Busted!

At the end of last year I told the tale about how I missed the Anarchy tour by virtue of the initial gig being cancelled just hours before it was due to take place at the University of East Anglia. That was out of my hands, and a bit of a relief at the time I must  admit. However just months later I missed another seminal gig, and it was all my fault.

The whole sorry affair says a lot about my life in late 1977 but also a bit about the weird home life of my family. By October a lot of my friends had left and I was having to dig deep to find new friendships. Just about to turn 19  friends were important to me, I had to get out of the house!

On the night in question I was wearing my dad’s coat. This will become significant. My dad being generally unwilling to spend money on anything that wasn’t mechanical had invested in two identical coats one for me which medium and one for himself that was large. This had been some time ago but one coat was enough for anyone apparently. I however had now grown to accommodate a large coat and so, quite naturally, had taken to wearing my dad’s over garment . My dad had been working for a while now at Rowntree Macintosh, one of the few big factories in Norwich. He seemed to like this as he was always working, evenings, weekends, he was either at work or just going to work or just home from work. For months I never saw him out of a boiler suit, he never had time to wear the coat I had appropriated anyway.

And so on that fateful night I went out in my dad’s coat but on my own bike. I had come to hate cycling but really it was the only way to get around Norwich and I was going to the University which would have necessitated two buses each way which would have taken hours. I met up with a guy, lets call him Paul, nearly everyone I knew was called Paul, who was kind of a friend but not a close friend, I don’t know why we were meeting up or what we were intending to do or why we went all the way to the University but we did. Paul was a bit older, a nice enough guy but a bit more edgy than my usual friends. At some point it was rumoured he had a girlfriend and child which he had left in some godforsaken village while he escaped to the bright lights. He was now seeing, or about to see, another friend of mine but she wasn’t around that night, it was just me and Paul.

At some point in the evening I located a wage packet in the pocket of my dad’s coat. I wasn’t really surprised, although he would have a fit if you ran a hot tap for more than 5 seconds when it came to the folding stuff he was surprisingly lackadaisical, after he died we found a small fortune in £20 notes stuffed in a drawer and so he had left his weeks earnings in the pocket of his coat. As someone who hadn’t had to work a 70 hour week in sweltering temperature I was not really concerned, all I had to do was get the money back safely by tomorrow, no harm done.

At some point Paul suggested we try and score. I was impressed I wasn’t a drugs virgin, I had an Iggy and the Stooges album after all, but I found that cannabis, because that was all we ever used of course, did very little for me apart from make me feel sick as I didn’t smoke tobacco at the time. Anyway this was a chance for some excitement, it had been a dull night so far and so Paul disappeared somewhere  to do a deal. I was, of course pretty drunk at this point, truth be told I was always pretty drunk if I was out and so I waited quite peacefully for a bit of time until Paul appeared.

Paul eventually arrived without the anticipated minuscule piece of resin but instead he had a few pills in what looked like a prescription bottle. He gave me a few and I washed a couple down with some more beer and pocketed what was left.

I cant remember anything else about the night but at some point I decided to go home, jumped on my bike and peddled off into the night. At some point on the journey home I felt a bit tired and decided to have a break and look into a shop window. I was on a main road but it was very quiet. Out tof nowhere a police officer appeared wanting to know what I was doing. Clearly a young man with long hair and a bike looking in a shop window was serious cause for suspicion. Unfortunately he became seriously suspicious by my reply and insisted in searching me. He could barely contain his excitement when he discovered  a couple of pills and a wad of cash, suddenly I was surrounded by a hoard of the forces finest who also appeared from nowhere and and bundled me, and my bike into an awaiting paddy wagon that had also appeared as if by magic.

There then followed a night of horror. There were little in the way of rights for the potential felon. I don’t know how long I was held for but it was a long time without food or rest or the offer of a friendly solicitor. I was strip searched and had my back passage more closely investigated than at any time before or since. My house, or more accurately my parent’s house, was searched causing even more excitement when they saw my bedroom crammed with a variety of musical equipment.

Eventually they bailed me to report back in a few weeks time and called for my dad to come and collect me, and my bike. I don’t know why, I was an adult after all but it seemed to be an essential part of the humiliation.

I was terribly ashamed, largely because I had got caught. I couldn’t tell any of my friends, I suspect that Paul probably had some form anyway but I had kept his name out of proceedings, I don’t think for a moment the police believed the story I told them but I had occupied half of the Norfolk force for most of the night, I think they were glad to see the back of me. My parents, although shocked, seemed to get over it but, of course I couldn’t even acknowledge that people in their early 50’s could have feelings, it was my peer group who I was really concerned about. I felt that at some point I would have to go to court and then I might be in the local paper, then my life was over, being busted would just be proof I was an idiot. Even the prospect of it effecting my career chances seemed remote although I realised the possibility of going to prison was really frightening. I felt that the probability would be that I would be fined so with that in mine I started saving out of my dole and Saturday gardening job I had inherited from friends who had departed to university.

And saving meant cutting down on spending so less drinking and less gigs.

This was why I missed the Live Stiffs Tour which hit the University of East Anglia sometime in the next few weeks. It’s probably the gig I most miss missing, 40 years on it still hurts.

Serves me right for being a selfish and stupid young man of course. You may have noticed that at no point did I even ask what those pills were, I suspect they were valium but they could have been anything, I didn’t even bother to ask before I necked them.

But that’s youth for you.

I don’t know how long the legal process took, everyday I would wait for the mail and eventually, some weeks later a manilla envelope arrived. All charges had been dropped and I did not need to attend bail. That was it, no further information was deemed necessary, if it happened today I’d probably be sent a leaflet telling me how to make a complaint but this was the 70’s they’d probably lost the paperwork by the time the charges were dropped.

And they did give my dad his wages back by the way.

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If it ain’t Stiff..part 2

On of the few things I can still remember from studying history in my humanities degree was the concept of unwitting testimony. As far as I remember this is the idea that you can find out things from a period in history from what was written, unwittingly, about something else. For example a 1920’s biography of Nelson could also reveal information about the 1920’s in terms of the moral or political stance of the writing . 

Stiff records were not concerned with making any statements about the mid 70’s, they were, initially at least, just releasing songs by people they liked who were struggling to release anything through more commercial routes. Unwittingly the first few releases tell us an awful lot about what music was like, certainly in London for a few months of the ‘phoney war’ when music was changing but no one knew that punk was going to arrive like a hurricane.

 

So here are the first five singles on the Stiff label

 

Nick Lowe

So it Goes/ Heart of the City

 

About as cutting edge as pub rock could get. Lowe could play write and produce to a certain standard. We liked him because he was not one of the old guard (largely because he had not been that successful) but he wrote songs that sounded like we’d heard them before, but we hadn’t.

Another person who was having a bit more success with this approach was Graham Parker and Steve Golding from his band The Rumour plays drums on these tracks. The rest is all Lowe. Give Lowe enough speed booze and dope and leave him in a studio with a drummer and he would always come out with something.

So it Goes is almost the sort of thing that Van Morrison might sing if you ignore the barbed lyrics. There’s an American influence, a smidgen of Springsteen, a touch or Southside Johnny, maybe a little bit of The Band but it still sounds like it was recorded in a basement in Camden Town at a cost of £34.

Heart of the City is a more straight forward rocker, rather like Lowe’s future work with the band Rockpile. Different but still the same.

 

The Pink Fairies

Between the Lines/ Spoiling for a Fight.

 

Lowe’s record sold about 10,000 copies. The Fairies achieved about half of that. On the basis of the 30 seconds I heard on the John Peel Show I thought it was great. I never heard it again until recently. The Pink Fairies operated somewhere between Hawkwind and the MC5. They came out of the Ladbrook Grove squat scene where they were huge. Elsewhere they amounted to diddly squat. Robinson and Rivera, the owners of Stiff would have been familiar with them through the London music/drugs/booze scene. The Fairies were in their final throes, psychedelic Canadian rocker Paul Rudolph had left to play bass with Hawkwind. In his place was Larry Wallis a big boozing mate of the label owners. Wallis was a bit more direct in his playing, the A side thunders along brutally. It sounds ok even today, I have never heard the B side.

 

The Roogalator

All Aboard/ Cincinnati Fat Back.

 

The sort of people who drank at the Hope and Anchor or The Nashville loved The Roogalator. I didn’t like them at all. They were clearly excellent musicians who played a sort of swing/country/blues mixture. I resented their lack of edge and the fact that they seemed to pretend they were American. In their defence their main man Danny Adler was from the states, I think. Even in 1976 everyone who wasn’t pissed in a London Pub didn’t wasn’t to hear some talented Yank singing songs about juke joints. Another flop followed, listening today of course it sounds absolutely great. The keyboard player was to leave to join the Tom Robinson Band and The Roogalator petered out.

 

The Tyler Gang

Styrofoam/Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie

 https://youtu.be/kWtbnDy378Q

Yep, more pub rock Americana. This release managed to slip below everyone’s radar. I did listen to for the first time recently and, well I cant really think of anything good or bad about it. Sean or Shaun Tyler had been in Ducks Deluxe who almost rivalled the Feelgoods in the good rockin stakes for a while. Unfortunately they all looked like builders rather than gangsters. A great live band but not a great recording band, the Ducks had splintered and Tyler had formed his gang. Already they were out of date.

 

Lew Lewis and his Band

Boogie on the Street/ Caravan Man

 https://youtu.be/N_ujO7eKrZs

Stiff was showing it’s true colours here. Feelgood’s manager Chris Fenwick had helped set up Stiff. Lew Lewis was from the same pool as the Feelgoods and, of course had been in Eddie and the Hot Rods for a while. The cream of Canvey Island/Southend convened to back one of their own, in fact Lee Brilleaux is on guitar. Lewis is a pretty good harp player but then again most harp players who treat the instrument seriously are. The result is a perfectly acceptable slice of Chicago/Canvey blues.

 

That’s the first five releases on Stiff. With the possible exception of The Roogalator it’s pretty much a collection of boozing mates of the label owners. There was a lot of mix and match going on here, Lowe would work with the Feelgoods, Larry Wallis would become a writer/producer in his own right. As new artists came along they would become part of the pick and mix community. Rumour’s drummer Steve Golding would end up playing with Elvis Costello on Watching the Detectives, Lowe would play on Wreckless Eric’s first single (with Golding on drums again) and so on.

 

At this point the Stiff catalogue was pretty hopeless, a collection of pub rockers who might fill a pub but on record were shown to be pretty derivative. After all these years there’s a charm to all the recordings, at least its real musicians playing together. The main selling point of these tracks however is almost entirely their naive nostalgia appeal, Lowe showed a certain promise but no one was going to wait with baited breath for another record by Lew Lewis (just as well, he was about to descent into a nightmare drugs/mental health/ crime nightmare which hopefully he has now left behind him).In a couple of years Lowe had formed a reputation for his skills and the rest had disappeared.

 

But

 

The next release on Stiff was New Rose by the Dammed. A great record and the first British punk single. Produced by no less than Nick Lowe himself. Punk seemed to nudge Stiff onto some new creative track, it wasn’t an easy ride but soon it would sign yet more pub rockers but this time it would be people with a genuine enduring talent.

 

Step forward Elvis Costello and Ian Dury..OK Wreckless Eric you can take a step forward too, you’re the young generation and you’ve got something to say

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If it ain’t Stiff…

The other day I read the news that apparently Sainsbury’s, the well-loved supermarket chain, is about to start a record label. That probably says more about the state of modern music than anything else. 
In the 70’s the business was clearly defined, we were now open to the idea that
rock music was art, also in the case of many artists from Carole King to Led
Zeppelin it was highly profitable. Bear in mind that records were quite expensive,
in my first Saturday job I was paid 30p an hour, an LP would cost £1.99. Buying a
record was still a major event. 

And so the holy grail of any band was to make a record, preferably, if you had
designs on being an artist that would be an LP. The route to this was clearly
defined, you went out and played gigs. The idea was that eventually you would
create a ‘buzz’ which would attract record company to you. A&R men (it was
always men) used to go out to gigs most night of the weeks looking for the next
big thing.  

There were two things that the band could do to increase their chances. The first
was if a journalist reviewed you for one of the big music papers. There was an
increased chance that this would happen because the papers did actually have
people in the provinces who might offer a one off review. Everyone was looking
for the next big thing, there was a will and desire to make it happen. A review in
a national paper could jumpstart a bands career. The other thing a band could do
was to play London. This was a necessity at some point, it would take an awful
lot for an A&R man to get in his ford Capri and drive up to Doncaster on a
Wednesday night. On the other hand he might go to the Nashville Rooms or
Dingwalls in London just for the hell of it, if a great band was on that was a  bonus. 

There was a lot of gatekeeping here, in order to get to the promised land the
artist hand to form a band and then keep that band going for possibly years,
playing a variety of shitholes until, hopefully someone of influence took interest.
The positive effect of this was that by the time anyone got signed they were tried
and tested and almost certainly had enough material for the first album.
Hopefully by building up a initial fan base when this album actually appeared
there were plenty of people wanting to buy it. 

I actually like this model, it’s too easy to make music these days, and anyone
with a computer can record an album. No one makes bad records anymore, it’s
almost impossible, there is no need to even employ any other musicians with
their faults and peculiarities, there are loops and samples and effects and
endless digital options. The resulting product is bland and shiny and dull but  because it sounds like a professional product it somehow deceives us into  thinking it’s actually good. 70’s records are full of warts, I noticed there is a drum
fluff on Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’. That was a number one classic single, no
one cared, it was made by living breathing people and it’s great.  

Due to the fact that recording was so expensive in the 70’s there would always
be producer on hand .Today producers are more important than the music. Their
job it often to take a recorded project away to a studio somewhere and work their
magic on it. The old style producers were an extension of the band. Their job was
to coax great performances, point out the guitarist’s backing vocals were out of
tune, persuade the drummer to stay in time, point out the chorus wasn’t catchy
enough or to stick the vocals through a leslie speaker or 1001 other creative tasks. A good producer was a fresh pair of ears who could make a good band
great. 

All this meant that that a high proportion of records had something to offer there
was a lot of quality control at work.

Record companies were magical places, they had made enough of the right
decisions to make some huge amounts of money and gaining entry to the record
company was a bit like being invited to the Playboy Mansion. It was all an illusion
of course, even Johnnie Cash got dropped by his label eventually but it was fun  while it lasted. 

By the mid 70’s however things were changing. It was so hard to get signed that
a few hardy souls were looking at other ways to get their music out there.

Enter the Independent record label.

There had always been independents but by their very nature they struggled to
thrive. DJ John Peel started his own label Dandelion in the early 70’s to put out
music by uncommercial artists Bridget St John and Stackwaddy (he also recorded
Gene Vincent). Peel soon discovered that love and enthusiasm alone was not  enough, it didn’t help that the music could be somewhat challenging to say the
least but there was always the problems of marketing and distribution that the  majors excelled at.The odds were stacked heavily again the independent label 

In 1976 something quite remarkable happened, a record label formed that for a
brief period was a major player both artistically and commercially. Legend has it
that Stiff Record was formed with the aid of a donation from Dr Feelgood’s Lee
Brilleaux. It is also reported that Brilleaux’s cheque was, in fact, never cashed  and was even framed and hung in the label’s office. Whatever the case it gives a
clue to the origins of the enterprise. 

Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera were two beery pub rock men who had been
movers and shakers around the London scene since the beginning of the decade.
Robinson was a promoter and Rivera had been manager of Chilli Willi and the  Red Hot Peppers who had toured with Dr Feelgood. Along with Rivera came his  mate, the wonderfully named Barney Bubbles who was to have artistic control  over the design work. 


Stiff had it all, they were well connected with the capital’s more alternative music
industry. Bubbles produced art work that was iconic. There was a knowing sense
of humour at play, stiff is the record company’s term for a flop. The label
announced itself as ‘the world’s most flexible record label’. Other slogans were to
follow including the legendary ‘if it aint stiff it aint worth a fuck’. The japes  continued with messages scratched around the inner groove of the vinyl e.g.  ‘three chord trick Yeah’. This was the work of one Porky Peckham responsible for
cutting the actual records. 

Robinson and Riviera were as fanatic and obsessive as their drinking regimes
would allow. The the initial releases were sold mail order but soon distribution  deals kicked in and it was possible to own their product as long as you knew a  local hip record store in your town. 

For a period of a year or so a release on Stiff was an exciting experience, for a
short period they specialised in recording fantastically talented individuals who were previously unknown. Backing up the music was a fully realised product, the
packaging was almost as good as the music contained within.

The glory months never even became a glory year. Rivera left before the end of
1977 an, almost inevitably things became less exciting. 

In part two I will look at the first releases before things got really good..stay
tuned.

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The King’s Call

We are, sadly getting used to the idea that rock stars die just like everybody else.At the start of the 70’s we had a nasty wakeup call with the 27 club. The deaths 

of Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix are tragic even after all these years. They were 

young people who died accidently before any hint of a creative slump had been 

reached. We had had a foretaste of things to come when Blues and Jazz legends 

began to pass away. Oldish people with their best creative years now behind 

them. These were our first experiences of older musicians dying a reasonably 

natural death.

As a young man death was quite a stranger to me. My grandad had died in the 

late 60’s but overall our families seemed a fairly healthy bunch, my grandmother

lived to 99 and first introduced me to the concept that, sometimes, it’s always 

great to live that long.

The first death that really hit me was, of all people, Mama Cass. The ex-Mamas 

and Papas singer had been in London and I had listened to an interview with her 

on the radio just a few days before she died. I wasn’t really a fan but I can 

remember the shock of someone just disappearing, someone who a few days 

previously had been completely alive.

Among people a bit older than me there was always the ‘where were you when 

Kennedy was assassinated’ question. I do remember seeing ‘Kennedy ist tot’ 

headlines when walking around a town in Germany with my mother. This related 

to Bobby of course I can’t remember a thing about Robert at all.

The really big death we had to contend with in the 70’sof course was that of the 

King of rock and roll no less than Elvis Presley himself. I remember hearing of his 

death naturally. It had been a warm summers night and I had been to the pub 

(the Maid’s Head in old Catton fact fans) with my school friends Phil and Dunk. 

That’s as much as I can remember until I came home and my mum prepared me 

for some bad news much as she had when my grandad had died.

But the king’s death was not too bad, certainly not as serious as having a family 

member die as I had initially anticipated but also not as traumatic as Mama 

Cass’s passing.

The fact was that Elvis was of another generation and another country, tastes 

were pretty ephemeral in those days. My uncle David who was about 15 years 

older than me was an Elvis fan, his older brother John liked Paul Robeson. Elvis 

probably meant more to my mum than he did to me.

I must say that in theory at least I am a big Elvis fan, he looked great, he moved 

great and he invented rock and roll (discuss!). But, on the other hand there was a

lot of crap associated with him. Crap films, crap records,crap stage shows a crap 

fancy house and a crap manager. In the 70’s he was a bit of a joke, the people 

who really rated him (like John Lennon and my uncle David.) were all at least 10 

years older than me and that was a lot of time in the 70’s.

But. Going back to my initial purchase of 25 rockin and rollin greats I always 

maintained a soft spot for rock and roll. Chuck Berry was still cool as was Little 

Richard and possibly Jerry Lee. I always had just a little space in my heart for a bit of Elvis
In to 80’s when music got really bad I started to dig out the Sun Sessions stuff. 

As time progressed I developed a little love for his Vegas period but all this took 

time and effort. In the 70’s I have three memories of Elvis’s music which came to

me with no effort at all because he was a chart artist who was going to live 

forever. 

The first was ‘Way Down’, a gospel/swing/disco mashup which was his last hit 

before he died. The record grooves. I didn’t really want to like it but I did. I rate it 

as up there with his best but I am probably influenced by the fact that Legs and 

Co did a routine to it on Top of the Pops which was enough to sway any 

teenager’s musical tastes.

The second memory was ‘American Trilogy’. An overwrought piece of flag waving

which an awful lot of Americans seem to find irresistible. I was able to resist the sound as well as the

urge to dress in a sheet. I’m not saying Elvis was racist really and I quite liked the

way that he incorporated the gospel ‘all my trials’ into the performance but it 

didn’t say anything to me about my life. He was a hero to most but for this song 

he never meant shit to me.

The track that did count however came a bit earlier. ‘Burning Love’ encapsulated 

all the good things about 70’s Elvis for me. For a start it’s a really good rock 

song, the King sounds like he’s really enjoying himself on this one, it’s swampy 

and a little bit bloated just like the early 70’s. Around the time this was a single I 

had started going to disco’s at the Duke Street Centre in Norwich. I was 

discovering girls and coca cola in bottles. In the depths of my brain ‘Burning 

Love’ is linked to the infinite possibilities of growing up just as ‘Way Down ‘is 

linked to the lack of possibilities with Legs and Co.

As we now know, Elvis died on the toilet while full of drugs. He was 42, forty 

fucking two ! What happened there? 

My family where almost American. My Auntie Peggy finding herself pregnant 

after WWII headed to California to find the father, it didn’t work out but she 

found someone else and married him instead. She was followed by my uncle 

Brian and his wife Nancy. For much of my childhood I received parcels from the 

promised land and occasionally visits and stories about how great it was in the 

land of the free. My Dad never took the bait and the view existed by those of us 

left behind that our American relatives were a bit weird. Peggy was fine to be 

honest although rather brash and larger than life but there was a lot of weirdness

going on around her.

And it’s always seemed to me that anyone who takes the American dream too 

seriously is on a highway to hell. Elvis was a prime example, if he had lived 

longer surely someone would have tried to shoot him, instead he had a 

premature death as a drug addict.

And don’t get me started on the Beach Boys and their endless summer 

nightmare.

And with Elvis gone someone just needed to write a tribute song. Phil Lynott of 

Thin Lizzy was the man for the job, some call it romanticism some call it cheese but it was a dirty job and someone had to do it .

The Kings Call


And, irony of ironys, while I was writing this, news came in that Fats Domino had 

died, born before Elvis and survived him by 40 years. A very different career, his 

work has aged better simply due to the fact its a smaller body of work with a lot 

less duds there’s enough for a greatest hits LP which, of course, will be great. He 

was black and realised the American dream was a bit shit.

As Elvis said

‘A lot of people think I stated this business..lets face it, I cant sing like Fats 

Domino can. I know that’.

And if anyone asks me where I was when Fats Domino died I can can tell them I was writing an article about where I was when Elvis died 

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The Summer of 77….in Norwich

It might seem that in 1977 Britain was just on fire with punk, new bands were appearing from unlikely places and bands that were less than a year old had become spokesmen for their generation. This was, of course patently untrue but with hindsight we’ve created out own story about what happened. The great British public however remained largely unmoved, no one was buying shedloads of records by the Dammed or even The Clash. The Sex Pistols, titans that they were came close to having the perfect number one record at the perfect time with ‘God Save the Queen’ but the records show that the public preferred Rod Stewart. In fact Rod was the nearest the charts came to a rock number one otherwise it was various shades of MOR from Abba to Leo Sayer.Also largely unaffected by punk was my own band The Rockwell Buzz company, to be referred from now on as RBC in an attempt to stave off carpel tunnel syndrome. The RBC were into quality ‘head’ music from Led Zeppelin to Soft Machine. Rhythm guitarist Plainy lent me a soft machine compilation and the summer of 77 is tempered for me by the sound of Robert Wyatt’s singing and difficult time signatures. At this point Plainy was back for the summer but the previous year he had left to go to Nottingham University to study something clever. This put the band into their first crises, as well as loosing Plainy our singer Steve was also off to some learning establishment on the south coast. The loss of Steve was negligible in a musical sense, he was the Bez of the group in many ways but we missed his ‘vibes’.

It was decided that we needed to replace Plainy. Reluctantly I put forward my old friend Phil who although a fine guitarist was so introvert it took a few months to pick up his sense of humour. Sucho, our current lead guitarist and general lead band member tried to engage Phil in conversation at what might pass for an ‘audtion’.

Sucho ‘So what sort of music do you like?’

Phil ‘er.. blues’

Sucho ‘what like Led Zepplin?’

Phil ‘No’

And so on.

Phil could play better than he could interview and I suspect Sucho felt a bit threatened, Whatever Phil didn’t get the job which instead was given to a young man called David G.

David knew his place and stuck to Rhythm. He was to go on to play a slightly bigger role in Norfolk rock attaching himself to a group called The Farmers Boys who were on the edge of greatness for about 20 mins in the 80’s. Doing a bit of high quality research it appears that he is now a photographer, I hope that’s the case as the only people traceable with the same name are an Osteopath, a dead person and a sex offender.

In 1977 however Dave was just a speccy spotty young man with a guitar, he was certainly the youngest member of the band which counts for a lot when you are a teenager.

So we were almost back to strength. I don’t really know what we did regarding vocals, Sucho and Robbo the bassist would have a go but they weren’t singers even by punk standards. We did briefly audition a guy call Royce who showed us his lyrics, one of which went

Come with me on a trip to eternity

Ride my Chariot of fire’

Luckily was well as writing crap lyrics he couldn’t sing so we had a lucky escape.

And so we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed, according to my diary rehearsals were a frustrating business as quite often someone would not turn up or, when Plainy and Steve were back from university too many people would turn up. In addition to the band there were a number of hangers on, more than I can ever imagine squeezing into my bedroom. To their credit my parents coped with this admirably, Mum would make tea and biscuits while Dad would engage some unsuspecting biker, whose chariot was leaking oil over our front lawn, in a discussion about replacing pistons.

Our only gig I can remember all summer was at Sucho’s girlfriend’s house. I was now mixing with the Norwich college set some of whom were pretty posh and whose parents had big houses. Sucho’s girlfriend’s was not necessarily one of these but I remember the front room was big enough to hold our meagre equipment as well as a few people who actually wanted to watch.

The ‘gig’ was ‘of course’ a well-received disaster. I captured it in a drawing which seems to show that both Plainy and Dave G were present giving us an unnecessary Lynyrd Skynyrd triple guitar line up. 


Following my first gig (see earlier post) I remained sober as had Plainy and so we were unprotected from the musical disaster of it all. Coming ‘offstage’ I found that everyone else was blind drunk in a way that only teenagers can manage. Finding myself lagging behind I got wasted myself by which time the first guard were falling unconscious leaving me to wander about on my own before throwing up and falling asleep only to be woken by the early drinkers making breakfast.

I assumed that my life would be forever like this, we were like Traffic getting it together in the country (well probably the suburbs), hanging out, getting loose and cooking breakfast together, we were so bohemian and punk was just a little dot on the horizon.

The trouble with posh people though is however laid back they might seem there’s always a life plan running in the back of their minds. Come September it became clear that’s lots of my friends and acquaintances were now finished with this stage of their lives and were off to train to be doctors or lawyers or accountants it appeared we were not going to live in a commune and live off space cakes and jam together all day after all.

And so reluctantly I would be forced to move towards adulthood.

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TEN FROM 77

I’ve been struck down by virus this week so haven’t prepared a post.
Luckily vinylconnection has produced this eloquent look at 1977 through 10 albums. Yep it wasn’t all punk there was no stopping Genesis or Jethro Tull. Little Feet had hit the end of the road and o thought Low was 1976 but haven’t really got the energy to check that. Thanks Vinyl you’ve save my bacon

VINYL CONNECTION

1977.

Forty years ago.

Punk sprouted, prog continued, pop morphed; great albums littered the highways of contemporary music…

This is the first post of a possible series, presenting albums worthy of acclaim four decades after release.

I’ve excluded albums previously covered at Vinyl Connection. So to read about the following gold-plated favourites, just click on the link.

Steely Dan — Aja

Genesis — Wind & Wuthering

Radio Birdman — Radios Appear

Steve Winwood — Steve Winwood

Tangerine Dream — Sorcerer

The Vibrators — Pure Mania

Ramones — Rocket To Russia

Plus a whole lotta jazz funk and some John Sangster.

The biggest challenge was limiting this pop/rock list to just ten. Leaving out The Idiot by Iggy Pop was painful, while overlooking faux-Essex poet Ian Dury (New Boots & Panties) was an outrage. But enough equivocating.

Let the countdown begin.

10  Santana — Moonflower

Given its unusual combination…

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Tom Petty 1977

It is quite apparent that the mythical holy grail of ‘making it’ in music is only partially reliant on talent. The people who rise to the top are clearly not the most talented in their particular field. You could see better musicians and songwriters down the pub on open mike night. There are astonishing talents, Prince being a notable example but the Dave Gilmour’s, Mark Knopflers and JJ Cales of this world (to name three that sprung to mind) are generally OK players singers and writers who produce entertaining work that falls short of genius.

The overriding factor in success is luck, you can increase or decrease your chances but luck is a huge factor. Linked to this is being in the right place at the right time. Starting a shit hot country rock band in Doncaster in 1977 would never had led to fame and fortune although strangely enough, forming a heavy metal band in the same place and time would have yielded far better results.

Charisma can play a huge part although it’s not enough. Just go on YouTube and look up surviving footage of Vince Taylor. The man who wrote ‘Brand New Cadillac’ and not much else was a phenomenal performer who ended up working at an airport. In London Jesse Hector was a well-respected dynamic performer in the mid 70’s .who in theory could have been as big as Ian Dury..but he isn’t.

The thing that’s really underestimated in the star artiste is the work ethic. The ability to go on stage with a temperature of 100 and still deliver the goods knowing that the next day will be spent travelling and doing the same thing. The ability to do yet another world tour even though you’ve already done six. The ability to be bored senseless waiting around for things to happen, to sit on a tour bus for 18 hours listening to the same old shit from your band mates. The ability to do the same interview 20 times a day. The ability to leave your children behind while you disappear for another nine months.The ability to keep on going when your record company fucks you over.

It’s this grunt work that gets overlooked but for me it’s far more remarkable than talent, I wouldn’t last a month in that lifestyle and it takes an extraordinary person to weather that storm.

Which brings us to the loss of Tom Petty at the tender age of 66. The most tragic deaths for me are when someone takes their own life but the next in rank is when a performer is snatched from us at a time when we could expect them to make another album or release more tour dates, the sense of loss is all the keener for the sense of a loss of more music, songs that we might have heard but now never will. For me it’s always Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

To be honest I never really got Tom Petty. The Travelling Wilburys for me are inextricably linked with the 80’s, a time of mullets and rolled up jacket sleeves. His solo career was too tainted by the hand of Jeff Lynne to raise any interest from me. On the other hand having played in roots type Americana bands for a few years it’s fairly inevitable that someone will come up with the idea of trying a Petty number so I have soaked up a fair number of his songs through osmosis.

As far as us Brits were concerned Petty struck it lucky from the start. In 1977 Petty and the Heartbreakers were a popular act in the UK. Not everyone wanted punk but Petty was untainted by any past associations, he was a new act. The Heartbreakers were accomplished musicians but they weren’t really old farts, a bit like with Dire Straits enough new wave energy rubbed off on them to make them a bit more acceptable, and as far as I remember they never wore flared jeans either.

Petty and his band had been supporting pre E Street Band Nils Lofgren and had themselves been supported by faux Irish punksters The Boomtown Rats. The bands UK debut was ‘American Girl’, to this day the only track I really love by the band and one of the few that they failed to write themselves (it’s a Roger Mcguin tune). Listen to The Strokes ‘Last Night’ and compare and contrast.

Unfortunately for me there were too many minor key bluesy dirges on their early records to encourage me to part with my money, but the weirdest thing happened. Unlike most bands The Heartbreakers actually got better. As they relaxed and mellowed some of the rather overwrought early songs were replaced with more thoughtful musical contributions. If you were sit me down and suggest forcefully that I listen to some Tom Petty I wouldn’t go straight to the early records, to be honest I would quite happily listen to his latest, whatever that is.

And how many artists could you say that about?

There was a journalist on Channel 4 a couple of nights back who said that Petty had spent all his life trying to write the Byrds ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’. I thought that was a bit unfair although if he had stuck a bit more to the Byrd’s jingle jangle rather than the bluesy rock I might have liked him more in the early days. I’ve recently been watching one of his recent stadium gigs live from Gainsville and jolly good stuff it is too, an impressive set of songs played by a cracking band with Stevie Nicks thrown in for good measure. I know at no point am I going to break into tears or want to get up and dance but I am going to be entertained and really that’s what the rock business is about.

Here for me is the best of Tom Petty from 1978.


PS last night I watched a ‘classic albums programme about ‘Damm the Torpedos’ and realised that I had missed some great music. Truth be told, there was so much going on musically late 70’s that it was possible to miss complete artistic careers, by the mid 80’s I had lost interest in contemporary music for a while and I just missed Petty almost completely. His music falls short of genius but in retrospect he possessed the rare ability to communicate. Like Dylan any basic singer/ guitarist could cover his songs but only Petty could write them .

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