DAVID BOWIE: The Golden Years, and Books Galore.

The loss of David Bowie was always likely to inspire a slew of books about him that would not otherwise have been written. Amongst them were Paul Morley’s The Age Of Bowie which I ignored after my friend Johnny Rogan dismissed it as ‘a dog’s dinner’ in his review in The Irish Times* and Lesley-Ann Jones' rather melodramatic Hero: David Bowie which began and ended very well but I felt was let down by certain omissions and the author’s tendency to inform readers about things before they’d happened, thus interrupting the flow (not to mention the spurious claim that Bowie’s mother had worked in the sex trade, an allegation that ensured the book got plenty of press, albeit of the wrong kind). Both books clearly suffered through being written hastily to meet unreasonable deadlines.
For my money the two best text-led biographies of Bowie remain David Buckley’s lengthy Strange Fascination, an updated and revised edition of which has occupied the author for much of this year, and Paul Trynka’s more compact but less affectionate Starman.
I ought to have published Strange Fascination myself and would have done so had not Virgin Books outbid Omnibus Press. Additionally, there was an issue with regard to David Bowie’s own feelings towards the book. At the time the book was being pitched, Music Sales, Omnibus’ parent company, were in talks with Bowie’s management about song publishing matters and it was felt that it might rock the boat if Omnibus Press were to publish David Buckley’s ‘unauthorised’ book. In the event this was probably erring on the side of caution as Buckley’s 1996 (Omnibus) book on Bowie, The Complete Guide to the Music of…, was favourably received by the great man, so much so that he chose to privately publish his own edition as a promotional tool for his Earthling album in 1997.
As it was, the best Bowie book that Omnibus published during my time as editor was probably Bowiestyle, by Mark Paytress, a large format, heavily illustrated book that eschewed the biographical approach in favour of examining Bowie’s influences and the way he has influenced others. Published in 2000, it remains in print, superseding to an extent the David Bowie Black Book, first published in 1981 and also still in print. Originally written by Barry Miles, my predecessor as Editor at Omnibus Press, I updated it twice which explains my co-author credit. It was among the first illustrated ‘coffee table’ style books on Bowie, a huge seller at the time in a market that in 1981 had yet to become saturated.
There were other Omnibus Press Bowie books in the meantime, among them early manager Kenneth Pitt’s fascinating Pitt Report, and Bowiestyle and the Black Book have now been joined by a third coffee-table book from Omnibus entitled David Bowie: The Golden Years by Roger Griffin, an even more sumptuous volume that the publishers believe reflects the attention to presentation that was so important to its subject. Early Amazon reviews indicate it is being appreciated by fans for its attention to detail, lavish photography and superior design.
I should point out that this book was commissioned long before Bowie left us. I had a hand in it, of course, and can reveal that its production was seriously compromised by David’s passing. Many of the photographers whose pictures were to have been included either withdrew their permission to use them or decided to triple the fees they would otherwise have charged. It was Omnibus’ original intention to publish this book in time for Christmas 2015, but when this didn’t happen – books like this, which are nowadays printed in the Far East, invariably encounter delays – we scheduled it for the spring of 2016. Then came the sad news, and a rethink. The result is a ‘spare no expense’ attempt at producing the ultimate Bowie memento.
The Golden Years, of course, were the seventies, and Griffin’s book is a comprehensive and scrupulously precise chronology of David’s moves and grooves between January 4, 1970 (a gig at the Beckenham Arts Lab) and December 15, 1980 (the release of a K-Tel Best Of Bowie compilation). In between are details of every record released, every concert performed, every TV and radio appearance, every recording session, the films, the interviews, the collaborations, the off-stage shenanigans, the travel, the contretemps, and the socialising, just about everything that David Bowie did in those 3,652 days, together with hundreds of photographs, many reproduced to full bleed to take advantage of the large format. It is 450 pages of day-to-day diary entries, the whole package enhanced with gold leaf blocking, a hardback that weighs over 6lbs, so if you buy several take them home separately.
        It is my belief that time and distance add gravity and that it will be a long time before the definitive David Bowie biography is written. It is an undertaking that will take years of scrupulous research, two hundred or more new interviews with those once close to Bowie, and a slow and methodical approach to the project. I hope that out there is a biographer who is to David Bowie what Mark Lewisohn is to The Beatles, perhaps a literary scholar and Bowie fan who was maybe too young to have been watching Top Of The Pops on July 5, 1972, but who understands what that moment meant and can bring to his or her book the same mix of profundity and sparkle that we recognised in Ziggy. I give it five years.


TIGHT BUT LOOSE – Portrait of the Singer as a Young Man

The evolution of Robert Plant from prancing stallion to grizzled old rock warrior is something to behold. The photograph of Led Zeppelin’s front man on the latest issue of Dave Lewis’ Tight But Loose fanzine brings back memories of the youthful Plant as he was in 1969, a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday, hungry, passionate, perhaps a bit shell-shocked that so much had happened in so short a time and, above all, relishing in the sheer wonder of having musicians of the calibre of Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham backing him up as he sang. Once he grew a beard, let alone after he shaved it off for the first time, it was never quite the same but in ’69, there was something decidedly feral about him, like a big cat gnawing on the songs he sang. Offstage, however, he was a slightly green middle-class English boy, raised not to drop his (h)aitches, as nice as pie, perhaps a bit unsure of himself, quite unlike the cultured, well-travelled Page, the experienced session-hand Jones and boisterously blue-collar Bonham.       
Most great groups take a year or two to get into their stride but Zeppelin was the Usain Bolt of rock, at full strength straight off the starting block, and the image of Robert on the front of this latest TBL caused me to do a double take. His hair covers his face and he looks like he’s about to fellate the microphone, so for a second or two I didn’t recognise him. Then I looked again and noted that the picture came from the Royal Albert Hall, June 29, less than a year after their first rehearsal, about one year before I first saw the group. They’d had a busy week that week with shows in Newcastle (June 20), Bristol (21), London (24, a BBC recording), Portsmouth (26), London (27, a second BBC recording) and the Bath Festival the night before, so they would have been at Olympic fitness. They actually did two shows at the RAH that day, and two other groups played before them each time, which suggests their set was short, not much longer than an hour, a handful of songs from the first album and a finale that evidently climaxed with Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ for which the supporting groups joined them on stage – havin’ some fun tonight indeed.
But I digress. I was going to write about the contents of the new TBL but became side-tracked by its front cover. Indeed, I ought to have opened this little piece with my thanks to Dave for the fulsome coverage of No Quarter: The Three Lives Of Jimmy Page by Martin Power, a book I had a hand in, which occupies three pages of TBL 42, and I’m happy to say Dave welcomes it warmly.  Dave points out that it is comprehensive (622 pages) but not salacious, a deliberate editorial stance agreed upon by the author and myself when the book was commissioned. You can find plenty of that in Hammer Of The Gods, Richard Cole’s Stairway To Heaven and Barney Hoskyns Trampled Underfoot, not to mention memoirs by the likes of Pamela Des Barres and Nick Kent, so Martin and I agreed he should go easy on the sex and drugs and concentrate on the music, of which there is a great deal, and not just LZ. I have reason to believe that a work in progress by a former NME writer of some distinction will not be quite so discriminating.
Taking pride of place in this issue of TBL is Dave’s take on LZ’s Complete BBC Sessions, for which he wrote liner notes, thus elevating him to the same role that Mark Lewisohn attained with The Beatles on their reissue series and, to a lesser extent, my own participation in Who reissues from the mid-nineties. It is pleasing to note that the time and effort that Dave has put into helping Led Zeppelin maintain their profile 37 years after they called it a day, not to mention the knowledge he’s amassed along the way, has been recognised in this way. As far as I am aware he is the world's only full-time professional Led Zeppelin archivist. Groups, even those as sturdy as Led Zep, need fans like him.
Elsewhere there’s a feature on collecting singles on which JP played without credit, including such disparate names as Val Doonican and Brenda Lee, a low down on the Top 100 most valuable LZ albums, the usual info on bootlegs and the like, news on recent Page, Plant and Jones activities and a report on the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ court case which went the way TBL hoped it would: “Reason prevails,” observes its editor sagely.



Alerted by a positive review in last Sunday’s Observer and undeterred by a mediocre one in today’s Guardian, I have been soothing my troubled psyche this week by listening to this latest chapter in Eno’s ambient tales. A 54-minute continuous meditation of unhurried music that sounds suitable for the soundtrack of a movie exploring the wreck of the Titanic, it a fine antidote to the overdose of ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ from which I was suffering until we took down our tree last night.
This is not my first encounter with Eno’s ambient work. Back in the early eighties, freelancing after an early release from the rigours of RCA’s press office, I was contacted by Eno’s record label who commissioned me to write descriptions of about a dozen avant-garde albums and biographies of those who had recorded them, not all by Roxy Music’s original non-musician. Among them, however, were Eno’s Discreet Music, Music For Films and Music For Airports, all in the ambient style and all quite new to me at the time. I warmed to them, just as I had warmed to Eno when he, I and two others had dinner together many years ago in a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown. He won’t remember that night but I do, as he’s not the kind of guy you forget in a hurry.
Reflection is playing as I type. It consists of sustained chimes across a fairly narrow band of notes, with a deep foundation making its presence felt and a very occasional unexpected trill, bleep or ping. Placid doesn’t do it justice. Quite simply, it is the slowest music I have ever heard, yet at the same time I wouldn’t describe it as lethargic, as in encouraging laziness. Something is happening amidst the languor, and its contemplative potential is quite profound. I suspect that if I was to indulge in that old habit of mine that involved crumbling dark matter into a roll-up cigarette I would enjoy it more, but I can enjoy it straight all the same. For a few seconds at the beginning I was reminded of the opening bars of Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ or even Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ but those thoughts soon ebbed away as I became absorbed in the mysterious depths of Eno’s synthesiser.
I believe that those with the correct equipment can download a version that is endless and which can be manipulated by the listener to create their own personal variations, but that’s far too far out for me. I’m content with the basic model, an acquired taste maybe but unlike some I find that the older I get the more I explore.
I should add that the packaging is as beautifully minimal as the music. The cover of the CD’s eight-page black sleeve is bible black but for a shot of the master’s face that is only just discernable; no text inside, a minimum of credits and a wonderfully tasteful design throughout.
        Were I in a position to do so I would advise the President Elect of the United States to give this recording a listen immediately before his next imprudent tweet. A pause for reflection might do him and the rest of us of some good.



If ever a career in music was pre-ordained it is that of Paul Simon, the ambitious, gifted and ever-so-scrupulous first son of a professional double-bass player and the champion of this book, a biography as diligently researched and carefully considered as any of the songs in Simon’s extensive repertoire. Though clearly an admirer of his music, Peter Ames Carlin nevertheless feels duty bound to cast a less than approving eye on a man whose self-belief – some might call it arrogance – results in him repeatedly turning a deaf ear to well-meant advice, often with unfortunate results, as well as a distressing reluctance to share credits with collaborators. He's also on the depressive side, unfulfilled despite it all, and consequently resorts to psychoanalysis, usually successfully. The result is that Homeward Bound portrays Paul Simon as largely uncongenial, certainly not someone with whom you’d want to relax over a couple of beers, let alone share a catchy riff you’d discovered on your own guitar.
On the plus side, Simon is no fan of the cult of celebrity, generous towards charities and always pays his musicians well, sometimes when they don’t even know it, as was the case with British folkie Martin Carthy who introduced him to, and taught him how to play, ‘Scarborough Fair’, the traditional ballad that opens Parsley Sage Rosemary And Thyme, the third album Simon recorded with singer Art Garfunkel. Simon credited himself as the writer but dutifully sent a proportion of the royalties to Carthy’s music publisher who shamefully failed to pass them on, with the result that in his ignorance Carthy held a grudge against Simon for years until the issue was finally resolved after they shared a stage together in 2000.
This is but one of many interesting instances that Carlin brings to light where Simon appears guilty of minor larceny. Plagiarism is too strong a word, but Simon has a tendency to hear something, or be alerted to something, which after a good deal of chopping and changing, remixing and re-arranging and almost always adding his own lyric, he makes his own. Often this is tangential, as in the case of the musician Heidi Berg who in early 1984 drew Simon’s attention to music from South African townships by famously loaning him a cassette tape she had found entitled Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits No 2. Simon liked what he heard and two and half years later released Graceland, heavily influenced by that cassette and which arguably rescued his career, or at least gave him a new one, but Heidi Berg, without whom, is mentioned only in the very small print and referred to not by name but as ‘a friend’ in Simon’s own sleeve note. She didn't even get the cassette back. 
At the heart of this book is the volatile relationship between Simon and Garfunkel, a running theme of friendship and hostility that Carlin returns to time and again, often with eye-opening revelations about their endless rivalry and petty squabbles. This began in the Tom & Jerry era, that rather odd pre-S&G phase wherein they launched themselves as a precocious doo-wop duo, all smiles, crew cuts and sweaters, a time of innocence you might think but you’d be wrong. To his credit Carlin has researched this period, about which little has been written before, with extraordinary diligence, so much so that I found it one of the strongest parts of his book (vying with the political fallout from Graceland and the slow-burn build up to the Capeman debacle). Accordingly, we learn that Jerry (Paul) went behind Tom’s back, making recordings of his own under various pseudonyms, and that when Art found out he went ballistic. Even now, over 55 years and heaven knows how many millions of records sold later, this subterfuge still rankles. Its nadir was probably reached when they refused to be photographed together for a 1981 hits compilation, thus requiring their record company to hire lookalikes photographed in shaded soft focus as they stroll by gentle waves along a seashore.

Simon & Garfunkel, or is it?

All of this keeps us on tenterhooks as we progress through the sixties, the S&G years. They keep up the pretence well, the best of friends as their renown escalates, amiable quips shared on stage, but the tense undercurrent is always there, exacerbated by Simon’s need for control, Garfunkel keeping him waiting, their physical differences and the overlying sense that their personalities simply don’t gel. Well, John and Paul Beatle didn’t always see eye to eye either and neither do Mick and Keith Rolling Stone, let alone the Everly, Davies and Gallagher brothers, so perhaps we have disparity to thank for some of the finest pop music of the second half of the 20th Century, and I include in that the three greatest S&G albums, Parsley…, Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Long before the break-up of S&G it is clear that Simon wants to make it on his own, and it is also clear that he has always had eclectic tastes, that never ending need to broaden his musical palette. He was researching ‘world’ music long before Graceland; witness ‘El Condor Pasa’ on the Bridge album, ‘Mother And Child Reunion’ on his first solo record and the gospel and Dixieland excursions on his second, … Rhymin’ Simon. He is an avid reader of good books, a confidant of A-list actors, TV directors and film makers, and he repeatedly reaches out to teachers who can offer knowledge of technique, musical theory and literary skills. As a result, the career lows – notably the One Trick Pony movie and Capeman musical – tend to be redeemed by the quality of the songs within, both lyric and melody, which Carlin analyses and critiques with a clear eye for style, detail and procedure. It is to Simon’s credit that when things do go awry for him he has an uncanny ability to back off, lick his wounds and bounce back, even if that does mean a call to his old friend and rival who lives in equal splendour to himself on the other side of New York’s Central Park.
The book is refreshingly direct, focusing almost exclusively on Simon and only very occasionally veering off into matters concerning his rivals, usually Bob Dylan, or politics, and only then when it is pertinent to career choices that the generally apolitical Simon makes. Too many rock biographies resort to this kind of thing as padding but this one doesn’t, and to this end Simon’s personal life is not ignored. We learn of his marriages, and how the first two – to Peggy Harper (the ex-wife of S&G’s manager) and to actor/writer Carrie Fisher – broke up, and his immediate family, a troubled only son from his first marriage, and three later children, two boys and a girl, with third wife Edie Brickell. We learn too about the earlier generations of the Simon lineage, the tailor from Galicia, another Paul, who emigrated to America in 1903, and Louis the bass player, who found it difficult to come to terms with his son’s fame and enormous fortune. He desperately wanted his elder son to become a teacher and it wasn't until this very famous son reached the age of 50 that Louis could finally find the words to tell the multi-millionaire rock star, his boy who drew 750,000 to a concert in Central Park, how proud he was of his achievements.
Finally, I warmed to his book because here and there Carlin drops lyrics from the Simon canon into his text, usually to stress a point yet never tritely or as a clich√©. Search and ye shall find. It’s a lovely touch, a sure sign that not only does Peter Ames Carlin know his subject inside out but that he cares about his readership. Those fans that might be deterred by the unflinchingly objective light that Homeward Bound shines on Paul Simon will nonetheless be charmed by the warmth bestowed in this pleasing, slightly whimsical, attention to detail.
Highly recommended.


Happy Christmas...

Happy Christmas and New Year to all visitors to Just Backdated, past present and future. CC



Last night I went back to the Speakeasy again, or at least entered the basement chamber that used to house the Speakeasy, down the same stairs and into the same area where we left our coats and where the names of those who’d passed bad cheques were scrawled on a blackboard, then through the doors and…
It was about 10pm. I was walking from Gt Portland Street to Oxford Circus tube and took a detour down Margaret Street. Outside the awning at number 48 was a crowd of people behind one of those ropes designed to separate smokers from passers by, and there was a stern looking black doorman guarding the old door. Emboldened by drink, for I had been at a Christmas party, I went up to one of the smokers.
“Is that still a club down there?” I asked.
“Yes, why?”
“Well it used to be a very famous club, visited by legendary rock stars back in the sixties and seventies, and people from the music industry, and I used to be a member.”
“Yes, I saw Bob Marley play there once.”
“Bob Marley?”
“Yes. And The Beatles used to go there in the sixties. And the Stones. And The Who. I once saw Led Zeppelin set fire to a pile of money in the dining room. You couldn’t get me inside could you?”
“It’s a private event.”
“I won’t stay. I just want a quick look.”
The doorman smiled at me. I think he’d overheard a bit of the conversation. He let me pass. I followed my new friend down and…
… through the doors and it’s one great big room now, unrecognisable really; no bar, at least not where it used to be on the left as you entered, no dining room where Luigi served the best petit pois and peppered steak in the whole of London, just a big open space though I noticed that at the very far end, where the stage used to be, there was a place where drinks were dispensed. A band with a black girl singer was playing pumped up soul music on a big stage along the wall behind where the bar was. It was very noisy and packed, and the lighting was quite bright, much brighter than it used to be, and I stood there misty-eyed amidst all these people and thought to myself that not one of them would have known the history of where they were partying tonight. I lost my friend in the crowd and was alone, and I stood out because I was more than twice the age of everyone else there. I had a lump in my throat. Must have been the red wine I’d drunk earlier.
I stayed for maybe five minutes, feeling a bit foolish in my big warm coat and scarf amid people milling around dressed for a party. A few people stared at me, wondering who this old geyser was, and I’d have chatted with anyone who wished but the music was too loud for conversation. So I left, climbed up those stairs again and into the night. The doorman smiled at me.
“Is it like you remember?” he asked.
“No. Not at all.”
“Did Bob Marley really play down there?”
“Oh yes. I was there. Jimi Hendrix too, though I never saw him myself.”
“Hendrix? Really?”
“Oh yes, g’night.”



There can’t be many amongst us who haven’t at one time or another wished we could turn the clock back to a period in time when life seemed like a fairground ride. For me, like David Hepworth, doyen of Smash Hits, Q, Mojo and The Word, that period in time might just be 1971, my first full year as a staff writer on Melody Maker, my feet just about under the table, my antenna tuned exclusively into the rock and pop of the day, my work and play focused entirely on and within what the great PR man Derek Taylor called ‘the industry of human happiness’.
I saw The Who perform nine times that year, the last time in Charlotte, North Carolina, on my first trip to America. I saw the Stones and Faces twice, Zep once (at the Marquee, of all places), dozens of others, interviewed McCartney, discovered Slade and, most weeks, was responsible for MM’s front page lead story at a time when its circulation rose to 200,000 an issue. I lived in a flat in Bayswater where free albums galore piled up next to my Dynatron stereo on which Gasoline Alley, Imagine and Who’s Next were on permanent rotation. What a lucky sod I was.
It is Hepworth’s contention that 1971 remains the most important year in the history of rock and his book sets out to prove the point, month by month, album by album, song by song, and he succeeds. Although it focuses on 1971 we read about what went before, insofar far as it reached an apogee that year, and some of what went on after, insofar as its genesis can be traced back to that year. It deals with the UK and US rock worlds side by side, skipping across the Atlantic with the regularity of The Who and Led Zeppelin, two of the first three UK bands to realise and take full advantage of the rewards that America offered, both of whom – along with the third, The Rolling Stones – occupy plenty of pages herein.
Hepworth sets out his case with the scholarly logic of a barrister addressing a government inquiry, at least as far as his research is concerned, though he’s a great deal more colourful in his delivery. He writes pithily, often amusingly, and the dry humour makes for an easy, fast read as well as an enlightening one. Setting the scene, he notes that, amongst many other things, there were, ‘no joggers, no health shops, no gyms, no leisurewear, no trainers, no mineral water, no Lycra, no fast food, no obesity’ (my italics).
Clarifying the socio-political and economic importance of Carole King’s Tapestry album in the January chapter at the beginning of the book he notes that for the cover photo King wore, ‘a sensible pullover and jeans, much as she would have done had she been weeding the garden’, a few pages later Bette Midler is precisely sketched with the succinct tongue-twister, ‘saucy tongue sheathed in rouged cheek’, and towards the end we have Mike Love described oh so accurately as The Beach Boys’ ‘most reliable source of embarrassment’. Equally amusing is the suggestion that, for Sly Stone, ‘the many women in his life were giving him grief about the many women in his life’ and that, because Mick Jagger felt it was bad form to be without a girlfriend, ‘This inevitably resulted in periods of overlap which could be fraught’, litotes at its best.
It’s not just the quality of the music that supports Hepworth’s case. It’s the way in which the music is marketed and the way in which those who make the music conduct their affairs and themselves, all of which changed, or deepened, or solidified, in 1971. To this end the long and at times tongue-in-cheek description of Jagger’s marriage to Bianca – ‘the shabbiest bunfight in the history of both rock and marriage’ – which forms the centrepiece of May is not there just for amusement – though amuse it certainly does – but to illustrate how in this period rock stars became the new high society and how the event was as √† la mode as debs’ balls or royal weddings.
In reality the book boils down to a series of smartly turned out essays on those acts that held sway in 1971, Hepworth having correctly identified that in many cases this was the year in which they wrote, recorded or released the music on which their careers and reputations have relied upon ever since. In the case of the three British acts I mention above he's not wrong, specifically Who's Next, Led Zeppelin IV and Sticky Fingers, more specifically, ‘Baba O'Riley’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Brown Sugar’. Coming up on the inside are David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart while Marc Bolan – ‘not one for digging out a valuable away point’ – will fall by the wayside. Oddly, the only rising Brit superstar missing from Hepworth’s otherwise infallible summation is Elton John, who also had a pretty good year in ‘71.
So did George Harrison, whose Concert For Bangla Desh provided the template for all future charity rock concerts and which occupies most of Hepworth’s chapter on August. Hepworth notes that this was the first time that Beatles songs had been performed with distinction by anyone other than The Beatles, a hint of the forthcoming realisation that for many acts for whom 1971 was a vital year, the past was the future, especially for The Beach Boys. He points out that heritage rock had yet to be invented, which reminded me that when I watched The Who in Hyde Park in the summer of 2015 I wasn’t alone in noting that the most recent song in their set was 33 years old.
It’s not all about the superstars. Hepworth writes perceptively about many lesser names, among them favourites of mine like Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson and Badfinger; also the labels whose proprietors took chances on acts unlikely to find commercial acceptance, not at first anyway. Occasionally he goes a bit off-piste (as far as 1971 is concerned) by digging back into the past, most noticeably in his history of Motown – he's pro Stevie but a bit anti Marvin – which takes up much of April. Still this is a minor quibble, and I can forgive anyone who writes with calm assurance that, ‘No rock and roll band before or since have been more accomplished live performers than The Who in the years between 1968 and 1972’, a sentiment with which I most heartily concur.
        Recommended as a Christmas present, especially for those who bought MM when we sold 200,000 copies a week.



My plans to self-publish my novel Elvis Kidnapped as an e-book at the end of November have been postponed because friends whose advice I respect have persuaded me to seek a ‘real’ publisher instead.
To this end the manuscript has gone out to five literary agents and a couple of contacts I have at big mainstream publishers. It may be that this will come to nothing, in which case I’ll go back to my original plan, but since Elvis Kidnapped has been taking up space on my hard drive for a long time now, a few more weeks won’t make much difference.
So, sorry to disappoint anyone who read the extracts I posted on this blog and was looking forward to it. One way or another it’ll happen in 2017 which, of course, will see the 40th anniversary of Elvis heading up the great Heartbreak Hotel in the sky.


GILLIAN WELCH – Boots No 1, The Official Revival Bootleg

The arrival of a new record from Gillian Welch and her partner Dave Rawlings is an eagerly anticipated event at Just Backdated. Welch is parsimonious to say the least when it comes to releasing her work, no new recordings having surfaced since The Harrow & The Harvest in 2011, and only three further studio albums and an eight-track live set having been made available in the 20 years that have elapsed since her extraordinary debut Revival. This new release fills a gap but it’s not really new, being instead a 2-CD set of outtakes, alternative versions and demos from Revival, 21 tracks in all, including seven songs that haven't appeared on record before, together with a studio version of ‘Wichita’, hitherto available only as a live track on the Revelator Collection DVD, Welch and Rawling’s only live recording, and an outtake of ‘Red Clay Halo’, the bluegrass romp that wound up on Time (The Revelator) in 2001.
Well, as far as Just Backdated is concerned the odds and sods from Welch and Rawlings are considerably more worthwhile than most artists’ greatest hits, and I’ve been listening to this compilation for four days straight. Revival, released without much fanfare in 1996, was and remains a hugely influential record, the precursor to Americana, a kind of historical country genre that like the songs on The Band’s first two albums exists outside of time, old but new, traditional but contemporary, and definitely rural. Revival was a stunning debut from a couple who seemed to have stepped out of the past; 10 peerless songs, every one of them perfectly formed, superbly understated, mostly dark, always poignant. She even looked the part in her calf-length dresses, pale countenance and unshowy flat hairstyle (though of late she's gone blonde with startling results). As I wrote in a concert review of the duo some years ago (to all intents and purposes they are a duo, in all but name), their songs are a throwback to the time of America’s Great Depression, and are peopled by the dispossessed, migrants and orphans, poor families with too many kids and simple folk who put their trust in God. In a line or a few words Welch evokes hardship and period in the manner of John Steinbeck and the photographer Dorothea Lange whose Migrant Mother adorns a wall in our house.

All we’d heard from Gillian Welch until Revival was the song ‘Orphan Girl’, covered by Emmylou Harris a year before the album was released. Now probably Welch’s best known song (though ‘Elvis Presley Blues’ from Time (The Revelator), lately impressively covered by Tom Jones, runs it a close second), ‘Orphan Girl’ appears twice on Boots No 1, firstly an alternative version without the slightly Twin Peaks-doomy electric guitar that arrives late on the familiar version, and also as a home demo. Welch’s vocal inflections are remarkably similar on all three versions, setting the melancholic tone for almost all that follows.
Much the same applies to the majority of the outtakes of tracks that appeared on Revival, with Welch’s parts fairly consistent through the recording process while slight variations in the guitar accompaniment, Rawlings’ contributions on choruses and solos, and minor adjustments to the tempo and backdrop of songs offer an insight into their gestation. Nevertheless, for those of us who consider Revival to be the Sgt Pepper of Americana, it’s fascinating to hear demos and early versions of songs we now know so well, and to read about their development in the excellent sleeve notes. ‘Annabelle’, in which a mother mourns the loss of her infant daughter in a ‘hard life of tears’, appears to have been initially titled ‘Words On A Stone’; ‘Pass You By’, of one Revival’s more strident tracks – and I use the term cautiously – began at an easier pace with Jim Keltner’s shuffling drums more relaxed and producer T Bone Walker contributing a bluesy solo; a stereo mix of ‘By The Mark’ brings out the delicate counterpoint harmony between Welch and Rawlings on the chorus; two versions of the sultry ‘Paper Wings’ show off Roy Husky on stand up bass and Rawlings on pedal steel; and an early (1993) demo of ‘Tear My Stillhouse Down’ lacks the full on backdrop of the Revival take but shines through in its relative simplicity.
Of more interest, though, are those songs previously unavailable, some of which the duo evidently performed on stage early in their career. On Disc 1, ‘Go On Downtown’, by the prolific Texas songwriter and performer Robert Earl Keen, seems custom built for Welch’s style, though the opposite is probably true in that Welch was influenced by Keen’s style for Revival, unhurried and lonesome, its syllables effortlessly stretched out; and ‘Georgia Road’, a slow-paced 12-bar blues, purposeful and with some fine trilling on the solo. Disc 2 offers many more surprises: ‘I Don’t Want To Go Downtown’ is another mournful blues; ‘455 Rocket’ a toe-tapping rockabilly car song with a great James Burton-style solo from Rawlings; ‘Dry Town’ a fabulous and witty original song in the style of Johnny Cash, chugalong country with Rawlings offering a spot-on Luther Perkins impression; ‘Riverboat Song’ an absolute gem, Just Backdated’s star choice from the new songs, a gorgeous melody with lyrics about a great old river that rolls along into the sea, lonely now that the river men and paddle steamers have gone, but still mighty, wide and liable to flood; and ‘Old Time Religion’, the traditional bible-thumping gospel sing-along that evokes the congregation at some little ol’ wooden shack of a church where its worshippers arrive in horse-drawn carriages.
In amongst these is that second, pedal-steel driven ‘Paper Wings’ and the disc concludes with the publishers’ demo of ‘Acony Bell’, Welch’s exquisite song about a wild flower, after ‘Orphan Girl’ my favourite track on Revival, and the song that gave its name to their personalised record label. All of which means that you’ll have to look very hard to find music as charming, eloquent and inspired as that on the second half of this second disc.

Gillian Welch's new look

Now all we need is a brand new record, not to mention a few overdue British dates.


ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME - 2017 Nominations

For anyone interested, a last minute change of heart caused me to vote for Joe Tex, the direct result of an intervention by a Just Backdated reader who recommended I acquaint myself with his work. So I bought a 3-CD Joe Tex Anthology which I've been enjoying immensely over the last few days and can recommend to anyone who enjoys great soul music. Joe pushed out The Zombies, described by an old friend of mine who lives in New York as 'wrinkled old tarts', which was perhaps a tad on the intemperate side but I know where she's coming from and it's not St Albans, just north of London, where the Zombies assembled way back when.
         So my final selection was Chic, Joe Tex, Kraftwerk, MC5 and Yes. Thanks to all who helped.