Pink Floyd’s Theory of Time

Following the death of Marty Balin from Jefferson Airplane I have I been watching an unhealthy amount of videos on YouTube featuring the band’s founder and vocalist. I’ve followed Balin from good looking fresh-faced beatnik in the early Airplane (all the band look just great in 1967) to hollow eyed hippie at Woodstock. At Altamont Balin was literally the only person at the whole festival to come out with credibility when he jumped into the crowd to try and stop the Hell’s Angels beating someone up and was knocked unconscious for his efforts. All this raises the question why , by the time he had reached his 60’s was he dressing in the sort of middle America leisure wear that Donald Trump would think twice about wearing on his day off .
The Airplane were inducted into the dreaded rock and roll hall of fame. It was widely considered that getting one of the most contrary bands together again was unlikely. Apparently whatever corporate whores run the whole event they were willing to spend a lot of time and trouble getting the individual members to the event (apparently they then let them make their own ways home). Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen bought a shirt and tie specially for the event and came across as some fort of groovy silicon valley entrepreneur. Balin looked like an insurance salesman from Ohio, the only person who looked like he might have once flown a freak flag was bassist Jack Casady who looked as weird in a tux as he did in hippie gear and headband. And what did the band decide to play in front of the record executives, only blinkin ‘Volunteers’ that’s what. There were so many levels of irony present I just wouldn’t know where to start unpicking it. The only person missing from the bizzare affair was band icon Grace, allegedly because of illness but also possible because she had ‘let go’ of her former identity. Slick is very much on record of the opinion is that rock should be a young person’s business’ looking at the beauty of the young Jefferson Airplane you could concede she’s got a point.

jefferson airplane

One of the weird things about getting old is the disconnect between who we think we are and what we appear to be. In the 70’s most of the middle-aged men around me had had a past life, they had flown spitfires or driven tanks in the desert or been in Japanese prisoner of war camps. Some of the older women had lost their husbands in WW1 and their sons in WW2. My grandad had fought at the Somme, both my parents had lived through the bombing of Norwich, my mum had lost classmates to childhood illnesses we forgotten about. All this counted for nothing to me because they were over 30.
Rock is now no longer a young person’s business. In the 80’s I used to patronise a record shop in Nottingham. It was a competitive environment with punks, goths and new romantics jostling for attention. An inappropriate choice of record could get the death stare from the assistant, my inappropriate hair and clothes would negate even a brilliant selection. Working away for a number of years my relationship with the shop declined and inevitably the shop decided to close, these events are probably not related. I returned for the closing sale and discovered to my amazement the clientele had aged with me, no more punks, no more goths just balding men in their 40’s.
And just like me, those men thought they were pretty much the same person they had been in the 80’s.
As I hit 60 the music world is a lot more inclusive than it was when I was in my 20’s. In fact, rock is in danger of becoming an old person’s ghetto. I say danger but really there’s nothing wrong with that in my book. Music now has to jostle for its place with other distractions. One of the reasons that we learned to play instruments in the 60’s and 70’s was the world was just so boring, there really was not a lot else to do, locking yourself in a bedroom with a musical instrument seemed pretty appealing. Most of the bands playing the pubs are 50 and 60 year old’s playing to their peers, folk clubs are pretty much a geriatric phenomenon, festivals rely on retired people to steward and attend, in twenty years’ time there’s a real possibility that that rock music will be a very specialist interest like traction engines or vintage cars or growing giant marrows.
There’s also a sense of satisfaction that those of us of a certain age can fell though of having been there as rock music blossomed, it’s been a good time to be alive.
There’s plenty of songs about the passing of time but the best ones seem to be written by young people. It’s kind of understandable, I think one is more concerned about death at the beginning of life than the end. Old people worry lots of things, its usually the fact that the post is late or it might rain later rather than their own mortality. Young people can see the big picture.
My time song was written by someone who was about 27 at the time. I’m not a big fan of Pink Floyd or Roger Waters but I will concede that Dark Side of the Moon is a classic album. It kind of debunks the idea that the Floyd were a prog group, DSOTM sounds more like Abbey Road Beatles than ELP to me. It’s a lovely warm sounding record where the group display song writing skills rather than showing off.
And the best song (‘Money ‘is the worst in my book) on the album is ‘Time’. There’s a great contrast between the two parts, one sparser and sung by guitarist Dave Gilmour and the other lusher and featuring a rare vocal by Rick Wright. For once there’s a real poignancy in Roger Water’s lyrics


Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

How could such a young man write lyrics like this? It captures perfectly the tension between trying to make something of our life and the distractions that steal our time. It’s not straight forward of course, in retrospect some for the best moments in my life have been lying in the sunshine or staying home to watch the rain but there’s always that icy fear that I could have wasted my time writing that blog or watching Jefferson Airplane videos.
Happy Birthday to me !
PS I will be taking a week off, just giving advance warning in case any of you set your alarm clocks early for a Sunday just to read my blog.



Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Clash ‘Sort it Out’

November 1978, 10 young men stuck in a concrete block on the outskirts of a midlands city. Trent Polytechnic seemed far removed from the dreaming spires. Many of my new companions departed for the big city every day to do proper things like engineering and accountancy. The only people still on the ‘arts’ part of the campus were me and my new best friend Al who only had to walk a few hundred yards to get our education.

Throwing a group of people together from different backgrounds was quite interesting, there were the twin focus points of football and music. I hadn’t a clue about the former obviously but this was compensated for by a liberal taste in the latter, I even forged a link with Chris from Manchester who had no interest in music beyond Five Penny Piece a folk group from the northwest who sang comedy type songs, and so Chris would let me join in on guitar as he sung a song about Jim (who was a “bloody great worm” apparently). Another of our group I was able to get along with was Tonto from Shrewsbury. He was nicknamed Tonto because he got lost on his first day apparently, such were the bonding experiences of young men. Tonto was a classic instance of how punk had permeated the mainstream. With the rest of the ‘Shrewsbury crowd’ Tonto had been a huge Slade fan. As Noddy’s crowd went into decline the Shrewsbury crowd had discovered the energy of Punk. Its rebellion had no appeal, Tonto was set to be a quantity surveyor and already knew what car he intended to be driving in five years time. The arty farty Pistols held no appeal but Tonto liked the lad’s music of the Jam best of all but in second place were bands like Buzzcocks and the Clash.

The Clash were in the process of releasing their second LP ‘Give em Enough Rope’. Although I loved the first album I was in no great hurry to hear more. There were reasons for this, the band were making great singles and in many respects they were best listened to in 3 minute bursts. The was also the strange choice of producer, Sandy Pearlman was best known for his work with the dreaded Blue Oyster Cult, for those of us looking for a ‘sell out’ there was plenty to keep us busy. The Clash remained the most ideologically puzzling band refusing to appear on Top of the Pops (just like Led Zeppelin) but happy to sign to CBS and now were recording with a proper producer. Another reason, of course, was there was just lots of great music from the likes of Costello, or XTC, or the Rezillos or loads of other bands and artists who might, at any point, come up with something that was really really good.

None of this bothered Tonto, he liked the Clash and bought the LP as soon as it hit the shops. And so, I became familiar with ‘Give em enough Rope’ almost through osmosis as he would play it on repeat most of the time he was in the building.

Perhaps for this reason I have never really engaged with the second Clash LP, if you like the Clash you’ll love this record. ‘Safe European Home’ could easily find it’s way into any Clash top 10, ‘Tommy Gun’ the single sticks in the mind because the drums sound, well, like a machine gun, ‘English Civil War’ has the comforting ‘when Johnny comes marching home’ tune while ‘Stay Free’ is a kind of English buddy song that Bruce Springsteen probably admires.
Al liked the Clash as well, with three out of 10 on board we hit on the idea of actually going to a Clash gig.
It seems strange today but 40 years ago a gig could be a real walk on the wild side. There was no CCTV, little regulation of anything and virtually no health and safety. You could be badly beaten up by anyone who fancied it, it could be the punks who didn’t like you for not being a punk or the skins who didn’t like anyone much or the city louts who thought anyone going to a gig was fair game. Worst of all were the bouncers who seemed licenced to beat anyone to a pulp and throw them out on the streets. At this point a had long hair and flares, I wasn’t sure that a gig in the midlands was a safe place for me (unless it was a Steve Hillage gig)
My companions were either more confident or more stupid and persuaded me to buy a ticket for the Clash ‘Sort it Out’ tour in Derby. I suspect than no one else from our block wanted to come but also, I suspect Tonto had recruited at led one of the Shrewsbury crowd to come along, I am pretty sure there were not more than 5 of us as Tonto drove us in his Vauxhall Viva and no one had to travel in the boot.

As anticipated King’s Hall Derby was largely populated by young men with shortish hair and narrowish trousers, by and large no one was well dressed, there may have been a few obvious punks but they were few and far between.

The first band I caught were the Innocents. I have seen it reported online that a band called Neon were bottom of the bill but having dredged up an interview with their lead singer he doesn’t mention it as a career highlight so I suspect he was not there. Anyway, the Innocents were a classic example of the ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ mentality of the time. Having scraped around the squat scene and being on nodding terms with the movers and shakers on the London scene the Innocents were well place to form a band and go on tour with the Clash. From the back of the hall I was pretty impressed with their guitarist who had obviously put in some work in an earlier life before playing with Wayne County and the Electric Chairs. The rest of the band were female which from where I stood had little impact on anything, they sounded a bit like X Ray Spex, pretty tight but not fully developed.


The Innocents

In contrast the Slits who were next on had a very female quality about them. They were introduced to a hail of spit like I have never seen before or since. One member of the band addressed this by saying she would be more impressed if the young men doing this could ejaculate as effectively. The gobbing dies down a bit but there must be a limit as to how long anyone can jump up and down and spit without running out of fluids anyway. The Slits were part way between their Peel sessions and their first LP, they now had a male drummer budgie who was a steadying influence but the band were excitingly ramshackle.


the Slits

The Slits were barely tolerated by the Shrewsbury crowd, this was just too arty for Slade fans. Things went wild for the Clash. To my shame I actually can’t remember much about their performance but I remember it was just like I imagined a Clash gig to be like. They had some great songs, they played pretty well and at some point, they had a go at the people who insisted on spitting.

For a long time, the Clash were the only really big band that I had seen. Even at this point they were a big live draw and over time they have increased in stature by splitting up and never getting back together again. I’ve seen bigger artists since, I’ve even seen Bryan Adams for Rods sake but it has always been in a comfortable venue with seats or open air at a festival, no one spits anymore, we all clap politely. I did see someone who looked more of a hippie than me at the Clash gig right at the end, he was about 5 foot tall and wearing a greatcoat, he didn’t look like anyone had beaten him up.
I’ve always hoarded my Clash experience, I have always hoped that like seeing the Beatles at the Cavern Club, or the Velvet Underground’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable it would give me immense kudos. One day I will sit in my rocking chair surrounded by young hipsters and some wide-eyed seeker of the truth will ask me what it was like and I will reply
“yeah, they weren’t bad, I think”

Posted in memories of 70s, punk rock, rock music | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A New Career in a New Town

Summer was coming to an end and so was my tenure with the Parks and Recreation Department. “I suppose you must have been of some use” the area manager informed me on handing me an assortment of dismissal paperwork.
It was clear I was not cut out for the world of work but already I was preparing for the world of further education. I had been offered a place on a Humanities course at Trent Polytechnic. Anyone with any knowledge of education in the 70’s will realise I had set my sights pretty low. Polytechnics were a kind of second league university which actually offered some pretty good courses in practical topics and even art. Humanities was pretty much the floor sweepings of some of the other courses like history or sociology aimed for people like me who lacked the commitment for a proper course. Not to worry, I had a place as well as somewhere to live and a student grant. The latter being means tested had been eroded by my dad’s commitment to working a 60 hour week at the factory. Alongside me the sons and daughters of the management classes were raking it in due to the facts that their parents were financially savy enough to actually manage their money rather than stick it in a biscuit tin. And so I was a poor relation for the next three years. Not that I was that bothered, I had a check, at the age of nearly 20 I opened my first bank account.
My plan was simple, to get away from home and then, probably to give up after a year and go back to Norwich. The getting away was important, there was a whole history of getting away from the ‘small town’ as the Hot Rods had informed me
We’re gonna break out of this city
Leave the people here behind
Searching for adventure
There’s a life for us to find

Or the gospel according to Springsteen
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, a suicide rap
We’ve got to get out while we’re young.

In the 70’s people really did get jobs for life, you left school you started work, you retired, you died. There were no gap years or time out, there was time served and a gold watch. The picture painted by Springsteen of ‘growing up to do just like your daddy done’ was very real. I was a young man, I needed to get away.
Polytechnic was a reality check; the typical student was Dave from Sheffield who was studying surveying or quantity surveying or anything which required the regular wearing of a hard hat. Dave was 18, having just left school he had a girlfriend back home and liked to have Sunday lunch with her parents. Dave was a nice guy who would own three records, one of which would be by the Eclectic Light Orchestra.
There were 10 of us in our block. Determined to show my independence I arrived by train with all my belongings in a gigantic family suitcase which had a handle which would cut your hand in two if you attempted to carry anything heavier than a T shirt. It made a man of me though, to this day I refuse to use those travel cases with wheels. I was met by the permed block leader Gary from Leeds who showed me my room which had a wardrobe, a single bed, a desk and an angle poise lamp, I was in Heaven. Being a solo traveller, I was first there but slowly my block mates arrived, most of them were variations of Dave or Gary but there was also Vince from Lincolnshire who looked like he might own a Zeppelin record or two (he did). There was also Al who was to prove to be my closest and most enduring friend. Al had long hair but looked like it had a lot of professional attention, he was very clean. He had also taken a year out like myself working in the same offices where his dad was a manager and was also on the Humanities course. The really great thing about Al though was his record collection which was rather at odds with his appearance consisting of some really esoteric releases, often on the Virgin label. Despite being a card-carrying conservative, he was happy to listen to Henry Cow, Van Der Graff Generator, Hatfield and the North or even the Clash.
As the rest of Britain was gearing up for the 80’s I spent the next few months listening to the sounds of 73 (an era ago) thanks to Al. The more experimental sounds of prog were the soundtrack to my new life which was a big improvement of the sounds of ELO blasting out of the other rooms.
Regrets, I have a few but one of them is that I was Lazy in my choice of education opting for something that was easy rather than challenging or interesting. I was to spend the next year living in what I think were ex RAF barracks on the edge of Nottingham. I was determined not to go home, my parents kindly brought my belongings over but that was all I saw them until Christmas, that was just as well as apparently, they let my room to a Chinese guy who worked with my dad. I had to become resourceful many of my fellow students would return home at weekends, there were even a few who kept their Saturday jobs back home, I was to spend quite a bit of time entertaining myself with Van Der Graff Generator records. It as OK but my old schoolfriend Phil nailed it on a visit “there’s no one here like you” he remarked.
Moving to Nottingham was a watershed in my life, that was it, I have lived here ever since, I found a new death trap, a suicide rap. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t the best period of my life which seems to be the case for a lot of people who went to University.
Despite still being an avid reader or the New Musical Express (my Thursday ritual) I started to lose track of contemporary music. Al had more than a passing interest but my brain was getting confused by all the other music I now had around, even the dullest music fan would have a record player and at least three records (one by ELO) so there was plenty to listen to. Literally no one had a television, there were 420 students on campus and one TV lounge, I even stopped watching Top of the Pops.
Al liked his Bowie and a fitting memory from my initial Polytechnic years is fitting.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

It was 40 years ago today–Jilted John

The accepted norm of rock music is that English is the best language to sing in. It depends on the song of course, if the aim is emotive tear-jerking then Spanish, of even Portuguese might be a good choice. It’s surely not just an eye on sales though that requires most rock groups sing in English wherever they are from. To take things a step further it is American English which is the best for the rock and roll voice. Let’s face it, they got there first and they do it best. It’s the vocabulary, as a young man I was enthralled by Don Mclean taking his ‘Chevy to the levy’ and could there be any better ice breaker than Steve Earl’s ‘hey pretty baby are you looking for me, I’m your good rockin daddy down from Tennessee’ , I think not.
Then there was the subject matter, the Wichita Lineman seems so much more romantic than the Sunderland cable installer. I once considered a substantial detour in the USA just so I could stand on the corner of Winslow Arizona just like Jackson Browne had done. I don’t feel that compulsion in Britain.
Every now and again though there is an artist determined to sing in their speaking voice. To be fair, the fab 4 despite being enthralled by all things American were prone to slide into scouse vernacular now and again but like so many things the introduction of the British accent only really took off post punk.
To be brutally honest there was a brief period when we really hated the American’s. It didn’t stop bands touring there but, a bit like playing to students’ it was just something they had to do. The Clash were instrumental in this antagonism recording ‘I’m so bored with the USA’ on their debut record. A band who wanted to have their cake and eat it, the Clash then plundered American music forms which is probably not unconnected with them being the most successful Punk Band.
And so, 40 years ago, while we had fallen out of love with the states, we were treated to a prime slice of northern English pop music curtesy of Jilted John.
Jilted John is an apocryphal tale of how punk had blown the music world wide open. John was in fact drama student Graham Fellows who had written a couple of somgs and decided he would like to do more with them than just play them to his friends. With a view to recording his masterpieces he went to the local record shop in Manchester and asked for advice. He was told there were only two independent record labels. Stiff in London and Rabid in Manchester. He decided to save himself the train fair and headed to Rabid. The label told him to record a demo which he did and they loved the music and wanted to release a single.
Freshly re-recorded the single was issued with ‘Going Steady’ on the A side backed by ‘Jilted John’. The B side was more immediate and after an airing on the John Peel show EMI decided they wanted to put their corporate weight behind it and suddenly Jilted John was singing ‘Jilted john’ on Top of the Pops.

I’ve been going out with a girl,
her name is Julie
But last night she said to me,
when we were watching telly
(This is what she said)
She said listen John, I love you
But there’s this bloke, I fancy
I don’t want to two time you,
so it’s the end for you and me
Who’s this bloke I asked her
Goooooordon, she replied
Not THAT puff, I said dismayed
Yes but he’s no puff she cried
(He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be)
Here we go, two three four
I was so upset that I cried,
all the way to the chip shop
When I came out there was Gordon,
standing at the bus stop
(And guess who was with him? Yeah, Julie, and they were both laughing at me)
Oh, she is cruel and heartless
to pack me for Gordon
Just cos he’s better looking than me
Just cos he’s cool and trendy

But I know he’s a moron, Gordon is a moron
Gordon is a moron, Gordon is a moron
Here we go, two three four
Oh she’s a slag and he’s a creep
She’s a tart, he’s very cheap
She is a slut, he thinks he’s tough
She is a bitch, he is a puff
Yeah yeah, it’s not fair
Yeah yeah, it’s not fair
(I’m so upset)
I’m so upset, I’m so upset, yeah yeah
(I ought to smash his face in.)
(Yeah, but he’s bigger than me. In’t he?)
(I know, I’ll get my mate Barry to hit him. He’d flatten him)
(Yeah but Barry’s a mate of Gordon’s in’e?)
(Oh well, I don’t care)
I don’t care
I don’t care
Cause she’s a slag and he’s a creep
she’s a tart, he’s very cheap
she is a slut, he thinks he’s tough…

Clearly, it’s ‘not sad eyed lady of the lowlands’ but it contains word that Chuck Berry never utilised ‘mate, telly, puff and chip shop’ to name 4 of them.
It’s also noticeable that there was no twitterstorm over the derogatory use of language towards homosexuals and women. It’s all offset by the fact that Jilted John is clearly a whiney looser but no one even felt the need for discussion in 1978, this was everyday language.

Jilted John got as far as making an album True Love Stories which featured more of the same including a track about his pet mouse. He re-recorded ‘Jilted John’, this was an inferior version featuring keyboards which were, by then, taking over the world. Strangely enough he also sounds like Peter Perrett from the Only Ones when he chooses to sing a bit deeper from his usual rather abrasive range.

true love stories
I have never listened to True Love Stories until now, that’s how much I care for my readers. In retrospect Jilted John is best listened to once for the duration for his titular single. It now sounds like a comedy record but at the time it was quite a breakthrough in terms of an English voice (even if it was the voice of someone who was essentially an actor).
Suddenly we were besieged by English voices singing about English lives, Squeeze, Wreckless Eric and eventually the Smiths, Blur, Belle and Sebastian (Scottish I know!) and plenty more were singing about pubs and chip shops and busses. Traditionally they were/are much loved in Britain and pretty much ignored in the USA which seems a bit unfair considering the way we adopted Bryan Adams (Canadian I Know!!)
Fellows being an actor went on to do acting roles like Coronation Street. He also created the comedy character John Shuttleworth who seems to be big on radio 4 where the word ‘comedy’ is frequently preceded by the word ‘gentle’. Weirdly though he is about to reprise the Jilted John character for a 40th anniversary tour which seeing that he is now in his late 50’s could be a bit inappropriate but each to his own. He also lives in Louth Lincolnshire, which I think is also home to Robert Wyatt, and has converted a church in Orkney into a studio. I know all this because I caught him on the Ken Bruce show* doing ‘tracks of my years’ which serves as a testament to his continued popularity as a ‘one hit wonder’

* as a point of reference to my international readers, Ken Bruce, an avuncular and seasoned broadcaster runs a popular midmorning show on Radio 2. The music barely strays beyond the 80’s and I’m sure he plays ‘Bat out of Hell’ at least three times a week. I love him.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Drinking, Dogshit and the Stones

By the beginning of the summer 1978 and finding myself without a girlfriend, a band and, temporarily, without a family (they had gone to the USA to see relatives) I decided it was time to get a job.
After a visit to the job centre I found myself being interviewed by a couple of council officials. Impressed by my possession of a driving licence and my ‘can do’ attitude they hired me on the spot, and so began my stint as a temporary parks and gardens maintenance worker.
I spent a couple of weeks based at a local park with a selection of other newbies. Due to my parents being on the other side of the Atlantic I drove to work which impressed my colleagues no end although they soon started to cadge lifts at the end of the day. The most notable of my new friends was a guy without any teeth for whom gardening was just a step on the ladder to his dream job of toilet attendant. At lunchbreaks he would regal us with tales of the easy life that without doubt awaited him when he finally achieved his goal.
I don’t know if he ever made it as I was moved on to some sort of peripatetic position being dropped into any part of the city with more than its fair share of weeds and long grass. For a few weeks I was paired up with Davy a slightly tramp like figure who was only a few years older than me but was a different league. Finding that I enjoyed a pint was Davy’s cue to embark on lunchtime drinking, sometimes solo and sometimes with me in tow. Once, after a visit to the pub we came back and smashed the tools, on another occasion, thanks to a late lunch I achieved the goal of getting drunk three times in 24 hours; and my school had called me an underachiever!

Rolling Stones-The 'Some Girls' Tour Rehearsals

One day in an effort to liven up our day Davie brought a transistor radio along. We had Radio 1, that was all but really that was enough, music was good. My main musical memory while hoeing and pruning was of the Stones who had just realised their LP Some Girls. Everyone seemed pretty excited, at last the band seemed to be giving a shit. Bear in mind this was just a couple of years after Black and Blue which not only featured a terrible ad campaign featuring violence against women but a few really half arsed tracks bunged together to make a record.
Everything about Some Girls seemed a bit lighter and sunnier, the sleeve was memorable and funny, Keith had started looking like a human being again and, best of all, there was a hit single.
‘Miss you’ was just great. It upset a few die hards because it sounded a bit disco. Disco was everywhere by the end of the decade, it was really massive with the general population and, lets face it, it produced some great singles. After a couple of years of full frontal attack some rock bands were beginning to capitulate and introduce the ‘four to the floor’ bass drum (see also my piece on the Only Ones a couple of weeks back). Eventually even the Grateful Dead would record a ‘disco’ track the music was unstoppable.
‘Miss You’ started life with Mick Jagger messing around with Billy Preston. Does this mean the afro wielding keyboard player got a credit? No need to ask of course because at the end of the day the Stones are the product of two men. Billy Wyman came in to devise the distinctive bass line, does that mean he got a credit? Well if he wasn’t going to get any acknowledgement for writing the riff to Jumping Jack Flash there was no way he would get a look in here. The song remained the intellectual property of Jagger and Richards despite the latter having very little to do with its inception.
No matter, the strength of the song was some pretty good ensemble playing including Ian McLagan on electric piano and harp from Sugar Blue, allegedly discovered busking on the streets of Paris. Flip the record over and there was ‘Faraway Eyes’ which was a fairly straight bit of Bakersfield Country with an outrageous Jagger vocal.
The single was enough to creep out a devoted Stones fan but back into the rest of the LP it was business as usual with some grungy rock with the occasional rather thoughtful Jagger lyric. As well as Richards return to something approaching health the return to form was attributable to new recruit Ronnie Wood. Ron may well be some sort of childlike musical savant but he must also be one of the most generous musicians in rock being willing to play what’s needed without any real consideration of his own needs. This is why he’s never been regarded as one of the guitar greats in the same way that Page is. On Some Girls he meshes with Richards, when it works it’s great when it doesn’t it sounds a sloppy mess but it’s always difficult to tell who is playing what. On Some Girls he also introduced us to more of his pedal steel playing and as expected it’s perfectly decent. With ‘When the Whip Comes Down’ Jagger presented his first openly gay lyric while on the album’s title track, which sounds like it was played by a bunch of 12-year olds, he manages to be a bit racist a bit provocative and also quite funny.
Again, it was the punk effect, it was as if there had been a thunderstorm and now everything was clean and new, even the Stones were a bit different.
It all went a bit down hill from there, blame the 80’s, I always do, but the band became a bit tired and Jagger and Richards fell out and I didn’t really think the band was worth listening to. As usual I was probably wrong ‘A Bigger Bang’ sounded surprisingly good and their last (final) album of blues still sounds absolutely fantastic to me.

Back in 1978 the forces of oppression decided that I shouldn’t be working with Davy anymore and I was dispatched to a base on a housing estate where I spent the rest of the summer moving grass and learning new card games when it rained. I was on the brink of change again having accepted a place at Trent Polytechnic on a humanities course. The rest of the summer was notable for drinking and dogshit. I was young and had a constitution where I could soon recover from a drinking bout, it was summer and I had money at last and was quite happy to spend it in the pubs. The dogshit was everywhere on the estate, I’m sure no one thought to actually pick it up. The worst thing was when I was sent out to mow the overgrown grass verges. Lurking in the greenery was many a ripe turd which would explode on contact with my strimmer, my ample flares soon had a green and brown line about six inches above ground level where the shit mulch hit me. There was, of course no safety equipment, no ear protectors, no goggles, not even a fluorescent jacket. Occasionally I would combine both elements of my summer and after an evening’s drinking would collapse on a grass verge realising only too late the secrets the grass had hidden.

But at least I never had to watch Celebrity Love Island

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Led Zeppelin “what is this shit?”

A few months ago I was lucky to spend five night on the Scottish island of Mull. Late enough for some warm sunshine and early enough to avoid the midges, me and my wife had rented a remote cottage with no TV, no radio no phone signal and no internet. For entertainment there was a proper record player and a small selection of vinyl. The musical selection reflected the tastes of the children of the original owners veering between 80’s pop and 70’s rock, I had opted to play the latter.
I started off light with Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, who doesn’t have some love for that record ? I moved into proggier waters with no complaint from Mrs Future. Close to the Edge by Yes (“not bad”) was followed by Viva by Roxy Music (“I’d forgotten how good they were”). With my fourth choice introduced to the turn table we watched the hills opposite the loch turn purple in the twilight. “What is this shit?” asked my wife.
The shit in question was Led Zeppelin’s third album, I listened for a couple of minutes then removed the offending disc and went in search of some early Genesis.
It had got me thinking though, Led Zeppelin had always been present in my life just like the Who or the Stones but was it possible they were just a bit shit?
Like most of my generation I was introduced to the Zep by the use of their ‘Whole Lotta Love’ on Top of the Pops. The adopted theme tune was actually a kind of big band version by a group called CCS but the riff was there, waiting until we could hear the real thing. The thing about the band though was they were rather elitist and weren’t prone to turning up on children’s TV so the chances of hearing them by accident was rather non-existent, they wouldn’t release singles so, ironically, they were never on TOTP, if you wanted a dose of Zeppelin you had to by an LP which was what they wanted all along of course.
The next time I can remember hearing the band was when ‘Trampled Underfoot’ was played on The Old Grey Whistle Test, because the band would never do anything as poorly paid as a live appearance we had a classic Whistle Test film of dancing girls from the 1920s to entertain us though what, for me, was one of the most tedious riffs ever which just went on and on and on.
Having just turned 18 I spent a week on a boat on the Norfolk Broads with just two cassette tapes, Monty Python and Led Zeppelins 4th. I learned to appreciate the riffage of Black Dog and the grandeur of Stairway to Heaven’ but still found ‘When the Levee Breaks’ tedious and the one where Plant sings with Sandy Denny a shapeless mess.
Sucho, the guitarist with my first rock band was a Zeppelin fan and occasionally we would tackle the proto punk of ‘Communication Breakdown’ or the basic rock and roll of ‘Rock and Roll’. I never actually listened to an LP by the band until I went to Polytechnic. One of my flat mates, Vince, was such a fan that he was on his second copy of the second LP and he gave me his initial, well scratched copy. I started to warm to the mix of rock and hippie bollocks. The band’s first record was, in retrospect amazing primitive featuring joys such as ‘Good Times Bad Times’ alongside overwrought and overplayed material such as ‘Dazed and Confused’. At that point they were still the New Yardbirds in their own heads but by their second record they were something more.

Leaving aside the possibly shit third record, Houses of the Holy (number 4) was a bit of sidestep and long regarded as their weakest. It is, of course my favourite Led Zeppelin record (apart from the remasters compilation) and the untypical ‘No Quarter’ my favourite Zeptrack.

By the time I got to relisten to Physical Graffiti ‘Trampled Underfoot’ had started to sound better and, of course there was ‘Kashmir’ which, as our tastes changed, had replaced Stairway as the classic Zep track. That wasn’t the end of course. Despite the fact that they had taken to dressing like farmers they were still making records that sounded as good to me as anything else they had done.
Then Bonham died and Plant grew a Mullet. Page continued to be entertaining if only for his ability to butcher the most basic solo whenever he turned up to guest with a band while completely off his face, for more evidence of what was wrong with the 80’s just take a look at their Live Aid performance (if you dare).
Zeppelin are now regarded as one of the best rock bands ever, no one apart from me wants to knock them but really are they that good (actually to be fair no one is that good if you look hard enough)
In the winter of 1977 a group of my college friends including the aforementioned Sucho of course, crammed ourselves into a college theatre to see a showing of the band’s film ‘The Song Remains the Same’. The film had been out a while and generally rubbished by the critics who pointed to the lack of stage dynamics, the lumpy playing and, most of all the pathetic fantasy sequences (although you needed something to distract you from Bonham playing ‘Moby Dick’). They were right for once, the film was a turkey, none of my friends were impressed. There followed a period where Led Zeppelin were falling out of favour, their last two LP’s were not acclaimed critically. There was a wide acceptance that the band were now a huge money-making machine and little else, Page, Bonham and manager Peter Grant were getting messed up, the band was a huge carcass rotting from the inside. When Bonham died I can’t remember any national mourning but then again Rock was still young, we probably thought something else great would come along.
What did come along, of course, was nostalgia and the Band’s reputation grew and grew (as long as they didn’t try any Live Aid reformations). But why do people love Zep? Clearly, it’s because their music makes people of a certain age feel young again, don’t knock it! If that was just the case however however we would all be clamouring for a Chicory Tip reunion, to be honest I would rather go and se that than the reunited Zep. The more I think about it their popularity may be a case of the parts being more than the sum of the whole. By which I mean the individual members are more reveared than the band itself.
Page is still the blueprint for the guitar genius. Someone who could play the blues and folk based Celtic music (ie he knows how to tune a guitar to DADGAD).Page is the third member of the Home Counties guitar heroes (see Beck and Clapton) and his reputation is cemented, despite the fact that there are 6 year olds who can play better today Page is the original. He certainly has a way with a riff and studio layering but how many solos has he done that are iconic? The only one I can get into is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which is basic pentatonics (sounds great). The rest of the time it just sounds like he is burbling away over a backing track to me.
Robert Plant was the archetypical preening lead singer. He seems to be a great bloke, a human face of the band. But how many lyrics can you quote, at least ones that weren’t nicked off blues singers. He’s shouting something above that noise but I haven’t got a clue what most of it is. And there’s a limit to the number of times you can sing baybebaybebaybebaybebaybebaybe and get away with it.
John Bonham ‘Bonzo’ to his mates. Like Keith Moon and many others, a man lucky to dead before the advent of social media. Bonham is probably the greatest drummer of all time and every year he gets greater. Like Page what he does isn’t that tricky but he did it first and did it well. Despite his towering presence people would still love to see the band without him.
John Paul Jones was the bass player, he was bloody good but still the bass player.

While they had the talent Zeppelin didn’t really have the songs, some of their noise can sound great especially after 60’s production values had improved but are they a band that can move you to tears? I suspect not

Quite clearly Zeppelin are not shit, that’s just clickbait from a desperate man but I suspect they were never as good as we think they were now.
I read an interview with Plant a while back. He seems to be one of the few people in the music business, at least from the 70’s, who seems to have given any thought to what he wanted his musical life to be. As a consequence, he’s released a squillion records, some horribly reflective of the era they were created. He’s now settled on a rather appealing ethnic brew which, to my ears, is a lot more interesting that his old band’s catalogue. Wouldn’t you rather go and see Robert doing something he cares about in a small venue rather than trying to recreate music of his youth at Milton Keynes Bowl?

I thought not

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Evening With Warren Harry

Recently, YouTube has wisely targeted me with some old editions of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Anyone not alive or resident in Britain in early 70’s just wont grasp the significance of the OGWT. This was quite literally the only chance to see rock music ‘live’ on the television for many years. Due to the fact that the BBC had a healthy distain for rock music the program shifted slots, sometimes appearing at a ridiculously late time (bear in mind TV had shut down by midnight) sometimes turning up on a Sunday afternoon. The production values were minimal which is made very apparent in these YouTube clips which appear to include rough takes sometimes preceded by a studio hand counting a clock down in second intervals. It does serve to make the presenters look more together than might be remembered as they repeat the same introduction for the fourth take.

The main OGWT guy for me (and anyone of my age) was ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris who lounges about in a comfy chair chain smoking and grinning inanely at the camera. Because of the low production values most of the bands in the early days had to mime or at least sing over a backing track which rather weakened the whole affair, Top of the Pops was equally false but at least you might see Rod Stewart or at least the Sweet. And that was the biggest shock for me 45 year’s later, the quality of the artists. Because of the limited space solo singer song writers were over represented and so we get the likes of Claire Hammill, Rab Noakes and Jim Croce. So far so indifferent but there are names that crop up which I have never heard of Bloodstone, Cousin Joe, Judi Pulver and Cashman and West, bear in mind to even get on the OGWT you had to have released an album. Here were bands (or solo artists; I don’t know!) who had probably sweated their way through hundreds of gigs and yet have almost been lost to time.
This got me thinking about bands I might have seen and virtually forgotten and in turn that awakened a misty water coloured memory.

Spring 1978, I was at a bit of a loose end having been between jobs for about 3 months. I decided it was time to pay a visit to my old school friend Phil who had departed to study mechanical engineering or some such joyless subject at Warwick University. Pre-internet we had been in regular contact via letters and so I assume that I wrote to him and informed him of my intention to visit and then bought a bus ticket for Coventry. These days we anticipate our children might visit South America or at least Thailand. As I had invented the ‘gap year’ it was still in the experimental stage though . No working with Nicaraguan street children for me, I had already gone 3-4 years without a holiday at all let alone a foreign adventure. And so, a bus journey to Coventry was quite a big deal. The city itself was predictably grim, no one had a good word to day about the city, it had been badly bombed in the last war and built in true 50’s/60’s style (in a hurry). It was grim then and I bet it’s grim now, I was not stopping though as the University was a new build in the middle of nowhere which at least meant it was in the middle of fields.

Phil had grown a moustache which, outside Liverpool, was style disaster but at least he had had the courtesy of warning me before hand so I had time to prepare for what was not a pretty sight. We spent our time drinking tea eating biscuits and listening to LP’s which he had borrowed from other residents in his student block. Just like national service in the 50’s further education was a great leveller. You just didn’t know who you might be living with until it was too late to change your mind. It had introduced Phil to northerners (which might have accounted for the moustache) and we marvelled at the fact that some of them had adopted straight leg jeans, the times were a changing alright.

The ‘highlight’ of the trip was to be a gig/party before everyone broke up for Easter. A band had been announced, Warren Harry.

I was a little disappointed, I had been hoping for a real punk band but essentially most Universities and Polytechnics were deeply conservative establishments. Some student unions had actually banned punk bands it would take a couple more years before further education started welcoming musical diversity. The punks didn’t actually help matters tending to be pretty unpleasant to student audiences, it was a jungle out there.

Like John Otway and Marillion, Warren Harry was/were from Aylesbury where, one suspects, they were relatively big and got to play Aylesbury Friars on a regular basis. The band were mainly a vehicle for songwriter Warren Harry. Not having appeared on OGWT or having had a record played by John Peel I knew little about them/him but they had recently had a small and rather ambiguous live review in one of music weeklies where it was noted that the singer liked to pick arguments with the audience.
The hall was packed on the night and I suspect I was quite drunk as I was now approaching all gigs with a 4 pint minimum rule. Warren Harry appeared to be pushing the newly fashionable style of jerky pop which required a keyboard. XTC were prime exponents and I liked them a lot but it has to be said that this was whiter than white music which could only be danced to in a jerky way, think Hazel O’Connor (and then forget at once)

Mr Harry was indeed a bit of a provocative fucker, he looked a little like Steve Harley and seemed possessed with the same attitude. It wasn’t long before he was engaged in a slanging match with an audience member and, it appeared, considered it part of his job to go out into the crowd to give someone a good slap. Today of course this would create a twitter storm but in 1978 no one even had a camera on them let alone a high-tech video recorder, it was fairly safe to assume that there would be no ensuing legal case for whiplash and emotional trauma from the victim.

What did happen though was everything started to turn very nasty. There was a pretty bad vibe developing among the academic elite many of whom seemed to be pretty much off their faces. Glasses and bottles were thrown pretty randomly. It was all getting very nasty, Mr Harry was getting even more angry, even his drummer came out from behind his kit to tell us what he thought of us, more things were thrown, Phil and me left I think it was when the gig ended in disarray but I’m not sure, as I mentioned, I had been drinking.

The gig was a bit of a shock to me, back in Norwich we would have sat cross legged on the floor at a student gig but in the midlands, student seemed to be recreating the Punk festival in the 100 club in 1976, perhaps it was the straight leg jeans.

I don’t know if this was a normal night’s work for Warren Harrry, let’s hope not. As a band Warren Harry became the Yum Yum band and Warren Harry himself metamorphised into Warren Bacall. Warren Harry had had a contract with Polydor Records and released some singles, the most well known (it’s a relative term) was ‘I am a radio’ but there’s not much of him left even in the internet age to remind us he was once a contender.

He had a second career as a songwriter and apparently wrote ‘When We Were Young’ for Bucks Fizz (no I don’t know it either). That would have taken us to the mid 80’s but after that there’s not much information about him

Around 30 years after the Warwick gig Warren Harry died of a pulmonary embolism at his home in Wales.

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment