Thursday, 27 November 2014

Knees up


Pictured above are two significant women in my life. What you can't see in this photograph are their knees. Good job; no, they're not knobbly. Nor have they drawn smiley faces on them. But both pairs are, at this moment in time, not performing as they should. Normal service will, I'm sure, be resumed a soon as possible.

In the meantime I'd like to wish the young lady on the left a Happy Birthday.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Melody Maker, January 20, 1973

The Sweet: backs against the wall time

In January 1973 The Sweet were on the verge of glam greatness. They'd just released Block Buster! their clarion call monster of a single which would go the the coveted Number One slot. A couple of weeks earlier, however, they were giving the press a sneak preview at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club of all places.


For some obscure reason, Chris Welch of The Melody Maker was tasked with providing 1000 words about the event for the paper. And anyone around in '73 would know that The Sweet were definitely not a Melody Maker band.


Sweeties!

   What goes on inside the mind of a man who wears eye shadow, silver boots and sports voluptuous red tresses? Does he indulge in the kind of excesses that put years on Dorian Gray?
   Many strong men upon viewing the elaborately clad youths who make up Sweet, might be forgiven for believing that this highly successful pop group, represent a progressive collapse in the morals of modern society and the final proof that Britain has reverted to the perversions of Ancient Rome.
   Most glamorous of all the glam rock bands, Sweet have a kind of outrageous vulgarity that can arouse the ire of the rock press as much as they upset Len Biggles, manly, beer swigging ruffians with biceps of steel. They expose daring amounts of skin, spend as much on cosmetics as they do on guitar strings, and camp about like a row of bell tents. As they flounce on stage there is a great tickling of bottoms and laying of hands on hips.
   And yet the great effect created is not so much debauched night at the cabaret in pre-war Berlin, but rather a giggle at the new town hop. Sweet underwent the gruelling experience of appearing before the press at a special reception in their honour at, of all places, London's Ronnie Scott's jazz club, last week. Photographic portraits of Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz peered, somewhat shaken, from walls impregnated with sounds of bebop, while photographers, journalists, PRs and record executives jostled for a good view of the band.
   Not only were Sweet to receive a brace of gold discs; they were to perform for our pleasure and display the kind of stage set that turns on their army of fans in ballrooms the length of the land. It was gruelling because Sweet have an act that is difficult to adapt outside the context of mass approval. They found that extracting the 'yeahs' and the 'hey, hey heys' and handclapping almost impossible from the ranks of men and women, who as Kit Lambert once put it, have observed 'one million, five hundred thousand groups.'
   They listened and clapped politely, and were in the main unimpressed. But Sweet weren't bad. They weren't awful. They had more guts than one might expect from a band that sing about wams and coco-c0. They put a lot of energy into their brief showcase , and seemed desperately anxious to please, which is more than can be said for a multitude of their heavier brethren.
   Their musicianship is not of a particularly high order, but they have dragged themselves, by the silver bootstraps, out of the rut of the average soul-disco band, stomping for the dancers, into a hit making combo.
And not forgetting Mick Tucker on the drums
   As the stage lights dimmed, Sweet came bouncing onto the stage normally occupied by the giants of jazz, and launched into a barrage of noise designed to wake up the back rows of ballrooms. This was the 'intro' and lasted several minutes, threatening to shatter glassware and damage hearing.
   Then came the first number Done Me Wrong Alright or the B-side of Co-Co, as it is usually known. There seemed to be lots of changes in tempo, which gave even smiling Mick Pucker [sic], a chance to boogaloo with some dexterity.
   Unfortunately Andy Scott's lead guitar was hideously out of tune for the first few bars, which lead to a certain exchanging of glances among the musicians, but this was swiftly corrected, and the band launched into 'Summertime Blues', a tune normally guaranteed to break the ice.
   Unfortunately the audience remained immobile, perhaps tapping a foot here and there, but unprepared to fling themselves into an orgy of rock and roll revival. Brian Connolly their lead singer, resplendent in a red zipper suit, and sporting a large cross around his neck, was moved to explain to the audience what should have been happening.
   'You'll have to help us out. We're not used to this...' he said with heart warming candour. 'We're used to screamers...'  But they ploughed on regardless, with commendable valour. Andy the guitarist, in silver pants and black cloak, hurled himself into a deluge of notes, and proved himself a respectable funky wailer.
   A rock medley developed that would doubtless lead to mayhem at the average Sweet gig, ranging from Great Balls of Fire to a version of New Orleans in which they placed great emphasis on the 'Mississippi QUEEN'.
   'This is very difficult, you're not there are you' said Brian, nevertheless keeping an even temper. Steve Priest, the buxom wench on bass guitar, tossed his red locks and seemed oblivious, doubtless hardened by far worse experiences at the hands of active jeerers and booers. (Although Sweet do insist that apart from the splash of beer thy receive very little barracking.)
   'Start the sirens!' commanded Brian. 'Come on!' A few seconds later, a siren began to wail around the club, signal for their final number and latest palpable hit, Blockbuster.
   As the piece thundered to a conclusion, Sweet fled the stage, leaving amplifiers feeding back in a painful crescendo that could have been interpreted as a raspberry to their critics, And yet one felt they had very well under difficult circumstances. Nervous and breathless they returned to receive their gold discs for Poppa Joe from RCA boss Ken Glancy.
   'We're not going heavy' said Andy later in Scott's club office, sniffing with a heavy cold that I first interpreted as an emotional relapse. 'All we are saying is don't knock what we do. We've made a few mistakes in the past and we've learnt a few lessons. We started out as a cross between Marmalade and Spooky Tooth. We also did a lot of Motown. We went on to a bubblegum image and it didn't go down too well. After Funny Funny we thought we were finished. Oh well, that's the end of Sweet. But then we had a big hit with Co-Co. And at the beginning of '72 we had to change with the scene.'
   If they were going to be camp, then they would go the whole hog. 'We elaborated on the make-up and clothes and it has all got a bit out of hand. But the kids like it and expect it. We know where we are at.'



Friday, 14 November 2014

Dooooo!


Quite how many Os should appear in the spelling of today's post is really up to Paul McCartney. Or, indeed, Stevie Riks - the one man Beatles*.

'Paul McCartney makes a cup of tea' has been staple viewing at Medd Towers since I first stumbled upon it on Youtube (where else?).


Riks has, without doubt, studied Macca, complete with all his facial tics and mannerisms, in the same way David Attenborough might study a rare species of insect in the Serengeti. As for the 'Doooo', it obviously has its roots in Get Back: fast forward the link to 2:32 and there it is. Moving on a handful of years and here it is again in its first non Beatles setting: 'Wings - the band the Beatles could have been' - as Alan Partridge once said. It's first spotting is at 1:19.



And then as a more recent example we see it rediscovered in a solo performance. Dance Tonight, his Radio 2 friendly mandolin waltz, has a rather special Doooooo clocking in at 2:08. Also, look out for Mackenzie Crook doing his best Postman Pat impression.


* I'd love Stevie to do a one man read through of my Beatles two hander I wrote a while back.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Watching the Detectorists


Detectorists: must watch TV

I must extend a big thank you to the Bright Ambassador for pointing me in the direction of Detectorists. I don't really need to add much more to his succinct critique of the programme. Only that Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook, intentionally or otherwise, make for one of the funniest double acts I've seen in a long time. No, what I wanted to mention was the original music BA refers to: Johnny Flynn, in true Dennis Waterman style, both writes and sings the delightful theme tune. And it is so good and so near perfect that you really can't imagine the show working without it.



And as well as being a nu-folkie Flynn is also something of a thesp. He's no stranger to The Globe and The Royal Court and has bagged a fair bit of TV and film work along the way too.
Here's another one of his tunes. Stylishly shot in black and white, and complete with noises off, it's an acoustic version of the title song from Flynn's Country Mile album. Go get yourself a copy. And, while you're about it, catch up on Detectorists - they're all still up on the iPlayer.



Friday, 7 November 2014

Black and Blue

Do not approach these men
In 1975, following the departure of Mick Taylor, The Rolling Stones were scrambling around looking for a new guitar player. Rory Gallagher and Jeff Beck, among others, were flown out to Rotterdam and sat in on a couple of sessions. Keith was making notes throughout but didn't see or hear anything he liked; not until his old mate Woody turned up that is. The rest, as they say, is why Ronnie Wood is still referred to as the new boy.

'What are ya wearing lipstick for Mick?'
Fool to Cry, featuring not the guitar but an electric piano (courtesy of Mick who locked-on to the perfect groove and stayed with it), captures the Stones at their funkiest; probably only out-funked a couple of years later when Miss You appeared on Some Girls - around the same time as Rod's remarkably similar Do Ya Think I'm Sexy. This is a tasty outtake from the Black and Blue sessions and sounds like they're not far from nailing it. Listening to this you can forgive Jagger almost anything. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Red White and Blue

All roads lead to The Beatles. Everyone knows that. Anyone who tells you differently is probably holding the map upside down.

For me it all started with my parents' record collection; though collection makes it sound more grand than it really was - it was nothing more than a rest home for dusty Mario Lanza, Andy Williams and Perry Como albums. Frank Ifield was probably holed up in there somewhere as well - handcuffed to Tom Jones. But in amongst these middle of the road crooners and balladeers were a couple of scratchy 45s: Ramona  by The Bachelors (our next door neighbour was related to them apparently), Frankie Vaughan singing Tower of Strength and Can't Buy Me Love by The Beatles.

It was 1972 and when my dad upgraded to a state of the art radiogram I inherited a smart blue and white Dansette in my bedroom. Not knowing who he was, Frankie Vaughan got played once out of curiosity (alright, maybe twice), The Bachelors remained in their paper sleeve (my mother's friend was dull, surely her brother's singing group would be too?), but I played Can't Buy Me Love until the grooves were so shiny the stylus could barely find the grooves. And that's when I discovered something so wonderful, and obvious, it lives with me to this day: I flipped the disc over. I'd discovered B sides; more importantly - Beatles' B sides.

You Can't Do That[1] is still, I think, one of the most powerful songs Lennon and McCartney ever committed to vinyl. But, as I was soon to find out, that throwaway tune was only the tip of a very large iceberg: as good great as the hits were, dig deeper and hidden treasures could be found lurking on B sides, EPs and albums.

Time to take a ferry

I spent two weeks of my first seventeen summers in County Roscommon, Ireland. It was where my maternal grandma lived and, for a few of those years, my Uncle Andy and Auntie Stella lived with her. This period coincided with my awareness of John, Paul, George and Ringo - we're talking the summer of 1973. Only three years, I would later learn, since they'd broken up. Uncle Andy loved his music (he and Stella had been to see The Beatles when they'd lived in Manchester a number of years earlier) and was the owner of a rudimentary hi-fi system - the sort aimed at the music lover rather than the geeky audiophile.

From getting off the boat in Dublin to arriving at Grandma's house I'd been looking forward to a fortnight of generally doing nothing more than kicking a football around with the kids on Grandma's street interspersed with bouts of eating ice cream from Hessians[2] a few doors down. But as soon as I walked in the house and took a look through Andy's record collection I found, proudly sitting at the front, The Beatles 1962-1966. I opened the sleeve and found therein two records. Side 1 & side 2. And, side 3 & side 4; there never were such times. More than 20 Beatles songs. Looking at their titles on the sleeve, I'd only heard about five of them before.

I immediately put the needle on track 1 side 1. From the opening bars of  Love Me Do I was hooked. Continual knocks on the door from friends begging me to come out for a game of football were roundly ignored. I couldn't tear myself away from the turntable. From Nowhere Man to Norwegian Wood I'd never heard anything like it. Hell, I was even singing along to Yellow Submarine. Two weeks later and it was time to go. I didn't get much of a tan that year. Or the subsequent holidays spent at Grandma's. Upon arrival every subsequent year I would dig 62-66 out and play it to death. Interestingly I've never owned a copy of it, preferring as I did (and I still don't know why) to acquire a copy of the only compilation that came out while they were still together - Oldies but Goldies. I guess I knew that my copy of The Red Album (we can call it that now, can't we?) was being looked after across the Irish Sea.

I'm going back to Roscommon next summer - for the first time in nearly 40 years - I'm thinking of calling it the 1962-1966 tour.

So what happens next?

On a rainy day after school in the autumn of 1974 I went to Westmoreland's in the town with five one pound notes tucked away in the bottom of my pencil case. Like Bono many years later, I didn't know what I was looking for. I had enough to buy ten singles. Or two albums. Or five singles and one album. I was all glammed[3] up and didn't need any more Sweet, Slade or T Rex, and as soon as I saw The Beatles section my mind was made up. By this time I'd seen A Hard Day's night on telly[4] and was mesmerised as much by their appearance, their quips and their general gang mentality as I was by their music. And there they were, nestling back to back: I'd heard about these albums from older lads in the fifth form. If 62-66 was the dessert and coffee then Rubber Soul[5] and Revolver were the main course. I bagged them both. When you buy a pair of albums on the same day you play them as soon as you get in. And that's what I did - in constant rotation; it was as if I was playing a double album, such was the natural way one lead into the other; in fact I still struggle to namecheck which songs appeared on which album. Suffice it to say that tunes like And Your Bird Can Sing, She Said She Said and Tomorrow never knows lodged in my brain and have been there ever since.

But I digress. Even more important to me on my Beatles journey (I know, everyone's on a 'journey' these days)was the time I borrowed The White Album from Simon Greiner[6] at school. This was a proper double album. And not a compilation either. This had everything on it - quite clearly they'd thrown the kitchen sink at it and by god it made me lean in close and really listen (though by this time I'd discovered headphones). For reasons totally unconnected with the music my dad remembers this record: after borrowing it on the Friday c/w veiled threats as to what would happen to me if I didn't return it by the following Monday, I had to record it (two TDK DC90s) and copy all the words that came with it. That was the other thing - it came with lyric sheets. My brother had a Petite typewriter at the time so at 7 o'clock on Saturday morning with the rest of the house asleep I set about typing up all thirty songs on crisp A4 paper. It was tortuous. And it was loud. People forget how loud typewriters were. Less than ten minutes into my assignment the old man came running down the stairs: 'What the hell are you doing?' He probably added: 'Do you know what time it is?' I knew the answer to both these questions but my dad wasn't interested.'Look' he said 'There's a photocopier at work, I'll copy them on Monday.' I returned the album to my friend in two parts - vinyl on Monday, inserts on Tuesday. By the Wednesday I knew all the words by heart. Forty years later I still find myself singing Rocky Racoon in the shower.


Baby sitting

By 1975 I was practically living in record shops; though I couldn't actually afford many records (£1 a week pocket money didn't go far, my tape collection was now taking on biblical proportions) I was the proud owner of several ex-jukebox singles - the funny ones with no middles. Before the green reissues I was getting hold of all the early Parlophone singles at 30p a pop and doing my own Beatles compilation tapes. So it was only a matter of time until I discovered 67-70. Released in 1973 at the same time as The Red Album this later collection acted as the springboard for exploring Sgt. Pepper and beyond (for me Abbey Road and Let it Be would appear on my radar not long before I was hit by punk's new wave). Again, I never owned a vinyl copy of this album, it was a fixture of my regular babysitting gig next door. Bob and Barbara's copy would get the same treatment as my Uncle Andy's 62-66 as soon as the kiddy winks were in bed and I took up my clients' offer to 'help yourself to tea and coffee.'
I took my primitive ITT cassette deck and DIN leads 'round one night and burned a copy onto a ropey C120. Such was my hedonistic lifestyle at that time. Even the ubiquitous Ringo track was listenable; more listenable, certainly, than Macca's Ob La Di Ob La Da.

Red White and Blue: how to discover a band in three easy lessons. Unlike all the other stuff I was meant to be learning at the time, Newton's Laws of Gravity, The Periodic Table, Plate Tectonics, Latin and Algebra, it's only The Beatles 'knowledge' that remains. Apparently they run degree courses on The Beatles these days. That would have bolstered my meagre handful of 'O' Levels.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Andy Finnerty (1944-1988)

[1] You Can't Do That, She's a Woman and I'm Down: The Holy Trinity of Parlophone B sides.
[2] Hessians: a store owned by Cyril Hessian. They sold ice cream and bananas. And 2 star petrol from the lone Texaco pump out front.
[3] It was 1974 and I had joined the Teenage Rampage. But I was ready for a sit down.
[4] I recorded the audio from the film that night via my cassette recorder's hand held microphone propped up against the TV.
[5] Beatles completists will know this already, but, on The Red Album, Rubber Soul outgunned Revolver 6 tracks to 2.
[6] Simon Greiner aka The Michelin Man

Monday, 3 November 2014

Blue Red and Grey

The Who were once the loudest band in the world. It's official - check out The Guinness Book of World Records if you don't believe me. And, for what it's worth, I was there the night they turned the amps up to eleven.

Pete Townshend is paying for it now though. These days his hearing loss is so bad that Roger Daltrey can call him all the names under the sun and he can't a hear a bloody word. Here's some recent footage of him playing a delightful song from The Who By Numbers album. He'd written Blue Red and Grey with suicide uppermost in his mind and definitely didn't want the song put on the band's latest platter. Their producer, Glyn Johns, was having none of it and, with just a little bit of muted trumpet from John Entwistle as a backdrop for Townshend's ukelele and fragile vocal, it became the album's diamond in the rough.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods are a Nottingham minimalist duo who rap/rant/cuss in a distinct East Midlands dialect; imagine Alan Sillitoe with tourettes writing a modern day Saturday Night and Sunday Morning with a mobile phone in one hand, an E-Cig in the other whilst ordering a bottle of lager in a crowded pub.

I like them because:

1. Their lead singer Jason Williamson is, by his own admission, gobby: a must for any front man.
2. They're not embarrassed to put a 'z' in Notts.
3. They namecheck Doctor Feelgood and The Sex Pistols
4. They film music videos on the top deck of Nottingham buses.
5. They swear. An awful lot.

Her's a little film Quietus TV made about them and below is the splendid Tied up in Nottz:

Monday, 27 October 2014

Still with us

We've just come back from a most enjoyable few days away in Scotland. Walking out of a music bar in Dumfries on Wednesday night I noticed a framed photo of Frankie Miller - he probably played there a number of years earlier. And, much to my chagrin, I thought he'd passed away. But, of course, he hadn't; despite suffering a brain haemorage while working in New York in 1994 (he was in a coma for five months) Frankie continues his recovery on a daily basis.

Miller has written some cracking songs down the years, and has collaborated with and influenced countless musicians including Rod Stewart, Bob Seeger and Joe Walsh. He's probably remembered in this country for the 1976 hit single Darlin' but north of the border he's best known for turning Dougie MacLean's Caledonia into nothing short of a national anthem.

This footage captures Miller at the top of his game performing at Germany's Rockpalast and sporting his trademark Diddyman hat. He'll be celebrating his 65th birthday next week - many happy returns Frankie and welcome back to the land of the living.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Give him enough rope

Mike Read: bankrupt - financially, musically and politically. The former Radio 1 jock has, not surprisingly, given his previous dalliances with Margaret Thatcher and the Tories, jumped into bed with Nigel Farage while at the same time cooing bastardised calypsos in his ears. But not in a racist way, he alleges.

It would appear now that the entire cast of ex-Radio 1 DJs have pressed the self destruct button with Read being the latest to hit the red tops in a blaze of controversy. They'll be telling us next that Diddy David Hamilton has been holding Black Masses at Craven Cottage.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Rhyme crime

Those Spandau lyrics in full
Not for the first time a much lauded pop band from a decade in history that many would like to forget have succumbed to the lure of the lucrative reformation; and in so doing have, thanks to an ill conceived return with matching piss poor comeback single, undone all their previous back catalogue quicker than you can stifle a yawn. Step up Spandau Ballet; their new record will surely go down in the annals for the largest gathering of banal rhyming couplets ever found in captivity: where else would you find lines like these?

Couldn't buy more time
Couldn't even spin a dime
And then the world turned sublime

And

These streets were all I knew
Couldn't find a map to you
No one could tell me what to do

Or try these for size

I was working on a scheme
To build a one man team
Now I'm looking at a dream

Then tell Tony Hadley to sing it like a Bond theme, chuck in a tired sax solo, bring to the boil and voilà: classic Ballet.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Do you really think that's wise?

Left right, left right: John Le Measurier, Bill Nighy

The cast for the new Dad's Army movie was announced earlier this week. Tinkering with classics is always going to be fraught. Even when the original cast made the ubiquitous big screen version of their own TV show in 1971 it hardly set the world on fire. But this time, this time, it may just work. With big hitters like Bill Nighy, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Bill Paterson taking on the roles of Wilson, Jones, Godfrey and Frazer respectively, the project  certainly won't fail for lack of  talent. And hearing that it will all be shot on my doorstep*, almost literally, I'm warming to the idea more and more.

But it will be the script that makes it. Or indeed breaks it. It was an ensemble piece set during the war, but war was the very last thing it was about. It was about people. And people need natural scripts. If the writing is only half as good as that produced by David Croft and Jimmy Perry it will fly. If not, it will end up as soggy as the chips the U-Boat commander insisted on not having in that sketch.

* When the cast come to town they may well need to brush up on their pelican crossing etiquette:

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Underdog

David 'Jack' Horner bottom left
The word legend is bandied around so much in music these days that, if you were to believe the hype, anyone who played bass in a third division punk band on their instantly forgettable third album would automatically have the L word bestowed upon them. That or national treasure.

We went to this year's Scarborough Jazz Festival and in our digs, sitting at the table next to us at breakfast, was a man so omnipresent on the UK jazz scene during the sixties and much of the seventies that picking up an album in Ray's Jazz or Dobell's that didn't have him in the lineup would have been virtually impossible. Saxophonist and clarinetist David 'Jack' Horner played with the great and the good - Dick Morrissey, Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey, Tubby Hayes and Humphrey Lyttelton to name but a few.

But Jack never took centre stage. He was, and never will be, a legend. He was happy to stay in the shadows and prop up the midfield. An unsung hero. Some may even call him an underdog.

Underdog or not, I wasted no time in sidling up to his table and asking him to sign my napkin. He was a true gentleman and seemed more than happy to talk about the old days. Later that afternoon after watching a terrific session from Alan Barnes, a player very similar in style to Jack, we bumped into him and his latest wife (it turns out he's been married five times) on the terrace and they invited us over a for a pot of tea. A legend would never have done that.

Look carefully for the cat wearing the dark glasses in Tubby Hayes' Big Band in this clip from Ronnie Scott's filmed in 1970.