My Punk Rock Moment With X-Ray Specs

One of the killer lines in political debate these days is that the slightest wiff of socialism will drag us ‘back to the 1970’s’. Speaking as one who was there I can vouch for the fact that that is not necessarily a bad thing. By spring 1978 I was doing very nicely thank you. The state was willing to pay me for doing nothing for a while, it wasn’t great money but no one expected it to be, here was a phase I was going through not a design for life. Despite the prevailing punk ideology there was work around, you had to look a bit but zero contracts hours and minimum wages hadn’t been invented yet, if you had a job you had a job, at least for a while. The working-class aristocracy, the dockers and the miners actually earned decent wages and were keen to keep them. There were a lot of strikes and sometimes things didn’t run too well but if the trains were late it was probably because the drivers were on strike not because a millionaire owner was failing to provide a service and pocketing the difference. Sometimes rubbish would pile up on the streets and you had to walk round it but it was no worse than stepping over people sleeping on the street like you do today, I genuinely never saw anyone begging until I made a trip to Ireland in 1979.
For me personally I had time to read and hang out with the teenage hipsters from the college. I had all the benefits of a college lifestyle with none of the work. England was mine and it owed me living.
And due to the college connection I had my most punkest moment.
It wasn’t shooting up smack with Sid Vicious obviously. To put things in context my second most punk moment was later in the summer with my mate Steve, one-time sort of singer with the Rockwell Buzz Company. On an idyllic summers evening Steven and I infiltrated a posh girls party somewhere posh and lovely in Norwich. After gorging in the best free food the 70’s had to offer and availing ourselves of some alcohol we noticed that the DJ was looking all forlorn on his own, no one was responding to his gentle disco sounds. ‘Have you got any Punk?’ we asked. Mr DJ seemed to be happy to oblige, I don’t think he had a lot to lose after all and so he put on ‘no more heroes’ by the Stranglers. One day I will explain how much I dislke that band but NMH is a cracking tune by anyone’s standards. Steve and me took to the empty dance floor pogoing like our lives depended on it. Flares a flapping we gave it our all, so much so that the DJ found another punk single and another…and another. We were soon causing quite a stir but the problem was we didn’t know how to stop now. After what seemed like several hours the DJ decided to revert to ‘Disco Duck’ or something similar and Steve and me could retire several stone lighter. Worst of all it had been too much for my sensitive stomach but I did make it as far as the toilet before jettisoning the nights food and drink.
But my punkest moment was even punkier than that!
Being at a loose end musically I had been approached by a Bass player at the college called Simon. He kind of had a band that were kind of punk. This being Norwich and only 1978 meant that punk was a tentative term. At this point no one was going to commit to straight trousers and we all had long hair apart from Simon who sported a moustache. Along with Simon was Nick on guitar who, rather irritatingly, also played classical percussion so could play things on the drums that I couldn’t. Stevie was the singer, we needed another guitarist and actually put an advert in the NME ‘The Aerials need a guitarist’. No one had told me we were even called The Aerials but that’s showbiz. Our repertoire was firmly 60’s, the Velvet Underground and the Doors being our two main influences. The only thing I can really remember about the band is that Simon would explain how a song went by playing the bass line in real time assuming we actually listened to the bass (a common failing with bass players). And so we would stand or sit in disbelief as Simon demonstrated
Duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma duma
Da duma duma duma duma Da duma duma duma duma Da duma duma duma duma Da dumpty
Duma duma etc etc
I did discover that the Doors had some extremely repetitive bass lines.
I don’t think anyone responded to the NME ad but as spring turned to summer we had recruited a rhythm player through the college. We were also expanding out repertoire a little with a nod to contemporary music
‘Oh Bondage up Yours’ was, briefly, one of the best punk singles by, briefly, one of the best punk bands. The backing was pretty basic stuff, as we were to discover when we covered it. A mixture of the Pistols and the Ramones, pretty powerful and to the point. As was often the case with punk X-Ray Specs were significant for more than music. Firstly they had yet another of rock’s new breed of musician Lora Logic on saxophone. People often assume the sax is an easy instrument to play but like the violin it takes a lot to get the tone and pitching right. David Bowie always had a naive sound when he played the instrument which is one reason I live his playing. Similarly Lora was no John Coltrane but her playing lifted X-Ray Spex out of the musical gutter.
The jewel in the crown though was the singer Poly Styrene (surprisingly not her real name which was Marion). Her voice was enough to make you pay attention ‘powerful enough to drill holes in sheet metal’. Also striking was her appearance, dual heritage (almost certainly called half caste in the 70’s), Styrene wore braces and made no concessions to femininity. She also experienced mental health problems before it was accepted or understood which probably worked against her long-term career. Logic’s age worked against her’s and she was soon to leave the band to go back into education.
Back in Norwich on a lovely spring day the Aerials were doing their own version, not that good to be honest as we lacked the logic factor. We would rehearse in Simon’s flat and as it was warm the windows were open. The next thing we knew, in the street outside was a Green Goddess fire engine. Among the strikers that year had been the firefighters. Not having the rubbish taken away was one thing but having your house burn down was an altogether more serious matter. For this reason, the Labour Government had literally brought in the troops. The Green Goddess was a formidable vehicle and it was staffed by soldiers. The army was literally on the streets of Norwich, we showed our opposition to military rule by play ‘Oh Bondage’ as aggressively as we could. The army were no match, after checking there wasn’t actually a fire they left, no doubt quaking in their boots.
And so, ended my punkiest of punk moments.


The Aerials didn’t last long, I don’t know what happened, one moment we were a band then we were gone, it all seemed fairly amicable, I didn’t have a band, soon I wouldn’t have a girlfriend and school would be out for the summer, I decided I would  need to find a job.

Poly Styrene died of cancer seven years ago at the age of 53

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Danny Kirwin is Missing

‘Thank you, Danny Kirwan, you will forever be missed’
Mick Fleetwood via Facebook

As ever, with my eye for a bargain, I recently purchased a 5 CD set of Fleetwood Mac. There is always something fascinating about a band’s wilderness years. They are usual a barren time for a reason, often because times have shifted and the band has fallen out of fashion but it might be something darker, drugs, mental health or general bad vibes. For Fleetwood Mac at the beginning of the 70’s it was all of these things.
The band’s first post Peter Green effort was a terrible mess largely thanks to Jeremy Spencer a man capable of an impressive Elmore James impersonation and very little else. In the early days of Fleetwood Mac Spencer was a vital part of the magic with songs by Elmore James and his rock and roll parodies being an essential part of the stage show. After a couple of records Green realised that Spencer was not exactly the music foil that was going to support his career long term, he needed someone who would at least change his guitar strings occasionally and knew more than 3 chords.
Enter the 18-year-old Danny Kirwan.
Kirwan was young, keen and talented, a much better match for Green who was to go on to some of his best works like ‘Oh Well’ and ‘Albatross’, on the former tune Spencer was reduced to the roll of maraca player and subsequent live shows veered between Green’s increasingly sophisticated songs and more Elmore James numbers.
The burn out of Green has been well documented and the three-guitar line up became a two-guitar line up. The main redeeming features of their next album Kiln House were a couple of songs by Danny Kirwan, it wasn’t enough but it was a start.
With Spencer leaving to join the Children of God (he was replaced for a tour by Peter Green) the weight of Fleetwood Mac legacy began to weigh more heavily on young Danny.
I have always considered out of all the victims of that godforsaken band it is Danny Kirwan who is the most tragic. A few years back with the aid of the internet I set out to find where he was and what had happened to him. I pretty much drew a blank.
By 1972 Kirwan was in deep trouble, he was drinking heavily and becoming more withdrawn and unapproachable. Being in a band and drinking more than John McVIe should have served as a warning in itself but Kirwin was just becoming more isolated and it got to the stage where only Mick Fleetwood was willing to travel with him. It all unravelled one night when Kirwin got into an argument with newest member Bob Welch. In an dispute over tuning Kirwan totally lost it, smashing his head against the wall and then demolishing the dressing room with his beloved Les Paul. With this meltdown Kirwan consigned himself to history. He failed to make the stage and the band struggled on through a set with Welch covering all guitars. Kirwan might have survived for a while had he stormed into the night but instead he watched from the sound desk and afterwards offered an unwanted critique of the performance which was the final straw. Fleetwood went to his hotel and sacked him.
Amazingly Kirwan’s stock was high enough for him to make 3 solo albums on the back of once being in a band that was seen as a challenge to the Beatles but then that was it…for ever.
It seems quite amazing that in this day and age people can disappear but that was virtually the fate of Danny Kirwan, there followed 40 years of drinking, homelessness and mental health problems. There hasn’t been a picture of him for all that time, I think the one at the top of this article is the most recent. At some point a journalist tracked him down in homeless accommodation in London where for the price of a few Special Brews Kirwan was willing to give a short interview. He said that being homeless was OK, he had been effectively homeless for most of his life. He had left any trace of showbizness well behind. Another YouTube clip showed him making a cameo appearance with his new brew crew friends in a London pub, Kirwan had effectively become a street drinker. The last trace of Danny Kirwan I could find was a report when he reached 50 and was in relatively good health and was at least keeping a guitar in his room again.
The wilderness years Fleetwood Mac records are pretty unobtainable either as CD’s or streaming unless, like me you bought them as a set (only £10 folks) *
And as I drove around the Nottinghamshire Countryside listening to Kiln House or Future Games or Bare Trees I was wondering again if Danny Kirwan was still with us. I don’t know what the life expectancy of a street drinker is but I assume it’s a lot nearer 48 than 68, it seemed possible that Kirwan was no longer with us, he had disappeared after all.
But now he is finally no longer with us. I assume that in some way the Mac organisation had links to him and so Mick Fleetwood broke the news. My theory is that Fleetwood’s a far better guy than people give him credit for but his tribute seems out of tune. ‘Much missed’, by whom exactly? Its possible that Kirwan died in his country cottage surrounded by loved ones. Despite his assertion that he had been homeless for much of his life he had once had shares in a beautiful country house in Hampshire where he lived with the other band members as well as his own wife and child, it was a far cry from the streets of London. I really hope he found peace but his death is only really a loss to those who really knew him, the rest of us lost him 40 years ago.
But all of a sudden, tributes are everywhere not least among my fellow bloggers, it seems I wasn’t the only one who cared about Danny Kirwan after all.
His legacy is a slim but curious one. There was no doubt he was a very talented guitarist and a very tuneful guy (too tuneful, hence the fateful fight with Bob Welch) but he was quite a diffident singer and some of his songs are gossamer thin, hence a preference for instrumentals. He did however give birth to a quite unique body of work which is lost amidst the constant ‘songbird’ reworkings of Christine McVie and the professional rocking out of Bob Welch. Take Kirwan’s songs on their own and you have a muscular indie rock sound that’s earlier 90’s than early 70’s.
With a lack of liner notes its hard to make definite recommendations without making the terrible mistake or recommending a Bob Welch track by mistake and making a total laughing stock of myself but I will stick my neck out and recommend ‘Sands of Time’ from Future Games which sounds like Midlake who themselves were influenced by The Mac.
And a final recommendation ‘Dust’ from Bare Trees, Kirwan was never that good with lyrics so the words are by Rupert Brooke but it’s a fine end to his time with Fleetwood Mac.
Remember him this way

*or so I had thought, they are now on Spotify

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The Creation of Alvin Stardust

In December 1959 TV producer Jack Good went to the airport to meet American rock and roll star Gene Vincent with a view to putting him on his show. Good was met by a casually dressed quiet spoken polite individual. This was a bit of a let down for Good. Vincent seemed too nice, too normal.

In retrospect this seems quite improbable, Vincent was in a lot of pain following a motor cycle accident which had crushed his leg, he was prone to drink heavily and relied on pain killers of the opiate variety. This was a man who actually tried to shoot Gary Glitter a few years later. Still maybe he had had a good flight over.

Good took Vincent away and did one of rock’s first makeovers on him. Vincent emerged as a kind of rock and roll Richard III. Hunched over a microphone dressed in black leather, a medallion and, most significantly for the purposes of this story, black gloves. Clad in this style he went on to make an impression on audiences in Britain and the continent.

Fast forward to 1972, the golden years of glam rock are about to commence. Peter Shelley ( no not the guy with Buzzcocks) has written and recorded a record. ‘ My Coo Ca Choo’ has lyrics that could have been written by a 6 year old but its shiny piece of glam boogie and too good to waste. It’s future is helped by the fact that Shelley has co founded Magnet records so he’s effectively got a record deal already. Strangely, unlike 99% of the rest of the population Shelley does not fancy poncing about on Top of the Pops so he holds auditions with business partner Michael Levy to find a singer who can front the record.

Day one of auditions a blond 31 year old man turns up stating he is Shane Fenton who had a small career in the early 60’s. Shelley and Levy liked Mr Fenton but were looking for someone a bit ‘moodier’. Day two Fenton turns up with died black hair, black leather, clunky jewellery and , most important for the purposes of this story, a black leather glove. He got the job.

Within days Fenton was christened Alvin Stardust and was miming his way to No1 with a song he didn’t even sing on.

He had already had a bizarre life. Born Bernard Jewry, he had spent most of his life growing up in Mansfield Notts, theres a lot I could say about Mansfield, I know it quite well but suffice to say it will never be referred to as the Athens of the Midlands. It does however appear that he was not typical of that fair town. His parents owned a large house and rented out rooms to travelling actors and musicians, young Bernard went to the prestigious Southwell Minster School and his stage debut was in pantomime.

In the early 60’s he was helping out a bunch of unknown teenagers called Shane Fenton and the Fentones. They had just mailed a demo tape to the BBC when unfortunately their lead singer Johnny Theakstone died. The band were devastated, he was only 17 years old after all. Not surprisingly the band gave up only to receive a letter stating the BBC had liked their tape and invited them to London to audition. Johnny’s mother gave them her blessing. Their ex roadie took on the role of Shane Fenton the band passed the audition and ended up with a contract from Parlophone records with sustained the band for a couple of years.

Somehow during this period Jewry/Fenton had infiltrated the Liverpool scene, eventually marrying Iris Caldwell, sister of Liverpool legend Rory Storm and ex girlfriend of at least two Beatles. In fact John Lennon later commented on Stardust’s success ‘I’m so glad for Shane, he really deserves this success, he’s a great bloke and performer’

And great bloke he was. His career continued in acting, musical theatre and the odd record until his death three years ago. As befits a man who seemed willing to swap names to maintain a career he never stuck to one form of music. This meant he was never out of work but he wasn’t superstar material. I last saw him on TV, looking about 10 years older then he did in the 70’s(the names changed, the face remained the same) ,he was talking about a crappy old acoustic guitar he owned which had actually been signed by all sorts of famous people such as the Beatles and even Buddy Holly who Jewry/Fenton/Stardust had run into in the course of his career. The guitar was spectacular in it’s crapness but worth a small fortune and yet again he had the last laugh.

alvins guitar

Here’s his second hit and one that actually features his vocal .

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Unsung Hero’s Harvey Hinsley

A constant source of amazement to me, this is by far my most visited post . Hot chocolate appear to be more loved than the sex pistols,yes,the clash or even gentle giant.

harvey hinsley

In the 1960’s forming a multi racial band in Britain was still considered pretty risky. We’d had The Equals which if you listen to Ken Bruce’s ‘Pop Master’ you know this was the band that launched Eddie Grant to pop stardom but even the name suggests that this was something to make a big deal about.

Hot Chocolate were not only multi racial they were good and successful. Starting off at the end of the 60’s they had a minor brush with fame when they covered Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ which got them signed to Apple Records but as the Beatles were about to dissolve this was a mixed blessing. As you can hear they are a very different band here

In the early days they were a bit happy clappy, the band revolved around not only suave shaven headed man Erroll Brown but also bass player Tony Wilson who not only provided the band’s material but also wrote for others such as Herman,s Hermits and Mary Hopkin.The first couple of years were a bit hit and miss and the band only really hit their stride with the introduction of guitarist Harvey Hinsley and drummer Tony Connor both rock rather than soul or disco players.

I had a soft spot for Hot Chocolate in the early days as they were one of the few bands I can remember playing live on television probably, I suspect, on some kids show. One of the tracks they performed was ‘Cicero Park’, a slightly gloomy ecology song and the title track of their first album. The singles around this time were ‘Emma’, a dead girlfriend song and ‘Brother Louie’ which was about racial intolerance, for me they were like a British version of the American group War.

The thing I really liked were Hinsley’s guitar line’s, not solos but hooks which were an integral part of the song. If you listen to a lot of the band’s material there’s not a lot going on musically, the band (especially after the departure of Wilson) tended to form songs out of jams which means they are high on grove but relatively low on melody and chords. If you sat down and played a lot of Hot Chocolate’s songs on an acoustic guitar the weakness of the material becomes apparent. Nothing wrong with that of course, it never bothered James Brown but this does show just how important Hinsley’s contributions are.

Hinsley was a rock player of some pedigree. An old mate of Chas (and Dave) Hodges, he joined the latters band The Outlaws, replacing Richie Blackmore in their dying days. He then later rejoined Hodges in The Rebel Rousers, in effect replacing Cliff Bennett in the band. He came to Wilson and Browns attention through his session work where again he was part of a pool of musicians including the nascent Chas and Dave backing a variety of artists such as Labi Siffri.

Hinsley brought his Gibson SG to the band, this is the guitar that Angus Young plays, its not a disco or soul guitar but Hinsley made it it work. Actually, on his first outing he’s opted to play a bouzouki type line on a telecaster but lets listen to it again, its a great song and allegedly has a spoken part by the late Alexis Korner

With ‘Emma’ the band had really hit their stride. Another dark and paranoid song with some terrific screaming by Brown at the the end and now present and correct we have the Hinsley guitar line

And then their biggest hit much loved of unemployed steelworkers and mums and dads at the wedding reception. ‘Sexy Thing ‘is a great record and another example of the melodic genius of Hinsley’s playing

And the blueprint was set, Wilson left and the band became adept at creating pop/disco records, drummer Connor would never have to learn another drum part.

Hinsley’s greatest achievement  was to be a couple of years in the future though. On ‘Every 1’s a Winner’ Hinsley’s guitar line, played though a synthesiser, serves as the hook and the chorus

The band went on to have plenty of hits and experimented with other styles as bit but if I went to a Hot Chocolate gig these are the tracks I would want to hear. By the time of hits like ‘it Started with a Kiss’ and ‘No Doubt About it’ they had moved a long war from any comparisons with War.

And in a strange twist of fate going to a Hot Chocolate gig is a possibility. Despite being the only black guy in the 70’s with a shaved head who wasn’t  Isaac Hayes, Brown was a conservative character, quite literally one of the few pop stars who was willing to endorse the conservative party (he was rewarded an MBE) He left the band in 1986 and made a couple of solo records and continued to be a popular draw with women of a certain age.He died earlier this year of Liver Cancer.

Hinsley, Connor and Bass player Oliver continued as Hot Chocolate despite the fact that for many people the band was Erroll Brown. So a couple of vocalists down the line the new singer is Greg Bannis who has spent most of his life as an Erroll Brown impersonator and in effect the band look and sound just like Hot Chocolate always did.

Probably not what Brown had in mind when he went to Apple HQ in 1979 to ask Lennon if he could record his song.

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Nic Jones, Annarchie Gordon

This could be my least loved post, not helped I’m sure by me originally titling it ‘ Annarchie Gordon ‘ which means naff all to everyone( well almost). By way of a postscript I found a tape I had made of ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’ and I had great plans to digitalise the great man’s work and at last put his version of Annarchie Gordon on YouTube . Alas, after years of neglect my cassette player refused to be coaxed into life. Having developed an interest in Chess in the last couple of years I think it is time to question whether the Noah’s Ark Trap even exists as a thing, I have never heard of it.

And so ladies and gentlemen……the great Nic Jones!

‘There are those who’d have you keep

Folk songs for the sheep

I shared such an aspersion

Until I heard a version of a ballard by the name of Annarchie Gordon

By one Nic Jones

John Peel it was who brought me to ken

The ligering longing in the wavering tones

Over intricate patterns of the fingering bones

Since when many folk songs have moistened my eye

And I can see why

The Morris Dancer sports a spare hanky’

‘An Introduction to Folk’ by John Hegley

In the early 1980’s finding myself with very little money but plenty of time I discovered the delights of Nottingham library’s limited but adequate supply of Jazz and Folk vinyl. I knew the name Nic Jones, presumably, like Hegly from the John Peel Show and hence The Noah’s Ark Trap became mine for the duration of 7 days.

Jones had a formidable guitar technique, the only person I could really compare him with was Martin Carthy but vocally and musically Jones seemed to have a lighter touch which made him more acceptable to my ears, the ‘folk’ tag was arbitary, there was something quite contemporary about Nic Jones. Perhaps this is less surprising considering the fact that the album had been recorded in 1977, in the year of punk Jones was touring the folk clubs as if nothing had happened which as far as he was concerned was probably true.

And thats one of the great things about folk, at a time when other established artists were deciding whether to get their hair cut or take in their flares or to start writing songs that were under three minutes long Jones was prettty much doing the same thing without acknowledging fashion for the duration of the decade. Over five albums from 1970 to 1980 his playing became a little more muscular and the additional musicians a little more prominent buts there’s not a lot to separate each of them.

The Noah’s Ark Trap sat in the middle of the quintet and made a lasting impression on me especially the aforementioned Annarchie Gordan. A tragic tale of forced marriage and death but with a lovely vocal performance with guitar accompaniment which was almost funky.

With that sort of build up you are probably salivating at the prospect of hearing the song performed by the master.

Well you cant.

Amazingly in the days of YouTube Amazon and Spotify this is probably the only track that you cant hear on the internet. The only way you can hear it is to find someone who has a copy of the Noah’s Ark Trap and ask them nicely to play it to you. Most of Jones’s output has never been re released, in fact the only one that is freely available is Penguin Eggs which is a fine album (it was voted the second best folk album of all time by listeners on the Mike Harding Show) but the lack of availability of his other records is a disgrace only to those who have heard of Nic Jones; and now that includes you.

So here is Mary Black instead, its fine but….well its not Nic.

And here is a track that found it’s way onto YouTube

No one makes it rich from Folk and Jones was always working, criss crossing the country playing clubs. He located to Cambridgeshire to make travelling the country reasonably easy with the possibility of getting home after a gig. Almost  home after a gig in Derbyshire his car hit a lorry carrying bricks.

And that was the end of his career.1982 Almost every bone in his body was broken, some of his teeth ended up in his lungs,The artist known as Nic Jones was no more but the man survived and his reputation grew in his absence.

And Nic Jones is still with us today, maybe unlike Peter Bellamy he was spared the despair of falling out of fashion or having to play the same clubs for the next 30 years.

Here he is with Kate Rusby

Time to find that spare hanky

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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 !

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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.

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