Wales, Man, and another brother slips away

Having just spent a few days in Wales my thoughts turned inevitably to the Welsh Rock scene.It took until the 90’s for Wales to really register on the rockometer and for a few years being welsh was really cool.

Not so in the 70’s.

I have already written about Budgie, a band so hard working they would come and play in Norwich. Apart from the avian influenced power trio there was only one other welsh band that registered much interest among the casual punters.

And that band was Man.

Believe it or not there is actually a book about welsh guitarists, I know because I have a copy. It’s written by Deke Leonard, a pretty good guitarist himself and an on/off member of the aforementioned Man.

The theory is, according to Deke, that guitarists from Swansea (bear in mind that outside Swansea, Cardiff and Newport there’s not many people in Wales) are trippier, more psychedelic while the axmen of Cardiff are more precise and more rock and roll. If Deke’s biography is anything to go by it make have something to do with the huge amount of dope that Man smoked that made the Swansea sound a little more ‘loose’. (‘we eat bananas cos they’ve got not bones, we like marijuana cos it makes us stoned’ as the lyrics to one of their songs explained)

The king of the Swansea players was without doubt Mickey Jones who even Deke Leonard was in awe of. Jones was pretty much the main man of Man which managed to shift through over 20 players in its lifetime. With Jones at the helm the band had a reputation for being a sort of a Welsh Grateful Dead, whether any of us wanted a Welsh Grateful Dead in 1972 was debatable and perhaps because of this Man remained fairly firmly in the second league playing polytechnics, colleges, universities and clubs united in their dedication to stoned jamming.

And as such they largely passed me by, I do have reason to be grateful to them though. About 10 years ago I decided that it was time to sell off my vinyl collection, I could see a time when ‘proper’ records would be worth nothing so I wanted to sell up while I could at least get rid of them for money. So I would list by records on ebay a few at a time then package them at a huge cost in time and money and send them off, usually to a collector, somewhere in the world. Most of my treasured records would sell for a couple of pounds, the only exception to this was ‘Man’ by Man, a record mainly notable for having a drawing of a naked man on the cover which went into double figures, my best selling record ever.

Love those guys!


Of course the glory times for Man were just a few years from the early 70’s to the time when everyone had to be ‘New Wave’. But like just about every band of any reputation Man just couldn’t let go, they ‘reformed’, Deke was in, he was out, he was in again, members were bringing in their sons to replace missing members.

And that was another reason I’ve been thinking about Man.

My friend John was a big Man fan. I say friend but really he was a friend of a friend really, I might see him 10 time a year or once in two years but it was always good to see him. He was about eight years older than me but had gone bald virtually from childhood and after that barely aged over decades. That age difference made him of another era hence his dedication to the sounds of The Dead and Man but he was a musician himself and we always had something to talk about whenever we met.

And so when Man reformed John was waiting for them. For some inexplicable reason the band were big in Belgium as well as, inevitably, Germany. In the 90’s there weren’t many people in Britain who cared that much though and John reported seeing them in clubs where they outnumbered the audience, I really wondered why they bothered but I probably underestimated the addiction of music. John was happy though, his band even got to support Man and he got to play his bass through their bass rig which apparently was the peak of his musical career.

John’s musical career petered out about the same time as Man and he went off to live in rural idyll in Norfolk… dunrockin.

By the new century there was very little to keep the band going. Guitar Ace Micky Jones had been diagnosed with a recurring brain tumour which led to a physical decline and his demise in a Cardiff nursing home. A couple of the old guard, keyboard player Clive John and bassist Ken Whaley died from emphysema and lung cancer respectively, possibly as a result of too many carcinogenic spliffs.

Keyboard player Phil Ryan who had kept the band going until the point of pointless was well passed was the next to go followed by Deke Leonard himself early this year.

And as I awoke to the sound of seagulls I was informed that John had joined them having passed away on midsummer’s day. Just a few weeks ago he had got fed up with feeling crap from a suspected virus that wouldn’t go away and decided it was time to go and visit the Doctor. From then on it was rapidly downhill to a thankfully peaceful death at home it wasn’t a virus of course it was cancer.

And so this is for you John, I suspect that like most of the world you never read the future is past but I’m sure you would have liked it at least a bit.

And here’s Man

 

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Life With Alternative Television

I always get a bit concerned when a band changes a member. As we all know getting rid of the bass player can be as painful as a divorce who knows what went on behind the scenes, the bad blood, the build-up of tension, the plotting in the back of the tour bus. As we all know The Ramones basically hated each other for decades but stuck together. On the other hand U2 still seem to get along and are one of the few bands who have managed to tolerate a stable line up all their working lives.

 

One of the main problems that punk bands faced were keeping any sort of line up going. Drummers and bass players were the main problems, The Subway Sect never achieved a stable line up while The Clash had to hire professional musician Topper Headon to solve their musical problems. Shifting line ups are a total band headache, in 1977 there simply were not enough drummers who were willing to get their hair cut and hide their Genesis LPs and often those that were would be the ones who were more interested in being in a punk band than learning to play an instrument.

And so it was that Mark Perry found himself with Genesis P-Orridge on drums when he decided to form a band. At this point Perry was a big fish in a very small pond. He had created the first ever punk fanzine ‘sniffing glue’ which was essential reading for the tens of people who could purchase a copy. Perry was typical of the sort of person for whom punk was totally transformational. He was drifting along in a job at a band when he heard the Ramones first LP. So inspired was he by the new noise he decided he would create his own magazine and write about it basically by selling it at gigs.

As soon as his business had reached the stage where he needed to buy a new box of staples he had recruited another lad off his estate Danny Baker to be part of his sales and production team. Baker needs no introduction if you have ever lived in Britain but for foreign readers let’s just say he’s a hilarious/irritating/ amusing/bigmouthed/self-opinionated/entertaining/pain in the arse, writer/broadcaster/celebrity/TV personality, whose career has totally eclipsed that of Perry’s.

Anyway..by 1977 Perry had had enough of writing, things were moving that fast, no one had a career plan, if he had stuck to his guns her would probably be a mainstream journalist by now but Perry decided it was time for him to be a musician. And so he found himself rehearsing at Throbbing Gristle’s studios with TG main man Genesis P .

Helping Perry on the musical side of things was guitarist Alex Fergusson who could at least play a bit and soon they found first of a long line of bass players and the first of a longer line of drummers. There then followed a brief run of what I consider to be extraordinary singles. The first of which ‘My Love lies Limp ‘was initially a free flexi disc with the final edition of Sniffin Glue. This was reggae as played by untutored white musicians which created an almost separate music genre. The lyrics dwelt on Perry’s sexual disgust and indifference, a man whose apathy extended to sex itself. The track was kind or weedy and powerful at the same time the sound of a band leaving themselves emotionally naked but not really caring.

Next release was ‘how much longer/you bastard’ a bit more straight punk but an attack on everyone living their lives as clichés whether hippie straight or punk no one was innocent.

 

For some bizarre reason, perhaps it was economic, these fantastic records were cropping up in second hand bins and I was picking them up for 50p. I managed to miss the next one ‘life after life’ though but the best was to come.’ Action Time Vision’ is a pretty great record whichever way you look at it and was to be Perry’s finest three minutes.

Finally ‘Love lies Limp’ was re-released on a proper vinyl record and best of all it was backed by ‘Life’, a record I’m still tempted to have played at my funeral.

Life’s about as wonderful as a record mart

I don’t like selling albums but I don’t wanna go to work

Life’s about as wonderful as a record mart, I haven’t got any money, that’s why I’m selling albums

 

Life’s about as wonderful as a cold

Life’s about as wonderful as growing old

Life’s about as wonderful as a tramp lying dead in the road

Life’s about as wonderful

 

Life’s about as wonderful as a dole queue

I don’t like standing still with the tramps and layabouts

Life’s about as wonderful as a dole queue

Well I got no choice, that’s why I’m standing in a queue

 

Life’s about as wonderful as a cold

Life’s about as wonderful as growing old

Life’s about as wonderful as a tramp lying dead in the road

Life’s about as wonderful

 

 

Life’s about as wonderful as no electricity, I don’t like acoustics and Crosby Stills Nash and Young

Life’s about as wonderful as no electricity, I make out it’s poetry that’s why I’m screaming at you

 

Life’s about as wonderful as a cold

Life’s about as wonderful as growing old

Life’s about as wonderful as a tramp lying dead in the road

Life’s about as wonderful

 

Life’s about as wonderful

As the tramps lying dead in the road

Do you touch him, do you pass him, do you understand these lines

There’s a doctor lying down in the road

There’s another falling down in the road

There’s the tramps lying dead in the road

Yeah life’s about as wonderful as nothing

 

These were intense times, I don’t know what it was about Perry but he couldn’t keep a stable line up. Worst of all he sacked Fergusson decided he would play guitar himself and embraced the Avant Garde. ATV metamorphosed into The Good Missionaries. ATV did manage an album ‘The Image has Cracked’ which I bought out of loyalty. On the longest track on the record recorded live Perry invites the audience onstage to use the microphone to say anything they want. No one has anything interesting to say, it’s a bit like a portent or the internet. The record also features, perhaps not so strange when you consider Danny Baker and Genesis P-Orridge, a certain Jools Holland genial TV music host on inappropriate piano and synth.

I kind of admire Perry’s habit of shooting himself in the foot whenever it looked like he might be getting too successful. Unfortunately however, instead of totally disappearing up his own arse he has returned to Alternative Television off and on for the rest of his life. I caught the band at a college in Bedford in the 80’s and they were just fine but clearly they weren’t going to change the world. This was the end of Perry’s crazy hyperactivity, ATV have continued in one form or another and released their latest record in 2015.

And it’s possible that one day I might listen to it but I’m in no hurry. In the meantime I’ll dig out the first singles every decade or so and marvel at their beauty.

 

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Politics

Once punk had started politics was on the agenda big time but this was the politics of the truculent teenager. It seemed the mainstream parties had nothing to offer us and, in fact, seemed to be totally disinterested with the ‘youth vote’. Jim Callaghan was the labour prime minister tacking the ‘winter of discontent’ where half of Britain seemed to be on strike because Callaghan was attempting to hold wage increases to less than 5% (!!).

40 years later we are about to have a general election in Britain and there is the fear that should Labour win again they will drag Britain back to the 1970’s. It’s that faint memory of rubbish piled high on the pavements or the army having to put out fires out the trains not running that seem to terrify people.

It’s a legitimate fear although as a public sector worker myself who has not had a pay raise for nearly 10 years the idea of getting a 5% rise seems fantasy. This is the other side of the coin, because of the power of the unions, usually seen as a bad thing, the 70’s were the time in our history when the gap between the richest and poorest was smallest ever. There was a lack of jobs but there were at least benefits for those without work. Virtually no one had to sleep rough, there was pretty much council housing for all and if you didn’t fancy that there was always squatting. One of the social factors that facilitated punk was the fact that you could live in central London for nothing in houses that no one wanted anymore. Now central London is just a collection of uninhabited assets, empty investment properties owned by the Arabs and Chinese which are making more money each year by just existing than I will ever earn.

The 70s was a time when ordinary working people could look forward to buying a house and living and retiring comfortably. A classic example of this are my own in laws Ralph and Shirley who both left school at 16 worked all their lives and managed to save enough to retire early to their own bungalow where, in their late 70s are able to live as happily as two welsh people can manage.

Both have had major health issues, they are fine now but they wouldn’t be without the NHS which has effectively brought them back to life and kept them healthy more than once. It didn’t cost them, or us a penny at the time, we’ve all paid taxes of course but it seems worth it to me.

I currently work in a hospital and let me tell you the NHS is fucked, no one is pretending otherwise, even the Tories have stopped telling us the NHS is safe in their hands anymore, if they get into power they will sell off the assets which we have paid for with our taxes, to their mates in private companies. They will then sell off services, funding the likes of Richard Branson to take over and make cuts, this will happen over a number of years it will be slow so we won’t really notice it’s happening until it’s too late.

One of the features of more recent years has been benefit concerts for musicians who have fallen on hard times and whose health has taken a turn for the worse. Musicians being notoriously slack with everyday bureaucracy have often failed to establish health care plans so medical treatment can cost thousands. The only way they can get treatment is to get their mates to pull together to raise, hopefully, the required sum, if they can’t well…….

That’s in the USA of course, in Britain they just get referred to hospital to see a specialist and get as much medical treatment as they need. I don’t matter who they are or what they do because it’s free for all.

What a fantastic system and we could keep it if we just make the right decision on Thursday.

I’m not trying to preach but if its one thing that punk taught me it’s that life if political whether you want it to be or not. For the first time in my life there is a very clear choice between the parties.

I will be voting for a party that is pledging to level out social inequality, to bring the huge corporations that pay no tax to account and to fund a decent health and education service. Some of the values of the 1970s are worth keeping.

Oh, that’s the Labour Party by the way.

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The Disappearance of the Subway Sect

altered images

In the early 80’s my band Butisitart? secured a couple of local support gigs for Altered Images. The Glasgow band were at the peak of their success at this time having secured some indie credibility though the DJ John Peel’s support. Now they had broken into the big time with the single ‘Happy Birthday’.

 

We had secured the gig by simply sending the band a cassette tape. We had made our recording debut in a council flat on one of the rougher estates in Nottingham. This was our rehearsal space for a short period. The existing tenant wanted to make some money and could put up with our noise. The other locals weren’t so accommodating to the point where one of them turned up and banged on the door. Our host let her in to talk to us, it was pretty obvious she had been in the pub until the 2pm closing time but she was reasonably pleasant to us despite telling Meloni our singer that she sounded like ‘a scalded cat’. She made it clear that there were others in the locality who were not so accommodating to our post punk experimentation and might decide to make their own visit. The landlord was not phased by the threats ‘tell them I’ve got a gun’ he informed her.

Before we moved on we did do some recording on a two track machine which meant the band were on one track and Meloni was on the other. Her vocals were very loud in the mix, it was a bit frightening really but it did the trick. Claire Grogan had listened to the tape while doing her ironing and gave us a chance, bless her.

Altered Images were a bit out of their depth to be honest. It was apparent that they weren’t really musicians of the highest calibre and one of their songs just ground to a halt in front of a packed audience, it wasn’t long before they sacked their drummer.

Sandwiched between our incompetent efforts and the almost equally incompetent headliners were a bunch of very professional musicians indeed trading under the name of Vic Goddard and The Subway Sect. Vic had just decided that he would be a crooner in the Frank Sinatra mould, it wasn’t really my thing so I spent most of his set using my access all areas pass to go places in the venue denied to the public. At one point I went through one door and found myself out on the street but my pass got me straight in again, it was such fun.

On the second night Vic didn’t make it up from London on the train but his band had turned up and treated us to a set of instrumental cocktail jazz. Just prior to this their drummer sought me out and asked to borrow a piece of my drum kit which he very decently returned to me later.

In a few weeks Vic and his band had parted company, the latter members going on to form Joboxers who had a sizable hit with the single ‘Boxerbeat’. Whenever this appeared on television or radio it gave me the opportunity to point out my own close personal friendship with their drummer but by and large my own friends and relatives remained unimpressed.

But a mere 4 years previously Vic Goddard and the Subway Sect really could have been contenders. For a period of a few months they were the fourth best punk band in London trailing behind the Pistols, The Dammed and The Clash. They were on the bill at the first punk festival at the 100 club in 1975 and from then on were available as support on tours by the bigger bands. Joe Strummer rated them highly and for a short period they were best mates with the Clash as Bernie Rhodes was managing both bands.

Where the Pistols and the Dammed where clearly throwing their hats into the rock ring despite their protestations to the contrary The Sect were different, favouring a thinner sound. Guitarist Rob Simmons used a Fender Mustang rather than the Gibsons favoured by the others. He also wore the guitar tucked up onto his chest to further avoid any rock god temptations, it sounded a bit like television would have if they had been born in London and failed to practice their scales.

“They (Pistols etc) just want to revitalize rock’n’roll whereas we just wanna get rid of it.” Zigzag.

The Sect never really achieved lift off, from the early days they were shedding drummers at an alarming rate. Being managed by Bernie Rhodes wasn’t exactly the leg up they were hoping for as he decided to sack the band before they could release a record.

And that was it for the Subway Sect. Obviously Vic Goddard reformed them but the new band bore no resemblance to the combo who had appeared at the 100 club. The original bassist Paul Myers went on to join Steve Jones and Paul Cook in The Professionals where he developed a heroin habit but little else. Vic Goddard continued to make music for a while but then went on to get a job as a postman for which he is as famous for as any of his musical exploits, certainly as far as popular culture is concerned.

As we all know, the music never really dies however much you want it too. Goddard continues to occasionally make music as do the other two band members but by now he’s collecting his pension from Royal Mail there’s not the same incentive.

Despite the paucity of product from the original band the sound they made influenced the next wave of Glasgow bands like Orange Juice, rumour has it that Goddard is singing on Edwin Collins’ hit ‘Girl like You’ but I can’t hear him. There’s an element of post punk in the band before punk even happened and although it won’t get your recordings on the latest Guitar Hero game it’s an influential noise.

Word to the wise…Rob Simmons now plays in a band called The Fallen Leaves. After being sacked he found he couldn’t collect his guitar from the garage where it was stored so he simply gave up music for 20 years. The Fallen Leaves play 60’s influence garage punk. If you like that sort of thing as much as I do check them out.

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The Pirates reform 1976 

The Pirates pretty much spluttered to a halt after the death of Johnny Kidd in 1966. Their impact by this point had been as much on other musicians as the audiences, The Pirates were always a big live draw and there was always a suspicion that Kidd himself had the potential to be a Tom Jones type figure but he didn’t really have the ambition and was happy as a band member. The Who were later to cover ‘Shakin all over’ on their Live at Leeds Album. A decade later Motorhead would team up with Girlschool to record a one off single version of ‘Please don’t touch’. Most significantly Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood was notably influenced by the playing of guitarist Mick Green and the band had covered a few songs from the Pirates repertoire.Following a decade after Kidd’s death there was still considerable affection for the Pirates among rock fans and there was a chance for the band to capitalise on this and reform. There was just one problem however.

Over a dozen players had passed through The Pirates crew in the seven years of their existence some of these passed through quite quickly but the band’s existence could be broken down into three eras.

Pirates mark one had been Kidd with guitarist Alan Caddy, bassist Brian Gregg and drummer Clem Cattini. This was the band with the big hits although ‘Please don’t touch’ was recorded by a motley crew of about seven people rather than the three piece. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the awesome lead guitar on ‘Shaking all Over’ was the work of session player Joe Moretti. This version of the band didn’t actually last that long, it was a great start but the hits soon dried up. The band jumped ship (ha!) to play an Italian tour with the lamentably named Colin Hicks and the Cabin Boys. And that was the end of that.

Version two was a hard gigging band mainly comprising of Mick Green on guitar, bass player Johnny Spence and drummer Frank Farley. This version of the band went in an R&B direction which made them a popular live draw. Their only real hit ‘I’ll Never Get over you’ was a pleasant Mersey beat influence song quite different from their early rock and roll numbers. Mick Green was only with the group fairly briefly but largely through the patronage of Wilko he was regarded as the main Pirate.

Last and least was version three. The main man in this line up was bass player Nick Simper. It’s the forgotten line up by virtue of the fact that it didn’t last long and inconveniently included an organist which would have taken the band in a different musical direction. In the cruellest of ironies Kidd and Simper were driving back from a gig in Bolton which had been cancelled because they had turned up slightly late. Kidd was killed in a car accident near Bury and Simper was injured quite badly.

On the anniversary of Kidd’s death Simper convened a band to play a tribute gig. In the meantime Simper had been the bass player for Deep Purple but was replaced by Roger Glover before the hits started (he plays on ‘Hush’ which I believe was a big hit in the states). Flushed with success from the gig Simper considered there might be some mileage in reforming the band but he was about to be beaten to the punch by a reformation of the mark 2 version.

Green, Farley and Spence reunited with Spence taking over the vocals. It also appeared that they had inherited the stage costumes. In the early 60’s getting dressed up was part of the act and probably a testament to the novelty nature of rock and roll in those days and so we had the likes of The Outlaws who wore western garb and Nero and the Gladiators who dressed as..well you guess this one.

A bunch of men approaching middle age dressed as pirates did not seem luck a recipe for success but the band were so shit hot that it didn’t matter. Early on they secured a gig at the NME Christmas party. Playing for a bunch of pissed up journalists must be the sort of publicity that money just can’t buy and soon most of London was raving about the band. Wisely the band concentrated on souped up R&B classics and their own numbers which sounded like less good souped up R&B classics.

The icing on the cake would be their rendition of the two seminal British classics where Green could demonstrate his prowess namely ‘Please don’t Touch’ and ‘Shakin all Over’. Unfortunately in terms of authenticity they might as well have played ‘Apache’ or ‘Telstar’ as none of this version of the band had played on the originals.

The original musicians were still active. Drummer Clem Cattini had proved spectacularly successful as a session player having played on more hit records in Britain than anyone else. Rumour had it that he was to be approached by potential Zeppelin manager Peter Grant when the band were forming. Pre e-mail Grant had been unable to contact Cattini who was busy with session work and so offered the job to John Bonham. Bassist Greg and guitarist Caddy were less busy although the latter had a lifetime alcohol problem to keep him busy. To complicate matters more, although Caddy was always a competent guitarist the iconic solo on ‘Shakin all Over’ had been played by session man Joe Morettti.

Most of us were too ignorant or just didn’t care though, for a few years The Pirates were a top bar band and a sweaty night was guaranteed (naturally I never actually saw the band live as they seemed to play around London and the continent giving Norwich a wide berth). Other bands soon learned not to follow the Pirates onstage. Undoubtedly punk gave them a kick up the arse in terms of performance and attitude.

This is what they were capable of

As we all know, just ask Rory Gallagher, selling out sweaty live performances don’t usually translate into huge record sales and the Pirates eventually sort of called it a day. In the wonderful world of rock and roll of course no one with bills to pay ever really gets to quit, and so various combinations of the band including a bizarre version with Clem Cattin, Brian Greg and Joe Moretti’s son (What do you do for a living? – I play my dad’s guitar solo from 40 years ago) have reformed for gigs and tours. Mick Green went on to play with Paul McCartney among others but is now departed from this planet as is Alan Caddy from the original band.

And again the Pirates demonstrated the power of three, bands like The Hamsters made a living for many years with the same blueprint and this weekend, near you, it’s very likely some bass, drums and guitar combo will be getting an aging audience sweaty.

 

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The Power of Three

A couple of weekends ago my peaceful weekend was interrupted by a phone call from a nice man called Ray. I was expecting a call as the following I was due to play a gig and the support band had found themselves without a drummer hence I was to be called to stand in. My original brief was that this would be a blues band, easy peasy, however as Ray eventually explained (he rambled a bit it must be said) the blues gig was off due to the rather un rock and roll reason that their guitarist of choice had got ‘a bad case of gout’. The plan would be that we would play some early 60’s classics, Ray was a bit vague on this he mentioned there would be some Chuck Berry (yay) some Elvis (ok) and possible some Shadows (oh er). I didn’t press him for more details, I was due in work for 9am the next day after all and Ray wasn’t getting any more concise so I agreed a time to meet at the gig and ended the call.My early purchase of K-Tell’s 25 rockin and rollin greats had at last paid off, I had played that record to death so I knew at least 25 rock and roll songs but, I realised I didn’t know that many Shadows songs so a trip to Spotify was needed.

One of my favourite periods of music history is the early 60’s in Britain. Rock and Roll had just happened, it had taken us a few years to pick on American styles and quite frankly we weren’t that good at it yet. Rock and roll was now being played by ex skiffle and jazz musicians up and down the country. The early 60’s were almost as austere as the post war years, guitars were actually quite hard to get hold of and decent equipment virtually unobtainable. Bands would travel up and down the roads of Britain (there were virtually no motorways) in completely clapped out vans devoid of seat belts, heating, radios and in fact often devoid of seats. At the end of the trip there was the joy of playing a local ballroom where hopefully the equipment would work and were the band would be safe from being beaten up by the local youths. If they were luck there might be a bag of chips on the way home unless it was Sunday which was when God had declared everything should be closed.

At this period The Shadows were gods themselves by virtue of the fact that they were really good. Guitarist Hank Marvin was a real hero especially with any young man forced to wear spectacles. Marvin was a shockingly good player but also had an amazing tone to his guitar which even today sounds both ancient and futuristic. Terry Meehan on drums had quite a few jazz chops which made for a series of exciting breaks, Jet Harris had one of the first ever electric basses in Britain and could play it well. On rhythm guitar was Marvin’s Geordie mate Bruce Welch who, as we shall see in a minute, was to be one of the most important men in rock.

The band were actually pretty good singers and cut some vocal tracks as The Drifters but soon developed their Shadows personas by backing Cliff Richard. Being required to do less singing they worked on their patented Shadows instrumental sound and became the heroes of all aspiring musicians by being both very good and imitable.

There was no rock career path in those days, most bands carried on for a couple of years until they got fed up with living off chips and being beaten up by teddy boys. They then went back to being milkmen or whatever, end of story. For the lucky few there was a career in light entertainment and sure enough as soon as Mersey beat came along The Shadows could be seen chucking custard pies at each other on stage in a provincial panto.

Most of the bands in this early period of British rock and roll were not actually that good, that was unsurprising, there was no way we could do a crash course in American culture in a couple of years. The Shadows were head and shoulders above everyone else but there was another rival for best British band.

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were responsible for possibly the two best British rock and roll tracks ever namely ‘Please don’t Touch’ and ‘Shaking all Over’. While the Shads, really by virtue of their link with the people’s favourite Cliff Richard could enjoy a bit of mainstream success Johnny Kidd was still dragging his final incarnation of The Pirates round the dance hall circuit by the time of his death in a car accident near Bury in 1966.

And so we have the two really significant bands whose legacy lives on today by virtue of the fact that they influenced so many of the next generation of rockers.

This is where we come to the importance of Bruce Welch. The bands that followed copied either The Shadows or The Pirates in a very significant way namely did they or didn’t they have a rhythm guitarist?

The thing about a three piece band (that’s in terms of musicians not just numbers we are talking about singers can be a separate person or one of the other band members doubling up.) is that it make everything a bit simpler and more direct. Everyone in the band has to work a bit harder, and there’s also a bit of a problem with the sound dropping out when the guitarist takes a solo, but a three piece tend to rock a bit harder. The four piece, of course have a far broader musical palette, solos often sound better with some chords underneath. The Shadows would have been crap without Bruce Welch they needed to sound nice, on the other hand Black Sabbath were fine with just the one guitarist. The Who began life in The Shadow’s mode but when Roger Daltrey heard The Pirates he jettisoned his own lead guitar for the sound of a three piece .

The power of three can arise in strange places, apparently The Hollies were so enthralled by the sound of the Pirates that they just didn’t plug in Graham Nash’s guitar for live gigs. The three is the power trio harder and heavier but perhaps less inventive than the four piece.

And so until The White Stipes were invented bands had the choice of whether they wanted to be The Pirates or The Shadows.In fact it stems from the days of Mersey beat, the biggest live rivals to The Beatles were proto power trio The Big Three who allegedly (there’s very little recorded evidence) had the live power to blow the Beatles offstage. At the beginning Buddy Holly complicated things by having 3 and 4 piece bands!

 

And so bands spilt into two camps

 

Pirates

The Who, Cream, Led Zep, Black Sabbath, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ,ZZ Top, Motorhead, The Police

 

Shadows

The Beatles, the Stones, The Clash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Television, Status Quo, AC/DC

So for few years at least, the choice for most bands were one of two blueprints. Personally I’m a sucker for a bit of rhythm guitar from Crazy Horse to Television it’s nice to have a bit more going on while the lead is showing off but in terms of main stream rawk the three piece is the most enduring form.

And it’s all traceable, in Britain at least, to The Pirates.

More about The Pirates in the 70’s next week.

 

 

 

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

Classic Albums I’ve Missed

I realised the other day when having an exchange with Kcorsini from Bourbon and Vinyl blog (if you haven’t already check it out) that there’s an awful lot of classic musical albums that I haven’t actually listened to. I know they exist, I might even know the music off them but I haven’t actually listened to them.
For a couple of years I listened to every record in my possession avidly. I was young with lots of time and not much money, every note had to count. There was then a period of around 10 years when I could afford to buy whatever records I wanted and the quality control began to slip a bit. This overlapped with the advent of the cassette. This horrible piece of tape revolutionised how we listened to music. For a start it was portable and you could play it in the car. Secondly those 45 minutes were meant to be used and with the event of the mixtape we could make our own compilations, for all the cassette years the only full albums I bought on tape were ones that were sold at ridiculously cheap prices from Woolworths.

Already my commitment to the album had been weakened. With the advent of CD I was, again, buying proper recorded albums with miniaturised sleeve art, but, and it’s a big but, new albums were now longer to take full advantage of the new format. This meant a change of commitment, did I really want to spend 70 minutes listening to one person, especially if there were ‘bonus track’ involved? The answer, inevitably was no. Suddenly greatest hits packages were looking a better deal, something I could listen to while I was doing my ironing.

I still buy CD’s out of some misplaced nostalgia/loyalty thing but most of my listening is via Spotify now and with a whole world of music available, it’s tempting to move on from one track to another jumping across bands and genres as the mood takes me.

The consequence of this hyperactivity is that I have missed out on some classic albums. I only recently listened to the Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ which seems almost inexcusable but, from my point of view understandable given my troubled relationship with the Wilson Brothers. For the record I thought it was OK by the way.

More recently I decided to take the plunge and buy Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ a decision based on the fact that it was for sale for £3 in my local supermarket. I’ve kind of listened to it through the walls as I move about the house but I don’t really feel sufficiently committed to sit down for a whole hour and actually listen to one of the great albums of the last 20 years.

So here are 5 classic LPs that I have never actually listened to

 

Nick Drake- Five Leaves Left

It’s a bit of a cult classic I know but surely any respectable music buff ought to be acquainted with Nick Drake’s first album. The reason I haven’t really exemplifies the whole problem I have with committing to albums. My introduction to Drake was when I taped an LP of Pink Moon, his last and darkest record. In many respects this final record ticks all my boxes. For starters it’s very brief which just as well as its pretty downbeat . Drake does not outstay his welcome, he’s not got a lot to say at this point, lyrically some of the songs are just fragments. Pink Moon is a kind of middle class whiteboy take on bluesman Robert Johnson, just one man, a guitar and some scary songs. My next purchase was a compilation CD taken from all his three proper LPs. So far so good, I liked what I heard but over 70 minutes there was a bit of an issue of quality control but with songs like ‘River Man’ and ‘Northern Sky’ there was a lot to like. A decade passed however without me feeling the need to extend my listening much until one day when I decided to listen to Bryter Later on Spotify. With some dismay I noted that the tracks that hadn’t made the compilation really just weren’t as good, there wasn’t another ‘Chime of the City Clock’ waiting for me. For that reason 5 Leaves Left has remained unexplored I reckoned that 70 minutes of Nick Drake was just enough, if I go to my grave without hearing anything else by Drake I won’t be too upset.

 

Pink Floyd- The Wall

This came out during the height of punk which probably wasn’t great timing. All the great prog bands just seemed wrong around this period, they were cutting their hair a bit shorter, ditching the kaftans and investing in some horrible sounding keyboards. In many respects their final record Endless River was the way I like the Floyd, lots of washy keyboards and a bit of noodly guitar all going nowhere fast. The moment that the band make an effort to be pop stars is when I left the stadium. Dark Side of the Moon was tarnished form me by ‘Money’ and The Wall was damaged for me by ‘Brick in the Wall’. It was a hit in Britain and I hated it. Not only did it feature some moronic lyrics from one of Britain’s most educated pop stars about not needing no educashun but it also featured some Dave Gilmour funk guitar playing (although even he lost faith in this and reverted back to his standard guitar solo halfway through). As a result of this and, for some strange reason I hate the cover, I really can’t face listening to the album. In theory I should like Roger Waters’s dystopian views but this for me was a case of wrong place wrong time

 

Neil Young- Harvest

Despite me likening him to Paul Weller last week, I really like Neil Young and as recently as Psychedelic Pill I prepared to spend good money for his product. After The Goldrush is a record that I’m rather fond of although I listened to it obsessively in 1978 which was well out of its allotted time frame. Harvest is, of course the even more successful sequel to that record but I bypassed it for the misery of On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. I think I made a good choice and critical, if not popular opinion, has placed Harvest as a rather sugary record. Whatever it sounds like I have yet to commit to listening to it.

The Sex Pistols-Never Mind the Bollocks

Probably not the greatest punk record of all time but due to its heavy guitar sound, which was rather embarrassing by the end of the 70’s, it sounds pretty good today. It’s not that I don’t know how it sounds I would guess I have heard every track individually in the last 40 years. This seems probable as all 4 singles are on the record which is usually a reason for me not to commit. Looking at the track listing I suspect that I’ve not missed much by not listening to it in one sitting. The fact remains though that I have never listened to the whole of the record. With the arrival of punk the album became less of an art form and more of a collection of singles and a bit of filler rather like Tamla Motown or early rock and roll. Punk is best in short bursts.

 

The Beatles- Sgt Pepper

For most of the 70’s this was regarded as the greatest record of all time, the Beatles have been subject to revision by each generation, after a few years Revolver was regarded as their magnum opus and recently the White Album seems to be making a break for the top slot. I know all the tracks on Sgt Pepper obviously but I have never actually listened to the album as its creators intended. The Xmas before last Spotify were able to stream all the Beatles records and so instead of terrible television and talking to my family I was able to immerse myself in album after album. The Beatles have always maintained a high value, there’s never been a chance of picking up Abbey Road for £3 from a service station. For this reason I haven’t actually listened to a huge amount of their work. I had never, until that Xmas , listened to the White Album for example. Despite the riches online I have never listened to Sgt Pepper all the way through.

By way of a footnote, I have just noticed an offer on amazon to pre order a special edition audio CD of the album for a mere £109.99. I know it’s a 50 year anniversary and there probably a nicke booklet involved but WTF??? Move on people!!

 

This is just the tip of an iceberg, I have, for example, never listened to any album at all by Black Sabbath or The Eagles. Time is short and it’s unlikely I’m going to us it listening to anything by the Moody Blues or Jethro Tull to name just a couple or uninteresting bands.

If you have been effected by any of the issues in this post then do let me know. Is it possible you’ve lived all your life without hearing London Calling or Exile on Main Street? These are important issues comment below with your own confessions.

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