1.2.15

POGUE MAHONE: KISS MY ARSE - Fairytale Of New York, Part 1

Carol Clerk’s Pogues biography, Pogue Mahone: Kiss My Arse, was published in 2006, and among those she interviewed were Shane MacGowan, Spider Stacy, Jem Finer, Andrew Ranken, James Fearnley and Cait O'Riordan, as well as manager Frank Murray and Stiff Records staff. MacGowan held out for a long time, eventually agreeing to meet Carol in his favourite bar, The Boogaloo in North London, very late one night. Settling down with a plate of fish and a glass of wine, MacGowan was less than gracious, appearing at first to have forgotten why Carol was there in the first place. “What fucking book?” were his opening words, even though several earlier meetings with Carol had been scheduled and aborted and the other Pogues had told him many times about the book. Indeed, “What fucking book?” are the opening words to Carol’s masterful biography.
         The Pogues’ greatest song, of course, is ‘Fairytale Of New York’, now widely acclaimed as the greatest Christmas song ever. In the first of two extracts from Pogue Mahone: Kiss My Arse, we look at the genesis of the song and, in tomorrow’s second extract, how it was recorded.


The Pogues had decided to record a Christmas single. In the second half of 1985, in between bouts of touring, they’d been rehearsing and recording a number of new songs with Elvis Costello, some of which would materialise on the ‘Poguetry In Motion’ EP.
         Frank Murray had given each group member a tape of a song by The Band, ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’, suggesting that it might be an ideal cover. Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer had other thoughts, setting their minds to an original composition. MacGowan was dreaming of something sumptuous, with strings, while Finer chewed over ideas for lyrics and melodies. It may have been a deliberate attempt to write a seasonal hit record, but whatever they came up with, it had to have quality too.
         Finer had only just mastered the art of writing full-length instrumentals. Now he intended to venture into whole, structured songs.
         “I thought the idea of a cover was a bloody stupid one,” he says. “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do a Christmas song, let’s write one. Come on – we’re songwriters! Why do someone else’s song that isn’t even very good?’
         “The idea had been knocking around for a while of Shane and Cait doing a duet. I wrote one song, a duet. It’s embarrassing to think about, ’cos it wasn’t very good. At that time, I’d started to write songs without words – a melody and chords and instrumental bits – or songs with words which I’d always expect Shane to rewrite because his lyrics were going to be better than mine. So I’d written this duet with crap words. Often, I’d try out my new material at home on Marcia. On this occasion, I played her this song. It was very banal, a miserable song about a sailor being away from home. He was singing his bit and his wife or lover back home was singing her bit. I think at the end he committed suicide or something. Rubbish. Marcia said the sailor romance thing was naff, that it didn’t ring true and how Christmas was always a battle with the true events or circumstances of anyone’s life – the way the call to have fun, go shopping, kiss under the mistletoe and all that crap appears like some evil spotlight and only shows up how miserable, poor or furious you might be in your circumstances.
         “I said, ‘Okay, well you tell me a better story.’ I remember her saying that I should think of something that was more like the sort of song I’d want to hear. She suggested a couple having a row at the time of peace and goodwill, trying to crank up some Christmas spirit but failing and fighting, lost in recriminations about money and other disillusions. The guy takes what they have got, and he’s meant to be out buying stuff for Christmas. He goes out to the bookies and the pub and he drinks and gambles it away, which causes an altercation. But she warned that the song shouldn’t end on a bleak note and there should definitely be some kind of redemption for the end of the story, that it should end in a weird romantic truce that just couldn’t be helped, a little glimmer of uncanny hope amidst the torture of packaged party time. I thought, ‘Okay, I take the point.’
         “I wrote a second song which had that plot to it. It was based on the people who lived across the street from us. We went into the studio and we rehearsed ‘Body Of An American’ and, I think, ‘London Girl’. I took these two songs of mine along. Shane took them away and he wrote ‘Fairytale Of New York’ using the melody of the first song I’d written and the storyline of the second one, which he then transposed to New York, and he made it into what it is now.
         “So then we had this embryonic ‘Fairytale’ which we tried to record, with Cait singing, and it just didn’t really work. The arrangement was all wrong. It was far too complex. It was a very ambitious song for us. It really was aspiring to new levels of sophistication. We just couldn’t play it well enough and the lyrics needed more juggling around.”
         Philip Chevron adds: “I think Shane and Jem always knew it was going to be a big song if they could get it right. The Elvis [Costello] recording is very obviously an early draft of the lyric. Some quite significant bits aren’t yet in the song. It just talked to me. It started out with this grand scheme to include quotes from other songs, although the only ones left are ‘Galway Bay’ and ‘Once Upon A Time In America’, the theme from the film.
         “Shane had this vision of a huge, Sinatra-esque ballad. Elvis was the wrong person to get it. His work on ‘Fairytale’ isn’t great. He doesn’t attempt to put any shape in it. We needed to recruit somebody who was not a musician but a producer to come at it from a different angle.”
         The Pogues abandoned the song for the time being, and it would not see a release that Christmas. But they kept returning to it in rehearsals and in recording sessions, experimenting with the arrangement while MacGowan worked away at the lyrics, refining and redefining them. It would take a long time to get the song the way they wanted it, and another age to get it into the studio for recording with a different producer – Steve Lillywhite.

         

31.1.15

THE SAGA OF HAWKWIND by Carol Clerk - Lemmy's Revenge

In the second part of Carol Clerk’s coverage of Lemmy departing Hawkwind, taken from her epic biography The Saga of Hawkwind, we discover how Lemmy took his revenge. Prudes please look away now.

Lemmy returned to England as Paul Rudolph arrived to take up his unexpected post in Hawkwind. They finished up one or two gigs in America and not much more than a week later, set off on a European tour.
         But Dave Brock wanted Lemmy back.
         Says Lemmy: “He agreed with my sacking at the time, and then he realised what a horrible fucking mistake they’d made. He didn’t think he was to blame. It was already in his head he hadn’t been even part of it. Paul had arrived and it didn’t work, and Dave asked me to rejoin. He was the only one who did. He was most embarrassed. In those days, he got on very well with Nicky [Nik], although he doesn’t now, but it’s always been Dave Brock’s band. So I said, ‘Okay.’”
         On this occasion, however, the captain was unable to garner any support for having Lemmy back, and the invitation was withdrawn without apology. “Dave’s not good at that shit,” acknowledges Lemmy. “He’s not good at ‘sorry’. The others wouldn’t let him go through with it – ‘We think you should stand by the decision.’ The two drummers were really vocal about it. They wanted a ‘real’ bass player, one who stands still at the back and lets them play their gongs. Dave never really lost his grip of the band, but there are periods when he coasts along.”
         Dave confirms: “I didn’t withdraw the offer. The others did. They decided ‘no’. The trouble was, Lemmy and me used to play together and then I had to start working with a bass player I’d never played with. There he was playing bass and I felt, ‘God...’ I knew Paul could play better lead guitar than I could, and my confidence went a bit down the drain. He started playing lead guitar and I’d switch to bass on some of the numbers.
         “Del had gone, and things were changing anyway. I used to get on very well with Paul. He was a nice enough character and I used to share a room with him on tour but, yeah, I missed Lemmy. We’d been playing together for four years. It was a wrong decision to get rid of him. We should have written things more together, we should have done lots of things differently, but that’s the way it is. We’re all involved in egos, don’t forget. Some people felt more important than others.”
         Lemmy ventures: “I always say I would never have left Hawkwind if I hadn’t been fired – or I might have. If ‘The Drum Empire’ had carried on, I would have left, but it obviously was not going to carry on because they fired Alan Powell later.
         “It was great – they fired me and their career immediately went down the toilet, although it wasn’t ’cos they fired me – it was ’cos they didn’t get the right replacement. I was the driver. I wasn’t indestructible, but you can’t replace me with somebody who puts their leg up on the drum riser and plays a jazz solo.”
         Perhaps surprisingly, Dave Brock agrees with Lemmy’s assessment. “It did go down the drainhole after Lemmy had gone,” he affirms. “That was the start of the decline of that era, the start of the empire changing. Three years later, that was the end of it all.”
         But only for a little while.

Doug Smith was coming to terms with the fact that Lemmy had gone for good. He was still appalled. “It was such a silly thing,” he says. “That was the successful band, the live gig. The personae onstage were just awesome. If you look at the period from the Space Ritual to Lemmy leaving – that was their peak. That’s when they sold more albums and tickets than they’d had hot dinners. That really was the magic band and everybody since has just really lived off that era of success.
         “Lemmy’s front-of-the-stage persona was one of the strongest that the band had apart from Nik Turner who basically went over the top, which was great. And Stacia – every little boy’s fantasy, of course. I don’t think any of them ever realised what size of a draw she was in Hawkwind. She was enormous.
         “As far as the show went, Nik, Lemmy and Stacia were really the key people, and Calvert when he was there. The trouble about Robert was that he never got recognised for what he really was in that band. Going back to In Search Of Space, there’s a lot of influence from Calvert – and Barney.”
         In terms of personal politics, Douglas cites a different combination of characters: “Dave and Nik and Lemmy and Simon King were the most powerful people within the band, and Dave and Nik were the two main contenders for power.”
         Smith believes that Hawkwind should have hung on to Lemmy no matter what their problems with him, admitting to having his own difficulties with the reckless bass player. “I had Lemmy up to here [points to neck] all the time,” says Smith. “He was constantly ahead of himself financially. Near the end, just before he left the band, we were having a real desperate time. Financially, we didn’t have tuppence. I was just trying to keep Hawkwind afloat.
         “They cost a lot of money. We had so many people being paid to go out and do a show – three people to do lighting, an out-front sound engineer, a monitor engineer, virtually a roadie for every member of the band. We were carrying, on any given night, maybe 13 to 15 people. We bought visuals for Hawkwind, and lighting equipment.
         “One day I was going to borrow money from this less-than-salubrious East End character. I remember telling Lemmy, ‘I don’t have any money. I’m going to have to go and see Alan today.’ He said, ‘Big Al? Oh, well, maybe you can borrow £50 for me as well.’ And there was me trying to raise five or 10 grand...
         “He used to spend hours on slot machines at gigs and clubs, and he used to try and tap people for a couple of quid. I remember seeing him once counting out poor old Magic Michael’s pennies. Everybody used to go, ‘I’ve got no more money’. His bank would not give him a reference. We couldn’t get a bank manager to give him a loan. They’d say, ‘Look at his bank account. You put it in, it goes out.’ He spent money that was unbelievable on a weekly basis. You put £1,000 in his pocket and he’ll spend it.
         “Lemmy didn’t have money. He just spent it. And he was living in hotels. He got very comfortable in this hotel in the Edgware Road. He’d ring up and want to borrow £30. He’d say, ‘Put it in a cab.’ Then he’d ring back – ‘Has the cab left yet? Can someone pop down to the off licence and get me a bottle of Jack?’ The bottle of Jack would go in the cab, and the £30 had suddenly become £50 because he’d have to pay for the cab and the off licence.
         “Dave Brock knew what money was. Nik Turner was peace and love most of the time. Simon King and Alan Powell were okay. Lemmy has never understood what budgeting is. But at the same time, if you look at record sales and changes in personnel, you can see how quickly it started to go downhill after he left.”
         Nik Turner agrees to differ.
         He states: “Lemmy probably felt that he was the main cause of the band’s success, but I wouldn’t really say that was true. He probably says that the success trailed off after he left because he felt he was quite contributory and instrumental to that success. It escapes me how. The only thing he did was sing on ‘Silver Machine’.
         “He probably was a good frontman, but I don’t remember whether he was a good frontman any more than Robert Calvert was, or I was, although I’ve never seen myself as a frontman. I saw Robert and Barney Bubbles as really being the people that created the band’s success.
         “Lemmy says it was Dave’s band. I thought it was everybody’s band. Obviously, Lemmy had his own slant on it. I saw it as a community project with everybody involved and we were all hippies together. Lemmy discounts that as a lot of rubbish, lacking in any relevance or value. He saw it as a vehicle for him and Dikmik to take speed and be on big ego trips, although Dikmik wasn’t like that.
         “I don’t know that we were criticised for getting rid of him. Obviously, people wanted to know where Lemmy was. I can’t remember anybody saying, ‘Oh, the band isn’t the same without Lemmy,’ although they probably did.”
        
Devastated though he was to have been chucked out of Hawkwind, Lemmy has not been too proud to return to the band every now and again for guest appearances. “You can’t bear grudges all your fucking life,” he says. “Life’s too short. I’m not going to spend my life thinking about how I hate somebody. I got a lot of funny shit to do, and none of it involves that.”
         Which is not to say that he didn’t exact his revenge at the time.
         He confided, in Classic Rock: “By the time they got back to England, I’d fucked all their old ladies except for Dave Brock’s wife, because she lived in Devon, too far away, and besides, I didn’t fancy her. There was two of them I was already fucking anyway.”
         Lemmy is slightly more evasive today.
         He admits: “I didn’t fuck all of them. Some of ’em were butt ugly. I was already doing [one wife]. I just made sure I visited her before they came back. She was a beautiful girl. I’d like to see her again.
         “I was back and all their geezers were away. I went around and saw these women just as a ‘courtesy thing’. It was all done in the best possible taste. Some people will believe anything...
         “I’m not going to say which ones I did, because it would lead to terrible sideways glances next time I see them. I like to keep them on their toes – ‘I wonder if it was mine?’”
         Just a while later, Lemmy managed to find a way into Hawkwind’s storage space to sneak out his equipment with an accomplice.
         He was quoted in Classic Rock: “We had just gotten my stuff into the van when Alan Powell caught us. He was shouting, ‘Yeah, ya cunt, you thought you’d steal your stuff back!’ We drove off laughing…”

         

30.1.15

THE SAGA OF HAWKWIND by Carol Clerk - Lemmy's Departure

Carol Clerk was much loved by the musicians about whom she wrote, and her affable, easy-going nature enabled her to easily gain their confidence. The two longest books she wrote for Omnibus Press, on Hawkwind and The Pogues, both benefited from her friendship with these two very different groups, so much so that she was able to interview all the important personnel in the course of her research and get to the truth of events, no matter how unpalatable that might sometimes be. Carol simply wasn’t the type of biographer who would rely solely on second-hand sources to produce her books, and this was most unusual for biographies that weren’t ‘authorised’ by the management, ie books over which they exert editorial control and from which they benefit in royalties.
         Here’s the first of two extract from The Saga Of Hawkwind, Carol’s book about the legendary counterculture band that still embrace an honourable tradition of free gigs, benefits and protests.



Trying to set aside their private disenchantments, Hawkwind left for a tour of the States and Canada, opening in St Louis on April 29, 1975.
         But the resentments were festering beyond their control. Dave Brock and Nik Turner were individually losing patience with Lemmy who, in turn, was at the end of his tether with drummers Simon King and Alan Powell. And he was still isolated by his speed habit.
         Hawkwind played a gig at Chicago on May 7, after which the first crisis occurred. “We were travelling through Michigan,” relates Lemmy, “going from Chicago to Detroit. I was with Nik and Dave and somebody else in a car. We stopped off at a roadhouse to eat. I didn’t want to eat, ’cos I’m a speedfreak. We don’t eat. I went out for a walk and a look around. I came back and they’d driven off without me.”
         Douglas Smith remembers, “He disappeared and they waited for hours. He fucked everybody off.”
         “We thought that perhaps he’d gone off with somebody, that he’d been offered a big bag of drugs or a lift with a pretty girl,” says Nik Turner. “We left the service station without him. What had happened was that because of what he used to take, he went off to the toilet and went to sleep. Nobody knew where he was.”     
         Lemmy would not be the last member of Hawkwind to be left stranded for being unpunctual. “I hitch-hiked overnight, tripping, in trucks and VW vans,” he recalls. “I got there at seven in the morning, arrived at the hotel and there was a cripples’ convention. I’m coming down off acid and there’s all these fucking wheelchairs and gimps around. I get into my room, go to sleep... and then I’m called for the soundcheck.”
         Lemmy was not the most popular person in the world that day, although he did the Detroit gig and the trouble blew over.
         But a much greater trauma lay ahead. Setting off in one of two cars to Canada, where Hawkwind were due to play a gig in Toronto on May 18, Lemmy was busted at the border for possession of cocaine. In fact, it was speed, a much less serious offence, but he couldn’t prove it straight away: the on-the-spot vial test couldn’t tell the difference between the two substances. It simply turned a certain colour, and that was enough to have Lemmy charged and carted off to jail on remand.
         There were, apparently, two ways of entering Canada if you were travelling from Detroit – the easy way, over the bridge, and the hard way, under the tunnel, where the border police were more scrupulous.
         “They spotted Lemmy with his mouth open, head lolling back,” says Dave Brock, who was with Lemmy in the car taking the more problematic tunnel route. “We were quite a shady-looking lot. The annoying thing is we’d already been waved through. Then we all had to get out of the car. They searched Lemmy, and they found some speed which they thought was cocaine. We didn’t know it was speed at the time.”
         Douglas Smith was in New York when it happened. “I wasn’t going to Canada,” he explains. “I was due to fly back to London the next day. I got a phone call, probably from one of the band, who said, ‘Lemmy’s been arrested and they confiscated a white substance.’
         “I think I contacted someone in New York, who organised a brief to represent Lemmy the next morning when he came to court. But as far as I remember, the brief was told there was no point in seeing the client ’cos the case was going to be chucked out. They’d thought they were going to get him for coke, and they’d realised it was amphetamine sulphate.”
         Lemmy was quickly released from prison after the band arranged his bail. And since, according to his understanding, he couldn’t be charged again for the same offence, he was therefore a free man. He was whisked off to the airport at lightning speed, and as he flew to rejoin Hawkwind in Toronto for the gig, he believed that they had been doing their utmost to help him since his arrest.
         He sums up what happened next in a few loaded words: “Get off the plane, do a soundcheck, do a really good show... and get fired.”

Gathering their thoughts in Toronto while Lemmy was inside a jail cell, Hawkwind had held a meeting.
         Nik Turner recalls: “It was collectively decided that everybody had had enough of the ups and downs of Lemmy and the difficulty of working with him at the personality end. It was decided that he would leave the band. This was one of the only collective decisions the band ever made. The bust was the last straw. We didn’t know at the time that he only had speed, but whatever it had been, it was such a lot of hassle, and who fucking needs it, really?
         “I didn’t have anything personally against Lemmy, but I found it very difficult to work with him. It’s regrettable that it should have come to that sort of pass. Previously, I had allowed or accepted things – ‘Oh well, that’s Lemmy.’ But then it got to the point where we were getting attention we didn’t really want from the Drug Enforcement Agency.
         “We felt he’d actually drawn that attention to us. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong and was just carrying on as normal. But it had become too much for people. Were we supposed to be revolutionaries, confronting the authorities? I don’t think that’s what we were trying to do, but it was the stance that Lemmy wanted us to take.”
         Dave Brock agrees: “We all discussed it in a hotel room – ‘He’s let us down too many times in the past... He’s always late... ’ Prior to this, it had always been hard to get Lemmy out of bed. It wasn’t just one person saying these things. It was a joint band decision.”
         Simon House says: “In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. It was a terrible, terrible decision. I think Lemmy had power and a really big charisma, he writes good songs and he’s a good musician.”
         Having made the fateful decision, Hawkwind urgently needed someone to step in on bass. Paul Rudolph, formerly lead guitarist with Pink Fairies, was the popular choice since he knew the band’s material already through his gigs with Pinkwind over the years.
         Douglas Smith had arrived back in London and had just gone to bed when the first phone call came through. “It was Dave. He said, ‘We’ve sacked Lemmy. Get Blackie [Rudolph] over here as soon as possible.’ All the moves, the motivations about Lemmy came out of all of them, but were specifically pushed along by Dave. He was the person who rang me up.”
         Two or three hours later, Douglas woke again to the sound of the phone.
         “It was Lemmy. It really put me in a difficult position because I already knew they’d thrown him out of the band. I thought it was going to be temporary. I thought they were teaching him a lesson. On numerous occasions, Lemmy wouldn’t turn up until they were about to go onstage. ‘Where the fuck is Lemmy? He’s doing it again.’ And there were threats of chucking him out.”
         Dave Brock and Nik Turner each claim to have been the one to break the news to Lemmy, with Nik believing that, “It seems to be something that Lemmy has always held against me, the fact that I sacked him. To me, I was just voicing the consensus of the band.”
         Lemmy may well believe that Nik was instrumental in the decision, but his memories of being sacked are as follows: “I did the show in Toronto and I was quite happy. I was all right with them [the rest of Hawkwind]. I’d got used to all the bollocks. The show was a sell-out and it went down a storm.
         “We were in the hotel after the show, it was 4am and I was summoned to one of the other rooms. I think it was Nik Turner’s room. Dave and Nik and Simon [King] were together, and Alan Powell. It was Dave who actually spoke. I was fired. I went straight back to my room, ’cos I had two chicks there.
         “The only reason they’d let me do the Toronto show was ’cos Paul Rudolph couldn’t get out there in time. They already had Paul on his way, apparently. I didn’t find that out until after I’d been fired.”
         Dave Brock says of the sacking: “I remember a billboard flashing outside the window. I was the one who actually had to say, ‘We’ve all made this decision.’ Quite upsetting, it was. Lemmy was very upset, ’cos it was his life.”
         Nik Turner adds: “I think he was very stunned by it, and very remorseful, but he probably couldn’t see the reason for it because he was always right.”
         Some believe that certain individuals had wanted to get rid of Lemmy long before he was apprehended at the border.
         Nik claims: “I don’t know, in hindsight, if there was a personal agenda going on as well. I was told that Dave Brock had been talking about sacking Lemmy six months earlier. I hadn’t been talking about sacking Lemmy. I hadn’t been talking about sacking anyone. I just accepted the way things were. At the end, when he was leaving, it wasn’t me that said, ‘I don’t want Lemmy in the band.’ I wasn’t a driving force more than anybody else was. Everybody had agreed it. It was increasingly difficult to work with him because of the drug situation and because he always had to be right.”
         Brock rejects the suggestion that he had been planning to fire Lemmy, counter-claiming that Turner had threatened to leave if Lemmy didn’t – an allegation vigorously denied by Nik.
         Douglas Smith does not go along with any of these theories. He declares: “I can’t remember anything going down before this, or that this was a conspiracy. I think that when they sacked Lemmy, it was a hot-headed reaction to what had happened on the tour and at previous gigs. It was such a shame. I just could not believe it. I thought they were completely mad.
         “There was always the evil side to Hawkwind, the wicked side that the public wouldn’t see. They weren’t very nice to each other... chucking Lemmy out of the band because he got busted. ‘Hey, wait a minute – you’re supposed to be supporting this guy.’”
         “They fired a guy ’cos he got busted for the wrong drugs,” snaps Lemmy.
         In one interview published on the internet, Lemmy revealed that he felt looked down upon by the other members. “They weren’t doing speed, and it was just like the caste system in India. ‘Well, we’ll take these drugs because they’re cool and we don’t take those drugs because they’re not.’ It was very strange – anybody who does take those ‘lesser’ drugs must be a fucking pariah. Unmentionable.”
         The “speed division” had claimed its remaining victim.

29.1.15

CAROL CLERK - Damned By One Of Their Managers

Five years ago this week I sent an e-mail to the music writer Carol Clerk inquiring why she hadn’t delivered a promised update to her Hawkwind biography that had been due in the first week of January. Carol was always punctilious with delivery dates, never late, a superb professional, so it was unusual that it hadn’t been delivered on time. She called me back the same day, explaining that she’d been a bit under the weather healthwise but would try and deliver the update text by the first week of February.
         It never arrived. Carol died from breast cancer about six weeks later, on March 13, 2010, having told no one outside of her immediate family the truth about her illness.
         Carol wrote four books for Omnibus Press, on The Damned, Madonna, Hawkwind and The Pogues, and over the next few days I’m intending to post extracts from the last two as a tribute her. Firstly though, a story about her now long out of print book on The Damned.



As might be expected of these chaotic punk pioneers, they went through many managers, one of whom was alleged by a certain member of the group to have absconded with the proceeds from a tour. This story found its way into the book and a few weeks after its publication we received a letter from a law firm that represented the manager claiming this was untrue; it was a serious libel that had defamed his character, they claimed, ruined his reputation in the music industry and made it difficult to continue working in this field, or words to that effect. The lawyer demanded substantial damages, the withdrawal of the book from sale and a public apology printed in the music trade publication Music Week.
         The letter landed on my desk with an unpleasant thud and after I’d conveyed its contents to Carol we considered its implications and what to do about it. Unusually, the lawyer’s offices were in Southend, not the West End or City of London where most lawyers involved with the music business are located. Carol and I decided to call the only person we knew who lived in Southend, our friend Will Birch, the former drummer with the Kursaal Flyers and The Records who’d moved into music journalism, and inquire of him if he knew anything about the manager who was making this complaint.
         “Oh him, he’s a right ol’ ducker and diver,” said Will, “terrible reputation for ripping off musicians.”
         “And what’s he doing now?”
         “He’s running the hot dog stand on Southend bus station.”
         “So he’s left the music industry.”
         “Oh yes. No one would touch him with a barge pole.”
         “Thanks Will.”
         Our response to the lawyers in Southend went as follows: “We understand your client is now involved in the catering trade, specifically a fast food outlet located in Southend bus station. In view of this we consider the suggestion that his reputation in the music industry has been damaged to be unlikely. Accordingly, this matter is now closed.”
         We never heard back from them.

Tomorrow: How Lemmy was sacked from Hawkwind – and how he took his revenge. 

28.1.15

ROCK'n'ROLL HALL OF FAME



On October 30 last I posted a story about having received my ballot papers for the 2015 inductees into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, mentioning that the nominees were 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.
         I was permitted to choose five from this list and I opted for The Smiths, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kraftwerk, leaving my fifth nomination open so that readers of Just Backdated could add their four penneth. In the event, Chic got the nod. I learned this week that the 2005 inductees will be Ringo Starr and The 5 Royals, neither of whom were on the ballot sheet but have presumably been chosen for historical reasons, together with the PB Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers.
         So only two of my five nominees got the key of the door, with The Smiths, Kraftwerk and Chic left out in the rain. All this points to the usual American bias looming its head once again, but it might be that the shadowy folk that run this particular casino opted to avoid the likely complications that would arise if Morrissey and his old gang and the German electro-pioneers were selected. It’s no secret that relations within The Smiths are far from cordial and Morrissey, of course, could probably be relied upon to somehow upset the apple cart even if all was sweet and light in Smithdom. Meanwhile, Ralf Hütter has alienated the other three members of the classic Kraftwerk quartet by sustaining the lucrative franchise for his benefit alone so would probably not welcome the arrival of Florian, Karl and Wolfgang alongside him. Since the R'n'RHoF rules dictate that the original members of a group get inducted and are therefore likely to appear together on stage, any unpleasantness can be avoided simply by excluding these two acts. 
         I don’t begrudge The Paul Butterfield Blues Band whose guitarist Mike Bloomfield, a key contributor to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, deserves all the accolades that come his way. I don’t begrudge Joan Jett either, as she has toiled away honourably at the R&R rock face for years. Bill Withers is probably a sentimental choice but I’m a bit surprised by Green Day’s nomination. More to the point, as an article in this month’s Classic Rock magazine points out, many acts that have achieved enormous success worldwide – commercially far more than all those elected this year barring Ringo – have been ignored yet again. These include Iron Maiden, Yes, Def Leppard, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention (including, scandalously, Richard Thompson), Roxy Music and Deep Purple – all UK acts of course.
         I’ve never been a fan of Maiden or Leppard but I once had a soft spot for Yes and Tull and, of course, wrote a book about Purple, while Roxy continue to thrill, as does Thompson – but that’s not the point. There is an obvious bias in favour of US acts and against HM, prog rock, glam and punk, especially if it came from the UK.
         There’s not much I can do about this but I won’t stop voting, and I won’t stop complaining. 

27.1.15

LED ZEPPELIN - Whole Lotta Cash

The short piece about Led Zeppelin that I wrote for the Bradford Telegraph & Argus which was published on April 1, 1969, indicates that there was a concerted push on the part of LZ’s management to promote the group PR-wise at the start of their career. Not many other new bands would have taken the trouble to arrange this, if any come to think of it.
         I would have done the interview a day or two before it was published. Obviously their PR, which I think was Bill Harry, of Merseybeat fame, who’d moved to London and set up his own PR company, had set it up to coincide with the release of the first album, and I would guess that something similar appeared in numerous other UK provincial or evening papers around the same time.
         Zeppelin certainly benefited from ‘strong’ management, tactically as well as physically, but Peter Grant was clever too. He’d been around the block, as it were, and knew exactly how the music industry worked and how to operate within it to his and the group’s advantage. He didn’t suffer fools and took an immediate aversion to anyone who might take advantage of them or hamper their progress.
         Grant’s background was as a tour manager, easing the passage of American rock and roll stars from town to town, collecting the money from box offices and distributing some of it as per diems along the way. He no doubt spent a great deal of his time counting £1 notes in dressing rooms while the music played from the stage in the background. ‘Cash is king’ was his motto and this attitude seems to have filtered down to the group, especially the guitarist whose fondness for a wad of readies is well known.
         I always thought that the only strategic mistake that Led Zeppelin made in the first year of their career was to authorise the mail-out of a press release revealing that Atlantic Records had given them a $200,000 advance, unusually high for the time. Clearly they thought this would enhance their reputation but in an era when ‘breadheads’ were despised by the alternative culture to which they aspired to find their market, it was both unnecessary and imprudent. They should have kept it to themselves. The repercussion was that a number of US music writers immediately assumed they were only in it for the money, which explains the terrible relationship they had with Rolling Stone magazine – the counterculture’s biggest flag waver – that lasted for years.
         In my pal Chris Welch’s book The Man Who Led Zeppelin, his biography of Peter Grant, there’s a wonderful story about when he sold his Purley house to buy Horselunges Manor in Sussex and laid on a surprise for the new owners. The couple buying the attractive, neat and tidy red brick house arrived while Peter was in the throes of packing. “I’m in a hurry,” he told them. “I’ve got a plane to catch. The thing is, I think I’ve left a package with £20,000 in cash somewhere in the house. I haven’t got time to look for it now, but if you can find it, well good luck!”
         It was a wind-up, of course.

          

25.1.15

LED ZEPPELIN - My First Ever Interview

The first music interview I ever did, in March 1969, about 14 months before I joined Melody Maker, was with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, for the Bradford Telegraph & Argus which had appointed me their pop correspondent. Coinciding with the UK release of their first album, it was only on the phone, with JP and JPJ talking to me from London, and I guess they’d been cornered by their PR and talked to a dozen or more hacks like me from the provincial press in the course of one morning.
         In the light of what Led Zeppelin would become and how they would figure in my world when I joined MM, it seems strangely clairvoyant now that of all the groups I could have interviewed in this way, it turned out to be Zep. I can’t remember interviewing any other acts on the phone, though I did stories on Joe Cocker and The Move while I was on the T&A. I hadn’t even heard their first album, and the interview was fairly slight. Led Zep’s PR had sent me a press release, but no LP, and I’d read this before talking to JP and JPJ. Of course I hadn’t a clue what they sounded like or what they would become. By the time I actually met them, backstage at the Bath Festival in June of 1970, they were massive. Later that same year they would win the MM poll for best British group, toppling The Beatles, and I remember chatting with them at the ceremony held in the Savoy Hotel on the Strand. I never mentioned how I’d interviewed them for the T&A though. 
          My short story about Led Zeppelin was published on April 1, 1969, and the only clue as to who had written it was ‘CC’ at the end. It has a rather naïve charm about it, and it seems I felt the need to put Led Zeppelin in quotation marks because it was such an unusual name.
        


The idea of individual musicians getting together to form a “supergroup” was started by Cream, who have now disbanded, but four more “advanced pop” exponents have got together with a similar idea.
         Former Yardbird and session guitarist Jimmy Page and three other experienced pop men have just finished a successful tour of the States and their new album, released only a week ago, is selling well.
         With the unlikely name of “Led Zeppelin” they specialise in progressive pop. Jimmy tells me he hopes progressive pop will catch on but unless the BBC give it air time it will be difficult going.
         “People are beginning to accept the idea of sitting listening to a group instead of dancing but there are no decent halls in this country where the audience can sit. The Albert Hal is the most diabolical place. It is acoustically useless.”
         Jimmy has scant respect for young groups with pretty faces who learn to play their guitars after their records are in the charts. “The only people they are fooling is themselves,” he says. “I know they are making money. They must know in their own minds they are just putting on a ‘con’ trick.”
         Bass player is John Paul Jones who once played with former Shadow Jet Harris when he teamed up with drummer Tony Meehan. He has also done session work with Donovan and the Stones and appeared at the Talk Of The Town backing Dusty Springfield.
         John Paul says that when Led Zeppelin started to play a number they are not quite sure how it would end up. “The number can go off at a tangent, with different tempo changes. We can improvise and it can be very interesting.”
         Of pretty groups with no musical ability he says: “If they turn out a product and the public likes, then obviously there is a demand for them. We would not appeal to the same audience and would not dream of playing anything like that.”
         The other two members of Led Zeppelin are vocalist Robert Plant and, who used to sing with Alexis Korner, and drummer John Bonham, who accompanied Tim Rose on his 1968 British tour.
         Led Zeppelin won’t be making any singles but what out for their albums on the LP charts. C.C.