12.1.21

IT'S ALL TOO MUCH by David Stark


The well-known clichĂ© amongst those of us for whom publishing books about rock was a way of life is that everyone who ever met The Beatles feels compelled to write a book about them. I must be an exception. I met John seven times, Paul eight and George once but failed to encounter Ringo at all, and the fact that I can recall all of these meetings quite distinctly must mean something or other. However, it obviously means a whole lot more to David Stark, publisher and editor of SongLink International magazine, whose long-term ongoing mission in life seems to have been to ambush The Beatles, collectively or individually, whenever and wherever possible, a bit Forrest Gumpish in some respects except that, unlike Tom Hank’s loveable but rather dim creation, David limits his encounters with defining figures of the 20th Century to Beatles only.

        David’s account of all this is an enjoyable ride for fans of the group, a sort of autobiography written around his love for them and myriad bids to end up in their company, sometimes by chance, more often by good management. A fortuitous encounter with Clive Epstein, brother of Brian, during a family vacation at Torquay in 1964 gets the ball rolling, and offers David a name to drop after he’s caught interloping at the 1968 premiere of Yellow Submarine. Having successfully evaded security by entering the cinema via its roof, he gets lucky when Keith Richard tells him Mick won’t require the next seat to his, so David plops himself down behind John Lennon to watch the film. Such ingenuity warrants high praise indeed. 

        And so the stage is set and we’re off, with David fondly recalling each and every encounter he’s ever had with The Fabs, most of them post-split of course; watching concerts, getting backstage, at receptions and awards ceremonies, in the street, on their doorsteps, just about everywhere you can imagine apart from their bedrooms. Naturally, he’s met – and writes about – peripheral figures from the Beatles’ circle too; family, friends, management, support staff and collaborators, many of them almost as well known now as The Beatles themselves, not to mention many other successful rock musicians, though there is no mention among the book’s 182 pages of any pets, Martha the sheepdog and her successors having evidently eluded David’s relentless quest. 

        Some such encounters are more interesting than others. I wish he’d taped his conversations with Aunt Mimi in 1981 when he spent a weekend at Sandbanks near Poole, twice visiting the home of the eldest of the Stanley sisters into whose care young John Winston was bestowed at the tender age of four. “He did come back to see me, secretly, in disguise,” she told David after he inquired whether she’d seen John since he left the UK for America in 1971. If true, this is a genuine scoop but David – like everyone else – believes it to be wishful thinking on Mimi’s part.

        Having worked in various capacities in the music business since he decided in 1974 that estate agenting wasn’t his bag, David henceforth found it much easier to meet and/or attend concerts by Paul, George & Ringo, so the second half of the book lacks the creative subterfuge of the early encounters. Meeting Paul in a professional capacity or watching him on stage aren’t anywhere near as compelling to read about as bumping into him outside a cafĂ© in St John’s Wood. Still, David seems never to have missed a single London concert by Paul or Ringo, or a tribute show like the Concert For George in 2002; he regularly attends Beatle fan conventions, auction room sales of Beatles memorabilia and gatherings like Beatle-related Blue Plaque unveilings; and he plays drums in a Travelling Wilburys tribute act called The Trembling Wilburys. In short, nothing much escapes him and if the name dropping occasionally gets a bit much, well that is the title of the book after all. 

        Finally, I must declare an interest since it was I who introduced David to the publisher, for which I am duly thanked. Largely uncritical and steering well clear of anything remotely controversial, It’s All Too Much is a brisk read and unlikely to make it onto any list of thought-provoking or even revealing Beatle books, but as one man’s journey through life with The Beatles as his guide, mentor and deity, it does just fine.


7.1.21

CHAS CHANDLER INTERVIEW - October, 1972

This is the interview I did with Chas Chandler that was published in Melody Maker in October, 1972. 


“We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.

"We gotta get out of this place, girl there’s a better life for me and you.”

— Written by Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann, recorded by The Animals, 1965.


Brian James Chandler, who will be 34 in December and who has been called Chas since his schooldays, is learning to play the guitar again.

        His reason this time around is simple — Father Christmas is bringing his three-year-old son a guitar next Christmas and Chas has to be the teacher. Chandler Junior is already well into rock: he can sing along to Slade and some of The Beatles, but he doesn’t seem to like Jimi Hendrix. He likes Ray Charles but only because dad recommends it.

        It’s not surprising that Chandler Senior has this influence on his son. Chas Chandler was the original bass player with The Animals which taught him as much about the rock business as Georgie Best knows about football. From there he went on to discover, produce and manage Jimi Hendrix and now he’s managing Slade, the hottest property to arrive on the rock scene for a long while.

        For a one-time docker in the Newcastle shipyards, Chandler has put a real meaning into the words of the old Animals’ hit. Now he lives in a rambling country mansion on the road to Eastbourne and has offices in Mayfair.

        He lives, he says, for the present and the future but it’s the past that has taught him all he knows. He can recall a list of names of businessmen to trust and with whom he has dealt – and he can reel off a bigger list of characters who are crooks, swindlers and conmen. It would be very hard to swindle Mr Chandler today.

        In his youth Chas’s main preoccupation was avoiding conscription. To this end he enrolled for engineering college where he learned to design power stations. On the day conscription ended he quit college and worked on the docks. He was docking by day and playing in a variety of Newcastle clubs by night.

        Various combinations of the five musicians who became The Animals played together before the band was formed, and docking seemed much less attractive. Eventually docking occurred on Sunday afternoons only — with double pay for the same amount of work.

        Towards the end of 1963 The Animals came down to London to find work. Eight months previously Chas had been sacked from the shipyards for irregular hours. He’d play music all night and go straight to work in the mornings and work suffered the most.

        On arrival in London, the Animals met Mickie Most who wanted to produce their records. The first one ‘Baby, Let Me Take You Home’ was a hit and three years of being an Animal began. It was, says Chas, three years of total lunacy – working every night, touring all the time and never knowing who to trust.

        “We were green, so green we hardly knew what was happening to us. We just did what we were told and so long as we had enough money to live on it didn’t matter.”

        ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ was their second record and biggest hit. It was also a massive hit in America and The Animals became the third British group to cross the Atlantic – after The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

        “We spent the money so fast we never had time to sit down and count it. We were screwed here and screwed in America. We had a big turnover but no capital and we always stayed in the best hotels. Then, one day in Ireland, we just decided to drop the whole thing.”

        Alan Price was the first Animal to leave. Price has a phobia about flying and he opted out of a Scandinavian tour at the last minute and went home to Newcastle. Mick Gallagher was brought in as a temporary replacement and Dave Rowberry, who is with The Kinks today, became Price’s permanent replacement. Next to go was Johnny Steele, the drummer, who went home to Newcastle and who, today, is Chandler’s assistant.

        “Eric (Burdon) and I were starting to get wise to things,” says Chas. “We had done our own production deal by this time but the whole thing was still crazy. One night we just decided to quit – we would carry out all the engagement booked and no more.

        “I didn’t want to stay a bass player all my life or play one ever again at that moment. I hadn’t a clue what to do but we all knew The Animals were over.”

        The last few months of The Animals, says Chas, were their best days. There were no tensions or arguments as all the band knew it was over. It was during this period that they made what Chas considers to be their best record ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’.”

        “During the last eight months our only objective was really to make some money while we still had the chance. It was a question of grabbing what we could before it was all over.”

        It was during the last Animals tour of America that Chas met Jimi Hendrix. “I was asked to go to the Cafe Wah? in Greenwich Village and see him and that was it. I had thought about producing records and this was the man I wanted to produce.”

        When The Animals finally split Chas came back to New York and brought Hendrix back to London. He had just £1,400 to show from his days with the group and he grabbed most of this during the closing months.

        During the next three years he managed Hendrix and produced his records until a point was reached where Jimi no longer wanted to work. They parted company amicably and Chas, who had improved substantially on his £1,400 by this time, was out of work again. In the three years with Hendrix he was married and his wife, Lotte, was expecting Chandler Junior. For most of the time he had shared a flat with Hendrix which was rented from Ringo Starr, but the time was now ripe to move out to the country.

        After four months Chas joined the Robert Stigwood Organisation with no specific role. “By this time I had become very hardened and learned a lot about the business. I was supposed to look for new acts with Stigwood and do some record production.

        “One day I had a call from a guy who told me about this group called Slade and that they wanted a manager. I went down to see them at the Rasputin Club in London and they knocked me out. I was as impressed when I first saw Slade as I was when I first saw Jimi Hendrix.

        “I wanted to find something different from the blues. The Animals had been mainly blues, and Jimi was the same thing but Slade just had a ball on stage. After watching them work I had to sign them.”

        Chas signed them up and shortly afterwards left Stigwood to form his own company and concentrate entirely on Slade. He has no plans to manage any other acts.

        “Slade were very young when I first met them – much younger than the Animals when we came to London – and they were getting screwed just like we had been. As far as publicity was concerned they weren’t very successful in the early days but they were still earning good money. The business took every opportunity to knock them because of the skinhead thing, but they were slowly building up a very big following.”

        Slade, originally on the Fontana label, switched to Polydor and the rest of the story is too recent to recount again. America is Slade’s next goal and already they have received rave reviews around the country – unlike T. Rex. 

        “Slade are far and away better musicians than The Animals ever were,” says Chas. “Hilton Valentine couldn’t play a guitar like Dave Hill and I could never hope to be able to play bass as well as Jim Lea. I have a guitar now and I bring it out once a year.

        “My attitude as a manager is to get as much success and as much money for the act I am managing, and my experiences as a musician have helped me a lot. I never try to analyse my own actions which are mainly inspirations based on experience. That’s how I picked up Slade.”


6.1.21

CHAS CHANDLER – 25 YEARS SINCE


Chas Chandler, right, with Johnny Steel, the Animals' drummer who became Chas's right man when Chas managed Slade. Photographer unknown.

Referencing Chas Chandler in a Slade-related Facebook post a few days ago led me into thinking more about Slade’s larger than life manager and to seek out an interview I did with him in 1972 when Slade were riding high. Headlined ‘Slade Driver’, it was published in Melody Maker in October that year, by which time Chas and I had become good friends. I’ll post it verbatim tomorrow, but first a few thoughts on the Slade Driver. 

        Of course, my friendship with Chas wouldn’t have arisen had I not been on the staff of Melody Maker and he hadn’t been managing one of the most successful bands in the UK, but in the time I knew him – roughly from 1970 to 1976 – I came to like him a lot. I admired his ‘never-give-up’ attitude towards managing Slade, his relentless positivity and dedication to their cause. He was a big bloke, well over six foot and brawny with it, and while not as confrontational as, say, Led Zep’s manager Peter Grant, it would be unwise to utter a disparaging word about Slade in his presence, especially if he’d had a few drinks.

        “They’re like a fookin’ breath of fresh eayer,” he kept telling me the first time I encountered Slade at that Samantha’s disco off Regent Street in 1970. He was yelling that into my ear all through the gig. He had to yell. The band on stage were always deafeningly loud. 

        “The band bloody worshipped Chas from the word go,” tour manager Graham ‘Swin’ Swinnerton told me when I was researching my Slade book. He was right. Hanging around with the five of them in the early seventies, especially before the hits started coming, it was easy to detect the group’s admiration for their manager, this devoted Geordie who would scream about them from the rooftops if he thought it would advance their career.

        “He was strong at dealing with us and he was strong at dealing with the record company,” Noddy told me in 2005, a decade after Chas had left us. “He had so much confidence in us it wasn’t true.” When Chas told him and Jim to buckle down and write some songs they did just that, fearful that Chas might drop them if they didn’t. “We’d have done anything to avoid that,” added Nod.

        “He was one of those big men with unlimited energy who’d sweep you along with the force of his conviction,” wrote his great friend Keith Altham in an obituary that appeared in Mojo magazine. At Chas’s funeral Keith told the congregation about a plan Chas had to link Perth and Sydney by canal. No project, however unlikely, was too big for Chas to contemplate.

        Chas Chandler was a man of the world, well-travelled, well versed in the ways of the music business and pretty much fearless, well able to look after himself in a tight situation. He told me he once spent a night in jail in America after punching a cop backstage at a Jimi Hendrix concert. Another time, in New York, we were riding around in a limousine together when he asked the driver to take us down to the Bowery where he might find a lady of the night to keep him company. He knew precisely where to find such a companion but failed in his mission, largely because his thick Geordie accent was incomprehensible. “Alreet luv. ’Ow’s it gan hinny?” he said to the startled girl. “Are ya doin’ buzzziness?” She looked at him like he was from Mars. I had to laugh. 

        Like Peter Grant, Chas was a manager from the old school who led from the front, placed a high premium on the security of his charges and didn’t like to miss a gig. Equally importantly, he was always one for the big gesture, something that would attract publicity, a move that would get Slade noticed. “Ya can be the best fookin’ band in the fookin’ world but if no one knows about it who gives a fookin’ toss?” he said. 

        That was why, at PR Keith Altham’s suggestion, he persuaded them to become skinheads in late 1969. He knew the papers would latch on to this as a story and although there was a bit of a backlash, it worked. Then again it might not have worked had Slade not been such an experienced, well-drilled live act. A gimmick and a bit of silly press can only get you so far but if you don’t have the chops to back it up you’re doomed. Slade had chops to spare. 

        In 1972 Chas lived with his lovely Swedish wife Lotte and young son Stefan in a fine detached house at Lingfield, about 25 miles directly south of London, not far from Gatwick Airport. I remember driving down there to do this interview on a Sunday afternoon, eating dinner and spending the night chez Chandler since the booze we drank rendered me hopelessly incapable of driving back to London. Chas liked his booze and fags, and he liked to smoke joints, big ones too, but I never saw him do any stronger drugs. 

        Although he was the bass player for The Animals he didn’t rate himself much as a musician and once told me he’d be embarrassed to play in front of Jim Lea. He looked on his time with The Animals as an apprenticeship for a far greater mission, managing Jimi Hendrix and then Slade. Like many acts in the sixties, The Animals were ripped off wholesale and he made sure the same thing didn’t happen to Slade. 

        I stood next to Chas at the side of the stage at Earls Court on July 1, 1973. He’d been made aware of the problems that David Bowie suffered in the same venue on May 12, the first time Earls Court had hosted a rock show. Bowie’s PA system was inadequate, the acoustics were terrible and the band performed at floor level, all of which led to serious crowd disturbances and could probably be blamed on Bowie’s management skimping on costs. Chas was having none of that for Slade, who became only the second act to headline Earls Court. Midway through the show, as we gazed out at 18,000 Slade fans having the time of their lives, he was yelling into my ear, just like he did way back when at Samantha’s: “All yee’ve got to do in a place like this is to build a big fookin’ stage and light it properly. And get a decent fookin’ PA. It’s as fookin’ simple as that.”

        As everyone knows, the night was a triumph. 

        The last time I saw Chas was around 1994 at Champneys, a private health club on Piccadilly in central London. He’d lost weight, was pasty faced and looked much older than I remembered him. If he was unwell, he certainly wasn’t there to improve his physical fitness – heaven forbid – but because it had a posh members-only bar and restaurant. Keith Altham had set up a meeting, the purpose of which was an attempt on my part to persuade Chas to write his life story. (Keith had set up all the interviews for my Feel The Noize! book.) I knew Chas read a lot, science fiction mostly, and I half succeeded insofar as he promised to think about it. In the event he died two years later and it never happened but I often wonder whether he made a start on it. If he did, it never came to light. 

        By this time Chas had moved back to the north east and settled down with his second wife, Madeline Stringer, a former Miss UK, with whom he had two daughter, in the coastal town of Cullercoats. A few miles east of Newcastle, this was where I attended his funeral on July 22, 1996. He had devoted the last few years of his life to his role in the creation of what is now the Utilita Arena Newcastle, the largest concert and exhibition venue in the North East, which had opened in 1995. By all accounts he put as much effort into this as he did as Slade’s manager, learning all about the construction business with the same dedication he put into handling their career. 

       Unfortunately, no one thought to erect statue of Chas outside. 


I’ll post my interview with Chas tomorrow. 


3.1.21

SLADE – CUM ON FEEL THE HITZ


I have resisted buying Cum On Feel The Hitz – The Best Of Slade, the most recent hits compilation by my favourite Wolverhampton band, largely because I already have three hits CDs by Slade, all of which are accompanied by my sleeve notes, but they didn’t ask me this time around. I know I am out of favour with their management for crimes against what I’ll term 21st Century Slade Revisionism but, in any case, I’d probably have found it hard to write something different from all the other sleeves notes I’ve written in the past.

        My part-time job as Slade's go-to man for sleeve-note writing began in 1972 with Slayed, on the back of which were the first I did for anyone. Chas paid me £20 by cheque, which is about £250 in today’s money, not bad for about 300 words. Then came the hits albums, the first Slade: Wall Of Hits, released in 1991; the second Slade Greatest Hits: Feel The Noize (1997); and the third The Very Best Of Slade (2005), this last one – like the most recent – a double CD. This had my most extensive notes of the three and benefited from an interview I did with Noddy in the bar at the Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road in London. I think he’d come down from Cheshire specially to meet up with me so I could cobble together something new. Nevertheless, I was pissed off when the CD came out because whoever designed the booklet had opted to use tiny white type on a silver background, thus rendering my notes illegible unless you used a magnifying glass. Art direction and design were credited to someone who went by a single name – ‘Peacock’ – so if anyone knows who he or she is, please communicate my displeasure. 

        Come to think of it, my Slade sleeve-note tally could arguably amount to five because a quote from me, dated 23/12/70, appeared on the fold-out sleeve of the original Slade Alive! “… on stage Slade are one of the few groups who work hard to entertain an audience, they have a long future ahead of them and plenty of time to develop their exciting style.” That’s actually a bastardised version of my prediction in Melody Maker  recently posted here on Facebook  that Slade would be one of 1971’s top bands. (Trivia fans might like to know that a couple of inches below that is a quote from Leon Hickman of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. In 1968 Leon and I worked together on the T&A and between us we produced the paper’s first ever weekly pop page, my first stab at music writing.)

        In considering whether or not to buy the new compilation I spent an hour looking over the other three Slade hits CDs on my shelf, all of which were probably given to me by Slade’s record company in return for the notes I wrote, along with progressively larger remuneration. And though I say it myself, I’m still quite proud of my notes for the first of these for Wall Of Hits (not Hitz!). It was 39 years ago that I first identified an issue that still rankles with me and many Slade fans today. 

        “As the pop music industry reaches its hi-tech but insecure and rather overcrowded middle age,” I wrote, “statistics from earlier eras take on truly insurmountable proportions. Did The Beatles really have 22 top ten hits – including 17 chart toppers – in the seven years that followed their chart debut in 1963? Yes, they did. And in the decade that followed did Slade come the closest anyone ever has to emulating that? Yes, they did: 16 top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976 that included six number ones, three number twos and two number threes. No other UK act of the period, not T. Rex, not David Bowie, not Elton John nor any other ‘superstar’ act enjoyed such constituency; nor is such consistency feasible today.

“Two decades after the event, Slade remain the only act ever to enter the UK chart at number one with consecutive releases, a feat they accomplished three times in all.

“Despite these statistics, rock historians have been less than charitable to Slade. Their happy-go-lucky, good humoured personalities, their complete lack of pretension or political motivation and their generally irreverent attitude towards the art of rock were never likely to appeal to serious music critics, and there seems to have been a post-Slade conspiracy to place them in the file marked ‘trivial’; little more than an amusing footnote in the story of glam rock.

“This is unjust, not least because their success was by no means confined to their extraordinary run on the singles charts. Three of their albums topped the LP charts between 1972 and 1974 and a fourth, Slade Alive!, reached number two and stayed on the charts for an astonishing 58 weeks. Simultaneously Slade concerts filled the largest halls in the country, including a memorable sold out show at Earls Court that drew 18,000 fans. They were without question one of the most popular – and most competent – live rock acts this country has ever seen.” 

The charts don’t mean much now. In the 39 years since I wrote all that, Slade’s achievements have been surpassed by all and sundry. The boy band era that began with Take That saw all manner of fiddles – sorry, marketing strategies – that enabled single after single to enter the charts at number one. At one point it was so common that not to enter at number one was regarded as a failure. Sales of singles are a fraction of what they once were and when Top Of The Pops bit the dust no one much cared anymore. Still, it was nice to see Cum On Feel The Hitz – The Best Of Slade doing as well as it did, even if I didn’t buy a copy myself. 

By the way, who wrote the sleeve notes?