3.12.16

ELVIS KIDNAPPED – Latest News!

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


28.11.16

GILLIAN WELCH – Boots No 1, The Official Revival Bootleg




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


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

Gillian Welch's new look

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

19.11.16

ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME - 2017 Nominations

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

17.11.16

VISUALISING THE BEATLES – Book Review


More Beatles. I was asked to review this just-published book for the Beatles UK Fan Club magazine.



During 33 years as Editor-in-Chief at Omnibus Press a month rarely went by when I didn’t receive a proposal for a book about The Beatles, their authors gamely trying to find some new angle to interest readers. They ranged from the extreme (Why I Hate The Beatles) to the tangential (The Jimmy Nichol Story) to the unpublishable (deathly dull academic music studies). There were a few exceptional books (Graeme Thomson’s biography of George, diary style books by Keith Badman and the Beatles Monthly photo book) but far more were rejected than accepted.
Pitched into this crowded market now we have Visualising The Beatles (Orphan Publishing, large format, paperback, £25) by John Spring & Rob Thomas, graphic designers with a distinguished record in this line of work who have used their skills to create an original and highly attractive info-graphic book about our heroes, 250 pages of charts, tables and diagrams that are beautiful to look at but don’t really tell us much we don’t already know. Still, ‘we’ are probably not the market they are seeking. The fresh, computerised, techno-age feel of the book, its easy-on-the-eye pastel colours, its exclusive focus on facts and the all round clarity in which the data is presented seems to be aimed at those with short attention spans who don’t want to get bogged down in details or theory; probably on-the-go millennials, the generation that – almost fifty years after Pepper – might reasonably be asking what all the fuss was about all those years ago. Visualising The Beatles answers their question.
After a few introductionary pages about Liverpool and Hamburg, the book is arranged chronologically, album by album, with the various facts and figures illustrated by charts, most pertaining to a particular LP. The categories are pretty much the same for each – covers vs originals (until they wrote the lot), who wrote and sang what, track lengths, song keys, success (chart positions of individual tracks released as singles), volume and intensity (which is a bit difficult to follow as these strange circular diagrams do not specify what track is being measured), instruments played, performances (gigging years only) and style (how JPG&R dressed and wore their hair). Preceded by appropriate news timelines from the real world, this pattern is followed all the way from Please Please Me to Let It Be with a few diversions here and there to accommodate exceptional events like occupying the top five places in Billboard in 1964, their movies, the Apple rooftop concert and Paul’s mysterious death.
I was especially taken with the ‘who wrote what’ graphics that demonstrate precisely the ebb and flow of compositional work undertaken by John and Paul, and to a lesser extent George. These little diagrams confirm how the two principal songwriters in The Beatles grew apart, most dramatically on the ‘White’ album wherein the first disc’s 17 songs were all individual efforts, with only three joint compositions (one of them ‘Revolution 9’ to which George and Ringo but not Paul contributed) out of 13 on the second disc. Some, but not all, of the albums have those most common word charts, with the most frequent in big letters, ‘Love’ invariably taking pride of place. Also, the ‘what they looked like’ graphic Beatles are incredibly cute in their collarless jackets, through Pepper uniforms and finally the Abbey Road zebra crossing look.
With its focus on statistics, the book certainly brings home the vast scale of the Beatles’ achievements. I long ago grew tired of dim-witted tabloid journalists comparing the success of the latest boy band to The Beatles or even, heaven forbid, suggesting they might be “bigger than The Beatles”. This is complete rubbish, of course, because becoming “bigger than The Beatles” is simply unattainable in the modern era. The Beatles’ achievements, as detailed herein, are easy to digest and will forever remain unique because the music industry is a vastly different animal in 2016 than it was when The Beatles were active.
That said, the book is not without its flaws. In covering the albums in the way that they do, a number of important non-album hit singles (‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Hey Jude’ among them) are ignored. It would have been nice for these songs to have been included somehow and given the ‘who wrote and sang what’ treatment alongside all the album tracks. Towards the very end of the book, across a two-page spread, there’s an alphabetical list of all those artists who have covered Beatles songs, hundreds of them in ten columns in the tiniest type imaginable, white on red, a worthy but (in view of its illegibility) rather futile inclusion I thought. Also, for a book that is chock full of illustrations it’s odd to note that it contains only two actual photographs of the four Beatles together, and just six individual shots, and all eight are no bigger than the removable centrepiece on a 7” single. In the context of this book, this doesn’t matter all that much but I can’t help thinking that it was a way of keeping the photo budget as tight as possible.
There’s a lot of blank space within its pages but that’s a style issue and Visualising The Beatles is among the most stylish Beatles books ever. Indeed, it’s a classic from a graphic design standpoint and I can see it winning prizes for this alone. Highly recommended for Beatle beginners and those into state-of-the-art book design; nice to have but not essential for experienced Beatle hands.

14.11.16

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME – 2017 Inductees




Once again I am called upon to vote for nominees to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, that worthy American Institution in Cleveland where the great and the good who produce the music we love are mounted like statues along ‘Route 66’. Some of those nominated have been up before, others are new, but as the years go by I cannot be alone in thinking that time has eroded the eminence of the nominees, of which this year there are 19, an unusually large amount. As ever I can pick five.
In alphabetical order they are: Bad Brains, Joan Baez, The Cars, Chic, Depeche Mode, Electric Light Orchestra, Janet Jackson, Jane’s Addiction, The J. Geils Band, Journey, Chaka Khan, Kraftwerk, MC5, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Steppenwolf, Joe Tex, Yes and The Zombies. It’s a mixed bunch to say the least, ranging from folk to prog, with pretty much everything in between – R&B, soul, AOR, punk, eletro, new wave, grunge, rap, you name it. I don’t think I have ever been faced with such a wide choice.
Interestingly, The Smiths – for whom I have voted in the past but who failed to be inducted – are not on the voter form this time around. Was Morrissey spectacularly rude about the HoF? If so I must have missed it. I’d vote for Johnny Marr any day.
But let us now consider who I can vote for. In the past I have nominated both Kraftwerk and Yes and I will do so again.
Townshend’s work on Who’s Next aside, Kraftwerk’s pioneering use of synthesisers is the foundation for modern dance music and in addition they wrote some lovely, sensuous melodies, of which ‘Europe Endless’ and ‘Neon Lights’ are supreme examples. Regrettably, as I noted before, only Ralf Hütter of the ‘classic’ Kraftwerk (Ralf, Florian, Karl & Wolfgang, all nominated) is still in the group and he’s alienated the other three by sustaining the lucrative KW franchise all for himself, and this might compromise their situation with regard to the ceremony in the event that they are inducted. There is no love lost between the four of them, not least because Hütter is fabulously wealthy and the others aren’t. Nevertheless, they deserve to be in there, even if the way in which they conducted their career was the antithesis of the clichéd rock'n'roll lifestyle.
I have some history with Yes, as can be seen from the two posts about them on this blog, and for them to be inducted would be a fitting tribute to their late bass player Chris Squire, the only Yesman to stay the course through dozens of personnel changes, and also to fellow co-founder, singer Jon Anderson, whose health has given cause for concern in recent years. Incidentally no fewer than eight former or active members of the group have been nominated: Jon and Chris, together with guitarists Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin, keyboard players Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman, and drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White.
So who else? Let’s eliminate a few first. Perhaps shamefully (and this hasn’t happened before), I am insufficiently familiar with the work of Bad Brains, Jane’s Addiction and Joe Tex to consider them. Joan Baez is a folk singer with a wondrous voice and a renowned activist on the left side of the political divide but she isn’t rock’n’roll. ELO were never my cup of tea, ditto Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Although I’m familiar with their stuff, I wasn’t much of a fan of The Cars, Journey or Pearl Jam.
That leaves six, of which I can pick three: Chic, Depeche Mode, The J. Geils Band, MC5, Steppenwolf and The Zombies. Well, it’s a crime that Nile Rodgers isn’t already a member of the HoF and Chic have been nominated before, so there’s one of my votes. Depeche Mode will have another chance. The J. Geils Band deserve to be in but it’s not a crime they’re not, not yet anyway. MC5 were America’s first punks, anti-establishment to the max, and I want to vote for them, especially now if you get my drift. As is well known, Steppenwolf coined the term ‘heavy metal’ but, ‘Born To be Wild’ aside, what else? The Zombies were great (and I had a passing acquaintance with the late Paul Atkinson when he worked as an A&R man for Columbia Records in New York in the 70s) and I want to vote them in.
So it looks like Chic, MC5 and The Zombies alongside Kraftwerk and Yes. Any Just Backdated readers care to differ and sway my intentions? I need to get my vote in by December 15, so don’t hang around.

12.11.16

THE BEATLES: LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL



To accompany the film Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years, Apple Records, now part of Universal Music, has re-released as a CD the LP The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl, until now available only on vinyl. Originally released in 1977, it didn’t stay around long, though it was reissued on EMI’s downmarket MFP label around 1980, then allowed to slip out of print, probably because after the death of John, who approved it, the others weren’t so keen.
         I liked it a lot, however, if for no other reason than that it was a cherished memento of the social revolution we call Beatlemania, and I still have my vinyl copy. Oddly, this edition is still available on Amazon, reasonably priced (used, at around the £15 mark) and outrageously priced (£500 mint). My copy has got a hole punched in the top right hand corner of the sleeve, which indicates it’s a promo copy; this tallies with it being not on Parlophone but on the Capitol label, ie the US version, as in 1977 I was living in New York.

My original Hollywood Bowl album with the hole punched out.

         It isn’t quite mint but it’s not far off, probably because I would have played my bootleg Beatles Live At Shea Stadium far more, without realising until much later that it was a recording from the same shows misleadingly titled. I can still remember the thrill of acquiring this (in 1971) from a record shop in Chancery Lane, around the corner from the Melody Maker offices in Fleet Street, that specialised in under-the-counter stuff. I liked to play it at parties, really loud, and watch the reaction when the announcer shouts, “And now… here they are… The Beatles” as they crash into ‘Twist And Shout’. Invariably everyone looked at one another with an expression of total joy and started dancing. So it follows that having played this bootleg album to death, I didn’t play the authorised version that much when it arrived six years later.
         The new CD offers the same track listing (‘Twist And Shout’, ‘She’s A Woman’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, ‘Ticket To Ride’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Things We Said Today’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Boys’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Help!’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’) with four bonus tracks (‘You Can’t Do That’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby’s In Black’) which were no doubt left off the original vinyl for space reasons.
         The accepted wisdom is that as The Beatles became more accomplished in the studio their live performances deteriorated, this largely because no one could hear them play anyway, least of all themselves, so there was no point in trying. The group themselves, most notably John and George, promoted this notion, as did the crap-sounding unofficial live recording from Hamburg that was released just before the original vinyl Hollywood Bowl album. It didn’t help that this was an amateur recording taped at a time when The Beatles were bored with Hamburg and probably drunk. After all, it was New Year’s Eve, 1962.
         We had to wait until the BBC recordings and Anthology CDs for more evidence of how The Beatles sounded live, and with each new instalment opinions were revised upwards. Of course they were never going to sound like The Who or Led Zeppelin but that was because technology had advanced by the time the rock concert circuit came of age. If comparisons are to be made it ought to be with early live recordings by The Rolling Stones and Beach Boys – the only two contemporaries whose live albums I own since most ‘pop’ acts didn’t bother with live records in those days – and in this company The Beatles are magnificent. The Stones’ only live effort from the era, Got Live If You Want It!, is a dog’s dinner of dodgy overdubs and fakery on a seismic scale, and The Beach Boys, for all their vocal prowess, sound thin and weedy.
         So it gives me great pleasure to report that on Live At The Hollywood Bowl, its tracks taken from three concerts there (August 23, 1964, and August 29 & 30, 1965), The Beatles trounce them both. Somehow, despite the conditions, they manage to conjure up some of the magic that drew crowds to the Star Club in Hamburg and The Cavern and everywhere else around Liverpool when they really were the best rock and roll band in the world.
         Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Things We Said Today’, which – as booklet contributor David Fricke points out – is a startling reflection of just how good they could be when they really tried. The magic moment comes in the leap from verse to middle-eight, the surge from A minor to A major, when they abruptly move into supercharge mode, piling on the volume and effort as Paul sings the line ‘Me I’m just a lucky guy’ and the audience, recognising the moment, respond in kind. Much that is called awesome these days is not. This really is.
         Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that The Beatles didn’t want to tax themselves: six of the 13 tracks on the original LP were fairly straightforward 12-bars (as are two of the four bonus tracks), and ‘Twist And Shout’ is a three-chord song that beginners learn in the guitar equivalent of primary school. George is therefore called upon to chomp down a lot on that barred major up and down his fretboard while his little finger does the work, as John is no doubt also doing though it’s difficult to make out his rhythm guitar above the sharper noise from George’s Gretsch, Paul’s bass – which comes through remarkably well, far louder than on the studio albums – and Ringo’s sturdy, no-nonsense drumming.
         Vocally, both John and Paul are in great form throughout, though John sounds a bit off key here and there and loses the plot a bit towards the end of ‘Help!’, much to his own amusement. He has a slight tendency to bellow but when that seriously snappy voice of his comes cutting through like a knife, it’s one of the greatest rock’n’roll voices you’ll ever hear.
         ‘Twist And Shout’, the opener, is truncated – just over a minute, the final bit, after the guitar solo on the recorded version – but gets things off to a flying start, and ‘She’s A Woman’ swings like it always did, Paul’s rolling, loping bass line to the fore, and when he screams at the end it’s like a pressure cooker being let off. George’s solos often ramp things up, no more so than in ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ (which is spliced together from two separate performances of the song) and when John and Paul choose to sing together, as in ‘Ticket To Ride’ and, later, in ‘A Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’, it sounds terrific, that wonderful Beatles harmonic that seduced the world.
George takes the heavy load, vocals and lead guitar, on ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ though his second solo is a bit ragged, and Ringo’s party piece ‘Boys’ is taken such a furious pace that it can’t have been easy singing and drumming at the same time, especially with all that din around him. From the evidence of the photos in the booklet, his drums weren’t miked at all in 1965 (though the amps were) and there was only a single mike suspended above his head in 1964 (when the amps weren’t miked at all). Nevertheless you can hear Ringo clearly throughout, steady as a rock in a tidal wave.
Paul is especially impressive on ‘All My Loving’, again taken a bit quick, his busy bass thumping away, and John helps out on the final verse. ‘She Loves You’ is a predictable scream fest, especially when Paul and George yell ‘Ooo’ at the top of their voices and no doubt shake their heads to fuel the fan fervour. ‘Long Tall Sally’, also fast, closes the set, Paul’s vocals as raucous as ever though George runs out of steam on the second solo, not that it matters.
There is no perceptible difference between the 1964 and 1965 recordings, but the four bonus tracks don’t quite hit the spot in the way that the other 13 do. They’re OK but not great, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ the best of the bunch, with massive screaming after the ‘I can’t hide’ line, and though ‘Baby’s In Black’ is a bit plodding John is to be commended for his perfect pitch on the higher notes.
This edition has been remixed from the original three-track tapes by Giles Martin, son of George, and is certainly a better listen than the vinyl that I played again this week for the first time in many years. There’s also a decent booklet with helpful sleeve notes, including Georg Martin’s original from 1977, contemporary news reports and plenty of pictures.

         

7.11.16

THE NIGHTMARE CALLED TRUMP



A departure from music today. Forgive me, but if one US reader of my blog is swayed by this, it’s worth it. (The photograph of Donald Trump with a hollowed out space where his brain should be has been removed for aesthetic reasons [after a complaint].)




I am not the sort of person who would willingly read media that might be positive about Donald Trump so it follows that my views on his candidacy for President of USA are tainted by what I read in the Guardian and Observer, on Facebook, and internet links from there that lead me to satirical TV shows, unflattering graphics and more serious disapproving pieces about him, the best of which I’ve seen is by Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/11/andrew-sullivan-trump-america-and-the-abyss.html).
That said, I still find it difficult to believe that this very rich man, a real estate developer with no previous experience in politics and a rank outsider at the beginning of the race who no doubt joined it to get some free publicity for his business ventures, has got this far. It’s almost funny, except that it isn’t. The reality now is the terrifying prospect of this truly dreadful man graduating to the White House after tomorrow’s vote.
Trump is a cynical proponent of what I call the popular lie. He makes something up, shouts it out loud and, knowing that it resonates with their opinions, grins smugly as his gullible followers lap it up. In many ways this is no different from the lies peddled by Farrage and Johnson in the run up to our EU referendum. Sufficient people believed those lies and the result was Brexit, a catastrophe for the UK with shambolic ramifications that will rumble on for decades. I note that the Daily Express, the odious right-wing rag that peddled those lies more enthusiastically than even the Daily Mail, appears favourable towards Trump.
My concern, therefore, and it is one that is shared by many, is that the same thing might now happen on a far greater scale in the US. So let’s make no bones about this: Donald Trump is a jumped-up reality TV star, a con artist, a crooked businessman, a misogynist, a racist, a climate change denier, an opponent of gun control and abortion, a bully and an abuser of women. He’s a shameless tax dodger who favours the accumulation of private wealth and economic policies that benefit the rich to the detriment of the poor. He is a spoilt brat, unbearably vain and, as evidenced by the televised debates, a barely literate boor who repeats himself endlessly. With no policies of his own, he resorts instead to hysterical attacks on his opponents, a negative campaigner with a negative outlook. The only foreign leader he appears to admire is Vladimir Putin, a tyrant in everything but name and one whose ranks Trump aspires to join. Laughably, for someone who seems to have broken every commandment in the book, he’s even managed to deceive dim-witted evangelicals into supporting him. I thought the last Bush and cronies like Cheney and Rumsfeld were pretty dire but Trump and the sort of people that might serve under him make even Dubya look like a reasonable kind of guy.  
For the sake of our planet, for the sake of sanity, I would therefore urge all my American friends on Facebook and who read this blog, if they need urging and if they haven’t already done so, to vote for Hilary Clinton in tomorrow’s Presidential election. Thank you.

3.11.16

ADRIAN BOOT – 40 Years Of Punk


Adrian Boot with CC, pic by Olivia Charlesworth

Through his long association with Island Records Adrian Boot is best known for having photographed Bob Marley more prodigiously and with superior results than anyone else, and it is his revered shot of a contemplative Marley that appears on the front cover of Legend, the reggae king’s mega-selling compilation album.
Like Marley, Adrian was also drawn to punk rock, and it is this aspect of his work that is celebrated in 40 Years Of Punk, an exhibition at Camden’s Proud Gallery that opened last night and runs until January 8, 2017. Of course, it’s not really 40 Years OF Punk, more like 40 Years SINCE Punk, but you get the idea. With few exceptions, the pictures were all taken in the decade that followed the arrival of the Sex Pistols in 1975.
Adrian is a slight, pixielike, professorial chap with a mop of unruly hair, nowadays white, that is impervious to the attentions of a comb. Springy of step and nimble of sinew – his partner Lynn is a yoga teacher – he can position himself and his lens at all the right angles to capture his subject. A gift for banter and an inquiring mind that absorbs, analyses and dispenses wisdom means those subjects never become bored. He’s also more often than not one step ahead when it comes to technical innovation, though the pictures at Camden will have been processed the old fashioned, pre-digital way; exposed on 35mm film, almost all of them in monochrome, developed in a tank and printed on paper from an enlarger, at least when he first viewed the images emerging in a developing tray beneath a red light in his darkroom.
Reggae and punk may have been miles apart in terms of rhythmic style but they were closely related as far as political motive – the righteousness of the dispossessed – was concerned. That the punks liked their reggae was most evident on the many Jamaican covers in The Clash’s catalogue, largely the gift of their reggae-loving bassist Paul Simonon. So it follows that Adrian’s cameras focused on The Clash more than any others in the genre, hence the many pictures in the exhibition of Strummer and Co in their customary confrontational poses, looking like they mean business both on stage and off. The Clash really were extraordinarily photogenic without really trying to be, as Adrian, to his immense delight, must have discovered as he followed them around the wastelands of 1970's Notting Hill.
The term ‘iconic’ has become a bit of a cliché these days as far as rock photography is concerned but it really is quite surprising to see so many wonderful shots recognisable from the period because they appeared, and continue to appear, in magazines, on posters and in the never-ending stream of TV documentaries about rock’s past. In particular, there’s a colour shot of Johnny Rotten, taken in 1977, looking like a Fifties Ted in his pale blue jacket and frilly white shirt, his orange hair quiffed up like Gene Vincent. Where have I seen that before, I thought. Well, just about everywhere I guess.
All the usual suspects are present. As well as the Pistols and Clash we have Siouxsie, The Damned, Generation X, The Stranglers, Buzzcocks; their American cousins Ramones, Blondie and Suicide, on stage and on the streets outside CBGBs; later arrivals like the Police, Pretenders, Ian Dury and Adam & The Ants; and 2-Tone pioneers Madness and The Specials. One shot of the latter, taken amidst a wildly skanking crowd, suggests that although Adrian was slight of build he didn’t lack courage. Debbie Harry invariably looks gorgeous, of course, which implies Adrian might have succeeded in the fashion world too but, knowing him as I do, its superficiality was unlikely to suit his inquisitive temperament. As it happens he’s more lately moved on to travel photography, his speciality the Indian subcontinent where he and Lynn visit regularly and where he learned to play the sitar.
But I digress. The exhibition leaves no doubt in the mind that Adrian was the very opposite of indolent; everywhere and anywhere, night and day, during punk’s angry outburst. The pictures in his exhibition capture the furious aggression of the best of these bands at work, and their surly countenance off stage too, and a glance at his online archive  (www.urbanimage.tvindicates that they represent only a tiny fraction of what he got up to. The only flaw in the show that a pedant like me detected was a lack of precision in some of the captions: shots of The Pretenders dated 1988 feature James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, who died in 1982 and ’83 respectively, and a shot of Dury & ‘The Blockheads’ is actually an early line up of Kilburn & The High Roads.
        Finally, the pictures are for sale, framed or unframed, and I wasn't alone in noticing that the prices are considerably more reasonable than at most of these rock photo exhibitions. Good job Adrian, old mate.
        

2.11.16

ELVIS KIDNAPPED - Extract 3


The Stockholm Syndrome has set in. Elvis Presley has bonded with his kidnappers. A ransom note has been delivered to Graceland and at the cabin in the Kentucky Hills where he is held captive, Elvis and his three captors – Delmore, his wife Sandra and their friend Roy – have time to kill. It is time for an experiment.


Before they slept they checked on Elvis in the locked bedroom. He was sleeping soundly. The following day, after breakfast, all four of them, Elvis, Roy, Del and Sandra, squeezed into the truck and drove into the Daniel Boone National Park, stopping at a gas station on the outskirts of Montecello to buy food for a picnic lunch. Elvis was in a buoyant mood and had to be persuaded to stay in the truck with Roy while Del and Sandra went inside to pick up the provisions, and when they returned he pleaded with them to be able to step outside.
        “I just want to be able to be normal in the midst of ordinary people,” he said. “That’s something I never had, not since I was famous anyway. Let me use the bathroom. I won’t try anything.”
        Del and Roy looked at one another. “Should we let him?” asked Del.
        “Yes,” said Sandra. “I trust him.”
        “OK, but you gotta wear this hat,” said Roy, handing Elvis a floppy hat in green camouflage material that he wore while out shooting. Elvis reluctantly placed it on his head.
        Public appearances by Elvis Presley were almost always pre-planned, tightly choreographed and reported in the press, no matter how brief. On such occasions Elvis made sure he looked the part, dressing up in his capes, buckles and belts, the way he and his fans thought he ought to look. He usually wore outsize sunglasses. Elvis would no sooner slip out of the house in everyday clothes to pick up a pint of milk than the Queen of England would be seen in her nightdress.
During pre-production meetings in Los Angeles for the Singer special in May of 1968 its producer Steve Binder had suggested he and Elvis step out of his office on Sunset Boulevard and mingle with passers-by. Elvis was appalled by the suggestion, fearing that he would be mobbed on the street and some sort of disturbance ensue. He was therefore deeply humbled when no one recognised him. “We were just four guys standing in front of this building,” said Bones Howe, Binder’s audio engineer said afterwards.
It was quite another thing, however, for Elvis to use the bathroom in a roadside gas station without a security detail checking out the building first, making sure no one else was inside and waiting outside while he relieved himself. However, Elvis had been a captive now for five nights and, although he’d been given a change of clothing, the overalls and t-shirt he loathed so much, he hadn’t had a shave in all that time, nor been able to wash properly and re-dye his hair as was his custom. As a result Elvis’ natural brown colour was just starting to show at the roots and, as each day passed, his stubble had continued to grow but it wasn’t black like the dyed hair on his head, more salt and peppery. The camouflage hat only added to the obvious reality that he no longer resembled anything like the Elvis Presley that the world would recognise.
“OK,” said Roy. “But I’m coming with you.”
Elvis stepped down from the truck and walked across the forecourt to the bathroom. The only other customer, a young man dressed in a check shirt and similar overalls to those Elvis wore, was filling up a station wagon, and as they approached the bathroom a middle-aged woman pulled up in a sedan, got out and walked towards the shop. Neither gave Elvis and Roy a second glance.
Inside the bathroom was another man, splashing water on his face at the basin. He turned and stepped aside as Elvis passed close by him, glancing at Elvis but showing no signs of recognition. When they had finished Elvis and Roy walked back to the truck, passing close to the woman from the sedan who was lingering by a newspaper stand close to the entrance to the shop. She ignored them.
Back in the truck Elvis appeared overjoyed. “You have no idea what that felt like for me,” he said. “That’s the first time in 20 years I’ve been able to walk around outside in public and not be recognised. Now I know what it’s like not to be Elvis Presley.”
Emboldened by the success of their experiment at the gas station, the quartet drove on into the National Park, eventually stopping at a picnic area and eating lunch. Although the area was far from crowded, a handful of other groups of picnickers settled nearby, among them a family of four, father, mother and two boys below the age of 10. After their meal the boys began to throw a football to one another and when one boy failed to catch the ball it rolled to where Elvis, Roy, Del and Sandra were sat. Elvis glanced at the others. Roy nodded. Elvis picked up the ball, stood up and threw it back to the boy.
“Thanks mister,” he shouted from about 10 yards away. The father of the boys waved in acknowledgement and Elvis waved back. He smiled and sat down. Elvis was beginning to enjoy normality.
In the afternoon the four of them continued their drive through the National Park, stopping now and then and getting out of the truck to admire the scenery. At one particular spot they mingled with a coach party. Elvis again went unrecognised. Driving back to the cabin in the early evening they passed a roadside diner and Elvis suggested they stop to eat. “I can’t remember what it was like to go into a restaurant and be served, just like a normal person, no one making a fuss,” he said.
There were only three other vehicles parked outside, and it was safe to assume one of them belonged to the staff. Roy parked the truck and sent Sandra inside to check on how crowded it was.
“There’s only two tables occupied,” she reported back. “A young couple on one and an old guy on the other.”
“OK,” said Del. “I’m sick of eating in the cabin anyway.”
“Me, too,” said Elvis. “But that’s not to say I don’t like your cooking Miss Sandra,” he added hurriedly.
Sandra smiled at Elvis, and Elvis grinned back. It seemed like any natural exchange between old friends.
“You sit facing the wall Elvis,” said Roy. “If anything happens we’re out of here quick.”
The four of them ate burgers and fries washed down with coke. No one paid them the slightest notice. Elvis said little throughout the meal, relishing his anonymity. It never even occurred to him to go up to the counter and identify himself, not that the waitress would have recognised him anyway. As they walked back to the truck he asked, “Do y’all trust me now?”
“I guess so,” said Roy. “But I still had this with me, just in case.” He opened his jacket to reveal the .38 stuffed into his belt.
Elvis winced. “You didn’t need that,” he said. “I gave you my word.”
Sandra thought she detected a touch of hurt in his voice. “I believe
you,” she said. 
Back at the cabin Elvis joined Roy, Del and Sandra on the porch before they turned in for the night. Roy and Del were drinking beer, Elvis and Sandra coke. “Did you guys serve in the army?” Elvis asked them.
Roy and Del nodded.
“Vietnam?”
“Yea,” said Roy. “But we don’t talk about it.”
“They don’t like to,” said Sandra. “Even I can’t get them to tell me anything about what they did there.”
“Why not?” asked Elvis.
“The way the Americans treated the Vietcong,” said Del. “It wasn’t good.”
They lapsed into silence. Then Roy spoke. “I’ll tell y’all one story. We took a prisoner once, me and Del. A stray Vietcong man we found in the jungle. We ought to have killed him but we didn’t. We couldn’t. Not in cold blood. He wasn’t a soldier, just a simple man, a farmer maybe. So we tied him up and took him with us, back to where we thought our camp was located. But we got lost in the jungle, didn’t know where we were, lost our sense of direction. It was night, there were no lights, nothing, just a torch that I had.”
Elvis nodded. “So what happened?”
“The Vietcong guy sensed that we were lost and he showed us the way,” said Del, picking up the story. “He couldn’t speak no English and we couldn’t understand him but he led us out of the jungle even though he was our prisoner. And when we got near the camp he pleaded with us to let him go because he knew that if we took him into the camp he’d be shot.”
“Did you let him go?” asked Elvis.
“Yea,” said Del. “He’d saved us. We thought maybe he had a wife and kids. He could have led us back to where his people were, and we’d have been captured or killed.”
“He ran off back into the jungle as fast his legs could carry him,” said Roy. “The thing is… we trusted him and he trusted us. We repaid his trust.”
“Just like today,” said Elvis. “You trusted me, and I repaid it. I can’t lead a normal life, and never will, even after you let me go. But you showed me what it was like. Millions of men dream of being Elvis Presley, and I dream sometimes of being one of those millions. Today a little piece of that dream came true for me. Because of the same trust you shared with that Vietcong guy in the jungle.”