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!?