The Grim Reapers Work in 2021

As might be anticipated there’s been a bumper crop of musicians and singers passing away this year. Its only to be expected, the heros of our youth are now older people. A lot of the departed, Phil Spector, Sylvain Sylvian or Gerry Marsden , are all names familiar to me but didn’t really impact on my life. The ones below are more personal.

Les McKeown

The Singer with the Bay City Rollers passed away at the relatively young age of 65 from heart problems . The band had a kind of reformation in 2015 which was a huge financial success. In the 70’s however the Rollers didn’t really have a following beyond 13 year old girls and their records have not really stood any test of time. McKeown was often the only member on a lot of the records and his personal story is far more interesting than the bands music. Suffice to say it involves drink and drug problems, issues with sexuality, health problems , criminal convictions and surviving the bands monstrous manager Tam Paton

Richard H Kirk

At the other end of the fame spectrum, Kirk was a member of Cabaret Voltaire. An (initially) experimental band using electronics and drum machines who seemed to be lurking everywhere in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Very much a band of their time, as technology became more accessible Kirk turned to the Techno/ Dance market where he continued to make a living until his death.

Alan Lancaster

Lancaster formed the band that would eventually become Status Quo with Francis Rossi in the early 60’s. It developed into a classic case of band member rivalry where Lancaster considered himself the leader despite Rossi playing lead guitar and doing the bulk of the song writing and singing. A further split in the friendship was Rick Parfit joining who along with Rossi became the public face of Quo leaving Lancaster somewhat resentful.

Lancaster didn’t like the musical direction the band was heading towards in the 80’s. You could see his point when the band released Margarita Time as a single, Lancaster refused to mime the track on a TV show and was replaced by Jimmy Lea from Slade for that appearance. The band split then got together for Live Aid then split again. They then reformed but declined to invite Lancaster along which led to bad blood and lawsuits for much of the 90’s. If Lancaster had had his way the band would probably have become an English Ramones whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable.

The band reformed for a brief tour a few years ago, law suits sorted and grudges temporarily forgotten, despite being clearly frail, Lancaster was on good form and did make a case that the original Quo was the best.

Astro and Brian Travers

2021 wasn’t a good year for UB40 as two of them passed away. Admittedly they were a sizable band but that seems like bad luck. Whatever happened to UB40? their first album Signing Off was one of the great debut albums but a couple of years later it sounded like they had just pressed the ‘reggae’ button on a Casio keyboard. A lot of the bands initial sound was down to Traver’s one fingered saxophone playing. Astro was a bit harder to define, he had a bit of a role in the band similar to Bez in the Mondays. Despite a bit of toasting, trumpet playing and background vocals (apart from the toasting in their big Red Red Wine) I cant recall any definitive contributions but he was probably just a good guy you have around, don’t knock it.

Everett Morton

Drummer for The Beat and one of the great drummers of the post punk period. Morton was originally from St Kitts and he had a lightness of touch but was also capable of driving a beat. A kind of amalgamation of the rhythmic intricacies of the Caribbean and the powerhouse of industrial Birmingham. He taught me a lot by playing along with the first Beat album over and over in the early 80’s, great band, great drummer.

John Miles

In the wilderness years of the mid 70’s John Miles was touted to be the next big thing. He was on Supersonic ,the nearest rival to Top of the Pops, virtually every week. He was good looking, a good musician and a good songwriter but somehow we just knew it wasn’t what we really wanted. Miles was also responsible for the song ‘Music’ which was played all the time not just on Supersonic. It was kind of Mile’s Bohemian Rapsody but I still have a soft spot for it. He was from the north east, so I expect a tribute from the likes of Sting and Jimmy Nail in the near future

Mike Nesmith

There is a theory that each Monkee reflected a member of the Beatles. That rests heavily on Davy Jones being Paul McCartney so lets not take it too seriously. Nesmith however was rather a George Harrison figure, thoughtful, musical, sardonic., and the favourite band member of all right-thinking people. Post Monkees there were the country rock years, he always had a melodic sensibility that meant his records never really had the grit I prefer from that genre but he soon moved into all sorts of other media areas. In fact, he released an album called ‘the Prison’ which came with a book that was meant to be read at the same time. It sold about three copies but along with his Monkee’s money Nesmith inherited millions from his mother who invented liquid paper. Nesmith had enough money to invest in any projects he wanted to which meant he was able to sit out a lot of the Monkee’s reunion shows. Just a few weeks before his death however he was doing the Mike and Micky show with his old partner Dolenz. Two old men singing shaky versions of songs that were over 50 years old. It was quite touching but I’m not sure I would have paid for a ticket.

Thomas ‘Mensi ‘ Mensforth

Mensi was the leader of scary Geordie punks the Angelic Upstarts. Utterly uncompromising and left wing, some of the audiences were equally uncompromising and sometimes very right wing which made their gigs a magnet for violence. 40 years after their debut the band sound more acceptable and less threatening but in the late 70’s they sounded like the musical equivalent of a blow torch. Incredibly they actually got into the top 30 and appeared on Top of the Pops, they also caused outrage by getting to play Acklington Prison and despite this still got signed to Warner Bros.

As we know by now, it’s a hard lifestyle to quit and he was fronting new versions of the Upstarts up until this year. At one point the drummer was Paul Thompson from Roxy Music who also played in John Mile’s first band and more recently was in Lindisfarne. You can’t say they don’t look after their own up there, expect a tribute soon featuring Sting and Jimmy Nail

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