The introduction to this was going to be about growing up in a northern English town in the 60s. I had such a good friend through these years, Wink. A slick summary of those times would not do justice to how close we were. How we worked out those adolescent things together. Another time for that. I can pay proper respect to the boy who taught me how friends behave to each other.
Our twin obsessions were sport and music. We listened to everything. If it was new and exciting we were on it. There was a lot that was new and exciting in 1966-67. In 1967 the music and the world changed. Hippies were wearing flowers in their hair, getting back to the garden. We loved the new music but we were from an industrial town. We were not ready to sit naked, cross –legged with our balls in a saucerful of yogurt…not yet. The Velvet Underground made music we were intrigued by. The innocent bashing of Mo Tucker, the Teutonic Nico cool, the dissonant drone of John Cale’s viola and the tales of a druggy city low-life from Lou Reed. We were more likely to be waiting for our mum than our Man but the harsh insistent rhythms of the Velvets reflected life in a steel town more than the flower power of the California “Love Generation” as Otis called them.
Fast forward to 1972…I was living the student life. So many new experiences, so much new music. I was still checking for the VU. ”Loaded” was a big favourite. I had suspected that Lou’s songs were influenced by Doo-Wop and soul. I would still listen to “Sister Ray” but the new LP of simpler songs proved he could get his songs on the radio too. I bought the first solo album. The one with the ugliest cover ever. My best mate at university bought a Procol Harum LP the same week. I should never have let him go out on his own !
In 1972 LPs were released in the USA months before they were in Europe. One Monday a friend returned from London one with a great treat for us. She had an import copy of “Transformer”… Oh My. She brought it to our flat and we did not let her take it away. What a record, so modern, sexy and camp. We played it all day. Women who usually ignored us heard it through the window and invited themselves in. This was proof of the magic of great music. Then we found out that Lou Reed would be playing at the university on his next tour…unmissable. .
My girlfriend attended college about 100 miles away. We had deliberately put some distance between us. We did not want to go to the same town as a happy loving couple. It was better that we lived our lives and made our own friends on our own terms. If we got through 3 years apart then that seemed to mean something. Once a month she, with a friend, would hitch-hike to my place. The gig was on a day she was due. As the flat buzzed and got ready to go out I was hoping she would get some good lifts and arrive in good time.
She was not too late. Good, because she was excited about seeing such a favourite. Too late though for our usual reunion. Hey we were 19, we had not seen each other for 2 weeks, it seemed the proper way to show our feelings for each other. A couple of joints and a catch-up, we were ready for a big night out. We had seen some good bands but to see such a favourite in a small hall, this was going to be a BIG one.
Lou did not disappoint. His backing band, the Tots, have been dismissed as a bar band. I remember them as red hot, back then American bands always seemed tighter , more together than their British counterparts. What was more surprising was that Lou put on quite a show. His Velvets catalogue meant that for an hour all you got was classics. “White Light, White Heat”, “Sweet Jane”, “What Goes On”. It’s stating the obvious to say that Lou is one of the great rhythm guitarists. The songs were just set up by his opening chords and rolled away as they gathered momentum.”Sister Ray” was relentless. it was one of those moments when you knew you were lucky to be in the same room. Jenny & I found some space & danced, it was already the best gig we had ever seen.
“Heroin” just blew us further away. Lou made it the epic it is on record as he tied off and shot up to the music. There was no big set, just a stark light on the small wiry guy doing justice to this great body of work. “I’m Waiting For The Man” finished the set. None of that live in 1969 chug-a-long but full speed ahead rock song. There had been no songs from “Transformer”. We had been expecting our new favourites but it really didn’t matter. Lou had given us a set from the great work he had done with the Velvets. he had done it as if he meant it as well, none of that New York “I’m too cool for all this” shit. A great concert.
The first two audios I’ve put with this are from that tour. They are not the highest quality but are recorded just 12 days after we saw the band. “Wagon Wheel” IS from “Transformer” but a check on available set lists shows he played “Walk On The Wild Side” in Manchester and didn’t play anything else from the album on the tour.
Two months later Lou started the “Transformer” tour in the US and began a new phase of his career. The New York Boxing Day gig has songs from his “past” as he now calls it. Half of the set is from the new, hit album. There’s a confidence about this version of “Vicious” that shows he knew what was about to happen,
In the summer of 1973 I went home & worked on my hometown steel works. I was in the same gang as my old friend Wink. It was the last time we hung out together. We talked about the bands we had seen at our colleges. He had seen that Lou Reed tour too. We spent an afternoon raving about it, none of the others having a clue why we were so into it. Wink had a great story. He was in the refectory of Manchester Polytechnic on the afternoon of the gig when Lou walked in by himself and looked at the notice boards. Wink could not miss this. He approached him and asked if he could buy him a coffee. Lou agreed and my mate sat and chatted with Lou fucking Reed ! Don’t give me the Hollies, Joy division, Smiths or the Stone Roses, a coffee with Lou Reed is as cool as it ever gets in Manchester.