Monday, 23 November 2009
Friday, 31 July 2009
Tenpole Tudor. Dingwalls 1984
Eddie Tenpole Tudor had auditioned for the Pistols, been in their film “Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle”, had hits such as “Swords of a Thousand Men” and been on TOTP dressed as a leather jacketed Knight of old. Apparently he was a superb athlete at public school too. Mad crazed eyes and a cartoon vocal delivery. Very ragged and a real boys thing.
I think we went for the tenuous Pistols connection. Years later I saw a girlfriend of mine snogging him at a very mashed party. Her flatmate knew him and we used to see him at gigs and Camden pubs. Like John Otway his appeal was as an English eccentric. But he did do TOTP.
Years later I saw him support Greaseball, a mate’s band at the King’s Head, Fulham. It was a free gig and it was just a few locals and band friends. He was playing solo and two 30-something businessmen at the bar suddenly realised who it was and went excitedly down the front to jump around and sing along. It was quite sweet although Tenpole looked a bit sheepish. It wasn’t the coolest spectacle on the planet.
Last time I saw him was in 2009 at the funeral of the girlfriend he’d snogged all those years ago. He looked as shell-shocked as I felt on that occasion.
The Meteors. Dingwalls. Camden. 1985.
Rockabilly was a large subcult throughout the early 80s. US High School jackets, Levis, white socks, check shirts, tattoos, brothel creepers. An alternative to New Romantic stupidity and High Street shoulder pads. The Meteors were the kings of the scene. Cartoon characters. “Teenagers From Outer Space”. “Earwigs In my Brain”. Good, jokey knockabout stuff. Stand up bass for that authentic 50s slap. Semi acoustic Gretschs twanging with a whammy bar.
Dingwalls was an ideal venue to see this in. Big, sweaty, raucous crowd but friendly. Huge blokes with spider web tattoos swigging Snakebite. Spoke to a black guy who had a Cramps tattoo. Not a common sight. Moshpit full of mad chicken dancing. Fun but a one-joke band.
Jobs For a Change Festival. Jubilee Gardens, London 1984.
Right in the heart of the GLC, across the Thames from Thatcher’s Parliament, a day of music and speechifying. 3 million unemployed. Bad. USAF Cruise missles. Bad. Nuclear Bombs. Bad. Miners Strike. Bad. Red Ken spoke as usual. Nerdy but down to earth. Missed the Red Skins and heard there’d been a riot with 200 skinheads storming the stage. Broken glass still on the floor. Hank Wangford there doing his songs about jogging with Jesus down Life’s long highway. First time I saw Billy Bragg or rather craned to peer into a jammed tent. The Smiths were starting to get big and this was a big gig. All eyes on them. Morrissey all floppy quiff with the ear piece and gladioli sticking out his back pocket. Not the full PA loudness and apart from a few riffs it didn’t do it for me. The lyrics make funny reading but it didn’t Rawk. Call me shallow. There’s always been something end-of-the-pier about our Stephen. Catholic demons too. A camp Nick Cave. Mari Wilson was uplifting with her beehive and doo-wop girls. Like the Darts only less panto.
Elvis Costello & The Attractions Edinburgh Playhouse 1984
Went with Craig and Andrea. Up in the balcony. The Pogues supported and went down well. Shane McGowan. Some great lyrics but that voice. I’ve tried. It hurts. The Pogues were really rough and ready, banging their heads with tin plates. Moighty craic from pissed Camden.
Elvis with the Attractions. Great band. I remember Steve Nieve’s keyboards being really clear and rocking. Amazing musician. Elvis didn’t vamp so much this time or get carried away vocally like he did in Glasgow.
A curiously empty feeling about the whole thing really. I can live quite happily without ever hearing an Elvis Costello song again.
Elvis Costello Edinburgh Playhouse 1984
Elvis played solo 2 weeks later. T-Bone Burnett was support. He was great. Easy-picking guitar. Southern US drawl. Country rock. I bought his album. He went on to play with Dylan and won an Oscar for work on “Oh Brother! Where Art Thou?”
Elvis doing Unplugged before Unplugged. Stripped of the bombast of a band he let the lyrics and tunes breathe. Ballads like “Alison” really worked shorn of clutter. Low-key but effective. His voice still bothers me though…
Elvis Costello Glasgow 1983
By 1983 Elvis was the indie King of sharp song-writing. Emerging from Punk he evolved into a Top 20 act but with schmartz, jah? I’ve tried, I’ve really tried but ultimately, after all this time, I’m not an Elvis Costello fan. The first 3 albums are great fun but it’s his voice. The fact he ended up doing “She” on the “Notting Hill” film soundtrack confounds me.
Anyway, great old ballroom at the far end of Sauciehall Street in the centre of Glasgow. The Attractions are a great band and the crowd were up for it. Glasgow audiences used to chant “Here we go, here we go, here we go!” before bands came on stage. Not like their jaded seen-it-all London brethren.
Elvis was wearing a shiny pink/purple mohair suit and doing his crooner impersonation. The fast ones were tight and rockin’. “Pump It Up, “Oliver’s Army”, “Mystery Dance”, “Radio Radio”. The ballads all seemed to end in extended vamps with Elvis dragging out the words in Tony Bennett style. Emoting. Wringing the songs out. And it got tedious. Even “Ship Building” a great song about the Falklands War was bludgeoned my Elvis’ vocal workout. Which was a real shame as that song is part of the REAL soundtrack to the Eighties, not “Rio” by Duran Duran.
A minor Legend and obviously a very clever man but…
Bo Diddley. Glasgow Arches. 1984
There was a minibus going to Glasgow. Me and flat-mates Craig and Andrea had gotten involved in the University Music Society. I got voted as President. Not bad out of about, ooh, 7 people. We joined so that we could arrange tickets and transport for ourselves, if truth be told. Nobody ever played Stirling as there was no point: stuck halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh any touring bands would just play those two before going off to Aberdeen. For that reason the Student Union was pretty useless. So, the best way for us to get to gigs and back was with transport, paid for out of student funding. We’d see a gig we’d like advertised, vote on buying a dozen tickets and book the mini-van. We were supposed to help musicians with facilities but I never got involved in that.
So, Bo Diddley. Again. At the time one of my courses was Popular Music in the 20th Century. Stirling used the 2-semesters-a-year system with a Major subject and add-on units to build up a degree. I also did a term of Fine art in The Twentieth Century. All these courses were later scrapped – useless liberal Arts costing money, who needs ‘em? Thank God, the Tories were there to sort out such nonsense! Anyway, the Music course was great. One of the lecturers was Otto Krayoli, a wonderful man who’d fled Hungary in 1956 when the Russian tanks rolled in and wrote what became a standard text; ”An Introduction To Music”. Others were old Blues fans who saw Big Bill Broonzy in 1956. Occassionally, a student would give a guest talk. I gave mine on Chuck Berry. The night of the gig I had to turn in an essay the next day entitled, I kid ye not; “Can White Men Sing The Blues?”
So, we were up for some Bo. The Arches was literally that. A small vaulted basement. So small that Bo and band had to climb the same spiral staircase to get in as the audience. The band came on first and warmed the crowd up. Suddenly, Bo was on the stairs ready to go on. People were smiling, shaking his hand. Bo Diddley! Standing next to us! The music wasn’t particularly loud so I told him about my essay. “Can they?” “Sure. If they get their shit together” That was the opening quote of my essay. I wrote it overnight when I got back to Stirling. Got an A+.
Bo had a beige, 70s looking suit with wide lapels. In fact it was a beige, 70s suit and looked a bit acrylic. John Lee Hooker once said that white boys didn’t know how to play the blues, “coz they don’t know what it is to wear nylon socks!” It was a really intimate crowd and Glaswegians are great. If they like you. They liked Bo. The set wasn’t as hard-hitting as the Lyceum show I’d seen. A lot more robotics and games with the guitar. It was an act. I knew this because I’d seen it and that seemed to rob the spontaneity from it. Strange feeling. When he played it fast though, it was mesmerising. His hands like pistons, fluid movement, hammering out the timeless beat. A Legend but working hard for it.
Dr John. Clapham Common Bandstand. 1984
Free gig on Clapham Common. The stage was the Victorian bandstand. The GLC was still in existence then so I imagine they paid for it, probably in the belief that allowing free access to Culture of all kinds would improve people’s lives. How quaint. Good thing the Tories stamped that sort of nonsense out. That evening I was due to fly to Mykonos with brother Ewan, having spent the summer vacation working for SunMed, who specialised in Greek holidays, and earned a free holiday for two. So, in quite a good mood all told.
The support acts, Diz & the Doormen and Balham Alligators, were pub-rockers always appearing in London at venues like the Half Moon, Putney. Some of them probably still are. Gigs were long affairs back then, especially when you got there early to see support acts. Don’t bother nowadays.
About 5 O’clock the band started and there was Dr John with his feathers, bag of ju-ju (huh?) and big cane walking up to the bandstand. I knew he was a cult figure from the Sixties, creating the persona of The Night Tripper and had appeared in the film, “The Last Waltz”. And that was it really. It was all ‘Nawlins funky stew and sugar-po-nah-nah. Bit too smooth in parts. He did some beautiful solo piano which I recognized from an LP I’d bought. Boogie-woogie and some slower blues. Amazing sound. It was “muso” but good! We were near the front but couldn’t quite see his fingers on the keys. Shame.
Before catching the plane we had time to have some food with my old skool mate, Bill, who lived around the corner. Nice one.
The Cure Edinburgh 1984
The Playhouse was a lovely old theatre. Flatmate Craig had worked there as a night security man before coming to Stirling. We bought a dozen Cure tickets for the Music Society, which we were running, but nobody wanted them. So, I ended up going. I liked the early singles but things like the “Pornography” album was horrible Gothic dirge.
Possibly the most boring live band ever. Nothing but dry-ice, green and purple lights and motionless black-clad figures. They did “10.15”, “A Forest” and “Killing An Arab”, which were fine. But these songs were 6 years old. And at that age 6 years is a lifetime. They carried on having hits with great videos by Tim Pope but I felt their day had been and gone. “Better live, prefer their old stuff” was a common phrase amongst us hip Kidz, ‘cept the Cure weren’t better live.
Gun Club Edinburgh Oct 1984
I bought the first Gun Club album based on an NME review. Found a copy in Boots, Andover, same time as the first Cramps album, also bought based on an NME review. Must have had a groovy record buyer at Boots who read the same reviews. Loved both albums. The Gun Club sounded ancient but bang up to date. Savage blues shouting and fierce guitar. The finest psychobilly. “Sex Beat” is a classic. Jeffrey Lee Pierce was the main man. Shock of long dyed blond hair. Other than a few photos we didn’t know what the band looked like.
And here they were playing a naff night club in Edinburgh.
The Hoochie Coochie Club was small, low ceilinged, red velvet, chrome tables with big bouncers in tuxedos and dicky bows. Pay your money at the door and in. Mix of psychobillies, students, Goths and rockers. Band came on late and the audience were baying for it. The stage was about a foot tall with silver tinsel at the back, like a stripper revue. Which it probably was. Tiny, loud, rough sounding PA. Crowd surged forward. Bouncers pushing everyone back. Gig stopped. No violence as such, just bouncers worried about the band being swamped.
Patricia Morrison was on bass. An Amazon of a woman with red lips, back combed fright wig, leather and studs. Glamorous but hard. Her and Poison Ivy of the Cramps were strong women in a male world. They looked sexy in a 50s B-Movie way but they weren’t there for fluff. They could play. In that sense they’re probably important as feminist Icons. It was OK to feel turned on by them, without the usual “objectification of women” guilt. They were cool.
Jeffrey Lee was cool personified. Ultimately drugs killed him but, then, he was still young and reasonably beautiful. The authentic whiff of the Swamp about him. Dirty slide guitar. Howled lyrics. Big rockabilly beat but demented. Crowd really behind them. Big attack guitar solos mere inches from people’s sweating faces. “Fire On The Mountain” was dynamic, a huge stop-start riff of a song. This was proper hard, heavy Rock. The Pixies learnt a lot from them. American guitars, drenched in the sound of that Continent. From Robert Johnson to Punk. The Smiths? Wimps.
A great band and the missing link between Gene Vincent and The White Stripes. Keef says he wants written on his gravestone: “He passed it on”. Jeffrey Lee did. Legends in my book.
The Jazz Butcher. ICA London Dec 1984
The ICA on The Mall, Buck House at the end of the road, right at the heart of The Empire. It didn’t seem possible to have malarkey like live music in such close proximity to Brenda. A week of gigs at the ICA. The Jesus & Mary Chain played and famously had a riot the night before this gig. The Pogues played the night after. We went see the Jazz Butcher. The “Scandal In Bohemia” album was a great blast of sunny humourous pop, akin to Jonathan Richman and the Woodentops but sarkier. It had a great cover by Savage Pencil, one of the UK’s top music cartoonists along with Ray Lowry. Songs like “Southern Mark Smith” and “Real Men From Leeds” were caustic but catchy. Lines like,”he wore trousers made entirely out of the skins of dead Jim Morrisons” were daft but in a Robyn Hitchcock, wry sort of way. Even the name was a piss-take.
The ICA was then old skool Arts establishment. Now it’s all theme nights in the bar, DJs, proper restaurant. A night out, like going to a posh pub. Then, small dark venue. It reminded me of the theatre at my old College.
Not that many people there. The Jazz Butcher came on and it was very muted. The sound mix and the songs were not light or jolly. There were gags but a lot darker than the album. It reminded me of the Barracudas, whose first album was frothy pop and then they got serious. Well, if was good enough for the Beatles…
Microdisney were great to watch. The guitarist had a Fender painted the same as James Burton’s, Elvis’ guitarist, all purple and fuschia swirlyness. The singer was called Cathal, who wore a cord jacket with a book in the pocket and looked like A Poet. A stamping, neck-vein throbbing, Irishman Poet. He was hilarious but also quite intimidating. The guitar playing was country tinged while Cathal ranted. Uncle Greg grew up in Derry and got his persona instantly. Microdisney mutated into Fatima Mansions later, named after a grotty estate in Dublin, and had songs like “Ciao Ceausescu” after the death of the Romanian dictator and “Only Losers Take the Bus” after Thatcher’s famous line. Angry, shouty Catholic fun. Righteous spleen. Both bands were typical NME fodder really. Few good tunes, good live shows but out of step with the mainstream. John Peel territory: small but perfectly formed.
The older I get the more bands seem like books. Everyone’s got one in them. To make a Number 1 record is every schoolkid’s dream. To be adored. So, if you have a chance of recording and playing live with a band then you’ve done it. You’ve written a book! Like a book, it can’t be unwritten. Time captured in music and word. To be able to do it really well is special. These guys were an entertaining read.
Ege-Bam-Yasi. Stirling Uni 1984
Ege-Bam-Yasi were named after a Can album and consisted of a bald bloke in leather troos, stripped to the waist ranting over a backing track of metal bashing beats accompanied by a Dominatrix clad harpy, wailing away. He was smeared in baby-oil and she started whipping him. He got a nasty smack across the head and it really made him flinch but he battled on. Weird. They got mentioned in the NME every now again.
I wandered into the folk room full of people lying on the floor, stoned, and a guy playing a Neil Young song with a very pissed bloke bawling into the mic trying to sing along. “Helpless, helpless, helpless!”. “Aye, hopeless,” came a voice at the back. Scots humour.
Rip, Strip & Fuck It played one song before the whole evening was cancelled when the police arrived following a stabbing somewhere at the party. Irate pissed people arguing wi’ tha polis. Now they have gun amnesties, but back then a stabbing was quite rare. It was a shock. The Real World could be ugly.
Allnighters were stopped after that.
Aztec Camera Edinburgh Dec 1983
Aztec Camera was basically Roddy Frame who was the Boy Wonder of Scottish pop. He was part of the Postcard sound like Orange Juice ‘cept he was only 18! Younger than us! Bastard.
Queen’s Hall was an old church laid out with a circular balcony and pew seating. Lovely little venue. Sold out gig just before Xmas so everyone was in a good mood. Pleasant jangley stuff like Orange Juice but better than the Farmer’s Boys. Real talent and lovely semi-acoustic guitar. “Pillar To Post” was wise beyond its years. The encore was just Roddy playing “Down The Dip”. Dig it out. Top tune.
Roddy later had a Top 10 hit with Mick Jones and pretty much retired at the age of 30.
Farmer’s Boys Stirling Uni1983
Another band that were the alternative to Duran Duran and Chart shite. Except they weren’t really. Students basically. More jingle jangle tweeness. Altered Images and The Higsons were also of that ilk. The only thing I remember was the singer having specs, wearing a jumble sale raincoat and eating yoghurt during one song. Pointless, wet nonsense.
I’m not sure but I think this was the gig where Andrea danced at the disco later. She always danced but this was early days and this night she ruled the dance floor. Not in a Britney way but just graceful, fluid, cool moves. Skipping, stepping, sliding over the floor. She made it look so easy. Most girls did the handbag shuffle. Years later I met someone who remembered her dancing that night too and how cool she’d looked. Especially for an English woman too, ken but, ho, by the way…
Bluebells Stirling University 1983
My first term at Big Skool. Went with Craig who was my next-door neighbour in Halls. We’d met when I’d asked him how big an A4 piece of paper was (meaning the actual dimensions) and he went “about this big” holding his hands out like a fisherman. Doh! Anyway, he was my age (19) and into the same bands, which was a result as everyone else was 17 and away from home for the first time ever, pissing away a student grant. In those days fees were paid through taxes and you could claim dole money and rent during the holidays! Thatcher put an end to that and Phony Blair did the rest. It’s weird now to meet 30 year olds who are still paying off loans and debts from their student days. Education was/is a right so when Blair went on about “education, education, education” you just knew he was a c*nt...
I digress. Pathfoot Hall was the University’s concert venue and original refectory. They had all-nighters once a term. Townies came in so it had a mix. People from the real world. Some of them probably living a False Consciousness. Or so it said in our books.
The Bluebells were a Scottish indie-pop band in the vein of Orange Juice and had been on TOTP with “Young At Heart,” (which made Number 1 years later after being used in a VW advert). Nice, clean, ironed check shirts, tidy haircuts, jangley guitars. What happened to The Clash?!
And that was about it. Lots of milling about, getting progressively drunker into the wee hours of the morning, watching the rugby lads dancing to bad disco.
Go Betweens. 1983
The Everyman is the oldest rep cinema in the world and in the early 80s was still a one screen flea pit. Someone had the idea of a week of gigs and each band chose their favourite film as a support act. So, I’d bought the debut album “Cattle & Cane” (on Rough Trade) after reading an NME review, so, we thought, let’s go. It was A Sunday. We didn’t have all-day opening then so doing anything on a Sunday felt weird.
The film, I think, was “Washington Square”. It was great seeing an old black and white movie on the big screen. Then the band ambled on and played a short set with only a few lights for atmos. It was a quiet crowd. Sitting in an old cinema was not normal for a gig. Jerky, fractured little songs and they had a lady bass-player. A lady anything was still a rarity.. always felt with the Go Betweens that I should like them but they were a little bit undanceable and slow and “arty”. The gig was enjoyable though.
Years later I went to a filming of a TV show called “Songwriter’s Circle” at the Subterania in Ladbrook Grove. That night they had Chrissie Hynde, Nick Cave AND John Cale all playing their back catalogue, solo and acoustic. Amazing stuff. I’d clocked Robert Forster earlier on the Portobello road, thinking, “I know him”. Later at the bar I got chatting to him and his mate who turned out to be Grant McClellan, also of the Go Betweens. They remembered the Everyman gig well and said the film hadn’t been there first choice but they were just thrilled to be playing in London, having only settled here from New Zealand the year before.
Not long after Grant dropped down dead at a BBQ back home in NZ. Not my fault, I swear…
John Otway. Kings Head, Fulham 1983
After 6 months on the pig farm, post ‘A’-levels, and a morose Christmas in Scotland spent mainly walking in the woods, stoned on Black Leb, listening to sad Fairport Convention songs on a cheap Walkman, things had to change. A chance meeting in a pub after Xmas and suddenly I was sharing a flat in London with Christopher John Dry, The Vicar’s son. A disgusting basement bedsit in Earl’s Court with, no lie, an inch of fag-butts and cat-shit on the carpet, rented from a Mr Malty. Horace next door collected the rent and we scored hash off his girlfriend. By a weird quirk of fate, my brother ended up sharing an attic bedsit the following year in the same building. Half the size for the same rent.
Anyway, the first gig we saw was John Otway at the King’s Head. It was close, it was cheap and I had a copy of “Really Free”, his only hit. Otway was the original One-Hit Wonder to the extent his autobiography was named just that . His stage act hasn’t changed in over 30 years. He started on the pub-rock and College circuit and had his big break appearing on The Old Grey Whistle Test, where he climbed the lighting rig and fell off an amp. A water-cooler moment if ever there was one. Well, there were only 3 TV channels in those days…
We loved it. Jumping off step-ladders, somersaulting across the floor, head butting his mic, playing 2 top halves from different Gibson SGs screwed together, gurning. The ultimate geek, like a kid showing off with limited talent.
We went 4 weeks in a row and the audiences got bigger each week. Nice, friendly crowd, lots of beer and laughter. He played his 3,000thgig at the Royal Albert Hall in about 2000 and I took Sam, my wife, to see him at The Venue, Kentish Town in 2004. A pub venue with about 40 blokes of a certain age, with lots of beer and laughter. I got a great photo of a very sweaty Otway trying to kiss her. Nice.
Bo Diddley. Lyceum.1983
The Lyceum had been one of London’s bigger concert venues and hosted everyone from the Stones to Captain Beefheart. Lennon played his first post Beatle gig there. Saw an advert for Bo Diddley and told loads of mates that we should go. It was a Sunday, which was unusual, but years later I realised that Sundays are cheaper to hire for promoters. Bo Diddley was legend but the appeal was, ahem, more selective by the early 80s. First rule of Fame: keep doing what you’re famous for and you’ll eventually become fashionable again.
Quite a large group of us went and we spent the afternoon getting ripped at home. Got to the venue and sat in the balcony. Gorgeous old theatre and heaving. Loads of rockabillies with the quiffs, check shirts, jeans-with-turn-ups bought from Flip.
First band on were King Kurt who’d had a small hit and TOTP appearance with the slap-stick rockabilly, “Destination Zululand”. They had enormous quiffs and played it for laughs. The mosh-pit was a blur of flailing limbs due to the fashion for punching your arms out in time to the music. The guitarist had a huge piece of rectangular cardboard stuck over his guitar in a homage to Bo’s guitar of the same shape. They improvised some lyrics which included, “Bo Diddley, Show Us Your Willy!” Last song saw bags of flour thrown all over the band and front row. And feathers. A real mess. The only time I’ve ever seen a stage swept before the next act.
Next act was The Pirates. Mick Green was the original heavy rock guitar hero. They’d had one massive hit in “Shakin’ All Over” in about 1573 which guaranteed them Rock immortality. Johnny Kidd, who’d originally led the group, was long dead. A power trio, now, dressed in bouncers’ tuxedos. They looked like big burly blokes coz they were. They were great. Really heavy R&B.
Then, Bo Diddley. Now he really did help write the Book! Wow. Chuck, Bo and, er, Little were the holy trinity of black rocknrollers. And here he was! His guitar sound was incredible. Really loud, dirty, then soft. He fiddled with the knobs and made it “talk”. He did some robotics which got the crowd going. The pounding beat was great and it wasn’t prettied up. This was the beat copied by the Stones and all those other bands learning their craft in the distant dawn of the Sixties. The Stones toured the UK with Bo in 1963 and he told them to keep at it, don’t give up. Maybe it was the young, rowdy crowd but all the other times I saw him he was more bluesy and didn’t really play the old hits. If he did they were done softer. This night he rocked.
Cracking stuff and our gang enjoyed it, which pleased me as it had been on my say-so that we went. Vanity? I’d spread the Word. Unlike previous generations we can go back and hear the old recordings and see the archive of Rock. 100 years from now people will be able to get an idea of how Bo Diddley looked and sounded. You can’t do that with Victorian Music Hall or Shakespearean actors circa 1600. If I’m ever a grand-parent I can speak of how I saw some of the Greats and they’ll be able to click, download and see what I’m talking about. And, yea, the Greats will live on. And Bo Diddley IS one of the Greats. Even if, sadly, he is dead.
The Lyceum closed down for years and re-opened with The Lion King, based on the Disney cartoon film of the same name, with music by Elton John…
UK Subs. Greyhound, Fulham. June. 1983.
The UK Subs were part of the second wave of Punk along with bands like The Angelic Upstarts and The Exploited. The uniform was becoming set with studded leather jackets, tartan trousers, Mohican haircuts. They had a few good singles but lacked the talent, basically. This gig was billed as the “Original UK Subs” so they were already reforming then!
The Greyhound was part of the alternative music scene. Although basically a pub it was on a par with The Red Lion, Hope & Anchor, The Nashville, Dingwalls, Marquee and 100 club as a live venue. If you look through old NMEs or Melody Makers from the late 70s you’ll see all the punk bands played there.
But it was basically a pub. The crowd was mainly blokes, with a Skin Head contingent and a real sense of unease. I remember feeling a bit hick-from-the-sticks but a room full of 19 year-olds, drinking and listening to loud, shouty music is going to be a bit charged anyway.
Punk as a fashion had passed. New Romantics had taken over, Thatcher had snatched an election after The Falklands, Greenham Common was protested, the Miners were about to get fucked over and, by extension, the whole Trade Union movement, unemployment had gone past 2 million. Jubilee Hall, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the South Bank, was once home to the Greater London Council, run by “Red” Ken Livingstone. They had a huge banner facing Parliament which they updated weekly with the latest unemployment figures. It got to 4 million. Thatcher eventually scrapped the GLC and all the other City Councils nationally because they were Labour controlled. Fuck the poor, basically.
So, a lot of the audience were the disaffected youth we’d heard all these songs about. Yeah, yeah, I know, that sounds like prissy, soft, middle-class Southern pansy. But it was true. I did grow up in the affluent South. Andover’s unemployment was so low one month, (34 people out of a total of 60,000), that my step-father, Guthrie, was interviewed as a member of the business community to explain this phenomena, on Radio 4! Chris and I signed-on when we first got to London and the first visit to the Fulham dole office was scary. It was grim. The interview booths had security glass. When I see footage of slums overseas I get the same sense of hopelessness that I got in that building.
Angry. And that’s what the UK Subs were. The sound was pretty dire, the tunes a bit samey, the vocals rough. “Tomorrow’s Girls” was fun. I had that with picture sleeve AND blue vinyl, nyah. People pogo-ed and jumped around. It was fun. Kids letting off steam. It reminded me of playing British Bulldog at judo classes when I was about 10.
Steve Harley. Venue 1983
Flatmate Chris had a live Steve Harley album, “Face to Face”, which we listened to. Well, a few tracks. “Best Years of our Lives” was a good song. The album cover was Steve looking over his shoulder. Cockney Rebel had one stone-cold classic in “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)”, which I remember being Number 1. “Mr Soft” had been on TOTP but wasn’t as good. Steve Harley had been a music journalist and seemed to get a lot of stick for his attitude. Interviews with him were terse affairs. Other than that I knew nothing about him.
We saw the gig advertised and went along. The Venue was an old theatre opposite Victoria Station and had opened as a rock venue. We had balcony seats and about a minute before he came on Chris said; ”You do know he’s got a crippled foot from polio?” And suddenly there he was. Steve. And he was wearing socks but no shoes and had an awkward gait. Receding hair. Songs like “Sebastian” suddenly made sense. Jerky, rhythms that he could dance to without seeming different. That’s not true, but it seemed that way. The physical presence changed the songs completely. He sang in an exaggerated Mockney too which added to the theatrical sense of oddness.
Don’t remember much of it to be honest. I recognized some from the live album but the majority weren’t “instant” songs. And not knowing them too well made them hard work. It wasn’t punk. He played “Make Me Smile” with a big crowd sing-a-long. His song, his audience. He wrote that and it’s Legend. I felt jealous. One-hit wonder? At least he had one.
The Venue closed down as a rock venue and staged Starlite Express for years.
Wishbone Ash. Guildford Civic. 1982
Guildford Civic Hall was part of the Seventies Rock circuit. Touring bands always played there and De Montford Hall, Leicester and Aylesbury Friars. My mum worked with Christine Brett at a local school. She was raised in London with her twin sister, Pauline, and they were teenagers in the Sixties. They saw The Who at some of their famous Tuesday night gigs at The Marquee. The band played a residency there and that’s where they made their name. One of the reasons The Marquee was “legendary”. So, Christine was just that little bit younger and groovier than my Mum.
Pauline had 2 spare tickets to see Wishbone Ash in Guildford. She gave them, gratis, to me and my mate Smelly. He used to wear a leather jacket with bits of motorbike hanging off it, which could topple a chair over due to its weight. “Urgh. You’re a Smelly!” said Selina and the name stuck. I call him Mark now. So, the four of us went to see some real time-ish Seventies Rock.
The ladies sat in the balcony. Me and Smelly got down onto the floor. A proper rocker crowd. And hippies. Patchouli oil and pot. Flares. Long centre-parted hair. The sort of people who’d go and see Hawkwind. Which is odd as Wishbone Ash are fairly soft rock, all things considered. I had one album, “Argus”, with a gate-fold sleeve adorned on the cover with a cloaked, ancient Sentry wearing a wraparound metal Viking-type helmet, holding a spear and looking out over miles of misty mountains. Far out. 10 minute “songs” with titles like “Time Was”. There was only one song I really liked; “Blowin’ Free”. It was a rocker in The Grateful Dead’s, “Truckin’” mode. Smelly knew a bit more of their stuff.
Wishbone Ash was like a load of Seventies band in the early Eighties: is that it? Videos cost money, we’re ugly and the Man won’t pay anyway. They were already doing greatest hits tours in all but name. You didn’t hear them on the radio. No BBC6 Digital or Mojo Radio or podcasting or MySpace then. If you were lucky you’d built up a back catalogue that sold and hadn’t spunked all the money you’d made. Sure, it was a living but how long could they sustain it?
The Ash was revered in that they were one of the first British bands to have dual lead-guitarists. Two axes! Like, wow! Andy Powell, who wore specs and played a Gibson Flying V, and the other guy. Thin Lizzy came later. Status Quo had dual rhythm guitarists. There was a little bit of Spinal Tap-ness about them, even before the film came out. Musoes. If you like long solos, just like on the record, Ash were your men. In fairness my appreciation is soiled by the sense that they were an “elder brother’s band” and anyway I liked harder, faster stuff. That said “something”. Student angst.
Not knowing their stuff, I just watched them play their instruments. Some of it was pleasant enough but a bit Prog I thought. The song l liked had a middle-eight where the guitars really took off on a flying boogie. And they fluffed it. They laughed and carried on. They were human.
Looking back I reckon that, had I been a few years older, I wouldn’t have gone for it. I’d be listening to Lou Reed, Bowie, Roxy Music. The good shit. I hope. Still, I got to see a Second Division Seventies Rock band you’ve heard of. At least they weren’t Uriah Heep
Joan was part of the Runaways who were the first big all-girl Rawk group. Joan had hit Number#1 in the post-Punk world, with “I Love Rock’n’Roll”. Big, dumb riff, almost like a Gary Glitter song. Even then I knew it wasn’t “real” but at least it was “rock” and had guitars and wasn’t like the rest of the shite in the charts. I went with my girlfiend at the time, Lucinda, who lived in London and had an elder brother who was plugged into the scene. Well, he was 19 and into music and knew a couple of minor new wave stars. Anyway, off we went to the Marquee.
Don’t really remember much about the gig apart from the “Hit”, which we all gleefully sang along to. She was dressed in leather trousers and had a tattoo on her arm. This was strange indeed. Tattoos are everywhere now and nobody bats an eye. Back then Working Class people had tattoos. It was a real sign of which side of the tracks you were on. Now, it’s all Celtic scrolls and Japanese daubs just above ladies arse-cracks. They’ll regret it.
And, er, that’s it really. All I can really remember is thinking how small Joan Jett was and that she had a skinny bottom. Not very PC but, hey, I was young.
Pretty Things. The Marquee. 1982
A coach from my college was going up to London cheap so we went. Found the Marquee as I knew the band was playing there, having seen the advert in Melody Maker (RIP). They were Big in the Sixties, kinda. The band were my age now (40-something) and probably trying really hard but it wasn’t The Clash. Horrible, sludgy blues rock. Crap sound. Nobody there. The Marquee was legendary but it was a toilet really. Bought a T-shirt half-price from one of the band’s wives at the front door and wore it for years
The Troggs. Thruxton. 1981
The Troggs are from Andover, my home town. I can go anywhere on the planet and hear “Wild Thing” and have my chest swell with pride. Andover’s not famous for anything else. So, The Troggs are local boys. My Mum taught Reg Presley’s daughter French at the Winton School. Reg Presley missed the premiere of “Love, Actually”. He was invited as he’d written “Love Is All Around” which was covered in the film. Wet Wet Wet did a version that spent 15 weeks at Number #1, when Number #1 still meant something. Reg turned the invite down as he was Andover’s Town Mayor and had been asked to open that year’s town carnival. Good man.
The Troggs didn’t play that much in the UK. They weren’t Rock Gods a la The Stones. Or even The Hollies. Sort of band that played Germany occasionally but had proper jobs. The venue was the bar underneath the stand at Thruxton race circuit, just outside Andover. The band looked like Dads you’d see in Andover. I didn’t know any songs other than I Can’t Control Myself and Wild Thing. Wild Thing was played for laughs. After the opening riff Reg shouted “Wait for it!” in his Hampshire burr, just before the first line. “Now!” and we all sang along. It was fun but it wasn’t punk.
If you ever get the chance listen to the “Troggs’ Tape”, a much bootlegged recording of the band arguing in the studio in the 70s. It’s like a bunch of farmers and gives an idea of where they were coming from.
Nils LofgrenPortsmouth Guildhall. 1979
A friend’s sister had a spare ticket so I went. Knew nothing about him. We listened to his live album before we went and I liked “Cry Tough” and “Keith Don’t Go,” which was about Keef’s drug bust in Toronto. A few tunes worked but it was all AOR and I was a punk, innit. Also they put seating into the Guidhall which was, like, sitting down, maaan! Hippies. He came on in shades and scarfs tied onto his wrists. Uh-oh. Looking back there was probably a lotta coke going on. He played his guitar behind his head and with his teeth and whilst jumping up and down on a little trampoline. Huh? A session man who’s worked with Neil Young, Lou Reed, Springsteen and others, but never really made it solo. He’s diddy too. Tiny. I wonder if I’d appreciate it more now. Perish the thought.
THE JAM. 1979
The Jam along with the Stranglers were the bollocks at my school. The filmQuadropheniahad come out and suddenly everyone was singing, “We are the Mods. We are the Mods. We are, We are, We are the Mods!” Catchy. “All Mod Cons”, the difficult third album, had come out and we loved it. It still sounds good today.
Butterflies in the stomach. We’re really going to see them, famous people and everything! Time drags at that age and the weeks beforehand certainly dragged. The day arrived. We charged straight to the front to assume the position. The Records supported who were poppy but looked suspiciously old. Years later found out it was Will Birch from Kursaal Flyers (a pubrock band) who later wrote for Mojo and other such Dad Rock mags.
Then, The Jam. The only thing they didn’t do was jump in the air, which they were famous for. They’d grown up. For a 3 piece they made an enormous sound. Rick Buckler, or “the supremely beautiful Rick Buckler” as he was once described, played big solid drums. He now drums in a Jam tribute band. Weird.
Anyway, Paul Weller was all cool and speed. Chewing gum non-stop he blasted at his Rickenbacker and spat out the words. And we knewall the words. We were so close you could see spit flying out his mouth and sweat running down his face. Bruce Foxton had bad skin, seemed a lot shorter than in the photos but still looked cool.
About half-way through our little gang led a crowd singalong of “Happy Birthday” to Weller who was 21 on the 25th. (21!?!) It spread through the whole Guildhall and I remember feeling chuffed that we started it. Weller chewed his gum until we’d finished. “Cheers. This is the Modern World!” and straight into the song. Cool. Years later I went to the filming of an invite-only gig where Weller was doing songs off his covers album, Studio 182. I saw an old geezer with a quiff and recognised him as Weller’s dad, John. Had a lovely chat with him and mentioned that gig. And he remembered it too! At the time he managed the band and introduced them at every gig. Having a crowd sing happy birthday to your son is something a parent doesn’t forget, I suppose. You could see the pride and love he had for his boy.
It was a great gig. The Jam hadn’t quite gone mega but were about to break through. They were still “ours”. Looking back you can see the ambition. Weller wrote songs. “All Mod Cons” had proved that. They played most of the singles, most of the albums and some B-sides, including their version of “Batman”! Highlight was at the end when dry ice filled the venue and the loud sound of tube trains came out of the speakers. No-one bats an eye, or ear, at taped sounds these days but back then it was unusual. “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” rocketed by. Feedback, an extended drum solo, the end. Superb.
Thin Lizzy. 1979
Although I was just right for Punk there was still a lot of “old” music that we liked. This included Black Sabbath, Quo, Deep Purple, bits of Genesis and Thin Lizzy. The power of the riff. Hours head-banging with tennis rackets. We made our own entertainment in those days. Thin Lizzy were really big by 1979 having shifted plenty units of a live double album, which went triple titanium or something and put them in the Big Boys league. They didn’t feel like an elder brother’s band either as the other bands had basically had their glory days. Ah, fickle public. Lizzy were also unusual in that Phil Lynott, singer and bass player, was Black and Irish. Still an unusual combination today. Or is it like Scotland? “Racism? Och no. No Blacks, no problem”.
Went with skool mate Chris “Pidge” Pigeon – see what we did there? Anyway, straight down the front. Gary Moore was in the band at this stage. After Bryan Adams, probably the worst skin in rock. Crowd were mainly greasers and rockers wearing flares and leather jackets with sleeveless denim jackets over the top, covered in badges. “Branding” is a word that everyone knows now but in the 1970s Rock bands invented the idea of the logo and all the associations of branding: recognition; community; trust; dependability; status; aspiration etc. Just a thought. Heavy metal crowds tend to be friendly as you’re all there for the same reason and, thus, Good People. It’s hard to be sniffy and aloof with such unsubtle music…
Band came on with the guitarists, Scott Gorham and Gary Moore, playing enormous kettle drums either side of the stage. This was a tune from their new studio album, “Black Rose”. The lights were amazing!! Compared to today the light show was pony, (a fact proven when I saw bits of an old Lizzy “Rock Comes to College” gig on TV in 2006). But then it was the best I’d seen. Lots of lights, burning your face off. And they went with the music! And the band’s logo, made out of hundreds of bulbs, lit up behind the drummer!! We were getting our money’s worth. Lynott stood centre stage, light bouncing off the mirror plate of his Fender Precision bass. He did the gag from the live LP. “Anybody here with any Oirish in them? Any of da girls want some more Oirish in them?” Geddit?!
They were feckin’ great! “Jailbreak” with all the sirens, “Dancing in the Moonlight”, “Don’t Believe a Word”, “Rosalie”, “Boys Are Back in Town”!! Proper Rock.
There was a fashion at skool to make necklaces out of leather boot-laces, as worn by the Stranglers. I threw mine at Phil. Dunno why. He flinched, as you would, but picked it up and put it on. A bit later while he was slapping outstretched hands I caught his eye, pointing at my neck and then his. He understood, smiled and we slapped flesh. Righteous.
Bob Dylan. My first gig, aged 14. We had a mate who lived in nearby Fleet so we stayed at his parents’ house. Queued for hours to get in with our beer and fags - no ganja in those days! I remember going down the front for Graham Parker. Well, front and 100 yards to the right, up against the fence). "Hey Lord Don't Ask Me Questions" was great and I remember thinking "Fuck.That's loud!" Having never been to a gig or stood next to a huge PA before I was a bit scared.
Most of the day was long and boring as we couldn't see anything and the sound was constantly blown around.... it was a big, flat aerodrome. You'd think someone would have realised. Clapton got a big cheer and we recognized a few tunes like “Cocaine”. Again, couldn't see much and the sound wasn't great. I remember seeing a "Clapton is God" sign and not really getting it. Still don't...
After an enormous wait there he was! Bum Dildo!! That was the pet name we had. Ah, youth. Most of the songs I didn't know, until years later when I got into Dylan properly. Looking at the set list today it was a great Greatest Hits show! The only bit I remember with real clarity was the acoustic section when a German guy let me use his binoculars (damn, why hadn't we thought of that?!). I remember “Gates of Eden” and “It's Alright Ma” with Bob in his battered top hat. Weirdly the wind dropped so we heard these really clearly, especially the harmonica which did send a chill. For a brief moment I got a glimpse of why all these people were there and what Bob meant.
Took us hours to get back to our mate's house but the mince and mashed tatties that his Mum had waiting for us tasted magic! Years later I got a dodgy cassette bootleg and it sounded much like the day... muffled. Later that summer I stayed with an Aunt in Scotland and she had a battered old copy of “Bringing it All Back Home”. I played it non-stop.