This is Pop, ‘Gabrielle’, the Nips

Shane MacGowen was a face on the UK punk scene almost from its inception. His face in itself was a remarkable feature, even by British 70’s standards, due to standard abysmal dental hygiene and treatment and aided by a copious intake of amphetamine sulphate, MacGowen,s teeth were in a terrible state and when enhanced by his jug ears made for would could be termed a distinctive visage.


It was MacGowen who was photographed having his ear bitten off (it wasn’t but it looked nasty) by his date for the night at the Roxy Club, he cropped up again in Don Lett’s punk film trashing the Jam’s drum kit. At one point he wrote his own fanzine ‘Bondage’ in longhand declaring ‘only girls use typewriters’, MacGowen was quite a large fish in a rapidly expanding pond.

It was perhaps inevitable that he was set to become the frontman of his own band. His musical accomplice was Shanne Bradley already notable as the put down in ‘Satellite’ one of the Sex Pistols early songs. Like half of the London punks Bradley was learning to play the bass.


And so, the Nipple Erectors were formed. Clearly not a commercial enterprise especially as MacGowen and Bradley were the only consistent members. This meant that although they got to make a few singles, virtually every punk band in London got to make a few singles, they were never distinctive enough to make their presence felt. Musically it was fine, everyone including the drummer and guitarist that week could play and sing, there was a mix going on of punk and rockabilly with a bit of pop, the nipple erectors were not a hard-core punk band but neither were they anything else.


Eventually they shortened their name to the Nips and with their latest guitarist and drummer recorded their final single ‘Gabrielle’ which impressed me enough at the time to go out and buy it. ‘Gabrielle’ remains something of an enigma, for a band firmly routed in London the song is quite transatlantic, the sort of tune that could easily be recorded by Southside Johnny or even Van Morrison. In fact, MacGowen was a big fan of the Jam who themselves were beginning to utilise some American soul stylings. Lyrically ‘Gabrielle’ is gossamer thin, musically it’s pretty much 3 chords. The huge surprise in retrospect is McGowan’s vocals which are ,well, tuneful.


The Nips managed one final line up where the guitarist was James Fearnley. After the band finally spluttered to a halt Fearnley and MacGowen re emerged as Pogue Mahone which in turn became The Pogues. After a slight hiatus Bradley also emerged in the folk based ‘The Men They Couldn’t Hang’


Today MacGowen is mainly known as a graduate of the Keith Richards ‘how come he’s still alive?’ school of life but just months after splitting with the Nips had totally altered his vocal delivery and song writing style and ‘Gabrielle’ stands alone as a pure pop moment never to be repeated.

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Perfecting Sound Forever ?*

I remember quite clearly the first time I became aware of the pleasure one could derive from the stereophonic experience. Rather ridiculously I could have been as old as eleven, but it was on a family visit to my Grandmother’s house. I say family but my dad was always working so my mother and sister and me would walk the 4 miles to the terraced house where my grandparents lived, we would have fish and chips for lunch and then I would have to occupy myself for a couple of hours while the adults talked and talked.


My Grand-parents had little interest in listening to music but like everyone else in the later 60’s had bought the piece of furniture that was a stereogram. This took up quite a lot of space but that was mainly the point, people didn’t have a lot of furniture and the stereogram was a way of demonstrating a bit of disposable income. It would have a turntable, built in speakers and probably a radio as well as having storage for around 20 records which was probably 10 more than most people wanted.   My grandmothers favourite was Jim Reeves, listening to gentleman Jim was like taking Valium and having a hot bath, the LP was enhanced for Stereo which was what happened to a lot of 50’s and 60’s music released in the 70’s. It wasn’t until I played a brass band compilation that I realised what Stereo was all about. I found that if I lay between the two speakers trumpets would come from the right, woodwind from the left and a bass drum thump hit me right between my eyes.


I was hooked on Hi FI !


For around 10 years I had to make do with a cheap deck with clip on speakers bequeathed to me by my parents who went on to buy a more upmarket ‘music centre’. To be fair this gave me some of my happiest times of listening to music but I was aware I could do a lot better. Hi Fi was very much a thing either with the suburbanites who would use their stereos to listen to Mantovani and train noises and the heads who would almost certainly be listening to Floyd who managed to combine sonic effects with proper music.the clocks on ‘Time’ was a big favorite .

The deck/amp/speaker system was the industry standard for the discerning audiophile but this could easily cost a month’s wages, many of us had to make the decision about whether to buy music or something to play that music on but a decent stereo remained the holy grail. When I started work I could afford a basic system but there was always the nagging feeling I should be upgrading.(which I would do the next time I was burgled).


Until the end of the 80s it had been fairly a fairly straightforward, cassettes were a distraction, you could copy records, make compilations and even decorate the cassette boxes to your own design. Cassettes lasted longer and you could play them in the car but no one seriously thought them a contender for vinyl especially when they had stared to stretch and snap and discharge yards of skinny tape. The real game changer was the CD which I resisted until the early 90’s by which time even my in laws had a CD player.


For a brief period the CD format threw me, it sounded too immaculate for rock music unless it was Dire Straits, I started buying classical music samplers so I could listen to the pristine silences and the lack of crackle in the quiet bits. After a few months I was back to default mode and buying as much as I could afford which wasn’t a lot as one of these silver disks could set you back £12. For the first time ever I was being resold music. This didn’t really take off until the new millennia when I discovered FOPP who would sell (or resell) me great records for £5.


The reason for the price tumble was the introduction of the MP3 and most notably the iPod. My collection of music was now snowballing as I could go to the library and get a CD for 20p on load and then transfer it to MP3 to be mine forever. Those of us who lived through that period can remember the hours spent feeding the iPod, converting our digital music into digital music in a different format. I knew people who suddenly acquired a lifetime of music from a friend on a hard drive, they’ve probably never listened to 90% of it. We had more music than we ever needed!

About 10 years ago I made the decision to jettison my vinyl, I couldn’t imagine anyone would ever really want to play proper records again, in fact, it was pretty difficult to buy an LP anymore, I needed to shift them before they became totally worthless. My weekends became a ritual of putting records on eBay, watching them sell for a couple of quid and packaging them and taking them to the post office. It seemed an awful lot of work, I gave up before they were all sold.

While this was happening digital streaming was taking off   and soon I was investing in a Spotify Account and listening to music I had only previously dreamt of on my computer (and then iPad and then iPhone)

I’m not a vinyl snob, I reckon CDs can sound better but after the CD ,listening quality took a slump, it didn’t matter too much because we were listening in the car or walking to work or in the gym which meant of course that we weren’t really listening at all.

So, is that it? I ask because I’m trying to downsize, and I’ve got stacks of CD’s. To my shame they cannot be recycled but neither are they worth anything anymore. The best it seems I can do is shift them by the truckload with Music Magpie or take them to a charity shop, the only other alternative is landfill.

And then there is the question on what is the alternative? Spotify is great but it’s not a sonic experience. I had the bright idea of dedicating what’s left of my life to converting all my CDs to MP3s but even to someone as cloth eared as me there’s a huge drop in quality when you play them though a half decent stereo.

The time when people sat around just listening to music has passed and with it has passed the desire for most people of owning a decent Hi Fi system, or, in fact, owning any music. 20 years ago you could go into somebodies home and find out about them from their book and record collection, both quantity and quality, its not possible now homes are tasteful and empty.

 I don’t really want to be like that but neither do I want any future home to be a museum.Is there a compromise with space and quality? Is there a new music format poised to change everything?if anyone has the answers please do let me know.



 *Perfecting Sound Forever is a great book by Greg Milner

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Grandad….Clive Dunn

Its almost impossible to comprehend at a distance of 50 years just how popular the TV series Dad’s Army was. The show initially expected that it would appeal to people who had lived through the second world war, bear in mind that this was people in their 40’s and 50’s when the show was released in 1968. However, the 70’s were a period when whole families sat down to watch together to watch in real time and the combination of catchphrases and easily identifiable characters proved popular from ages 8 to 80.


The war was still very present in our minds, it was highly possible that your next door neighbour could have been in a Japanese prisoner of war camp or the green grocer could have been wounded at Dunkirk. Things were still a bit raw, but Dad’s Army softened the blow by basically being about a load of old blokes in South England, Dad’s Army being the popular term for the Home Guard which was comprised mainly of people too old for regular combat but still with some responsibilities for the defence. From Hancock to The Office, British comedy has revelled in the character with ideas above their station and Dad’s Army, especially their leader Captain Mainwaring  were similarly deluded in their role in the grand scheme.


Having watched a tribute a few years back I could only identify one actual joke (“dont tell him Pike”) in the entire series. I’m sure there were more but most of the comedy relied on knowing the characters and how they would react which, let’s face it’ is pretty much the basis of a good sitcom.

One of the core characters– there were about 7 or 8 of them, was Corporal Jones played by Clive Dunn. Proud owner of two significant catch phrases (“don’t panic” and “they don’t like it up them”) Jones was an ex-soldier from the Boer War where he had fought the “fuzzy wussies” (yep) and a current butcher.


Its fair to say that all characters had their fans but Jones/Dunn increased his public profile significantly in 1970 by releasing a hit single. Apparently, Dunn had met Bassist Herbie Flowers, star of last weeks post, at a party and asked if he could write him a hit single. Flowers rose to the challenge although he also had to engage the services of one-time Creation vocalist Kenny Picket.  Apparently Flowers was struggling to find a suitably catchy melody when someone rang his doorbell. The interval in the doorbell chimes provided the inspiration he needed- you can hear it on the word Grandad time and time again throughout the song. Flowers managed to squeeze a bit more cash out of the song by playing Tuba on it (presumably at standard session rates)


With slight irony, Dunn had been one of the younger cast members who was acting a lot older, as Grandad hit number one Dunn was reaching his 51st birthday. He had now established himself as a lovable old man and went on to have his own children’s TV show Grandad for a while. Flowers would go on to write more sophisticated music with his band Sky but Grandad was to prove his pension pot.


In Norfolk we always felt we had a special relationship with Dad’s Army as they would regularly decamp to Thetford in the south of the county for a few days of location filming. The series seems to have been on repeat play on the BBC for decades. I really can’t imagine it resonates with the youth but it harks back to gentler times (the 70’s not the WWII which apparently was quite violent) which is nice to remember for us older folk.


Grandad is still awful and most of us have forgotten about it.


Until now…..

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Unsung Hero’s…Herbie Flowers

According to his own testimony, Herbie Flowers wasn’t a particularly good bass player, that’s part of his own self depreciating personality but also slightly true. 


Musical talent is part of the equation but not the whole story. Flowers is a bass player but more importantly a session musician. Being a session player requires a different set of skills, being reliable, learning  quickly and being sober, musical wizardry is far from essential. Hence Flowers’ advice to young musicians ‘don’t do drugs, don’t play too many notes’


Flowers was a few years older than a lot of the people he played for, they were a significant few years because he had done national service where he learned to play the Tuba in the military band, a rise to corporal necessitated learning a second instrument which was double bass, the next small step was to pick up the new fangled bass guitar. Flowers was competent reliable and sober, by the start of the 70’s he had carved out a secure career as a session bassist


By the end of the decade he had played on some 500 hit recordings including the likes of David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, George Harrison and Elton John.


But there’s more to Flowers than just session work, every now and again he would stick his head above the parapet for a little more spotlight. The first notable excursion was Blue Mink. He band was really an amalgamation of session players and songwiters which meant a bit of a stop start career as all the members had other lives. Probably because they weren’t away touring Australia all the time the band were omnipresent on TV shows in Britain watched by millions in real time, also they had a massive hit with ‘melting pot’ a song intended to be liberal but these days could cause a twitterstorm with its anti cultural diversity message (it’s going to happen one day- just wait).


Despite being nearly 40, Flowers also featured in the final line up of T Rex, probably a testament to his musical skills (not doing drugs or playing too many notes) because he’s always looked like he should be serving behind the counter of a hardware store rather than staffing a glam rock band. His final foray into stardom was Sky which was a kind of classical cross over band who at the time I considered to be so dull I wouldn’t leave my tent to see them at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival. The easy going musicality of the group made them a big hit with BBC program makers and which meant we probably heard a lot more of them than we intended to or even realised.


Sky was pretty much a proper band albeit on that was staffed with classically trained musicians, it took Flowers away from the session work as a full time career and subsequently he became more involved in Jazz and double bass work and then running music courses and choirs often getting people involved (prisoners, disabled) who wouldn’t normally.


But there’s one more bit of greatness still in Flowers’ CV and that’s Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. Transformer is certainly regareded as one of Reed’s top three LP’s and that’s due in no small part to the roles played by the session musicians and producer Mick Ronson. Although is pretty lyrically interesting there’s not a whole lot going on musically in Reed’s unexpected hit single until Ronson added backing vocals, a sax solo and Flower’s radical bass contribution, all of a sudden it’s one of the most distinctive sinks of all time and probably prevented Reed from sinking into early obscurity.


Here’s the story.


There is one more interesting addition to the Flowers’ CV but that’s for next week.

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Richard Thompson’s 70th, Albert Hall

I suppose I must be the archetypical Richard Thompson follower. A few years back I caught him at a festival appearance where he pronounced that  the audience was like ‘looking out at a sea of Terry Pratchets’ Grey hair, grey beard and enough disposable income to afford tickets for Thompsons 70th birthday celebration at the Albert Hall (plus hotel fees and a meal beforehand), I am Thompson’s demographic.

Holding any party is always tricky, the Band started the career celebration  trend with ‘The Last Waltz’ and soon found an additional problem, namely the bigger the names of your friends the more your own career is likely to be overshadowed. And so we remember Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan or Neils Young and Diamond rather than the Bands excellent versions of their own songs from that night(s). Also,the Band were still in their youth, Thompson is 70, I am 10 years younger and find just standing up with a guitar round my neck exhausting after 30 minutes. Thompson is made of sterner stuff but there’s three hours of music to get through and occasionally he will need a break.

Another issue is that even in this day and age a gig can go wrong for reasons beyond the performer’s control. Amazingly Thompson falls prey to gremlins from the first number. During the opening number ‘The Storm Wont Come’ which he performs with his excellent trio it becomes apparent that his guitar is seriously underpowered. In the 70’s a nervous roadie with a hammer would scuttle across the stage but the techs here are more officious, striding out unhurried and straight backed, one of them calmly appraises the problem and does some knob twiddling and plods off again. Despite a couple of attempts at this the guitar gets a bit louder but not a lot clearer. Thompson has been described as someone who sounds like he’s singing with a bucket over his head and his vocals don’t really cut though that well especially when he makes  announcements‘please welcome to the stage marincerfy’ he will announce leaving the audience mouthing ‘who? ‘ at each other. The official compare, his youngest son I am guessing, compensates for lack of microphone technique with youthful enthusiasm but is sometime down to the audience to work out who is on stage.


But enough griping, tonight is a friends and family occasion, it seems churlish to be too critical. I was eagerly anticipating the person who turned out to be the first guest. Hugh Cornwell was in Thompson’s first ever band, I had hoped he would play bass but the Thompson trio backed them through a pretty robust version of ‘Tobacco Road’. Things then went a bit strange (already!) with a version of the Stranglers ‘Peaches’ a pretty sexist song which hasn’t worn well which was followed by a pleasant but unessential Cornwall solo tune.


With Cornwell ushered off Thompson unleashes the biggest disappointment of the evening. Simon Nichol is stuck in Greece! A jugband cover with Ashley Hutchings and a stand in guitarist could have been a real moment if Fairport founder Nichol had been on board. Ditto a cover of Jack O Diamonds from the first Fairport album is also diluted a bit by the presence of Dave Mattacks on drums who plays as if he’s in a pit orchestra. Dave Pegg’s on stage (on mandolin and vocals) for ‘Down Where the Drunkards Roll’. I later realise that nothing from the folky Fairport was played all night, this was as close as it got.

It’s a bit of a relief when Bob Mould (ex Husker du and Sugar) turns up and wacks his Strat up to full volume for ‘Turning of the Tide’ , the hall is crackling with energy thanks to Michael Jerome being back on drums, it’s a bit of a mess but so exciting its worth Mould doing a quick solo number,while we’re in the mood.

The last stage of the first half is folk heavy with Kate Rusby, Martin Carthy, Marry Waterson and Eliza Carthy, the latter dressed like a Wagner Heroine producing a jaw dropping unaccompanied ‘Great Valerio’. On the family theme the mad uncle arrives in the shape of Marc Ellington. I know virtually nothing of the man (I think he sung on Unhalfbricking) but he treated the Albert Hall as if he was doing a turn at a family party. With boundless confidence he led us through ‘The Bonnie lass o’ Fyvie’ before disappearing back into obscurity. 


A half time break (necessary at our age) gives me a chance to check out the audience, not all old codgers. I catch a glimpse of someone who if she isn’t Bonnie Rait has chosen to dress just like her. I assume it’s the latter as she didn’t appear on stage.


The second half opens with Beeswing which is played with concertina player Alistair Anderson. Another pleasant surprise  there will be no ‘Vincent Black Lightning’ so this is the nearest we have to an acoustic theme song. Anderson stays on for a duel on the Morris tune Madame Bonapart where they both overplay and the tune starts to unravel in places. There will be a similar episode when the band back ‘Cry Me a River’ with ‘Judiwowan ‘(Judith Owen) where everyone appears to be playing a slightly different song. Before that Teddy Thompson appears for a pretty good version of persuasion (no bucket on the head for Teddy).


It then gets a bit dull and downbeat with Danny Thompson and Mattacks for a couple of songs before a switch of players and the introduction of Olivia Chaney for the sacred ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. Chaney is one of the very few contemporary singer songwriters who really moves me, I thought she was great as was her subsequent solo ‘House on the Hill’, I hope I wasn’t the only one.


Next up is Maddy Prior, still with scarf despite it being about 90 degrees by now, her voice isn’t exactly cutting through as it might do but ‘The Grey Funnel Line’ is a pleasant return to a giant folk club vibe. The subsequent act are the Rails who, of course, include Thompson’s daughter Kami. Unfortunately for Richard, her partner James Walbourne does rather show what an electric guitar could sound like. Their version of ‘Keep your Distance’ literally crackles with electricity.


The presence of another Thompson onstage gives Kami a change to introduce her mother, the elephant in the theatre that is Linda Thompson. Her ex husband doesn’t really acknowledge her or utter her name. The Thompson clan perform ‘That’s Enough’ . It’s off their pretty underwhelming album that I’ve forgotten the name of but as a standalone song it’s pretty poignant in these pre Brexit post truth times following which Linda is escorted away by Teddy after, it seems ,having had a great time onstage.

Following the jazz battle of ‘Cry Me a River’ there’s the much heralded appearance of Derek Smalls. While I’m a bit fan of Shearer’s acting/voiceover talents we like the idea of Derek Smalls much better than the reality, one song was one song to many.


In contrast Loudon Wainwight is relaxed, natural and totally marvellous. The ‘Swimming Song’ is an obvious crowd pleaser but rather charming, more surprising is a duet with Thompson on ‘I want to see the Bright Light Tonight’ which sees the reappearance of Mattacks who now seems to want to groove instead of tap at cymbals. I didn’t miss the brass band at all.


Quite what Dave Gilmour is doing here is a small mystery (if Thompson really did describe Pink Floyd as ‘a blues band with clocks’ its genius). He’s clearly important and so is last on the bill and was featured heavily in Rolling Stone’s review of the gig. Again, Gilmour’s guitar sounds better than Thompsons, his voice is limited but that’s rather touching on ‘dimming of the day’ where he cracks on the high notes. Stranger is the final song proper ‘Fat Old Sun’, an autumnal song by Gilmour, its quite beautiful but rather down beat, Thompson gets to play some great guitar but it’s a bit like serving drinks at your own party.


That’s not exactly the end there’s the anthemic song about death ‘Meet on the Ledge’(he was in his early 20’s when he wrote that) before the lights are up and we shuffle out into the light drizzle.


For anyone new to Thompson’s work and trying to get a handle on what he is/about would have found this a baffling night. He was impressive in that he avoided some greatest hits show, some of the time he was offstage or providing back up to someone else’s song. When it was a bit dull it wasn’t dull for long, when it was great it was wonderful.


Which pretty much sums up Thompson’s career really.

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It’s all in the Name

In the early 90’s I was employed as a Social Worker based in a Derbyshire town. Tuesday was court duty day where we would hang about the magistrates youth court picking up any work related to the Juvenile offenders of that fair county. One day, at a bit of a loose end, I popped into the adult court next door to find it had been taken over by a gaggle of less typical defendants. The new crowd, there was about six of them, were a mixture of perms and mullets or perhaps even permed mullets and although they were dressed in court suits they all had their sleeves rolled up like 80’s pop stars. One of the ushers informed me that they were in fact 70’s pop band Paper Lace  in court that day over some legal matter about who were allowed to be Paper Lace anymore.


Its pretty unlikely that any young person spending hours in their room learning to play an instrument would ever consider they are preparing for spending a lot of their time in the future with solicitors but ever since the break up of the Beatles this was to be the future of many musicians. Paper Lace were just one group trying to keep their name to survive.


Its perhaps not surprising that Mick Fleetwood can replace Lindsey Buckingham and carry on as Fleetwood Mac, he’s been doing that ever since Peter Green had a breakdown, its not what we want but I’m sure Fleetwood Mac are raking in the dollars without Buckingham as usual. It’s a strange phenomenon though that even fans of a band don’t seem capable of making fairly simple musical judgements outside that band’s existence. Take Mike Scott for example. He had piloted the Waterboys through various incarnations and various musical styles, it was even debatable who the Waterboys were apart from Mike Scott. However, Scot was soon to discover that as a solo troubadour he was capable of filling rooms above pubs but not much more. As soon as Scott revived the Waterboys moniker he was back in the concert halls and festivals. One would have thought that Waterboysfans would know who their leader/singer/songwriter was and would support him at gigs, but clearly most of them didn’t.


So, possession of the band’s name is hugely financially important, it doesn’t matter if that band now contains the original drummer, the bass player’s son and a couple of hack musicians, a huge percentage of their potential audience just won’t care.


Researching (yes!) last weeks post brought this whole phenomenon into sharp reality. All four bands, Mud, The Glitter Band , the Rubettes and Sweet had a life beyond their glory years with inevitable legal jousting for most of them.

Mud fared the best. Singer Les Gray went on to front Les Gray’s Mud. You couldn’t really argue with that, he wasn’t pretending to be Mud, he was the singer and he fronted his own version of Mud until his early death.

The Sweet hit a compromise with Bass player Steve Priest fronting an American version of the band and Guitarist Andy Scott doing the same in Britain. This took over a decade though with a version of singer Brian Connolly’s Sweet also limping round the British gig circuit. Now with two of the roginal members dead and the survivors living on different continents its just about possible for the two Sweets to coexist. 


With some sort of irony, Brian Connelly played his last ever gig at the Bristol Hippodrome with Slade II (Slade without the creative members) and John Rossall’s Glitter Band. Despite the fact that Rossall had formed the band he was the sax player and had left early anyway so laying claim to the name took a bit of a nerve especially as legally he had been ordered not to use the Glitter Band’s moniker (he eventually received a one year suspended prison sentence for breaching this). Guitarist/Singer Gerry Shephard, usually aided by one of the band’s drummers were able to use the name and after Shepherd’s death Bassist John Springate returned  to take over the band.


If that smacks of desperation wait till you hear about the Rubettes!


As you may remember, the original vocalist Paul Da Vinci who sang the distinctive falsetto part on ‘Sugar Baby Love’ declined to be in a proper band and was replaced by Allan Williams who seemed to be able to cover the vocal parts pretty well. The band split in 1980 their time had been and gone and we thought that would be the end.


However, with their white suits and flat caps the band had a distinctive brand. You could dress almost anyone like that and they could be a Rubette especially as the caps would cover the inevitable male pattern baldness as years advanced. No only were the band future proofed but they were absolutely huge in certain parts of Europe. In a couple of years they were back with a watered down line up which cleaned up on the continent but after a decade everyoine had had enough. The Rubettes split again.


Matters soon hit the courts in a dispute between Williams and Keyboard player Bill Hurd. Hurd had left the band in the mid 70’s but had returned for the watered down 80’s version. Both had been given legal permission to tour as the Rubettes as long as it was clear who was fronting the band. Both musicians had breached this agreement however given a choice between Rubettes fronted by the singer and frontman who sang on nearly all their hit and Rubettes fronted by the keyboard player who left after a couple of years I know who I would go and see! Hurd actually went bankrupt as a result of the hearing but has carried on as The Rubettes featuring Bill Hurd to this day. At one point he added to his marketability by recruiting original vocalist Da Vinci but it wasn’t long before Hurd was fronting yet another band of people who were not Rubettes at all.

Alan Richardson was in a pretty strong position with original drummer John Richardson who was always the bands second most focal point. He also had the original Bass player for what it’s worth. Bizarrely these sidemen both then formed a break away band with the keyboard player now calling themselves The Rubettes featuring John Mick and Steve.

You might imagine that having a choice of three versions of the Rubettes would be too much for even the most ardent fan. Maybe it’s a sad inditement of our welfare system that men in their 70’s are still dressing up in white suits and touring the clubs in order to earn a crust. Maybe it’s just naked ambition or, most likely, its just not being able to stop doing the thing you’ve done all your life.


Which is pretty sad really.

 On the other hand…

Here Bill Hurds Rubettes from only last year, yes, there are old, yes, it’s Germany ,no it’s not the real Rubettes …but isn’t everyone having a great time !

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4 Manufactured Acts who were actually Pretty Good Musicians

We are pretty worldly-wise  and sceptic about manufactured pop groups these days. Post Milli Vanilli we don’t necessarily expect a lot in terms of authenticity from our hit makers, who cares if they can’t play and cant sing!. The concept of the manufactured group goes back to the days of the greatest mock band of all time namely the Monkees. It’s still considered a matter of importance that they didn’t play on many of their greatest hits but it wasn’t that unusual, neither did the Beach Boys (all the time) and even the Byrds were studio session heavy for ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.


Time is money in the studio and producers were usually keen to draft in session players, especially drummers, when band musicians weren’t up to the task in two takes. It happened to Ringo Starr, and talking of Ringo, he had to make a few hard choices about his personal appearance before joining the Beatles, even Topper Headon needed to be prepared to go out and buy a pair of bondage trousers (and then change his name) before he would be admitted into the Clash.

Authenticity can be as false as any band identity but its fair to assume some musicians are more malleable than others, especially where there is a Svengali producer involved. In the 70’s however music needed real musicians so here are four manufactured bands who turned out to be surprisingly competent musicians, and lets face it most of them weren’t chose for their looks!



The band whose name was Mud had been in operation since the mid 60’s playing dance halls, polytechnics and working men’s clubs (if such a thing exists in their native Surrey). Moving from pop covers to pop psychedelia ,the height of their fame has been an appearance on the Basil Brush Show before they were picked up by RAK records and songwriter/producers Micky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The band went on to have 14 top 20 hits. Why RAK picked them is a bit of a mystery, they were competent and versatilemusicians and presumably were willing to record whatever Chinn/Chapman threw at them. One suspects they were happiest with a bit of old style rock and roll as evidenced by the likes of ,DynaMite,’The Cat Crept In’ and the mighty ‘Tiger Feet’. 

Inevitably the hits dried up, singer Les Gray spent the rest of his life fronting ‘Les Gray’s Mud’ and the drummer became an insurance salesman. Bassist Ray Stiles joined the Holliesbut it was guitarist Rob Davis who was to have the most musical success becoming involved in dance music and co writing ‘Cant get you out of my Head’ for Kylie Minogue.


The Glitter Band

It was producer/writer/arranger Mike Leander who played most of the instruments on Gary Glitter’s early hits but when live shows beckoned he contacted trombone/sax player John Rossall who in turn summoned the Boston Showband for whom he was musical director. The Showband were old fashioned entertainment playing various styles and covers in dancehall up and down the country as well as on the continent. The band grew from the Glittermen to the Glitter Band who were developing their own identity. Any band with two drummers is bound to be interesting and the Glitter Band’s records have fared better than those of their earstwhile paedophile paymaster. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist  Pete Phipps went on to a full musical career with the likes of the Eurythmics and XTC


The Rubettes

Songwriting team Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddingham cemented their song writing alliance while paying in ex-Beatle Pete Best’s band. Having had a full and varied career with everyone from Robert Fripp to Tom Jones the pair had written and recorded an idea for a rock musical called ‘Sugar Baby Love’ with a group of session players. Unable to make anything of the recording they eventually offered it to the session band on the agreement they become a proper group and wear white hats and stupid caps. All apart from the singer agreed, he was replaced by Alan Williams and the Rubettesbecame a huge band in the UK and an even bigger one on the continent.

Theres not a huge amount to mark the Rubettes out as class musicians but they had been session players and even the drummer, who just appears to be dicking about on their performances, had  played on ‘Kung Foo Fighting’ by Craig Douglas. Their natural inclination seemed to be away from rock and roll nostalgia and towards country based material, they even tackled homophobia on one of their later records ‘Under One Roof’.

They are still big in Europe


The Sweet

Starting life as Unit 4 (snappy name!) and metamorphosising through the 60’s into Wainwrights Gentleman, the Sweet had, at one early point included future Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan. That’s not entirely insignificant and the band were pretty impressive hard rocking musicians. It was songwriters Chinn and Chapman who along with record producer Phil Wainman who decided they should be some strange half arsed version of the Archies. Early singles ‘Funny Funny’’Co-Co’ and Poppa Joe’ were very much in the vein of ‘Sugar Sugar’, there wasn’t a lot of imagination being wasted here. The weird thing was that these records were all made with session musician who almost curtains weren’t as good as the people they had replaced. Mick Tucker was a world class drummerbut bass player Steve Priest and Guitarist Andy Scott weren’t far behind and they were also great singers. The band’s purple period was around ‘Hell Raiser’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by which time they were playing on their own records but still keeping a pop sensibility.

Unfortunately they were determined to prove they were great musicians by going down a heavier route. It wasn’t really my cup of tea but it had a lot of potential especially in the USA  where Kiss and Motley Crue are still considered credible.

Their rise in instrumental prowess mirrored a decline in singer Brian Connolly’s voice after damaging his throat in a fight. Connolly went into alcoholic decline and the rest continued as a three piece which just scraped into the 80’s. In a decade the band had travelled from bubblegum to hard rock and are probably the best musicians ever to have appeared on Top of the Pops in full make up and a German helmet.

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