Trouble in the World

My musings on the tragic career of the Only Ones awakened a memory of a single I had thankfully forgotten, until now.
1980, thanks to a student grant I had enough money to buy singles and the Only Ones had a new release. I was still pretty excited about the band, their previous album had been one of my all-time favourites, I bought the record without previously hearing it.
It was ‘Trouble in the World’

I while back I gave some advice to bands about how not to make a terrible record (no need to thank me guys)

The Only Ones had already broken one of the rules by becoming more interested in drugs than the music itself. They had become a little sloppy in their focus, and when that happens there was always someone willing to take over.
Record company CBS where now getting seriously worried about the lack of return on their investment. Peter Perrett might look like Andy Gibb on drugs but the expected record sales where not happening. In the 70’s, until time when recorded music became almost valueless, a company would sign a band they loved and then proceed to change them into something else. The first warning sign was usually the dodgy cover version, then it was time to bring in the producer.

Colin Thurston was brought in to produce the album Baby’s got a Gun. To be fair he didn’t do a bad job on most of that but his previous record had been Second Hand Daylight by Magazine which had announced keyboards where back in town. For some reason someone somewhere had decided that the thing that had been holding the Only Ones back was a lack of state of the art keyboard frippery.
Something was wrong from the first bars where drummer Mike Kellie was forced to keep a four to the floor disco beat but this was compounded in a matter of Nano seconds by the introduction of keys.
There’s a problem with technology, it might sound great when it first comes out but within a couple of years it sounds terrible, it might possibly sound retro and great again but that could take years. The Only Ones were a classic rock band with great drum and guitars and bass. On this recording John Perry is allowed one bent note just to show he hadn’t disappeared completely. The rest is a record that declares it is from 1980, it was shit then, it hasn’t aged well either.
Naturally the fans of the band liked the band because of the sound they made, if you are going to change the sound you had better be confident lots of new people will like it because the old fans won’t.
But there was worse
By the chorus the nasal Tones of Perrett had been joined by what could only be described as ‘girlie vocals’ in a call and response episode. I’m sure by this time most of the blood had drained from my face such was the horror. Occasionally I would play the single again just to check it hadn’t been a trick of my mind but every time the experience was just as horrible. It’s not a bad song but it’s a bad record which, of course, did the band no favours at all.
It’s a familiar story, occasionally it works for a band, Simple Minds were transformed by agreeing to cover ‘Don’t You Forget about Me’ which transformed their fortunes and their credibility. Billy Bragg was subject to a significant record company investment around the time of ‘Sexuality’ which made no difference to his album sales whatsoever. More often this is the last ditch for a band, the change of direction just alienates everyone.
It took record companies a long time to learn their lesson. Eventually music became so financially worthless they have let anyone with a following just get on with it, or they sign artists on the musical equivalent of a zero hours contract and sack them at the first sign of faltering income.
In retrospect it started my disillusionment with the star maker machinery and heralded the start of the 80’s (there had been a phoney war since 1978 but now shots were being fired on anger). Colin Thurston was ready to embrace the new age to the point where he produced ‘Rio’ for Duran Duran.
It was going to take a while for rock to come back into fashion, critics were sharpening their knives for the band and were suggesting Perrett would be a lot better off without the thumping drums and Perry’s fluid guitar. Luckily, by the time the band limped to a halt Perrett was in no shape for any musical adventures.
Anyway, make up your own minds, do let me know what you think, dud or forgotten classic ?




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More Junkie Business with the Only Ones

1997 a boy child is born.
My wife and me were pretty smug. We already had a daughter, now we had the full set. The new arrival appeared healthy and happy, quite a bundle of fun.
There are those who will tell you that the more children you have the easier it is, it’s not true, having two was more like having 40. There was also the issue that, unlike my daughter who had settled into a routine after 6 months, my son didn’t sleep through the night AT ALL for two and a half years! The end of the 90’s passed in a state of semi psychosis, if there had been a world war during this period I would have missed it, luckily it did mean Britpop largely passed me by.
Naturally we got ourselves down to the doctors pretty pronto to put my name down for a vasectomy. The great day eventually came and I went for my first ever operation. I had no time for nerves, this was one of the best days of my life, I was off work and I had no childcare responsibilities. Anyone who has had young children will appreciate the sheer bliss that exists from being without them for a while, my op seemed to be delayed but I was happy, just me, a bed, a hospital gown, and a good book.
My chosen reading matter was Nina Antonia’s biography of Peter Perrett. I had bought this from a proper bookshop and it had cost me a bit. Pre internet (in my house anyway) there was precious little information to be had on anyone who was not fit to grace Q magazine, who seemed to feature Pink Floyd every week anyway . Perrett had effectively been missing for over 15 years, I wanted to find out where he was.
Perrett’s band the Only Ones had been huge favourites of mine in the post punk years. I had seen their 12 inch single ‘Lovers of Today’ in the window of a Norwich record shop and had been impressed at how guitarist John Perry seemed to be wearing some sort of body stocking which I would subsequently realise would make him look rather like a character from the comedy series ‘Little Britain’. This was, in fact to prove to be one of the all-time great singles of the 70’s but it wasn’t until their first album that the public in general started to pay any attention. Journalist Nick Kent was an enthusiastic supporter and once you had made the NME the world was your Lobster.

lovers of today
The Only One’s were a rock band. They were a bit older (but not that much) than the punks. Perrett was from South London where he was rubbing shoulders with the nascent Squeeze. He had previously fronted England’s Glory who achieved enough interest to record some demo’s but nothing else. What was notable about the band from the press’s point of view was how good Perrett was at aping Lou Reed. Strange to imagine now, but Reed was a huge musical and cultural influence in the mid to early 70’s. If you liked Lou Reed you were probably OK.
Post England’s Glory Perrett recruited John Perry to play Bass. The reason for this is he had Squeeze’s Glen Tilbrook along to play lead guitar. Tilbrook always comes across as a nice, well balanced chap (and a very underrated guitarist), naturally he didn’t last, Perry took over on lead guitar.
For the rhythm section Perrett further signalled that the band would be filed under ‘Rock’. On drums was Mike Kellie, a seasoned professional who had started with 60’s band Spooky Tooth and more recently had backed France’s only rock and roll star Johnny Halliday. The Bass player was even more 60’s. Alan Mair had been in a band that really were the Scottish Beatles. Pre the internet age it was possible to be huge in Scotland yet unknown south of Carlisle. The Beatstalkers were massive, playing to screaming teenagers in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen (probably). The population of Scotland is not enough to sustain a career however and Mair had been running a clothing stall in a London Market where at one point he employed no less than Freddie Mercury.
Band in place the Only Ones followed the typical rock trajectory of playing everywhere with the hope of getting signed to a big label. CBS took them on and their slide into obscurity began.
Their first LP cunningly called ‘The Only Ones’ was a bit of a gem despite the useless 60’s cover. The whole appeal of the band was set from the opening track ‘The Whole of the Law’
I used to have the notion
I could swim the length of the Ocean
If a knew you were waiting for me
Yes it’s pretty much 50’s pop pap but the group invest the song with such a sense of opiated beauty the lyrics are almost immaterial, it’s another of those songs that is greater than the sum of it’s parts, wrapped up by a pre Baker Street sax solo from Raphael Ravenscroft.
And that’s pretty much the appeal of the Only Ones, simple lyrics with the odd twist to catch the attention, simple (but not too simple) chord sequences and some shit hot playing. Every now and again the band would approximate a punky thrash a bit like Chrissy Hynde would trot out with the Pretenders which was ok but they weren’t the Clash. The band were also at risk of drifting over completely into rock, Kellie had a cowbell and was going to use it. Closing side one is rock epic The Beast where Perrett seems to have put in a bit of work on the lyrics spinning a tale of the Beast for which it’s pretty to read addiction.
Run from the Beast,
There’s danger in his eyes
He’s been looking for you, for a long time.
The Only One’s debut is also noteworthy for that other drug song (there’s only 10 on the record), ‘Another Girl Another Planet’. This track has just about eclipsed everything else the band did. That’s a terrific shame, it’s a great song but the band are about so much more. Suffice to say though, if Perrett had heard the Vibrators ‘Whips and Furs’ at this point he might owe someone some money.
Another year of tours and another album. ‘Even Serpents Shine’ was, if anything a better record, perhaps less highs but more constancy, it sounded like an album. Produced by Perrett and Mair the band had recruited Who Keyboard player ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick to fill the gaps and Perrett had come up with some of his best material including the beautiful ‘In Betweens’.
The cracks were beginning to show though ‘Out There in the Night’ is a sugary concoction apparently written after Perret went search for his cat (really!). It was released as a single and the vultures began to gather.
Later that year I saw the band for the first time. It was at the Glastonbury Festival, a ramshackle affair which was demonstrated that during a blistering set they blew the Sound system twice. On the second occasion Perry lit an enormous joint and waved us goodbye.
The band had two problems which were entwined. The first was Perrett himself. A completely spoiled bastard, Perrett was used to being the centre of attention and his needs came first. The rather touching exception to this is his long term relationship with his wife Zena Kakoulli whom he had married when they were both teenagers. Kakoulli over time was to become his backing vocalist, manager and carer in a relationship that endured against the odds. Apart from that it was Peter’s world. Perrett was as sharp as knife, he was an accomplished poker player, he was an even better drug dealer, he liked to pit his wits against anyone who wanted to take him on, and win . The second problem of course were that the drugs were slowly taking over. Mair was occupying the Roger Daltrey role in the band while the rest of the band were slowly unravelling. Rather than running from the beast Perrett had pretty much invited it in for a saucer of milk. There was something slightly unpleasant in the band’s world of drugs though. The likes of Ronnie Wood could sustain a party vibe whatever the substances but the Only Ones just seemed to become more elite distant, unpleasant and selfish.
Added to these difficulties was the fact that he band were not selling what CBS thought they should be and when drugs become more important than the music the record company takes over. The band’s final record ‘Baby’s Got a Gun’ was a huge disappointment to me and everyone else, there’s a duet with Pauline from Penetration with SINGLE stamped across it. There is even a track on which Perrett doesn’t sing (and it’s not the worst track on the album).
There was inevitably the drug fuelled tour of America where Perrett deliberately drove his car into a parking attendant, the band had to run and that was the end of the Only Ones.
Perrett spent the next couple of decades holed up on the house his parents had left him. He made a solo album but never followed it up. His other activities began to catch up with him. The house was extensively fortified to prevent attacks of police raids. The family might have to decamp at short notice. John Perry reported visiting Perrett week after week where it appeared the latter had not changed clothes or even moved position, their life had become an even more joyless version of the film Performance.
Time is a great healer, if you can live long enough, and in 2005 Mair had persuaded the band they could reunite. I went to see them at a local venue, disappointingly a smaller one to the one originally booked. I wanted to grab passers by and point out one of the greatest bands of all times was about to perform, I genuinely did not understand why everyone did not want to see the Only Ones one more time. As the band opened with ‘Lovers of Today’ it was simply magnificent, I had to wipe away a tear.
That was until Perret started singing. His voice had shot up an octave. Suspiciously he was blowing his nose a lot, also despite the hair dye, false teeth and enormous shades here was a wizened man. The rest od the band had aged pretty well but Perrett had shrunk in every respect, even his guitar seemed too big for him. I have to say that despite that it was a great gig but that was almost in spite of Perrett rather than due to him. It was a bit like a Brian Wilson concert were the music is sublime but the artist is not, you can’t have one without the other but really you wouldn’t care too much if you couldn’t hear Wilson singing or if he never plonked another note on his piano.
Again, the band fell apart, there was a suspicion that Perrett was still up to his old ways which might include taking the Lion’s share of the money. It appears that he did, at some point, stop heroin but fell straight into crack use (who could have seen that coming). Zena, after years of providing for her husband had also fallen deeply into drug use. Today apparently, they both have COPD, basically an incurable lung disease as a result of too much smoking of just about everything
It’s weird how time changes us. Not long after their ‘comeback’ I re read the Nina Antonia book. At this point I had had over 10 years of being a parent, I had also had over 10 years’ experience of working in the alcohol and drugs field, I was a different person.

I re-read about how the couple had had two sons who, thanks to Zena, they were able to raise in their fortress house visited by dealers. Eventually Social Services were involved, perhaps it was not right to grow up in this environment, perhaps it was wrong to have to wake the kids in the night to move them somewhere safer on occasions, and perhaps it was right that social services should investigate the safety of the two boys. In the end of course, nothing happened. The two boys are now men, musicians themselves and unsurprisingly they have had their own issues with addiction, hopefully they have all come through it now. But what had chilled me, which I had missed the first time round was Perrett saying that while they were under investigation he had obtained the address of the Worker ‘just in case’ she tried to have them removed.
I realised that I had just about had enough of wasted Junkie glamour bollocks. Every Junkie is someone’s father or son or brother or sister and it’s the 3rd parties who are the real victims, drug takings pretty selfish and I had had enough of it.
Naturally I should have thrown all my Only Ones memorabilia away in a grand gesture. I did sell the book on Amazon, it was still pretty hard to get hold of and worth a couple of quid. The music was harder to forget. The best record the band ever made is probably The Peel sessions CD where you can hear the band virtually live, even the ‘Baby’s Got a Gun’ material sounds pretty good.
I’ve still got that CD and yes, they were one hell of a band.

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‘So Alone’ The Junkie Class of 78

Whatever our attitude to drugs was in the 70’s there was a general consensus that heroin was a bridge too far. We knew it killed people, Janis Joplin, Tim Buckley, the lead singer/guitarist of our favourite local band Meals had been found dead of an overdose. There was a kind of expectation that heroin would inevitable kill you and LSD would make you mad. It wasn’t exactly the truth but if it killed famous people it was likely to finish off us plebs.
There wasn’t a whole lot of older role models to suggest that heroin could be a long term thing and just one look at a dried up junkie like William Burroughs was enough to act as a deterrent.
One the other hand I have always had a weakness for Junkie music. It started with the Velvet Underground through to the Only Ones, even extending as far as the opiated cocoon of Spaceman 3. I don’t know what it is about heroin music that I like, perhaps it’s the constant underachievement that renders Junkie bands relatively unmarketable. You just know that at any point it could just fall apart. It makes there music kind of genuine.
And so it was probably no surprise that in 1978 I became the owner of So Alone, the first and best LP by Johnny Thunders.

johnny thunders
Despite his best intentions Thunders had become punk royalty. He was old enough (26) to have been part of a different generation which had given him a bit of a head start, learning to play guitar in time to join the New York Dolls. This was probably very fortunate as by 1973 Thunders had developed about as far musically as he ever would.
A very significant reason for this was the death in London of the bands first drummer Billy Murcia. Portentously Murcia died when friends asphyxiated him trying to help him recover from an overdose. It was a death that was probably totally avoidable, these were naïve times. Murcia’s replacement was Jerry Nolan, a significantly older guy who became a father figure to Thunders. Unfortunately new dad was an enthusiastic heroin user and very soon Thunders was also hooked.
Unable to fully integrate their interests into the Dolls Nolan and Thunders were first to leave and eventually settled on their own band the Heartbreakers. The band landed in Britain at the end of 1976 like a bunch of latter day GIs. Underpaid under sexed and over here. Instead of nylons and chewing gum they had brought heroin, and Nancy Spurgeon. These were to have catastrophic consequences. Ever since Charlie Parker there has been a confusion between lifestyle and talent. Parker was talented because he had practised a phenomenal amount of hours but there were plenty of lesser players who thought that by copying Parker’s heroin habit rather than his practice regime they would attain his skills. In 70’s Britain New York was as exotic as Mars, these new creatures had landed with their strange ways. Certainly post 76 Heroin started to make its presence felt, certainly among the new generation of musicians in London.
The Heartbreakers managed to shoot themselves in the foot fairly quickly by failing to translate the power of their live performances to vinyl. Quite whose fault it was that their LP LAMF was such a muddy damp squib still rages (it was Nolan !) but one can’t help but feel that if they had all been a bit more together it might have turned out a bit better.
And so, the Heartbreakers were no more but Thunders was still a contender hence his solo record So Alone. And there’s Junkie John on the cover looking all alone and vulnerable bless. The irony being that a Junkie never have to be alone because around the corner there’s a whole lot of potential mates just like them. Thunders has accumulated a load of ‘heavy’ friends many of whom were unaccountably between jobs. Steve Jones, post pistols had been dabbling in the strong stuff, his old mate Paul Cook was along for the ride as was their new best friend Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. The three of them would soon be recording an uninspired Christmas Single before the year was out, there was a feeling they were coasting a bit, a suspicion that would continue for the next decade or so. Steve Marriott was also present post half arsed reformation attempt of the Small Faces and he was joined by a couple of the Heartbreakers similarly at a loose end. The only people who potentially had a bright future were Peter Perrett and Mike Kellie from the Only Ones; let’s just say they were there for a reason.
Musically it was a mixed bag, Thunders tastes are strictly retro, he hadn’t exactly been burning the midnight oil on the songwriting front but he had come up with something, namely ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Round a Memory’, possibly his best song, poor Johnny, he’s so alone. In fact, Thunders had another song ‘Leave me Alone’ at the end of side 1, there’s a theme developing here! Thunder’s other new contributions were ‘London Boys’ a ranty put down of Johnny Rotten, written in Heartbreaker days , ‘Downtown’ a bluesy groove and ‘Ask Me no Questions which sounds like it took more than 10 minutes to put together thanks to Peter Perrett’s contribution. Finally, there was (She’s So) Untouchable. The sort of song the Stones would start to write in the 80’s which is enlivened to Baker Street proportions by the sax of John “Irish” Earle (who was to do the same thing on ‘Dancing In the Moonlight’ by the aforementioned Lizzy).
With a fairly slim selection of songs there’s space for some covers which actually are the most fun. ‘Give Her a Great Big Kiss’ is the old (i.e. about 15 years previously) Shangri La’s Number. ‘Daddy Rollin Stone’ is a similar pub standard which is great until Steve Marriott starts showing off and ‘Subway Train’ is a recut of a Dolls song complete with sloppy out of tune guitar and Chrissie Hynde on backing vocals.
It sounds like a mess, and it is but I still have a soft spot for the record. Thunders wasn’t a great guitarist or singer but he was great at being Johnny Thunders. The opening track is the instrumental ‘Pipeline’ a tune so simple even I can play it but in the hands of Thunders and the Sex Pistol boys it is a pretty exhilarating noise. On ‘Daddy Rollin Stone’ his whiney sneer completely obliterates Marriott’s soul stylings (Lynott is effortlessly cool on the middle verse). It’s on the covers that you feel that thunders can relax and enjoy himself, there’s more joy on show than you would expect from a bunch of smacked up punks. Producer Steve Lillywhite deserves a lot of credit for shaping what must have been chaotic sessions into a coherent record.
This was the high-water mark for Thunder’s career, he had created a character from which he couldn’t escape. For the rest of his life he would be surrounded by people who wanted to take drugs with him or sell him drugs or use his drugs or watch him OD on stage. There was no way out,its impossible to write anything about Thunders for long without using the word Junkie, his musical legacy is a thin one.
Culturally his impact was more significant, I’m sure the likes of Marriott and Lynott had discovered heroin entirely independently of Thunders but ‘So Alone’ marked a coming together and a coming out of the London community of heroin using musicians. Inevitably it would have it’s consequences, the deaths of Lynott and Marriott, the wilderness years of Perrett and Steve Jones even more tragic was the fate of Heartbreaker’s guitarist Walter Lure who eventually became a stock broker. Heroin doesn’t have to be a life sentence but it certainly screws you up.

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When to Wear the Hat

It was Bobby Elliott who started it all. Elliot was drummer for Shane Fenton and the Fentones who I touched upon in my Alvin Stardust post a few months back. Elliott then joined Manchester band the Hollies just as they started to get hits. He’s a really cracking drummer far more so than the beat group styling of the Hollies would suggest but, if in doubt, just cop a listen to their first hit ‘Stay’ where Elliot is packing a fair punch. I’m sure if he’d have fallen in with Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck he would have come forward as one of the very best drummers of the 60’s but he’s stayed with the Hollies all his musical life and played with practically no one else. So reliable is Mr Elliott he’s also been married to bandmate Tony Hick’s sister for just about as long.
But this is about hats.
Elliott was losing his hair big time by his early 20’s, in fact you can date his appearances in the early days by the degree of his comb over. It soon became apparent that no amount of brylcreem would hide the issue indefinitely and so Elliot became the first one to wear the hat.
Initially it was quite a cool John Lennon cap, it looked good, but times move on and he adopted a wide brimmed piece of head gear, it looked like the sort of thing my mum would wear for a wedding but I assume that in 1966 it was quite hip, Keith Richards had been sporting a similar style for a while. I feel unreasonably sorry for Elliott during this period, it didn’t look an easy hat to wear, it had a wide brim and surely was prone to be dislodged at inopportune moments which was not what you wanted from a hat you had to wear. There was also the fact that although it hinted at Carnaby Street foppery the band were having to play cabaret dates in the late 60’s and Elliott had to wear the hat with a frilly shirt which again made him look like my mum at a wedding.

In a further twist, around the time of ‘he aint heavy he’s my brother’ Elliot emerged wearing a full wig as if to try and fool us he had been hiding a full head of hair all this time. I’ve never understood why people find wig wearing funny, it seems quite sensible to me but it must have been hot trying to drum in that mother.

bobby elliott with wig
As follicle related science has developed it’s a lot more possible for rock stars (and world leaders) not to be bald but for the musician strapped for case it’s always been a case of wearing the hat. As with every thing familiarity brings acceptance. We expect to see guitarist Richard Thompson with a beret jammed on his head, it’s been so long we’ve actually forgotten he is bald. Ditto Slash who is apparently sporting a fair bald patch although presumably he could afford some treatment unless he spends all his money on Marlborough’s. Pop down your local to see any bunch of old blokes on stage and note how the hat quota has rocketed, hats are cool thinning hair is not.
Believe it or not, there was a time when rock was a young man’s game apart from Bobby Elliot no one had to wear the hat. Roger Glover of Deep Purple grabbed a hat before hair loss became apparent, fellow bandmate Ritchie Blackmore did the same thing for a while but these days he appears to have more hair than ever, a man with 20 year old hair and a 70 year old face, I’m beginning to reconsider my position on wigs.

There are two acceptable ways to introduce the hat. The first is to dabble with it for a while, put it on, take it off. ‘Look’ this says ‘I don’t need to wear a hat, it’s my choice’. The trick with this approach is to time it so as soon as any thinning is visible the hat is firmly jammed on never to move again. It needs a lot of discipline but also raises the possibility of introducing a toupee by stealth and doing the reverse trick by using the hat less and less.
The other option, which is not always one of choice, is to disappear for a while and return with a hat. ‘Look’ this says ‘I’m back and I’ve chosen to wear this great new hat. The best example of this is Adam Ant who has not only returned with a striking new hat but is utilising the double protection of a bandana.
Speaking of which, lets just pay tribute to the number 1 70’s man with a hat. I speak of Miami Steve Van Zandt. A man so cool that he had a nickname but also a mysterious reason why he had to wear a hat (motorcycle accident scars-so terrible you wouldn’t want to see them honest). Van Zandt is so dedicated I have never seen him without some head covering. Wisely he seemed to have realised the risks with a broad brimmed titfer and has settled down to the more comfortable bandana. Even when he was in the Sopranos he was able to get away with what was almost a comedy wig. Mr Miami is one of those people who just looks so good on stage that it’s easy to forget he actually looks fairly ridiculous. I watched a clip of him being shown round a guitar factor a while back. Here was a tiny portly man in his 60’s wearing what appeared to be a suit made out of carpet, with matching hat naturally. Bet it would have looked great on stage though.

By way of ending lets have a favourite video which I can never use in a 70’s-based blog. It’s Mr Elliott again, great drummer and nice guy who I suspect never gave a shit about his hair (bet it was the manager’s idea) He’s looking very relaxed here.

Today, of course Bobby Elliott is wearing a flat cap in deference to his northern roots

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WHO Month-The Lonesome Death of Keith Moon

September 6th 1978. Paul McCartney held a midnight screening of The Buddy Holly story preceded by a celebrity studded meal at the Peppermint Park restaurant. McCartney now owned the rights to all Buddy Holly songs and was celebrating Holly’s birthday (Sept 7th)
Keith Moon was in attendance, although he had returned to Britain the previous year he had spent a lot of time in the studio and on holiday. Prior to that he had been holed up in Los Angeles and this was a chance to catch up with the London scene. By all accounts Moon was on good form, monopolising the top table with McCartney (both Linda and Paul) and strangely enough TV host David Frost. Moon didn’t appear particularly intoxicated, certainly not by 70’s muso standards. He appeared quite charming and told everyone who would listen how he planned to marry his new girlfriend Annette Walter Lax. Naturally Moon hadn’t discussed this with Walter Lax herself. We can assume he saw the film although its hard imagining the hyperactive Moon sitting through the whole showing.
Returning home (to Harry Nillson’s old flat) around 4.30 he took a handful (yes a handful!) of a sedative called Heminevrin and nodded off in front of a film. Waking at 7 he tried to wake a sleeping Annette to cook him some food. Finding her unresponsive he went and cooked himself a steak then washed some more Heminevrin down with some champagne.
And that was the end of Keith, Annette discovered his body at 4.30 pm

Just as a single event it’s a fascinating insight into what was actually a stable period in Moon’s life. The nocturnal lifestyle, the expectation your woman might spring out of bed to knock you up a meal at whatever time; and the cavalier attitude to drink and drugs.
I don’t really recall that much of a fuss at the time. The band had released their ‘Who are You’ album in the middle of punk. There was so much music going on at the time I needed a new Who album like I needed a Jethro Tull record. I never bothered to listen, in fact it was only during WHO MONTH! that I fired up Spotify for a listen..and what a stinker it is it is one of those rare records that probably sounded bad at the time and sounds just as bad now. The record had been fraught with problems from the keyboard player breaking his shoulder on the way to the studio to Townsend cutting his hands badly after a row with his parents (what a great night in that must have been). The most consistent problem however was Moon himself who seemed to be having difficulty playing drums. He could still go bamdiblamdiblam round the kit like the good old days but things like changing for the bridge and the chorus were alluding him, he needed a lot of supervision For one song (Bloody awful) ‘Guitar and Pen’ Moon had to sit out because he couldn’t get to grips with the 6/8 rhythm.
In short, he had become a liability Daltrey and Entwistle wanted him out of the band, Townsend got around the problem by announcing the Who would not be touring in the near future.
And so, the news that Moon was no more probably came as a shock but not a surprise to the surviving members, I cant help but feel sorry for Entwistle who took the fatal call in the middle of a press conference, returning to the fray he held it together until he asked what the band’s plans for the future were, The bass player broke down in tears, there were no plans, Keith Moon was dead.
It’s easy to dismiss Moon as something of a mercurial savant, a nutter, ‘moon the loon’ the crazy man hotel wrecker of rock. There’s also the darker equally relevant picture of a man who may well have been mentally ill, the man who broke his wife Kim’s nose on at least three occasions. When Kim eventually left and found solace with Ian McLagan Moon hired a heavy to break the Keyboard player’s fingers (Townsend found out and paid the heavy not to). Moon had probably killed his chauffer by driving over him, by the mid 70’s Moon’s carefree life was turning to shit and, most significantly he was heavily dependent on alcohol.
That’s another little snapshot of the 70’s. Mental illness and Addiction were recognised but treatment was in it’s infancy. Moon would occasionally disappear to a ‘health farm’ and come back looking healthier but that was about all the therapy he received. In London there were a plethora of private doctors who would be a lot more generous with their prescribing than your family GP. Moon had been to see a Dr Geoffrey Dymond who had prescribed the Heminevrin. It’s sometime reported that these pills were to ‘cure’ Moon’s ‘alcoholism’ which is nonsense Hemineverin are not used today as they are too dangerous but essentially, they are sedatives which act in a similar way to alcohol. This sort of treatment is usually only carried out in hospitals where everything can be closely supervised reducing the dose over a number of days. If you take a sedative drug with alcohol the risks or overdose are greatly increased. There’s an argument that Dr Dymond was a product of the time, we know better now. There is also a case that he was grossly irresponsible, certainly the Writer Nick Kent alleges that he went to the same Dr when trying to get off heroin, it was only when Kent felt ill did he check the pills and found they were antidepressants (rather than the anticipated opiates) of the same type which had recently led to Nick Drake’s fatal overdose.
There’s a very good case that Moon didn’t have to die that night, the coroner recorded an open verdict which meant they couldn’t make a decision on whether the death was accidental or suicidal. To be honest though the future didn’t look bright. His faithful chauffeur/butler/nurse had quit when things got too tough in LA. No one was really looking out for him now, when drinking heavily Moon would experience seizures on stopping, he was heavily dependent on alcohol, it’s possible he might have got his career back if had stopped drinking altogether but he was only 32 and he would have had the 80’s to get through, it would have been a hard slog.
But, imagine a world where Keith Moon had not existed.
Just play any 60’s Who song through in your head with a normal drum beat, it’s ok but at best it sounds like the Hollies at the worst it sounds like Freddie and the Dreamers. Not to underestimate Enwistle’s bass but it’s the drums that bring these songs alive. Although it’s easy to regard Moon as some sort of drumming freak of nature, he had only had a couple of lessons and he barely practiced, there’s a fully developed style from the first recordings. In the latter days Moon had a huge drumkit, rather than rolling around the kit he would move forwards and backwards almost like a skier. That requires a lot of energy but not loads of skill but if you go back to the My Generation LP there’s a proper drummer on display doing rolls and flams and paradiddles,(and he plays two tracks in 6/8) fast forward to Live At Leeds and Moon is up there with the drumming greats like Mitch Mitchell (don’t get me started on John Bonham !). Post ‘Who’s Next’ Moon had to play along with backing tapes and click tracks, in the 70’s this was a real challenge for the most accomplished drummers but Moon did it, no fuss no bother.
Let no one be in doubt that Moon was a great drummer without that ability he would just be Dave Clarke. Apart from Ringo, no one did more to popularise the drums..ever.
In an ideal world his death would have been the end of the Who (in fact in an ideal world they would have ended before ‘Who are You?’). In fact, Moon’s death solved an embarrassing problem for the band. Kenney Jones had also been present at the final party and was tempted into the group with Townsend’s assurances that this was a new beginning. It wasn’t of course Townsend’s creativity had run thin and he had underestimated just what Moon had brought to the band. I feel for Jones as much as I feel for Daltrey being stuck in the 80’s Who, a band that pleased absolutely no one.
And so, Who Month is over, it’s been a hot one. In the course of my watertight research I came across an accusation that that a fantastic clip of the band playing ‘Wont get Fooled Again’ had the drums overdubbed as they were not up to scratch on the night. As further evidence of Moon’s decline is the fact that he staggers clambering over his kit for the final call. Let’s look again, all I can say is
a) Have you ever tried climbing over a drum it’s difficult !
b) If moon did have to overdub the drums he’s a double genius that’s really difficult!

( unless Kenney Jones did it)

The last time the real Who, the genuine Who, played live was at Shepperton film studios. Their previous gig at Kilburn had been considered a disaster. In fact, what was considered a disaster for the Who would have been a gig of a lifetime for a lot of bands, the clip of them playing ‘Wont get Fooled Again’ started Who month. The band had started a project which was to become most of the rest of their career namely reminding us how great the band had been. ‘The Kids are Alright’ film needed more footage and so the band convened at a more select location at Shepperton to film a live gig. As the band came off soaked in sweat the director nervously approached the band to do just one more number.
And so the band reappeared to perform ‘ Won’t get Fooled Again’. For me its not as a performance as the Kilburn one, the band get a bit lost halfway through but it doesn’t really phase them. There is also a moment when Moon re enters with his famous drum roll which sound suspiciously well recorded after the muddy sound but it’s still bloody great.
And sure enough Moon stumbles into the arms of Townsend who for a moment forgets he’s genius and give the portly little man a genuine hug.
And that was the end.


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WHO Month….LIVE !!

In 1965 my father Colin quit his job for a new one in Aden. Bearing in mind that up to this point we had barely left Norfolk I see in retrospect what a bold move this was. I can only assume that he felt his horizons were limited back home. On my birth certificate his occupation is listed as an artesian well digger, not normally regarded as a select profession. My dad had studied in the evenings at what was called technical college and had gained some qualifications as a refrigeration engineer. With this addition to his CV he was now able to get a government job maintaining equipment for the British Forces stationed at the tip of Saudi Arabia.
My mum along with me and my sister followed him a few weeks later, getting up in the dark and traveling all day and overnight before finally arriving in the heat of a traditional Aden day. To be honest there was not a lot to really recommend Aden which is probably why my father was able to get a job there. Every Aden day was pretty much the same and lasted around 12 hours, there were rock and a few dusty bushes, the only wildlife seemed to be wild dogs and buzzards. The food was frequently stale and many of the locals actually wanted to kill us, my school bus was escorted by armoured cars every day.
There were sweeteners though. Colin was given the horary rank of NCO and that meant we were entitled to a safari holiday every two years, obviously we didn’t stay more than two years but we did have a fantastic holiday a the government’s expense . I also suspect there were certain tax breaks to be had. All of a sudden, we had money. Dad always liked a gadget and Aden was a trading post dealing with all sort of treasures from the far east at knock down prices. And so we soon had radios, cameras, record players and, significantly a tape recorder as well as miscellaneous consumer crap which we duly shipped back to England in 6 big packing cases, for a brief period we were the envy of our street.
After a follow up, less dangerous stay in Germany my parents obviously decided it was time to settle down in Norwich again. The legacy lived on, my mum still has some of the items from our glory years to this day. I had also started the process of appropriation namely a massive German radio and the family tape recorder. My father was quite keen to encourage my use of the latter as it swiftly headed off any requests to purchase records, instead I was instructed to ‘tape it off the radio’
And so, it progressed that one night I was sprawled in front of the television positioning my crappy plastic microphone to capture what was possibly the musical highlight of the year, the Who at Charlton Football Stadium which had been recorded and broadcast. The 70’s were such a drought for live music on television that I had sat though interminable bad bands on The Old Grey Whistle Test just to get my live fix. The prospect of seeing a band I actually liked play live was like having all my Christmases at once.
Its been said many times before but it’s true that the Who were a disparate bunch. Despite three of them coming from the same school there was little in the way a matey good cheer in the band camp. Townsend remarked that he had found out more about John Entwistle from the latter recording a solo record than being in a band with him. Entwistle was a solid grafter, he was in a band, that was his job and he wanted to do it. Daltrey was also something of a pro, his enthusiasm and commitment kept the band going through Townsend’s periods of self-doubt. Moon struggled to find any purpose in life beyond being the band’s drummer. Unfortunately for them Pete Townsend had bigger ideas, films’ multi media, rock operas. One can’t help but feel the pain of the other three when Townsend immersed himself in one of his projects rather than get onstage and be the guitarist with possibly the greatest rock band ever. Whenever his grandiose ideas failed, almost by definition, to be the defining moment in the history of rock, Townsend would return to the stage ever more resentful of his role of entertainer and the restrictions placed on him by his bandmates.
It was in the live environment that the band really shone. Not surprising really given the slog they had put in over the years. By 1974, the Charlton concert, they were possibly at their peak, Moon was still at the top of his game and they were doing enough live concerts to keep fresh. It’s still a shock though listening to an uncensored product such as the recording from the Hull concert a couple of years earlier just what a power trio the musicians are, better than Hendrix, better than Cream and despite what you Americans might feel, better than bloody Rush. The real killer difference for me is Entwistle’s bass playing which negates the need for any other players to flesh out the sound. Also notable is how they like to fall back on the old rockers like ‘Summertime Blues’ or, in the case at Charlton, Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’, at least three quarters of the band were more than happy to bang away on these old chestnuts. There is another side to the band though that distinguishes them from the heavy metal thunderers and that is the sheer quality of some of Townsend’s songs. A slight but touching and funny song such as ‘Tattoo’ can transform the mood for a while. On ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ from the Charlton gig its all restrained until the hard rock section when Moon explodes into action, almost levitating behind his kit. It was on stage that the Who became one. They were pretty bloody amazing.

Charlton wasn’t their best live gig. It marked the beginning of the period of stadium rock and for someone like Townsend signifies a change of heart from the communal spirit of the hippie rock gig. Being England in the summer is was a bit wet and some of the audience felt the need to introduce a bit of 70’s football violence into the action. It was so good they repeated the experience a couple of years later.
For a 15 year old who would probably never get to see the Who play live (and now wouldn’t want to) this was pretty good, it still is in fact.
Highlight for me is Moon doing ‘Bellboy’ one of the Quadrophenia songs that survived the backing tape cull. In pre wanky in ear monitor days Moon has a huge pair of bins strapped to his ears to hear the click track. Inevitably they will fall off. Also he’s not allowed his own microphone, Daltrey has to wait patiently to pass his to Moon. Some the elementary technology makes it more exciting for me. When, inevitably the ‘band’ re enacted Quadrophenia for the credit card generation Moon was seamlessly integrated into the performance despite being very dead. I know what performance I will return to again and again.

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Who Month. Out of my brain on the 5:15

I was trying to make sense of this Rock thing. By 1973 the world of rock was beginning to really captivate me. It was a journey without a map, all I had was the New Musical Express and late-night radio shows. Occasionally I would catch The Old Grey Whistle Test but that tended to confuse matters as it seemed to feature Californian singer songwriters rather heavily.
As I commented previously, the Who were always around, particularly Pete Townsend who seemed to have a one-man crusade to communicate with as many people in as many formats as much of the time as possible.
And so, it was on one late night show that I came across Townsend talking about his latest ‘project’. It was another rock opera (at this point I hadn’t even got to grips with his first which had recently been remade in some terrible orchestral ‘project’). The star of this new opera would not be Tommy but Jimmy and Jimmy would have four different aspects to his personality which would be represented by the four distinctly different members of the band. Jimmy would not be schizophrenic he would be Quadrophonic which by no co incidence at all was the prevailing audio technology of the day designed for people with more than two ears.
I might have only been an impressionable 14 year old but this was already sounding like complete garbage. Townsend was as usual overreaching himself by creating what was going to be the greatest musical spectacular ever only to have the reality crashing to the ground when it was released to the general public. No wonder he drank!
My schoolmate Phil had an older sister who, every 6 months would buy an album. This would cause us great excitement in our vinyl starved days. You can imagine our anticipation when she brought home the latest double album by the Who, namely Quadrophenia.
Unlike Tommy, Townsend’s second ‘opera’ is actually a pretty good selection of songs, there’s a coherence about the record that Tommy lacked. Apparently, this meant that when they toured the record Daltrey took time out to explain to the audience just what the hell was going on- sounds like fun. Anyway, if you ignore the storyline bollocks and accept there aren’t 4 sides to Jimmy’s personality and the story isn’t that great anyway Quadrophenia is a pretty good album.
Sandwiched between these two events, in my life anyway, was the mighty single 5:15.
This first came to my attention when the band appeared on Top of the Pops (yes they would do that, Fuck you Zeppelin !). With no VCR you had to make the most of these appearances, three minutes or so and they were gone, possibly for ever. The talk in the classroom with my select band of friends the next day was around just how great that performance had been. We had been particularly impressed by Daltrey’s mike swinging which we sought to emulate. By tying a knot in our school scarves, we could stamp about pretending to be Daltrey swinging his mike. Today of course we would have had to undergone a health and safety appraisal but in 1973 we just hoped that we wouldn’t hit anyone tougher than us by accident.
After a couple of years our school appeared seemed to admit that religious education (RE) was a bit of a mistake. We had spent a year looking at bible stories during which our teacher attempted to persuade us that Jesus was some sort of Hebrew Derren Brown rooting the miracles in some sort of grand illusion. For a following year we received weird life lessons which involved the teacher talking about what the hell they wanted to. All I can remember is one day he played January Song by Lindisfarne and on a further occasion he informed us that after taking LSD you never become a car salesman (really!)
Before we could turn to a rational world and drop RE altogether we had to complete some weird community service and were sent out to do ‘good works’. Along with a couple of fellow classmates I was given the addresses of a couple of elderly people and told to go and ask them if they needed ‘anything doing’. At the first address we were informed by an elderly and possible terrified man that he had no use for us. To be fair he was probably less scared than all of us forced well outside our comfort zones and terrified of looking a fool in front of our peers. At the second address, much to our relief, no one answered. We mooched about the streets for a while and went back to school.
Following our failure to engage with the needy our teacher had a bright idea-we could volunteer at the local mental hospital. There was a psychiatric institution quite near who we all called the ‘loony bin’ of course. Understanding of mental health was almost non existent and individuals with all sorts of problems would be incarcerated in huge Victorian buildings (the’ House on the Hill Kevin Coyne was to sing about’). Due to this separation between the well and not so well there was quite a fascination with ‘madness’ Pink Floyd and David Bowie for example were to carve out careers with their own experiences with mental illness.
It certainly seemed more interesting than old people so off we trotted up the hill twirling our knotted scarves and singing the riff to 5.15.
Amazingly we had had no preparation at all for this, we were simply told to go. I can’t remember how we even got in but soon we were patrolling ancient corridors with absolutely no idea of where we were going. Eventually someone who looked like he might have a job there appeared, we explained our predicament and after a bit of sucking of teeth he led us to a ward.
We were greeted by a doctor ‘thanks god you’ve come’ he said ‘we’ve been expecting you, let me show you where you will be sleeping’. We exchanged worried glances as we were shown our quarters. Eventually some had to point out we hoped to be school by 4pm and hadn’t expected to stay overnight. The Doctor was quite apologetic, he had been expecting a group of junior doctors to be arriving. Now this would have been an understandable mistake had it not been for the fact that we were all 14 years old and dressed in school uniform. We began to suspect the lunatics had taken over the asylum.
We were eventually relocated to another ward where we were delivered to another nurse who wore the expression that would become familiar to me over the years which basically said ‘I’ve got enough to do without you fuckers being dumped on me’. Still, like most nurses she was friendly enough, so friendly in fact that she would kiss some of the inmates on the lips if they asked her to. It appeared that we were now trapped in some overheated smoke tunnel. Somewhere in the gloom were various elderly men sat in chairs, smoking was the main activity but some of the livelier inmates had board games. We were terrified, I don’t think we moved further than a yard from the door in all the time we were there despite the nurses attempt to get us to mingle. At various intervals a man would lurch out of the smoke and grab the door handle ‘thank you, I must be going now’ he would tell us. Nurse would then take him gently by the hand ‘it’s not time to go yet Billy’ she would tell him as she guided him back into the gloom pausing only to kiss anyone who need it. Billy was quite persistent but so was the nurse, it seemed to pass the time.
Eventually, realising that she had landed the most useless volunteers ever the good nurse disappeared to actually do some work. We skulked by the door trying to look as inconspicuous as a gangling bunch of 14-year olds wearing a school uniform in a mental hospital could do. Time dragged, Billy appeared ‘thank you, I must be going now’ he said
And then he was gone..
Time dragged, my lungs were screaming in protest, I was to young to have emphysema. We decided it was time to leave and waved the nurse over. ‘Where’s Billy?’ she asked. We had to admit that Billy had left the building as were we, suddenly the Nurse seemed to have something more urgent on her mind, we took the opportunity to depart.
Now, I swear this is true. As we trudged down the gravel path though the ample grounds we caught sight of Billy being pursued by a number of staff, he seemed to be making a good effort to run but I expect it was only a matter of time..
Anyway, we were out, breathing fresh air and tasting sweet freedom.
In the meantime, the Who were struggling to present the grand concept of Townsend’s latest offering. One problem was that Quadrophenia relied heavily on other instruments notably Townsend’s keyboards and Entwistle’s horn parts. Ironically, given the orchestra that now constitutes the band, all apart from Townsend were resistant to other musicians being involved. The solution they decided was to use tapes, that’s tapes not digital samples, what could go wrong?
It was a disaster, the tapes failed to operate as anyone not in the band might have predicted. Playing along with pre-recorded music is one of the most dispiriting things a musician can do especially a band like the Who. One night the ever cheerful Townsend, exasperated by the tapes starting at the wrong or just not starting at all hauled long suffering sound man Bob Pridden over the mixing desk and basically beat him up in front of the audience and then set about destroying the tapes with his bare hands. Eventually a compromise was reached and a lot of the Quadrophenia material was dropped and Townsends grand folly was over.
At least until he revived the show with a stellar array of stars including Garry Glitter.
But let’s not go there….

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