Thursday, 25 February 2010

Every Gig I've Ever Seen #53

Martin Harley Band, Peter Parker's Rock n Roll Club, London. 22/2/10

What will music be like when Grandad was a punk, not an RAF pilot? The Book's been written.What is music, now that you can turn it on like water from a tap via the web? Rock, for want of a better word, is dead. Dead from too much karaoke.

The Authentic. That's what the People need. If all the forms are known, all the songs written, then it's the singer's take on the song that makes the difference now. Only connect. The human touch. Not Subo - the Diana Moment in Pop - but real performers playing real songs.

The Martin Harley Band possess the chops and tunes to take an audience with them. It's acoustic, blues-based, with Django-esque jazz tinges. You'll "know" the origins, even if you can't name them.
Great, you say, just what we need, another set of well-worn cliches.

But, a-ha, these guys are great. Harley's an engaging front man with a wonderful slide action and can turn a pretty lyric. The band are tight but loose, real connection between them. This isn't just another singer/songwriter with pick-up band. It's an entity in its own right.

In an age of Lady Ga-Ga and ever increasing plastic Pop it's refreshing to hear and see proper musicians play live. It's the musicianship that makes it. And they make it look so easy. "Automatic Life", "Drumrolls for Somersaults", "Carnival Girls" and a pin-drop acoustic version of "North Lanes". A fine set of songs. 

Harley isn't about to fall into the David Gray trap: enough talent to "make it" but then what? He's old enough to know better. His craft will just get better and better. He'll get bigger but that's not the main event. It's about the music. The sheer joy of making an instrument sing. You can listen along if you like...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Every gig I've Ever Seen #52 Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones Shepherds Bush Empire June 1999


Rushed down to Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus, with Rod Webster on the Monday morning. We were supposed to be editing but we bunked off – um vee. Well, why not, it’s not like it happens everyday? Queued for an hour, handed over £10 cash money (bargain!) and got a ticket and wrist band.

The Stones always liked to do a small club date in London, famously playing the 100 club, Brixton Academy and The Astoria on different tours. Although huge all over the planet, London is still their home town and they always needed to put on a good show in front of the home crowd. 1999 saw all sorts of unique gigs as the Twentieth Century drew to a close and I think people getting in a tizzy over YK2 (remember that?!) was a red herring, a distraction from a sense of loss, End of The Millennium Psychosis Blues, literally the end of an era. Part of this naval-gazing saw Macca play the Cavern Club in Liverpool, doing old rock’n’roll numbers. It made world news.

So, whither goest the The Rolling Stones in The Twentieth Century? Can they still pull it off? Does it matter? Is Rock Dead? That kinda thing. Having seen the Stones the year before at a routine Enormodome gig (and been underwhelmed) the chance to see them in such a small venue was novel.  

Gig was good, but…. it got a wee bit dull it has to be said. They didn’t do the really big set-piece songs (no Sympathy?!). Bits of it were, frankly, pub-rock. Keith, perched on a stool, did “Memory Motel” or some other coked-up nonsense from Black & Blue (a nasty soulless piece of vinyl). They did “Cherry O Baby” and it was horrible. The rest descended into Chuck Berry jamming. It wasn’t all bad but after the initial rush of “kinnel, it’s Them!” you were left with just watching a band and it didn’t seem to gel.  I don’t wish to sound ungrateful of course. It was great but it didn’t change my life. Special, if only for the chance to see them in such a small venue (about 2,000). Weirdly, I saw them again on the Saturday at Wembley Stadium and they were amazing. Go figure.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Every gig I've Ever Seen #51 Tolpuddle Martyrs

Battersea Park. July 29th. 1985

A gig to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Can you imagine that happening now?! Another day of music. Free in a London Park!

Wandered off to see Jimmy Page playing on a small stage with Roy Harper. THE Jimmy Page. THE Roy Harper. Roy had sung “Have a Cigar” for Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin wrote “Hats Off To Roy” about him. The songs were OK but I didn’t quite get it. Usual feeling of “big brother music”. Now, though, I think albums like “Stormcock” are amazing. Sigh, youth. Roy looked a bit untogether on stage. I’d seen them recently interviewed on the Old Grey Whistle Test, halfway up a mountain in Wales. Roy was a bit shot in those days and they came over as very defensive. Was he mad? I’ve got video of Roy playing Stonehenge Festival that same year, which says a lot about him. No rock star he, living in a rock star pad.

John Sebastian. He was at Woodstock and his whole act and performance was the same, pretty much. He’s ripped to the tits in Woodstock but if you see footage from other festivals of the time he acts the same way. All tie-die and goofy. “ Do You Believe in Magic?” and “Daydream”. I didn’t mind but it seemed, well, a bit sad. What do you do after something like Woodstock? Still, you didn’t see Woodstock legends every day of the week and at least we knew the words!

Christy Moore was amazing. He was the Guv’nor of folk in the 80s. Big powerful voice, beautiful guitar playing. He did one song about all the young Irish men who’ve come to London over the decades for gold and end up drinking on the streets of Camden and can’t go home to Ireland. Lost souls. I saw the London Irish in a different light after that song. Proper folk music.

Paul Butterfield Blues band were sixties Rock Legends. Like an American John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. The hub of serious white blues. His guitar was dirty and loud. It had a presence that the British pub rock I’d heard didn’t have. Maybe it was Civil Rights or the Draft and Vietnam or the assassinations of King and the Kennedys, but American Sixties guitar was an altogether angrier beast. The Stooges and MC5 couldn’t have come from Chipping Sodbury.

Alan Price did the one about Simon’s amazing, dancing bear. He was in the Animals and gets all the royalties from their biggest hit, “House of The Rising Sun”, much to his bandmates’ chagrin.

A nice day out. Once the GLC was scrapped these gigs stopped.


Every gig I've Ever Seen #50 Jobs for a Change Festival

Battersea Park. July 7th 1985

Third day in a row of live music after having seen Jonathan Richman and Broooce. Another GLC Jobs For a Change Festival. Big event. Usual stalls and collecting buckets. This was about the time of Red Wedge where people like Paul Weller did a UK tour drumming up support amongst young voters to go and vote Labour and kick the Tories out. Labour MPs actually spoke at these gigs. Mobilise the Yoof. ‘Cept they didn’t really. People did genuinely have conversations about the overthrow of Capitalism and the righteousness of Socialism though. South Africa was the other big grievance. Apart from a bit of Glastonbury you don’t see such activism attached to music festivals now. Or anything really. Have we really won the war? iTwats.

We stayed by one of the 4 stages for most of the day. The Beat Farmers were jokey RnB. The Men They Couldn’t Hang were nu-country. Wreckless Eric seemed very bitter. He did a song about AIDS, which was the big News story of the day. Government adverts with collapsing tomb stones warning of the perils of unprotected sex. It was still seen mainly as a gay plague. The gist of Eric’s song was that he wished someone he knew would get AIDS and die. Nasty. He looked a bit pissed too. Bit of Boot Hill Foot-Tappers and Hank Wangford, which was pleasant enough. I wouldn’t cross the road to hear them now. Saw some of The Pogues moighty craic thing but it seemed lost in an open space. You have to be in the mood as well.

By this time we were knackered. 3 days in a row. I ended up walking to Waterloo with sister Leah and her friend Louise to get the last train back to Andover. We missed it and sat on a milk-train for hours before it set off. Didn’t get any sleep and got a cold. I rang in sick the next day. That week’s NME covered all the gigs I’d been to, on one page.


Every gig I've Ever Seen #49 Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen. Wembley Stadium. 1985

The day after seeing Jonathan Richman we all trudged up to Wembley to see Broooce. Met at the Glass Blowers Arms in Soho. Dunno why but I remember it. Chris was there with his sister Cath and I think brother Mike. We didn’t have tickets but we thought we’d get them at the door, or cheap off a tout, because it was the third consecutive night so, we reasoned, most people would already have seen him.

It was Bruce’s turn to be Mega that year. Bowie had done it in 1983, Dylan the year before. Live Aid that year revived some careers and people like Simple Minds, U2 and INXS did their stadium shows in the late 80s/early 90s. Product, man. Still we liked Bruce and even yer parents had heard of him. “Born In The USA” had done big box office and yet he was a known anti-Reaganite. It was an irony even then that Born In The USA, the song, was taken up by gung-ho America. “Dude, the chorus. It’s fuckin America, buddy!”

Lines about young men being sent off to fight the yellow man didn’t seem to register. Despite the bombast, Bruce knew which side he was on. And compared to, say, the Stones or Bowie or Dylan he was Karl Marx.

It was a beautiful day and the walk up the Wembley Way was great, thousands of fans smiling, the twin towers getting ever closer. Wembley was as big as it got in those days.

Tried in vain to get tickets. Non on sale and the touts were charging double. We sat on the grass at the back of the stadium. Bruce was doing 3 to 4 hour sets so we listened to the first bit which was all solo acoustic. Then, kinnel, the doors at the back were opening and people were running in! Huge wave of people surging forward, fast. I grabbed Leah’s hand and dragged her along with me. Saw a girl get knocked to the floor, people leaping over her to get into the stadium. Scary.

Suddenly we were in running, laughing onto the terraces at the back of the stadium. Way at the back. If you’ve been to Wembley you’ll know that’s far. The stands were still the concrete steps of old, before Heysel and Hillsborough and seating. There were two TV sets either side of the stage. Well, Jumbo screens but looked like little tellies from where we were. Sound was loud and clear except the place was so big there was a sound delay of a full second. Bruce would be mouthing “huh” or “ergh” or “yeah” into the mic, then snap his head back and then you’d hear “huh” or “ergh” or “yeah” rumbling out of the PA.

 Some of it was magic. “Born To Run”. “Thunder Road”. Cliches, but still good air-guitaring anthems. 70,000 pairs of hands clapping. Bellowed choruses. But it was Broooce, after all, so there were loads of tedious work-outs. Clarence with his sax. Nils Lofgren shredding axe. Boss running from side to side. Every last ounce of pure, honest, rock’n’roll sweat pouring out of him. He was the People’s Rocker. His head’s too big for his stocky little body by the way. By the fourth hour I’d done Bruce it has to be said. Still, a modern Rock Legend, a good show and it was free! Result.

Every gig I've Ever Seen #48 Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson. Bull & Gate, London June 1985.

If you ever get the chance to see him, go. Demented. He’s a snapshot from a sweaty pub somewhere in 1974. Slack-jawed, machine-gunning, gum-chewing, duck-walking, leg-kicking axe man. He looks exactly the same as he does in old footage of Dr. Feelgood. When bands like Yes were releasing triple albums with Roger Dean sleeve covers (“Tales from Topographic Oceans”, the Platonic Conception of the Ultimate Bloated Excess Prog Album) Dr. Feelgood were sharp, 2-minute stabs of amphetamine R’n’B. All the Punks of ’76 – Pistols, Clash, Damned – saw them and enjoyed the speediness of it. Loud, fuck-off Rock music. They are the missing link between the New York Dolls and the Clash. Attitude in a riff.

Their “Stupity” live album hit Number One in age of ELO, Elton John and The Eagles. Unheard of. The Kidz were mobilising against the Forces of Blandness.

Bull & Gate is next door to The Forum and has been a bedrock of the north London music scene for generations. My flat-mates Nick and Howie played there. A typical Tuesday night with 4 bands on the bill, usually outsiders playing their first London gig, and each band has brought along 30 friends and family so the Pub’s happy selling beer on a Tuesday night. And for this rare privilege each band paid £50 to cover “costs”. Pay-to-Play. A monopoly that has been broken, thankfully. Still, it was a lovely old Victorian boozer and almost a rite of passage for any band.

Wilko was fanatastic. A genuine performer. He plays guitar like Hendrix in that he uses his thumb and fingers to press down on strings to form chords and with his other hand plays lead and rhytmn. The secret’s in the thumb as it makes a barre shape leaving the fingers free to shred axe. He machine guns the audience with his battered Fender Telecaster. Tight 3-button black suit, done up, and white shirt. Simple, striped down, basic. “I’m a Hog For You Baby” was glorious. One little piggy went to Hong Kong. Cue Chinese melody as Blues riff. On the beat. Tighter than a nun’s chuff. Body and tune in sync. The Form indivisible from the Content.

Wilko. A normal bloke who plays the Idiot Savant but who probably is one for real. A holy goof like Neal Cassady. Unique. He’ll make you smile.   


Every gig I've Ever Seen #47 Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman. Jackson Lane Community Centre. June 1985

Summer 1984 I shared a flat in Putney with Chris who got me a job at SunMed for the holiday. Craig and Andrea were down from Scotland to go to Glastonbury with us later that month..

Lovely old Victorian building used as performance space, crèche, restaurant, theatre, meeting space. Proper Community Arts centre. Jonathan had a new album out and was back again to push it. And he had a new band which had Asa Brebner from the Live album and Andy Paley on drums. Cool. I’d been given a camera for my 21st birthday the previous year and I discovered a love of taking pictures. I’m not tech-y in anyway but I love seeing the fruits of my labours back from the developers. Haven’t got the hang of digital yet. It’s no the same, ken? Anyway, I took some photos that night. The band was great. Much tighter and Jonathan did much more improv and dancing. Good srummin’. Crowd really enthusiastic. Laughter. That’s what you get at a Jonathan gig. In truth, I’ve never heard such laughter at any other gig. Weirdly, as a parent now, I see him as a bit Wiggles. No “Road Runner” though.

Every gig I've Ever Seen #46 Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman. Dingwalls.1984

The original Dingwalls. A long room with a raised section along the back wall with a bar. All open plan with a tiny stage at the other end with iron poles holding the ceiling up. Camden hadn’t been Starbucked then. The market was titchy and home-made. Dingwalls was a name gig for any band despite the grubbiness. Well, almost. It was small and intimate. Which meant that it got very squashed. We saw Jonathan by Camden Lock before going in and said hello, which was nice.  We didn’t have tickets and they said it was sold out. Just then Ellie the singer walked in and we asked if she could get us in. And she did! She also opened her handbag for something and I saw a vibrator just lying there. Not very chivalrous of me to mention it but it was quite a surprise, having never seen one before.

Cries of “Road Runner” went unheeded. Don’t remember this gig as well as the first one, mainly because the view of the stage was restricted and the sound was quiet. Still, those Dingwalls ads were part of growing up. The tickets were like old-style cinema tickets coming off a big roll. No band names written on them or anything hi-falutin like that.


Every gig I've Ever Seen #45 Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan. Wembley, 1984.

Bob had done a few Christian albums after 1978 that weren’t really up to much. “God Gave Names To All The Animals” from “Slow Train Coming” was appalling. He was still Bob though and it was his turn to play the world’s big stadiums that year. Uncle Greg had never seen Bob, I’d never been to Wembley Stadium, so we went along on spec. Bought tickets off a tout for 10 quid each and went in.

Wember-lee! We entered into the arena. It’s big! There’s the twin towers! Place is packed. Smell of turf, rubber, sweat, beer, smoke. Got to the half way point of the pitch, to the right of the mixing desk. Caught the end of Santana which was all head-back, eyes-closed, axe noodling. No video screen so they were diddy little images in the distance. 4 heavy looking miners stared at us. Greg’s 6’5” and has one of those faces. We supported the Miners in principle but when you met a real one there was a huge divide. We had some hash oil which, like Red Leb and Afghan Black, is a very rare thing these days. Skunk hadn’t become the norm yet. We were very relaxed after the initial wave of Miners paranoia.

And then, BOB! Ecstatic reception. Bob in long leather coat, shades and battered top hat. The Joker Man hisself. He did all the biggies but hard and fast. Some tunes were only recognizable after about 2 verses. A girl was sitting on a mate’s shoulders ahead, blocking the view. “Sit down, girlie!” we yelled in our best Glasgow. That got a cheer from those around us. Another girl stood in front of me and started grinding her bum into my crotch. I started fondling her boobs under her T-shirt. Weird. Nice, but weird.

It was a good show. Loud and the mix was good. You could hear Bob’s rasp clearly. Mick Taylor, ex-Stones, was on guitar and it was very rock-y. “Maggie’s Farm” got a huge cheer with its line about not working on it no more. “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat”. ”Mr Tambourine Man”. “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” “Blowing In The Wind”. “Tangled Up In Blue”.  “All Along The Watchtower.” “Like a Rolling Stone”. He wrote that! Van Morrison and Eric Clapton came on for the encores. Finished with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. 72,000 happy punters and a much better gig than Blackbush 6 years earlier. Well, by this time I knew the songs, which helps. By the end of the decade Bob had started his Never Ending Tour and now regularly plays 3,000 capacity venues. The days of enormo gigs behind him.

Trudging out we got paranoid about the security cameras and secretly popped the rest of the oil into the back of a random guy’s ruck-sack. He looked the sort. 

Every gig I've Ever Seen #43 Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman. Hammersmith Palais. June 1984

I remember “Road Runner” in the summer of ’76, working for a fruit & veg Man, delivering produce around hotels and shops in the Trossachs. Great riff and cool lyrics, tooling about in beautiful scenary. Come 1983 and I’ve just started a degree in Stirling. Met Craig and Andrea and we shared a flat. They’ve been together 25 years now and have 2 lovely kids, my Godson Jack and Alice.

Anyway, one day we were looking at second-hand vinyl and came across “The Modern Lovers Live”. Andrea’s brother had been at the actual Hammy Odeon gig where the album was made. So we bought it. I loved it. It made me laugh. It was dumb but had cool tunes. After that first album I bought the back catalogue, scouring record shops and jumble sales. The original ”Modern Lovers” album recorded in 1972, with John Cale producing, but not released until 1976, is the missing link between the Velvets and punk. No lie. 

Then “Jonathan Sings” came out on Rough Trade in 1984. We loved it. He had a ragged-y little band with girl vocalists and he played his squonking sax on some songs. Funny,happy little songs. I was always amazed thatJonathan had followed the Velvet Underground as a teenager. His first album from the early 70s is still a cracker. Dark but poignant. And some great riffs. It’s up there with “Marquee Moon” and “Horses”. After that he sounded mello. There was a song on the new album about how he’d gone to Bermuda after that period and learnt to chill-out. I was a fan and that summer in London he was due to play his first UK gig in about 5 years! Craig & Andrea came down from Stirling.

Orange Juice  had asked him to support on their big end-of-tour London gig for them. They were fans too, led by Edwyn Collins and on Postcard Records - the Sound of Young Scotland. Their first album had some lovely tunes with wry lyrics about wearing their “fringe like Roger McGuinn”. Scots have always been good at recognising a cool tune, absorbing influences and coming up with something different: Rezillos; Jesus & Mary Chain; Aztec Camera; Hue & Cry; Teenage Fan Club etc. Orange Juice were probably just as thrilled as the audience to see Jonathan play. It was a glorious double-bill on paper.

The Hammersmith Palais was the venue. As in “White Man in…”. While writing this the Palais is due to be knocked down after 90 years. For more offices and Starbucks. Hooray. If it was a West End theatre it would have listed status but it’s been deemed “architecturally unimportant” and, anyway, it was always a bit, well, common. You know, pop music and such like.

It was/is a great venue. Not as opulent as the Hammy Odeon (or the Labatt’s Carling Hammersmith Apollo as it was renamed – tossers!) but it had a wraparound balcony and an enormous wooden dance floor.

Jonathan got an ecstatic reception that even took him by surprise. The drummer had a bongo with a splash cymbal strapped to it. An upright double bass. Ellie on backing vocals. And Jonathan. It was staggering. New songs, old songs. “I’m a Little Dinosaur” “Stop This Car” “Summer Feeling” “Hospital”. He acted out the songs, stepping back from the mic to dance, like a little kid. The voice like someone with a cold, but the words were so funny. And heartfelt.

During “Affection”, a quiet song about the need for affection, (none of this stuff was rocket science), I went “aah” in an exaggerated way. “That’s right, Pal! I’m serious.” I felt myself flush. My cool in-on-the-joke utterance had back-fired. He’d really pulled me up on it. He WAS serious! I felt shamed.

He only got 45 minutes and didn’t do “Roadrunner”. The crowd were stamping and screaming for more. Eventually Jonathan had to come out to quieten the crowd explaining they were running late and Orange Juice had to get on. Boos. Orange Juice came on and half the audience left. I’ve never seen anything like it since. And of those who stayed, half shouted for Jonathan during the gig. It was a real shame for Orange Juice who bravely plowed on. There was a definite dip of energy in the room.

We managed to get backstage to say hello to Jonathan. The band were buzzing at the reaction. We got a free beer. There’s Jonathan! By then the excitement was too much and I went bounding up to him. I was aware that I probably looked totally wired, all hot and sweaty and smelly. “That was amazing! I don’t know if you’re a genius or madman!”. I remember blurting that out. Can’t remember his response. He gave me a badge and didn’t seem displeased. In fact the overall impression was of a really nice person. Honest.

I wrote him a letter later saying how the gig had touched me. It was real, it wasn’t fashion, how he represented something good and honest and tapped into the joy of life etc. He actually wrote back saying he didn’t mind people laughing but he didn’t like the “cool” laugh… “they’re dead inside. Too many video-games. When they can really laugh, then they can really cry”. I was chuffed! I lost count after 20 gigs by Jonathan over the years. There was something that pulled me in, tho’ the magic dimmed over the years. I still play the “Rock’n’Roll With The Modern Lovers” to Hugo. What a great title. Years later I saw Orange Juice’s set from that night on TV. It looked like an amazing show with an adoring audience, but I knew different…