11.12.18

SIR CLIFF RICHARD: 60 YEARS IN PUBLIC AND IN PRIVATE




Cool Cliff (nicked from the internet)

Much as I sympathise with Cliff Richard for the shabby treatment he received at the hands of the BBC and Yorkshire Police, I cannot help but think that to some degree he brings his troubles on himself. Set yourself up as a paragon of virtue, as he’s done ever since he made public his Christian beliefs in the mid-sixties, subsequently allying himself with Mary Whitehouses moral crusade, and some will seek to claim otherwise. The more you insist on secrecy in your private life, the more some will seek to unlock its secrets. It’s the price of being a celebrity and if you don’t like it, then tough shit – you’ve got millions in the bank, a big house or two and a Roller in the drive, so live with it.
         All of this occurred to me as I watched Sir Cliff Richard: 60 Years In Public and In Private on ITV the other night. In reality it was 60 minutes of obsequious flattery – ‘hagiographic fluff’, as Lucy Mangan called it in The Guardian – designed to promote his new album but the BBC business gave it an angle and was threaded through the film in such a way that, as his story from the Fifties to the present was told, we were brought back to it again and again, largely through interviews with his supporters who expressed their abhorrence at what happened, and Cliff himself who tried very hard to be as generous as he could about it but was clearly equally indignant, as he has every right to be.
         Some interviewees, among them the music journalist Steve Turner and a former ‘Fleet Street editor’, seemed to agree with me, suggesting that Cliff’s eternal bachelor status inevitably leads to suggestions that he might be gay, which may or may not be true, but if he is then this doesn’t chime too well with his religiosity so he’s keeping mum. His live-in companion, we were told, is a retired Roman Catholic priest, so perhaps he’s been minded to take a vow of celibacy. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he keeps a harem of concubines in the Portuguese villa where he tends his vineyards. We’ll never know because he refuses to say, and the longer he refuses to say the more the speculation will continue.
         I am not a fan. I belong to the school of thought that believes Cliff hasn’t improved on ‘Move It’, the first single he ever recorded back in 1958, which was absolutely tremendous and remains, as one of the interviewees – I think it was the erudite Paul Gambaccini – said, ‘the best British rock’n’roll record until The Beatles came along’, or words to that effect. That’s true. Ernie Shear’s guitar intro was a gem, and when Cliff comes surging in on the last line of the first verse – ‘Let me tell you baby it’s called rock and roll’ – it’s as good as anything the Americans were coming up with. Furthermore, the message in the lyrics suggested the cool-looking singer in his white jacket, black shirt and white tie really did have faith in the power of rock. Unfortunately, though the follow-ups ‘High Class Baby’ and ‘Mean Streak’ weren’t bad, the rot set in with record number five, ‘Living Doll’, his first number one, beloved of Andrew Lloyd Webber we learned, and from then on Cliff changed his apparel and set his sights on that dreaded objective, becoming an all-round entertainer, exemplified in this show by an appearance in a pantomime. Thereafter his output descended into North European schlager (‘Bachelor Boy’, ‘Congratulations’, etc), sentimental balladry (‘The Minute You’re Gone’, ‘Miss You Nights’, etc) or God-fearing piety (‘Saviour’s Day’, ‘The Millennium Prayer’, etc), none of which are to my taste. 
         It could be argued, of course, that Elvis did the same when he came out of the army, but at least he left us four or five albums of decent stuff, as heard on the 50’s Masters box set, and he partially redeemed himself with the Memphis sessions in 1968 and ’69. For my money, Cliff’s only subsequent records of merit have been ‘Devil Woman’ in 1976 and ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’ three years later, unless I’ve missed something which is quite possible as I gave up on him long ago.
         He certainly has a loyal fan base, mostly ladies of a certain age who don’t seem to see the irony in singing along to ‘The Young Ones’, as ghastly a song as he’s ever recorded. Cliff is now a cottage industry in this regard, a cult in a way, set apart from the mainstream music industry insofar as his records and tickets to his concerts can be marketed direct to this fan base without the need to engage with the public at large. Cliff gave the impression he’d like to expand on this, but it doesn’t really matter, not now. He’s 78 after all, but he still plays tennis.
         I am absolutely certain that whatever it was that motivated Yorkshire Police to raid his Surrey home four years ago was based on a pack of lies. He was innocent of whatever it was that someone suggested he did, and the BBC were way out of order in covering the raid in the grotesque manner they did, a dreadful, albeit uncharacteristic, lapse in editorial judgement for which they have rightly been censored. But, gee whizz, Sir Cliff Richard: 60 Years In Public and In Private didn’t half ladle on Cliff’s virtuousness thick. It was even felt necessary to point out that when Cliff generously donated a case of his vintage wine to the doormen at Wimbledon, the bottles would not be opened until they were off duty. Of course not.

5.12.18

SCRIBBLERS, PLUCKERS, THUMPERS & SQUAWKERS



By virtue of my longstanding friendship with Keith Altham, one of the UK’s longest serving music writers and PRs, I have been attending these lunches at the Bull’s Head in Barnes – the Scribblers, Pluckers, Thumpers & Squawkers (Writers, Guitarists, Drummers & Singers) Club – for about a dozen years now. As Lesley-Ann Jones relates above the pictures on my FB page, they began in a small way with Keith at the helm, then grew as others took over the admin, John Pidgeon followed by Ed Bicknell and now LAJ herself, assisted by David Stark and Rab Noakes. They take place twice a year, one in summer and the other in early December, and yesterday someone told me that the waiting list now runs to over 200. The only way get on it is for a regular to die, a bit like the MCC but probably more fun and there’s no dress code.
         The only rule is to leave your ego at the door. In this way those attendees who’ve made a bit of a name for themselves in the world of music are the equals of those who haven’t. In times past Bill Wyman was a regular but he seems to have dropped out, and I seem to recall Roger Daltrey joining us a decade ago. Noddy Holder is a regular, though he hasn’t showed for the last two, but his old drummer – sorry thumper – colleague Don Powell never misses. Reg Presley was a regular until he left us, and we are usually joined by a couple of Shadows, Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett, and three other drummers from the thumpers Hall of Fame, Clem Cattini, late of The Tornados and many more, Rob Townsend of Family, and John Coughlan from the Quo. As a surprise for Clem, LAJ once brought along his old Tornados guitarist pal George Bellamy who brought his son, Matthew, of Muse, probably the biggest ‘young’ star we’ve ever had.
         At first it was an all-male affair. Then I recall that Sandie Shaw once turned up as an honoured guest, which delighted me because Sandie was the first pop star of note that I ever met, back in Bradford in 1968 when she was modelling fashions for a mail-order clothing company based there. As the pop correspondent on the local paper, the Telegraph & Argus, I was assigned to cover her arrival in the city. She was very tall indeed and wore shoes, and quite lovely too. She didn't remember me. 
         But back to Barnes. Sandie opened the floodgates in a way and now the female contingent, all of whom dress exquisitely, number about 25% of us. There are some singers – yesterday we welcomed Madeline Bell, no less, along with the Lewis sisters, Linda, Shirley & Dee, Mari Wilson and Suzie Quatro, who’s become a regular – a couple of glamorous Quo wives, Patty Parfitt & Gillie Coughlan, writers, like my old friend Pauline McLeod, who was on the Daily Mirror when I was on MM, LAJ herself, and PR Judy Totton, who told me she’s working on Joe Brown’s forthcoming tour – and Joe will be 78 next May.
         Frank Allen of The Searchers has been an attendee for longer than I have, and I was saddened to learn yesterday that after a 60-date UK tour that takes place next January, February and March, The Searchers will finally retire, thus bringing a close to a career that began in 1959. “The two hours on stage is still magic,” said Frank. “It’s the travelling we can’t handle any more.”
         Tich (aka Ian Amey), of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, is still a regular though his boss, who once graced us with his boisterousness, left us in 2009. Rab Noakes, who now brings his guitar, is another long-standing member, along with singer Billy Nicholls and Mo Foster, who’s played bass on more records than he’ll ever remember, and who once wrote a great book called 17 Watts, all about the gear British would-be rock stars were obliged to suffer before Fenders and Gibsons arrived on these shores. Another regular bassist who joins us is the affable Tom McGuinness, late of Manfred Mann and many others. Yesterday we were joined by Blue Weaver, late of Amen Corner, who played keyboards for The Bee Gees for many years. It was nice to be able to tell him that ‘(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice’ is still of my favourite singles. 
         We also welcomed a couple of DJs, Andy Peebles and Paul Gambaccini, whom I’ve known since he used to be Rolling Stone’s London correspondent back in the '70s, which brings me to my writer friends, John ‘Bizarre’ Blake, his former colleague David Hancock from the Sun and Mirror, Gavin Martin and Chris Salewicz from NME, Phil Sutcliffe from Sounds, the acclaimed author Philip ‘Shout’ Norman, who’s at present working on a book about Jimi Hendrix, and my old MM colleague Chris Welch, next to whom I sat yesterday and, as ever, wallowed in nostalgic reminiscences from the time we sat next to one another in MM’s Fleet Street office.
         Simon Napier-Bell who, on handing over the management of The Yardbirds to Peter Grant famously advised him to fire Jimmy Page because he was a troublemaker, turned up yesterday, having evidently flown in especially from South East Asia. Another hi-octane manager who always joins us, of course, is Ed Bicknell, who managed Dire Straits after a career in the music business that began as the drummer for pop star Jess Conrad way back when. Ed took over the running of the event from the dear departed John Pigeon and, after inaugurating a tradition whereby the names of those in music, performers or otherwise, who’d left us in the last six months are read out, always lightened the mood with a few hilarious stories from his past.
         So I’ll end this little report with one of those, one that I’ve repeated many times now, with apologies to Ed. In 1988, as some may recall, a Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert was held at Wembley Stadium, and amongst the many star names taking part were Dire Straits and Whitney Houston. Sometime during the course of the day word was passed to Ed that Whitney wished to meet Mark Knopfler with a view to him perhaps playing on a track on her next album. The meeting was duly set up and La Houston arrived at the DS backstage caravan. Amiable conversation ensued during which Mark advised Whitney of his willingness to contribute, it being decided that the details would be confirmed soon through Ed and Whitney’s ‘people’. Just as Whitney was leaving, however, things took a turn for the surreal. “I can’t wait to see Nelson,” she said. “I’ve got all his albums but I’ve never seen him live.”
         No surprise, perhaps, that Mark didn’t contribute after all.
         Apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention. Like all of us, I’m looking forward to the next luncheon immensely, and as ever am grateful to LAJ, David and Rab for their efforts in assuring a splendid time is guaranteed for all.


11.11.18

THANKS A LOT MR KIBBLEWHITE – ROGER DALTREY: MY STORY






Amongst their many virtues, The Who were disgustingly honest. Jagger only told you what he wanted to tell you, Led Zep were taciturn, Floyd aloof and Bowie lied. The Who, on the other hand, were models of indiscretion, so it comes as no surprise that Roger Daltrey’s autobiography lays bare the hopeless disarray, financial under-handedness and personal angst that lingered beneath the surface while outwardly he, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon put on rock shows the likes of which haven’t been seen since Moon died and which we probably won’t ever see again.
         With no aspirations whatsoever towards being judged as an author of literary merit, Roger Daltrey tells his story, via ghost writer Matt Rudd, in an unpretentious, breezy and colloquial style. It reads a bit like a one-sided conversation, chatty, a bit confrontational, with justification for his actions seemingly an underlying motive for putting pen to paper. Not for Daltrey the navel-gazing contemplation, spiritual philosophy or rock theorising that is the hallmark of his Who partner Townshend. In keeping with his reputation for blunt assessment followed by immediate action without regard to the consequences, a trait he shared with Moon, albeit less recklessly, Daltrey wades in like a bull in a china shop, laying it on the line in a remarkably candid though at times wayward, selective and occasionally imprecise (“our 1970 single ‘Substitute’,” [page 40] indeed!) assessment of his life and career.
         First off though, it’s very short. The extent is 346 pages, but the spacing between the lines is excessive, there’s eight pages of back matter and each of the 20 chapters is separated by two or three blank pages, so the actual number of text pages is more like 280, and at a generous 300 words a page that’s only around 85,000 words, probably less, hence the padding. It took me about six hours start to finish. Implausibly, the text on the jacket flap states that the book was ‘four years in the making’, so that means Daltrey and/or his ghost writer managed only about 21,000 words a year, a snail-like pace to say the least, especially as the writing style suggests it was slapped down without much reflection apropos literacy. In contrast, the current edition of Dear Boy, Tony Fletcher’s biography of Moon, is around 297,000 words, ie 3.5 times longer – and Moon only lived to be 32.
         Then again, unlike Daltrey’s book Dear Boy wasn’t displayed in Sainsburys next to Michael Caine’s most recent book, Blowing The Bloody Doors Off, the latest in a long line of titles by the revered actor whose rags to riches story and laconic persona is not a million miles distant from Daltrey himself. So we can assume that the publisher’s target market is not the rock fan who relishes the extraordinary detail that Mark Lewisohn brings to his Beatles books, nor even rock bibliophiles who savour the literate prose of, say, Dylan’s Chronicles or Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music And Disappearing Ink. No, what we have here is a brash play for the mass-market, with all the promotional appearances on TV chat shows and lurid extracts in tabloid papers about illegitimate kids, health scares and – still – Moon The Loon’s destructive tendencies that this entails.
         The Mr Kibblewhite of the title is the headmaster of Acton County Grammar School at the time of Roger’s 15th birthday in 1959 who, on expelling him over a misunderstanding involving an air gun, delivers the crushing judgement: “You’ll never make anything of your life, Daltrey.” Mr Kibblewhite had no doubt passed on by the time his errant pupil knelt before the Queen to receive his CBE in 2005, but the choice of title surely reflects the relish that the newly ennobled singer must have felt that day. Revenge must have been sweet, but it nevertheless makes for a rather clumsy title. I’d have plumped for See Me Feel Me.
         After a dramatic opening about the health scare that caused a 2007 concert to be cancelled, we begin at the beginning, in Shepherds Bush, where the Daltrey family eke out a living in circumstances not far removed from Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen. Daltrey ladles it on a bit thick, laundering his only shirt so he won’t have to wear his only sweater, which scratches. Being small, he becomes handy with his fists, a bit of a tearaway, but he’s rescued by Elvis and Lonnie Donegan so builds his own guitar and forms a group which in four years’ time, when the right four have found one another, becomes The Who.
         Much of what follows more or less tallies with the Who biographies and reference books that line my shelves, many of which are among the best ever written about a rock band. Daltrey, the eldest of the four, confirms that in many ways he was the odd one out, the least sociable, the one who stayed sober to drive the others home, and the one most likely to decline when the pills and joints were passed around. “Pete used to say that, as individuals, we were three geniuses and ‘just the singer’,” writes Daltrey, in the first of many asides that draw attention to their combative relationship, conceding that, “We were different from all the other bands. We were different from each other.” That’s certainly true.
         Daltrey was also the first to marry – and divorce – and his decision to abandon first wife Jackie and son Simon triggered a row with his father that ended in blows. When able, however, Daltrey nobly takes care of the family he deserted, just as he does the three other children that have resulted from his libidinous habits. At heart, he’s a home-loving (and home-improving) family man, the dad to an additional son and two daughters with his wife Heather, whom he married almost 50 years ago and to whom he is clearly devoted. Heather was raised in America but they discovered quite recently that her grandparents lived in Shepherds Bush two doors along from Daltrey’s father and his six sisters. “Two doors,” he writes, dumbfounded by the coincidence. “What are the chances?” Throughout the book there are many touching references to Heather, the implication being that without her Daltrey’s life would have been immeasurably poorer.
         But back to The Who. Aside from the perpetual chaos, much of it initiated by Moon, a running theme is the group’s finances, with Daltrey at pains to emphasise that he (and Entwistle and Moon but not songwriter Townshend) were nowhere near as rich as the world imagined them to be. This is partly due to Moon’s behaviour on the road, where Daltrey limits himself to one hamburger a day in the vain hope that at the end of a tour he’ll be able to bring home some money for Heather, but mainly due to the profligacy of Who managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. While acknowledging their debt to the partnership in the group’s early days, Daltrey spares no sentiment when it comes to castigating them for subsequently helping themselves to vast sums that by rights ought to have been banked by the members of the band: “If it had been up to me, we would have got rid of Kit and Chris sooner,” he writes. “We would have got rid of them the moment I knew for a fact they were ripping us off. I knew they were shifty for years…” Later on he lays into the movie Lambert  & Stamp for glossing over their dishonesty, and into Stamp for never admitting the duplicity even after they became friends in later years. 
         So Daltrey appointed a new manager, Bill Curbishley, to look after his affairs, and eventually the other three see the sense of this and so Curbishley, who’d done time after being framed for a bank van robbery he didn’t commit – all details offered here for the first time in a Who book – becomes the manager of The Who as well and they start to make proper money at last. For me, these passages are the meat of the book – the period between Who’s Next and Moon’s death – when we really do get Daltrey’s take on what was going on behind the scenes in Who central, how he and Townshend fell out over innumerable issues, how Moon screwed up and how Entwistle simply turned up and played, sometimes too loudly but always with immense skill.
         Much of this is fairly well known to Who observers but it hasn’t been laid out quite so frankly before. Some of the Moon stuff reads to me as if Dear Boy was a research tool and when Daltrey is genuinely mystified by Townshend’s behaviour he suggests we read ‘his book’, ie Who I Am, for clarification. Daltrey paints a portrait of his three bandmates as Jekyll & Hyde characters, all capable of spitefulness one moment and compassion the next. But like a grown-up, decent son who can’t escape the clutches of his errant family, Daltrey is pulled back into the fold time and again even when he knows the course being taken might end in tears. And the reason is not just financial – he knows that on a good night nothing he’d ever known could beat what he calls the ‘drive’ of The Who. “Let’s drive, we used to say before a gig. Drive. Drive. Drive. I used to feel like we were trying to drive our music through an audience to the back wall.” I know precisely what he means.
         The second half of the book is an even breezier read than the first. Moon dies on page 265 and 72 pages later – 40 years – we’ve cruised past The Who Hits 50 Tour in 2014/15 and reached the chequered flag. So an awful lot – Kenney Jones in and out (his dismissal due in no small part to Daltrey), retirements and comebacks, plenty of acting roles, a brush with Ronnie Kray, Entwistle’s death, Townshend’s arrest and release without charge over that silly child pornography business, a surprising number of health issues, appearances at the Superbowl and London Olympics, and Daltrey’s role in the Teenage Cancer Trust – are skimmed through very hastily. There’s an interesting diversion when Daltrey unwisely elects a new manager to promote a solo tour of the US, only to come a cropper and be rescued by the faithful Curbishley, and a plausible explanation as to why he and Townshend felt obliged to continue after Entwistle checked out.
         Mr Kibblewhite now becomes the 53rd Who or Who-related book to sit on my shelves. It’s slightly ironic that this and Who I Am – the only other one actually written by a member of the group – don’t really rival the better ones – Marsh, Barnes, Fletcher, Neill & Kent, Unterberger, Blake – by these professional writers, and I can reveal that a full-length Entwistle biography by a seasoned author is now in preparation. Still, in his own in-yer-face way, Roger Daltrey has added meaningfully to my Who library, not so much in quantity, nor even quality, but in offering his distinctive point of view and shining an even brighter light on The Who’s troubled internal affairs. If the best that can said of his book is that it is disgustingly honest, then that’s not really a bad thing.