13.9.19

BEATLES: MARK LEWISOHN AT ABBEY (OR HORNSEY) ROAD



To the Bloomsbury Theatre on London’s Gordon Street to witness Mark Lewisohn’s run-through for his forthcoming UK lecture tour on The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, ingeniously titled Hornsey Road. Why is that, I hear you ask? All will be revealed later.
         Having now firmly established himself as the world’s foremost Beatles archivist and historian through his many books and sleeve notes on various historical Beatles product, Mark is taking time out from writing Volume 2 of his humungous All Those Years trilogy (the extended edition of Vol 1 was a staggering 1,698 pages long) to undertake this 25-date UK tour that opens on 18 September in Northampton and closes on 4 December in Manchester.
         Addressing an invitation-only audience last night from a stage whose floor was painted like a zebra crossing and flanked by two flashing belisha beacons, Mark began by solemnly instructing us to switch off recording devices and cameras. This was in order to prevent us from revealing too much, but at the same time we were encouraged to be judgmental, to make notes, all in the interest of offering Mark suggestions whereby his talk might be improved.
         This is a bit like being asked to improve on the Taj Mahal. All around me were other music writers of similar vintage to my own, persons whose knowledge of The Beatles might not be in Mark’s league but is probably greater than the average fan. That we all clapped during those portions of the show wherein Mark’s research revealed arcane bits of minute trivia, like where Paul might have come across the word ‘pataphysical’ or John discovered a real life Mr Mustard who was, indeed, very mean, indicated a keen awareness of the extremes to which Mark goes when chasing down a lead. Sherlock of Baker Street could do no better.
         The show is a multi-media event. Accompanying Mark’s erudite discourse are photographs, video footage, documents and newspaper clippings on a big screen, and the whole caboodle is soundtracked by the songs from Abbey Road, of course, albeit not as you know them. Instead Mark has used 5.1 mixes and The Beatles’ Rockband Playstation game that enable him to utilise isolated individual performances and in this way we get a feel of how the songs developed in the studio and who contributed what. Two things stood out for me: the inimitable three-part choral wash that John, Paul and George were able to conjure up when required, and the sophistication of Paul’s bass playing, those melodic touches, often in a high register, that were too often buried in the mix. The music tracks are sequenced chronologically, ie in the order in which they were recorded, and accompanied by still photographs, mostly black and white, and judged by Mark to have been taken while a particular track was being recorded, or thereabouts. The many different guitars and keyboards, including a Moog, that The Beatles used are therefore clearly in evidence.
         This is the meat of the two-hour plus presentation. Interspersed between the songs are sections wherein Mark deals with whatever else was happening in the world of the individual Beatles during 1969, among them John’s Plastic Ono Band, his peace campaigning, bagism and the fateful car journey – in a humble Austin Maxi – to Scotland with Yoko and their children; George’s involvement with the Hare Krishna movement and growing friendship with Eric Clapton; Paul and Linda’s wedding and trip to Scotland; Ringo’s acting debut with Peter Sellers; the transformation of four Beatles into family men; and John and George’s drug busts, both of which seem likely to have been the result of police corruption.
         Towards the end of the lecture, after the album has been recorded and is waiting release, we are informed that John, Paul and George met to discuss their future together, and because Ringo was absent – in hospital with an upset stomach – John recorded the meeting so that Ringo would know what was said. Herein lay the most interesting part of Mark’s speech, also judged as such earlier this week in the Guardian when he gave an interview to my former Melody Maker colleague Richard Williams. Somehow or other Mark has obtained a copy of that recording, until now unheard by any of us in the room. Suffice to say that John, for one, envisaged a future for The Beatles, albeit one in which the traditional songwriting credit of Lennon/McCartney would be discontinued in favour of individual credits for each and that George, and to a lesser extent Ringo, would have a greater representation in this area. To say more would be to disclose too much.
         The closing sequence is wonderful, tearful almost. “And in the end…” sing John, Paul and George, in perfect harmony in the Abbey Road studio even if business issues were dragging them apart outside. This was the year of their breakup – not that you’d know it from the unity they exhibit on Abbey Road – and, lest we forget, the youngest of them in 1969 was just 26, the eldest 29.
         And Hornsey Road? Apparently EMI were in the process of buying up a recording studio there where all of the non-classical artists signed to the label, including The Beatles, would have been obliged to record their music. It doesn’t have the same ring to it somehow does it? And nor would it attract the crowds like Abbey Road does. There’s even an EarthCam set up there 24 hours a day recording the action on the world’s most famous pedestrian crossing point: (https://www.earthcam.com/world/england/london/abbeyroad/?cam=abbeyroad_uk). Seems like every moment of the day someone is taking a photograph there.

Full details of Mark Lewisohn’s talk can be found here: https://www.marklewisohn.net/hornsey-road/


12.9.19

THE REPAIR SHOP



I have quietly and without fuss or regret become slightly addicted to a TV programme called The Repair Shop. It has, so I have learned, been running since 2017 but I only discovered it a couple of months ago, probably because it seems to have shifted around the schedules and channels (BBC 1 and 2) and even varied its length from 30 minutes to an hour. At the moment it is being shown on BBC 2 between 7 and 8 pm most nights of the week but it is very unobtrusive and its admirers, like me, no doubt stumble on it accidentally.
         The premise of The Repair Shop is very simple. In a converted barn somewhere in the lush countryside of southern England a group of expert craftsmen and women toil away at restoring much loved artefacts for grateful owners. The items they repair are always old, damaged or malfunctioning yet hold great sentimental value, like a much-loved childhood toy, or a watch that belonged to a grandparent, or a family portrait, or an abandoned piece of furniture, all of them brought to the barn by their owners who explain why the item means so much to them. Programme host Jay Blades (seen above, left, with carpenter Will Kirk) surveys the wreck, four of which are repaired per 60-minute programme, then calls upon the appropriate expert to take it to their bench and begin work.
         We watch as they do their thing, fixing, reshaping, sanding, soldering, cleaning, polishing, painting, reupholstering, creating some parts anew, explaining their methods as they do so. Sometimes it is necessary for one craftsperson to call for help from another and this is always generously given, so that many of the cherished items are restored by team effort. They have included pinball machines, soft toys, street signs, jewellery, paintings, pottery, stained glass, musical instruments, tables and chairs, clocks and ornaments of all shapes and varieties, and even a snooker scoreboard that once belonged to former world champ Fred Davies. When the work is complete the owners reappear, only to be rendered speechless with emotion at seeing their treasured family heirloom in sparkling condition. Many are moved to tears.
         Such sentiment aside, there is another, deeper, reason why I love The Repair Shop. In an era when brutish capitalism seeks to rule the world, when climate change deniers do so only to protect their profits, and when Brexit is promoted by billionaire tax evaders, The Repair Shop stands proud as a beacon of unselfish co-operation without the tiniest suggestion that monetary value in any way motivates those who bring their possessions – most of which are of sentimental value only – to the shop; nor do the skilled repairers ever mention that in the real world the wonders they have performed would have cost a small fortune. In this way it is the exact antithesis of The Antiques Road Show wherein the value of an item is finally revealed like a rabbit out of a hat, as if the significance of its worth effortlessly trumps whatever history and providence the antiques experts have patiently outlined.
         Furthermore, The Repair Shop is utterly bereft of those awful, stage-managed, artificial soundbites that are repeated ad-infinitum during TV shows in which confrontation or competition drives the action. No one says ‘awesome’. No one ‘dreads’ anything. No one is angry. No one complains. Everyone quietly gets on with what they have to do without making a fuss. It is low key, low profile, low maintenance. It doesn’t shout. The smiles of the experts are genuine. The reward is the satisfaction of a job well done and the joy on the faces of those whose treasures are restored. An antidote to throwaway culture, it is a perfect representation of a better world.
         Besides which, the Repair Shop has done me a favour. On one show David Kennett, a guitar restorer, reconditioned a battered Fender Jazz Bass that had belonged to Tony Wilson, the bassist in Hot Chocolate, now the property of his son. So impressed was I with David’s work that a week ago I left my prized 1963 Gibson LG2 acoustic guitar at his workshop for some much needed TLC. Watch this space…

11.9.19

MOON GIRL by MANDY MOON - Sample Chapter


This is a sample chapter that Keith Moon’s daughter, Amanda De Wolf, and I wrote in the hope of enticing literary agents to represent us and get a deal with a book publisher. Unfortunately it didn’t happen, and neither of us was prepared to go the self-publishing route. We picked a fairly obvious period to write about, the dramatic week in which Kim, Mandy’s mum, left her husband for good.


GOODBYE DAD, HELLO MAC

I would have just turned seven when mum decided to leave my father for the final time. It was August 1973, another hot day in an endlessly hot summer made all the more unbearable because, unusually, my father was home for weeks on end. By ‘home’ I mean he was based in the UK, not that he was at home [Tara, the Moon’s house in Chertsey, Surrey, UK – Ed.] every night as he sometimes stayed in London, never letting mum know where he was, but when he was at Tara there was trouble afoot more often than not.
         The Who were recording and rehearsing their Quadrophenia record that summer and wouldn’t go back on the road until October, and this was the reason he was always likely to be around, and the more often he was around the more turmoil there was. When he went off on tour for a few weeks a state of calm descended on the household, less noise, less chaos, less uncertainty, less danger. Mum was always happier when he was away, like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders, at least temporarily. I think if it was up to her she’d have preferred to leave him for good when he was out of the country on the road somewhere. That way she could have arranged it properly, had time to deal with all the practicalities involved, but it didn’t happen that way. In fact, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time really.
         The summer term had ended but even before that Dermot [Kerrigan, Kim’s mother’s son, therefore Mandy’s uncle, but only a few months older than her, who was also living at TaraEd.] and I were not attending school consistently. The mood in the household was simply not conducive to getting children up early, giving them their breakfast and taking them to school by 8.30, just like every other family with young kids at the school we went to. How mum explained all this to the teachers I have no idea.          Nowadays you read about ‘broken families’ whose kids don’t attend school because their parents are poor and can’t feed them or spend all their money on drink and drugs. Well, we were just like that – a ‘broken family’ – except that we lived in a big house in its own grounds in a posh part of Chertsey in Surrey and our father was supposedly earning plenty of money, but it still disappeared on drink and drugs and heaven knows what else. We might just as well have been a poverty-stricken ‘broken family’ on a run-down council estate for all the difference it made.
         I’m pretty sure now that mum made the decision to leave Keith and never come back to him because one of their fights actually involved me, at least indirectly, and this incident happened one night just before she decided we would leave Tara for good. Dad had turned off all the lights in the house for some reason and he began to throw things around madly in the dark. He was obviously drunk. Something hard hit me on the side of my left leg and cut me, not badly but enough for me to cry and need medical attention, and I still have the scar. Mum was furious that he’d hurt me, scared that it might happen again and maybe worse, and it degenerated into yet another terrible screaming match. I guess it was the last straw for her.
         Mum didn’t tell me she’d finally made the decision to leave dad and never come back, not at first anyway. We had left a few times before, sometimes in the middle of the night when dad was sleeping. Mum knew that when he’d taken a handful of sleeping pills on top of the brandy then nothing was going to wake him up for hours on end, so the early morning was a good time to make a break.
         On one of these occasions Dermot and I had been taken to Verwood in Dorset where Billy, my grandfather on my mum’s side, lived with Trisha, his second wife, who died in a car accident. Dad was frightened of Billy because he stood up to him. To Billy Keith Moon wasn’t some big rock star, he was just some idiot that his daughter had stupidly married, and he wouldn’t stand for any of dad’s nonsense. So, there was no way that dad would ever come to Verwood and try to get us to come back. Billy would just have smacked him in the teeth.
         This last visit to Billy’s lasted for two months or so and I hated it because it was obvious they didn’t want me there. I’d have preferred to stay with Nanny Kit, my other grandmother [Keith’s mum – Ed.], in Wembley, in the same house where dad grew up. I would have been much happier living with her than Billy but the truth is what I really wanted to be was alone somewhere with mum, just the two of us.
         But back to the morning when we left Tara, I remember waking up and mum not being there. It was always the scariest feeling, not knowing where she was and being alone in the house with dad, though of course he didn’t get up when I did. He certainly wasn’t a morning person! It was unusual for mum not to be there, most unlike her to leave me with dad. Many bad incidents had happened over the years and when they did and mum scarpered she always took me with her. This time she didn’t, so I didn’t know what was happening. Joan, my grandmother, was there, of course, but she wasn’t much use in the mornings either. Most nights she threw back the booze as much as dad, matching him drink for drink which is saying something.
         Mum had evidently had some lunch and gone to see some friends in Egham, then checked into the nearby Great Fosters Hotel at Thorpe Green. It was like she’d woken up that day and just said to herself, ‘I’ve had enough. I can’t take it any more’. She must have called from the hotel and rang up Tara to speak to her mother because Joan put Dermot and me in a cab and we were driven to the hotel where mum was waiting for us. I ran into her arms and hugged her. It was such a relief to see her. I never went back to Tara again, ever, but mum went back to fetch some things the next day. She told me later that she was really scared dad would find her there but he was in the pub down the lane, the Golden Grove, and didn’t see her, not at first anyway. Later she told me how she ran around the house collecting paperwork and things before fleeing in a taxi and being so afraid of what dad would do to her if he caught her. She managed to fill a suitcase with our clothes, running around the house and then getting away from Tara before he could stop her.
         We stayed at the Great Fosters Hotel for a couple of weeks. It seemed only natural that Dermot would be with us there too, as if he was my brother, but he went back to Verwood after a while. The hotel was amazing, an ancient Grade I listed building with a maze and history dating back to Henry VIII, and the gift shop had dolls of him and all his wives. It was big, beautiful and we felt safe at last. It was supposedly haunted but I didn’t experience anything like that. While we were there mum was on the phone all the time to the Who’s managers trying to get some money from them to pay our bills. We also spent a few nights at another hotel near Runnymede but that wasn’t so nice.
         When we moved out of the hotels we stayed with a couple named Molly and Bob who were friends of Kim’s mother Joan and who lived near Egham. I didn’t know who they were but they were very kind to us and had model horses for me to play with which was great and they had a dog. I really missed the dogs at Tara and pretended to be a dog most of the time, even eating and drinking from a bowl on the floor… not too emotionally sound already, I guess! I also used to sleepwalk at their home and would stand at the top of the stairs, so I am told, which was disconcerting for the adults so they locked me in my room.
         After about a month there we moved to a little house on Campbell Close, a cul-de-sac in Twickenham. I really liked living there, on a tiny street. It was one of five terraced cottages, quite sweet really, just the opposite of Tara, and I liked having my own room upstairs and looking out from the front window at people and dogs coming and going. We could walk down to a nearby shop which was a treat for me because Tara was really isolated, other than the pub at the end of the road. I suppose I craved normalcy and structure, which is why I liked being at Nanny Kit’s, just a normal house in a normal street with a normal family.
         Mum was renting the house in Campbell Close for £20 a week and she and I were alone there which was lovely, but after a week or two dad somehow found out where we were living and left things by the front door. I vaguely remember an incident where there were supposedly bad men with guns who had been ordered by dad to take us back to Tara. I remember I was kept away from the windows. I was never quite sure if that was real or just another story, like the story about dad setting some heavies on to Mac [Ian McLagan, the keyboard player of the Faces, whom Kim would marry in 1978 – Ed.] who was coming over to see mum a lot soon after we moved there. I heard later that dad did pay this heavy to break Mac’s fingers, but Pete Townshend heard about it and paid the heavy not to.
         It slowly dawned on me that Mac was courting mum, and mum was happy about this. They’d known one another for a long time, way back from when he was in the Small Faces I guess. So it was only a matter of time before we moved in with Mac, into another big house that wasn’t normal, in his case a five-bedroom Gothic style house in half an acre overlooking Richmond Park on Fife Road in East Sheen.
         I remember mum and Mac listening to lots of Marvin Gaye songs there, very romantic! Unlike dad, he treated her really well which must have been wonderful for her after all she’d had to put up with. It seemed like we would be there for a while so I started at another primary school in Twickenham. Mum and I took the bus, but I was usually late! I was made to stay in at lunch for being late and mum got so upset, telling the teachers it wasn’t my fault. She would come to the school and sit in at lunch but she had to be told it didn’t work that way!
         I do remember waking up at that house one night and no one was home. It was the middle of the night and I went outside and wandered down the road calling for mum. A kindly neighbour took me in and I slept in their front room until we heard mum yelling down the street for me at about four in the morning.
         After we moved in with Mac in East Sheen I remember dad coming to the house. It only happened once I think, but it was traumatic for everyone. Dougal [aka Peter Butler – Ed.], dad’s PA and driver, brought him over in his pink Rolls-Royce. I answered the door. It was frosted glass but I recognized his silhouette and was scared even before opening it. He asked Mac to babysit while he took mum out. Mac said no he wouldn’t do that and asked him to leave but dad insisted on seeing mum, so they spent some time together in the front room while Mac and Dougal and me waited outside in the back garden. Then dad left. I was always kind of afraid he would come back again but he never did, so this was the last time I ever saw him, and I didn’t even say goodbye.
         Dougal told me later that when they got back in the car dad cried his eyes out. He told Dougal he knew now that he’d lost mum for ever. I guess he must have finally realised that it was all over. Whenever mum had left him before there was never another man involved, but this time there was and that made all the difference. Deep inside I knew it too.
         Something had told me the break with dad was permanent after we moved in with Mac at Fife Road in East Sheen. This wasn’t like any of the other times we’d left dad. This wasn’t temporary, it was the future. The madness was finally over, and it was like a great big black cloud had been lifted, such a massive relief for me and mum. In front of me was a life that might just be normal – or so I thought.