LED ZEPPELIN, 1975 - Part 4

The evening’s concert is at the Greensboro Coliseum where Robert, now partially recovered and having taken a commercial flight direct from Chicago, awaits us. The usual convoy of black Cadillac limousines greets the Starship on the runway, five in all, a slightly enlarged party now alighting to occupy them. Everybody is tired, the group aren’t really up for the show and, to make matters worse, outside the venue a shortage of tickets has caused violence to erupt. About five hundred fans have attempted to storm the rear of the building, throwing broken bottles, stones and pieces of scaffolding. Three of the five limousines, those parked outside, become severely damaged.
         The show, not one of Zeppelin’s best, goes on. It being January, the building is cold, which dampens the atmosphere, and the acoustics are awful, the sound a great wash of impenetrable noise. Firecrackers are set off amid the audience and as Zep wade through their catalogue I get an uneasy feeling that things might turn ugly; that the mood in this hideous great place is not sympathetic to the emotions of those on stage nor to the music they are trying to play. It’s difficult to maintain your concentration before a restless crowd like this at the best of times, and tonight is amongst the worst.
         For an hour or so I watch the concert from the side of the stage alongside Peter Grant. The din is so great you can hardly hear yourself think, let alone speak but at one point Peter yells something in my ear, a comment about how unusual it is for the group not to perform ‘Dazed And Confused’ in their set. A manager from the old school who worked his way up the hard way by tour managing rock’n’rollers from the fifties, he is hands-on in everything he does and probably the only manager of his era who never misses a show by his number one client. I get the feeling he enjoys a confrontation as it gives him a raison d’etre, a chance to take matters into his own hands and resolve issues by force of will, and I soon find myself witnessing the kind of confrontation that is meat and drink to him.
         It occurs about two-thirds of the way through the concert after Peter is called away to resolve a problem involving two of tonight’s limousine drivers. I decide to follow him down the steps to see what’s happening. Evidently the drivers of the three limos parked outside, fearing further damage to them, have removed their cars and the other two drivers, whose cars are parked inside, want to take theirs away too. This, of course, would leave the Led Zeppelin entourage stranded when the concert is over and this realisation prompted whoever was manning the back doors to decline to open them until Mr Grant gives the OK.
Mr Grant is having none of it and a confrontation quickly ensues. “You can’t take ya fucking cars away. We need ‘em,” he shouts into the faces of the drivers.
“We’re sorry. We have to take them away. They’ll get damaged.”
“You’ll be fuckin’ damaged, ya cunts.”
“We have no choice.”
Grant looks at the drivers with contempt. “Alright, how much do you want for ya fucking cars. How much are they fucking worth? Forty thousand dollars each? I’ll fucking buy them from you right now ya cunts.”
Grant carries with him a large briefcase and I am left in no doubt that there is sufficient cash within for him to honour this offer.
The drivers protest. “We can’t sell them. They’re not ours to sell.”
Grant dismisses this argument as if swatting a fly, and beckons to some of Zep’s road crew who gather around. “In that case, I’ll fucking steal them. I’ve offered to buy them and if ya can’t fucking sell them, I’ll just fucking take ‘em.”
The drivers protest further. “You can’t do that!”
“‘Don’t be fucking stupid,” says Grant derisively, moving towards them so that his massive bulk acts as a buffer, pushing them backwards into the crew who stand their ground. “Of course I can fucking do that. I can do what I fucking want, can’t I?” By this time Grant is yelling into their faces, mere inches away. “I’ve got twenty fucking men working for me. There’s only two of you ya cunts. Ya can’t fucking stop me, ya’ fucking cunts.”
The dispute concluded in Grant’s favour, a compromise of sorts is reached while the music blares on. The members of the group and Cole, with Grant at the wheel, will occupy the first of the two limousines; all the rest of us, with a visiting road crew member nicknamed Magnet at the wheel, will occupy the second, something of a squeeze as it turns out. The drivers will pick up their limousines at the airport later. Our exit will be speedy.
“We don’t fucking need you, ya’ cunts,” says Grant to the dispossessed drivers, bringing the issue to a close. “We’ll drive the fucking cars ourselves. So fuck off, just fuckin’ fuck off.”
Grant turns away and resumes his position at the side of the stage for the remainder of the show which ends, as always, with ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The four members of Zeppelin leave the stage but, instead of heading for the dressing room for a quick cigarette and swig of booze, they are immediately appraised of the transport situation and advised to wait out of sight of the audience for less than two minutes before returning for a perfunctionary encore: ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
As Robert does his best to re-excite everyone with every inch of his love Cole hustles us hangers-on, about ten of us, into the second limo and, as the final notes disappear into the cavernous auditorium, Page, Plant, Jones and Bonzo tear down the steps towards the first limo. Cole hands out the large, red, hooded towelling robes to them as they jump into the car with Grant at the wheel, already revving the engine, and leaps in himself. The applause is reaching a crescendo as our cars start to move. The huge stadium doors open and the angry mob of fans who didn’t make it into the show surge forward into our path. Grant blasts a way through, his horn blaring, we follow, and the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Our truncated convoy reaches speeds of up to 70 mph in a heavily built-up area with Grant leading the way, driving his car through red lights and on the wrong side of the road through the town of Greensboro. Our car, crammed, follows in hot pursuit. Good grief, I think, this is far more exciting than any rock concert.
Then, when we reach the point at the airport where the Starship is waiting, a funny thing happens. Instead of stopping as we have done, Grant drives round and round the huge aircraft, tyres screeching, faster and faster, burning rubber. When he finally skids to a stop the four members of Led Zeppelin tumble out, hysterical with laughter. Someone asks him what he was playing at.
“The band were placing bets on whether I dare crash it into the fucking plane,” shouts Grant, equally hysterical. “Fucking useless pile of fucking junk!” he continues, kicking the limo hard, denting a door. “Way off tune... my Bentley goes twice as fucking fast!”
And so we all stand there laughing into the night... totally exhilarated by it all. Then, happier than we’ve been all day, we board the plane and fly on up the East Coast to New York, drinks in hand, relieved that this long day is finally over. Unforgettable, though. When you ride with Zeppelin you ride high and fast. The only way to fly.

(Led Zeppelin’s website and various books contradict my memories of the sequence of shows on their US tour during the last week of January 1975. A concert in St Louis was certainly cancelled due to Robert’s illness and reinstated at the end of the tour on February 16, but I maintain that my version of events is correct, that other shows were rejigged and that Greensboro followed Chicago with the trip to LA in between while Robert recovered. One other thing I recall, oddly, was that staying in the same hotel as us in Chicago was a Japanese soldier who’d been stranded on a Pacific island after WW2 and who until the previous year believed the war was still going on. He was on a media tour and the press had gathered in the lobby to photograph him. Led Zep thought they were there to photograph them!) 


LED ZEPPELIN, 1975 - Part 3

I somehow manage a quick interview with Jimmy Page while we are in LA, and among other topics he bemoans the fact that he injured a finger when a carriage door closed on it as he was alighting from a train at Victoria station, leaving him with only three fingers on his left hand with which to play guitar, which he still does far better than most. As a result, ‘Dazed And Confused’ has been dropped from the set. Like Robert, he too is mortal after all.
         Mortal perhaps but I sense that Page operates on a different daily timetable to most others on the planet, that he goes for several nights without sleep, tempting fate, walking along a precipice to see how far he can go, and what will happen. He certainly has an otherworldly, mysterious presence compared to his fellow Zeps who, by and large, seem quite unaffected compared to him. Plant, when well, is certainly easily approachable and is generally friendly towards journalists, usually a pleasure to interview in fact; Jones is sociable enough albeit reticent in a slightly aloof fashion, as if talking to writers is somehow not worth the bother, comfortable in his role as the Zep with the lowest profile and content for things to remain that way; and Bonham, although down-to-earth in the manner of the Midlands brickie he once was, is simply best avoided because his mood is so unpredictable. (This could work both ways, of course. My MM colleague Chris Welch, a drummer himself, recalls visiting Bonzo at his farm in Worcestershire and admiring a kit set up in the practice room. Next thing Chris knew Bonzo had instructed a farm worker to stick it in the boot of Chris’ car.)
         In truth I don’t see much of Led Zeppelin during our stopover in LA. Although news of our arrival would have been at short notice, the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard – Zep’s regular berth in LA – has found suites for the A-list and rooms for the rest of us. Normally when Zep are in town the Riot House, to give it its unofficial title, is teeming with groupies but not so this time. That particular grapevine could easily be alerted by the presence of two ostentatious white stretch limousines, however; one of them Jimmy’s favourite Mercedes 600 Pullman, the other a Lincoln Continental, both of which have been placed at the group’s disposal and remain outside the hotel on 24-hour standby.
         We have arrived quite late in the evening and I join a hastily-arranged trip to the Rainbow Bar & Grill but thereafter, the following day and night, the group keep their own company, Page no doubt wrapped in the arms of his coltish inamorata, Bonzo probably recovering from a hangover, and Jones disappearing into the ether as he is wont to do, maybe even getting in a day’s session work at the Record Plant.
         I had a girlfriend of my own to visit in LA in those days and she seemed pleased to see me, so I stay out of the way of the group. A day later I’m back with the three of them on the Starship, flying back to the east coast, to Greensboro, North Carolina, a trip for which we have all had to rise very early as we are travelling against the time changes. As a result the journey is uneventful, most of us keeping our own company and dozing fitfully for the entire trip from west coast to east. The same cannot be said of that evening's concert. 


LED ZEPPELIN, 1975 - Part 2

The flight to Los Angeles is not without incident. As the plane heads west, our spirits crying for leaving, Bonzo succumbs to the effects of the vodka and crashes out in the bedroom at the rear of this spacious plane. I settle into a comfy seat towards the front and pass the time of day with Cameron Crowe, the only Rolling Stone writer that Zeppelin will acknowledge, and Neal Preston, the photographer, also along for the ride, and hope that Page will soon grant me an audience which I can record for posterity in Melody Maker. He is at present in conference with Grant and Cole in the meeting room, a small area furnished with scatter cushions and beanbags just along the fuselage from the bedroom at the rear.
         The area where I am sitting houses four tables, two on either side, with seats such as are to found in first class, and there is an open area in the centre of the plane where two arm chairs are fixed in place by swivel-style fittings, opposite which is a long couch. On the next table to me John Paul Jones is engaged in a game of high-stakes backgammon with one of the security men, and in the background hover two pretty, short-skirted stewardesses, employed by the owners of the Starship to cater to our comforts, distributing canap├ęs and periodically refreshing our drinks from the bar. I am told by one of them that the Starship is licensed to carry 42 passengers, though the plane itself was built for almost three times that, so the fact that there are 15 passengers aboard today, including the two pilots and stewardesses, makes the journey all the more agreeable.
         Peter Grant stops by.
         “Enjoying yourselves lads?” he asks brusquely, the glint in his eye suggesting he has it in his power for this enjoyment to abruptly cease. At 20 stone, he is without question the most intimidating man I have ever met.
         “Yes thanks, Peter,” I reply.
         “Wanna see the front?”
         I am taken by Grant into the cockpit where, for the next half hour or so I sit between and slightly aft from the two pilots, watching the horizon from the wide vista afforded by the plane’s front window. It is the first time I have ever sat in the cockpit of a plane and I am staggered by the complexity of the controls. Also, the view is fantastic, just a massive expanse of light blue with fluffy white clouds some way below us. The plane is on auto-pilot and the pilots themselves are sipping coffee. I chat with them and they ask me if I’d like a go, so I move over to sit behind one of the joysticks and ‘have a go’, pulling the stick ever so slightly towards me so that the plane lifts a bit, then pushing it away so that it dips. I can see the trajectory of the plane on a screen in the centre of the controls and observe the changes I make to its altitude. It occurs to me that the fate of three-quarters of Led Zeppelin is in my hands. I am exhilarated.
         When I return to the main cabin, Grant is sat where I’d been sitting, so I take another seat.
         “Enjoy that?” he asks.
         “Yes, I steered the plane for a few minutes.”
         Grant laughs, a deep chuckle, and shakes his head so the coonskin hat covering his massive cranium wobbles slightly. “That’s nothing. Bonzo flew us all the fucking way from Los Angeles to fucking New York on one tour.”
         Relieved that Bonzo entertains no such thoughts today, I resume my conversation with Cameron and Neal and before long Cole comes over. Aware that I had shared a limousine with Bonzo en route to the airport, he is anxious to know exactly what the errant drummer might have consumed that has rendered him insensible.
         “Only vodka, but plenty of it,” I tell Zeppelin’s anxious Mr Fixit.
         “No pills? No coke?”
         “No, not that I saw. He was just swigging vodka, straight from the bottle.”
         “Nothing else?”
         Cole seems satisfied at this news and the mood lightens. A meal is served, seafood and fillet steak, and afterwards, as we fly over Colorado, most of the party gather around the electric organ that is attached to the end of the bar amidships. It is now dark outside which adds to the party atmosphere. Jones takes his natural place behind the keyboard and begins to play a selection of old English music hall songs, ‘Any Old Iron’, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ and the like, much to the evident pleasure of Peter Grant who sings along lustily.
         I have by this time enjoyed several beers, a few glasses of wine and have moved on to spirits, and just as I am beginning to think that life couldn’t really be much better, that I am probably in the best place in the world right now, hurtling towards sunny California with the world’s biggest rock band in their sumptuous private airliner, than Bonham, forgotten amidst the festivities, emerges from the bedroom dressed only in a loosely-fitting red bathrobe, lurches drunkenly into us and, without even having been introduced, propositions one of the stewardesses in a manner that can best be described as uncompromising. Grant and Cole wrench Bonzo away from the shocked girl and lead him struggling back towards the bedroom. The girl’s cries - surprise mingled with shock - alerted a pilot who appears from the cockpit, demanding to know what is happening. He is very angry. The girl is sobbing now. Grant re-emerges from the bedroom where Bonzo has been forcibly relocated and assures him that everything is under control. Page leads the unfortunate girl off towards a couch where he soothes her with practised platitudes. Calm ensues.
         The incident casts a pall of gloom on us all, however, and the remainder of the journey passes virtually in silence, except for when Cole comes down to where Cameron, Neal and I are seated. He doesn’t smile. “I don’t wanna see one fucking word of this finding its fucking way into your fucking magazines. Right.”
         Right. Fucking right. 


LED ZEPPELIN, 1975 - Part 1

The Led Zeppelin story that appears below, in three parts now, was published in a 2003 Led Zep Q special but it was written long before that, as part of my memoirs and adapted for Q, who edited it down a bit. This is the unedited version. I was the US editor of Melody Maker at this time, flown from New York, first class at Atlantic Records’ expense of course, to Chicago to write about Led Zep and interview Jimmy Page for the magazine. What follows is very different to the kind of piece I would have submitted to Melody Maker in 1975. Not only was this sort of fly-on-the-wall reportage unsuited to MM’s brand of journalism, but putting Led Zeppelin under the magnifying glass like this was inadvisable from a personal security standpoint in those days.

I’m in the back seat of a long black Cadillac limousine, amidst a caravan of similar vehicles, gliding very smoothly along the Kennedy Expressway that leads from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport. My sole travelling companion, apart from the uniformed driver, is John Bonham who sits to my right, muffled up in a sheepskin, swigging from a quart bottle of blue-label Schmirnoff, and muttering disconsolately to himself. The sources of Bonzo’s discontent are many and varied but centre largely on where he is and where he would prefer to be.
         Even though it’s only just past midday Bonzo is not sober. I cannot even be certain whether this is the first bottle of vodka he’s tackled today and, bearing in mind his reputation for unprovoked aggression towards music writers, I am acutely aware that the situation could turn nasty. Though I think it unlikely that Led Zeppelin’s muscular drummer will attack me physically in the back of this limousine, spacious though it is, I am nevertheless on my guard and watch what I say.
         Bonzo’s main problem is that he is homesick. He wants to be back in England, on his farm in the Black Country with wife Pat and the kids, breathing in the Albion air, tending his livestock and doing manly things like laying bricks for a garage to house his roadsters or ploughing his fields on a tractor. And the fact that Led Zeppelin now has an unscheduled 48 hours of down time, which leaves Bonzo bereft of a reason to be here in the first place, just adds to his inconsolable mood.
         The atmosphere isn’t helped by the driver who’s relating a story which he hopes might lighten the mood. “I had that Jethro Tull in the back of this limousine last week,” he’s saying, in all seriousness. “They can’t be doing that well. They were all sharing the same cigarette.”
         Bonzo and I ignore him. Bonzo looks out of the window at the frozen grey landscape rolling by and closes his eyes. He might actually be nodding off, I think.  Then he opens his eyes again. “What the fuck am I doing here,” he mutters. “I wanna be back HOME.”

It’s January 1975, and we’re five days into Led Zeppelin’s tenth North American tour, the last three nights of which have been spent in Chicago where, in a building that was once the largest indoor arena in the world, Zeppelin debuted songs from their Physical Graffiti album, performed gems from their back catalogue and made the hair on the back of everyone’s neck stand on end when they played ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Unfortunately Robert Plant arrived in the freezing Windy City dressed in a lightweight, open-fronted blouse more suited to a pre-pubescent girl, the kind of thing he likes to wear on stage, and has succumbed to a nasty cold, his health deteriorating steadily during the run. This morning he was pronounced too sick to continue the tour and tonight’s show in St Louis has been hastily cancelled. Since the following night was a night off anyway, Led Zeppelin, much to their chagrin, find themselves stranded in cold, unwelcoming Chicago for 48 hours.
         This is beyond the pale. Led Zeppelin are in their pomp, as high and mighty as it is possible to be in the world of rock; rich, powerful and untouchable, so used to getting their own way, in fact, that even a setback like this fails to bring them down to earth. A meeting is called. Present are Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Bonham, behemoth-like manager Peter Grant, second-in-command Richard Cole, and the pilot of the Starship, the luxury private Boeing 720 that Zeppelin have rented for the duration of the tour, with me and a few other hangers-on on the sidelines. The sole item on the agenda is what to do now. They have their own plane at the ready, after all, and they’re paying for it on a daily basis whether or not they actually fly anywhere, so there’s no need to stay in Chicago.
         Jones, eternally secretive, the only member of the group who could walk out of a stadium alongside the fans and not be recognised, fancies the Caribbean, 48 hours in the balmy Bahamas sounding just the ticket at this time of year. Bonzo, of course, would really like to go back home, back to Worcestershire, just so he can spend a night with his beloved Pat, but he’ll settle for Jamaica if that’s out of the question. Page, on the other hand, wants to fly to Los Angeles, into the arms of a ravishing teenage model as it happens, but as ever he’s acting coy, a bit mysterious, talking softly, and unspecific about his real reason for wanting to go to LA. Grant doesn’t really care – he wants only to get away from the cold of Chicago. Cole has no say in the matter – he merely carries out orders, ruthlessly and efficiently, like a finely-tuned machine. As for me, well, just so long as I string along and get some kind of interview along the way it doesn’t really matter where I go. In the event the pilot has the final say. The Starship is licensed to fly only within the continental USA, he tells us. Page gets his own way, though I somehow think that the brains behind Led Zeppelin would have got his own way even if the Starship was licensed to fly to the moon.
         To LA it is then, with Plant staying behind, nursed by the finest medics that Zep’s immense treasure chest can afford, and in the scramble for the limousines I find myself in the car with Bonzo, my fate in the hands of a restless Led Zeppelin let loose in the Land of the Free, a deeply disturbing prospect indeed.



I took this picture on March 8, 2009, at the unveiling of the Blue Plaque for Keith Moon on the site of the old Marquee Club on London's Wardour Street.
All the usual suspects were present: Dougal Butler, Richard Barnes, Irish Jack, Douggie Sandom, Kenny Jones, Zak Starkey and a big delegation of Moons, mum Kit (who’s 93 now) with daughters Leslie and Linda and their children, one of whom (who would be Keith’s niece) looking the spitting image of her uncle. For some reason PJ Proby was there. He looked a bit like what Elvis might look like if he’d lived to be 70, and a few other faces I didn’t recognise.
  The plaque was unveiled by Roger Daltrey and Kit who made a little speech in which she said she thought her son was smiling down on us all, and then she and Roger did the honours, pulling the rope that covered the blue plaque. Roger said there should be several plaques around the world, all attached to hotels where Keith misbehaved, and the crowd – which must have numbered 200 or so, almost all of them veteran Mods – cheered.
The row of scooters parked down the street was just so iconic that I had to take a picture and afterwards, when all the old Mods revved up their engines for a symbolic ride past the plaque, the din reminded me of the kind of noise The Who once made. As they made their way up towards Oxford Street, they raised their rights arms in salute to their fallen comrade and I had to wipe the moisture from my eyes.


TIMOTHY WHITE - 1952-2002

In my post on Wednesday I mentioned Timothy White. Although we’d met before when I lived in New York, we became good friends in 1991 when Omnibus Press bought the rights to Catch A Fire, his Bob Marley biography, after the original publishers had stupidly allowed it to go out of print. What were they thinking, that Bob Marley & The Wailers were a here-today-gone-tomorrow boy band?
      Timothy died in 2002, in the same 24-hour period as John Entwistle. Tony Fletcher called me from New York at about ten in the evening to relay the news. I was gobsmacked. The Ox gone... and I’d only seen Timothy a month before in London. It was with a heavy heart that I wrote Timothy's obituary for the Guardian, reproduced below.

In his polka-dot bow tie, cream chinos and white buckskin shoes, the music writer Timothy White, who has died aged 50, cut a stylish figure in a profession not generally known for its sartorial elegance, but White’s attire reflected his deep love of history and a tradition amongst New York magazine writers that began with Scott Fitzgerald and was continued by the eternally white-suited Tom Wolfe.
      This same love of history informed several authoritative music biographies written by White. In all of them the subject didn’t appear until at least a quarter of the way into the tale, the early chapters being devoted to ancestral matters, times past and scene setting. Long Ago And Far Away: James Taylor, His Life & Music, published last year, opens in 1622 with the story of Taylor’s Scottish ancestor Hercules Tailyeour, a shipbuilder from Montrose. The first 100 pages or more of The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and the Southern California Experience, are devoted to a history of the state itself and, equally importantly bearing in mind the subject, the history of the sport of surfing. In a discipline in which rigorous research is not always apparent, White’s fastidious attention to historical detail earned him many admirers.
      Timothy White was a workaholic, which was probably a factor in his early demise. As well as writing books, columns and hosting a syndicated radio show, for the past 12 years he was the editor of Billboard magazine, the American music industry’s principal trade paper, of which he read every single word of its 100 plus A3-sized pages every week of the year. He is best known in the UK as the author of Catch A Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, generally regarded as the definitive work on reggae’s greatest star, which was republished by Omnibus Press, of which I was editor at the time, and this cemented our friendship. Timothy always enjoyed telling how, dressed in his familiar debonair fashion, he strolled unabashed through the lawless ghettos of Trenchtown to conduct first hand research amongst the not always friendly dreads and Rastas. Nothing got in the way of the story as far as White was concerned.
      Born in Patterson, New Jersey, into a large Irish family - he had seven siblings - White majored in journalism at Fordham in 1972. His first job was as a copy boy at Associated Press where he soon graduated to writing about sports and entertainment. This was followed by a spell on Crawdaddy, America’s first ‘serious’ rock magazine, then published in New York. From Crawdaddy White joined Rolling Stone for which he wrote more cover stories than any other writer. His personable character and general air of bonhomie encouraged interviewees to reveal more about themselves than they might otherwise do, and White’s personality profiles of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Muhammed Ali, not to mention numerous rock performers, are benchmarks of magazine journalism. Many of his rock interviews are collated in his book Rock Lives, others in The Entertainers
      Like many of its writers Timothy White quit Rolling Stone after coming into conflict with its autocratic founder Jann Wenner. He went on to write Catch A Fire, then wrote for Musician magazine, which is owned by the publishers of Billboard, which he joined as editor in 1990. At Billboard Timothy set about turning a dry, industry-dominated trade journal into a readable, music-orientated, campaigning magazine. Among the innovative changes he introduced were the Billboard Century Award, bestowed annually upon artists for creative achievement; Continental Drift, a column devoted to unsigned acts; and Heatseekers, a column on acts who have never appeared in the top half of the Billboard 200.
      Timothy wrote a regular Billboard column, Music To My Ears, which frequently championed little known artists or styles of music, and he was fearless in campaigning for artists rights in an industry not always noted for its generosity towards the creators of the product on which it depends. Driven by a fierce sense of morality, he was equally unafraid in tackling the controversial issue of misogyny and homophobia in rap lyrics, and he even took a stand on gun control, banning adverts with artwork that featured guns. His moving obituary of George Harrison, a close personal friend, which appeared in Billboard issue dated December 15, 2001, earned Timothy his fourth ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for journalism.
      Timothy’s ethical nature was perhaps best reflected in his decision to donate all his royalties from Catch A Fire, his best selling book, to Amnesty International. He was so appalled at the behaviour of certain individuals with regard to the Marley legacy that, in his own words, he “long ago decided that Catch A Fire was going to be a unique and evolving matter in terms of personal profit, private charity and public gestures in memory of Marley.” He was adamant that publishers should not overly promote new editions of the work, writing to me in the following terms: “Surely the market can stand one Bob Marley related offering that expands its audience without endless, vulgar fanfare… so some day we can bounce our grandchildren on our knees and tell them that money doesn't justify everything.”
      Timothy was last in the UK a month ago to appoint a new London bureau chief for Billboard, and on his final night he stopped by our house in Shepherds Bush for dinner. Later he and I walked across Uxbridge Road to the Crown & Sceptre pub where, as ever, his striking attire caused heads to turn. He talked about his twin boys, one of whom is handicapped, the strain of editing Billboard and commuting from Boston, where he lived, to New York every week, and what his next book might be. He had an idea for a joint biography of Eric Clapton and George Harrison, tracing their intermingling lives, loves and careers, and was confident he could secure the co-operation of all involved. As we strolled back home after a couple of pints – Tim was one of those rare Americans who loved English ale – he promised to make some initial inquiries just as soon as he got back to New York.
      Timothy suffered a fatal heart attack in the elevator of Billboard’s New York offices after having lunched with his close friend, the screenwriter Mitch Glazer. He is survived by his wife Judy Garlan, a graphic designer, and twin sons Christopher and Alexander, aged 10.



Mention of Robert Stigwood in yesterday’s post leads me to the disclosure that alongside Abba, another of my guilty pleasures has always been the music of his blue chip clients The Bee Gees, not so much the era defining disco stuff from the mid-seventies as the melodic Beatles-like pop from the sixties and some songs, occasionally recorded by others, that followed their Saturday Night Fever renaissance. My favourite from their early period is ‘Run To Me’, simply immaculate pop with a hook line to catch a wave, and it was good to see that Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoofs chose to cover this song on the first of their Under The Covers compilations in 2006. Their taste throughout this series has been exquisite.
For a period in New York I was besotted with a model called Lisa, a slip of a thing with beautiful Bambi eyes whose favourite song was ‘Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)’ which she played repeatedly on the juke box at Ashley’s bar on Fifth Avenue and 13th Street where we both hung out after hours. Armed with this knowledge, I asked her to be my date at a swanky reception The Bee Gees hosted at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to celebrate the success of Fever. She accepted and off we went, dressed to the nines, but at the bar I made the foolish mistake of introducing her to my friend Mick Rock, the photographer, who asked her to dance. She accepted and I never saw either of them again, well not for a few weeks anyway. Turned out they’d moved in together and they stayed that way for about eight years. I’ve since published Mick’s photo books and we laugh about it now. After retiring from modelling Lisa went back to college and is now an English Lit lecturer at a college in her home city of Chicago. She writes great short stories too.
         I interviewed The Bee Gees twice for MM, once in London at a flat they shared in Eaton Square and again in New York, in a hotel room, and both times – hilariously – they simply argued amongst themselves over the answers to my questions. One would say one thing, another would disagree and a heated barney resulted, usually between Robin and Barry with Maurice trying to act as mediator. The biggest argument they had was about the doldrums era in the early seventies when they were reduced to playing chicken-in-a-basket cabaret venues in the north of England. Barry enjoyed the experience. Robin hated it. Maurice could take it or leave it – work was work to him. They always did seem a bit touchy around the media, probably the fallout from iffy reviews along the way, but it saddens me that Barry is now the only Gibb brother left standing.
          I once went to a party at the New York home of Robert Stigwood, an unbelievably luxurious duplex apartment which in the 1940s was occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It was a penthouse, on the corner of one of those huge mansion blocks on Central Park West, actually the building next to the Dakota where John Lennon lived. As I was walking down an endless dark corridor admiring the original artworks on the walls – Magritte, Matisse, Picasso etc – Stigwood crept up behind me and propositioned me. I explained as nicely as I could that I preferred girls, whereupon he introduced me to a statuesque redhead from among his staff with the implied suggestion that we get on with it while he watched, which we didn’t. 



Last night I drove my son Sam over to Cranleigh to spend the night at a friend’s house and on the way passed the Windmill, a pub in the Hurtwood forest behind which there is a lane that leads to Eric Clapton’s Spanish villa, Hurtwood Lodge. I strolled down the lane once a year or two ago, only to come up against the sturdy wooden gates that protect Eric from prying fans and nosey buggers like me. It always amazes me that until John’s murder George Harrison permitted fans to wander around the grounds of Friar Park, his estate on the outskirts of Henley, to admire the gardens which he tended so lovingly.
         Just before he died my friend Timothy White proposed to me that he should write a book about the intermingling lives of Eric and George for Omnibus Press to publish. It sounded like a great idea and he was obviously the right man for the job. At the time Timothy was the editor of Billboard, America’s foremost music industry trade paper, but he’d cut his teeth as a writer on Rolling Stone. He’d befriended George and was one of the few writers to have been shown around Friar Park. He told me about the underground grotto accessible through a trapdoor in the kitchen, the boat on which you could sail through underground caverns, and the lake with pillars built up from the bed that enabled George to ‘walk on water’. In the event Timothy never wrote the book, but Graeme Thomson’s superb George biography Behind The Locked Door, published late last year by Omnibus, somehow made up for it.
Although I got to know John and Paul during my MM days I only ever met George once, and briefly at that, in the company of Derek Taylor at a small reception at the Carlisle Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York in 1975. I never really got to know Eric Clapton either, although I went on the road with him and his band in July 1974, just before 461 Ocean Boulevard came out. I was standing at the side of the stage at a show at Three Rivers baseball stadium in Pittsburgh when who should arrive on the arm of Eric’s manager Robert Stigwood but Pattie Harrison – much to Eric’s delight. What’s she doing here?, I remember thinking, ignorant as I was to the infatuation that inspired Eric to write ‘Layla’ and the love triangle that existed between her and these two great guitarists.
Actually, Eric was pretty much sloshed every time I encountered him on this tour – for Slowhand read Legless – including on stage but somehow – just – he held it together to play well. In the early seventies he was a very different character from the sober, Armani-suited, philanthropic elder statesman of blues guitar we see today. The Band was also on the bill at this show and back at the hotel I befriended their bass player Rick Danko who a year later would try to put the make on my sister Anne when she visited me in NY – but that’s another story.



In yesterday’s post I mentioned many of the staff that worked on the paper in 1972, but this picture of us was probably taken in 1971, and apologies to those who’ve already seen it on my Facebook page. It just seemed like a good idea to post it here now, especially as we’re all lined up like the football team I likened us to.
        On the back row we have smooth old-timer Laurie Henshaw, folk writer Andrew Means, office manager Roy Birchall, Jason-King impersonator Michael Watts, Chris ‘Any Questions’ Hayes, Chris ‘Raver’ Welch and New Zealander Neil Roberts who was chief sub Alan Lewis’ assistant. On the front row are yours truly, Roy ‘Hollybush’ Hollingworth and Jeff Starrs, one half of the dynamic duo (with Michael Benton) who compiled the charts and maintained our extraordinary filing system. Each week they cut out all the features from MM and filed them away under the names of the artists, an invaluable reference tool for us all. I sometimes wonder what happened to all those files, probably ended up in a landfill underneath the Olympic Stadium. Regular readers of the Raver column might recall that my nickname was meat-pie, for the simple reason that I once ordered one in the Red Lion, the pub behind the office. It stuck too. Wattsy still calls me that. Missing on this day are Ray Coleman, Richard Williams, Alan Lewis and Mark Plummer, which suggests it was taken on a Tuesday, the day when Ray, Richard and Alan would have been at Colchester where MM was printed, and Mark spent the day in bed. 
The photograph would have been taken by MM photographer Barrie Wentzell, who is seen below with me.

Jill Furmanovsky took this shot of us huddled in front of the stage at the Great Western Festival at Bardney, near Lincoln, over the Whit Bank Holiday, May 1972. We look a bit worse for wear, probably because it was taken towards the end of this three-day event which featured quite a few big acts – Beach Boys, Faces, Slade, Joe Cocker, Genesis, Roxy Music and even the Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast in one of their earliest stage shows.
I remember my pals Slade were a bit nervous backstage because it was a prog-rock/hippie crowd and not the lively younger kids they were used to playing for. They needn’t have worried: 200+ gigs a year for seven years had turned them into a mean fighting machine, and after two numbers the big Lincoln crowd was on their feet having a whale of a time. Slade even brought Festival promoter Stanley Baker, the film actor, on stage to bask in their ovation and in a typically brilliant display of spontaneous showmanship Noddy, who that day wore a badge that said ‘The Pope Smokes Dope’, lead the crowd into the ‘Zulu’ war chant from Baker’s most famous movie.
        I went to loads of UK festivals between 1970 and ‘73 (Bath, IOW, Plumpton, Reading, Wheeley, etc) but I was a bit of a ‘champagne’ festival goer in that I always stayed at a local B&B and never on site in a tent. Well, it was hard work covering festivals, all that swanning around backstage and making notes about the bands between trips to the beer tent, so I needed my beauty sleep.



Last week’s news that the circulation of New Music Express was now less than 20,000 a week and that Q was struggling to reach 50,000 a month saddened me, and in today’s Guardian David Hepworth comments on how the power of the music press to promote worthwhile acts has diminished, to everyone’s detriment. A voice with the power to nurture quality, integrity and objectivity in music is being silenced by the internet. Once upon a time…

In the spring of 1972 the editorial staff of Melody Maker attended a party at the Wig & Pen Club to celebrate the fact that we were now selling 200,000 copies a week. We were all there, Ray Coleman, Richard Williams, Chris Welch, Michael Watts, Roy Hollingworth, Mark Plummer, Max Jones, Laurie Henshaw, Allan Lewis, Andrew Means, Barrie Wentzell and yours truly. To me those names now read a bit like a cup-winning football side, like a long forgotten Man U or Leeds or Arsenal side that took all before them and exist today only as names in record books.
          After a short speech congratulating us all on the fine work we were doing, editor Ray announced that Melody Maker would henceforth send one of its staff writers to live in New York and report back on the world of American rock. Also, there would be an American edition, printed in Queens, which would be ‘edited’ by our man in New York, trimmed down to 40 pages from the UK edition which by then had anything up to 96 pages a week.
          The position of US correspondent would not be permanent. Instead Roy Hollingworth, the first London-based reporter to be given the job, would stay in New York for six months whereupon he would be replaced by another member of the staff. After a boisterous and emotion-packed leaving party Roy duly flew off and settled into a fancy apartment on Sutton Place, an upmarket neighbourhood on the Upper East Side.
          To say that Roy distinguished himself in the role would be an understatement. Within weeks we were publishing stories and interviews of all that was great in the world of American rock music, and first-hand accounts of US tours by UK artists. Also, now that we had a presence in the country, UK acts could no longer exaggerate their US popularity as they had been doing for years. The only downside, at least from Roy’s point of view, was the vexing question of the American edition. Each week he had to spend a day and most of a night at the Queens printing plant, deciding which features would and would not be in the US edition. He also had to deal with the men who worked at the plant and, knowing Roy as I did, there would have been an interesting culture clash if unionised American working men are what I imagined them to be.
          The US edition was soon abandoned, the victim of IPC’s failure to pay graft to the right people in the world of American magazine circulation. IPC’s New York office was run by a transplanted Englishman of the old school, a Colonel Blimp type who saw no reason to pay bribes to shady characters to ensure that the American edition of MM hit the newsstands in New York and elsewhere, and as a result most of them ended up in a garbage dump somewhere near JFK Airport. The few that did hit the streets were never displayed prominently on newsstands but hidden away beneath other magazines where they couldn’t be seen.
          The IPC office was in the Chrysler Building with its magnificent art-deco spire and they had set aside a room where Roy could work, not that he used it very much. This was the days before faxes and e-mails, so each week he would type up his interviews, show reviews and a New York news column and parcel up the sheets of A4 paper for a courier to airlift to London. Anything urgent could be sent via the ticker-tape machine which was operated by a girl in the office.
          After six months Roy returned to the UK in triumph to be replaced by Michael Watts, but Roy was never the same again. New York did something to him and the damage was permanent. In NY he’d stepped out with a clever and beautiful girl called Iris who was Ahmet Ertegun’s secretary at Atlantic Records and, subsequently, Jann Wenner’s PA at Rolling Stone magazine. Back in the UK Roy pined badly for her so she followed him across the Atlantic and, for reasons unexplained took a course in French somewhere near Marseilles. It was a standing joke in the office that on Fridays Roy would have a 'slight headache and a return ticket to Marseilles'. When Iris returned to the US, Roy left MM and followed her, settling into Iris’ family home in the Bronx and embarking on a messy career as a singer songwriter.
          Michael Watts’ six-month stint was extended to something like 10 months and the final two were spent in Los Angeles where he stayed at the Chateau Marmont Hotel. This was a temporary measure until he found an apartment but in the event assistant editor Richard Williams left MM in the summer of 1973 to become an A&R man at Island Records and Mick was recalled from LA to become his replacement. I was duly sent out to replace him, eventually moving to New York, and due to internal changes and other unforeseen developments in London would spent the better part of three and a half years as MM’s US correspondent, far and away the longest term of anyone who did the job.


THE BEATLES - Tune In Continued

The first ‘new’ post I wrote for this blog on New Year’s Day was about All These Years, Volume 1 – Tune In, Mark Lewisohn’s monumental Beatles biography, the de lux edition of which was underneath our Christmas tree. I have now reached page 1,416 with a couple of hundred or so to go. They have just released ‘Love Me Do’ and it’s time for a catch up.

Imagine, if you will, that when Henry Ford invented the motor car his creation was rejected by the transport industry. “How on earth can a vehicle move without being towed by a horse?” they asked. “Go back to where you came from and take your motor car with you. Motor car! Whoever heard of such a thing?”
            So Henry took his car back to where he came from and continued to develop the idea, perfecting it and exhibiting it only to a small group of converts who watched him driving around and marvelled at his ingenuity. His band of local admirers grew and grew but each time he tried again to interest the transport industry he was rebuffed until, by a strange quirk of fate, someone who’d fallen out of favour in that industry was charged with investigating Henry’s invention. Then, suddenly, everyone wanted one.
            Now substitute John Lennon for Henry Ford, The Beatles for motor car and George Martin for the man who’d fallen out of favour.

That might sound like an absurd analogy but of all the many insights into the pre-fame Beatles that Tune In is revealing to me, the one that strikes me most forcibly is the music industry’s inability to see the future when it was staring them in the face. It’s all very well saying that hindsight leads me to this conclusion but there is still something very disturbing about this aspect of their story. Up to the middle of 1962 no rock’n’roll group in the world – not that there were many of them – was anywhere near as experienced as The Beatles, and by experienced I mean no group anywhere had played together for so long or so often. Although Ringo was absent for much of this time (but still clocking up similar mileage elsewhere), they played the Cavern 292 times in all and were on stage for well over 1,000 hours in Hamburg. Neither had any act unsigned by a record company gathered a fan following such as The Beatles had on Merseyside, a following numbering into the thousands by mid-1962, many them members of a well organised fan club, all accumulated purely on the strength of their live performances in the region.
Recording artists, always hitherto unknown, were ‘launched’ by record companies, always had been. There was no precedent for a pop act that didn’t need ‘launching’, that already had fans galore. Neither was there any precedent for an act that wrote and sang its own songs and provided its own instrumental backing. Record label A&R men supplied artists with songs written by professional songwriters and the artists were told to sing them whether they liked them or not, and the backing was provided by session musicians employed for the purpose. Everyone knew that. And everyone also knew that pop music was rubbish, of no lasting value, delivered by no-talent puppets created within the industry by means of worthless gimmicks before being jettisoned into obscurity, along with the disposable records they’d made, everyone bar the artist making a fast buck along the way. The pop music industry was run by spivs selling tat.
            The Beatles changed all this but it took a colossal effort on their and manager Brian Epstein’s part to do so, like changing the course of an ocean liner really, and the day-to-day reportage of that effort is for me the most remarkable aspect of Tune In – how they got to be a recording act and the hoops they had to pass through to reach that point. Because they were the first, because they led the charge, the going was so much harder for them than anyone else and nowhere is it explained in as much fascinating detail as within these pages. In this respect the first volume of Tune In becomes a history of the recording industry in the UK up to 1962 seen from the point of view of The Beatles and Epstein, and a damning indictment of that industry it is too.
More on Tune In when I’ve reached the final page…



In August 1980, as RCA’s Press Officer in London, I was assigned to take two journalists, one from New Musical Express and the other from the Sunday Times, to Chicago where Bowie was appearing on stage at the Blackstone Theatre as John Merrick, the Elephant Man. The following month his album Scary Monster (And Super Creeps) was scheduled for release, and David had agreed to do two UK interviews to promote it. NME had promised me front page, and the Sunday Times front page of the magazine section. Our party was to stay in Chicago, at the luxurious Whitehall Hotel, from Monday to Friday.
         When we arrived in Chicago I was informed in no uncertain terms by ‘Bowie’s people’ that each journalist would be allotted just one hour in which to talk with him. This seemed not to be a problem for the Sunday Times man but it sat uneasily with Angus McKinnon from NME, who was aghast that he’d come all this way and was staying for four days in Chicago for a one hour audience with DB. Additionally, McKinnon – unbeknownst to me – had brought along the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn to take pictures exclusively for NME. This, said Bowie’s people, was out of the question.
         I thus found myself in the middle of a politically charged battle. On the one hand I was expected to respect the wishes of Bowie’s people, who represented the interests of RCA’s biggest star (and money-earner), yet at the same time I was beholden to the journalists who might renege on their page one agreements if the interviews were slight. This would put me in hot water with the hierarchy of RCA in London who had funded this expensive jaunt.
         “It’s up to you,” I told McKinnon. “If you can engage David in an interesting, stimulating interview and along the way make it clear to him that you need to talk for more than an hour, he might just overrule his minders. But if you bore him you’ll only get an hour. Oh – and mention Anton to him yourself.”
         So McKinnon did just that and David granted him not only extra time on the day of the interview but a further two hours the following day. And he agreed to pose for Corbijn, both in his Elephant Man costume backstage at the theatre and in a bar where McKinnon’s interview took place.
         Bowie’s ‘people’ were furious with me for having been a party to this deception, but I couldn’t care less. Next week’s NME had a Corbijn picture of DB on the cover and five pages of McKinnon’s interview inside, and a month or two later DB in his Elephant Man loincloth graced the front page of the Sunday Times colour magazine. The point of the story is that David knew better than his advisors how to achieve maximum coverage.
         Bernard Docherty, who worked as Bowie’s PR man from 1982 to 1988 at Rogers & Cowan, seems to have understood this well. “He is a very, very bright individual, and he reads and reads,” he says. “He absorbs the media. He always had his finger on culture, painters, film-makers, music. He always had something interesting to talk about when he did meet the media. He was even interesting when he did something that the critics didn’t like, like Tin Machine.
         “I didn’t think he was a manipulator in the way that other people were advising him. He just gave interviewees a good chat and appeared interested in them too. He would ask interviewers what they thought, what albums they’d been listening to, what painters they liked and what books they read.
         “He never sat me down and said, ‘How are we going to work the media’. It just came naturally to him. He just gave good interview. He wasn’t just stuck on himself.”
         Biographer David Buckley agrees: “He is one of the few rock stars who can consistently give good copy, always has something new and interesting to say, and is, by all accounts, urbane and charming to his interviewers. Some people have said that he goes in with six or seven stock answers or ideas that he currently wants to talk about, and then moves (or manipulates) the conversation to hit on his checklist.  And he’s a talker! Some people who have met him though detect that the new bonhomie is as much a mask as his 1970’s personae, and that, deep down, he’s still rather distant and alienated. 
         “I think he is able to set the agenda in many interviews; he cleverly steers the conversation into comfortable areas, and very few interviewees are bold enough to really tackle the more controversial areas (and, there are many).”
         And like Bernard Docherty, Buckley believes Bowie gets good press simply because he’s brighter than his peers. “He’s simply cleverer than virtually any other pop star. He’s better read, has up-to-the-minute opinions on everything from The Office to the new Blur album. He thinks very quickly under pressure. He’s completely spontaneous. And, he can be very funny. At his best, there’s almost a sort of surreal stand-up quality to him. Very few, if any pop star have this mixture of fierce intelligence in a media environment, and, what seems like utter self-belief!”
         Ken Pitt acknowledges this but cites Bowie’s penchant for change too. “I think the reason why DB has managed to maintain such a good relationship with the media is his ability to reinvent himself,” says his former manager.
         Most Bowie-observers reckon he cares a great deal about the press he receives, probably far more than most. “I think he’s obviously keen to portray himself as 1. Cutting-edge and 2. Liberal of persuasion,” says Buckley. “I think the recent switch away from talking about the Internet, and of course, from acting in movies (most of which haven’t been successful) have focused attention on the music, and him as musician. That’s why he’s now successful again, as he’s being branded not so much as a media genre-hopper, but as a serious musician.”



A sense of doubt characterised Bowie’s more dramatic press statements from the Ziggy era onwards and to confuse the issue he regularly contracted himself, no doubt deliberately, in order to maintain his enigmatic mystique. The boldest example of this was in the case of what most observers regard as his most important interview ever.
          In the third week of January, 1972, David sat down to talk with Michael Watts of Melody Maker. It still stands as the most famous interview David ever gave, the picture of the star in his Ziggy cat-suit alongside the headline ‘Oh you pretty thing’ acting as a statement of intent that probably did more than anything else to unleash David Bowie on to the world.
“I'm gay and I always have been, even when I was David Jones,” he told Watts who described David as ‘as camp as a row of tents, with his limp hand and trolling vocabulary’. That same week the London Evening Standard picked up on the story and repeated it. Ken Pitt was horrified. “I wasn’t at all happy when the ‘I’m Gay interview appeared’,” he says. “It wasn’t the kind of thing I would have advised him to do.”
          “I think he said it very deliberately,” says Watts today. “I brought the subject up. I think he planned at some point to say it to someone. He definitely felt it would be good copy. He was certainly aware of the impact it would make.”
          But was it true? “I think it was or had been true,” continues Watts. “I think he’d had a relationship with a man at some time in his life so it wasn’t a lie. I don’t think he was lying. There may have been something between him and Mick Jagger. I think it was something [manager] De Fries encouraged. He [De Fries] understood the news value of something like that. I was aware of a changed mood towards gay people, not just in rock but in culture as a whole.
          “Bowie was a very alluring, charismatic figure. You couldn’t help but feel he had a hell of a lot of magnetism. He looked like a star. It was a mixture of film star and rock star appeal – he was so much better looking than other rock stars.”
          But when I brought the subject up in Detroit four years later Bowie denied it completely. “Bisexual? Oh Lord no, positively not. That was just a lie. They gave me that image so I stuck to it pretty well over the years. I never adopted that stance. It was given to me. I’ve never done a bisexual action in my life, on stage, on record, or anywhere else. I don’t think I even had much of a gay following. A few glitter queens maybe, but nothing much really.”
          Yet, later that same year, talking to Cameron Crowe for Playboy, Bowie said: “It’s true. I am bisexual. But I can’t deny I have used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It didn't really matter who or what it was with, as long as it was a sexual experience. So it was some very pretty boy in class in some school or other that I took home and neatly fucked on my bed upstairs.”
          Meanwhile Bowie made no secret of the fact that he was – or had been – married, had a son and, like so many in his profession, displayed a healthy appetite for female groupies, several of whom have gone on record about the experience, some purring with contentedness as they recall the size of his manhood.
          “He doesn’t lie so much as change his mind all the time,” says Bowie’s most recent biographer, David Buckley. “This, married with a very short attention span, means that he’s constantly hopping from one idea to the next. So, he can say, back in 1990, that he’ll never play his hits again, and genuinely believe it, even though the rest of the population on the globe know that that was never going to be possible.”