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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Overrated

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

 

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

 

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

 

Led Zeppelin

I’ve written about this before

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

ELP

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Eric Clapton

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wire

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Sir Elton John

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And remember he only wrote 50% of those!

 

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

 

 

So am I right, am I wrong ?

 

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

 

Let me know

 

 

 

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Overrated/Underrated

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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It was 40 Years ago Today…Blair Peach

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Most fittingly though a school in Southall is named after him

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Journey to Ireland 1979 pt 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed a fitting end to my holiday.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged | 2 Comments

Song for Easter

Easter really is the best time of year, so preferable to the dank dark time around the over commercialised Christmas .

Here is another song to make you feel even better. I came cross this literally this week

on on a blog by Aphoristical

http://albumreviews.blog/2019/04/16/the-ten-best-songs-ever-according-to-me

It’s not from the 70’s but it is by 70’s band XTC who I covered earlier this year

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2019/01/19/this-is-pop-statue-of-liberty/

At the time I said I would,one day, get round to listening to their entire back catalogue and here is a wonderful song that until just a couple of days ago I had never heard before.

If you want even more Easter muse here is last year’s song for Easter

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2018/04/01/bridget-st-john-a-song-for-easter/

Remember, new music is just just music you haven’t heard yet.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Everybody hates Bob Geldof

The world seems on fire with hate at the moment. Obviously I don’t go out in the real world to check this assertion. It’s far safer to stay at home with the internet. I should have learned my lesson by now just by clicking on the comments sections I can be transported from a woodland glade, dappled in sunlight to a fried chicken outlet on the wrong side of town. I ought to have learned by now that looking at comments rarely makes me feel better but I can’t always resist it, it’s like slowing down to look at a traffic accident.

On the internet ,of course, we are all equal, the views of stupid people are given the same weight as people who might know what they are talking about. In Britain we now have Brexit to polarise every debate, there’s not much middle ground just angry people making themselves angrier by trotting out clichés, it’s not going to end well!

A few months ago a came across a typically outspoken about Brexit by Bob Geldof, he was anti but to be honest Geldof’s opinions go off like a proverbial loose cannon, he has an opinion on every subject and they could go off in any direction.

Then, help me God, I clicked on comments, I don’t know why perhaps I thought there might be a sparky discussion of maybe my life was just an empty void at that moment. Anyway, all of a sudden I was in a den of hate. Never mind Brexit, Geldof was being blamed in no uncertain terms for the death of his ex wife, the death of his daughter and even the death of Michael Hutchence, literally everybody hated Bob Geldof.

I’ve said it before, but context is everything. Geldof seemed to explode out of Ireland in 1977 as lead singer with the Boomtown Rats but before that he had long been frustrated with the conservatism of Ireland and had already worked in England and Canada in such careers as factory work, a slaughterhouse and as a photographer and journalist. The rats under Geldof did everything they could to make an impression. Although by fortune they got lumped in with Punk they were initially an R&B band, an early photograph shows them posing in flares and flat caps, but they soon developed into a skilled pop band.

The biggest thing for me personally about the Boomtown Rats were they  were my sisters only favourite band and as such a became familiar of pop star pin ups of the band , well mainly Geldof, and also got to listen to their albums which became virtually the only records my sister has ever bought.

In their early days the Rats specialised in punky bluesy pop as evidence by their first hit ‘Looking after Number 1’ but there was also a trend towards slightly overwrought  dramas reminiscent of the stuff Springsteen was peddling in those days, ‘Rat Trap’ being the biggest hit of the genre.

Geldof was an engaging personality managing to charm NME journalist Charles Shar Murray which would guarantee some good reviews, and appearing about town with Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy at the time on a career high. On the other hand, his very appearance seemed to upset, he was confident and seemed to wind people up in the same way Jagger had over a decade earlier. Geldoff had a kind of simian swagger and a big mouth, we weren’t ready for an Irish Liam Gallagher in 76.He was punched out at an early gig by one of the oi crowd who had formed around the (subsequently) racist band Screwdriver. There were plenty of people who found him irritating but there were others who found him intriguing, it wasn’t just my sister.

Inevitably the band became more adventurous ‘I don’t like Mondays’ being the point where invention and popularity intersected. As well as music the band were experimenting with the new opportunities offered by video. Arguably the band were mastering the art of the new pop, in retrospect Geldof overshadowed the musical side of the band which kind of inhibits any real appreciation of their achievements.  ‘Banana Republic’ the band’s last significant single was a stinging criticism of the conservatism from religion and politics that had led to the band leaving their home country. I actually caught the band live in the early 80’s. They were on the way down and reduced to playing the University of East Anglia. I was only there as I had agreed to take my sister but from what I remember it was a pretty good gig and the band seemed to have some interesting songs.

By 1984 Geldof’s career was at a low ebb. The new kids at the NME all hated the band, no one was interested in a new release by the Boomtown Rats and it looked like they never would be.

And then Live Aid happened, and Geldof was the most popular person in the world, so popular in fact we even tried to forget he was Irish and wanted to give him a knighthood (we managed to fudge that somehow).

Nearly 35 years on its’s easy to be sceptical about Live Aid but it was a huge deal, partly because we just weren’t anticipating its eventual significance. I certainly didn’t, I only got out of bed because my housemates were blasting out Status Quo (the first band on) while I was trying to sleep. I then went out to buy a pair of shoes and missed Queen but that was the nature of the day, it was only after a few years had passed that I realised it’s importance. Post event we couldn’t believe what had happened, it was the 80’s Woodstock!

After that Geldof retreated to write his autobiography and hopefully make some money. ‘Is that It?’ was an honest and very readable account of his life to date and sustained our interest in the man the media was calling ‘Saint’ Bob. We even managed to be sufficiently interested in a solo career for a while.

But, context is everything, although he was becoming increasingly laden with honorary doctorates (Including one from the UEA) peace prizes and various awards, not even the Live 8 concerts managed to return him to our affections in the same way.

Just Live Aid overshadowed a musical career, his personal tragedies overshadowed Live aid. He came out of speaking openly about his pain and depression and inevitably made a fairly bare bones album dealing with these issues.

But perhaps the real issue with Geldof today is that an angry young man is just so much more appealing than a grumpy old one (believe me I know), he’s also reformed the Boomtown Rats which was a reunion that not even my sister wanted (probably).

Geldof was on TV a while back stating something along the lines of ‘every time a ‘paddy’ musician gets a platform they want to spout about everything apart from music’. There are notable exceptions to this but if we add Bono and Sinead O’Connor to the mix it makes some sense. It probably boils down to the face that it took an exceptional personality to carve out a significant career outside Ireland and those sorts of personalities wouldn’t be content just talking about their next album. And so they have big ideas and say things that might be contradictory or stupid or insightful, often in the same few sentences, and they piss of the sort of people who have never had an original idea in their lives but have unlimited access to the internet where all views are equal.

And that’s why everybody hates Bob Geldof

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The Boys are back in Town

On Wednesday evenings I have started going to a Jam night. Populated by elderly gents with officially more money than sense it’s a chance to play through some classic rock tracks and generally give everyone a chance to show off their expensive guitars, amps and effects pedals.

 

For anyone, well any man, over the age of 50 classic rock is a bit of a touchstone. It’s not something that’s really grabbed me but it’s in my DNA I can’t escape it. With anything up to 4 guitar widdlers and the drum seat already taken, I have elected to play bass. Bucking the trend for expensive equipment I bought a £70 squire bass from cash converters and I’m good to go. One of the great things about classic rock is that it’s pretty accommodating in terms of musical ability as long as you have some basic skills there’s a chance you can join in especially with a competent guitarist or two to do the difficult bits.

And so there’s a bit of Skynard, a smattering of Bryan Adams and a smidgen of Clapton, Free and Bad Company. But there’s one band that we come back to time and time again. The songs seem very logical to play on the bass, probably because they were written by the bass player, the guitars are a bit tricky but not beyond the reach of a competent pub player. It’s possible to make a pretty decent attempt on the songs at first run through, but there is one element that no one can copy, that’s the vocals. That group is Thin Lizzy, probably the archetypical classic rock band.  

The origins of the band are in the late 60’s of course. The band had had a hit with the traditional song ‘Whisky in the Jar’ in 1972. That was a very different band and a different era, the only available clip of them performing the song is in grainy black and white it seems ancient. ‘Whisky in the Jar’ was quite a remarkable interpretation due in no small part to Guitarist Eric Bell’s distinctive solo work but it wasn’t classic Lizzy. They wouldn’t play the song live, but now we were aware of the distinctive talents of frontman/bassist/songwriter Phil Lynott.

 

Lynott was a phenomena for the early 70’s, the fact that he was black in a very conservative country not known for it’s multiculturalism can’t be underestimated. The face that he not only survive but thrived in 60’s Dublin is testament to the force of his personality, he was destined for show business. Lynott was a good songwriter and a distinctive vocalist. A lot of his phrasing could be trace back to Van Morrison and he possessed the same lyrical sensibility in his lyrics. It was this uniqueness that would separate Lizzy from the rest of the rock pack.

 

Lizzy had three phases, there was the hippie Eric Bell era, Bell was a major force in the band initially but chose to get out when his drinking was getting out of hand. In the late 70’s and early 80’s there was harder rock years when the band were a major attraction but struggled with drugs and a revolving stable of guitarists. Sandwiched between the two were the band’s classic years.

 

Post Eric Bell Lizzy tried a couple of other players before settling for Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson on guitars. There were no longer a strictly Irish band, now having American and Scottish members. They continued to tour and tour cropping up at festivals probably crammed in between the Groundhogs and Blossom Toes. They made records but apart from Lynott there wasn’t enough to distinguish them from the other lumpy second division bands.

 

Gorham had clearly listened to the Allman brothers and along with Robertson was starting to develop harmony guitar parts, soon Lizzy were sounding a bit special.

 

By 1976 there was something in the air we weren’t sure what it was yet but it was time for a change and the time was right for the band to up their game. ‘The Boys are back in Town’ had it all, from the opening power chords to the harmony guitar lines and engaging lyrics. It was a special single and rightly regarded as a classic. Admittedly the boys sound like a right bunch of bozos with their fighting and drinking and laughing at women but Lynott rescues it all with a bit of poetry at the end.

Jukebox in the corner blasting out my favourite song

The nights are getting longer and it won’t be long

Wont be long till summer comes

Now that the boys are here again

 

No one knows where the boys have been all the time they were away but the song’s been appropriated for any occasion when there’s any homecoming, notably for troops returning from various conflicts. The songs been played so many times on so many occasions that’s its recognisable literally from the opening chord.

It’s worth mentioning the role that drummer Brian Downey played in the band’s sound. Downey was an old school player versed in jazz and blues as most musicians would be in the 60’s. He could rock pretty hard and was quite up for using two bass drums, but he also had a lightness of touch which would probably be missing had he been born 10 years later. ‘The Boys are back in Town’ is actually a light shuffle which lifts it beyond the realm of heavy rock, despite the power chords the song just skips along rather than plodding or imposing a beat. Downey was a constant in the band from the his school days with Lynott and is one of the most underrated rock drummers of all time.

 

Any meteorologists will have spotted a glaring error in Lynott’s lyrics. Nights getting longer signals the start of winter not summer. Lynott was not a precise lyricist, his next signal would predict a Jailbreak ‘somewhere in this town’. In the field of rock, especially heavy rock, Lynott’s lyrics were exceptional however, drawing on the Irish literary tradition,romanticism,storytelling and influenced by the likes of Van Morrison and later Bruce Springsteen.

 

With the single and the Jailbreak album Lizzy would make the crossover from hard touring band to rock gods. Lynott would go onto a solo career in the 80’s including writing the new theme for Top of the Pops which was a big deal in Britain. In the short term he survived punk by being a fairly friendly guy who didn’t wear flared jeans. In the longer term he failed to survive heroin use and a rock and roll lifestyle.

 

The single the band released prior to Boys was ‘The Rocker’ I’ve probably heard it but I can’t remember it. Post Boys there was a deluge of memorable rock singles that people would still dance to in Discos and youth clubs. I’ve never really felt the need to own a Lizzie record or to make any real effort to listen to them but now I’m jamming their songs on the bass a whole musical legacy is sirring in my synapses. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I can recall the middle eight in ‘Waiting for an Alibi or the riff to ‘Emerald’

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