Fifty years ago this past weekend on the Isle of Wight a crowd variously estimated at between 600,000 and 700,000 were entertained by a 38-year-old ukulele player from New York called Herbert Khaury. A tall man with long straggly hair and a penchant for loud jackets and kipper ties, his professional name was Tiny Tim and his repertoire consisted largely of show tunes from the early 20th Century, most especially ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’, his only hit, which he sang in a piercing falsetto voice.
         Preceded on stage by Joni Mitchell and followed by Miles Davis, Tiny Tim’s fleeting popularity is one of those inexplicable phenomena that erupts every so often in the world of music, but I‘ll wager next month’s milk bill that his appearance at the 1970 IOW Festival did little for the sale of ukuleles, those four-stringed mini guitars beloved of Elvis in Blue Hawaii and the Georges Formby and Harrison. I own one myself and taught myself to play a few chords on it, then promptly forgot them.
         I now know that I was wrong to consign my ukulele to the wilderness beneath the bed. In the right hands it is a soft and seductive instrument, capable of expressing a wealth of tender emotions in a light, airy manner, easily a match for nylon-stringed acoustic guitars. The right hands that concern me today belong to Sylvie Simmons, perhaps best known as an accomplished music writer, a regular contributor to Mojo magazine and Leonard Cohen’s finest biographer. Gradually, however, Sylvie is becoming as well known for her music and ukulele playing, for her second album – a follow up to her 2014 début Sylvie – is garnering rave reviews everywhere I look.
         Blue On Blue, much delayed following an accident left Sylvie temporarily without the use of her left hand, is a quiet, reflective work, its songs slightly mannered in a way that suggests she’s taken a dash of Cohen’s velvety poetic traits and blended them with her own take on the mysteries of soured love, all stirred into a wafting wash of melancholia that drifts lightly from track to track and gives the record a pleasing consistency. Top flight production, by Howe Gelb, with whom Sylvie duets on one song, guarantees absolute clarity, enhanced by an absence of drums, minimal bass and prudent restraint.
         Like her softly strummed uke, Sylvie’s voice is a gentle instrument, her slight huskiness adding depth to the 11 songs. The first single, ‘Sweet California’, is a homage to her adopted home delivered with a touch of homesickness – Sylvie is British transported to the Bay Area – which prompted her to tell an interviewer: “There’s this thing about coming home to California, realising, ‘Yeah, it’s home.’ In a way, I was coming home from the accident.” Another song chosen for a single, ‘The Things They Don’t Tell You About Girls’, is a wry observation on female loquaciousness that suggests inflexibility is more a male than female trait, for which Sylvie has commissioned an amusingly retro video that can be found on YouTube.

(A portrait of the artist, by her friend Andy Lesco)
For the most part, though, Sylvie chronicles affairs of the heart that left her, if not bereft, then at least hoping for something better over the next horizon. In ‘Not In Love’ she’s left with her romantic dreams; in ‘Carey’s Song’ – on which Gelb plays a delicate, tinkling piano – she is fearlessly striking out on her own; and in ‘Creation Day’, on which I detected a hint of Gillian Welch at her most serene, she still wants him whose photograph she keeps. ‘Waiting For The Shadows To Fall’, another tearjerker, is effortlessly lovely, taken at a stately pace, gentler than anything else here, but there’s a sense of hope amidst the wreckage of her abandoned relationship. “On the broken pieces of my heart… try to make a new start,” she sings, a shade optimistically perhaps. By the time we reach ‘Stay Awhile’, an undisguised plea, I wanted to give her a great big hug.
         The closing song, ‘1,000 Years Before I Met You’, the duet with Gelb, shifts the tempo – if not the sentiments – towards country and western in a song quite unlike anything else on Blue On Blue. “Help me say goodbye to these blues,” sings Sylvie in the manner of those C&W ladies who believed that the higher their backcombed hair, the closer they were to God. Such is the Nashville mood, I was reminded of Merle HaggardTonight The Bottle Let Me Down’. 
         The journey from music writer to musician is littered with the kind of broken dreams that Sylvie Simmons sings about but in Blue On Blue she has produced a gem of a record, a tribute to the ukulele’s potential that Tiny Tim could never have imagined.


ROD & RON: Never A Dull Moment

(Picture by Barrie Wentzell)

It would have been 46 years ago this week when I last had meaningful conversations with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Both were in New York together but separately, Rod touting his forthcoming LP Smiler and Ron his first solo outing I’ve Got My Own Album To Do.
         In a seemingly pointless spirit of competition, both record companies – Mercury for Rod and Warners for Ron – hosted ‘invitation only’ lunches in posh restaurants for their artists on the same day, thus creating a dilemma for me. Lunch with Rod or lunch with Ron? I opted for Ron, solely because I had an interview scheduled with Rod the next day and needed to write something about Ron too.
         Honest Ron was a great luncheon companion, hilariously indiscreet about the rivalry between him and his Faces pal with a similar haircut. There weren’t many of us around the table and he kept us all entertained with his banter, a bit of cheek, a bit risqué, a bit cor-blimey guv. The idea was that he was promoting his solo LP but I don't recall him saying much about it.

         Mick Taylor had yet to leave the Stones so the issue of his replacement wasn’t on the table, but like pretty much everyone else observing the trajectory of the Faces I wasn’t surprised by the vagueness with which he spoke around the subject of their future. “Don’t ask me?” he said. Which rather begged the question, well who do I ask? Rod didn’t seem to know either.
         Ron was more affable, a good deal friendlier than Rod, and I turned what he had to say into a few paragraphs in my weekly New York news column. Rod, on the other hand, required something more substantial.
         When I arrived in his expansive hotel room – The President’s Suite no less – the following day it seemed to me as if he was on the defensive. “What do you wanna know?” he demanded when I settled down and switched on my cassette recorder. I think he sensed that the tide was turning against him, that the unanimous acclaim he’d enjoyed during that glorious run of solo LPs, beginning in 1969 with An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down up to 1972’s Never A Dull Moment, might be drawing to a close. Perhaps in his heart of hearts he knew that Smiler wasn’t in the same league.  
         Rod’s attitude towards the press had changed. In the past he’d been chatty, outgoing, but now he was behaving as if he expected the interview to turn into an argument. Maybe he didn’t trust us writers any longer. Still, I managed to scratch together a 1,500 word piece for the following week’s Melody Maker, dated August 31. It was headlined ‘I Dream Of A Solo Concert’, a dream that would become reality before long. Here it is:

“ANYTHING I say is not meant to be a blot on anyone’s character... or trousers.”
         Rod Stewart, Old Spikey himself, settled into position on the double bed in the St Regis Hotel President’s Suite, running his thin fingers through his hair and occasionally admiring his Spanish tan in one of the two mirrors that the hotel provides for Presidents and others whose bank balance enables them to afford such luxury.
         Rod, whose reputation for being a trifle outspoken is widely known, prefaced this interview with the above remark. He’s got into bother before through opening up a little too loosely on subjects he feels strongly about. A rebel who can’t be gagged, but who often regrets what he’s said earlier.
         The real reason for Rod’s decision to speak out again is the release of his fifth solo album (or sixth if you count Sing It Again). It’ll be out next month, probably September 20, and the title is Smiler.
         The lengthy delays that have preceded its release are due mainly to litigation regarding his contract with Mercury Records, a subject which he’s loth to discuss at present.
         Either way, the delays have rattled him considerably.
As usual it’s an album of Rod’s own compositions with Ronnie Wood, personal favourites from days gone by and a few contributions from friends. This time around, the friends include Elton John and Paul McCartney.
         Rod is in America is complete the mastering of the record, and here’s a rundown on the, as yet unheard, tracks.
         Side one opens with ‘Sweet Little Rock And Roller’, the Chuck Berry song, followed by ‘Lochinvar’, a short linker, ‘Farewell’, a Stewart/Quittenton song, ‘Sailor’, a Stewart/ Wood song, ‘Bring It On Home’, the old Sam Cooke tune and ‘Let Me Be Your Car’, written for Rod by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. This song was to have been on Elton’s  Yellow Brick Road.
         Side too opens with the Goffin/King song ‘Natural Man’, followed by ‘Dixie Toot’, a Stewart/Wood tune, ‘Hard Road’, an instrumental by Quittenton of ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’ from My Fair Lady, ‘Girl From The North Country’, the Dylan song, and closes with ‘Mine For Me’, written for Rod by Paul McCartney.
         The sleeve is a red tartan pattern and the inside depicts all those involved in the production – about 50 people. There’s a key to say who they all are.

         “It’s been finished for five months,” growled Rod, rolling over on the enormous bed and ordering tea with sugar. “Plus the fact that I’m a little bit slow. The album didn’t take all that long to record, it was just the time taken in getting everyone together.
         “For six months there’s been a problem with the record companies about who was releasing it, but it’s all been sorted out now. It comes out in England on September 20, thank goodness.
         “Yeah, I’m happy with it. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, It’d have been scrapped by now. Made it all outside the country for a change... Frankfurt, Brussels, everywhere. It seems donkey’s years ago since I started, but it must have been just before last Christmas. I made 17 tracks altogether and picked out the best ones.
         “There’s a couple of numbers that I’ve done that I’ve always wanted to sing. ‘Natural Man’ is one and ‘Bring It On Home’ is another. Paul McCartney came along to sing his number with me – not a bad singer either, that Paul.
         “He says he wrote it specially for me but I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like a cast-off. He mentioned something about it being for Red Rose Speedway, but I don’t care. It’s a fucking good track either way. Elton’s done one for me too. Bernie said it was for me ‘cos it was a good rock‘n’roll number and the only person who could sing it properly was me.
         “I know for a fact that Elton wanted to record that one himself ‘cos he kept saying if I didn’t want to do it, he’d do it himself. He plays the Joanna and sings it with me.”
         Rod walked towards the window and gazed over Central Park. “Nice ‘ere in New York innit,” he said. “I’m ‘ere until Friday. It’s a sort of promotional visit, ‘cos I ain’t done any press for ages. When I’m touring I like to look after my voice and talk as little as possible. Then I’m off to LA to finish mastering the album and I’m making a little documentary film there with Russell Harty.”
         Time, I thought, to dig a little deeper. Is work progressing on another Faces album?
         “No, no way. I don’t know whether we’re gonna do another Faces album or not. I don’t know what the position is there. We haven’t talked about it at all.
         “Kenney Jones has gone off and made a single of his own. He’s a good little singer, y’know, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Faces recordings. I know we’re staying together as a band and that’s all that counts as far as I am concerned.
         “Ronnie’s got his own solo album and it wouldn’t be any big hardship if we just got together to play each other’s stuff. As long as we stay together as a band, we’re OK. There’s no backbiting going on. We still get along with each other very well.
         “I’d say I put more work into the Faces’ albums than I do with my own. They’ve always been a bigger headache. Putting this latest album together was a piece of cake compared to a Faces’ album. It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded more tracks than I wanted.
         “Actually it’s more of a singing album than anything else. I felt it was about time I called the tune and sang what I wanted to sing, even though maybe some people might not like them as much.”
         There are no immediate plans for the Faces to tour America, even though they’ll be appearing in Europe soon. Rod likes playing England better than anywhere else, but right now he’s uncertain about the Faces’ popularity in America.
         “Two years ago we were Jack the Lads over here, but I don’t know how strong we are now. We’ll have to see how my album and Woody’s album do first. Everybody tells me fans are fickle, but I don’t think so – not for the brand of music we make anyway. We start a British tour on November 5, and that I really am looking forward to.”
         Was there any chance of Rod following in the footsteps of other rock stars and leaving Britain because of the tax situation?
         “Everybody’s talking about it, but nobody’s actually doing it yet,” he said. “I think they ought to, though. The Government thinks they’ll tax us bastards right up to the hilt because we won’t leave, but that’s wrong because I will if I want to. It’s so bloody unfair.
         “They’re thinking of a wealth tax now and that’s bloody criminal. That’s like, for a young man, paying your death duties before you die. What with a 90 per cent tax ceiling, it’s just not worth living in England any more.
         “I’m all for paying taxes. There’s nothing wrong in that. I’ll pay my dues, but I’ve got one shot at the big ball for all my life. I can’t do anything else but sing and maybe play a bit of football.”
         Conversation switched to the current huge package tours that have been travelling around America recently, the come-back of Dylan, CSN&Y and Clapton.
         “I’ve never thought of Dylan making a comeback. I think it’s detrimental to say they’re making a comeback. Out of the three I would say Clapton was the only one making a real comeback ‘cos he did have a lay off and wasn’t very well for a few years.
         “Dylan’s music has matured and people have matured with him. He hasn’t dropped out anywhere along the line and you can’t expect the guy to be writing songs now like he was when he was in Greenwich Village, can you? I always think comebacks are for really old geezers.”
         Did Rod miss Ronnie Lane’s presence in the Faces?
         “I really missed him at the outset but I don’t any more. He’s found what he wanted and that’s peace of mind and not going through the same old routine.
         “I don’t think it is a routine, though. I enjoy it, coming here and travelling there but Ronnie got fed up with it. It changed his lifestyle so he decided he wanted to change his band.”
         Which promoted me to ask about a change for Rod. “I dream about a solo concert of my own someday. There’s gotta be a chance of it happening with all the people that appear on my albums. I’ve asked them and they all say I ought to do it someday. Mmmmm, lovely acoustic guitars behind me.”
         Rod’s eyes glistened at the thought. “I’ll get round to it. It’s just a question of time. The longer I wait the better it’s going to be when I do it anyway.”


SMALL HOURS: The Long Night of John Martyn by Graeme Thomson

Like free jazz, heavy metal and rap, the music of John Martyn is an acquired taste I somehow never acquired. He wasn’t within my orbit during the period I worked for Melody Maker, and thereafter all I learned was that he was a great and very original songwriter, singer and – especially – guitarist, and an unpleasant man who was prone to violence, especially when drunk, which was often.
         I also knew that at one time he was close to Nick Drake, whose music I love, and this may have influenced me to buy Solid Air, a 10-track best of album somewhere along the way. I’d read that the song ‘Solid Air’ was about Drake and I was curious. The CD confirmed this and demonstrated to me that U2’s The Edge had learned a trick or two from Martyn’s echo-drenched playing style, that double or triple tracking delay he set up while he played on stage so that it appeared as if several guitarists were playing when, in fact, he was accompanying himself. It was indeed very clever, mesmerising even. 
         Small Hours: The Long Night of John Martyn, Graeme Thomson’s fine biography, just published, confirms all of the above. I edited Thomson’s biographies of Kate Bush and George Harrison while at Omnibus Press and know how accomplished a biographer he is, and this latest book merely confirms his status in this regard. He analyses Martyn’s music wonderfully, follows his life and career in forensic detail and verifies my relief at never having come across Martyn in the flesh. He was no stranger to the bar room fights that feature in the lyrics of ‘May You Never’, his best known song, and it is this aspect of his personality that dragged him down, ruining his looks, his health and his relationships with many whose lives became intertwined with his.  
         What we learn from Small Hours is that Martyn, whose real name was Iain McGeachy, was one of those characters who goes charging through life without much care for the mess he leaves behind, and never cleans it up afterwards. A serial womaniser, he treated his wives and partners appallingly, leaving Beverley Kutner, his first, with black eyes, neglecting their children and leaving her penniless when he walked out. He did pretty much the same with just about all his women whether or not he married them. Like a few others drawn to the rock trade, he was a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde character, kind and loving one moment and insufferably nasty the next. Drink initiated his obnoxiousness and the longer he lived the worse it became, and it didn’t help that he surrounded himself with petty criminals.
         It would wrong to assume, however, that Small Hours is simply a litany of bad behaviour. Thomson is an adept critic, praising Martyn’s acclaimed output, especially Solid Air and Inside Out, the early Seventies albums on which his reputation rests. Take this description of ‘Fine Lines’, a track from the latter: “‘Fine Lines’ cuts deeper than the drunken arm slung around the shoulder, travelling through skin and bone to the soul, via the deeply felt connections forged in smoke-filled rooms and over smeared glasses, in the warm communion of bodies slumped platonically on sofas. Loneliness is there, too, whispering at the window, the exquisite sadness that comes from knowing that good times are ending even as they are happening. The fragility is so profound one can hear the air shake around the strings, feel the cadence of all those empty spaces.”
         Thompson is less enthusiastic about Martyn’s later output but he finds some good things to say about many of the songs recorded during the more commercial route that Martyn travelled in the eighties when he teamed up with Phil Collins. While purists may have scorned this change in direction, Thomson squares it with Martyn’s need to balance his creativity with survival. For all his wayward ways, he rarely lost sight of his calling. 
         Martyn’s skills as a guitarist and seeker out of unusual, pioneering music is fully covered and there are several instances where Thomson delves into Martyn’s fascinating technique, listing the FX he used in a brave attempt to explain how he did what he did. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why Martyn seems to have been one of the few people who could communicate with Nick Drake, another extraordinarily gifted guitar player who experimented with unorthodox tunings, and there are hints within these pages that Drake occasionally came down from the ethereal peaks of passivity that books about him suggest were his natural habitat. A mutual friend, Paul Wheeler, makes an astute observation about Drake that I hadn't seen before but which seems well nigh perfect: “[He was] like one of those cats which turn up at many households, all of which are under the impression that they have a unique role in providing food, shelter and company for him.
         The book is not without humour. Some of the stories of Martyn’s escapades can’t help but raise a smile, especially the barney in an Indian restaurant when Martyn objected to racist comments from an adjoining table. Also, rarely for a biography, we are treated to a mouth-watering description of the subject’s eating habits. An epicurean of deeply held beliefs, Martyn “didn’t do fast music and didn’t do fast food”, writes Thomson. “He was not averse to eating roadkill.” Musicians who toured with him reported that he would rather go hungry than eat food that was not to his liking. “No pizza and chips for Johnny,” reports keyboard player Spencer Cozens. Prone to accidents and a confirmed carnivore, it seems laughably predictable that Martyn sustained serious injuries after crashing his car into a cow.
         Nick Drake’s death certainly affected Martyn badly, and may have accelerated his slow decline. He tried the patience of many and few stuck it out to the end. One who did was bassist Danny Thompson, another trouble maker, who became Martyn’s preferred and most distinguished accompanist. Another champion was Island Records boss Chris Blackwell, who stuck by Martyn despite everything, as did his lifelong friend and mentor Hamish Imlach, the Scottish folk singer and humourist who died in 1996. All feature prominently.
         The book contains two eight-page photo sections. Poignantly, the final page of the second section features an uncaptioned photograph of a handsome young man in his twenties, his hair tousled, his beard crisply trimmed, his eyes sparkling. On the previous page we see a grossly overweight old man, unable to stand, his hair disappearing, his eyes partly closed. It was taken in 2008, the year before he passed. Small Hours explains in consummate detail how one became the other.  
         Prodigiously researched with around 100 interviews with relatives, friends, foes, fellow musicians, ex-managers and record company personnel, Small Hours is a terrific biography of a unique musician and troubled soul. All it lacks is an index.



 About three years ago I was commissioned to write sleeve notes for two upgraded CDs by a singer-songwriter originally signed to the Deram label who found greater success elsewhere. Part of the brief was to write something about the label itself. Since it appears that this project has been put on indefinite hold, I have decided to post the piece about the label on my blog. In the fullness of time I may post the far longer pieces about the albums and artist involved who, for now, must remain nameless.

The Deram label was launched by Decca Records in June of 1966 as a subsidiary outlet for more experimental pop music. Decca, which like its great rival EMI also manufactured other electrical goods, had already used the term ‘Deram’ on a cartridge device for holding the stylus that was detachable from the arm on the turntable of a stereo record player. It was also an abbreviation of the term ‘Deramic’ which Decca had coined for their brainchild Decca Panoramic Sound, designed to create a more natural sounding stereo spread.
         Decca’s Deram label initiative reflected a need on the part of major record companies not to appear staid in an era when pop was changing fast and more forward-thinking, fleet-footed independent labels like Island, Immediate, Track, Chrysalis and Charisma were on the rise. The response from EMI was to launch Harvest Records while Philips inaugurated the Vertigo label with a design on the actual label in the centre of vinyl LPs that, when spinning, rendered the viewer as vertiginously dizzy as the name implied.
         Based in Decca’s offices on the Albert Embankment, the label’s key man was Promotions Manager Tony Hall, with A&R under the control of Dick Rowe and his assistant Hugh Mendl, all of whom were technically Decca staff. Dick Rowe, of course, became famous as the man who turned down The Beatles but history has been unkind to an A&R executive who was otherwise eminently successful and, in any case, John, Paul, George & Pete Best were pretty lacklustre during their audition for Decca on New Year’s Day 1962.
         Deram made its debut with Denny Cordell’s production of 20-year-old Beverley (Kutner, soon to be [Mrs] Beverley Martyn) singing ‘Happy New Year’, a sprightly take on an early Randy Newman song on which she was accompanied by half of the future Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass – alongside ace session pianist Nicky Hopkins and drummer Andy White who took over from Ringo on the Beatles’ first recording of ‘Love Me Do’. As the first ever Deram release it was given the catalogue number DM 101. Cat Stevens’ ‘I Love My Dog’, the label’s first hit (#28, 1966) was DM 102.
         Deram soon went from strength to strength. As well as other early hits by Cat Stevens, most notably ‘Matthew And Son’ (#2, 1967) and ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’ (#6, also 1967), it released the first two hits by The Move – ‘Night Of Fear’ (#2, 1967) and ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’ (#5, also 1967) – and the evergreen ‘Nights In White Satin’ (#19, 1967) by The Moody Blues. 
         The label’s most significant early success, however, was Procol Harum’s debut single ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ (#1, 1967), the defining song of that year’s Summer of Love and, arguably, British psychedelia. With surrealistic, impenetrable lyrics and an undulating melody that sounded like an inversion of JS Bach’s ‘Air On A G String’ (Orchestra Suite No 3, BWV 1068), ‘… Pale’ held the top place on the singles charts for six weeks, went on to become one of the best-selling singles in history and is now recognised as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years. The track, also produced by Denny Cordell, was the only Procol Harum record to be released on Deram, Cordell electing to switch labels – to EMI-controlled Regal Zonophone – thereafter. The Move went with them.
         Cat Stevens’ debut LP Matthew And Son reached number seven on the LP charts in 1967 but Deram wasn’t so successful with David Bowie whose own debut album, titled simply David Bowie, was released by the label on June 1, 1967. Produced by Mike Vernon, it was engineered by Gus Dudgeon, producer of Bowie’s first hit ‘Space Oddity’, who later commented: “Listening to it now I can’t believe that it was actually released because it must have been about the weirdest thing Deram had ever put out. In fact it must be about the weirdest thing any record company have ever put out.” Dudgeon was probably correct in this assessment. “[It]… consists of 14 short narrative vignettes delivered in a mannered cockney indebted to Anthony Newley,” wrote Bowie biographer David Buckley. “Newley’s 1960 ATV surrealist comedy programme, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, had been a prime influence on the young soon-to be musician, a world within a world in which inanimate objects speak, and poster girls come to life.”
         As well as these recordings by artists of note, Deram released a number of records by lesser known but noteworthy acts that enjoyed cult followings, many of which were one-off records designed to fulfil the label’s original premise of experimental pop. These included Timebox, Eyes Of Blue, Denny Laine (after he left the Moody Blues), drummer Keef Hartley, Alan Bown and East of Eden, led by violinist Dave Arbus, who had a hit with ‘Jig-A-Jig’ (#7, 1971) and played the outro solo on The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ on their 1971 LP Who’s Next.
         The label also enjoyed hits by Amen Corner, the Welsh R&B septet led by Andy Fairweather Low (‘Bend Me Shape Me’, #3, 1968, and ‘High In The Sky’, #6, 1968); The Flowerpot Men (‘Let’s Go To San Francisco’, #4, 1967), a group formed from session musicians that included future Deep Purple organist Jon Lord on keyboards; ‘I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman’ (#5, 1967) by Whistling Jack Smith; and the exquisite baroque single ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’ (#8, 1968) by Honeybus, which became the soundtrack to a TV commercial for Nimble bread.
         Like Procol Harum, Amen Corner, The Move and Cat Stevens, most Deram acts left the label after their initial success which suggests that those in charge of the its affairs viewed it more as an incubation chamber than a long term home for successful artists. Nevertheless, it continued into the seventies by releasing albums by Caravan, the progressive rock band from Canterbury, Cream lyricist Pete Brown, Daryl Way’s Wolf and, later, Way’s group Curved Air. Far and away the label’s most successful act of the seventies, however, was Ten Years After, the Nottingham-based blues rock quartet led by guitarist Alvin Lee who for a period early in the decade was a contender for the title of ‘fastest guitar on the block’. Four of the first five TYA albums made the top ten LP charts between 1969 and 1971.
         Deram appeared to have become moribund in the late seventies but was revived in the early eighties with singles by new wave acts like Splodgenessabounds, whose novelty hit ‘Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps Please’ reached number seven in 1980, The Modettes’ ‘Paint It Black, a ska arrangement of the Rolling Stones’ 1966 hit that reached number 42 in 1980, and Bananarama whose recording of ‘Really Saying Something’, a cover of a song by US girl-group The Velvelettes, became their second top ten hit (#5, 1982). Like so many others before them, however, Bananarama left the label immediately afterwards – moving to Decca subsidiary London Records – for the long string of hits they enjoyed from 1982 onwards.
         While never as acclaimed as other progressive labels – Vertigo, Harvest or Elektra – Deram nevertheless helped reposition Decca as a force to be reckoned with at a time when it was regarded by many in the industry as a rather unadventurous label, especially after the Rolling Stones left to sign with Atlantic, simultaneously carping about the label’s conservative outlook. The label is now owned by Universal Music which acquired Decca in 1998.



Here’s another old Who-related review of mine that I found in The Who Article Archive, this one from Melody Maker dated October 14, 1972, my review of Who Came First, Pete Townshend’s first officially released solo LP. At the time it wasn’t generally known that The Who’s modus operandi was for Pete to record demos of his songs, on which he sang and played all the instruments, that were then circulated to Roger, John and Keith to learn from prior to recording.
         Neither was I aware at the time that the LP was recorded as a response to MCA’s belief that the two albums Pete had recorded privately for release only to followers of Meher Baba had been bootlegged. Evidently MCA, The Who's US label, persuaded Pete that the best way to combat these was to record an ‘official’ solo LP, and this explains its copious references to Baba.
         I still have my original vinyl Track LP, no doubt the one I listened to as I made notes 48 years ago. It’s in remarkably good condition too, which suggests I didn’t play it all that much. Oddly, it is credited to ‘Peter Townshend’ on the spine but ‘Pete Townshend’ on the label. A new CD I have, with six additional tracks, is credited to ‘Pete’.

PETER TOWNSHEND. Who Came First (Track). Whatever else one feels about this album, it REALLY is a solo album in the strict sense of the word. When Rod Stewart and a heap of other make solo albums – good though they may be – they seem to collect a huge cluster of musicians to help them, and the more musicians helping the less solo the albums get to be.
         But here Pete Townshend has done virtually everything himself with one or two slight exceptions. Apart from brief appearances by Ronnie Lane, of Faces fame, and Caleb Quaye, of Hookfoot, and occasional assistance in the writing by other followers of Meher Baba, Pete has done everything himself – sung, written, played guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and synthesisers, and engineered, mixed and produced the whole thing. It really IS a solo album.
         While Townshend could doubtless have recruited some of the best rock musicians in the world to help him, he’s decided to do the lot himself – and as a result it sounds a bit thin here and there compared to the guts of The Who. Pete isn’t the best singer in the world, neither is he the best drummer and it’s on these two points that the album loses marks. But it picks up a load of marks on the songs, the simple but effective guitar picking throughout and on the general feeling of the record which is dedicated to Meher Baba, the religious guru who, apparently, changed Pete’s outlook on life so dramatically.
         Highlights are ‘Pure And Easy’, a song that sounds rather like the closing bars of ‘The Song Is Over’ on the Who’s Next LP, and the ever so laid back version of ‘Let’s See Action’ which is far superior to The Who’s single. Ronnie Lane takes the vocal on ‘Evolution’, a Lane composition, which is C&W influenced, and Caleb Quaye is on lead guitar on’ Forever Is No Time At All’, another goodie.
         It’s on side two that the standard seems to falter. It just doesn’t seem right, somehow, to hear Pete Townshend, the gymnast guitarist supreme, singing ‘There’s A Heartache Following Me’, titled here as ‘Heartache’, which was one of Baba’s favourite songs. ‘Sheraton Gibson’ is a pleasant little number, not unlike ‘Going Mobile’. ‘Content’ and ‘Parvardigar’ are really strictly for Baba followers. If it’s Pete’s intention to turn people on to Baba through the album, they are the all-important tracks. They are not unlike psalms with Pete airing them – as he says himself – like Vera Lynn.
         The words to ‘Parvardigar’ are beautiful but it clashes head on with the sleeve photo of Pete in which he resembles a character from A Clockwork Orange in his white boiler suit. I honestly can’t take the album too seriously. The more I play it, however, the more I like it – but is isn’t the Pete Townshend who dominates the stage like no other guitarist in rock.