Thursday, January 27, 2011

Part 2a - I’m Ready Now So What The Heck…(cont.)

While I was writing my last blog post I needed to do some research into dates and came across a couple of websites that I wanted to let you know about.

Firstly which was where I discovered the dates I was looking for. If you're at all a fan of SLADE this is a great site packed with info.

In the Links section of was a link to What's all that about ? Well as Dave Kemp himself says:

"Slade. Noddy Holder, Dave Hill, Jim Lea and Don Powell. Between 1972 and 1986 they were the main focus of my life. I lived and breathed the band. In tribute I have created my own website about the happiest times in my life - 15 years following Slade.
This website therefore is really for my personal use. It's to act as my diary. It will sit in the past. It will be my personal memories of West Hampstead days and of all the fun, laughter and tears of following, who I consider, were Britain's greatest rock band - Slade."

So there I was rummaging through Dave's memories when to my absolute delight I found he had pictures taken at the two gigs I referred to in my last blog post. I hope Dave doesn't mind but there are links to them just underneath here. Enjoy ! I know I did...

Birmingham Hippodrome May 5th 1977

Birmingham Town Hall March 21st 1978

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Part 2 - I’m Ready Now So What The Heck…

As you may have surmised from the previous instalment of this tale, Glam Rock was the first “thing” I got into. Let’s face it, Glam Rock wasn’t really a “musical movement” it was just that the chart hits of the day featured be-glittered men in outrageous platform boots playing guitars and writing (or having written for them) great pop songs. Slade, T.Rex, The Sweet, Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band, Mud, (and of course Wizzard but that’s a little nepotistic) they were the bands that first captured the ears of this young fella. I would love to have listed Bowie and Mott The Hoople and Roxy Music there but I have to confess that at the time I think I found them a little strange, frightening even, and I didn’t really “get” them until later in life. But the reason I think Glam Rock appealed is for the exact same reason that music, of any sort, has appealed to me ever since; and the requirements are great big tunes, great big drum beats, guitars to front and centre, proper choruses you can shout or sing along to delivered by a great singer and you have to be able to dance to it. I discovered the dance-a-bility factor could be very important.

When I was around 11 or 12, one of my school friends was the son of a local licensee, and the pub where my friend lived had an upstairs function room. Myself and this friend (whom I recall was named Stephen) decided to put on afternoon “disco’s” for our school mates in this room, maybe at weekends, maybe in the summer holidays, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the lads and lasses in attendance sitting on opposite sides of the room, the lads skulking and shuffling about on one side not quite knowing what to do while the girls, all dressed up in their finest outfits, sat talking amongst themselves on the other, while Stephen was playing his way through records by the likes of The Stylistics, The Bee Gees and Gilbert O’Sullivan (probably).

When it came to my turn I thought we should rock a little more and so proceeded to spin my very small selection of Glam Rock discs. It may be wishful thinking on my part but I am almost certain the first thing I played was Wizzard’s “See My Baby Jive” (which would date this event to around the Spring of 1973 at the earliest) but what I am most certain of is that, almost as soon as the needle hit the record, our previously empty dance floor was now a packed morass of writhing pre-teenage groovers. This taught me some very important lessons, chiefly, the effect music can have on girls; girls like to dance; girls like boys that can dance. Now I’m not suggesting any of the boys were budding Michael Jackson’s (in fact most of them were probably doing that rather strange Glam Rock dance that me and my brother have been known to indulge in, when drunk. You can witness it in this Top Of The Pops performance by Mud, take note at 1 minute 25 seconds in) but those lads that did venture out on the floor were receiving admiring glances and gigglesome comment from the grooving girlies.

Over the next few months my musical tastes started to, well, not narrow, but become more partisan shall we say. The cause of this was a growing obsession (the first of many musical obsessions I might add) with the Black Country’s, nay, the country’s finest Glam Rockers, the mighty SLADE. The first evidence of this obsession came when I bought…AN ALBUM. The album in question was SLAYED, their 3rd studio album but their first as bona fide pop stars. It was home to the singles “Gudbuy T’ Jane” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. It had a great picture of them on the cover looking like some rough arsed gang of Glam boot boys and all sporting the word SLADE biro’d across their knuckles (I’m sure they were going for the gang-tattoo look but I was 12, I didn’t know what a tattoo was, but I did have easy access to biro’s). But this wasn’t the album that led me on to the next development in my musical journey. That was what I think was the next album I bought, SLADE ALIVE.

In 1971 SLADE had their first 2 hit singles, “Get Down And Get With It”, which reached number 16 in August, and “Coz I Luv You”, which became Slade’s first number 1 in November. SLADE ALIVE was released in March 1972 and was recorded before a specially invited audience of fans at the Command Theatre Studio to cash in on their 2 hits and so that the band’s increasingly talked about live show could be captured perfectly. SLADE were so confident in their live show that “Coz I Luv You”, their number 1 hit, isn’t even on the album.

For a single buying pop kid the album is a big progression. I knew what albums were about, a collection of songs that mostly were not singles, which were split between the 2 sides of the record with nice uniform silent gaps between the tracks. I owned SLAYED so I knew what to expect and my Dad had albums by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and others that demonstrated the same behaviour. But SLADE ALIVE was different. There were no uniform silent gaps between the songs, the band were talking, in fact everyone was talking, and shouting, and belching, and stomping, and clapping, and woooo-ing, in fact there was even a hint of someone bawling out swear words from the audience.

You’ll have read earlier about my previous gig near misses (The Kinks and Wizzard) and I hadn’t yet managed to attend a gig. I didn’t actually know what happened at a gig other than the band played their songs. I guess I had imagined everyone sitting down and listening politely then applauding at the end of each song and on to the next. So to hear the chaos that was happening (audience wise) on SLADE ALIVE was something of a surprise. It also convinced me that I needed to go to a gig. I’d immersed myself in singles, moved on up to albums and so surely seeing a band live was the next logical step.

Now it’s here that the timeline once more gets a little messed about with. The last few paragraphs events occurred over a period beginning somewhere in 1973 and winding up at their conclusion on 5th May 1977, the night I went to my first gig, that bit I’m sure of. The venue: Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre; The occasion: the 5th night of SLADE’s “Whatever Happened To Slade” UK Tour.

Details are hazy. The Hippodrome is now a newly refurbished shining home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet company. Back in 1977 it was a slightly frayed around the edges old Victorian theatre. My Dad had secured tickets and he, me, my brother and a school friend, and fellow SLADE fan, of mine known as Martin settled into pretty good seats I must say, in the stalls on the left side of the house probably a dozen rows back from the stage. The lights went down, I thought this was it, but the guys who walked out on stage weren’t SLADE. This was how I discovered support bands. This lot were called “Liar” and a review of the gig 2 days later in Manchester by one Paul Morley had this to say about them:

I was asleep when Liar came on. As the shrill thrusting boogie raked my eardrums and the vocalist sincerely grunted "I've been up and I've been down / I've been lost and I've been found" I was paralysed by the type of fear usually associated with dark alleys and filed teeth. Not, I shivered, trying to rip my eyes open, The goddam Steve Gibbons Band again.

"We are Liar," said the ever so butch frontman at the conclusion of their five-minute bullying and my eyes popped open in relief. Some relief . . . Believe this - Liar are a pale imitation of The Steve Gibbons Band, and actually play a song called 'Born to Rock'n'Roll'.

So I guess it’s not so much of a surprise that I don’t remember anything about them. However, during their set the gig experience was much as I had imagined it might be at one time, everyone sitting down and listening politely then applauding at the end of each song and on to the next, not like SLADE ALIVE at all. Liar finished their set, the lights came back up and I sat back expectantly awaiting the main event and thinking what a great view we would have when SLADE finally appeared. And after a while a series of somewhat shocking events occurred

The lights went down again, suddenly
Everyone in front of and around me simultaneously stood up, so I couldn’t see the stage, and expelled some sort of unintelligible primal roar, so I couldn’t hear much either.
What I thought was a small herd of elephants sounded like it was approaching rapidly from behind me down the aisle to my right.

And then most excitingly of all, SLADE launched into “Get On Up” at a volume I can only liken to that of standing between 2 of the engines on a Boeing 747 at take off, otherwise known as killingly loud.

I couldn’t see a bloody thing. Eventually my Dad got us all to stand on our seats and we could finally see SLADE as well as hear them. I don’t remember too many details of that night but I’ve done some research to help out. I’ve discovered they probably followed that opening song with “Be” from their then current album “Whatever Happened To Slade”; Dave Hill had shaved off his long hair and was now completely bald but still bouncing about like a madman; all around me people were punching the air and singing, no bellowing, at the top of their voices; Jimmy Lea was doing impossible back bends while playing and I thought any minute now he’s gonna fall over; it was loud, so loud my ears were literally ringing for days afterwards and I loved every bloody minute of it.

I can’t even begin to total up how many gigs I’ve been to since then. I’m sure I’ve been to better ones, bigger ones, I’ve been to gigs that I recall in more detail than that one but I’ve not been to a gig that meant more to me than that one at the time.

10 months later I saw Slade again,(21st March 1978 at Birmingham Town Hall supported by Little Acre whose bass player, trivia fans, was one John Bryant, also the DJ at a club in Dudley that was eventually named after him, JB’s) but by then my whole musical world had been flipped upside down, back again and given a good old fashioned kicking for good measure. Just 22 days after that first gig at The Hippodrome, a record was released that would ensure many things would never be the same again.

But that tale is for another installment

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Part 1 - Music Was My First Love…But It Won’t Be My Last

Music has been pretty much a constant in my life.

My two earliest memories are:

i. trying to protect my infant brother in his pram from a marauding bee that
had invaded the back room of our house in Aston, Birmingham

ii. hearing The Move’s “Blackberry Way” on the radio in that same house

Those two things occured somewhere between the ages of 31/2 and 6 years, given my brothers birthdate and the release date of “Blackberry Way”, even though they now feel like they may have happened at the same time, on the same day even. But my brain does strange things with time and still does to this day. It also means that I remember the 1960’s, which, as popular legend claims, could mean that I wasn’t there and those things never happened; hmmmm.

I tumbled into this world in December 1962, on the same day that NASA's Mariner 2 became the first spacecraft to fly by Venus, and the same day that American porn actress Ginger Lynn also took her first tumble on this earth. The winter that enveloped my birth is also known as the Big Freeze of 1963. According to the Central England Temperature record, which records temperatures back to 1659, it was the most severe winter since 1683-84 (oh, and apparently 1739-40 was a bit parky too, but not significantly so). My Mom tells of how there was still a foot of snow and ice on the ground in March 1963 and how I had to sleep in her bed from birth so that I didn’t freeze to death, 1960’s housing not yet having been commonly introduced to the concept of central heating, thanks Mom.

At the time of my birth my Dad’s occupation, as listed on my birth certificate, was musician. How cool is that ? I think my son’s birth certificate show’s me up as being either a shop assistant or unemployed (sorry son). My Dad was a drummer in dance bands. They played at weddings and parties and dances at Co-Op clubs and US military bases on the continent. So they had to know everything from a Viennese Waltz through to the pop hits of the day. Dad still proudly attests that on first hearing The Beatles his considered opinion was “they won’t last”.

Dad was a toolmaker by trade, apprenticed at Lucas in Birmingham, and grew up in a family where music was important. His Mother, my Nan, sang all the time and she and my Grandad encouraged their children to be musical. Dad chose the drums, his brother, Uncle Bill, studied the French Horn at the Birmingham School of Music and Dad’s sister, my Aunt Sandra, studied ballet and dance and became an actress.

Mom and Dad met on a blind date, decided they liked each other and, when Dad’s band got themselves a tour of the continent, they got married and sashayed off on tour until my arrival was foretold (returning with great tales about having digs in a French Bordello). Again, how cool is that ? It does however leave open the possibility that I was very nearly born French; that was a close one.

So, as is becoming evident, my pre, and early formative years were very musical, maybe holding portents of things to come. I even have musical regrets from those very early years. I recently discovered that on a family holiday to Skegness I was left with the holiday camp babysitters while Mom and Dad went off to see the house band in the camp social club that week; THE KINKS ! I could have been the coolest kid in class during the “what I did on my holidays” reports when we went back after the summer holidays:

Teacher: “And what did you do on your holidays Michael”
Michael: “We went to the beach and went paddling and built sandcastles Miss”
Teacher: “And what did you do on your holidays Jenny”
Jenny: “We played catch and I ate so much ice cream I was sick Miss”
Teacher: “And what did you do on your holidays Russell”
Me: “I went to a club to see The Kinks, Miss”

So close but so far.

My parents pulled a similar trick a few years later. By the time I had reached the age of 10 my Dad had got a full time job as a trade union official and the whole family had upped sticks and re-located to Derby. By this time my Uncle Bill (remember him from earlier on, French Horn, Birmingham School of Music ?) had taken to playing keyboards and joined a popular Birmingham beat combo known as Wizzard. Now I know from more recent experience that although Wizzard had a single in the charts they were obviously touring on a tight budget as one morning when my brother and I came down to have breakfast before going to school, a bunch of large hairy men had appeared in sleeping bags on our living room floor. No hurling TV’s out of the window at the Derby Holiday Inn for these popsters.

It became apparent over Rice Crispies (it may have been an alternative breakfast cereal but snap, crackle and pop will suffice at this point) that there had been an event the previous evening (one that I now know of as “a gig”) and myself and my brother had missed out on the opportunity of attending our first pop concert. To this day my brother cites this breakfast meeting with hairy muso’s as being key in his deciding at a startlingly young age that he didn’t fancy a proper job when he grew up but wanted to be a musician and spend his life waking up on metaphorical living room floors.

My first gig was still a few years off (5 of the devilling things to be more precise. We’ll get to that soon enough). First was the excitement of singles.

The first single I owned, as I had recalled, was bought for me, by whom I now know not. It was Dion’s re-released chart hit from 1961 “The Wanderer”. But…I think we have encountered another of those instances of my brain doing strange things with time, as, on investigating a little further, that particular record was a UK hit in 1976. Now I definitely remember buying my first single. It was the mighty Slade’s epic glam rock howl “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” which was a number 1 hit in July of 1973. Much cooler as a first single than Dion I think you’ll agree.

Now here I was going to write a section about the magical properties singles held for me over many years; how their release and purchase at times consumed a young man’s every waking thought; how collecting enormous numbers of them seemed the most important thing in the world; how some singles evoke memories both happy, sad even traumatic; but another of those instances of my brain doing strange things with time interrupts me.

My first traumatic experience with a single happened while we were still living in Derby. I had purchased a copy of the T.Rex coupling of “Solid Gold Easy Action” and “Born To Boogie”. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, the purchase of a new record of any kind was a very exciting thing. Between shop and home you had the time to take in everything about it apart from how it sounded. How it looked, how it smelled, what was written on the sleeve, the labels and scratched into the run-out groove (would it be a “Porky Prime Cut”*** or would something else be etched on that groove ?).

*** George "Porky" Peckham is a British record cutting engineer. His master discs, and the records pressed from them, are known as "Porky Prime Cuts" and often bear the epithet "A Porky Prime Cut" etched into the run-out groove.

So there was I, walking home with my newly purchased slice of glam rock, taking it all in. It was on T.Rex’s Wax Co. label, housed in one of those deep blue paper sleeves with T.Rex written across the top in vivid red lettering and a 2 tone, red and blue, image of Marc Bolan staring out at you from the bottom right corner. On the label itself, the same deep shade of blue, was again written the red lettered logo of T.Rex next to another image of Marc Bolan staring out from the disc and, as I drank all this in, the way I was holding the record caused it to slip from the sleeve, bounce gently on the ground and slide a few feet along the gravelly, tarmacadamed pavement before it came to a skidding halt a few feet in front of me.

One side of the record was, of course, scratched and gouged beyond salvation and this could explain why, even now, “Born To Boogie” is one of my favourite T.Rex songs (with or without Bolan’s Christmas message to fans wishing us a “super funk Christmas”). That was the side that survived and got played to death.

So why” I hear you enquire “is this another example of your brain doing strange things with time” ? Well; the “Solid Gold Easy Action”/“Born To Boogie” coupling was released in December 1972, a full 6 months before Slade’s “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me”. So I tell you what, I’m going to ask you to agree that my T.Rex purchase was made from one of those bargain boxes sometime after the original release and that way, I can say that the first record I bought was the one I want it to be (Hey! This is my story, if you don’t like it go write yer own).

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


It's not so long ago that my lists of new albums purchased during a year would be around 20-25 a year. In 2008 it was down to 16, in 2009 14 and in 2010 ? Just 9 (and one of those I could only find 1 track*** on the album I liked). I think that says something doesn't it?

So the question is do I choose a top 5 from the year or list all 8 ? Ahhh hell, let's go with all 8.

The Universal - The Universal

OK this one is something of an acquired taste of mine. I've seen The Universal live twice now and they never disappoint. But if you're looking for something totally original, something you've never heard before, then this may be the wrong place to look. Their sound is VERY Small Faces/Paul Weller, to the point where people regularly ask "is this Weller ?" when I play it. But it's like Weller when he still had some fire in his belly and it sounds great to me.

Paul Weller - Wake Up the Nation

Speaking of the Modfather...ya know I don't really like this album. There are 2 reasons why it's here; 1) it would be an even shorter list without it and 2) "No Tears To Cry" is one of Weller's best ever songs. I loved the video's that appeared on YouTube from this albums tour featuring Bruce Foxton playing with Weller at The Royal Albert Hall, it's been a long time since I've heard that sound, but honestly, this album did pretty much nothing for me. It sounded like a bunch of half finished ideas.

Natalie Merchant - Leave Your Sleep

I would have first encountered the joys of Natalie Merchant's beautiful voice in 1989 when she was still a member of 10,000 Maniacs. If you don't know them may I suggest you avail yourself of a copy of their 1987 album "In My Tribe". I have to admit to have not taken a lot of interest in her solo stuff. This was offered to me by a journalist friend after he was sent it as a review copy. It's an interesting record, not a classic, but it is thrilling to know that that voice can still leave you speechless.

Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent

I've never been a huge Killing Joke fan. We have crossed paths many times over the years and I've enjoyed those occasions, especially the live experiences, they can be one of the most devastating live bands. Earlier this year some people whose musical tastes I generally respect really began talking this record up in posts on Facebook so I bought it. First time through I really didn't think it was anything special but on repeated listenings I've begun to like it a lot.

Johnny Barlow - The Fosse Way

Introducing you to Johnny Barlow, guitarist, singer and soul brother in the Liverpool phenomenon that is Amsterdam. Last year saw him striking out alone and releasing this, his first (?) solo album. What does it sound like ? Well you can tell he's a scouser ;-) but overall it puts me in mind of Ronnie Laine's stuff with Slim Chance. Very much worthy of your attention and you can get yerselves a copy and have a little listen here

The Divine Comedy - Bang Goes The Knighthood

I occasionally get obsessive about an artist and have to go and get everything. 4-5 years ago it was the Drive-By Truckers, a couple of years ago it was Nick Cave (& The Bad Seeds) and this year it was The Divine Comedy. My friend Brian asked me if I'd heard this album when we were having a beer (or two) in a very sunny Belfast earlier this year. I hadn't, so I rectified that. I already was a fan of their/his (The Divine Comedy is after all just Neil Hannon) album "Casanova" and my liking this prompted me to spend the rest of the year acquiring for myself all of the other Divine Comedy albums I didn't have (that was another 9 in all). For those that don't know this sits somewhere around the 60's Bowie, Scott Walker, British Music Hall area, great songs with intelligent lyrics and all delivered with a Wodehouse-esque sense of humour. "A Secret History: The Best of the Divine Comedy" would be a good place for the beginner to start.

Dirty Ray - Big World For A Little Man

Well after all that pussyfooting around, here it is, the one genuinely GREAT album of 2010. Dirty Ray, formerley know as Kevin Weatherall of The Immaculate Fools. They had one hit single in the UK in 1985 and then got kinda lost in the wake of The Waterboys/U2/Psychedelic Furs et al. Ray went solo, had quite a lot of success in Spain and earlier this year bestowed this magnificent thing on an undeserving world. Songs crafted in a one man one guitar setting have been expanded upon in places and left as they are in others, but all are magnificent. "Cherry Tree", "Bury Me Standing", "Devil's Dream" and the simply stunning "Rain Song" are highlights but it's unfair to separate them from the other songs on this album. The sound ? An English Seasick Steve with a nod to Spanish Flamenco guitar and Tom Waits would be a fair but very simplistic summary. You can buy it here, go on, you know you want to...

So that was 2010...2011 has started badly (goodbye Pete Postlethwaite, Gerry Rafferty and Mick Karn)'s gonna be a tough ride this year kids, good luck !

***"Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent" by Besnard Lakes from the album "The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night"