“I sometimes wonder who went in my place,” says Bruce Springsteen at the close of the monologue that precedes ‘Born In The USA’ on this album of recordings from his recent stint on Broadway. He’s talking about how he avoided the draft, avoided being sent to fight a pointless war in Vietnam in which at least three friends of his, all musicians, died needlessly, and about how his visit to a veterans’ rehabilitation centre in California impressed on him not just the futility of war in general but America’s inadequate response to its casualties. This long narrative is followed by a stark, slide guitar-driven blues that serves as an introduction to the song itself, rendered here as equally bleak and largely unaccompanied. It is, I think, the definitive version of Springsteen’s powerful anti-war song, and it is the stand-out track on this unusual album. “I sometimes wonder who went in my place,” he says. “’cos somebody did.”
         The first time I ever saw Bruce Springsteen, on 15 January, 1974, at the Mosque Theatre in Richmond, Virginia, I was intrigued and delighted by his custom of spinning a yarn between songs. It became harder to do as the crowds grew bigger but he persevered, even at Wembley Stadium, in July 1985, when as a prelude to ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ he told us all about how he once climbed over the wall of Graceland in a futile bid to confront Elvis. This yarn spinning reached its logical conclusion in the shows at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre where for six nights a week from October, 2017, Bruce played to an audience just shy of 1,000, closing the run only last month. It was, he says, the only time in his life he’s held down a steady job.
         Much of the talk is scripted and taken from his autobiography which I reviewed here on Just Backdated a couple of years ago* but that in no way detracts from the power of his oratory. In fact, because the book is a tour-de-force of expressive, heart-on-sleeve prose, it probably makes it better. Bruce has got his timing down pat, hesitating in just the right places, stalling to let something profound sink in and every now and then letting loose on a poetic stream of loquacious eloquence that sounds a bit like the rather wordy tracks on his first two albums.

         The ratio of talk to song is about 60/40, with some songs intersected by chat, and the audience hang on to his every word to the extent that, forgive me, you can hear a pin drop. Bruce’s way with words is such that he can switch from well-judged humour, most of it self-depreciative, to something far more reflective, a sharing of his life-lessons in the form of wistful anecdotes that are never less than sincere. Then again, he calls himself a fraud. “I made it all up,” he admits after explaining that he’s never even seen the inside of a factory, let alone worked in one, and yet it’s all he’s ever written about. In this regard, he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself, especially the blue-collar, down on your luck, always driving somewhere, clichés that pattern so many of his songs. Then he’ll flip in a second to a recollection that brought about some deeper, occasionally philosophical, understanding of life that his own spectacular career has taught him.
         There’s plenty about his family, his upbringing in New Jersey and about his E Street Band, especially the two fallen members Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. Dad the unfulfilled deterrent gets a big cameo, as does mum the nurturer. He’s joined on stage by his wife Patti Scialfa for a couple of songs from Tunnel Of Love, his underrated 1987 album of broken dreams, and they harmonise together beautifully, as you would expect. He demonstrates that he’s a better piano player than most would take him for and also a terrific rhythm guitarist, with the strumming on ‘Dancing In The Dark’ so energised that the audience recognise this and break out into spontaneous applause as it morphs into ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’, one of only two of the 17 songs not prefaced by a monologue.
         The two-CD set closes, perhaps inevitably, with ‘Born To Run’, its long soliloquy winding through his disappointment at how a big old tree near his home in Freehold, NJ, had been felled and closing in a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer with a sincere wish that his audience can discover for themselves the health, wealth and happiness with which he has been blessed. The song itself is performed as powerfully as is possible without a band behind him – another example of furious, Townshend-style strumming – but towards the end Bruce brings the tempo and volume down to a fade-out as he taps his guitar on the beat and lets the harmonic from its ringing open strings bring the evening to an end.
         Earlier, of course, he’d pointed out that even ‘Born To Run’ was a fake because nowadays he lives a ten-minute drive from where he grew up. “Born to come back,” he says. “Who’d have bought that shit?”

* https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2016/10/bruce-springsteen-born-to-run.html


DEAN FORD - This Scottish Heart

After The Beatles and the acts on the same show at Bradford in December, 1963, and The Rolling Stones at Nelson Imp eight months later, the next professional group I ever saw on stage was The Marmalade, at a dance in Bingley in 1967, at a college for student nurses if I remember rightly. The big difference between The Beatles and the Stones and The Marmalade was that I could actually hear The Marmalade.
         They were a top quality covers band in those days and at the time I was playing in a covers band myself, Sandra & The Montanas, based in the village of Cross Hills, near Skipton where I lived. I couldn’t help but notice how much better than us The Marmalade were; more professional, tighter, better instrumentalists, better vocal harmonies, better rehearsed, better equipment, better everything really. Their singer, in the middle, was a dapper little chap in a blue mohair suit with a Beatles fringe, and he looked and sounded very confident. Lots of young nurses were eyeing him up. For some reason, I remember they played a great version of ‘Stop In The Name Of Love’, by The Supremes, a song I loved at the time and which I wanted the Montanas to cover. I also remember thinking that if a band as competant as this had yet to release records, then my Montanas were unlikely to get anywhere and I might as well hang up my guitar.
         The Marmalade were in the charts a year later, however, with a catchy song called ‘Lovin’ Things’, a cover of a song by California’s Grass Roots who included songwriter PF Sloan among their number, and then they hit number one with a timely cover of The Beatles’ ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’ from the just released White Album. In 1969 they released their best song ever, ‘Reflections Of My Life’, which was written by left-handed guitarist Junior Campbell, who seems to have been the group’s most naturally gifted musician, and the singer, Dean Ford, whose real name is Thomas McAleese. Featuring a lovely little muted guitar solo that is slightly out of phase, ‘Reflections…’ is one of those timeless pop hits by largely forgotten bands that have clung to me forever, gorgeous little one-off pop songs I never tire of hearing, like ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’ by Honeybus and ‘(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice’ by Amen Corner. I download them on to playlists that I listen to in my car or when I’m walking my dog.
         Although they had a few more hits, among them the folksy ‘Rainbow’, like ‘Reflections...’ a UK number three, Marmalade were starting to stumble by the time I reached Melody Maker in 1970. They were slipping out of fashion, a bit too swinging sixties, in an era when all we wanted to write about were blazing comets like The Who and Led Zeppelin, or prog bands like Yes and Genesis, or futurists like Bowie and Roxy, or glam rockers like T. Rex and Slade. I think I may have encountered some members of The Marmalade in La Chasse Club on Wardour Street but I didn’t get to know them. Members came and went from the early seventies onwards, and thereafter their family tree got a bit untidy.

The Marmalade in 1968, left to right: Graham Knight, Alan Whitehead, 
Junior Campbell, Dean Ford and Pat Fairly.

         After leaving the group in 1972 Campbell studied composition at the Royal College of Music and went on to become a successful writer and producer; second guitarist Pat Fairly went to LA to open a bar there; Dean Ford struggled to establish a solo career and subsequently also moved to LA; Graham Knight, who played bass, and drummer Alan Whitehead battled on for a while with new members, and eventually Whitehead, one of the first pop musicians to accept tabloid cash for a lurid ‘a different girl every night on the road’-style exposé of pop’s dark sex secrets, quit to go into management and run lap dancing clubs. If Wikipedia is to be believed 14 other members were in and out of the group in later years, among them Dave Dee of Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich fame, who took over on vocals for a while, and Hugh Nicholson who left to form Blue which was signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records.
         The fortunes of former pop stars in groups like Marmalade – they dropped the definitive article along the way to appear more fashionable – often make depressing reading. They are contingent on whether or not they clung on to whatever they earned during their heyday, which is rarely the case, and whether or not they wrote the songs and, if they did, managed to retain control of their music publishing. As it happens Pat Fairly looked after the group’s publishing for a while and it is probably thanks to him that Dean Ford, as the co-writer of ‘Reflections…’, managed to stay in the black while pursuing an unproductive solo career in California that was hampered by alcoholism. He eventually joined AA and became dry by the early nineties. In the meantime ‘Reflections…’ had gone on to sell over two million copies worldwide and earn its two writers a citation from BMI, the American performing rights collection agency.
         All of this would not have concerned me were it not for Dean’s collaboration with Joe Tansin, who played guitar in an eighties line-up of Badfinger, another group whose music I like a lot but whose fortunes read like a horror story. Badfinger’s tireless biographer and cheerleader is LA-based Dan Matovina whose 1997 book Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger – available only for £100 or more on Amazon nowadays – I edited many years ago. Dan has now become Dean Ford’s producer for this new and ambitious double CD set of mostly original songs by Dean, a sort of journey through life that delves into his Scottish past and looks back nostalgically at a life that has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs. Dan sent me the CD a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been listening to it on and off ever since.
         There are 30 songs on This Scottish Heart, most of them mid-paced and in tranquil keys that sit easily on the ears, some of them in country mould, others with hint of Scottish tradition – there are no bagpipes! – and still more with a driving, boogie rock’n’roll tempo. A handful of the songs are sprinkled with a dash of the faith that has no doubt sustained Dean after his brush with alcoholism.
         The opener ‘A New Day’, an affirming reflection of his battles with the bottle, sets the scene, with programmed drums, electric and acoustic guitars – all played by Dean – and a keening, soulful vocal. ‘Glasgow Night’ is a meditation on a distant but unforgotten night of passion, ‘Bonnie Mary’ his thoughts on the Queen of Scots, ‘Buddy, Roy and Dion’, a tribute to his heroes from the first wave of rock’n’rollers. ‘Nineteen Fifty Three’ is about the time Queen Elizabeth II, newly crowned, visited Glasgow with young Dean – or Thomas – out there in the streets with his mum and dad. ‘Left My Heart In Mexico’, a distant cousin of Lowell George’s ‘Cheek To Cheek’, conjures up the mood south of the border, ‘Dreamland’ is a soothing lullaby and a couple of songs, ‘This Scottish Heart’ and ‘Made In Scotland’, assert Dean’s Scottish roots, as does ‘For McDougal’ which sounds like a requiem for an old friend. Perhaps the most unusual is ‘He’s An Angel’, a homage to the artist Keith Haring, ‘a subterranean wonder boy’, set to the nearest thing on the album to a funky beat.
         Fittingly, the set ends with a newly recorded version of ‘Reflections Of My Life’, with Dean leading on harmonica before sturdy acoustic guitar chords take over and the vocals come in, as strong as they were back in 1969 when I first heard this lovely, albeit rather melancholy, song. At times despairing – ‘This world is a bad place’ – yet finally inspiring – ‘I’m changing… take me back home’ – ‘Reflections…’ seems to sum up not just the record as a whole but Dean’s introspection as a man of his time. 
         This Scottish Heart is a brave, poignant and unquestionably heartfelt set of songs from a man who seems at peace with himself as he looks over his shoulder and, perhaps, considers it a bit of a miracle that he’s still here, and still able to sing and play his guitar with the same measure of confidence that I recognised back in that nurses’ college in Yorkshire more than five decades ago.



Cool Cliff (nicked from the internet)

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