20.10.17

THE POP QUIZ

When Nick Drake observed that fame is but a fruit tree he was conveying the wisdom that fame can endure only if its roots are sufficiently strong. Today’s TV talent show winners rarely last the course but, given the right breaks, musicians who truly master their craft before fame beckons certainly deserve to reach the finishing line, their prize a lifelong career that sees them into old age, a few awards to sit on their trophy shelf and the satisfaction of a five-star review in Mojo when the career-spanning 4-CD anthology box set is released.
I don’t think it ever occurred to me or my colleagues on Melody Maker that we would ever become famous, and that was never the motive when I applied for the job in the first place. Such fame, of course, was microscopic compared to that of those about whom we wrote, not just the big stars who filled arenas and had gold albums but even the also-rans whose fleeting visit to the charts was followed by termination of contracts after their second album sold less than 3,000 copies. 
Nevertheless, we probably did become slightly famous. I was a bit awed at first to be sharing an office with Richard Williams, the first presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test whose day job was MM’s assistant editor, the first TV personality I ever encountered, not that Richard ever felt at home in front of the cameras, or so he told me. Chris Welch too had achieved a modicum of fame for his idiosyncratic coverage of the pop scene for many years by the time I found myself sat next to him. MM sometimes put our pictures alongside the articles we wrote, albeit only about the size of postage stamps, and when I became its news editor my by-line occasionally appeared above stories that became front page leads. We didn’t get many fan letters addressed to Melody Maker but the odd one arrived every now and then and, very occasionally, readers, often girls, would make their way to 161 Fleet Street, somehow talk their way past the doorman, and wander into the offices.
On such occasions a hush would descend as visitors and writers eyed one another speculatively.
“Can I help you?” one of us might ask. 
“Is this Melody Maker’s offices?”
“Yes.”
“Do you have any pictures of Marc Bolan?”
As often as not Roy Burchall, the hard-nosed office manager, would show them out but if they were lucky one of us might take them for a drink in the Red Lion, or if they were really lucky, well, who knows? In 1971, I recall that two girls who’d come all the way from San Francisco showed up and, after squiring them around London, Roy Hollingworth and photographer Barrie Wentzell both looked rather pleased with themselves the following morning.
It wasn’t all moon in June. A man from Japan famously arrived in the office in search of Chris Welch who, on a recent visit to Tokyo with ELP, had encountered this chap and rashly offered to put him up if ever he was in London. The deadpan Japanese gentleman had taken Chris at his word, all of which led to a rather awkward situation when he, accompanied by his wife and a mountain of luggage, appeared in the offices. 
Among the many benefits of fame, lasting or otherwise, the magnetic appeal to members of the opposite sex seemed to me to be the biggest prize of all. It is the prerogative of rock stars to enjoy the attentions of beautiful women to a greater degree than most other men and in the two years I’d spent on MM I’d had plenty of opportunities to observe this in practice. Some rock stars took the fullest advantage of this privilege and I couldn’t help feeling a bit envious. But it can go wrong, as I discovered for myself in the spring of 1972, and all because of a letter from a student at Keele University in Staffordshire that arrived at MM’s offices addressed to me. 

This occurred around the time of my 25th birthday which I had been anticipating eagerly since that was the age when you could insure a fast car without paying through the nose. Earlier in the year my maternal grandmother had passed on and left me £1,000 in her will. Instead of sensibly putting down the deposit on a house in Hammersmith that today would be worth well over £1 million I decided to blow it (and whatever I could get for my Mini) on a used Lotus Elan sports car, yellow too, a fabulous little toy that went like a rocket because beneath its ultra-light fibreglass body was a souped-up 1,600cc engine. Steering it was like driving on rails and it had a kick like a mule in second gear, but there were snags: like a racehorse it needed to be kept fit, ie driven a lot; it was fragile; there wasn’t much room in it; it was noisy; and although it attracted welcome attention from girls there was an opposite reaction from speed cops, especially if its driver had long hair. Also, to be honest, it wasn’t very reliable. 
In the fullness of time the engine of my beloved yellow Lotus would explode on the M1 just south of Sheffield, but that was in the future as I scanned the letter from Keele University. My correspondent, name of Christine*, wrote to the effect that she was a big fan of Elton John and had greatly enjoyed reading an interview I’d done with him at his house in Sunningdale the previous week. Having once given Elton a glowing review before he was famous he was very cordial to me in those days, and I recalled the visit well. I had driven to Surrey in the Lotus with Barrie W, spent an afternoon chatting with Elton and admiring his brac-a-brac, taking tea with him and his mother and finally beating him at table-tennis, all of which I mentioned in my article. Christine’s letter was in extremely neat handwriting, on light blue scented paper with a floral illustration, and was very flattering, and she wanted to know how to get in touch with Elton. It begged a reply and I felt it would be churlish of me to chuck it in the bin. Also, I had some distant history with Keele since that was where an ex-girlfriend of mine from my home town of Skipton had studied, and I’d visited her there back in 1968. 
My curiosity piqued, I wrote back to Christine, giving the address of Elton’s management company, standard policy, and the name of his PR, Penny Valentine, whom I knew well. Christine evidently wrote to Penny and, much to her surprise and delight, received a signed photograph of Elton in return – ‘To Christine, love Elton xx’ – so she wrote to me again, thanking me effusively. I was quietly satisfied that I’d done a complete stranger a nice favour and thought no more of the matter. 
But that wasn’t the end of it. A month or two elapsed before Christine wrote again, this time inviting me to adjudicate a pop quiz that was to be part of her college’s rag week festivities in July. It was for charity, she pointed out, and I would be treated as a VIP, fed and watered and given a place to sleep for the night within the university’s halls of residence. All I had to do was make a witty speech about being a music writer, ask the questions, some of which I could make up myself, and present the prize. I accepted. 

On the appointed day, a Saturday, I drove from London to Newcastle-under-Lyme where Keele University is located. I followed Christine’s written instructions and arrived in the late afternoon, leaving the Lotus in the car park where it looked a bit ostentatious to say the least. Christine described herself as tall and blonde, which sounded promising, and I simply had to find my way to the students’ bar and ask for her there.  
She did indeed turn out to be tall, taller than me in fact, and blonde and it was evident from the moment I introduced myself that she was exceedingly pleased to meet me. Indeed, because I was news editor of MM and had met Elton John she had probably made up her mind well in advance to be exceedingly pleased to meet me even though she had never set eyes on me before. It was a bit overpowering. She steered me away towards a table away from anyone else and came on very strong, far too strong for my liking, and to my utmost regret I found this rather unappealing. Her blonde hair was too blonde to be natural, probably the product of peroxide, her smile seemed affected and there was an element of unsettling anxiety in the slightly brittle way she spoke to me. Rock stars were do doubt accustomed to girls being nervous in their company and had developed ways to cope with it, but I wasn’t a rock star and wasn’t used to this type of encounter, and I felt a bit uncomfortable. It didn’t help that Christine laughed at her own jokes, which weren’t particularly funny, but I did my best to be sociable, smiled as appropriate and answered whatever questions she put to me. I guess I was trying to put her at her ease, which was clearly necessary, and I had no reason to dislike her, but even at this early point in our association I sensed that it wasn’t one I’d look back on fondly. After a drink in the bar I inquired where I would be sleeping.
“Come with me,” she said, grinning. 
“I need to get my bag.”
We went outside to where the Lotus was parked. It had what would have been the desired effect were it not for my growing disillusionment with the situation.
“What a fantastic car!”
For once, I wished I still had the Mini. 
We went back inside and I followed her up a flight of stairs, down a corridor and into a small hall-of-residence room that was clearly her own, and she closed the door behind us. It was furnished sparsely with a desk, chair, cupboard, dressing table with mirror and extremely narrow bed. A window looked out on to green fields. On the desk were a few books, some LPs and a record player, and on the dressing table were cosmetics, scent bottles and a hair bush. She extracted her signed photograph of Elton from a drawer and showed it to me proudly. 
“Thank you so much for this,” she gushed. “I’m so grateful to you. I don’t know how to thank you.”
I sensed she wanted me to kiss her so I did, quite chastely on the cheek. I think she expected more. “We’ll sleep here,” she murmured, indicating the bed. 
I was dumbstruck. Having by now reached the disappointing conclusion that Christine was not a girl with whom I would have chosen to embark of a relationship, brief or otherwise, I was simultaneously faced with the sudden realisation that my reward for having secured Elton’s autographed photo was to share her bed when the evening’s festivities were over. I honestly didn’t think she’d be that forward, especially as she seemed like a nice middle-class girl to me, well-spoken and quite virtuous in her appearance and dress, but she’d obviously planned this in advance without seeking my assent beforehand. For all she knew I could have been married. Like John in ‘Norwegian Wood’, she showed me her room, isn’t it good? 
This really did fill me with trepidation and I couldn’t help but think that if the situation was reversed, by which I mean that if I had been the female party and she the male, then I would almost certainly have felt justified in objecting. But this way round? What to do? I was in a quandary. I wanted to enjoy myself, have a few drinks and not have to do any more driving, but if I did I’d have to stay the night and sleep with her or ask for a room of my own which probably wasn’t available anyway and which might have offended her, and here she was being ultra nice to me, far too nice in fact, which was probably what made me want to extricate myself from this whole predicament. Also, if I did sleep with her, there was a distinct possibility that she might take this as a sign that an ongoing relationship was on the cards, an impression I certainly did not want to give. Neither, for that matter, did I fancy a one-night-stand with me leaving in the morning and her thinking I was a ‘love rat’ as the tabloids so aptly put it these days.
Should I stay or should I go? It was no win situation and to make matters even worse there was an added distraction that would gnaw at me as the night progressed. Christine’s best friend, name of Janet*, a brunette with wavy hair down to her shoulders and big blue eyes, was drop-dead gorgeous in her black minidress, more confident, more fun, more attractive, more sexy than Christine in every way, and she was tagging along with us, as she would do throughout the evening, smiling away at me and certainly giving the impression that she was envious that Christine had evidently snagged me for herself. Oh, the irony! Of course, I’d have given anything for the roles to be reversed so that I could be with Janet, and maybe even establish a proper relationship with her somehow – but this was clearly unthinkable in the circumstances. I decided to wait, to play it by ear and see how things panned out. 

From the point of view of my official reason for being at Keele University that night the course of the evening went swimmingly. I made a brief but funny speech, adjudicated the pop quiz, handed out the prizes, got a big round of applause and lots of students wanted to shake my hand and have a chat. I think I did a good job promoting Melody Maker and many in that crowd no doubt went to bed contemplating a career as a music writer.
Still, the more delicate issue had yet to be resolved. I bided my time and at one point as the revelry drew on Christine excused herself to go the bathroom. I turned to Janet.
“I need to talk to you alone.”
        Janet stared at me with a quizzical expression on her face. What did he want, she must have thought. Christine had gone off somewhere, momentarily, but she was bound to be back soon. Why did he want to talk to me alone? What did he have to say that he couldn’t say here, in the bar? 
        “What is it?” she asked. 
        “Please… is there somewhere we could go, somewhere quiet?”
        Janet took in my pleading look and stood up. “Follow me,” she said, leading the way out of the bar, through a hallway and finally outside and into the night. 
        “I have a dilemma,” I said, glancing around to confirm that no-one was about. “Well, it’s two dilemmas actually.”
        “Go on,” she said.
        “It seems that Christine is expecting me to spend the night with her in her room. It’s a very small room, as you probably know, with a very small bed. She took me up there to see it.”
        She nodded in agreement.
        “It would be difficult to sleep with someone in that bed without… er… well you can guess surely?”
        “Yes,” she said, nodding, trying not to grin.
        “Well, the fact is Janet... I don’t really fancy Christine. And I don’t really want to sleep with her and then leave in the morning and have her thinking I’m just some guy who was after a one-night stand or, even worse, expecting this to be the start of some relationship with her. So I’d rather it didn’t happen at all. So I have to leave tonight. I can’t stay.”
        “So, why are you telling me this?”
        “Well, that brings me to the second dilemma which is sort of tied up with the first.”
        “Well…”
        I hesitated, searching for the right words. “Let’s put it like this. If the situation was reversed, and if it was you who’d invited me up here tonight and it was your room I was expected to stay in, well I wouldn’t be having this conversation with Christine.”
        “I don’t quite follow you.”
        “Christ Janet… what I’m trying to say is that although I realise it’s probably out of the question, and there’s no other way to put this… the thing is… I’d much prefer to spend the night with you.”
        Janet blinked. I couldn’t tell whether she was offended or pleased, but at least she didn’t slap me in the face. Although she didn’t give anything away the fact that she faltered before replying gave me a slim hope. “I thought you were going to say that,” she replied eventually. “But I can’t. I don’t want to hurt Christine. She’d hate me.”
        “Really?”
        “Really.”
        “You don’t mind me asking, though?”
        “No. It’s OK.”
        “Really?”
        “Really.”
        “You won’t tell her about this conversation.”
        “No, of course not.”
        “Thank you.”
        I wanted to hug her and I’d like to think that she wanted to hug me back, but we didn’t. We just went back to the bar together. Christine was waiting for us and asked where we’d been.
“I just fancied a bit of air,” I said.
“Me too,” said Janet.
Nothing much more was said, though Christine looked slightly concerned. Five minutes later I excused myself and called my dad to say I’d be arriving in Skipton, late, and could he leave a key for me in the garden shed? I’d already stopped drinking beer. I went back to the bar and told Christine that I couldn’t stay overnight for family reasons. I needed to see my old dad. She looked crestfallen. I had a pint of water to flush out my system, then drove to my dad’s house, about an hour and a half up the M6, turning right half way through Lancashire. 
I was to pay a price for disappointing Christine, however. About five miles east of Skipton, as I was driving through West Marton, I sensed that the lights on the Lotus were dimming and knew that the fan belt had snapped. By now it was about one in the morning. I needed to keep the car running because if it stalled it wouldn’t start again and I would be stranded. I revved it like there was no tomorrow, eking out the dying battery but eventually it ground to a halt in Gargrave, about two miles from my destination. I left it by the side of the road, and trudged home in the darkness. The next day was a Sunday so my dad had to arrange for it to be picked up and towed to a garage, and it wouldn’t be mobile again until the following week. Monday was news day at MM, my big day, and I had to be there. I returned to London that night by train, then got another train back to collect the car the following weekend, all of which cost me a few bob. 
And I never saw Christine, or Janet, or Keele, again.


* Not her real name.
* As above.

15.10.17

THE GIRL IN THE BATH


Towards the end of 1970, a few weeks after settling into a flat share in Bayswater, I became aware that each Sunday afternoon there took place in Hyde Park a football match between teams comprised of music industry personnel. Pink Floyd fielded a team, as did Melody Maker though the only member of the staff that played on it was Roy Burchall, the office manager, but for reasons long forgotten Ray and Dave Davies from The Kinks had been known to turn out for MM too. Most sides were made up from road crews of bands, big burley men with very long hair that fluttered behind their heads like lion’s manes as they ran around in the autumn wind. 
One Sunday I ventured into the park myself, strolling towards the pitches on the south side of the Serpentine and standing alone on the touch line for about ten minutes to watch the game. The play was robust, determined, neither side giving much away, and there was a good deal of shouting, swearing mostly, between the players as they urged one another on or sought to have the ball passed their way. Everyone got very muddy. I was surprised by the enthusiasm and resolve, pleased to be a spectator and not taking part. 
There was a small crowd watching the game at the half way line, and a few random spectators behind the goals, no more than twenty in total, some of whom cheered as fans are wont to do. After a while I noticed a girl called Anna that I recognised from among a crowd who hung out at La Chasse, the private music industry bar/club on Wardour Street. The sister of a roadie who worked for Yes, she was a short but well-built girl with dark hair that fell over her forehead into a fringe, a round face and a sweet smile, quite pretty in a slightly tomboyish way, and like everyone else she was dressed in blue jeans and a shapeless dark sweater. She was with a group of others, perhaps five or six, whom I did not know, but when she saw me she came over to chat and we stood together for a while, watching the game and talking to each other. She told me she didn’t much like football and from this I guessed that she was unimpressed by the strutting manliness of the players on the field and might just prefer the company of a less athletically inclined fellow such as myself. I was beginning to enjoy her company and I sensed the feeling was mutual. 
“There’s a party after the game, at a house in Earls Court. Some of us are going there,” she told me. “Do you want to come?”
“Do you know whose house it is?”
“Some guy called Tony Brainsby. Do you know him?”
“Yes. He’s a PR.”     
“Do you want to come with us?”
“OK,” I replied, having nothing else planned for the rest of the day. 
I knew Tony Brainsby but not well, though I would come to know him better as my Melody Maker career developed. A hard-working independent music industry PR, he was a tall, thin bundle of energy with long straight ginger hair whose most notable characteristics were the outsized horn-rimmed glasses he wore and two rows of prominent and rather goofy teeth that flashed absurdly whenever he smiled, which was often. He was what was known in the trade as a ‘motor-mouth’, endlessly jabbering on about the extraordinary abilities of one client of his or another, quite likeable in a way but at the same time a bit wearing on the patience. I knew he lived in Earls Court, reputedly in a big house that he’d inherited from his wealthy mother. Some seemed to think he’d done well in a role outside of the music business first but become bored with the straight life, grown his hair and taken up rock PR instead.
There was certainly something off-beat, maybe even slightly sinister, about him, as if there existed hidden secrets of a shady nature that he preferred to keep undisclosed, perhaps involving the exchange of envelopes containing wads of cash or illegal substances, or the sexual availability of pretty girls who were in his employ. His incessant chatter precluded inquiries into these suspicions but I was on my guard when I was around him lest a careless remark, an indiscretion that he would file away, might lead to my having to make a compromise of some kind from which he would benefit. 
Also, Brainsby was known to have wealthy friends who had probably inherited their riches, and when he wasn’t slumming it in the world of rock and roll he mixed in circles several rungs higher up the social ladder. It was known that he had a friend, name of Neville, who occupied a swanky apartment off Jermain Street in St James where exclusive parties were held, and where there was rumoured to be a two-way mirror through which activities occurring in an adjoining bedroom might be observed. I had no personal knowledge of this but another writer on MM, Roy Hollingworth, had evidently seen through the mirror and was mildly concerned that his own conduct in that same bedroom, which he could bring to mind only dimly through a haze of befuddlement, might at one time have been observed by others. All of this served to condemn Brainsby in my mind as someone to respect but who was best kept at arm’s length. 
Brainsby’s clients included Cat Stevens, Roy Wood, Thin Lizzy, Queen and David Essex, and he would soon include Paul McCartney and Wings among them too. He had a few lesser known clients managed by businessmen with high hopes and sufficient money to hire him, usually singer songwriters of the ‘bedsitter’ variety, and he was adept at subtly inveigling his journalistic prey into providing press coverage of these troubadours by offering hospitality that was designed to render music writers incapable of objecting. This often took the form of inviting the journalist to a ‘party’ at his or a friend’s home during which copious amounts of drink and other substances would be consumed, often in the company of attractive girls who seemed sufficiently welcoming to assume that a close personal encounter might be on the cards later that same evening. When the party was in full swing Tony would bid everyone to hush and introduce his latest singer songwriting protégé who would step forward with his guitar and perform an original composition or two to wild applause. 
It may have been scripted but at the end of the performance one of Brainsby’s girls would approach the journalist, position herself disturbingly close and squeeze his hand. “Isn’t he fabulous?” she would purr into his ear.
The journalist, sensing that to demur might blight his romantic prospects with the seemingly pliant girl, would agree wholeheartedly. “Er, yes, great,” he would say.
This was the cue for Brainsby, who had placed himself within earshot, to step up and complete the coup de grace. 
“You’re absolutely right. He is great,” he would say to the ambushed journalist whose head was already spinning. “He’s definitely going to be huge one day.”
“Yes, great,” you would reply. 
“Let me introduce you.” Whereupon the girl would step aside and Brainsby would bring the minstrel forward for handshaking. “Well, what about an interview?” he’d say. “In fact, why don’t we do it now?” 


So it was that when the football game in Hyde Park was over some of the players left abruptly while others lingered, a group of us finally wandering off towards Kensington Road where we hailed at least two cabs that carried us to Edith Grove in Earls Court where Tony Brainsby occupied his big white terraced house that doubled as his place of business. It was one of those Victorian houses on several floors, approached up a flight of steps, and he had demolished walls to create a substantial open space on the ground floor, a sort of open plan area where a large crowd was mingling when we showed up sometime between 5 and 6pm. It was evident from the discarded bottles and smoke-filled atmosphere that the party had been going on for some time, at least since the pubs had shut at 2 pm, and it was very congested, mostly music industry types I assumed and not necessarily those with whom a writer on Melody Maker might ordinarily come into contact. 
I saw Brainsby before he saw me, and when I did I began to wonder at what remove did one become a gatecrasher as opposed to a guest. Anna, it seemed, did not know Brainsby at all and had come to learn of the party from her brother who was one of the footballers, now with a dark blue track suit over his kit but amongst our party nonetheless, looking a bit windswept and with a touch of mud on his forehead. He too was unfamiliar with Brainsby and had been told about the party from a team member who was acquainted with him, so the chain of invitations had three links from him to me, although unlike the two links above me I actually knew the host. I thought it unlikely that Brainsby would object to my presence, if for no other reason than his calling demanded that he was forever gracious towards writers in all but the most trying of circumstances, but at the same time I thought it doubtful that he’d welcome me with open arms. He seemed to me to be the kind of individual who needed to be in control of things, and my arrival – when he became aware of it – would take him by surprise. This was not a party thrown for the benefit of the press and it might be that the behaviour of certain guests was not something Brainsby would want the press to witness, though as far as I could see there were no musicians of note, or otherwise, present. Nevertheless, I might still be stepping across an invisible line that separated work and pleasure for him. 
When he did see me Brainsby came bounding over, all smiles.
“Hi Chris, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Hi Tony. No, I heard about the party from a friend that I’m with. I hope you don’t mind…”
He cut me off. “Of course not,” he said, trying to sound sincere. “Great to see you. Help yourself to a drink.”
Anna was by my side and I introduced her. “This is Tony, the host,” I said. Tony leant forward – he was a good twelve inches taller than her – and kissed her on the cheek. 
It occurred to me that mixing business with pleasure was something that Brainsby did all the time but that since my arrival was unexpected he wasn’t in a position to take advantage of it, by which I mean he was unprepared to extol the virtues of a client or otherwise progress his business interests as he normally would when confronted with an MM writer like myself. Also, he seemed slightly on edge, as hosts often are when a party attracts not only more guests than anticipated but guests he knew but wasn’t expecting. 
“Enjoy yourselves,” he said, easing back into the crowd. 
I could tell from the atmosphere that marijuana was being smoked. Plenty of beer, wine and spirits were being consumed and music was playing loudly. There were about 60 or 70 people present, more girls than men, and several very attractive girls were dancing casually in the wide open space, others mingling by a drinks table. I wondered who they all were and how Brainsby came to know them all. Most of the men seemed to stay together. Coupling had not yet commenced but would before the party was over I thought. Anna and I appeared to be one of the few couples, and having collected a drink each we slid off to the side, propping up a wall. By now I had concluded that she had decided to stick with me, at least for the duration of the party, or as long as we stayed, and probably for the night as well. When I put my arm around her shoulders she moved in closer to me, and we talked a bit about Brainsby.
“How do you know him?” she asked.  
I explained that he was a music biz PR and that because I was now the News Editor of MM I probably spoke to him on a weekly basis about something or other, and that he had taken me to lunch not long after my appointment. Aside from those that worked for record labels, there were about half a dozen prominent music PRs in London in those days: Les Perrin, Tony Barrow, Keith Goodwin, Billy Harry, Mike Gill, some smaller fry. Brainsby was among the youngest but pushiest, slightly apart from the rest because he worked out of Earls Court and not the West End. Most PRs had offices in Soho.
Anna took all this in and seemed impressed by my knowledge of the music PR world.
“Those girls all look like models,” she said, a slight frown on her face as she surveyed the girls who were dancing. “I hate them.”
I laughed. She probably envied their looks and skinny frames but for all their attractiveness these girls appeared rather cold and aloof to me. Anna, on the other hand, was warm and friendly. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. “Stay here. Stay with me.”
I promised I would and off she went, and while she was gone I helped myself to another beer and a sausage on a stick from a table in the kitchen. I smiled and nodded at a few people I didn’t know, and noted how the girls who might have been models were all wearing similar clothes, bell-bottom blue jeans that hugged their pert little bottoms and smock tops or t-shirts. 
Anna returned presently with a surprised look on her face. “You won’t believe this but there’s a girl in the bathtub,” she informed me, lowering her voice as she did so. “She’s covered in jelly that’s setting all around her. She hasn’t got any clothes on. Someone said she’s tripping on acid.”
“You’re kidding,” I said. “Isn’t anyone doing anything?” 
“No. She seems quite happy.”
“I wonder whether Tony knows?”
Anna laughed. Was it appropriate behaviour, I wondered, to inform the host that a naked girl was lying in his bathtub in this state? Surely he must be aware of it and had decided to leave her be, even though the bathroom was being used by one and all. I was, of course, unable to resist seeing this for myself.
“Wait for me,” I said, leaving Anna by the wall. 
There were two others waiting to use the bathroom, which was on the first floor, a man and a girl who appeared to be together.  
“You know there’s a girl in there, in the bath?” said the man.
“I heard that, yes,” I replied.
“It’s Claudia,” said the girl. “She’s friend of Tony’s, works for him sometimes.”
The bathroom door opened and another girl came out. “Claudia’s still in the fucking bath,” she said. “Doesn’t want to move. Fucking jelly setting around her. Fucking idiot.”
This girl left, muttering to herself. The man and girl waiting before me next entered the bathroom together and closed the door behind them. Two minutes later it opened and they emerged together.
“She won’t come out,” said the girl. “Do you need the loo?”
“Yes,” I lied. 
“Be quick, then.”
I went into the bathroom and closed the door. It was a large bathroom by most standards, with plenty of space between the bath, basin and toilet bowl, all of which were made from white porcelain. There was a frosted glass window, tightly shut, and the walls were painted yellow. The girl called Claudia was indeed lying stark naked, stretched out in the bath which was easily big enough to accommodate her without the need for her to raise her knees. She was a rake-thin, dark haired girl with very small breasts, quite tiny which made me suspect she was young, certainly no older than 18, her arms by her sides, her legs slightly apart, her head back and her eyes closed. Her long hair was parted in the centre and fell down to her shoulders, and she had a slight smile on her face. She was perfectly still, and there was something almost serene about her, a tranquillity that, had it not been for the slight rise and fall of her chest, might suggest she was actually dead. The jelly, pinkish in colour, was indeed setting around those parts of her body that were immersed in it, mostly her legs, bottom and the underside of her flat stomach. It wobbled slightly, as jelly does, when she twitched a bit, and the ripple spread slowly up to where the level of the jelly stopped, somewhere behind her back. My arrival impacted on her not in the slightest. She didn’t even open her eyes.
I undid my flies and used the loo, unnecessarily, then did them up again and turned towards the bath. I felt the urge to say something. “Are you all right?” I asked. Claudia opened her eyes, frowned and then closed them again. She made no attempt to cover herself. 
“I’m tripping,” she said. “Go away.”
Outside the bathroom door was another girl waiting to come in. “Is Claudia still in the bath?” she asked.
“Yes. What’s happening with her?”
“She took an acid tab about an hour ago. She did this once before but without the acid, said she wanted to see what it was like to be set in jelly. She bought loads of it and poured it into the bath with hot water, then got in and she’s waiting until it sets.”
“And then what?”
“She’ll probably get out, covered in fucking jelly and walk downstairs.”
“With no clothes on?”
          “Probably. She did this before, and now she's done it again, expect on acid this time and during a fucking party. She's mad. Doesn't give a fuck. Doesn't care who sees her.”
“Does Tony know?”
“Oh yes. He’s quite cool about it. You know Tony?”
“Of course.”
The girl smiled at me and looked as if she was about to say 
something else then checked herself. “It’ll be fine,” she said wearily. 
        I went back downstairs and found Anna where I had left her. “My brother has just left,” she said. “He offered me a lift but I stayed. You don’t mind do you?”
        “No, of course not.”
        “Shall we go soon?”
        We lingered for another half hour or so. No further sightings of Claudia were reported and, neither of us having any knowledge of how long jelly took to set, we decided to leave before she emerged covered in it, if indeed she did. Later I bought Anna dinner at an Indian restaurant close to my flat in Bayswater where we spent the night. We both of us somehow knew this wasn’t going to be the start of some big romance, just two single people who would go their own way again after a satisfying moment in time, not an uncommon occurrence in those days. I watched her get dressed in the morning and when she left neither of us said very much. 
        “The girl in the bath,” she said as she was leaving. “I hope she’s ok.”
        “Yes, funny that. I won’t forget it in a hurry.”
        “Neither will I. Bye… see you around.”
        “See you.”


9.10.17

JIMMY PAGE – BOLESKINE HOUSE, TOWER HOUSE & MORE


Few British rock stars have been as meticulous with regard to their property portfolio as guitarist Jimmy Page, the mastermind behind Led Zeppelin. From his Thames-side boathouse in Pangbourne to Deanery Gardens in Sonning via Tower House in London’s Holland Park, multi-millionaire Page has shown exquisite taste, his keen appreciation for historic architecture rivalled only by George Harrison’s acquisition and restoration of the magnificent Friar Park in Henley. The only blip on Page’s residential landscape seems to have been Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness which Page purchased more with an eye for the notoriety of a former owner than any aesthetic appeal. 
Born in Heston in 1944, Page spent his formative years in Epsom, with the family moving to 34 Miles Road when their only child James Patrick was eight. Page lived here until 1967 by which time he had accumulated enough funds from his session work to put down the deposit on the £6,000 house in Pangbourne. “Parked beautifully on the leafy banks of the River Thames, the dwelling was all windy passages and mysterious, angular rooms, leading to a quite beautiful lower level where a boat was moored, ready for instant take-off,” wrote Martin Power in his Page biography No Quarter: The Three Lives of Jimmy Page. It was here that in July 1968 he would play host to a young singer from the Midlands whose three-day stay led to his houseguest, name of Robert Plant, becoming the singer in Led Zeppelin.

Pangbourne


With the revenues from the first two Led Zeppelin albums now sitting in his bank account, Page acquired Boleskine House on the south east side of Loch Ness in 1970. Once the home of Aleister Crowley, the slightly sinister mystic, painter and writer, it was situated near Foyers Bay and in poor condition. “It was in such a state of decay that nobody wanted it,” Page later told Led Zeppelin archivist Howard Mylett. “It’s an interesting house and a perfect place to go when one starts getting wound up by the clock.” 
By the time Page acquired Boleskine he had already become fascinated by Crowley, buying up Crowley-related ephemera that included private manuscripts, first editions of books, artwork, items of clothing and ceremonial vessels. Allegedly built on the site of a 10th Century Kirk (Scottish church) that according to legend “had been burnt down with its congregation”, the house was shunned by locals, as was a nearby graveyard. Crowley bought the ‘Manor of Boleskine and Abertarff’ in 1899, believing that its secluded location was eminently suitable for the staging of magical rituals, some of them erotic in nature. In the fullness of time Page would open a book shop in North Kensington called Equinox that was devoted to these interests. “There was not one bookshop in London with a good collection of occult books,” Page said, “and I was so pissed off at not being able to get the books I wanted.”

Boleskine

Up in Scotland Page endeared himself to the locals in 1979 by opening the new Phillip’s Harbour at Harrow, near Caithness, which he visited with the unrealised intention of opening a recording studio up there. Although he did some restoration work at Boleskine he sold the house in 1992 for £250,000, largely because he rarely had time to visit. The subsequent owners opened it as a hotel, then resold it in 2002 to a private buyer. In 2015 Boleskine was badly damaged in a fire and now awaits repair work. 
Page’s next real home after Pangbourne was Plumpton Place, a Grade II Elizabethan Manor House in its own grounds near Lewes in East Sussex. Page acquired the property in 1971, shortly after the birth of his first daughter Scarlet, and owned it until 1985. With parts of the property dating from the 16th Century, it benefitted from improvements by renowned British architect Sir Edwin Luytens, and comprised six bedrooms, a large library and a 48ft long sitting room, all surrounded by a moat and lakes, not to mention two small cottages close by and a three-bedroom mill house with its own working water wheel. Plumpton Place was the setting for the segment in the Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains The Same wherein Page sits with his back to camera playing a hurdy-gurdy alongside a moat as a pair of black Australian swans swim by. The sequence that follows, in which Page climbs a hill in a hooded red robe, was filmed at Boleskine. 

Plumpton Place

With Plumpton Place located 67 miles south of London, Page was always going to need a London base and this turned out to be The Tower House on Melbury Road in west London’s affluent Holland Park. Designed and built between 1875 and 1881 to the exact specifications of renowned architect William Burges, Tower House – now a Grade I listed building – was a testament to the French Gothic Revival style that had enjoyed a brief upsurge in popularity throughout Victorian Britain. With its red brick facade, Cumbrian green slate roof, tracery windows and prominent cylindrical tower marking it out from the surrounding houses, it had enjoyed a rich history of ownership before Page arrived. These included esteemed archaeologist Richard Popplewell-Pullan, two army colonels and Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. “I don’t see how anyone can fail to be impressed by its weird beauty,” said Betjeman “[or] awed into silence from the force of this Victorian dream of the Middle Ages.”  
After a brief period of neglect, Tower House was given a facelift in the mid-sixties by Lady Jane Turnbull, the daughter of the 9th Earl of Stamford, whose portrait hung in the National Portrait Gallery. In 1969 Lady Turnbull sold it for £75,000 to Irish actor, singer and bon vivant Richard Harris. “I loved the eccentricity of it,” Harris said at the time. “It was built by Burges who also built Cork Cathedral and it was the focal point of Kensington for me when I arrived in London.” An astute home owner who profited from buying, renovating and then quickly selling properties, Harris nonetheless lingered in the house even though he believed that ghosts of children who previously lived there inhabited certain rooms. To soothe their restless spirit, he bought them toys. “I love ghosts,” he said of his nightly visitors. “I depend on them to guide me through.” Harris brought in Burges’ original decorators Campbell Smith and Co. to restore its stone and plasterwork but in 1972 sold it for £350,000 to Page who outbid David Bowie, another rock star keen to inhabit its peculiar magnificence.

Tower House

Page’s new acquisition boasted unusual inner decorations that mirrored his own particular interests in arcane, Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite design. Its painted ceilings depicted astrological signs, the sculpted mantelpiece in the library formed the Tower of Babel at its centre and elsewhere could be found murals, detailed woodwork, carvings and other objects of art, pagan or otherwise. It was built for exploration. “I was still finding things 20 years after being there,” Page told the BBC News Online in 2012, “a little beetle on the wall or something like that. It’s Burges’ attention to detail that is so fascinating.” 
On October 15, 1979, a 23-year-old friend of Page died at the guitarist’s house in Plumpton Place, and his demise triggered Page’s decision to put the house on the market, although it wouldn’t actually change hands until the mid-eighties. However, his next country home, Old Mill House at Clewer near Windsor, would also become the scene of a tragedy for this was where Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died on September 25, 1980. Page bought the three-storey residence from British actor Michael Caine for £900,000, largely because it was close to a studio he had acquired at nearby Cookham, and would live there with American Patricia Ecker whom he married in 1986 and who would bear him a son, James Patrick III. (Page later married Jimena Gómez-Paratcha who bore him two further children, a girl born in 1997 and a boy two years later, but they were divorced in 2008.) Old Mill House was sold in 2008. 


Old Mill House

In the meantime Page had purchased another country property that in terms of prestige and architectural splendour was a match for Tower House. This was Deanery Gardens, also known as The Deanery, at Sonning near Reading, another Grade I listed building of significant historical importance and, like Plumpton Place, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Financed by Edward Hudson, the owner of Country Life magazine, it was completed in 1901 and has changed hands several times in the last 100 years. Built in Lutyens’ Tudor Arts-and-Crafts style, it comprises two stories in brick with exposed timbers that surround a courtyard with an archway leading to the extensive grounds. Planted by the noted British horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll, the gardens incorporate ornate curved steps, elevations, swimming pools, an orchard, herb beds and a croquet lawn. Although The Deanery is in the centre of the village, close to the Bull Inn and St Andrew’s Church, it is surrounded by high brick walls and extremely secluded. Neighbours include George and Amal Clooney and illusionist Uri Geller, and until Page acquired the property it was open to the public.

Deanery Gardens

The only hitch in Page’s enviable property portfolio seems to be an ongoing dispute with his neighbour in Holland Park. The mansion next door to Tower House, Woodland House, was bought in 2013 for £17.5 million by singer Robbie Williams after the death of its previous owner, film director Michael Winner. Evidently its 46 rooms were insufficient for Williams’ requirements and the former bad boy of Take That planned to excavate its grounds to create further subterranean rooms and the building of a recording studio. Claiming that such building work might disturb the foundations of Tower House and expose his property to the public, Page recruited architects and structural engineers to support his case and won a partial reprieve that forced Williams to change his specifications. Ironically, considering the volume at which Led Zeppelin used to perform, builders at the site have been fined for making excessive noise. At the time of writing construction work appears to have been delayed at Woodland House and the Tower – believed to contain the dazzling dragon suits that Jimmy Page wore on stage – remains intact, as proud and lofty a symbol of Led Zeppelin’s stature in the rock world as any rock star mansion anywhere. 

(All photos taken from the internet.)

6.10.17

PINK FLOYD – Now There Are Two of Them



Today’s Guardian G2 section, which on Fridays is devoted to films and music, carries an advert for five concerts by “Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters”, one in June 2108, the rest in July. “Performing songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, The Wall, Animals, Wish You Were Here and more,” it says, all which implies that Waters is presenting a Pink Floyd show in all but name. 
I have two issues with this. The first is that when I went on line just now to discover the price of the tickets for the show in London’s Hyde Park – as ever unmentioned in the ad – I learnt from Ticketmaster that the cheapest were slightly over £100, rising to almost £200 for those in areas closer to the stage. The capacity for shows there is 65,000 so if all the tickets sell quickly, which they no doubt will, for the London show alone promoters Live Nation will bank in excess of £7,000,000, and you can add a few more million on top of that for the smaller arena shows in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. I know interest rates are low these days but I find it iniquitous that concert promoters can bank all that money up front, nine months before the shows take place, and earn interest on that sum – well in excess of £10 million quid – in that time. 
The second issue is more an observation on the ironies of ‘classic rock’ in the 21st century. Pink Floyd ceased collective endeavour on the death of Richard Wright, a fact highlighted by the title of their V&A show – Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains. The good news for fans, however, is that now we seem to have two Pink Floyds, one led by Roger and the other by David Gilmour, whose most recent concerts relied heavily on Pink Floyd material. Those attending would no doubt have demanded their money back had it been otherwise. Indeed, a recently released live double album from the tour, Live At Pompeii (another Floyd reference), consists of eight songs from Gilmour's solo albums and 14 Pink Floyd songs, and like Waters they are from DSOM, The Wall and WYWH (but no Animals). No doubt this time next year a live Rogers Waters album will be available with a similar PF track listing. 
Poor old Nick Mason, whom I always liked, must be feeling a bit left out.


3.10.17

TOM PETTY – Rockin’ Up The Blues



Greatly shocked this morning to wake up to the news that Tom Petty had died. His Greatest Hits collection and one other record – about which more below – were never far away from my consciousness. 
Oddly, I first saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at CBGBs in New York towards the end of 1976. I say oddly because he and The Heartbreakers weren’t a punk band like The Ramones, or a power pop outfit like Blondie, or new wavers like Talking Heads. But they weren’t hard rock either, more a traditional rock band whose music was built on the blues and fifties rock’n’roll, like the early Beatles, Stones and Who, so they were a bit out of place down there on the Bowery. Also, and this is important, there was none of the slightly under-rehearsed amateurishness about them that – not necessarily in a bad way – characterised groups like Television and the Patti Smith Group, and they didn’t dress or wear their hair in a style that drew attention to any ‘next-generation’ appeal. Equally importantly, they knew their chops, especially guitarist Mike Campbell, and had plenty of drive. I thought they were from the same disciplined domain as Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band or Bob Seger’s crew from Detroit. Then again, Tom’s high voice sounded a bit like Roger McGuinn of The Byrds which, coupled with his Rickenbacker guitar, gave them an added string to their bow. Nowadays it’s called ‘heartland’ music which implies a common bond with the blue-collar American working man and a tendency not to stray too far away from their rudimentary roots.
I loved ‘American Girl’. Called upon to edit a book on Tom a few years ago I took it on myself to expand on what the author wrote, adding: “Guaranteed by its title alone to find a ready audience in his homeland eventually, ‘American Girl’ established Tom’s early trademark style of jangly guitars – surely the influence of The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and perhaps 1965-era George Harrison with The Beatles. Tom’s sound was more up to date though and captured some of the energy of the downtown New York City scene, the cradle of punk and New Wave music. The introduction sets the scene: eight bars of chiming electric 12-string Rickenbacker over a muted Bo-Diddley beat, soon joined by a swooping bass, all paving the way for an urgent, edgy verse that builds to an exuberant, climactic high on the title… ‘an Am-eri-can Girl’. After two verses the tempo sits back, idling to regain momentum before the sprint to the finish, a repeat of the intro, this time intensified by a wash of backing vocals, and, finally, an outro solo of piercing top end clusters that spiral into the fade. At just over three and a half minutes ‘American Girl’ never outstays its welcome; as timeless as it is memorable, it set a high bar for the future though, scandalously, it was never the hit it deserved to be.”
Plenty more of Petty’s songs are up there with the best – I especially like ‘Here Comes My Girl’ too – but the real holy grail to my mind is a quasi-legal live album called Rockin’ Up The Blues that was sent to me by the author of that book. I think it’s a sort of officially-sanctioned TP bootleg as its 38 tracks – almost all hard-to-beat covers of classic rock songs from the 50 and 60s – were recorded at shows in small venues, in rehearsals, either during sound checks or before gigs, or on soundstages where soundboard recordings were easily taped. There’s no info on the package beyond the track listing – see below – and if it is to be believed the songs were recorded at various times between 1982 and 2003, mostly in the US but a few are from Germany and Italy. I suspect it was made by the band for the band and a few leaked out. 


In some ways the track selection can be compared with the Beatles BBC CDs, not so much the actual tracks but their pedigree, because these songs are the primer for all bands that want to start out on the right foot, have a massive repertoire to fall back on, and who know that if they master these songs then as sure as eggs is eggs it will stand them in good stead for the rest of their career no matter where that career goes. They're spectacularly good on Bo Diddley covers and ‘Shakin’ All Over’ is a match for The Who, cleaner but just as riveting, while ‘Little Red Rooster’ has all the pent-up sensuality of an August night in Alabama. Naturally Petty & The Heartbreakers are more assured than the early Beatles – they’d been at it for far longer and it shows – but the respect they show for the roots of their profession shines out like a beacon of a foggy night. 
I’m playing Rockin’ Up The Blues as I write this, and it sounds as good as ever. RIP Tom.


2.10.17

TIGHT BUT LOOSE – Issue 43




Back in the far off days when Led Zeppelin welcomed me into their midst I learned from favoured photographer Neal Preston that there was only one brief moment in their entire show when it was possible to get a shot of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in the same frame. It was during the chorus of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, invariably the encore, when Page would sidle up to Plant and stand alongside him, the two of them yelling the three word title together before Page skipped off to Robert’s left and redoubled his efforts on guitar. 
No such problem seems to have inconvenienced Ross Halfin, whose shot of the two of them together at the 2007 O2 Reunion Concert graces the cover of the latest Tight But Loose, my pal Dave Lewis’ state-of-the-art Led Zep fanzine, still going strong after almost 40 years of chronicling all things Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham. Ross is Led Zep’s favoured photographer these days and was one of only two permitted to shoot the show on December 10, 2007, officially promoted as a tribute to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun but in reality dwarfed by Led Zeppelin’s decision to reunite, Page, Plant, Jones and, taking his dad’s place at the back, Jason Bonham closing the show with a 16-song set that was later released as a two-hour movie and a double CD, both titled Celebration Day
Dave’s report on the event 10 years later in TBL 43 emphasis the sense of occasion as much as the show itself, not least because he went through a few hoops to get his tickets and was mighty relived when Robert Plant – always a firm supporter of TBL – sorted out tickets for him. I dread to think how much Dave would have paid a tout if Plant hadn’t come through, but knowing Dave as I do he’d doubtless have mortgaged his house for a ticket – to the inexorable mortification of the long-suffering Mrs Lewis. 
Elsewhere in this issue of TBL you can find an exclusive preview of Robert Plant’s forthcoming album Carry Fire, a report on Paul Rodger’s Free show (for which he was backed by Deborah – sister of John – Bonham’s band), interviews with Deborah and Chris Farlowe (who talks about young Jimmy Page), a run down of bootleg tapes from the group’s 1977 US tour and everything you ever wanted to know about the recordings made by Robert and Jimmy in Bombay in 1972.
Finally, there’s some hindsight recollections of the first ever Led Zep Fan Convention that Dave and fellow fan Andy Adams organised 25 years ago at a hotel in Bloomsbury. I was a quest speaker, alongside former MM colleague Chris Welch and two Zep roadies Mick Hinton and Phil Carlo. Hinton, of course, had the unenviable job of accompanying John Bonham across America, a taxing mission to say the least, while Carlo worked with Zep at a late stage in their career and then with The Firm, the post-Zep group that Jimmy assembled with Paul Rodgers. Hinton and Carlo both seemed to me like battle-scarred warriors of Peter Grant’s mercenary army, a bit wild, certainly uncontrollable and after a few drinks on another planet entirely from the fans who gathered to hear us talk. Chris and I were a step down in terms of full-on Zep experiences but well do I recall the Q&A session when I was asked by fans about my Led Zeppelin memorabilia collection. 
“What memorabilia collection?” I asked.
“Tour tee-shirts, backstage passes, press photos, tour documents…”
“Oh that stuff. I wore the tee-shirts out and threw all the rest away,” I replied. “I didn’t hang on to all that stuff.”
“Why not?”
“Because it was worthless in those days. No one believed that 40 years later it would have some value.”
Hinton, Carlo and Chris Welch all nodded sagely. All of us had thrown out what we had. And all of us realised that if we hadn’t the fans at this convention would have bought it off us in a shot.
            Which I suppose is why Dave Lewis can continue to produce a breathlessly enthusiastic full-colour 32-page magazine three or four times a year on a group whose original line up played their final show together 37 years ago last July. Breakdown of communication postponed indefinitely I guess. 

30.9.17

MELODY MAKER IN 1970



Aged 22, I joined the staff of Melody Maker on the first Monday in May, 1970, and during the course of the day spoke on the telephone to Ginger Baker, who told me about his new group Airforce. To have spoken to a man widely regarded as the most skilled drummer in rock on my first day there seemed like a good start.
The Melody Maker’s offices at that time were on the second floor of a large, institutional, six-storey building on the north side of Fleet Street whose doors, back and front, were manned by overweight security men in uniforms and peaked caps. Many other magazines published by IPC Business Press occupied the same premises, among them several football and farming magazines, as well as such fascinating titles as Laundry & Dry Cleaning News, Naval Architecture Monthly and Cage Birds Weekly, whose bow-tie wearing editor we affectionately referred to as ‘Joey’. Next to Melody Maker was Cycling Monthly* and two doors along was Disc & Music Echo.
Considering that Melody Maker was about to enter its golden age, when the circulation would rise to over 200,000 a week, the offices were decidedly underwhelming; dimly lit with a scuffed parquet floor, dented bottle-green filing cabinets, old wooden desks, rickety chairs and black manual typewriters of questionable vintage. The phones were also black and made from heavy bacolyte and the walls were covered in a random assortment of torn and faded posters. Richard Williams, the assistant editor, had written out some Dylan lyrics and stuck them to the walls. I sat opposite a sign that read: ‘You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows’ and to my right were the words ‘Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters’. Behind Richard’s chair were pictures of Italian footballers. 
I soon discovered that Richard had been hired by MM editor Ray Coleman the previous year in preference to myself as we were both among those who answered the same job advert in the classified ads at the back of the paper. When another opening arose about six months later Ray decided not to advertise again and had called me in March to see if I was still interested. I certainly was, and I still feel quite flattered that I was evidently only second on the shortlist behind Richard. 
The vacant desk that I assumed was next to that occupied by Chris Welch, a cheerful, curly-haired fellow whose Melody Maker features and singles reviews I had been reading for years. Next to him was the urbane, middle-aged Laurie Henshaw, the news editor and reputedly something of a ladies man, and in the corner opposite Laurie sat Max Jones, the much respected jazz critic who wore a dark blue skullcap and spent much of his day at El Vino’s, the Fleet Street wine bar opposite the building. Max was forever complaining about something or other, usually a problem with his expenses or the lack of parking facilities or how a ped (his word for pedestrian) had somehow inconvenienced him on his drive to work. Although jazz was his speciality he liked rock music too, at least some of it, and could discuss it intelligently. For this reason he was the first member of my parents’ generation that I met – and one of the very few from that generation that I would ever meet – that I could relate to as if he was a member of my own generation.
That first Monday at Melody Maker was very busy, it being news day – the day when the magazine’s news pages were filled. Under the supervision of Laurie Henshaw I was assigned to write various short news stories, some of them re-written from press hand-outs, others from information garnered on the telephone. Chris Welch was busy putting together the Raver column, MM’s gossip page, which often featured the adventures and opinions of Jiving K. Boots, a fictitious rock star from his home territory of Catford. 
At various times during the day I felt like pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Here I was, on the staff of Melody Maker, Britain’s most distinguished rock and pop paper, the magazine that I’d rushed out and bought every Wednesday for years. I’m not quite sure how I expected the offices of MM to be, but it certainly wasn’t like this. This was too ordinary, the offices too drab, the staff too matter-of-fact, the situation too mundane. At the end of the day I was wondering if I’d wake up the next morning and be back at Slough Magistrates Court, once again reporting on the justice meted out to those who drove carelessly on the M4. 
My first Tuesday at Melody Maker was equally eye-opening insofar as when I arrived at the offices at the appointed time of 10am no-one else was there, apart from the office boy and an elderly chap called Chris Hayes who wasn’t there the previous day and for whom the term lugubrious had probably been invented. Very tall and unusually slim with thinning black hair, dressed somberly in what looked like a demob suit, and with the demeanour of someone who has just attended the funeral of a dearly-loved relative, Chris Hayes had at one time been a full-time staff member but was now employed solely to produce the Any Questions column, to which readers would write to inquire about what equipment was favoured by the stars. He was on the phone and I sat and listened to his end of the conversation.
        “Tell me Eric old boy [Hayes always, but always, called everybody ‘old boy’], there’s a reader from Leicester here... writes in and wants to know what sort of guitar you use these days?” 
        I was not so much bemused by the fact that Chris Hayes was evidently talking to Eric Clapton (at 10.30 in the morning!), as much as the casual manner in which he addressed him.
        “Fender Stratocaster, old boy? How do you spell that? S... T... R... A ...T... O... C... A... S... T... E... R. Thanks. And what sort of amp do you use these days?”
“Marshall? Does that have two Ls?”
        Another call. “Pete, old boy, there’s a reader from Brighton wants to know what sort of wah-wah you use.” (This to Pete Townshend.)
“What, you don’t use a wah-wah?”
“But how do you spell wah-wah anyway? W… A… H W… A… H. Sounds bloody silly to me old boy. Best of luck with that Tommy business.”
And so it went on, with Chris Hayes talking on the phone to the great and not so great. He became quite exasperated when a PR person refused to immediately connect him with the rock star to whom he wished to speak – “Well, can’t you wake him up?” – though the depth of his telephone book largely precluded the need for PRs anyway. Occasionally his conversations would stray off the point and I came to realise that he was a chronic hypochondriac, and that an innocent ‘How are you?’ could bring forth from Chris a detailed account of all illnesses, aches and pains and minor accidents he’d suffered during the previous 12 months or, if you were really unlucky, a deeply pessimistic forecast of his health prospects for the foreseeable future. For me this was even more surreal than the previous day. For almost two hours the office was occupied solely by he and I, and me with absolutely nothing whatsoever to do but listen to him on the phone and read back issues of the paper. 
Eventually Max Jones rolled up. “Couldn’t park my bloody car anywhere,” he muttered. “What are you doing here?”
“I started work here yesterday.”
“Well, no-one comes in on Tuesdays.”
I soon learned that Tuesday was press day. Editor Ray Coleman, chief sub-editor Allan Lewis, his assistant and Laurie Henshaw all spent Tuesdays in Colchester where MM was printed. The rest of the staff stayed at home ‘doing research’, which meant listening to records or reviewing them, or simply catching up on sleep. The staff actually reconvened on Wednesdays at noon when we gathered for the weekly editorial conference, chaired by Ray. For an hour those present, which included the magazine’s chief photographer, the denim-clad, rake-thin and rather impish Barrie Wentzell, discussed what to include in the following week’s issue. Welch, as ever, was assigned the singles reviews, someone was delegated to do ‘Blind Date’ during which a musician was played singles ‘blind’ and had to guess who’d recorded it and comment, concert tickets were dispensed and potential interviews discussed. The meeting concluded, we dispersed to the nearest pub, the Red Lion in Red Lion Alley, which was run by a huge gay man called Wally who was always dressed in a black Russian tunic, and where lunches were long and liquid, unless they were taken upstairs in a small Chinese restaurant. My new acquaintance Barrie invariably ordered a ’glass of dry white wine and a small piece of cheese’.

When I arrived Melody Maker was in a state of flux. The previous editor, Jack Hutton, had left to launch Sounds, a rival rock weekly, and taken with him a good proportion of the old MM staff. Ray Coleman had arrived from editing Disc & Music Echo and was busy recruiting new staff with backgrounds similar to his own, young journalists from provincial newspapers like myself. In the coming weeks many other newcomers would arrive, among them Michael Watts, Roy Hollingworth and Mark Plummer, and in the meantime I kept my head down, still a little unsure about having pitched myself into the heart of the rock industry.
At first I felt like a bit of a fraud at MM. After all, although my collection of about 50 albums was expanding rapidly by most standards – it would soon increase at a hitherto unimaginable rate as promo records rained down on me from every label under the sun, of course – my sum total of concert experiences wasn’t that great in my opinion, largely because until now I’d never lived in a big city where rock concerts took place regularly. It consisted of Cliff & The Shadows (Blackpool, 1959, as a 12-year-old!), The Beatles and various Merseyside groups who supported them on a package tour in 1963 (a life changing experience, that), a chance encounter with Rod Stewart in Steampacket at a pub in Ilkley, a few bands I’d seen at Bradford Tech and Leeds University (including Marmalade, The Move, Joe Cocker and The Hollies), various acts at last year’s Plumpton National Jazz & Blues Festival, and, of course, my favourites The Who on three occasions by now*; plus dozens of semi-pro bands, two of which included myself. But it didn’t seem to matter because the new intake of MM writers had similar backgrounds and experience to my own and before long we were all going along to rock shows together, learning from each other, simply revelling in the heaven-sent pleasure of it all.
The first concert I was sent to review for MM was an appearance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by a somewhat mystical quartet called Third Ear Band, who were much respected in hippie circles for their uncompromising sound which was about as far removed from the rock music I liked as I now was from Slough Magistrates’ Court. With instrumentation comprising violin, cello, oboe and assorted hand-held percussion, they played hypnotic, mainly improvised music with a strong oriental flavour which to my ears sounded like an endless and somewhat tuneless drone, this largely because they seemed to have abandoned traditional western tunings. The effect might have been soothing were it not for the disturbing lack of pitch control – clearly an effect they sought and which impressed their many followers. Not wishing to appear naive, I gave them a positive appraisal on MM’s Caught In The Act page. But I never went to see them again.
The first album I was given to review was Soft Machine’s Third which presented similar problems as Soft Machine was an avant-garde ensemble of varying personnel whose free-form jazz improvisation and unusual song structures were so far removed from what constituted my record collection as to baffle me completely. I gave the album to a more enlightened friend who wrote his opinions down for me and which I subsequently reproduced virtually word for word in the following week’s Melody Maker. Richard Williams, in charge of doling out albums to review, never again gave me a Soft Machine album.
There can be no question that life on Melody Maker in the early Seventies was as good as it gets for a young journalist whose first love was rock music. The record industry was about to enter a boom period which was reflected in the largesse it doled out to us. There were endless supplies of free records and free concert tickets, access to the best nightclubs, the opportunity to forge friendships, or at last acquaintanceships, with the stars of the day (which offered ample opportunities for name-dropping), parties thrown by record companies with free booze by the bucketload, and plenty of beautiful, free-spirited girls who weren’t averse to stepping out on the arm of a Melody Maker writer even if they did see this as the next rung on the ladder to a night of passion with a rock god. It was a lifestyle far removed from the daily grind of everyday folk and in this respect it set the tone of my life for the next decade and some time beyond. The pay on MM wasn’t munificent but it would get better and the perks were endless and expenses not bad either. Soon I would travel abroad in pursuit of rock stars, eventually as far as California. Plane travel, posh hotel suites and backstage passes to concerts became commonplace. 
During the early months on Melody Maker everybody was finding their place and mine turned out to be News Editor. Ray Coleman evidently decided that of the new crop of MM writers he recruited in the summer of 1970, I was best suited to the more disciplined task of filling the first few pages with news stories than writing meandering features. This was probably a good call as I’d spent five years nosing out news stories in the real world, but I can still recall my delight when I was promoted after just three months, and for the next three years I held down the News Editor’s job. Thereafter I was destined to become MM’s longest serving American Editor, based first in Los Angeles and then, for almost four years, in New York, but that was way into an as yet unimagined future. 
This was an era in Melody Maker’s history when more emphasis was placed on news than at any other time. The reason for this was the intense competition between ourselves and New Musical Express and the newcomer Sounds, and the consequent need to attract readers with bold scoops. The front page of MM was always dominated by a brash, headline-grabbing news story, often relating to the demise of a group, hitherto unforeseen personnel changes or an impending tour by a big name act, either British or American.        
This was the immediate post-Beatles era, of course, and stories about the activities of the group, collectively or individually, always made front-page news. The most popular Beatles-related story was always a variation on the ‘Beatles To Reform?’ line, usually prompted by activity in a recording studio that involved a combination of two or more former Beatles working together, or a rash comment from one of them which hinted vaguely that a reunion could not entirely be ruled out. I was responsible for several ‘Beatles To Reform?’ stories, both before and after Paul McCartney wrote his famous letter to Mailbag, MM’s letters page, debunking the idea once and for all. 
I also prematurely split Led Zeppelin, ELP, Deep Purple and The Faces and implied that several big US stars, including Elvis, were on their way to Britain for shows that never happened. Indeed, barring ‘Beatles To Reform’, ‘Elvis To Visit Britain At Last?’ was the best of all news stories that never happened. In this regard, all a promoter needed to do was to tell us he’d sent off a telegram to Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker offering him half a million quid for an Elvis tour and it was front-page news, regardless of the fact that Parker probably hadn’t even bothered to reply. Most of these speculative news stories resulted from intense pressure to come up with something dramatic when nothing dramatic was happening. Because of Melody Maker’s increasing status as the most widely read UK music magazine, those PRs who represented the top acts were anxious that their clients’ tours should be front-page news and would barter ‘exclusives’ with me. “If you can assure me of the front page, we won’t tell NME,” they would state. And of course I accepted the deal, even if sometimes their clients didn’t make the front page. 
Stories that generated ‘-mania’ were also popular with editor Ray Coleman. We’d watch the progress of singers and groups very carefully and if it seemed to us that a certain act was about to be promoted to Division One - the ‘toppermost of the poppermost’, as John Lennon famously described it – we’d splash them on the front page alongside a story that said very little other than that they were becoming very popular indeed. Thus did I invent ‘Freemania’ (when ‘All Right Now’ topped the charts) and ‘Purplemania’ (when a Glasgow concert by Deep Purple turned into a riot). My friend Michael Watts coined a neat variation in ‘T.Rextasy’. 
Another area made for headlines was the vexed question of bootlegging, then just coming into its own. By a curious coincidence it turned out that one of the biggest bootleg dealers in London ran a record shop in Chancery Lane, just around the corner from our offices. I became a regular customer and wrote about the availability of The Beatles Live At Shea Stadium, Got Live If You Want It by The Rolling Stones, Wooden Nickel, a live album by CSN&Y and H-Bomb, live Deep Purple. When I wrote a front page story about the imminent release of Live On Blueberry Hill, a Led Zeppelin live double recorded in California, the wrath of Zep’s brutal management descended on that little shop in Chancery Lane. Someone later told me an axe was involved. 

The biggest assignment I covered during my first summer on MM was the Bath Festival at Shepton Mallet over the weekend of June 27 & 28. Compared to the National Jazz & Blues Festival at Plumpton that I’d attended the previous year, this was just huge; perhaps as many as 150,000 people stretching away up a hill almost as far as the eye could see. The reason was that Led Zeppelin was appearing, taking pride of place on Sunday, the final day. I arrived on the Saturday afternoon, having driven down from London, typewriter in the boot of my car, all set to report this major event like the trusty reporter I’d trained to be. I parked my car backstage and wandered around, eight weeks into this job and feeling unusually privileged to be inside the inner sanctum at a major festival. The weather was fine, though it wouldn’t stay that way, and for longer than seemed necessary I was entertained by a chap with a guitar called Joe Jammer, evidently someone’s roadie, who was filling in while Frank Zappa readied himself to face the crowd. Frank came and went and was followed, curiously, by Maynard Ferguson, an ageing (by Bath standards) big band leader who’d taken a left turn into jazz rock to appeal to a younger audience. The highlight of the evening, though, was Pink Floyd, whom I was seeing for the first time, premiering their new work, Atom Heart Mother, the album with the cow on the front. I listened to them in wonderment and awe then retired for the night, driving to Bath and a nice warm bed in a B&B, unlike everyone else who slept beneath the stars.
The next day I drove back to the site around midday and was astonished by the scenes in the village of Shepton Mallet. There was a phone box with a queue that stretched for over 100 yards. I calculated that if there were three people in the queue for each two yards, there were 150 people waiting, and that if each call lasted ten minutes, the last person in the line would wait for 25 hours before making their call. There were similar queues for toilets and food on the site; indeed, the contrast between the conditions endured by the fans and those enjoyed by the artists and their guests brought a sharp intake of breath. Backstage huge tepees had been erected to serve as private quarters for artists while a marquee served as a dining room in which waitresses dressed in traditional black dresses with white aprons served three course meals and a selection of fine wines. 
In the adjoining bar I met Led Zeppelin for the first time, introduced by my new colleague Chris Welch. Jimmy Page was dressed as a yokel in an old coat and scarecrow’s hat, and John Paul Jones had arrived by helicopter. Robert Plant, affable as ever, autographed a pink backstage pass for me*, and later in the day I passed this memento on to a girl I knew who was in the crowd and whom I had arranged to meet later that night. I actually got DJ John Peel to make an announcement from the stage: “Would Lorraine meet Chris by the backstage gate in 15 minutes.” 
        It was my introduction to Led Zeppelin. They played just as the sun was setting behind the stage, and mighty impressive they were too, even though my view was restricted by being too close to the high stage and having to crane my neck to see what was going on up there. But I could certainly hear them. Good grief! They opened their set with the hitherto unreleased ‘Immigrant Song’ which they attacked with all the ferocity of the marauding Vikings Robert was singing about. Drums and bass reverberated like cannon fire, and Page’s guitar cut through the twilight like a broadsword. Every other band on the bill sounded decidedly limp dick compared to this onslaught. The reception was phenomenal, and they returned to the stage for multiple encores. It was a coming of age for them, their first really huge British show, a triumph, and there I was lapping it all up. Serious competition for my beloved Who, I remember thinking. 
        Aside from the mighty Zeppelin, Sunday’s stars were Donovan, Santana, Flock, Hot Tuna, Country Joe, Jefferson Airplane* (whose set was aborted amid pouring rain due to fear of electrocution), The Byrds, who played a truly delightful all-acoustic set and, closing the show, Dr. John. Sunday’s music at Bath that year started at midday and finished at about 6am on Monday morning. I saw it all and in the misty dawn light drove immediately back to London, parked my car behind Fleet Street, rode the elevator to the MM office and wrote my story. 
It wouldn’t be the last night without sleep that I willingly endured in seven years service on Melody Maker.











* The staff of Cycling Monthly once complained that we in the MM office made too much noise. Our Editor, Ray Coleman, informed them that we needed to listen to music for research, reviews and inspiration. He added: “We won’t complain if you lot cycle up and down the corridors testing new bikes!”

* I still think my fondness for The Who might have clinched my appointment to MM, as editor Coleman shared my high opinion of them which I expressed during my interview.

* I hadn’t been on MM long enough yet to realise it was dreadfully uncool for rock writers to ask for an autograph.  Now I wish I’d asked them all, all the hundreds I eventually met, for their autographs.

* I even interviewed Grace Slick, she of the Jefferson Airplane, when her group cut their set short and dashed from the stage in the pouring rain. I followed her into their tour bus and, much to her surprise, did a quick on-the-spot, off-the-cuff interview before the bus pulled away.