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.