11.12.17

MAX CLIFFORD RIP

The world of bonking, of three-in-a-bed romps, of love rats and all the rest of the sleazy scandals that down-market red-top tabloids feed upon like vultures is the poorer this morning with the news that the man who ruled this world, the PR Max Clifford, has left us. As the obituary in today’s Guardian points out, rarely in the human experience does the truism that those who live by the sword die by it find a more perfect conduit than Max’s rise and fall, from a £3 million house in Surrey to a prison cell, from the very top to the very bottom. 
I had a brief acquaintance with Max in the first few weeks after I joined Melody Maker in 1970. Before he became the middle man between the tabloid press and those who sought to benefit by selling them their sordid tales of deceit between the sheets, Max was involved in music PR, first as an assistant in the EMI press office, where he encountered The Beatles*, and then working for Les Perrin, PR to many rock musicians, not least Beatles John, George and Ringo and The Rolling Stones. Max looked after the lesser names on Les’ client list, among them Status Quo, then undergoing a major image change from modish psychedelic pin-ups to denim-clad purveyors of the no-nonsense boogie that would sustain them thereafter.
Quite how I have no idea but Max had somehow discovered that at that time, before I found a flat-share in Bayswater, I lived near Egham in Surrey. Status Quo were playing a gig at a college in nearby Staines and Max invited to go along and see them. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea and when I demurred he said, and I kid you not: “I’ll bring a bird for you.”
I was momentarily speechless. Perhaps he thought I imagined that Status Quo would stump up for a chicken dinner after the show. More likely he realised I was new to the job and a bit wet behind the ears. So he clarified his offer.
“I’ll bring a girl for you for the night.”
I was indeed pretty green in those days, my first few weeks on MM, certainly inexperienced in the ways by which dodgy PRs might snare the likes of me. I really wasn’t sure how to react. I didn’t actually know whether or not this was the norm in the world of pop into which I had so recklessly thrown myself. 
“Er, that’s not necessary,” I stammered. “I’ll come anyway.”
My name had been left on the door at the college in Staines and, mindful that I’d have compromised myself had I accepted his offer, I turned up with a (male) pal just in case the “bird” was waiting for me anyway. She wasn’t but Max was surprised that I’d turned up with my pal. Indeed he seemed more than surprised. He looked at me like I was mad, or maybe gay. Why on earth, he reasoned, would anyone turn down a “bird” – it was left unsaid what the provision of a girl would lead to, but it doesn’t take much to figure it out – in exchange for something as simple as a favourable MM review for Status Quo?
I can’t remember what I wrote about Status Quo but even though this clearly wasn’t their doing it put me off them for life. Happily, I had no further dealings with Max Clifford. Not long after this he set up his own company and switched from pop to kiss-and-tell, ultimately rising to the top in this field, the king of manipulative wheelers and dealers, the champion of women seduced and then abandoned by randy footballers, politicians and other men in the public eye. This wasn’t Melody Maker’s turf, of course, but I watched with mild interest from the sidelines as the man who once offered me a “bird” rose from strength to strength, acting as a broker between the wronged women and The Sun and its ilk, negotiating deals whereby the papers paid considerable sums for the saucy revelations, and taking a cut of the money, usually 20%. Heaven only knows how much he charged for keeping stories out of the newspapers. 
This made him very rich, of course, bought him a fancy house and flash cars, but along the way he made many enemies who would no doubt have gloated when Max found himself sentenced to eight years for sexually assaulting young girls and women. He even wrote an autobiography in which he bragged about his sexual adventures, and the book was leapt upon by the prosecution during his trial. Hoisted by his own petard indeed.
Max had threatened to write another book in which he would reveal those secrets about his clients that he’d managed to keep out of the press but now it seems the book is unlikely to see the light of day. No doubt those former clients will sleep more soundly in their beds now that the King of Sleaze is no more. My condolences to his family. 


* Before it was taken down after his conviction, the website of Max Clifford Associates claimed that in 1963 he worked for The Beatles and, by inference, played some role in their rise to fame. On Wikipedia it stated that he had been given the job of promoting “an unknown group called The Beatles early in their career, including their first tour of the United States”.
I always thought this was a dubious claim and to confirm my suspicions spoke with my friend Mark Lewisohn, the world’s most reliable Beatle archivist. According to Mark, Clifford was a junior assistant in the EMI press office in 1963. “The Beatles didn’t have a great deal to do with that office because Brian Epstein hired independent PRs, first Andrew Oldham and then Tony Barrow,” said Mark. “When they did have cause to fraternise with EMI, they mostly worked with press officer Syd Gillingham and his senior assistant Brian Mulligan. Clifford may have mailed out press releases. While he was certainly present at one Beatles photo session, this was only because it happened to take place right by his office at 20 Manchester Square. Otherwise, he wasn’t involved. He certainly never toured with them, or helped set up any tours. They’d no need of him.”
So that’s cleared that up.

4.12.17

THE STARSHIP

The more famous rock stars become the less inclined they are to fly on commercial airlines unless, of course, it’s a long-haul flight in planes with a restricted first-class cabin where they can avoid contact with the public. Nowadays the top acts of the day lease small private jets with less than a dozen seats to whisk them from city to city but back in the 1970s such planes weren’t as widespread as they are today and, in any case, this was an era when extravagance was rampant. A brash display of opulence was the measure of one’s stature in the hierarchy in the rock world, and the ultimate in grandeur in private planes was the Starship, the celebrated customised Boeing 720 that many rock bands – most notably Led Zeppelin – leased during the first half of the 1970s. 
The Starship, the first Boeing 720 ever built, was delivered to United Airlines in October 1960, then purchased for $750,000 in 1973 by Contemporary Entertainment, a company owned by teen-idol singer Bobby Sherman and his manager Ward Sylvester who spent $200,000 customising it in ways they thought might appeal to luxury-seeking rock bands. This involved reducing the seating capacity to 42, installing a fully-stocked bar in the main cabin as well as armchairs, swivel seats and tables, and a 30-foot couch that, facing aft, ran along the right-hand side opposite the bar, on the end of which was an electric organ. Wall-mounted TV sets showed an endless supply of videos, some of them pornographic. Towards the rear of the plane was what today would be called a chill-out room, with pillows on which to recline, and behind that a bedroom with a double bed and shower. A couple of attractive stewardesses were thrown in for good measure and to appeal to the vanity of its passengers the owners took to painting their name on the side of the fuselage. 
Led Zeppelin became the Starship’s first customers, the upshot of an uncomfortable flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1973 when to their horror turbulence tossed their small private jet around in the sky. Manager Peter Grant decided to hire the far more sturdy Starship instead, and did so for the group’s 10-week 1975 US tour as well. One advantage of the Starship – or any private plane – was that it enabled the group to base themselves in one large US city from which they could fly out to shows within a 300-mile area and return the same night, thus avoiding the need to check in and out of a different hotel every day. Another was that they could bring along whoever they liked without having to obtain tickets for them, so Led Zeppelin’s friends – many of them from the fairer sex – could hop on board and off at their whim.
“The Starship was only $14,000 more [than the small private jet],” said Peter Grant, “because Boeing wanted the publicity and that kind of thing – and we thought, ‘Well why not? We’ll have a 720!’ The first day, in Chicago, they parked it next to Hugh Hefner’s plane. All the press were there, and somebody said to me. ‘Well how to you think it compares to Mr Hefner’s plane’. I said, ‘It makes his look a Dinkey toy.’”
Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant has gone on record as saying that his favourite memory of the plane was ‘oral sex during turbulence’ and Zeppelin PR Danny Goldberg recalls that Grant would disappear into the bedroom with girls and not reappear until the plane was coming into land. 
Another less well-known benefit was that the pilots were happy to allow passengers to sit alongside them in the cockpit and even demonstrate the workings of the controls. “Bonzo [John Bonham] once flew us all the way from New York to Los Angeles,” Peter Grant told me during Led Zeppelin’s 1975 tour when I flew with the group aboard the Starship from Chicago to Los Angeles, and on to Greensboro two days later, then back to New York on it the same night. Zeppelin’s road manager Richard Cole called the Starship a ‘flying gin palace’, and he wasn’t wrong: drink flowed, sumptuous food was served and at once point on my trip we all gathered around the organ while John Paul Jones played a selection of the English Music Hall songs favoured by Grant.
Led Zeppelin were famously photographed by Bob Gruen standing alongside the plane at a private airfield near New York but they were by no means the Starship’s only clients. My first trip on it was with the Alice Cooper Band whose tour manager Dave Libert handed out a plastic bag of vitamins to the passengers each morning. I was also on board in 1974 with Elton John for a trip around the Midwest and recall that Elton rejected the haute cuisine on offer and requested instead that the stewardesses pick up a plentiful supply of Kentucky Fried Chicken, several buckets worth in fact. The more sophisticated Elton of today no doubt cringes at the memory. 
Other Starship clients included Deep Purple, Bob Dylan & The Band, The Allman Brothers, Frank Sinatra and Peter Frampton who, in 1976, was the last rock act to charter it. “It was definitely a show of where you were in your career,” said Frampton. “It was a statement of how well you were doing. ‘Whoopee! We must be big – we’ve got the Starship’. It was pretty much a party plane.”
In the end the Starship was a victim of the fuel shortage that gripped America in the mid-seventies, its four greedy engines bringing the Starship era to a close after only four years. “The fact that there was a fuel shortage and we were flying this plane, we thought was a cool thing. It fit in with Alice’s extravagant image,” says Dave Libert. 
“It was headed for the scrap heap,” adds Frampton. 
The Starship went through several changes in ownership between 1977 and 1979, eventually ending its life in storage at Luton Airport, a rather prosaic ending for the career of this most iconic of rock chariots. It was broken up for parts in 1982 and today lingers on only in the memory of the few – probably not much more than 200 of us – passengers fortunate enough to have experienced its dubious charms.

28.11.17

MY BOOK OF GENESIS by Richard Macphail


Tonight sees the official launch of Richard Macphail’s memoir My Book Of Genesis at an independent book shop in West London. I am credited as a ‘with’ on the cover, an entitlement that results from my having spent hours interviewing Richard last year, then setting it all down on a computer for him to browse through, re-arrange and agonise over the naughty bits.
Richard was a school friend, aide-de-camp and tour manager of Genesis in their formative years. He bowed out in early 1977 and after a period of ruminating on the meaning of life received a call from Peter Gabriel who was in need of a support mechanism to get him back on the road as a solo artist. “In many ways the job of tour managing Peter ought to have been easier after all my experience with Genesis but the truth is Peter became more and more demanding as time went on,” writes Richard. “It’s important also to realise that Peter was on his own now. Whereas before he was one of five, with responsibilities split amongst them all, the buck now stopped at him, and this certainly made him become more and more exacting.”
        In this second extract from the book we are on the road with Peter Gabriel in the spring of 1978, his second tour as a solo artist, and Richard is in charge of a show that features a level on inventiveness on Peter’s part that sometimes places unusually comic demands on his long-suffering tour manager.



‘Big One’ featured a long blues guitar solo in the middle, after the second verse, at which point Peter would come off stage, disappear for a few minutes and reappear somewhere in the theatre, usually on the balcony. He and I had prearranged this whole stunt: I’d meet him in the wings, we’d go out of the stage door, walk up the side of the theatre, re-enter at the front where a guy who worked for the promoter would be ready with the doors to let us in, and then Peter would go up the stairs to the balcony, the verse would start again and off he’d go, singing into a radio mike. The spotlights would be on him, somewhere in the audience, and they loved it, absolutely went bonkers some nights.
It was all Peter’s idea of course. He always was very imaginative in this way, always looking to be different, to do something dramatic that audiences wouldn’t expect. By now he’d graduated from the grey track suit into a pair of leather trousers and one of those white judo tops, so he stood out under the spotlight. So he’d be up there, and the audience is all of a flutter, and before they’d quite realised what was going on, we’d scooted off back downstairs where the spots would be on him again, and he’d walk down the aisle, still singing, and the closer we got to the stage the greater the rough and tumble as fans got out of their seats to touch him. I was right next to him throughout all this, and we’d usually get a couple of the promoter’s guys and a couple of guys from our crew who’d make their way towards us, so there’d be four or five of us around him to protect him. No one would want to hurt him, they were only people getting a bit over enthusiastic, but the judo shirt was usually ripped open before we could hoist him up on to the stage to a huge cheer, and then we’d disappear. It was a great stunt and although a few others tried something similar, Peter was definitely the first to do it like that. 
I always thought it was especially brave of Peter considering that all those years ago at Aylesbury he made the mistake of jumping feet first into a crowd that backed away and he broke his ankle as a result. This made him realise that what you needed to do was to fall back flat, and later, when he sang a song called ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, he would stand at the front and fall backwards, trusting his fans to catch him. It was the most unbelievable thing to do, especially for someone who’s actually jumped off the stage and broken their ankles doing that. But he did it and they would pass him around. Lots of rock stars pay lip service to the idea of ‘getting down with the fans’ or ‘breaking down the barriers’ or whatever they choose to call it, but Peter put his money where his mouth was, if that’s the right metaphor.
It was inevitable, however, that it would go wrong sooner or later. On one night – I think it was Pittsburgh – Peter and I headed out of the stage door and into the street, which was always a bit weird with all these buses and taxis everywhere and Peter in his white top with a radio mike. As usual the promoter’s guy was waiting for us at the front of the theatre but this particular theatre had two rows of glass doors, both of which could only be opened from the inside.
Unfortunately, being a couple of light bulbs short of a chandelier, this guy pushed the inner door open and forgot that it would shut automatically behind him. He let us in through the front doors and they shut as well so we were trapped between the two banks of doors; no way in, no way out. Peter and I actually saw what was going to happen before it did. ‘Don’t let it shut,’ I screamed. But I was too late. It was fortunate this wasn’t picked up by Peter’s radio mike.
Of course, there was no one in the lobby as they were all inside listening to the show, and there was Peter and me and this bloke locked out. We could hear the band, just, and Peter started singing when he heard his cue. Luckily there was a loo in the lobby, and two guys walked out and saw us. We’re going, ‘Let us in’ and of course they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. ‘What the fuck… Peter Gabriel’s supposed to be on stage… what the fuck’s he doing here.’ They hesitated and then let us in. We didn’t do the upstairs bit that night, just the walk down the aisle, and the audience – apart from the two blokes who’d been in the loo – was none the wiser. The band knew something was up as they could hear him singing, all the while thinking, ‘Where the hell is he?’
We did that stunt every night on that whole tour, US and Europe, and it never went wrong again but I included the double-door eventuality in my preparations from then on, always checking the front of the house before the show started. To this day, I’ll never forget seeing that bloody door shut behind us.

22.11.17

DAVID CASSIDY (1950-2017)

The death of David Cassidy has a sad inevitability about it, and I have good reason to believe this to be more than a cliche. 
In the brief period when I encountered him, in the spring of 1973, it was difficult not to conclude that he was a pawn in the game, easily manipulated, poorly managed and deeply insecure. He was on a tour of Europe, and was surrounded by persons intent on keeping everyone else, including the press, at arm’s length, but somehow the wall of security had been breached by a man called Anthony Fawcett who had at one time worked as a PA to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In the course of this employment Fawcett had acquired a black velvet jacket, Edwardian style with a high collar and many buttons, that once belonged to Lennon and had evidently gifted it to Cassidy, a gesture that secured Cassidy’s fierce loyalty, at last temporarily. 
This development did not sit well with Cassidy’s real managers but they were impotent to prevent their charge from retaining Fawcett as a close advisor, purely on the strength of the Lennon association and the jacket, which Cassidy wore everywhere apart from on stage. We were all on a private plane, a big one, and in these situations a class divide arises between the star and his ‘people’ and everyone else, though to a certain extent Fawcett acted as an intermediary, a state of affairs that was frowned upon by his managers. Indeed, when the tour reached the UK, Luton Airport I think, a helicopter was on standby to take Cassidy and his immediate entourage to somewhere closer to the centre of London. There was a bit of a scramble for seats among those who felt they were entitled to them and at least one member of his management team was greatly put out when their seat was taken by Fawcett.
All of this offered a rich source of tittle-tattle for the posse of journalists following the tour when we gathered in hotel bars after the shows to exchange notes or, back in the UK, sat at the back of the coach that brought us, the second-class citizens, back to the city. Journalists love a bit of gossip, especially those employed by the popular daily press, and the stress-level we observed in those connected with the tour, not least Cassidy himself, was a goldmine for speculation and cynical humour. 
I saw three Cassidy shows, two on the Continent in Germany and Holland, before returning to the UK and attending another at Wembley’s Empire Pool, as the 10,000-seat arena was called in those days. With no interview of substance to fall back on, back at Melody Maker I wrote about the circus surrounding Cassidy and the concerts themselves which, although musically lacklustre, were Grade A scream fests in which no one, not the band, audience or Cassidy himself, could hear a note of music anyway. Cassidy had a habit of turning his back to the audience, bending over and wiggling his bottom at them which was a cue for screeching that rivalled the din at any pop concert I’d ever attended. His band were also travelling with us and seemed as bemused by it all as we were, professionals doing a job and getting paid well for performing music that was far from taxing. 
Although I barely exchanged more than a few brief words with Cassidy, I sensed his frustration, that he wanted something a bit more profound that all this, but he was trapped in the syndrome that afflicted so many of his peers in the sphere of entertainment to which he had been unwillingly assigned. The Partridge Family, the US TV show in which he starred, was aimed at children, young girls especially, and his winsome looks, fluffy hair and easy smile were perfect for a teen idol. His management knew this full well – and also that the jump to serious musicianship was perilous and might see their client in limbo: alienating fans of his popular oeuvre while failing to attract older ones because of it. It’s a dilemma they all face when the screaming stops.
I came away feeling a bit sorry for him. I don’t think he even had a girlfriend with whom to confide when the lights were out, which was deeply ironic considering that a good proportion of the female population of the western world between the ages of 15 and 25 would have jumped into bed with him in the blink of an eye. Like everyone else, he seemed very stressed and this manifested itself in an outbreak of spots that required make-up to disguise. It seemed to me that only John Lennon’s velvet jacket brought him some comfort; a token of where his head was at and where he really wanted to be. 
A year later, in May of 1974, a teenage girl fan was killed in the crush at the front of the stage during a Cassidy concert at White City Stadium in west London. This sad incident presaged Cassidy’s gradual withdrawal from such concerts, and from the circus that surrounded him. 
I finally interviewed Cassidy three years later, in New York, when amongst other things he told me about the music he was hoping to make with Mick Ronson, whose freelance commissions since David Bowie now included a stint with Bob Dylan. (The interview can be found on the website Rock's Back Pages.) Cassidy explained to me that he wanted to be a part of a band with Ronson and not just a singer with a band behind him, a bit like what Bowie tried to do with Tim Machine I suppose, but it seemed an unlikely prospect and, of course, it never happened. By this time the screaming had stopped, which was a relief to him, but from what I have read about his life thereafter it wasn’t a happy one. Various illnesses connected to alcoholism dogged him until the end. He was arrested more than once for drunk driving, went bankrupt two years ago and was married and divorced at least three times. 
He made more records and toured, and appeared in stage shows, occasionally with modest success, but his past was too big a burden to hide and no matter how hard he tried he was never allowed to forget it. The teenage idols of today, like the boys in One Direction, can thank their lucky stars that their careers are handled with more expertise, sympathy and understanding than that of David Cassidy. 

20.11.17

JIM LEA – For One Night Only



When Jim Lea re-released his Therapy album last year the package included a bonus CD, a live recording from the one and only solo gig Jim has ever performed, at the Robin 2 R’n’B Club in Bilston in November 2002. It was a charity event held in honour of Jim’s late father and Jim fronted a trio, playing guitar and singing 16 songs, mostly cover versions, backed up by his friends David Birch on bass and Michael Tongue on drums, in a group he christened Jim Jam. 
Within the Slade fan community the gig has become legendary, not just because it was a one-off but for the standard of musicianship which was extraordinary. This month it is finally released on a DVD that features 11 of those 16 songs, plus a bonus track, a reworking of Slade’s biggest hit re-titled ‘Merry Christmas To The Robin 2’.
Playing a customised black Stratocaster through a muscular Marshall stack, Jim rocks out with seismic potency, clearly enjoying himself as he displays a fluent, Townshend/Hendrix-like ability to mix lead and rhythm guitar that often suggests he was wasted playing bass in Slade. His vocals might not have the clout of Noddy Holder but he sings well, gamely shouldering the lion’s share of the workload and taking time out to talk to the pumped-up crowd between songs. “Imagine,” he says, tongue firmly in cheek, before opening up with ‘Shakin’ All Over’, “imagine you’re at the gig of Slade III.”

(Photo by Ian Edmundson)

And off he goes, working his way through ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’, ‘Great Big Family’ (from Therapy), ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Far Far Away’, ‘Pretty Vacant’, ‘Go Out In Style’ (another Therapy track), and ‘Substitute’, all dashed off with the rough and ready passion of an enthusiastic garage band. Jim treats his guitar fairly callously, chucking it around and drawing feedback and sustain as he solos around chords, neglecting precision in favour of brute force and a generous dollop of showmanship. He makes it look easy but it takes great skill to play with such casual panache yet always hit the right note at the right time. 
        The video itself is not up to professional standard, and appears to have been filmed with a single camera which zooms in and out of the stage and from time to time veers a bit off focus, and the lighting occasionally casts a disturbing orange glow on the star of the show. In contrast there are between-song interludes in which Jim is recorded elsewhere talking about his choice of material. “I always wanted to play with Jimi Hendrix but he died on me,” he says before ‘Hey Joe’. “I though that with Chas [Chander] managing us, that… I was going to get to play with him. [Jimi] rang up Chas [presumably in 1970] and asked him to manage him again and Chas asked us if we’d be upset if he managed Jimi as well. What he didn’t know during that conversation was that Jimi was already dead.”
        ‘Hey Joe’, like everything else, is approached with maximum swagger, Hendrix-style, as is ‘I Am The Walrus’ which opens with Jim playing the guitar above his head, left-hand only, before he grabs a megaphone to subvert the vocals. Unlike the record, ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ begins at a leisurely pace, a slow singalong until Jim puts his foot down and the familiar chorus kicks in after a couple of minutes, while the only other Slade song in the set, ‘Far Far Away’, is given a more respectful, melodic treatment. On record the two Therapy songs that Jim played sound like his own work but on stage remarkably like Slade songs, this probably due to their wall-of-sound choruses and the reckless pace of the gig, and Jim makes ‘Pretty Vacant’ sound like a Slade song too, or it would if Noddy was on vocals. As it is Jim adopts the confrontationally yobbish Johnny Rotten singing style, but either way it goes to show that the Sex Pistols and their fellow punks owed a debt to Slade even if they were unwilling to acknowledge it. The final song, ‘Substitute’, sounds like The Who with a different vocalist, sharp, crisp and lively, as good a cover version of the song that gave my blog its name as I’ve heard anywhere. 
The only question remaining is why Jim, a good friend of mine of long standing now, limited himself to just this one gig. It’s a question he asks himself in the accompanying interview footage, and he doesn’t really answer it, though he does say that the power he felt on stage was greater than at any time when he was on stage with Slade. Jim, always the Slade man with the lowest profile, has deliberately avoided the limelight since the group broke up and seems happy to slink off into his studio to make music primarily for his own amusement and satisfaction. In the celebrity obsessed 21st century that we live in today this is an admirable approach to life, but it seems strangely perverse when he can light up a room as well as he does on this DVD. “The people that matter know [what I can do],” he told me when we discussed Therapy last year. “That’s all I care about.”

15.11.17

MY BOOK OF GENESIS by Richard Macphail


In between other projects last year I helped Richard Macphail, school friend, aide-de-camp and tour manager of Genesis and, later, Peter Gabriel, to write his autobiography. For almost five years Richard was the glue that held Genesis together, and in his affectionate memoir My Book Of Genesis he tells his own unique story of the group’s early years.
Richard was the singer in Anon, the Charterhouse school group that included Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, which would merge with Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks’ group The Garden Wall to become Genesis. Recognising their needs, Richard became their one-man road crew, shepherding them from gig to gig, providing a cottage where they could live and rehearse and offering much-needed support when it was most needed.
            As Neil Aspinall was to The Beatles and Ian Stewart to The Rolling Stones, Richard became the nearest thing to a sixth member of Genesis, and although he went his own way in the eighties, carving out a successful career in the alternative energy sector, Peter, Mike and Tony, together with later arrivals Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, were never far away. Though it dwells on the group’s early years when they were finding their place in the hierarchy of prog rock, My Book Of Genesis is in reality the touching story of a close and valued friendship that has endured for over 50 years. 
            In this first extract we join the earliest line-up of Genesis in the summer of 1970. After a shaky start involving an album now largely forgotten that was produced by Jonathan King, the group has signed to Charisma Records, recorded their second album and now face an endless series of small-time gigs. Then comes a bombshell. 



Trespass was due to be released in the autumn and lots of gigs were coming up, including the early ones at Friars, but another problem was looming, a massive problem known only to the inner circle. Ant [guitarist Anthony Phillips] had developed the most incredible stage fright and was really struggling with it. He talked about having had an out of body experience on stage it was so bad. We’d played a college in Hackney one night with an audience of around 25 people but he was terrified out of his mind, so terrified in fact that that he developed glandular fever. So the stage fright was making him ill. It affected his ability to play too. He didn’t have an actual breakdown but he was close to it. He told Peter he just couldn’t go on, and Peter called a band meeting to tell us. 
The meeting took place one night after we’d played at the Marquee, in the van parked at the back of the club in the spot where you loaded the gear. We’d done our set and when the other band came on Peter told us we had to go sit in the van and have a meeting. That’s when he announced that Ant was leaving. Of course I knew Ant was struggling but Trespass wouldn’t have been anything like the album it was without him. So there was me, Peter [Gabriel], Tony [Banks] and Mike [Rutherford] in the back of the van, no [drummer] John Mayhew which was significant. Everyone was in shock when Peter told us. What are we going to do next? The three of them were actually for giving up. They thought they couldn’t do it without Ant but I wasn’t having it. I said, ‘For God’s sake, we’ve come this far, you can’t give up now. It’s too good. You have to go on.’
When Ant left the group I thought, “That’s going to be it”,’ remembers Tony. ‘I thought that because Ant was Richard’s closest friend in the group that he would go too. Obviously we were quite dependent on Richard. I thought that Ant was the most dominant person in the group, the leader in a way. He was the one that made us do it. Peter and I would never have done it, and Mike followed Ant. So I thought that’s probably it. I remember a conversation with Peter and Mike and Richard and you were saying, “You really must keep going.” And I thought that if you were saying that, as Ant’s friend, that made a big difference to me. Peter and Mike… we weren’t sure and we talked together, and then decided, “Yes, let’s find a replacement” and we know how difficult that was but we did it.’
I like to think that I persuaded them not to give up that night but it was Tony, the voice of reason, whose argument carried the day. He was the last one to speak. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘We’ll go on but we have to get a new drummer.’ 
Tony recalls this crucial decision as if it happened yesterday. ‘We had to get a good drummer and I think we all agreed with that,’ he says. ‘That was a very important thing to me because I felt that we needed a drummer who was creative and someone that we didn’t have to tell him what to do. In fact, finding a drummer turned out to be a lot easier than finding a guitarist.’
Many years later, in an acceptance speech when he won a Prog Rock God Award in 2015, Tony mentioned this in his acceptance speech, saying that without my encouragement they might well not have gone on after Ant left. He never actually said it to me personally but suddenly there we were at this awards show and he remembered that incident after all that had passed between us all. 
I think we all knew deep down inside that John Mayhew just wasn’t up to it but only Tony was prepared to say it out loud. Tony is a very smart guy and he saw past the problem with Ant and realised it was an opportunity to get a better drummer. If they were going to make one change they might as well make two was his thinking, and quite right he was too. So the decision was made. We climbed out of the van and went back into the club, me to get the gear to load into the van, Peter, Mike and Tony to give John Mayhew the news. The problems were solved, or so we hoped. 
A day or two later we told the people at Charisma that Ant was leaving the band and that we were also going to get another drummer. They were worried but mightily relieved we weren’t going to split up. Trespass had been recorded and was about to come out, and they wouldn’t have wanted to release an album by a non-existent band. I don’t know how much we owed them by then – a few thousand quid maybe as they’d picked up the studio costs and, like the wages they paid, it was all an advance against future royalties. (I do remember we were in the hole to the tune of £300,000 by the time of Foxtrot, the third Charisma album, came out.)

The book can be ordered here: www.mybookofgenesis.com

10.11.17

BEATLES MEMORABILIA


Aside from my postcard from John, my stash of Beatles memorabilia is memorably slight and most of it was picked up on a whim in 1975 from a shop in Greenwich Village for $20. I wasn’t sure what motivated me to invest in two pairs of Beatles ladies’ stockings (still unworn, incidentally), two Beatles wigs (also unworn), a scrapbook of at least 100 bubble gum cards (mostly Dezo Hoffman pix from ‘63/4), an orange plastic guitar (smashed by my kids), a yellow submarine (intact, just) and a few other odds and ends (badges, hair clip, tour programme, plate etc), but they have followed me around for years now and to my immense disappointment are, with the possible exception of the stockings and wigs, virtually worthless.

Now reduced to one, above. Back in the eighties I gave one of each to a rock-mad pal as a wedding present and he was delighted. His bride, however, was not, no doubt preferring a pop-up toaster or six wine glasses. The marriage didn’t last, and the groom tells me he hung on to the stockings and wig but was unconcerned about retaining any glassware or kitchen appliances. 

The disappointing valuation of my little collection is the viewpoint of Pete Nash, editor of The British Beatles Fan Club magazine, to which I am an occasional contributor. Unlike mine, Pete’s stash of Beatles memorabilia is memorably gigantic and a good deal of it, some 2,500 items, went on sale this week. Not to put too fine a point on it, this may well be the most valuable Beatles’ collection to hit the market this century, containing as it does some of the rarest and most sought after items that interest Beatle collectors. 
Top the list is a one-sided test pressing of The Beatles’ second album With The Beatles, an unassuming relic to be sure, especially as its label (pictured below) does not offer any information as to what the grooves contain. This is priced at an eye-watering £5,500.


Most of the items that follow, at least those that need a buyer with a fairly deep pocket, are test-pressings, promo discs and interview recordings distributed only to radio stations. I was particularly intrigued by a 10-inch shellac record of ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ b/w ‘Tell Me Why’ which was released on a red Parlophone label in India in September 1964, priced at £3,500 which, if it were being sold by an original purchaser in its country of origin, might feed its owner’s family for a decade. Two other Indian singles (‘Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’) in a similar format are a bit cheaper, probably because – unlike ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ – these songs were released as singles everywhere else.


A small selection of Pete's collection. I have a plate similar to those on the right and the orange guitar looks suspiciously like the one my kids destroyed. 

Only 14 of the 2,500 items are priced in the four figure range, with the vast majority, ie over 2,000, at less than £100, and most of those less than £50. About 300 cost less than a fiver. Bottom of the list is a bog-standard 7-inch of ‘I Feel Fine’ at a very reasonable 49p which, taking inflation into account, is probably cheaper than when it was released in 1964. I bought it then, for six old shillings and three old pence, but I must have lost it along the way, though I do still have four of my Beatles singles, all bought when they were released: ‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘Day Tripper’. Since all four are irredeemably scratched due to excessive use on purchase, I estimate their value at 10p each tops, and even my Twist And Shout EP, again much played, is probably worth less than a tin of dog food. 
Long before the internet and e-Bay the best place to acquire Beatles memorabilia outside of specialist record shops was at fan festivals, the first of which – called Beatlefest – was held at the Commodore Hotel in New York City in September 1974. I went along to see what was happening and whilst there bumped into May Pang, with whom John was living during his sabbatical from Yoko. I’d met May once or twice before and she told me that John had sent her along with a wad of cash to pick up stuff for him from the traders in bootlegs and other Beatle bric-a-brac. May confessed that she didn’t really know what to buy for John and asked me for advice, so I chose half a dozen bootlegs that I thought he might like, and drew her attention to a picture of him in Hamburg, standing in a doorway and dressed in a leather jacket, taken in 1961 by Jurgen Wollmer. That picture, of course, ended up on the cover of John’s Rock’n’Roll LP, released the following year, and I have good reason to believe that my intervention played a role in this. 



Pete Nash’s bumper Beatle sale can be accessed here: 




6.11.17

BOB DYLAN – Rolling Thunder, It Was 42 Years Ago Today



In an era when tickets for concerts by major rock stars go on sale anything up to nine months before the show, it beggars belief that on Thursday, 6 November 1975, two hours before it commenced, I bought two tickets at face value ($7.50) for a 5pm Bob Dylan show from the box office at the 10,000-seat Civic Centre in Springfield, Massachusetts, and two tickets from a tout outside for an 8pm show for $10 each, opting to pay the extra $2.50 in order to get seats closer to the stage. 
Dylan was leading his Rolling Thunder Revue on the fifth stop on the tour, the dates of which were advertised only locally and not in advance. One ticket at Springfield – which was actually the tour’s biggest venue – was for myself, the other for my friend the photographer Bob Gruen who’d driven north with me for four hours from New York. Before both shows Bob stripped down to his briefs in my rented car and taped his camera equipment to himself, then dressed again in loose fitting dungarees and a sweater so the bulges wouldn’t show. Photographers weren’t allowed in but this was never going to stop Bob who, once inside, went to the bathroom and retrieved his camera, lenses and film. He disappeared once the shows started, edging his way towards the front, and six of his pictures accompanied my lengthy report on the shows, stretched across three pages of Melody Maker of November 15, 1975.



During the break between the first and second shows we went to a nearby diner which was packed full of Dylan fans and in there met Larry Sloman, a writer from New York, who ended up writing a book about the tour. He was following the tour everywhere it went and, because Bob knew him, I was able to pick Larry’s brain about it all. Some of the tour’s road crew were in there grabbing a bite too, and I remember chatting with them as well. 
“You need more than a weatherman to know which way Bob Dylan blows,” was my opening line in a review that, sentence for sentence, was the longest show review I ever wrote for MM. The concerts were, after all, ‘revues’ in the accepted sense of the term which meant everyone got a go, and the bill also featured Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Arlo Gurthrie and others, all of whom played at least one song of their own alongside the band that accompanied Dylan who, naturally enough, grabbed the lion’s share of stage time, both solo and in combinations with the others. 
He was magnificent too, playing and singing not to make money or even to promote a new record but simply because he wanted to. After the hullabaloo surrounding the previous year’s tour with The Band, which was Big Corporate Rock, Dylan had opted for something completely different, a folksy down-home feel, almost like a Hootenanny, and he was happy to chime along with everyone else though there was no doubt who was the star of the show. Some of the songs he sang would appear on Desire, not yet released, and I was spellbound by ‘Sarah’, his homage to his former wife. The shows ended with the ensemble gathered round several microphones for ‘This Land Is Your Land’, Woody Guthrie’s alternative American National Anthem, a fitting finale to an evening of music in which Dylan explored his roots, mused on his past and offered a glimpse into the future. 
The tour wound up at Madison Square Garden on December 8, a benefit show for Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a boxer wrongly imprisoned on a murder charge who was eventually freed. Dylan had recorded a single protesting Carter’s innocence, and I was at this show too, way up in the seats behind the stage, but it wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable as the smaller shows in New England. The ‘review’ format didn’t suit a big arena and the audience was unsympathetic to the other musicians. Nevertheless, the two Rolling Thunder shows at Springfield remain two of the best concerts I ever saw during my three-year stint as MM’s man in America.

3.11.17

STICKY FINGERS: The Life & Times of Jann Wenner & Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan



The image of the brooding, avaricious, power-hungry newspaper proprietor was set in stone by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane and through the ages many in this line of work have conformed to the stereotype. Jann Wenner, a fan of Kane, is no exception. Joe Hagan’s biography, Sticky Fingers: The Life & Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone, paints a portrait of the man behind RS as obsessive, unscrupulous and unlikeable, a man forever on the make who for all his money and success seems strangely unfulfilled. 
The book was sanctioned insofar as Wenner initiated it by inviting Hagan to write it and submitting to 100 hours of interviews (and enabling access to his archives), but not ‘authorised’ insofar as Wenner did not have final approval of the manuscript which he evidently did not read before publication. Wenner did, however, try to influence Hagan’s work by putting a positive spin on matters and shrugging off that which might seem detrimental to his character. Similarly interviewed – Hagan undertook 240 interviews in total – was Jane Schindelheim, who was married to Wenner from 1968 to 2011, though they separated in 1995 after Wenner came out as gay and thereafter lived with male model Matt Nye to whom he is now married. Jane, whose own flaws are ruthlessly exposed, has good reason to dislike the book too, but in her case the ugly truth is tempered by her ongoing loyalty towards her husband, boundless charm and innate warm disposition. 
In this respect – the Wenners’ personal lives – the book reads a bit like a melodramatic novel. To say it is ‘explosive’ or ‘sensational’ is an understatement, and since its publication Wenner has described it as ‘deeply flawed and tawdry’. He hasn’t spoken to the author since June. Hagan doesn’t seem surprised by Wenner’s reaction, and nor am I for Sticky Fingers chronicles rampant drug abuse and promiscuity with both sexes that would make Caligula blush, profligate spending on superfluous luxuries to gratify Wenner’s gargantuan ego and an abysmal lack of moral values in which his word is as worthless as a bent roach clip. 
It will come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that Wenner has a propensity for making enemies, among them John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Jimmy Page et al. Lennon never spoke to Wenner again after the publication in 1971 of Lennon Remembers, the series of interviews John gave to Wenner for RS on the expressed understanding they did not become a book. Dylan was angry that RS published a photograph his daughter against his wishes. Jagger felt Wenner ripped him off by naming his magazine after his band (and might now be equally pissed off that the title of this book borrows a Stones’ album title). Simon received unfavourable coverage because he slept with a girl who Wenner fancied but who’d turned him down. Page was furious at negative coverage of Led Zep. And while we’re at it let’s add Jackie Kennedy who took a dim view of Wenner ‘pouncing’ on her daughter Caroline. 
The only A-grade rock stars that Wenner seems not to have alienated at one time or another seem to be Springsteen and Bono, and although an understanding is reached with most of them it’s an uneasy truce that might fall apart at any time. In short, no one trusts him and with good reason. 
With ugly confrontations run of the mill for a man whose skin seems as thick as an elephant, you have to wonder how Rolling Stone survived. The answer is Wenner’s dogged determination to rescue it against all odds despite hovering on the brink of bankruptcy, enduring staff mutinies, tolerating wildly delinquent behaviour, especially on the part of Hunter S. Thompson, and simply picking himself up time and time again regardless. Much of the time he has the long-suffering Jane to thank for easing social situations, though the burden drives her to an addiction to Quaaludes and periods when she stays in bed for days at a time. 
Of course Sticky Fingers also chronicles the rock scene of the era from the inside, the shift from pop groups to rock bands, the corporatisation of the music industry, the way in which its fortunes are reflected in the circulation of Rolling Stone. Wenner was old school. He liked The Beatles, Stones, Dylan and The Who, and he disliked glam, metal, punk, disco and electronic dance music. He had to put up with it, of course, accepting only grudgingly that RS should cover changing styles. Thankfully he employed editors and writers who knew better but sooner or later almost all of them come up against his authoritarian ways and are fired or quit. Similarly, for someone with his foresight, he was curiously slow to adapt to MTV and, more importantly, the emergence of computers and the internet. He lost fortunes on launching other magazines, US Weekly aside, and nearly lost everything in the financial collapse of 2008. 
        In many ways Wenner’s role in the establishment of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame – slightly dubious actually – allowed him to rise above the controversies that dogged his position in the music business. Here he could indulge his groupie tendencies and promote the acts with whom he felt comfortable, but this placed him alongside many in the industry – both performers and executives – that he had wronged in the past. Still he rode it out, even a nasty spat with Paul McCartney. In 1994, when Lennon was inducted as a solo performer, McCartney agreed to give the introduction speech on the understanding that he (Paul) would be inducted the following year. Wenner reneged. McCartney was furious and it wasn’t until four years later that he was inducted, which explains why daughter Stella, who accompanied him on stage, wore a T-shirt with the slogan ‘About Fucking Time’. 
There’s plenty more aggro in Sticky Fingers, plenty about RS’s coverage of American politics, current affairs and drug-related issues, plenty about its famous writers, notably Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, plenty about the libidinous deeds of top RS photographer Annie Leibowitz, and plenty about Wenner’s social climbing and reckless spending on mansions and private aircraft to impress his peers. And sometimes I had to laugh, like when Hagan draws attention to Wenner’s weight problems and Jane’s attempts to slim him down. “Jane had cleaned the house out of anything that was good to eat except frozen foods,” literary agent David Obst tells Hagan. “Jann, hungry beyond his comfort point, went to the freezer and actually ate the frozen foods without thawing them out and they expanded in his stomach and he had to go to the emergency room.”
There, in a nutshell, is Wenner’s greed an impetuosity perfectly summarised. Sticky Fingers is a terrific read; unputdownable if, like me, you were part of the music scene in the era on which it dwells, and literate, entertaining and enlightening in the extreme wherever you were.


27.10.17

JANN WENNER & ME: A Preview of a Biography by Joe Hagan



In June of 1966 a 22-year-old American called Jann Wenner turned up at Melody Maker’s offices on Fleet Street to look up jazz expert Max Jones whose name had been given to him by Ralph Gleason, the jazz critic on the San Francisco Chronicle. He brought with him a review he’d written of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which MM declined to publish, but he hung around the MM offices for a while observing its staff at work. 
“He was astonished to see a working newsroom populated  with reporters smoking cigarettes and talking shop,” writes Joe Hagan in Sticky Fingers: The Life & Times of Jann Wenner, a just-published biography of the founder of Rolling Stone magazine. A few pages later we learn that in the spring of the following year Wenner, now back in San Francisco, approached Gleason with an idea. “[He said] how about a magazine,” recounted Gleason, “like the Melody Maker and Musical Express but an American one that would be different and better and cover not just the records and the music but the whole culture.”
Thus was born Rolling Stone whose founder, it is implied, was not only inspired to launch his magazine by his visit to MM but based his editorial philosophy on it as well. And that’s not all. The first issue, which rolled off the presses on October 18, 1967, contained several stories lifted from MM, rewritten by early staffer Susan Lydon. 
Unfortunately I was unaware of all this when I met Jann Wenner on two occasions while I worked for MM in New York between 1973 and 1977. The first was at Rolling Stone’s 1975 Christmas Party, held in an office building on the Upper East Side. Wenner, an irredeemable social climber, was in the company of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK and Jackie, to whom I was also introduced, but neither showed much interest in me which wasn’t really surprising and after a few seconds chat they drifted away. On the second occasion I was in the company of Peter Rudge, manager at large who at that time was involved with The Who and The Rolling Stones. If I remember rightly Peter and I had dined together in a restaurant in which Wenner was also a customer that night, and when he spotted Peter he joined us for coffee and then invited us back to his fancy apartment which was located nearby. Once there we attacked his booze with gusto and hoovered up his top quality cocaine. Wenner tried to glean information from Rudge on activities and/or inner secrets of the Stones and Who. Rudge, canny as ever, resisted but did so with sufficient tact to ensure that Wenner remained convinced Rudge knew more than he was letting on. 
I kept my own counsel during their exchange, though at one point Wenner quizzed me about MM and seemed surprised that it could afford to maintain a full-time New York correspondent. “We do sell about 200,000 copies a week,” I pointed out. “It’s 96 pages and plenty of advertising, too much in my opinion.” Wenner seemed impressed though the concept of ‘too much advertising’ was probably foreign to him. I thought for a moment that because I was clearly on good terms with Rudge he might offer me a job, but he didn’t. In hindsight, he struck me as the kind if person who often made promises on the spur of the moment and forgot about them soon afterwards, so if he had offered me a job and I'd turned up at Rolling Stone’s offices the following day it’s likely he wouldn’t have known why I was there or even recognised me. 
Thereafter my opinions of Jann Wenner were formed by others, invariably writers who’d come into conflict with him and his autocratic ways, chief among them Timothy White whose superb biography of Bob Marley, Catch A Fire, I published while at Omnibus Press. Timothy, who went on to edit Billboard, America’s premier music industry trade magazine, was not a fan. 
I long ago ceased to pay any attention to Rolling Stone which nowadays is insufferably bland, at least as far as its music coverage is concerned. “If it’s popular it must be good,” seems to be its mantra, an attitude that has infected pretty much the entire music press everywhere, and a far cry from ‘my day’, which I suppose brings me into line with the old bores in blazers and regimental ties sipping G&Ts in their Golf Club bars, for which I apologise. 
But back to Sticky Fingers whose author, Joe Hagan, has evidently fallen out with Wenner following publication of the book. It seems that what he’s written is not what Wenner anticipated, always a good sign and reason to buy a book. From what I can glean from the internet Wenner doesn’t like it because there’s too much about his sex life, which involves both women and men, deriding it as gossipy but Penguin Random House in America (Canongate in the UK) know what sells and a man of Wenner’s experience of the media ought to realise this. 
I haven’t finished reading the book yet and when I do I’ll review it properly here, but those mentions of Melody Maker in the first 100 pages that I have read seemed worthy of a Random Note in themselves and, of course, made me smile, and I have a feeling I’ll be smiling a lot more as I devour its pages in the coming week.