Sunday, January 22, 2012

By Royal Appointment; Exclusive Gigs

Fifty-years ago rock was about rebellion. Older rockers might remember the fuss when the Beatles were awarded their MBE medals, and attended Buckingham Palace to collect them from Good Queen Bess. (October 1965). The joke at the time was would the Beatles obey the signs and 'keep off the grass'!

How the world has changed; and so, has rock. Revolt into style, as George Melly once shrewdly observed. We now have a collection of 'Sirs' as well as MBEs, OBEs, and sundry other recognitions (like honorary PhDs awarded by self-promoting universities). Buck House is now a well-established rock venue, and even Status Quo have 'gongs'. Mind you, Quo deserve them a darn site more then some other of the recipients.

All this came to mind last week reading about St James Palace being the latest Royal Palace to host a rock concert. Admittedly, this was a promotional, PR turn by Van Morrison on behalf of the 'come to Northern Ireland' tourist campaign, but it counts and adds to Kensington Palace (Elton and Rod Stewart being regular performers for Princess Diana) and Whitehall Palace (Eric Clapton at some corporate do or other).

Rock has yet to reverberate from the walls of Windsor Castle yet, but maybe this is the year with it being QE2's 60th. We have still to hear what delights are to be provided for the masses as part of the festivities - though McCartney is bound to feature somewhere! Be a bit ironic if Windsor did feature given that the great National Jazz and Blues Festivals at Richmond and Windsor were one of UK rock's founding events. Just check who’s at the foot of the 1963 festival, and who lines up for 1967.

Thinking about it; rock has yet to have its first 'Lord'. Couple of certainties; it will get one eventually but count out Bowie and Keef Richards. Neither would accept any award of this nature. So who? Well, Lord McCartney of Strawberry Fields has a certain ring to it, and he's reigned nearly as long as Liz, God Bless her (and him!).

Monday, January 9, 2012


Planning continues apace for the UFO reunion (which is on March 23rd, not the 24th as advised in a prior blog).

'Zeitgeist 66', as the event has been christened, is being held at Nottinhgill's Tabernacle. It is somewhat ironic that the event is actually being 'planned' as spontaneity was the norm at the original UFO! 'We're all getting older, admitted Mouse O'Brien, one of the original UFO regulars, 'and at our age planning becomes a bit more prudent'.

One element that particularly requires forward thinking is the siting of a commemorative plaque. A formal unveiling will be one of the day's key events if this element comes to fruition. The hardest part of getting a plaque up is getting the agreement of the building owners. In this case it is the All Saints church authorities; the ideal position would be on a church wall adjacent to the original church hall, the initial UFO venue. Hopes are high that the church will welcome the initiative of a permanent memorial given the building's significance in local social history.

Watch this space for more news and contact Mouse directly if you want tickets, or have any memorabilia from the original UFO that can be included in the planned display. Tickets will be in high demand and numbers are strictly limited;

Friday, January 6, 2012

Where have all the Bootlegs gone?

News of the surfacing of an early recording of the Stones’ ‘As Tears Go By’ secreteed from London’s Regent Sound Studio, evokes nostalgia for the old-fashioned vinyl or cassette bootleg where such illicit material often surfaced in the past. ‘Bootlegs’, by way of explanation for the younger rock fan, were unofficial releases; concert recordings or demos that, like this new Stones gem, somehow escaped the studio, were pirated, and found their way into twilight distribution channels where a lucky soul might chance upon them before the police did.

‘Lucky’ is a term to be used loosely here. In truth, the recording quality of a bootleg was often rubbish; most were taken from hand-held cassettes smuggled in past security. But some came off the mixing desk, or the artists own personal tape machines, and these became legendary and much sought-after. Certain acts were more prone to the bootlegger than others; usually those whose official output was a trifle sporadic, or whose canon failed to include ‘live’ performances when the band had a reputation for playing great live shows. The holy grails were those ‘legendary’ gigs or super-jams that were rumoured to have taken place with a tape machine left running - like the early Hendrix jams in London basement clubs with the likes of Traffic, Eric Burdon and Alexis Korner.

I remember the thrill of first discovering ‘Led Zep at the Royal Albert Hall 1970’ and ‘Hendrix at the Winterland Ballroom’. A particular prize in my collection is an anonymously-packaged, orange vinyl of Rod Stewart and the Faces. There were no liner notes, not even a track listing, so where and when this gem was recorded remains a mystery. A couple of other prized items include a range of tapes taken from the mixing desk at London’s ‘Half Moon’ pub venue. Discretion (and the fear of retribution!) prohibits a fuller explanation but suffice it say that I treasure performances from the likes of Guy Clarke and John Stewart. A similar mixing desk-sourced performance is of Julian Cope in Leicester.

Naturally, some artists fought back. The Grateful Dead allowed everyone to take in their recorders with the result that you’d see a forest of raised arms or cassettes atop of posts stretching before you. Frank Zappa took another route to ‘beat the boots’ and simply issued a zillion live albums. The quality was always excellent as you’d expect from the great man. And Dylan of course did the same by releasing the famed ‘Basement Tapes’.

It’s all too easy now. A quick trawl through the internet and you can download almost anything, and free. Pearls are truly being cast before the swine.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It Was 50-Years Ago Today that Sgnt Pepper...

It happened on January 01 1962; fifty years ago. Let me write that again; fifty-years ago...

On that fateful day four young men from Liverpool filed into the Decca studios in North London for an audition. And as everyone knows, they failed it; Decca preferred to sign Brian Poole and the Tremeloes to this other band who didn´t quite measure up to the promise they´d shown when playing live at Liverpool´s Cavern Club.

Fifty-years and millions of records on, The Beatles are still the biggest name in popular music.

Who would have thought on that grey, early 1960s day (we didn´t even get a holiday for New Year´s Day in those far oft times!) that half a century later their music would not only still be selling by the truckload (or more recently download) but, for example, be providing the accompanyment to the New Year´s fireworks on Rio´s Copacabana Beach? Or indeed, that one of their surviving members would still be conducting world tours? Not bad for a band that didn´t show any promise!

2012 is a big year in Beatle history. Some might argue that it is the real 50th Anniversary of the band as it marked not only the begining of their recording career but the line-up that featured Ringo. Perhaps it´s unfair to write Pete Best out of the story in this way but 1962 was certainly a momentous year as it marked their arrival in London. Liverpool was now behind them; history.

Boy, did Decca screw up.

Fairplay though, the Tremeloes did go on to have some cracking hits and Brian Poole is still fronting a band today. Not too sure that I´ll be hearing their music on Copacabana beach anytime soon though...