An audience with Gentle Giant

My first ever rock gig and one of my earlier posts

gentle giant

And so at some point I was ready to attend my first gig.

I cant remember how it happened but as is often the case in adolescence my first gig was really the result of one of my peers deciding to go and me deciding to tag along. As a consequence of this rather than seeing Little Feet,Lou Reed or even Ducks Deluxe my first live band was……..

Gentle Giant!

I knew very little about GG, to this day I cant hum more than a couple of bars of their music (there’s a reason for this as we will discover) I cant remember much about the gig or even who I went with but who were this band?

Gentle Giant existed for the entire decade but like so many of their contemporaries they were pretty much wiped out by punk in the late 70’s. The heart of the band were the three Shulman brothers two of whom were born in the Goblals home, of course, of Alex Harvey, but they moved to Portsmouth before the birth of the youngest Ray. Daddy Shulman was a musician and the three siblings followed in his footsteps and by their teens were talented multi instrumentalist.

Their first (only) instance of chart bothering was as Simon Dupree and the Big Sound who had a hit with ‘Kites’. This was a typically 60’s situation where what was essentially a soul band ended recording a bit a psychedelia at the record company’s bidding and ended up with a hit they didn’t really want. The Shulman’s had their own plans and broke up the band to form Gentle Giant.

gentle giant band

First recruit was Kerry Minnear who had been at the Royal Academy of Music and then starving with a rock band in Germany. He played literally everything and naturally with a classical education he was mainly the keyboard player but was prone to whip out a cello at a moment’s notice.

Next in line was Gary Green who essentially was a blues guitarist who was not even a professional musician when he joined the band ( apparently he was about the 45th to be auditioned but asked to tune up before he started playing which impressed the others no end). For some reason he slotted in perfectly and provided some of the band’s more accessible moments.

Out of the Shulman brothers Phil played trumpet and sax,Ray played bass with ample opportunity to show off on trumpet and violin and Derek did most of the singing, waved his arms about quite a bit and played the other’s instruments when they felt like swapping.

The drummer situation took a while to sort out, they finally ended up with John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers who was a teenage hooligan from Carmarthen South Wales. Weathers was a fine drummer who had played in the Grease Band among others and was a vital member of the band in that he tethered their sometimes rather ethereal compositions with something resembling a rock beat.

Phil left after having to tour the states supporting Black Sabbath, you can see his point. He was 10 years older than some of the other members and ended up running a gift shop in Hampshire so perhaps the rock and roll life was not for him.

So the line up I got to see was the classic one and I probably, accidentally, caught the band in its prime. I tried to be enthusiastic, there was a good bit where Ray dicked about on his violin and the sound echoed all round the room including behind us. There was a bit where the recorded sound of glass being broken woke me up a bit and occasionally they hit a good groove where I could nod my head appreciatively.

But

It wasn’t rock and roll and that is what I wanted at this time in my life. I suppose that GG were very much a progressive band, they played most styles at some point (country and disco being notable exceptions) but you could always see the join, when Ray picked up the violin, Minnear lugged his cello out and you noticed that Green had switched to mandolin the anticipated classical interlude was always under way. Strangely they weren’t a million miles away from Yes who kept going through the hard times and became one of the biggest bands of all time. The Giant just didn’t have that level of commitment, the late 70’s were hard times for anyone with a cello and of course they made the classic error of trying to move with the times which just made them sound more out of touch. The thing is there is a huge level of support and fondness, usually it must be said by men of a certain age for Gentle Giant, Stuart Marconi for one being a big fan.

After the split the Shulmans did not follow the family gift shop route but developed big shot careers as record executive (Derek) and producer (Ray). The others predictably followed more low key musical careers. All are still alive and well although Weathers now has an illness akin to MS which means he’s had to slow down a bit.

Here is one of the shorter You Tube clips of the band doing their thing which includes some great clips of Weather’s ‘drummer face’. There is not such thing as a representative clip of the band as their songs tended to sound so different.

There is a rumour that Elton John auditioned for the band as vocalist, this may not be true!

Final weird fact, I remember an article in the music press about the youngest ever punk band. It transpired they were Phil Shulmans kids !

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

Lindisfarne: The Folk Rock Oasis

This was my second post after I had knuckled down to putting some work in after my initial false start. I’m pretty confident no one will remember this as virtually no one read this in the first place. Shockingly Lindisfarne have reformed with Rod Clements as the only original member and I may catch them at the Southwell Folk Festival this year. My expectations are low but I loved them for a while….

lindisfarne2So.. I had three albums, admittedly one of them was by the Beach Boys but it still made for a good evening in.

At some point though I begun to become more interested in pop and rock music in general this was accelerated by the family’s first colour television and we started watching Top Of The Pops in a budget acid trip kind of way.

One of the first songs that grabbed me was ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ by Lindisfarne. I didn’t realise of course that it was a Geordie ‘Waiting for my Man’ about hanging about for ‘mr dream seller’ I just liked the way it sounded, strummy guitars, a loose rhythm, ragged harmonies and a harmonica that was neither blues or Larry Adler.

Lindisfarne where, like all the bands of the time, firmly rooted in the 60’s. They had been around for years in one form or another but settled on the name Lindisfarne as in 1968, it probably seemed a good idea at the time but googling their name now tends to bring up pictures of the distinctive castle on Lindisfarne island.

For me though it was all very exotic, Lindisfarne could have been Necker as far as I was concerned. The North East seemed very special place indeed and a hell of a long way from Norwich.

So who were these magical lank haired creature? Like all the best bands there was something of a shifting power base within Lindisfarne. Alan Hull was usually regarded as the main man. Despite looking like he had just got out of the bath he was the main songwriter and even managed to convince a few of the more gullible among us that he was ‘the new Dylan’.Hull usually played acoustic guitar and piano and would do lead vocals and a special slightly off key harmony which I rather liked.

Also up front though was Ray ‘Jacka’ Jackson. Not only did Jacka play the fantastic harmonica that wowed me on ‘Meet me on the Corner’ he also played mandolin and provided the most dependable vocals, for many of us with his shiny hair and distinctive moustache he was the face of Lindisfarne.

Also up front was Simon Crowe. Following the rule of Simon’s in folk rock (see also Simon Nichol in Fairport) you weren’t quite sure what he did but it was good to have him around. Crowe was a multi instrumentalist who played whatever was at hand This meant at times the band had two mandolins playing at the same time which was taking the piss a bit.

Then there was the man I regard as the secret weapon in the band. Rod Clements was a cracking bass player, loose and melodic. He also played all sorts of other instruments most notably the fiddle in the early days of the band (he also played mandolin but had the good taste to keep that at home). He also wrote songs now and again, most notable ‘Meet me on the Corner’ which rather put the shit on Alan Hill’s strawberries.

And last the drummer, also called Ray (Laidlaw) which was another reason to call the other one ‘Jacka’, he was fine really, kept it loose and simple and knew when to shut up. He probably had more time on his hands than the others and took quite a bit of interest in managing the band in more frugal days.

The band got signed to Charisma Records in 1970 which led to some weird gigs in the early days with label mates Van der Graff Generator, but from the get go they had their own sound, folky but not folk, sing along but with half way decent lyrics. Britain was a sucker for this sort of stuff at the time hence the success of Mungo Jerry and McGuinness Flint in the charts. Their first single was Lady Eleanor which the public passed on, quite rightly in my opinion it sounds like Hull had just read an Edgar Allen Poe novel and then wrote a song (which I think he had). The second album however was ‘Fog on the Tyne’ produced by Bob Johnson who had worked with Dylan which of course pointed again to the fact that Hull was the ‘new Dylan’.

lindisfarne-fog-on-the-tyne-gatefold

From what I remember the sleeve showed pictures of the band in the pub, playing, drinking and being general down to earth Geordie good blokes. You can almost smell the beer,fags and body odour coming from the scene (that’s not being rude, even new born babies smelt like that in the 70’s) It wasn’t a pose, sometimes Hulls lyrics were a bit too obviously ‘salt of the earth’ but at least you knew what side he was on.

In Newcastle they were huge of course, especially at Xmas time when they could sell out the biggest venues for nights on end with their Xmas shows (which I suspect were their usual shows with extra beer). And this is where I come in.

lindisfarne

My fourth record, was Lindisfarne Live. Its a little bit sad because little did I know this marked the end of the classic Lindisfarne. Things had fallen apart for the band. After ‘Meet me on the Corner’ they re released ‘Lady Eleanor’ which was another hit. Critics were calling them the 70’s Beatles, Jacka recorded the mandolin part on Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, John Peel was their mate (or mucka as I believe they would call him), they had the world at their feet for a few short weeks. The next album was Dingley Dell which critically was a real let down, it sounds Ok to me but at the time we expected more apparently. Inevitably leaving Newcastle started to rob the band of everything that made them so compelling, unsurprisingly by the time they had got as far as Australia they were splitting apart.

Lindisfarne live is a contractual album, put out to please the record company and the fans with very little effort from the band, Its fantastically live with the sound of acoustic instruments crudely amplified its often hard to tell if its a mandolin,a guitar or an electric piano making that noise. Most of side two is taken up with Jacka playing popular tunes on harmonica, and the audience love it !

I loved it too although I had to skip the harmonica song quite frequently which only left 5 tracks on side one and a completely distorted version of Woody Guthries ‘Jackhammer Blues’ running into the fadeout grooves of side two . Its since been released with lots of bonus tracks and is basically the whole concert with lots of audience participation and unintelligible announcements from the stage.Its a rather fantastic record of a time and place in a band’s career.

By the time of it’s release Lindisfarne had blown it, They split in two with Hull and Jacka getting to keep the name and the harmonica. The rest formed a more obviously folk rock band ‘Jack the Lad’ who were pretty good in a folk rock way. The new Lindisfarne were OK, easily as good as Sassafras or Snafu or any of the other bands playing a polytechnic near you. Hull released a couple of solo albums which featured some of his old chums.

It didn’t end there though, in fact it didn’t end at all, the band reformed in 1978, I’d moved on a long way by then and was still mildly interested but I was soon appalled ‘Run for Home’ was their comeback single and it was terrible. Like most survivors from pre punk days the band didn’t know how to dress any more, even Si Crowe had had his hair trimmed and wore a bomber jacket, they were fish well out of water. The torture continued as they re recorded ‘Fog on the Tyne’ with Paul Gasgoine and then moved on to cheesy rock and roll covers. Jacka was the first to bail out. Crowe left to run a brewery in Canada which seems a fairly desperate exit plan, unfortunately Hull quit by dying in 1995. This opened the floodgates for anyone who had every played in Lindisfarne, or in fact knew anyone who every played in Lindisfarne to carry on with a variation of the Lindisfarne name and still sell out Newcastle city hall at Xmas.

Its hard to remember just how big Lindisfarne actually were for a while. Just like Oasis they were considered to be the new Beatles which is fairly crazy when the real Beatles had only just split up.
Both bands released two acclaimed albums but fell form grace with the third, and both bands were acclaimed as working class heroes bringing music back to the people.

The main difference is Lindisfarne were actually good

But lets return to happier times. Here they are singing ‘fog on the Tyne’ over a backing track on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Si Cowe’s hair is worth the price of admission alone.

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

Happy Birthday

Yes it’s time to celebrate.

The future is past is three years old or possibly five. Its complicated.

I first started this site 5 years ago but I wrote just one post and then left it for a couple of years. An inauspicious start but like most people who blog I didn’t really have a game plan, still don’t of course.

That’s the great thing as far as I’m concerned, believe it or not I have done a bit of writing, only a bit, and it’s blimmin hard work trying to produce stuff for other people, here I am writing about things that I find interesting which sometimes includes writing about myself, I understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you like it that’s great if not move along, nothing to see here.(come back next week when I will be discussing Roxy Music bass players)

I’ve always been a bit of a music obsessive but in a weird way. I would struggle to tell you my favourite band or album, I have no desire to collect records or hear everything an artist has produced or even to listen to loads of music.

But what I do love is the eccentricity of the medium , as Jung acknowledged ‘there is gold in the dark’. Imperfect music can be the most beautiful. The 70’s were the most imperfect time ever, I’m always happy to listen to anyone who thinks the 60’s were the best time, they may well have been in London or San Francisco but by the 70’s it seemed as if there were no longer any limits to the thing we now called ‘Rock’. So, just to pick names and people at random Viv Stanshall , Nick Drake, Kevin Coyne, Siouxsie Sioux, Prince Far I, Hatfield and the North, The Gang of 4, Van der Graff,Wreckless Eric,Man, The Slits, Lindisfarne, I could go like this for a lot longer, music that had no future and little past, just like me no one had a game plan, no one really knew what they were doing, they just did it.

After a couple of posts I still had no name for the site. I had a pen name, that was my first post ever but there was no site name. The Future is Past is the name of a Chicory Tip song and as soon as I remembered it I had my name. The 70’s were the future, literally every month something new and interesting would come along, there wasn’t much to recycle, which may account for the affection for old time rock and roll throughout the decade, but there was a lot of stuff which had previously never existed. That wasn’t because I was too young to have heard it, it was because it was genuinely new music.

There’s quite a lot of evidence that our favourite music comes from a time when we were young and if that is true I really pity the youth of today. There really are plenty of people around who think that Coldplay are great or britpop was the best thing ever and they are in their 30’s or 40’s now. Imagine Oasis being the best thing your generation could offer.

By the late 80’s I had given up on contemporary music so sick was I of tinny synthesisers, soulless production and a relentless party vibe that I had stopped listening to much apart from Jazz and a bit of World Music, even people who were potentially good (and would be again) were subsumed by the musical equivalent of the Tory Party who were in residence forever.

Slowly I found my way back, aided by the new music magazines like Q and later, and better MOJO and Uncut. Today I like music as much as ever, I go to more gigs and listen to more music than at anytime in the past partly thanks to streaming services. In some ways music itself is better than ever now. Outside the hell of disposable pop there enough people who have the freedom to play what they want, there’s no money in it anymore, the pressure to be commercial has lifted. Invariably people play better, the sound is better, the possibility of a perforated eardrum at a gig is greatly reduced. Bands and artists turn up on time, usually reasonably sober, and finish on time so we can catch the last bus home. Quite often you can sit down in proper seats. Another advantage is at 59 I can still go and see bands without looking out of place, no matter what the age of the performer there’s always plenty of the old folk in the audience (or the record shop for that matter). It’s the same with festivals, I can sit with my wife on a hay bale enjoying a chilled white wine without any fear that the Hells Angels are going to set fire to the hot dog stall which is the only food for 20 miles.

If the 70’s were like crossing the Atlantic with Columbus the modern day is a five star cruise, we know where we are going now and it is a lot more comfortable, but there’s not the same romance, adventure or risk.

And that’s my thing with the 70’s, as Rod would say ‘never a dull moment’.

As a tribute to myself I am going to repost a few select posts possibly even going as far as to correct the original typos. This will allow you, the reader, to catch up on some gems you have almost certainly missed and will allow me, the writer, to go on holiday in Mull for a week where there is, shock, no internet. When I started writing this blog I worked 4 days a week, then I went to a job where I worked 5 days but could usually squeeze in a bit of blog time in my busy day. I am now back to 5 days proper work, this is now my evening job so it would be good to take a break.

But lastly a big thank you to anyone who does take the time to stop by and partake. My readership is steadily growing despite my best efforts. Its an interesting process watching the readership growing at glacial speed and wondering where they come from. And a special thank you to anyone who has commented or shared any posts.

Oh and a final thank you to all those of you whose own writings or podcasts have enriched my own life, there’s no longer a place in my life for MOJO as a result of you talented people.

And really finally

Thefutureispast has a presence on Twitter, Facebook , Word press and even YouTube, to be honest however you came to this stick with it, the contents all pretty much the same.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Class of 74…Wally vs Druid

If there is one thing that history has taught us its the fact that history itself is unreliable. In true Darwinian style the strong survive and get to pass on their own story, the weak simply disappear and their tale is lost to future generations.

And so the rock historian has the familiar tales that can be told all over again, the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or Dylan going electric or the Beatles doing almost anything are tales we like to hear over and over again. These artists are so big they drag others into the black hole of their very existence. Greatness by association is better than no greatness at all. A kind word from someone influential can sustain a career through many press releases.

But without some kind of leverage on the cliff face of posterity it’s all too easy to get blown away and lost to time, until the internet reveal your fossilised remains.

And so the story of two bands.

In 1974 the Melody Maker decided it was time to reinvigorate the music scene by holding a talent contest. The paper was only reluctantly shaking off it’s dance band origins and had embraced proper musical heroes like Rick Wakeman as their rock blueprint. When punk hit The Melody Maker would be badly wrong footed but in 1974 it was more of an even playing field, this was a big influential paper, if the Melody Maker rated you it was a big leg up the fame ladder.

In second place was a band called Wally who hailed from the most unrock and roll town of Harrogate. Being allowed to develop away from the epicentre had given the band a change to develop their own voice although at times that sounded like the three voices of Crosby Stills and Nash. The band were an interesting blend of country, frog and folk made even more idiosyncratic by the presence of pedal steel. Unfortunately their name was associated with slang for somone who was a bit of an idiot (you wally !) or a strange phenomena at gigs when wag would call out the name in the hope of getting a reaction from others in the audience. With the rather slack work ethic of 70’s gigs shouting Wally in a darkened hall helped pass the time waiting for the headliner to arrive.

So Wally weren’t the best band the Melody Maker could find but they got lucky by attracting the interest of radio and TV presenter Bob Harris. Bob’s had his ups and downs, in the 80’s being associated with him wouldn’t have got you as far as the bargain bin. Today with his country show he’s got young bands queueing up for a quote along the lines of ‘possibly the best band I’ve heard this year’ that they can recycle for the next decade. Anyway 70’s Bob was pretty cool and despite lack of experience put himself forward as producer of their debut LP. Realising his limitations he was able to recruit no other than Rick Wakeman to help twiddle the knobs.

And as we know, because we’ve never seen them on the cover of MOJO, that didn’t really give them the break they needed. The band had a chance, they did some big tours and made a couple of records but they were neither interesting or persistent enough to make it, they got tired, split up and developed new lives, good luck to them.

But surely the winners would have been better, more interesting, more popular n’est pas?

Enter Druid (who ?)

Disappointingly Druid were not really druids or new age at all. They were firmly rooted in prog rock being a sort of watered down Yes. Like Wally they made two records, I seem to remember that Bob Harris produced one but it’s very difficult even in the internet age to find much about them. Even progarchives.com who can usually be guaranteed to tell you more than you ever need to know are tight lipped, although they will concede that ‘Fluid Druid’ ‘is a nice album’. And so the four boys from Berkhamsted failed to set the world alight.

I should be able to shed a bit more light on the elusive Druid because I actually saw them live as support to Curved air. Yet again a crucial bit of history has passed me by all I can remember was

Their drummer was quite basic for a prog band

They used the Mellotron a lot

I got a free badge from them for ‘Fluid Druid’

They weren’t as bad as I expected

Two bands, not much of a story, just a typical thefutureispast posting then.

As a footnote a couple of interesting/tragic stories

The guitarist with Wally never really recovered from his rock and roll experience, while the rest of the band went on to decent second careers Pete Cosker became too deeply involved with drugs. He was found dead of an overdose in Harrogate in 1990, to compound the tragedy he has passed out in from of an electric fire with horrific consequences.

Druid’s drummer Cedric Sharpley was also visited by the grim reaper and died of a heart attack. Before this he had made his mark playing for Gary Newman and Tubeway Army, it’s him playing on the influential ‘cars’, so perhaps I was right about him not really being a prog drummer.

Oh.. and the Keyboard player did the music for Teletubbies; but that’s enough weirdness.

And thanks to Bob and OGWT they are preserved in their glory, like a dinosaur’s footprint

p

Posted in memories of 70s, prog rock, rock music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Not To Make a Terrible Record

my lips are for blowing

 

I was pondering on the fate of the mighty Dr Feelgood and how they failed to make any great albums after Wilko Johnson left. It wasn’t just about Johnson’s guitar playing and song writing, they still had good songs and good guitar players. It was also to do with the lack of identity the band experienced after Wilko left. This meant that the every record the band made subsequently was a reflection of the producer they were offered at the time.

Let’s be honest, virtually every band makes more records than are strictly necessary. Here’s my set of rules to any band that would ensure that no one has to make (or listen to) a substandard record again.

 

Stick to what you are good at.

This is not necessarily a plea for musical conservatism but usually a band comes to prominence because they are good at what they do. Dr Feelgood were a great live R&B band, they were not a great soft rock band as their album ‘Classic’ shows. The Stones were great at blues influenced pop and later blues influenced rock, their ‘Satanic Majesty’s album was a bit of a mess. Bob Dylan is a great singer songwriter, his covers are painful. The problem is we just can’t forget the 60’s, in the space of months bands would transfer their allegiances from R&B covers to psychedelic wig outs. It’s not going to happen again… leave it !

Lay off the Drugs

The history of music making is one of classic fuck ups. Drugs can be creative we know that but an album like Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ only happened after the band realised they had to get their act together rather than sprawling about stoned. Again, it’s the bleedin 60’s which are at the heart of this, drugs really did help bands unlock new music, no one takes LSD anymore (why?). Ever since then it’s been a downhill struggle with drugs, cocaine has been responsible for so much shallow shit from the 80’s and 90’s, lets just assume that lots of drugs in the studio is going to be a bad thing. A band off their heads either produce self indulgent nonsense or just let the producer get on with it which is a mistake. See below.

Don’t let the Producer get on with it.

Post George Martin the producer evolved from the bloke who sat behind the mixing desk and said ‘jolly good chaps, that’s a take’ to someone approaching god. We have now reached the stage where the producer is the single most important person on a lot of projects turning gossamer thin songs into YouTube sensations. There are great producers like Joe Boyd who bring out the best in the best in the natural qualities in a band and dictators who threaten to shoot you if you don’t get the bass part right in one take. Occasionally a bit of tension helps, there have been strange combinations which almost worked like Sandy Perlman producing the Clash’s ‘Give em enough Rope’, when the band subsequently turned to Guy Stevens to produce ‘London Calling’ they discovered a man unhinged enough to smash things up in the studio to create ‘ambience’. That was a good producer! Almost always the bad producer choice is the record company’s idea. Essentially they have signed a band they like but then want to change them, the idea inevitably will be to make them ‘more commercial’. This almost always has the consequence that it will diminish everything that was good about the band in the first place. If Mutt Lang has been called in you had better like big drums if its T Bone Burnette or Daniel Lanois be prepared for lots of ambient sound whether you want it or not, if it’s Phil Spector you have to be comfortable with loaded firearms on the mixing desk. If the producer is a bigger name than the band then be very wary. Invariably bands pretend to like the production if makes them more popular and slag it off when, inevitably, it just alienates the old fans without gaining any new ones.

Beware of Guests.

Again, usually another record company ploy. The idea is that the more other famous people you can cram on to a CD the more people will want to buy it. There was a time, of course when other people played on their friends records under assumed names to avoid publicity (Elton John appears on Jackson Brownes ‘For Everyman’ LP under the name Rockaway Johnny for example). Not now, everything has value. The trend started with John Lee Hooker’s ‘The Healer’ (if all those artists really wanted to pay tribute to Hooker they should have stayed away and let him get on with it), but to be honest my heart sinks if I see a ‘guest artist’ sticker. The resulting product will sell but really are any of these actually great records? The answer, clearly, is no, listening to them is like eating junk food, it seems ok at the time but ultimately leave you feeling dirty.

Do some work beforehand.

Why so many artists are first and second records their best? It’s simple, they’ve had years to prepare for this moment. Following the debut record there are tours/interviews/rock and roll distractions and the creative process is ignored. When the band turns up with a guitar riff and a couple of lines on the back of a fag packet a classic album is not going to be made. Worse still the producer will suggest a re-recording of a motown classic so they can show off their snare drum compressor and the bass player will reveal a sensitive song they’ve written about their girlfriend. All bands are under pressure, they may be tied to record deals but also bands without deals may suddenly find a recording opportunity is available as long as they can be available next Wednesday. If you need further proof of the need for preparation just listen to the Stones ‘Dirty Work’, a record so half arsed that Ronnie Wood has to play drums on one of the tracks. And this links in with the final rule.

dirty work

If you’ve got nothing to say, say nothing.

This is the impossible rule unfortunately. It’s like the news, it has to happen every day and so events will expand or contract to fit the time available. This means a lot of the stuff that is reported is not newsworthy but there’s nothing else so fill the slot so we’ve got to assume it’s important because it’s news. In the same way a band or artist produces a record because it’s time to do so not because they’ve got a fantastic aural experience for us.

 

And that’s my manifesto for a better musical world, imagine a world where everyone has produced between one and three really great albums, a world where ‘16 Big Ones’, ‘Self Portrait’, ‘Cut the Crap’, ’Trans’, or a million other crap records simply don’t need to  exist.

Any thoughts and comments are very welcome, are mistakes just hidden intentions? Is there a charm in the really shite records? Let me know.

As usual none of the above applies to the Beatles.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Three Record Rule and Dr Feelgood

It’s a sad but true fact that almost every artist has a sell by date. The rule I usually live by is that no one needs more than 3 CDs from any one artist, once you’ve got three that’s enough, go and find somebody else who is doing something more interesting.

There are obvious exceptions, the big ones in my book are the 60’s singer songwriters. I’ve gone beyond the three with Dylan, Young and Joni Mitchell, but even geniuses have their limits, I could push Dylan maybe up to ten Young up to seven and Mitchell up to five but they’ve all recorded stuff I could happily never listen to again.

The Beatles, of course are outside these rules but hopefully they won’t let us down by recording any new stuff ditto Miles Davis but he’s Jazz, it’s a bigger palette.

At the other end of the scale there’s plenty of bands and artists I would be quite happy to have just the one album by. The B52’s for example, their first alum was perfect, no need for anymore.

Unfortunately the artist themselves are never willing to just stop although dying can often slow them down a bit.

It was perhaps fitting that as punk hit, Dr Feelgood, the band that had at least set the mood for a back to basics approach , fell apart.

It had been a while coming, main members Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson had been drifting apart to the point of a constant antagonism. They had already recorded the perfect ‘Down by the Jetty’ the pretty good ‘Malpractice’ and the defining live album ‘Stupidity’. That would be enough for anyone and they were now struggling to find new material and a different direction. Their latest record ‘Sneakin Suspicion’ was patchy, the best songs being largely Wilko but the rest of the band had started to tire of his work and the material commissioned from new writers was not to Wilko’s taste. This had reached the point where one of the tracks was actualy recorded without him. This had brought matters to a head and Wilko was out.

This left the band with a charismatic lead singer and a tight rhythm section, time to give up, the three record limit had been reached.

But, of course this could never happen, being in a band is an addictive drug and one that a lot of addicts can’t quit.

The Feelgoods were initially lucky, discovering guitarist Gypie Mayo was ,in Brilleaux’s words ‘like finding a fiver down the back of a setee’ . Actually the band were very lucky to actually find Mayo at all as he was homeless at the time and took some tracking down. I assumed his nickname came from gypsy origins but in fact related to the fact he always had some pain or illness or as they say in Essex ‘the gype’.

Mayo was a very different guitarist than Johnson being both more fluid and versatile but less original. Almost overnight the Feelgoods changed from an original band to an exciting but more mundane blues band. Their first record ‘Be seeing You’ was a pretty good slab of punk influenced blues, as good, at least as the likes of George Thorogood or The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The band also went on to actually have hits and be in the charts for a brief period although they often relied on some outside writing help from the likes of Nick Lowe.

I got to see the band at Nottingham University in the late 70’s and they were fine but that was all. By comparison Wilko Johnson put on a display at Trent Polytechnic around the same time that was less professional but riveting.

A couple of years with Mayo was a bit of an Indian summer which disguised the fact that they were seriously on the slide.

The 80’s were a cruel time for any band that liked to play real music in sweaty clubs, there are very few bands that managed to get through the decade without falling prey to the production values of the time. By the 80’s the band had lost not only Mayo but the original rhythm section of Sparko and The Big Figure. The Feelgoods (essentially Lee Brilleaux from this point) were left with the common dilemma of carrying on doing what they were good at or trying to tap into something more contemporary.

Unless a band has a very clear idea of what it is doing and some financial stability to back this up inevitably they are at the mercy of record company’s and producers. The first three Dr Feelgood records sound like a band who know what they are doing, from ‘Sneakin Suspicion’ onwards they sounded like what the producer of the day wanted them to sound like. This is what happened when they started to try to become more commercial.

Matters reached their nadir with the release of ‘Classic’. Surprisingly this had a promising inception. The band had just been signed to Stiff Records. Unfortunately rather than some raw roots record producer Pip Williams was drafted in he had recently cut the collective bollocks off Status Quo with ‘ in the army now’ which unfortunately was a hit. Listening to the 1987 ‘Classic’ is one of the most unpleasant experiences a Feelgoods fan could ever experience. It’s all there, gated drums, synths, backing singers and a sickly sick production.

What were they thinking?

Live, the band continued to be a solid prospect but clearly they could not really just churn out one record after another of R&B.

Sticking to the three record rule is, of course impossible, a band needs a ‘product’ to show they are still active in the marketplace which means that bands and artists end up releasing records that really very few people want.

Brilleaux just couldn’t stop, he was addicted to the road and the lifestyle until his death in 1994. Brilleaux was only 41 but had always seemed a lot older. Although it was leukaemia which killed him it was probable that his lifestyle would have shortened his life considerably.

Wilko Johnson has made a lot less mistakes largely because he seems to have produced far less records. A Johnson live set these days is pretty much a re-tread of his Feelgood days with a couple of songs from his early solo career. In many respects he lives the life of an old style bluesman concentrating on performance rather than product. In a strange parallel to Brilleaux he contracted pancreatic cancer which should have killed him until doctor/photographer Charlie Chan noticed he may have been misdiagnosed and initiated surgery which saved Wilko’s life.

I never saw Dr Feelgood again after the university gig. In the 80’s sweaty R&B was about as fashionable as tuberculosis and although I was aware of Brilleauxs’ demise it was overshadowed by that of Curt Cobain. I have seen Wilko Johnson a couple of times in recent years doing virtually the same performance as I saw in the late 70’s, it’s a timeless spectacle although I still miss his pudding basin haircut.

The two men never had any contact with each other again. It’s probable given the nature of the music business that they would have probably got together, in fact a total original reformation could have been possible with associated record and tour.

I would have gone to that but with no expectations, it would never have been as good as it was in the 70’s. As Johnny Thunders said ‘you can’t put your arms around a memory’

NB no visuals this week as either my iPad or WordPress have decided I don’t have enough storage sorry

Posted in DR feelgood, punk rock, rock music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Dictate

One of the things that comes up time and time again when researching the early days of punk is the resourceful nature of virtually all of the protagonists. Whether it was Steve Jones nicking enough equipment to equip the Sex Pistols, or Shelley and Devoto of Buzzcocks driving down to London on the off chance of meeting Malcolm Mclaren, there was an energy drive and determination about the main protagonists which in a different setting would have marked them out as captains of industry.

Despite being anti-establishment many of the early punks were effectively entrepreneurs selling their music or their clothing or occasionally themselves with a single minded determination that would have made Sir Alan Sugar proud.

For those not fortunate enough to live in the big city the work was ten times harder, there was no social media the only way a band or artist could make an impact was to work really hard and eventually make their way to London.

Ferryhill is a case in point. An ex mining town in County Durham, it wasn’t until I looked at a map that I realised just how isolated it was. Located just off the A1 the nearest town is either Middlesbrough which is basically a chemical factory or Hartlepool. I have always been intrigued by the latter as apparently the locals were so backward that when a monkey was washed ashore following a shipwreck in the Napoleonic wars they assumed it was a Frenchman and hanged it.

Ferryhill had its usual quota of youths listening to Roxy Music and the Velvet underground and forming bands of little importance. It was pretty clear that no bands of any significance were going to tour Ferryhill so one of the musician pool, Gary Chaplin, decided, despite being underage, that he would hire a bus to take the Ferryhill crowd to Newcastle anytime a band of note was playing there. Again, this was no small achievement, Newcastle is miles away to the North up the AI, Chaplin’s venture would involve going to Newcastle to get tickets and hiring a coach to do the two way journey and this would be funded by collecting money from assorted locals in order to fund the trip.

On these long night journeys he befriended fellow traveller Pauline Murray who he eventually asked to sing in his band and so Penetration was formed. Penetration had already been influenced by the first stirrings of punk, notably the Sex Pistols who they had seen during one of the Pistols scary out of town gigs up North. Equally influential was Patti Smith, Murray providing Smith influenced vocals as well as a cover of ‘Free Money’ on their first album.

Unsurprisingly the band started off with an amazing work ethic, driving down to London was just part of the job and they hit punk club The Roxy just at the right time, if you played the Roxy in the first couple of months of it opening there was a good chance you would be seen by about 50% of the people who mattered on the punk scene. They became friends with the Adverts which led to plenty of support gigs and within six months were major layers in the second division.

penetration2

And in many respects that is the most interesting part of the Penetration story. Ideally it would end with the release of their first single ‘Don’t Dictate’ which was fairly raw and angry with Murray sounding not unlike Polystyrene from X Ray Specs.

If you take the trouble to watch this please note obligatory bottle spraying idiot and hippie road crew member

Founder member Chaplin had become disillusioned with the music business almost as soon as he entered into it and had decided to leave although a period of tendonitis hastened his departure. He was replaced by Neil Floyd but also significantly another guitarist Fred Purser was also added. Purser was a proper guitarist who could play all the widdly bits that punk had dispensed with. Significantly after the demise of the band he joined local heavy metal heroes the Tygers of Pan Tang.

On record Penetration tend to sound like a punk version of Rush to my ears.It was a polished sound and they had soon been gobbled up by record company Virgin, you could see their appeal, a bunch of people who can play their instruments fronted by a real ‘punkette’. The label thought they were on to a money spinner and invested in some proper studio time and proper record producers. For some reason that didn’t really capture the public’s imagination. There’s nothing really wrong with their debut ‘Moving Targets’ or even their so called ‘disappointing’ follow up ‘Coming up for Air’ but neither is there anything partially inspiring about their music, not that that has ever deterred the record buying public but Penetration’s career failed to really take off.

For some reason I bought their single ‘Come into the Open’ and I still have a soft spot for this particular track.

If the band had toughed it out I suspect they would have had a breakthrough but it was not to be. After the band ended Murray recorded Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls with legendary producer Martin Hannett. Free from the tyranny of the guitar riff this was more to my taste but the band (and Hannett) didn’t last that much longer.

But as we know almost every band has to reform at some point but Penetration put it off for as long as possible. In the meantime Murray has been busy as anticipated building a studio, forming a community choir, studying reflexology, writing songs, managing bands and raising two children. Their latest record from 2015 isn’t the real band of course just Murray and her husband/bass player Robert Blamire remain from the original band, presumably Blamire is only allowed out now the kids don’t need a babysitter.

In fact ‘Resolution’ may even be the best extended piece of work the band have ever made, free from the constraints of big name producers and big budgets the music sounds less forced. The band are now playing live again but one can’t help but suspect that the entire audience is just waiting for a middle aged pogo to ‘Don’t Dictate’

Posted in memories of 70s, punk rock, rock music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment