Friday, December 31, 2010

Another year's over ...

The year passes. Amongst the greats bowing out from Rock’n’Roll over this last year have been the irreplaceable irreplaceable Malcolm McLaren, heavy-metal heavyweight Ronnie James Dio, the great Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and Micky Jones (Man). We lost the remarkable Ari Up of The Slits. It was a terrible year for drummers with Rubén Basoalto (Argentine legends Vox Dei), Richie Hayward (Little Feat)and Stuart Cable (Stereophonics. From the wider world of music, shuffling off their mortal coil were reggae star Gregory Isaacs, soul-men Solomon Burke and Martin Isley, blues guitarist Little Smokey Smothers, Boney M's Bobby Farrell, jazz legend Sir John Dankworth, Lena Horne and folk’s Kate McGarrigle.

All gone. But not forgotten thanks to their recorded legacy. But if we are not careful, we lose not only the musicians but the world that was their stage; studios, stages and other monumental landmarks.

The challenge, though, is how to ensure that when part of rock’s built heritage dies it is remembered. Should the 100 Club lose its fight against closure what sort of memory (other then the ethereal) will it leave? Within a few 100 yards of the 100 Club once stood The UFO, the Astoria and countless Soho clubs. There’s not a even a gravestone (plaque) to mark their passing. And what about the loss of the great Olympic Studios? Bloody scandalous.

Thankfully, we occasionally get good news; a heritage site is protected. Well done to those who campaigned earlier this year to save EMI’s Abbey Road Studios. And most recently to Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s current Secretary of State for Culture, who has given the famed Abbey Road pedestrian crossing a ‘listing’ – meaning it cannot be moved.

Alas, this time next year we shall again be remembering a list of greats whose legacy will be their music. It would be fantastic to also celebrating the preservation of a few more rock heritage sites. And maybe even celebrating a new commemorative statue or two.

Happy New Year and have a great 2011.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's Christmas time ....

It's Christmas. Be happy!

Yes, it can be difficult. It's not just the indignity of having to buy Simon Cowell's latest XFactor confection for your too-young-to-be-discriminating niece, but having to listen to those perennial bloody Christmas hits. I like Slade but no, I don't wish it could be Xmas every day. Somebody on the BBC must have been taking the proverbial to have scheduled Chris Rea's 'Driving Home this Christmas' on the day we had the biggest, traffic-clogging, flight-stopping, Eurostar-derailing snow storm in recorded history. AC/DC's Highway to Hell would have been somewhat more appropriate. And, sorry, Bowie, but I simply can't hear you and Bing Crosby eulogising about the Little friggin' Drummer Boy one more time... But this year's winner of the 'arrgh no! I'm an atheist, get me out of here..!' competition, and one that sent me personally screaming into the cold winter's night, was Cliff Richard's 'Mistletoe and Wine' snuck in-between 'Come All Ye Faithful' and 'Hark the Herald Angles Sing' at our local school's annual Christmas carol concert this year!

Thank Heaven Gary Glitter is still disgraced ; at least we're spared 'Another Rock 'N' Roll Christmas'.

Oh go on then, I'll admit it; it isn't all 'bah, humbug'. Elvis doing 'It'll be Lonely this Christmas Without You' can still send a Christmas shiver down my spine. And it's literally the one time a year I spin James Brown's very worthy Christmas album.

Christmas morning might bring a bit of cheer, too. I've asked Santa for Keith Richard's autobiography, and an autographed Beatles' album (and if I get the latter, I'll start believing in Santa...).

But, seriously for a moment, let's not forget there are people out there who don't know it's Christmas, and as 'it (still) doesn't snow in Africa' Band Aid's lyric is still as relevant today as it was 26 years ago. Spread a bit of festive cheer where you can.

Finally, we've a special Christmas competition for you with compilation CDs and a copy of Dave Bedford''s excellent 'Liddypool' as prizes. To enter you must post your answer as a comment to the blog. Question 1: what did Dora Bryan want for Christmas in 1963? We'll draw the winners from all entrants received by January 15th.

Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Macca v The Pretty Things

Undoubtedly the nearest thing to rock gold dust this week was a ticket to see McCartney's Friday lunchtime gig at the endangered 100 Club. Of course, it was mission impossible trying to get your hands on one of the 300 tickets available for what must be the smallest show Macca has played in a long while. There was almost no advance notice; a note posted just a couple of days back on the 100 Club website informed surfers that tickets would be on sale at 10.00 on Thursday. Yeh, right. Good chance of getting one then... if chance somehow allows one to beat the zillions of others simultaneously trying to log on at 10.00. I can now add this failure to be one of the chosen few to my failed attempts at getting to Cream's 2005 reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and Led Zeps 2007 appearance at the O2.

Now there was potentially worse to follow; a kind of potential 'salt in the wound' situation. Several weeks ago I'd actually bought tickets for the 100 Club, and ironically for a gig on the same night that Macca played his lunchtime show. Imagine, descending the stairs to the club knowing that just a few hours earlier Macca had walked those same treads...

Thanks, however, to a blinding performance by the legendary Pretty Things, further disappointment was not forthcoming. It made me somewhat reflective though, not just on the random nature of chance in obtaining 'chicken teeth' tickets, but also on the chance element that underpins rock success itself.

Here, just a few short hours after the world's most famed living rocker graced the stage, two other guys who have been around for just as long, took control of it. It could almost have been a case of 'from the sublime to the ridiculous' but the only aspect of the Pretty Things that could be called ridiculous is their lack of real, lasting success. While still enormously popular with those 'in the know', I doubt they'd ever be the cause of a web site crashing under the weight of ticket applicants.

They had their brushes with fame and were 'contenders', both as one of the original R&B bands (current band member, Dick Taylor, can claim to have virtually been an early Rolling Stone), and through a string of late 60s/early 70s progressive albums. But they never quite cracked the ‘big time’, or stepped up from the festival circuit, concert hall and student union to the stadium. It was down to chance, not ability. Their seminal album S.F. Sorrow is widely recognised as being the first concept album released, paving the way for the Who's Tommy and others. Albums like Parachute and Silk Torpedo stand the test of time and ought to be in any self-respecting rock fan's collection.

The band, like many who still perform under an original 60s 'brand' name, comprise a couple of original members, backed up by younger unknowns. Phil May, the 'face' (and hair) of the many Pretty Things line-ups, takes on lead vocals, while Dick Taylor illustrates where over 50 years of practice of playing lead guitar gets you. I'm sorry to say that the other members of the band must remain 'unknown' as I didn't get their names. Together though they delivered what the handbill promised, 'maximum R&B'! And in one of London’s most historic venues.

So, what could have been a real downer, supping pints where Macca just supped (and maybe from the same glass...) actually turned out to be a memorable blast. Macca was playing to draw attention to the fact that the 100 Club's existence is endangered by a hike in their rent; the Pretty Things, in all their historic glory, simply showed why a club like this must survive.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rock Statues

If you're not a football fan and have no knowledge of the late, great Sir Stanley Matthews, or equally the name 'Wedgewood' doesn't instantly evoke the industrial revolution or unique blue and white china pottery, you will be forgiven for not knowing of this fine (and illustrious) English town. In truth, its contemporary music connections have never really meant it featured high on the on the rock'n'roll map.

But, thanks to the (almost unimaginably) far sighted burghers of this relatively small town, its position on the rock heritage trail is about to be cemented (perhaps quite literally!).

Go on then, trivia-quiz, who are the rock son's of Stoke? Give up? How about Robbie Williams... and Slash... and, wait for it... Lemmy! Usually towns wait until the death of a famed son until he's remembered in stone or bronze, but seemingly not Stoke. No, such is the distinguished career of the grizzled one, Ian Kilmister, a.k.a. Lemmy, that he is be memorialised while still living. Slightly bizarre this may be, but definitely welcome.

My friend, Graham, tells the great story of Lemmy climbing into the lighting rigging at Manchester Electric Circus while he was doing the lights there in the late 70s. Lemmy, apparently well out of it (no, surely some mistake...), bent his ears for several hours with repetition of the line 'they can't sack me from Hawkwind... it's my band... anyway, I slept with all their wives. The bastards...'.

Stoke like honouring their sons; Stan Matthews already stands proud outside the local footie stadium, as does Josiah Wedgewood in another part of town. Why should not Motorhead's Lemmy join them? And indeed why wait until mortality does catch up with this death-defying, icon of heavy metal excess?

Who else in rock has the honour of a statue? Buddy Holly in Lubbock; Elvis in Memphis; Freddie Mercury in Montreux; Phil Lynott in Dublin (see photo); Lennon in Liverpool; Stevie Ray Vaughan in Austin; Brian Jones in Cheltenham; Bob Marley in Kingston; Hendrix in Seatle; Johnny Ramone at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Forever Cemetery; Bon Scott in Fremantle; and Zappa has two, one in Vilinus, the other in Baltimore. Jerry Garcia is supposedly to get one in Fairfax, CA. And soul stars, Otis, James Brown and Ray Charles have also been 'erected'. There's the 'annonymous'rock star posed in Xi Dan Shopping District in Beijing, China.

Does anyone know of others? Sculptress, Laura Lian, has been trying to get support for another of Lennon in NYC but I don't think the project has come to fruition. I think the local Cambridge council vetoed a statue of Syd Barret. Shame on them.

And who else should be thus immortalised? Keith Moon? George Harrison? Jim Morrison could have his bust returned to Paris Père Lachaise Cemetery for his 30th anniversary. Surely Townes Van Zandt deserves one? As does Janis Joplin.

Of course, in these financially-challenging times, perhaps we should be content with a body part, if not running to the life-sized figure; Jerry Garcia's hand (even to the missing half-finger) has bizarrely been immortalised in bronze in Santa Barbara. Now there's a thought... maybe there's a new role for ‘plastercast’ Susie, or perhaps this is what the burghers of Stoke are anyway planning for Lemmy!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2011 Anniversaries

While it's not quite as big a year of anniversaries as 2010 was, 2011 nevertheless marks at least three major commemorations.

The first definitely falls into the 'welcome' category! It will be 40-years since the formation of royal rockers, Queen! Being old enough to remember their beginnings, I can recall that critics generally didn't think much of them at the time. I'd lay odds that not too may people actually bought the debut 'Queen' when it first came out. Their longevity has confounded the critics, that's for sure. Of course, the tragedy is that Freddie didn't live as long as the band, and in truth, there'll be some who say 'it's not really Queen' without Freddie.

Whit is remarkable is the number of new younger fans the classic band are winning. The success of the 'We Will Rock You' show is both the cause and the mark of this continued popularity. One event sticks out in my mind from this last year's tours; I was guiding a party of 40 French students on a morning tour. Visiting Freddie's Logan Place home was a highlight for them, but for me it was 40 young voices beating out 'We Will, we will rock you, rock you' on the coach seats!

Two other anniversaries fall into the 'not-so-welcome' category. July 1971 saw the death of Jim Morrison in Paris. May 1981 saw the death of Bob Marley in Miami. Two great losses to rock'n'roll. Whose death had the greatest impact, I wonder? Marley's legacy is probably the stronger, and his influence felt over a much wider global audience than Morrison’s. But Morrison continues to inspire and the Doors music remains uniquely iconic.

London was important in the history of both Queen and Bob Marley, and the city has myriad sites and locations that tell their particular stories of the bands. The Doors only played London once, at the Roundhouse. It's Paris that is particularly associated with Morrison thanks to his death and burial there.

We'll be running special commemorative Queen and Bob Marley tours in London throughout the year, and we'll have a 'one-off' weekend in Paris to honour and commemorate Jim Morrison.

If there are any other significant anniversaries we've missed, please let us know. Otherwise, it's counting down to 2012 and two of the biggest anniversaries; the 50th birthdays of both the Beatles and Rolling Stones!

Friday, November 26, 2010

There’s good news, and there’s bad news …

On the good news front is the ever-increasing number of plaques and memorials commemorating rock landmarks that are appearing in London. However, counter-balancing this is the ever-existing threat of closure of other equally important sites, or worse, their possible destruction.

October was an exceptional month. Not only did Lennon finally get recognition (see my last post), but Beatles manager, Brian Epstein has his name attached to a wall. Interestingly, the site chosen was in Monmouth Street, on the edge of Covent Garden. While this was undoubtedly an important place in Brian’s career, with it being NEMS first London office, there are several other buildings that arguably deserved association with him. There’s Chapel Street for example, where he died. Or perhaps Sutherland House, another former office of Brian Epstein’s NEMS organisation, where John Lennon made his famous remark in 1966 that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”. Presumably, it’s all determined who is willing to have a plaque on their frontage.

There aren’t many interiors that celebrate their rock heritage so the new room that the Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill has dedicate to its Kinks history is to be applauded. This pub, standing literally opposite the Davies brother’s Demark Terrace home, was the site of the first performance by the band that was later to find fame as the Kinks. The pub owners have turned their large front room into a virtual shrine for the band, decorating it with press cuttings, photos and album covers. Apparently, the last owners were given some original memorabilia by Ray but it disappeared when the pub changed hands. Unfortunately, and understandably, Ray is unlikely to be as generous with his own heritage again.

Now to the bad news… this year we have already lost the great Olympic Studios in Barnes now the 100 Club is under threat. If it was to go, it’s not only heritage we’d lose but one of London’s current great venues. Standing eponymously on Oxford Street, the 100 Club has seen everyone from the Stones and Who through the Sex Pistols and Clash to Oasis on stage. In fact, it was one of the original launch pads of punk, hosting an infamous festival here in 1976. A night out here is truly a trip down the time tunnel as you descend the stairs to a beer-soaked, sticky-carpeted basement. It needs your support if its not to close: It'll definitely have mine of December 17 for The Pretty Things, and probably again late in the month for Wilco Jonhson (ex Dr Feelgood). What a great way to end the year!

Friday, November 19, 2010


It has been a long time coming but at last John Lennon has a commemorative 'Blue Plaque' on a London building. It was fittingly unveiled by Yoko Ono in October on the first home that she and John shared as a couple; 34 Montague Square.

The actual wording on the plaques certainly doesn't tell the full story of this monumental landmark. The ground floor and basement of this lovely central London Georgian period building had its first rock'n'roll resident in the shape of Ringo Star. There's a great photo of Paul and Ringo taken outside on their way to collect their MBEs. When Ringo decided to move out to the country, Jimi Hendrix and manager, ex-Animals bassist, Chas Chandler moved in, with their respective ladies.

Jimi was reputedly not the ideal tenant, as we heard from Jeff Dexter, who spent many an evening with Jimi there, at our recent Hendrix Commemorative weekend. It was while living there that Jimi wrote 'The Wind Cries Mary'.

Anyway, Jimi's exit led to John's Liverpool-based mother-in-law moving in. But this was but for a brief interlude as John's split from first wife, Cynthia, meant that John now required a new place to stay himself. Montague Square thus became John and Yoko's first, and in fact last, home in London before upping sticks for NYC.

Behind these basic facts, however, there's a raft of stories, other players and rock history and legend. Paul worked at a studio in the basement, starting work on Eleanor Rigby; American author William Burroughs also recorded here; and the infamous photo of a naked John and Yoko, taken for the front of the Two Virgins album was shot here.

We'd like to think that all those who have signed our petition while on a tour over these past few years (and there were over 5000 of you from a total) of 52 countries worldwide) has contributed to this honour for John Lennon.

So that's two Blue Plaques now; John and Jimi. There are other commemorative plaques, of course, (see my next posting) but these are 'unofficial'. Who, or what, would you like to see commemorated from rock's heritage?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hendrix Lives On!

I've been very remiss with postings of late, but with good reason.

September 18th marked the 40th anniversary commemoration of the death in London of Jimi Hendrix. To commemorate this auspicious occasion we organised a weekend of special events. Understandably, Jimi took precedence over blogging.

And what a weekend it was!

One overriding objecive was for us to mount a plaque at the Hyde Park Hotel, in London's Bayswater district. This was Jimi's first 'home' but, incredibly,there was nothing here to mark the fact. I'm proud to be able to say that the hotel now has a suitable recognition of its place in rock history, with the plaque being 'unveiled' by the incomparable Jeff Dexter, a personal friend of Jimi's from his London days.

An allied objective was to mark the occasion fittingly, with a gig in a London club that Jimi himself would have known, and in front of the size of audience he was playing to back in his early days with the Experience. Authenticity was the key as there seem to be so many other commemorations where commercialization was the driving force (and a certain London hotel is especially to be castigated for its attempt to jump on the bandwagon).

With the amazing tribute band 'Are you Experienced' playing at the 120 capacity Troubadour Club, it could not have been more authentic. Even down to my ears still ringing after 3 days...

John Campbell, who 'does' Jimi, is truly fantastic, but he couldn't do it without the support of Kevin Grady, drums /backing vocals and Mark Arnold on bass. Every number of their 2 hours was note perfect.Kevin's rumming on the demanding 'Machine Gun' was superb! You didn't have to close your eyes to 'see' Jimi; he was there in front of you in the persona of John. The place rocked. Our special guests, the Brazilian rock superstars of 'Pitty' (, claimed it was one of the best evenings they'd had, adding that they had no regrets over missing their MTV award presentation ceremony back in Brazil for this. A compliment indeed.

Complementing the raw energy of 'Are Your Experienced' was a late night set from an incredible new Brazilian duo, 'Sambulus', comprising husband and wife team, Luana and Ceasar Barbosa. These guys have been officially sanctioned by the Hendrix estate and their interpretation of Hendrix numbers, female vocal accompanied by piano and guitar, is memorable. To be quite truthful, with their level of professionalism and playing ability, they would not have been out of place at Ronnie Scott's commemorative night where classic violinist, Nigel Kennedy, performed with special guests (including Eric Burdon). A name to watch out for I suspect.

In my next blog I'll report back on our Friday evening where we were privileged to host four incredible rock'n'roll characters, all of whom had personal memories of Jimi that they unselfishly shared with us.

If you were at any of our events, including the special city tours, then let us know what you felt and what memories of Hendrix they brought back for you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Legend that is Stan Webb

Perhaps the greatest of all historic London venues was the famed club on Eel Pie Island in the western, riverside-suburb of Twickenham. The bands that graced its tiny stage though the 60s read like a rock'n'roll hall of fame. The Stones, Who, Yardbirds, Genesis, Pink Floyd, are just a few of the greats who learned their craft at the Eel Pie.

Alas, the original club burned down, amidst the usual rumours that accompany such events. In 2002, a group of fans, headed by Gina Way and Warren Walters, decided that the name was just too iconic to lose; the Eel Pie Club was reborn. It is still in Twickenham,now upstairs in the Cabbage Patch pub, and dedicated to preserving those great musical traditions. It’s a marvellous place to see some half-forgotten legends, and even the odd celebrity slumming it!

Stan Webb, and version 567 of Chicken Shack, graced its stage this week. And one has to say that he, as expected, did not let the history down. I suspect that for many readers this is a name that will simply evoke a response of 'who'? Well, Stan Webb is not only a legend in his own lifetime, but his early recorded output deserves the accolade of 'hidden nuggets'. He's also a true rock'n'roll survivor.

Way back in the mid 60s, when British bands were first discovering the blues and riding the electric rhythm and blues wave, two very similar bands competed in friendly rivalry. Aspiring amongst those to be the top blues band were Fleetwood Mac and Stan Webb's Chicken Shack (version 1, with a certain Christine Perfect on vocals. Ms Perfect was to defect from the latter to the former, and to become Mrs John McVie). Mac, boasting the fabled Peter Green, turned away from the pure R&B sound and produced a number of classic hits like 'Albatross' and 'Man of the World'. As everyone knows, the ensuing soap opera that marked 45 years or so of Mac history included a move to LA, new band members, madness, religious cult conversions, splits, band changes, marriages, divorces, drug abuse and multi-million selling classics.

Meanwhile, on another planet... Stan Webb soldiered on, and on, and on. Mostly with ever-changing line-ups of Chicken Shack, but also having a spell with Savoy Brown. Thought by many to be at least as good a guitarist as Eric Clapton, real success (in terms of record sales) has eluded him. And stadium-sized performances have been few. But Stan’s fans are lucky; catching Webb at a small venue like the Eel Pie Club can be a real pleasure. Small enough to allow you to get up close and personal, I watched his fingers (and thumb!) dance at impossible speeds up and own the fret. He still retains a great voice and sustains high notes from the back of his throat like someone 40 years his junior. Delivering a couple of numbers in Elvis and Johnny Cash toning reminded me of an interview I once did with Stan where he ran through a range of vocal impersonation he could do. He did a great impression of the comedian Kenneth Williams from the ‘Carry on’ films! What’s nice too is the rapport he develops with the audience, helped by his unpretentious manner and dress.

So why didn’t he crack it? The only song he’s really remembered for is ‘I’d rather Go Blind’ which Chicken Shack (with Christine Perfect) took to No. 14 in the 1969 UK charts. Unlike the Fleetwoods, Stan and band didn’t really move on. They were one of the many excellently rocking progressive bands that got overtaken by punk and new wave. Pity really as Stan Webb could have been a contender for top-dog. Still, if you’re into R&B played stunningly well then you’ll go a long way before hearing anyone better.

And if you're in London, or thinking of visiting, you could do worse than get on the Eel Pie Club mail list; you never know who you might catch there.

Hidden Nuggets
Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve/ Blue Horizon 1969
OK Ken / Blue Horizon 1969

Chicken Shack’s I’d rather go blind’
Eel Pie Club

Monday, August 9, 2010

Britain-Brazilian Rock Connections

The ABC Trust (patron, one Jimmy Page), a charity existing to support Brazilian street kids, hosted an exclusive gig at the Embassy Club in London this evening. The sublime Bebel Gilberto previewed some of her new CD, delivering an acoustic set to about 90 lucky invited guests.

Not a name that you recognise? No? This Grammy-award nominated lady is the daughter of the famed João Gilberto and singer Miúcha. Her uncle is singer/composer Chico Buarque. Still no glimmer of recognition? Shame on you! But it is hardly surprising, though I'll bet Spanish, French and Italian readers of this blog will know the names. And it goes without saying that the Brazilians will! But we English-speaking Anglo-Saxons are very limited in our appreciation of any music where the lyrics are not sung in our familar tongue. OK, admittedly there's a limited appreciation of bossa nova and salsa but I'll lay short odds right now that Santana and the Buena Vista Social Club are about the only two Latin acts most can immediately call to mind. That we voluntarily cut ourselves off from the richness of other cultures is our loss, believe me.

It hasn't happened the other way though. No such cultural myopia in Brazil where local musicians have long looked to England for inspiration. Trawl through a 'sebo' in Rio (second-hand book and music shops) and you'll find stacks of 1960s and 70s UK vinyl gold as an indication of listening tastes. It's not just the popular chart stuff but real obscurities. Look at the gig list in Sao Paulo today and there are contemporary UK Indie bands filling the clubs. Scan the tracks of Brazilian superstars and wannabees alike are you'll find covers of Lennon & McCartney, Jagger and Richards, and many more recent songwriters.

Two names stands out as being conduits through which rock flowed into Rio; Gilberto Gil and Cateano Veloso. These two' fleeing Brazil's then military government, lived the lives of London-based exiles for three years in the early 70s. While here, they absorbed the musical landscape. Gil played and toured with some of the 70s greats. He in turn influenced British contemporaries. It came as little surprise, just a few years back, to see Eric Clapton in the audience for one of Gil's regular London returns.

Gil and Veloso lived in Chelsea, off the Kings Road, and in Nottinghill Gate. The property became a centre for artistic Brazilian exiles I read somewhere that Gil shared a flat with Terry Reid but inevitably, this being Bob Marley's territory and the 70s his time, it was reggae as well as rock that they took with them back to Brazil.

Look them up on Wiki. Gil became Minister of Culure under the populist President Lula.

Modern Brazilian rock albums show off these multi-cultural influences. Listen to Os Mutantes, the only non-English-language psychadelic album considered a classic by the critics. The influence of UK rock is there but tempered and twisted into a distinctly Brazilian feel with bossa and samba patterns often creeping in. One fine contemporary CD I heard the other day was by Rodrigo Santos. His skillful re-arrangments of standard Beatle numbers really freshen them up.

Anyway, I digress. Bebel Gilberto was wonderful. Two short sets, mostly bossa-based, and if I'm not mistaken with at least one Veloso-penned number. It was great of this international star to give her services free to help the ABC Trust recruit a few new well-heeled supporters. It is to be hoped that at least 90 people went home with a new appreciation of music not sung in English!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

British Sea Power to play 'Festinho'

Breaking news!

Just heard that 'British Sea Power' has been signed to play 'Festinho'!

For those who don't know, Festinho (translation from the Brazilian-Portuguese 'little festival') is a cracking festival taking place at Hinwick House, Bedford, over the Bank Holiday weekend, 27th to 29th August.

Forget the queues, the crowds, the rank commercialisation, the over-priced entry ticket, and the officious, crowd controlling 'security'. Festinho is the antidote to the run-of-the-mill festival. And they don't come much cheaper!'Cool' is really, for once, the correct description. Around 2000 people attend this annual 'best-kept-secret' festival, raising money for Brazilian street children.

The guys in charge of booking bands are all 'Big Chill' graduates so quality acts are guaranteed. But securing British Sea Power is a major play! Personally, I can't wait to see a band on their way to being a stadium act, playing in the rather more intimate environment of an English Stately home!

Tickets are available here:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Get film tickets FREE

The British Film Institute (BFI) has an interesting evening on August 17th, fittingly following up on the London 60s Week. Entitled 'We Love Dusty Springfield', Emma Smart explores the woman behind the legend through a plethora of clips and classic Dusty performances. It's an unusual angle as the talk asks why Dusty became such an icon for gay audiences.

The BFI is also celebrating the career of the ultimate Hollywood maverick, Steve McQueen throughout August. Be it detective or soldier, cowboy or thief McQueen always emerges as the quintessence of cool, the rebel, the loner. Titles range from his '60s classics like The Great Escape and Bullit to McQueen's later character work in Papillon where he delivered a near Oscar winning performance. McQueen's career was cut short by his premature death in 1980 but he will always be regarded as the first, modern movie star.

McQueen inspired a few rock lyrics from acts including Sheryl Crow, Prefab Sprout and the Drive by Truckers. Fancy going to see a movie? Well answer this question correctly and we'll send you two free tickets. Which of the above sings the following?

Steve McQueen Steve McQueen
When I was a little boy I wanted to grow up to be
Steve McQueen Steve McQueen
The coolest doggone motherscratcher on the silver screen

The festival runs to the end of August but the sooner you send your answer, the more choice of movies you'll have.

Rock'n'Roll and the fall of communism

I have this theory that in a hundred or so years time, when historians are trying to make sense of the broad sweep of 20th century history, there will be a general recognition that rock music played as important a part in the fall of communism, and lifting of the 'iron curtain', as any other factor.

David Smith is a blog-follower and general supporter of our rock tours, recommending us to his local friends if coming to London. He currently works in Skopje, Macedonia and writes 'We have had Bob Dylan and Billy Idol so far this summer, so not too bad'.

For those who political geography is rusty, this was formally part of communist Yugoslavia. One of my first overseas 'adventures' was hitch-hiking to Sarajevo (also then in Yugoslavia) with the intention of seeing where Gavrillo Princip had fired the fatal shots that provided the spark for the start of the Great War of 1914. I didn't expect to find any rock music; in fact, I'd read that it was virtually banned on the other side of the curtain.

It was quite an adventure crossing the border into the east in those early 70s. Everything was austere. With no advertising there was little colour other than the incredibly bold state propaganda posters. Grey, bleak and superficially unwelcoming. Uniforms everywhere. The atmosphere was made edgier by the fact that at the time there were three or four Brits being held in a Yugoslavian lock-up for taking pictures of planes. 'Be careful' and 'Don't expect people to talk to you; they're all watched by their secret police', were the warnings I got before entering the country.

So there I was, tingling with suppressed excitement and not a little fear, looking for a bar down some back alley in a town on the coast of what is now Croati. Feeling a little like a cold war spy,I romantically imagined I was being followed. Suddenly, to my disbelieving ears I heard the unmistakable strains of a rock riff and kick-drum pattern. It wasn't possible, was it? I stealthily made my way to a half-open door as the beat grow closer and louder. Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water' pounded out from a tiny, portable Dansette in the corner of a room filled with kids.

I hesitantly peered in. I was spotted. I felt the urge to turn tail and run but I was rooted to the spot by sheer magnetism of that heart-grabbing riff. They sussed I was a foreigner immediately; probably due to the length of my hair and Levis. You can guess the rest; I was welcomed in, handed a beer, found myself surrounded by pretty young women who wanted to know what life was like in the West. I'm still unclear as to how I got back to the 'pension'where I was staying, much, much later that night.

That's it, I thought. Communism can't last. You can't stop the kids listening to rock; it's an aspirational bridge to the West. Six or so years later, with Brezhnev still in power and the Soviet army invading Afghanistan, Elton John was performing in Moscow, Zappa was an icon of the dissadent Czechs, and Beatle records were being openly sold in East Germany and Hungary (see We had launched the 'nuclear option' but it was called rock'n'roll not Trident, and 30 years on the idol of the east is a Billy not a Karl or Josef.

Friday, July 23, 2010

There be dinosaurs about!

You don't need to visit London's Natural History Museum to see dinosaurs in London this weekend (24th and 25th July). There is a herd of them in Victoria Park.

Gracing the High Voltage festival stage this weekend are the likes of Uriah Heep, Steve Hacket, Marillion, (the fantastic) Argent, Backman Turner and the wonderful Wishbone Ash. Bands you'd have sworn were extinct but remembered with respect through the dim, distant mists of time. I had to look at the site address twice to make sure it did read Victoria Park and not Jurassic...

Mighty amongst these lumbering giants are the headliners, ZZ Top and ... wait for it ELP! Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

ELP are celebrating their 40th anniversary with this 'final', farewell gig. Then fossilisation sets in (though there were those in the late '70s punk movement who'd have argued the process actually began then).

They were a fantastic band though. A supergroup if ever there was one. The memory of Emerson plunging knives into his organ (electric, that is!) is unforgettable, though I remember my first ELP concert at the Colston Hall, Bristol, 1970, for entirely different reasons. As we waited expectantly for them to appear I looked in amazement at a girl sitting on the stage. It couldn't be could it? She looked so like an old flame from the grammar (high) school back home in South Wales. In my pre-college years she'd dumped me. 'Rebbecca?', I shouted up from the foot of the stage. She turned to see me. 'What are you doing?', I shouted. 'Oh,' she replied nonchalantly, 'I'm Carl Palmer's girlfriend now.'

I got a gasped 'pardon!?' out as the lights dimmed, and she faded into the side-stage gloom never to be seen again though I looked long and hard after the concert, hoping for introductions, backstage parties or even a souvenir drumstick... And I was so deflated. No wonder she'd have none of me when she could pull a rock god!

I never found out what became of her. Certainly not Mrs CP. Pity in a way. I'd have shot down to Jurassic Park to see her and meet the grand kids, and maybe, finally, Mr Palmer himself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's a Convention, man!

I used to be a trifle suspicious of music conventions celebrating this or that particular band. The genre hinted at being unhealthy; too many freaks and wierdos stuck in their teen past with a terrifyingly detailed and obsessive knowledge about one band, and with album collections devoid of anything released since 1971. To be honest, I did once guide a largish group on their way to the Liverpool Beatles festival around London sites. Amonsgt whom there were a high number of folk I wouldn't have wanted to be next to on a 4-hour coach journey... I swear that one of their number could even told me what colour socks George was wearing on any given day had I been foolish enough to ask!

The annual Matthews Street Beatle festival, held over the August Bank Holiday weekend in Liverpool, is probably the grandaddy of the genre. I avoided going for many years. I knew too many of the regular 'professional' attendees from around London. I successfuly manage to avoid them here but the 'pool is a much smaller city; nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. A couple of years back I relented. I discovered that the nutters were actually easily spotted, and avoided; copy-cat hairstyled, badge-covered, bags overflowing with photos, media clipping and EP covers to be autographed, tee shirts boasting of previous convention attendance. They had big signs over their heads stating 'approach me at your peril'!

Much to my surpise, I enjoyed the weekend, especially the tribute bands who had come from Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. Musically tremendous with tango, bossa nova and salza arrangements freshening up the golden oldies. There's nothing worse than a band simply trying to copy a Beatle number.

Conventions have proliferated, worldwide. And why not. They offer a great opportunity to wallow in a bit of nostalgia, buy a few bits 'n' pieces of memorabilia or maybe a CD or vinyl missing from your collection, and to commune with like-minded souls. The majority of attendees, it seems to me, are of the interested variety, rather thsn the gimlet-eyed obsessional. Don't expect a real live band member though (even if they aare still with us on the planet); the best you can normally hope for is a third-cousin, twice removed. In the UK there's the Queen convention, held in that Queen-inspired town of Great Yarmouth (sic) on England's east coast and which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Led Zep fans stage another, as do fans of the Rolling Stones. Fast approaching is our own Hendrix 40th anniversary weekend, and The Who convention.

'Oo fans will already know of this event; it's in its 29th year apparently. This year it takes place over the weekend of October 2nd and 3rd, with the main event held at Camden's Dingwalls on the Sunday. They've a great line-up that includes Thunderclap Newman. Definitely something in the air. Also present will be past asociates of the band including Doug Sandom (the original Detours drummer) and 'Irish' Jack, the 'Face' from the Oo's Goldhawk Road days.

You'll find details at

The really great thing about the majority of these events is that they are run by real fans, with any profits often donated to a worthwile cause. The Who Convention is no exception. I'll have some more on Who-related matters in a forthcoming blog, including an interview with both of the above gentlemen.

If anyone knows of any other interesting conventions, I'd be delighted to hear about them. The George Formby one doesn't count by the way!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Swinging Sixties London Week & a new book to read

This weekend marks the beginning of the inaugural London 60s Week. The best way to describe the festival is as an umbrella for multiple independent events that will be going on throughout the capital, each taking the 'swinging sixties' as their theme. Music, art, literature, theatre, all kinds of 'happenings' taking their cue from that revolutionary decade. The event kicks off with an attempt to break the world record for the number of people dancing the twist at any one time... And where better to launch this than Carnaby Street with legendary DJ , Jeff Dexter, doing the turntable honours from the safety of a local rooftop!

'Be there or be square'?

The idea is the brainchild of Chris Pleydell. Though Chris wasn't actually around for that mind-expanding decade, he's a big fan of the creativity that was spawned throughout the arts during that period. Having a belief that it should be celebrated and used as an inspiration for today's young talent, he's spent the last year pulling it all together.

If you are in London over the next week to ten days it will be worth checking out what’s on:

Coincidentally, I was sent a new book to review this week; 'The Beatles and the Stones in the Swinging Sixties' by Steve Overbury. Overbury's last book was the highly informative 'Guns, cash and Rock 'n' roll: the managers', and this is a worthy follow-up.

As the title suggests, the material concentrates on the two bands that dominated the decade. It explores not only the dynamics of each band, and their inter-relationship, but puts them into their social context, introducing a cast of hangers-on, drug-dealers, gangsters,sexual deviants,birds and sundry London 'bight young things' that made west London swing.

There's a lot of juicy information here; not a lot new, but much that has deservedly been moved from the footnotes to the main page. Some of it is pretty sleazy. What Overbury highlights is that the revolution was art driven, not political, but was not without its casualties. The pages are littered with the dead and dying. Most, it seems, dying of self-inflicted drug wounds. Selfish and uncaring excess appears to have been the order of the day. The survivors don't always come out smelling of roses. It can make uncomfortable reading and there are a few tales that might provoke a reassessment of your favourite stars.

It's a fairly weighty book at nearly 400 pages, though this could undoubtedly have been shortened by better editing. Overbury is good at holding the reader's attention. While readers of a certain age will have heard of many if not most of the individuals the book is great at making the connections between them. For those taking their first 'trip' into the decade, this is a great primer.

There's a fair amount of repetition, though perhaps it serves to remind the reader of the characters in this cast of hundreds. A good proof-reader might also have spotted the many typos in the text.

All-in-all, a very interesting read with the right balance struck between anecdote and general overview of the period. A perfect companion to London60s Week, it retails at £12.99. A special discounted price of £10 (plus postage) is available to followers of this blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It was 25 years today.... Live Aid

Well, 25 years ago yesterday to be accurate! Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. What a day it was, there with great mates Johnno, Barbara, Lindy and Pauline (all back 'down-under' in Australia now). If the angel Gabriel gave me a final week on earth to relive 7 days of my life before passing into the hearafter... this would be one. If I'm honest, I can't remember every detail of the day; though I suppose that's hardly surprising given the amount of alcohol etc that was consumed during that long, hot day!

I do remember Status Quo kicking it off (after a military band); 'Rockin' all over the World'! It's been a favourite ever since. And I remember Bono throwing himself into the audience. I thought him a right pratt at the time, and, as it happens, this turned out just to be the first 'pratt-action' in a career that has boasted many (with assuredly more to follow!).

Of course, there were other highlights; Queen and Crosby Stills Nash and Young being two. And Bob Geldof's impassioned pleas. And then there was the disappointment of Macca's mic not being on for the finale.

Talking Geldof, a short time later I was at a record company Xmas party, with Geldof there in attendance. A young lady in our company sauntered over to the great man to congratulate him on his efforts and press a glass of champagne into his hand. She came back to our group a mite crestfallen. 'What's he say?' We asked. 'Fuck off. I don't drink champagne' was apparently his gracious reply. Ah, the great and the good, eh? They have this way with words.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Competition for Blog followers

It's encouraging to see our list of followers growing. Thanks to all those who are already 'in'. I hope that forthcoming blogs will make it worthwhile. We are often getting last minute free gig and show tickets and our blog-followers will not only be first to find out, but will also be given the first chance to get their hands on them.

All those who sign up during this month of July WILL BE ENTERED INTO OUR PRIZE DRAW.

Sign up now, and get your friends to do likewise! We've a large number of prizes to give away including a Paul Rogers autographed CD, a Bill Wyman signed 'Sticky Finger's' tee-shirt, DVDs, rare vinyl, annual subscriptions to Classic Rock and gig tickets. Something for everyone, no matter where you're from.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Macca, Hendrix and Andy Fairweather Low

A couple of weeks back, I went to see Paul McCartney play Hyde Park. Beautiful day, fantastic concert, London and classic rock at its best. Macca played a magical selection of 'greatest hits' spanning oldie Beatles, solo stuff and Wings material. One particular piece of music immediately stood out though, probably because it wasn't a Lennon/McCartney or Harrison original; Hendrix's Foxy Lady.

Macca accompanied his short and playful rendition with a memory of Hendrix. He told us of the famed Sunday concert at the Beatles' own Saville Theatre where Jimi played the title track of St Peppers. With two Beatles sitting themselves in the audience that afternoon, and Pepper only having been out a few days, it was either audacious or arrogant. Take your pick. Macca thought it a great compliment. Whatever, it was good to hear a story we tell on our morning rock tour confirmed from Sir Paul's own lips.

In my own view, Hendrix was a supremely confident musician who knew his own worth but wasn't afraid to indulge in a stunt if he thought it might generate some publicity. Copying another band's signature didn't bother him if he could do it better. I was always struck by Brian Jones' almost alternative view of Hendrix; far from being the supreme innovator, he actually copied things he thought cool from other musicians on the scene at the time, often simply improving them (Pete Townsend might agree that this was certainly so with regard to stage antics).

I was set to deliberating on this theme last night on my way home from a gig at the Corn Exchange, Cambridge. I went along to see the musician's musician, Andy Fairweather Low, guesting as support to the Robert Gray Band. Andy was indirectly responsible for my seeing Hendrix during that all too brief golden period 40-years ago.

At the time, Andy was fronting the excellent soul/pop band, Amen Corner. My mates and I had a special affinity with them, considering them as virtually our school band since they rehearsed at the near-by Cowbridge Rugby Club in South Wales, and called on the services of our school porter as a sometime roadie. Naturally, where Amen Corner played, we followed. When they 'made it' with 'Gin House' and the 'Bend me, Shape me', they were included on the old-fashioned package tour. These were the days when half a dozen bands toured as part of a package, during which they played their chart hits, or more often, hit, or even more often 'nearly a hit'. One such package included Hendrix, and, believe it or not, Pink Floyd (still with Syd Barrett), The Nice, Roy Wood's Move and Eire Apparent (who sank without trace ...). On another package our heros played alongside Gene Pitney, The Mike Cotton Sound, Don Fardon (the one-man-band) and ... it's so long ago that I forget.

Still, I owe Andy a debt of honour. Had it not been for Amen Corner I'd not have seen arguably two of the greatest of the late 60s bands.

What a great deal this particual 'package' is. Fair Weather Low's Low Riders and Cray. It's not often the support is as strong as the headline. It's also not that often that a famed one comes to the bar at the break to sign CDs and have quick yarn with the punters. Nice touch, Andy.

I've neither the space or intention to review either band in this particular blog, but I will recommend that you catch the package on one of the remaining gigs if you read this in time. And if the name Andy Fairwether Low is new to you (which it wont be if you read liner notes to albums from Eric Clapton, the Who, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, Geroge Harrison, Roger Walters or hundreds more!) then I suggest you acquire a copy of the 'best of Amen Corner' and 'best of AFL'.

One last, entirely unconnected snippet; getting into convesation with the guy sitting next to us we learned that his uncle had lived only a few doors away from the reclusive Syd Barrett (a citizen of Cambridge, or course) and another acquaintance of his was the district nurse who'd sat beside Syd literally as he'd shuffled off this mortal coil... amazing who you meet, innit!?

Friday, June 25, 2010


One of the most common questions we get while touring London’s rock heritage sites is what ‘new’ music we can recommend. Actually what people mean is what can we recommend that they might have missed first time round, rather than what can we recommend from today’s crop of rock hopefuls; ‘old’ music but ‘new to them’.

It’s only when you start discussing this that it becomes apparent how much people do actually miss getting into, and how much great and generally ageless stuff there actually is out there. I suspect that budget is always an issue for us all and there is only so much you can afford to buy from the huge amount offered.

On another level, we also get a heap of younger fans who weren’t ‘there’ first time round and want to catch up with a bit of rock history, or hear what today’s bands might have been influenced by.

So, responding to popular demand (!), future blogs will include ‘hidden nuggets’, being reviews of albums that perhaps people would enjoy discovering. Here goes the first couple:


A ‘prog-rock’ or ‘art-rock’ band who enjoyed a short-lived career from 1968-70, releasing two albums (Cressida and Asylum). For a brief period, they were regulars on the traditional London club circuit playing the Marquee, Blaises, the Speakeasy etc. They also did the legendary Hamburg Star Club. The original vinyl is on the hard-to-get and expensive Vertigo ‘swirl’ label but re-releases are available from The first album is the best, containing some really good playing and fine melodies from ‘classic’ prog-rock instruments including flute, organ, paino and Mellotron, all complementing guitars and drums/percussion. The vocals are in the pleasant-on-the-ear range, without being particularly distinguishing. It does sound a bit dated now but anyone liking Moody Blues of this period will love them!

Soft Machine

This is a band we regularly mention, especially on our morning ‘The Psychedelic and Summer of Love’ tour.

The city of Canterbury contributed much to the sound of these years and the ‘Softs’ were to the forefront of the scene with musicians like Kevin Ayres and Robert Wyatt, who were later to forge great solo careers (and Andy Summers was on the first album, following his stint with Zoot Money).

Avant garde, esoteric, jazz fusion, psychedelic, progressive rock; it’s difficult to describe the style. It was certainly ground-breaking at the time. And unique. Perhaps they can be best described by association; they were the ‘other band’ to Pink Floyd at the Roundhouse and Marquee UFO benefit concerts. You can never quite tell where a Soft’s track is taking you; it’s certainly somewhere no one else ventured, not even Floyd.

The music wont suit anyone who is looking for hard, driving rock, or metal, or soft melodic rock, or, well any common genre. The Softs had no copyists – at least not until Matching Mole. They were a musician’s band; even their improvisation seemed scored. Were they rock? Yes, but it was no surprise that their final incarnation said ‘goodbye’ with six nights at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.

Which of their albums to get? Hmmm, difficult, especially with their being 9 studio albums, each with differing line-ups,and many, many live or retrospective releases. Their last studio album ’Land of Cockayne’ featuring Jack Bruce on base and no original members! Choose their first from 1968, 'Soft Machine'; 'Bundles' from 1975 (released by; or perhaps go for 'Out-Bloody-Rageous' (a compilation, 1967–1973) re-released by Sony, 2005.

Anyone got any other suggestions of hidden nuggets?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Green Day @ Wembley Stadium

Going to Wembley for a concert always brings back memories of past glories. It seems like only yesterday that I sat there for Live Aid. What a day that was; 25 years ago. What a year. I think it was the same year that both Queen and Springsteen played there too. Or maybe that was the previous year… memory plays tricks, especially when recalled through a chemical haze…

I wish I had as happy memories of watching the England football team playing there. But that’s another story (and not for during a disappointing World Cup).

I’ve only ever been to Wembley as a ‘punter’. My mate, Graham, who joined me for this show as actually ‘played’ there. He was with ‘The Beatmasters’ (a dance music band who enjoyed a few late 1980’s hits) on a bill that included Bros. He’d never told me that before though I can’t think why …

It’s a great venue now. The acoustics are good. The facilities first class and even refreshments are reasonably priced.

I have to admit I was surprised that Green Day could sell out a stadium, but with a history stretching back to 1987 and covering some nine albums (65 million sales, 4 Grammies!); they have patently garnered a huge following. I’d not really been exposed to their brand of anthemic post- punk rock other than the recent ‘American Idiot’ album, but following the show I invested in their back catalogue (available for pennies through Zoverstocks) and have been pleasantly surprised.

Maybe I was influenced by singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s crowd-pleasing claim that ‘London is the World’s GREATEST rock n roll city’, (agreed!) and that British rock crowds ‘really get it’.

The problem when you are not familiar with any band’s material, especially when, like Green Day, much of it is formulaic, is that tracks do run into each other. Similarities submerge subtleties. Chopping chords and pounding beat hide melodies.

I couldn’t tell you what they played, I’m afraid, but with the average song running at about 3 minutes and a near 2-hour show, they must have played most of their canon. From the air punching, lip-syncing, shoulder-dipping, pogo-ing and general screams of the crowd, the boys done well as far as the true fans were concerned. If I had one major criticism it’d be that Armstrong overdid the obligatory ‘get-the-crowd-to-sing-alone’ routine. He was good though at bridging the potential stadium gap between fan and act by dragging folk onto the stage at regular intervals.

Graham left well before the end, excusing himself on the grounds that they were ‘not musical enough for me’. I lasted the pace as much because I enjoyed the crown watching as the pyrotechnics of the stage show. It was good to watch a powerful, crowd-pleasing, fluid and professional act at the top of their game. Maybe the England footie team should have been in attendance and learned something …

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review

'Liddypool' by Dave Bedford (pub. Dalton Watson Fine Books)

There are as many guide books of Liverpool's Beatle heritage as there are Beatle songs. More. The challenge facing anyone wanting to enter this competitive market is how to make theirs stand out from the crowd. On page 25 Bedford asks 'Do you need another Beatles book?' and advises that 'if you can answer the following 10 questions, 'you probably don't need this book'. I could, but I am still pleased I have it.

Really you can only really justify owning yet another Beatle history if it a) adds new information, b) presents new photographs, c) offers a new context for understanding the rise and rise of the Fab Four, or d) presents the material in a better fashion than existing books. I'm not sure that this book expands hugely on what already exists on the information and photographic front (even with over 800 shots) but it is certainly comprehensive and extremely well-presented. Bedford is a Liverpool boy and he justifies his claim that you need to know Liverpool the city if you want to know the band. On this level the book really works.

A particular strength lies in the layout. The history of the band, and the important individuals surrounding it, are rehearsed by topic or personality, making it an easy book to dip into. This comprehensive section covers some 225 well-illustrated pages. The second half of the book suggests 20 separate walking or driving tours a fan can follow, with maps, photos and information 'nuggets'.

The product lives up to the publisher's claim to produce 'fine books'. Glossy, 11" x11" in size and heavy enough to crack a coffee table top! And therein lies a criticism; this is not a book you could actually take with you on a walk. What it is though is the best one to date for the 'virtual tourist' who's unlikely to get to Liverpool. For the Beatle fan who has 'been there, done that' you could do as I've done; cleared the shelves of existing guides and replaced with this. I don't need any others.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Paul Weller blows us away

It always intrigues me how certain bands or individuals can be huge in Europe, Australia and even Brazil, yet never reach the same heights of fame and fortune in the USA or Canada. Paul Weller is a classic example. On today’s tour, I mention I attended his gig at the Royal Albert Hall last night and am met with blank stares from the North Americans on board. There’s no rhyme or reason for this strange state of affairs but from the evidence of his concert last night you Yanks are missing out on one of the greats.

I put Weller’s continuing success here down to the incredible variety of his music, his ability to write the sort of songs that make up life’s soundtrack, his energy-filled live delivery and his remarkably unpretentious manner.

Over a two-hour plus show ‘the Modfather’, as he is referred to here, delivered a powerful and varied set to a rapturous and noisy audience. Although you could argue that it’s all connected by classic ‘mod’ influences (ska, soul, rock) his musical cannon can’t be easily pigeon-holed. A Weller show gets its continuity from the man himself, not a particular style of music. He split his performance into easily-digestible, crowd-pleasing sections covering the dance-inducing Style Council years, the ‘up an at ‘em’ punk favourites of The Jam, the reflective man-with-guitar solo balladry of recent times,all topped off with some great driving rock. What is apparent from audience reaction is that he’s carried his many fans through each of his musical periods.

Bowie is often touted as the great musical chameleon but Weller is surely his match.

He’s also a ‘regular bloke’. He might be considered to be stylishly mod (and it’s along time since I’ve been in an audience of so many look-alikes! Weller could probably make as much by patenting his hair style as selling his music … ) but on stage his dress is a muted v-necked T shirt and ‘ordinary’ trousers. There’s no flash, no ‘dressing to impress’. It’s the same with his delivery. He gets the job done. Any rock poses struck are authentic not contrived, growing out of the demands of the song, not added as a visual appendage. He commands the stage although never being Pima donnish.

All-in-all, a great gig. I’d advise those who aren’t familiar with the man’s music to invest in a few downloads (any suggestions from followers?). I’m envious; you’ve an exciting musical find ahead.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Accessing All Areas!!

I have this real ‘thing’ about rock’n’roll heritage being dismissed as frivolous or unimportant, and landmark buildings being lost or anniversary dates being ignored. Great to see, therefore, that at least a couple of this year’s anniversaries are being commemorated properly.

Visitors to our own website will know that we are commemorating the 40th anniversary of Hendrix’s death in London with a weekend of events (September 17th to 19th inclusive). We’re particularly thrilled that the Handel House Museum are hosting an exhibition of the great rocker’s life and times (and will include some really cool memorabilia).

Hendrix fans are not normally catered for at this central London site, other than to be able to gaze in speculative awe at the official ‘blue plaque’ mounted on the outside wall. It’s actually the only truly official plaque for any rock musician in London. Not even Lennon apparently deserves such recognition.

Hendrix’s comparatively small abode usually houses the Handel House management office so we’re to be grateful that they are putting up with the inconvenience of moving out for a few months.

Needless to say, we’ll be including a visit on our weekend.

Another notable event is taking place ‘oop north’. The 30th anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis, lead singer with the near legendary Joy Division (forerunners of New Order, as most fans will know), is being commemorated in Macclesfield. This Cheshire town, approximately 170 miles north of London, will be the venue for the ‘Unknown Pleasure’ festival.

Commencing from July 29th in the 1813 Sunday School Heritage Centre, the festival features an exhibition of the band’s memorabilia, original artwork, set lists and some of Curtis’s personal letters. There’s also a walking tour map of the town available and a series of musical events.

The idea and organization has been led by Joy Division’s drummer, Stephen Morris (also of New Order) and rock writer Jon Savage. And well done to both.

The only downside to these two events is that they are both commemorating the deaths of two superb musicians who would no doubt have continued to make all of our lives that more pleasurable had they lived longer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

London Sixties Week

'London Sixties Week' is begining to take shape. The brain-child of Chris Paydell, this week long July festival aims to provide an umbrella under which a whole host of events will take place celebrating the golden decade.

Kicking the week off will be a 'twistathon' and an attempt at creating the world record for the number of people dancing the twist at the same time! The main event will be held in that epicentre of 60's cool, Carnaby Street. Be there or be square, is what I say!

Check out other events and happening on


It's always a kick getting a celebrity sighting on a tour, and while it's a fairly regular occurance (recent sightings include Jamiroquai, Chris Martin and a Sex Pistol), it's not often you get two Stones in a day!

Well, that's what happened today. Firstly, Charlie Watts is seen exiting a house in Chelsea, then almost before the excitment has died down and the cameras put back in their cases, up pops Ronnie Wood at the 'Sticky Fingers' restaurant! Cue for much more excitment and some more photos ...

As ever, however, privacy is important and we oggle from afar and are content with soem longer range photos. Having said that, Brian May kindly posed with a couple of one of our groups when bumping into him last year. A gentleman of the first order.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paul Rodgers goes home to Middleborough

It's really heart-warming when a 'star' remembers their roots, and what's more, plays homage to them. Last Saturday night, the great Paul Rodgers (in case you need reminding; Free, Bad Company, The Firm, The Law, most recently, Queen) turned out to do a guest spot at the very humble Marton Hotel, Middlesborough, in honour of John McCoy and the 50 years he's been promoting rock'n'roll on Teeside, England.

John McCoy is himself one of rock's legends (albeit somewhat unsung). He was a stalwart of the Ealing Blues Club, Flamingo and Marquee thru the '60s. He was the man who stepped down at the Cromwellian Club to allow North-Eastern mate, Chas Chandler, to launch a certain Jimi Hendrix on an unexpecting London. He was the man behind the famed Middlebrough 'Kirk Club' which, amongst many others, gave the Stones their first out-of-London gig. And he was the man who helped dozens of musicians find a home on Chris Blakwell's Island label. That's where Rodgers comes in and why he's doing this gig. Local boy makes good, and comes back to thank those who made it possible.

Repaying his acknowledged debt to the 'Kirk', and celebrating his recently awarded honorary Doctorate of Letters (Teesdide University), Rodgers took to what could just about be called 'the stage' to treat an adoring and select Middlesborough in-the-know crowd to a selection of half-a-dozen blues standards and, sending the crowd into orbit, 'The Hunter' and 'All Right Now'.

It must have all seemed a bit incongrous to Mr.Rodgers. I mean his last gig was at Wembley; last night of the Bad Company reunion tour. In front of 12,500 people. And here, in the Marton Hall function room, I'll bet there's no more than 400. At Wembley he was with fellow-heavyweights Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke. At the Marton Hotel and Country Club he's in front of a scratch band of local musicians(complemented admirably though by 'Nottinghillbilly' Stephen Phillips). Paul didn't look too happy with the man on the skins at times, but the rest of the band did him proud. They'll be boring the grandkids for years with tales of their night!

The incongruity doesn't stop there; in the room next door, young local hairdressing students are oblivious to his presence and are concentrating on preparing for a Sunday morning, hair-styling competition. Pity Paul doesn't still have that mane he could once shake with such style. The hairdressers would have crimped for free, I'm sure, even if they didn't know how famous the head was.

Age might have seen an inevitable thinning of the hair, but it cannot wither the voice. Man, he was friggin' good! 'It's great to be back at the 'boro', he announced before launching into a short but satisfying set that had the Teesiders baying for an encore. That wasn't to be, despite the demands. Momentarily, I thought he'd got the locals wound up a tad too much. A riot looked on the cards if he didn't return! It took all John McCoy's 50 years of experience to cool the crowd (though I have to say that any crowd who will queue, uncomplaining for 30 minutes at a time, to get a beer probably aren't rioting material).

Crammed in between the night's house band and Rodgers, the angelic-voiced Claire Hammill tried to deliver a few acoustic numbers. She did her best but couldn't really compete against the noise an excited, beer-swilling, North-Eastern blues crowd makes. Shame. Claire was another of John McCoy's 'Island' protogees who illuminated the London scene briefly but memorably during the 70s.

I have to thank fellow London Rock Tour guide Ian 'Lucky' Luck for insiding me on this one, especially since he made sure I arrived in time to make the pre-show, warm-up, 'Paul meets his band' session. Remarkable experience watching a great pro preparing the local semi-pros for one of the biggest nights of their lives. He treated them as equals, with not a second of 'prima-donna' to be seen. Jeez, Paul even stayed the night at the Marton!

Great night all round, though. Whey aye. I wonder who won the hairdressing competion...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

To Go or not to Go?

Ah, decisions, decisions.

Macca's lad, James, is turning out for a rare public perfomance, with band, on Wednesday at the 100 Club, Oxford Street. I've caught him before and he's worth a listen. What's the betting a proud father is in the audience?

The problem is that Manchester United taken on Milan in the second leg of the Champions League round on the same night. As 3-2 victors in the earlier meeting we should go through but with Rooney probaly out it might be a nail-biter...

Watch this space!
John Cale plays Paris 1919

Marketing men hit on a great ploy when they decided to reawaken the moribund careers of legendary artists by promoting '40-year anniversary' reunions, or cleverer still, one-off performances of complete albums. The Zombies did it a couple of years back to fantastic effect with 'Odyssey and Oracle', their near legendary Sixties 'lost album' which became a hit after their break-up and which was therefore never performed live at the time.

It doesn't actually need to be an anniversary now: the reformed band just picks an album and markets a tour around the promise of playing it in its entirety. The idea, I suppose, is that it becomes an 'event' and we'll all be more prepared to buy a ticket than if it was simply going to a regular performance of 'greatest hits and other favourite medleys'. Latest, in what has become a rather long-line of performers milking the idea, is John Cale: Welsh-wizard and alumni of the Velvet Underground. Cale, along with the Heritage Orchestra and three-piece band rolled out the 1973 released Paris 1919 at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday last.

Why Cale should have picked to perform Paris 1919 as his oeuvre somewhat defeats me. Probably it was his best seller. It wasn't his strongest single album by any means though. In fact, if truth be told, none of Cale's albums could be called classics. He's a man, if there is one, who benefits more from a greatest hits collection. I met a US serviceman at the Lakenheath base on Saturday who admitted that he'd never been as bored as when at a Cale solo gig a few years back. I have to listen on vinyl rather than CD as at least you have to rise from the torpor to turn the thing over and make a concrete decision to hear it through completely.

The RFH was packed anyway so the marketing worked. Interestingly, the crowd was multi-generational. Normally at these reunions or replay gigs what you get is grey-haired nostalgia seekers with a smattering of curious off-spring wanting to see what 'dad' was into. I went to see Stackridge at the 100 Club just before Christmas and that was like re-living an early 70's Friday night at the Student Union; the only difference was the price of a beer and the folically-challenged nature of the audience.

Cale opened with track one: 'Child's Christmas in Wales'. Though the title is evocative of Dylan Thomas the words aren't, unless general obtuseness counts. He likes Thomas though. Later he'll do a great version of 'Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night' and on other occasions I've heard him sing the Rev. Eli Jenkins’s Prayer from 'Under Milk Wood'.

He follows the tracking order of the album faithfully, and pretty much the original arrangements. There are some flat tracks on the LP and so there are some flat moments tonight but the faithful (and that definitely describes the audience)whoop, holla and clap with deference and even enthusiasm. The title track sticks out as does Macbeth. Half Past France actually works much better live than on the original. Antarctic Starts Here is as anti-climatic a finish live as it is on the original vinyl.

Being only a about 40 minutes long, Cale is bound to comes back on after a short break and give us a second half of 'hits'. The set lifts off. He plays his pre-punk take on Elvis' 'Heartbreak Hotel', belts out Thomas's. 'Do Not Go Gentle', and tips his hat to material he did with Nico amongst other old 'favs'.

Unlike most Welshmen he's not too garrulous on stage. It would have added to the experience if he'd reached out a bit and communicated.

Worth going to? Yes, on balance. He is an inventive and iconic performer and rock 'n' roll would have been so much poorer without Cale's input, especially his early work. He's worth seeing if only for that. A bonus was that the ticket price was under £30. Not bad at all in market where you're often having to pay twice that to see the more fashionable bands. I don't think the US serviceman would have been bored with this one, even if you didn't come out with that elated feeling you get when really uplifted by hear a favourite 'oldie' re-performed.

I once had dinner with Cale. It was in Tel Aviv of all places. The British Council had brought him out as part of their cultural mission and he was to play a small auditorium in the city. The Council was short-staffed that week. I was there doing a consultancy project for them. They needed someone to host their guest at dinner on his first night in town; would I 'help out and take him out?' Under duress (ho ho!) I agreed and spent a most convivial evening with the great man. We talked about the Land of our Fathers; though ashamedly I couldn't talk with him in our national language (Cale didn't speak English until he was 7). Fantastic stories about his early life, the madness of trying to produce Happy Mondays and his life in the US. I suspect I heard more than I would have done if he'd felt I was interviewing him rather than chewing the 'vegetarian' fat.

If I'd had an opportunity to chat on this occasion I 'd have asked him when he was going to play 'Slow Dazzle' in its entirety, Now that was a much stronger LP than Paris 1919 and one I can play on CD ...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Saving Abbey Road Studios

Thankfully, it looks as if the recent decision to give Abbey Road a 'Grade 2 Listed' status means that the threat to the building from redevelopment has been lifted - at least temporarily.

However it still leaves us with the wider debate on how we protect and preserve our other rock-related heritage.

It is the so-called 'establishment' who determine the tourism and cultural policy of this country, as much as individual companies like EMI, owners of Abbey Road, who do not apparently realise the importance of rock'n'roll to this country's economy. At a time when every other British industry seems to be in long-term decline our music heritage should be protected and not sold off for probable property redevelopment.

Abbey Road Studio is just one iconic site that is either under threat or has already been lost. Westminster councillors were seriously debating whether to move the crossing! Elsewhere in the city, we have lost the Astoria, and Marquee, famous record company offices and studios such as Polydor and De Lane, John and Yoko's flat at Emperor's Gate and the birthplace of Pink Floyd in Nottinghill Gate. And not to mention the scores of clubs and boutiques around Chelsea and Soho. In Ealing, the site of the Ealing Blues Club lies abandoned and drinkers in Edwards, Richmond, would not have a clue that they were sitting in the original Crawdaddy, where the Rolling Stones gave their first performances. Lennon, it seems, does not even deserve a blue plaque.

When it comes to a choice between 'high' and 'low' culture, it is the former that wins. London's Handel House Museum, for example, has no plans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendix's death later this year even though the property was once owned amd lived in by the near legendary guitarist.

In Manchester, probably the UK's greatest rock city, a block of flats stands where the famed Hacienda once gave birth to 'Madchester'. The tourism department resolutely ignores protecting or promoting sites connected with bands that include from Herman's Hermits, The Hollies, Bee Gees, The Smiths and Oasis.

Yet, the tourists arrive in droves seeking out the landmarks. We carried over 4500 customers, from 55 different countries (including Outer Mongolia!) on our Legends of Rock London tour.

It is the same throughout the country. Rock'n'roll is here to stay. For many tourists coming here it is a case of 'Never Mind The Palaces! We want a rock tour'! Preserving our popular music culture will pay as many dividends in years to come as castles, gardens and palaces pay now.