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!