31.10.15

ELVIS COSTELLO – Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink


Like a handful of rock stars I have encountered along the way, among them Townshend, Bowie and Zappa, Elvis Costello would have made a first-rate rock critic. I suspect he knows it too, which perhaps explains why he has adopted a rather disdainful attitude towards us for much of his career, especially when he started out, or at least when Declan McManus, the folkie-country-pub-rocker, became Elvis Costello, the cutthroat singer songwriter masquerading as a bandy-legged punk.
So over and above the captivating walk-on parts by just about every musician of note you care to name, of which much more later, this absorbing, entertaining and very literate book is about music; the music that Declan/Elvis heard as a boy, the music that has inspired him, the music that he loves and the music that he has pilfered to enhance his own songs. By the end of its 670 pages I came away with the feeling that Elvis Costello is a walking encyclopaedia of popular music, a true child of Tin Pan Alley – his birth notice appeared in NME and is reproduced on page 406 – suckled by a music-loving family until he became so absorbed in it that absolutely nothing else would ever matter to him.
It’s also apparent that he has immaculate taste, ticking off all the right boxes in the music he adores, all top-quality stuff, not necessarily commercial but which always hits the right spot with connoisseurs, present company included. I lost count of the times I found myself nodding in agreement at his opinions, and from the outset realised I was tuning in to the thoughts of a deeply scholastic musicologist whose way with words was that of a great lyricist. After all, only someone steeped in it would write a paragraph like, “By the time we got to Phoenix, it had started to dawn on me that we could be driving up and down the road from Tucson to Tucumcari for years and never break on through to America. So we headed for California with the intention of going back to high school or at least making some Do Re Mi.”
Elvis tends not to dwell on that which he doesn’t much like – though Led Zeppelin are sneeringly dismissed as a “hot air balloon” – and instead moves from the music his father Ross performed with the Joe Loss Orchestra through to rock’n’roll, The Beatles, R&B, soul, country, singer songwriters, ska and everything of merit you’d expect, avoiding the flash and sticking to what’s honest, always music of integrity and authenticity.
Not necessarily in that order though. Unfaithful Music... is not a linear autobiography by any means, more a cherry-picked flight of the bumble-bee that lurches back and forth so that moving episodes about impoverished Irish ancestors are slipped into tales of working with the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Somehow he makes it work, and at times it’s a bit like a roller coaster, moving slowly uphill as he painstakingly illuminates the craft of song writing, with particular attention to his lyrics, then tumbling downhill fast as he bemoans the seamier side of his profession, the pros and cons of having a confrontational image, and falls in and out of love with The Attractions and a handful of women who pierced the armour and, like the very best music, touched his surprisingly susceptible heart.
Elvis writes tenderly and with a sense of regret about Mary, his first wife and the mother of his son, a school sweetheart with whom he later became reconnected. “We lost everything to each other that summer,” he writes. “In time we lay in the half-light, listening to ‘Tenderness’, a song by Paul Simon that we both loved.” Music invariably brings back poignant memories recalled throughout, though I was a bit surprised that we had to wait until page 512 for Cait O’Riordan to make an entrance, while his relationship with the musician Diana Krall, whom Elvis married in 2003, is mentioned only sparingly, in a few pages towards the end. He also writes movingly about his close relationship with his father Ross, not least in the passage about his heartbreaking decline into dementia that erased the wonderful memories of a life in music that his son has now rescued. 
There is plenty of droll humour. A memory of the Australian outback soap opera Whiplash, broadcast before Clint Eastwood’s starring cowboy series Rawhide, elicits the comment, “a combination that would nowadays suggest an entirely different form of entertainment”, which made me chuckle, while his description of the Daily Mail as having “small-minded, prurient, xenophobic content to titillate and stoke the indignation of the impotent petty fascist” is about as accurate a description of that loathsome rag as I have read anywhere.
Elvis’ legendary cussedness seems to have been caused by reviewers’ constant misinterpretation of his lyrics, being misidentified in a photograph of his dad that appeared in NME not long after he became Elvis, and having had the misfortune to suffer an attack of vertigo on the day he was scheduled to do a number of interviews to promote My Aim Is True, his debut album on Stiff. This rendered him disinclined to answer questions from anyone, especially the Daily Mirror man who wanted to know about “the girls” and a more penetrating interrogation from NME’s Nick Kent, unnamed but clearly identifiable from the description. “By accident or through collusion, this conversation effectively invented a character that I would inhabit for the new few years,” he writes.
The regrettable racist outburst in Columbus Ohio is put down to an excess of alcohol coupled with extreme road weariness and, though inexcusable, Elvis is not just contrite but asks reasonably whether “anything else that I’ve done in the other 59 years and 525,550 minutes suggest I harbour racist beliefs.” I forgive him, though I’m not sure Mary did when, on the night his son was born, Elvis chose to attend a Little Feat concert at the Rainbow Theatre that had been eagerly anticipated by both of them. In the event Matthew arrived a bit late, allowing Elvis to arrive at the hospital with hours to spare.
An admiration for Little Feat, and The Band, and John Prine, and Allan Toussaint and many many more from the worlds of country, jazz and classics, illuminates the book throughout. Elvis is rightly troubled by the phrase ‘Great American Songbook’ which excludes many genres that he loves, and anyone reading the book will surely be charmed by the delight that he takes in having the opportunity to record alongside the band that used to back the other Elvis: Ron Tutt on drums, bassist Jerry Scheff, guitar maestro James Burton and keyboard player Glen D. Hardin. This same crew, along with Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis and others gathered to back up Roy Orbison for the now well-known 1987 Black & White Night tribute show that can be found on YouTube. Elvis describes the event in loving detail and I think this remains the highlight of his life. Or maybe it was duetting with Ray Charles, or playing with Springsteen in a tribute to Joe Strummer at the Grammy Awards, or shooting the breeze with Bob Dylan, or getting Chet Baker to contribute that moving trumpet part to Shipbuilding’, or breakfasting with Van Morrison who turns out be as laconic as you would expect, or chauffeuring Joni Mitchell to one of his concerts, an anecdote saved until almost the end of the book. Then again it might have been the time he performed ‘Penny Lane’, the piccolo trumpet solo courtesy of a uniformed US guardsman, in front of Barrack Obama and its composer at the White House on the occasion when Macca won the Gershwin Prize. Extraordinary encounters like this litter Unfaithful Music... like the autumn leaves on the lawn in my back garden; castles in the air for folk singing, music-mad teenager Declan McManus in his chunky striped sweater, seen entertaining a seemingly unimpressed audience of middle-aged matrons on page 116.
The book is illustrated throughout with black and white photographs from Elvis’ private collection, including many of his close family, but it lacks an index, which, for a book of this length, is an oversight in my opinion. But this is a minor quibble for a memoir that stands alongside Keith Richards’ Life as an example of how a rock memoir should be both written and produced. The big difference, of course, is that Richards had a ghost writer but this is all Costello's own work.
I only ever met Elvis Costello once, one evening in 1980 at a flat in Dalling Road in Shepherds Bush that was occupied by my friend Glen who was Elvis’ PR at the time. He’d sublet it from Bruce Thomas, The Attractions’ bass player, and I was staying there temporarily at the time, dossing down on a mattress on the living room floor. Elvis sat disconsolately in the corner strumming my Gibson acoustic guitar while a pretty girl of my acquaintance who worked for Columbia Records in New York, name of Sheri*, made eyes at him that suggested a sexual advance wouldn’t be rebuffed. Elvis was probably unaware that the room we were in was my bedroom and that this was the reason I stuck around, thereby inhibiting his congress with Sheri. In the circumstances I suppose it was not unreasonable for him to be vexed but I still thought that his image as a bit of a moody bugger was spot on, an opinion now much alleviated by having read his book. At least I now know how it came about in the first place.
Highly recommended.



* Incorrectly identified in the book as Cherry.

28.10.15

MY GUITARS

Back in the eighties I had a friend who worked at Vintage & Rare, the classic guitar shop, at their Earls Court branch and every now and then on a Saturday afternoon I’d hop on the tube from Ravenscourt Park and pay him a visit. My motive, of course, was the opportunity to try out a few ace guitars in the soundproofed room, and of all the many guitars I tried the one that I remember best of all was an early fifties Fender Telecaster which, played through the top boost channel on a sixties Vox AC30, sounded too cool to be true. It was easy to play, too, and the twang from the bridge pick up was as good a tone from any guitar I’ve ever played, and that includes Strats and Les Pauls.     
         But somehow I never got around to owning a Tele – I think the one at V&R cost £4,000 back in the eighties – until last Saturday when I decided to go for a cheaper option, a Squier Tele, Japanese but made under licence from Fender whose logo is on the headstock. I tried three in the shop, two cheaper Tele-style models but they were rubbish, with thick fretboards and protruding frets, compared to the one I bought which is smooth, and the colour of butterscotch, like a Tele should be. I’ve spent five days with it now and don’t regret the investment one bit. The action is terrific, and played through my gratuitously powerful Fender 60 watt Roc-Pro amp, sounds to my ears not that much different from the one at V&R all those years ago. Although this was about 20 times cheaper, the real thing wasn’t 20 times better.
        
This guitar – pictured above – is actually the twelfth guitar I’ve owned, and being as how it’s the first one I’ve acquired since starting this blog, here’s my guitar history in all its unshapely glory.
         My first guitar, bought for me as a Christmas present in 1962 when I was 15, was a steel stringed acoustic shaped like a Spanish guitar with a round hole that probably cost less than £10. It was awful, of course – at the twelfth fret the strings must have been a centimetre high – though I didn’t know any better and neither did my dad who bought it for me. I persevered with it though, splitting my finger ends as I mastered E, A and B7, rock’s basic chords, and C, Am, F & G, the foundations of the Brill Building. We owned a grey Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder with a microphone attachment to tape your voice and also amplify it through the tiny speaker, so I figured that if you put the small plastic mike inside the guitar’s body you could electrify it; well, sort off as it fed back and sounded horrible but, as I say, I didn’t know any better but when I heard ‘Please Please Me’ in early 1963, and then ‘She Loves You’, I realised my timing as a guitar apprentice was spot on.
        
The next guitar I owned was a Futurama III, solid body, bright red with three pick-ups and designed to look a bit like a Strat, bought for £28 at a junk shop in York. A massive step up from the acoustic, I actually loved this guitar, polished it, changed the strings regularly and even bought a hard case for it. I also bought a Futurama 15 watt amp, not much poke really but good enough for what I needed, and a Watkins Copicat echo unit which, like some others bits of early gear I had, I now regret selling.
        
Then one night at Gargrave Village Hall when my group The Pandas were supporting a vastly superior group from Barrow-in-Furness their guitarist let me have a go on his Gibson ES-335, sunburst with dots on the neck, and for the first time in my life I realised what it was like to play a really good American-made guitar. My ambitions rose but I’d have to wait.
         The Pandas split up and I joined another group called Sandra & The Montanas, sticking with my trusty Futurama III on a combination of rhythm and lead but when I left them I had no further use for it and sold it for £20 to put towards an anonymous £40 acoustic 12-string, just because I wanted to see what they were like to play. It lasted until an offer came up to play bass in another group, so I swopped that (and the Copicat) for a used Hofner Violin bass, like Paul plays, which cost £35, and somehow converted the Futurama amp into a bass amp by getting a bass speaker, putting it into a new, home-made and very sturdy cabinet, and sticking the amp innards into a new box screwed on top. Well, it worked for a while. Then I realised I missed having a 6-string guitar around and bought an acoustic for about £40, make forgotten now, that looked a bit like a Gibson J45 and was a vast improvement on that first guitar I owned.
        
I left Yorkshire in 1969, just after I sold the Violin bass (another bad decision) and settled into a flat in Slough where I decided the time was right for me to get a decent guitar at last, so one day I took more money out of the bank than I should have and drove up to the West End to where the guitar shops were. I tried a few in shops in and around Charing Cross road and ended up, for reasons of cost (Fenders and Gibsons were beyond my pocket), with a used Gretsch Country Gentleman which set me back about £120, together with a fawn Vox AC30, six years old and a bit scuffed but going for a song at £60. Thus armed, I regularly pissed off the manager of the ladies hairdressers underneath the flat but thoroughly enjoyed myself with this combination for two or three years, including my early years on Melody Maker, just playing for my own amusement and hanging on to them both until MM sent me to America in 1973. I don’t regret selling the Country Gent but I do regret letting go of the AC30, especially as I’ve heard that the fawn ones are quite rare these days and actually worth more than the black and gold ones from that era. How was I to know that about 25 years down the line I'd need a decent amp again?
        
I didn’t take a guitar with me when I went to America. The only one I had at the time was the acoustic that looked like a J45 which I’d left at my dad’s house in Yorkshire and ended up giving to a friend. I figured I’d buy another one in America sooner or later but, in fact, it wasn’t until Christmas 1975 that I got around to it. As I recount in another post here, on Boxing Day in New York that year I found what I was looking for on West 48th Street in a shop called We Buy Guitars, a used small-scale Gibson LG2 acoustic, circa 1958, so I paid the asking price of $165 + tax and slipped the receipt into the accessory compartment in its case where it has stayed ever since. 
In NY I enrolled in the Guitar Studies Centre, a music school run by Eddie Simon, Paul’s brother, to learn how to finger pick which I managed to do, after a fashion anyway, and because it was easier to learn this technique on a Spanish guitar I bought an Ovation with a wide fretboard and nylon strings for, I think, around $120. When I left NY I left the Ovation with a friend there and never saw it again but I made sure the LG2 came back to the UK with me. It is the guitar I’ve played more than any other, and on Boxing Day this year I’ll have owned it for 40 years.


Again as recounted elsewhere, around 1985, having settled in Hammersmith, I passed a newly opened guitar & amp shop in Chiswick called Gigstop and in its window was a Gibson Dove priced at £200. Knowing this was a bargain I went in and tried it out; nothing wrong with it, so I put down £20 deposit which was all I had on me and went back the next day with the remaining £180. I kept it for a year or two and eventually decided I didn’t need two Gibson acoustics and preferred the old one, so I advertised it in the back pages of Melody Maker for £500 ono, and got £480.


It’s probably worth £3K now, maybe more, another one I should have hung on to really. But the LG was all I needed and by now I had a sentimental attachment to it as well. Among those who’ve played (and coveted) it are Elvis Costello and Allan Hull.
         I was 50 in 1997, married with two young children, still hankering after an electric guitar but resigned to family responsibilities. So it was a complete surprise when I was presented with a beautiful American Strat, sunburst with a rosewood neck, at the party to celebrate.
Lisa, bless her, had asked friends to give her cash instead of buying me anything, so it could all be put into a kitty for one big present. New in 1997, I still have this great guitar. I bought a small practice amp but felt the need for something better, hence the big Fender amp in the photo behind the Squier Tele up above. Along the way I’ve bought a bunch of effects pedals too, the best a Line 6 kidney-shaped Pod that combines loads of FX.
         Which brings me more or less up to date. I bought a blue Fender electro-acoustic for (my son) Sam to take back to Uni with him when he started getting good, but he didn’t much like it and snatched the Strat instead.
I can’t say I blame him and, anyway, he’s better than me by a country mile now and deserves to have it. But I still hankered after an electric at home so bought the Squier Telecaster last weekend, throwing in the electro-acoustic as part exchange.
         I’ve never been much good as a guitarist, a happy amateur really, but along the way I’ve come to realise that good guitars are simply lovely things to own, objects of desire if you like. And since the age of 15 I’ve never been able to pass a guitar shop without going in to browse.

(The guitars and amps pictured are not necessarily mine, just pix I found on the internet that correspond with the models I am writing about.)



26.10.15

MONDAY MORNING SHUFFLE



A delay through Wimbledon due to a broken down empty train caused this morning’s journey into Waterloo to be a bit longer than usual but that meant more music, the iPod shuffling up 14 tracks for me from the ever increasing well, now 16,452 songs deep.
The morning began with Joni Mitchell at the grand piano, the sole accompaniment on ‘My Old Man’, presumably a song about James Taylor with whom she was enjoying a relationship following the rather difficult break-up with Graham Nash. From the frighteningly wonderful Blue album, released in 1971, though my favourite track from that LP remains ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’.
‘Allá en el Rancho Grande’ took me by surprise but there was no mistaking the voice of Elvis, brimming with enthusiasm while rehearsing a Mexican song, taken at a good clip with some great guitar, probably James Burton, and sung in Spanish. I don’t think I’d heard this before. From Walk A Mile In My Shoes: The Essential '70s Masters, a 5-CD box set that I bought fairly recently to complete my Elvis box set collection of ’50s Masters, ’60s Masters and now this. It’s the least attractive of the bunch, of course, but with 120 tracks still worth the £18.99 Amazon are selling it for.
Next up was ‘Persuasion, a lovely ballad by Richard Thompson that he co-wrote with Tim Finn, brother of Neil, founder of Split Enz and occasional occupant of the Crowded House. This version of the song was from Thompson’s Acoustic Classics album which I reviewed here (http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/richard-thompson-guitar-player.html) but you can find a lovely version on UTube from Jules Holland’s Later show, with Tim singing backed by Richard. 
‘Rough And Ready’ is from Emmylou Harris’ Blue Kentucky Girl album of 1979, an excursion into more traditional country music after the rock route that Emmylou favoured earlier in the decade. This Lester Flatt/Earl Scruggs song has a fairly predictable melody enhanced by some fine mandolin playing, and Emmylou’s lovely voice soars as she sings about a faithless man who broke her fragile heart. On the same album she does a fine version of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and another lovely song called ‘Beneath Still Waters’.
In complete contrast Emmylou was followed by Howling Wolf and ‘Killing Floor’ from his London Sessions album, recorded in 1970. Backed by Eric Clapton with the Stones rhythm section of Bill and Charlie, this is sturdy but unremarkable, the stellar line-up content to chug along behind the great Chicago bluesman, which is probably why this track was left off the original album but tacked on the 2003 CD reissue I have.
Ray Davies rarely sounded more world-weary that he does on ‘The World Keeps Going Round’ from 1965’s Kinks Kontroversy album. Not even Nicky Hopkins on piano can rescue one of Ray’s more plodding, not to mention depressing, songs. “What’s the use of worrying because you’ll die alone,” sings Ray, sounding like he’s just been handed an unexpectedly high gas bill.
The rather fey Laura Marling followed with ‘Shine’ from her album Alas, I Cannot Swim which I think was given away with the Observer newspaper. Her brand of delicate folk music and guitar accompaniment isn’t really to my taste, but The Who woke me up, albeit briefly, with their Coca-Cola jingle, a bonus track that Jon Astley and I added to The Who Sell Out when it was re-issued for the first time back in the ’90s. John and Keith pound away, but I feel duty bound to point out that more often than not their coke was laced with brandy.
Talking of John Entwistle, he absolutely hated Television when I took him (and Keith and Pete) to see them at Club 82 in New York in June 1974, but I rather like Tom Verlaine’s hesitant, jerky beat and slightly discordant, spikey guitar on ‘Prove it’ from their now immortal Marquee Moon album of 1977. It took me a while to warm to this album, used as I was to the big production of rock that had gone before, but after half a dozen plays I was convinced.
Such production was just getting into gear when Traffic released their second album in 1968, and I can remember hearing it for the first time at a party back home in Skipton that year – and heading down to the record shop the next day to buy it. ‘Pearly Queen’ has Steve Winwood all over it, on vocals, lead guitar, bass and organ, a great song too. What with all his other talents it’s easy to forget that Winwood was right up there with the best of the great guitar players that the UK nurtured in the ’60s. This is actually taken from a double-CD Traffic compilation I have, and I’m holding out for a decent Traffic box set which – unusually – doesn’t seem to exist.
Next up was ‘Ascent Of Man’ from R.E.M.’s 2004 album Around The Sun, for which I’ll hand the spotlight over to Tony Fletcher for an extract from his Omnibus Press R.E.M. biography Perfect Circle: “… it would be easy to mark ‘The Worst Joke Ever’ and ‘Ascent Of Man’ as two of a pair, both equally slow, both conforming to the predictable verse-chorus format, both buried in a sea of stifling production gloss that sounded as far away from the concert R.E.M. as imaginable. Yet ‘The Ascent Of Man’, in particular, had considerable merit, both lyrically (‘I try to float like a telegram sam/I’m trying to divine you’) and phonetically, as Stipe – whose strong delivery was generally Around The Sun’s lone saving grace – embarked on a series of high-pitched ‘yeah yeahs’ under which his spoken word counterpoint sounded like something closer to ‘Country Feedback’, oft-stated as his favorite R.E.M. song of all. And yet, once again, the song was snuffed out by what had now become the ballad band’s obligatory solo – this time on a big swirling organ. To hear R.E.M.’s multiple individual and collective talents succumb to formula like this was positively painful.” Thanks Tony, and to a degree I agree with you though it was far from painful to my ears.  
The similarities between R.E.M. and Radiohead were brought into sharp focus for me when ‘Ascent Of Man’ was immediately followed by ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ from Kid A. Thom Yorke’s voice has a comparable timbre to Michael Stipe on songs like this, a melancholy builder with great a sweeping chorus that creeps up on you until the choral background takes on an almost angelic sweep. “At just over one and a half minutes, it’s as if the heavens have opened and the forest has come alive,” wrote Mark Paytress in a Radiohead Music Guide I commissioned years ago. “Jonny Greenwood teases out ‘angel voices’ on his Ondes Martenot, sampled harps conjure up lyre-plucking sirens at the Pearly Gates, and you’d be forgiven that this was some bizarre remake of The Beatles’ ‘Goodnight’, which closes the White Album. Though Yorke, who stumbles though the Disney-like scenario, complaining that ‘It's not like the movies/They fed us on little white lies’, is hardly in the mood for Ringo Starr.” Oddly, the song fades for a minute’s silence before the choir and sirens return, only to disappear again for another two minutes’ silence before the track ends, so its seven minute duration is really only about four minutes.
The penultimate song this morning was ‘Hey Saturday Sun’ an instrumental from the oddly-named and rather mysterious Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada from their album The Campfire Headphase, bought for me by my son Sam who noted my fondness for Kraftwerk though this is a bit removed from the German robots. It’s much rounder than KW, sort of chill out but not too chilly, and very pleasing. Finally, just as my train was pulling into Waterloo, R.E.M. cranked up again with ‘Mr Richards’, a rocker from Accelerate, their return to form album of 2008. Peter Buck’s distorted guitar chords are starting to kick into gear as the train draws to halt and I guess I’ll listen to the rest on my way home tonight. 

23.10.15

THE WHO IN EUROPE, 1972

In my review of The Who’s Official History book last week I drew attention to the error in the date of the concert at Fete De L’Humanité in Paris, France, which is generally regarded as having attracted the biggest ever audience for a single day’s show in The Who’s career. That night Moonie disgraced himself in John’s suite, an incident recalled by Bill Curbishley in my appreciation of John here: http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/normal.html
         The day after the Paris show The Who played in Lyon, and four days after that they were in Rome where I flew in to see the show at The Palasport which, as I recall, wasn’t sold out. I watched this show from the stage, just behind the group on John’s side. I remember that afterwards Keith, Dougal and myself tried very hard to find some late-night action in Rome but failed completely, ending up back at the hotel with a bottle of brandy and nothing else (ie no female companions) to show for our trouble.
         Here are the accounts of these shows from The Who Concert File by Irish Jack and Joe McMichael, edited by me and published way back in 1997. I have no idea who took this great shot from the back of the stage in Paris. 



Saturday, September 9
Fete De L’Humanité, Paris, France
This was a huge open-air event sponsored by the French Communist Party!  (L’Humanite was the main Communist newspaper in Paris.) The massive crowd was estimated at upwards of 400,000 people, the biggest audience that The Who would ever face. The set included ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘My Wife’, ‘Baba O’Riley’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, ‘Bargain’, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, ‘Magic Bus’, ‘Relay’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘My Generation’ and ‘Naked Eye’.
The Who took to the stage at 6pm after a set from Country Joe McDonald. Behind the band was the large logo of the promotion company RTL, and a number of red flowers were thrown onto the stage as The Who played. One faction of the huge crowd were to be heard chanting for Tommy during the early stages of the set. Pete described ‘Baba O’Riley’ as “a number about all sorts of things... Synthesiser in the background, Roger Daltrey in the foreground, Keith Moon asleep – but a deadly aim”. Daltrey commented that “we’d like to speak in French. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to school, so we can’t,” and Townshend mentioned the rain. A searing guitar solo characterised ‘Bargain’ and a new riff was added to conclude the song to which Roger sang the lines “It’s gonna be all right. I call that a bargain.” ‘Magic Bus’ began sounding rather sparse and ragged with little guitar work, but built up more strongly with Roger’s excellent mouth-harp playing. Roger went on to describe ‘Relay’ as a song “recorded before we came away, hopefully on an album much later on. All Who albums seem to take a long, long time. Anyway, this one’s Françoise Pete called ‘Relay’.” The structure of ‘Relay’ broke down until only the drums and vocals remained then built up again with Townshend and Entwistle producing simultaneous solos from their instruments.
Jerry Gilbert wrote in Sounds (September 16): “Mid-set, The Who reached their peak with ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Magic Bus’, Townshend vacillating hideously between a resigned poker face and an evil grimace. ‘Get on board... Come on,’ he urged, and then lurched to the front of the stage, dripping with perspiration, and went through the motions of taking the stalk between his teeth and hurling a grenade into the crowd gesticulating a mighty explosion. It was a positive allusion to the large Vietnam banner that hung over the fete and a clear mnemonic of Pete Townshend, revolutionary.”
Pete had invited along a reclusive Eric Clapton to see this show, but during The Who’s set he was mistaken for an intrusive fan and escorted from the wings by one of the stage crew!

Sunday, September 10
Sportpalace, Lyons, France


Thursday, September 14
The Palasport, Rome, Italy
10,000 fans saw the last show and the only smashed guitar of the entire European tour. Set included: ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘My Wife’, ‘Baba O’Riley’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, ‘Bargain’, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, ‘Magic Bus’, ‘Relay’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Naked Eye’, ‘All Right Now’.
The Who had not played Rome since February 1967, but according to Chris Charlesworth, who was with the group at this date, “despite the long absence the audience sat impassively throughout the kind of set that most groups would swap their PA’s for.” This was a fitting conclusion to the tour and a great show. As ever, ‘My Wife’ was the song on which the band warmed up. “Watch this foot... When I say go...” said Pete before his foot-stamping introduction to the song. His long solo was spellbinding, even if he did eventually play the Gibson out of tune. The pace hardly let up from there and the spirit of the evening was compounded by a rare revival of Free’s ‘All Right Now’ for a few bars at the end! 
The local promoter convinced the band that the 10,000 people present simply wanted to listen hard to the music which was why they appeared subdued. “It’s as good as it always is,” wrote Charlesworth in Melody Maker (September 23) “a combination of violent excitement, near perfect sound and those power-packed Who songs... Townshend smashed his guitar into fragments – the first break of the tour – at the end and the Italian fans didn’t know what had hit them. He swung it wildly at Moon’s kit, and took three heavy blows against the stage floor before the instrument succumbed... The Who are so good they could probably put their shows over with their eyes shut. The inevitable problem arises – what next for The Who?” 
Surprisingly, Who’s Next had sold only 7,000 copies in Italy!  The Who never returned there.
*Guitar destroyed: Gibson Les Paul Deluxe.


21.10.15

DONOVAN INTERVIEW, 1976

Here’s one from the archives, recalled as I was editing the Jimmy Page book referred to in my last post. Page, of course, played a fine guitar line on Donovan’s 1966 hit ‘Sunshine Superman’ which he reprised on stage with Donovan at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.
          Here I am writing about Donovan 39 years and a bit ago, published in Melody Maker in August 1976. The one thing I recall about Donovan's stay in New York that week was that he was being managed by an old friend of mine, Terry Doran, who used to work for Apple and look after the Beatles’ cars. For reasons associated with carnal lust Terry requested the loan of my flat for a couple of hours for an assignation with the girlfriend of a very successful rock star, to which I acquiesced, but being as how it was hush-hush then I’ll say no more now.



Few artists evoke memories of the Sixties as much as Donovan who, even in this enlightened age, still clings resolutely to the styles that developed during the heady days of flower power.
          Eight years later, Donovan continues to wear flowing robes and the occasional Nehru shirt with beads to match; the subject matter of his music is still based around peace, love, or travelling in space, and his conversation is liberally sprinkled with similar references. An hour spent in Donovan’s company is like being in a time warp.
          For the past three years Donovan has not been particularly active. Albums, none too successful, have appeared on Epic. Records (with whom he signed an extremely lucrative deal some years ago) and there have been occasional solo appearances in the US and on the Continent. It is at least three years since he performed in England and, because of tax reasons, he has no plans to return.
          Two months ago he made his most positive move this decade, by teaming up with Jiva, a band of musicians who share similar mental leanings, and appearing for the first time with a fully-fledged backing band. Jiva were signed to George Harrison’s Dark Horse Records until recently.
          Donovan and Jiva are midway through their first US tour together. Last week they drew a capacity crowd to New York’s Wolman Skating rink in Central Park and, judging from the reaction, the man once hailed as Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan has retained a hard core of faithful followers.
          The last time I saw Donovan was some months ago at the Bottom Line where he appeared almost solo (a keyboard player and conga player joined him for a few numbers) and sounded painfully thin, despite the familiarity his songs always echo. On a stage festooned with flowers he sat cross-legged beneath a large painting of a mountain and, coupling songs with poems, he came perilously close to boring everyone in the club.
          Happily, his link with Jiva has stopped this fiasco. The band beef up his arrangements and, although he dismissed them at one point for a solo stint, the outcome was considerably more satisfactory. His old songs – ‘Catch The Wind’, ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Colours’ especially – drew the biggest reaction – but it was interesting to note the reaction came from fans who would have been in kindergarten at the time of their original release.
          Jiva first came to his attention when he heard their album about four months ago. “It was very positive and lyrical, which is why George Harrison was interested in them,” he told me the day after the concerts in his hotel suite. “Their lyrics were very positively into brotherhood and peace, and, of course, George and I have been the only people to sing about those subjects consistently since the Sixties.
          “They’re also devotees of Guru Maharaj but they don’t sell it upfront, so that impressed me.”
          Donovan met their bassist, James Strauss, in California, and the tie-up developed from there. For Donovan to have a rock band behind him is strange, “because the way I live is very un-rock. I can’t really deal with all the partying and losing the guitar player in Baltimore because he didn’t get up in time to catch the plane...but here was a band that was superbly organised, ordering their life to a way of life similar to my own.
          “Before, I’ve never had a living band. I’ve only worked with people who were hired for a tour only. I’ll always keep a portion of the show as Donovan alone, and I’ll probably still do shows in clubs by myself. But it’s nice to be able to have a rock band there, and it’s nice to be with young musicians.
          “And, of course, there’s a practical reason too. I can’t afford to hire session guys to take out on the road with me.”
          Donovan sees his new partnership as a transition from his self-imposed exile from the music business. “I’m finally getting over the period when I sort of wanted to get away after being successful and then not being so successful any more. I guess I’ve always been around and always appealed to a certain underground audience who know my songs and want to come and hear me, but the overground audience is the one I want to try and appeal to again.
          “It was... well, like an explosion in the Sixties, and now I am sort of calculating to try and get a hit single to draw attention to myself again. My motives are not fame so much, because I’ve already been through that, but because I want to sing to a large audience again. Wherever it leads, I’m heading towards a more productive period, more music and more touring.”
          He admits that his attraction is partly nostalgic, but maintains that his recent material falls on sympathetic ears, too. “Half of the show is nostalgic, but the other half is interesting and new. People are still interested in what I’m doing and I’m still interested. I don’t know what the results will be – but I didn’t know how things would work out in 1965 either.
          “I suppose I am a well-known has-been in many respects. In the sense of the music business someone who is no longer in the charts is a has-been, and that is me right now. I wrote that about myself and some others...it was for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones, people who couldn’t adapt to success and failure. Success is o.k., but Brian failed through not being able to handle it.”
          With the turn of the decade, Donovan became seriously disillusioned and deliberately cut himself off from the business. “Yes...I was disillusioned as all young people were because we felt we were involved in a great cultural change in the Sixties. It was a great change, but I felt disillusioned at the end of the Sixties because nobody was doing it any more. The Beatles stopped and that seemed to end it all.
          “Also, I was disillusioned with the business side of things.”
          In hiding – in Ireland – Donovan continued writing, but the songs, he says, were not songs he wanted to share with anyone else. “They were reflective, personal and not for an audience. But I didn’t feel I was part of a movement any more...that was the most important thing.
          “In the late Sixties I was singing but nothing was happening. The wind went out of the sails of the revolution, songs weren’t played on the air and I just became disillusioned, as I’ve said before. I took a back seat and enjoyed it that way.
          “All around me the business was asking why I wasn’t happening, so that’s where the ‘well-known has-been’ comes from. The business doesn’t know how to handle you when you are not happening. Ray Davies has put it very clearly in all his songs but...it was O.K. I sat back and realised I had an audience and that was my strength.”
          Before leaving CBS, Clive Davis re-signed Donovan to Epic for five years with a guarantee of ten albums, but the time period may well extend to seven years, for his output hasn’t been too prolific of late.
          In fact, Donovan still owes Epic another six albums.
          Ten years on, Donovan still enjoys singing material that dates back. “I love singing those old songs. I don’t think they date at all,” he said. “If the audience likes to hear them, I’ll play them and I’ll probably always sing them. I think an artist’s attitude towards his old songs is important, too. I mean...’Catch The Wind’ probably meant something to hundreds of people in the audience at one time in their lives and it’s interesting to see what it means now.
          “Every year I seem to find the audiences getting younger, so it’s not the same people who always come to my shows year after year. My face looks young but my sound is ageless. I don’t know of any artists over the years who sing and play from the same position as myself.”
          He still winces slightly when recalling that he was dubbed as Britain’s answer to Dylan, though he feels the comparisons were valid, if slightly embarrassing, at the time. “Well, we were both renegades who’d left home, but even the hat wasn’t a direct lift because Dylan had borrowed his. The folk scene generally, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, was what I was into and so was Dylan. I followed Dylan but I was two years younger.
          “But the comparison...well, I was the young folkie in Europe and he was the the young folkie in America and we both sang about underground matters. In the end Dylan showed that we were very different. He drifted off into his musical things and I drifted off into mine. Certainly, he was the first herald. He spoke first and opened up many ways for us all to expand.
          “I feel it’s a bit of an honour to have been tied to a man with such a power over words.”
          Last year Donovan toured Australia and New Zealand for the first time, but taxes will keep him away from England until at least the end of this year.
          He is based in the US and is currently applying for residency here. “I live in the desert but we’re still gypsies as a family. Slowly we’ll settle, but our children are travelling kids just like I am. I’ll always be a gypsy.”


16.10.15

JIMMY PAGE: Session Man



While editing the early chapters of a forthcoming biography of Jimmy Page this week, three of which are devoted to his work as a session player between 1963 and 1966, my attention was drawn to the guitar playing on ‘My Baby Left Me’ by Dave Berry and ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ by First Gear, just two examples of the casual brilliance Jimmy brought to records that weren’t even hits. Guitar playing like this certainly hadn’t appeared on records by The Beatles or Rolling Stones up to this point.
              Of ‘My Baby Left Me’, author Martin Power writes: “Alongside the likes of drummer Bobby Graham, bassist Alan Niven and, on occasion, legendary big band trombonist Don Lusher, Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan helped form the crack team that Dave Berry had dreamed of. By the autumn of 1963, some of them had also cut Berry’s own favourite of all his studio recordings, a sterling cover of Elvis’ ‘My Baby Left Me’. ‘Yep, that’s the one I’d like to be known for,’ he said ‘Nothing like the Arthur Crudup original, nothing like Elvis, just our own version of the song. Jimmy Page on lead guitar, Alan Niven on slap bass – there were actually two basses on that, you know. But yes, a good song. I’m happy with that and really glad Jimmy was on it.’ Page was actually all over it. Providing a master class in snappy riffs and clattering chords throughout the verse and chorus before letting fly with a quite superb solo, Jimmy took Berry’s already spirited reading of ‘My Baby Left Me’ to another level.  ‘I remember the great solo that Jimmy did on that session,’ Sullivan later recalled. ‘It’s one of the best constructed rock solos on record.’”


Of ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’, Martin writes: “Page’s performance on First Gear’s ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ must surely rank as one of the finer guitar solos of the sixties. Signed to Pye records and managed/produced by Shel Talmy, First Gear were at the time tipped for big things, their North eastern cocktail of Elvis-style rock’n’roll and Mersey-approved beat pop as gritty, energetic and potentially promising as Van Morrison’s Them. With Talmy at the helm, the band entered the studio in the autumn of 1964 to record a single version of Ernie K-Doe’s ‘A Certain Girl’. In itself no slouch, ‘A Certain Girl’ motored along nicely on the back of lead singer Dave Walton’s behind-the-beat falsetto, some pleasing female backing vocals and Jimmy’s countrified string bends.
              “But it was when First Gear and Page ran through the B-side, a cover of Little Willie John’s ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ that Shel Talmy’s interest was truly peaked.  ‘Jimmy was about 18, 19 at the time, with bushy black hair, and very quiet,’ Dave Wilton recalled to the BBC. ‘But then he did this off the cuff, lightning guitar break on ‘Leave My Kitten…’. Well, Shel came racing down from the control room and said, ‘What did just you do to get that!’ So, he (told) Jimmy he was going to take it again. First take, Jimmy played it note-for-note perfectly.’ The resultant solo really was a thing of beauty. All twists, turns and racing speed pick work, Page’s contribution to ‘… Alone’ distilled all he had learnt from James Burton, Scotty Moore and Buddy Guy into just 23 seconds. Yet, there was also something else that was utterly distinctive and unique. At the start of his solo intrusion, Page’s guitar actually sounded like it was riding a wave of electricity. No distinct notes per se, more a wash of undulating sound. Quite unlike anything else Jimmy (or anybody else) had recorded up to that point, it was the first real pointer of where Page’s muse would take him in later years.”


The book, entitled No Quarter: The Three Lives Of Jimmy Page, will be published in the spring of next year. Updates on its progress and further extracts will appear on Just Backdated over the next few months. 

13.10.15

THE WHO – The Official History


Some 32 years as editor at Omnibus Press has afforded me a healthy disdain for books that carry the words ‘official’ or ‘authorised’ on the cover. Aside from the rather pompous suggestion that they are somehow superior to unofficial or unauthorised books (when more often than not the opposite is true), they are usually on the bland side and invariably ignore controversial issues in favour of portraying the subject in a positive light, emphasising their huge talent, enormous success and saintly behaviour. The ‘official’ history of the royal family, for example, won’t dwell on Diana’s divorce from Charlie, nor will the official history of the Tory party go into the bedroom details of the Profumo affair.
         In the music world official biographies are normally the preserve of artists who feel the need to project a positive image so as to spare the blushes of a fan base of delicate sensibility – Cliff Richard, for instance – so it is to author Ben Marshall’s credit that he has grasped the futility of this approach with regard to The Who. After all, The Who’s dirty laundry has been washed in public many times in several excellent ‘unauthorised’ biographies, some of which enjoyed the patronage of various members of the group, and Pete Townshend didn’t hold back from addressing thorny issues in his autobiography Who I Am either.
         So it pleases me to report that although it reiterates much of what has gone before and offers little we don’t already know, this Official History of The Who isn’t the sycophantic whitewash job we have come to expect from the genre. Now for the bad news. There are, however, many other reasons why the book is horrendously deficient, not least numerous errors of fact, some trivial, others less so, and of omission, and there are instances where I would take issue with nuance (of which much more later). Annoyingly, frequent unnecessary meanders into areas tangentially connected with the Who’s story – mods, pop art, hippies (very tangential, that one!), films, managers’ stories, obituaries etc – not only interrupt the flow but take up too many pages that could have been devoted to group matters. Also, it begs the same question I posed when reviewing Mark Blake’s very respectable Pretend You’re In A War in 2014[1], ie what’s the point of another Who book? Beyond drawing attention to the commercial wisdom of publishing it at a time when The Who Hits 50 Tour was to have been visiting America, now disappointingly postponed while Roger Daltrey recovers from viral meningitis, that’s a question I cannot answer.
         Marshall’s input aside, the book is credited to Daltrey and Townshend but, as anyone with only the slightest knowledge of the inner workings of The Who must concede, the likelihood of these two actually sitting down and writing a book together is about as remote as Keith Moon and John Entwistle resurrecting themselves for the final show on next year’s reconstituted US tour. One is left to assume therefore that Daltrey and Townshend limited their input to new interviews but evidence of this – as far as I can see – is scant, most of the quotes from them in the book having been lifted from previously published interviews or existing books. The design is unimaginative and almost all of the photographs, some of which Townshend comments on, and other illustrative material will be familiar to those who already own large format ‘coffee-table’ Who books, of which there have been several. At 320 pages it’s slightly longer than the best of these, Matt Kent and Andy Neill’s superb Anyway Anyhow Anywhere chronicle, but that stopped after Moon’s death in 1978. Nevertheless, because the Official History has numerous text-free double-page spreads, large type and plenty of blank space, AAA managed to pack in a lot more words, not to mention more accurate information.
         The Official History begins with Hitler’s war and how it impacted adversely on the lives of Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle, followed by accounts of the childhood and education of the four principal characters. Marshall is keen to place our heroes within their social milieu, perhaps too keen, so a bit of nicely observed text about Teds comes next, heralding the arrival of rock’n’roll, thence skiffle which inspires Daltrey to form The Detours as an antidote to panel-beating, soon to be joined by Entwistle who recommends Townshend come in on guitar as The Detours are whittled down into The Who after Moon arrives to light the blue touch-paper. Pete Meaden turns them into the High Numbers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp oust him and we’re off and into the well-known story: guitars smashed, ‘Can’t Explain’, RSG!, no money to pay the bills, ‘My Generation’, Shel Talmy dumped, ‘Quick One’, failure of ‘… Miles’, and redemption with the deaf, dumb and blind one. We know it off by heart now and I told the same tale myself in 1982 in my first book about The Who (available used on Amazon for £1.32, the Official History costs £20.40 on Amazon, £30 in bookshops).
         After Tommy the problem of peripheral issues clogging up the space becomes much more pronounced. The plots to Tommy itself, followed by Lifehouse and Quadrophenia are all described and analysed in tedious detail, especially as this takes precedence over what’s actually happening within the band. I’d have preferred to read about how success changed their outlook and working methods, or the introduction of synthesisers into the group’s live sound, of which there is no mention whatsoever; nor is there of the difficult tour that followed the release of Quadrophenia and there’s nothing much about the touring in 1975 and 1976 after Who By Numbers either. Nevertheless, after Moon’s death, some 22 pages are devoted to the Quadrophenia movie, many of them simply featuring stills from the film, followed by four pages about Mods and Rockers disturbing the peace in Brighton. This is excessively disproportionate, to say the least, especially as earlier in the book a further six pages had been devoted to the cult of Mod.
         Backtracking a bit, it is implied that during the Quadrophenia sessions Daltrey wanted to dismiss Lambert because he wasn’t turning up on time, contrary to the perceived wisdom that it was because Lambert stopped a cheque that was supposed to pay for studio equipment, as reported in other books. Another tendentious claim that I would take issue with concerns the chain of communication with regard to Moon’s death. In the generally reliable books by Richard Barnes, Dave Marsh and Tony Fletcher it is reported that the news reached Who headquarters when Jackie Curbishley, Bill’s wife, rang the flat where Moon was staying and was told by the attending doctor that he had passed on. Bill then rang Townshend who called Daltrey, Entwistle and, finally, Moon’s mother Kitty. In the Official History is it reported that Daltrey rang Townshend with the news, and though this tallies with Townshend’s less reliable memoir, I have my doubts.
         Oddly, Moon's death is immediately followed by four pages about Bill Curbishley, who as ever is refreshingly candid, which makes this one of the book’s stronger sections but its placement, before a tribute to Moon, seems awry. This tribute finally credits his percussive genius but it also contains the spurious claim that after the fracas during his 21st birthday celebrations in Flint, MI, The Who were banned from Holiday Inns for life – but I know this is not the case as I stayed in one with them at Charlotte, NC, on November 20, 1971.
         The period following Keiths death, with Kenney Jones on drums, is passed over very quickly as, indeed, is the rest of the story right up to the present day. As with Moon, it isn’t until we reach the tribute to Entwistle that his musical prowess is acknowledged. Thereafter we speed on to Endless Wire which is followed by a heartfelt summary of what The Who mean to us all now that they’ve reached 50.
         And now to the errors of fact: in the credits at the end no fewer than three editors are mentioned as having worked on this book, which is a lot, and this makes such errors that much more inexcusable. Clearly none of them know anything about the tools of the rock trade, otherwise the fairly well-known photograph of Entwistle playing a Fender 6-string bass guitar with his mum looking proudly on would not be captioned, ‘John, practising on his home-made guitar…’, and I suppose it would too much for any of them to know that the Beachcombers were not a ‘surf’ group as they are referred to more than once, or that it was Sun Records boss Sam Philips not Colonel Tom Parker who longed to find a white man who could sing like a black man, or that ‘My Generation’ boasts a two-chord attack (not three), or that Roy Carr wrote for NME not Melody Maker, or that Lou Reizner’s orchestral Tommy did not come a year after the Rainbow show on December 9, 1972 but was released that same month, or that the concert in Paris at Fête De l’Humanité before 100,000 or more – the biggest audience for a day-long show during The Who’s entire career let us not forget – occurred on 9 September 1972 and not on the same date in 1973. A picture of Pete in his white jump suit, evidently taken at the concert at Hull City Hall in 1970, states that this show preceded the one at Leeds where the live album was recorded which contradicts the correct information in the text, ie that Hull followed Leeds; another caption refers to the ‘first of three shows’ at Charlton Athletic Ground in the Who Put The Boot In tour. I could go on… individually these small errors are quite trivial but when they start to pile up like traffic on an overcrowded motorway, a kind of road rage sets in. How simple would it have been for one of the three editors to run the manuscript by someone better versed in rock and Who folklore than themselves, or even to cross check the captions against the text?
         Issues of nuance and omission are subjective, of course, but I think it’s stretching the truth a bit to state that after Lambert and Stamp took over the Who’s management in 1964, they were ‘soon’ joined by Curbishley when he didn’t actually join the team at Track until 1970, as he makes clear in his intro. Although they have appeared in many books before, including one in my own, no fewer than five of the very familiar and remarkably similar pictures of the besuited Detours appear in the chapter entitled Pre-Who Beginnings but the captioning is sloppy, failing to identify pre-Moon drummer Dougie Sandom. A photograph of a crowd gathered outside the 2is coffee bar in Old Compton Street is captioned in a way that suggests it was a Mod hang-out but the crowd don’t look like Mods to me, and a caption of The Who at Ready Steady Go! on New Year’s Eve 1965 states that they were ‘well on their way to megastardom’ at this point in their career which is debateable to say the least. Actually, the captioning throughout is slapdash and whoever wrote “Still crazy after all these years” as a caption for a fairly recent photo of Pete jumping on stage is hereby sentenced to one week’s solitary confinement in a padded cell while ‘Dogs Part 2’ is piped in non-stop at concert volume. With regard to omissions, earlier in the book I could find no mention of the drama that surrounded Roger’s dismissal and reinstatement in the autumn of 1965, nor of the 1967 US tour with Herman’s Hermits, nor of the Tommy opera house shows in 1969, nor of any extra-curricular adventures, not to mention the lack of reportage re concert tours in the seventies, as noted above.
         Of far greater import than all these irritating errors and omissions, however, is that author Ben Marshall has made no real attempt to convey to readers the excitement of The Who in concert. A bio I found on-line states that he began writing about music in the 1980s which suggests he never actually saw The Who with Keith Moon (or Kenney Jones) on drums, but there’s plenty of video evidence available to watch and from which conclusions can be drawn. In this regard there’s a quote from me, taken from my sleeve notes for Live At Leeds (“On their best nights a sixth sense seemed to take over the tiller and lead them and their audiences towards a kind of rock nirvana that most bands can only dream about”) but that’s about it. I couldn’t find any mention of Daltrey twirling the microphone around on its lead, scant mention of Townshend’s extraordinary athletic stagecraft, nor Moon’s expressive gestures nor Entwistle’s calm rigidity; nor their extraordinary ability to improvise, to stretch out on a song, or how anger sometimes brought out the best in them. This really is unforgiveable. It was due to their phenomenal expertise on stage that The Who became as popular as they did, that thousands upon thousands queued to buy tickets to see them and still do. Anyone lucky enough to find themselves close to the front when they pulled back on the bow string and let fly as Tommy reached its climax, the guitarist windmilling furiously, the singer roaring like a lion, the guy in white at the back knocking ten tons of shit from his kit and the bass player holding it all together with the casual panache of a master craftsman will know what I mean. If ever there was a moment when rock music might perform miracles, heal the sick, make the lame walk and, yes, the deaf, dumb and blind, hear, speak and see, it was when Wiggys searchlights shone in our faces as the three at the front lined up for one more delirious chorus that began with the words Listening to you.... This was what made them great. In my own writing about The Who I have tried to communicate this as best I can, especially as I know that many of today’s fans never saw Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon rip a stage to pieces, but the Official History devotes far more space to the rise and fall of hippie culture – good grief – than to the heart-stopping excitement this quartet once generated, for my money still and forever the greatest live act ever to plug in and blow minds.
         Finally I should mention that at the end of the book eight pages are devoted to an illustrated and annotated album discography. The text for this is lifted straight from The Who’s own website and was actually written by me in 2007. So I have inadvertently contributed to this book, even though it came as a complete surprise to me.
         Approach with extreme caution.