31.12.13

JIMI TRIBUTE



I didn’t miss much of note during my years on MM but a few got away, most notably Elvis, The Doors and Abba because I was never in the right place at the right time. Another, deeply regretted, was Jimi Hendrix who died soon after I joined MM. I remember the front page we put together.
     This was partially remedied on Sunday night at the Half Moon in Putney where Sam and I had our minds blown by Are You Experienced, a Jimi tribute trio led by guitarist John Campbell who bears a passing resemblance to the man himself and, being right handed, plays a white left-handed Strat upside down with the strings reversed, so in effect he’s playing like Jimi but as a mirror image.
     In a white fringed top and crushed blue velvet flares, Campbell is a nifty duplicate who ticked all the boxes even if his friendly brummie accent was 12,000 miles away from Jimi’s native Seattle. He played all the songs you’d want to hear too, very fluently, big on volume, fingers off, plenty of feedback, moving gracefully across the small stage to interact with his beefy bass player in dark granny glasses a la Noel and solid, far-from-flashy drummer.
     Jimi’s Dylan covers, ‘… Watchtower’ and ‘… Rolling Stone’ were terrific and John conjured up Jimi’s elusive liquid tone on slower songs like ‘… Mary’ and the bluesy ‘Red House’. ‘Hey Joe’ morphed into ‘Star Spangled Banner’ into ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and on ‘Foxy Lady’ he invited a bevy of girls on stage to dance go-go style, then pull on his wang bar while he soloed; almost as suggestive as the man himself.
     He closed, inevitably, on ‘Voodoo’ Child and returned with a cheap Strat copy for ‘Wild Thing’ which at the end he doused with lighter fuel, set alight and smashed to smithereens. Great fun.
     The set was two hours long, and we paid just £10… superb value for money and if he comes to your town definitely worth a shot. 

BEACH BOYS - My California Girl


On a lovely sunny day last summer I put on some Beach Boys as I weeded the patio… on Saturday 16 November, 1973, CC and an English rose I’d met in LA called Caroline, who was working as an au pair in Santa Monica, drove down to Anaheim Stadium to watch The Beach Boys in concert. This was a really big deal for me. I’d loved The Beach Boys for years and seen them in London a couple of times but now I was going to see them in their own backyard, in Southern California, which to me was like seeing The Beatles in Liverpool or The Who in Shepherds Bush. I dressed the part, white jeans, tight t-shirt, trainers; Caroline too, and she was blond with an hour-glass figure which helped, though neither of us were sufficiently tanned to be the real deal. In the car park were woodies with surf boards on roof racks, so the locals took it as seriously as I did.
     It was a fabulous concert, just a great big fun-filled party, all swept along by an arena-sized sell-out crowd that danced in the aisles and sang along to every word – and there’s nothing closer to Beach Boys nirvana than hearing REAL California girls, like thousands of ’em, singing along to ‘California Girls’: countdown… ‘I couldn’t wait to get back in the states’, ignition… ‘back to the cutest girls in the world’, lift-off... ‘I wish they all could be…’, and the whole sodding place simply exploded into song. Magic!
     Caroline and I stayed at the nearby Disneyland Hotel that night and spent most of the next day at Disneyland so the weekend turned into a five-star California experience for us. Then, that evening, on the drive back to LA, she told me she’d decided to return to the UK, back to her childhood sweetheart in Kent who was studying to become a lawyer. Caroline No… sorry couldn’t resist that. Last I heard she was still married to him and is a grandmother now. C’est la vie.

CHUCK BERRY - Sweet Little Sixteen


Many years ago while descending an escalator at Leicester Square tube having had drink taken I incurred the displeasure of an aggressive gentleman with a shaved head by accidently bumping into him. Realising that he might commit violence against my person I decided to play a flanker. “Do You like Chuck Berry?” I asked him and without waiting for response, continued: “I love him. He’s great.” I then proceeded to sing my favourite Chuck Berry song to him, quite loud. Assuming he was in the presence of a madman, he fled. Thanks Chuck, or Charles as he prefers to known, as I discovered when I met him for the first and only time in 1973 in LA.
     The song I sang was ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ which dates from early 1958, when I was 11 going on 12. Chuck Berry’s songs are the foundation stones for rock’n’roll, without which many groups, not least The Rolling Stones, wouldn’t have had a career. He was also a poet, a chronicler of teenage lives in lyrics that managed to convey the essence of being young in America, often in love, in short sweet simple couplets with which his audience could readily identify. Many of his songs mentioned US towns and cities, as does this, and thus amplified the identification factor. Here our heroine is a 16-year-old girl who just loves her rock’n’roll but has to balance her enthusiasm with school on Monday. In the meantime she’s having the time of her life, and it scoots along in an effortless rock’n’roll groove, the rhythm guitar barred chords hammering on the beat and a bar-room piano adding to the fun. I played this song to death on the juke box in the coffee bar in Skipton (see previous post on ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’) before handing over my pocket money to buy the 7” on London American. Only much later did I learn that Bandstand was the name of a TV show filmed in Philadelphia. 
     Of course The Beach Boys stole the melody for ‘Surfin’ USA’. Chuck sued and won. Can’t say I blame him. 

BRUCE - Me & The Boss, '74



In January, 1974, a member of the E Street Band took this picture of me with Bruce Springsteen backstage at the Chrysler Theatre, Norfolk, Virginia. On the left is Columbia PR Mike O’Mahoney with whom I’d spent the previous few days in Nashville reporting on the label’s country music sales conference (and staying at Roger Miller’s ‘King Of The Road’ Motor Inn), and whose camera the picture was taken on. A loquacious Irishman, Mike had somehow persuaded the top brass at Columbia to lend us their corporate jet so he and I could head eastwards to see two gigs by their number one protégé before returning to New York, so we saw Bruce and the E Street Band at a club called the Mosque in Richmond, Va, too. This was 18 months before ‘Born To Run’, of course, and the set was about 75/25 originals/covers. I remember him doing ‘Rave On’ and ‘Pretty Flamingo’; simply breathtaking though Bruce, vexed at being called ‘the new Dylan’, was moody and reluctant to do an interview. He only came alive on stage.
     During WW2 my dad was a gunner on ships that crossed the Atlantic and he told me that in 1943 he’d docked at Norfolk, Va, and sunbathed on the beach, so the morning after Bruce’s show I went down to the beach myself and gazed out to sea, over the Atlantic to home, then wrote him a postcard saying I was following in his footsteps.

JOHN & KEITH, Pierre Hotel, June '74


One of my biggest regrets from the MM years is that I didn’t carry a camera around with me, otherwise I’d have a picture to illustrate what happened after the Who concert at the Garden on June 13, when Keith decided to pay a call on John Lennon at the Pierre Hotel where he was living with May Pang, and invited me along for the ride.
     The Pierre was a swanky hotel on 5th Avenue at the south east corner of Central Park and Keith, his assistant Dougal Butler and myself rode there in a limousine from the Garden, and headed up to John’s suite in the elevator. John seemed pleased to see Keith. They’d been pals back in London in the Sixties, and had been hanging out together in LA earlier in the year. In truth, Keith was a Beatles groupie, eternally in awe of them, and also a good pal of Ringo whose son Zak – who’s drummed with the 21st Century Who – was the recipient of at least one Moon cast-off drum kit.
     Keith, being Keith, suggested to John that we all have a drink, assuming, wrongly as it turned out, that John would have a huge bar stocked with booze. In the event, all he had was one bottle of extremely expensive red wine, a fine vintage red wine, given to him by former Beatles’ manager Allen Klein. John said he thought the bottle cost $1,000 but was a bit spooked by this and mentioned that he was, at present, involved in a lawsuit with Klein who might therefore have good reason to poison him. John suggested that someone in our company should taste the wine before everyone took a drink.
     Looking around he said something like, “Well Keith, you can’t taste it because you’re the drummer with The Who so you can’t die, and you need your assistant Dougal. I’m John Lennon, the famous Beatle, and I can’t die either. May Pang is my companion at the moment and I don’t want her to die, therefore the only one of us left to taste the wine is you Chris... so here you are.”
     The bottle was duly opened, John poured some wine into my glass and I sampled it as the others all stared at me. There was a moment’s silence while they waited to see whether I would keel over on the spot, and I was half tempted to clutch my throat and make a gargling sound – but to this day, that was the finest glass of wine I’ve ever had in my entire life, so rich, full-bodied, bursting with flavour. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” I said. It was duly shared out, but once the drink had gone Keith was eager to move on, so we left.
     As we were waiting for the elevator Keith decided he wanted to take a pee but was reluctant to return to John’s suite and disturb him. So he peed down the Pierre Hotel laundry shaft instead.

BEATLES, Christmas '63


My dad took me to see The Beatles at the Gaumont Theatre in Bradford on December 21, 1963. He liked his pop music and seemed to like The Beatles, though not with the same fervour as myself. I think he was just curious to see what all the fuss was about, and in 1963 in England you had to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice the fuss that surrounded The Beatles.
     It was the height of Beatlemania. There weren’t many boys in the audience, only teenage girls and the sense of anticipation was ridiculous. All around me girls were quivering with excitement, clutching their heads, whimpering like puppies. Dad and I sat through the support acts, all six of them, and compere Rolf Harris. Unlike everybody else on the bill The Beatles used their own drums and amplifiers which had to be set up behind the curtains, and during the delay Harris was completely drowned out by the screaming. Drawing sketches of the four Beatles’ faces on his charcoal pad simply encouraged more and more screaming.
     Then he introduced them, the curtains parted and there they were, John, Paul, George & Ringo, the princes of pop in their shiny suits and Cuban-heeled boots, squinting beneath their fringes, jiggling their guitars and trying to sing above the incredible din. Absolute pandemonium! They were only on for about 25 minutes and they were completely drowned out by relentless screaming which didn’t let up for a second. I don’t think I heard a word they sang or played, even though I was quite near the front, on Paul's side, but it was the most exciting thing I'd ever seen in my life, an unbelievable experience. John was pretty much motionless, leaning into his mike, his Rickenbacker high up on his chest, but Paul and George moved around a bit, approaching their microphone together to sing while Paul shook his guitar neck, which simply added to the turmoil. All hell broke loose when Ringo sang, and stewards had to hold back girls who rushed out of their seats to the front. We stood for the whole show. I was spellbound, electrified.
     I didn’t take notes (that would come later) but subsequent research has revealed they played ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘This Boy’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘Till There Was You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and ended, as usual, with ‘Twist And Shout’ sung by John. Then the curtains closed and no doubt they were out of that theatre and into the cold December night in the blink of an eye.
     I never mentioned this to John and Paul when I interviewed them in the ‘70s. They’d moved on and so had I, so it didn’t seem appropriate somehow – but almost 50 years later I remember it as if it was yesterday, just the best Christmas treat ever. 

THE WHO - Charlotte, '71


The first time I saw The Who in America was on Saturday November 20, 1971, at the Charlotte Coliseum, in North Carolina (where this shot was taken), and on the commercial flight down from New York I was sat next to Pete having a conversation about the temptations of the flesh that befall married rock stars when he suddenly developed a nose bleed. So for ten minutes or so I cradled his head on my lap and held a damp cloth to the most famous nose in rock.
     Before this show Keith and I got into a bit of trouble when backstage we found a hollow wooden egg large enough to conceal a man on a four-wheeled cart . Keith clambered inside the egg and I towed him towards The Who's dressing room where he intended to leap out and surprise everyone. Indeed, he was hatching a plot to be wheeled on stage in this contraption. Unfortunately, en route to the dressing room I lost control of the vehicle, causing it to crash, the egg to topple over and the world's greatest rock drummer to come tumbling out head first. Keith and I narrowly avoided being ejected from the premises by a security guard who heard us and thought we were a couple of vandals... which I suppose we were. Of course, he failed to recognise The Who's drummer. I think only our English accents saved us from being chucked out into the car park.
    When the Who came on stage Pete thrashed out a few heavy riffs and Keith joined in, fooling the audience into thinking this was a new opening song, but it soon became deafening feedback, out of which Pete fashioned the classic chord sequence of 'I Can't Explain'. I saw them start shows like this a few times in this era. Much has been made about the way The Who climaxed shows by demolishing their gear but less is said about how great their entrances were too. At their peak they ran on stage (well, maybe not John who was never one to hurry), Pete and John often plugging in and playing something, anything, as loud as hell, Keith grabbing his sticks and bashing his kit equally loud, and Roger pacing around in circles like a caged lion, while the crowd roared their welcome. Then, at the crack of Pete’s whip, this huge raucous undisciplined 15-second din subsided into silence as suddenly as it had erupted, to be replaced, in a matter of nanoseconds, by the precision-tooled in-yer-face opening chords of ‘Explain’ or ‘Substitute’. “You think we look pretty good together…” Well, not bad lads, not bad…
     Later that night in Charlotte I saw Moonie lob a TV set out of a window eight storeys up, but that’s another story. And the next morning, over a full English in the dining room, Roger confided in me that the pleasures awaiting him back in his room suggested he wasn’t as concerned as Pete about temptations of the flesh. 

WOODY & My Uncle Jack


Travelling into London one morning last summer Bruce Springsteen’s live version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’ came up on the iPod, the one from the ‘80s live set where he talks about it being an ‘answer song’ to ‘God Bless America’. It reminded me that the very first music I heard that I ever really liked came via my Uncle Jack, my father’s eldest and slightly ne’er-do-well brother, who in the 1930s had spent time hitching around America and on his travels picked up a ukulele and taught himself to play a few American folk songs.
      In the early ‘50s Jack lived with my paternal grandparents in Scarborough and when I was around six or seven he sang ‘This Land Is Your Land’ to me in their flat on Esplanade Road. Another of his songs was Guthrie’s ‘Grand Coulee Dam’ while a third, by Burl Ives, was called ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ and had mysterious, playful lyrics about ‘cigarette trees’ and ‘lemonade fountains’. This was the first American music I ever heard, indeed the very first music of any kind outside of kid’s songs like ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ or dull-as-dishwater hymns sung in school, and it made a deep and abiding impression on me, so much so that later in life I made a point of finding out who composed and sang these songs, and seeking them out on record.
     At the time Uncle Jack opened my ears to this music he’d become a travelling salesman, selling hardware and carpenters’ tools. He was only 51 when he died in 1956, and it seems to me now that maybe I have him to thank for him singing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ was probably the first tiny step on the road towards my eventual appreciation of American roots music, and my life as a music writer and archivist. Thanks Jack! 

THE WHO - Lo Mejor De The Who


Back in the ’80s I was still adding to my Who vinyl collection and on holiday in Spain I checked out a record shop in Marbella where I came across this LP – Lo Mejor De The Who – which I guess translates as The Best Of The Who. What intrigued me was the band on the front cover was not The Who but Golden Earring, their Dutch Track labelmates who had a hit with ‘Radar Love’ in 1973. So I bought it and stashed it away with all my other Who records.
     Fast forward to 1994 and I’m on the team assembling The Who’s box set ‘30 Years Of Maximum R&B’. In the course of meetings with their manager Bill Curbishley, I mention this album and he’s pretty pissed off about it. A few weeks later, Bill, Roger and myself are about to attend a meeting with Polygram suits at Hammersmith. “Bring that Spanish LP along,” says Bill.
     During the meeting the Polygram execs insist on becoming involved in the production of the set but we resist this, saying we want to do it ourselves and simply deliver the music and artwork which they will simply manufacture and distribute.
     “We have a lot of experience with The Who,” says a Polygram bloke. “We can make a significant contribution to it.”
     Bill gives me the nod and I place the Spanish LP on the table. “Significant contribution,” he laughs. “Ya’ don’t even know what they fucking look like.”
     Game, set and match to us. 

THE SHIRELLES - Love Me Tomorrow


Back in the late 50s/early 60s when most boys my age were playing football, I liked nothing better than to hang out in a coffee bar by the Mill Bridge in Skipton and play the jukebox. I’d sit there with my espresso or coke and a pile of threep’ny bits, and play 45 rpm singles for ages, staring into space and thinking about how pop music really was the food of life (and so much better than football). What the songs I played all seemed to have in common was they were American, all from the mythical Promised Land that Chuck Berry sang about. Those few records that I actually owned I would study assiduously, reading the information on the labels and noting down the names of the writers. I also cleaned them a lot and was mortified should one become scratched. I had about half a dozen albums, mostly Elvis, and I would decorate the plain white inner sleeves with photographs cut out from NME. I didn’t know it then but all this nerdish activity was the foundation stone of the strange but wonderful career I’ve had.
     One of the records on that jukebox that I really loved was The Shirelles’ ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, the classic Carole King song, which dates from 1960, and perfectly embodies the innocent, wistful girl group sound that pre-dated The Beatles yet in many ways influenced them, especially Paul. I love the sentiments here: the fears of the girl who’s worried her boyfriend wants her for just one thing and will abandon her once he’s had his way, fairly risky subject matter for the time. Melody and lyrics flow together seamlessly, the passing 7th chord announcing the build-up to the dramatic middle eight, and there’s a lovely crescendo in the string interlude. Back in 1967 I played guitar in a covers/wedding band called Sandra & The Montanas, and this was a song that Sandra sang. After the solo, when Sandra came back in on that middle eight, she was joined by Jeff, the other guitarist, and the bass player Dave (Sandra’s husband), and we all stepped forward in a line and raised our volume slightly and it sounded great, just the perfect climax to this beautiful pop song.
     One night after a pub gig with this band the other guitarist and I were ambushed outside by a gang of drunk lads who didn’t like us because their girlfriends did. Outnumbered three to one I got a split lip and bloody nose. I still have the scar on the inside of my bottom lip.

LED ZEPPELIN, Montreux, '72


I saw Led Zeppelin nine times while I was on MM, second only to The Who but they were a country mile ahead with 30-odd concerts. My best Led Zep experience was the weekend of October 28 & 29, 1972 at the Montreux Pavilion where they played a couple of warm up shows before a period of extensive touring.
     On the Saturday afternoon I sat in the Pavilion stalls, virtually alone apart from staff and roadies, watching a Led Zep soundcheck during which they played only early Elvis songs, loads of them, and it was fabulous; Jimmy doing note-for-note Scotty Moore, Bonzo tapping away on his rims and snare like DJ Fontana, JPJ on an electric stand-up bass and Robert mimicking The King. They took enormous pleasure in playing songs that had inspired them in their teens, a decade and a half before Led Zeppelin came into being. That pleasure just shone out from the smiles on their faces, the fun they were having, and I wished Elvis was there to watch. (I also wished I taped it!)
     When they’d finished I asked them if they’d play a set like that at my wedding (not that I was planning on getting married) and manager Peter Grant laughed and said, “It’ll cost yer!” Very good natured it all was, and then Jimmy demonstrated to me how to use a new state-of-the-art stroboscopic electronic tuner he’d just acquired. Then he picked up his Martin acoustic guitar, the dressing room went quiet and for a few minutes he played some lovely improvised finger style.
     On the Saturday evening, after the show, we all went out for dinner; all of us and their friend, the local promoter Claude Nobs, sat at a long table in a fine restaurant, and because some of their wives were present everyone was on their best behaviour, even the normally boisterous Richard Cole.
     “Led the good times roll!” I reported for Melody Maker. “Zeppelin are a tremendous live force. They’ve lost none of the energy that characterises a band who need to work to gain recognition, but the energy has matured into a confidence that allows them to spring off into spontaneous directions during their shows. A nod, a wink, a drum roll or a wave of a fretboard and Zeppelin can turn a number back on its heels into songs totally unexpected. Who would imagine, for example, that ‘Whole Lotta Love’ could end up as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’? It can, and it does when Zeppelin fly.”
                  

LED ZEP, MARCH 1969


Led Zeppelin loomed large during my time on MM and our paths would cross many times, not always amicably for, Robert Plant aside, Led Zep were never media friendly in the way that The Who were. As it happened, I had an early long distance encounter with Jimmy Page just over a year before I became a full time music writer, in March of 1969 when I was working for the paper in Bradford. Maybe I smelled something in the air or was simply intrigued by the name but I requested a phone interview with JP or at least allowed myself to be talked into it by their PR.
     The PR sent me a press release about Jimmy’s new band but didn’t send me a copy of their first LP which had only just been released, so when I spoke to the guitar maestro I hadn’t a clue what Led Zeppelin sounded like. I noted that they wouldn’t release singles, which was unusual, and Jimmy told me his band wasn’t like Herman’s Hermits, which was certainly true. “With the unlikely name of Led Zeppelin, they specialise in progressive pop,” I wrote. “Jimmy tells me he hopes progressive pop will catch on. ‘People are beginning to accept the idea of sitting and listening to a group instead of dancing,’ he says, ‘but there are no decent halls in this country where the audience can sit. The Albert Hall is the most diabolical place. It is acoustically useless’.”
     After dissing the most prestigious concert hall in the country, Jimmy then took a swipe at groups who didn’t play on their own records – “The only people they are fooling is themselves,” he said – and I finished up my little piece with the sage advice: “Watch out for their album on the LP charts.”
     The next time I spoke to Jimmy, in person this time, was on June 28, 1970, backstage at the Bath Festival where 150,000 fans eagerly awaited Led Zep’s bill topping appearance. My new MM colleague Chris Welch introduced me. I didn’t mention that we’d spoken once before.
     From tiny acorns do mighty oaks grow. 

IGGY & Corel, '73


In September ’73 I was still living at the Chateau Marmont when I went to watch Iggy & the Stooges at the Whisky, driving down Sunset in my newly rented red Ford Pinto and leaving it with the car hop to park in the lot at the back. After Iggy’s set I bluffed my way backstage and asked him for an interview. He was game so we arranged that I’d drop by his hotel, the Sunset Marquis, the next day around noon. The car hop wasn’t around when I left so I went round the back, found my car and drove back to the Chateau. Next day in the car I noticed something was wrong. It was the same car, same make, same model, same colour, same rental company, but stuff was missing and there were someone else’s jeans in the back. When I got to Iggy’s hotel I checked the jeans and found a hotel room key in a pocket. I called the hotel on Iggy’s room phone and asked this guy if he’d lost his jeans. “Yeah, and I lost my fucking car n’all!” It was only then I realised what I’d done. I’d driven the wrong car home. Turned out he’d taken mine too, probably after I’d swiped his.
     Iggy was with his LA squeeze Corel Shields so the three of us went to this guy’s hotel where we swapped cars. He was amiable about it. Iggy just accepted this strange business as if it were commonplace. I guess he was used to weird shit happening around him.
     Ig suggested that we head to a beach to do the interview, a great idea as it was a warm and sunny and I had nothing else to do that day. So we picked up some takeaways and I drove the two of them to a deserted beach south of LA, near where Corel lived, and we had a picnic on the sand. Iggy had brought with him a couple of golf clubs and some old balls and during the interview he stopped every now and then to hit balls into the sea. He had a fabulous golf swing, really professional, and he whacked these golf balls way out into the ocean, looking well pleased with himself. I was amazed that Iggy, wildman of rock, played golf which is a bit of a pedestrian sport, but he told me about his PE teacher dad and how he was a sports freak and how he'd been brought up real healthy. He went in the water too, swimming way out until we could barely see him. Corel was unconcerned. She knew he was a strong swimmer. She was incredibly beautiful with hair down to her waist, sunbathing in her spray-on jeans and an unbuttoned white shirt, and in the piece I wrote I called her a mermaid. It was lovely afternoon. You can find the interview on Rock’s Back Pages. 

THE McCARTNEYS, November, 1971


As MM’s news editor I was the lucky recipient of a handwritten invitation to a party that Paul & Linda threw at the Empire Ballroom in Leicester Square to announce the formation of Wings. I was going through a messy break up with my girlfriend Julie at the time and it threw me a bit when she turned up at this do on the arm of my MM colleague Roy, dressed to kill and clinging to him like a limpet, but this was temporarily overshadowed by the knowledge that if I played my cards right the evening would bring about my first close encounter with a real live Beatle. Keith and John from the Who were there and figuring that elite bass players probably knew one another well I asked John to introduce me to Paul which he duly did. Paul was wearing a loud checked suit, a bit wild and crazy, and after a bit of small talk I asked him to give me a proper interview and he agreed, saying I should contact his PA, an American girl called Shelly who worked on the third floor of the building in Soho Square which Paul gradually bought up in its entirety (and still owns), and through her I arranged to meet him two days later at Abbey Road where he was recording Wildlife.
     The next day in the MM office Roy looked a tad sheepish so the Julie issue was a bit of an elephant in the room. No matter… the day after saw my first ever visit to Abbey Road, and on the way I walked across the famous zebra crossing more than once before heading up the small flight of steps to the reception, thinking as I did how many famous feet had climbed these steps before me. We did the interview in the control room of Studio 2, for me the holiest of the holies – Stonehenge, St Pauls and the House of Commons all rolled into one. My head swam a bit a bit as I looked down on the big studio floor where The Beatles made history, all those records that had given me and millions of others so much pleasure, but now here I was faced with Paul in a strop about John’s song ‘How Do You Sleep’ – “John and Yoko are not cool in what they’re doing,” he said, a quote MM chose to trailer on page one – and it seemed to me I’d arrived too late and missed the party, as now John and Paul were sniping at each other like a divorced couple, a bit like me and Julie.
     It’s all water under the bridge now of course. John was murdered by a lunatic, Paul’s the pre-eminent rock figure of the age, Roy died in 2002 (and I gave the eulogy at his funeral) and I think Julie married a bloke from a band called Fumble. As for me, in the words of Buddy Holly, I’m just sitting here, reminiscing… 

VIVA FOREVER


Those involved in the production of Viva Forever, the musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls, are blaming its imminent closure on bad reviews, but this sounds like the sourest of grapes to me. If that was the case then Mama Mia, the Abba musical, and We Will Rock You (Queen) would both have closed within weeks of opening for both attracted grim reviews when they opened, yet both have gone on to become long-lasting successes with Mama Mia especially amongst the most successful musicals of all time and not just in London, a massive cash cow which has also been made into a hugely successful film (which was also slated by critics).
     No, the reason why Viva Forever has flopped is because, unlike Abba and Queen, the Spice Girls do not have a solid, enduring catalogue of hits on which to base a stage musical. Abba and Queen grafted, worked hard at their craft and - whether you like them or not - produced substantial bodies of work that succeeding generations of pop fans recognise as having merit. The Spice Girls' catalogue in insubstantial in both quality and quantity. The Spice Girls phenomenon was a triumph of marketing and promotion, a modern day celebrity tale in which publicity and sloganeering triumphed over talent and integrity. In short, they got lucky. The Spice Girls were built of straw, Abba and Queen of stone.
     Many years ago I took my daughter Olivia, then aged eight, to see the Spice Girls at Earls Court and, some time later, Bjorn Again at the Shepherds Bush Empire. We lived off the Uxbridge Road in those days and as we walked home hand in hand from the Empire that night Olivia looked up at me and said: "Daddy, I preferred the fake Abba to the real Spice Girls."
 
     If an eight-year-old could recognise this, why could the producers of Viva Forever?

DYLAN, early '74


The first time I saw Dylan was from the front row of Madison Square Garden on January 30, 1974. My friend Mike O’Mahoney from Columbia Records (see earlier post re Springsteen) had somehow managed to get hold of four front row centre tickets for this opening show of a three-night run with the Band and distributed them to us all separately before we arrived. As it happened I arrived first, just as the lights were dimming and the crowd was roaring in anticipation, and it took me some time to push through to the front, the security all assuming – until they saw my ticket –  that I was a frenzied fan intent on getting as close to the stage as possible. When I reached the front there were four empty seats and so, cheekily, I draped myself across all of them, lounging as if on a sofa. Those around me must have wondered who the hell I was, someone who could obtain four front row centre seats for himself, just so he could stretch out lethargically as he might in his living room, right there in front of Bob Dylan.
     Talking of whom, the man himself had launched into his opening song, ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’ by the time I took my seat(s), and he peered down quizzically at me, no doubt also wondering just who the hell was this bloke who seemingly had four seats to himself, right slap bang in the middle of the front row. I think I put him off his stride for a moment or two, and he was well into the second song of the night, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, by the time the other three ticket holders arrived and order was restored.
     That night he played many of the songs I wanted to hear and he was effortlessly supported by the Band, then at the peak of their game. Their fluent musicianship, the result of hundreds of hours of ensemble playing during ten years together, made for a terrific contrast with Dylan’s more casual, impromptu style, each supplying the other with exactly what was needed to serve up a perfect feast.
     There was an acoustic set within the main set, featuring Dylan alone, during which a roadie nipped down to ask one of my friends to stop taking photographs as it was putting him off. When he put his camera away, Dylan looked down and nodded, acknowledging the gesture. My only complaint was that he failed to sing ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, my favourite Dylan song, but he did do ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, my second favourite, which closed the show. For a final encore he sang ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, by which time the house lights were on and the audience jammed up at the front all around me. Truly a great night. 

BOB DIE LON


I was in a hermetically sealed world when I was MM’s man in New York, going to gigs three or four nights a week, writing all hours of the day, mixing only with fellow music writers, musicians and industry types. In NY I really didn’t know anyone outside the music industry. I didn’t think much about the weather, the fuel crisis or the Irish troubles, I thought about the new Dylan album or whether the Faces were going to split or who was going to replace Mick Taylor in the Stones. This was my world; this was all that was important to me, what really mattered.
     It came as something of a shock, therefore, when one day in New York the phone rang and the girl from IPC whose task it was to relay telex messages informed me that MM editor Ray Coleman wanted me to cover the ‘Bob Die Lon’ tour – the Rolling Thunder Revue as it turned out.
     “Who?” I asked.
     “Bob Die Lon.”
     “Bob who?”
     “Die Lon.”
     “Never heard of him.”
     So immersed in rock was I that it never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that an American not much younger than me could be so unfamiliar with Bob Dylan as to be unable to pronounce his name correctly, as if it rhymed with ‘nylon’. To me this was like being unable to count to ten, or recite the alphabet. Never having previously heard Dylan’s name pronounced in this fashion, I was genuinely mystified as to the identity of the artist whose tour Ray wanted me to cover.
     “Can you spell it?” I asked.
     “D-Y-L-A-N.”
     “You mean Dylan,” I responded incredulously, pronouncing it correctly.
     “Oh, that’s how you say it,” she replied. “Who is he?”
     “Well,” I began, amazed that this young woman had never even heard of Bob Dylan, “he’s a songwriter and singer and he’s written some of the greatest, most famous songs in rock and he’s a legend because of his lyrics and…”
     “Is he any good?” she interrupted.
     The hermetic seal was momentarily broken. So there were people out there who didn’t give a fig about rock. Interesting… 

STEVE TYLER - An Unusual Encounter


One Saturday morning in the summer of 1975 I awoke in the one-room apartment on New York’s Westside of my friend Karen who worked for a booking agency whose clients included Aerosmith. We’d been out together the night before and wound up there, and in the morning were woken by the doorbell, so she climbed out of bed, put on a bathrobe and spoke to whoever was outside on the street. A moment later she put down the entry-phone and turned to me.
“It’s Steven,” she said. “He’s coming up.”
“Steven who?” I asked, sitting up in bed. I hadn’t a stitch on. My clothes were strewn around the floor, as were hers.
“Tyler. He’s been recording all night and needs a bed.”
“Doesn’t he have a hotel?”
“Yes, but he’d rather sleep here, with me.”
“I don’t blame him. Are you and him er… ?”
“Not really. He just stays here sometimes.”
There was a knock on the door and Karen let Steven Tyler in. He was young then, and very eye-catching in a stylish, Jaggeresque, rock-star sort of way, all mouth and hair, sunglasses and silk scarves, and pencil-thin in tight black jeans and red velvet jacket. Before he could say anything Karen said, “Hi Steve. This is Chris. He works for Melody Maker, the English music paper.”
“Hello Steve,” I called from across the apartment. Steve looked quizzically at Karen and then at me in her bed, and seemed stuck for words. Eventually he said: “Karen, I need to use your bathroom.”
He went into Karen’s bathroom – can’t think why and locked the door.
“Do you want me to go?” I asked, quietly, so that Steve wouldn’t hear.
“Not really,” she replied. “It’s up to you.”
Karen was making coffee when Steve came out of the bathroom, rubbing his nose can’t think why. He took in that we were both now half-dressed and sat down at the dining table opposite me. We grinned at one another but didn't speak. It was pretty obvious he wasn’t too delighted to find me here, any more than I was delighted at his arrival. I also got the impression that Karen wasn’t really in the mood to entertain him either, not at 9am on a Saturday anyway.
We drank our coffee and made small talk. I can’t remember contributing much to the conversation, only that I was determined to sit it out and not abandon my position, not in these circumstances.
As lead singer with the then rapidly up-and–coming Aerosmith, Steve Tyler was obviously more than a match for me in the pulling stakes, but I was here first and was unwilling to relinquish Karen to him, especially as she seemed fairly indifferent to his charms. About 20 minutes went by before Steve realised I was definitely staying put and lost his patience, so he rose to his feet, a bit reluctantly I think, thanked Karen for the coffee and headed for the door.
“See you ‘round man,” he said in my direction.
“Bye Steve,” I murmured, probably a bit smugly.
Karen walked across the room with him. At the door he pecked her on the cheek, opened it and stepped out. She closed it quietly behind him.
“Thank you for staying,” she said.
I never met Steve Tyler again.