Richard Thompson’s 70th, Albert Hall

I suppose I must be the archetypical Richard Thompson follower. A few years back I caught him at a festival appearance where he pronounced that  the audience was like ‘looking out at a sea of Terry Pratchets’ Grey hair, grey beard and enough disposable income to afford tickets for Thompsons 70th birthday celebration at the Albert Hall (plus hotel fees and a meal beforehand), I am Thompson’s demographic.

Holding any party is always tricky, the Band started the career celebration  trend with ‘The Last Waltz’ and soon found an additional problem, namely the bigger the names of your friends the more your own career is likely to be overshadowed. And so we remember Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan or Neils Young and Diamond rather than the Bands excellent versions of their own songs from that night(s). Also,the Band were still in their youth, Thompson is 70, I am 10 years younger and find just standing up with a guitar round my neck exhausting after 30 minutes. Thompson is made of sterner stuff but there’s three hours of music to get through and occasionally he will need a break.

Another issue is that even in this day and age a gig can go wrong for reasons beyond the performer’s control. Amazingly Thompson falls prey to gremlins from the first number. During the opening number ‘The Storm Wont Come’ which he performs with his excellent trio it becomes apparent that his guitar is seriously underpowered. In the 70’s a nervous roadie with a hammer would scuttle across the stage but the techs here are more officious, striding out unhurried and straight backed, one of them calmly appraises the problem and does some knob twiddling and plods off again. Despite a couple of attempts at this the guitar gets a bit louder but not a lot clearer. Thompson has been described as someone who sounds like he’s singing with a bucket over his head and his vocals don’t really cut though that well especially when he makes  announcements‘please welcome to the stage marincerfy’ he will announce leaving the audience mouthing ‘who? ‘ at each other. The official compare, his youngest son I am guessing, compensates for lack of microphone technique with youthful enthusiasm but is sometime down to the audience to work out who is on stage.

 

But enough griping, tonight is a friends and family occasion, it seems churlish to be too critical. I was eagerly anticipating the person who turned out to be the first guest. Hugh Cornwell was in Thompson’s first ever band, I had hoped he would play bass but the Thompson trio backed them through a pretty robust version of ‘Tobacco Road’. Things then went a bit strange (already!) with a version of the Stranglers ‘Peaches’ a pretty sexist song which hasn’t worn well which was followed by a pleasant but unessential Cornwall solo tune.

 

With Cornwell ushered off Thompson unleashes the biggest disappointment of the evening. Simon Nichol is stuck in Greece! A jugband cover with Ashley Hutchings and a stand in guitarist could have been a real moment if Fairport founder Nichol had been on board. Ditto a cover of Jack O Diamonds from the first Fairport album is also diluted a bit by the presence of Dave Mattacks on drums who plays as if he’s in a pit orchestra. Dave Pegg’s on stage (on mandolin and vocals) for ‘Down Where the Drunkards Roll’. I later realise that nothing from the folky Fairport was played all night, this was as close as it got.

It’s a bit of a relief when Bob Mould (ex Husker du and Sugar) turns up and wacks his Strat up to full volume for ‘Turning of the Tide’ , the hall is crackling with energy thanks to Michael Jerome being back on drums, it’s a bit of a mess but so exciting its worth Mould doing a quick solo number,while we’re in the mood.

The last stage of the first half is folk heavy with Kate Rusby, Martin Carthy, Marry Waterson and Eliza Carthy, the latter dressed like a Wagner Heroine producing a jaw dropping unaccompanied ‘Great Valerio’. On the family theme the mad uncle arrives in the shape of Marc Ellington. I know virtually nothing of the man (I think he sung on Unhalfbricking) but he treated the Albert Hall as if he was doing a turn at a family party. With boundless confidence he led us through ‘The Bonnie lass o’ Fyvie’ before disappearing back into obscurity. 

 

A half time break (necessary at our age) gives me a chance to check out the audience, not all old codgers. I catch a glimpse of someone who if she isn’t Bonnie Rait has chosen to dress just like her. I assume it’s the latter as she didn’t appear on stage.

 

The second half opens with Beeswing which is played with concertina player Alistair Anderson. Another pleasant surprise  there will be no ‘Vincent Black Lightning’ so this is the nearest we have to an acoustic theme song. Anderson stays on for a duel on the Morris tune Madame Bonapart where they both overplay and the tune starts to unravel in places. There will be a similar episode when the band back ‘Cry Me a River’ with ‘Judiwowan ‘(Judith Owen) where everyone appears to be playing a slightly different song. Before that Teddy Thompson appears for a pretty good version of persuasion (no bucket on the head for Teddy).

 

It then gets a bit dull and downbeat with Danny Thompson and Mattacks for a couple of songs before a switch of players and the introduction of Olivia Chaney for the sacred ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. Chaney is one of the very few contemporary singer songwriters who really moves me, I thought she was great as was her subsequent solo ‘House on the Hill’, I hope I wasn’t the only one.

 

Next up is Maddy Prior, still with scarf despite it being about 90 degrees by now, her voice isn’t exactly cutting through as it might do but ‘The Grey Funnel Line’ is a pleasant return to a giant folk club vibe. The subsequent act are the Rails who, of course, include Thompson’s daughter Kami. Unfortunately for Richard, her partner James Walbourne does rather show what an electric guitar could sound like. Their version of ‘Keep your Distance’ literally crackles with electricity.

 

The presence of another Thompson onstage gives Kami a change to introduce her mother, the elephant in the theatre that is Linda Thompson. Her ex husband doesn’t really acknowledge her or utter her name. The Thompson clan perform ‘That’s Enough’ . It’s off their pretty underwhelming album that I’ve forgotten the name of but as a standalone song it’s pretty poignant in these pre Brexit post truth times following which Linda is escorted away by Teddy after, it seems ,having had a great time onstage.

Following the jazz battle of ‘Cry Me a River’ there’s the much heralded appearance of Derek Smalls. While I’m a bit fan of Shearer’s acting/voiceover talents we like the idea of Derek Smalls much better than the reality, one song was one song to many.

 

In contrast Loudon Wainwight is relaxed, natural and totally marvellous. The ‘Swimming Song’ is an obvious crowd pleaser but rather charming, more surprising is a duet with Thompson on ‘I want to see the Bright Light Tonight’ which sees the reappearance of Mattacks who now seems to want to groove instead of tap at cymbals. I didn’t miss the brass band at all.

 

Quite what Dave Gilmour is doing here is a small mystery (if Thompson really did describe Pink Floyd as ‘a blues band with clocks’ its genius). He’s clearly important and so is last on the bill and was featured heavily in Rolling Stone’s review of the gig. Again, Gilmour’s guitar sounds better than Thompsons, his voice is limited but that’s rather touching on ‘dimming of the day’ where he cracks on the high notes. Stranger is the final song proper ‘Fat Old Sun’, an autumnal song by Gilmour, its quite beautiful but rather down beat, Thompson gets to play some great guitar but it’s a bit like serving drinks at your own party.

 

That’s not exactly the end there’s the anthemic song about death ‘Meet on the Ledge’(he was in his early 20’s when he wrote that) before the lights are up and we shuffle out into the light drizzle.

 

For anyone new to Thompson’s work and trying to get a handle on what he is/about would have found this a baffling night. He was impressive in that he avoided some greatest hits show, some of the time he was offstage or providing back up to someone else’s song. When it was a bit dull it wasn’t dull for long, when it was great it was wonderful.

 

Which pretty much sums up Thompson’s career really.

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It’s all in the Name

In the early 90’s I was employed as a Social Worker based in a Derbyshire town. Tuesday was court duty day where we would hang about the magistrates youth court picking up any work related to the Juvenile offenders of that fair county. One day, at a bit of a loose end, I popped into the adult court next door to find it had been taken over by a gaggle of less typical defendants. The new crowd, there was about six of them, were a mixture of perms and mullets or perhaps even permed mullets and although they were dressed in court suits they all had their sleeves rolled up like 80’s pop stars. One of the ushers informed me that they were in fact 70’s pop band Paper Lace  in court that day over some legal matter about who were allowed to be Paper Lace anymore.

 

Its pretty unlikely that any young person spending hours in their room learning to play an instrument would ever consider they are preparing for spending a lot of their time in the future with solicitors but ever since the break up of the Beatles this was to be the future of many musicians. Paper Lace were just one group trying to keep their name to survive.

 

Its perhaps not surprising that Mick Fleetwood can replace Lindsey Buckingham and carry on as Fleetwood Mac, he’s been doing that ever since Peter Green had a breakdown, its not what we want but I’m sure Fleetwood Mac are raking in the dollars without Buckingham as usual. It’s a strange phenomenon though that even fans of a band don’t seem capable of making fairly simple musical judgements outside that band’s existence. Take Mike Scott for example. He had piloted the Waterboys through various incarnations and various musical styles, it was even debatable who the Waterboys were apart from Mike Scott. However, Scot was soon to discover that as a solo troubadour he was capable of filling rooms above pubs but not much more. As soon as Scott revived the Waterboys moniker he was back in the concert halls and festivals. One would have thought that Waterboysfans would know who their leader/singer/songwriter was and would support him at gigs, but clearly most of them didn’t.

 

So, possession of the band’s name is hugely financially important, it doesn’t matter if that band now contains the original drummer, the bass player’s son and a couple of hack musicians, a huge percentage of their potential audience just won’t care.

 

Researching (yes!) last weeks post brought this whole phenomenon into sharp reality. All four bands, Mud, The Glitter Band , the Rubettes and Sweet had a life beyond their glory years with inevitable legal jousting for most of them.

Mud fared the best. Singer Les Gray went on to front Les Gray’s Mud. You couldn’t really argue with that, he wasn’t pretending to be Mud, he was the singer and he fronted his own version of Mud until his early death.

The Sweet hit a compromise with Bass player Steve Priest fronting an American version of the band and Guitarist Andy Scott doing the same in Britain. This took over a decade though with a version of singer Brian Connolly’s Sweet also limping round the British gig circuit. Now with two of the roginal members dead and the survivors living on different continents its just about possible for the two Sweets to coexist. 

 

With some sort of irony, Brian Connelly played his last ever gig at the Bristol Hippodrome with Slade II (Slade without the creative members) and John Rossall’s Glitter Band. Despite the fact that Rossall had formed the band he was the sax player and had left early anyway so laying claim to the name took a bit of a nerve especially as legally he had been ordered not to use the Glitter Band’s moniker (he eventually received a one year suspended prison sentence for breaching this). Guitarist/Singer Gerry Shephard, usually aided by one of the band’s drummers were able to use the name and after Shepherd’s death Bassist John Springate returned  to take over the band.

 

If that smacks of desperation wait till you hear about the Rubettes!

 

As you may remember, the original vocalist Paul Da Vinci who sang the distinctive falsetto part on ‘Sugar Baby Love’ declined to be in a proper band and was replaced by Allan Williams who seemed to be able to cover the vocal parts pretty well. The band split in 1980 their time had been and gone and we thought that would be the end.

 

However, with their white suits and flat caps the band had a distinctive brand. You could dress almost anyone like that and they could be a Rubette especially as the caps would cover the inevitable male pattern baldness as years advanced. No only were the band future proofed but they were absolutely huge in certain parts of Europe. In a couple of years they were back with a watered down line up which cleaned up on the continent but after a decade everyoine had had enough. The Rubettes split again.

 

Matters soon hit the courts in a dispute between Williams and Keyboard player Bill Hurd. Hurd had left the band in the mid 70’s but had returned for the watered down 80’s version. Both had been given legal permission to tour as the Rubettes as long as it was clear who was fronting the band. Both musicians had breached this agreement however given a choice between Rubettes fronted by the singer and frontman who sang on nearly all their hit and Rubettes fronted by the keyboard player who left after a couple of years I know who I would go and see! Hurd actually went bankrupt as a result of the hearing but has carried on as The Rubettes featuring Bill Hurd to this day. At one point he added to his marketability by recruiting original vocalist Da Vinci but it wasn’t long before Hurd was fronting yet another band of people who were not Rubettes at all.

Alan Richardson was in a pretty strong position with original drummer John Richardson who was always the bands second most focal point. He also had the original Bass player for what it’s worth. Bizarrely these sidemen both then formed a break away band with the keyboard player now calling themselves The Rubettes featuring John Mick and Steve.

You might imagine that having a choice of three versions of the Rubettes would be too much for even the most ardent fan. Maybe it’s a sad inditement of our welfare system that men in their 70’s are still dressing up in white suits and touring the clubs in order to earn a crust. Maybe it’s just naked ambition or, most likely, its just not being able to stop doing the thing you’ve done all your life.

 

Which is pretty sad really.

 On the other hand…

Here Bill Hurds Rubettes from only last year, yes, there are old, yes, it’s Germany ,no it’s not the real Rubettes …but isn’t everyone having a great time !

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4 Manufactured Acts who were actually Pretty Good Musicians

We are pretty worldly-wise  and sceptic about manufactured pop groups these days. Post Milli Vanilli we don’t necessarily expect a lot in terms of authenticity from our hit makers, who cares if they can’t play and cant sing!. The concept of the manufactured group goes back to the days of the greatest mock band of all time namely the Monkees. It’s still considered a matter of importance that they didn’t play on many of their greatest hits but it wasn’t that unusual, neither did the Beach Boys (all the time) and even the Byrds were studio session heavy for ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

 

Time is money in the studio and producers were usually keen to draft in session players, especially drummers, when band musicians weren’t up to the task in two takes. It happened to Ringo Starr, and talking of Ringo, he had to make a few hard choices about his personal appearance before joining the Beatles, even Topper Headon needed to be prepared to go out and buy a pair of bondage trousers (and then change his name) before he would be admitted into the Clash.

Authenticity can be as false as any band identity but its fair to assume some musicians are more malleable than others, especially where there is a Svengali producer involved. In the 70’s however music needed real musicians so here are four manufactured bands who turned out to be surprisingly competent musicians, and lets face it most of them weren’t chose for their looks!

 

Mud

The band whose name was Mud had been in operation since the mid 60’s playing dance halls, polytechnics and working men’s clubs (if such a thing exists in their native Surrey). Moving from pop covers to pop psychedelia ,the height of their fame has been an appearance on the Basil Brush Show before they were picked up by RAK records and songwriter/producers Micky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The band went on to have 14 top 20 hits. Why RAK picked them is a bit of a mystery, they were competent and versatilemusicians and presumably were willing to record whatever Chinn/Chapman threw at them. One suspects they were happiest with a bit of old style rock and roll as evidenced by the likes of ,DynaMite,’The Cat Crept In’ and the mighty ‘Tiger Feet’. 

Inevitably the hits dried up, singer Les Gray spent the rest of his life fronting ‘Les Gray’s Mud’ and the drummer became an insurance salesman. Bassist Ray Stiles joined the Holliesbut it was guitarist Rob Davis who was to have the most musical success becoming involved in dance music and co writing ‘Cant get you out of my Head’ for Kylie Minogue.

 

The Glitter Band

It was producer/writer/arranger Mike Leander who played most of the instruments on Gary Glitter’s early hits but when live shows beckoned he contacted trombone/sax player John Rossall who in turn summoned the Boston Showband for whom he was musical director. The Showband were old fashioned entertainment playing various styles and covers in dancehall up and down the country as well as on the continent. The band grew from the Glittermen to the Glitter Band who were developing their own identity. Any band with two drummers is bound to be interesting and the Glitter Band’s records have fared better than those of their earstwhile paedophile paymaster. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist  Pete Phipps went on to a full musical career with the likes of the Eurythmics and XTC

 

The Rubettes

Songwriting team Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddingham cemented their song writing alliance while paying in ex-Beatle Pete Best’s band. Having had a full and varied career with everyone from Robert Fripp to Tom Jones the pair had written and recorded an idea for a rock musical called ‘Sugar Baby Love’ with a group of session players. Unable to make anything of the recording they eventually offered it to the session band on the agreement they become a proper group and wear white hats and stupid caps. All apart from the singer agreed, he was replaced by Alan Williams and the Rubettesbecame a huge band in the UK and an even bigger one on the continent.

Theres not a huge amount to mark the Rubettes out as class musicians but they had been session players and even the drummer, who just appears to be dicking about on their performances, had  played on ‘Kung Foo Fighting’ by Craig Douglas. Their natural inclination seemed to be away from rock and roll nostalgia and towards country based material, they even tackled homophobia on one of their later records ‘Under One Roof’.

They are still big in Europe

 

The Sweet

Starting life as Unit 4 (snappy name!) and metamorphosising through the 60’s into Wainwrights Gentleman, the Sweet had, at one early point included future Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan. That’s not entirely insignificant and the band were pretty impressive hard rocking musicians. It was songwriters Chinn and Chapman who along with record producer Phil Wainman who decided they should be some strange half arsed version of the Archies. Early singles ‘Funny Funny’’Co-Co’ and Poppa Joe’ were very much in the vein of ‘Sugar Sugar’, there wasn’t a lot of imagination being wasted here. The weird thing was that these records were all made with session musician who almost curtains weren’t as good as the people they had replaced. Mick Tucker was a world class drummerbut bass player Steve Priest and Guitarist Andy Scott weren’t far behind and they were also great singers. The band’s purple period was around ‘Hell Raiser’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by which time they were playing on their own records but still keeping a pop sensibility.

Unfortunately they were determined to prove they were great musicians by going down a heavier route. It wasn’t really my cup of tea but it had a lot of potential especially in the USA  where Kiss and Motley Crue are still considered credible.

Their rise in instrumental prowess mirrored a decline in singer Brian Connolly’s voice after damaging his throat in a fight. Connolly went into alcoholic decline and the rest continued as a three piece which just scraped into the 80’s. In a decade the band had travelled from bubblegum to hard rock and are probably the best musicians ever to have appeared on Top of the Pops in full make up and a German helmet.

https://youtu.be/WNXFtVWB47E

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This is Pop….The Tours

A Rock map of Great Britain would feature the south east heavily, concentrating on London and the home counties. The northwest would also show a lot of activity, the jewel in the crown being the Beatles of course although by the late 70’s Manchester was presenting as the second most important city of music.Scotland, mainly Glasgow has always proved to good breeding ground for rock but it was a long way away from the only place that mattered which was London.

Rock music was essentially an urban activity if, for no other reason that where most people live and where it was easier to find a drummer or bass player to complete the band. For some reason Prog had featured heavily on the south coast with Robert Fripp hailing from remote Dorset and Greg Lake from the Bournemouth area. It would only take a couple of remarkable characters to create a ‘scene’ and its convenient to think of the idiosyncrasies of King Crimson as being at least partly attributable to their genesis away from the mainstream.

 

Punk had eventually proved such a catalyst that by the end of the 70’s new bands were springing up in provincial towns all over Britain. There were only two ways that those of us in the provinces could learn about the outside world and that was the Radio (namely John Peel) and the music papers (namely the New Musical Express) if they didn’t pick up a band that combo was pretty much dead in the water but by 1979 there was a huge appetite for new bands to be picked out as the next big thing by the media.

For the first time in my life I had started buying singles, there was a couple of reasons for this, firstly I had a little more money on a student grant, at least until my savings ran out. The more significant reason was that there was a huge influx of really great singles from bands who might never get to make an album and anyway I couldn’t be bothered to wait for a year for that to happen.

 

The Tours were a classic example of this new breed of band. They hailed from Poole, which I think is still in Dorset, and announced themselves to the world with their self produced single ‘Language School’ . I assume I heard the record on John Peel, it couldn’t have been anywhere else, and was instantly hooked. I went out and bought the single, our local record chain Selectadisk and Virgin both stocked a whole load of independent singles. Supply chains were now in existance, it it was on John Peel it would probably be in the local record shop, if you lived in a city of course.

 

I played and played ‘Language School’ and well as it’s pretty good B side ‘Foreign Girls. I was living in a shared house, each of us had a cheap record player and different sounds would blast out from different bedrooms most evenings and weekends. ‘Language School’ is typical of a lot of self produced 45’s, its not exactly hi fidelity and to this day I only know about 50% of the lyrics but it featured a fantastically simple but effect guitar hook and was simply one of those songs that grabs you from the first millisecond it blasts out of the speakers.

 

John Peel announced it was his second favourite single after the Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’ which was enough to start a bidding war among the major record labels. Virgin won, and that was the kiss of death for the band.

I’ve written before about how the whole business of ‘making it’ in the music business is only partially about talent and far more about an individual’s ability to handle disappointment,,boredom, bullshit  and general adversity on a daily basis. The Americans are far better than the Brits at this which is why they gave us Kiss.

The Tours actually decided to tour, I assume it was after the Virgin signing, and came to play the Polytechnic in Nottingham. I couldn’t persuade anyone to come with me but, such was my love of the band, I decided to go on my own. Typically I remember very little about the gig, however as I was leaving I came across the band making their way to their dressing room. 

 

I have never been one to go back stage or accost famous people in the street, really I have nothing to say them which either party would find interesting, but in this case they were heading up the stairs as I was heading down, they were hard to ignore, especially as they were carrying guitars and looking sweaty. ‘That was great’ I said (so it must have been a good gig), the bass player stared at me and the others ignored me. It could have been worse, a friend of mine told Terry Hall of the Specials how great the band were at a gig at Nottingham University and was subjected to a stream of abuse about ‘student wankers’. Today, of course, you would be stopped for a selfie and signed up to a mailing list at the very least by any new artist struggling to build a fanbase but in the 70’s it was uncool to court attention.

 

The reality of the situation is that the Tours were a bunch of young men thrown together with a bit of talent and a smidgeon of ambition but not really equipped for the rigours of a rock life. The band were blessed with two songwriters Richard Mazda and Ronnie Mayor, that can often be a great thing for a band re Lennon/McCartney or Strummer/Jones but sometimes the egos and competition gets too much, and this was the case with the Tours.

Also Virgin, having bought the new shiny pop sensations didn’t really bother to promote them, there was one more single recorded and an album that wasn’t released (until 2009). The band, who had started up so promisingly, had split by 1980.

Hopefully since then they have lived happier lives than they would have done as a touring band ,  only Mazda has maintained some sort of media life as a songwriter and actor.

 

There was a kind of happy ending with the band reuniting in 2017 for a one-off local gig. It was a labour of love, even recruiting their original guitarist to make the band a 5 piece.

 

They sold 13,000 copies of ‘Language School’. I still have mine somewhere which, if I ever find it I will expect to sell on eBay for about 99p

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Changing Basses..Roxy Music

If you were to put a gun to my head and ask me if I liked Roxy Music I would immediately respond in the affirmative; unless you were a hunt saboteur that is in which case a would deny any association with class traitor and hunt supporter Bryan Ferry.

But, as usual it’s more complicated than simple yes and no answers. As far as I am concerned the band made some of the best singles ever to come out of the glam period but I have never owned a Roxy album or harboured a desire to go to one of their gigs. For a brief period in early adolescent I found the mere sight of the glam rock Eno disturbing. There was also the time when the band perfectly anticipated the 80’s by wearing suits and making smooth but rather enjoyable music.

And then there’s the question of Ferry.

As usual the most interesting period for me was the early days when there was a semblance of a band, it’s always that way, read any band auto/biography and if you can name one where the second half is anywhere near as riveting as the first half and I will award you reader of the week.

It took a while for a career to form from 1970 when Ferry actually auditioned to be the vocalist for King Crimson. That wasn’t going to work out clearly but Robert Fripp was intrigued and was instrumental in getting others to take notice. It took a while for the classic Roxy to gel, Phil Manzanera was actually the third and final guitarist in the band likewise Paul Thompson was not the initial drummer of choice.

But throughout the 70’s the bass player’s shoes never remained on the same feet for long.

Ironically the first player Graham Simpson actually formed the band with Ferry. Simpson was a member of Ferry’s art school band with the inspirational name the Gas Board. Simpson appeared to be a fully fledged member appearing in an early Old Grey Whistle Test appearance and posing in publicity photos. Simpson always looked like a hippie bloke who had been told to dress up a bit and in reality he was an introspective Jazz lover. He soon tired of leopardskin and disappeared after recording the first album.

The next bass player was Rik Kenton who occupied the position for a brief but glamorous period around the time of Virginia Plain although whether he actually played on the track is in dispute. Hot on his heals was an American Sal Maida who looked like a cross between Sylvester Stallone and Johnny Thunders.. Maida played live shows but never made it as far as a studio recording. He was later to resurface in power pop group Milk’n’Cookies who were the next big thing for 10 seconds.

The band had still only recorded one album and a couple of singles and were now looking for bass player number 4. John Porter has also been in the Gas Board, a guitarist who also played bass, he was invited along to play on For Your Pleasure and played a couple of live gigs. Porter had many strings to his bow. He went on to produce both Ferry and Roxy as well as Billy Bragg, the Smiths and even Buddy Guy. As this weeks bit of trivia he married Linda Keith socialite, model and the subject of the Ruby Tuesday by the Stones.

Porter was a rootsy Little Feat loving guy who wasnt going to fit in on a long term basis. His replacement, of sorts, was John Gustafson. Gustafson was one of the few really good musicians to come out of the Liverpool beat scene. His band the Big Three were one of the few local groups that the Beatles didn’t like to go head to head with. Gustafson was a heavy player, that’s his bass on ‘Love is the Drug’. Although he was player of choice on the next three studio albums the band did not want him to get to comfortable and would tour with others. At some point the bassist was John Wetton, ironically a member of King Crimson and a bassist and singer who couldn’t be held for long in the position of gun for hire. Matters were further complicated by Ferry’s parallel solo career but at some point Rick Wills was also a regular bass player. Wills was another musician’s musician having been in Dave Gilmour’s first band and bass player with Peter Frampton. He was also involved in the ill fated and ill advised small faces reunion (replacing Ronnie Lane) post Roxy.

With seven bass players in as many years Roxy took a break. When they started to reconvene the absence of Eddie Jobson (Eno’s replacement) signalled a real change in direction. At one point a press release came out that Ferry himself was playing bass at rehearsals of the new material. Luckily common sense prevailed and no less than two bass players were recruited. Gary Tibbs was the first band member no to have musical roots in the 60’s. He had first come to notice as the pogoing bass player with the Vibrators but he was obviously an ambitions young chap and post Roxy went on to Adam and the Ants, just another day at the office. The other player Alan Spenner was a more obvious choice, he was a class player who had played with everyone from Joe Cocker to, inevitably, Peter Frampton. He favoured a fretless bass which really shaped the sound of Roxy round the time of Flesh and Blood and Avalon.

And so the 70’s came to an end and the band became less and less creative and needed less and less bass players. For most of this period Roxy was effectively a trio.

That can be part of the problem, Pete Townsend became frustrated writing for the Who and having to consider Daltrey’s vocal stylings or Entwistle’s bass lines every time he wanted to produce a song. The issue was that without the other group members and their individual sounds Townsend, like Ferry, could sound just a bit dull. In the internet age it’s not unusual for artists to swap musical partners however briefly, it’s not even necessary to be in the same studio at the same time anymore. Often though you have to commit to the idiosyncrasies of other musicians to produce something worth listening to.

For anyone wanting to appreciate the band sound of Roxy the live album Viva Roxy Music is worth a listen featuring (I think) three of the bass players mentioned above. What you will hear the sound of an innovative rock band and just like the Beatles or the E street Band or the Clash or the Band producing something that is bigger the sum of it’s parts

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Prog Bedfellows

I can’t claim any credit for this brilliant photo,

Can you name the two albums ( one is easy I know)

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Love Like Anthrax

One of the consequences of the digital age is that we don’t really have to listen to music we don’t want to anymore. When I was young I listened to the 6 LP’s my parents owned and whatever was played on the radio stations they tuned in to. As I got older I started buying my own LP’s but I was still reliant on the radio, in this case Radio 1 and as I might listen for hours and not hear very much I actually liked  I started to find pleasure in unlikely areas, I was forced to adapt.

The last time I had to listen to modern pop music was when my kids travelled in the car with me and wanted their updated version of Radio 1 on. Again I began to adapt, I wasn’t wild about the music but I did appreciate the odd banging tune and as Radio 1 seemed to have a playlist of about 6 records for months on end I at least became familiar with what was happening in the world of modern music.

These days I am less adaptable, my only exposure to modern music is when Radio 2 plays something contemporary. I don’t usually like it, there’s a modern voice sound which I don’t like at all and it’s horribly produced. Modern pop seems to resemble music in the same way as cheesy string resembles a mature cheddar, it’s kind of similar in theory but very different in practice.

The worst thing for me though are the lyrics, it seems that the only topic on the table is relationships. When Ed Sheeran began a very successful musical career with ‘The A Team’, I actually stopped and listened , although it’s a kind of modern day ‘Streets of London ‘the impact for me was far greater, here was someone singing about something other than their own feelings.it was very unusual.

It wasn’t always like that, sure the whole experience of being human is going to rely heavily on our relationships with  people we fancy quite a bit but there are other things going on in the world to sing about.

Punk was pretty low on the whole relationship experience unless it was our relationships with people we hated. Post punk no one was going to talk about love, PIL even had a song titled ‘This is not a Love Song’ although clearly it would have been for more radical if they had created something that was a love song.

Politics were on the agenda, not necessarily traditional politics but personal politics, anti racism and anti sexism were high on the list although ageism was still allowed in. The phrase political correctness hadn’t been invented but this was its birth.

The Gang of Four had their origins at Leeds University. People were now safe to be students again, for a couple of years they were hated by the punk cognoscente for their supposedly cushy lifestyle but now things were getting more intelligent. Naming themselves after a group of Chinese Communists Gang Of Four had already nailed their colours to the mast hinting they were intellectual and subversive.

I had a somewhat troubled relationship with the band. They produced some of the best music I have ever heard.GuitaristAndy Gill took the Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson guitar sound and mixed in punk, funk dub and noise. As a musical three piece the band did all they could to make guitar bass and drums interesting. In effect this meant each instrument had an equal role and, influenced by dub, instruments would drop out at various points to create simple textures.

The down side was that Jon King was a fairly rubbish vocalist and the lyrics (keenly avoiding the L word) could sound a bit like a sociology essay. It might be a bit po faced as could most post punk but I have to admit the lyrics have stayed with me to this day. The phrase ‘see the happy pair smiling close like they’re monkeys’ from Essence has led to a lifelong aversion to having my picture taken (and certainly never smiling).

 

Inevitably the band would tackle the thorny subject of why bands are expected to write songs about relationships in one of their greatest hits ‘Anthrax’. Involving lots of guitar noise and two intersecting vocal lines Anthrax sets it clear

 

Woke up this morning desperation a.m.

What I’ve been saying won’t say them again

My head’s not empty, it’s full with my brain

The thoughts I’m thinking

Like piss down a drain

And I feel like a beetle on its back

And there’s no way for me to get up

Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax

And that’s something I don’t want to catch

Ought to control what I do to my mind

Nothing in there but sunshades for the blind

Only yesterday I said to myself

The things I’m doing are not good

For my health

 

“Love crops up quite a lot as something to sing about,

cos most groups make most of their songs about falling in love

or how happy they are to be in love,

you occasionally wonder why these groups do sing about it all the time –

it’s because these groups think there’s something very special about it

either that or else it’s because everybody else sings about it and always has,

you know to burst into song you have to be inspired

and nothing inspires quite like love.

These groups and singers think that they appeal to everyone

by singing about love because apparently everyone has or can love

or so they would have you believe anyway

but these groups seem to go along with what, the belief

that love is deep in everyone’s personality.

I don’t think we’re saying there’s anything wrong with love,

we just don’t think that what goes on between two people

should be shrouded with mystery.”

Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax

And that’s something I don’t want to catch

Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax

And that’s something I don’t want to catch

 

Why isn’t anyone writing songs like this anymore? This isn’t my Desert Island Disc (I’d rather have something by Joni Mitchell about relationships) but is it impossible to find songs that are looking external rather than internal experiences?

Its not just pop, its Americana, Rock, Singer Songwriter, it’s not as if there aren’t things to get angry about anymore but perhaps we’d rather listen to people telling us about themselves.

On the other hand perhaps its just the case now that music is so integrated into our entertainment pleasure that its completely devoid from documenting radical experiences or thoughts perhaps its joined the ranks of synchronised swimming, tap dancing, or knitting as something we do to unwind.

 

There’s a Spotify Playlist for every occasion.

 

Here’s the Gang of Four

https://youtu.be/aj-h3zmGVO4

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