31.12.21

DEEP PURPLE – Turning To Crime

 


Obliged by Covid-19 to self-isolate and therefore work individually – as opposed to writing new material together in the studio, their customary procedure – Deep Purple early this year opted to record an album of covers, with each member of the group transmitting their contributions to the Anarchy Remote Studio, a digital facility in cyberspace where producer Bob Ezrin assembled the parts like a jigsaw. The result is Turning To Crime, a 12-track CD of songs “that shaped us over the years”, according to a brief note on the accompanying booklet. In reality it’s more than 12, for it concludes with a five-song medley, among which is Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed And Confused’, of which more later.

        Unless I’m mistaken, the last cover version recorded by DP was ‘Lalena’, by Donovan, which appeared on their largely ignored third LP, simply titled Deep Purple, in 1969. Prior to that the first DP group had recorded plenty of covers, not least their debut US hit ‘Hush’, by Joe South, and others by Neil Diamond, Lennon & McCartney and whoever claims to have written ‘Hey Joe’. Once they got into their stride, however, original material prevailed, and this coincided with singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover joining the core trio of organist Jon Lord, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and drummer Ian Paice. This quintet, which in my 1983 biography of the group I refer to as DP Mark II, enjoyed enormous success and is still widely regarded as the ‘classic’ line up. 

        Gillan, Glover and Paice remain today, joined on guitar by Steve Morse and on keyboards by Don Airey. With Paice now the only member of the group to have played in its every incarnation since DP formed in 1968, Morse and Airey are by no means newcomers. The former has been with them since 1994, replacing the eternally capricious Blackmore, and the latter came on board in 2002 when Lord, their statesman-like elder, retired from rock to concentrate on serious music. Sadly, he died in 2012. 

        The choice of material on Turning To Crime throws up plenty of surprises and a handful of songs that might be expected. Among the latter is the opener, Love’s ‘7 And 7 Is’, at one second shy of two and half minutes the album’s shortest track but by many mph the fastest. Its inclusion offers strong evidence of where DP were coming from by the time they recorded their breakthrough LP In Rock, the relentless pace (no pun intended) of the drums leading the way over a thumping beat, crunch guitar and indecipherable lyrics, DP’s version differing from the original only in that they chuck in characteristic guitar and organ solos and omit Love’s thunderous explosion and Arthur Lee’s slow blues-based coda.

        Ian Gillan long ago betrayed his influences in the lyrics to ‘Speed King’, which referenced Little Richard who was knocking around New Orleans in 1957 when Huey ‘Piano’ Smith recorded ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’ there. This paean to chest ailments given the rockn’roll cure offers Don Airey a chance to show off his honky-tonk chops, and to cheekily incorporate the riff from ‘Smoke On the Water’ into one of his solos. Freed from the need to sprint, Ian Paice shows himself to be a fine and steady rock’n’roll stickman. He has some previous on this kind of material, having been a member of Paul McCartney’s ‘Rock and Roll Band’, playing alongside David Gilmour, Mick Green, Pete Wingfield and Chris Hall, not to mention the former Beatle, at the Cavern in Liverpool in 1999.  

        A reverent take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ follows, fairly true to the original, with about a minute of the haunting ‘Part 2’ coda slapped on the end. Next up is ‘Jenny Take A Ride’, by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, its opening section perhaps better known as ‘CC Rider’, much performed by Elvis, which morphs into ‘Jenny, Jenny’ whom Mitch invites to take a ride, before slipping back to ‘CC’. This is great boozy bar band music, the kind of thing that Springsteen favours for encores, so here we have DP channelling with some distinction hitherto unrealised E Street Band leanings. 

        ‘Watching The River Flow’, an anomaly in Dylan’s catalogue in that it was a one-off blues-based single, seems like an unlikely cover and may have been suggested by Bob Ezrin who joins Gillan on vocals. There’s a hint of gospel in DP’s version which in an oblique way pays tribute to the full-on sound of Leon Russell, who played on Dylan’s original, and his Mad Dogs & Englishmen retinue, not least in the 30-second keyboard sign off. 

        We’re back in New Orleans for ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, which sounds to me like it could have come from the soundtrack to Kid Creole, Elvis’ fourth (and best) movie. Joined by saxophone and trumpet, DP take it at a medium pace, with a bluesy guitar solo and churchy keyboards adding to the southern fried flavour, Airey switching to honky-tonk at one point thought the brass is never down in the mix. 

        Taking on Little Feat is a fearsomely bold move but Don Airey has Bill Payne’s tinkly keyboard part off pat, and the whole band swing their way through ‘Dixie Chicken’ respectably enough. Morse is great on the slide solo, and my only gripe is that Ian Gillan’s Brit voice sounds a bit strained next to Lowell’s sly, loose-limbed, shuffle delivery. Still, it’s refreshing to learn that DP were influenced by one of my favourite American bands, and I tip my hat to Morse for the solo at the close.

In the never-ending discussion as to the origins of heavy metal, or hard rock as it was before Black Sabbath became Paranoid, The Yardbirds’ ‘Shapes Of Things’ merits a sub-section of its own, and although Jeff Beck was in the group when it was originally recorded, its composition is actually credited to Keith Relf, Jim McCarty and Paul Samwell-Smith. Still, it’s a minor psychedelic masterpiece, with Beck’s guitar hovering between distortion and the mysterious East, and lyrics that pre-empt the present-day climate crisis. DP take it at a slightly slower pace than The Yardbirds, but are dutifully reverent in their approach, though Morse, ever anxious to inject something distinctive, gets a long solo before the whole thing grinds to a suitably rave-up style halt.

Hearing Lonnie Donegan’s version of ‘Rock Island Line’ on the radio when he was about 10 led to Roger Glover becoming who he is now, so it’s no surprise that he shares the vocals, leading on the first verse, with his old Episode Six partner Ian Gillan on ‘The Battle Of New Orleans’, a hit for Lonnie in 1959, and probably the least likely cover on Turning To Crime. Joined by violin and accordion, no one in a million years would guess this hoe-down romp was Deep Purple.

‘Lucifer’, a Bob Seger song from 1970 when he led a group called The System, is the only track here with which I was unfamiliar, a mid-tempo rocker typical of the Silver Bullet work that brought him no little success as the seventies progressed. DP give it their all, but of greater merit is their take on Cream’s ‘White Room’, a far more interesting song. Another dose of psychedelia with a hint of discord on the vocals and slabs of twisty guitar, DP match Eric, Jack and Ginger bar for bar, no mean feat. 

Finally, we reach what DP call ‘Caught In The Act’, their medley of five songs, the first four instrumentals, with Gillan joining in only on ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, Steve Winwood’s tour de force when he was the star attraction in The Spencer Davis Group. Airey opens the show, a ragtime figure leading into Freddie King’s bluesy ‘Going Down’, which leaps into ‘Green Onions’, funky and straight like the MGs until Morse adds some twists, then ‘Hot ‘Lanta’, on which DP somehow manage to sound awfully like The Allman Brothers jamming away on stage. Next up is an instrumental of Zep’s ‘Dazed And Confused’, opening not with the familiar descending bass line but a passage from later, then the descent before  instruments take over the call and response. This leads neatly into the enormous ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ riff, played well, and after two and a half minutes the whole business grinds to a halt, a few drum beats the last thing we hear. What fun they must have had. 

Also available is a 40-minute DVD The Making Of Turning To Crime, which is precisely what the title says, those responsible having concluded it was a crime for a group of DP’s stature to record an album of covers. This perhaps explains why on the sleeve they are photographed as if in a police line-up, every one of their mug shots resembling the sort of threatening ne’er do wells you’d cross the road to avoid.

When Covid is over, will they play these songs on stage? 




28.12.21

LIGHTNING STRIKES: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock’n’Roll by Lenny Kaye


“The screams may be predominantly female, but the boys look under the hood, at the way the engine is sparking. At least that was how it was for me, and I’m the guy who collects vintage spark plugs.” That’s how Lenny Kaye reacted to seeing The Beatles for the first time, on February 9, 1964, on the Ed Sullivan Show in a USA that was soon at their mercy.

        I know exactly what he means but I’ve never seen it scripted in terms of garage mechanics before, a lovely choice of metaphor. The girls wanted to marry them and the boys wanted to be them, but first we had to learn how to play the guitar, which is precisely what Lenny did. 

        The arrival of The Beatles is the fourth transformative moment in Lightning Strikes, after 1954 (Elvis and Memphis), 1957 (Little Richard and New Orleans) and 1959 (Alan Freed and Bandstand, Philadelphia), though ‘moments’ might better translate as ‘periods’ in this warm, lovingly composed book about those special sets of circumstances that collided to move rock’n’roll forward in shuddering, epoch-defining jolts. 

        Lenny, of course, was the compiler of Nuggets, the double LP of under-the-counter garage/punk classics, released by Elektra in 1972, an absolutely fabulous collection of tracks by American groups of the mid-sixties, many inspired by The Beatles, Stones and Yardbirds, who struck lightning at least once in careers that invariably imploded soon afterwards. An early contributor to Rolling Stone and fringe music mags, Lenny first entered my consciousness through his superbly informative sleeve notes on a 1972 Eddie Cochran Legendary Masters compilation, another double LP I treasure. We first met when I went to live in New York in 1973, when he was working behind the counter in Village Oldies, a collectors’ dream of a record shop on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. More famously, in 1971 he was asked by Patti Smith to play guitar as she read her poetry, initially for one gig only. Hes done it ever since.

        It follows, then, that Lenny became a mastermind on all things rock and pop, so it comes as no surprise that his new book rocks along like a vintage record of the highest quality. It’s the way he writes, a sort of Kerouac meets Hunter ST meets every great rock writer you care to name, mixing personal experiences with what was happening at rock’s all-important moments, his role where applicable and how they affected him and informed his life. It’s very juicy and great fun, and after Liverpool we move to San Francisco for the Summer of Love, then on to Detroit for MC5 and Iggy, with a sideways swerve to fellow travellers the Velvets in NY, then New York proper where Lenny finds himself drawn towards CBGB, and becomes Patti’s accompanist, which in many ways is the heart of the matter. Lenny’s real time, no bullshit account of Patti’s emergence and acceptance, along with his on-the-spot coverage of the rise of the Ramones and Television, and to a lesser extent Blondie and Talking Heads, is worth the price of the book in itself. 

        London’s punk upheaval a couple of years later, metal in LA (1984) and Norway (1993), not really my bag, follow and the book closes in Seattle in 1991 with Nirvana and all things grunge. 

        The moments that Lenny writes about are prefaced by the events that led up to whatever happened and their aftermaths, and in this respect, he demonstrates not just his vast knowledge of the art form in which he has lived his life but excellent taste as well. His love for his medium simply bounces off the page, which means he’s largely unaffected by commercial trends and studiously avoids what might be considered uncool. You won’t find any boy bands or much prog in Lightning Strikes, but you will find four pages on Joe Meek, the English Phil Spector, an old obsession of mine and evidently Lenny’s too. 

        “In the early 1990s I visited the site of [Meek’s] Holloway Road studio to pay my respects, standing it the doorway of 304, stepping in his vanished footprint,” he writes. “Behind me, in a red London call box, the phone began to ring. I picked it up. There was no dial tone, only a silence that seemed enclosed, like a reverb chamber waiting for its sound to enter.” 

        It was probably Joe calling from a Telstar orbiting the earth. 



26.12.21

THE WAR ON DRUGS – I DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE


Most review of albums by Adam Granduciel’s War On Drugs project focus on lyrics that invariably describe some kind of struggle, whether it’s the vicissitudes of romance, the trials of living in the modern world or a life burdened with more than its fair share of despair. But it wasn’t the lyrics that drew me to WOD, it was the music, the aural landscape in which Granduciel frames his tales of woe. 

  Indeed, there are so many things to like about the music on I Don’t Live Here Anymore, the most recent WOD album, that it’s hard to know where to start, but how about the moment on its second track ‘Harmonia’s Dream’, about three minutes in, when the already busy backdrop is joined by a piercing keyboard that on first hearing reminded me of a fairground, the soundtrack to a carousel, or maybe even that wistful electronic sound on Del Shannon’s original recording of his signature song ‘Runaway’. Back then that seductively original organ part was created by Max Crook, who takes credit for having invented the Musitron on which he played it, but if WOD master craftsman Granduciel has somehow found a Musitron of his own he’s keeping mum, and from the credits I don’t know whether Dave Hartley or Robbie Bennett, both of whom are acknowledged as keyboard players on track two, are contributing this passage.

        Either way, this shrill but irresistible sound lifts an already impressive track up into the stratosphere, and I can even forgive Granduciel for the U2-like fall away a minute later when the whole galloping big music affair disappears, only to rise up again, this time joined by an electric guitar that traces a descending figure and resolves on a bent note country and western lick worthy of James Burton. The organ/guitar duet is the icing on the cake as the whole wondrous episode is repeated in a minute-long coda that fades out ever so gradually.

        It occurs to me that what Granduciel is doing here is taking something old – the organ sound and the country lick – and turning them into something very new and relevant to the modern era, and in doing so he unites old time rock lovers like me, with 60 years of listening behind us, with newer souls who maybe first heard WOD in the 21st Century. To bridge such a generation gap is a fine achievement.

        All this new album is great, really, just like the rest of the War On Drugs small but perfectly formed catalogue, but this little bit of music had me smiling for the last few weeks every time the track played in my car and living room, and my guess is it’ll continue to do so well into the New Year. 


14.12.21

CAT STEVENS – TEASER AND THE FIRECAT, 2CD Deluxe edition


Beyond Buckden on the B6160 road to Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales there sits the tiny hamlet of Cray, two or three farmhouses and a pub called The White Lion Inn, outside of which, on the evening of Boxing Day, 1971, I parked my new car, an orange Mini, and went inside to have a beer or two with my sister and a few of her friends. 

        Anne’s pals asked me lots of questions about working for Melody Maker and one of them wanted to know whether I’d met Cat Stevens. Yes, I replied, and what’s more I have his new LP, Teaser And The Firecat, on cassette in my car. “Can we have a listen?” they asked. 

        I was pretty proud of the sound system in the car so I took a couple of girls outside, sat them in the back seat next to the speakers, started the motor, punched play and on came Steve, as I knew him in those days. 

        The girls loved it, adored it in fact, so much so that they spent the rest of the evening in my car while we ferried drinks out to them, even though it was a bit nippy. They were particularly taken with ‘Rubylove’, track two on side one, on which Steve’s Greek family background shines through; a verse sung in the language of his father and two of dad’s friends playing bouzoukia. They asked me to play this lively song again and again, cranked up pretty loud, and I came to realise that the reason they liked it so much was not because they were in love with Steve, which they probably were, but because of how sharp and clear it sounded. The finely-tuned Grecian strings rang out at the top end, little flamenco fills, trills and flourishes expertly played, while a soaring chorus held down the middle, double-tracked with Linda Lewis joining in so that it seemed like a whole choir had joined us in the Mini, and a percussive bass line deep in the mix, held back until verse two, that prevented the production from becoming too toppy, too shrill. 

        I wasn’t so wrapped up in The Who in those days that I couldn’t recognise a great production when I heard one. ‘Rubylove’, I reckoned, was as seamless an example of the art of hi-fi I’d ever heard, two minutes and 36 seconds of aural perfection, and as I sat there in the car beneath the stars that cold December night I thought ‘Rubylove’ simply could not be improved upon. And this, dont forget, was on a cassette. 

        Well, I was wrong. Remarkably, ‘Rubylove’ sounds even better on this newly remastered edition of Teaser..., released last month, as does everything else really. Paul Samwell-Smith’s work on the four records he made with Cat Stevens between 1970 and 1972 – Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For The Tillerman, this one and Catch Bull At Four – were notable for his simplicity of production, austere almost, that, regrettably, gave way to a fuller sound as the 1970s progressed. Either way, it’s the remastering of such minimalism that makes this record ring out so cleanly now, which makes the restraint all the more delightful and at the same time makes my 2021 hi-fi sound like the state-of-the-art system I know it isn’t. 

        Setting aside for a moment this astonishing upgrade in the aural department, as I wrote in my biography of Cat Stevens, published in 1984, six of the nine songs on Teaser... belong with the cream of his catalogue while the remaining three, notably ‘Peace Train’, suggest the excesses that would mar each of the albums that ultimately followed. Despite its strong arrangement, ‘Peace Train’ was awash in noble sentiments naively expressed – a fault that would multiply with irritating regularity in the years to come. ‘Changes IV’ and ‘Tuesday’s Dead’ suffered similar limitations, albeit to a lesser degree.

        Elsewhere, however, Teaser... contains many of Cat Stevens’ most memorable songs. ‘How Can I Tell You’, which closed the first side on the original LP, is unquestionably his finest love song; immensely fragile, yet moving to a degree that few writers have ever been able to capture. Like so many of the songs he recorded at this time, its beauty lies in its simplicity; simplicity as sincere as anything Stevens wrote before or since. ‘If I Laugh’, under arranged with equal taste, merely underlines the point that this kind of material is where Steve excelled and where he would have been wise to concentrate his efforts until he opted for a different life. 

        ‘Moonshadow’, a perennial favourite, written while on holiday, in Spain, is among Steve’s happiest, catchiest songs; a nursery tale with a beguiling melody, toe-tapping chorus and charmingly nonsense lyrics. ‘Morning Has Broken’, the second choice for a single (which reached number nine in the charts during January 1972), was an altogether more sombre affair, a hymn tune re-arranged by Stevens with words by Eleanor Farjeon, unashamedly middle of the road yet reassuring for the strength of its dramatic melody which mercifully overshadows any religious overtones. The new record finally credits Rick Wakeman for his outstanding piano part, a credit left off at the time for contractual reasons. 

        Disc 2 on the remastered Teaser… offers demos, including two songs with which I was unfamiliar (‘The Day They Make Me Tsar’ and ‘Fisherman Song’), alternative versions, a couple of live BBC recordings, and ‘I Want To Live In A Wigwam’, the B-side of ‘Morning Has Broken’, to the best of my knowledge hitherto unavailable on CD. I was fascinated to hear ‘Rubylove’ in its infancy, without the Greek verse or personnel, and ‘How Can I Tell You’ with incomplete lyrics. Only Bitterblue went through a fairly radical transformation, speeding up dramatically. Oddly, Stevens’ voice sounds slightly hoarse on some of the demos, as if they were recorded soon after he rose in the morning, before his vocalising got into its stride. 

        Finally, I should point out a minor editorial flaw in the accompanying booklet, in that the same quotes from Paul Samwell-Smith and guitarist Alun Davies, Stevens’ regular accompanist, about ‘If I Laugh’ are replicated four pages later for ‘How Can I Tell You?’ A proof reader is needed for the Cat-O-Log Collection, as the Stevens reissue programme is amusingly called. 


9.12.21

RICHARD COLE

Richard is seen here between Jimmy Page and Peter Grant, in a picture taken by Bob Gruen on February 3, 1975, at a post-concert party held by Atlantic Records at the Penn Plaza Club in 
New York’s Madison Square Garden. 
Your man from Just Backdated, wearing shades, can be seen in the background 
above Richard’s left shoulder.

Richard Cole, who has died aged 75, was the fearsome and once much feared tour manager for Led Zeppelin for almost all of their career. As second in command under the group’s equally formidable manager Peter Grant, Richard – known to his many friends as Ricardo – was not only responsible for the day-to-day business of ensuring their many tours ran smoothly but also for keeping the quartet amused during the long periods of boredom that occur while travelling. In this latter capacity he was celebrated as a weapons-grade hell raiser, the instigator of much of the hedonistic excess for which the group became notorious. 

        Such indulgences led to Richard becoming an alcoholic and heroin addict but, in a remarkable turnaround, he rehabilitated himself completely in the 1990s, and for the remainder of his life became a model of sobriety, the most affable of men, taking afternoon tea with old comrades, swimming regularly and attending AA meetings. Among his passions was buying flowers and his regular companion was a fluffy grey and white cat he named Puss Puss. 

        Richard was an old friend and in recent years we communicated regularly via Facebook. While in years gone by he was an occasional foe, we long ago buried any hatchets that may have been raised over his antipathy towards the music press. I first met him while covering Led Zeppelin concerts for Melody Maker in the early 1970s but he was a bit suspicious of journalists in those days, as were the group, all bar Robert Plant, after Rolling Stone in America was stubbornly critical of their music. I, in turn, was a bit wary of Richard. 

        Once, in 1976, he tried to put the make on my female dining companion at Ashley’s bar and restaurant in New York, and when I remonstrated he swung a punch at me that missed, and in the melee that followed he was ejected from the premises. Robert, hovering nearby, apologised profusely on behalf of his employee, explaining that Ricardo had taken rather too much refreshment on a flight from London earlier that day. Evidently the actor Telly Savalas, a fellow passenger in first class, had also endured a bit of ill-treatment from Richard over the Atlantic. All this was long forgotten in later years when Richard approached me to publish a memoir of his time working for The Who and others but I declined because I felt it was insufficient to fill an entire book. He didn’t seem to mind. 

        Born in 1946 in Kensal Rise in north London, Richard left school at 15. His first job was welding handles to milk churns at a dairy, for which he was paid £3 12s a week. He later worked at a motor scooter repair shop, delivered crates around London for a food wholesaler and became a scaffolder on building sites which toughened him up no end. His entry into the music business came one night in 1965 when he offered to help the group Ronnie Jones & The Nightimers with moving their equipment, and this led to similar employment with Unit 4+2, The New Vaudeville Band, who were managed by Grant, and The Who, in the latter case as driver for Keith Moon and John Entwistle until his driving licence was revoked for speeding.

        When Jimmy Page assembled Led Zeppelin in 1968, Grant became their manager and recruited Richard for the arduous job of running their tours, marshalling the road crew and acting as a sort of concierge-cum-security-guard for the musicians. “When I went for the job interview I was not asked to sit so I stood in front of Peter to wait for his questions,” Richard wrote in that unpublished memoir. “He looked me up and down and came straight to the point. ‘How much do you want?’ ‘Thirty pounds, take it or leave it.’ Peter was taken aback by my answer. He later told me that anyone who spoke to him like that was not going to have a problem getting a band’s money from dodgy promoters.”

        The 11 years that Richard spent working for Led Zeppelin brought him considerable notoriety in the world of rock music. Peter Grant had learned his trade when the rock’n’roll business was run by spivs and strong-arm merchants who grabbed the cash and ran. Grant, however, saw a more profitable future in treating his management clients honestly while strong-arming everyone else. Taking his cue from his mentor, Richard was never shy about physically confronting anyone who sought to profit at Led Zeppelin’s expense or otherwise break their stride. A former Mod, he took pride in his appearance and was among the first in his line of work to adopt a trim hairstyle at a time when everyone else wore it past their shoulders. The suit and tie he occasionally wore, along with a ring in his ear, only added to his air of menace. 

        As Led Zeppelin rose to become the highest earning rock band in the world, Richard brought to the party a cornucopia of earthly delights, teenage groupies, class A drugs and an attitude of invincibility that, eventually, became their Achilles heel. The most infamous incident under his watch occurred at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle in July 1969, when an American groupie stripped and allowed herself to be pleasured with a fish, a now legendary episode in rock folklore. As the 1970s progressed, everyone in the group’s inner circle apart from Richard became immensely wealthy, a factor that no doubt led him to become involved with, and benefit from, two salacious books published after the group broke up.  

        Included among the stories would have been the time he rode a motorcycle along the corridors of the Continental Hyatt House hotel – the “Riot House” – in Hollywood. In 1969 he commissioned a lady of the night, armed with whips and a pair of handcuffs, to pay a surprise visit to the New York hotel room of an MM colleague, informing her that the more he resisted the more he would enjoy her services. It took a great deal of effort on his part to finally eject her. Some of his escapades, however, got out of hand. 

        On July 23, 1977, Richard, along with Grant, drummer John Bonham and renowned London tough guy John Bindon, unwisely recruited as extra security, were involved in a violent altercation backstage at the Oakland Coliseum in California. A member of promoter Bill Graham’s crew was seriously injured in an unprovoked attack and for a while it looked like all four might end up in jail. The upshot was that Led Zeppelin never toured America again. Richard was still working for the group when they performed before 200,000 or more at Knebworth two years later but by their final tour of Europe in 1980 he’d been relieved of his duties over his unreliability, this in part due to his various addictions. At the time he was languishing in an Italian prison on charges of terrorism, later dismissed. 

        After Led Zeppelin’s demise he worked for Lita Ford, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Uhuru, Fem 2 Fem, Three Dog Night, The Gypsy Kings, Fu Machu and The Quireboys, splitting his time between London and Los Angeles where he lived in Little Venice. He retired in 2003 and thereafter lived quietly in a small flat in London’s Notting Hill Gate, having weaned himself off drugs and alcohol through Alcoholics Anonymous. Now completely reformed, his hair turned white and his preferred dress was a blue blazer with brass buttons over collar and tie. Occasionally he visited the French Riviera, tanning himself beside the Mediterranean and looking extremely toned for his age. He reminded me of a retired army colonel, the sort of genial old buffer who might be found propping up the bar at a provincial golf club sipping gin and tonic. He was a revered figure in Led Zeppelin fan circles, happy to reminisce when friends came calling.  

        In the meantime, however, Richard had co-operated with Stephen Davis on the controversial 1985 Led Zeppelin biography Hammer Of The Gods, the first book that made public the hedonistic lifestyle they enjoyed in their pomp. Relations between Richard and his former employers suffered as a result, and weren’t helped when he cowrote (with US journalist Richard Trubo) his own tell-all memoir, Stairway To Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored, published in 1992. Page later said he felt “completely ill” when he was shown extracts. Nevertheless, while no one from the Zeppelin camp has ever sued publishers over any scurrilous books about the group, the thought remains that had they been a bit more generous to Richard over the years such books might never have been published in the first place. It’s not as if they’re short of a few bob. 

        Time healed the wounds, however, and both Page and Plant resumed cordial relations with Richard over the last two decades, welcoming him as a guest at the group’s 2007 Reunion Concert at the O2 in London. Both musicians are reported to have visited Richard at his home during the illness that eventually claimed him, and after his passing both paid tribute and expressed their condolences through social media. 

        Richard died from cancer and is survived by his daughter Claire.

        Richard Cole, tour manager; born 2 January 1946; died 2 December 2021.



5.12.21

THE BEATLES: GET BACK

Let’s begin by shooting down a few stereotypes. Paul isn’t as bossy as he was cracked up to be, John isn’t as cynical and George isn’t the quiet one. Only Ringo is true to form, matter-of-fact and consistently reliable. No one is rude to or about Yoko. More importantly, JPG&R love one another; whatever differences exist do not in any way fragment the unshakeable attachment they have for one another. They, and only they, know what it is like to be a Beatle, and this isn’t something they can easily forget, or take lightly, even if they wanted to. There’s an uncanny bond between the four that goes deeper than the music they create, which at times seems like magicians producing rabbits from a hat. 

        This is the overriding lesson from Get Back, the three-part Beatles documentary just released, assembled from the 60 hours of film originally edited down to make Let It Be, the group’s final, deeply unsatisfying, film from 1970. Now re-imagined as a seven-and-a-half-hour epic by director/producer Peter Jackson, it’s often spellbinding, occasionally amusing and rarely dull unless, of course, you’re not remotely interested in The Beatles.

        Most of the footage, now enhanced in staggeringly wonderful colour and focus, sees JPG&R rehearsing songs that would appear on their Let It Be LP, firstly at Twickenham Sound Studios and later at their own Apple Studios beneath their HQ in Savile Row, where the action brightens up. In between routining these and other songs, some of which appear on Abbey Road, others on future solo records, they discuss the new album, the state of the group and whether or not to perform a concert at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, at an ancient amphitheatre in Libya, or on Primrose Hill in London. The decision to locate it on the roof of Apple is as sudden as it unexpected, and the final hour or so of the footage features this concert filmed in its entirety from many angles, the reaction of those who heard it on the street below and the arrival of the police who shut it down. 

        Aside from the principals, the films features Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the original director, who talks a lot, rather too much in my opinion; record producers George Martin and Glyn Johns; Beatles roadies Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall; Yoko, Maureen Starkey, and Linda Eastman, accompanied by her daughter Heather; and various cameramen and Beatle aides. Billy Preston arrives late in the day to help out on keyboards and music publisher Dick James, who looks like he’s from another planet, breezes in to announce that Vera Lynn has recorded ‘Yesterday’ and ‘The Fool On The Hill’, which pleases Paul. Peter Sellars, filming elsewhere on the Twickenham lot, makes a brief appearance but is confused by The Beatles in-jokes.

        Paul gets the most camera time. Bushily bearded, he is smart, well-spoken and appears to be the man in charge, enthusing the others yet sympathetic to their own agendas. His best scene is about an hour into Part 1 when, watched by George and Ringo, he strums his violin bass as if it’s a regular guitar, forming chords with his fingers and setting a fast pace. He sings along to his chords, nonsense words at first, quite high pitched, as the other two watch intently. All three are seated and we’ve already established that John is late. Within a couple of minutes, we can recognise the framework of ‘Get Back’, albeit vaguely. Paul is evidently writing it on the spot and it takes shape remarkably quickly. He shakes his head as he plays, and some words come to him: “Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.” George plays a bar chord on his Gibson Les Paul, A at the fifth fret, in time with Paul’s playing. He yawns. Paul stops “Musically it’s great,” says George as he picks out a note or two. Paul starts again. The tune is more focused now. Ringo begins to clap his hands in rhythm with Paul’s playing. 

        The only clue that Paul is not writing this song spontaneously comes when he sings about a man who thought he was a woman, and when he finishes this first verse John arrives, picks up his blonde Epiphone guitar from a chair, sits down and joins in, playing the barred A and adding a seventh. George switches to lead, a touch of funky wah-wah. Later, John will sing: “Sweet Loretta fart, she thought was a cleaner but she was a frying pan.” Paul doesn’t mind a bit.

        John is witty and wise throughout, with Yoko an almost constant, though largely mute, presence by his side. John’s hair is long, parted in the centre and he often peers over his granny glasses like some learned professor addressing a student. He enjoys playing old rock’n’roll and random songs from The Beatles’ back catalogue, mostly self-depreciatingly, turning them inside out. The others occasionally join him in a spirit of unity, laughing along. He’s a better guitarist than most people might imagine, not just on rhythm at which he always excelled, but interjecting lead lines and clever fills. Hes less confident on a Fender six-string bass. At one point he extols the virtues of Allen Klein but is never angry, never scornful, never critical. His song ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, once a favourite of mine, is repeated rather too often. His humour always shines through. He’s a good soul, the spiritual heart of the group. 

        George, his thick Scouse accent undiluted through long exposure to the Home Counties, seems content with his lot, unfazed when ‘All Things Must Pass’ is rejected by the others, and when he briefly quits the group, famously telling the others he’ll “see you around the clubs”, it doesn’t seem like he’s too serious, especially as it’s Friday lunchtime, the day before the weekend when no rehearsals are scheduled anyway. Either way, he’s soon back on board, playing his Gibson Les Paul and Fender guitars, the brown Telecaster and brightly painted Strat. Amusingly, after George walks out Paul tells Maureen: “A7, D7 and G7. Get them off over the weekend and you’re in.” 

        Ringo, too, seems content with his lot, and doesn’t seem at all distressed when Paul tells him what to play, or how to play it. He’s simply great at picking up the beat on whatever song is being rehearsed, a workmanlike presence who simply does his job superbly without making a fuss. Though he’s featured less than the other three, he’s a calming influence, a beacon of common sense. 

        There are plenty of lovely moments, too many to list but here’s a sample: Paul at the piano singing ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ while John adds bluesy guitar fills, and even singing ‘Gimme Some Truth; John singing Hank Williams’ ‘You Win Again’; George introducing the group to ‘Something’ but explaining that he has yet to complete the opening line, “Something in the way she moves, attracts me like a… pomegranate”; Ringo singing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’; Paul, deftly mimicking a radio announcer, hilariously reading out a cheesy article from The Daily Sketch that speculates on The Beatles’ increasing ‘weirdness’; and six-year-old Heather’s screaming into a mike being compared to Yoko, much to everyone’s amusement. 

        There’s footage from India, and from various other episodes in The Beatles’ career, including a ten-minute opening sequence that rushes like an express train from John first meeting Paul at that fete in Liverpool to 1969 and where we are today. Finally, we arrive at the rooftop concert, presented here in glorious colour, with clever split-screen montages, a far better representation of what happened at lunchtime on January 30 that year than we've ever seen before. It’s a fitting climax to a wonderful seven-and-a-half-hours that raises the bar for all rock documentaries, just as The Beatles did with their music all those years ago.


1.12.21

MY DAD’S ROBERTS RADIO


This red Roberts radio, bought some time in the 1950s, spent most of its working life on the back seat of my dad’s Triumph Herald car. Connected to an outside aerial via a cable that plugged into its back, the thick grey wire ran through the top of the back window which had to be opened slightly to accommodate it. The aerial itself was clamped on to the guttering that ran along the side of the car’s roof, originally designed to funnel off rainwater.

        This sounds very Heath Robinson today but back then radios – let alone cassette and CD players or their most modern equivalent, a USB socket – weren’t standard in cars. Nevertheless, dad liked to listen to the Light Programme, the precursor of Radio 1, and one Sunday in February, 1963, as we were driving along the A59 towards Harrogate, Alan Freeman played a record on his Pick Of The Pops show that caught my ear. 

        I didn’t know who it was but it sounded fantastic; great tune, great singing, a truly original sound. It was, of course, The Beatles, not that I knew it at the time, and the song was ‘Please Please Me’, their second single. No word of a lie, that descending line made me prick up my ears and before the song was finished I was hooked. ‘Bugger me,’ I thought to myself. ‘That sounded good. Whoever can it have been?’ So, this radio therefore has a deep symbolic attachment for me because through its tiny speaker behind that brass grill, The Beatles and everything they brought with them first entered my consciousness. And, of course, it belonged to my dad. 


    
    I inherited the radio in 1997 after dad died and brought it down from Yorkshire to London. It didn’t work and I figured it needed a new battery, one of those great big 9-volt PP9 cubes that weren’t that easy to find. When I finally bought one and fitted it the radio made a terrible din, just scratchy static noises as I twiddled the knobs, and I soon abandoned all attempts to make it work. For the next two and a half decades it sat unused and unworkable, but not unloved, by my bedside until last week when I needed to get my CD player fixed because it had stopped reading CDs. 

        On the internet I found a CD repair shop in Guildford, BS Budd in Onslow Village off the Farnham Road, one of those old-fashioned places with used hi-fi equipment and TVs for sale, not quite in sync with the modern world but all the better for it, and in its window I spotted a red Roberts radio just like my dad’s. So, when I went back to collect my now fully functioning CD player I brought in the radio and, sure enough, two days later this was fixed too. Once it received stations on the long and medium waves, but now it picks up only on the latter, about a dozen stations, some with a better signal than others.

        Having the radio finally working again brings to mind The Repair Shop, the BBC TV programme I wrote about on Just Backdated a couple of years ago, wherein people bring treasured old items to be restored by experts*. But what I’m really longing to happen is to have my dad’s old radio switched on when some DJ plays ‘Please Please Me’, by that new band from Liverpool with funny haircuts. 

* http://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/the-repair-shop.html