Glastonbury 1979

In 1979, when is seemed that the hippie dream was pretty much over, the music press announced that there would be a Glastonbury festival that summer.

In fact, I think it may have been announced there would be a Glastonbury Fayre because that was what the previous two festivals had been called. The first two fayres had been real ‘bongos in the dirt’ affairs, as distant culturally as rock and roll or Merseybeat from the slick new pop of the late 70’s.

 

The hippie hopelessness stuck a chord with me and my old schoolmates Dunc and Phil. There really wasn’t a lot of festival action around, the only real alternative being Reading where you could have cans of piss thrown at you by weekend bikers from Burnley. There was a sense that festivals were a thing of the past, we were no longer stardust or golden, we were savy street kids from Norwich! Glastonbury sounded a bit of a soft option compared with the hell of the average British festival, and so we agreed to send off our cheques and hope we got some tickets sent back.

 

I can’t remember how much a Glastonbury weekend was, but I have heard the sum of £5 quoted. If this was the case it was still an incredibly good deal, you would be lucky to get a couple of LPs for that price and our tents and sleeping bags cost a whole lot more.

 

What ever the cost it was more than I could really afford. I had just finished my first year of polytechnic and would presumably have made acclaim for dole money. Phil and Dunc were still at university finishing off their second year. It was agreed I would go to Birmingham where Dunc was and we would hitch down from there. I couldn’t face the prospect of solo hitching from Norwich and so I blew a load of money on a train journey, spent a night in Birmingham and we set out hitching as early as we could face on a Friday morning.

Travelling was surprisingly good, there was a heart sink moment when we were dropped at a service station to find a long queue of hippie types waiting to depart. No matter, soon a car stopped next to us and we jumped the queue and we were off again, by tea time we were handing over our tickets and finding a place to pitch our tents.

 

Now, this may be stating the bleedin obvious but compared with today this was a very small festival. There were quite a few tents but nothing too daunting. I cant remember fences, the usual countryside barriers of hedges and ditches seemed enough to prevent us wandering too far. The hedges also doubled as toilets, for reasons that I will explain later.

Phil was a late arrival, I think he landed a day later having got a lift down with some friends from Warwick University. He had invested heavily in travelling light, all he had was in a plastic carrier bag. It was a brave and foolish gesture, after a night nearly catching alight by sleeping next to a fire he had to share Dunc’s tent. It says something about the size of the festival though that he was able to find us without the need for mobile phones.

 

I think the first night featured Steve Hilliage. I had been a fan of his Green Album, I still am, Hillage had become a bit more muscular with the advent of punk but he was a natural choice being both ancient and a bit modern. Most of the bands were on at the main stage, not yet a pyramid but situated in a slight dip. It was easy to stake out a nice comfortable place on the grass and still see what was going on.

 

Until I did a bit of internet checking I had forgotten the Footsbarn Theatre Company who were a feature attraction, that was probably the limit of Glastonbury’s multi media experience, I had no desire to see them. There was definitely more than one stage because I remember seeing a set from the Lightning Raiders on a smaller stage but that was during the day,at night there was one stage and that had to close by the time it was dark (I think the festival was still being held during the summer solstice) as Michael Eavis  didn’t want to upset his neighbours.

 

So, bands I did see

Leighton Buzzards -A kind of punk/pop crossover-perfectly ok competent but a bit unmemorable

The Atoms- not sure if I caught them but mentioned here as they were a Nottingham band featuring Harry Stevenson from Plummet Airlines who still plies his craft round Nottingham pubs to this day.

The Pop Group- Challenging post punk from Bristol livened up by a guest appearance by the slits.

The Only Ones- probably the band of the festival- they blew the PA twice and had to abandon the stage on the second occasion.

Mother Gong-diluted version of Gong who I think were cobbled together for the festival, bound to be popular with the average Glasto fan of the time but I suspect I fell asleep during their set.

All star Jam- I remember this as being on the first night but it may have been on the last night. It featured Tom Robinson, Steve Hillage, Nona Hendrix, Alex Harvey possibly Peter Gabriel, John Martyn and Phil Collins. It was everything you might hope an all-star jam would be. There was an unintentionally hilarious moment in 2-4-6-8 Motorway where Robinson handed over the guitar solo to Hillage. Unable to manage a standard blues solo Hillage resorted to a psychedelic workout which was incongruous to say the least. Alex Harvey was a drunk as a skunk and pretty tedious in his efforts to involve the audience which led to quite a bit of abuse from him when we failed to comply.

 

Bands I didn’t see

Sky- a kind of classical fusion group featuring guitarist John Williams. I found them so uninteresting I couldn’t be arsed to make the 5 minute journey from my tent to see them

John Martyn- to this day I hadn’t realised he played, I think this was is Grace and Danger period where he had a band with Phil Collins on drums but in 1979 I wasn’t a fan (I am now).

Peter Gabriel-to this day I think that musically Peter G is a big shiney load of nothing so it’s possible I saw him and forgot it

 

After a nap one evening (I was probably lulled asleep by Sky) I swear I went for a wander and found a synth player set up (probably Tim Blake) officially he played the final set on the mainstage but I’m certain in this case he was just playing among the people.

 

It all sounds a bit low key, and it was. There was no 24 hour party going on. My main memory is sitting about a lot slightly exhausted by the camping experience. There was some food available because I didn’t starve but I can’t remember any bars. On the second day a guy came around on a tractor selling flagons of really rough scrumpy. One of the compares got a bit sniffy about this pointing out that people wouldn’t be drinking alcohol at Glastonbury Faye in the past. He had a point the crowd had got a bit leery but we calmed down once the cider ran out.

Being stupid young men, we had neglected sunscreen or hats. He still had an ozone layer in 1979 but being pasty after exams we were starting to burn which would have bad consequences later.

 

But back to the toilets, the facilities were basically a huge drum, Walls divided the drum like the segments of an orange, there was a door and a hole, and we sat suspended above gallons and gallons of human waste. I decided I could get around using them but simply not having a bowel movement for 4 days. Clearly a stupid tactic I was woken in the early morning with cramps and so made my way to the toilets of doom, which were thankfully deserted, (amazingly I had packed some toilet paper). Suspended over days of festival effluent I suddenly realised it was moving alarmingly. The organisers had taken the opportunity of an early start to empty the drum which they did by sucking everything out into a huge tanker. I had visions of being sucked down and either drowning or being mashed up by the suction action.

Clearly, I lived to tell the tale and, to be fair festival toilets have not improved that much.

 

Of course, festivals have become increasingly popular with fun for all the family, there are now phone charging points, saunas, massages, hot showers (at Glastonbury Fayre the only shower was to strip and tip a bucket of water over yourself). Killie Minogue is about to headline this year’s Glastonbury-it’s a far cry from Mother Gong.

In 1979 though, there was no violence despite no real policing of the festival, no one tried to sell me drugs and no one stole anything off me although arguably I had nothing to steal.

 

Leaving the festival was easy, the car to people ratio was a lot different to today in fact there was a concern all the cars would leave before I could get a lift. In fact, I was soon able to get away but it was a long journey from Somerset to Norwich. Mid afternoon I was stranded at a roundabout outside Swindon. In my memory this was Sunday afternoon as all the cars seemed full of three generations of families sailing past while I waited and waited. I must have been deluded, I’m sure now it would have been Monday but whatever, Swindon was dead. Alarmingly, the sun had awakened a dormant herpes virus which was starting on my lip but spreading alarmingly ( I don’t  learn, the same thing happened at a festival 2 years ago), I needed to get home before I turned into the Elephant Man and no driver would give me a lift. Such is the nature if hitching, as soon as I had reconciled myself to a night of rough sleeping I grabbed a lift that took me right across country and a final stage got me all the way to Norwich. I took to my room for two weeks raved by a giant cold sore.

 

Apparently Michael Eavis had to put up his farm as a guarantee to get funding for the 1979 festival. It absolutely beggars belief that a dairy farmer would take that sort of risk on a festival. I’m sure he didn’t make much money on the venture, it was an amazingly altruistic gesture on his part.

Today, or this weekend to be accurate, Glastonbury is the biggest festival anywhere ever. It reflects mainstream society, the BBC have been all over it for years, it’s now an event like Ascot or Wimbledon. There are loads of other festivals more ‘alternative’, festival going is now an activity for everyone. Things aren’t better or worse. Festival going was a real adventure in the 1970’s but all I did really was lie on the grass, sleep, drink some cider and have a really scary shit.

Perhaps things haven’t changed that much after all.

 

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Sax in the 70’s

Last week I made a case for the temporary death of the saxophone in the 70’s. This week with a bit of racking of the brain I have come up with a small tribute to the people who honked and parped their way through that decade. In an attempt to make my task easier I am totally ignoring the USA, sorry guys, you invented Jazz and had a more comfortable relationship with the instrument (and I don’t know enough about obscure American music).

So here’s a quick salute to the men (!) who kept the sax alive in the 70’s

 

Mel Collins

Collins was the player who took over the sax role from Ian McDonald until Robert Fripp decided he didn’t want a saxophone player anymore. Collins then went on to join the unfashionable pub funk band Kokomo by the time they disbanded he was ready for a sax for hire role with the likes of Dire Straits, Camel. Roger Waters and the Rolling Stones.

Andy Mackay

An important musical and visual element to the early Roxy Music mix of ancient and modern. Mackay’s sax could be heard honking away somewhere in the mix in the early days. By the Avalon period he was contributing more traditional saxophone breaks which left him with enough time on his hands to take a Batchelor of Divinity course in 1988

 

Phil Shulman

Having been born in 1937,10 years before his brothers Phil Shulman got the saxophone role in Gentle Giant while his younger siblings got the rock instruments. In a band that, between them, played over 60 instruments on one album there was a lot of instrumentation to compete with and when Phil left Gentle Giant became a bit more muscular and rock orientated.

 

David Bowie

A multi instrumentalist but saxophone was his first instrument and one that no one else around him could play. Its not unusual for a bit of sax to creep in in a Bowie record and very welcome it is too. Not having dedicated his life to the instrument Bowie has a distinctive tone, it’s a bit naive but also quite touching and always distinctive.

 

Didier Malherbe

Multi talented French person Malherbe contributed distinctive flute and sax to Gong from virtually its inception to the turn of the century.  He was interested in world music from an early age and he has adapted himself to whatever the band has served up from circus music to free Jazz. Nicknamed Bloomdido Bad De Grass by Gong leader Daevid Allen he’s a poet as well as a musician

 

Nik Turner

One time roadie turned musician with Hawkwind Nik Turner perhaps encapsulated the anarchic spirit of the band more than any other members. Luckily, at their prime the band had a monster rhythm section which made whatever Turner or guitarist Dave Brock play over the top relatively unimportant. Turner’s free approach to soloing over everything led to his expulsion from the band but he was a significant member for the glory years including the epic Space Ritual.

John Helliwell

Another with his roots in the 60’s soul scene Helliwell joined Supertramp from the Alan Bown Set. He compensated for the lack of consistent saxophone action in the band’s set by playing percussion and keyboards, doing backing vocals and acting as MC and general joke teller. His personality was crucial to the bands survival, acting as the luke warm water between the ice and fire of Rick Davis and Roger Hodgson

John ‘Irish’ Earle

Despite starting his musical career with the ‘challenging’ Gnidrolog Earle was a fairly standard Rock saxophonist in big demand where any band wanted to sound American (especially if that band was Irish). Earle played in the brass section for Graham Parker and the Rumour as well as Thin Lizzie and The Boomtown Rats. He even played with Shakin Stevens, the Clash and Randy Crawford

 

Lol Coxhill

Coxhill was in his 40’s for most of the 70’s, impossibly old! Another eccentric character (there’s a pattern emerging here) Coxhill had played with visiting Jazz musicians as well as being on the fringes of the free improvisation music scene. He didn’t like to be tied down for long but he did have stints with Kevin Ayres which led to involvement with Mike Oldfield and even an appearance on the second Dammed Album.

Ron Aspery

Back Door were destined to be remembered for their Bass player Colin Hodgkinson who played his instrument as a lead to make the best of the trio format. Aspery was overshadowed but was a crucial part of the melody of the band. Back Door could almost be classed as forgotten now but they were musicians’ favourites in the mid 70’s. The band inevitably spit with the advent of punk but Aspery was good enough to go on to play with Jan Hammer.

Davey Payne

Member of Kilburn and the High Roads and then Ian Dury’s band the Blockheads. Another bohemian character with a love of all things Jazz especially in incorporating the techniques of Roland Kirk into hisd playing. Especially skilled in making the sax produce unusual noises and irritating Ian Dury.

Gary Barnacle

Barnacle took over the role of sax for hire from John Earle at the end of the 70’s. He was born in Dover and started out their playing with his father and brothers in local jazz bands, the drummer in these bands was invariably Topper Headon. When Headon Joined the Clash Barnacle became their go to Saxophone player. From there on he’s played with a list of people so huge I can’t be bothered to try to replicate it.

 

Lora Logic

I’m not actually certain if it’s Ms Logic playing on X Ray Specs’ ‘Oh Bondage’ but if not it’s her arrangement at least. One of the few times pure punk used a saxophone and it’s crucial to the uniqueness of the song. She had a short career, forming her own band which transported her directly from punk to post punk and then becoming a Hare Krishna.

 

Saxa

With the advent of Two Tone the sax was back. Saxa was even older than Lol Coxhill but the way his band mates and the press talked about him you would have thought he was 100 when he was only in his 40’s. Saxa had played with some of the original Ska and bluebeat stars before moving to England and waiting 18 years to join The Beat. Saxa was pretty essential to the bands sound although he plays pretty much the same solo every time. He died quite recently proving he couldn’t have been as old as we thought he was.

 

Lee Thompson

Unlike most Sax players Thompson has virtually no interest in Jazz preferring Reggae, Ska and circus music, therefore, unlike a lot of players he’s firmly integrated into the band Madness rather than occasional soloist.

 

 

So, what have we learned?

 

In a business that prided itself on being outside the norm it was the sax player who invariably was the real oddball. Apart from the few session players who were happy to fit in with others there’s an awful lot of strange people listed above. Perhaps it was something about playing an instrument which was out of step with everything else that was happening in music at the time, but in the 70’s the sax player could be the most ‘out there’ band member.

There’s still one more though, the greatest 70’s saxophonist/weird bloke of them all

David Jackson

As Van Der Graff Generator were essentially organ and drums any other instrument was going to have a lot to bring to the party. Jackson was an eccentric looking guy, even by prog standards who modified his instruments and would often play two at once and then modify their sound with electronics. The result was the sax as we had never heard it so far, squawks, shrieks, military fanfares and occasional moments of beauty. Years after leaving he developed the soundbeam technology which enabled disabled people to make music.

 

That’s it, its probably not an exhaustive list but I am exhausted after compiling it.

If I’ve missed anyone (I’m sure I must have) do share

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The Joy of Sax

If you were a young man hoping to make your way in the world of popular music in the 1920’s and you wanted to be the star of the show there was only one real choice of instrument to play and that was the trumpet. Loud, portable and flashy the trumpet was the show offs first choice of instrument. Louis Armstrong was the most influential player of the day and a whole load of wannabes trailed in his wake.

 

Fast forward a couple of decades and the trumpet was still popular but there was a new kid on the block. The saxophone was a bit more versatile, a bit sexier and with the rise of Charlie Parker and Be bop not to mention the swing bands it was the saxophone that had the star potential.

And so, it remained into the 50’s. Obviously there were other musicians available but inevitably the band leader would be a sax player or a trumpeter, so they could stay at the front of the stage and let loose a blistering solo now and again. For 20 years the sax was king.

 

All that changed in Britain with the advent of skiffle. Instead of having to study embouchure for years Britain’s schoolkids had found an instrument that was rewarding to play from day one, namely the guitar. Strange to relate but the guitar was still an exotic instrument in the 1950s being generally the province of cowboys, flamenco musicians and inaudible jazz rhythm sections. The instrument was not even that easily available and generally existing specimens were of pretty poor quality but being British we persevered and eventually we were replete with guitars and guitarists some of whom went on to become Jimmy Page and John Lennon.

And that was the beginning of the end for the saxophone, it didn’t happen overnight, through the 60’s some bands realised the added value of the brass section. In order to get that genuine soul feel the likes of Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers were prepared to accept the cost of having a couple of blokes at the back giving it that extra punch.

But there’s the clue, the sax had now moved to the back of the stage along with the bass and drums, the guitar was now at the front. The trouble with the saxophone is it can only play one note at a time so essentially it solos all the time. Most songs only have limited space for solos and the guitarist is going to want to have most of them. The sax has a distinctive sound but it always sounds like a saxophone and if our ears are crying out for new sounds then the saxophone is not going to provide them. Hence Traffic’s Chris Wood would spend a lot of time on stage poking about with keyboards because there was only so much sax the band needed (OK he played flute as well but there’s a limit to how much of that we can take). Even the big man Clarence Clemons used to spend more time underutilised as a tambourine player as Springsteen really didn’t want every song to have another sax solo in it.

And increasingly the sax player is having to multitask, a bit of percussion, some background vocals, even a bit of dancing just to justify their role in the band.

The 70’s saw the sax at a low ebb -more of that in another post, keyboards were opening up a whole new world, guitars were getting more effects there was a whole new sonic palette which didn’t necessarily need a sax parping away over it.

That wasn’t the end though, for some reason as the 80’s dawned the Saxophone crept back into popular music without us really noticing. I blame Spandau Ballet who moved their second guitarist over to Sax and had a huge it with True and marked the Saxophone down as a symbol of the Thatcherite upwardly mobile decade.

As a drummer it hadn’t escaped me that drums seemed to be becoming redundant as drum machines took over. There was also the practical issue that I didn’t have a car and just moving a drum kit about was a logistical nightmare. The saxophone looked appealing, and I could take it on the bus. I spent the next 5 years learning to play the instrument. Like a lot of instruments, it was easy to make a start on but hard to sound really good, but I practised and practiced. Ironically I also bought a car and drums didn’t die out completely so I could have saved myself the trouble really.

The main thing that brought my personal love of the sax as well as the audience’s tolerance of the instrument to an end was its limitation. I did join a band but as we didn’t have a bass player I usually had to fulfil that role instead and when that band mutated into another one there were so many songs where the guitar sounded better than the sax that it just seemed better to stick with the guitar.

For a brief period, the sax was back though, ABC, the Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100 all featured the instrument and were all massive for a couple of years. And if you didn’t have a sax player one would be inserted. I recently caught a clip of archetypical 80’s band T Pau doing their massive hit ‘China in Your Hands ‘on Top of the Pops.  At the end after all the histrionics   the producer has decided there’s just got to be a sax solo. The result is all members miming and trying to convey the gravitas of the song while ignoring the fact that a sax is coming from somewhere else.

 

It’s probably just me that finds that sort of thing entertaining but in the 80’s there seemed to be a whole lot of artists staring off into the middle distance while the mysterious sax was dialled in. From Wham to Whitney everyone wanted the sound that suddenly smacked of sophistication.

 

And, all of a sudden, the bubble burst, samplers became available and from the 90’s onwards a genuine sax solo had suddenly become a thing of the past.

 

Here on thefutureispast we are going to remember the days when the sax still had a role

 

Stay tuned

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Five Forgotten Bands of the 70’s

After my ratings busting last two posts, overrated and underrated, this weekwe are looking at bands who never got big enough to be overrated or underrated, here are 5 bands that time has almost forgotten

As Jung said ‘there is gold in the dark’

 

Mighty Baby

 

I only discovered these guys myself a couple of years back. Mighty Baby are a transitional band, formed in the 60’s split in the 70’s and for a couple of years made great psychedelic rock. They had mutated out of the Action, a mod band who like so many others at the time wanted and needed to move with the times. They didn’t last long after recording an albumbut they had a legacy of sorts. lead guitarist Martin Stone wasprominent on the pub rock scene and, if my memory serves me well, was in the final line up of the 101ers with pre ClashJoe Strummer. ‘Bam’ King the rhythm guitarist was a member of Ace and Richard Thompson became a Sufi Muslim after several of the band had a religious conversion. Their music is pretty good, they would be underrated had they not been forgotten first.

 

Henry Cow

 

Formed at Cambridge university and generally too clever to ever get near the big time. Often described as an avant rock group their left-wing leanings kept them well away from the usual chord structure of decadent western music. The early virgin label was the only one that would probably sign them but because of this the Cow at least got an audience beyond benefits and community arts festivals. In fact, a lot of their music is quite acceptable, at least to fans of Hatfield and the North (yay!) or mid period Soft Machine. Eventually they joined fellow label weirdos Slapp Happy and made the rather wonderful Desperate Straights which was more song orientated but they still confused the likes of me by releasing it as an LP which played at 45 rpm which for the uninitiated made the first couple of spins a challenging experience.

By the end they were virtually exiled from Britain but thrived in the political hotbed that was Europe, their legacy is beyond just music and one day a film will be made with Maxine Peake in the role of Slapp Happy’s Dagmar Krause and then they can be promoted to underrated.  

 

String Driven Thing

During the winter of 78/79 as The Police (band) and Margaret Thatcher (person) were poised for domination I was in my student flatlet listening to String Driven Thing curtesy of my housemate Vince.

SDT were yet another remnant from the 60’s. Originally formed in Glasgow by husband wife duo Chris Adams and Pauline Adams they had come south and lined up with a rhythm section and, most significantly ‘classically trained’ violinist Graham Smith.

As might be anticipated there’s a wiff of the folky singer song writer with some of their songs  but Chris Adams was capable of picking up an electric guitar and coming up with some darker prog riffs. Finding a home with selected misfits on the Charisma label SDT released their masterwork The Machine That Cried but, as bands do, struggled with the whole business and the Adam’s left.

 

Slightly bizarrely Charisma re built the band around GrahamSmith who physically and sonically was the most recognisable member. They weren’t as good as they lost the proggyelements to a pop sheen but did manage to have one of their songs covered by the Bay City Rollers!

After the inevitable split Smith joined label mates Van Der Graff

 

The Count Bishops

 

Around 1975 I bought a sampler record on the Chiswick label, mainly so I could have a recording by the aforementioned 101ers. Chiswick was an independent much in the same mode as Stiff and their first release was by the Count Bishops. The early Bishops were fronted by rhythm guitarist Zenon DeFleur(real name Zenon Hierowski but one of his bandmates saw him crashed out on the floor hence the name). the early line up was the best and DeFleur’s ‘Train Train’ is something of a minor classic. The band then recruited Australian singer Dave Tice who was in the ‘gruff vocalist’ mode and they became a little more mainstream.

They appeared on Top of the Pops with ‘I want candy’ and toured with Motorhead and were quite big fish in London Pub Rock circles. With a bit of determination, they might have made it through to the level of the latter-day Dr Feelgood or Nine Below Zero.

Unfortunately DeFleur was killed in a road accident and although they tried to carry on it was an uphill struggle not least of their problems being they were a multinational  band, Australian, Polish, American Irish,English and members were prone to being deported.

 

Stray

 

At one pointin the early 70’s the sister of my mate Phil bought a sampler on the Transatlantic label and when she was not around we would play it to death as we only had 4-5 LPs between us. One track I loved was ‘Nature’s Way’ by Stray.

The band were almost a parody of the hard rocking local heroes. They weren’t quite heavy metal, it hadn’t really been invented yet, but they rocked hard and had long hair and quite often (at least according to a compilation album I purchased) had some decent songs some decent riffs and plenty of guitar solos.

 

Stray were pretty firmly a London based band, in fact at one time they were managed by Charlie Kray of Kray brothers  infamy. A reunion decades later sold out the Borderline, but that was London, in the provinces they didn’t amount to a whole lot which is why they get a mention here.

 

If you’ve heard of all these bands, you are super special and deserve to make a comment 

 

Who have I missed? as usual there are rules, British,70’s and they have to have made at least one album. Extra points if you can find anyone who isn’t on Wikipedia.

 

 

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Underrated.

Ok, so overrated was hard and contentious and possibly offensive (lighten up it’s just one person’s opinion!). But what could go wrong with underrated , we love the underdog don’t we ?

Similar rules, all British all linked in some ways with the 70’s all score high on the ‘why didn’t they do better?’ scale.

 

Robin Trower

Trying to catch the Old Grey Whistle test in the 70’s was a tricky business as the BBC changed it’s time slot regularly, at one point even putting it on around Sunday tea time. But I did get to catch Robin Trower. Trower had come up through a b listed R&B band called the Paramount’s in the mid 60’s before becoming the second guitarist to occupy that role with Procol Harum. Although formative in starting off what was to become progressive rock Thrower became fed up with competing with an organ and a piano for solo space and joined up with Jim Dewar, who had been guitarist with Lulu and the Luvvers but now fancied some heavy rock action as bass player, in the Robin Trower trio.

Unfortunately having seen them on the Old Grey Whistle Test  I had decided they were terrible, their song went on at a glacial pace for hours, Dewars doomy vocals were interspersed with solos where Trower pulled faces that made him look like a beached fish.

Over 40 years later it sounds a lot better, Trower had the Hendrix thing pretty well sown up and there’s a soulful bluesy edge and a fluidity to his playing that lifts it above the Whitesnakes and Garry Moores of this world. The track they played all those years ago was the title track to their album Bridge of Sighs which is remarkable for its languid pace and opened up the possibilities of Trower having invented stoner rock.

 

This isn’t earth shattering music but it’s done well and, to my ears at least, more supple and expressive than most of the blues rock genre. Trower is still around today and still pretty good, I suspect he’s more popular in America than Britain where he’s forgotten a bit.

 

Siouxsie and the Banshees

When I heard the first Banshees on a John Peel session my first thought was that at last Punk had thrown up something I really couldn’t understand. It seems weird now, but I genuinely couldn’t even comprehend the Ramones when I first heard them either. 40 years on it’s a lot easier on the ear but still a bit challenging and quite shockingly innovative.

 

In the interests of brevity lets just sidestep the rather impressive qualities of Souxsie herself (another  time maybe) and go for the music. The Banshees were really the last band of the first wave of punk to get signed. Instead of copying the other bands they took time out to make something really different, you might not like it but the first two records were shockingly distinctive.

With a change of personnel which was to evolve into a shifting rota of guitarists they were actually a successful band, 11 albums 30 singles some of them hits and by the 80’s the Banshees were a proper rock band with big tours, only the Clash came close from the class of 76.And all the while the Banshees rock was always a bit different.

So where are they now? I never hear them on the radio and they’ve never been revived with an auto biography or a bio pic, it’s as if they split up and were never heard of again (which was the way it used to be). One day they were at the very front of the alternative rock scene and the next they had disappeared.

At the time they influenced everyone from Joy Division to Morrisey. One of the problems with their legacy is that, like Joy Division they influenced a lot of groups who really weren’t that good, and the birth of goth could be traced back to the band although as far as I can see it’s actually a tenuous link.

No doubt a re evaluation is just around the corner but until that day comes they remain underrated.

 

Van der Graaf Generator

OK, if you knew of a band whose line up was saxophone, organ (with bass pedals) drums and vocals wouldn’t you want to see them- I would!

In fact VGG went through a few changes from a slightly normal progressive rock band to an unusual progressive rock band where the organ was replaced by cello and violin, but the above is their classic line up.

Led by the very clever Peter Hammill, VGG could make King Crimson sound like Herman’s Hermits. Hammill would write about literally everything and had a voice that would go from chorister to dalek sometimes in the space of the same line. David Jackson the sax player did things with his instrument rarely found outside the realms of free jazz and most of the harmony came from the doomy Hammond organ. The band had its fans but it was generally distrusted by the critics as overwrought and pretentious. In Italy they were stars, no one knows why really but they clearly captured the spirit of the times eventually leaving the country amid political riots and the loss of most of their equipment.

 

To be honest you’ll either like the band or you won’t there’s not a lot of middle ground and there’s an awful lot to listen to, not so much in quantity but this is dense, heavy heavy stuff and not easy to ignore. The amazing thing for me about the band is that they sound like no one else at all before or since. That must be worth some sort of accolade.

 

Man

I covered  the mighty Welsh band a couple of years ago.

 https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2017/07/02/wales-man-and-another-brother-slips-away/

For the first half of the 70’s Man were everywhere touring Europe and the USA and making a string of records. At their worst they were a lumpy pseudo American rock band.  Deke Leonard wrote most of the actual songs which generally didn’t really distinguish them from  mass of other bands limping round the college circuit. What did lift them out of the morass was their playing. In Mickey Jones they had one of the best guitarists ever to come out of Britain, you might even call him underrated !

Man were able to go off on flights of fancy of indeterminate length at the drop of a hat. This wasn’t the endless riffing of the likes of the Allman Brothers, there would be tranquil moments, feedback, screaming and, yes endless riffing. It was like the Grateful Dead with areally good rhythm section.

Man split up and then reformed continuing to make patchy records and pay great gigs into the 80’s and 90’s but they never managed to break through into popular consciousness. If you want to go straight to the essence of Man try Live at the Padget Rooms Penarth, one of the great album titles of all time*

 

XTC

If you are familiar with the band which version of XTC would it be, the frantic sweaty Barry Andrews model, the pop band of ‘making plans for Nigel’ the quieter song writer orientated model of the late 80’s and 90’s or the symphonic pop of Apple Venus, the smartarses among you might even want to include the band’s alter ego period as Dukes of Stratosphear.

In short how many bands have produced such adventurous and high-quality material consistently throughout their career, only the blimmin Beatles and they only managed it for less than a decade.

Personally, I would put Andy Partridge on a par with Brian Wilson. That’s not quite the accolade it seems as I think Brian Wilson is hugely overrated and in fact Partridge produced lot less crap but he was aided my having Colin Moulding rather than Mike Love to be his second in command.

I covered the 70’s XTC here

 

So that’s my underrated 5. Underrated is a lot easier than overrated as there’s hundreds to choose, there’s probably someone so underrated that I missed them altogether! It’s also a lot easier to do the 70’s, most artists sell so little today they are all underrated.

It also occurred to me that I am drawn to the underrated, that’s mostly what I write about, it doesn’t mean that Man are a better band than the Eagles but I do find them a lot more interesting.

 

Let me know what you think,

 

*for anyone lacking an extensive knowledge of Wales, Penarth is a small fairly sedate seaside town near Cardiff, it’s hard to imagine it being the scene of psychedelic experiments. Coincidentally at the end of the 70’s West Runton Pavillion on the north Norfolk coast was also quite a venue.

 

 

 

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Overrated

When it comes to reputations context is everything, we filter the past through the prism of the present. When I was and impressionable teenager ‘Sgt Pepper’ was officially not only the best Beatles LP but the best long playing record ever. By the 90’s the general consensus was Revolver was superior but perhaps not the best ever LP. Today there seems to be a move to put the White Album in the premier post. The Beatles are a good example, they’ve not done too much to affect our decisions since their split in 1970 but our own tastes have changed.

 

If a band is overrated it’s hardly their fault it’s you and me, the public that are at fault we’re the ones who rated them.

 

So, with this in mind let’s start with a no blame culture. The next 5 bands/Artists are all fine, at least in parts. When I started to consider the whole overrated/underrated thing the more I thought about it the more difficult it became. I soon decided to stick to the UK and the 70’s, at least this time round (watch out America !) so at least I’ve got an equal perspective. So here are 5 overrated bands, all potentially heroes of my childhood whose reputation, in retrospect became a bit overinflated.

 

Led Zeppelin

I’ve written about this before

 

When we think of the mighty Zep we locate them in our memory banks frozen at their peak in 1974. Robert Plant is stage centre, open shirt, leonine hair, Jimmy Page  is working his crooked riffs on a low slung Les Paul and behind them is the mighty thump of Bonzo. We ignore the later period when Plant was developing a mullet and the others started to dress like gentlemen farmers.

 

It was clear the band were running out of ideas before John Bonham’s death but their records were pretty patchy anyway. Unlike AC/DC for example the bands were about more than skull crushing riffs but that’s what they are remembered for and whenever Jimmy Page reached for his open tuned guitar things were guaranteed to get just a bit dull.

 

Their reputation has been cemented by concentrating on just a few mighty tracks, ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ etc and the fact that John Bonham is now widely regarded as the best ever rock drummer. There’s a Zeppelin sound which they managed to distil into one of their final tracks  ‘In the Evening ’   which condensed the Zeppelin sound into 4 minutes of brutally compressed drums and an unstoppable guitar riff.

 

It’s all seductive and influential but also limited. Zep also developed a management model which created and fiercely protected what would later be termed their ‘brand’. Like with Queen there’s been a re writing and reinterpreting of the past through a ‘School of Rock ‘mentality and through that filter Zeppelin are bound to look good.

 

Nothing wrong with Zeppelin but simply not as good as we now think they were.

 

ELP

When Robert Fripp first saw Greg Lake perform he was so convinced of his star quality he knew he had to have him in his band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Even to the point where Fripp would leave the band and Lake would replace him. It didn’t happen of course, it was bass player Michael Giles who got the push and GG&F became King Crimson.

 

It seems incredible now but by the time Lake joined Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer he was regarded as a superstar joining a bunch of similar geniuses. For the first half of the 70’s ELP were huge. During my research (yes really!) I have forced myself to listen to the band and was quite shocked at how much of their music I remembered, especially as I never actually listened to their music on record.

In retrospect Lake was really the weakest link. His songs were pretty drippy at the best of times and didn’t give the other members of the band to show off, so inevitably a Lake ballad would be followed by  20 minutes of tiddly keyboards and rat a tat drumming. Although the weaknesses were apparent ELP were massive and famously toured the USA with a juggernaut for each member and an orchestra.

 

Unlike Zeppelin their reputation hasn’t really survived the passage of time, it’s amazing that a band so huge in the 70’s is largely forgotten today but that’s probably due to the fact that they were hugely overrated even at their peak, by 1975 we had realised we had made a huge mistake and shuffled off in an embarrassed manner hoping no one would notice our faux pas.

 

Eric Clapton

Thanks to everyone who has contributed their own Overrated/Underrated thoughts. After careful consideration I have to bow to popular opinion and include Mr Eric Clapton. I was reluctant since I think he is almost an underrated guitarist.

 

I went to see Ana Popovic a week ago, it was a good gig and she’s a stellar guitarist but despite all her technical skill she didn’t really move me. Clapton has managed to distil the essence of the blues without over refining it which is why, whatever he plays he sounds great. However, can we ignore 40 years of an active career in which he’s produced almost nothing of any value?

 

We can’t; and that’s why Eric Clapton is overrated

 

Wire

 

Almost by definition, for a band to be overrated they must be pretty famous, too famous one might argue. Wire is an exception to that rule. Regular readers will know how much I hate to be sold a duff record (I’ve never forgiven the Beach Boys for that in 1972). In the 90’s I was working in a town where the only daytime entertainment was a visit to Woolworths (now closed obviously). The store would often sell off its old cassettes at a knock down price which I could listen to on my car cassette player as I drove round east Derbyshire. One of my purchases was a Wire cassette for 99p. I may have listened to it once, but it was just so dreary I just couldn’t face it again. I had parted with 99p for a really duff cassette, I never forgave Wire.

 

From the beginning the critics loved Wire and it’s easy to see why. The band first came to light on a live at the Roxy album which was a quick attempt for the ailing punk club to make some money and featured the 2nd or 3rd rate bands who had appeared there (the good ones all had record contracts by this point). In such company Wire really shone like a diamond in a turd. Their first LP Pink Flag was full of short sharp songs with some interesting lyrics and competent playing. I bought the record and it was pretty good. The next couple of LPs raised the bar considerably. The band had bought some new effects pedals introduced some keyboard effects (which haven’t really dated) they has also written some intriguing songs. With Chairs Missing and 154 they had made a huge leap forward in their sound and established a stellar trajectory which they failed to maintain for the next 40 years.

 

But wire have remained the ultimate Guardian readers band. Clearly intelligent and arty they have constantly engaged in projects which are left of centre including fairly dull collaborations and solo projects. The hyperbole outweighs the reality though, to quote from Spotify, the band have focussed on ‘experimentation and process’ and their ‘musical identity constantly changes’. Just like ELP I have been listening to the band and I hear some really good songs from their first 3 LPs and a whole lot of fairly dull stuff from the rest of their career. It feels like one of those modern art exhibitions that have to be justified with extensive notes. In effect Wire have done what every band has done and moved with the times which means in the 80’s they sounded like a less danceable New Order and in the 90’s they started to look towards shoe gazing. There’s nothing actually that wrong with it but really, it’s pretty ploddy pop with the same 4/4 beat it’s not really experimental it’s what all bands do.

 

 

Sir Elton John

 

Sir Elton is a late entry prompted by the fact that there is a new biopic or at least a ‘re imagining of real events’ coming our way. Lets hope it’s as good as Dirt and Bohemian Rhapsody.

 

For me Elton is the sound of the early 70’s, a mashup of rock, glam and singer songwriter. It’s nice to hear his songs on the radio but I’ve never been tempted to listen to an entire album. During my week on Mull with only a record player and a limited supply of vinyl I did listen to one side of Goodbye Yellow Brick road only to find that it contained a track entitled ‘Jamaica Jerk off’, I was quite shocked.

 

If you’re going to have a millionaire Rockstar it might as well be Elton. He’s a genuine music enthusiast whose done a lot for charity but when you look at bit closer there’s not a whole deal of substance in his back catalogue. I like the sound of his voice and the sound of his records and the sound of his band in the 70’s  but songs like ‘Bennie and the Jets’ ‘ ‘Honky Cat’ and ‘Crocodile Rock’ are not going to give Dylan and sleepless nights.

 

And remember he only wrote 50% of those!

 

Elton was in the right place at the right time and with a matter of luck and personality (and good management) he’s stayed at the top for so long we’ve almost forgotten what he’s famous for.

 

 

So am I right, am I wrong ?

 

Have I missed someone really obvious, does Sir Elton really write load of brilliant songs, DO Zep deserve their adoration, who are Wire anyway?

 

Let me know

 

 

 

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Overrated/Underrated

One of the advantages of being 60, as opposed to 40 or even 50, is that I don’t have the 80’s or 90’s as my golden age of music. Let’s face it, being old is at best ok, the time when the most important things happen in our lives are between 15 and 25. And that includes the best music of our lives.

 

The other day I accidently caught a celebration of Blur’s ‘Parklife’ on 6 music. It’s regarded as a bit of a classic apparently, but it passed me by, there were other things happening in my life which were more important to me than the 3rd album by a British indie sounding band.

 

More worryingly/significantly is the fact that it’s 30 (30!) years since the release of the first Stone Roses album. Tributes have been prepared and apparently the Stone Roses are now one of the greatest bands ever.

 

I must admit that at the time I was still engaged in contemporary music and their single ‘Fools Gold’ did rather capture my imagination largely down to the drumming of Reni and the bass playing of Mani (names made for children’s TV). What little I picked up beyond that seemed to be rather disappointing jingle jangle rock music with bad singing. There wasn’t much about the Roses to lift them above the general level of indie bands with jangly guitars and half arsed vocals and I didn’t pay a huge attention to their music.

 

Less than a decade on the Stone Roses were phenomenally influential having influence Oasis who were on their way to becoming the great British hope for music and arguably the last real British rock stars. Oasis had a a similar derivative guitar style and a beefed-up replica of Ian Brown’s vocals with attitude. The Roses themselves had gone down the pan swiftly having swapped the Byrds for Zeppelin and shed members along the way.

For me, the Stone Roses are the epitome of overrated, a band I consider to be highly regarded by history despite having delivered very little of actual substance. It’s an age thing of course if I was a decade or so younger they would have coincided with my formative years and I would have looked at them as uncritically as I regard the Clash or Slade or Yes or Fairport Convention (early years only)

 

And so, I have been considering what it means to be overrated or underrated. When I was writing about Rory Gallager a few weeks back I watched quite a few YouTube videos on the Irish guitarist. What came up time and time again in the comments section was the sense that Gallager was ‘underated’. He’s one hell of a performer and guitarist but there’s the sense that he has never been full appreciated probably just because he isn’t a household name like Hendrix or Beck.

 

At the core of the whole underrated/overrated debate is the sense that there is a gulf between what the artist or band actually were and how, usually in retrospect, they have entered into our collective consciousness. It’s a tricky one, take Queen for example. For years in the 70’s they just seemed a bit irritating with their bloody ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but they soldered on adding and adding material with little sense of direction until they collected a huge shiny pile of nothing. 30 years later the band are at an all-time high, they are officially national treasures and mocking them is now a criminal offence. But.. hand on heart I couldn’t make a case that Queen were overrated. Even though I don’t like them much I can recognise that they produced a whole load of entertaining songs, in retrospect they broke the mould as to what a rock band should be and again in retrospect Freddie Mercury deserves his accolades as an entertainer in the face of sexual and racial prejudice. Another band who escaped my overrated accusations was The Moody Blues, a band who apparently are in the totally pointless rock and roll hall of fame having spent their entire career producing nothing of value. That started me thinking about who actually ever rated the Moody Blues in the first place?. I have never met anyone who like the band, it’s not like the music critics are preparing 6 music documentaries telling us what a great band the Moody’s were, a popular band but barely rated, so free from charges of being overrated.

 

For the next couple of weeks, I will looking at 10 bands who, in my opinion, fit the overrated underrated category. In order to be as unbiased as possible I will concentrate on the 70’s rather than using this as an opportunity to go off on one of those ‘music isn’t what it used to be’ rants.

If you have a favourite overrated underrated band please get involved in some way, all contributions gratefully received.

 

 

 

 

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