28.11.14

THANKSGIVING & ST PATRICK’S DAY IN NEW YORK


This weekend it is Thanksgiving in America. I never knew what to do with myself at this time of the year during my stay in New York. I felt like an orphan at Christmas, always at a bit of a loss, what with everyone being away from work, taking a long weekend vacation to be with their families, but the London office, where Thanksgiving was an alien concept, was expecting me to be toiling away as normal, so I usually went into hibernation with a good book, a pile of LPs and a bag of grass, and didn’t emerge for 48 hours.
          One thing I did like about Thanksgiving was that it wasn’t commercialised, nor had it been annexed by religion. It was a bigger deal than Christmas – the Americans didn’t have Boxing Day and went back to work on December 26 – but you couldn’t buy Thanksgiving cards and presents weren’t exchanged either. Thanksgiving, of course, originated when the first white settlers in the US marked a day to thank the Native Americans for the hospitality they showed on their arrival. Fat lot of good it did them.
I remember too that there was one other day of the year when I felt the need to maintain a very low profile, St Patrick’s Day, March 17, when all those New Yorkers with a grain of Irish blood in them took to the streets to watch the 5th Avenue parade and, emboldened by drink, recite slogans hostile to the British.
I knew all about the Troubles in Northern Ireland in those days, the mid-Seventies, the sectarian divide that existed between the majority, Catholic, pro-independence-from-Britain faction championed by the IRA, and the Protestant, pro-British lot who flew the Union Flag and loved our Queen, and although in a minority tended to be wealthier and in positions of power. Of course, I had a British perspective on the troubles gleaned from the Daily Telegraph, the only English newspaper I could find in NY apart from ghastly tabloids, and like all my fellow Brits despised the IRA in much the same way that Americans today despise Al Queda. The Telegraph, which I usually read a day late, considered them murdering bastards and I saw no reason to disagree.
But it was the IRA, and not the Unionists, who’d managed to secure some support for their cause in the US, and this was evident in the St Patrick’s Day Parade, so I stayed away for fear that if I opened my mouth my accent might betray me and I’d wind up bloodied in the gutter. I was also unsettled when I attended a concert by The Chieftains at Carnegie Hall, outside of which IRA supporters with collecting boxes sought donations ‘if you love the old country’. This would have been highly illegal in the UK where anti-IRA sentiment was running high and it was actually quite shocking to me to see open support for the IRA on the streets of New York. I had half a mind to tell those who put their dollars into the buckets that the money would be spent on explosives that would more than likely kill and maim innocent Irish people. But I didn’t, of course. I was too scared.
There was an Irish bar with shamrocks on its green awning a couple of blocks east from where I lived on the upper East Side, where a small glass of draught beer could be had for a quarter and out of curiosity I went in once, just to experience the ambience. It was dingy and no one spoke. There were no women present. Everyone smoked cigarettes. All eyes were either buried in copies of the downmarket tabloid New York Daily News or fixed on a TV screen high above the counter on which baseball games were in permanent rotation, and the commentary, which was delivered in a high pitched monotone, was the only sound in the place. “It’s the Cardinals four down in the eighth. Pitcher looking to third base. Homeplate… diamond… catcher…” I knew absolutely nothing about baseball so it was complete gibberish to me. It wasn’t even necessary to speak to the barman who filled up your empty glass when you nodded at him, and since everyone left their money on the bar in small, tidy piles, all he needed to do was silently extract a quarter for every refill. I came to realise that every fourth refill was free insofar as he didn’t collect a quarter after each third beer, but it wasn’t really free because unlike in the UK it was the custom in NY to tip the barman when you left, and the size of the tip was relative to the number of times he’d refilled your glass, approximately 25% of your spending, which worked out at a quarter for every four refills, including the free one. So instead of the fourth quarter going into the till it went into the barman’s pocket.
I didn’t look like the other men in this bar. I was much thinner with longer hair and my clothes were different. The men in this bar were all much bigger than me, fatter, and wore short-sleeved polyester shirts and they looked on me suspiciously, unfriendly. I decided that even though I maintained my silence, paid my quarters for my tasteless beer and feigned interest in the baseball game, I was somehow disturbing the environment simply because I didn’t fit, so I left and never went back.
In truth, I lived in a bubble in New York. I lived in the music industry and the outside world, ordinary New York, ordinary America, didn’t really touch me. I wasn’t part of it, which is why the Irish bar was so alien to me and why I was an alien to it. I took next to no interest in anything in America other than its music industry in which I had a total, absolute, 100% engagement. I only went sightseeing when I was entertaining guests from the UK, and I regret that now. I was very narrow-minded, just closed off to anything apart from the noise made by electric guitars and drums, and the people who played them and promoted this music. I guess it was a bit of a lost opportunity but I did take one holiday, to New Orleans, which I’ll write about tomorrow. 

27.11.14

ROCK STARS STOLE MY LIFE - By Mark Ellen


Adaptability – that’s key to a long and successful career as a music writer. Don’t get hung up on what is and isn’t fashionable, or this or that style of music, or office politics; never rule out anything, no matter how naff, and never be condescending towards a particular age-group’s fondness for music you wouldn’t play at home. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times and never, in any circumstances, allow your personal tastes to dictate career choices or the bigger picture. Finally, don’t take it too seriously. It’s only music.
         These are the lessons to be learned from Mark Ellen’s absorbing and at times hilarious memoir Rock Stars Stole My Life, a copy of which I picked up at the Louder Than Words festival in Manchester a couple of weeks ago which Mark kindly signed for me with a reference to the Weeley Festival in 1971 which he attended as a punter and I as MM’s reviewer. It was clocking such as me in the press area here and elsewhere that persuaded Mark the life of a rock writer was for him. Published in May, I’d been meaning to read Rock Stars… for a while after seeing some great reviews but somehow never got around to it. I suppose one of the reasons is that people keep telling me I ought to do something similar myself, but when I reached the end of Mark’s book I knew the bar for rock writers’ memoirs had now been raised to an absurd level.
         The book opens with his childhood in a leafy but desperately dull village in Hampshire; the youngest in a family of four with three older sisters, his father a classical music loving lay preacher who believes that rock’n’roll will damage the stylus of the family gramophone on which Mozart and Beethoven are in constant rotation. Bright and articulate, he heads for Oxford, all the while enamoured of rock and pop, thence to a squat in London via gigs here, there and everywhere.
          Wry is perhaps the best word to describe Mark’s version of events that took him from accepting a ‘difficult’ assignment to review Elvis Costello at the Nashville in 1977 for Record Mirror – his post-gig encounter with Costello’s famously cantankerous manager Jake Riviera would have put lesser mortals off rock writing for life – to becoming one of the UK’s best known and widely-read journalists. From Record Mirror he went to NME, then did a cultural U-turn to Smash Hits where he met his great friend and future ally David Hepworth with whom he went on to found Q and Mojo, before he and Hepworth became disillusioned with publishers EMAP and went out on their own with The Word, which lasted from 2003 to 2012. Along the way he also edited Select and became a Radio 1 DJ, and a presenter of the Old Grey Whistle Test and Live Aid, encountering in the process just about every rock star in the firmament, about whom the meat and potatoes of this book is pleasingly choc-a-block.
         Mark has a way of describing these encounters that is certainly mischievous, at least from a PR’s point of view, but only rarely malevolent, as in the case of a couple of old-school Radio 1 DJs, who certainly deserve his contempt, and Roy Harper and Jimmy Page, whose dubious behaviour at Ambleside in 1984 you need to read the book to find out about. Mark has a great deal of personal charm which enables him to ease in and out of awkward situations wherein a more tongue-tied, less adaptable, sort might find him or herself awash in humiliation. In this respect, and I hope he won’t mind me saying this, he is on the same wavelength as our last Prime Minister but one, with whom he played in a band at Oxford called Ugly Rumours and who, when he wasn’t convening a meeting with the ‘guys’, had a tendency to ape Mick Jagger on stage, ‘elbows flapping like a chicken’. 
         So off we go on Mark’s journey through the rock world, a hiccup here, a triumph there, a faux-pas or two and many memorable moments, not least the day he spent watching Bob Geldof and Midge Ure orchestrate the first Band Aid session. A bit later there’s a couple of wonderful chapters of detailed, fly-on-the-wall Live Aid coverage from the inside, not just enlightening but stirring too, as afterwards Mark ponders the significance of all this effort from the towpath of the Thames in Chiswick close to where he lives with his wife and two young children. His dad, a WW2 veteran who lost a leg in the conflict, approves of his son’s vocation at last, and there’s no question that this affirmation is as important to Mark as his role in Live Aid.
         There’s more than a subtle hint along the way that the music Mark really prefers veers towards the territory annexed by John Peel, about whom he writes fondly and eloquently, but he knows perfectly well that carrying a torch for Luke’s Lazy Lawnmowers, whose only single ‘I Wanna Be Your Cat’, a self-financed tribute to Iggy Pop that appeared on the Barrow-in-Furness indie label Jarrow Junk in 1982, isn’t going to help his career. (I made that up by the way, but you get the gist.) So although we get Mark’s frequent unflattering asides about those who became dinosaurs, he often swings around to loving them after all, even Rod Stewart, who won’t be interviewed unless Mark undergoes an obstacle course that amongst far worse trials involves sitting on a packing case alongside the fragrant Kelly Emberg, Rod’s current squeeze, while her beau entertains a relatively unresponsive Italian audience.
         When we get to Mojo, Mark’s interview with the unfussy Noel Gallagher chimes so symbiotically with the new magazine’s statement of purpose that he suddenly realises Mojo will crush all before it, as it deservedly does. Of all the encounters – and there’s many – this one I enjoyed the most, largely because of Gallagher’s refreshing honesty and unwillingness to be swayed by what is cool and what is not. Just like Mark.
         Finally, and shamefully, my sole criticism is that the book does not contain an index. Mark told me his publishers, Hodder, had told him it wasn’t needed but the reality is that Hodder probably didn’t want to spend the £400 or so fee that an indexer would charge for a book of this length. Cheapskates. All decent memoirs – and this is way more than decent – deserve an index and they know it. 

24.11.14

NODDY HOLDER ON THIS IS YOUR LIFE



In November 1996 I found myself at the old Granada TV Studios in Manchester for the recording of Noddy Holder’s This Is Your Life. Originally they’d asked me to emerge from behind the curtain to ‘surprise’ Nod but in the event my services weren’t required, though I was on stage throughout, sat to the side with all the other guests.
         I was going to say: “Remember The 13 Balkans Nod? And how the night ended?” He might have forgotten this story but the gist of it is that after a show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, we’d all gone back to our hotel, The 13 Balkans, from where – after we’d consumed far too much brandy – Nod and I ventured out on to the streets in search of the kind of fun and games that can be found in the red-light area of this magnificent city. We’d chanced our arm in a house of ill-repute, only to be shown the door for being too drunk, probably a good thing too.
         All this came to mind last week as I was deleting some old files from my computer and came across a letter I’d written to my now long-deceased father whom I knew to be a fan of This Is Your Life. I’d figured he’d be interested in how it all worked, and the day after I got back to London, I wrote to him as follows:

Dear Dad
         I’m back in London and I thought I’d write and tell you how This Is Your Life went. 
         We had a rehearsal in the afternoon with Michael Aspel going over the lines and a stand-in taking the part of Noddy Holder, the special guest. Actually there were stand-ins for some of the other guests too. Everybody was shown where they were to sit... indeed all the places had names on, but the names were taken off in the evening.
         When the rehearsal was over we were all herded into the green room, a sort of hospitality suite where there was complimentary wine and beer, together with sandwiches, and we had to wait quite a long time there before Noddy arrived at the TV studio. He’d been told he was appearing on another programme, a chat show, and not until he came through the doors and appeared on the set to be greeted by Aspel did he know he was on This Is Your Life. He looked very surprised indeed.
         At that point there was a ten-minute break for Noddy to realise what was going on, and then the show started again. I was on the set, to the right, in the second row, looking out on to the studio audience of about 400 people. Aspel read his lines from the big red book and the guests came through the big door, just as you see them on TV. The only difference was that every so often Aspel would fluff his lines and we had to go back and start again. Indeed, after it was all over we all had to go back to do a few bits again because his voice hadn’t come through clearly. At the end everybody stood up and approached the front of the stage, me included, smiling out at the studio audience. 
         After that we had a knees-up in the BBC dining room... again food and drinks provided free of charge. We also had an opportunity to watch the show they’d just made on a video screen, and you can see me from time to time even though I don’t actually say anything. After that we all went back to the hotel and continued drinking in the bar until heaven knows how late... I wasn’t exactly in the peak of physical condition this morning, but I’m back in shape now.
         I think they’re going to show it on the Friday before Christmas because it has a Christmassy theme. Slade’s biggest hit was ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, of course, and this was played several times during the show, and at the end when everybody joined in.


The other thing I remember – which I didn’t tell my dad – was that a table had been set up in the BBC dining room from which expenses would be paid, mostly for travel and ‘refreshments’, and we all queued to receive wads of cash from a BBC purser. All this money, oodles of it, was promptly spent by us all in the bar at the hotel. 

23.11.14

STEPHEN STILLS INTERVIEW - Part 2


Here’s the second part of my Steve Stills interview from 1976. 
The tracks on the Stills/Young album suggested they had been written while in Florida. “Yeah... Neil is a pretty immediate sort of a cat. My songs on that album were written somewhat before but Neil’s were mostly done there. My ‘water’ song, the one about diving (‘Black Coral’) was actually written after I’d gotten into some very deep diving. I have been down 288 feet.
“For Neil it was a departure from some of his darker moments, mainly because we had a great time and looked forward so much to going in the studio. I think it was very educational for me and him both because we picked up on what was right about the way we each recorded and also corrected some of the things we had been doing wrong.
“Neil had me going for the guitar parts at the same time as we recorded the backing track... the way we used to have to do it. We did that album live in the studio with very little overdubbing at all.”
When his throat healed, Young began rehearsing for another tour with Crazy Horse – scheduled to begin midway through November – and Stills found himself alone. It was the time, he decided, to try out a solo tour.
“I didn’t plan to do it this year. It was something that I kept saying I’d do later on, something I kept putting off because I thought I could always do at one stage. When Neil split – he’d been planning all along to do a tour with Crazy Horse later this year – I had to do something, so... well, it was right for my own acoustic thing.
“I did three shows, two in theatres and one at a college, and after the college show I thought... not quite. If they want to boogie I can’t stop them. So I’m getting a bass player and drummer for the bigger shows. They’ll only do five or six songs at the end so it’ll still be basically me.
“I’ve gotta walk out on the stage and get myself going all by myself. So long as I know what the first three songs are, I’m OK. After that... well, so long as I’ve made it that far the show will be all right. I don’t think I want a band, a big band any longer.”
Earlier this year Stills had agreed to do a European tour that would include a date at Cardiff Castle – a date that was advertised in the press but cancelled at relatively short notice. According to Stills, it was the opportunity to record with Young in Miami that caused the cancellation.
I told him he was advertised to play a big outdoor show in Cardiff. “That’s news to me,” he replied, seemingly ignorant of whatever was planned in England. “I know I have to go over there because that time, when I cancelled, it was really a little close to the recording date to cancel, but it wasn’t right at the last minute.
“But look... if Neil was ready to record, I had to go for it. Before we did that album he had a whole tour of the States planned with Crazy Horse and he ditched that. We just decided to go for it because we were excited about it... we all were excited about it... David and Graham, too.
“We’re all too sensible to give up thoughts of getting together again. We’re like brothers and we have tiffs. It’s always been like that with me and Graham and David and Neil. Sometimes we’ll get mad at one or the other and blah blah away, but six months later we’ll meet and... hey, you know, we’ll say ‘good to see you... what’s going on’... but that’s all ancient history.
“In any band, a lot of the internal bickering is directly proportional to the pressure. We never competed with each other as much as people thought. We used that energy in an entirely different way. What we wanted to do was please the others and many times when we failed, we’d fight. It wasn’t a rivalry so much as wanting to please each other, so everybody got super-critical of themselves.”
Stills admits that he is currently taking a look at his career and taking stock. “I’m not as good at being a star as I am at being a guitar player,” he said after some thought. “There are certain things about my career, my job if you like, that I don’t like at all. I recognise the other part of this job, the part that isn’t the music, and some of it is a little distasteful to me. Some people can pull that off perfectly, but I... well, I don’t look on myself as that sort of person.
“I just... I wanna play my axe for people and that’s it. That’s the bottom line, appearing in front of people, doing your job like that, which is what I’m doing on this tour.”
Last year Stills moved from Atlantic Records to CBS, a surprising move considering his long relationship with Ahmet Ertegun’s legendary record label and what he describes as a deep personal friendship with Ertegun.
“With Atlantic it was always... when are you going to do another CSN&Y album? Columbia has me as a solo act so there’s a little different attitude in the company. They let me record with Neil... they said ‘fine’.
“You can’t deny a great record,” he went on, raising criticism of his albums without being prompted. “If the public like a record they’ll buy it no matter what the critics say. A critic can cause trouble because if distributors read a review that’s bad they won’t pick it up. Maybe distributors will order one hundred thousand instead of two or whatever, but what happens is that those are sold in a week and they have to re-order. That happens to me every time.”
The interview concluded, I motioned towards a Martin guitar on the bed and asked Stephen to show me how he played ‘4 + 20’. He picked it up and retuned it – took him about ten seconds flat – and picked out the intro. He’d lowered all the strings bar the A and D, the bottom E to D but I wasn’t sure of the rest. Either way, the guitar was now in a D tuning and it sounded wonderful, ringing out as clear as day in his room. Steve didn’t sing for me, just finger-picked the accompaniment exactly as it is on Déjà VuIt was at moments like this that I realised I really did have the best job in the world.

22.11.14

STEPHEN STILLS INTERVIEW - November, 1976, Part 1


The only member of CSN&Y that I interviewed at length during my MM years was Steve Stills who always called me ‘English’, the name he coined for me when I saw the whole group in Denver in 1974. Two and a half years later he remembered me and was still calling me ‘English’. He was very friendly, which always augurs well for a decent interview, and he spoke candidly about the undulating relationships between CSN&Y. This interview took place in his room at the Carlyle, a lovely old (by US standards) hotel on Madison Avenue where he was staying, and which was only a few minutes stroll from my flat on 78th Street between Park and Madison. It is in two parts, second half tomorrow. 


“Do you have a brother? If you had, you’d know there’d be a sibling rivalry in the family between two brothers. You’d row about it, but because you’re a family you’d stick together... and maybe six months would pass, but you’d be back again, wouldn’t you? You can’t cut off a brother.”
Stephen Stills was using the metaphor to explain how things stand with relationships between himself, Neil Young, David Crosby and Graham Nash, and he’s being very sincere.
The point he is making is that no matter how many harsh words are spoken, no matter how much dirty laundry is washed in public and no matter how many reports of irredeemable splits appear in newspapers, they will always be together in some form or another. Tempers may fly, he says, but far too much water has flowed under the bridge for them ever to cast each other off completely.
Right now Stephen Stills has no partners to change. He’s touring the US completely solo, just him, six guitars, a banjo and a piano plus his voice. Like the characters in the famous Edward Hopper painting, he’s a nighthawk, and he checks into a hotel for the day, closes the curtains and sleeps away the daylight hours. Strangely for such an accomplished musician, it’s the first time he’s toured solo.
“I’ve always known that I’ve been capable of it, but I’ve never done it before. Right at the moment I’m between bands and it seemed like the thing to do. I think, though, that I’m gonna get a bass player and drummer to come along with me, too. We’re doing a lot of colleges, so I’ll need them. In theatres I can carry this very, very easily, but in basketball joints the kids... well, for the kids it’s football season, homecoming... they want to get up, you know. I can do it, but let’s say I’m indulging myself.
“The whole set is with acoustic guitars and piano, so I’m thinking in these bigger places... hell, where’s my electric guitar? I’m just playing whatever appeals to me... I start with three songs and go from there, whatever I want. I dunno what audiences think... sometimes they’re drunked up and want some rock and roll, but I’m making sure the promoters let the audiences know that it’s just me.”
The accent, then, is on the guitar playing? “Well, I worked so much live last year that I actually started to get pretty good at playing the guitar. I like to play guitar, like lead guitar for a change and I began playing things that were way over my head. On acoustic guitar, well that’s one thing, but on electric guitar there are a whole lot of players who are better than me. I think I play real good rhythm, and I fingerpick good.
“I just get out there with six guitars, a banjo and a dobro, plus a 12-string and maybe one little electric guitar for the last number. I even have my music book with me at the piano in case I forget the words or something. Hell... I’m not proud.”
The last time Stills toured the US was this summer, but the tour, with Neil Young, was soon aborted, apparently because Young’s voice was giving trouble. As ever, though, there were reports of arguments between the two principals. Stills nods grimly.
“He got to oversinging a little bit and maybe there was too much pressure. It was all so sudden that I don’t know, but whatever happened was cool. Neil stopped the tour very suddenly, just cold like that, but up until then it had been going great.
“He got me in the dressing room before a gig and said... ‘All right man, you’re holding back. I wanna see you get out there and hit it more’... so I did so. Jesus... nobody on the road in the country was doing better business except Elton and Aerosmith, but who are Aerosmith? I haven’t even heard their records. I must be getting old but these groups come and go every day.”
The Young/Stills tour followed recording sessions in Miami that resulted in the Stills-Young Band’s Long May You Run album released just two months ago. Stills denies the stories that it was originally intended as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album.
“No… that was wrong. It started out to be just the two of us, but during the sessions Neil had to go to Japan. On the way back from Japan he stopped in California and began hanging out with David and Graham. Then he suggested that all four of us make an album together, but that wasn’t right because by that time we’d got all the tracks and half the singing done already.
“Listen... David and Graham came down to Miami but they had an album of their own to do, so they had to go back to California. I thought... wait a minute, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to do a CSN&Y album again, then let’s do it properly. You guys go finish your own album and Neil and me will do this and, when all this is finished, then we’ll get together again. If we were going to do one together, we’d start together at the beginning and not half way through.
“Hell, there was all that talk about Graham and me fighting but that’s no big deal. Neil went off into seclusion, but that’s no big deal either. He just gets that way. I was on the ‘phone with Graham last night and he asked me whether I’d seen some of the things he said about me. I said I had and that I thought it was some of the funniest stuff ever written. There was something about Graham wanting to punch me in the nose, but that’s so ridiculous. It’s all so petty, but the important thing is that they (Crosby and Nash) had a very successful tour and an album that was great. I saw them in LA and they were just fantastic. I went out and did a song with them at the end and it was all just really nice.”

21.11.14

STEPHEN STILLS - New York, 1974

 

With Crosby, Nash & Young having emerged from my archives over the past two days, it seems only right and proper to give Stephen Stills a shot. Here’s my review of his concert at the Carnegie Hall in February, 1974.

There’s really no substitute for experience in rock music and there are few musicians around with as much experience as Steve Stills who brought a new band to Carnegie Hall for two concerts.
         Manassas, it seems, has been temporarily abandoned in favour of an outfit which shows off Stills’ talents as a definite front man. He’s the lead guitarist, lead singer, writer and midway through the shows he appears solo for half a dozen songs which, for me, was the highlight of the two hour set.
         In the new group are Kenny Pasarelli (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums), Don Decus (guitar), Joe Lala (keyboards) and Jerry Aiello (keyboards). Pasarelli was a member of Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm band until quite recently, and Lala has appeared with Stills in various combinations of musical outlets several times before.
         During the show Stills played a series of different guitars – six I think – and methodically went through his musical history while introducing about four new songs. Gone, it seems are the days when his excesses caught up with him on stage: at Carnegie Hall he was a straightforward musician playing and leading with an authority which rubbed off on to the sell-out crowd, from the opening song ‘Love The One You’re With’.
         During the first electric session, the organ failed, which visibly annoyed Stills, though I’m willing to bet that half the audience were unaware of the problem. He mixed oldies like ‘Pretty Girl Why’ with new songs, the most impressive of which was ‘My Favourite Changes’ – a great descending chord sequence.
         Four different acoustic guitars and a banjo were placed around a chair during a short interval before Stills reappeared solo, and it was the following half hour that showed what a great talent he is. Though his voice sounded a little croaky, his guitar style – so deceptively simple but hugely effective – was a joy to hear. He gave us ‘Change Partners’, ‘Crossroads’, ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’, ‘4 + 20’ and a new song by Neil Young which promises to be in the same class as ‘4 + 20’.
         It’s not until Stills actually performs on his own like this that you understand how skilled he really is. He’s casual in the extreme, lighting cigarettes during numbers and just tapping his foot to retain the time signature, and he creates an aura of respectful silence all along. He is undoubtedly one of the best guitar players rock has produced, equally at home on either the acoustic or electric instrument.
         The mood he established was marred only by the inevitable yelling for requests between songs. But Stills gritted his teeth and played what he wanted to play.
         The set concluded with another electric session which included ‘Bluebird’ from his Buffalo Springfield days, a spontaneous drum solo and a rock and roll jam to finish. The new group were tight and musical and all that Stills could hope for in a backing band, even though there were times when they looked a little frightened of their leader.

20.11.14

CROSBY & NASH – Central Park, New York, September 1976



I saw quite a lot of CSN&Y during my spell in America, either collectively, in various combinations or as individuals. Here’s a review of a David Crosby and Graham Nash show at the Wolman Ice Skating Rink in Central Park from September 1976. This was a summer only venue that presented dozens of shows from, I think, June to September, and sponsored by Schaefer Beer. I saw loads of shows there in 74, 75 and 76, Springsteen among them. Here’s my report of the C&N show.  

Neil Young and Steve Stills may have blown out their tour in a flurry of sore throats and, reportedly, short tempers, but the "other half" of CSN&Y, David Crosby and Graham Nash, continue to play, live and sing together in agreeable harmony.
          The Crosby-Nash band played the first of three concerts in New York’s Central Park on Wednesday evening and offered two and a half hours of excellent music, ranging through early CSN&Y material, jointly written songs, and solo work. Much of their success could be put down to the excellent accompaniment – Danny Kortchmar (guitar), David Lindley (violin), Russ Kunkel (drums), Craig Doerge (keyboards) and Tim Drummond (bass) – but it was the personalities of the two principals that held the show together.
          David Crosby, a trifle paunchy these days, is a homely Uncle Harmony with his walrus moustache and cheery grin, while Graham Nash, beardless for once, still retains a naive enthusiasm and obvious admiration for the musicians who surround him. He looks healthier, too, his spare frame having filled out some since the CSN&Y tour of 1974.
          The concert lasted two and a half hours, opening with an electric set before an acoustic interlude and rocking out again at the end. Kortchmar’s playing throughout came a close second to the harmony singing, though the highlight of the show was Nash’s ‘Wind On The Water’, closely followed by a spacy ‘Déjà Vu’, and the two encores, ‘Chicago’ and ‘Teach Your Children’.
          Both Crosby and Nash have allied themselves with underwater photographer and ocean wildlife campaigner Jacques Cousteau in an attempt to save whales, dolphins and other species of sea-dwellers from extinction. ‘Wind On The Water’ echoes these sentiments, and during the song a film by Cousteau was projected onto a giant screen at the left of the stage; a particularly effective setting amids the greenery of the park.
          Crosby offered a brand new song, ‘King Of The Mountain’, during the acoustic set, which compared to the spicier electric songs was rather dull, and Nash, ever-cheerful and lively, seemed more at home with older pieces like ‘Our House’ and ‘Marguarita’. During Crosby’s ‘Guinevere’ the awed appreciation of the crowd was almost frightening.
          A lengthy, free-form introduction heralded ‘Déjà Vu’, which afforded Kortchmar ample opportunity to shine, while Crosby followed with ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, never one of his best songs in my view. He made up for its melodic shortcomings by shouting the lyrics into the microphone so loud they could be heard in New Jersey. The message was all that mattered.
          Nash encouraged all to join in on the choruses of the two encores and, unlike on Four Way Street, the audience did just that. Lindley’s violin has taken over from the slide guitar on ‘Teach Your Children’, but the song has aged well and, because of its simplicity, makes an ideal closer. A third encore was demanded but the audience were told to go home because of the strict regulations concerning shows in the park. No-one would have complained if they’d played for another hour.

19.11.14

NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE – Palladium Theater, New York, 1976

Here’s one from the archives, from Melody Maker, November 1976. If I remember rightly this was the show when Young appeared in front of what appeared to be gigantic speaker cabinets, like the photo below which I found on the internet. This was the first time I had ever heard ‘Like A Hurricane’, one of Young’s all-time greatest songs, during which wind machines blew a gale across the stage. It was one of the great concerts, which I still remember from my last full year on MM, though I seem to have been a bit uncharitable about Crazy Horse.


Only an artist with the charisma and talent of Nell Young could perform with a lacklustre band like the current Crazy Horse and still come through with his head held high. Perhaps I’m being uncharitable to Young’s most faithful musical allies, but the simple truth is that Young himself is so damn good he totally obliterates anyone else on stage with him.
         At the first of four sold-out concerts at the Palladium Theatre on Thursday evening, Young dominated to such an extent that Crazy Horse – Frank Sampedro (guitar), Billy Talbot (bass), and Ralph Molina (drums) – seemed in awe of their leader, and were straining to keep up with his energy.
         The show was divided into two halves, acoustic and electric, and the atmosphere was extremely casual. I’m told that on the current tour Young changes his repertoire almost every night, often including brand new songs that are sometimes written hours before each concert, or simply throwing in anything he likes from his vast recorded catalogue.
         Either way, Thursday night’s show offered eight songs in the first half and ten in the second, and, because many of the acoustic numbers were drastically abbreviated, it seemed short by most standards.
         In the opening half-hour he was greatly nonchalant. He strolled on from stage right in a shabby leather jacket, check shirt and denims, loping around and squinting through his hair. The first song was new – I think it was called ‘Laughing Lady’ – and it set a tone of simplicity that lasted until the electric set.
         Playing rudimentary guitar, always in the key of G, or vamping at the piano, Young delivered throwaway versions of ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘After The Goldrush’, ‘Too Far Gone’ (a new song about a bar in North Carolina), ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’, ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ and ‘Sugar Mountain’. Each song either faded out or came to a sticky, informal conclusion, Young grinning away and trading quips with the noisy audience.
         To be perfectly honest, he reminded me vaguely of Loudon Wainwright as he strained to hit high notes and jigged from one leg to the other in a rather comical fashion. That it was spontaneous was obvious; of the five guitars surrounding him only three were used, a twelve-string and a banjo remaining untouched.
         He encouraged the audience without success to sing along to ‘Sugar Mountain’, and, obviously disappointed with the response, he quit the stage with a remark about hoping his electric set would be better received.
         It was. From the opening notes of ‘Are You Ready For The Country’ there was magic in the air and, although the band were hard-pressed to keep pace, Young was on fire for the next 60 minutes. It was his guitar work rather than his vocals that shone; he pumped out effortless solos, making the best possible use of open string harmonics, maximum reverb and occasional feedback.
         Most of the electric material was either new or from Zuma. The highlight was a new song called ‘Like A Hurricane’ which combined a strong melody line with an ascending chord sequence that reached climax after climax. While it was played, a wind machine at stage right blew across the musicians, creating an eerie, outdoor effect that harmonised perfectly with the music.
         Elsewhere we had ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’, both powerfully rendered despite the sluggishness of the rhythm section, and ‘Helpless’, the only let-up from the constant rock and roll barrage, which featured Young at the piano. On the other songs he alternated between a black Les Paul for the piercing lead work and a huge Gretsch White Falcon for the mellower tones.
         The encore was ‘Cortez The Killer’, which featured a lengthy solo introduction from Young, strings ringing out like cathedral bells in the night. He left the stage without a second glance at the end.
         It was a wonderful evening, though one can’t help wondering how much better it could have been had Young been challenged by his accompanists. Still, even though the rest of his sometime musical colleagues (Stills or Crosby & Nash) surround themselves with the finest session talent available, Young’s choice of a simpler, more direct approach constantly produces better music. A live album is badly needed.

18.11.14

GOLDHAWK ROAD SOCIAL CLUB - The Who Nursery


Unable to be in two places at once and Star Trek style beaming not yet a practical option, on Sunday morning I missed the unveiling of a blue plaque outside the Goldhawk Social Club in Shepherds Bush to mark the place where The Who played so many gigs before their career hit serious lift off. I was in Manchester, of course, but from 1980 to 1993 I lived just around the corner from the Goldhawk, in nearby Nasmyth Street, and well remember Irish Jack taking me there one night. We sat sipping our pints in the back room where The Detours/Who/High Numbers would have played, and I was spellbound as he told me stories of those days. Later I commissioned Jack to write a piece about The Who’s last night at the Goldhawk for inclusion in the 30 Years Of Maximum R&B box set booklet, but it was deemed unsuitable; a bit too violent as by all accounts the night ended in a ruck and Roger was escorted from the premises by a local criminal with a sawn-off shotgun. (You can read the piece on Jack’s own website I think.)
              From 1994 to 2006 the growing Charlesworth family lived at two other local addresses just north of Goldhawk Road, in Olgar Close and later Wormholt Road, and each morning Lisa or I would drive our kids Olivia and Sam to school at Flora Gardens Primary near the southern tip of Ravenscourt Park. Our journey took us down Percy Road, past where Roger lived as a boy, and, after the roundabout by Seven Stars corner at the bottom of Askew Road, past the Sulgrave Road Boys Club which still appeared to be a going concern. Sulgrave Road is actually in another part of the Bush, which always puzzled me, but it was here that Roger first assembled a gang of lads that, with astute personnel changes along the way, eventually became The Who. I would explain this to Olivia and Sam as we drove by but they weren't remotely interested, of course, though I suspect they might be now. 
              It always seemed to me that there was an element of symbiosis in the fact that I washed up there in the eighties through to 2006, right slap bang in the middle of a Who triangle, after all those years of writing about them so much on MM and seeing so many fabulous concerts. It wasn’t intentional. The simple fact is that when I got back from the US towards the end of 1978 I crashed out on the floor of a friend of mine who happened to live in Dalling Road for a few weeks until I could find a place of my own, and being as how I was getting to know and like the neighbourhood, I opted for the basement/garden flat around the corner in Nasmyth Street, somehow cobbling together a deposit on its £18,000 price tag; last time it was on sale the price was £350k!
              Well, I regret not there being on Sunday to be a part of this ceremony at the Goldhawk. It was all arranged by Gary and Melissa Hurley, a couple of Who fans of long-standing distinction who also arranged for the blue plaque in Wardour Street to mark the fact that Keith Moon – 'Drummer with The Who' – played there, an event I did attend and about which I've written elsewhere on Just Backdated. I checked out the pictures on Melissa’s FB page and was pleased to note that long-serving Who manager Bill Curbishley was there, giving a warm speech to mark the occasion, as well as my old mates Dougal Butler, Richard ‘Barney’ Barnes and Andy Neill. At the time I was strolling around Manchester, taking a break from Louder Than Words, and I even took a ride in the big wheel in Piccadilly Square, probably at the exact same moment the plaque was being unveiled. Sorry I could make it G&M, but I was there in spirit.
              Long live The Who!

17.11.14

GUY GARVEY & MORE - At Louder Than Words



I am happy to confirm the widely held perception that Guy Garvey, the singer from Elbow, is a thoroughly decent, down-to-earth chap. He and Jah Wobble were the stars of the two separate and concluding sessions yesterday at Louder Than Words and I was torn between them and a third that featured Spencer Leigh, the Liverpool writer and DJ, talking about The Beatles.
              The affable Mr Garvey was on a panel discussing lyric writing but he also mentioned how his group got their name. Having tired of being called Mr Soft, Guy asked his four colleagues to come up with a new name and bring their ideas to a meeting in a week’s time. On the appointed day he was the only one who’d taken the trouble to think up a name, Elbow or Elbo, which none of his colleagues much liked but being as how no one else had even bothered to come up with an alternative they stuck with it, following a heated discussion on whether or not to add the final ‘w’.
              Meanwhile Spencer Leigh was telling us all about the mysterious Raymond Jones, the teenager who in November 1961 became the first person in the UK ever to buy, or at least order, a Beatles record, from NEMS, the shop ran by their future manager Brian Epstein. There has been much speculation as to whether Raymond actually existed or was dreamt up by Epstein as a bit of a PR exercise to explain away how he cottoned on to the existence of The Beatles in the first place. He did, after all, contribute bland record reviews for Bill Harry’s Merseybeat magazine which featured The Beatles in just about every issue and which was sold in his store, so he’d have to have been a bit slow on the uptake not to know they existed by late ’61. But it turns out our Raymond really does exist, and that he did go into the store and try to buy ‘My Bonnie’ which was duly ordered for him by Brian. The mysterious Raymond lives in Spain nowadays, by the way.
              Louder Than Words drew to a close around 6 o’clock yesterday evening, and a fine time was had by all, especially my pal Slade drummer Don Powell who was promoting his book Look Wot I Dun during one session. Don enjoyed himself so much he stayed for the whole weekend.