Neil Innes

If I had been born in Manchester or London, I would, no doubt have a stock of anecdotes about sitting next to Joe Strummer on the bus or being at school with Peter Hook or delivering mail to Ian Dury or whatever. Living my formative years in Norwich I was denied these casual brushes with fame. The most exciting it got was when a school friend had a text book which had been once used by Neil Innes. We knew this for a fact because school rules stated that you had to add your name to a list pasted in the front of the book in case you lost it. As Innes had been at Thorpe Grammar School well over 10 years previously this was a very old and dog-eared book with a long list of previous owners, but it was highly coveted by the small group of us who cared about such things.

 

Innes loomed unnaturally high in my adolescent life because he was a moderate sized fish in a very small pond (a puddle really). Innes was born in Essex but his career really began in London, the Norwich years were a really small part of his career. By the late 70’s he had lived the exciting part of his professional life. As part of the Bonzo Dog (doo dah) band he had been in the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour film and subsequently had ‘Urban Spaceman’ (which he wrote) produced to hit level by Paul McCartney. Viv Stanshall was the creative genius of the group who otherwise were a bunch of jazz eccentrics along with Innes who was the real musical force in the group. Initially on piano Innes played more and more guitar as the group became more rock orientated. A disciplined songwriter he was responsible for the musical substance of the band which otherwise would have collapsed under the weight of surreal lyrics and bass saxophone solos.

 https://youtu.be/xVr2hbE6aW0

Post Bonzo’s he fell in with the Monty Python Team, providing music as needed and a little bit of acting. Post Pythons there was the inspired Rutland Weekend Television with Eric Idle which led to his most creative venture in creating the Rutles. The ‘pre-fab four’ were, of course a parody of the Beatles. Innes wrote all the songs which although parodies (most of the royalties went to the Beatles in the end) stand up as the best Beatles record you never owned and certainly a lot better than anything Oasis ever recorded. Ironically Noel Gallagher had to part which his own royalties as one of his band’s hits copied one of Innes’s songs rather too closely, there’s some sort of karma at work there.

https://youtu.be/I-DgIU4E9Mo

From the 80’s onwards Innes had the sort of career that intelligent ex pop stars are lucky to sustain, bits of radio and TV work, adding musical bits to comedy and low-keyreformations of the Bonzos and the Rutles.

 

His Bonzo band mate Rodney Slater remembered him as a ‘stick insect’ prematurely balding and with a black cloud of depression hanging over him. Innes had got married as the band had hit the endless touring circuit, he wasn’t happy with life on the road. 20 years later Slater remarked on how he had gained about 7 stone shaved his head and was a happy family man an ’enormous fellow obviously enjoying life’.

 

Neil Innes died unexpectedly in the period we are learning to call ‘Twixmas’ . On one level it’s sad to start a new decade with another obituary and he’ll be greatly missed by family and his many friends but it’s also a celebration. Innes achieve the almost impossible accomplishments of a happy life and a swift death.

 

And that’s as good as it gets.

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Lonely this Christmas..Mud

I always had a soft spot for Mud. Even in the unsophisticated world of zits and glitter in the mid 70’s the band was relentlessly unglamorous. Hailing from a satellite town  inSurrey Mud, rather like the Sweet or even the Jam were going to be perennial outsiders in the London orientated music Biz. 

With guitarist Rob Davis they were able to create a bit of gender confusion pre Boy George but lead singer Les Graylooked like he worked in an insurance office and drummer Dave Mount actually worked in insurance after the band folded. I suspect that posters of the band were underrepresented on teenage girls walls

They were good musicians ( https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2019/09/22/4-manufactured-acts-who-were-actually-pretty-good-musicians/) but unlike the Sweet or Slade they didn’t feel the need to prove or progress. In their heart of hearts, they probably liked rock and roll like most adult musicians in the 70’s, it was the music they had grown up with and, best of all, Les could do a pretty good Elvis impersonation. 

Svengalis Chinn and Chapman had the monopoly on the song writing  and decided to play to the band’s strengths with ‘Lonely this Christmas’ which, contrary to popular belief was neve recorded by Elvis but would have done his career no harm at all had he done so.

Realising that the best they could achieve was a pastiche, Mud played it for laughs on Top of the Pops with a ton of snow and a ventriloquist’s dummy doing the spoken part. Millions would have watched this together on the Christmas day Top of the Pops. Like Slade, Mud were always able to give the impression they were having the best time ever for every appearance. We were waiting for punk to happen, clearly Mud were not about to become the next Beatles but for 3 minutes they were all we needed at Christmas.

https://youtu.be/xAZjiLeDWlc

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Music vs Politics vs Music

In 1979 I had my first chance to vote in a general election. Naturally the people I looked to for advice (this being the days before social media) were the rock musicians of the time.

Punk had just about boiled over, we had a general consensusthat there was no future and things were generally bad. Most of the wrath of the new bands was directed at authorityfigures in general and record companies in particular. To be fair there was a rate of unemployment unprecedented since the second world war and Britain was generally dirty and run down, the police were generally pretty nasty and the anger that was gently bubbling amongst the youth tended to find an outlet in minor rioting and the occasional organised protest march.

Pre-punk most of our rock idols hadn’t really got a political clue. The big exception was John Lennon who was trying on a variety of political hats in his quest to become an artist but really rock stars were the ultimate in the self-made business person. Almost all of them were genuinely working class and they’d worked hard to get where they were, really all they wanted was to make music, take drugs, have sex with whoever they wanted and generally be left alone. By the mid 70’s the likes of Jagger, Stewart and Elton John were pretty much on a par with royalty. They were also making more money than they had ever thought possible and unsurprisingly they didn’t want the Labour government to take nearly all of it away through taxation.

The inevitable exodus from the country of their birth was seen as a betrayal by some and when the likes of Bowie and Clapton started flirting with the extreme right wing the poorer musicians staying at home began some sort of involvement in more left-wing politics notably Rock against Racism and various anti-fascist movements. This was my background to 1979.

 

To be honest, this was manna from heaven for struggling musicians, ‘benefit’ gigs were a major source of unpaid exposure, people went to benefits, if you played there you could get a crown and a bit of a reputation.

Although most grassroots and even established musician s would not declare their love of the conservative party neither were they usually labour supporters. At the time of the 1979 election the Labour leader was Jim Callaghan. Gentleman Jim seemed impossibly old, in fact he was in his 50’s but he was a different generation, the labour party made next to no attempt to connect with the post Woodstock generation, if you were young and working class you probably voted for them anyway. Labour didn’t really seem to offer a lot for me, the only real alternative were the Conservatives under their new leader Margaret Thatcher. To my amazement many of my friends and acquaintances at polytechnic were active Conservative supporters. I hadn’t really encountered this before, my friends in Norwich had been fairly bohemian types and although all mainsteam politics was regarded as terminally unhip the Conservatives did not really even register on our political radar. 

 

The lucky party to get my vote in 1979 was the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. It seems incredible now that not only would such a party exist but that it would actually put up candidates but there were an awful lot of fringe left wing parties around the most active being the Socialist Workers. Naturally they all hated each other. 

The Workers Revolutionary didn’t win of course, the Tories did. I maintained a soft spot for the WRP for a while, one of them used to come round my house and sell me a paper once a week. After a few months I pointed out that most of the predictions they were making weren’t actually happening and he decided I wasn’t a believer and stopped coming.

All through the 80s I voted for someone who never got to power which means I voted for someone who wasn’t a Conservative, election after election it was the same. Labour had decided to woo the youth with their Red Wedge project, there was Billy Bragg (inevitably) and Paul Weller and the Communards (probably). My admiration for Billy continues to this day but I would rather go and see him without having to listen to a speech, so I never caught the red Wedge Tour when it rolled into Nottingham.

And it made no difference whatsoever to the Labour vote.

I cannot really remember the labour victory when it finally happened, for some reason the 90’s remains a blur. I cant even remember if I voted Labour or not, I had voted for so long with no positive outcome that I might even have had a punt on the Lib Dems or Green Party, I probably did vote Labour but the fact I cant remember it suggests it wasn’t the high spot of my decade.

With Tony Blair however, we at last had a leader from the Rock generation. Blair had been in a band at university and ‘Cool Britannia’ attracted a whole load of creative types- and Oasis. Like Red Wedge this didn’t really end well, musicians and politicians are very different types of people and really the musicians just wanted to make music, take drugs and have sex while politicians are happy to attend a reading of a draft manifesto. Essentially politicians are not cool in any respect although, ironically Boris Johnson actually has a more musician mentality than any other PM this century. (believe it or not, many years ago Billy Bragg took him to the Glastonbury Festival which was filmed for the BBC)

And talking of festivals, it was amazing to see Jeremy Corbyn being lauded at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. Young people now being more intelligent than I ever was were able to accept a man in his 70’s who clearly has virtually no rock credibility because they though he had some good ideas!

For a very brief moment a Politician was like a rock star without having to make any concessions to that audience. 

 

Last Thursday I went to vote as I have done in every general election since 1979.

 

Guess what happened!

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Ginger Baker

I found this post as a draft. For some reason I wrote it and never posted it.

Oh well, want not waste nothere it is

When I was a very young man I knew the names of two rock drummers, one inevitably was Ringo Starr, the other, less predictably, was Ginger Baker.

This was largely because the BBC did a documentary ‘Ginger Baker in Africa’, I never saw it at the time but I caught the trailer and that was enough to get me impressed by the wild looking guy with a mop of ginger hair pounding the drums along with a load of African guys.

Since then I held an unhealthy interest in Ginger. His autobiography ‘Hellraiser’ is an absolute must read. I’ve also got the DVD of ‘Ginger Baker in Africa’ I seen the documentary ’Beware Mr Baker’, I even have a drum tutorial by the man from the 80’s.

What I don’t own is any music created by Baker. I did once own their first LP ‘Fresh Cream’ which could best be described as disappointing, but I don’t own it anymore. Blind Faith were just about OK, Airforce passed me by and then there was the 70’s. By the time I was old enough to recognise Baker he was in the Baker Gurvitz army who were just the dullest of 70’s rock bands.

For someone who was a Jazzer at heart I don’t find his playing moves me in the same way as, to use an obvious example, Mitch Mitchell did. Baker was heavily influenced by African music and is one of the few white players to hold his own in afro beat. Baker had the chops, there’s no doubt about that but I never felt the groove from him.

 

He always tuned his drums beautifully though, even in the 60’s his toms cut through the mix.For the last couple of decades he mainly played jazz, it was a good choice and enabled him to have a lighter touch than he showed as a rock player.

 

Its not entirely about skill, Baker was one of the best but there are kids of 11 who can play like him these days. Baker was a pioneer, like Keith Moon (who he was pretty contemptuous of) he literally and figuratively moved the drums forward. He was one of the first rock players to have a double bass drum set up, he had a featured drum solo (Toad!) and generally made the drummer position desirable for anyone who fancied showing off a bit.

 

Much is made of his personality. His autobiography is full of incidents where he seizes defeat from the jaws of victory and each time its never his fault. I do wonder if he had autistic or even a psychopathic personality, he was extrodinarily brave,for example setting up a recording studio (it all came to an end-not his fault) in Nigeria in the 70’s. He was also extremely insensitive, such as when he had an affair with his daughters’ best friend during what should have been a sedate polo business enterprise. Baker seemed to recognise no barriers either physical or moral or geographical to his lifestyle. It fitted the freewheeling 60’s and decadent 70’s, he would portably be in prison if he had tried a fraction of this today; different times indeed.

 

Towards the end of his life Baker was extremely bad tempered, he was old and in pain and very very angry. Famously he broke the nose of the maker of the documentary ‘Beware Mr Baker’, he was estranged from a lot of his family life as Ginger Baker wasn’t a lot of fun.

 

There’s a lot to remember and celebrate , there’s a lot to regret, there will probably never be another musician like him he was an absolute force of nature but one Ginger Baker in anyone’s lifetime is probably enough.

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Pete Townsend says something a bit stupid (again ).

After a lifetime of saying, and doing, some pretty stupid things it’s quite refreshing to find Pete Townsend still able to make new idiotic statements.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine he recently said he was relieved that former bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle were dead

They were fucking difficult to play with,” Townshend said. “They never, ever managed to create bands for themselves. I think my musical discipline, my musical efficiency as a rhythm player, held the band together.”

Outrage naturally followed and Townsend was forced to ‘take to social media’ to attempt to dig himself out of the hole he had created.

Townsend just can’t help having ideas and theories and then telling the world about them, it doesn’t matter how stupid these are, Pete’s going to tell the world anyway.

Firstly he’s clearly insensitive towards the families of his old band mates. Secondly it ignores their huge contribution towards the sound of The Who and Townsend’s own personal reputation. Without that rhythm section The Who could have been Herman’s Hermits or any number of 60’s beat groups. The fact that they weren’t and managed to make the transition to 70’s rock gods had an awful lot to do with Entwistle and Moon.

Without them it’s highly unlikely Townsend would still be filing out arenas across the world. Also,ironically 99% of that audience are coming to listen to music produced before the death of Moon.

So, it was a stupid thing to say.

But, on the other hand I admire Townsend’s honesty. By the mid 70’s Moon and Entwistle had reached the playing styles they were probably going to keep for the rest of their lives. It wouldn’t matter what Townsend wrote, whatever the style, the rhythm section would inevitably be the same. Both were great players but like lots of great players they did one thing very well.

Anyone who’s ever played in a band knows it can be hell. The singer who’s always late, the guitarist who won’t turn down, the drummer who won’t shut up..over the years minor irritations become intolerable. And that’s before money and drugs take over.

Townsend was pretty much at his wits end with Moon by the mid 70’s. To have to replace him with someone more versatile was a huge relief at first.Entwistle was as deaf as a post and overplayed at top volume, imagine the release in replacing him with a professional like Pino Palladino.

Fronting a band of professionals must have been liberating as hell for Townsend, and if it didn’t work out he could just sack them. The only downside it we are left with the modern Who showband ideally suited for today’s concert experience. As part of the nostalgia vibe it includes video clips of the departed so we can remember why the band were once great.

That’s the trouble with musicians,they are human beings,often, as in the case of Moon and Entwistle, complex and difficult people. Sometimes, as The Who in general and Townsend in particular, have taught us, working with them is a massive pain in the arse.

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Desiderata

The present pop charts may be a bit shite but in terms of consistency they make perfect sense, there’s loads of pop, a bit of rap and a very specific type of production that makes everything sound very processed.

Not so in the early 70s, the Beatles had split, no one knew where pop was heading and the charts were wide open. A couple of weeks back I wrote about Clive Dunn’s novelty hit ‘Grandad’. Following that single there were hits from George Harrison and early sightings of Rod Stewart and Slade, there was also reggae from Dave and Ansel Collins as well as soul from the Tams and Dianne Ross, the year would end with another novelty hit from Benny Hill.

At the time I was just becoming really interested in music, the charts were a good education, there was no choice, we only had the radio and only one channel which consistently played pop music, you either listened or didn’t.

In among this smorgasbord of different sounds the charts featured a slightly bonkers single in the shape of desiderata by Les Crane.

Unlike today there was no Wikipedia, we knew nothing about Les or his song, it sounded a bit weird and hippy. That was another trend of the early 70’s, there was a surprising tolerance towards spirituality which would soon be put on hold for a couple of decades.

In fact, Les Crane was an American TV presenter big enough to rival Johnny Carson, neither meant a lot to us in the UK so Crane had a clean slate to impress us. Desiderata itself was a prose poem by Max Ehrmann dating from 1927 and was taking on a life of its own as a kind of alternative Lord’s Prayer especially from the 60’s onwards, it’s origins as a piece of writing from an Indiana lawyer had been largely forgotten.

As an easily influenced 12 year old, I’m sure the single had some sort of influence on me, I can probably recite the words (with a bit of prompting) today, it taps into meditation and mindfulness which are more relevant than ever today in a country that seems to be at war with itself

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender,
Be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others –
Even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons – they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career –
However humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is.
Many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection, neither be cynical about love.
For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
It is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the council of the years,
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune,
But do not distress yourself with imaginings –
Many fears are borne of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe.
No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
Keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be careful. Strive to be happy.

It’s hard to believe but people bought this record in barrow loads, presumably they weren’t all acid casualties from the 60’s, to hear these ideas on the chart show on a Sunday teatime was really quite radical in a quiet placid way

Posted in memories of 70s, rock music | Tagged | 3 Comments

This is Pop, ‘Gabrielle’, the Nips

Shane MacGowen was a face on the UK punk scene almost from its inception. His face in itself was a remarkable feature, even by British 70’s standards, due to standard abysmal dental hygiene and treatment and aided by a copious intake of amphetamine sulphate, MacGowen,s teeth were in a terrible state and when enhanced by his jug ears made for would could be termed a distinctive visage.

 

It was MacGowen who was photographed having his ear bitten off (it wasn’t but it looked nasty) by his date for the night at the Roxy Club, he cropped up again in Don Lett’s punk film trashing the Jam’s drum kit. At one point he wrote his own fanzine ‘Bondage’ in longhand declaring ‘only girls use typewriters’, MacGowen was quite a large fish in a rapidly expanding pond.

It was perhaps inevitable that he was set to become the frontman of his own band. His musical accomplice was Shanne Bradley already notable as the put down in ‘Satellite’ one of the Sex Pistols early songs. Like half of the London punks Bradley was learning to play the bass.

 

And so, the Nipple Erectors were formed. Clearly not a commercial enterprise especially as MacGowen and Bradley were the only consistent members. This meant that although they got to make a few singles, virtually every punk band in London got to make a few singles, they were never distinctive enough to make their presence felt. Musically it was fine, everyone including the drummer and guitarist that week could play and sing, there was a mix going on of punk and rockabilly with a bit of pop, the nipple erectors were not a hard-core punk band but neither were they anything else.

 

Eventually they shortened their name to the Nips and with their latest guitarist and drummer recorded their final single ‘Gabrielle’ which impressed me enough at the time to go out and buy it. ‘Gabrielle’ remains something of an enigma, for a band firmly routed in London the song is quite transatlantic, the sort of tune that could easily be recorded by Southside Johnny or even Van Morrison. In fact, MacGowen was a big fan of the Jam who themselves were beginning to utilise some American soul stylings. Lyrically ‘Gabrielle’ is gossamer thin, musically it’s pretty much 3 chords. The huge surprise in retrospect is McGowan’s vocals which are ,well, tuneful.

 

The Nips managed one final line up where the guitarist was James Fearnley. After the band finally spluttered to a halt Fearnley and MacGowen re emerged as Pogue Mahone which in turn became The Pogues. After a slight hiatus Bradley also emerged in the folk based ‘The Men They Couldn’t Hang’

 

Today MacGowen is mainly known as a graduate of the Keith Richards ‘how come he’s still alive?’ school of life but just months after splitting with the Nips had totally altered his vocal delivery and song writing style and ‘Gabrielle’ stands alone as a pure pop moment never to be repeated.

https://youtu.be/4bDDAOJV1xU

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