The death from Coronavirus related complications of Tim Brooke-Taylor has been a real shock. He might have been 79 but his personality and even his appearance had changed little since the late 60’s. Brooke-Taylor had always been about 40 years old.

There was phase a couple of decades back when comedy was supposed to be the new rock and roll but in the 70’s it was so much more important than that. Comedy was the great unifier, generations would gather together to watch in real time, and the next day we could talk about it at school. The greatest unifier was the Morecambe and Wise Show, there was really nothing else that could have entertained three generations of my family equally. The greatest kudos in terms of next day playground conversations was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The show was usually hidden away on some latish slot, a lot of it wasn’t actually that funny but the sketches were very repeatable when spoken in a funny voice by a 12 year old.

The Goodies navigated the ground between the two poles. Still a recognisable sitcom format but quite invent and surreal at times. Formed by Brooke -Taylor with two contemporaries Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie the show was incredibly popular and spanned the 70’s. Like a lot of comedy and variety shows The Goodies blossomed with the BBC but eventually turned to the big money of ITV and fizzled out. The show was in fact very expensive to make as it utilised lot of special effects which, although primitive were very costly.

At the heart of the show however, like most great sitcoms there was the characters which loosely reflected the actual actors themselves . Although they had all been part of the Cambridge Footlights scene Oddie was the least posh and from ‘the north’ and so was the scruffy anarchist. Brooke-Taylor with the double-barrelled name was inevitable the conservative royalist and Garden was the ‘mad scientist’.

The Goodies came from the same background as a lot of the Monty Python cast but inevitable got labelled as a bit Python lite. With a lot of slapstick humour, they appealed to kids and were one of the most popular shows for years and years.

In many respects though The Goodies had more in common with the Monkees than the Pythons. This was further reinforced by a diversification into music. Ever since the days of Charlie Drake and Bernard Cribbins comedy songs were a prominent feature of the charts and invariably Top of the Pops were willing to promote songs from their stable of talent. Like a lot of entertainers Oddie clearly fancied himself as a pop star and had actually had an earlier far less lucrative career releasing some singles in his own right. Eventually it seemed the time was right to use Oddie’s abilities to broaden the Goodies brand (as we didn’t say in the 70’s). The first real attempt (after the Goodies theme) was ‘the Inbetweenies’ the B side was ‘Father Christmas do not Touch Me’. Yes, it was the 70’s, in fact in an attempt to revive the record the sides were flipped. This was followed by ‘Black Pudding Bertha’,’Nappy Love’ (which luckily I have totally erased from my memory banks) and finally the apex of their career ‘Funky Gibbon’. On the latter they were apparently backed by genuine funk band Gonzalez.

Oddie was actually quite a good singer but no one has looked more unlikely as a pop star than Graeme Garden although he appeared to enjoy donning the glove as an Alvin Stardust Tribute during Funky Gibbon. Brooke-Taylor, as in everything he did, just appeared to be having a great time.

My favourite Goodies musical moment was their rendition of ‘Wild Thing’, suffice to say I wasn’t really familiar with the Troggs or Hendrix at this time. I’m slightly ashamed to admit the Goodies were my first introduction to this classic.

Time’s not been that kind to the Goodies, although the BBC have been happy to repeat Dad’s Army weekly for the last 40 years they’ve kind of disowned the series, possibly because, unlike Dads Army, it was a contemporary show and reflected 70’s values which don’t hold up too well today.

Or perhaps it wasn’t that good.. you can be the judge, head for YouTube !!

Goodie Goodie yum yum

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Song for Easter..Morning has Broken

Well its Easter again and it’s an Easter like no other. We seem to have had a decent New Year’s Day, then Australia caught fire, Britain disappeared underwater and then a pandemic, if this year was on subscription I’d have cancelled it by now!

But life carries on and so does the ridiculous task of finding a song for Easter. This is the religious festival, the only one of much significance for a lot of us, apart from Easter eggs (where did they come from?) there’s not a lot of context for locating songs.

For me, Easter symbolises the end of winter, nature is ramping up a notch, less impeded this year by air pollution and hordes of people trampling over the environment. If, like me, you love the great outdoors, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Morning has Broken isn’t a Cat Steven’s composition , if you are old enough you might have sung this at school assembly. Its not a traditional hymn either, the words dating from 1931, the tune is traditional. For some reason Stevens decided he wanted to record his own version during sessions for his Teaser and the Firecat album in 1971.

For a couple of years Stevens was incredibly popular, mainly, as far as I can make out, with teenage girls. Physically that’s pretty understandable but it also demonstrates the significance on the singer songwriter gender of the early 70’s, if you looked sensitive and had an acoustic guitar you were in with a chance. For me he’s always seemed a bit insubstantial, this album is only just over half an hour (usually a good thing in my book) and the songs seem pleasant enough but gossamer thin but then I’ve never been a teenage girl.

Morning has broken is kind of more of the same, is a lovely tune but not a huge amount of substance, When Stevens first sung it the whole thing was over in less than a minute.

The song was saved by the presence of Rick Wakeman, fledgling keyboard prog god but at this point was fresh from the Strawbs and looking for session work. Stevens had heard Wakeman tinkling away on a solo composition which was later to become ‘Catherine Howard’ on his Six Wives of Henry VIII album and persuaded him to adapt it to ‘Morning’.

Apart from Steven’s vocals (apparently achieved by smoking a packet of cigarettes immediately before recording) ‘Morning’ is notable for Wakeman’s signature piano contributions, its an enduring contribution, put Wakeman anywhere near a piano and he’s likely to play something that sounds like this. The song was fleshed out by a couple of key changes and some more instrumentation, Producer Paul Samwell Smith had always been sceptical about the track and despite working to give it more substance really considered it filler (on a 30 min record!!)

The album was to prove very popular as were tracks released from it as singles. The record company were unwilling not to milk the success as much as they could so almost inevitably ‘Morning has Broken’ was put out as a single and subsequently sold shedloads.

As far as the musicians were concerned these were still naive times. Today Wakeman would pretty much have sown up his contribution deal before he played a note, such is his contribution he could probably release it under the name ‘DJ Wakey feat Catty Ste’ and claim a wedge of royalties from the 4 copies it would actually sell. There were no such deals in the London session world, Wakeman had a £10 fee which allegedly wasn’t even paid until Stevens returned to music decades later.

‘Morning has Broken’ ticks all the boxes, there is the sense of a ‘new day’ about it. It’s a bit religious, a bit spiritual, its optimistic without being anthemic.

And it’s hopeful

Happy Easter

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10:Long Distance Love…Little Feat

I read the papers

And I got the blues

I’m so sad to hear the news

Help wanted, but not enough

You know these times are gettin’ rough

Another pandemic themed song this week from Little Feat.

Around the mid 70’s the band were incredibly popular, mainly with musicians and music writers. In truth they soon went off the boil wasted by the hedonism of the LA music scene and a general lack of direction. After a couple of cracking records main man Lowell George was losing interest and a couple of the band members were finding Jazz Rock just a bit too enticing. The last Record Album which is where this track was taken from sounds tired in places. It’s a brief sketch of a record not helped by the face that drummer Richie Hayward had been involved in a motorcycle accident necessitating hospitalisation and further diluting the funk of the Feat.

This kind of works to Long Distance Love’s advantage, it’s the perfect musical representation of a hangover. George sounds tired and washed out. The resignation in his voice speaks for itself but it’s a good enough piece of song writingto use a device where in the first line he calls ‘missing persons’. Although one suspects the object of his affection is missing emotionally rather than physically it set the scene perfectly.

Unlike a lot of the bands output this is almost pure LA singer songwriter territory. The chord sequence seems like some amalgamation of two or three songs off Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Its based round the gorgeous sound of what I assume is a Fender Rhodes piano, the keyboard sound of 1975 as much as the Hammond organ was the sound of 1971. This being Little Feat rather than James Taylor however there’s still a slipperiness to the beat with bars being dropped here and there. It’s a device musicians are almost incapable of now, music is so studio technology based to 4 beats to the bar but this lifts the song out of a potentially maudlin trap.

Like so much music in the 70’s I only got to hear it occasionally having been introduced to it via a clip on the Old Grey Whistle Test. It stayed with me. Punk was on its way, soon we wouldn’t want to listen to Americans who wore dungarees onstage and had a Fender Rhodes Piano. In a couple of years Lowell George would be dead at the ridiculously young age of 34 and although the band inevitably reformed they would forever symbolise a specific time and place though the sound of their music.

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9: Five Years.. David Bowie

In the 70’s, watching TV was a consensus activity. Most home only had one set and that was there for the entertainment of the whole family, you didn’t just watch what you wanted when you wanted it, especially if it clashed with Coronation Street.

For this reason I didn’t get to watch most of a series called ‘Survivors’ but it captured by imagination big time. The series was based on the premise that a virus (from a Chinese scientist) has wiped out most of the population and a small group had to survive in the post apocalyptic world. Just after this I watched ‘The Omega Man’, a 1971 film starring Charlton Heston which was shown on TV at time which didn’t clash with any soaps. The film which would later be remade as ‘I am Legend’ again introduced the idea of a world devoid of people post some global pandemic.

Rather than find this a terrifying prospect I rather relished the thought of a world devoid of others, as long as I had a gun and could hotwire a car I thought my chances were quite favorable. Now I’m older I recognise the challenge of dentistry and medical problems but I would loot a chemist or two so, to be honest, would have a better access to medical supplies than I do with the NHS at the moment.

When broadcaster Danny Baker asked via twitter for song lyric suggestions for our current pandemic there were the inevitable suggestions along the lines of ‘Don’t stand too Close to Me’ (Police) but there was one suggestion echoed by a lot of responders which seemed to capture the feeling of staring into a very uncertain future.

5 Years was the opening track on Bowies Ziggy Stardust album.It’s a piece of work that seemed almost impossibly futuristic at the time.For me it’s a collection of some great and some ok songs which is pushed into being greater than the sum of it’s parts by the opening and closing tracks (Rock and Roll Suicide being the ultimate song). 5 years opens on a musical high with a drumbeat in 6/8, a time signature lost to modern music, which mimics a heartbeat. The opening lyrics sets the scene as well as any novel.

Pushing through the market square

So many mothers sighing

News had just come over

We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us

Earth was really dying

Cried so much his face was wet

Then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones

opera house

favorite melodies

I saw boys


electric irons and TV’s

My brain hurt like a warehouse

It had no room to spare

I had to cram so many things to store everything in there

And all the fat, skinny people

and all the tall, short people and all the nobody people

and all the somebody people

Never thought I’d need so many people

A girl my age went off her head

hit some tiny children

If the black hadn’t a-pulled her off

I think she would have killed them

A soldier with a broken arm

fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac

A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest

And the queer threw up at the sight of that

I think I saw you in an ice cream

And it was cold and it rained

so I felt like an actor

And I thought of ma

and I wanted to get back there

Your face

your race

the way that you talk

I kiss you

you’re beautiful

I want you to walk

We’ve got five years

stuck on my eyes

Five years

What a surprise

We’ve got five years

My brain hurts a lot

Five years

That’s all we’ve got

We’ve got five years

What a surprise

Five years

stuck on my eyes

We’ve got five years

My brain hurts a lot

Five years

That’s all we’ve got

We’ve got five years

stuck on my eyes

Five years

What a surprise

We’ve got five years

My brain hurts a lot

Five years,

That’s all we’ve got

We’ve got five years

What a surprise

We’ve got five years

stuck on my eyes

We’ve got five years

My brain hurts a lot

Five years

That’s all we’ve got

Five years

Five years

Five years

Five years

The song captures so well the sense of numb disbelief we’ve all experienced in the last few days as the narrator struggles with his own feelings and memories around him others are coping with using violence or turning to religion.

It’s early days yet, we’ve got to process this in our own times but we are moving from disbelief into action. I still haven’t got a gun and I’m not even certain you can hotwire cars anymore but hopefully I wont need to.

We can get through this together

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8: Cortez the Killer…Neil Young

In the 70’s the USA was simultaneously familiar and alien. Our television relied heavily on imported series from the states especially comedy, Happy Days was insanely popular, but we would also get reruns or the Monkees on a spasmodic rota. Shows were well crafted and sometime very funny, but they were also saccharine. The USA still seemed to be the land of plenty, people seemed wealthy and happy and confident. The irony was that unless you lived near a tourist attraction you were unlikely to meet a genuine American person. I was slightly the exception to this as I had an aunt who had emigrated there and every decade she would return for a couple of weeks. I must admit though that on basis of that brief encounter I had no evidence to revise my opinion, my Aunt appeared happy and confident and very proud to be an American.

Perhaps because of this cultural disconnect I was slow on the uptake with American music. The like of Alice Cooper and Aerosmith seemed a bit over confident and crass to me, nobody like a show off. Even British bands who toured America a lot seem to return changed, tougher, slicker and less fun.

The early exception was the glut of singer songwriters who emerged in the early 70’s. They were producing music that was more introspective with maybe even a trace of uncertainty. Like all sensible teenagers though I needed more than an acoustic guitar, I would be into my 20’s before I was willing to sit down and really engage with the likes of Joni Mitchell.

The reason why Neil Young was different was that he had two sides, to this day I’ve never listened to Harvest, that sort of thing didn’t really interest me at the age of 16. Post HarvestYoung ‘headed for the ditch’ away from the middle of the road where he thought he had strayed to. The next few years produced some of my all-time favourite music in the form of some troubled downbeat albums. I first picked up on Young  when he was coming out of this time with his new record Zuma.

The most important thing, in all honesty, about the album was that my friend Phil had a copy, so I actually had a chance to listen to it. Records were relatively expensive, it would be a few years before I had enough money to actually buy anything I wanted and by then it was the 80’s so there wasn’t much I did want. If a friend lent you a record you listened to it, it was free music.

The other factor in Zuma’s favour was it was almost entirely electric with his band Crazy Horse. As a band Crazy Horse were simultaneously brilliant and incompetent. It’s a bit like the argument over whether Meg White is a good drummer, their playing was hard to defend on an analytical skill level but the end result surpassed all criticism. Even by the time of Zuma the band had become looser and sloppier than they had been on their debut record ‘Everybody Knows this is Nowhere’, 20 years later they would sound like they were on the verge of disintegrating with every verse they played, but they never did.

As an electric guitar player Young has the same qualities and most importantly he knows about sound, Young and Crazy Horse are a pretty visceral experience which is why as punk was raging, I was listening to Zuma.

The standout track is ‘Cortez the Killer’. Its long but not by the standards of his later work. It’s also lyrically intriguing, there’s not a whole load of songs about the Aztec empire. There’s an ambiguity about the words encompassing both awe and admiration of the Aztecs about to be subsumed by Cortez ‘what a killer’.

But there’s a strange magic in the music itself. I’ve played it in many settings, I jammed it only a couple of weeks ago. When I played in an acoustic duo we would jam the song for ever if an audience appeared disengaged or absent. There’s a dreamy quality to the music the chords can go around and round forever. And that’s the magic, its only three chords, three basic chords at that but chords that are altered a little with suspensions and augmentations. It sounds complicated but really its just adding or taking away a note, it’s not hard to play. What it does mean though is the song never really resolves or comes to an end, it finishes when the player(s) decide.

I’ve stuck with Young over the years, not everything of course, I’m not insane! The last record I bought by him was Psychedelic Pill which offered more of the sonic thuggery of Crazy Horse. Lets face it, I’m unlikely to feel the need to buy anything else from the Young catalogue in the future. 

Over 40 years later there’s still some magic left in Cortez though

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7:Meet me on the Corner…Lindisfarne

For most people their ultimate ‘tracks of my years’ songs are ones they heard somewhere between the ages of 13 and 20. Almost all musician can report a eureka moment when they heard the music which would change their lives. For the first wave of rock it was the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee. For the next wave it was the Beatles and so on with diminishing returns. There are people in their 40’s who had this kind of experience with the Stone Roses or Oasis; I pity them.

There’s something really significant about a new sound imprinting itself on the brain. One of the first people to explore this concept was Konrad Lorenz who found baby geese would follow the first moving thing they saw after hatching, creating an instant bond no matter what that object was. Usually it was Lorenz himself and the goslings would follow him around thinking he was their parent.

I feel the same way about many of my 70’s songs, I can’t be rational about them, they were just there at the right time. 

When ‘Meet me on the Corner’ was a moderate hit I was probably 12 years old. I had taped a whole program of the chart show on a reel to reel tape recorder which my dad had passed onto me in the hope of avoiding any requests for money to buy records. It worked, I loved my first top twenty so much I never taped over it. By sheer coincidence Lindisfarne’s first hit single was one of those tracks.

Like a lot of records, I just loved the sound of it. The record’s producer was Bob Johnson, Dylan’s Nashville producer of the 60’s, there’s a touch of Nashville Skyline about the sound. Apparently, Johnson was drawn to the sound of Ray Jackson’s harmonica, so was I, I had never heard anything like it, the down-home sound of Lindisfarne was radical and new to my 12 year old years as Ornette Coleman or Stockhausen.  

Like most listeners, probably, I didn’t really analyse the lyrics. ‘Meet me on the Corner’ appears to be about scoring drugs, a kind of Geordie ‘Waiting for my Man’. Its possible that if the Daily Mail had rumbled this fact that there would have been a minor outrage but really at this point the media didn’t really recognise popular music as being of any relevance. Today, of course when it has far less cultural value they are all over it but if Lou Reed could get away with ‘giving head’ on ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ Lindisfarne could sneak a bit of dope dealing under the cultural radar.

Unusually the song wasn’t written by the band’s ‘new Dylan’ resident songwriter Alan Hull,it was the work of bass player /multi instrumentalist  Rod Clements and sung by harmonica/mandolin player Ray Jackson. It created a strange schism which was later to happen to XTC with ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ where the big hit was not written by the person who effectively fronted the band and wrote 90% of the material. For a lot of us ‘Jacka’ with his impressive moustache and mandolin was the face of Lindisfarne.

Still this was early days and everyone in the band was happy. Lindisfarne were a fantastic good time combo, so good in fact that it came to overshadow their creative side. They created a real impression on me of the power of a bunch of people having a great time onstage. Their harmonies were rough but rather like with the Band you had the impression that everyone was singing along because they were having a great time together, they were good musicians but not so good they had to prove it and the song writing was just lyrically challenging enough. Lindisfarne were a flawed band, they couldn’t really make an impression beyond their first three records. They split and reformed and after that their 80’s records sounded like they were recorded in the 80’s and their 90’s records sounded like they were recorded in the 90’s, they had lost their way.

Inevitably they are now a legacy band. The only original member is Clements who took over from Jacka and inheritedhis mandolin. I broke the rule of a lifetime and went to see them a couple of years back (well it was at a festival I didn’t go specifically). One of the things about the legacy culture is there’s often a pool of musician to choose from as a fair few have passed through the band over 50 years and many of the current musicians have been in post for decades. It can take it’s toll, guitarist Colin Gibson was actually attached to an oxygen cylinder. Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson is now the drummer and the late Allan Hull has his son in law standing in for him. It’s a strange regrouping but it worked.

Lindisfarne were the first band I wrote about here

Apart from their live album, at the time considered pretty crap but now a rather charming ‘warts n all’ document, I never owned a record by them beyond a CD of greatest hits. So, via the wonder of Spotify, I’ve just listened to ‘Nicely Out of Tune’ their debut LP. It sounds great but the track that sound best are the ones I’ve heard before. Am I like Lorenz’s goslings just latching onto an early experience or are they a great band?

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6: All the Young Dudes.. Mott the Hoople

Early Mott the Hoople had their fans, Mick Jones later of the Clash and Kris Needs later editor of Zigzag magazine to name just two. The band inspired the devotion that only comes from giging and hard work. Early producer Guy Stevens was willing to give them a listen after seeing Ian Hunter wrestle a Hammond Organ up several flights of stairs after a shift at the factory.

The bands attitude didn’t really disguise the fact that early Mott weren’t really that good, fairly run of the mill rock that didn’t really distinguish them from Blossom Toes or Blodwyn Pig or countless other bands beginning with B.

And so the band ran out of steam and split up.

Luckily another fan was David Bowie, when Mott bassist Overend Watts phoned him up to see if he was thinking of sacking Trevor Bolder from the Spiders of Mars, Bowie was so upset that he said he would write the band a song if they could only reform.

Bowie offered the band ‘Suffragette’ city which rather cheekily, the band turned down. Bowie apparently then sat down and wrote a song literally in front of Ian Hunter.

And so, ‘All the Young Dudes’ was born. Certainly one of Bowie’s greatest songs and instead of keeping it for himself he gave it away.

Along with the song came a whole new package from Bowie’s management company, in the 70’s that made a whole heap of difference, Mott the Hoople were to become a major proposition.

The lyrics are,of course exceptional, you can speak them like poetry, you can rap them or’ like Hunter you can sing them pretending to be Bob Dylan circa 1966. Bowie intended the song to be part of his (always fashionable) ‘the world’s about to end’ theme others prefer to see it a some sort of ‘coming out’ song. I just loved the fact that it mentioned ‘Marks and Sparks’ (retail chain Marks and Spencers).

All the Young Dude’s for me is possibly the best ever glam rock song. Lets not forget Glam was Glam Rock not glam pop, early proponents, Bowie, Slade, even T Rex were bands capable of packing a real punch live. Quite how Rock became Glam is still a mystery, it must be more than Overend Watt’s thigh boots. For me, there was a certain crunchy guitar sound that was synonymous with Glam, Bolan had it, the Sweet had it, Slade had it. The best bit of the song for me is the guitar intro, its got such a Mick Ronson feel to it I wonder what his involvement was, if any. Two notes from Mick Ralphs and it 1972 again.

There’s another, less noticeable musical element to the song that anchors it perfectly in time and place. The Hammond Organ was, in man ways the sound of the early 70’s. Tony’s Kaye in Yes, Hugh Banton in Van Der Graff Generator, Vincent Crane in Atomic Rooster,Ian Maclagan in the Faces and many many more. The Hammond was a mainstay of seriously heavy bands despite being physically unsuited for life on the road. It was heavy and huge and invariably needed an equally huge cabinet to make it heard. Clearly as soon as more portable keyboards were developed from the mid 70’s the Hammond was history. It’s a huge shame, there’s nothing like a genuine Hammond organ but no one is going to carry one of them up a few flights of stairs again. Which meant no one was going to get a change to impress Guy Stevens with their commitment.

Ever since JS Bach wrote ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ we’ve been a sucker for the descending bass line. Here it’s played by Mott Organist Verden Allen and with that under Ralphs guitar its 70’s heaven all the way.

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5. Can’t Get Enough..Bad Company

‘Well I take whatever I want

And baby I want you,

After the chaotic dissolution of Free, vocalist Paul Rogers formed a band Peace and landed a support slot on a Mott the Hoople tour. Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs has been writing a whole load of songs that no longer had a place in the Mott portfolio as the band were becoming increasingly synonymous with glam rock. When Ralphs and Rogers stated hanging out it was only a matter of time before Ralphs started demoing his songs.

On hearing the above line Rogers was blown away, it was 1974 after all there was no sexist cliche too risible. And so the seeds of Bad Company were sown.

Soon Simon Kirke also traumatized by his time in Free was recruited on drums and eventually Boz Burrell, ex of King Crimson, was the bass player. Burrrell felt the same about prog rock as Ralphs felt about glam, this was going to be a back to basics band. To misquote Alan Partridge on the Beatles and Wings, Bad Company was the band Free could have been. This time there would be no drug problems, a new manager was found in the form of Led Zep’s Peter Grant and a home on Zeps record label Swansong was inevitable.

Bad Company would have a long life span, I covered it here a few years ago.

In all honesty all you need to know about their music is on their first, or, at a push,their second LP. That was when Ralphs had a stockpile of songs, after that it was the law of diminishing returns.

But really all you need is their first and greatest single ‘Can’t get Enough’.

The song means a lot to me, I never owned a copy but it was on the radio a lot. I was learning to play the drums and whenever the song appeared on Radio 1 (which was about every two hours) I would join in to the delight of my family and neighbors. This did me a huge favour. Bad Company had their roots in the 60’s when drummers would be expected to swing a bit, shuffles and 6/8 time were meat and potatoes for the jobbing percussionist. ‘Can’t get Enough’ sounds like a rock song but it swings in a subtle way. When I sat in with my jam band to play this recently it took me a while to find the groove, we’ve lost that way of playing today.

Usually these days my role is as bass player and again Boz Burrell’s bass line is a triumph of subtle invention. It shifts constantly building verse by verse without ever deviating from the chord sequence, unless you listen carefully you’d miss it but it makes the song a whole lot better.

‘Can’t Get Enough’ is superficially a simple song, its just a few chords, most bar bands could play it (and do) but they could never play it as well as Bad Company and no one could sing as well as Paul Rogers. I don’t have guilty pleasures, its hard to justify this song to a younger generation, especially the lyrics, but I cant feel guilty this song brings me so much pleasure which I’m sure is about more than just remembering what it was like to be 15 again

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3 Still Life.. Van Der Graff Generator

New music is just music you haven’t heard before. By 1979, my life was full of new music, despite rock (and roll) being just over 20 years old there was plenty I hadn’t heard yet and every week there was a whole load of new stuff that was absolutely great.

That was the year of power pop, Blondie, Buzzcocks, The Undertones,The Police, even Elvis Costello was pop that year, Two Tone was about to explode it was a busy busy time for anyone who had even a passing interest in popular music. I was living in a block with 10 boy/men at Trent Polytechnic, out of that number a couple had virtually no interest in music at all but the rest of us, including the ones who would go on to become accountants and quantity surveyors had some record collection. At the extreme end was myself and my best Poly friend Al. Al by virtue of some semblance of a Protestant work ethic had acquired more records than me. He had initially specialized in the interesting end of prog including a number of releases on the fledgling Virgin record label, his head had been turned a little by punk and new wave but his favorite band was about to become a special band to me as well thanks to Al’s generosity in sharing his collection.

Van Der Graff Generator (or VDGG as us ‘heads’ would call them) had been around since the late 60’s and by the time I was listening they were no more. The band had 3 seventies phases. The first one saw them at their hippiest, there were acoustic guitars and pianos to soften some of the brain splitting riffs. The band hit some sort of meltdown, today they would just take a break but in the 70’s no one expected a band to last much more than 5 years so they split up. After a bit of solo careering main man Peter Hammill regrouped the band. Having jettisoned their bass player a couple of LP’s ago the core of the band was organ, drums and saxophones, not even close to the expected rock line up. Hammill now decided to play the electric guitar but manage to avoid ever sounding like Eric Clapton or indeed like anyone else.

The first VDGG I ever listen to was World Record, widely considered not to be their best but its got some pretty crunchy tunes on side one and even when the band relaxed into a bit of a jam, which appeared slightly necessary to fill side two, they were the antithesis for the Allman Brothers, veering toward scratchy texture rather than grandstanding. Keyboard player Hugh Banton was an organist pure and simple, no fancy synth twiddling for Hugh although he allegedly used the Mellotron occasionally. With the energy he saved from synth fiddling he covered the bass parts as well, usually on the bass pedals of his organ. Guy Evans was a versatile and powerful drummer, like just about everyone from the 60’s he could play jazz. The main reason he’s not regarded as one of the all time greats is because he was the drummer for VDGG.

I’ve covered the great David Jackson elsewhere, he was the soul of the band’s weirdness, could sound like a marching band or a bunch of crows in a church tower. He could play lots of saxophones and flutes, sometimes at the same time.

However the reason for the inclusion of ‘Still Life’ is down to Hamill’s lyric over everything else. I’ve never been a lyric’s person, there’s a whole load of songs where I have no idea what they are about, in fact I’m prone to mishearing lyrics and I’ve been happy to live with that for decades. I like the sound of music (literally, not the film), I like the odd lyrical phrase but it really irks me when people talk of rock lyrics as being poetry. Simon Armitage has the same view and he’s a proper poet so I’m right here- no arguing!

Still life is off the Mk2 bands second LP called Still Life. The first record Godbluff escaped my attention in 1979 but to be fair I did have an entire back catalogue to listen too, but Still Life is very much more of the same, side two features an epic which allows them to do a bit of prog noodling and goes on a bit but side one is the band at their very best. La Rossa is about requited love/lust which made an impact on me as a 19 year old listening in my polytechnic cell. Pilgrims is about pilgrims, or something, as I’ve explained I’m not great with lyrics it does feature a great Evan’s drum fill which is something I do understand.

Sandwiched between the two is still life a meditation on what it might be like if we were to live forever, all the elements of the band are present musically, Hammill has a lovely voice if he wants but you’re never far from from some tonsil shredding, possibly the main thing that put the casual listener off, but again that could be the weird saxophone or the tricky time signatures or the gothic organ or the fact that tracks last at least five minutes.

Anyway, it’s not bloody poetry but it is bloody amazing lyrically.

Citadel reverberates to a thousand voices, now dumb:
What have we become? What have we chosen to be?
Now, all history is reduced to the syllables of our name –
Nothing can ever be the same now the Immortals are here.
At the time, it seemed a reasonable course
To harness all the force of life without the threat of death,
But soon we found
That boredom and inertia are not negative,
But all the law we know
And dead are Will and words like survival.Arrival at immunity from all age, all fear and all end…
Why do I pretend? Our essence is distilled
And all familiar taste is now drained
And though purity is maintained it leaves us sterile,
Living through the millions of years,
A laugh as close as any tear…
Living, if you claim that all that entails is
Breathing, eating, defecating, screwing, drinking,
Spewing, sleeping, sinking ever down and down
And ultimately passing away time
Which no longer has any meaning.Take away the threat of death
And all you’re left with is a round of make-believe;
Marshal every sullen breath
And though you’re ultimately bored by endless ecstasy
That’s still the ring by which you hope to be engaged
To marry the girl who will give you forever –
That’s crazy, and plainly
It simply is not enough.What is the dullest and bluntest of pains,
Such that my eyes never close without feeling it there?
What abject despair demands an end to all things of infinity?
If we have gained, how do we now meet the cost?
What have we bargained, and what have we lost?
What have we relinquished, never even knowing it was there?What chance now of holding fast the line,
Defying death and time
When everything we had is gone?
Everything we laboured for and favoured more
Than earthly things reveals the hollow ring
Of false hope and of false deliverance.But now the nuptial bed is made,
The dowry has been paid;
The toothless, haggard features of Eternity
Now welcome me between the sheets
To couple with her withered body – my wife.Hers forever,
Hers forever,
Hers forever
In still life.

Whenever I think I might not want to die someday all I have to do is revisit still life and realize the alternative is far far worse.

Hugh Banton left the band after a couple of years , rather unsurprisingly he became a church organist and built church organs (that guy sure loved his organs). It’s Banton who provides the core backing throughout Still Life, creating the church vibe at the beginning and morphing into the 60’s prog as the song progresses

Mark 3 VDGG brought in a violinist to replace Jackson and re-introducing ex bass player Nic Potter. They were pretty good but very different as as punk had happened were doomed to failure after one LP. After decades apart they reformed and are still a going concern, although Jackson bailed out after a couple of years. Three old men who are free to play pretty much as they please, Hamill has had a heart attack they all know that every gig or recording could well be their last.

But hopefully they know the alternative is far worse…

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The Doctors of Madness

Many years ago while working in Leicester I came across a story in the local paper, the Leicester Mercury, about Leicester bands who had not quite made it. Leicester is not exactly a rock and roll city but it’s made its mark on the rock music map of Great Britain. In the 60’s there was Family, in the 70’s it spawned Showaddywaddy, in the 90’s, almost inevitably given the city’s Asian population, there was Cornershop and most recently the city witnessed the formation of Kasabian.

And let’s not forget Englebert Humperdinck of course.

Anyway, there were the also rans who were the subject of this article, bands who had a recording contract but never ‘made it’. One thing that struck me was that the bands never attributed their relative failures on their inability to write decent songs or put on an acceptable live show. Each and every band attributed their demise to external factors, bad recording choices, always by the record company, changes of personnel at the company or generally the record company making bad decisions or sometimes just ceasing to exist. In fact the only thing that was not entirely the record company’s fault was when musical tastes changed and the band were left behind (and often it was the company’s failure that the band were unable to pursue a new direction)

Bloody record companies!

Today anybody with a laptop can put out their music, record companies are becoming redundant at a grass roots level but in the 70’s the only way that 99.9% of bands could make a record was with the cooperation with their paymasters.

One of the many notable failures of the decade were the Doctors of Madness. I caught the band in 75 or 76. My confusion in relation to the date is caused not only by the age process but also due to the fact that I was coming down with the flu and was hallucinating mildly during their performance.

The heart of the band was a lanky singer/guitarist with blue hair which in itself was outrageous at the time. Kid Strange was also, according to my unreliable memory, wearing thigh length boots and had a guitar made out of the letters KID. The bass player Stoner was wearing some pretty unpleasant Frankenstein make up and the drummer Peter Di Lemer was frighteningly blond and looked like Jet Harris from the Shadows. The aural excitement was curtesy of a crop haired individual dressed in grey. Urban Blitz was a classically trained (aren’t they all?) violinist and occasional guitar player. His role model appeared to be John Cale form the Velvet Underground, Cale played viola however, the violin was an even more abrasive instrument in this setting.

In theory there was a lot to like, their open number ‘Waiting’ smacked us about the ears in a painful but good way and the band looked as impressive as any support band can do occupying a six foot strip of stage in front to the headliner’s drum kit.
These days the band are sometimes heralded as precursors to punk but that’s being wise after the event. Kid Strange was actually very influenced by singer/songwriter Roy Harper. Like Harper he had developed a stark and uncompromising approach, being influenced by the Beat writers and particularly Edgar Burroughs. Strange was intelligent and self-confident there seemed little doubt that he felt he was entitled to become a seriously influential figure.

Willing to back his self-belief was record company Polydor, and with The Doctors of Madness signed up their lives would now be dedicated to the inevitable album/tour cycle.

Unfortunately the nation failed to be stirred by the Doctors of madness at all. They toured with Be Bop Deluxe (when I saw them) and the Heavy Metal Kids, ironically other bands that never really achieved their potential. Initially the band was probably just too caustic for the glam rock crowd. Pauline Murray of Penetration, stranded in an ex mining town in County Durham observed that although she would happily travel many miles to see the group they were a ‘real record company type band’ where the Sex Pistols, who she caught a little later were in a different league. The Pistols were later to support the Doctors of Madness were able to blow them off stage not because they were more musically gifted but because they were just totally different, the Pistols were not ‘record company’.

I bought the band’s first record ‘Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms’, second hand of course, and it was obvious that Kid Strange was prone to slightly overwrought song writing, a bit like Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel, when The Doctors of Madness were good they were very good but it was easy to slip into histrionic singer songwriter mode which both Kid Strange and Steve Harley were prone to.

Urban Blitz was to quit which seemed to me to be a blow to the band but Kid Strange was undeterred. The fact was that the band were transitioning, becoming The Doctors and dropping the violin which was now out of step with the time. No doubt the record company thought this was a good idea, Punk was starting to sell and it might be possible that The Doctors could fool enough people into thinking they were a proper punk band without the screeching .

Except, of course that the band, now with three albums under their belt, were still playing the same venues to audiences that might now be tempted to see the Stranglers or Souxsie and the Banshees instead.

In a last gasp the band recruited Dave Vanian , at a loose end after the demise of The Dammed, as co vocalist (although good friends with Kid Strange, the latter recounts in his biography Vanian ‘couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket’). This seemed to last a matter of minutes and the band were no more.

If the band had existed just a couple of years earlier it likely we would have had a more lasting impression of them but instead, like everyone else they were overtaken by punk and punk filtered out memories of everything that had existed before. The Doctors of madness would have seemed better on the same bill as Hawkwind rather than The Sex Pistols, punk seemed to diminish and flatten their impact, it wouldn’t be long before blue hair became the norm although the violin was never fully rehabilitated.

Kid Strange realised that a full band was no longer necessary to ply his trade. With a drum machine and with plenty of effects and a cheap synthesiser he became Richard Strange, edging into a career that included acting, curating, writing and socialising. As we all know it’s impossible to leave the past behind for long so he’s also toured in Japan with a couple of session musicians pretending to be The Doctors of Madness but that was best forgotten, these days he’s as likely to be a guest on radio 4 talking about his latest multimedia project as strapping on a guitar.

Polydor had signed the Jam who looked like a far more exciting proposition, at least financially, and the Doctors where consigned to bargain bins across the land.

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