SINÉAD O’CONNOR – I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss

“Take me to church, I’ve done so many bad things it hurts,” sings Sinéad O’Connor on the first single from her most recent album I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss. As well you have m’lady, I thought, recalling how, in 1990, I had commissioned a biography of Sinéad from an Irish author who told me that after it was published he was accosted in a Dublin bar by the lady herself, evidently displeased at something he had written. A year or two later I called the author to suggest he update the book but he declined. At first I thought this was because he might be concerned about further attacks but no, it turned out that in the meantime the hatchet had been buried but the terms of their now friendly relationship evidently included a clause forbidding further work on the biography.
         Sinéad O’Conner has, in the vernacular of the constabulary, been a person of interest for me ever since I first heard (and saw the video for) her breath-taking reading of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares To You’ and I don’t suppose I’m alone in this. Early in her career I went to see her at the Royal Albert Hall and was mesmerised by this waiflike creature, especially when she produced a beat-box and danced a jig to one of her songs, arms straight down her sides, high stepping Irish style. Her first two albums, The Lion And The Cobra and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, have been favourites of mine for years, and I’ve tried to keep up with her music while her antics have made headlines, not always for the right reasons.
         On this new album her voice has mellowed, perhaps a natural result of growing older, perhaps because she has been advised that to reach a wider audience she needs to adopt a more radio-friendly style. This move contrasts sharply with the cover on which she is photographed wearing a dominatrix-style black latex dress and a raven-haired wig that makes her look a bit like Jessie J. Nowadays to see her with longish hair is as provocative as when she first appeared, shaven-headed, on the cover of The Lion And The Cobra.
         The other contrast on I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss is between the lyrics and the music. While Sinéad sings, as ever, of deep-rooted passions, resentment and desperation, too many of the tracks feature arrangements that are at best easy-on-the-ear and at worst featureless. Many songs, most notably ‘Dense Water Deeper Down’ and ‘Kisses Like Mine’, which follow back to back, sound like Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac (Lindsay Buckingham branch), which if you’re a Mac fan is no bad thing but I don’t expect that from Sinéad. Double-tracking her scorching voice so that it sits in a kind of velvety cushion is fine for some, but to me Sinéad’s lyrics call for a more strident tone or the menacing, angry distance she conjured up for songs like ‘Black Boys On Mopeds’ and ‘The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance’. I liked the catchy opening number ‘How About Me’, and preferred the more understated songs like ‘Harbour’, the vulnerable emotion of ‘The Vishnu Room’ and the closer ‘Streetcars’ to the AOR-ish production that frames most of the songs here. The single ‘Take Me To Church’ is also memorable, rocking up a storm, especially on the chorus, albeit again a bit like the big Mac.
         If you prefer your Sinéad with a touch of melodic sugar to sweeten the lyrical pill then I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss is for you – but I could do with a bit less honey and more Tabasco. 



Back in the groove after a week’s holiday, with the iPod now boasting 15,178 songs, and first up this morning on the commute is Dire Strait’s ‘Going Home (Theme From Local Hero)’ from their live album Alchemy, an instrumental, melodious if a bit predictable as Mark Knopfler is joined by a saxophone and eventually his full band. Like most everyone else I discovered DS when I first heard ‘Sultans Of Swing’ back in ’79, on a car radio as it happens, and I actually thought for a moment that it was Bob Dylan until someone put me right. I admire the understated way that Mark K has managed his career, and I also admire the way he picks a guitar.
         The appreciative DS audience fade away to be replaced by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer In The City’, probably the best single they ever made. More rock’n’roll than the folksier, jug-band style they seemed to prefer. This was a hit in 1966, but it doesn’t seem to date at all, unlike the next song, James Taylor’s ‘Your Smiling Face’ which is simply just too seventies LA session band AOR rock for me, far too twee, with James singing joyfully about his daughter Sally, conceived with Carly Simon. That must have been fun for him.
         Far more challenging is John Lennon – a friend of Taylor and Simon – singing ‘Remember’ from his 1970 Plastic Ono Band album, unquestionably the most uncompromising set of songs released by any pop star up until that time. Inspired by his primal therapy sessions with Dr Arthur Janov, John explores his childhood over a throbbing, insistent beat, closing with a line about November 5th and an explosion, a reference to the annual English bonfire ritual that celebrates Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament on that date in 1605. As it happens I went to the same school in York as Guy Fawkes and bonfires were strictly forbidden, probably because this distinguished former pupil sat atop them. 
         Depeche Mode’s ‘Martyr’ follows John, adopting a similar tempo but without a trace of his menace, and as if on cue John returns, this time with ‘Walrus’ from The Beatles Love album, the symphony of segued Beatles tracks that accompanies the Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas (min price $79, max $180). I loved this album when it first came out and still play it a lot. Remarkably, it includes extracts from 130 separate songs, though the full list has never been disclosed, with solos and recognisable fills cropping up in places where you least expect them, and glimpses of music from backing tracks previously unheard, or at least not appreciated, on the original recordings. ‘Walrus’ sounds even more wonderful that did on the MMT soundtrack as I passed through Wimbledon, elementary penguins and crabalocker fishwives batting it out in Lennon’s fevered imagination.
         And now it’s Chris Rea singing ‘Praise The Lord’, not a hymn but a track from his 11-CD Blue Guitars collection, this one Blues Beginnings, the first in the series. This was actually pretty straight blues, probably of the kind that slaves might have sung back on the days before abolition. I have always taken the view that the only decent thing about religion is the music it has inspired, and songs like this shore up that belief.
         Next up is Bruce Sprinsgteen’s ‘You’ve Got It’ from Wrecking Ball, his 2012 CD, a fairly run of the mill power ballad by Bruce’s standards, followed by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ ‘Little Girl’, a Mayall composition featuring Eric Clapton’s fancy lead work in the left channel speaker. As it happens I passed Eric’s house only yesterday on my way pick up our dog from the kennels in Ewhurst where it has been staying while Mrs C and I were on holiday. I didn’t stop for tea and biscuits.
         Chris Rea cropped up again as the train pulled into Waterloo, another track from his Blue Guitars set, ‘Talking About New Orleans from the New Orleans/Louisiana CD, this one enhanced with a bit of Dixieland jazz, and he’s followed by the under-appreciated Shawn Colvin singing ‘The Dead Of The Night’ from her Carry On album.
         The penultimate song on this morning’s commute is the ever wonderful Dusty Springing singing ‘Losing You’, one of her earliest hits, and in the rather strange way that iPods operate we come a full circle emerging from Oxford Circus. I recognise that guitar… it’s Mark Knopfler again, this time accompanying The Everly Brothers on his DS song ‘Why Worry’, also covered by a few others, but no one can beat Don and Phil.



In last Sunday's Observer the eloquent but often impenetrable Paul Morley confessed his love for classical music which he finds more stimulating than what passes for rock and pop these days. Well, he has a point and that point was brought home to me the same evening by the Penzance Youth String Orchestra at the Mariners Gallery in St Ives.
        The Mariners Gallery is a converted church, all vaulted ceilings with an impressive semi-circular altar space before which the PYSO gathered to entertain a modest crowd of about 100 or so; 10 violins, four violas, two cellos and two basses, mostly teenage girls, all dressed in black and red, and led by the schoolmasterish Tim Boulton who plays and conducts at the same time.
        The acoustics were wonderful, the audience quiet and attentive, the musicians diligent and well-rehearsed. Their programme opened with Mozart's Eine Kleine Nichtmusik followed by JS Bach's Air (the Hamlet cigar ad), which led me to the conclusion that the PYSO wanted to get classical music's greatest hits out of the way first - unlike rocks stars who leave them to the end - so as to prepare us for something a bit more challenging. This took the form of Snow Patrol by Goreck, not a bit like 'Chasing Cars', more a slow, thoughtful piece that saw the musicians break ranks and position themselves amongst the audience, thus creating the sort of quadrophonic effect that Pete believed might be possible when The Who performed Quadrophenia but wasn't.
        For someone like me who is used to hearing music driven along by pounding drums and an electric bass, this all seemed unusually soothing, impressively melodic and really quite beautiful, all the more so when one of the girls stepped forward to sing, filling this great church space with her haunting voice yet barely moving her lips. It was like watching a ventriloquist. By comparison, rock and pop singers yell and scream; this tiny girl sang from her abdomen, as you are supposed to do.
        After the interval we were taken on a musical journey, and that included a visit to the USA for a lively bluegrass number, the nearest thing to popular music all evening, and great fun it was. The concert ended with the longest piece they played, by Bartok, during which the orchestra was accompanied by a rather scratchy recording made by the composer himself. At the end the musicians were accorded a standing ovation and, as they had done after all the pieces, the musicians bowed, Beatle-like, many times.
        Back on the streets we wandered around the town. A blues band at the Lifeboat pub seemed to be making a terrible racket compared to what we'd just experienced, so we declined to go in. At the Sloop pub a bit further along the quay a guitar duo treated us to a bit of Bee Gees, Stones and Bowie; at the Castle a chap with long blonde hair was playing 'Vincent Black Lightning 1952' without Richard Thompson's twiddly bits; and at the Union a blues guitarist called John Walsh restored my faith in the music I love with some lovely work on his acoustic and slide guitars.



Just Backdated is heading west, down to St Ives in Cornwall for a week, and I'm not sure whether where we are staying will be within internet range, so normal service will be interrupted again. 

St Ives


THE BEATLES DIARY – Introduction by Miles

My post earlier in the week about how I was pissed off by way in which The Beatles were dismissed in a history book by Simon Jenkins prompts me today to post the Introduction to the Omnibus Press book A Beatles Diary, by Barry Miles, in which he sets out their accomplishments with the eloquence of a writer who was there at the time, stressing their role as pioneers which, so many years later, is sometimes forgotten amidst the acclaim for their music.
         Miles, of course, befriended the group and would go on to act as Paul’s official biographer in the book Many Years From Now.

The Beatles were ‘a Sixties group’, encompassing the entire decade, literally beginning in 1960, when they went to Hamburg, and ending in 1970, when Paul sued to end their partnership. Other groups, like The Shadows, lived through it, but they hailed from the previous era and managed to hang on indefinitely. The Beatles both reflected the enormous changes in society during the Sixties and were themselves catalysts for that change. They came together during the era of ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?’ and ‘The Deadwood Stage’, and went professional at the time of The Avons’ ‘Three Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat’ and Ricky Valence’s ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’. By the time they broke up, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones’ Rolling Stones and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd had been and gone. The Beatles were both precursors and survivors.
         They started it all, entering the music business when the BBC had a monopoly on radio, and the industry giants EMI and Decca dominated the record charts. Before The Beatles, an American would have been hard pressed to name one British singer or group; after The Beatles, British acts occupied a large percentage of the American charts. They paved the way for The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits and scores of other groups that constituted “The British Invasion”.
         Pop music, as it was known in the days before “rock”, was seen as part of show business: to their bosses at EMI, there was little difference between The Beatles and Alma Cogan. They were on the cusp between music hall and MTV, playing variety shows along with hoofers, jugglers and comedians, though there is no recorded instance of them following a performing dog act. It is unlikely that U2 would consider sharing top billing on a TV show with a glove puppet, but The Beatles did. Pop groups were regarded as variety acts, and in these pages The Beatles can be seen playing Saturday Night At The London Palladium, and Mike & Bernie Winters' Big Night Out, along with Arthur Askey, Bruce Forsyth, Morecambe & Wise and the like, where they were expected to take part in skits as well as play their latest single.
         Live performance was more important to The Beatles than to many present day acts because that was how they made their money, at least in the early years (as it is today but that’s because record sales are plummeting, another story altogether). Their royalties from EMI were so derisory that the greatest benefit of having a record in the charts came from the ability to charge more for live performances. No-one expected to make serious money from record sales, but with records in the charts you could play a lucrative summer season in a seaside resort and a sold-out Christmas panto. The Beatles did all of this after their initial success. Of course, all that would change. Indeed, they sold so many records that even on a farthing per record each they were able to get rich, and when it came time to renew their contract with EMI they got their own back by driving an incredibly hard bargain.
         Their work-load was astonishing: more than 800 hours on stage in Hamburg, 275 performances at The Cavern alone. On top of that, manager Brian Epstein experimented with bookings, trying out new markets, booking them into a public school here, a débutante dance there, three weeks at The Paris Olympia, Carnegie Hall in New York. Brian was determined to present them as a class act. Looking through the chronology it is fascinating to see who else was on the bill, particularly in the early days. At The Cavern, with its origins as a jazz club, they were often as not sharing the bill with one or two traditional jazz bands. Trad jazz enjoyed a period of popularity just as The Beatles were getting going. It was a peculiar business, bearing little relationship to its supposed origins in Twenties' New Orleans. All its original practitioners were either dead or in their seventies and eighties. Acker Bilk headlined in bowler hat and striped waistcoat and The Temperance Seven were cool and languid in a smooth flapper style that owed little to a New Orleans street band. This was what The Beatles were up against. Not great competition admittedly, but their energy and belief in themselves and their music saw them through, blowing their rivals off the stage one by one, first in Hamburg, then Liverpool, then London and finally the world. 
         Why The Beatles and not, say, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes who already featured Ringo Starr? The answer lies in their extraordinary ability as composers. It was fortuitous that Lennon and McCartney should meet because not only were they rock‘n’roll fanatics, but they were also both already writing songs. The chemistry between them worked perfectly and together they composed an extraordinary body of work. The Beatles recorded 184 original songs (some of which were by George) without which they would almost certainly not have enjoyed such world-wide success. It was remarkable that they wrote songs at all, coming from their background, but what made The Beatles unstoppable was the momentum they created in their work, striving to make each album and single different, relying not on a tried and tested blues format or a series of traditional pop hooks, but experimenting with harmonies and rhythms, changing tempos and even tagging on whole new melodies. Songs poured out of them, so many that they didn’t need to use singles on albums to fill the space. In the modern era, up to three years or more often elapse between album releases by top recording acts, but The Beatles – the top act in the world – managed to release 12 original albums, including one double, in the eight years between 1963 and 1970, not to mention around 30 non-album tracks, including many of their biggest and best loved hit singles. Astonishingly, the third member of the group, George Harrison, also flowered as a songwriter. To George’s chagrin, Frank Sinatra always introduced ‘Something’ as “a Lennon and McCartney composition” and George didn’t get his full due until after the group split up. Even Ringo wrote the odd song.
         They heralded the singer-songwriter, hastening the collapse of the Brill Building and its commercial song writing teams. Before The Beatles it was rare to sing your own material: Elvis never wrote a song. After The Beatles it was seen as a sign of weakness if you didn’t sing your own stuff. As old time rocker Jerry Lee Lewis said, referring to the demise of Bobby Vee, Bobby Darin, Bobbie Vinton and all the other Bobbies as The Beatles wiped the board clean: “Thank God for The Beatles, they cut 'em down like wheat before the sickle.”
         They turned touring upside down too. Before The Beatles there were no stadium concerts: after they filled Shea Stadium to its 55,000 capacity – the biggest rock‘n’roll audience ever assembled at that time – the American stadium tour became the norm for a world-class act. The Beatles toured America with two roadies and a driver, playing hockey arenas and baseball stadiums, using whatever existing PA there was and with no foldback speakers on stage. Modern groups tour with an entourage of 150 crew and have more volume in their stage monitors than The Beatles had for a whole stadium, but once again it was The Beatles that led the way.
         As if all this wasn't enough, during the Beatlemania years of non-stop touring and recording they also somehow found the time to make two full-length feature films, scores of live radio and TV appearances and give more media interviews in a day than today's superstars are inclined to give in a year. Somehow, amidst all this, they also coped with being the most famous and sought after people on the planet. In some cities, notably in Australia, half the population would turn out to welcome them, crowding into the streets, waiting for them to make personal appearances on balconies just like the Pope or Royal Family.
         No other group developed so much. It would have been easy to retire, or at least settle back into comfortable celebrity after Beatlemania, but instead the Four Moptops transformed themselves into the Princes of Psychedelia and began a whole new life and a whole new series of experiments, dragging pop music forever out of Denmark Street and Tin Pan Alley and into the realm of art. Revolver had been a landmark album, filled with beautifully crafted songs yet using experimental studio techniques that had other groups consulting with their studio managers. It was hard to see how they could better it. Everyone was waiting to see what The Beatles did next.
         Sgt Pepper was the world’s first “concept” album, the first to print the lyrics on the sleeve (another blow to Denmark Street), and musically, it blew everyone’s minds. It had the huge iconic chord on ‘A Day In The Life’ and it even had an iconic sleeve that was much parodied and copied over the years. It was their “masterpiece” in the traditional Renaissance sense of a piece of work to prove you knew your craft.
         Drugs certainly helped this transformation and, because LSD and marijuana were illegal, The Beatles found themselves assigned yet another pioneering role as spokesmen for the newly emerging drug culture: they signed (and paid for) the “pot ad” in The Times, they recorded psychedelic music that was banned by the BBC and were interviewed about LSD by serious newspapers. Naturally they were also busted. Having abandoned their identity as the Fab Four, the nation’s favourite boys, they were fair game for the drugs squad, though it now seems likely that the drugs were planted in John and George’s homes by the police themselves.
         The strain of it all took its toll. They were tired to their bones, stressed and taking too many drugs. John, perhaps, felt it most keenly. Once again they both mirrored and led the direction of Sixties' popular culture when they became involved in meditation and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Maharishi might have been a passing interest had Brian Epstein not died when The Beatles were on one of his meditation courses. His words helped them deal with their grief and the next year they set off to India, in John and George’s case with no clear idea of when, if ever, they might come back.
         In the event, they did not become yogis, but their period of enforced sobriety allowed scores of songs to come flowing from them, many of which appeared on the double white album and Abbey Road. Ultimately it all came to an end: first George, then Ringo left the group and both returned. Then John left and they told no-one. When Paul got fed up with waiting around instead of getting on with a solo career, he revealed that The Beatles were no more in a press release that accompanied his first solo album. The press misunderstood the story and thought that he was the one who had left. They soon found out the truth, and in looking for someone to blame, picked on Yoko Ono. Yoko certainly played a role in the break-up by sticking close to John in the studio, inhibiting the close-knit working relationship they had previously enjoyed, something that the other Beatles’ wives and girlfriends did not do – and something that John would have objected to strenuously if anyone else had done it. But the group had run its course. They had grown apart. It was a marriage approaching divorce, and, as with many divorces, it was acrimonious, doubly so because it attracted the media spotlight. With so much money at stake there were powerful conflicting forces at work, one of which was their last “manager” Allen Klein, who later went to jail for financial skulduggery.
         The Beatles have become icons: just as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris, Big Ben for London, The Empire State Building for New York, a clip of Hitler ranting locates us at the beginning of the World War II. For the Sixties we have Harold Wilson puffing his pipe, Christine Keeler sitting astride her famous chair, and there, jigging their guitars on some forgotten stage, their fringes covering their foreheads, screaming girls drowning out their words: The Beatles – the last great band in black and white.



Writing about Chrissie Hynde yesterday reminds me that Get Close, the Pretenders’ 1986 album, was the first CD I ever bought. The reason for this was that at Christmas that year my sister, bless her, bought me my first CD player, a Sony portable device about five inches square that could either be plugged into the mains and played through an amplifier and speakers or used as a CD Walkman so long as you remembered to charge the removable battery.
         I was in Skipton that Christmas, staying with my dad, and I owned no CDs of course, so come the day after Boxing Day, I visited Philips electrical store in order to browse what they had, which wasn’t much. Wanting to avoid duplicating what I had on vinyl – that would come later, and how! – I opted for Get Close and haven’t regretted it as I came to love this album, well most of it, by and large the more melodic tracks like ‘When I Change My Life’, ‘Tradition Of Love’ and ‘Hymn To Her’. The rhythmic experiments like ‘Dance’ and ‘How Much Did You Get For Your Soul’ were a bit overwrought for my taste but there’s a great stab at ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’, the Hendrix song and, of course, one of the group’s catchiest hits in ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’. Last but by no means least there’s ‘I Remember You’, at 2.35 perhaps the shortest track the group ever recorded, and for my money a hidden gem in The Pretenders’ catalogue.
         With a hint of reggae to bolster its lilting melody and more than a touch of regret in her voice, Hynde sings of a fondly remembered love affair that somehow went off the rails after a typically promising and probably passionate start. The truth is I couldn’t help identifying all too closely with this song as that October I’d found myself in a similar situation, the object of my desire an unmarried mother who became torn between me and the father of her infant daughter with whom she lived. In the end, sensibly, she chose him but not before we’d enjoyed two months of frantic trysts, a measure of bliss, our transgressions adding immeasurably to the affair’s piquancy.
         Back in London after Christmas, the affair over, I played Get Close, my only CD, a lot and whenever this song came around the lyrics to ‘I Remember You’ – especially the couplet ‘I thought you'd never go. It shows you what I know’ – brought back all that had passed. It still gets to me every time I hear it.
         For the record, the first time I saw The Pretenders was in 1979 or ’80 at the The Railway on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane in West Hampstead, the upstairs room of which was a noted music venue called Klooks Kleek back in the sixties. I’ve met Chrissie Hynde once or twice over the years, at first in connection with an autobiography for which I was asked to recommend a ghost-writer, an odd request I thought since Hynde cut her teeth writing for NME in the mid-seventies and is a writer of no mean skill. Either way, the book never happened. However, the very first time I met her, my opening words were: “Chrissie, before I say anything else I want to say that the guitar solo in ‘Kid’, played by James Honeyman-Scott, is simply the best, one of the greatest guitar solos ever. That harmonic at the end is as perfect as it gets.”
         Chrissie smiled. “Yes, Jimmy did good didn’t he?”
         Check it out. 


BLONDIE & CHRISSIE HYNDE, Roundhouse, September 16, 2014

Seeing Chrissie Hynde open for Blondie at London’s Roundhouse last night offered an opportunity to contrast and compare two of rock’s most enduring performers, both of whom paved the way for members of their sex to benefit from their pioneering efforts, almost all of whom – and I’m including Madonna in this – profited more significantly than them without really meriting the rewards that came their way. The history of rock is tarnished by forerunners penalised by economics that favour subsequent generations, but it is heartening to note that both Hynde and Blondie seem now to be banking their just rewards along with their pensions.
              Hynde is tough, self-assured, defiant, wielding a blue Telecaster like chain saw, striking down hard on open-string chords, in command of her stage and her band, and she says fuck a lot between songs which attracts a Pavlovian response every time. She is thin and angular, in knee-high black boots, tight blue ripped jeans and a white t-shirt that reveals plenty of sinewy arm, and she carries herself like a born rocker, like Cochran, Strummer or Springsteen. Even when she sings without her guitar, as she did on ‘Brass In Pocket’, she moves around the stage with the confidence of a woman who’s fought hard for her ‘place in this world’ and woe betide she, let alone he, who might forget it. 
              Debbie Harry, on the other hand, is playful, at times seeming almost vulnerable. Effecting an endearing humility, she is soft and round and cuddly now, all smiles, and her greater celebrity allows her to perform with more modesty, frequently allowing the others in this latest edition of Blondie to step forward and demonstrate their individual skills. She doesn’t have to work quite as hard as Hynde but, amazingly, she is still as pretty as a picture, her straight blonde hair – oh your hair is beautiful – falling down past her shoulders, shimmering in the spotlights. As with Hynde – heaven forbid! – Harry disdains overt displays of sexuality; there’s no gratuitous female flesh on display tonight. Cryus and Co take note.
              Experience has taught both performers the tricks of the trade and, though both were promoting relatively recent new albums, in Blondie’s case Ghost Of Download, released in May, and Hynde with the her first solo offering Stockholm, in June, they both chose to devote most of their sets to well-tried hits of yesteryear. This was wise. A packed, sweltering Roundhouse responded in kind, granting both acts warm and deserved ovations.
              Of the new songs in Hynde’s set, the most impressive was ‘You Or No One’, with a resounding, tumbling chorus that certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a Pretenders set, and ‘Dark Sunglasses’, which rocked up a storm. Indeed, I was hard pressed to detect much difference between solo Hynde and Pretender Hynde when it came to the delivery of their hits, ‘Talk Of The Town’, ‘Back On The Chain Gang’, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, and the like. She closed with a fierce ‘Middle Of The Road’, gracefully declining to encore though the response certainly warranted it.
              The last time I saw Blondie – at Guildford in 2008 – I was dismayed by their rather hesitant manner but this time around all that was in the past. Charging in with a full-tilt ‘One Way Or Another’, they delivered a well-paced, confident 90-minute set that intermingled crowd favourites with four or five new songs and it is to their immense credit that the pace never flagged when the crowd was confronted with a song they probably hadn’t heard before. The visuals helped. Behind them, on five screens, there appeared images of Blondie from days gone by or footage that complimented the newer songs, some of which veer into house territory and the tribal rhythms that seem always to have fascinated Harry, Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke.
              Harry chose to wear a monochrome stripy outfit, a touch of parallel lines, and, weirdly, unmatching shoes, dressing down in fact, and the removal of her black and white jacket solicited a cheer. The message seemed to be that you don’t have to dress sexy to be sexy and the reality was that she trumps girls a third of her age in this department. Her voice never faltered, though at times the sound up in the back circle seemed a bit slushy, the vocals lost in the mid-range boom until a piercing guitar found its way through. Guitarist Tommy Kessler excelled, pulling the anguished guitar hero pose as he stalked the stage, lifting ‘Rapture’ into a tour de force as it morphed into The Beastie Boys ‘Fight For The Right To Party’. The same song incorporated Harry’s rapping section, a reminder of how Blondie pioneered this style of music in 1981, long before it exploded almost a decade later.
              Meanwhile, drumming from the left side, Burke gave a dynamo display, his sticks a blur as he rolled around his kit, tireless from start to finish. He has made no secret of his fondness for Keith Moon’s style of drumming, not least in the way he grandstands, twiddling his sticks around his fingers and tossing them into the air and – unlike Moon – always catching them. The set offers him opportunities to solo, always concisely in short sharp bursts, and when he does he leaves no doubt as to his importance to the show. Stein, cool as ice in a Reed/Cale/VU kind of way, modestly permitted Kessler to take the lion’s share of the guitar spotlight but now and again stepped forward to improvise around the lines of a well-known riff, a knowing presence with a ‘seen it all before’ countenance behind ever-present shades.
              As the set drew on the hits came thick and fast. ‘Tide Is High’ inspired a melodic sing-along, ‘Atomic’ was greeted like an old friend, climaxing with a Kessler solo that threatened to go into double time if Burke was game, and ‘Heart Of Glass’, which closed the pre-encore set, was punchier, more turbo-charged, than the disco-style studio hit. They came back on for ‘Union City Blue’ and ‘War Child’, which Harry introduced with a nod towards issues in Iraq, and closed the evening with ‘Dreaming’, all rolling drums and practiced panache, always my favourite Blondie song.
              After three months on the road this summer Blondie will be taking a well-earned rest in the coming weeks. I hope we see them again soon. 



Radio 4 last night broadcast a talk show called Yesterday’s Papers: The End of the Music Press which made rather depressing listening for me and probably heaps of others for whom the UK music press was once culturally vital. Among those taking part were my old friend Richard Williams, who was the assistant editor at Melody Maker for the first three of my seven years on the paper, the always amusing Danny Baker, and Mark Ellen and David Hepworth who were both involved with launching and/or editing of Smash Hits, Q and Mojo for the publishers EMAP.
              The UK music press shaped my life, of course, and I was lucky enough to be part of it when it was at its height, when – according to the announcer – some 250,000 music papers were sold every week (a figure I would dispute, I think it was nearer 500,000). In those days there was MM, NME, Sounds, Disc & Music Echo and Record Mirror, but now the only one left standing is NME, which sells 14,000 a week. It is a tragic, catastrophic decline and the day will soon come when we don’t have a weekly music press at all.
              The tone of the show, however, was not so much to lament the demise of the music press as to suggest that its successor, the internet, does it better nowadays, which may well be true if you know where to look but the internet is so vast that it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, at least as far as I am concerned.
              David Hepworth spoke nostalgically of the joy to be had on Thursday mornings when the music press arrived in the newsagents and the pop fan could hand over his sixpence to get all the pop news that was available only through this medium. I know the feeling. In Skipton after The Beatles arrived in 1963 I’d buy NME every Thursday, switching to MM around 1967 because it took it more seriously. The programme then moved through the decades, charting the changes and reasons for the decline. In truth, I felt it skimmed the surface, taking a rather superficial look at a subject that, to me, is quite profound – well I, of all people, would think that wouldn’t I?
              Towards the end Richard Williams commented on how much freedom the writers on Melody Maker had to write about what they wanted. He was right. MM covered everything in those days, from the most banal pop to the most avant-garde free jazz, and everything in between. If we felt strongly about something, anything almost, we could write about it. Nowadays Richard has a terrific blog called The Blue Moment and, he noted, he has exactly the same freedom to write about what he wants on that.
              I suppose I could say the same about Just Backdated. But, fun though it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to attending the weekly MM editorial at noon every Wednesday and deciding how we would fill next week’s paper, and seeing that paper piled high on newsstands around London a week later.
              Here’s a link to the Radio 4 show. 



THE BEATLES - Demeaned by History Book

While Mrs C was selecting packets of seeds at a local garden centre yesterday I killed time by browsing among the books on sale, most of them unappetising remainders. There were military books, gardening books, children’s books, books of photographs of ‘old Surrey’, and the like, and there was also a chunky volume by the eminent journalist Simon Jenkins called A Short History Of England. Out of curiosity I glanced through the index looking for any entries that related to rock and pop but the only one I could find for any modern rock musicians was for The Beatles with one mention on page 260, so I looked them up. It was a brief reference to them being awarded their MBEs in 1965, which Jenkins snootily dismissed with a remark to the effect that awarding MBEs to a ‘pop group’ somehow diminished the award, in effect suggesting they didn‘t deserve it.
         Now Jenkins has written some intelligent articles for The Guardian, not least several proposing the decriminalisation of marijuana, but this struck me as the view of a pompous idiot. I was momentarily angry that the achievements of The Beatles could be dismissed so arrogantly, especially since Jenkins would have been writing in hindsight, many years after the group disbanded and also after the deaths of John and George. I couldn’t help but wonder how many others who were awarded the MBE that year, or any other year for that matter, are remembered, if at all, with anything like the distinction (and affection) in which The Beatles are held. Indeed, type ‘MBEs awarded in 1965’ into Google and the top ten listings all relate to The Beatles’ award. It’s difficult to find out who else got one – and there’s probably thousands – that year or any other year.  
         The nature of John’s death caused headlines throughout the world, of course, but so did George’s whose passing was far less dramatic and, to a certain extent, foreseen. When I was in Barcelona last week I spent time with my friend Fernando, a Beatles fanatic, who has saved copies of UK daily tabloid papers for 29 November, 2001, the day George died. He brought them out for me to look through and it was pleasing to note that every one of them devoted at least ten pages to their coverage of George’s death. I wonder how many other public figures, regardless of the field in which they made their name, could command such attention in death.
         The mere ‘pop group’ to which Jenkins so haughtily refers in his Short History of England are as famous worldwide as any kings or queens, popes, statesman, sportsmen, writers... anyone you care to mention really. Their records continue to sell by the truckload. Paul and, to a lesser extent, Ringo are feted wherever they go. Their songs are the mother-load of popular music. Their achievements are such that their most eminent historian, Mark Lewisohn, is in the process of compiling a biography that, when the extended editions are complete, will occupy over 5,000 pages in six cased volumes. This is the tip of an iceberg that has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of books published about The Beatles – probably more than any other entity barring the Royal Family, certainly more than any other ‘entertainers’ in history.  
         So I threw Jenkin’s book back down on the table in that garden centre with the disdain it warranted. Like the rest of the books there it had been remaindered and was being sold off cheaply, a sure sign that it didn’t sell well. It deserved its fate, and this knowledge somehow restored my good humour. ‘Pop group’ indeed. 


JOE WALSH, April 1975

On my way back from interviewing the Eagles in LA, I stopped off at Des Moines, Iowa, to see Joe Walsh who later that year would become an Eagle himself, though he didn't know it at the time. Joe was an affable guy and it's to be hoped that some of his good nature rubbed off on his future bandmates. 
          Omnibus is about to publish a biography of Stevie Nicks, Visions, Dreams & Rumours by Zoe Howe, which I edited during May and June. Walsh features heavily in the book, of course, as he and Nicks were an item until he ran away, scared by domesticity. Joe was a big pal of John Entwistle too, and one of Joe’s exes, Lisa Pritchard Johnson, lived with John at Stowe for the last eight years of his life. I remember her well, but that’s another story.

DES MOINES: It has to be a coincidence. Affixed to a light switch close to the door of Joe Walsh’s dressing room at the Veterans Auditorium in this sleepy mid-west town is a sticker that reads: “James Gang... Bang.” There are no other stickers, posters or rock paraphernalia in the room.
         “Mmmm, that’s a weird one,” agrees Joe, who lopes around the room pulling on a coke and ice, and treating a spinning blackboard with more than a little contempt. “Fancy THAT sticker being on this wall,” he murmurs darkly before ambling away into another, smaller room to attend to the tuning of two Gibson Les Pauls.
         Slightly over one hour later Joe is back in the dressing room, disappointed that the show didn’t gell as he had hoped. “Awww...shit,” he repeats and blames his misfortunes on the monitor system. “The crowd was up, real up to it, but we couldn’t hear a thing. I just wanna get outa here.”
         The new Joe Walsh band is a mellower group than Barnstorm, a group obviously more dedicated to intricacies of electric sound, melodies and subleties. There are two keyboard players, not counting Joe himself, who sits at a grand piano for at least one number on stage.
         Ricky Fataar, the drummer, is a solid player. His spell with The Beach Boys taught him discipline, if not adventure. Bryan Garofalo is an utterly proficient bassist of the studio variety, who effortlessly pumps out line after line without thought or hesitation. The two keyboard players, David Mason and Paul Harris, are somewhat anonymous, hiding behind banks of organ and keyboard cabinets at stage right.
         It’s Walsh who’s the star, a slowhand cowboy of the fretboard, whose style can be reckoned to be a cross between Townshend and Clapton. There’s none of Pete’s violence, but plenty of chunky chord work, and his solo lines seem to flow in Clapton’s oozing fashion. He also plays with disarming ease: he doesn’t belong to the school of players who believe in screwing up their faces to attract attention.
         The new band – the first to go out as simply Joe Walsh – was born around six months ago. Garofalo has replaced Passarelli in the latter stages of Barnstorm – Walsh’s old band – so he was a natural choice, while Fataar had often discussed with Walsh the possibility of a link-up at some time in the future. David Mason was a friend of the Eagles (who share the same management company as Joe) and he readily agreed to accept the job.
         “It was a strain getting a whole new group together, as Brian was the only one remotely familiar with playing my material live. It seemed like the millionth time I’d taught ‘Funk 49’ to somebody, so trying to put new energy into it and keep it fresh was a struggle. With new players seeing it differently it often does put new energy into a song so I didn’t mind the struggle that much.”
         Last to join was Paul Harris, an old friend of Joe’s from James Gang days and a former session colleague. “The four-piece worked well except that I felt I needed a little more melodic content. Four hands on the keyboard seemed to really fill it out nicely.”
         The So What album was mainly Joe’s work, though two tracks were put down by the old Barnstorm, and Garofalo took care of the bass work. During the recordings, the new band had yet to be recruited.
         “It was the first time I’ve ever been alone in the studio and although it was good, I probably won’t want to do it again. I guess I wanted to get the quote – solo – unquote, album out of my system. It’s about one third a group and two-thirds solo.
         “In the studio I’ll give everybody a chance to create and add whatever is in their heads. I try and be be fair to everybody otherwise the band gets weak. If you don’t give a band more involvement then they don’t add more involvement.
“Unless other musicians can relate and add to what’s going down then it can’t be a group. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the chemistry yet. Barnstorm was real close though.”
The new group, says Joe, has the potential to be his best yet though this stage hasn’t been reached.
         They are playing material from all the stages of Joe’s career right back from the James Gang.
         “It’s a kind of cross-section of me up to date. The tunes change a bit and that’s interesting as we get together different players to play the same songs.
         “I don’t think the audience would let me phase out the older material, though I would love to not play ‘Funk 49’ anymore. I feel they’ve paid to come and hear the record and I owe it to them to play that.
         “One of the strengths of the concert is that we do have a catalogue of songs that people recognise and want to hear. Going out and playing all new songs is risky. Eventually I may phase out some of the old stuff but so far everybody is hollering for it and I don’t want to let them down.”
Joe acknowledges with some bemusement that he is becoming a guitar hero, but lays the blame on his days in the James Gang, which was a guitar-fronted trio.
         “I just had to be inventive when there was just one guitar. When you stop playing lead there was no more lead, and when you stop playing rhythm there was no more rhythm.
         “You learn a technique to compensate for that and that stage was when I really sat down and studied rock technique on the guitar. Now it’s nice to apply all that with a much fuller group.”
Joe’s most recent activity has been a move into production, and a successful one at that. He produced Dan Fogelberg’s Souvenirs album which reached the US Top Twenty.
         “I’ve always wanted to produce but I never thought I could,” says Joe. “I didn’t think I was ready and I was having enough trouble getting my own things on tape without worrying about anybody else’s. But at some point I figured it was time to try, and I was interested in Dan because I really related to his music.
         “It’s hard to say what a producer does because so many producers do different things. I just tried to be an extension of Fogelberg in whatever way he needed it. I think I proved to myself and some others that I can produce, but it was just good to try it once and I don’t want to go and make a career out of producing. Not yet, anyway. I think I’ve got some more of my own career left in me.

“Another couple of years yet, I think.”



In April of 1975 I was flown to LA courtesy of Irving Azoff, the manager of the Eagles, Steely Dan, Minnie Riperton and REO Speedwagon to do interviews with all four acts. In the event Steely Dan pulled out, but I can distinctly remember being driven up one of those canyons that separate Hollywood from Sherman Oaks to a sprawling house where the Eagles, or at least some of them, lived. The big living room was littered with acoustic guitars, Martins and Gibsons, and a succession of spectacularly beautiful girls in very tight jeans and halter tops wandered in and out distributing cups of coffee and nibbles. I never did figure out if they were the girlfriends of the group or had been sent there by a catering company.
        This was the first of two encounters I had with the Eagles, neither of them particularly friendly. They were one of those groups that distrusted the press, probably the result of early critical barbs that suggested they’d taken a dollop of The Byrds, a dollop of The Flying Burrito Brothers and a dollop of CSN&Y, mixed it all up with plenty of sugar and baked a cake with packaging designed by Wells Fargo. There’s an element of a truth in that: the Eagles made country rock commercial, massively so, but they didn’t invent it, just scooped up the rewards.

HOLLYWOOD: On a clear day Glenn Frey can see from his living room right out to sea, right across the Pacific to Catalina, the island off the coast of Southern California. On a not so clear day, he can see layers of orange smog, the product of the internal combustion engine, which is God in this part of America.
         Today is clear and the view is quite breathtaking. Certainly conducive to writing those typical Los Angeles soft rock melodies with which the Eagles have become synonymous.
         It doesn’t take a fortune teller to predict that 1975 is going to be the big year for the Eagles. They’ve been digging in the heels of their cowboy boots for three years now, steadily building a reputation in the wake of The Byrds, waiting for the breakthrough that their third album, On The Border, has seemingly now brought about. Although it’s easing down the charts right now, it’s established the band as a force to be reckoned with.
         On The Border was the best-sounding record we ever made, but that’s also experience,” says Frey. “We’re starting to learn how to become recording artists, which is a little different from learning how to be a member of a band or how to become a singer/songwriter.
         “There’re definitely things we’ve learned slowly over a couple of years of making records. I know when we made Desperados we were very conscious of having a group identity running through the songs and that was something we learned out of doing the first album.
         “After doing that one when we went in to do On The Border we tried to bring in the best elements from both the albums. That probably had something to do with it, but I think it was a better album anyway. I think we just progressed and played with a little more confidence. But mainly I think it’s that we stayed together.”
Another factor which Frey credits as being important to the group’s recent success is the introduction of Don Felder on slide guitar. Felder, says Frey, put extra punch into the Eagles’ live show with the added result that they picked up more followers. “I believe in selling records on the road, and I believe that if you work hard and have a good album out, it will sell.
         “Since we got Felder in the band we’ve had a much better second half, the rock and roll half, in our shows. The other part, the vocal harmony softer part, was always real good, but Felder nails down the harder stuff.
         “He’s like Duane Allman: he drives the band on certain songs. Some slide players, myself included, just slide along with the song but when Felder plays slide he drives the band and the whole thing revolves around him. So the year that we promoted On The Border we had a much better show together.”
         Desperados was a concept album in as much as many of the tunes dealt with the old West. It seemed curious, I remarked, that a band would travel to England from America to make that kind of record.
         “Well,” mused Glenn. “I guess you’re right, but Clint Eastwood made all those cowboy movies of his in Italy. Some of the best Western movies have been made in Europe. You get a whole new perspective working in England.
         “All of a sudden you’re a foreigner, and it put us and LA and everything into perspective. Now I like staying here although we tried going to Miami for part of this new album. We got some stuff accomplished there but not nearly as much as we did recording here.”
         Another factor which possibly aided the success of the last album was their decision to tour with some of the material before it was put down on tape. Thus not only were audiences already familiar with the tracks, but the band had an opportunity to work on them before they reached the studio.
         “I think we did about five songs on a college tour,” said Glenn. “We were out there testing them, mixing them in with the better known songs. I think it’s good to do it that way sometimes because it forces you to make a presentation immediately.
         “It forces you to give a rendering immediately so vocal parts get simplified, and backing parts and guitar parts get honed down to what you can do best to present the song. By the time we get to the studio there’s a whole basic sketch already done.
         “With this next album we haven’t done that, but again this album so far is nothing but our own songs. On the others we usually included a song by another writer or called in a friend like Jackson (Browne) or John David (Souther) to help on a track. We may do that in the next two weeks, though.
         “This is maybe a reason why it’s taking longer to make than other albums, but another reason is that Don Henley and I are trying to change the traditional symbolic rock and roll lyrics that most people use on albums.
         “The songs have been finished for a while but we’ve sat around thinking whether we ought to change them. All we have to do now is to go in and sing the parts, and that’s when it’ll begin to sound like an Eagles record. Whenever I hear backing tracks, I can’t think of it being the Eagles at all, a long way from ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’.”
         Last summer the Eagles backed Neil Young at an Indian benefit concert near San Francisco, an experience which may be repeated this year, and one which Frey recollects with more than a little pride.
         “The guy that put it together was our art director, and he knows the native California Indians and he approached Neil Young who said he’d do it. He didn’t commit himself until three or four days before the concert, though, because he didn’t want it to be advertised.
         “We had a great jam on ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ with me and Felder and Neil trading solos for about 12 minutes. We hope to make it an annual event as we’re doing another one this May. I’m into doing things for them because I figure we’re living on their land even if I don’t have one iota of guilt about it.
         “The Indians knew how to live here properly and a lot of people are starting to think this way and realise their Old West consciousness. I’m into the western civilisation mysticism. Over here people are always turning to the east, but I figure it’s all right here if we want to look for it.
         “I’m sure some of this Indian and Mexican influence was with us when we were doingDesperados, as we had a great time doing the little links between songs, the banjo and traditional things. I would like to do another concept album, though I’m not sure what the premise would be.”
         Frey’s song, ‘Best Of My Love’, undoubtedly gave On The Border sales a boost. It was, he says, an attempt to work off a guitar tuning that Joni Mitchell had demonstrated. “Actually, I got into a totally different tuning and that’s how the song ended up.
         “I had a little help from John David Souther who worked on the bridge and rang me up from LA when I was in England to play it over the phone. We actually worked on it over the phone until he came to England to see us. ‘Cry Like A Lover’ came about the same way, working on the phone over all that distance.”
Collaboration with other LA musicians is a way of life in California, as can usually be detected by reading album credits as well as noticing various similarities in the actual music.
         “On songwriting, I do it all the time,” admits Frey. “If I get something I can’t finish by myself it’s always good to take it to someone else. We collaborate among ourselves, but Souther helps us out sometimes.
         “It’s not so much calling up for help in an emergency as just calling and suggesting we spend an evening writing together and picking up on fragments. The funny thing that we find with the guys in the Eagles and Souther and Jackson is how much we think alike. Whenever anyone plays something, we tend to pick on it right away.”
         This summer the Eagles are making their first trip to England in over 18 months. They’re tentatively scheduled to appear with Elton John at Wembley Stadium on June 21 along with stablemate Joe Walsh.
         “What I like about playing in England,” said Frey as we drew to a close, “is the attentiveness of the audience. In America we tend to play to very boisterous crowds, but in England they sit and listen and I just thrive on that.
         “We found when we played our first ever gigs in England that being American helped us. Being an American unknown in America is a drag, but being an American unknown in England is cool. We found we had a certain amount of Western charisma. I didn’t realise it until people started looking at my cowboy boots and asking where I got them.”