Random Notes (June 2017)

Oof ! At the start of June our government was telling us that the Leader of the Opposition would take us back to the 1970’s & was an IRA sympathiser. A new generation of voters, raised on & unconvinced by Austerity, replied “When?” & “Who?” then exercised their democratic right in favour of a politician they perceived as principled & fighting their corner. Jeremy Corbyn may not be Prime Minister but the Tories, anticipating plain sailing to an increased majority, are a sinking ship, their “strong & stable” banner in tatters. My own cynicism ( a trait I thought to be an attractive one) was refreshingly challenged by the optimistic younglings of my company. This new passion found a focus when terrorist attacks led to criticism of cuts to emergency services & a tragic fire in London exposed policies which favoured profit over respect for the rights of others to fatal effect.

 

I’m no Corbyn cultist though there is much to admire about his successful acampaign in the face of the vilification from the media. I would prefer a united Labour Party confident enough to articulate & endorse the concerns of their support rather than wait for a hopeless, rudderless, all-but minority government to run aground as they blindly attempt to negotiate the choppy waters of our exit from the EU. Whatever the outcome, something has changed.

 

That’s enough politics & certainly too many maritime metaphors. Let’s put some sounds on…

 

 

My musical month was always set to be dominated by “The Nashville Sound” the new much-anticipated (well, by me) new LP from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It seems that I’m not the only one & it’s selling more copies than the previous 2 award winning collections “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free”. Whether Jason is rocking out with the band or getting reflective with his acoustic guitar, his wife Amanda on fiddle & harmonies, his mature, assured songs hit the spot more accurately than anyone else around at the moment. That heart-wrenching line “I’m just lucky to have the work” from the title track of “Something…” is still tearing me up now here’s another 10 tracks to have around the house & to get to know.

 

Image result for the nashville sound jason isbellThis time around Isbell is stretching himself lyrically. He & his protagonists, mainly Southern American men, are living in Trump’s America, something needs to be said about the frustration & anger that brings. “Hope the High Road” & “White Man’s World” are not political with a capital P, his character studies are accurate & sympathetic. Any false steps, there is sometimes a slight lyrical clumsiness, is offset by great contributions from all the musicians involved. Hey I’m being picky here. The last 2 records have been very good company, taking their  time to reveal their full depth & qualities. “Cumberland Gap”, “If We Were Vampires” & “Tupelo” are  are already welcome guests. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the rest of “The Nashville Sound”.

 

 

I’ve been an admirer of Steve van Zandt since he was consiglieri to Bruce & the E Street Band before doing the same job for the Soprano family. Hell, I even hung around “Lilyhammer” long after it had jumped the reindeer. Now his immaculately curated Underground Garage (every show archived somewhere around here) is my Interweb radio show of choice. Little Steven’s Rock & Roll sensibility & taste sit very well with me & it only took a listen to a couple of tracks off of his new LP “Soulfire” & I was on it (new fave phrase, courtesy of the hilarious Count Arthur Strong) like a German Shepherd on chicken !

 

Image result for steve van zandt james gando;fini“Soulfire” is infused with Steve’s abiding belief in music’s redemptive quality. Older songs, 2 that he gave to Southside Johnny, are spiritedly resuscitated. “Ride the Night Away” reclaims that great opening riff to “I Found Love” a co-write for Lone Justice. Strong new songs cover similar ground, there are 2 covers, a Blues from Etta James & a spectacular version of James Brown’s “Down & Out In New York City” (from the movie “Black Caesar”). The bold, brassy Spectoresque Wall of Sound, employed by Steve & Springsteen back then, is made loud & clear by master engineer Bob Clearmountain & it’s so good to hear the Persuasions, a classic vocal group, back on record. No new ground is broken on “Soulfire”, it’s traditional American Rock done well by one of the guys who set the standard & it’s glorious.

 

 

Image result for kwyet kinksOK, it’s not all new music round our end, it never is. This month it’s been the Kinks that have made it to to the front of the stack & stayed there. Back when the money from my paper round didn’t stretch to expensive 12″ vinyl discs record companies offered EPs, Extended Plays, 4 tracks for less than double the price of a 2 track 45. Of course the Beatles led the way with  “Twist & Shout” (1963) & “Long Tall Sally” (1964), a great collection of previously unreleased recordings. Both sold more than many hit singles. The Stones matched these with “Five By Five” (1964), new cuts from sessions at Chess studios, & “Got Live if You Want It ” (1965). EPs were mainly recycled material, a chance to buy a couple of singles you had missed. The Kinks were one group who had songs that never made the A-side but were more than album filler.

 

Image result for well respected man kinks“Kwyet Kinks” came around in September 1965, a year when the group had 5 Top 20 hits. Their early energy had converted R&B influences into aggressive, punk Rock & Ray Davies, still  just 21 years old, was developing a more introspective songwriting style. Both Summer hits “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” combined a wistful lyric with a distinctive, inventive guitar sound. The oh so good, oh so fine “Well Respected Man”, a first excursion into sly social commentary, was picked from the EP by offshore pirate radios & played to an audience of over 10 million as often as any new hit. The Kinks’ record label & management doubted the group’s new direction but their fans were already on it. “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along” was the first song to be solely credited to the younger Davies, guitarist Dave. It would be a couple of years before Dave made his own hit solo records but the talent is there to see on this one. The other 2 tracks “Don’t You Fret” & “Such A Shame” were not saved for “The Kink Kontroversy”, their 3rd LP.  In 1965 the Davies brothers, Pete Quaife (bass), Mick Avory (drums) & their producer Shel Talmy were mining a very productive seam.

 

Image result for dedicated kinks epThe following year “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, a sharp lampoon of Carnabetian Swinging London, was the first in a series of acutely observed, distinctively British, classic Kinks hits. Pye, never slow to capitalise on their back catalogue, released the “Dedicated Kinks” EP, the title hit, “Set Me Free”, “See My Friends” & the raucous, rocking “Till the End of the Day”. Now that sounded like value for my hard-earned to me. A good reason for a Saturday, the one day I was holding folding, visit to the local record shop.

Random Notes (May 2017)

The days fly by & this month the UK has endured an election campaign instigated, ostensibly, by a government wanting to mask its bluff & bluster in negotiations with our former EU partners, more likely hoping to exploit the disarray of any opposition in England & Wales. The Tory party will remain in power (I’ve been wrong before) but the flakiness of their “strong & stable” mantra in the face of a half-baked “Dementia Tax” on the sick & the dead & a Labour manifesto which, at least & at last, promoted an alternative to austerity will prevent the landslide victory anticipated & hoped for by the government & most of our media puppets (“Crush the Saboteurs!” Oh fuck off!)

 

Image result for manchester tony wilson we do things

 

This week’s horrific massacre in Manchester, a great city which has shown the empathy & community that is the best of Britain, will inevitably highlight the issue of national security. Already Mr Corbyn is being attacked for pointing out that the disastrous intervention in Libya contributed to chaos, anger, frustration & the rise of a new focus for militant Islam. The murder of innocent people enjoying a concert by their favourite Pop star is inexcusable & heartbreaking but atrocities are occurring across the Middle East in the name of the West’s War On Terror, in the cause of strength & stability. Robert Fisk is a journalist who I trust & respect…

“As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.”

OK, here’s some music…

 

 

Almost the best of the month, stick around that comes later, any new song by Bunny Wailer raises my spirits. As the last of the Wailing Wailers Jah Bunny is the keeper of the flame & he represents the great & influential group with integrity & style. “Baddest” is a Rub-a-Dub rework of Peter Tosh’ anthem, first recorded in 1967, “I’m the Toughest” in alliance with Dancehall queen Ruffi-Ann. Like everything Bunny releases on his Solomonic label it has a freshness & a vitality. He is a musical great who knows the spirit of Reggae &, at coming up 70 this year, is still able to capture it. “Baddest” may not be up there with the best music he has made but it could be the Feelgood Hit of the Summer. ♫Any Dub that you can play I & I can play it better♫ Yes Sir!

 

 

Image result for daniel romano modern pressureA new Daniel Romano record is always a big deal round our yard & even though “Modern Pressure” has not been here for long toes are tapping & choruses becoming familiar. Mr Romano is prolific, an album a year in the last 3 & a couple more from Altered Shapes, his Punk offshoot band. He’s become a bit of a shape-shifter too, the traditional Country, three chords & the truth about heartbreak, of his early records has all but disappeared. The lovely “Roya” would easily fit on those records while an expanded musical palette, Dylanesque organ swirls, treated guitars, everything louder makes “Modern Pressure” a Country Rock album. “The Pride of Queens” sounds like an epic to me, the closing, urgent “What’s To Become of the Meaning of Love” instantly appeals & the poppy “When I Learned Your Name” sounds like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz & that’s a good thing.

 

Like the best records last year’s “Mosey” took its own good time to reveal all its delights. At first it seemed to be quite a switch by Romano but it has become the album of choice for journeys of any distance, a collection of good songs which come together as an atmospheric whole. “Mosey” will still get played round here. Daniel Romano is a very talented songwriter & musician, his restless streak is matched by his inventiveness. Wherever he wants to take his music my interest is piqued enough to want to follow. I have high hopes that “Modern Pressure” will become a new favourite.

 

 

I’ve had my fancy-schmancy Internet powered TV for some time now. It’s an idiot box of electrickeries most of which I neither grasp nor have need of. The 7 (that’s 7!) channels of 24/7 sport are enough to sustain a sense of wonder about the Modern World. So it was more luck than judgement that the appropriate buttons were pressed to record the full series (8 episodes) of the 2005 BBC production of “Bleak House”. Fortuitous perhaps but it provided a televisual experience to rival this year’s superb “Taboo”, another of the Beeb’s finest.

 

Image result for phil davis smallweedI love Charles Dickens, what’s not to…, his satire, his social conscience his unmatched balance of sentiment & melodrama & his finely drawn parade of eccentric characters. It was all there on the screen. “Bleak House” was written as a serial & the series was originally shown in 15 30-minute parts, a pot-boiler yes but certainly not a soap opera. Writer Andrew Davies is the doyen of literary adaptors, it was beautifully filmed & the extensive cast is a delight. It’s a list, Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther), Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) & young Carey Mulligan (Ada) led the way in Dickens’ only book with a female protagonist. Charles Dance was a dastardly Tulkinghorn, the contributions of Burn Gorman (Guppy of Kenge & Carboys), Phil Davies (Smallweed, “shake me up Judy”), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket) & Johnny Vegas (Krook) were all perfectly pitched. I’m going to include Michael Smiley (Squod) here because I have recently enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” & “Free Fire” & he shines in both of them. Actor of the month.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of period drama but I do enjoy the grimy streets of London Town seen in “Bleak House” & “Taboo”. I appreciated too Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” (Kate Beckinsale “always watchable”). Either these things are getting more modern or I’m becoming more old-fashioned. Oh Christ, it’s the latter isn’t it ?

Out Here On The Perimeter (Prince Far I/Creation Rebel)

Well, look at this ! I have not seen this poster since…I have never seen this poster before… but I made the gig on the 23rd of April 1979. There were only the 3 of us going to see Prince Far I when we were usually team handed for any chance of a good night out. Not only was it a Monday, the night best spent relaxing on a saline drip after a bloody good weekend & an hallucinatory first day of the working week but also the gig was in Stockport . We were in Manchester, only 7 miles distant but a long way away.

 

I was good with the small turnout, just me & 2 young women, always a good balance. S was my girlfriend…ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with ? That’s her. J was a new friend who, at a time I needed good friends, was as solid as a rock without me ever having to ask. We were in Janet’s car for the first time. I wonder how good a driver she would be ? She, like myself, liked to get high. Hey, it probably improved her driving…probably. She had only just splashed her cash on the vehicle to make her commute to work easier. Fortuitously Janet worked in Stockport so she knew the way.

 

Image result for prince far iThis journey into the unknown was being undertaken because a chance to see Prince Far I was too good to miss. Reggae, you know it…the music that goes chang-a, chang-a, was moving on up in the late 1970s. Bob Marley & the Wailers’ popularity had opened ears to the Rastafarian inspired Roots music from Jamaica. At house/blues parties we heard Dennis Brown & Gregory Isaacs. Dillinger, Culture & Burning Spear featured in Punk DJ sets while John Peel, the national treasure of British music radio, always attracted to the outre & the surprising, played the latest Dub plates & plenty of Prince Far I. His first LP “Psalms For I” (1975) was simply that, a voice of thunder intoning sacred songs over simple, similar rhythms. “Under Heavy Manners” followed in 1977, less religion more politricks. Whether Far I’s proselytising was sacred or secular he convinced you to sit up & listen.

 

So, put yourself in Ray’s Place yeah. Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic, that’s the definition of cheesy. I’m not the guy who’ll make cracks about Stockport & sophistication but it was a faded aspirant nightclub & there was a good reason why I avoided joints like this. In Manchester we had the Apollo & the Free Trade Hall for the bigger gigs (no 20,000 seat arenas then). The Factory/Russell Club in Hulme was the perfect post-Punk hangout, rough & ready with the best music of the time right in front of you. If you just wanted a beer, a band & a night with your mates then you went to see Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds at the Band on the Wall in Swan St. OK, this was…er, different but the company was good, the bar was open until 2 a.m. & we had a “Reggae Spectacular” about to start. Happy Days !

 

 

Image result for creation rebel 1979The show, known as “Roots Encounter”, was quite special. Creation Rebel took the stage & made themselves comfortable. they were staying for the whole night. The band already had their own LP “Dub From Creation” (1978), rhythm tracks recorded in Jamaica, polished in London. The addition of drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott, through the Far I hook up, added class, Dr Pablo’s melodica made for a distinct sound. With subsequent releases Creation Rebel would find their deserved place in our collections, usually finding the turntable at around 1 a.m. after a night of smoking it up. Tonight they were the backing band, first for the toaster Prince Hammer then vocalist Bim Sherman.

 

Natty dread was taking over Ray’s Place. The hard edges were softened by rhythms that demanded that you dance. The crowd were moving together at the front of the stage & everything felt a little warmer. Adrian Sherwood was a young fan with a talent for mixing tracks & for getting things done. He was already involved with all of the acts on tonight & after a couple of false starts he formed his own label, On-U Sound. Sherwood had intriguing & experimental thoughts on production & the label soon became a hallmark of quality, its varied output of Reggae & beyond always worth investigation. Tonight was his idea of how a Reggae show should go, Creation Rebel stretching out & taking up the slack between sets, the music never stopping. A good idea it was too.

 

 

Image result for prince far iWhen the star of the show arrived onstage there was definitely a surge of energy in the place. The man had presence, his individual growl serious & impressive. He described himself as a “chanter” rather than a toaster, whatever it was it worked. Creation Rebel were dubbing it up, heavy on the bass to match the lyrics. Prince Far I trod his own path & I was reminded of another unique talent, Captain Beefheart. There can be no higher praise. I have no idea what songs he played, refreshments had been taken & I was having a time. I’ve included “Message From the King” here because I love the combination of Prince & Culture’s Joseph Hill. If you have the time & the inclination towards fine music then check the Peel Session from June 1978 which gives a better idea of what we heard on the night.

 

There’s a lot of Prince Far I’s music about. His alliance with Adrian Sherwood worked to their mutual benefits, Far I got his records released & Sherwood gained access to Jamaican artists recorded by the Prince. Between 1978 & 1981 4 chapters of “Cry Tuff Dub Encounter” were produced alongside a couple of other LPs in each year. In 1983 Prince Far I was shot & killed during a robbery at his home in Kingston Jamaica. He was a great loss to not just Reggae music & his lyrics continue to stir & inspire today. I was privileged to be able experience his live show. It was worth visiting Stockport after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreadlocks In Derry (Lee Perry)

I didn’t really need an excuse to return to Derry, on my two previous visits not only friends but everyone I met seemed happy to see me & to share stories. It had been 10 months since the last time so a concert by Lee “Scratch” Perry, a musical legend whose influence extends beyond his chosen field of Reggae, was a perfect focal point around which another long weekend could be planned. The gig was on March 18th & apparently, I don’t keep up with these things, the day before is St Patrick’s Day, a rather big deal to the Irish. Shoot, it was a dead stone bonker that this would be hectic…so let’s go !

 

 

Image result for lee perry“Dub Revolution Part 1”, the first track on the 3 CD “Arkology”, the ultimate collection of Scratch’s work at his Black Ark studio round the back of his house in Washington Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica. In this yard he practised nothing less than alchemy to pioneer techniques that anyone with a laptop now takes for granted & to produce music of unrivalled  imagination & quality. If ever I was exiled to a desert island & could only take one piece of music then it would be “Arkology”. Lee Perry’s rhythms demand that your hips sway, the conscious lyrics are from & for the heart & his Dub explorations hit upside your head. It’s a perfect package with sunshine in the grooves.If you could grow weed on that island then that would be nice but this music would still get you as high as that palm tree.

 

The gig in Derry was the day before Scratch’s 81st birthday so he probably wouldn’t be leaping around the stage (I know I won’t be at that age). Much of his best work was done in his producer’s booth. We were not sure what exactly we were going to get  but we would be sharing oxygen with Lee Perry, a legend, a man who’s bona fides justified the tag “genius” & that was enough. So, after Ireland’s surprise victory over England at rugby (I was the only Englishman in the packed bar. That was interesting, I thought these people were my friends!) we made our way to the Nerve Centre buoyed by an anticipatory buzz.

 

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We were not disappointed, The 4-piece band played us into the room. They were the Upsetters, not Scratch’s original house  group but as his backing band they have the right. Back in 1969 the woman lucky enough to become my wife had spent the money from her Saturday job on “The Return of Django” by the Upsetters, Perry’s first UK hit, on the day I met her. It was Love at first sight…with the record, the rest came later. Reggae gigs smell  a little differently nowadays with the ban on smoking, the star of the night entered to acclaim from the big crowd. He’s a small man, big coat, big hat. He looked happy to be there & we were happy to see him.

 

One of the things about Lee Perry’s music is that he does the simple things beautifully. Susan Cadogan’s “Hurt So Good” (1975) is perfect Pop Reggae while Max Romeo’s LP “War Ina Babylon” (1976) showed that rather than setting the controls to the heart of the Dub, powerful, passionate music just needs strong songs & a wonderful groove. Tonight we got “Chase the Devil” from that record, “Police & Thieves” came around too & man that hit the right spot. What we didn’t get was an old man trying to recreate past glories note for note & word for word. He rode the rhythm smoothly, maybe chatting whatever came to him in the moment & he never missed a beat, a rhythm rapper, comfortable on stage, showing off his bright red hair. You could hear why Lee Perry is such a great producer, he knows what is in a song & he knows how that song goes.

 

Image result for lee perryOf course Scratch was instrumental in the early career of Bob Marley & the Wailers. His set included his versions of “Punky Reggae Party”, “Crazy Baldhead” & “Sun is Shining” before closing with a driving encore of “Exodus”. Again these were echoes of the tunes we know, with only a whisper of Dub. Lee Perry is the Dub Adventurer but that is for another time. We did see the natural mystic & we heard some great Roots Reggae. I don’t get around much anymore but if there are places where there are as many smiling faces as tonight at the Nerve Centre then perhaps I should be there too.

 

 

 

OK…so much things to say. My hosts & fellow concert-goers, Joe & Gayle, don’t need a shout out (oh, I just did !) I think they know just how much I value their company. On the bus from Belfast Laura & Shirley, two Glaswegians on a mission to drink Derry dry, insisted that I be included in their fun. The following day I was able to return the favour & they squeezed into a packed Sandinos bar to join my small circle of friends in celebrating St Patrick. They fitted right in.

 

Finally Derry has lost two of its favourite sons in the past 48 hours. Martin McGuinness was radicalised by the growing demand for civil rights in his community & the violent response by armed forces employed by the British government in the late 1960s. Until January of this year he served as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. His struggle & his progress embodies that of the community into which he was born. Ryan McBride was born in Derry in 1989, different times. On Saturday he captained the city’s football team, the Candystripes, to victory & was found dead at his home the next day. Out here on the perimeter of my country, Derry has an individual, often troubled history. It welcomes strangers with an open hand & with respect. It keeps a special place for those of their own who make a difference because it is a special place.

He was Butch But I Was No Sundance (1969-70)

I was not the only clever kid at our school. Our whole form was force fed facts so that we could pass our exams a year earlier than others our age. It was some bullshit exercise in school pride but if it reduced the time spent under the archaic, cruel (the cane was still used by the headmaster) & unusual (an English teacher made transgressors write out chapters of Genesis) punitive system then we would go along with it. This meant that I entered the sixth form when I was 15 going on 16. The 17 year old girls in my classes were a lot further on down life’s road  & 68/69 was Peak Mini Skirt as I remember. I was amazed that they would even acknowledge my presence, it was months before I was able to say anything that made any sense back to them. The guys were already drinking at the weekend (only a year underage so…y’know) & that seemed better than the Youth Club. On their 17th birthdays some of them got cars. That was certainly an upgrade on taking the bus !

 

 

Image result for morris 1000Butch had a Morris 1000, a classic car now, cheap & cheerful in 1969. His name was Keith but his Dad had a butcher’s shop on the High St so…His girlfriend, Natalie, worked in the local record shop Rushton’s, a place that sold instruments & sheet music before awkwardly adjusting to the demand for small discs of vinyl. After college Butch & I would drive into town to keep her company for the last hour of her working day. To keep us out of further mischief she gave us free range in one of the soundproof booths to listen to any of the latest records that took our fancy. They didn’t always hit the spot. That second Blood Sweat & Tears album, David Clayton Thomas singing, no Al Kooper, may have sold by the lorry load but it was no “Child is the Father to the Man”. One non-album single with a red Atlantic label, “Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton, had us opening up the booth for the other customers to hear & irritating our favourite shop assistant.

 

Image result for delaney and bonnie comin homeDelaney & Bonnie Bramlett had done musical time before they were married, D as a member of the house band of the “Shindig” TV show, B as a fake-tanned Ikette. Their first LP was recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis with Booker T & the MGs. By the time of the follow up they had assembled a smoking band, people who would go on to make a pile of good music. Their brand of Southern Soul, Gospel & Rock attracted an influential friend in Eric Clapton, happy to play the sideman after all the attention attracted by Cream & Blind Faith. Eric brought along the newly ex-Beatle George & his stinging, ringing contribution to “Coming Home” made it more than notable. Delaney’s mate Leon Russell needed to assemble some Mad Dogs to back Joe Cocker on a hastily arranged tour & he borrowed the whole band except keyboard player Bobby Whitlock who left for England to write with Clapton. When these two needed a rhythm section for “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” they were joined by Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) to form Derek & the Dominoes. Now that is a good record !

 

 

Butch lived above the shop, just a walk away from mine & I would go round in midweek to listen to his records. At night the front was closed up & you entered the house through the back of the shop past simmering pots of pig’s heads. Brawn is some kind of peasant jellied terrine (my Mum loved it). It’s apparently called “potted heid” in Scotland & in France “pate de tete” & that sounds no better. Now I’m a Big Meat Eater (yes I am…now there’s a movie you have to see) but I don’t always choose to get that close to its production. I would hurry through that steamy, funky room. Butch had some good records. I particularly remember 3 double LPs, Cream’s “Wheels of Fire”, Jimi’s “Electric Ladyland” & “Streetnoise” by Julie Driscoll, all good long listens as the music got & was taken more seriously. We had a couple of bottles of cider & a coloured light bulb for atmosphere…that’s all. We didn’t know where to buy any hash back then. Our town had not yet done with Modernism. The cool kids were robbing chemists of their good stuff, waking up in the park with blood leaking from their ears. That sounded like not much fun at all.

 

Image result for julie driscollThere were no women like Julie Driscoll in our town either. Julie, with organist Brian Auger, Long John Baldry & Rod Stewart had been part of Steampacket, a Mod Soul-Blues revue who, despite their popular live act, never recorded. In 1968 her & Auger’s take on Dylan’s “This Wheels on Fire”, an urgent psychedelic classic, shifted the ground for British female singers. Her expressive, distinctive vocals put Cilla, Lulu, Sandie, even Dusty in the shade. She became a beautiful, instant icon of cool, replacing Emma Peel as the object of my affections. “Streetnoise” reflects the times, musical boundaries were to be ignored. There are old songs, new songs, Jazz & Blues songs, all given the individual stamp of Driscoll & Auger that still sounds fresh today. “Indian Rope Man”, one of the band’s best, written by Richie Havens, is promoted here on German TV but was only released as a b-side in the UK. Julie married jazz pianist Keith Tippett & stepped away from Rock & Roll to make more experimental music. Whatever she chose to do was just fine by me.

 

 

Image result for family a song for meAh Family…Leicester’s finest. Butch had their 3rd LP “A Song For Me”, released in January 1970 & a Top 5 record. At the end of 1969 the single “No Mule’s Fool”, a gentle daydream of a song had totally hit my spot but only grazed the Top 30. Their debut “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) was a more than interesting slice of post-Sgt Pepper’s British psychedelia & “Family Entertainment” (1969) consolidated a reputation as a band on the rise. The loss of 2 founding members, multi-instrumentalist Jim King & bassist Rick Grech (he joined the aforementioned Blind Faith) was a setback just as they were ready for prime time. The idiosyncratic, forceful presence of vocalist Roger Chapman made Family’s live show memorable.They were one of the first big concerts I attended & Hull City Hall rocked that night. The new-ish group were possibly less textured, a little more full tilt, than previously. There were 3 Top 20 UK singles, an LP a year until 1973 before diminishing returns & a failure to make an impression in the US called a halt. Family don’t really get the credit they deserve. If you have an interest in psych-prog they merit further investigation.

 

Image result for bath festival 1970We hung out a lot over the next year. The 4 of us (rather surprisingly I had a girlfriend too) tore around in the Morris looking for pubs, parties & places of interest. We both studied Geography & a week’s “field study” in North Yorkshire became an alcohol-fuelled exercise in besmirching our college’s good name. Butch was a good guy to have around, a dry sense of fun & humour, a little more grown-up than the other happy idiots I called friends back then. He was the perfect companion for an adventure to the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June 1970. Over 2 days we joined 200,000 others to see a musical line-up that can only be described as awesome. We saw a lot of things that you didn’t see in our small town that weekend. The Hell’s Angels were cool & the casualties of the purple acid were not. It was a great time, we could see the attractions of this Hippie thing but we were Northern lads, this stuff wouldn’t really fly back at home. I’ll repeat myself, he was the right guy to share the experience with. He drove me there, he got me home & we had approached things correctly.

 

Butch left college that year. I had to hang around to make up for that year I had jumped. The next year I left town & only returned for flying visits to see my family. Keith is actually on Facebook & we live in the same town though we would probably pass each other in the street these days. I’ll send him this & hope that he has the same good memories about the short time that our paths intertwined all those years ago.

 

 

There’s not many men round here who’ve still got their Meccano sets, you know! (Liz Smith)

Image result for liz smith hard labourI first became aware of Liz Smith, who died this week aged 95, in 1973 when she starred in “Hard Labour”, a BBC TV drama directed by Mike Leigh & produced by Tony Garnett. The weekly “Play for Today”, like its predecessor “The Wednesday Play”, was a forum for many emerging British talents. The strand encompassed a wide variety of styles & subjects. It was the hard-hitting & effective social realist themes, a development from kitchen sink dramas of a decade earlier which often provoked controversy. “Hard Labour” was Leigh’s first TV play, it employs his improvisational technique to achieve a naturalism & a bleakness unleavened by the humour to be found in his later work. Mrs Thornley, harassed by her husband, patronised by her middle-class employer & offered no solace by her religion, is a study in isolation & limited communication. Liz Smith was outstanding in the part & she broke our hearts.

Image result for liz smith i didn't know you caredThere’s very little of “Hard Labour” on the Interwebs so let’s move on a couple of years to her next starring TV role. “I Didn’t Know You Cared” was a sit-com adapted from his own novels by Peter Tinniswood. It ran for 4 series from 1975-79, another slice of Northern life, this time across the Pennines in Yorkshire. The Brandon family were a wonderful parade of absurd characters, the men cloth-capped, gloomy & cynical, the womenfolk keeping a close eye on them & their faults. It had a terrific ensemble cast, was tougher than the long-running “Last of the Summer Wine”, with the gentleness & acerbity of Alan Bennett. At the heart was Liz Smith’s Mrs Brandon, hen-pecking, haranguing & hilarious, nailing some of the best lines of a very good bunch. Some right old toot from the same period is now recycled on the nostalgia channels with no sign of this classic British comedy.

Ms Smith was in her fifties before this acting thing really took off. Her talent to portray the slightly mad but always likeable Grandma found her plenty of work in film & TV & she quickly became a very recognisable character actor. Her cinema work included Lindsay Anderson’s “Britannia Hospital”, Ridley Scott’s debut “The Duellists” & she was Lady Phillippa of Staines in Viv Stanshall’s brilliant “Sir Henry at Rawlinson End”. She was perfect for the BBC’s adaptations of Dickens & appeared in Michael Palin’s “Ripping Yarns” classic episode “The Testing of Eric Olthwaite”. It would be 1984 before she gained recognition from her peers for her talents.

Handmade Films, a British production & distribution company, was formed by George Harrison when his Monty Python friends were struggling to finance “Life of Brian”. The story goes that George had to mortgage a house but I don’t think that he ever went short. In the next decade Handmade were involved with many fine British films. “A Private Function” (1984) is as close as this to the gentle, eccentric comedies made by Ealing Studios in the 1940s & 50s. Alan Bennett was an international success in 1960 with “Beyond the Fringe”. He continued to act while becoming better known as a writer for TV & theatre. This was his first screenplay, perhaps having less substance than his plays but no less lacking in the acuity Bennett has for language & the intricacies of social interaction & manners.

Image result for liz smith a private function“A Private Function” is set in post-Second World War Yorkshire when food was still rationed. The social climber Joyce Chilvers (Maggie Smith) is determined to make her mark in the town & intends to drag Gilbert, her chiropodist husband, (Michael Palin) along with her. A pig, being illegally fattened for a municipal celebration is kidnapped by the Chilvers & hilarity ensues…really it does. Along with the great writer & the two illustrious principals the cast involves an overflowing National Treasure chest. Denholm Elliott, Alison Steadman, Pete Postlethwaite & others all do their distinctive thing while Liz, as Joyce’s mother, driven mad by the smell of the secret pig, thinking that perhaps she could be the source of the odour, won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress.

Image result for liz smith a private functionLiz continued to do the work, adding value to whatever she appeared in. In 1998 she was cast as Nana Norma in Caroline Ahern’s comedy “The Royle Family”.By this time she was 76 year’s old & the nation’s favourite grandmother, perfectly cast in a series which, along with Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” & Steve Coogan’s “I’m Alan Partridge” injected new energy & raised the standard of British situation comedy. “The Royle Family” was sometimes a kitchen sink drama but it was mostly on the living room sofa in front of the telly. The skillful characterisation, the pacing, the natural humour & affection made many people suspect that Aherne had placed a spy camera in their own homes to obtain material. This clip, from the 2006 special “The Queen of Sheba” where the new baby is introduced to the bedridden Nana will moisten the driest of eyes. A starring role in the UK’s most popular comedy brought Liz Smith even wider recognition &, in 2007, a British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress.

Liz Smith was born in my hometown in Lincolnshire. She’s from the Crosby area up in the north of town. She attended the secondary school which, years later with a change of name, in a different building became my school. That may be why, even in those early days  before I knew of her origins, I found her performances to be so convincing. She reminded me & so many others of our own grandmothers except that perhaps my Nana Daisy actually knew her as young Betty Gleadle. Sad events have made this appreciation into an obituary & that’s a pity. It’s OK because I am reminded of the talent of Liz Smith by the old ladies I talk to at the bus stop, in the market & around my estate. For these women, who have lived through some times, have seen & learned some things, Liz Smith represented.

Here Comes Santa Claus (A Christmas Story)

One of the good things about working in construction was that it was one of the last businesses to pay your wages weekly. The days of cash, in hand or in a lovely packet, may have been over but you could still work hard in the week & be holding the folding for the weekend. So, Monday I got Friday on my mind, by the time it’s Friday, it’s 5 to 5 & I’m looking forward to a crackerjack few days. It’s a thing, wash off the day’s dust, a throwaway meal, neck it pronto, music that’s loud & fast, maybe a couple of cheeky lines, certainly a couple of cheekier friends & I’m ready to go. Then the phone rang…

 

“Hi Mal, I need a little favour”. That was my friend Sally & a “favour” usually involved her handing her 3 small children into my care. Charlie, Danni & George were a rambunctious gang of angels.I loved their company, loved being the “uncle” who could share their fun. I think that they liked me too.My weekend would have to wait. “OK, should I come to your’s or will you bring them over ?”. “No it’s not that. I need a man with a big white beard in a big red suit”. It was the third week of December, I knew the fellow she was on about but…hmm…really ? “I know, but I promised a Santa & no-one else is around…Please !”.

 

So, within the hour I’m the most festively dressed man in this North Birmingham car park & thinking that this had all been a bit rapid. The kids knew that I could be a pushover but not all the time. The looks from & the amusement on the back seat clued me in to their surprise that Mum had got me to go along with this. The gig was on behalf of the local Round Table, not, unfortunately, the knights of Arthurian legend but a charitable network involved in raising money for their communities. Their was a hubbub of door-to-door collectors drawn from various junior paramilitary set ups like the Sea Scouts & the Brownies. I was shown to my “sleigh”, a Land Rover-drawn carnival float, handed a large bag of sweets, y’know, for the kids, a microphone (interesting !), a cassette of popular Xmas hits & sent on my way.

 

 

Related imageOK, a couple of things, no right-thinking person should let me loose in the suburbs with a microphone. I’ve got information man ! New shit has come to light & people need to hear it. Also I’m never really seized by the festive spirit until almost the last minute. By Christmas Eve I’m as ready as a red-nosed reindeer. I love the time spent with family & friends, I just don’t get the materialism, the planning in October, the office party with people you avoid for the rest of the year (though I’ve had my moments at these). I’m really not a miserable person but, if asked “Are you ready for Xmas ?” then you may get short shrift & the wrong impression.

 

Another thing…I’m really not a great fan of Xmas pop songs. I know that there are plenty of offbeat, cool seasonal offerings (I can’t resist including one here) but the mainstream staples have always struck me as just being too much of a novelty, bland to start with & not helped by the annual repetition. Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” was released in 1963, just as Santa brought me exactly what I wanted, a shiny new record player. It pretty much covered all the ground that needed to be covered. Much of what followed, for me, paled in comparison & no-one was ever going to look as good as the Ronettes did in those Xmas outfits. This was not my gig & I didn’t get to choose the playlist. No-one wants a halfhearted, smart arse Santa stinking up the evening so it was time to get my act together & I’d better be good for goodness sake !

 

 

And it all went very well. I gave it the full amplified “Ho, Ho, Ho”, curtains were opened, old ladies waved back & the kids came out to meet me. I handed out the confectionery & not one of the little mites saw through my disguise. In return, when they told me what they hoped to receive when I called on Christmas Day, I made promises that their parents would possibly be  pissed off about. I didn’t even rise to the cherub who, when asked what he wanted for Xmas, replied “Everything !”. Greedy little blighter !

Image result for santa sleighThe joviality was turned up to 11 despite being stuck with this music by all the usual suspects, Slade Wizzard, Elton John, Wham. I was having a good game, my festive flow was in full effect. The quality & sincerity of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” seemed incongruous & I wished the citizens of Kingstanding “Peace on Earth from John, Yoko & all the other Beatles”. that was as far as I was going to push it.There was a bit of a swerve when up came “Another Rock & Roll Christmas” by Gary Glitter, a man whose stage costumes resembled a foil-wrapped turkey but who had, more recently made the news because of his unsavoury sexual predilections. The Double Gee was a pervert & this was the wrong soundtrack to be handing out sweets to children. I needed to find the fast forward button sharpish to get to something less controversial (but equally offensive) like “Mistletoe & Wine” by Cliff Richard. Where’s an elf when you need one ?

 

 

Image result for bad santaI was still on roll when we left the residential avenues for the main road. The adults were corralled & we flash crashed a couple of pubs, y’know for charity. Back on my sleigh I gave a ride to Dani & her friend. My job done I passed them the mic & they serenaded passing pedestrians with the hits of Robbie Williams, who, for reasons that eluded me, was very popular at the time. Back at base photos were taken & everyone was very pleased with the evening’s work. Unfortunately they wanted the costume back & I was mild-mannered Clark Kent again.

 

I went back with Sally & the kids & when Dad, Bernie, returned from his late shift he was assailed with the stories of what he had missed. Bernie knew me well & he couldn’t quite believe that I had been persuaded to join the seasonal shenanigans. Sally was so pleased that I had helped her out that she fed me for the weekend (I like food !) & I stayed with this lovely family until Sunday. I wasn’t Santa anymore but I was full of peace & goodwill & knew that if he was busy I was up to the job of helping him out. Merry Xmas everyone.

 

 

 

 

David Bowie Is My Friend by Danny McCahon

Towards the end of 2015 I turned the age my father was when he died. Not only did that mark a year of reflection on my own mortality, it ushered in a year when many of the cultural stars of my youth would leave the planet. Actors, pop stars and political leaders who’d featured on the walls of my bedroom or in my pub debates were dying at an alarming rate. Even the immortality of Celtic’s European Cup winners, the Lisbon Lions, was being challenged.

Without doubt the celebrity death that affected me most occurred on January 10. Two days after he gave us what I would argue is the best album released so far this century, two days after his 69th birthday, David Bowie shuffled off this mortal coil. We heard the news early on a Monday morning and the sympathetic, silent nod from a colleague, a full quarter of a century younger than me, at 9:00 am said everything about what Bowie meant across the generations. There were no words.

How could we be so affected by the death of a man we’d never met? Well, we had met him, hadn’t we? We might never have shaken his hand but we knew him and, by the gods, he knew me. If a friend is defined as someone who is there when you need them, David Bowie has been my friend for 43 years.

I was a teenage seminarian and, after two years of football, prayer and operettas, third year was getting me down. I had discovered T Rex and on the odd occasion we were allowed outside the cloisters I would buy a music mag. Gradually I was finding less and less in common with the boys around me and had begun to feel cast out, isolated. Then, the night before I was due to catch the train back to the loneliness at the end of the Christmas holidays, I saw David Bowie on “Top of the Pops”.

 

Image result for david bowie jean genie ray lowry

The Jean Genie gave me a glimpse into a brave new world and by January 25 I had left the seminary. The following Monday I enrolled at my local comprehensive and was asked the question: what music are you into? One word ‘Bowie’ and I had friends. Those friends introduced me to all the best music in the world, but none gave me more guidance than Bowie. Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople, he told me about acts that are favourites to this day. And he never stopped giving me tips: Nine Inch Nails, Mouse on Mars among the more recent.

Sixteen years after that “Top of the Pops” epiphany, the first of my children was born. I had never looked forward to anything more in my life, but the moment I held my son in my arms panic hit: was I ready for the responsibility? Again, Bowie was on hand to help. When Roddy’s mother and I brought him home for the first time and Susan had a nap, I put the needle on to side one, track five of “Hunky Dory and welcomed my baby to our flat with this soundtrack:

 

 

Image result for david bowie kooksI repeated the action with all three of his sisters on the days we brought them home. On January 11, each of those children sent me a heartfelt, comforting message. Coincidentally, when my youngest, Carol, asked her granny if she like David Bowie, my mother started to sing The Jean Genie. I guess that song had a bigger effect on my family that I had realised.

By 1987, after the release of “Never Let Me Down”, like many fans, I began to rely on Bowie’s back catalogue for a familiar catch up. Even Bowie had become bored with Bowie and he ducked for cover among his pals in Tin Machine. I’m a loyal mate but had to work hard to hang out with Dave and his band.

Then, 20 years after The Jean Genie had changed the direction of my life, I was working in an office full of good people but with a head full of plays and dreams of another new direction. I was having a bad day at the office and went for a walk. I wandered into a soulless indoor shopping centre in a drab West of Scotland town and gravitated towards the record shop. In the window there was a poster for a new David Bowie album. I had got so caught up in family and career that “Black Tie White Noise” was the first Bowie album since 1973 I hadn’t known about in advance. I felt guilty as I handed over the money and when I reached track eight on the disc I realised that Dave had only been on sabbatical for six years, he hadn’t deserted us. I didn’t grudge him the break.

 

 

When Dave died, I was reminded how private grief is, how personal moments had been even when I’d enjoyed a live show among thousands of others or heard a new release on the same day as millions. I didn’t want to talk about it and even got mildly angry when the Aladdin Sane flashes began to appear everywhere from the local baker’s window to the Daily Mail. There was much more to Dave than glam rock. People, sincere music fans among them, still argue that he hadn’t recorded anything of note since the seventies. I counter with this masterpiece first released on the 2003 album “Reality”:

 

 

David Bowie was still expanding my tastes in his final days. On playing “Blackstar” repeatedly for two days on its release, one of my first reactions was: that drummer is amazing, who is he? I’d found another new favourite in Mark Guiliana.

Image result for david bowie blackstarIt’s difficult to think of “Blackstar” now outside the context of what the great man was suffering when he wrote and created it and his subsequent death, but for that first weekend the music was all that mattered. After the weak “The Next Day” three years earlier, here was the man back on top of his game, on top of the heap. And like the magpie he’d always been, he had taken the finest ingredients of drum and bass, electronica, rock and jazz and made them into that finest of things: A Bowie Album. Like all of his best works it is of the now but carries deep heritage in its grooves, it didn’t rise from nowhere but is the result of a life, a history, an evolution of curiosity and genius.

On the day it was released, I said the final two tracks, “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, alone had an album’s worth of music and story in them. I take great comfort from the fact that the final songs on his final album show that his creative power and artistry hadn’t faded.

As we approach the anniversary of its release and its creator’s death, “Blackstar” is still my go-to Bowie album. I haven’t put it on the shelf among the rest of my records, the notion feels too final. I don’t want to say goodbye to my friend.

We Want The Airwaves (Pirate Radio)

Image result for radio london 1966I was only 11 years old when radio stations, operating from ships outside of British territorial waters, began broadcasting non-stop Pop. In 1964 I was already a little obsessed by music, more than just a Beatlemaniac, I found the rush of creativity from young British musicians to be the most exciting Art around. My parents had kindly provided a spanking new Dansette record player for the previous Xmas (to be “shared” with my younger sister. Like that was going to happen !) but my stack of 7″ 45s was small & Auntie BBC, neglectful of a new audience, shackled by a meagre ration of “needle time”, really didn’t get what was going on. Pirate Radio (could they have come up with a cooler name ?) were playing all the hits & more to an audience of 15 million but not in our house. “That’s right kids, don’t touch that dial” was was a rule set by the old folks.

 

Image result for transistor radio 1960sI did get my own portable, transistor radio, a hand-me-down from someone in my large extended family. It was more formal Fifties model than Swinging Sixties & boy, I wish I had it now. Everybody thought that I got a lot of homework from school but I was in my bedroom, somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, listening, more often than not, to Radio London,  “Big L”.Unfortunately the government were having none of this fun & the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act blew the boats out of the water in August 1967. My best friend & I determined to catch as much as we could in that final month. John Peel’s Perfumed Garden show, the only place to hear the new underground sounds, started at midnight. I listened quietly, the radio under the bed sheets, my younger brother asleep across the room, trying to stay awake for as long as possible. Some nights I managed a whole 15 minutes ! On August 14th, after playing “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles, a track you would never hear on the BBC, Big L stopped broadcasting. The #1 on their final Fab 40 was “Heroes & Villains”. We knew who was what.

 

 

It’s tough to select one tune from that pirate period so I’ve gone for something released at the end of 1967. On “The Who Sell Out” the group wanted to make aural Pop Art, fresh, fast, flashy, & fun. They chose to link the songs with Radio London’s jingles, recorded by the PAMS company in Dallas (I’m not sure if they obtained permission) & their own commercials. The concept worked well, “…Sell Out” is my favourite Who LP & just the best way to remember my station of choice from back then. All together now… “What’s for tea Mum ?”.

 

So it was “wonderful” Radio 1, staffed by many former freebooters, its mid-morning/early afternoon shows shared with the less wonderful Radio 2, which the BBC transmitted to an audience with little other choice. Caroline persevered with less resources & an air of resignation, supplies coming from Holland. Radio Luxembourg, around since the 1930s, music-based from 1960, was hardly hip to the trip & never really had been. It was 1973 before the government allowed a network of independent local commercial stations to challenge the BBC’s monopoly. There were still good shows being aired. John Peel found his corner at the BBC, playing an intoxicating mix of the wild & wonderful for over 35 years. The indies often scheduled an evening of off-playlist music while, in London, Capital’s Roger Scott hosted Cruising, a Friday rush hour of energetic American graffiti. The forced cheeriness of the daytime output, with presenters who you suspected didn’t really like music, grated very quickly. We all knew that “the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel”.

 

 

PictureAfter I moved to that London I was sure that I would find something interesting on the outer edges of the dial. Some communities did have their own set ups & the change of scenery was refreshing. In 1981 we found somewhere that seemed like just the place to hang out. Initially Dread Broadcasting Corporation only broadcast for a few hours a week from founder Lepke’s Neasden flat. They played the Roots Reggae you wanted to hear & the sound system operators knew how to present it. By 1983 people knew about it & it was a 12 hours a day, 7 days a week operation. The late, live mixes were essential, there were Funk & Soul, Jazz & Soca shows too. DBC really was an upful, vibrant thing, community radio that should have been encouraged but illegal & hounded off the air by the end of 1984. Their big tent at the Glastonbury Festival was my late night venue of choice in the early 1980s. Dancing until the bag of goodies ran out or I fell over, whichever came first.

 

Image result for dread broadcasting corporationReggae stations did reappear but Lovers Rock was carrying the swing, a little too sweet for my taste. It was the new Soul stations. Kiss & Horizon, which caught our ears in the mid-80s. Hip Hop & Electro were bubbling up & these fresh new sounds were what we listened to & bought back then. We, of course, would tape our favourites & I think the DJ at the club in Deptford we frequented lived next door because he would play all our new hit picks at the weekend ! Both stations were very popular & many smaller stations sprung up. The authorities encouraged them to give it up with the offer of a fair hearing at a licensing committee. Kiss FM returned as a legit operation but maybe the era of the celebrity DJ, branding at the expense of the music, didn’t help. Maybe it was just that being legal was not as much fun. Anyway, we were waiting for a pirate TV station, operating from a car driven around the Crystal Palace transmitter. We heard the rumours but we never found it !

 

 

It was later that we had a pirate station of our own operating from our South London flat. On Friday nights a bunch of young anarchists from Camden would call around, the more intrepid of them would take the transmitter to the roof along with a pre-recorded cassette, 90 minutes of subversion. They had to stay up there to swap the tape around half way through. The others sat quietly in our living room, accepting our hospitality of tea & biscuits all round. They were just kids & the most polite anarchists you could wish to meet.

 

One night we had places to go, people to see & left them to their business of smashing the state. On our return in the early hours the gang were still around. The running-dog lackey of a caretaker had put the police on to the renegades. One of their crew had hidden & was now locked on the roof of the 12 storey tower block. We kicked a door in, that either hadn’t occurred to them or was considered to be too drastic & rescued the frozen fugitive with ice forming in his dreadlocks, taking him back to base for more warming beverages & baked refreshments. That was the end of Radio Free Camden. The guy’s name was Fiddler…”Fiddler on the Roof”, you could not make this stuff up, so I’m not.

 

 

Exile On New Street (Sex Pistols)

Carl has been a friend of mine for over 40 years since he would hang around my flat while playing truant from school. We have shared many adventures & he has featured in the stories I have told here on the blog. Now, for the first time, he has a story of his own to tell & it’s a good one. Over to you Carl.

 

The alarm went off at 7:30 a.m. I had a wash, dressed in my work uniform, quick cup of tea & jogged slowly down the hill to catch the bus. So far so “Groundhog Day”. The 20th of October 1976 was a day that changed my life but first I had to get to work  then through work. It was a Wednesday & tonight was training night…a long day. I was an apprentice hairdresser. I had quit on my miserable secondary school in May, before sitting any exams now I was learning how to cut women’s hair. You’ve seen Warren Beatty in “Shampoo”…nothing like that !

 

The salon (really !) was in Birmingham’s city centre near to “Pizza Corner”, one of the country’s first pizzerias. I was there getting the lunches, ordered the food, went upstairs to the gents for a piss & a smoke. The toilet was empty except for a couple of guys who were shocked to be discovered preparing to shoot-up ! I don’t know who jumped the highest with surprise. Now music was my thing, still is. I recognised Johnny Thunders & Walter Lure, half of The Heartbreakers, Johnny a former New York Doll. My fledging Early Punk Rock threads were a dead giveaway, they knew that I knew who they were. I played it cool, had a jimmy, passed on the smoke & left them to their doings…an intense 2 minutes. That evening we caught the band at Rebecca’s nightclub (Severn St, off John Bright St…you know it). Whatever they were on did the trick. they were fucking great !

 

Right…training night could not end quickly enough because tonight I was going to see the Sex Pistols.  This was before “The Filth & the Fury” headlines were gobbed over the front pages of the tabloids, when the Pistols were the best unrecorded band in Britain. There had been a small flyer on the door of Bogarts since Monday   I met my friend Gary & we went straight there. Bogarts was a biker Hard Rock/Metal bar, a windowless upstairs room that felt like a basement. It wasn’t so bad, they might play Todd Rundgren’s Utopia but never Rick Wakeman. It mostly just, you know, rocked. We got to the club at about 8.45  but there was no sign of the band.

 

No drum kit, no bass head & speaker unit, nor the Fender Twin Reverb amp which I had checked in the N.M.E. Where was Steve Jones’ white Gibson Les Paul with the 3 gold-plated pick-ups  “allegedly” nicked off  Mick Ronson at Bowie’s Ziggy Breaks Up The Band gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. Straight from under the noses of the Spiders’ road crew, in the afternoon pre-gig hubbub. What a rotter ! The prevailing thought was “they’re never gonna arrive now. are they ?” when, at almost 10 o’clock, their crew, two roadies & another couple (McLaren & Vivienne maybe ?) traipsed through the pub to the postage stamp stage in front of the DJ booth with guitars & amps. Their “management” must have thought that it was nightclub hours, this weren’t no Speakeasy this was the provinces & closing time was quickly coming round. The Quinton biker locals helped with the load-in, pushing through the crowded “dancefloor”. “Mind  ya backs ! Hot Soup! Coming through”, polite lads. The Sex Pistols are here but it’s got to be 2 songs tops & finito, innit ? Oh no, for the next 45 minutes this was the best place to be.

 

At around 10.15 “Anarchy in the UK” came to scythe us down, hitting a spot untouched since the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. This original line-up, no Sid Vicious yet, assembled by Malcolm McLaren over the past 12 months were, relatively speaking, musically astute. Glen Matlock was & still is a proper musician with an understanding of song structure & all that boring stuff. He was an asset in those early days, a fine bassist, he & Paul Cook were as tight as…insert your own tight thing analogy HERE! Steve Jones & the pasty boy singer, Johnny Rotten, had the drive & confidence of people who knew they were on to something good, something better than the rest. They played “I Wanna Be Me”, a motherfucker version of “Substitute”, “No Feelings”, “No Fun”, the old Monkees’ hit “Stepping Stone, an hilarious “17” (a.k.a. “I’m a Lazy Sod”), “Pretty Vacant”, “Satellite” & “Liar”. A set list to be committed to memory, cherished like the names of your team that won the European Cup…that big !

 

We were buzzing & bouncing on the journey home. I was 16 years old & music was everything. There had been musical heroes before the Pistols but these boys, short, sharp & shocking, not much older than me, were surely the way forward. The band I was in played Bad Company, Status Quo covers, it got us gigs. That would have to stop for a start.

 

 

Things escalated quickly after that. A very funny TV interview put the Sex Pistols on the front page & caused a moral panic. The shits hit the fans by banning them from many venues & it was December 1977 before I saw S.P.O.T.S (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly) at 2 gigs at the Lafayette nightclub in Wolverhampton.These nights were a different kind of tension. Kids all over the country had safety pins stuck in their shirts.They all wanted to see the most notorious band in the land. Matlock had been replaced by Sid Vicious who was turned down in the mix. It was an unviable option to let him be heard above 2 (It’s important, I play bass). He was Johnny’s mate & McLaren chose style over substance. “Anarchy in the UK” is the best debut single ever but the Great Rock & Roll Swindle was on. Sex Pistols’ gigs were skirmishes in Malcolm’s campaign of outrage rather than a chance to hear the best band in the world.

 

It’s my own hindsight that moans about the part-time Punks, the gobbing, the violence (I got enough of that on the terraces thanks). In 1977 I did a lot of crazy things, saw & heard some great music & it all revolved around Punk. The chaos was part of the creativity. There was nothing better than seeing the Sex Pistols play live. God save ’em, they were our boys.