17: Keys to your Heart..the 101ers

I was going to write a more substantial piece about the 101ers but I found I had already done this a couple of years ago, that’s the great thing about a failing memory; life is full of surprises.

Here’s my original article.

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2016/08/14/101ers/

By the time ‘Keys to Your Heart’ was released the 101ers were almost finished and frontman Joe Strummer’s career was just starting.

I love Joe Strummer, he was the punk John Lennon full of contradictions and flaws, but you felt his heart was in the right place. Strummer had been hugely influenced by seeing a Bruce Springsteen live show. If Springsteen had hailed from west London rather than New Jersey its not impossible to imagine him making a similar noise to Strummer in 1976.

Inspired by has relationship with Spanish girlfriend Paloma (later drummer Palmolive of the Slits) Strummer had started writing songs to flesh out the rock and roll covers that had been the staple of the 101ers. The band got to record some of them in the studio thanks to Ted Caroll who ran a Stiff type record label called Chiswick.

I only got to own a copy of this track by buying a whole compilation LP featuring the likes of The Count Bishops and the Hammersmith Gorillas. It’s the sound of 1976 in a pub in London.

Key’s to Your Heart was the best track the 101er’s ever recorded, it’s got a similar sound to Van Morrison’s Gloria which was a show stopper number the band covered. There’s a quiet bit where the tension builds and which burst into the chorus, it’s a pretty standard device but it always works for me.

Keys to Your Heart is less than a year away from White Riot but its music from a different era. At the time people (friends, journalists, and the band themselves) thought Strummer mad to be quitting a shit hot band for a bunch of people who could barely play their instruments but he jumped ship at just the right time in a years’ time the Clash would be hot and the 101ers would be not.

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8: Cortez the Killer…Neil Young

In the 70’s the USA was simultaneously familiar and alien. Our television relied heavily on imported series from the states especially comedy, Happy Days was insanely popular, but we would also get reruns or the Monkees on a spasmodic rota. Shows were well crafted and sometime very funny, but they were also saccharine. The USA still seemed to be the land of plenty, people seemed wealthy and happy and confident. The irony was that unless you lived near a tourist attraction you were unlikely to meet a genuine American person. I was slightly the exception to this as I had an aunt who had emigrated there and every decade she would return for a couple of weeks. I must admit though that on basis of that brief encounter I had no evidence to revise my opinion, my Aunt appeared happy and confident and very proud to be an American.

Perhaps because of this cultural disconnect I was slow on the uptake with American music. The like of Alice Cooper and Aerosmith seemed a bit over confident and crass to me, nobody like a show off. Even British bands who toured America a lot seem to return changed, tougher, slicker and less fun.

The early exception was the glut of singer songwriters who emerged in the early 70’s. They were producing music that was more introspective with maybe even a trace of uncertainty. Like all sensible teenagers though I needed more than an acoustic guitar, I would be into my 20’s before I was willing to sit down and really engage with the likes of Joni Mitchell.

The reason why Neil Young was different was that he had two sides, to this day I’ve never listened to Harvest, that sort of thing didn’t really interest me at the age of 16. Post HarvestYoung ‘headed for the ditch’ away from the middle of the road where he thought he had strayed to. The next few years produced some of my all-time favourite music in the form of some troubled downbeat albums. I first picked up on Young  when he was coming out of this time with his new record Zuma.

The most important thing, in all honesty, about the album was that my friend Phil had a copy, so I actually had a chance to listen to it. Records were relatively expensive, it would be a few years before I had enough money to actually buy anything I wanted and by then it was the 80’s so there wasn’t much I did want. If a friend lent you a record you listened to it, it was free music.

The other factor in Zuma’s favour was it was almost entirely electric with his band Crazy Horse. As a band Crazy Horse were simultaneously brilliant and incompetent. It’s a bit like the argument over whether Meg White is a good drummer, their playing was hard to defend on an analytical skill level but the end result surpassed all criticism. Even by the time of Zuma the band had become looser and sloppier than they had been on their debut record ‘Everybody Knows this is Nowhere’, 20 years later they would sound like they were on the verge of disintegrating with every verse they played, but they never did.

As an electric guitar player Young has the same qualities and most importantly he knows about sound, Young and Crazy Horse are a pretty visceral experience which is why as punk was raging, I was listening to Zuma.

The standout track is ‘Cortez the Killer’. Its long but not by the standards of his later work. It’s also lyrically intriguing, there’s not a whole load of songs about the Aztec empire. There’s an ambiguity about the words encompassing both awe and admiration of the Aztecs about to be subsumed by Cortez ‘what a killer’.

But there’s a strange magic in the music itself. I’ve played it in many settings, I jammed it only a couple of weeks ago. When I played in an acoustic duo we would jam the song for ever if an audience appeared disengaged or absent. There’s a dreamy quality to the music the chords can go around and round forever. And that’s the magic, its only three chords, three basic chords at that but chords that are altered a little with suspensions and augmentations. It sounds complicated but really its just adding or taking away a note, it’s not hard to play. What it does mean though is the song never really resolves or comes to an end, it finishes when the player(s) decide.

I’ve stuck with Young over the years, not everything of course, I’m not insane! The last record I bought by him was Psychedelic Pill which offered more of the sonic thuggery of Crazy Horse. Lets face it, I’m unlikely to feel the need to buy anything else from the Young catalogue in the future. 

Over 40 years later there’s still some magic left in Cortez though

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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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Into the 80’s…Landscape

In the summer of 1977 as punk was sweeping the nation, a group of my friends invited me to join them in seeing a Jazz Rock group at the Norwich Arts Centre. Today this would seem quite a pleasant prospect, but it was less appealing for the teenage me. At the age of 18 however the worst thing that could happen to you was to miss out on what your friends are doing, there was also the incentive that Norwich Arts seemed quite a safe venue which seemed to be increasingly significant at a time when you could easily be beaten up for having your hair too long or too short.

Really the only downside was it was Jazz Rock.

The band was Landscape, I knew nothing about them but they were just fine for a Jazz rock band. As I might have anticipated, they all looked like lectures from a polytechnic apart from the drummer who had spruced himself up a bit. The evening slipped by painlessly and at the end they announced they had an EP for sale and, rather to my surprise, I purchased one. I must admit I was slightly motivated by avarice. I knew that obscure records could later be sold at a profit if the band became big. I hadn’t realised how little money was usually made or really considered just how big a jazz rock band was likely to become in the 70’s, it must have been an impulse purchase without which it’s likely I would have forgotten about the evening completely.

I played the a side of the record, the punningly titled U2XME1X2MUCH occasionally over the next few years, it was pretty good, it had an insistent beat and a funky trombone it was as much Can as Weather Report.

A few short years later. 1981 to be precise, Landscape where actually in the charts with ‘Einstein a Go-Go’ a frantic slightly novelty synth pop number featuring drummer, now singer Richard Burgess. All traces of Jazz had gone, the reed and horn players were now doubling up on keyboards. This included bald trombonist Peter Thoms looking rather unconvincing in his futuristic outfits by virtue of keeping his 70’s moustache. The band had a follow up single Norman Bates and an album, From the Tea Rooms of Mars …to the Hell Holes of Uranus . They explored the same music landscape as the more successful Thomas Dolby, its hard to imagine just who their audience was or whether Burgess regretted the years of honing his drum technique to be replaced by the most simple of drum machines on most numbers. Certainly it gave them a couple of years of making money before they inevitably got rid of the more diehard jazz members before the survivors lost the will to carry on.

Burgess actually had a pretty interesting career as a producer for the like of Spandau Ballet and Adam and the Ants as well as being something of a go-to guy for computer technology, being one of the first people to learn to work the Fairlight. Even more excitingly, Andy Pask, the bass player, wrote the theme tune to the popular TV series ‘The Bill’ which we all heard twice a week throughout the 90’s.

Back to the present day… I must still have my copy of U2XME1X2MUCH in the attic. Searching for it on YouTube is pointless as their stupid search engine remains convinced I want to listen to U2. I’m determined though, everything’s on the internet somewhere. Eventually I locate it on Discogs with a YouTube link, the bad news is that should I wish to sell my investment it is now valued somewhere between 99p and £2.49!

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Into the 80’s….

Clearly the idea of decades being separate entities is fairly ridiculous, but the eighties seemed to arrive with full force almost on cue. The music of 1981 was quite different to the music of 1979, by the mid 80’s music consisted of sounds completely unrelated to anything from the 70’s.

It was largely down to technology. Synthesiser technology was coming on in leaps and bounds, soon there would be the Fairlight synthesizer, it cost more than most peoples houses but it was capable of making a whole lot of sounds that we had never heard before. Recording technology was also advancing at an amazing rate. The consequence of this was the rise of the producer. Up to the 70’s the producer was the bloke (always a man!) who tried to get the best performances out of a group of musicians together in a studio. By the mid 80’s a lot of those musicians had been made redundant thanks to synthesisers and drum machines, all a producer needed was a singer or two and unlimited studio time and they could produce a hit single.

It wasn’t all shiny happy people of course, by the time I finished at Trent Polytechnic I was actually of no fixed abode although I managed to upgrade to a property with an outside toilet and no hot water. Like a lot of the population I was unemployed for a long time but when I got on the gravy train things were ok, we didn’t really expect a great deal.

There was plenty of plenty of alternative music but it could get quite depressing listening to stuff that was lo fi and challenging and for me, bands that did continue some sort of rock tradition like REM or U2 didn’t really stand the test of time. By the mid 80’s I had become disconnected from rock/pop for the first time.

And John Lennon was dead.

But the transition from the 70’s to the 80’s is a fascinating one, sounds were changing from a guitar-based sound to one where keyboards were prominent, all of a sudden saxophones were everywhere. Even ZZ Top were rumored to be using drum machines and even if they weren’t the dreaded gated snare drum sound meant that a lot of great records sounded horribly dated after 5 years. For a lot of bands this was what was needed, it was a case of adapt or die. So, I’m going to look at some of the bands who were made that decision and in the process became very different groups indeed.

Here’s the 80’s sound in its full pomp

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16: Janie Jones….The Clash

The conventional story is that punk hit hard in 1977 and things were never the same again. That might have been the case in the London world of the New Musical Express or even the Factory Records world in Manchester. In most of the provinces however, it was a slow trickle effect and it was only with the rise of bands like the Stranglers, Squeeze and the Police who introduced a more musical element that the general public really got on board by which time it had become new wave anyway.

Like most young men not mired in prog rock or heavy rock I found punk pretty exciting in the small doses of the 45rpm single but while I might thrill to New Rose by The Dammed there was no way it made me want to wear narrow trousers or get my hair cut any more than Bowies’s ‘Starman’ had encouraged me to wear gold lame and put my arms around other men.

For this reason, I had delayed buying the Clash’s first album buy a good 12 months. Buying a ‘punk’ record was a pretty big step, it was a statement, there were a lot of people, and many of them worked in record shops, who believed that you should only like one sort of music, preferably the sort they liked. Simply liking the wrong sort of music could get you beaten up, these were serious times !

The fact was though I couldn’t ignore just how good the Clash were, there had been the singles ‘White Riot’ which I considered ok followed by ‘Remote Control’ which the band didn’t rate but I loved. The band were pissed off with their record company releasing this so they then issued the stand alone single Complete Control which was also great. Apart from that I’m sure I had heard ‘London’s Burning’ on the radio but clearly if I wanted to hear more, I would need to buy the album which, thanks to the dole and casual jobs, I had the money to do.

Janie Jones wasn’t the first song by the Clash I had ever heard but its track one on the record and the first Clash Song I heard that I had owned.

It starts with a deceptively simple Drum beat, it is in fact a variation on what drummers call rudiments, I never bothered with these, there didn’t seem much point but here the drummer, Terry Chimes, demonstrated, even in punk rock there was room for a bit of technique. Chimes was actually the real rebel in the Clash, unable to get along with bullshit Bernie Rhodes’s various managerial manifesto’s he never really meshed with the others. He had already left once and was recalled for the album where his name was ignominiously recorded as Tory Crimes. He was recalled yet again when they needed a drummer for a final tour of the USA and since then has managed to reconcile diverse roles such as being a practicing Catholic, a drummer for Black Sabbath and a Chiropractor.

I don’t think that Joe Strummer plays on this track, it’s the band at their most punk basic. Mick Jones had been playing for a while but never really seemed a natural guitarist (unlike the Pistols Steve Jones). On other tracks he attempts some simple lead lines but I always sense he’s concentrating really had to get them right. I loved the slight fragility of the band, there were two basic guitarists, a bass player who had just started learning and a stand in drummer, but you get the impression that they were all trying really hard to make a great sound.

For a listening world used to Supertramp or ELO this was a big ask. The Album wasn’t universally welcomed by the critics. I remember the fanzine ZigZag being pretty dismissive. Up to now they had been championing the likes of Richard Thompson and Mike Nesmith, in a year they would have The Slits on their Cover. Times were changing. The big criticism they made was if the Band had such a big message how come you couldn’t hear the lyrics properly.

It wasn’t a big problem to me I consider lyrics to be pretty overrated anyway. I have realised through that I’ve been kind of singing the lyrics in my head for over 40 years without any real idea or what they are a lot of the time. A little bit of research reveals that even lyric sites don’t have a huge consensus on the exact words. I knew a little about Janie Jones who had scandalised the nation by running a prostitution ring or possibly providing ‘favours’ for the rich and influential at her parties. It seems a weird thing to write a song about and I think Strummer just used her as a starting point for writing about a guy in a boring job hoping to have fun at the weekend (which they covered more obviously on ‘48 hours’ also on the album). It was obtuse due to the subject matter, as well as the fact that I couldn’t understand the lyrics, and I like that in a song.

The Clash were my soundtrack for the summer of 78 but I was spoiled for choice, great music was happening every week. The band themselves seemed to be progressing at an alarming pace, Their eponymous debut was already out of date, soon they would release ‘White Man in the Hammersmith Palais’ and go on to further ambitious and sometimes overreaching projects. Janie Jones stayed with them throughout their career playing it live on stage from beginning to end.

The real Janie Jones has been a nightclub singer and recorded a single ‘House of the Ju-ju Queen’ backed by members of the Clash and at least one of the Blockheads. It didn’t set the world alight but, unlike Strummer, who apparently idolised her, she is still with us today.

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Going Mad pt3 Madsongs

After the 60’s the 70’s was a bit of a comedown. Most of the optimism was reserved for the new artists setting out on their careers. For the hero’s of the 60’s its was a period of being a bit lost. The Beatles had split, the revolution hadn’t happened and some of them had just taken a few to many drugs. A lot of people were asking a lot of questions and wondering if they were going mad. There was not a whole lot in the way of positive psychology, no one knew what ‘well-being’ might be. Here are 5 songs from musicians grappling with their their mental health

Octopus. Syd Barrett

Isnt it good to be lost in the wood

One of the more coherent track from Barrett’s solo career, full of rich but rather nonsensical imagery. Virtually all his solo work is the sound of a man unraveling, not helped by the fact that any backing musician had to play along, often to recordings, of his solo performance which, at best were a bit wavering and at worst had no real tempo at all. Octopus contains the words ‘The Madcap laughed’ which kind of got appropriated to describe Syd himself. Dave Gilnour has since reconsidered that the words may have been the Mad cat laughed but lets not ruin a good story.

All The Madmen David Bowie

Here I stand

Foot in hand

Talking to my wall

Bowie revisited mental heath many times in his career. He was troubled by his half brother Terry’s schizophrenia and he would revisit the concepts of metal illness on just about every album he made in the 70’s.

‘All the Madmen’ is an obvious choice for title alone. Being a consummate professional he wont let the subject matter get in the way of a cracking tune but here Bowie is playing with a familiar concept that maybe madmen are not that different to us.

Behind Blue Eyes. The Who

When I smile tell me some bad news

Before I laugh and act Ike a fool

Townsend seemed to be determined to spend the 70’s being as unhappy about being in the greatest rock band of the time as he could. Unwilling to just to write great songs for great musicians he continually overreached. Firstly there was the grandiose Lifehouse project which was whittled done to their finest album ‘Who’s Next’ from which this songs comes.

With the sheer bravado of a Who performance its easy to miss the often downbeat subject matter. Despite channeling his songs through Daltrey this is still an extremely confessional song. Townsend was to go on to overreaching further with Quadrophenia and further confessional songs on Who by Numbers and Who are you. Unsurprisingly given his mental state he was drinking heavily and eventually turned to heroin by the end of the 70’s.

Nick Drake. Know

Know that I love you

Know That I don’t Care

You Know that I See You

You Know I’m not there

Drake’s career is one of a man steadily retreating from the world, firstly stopping live performances then recording then ceasing all human contact apart from his family.

By his final album ‘Pink Moon’ it was just Drake and a guitar. This was the first record I ever heard from Drake and initially I didn’t recognise its misery but in retrospect its not really about unhappiness just a sense of not really wanting to be too involved in the world. Drake was a heavy cannabis user which couldn’t have helped his mental state at all but he also seemed acutely depressed.

The above lyrics are the entire song, musically its just a sketchy, its the sound of a man giving up which Drake finally did when he overdosed on antidepressants at the family home.

House on the Hill. Kevin Coyne

The rooms are always Chilled

They’re never Cosy

Pre becoming a professional musician Coyne had worked in psychiatric institutions and probably over identified with the residents within. Coyne rather enjoyed being the underdog, he even turned down the chance to audition for the Doors who were looking around for a new singer post Jim Morrison.

Despite a guitar technique which relied on him making chords with his thumb Coyne could turn out songs by the bucketload which inevitably led to a bit of a loss of quality control. House on the Hill reflects his time working in psychiatric care and its bleak and and beautiful . It’s possibly his best song.

Coyne’s own mental health would take a slow side downwards exacerbated but a serious alcohol problem to the point where he ended up homeless in Germany where he managed to turn things around to the point where he sustained a career there until his death.

There’s plenty more of course. Ray Davies was struggling and had suffered a breakdown in the 60’s. The Album ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ is full of desperate songs slightly lost in the trad jazz musical backing.Richard Thompson was producing songs of almost unbearable bleakness as was Roy Harper. Pink Floyd of course went on to explore and market madness with Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here’. That’s all been covered by better writers than me a million times. If theres anyone I’ve missed out, do let me know in comments.

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Going Mad pt 2… Madmen

There’s probably quite a high correlation between music and mental health. Certainly creative types are prone to mood swings, often it’s what makes them creative, throw in factors such as unconventional lifestyles and drink and drugs and it’s not surprising that a lot of musicians have fluctuating mental health. In the 70’s various big names, to pick a few at random, Pete Townsend, Ray Davies and David Bowie appeared to be ‘loosing it’ a bit. Others like Nick Drake and Keith Moon lost their lives in overdoses of the very drugs that were supposed to be helping them.

To thin the list out considerably here are 4 people all British, who in the 70’s became ill enough to see the inside of a mental institution.

Syd Barrett

Everyone knows the Syd stories, how at the height of his fame somehow lost the plot. Once the creative force of Pink Floyd Syd had become withdrawn and would often just play a few notes onstage. Dave Gilmour was drafted in to assist onstage but one day the band just decided not to pick him up for the gig and carry on without him. Flatmate keyboard player Rick Wright was then in the awkward position of having to tell Barrett he was popping out for cigarettes whenever he had a gig.

At one point some of his colleagues has allegedly gone to RD Laing (see last weeks post) for help and played him a tape of Syd. Laing had apparently called him incurable which if it was true but have been one of the shoddiest diagnoses in psychiatric history although I’m sure far worse have been made.

Certainly, Barrett became a very different person after taking quite a lot of LSD, he was always cited as a cautionary tale to potential astral travellers. What is on dispute is the actual nature of any mental changes. Roger Waters states he is convinced Barrett was schizophrenic and spent the next decade writing songs about it. It must be said though that Waters isn’t a psychiatrist and it seems like no one who is or was a psychiatrist agreed with him. Barrett did spend some time in some sort of psychiatric institution and did have some therapy sessions but was never treated for mental health with drugs.

Barrett just really lost interest in music and returned to live in his mother’s house in Cambridge where he continued to live a low-key lifestyle painting and gardening. Luckily, he had a supportive lifestyle and a financial cushion from Pink Floyd royalties. He dies at the age of 60 but his later life sounds pretty happy

Peter Green

Unlike Syd Barrett there seems a fair consensus that Green had Schizophrenia and presumably still does. Like Barrett Green came from a close supportive family who continued to support him after his withdrawal from music. It must be said that early Fleetwood Mac was hardly a bastion of good mental health but most close to him pinpoint the change in Green to an LSD episode in Germany.

Green undoubtedly received treatment as an inpatient including electro convulsive therapy. Like a lot of Schizophrenic people he took a long time to get stabilized but he also continued to make music off and on although really the spark had gone. His later band the Splinter Group made quite a few albums but it appears that it was quite an effort to get Green ready for participation in music. Maybe that some of the tragedy of Green’s situation was that he couldn’t really leave music behind because every time he was well enough there were plenty of people wanting to get him back in the studio and on the road which isn’t the healthiest of environments for someone struggling with their mental health.

On a positive note Green is the only person here who is alive today, mental health takes its toll physically, not least due to the side effects of medication .

Robert Calvert

If there could have been any band which was the antithesis of a bad mental health environment surely it must have been Hawkwind. It’s surprising therefore that Calvert was an occasional member . Being Bi Polar he could be incredibly creative. Calvert is all over the bands finest album, the live Space Ritual with vocals, spoken word and general conception of the project. He was the nearest the band had to a frontman and he reappeared as such on the band’s later 70’s renaissance record Quark Strangeness and Charm. In between music he was sometimes disabled by his mental health, on occasions being admitted or sectioned to institutions. Despite this he was fiercely creative and with a number of collaborators made a couple of solo records (basically concept albums) as well as writing poetry and plays. One reasons he’s not that well known is that he died of a heart attack aged 43.

Viv Stanshall

Like Calvert, with whom he collaborated in the 70’s, Stanshall was incredibly creative but relatively unfocused. Unsuited to the rigors of band membership he had quite the Bonzos at the end of the 60’s. Allegedly he shaved all his hair off on Christmas Day before coming down to the family dinner (how many of us have felt like that?) It was a sign that something was wrong and he was soon hospitalized with what most of us would call a nervous breakdown.

From then on it was a slow and fluctuating downhill struggle. Quite what his mental health issues were have never been clear but the situation had been exacerbated by doctors prescribing him Valium for anxiety and his dependence on that, often with alcohol meant that Stanshall was mentally and creatively all over the place.

For a long while he kept going with appearances on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a few solo albums and his greatest work Rawlinson’s End. Stanshall was incredibly creative but kind of lacked the focus needed to turn that creativity into success and inevitably that creativity was blunted with drink drugs and mental health. By the 90’s he was living in a small flat in Muswell Hill and becoming one of the regular collection of crazy people walking the streets of North London.

He died in a fire at his flat in 1995.

In the 70’s mental health services were even worse than they are today, drug and alcohol services were in their infancy. Community treatment was relatively minor and inpatient treatment far more widespread, there was help but it was patchy and preventative treatment was unheard of. Going into hospital was a last straw and it wasn’t always easy to get out again. Eccentricity was encouraged but with the likes of Viv Stanshall and Syd Barrett it disguised some serious mental health issues for a very long time.

In the world of music however these ‘madmen’ had an opportunity to express themselves and the world is a better and richer place for them having shared their creativity with us.

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Going Mad

We’ve just had another mental health week (message ‘be kind’). Even the future King of England wants to be talking about mental health, mental health is everywhere, we recognise that there are parallels with physical health, it fluctuates, maybe there are things in daily living that can make it better or worse. Most importantly there’s the possibility of talking about it. In the 70’s things were a lot more brutal and clearer cut. Either you were ‘ok’ or mad. If you were mad you got put in the loony bin and could officially be a loony.

In the early 70’s madness held something of a fascination. The 60’s had been a time of consciousness expansion but that had led to some people just expanding their consciousness too far. We didn’t know enough about mind expanding drugs such as cannabis and, most significantly, LSD. People experimenting with these drugs were pushing the psychological barriers as early mountain climbers, polar explorers and astronauts tested physical limitations, they really were going where nobody had been before, at least in their heads. Inevitably some of them lost their minds. In most cities you would encounter the odd longhair wandering about in some state of confusion, often, in an attempt to self-medicate they had turned to harder drugs or alcohol which just compounded their problems. But the fascination lay in the fact that they had travelled so far out they couldn’t get back.

Bowie was an early disciple of madness. His own brother had significant mental health problems, but Bowie had also come across 50’s Rocker Vince Taylor who had allegedly overdone the LSD experience and was wandering the streets of London telling people he was Jesus. This set the seed for Ziggy Stardust in Bowies fertile mind. Pink Floyd, understandably considering their frontman Syd Barret’s plight had explored ideas around madness on Dark Side of the Moon and would continue to do so.

The mental health establishment has started to question itself. Psychiatrist RD Laing set himself up as an anti psychiatry figure arguing that madness could just be a logical response to an insane society, Ironically Laing was addicted to alcohol for a lot of his life and despite his criticisms of the family unit was a pretty awful father and provoked mental health problems in some of his own children. He was however posing some pretty significant questions about the nature of mental illness and how society defined this. Also significant was the Rosenhan experiment where basically a bunch of researchers were able to fake their mental illnesses, and all were admitted to psychiatric institutions with the minimum of fuss and bother. In popular culture ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest’ was an extremely popular and influential film. It wasn’t real of course but most of us believed that it was an accurate representation of life in the ‘loony bin’.

We were getting the message loud and clear, maybe madness was ok, maybe society was wrong, probably psychiatrists and nurses were evil bastards and being labelled as crazy would inevitably be a bad thing. It wasn’t that clear cut of course but the general belief was that you were sane until you got labelled mad which meant you would be put in a ‘loony bin’ and given horrible drugs for an indefinite period of time. What that missed was the subtleties that contributed to mental health. The film ‘Withnail and I ‘perfectly captures the way that intelligent young men and women were happy to live in the 70’s. Poor sleep, diet, accommodation, lack of exercise and lack of purpose contributed as much to mental health issues as drugs and alcohol, but we simply didn’t know about those things in the 70’s.

Most musicians, in Britain at least, would be living in those circumstances, for a group of people who were attracted to being outside straight society madness was almost a badge of honor. ‘Looning’ had been a pastime of musicians since the 60’s, generally crazy behaviour almost certainly with alcohol was something of a badge of honour. Keith Moon was known as ‘Moon the Loon’ not just to an easy piece of rhyming most people would claim he was crazy. No one meant lock them up and full them with Thoridazine crazy obviously, that was no fun at all and not what we would expect from our loons. No, rather we favoured a mixture of eccentricity and mental health usually with some involvement in alcohol and or drugs. The trouble was it was a thin line to tread, take Moon the Loon himself, a young man full of fun and mischief to a prematurely aged and burnt out man with an alcohol problem. Our loonies were never quite as much fun as we wanted to believe they were.

Next week I’ll look at 4 of the most crazy men of rock (70’s UK version only)

My own visit to a psychiatric institution is covered here as part of my acclaimed ‘Who Month’

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2018/07/15/who-month-out-of-my-brain-on-the-515/

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15:Hallogallo… Neu

Covid coma has hit me this week so I am recycling an old post

Hallogallo holds a place in my heart even though I’ve sometimes gone decades without listening to it. This is partly because its a great track perfectly made for driving along a motorway (yes, even better than ‘autobahn’). More significantly it symbolized the beginning of me starting to play in bands as told below….

And so the great day arrived!

Being the prospective  drummer the band was going to come to me. Plainy and Sucho were traveling reasonably light with guitars and practice amps. Robbo the bass player was cursed with the 70’s bass cab which was about four foot tall and three foot wide so he had had to rely on the good will of his father for a lift. These days parents seem pretty indulgent of their rock offspring especially if they ever had any aspirations in that area themselves, I know people who seem quite happy to spend the weekend living the worst part of the rock and roll lifestyle, humping gear, driving, sitting in the car outside insalubrious venues, just so their kids can have a good time. Robbo’s father was not so indulgent; the bass amp remained in my bedroom for pretty much the next year.

Sucho was the leader at this point, Plainy cultivated an attitude of barely being involved in the project although he had very clear views of what he would and would not play. Robbo, as with bass players since the beginning of time seemed a pleasant well balanced chap who over time would become a good friend. This however was the first time I had met him and only the second time I had met the others (and the first time totally sober). There was also allegedly a singer Steve who also dabbled on a basic keyboard but being a fairly free spirited character he only tended to pop along on occasions, he was a nice guy and it was always good to see him but his musical contributions were fairly minimal.

I can’t remember if there had been any discussion about the actual music, I wanted a band they wanted a drummer. In fact I can’t really think of any musical choices that would have been a deal breaker, ideally I would have preferred something a bit hard rocking like Rory Gallagher but instead Sucho produced a vinyl album which he eased onto my rather basic turntable.

It was by the German band Neu.

neu2

I had never heard of them but within the first few seconds I decided with the arrogance of youth that I could master the Neu beat. I assume the track was Hallogallo and to my untrained ears it sounded pretty simple. The first rule of auditions is not to show weakness so as soon as the other guys started to pick up the track I launched in with full force. This rather overwhelmed them as I was by the far the loudest but it takes little encouragement for young men to turn their amps up and soon we were grooving to our own version of Krautrock.

By this point Neu were in fact no more. There was just two of them guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger. Both had served time in an early Kraftwerk before breaking away to record their first album, the one I had been introduced to today, with Kraftwerk producer Connie Plank. Dinger was a pioneer or the’ Motorik’ so let the mighty Wikipedia explain what that is all about

Motorik is a term coined by music journalists to describe the 4/4 beat often used by “Krautrock” bands such as Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk (when promoting the official album release of Neu!’s back-catalogue, Klaus Dinger stated he called it the “Apache-beat”).The word “Motorik” means “motor skill” in German, although the word’s use in music journalism may be derived from a punning modification of “motoric”, a term long used by music critics to describe relentless ostinato rhythm, or simply from a combination of “motor” and the German “Musik”

The name perhaps derives from the repetitive yet forward-flowing feel of the rhythm, which has been compared to the experience of driving on a motorway – indeed, the motorik beat is in one section of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”, a song designed to celebrate exactly this experience. While The Velvet Underground’s influence on Krautrock is often mentioned, Moe Tucker’s drumming style has specifically been characterized as “proto-motorik.”

Apart from the krautrock bands, the motorik has also been used by newer bands like Stereolab, Primal Scream, Radiohead, Sonic Youth and Fujiya & Miyagi

The motorik beat is in 4/4 time and of moderate pace. The pattern is repeated each bar throughout the song. A splash or crash cymbal is often hit at the beginning bar of a verse or chorus.

Thank you Wikipedia !

I hadn’t really got this of course, for me it was just a simple beat but listening to it again 40 years later I can’t help but be impressed, especially with the bass drum work which I had totally overlooked.

Neu made two records initially, the first one which graced my room that afternoon and the follow up. During their second attempt they ran out of money so simply fiddled with the tracks they already had changing the speed and adding effects to bring the album up to full running time. Like most bands of course they couldn’t just call it a day and persisted in various unsatisfactory and half arse reunions until Dingers death

And that was the start of my life in Rock bands.

Because we were young and fairly musically stupid the band was always as much about socialising and showing off as it was about music. I can’t remember actually playing that Neu song again but we did cobble together some musical detritus into some form of a set. It transpired that Plainy was the only one with any coherent musical vision which seemed to be Krautrock and Jazz Rock, Sucho rather liked Led Zeppelin and Robbo added a bit of a Lou Reed vibe. We didn’t have a clue; Plainy and Steve were on their ways to University anyway and while Plainy was away we inevitably crept towards heavier rock only to be chastised by him on his frequent visits back.

And so within a few weeks we had a set list which included Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’, Wild Cherry’s ‘Play that Funky Music White Boy’, an attempt at ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus and a self-penned creation called ‘Macbeth’ which sounded like a speeded up Black Sabbath.

We decided on calling ourselves The Rockwell Buzz Company for reasons which escape me. We had no plans or visions and didn’t need any because we had friends. Robbo was at the City College which was considerably more bohemian than Thorpe Grammar School and invariably people began to attach themselves to us. The most that crammed themselves into my bedroom with bed, drum kit and bass speaker was 12. I don’t know how that happened the room can’t be more than 100 ft square. Everyone apart from me and Robbo everyone smoked and we kept the windows shut to avoid too much noise pollution. My room from then on smelt like an ashtray.I would fall asleep in bed among amps, guitars and effects pedals. Some of our guests would have motorbikes which they would park, leaking oil on our front lawn. My parents remained unphased, my mum even going as far as to bring tea and biscuits into the fetid bedroom on occasions.

And so my world changed again. I suddenly had new friends, my 18th birthday beckoned

And Punk was on its way…..

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14: Welcome to the Working Week..Elvis Costello

So, it’s ok to go back to work as long as you can’t work from home (I can!) and its safe to do so (?) and you can get there without using public transport (??), or you can use public transport if its safe(???)

What better way to welcome the new normal than the very first track of the very first album from Elvis Costello. Costello, like the Police of the Stranglers managed to be just punk enough to straddle the fine line between credibility and music which was all important in 1977.

This was largely a matter of luck on Costello’s part. WTTWW was recorded as part of the ‘My Aim is True’ sessions at the end of 1976. During this period the Sex Pistols swore on TV and the musical landscape changed overnight. Costello was a superior songwriter, he would have been another Warren Zevon with different timing.Instead he was the best new wave songwriter He had impressed Stiff records enough for them to stump up enough money for an 8 track studio, some time for producer Nick Lowe and a backing band, it was the princely sum of £2,000.

The backing musicians were Californian band Clover who, had specialised in countryfied soft rock since the start of the decade. The lead singer of Clover who unsurprisingly wasn’t needed on the sessions was no other than Huey Louis later Huey Lewis of 80s fame. Clover were generally well liked with the London pub rock crowd, they were the ones who took Dr Feelgood out for the night in San Francisco which lead to the song ‘Milk and Alcohol’. They had spent quite a bit of time in London they were good guys and good musicians, but they were going nowhere fast.

Produce Lowe had managed to rein in their funkier tendencies with a pretty boxy garage band sound but Clover still managed bar band shuffles and some tasteful guitar licks. Costello probably wasn’t complaining, he’d been playing this sort of thing round the pubs of London with his band Flip City, a couple of years later he would be redeclaring his love of country in vinyl with ‘Almost Blue’. By early 1977 he had a record which sounded like a good bar band playing some incredible songs (the outtakes show him dipping into some real country)

Just six months later Costello had a more muscular band in the Attractions. I had heard them doing some radio sessions and it was clear that they were something exceptional. There were also the singles starting with ‘Less than Zero’ and ‘(The Angels Want to) wear my Red Shoes’ which gave the impression Costello was a rather edgy goodtime merchant, the music was familiar, the energy and lyrics were different.

And so, I was willing to trek down to Robin’s records and purchase the LP. It wasn’t risk free, record sales assistants could be very judgemental, I had long hair, they had long hair, I’d have been more worried if had been the Dammed but despite his Oxfam Jacket and skinny jeans Elvis was just about acceptable.

WTTWW isn’t the best track on the album but it hits hard

“now your picture’s in the paper being rhymical admired”

There are few albums with a better opening line

The thing that really impressed me about the song was the length just one minute 23 seconds long there’s not a second wasted. It might seem like a minor point, but this really was the energy of the time as the Talking Heads would have it ‘say something once, why say it again? ‘There’s also an attitude about it that is pure country dealing with adult issues. Songwriters didn’t usually write about work, they didn’t even get out of bed until midday. Costello had been catching the tube to work everyday just like the rest of us and like a lot of us he didn’t want to be doing that anymore.

I also love the sound of the record, Nick Lowe was famous for bashing a record out a quick as he could, its very live sound but its also immediate. Finally there’s also the inevitability of the debut record containing some really strong material Costello had been polishing some of these nuggets for a while, and it showed.

Costello was soon to move on, the Attractions could play good time grooves like ‘Sneaky Feelings’ but they would soon move on to a sound more aligned with a more aggressive new wave genre. In fact, the band had re-recorded the album over a couple of days with a view to releasing these tracks when the record was repressed, six months into his career he was looking to re-write his history.

It didn’t happen of course and with such a varied back catalogue My Aim is True makes more sense, pub rock meets punk rock meets singer songwriter and an all time great record.

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13:Sylvia…Focus

Do people record instrumentals anymore ?

In my early childhood instrumentals were a staple of the top 20. From Russ Conway to  Lord Rockingham’s XI, from James Last to Mantovani from the Shadows to Fleetwood Mac, I could go on but I wont.

Bear in mind that for the 40’s and 50’s Jazz/Big Band was the music of the youth and that was largely instrumental so perhaps its wasn’t surprising that we weren’t willing to drop the instrumental immediately despite the likes of Dylan persuading us that lyrics might the future.

In the 70’s there was still a currency for songs without words, partly because the single was popular and the single has two sides. Not wanting to waste precious lyrics B sides were often instrumental, sometimes, if a record company was really lazy, it could be the A side without a vocal track but equally it might be an undemanding instrumental track recorded with the minimum of fuss and bother and occupying at least 2 mins and 30 seconds on the dark side of the single.

The rise of prog also meant an increase in non-singing bits on records but they didn’t usually make hit singles, ELP had a hit with Fanfare for the Common Man of course but equally freakish was the sudden rise of Focus a band who never sung and were Dutch.

I cover the short-lived Dutch invasion here

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2015/08/09/going-dutch/

As Sylvia recently jumped out at me from my Spotify Hawkwind Radio playlist (which I was utilising to get me through a very dull working at home afternoon), I was reminded of what a great sound Focus were able to produce for a short time.

And, for me it’s all about the sound of this track. It’s a simple tune, guitarist Jan Akkerman bends a few notes but this this is a major key rather jaunty tune, its not impossible to imagine it being played 10 years earlier by the Shadows with their trademark shimmer. However, Sylvia is the sound of hairy young 1972 largely due to the Hammond Organ of keyboard player/flautist and yodeller Thijs van Leer, its actually Van Leer’s song so all credit to him for resisting the temptation to insert a bit of keyboard wibbling. As JS Bach would tell you, you can’t go wrong with a good organ descending bass lineand it’s present and correct here.

Just the sheer sound of this track is superlative though , there’s a minimum of effects but its an electric performance. Standard industry equipment. Hammond, Gibson Les Paul, Fender Jazz bass, a live warm sound that really hasn’t been bettered, and never will.

It’s a bit of a mystery what happened to the bands music after that. Sylvia was their biggest hit but there was the equally good and completely deranged Hocus Pocus and then very little. Akkerman liked to keep things a bit loose which can be seen by the Old Grey Whistle Test Video below. The band struggled to get on on most levels which led to changes in the rhythm section and eventually Akkerman’s departure. Inevitably though the band just wanted to move on from what had made them distinctive but as new keyboards were developed and new members joined the music became more musak and their audience moved onto different things, theresonly so much yodelling a person can take

Posted in dutch rock music, rock music | Tagged | 2 Comments