Don’t Give Up The Day Job

Writers as rock stars

Even by the mid 70’s the star maker machinery behind the popular song was still in its infancy. The rock writer had traditionally either been a slick Tin Pan Alley product churning out press releases for the teen idols of the day or they had effectively been an extension from the days of jazz (and classical) where every bass solo was treated with chin stroking introspection.

By the early 70’s the lunatics were taking over the asylum. There were still plenty of writers very happy to eulogise over a Rick Wakeman solo, elevating rock to the level of ‘proper’ music’ but the new breed were influenced by the likes of Lester Bangs for whom the lifestyle and cultural aspects were every bit a important as the actual music itself.

There was always the general wisdom, mainly among musicians, that all writers were just failed musicians. This was despite the fact that by the mid 70’s Even by the mid 70’s the star maker machinery behind the popular song was still in its infancy. The rock writer had traditionally either been a slick Tin Pan Alley product churning out press releases for the teen idols of the day or they had effectively been an extension from the days of jazz (and classical) where every bass solo was treated with chin stroking introspection.

By the early 70’s the lunatics were taking over the asylum. There were still plenty of writers very happy to eulogise over a Rick Wakeman solo, elevating rock to the level of ‘proper’ music’ but the new breed were influenced by the likes of Lester Bangs for whom the lifestyle and cultural aspects were every bit a important as the actual music itself.

There was always the general wisdom, mainly among musicians, that all writers were just failed musicians. This was despite the fact that by the mid 70’s writers had a potentially huge audience. The big three in Britain, Sounds, Melody Maker and New Musical Express were phenomenally influential, bear in mind that this was a time when it was quite difficult to actually hear a lot of the music being made, a weekly music paper was a lot better investment than buying an LP without actually hearing it.

And so writing was actually a pretty good gig, you invariably operated from the epicentre of culture ( London), you got to go to the great gigs (free) hear great music (free) and go to all the best parties (free) and if you wished, every night you could sleep in your own bed.

Despite this, some writers increasing did want to be rockstars.

My first example doesn’t really count, Mick Farren was an undefinable force of nature, mixing politics, music, writing and general social agitation. His band The Social Deviants operated on a kind of sub Hawkwind/Pink Fairies mode although  probably their role model was the American band The Fugs. The Social Deviants were sort of good/ terrible/ unintentionally hilarious. ‘Grab the tit of the girl next to you’ he extorts on a YouTube live clip. That’s not free love Mick that’s sexual assault. Farren had, by the arrival of punk, settled into a job at the NME having realised this was a better option than playing to a bunch of Hells Angels. He couldn’t resist the roar of the crowd though and  recorded a solo album Vampires Stole My Lunch Money.

With the advent of punk it seemed that everyone was getting involved so why not a rock writer ? They should at least be able to come up with a decent set of lyrics if nothing else.

Strangely enough NME writer Charles Shaar Murray decided to resurrect pub rock, he probably didn’t mean to, Murray was a blues aficionado throughout his tenure with the paper, his heart was in the right place. In 1978 his band Blast Furnace and the Heatwaves released  a four track EP. I fell for  this inspired by Murray’s assertion that he was mixing punk and blus. Unfortunately that resulted in pub rock. The record was produced by two of his mates from The Count Bishops and as a result it sounded pretty much like that band. On the stand out track ‘Cant Stop the Boy’ the backing vocals were courtesy of two other mates namely Bob Geldof and Phil Lynott. CSTB is basically Murray showing off about  what a wilful character he is although ‘hanging around with the Boomtown Rats’ line doesn’t do a lot for his credibility 40 years on. I actually bought this record, the second side was pressed so for off centre it made me feel quite queasy to actually listen to it but I’ve still got a soft spot for nervous white boy R&B.

Scoring higher on the punkometer was Chris Needs. Needs had run the Mott the Hoople fan club as a teenager and had made friends with fellow fan and future Clash Guitarist Mick Jones. Like last week’s artist Jon Ottway, Needs was based in Aylesbury and had begun writing for Zig Zag magazine. Zig Zag was originally a hippie rag. It was possible to get it occasionally in Norwich and it was a  combination of exotic, free thinking and good(ish) writing. Punk wrong footed it of course and it had to switch from writing about Richard Thompson and Mike Nesmith to the Slits and the Adverts in the space of about 6 months. Needs was instrumental in this revision and was soon to become the editor. Not content with this he decided to form a band The Vice Creems with a bunch of Aylesbury mates. The Vice Creems were quite good third division punk which, of course, meant they never got played on the radio. Needs created a flicker of interest in his music when his band abandoned him leaving him with a studio booked with old mate Jones as producer. Jones called up a few favours and soon the new Vice Creems consisted of Jones on guitar, Topper Headon from the Clash on drums and Tony James from Generation X on bass. To be fair though it all had a limited shelf life and Needs moved to New York to enjoy a drug habit for a few years. It’s  OK, he kicked heroin and is now a well respected DJ so it all ended well.

Giovando Dadamo was also a writer for Zig Zag and also for Sounds as was the bass player in his band The Snivelling Shits. With good connections the band managed to get their record ‘Terminal Stupid’ listed as single of the week in the NME. These things mattered in 1977. The trouble was it didnt matter 6 months later. Dadamo found out what all sensible people discover that being in a band is great fun for 6 months especially when your first single is flavour of the week. The Shits soon ground to a halt.

Last, and best, NME writer Nick Kent was continually dabbling in music, this is the man who claims to have tutored Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols remember? Unfortunately he had turning into  public enemy no 1 as far as the London punk scene was concerned, no one was waiting for a Nick Kent single apart from to spit on it. He was also hampered by multiple drug habits so only tended to be motivated to make music when his methadone script was stable. During one such period he produced a single as The Subterraneans. ‘My Flamingo’ allegedly about his relationship with Chrissie Hynde is a lovely guitar based song which pre dated the likes of Lloyd Cole and even REM. And Kent had the last laugh, recorded in the face of adversity, is probably the best song ever recorded by a journalist.

Unless you count Chrissie Hynde herself of course.

That’s another story

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2 Responses to Don’t Give Up The Day Job

  1. Big fan of your site. Great memories and unique insights.

    – Daniel in Brooklyn

    Like

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