1.4.15

JONI - Get Well Soon

I switched on my computer in the office this morning to learn that HMV have just reordered 400 copies of Both Sides Now: Conversations With Joni Mitchell, published by Omnibus Press last year, an extract from which I posted here in December. It didn’t take me long to find out why: overnight news reports that Joni had been rushed to hospital with an as yet undiagnosed condition.
         Evidently Joni is being treated in intensive care in hospital in Los Angeles.
         The most recent report on her official website jonimitchell.com states: “Joni has been hospitalised. We are awaiting official word on her condition and will post it here as soon as we know.”
         An earlier report stated: “Joni was found unconscious in her home this afternoon. She regained consciousness on the ambulance ride to an LA area hospital. She is currently in intensive care undergoing tests and is awake and in good spirits. More updates to come as we hear them. Light a candle and sing a song, let’s all send good wishes her way.”
         Earlier the celebrity gossip site TMZ said Mitchell, 71, was found by paramedics around 2.30pm on Tuesday after an emergency call from her house.
         It’s no secret that Joni was a heavy smoker for most of her life, having puffed away since she was in her early teens, but as a fan since I first heard, and tried to play, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ back in 1970, I would urge all Just Backdated readers do as her website suggests.
         Get well soon, Joni. 

30.3.15

A BIT MORE ASHLEY...

This contact sheet features a series of pictures taken at Waltzing Matilda’s, the bar on Second Avenue that I referred to in my tribute to Ashley Pandel last weekend, taken at Christmas 1973 when Ash was running The Image Group.


If you can make out everyone by clicking on the photo to enlarge it, in the fray at the dartboard are all the usual suspects that waltzed with Matilda in those carefree days: Ashley himself, in a light floral shirt; his girl Nancy, in a striped top; Roy Hollingworth, in a denim waistcoat; his girl Iris Brown, with long dark hair; Melody Maker photographer Barrie Wentzell; NME writer Roy Carr, cosying up to Barrie, bottom right corner; Rolling Stone writer Loraine Alterman, in a fake fur coat; Mandi Newall, bottom row centre, who sent a scan of this a few years ago; and your humble Just Backdated man, in a western style shirt. 

28.3.15

THE GREAT ASHLEY


On February 15 I posted on Just Backdated this photograph of myself with Elton John and my old friend Ashley Pandel. I didn’t know it at the time and, indeed, didn’t know it until yesterday that Ashley passed away on December 10 last. It is no exaggeration to say that during the period I lived in New York, from the end of 1973 to the end of 1978, give or take a few months back in the UK along the way, Ashley was my best American friend. Here’s my tribute to him.

When I was in the thick of it in the seventies the music industry attracted the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as the handsome and the beautiful, the spivs and the duckers and divers and the special people, the free thinkers and the free loaders, the skilled and the incompetent, and the brilliant people who shone like the sun and had nowhere else to go. Then there were the nerds like me who simply adored the music and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and there were those with charm in abundance who could use it to further careers and advance themselves at the same time. And then there were the girls and boys who simply wanted to see the bright lights, to have a great time, to stay up late and taste everything that the unholy world could offer, legal and otherwise, who were high on life and anything else they could find, the seekers of pleasure, of sex and drugs and rock & roll, and all these people had a twinkle in their eye and a warm glow in their hearts, and my great friend Ashley Pandel had all of this and much more besides.
It is appropriate then that we should first meet at the Speakeasy Club in London when Alice Cooper was visiting the UK in 1972. Ashley was wearing a red velvet jacket with a yellow cord trim and his hair was way long, down past his shoulders, and in the dark of the club he looked just fine and dandy to me, so we got talking. He was, he said, working for Alice Cooper, for Alive Enterprises, the company headed by Shep Gordon that managed the Coop, and he was already a friend of Roy Hollingworth, my Melody Maker colleague who was our first New York correspondent, a role I would assume myself in 1973, and it was this happenstance that sucked Ashley and I into the same wondrous whirlpool of wine, women and song.
When I arrived in New York in December of that year after a few months in LA, Ashley was the first person I called. He’d left Alice’s employ by this time and established a PR company called The Image Group with Alice, Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren, the New York Dolls and a few more I can’t remember as clients. IG had offices in Midtown on the East side and employed, amongst others, Roy H as copywriter, his girlfriend Iris Brown, and our friend Mandi Newall, formerly Derek Taylor’s PA at Warner Bros, and I soon found myself hanging around their offices, and sloping off to a nearby bar with the staff when the day ended. Ashley fixed up for me to do a story on Alice (see elsewhere on JB) and interview Lou, and he was angling to get John Lennon on his books too but I don’t think that ever happened, Harry Nilsson too.
Ashley lived with his spectacularly beautiful girlfriend Nancy Bianchi in a fancy apartment in a block on East 59th Street, just east of First Avenue, close to the East River and the big singles bars like Maxwell’s Plum and TGI Fridays, but we liked to go drinking at a bar called Waltzing Matilda’s further up Second Avenue, which had a dartboard and a friendly manager. Ash, Nancy, Roy and Iris and her friend Kathy, Mandi and stray rock writers like me and our girlfriends would drink the night away there, often after dinner at an Italian restaurant called Oggi that was across the Avenue. Ash and I loved clams casino, and a chicken dish cooked with ham and cheese, washed down with white wine.  
Ash christened me Chuck and told me about his past, how he’d studied catering at college and once managed a hotel in a resort town on the shores of Lake Michigan. He’d come up with the idea of only ever accepting bookings from single women, so the place soon got a reputation amongst blokes as a great place for finding them. “Bar was packed every night,” he laughed. “Guys came from miles around knowing they’d find it full of girls. Takings tripled.”
It was this background that inspired Ash to quit the PR business and open his own bar and restaurant on Fifth Avenue at 13th Street, with two partners, his brother Carl and a catering professional called Ed Martin. I remember the opening night like it was yesterday. Ashleys was packed to the gills with music business types and I wrote about it in my New York news column. The next morning I woke up in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side that belonged to one of the waitresses, name of Gail, who had six kittens and a wardrobe full of antique floral print dresses, and she became my girlfriend for a while.


So Ashleys became my home from home, a place like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. Mine host – Ashley was the front man, and brilliant at it too, a natural mixer – went from table to table, greeting and telling jokes, laughing and smiling, topping up drinks, putting quarters in the juke box, making absolutely sure everyone was having a great time, night after night, week after week for three years. He was always smartly dressed too, usually in three piece suits and a silk tie, and he had a way of ensuring that the rock stars who visited were never bothered by fans. Upstairs there was a dance floor and a DJ and it was supposed to be members only but I don’t think this was strictly adhered to, and there was an office where favoured guests could talk in private, hoover up coke on the mirrors provided and, with the door firmly locked, do what comes naturally to the birds and the bees.


Ashleys was party central, and a list of those who visited reads like the inductees at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Elsewhere on JB you’ll find an account of a night there with John Lennon that ended up at a waitress’ apartment downtown. They flocked to Ashleys like they flocked to Jay Gatsby’s house, and there was something about Ash that reminded me of Fitzgerald's greatest character as he welcomed Beatles, Stones, Whos, Led Zeps, Pink Floyds, Faces, Elton, Aerosmiths, Dolls, you name them, into his tavern. One of the guys from Kiss often came in, without his make-up of course, and always ducked under a table if a photographer was snapping away. Lou Reed was a regular, along with Johnny Podell, the booking agent whose father Jules had famously run the Copacabana for mobster Frank Costello, and Johnny’s petite girl Monica; the lovely models Lisa Stolley and Babette, wife of Neal Smith, Alice’s drummer; Bleecker Bob who ran the best record shop in the village; a friend of Ash’s called Martin who spoke nine languages and worked at an embassy; a girl called Joy who beat me at chess, again and again, even after we'd reversed the board so she could take my losing position; and a golf pro called Sam Anziano who ran an indoor golf course and took Ash and I golfing to a club with five courses on Long Island. All these and many more came to Ashleys, to drink and have fun, and at the centre of it all, grinning from ear to ear, shining like a diamond, radiating a special kind of magic, was Ashley Pandel, one of the best friends I ever had.


I became a charter member of Ashleys and as a reward for my custom Ashley made me member 001. I signed my bar checks and always paid up when the bills arrived, and Ashley told me no one paid up more promptly than me. So I ate beef Wellington and, sometimes, drank Don Perignon on the house. When in the summer of 1975 I was relieved of my post for a few months I pined for Ashleys and when I returned to NY that September I told the cabbie to take me straight there, straight from JFK to the Long Island Expressway and across the Queensboro Bridge, down Fifth to 13th. I can still remember the thrill of seeing the lights of Manhattan's skyline again that night as we approached the city, and when I walked into the bar and put down my suitcase Ash ran over and hugged me like a long lost child.
Somewhere along the line Ashley acquired a dog, a beagle he named Barnaby, which one heartrending day got lost in the streets by the club, so the staff put up ‘Lost Dog’ notices on all the neighbourhood signs, and a few days later Barnaby turned up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ashley looking happier than he did that day. Or maybe he was happiest the day he married his first wife, Terri Donaldson, Nancy having departed to pastures new. Terri was a fiery Irish girl from a rich Midwestern family, chic as hell, beautiful too, with long black wavy hair, who worked in fashion but the marriage didn’t last, a victim of a lifestyle that wasn't conducive to long term stable relationships.
In the meantime Ashley had opened Ashley’s West, a hotel in Palm Springs. I visited once, on the back of a trip to LA with Bad Company I think, renting a car and driving out into the desert until I came upon this strange settlement where rich types hide away and get up to no good. Ash and I played golf there on some snazzy course, and in the evening I thought I was in with a chance with a South African guest but then we got to talking about apartheid and her views turned my desire stone cold. “Shoulda stuck to rock’n’roll Chuck,” laughed Ash.  



Joints like Ashleys have a finite life and so it was that a combination of too much fun, tax issues and a visit from the mob brought it to a close. It was like a comet, the brightest in the sky, and it burned itself out within three years. Carl opened another bar called Hopper’s – after the painter – and Ashley mooched around with a wad of money he’d made and not much to do. What to do next? By this time I’d left MM, worked briefly at Penthouse for Bob Guccione Jnr, another Ashleys regular, then worked for Peter Rudge at Sir Productions which went tits up after the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash. So I was in the same boat.
So Ashley and I decided to manage a rock group, name of Teezer, but it didn’t work out. I think we expected too much too soon, and a fancy showcase we laid on at Studio Instrument Rentals for A&R men didn’t go the way we had hoped. We both lost a bit of money on that and I could see my time in NY was turning bad, so I came back to the UK and never saw Ash again, ever.
Oh, we stayed in touch, the odd phone call, the odd card, the odd e-mail. I followed his adventures as he fled to Florida and managed the catering at a hotel in Ft Lauderdale and, I think, ran the catering for some big sports team down there. I always thought I’d see him again one day for one last drink, one last toke, one last laugh, but it never happened and now it never will. Like me he eventually got married again and raised a family, and a few years ago he sent me a book he’d written about his life. Unfortunately it was unpublishable – chock full of libels that would have given a lawyer a nervous breakdown. I had to explain this to him and he was disappointed, and that was the last conversation we ever had. Then, yesterday, surfing the net I came across his Facebook page and found out that he was no more. I ought to have known earlier because I later discovered that someone had posted a comment to that effect here on Just Backdated, on a post about Alice, but I’d missed seeing it. Thanks whoever did that.
And thanks Ash for all the fun we had back when we were naughty boys. Sorry this is a bite late. RIP my dear old friend. 


(All photographs courtesy Bob Gruen.)

26.3.15

BIGGER THAN THE BEATLES, well...

Advance warning: Grumpy Old Man at large…
         In reporting the news on the BBC last night that a member of One Direction was leaving the group, newscaster Emily Maitlis (born 1970) invoked the time-honoured phrase “biggest boy band since The Beatles”. Leaving aside for a moment the despicable inference that The Beatles were a “boy band”, a term not in general usage during their career, I couldn’t help but think “aren’t they all”. Aren’t they all, “the biggest boy band since The Beatles”? Weren’t The Osmonds “the biggest boy band since The Beatles”, then the Bay City Rollers, then New Kids On The Block, then Take That, then NSYNC, then Backstreet Boys, then Westlife and now One Direction, and apologies to those I’ve missed including, laughably, The Spice Girls though they, of course, were a “girl band”.
         It is reassuring to me, of course, that The Beatles remain the benchmark by which the success of any group is measured, but there have been a few suggestions along the way that some of these groups actually became the “new Beatles” or even, heaven forbid, “bigger than The Beatles”. This, I humbly suggest, is complete rubbish because becoming “bigger than The Beatles” is simply unattainable. The Beatles’ achievements will forever remain unique because of the context in which they were accomplished.
         “Bigger than The Beatles”, of course, is the kind of emotive phrase that helps to sell newspapers, and its perpetual use as a yardstick simply adds to The Beatles’ impregnable status. Nowadays, “boy bands” compared briefly to The Beatles come pre-packaged by corporate interests, but many of them don’t even play musical instruments, let alone write their own material, and their stage shows are often limited to displays of athletic formation dancing while they sing or mime to pre-recorded backing tracks. After a few years, when their audiences have matured and recognised their limitations, the careers of most boy bands are over and their back catalogues stagnate, only to be reactivated briefly as a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection a few years down the line when they reform for commercial motives. A few, like some members of Take That, establish ongoing careers.
         The departing member of One Direction, Zayn Malik, has quit because of “stress” and wants to lead a life similar to any normal 22-year-old, or so the papers report, which suggests he might sign on the dole, move back in with his parents and lie in bed until lunchtime. However, this business of stress made me laugh, again in relation to The Beatles. In the four years since they formed in 2010 One Direction have released four albums. This compares to eight from The Beatles in a similar time period, not to mention sufficient non-album singles, B-sides and EP tracks to create at least two more. Most of The Beatles’ recorded work was written by them and, barring the odd contribution from George Martin, they played all the key instruments on their recordings themselves. One Direction’s oeuvre is created by a vast army of songwriters, including - some of the time - members of the group, producers and session musicians. In the same four-year span The Beatles toured the world, made two feature films and scores of radio and TV appearances, a work rate unimaginable by today’s standards. On tour they had two roadies who doubled as security men. I have no idea how many personnel accompany One Direction on tour to cushion the “stress” but I suspect it’s many many more than what The Beatles had.
         And talking of stress, John didn’t quit The Beatles when, on August 11, 1966, after a long transatlantic flight he was hauled before the American media and forced to apologise on live TV for suggesting that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, this to avoid a gathering storm of abuse, potentially physical, from thousands of violent self-righteous American religionists.
         That must have been pretty stressful Zayn.


(Parts of this post paraphrase some text from A Beatles Diary by Barry Miles, specifically the epilogue titled ‘The Aftermath’ which we wrote together.)

25.3.15

JOHN & HARRY CROSSING RIVERS


This morning’s shuffle opened with Harry Nilsson singing ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ from his 1974 album Pussy Cats which was produced by John Lennon, although my version comes from a double Nilsson compilation CD called Personal Best. I’d forgotten how dreadful it was. At this point in his life Harry was on a downward spiral that had ruined his voice and, indeed, he had ruptured a vocal cord while trying to record this album with John in LA. His vocal is hoarse and strained, and it sounds to me as if John is duetting with him here and there in an effort to shore up the vocal track. That probably explains the fat production too, Lennon having wisely decided to throw in everything bar the kitchen sink to mask the shortcomings in his pal’s voice. Either way it pales in comparison to the marvellous Jimmy Cliff version on his album The Harder They Come, the first reggae album I ever owned and still one of the best ever. 
         As it happened The Harder They Come was on heavy rotation on the deck in my flat in Bayswater around the time I found myself being whisked off to the Theatre Antique at Chateau Vallon near Toulon in France to witness the opening night of the first European tour by Wings on July 9, 1972, after which I grabbed a word with their leader, name of Paul, who was surrounded by journalists poking microphones in his face. Somehow the talk turned to reggae, Wings having recorded a reggae inflected version of ‘Love Is Strange’ on their recent Wildlife album, and I found myself in discussion with Mrs McCartney about the merits of this album and whether or not it was ‘politically correct’ – we wouldn’t have used that expression then but you know what I mean – to like Paul Simon’s ‘Mother And Child Reunion’. We decided it was but we both preferred Jimmy Cliff, and I remember telling Linda how back in 1967 I used to dance to ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ by Desmond Dekker at a discotheque in Ilkley in a pub called The Cow And Calf.
         Back on the iPod Harry’s desperate ‘Many Rivers…’ was followed by more ska, The Specials’ ‘Too Much Too Young’, with its surprisingly ‘traditional’ rock guitar solo, so I got to thinking about how The Specials were no doubt inspired by Jimmy Cliff and this strange connection between John and Paul Beatle, a California singer-songwriter, a Jamaican reggae star and an English 2-Tone band from Coventry and how music really is like a great big ocean in which the currents ebb and flow, all mixed together in one way or another.
         Then I got to thinking about John and Harry’s friendship and how, if I’m not mistaken, Harry asked John to accompany him to a meeting with RCA’s top brass convened to consider Harry’s future with the label after disappointing record sales. Aware of this, Harry turned the meeting around, suggesting that if they resigned him John might sign with RCA too, to which John nodded in agreement. Falling over themselves with glee, the RCA men agreed to resign Harry and promptly offered him a generous advance so as to keep in with John. Harry waltzed off to the bank with his check, and soon afterwards John went into hibernation. What it is to have friends like that…
         I think the picture was taken by my mate Dougal Butler.

23.3.15

MONDAY MORNING SHUFFLE



Armed with a new set of earphones to replaces the old ones that were becoming very tatty, I switched on the iPod on the train this morning to be greeted by Cliff singing ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’, one of only two songs by this most pious of rock singers, the other of course being ‘Move It’, his first ever record and also his best. ‘We Don’t Talk’ is the only other Cliff song I can honestly say I like, a terrific production that rattles seamlessly along. Cliff Richard seems to exist in his own world that is separate from the regular musical industry. He never really registered with us on Melody Maker though I do seem to recall speaking to him on the phone in early 1973 when his song ‘Power To All Our Friends’ was a Eurovision entry and number four hit. All I can remember is that he spoke very quickly indeed which made it hard to write down what he was saying, my shorthand having deteriorated alarmingly since the days of reporting the transgressions of petty criminals and careless drivers at Skipton Magistrates Court. I met Cliff once, very briefly, at a press reception in the US around the time that ‘Devil Woman’ was released there, on Elton John’s Rocket Records as I recall. It was a top ten hit there but then someone pointed out to Cliff that its sentiments were less than Christian, so he declined to promote it. Cliff never had much of an impact in the US.  
              Cliff is followed by ‘Key To the Highway’ by Derek & The Dominos, a sturdy 12-bar rocking blues, quite traditional in that Eric lays down a fairly quiet solo then steps up the aggression before rushing back with the final verse and a tough solo to close, with plenty of emphasis on the passing chord change. Very much an on-the-move song, as is the next one, Joe Strummer’s ‘Road To Rock’n’Roll’, a track donated to me by Tony Fletcher from a CD he compiled that he called The Best Ride Of Our Lives. This was a song Joe recorded with the Mescaleros, the group he formed in the late nineties, long after The Clash had disbanded, and it’s great, lovely rolling acoustic guitars over a fine melody and lyrics about the trials and tribulations of the rock life.
              “Shall we roll it Jimmy?” says engineer Eddie Kramer before Page and John Paul duet on guitar and mandolin respectively, soon to be joined by Robert on vocals and Bonzo on a fat pudding of a bass drum, his beat very metronomic. I always enjoy the more retrained side of Led Zep, and this acoustic blues, derivative as it is, is very welcome; from Physical Graffiti.
              Next up is R.E.M. with ‘Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance’, the opening song from the live album they recorded at the Dublin Olympia in 2007. They were debuting this previously unreleased song here but it doesn’t sound like it. Though nearing the end of their time, R.E.M. show no signs of flagging at what Stipe tells us is a public rehearsal. One of the joys of R.E.M. was Mick Mills back-up vocals and when he joins Stipe on the choruses here, this short song steps up a gear and sounds great.
              Jack Bruce’s high-pitched, rather ethereal vocals introduce ‘We’re Going Wrong’ by Cream, a song I haven’t heard since I saw the reunited group at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005. Ginger Backer’s insistent drums sound like he’s playing with mallets on a tom-tom and Eric guitar sound is softer, probably a Gibson, what he called his ‘woman tone’. The lyrics imply the end of the affair, but there’s not much to them, with verses both repeated and slight.
              We’re rattling through Clapton Junction now and it’s the Arctic Monkeys, ‘Mad Sounds’ from their AM album, taken at around the same pace as the Cream song I’ve just heard but that’s the only similarity as the difference in clarity between a track recorded in 2013 and one recorded in 1967 is quite remarkable. Alex Turner’s enunciation on this mid-paced ballad holds the song and the interest.
              After Led Zep’s homage comes the real thing: John Lee Hooker singing ‘Boogie Chillin’’, fantastic rhythm guitar, recorded in 1948 but it could have been yesterday. The best song of the morning so far, but as Waterloo rushes up Steely Dan arrive with ‘Doctor Wu’ which isn’t bad either. “Four Minutes of aural paradise,” is how SD expert Brian Sweet describes this song in his SD music guide that Omnibus published and I have to agree with him.
              All in all, a very good morning’s music on the 8.56 from Guildford. 

19.3.15

HONEYBUS - Oh me oh my...


In the shadow of the great hit records produced in the sixties by The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and their top-flight rivals were the also-rans and one hit wonders, some of whom released singles that maybe didn’t make the top of the charts but deserve more than to be forgotten footnotes of the decade. One of them cropped up on my iPod this morning and sounded as good as ever.
              Having long ago lost the 45 I would have bought in 1968, I actually acquired ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’ digitally on a £3 Hits Of The Sixties compilation CD I found on the shelves of Sainsburys a few years ago which I bought purely for this song. Recorded by a group called Honeybus, it reached number eight in the UK charts in March of that year and made a comeback in the seventies as the soundtrack for a TV ad for Nimble bread. Presumably the lightness that enabled Maggie to fly was down to the lightness of the loaf.
              ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’ really is a lovely song, so redolent of the era’s smart pop, with a gorgeous fluid melody and a slightly baroque feel, all leading to the key hook line about not wanting to let Maggie go: ‘Oh me, oh my, I see her fly. Now I know, I can’t let Maggie go’. What sounds like organ pan pipes flutter gracefully the background and there’s a ’cello somewhere in the mix, enhancing the double-tracked vocals and harmonies that kick in on the chorus. It’s a very simple song, with verses repeated but the elegance of its cyclical melody diffuses any lyrical shortcomings. If there was a Maggie she ought to have been flattered.
              In truth, I think it sounds a bit like a Beatles B-side, their period between Beatles For Sale and Help, and in this regard not unlike ‘Yes It Is’, John’s song on the B-side of ‘Ticket To Ride’, albeit it a bit faster and less mannered. In 1968 ‘Maggie’ was a bit of a throwback, instant nostalgia, and it therefore arrived a bit too late for Honeybus to sustain any real momentum. As it was the group’s main composer, Pete Dello, left the group soon after it dropped from sight and although he and they retained a cult following into the seventies and beyond they never again troubled the charts.
              But there is a second reason for my lingering fondness for this song, for in my world there really was a Maggie. Sometime between 1967 and ’68 my girlfriend of two years, name of Margaret, left Skipton to study at Keele University near Stoke on Trent, thus triggering the end of our relationship. I wasn’t happy. Oh me, oh my…

18.3.15

ANDY FRASER - RIP


As I write elsewhere on Just Backdated, my arrival at Melody Maker in the summer of 1970 coincided with ‘All Right Now’ becoming a huge hit and Free breaking big time. As a result I saw them several times, interviewed them – mostly Paul Rodgers – and travelled with them on the road. Looking back now I always thought that their bassist Andy Fraser, who died in California on Monday aged 62, put the spring in their step, his inventive, popping bass lines adding a unique resonance to this young, ambitious and innovative blues group.
          Paul Kossoff was a strikingly original guitarist who instinctively knew that what you left out was as important as what you put in, Paul Rodgers had a wonderfully soulful voice and knew how to engage an audience and Simon Kirke was solid as a rock on drums. But of the four I think it was Andy’s bass lines that raised the group above the rank and file. He was also extraordinarily young, 17 going on 18 when ‘All Right Now’, which he co-wrote with Rodgers, reached number two that year.
          The song was written hurriedly, according to Simon Kirke who recalls Andy coming up with the bass riff in a dressing room in Durham: “It was obvious that we needed a rocker to close our shows. All of a sudden the inspiration struck Fraser and he started bopping around singing ‘All Right Now’. He sat down and wrote it right there in the dressing room. It couldn't have taken more than 10 minutes.”
          Andy and Paul Rodgers co-wrote most of Free’s material but it was the tension between them that split the group, Andy being the first to leave and Kossoff’s drug problems taking the wind from their sails.
          In an unpublished memoir written by Simon Kirke, Free’s drummer writes about the moment he and the rest of the group were told that ‘All Right Now’ was a hit: “I was sitting in my flat when the phone rang. It was Denise, the secretary at Island. ‘You have to come over now for a photo session. ‘All right now’ has gone from outside the top 50 to number four. All the music papers want interviews with you. I’m sending a car.’ Fuck me, there was a sign… Denise sending a car!
          “And so began our ‘overnight success’. All those hundreds of gigs we had done, all the thousands of miles traveling the length and breadth of England were paying off. We had established a fan base and it was rock solid. We did Top Of The Pops which was a bit of a drag because we had to do it semi live. I say semi because the Musicians Union had stipulated that songs which were broadcast on the TV or radio had to have at least one member of the band playing live. I guess it guaranteed some musician a piece of work somewhere. Anyway Paul was quite happy to sing the song live. He was a consummate professional. We had one hurdle to cross though. The boys at the BBC were sure Paul was singing: ‘Raise the fucking rate’. We assured them the word was ‘parking’ but they refused to take our word for it and we had to play the vocal to them isolated from the rest of the tracks to ensure that indeed the word was ‘parking’. This show was broadcast to millions of people throughout Britain and within two weeks it had climbed to number two… where it stayed behind Mango Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’. Thwarted by a jug band!”
          It’s still a great song, should have been a number one. RIP Andy. 

15.3.15

PROCOL HARUM - A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Part 3

The third and final part of the extract from Procol Harum: The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade Of Pale by Henry Scott-Irvine, telling the remarkable story of this ageless, haunting and unforgettable song.

Gary Brooker still has a recording of that first Radio London broadcast of ‘A Whiter Shade Of pale’. “I got the old Grundig out, and put the microphone near the radio,” he says. “My girlfriend Franky [to whom Brooker has at the time of writing been married for 42 years] and I both cheered when the name Procol Harum was first mentioned. The DJ then said, ‘I’ve got this new record here... And I think it’s going to sound lovely!’ So he puts on ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ and I think it sounded fine, but I was so euphoric that we were getting airplay on the radio that I got a bit carried away. When the record finished he said something like that sounds like a huge hit to me!”
         Roman told his listeners to phone in or to write to Radio London at 17 Curzon Street in London’s upmarket Mayfair. Immediately afterwards the station’s switchboard was jammed with callers. Needing no further convincing Decca agreed to press up thousands of copies, rush-releasing the single across the globe on May 12. In the second week of its release it stood at number 13 in the UK charts.
         On May 12 Procol Harum made their live debut at London’s premier psychedelic club, the UFO on Tottenham Court Road. The club’s manager, Joe Boyd, had earlier dismissed an approach from Keith Reid who was seeking to further the group’s interests. “He said, ‘Hey Joe’. ‘I was like, ‘Do I know you?’” says Boyd. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I came to your office!’ It was Keith Reid and he was like, ‘See what you missed!’”
         That same night Procol performed for a second time at the late-night, members-only Speakeasy Club in Margaret Street, near Oxford Circus. “[It was] the day ’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ came out so nobody knew us,” said Brooker. “Because we only had ten Brooker-Reid songs, we played those, and then we played a few others that we liked. We played a Bob Dylan song, a Rascals song, and one called ’Morning Dew’ that Tim Rose had recorded. Hendrix was down at the Speakeasy watching us playing and he suddenly jumped up onstage when we started ’Morning Dew’, grabbed the bass off our bass player, turned it upside down, and joined in. He loved us. He thought we were lovely.”
         The response to Radio London playing ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ was immediate. Brooker recalls riding down Oxford Street in a bus and seeing a sign in a shop window that stated, simply, ‘Yes we’ve got it’, and another window saying, ‘It’s in!’ “And by the third shop up Oxford Street going on this bus ride I could see copies of our record stuck in the windows. I realised this was what they were talking about. It was very important. So it was there by popular demand, which was great. When it was number 13 in the UK I went to Paris, ostensibly to do a radio interview. When I got off the plane I was met by 100 cheering people. They said, ‘Welcome, welcome. We go straight to the radio show’. They said, ‘You are number one’. I said, ‘Oh really? Number one what?’ And so it was number one in France before it was number one here in England.”
         There was universal agreement among Britain’s pop cognoscenti that the record was exceptional. No lesser figure than Paul McCartney subsequently recalled the first time he heard it, at the Speakeasy Club in the company of Animals singer Eric Burdon and Who drummer Keith Moon. “We said, ‘This is the best song ever man’,” McCartney recalled.
         It was a memorable night for the Beatle as earlier the same evening, at The Bag O’ Nails Club in Kingly Street, he had met his future wife Linda Eastman for the very first time. Later Paul gave Linda his copy of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ as a token of that night.
         ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ received its official live debut at the Speakeasy on May 24. Disc & Music Echo’s Scene column (dated June 3) reported: “Digging Procol Harum at The Speakeasy last week were all four Beatles, Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, Cat Stevens, Andrew Loog Oldham, Eric Burdon, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and Denny Cordell.”
         Paul McCartney and George Harrison took their partners to watch Procol Harum make their first major UK concert appearance at the Saville Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue on June 4 where they supported The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
         Reviewing this show on June 10, New Musical Express’ Derek Boltwood wrote: “I am sure that Procol Harum will be with us for a long time – and I think they will not only prove that they are not just a one-hit group, but they will also show themselves capable of producing some really progressive music – they’ll have to after ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, which is surely one of the most up-to-date sounds around.”
          It took just three weeks for ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ to climb to number one in the UK singles charts where it remained for six weeks.          
            “We weren’t really ready for such instant success, so I thought we’d better go out and get ourselves some new clothes,” says Brooker. “We made an appointment to go to this exclusive boutique called Dandy Fashions in the Kings Road in Chelsea. We rang the doorbell and inside all four Beatles were standing around a harmonium singing ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ the very moment we came in. Not for us... They just happened to be there singing the song as we came in through the door...”
          According to The Beatles’ press agent Derek Taylor, “John Lennon played the song over and over inside his psychedelic Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.” It probably also inspired Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’ from The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.
         Procol made numerous television appearances on BBCTV’s Top Of The Pops between May and July with primetime guest spots on BBCTV’s Billy Cotton’s Music Hall on June 18 and ITV’s As You Like It on June 20, all arranged by plugger Tony Hall.
         In the US, where Procol Harum weren’t known at all, ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ reached five in the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed in the top 40 for 10 weeks. The song achieved this remarkable success without any American TV appearances whatsoever.
           ‘Pale’ became a top five hit in almost every country in the world; in France the single was number one for 18 weeks, while in Venezuela it held the top spot for a staggering six months. ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ received a UK Ivor Novello Award for The Best International Song of The Year and also beat The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ in NME’s reader’s poll for The Best Single Of 1967.
         Such success did not come without a whiff of envy from other performers. Crooner Englebert Humperdinck was so jealous of Procol’s achievement that he refused to speak to the group backstage in the green room at BBC TV’s Top Of The Pops 1967 Christmas Special. Instead of congratulating the group, Humperdinck, whose schmaltzy ballad ‘Release Me’ had shamefully prevented The Beatles double A-side ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane’ from reaching number one earlier that year, angrily blew cigar smoke into Brooker’s face before quickly exiting.
         Total sales figures for ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ are difficult to estimate and subject to the influence of those who might have reason to underestimate them in order to reduce royalty payments or overestimate them in order to promote the group’s ‘legendary’ status. Some have suggested that, worldwide, an estimated six million sales had been chalked up by the end of the sixties but this figure must surely include albums tracks as well as singles. In 1978, on its third UK issue Procol were awarded Gold Discs with an embossed plaque that read: ‘UK Sales In Excess of 6 Million’, but this was surely untrue as according to reliable sources the best-selling UK single of all time is Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’ (1997) with sales of 4.9 million to date. An alleged 10 million copies had been sold worldwide by the end of the seventies, with an estimated 16 million sales to date, according to some sources. It has, of course, appeared on countless compilation albums. There are almost 1,000 cover versions of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ recorded in many different languages, and the song has been featured on the soundtrack to numerous movies, TV series and commercials. In the modern digital age it has even become a mobile phone ringtone and a ‘Wii’ computer game!