31.7.15

THE BEATLES – Looking Through You



About a year ago Tom Adams came to see me with a proposition for Omnibus Press. He was, he said, the son-in-law of Sean O’Mahony, the now retired publisher of The Beatles Book Monthly, who during the sixties had amassed a gigantic collection of photographs of The Beatles to which he owned the copyright. Many of these had appeared in the magazine but many hadn’t. Was I interested in looking through the collection and maybe publishing a book of them?
         Well, this was a no-brainer as they say these days. Yes, I said. So Tom sent me lo-res scans of 745 photographs of the Fabs taken between 1963 and 1968, divided into 34 sessions at which the BBM’s photographer Leslie Bryce had been on hand with his camera. This was actually the tip of the iceberg, as Tom thought there were over 5,000 in Sean’s possession, many of them never even printed up.
         In Beatles terms this treasure trove was the equivalent of the National Gallery finding a bunch of long lost pictures in the attic of a house once occupied by Picasso, so I decided to seek the opinion of experts. Enter writer and Beatles connoisseur Andy Neill who amongst other things works as a researcher for Mark Lewisohn, now widely recognised as the world’s foremost authority on The Beatles. It wasn’t long before Mark came on board too, so enthused was he with the collection, and between them they chose what they regarded as the best shots, almost 400 in all, from the archive. Their criterion was a combination of rarity value, image quality and whether or not a picture was ‘interesting’ insofar as it had a story behind it.
         Fortunately, every photograph in the archive was accurately dated so with prior knowledge gained through his life-long research into anything and everything that John, Paul, George & Ringo got up to during the sixties, Andy was able to write precise and informative captions to every photograph. He also wrote a lengthy introduction that tells the full story of The Beatles Book Monthly, while Tom’s wife Jo added a Foreword about how her father’s foresight in recognising the merits of The Beatles early on led to the launch of the magazine in the first place and, by extension, the existence of this important archive. We even found a letter from Brian Epstein to Jo’s father confirming the co-operation of The Beatles in exchange for one third of the magazine’s profits.
         So it is that almost a year later Omnibus Press is on the brink of publishing Looking Through You: Rare & Unseen Photographs From The Beatles Book Archive as a cased and numbered limited edition of 3,000, designed by Lora Findlay with text by Andy with a little help from Mark, the project overseen by yours truly. Also in the package is a replica of a rare Beatles artefact associated with the magazine: the 1964 Beatles Book calendar, containing a further 12 photographs from the Beatles Monthly archive, not to mention the rather quaint horoscopes for each month of the year.
         Leslie Bryce photographed The Beatles on tour, in transit, in their dressing rooms and on stages in the UK and elsewhere; at Abbey Road while they were recording tracks from Beatles For Sale through to the White Album; on the sets of their films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!; in Brian Epstein’s NEMS offices in London; and, barring Paul, in their own homes. There’s a wonderful shot of JPG&R in the sea off Miami Beach where a trio of girls in sixties swimwear are rushing through the waves towards them; shots of Paul attending to Dusty Springfield’s elaborate beehive hair-do backstage on Thank Your Lucky Stars; and, perhaps best of all, George playing bass on an early take of ‘Paperback Writer’ at Abbey Road, not to mention separate shots of both John and Paul playing Ringo’s drums.
         Very few photographers had such unlimited access to the group as Bryce and though it’s almost impossible to claim that every picture in this book hasn’t been seen before, it’s true to say a good number are published here for the first time or have never been displayed in their full glory as they are in Looking Through You. In order to accommodate its A5 dimensions, many of the pictures that appeared in the magazine in the sixties were severely cropped.
         Most of the photographs in the book are from the period between 1964 and 1967, what I would term the classic Beatles era, when they were recording Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Pepper and the touring was coming to an end. After that the group, especially John and George, was less inclined to be ‘fab’ and therefore less willing to pose for Bryce. The first spread comes from the Winter Gardens, Margate, where The Beatles played for a week between July 8-13, 1963, and the final one from Abbey Road, a series of shots taken on June 4, 1968, when they were recording ‘Revolution’ for the White Album.
         “We think there’s more to this collection than just unseen images,” writes Jo Adams in her Foreword. “These photographs are of great historical importance and this book provides not just an opportunity to showcase these marvellous images of The Beatles but to demonstrate that my father and The Beatles Book were a vital part of their story too.”
        
Here are a few photographs from the book, together with abridged versions of Andy’s captions. 

MARGATE, JULY 8–13, 1963
The Beatles kill time between performances gazing at their reflections for a Leslie Bryce-arranged pose.

SCALA THEATRE, LONDON, MARCH 1964
Shooting the climactic television concert sequence for A Hard Day’s Night which included ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘If I Fell’, ‘I Should Have Known Better’ (featuring John on harmonica), ‘You Can’t Do That’ (which was cut from the finished film) and ‘She Loves You’. 

ABC TV STUDIOS, TEDDINGTON, JULY 11, 1964
Paul attends to Dusty Springfield’s elaborate hair-do backstage at top-rated Saturday teatime variety show Thank Your Lucky Stars. 

ODEON THEATRE, HAMMERSMITH, LONDON, DECEMBER 21, 1964
George checks his equipment on the first day of rehearsals for the seasonal run which opened on December 25 and ran until January 16, 1965.

EMI STUDIOS, LONDON, FEBRUARY 19, 1965
Ringo masters a ‘C Major’ chord on George’s Spanish guitar during the recording of ‘You’re Going To Lose That Girl’, which was completed in a single afternoon session with just two takes and overdubs. 

EMI STUDIOS, LONDON, APRIL 14, 1966
One of the guitars John used on the ‘Paperback Writer’ session was this orange Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Nashville model which he generously gave to his cousin David Birch the following year. The guitar, which came up for auction in 2014 but failed to reach its reserve price, was subsequently sold privately for $530,000.

CIRCUS-KRONE-BAU, MUNICH, GERMANY, JUNE 24, 1966
With only the briefest of rehearsals in their hotel suite, it was painfully obvious to those who cared to listen that The Beatles were out-of-shape as a live band for their final world tour, evidenced by lacklustre playing, forgotten lyrics and often out-of-tune performances. Much to George’s amusement, John reminds a forgetful Paul of the opening lyric to ‘I’m Down’ at the finale of the evening Munich show. 

EMI STUDIOS, ABBEY ROAD, LONDON, NOVEMBER 3, 1965
A panoramic view of The Beatles at work in Studio 2 during the recording of ‘Michelle’ for Rubber Soul

29.7.15

MOJO WHO FEATURE – What’s Going On?


Visitors to Just Backdated are probably the sort of people who read Mojo, the UK’s best monthly rock magazine for the mature fan in what is now a far from crowded market. And it might be that a few of you have noticed that I’d written a letter to their ‘Theories Rants Etc’ column that appears on page 10 of the current (September!) issue with Keith Richards on the cover. Leaving aside for a moment the question of why the September issue should be published in July, I need to make it clear that the second half of my letter, as published, was not written by me.
         

To backtrack, the August issue above (published in June!) contained an interview with Pete Townshend surrounded by a long feature on The Who entitled ‘The 50 Greatest Who Songs’, all of them listed in order of merit, chosen – presumably – by the magazine’s learned staff. ‘Baba O’Riley’ was at number one, followed by ‘My Generation’, then ‘Fooled Again’ etc, each song accompanied by a few paragraphs by one of their regular writers. I think I’d have placed ‘See For Miles’ a bit higher up the list but that aside the 50 songs were pretty much what you would expect them to be.
         Where I took issue was with a sidebar entitled ‘The Five Most, Er, Unique Who Songs*’ which lists ‘A Man In A Purple Dress’, ‘Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand’ (not that unusual really and ought to have been in the top 50 in my opinion), ‘However Much I Booze’ (ditto), ‘Waspman’ and ‘Chache Cache’. What struck me as extraordinary was that no one on Mojo had thought to include the lovely ‘Blue Red And Grey’ in this list.
         My letter to them read as follows: “Shame on you for not including ‘Blue Red And Grey’ from The Who By Numbers on your list of ‘unique’ Who songs. To quote myself in my book on their music: ‘In which Pete, accompanying himself on ukulele and unsupported by the rest of the band, declaims the millionaire lifestyle in favour of the virtues of a simple life. An uncomplicated melody, performed with the kind of tongue-in-cheek sincerity that Pete had previously demonstrated on his first solo album Who Came First. The silver band adds to the sense of poignancy. Utterly charming.’”
         For reasons which I have yet to establish, what I had written was followed immediately, not even in a new paragraph, by 13 lines about Fleetwood Mac which must have been written by someone else. In them the writer extols the virtues of the three albums that F Mac released immediately prior to Buckingham and Nicks joining the group, a period of their history that is certainly overlooked these days but about which I have little knowledge or opinion.
         The editor of Mojo, my friend Phil Alexander, has thus far ignored my letter of protest about what is obviously an editorial glitch. In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye: “What’s going on?”



* A pedant writes: “You cannot have ‘most unique’. Unique is unqualifiable. Something is either unique or it is not, which makes the title of this sidebar grammatically flawed.”

27.7.15

SLY STONE – June 1974 Interview


Elsewhere on Just Backdated I describe two interviews as the worst I ever did in my life, the first with Neil Diamond and the second with Sly Stone. Both were painful encounters and I wrote them up from memory. Now it seems my memory played tricks with me, as the Sly Stone interview appeared last week on the website Rock’s Back Pages, and it doesn’t seem as bad as I thought. Neither do I mentioned that midway through Sly and his fiancée Kathy Silva decamped to the bedroom to do whatever it is that men and women do in bedrooms, and I’m sure that happened. Here’s the interview, as published in Melody Maker, after this shot of Sly marrying Kathy on stage at Madison Square Garden on June 5, a few days after I interviewed him.



He extended a hand but looked elsewhere. Who could tell where his eyes focused beneath those silver shades? He gripped and I felt pain through the middle finger on my right hand. He grinned and disappeared.
         About half an hour later I found out what had caused the pain. On his two little fingers were a couple of matching rings. Spelled out in diamonds were the words “SLY” (right hand) and “STONE” (left hand).
         Meeting Sly is like coming face to face with an ugly cop. He isn’t social. He isn’t friendly. He resents intrusions on his privacy. He doesn’t like to talk. He’s a star and he acts like a star ought. Moody, mean and magnificent.
         How many interviews begin with a little prose about how the interviewee is just like an ordinary guy in the street? Too many. That’s not for Sly Stone. He isn’t like an ordinary guy in the street.
         He’s Super-Black, riding on a wave of hero worship among his people, rather like Miles Davis.
         Sly Stone rarely gives interviews and when he does the answers are monosyllabic apologies for replies.They pierce and challenge the writer to fumble with his next attempt until Sly is in complete control of the situation (and able to bring the exercise to a speedy conclusion).
         Last Wednesday was Sly Stone day. Our appointment was scheduled for 3.30 in the afternoon but when I arrived at his manager’s office at the southern end of Central Park West, it turned out that Sly had disappeared to see a doctor for a blood test required because of his forthcoming marriage.
         It was re-scheduled for five o’clock and in the meantime his new album, tentatively titled Small Talk, was played.
         It was only a rough mix, but again, it’s a departure from previous Sly material. All but the two opening songs on the first side are recorded with a violin and many of them are slow, almost waltz-time, pieces. But despite this there’s still that pounding bass guitar that has distinguished the Stone catalogue from the early days.
         It was six o’clock when the man arrived, preceded by a white personal assistant. He breezed through the office and disappeared almost immediately, allowing just a glimpse of a white leather suit with red trimmings and a bare, black chest.
         Another ten minutes and he re-appeared, taking us through to an apartment adjoining his management offices. This was where he lived, and it was tiny by rock-star standards.
         I offered him a copy of Melody Maker, pointing out that it contained an article on him (the recent rock giant story by colleague Steve Lake) and he retired to his toilet to read the story. He was gone for another ten minutes. While waiting, I caught sight of Sly’s beautiful fiancée, Kathy Silva. She’s the mother of Sly Stone Jnr and she will marry her beau on stage at Madison Square Garden during a Sly concert next month. That’s the way REAL stars ought to get married.
         Sly re-emerged to the sound of plumbing and sat on a couch, still reading the Melody Maker.
         An opening inquiry about the heavy use of violins on his new album: “It’s different. It’s unusual. That’s probably why I did it. The strings were around so I used them.”
         Have you been wanting to do this for a long time: “Probably. I don’t need to think about it at all to get it together.”
         You seem to be forever changing: “Time changes me, man.”
         Will you be introducing the strings on stage: “I gotta violin player in the group now. His name’s Sidney. He’s from Sausalito and I’ve known him just long enough for him to get into the group.”
         Did you arrange the strings yourself: “Part of them”
         There’s a lot of slower material on the album. Are you cutting down on the frantic Sly Stone material: “There’s a lot of songs so I introduced slow songs also. There’re 11 songs. I didn’t count which were slow.”
         How big is your group at present: “Nine people.”
         Tell me something about the bass player: “That’s me. I play bass on all my records. I play most everything on all my records. I just overdub everything.”
         Wouldn’t the group ever like to be on the record with you: “Sometimes they’re on the record also, but they feel good about it. They like it this way and they’re pretty honest about what they like. I’ve recorded like this ever since the Stand album, ever since ‘Dance To The Music’, I guess.”
         Have you ever felt like playing bass on stage: “Sometimes I do.”
         Kathy, Sly’s fiancée, chipped in here: “It’s in his heart. He plays it so good that he’s like to play everything on stage if he only could. He’s only one man but he has a million thoughts.”
         Do you get bored with always playing the very familiar material like ‘Dance’ and ‘Higher’: “No. They like it and they keep on liking it and you gotta keep telling people you like it, too. I love every period of my career.”
         Where do you write: “My songs come from environments. I just go about my day and as things come to me, I write them down. I write on the toilet ‘cos no one bothers me there.”
         Are you trying to change your image by getting married and releasing slower material. Is the image mellowing these days: “I’m not trying to. Vibes just leave me. I’m still as crazy as I always was, if crazy is the right word.”
         Will you actually turn up for shows: “I won’t ever be predictable.”
         Your performance in the Woodstock film helped you enormously in England: “Sure. I enjoyed playing there. All my gigs are good.”
         And other highlights you remember: “Yeah, but you wouldn’t know about them.”
         I’d be in the wrong country, huh: “It’s not the country you’re in, it’s the skin you’re in. And it’s not the colour at that. I enjoy myself best on the toilet and I wouldn’t invite you there.”
         The last remark brought the interview to an inevitable conclusion. Sly’s assistant showed me to the door while the man himself curled up on the sofa with his fiancée.
         “You know something,” said the girl from his management office who’d sat in during the conversation. “He really opened up this afternoon. Usually he just grunts at writers. He’s done a few interviews this week and he said more this afternoon than he’s said all week.”


24.7.15

LED ZEPPELIN – FIVE GLORIOUS NIGHTS



In order to counter the threat of cheap digital books there is a trend in publishing these days to offer ‘extra value’ with printed books, and at the upper end of the market this has translated into expensive limited editions, sometimes signed by the author or, in the case of ‘authorised’ biographies, the subject. Genesis, the specialist book publishing company based in Guildford, began the trend back in the seventies, initially with reprints of ships’ logs from hundreds of years ago, and moved into rock when its founder, Brian Roylance, was introduced to Beatles’ PR Derek Taylor who in turn introduced him to George Harrison, a meeting that resulted in the first (limited) edition of Harrison’s book I Me Mine which was later published as a trade edition. This isn’t the case with most Genesis books though it was with Jimmy Page’s photo book, originally issued as a very expensive (£500) cased edition four years ago, and now available relatively inexpensively (£26) via Amazon.
         The expensive Page book sold out its 2,000 print run by subscription before it was even published, and this may have provided the impetus for Rufus Stone, a relatively new arrival into the high end market, to publish Five Glorious Nights, a 290-page book of photographs from Led Zeppelin’s run of shows at London’s Earls Court Arena on May 17, 18, 23, 24 & 25, 1975, with a commentary by Zep fanzine Tight But Loose editor Dave Lewis, together with interviews with some of those responsible for staging the shows and a generous amount of memorabilia facsimiles. Rufus Stone have just published 1,000 copies of the book at £120, and a further 100 in superior packaging at £200, all of them numbered. 
         Well, it is an object of great beauty, albeit not quite as deluxe as Pages book but, bearing in mind the prices of these upper end editions, its a bit of a bargain, at least compared to Genesis editions. The photo budget must have been colossal as there are over 250 included, both colour and b&w, from some of the best UK photographers in the business at the time, all of them collated by the HM photo specialist Ross Halfin, now the official photographer to the Court of Jimmy Page.
         It’s a big book (31x31cm) which enables the photographs to be displayed to maximum effect, big and bold, many of them extending across two pages, many full bleeds, all presented chronologically so that after the front matter we begin with shots from the first show and continue through to the last. The lion’s share feature Robert Plant and Page, of course; Plant in his girly blouse oozing sex appeal, Page in his black wizard suit decorated with fiery dragons and Zoso symbols. They are punctuated with extracts from show reviews, all of them overwhelmingly positive, quirky on-stage comments from Plant, who was obviously having the time of his life up there, and miscellany like set lists, tickets and pages from music magazines.
         I wasn’t there – I was living in New York in May of 1975 – and by all accounts Melody Maker wasn’t made welcome because Chris Welch, hitherto a strong supporter of Led Zep, had been disparaging about two or three tracks on Houses Of The Holy. “They were very sensitive to press criticism,” says Chris in an interview that appears towards the end of the book, thus confirming my own views as stated elsewhere on Just Backdated. “It’s a shame… as no paper did more to publicise them early on.” Evidently Chris arrived at Earls Court to be told that no review rickets were available to Melody Maker which meant he had a buy a pair from a tout. This intended slight didn’t affect Chris’ attitude to the show. “They were outstanding,” he says. “A brilliant performance… the whole presentation was electrifying… ‘Trampled Underfoot’ was just sensational.”
         Five Glorious Nights is, of course, aimed squarely at dedicated Led Zeppelin fans, for only such fans would want to look at so many on-stage pictures of the group which are, after all, quite similar. Where it succeeds, however, is in conveying the enormity of these spectacular Earls Court shows, a series of concerts that is now widely perceived as the high point of the group’s career, at least as far as the UK is concerned. At the time the concerts were unprecedented in terms of size and staging, absolute confirmation of Led Zeppelins status as the worlds top rock concert draw. It is also a fine tribute to a legendary group, conceived and assembled with loving care and attention to detail by Lewis, now their foremost archivist. And here he is below, handing a copy of the book (number 001) to JP himself.




        

23.7.15

THURSDAY MORNING SHUFFLE



Setting aside for a moment the two most recent albums added to the iPod, Currents by Tame Impala and a Bobby Fuller Four compilation, about which I will write something soon, I hit shuffle again this morning and up came another very varied selection.
         The opener was David Bowie singing Paul Simon’s ‘America’, live from the the Concert For New York City, recorded on October 20, 2001, at Madison Square Garden to benefit the Robin Hood Relief Fund after the events of 9/11. As David Buckley put it in his recent book about Bowie’s music, “Bowie opened the concert brilliantly with the brave choice of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’, singing the song solo, sat cross-legged centre stage, accompanying himself on the Suzuki Omnichord. It is one of Bowie’s finest-ever cover versions and the fact that it is not available on a legal CD or as a download is a great shame. Then Bowie follows with an emotional version of ‘Heroes’.” David (Buckley) sent me a link to the two songs earlier this year, which I downloaded, and on America Bowie sounds profoundly English, carefully enunciating the words, almost re-enacting the Anthony Newley vocalisms of his early albums, a touch of south London in his accent and quite charming. At the close he tells his audience, made up largely of NYC firemen, that it is an ‘absolute privilege’ to play for his fellow New Yorkers, particularly those men from his local ladder, as precinct fire stations are called in the Big Apple. ‘Heroes’ is fab too, by the way.
         In complete contrast ‘Auntie Lulu’ by Junior Byles, from an album called Beat Down Babylon, sounds like a children’s song set to a reggae tempo, its highlight the drumming. In fact the drumming was so good, simply wild in parts, that I was minded to key the name of the track into Google and see what came up. Sure enough I was directed to the Roots Archive Message Board and found this post from a reggae fan who calls himself Flashman: “Just listened to ‘Auntie Lulu’ by Jr. Byles (on the Trojan comp When Will Better Come) and was blown away by the drumming. Not only are there a couple totally over the top fills but the drummer is going crazy on the kick drum almost the whole time. I'd love to know who drums on this track so I can know who I'm supposed to worship.” So Flashman and I think alike. And the next post revealed the answer: Lloyd ‘Tin Legs’ Adams. Thanks Tin Legs and this website – http://www.roots-archives.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=82879 – for the info.
         Next is ‘Alfie’ by Lily Allen, written about her brother wasting away his life smoking dope in bed and his sister’s sweetly-sounding diatribe seems to have done the trick as Alfie Allen is now a recognised actor, noted for his portrayal of the much put-upon Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones. Lily sounds very concerned about her brother and the song’s gentle, lilting melody makes a fine contrast with her barbed, acidic lyrics.
         Ricky Nelson’s ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ from 1958, was Nelson’s first ever composition, straight rockabilly but a tad bland and lacking any signature input from James Burton, the great session guitarist who played on Nelson’s best recordings and influenced a generation of players here in the UK (even if they didn’t know who he was at the time). Not to be confused with the Gamble & Huff song of the same name that was a hit for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and, of course, the Communards.
         Next we have The Who performing ‘Summertime Blues’ from Madison Square Garden on June 11, 1974, the second night of a four-night NY run that week, all shows attended by yours truly, and the second song they played that night after ‘Explain’. My recording of this comes from a now digitalised audience tape, not the sound board, so the quality is low-fi but PRJ&K sound on cracking form and, as I note elsewhere on Just Backdated, this second show was a great improvement on the rather disappointing (but very dramatic) opening night.
         Next up are Hall & Oates with ‘Method Of Modern Love’, not an H&O track I was familiar with. A funky blue-eyed soul verse is followed by a more melodic chorus in which the title is repeated and brings to mind the song of the same name by David Bowie from Let’s Dance. A bit of research tells that Bowie got there first, in 1983, with H&O following a year behind. Hmmm…
         Any Nick Drake track is identifiable from the opening notes of his deft finger-picked guitar and although I wasn’t familiar with ‘They’re Leaving Me Behind’, I wasn’t wrong. This is from the not-so-well-known Family Tree album of 2007, compiled by Nick’s sister Gabrielle from home recordings made by Nick during 1967 and ’68 and a few recorded on holiday in Aix En Provence in ’67. Breathily intimate, slow and bit despairing, it’s a folksy styled piece about opting out of the rat race
         This is followed by the instantly recognisable and very wonderful ‘I Was Born To Love Her’ by Stevie Wonder, the 1967 Motown hit, from an SW comp I have. I met Stevie twice in NY during the seventies, once in a nightclub and once during a press preview of Songs In The Key Of Life, but on both occasions he was surrounded by others and I couldn’t really talk to him. The press preview was held in some studio in upstate New York where a plane load of critics was flown by Motown and on the day I fell into the company of Nik Cohn, always fun but potentially hazardous. Songs In The Key Of Life was a double LP, and at one point in the proceedings – during a break – Cohn and I discovered a pool table. We were in the midst of our game when the playback resumed and Motown personnel took a decidedly dim view of it when we elected to finish our game instead of joining the throng to listen to side three, which was pumped into the pool room anyway. I don’t recall the outcome but there was a good deal of tut-tutting.
         ‘Concrete Jungle’ by Bob Marley sounds equally good, deep reggae from a Mojo cover mount CD from May of 2008 called Dawning Of The New Era that celebrated The Specials reforming. This isn't the track from Catch A Fire, probably an earlier recording, quite short too.
         The Who return for ‘Black Widows Eyes’ from 2006’s Endless Wire, not an album I enjoyed that much, though I was right behind Pete’s sentiments in ‘Man In A Purple Dress’, an anti-religion rant sung with true feeling by Roger, and ‘You Stand By Me’ which I assumed was Pete singing about Roger. This track is a bit like the old Who with Pete’s block chords to the fore, though Roger’s voice is far deeper than on their classic material.
         ‘Waggoner’s Lad’ finds Joan Baez singing unaccompanied and bemoaning the woman’s lot. ‘Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind, they’re always controlled, they’re always confined, confined by their parents until they are wives, then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives,’ she sings before going on to lament how she cannot marry her true love, of whom her family disapprove. Poor Joan, but she sings beautifully.
         This is followed by a right old pick-me-up, ‘Carol’, by the Stones from their first album, a truly thrilling performance from a record I played to death in 1964. By Chuck Berry, of course, but the young and eager Stones do him proud, rattling through the song at 100mph. That fantastic first Stones album really did set them up as The Beatles’ greatest rivals, both groups streets ahead of anyone else, at least in 1964.
         Finally this morning, we getSitting On Top Of The World’, not the Cream version of the old blues song, but the pop song popularised by Al Jolson, this a version by Les Paul & Mary Ford, complete with tricky guitar effects. I think it dates from the 1930s and I first heard it – oh the shame – sung by the Black & White Minstrels’ Jolson impersonator in 1960, when I was 13. In those days it didn’t seem that offensive to like the B&W Minstrels – their albums topped the charts for months on end after all – and I guess my family was no different. I also have this song on an Al Jolson compilation and whenever any of his songs crop up I’m reminded of those innocent days. It also turned me on to the work of Stephen Foster, the first and one of the greatest American popular songwriters who died penniless in 1864, aged 37 – truly the ‘Beautiful Dreamer’. 

17.7.15

THE WHO: BBC SESSIONS


  
In February of 1998 I was asked by George McManus, then the back catalogue marketing manager at Polydor, to produce a feasibility report for a proposed album made up from recordings by The Who for BBC radio shows transmitted between 1965 and 1970. George gave me a cassette tape containing 31 tracks and asked me to ‘review’ them so that any forthcoming CD would contain the cream of the crop, so in effect I was acting as quality controller for him.
         I’d done a bit of research into this when I was compiling tracks for 30 Years Of Maximum R&B, for which I was hoping to include at least two BBC tracks, ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ and ‘Happy Jack’, and possibly a third, ‘Man With Money’, as it was quite unusual and very rare. The BBC gave me short shrift, prompting me to write in my box set liner notes: “It was… my original intention to include some interesting tracks recorded by The Who for BBC radio shows… but intransigence on the part of the BBC Transcriptions Department meant that this was impossible.”
         In the event it wasn’t until February 2000 that The Who BBC Sessions CD, containing 26 tracks, was released. These were ‘My Generation’ (as a Radio 1 Jingle), ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’, ‘Good Lovin’, ‘Just You And Me, Darling’, ‘Leaving Here’, ‘My Generation’, ‘The Good’s Gone’, ‘La La La Lies’, ‘Substitute’, ‘Man With Money’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, ‘Disguises’, ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘Run Run Run’, ‘Boris The Spider’, ‘Happy Jack’, ‘See My Way’, ‘Pictures Of Lily’, ‘A Quick One (While He’s Away)’,  ‘Substitute’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘I’m Free’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’/’Spoonful’,  ‘Relay’, ‘Long Live Rock’ and ‘Boris The Spider’ (another Radio 1 Jingle). Due to publishing complications the US track listing eliminated ‘Man With Money’ and edited out the few lines from ‘Spoonful’ contained in ‘Shakin’ All Over’. Also in America, initial copies of the CD came packaged with a bonus disc of BBC tracks that was available only through the Best Buy chain. These were ‘Townshend Talks Tommy’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘I Don’t Even Know Myself’, ‘I Can See For Miles’, ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘The Seeker’ and ‘Summertime Blues’.
         Here’s the report I wrote up for George, a genial Irishman who sadly died in 2014.

To George McManus, Polydor: BBC Who Tracks Report

Firstly, I should point out that like most Who collectors I am already familiar with these tracks and that this tape is neither comprehensive nor in chronological order. To the best of my knowledge the chronological order – and therefore the order in which they should be sequenced on any forthcoming CD – is as follows, together with the shows for which the songs were originally recorded. However, many of The Who’s BBC recordings for one show were repeated on other shows a week or two later. I believe that the shows below are the first broadcasts of the songs. The first five sessions were recorded on BBC premises, the final two at commercial studios.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on May 24, 1965.
Just You And Me
Previously unreleased (in any form) Who cover of 12-bar blues soul shouter written and recorded by James Brown under the title of ‘Just You And Me, Darling’. Roger on great form but not so Pete who contributes a lame solo. Sounds very early Sixties ‘beat-groupish’.
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
This is a knockout live version of The Who’s second single which I had wanted to include on the box set. Indeed, after I played it to Roger Daltrey at Trinifold’s office in 1993 he remarked, “It’s better than the bloody single.” Indeed it is. Killer solo too.
Leaving Here
Hot and unquestionably live version of R&B song first released on the box set which was recorded at the same sessions as the two High Numbers’ singles, in June 1964. Lots of reverb on backing vocals, which distinguishes it from previously released version, and Moon (who celebrated his 19th birthday the previous day!) is outstanding.
Good Lovin’
Previously unreleased (in any form) Who cover of US hit by The Rascals, circa 1966. Bluesier than the original, and interesting insofar as it’s not a song The Who would be expected to cover.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on November 22, 1965.
My Generation
Unusually restrained and accurate reading the band’s then current hit single with additional handclaps, presumably supplied by audience. An excellent bass solo and the prolonged climax is terrific – a wild freak-out!
The Good’s Gone
Brian Matthews’ introduction – ‘Welcome to pop art group, The Who’ – is almost worth the price of admission alone but the group sound a bit uninspired on this live version of a track from the forthcoming first album. The solo sounds very experimental.
La La La Lies
Another Brian Matthews’ intro to a good to average live reading of another track from The Who’s upcoming debut album. Back-up vocals are outstanding on a song requiring skilled vocal harmony.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on March 3, 1966.
Substitute
An incredibly fast live version of their current hit, very lively, very tight, although the guitar cuts out a bit towards the end. Lacks the power of the live ‘Substitute’ on Live At Leeds, but still a remarkable performance for 1966.
Man With Money
This is a restrained version of The Everly Brothers’ song that was in the Who’s current live act and which we added as a bonus track to A Quick One, this being the first time The Who’s version of the song was ever released. A great example of power pop with Keith Moon on terrific form; a shame they lose the momentum slightly during the lead into the otherwise fine middle eight, probably due to lack of rehearsal. This song was originally recorded for the Everly’s Beat‘N’Soul album, released in August 1965. It also appeared on the B-side of the Everlys’ single ‘Love Is Strange’ later that year, which is probably where The Who first heard it.
Dancing In The Street
Brian Matthews introduces an initially restrained (for The Who) version of the great Tamla hit for Martha & The Vandellas which wasn’t released by The Who until May 1988, and that a version recorded live from Philadelphia on 13 December, 1979. There’s a wild solo – pop art meets Motown, not a common combination! – and the band are a bit loose towards the end, again probably the result of lack of rehearsal. The vocals are excellent throughout.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on September 13, 1966.
Disguises
‘Disguises’ was a superb, unusual song given a fine performance here. The recording is heavily echoed with prominent bass guitar, great drumming and a power-chord guitar solo. The arrangement differs from the later released version on the Ready Steady Who EP, with the ringing, droning guitar figures being more pronounced. This was The Who’s first leaning towards psychedelia, and it bore a similarity to The Kinks single ‘See My Friend’ released a year earlier.
I’m A Boy
A faithful reproduction of the hit single, interesting insofar as this version was recorded (live) in April 1966, and The Who didn’t release it as a single until August, a full four months later, a time lag that was most unusual in 1966. Lacks the confidence of the live version we added to Live At Leeds as a bonus track.
So Sad About Us
A disappointing version of this standout track from A Quick One, The Who’s second LP. The vocals are mixed far too low and the dominant bass makes the track far too muddy. The drums on this recording seem too low in the mix. Although a simple pop song, the band give it a brash, harsh sound compared with the version finally released, and include a final coda of “last night” sung over the closing bars, which were later omitted.

Saturday Club (BBC Light Programme), recorded on Tuesday January 17, 1967.  The Who re-recorded tracks from their last album for this session.
Run Run Run
Brian Matthews introduces a lively, assured and enthusiastic version of the track from The Who’s second album. There’s a great solo and the song is extended beyond the timing of the original recorded version. It adheres closely to the original, but Roger’s singing seems weaker, and the heavy, distorted guitar solos much more extended, although it lacks the feedback.
Happy Jack
A truly superb version of The Who’s then current hit single and the second of the BBC tracks that I had wanted to include on the box set. Everything here is perfect, the band’s tight synchronisation, the sharp, clear vocals, the hugely intelligent drums. Although this follows the arrangement of the single very closely, the main difference is the ending. Instead of Pete calling “I saw ya!”, this version has John Entwistle intoning the phrase in his deep “Boris” voice. Probably the best track on the whole BBC tape.
Boris The Spider
A faithful, clean reproduction of the Quick One LP track by John Entwistle, more echoey than the record and John’s vocals are less abrasive, resulting in a slightly less menacing atmosphere than the original.
See My Way
Again, a nicely performed version of a song from their recently released Quick One album. Good power pop with excellent bass/drum sound and more attack than the original recorded version. Townshend’s distorted guitar riffs give this version a more earthy R&B feel which made the song’s potential more apparent.

Recorded on Tuesday October 10, 1967 at De Lane Lea Studio, London.
NB: The Who wanted to continue with session appearances on BBC radio but had long tired of re-recording material in BBC studios. In an unprecedented move, the band negotiated with the BBC to provide master tapes of material recorded in non-BBC studios for exclusive BBC use. In some cases, they continued to offer completely alternative takes of songs, while other material that they felt couldn’t be easily re-recorded was simply remixed from the same masters that were used for their records. In order for the BBC to have “exclusive” rights to a master, however, the remix had to be noticeably different in some small way. It seems the band here prepared a number of tracks and jingles for broadcast on the newly-formed Radio 1 over the following few weeks on Top Gear (October 10 and November 11) and Saturday Club (October 28).
The tracks are as follows:
Pictures Of Lily
A very tight, muscular and enjoyable version of this hit single with a more prominent bass line. A Hammond organ which doesn’t appear on the hit single version has been added to the track, presumably played by Pete. 
Summertime Blues
Brian Matthews introduces a lively version of what was by this time a fairly common cover version played by The Who. Not as confident as the outstanding version on Live At Leeds, and probably therefore not worthy of release in its own right. That said, no other UK band were playing live rock as fluently as The Who at this time – and here’s proof.
I Can See For Miles
Exactly the same as the brilliant single and Sell Out LP track apart from a different bass line which is noticeably louder than it should be, which suggests that John Entwistle did the remix.
Relax
Different, inferior, mix from LP track (vocals lower).
Our Love Was
Features a Roger Daltrey vocal but sounds generally inferior to the album take with a country and western feel.
I Can’t Reach You
Virtually identical to track on Sell Out LP, but with a more prominent piano.
A Quick One
An accurate live reading of this lengthy piece, very tight. Although well performed, it adds little to the original on A Quick One or the far better version added as a bonus track to Live At Leeds. It’s much better than the rather tentative Monterey version seen on the 30 Years Of Maximum R&B Live video.
See My Way
A nice, flowing version, with prominent rhythm track and more variation in dynamics than the recorded version.
Jingles
These are Radio One promotional jingles set to the tune of their hits, as recorded by The Who at IBC Studios, specifically to the tunes of ‘Happy Jack’, ‘My Generation’ (“Talking’ ‘bout my fav’rite station”!), ‘Boris The Spider’ and ‘The Ox’ (“Top Gear”), the instrumental from their debut album. 

Recorded on Monday April 13, 1970 at IBC Studios, London, for use on BBC Radio 1’s Dave Lee Travis Show (April 19) and The Johnnie Walker Show and Dave Symonds Show (both May 25).
NB: The same circumstances apply to these recording as those explained above.
Heaven And Hell
Almost the same as the studio version later released on the B-side of ‘Summertime Blues’, with a terrific guitar solo by Pete that sounds better than the original to me.
Substitute
This second version of ‘Substitute’ is a tight and energetic, acoustic performance in the manner of recent stage arrangements of the song. Keith counts in the band, and the track fades early, omitting the final verse. Unusual, to say the least, but not as interesting as the earlier version of this song recorded for the BBC.
Pinball Wizard
Identical to Tommy LP track in every way, with the usual double-tracked guitars.
Shakin’ All Over
This is not quite as accomplished as the track on Live At Leeds but still excellent by any standards. Midway through, the band segue into the blues standard ‘Spoonful’ (as they usually did on satge around this time but this was edited out on Live At Leeds), which would make it a worthwhile and interesting addition to any Who collection.
I’m Free
Noticeably different take from original on Tommy LP with tougher feel, two guitars (electric and acoustic) and tambourine. Sounds like the same drum track and same back-up vocals.
The Seeker
A re-recording of the single with an acoustic rhythm guitar rather than an electric.

Summary

The quality of the tracks varies considerably. A handful are excellent, so good that is a crime they remain unreleased. Others add little to existing versions. Nevertheless, there is no question that a worthwhile Who CD could be compiled from these tracks, though it is unlikely the result would be as interesting or as commercially viable as the recent Led Zeppelin At The BBC album or, more especially, the 1994 Beatles At The BBC double CD. Nevertheless a hard-core of Who fans would all buy it, even though many will already own these tracks on bootleg. In the hands of Jon Astley or any other engineer, the sound quality could be improved immensely, offering further incentive for hard-core fans who already own them to buy them again.
         The dilemma you face is whether to include all the tracks, thus making it ‘The Who’s BBC Sessions Complete’* (see footnote), or whether you include only selected tracks. It does seem rather pointless to include those tracks that are identical to, or differ only slightly from, the existing and already available tracks from The Who’s back catalogue. I haven’t actually timed the tracks but it might be that there are too many anyway, in which case a cull of some kind would be necessary. If called upon, I could certainly advise you on which tracks to omit – though the above analysis probably makes those decisions for you anyway.
         Either way, I would be happy to stay involved in this project as far as selecting tracks, doing photo research and contributing proper liner notes.

(Footnote: *Actually, I don’t think it would be complete as I believe some songs done for the BBC prior to May 24, 1965, are missing from their archives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some later ones have gone astray as well. Also, of course, there were brief interviews with the band, almost always Pete, which would have made interesting links between the tracks, but these are probably lost too.)

* * *

PS: Despite writing this analysis for Polydor, without payment, I wasn’t asked to help with the album when it was eventually compiled or mentioned anywhere in the liner notes, not even in the thanks. There’s gratitude for you!




16.7.15

VEEP - TV Review


Like records banned by the BBC and pretty much anything that arouses the indignation of Daily Mail columnists, I am always keen to check out a sit-com that is prefaced by a stern warning about strong language and adult themes. So it is with Veep, for my money one of the funniest TV shows ever broadcast, now in its fourth season and possibly mistitled since the leading lady, Selina Meyer played by the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has – after three seasons as Vice-President (Veep) – now become the President of the United States, or POTUS as the Commander-in-Chief is known in White House jargon.
         Simply put, Veep is a political satire that strips away the bullshit by purportedly revealing what really goes on behind closed doors; a fly on the wall look at how cut throat American politics really is. In reality the dialogue is not just brilliantly scripted but as sharp as a razor and incredibly funny too, criss-crossing between the many characters so rapidly I’ve often had to pause and replay just to understand what was said. Almost all of it involves foul language on a massive scale – probably the highest number of fucks per episode on TV ever – with insults traded fast and furious as incompetence is exposed, downright lies exchanged and vicious backstabbing carried on without compunction.
         Veep is an ensemble piece, shot cinéma-vérité style, with Dreyfus leading a large and strong cast of actors, most of them her employees, who flit rapidly in and out of scenes and overlapping storylines, mostly set in and around Washington DC. Everything is done in a rush, with calamity after calamity piling up, and plotlines quickly abandoned as a greater, potentially funnier, disaster looms. Many of the characters are downright nasty, all of them fear for their jobs and loyalty is for mugs. Much of the humour is in throwaway lines and sly asides. Political correctness exists only as a veneer since anything and everybody can be bought or traded, not least ethics and votes. Sex is played for laughs, realistically and with running gags about the characters’ love-lives, and political lobbyists are the scum of the earth, no doubt the most accurate reflection in the whole show.
         Veep really is the funniest thing on TV right now and I cannot recommend it highly enough.