The Who Article Archive: 1964-1979 book that I wrote about in January contains at least once Melody Maker piece of mine that I’d completely forgotten about. It appeared in MM dated November 7, 1970, and was a brief interview with their soundman Bob Pridden about the group’s equipment, hardly scintillating stuff when you consider the electrifying press interviews that Pete often gave and the antics of Keith that we reported on. It may be that it appeared as editorial padding for one of those MM advertising supplements, this one designed to sell PA systems.
         It’s rather quaint now, but it gives an insight into what was probably the most powerful on the road amplification system of its era. The only other act that might have had as much gear in those days was Led Zeppelin. Here is it is:

“We’ve got enough gear to start three shops,” says jovial Bob Pridden, the man with the unenviable – but very responsible – job of looking after The Who’s thousands of pounds of wattage and making sure the group’s ear-shattering act runs – and sounds – smoothly from start to finish.
         Few groups carry around as much equipment as The Who. Their PA alone takes up one gigantic truck – and the guitar amps occupy another. In all the group put out a total of 2,000 watts – a figure unheard of five years ago when 300 watt PAs were the norm and stacks for guitarists a rarity.
         “The PA we use for a gig depends on the size of the booking,” says Bob. “If there are about 2,000 people at the show we use about 1,200 watts in the PA and another 300 in the monitoring system. So we can hear what is going on. It is all WEM [Watkins Electric Music] equipment but we have added ideas of our own. In fact WEM designed it for us although we have put on things to make it better for our sound.
         “The PA has ten large cabinets, that six 8 x 12, two 8 x 10 and two 4 x 15 cabinets and four 4 x 12 cabinets with tweeter columns. For the monitoring system we use another six 4 x1 2 cabinets linked up to three individual systems of 100 watts each. Roger has three cabinets placed for him, Pete has two and I have one.
         “We use three five channel mixers and a Watkins Copycat echo box which we have mucked about with. The drums are amplified through five mikes and mixed into a different channel and there are four vocal mikes, one on Pete’s guitar amp and one on Keith’s blocks. The mikes are Shure 565 Unispheres.
         “I would say the PA costs about £5,000 – and we have extra amps that we use in America where more power is needed. In really big places we use up to 2,000 watts.”
         Bob has three road managers under him to to help set up the gear which may take up to three hours. Firstly, it takes an hour and a half to put the speakers in the right positions and then the same again to balance everything properly. They use a Ford four-ton lorry to carry the PA round and a big Avis van for the rest of the equipment.
         “Pete uses four 4 x 12 cabinets and two 100-watt Hi-Watt amps, one wired to the top two cabinets  and the other wired to the bottom two. John uses the same cabinets and amps, although sometimes he might use two 4 x 15 cabinets instead. Also, we have 100-watt 4 x 12 cabinets from Pete’s amplifier set up near John so he can hear what Pete is doing during solos.
         “We carry a lot of spares with us, so that if an amp goes during a show we can easily substitute another.  I think we have enough gear to stock three shops and it’s all owned by The Who. Some groups hire equipment for tours but I don’t think it’s a good idea. When you own it you can do what you like with it.”

That last remark no doubt hides the fact that equipment rental companies might just have been unwilling to do business with The Who in those destructive days.

I found the picture of The Who’s set up for Leeds University on February 14, 1970, the show that was recorded for Live At Leeds, on this website:


HATE FOR SALE – The Pretenders

A false start, a wonky note, then the right one and off we go with The Pretenders sounding pretty much like they always did, which is no bad thing. My old colleague Allan Jones recalled in his review of Hate For Sale that Chrissie Hynde once stated that all subsequent line-ups of The Pretenders following the all too brief first incarnation have been tribute bands to that original group, and – shrewd cookie that she is – she’s not wrong. Most of the songs on this new album do sound like the old Pretenders in one way or another, and one in particular is so similar to ‘Kid’ that if anyone else had recorded it I’m sure Chrissie would have been on the phone to her lawyer.
         On the cover they look like a gang you’d cross the road to avoid, all sneers and black leather, a bit angry. And since no album featuring Chrissie Hynde would be complete without an angry song, on Hate For Sale she wastes no time in putting the boot in. It comes immediately after that false start, the title track, the first word we hear is ‘hate’ and Chrissie leads her gang into a careering downhill charge against the kind of men who’d support POTUS and would certainly have her door slammed their faces if ever they were darken it. It’s a fine upbeat start which ends abruptly before we reach ‘The Buzz, which, with its descending bass lines, occasionally replicated by a twangy Fender lead that brings to mind Jimmy of Pretenders Mark I, is almost – but not quite – as lovely as the song it so resembles. The first few notes of the solo are so reminiscent of that wondrous solo in ‘Kid’ that I had to play ‘Kid’ again to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. I wasn’t.
         ‘Lightning Man’ has a whiff of blue beat about it, and sharp guitar lines that, with added tremolo, reminded me a bit of Hank Marvin’s clean Echoplex sound. ‘Turf Accountant Daddy’ hints at Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ in its basic riff, a song that might or might not be a warning against the perils of gambling, and things slow down for ‘You Can’t Hurt A Fool’, a power ballad that responds to the female condition. ‘I Didn’t Know When To Stop’ shudders along in a fitful way and at the close manages to fit in the same two chords that introduce ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks, which suggests Chrissie still can’t wash that man out of her hair.
         On reflection ‘Maybe Love Is In NYC’ is my pick of the album, a real throwback to the early Pretenders sound with its shining, sustained guitar, a feast of descending arpeggios that resolve on a top note, and a solo to lift the heartstrings. I think it’s a tribute to The Big Apple. A contrastingly distorted guitar heralds ‘Junkie Walk’, another jittery, unmelodic song, that stamps out a warning not to indulge in Class A. ‘Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely’ is a Bo Diddley variation and the album closes with ‘Crying In Public’, a slow, piano-led weepie, complete with strings, that draws further attention to the woes that inflict jilted women.
         Finally, it needs to be said that, enjoyable as it is, Hate For Sale is pretty short for a CD; ten songs, the longest of which is 3.50, the shortest 2.30. It clocks in at only just over 31 minutes.


UTOPIA AVENUE by David Mitchell

In the spring of 2010 I joined a queue of Ian McEwan fans in Hatchards bookshop on Piccadilly, my mission to obtain a personally signed copy of the author’s latest novel Solar. I was and am a huge fan of McEwan whom I regard as the UK’s finest contemporary novelist. I’ve read all his books and noted that some contain allusions to the world of rock music: a bloke who runs an independent record shop, a son who plays blues guitar, a fan of Cream.
         These rock references were by no means crucial to the stories in which they appeared and, truth to tell, I thought they didn’t quite ring true, that they were slightly clumsy elements of otherwise exemplary books. So it was that when it came to my turn to get my book signed I decided to offer the great man my business card and tell him that if ever he needed any help with his research into an aspect of rock music I’d be happy to oblige. Fans wanting books signed by famous authors at events like this are generally sycophantic in the extreme and, after a selfie, hustled along quickly as there are many more behind them in the queue, and McEwan was clearly unprepared for an impudent upstart suggesting ways in which his work might be improved. Still, he took my card, on the back of which I’d written the name and URL of this blog. It seemed to me that he understood what I was saying but the conversation was very brief. I am still waiting to hear from him.
         All of this came back to me this week as I read David Mitchell’s latest novel Utopia Avenue which will sit on my bookshelf beside a growing collection of rock fiction, the most recent Marc Bolan Dies In Car Crash (by Ira Robbins)[1] which followed Daisy Jones & The Six (Taylor Jenkins)[2], Wonderkid (Wesley Stace)[3] and The Last Mad Surge of Youth (Mark Hodkinson)[4], all reviewed here. There’s a few more on that shelf that aren’t reviewed here, largely because I read them long after publication, among them Too Weird For Ziggy by Sylvie Simmons, a collection of interlinked noirish R&R short stories that's definitely worth considerably more than the £3.28 Amazon currently demand.
         But I digress. From a literary standpoint David Mitchell is far more distinguished than any of these authors, a writer whose books are regularly reviewed by fellow writers in upmarket broadsheets. His best known work, Cloud Atlas, is a dazzling pyramid of a novel in which six interconnected, dreamlike stories are nested together, each beginning in the first half of the book and resolving conversely in its second half, so the first story reaches its denouement on the final page. With Utopia Avenue, Mitchell, twice nominated for the Booker and the recipient of literary awards galore, is the most eminent author yet to turn his hand to rock, telling the story of the rise and fall of the imaginary group after whom the book is titled. I was hoping for great things.
         Utopia Avenue are a quartet, a bit trippy, a bit Traffic meets The Incredible String Band meets early Pink Floyd, as befitting the time period which is 1967/8. Elf, their singer and keyboard player, is the romantically disillusioned middle girl of a middle-class family whose bank manager patriarch strongly disapproves of his daughter’s career choice. For Elf read Sandy Denny. Dean the bass player is a talented, runaway, blues-loving satyr whose angry alcoholic dad threw his first electric guitar on a bonfire, along with his much-prized signed photograph of Little Richard. Not quite so easy to place him but I’ll settle for Brian Jones. Griff the drummer is a big, untidy, beer-swilling bear of a man from Yorkshire, fond of jazz and swearing, not necessarily in that order. For Griff read John Bonham. Jasper, the guitarist is the most mysterious, a quirky, taciturn musical genius of moneyed semi-Dutch parentage who hears strange sounds and has ancestral mental issues that influence the story in ways that echo Mitchell’s predisposition towards reincarnation, as seen in Cloud Atlas. For Jasper, read Syd Barrett with a sprinkling of Jimi. Elf, Dean and Jasper write the songs, individually.
         Utopia Avenue are assembled from the remnants of other groups by a gay Canadian who means well and has a whiff of Brian Epstein about him, and they all endure the usual indignities on the ladder to acclaim. They mooch around Soho with empty pockets, hang out in the Giaconda on Denmark Street and, to an absurd extent, encounter real-life rock musicians with alarming regularity in their work, rest and play. At a party at a mansion belonging to a film director they meet Bowie, Moon, Barrett, Hendrix and Lennon, coincidentally all departed and no prizes for guessing what state of mind they are all in. Unnecessarily, bassist Dean muses over whether he impregnated a groupie at ‘the party of a pal of Roger Daltrey in Notting Hill’. In New York, our foursome encounter Cohen, Joplin and Browne in the Chelsea Hotel. With dreary inevitability, in LA they find themselves at Mama Cass’ house hanging out with CS&N, Joni and Zappa, so it’s palpably predictable that in San Francisco they’re invited to 710 Ashbury where Dean trips with Garcia while Kantner cries off because he’s got a gig and manager Bill Graham is a hard taskmaster. The only one missing from the story is Dylan.
         Most of these cameos feature assumed dialogue that is on the cheesy side, though, with one or two exceptions – Elf is friends with Eno? Deep Purple toured the US with Cream? – I can’t fault the historical accuracy of Mitchell’s rock references. However, he overdoes it to such an extent that I had a sneaking suspicion he wrote Utopia Avenue to audition for a job on Rolling Stone. Either way, none of these many encounters move the plot along or impact meaningfully on the dramatis personae.
         Back in the primary narrative, the members of the group suffer more than their fair share of calamities, among them bereavement, drug woes and incarceration, and weather the storms until a fateful, unexpected twist at the end. But their upwardly mobile procession all happens much too quickly for me, in too short a time span, far more so than it would in reality, and the hackneyed rock clichés and trite generational divides – old men disrespecting boys with long hair by suggesting they are girls – tend to grate. Oddly, the book is divided into three separate ‘albums’ with chapters as ‘tracks’, each one written from the standpoint of a member of the group, a ploy that to my mind reflects a desperate, but wholly unnecessary, need to appear authentic. Similarly, the pages are full of the group’s imaginary lyrics, mostly enigmatic reflections on their experiences, and technical musical data regarding chord changes and composition. This doesn’t edge the plot forward either.
         More importantly, the quality of the prose lacks the elegance and authority I would expect from an author of Mitchell’s stature, and this brings me back to where I started, to Ian McEwan. If he was so minded, I believe the author of Atonement, Saturday, Chesil Beach et al would have written something far more insightful and convincing, a rock’n’roll rite-of-passage story with more emotion and resonance that was not necessarily longer in page terms – Utopia Avenue clocks in at a weighty 560+ – but in time span which, of course, would have given it far greater depth.
         With the exception of Elf here and there, only rarely did I feel any real sympathy with the characters. Still, it wasn’t boring – if it was I wouldn’t have finished it in four days – and after all that happens to the fictitious foursome you can’t help but cheer them on as their brief career accelerates. That said, I was hoping for something a lot more profound from Mitchell than this. In short, I was hoping for The Definitive Rock Novel at last – but Utopia Avenue isn’t it.


SUNSHINE WALKERS - The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry

Every so often someone associated with a band reads my blog, figures out the kind of stuff I like and sends me some music in the hope that I’ll write about it. In the far off days when I wrote about music full time for a living it happened all the time, now only rarely, but this is how I came into possession of Sunshine Walkers - The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry which I was playing last week as I neared the end of a big, month-long editing job that has kept me from posting much recently.
         Susannah Hoff’s bewitching eyes had nothing do with it when I became hooked by The Bangles singing ‘Going Down To Liverpool’. I first heard that song on a cassette given away by a music mag and thought it effortlessly catchy, wafting in on a summer breeze that blew The Mamas And The Papas and maybe even The Turtles into an updraft of sixties revivalism by way of chiming guitars and a kind of naïve innocence that enhanced their palpable Anglophobia. How on earth could four foxy girls from America’s West Cost even know what a UB40 was?
         At first I was unaware that it was written by Kimberley Rew for his group Katrina & The Waves. Stupidly, I assumed The Bangles had written it themselves and it wasn’t until I delved further that I became aware that Rew is a songwriter and guitarist who belongs in that same tradition of musicians that I wrote about in January, in a post titled ‘Recurring Dream’ after the Crowded House song that I began by confessing “I’ve always been a sucker for songs that feature jangling guitars.” I guess that gave the game away.
         Now comes this Sunshine Walkers set of 21 songs selected from Rew’s deep catalogue that eschews his better known material like ‘Walking On Sunshine’, ‘Love Shine A Light’ and ‘… Liverpool’ in favour of slightly whimsical choices best reflected in the opener, ‘The Dog Song’ that grooves along like a Chevy on Route 66, driven by Chuck. Next up is ‘It Makes Me Happy’, one of those songs that relies on the kind of staccato chords favoured by Tom Petty, all resolving into an exuberant chorus, while ‘Bloody Old England’ is a merry singalong celebrating the worst of our island. Similarly tongue-in-cheek is Lee’s ‘Backing Singer Blues’ a rockabilly lament on the trials of those who all too often stand at the back and sing ‘shooby-doo-wop’ while the spotlight is focused elsewhere. ‘The End Of Our Rainbow’, set to a cod-ska beat, sounds like Wings and in its cheerfulness harks back to that song on the White Album that John so detested. 
         ‘English Road’, which rattles along like something Rockpile or any band featuring Nick Lowe might have recorded, summarises Kim’s feelings about his homeland without any of the unpleasant patriotism that undermines too much of today’s politics. “Don’t ever let them carve it up and sell the pieces to the States”, a line written in 2002, seems all the more pertinent today.
         And so it goes on with many more beautifully crafted, understated songs that put me in mind of Badfinger, or The Pretenders, or Teenage Fan Club or Squeeze or – come to think of it – heaps more post-punk, new wave power poppers that I still enjoy. Great summer listening, especially as a the third Test against the Windies takes place tomorrow. Appropriate too – Robyn Hitchcock once said, “Kimberley could sustain out of a cricket bat.”



There is a sad inevitability to the news that Q magazine is closing down. I haven’t read it for years though when it first came out, in October of 1986, and for many years afterwards I read it from cover to cover, until around 2000 when its demographic changed and I found myself reading music mags that catered more for my musical tastes.
         For years I kept my old Q mags and only when we last cleared out the space beneath the stairs about three years ago was I persuaded to chuck out about 150 copies that had become unloved. Still, I kept the first 10 issues and still have them  that's some of them above  and I also kept the photo supplements (Vols 1-8) which feature some of the best music photography you’ll find anywhere.
         Had I still been working on a music weekly when Q first appeared I might have resented its arrival, viewing it as unwelcome competition in what was already a crowded field. The internet was still to happen, CDs were flying off the shelves and Live Aid – no doubt the trigger that persuaded David Hepworth and Mark Ellen to launch it – was fresh in the memory. Q was aimed at a slightly older market than that catered for by the music weeklies and this was why I went for it. Even in 1986 New Musical Express and my old berth Melody Maker were leaving me behind, rightly so too. I had always felt that the weeklies should be staffed by writers from the same age group as their readers.
      “Magazines tend to bracket people by taste, or what they assume that taste should be,” wrote editor Ellen in that first issue. “This is a magazine that doesn’t. We don’t presume to know what you like but we hope you like this.” I also liked Q’s slightly cheeky attitude, an irreverence carried over from Smash Hits which Ellen had also edited and which the late Tom Hibbert brought to Q with his often hilarious ‘Who the hell do they think they are?’ pieces.
         That first Q featured Paul McCartney on the cover, trailering an interview in which he ‘relives the Beatles’ story for the first time since the death of John Lennon’. Bob Dylan and Lenny Henry are featured inside, along with eight pages on the use of cocaine. In the LPs section Paul Simon’s Graceland gets a five-star review (but R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant and Talking Heads’ True Stories get only four stars). Bob Geldof’s Live Aid memoir Is That It? gets a good review but Charles Shaar Murray pans my old editor Ray Coleman’s ‘authorised’ biography of Eric Clapton. “Rarely has the subject of an authorised biography emerged as such an unpleasant character, and rarely has an author seemed more oblivious to the implications of his material.” Take that Ray. There was what appeared to be a regular classical record review section and, at the back, a fiendishly difficult pop quiz that I half filled in. Happy days.
         Music magazines now, such as they are, definitely bracket people by taste, as Mark Ellen observed and tried vainly to transform. Mojo, the brand leader in 2020, caters to an age group who probably still remember the heyday of MM and NME. Its most recent issue has David Bowie on the cover, circa 1973, the year when MM’s circulation reached its peak of 200,000 a week. On the shelf in my local Sainsbury’s there are more magazines for musicians – for guitarists, bassists, keyboard players – than there are magazines aimed at music fans. And often there are more ‘specials’ that feature one classic act, often Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, their contents hewn from old issues of NME and MM, than there are monthly mags.
         So today I don’t so much mourn Q as the idea behind it, and the era in which it thrived. For over 60 years, from the golden days of NME and MM, through the years when Q reigned supreme and up to the present day, the British music press has offered opportunities for young writers to hone their skills and, perhaps, become writers of note. Many have succeeded. When any music magazine closes down those opportunities are diminished.