JUST BACKDATED - End Of Year Statistics

If the pattern of traffic continues in the manner it has tended to do all year, by the time Old Father Time rings the bell on 2014 Just Backdated will have clocked up over 180,000 hits in its lifetime, for as I write this, sipping my morning cup of tea on the last day of the year, the figure stands at 177,947. That’s an average of about 487.5 hits a day for a total of 374 posts. But as I have already noted, this is misleading because if we disregard my Who posts, many of which have been boosted by links from the group’s official Facebook page and website, the figure would be less than half that. Nevertheless it’s far more than I had hoped when I launched Just Backdated at the end of last year with about 50 posts all in one day, the better to get some meat on the bone for the lift off.
Nevertheless, a glance at the top ten posts shows it has remained pretty much static since I last did a survey like this, when it reached 100,000 on October 26, and noted that nine in the top ten were Who-related. All that’s changed in this regard is that my review of The Who Hits 50 show in Birmingham (2,490) has edged out Part 3 of my Keith Moon interview (2,294) at number 10, the only non-Who post making the list still the one about Rory Gallagher and his battered old Strat (2,576). Still top of the list and, as I noted before, unlikely ever to be toppled is the one about Moonie getting between John & Paul Beatle for their last ever photograph together (taken by my pal Dougal Butler) with 13,866 hits, well over twice as many than number two, my post about Pete and Roger announcing the 2014 Who tour with their mini gig at Ronnie Scott’s Club on June 30 (5,181). The truth is that if I was to have created Just Backdated purely as a Who blog, then the average number of hits per post would have been far higher, but then again there wouldn't have been anywhere near as many total posts of course. 
As it is almost all the posts about The Who have topped the 1,000 mark with the majority hovering between 1,500 and 2,000 but The Who aside, only four other posts have reached 1,000: the extract from Martin Power’s Jeff Beck biography (1,634), my interview with Lowell George (1,386), the extract from Tony Fletcher’s Man About Town memoir (1,129) and my story about Wilko Johnson at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester (1,103), though it could be argued that three of these are Who related insofar as the Beck post was about ‘Bolero’ which featured Keith prominently, Tony was writing about Keith’s death and Wilko is now connected with Roger through their deservedly acclaimed Going Back Home album, my review of which grabbed 1,849 hits incidentally.
So what of the rest? Well, strangely enough my posts about Abba’s live album and Jimmy Page’s PA to promote his book have both received exactly the same number of hits (852) but only one other post topped the 500 mark, my iPod run down on June 2, which beat them both by registering 885. I have no explanation for why this is so, as the other four iPod shuffle posts I wrote registered less than 300 between them, with the lowest on just 32.
One interesting statistic is that if we discount the Moon with John & Paul photograph, Badfinger, on average, get more hits than The Beatles, which supports the controversial theory that the Welsh group led by Pete Ham and Tom Evans are what The Beatles could have become if only they’d tried harder. On the whole The Beatles fare poorly, even my interviews with John, while posts on Abba, Slade, Led Zeppelin and The Kinks do far better. I suspect this is because the internet is clogged with sites about The Beatles.
As before the most hits have come from the US (98,981), followed by the UK (41,748) with a big drop down to Canada (6,362), Japan (4,786) and Germany (4,584). Blogspot only shows the top ten countries in this regard but it’s nice to see Ukraine holding 10th spot with 970 hits, and my best wishes to those in that battle-scarred land who’ve logged on.
So thanks to all who’ve visited Just Backdated in the past 12 months and here’s wishing you all the very best for 2015.

CC, 30.12.14


THE BEACH BOYS – Dennis Wilson Interview, March 1976

Beach Boy Dennis, the wild Wilson brother, died 31 years ago on Sunday. I met him a few times during my time on Melody Maker and always found him good company. He was in New York in March of 1976, and I interviewed him at his hotel. Accompanied by his wife, the lovely Karen Lamm, whom he’d married earlier that same year, he was in good spirits, clearly optimistic about The Beach Boys and brother Brian’s ongoing recuperation. Karen promptly divorced Dennis, only to remarry him a year or so later but that was the kind of thing that happened to him. I found this picture of them together on the net, credited to ‘Keep The Summer Alive’.

I remember reading about Dennis’ death in Rolling Stone and being dumbfounded by the circumstances. He drowned after drunkenly diving from a yacht in Marina Del Ray in a futile attempt to recover jewellery he’d thrown overboard from his own yacht a few years earlier. He was buried at sea a week later by special permission of President Reagan.
My interview with Dennis, published by MM in April 1976, is below. I really like that quote about his desire to ‘stand behind Brian, being a tool for his disposal for the rest of my life no matter whether it’s music or mowing his lawn for him’.

A new studio album is in the works, Brian Wilson is back in business and The Beach Boys are planning to visit England in late summer.
These were the main points to come out of a chat with Dennis Wilson, who passed through New York last week to spread the word that The Beach Boys are no longer going to rely on their golden oldies to maintain their current status as a major concert attraction in the US.
Over the past three years, the group has found a change of fortune here. While they were considered unfashionable at the turn of the decade and early Seventies, The Beach Boys have made a comeback of great proportions, helped not a little by Capitol, their old record company, releasing a couple of double albums comprising numerous Beach Boys hits during the summers of 1974 and 1975.
Two other factors have helped them re-attain their status as a major touring band. After years of management problems, the rock mogul James William Guercio, who owns Caribou Studios in Colorado and manages Chicago took over the handling of their business affairs. Guercio had a lifelong desire to join The Beach Boys and, while also playing bass with the group, brought a good deal of well-planned strategy to their management.
In addition, The Beach Boys were suddenly befriended by a whole host of other, more successful, groups, whose Good Samaritan attitude hoisted them back on the concert trail. They toured with Chicago in a double bill last year, were invited by Elton John to play at Wembley in London, and found themselves playing massive arenas with such top draws as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
While all this was going on, however, they had no current record to plug, only the classics of the Sixties and a few songs from Holland, their last album for Warner Brothers. This is about to change: “We’re doing a new studio album which we hope will be out in June,” says Dennis. “We’ve been working on and off on the album for about nine months, and the personnel includes the original Beach Boys, including Brian.
“He has already recorded six cuts with us and the way it looks is that most of the album will be Brian, although there’s one song of my own that may get on. Actually, we’ve put together something like 40 odd tracks over the past few years but never released them. I guess you could call the songs rather like choral religious music that moves into rock and roll later. What we want is an album where every track is great, no low spots, a total concept that we can be proud of.”
It must be hard shaking off the oldies image and getting down to new material, especially as the old material was finding a new life with new fans? “On the new tour that’s coming up we will be doing the new stuff as well as some old material,” says Dennis. “There will always be people wanting to hear the older tunes. I don’t get bored with them... they’re fun.
“I have to say, though, that I get tired of playing some of the old tunes, but many of them are timeless to me. As a musician you can let go with them instead of making them sound contrived. You can play them in a new way each time and bring in little variations.”
Nevertheless, it’s the old tunes that have brought about The Beach Boys current renaissance. “There was a time, long ago, when The Beach Boys were a very big touring group. Then, after a while, there was a time when it was uncool to be into The Beach Boys. Somehow The Beach Boys didn’t fit at one period, but now... well, I guess we’re just fitting again. It’s not uncool to like The Beach Boys any more. Personally I’ve always liked them,” he says, laughing.
“But that is a fact,” continues Wilson, serious again. “The group really wasn’t hot at one time, and the record sales weren’t hot, but we got back on to the concert trail and changed things around. It was hard work, but worth the effort because we’re very respected now.”
Wilson argues that the increased touring activity was primarily responsible for the enormous sales of Endless Summer and Spirit Of America, rather than the other way round. “There were problems with Warner Brothers but we couldn’t help that,” said Wilson. “We were drawing 100,000 people to concerts yet they couldn’t move our more recent albums at all. I’m sure a lot of people had never heard the group until those records came out. I see 14 year olds at the shows who were not even born when we started.”
And Jim Guercio’s influence? “Well, I think we were already coming back as a concert band when he joined us, but we have a great respect for him and we also like Chicago’s music.
“I think that now The Beach Boys represent the truth in the creative sense instead of the pop sense. There’s no hustle to get the three or four albums out in a year, just a desire to create something meaningful... and that’s why there’s been this delay in putting out a new album.”
Having consolidated their position again, Wilson says the group intends to relax live appearances in favour of the studio in future. “It may sound funny, but I want to concentrate the next ten years on making albums. As a Beach Boy I want to stay with them and stand behind Brian, being a tool for his disposal for the rest of my life no matter whether it’s music or mowing his lawn for him.
“He is a master, musically. I am dumbfounded at him. I am in awe of him. I’ve grown up with him and watched him go through changes, and he is the most vulnerable human being I know. The depth of that guy... I mean... he changed the world with his influence. When you sing on something like ‘In My Room’ and then sit back and listen to what he’s done, not just with my part, but with the song... then you realise. I’m devoting my life to Brian on a musical level, and the rest of the group all feel the same way. When Brian plays something for us, we just gape. It gets very emotional.”
Last year The Beach Boys opened their own studio in Los Angeles, a studio that Dennis describes as the best in the world. It is available to others for hire, but so far its only incumbants have been the group themselves, clustered around Brian Wilson, shaking down harmonies that he’s written.
“Brian is like a little kid in the studio, like a kid who’s just discovered sex for the first time. He rushes around playing this and that, and telling us to play this and that. The enthusiasm he still has is infectious, really.”


LAS VEGAS - Dawn & Glen Campbell

Being as how it’s the coldest day of the year here in the UK, I thought I’d post my report from the hottest spot I ever visited in America. In December of 1973 I took my first and only trip to Las Vegas to see, of all people, Dawn and Glen Campbell. My report for MM was part travelogue and part music.

“Hang on tight,” said the man in the next seat on the Western Airlines jet. “Landings in Las Vegas are the roughest in the world.”
He may have been referring to the plane's descent on to the runway, but it's conceivable that more Americans have had rough landings in Las Vegas than any other city in the world.
For when the money runs dry in Vegas, you sure come down to earth with a bump.
I've just returned from 24 hours in that city, so readers – as a frequent visitor to the city once said – come fly with me, across the inhospitable Nevada desert, over Death Valley, to Vegas, the great gaudy plastic monument to greed where the off chance of acquiring something for nothing has mushroomed into America's gambling and show business capital.
Las Vegas is situated in the southern tip of Nevada, the only state in America where gambling is legal. The only other town in Nevada of comparable size is Reno, but Vegas is the capital city and, consequently the gambling capital of America. Like Monte Carlo, gambling runs the economy of the town.
Gambling is not just available to the visitor, it's forced down the throats of everyone with frightening intensity. It cannot be avoided, no matter how hard you try, and most folk don't, anyway. The rattle of fruit machines begins at McCarran Airport and continues 24 hours a day, every day, every week, every year.
Since 1950, when Las Vegas residents numbered less than 25,000, its population has increased a remarkable 400 per cent to its 1970 figure of 125,787. The population of the greater Las Vegas area, however, is now 273,288 – all thanks to gambling. It is surrounded by desert with a climate to match: the sun shines over 80 per cent of the time, and the average high temperature is 80 degrees. Rainfall is consistently under three and a half inches a year.
But back to the gambling, which has resulted in scores of hotels being erected in the town, mostly super luxury enterprises and mostly within the last two decades. Each hotel is really a massive residential casino, a skyscraping monument where the activity hums around the green baize tables rather than around the kitchens, lobby or bars.
These casinos take up almost the entire area of the ground floor, making it impossible for the visitor not to miss passing them on their way to various parts of the hotel. To walk from the lift to the lobby, from the lobby to the bar, from the bar to the dining room, or from the dining room to the show room always involves a trip past the lines of tables where hopeful punters risk their greenbacks on the spin of the wheel, the drop of the cards, or the shake of the dice.
The only sound that rattles above the constant chatter is the spinning of fruit machines, lined up in rows in their thousands, patrolled by cute little change girls in micro skirts who temptingly offer 40 quarters for a ten-dollar bill, wish you good luck and sigh to themselves.
There are no clocks in any of these rooms and neither are there any windows, a state of affairs designed to make the gambler lose sense of time and carry on spending his dollars into the early hours without realising just how late it actually is.
Various casinos, offer cheap breakfasts to the all-night gambler – if he's any money left to afford it. Others offer free drinks and one I saw promised a free wig to those still at the tables at 6.30 a.m. Gambling at this rate I should think, can turn a healthy head of hair into a bald dome in a matter of weeks.
The largest such emporium is the Las Vegas Hilton where it is rumoured Elvis Presley's father, Vernon, has lost a small fortune. But shortly the Hilton is to take second place as MGM are investing around $150 million in the Grand Hotel which with its 2,000 rooms will become the largest hotel in the world.
Dean Martin is due to open it next March, and no-one's worried about whether they'll fill the rooms or not.
Caesar's Palace is the gaudiest – and currently newest – hotel of them all. Here you can relax like a Roman emperor with slave girls all round to pick up the cigarette ash – and there are countless others all offering the same inducement... spend, spend, spend.
The streets of Vegas are lit by neon that make Picadilly Circus seem dim by comparison. While the Strip itself is impressive, it is when you turn the corner to downtown that it really hits you.
Here you can almost feel the heat from the millions of priceless watts oozing through the advertising hoardings. It's daylight at night downtown, in a city that never shuts down.
Aside from the gambling, Las Vegas offers the tourist certain secondary attractions. As with gambling, Nevada is the only state that has legalised prostitution, so $100-a-trick hookers filter through the casinos all the time.
There's also a few artificial golf-courses mined from the barren desert landscape. Glen Campbell, who's playing the Hilton right now, prefers golf to greed anytime.
And, of course, there's the shows – really a secondary attraction, but still an important part of Vegas life.
It's here, after all, that Presley appears regularly (two seasons a year at the Hilton) the Osmonds can be seen (they were at Caesar's Palace in September) and Frank Sinatra has chosen for his comeback in January (Caesar's for seven days from January 25).
All the hotels contain concert halls of various sizes, some several, all comparable to our Talk of the Town where you dine and catch the show to break the monotony of gambling.
There's always plenty to watch, in the lounges and supper clubs and an added attraction at Caesar's – where the showroom is called the Circus Maximus – is the opportunity to shake hands with Joe Louis, the now penniless boxer, who just stands there and smiles as folk file forward.
On the evening I visited Vegas I saw two shows, first Dawn at the Riviera (where I stayed) and then Glen Campbell at the Hilton. Dawn were actually the supporting act for comedian Don Rickles, an American comic whose act is based solely on sloppy sentimentality and jibes about the various nationalities that populate the US.
Dawn – Tony Orlando, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson – had just 25 minutes to present a review which reportedly cost them $50,000 to stage. Dancing girls, old time music and heavy reliance on ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon’ made up the act which was slick in the best show-business fashion and intended to promote their new US LP Dawn's New Ragtime Follies.
Tony Orlando is very much the front man, while a large orchestra and eight dancers provided the background action. It was typical nightclub stuff, entertaining in a jolly sort of way but not the kind of act I’d pay to watch. The steaks in the showroom, incidentally, cost $18.50 a time.
Glen Campbell, at the Hilton, was a different matter. He's an all-round entertainer in the strict sense of the word, not just singing but playing guitar (expertly), impersonating Elvis (not so good) and playing the bagpipes (competently, if not spectacularly). And while he’s another artist I wouldn’t go out of my way to see, he put on an exceptionally entertaining act.
The highlight for me was his ‘Duelling Banjos’ sequence, closely followed by the Lone Ranger theme accompanied with a film of the cowboy himself, astride Silver, galloping across the Nevada plains.
This is the stage that Presley appears on and his Presley imitation predictably raised a few squeals from the crowd of largely middle-aged diners. But then the real thing wasn't there tonight... another time, maybe.
The audience is predominantly male, predominantly white and very middle class. The poor can't afford Vegas and it’s too gaudy for the rich, unless the rich happen to enjoy gaming. The old man with a young girl is a common sight.
Backstage at the Hilton, the dressing rooms are quite something. Campbell was using Presley's dressing room, which is actually the most luxurious such convenience I've ever seen in countless visits backstage in various parts of the world. There's a fully stocked bar – and barman – and gun-toting security guards outside to watch over the artists' privacy. A private elevator transports the star to their penthouse suite so they don’t have to mix with the hoi polloi.
In the dressing room I talk to a girl who tells me she's a retired Bunny, once a Playmate of the Month, now married with a child. She says her husband is always being mistaken for Glen Campbell, and looks incredulous when I tell her I won $70 on the roulette wheel earlier in the evening.
“No-one ever wins here,” she says, and Campbell backs up the theory. He’s just taken a house here as he’ll be appearing often in Vegas. He’s a big draw, although Presley seems to be the biggest of them all.
Back at my hotel, it’s 3 a.m. and the tables are still crowded with punters playing their chips. With the shows over, the serious business of gaming can begin.
Next morning, at 9.30 when I leave business is still brisk in the casino. Who can tell whether the gamblers have been at it all night? Here, it never stops, and even at McCarren Airport the lines of fruit machines find a ready trade among waiting passengers, leaving town and hoping for a last minute change of fortune. Rough landings? Ask these people. They should know.


STEVIE NICKS & THE BIG MAC - Recording Rumours, Part 2

The second part of my extract from Zoë Howe’s Stevie Nicks biography, specifically the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s mega selling album Rumours.

Stevie admits her songs always start as simple sketches, she’d present them to the band and then they would be arranged. This was rarely easy; handing over her songs meant handing over her control, and apart from anything else, all of her songs were personal and precious to her. “I pretty much give it to them and say, ‘Do with it what you may,’” she said. “I’m always there saying, ‘Well, I’m not sure I like your way of doing it,’ but on this particular album everything they did on my songs, I couldn’t have done them better, even if I had the (musical) knowledge).” It would normally be Lindsey doing the lion’s share of the work on Stevie’s songs, another thing that irked him. It was bad enough seeing Stevie get so much credit, but the fact he was still expected to develop her tracks created even more resentment. “So you don’t want to be my wife, my girlfriend,” he said in an interview in later years, evidently still chagrined. “But you want me to do all that magic stuff on your songs. Is there anything else that you want, just, like in my spare time?” Ouch.
         As far as Lindsey was concerned, he had extra work to do because Stevie wasn’t a musician; she just swanned in when she fancied with a song she wanted them all to hear, expecting a pat on the head. But as far as Stevie was concerned, she wasn’t a musician because those formative years when he was practicing guitar, she was keeping a roof over their heads. Nevertheless, the fact remained that, while Lindsey was so intrinsically tied to Stevie that he always knew how to work with her songs, sometimes he simply wouldn’t do it. “He could take my songs and do what I would do if I had musical talent,” Stevie said in an interview with USA Today. “When he wasn’t angry with me, that is. That’s why there’s seven or eight great songs, and 50 more where he wasn’t happy with me and didn’t help me. Lindsey would say, ‘I don’t want this song on the record,’ and I’d say, ‘I hate you!’ and I’d be out the door and at home making up speeches I wanted to deliver to him the next day…” Part of Lindsey’s many-faceted irritation with Stevie was that her songwriting, despite her lack of technical musicianship, came so easily. As Ken Caillat noted, “She only knew about three chords, and she could make 30 songs out of them.”
         It was difficult for Stevie to take criticism from Lindsey as a band member, as it was almost impossible to separate valid artistic appraisal from his anger concerning their situation. “It made for some hurtful times,” he admitted, “and you had to push through anyway.” But there were occasions when Stevie wanted to criticise his guitar parts when something wasn’t working, or tear him off a strip for not getting it right, but in turn those would be the times that “he would really need comfort from me,” Stevie said. “For me to say, ‘It’s all right. Who cares about them?’ You know, be an old lady (wife).... (but) I was also pissed off because he hadn't gotten the guitar part on. So I'm trying to defend their point of view and at the same time trying to make him feel better. It doesn't work. I couldn't be all those things.”
         In the studio, Stevie invariably had to find something to do when the others were arranging their parts; she often sat behind Richard and Ken, smoking what was left of one of Lindsey’s joints or sipping tea with a splash of Courvoisier (medicinal purposes, naturally). Stevie might have been the star on stage but she often felt in the way in the studio. Even as she danced and shook her tambourine with its trailing black ribbons, she knew that it would be Mick’s tambourine parts that would be used, not hers. As Ken Caillat remembers it, she was mostly just trying to keep herself entertained, and her tambourine was always dampened with gaffer tape, as it would be on stage. It is the eternal problem for a singer – what do you do with your hands when you aren’t actually singing? Stevie had found a solution, and it suited her whimsical, gypsy image perfectly.
         ‘Dreams’ was, to say the least, a contrast to ‘Go Your Own Way’, an embittered ‘kiss-off’ aimed directly at Stevie in a major key but with a driving, almost brutal groove. The song that would end up on the album would be nowhere near as furious as the version that was first presented to the band. Caillat remembers being “surprised at the intensity of his vocal, almost angry… [it] was pretty raucous.”
         Lindsey would claim that ‘loving you isn’t the right thing to do...’, hurting Stevie profoundly with the line ‘shacking up’s all you wanna do...’ insinuating a certain amount of promiscuity on Stevie’s side which, she insists, “he knew wasn't true. It was just an angry thing he said”. Saying it privately is one thing, proclaiming it on a record for the world to hear was another, and it would sting all the more that Stevie not only had to listen to it, she had to sing harmonies on the track, not to mention every night on tour when the time came.
         But, snipes aside, Lindsey also exposed the fact he was still in love with her – ‘if I could, baby, I’d give you my world...’ – and he was apparently confused as to why ‘everything turned around’. But he was laying the blame at her feet and taking the high road, something that must have infuriated Stevie all the more. Stevie and Lindsey were communicating to each other through their songs, as they would continue to for decades to come, working out their pain in their own manner, jabbing each other musically, taking hits right to the heart. They knew each other too well, and were deft at pushing the exact buttons required for maximum emotional carnage. But in hindsight, Stevie also accepted that this was also just their way of processing their feelings, like keeping a journal or confiding in a soul mate. This was just that little bit more public...
         “I write philosophically, he writes angry,” she shrugged. “As a songwriter, I have to respect that he’s gonna write about what’s happening to him, and so am I.”  And so was Christine, although her songs were a little lighter in tone *... she was in love with (FM lighting director) Curry Grant, which definitely took her mind off John, with whom she barely spoke unless she had to ask which key a song was in. ‘Don’t Stop (Yesterday’s Gone)’, the kindest, most positive, forward-looking song on the record, was written for him however, although ‘You Make Loving Fun’ was famously and rather brazenly written for Curry, making the situation all the more awkward. Still, John had put Christine through more than enough anguish with his drinking, which by all accounts transformed his usually sweet ‘crazy big brother’ demeanour into something that was ultimately impossible to live with. It was frankly about time someone in Fleetwood Mac had some fun.


STEVIE NICKS & THE BIG MAC - Recording Rumours

The first part of an extract from Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours by Zoë Howe, published in October by Omnibus Press.
         It is 1976 and Fleetwood Mac – Stevie, Christine McVie, her husband John, Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood – have gathered to record the follow up to the big sell-selling Fleetwood Mac album of 1975. While the personal relationships within the group are untangling the record that results from these sessions, Rumours, will become one of the best-selling albums in history.

On the first morning of recording, (engineer) Ken Caillat recalls driving to the studio, his beagle Scooter by his side, and observing ominous-looking storm clouds gathering as he approached Sausalito. Portentous indeed. Even Scooter would have to deal with some angst; he was about to meet Stevie’s poodle Ginny, and his high-octane friendliness would unfortunately be as unwelcome to Ginny as it was to Stevie. Meanwhile, roadies bustled past, bringing in the daily haul of booze: Heineken, champagne, Courvoisier and honey for Stevie... Alcohol was generally eschewed by the technicians because it made it difficult for them to do their job, and coffee was the order of the day, or at least it was at first. Cocaine would soon take its place. Stevie would drink and smoke pot. “She had the most time on her hands of anyone and was always looking for the right inspirational input,” writes Caillat in Making Rumours.
         The Record Plant might as well have been chosen by Mick with one person alone in mind, subliminally at least. It had ‘Stevie Nicks’ written all over it. A wooden building nestled at the bottom of a steep hill, it was hard to find, hidden by trees like ‘a secret haven’ as Caillat observed. The only thing identifying it as the right place was the giant number – 2200 – painted on the wall by the front door, which also featured a carved ‘band’ of wooden animals playing instruments in a forest like something out of a fantastical Kit Williams illustration. It was a rabbit warren to get lost in. Hobbit holes sprang to mind. The whole idea of the studio was to make it a ‘getaway’, far from the rest of the San Francisco music industry.
         It would, however, become a prison in its own way. At the same time as the Mac’s sessions there, the Eagles were recording in an adjacent studio – two bands with destinies very much entwined even if they didn’t connect at this point. Some have opined that this claustrophobic period holed up and coked up, ‘trapped’ in this dark, secret studio was one of the key inspirations behind Hotel California, which was recorded right there. The studio door opened out onto the street, glaring sunlight suddenly streaming in every time it was opened, a sudden, rude sense of the outside world rushing into this strange, stuffy twilight world of darkness and music and no small amount of mental torment.
         Weeks would go by without sleep. From time to time, they thought they were all going insane. “They had brought amazing songs to the table,” says Dashut. “But the sound needed to be coherent and arranged. One theory as to why (the album) took so long was that, because of the amount of cocaine being snorted, what felt like their ‘best work’ one day sounded dreadful the next, and everything would start again.”
         Something that would please Stevie, however, would be the fact that the mics they were using had been used previously on Joni Mitchell’s live album Miles Of Aisles. Joni was a heroine in Stevie’s eyes. No one was allowed to approach her room when a Mitchell album had just been released. Stevie would be in there, lying on the floor, blasting the much anticipated record out of her trusty speakers and was not to be disturbed. Any connection to Joni had to be a positive sign. Other than that, good omens were thin on the ground.
         Thankfully, Stevie found somewhere to retreat. In the studio just next door, owned by Sly Stone, there was a dubious-looking ‘pit’ which contained a black velvet bed, surrounded by drapes. The entrance was two giant red furry lips, and Mick Fleetwood for one found it “revolting, bordello-like”. It was often occupied by coke-chopping hangers-on whom nobody seemed to recognise, but Stevie, who had far less to do than the others in the studio, often treated it as a little den, a secret place where she could think and write and get away from the others once the strangers and opportunists had left. And for all its porno chic, Fleetwood himself admits that some of the band “went in there to pray from time to time”.
         It would be in Sly’s pit that “in about five minutes” Stevie conjured the song ‘Dreams’, although it was originally known as ‘Spinners’, simply because it reminded the band of a song by the band of the same name. She’d brought in her Fender Rhodes, set herself up in the darkness of the pit and “it just flowed out”. This slow, sad song detailed tenderly but honestly a kind of dialogue between herself and the subject of the song – clearly Lindsey. The lyrics instantly take us to the heart of the conflict: the desire for freedom and yet the crushing loneliness, remembering what you had and what you lost...’  This may not have only been a dig at Lindsey, however, but a confession of her own turmoil too. But there would be comfort and trust in a kind of spirituality, those intuitive ‘crystal visions’ Stevie is so fond of (although ‘I keep my visions to myself’ perhaps hints that Lindsey had heard one too many of these crystal visions for his liking) and some sense of anticipated healing, if not a resolution, by the end of the song. ‘When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know...’, a reference to a Native American belief that the spirit is set free when the rain falls.
          Having recorded her demo on cassette, Stevie was apprehensive about playing it to the rest of the band; she knew the themes within the song would resonate with them all. As it turned out, “everybody really liked it and we recorded it right away”. Lindsey knew exactly what the song was about, of course, and even later would damn it with faint praise, describing it as “an interesting outcome for something that didn’t have a lot of variety in terms of its chord structures, but tons of variety in terms of its melodic left and right turns…”



On Christmas Eve 2010 one of my oldest friends, Bob Gunby, lost his battle against cancer. Bob and I had known one another since Primary School and he was the drummer in my first band, The Pandas, who played around the Skipton area in the mid-sixties. Earlier that year Bob’s wife Yvonne had organised a band reunion at their home in South Cave near Hull, so I loaded the Strat and a practice amp into the back of the car and headed north. Also there was John, who’d been our bass player, but we didn’t know where Terry, the singer, lived so it was just the three of us, though Yvonne and John’s girlfriend Jane joined in on tambourines. In the meantime Bob had taken up the bass guitar, so the five of us were able to make a terrible racket for one last time.
         I was unable to attend Bob’s funeral and instead wrote Yvonne a long letter which I asked her to show to their children and grandchildren. In it I related the story of how Bob and I first met and the ensuing friendship, right up to the reunion at South Cave. With Yvonne’s permission I’m posting it here today as a tribute to my dear friend Bob - The Vicar.

Bob on drums, John on guitar & vocals, CC sitting on a speaker; Skipton, 1965.

This is a picture from the same venue as above, CC, Bob, John & Terry, probably taken in 1964.

CC, Bob and John; South Cave, 2010. 

I was seven years old in 1954 when I first encountered The Vicar, or Robert as I would have called him in those days. We were at Otley Street Primary School together, and my mum must have sensed in him a degree of responsibility for after discussion with Mrs Gunby it was agreed that Robert, who was a few months older than I, could accompany me home after school, a journey that took us through the old cattle market behind Skipton Town Hall, across the High Street by the Cenotaph opposite the Parish Church, past Pethybridge’s sweet shop on the corner, the New Ship pub (which would feature in our lives ten years later), Stanforth’s Pork Pie shop by Mill Bridge, and finally up Grassington Road towards Raikes Road where our house was the second on the left.
         The Gunby house – Dungoyne – was at the top of the hill and opposite it was the rec, the recreation ground, where as eight year olds Robert and I climbed trees together. He was always much better at it than me, more agile and more adventurous, and he always reached for higher branches than I did. So too in life, I guess, as becoming a solicitor is surely a higher calling than becoming a rock writer, though probably not as much fun.
         Opposite Dungoyne was a large detached residence owned by the fat, balding, reclusive Mr Fattorini, who owned a jewellery shop in Skipton and who was seldom seen, but it was somehow communicated to us that he didn’t mind if us young boys roller skated on the concrete paths that surrounded his house. We did too, and a bit later used his big garden for a game called kiss chase with some girls who lived nearby. The idea was to chase the girls into the bushes where, if we caught them, they submitted to a peck on the cheek. We were only 12 after all.
         When we reached our teens I went to school in York and Robert went to Ermysted’s GS in Skipton, but we remained close friends, meeting up in the school holidays to drink coke and frothy coffee together in the coffee bar on Mill Bridge that had a juke box. For a handful of those tiny silver sixpenny bits we could listen to Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Roy Orbison, and it was probably around this time that Robert became Bob and, a bit later, The Vicar, a nickname coined because he sang with the Parish Church choir. It stayed with him for life, as least as far as I was concerned. When that coffee bar became a ladies’ hairdressers we shifted our custom to another one behind Ramsbottoms’ electrical shop on Sheep Street which sold guitars and drums, and when we turned 16 or so we discovered the magic of The Beatles and the Stones and all the rest. By the summer of 1963 that wondrous madness called Beatlemania had gripped the nation. We weren’t immune. I pestered my parents to buy me a guitar and Bob somehow got hold of some drums.
         The exact details of the birth of The Pandas are lost in the mists of time. Terry Garner, who became our lead singer and rhythm guitarist, lived in Raikeswood Drive, not far from Bob, and John Holmfield, who became our bass player (though he never actually owned a bass), lived on the Regent Estate on the other side of town. Terry knew Bob because they went to school together; John knew Bob because they were both in the church choir. As we know, I’d known Bob since we were in short trousers.
         We formed around late 1963 and hung together for almost three years, performing strictly cover versions and aspiring to semi-pro status in that we accepted a pittance for the handful of dates we performed. We had a card printed – “The Rockin’ Pandas - Available for Dances, Parties & Special Occasions” – and in keeping with the name wore black shirts and white jeans. We had a picture of a panda on Bob’s bass drum.
         Our repertoire consisted of instrumentals by The Shadows and others, songs by The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Searchers, and some older R&R and R&B songs, most especially Chuck Berry, almost all of which we’d discovered on early recordings by The Beatles and Stones and their contemporaries like The Animals, Searchers, Hollies etc. Indeed, we played no fewer than 10 non-originals that appeared on the first two Beatles and first Stones albums. I remember mastering ‘Saturday Night At The Duck Pond’, a variation of the theme from Swan Lake, by The Cougars, and ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’, a favourite of instrumental bands, whose theme is borrowed from Greig’s Peer Gynt, but gradually we dropped the instrumentals in favour of songs. We always began our first set with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and closed the final set with ‘Twist And Shout’. I suppose we had about 30 songs all told, and Bob kept a precise record of our repertoire and the shows we performed in a school exercise book with an orange cover.
         John had the best amp, a Selmer 30 watt affair, and a Vox guitar; I had a Futurama 15 watt amp, selected no doubt because it had the same black and gold livery as the celebrated Vox AC 30s used by The Beatles, and a red Futurama III guitar which looked a bit like a Strat, but somewhere along the line I swapped it for a real bass guitar, a Hofner violin like Paul McCartney; and Terry had a Hofner f-hole guitar with a pick-up he’d stuck on himself. Bob’s drum kit was white with The Pandas logo, make unknown, which he tended to hit very hard and drown us out. We ‘borrowed’ a hopelessly inadequate PA system from a local youth club and I cannot be sure if it was ever returned.
         We rehearsed in our homes, creating a terrible din, especially at Bob’s house where we had to cram into the attic. We had one or two fairly regular ‘bread and butter’ gigs locally, at Skipton Rugby Club and at the RAF Club by the old swimming baths on Shortbank Road. We played at private parties and occasional dances in church halls in the surrounding villages, sometimes supporting older, better-equipped groups, and once – memorably – at a dance at Aireville Comprehensive School in front of about 200, our biggest ever audience.
         Terry, who stood stage centre and handled most of the singing, was a handsome Lothario with a roving eye but he missed rehearsals, preferring the company of girls to us three, and didn’t maintain his equipment properly. He was always breaking strings and having no replacements and his amp was crap, an old radio that he’d somehow transformed into a piss-poor, tone-free guitar amp. He was always wanting to plug into the superior amps of John and myself, and cadging strings. Nevertheless he was crucial to the group’s line-up as for all his faults he had heaps of confidence and reckless enthusiasm, qualities that only later did I come to realise were just as important as musicianship in any successful group.
         In hindsight it seems to me now that of the four of us Terry was the only one who had it in him to become a real rock star. He stood centre stage with his legs apart, like Eddie Cochran or Bruce Springsteen or Joe Strummer, and faced down his audience, his guitar slung low, his right foot kicking the beat, looking like he meant business. In contrast John and I were wimps, our eyes on our fretboards, though Bob gave it his all on the drums and sang well. Naturally he sang those songs that Ringo sang in The Beatles, ‘Boys’ from the first LP and ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ from the second. We couldn’t afford a boom mike so he had a mike on short stand in front of his snare – well unsatisfactory.
         Predictably, Terry was first to leave, the consequence of him having finally and inevitably impregnated one of his many girlfriends. He fled to Leeds where he worked for an insurance company, setting up home there with the mother-to-be. His departure decisively weakened the group and hastened its demise: after Terry left, Bob, John and myself held a few half-hearted rehearsals as a trio with me on bass but it wasn’t the same so the group disbanded.
         It was during the era of the Pandas that the four of us discovered beer, our first local the Midland Hotel opposite Skipton Railway Station which for Bob, Terry and myself was a pleasant stroll down through Aireville Park and across the canal bridge. We were probably underage drinkers when we first went there, and for reasons beyond recall all of us began our life as boozers by drinking Mackeson stout, like Ena Sharples from Coronation Street. I have no idea why. I think it was John and I who first discovered the New Ship on Mill Bridge one Friday night and decided it was livelier than the Midland, so Bob and Terry weren’t far behind. In the Ship we drank pints of Tetley’s mild, then graduated to bitter.
         The Ship would grow in popularity during the second half of the sixties, eventually becoming a key meeting place for a community whose members, well some of us anyway, were unlikely to lead ordinary lives; fun-loving Skipton friends with inquisitive minds who nursed ambitions beyond the town, young men whose pretty girlfriends wore their hair long and free and whose short skirts were much appreciated by the older male clientele who’d been using the pub for years. We drank there, and nowhere else in Skipton, from around 1965 onwards; a whole crowd of us, Pandas and girlfriends, Bob The Vicar, Terry with his latest conquest, John and Alison, me and Margaret, and many others too, all of us crowded around the tiny bar or in the small, smoky tap room, and Bob would remember them all too: the dapper solicitor Brian Dunn who died in a car crash, John Willie who sang in the Black Sheep and drove his dad’s milk lorries and Janet Eastwood, big Haydn Lyle the estate agent, Brian ‘Beesom’ Bellas who could down three pints in 20 seconds, the Parker brothers from Carlton, off-license manager Pete Thwaite, red bearded Bramall – always Bramall, never with a Christian name – Willie Houston with a scar on his cheek, Julian Hyde who sometimes played the old piano, car-mad Frederic Manby whose lovely girlfriend Linda Newhouse took your breath away when she smiled, Fred’s sister Sue, accountant Andy Leach and Gwynneth who ran a sewing shop, Charles Everett from Hawes and Susan Raw, my best mate Twinque who turned me on to Bob Dylan. All of these and more gathered to drink at the Ship, especially on Friday nights, before we headed to our cars and raced up the Dales to the Devonshire Arms at Cracoe or the Bull at Broughton. A pint of Tetley’s mild in the Ship was one and fourpence in those days, fags a bob for ten, and the landlord, once he’d realized what sort of crowd he had (he never understood us didn’t old Jim Carberry, but he liked our cash alright), wasn’t averse to the odd after-hours lock-in, being as how there was an unlit back room, so long as you bought his wife a rum and pep.
         By now, of course, Bob had gone to Leeds University to study law and I was working for the local paper, the Craven Herald & Pioneer. I stayed over in Leeds with Bob a few times and we went to rock shows together at the University Refectory, the Hollies, Joe Cocker, the Move. Bob borrowed someone’s scarf for me to wear and a Student Union Card, and I slept over in Boddington Hall, his hall of residence. Then I joined the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford and began to write about music, and Bob became a lawyer. Then I left Skipton for good and never really looked back.
         We went on holiday together in the summer of 1969, after I’d moved south, driving down to the south of France via Paris. We slept in my car, a silver Ford Escort, in the streets of Paris, and washed up on the Riviera where for a week we rented a log cabin on a camp site. He saved my life there, well both of our lives actually, when I set off to drive on the wrong (English) side of the road and he noticed before I did and yanked the steering wheel just before we drove headlong into an approaching car. Phew.
         And so, inevitably, we drifted apart but not before I was best man at your wedding. By this time I’d joined Melody Maker and I remember delivering my ridiculous speech about how the world’s groupies were wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth since Bob, The Vicar, the celebrated drummer, was no longer available. Obviously my new position on MM had gone to my head. I flirted with the lovely bridesmaid, your sister Diane, who flirted back, which vexed her boyfriend. Bob graduated and joined the legal profession and I went to live in New York and somehow we stopped communicating. I saw John once or twice when I went up to Skipton while my dad still lived there but after his death in 1997 I stopped going up to Yorkshire and that was that until last year.
         When you become a member of a group, be it The Beatles or The Pandas, there’s a touch of the Three Musketeers about it, that spirit of all for one and one for all, and it’s a bond you never forget. I think it’s a bit like playing together on a successful football team, or working in a particularly happy office, a memory that stays with you, warm, nostalgic and comforting. Hey, we did it guys! And that’s why we enjoyed ourselves so much when we met again last year, even if we did sound pretty ropy.
         As I pulled up outside your house in South Cave on that Saturday afternoon last February Bob came out to greet me with the biggest smile on his face and the years apart simply melted away. We had so much catching up to do, so much to say. We had such fun that night, as much fun as we ever had back in Skipton, back in the Ship, back in glory days of The Pandas. Bob looked so happy, and that’s how I’ll always remember him, my great friend, The Vicar.

CC, January 2011.