28.7.16

JIMMY PAGE – The Day Jimmy Met Robert




For the last few days I have been attending to final proofs of the forthcoming book No Quarter: The Three Lives Of Jimmy Page by Martin Power that Omnibus Press will publish in September. The book is nearing completion, all 704 pages of it, and I have referred to it before on Just Backdated in a post about two instances of Page’s impressive – but largely unheralded – work as a session musician before he joined the Yardbirds and subsequently assembled Led Zeppelin.
          The extract below focuses on the first time Page and singer Robert Plant spent any time in each other’s company. It is July of 1968. Alerted to Plant’s talent by Terry Reid, Page and Zeppelin manager Peter Grant visit Birmingham to see him sing with a group called Obbstweedle and, suitably impressed, Page invites Plant down to spend a three days with him at his house in Pangbourne.


A few days [after the Obstweedle gig in Birmingham], Robert Plant took up Jimmy’s invitation to visit him in Pangbourne, walking the last mile past elegant houses that bordered the River Thames, the bright blue summer sky reflected in its shimmering surface. The contrast with the noisy, crowded streets of Wolverhampton, with its traffic and multicultural mix of Indian, Pakistani and British families, was profound; this was Middle England at its most charmingly pastoral, the setting for Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat, an idyll where geese sashayed across the water and garden birds twittered in the trees. This was a land where cows munched in fields and rabbits bustled in hedgerows as the endless river flowed gently past pubs with mock Tudor beams and names like The Swan or The Jolly Angler. Sadly, despite its verdant setting and chocolate box scenery, Pangbourne didn’t take well to hippies. Soon after Plant exited the train station, he was scolded by a pensioner about his scruffy appearance. “Desperation scene, man,” he later told writer Simon Godwin, “but I had nowhere else to go.”

Legend has it that Robert brought with him LPs by Robert Johnson, the Incredible String Band, Howlin’ Wolf and Joan Baez, the latter so as to make Jimmy aware of a traditional song he liked called ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’. Arriving at the house, his knock was answered by Jimmy’s girlfriend. The door opened and suddenly I saw ‘America’,” he told Nigel Williamson of Uncut in 2005. “There was this beautiful woman clad in a 1920s shawl with the light behind her. She was very charming. Then Jimmy came back from somewhere and I realised that this guy had a lifestyle I could only imagine. He had quietness... a maturity. Then we sat down and talked about music.”
The reality was that by the summer of 1968 Jimmy Page was a sophisticated man of the world, while in comparison Robert Plant was a cultural neophyte. Having travelled far and wide with the Yardbirds, Page had even found time for a solo trip to India, then an exotic location for Westerners. In addition, he had developed a taste for fine art and antiques that cluttered up his Pangbourne home. According to Melody Maker’s Chris Welch, who would visit there to interview Page, the house contained valuable paintings, records, model trains and many books. “A large white telescope has pride of place in the living room,” wrote Welch. “Copies of Man, Myth, and Magic lay around and a huge volume of the works of mystic Aleister Crowley. In one room was a Mutoscope, a hand-cranked seaside peepshow featuring ‘a gentleman’s downfall’, involving a lissome lass wearing not unsexy 1926 underwear and a healthy smile.”
Robert Plant, on the other hand, had travelled not much further than the West Midlands, even if he did resemble a refugee from Haight Ashbury in San Francisco with his gym pumps and snake-hipped bell-bottomed jeans. Still, there were real possibilities here. He was a tall, handsome young man with bushy blond hair that curled over his ears, and a wide, welcoming smile that lit up his friendly face; all assets in a potential vocalist. But Plant was also aware that he had some cultural catching up to do with the more seasoned, urbane Page. “You can smell when people have travelled, had their doors opened a little wider than most, and I could feel that was the deal with Jimmy,” Plant told Williamson. “His ability to absorb things and the way he carried himself was far more cerebral than anything I’d come across. I was very impressed.”
The purpose of the visit, of course, was to share music, establish compatibility within it and, hopefully, establish a friendship, and to this end ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ turned out to be the key link. Jimmy, too, loved the song and had intended playing it to Robert, a symbiotic concurrence that helped Robert pass the audition – if that was what it was – with flying colours. “I’m not sure Robert knew much about the Yardbirds but I started playing things like ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’,”[1] said Page. I’m not entirely sure he knew what to make of it all, but he did stick with it…” He was also impressed with Robert’s harmonica playing. “A big plus!”
In real terms, the pair bonding over ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ was incredibly important to all future progress. For Jimmy, the song exactly represented all that he wanted to achieve with his new group, its undulating structure providing the opportunity to weave between moments of musical calm and savage bursts of instrumental power (“scream to a sigh and back again,” said one critic). Equally, the song gave Robert a chance to demonstrate both his vocal range and gift for inhabiting a lyric – in this case, switching the protagonist’s gender to add an extra emotional dimension. Consequently, for a short time at least, ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ became a pivotal moment in the fledgling band’s live show, its soft/hard qualities counterbalancing their ability to amp it up, as with material such as ‘Communication Breakdown’ and ‘How Many More Times’, or dial it down as with ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’, but all in the space of just one tune.
 At last, Page had found his man. Plant was in.






[1]  In some tellings of the tale, Robert did not arrive at Pangbourne with Joan Baez’s ‘Babe...’ at all, leaving Jimmy to alert the singer to the song. Whatever the case, it remains obvious that Page and Plant’s love for the tune was crucial in taking things forward between them.






13.7.16

iPOD SCARE




Regular visitors to Just Backdated will have noticed that I no longer write iPod ‘Shuffle’ posts. This is because I no longer commute regularly and don’t really shuffle the songs on my iPod any more, just select what I want to hear instead. But the fragility of digitalised modern music was brought home to me about four weeks ago when, against my better judgement, I downloaded a new version of iTunes on to my laptop, in the process straining the relationship between the iPod and the laptop which necessitated a visit to the nearest Apple store to sort out. In the end it was but not before the iPod was reformatted to become compatible with the new version of iTunes, a process that for one heart-stopping moment caused me to imagine that all my music might have disappeared. It hadn’t – but I did have to synchronise the iPod again. To download all the music again, of course, would have taken months.
The upshot of this rather stressful episode was that for reasons I can’t understand some music has disappeared. On the last iPodding post here, on December 21 last, I refer to 16,635 songs but my iPod now tells me it contains 16,210, so 445 songs have somehow gone astray. Also, the figure of 16,635 ought now to be higher to take into account new songs (and there’s probably over 300) acquired this year. I have no real idea what the 445 missing songs are, and I suspect more have disappeared because the recent stuff (which I can remember) seems to be all present and correct.
One track whose absence I did notice – because I’d played it a lot around the time of his death – was the David Bowie Soulwax mash up, lasting slightly over an hour. I didn’t notice it had gone missing until I tried to play it on my iPod shortly after downloading the new format, and when I discovered it wasn’t there I checked on the laptop and it wasn’t there either. Fortunately I’d saved it elsewhere, a reflection on how much I love this homage to the great man, so I was able to reinstate it easily. As for the rest, I’ll only find out what they are if I happen to look for something and can’t find it.
There were two further side-effects to this: all the playlists I had compiled were deleted, which is easily remedied by making new ones, and the number of plays each of the 16,000+ songs had received was also lost. This meant I was no longer able to compile a list of my most played songs, as I did here on 26 June, 2014, when ‘Orphan Girl’ by Gillian Welch topped the list with 130 plays, followed by The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (126) and Welch again with ‘Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor’ (124).
Although the list of plays on the iPod had disappeared into the ether, there was a list of most played on the laptop, however, but it was wildly different from its predecessor in that it consisted entirely of songs I’d bought from iTunes as opposed to CDs, and also bought fairly recently.  The reason for this is that I had synchronised my iPhone with the laptop so as to be able to transfer this music to the iPod and the number of recent plays on the phone had been registered in the iTunes folder. Why older plays on the iPhone hadn’t registered is a another mystery, a case in point being the Under The Covers albums by Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs, which I’ve listened to a lot.
Since phone calls interrupt music and won’t therefore be missed, I often listen to music on the phone and not the iPod when on a train or strolling around a supermarket. It is these plays, concentrated over a limited number of albums, that have registered highly while iPod plays, which cover 100s of albums and, in any case, will only have registered during the past four weeks, are minuscule.
But just for the hell of it, here’s how the ‘most played’ list looks today. The top six are all tracks from The War On Drugs’ album Lost In A Dream, number one ‘Under The Pressure’ with 69 plays. Ennio Morricone sneaks in at number seven with ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’, then Robert Plant with ‘Little Maggie’, then more War On Drugs and then Ravi Shankar since I find sitar music is a pleasing soundtrack to supermarket shopping. In fact, the entire top 50 consists of War On Drugs, songs from Plant’s Lullaby And.. The Ceaseless Roar album, sitar music by Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, Morricone film music, John Fahey (I bought a Guitar Masters collection of his on line) and a girl trio called Applewood Road, which, like the Under The Covers albums, was recommended to me by old friend Richard Williams.
The 26 June, 2014, list of most played songs took several years to compile insofar as it represented the length of time I’d owned my iPod ‘Classic’ (which, regrettably, Apple discontinued in September 2014). It will therefore take several more years to compile another representative one, by which time I might have traced the missing music or – more likely – this trusty iPod will have given up the ghost and – technology being what it is – all my music will have been transferred into an appliance the size of a pin head that has been implanted into my brain from which I can select or shuffle merely by thinking about it.

1.7.16

PAUL SIMON – Stranger To Stranger




On his recently released album Stranger To Stranger Paul Simon addresses the problem of inequality in a wonderful new song called ‘Wristband’. Set to a brisk tempo, with prominent springy bass, busy percussion and a hint of South America, the song opens as a lament from a performer who has slipped out from the back of a venue for a smoke, only for the stage door to click shut behind him. Realising to his dismay that he isn’t wearing his back stage pass, his wristband, he must gain entry elsewhere, no easy challenge when faced with a 6’ 8’ doorman who doesn’t believe that he’s the leader of the band.
So far so good, but this interesting, potentially comical, scenario is turned on its head in the final verse wherein the wristband of the title becomes an allegory for the disparity of opportunity that plagues life in the USA and, for that matter, the UK as the recent Brexit vote surely indicates. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that instead of concluding the story – whether or not the performer regains entry to the venue – Simon lowers his tone, drops the irony of the earlier verses and cooly shifts his focus to the riots, the homeless and the ‘towns that never get a wristband, kids who can’t afford the cool brand, whose anger is a shorthand for you can’t have a wristband’ and who as a result ‘can’t get through the door’.
Simon rightly thinks highly of this new song for it is included twice on the record, the second time live, slightly sparser, the elastic bass even more prominent. His audience laughs at his predicament, only to be brought down to earth by the third verse and the realisation that there is much more to this song than the droll dilemma of an artist being locked out of his own gig.
‘Wristband’ is unquestionably the highlight of a characteristically thoughtful, well-crafted album by a master of his art who rarely, if ever, disappoints and who, now midway into his seventies, shows no sign whatsoever of flagging or resting of his laurels. He’s still pushing out new sounds and ideas. The first track ‘The Werewolf’ opens with what sounds like a spring being twanged and has a touch of rap about it, and ‘The Clock’, at 1.03 perhaps the shortest tune in Simon’s canon, is a strange, ethereal instrumental set to the ticking of a timepiece.
Elsewhere the album is a judicious blend of the second and third phases of Simon’s career, the first being his period with Art Garfunkel. ‘Street Angel’ and ‘In A Parade’ are both percussive led, ‘Cool Papa Bell’ has the rhythmic pulse of Simon’s South African expedition for Graceland, the title track ‘Stranger To Stranger’ sounds like it could have been recorded for Still Crazy After All These Years, and both ‘Insomniac’s Lullaby’ and ‘Horace And Pete’ see Simon return to his more traditional melodic acoustic style, the notes from his guitar ringing out sharp and clear as spring water. There’s also a couple of brief but lovely guitar instrumentals, ‘In The Garden Of Edie’ and ‘Guitar Piece 3’, and the edition of the album I bought on iTunes also includes a live version of ‘Duncan’, he who in one of Simon’s best ever lines ‘like a dog was befriended’.
I’ve been listening to this record for about three weeks now. Quite simply, it’s another top quality piece of work from a master craftsman.

29.6.16

SCOTTY MOORE



Woke up this morning to an e-mail from a friend telling me of the death of Scotty Moore, the pioneering guitarist who backed Elvis on his earliest recordings and toured with him until – like so many others – he displeased Colonel Tom Parker by asking for a fair share of the profits. So did Chips Moman, the producer who in 1968 suggested Elvis record ‘Suspicious Minds’, and who also died recently too – but at least he and Moore outlived the avaricious Parker by the best part of 20 years.
Along with producer Sam Phillips, bassist Bill Black and the Hillbilly Cat himself, Moore was a key figure when, between takes at the Sun Studios in Memphis on July 5, 1954, Elvis started hamming it up on an Arthur Crudup blues number called ‘That’s All Right’. Moore and Black joined in and Phillips rushed to set the controls. The recording was completed the same day.
As I wrote in a booklet commissioned in 1987 to accompany a Telstar Records cassette of Elvis material leased from RCA: “Although not the best of the 17 sides Elvis recorded for Phillips and his Sun Records label, ‘That’s All Right’ surely embodies the same sense of freedom a prisoner might feel on breaking loose after years in the pen. Flowing like a river in flood, the song is a showcase for Elvis’ pure high tenor, Moore’s precise guitar figures and the trio’s slapping rhythmic feel. Elvis and his two accomplices had made a dynamic debut.”
In fact, Moore was Elvis’ manager when he first started out and after being ousted by Parker managed to hang on long enough to play beautifully on many more early Elvis recordings, among them ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blues Suede Shoes’. He also appeared alongside Elvis, with Black and drummer DJ Fontana, on the TV shows in 1956 and ’57, looking for all the world as if they was born on a different planet from the boy at the front who scandalised America until censors decreed he could be shown only from the waist up.
Just about every rock guitarist who has ever learned to play has done his best to emulate the solos on Elvis’ recordings between 1955 and ’58. In a forthcoming Omnibus Press biography of Jimmy Page, author Martin Power quotes Page as saying: “The record that really made me want to play guitar was ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’. When I heard that record, I just wanted to be part of it... the acoustic and electric guitars, the slap bass, those instruments seemed to generate so much energy”, and Power goes on to write: “If one were being picky, ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’’s combination of descending acoustic bassline and bouncing drums was probably more rockabilly than rock’n’roll. In the end, such distinctions were irrelevant. The instrument teasing the best out of Presley’s deliciously slurred vocal and making Jimmy’s ears pop as a result was Scotty Moore’s guitar. Elvis’s secret weapon, Moore was a man who could combine country fills, double stops and hillbilly chord twangs like the ingredients for a gourmet meal, served up on his gold Gibson ES (Electric Spanish) 295 in a way Page once described as ‘heart-stopping’. Obviously, this whole rock’n’roll thing were to be investigated, and quickly.”
Keith Richards, too, was turned around by Moore: “When I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, I knew what I wanted to do in life. All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play like that. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Scotty.”
        Moore (and Black) left Elvis’ employ in 1957 over disputes with Parker. In his memoir That’s Alright, published in 1997, he claimed to have made just $8,000 in 1957 while Elvis made over a million. “We couldn’t go to talk to Elvis about anything,” he wrote. “It’s not that I feel bitterness, just disappointment.”
        Moore appeared with Elvis on the 1968 comeback TV special that saw a dramatic reversal in his fortunes, but his fee didn’t even cover his travel expenses, so he and Elvis never worked together again. Nevertheless, like many pioneering background figures from the early years of rock’n’roll, Moore was eventually feted by the guitarists he inspired, many of them British. He went on to work with Ringo, Jeff Beck and others and, despite the rancour of the Elvis situation, whenever he made appearances later in life always came across as a genial and eternally modest old soul, slightly surprised at the credit bestowed upon him, deferring always to Elvis and acting like the dignified southern gentleman he was.
        Scotty Moore died yesterday at his home in Nashville, aged 84.
    

12.6.16

PAUL McCARTNEY: THE BIOGRAPHY by Philip Norman




What must it be like to be Paul McCartney? Deluged by gargantuan levels of fame since the age of 21, he has remained squarely in the spotlight ever since. Other pretenders to his pop crown, not to mention Popes and Presidents, come and go but Paul, like the Queen, remains in place, the best known, most loved and most successful rock star on the planet, still at it at 73, his violin bass and cheery smile entertaining the multitudes with yet another chorus of ‘Hey Jude’. Meanwhile, having amassed a fortune as great as the Count of Monte Cristo, he somehow keeps his feet on the ground, always and forever Mr Normal.
It is a life that has been under the microscope many times before and Philip Norman is better placed than most to tell it again. The author of Shout!, the first Beatles biography to look seriously behind the deference that until its publication in 1981 had shielded the world’s greatest and best known pop group from detractors, Norman went on to write a thumping great biography of John Lennon, the Beatle he once suggested was three-quarters of the group. Now he turns his attention to the other senior Beatle who, it must be said, has good reason to detest him. Shout!, highly enjoyable and successful as it was, was so firmly on the side of John that Paul referred to it as ‘Shite’.
Adding to the debate that surrounds the publication of his bulky 850 page McCartney book is Norman’s position in the hierarchy of Beatle biographers, once unassailable but of late challenged by Mark Lewisohn, now widely recognised as the group’s foremost archivist. There is a well-defined difference between these two rivals, however. Lewisohn is a virtuoso historian, concerned with details, painstakingly unearthing previously unknown facts and anecdotes and, with scrupulous attention to accuracy, recording them at great length for posterity as demonstrated in the extraordinary Tune In, the first in what will surely become a remarkable and definitive trilogy of books that tell the Beatles’ story from birth to their formal dissolution in 1974. Norman, on the other hand, is a first-rate literary stylist, a craftsman whose elegant and evocative prose entertains, illuminates and gives pause for thought as he tells the story – the same story, of course, that he’s told twice before, at least up to 1970.
Norman begins his tale by laying his cards on the table, explaining in his introduction his difficult relationship with McCartney which seems to have finally reached a relatively amicable plateau. In what seems like a quid per quo trade-off, McCartney has evidently given his thumbs-up to this book while Norman has revised his opinions on his subject’s contribution to the group’s music. Hatchets buried, at least for now, we’re off and Norman’s opening chapter, a heart-warming description of the National Trust ride to 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool, the house where McCartney spent his formative years, is as eloquent as it is charming, bringing back memories of my own experience of this same National Trust tour in 2010.
Thereafter we get chapters on the McCartney line – in which we are informed that Jim, Paul’s dad, was one of seven siblings who owned two pairs of shoes between then, one for the boys, the other for the girls, and that since the school they attended required all pupils to be properly shod they would take turns to attend, and those that did would repeat the lessons to the others on their return – and Paul’s childhood, followed by the best part of 300 pages on The Beatles. This takes us to about halfway through the book, so the years from 1970 to 2015 occupy the second half, an imbalance that suggests Norman’s interest still rests with the sixties.
It’s an all too familiar story now; how Paul met John at the village fete, joined the Quarrymen who morphed into The Beatles, who learned their trade in Hamburg and at the Cavern, became managed by Brian Epstein who smartened them up for George Martin to light the fuse beneath the firework called Beatlemania. Nevertheless, it is to Norman’s credit that in this, his third time of telling the same story, he still manages to inject it with the magic it deserves, even though this is a more streamlined version. This telling, however, not only shifts the focus towards McCartney but also presents him in a more favourable light than in either Shout! or his Lennon book. Tony Sheridan, for example, states: “Watching them, I used to think that Paul could probably make it without John, but John was never going to make it without Paul”, a particularly strong quote that I couldn’t find in either of his previous books. This surely implies that for this book Norman has adopted a selective policy that favours McCartney.
If it’s well told – and it is – I can enjoy the Beatles’ story again, even if there’s nothing much new of note here. That’s Lewisohn’s job, though even he would be impressed by details such as how Jane Asher’s father taught himself to write his signature upside down so as not to waste time turning around letters handed to him by his secretary. There is, however, new – or at least expanded – material about McCartney himself, and Norman is particularly strong on his close relationship with his father Jim and warm attitude towards his second wife that in time would cool; also his relationship with Jane Asher who, as ever, remains decorously mute, and Paul’s voracious appetite for other girls; his fondness for soft drugs and immersion in London’s alternative culture, led by my friend Barry Miles, which finally puts to the sword any ideas that John was the Beatles’ avant-garde envelope pusher; and family life at Peasmarsh and elsewhere in which Paul and Linda excel as parents. Throughout all this the group’s music seems to take a secondary role, perhaps because Norman realises it’s all been covered so well before, though he delights in hinting how real experiences find their way into Paul’s songs.
Linda’s arrival in Paul’s life is covered in great detail – as it should be – and she, along with Yoko, are held responsible for the break up of the group. As it fragments after Epstein’s death, Norman puts forward a convincing case against the wisdom of hiring Allen Klein to oversee their affairs, the implication being that if the other three had adopted McCartney’s suggestion that Lee Eastman, his father-in-law, be given the job they would all have benefitted to a far greater degree – and John and Paul might even have hung on to Northern Songs. In the event it was not to be, the malice clouding John’s judgement and upsetting the applecart to everyone’s detriment. Paul can be forgiven for being smug when it turns out he was right all along.
And so on to the solo years during which Paul, who always enjoyed performing, becomes the only Beatle to do so regularly (at least until Ringo formed his All Starr Band). Band On The Run (and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’) aside, Paul’s music thereafter rarely reached the heights it did when John was egging him on, and though Norman feels duty bound to cover it in detail there a sense of dutiful ennui to his coverage thereof. Of more interest is the coverage of the Japanese jaunt that saw Paul briefly jailed for importing marijuana, which Norman relates in fine detail, as he does with Linda’s decline and McCartney’s disastrous marriage to the dislikeable Heather Mills.[1]
Linda’s death clearly robbed McCartney of the rock on which he’d built his life, so in her absence seems to have been a bit of a loose cannon. Never one to defer to others, apart from her, we are presented with a man who is known to everyone but surprisingly isolated. Not even his children can prevent this ill-advised union, the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome having proved his undoing. Fortunately, in the closing chapters of Norman’s book the darkness is exchanged for light with the arrival of the far more suitable Nancy Shevell.
With regard to flaws, I feel duty bound to reiterate comments from other reviewers in that Wings was never a ‘glam rock’ band and that ‘God Save The Queen’ by the Sex Pistols was not a punk-style pastiche of the National Anthem, even if they do share the same title. More importantly, for a book that purports to be a definitive biography of McCartney I could find no discussion of his remarkable skills as a bass player, one of the best in the business. Having myself written a 2,000+ word introduction to a Beatles songbook aimed specifically at bass players (http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/paul-his-basses.html), I find this unforgiveable, a very serious deficiency.[2]
As Norman brings the story up to date we learn how McCartney finally become reconciled to his past, realising in the end that this was where the love was made, and performing hugely enjoyable, ultra-professional concerts that continue to be celebrations of The Beatles. He is also resigned to forever being second, the second Beatle, after John but before George and Ringo. Indeed, Philip Norman perhaps recognises this as well, choosing to write first about Lennon and then McCartney, albeit with greater insight and depth with this book.



[1] I became convinced that this lady has a very distant relationship with the truth when she let it be known that when Paul smoked marijuana he became violent towards her; anyone with the slightest experience of cannabis use knows perfectly well it has the exact opposite effect. I wholeheartedly concur with the judge who firmly rejected her evidence during the divorce proceedings, reproduced here in all its fantasy detail.

[2] Other errors: a suggestion that The Who would have been managed by Nems had Robert Stigwod taken over is well wide of the mark. Joni Mitchell did not perform at Woodstock. Denny Laine was not a member of the Incredible String Band (it was the Electric String Band) and he is incorrectly identified as Jimmy McCulloch (and vice versa) in a photo in the third plate section. The Troubador in LA is certainly not ‘super-chic’. McCartney did not buy his MPL offices in Soho Square in 1977 but acquired the floors of the building one by one as they became empty from 1972 onwards, completing the ‘set’ in 1977 when he brought about a full scale refurbishment. Finally, I don’t believe Paul ever played a Fender bass on stage, as implied on page 627.

7.6.16

ABBA REUNITE (AGAIN) - The Truth




Reports that the four members of Abba performed together on Sunday night for the first time since 1981 seem to have been exaggerated, at least according to my well informed source who was with them at the Berns Salonger, a posh restaurant attached to a hotel in Stockholm. Not only didn’t the quartet all perform together but the songs that were performed, firstly by the boys alone and secondly the girls, were different from those reported in the press.
The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the date when Björn Ulvaeus first met Benny Andersson, on June 5, 1966, at a pop  festival on the Ålleberg hill, three miles southeast of the town of Falköping. At the time Björn was a member of The Hootenanny Singers while Benny was the keyboard player with The Hep Stars, and both bands happened to be playing the festival that day. Afterwards, at the hotel where The Hep Stars were staying in Linköping, the two future Abba songwriters were introduced and ended up with playing guitars together, sitting in a park until the sun came up, singing songs by The Beatles and The Kingston Trio.
Not surprisingly Björn and Benny never forgot their equivalent of the Woolton church fete and, on Sunday, 50 years to the day, they were joined by the female half of Abba, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, to whom they were once married, to celebrate. That much seems to have been reported accurately enough by the media but that’s as far as it went.
“Contrary to reports, the four of them didn’t actually sing together,” I am told by my spy, who was present at the event. “Agnetha and Frida sang ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ and then Björn and Benny came onstage afterwards. But [there was] no actual group singing. The last number before Agnetha and Frida was Björn singing ‘Does Your Mother Know’ with Benny playing the piano.”
According to the erroneous reports the quartet sang ‘Me And I’, their ‘1980 hit’. Not only wasn’t ‘Me And I’ a hit – it was an album track from the Super Trouper LP, released that year – but they never sang it. “What happened was that the emcee introduced Agnetha and Frida by saying they were going to perform a song called ‘You And I’, which are the first words of the lyrics for ‘The Way Old Friends Do’,” reports my insider. “He should have known better, but there you go. Then one of the guests leaving the party told a reporter outside that they’d performed a song called ‘You And I’. And then the media must have concluded that “there’s no ABBA song entitled ‘You And I’ – oh, I guess they meant ‘Me And I’”. Voilá – a rubbish story is born.”
          Just Backdated – not necessarily first with the news but at least we get it right!




3.6.16

TIGHT BUT LOOSE - JPJ & BP Fallon's Story



Perhaps because fame wasn’t to his taste, perhaps because – as the consummate professional – he regarded his employment between 1968 and 1980 as just another gig (albeit a very lucrative one) or perhaps because he thinks he has less to lose than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, but John Paul Jones has kept himself largely to himself since Led Zeppelin called it a day in 1980. Truth is he’s the kind of rock star I’d like to have been, acclaimed for his musicianship, richly rewarded yet unrecognised on the street. When I worked at Music Sales John Paul would come into our offices from time to time to meet with his publisher on the 5th floor, usually dressed in jeans and a scuffed jacket, and tell me whether or not the tube was crowded. The tube? Page and Plant are less likely to be seen on the tube than senior members of the Royal Family, unless of course they’re opening a new line named after them.
So it’s nice to see the eternally modest John Paul on the cover of the latest Tight But Loose, Dave Lewis’ superior Led Zeppelin fanzine which arrived this week. Inside he talks about what he’s up to (with a brief mention of his work for Dave Rawlings, musical partner of the very wonderful Gillian Welch) and a bit about his past and his thoughts on his legacy. No one ever seemed to want to interview John Paul in my Melody Maker days and he didn’t seem to mind one iota, happy as he was to do his job properly like the craftsman he is, and go home afterwards. Nevertheless, when he does decide to talk he’s forthcoming, friendly and comes across as the Mr Nice Guy he's always been.
Of equal interest, at least to me because I used to know him well, is an interview with BP Fallon, the impish Irish PR who took on the Led Zeppelin brief around 1973 and hung around doing the same job on and off until 1980. Having previously worked for EG management (King Crimson, ELP, Roxy Music) and Marc Bolan, BP’s arrival in the Zep camp took most of us by surprise, not least because he didn’t share the aggressive tendencies associated with their management. In the event this was a bonus. Already well liked by the press for his laid-back otherworldliness, BP was ideal for easing the rather touchy relationship between band and media that developed after the merits of Led Zeppelin III came under scrutiny in 1970.


Jimmy Page with BP Fallon aboard the Starship in 1973, photo by Bob Gruen

Whenever BP rang me up with some news about a client he would open the conversation by announcing: “Hey man, I need to lay a verbal on you.” He never ceased to fascinate, to intrigue. Nevertheless, like the eternally absent-minded Simon Puxley with Roxy Music, PR for BP was really just a hook on which to hang his hat. His real skill was advising his clients on how best to present themselves to the world, and in so doing to engender sympathetic media coverage at a time when the UK music press was becoming far less deferential towards the artists that peopled its pages. When Bolan was in danger of becoming a trifling teen-idol, BP gave him integrity, and when Led Zeppelin appeared too high and mighty, BP did his best to present them as humans, not quite cuddly but certainly less belligerent than their reputation suggested. Also, there was an obvious affinity with Jimmy Page; both of them small, dark and a bit mysterious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes deep, and both of them powerful magnets for immensely attractive women. After Zep BP went on to work for U2 for a spell, wearing a laminate that read: ‘Guru, Viber & DJ’ – a perfect job description really.
Elsewhere Tight But Loose contains the usual news of what Page, Plant and Jones have been up to, information about records, gigs (including a Deborah Bonham Band show at which Plant got up to sing ‘When The Levee Breaks’ and ‘Shakin’ All Over’) and bootlegs, opinions from fans and everything else the committed Zep fan needs to know. It’s also nice to know that the three men who inspire the magazine’s success and continuing existence now so appreciate the work that Dave does on their behalf that they are happy to support it in the way they do.


30.5.16

A BANK HOLIDAY STORY


Five years ago, on the summer Bank Holiday that takes place today, I said farewell to the oldest friend I ever had, and here’s how it happened.
Richard Southwell was born on May 18, 1947, two days after me, at Elmhurst Nursing Home, a maternity hospital at Bingley in West Yorkshire where our mothers were in adjoining beds. This led to a friendship between our families that lasted for years, and a camaraderie with Richard that was strong until I left Yorkshire for the south of England in 1969. Thereafter it was intermittent but it was rekindled on the summer Bank Holiday of 2011, two days before he died from cancer at his home in Steeton near Keighley.
The friendship was probably at its strongest when Richard and I boarded together at Malsis School between 1955 and 1960. On the outskirts of the village of Cross Hills between Skipton and Keighley, Malsis was once a lavish country home in its own extensive grounds, its impressive pillared frontage approached by a long drive that wound past a small lake through woods and playing fields. As well as spending time together in school – we were in the same year, in the same classes – we visited one another on a regular basis during the school holidays too. He lived at Eldwick, above Bingley, not far from where my maternal grandparents once lived. His mother and father, Bob and Dorothy, became friends with my mum and dad and on the eve of every new term we would all eat out together at the Overdale, a dining and dancing club in Skipton.
        In my time at Malsis I discovered a love of reading, especially Conyan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and one term Richard and I produced and wrote the script for a stage adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in which I played Holmes and Richard played Doctor Watson. The official school entertainment was the annual production of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe and others, but it was soon established that I was tone deaf and I never took part in any of them. Neither did Richard who also couldn’t sing for toffee, but it was at Malsis that I discovered and first came to love rock’n’roll and pop music; Richard too but not with the same obsession as myself. We would have been nine when we first heard Elvis Presley singing ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ on a 78 rpm record played on a wind-up gramophone that belonged to another Malsis boy. In quick succession we also heard ‘Diana’ by Paul Anka, ‘Last Train To San Fernando’ by Johnny Duncan & The Blue Grass Boys, ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’ by Little Richard and two other early Elvis recordings, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. I remember visiting Richards house where he had a Frankie Vaughan 78, ‘Garden Of Eden’, and Harry Belafonte’s 1957 number one, ‘Mary’s Boy Child’. Neither of these songs were rock and roll but I soon became absolutely hooked on it all, and from that age the acquisition of rock’n’roll and pop records (and knowledge about those who performed them) became an all-consuming passion that has sustained until this day and to a large degree provided me with a life.
        Of course, it’s far too simplistic – and probably also a great exaggeration – to suggest that the course my life would follow was decided for me at the age of nine by whomsoever it was that brought a wind-up record player and a pale blue labelled HMV Elvis Presley 78 rpm recording back to school with him. If I hadn’t discovered Elvis and Little Richard at this school I would probably have discovered them elsewhere, probably heard them on the radio, and still become hooked on them – but not only can I recall the actual room where I heard my first rock’n’roll record, but also where the wind-up gramophone was located and even where I was standing in relation to it.
        But I digress. Richard and I went to different schools after Malsis but because we never forgot how close our birthdays were we often exchanged greetings, cards and phone calls until the arrival of faxes and then e-mails. My Skipton band The Pandas played at a party at his family home in Eldwick around 1966, and my dad and I were at his (first) wedding in the early seventies. We stayed in touch in other ways too, me occasionally dropping in to see him at his home in Shipley when I went up to visit my dad in Skipton before he died in 1997. In 2009 Richard and his (second) wife Janet visited us at our home in Surrey. We always had a lot of catching up to do.
Richard worked as a travel agent in Bradford but in May 2011 he didn’t respond to the e-mail I sent on his birthday, nor had he e-mailed me on mine two days before his, so I called his office and was informed that he was off sick. So I called Janet and was shocked to learn that he was in the final throes of cancer. I wrote to him as follows:
“As Janet will have told you following my phone call earlier today, by a circuitous route I have just discovered to my profound sorrow how sick you are. I was quite lost for words actually as I had no idea whatsoever that you were ill, let alone how serious it was. It is an understatement to say that you and your family have my every sympathy.
“We were 64 last week. On the eve of my birthday Olivia, my daughter, who is now 19, played the appropriate Beatles song and handed over a bottle of wine, as per the lyrics. Sam, now 16, said he liked the song because Paul McCartney sounded so cheerful. I told him that Paul had written the song long before The Beatles became famous, when he was 16, your age. ‘How do you know?’ he asked. ‘Because it’s my job to know these things,’ I told him. Then we all sat down to a roast lamb dinner and, for once, I was excused the washing up. For desert Lisa produced home-made crème caramels, my favourite, from the fridge. The following morning, my birthday, I stayed in bed an extra hour but still went to work. I don’t think I’ll retire next year, nor do I think Music Sales will insist upon it. Just because I turn 65 doesn’t mean my accumulated knowledge of the history of rock and pop will disappear overnight. I’ll still know that Paul wrote ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ when he was 16.”
        After a paragraph or two of family news I closed my letter to Richard as follows:
“Sixty-four years ago this week ago our mums occupied adjacent beds at the Elmhurst Nursing Home in Bingley, and I would like to have been a fly on the wall, listening to the conversation:
“Good morning Betty, how’s little Christopher at three days old?”
“Hush Dorothy, he’s sleeping.”
“I wish I could get my Richard to sleep. He was awake half the night.”
“Just think… all their lives stretch out in front of them. I hope they become friends Dorothy.”
“I think they will Betty. I think they will.”
        I closed the letter: “All the best wishes I can possibly offer from your oldest friend,” and added as a PS: “Janet – if you think it’s practical for me to drive up to Steeton in the next week or two let me know. I don’t mind setting off early in the morning, maybe spending a night with a friend in Skipton.”
In the event I drove up the following Sunday because it was the Bank Holiday the following day, staying with friends who live in Knaresborough, and drove over to Richard’s house in the village of Steeton the following day. On a whim, as I passed through Cross Hills I called into Malsis School, up that winding drive, and parked my car in front of the pillared entrance. It was deserted, and the front door was locked, but as I wandered around the outside of the old building I thought about how Richard and I had roller-skated together along these same pathways over 50 years ago.
Then I drove to Richard’s house. Janet made me a cup of tea and told me Richard was sleeping upstairs. She would wake him soon. I chatted with her and their children, some from their marriage and others from Richard and Janet’s previous marriages. Then I went upstairs. Richard was lying in bed, looking 20 years older than me, as thin as a pencil and with a long white beard. I thought he looked like Rip Van Winkle, barely recognisable from the boy and man I once knew. He looked very frail. He smiled but didn’t talk much, and even when he did I barely recognised his voice, so I did most of the talking, about music, about families, about my visit to Malsis, about how long we had known one another. Janet sat on the other side of the bed and listened. Eventually she said the visit was tiring him out so I shook hands with Richard for the last time, gave him a hug, went back downstairs, made my farewells and drove back down south.
Two days later Richard died. Janet called to tell me and to say that my visit had seemed to act as a closure for my oldest friend, the friend I knew from the day he was born to two days before he left us. I didn’t go to the funeral. “There’s no need,” said Janet. “Your visit was all that Richard wanted. It made him so happy.”



27.5.16

KEITH MOON - A BEACHCOMBERS STORY




Any day now Omnibus Press will publish A Tribute To Keith Moon: There Is No Substitute, compiled by Ian Snowball, designed by Who designer Richard Evans and produced in association with the Moon Estate, headed by Amanda De Wolf, Keith’s daughter. ‘There Is No Substitute’, of course, is the inscription on the plaque at Golders Green Crematorium where Keith’s last rites were held, on September 13, 1978.

With an introduction by Pete Townshend, the book is chock full of contributions from fellow drummers, Keith’s friends and Who fans. Focusing as much on Keith’s extraordinary talents as a drummer as his notoriety as a prankster, the book reflects the deep affection that this madcap genius inspired amongst all those with whom he came into contact.
Packed with photographs, many previously unseen, the interviewees include fellow drummers like Kenney Jones, Rick Buckler, Carl Palmer, Mick Avory, Max Weinberg, Don Powell, Clem Burke and many more, as well as other musicians like Jack Bruce and ‘Legs’ Larry Smith, various Who associates and some who’d known Keith since before he was famous.
Among the latter is John Schollar, the rhythm guitarist in The Beachcombers, the Harrow-based group for whom Keith played drums before he joined The Who. Keith was a Beachcomber for almost 18 months, from December 1962 to April 1964, and after he left John maintained his friendship with him though all the turbulence of The Who years, right up to the end. After Keith’s death John continued to visit Kit, Keith’s mum, on a regular basis, and he recalls Kit telling him in the eighties that if Keith had remained in The Beachcombers he’d still be alive. Kit, incidentally, is still alive, aged 95, now cared for by her daughter Leslie.
John Schollar’s contribution to There Is No Substitute is among the most poignant in the entire book, and I’ve reproduced it below. John also sent me the photograph below which wasn’t used in the finished book; taken at the Kodak Theatre in Harrow, probably very in early 1963, not long after Keith joined The Beachcombers. “He brought the gold lame suit with him,” John told me last night. “He’d worn it in his last group but he soon wore out the trousers, couldn’t sit still could he?”
          From left to the right The Beachcombers are John Schollar, Moonie, Tony Brind on bass, singer Ron Chenery (aka Clyde Burns) and lead guitarist Norman Mitchener. The picture was taken by their friend Roger Nichols who drove the group from gig to gig in his van.



“I grew up in an area not far from Wembley, where Keith grew up. Most of the early Beachcomber gigs were in venues in that area. We had a drummer, but he wasn’t really up to scratch, so we kicked him out and auditioned a few drummers. Keith was one of them and he was just superb. He was also very young, I don’t think even sixteen, but when he started playing we all looked at each other and knew he was something special. For a little bloke he produced so much energy and noise. And he made the most of what kit he had. Even with us he rarely used a hi-hat.
        “When The Beachcombers started out we were playing Shadows numbers and listening to Elvis, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, and when the surf stuff came in we did some Beach Boys and Jan & Dean songs too. In fact people on the circuit knew us as the shadows of The Shadows. Can you imagine Keith playing drums on Shadows songs? He was shit-hot at it and would add a bit more drive to it. We had to drop some ballads because Keith would rock them up a bit too much. Plus he pranked about. Whilst playing ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ one night Keith produced one of those duck decoy calls, the ones people blow when they go duck shooting, and in the middle of the verse he would blow it making the ‘quack quack’ sound. He even had a starting pistol one night and accidently shot our singer.
        “We had some laughs in The Beachcombers. There was a time when a friend managed to get hold of a pantomime horse, from the Wembley Ice Rink. He brought it to one of our shows and Keith loved it. He climbed inside it, fooled around and we couldn’t get him out. Keith held onto the pantomime horse’s head and took it to some audition we had to do in central London. He spent most of that night inside it charging around Piccadilly Circus. I remember we both went for a wee in one of the public urinals in Leicester Square. Keith kept the horses head on. God knows what people thought when they saw him. Another time he tried to get on one of the old London buses, the ones where you have to jump on the back. The conductor tried to refuse him but Keith just replied, ‘It’s okay we’ll go upstairs and don’t worry, the horse don’t smoke.’ The whole time Keith was in The Beachcombers it was non-stop laughter.
        One of the things that doesn’t really tend to come out in books about The Who or Keith is what a nice bloke he was and even back then he was. I was only talking to one of Keith’s sisters at the weekend and we were saying that there were only a few people that really knew him and saw that side of him. Even when he was a huge rock star he would still ring me up and invite me to gigs; several times, in the early Who days, I ended up bringing Keith home in my car. And there was never a hint of ‘how big I am’.
        “I remember he was on Top Of The Pops one time and just after the show he rung me up and asked, ‘So how was it mate?’ He did several things like that. In the early days there were times when he’d tell me about a gig and the next thing I knew I would be picking him up and taking him to it. It was only when The Who got much bigger did he become a bit distant and a bit wild.
        “The Who were lovely blokes. I knew them when they were The Detours; we played the same clubs on the circuit. I was there on the night Keith got up and played drums with them. We all knew that Doug (Sandom) had left the band. I mean Keith wouldn’t have done it otherwise. As soon I heard Keith play with them I just knew that he had found the band that he should be in and they had found their drummer.
        “I remember when The Who did a University tour. Keith rang me and said, ‘John we’re playing in Brighton, do you want to come? Come over and we’ll drive down in the Rolls’. I said I did and my girlfriend (now my wife) and me drove over to his place. But when I got there Keith had left a note on the door where he had scribbled some message about having to go and pick someone else up and see you in Brighton. The problem was I didn’t have a clue where he was playing in Brighton.
        “We drove to Brighton and flagged someone down who told me The Who were playing in the Sussex University. So we drove there. We parked up and headed for the venue. We walked through the doors and walked up some steps but got stopped by the bouncers. I said, ‘We are invited by Keith,’ to which he replied, ‘Yeah and plenty of others. No tickets. No entry.’
        “Thankfully, a few minutes later Keith turned up, headed straight for us and gave my missus a big hug. I then told him that we were having trouble getting in. ‘Right,’ he says and goes and demands that the manager comes and speaks with him. The manager appeared and Keith explained that he had invited some friends down from London and the bouncers wouldn’t let them in, but there was still a no ticket, no entry type attitude. ‘Hmm,’ says Keith, ‘Have you ever seen The Who play without a drummer? I tell you they are bloody awful.’
        “By this time there’s a reasonable sized group that had gathered around us, all listening to what was going on. The manager seeing this eventually gives in and says it’s okay for Keith’s friends to go inside. To this Keith turns to the crowd and shouts out, ‘The manager says that any of my friends that don’t have tickets can go in. Who doesn’t have tickets?’ To which about a dozen hands go up in the air. We all got it and that was what Keith was like.
        “The missus and I followed Keith into the dressing room and there was John and Pete sitting around a little table with a bottle of brandy. They filled up small plastic beakers and handed us drinks and we chatted. They were also being interviewed by some journalist and as soon as Keith got involved it just turned into the Goon show. It was very funny to watch.
        “There was a bit of time before the show so we decided to go to the bar to get a drink. When we got there the barman says, ‘Oh mister Moon, these people have been waiting for you to arrive because they want you to open a tab, so that they can have a drink.’
        “‘Oh okay,’ says Keith, get them a drink. But I stepped in and said. ‘Sod them Keith, just have a drink with me’ and I ordered some brandies. The barman said, ‘But what about them?’ pointing to the crowd. Keith looks at them, then at me and replies, ‘My friend says sod them, they can wait.’
        “After a drink Keith had to leave us and go and do the show but before he left he told us that he had arranged for us to sit in one of the balcony booths. We sat down and the waiter appeared with a tray full of drinks for us. Keith had arranged that too. Keith could be incredibly thoughtful and generous. He was a great friend.
        “I was mortified when I heard that Keith had died. Unfortunately, I heard about it on the news. I came in, sat down, turned on the TV and the news about Keith was on the telly. I just couldn’t believe it. Then the phone started ringing and people were asking me if I had seen the news. I was so upset. And then I had to ring Keith’s mum Kitty. We spoke and she was so upset. We even talked about the funeral and she said she wanted a private event and didn’t want it turning into a circus.
        “The funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium and was an actually brilliant but sad day out. Every major rock star was there and after the service they were all sitting around telling stories about Keith, it was amazing. In fact the table that I was sitting on was getting louder and louder and Kitty came over. I looked at her and said, ‘Oh sorry Kit’ but she said, ‘No John, you’re telling stories aren’t you, you carry on, that’s what Keith would have wanted.’
        “I remember looking around the room and seeing Charlie Watts laughing and Pete Townshend in a hell of state. It was obvious that everybody loved him, even though he had done so many things to also piss people off.
        “There were loads of flowers too. Roger had sent a large bunch fashioned into a floral television set with a smashed champagne bottle hanging out of it. I spent some time reading the labels attached to the flowers and there were so many from famous people like Eric Clapton and members of The Rolling Stones. There was also a small posy of flowers and I looked to see who they were from. It turned out to be from a Children’s Home that Keith had helped out at some point.
        “After the service Kit asked me (and two members of The Beachcombers, Tony and Norman) to go back to the house. The house was jammed packed with people, you couldn’t move so Kit said to us, ‘You boys go out into the garden for a bit of privacy.’ We went to the garden and found Roger, Pete and John standing there. There was complete silence. It was very sad.
        “The other sad thing was that people were expecting something to happen to Keith. I thought he’d end up having an accident in a car. I think we just sensed that he was never going to make old age. At first the media tried to make out that Keith had committed suicide but that was nonsense. Kit even said to me: ‘I don’t know what this suicide business is all about.’ I replied: ‘No Kit, it’s rubbish, he was too much of a coward to do anything like that. He couldn’t stand any pain. Anyway, if Keith was going to do anything like that he would have hired Wembley Stadium and blown himself up in a coffin or something.’
        “A few days after the funeral Kit phoned me and told me that someone had rung her to tell her that lots of Keith’s stuff was in a room over in the Shepperton Studios. She asked me to go over and have a look to see what was there. There was loads of stuff just lying around and anyone could have walked in and walked off with anything, and quite possibly some people did. But I phoned Kit and told her that she needed to get Keith’s stuff out and store it somewhere safer.
        “Kit went over and collected the stuff. There were gold discs and all sorts. Kit then rung me and asked me to pop in and see her after work one day. So I went over to her place and she had piles of gold discs and awards scattered around her living room. It was an amazing sight and she told me to just pick whatever I wanted. There was some very rare stuff and I explained to Kit that she had some priceless stuff and should hold onto it. But she wanted me to have something so I took one of the gold discs for Tommy, which I have on my wall to this day.”