31.10.14

MICK ROCK - Loud But Never Square


Here I am with another rock photographer friend Mick Rock, last night at Pretty Green, a clothes shop, sorry fashion boutique, at the southern tip of Carnaby Street where he was signing copies of a new edition of his book Exposed: The Faces of Rock’n’Roll, and launching a line of five t-shirts that feature his pictures of David Bowie on the front.
              Mick is the gentleman dandy of rock photography, very boisterous and imposingly tall, with wild hair that tumbles over his forehead into his eyes which are always hidden behind shaded glasses. I’ve known him for years and nowadays avoid taking him out to lunch because his voice is loud and his language on the fruity side and likely to offend fellow diners. Of all the rock photographers I’ve encountered over the years – and there’s been a lot – none have anything like his self-confidence or promotional skills, and if a camera hadn’t fallen into hands at Cambridge where he was studying modern languages he’d probably have ended up as a music biz PR, shouting from the rooftops about Bowie, Queen and Iggy instead of taking their photographs. As it was he left Cambridge in circumstances that suggest an academic career was unlikely and photography beckoned. Luckily for him he had a nose for what was happening, an ear for tomorrow’s sounds and an eye for the theatrical, so it was perhaps fortunate that he stumbled on the rock scene just as glam was getting off the starting blocks. He’s just not the type to take pictures of rock musicians in faded jeans and check shirts, far too artistic for that, even though he did once take a picture of Rory Gallagher – but Rory rejected it as being too arty. He was and remains as glamorous as the stars he shoots.
              Mick is best known for his work with Bowie, most famously the now iconic picture of Ziggy bending low to lick the strings of Mick Ronson’s guitar, but not far behind are his Queen shots, including the Queen II image in which their four faces and Freddie’s crossed hands shine out from a black background like religious incarnations, and Lou Reed’s Transformer look, all black eye shadow and Pierrot pathos. There’s hundreds more, too many to list here, and I’ve worked with Mick of several books now, one on Iggy, one on Queen and one called Glam that assembled many of his pictures from this period of the seventies. I should add that unlike most other rock photographers Mick branched out into other areas, as a writer, interviewer and disc jockey, and he was one of the first in his trade to find other uses for his work beyond the printed page.
              There are five David Bowie t-shirts at Pretty Green, all of them priced at £95 which for a t-shirt is going some, but unlike other DB t-shirts that you can find on line for less than a quarter of that price these have been ‘authorised’ by David, as Mick and he are still pals and he’s honourable in this way, not the type to use his classic shots of stars for mercenary gain. They’re all from the Ziggy era, doubtless because this makes for a more colourful look, and I especially liked the one where DB is playing the small saxophone his mum bought him when he was just 13.
             

Mick Rock and I have known one another since the seventies, and in a post elsewhere on Just Backdated (about The Bee Gees in my Odds & Sods category) you can read about how I introduced him to a beautiful girl with whom he lived for several years. She was far too high maintenance for me which made her just right for an extrovert like Mick. Once a serious debauchee in the classic rock’n’roll tradition, in 1996 Mick had a near death experience, underwent heart bypass surgery and cleaned up his act to the extent that he’s now the only man I know who interrupts business meetings to stand on his head for a few minutes in order to collect his thoughts. “We’re both fucking survivors,” he yelled in my ear as I left him autographing books last night, as loud and unruly as ever. I love the guy.

30.10.14

ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME - A Just Backdated Appeal


It’s that time of the year again. Today I received my ballot papers for next year’s inductees into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame which I have been voting on for many years now, going back to the days when a cassette of music by the nominees was included in the package. Then it was a CD, and I’ve still got a few of those in my collection, but nowadays it’s just a website address where I can ‘refresh my memory’ if I need to do so. I don’t, and I think that any voter who needs to be reminded of what the inductees sound like doesn’t really deserve to have a vote.
              I believe I am one of 600 rock’n’roll devotees around the world who vote, and my ballot paper has the number 052 on it, so either the 51 names before mine begin with A leading up to Ch, or they have all been voting for longer than I have. If it’s the latter this gives some indication of how long I’ve been doing it, even bearing in mind that some of us old time voters will have ascended to the great gig in the sky by now.
              There are 15 names on the ballot list this time around and we can choose five in no particular order. The nominees are The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Green Day, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Kraftwerk, The Marvelettes, NWA, Nine Inch Nails, Lou Reed, The Smiths, The Spinners, Sting, Stevie Ray Vaughan, War and Bill Withers. Some of these have been nominated before but failed to get the requisite number of votes. Still no Richard Thompson I note – I have been suggesting him to the anonymous board whose choose the nominees for about ten years now, all to no avail. I’ll do so again, as ever adding a note in with my vote, but I don’t hold out much hope.
              So who to vote for? Well, two nominees, Lou Reed and The Smiths, are a shoo-in. Lou is already a member through the Velvet Underground, of course, but his post Velvets work merits a vote in anybody’s book and his death will no doubt add a touch of sentiment to his cause. The Smiths are the light that never goes out and if they get in, as they surely must, it is likely to create another of those awkward situations in that only the original band can be inducted but they don’t speak to each other nowadays, let alone play together, as has occurred in the past with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steely Dan and Blondie. Can you really see Morrissey and Mike Joyce sharing a stage together after the war of words that followed Joyce’s lawsuit against Morrissey and Johnny Marr for a greater share of Smiths’ royalties? This will be interesting, to say the least.   
              And so on to my other three nominees. I have always loved Stevie Ray Vaughan. Tragically cut down in his prime in 1990 after straightening out his life, he first came to my attention as the featured guitarist on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album, as he probably did for many others. Then I discovered Texas Flood and the rest of his catalogue followed, and I now believe he belongs up there with any of the great rock and blues guitarists of the 20th Century. If you don’t believe me go out and buy a DVD recorded in 1983 called Live At El Mocambo, settle down with a nice glass of red and watch a master at work.  
              Two to go, and I’ll opt for Kraftwerk which might just cause a similar situation to The Smiths insofar as Ralf Hütter is the only member of the ‘classic’ Kraftwerk (Ralf, Florian, Karl & Wolfgang) still in the group and he’s alienated the other three by sustaining the lucrative franchise all by himself. Nevertheless, as the booklet that accompanies the ballot paper puts it, Kraftwerk’s music is the foundation on which all synthesiser-based rock’n’roll and dance music is based. I happen to like a lot of their music, my choice KW tracks, which I may have mentioned before, being ‘Europe Endless’, followed by ‘Neon Lights’ and ‘Franz Schubert’. They deserve to be in there, even if the way they conducted their career was the antithesis of the cliched rock'n'roll lifestyle.
              So who gets my final vote? I’m undecided. Any ideas? I don’t have to send in my vote for another week or two, so if any Just Backdated readers want to add their fourpenneth I’m happy to listen. 

29.10.14

JACK BRUCE - 1973 MM Interview, Part 2

The second part of my 1973 Jack Bruce interview in which the great bassist assesses the legacy of Cream and regrets that Lifetime wasn’t given more of a chance to develop.

Much of Jack’s recorded material, whether it be Cream material or solo stuff, has been re-packaged recently and like most artists he’s not too keen on the idea, although he seems resigned to the situation.
         “When you sign a record contract, all the material you do, once it’s on tape, becomes the property of the record company and they can do what they like with it. I haven’t been asked about this record [The Best Of Jack Bruce] at all, or invited to select the material. Somebody just handed me a record and there it was.
         “Also I don’t feel I have stopped creating, so you can’t say that what is on a record is ‘the best of Jack Bruce. I think the best is still to come, or at least I hope so. It was the same with the Cream. I thought the last Cream album was a good record, but then there was Live Cream which was fair enough because we had actually recorded those tracks for a live album, and thrown out a lot more. Now these have turned up again and obviously they are the second best otherwise we’d have released them at the time. There are different versions of the same songs but they are second best versions. I would never buy them.”
         The stretch of water that separates Jack from the other two thirds of W, B & L helps the group, he maintains. They’re pleased to see one another after a spell off the road and it gives them a fresher outlook on the music. “Up until the end of this European tour we have been working very hard but that’s probably not apparent to people in Britain because it was mostly work in America.
         “We’ve been more or less on the road all the time or recording. I never have enjoyed being on the road, but it’s something you have to put up with. Obviously you enjoy the couple of hours when you are on stage because that is what the whole day is about, but the rest of it is a drag. I’m getting very paranoid about flying because I’ve had a couple of nasty incidents.”
         The writing in the group, says Jack, is shared around. “Leslie is the lick man and I do the harmonics and arranging and Corky does a lot of the lyrics, although some of them are written by Pete Brown and myself. I Like Pete’s influence to be in there because he is a very important guy. It’s nice to have that influence carried on from the Cream because he did a lot of the lyrics in those days. There’s a distinct evolution going on there.
         “The Cream never set out with the idea of being a success. We jut set out to make music and it happened that we were a success. The strange thing about the Cream, as far as England was concerned, was that we weren’t a success until the last concert at the Albert Hall. In America we were a success from the second time we went there. I don’t think the Cream ever filled a concert hall in Britain until that Albert Hall show.
         “It was a pity because probably the group would have stayed together if it had been more encouraged by the fans. It was an uphill struggle for us. I suppose there are some old Cream fans who come to see me now, but I think it’s more a new audience which is tremendous. We are playing to a much younger audience of school age kids, and some people I have talked to didn’t even know I was in the Cream.
         “Cream is a name they have heard of somewhere in the dim past. I saw the Albert Hall film on television the other night and it was the first time I’d seen it. It struck me then that the Cream really was a very, very good group. I did go through a time thinking it wasn’t as good as people thought it was, but I’ve had a re-listen to it recently and now I think it was a better group than any of us in the group thought at the time. If we had really known how good, potentially, that we were, I am sure we would have given it more of a chance to develop.
         “I think the best things we did, apart from the improvised solos, were on the last record with songs like ‘Badge’ and so on. We were really getting into a nice sort of bag, but we didn’t continue. In another way that’s a good thing too, but it was a shame that the things Eric and Ginger, and to a lesser extent myself, didn’t get the recognition that they should have. I even think Blind Faith was a tremendous group, but everybody slated it at the time. To my mind they were the best group around at the time.
         “I thought the things that Eric did later were tremendous as well, and should have been accepted for what they were. Ginger’s Airforce was a unique attempt to do something different but people put it down. I’ve found that with everything I’ve done since the Cream, people have put down before they’ve heard it because in their minds they think it couldn’t possibly be as good as the Cream.
         “In fact, everything I’ve done since the Cream has been a step forward, both Lifetime and this group.”
         Jack was overjoyed when the results of the MM jazz poll were shown to him. He came second in the British and world male singer categories, fifth in the British bass section and the Escalator Over The Hill album, with which he was heavily involved, was voted the LP of the year in the world section.
         “I’d like to say thank-you to everybody who voted in the poll. It was really a knockout. I’m sure Carla Bley will be really pleased. I never was regarded as a jazz musician when I was playing jazz but now I am which is strange.
         “When I hung out with Tony Williams a lot in New York, I found a lot of the old jazz musicians put him down for being commercial, but all he was doing was a progressive step forward. In their mind anything that used electric instruments was commercial and I was regarded as a rock and roll bass player. Now we’ve got Miles Davis doing the same thing. I’d like to get together with Tony, John and Larry Young again now.
         “I can’t help feeling that a lot of the people who put down Lifetime are the same people who are giving the Mahavishnu Orchestra rave reviews. I was really hurt at some of the reviews we had with that band because it was so difficult getting them over here. I felt we were doing something that reviewers would be knocked out with, but some of the reviews were a real drag. We thought we were hammering out heads against a brick wall. I can’t help feeling that if Lifetime was around now...”

28.10.14

JACK BRUCE RIP - July 1973 Interview Part 1

The outpouring of tributes to Jack Bruce following his sad death at the weekend indicated the esteem in which this wonderful musician was held throughout the music world. The last time I saw Jack Bruce was at one of the Cream reunion shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall on May 5, 2005, and a review of this can be found elsewhere on Just Backdated, under Eric Clapton. I remarked there that Jack looked a bit frail but also wrote, “He can still handle a bass like a maestro, jiggling it up and down and playing fat chords or plucking upwards, always hard and inspired.” 
          I did a long interview with Jack for Melody Maker in July of 1973, one of the last interviews I did in London before heading over to the US take on the job of MM’s American Editor that August. Jack was engaging and talkative, an affable, friendly man unaffected by his success, and the interview covered many aspects of his career. It’s quite long so I’ll divide it up into two parts.


Jack Bruce has turned full circle. The best bass guitarist Britain has produced, whose career has merged jazz and rock to the extent where he is now accepted as a top musician in both fields, is back where he started. He’s playing rock and roll in a trio and loving every minute of it.
         It must be extraordinarily satisfying for Jack to look back on the various phases of his career. There were the times before Cream when his reputation was built in the Graham Bond Organisation and Manfred Mann. There were the heights of Cream, a group who began in a small way but ended up a legend on both sides of the Atlantic. Then there was Lifetime, the group that featured guitarist John McLaughlin and may well have paved the way for the Mahavinshu Orchestra. There was the short lived Jack Bruce Group who gave a live airing to Jack’s solo material, and now there’s West Bruce & Laing, a return to the more basic, driving music that Jack still loves to play.
         Few musicians can claim such a distinctive track record – and Jack himself feels it’s by no means over yet. When he says the best has probably yet to come, I’m inclined to be sceptical. But unlike many illustrious superstars, Bruce is not a man to rest on his laurels. He’ll just go on and on striving to find something better.
         With West, Bruce & Laing temporarily off the road, Jack is back in Britain commuting between his island off the coast of Scotland and his Essex home. And last week he was in London talking about his various activities over the past year.
         We opened our conversation with the formation of W, B & L – an event that took place around 18 months ago now, but one which still represents a fascinating merger of rock talent. “I had my own band at the time with Chris Spedding and John Marshall but when Felix Pappalardi decided that he didn’t want to tour any more with Mountain. Leslie West came over to England and asked me to have a blow with him and Corky Laing. I did and it sounded good,” said Jack.
         “I really fancied being in a heavy rock type band again, and when they asked me to join them I said ‘yes.’ The first thing we did was some recording for our own pleasure, and then there was a tour of America which was very successful. Then we made the first album but by this time we were having management problems catching up with us and we had a hard time with this until we could get back on the road again. When all that was resolved there was another American tour, the European tour and then the second album.”
         What motivated Jack to move back to rock after his fllirtations with more sophisticated music? “Well, it was just because it’s such an enjoyable feeling being on a stage singing into a mike with thousands of watts of power behind you and I missed this. Maybe it’s the exhibitionist in me, but it always turns me on doing rock music on stage.
         “Lifetime was as enjoyable as this group, but unfortunately that had folded. If that had carried on I’d have stayed there because that band had everything. There was the heavyweight bit in it as well a the more subtle music and the group was obviously too much ahead of its time. John McLaughlin is having much success now, which is really nice to see, but maybe if Lifetime had happened at the time the Mahavishnu Orchestra started we might have been able to hold it together.
         “I don’t really change my playing no matter what group I am with. I just play me, and the group around me changes. Even on the Escalator Over The Hill album with Carla Bley, the opera which has been voted the best jazz album in the MM, I didn’t consciously change my style of playing. You can have different styles in the same band, and it gells because all musicians seem to have a common background in music from the fifties. Rock musicians, so long as they’re pretty hip timewise, can play with just about everybody.”
         With W, B & L not working, Jack is involved in all sorts of other projects. He’s shortly to make an album with the Jazz Composers Orchestra of a piece written specially for him by Carla Bley’s husband, Mike Mantler, titled ‘How It Is’. Words to the piece are by Samuel Beckett, who is renowned for withholding permission for his words to be used. On this occasion he has given the go-ahead. Another solo album of songs written by Jack and Pete Brown is also in the pipeline.
         How did Jack react to the inevitable comparisons between his current band and Cream? “I think that was before people heard the band. They were just saying that because it was a guitar, bass and drums line-up, and there are a lot of three piece groups around. Take The Who, who have the same instrumentation: they are nothing like Cream was, or what West, Bruce & Laing is now.
         “With any band it’s the combination of the personalities involved that makes the group and not the instruments. That’s why West, Bruce & Laing don’t sound like the Cream or Mountain. I don’t really see the need for comparisons as we’re just another band with Leslie, Corky and myself. That’s all that is needed to be said.”
         One thing about W, B & L which pleases Jack is that in America they attract a large quota of black audiences. “This is a tremendous compliment and it probably comes about because a lot or the black music in the States has become very commercialised and soft and it doesn’t satisfy the kids. In the South and Detroit and Chicago there have been a lot of black kids was in the audience. They’re looking for more guts in the music which labels like Tamla Motown is giving them now.”

27.10.14

PETE & ROGER – Yesterday’s Mail On Sunday Interview

As a general rule I do not normally engage with Britain’s right-wing tabloid press but many do and this probably explains why Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend chose the Mail On Sunday’s You magazine as the organ to which they would grant what was trumpeted yesterday as their ‘first interview in a decade’. It most certainly was not – Pete gave countless interviews two years ago when he was promoting his autobiography Who I Am and Roger has spoken extensively in recent years to further the good causes he serves so well – but the truth is not something that the MoS and its sister paper the Daily Mail care much about so long as whatever they publish helps their political and social agenda which is to serve the Tory party, oppose any relaxation of the drug laws or rail against immigrants for taking our jobs, helping themselves to disproportionate sums in benefits and farting in elevators, or whatever else they can cook up that will please their net-curtain twitching middle-England readership. But I digress…
          In this case the fib was to elevate the interview, the assumption being that The Who is off the radar for most of their readers who are unlikely to have read any recent interviews with Roger and Pete. It was laid out in typical tabloid style, with virtually every sentence allotted its own paragraph, this because the MoS sub-editor presumably believes that its readership will be unwilling to concentrate too hard on dense passages or lengthy sentences, so the dumbed-down tabloidese approach is preferred.
          So what did this much trumpeted interview contain? It will come as no surprise to seasoned Who watchers that it contains nothing of note that we haven’t heard many times before. ‘Good copy’ is clearly a requirement for MoS readers and this means dredging up old controversies and confrontations. So Pete and Roger don’t always see eye to eye, and - sensationally!!! - Rog once clocked Pete, knocking him out. I always thought this by now very well-reported event happened when they were rehearsing the songs from Quadrophenia at Sheperton in 1973, but according to Roger it happened when “we were filming ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ for the Quadrophenia movie”. Funny, I’ve seen that movie about half a dozen times now and don’t recall seeing The Who perform ‘Love Reign O’Me’ in it, or any other song for that matter.
          Pete once fancied Mick Jagger, neither Peter nor Roger much enjoyed playing at Woodstock, David Bowie liked Tommy which may have inspired him to invent Ziggy Stardust, Pete was mad when in 1964 the Queen Mother demanded the removal of his hearse from its parking place in Belgravia, Roger isn’t impressed by One Direction but likes the Royal Family, Pete used to drink too much and once passed out in a club after a shot of heroin, Roger has never been into drugs, both of them miss John and Keith a lot, Roger once clocked Keith because Moonie bashed him over the head with a tambourine and this led to the singer being briefly thrown out of the group. Now where have I read that before?
          In between the quotes is a wodge of trivial domestic information about wives, families, homes and money that will sit well with MoS readers who enjoy celebrity gossip that veers on the intrusive. At one stage The Who are described as ‘a £180 million business with a highly profitable two-year projection’. And I always thought they were a terrific rock band.
          Two weeks ago I reported on Jimmy Page being interviewed in public in an event that was sponsored by The Guardian, the polar opposite of the Daily Mail in terms of its political views, intelligent reportage and literary merit. I cannot help but think that Page had the right idea in allying himself with a thoughtful broadsheet, and that Pete and Roger have missed a trick by not doing something similar. Elsewhere in my Who posts on Just Backdated I posit the view that The Who were far more ‘honourable’ than Led Zeppelin to the concept of rock as a force which might put across beneficial messages and far more politically correct, and intelligent, in their music and attitudes. I still believe that, but reading this interview yesterday made me wonder: Who (The Fuck) Are You?

26.10.14

JUST BACKDATED REACHES 150,000!

Another milestone! In the last 24 hours Just Backdated had its 150,000th hit. The 100,000th came on July 15, the 196th day of the year and this one comes 104 days later, so the traffic has remained steady at an average of around 470 hits per day. But this is misleading as the only reason the average is 470 is because of the unusually large number of hits I get on Who related posts, and all this is thanks to Richard Evans linking the posts to The Who’s official Facebook page. Remove The Who from the equation and it would be more like 150 hits a day.
So all the top viewed posts are those about The Who, with only one other act reaching the top ten, Rory Gallagher at number nine, with 2,498 hits. Still top of the list and unlikely ever to be toppled is the one about Moonie getting between John and Paul Beatle for their last ever photograph together, 14,139 hits now, up from 13,911 in July but not by very much.
        The Who and Rory aside, the only other posts to have topped the 1,000 mark are those on Lowell George and Little Feat, and what these three have in common is that links to the posts have appeared on Facebook pages, either ‘official’ in the case of The Who and Rory or fan sites in the case of the mighty Feat. This also explains why a bit further down the listings my post about Jimmy Page’s Q&A session two weeks ago has had over 700 hits, my post about the Abba live album had almost 600 and my Slade posts reach the 400 mark; in all three cases posts about these acts have been linked to appropriate Facebook pages or websites.
The Who posts also attract the most comments, with my virtual reality Hidden Gems post in front by a country mile, no doubt because this invited readers to suggest tracks for their own HG album.
What, you might wonder, are the least read posts? Well, they’re almost all from the beginning of the year before Just Backdated became established so it would be unjust to name the acts and thus imply that they don’t have many fans!
As before, by far the highest number of hits has come from the US, 66,994 now, with the UK second on 35,191, and Canada, Japan and Germany in fairly close pursuit.
          Once again, thanks for all your support.

25.10.14

DYLAN HOWE - Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie's Berlin


It is not difficult to imagine the look of dismay on the faces of executives at RCA Records when David Bowie delivered the tapes for Low in 1976. There’s no single. Can’t we have another ‘Rebel Rebel’, or another ‘Fame’, please. As it happens they did get a hit with ‘Sound And Vision’, a song in which David’s vocals don’t appear until about half way through, but sales of Low can’t have helped RCA’s balance sheet and the same probably goes for Heroes which followed a year later. Nowadays these two albums are held up as cornerstones of Bowie’s catalogue, triumphs of art over commerce and indicative of DB’s status as a visionary who was not only miles ahead of his contemporaries but clever enough to see the lie of the land and switch direction to avoid competing with the punks. Still, the song ‘Heroes’ aside, these two records are a bit of a challenge, especially the instrumentals, which veer from ethereal to downright depressing. Nowadays, of course, you can buy almost all of Bowie’s instrumentals, dirges and otherwise, in one neat package as they have been collected on an album called All Saints, released in 2001. I’ve listened to it a lot over the years and find it immensely satisfying, even though ‘Sense Of Doubt’ still brings on the chills.
Now along comes Dylan Howe with his interpretations of Bowie instrumentals on an album called Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin, another prospect that is unlikely to make a record company salesman leap with joy. Dylan is a drummer cut from the same cloth as Bill Bruford, the first drummer in Yes, his dad Steve’s band, who left that group to pursue more challenging music with King Crimson and various jazz outfits and also, eventually, to write a witty and very readable book about his career; like Dylan, the exact opposite of those drummers in Spinal Tap who die in peculiar ways. Amongst other things Dylan is the drummer with the current line-up of The Blockheads and he also plays with Wilko Johnson, now fully recovered from cancer according to reports, a mighty blessing indeed.
         But Dylan’s real love is jazz, and his interpretations of Bowie’s instrumental music leave no doubt about this. Although there’s a touch of swing here and there, this is a thought-provoking record, meandering, atmospheric and technically adroit, especially Ross Stanley’s keyboards, both piano and synths, and Dylan’s own drumming, his arrangements calling for all sorts of tricky time signatures that you won’t find in rock. Indeed, the interpretations bear little resemblance to Bowie’s originals and I was hard pressed to recognise them, even when I listened to this album and Bowie’s All Saints back to back.
The tone is set by the opening ‘Subterraneans’, brooding, melancholy, late night music, and sustained through the pacier ‘Weeping Wall’, while a lengthy take on ‘All Saints’, in which the whole band take turns to solo at one time or another, sees them move more towards swing and free-form territory, with Brandon Allen adding an ominous saxophone part. ‘Some Are’ is more refined, the tune carried by Stanley’s melodic piano, which also leads the uplifting ‘Art Decade’. ‘Neuköln’ is spliced between ‘Night’ and ‘Day’, mysteriously portraying the grimness of divided Berlin where Bowie made his music after fleeing Los Angeles. With a hint of musique concrète here and there, it suggests the atmosphere of a deserted railway station in the middle of the night, a dark and sinister place where agents of unfriendly governments lurk in the shadows, more Harry Palmer than James Bond of course. ‘Warszawa’ evokes something similar, Adrian Utley’s sustained notes in the intro sounding more like a cello than an electric guitar, Allen’s solo moving into John Coltrane territory as the song opens out into full menacing flow. The forbidding tone lifts for the closer, the wraithlike ‘Moss Garden’ on which Dylan and Stanley are joined by Steve Howe whose koto adds an appropriate Japanese touch to a floaty piece that eventually seems to drift off into the breeze, like a kite carried away on a windy day.                                       
          I read somewhere that Dylan has been planning this record for seven years, just three years less than the gap between David Bowie’s last two albums. I hope the great man gets to hear it, for Subterranean is a sincere tribute that grows on the ear every time I play it.



24.10.14

ROCK MOVIES - Why You Don't Get The Music


I read in today’s Guardian a review of Jimi: All Is By My Side, a biopic of Jimi Hendrix set in sixties London that features André Benjamin, the rapper better known by his stage name André 3000, in the title role. It’s a sympathetic review and I’ll get around to seeing this before long (and review it here) but what saddened me was to read that no Hendrix music appears on the soundtrack, the producers having evidently failed to get clearance from the Hendrix estate. Sad but not surprising. I long ago realised that one of the reasons why so many rock biopics fail in this department is because the music can be cleared only if those who hold the copyrights are granted some form of editorial control over the film and, in most cases, if the film doesn’t promote a relentlessly positive image of the artist they aren’t interested.
         Many years ago on a flight to the US I found myself with little choice but to watch a 2005 film called Stoned, about the life of Brian Jones’ with emphasis on his departure from The Rolling Stones and subsequent death. It was a piss poor film actually but what made it even worse was the music, which was either lame versions of songs by others that the Stones covered on their early albums, that is a studio band trying to sound like the Stones playing songs like ‘Route 66’, ‘Carol’ and Walkin’ The Dog’, or inappropriate sixties music, including – if I remember rightly – ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane and a few Small Faces songs. The inference is that this music was easy to clear (The Small Faces long ago lost the rights to their music which is now controlled by agents happy to make a buck regardless) while Rolling Stones music from the Sixties, then controlled by Allen Klein, was not.
         Here at Omnibus Press we are often approached by film makers seeking, for a price, to option a book, that is secure the exclusive film rights to the book for a period of time during which they will try to put together all the other elements necessary to make their film. If they fail to do so the option runs out and they’ve lost their money, which is invariably what happens. And the reason it happens is because they have been unable to secure the rights to the music, at least not on terms that are acceptable to them.
         Among the many titles where this has happened are our biographies of Syd Barrett, the founder of the Pink Floyd, and Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin. I was left to assume that in both cases the film makers were unable to agree terms with those who control the rights to the Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s music, and it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to assume that this was because today’s Pink Floyd don’t want Syd’s acid casualty condition scrutinised in a high-profile movie, and neither do the former members of Led Zeppelin want their old manager’s strong-arm methods put under the spotlight long after he’s been laid to rest. Both groups are now pillars of the rock establishment so all that messy business from the past is best forgotten.
         But the main casualty of this phenomenon is Dear Boy, our much acclaimed best-selling biography of Keith Moon, by Tony Fletcher. At one time this was optioned by Tribeca, the film company headed by Robert DeNiro, but they were unable to secure The Who’s music because Pete Townshend had promised Roger Daltrey that if ever he was involved in a film about Keith Moon he would be given the rights to the group’s music. Roger, who unlike Pete was never a fan of Dear Boy, has hemmed and hawed about a Moon movie for years now but nothing has ever been put into production, so it’s a stalemate situation. 
         One film that did manage to secure the music rights was The Doors, the 1991 biopic of the LA band starring Val Kilmer in the role of Jim Morrison. Lisa and I went to see it at the Odeon on Kensington High Street not long after it was released. I wasn’t particularly impressed – thought it overcooked the rock clichés – but one thing I do remember is that to my astonishment many in the audience were smoking joints in the cinema. You wouldn’t get that today. 

23.10.14

KATE & PETER - 'Don't Give Up'

Last week the London Evening Standard announced the results of their list of 1,000 Most Influential Londoners as chosen by ‘a panel of editors, critics and journalists from the newspaper’, which more or less means that they could stick who they wanted on the list which in turn means they could choose those with whom they wished to curry favour.
         Remarkably, Kate Bush was at number 16, three places above Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Quite why the Standard’s panel decided that Bush has more influence in London than the city’s top cop is a matter of conjecture but it seems unlikely that London mayor Boris ‘Haystack’ Johnson will consult Kate ahead of Sir Bernard before deciding on which demonstration to debut his second-hand German water cannons.
         Also, Kate Bush wasn’t born in London (Bexleyheath was in Kent in 1958 when she was born, it didn’t become part of the GLC until 1965), hasn't lived in London for donkey's years and then only down in the south east suburbs, and I’d bet good money that the recent series of concerts at Hammersmith represents the longest time she has ever spent – or will ever spend – in what most folk regard as London.
         But right now Kate Bush can do no wrong. She can walk on water. Maybe the Standard thought that by including Kate at number 16 she would grant them an interview. Fat chance, methinks. Kate doesn’t do interviews but she does sing beautifully, and one of my favourite performances of hers is not from her own catalogue but the duet she did with Peter Gabriel on ‘Don’t Give Up’, from Gabriel’s So album from 1986. The album was recorded during the summer of the previous year at Gabriel’s home, Ashcombe House in Somerset, where he kept his own studio. It was, according to Gabriel biographer Daryl Easlea, partly inspired by the startlingly evocative Dorothea Lange pictures of poor Americans during the Great Depression, three of which hang along the upstairs corridor of our house.
         ‘Don’t Give Up’ is the focus of this extract from Daryl’s book Without Frontiers: The Life & Music of Peter Gabriel.

Written as a duet, Gabriel initially envisioned Dolly Parton, one of the greatest American bluegrass vocalists of her generation, to sing with him on ‘Don’t Give Up’ but that fell through. Instead he turned to his great friend, Kate Bush, who was then enjoying huge commercial success in the wake of her 1985 album, Hounds Of Love, to add the impassioned female vocal part. Bush’s album can be seen in some ways as a sister album of So. Both he and Bush had released difficult, complex albums in 1982 that had not chimed as resonantly with the public as earlier records had done. With Hounds Of Love, like So, Bush had kept all of her inherent strangeness, yet sweetened it with some of the most commercially accessible singles of her career. Like an actor playing a part, she delivered her lines with conviction and sincerity. Over the gentle swell of Richard Tee’s gospel influenced piano part, the song was a masterpiece of understatement that was in step with the straightened times lurking beneath the shiny veneer of the eighties.
‘Don’t Give Up’ is arguably Gabriel’s most powerful statement. By the mid-eighties, the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government was shredding society with its defiant selfishness, handing down edicts to an unemployment-ridden populace with a superior and self-satisfied approach. In response to the inner-city rioting that had bedeviled the country in 1981, Thatcher’s Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit infamously used an analogy about his father being out of work in the thirties, and instead of rioting, he got on his bike and looked for work. This became interpreted popularly as telling the unemployed to ‘get on their bike’ to get a job. The way that Gabriel picks up the tale of a dispirited man at the end of his tether looking for work touched a raw nerve with millions of listeners in the UK, and latterly, the world.
Channelling the emotion of his set-piece numbers such as ‘Wallflower’, he presents this simple, personal tale, which made a remarkable connection. Designed as a conversation between a man and a woman, it seeks to emphasise the power of a bond between a couple that can defeat all obstacles. With two attempts at her vocal, Bush added the requisite warmth and vulnerability to the song. It became, as Bush biographer Graeme Thomson notes, for many people in the US their “first point of reference” for her.
The song, with Gabriel’s despair in the verses and Bush’s words of hope in the chorus, has gone on to be arguably Gabriel’s most loved composition. Cover versions have been recorded by Bono and Alicia Keys, P!nk and John Legend, Willie Nelson and Sinead O’Connor and Maire Brennan and Michael McDonald. Pop sensation Lady Gaga covered it with Canadian rockers, Midway State so “that young people would hear and learn something about Kate Bush”.
Gabriel has stated that a well-known rock star and a comedian both said that the song had stopped them from committing suicide. “You don’t know how some of the songs are going to hit people... you realise that it’s like a tool box full of emotional tools when you put out music and you put some real feeling into it. I’m a bit more conscious of that... I thought of what I was trying to do.”
DJ and author Mark Radcliffe writes with genuine affection is his book Reelin’ In The Years when he says, “It is beautiful and not without hope. The song is a duet between the battered jobseeker and his loving, protective, faithful, embattled wife. In essence, as the title suggests, she says that things might look grim but whatever happens, they’ll be together.” 

22.10.14

ELVIS IN 1956 - RIP Alfred Wertheimer


Alfred Wertheimer, the American photographer who has died aged 84, had the foresight and chutzpah to attach himself to Elvis Presley for several days during the spring and summer of 1956, the year Elvis turned 21. The photographs he took have since become legendary, a remarkable visual record of a defining time for rock’n’roll’s most enduring figure.
         A freelance up for anything, Alfred first saw Elvis on stage on March 17 in New York, on Stage Show, a TV series hosted by the Dorsey Brothers. He’d been hired by RCA’s press department and when he sent a set of contact sheets and six enlargements to RCA’s publicist Ann Fulchino, she set up further photo sessions with Elvis and Alfred, both in New York at recording sessions and at the Mosque in Richmond, Virginia. It was here, on June 30, that he snapped Elvis kissing a girl in the stairwell of the theatre, perhaps the best ‘fly-on-the-wall’ picture of Elvis ever taken. For the next few days Alfred accompanied Elvis everywhere, back to New York for recording sessions, on a 27-hour train ride to Memphis, and with his family in the city where he made his home.
        

Alfred’s pictures capture Elvis before he became a prisoner of his own celebrity. Soon his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, would put an end to all unmanaged reporting. Soon, the only pictures of Elvis anyone would ever see would be carefully vetted. Alfred was the last man to photograph the man behind the myth.
        

Many of Alfred’s pictures are well known and have become iconic images of The King, some less so, and all are collected in the book Elvis 1956 which Omnibus Press republished in 2013. We made this book available again not because it was especially commercial – the truth is Elvis books don’t seem to sell much anymore – but because it was simply the very best book of photographs of Elvis Presley there is, every one startling, every one evocative, every one going some way to explain why Elvis in 1956 really was an earthquake. Forget white jump suit Elvis, this is the real thing, the wild young kid who turned music and America upside down, changed the world really.


RIP Alfred, and thanks for being there with Elvis when it mattered.