2.9.15

THE BEVERLEY SISTERS – A Close Encounter



Those accustomed to reading about my adventures with The Who, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie may be surprised to learn that in early 1971 I found myself at London’s Talk Of The Town nightclub near Leicester Square, there to witness a show by The Beverley Sisters, the eldest of whom, Joy, died on Monday aged 92. She is survived by her twin sisters Teddy and Babs, three years younger than her and, like her, born on May 5.
         The building that housed the Talk Of The Town was opened in 1900 as The Hippodrome, a name it resumed when it was taken over by Tory-supporting lap dance king Peter Stringfellow in 1983, and it is now a casino. Back in 1971 it was London’s premier cabaret showcase where punters could dine, dance beneath chandeliers and watch the featured act on a dancefloor that rose up about three feet to become a stage. The impresario Bernard Delfont, younger brother of cigar-chomping showbiz tycoon Lew Grade, turned it into The Talk Of The Town in 1958, and it was firmly rooted in the traditional end of show business, the world that encompassed summer shows on the pier, Christmas pantomimes and the Royal Variety Performance.
         Melody Maker, of course, was first published in 1926 and also rooted in that world, though it took a left turn with the advent of rock’n’roll, and by the time I landed there in 1970 was dominated by rock. Nevertheless, it was customary for us to receive review tickets for shows at the Talk Of The Town, even though the acts appearing there were almost always a far cry from those that now occupied our front page. The tickets were much sought after, however, as an evening there included a free meal and as much booze as you could drink. The PR office of London Management, Delfont’s umbrella company, was very generous towards us, showbiz convention dictating that reviewers who were well fed and watered were more likely to post positive reviews.
         Demand to see The Beverley Sisters probably wasn’t too high when the tickets were proffered at our weekly conference but for some reason they were accepted by my colleague Chris Welch who invited me to accompany him. Eager to sample the TOTT’s hospitality and having little else on my agenda on a Monday night, I agreed to do so, and I think we called in at the Red Lion behind the offices for a few fortifying pints before we headed off to Leicester Square and settled down to a meal of roast chicken, washed down with white wine, several bottles no doubt. By the time the Bevs came on stage I was well and truly sloshed, so I can’t remember much about their performance but Chris, a true pro, made notes. When the show came to an end we were offered liqueurs with our coffee. Thank you, I said, guzzling away.
         It was at this point that matters took a turn for the unexpected. A few minutes after the Sisters had taken their final bow, the London Management PR invited us backstage to meet ‘the girls’. It was explained to us that Joy, Teddy and Babs were big fans of Melody Maker, had been reading it since they were young girls, so to refuse would have been ill-mannered and reflect badly on the paper. So, too, I thought would our insobriety, but we did as we were bid and were led backstage and into their dressing where, would you believe it, all three sisters extended a warm welcome and offered us both a glass of champagne.
         The room was spinning as I accepted my glass and shook their hands. In 1971 Joy would have been 47 and her twin sisters Teddy and Babs 44, and they were absolutely gorgeous, simply stunning in their identical sequinned evening gowns, every bit as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, their skin as white as porcelain, their perfectly sculpted blonde hair curling down over their ears, their smiles lighting up the room, their countenance sincere, their presence as natural as mother nature herself. I deeply regretted that last bottle of wine and the liqueur, and was certainly unsure about the champagne which one of the girls insisted on topping up the moment it touched my lips. I genuinely would have liked to have been sober and able to talk to them but I just grinned stupidly, knowing that if I opened my mouth I might say something I’d regret, perhaps even something mildly unbecoming as Joy, Teddy and Babs looked truly ravishing to me, pretty much like they looked in the photo above (that I downloaded from the internet). Unfortunately I was seeing double, or was it treble?
         In truth, it was a bit surreal. I’d watched the Beverley Sisters on TV when I was a child, and here I was in their presence completely tongue-tied, not because I was overawed by their fame – that reaction in the company of music stars had already waned for me – but because I was blotto. Fortunately Chris was a bit less inebriated than me and could make small talk for a few minutes while I just smiled and nodded. I have no idea how I got out of that dressing room and got home. Chris ended up writing the review.
         RIP Joy. It was a lovely evening that night in 1971 and you and your sisters were absolutely delightful. I’m so sorry I was too sloshed to talk to you or them – but maybe it was for the better. 

1.9.15

NILS LOFGREN: Before Bruce Beckoned


Long before Bruce Springsteen came a-calling, Nils Lofgren was hoping to break out from the shadow of Neil Young and do his own thing. Evidently Springsteen made him change his mind.
         I have a ‘Best Of’ Nils Lofgren CD, now downloaded on to the iPod, which seems to have fallen out of print nowadays though similar collections are available. This one, however, seems to be the only one that contains his live version of ‘Any Time At All’, the sturdy Lennon-led Beatles’ song that opened the second side of their Hard Day’s Night LP in 1964. Many of the other tracks are terrific too, evidence that The Boss knew what he was doing when he recruited Nils, always a fine guitar player, to replace Steve Van Zant in 1984. Check out ‘Back It Up’, ‘Goin’ Back’ (the 1966 Goffin-King song, not quite up to Dusty’s version but still lovely), ‘Keith Don’t Go’ (urging Keef R not to risk a trip to Toronto to face drugs charges in 1977), ‘I Came To Dance’, ‘Shine Silently’ and ‘Baltimore’ (the Randy Newman song).
         This quite brief interview with Nils is from May 1975, when I was Melody Maker’s US correspondent in the Big Apple, and in the light of what the future brought makes strange reading.


“It’s not that I don’t like playing with Neil Young,” said Nils Lofgren between shots on the pool table in A&M’s office last week.
         “It’s just that the time is right now for me to be doing my own thing instead of being a back-up man. I guess I could go on playing with Neil for as long as he wanted, but that’s not what I want.”
         What Nils really wants is simple: a solo career as well as a chance to put his own music across to fans in the kind of numbers that Young attracts.
         “Actually,” he said, leaning the pool cue up against the wall, and gazing over the New York skyline from A&M’s 32nd floor habitat, “what I’d like is to play with Neil on tour but for Neil to give me a chance to sing my songs during his set. I’d do three or four songs in the middle.”
         Would Neil allow that? “I dunno. On the last tour I had the first half to myself and I went back on to play with Neil for his half. It felt wrong. I mean... how could I go out and play my balls off as a supporting act when I know I was also the top act on the bill as well. A support act ought to give the headliner a hard time, but I would have been giving myself a hard time. It was a weird situation.”
         Nils was making a quick trip to New York last week to help promote his first real solo LP which was released last month by A&M with whom he signed well over a year ago. His first album for the label was a Grin album, but the band subsequently split up and Nils became a solo artist on the label.
         Two previous albums by Grin on Columbia had met with good critical response but they failed to sell, despite Nils’ growing reputation as an integral part of the Neil Young band. Nils played on the Crazy Horse album and contributed an awful lot towards After The Goldrush, still regarded as Neil Young’s definitive contribution to the vinyl library.
         Nils, who sings, plays intricate guitar and delicate piano, is a diminutive musician who owes his breaks to Young and who seems hard pressed to sort out the conflicting loyalties.
         Grin split last summer, a mutual decision within the group caused by their general disappointment at not hitting the big time despite the critical praise heaped upon them. It wasn’t, says Nils, a hard decision and it was something of a relief for him to find himself on his own, especially when it came to writing.
For his solo work, Nils turned to drummer Aynsley Dunbar (currently playing with a new band, Journey) and veteran R&B bass player Wornell Jones for studio help.
         “Now I’d like to form a band with those two, but neither of them are available. Aynsley has his new band and obviously he won’t give that up for me even though we get on well together. I couldn’t afford to pay either of them permanently,” said Nils.
         “In the next two months I’m going to go out to Los Angeles and look for musicians to form another band, but this will be the Nils Lofgren band instead of Grin, which was a proper group unit. I really can’t wait to get moving again.”
         Right now Nils tends to dismiss his past in a few quick sentences, preferring to talk about his hopes for the future and his chances of putting together a band of his own. “I want to get a show together as well as a band. I know the music will be o.k., but people today seem to want to watch something as well as listen.”
         To this end, Nils, a trained gymnast, is practising some leaps and jumps that will put even Pete Townshend to shame. “I’m practising with a sort of small trampoline so that I can do a flip-over whilst still playing my guitar. I’ve tried it without the guitar and that’s easy, but playing as well... I dunno.”


30.8.15

JOHN LENNON – In His Own Onion

Although there's enough buskers on the streets to fill the holes in the Albert Hall, the Edinburgh Festival is not really about rock music. There were no name acts performing, not unless you count my old pal John Otway, whose name I spotted on a flyer and whose show clashed with a comic we wanted to see, but Otway is as much a comic as a musician anyway. However, another John, born in Liverpool 75 years ago this October and senselessly gunned down in New York 40 years later, was inescapable, the poster below decorating railings everywhere you looked. And nor was this the only Edinburgh manifestation of the chief Beatle, for his 1964 book In His Own Write has been turned into a stage play, of which more later.


The major production, though, is Lennon Through A Glass Onion, which played nightly at the Assembly Hall throughout the Festival; a poignant bio-play that sees grey-haired John R. Waters reflecting on John’s life and music in a series of soliloquies and songs, accompanied for the most part by his own guitar and Stewart D’Arrietta on piano. Waters, an Australian actor, sounds remarkably like John Lennon, at least the Liverpool-accented tenor of his speaking voice if not quite that remarkable singing voice. Light-hearted it wasn’t, Water’s dark attire – black jeans, shirt and leather jacket – setting a tone that to me seemed to echo the imposing but rather grim and sooty stone architecture for which this lovely city is famous.
The 90-minute piece begins at the end, five shots ringing out to remind us of the awful events of December 8, 1980, then slips back to John’s childhood evoked by the Liverpool Lullaby ‘Mucky Kid’, though I’m pretty sure Aunt Mimi, were she alive today, would flinch at the suggestion that the nephew she raised was ‘as dirty as a dustbin lid’. Thereafter John Waters offers a selective account of John’s life in the first person, punctuated by songs, first those Beatles songs that we now know were largely John’s own work – ‘Help’ (taken at a slow pace and all the better for it), ‘Hide Your Love Away’, ‘Nowhere Man’, ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘Lucy’, ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘Julia’, ‘Come Together’ and more – followed by solo songs, of which ‘Working Class Hero’ and ‘God’ were the most profound. ‘Imagine’ closed the show, perhaps inevitably, and it was clear that all had been chosen for their narrative appeal.
Waters stands with his legs apart, facing down his audience just as John did, and his plain spoken, unsentimental dialogue seems to reinforce the feeling that John Lennon was a bit lost amid the clamour of Beatlemania and the vast, unwieldy fame that came with it. It wasn’t my fault, he seems to be saying, I didn’t ask for this life. It just happened because I liked showing off. There is a deep sense of drama in these spoken words, a sense of impending tragedy that creates an atmosphere of destiny, of impending doom, that was relieved only by the music, especially the up-tempo songs like ‘Revolution’ which was driven along by D’Arrietta’s powerful boogie-woogie piano.

Stewart D'Arietta and John R. Waters 

Yoko is well represented, especially the antipathy she aroused – “British Anglo-Saxon racism – that’s what it was” – but Cynthia didn’t get a mention at all. John’s rivalry with Paul was touched on but unless I missed it I never heard so much as a mention of George or Ringo. John’s drug use, too, is avoided, perhaps on the wishes of Yoko whose blessing must have been sought for copyright purposes. I was also a bit disappointed that two key Lennon songs – ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, both personal favourites – were omitted but these are minor quibbles. The audience of mainly over fifties was rapt throughout, breaking into applause after the most memorable songs.
Lennon Through A Glass Onion is by no means new. Waters and D’Arrietta have been performing it since 1992, and it is a tribute to their skills and the show itself that it still feels fresh, contemporary and – most of all – captivating. For those unfamiliar with Lennon’s story it would have been enlightening too, shining a light on what was going on in the mind of the rock star who more than any other, at least in the UK, opened our ears to the music’s potential.


Meanwhile, over the Princes Street Gardens at the Voodoo Rooms, Peter Caulfield, Jonathan Glew and Cassie Vallence, aka Baldynoggin Productions, were enacting In His Own Right as a series of wry sketches taken from the book, a further look into the eccentricity that made Lennon (and The Beatles) as original as they were. The fact that Vallence was visibly pregnant just seemed to add to the sense of absurdity, something that I’m sure John would have appreciated.
When the short stories are acted out in this way, affectionately and with a sly wink here and there, the influences become more obvious: Edward Lear, the Goons, Milligan in particular, and perhaps even Stanley Unwin. We also see the beginnings of Python amid pieces like ‘No Flies On Frank’, ‘At The Dennis’, ‘The Wrestling Dog’, ‘Treasure Ivan’, ‘Nicely Nicely Clive’ and ‘On Safairy With Whide Hunter’. The Enid Blyton Famous Five spoof contains the line ‘keep of the grass’, which I found touching in the light of Bob Gruen’s now famous photo of John by the Statute of Liberty, while the non-PC bigotry in references to people of colour and, more especially, the handicapped seemed to reflect the Lennon of Liverpool as opposed to the Lennon of the World. It also reflects John’s rather cruel sense of humour, epitomised by ‘A Surprise For Little Bobby’, the tale of a one-handed lad who receives a hook for his other arm as a Christmas present, prompting him to chop off his good hand.
The skits were acted out against a screen on which John’s fine line drawings appeared, a further nod in the direction of his restless spirit, and at one point the three actors appeared to read from copies of The Daily Howl, John’s pre-teen school newspaper that at least one of his long-suffering teachers recognised as the work of a fine mind.
While not as ambitious as Lennon Through A Glass Onion, In His Own Write casts more light on John Lennon’s endless inventiveness and offers yet more evidence that America’s irrational gun madness silenced one of the world’s most original creative talents.


14.8.15

BOBBY FULLER - I Fought The Law

‘I Fought The Law’ by the Bobby Fuller Four was and remains a brilliant record. It was a number nine hit in the US in early 1966, but it only reached number 33 in the UK that April which is probably why it escaped my attention, at least until 1971 when a 12-album vinyl set called Oldies But Goodies landed on my desk at Melody Maker. Since each disc had at least a dozen tracks, albeit crammed together so the hi-fi was lo-fi, it was a terrific package and enabled me to catch up on numerous 1950’s hits from America that I’d either heard but never bought or never heard at all.


One of them, on Volume 9, was ‘I Fought The Law’ and, boy, was I impressed. It’s no exaggeration to say that out of all the 140 or so tracks on the set, this was the one I ended up playing the most and, of course, transferring to cassette so as to play it in my car. It was the crispness of the song that impressed me the most, the clean, sharp guitar licks between the verses, the simplicity of the song itself as it rolled along, powered by a terrific beat, not unlike Buddy Holly of course, and – by no means least – the subject matter that suggested the hero was an outlaw from the Wild West who wrote it 100 years ago while languishing in jail in Dodge City, no doubt contemplating the gallows on the hill. A bit later I discovered it was written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis who joined The Crickets after Buddy Holly died in 1959, and recorded originally for their In Style With The Crickets LP in 1960. Bobby Fuller recorded it twice, once for his own Exeter label and later for his manager/producer’s Mustang Records, and it was this later re-recording that became a hit and which turned up on my Oldies But Goodies album.
          When I lived in America and worked for Melody Maker I was minded in 1974 to seek out Bobby Fuller, only to learn that he’d died aged 23 in 1966, probably murdered by persons unknown, a circumstance that remains unresolved to the present day and, in view of the time that has elapsed, unlikely ever to be resolved. Back in 1974 I didn’t pursue the story, but last year a book called I Fought The Law: The Life And Strange Death Of Bobby Fuller by Bobby’s brother Randell Fuller was published. I read it over the past month but, as I thought, there are still no firm conclusions as to what happened.
         

Although crammed full of information, the book could benefit from a decent edit, is rather cheaply produced and the pictures, dotted throughout the text, are too small and very low resolution. This is often the case with small independent publishers who don’t have much to invest in their titles, but I commend Kicks Books for taking the chance anyway and offering me the opportunity to learn all I could about Fuller, clearly a musician with a big future had not fate cut him down.
          On the morning of July 18th Bobby Fuller’s body was found in his car parked outside the apartment building where he lived on Sycamore Avenue in North Hollywood. “Bobby was there lying in the car, all beat up real bad and gasoline all over him and there were burns on him,” says his friend Rick Stone, quoted from the book. Others who saw the body in the car noted dried blood on Bobby and that there was a gas can in the passenger seat. He was wearing worn slippers which suggested his body had been dragged across rough ground before being placed in the car and driven to Sycamore. Amazingly, the police attributed his death to suicide – “asphyxia due to inhalation of gasoline,” noted the coroner – and didn’t investigate further, possibly because they were preoccupied with the sudden and unexpected death of the LAPD Police Chief two days before, or because it was a mob hit best left alone.
          So who did kill Bobby Fuller? Speculation has included Charles Manson, though his killing spree began later, an unnamed mob figure displeased by Bobby’s interest in his girlfriend and even his manager/producer Bob Keane who had the misfortune to also work with Ritchie Valens and Sam Cooke, two other singers that died far too young. Then again Keane also worked with Arthur Lee, Barry White, Frank Zappa and Glen Campbell. A more likely theory is that Bobby’s death was somehow connected to his involvement with the notorious label owner Morris Levy, owner of Roulette Records, which had signed a distribution deal with Keane’s label that Bobby was unwilling to honour.
          

Bobby Fuller left behind two albums and a handful of singles, all of which have been compiled many times. Reading the book prompted me to buy I Fought The Law: The Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four which seemed the best of the bunch, and I’ve been charmed by it over the past three weeks, convinced that its mix of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, chirpy harmonies and rattling guitar work ought to have propelled the BF4 into the area that The Monkees occupied, at least in terms of their quality singles like ‘I’m A Believer’, ‘Last Train To Clarkesville’ and’ ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’, if not their TV show boy-band appeal.
          There can be no question that Fuller was a disciple of fellow Texan Buddy Holly, though in truth he updated Holly’s sound and guitar style. He learned his trade in and around El Paso, fronting the Four on his Holly-like Sunburst Stratocaster, with brother Randell on Fender bass, Jim Reese on second guitar and Dewayne Quirco on drums. This was around the same time as The Beatles were cutting loose in Liverpool before being signed by George Martin, so any suggestion that the BF4 were hanging on their coat tails is well wide of the mark.
          The music on my compilation sounds like a group straining at the leash, not far removed from the garage bands on Lenny Kaye’s great Nuggets compilation. It’s dated now for sure, but there’s something there – a touch of Beach Boys harmony, a nice melodic bent, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-but-you-know-it’s-good fizz and pop – that would make any A&R man with ears open his cheque book. And, of course, there’s ‘I Fought The Law’, one of the great singles of the era, covered – perhaps more famously but with less panache – by The Clash and countless others.
          As the blurb on the back of the book points out, Bobby Fuller wrote and recorded his own music, built his own studio and released his own records, so he was both determined and ahead of his time. He certainly didn’t deserve his fate.

         


12.8.15

RICHARD THOMPSON – Still



For many years now, whenever I get my voting form for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame I include a note expressing my displeasure that Richard Thompson has never been nominated, let alone inducted. He is, of course, a fine songwriter and one of the great guitarists in any style, rock, finger-picking acoustic, country licks, jazz, folk… you name it. In his beret and unassuming clothes, he’s never been fashionable and his stage manner has always been a bit tentative, at least until the minute he begins to play, which might explain why he’s been ignored by the rather secretive committee that decides who should be on the voting form, experts who’d sooner admit the likes of Kiss, Guns’n’Roses and the dreaded Dave Clarke Five to the HoF than a genuinely talented figure like Thompson. Still, Little Feat aren’t in there either so he’s not alone in this.
         A five-hour round trip in the car this weekend enabled me to listen several times to Thompson’s latest album Still, another superbly crafted, immensely satisfying piece of work. Produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Thompson watchers could be forgiven for assuming that their hero would come under his influence and produce something a bit rougher round the edges than the polished creations they’ve come to expect but this is not the case. As ever Thompson flits between the many musical styles he’s honed over the years and, on most of the tracks, sings about his favourite subject, angst-filled relationships and difficult situations. The exception, at least lyrically, is the closing number, ‘Guitar Heroes’, a seven-minute tribute the men who inspired him as a boy, to wit Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton and Hank Marvin, whose styles he adopts in turn, note for note, lick for lick, on a long and rather droll song about how his guitar dominates his social life.
         Still opens with ‘She Never Could Resist A Winding Road’, one of those soupy swirling ballads, the kind of song that registers immediately, sturdy and traditional, a bit like ‘Keep Your Distance’ from 1991s Rumour And Sigh; this one about another footloose female, not unlike the girl he sang about on ‘Beeswing’, who probably broke his fragile heart. But it’s not all doom and gloom: ‘Beatnik Walking’ is upbeat and as catchy as hell, about a stay in Amsterdam, and ‘All Buttoned Up’ is about a girl who, to his evident frustration, keeps her knees together.
         ‘Pony In The Stable’ has a touch of the Fairports about it, a bit of a jig, while ‘Where’s Your Heart’ is a more thoughtful song about a cold oppressor, madrigal-like in the Thompson tradition of unhurried songs. The penultimate song, ‘Dungeons For Eyes’, conveys a righteous sense of anger as Thompson recounts a social encounter with a crooked politician whose hand he is expected to shake.
         And then we’re into ‘Guitar Heroes’ which, after the skilfully executed cameos, closes with a kind of confession from a man who eternally seeks perfection in his work: “Well I played and played until my fingers bled, I shut out all the voices but the voice in my head, now I stand on the stage and I do my stuff, and maybe it’s good but it’s never good enough.”
         I’m inclined to think it is Richard, especially when you make that guitar sing like a choir of hummingbirds.



11.8.15

STUART BROAD IS WORTH MORE THAN WAYNE ROONEY

With apologies to those visitors to Just Backdated for whom cricket is an insect found in warm climates that makes a rattling sound, there’s no music commentary today, just a thought about England’s cricket XI winning the Ashes last Saturday.

It was the day the football season opened, but in the morning English cricket all-rounder Stuart Broad stepped forward to be presented with one of those huge cheques that sponsors favour because their name is in big letters and can be seen clearly on the TV screen. But huge in monetary value it wasn’t, not by sporting standards anyway. Broad won just £2,500 for being nominated Man of the Match in this Fourth Test against Australia at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge, the game that secured the Ashes for England. The MotM award recognised his bowling analysis of eight wickets for 15 runs in 9.3 overs during Australia’s first innings in which they were skittled out for just 60 runs, and in the process Broad reached 308 wickets in Test cricket, thus elevating him to the position of fourth most prolific English bowler ever. For good measure he also made 24 not out in England’s first and only innings at Trent Bridge and took a further wicket during Australia’s second innings.
        

By any measure this was a superb performance with the ball, not least because Broad stepped up to do his stuff in the absence of our injured foremost strike bowler Jimmy Anderson. It ensured the English victory that secured the trophy that means more to English cricket than any other.
         Test match cricket is played over five days with a minimum of six hours play each day, weather permitting, though England’s superiority with bat and ball meant this particular game lasted only until two balls into the 11th over of the third day (and part of cricket time, of course, is spent in the pavilion waiting your turn to bat). As well as the £2,500 MotM award Broad would have received a £5,000 match fee, so his efforts over two and bit days earned him £7,500.
         The average salary for a Premiership footballer in the UK is £25,000 to £30,000 a week, with the top earners on £250,000 or more. Wayne Rooney, the captain of Manchester United, who secured a 1-0 victory over Tottenham on the same day that England won the Ashes, is said to earn £300,000 a week and is probably our highest paid footballer. He was on the pitch for 90 minutes. He didn’t score a goal. He wasn’t Man of the Match. He earned 40 times more than Stuart Broad. 

10.8.15

THE WHO - ‘Dogs’ & ‘Magic Bus’

Here’s a couple more of the write-ups I did for The Who’s Track singles box set, ‘Dogs’ and ‘Magic Bus’.



A: Dogs
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1968 Fabulous Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

B: Call Me Lightning
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1968 Fabulous Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

Originally released as Track 604 023 on 14 June, 1968, it reached Number 25 in the British charts.

For the benefit of sensitive radio listeners in America and a few other countries the lyric I look all white but my dad was black in ‘Substitute’ was amended to “I try going forward but my feet walk back” and close observers of The Who's evolution in 1968 might have been tempted to believe this was the way their career was heading. Whatever their motive, ‘Dogs’ was an unlikely follow-up to the sophistication of ‘I Can See For Miles’ and its lowly chart placing reflects a domestic apathy towards the group that, fortunately, would soon change. Any element of uncertainty in the camp, however, was softened by their accelerating progress in America where The Who’s stunning live shows were drawing increasingly large crowds.
              There’s a touch of music hall about ‘Dogs’, a contender for the funniest single The Who ever released; clearly influenced by the Cockney rock style of The Small Faces on ‘Lazy Sunday’, or maybe Ray Davies’ wry observational songs like ‘A Well Respected Man’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon’. Recorded at Advision Studios, London, on May 22, it’s quite a complex piece, not unlike ‘A Quick One’ in its musical changes, and evidently inspired by the British working man’s love of greyhound racing, beer and his darlin’ missus, probably in that order; slightly quaint but with just the right degree of Who-like swagger to suggest that Pete really means it. Roger puts on his best East End accent for the verses and Pete, from his recent observations at White City dog track, adopts the doddery old man persona during the fade-out.
              The B-side, ‘Call Me Lightning’, started at IBC Studios, London and completed on February 26, 1968, at Gold Star Studios in LA, is a different kettle of fish entirely. Another from among the earliest songs written by Pete, it was even suggested for The Who’s first single. Its mildly funky R&B feel is emphasised by chanted backing vocals – “dum, dum, dum, do-way” – with Roger emoting as best he can on lyrics that no-one bar Pete understood. John gets a twangy bass solo, which he never regarded highly.
              Pete: “It tries to be a slightly surly Jan & Dean kind of song to satisfy Keith and John’s then interest in surf music, which I thought was going to be a real problem. Being a trumped up Mod band was bad enough for us to handle, but trying to be a trumped-up Mod band playing R&B music with surf overtones was almost impossible... this song was trying to be all things to all men.”
              In the US ‘Call Me Lightning’ was a single in its own right and reached Number 40. The flipside was John’s ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’, their US label no doubt concluding that ‘Dogs’ would have confused the locals.



A: Magic Bus
Written by Pete Townshend. © 1968 Fabulous Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

B: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Written by John Entwistle. © 1968 Essex Music Ltd.
Produced by Kit Lambert.

Originally released as Track 604 024 on 11 October 1968, it reached Number 26 in the British charts.

Still seeking a direction in the fallow period between The Who Sell Out and Tommy, The Who dipped into their vaults and came up with a song that Pete had written around the time of ‘My Generation’, in this case a Bo Diddley pastiche that employs his famous ‘shave and a haircut (pause) two bits’ rhythm. This was something they were good at: as The Detours they’d played Bo Diddley songs like ‘I’m A Man’, ‘Here ’Tis’ (which they recorded as The High Numbers at the same time as ‘I’m The Face’ but didn’t release until three decades later) and ‘Road Runner’ in the west London pubs where they learned their trade. Indeed, the evidence suggests that ‘Road Runner’ was the song that 17-year-old Keith John Moon played with them when he stepped up to the plate for the first time at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford in May, 1964. Either way, Bo’s invention is a foundation stone of rock and simplicity in itself, for by repeating this beat endlessly and giving it a good thump from behind by a drummer who knows his way around floor toms, even the most inexperienced of garage bands can get a crowded ballroom up on their feet and dancing in no time at all.
              ‘Magic Bus’ was recorded at IBC in London during May on two separate occasions because Kit Lambert left the master tapes from the first recording in the back of a taxi. Engineer Damon Lyon-Shaw recalls that the band wanted to record it live. “So we miked everything up and it sounded just dynamic. Kit went off with the master and that was the last we saw of it.” The track was completed and mixed by Lambert at Gold Star Studios, LA in June. It certainly sounds livelier than most singles, Keith opening proceedings by tapping away on claves before the Diddley rhythm kicks in, over which Roger and Pete swap preposterous lines about trading their magic bus in for “one hundred English pounds”.
      As a stage number, ‘Magic Bus’ became a crowd favourite if for no other reason than it was quite unlike anything else The Who ever performed. With plenty of room to solo Pete loved it, unlike John who was anchored on one note with little room to stretch out.
              You could be forgiven for assuming that ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ was autobiographical for The Who’s bass player certainly amused himself and others by playing the schizophrenia card. His love of spiders and dark sense of humour, much of it tongue-in-cheek, was part and parcel of his music, both in solo songs and those recorded by The Who, and his various homes contained macabre relics more suited to a fairground ghost train than a domestic hideaway. In reality, however, those fortunate enough to spend any time with John soon came to realise that he was the most amiable of men, eternally modest about his extraordinary skills as a bass player and genuinely gracious towards the many Who fans that befriended him.
              His attempts to translate Hammer horror into his music succeeds admirably on this novelty song about the perils of sharing hotel rooms with Keith Moon, its scary opening prefacing a menacing bass line and spooky French horn solo. Indeed, John’s bass carries the melody and, at the climax, Keith manages a wicked scream and John a rather ghoulish growl, though this was edited out for the US release. 

7.8.15

THE CHÂTEAU D’HÉROUNVILLE, Robin Gibb & Kinky Ladies Of Bourbon Street

The Château d’Hérounville, in the French Val d’Oise region 30km north of Paris, famously used as a recording studio by Elton John, David Bowie and many more top acts, is for sale – a snip at £1.12 million. Such news would not normally interest Just Backdated but when the item cropped up on Facebook yesterday, I was reminded of a passage in Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, the 700+ page definitive biography of The Bee Gees by Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook and Andrew Môn Hughes, edited by yours truly and published by Omnibus Press in 2001.


         It is 1977 and The Bee Gees have decamped to the château in order to record the songs that will appear in the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, the album that spectacularly rejuvenated their career as champions of disco. Our intrepid authors take up the story:

         Echoing the beginnings of their first international hit ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’, the writing of ‘Night Fever’ was completed sitting on a staircase, utilising the natural echo. The only difference was that ‘Mining Disaster’ was written in Polydor’s London studios, and ‘Night Fever’ had the more atmospheric setting of a thirteenth century French chateau.  
         That staircase had other claims to fame, according to Robin Gibb. "You know, years ago there were so many pornographic films made at the Château,” he revealed. “The staircase where we wrote ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, all those songs, was the same staircase where there’ve been six classic lesbian porno scenes filmed. I was watching a movie one day called Kinky Women Of Bourbon Street, and all of a sudden, there’s this château, and I said, ‘It’s the Château!’ These girls, these dodgy birds, are having a scene on the staircase that leads from the front door up to the studio. There were dildos hanging off the stairs and everything. I thought, ‘Gawd, we wrote ‘Night Fever’ there!’"
         ‘Night Fever’ was the movie’s big dance number, and besides the drums, it is full of rhythms played on guitars and keyboards. ‘Night Fever’ uses two different verses and is so feverishly fast that it runs through verse-chorus pairs four times in only three minutes.

Robin got the location right but the film’s title wrong. It should be Kinky Ladies Of Bourbon Street and if you key this into Google you’ll discover that it’s a minor classic of the genre, given 6.9/10 on the Internet Movie Database website where it is described as a film that “may very well be the best Continental core ever” and proving “fertile breeding ground for several of the most intriguing French fornication film-making talents of the 70s”. My natural reticence on such matters precludes me from offering my own views on the film’s cinematic qualities.

The Château d’Hérounville

Back at the château, other acts that have checked in include Canned Heat, Rick Wakeman, Iggy Pop, Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens and T Rex. Sadly, it has fallen into neglect and, empty now for the last 28 years, requires a £300,000 refurbishment to make it habitable. Bowie was convinced it was haunted. Perhaps paranormally mindful of what might have been filmed occurring between its sheets, he declined to sleep in the master bedroom. 

6.8.15

DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day, Part 3

This third extract from David Bowie: The Music & The Changes by David Buckley, published by Omnibus Press in May of this year, focuses on the tracks featured on various ‘upgraded’ editions of The Next Day, Bowie’s ‘surprise’ album of 2013.

OTHER EDITIONS
Bowie might have been ‘away’ for ten years but in his absence, some things never change… and that was the ability of his record company to squeeze as much money from his fans as possible for product they already owned for the tease of something they didn’t have. So we have The Next Day (Deluxe Version), The Next Day EP, The Next Day Extra, and The Next Day Extra (Collector’s Edition), a Japanese version with a bonus track different to the one you can get in the UK, not to mention the temptation of buying the thing on vinyl, or checking out the difference of the version specially mastered for i-Tunes. So, what’s worth having of these extras?

THE NEXT DAY EXTRA (COLLECTOR'S EDITION)
[Limited Edition, Box set, CD+DVD] (UK CD: RCA BB00FANXZL8. Released 4 November 2013. UK Chart:89 [Total weeks in chart: 1]

CD 1: The Next Day (original album).

CD 2: ‘Atomica’, ‘Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy For The DFA)’, ‘Plan’, ‘The Informer’, ‘Like A Rocket Man’, ‘Born In A UFO’, ‘I'd Rather Be High (Venetian Mix)’, ‘I'll Take You There’, ‘God Bless The Girl’, ‘So She’.

DVD: ‘Where Are We Now?’ ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, ‘The Next Day’, ‘Valentine's Day’.

The highlight of CD 2 is the startling new version of ‘Love Is Lost’, not so much a remix but a complete reinvention courtesy of James Murphy (ex-LCD Soundsystem). The track starts as homage to Steve Reich’s 1972 work, Clapping Music. Applause gives way to a hand-clapped beat before an electronic bed deconstructs the original art rock version of the song. In another moment of inspiration, the melody from ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is recreated in the middle section and is matched perfectly to the lyric and melody of the original. The production is superb and makes one hunger for some more Bowie electronica. The 10-minute track was edited for single release and accompanied by one of Bowie’s most effective videos, released, appropriately, on Halloween, and filmed by Bowie in Manhattan with the help of photographer Jimmy King and his PA and long-time great friend Coco Schwab. Bowie revealed that the cost of the film was the cost of saving it onto his hard drive via a memory card ($12.99). In the film, Bowie is haunted by the shades of his past (the wooden figures of The Thin White Duke and the Pierrot from ‘Ashes To Ashes’ which were made for the aborted ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’ video were here used to great effect appearing, as they do, out of darkness, while Bowie appears both as ‘himself’ and as a grotesque wood-cut-like figure in what looks like a black cape and capotain hat. Just how this latter effect was created without a budget remains a mystery.
         Another song given the remix treatment is ‘I’d Rather Be High’. Now with a rather grandiloquent faux harpsichord sound, it was the music used for Bowie’s opulent appearance in an ad for Louis Vuitton’s Autumn/Winter advertising campaign, shot in Venice in the summer of 2013. The fifth single off The Next Day (or, perhaps, more accurately, ‘The Next Days’ given the number of versions).
         The rest of the ‘new’ stuff collects tracks which many fans will have already bought: ‘Plan’ is actually a very good instrumental, just Bowie’s guitar and a thudding drum figure. It was used as the opening music in the video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ and was previously available as a download or in the Deluxe version of the album along with ‘I’ll Take You There’, and ‘So She’ (which as one famous Bowie fan remarked sounded in places a bit like The Brotherhood Of Man’s ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’!). That Japanese-only release ‘God Bless The Girl’ also makes an appearance.
         There are four genuinely new songs. ‘Atomica’, all big riffs and slap-bass teases ‘Let’s get this show on the road’. ‘The Insider’ is a doo-wop slowie with Bowie taking on the big questions about life and God (again). ‘Like A Rocket Man’, is a pretty pop song, while ‘Born In A UFO’ has a Lodger-esque guitar part (there was some speculation that the song dated from those very sessions).
         The DVD contains four promotional videos. After stepping back from making videos in the main for Heathen and Reality, peeved that ageism prevented their widespread showing, Bowie, perhaps in the knowledge that he would be neither playing shows nor even talking to the media, was back in front of the camera. All four videos are classic pieces of Bowie.
         ‘Where Are We Now?’ gained media recognition for the footage of West Berlin, filmed, according to Tony Visconti, at the time (by whom, or when, we are left guessing). More interesting is Bowie as homunculus; a co-joined puppet, his Siamese wife, played by Oursler’s real-life wife Jacqueline Humphries. The big production, and least impressive of the four videos, was the one suspects where all the money went, Tilda Swinton appears as a clone-like Bowie-wife, in the ‘film’ for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. 
         Next up was one of Bowie’s funniest videos of his career. Bowie plays a Christ-like figure to Gary Oldman’s corrupt Catholic priest. The action takes place in a seedy pick-up bar with Bowie, at first, the musical entertainment. Marion Cotillard is Oldman’s lady of choice but their liaison is rudely interrupted by a spot of stigmata with Cotillard collapsing to the floor, blood gushing from her wrists and selfishly splattering a nearby woman’s cleavage. There’s also a woman with eyelashes a foot long, severed eyeballs served on a platter, and a random self-flagellator. The video ends with the cast assembled and thanked by Bowie, before he disappears into the ether with a ping. It was at this point that it became laugh-out-loud funny. However, some people were less impressed. William Donohue, the leader of the Catholic League For Religious And Civil Rights, called Bowie ‘a switch-hitting, bisexual, senior citizen from London’, and so managed in just one sentence to be ageist and homophobic and unintentionally hysterical (with the ‘London’ bit). Others grumped that such a video could never have been made mocking Islam in such a manner.
         The final video is the most simple, and the best. Shot in a disused grain warehouse in Redhook New York City, Bowie, dressed coolly in white shirt and jeans tells the tale of the killer and gives it another visual twist. It is clear that if ‘The Next day’ took on Catholicism, ‘Valentine’s Day’ is facing up to the pro-gun lobby. In a series of subtle, though enduring images, first spotted by Lucy Jones in the NME, Bowie makes a direct attack on Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Association, raising his guitar in a direct copy of Heston triumphalistic poses with a gun. Other images include the silhouette of Bowie’s guitar to resemble a sawn-off shot gun and a bullet travelling at speed through the frets of his guitar. 
         Unfortunately, The Next Day Extra does not include the promos for ‘Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy For The DFA)’ or ‘I’d Rather Be High (Venetian Mix)’ which used archive wartime footage to reinforce the song’s anti-war theme. Also, why a Blu-Ray option was not available is also puzzling.