26.10.19

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME – 2020 INDUCTEES



With the regularity of the clocks going back this weekend to mark the end of British Summer Time, my nomination form for next year’s inductees into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame lands on my doormat. But something is different this year. Though no one informed me officially, it has come to my notice that fans can now vote for whomsoever they wish to enter the Pearly Gates of Cleveland, a worthy gesture indeed, but nothing on the HoF’s website indicates how much weight is attached to fans’ votes, as opposed to votes from grizzled old rock writers like me. The slightly sinister element of secrecy that has characterised the inner workings of the HoF since its inception in 1983 is ongoing.
         As I have noted before, the need to induct five new acts into the R&R HoF every year has inevitably resulted in a lowering of the criteria, with the inevitable result that more and more of what, with respect, I would term B-listers are nominated and inducted. A secondary motive is the commercial potential of keeping the show on the road, ie satisfying sponsors and obtaining revenue from the ceremony itself, which usually takes place in New York in February and costs an arm and a leg to get in. In fairness, some of the money goes to music-related charities.
         There are 16 nominees this year, rather too many in my opinion: Pat Benatar, The Dave Matthews Band, Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, MC5, Motorhead, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G., Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren, T. Rex and Thin Lizzy.
         If I am to be ruthlessly logical about the listing, it poses few problems in terms of how to cast my votes. But firstly I need to eliminate several acts. I do not own, and have never owned, records by six acts on this list (Pat Benatar, The Dave Matthews Band, Judas Priest, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and Soundgarden), nor have I ever seen any of these in concert. I have owned, but no longer own, records by The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, MC5, Motörhead, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan and Thin Lizzy, though I have seen four of these (Doobies, Motörhead, Rufus and Lizzy) on stage.
         I can therefore eliminate 12 of the 16 nominees, my thinking being that if I never owned their music, or opted to dispense with it later in life, then I can’t have rated them very highly or, perhaps more to the point, I grew out of them and decided that, since it was unlikely I would ever play their records again, I might as well take them to the charity shop.
         This leaves Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Todd Rundgren and T. Rex, all of whom will get my vote, though I have only seen the latter two on stage. I’m slightly ashamed not to be voting for MC5 (for political reasons) and Motörhead (because Lemmy represented the spirit of R&R far more than Ralf Hütter but the fact is these days I enjoy Kraftwerk’s music far more than Motörhead).
         I should perhaps point out that the fans’ votes to which I alluded above are being collated at the R&R HoF with an ongoing leader board posted online at https://vote.rockhall.com/results/. Worryingly, it states that fans are restricted to ‘one ballot per day’ which I understand as meaning you can vote for your choice seven times a week. The most recent leader board reveals that, in order, Pat Benatar, the Doobies, Soundgarden, Dave Matthews and Judas Priest are the front runners. I rarely pick the winners, of course, and each year enclose with my voting form an angry letter bemoaning the fact that Richard Thompson and Slade have never been nominated.
         But I have chosen four acts (Dep Mode, KW, Todd and T. Rex) and have to nominate five so, as in previous years, I will ask readers of my Just Backdated blog to nominate a fifth candidate for me. Who shall it be friends?

23.10.19

ME by Elton John



A popular musician who has stepped on stage dressed as Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse and Amadeus Mozart, complete with elevated, powdered wig, is unlikely to take himself too seriously. So it comes as no surprise that Elton John’s autobiography is laced with scandalous tales of the rich and famous, lacerating self-denunciation and brutal honesty. Nevertheless, irrespective of his fame, his wealth and his extremes in taste and behaviour, Elton still manages to come across a bit like a kid in a sweet shop, as if everything that’s happened to him in his extraordinary life might still be a dream and he’ll wake up one day as Reg Dwight again, back in the pub in Pinner playing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ on the piano while someone passes round the hat. Me doesn’t so much dispel that myth as reinforce it in spades. It is indiscreet in ways that suggest its author is really a naughty boy telling tales out of school, and in this respect it is hilariously funny, with most of the fun poked at himself. 
         We learn, for example, that his friendship with Rod Stewart – ‘Phyllis’ to his ‘Sharon’ – is contingent on them forever exchanging insults and doing their best to demean one another; that he believes the reason he never caught AIDS was because he’s a sexual voyeur who prefers to watch men doing it than join in himself; and that an unnamed American guitarist who auditioned for his band was passed over because he expressed a fondness for decapitating chickens while sexually engaging with them. “Apparently when you do that their sphincters contract and it makes you come,” he writes, nonchalantly.
         This is the tip of the iceberg. There are stories about the Royal Family, mostly fairly benign except for when, prior to dinner at Elton’s New Windsor home, Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone square up to one another over the favours of another guest, Princess Diana; stories about rock royalty, like the time he mistook Bob Dylan for a gardener, or when he and John Lennon declined to admit Andy Warhol to their hotel suite because, squinting through the spyhole in the door, Elton confirmed that the prince of pop art was carrying his Polaroid so, as Lennon pointed out, it wasn’t wise to have him taking pictures with ‘icicles of coke’ hanging from Elton’s nose; and, lest we forget amidst the A-listers, uncomfortable stories about his mum and dad, neither of whom were equipped for raising a child, let alone one who would become a rock superstar.
         Therein, perhaps, lies the genesis of Elton’s story: escape from a miserable, repressed childhood in drab North London homes where Ma and Pa Dwight rowed constantly. This led young Reg to lock himself away in his bedroom and tend to his record collection, lovingly listing the credits on the labels and cutting out pictures of pop stars to Sellotape to singles bags. All he seems to have inherited from both was an unusually short temper which would manifest itself in ways that eventually led to that TV documentary Tantrums And Tiaras. When he discovered he had an ear for music by picking out tunes on the family piano at an early age, he was away, firstly taking lessons, then attending the RSM, then playing in the pub, then Bluesology backing Long John Baldry and minor US soul singers, then a bit of session work before finding lyricist Bernie Taupin, and the rest is history.
         Success didn’t so much come suddenly after five years of struggle as discomfortingly massive all of a sudden. A year after the release of his second album he was front-page news and for the next five years the pace rarely slackened, making him the most prolific rock star of his era, and one of the richest, as singles and LPs sold in their millions and endless tours visited the world's largest stadia, all accompanied by extravagance in dress and performance hitherto unseen on a rock stage. Thereafter his career slips into a familiar trajectory, with management issues and missing money, sex – albeit gay rather than straight – and a drugs and drink ‘hell’ from which he eventually emerges an older but wiser man, now elevated to knighthood and saintliness through his campaigning for AIDS. In the meantime theres his association with Watford Football Club and that nasty business with the Sun newspaper, and the icing on the cake is his marriage to David Furnish and parenthood of two boys through a surrogate.
         All of this is told disarmingly frankly, seasoned by absurdities like his OTT spending sprees and the time he rang up his management company to demand someone do something about the weather. The only curtain is drawn across the ‘intimate details’ of his marriage to Renate Blauel, an agreement both continue to respect. Nothing else is off the table which must have made ghost writer Alexis Petridis’ job a whole lot easier than those in this line of work who are faced with PR-driven reticence. We are left to ponder on how the work was apportioned but, since Elton’s lawyers probably insisted on Petridis signing an NDA, we are never likely to find out. He’s certainly done Elton proud however, with a journalistic affinity for detail and off-the-wall stories, and a droll, understated way of setting them down on paper. There is a refreshing absence of unnecessary exclamation marks.
         There is also an absence of musical insight. Perhaps correctly assuming that his readers don’t really want to know how he does it, or perhaps because he doesn’t really know how to explain it himself, Elton largely refrains from talking about his talents as a musician, though he showers praise on others, most notably lyricist Taupin. It’s as if he takes it for granted that he can knock out a delightful melody in a matter of minutes, and to dwell on the art of composition might put a brake on the book’s pace.
         The only time the pace does slacken is when Elton muses briefly on the pressures of fame and his hatred of the Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome, when a superstar surrounds himself with courters who say only what they believe their employer wants to hear. In a melancholy but spellbinding passage about when he and Taupin met the famously bad-tempered Elvis in Landover, Maryland, Elton cites the ‘barely coherent’ King of Rock’n’Roll as the personification of this. At this point I couldn’t help but ponder on how – as he readily admits – Elton, too, explodes in angry tantrums when something doesn’t go right or when someone says something he doesn’t want to hear. There were clearly times when Elton, too, was ‘barely coherent’ but, unlike Elvis, Elton had the presence of mind to snap out of it before someone found him face down in a gilded bathroom.  
         But this is a good-natured book by a good-hearted man who shares his foibles in a way that few in his position would dare to do. And he absolutely loves to puncture fabrications, like this example from the funeral of couturier Gianni Versace. “I feel I should point out that the famous shot they got of [Diana] supposedly consoling me – where she’s leaning forward towards me, speaking, while I’m red-eyed and glazed with grief – is the one moment in the service when she wasn’t doing anything of the sort. They snapped her just as she was leaning past me, reaching for a mint that David offered her. The warm words of comfort coming from her lips at that exact moment were actually, ‘God, I’d love a Polo’.”

13.10.19

THE BEATLES AT THE FUTURIST THEATRE, SCARBOROUGH


 

Named after the dystopian movie directed by Danny Boyle, the website 28 Days Later (https://www.28dayslater.co.uk) features photographs taken by explorers (under pseudonyms) of derelict buildings, often illegally which makes it slightly dangerous but definitely more fun. Somehow the explorers find their way into abandoned residential properties, disused industrial and military sites, old mines and drainage tunnels, and what they call entertainment buildings – pubs, theatres, cinemas and old fairgrounds. The pictures are often fantastic, immensely evocative of times past, sometimes a bit strange or even scary.
         One such posting referred to Scarborough’s Futurist Theatre, now demolished, which was visited by an explorer who calls himself Esoteric Eric just before the wrecking ball hit. I was fascinated by this as my grandparents lived in Scarborough and my dad took me to shows there when I was a boy in short trousers; ‘end of pier’ style shows, and also the Black & White Minstrel Show when I was too young to realise that it was in questionable taste for men to put on blackface. So I decided to flex my music writer muscles on the 28 Days Later site, doing a bit of research and posting the following after the pictures of this theatre gone to seed. Here’s what I wrote:
         “The Beatles played two shows at Scarborough’s Futurist Theatre on December 11, 1963, ten days before I saw them myself at the Gaumont Cinema in Bradford. If what I remember from that night is anything to go by, then it’s not hard to imagine the sheer pandemonium inside the Futurist that December 11.

I found this pic on the internet - The Beatles arriving at the Futurist.

         “As you look at Esoteric Eric’s photographs of the stage and seating, imagine the scene: the curtains drawing back and 2,400 teenage girls exploding like hand-grenades, screaming their heads off at The Beatles in their matching suits and Cuban-heeled boots; Ringo on a riser at the back, his drums flanked by their black and gold Vox amps, Paul on the left pumping his violin bass, shaking his moptop head as he sings, George to his left, grinning behind his outsized Gretsch guitar, and John on the right, his Rickenbacker guitar strapped high on up his chest, squinting into the mayhem, yelling into a microphone to make himself heard: ‘You think you’ve lost yer lurrrve, well I saw hur yesterday-ay-ay’; and the whole theatre a tableau of ear-splitting insanity as delirious fans cry, wave, stamp, jump, throw stuff and stand onto their seats to get a better view.

The interior of the Futurist. 

         “And outside on the street between shows police struggling to hold back crowds such as Scarborough’s forefront had never seen before nor ever would again, and at the end of the second show the four boys, the youngest just 20, and their road manager Neil, fleeing from the madness via a back door and into their Daimler Princess limousine to nearby Filey where they spend the night at the Hylands Hotel. And the next day the same again in Nottingham and the next day the same again in Southampton…
         “It would be nice to think that some of those in the audience that night who might still live in Scarborough, ladies in their seventies now, perhaps even grandmothers of teenage girls themselves, will reach for a Kleenex as the wrecking ball does its dirty work on the Futurist Theatre. It can’t erase the memories though: ‘Yea, yeah, yeah.’”
         As a holidaying family we stayed at the Hylands Hotel in Filey many times in the fifties, mum, dad, sister Anne and me. Sometimes we occupied a suite at the end of the corridor, two bedrooms with two single beds in each and a bathroom, all accessed by a single door. One year the magician and puppeteer Harry Corbett was staying in the hotel – he was doing a season in Scarborough – and somehow dad persuaded him, probably over a couple of drinks in the bar, to come to our rooms with his creation Sooty and put on a little show for us.


         I like to think – and I might be right – that The Beatles stayed in the same suite as we did, the same one where we saw Sooty eight or nine or ten years before.