Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rock plaques; where and when?

It’s encouraging to see a number of new plaques appearing on some of London’s rock heritage sites; most recent additions have included one in Hanwell on the site of Jim Marshall’s (Marshall Amps) first shop, and one commemorating George and John on the old Apple boutique building in Baker Street. Like London buses, you wait ages for one to come along and then three do in quick succession! It begs the question what should plaques commemorate, and should there be some criteria underpinning their use. Currently, we have four types of plaque; the ‘official’ English Heritage on, those placed by the charity The Heritage Foundation, those mounted by the local Westminster or Camden Councils and a few private ones. Only the first demand a strict criteria; the commemorated must have been dead 25-years, have contributed something significant to their art, and have a good chance of being remembered. There are just two rock ones in London, one for Hendrix the other Lennon. They don’t always get it right. ‘Who was that; never heard of him’ is an oft heard cry from Londoners and tourists alike as they read the inscription on a Blue plaque’. The mould was broken last year with the black plaque for Ziggy Stardust, a fictional character. But why do they have to be dead? Why can’t we commemorate more places of significance, as the Marshall plaque does? It’d be good to see a plaque on Alexandria Palace commemorating the famed ’14 Hour Technicolour Dream’ hippy festival of 1967 for example. Or one on Green Street, Mayfair, on the only flat where all four Beatles lived together. One that cries out for commemoration, especially since the redeveloper vandals have even removed the iconic name sign from the front of the building, is Olympic Studios in Barnes. Any more suggestions?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

West London: Cradle of Rock

How is it that thousands of rock fans will beat a path to Liverpool, yet the ‘Cradle of Rock’ – London’s Acton-Ealing/Richmond/Hanwell triangle – remains a rarely visited backwater, discovered only by the most ardent of fans? I guess the answer is obvious; The Beatles. Yet, even Beatle history is writ large around west London. West London’s roll call of fame includes The Rolling Stones; The Who; Deep Purple; Queen, and more recently the Magic Numbers, Lily Allen and Jamiroquai. Yes, we know about Liverpool’s Cavern but where would rock be without the Crawdaddy, The Ealing Blues, Club, Eelpie Island or The Goldhawk Club? A quick search of rock bios finds a host of artists associated with these boroughs; Dusty Springfield grew up here, as did Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie, Hendrix’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell, Rick Wakeman, and all of the Who; Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott died at his home in the area. There are sites connected with Zep, Uriah Heep and a host of other grerat acts. Even now the borough boats its share of famed resindents including members of Iron Mai
den and the Manic Street Preachers. Perhaps one reason why it remains comparatively unknown is the absence of local marketing. It’s the old problem; no one of political importance considers rock heritage to be worth preserving or promoting. Well, thankfully, there’ll soon be another commemorative wall plaque to add to the one for the Ealing Blues Club and at Ace Cafe; the site of Jim Marshall’s shop – birthplace of Marshall Amps – is to get one on April 6th this year. And Beatle sites in the area? Well-known scenes from both films were shot in and around Richmond, and the world’s first-ever promo film for ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Rain’ was shot at nearby Chiswick House (see photo). The ‘cradle or rock’ is certainly worth a visit!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Special Xmas Gigs

Meeting up on tour this week with several German visitors over for the annual Christmas Quofest, led me to ponder the whole topic of the traditional Christmas gig. Given there's still time to attend a future Quofest, which other past one would I like to have been at given the chance to board that rock time machine … Undoubtedly, being at one of the Beatle fan clubs shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in ’64 or ’65 would be high on the list – though they were actually held just after Xmas. Queen also performed a couple of special shows at the Odeon in the mid-70s that were apparently memorable ( The Who offered their fans a choice of three nights at the Odeon in 75 as ‘A Xmas Present from the ‘orrible ‘oo’. But I'd not be choosing from the Odeon gigs alone. There was the famed ‘Christmas on Earth’ gig at the Olympia ’67; Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Traffic, The Move; now that has some appeal … I’ll also wager there were some memorable Christmas parties at the Marquee, UFO and Roundhouse in those halcyon 60’s and early ’70, too. Melody Maker journo and London rock tour friend, Chris Welsh, could probably remember a few of those for us. But my Xmas Number No.1 gig? No argument; the one I’d have loved to have been at was the 'Xmas Party at the Patti Pavilion’, Swansea, 1972, thrown by Welsh rockers, Man, with the incomparable Dave Edmunds.
There’s a great live album of this available but surely no real substitute for being there. Not London, I appreciate, but Wales produces some great rock too! Happy Christmas, or as they say in Wales, Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd dda!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Master of Abbey Road

Top on the ‘dream list’ of probably every Beatle fan is a visit to the actual studio at Abbey Road where most of the magic was created (about 90% of their output). Perhaps unsurprisingly, EMI doesn’t encourage fans to get closer than the (sometime) white wall these days. However, there are two ways in… The studio offers a very narrow window of opportunity over two, three-day periods in March. For £80 a person you get to hear presentations by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan (authors of the critically acclaimed, definitive book ‘Recording the Beatles’), tour Studio 2 itself, see how mixing is done and view equipment and instruments used by the Fab Four. Tickets are available through There’s another alternative; hire the facilities! Full session hire would be enormously expensive but as Coelho, member of popular Brazilian band "Biquini Cavadão". (and friend of London Rock Tours) discovered recently, completing a final mastering there doesn’t cost much more than a couple of tickets for the ‘Inside Abbey Road’ tours. What’s more, like Coelho, you get to take a piece of vinyl home with you and your next single can boast ‘mixed at Abbey Road’ on the label!
Coelho is pictured here with a copy of an acoustic version of the single "Entre beijos e mais beijos" from the album "Roda-Gigante", using the same facilities as were used on several Beatle productions.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Capital Covered

Continuing the quest for album covers that feature London locations as part of the cover art, I stumble upon another rarely photographed site - at least when used for rock'n'roll; Olympia Grand Hall. It's often forgotten that Olympia was at one time a major rock venue. With a capacity of around ten thousand it was a favoured venue for indoor 'festivals' vying for business against the similarly-sized Ally Pally on the other side of the city. In the late 60s and early 70s it hosted some amazing line-ups including, topically, an all day and night event on 22 December 1967. 'Xmas on Earth' featured The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd with Syd, Traffic, The Move, Soft Machine, Tomorrow and Eric Burdon & The New Animals. Oh, for a time-machine! By 1975 it, and rock, was well established and Olympia was the venue for the Great British Music Festival. The line-up for this 4-day event included Procul Harum, Bad Company, Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and Pretty Things, along with the less well-remembered SNAFU, Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance and John Miles. Not bad at £3.50 for a day.
The Chemical Brothers 'Surrender' album captures a moment in time at the Olympia. Fans sit 'groovin' in the great hall while in the foreground a lone 'idiot dancer' does his own, probably chemically induced, 'thing'. You can see why the shot was chosen. It is rumoured, by the way, that somewhere there's film of the Xmas on Earth gig; now finding that would be a Christmas present to remember!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Stones Fanatics!

When it comes to musical likes and dislikes, there are fans, there are followers and there are fanatics. I think I have just met a fanatic! And I write this in a week where London has been full of near-fanatical fans celebrating the Rolling Stones '50 Years and Counting' concerts. So what is it that makes a fanatic? Owning copies of a band's music in every format (including downloads) might be one sign. Possessing a library of books either by or about the object of their fanaticism would be another. Having a wardrobe full of branded tour shirts or jackets, to the exclusion of more normal clobber, a definite sign. But how about having seen your favourite band two hundred and four times? Yes, you read it correctly; 204 … Well in my estimation, that is what qualifies
Stones Japanese fan club organiser, Yuji Ikeda, as a true fanatic. When he told me this amazing stat while on a Stones history tour this week I didn't even bother to enquire about his wardrobe, library or music collection... you kinda know what the answer will be. We had a great tour, by the way, with a bus full of Japanese specially over for the shows. And I'd hope a highlight for Yuji might have been showing him a couple of Jagger's houses that his fanaticism must have helped Sir Mick buy!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Speaking of the 'Speakeasy' ...

Information that ends up as part of the London rock tour itinerary can come from some of the unlikeliest of places! Swindon Arts Centre for example. For readers not aware of the UK's geography, the town is about 120 miles west of London; not high on the list of 'must see' towns unless you have an interest in railway history. One great attraction last week, however, was an appearance there of Andy Fairweather Low and his 'Low Riders'. Welshman Fairweather Low is one of those characters in rock whose name should be familiar to all and whose performances set in large concert venue but, inexplicably, he plays gigs like 200-seat arts centres in provincial towns. Why should his name be familar? Older rock fans will remember the great 60s pop/soul band, Amen Corner; Fairweather Low was lead singer on hits 'Bend Me Shape Me', 'If Paradise is Half as Nice' etc. He then went on to the eponymous 'Fairweather' with one hit 'Natural Born Sinner'. Then a couple of mid-70s hits as a solo performer, most memorably, 'Wide-eyed and Legless'. So far so good but there's so much more; there followed twenty-four years with Roger Waters; membership of George Harrison's band; twelve-years with Eric Clapton, including musical director on the seminal 'Clapton Unplugged'. The musician's musican. If you were not familiar with the Fairweather Low name before then you must now wonder why! One possible theory is that he's a generous and unassuming man; no 'rock star' persona, never falling for the great 'I am' role, always crediting others where due (including current band members)and understating his own amazing credentials. As this is not a 'review' blog, we'll leave the concert report to simple tweet length; 'intimate, first class night featuring an eclectic mix of blues, soul, pop and sentimentalism from a really personably man in complete command of his instrument, and showing great respect to his unaccountably small but loyal following'. But back to the reason for the blog; the discovery of new London rock tour information. Having a post-concert chat with Fairweather Low, he volunteered the fact that the photograph on Amen Corner's first album cover was taken inside the fabled Margaret Street 'Speakeasy Club'. It's so
rare to discover any photograph of a band actually playing at the 'Speak' that this fact alone will ensure that anyone taking a London rock tour will be hearing more of Fairweather Low!