was reassuring although a little disappointing sounding like the Pistols with better musicians, in retrospect it’s a great single.

Really that was the high water mark for the band. The seeds of destruction had been sown early on. The band refused to have a manager or commit to a producer and really didn’t manage their career very well. Although this might suggest they were free spirits bucking the system it also meant musically they produced largely a load of wank.

Being fairly useless businessmen, they hadn’t really saved enough to make a proper album. The tracks that made up their debut album were recorded in various studios and were a disappointment after their single.. The basic format was bass and drums start with a riff, guitar joins in and Lydon wails over the top, its fine for 30 seconds but the tracks are dragged out past three minutes with no end in sight. The worst culprit is  ‘Fodderstompf’ which is nearly eight minutes of complete dicking about. Despite coming up with an actual set of lyrics for ‘Religion’ (he’s not a fan) Lydon generally yowls over the top of the music like a punk Yoko Ono, it’s an upside down world where the bass is the most interesting part of the song and vocals are the weakest.

Walker had already head enough and felt the music had fallen well short of it’s promises. Despite being a member of PIL ltd he was eventually deposed and had to resort to litigation, just like with a proper company in order to get paid. There then followed a series of drummers who all didn’t last long, all reporting lack of direction and a lot of sitting about. In fact life in PIL looked about as bad as band life could be, the main protagonists were all on different drugs, they couldn’t even be drug buddies.

Despite this they did manage a classic of its kind with Metal Box. Almost a triumph of style over substance three 12 inch 45rpm records were packaged in, yes, a metal box. In the days when sound quality still accounted for something this format really brought out Wobble’s bass which had got even dubbier. There’s a few track that bear repeated playing, the single ‘Death Disco’ actually got to no 20 in the charts and ‘Careering ‘ and ‘Poptones’ highlighted glassy guitar, insistent drums and the inevitable killer bass alongside some lyrics which actually seemed to be about something (not sure what). So good were those tracks that time has forgotten the weaker songs like ‘Albatross’ and ‘Bad Baby’ which just sound like bored kids jamming in a basement.

Wobble was the next to depart after, worryingly, the band had released a live album rather early in their career as his farewell to the band.Next record proper,’The Flowers of Romance’ despite a good title track sounded like bored teenagers left alone in a studio, I never want to hear it again.

 

Despite being someone who likes to create an aura of a man who knows what he is doing Lydon’s autobiography is as full of unintentional fuck ups as Ginger Baker’s; and that’s saying something! (incidentally Baker was one of many drummers who played with PIL). PIL went on for a while and released a couple of decent singles then split up and reformed where they continue to make a more focussed but less inventive noise.

 

Clearly Lydon didn’t invent post punk but he did give it a legitimacy. It’s tempting to think the 80s was all plastic soul and Bucks Fizz and Bananarama but at the same time it also produced some of the most challenging music ever. Cabaret Voltaire, the Raincoats,Throbbing Gristle and the like were now producing music which was absolutely 100% removed from the blues,country and rock and roll that had informed an earlier generation of musicians. This was the music of my younger self, I have a small amount of nostalgia for it but these days I wouldn’t really choose early Scritti Politi  for listening pleasure.

 

There has been an element of punk that was about inclusion and short sharp songs as an aversion to the musical and lyrical excesses of the 70’s. In a weird way that had also opened the floodgates for a load of artists who would pride themselves on being as hard to listen to and obtuse as possible. It was fine for a while, but it became dispiriting listening to sound that contained not an ounce of joy and it is surely no coincidence that world music was to become increasing popular in the 80’s reconnecting us with a bit of what it means to be human again.

For anyone who would like to find out more about postpunk Simon Reynold’s book

Rip it Up  and Start Again:Postpunk 1978-1984… is highly recommended.

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3 from 79

For the Summer of 79 I seemed to have three records on the go all the time. Music was still expensive I think two of the albums were my mate Phil’s and one was mine, but these were sharing times, the more friends you had the more music you could listen to.

 

All the artists on those three records had had some sort of previous life, not everyone was the Sex Pistols springing up perfectly formed. Punk had stirred things up a bit and given a chance to those who would have probably been lost in the mists of time had the musical climate not changed. Our short list also gives a little snapshot of the musical time, music was up for grabs again, you didn’t have to sing about dole queues anymore.

 

So, without further ado these were the three records of the summer of 79 and the direct influences (or steals) on the music of the Bank Clerks my summer band for 1979.

 

The Only Ones- Even Serpents Shine

I covered my Only Ones infatuation here 

 https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2018/08/19/more-junkie-business-with-the-only-ones/

This was their second record, at the time I liked it a bit more than their first release, it’s a bit more coherent and despite being bolstered by backing vocals, keyboard and even a bit of saxophone it sounds like a group effort. On the down side heroin was becoming more important than music for mainmanPeter Perrett and there’s a couple of weak songs notably ‘out there in the night’ written for his cat no less; which was released as a single. CBS really didn’t understand the band but one gets the feeling the Only Ones more comfortable with rock epics like  ‘In Betweens’ and ‘Miles from nowhere.

https://youtu.be/D9SfoIC_e6Y

40 years on the record hold up quite well. The bands roots which led to them getting a lot of stick at the time means this is quite a classic rock album, more Quicksilver Messenger Service than the Ramones.

It does have a truly terrible sleeve though!

 

Stiff Little Fingers -Inflammable Material.

 

Over in Belfast a rock covers band Highway Star had head their head turned by punk and after recruiting a bass player who was the only one who genuinely looked like a punk they set about writing songs. The band’s next influential moment was when lead singer/guitarist Jake Burns stuck a relationship with journalist Gordon Oglivie who encouraged Burns to write about his of living with ‘the troubles’ before moving on to become a co writer and manager. On one hand this meant that the band wrote some good songs but the press was rather sniffy about one of their own being involved like it was cheating somehow. The band had a kind of Beatles/Stones relationship with the Undertones in which they come off worse because John Peel loved the Undertones (he liked the fingers but we chose to ignore this) Stuff Liddle Fungus, as they announced themselves in thick Belfast accents have remained a going concern with only Burns being the consistent member.

https://youtu.be/sKsN5cj9ehs

 

40 years on Inflammable Material could lay claim to being one of the great British punk albums . It’s dominated by Burn’s voice which is astounding if not always easy listening. There’s songs about discrimination and being bored as expected but a lot of anger about the situation in Northern Ireland (suspect device being the classic track) at a time and place when speaking out could lead to one parting company with their kneecaps, or worse. Musically there’s the occasional reminder that Burns once considered Ritchie Blackmore as a role model and often the music is a bit fast and a bit stiff. Like the Clash they made a reggae song a centrepiece of the Album. In retrospect ‘Johnny Was’, a Bob Marley song ,is probably the best track on the record.

 

Joe Jackson- Look Sharp

Jackson had had an inglorious former life as a proper musician. He had studied at college, played Jazz and, in order to fund his musical career had worked as musical director for cabaret duo Koffee n Krème (as bad as it sounds). Look Sharp owes an awful lot to Elvis Costello both musically and lyrically but for a couple of years Elvis was a hero to most. It was pretty clear that Jackson was using the new wave a s a flag of convenience but it was still a pretty good album. Jackson had recruited a band of good players who weren’t afraid to play music that didn’t obviously mark them out as good musicians (ie they didn’t show off). Gary Sanford, the guitarist was a huge influence on Phil’s sound with the Bank Clerks and generally pointed a way forward from Wilko Johnson towards post punk. Despite being a man who had studied timpani and oboe Jackson was now primarily the singer, his sickly stick frame towering over his diminutive guitarist and bass player in live gigs.

https://youtu.be/V6xqtVoD-R8

40 Years on, Look Sharp still holds up pretty well, the more minor songs where Jackson isn’t trying to hard sound the best (the title track being one such number). Like with the Police musically it points the way forward for a three piece band not to play guitar solos.

Unsurprisingly Jackson moved on to Jazz and classical as well as returning to pop, occasionally even revisiting his classic band. In a slightly bizzare footnote, despite being a lifetime asthma sufferer he became one of very few celebrities who were outspoken against the public smoking ban in Britain (David Hockney was the only other one who springs to mind). So angry was Jackson about not being able to light up next to a baby he was threatening to move to the USA. His dedication to smoking has left it’s mark, even in colour photographs he appears grey.

By coincidence a few years later Phil became very friendly with Joe Jackson’s cousin, his name was Michael (really) 

 

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The Summer of 79

The Summer of 79 lasted for ages, I left Polytechnic in June and wouldn’t go back until nearly October. I managed to get in the Glastonbury Fayre/Festival in June and a trip to Ireland in August (I have documented these journeys of discovery in earlier post), I also had to find somewhere to live before I returned for the Autumn Term but I still had loads and loads of time to form yet another band and re enact the ‘Summer of 69’ in the summer of 79.

Got myself a crappy old drum kit
Bought it from a man with a ‘tash’
Dad picked it up in his van
I set it up and had a bash

My Bandmates were to be the ever-reliable Phil on guitar and Robbo on bass and vocals. Both at loose ends due to the educational system and the welfare state which was willing to pay us while we hadn’t got a grant or a job. Luckily Phil’s parents were both working so we could set the drum kit up in their living room and play for as long as we liked during the day.

Me and some guys from school
Formed a band and we played all day
We did our best, but we knew it couldn’t last
Me and phil had to move away

We had got together briefly for a bit of a jam the previous summer but music had evolved, a year previous we had been playing the Cream version of ‘Crossroads’ but now we really couldn’t ignore the fact that music has moved on very fast, songs would need to be shorter and faster.

The name was already in place; The Bank Clerks had been incubated at school as a reaction to the nastier side of punk. We had invented a band that would wear suits, would leave their hotel rooms spotless and generally be nice to everyone. A couple of years later and there was a whole new crop of bands playing pop and generally looking more approachable than the Sex Pistols. The time was right for the Bank Clerks to become a reality.

We worked well together, Robbo wasn’t the best singer in the world, but he was the best one in the band. Our blueprint was three albums that had been released fairly recently (more next week) and we set about writing songs around Phil’s riffs and lyrics and my lyrics. It wasn’t all Lennon and McCartney Phil wrote all ‘Evil Machine’, inspired by seeing Port Talbot on our Ireland adventure , I contributed ‘Everything Happens in Norwich’ a scathing diatribe of Norwich nightlife.

Elsewhere there was the putdown of romance in ‘Young Couples’

Young  couples have their big night out
Staring blankly at their glass
They don’t have much to talk about
waiting for the night to pass

And corporate greed in ‘bank clerks’

Ask  a band clerk what it means
Another face on your TV screen
Clean pressed shirt and stripey ties
Help you live your life of lies

And probably other things we didn’t like.

As well as our self penned songs we did a couple of covers, ‘Bad Boy’ taken from the Beatles cover of the Larry Williams song and ‘All through the City’ from the first Dr Feelgood album. By the end of the summer we had a set!

I still own a collection of cassettes, there are free tapes which came with the music magazines, some classical tapes my mate Dunc gave me when he was working for EMI, I even have cassettes of LPs I recorded and recordings of old John Peel shows. What I don’t have is a load of tapes of bands I played in, including the Bank Clerks. Realising that these recording might be more important to me than Peel’s festive 50 from 1982 I put them somewhere for safe keeping and have never seen them again. It’s a bit academic as I don’t even have a cassette player  but I hope somewhere in my home a have a recording of the Bank Clerks set but I’m not banking on it.

The Bank Clerks did actually play a gig in the following Christmas holidays but that was it for the band, it was never a long term proposal and we went our separate ways, at least for a while.

A couple  of decades ago when Oasis were the future of music, Noel Gallager was spouting off about how governments should pay young people  to sit about smoking dope and making music because that was the way to create future music industry titans.His comments were partly tongue in cheek but he had a point. In 1979 we had a unique chance to be creative no reason, we had an enjoyable summer and, in a remarkable burst of activity wrote a load of songs. It didn’t make any money but on the other hand none of us needed to access mental health services because we couldn’t take exam pressure.

Thank you welfare state.

Man,we were killing time
We were young and restless
Those were the best days of my life

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In the Summertime…Mungo Jerry

This week Britain has been hot, hotter than it’s been for a long time. We don’t know whether to be excited or scared, the weather forecasters are putting a brave face on it but also, we are beginning to realise that Global warming might actually be happening no matter how many plastic bottles we put in the recycling bin.

And Boris Johnson is our new prime minister; its like the very gates of hell have been opened!

It’s tempting to want to return to a simpler time where temperatures were manageable, we still had an ozone layer and you could take your girl out in the ford Cortina, sink a few pints of Watney’s  and drive back without the nanny state raising an eyebrow . (talking of which I’d had enough advice about sunscreen and staying hydrated by the end of May).

The summer of 1970 belonged to Mungo Jerry. ‘In the Summertime’ was about the only record on the radio for months. The good time jug band feel was at odds with the band’s inception. An early gig had been with anarchic proto punks The Social Deviants and a breakthrough festival gig saw them sharing the billing with Black Sabbath and the Grateful Dead.

But the early 70’s were like that, on one hand the bands had got heavier but there was also space for goodtime skiffle like Lindisfarne and McGuiness-Flint. The Beatles were gone, we were in uncharted territory.

The really notable thing about Mungo Jerry was not the music but the appearance of main man, composer, guitarist, harp and kazoo player and singer Ray Dorset. Dorset possessed a formidable afro but also the best mutton chop sideburns ever seen on Top of the Pops (and there was plenty of competition in the early 70’s). Lets face it, no one was too worried about who was playing double bass, Dorset was Mungo Jerry, in fact at one point his band tried to replace him which must be one of the most deluded group decisions ever. Management sidedwith Dorset and from that point him and the band were the same.

 

The band’s website, yes, they are still a concern today, features an iconic graphic of Dorset, he’s 73 now, I suspect he has changed a bit but Jerry/Dorset are still a brand after all these years. 

 

Subsequent records tended to rock out a bit more, in fact at one-point Dorset was in Kathmandu who worked with Peter Green during his wilderness years. But it was ‘In the Summertime’ that we will remember them for. Superficially it’s a simple blues sequence with lyrics essentially about taking a girl out ’in the summertime’. Somehow it captured the public consciousness, I’m not really interested in sales but believe me, it sold a lot, I mean really loads and loads.

Dig a bit deeper there’s some interesting elements to the song. It sounds like the bass is played by a jug, this was popular in the ‘rent bands’ of the 20’s and 30’s where groups of ‘musicians’would gather to have a party to pay the rent. Blowing across the top of the jug was a cheap substitute for a proper bass. There is also some vocal percussion on display, an early British appearance of beatboxing. Similarly remarkable is Dorset’s voice, its not impossible to conclude that his success would pave the way for us accepting the bleatings of Marc Bolan in a few months’ time.

So, to wrap it up here are some Mungo Jerry/ Ray Dorset fun facts

The band got their name from TS Elliot’s book of practical cats

In the Summertime was such a shock hit that Dorset had to ask for time off from his factory job to appear on Top of The Pops

The ‘have a drink have a drive’ line was used in a drink drive advert.

Fans include Tom Yorke of Radiohead

In the Summertime was originally an early Maxi Single

Dorset wrote ‘Feels like I’m in Love’ for Elvis but it was a big hit for Kelly Marie in 1980

Dorset is a freemason who has suffered irritable bowel syndrome for 45 years (the two things are not necessarily related)

Here’s the song

https://youtu.be/iygufAtkrOo

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Cheap as Cheese..Camembert Electique

camembertCamembert Electrique the third, but first real, album by Gong was released in 1971 when, to be honest I wasn’t really ready so I missed out on the offer of a whole album for 59 pence. However a few years later I came across the record in a junk shop for, wait for it 59 pence.I was probably provoked into a decision to purchase by the fact that the record hadn’t lost value and so I bought it. It wasn’t an easy decision after all it still represented two hours of sweated labour in my Saturday job but in the end it represented money well spent.

Gong, the real Gong not the jazz funk Gong of later years centred on Daevid Allen a man for whom the words ‘one off’ just cant do justice. Allen was Australian which probably allowed him to get away with the sort of hippie bollocks that Gong traded in. Allen had already had an amazing life having travelled Europe, made some influential connections in the art world, formed Soft Machine and then being deported from England for being an Australian Hippie. He ended up in France where his weirdness was allowed to blossom

Despite not being the greatest guitarist, singer or songwriter on the planet he had no shortage of like minded people to play with and perhaps more surprisingly to fund his creativity. Camembert Electrique was recorded at Chateau d’Herouville near Paris. Virgin eventually issued it for 59p which meant an awful lot of people seemed to have it and a few actually liked it

There was a lot to like, the music varied from riff based rock enlivened by ‘space whisper’ (Allen’s partner Gilli Smyth) and flute (Didier Malherbe) to tape experiments. The amazing thing about this music though was that like a lot of 60’s and 70’s music it seemed to have no precedent at no point could you really say ‘this sounds a bit like….’

But music aside (and like the Grateful Dead Gong were always about so much more) what really impressed me was the record sleeve. On the front was a proper drawing made with real pen on real paper but it was a simple black and white photo on the back that used you grab my attention while listening to ‘Fohat Digs Holes in Space’.

The band are posed against what I assume is their communal farmhouse in the wilds of France, its a bit muddy, there’s even rabbits in hutches behind themcamembert3

On the far left is Didier Malherbe (Bloomdido Bad De Grass) saxophone and flute player. He’s almost out of the picture but at this point he’s a major force in making Gong Gongier  not yet 30 he looks a lot older but being French that’s of little consequence.

Next in line is Christian Tritsch (Submarine Captain) who plays Bass but really wants to be a lead guitarist which means he will soon be a footnote on the Gong story. I always liked the Submarine Captain largely because in this picture he’s got a cool hat and seems to be wearing jodhpurs..crazy guy.

The next band member is really just passing though which means he never gets a a nickname. Its Pip Pyle, a great drummer and part of the Canterbury scene. Allen never really understood drummers and over the next few months they come and go (Pyle actually returns later). Pyle looks like he’s tripping over Sam Wyatt, son of Robert who, strangely enough, is the only one actually looking at the camera.. Luckily Sam’s positioning hides the fact that Pyle is actually wearing stockings which is horribly apparent in the colour out takes of the session.amembert

Daevid Allen (Bert Camembert) is kind of centre stage casually dressed in tights, boots, headband and carrying a big stick, strangely he doesn’t look posed or ridiculous its just Daevid .

Eddy Luisse is the mystery keyboard player who again wont stay and wont have a nickname.He is the only one who looks a little uncomfortable despite being the most sensibly dressed.

Last, but not least is Gill Smyth (Shakti Yoni) who will always be on hand if you need a space whisper, Gong seemed to need quite a lot of it.

Gong went onto greater things for a while, due in no small part by the additions of Steve Hillage on guitar (who of course played with Alex Harvey at Glastonbury) and Tim Blake on synthesiser who both made the band distinctive and musical.

What I really really liked about Gong though was the fact that they existed outside the norms of music. They never got proper hair cuts or tried to record a breakthrough album or got stupid drug habits. For a long while they looked hopelessly out of time but they just stuck to their guns and inevitably they looked good again and managed to avoid and embarrassing history. Daevid Allen continued to make the music he wanted and appeared a remarkably active and able septuagenarian until his death from liver cancer earlier this year (2015)

this is another recycled post, please enjoy responsibly

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The Stick Thing and Other Weird Instruments

OneManBandMusical instruments were expensive in the 70,s relatively speaking. I wore out a guitar catalogue just gazing at the impossibly expensive instruments for hours on end. A cheap electric guitar could set you back £70 in the days when I hadn’t even started earning 30p an hour. My dad, ever keen to save a few pence ,decided we could make an electric guitar. We never finished it of course, the body weighed a ton and as the neck proved too difficult to construct he took the neck off a cheap and useless acoustic which was woefully adequate. I was over 30 before I owned an electric instrument.

For financial reasons alone I was always interested in what might be called novelty instruments In the days before sampling, new sounds were a novelty and the we loved a bit of novelty between strikes and power cuts.

With the Beatles out of the way music was up for grabs, it might go in any direction, it might implode or just give up, bear in mind we had had only had 15 years of ‘pop’ and we still weren’t sure it was going to hang around.So every sound that was new potentially signposted the future of popular music.

On of the big hits with a novelty sound was Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. Here was a group with a name that was hard to spell with a twin piano attack and a 60 year old band member. The thing that grabbed me however was the ‘penny whistle’ which pianist Robert Woodward would whip out to provide a bit of relief from the plonking pianos and growling drummer.

Just prior to glam Lieutenant Pigeon used the familiar to sound quite futuristic, a bit like some of Joe Meek’s work in the 60’s. Of course they were just a group of lad’s from Coventry (and their mum) who got lucky, they scraped another hit before we tired of them and they sloped off to earn a crust round the working men’s clubs. Their legacy lived on with me as I bought a penny whistle, not quite a penny but certainly in my price range. I learned to play the theme from the ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ and moved onto something a bit more rock.

Another exotic sound from 1972 came from Chicory Tip. Like all the other bands at the time they were 60’s survivors, in this instance  from Maidstone Kent, who had been around for the last five years trying to make a living from the music business. Amazingly their big hit ‘Son of My Father’ was written by non other than Giorgio Moroder which is probably why it features an early sighting of the Moog Synthesiser. It sounds great although to this day I still don’t know most of the lyrics to the song.

The band recorded in this commercial vein for a while but apparently at their dark hearts they were rockers who rather fancied themselves as Deep Purple. As we already had Deep Purple we didn’t want another one but the band did manage to record ‘The Future is Past’*before the public totally lost interest and they were forced to dust off the Moog to preserve their ever diminishing returns.

For strange instruments you couldn’t beat Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs who hit the ‘big’ time with ‘Seaside Shuffle’ another 1972 hit (what was going on!) which always conjurers up pictures of grey seas and fish and chips despite the Cajun shuffle. Terry Dactyl was a cover name for Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, famous for having Jona Lewie (!?!?!?) and being quite a well respected blues/jug band on the London circuit.

In this clip though they hit the jackpot,mandolin,accordion,washboard,bass drum,euphonium and beer bottle stick thing, the blueprint for Mumford and Sons !

Finally though it wasn’t just 60’s chancers who had an eye for the unusual. Here is the Who, guess the year, you might as well because I cant be bothered to look it up

Here Townsend proves he’s in charge by taking the harmonica off Daltrey who is demoted to Jews Harp, or Jaws Harp if you’re worried that might be a bit racist. I was really impressed by the J harp (as we’ll call it) and on the strength of this performance purchased one myself. The trouble was no one knew how to play it and as ‘Join Together’ wasnt a massive hit there was not much chance to learn from Daltrey as one appearance of Top of the Pops seemed to be it.The consequence of this was I spent a lot of time with the instrument vibrating painfully against my teeth. When I did discover the correct method of playing I found I was getting very dizzy and therefore didnt stick with an instrument that made me permanently nauseous. Amazing despite it’s great sound the J Harp never bothered the charts again.

It was all a brave experiment, after 1972 rock settled back down to proper expensive instruments, and the moog, which was really expensive became a novelty no longer.

* yes really!, I got the name from this blog from a Chicory Tip single

This post was first published ages ago, don’t worry you won’t have read it before.

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