Driving in my car yesterday a DJ on 6Music played Procol Harum's ‘Homburg’ as a ‘tribute’ but I didn’t know who for until this morning when I opened up my paper and discovered that their keyboard player and principal vocalist Gary Brooker had died. I saw him alighting from a train at Guildford station one evening in, I think, 2009, like me returning from Waterloo; myself from work, him no doubt after another day in court over the vexed question of who wrote ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, a case that dragged on for several years. 

        I suspect I was the only person on the train who recognised this distinguished looking gentleman, a bit portly with thinning white hair in a smart blue suit, collar and tie, looking a bit stressed by the weight of the lawsuit. No one in a million years would have taken him for a rock star. I’d met him once or twice years ago, back in my MM days, but he was unlikely to recognise me now and bearing in mind how the case was going I wasn’t about to mutter ‘skip the light fandango’ into his ear. “Best of luck,” I said. Realising I was someone who knew who he was, he nodded and smiled at me a bit wearily.

        Brooker lost the case insofar as former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher was deemed by the judge to have been a co-writer of ‘AWSOP’ and could therefore share in future royalties, along with PH lyricist Keith Reid who wrote the words. I suspect that defending his claim that he alone wrote the music cost Brooker a pretty penny in lawyer’s fees, and this was probably why his large detached house near Cranleigh appeared on the market not long afterwards.

        Like most music fans in my age demographic I adored ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ without having a clue what it was about. Enigmatic, catchy but weirdly profound, with a hint of JS Bach, it was the anthem of 1967, the year pop came of age, the only serious rival to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the leading record in a trio of singles that embodied the Summer of Love, the others ‘All You Need Is Love’ by the Fabs and ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)’ by Scott McKenzie. I bought all three. 

        ‘Pale’ spent six weeks at number one in the UK and hit the top in a dozen other countries but like so many other records by young, credulous acts signed to management and music publishing companies whose business practices were heavily slanted towards themselves, the musicians that comprised Procol Harum at the time saw very little in the way of rewards. Abrupt personnel changes didn’t help. Many years later I was told by a friend who once worked for their publishing company that the amount AWSOP earned for the musicians who created it was simply minuscule, fractions of pennies per sale or play, especially on foreign earnings and inclusion on hits compilations by various artists, on which it appeared on too many to count. This was probably adjusted at some time in the last 20 years, which was no doubt why Matthew Fisher felt it worthwhile to bring his lawsuit. 

        Oddly, Procol Harum’s second LP Shine On Brightly was the first free record I ever received, a review copy sent to the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford where in 1968 I had a column called The Swing Scene. I can’t remember what I wrote – sorry, it was a long time ago – but I can remember my delight at getting an LP I didn’t have to pay for. 

        I saw the group twice while working for Melody Maker, once at the London Palladium when they were introduced by Vivian Stanshall. “They are the most uncompromising group in England,” he intoned in that marvellous accent of his. And once again at the Hollywood Bowl on September 21, 1973, when they performed alongside the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a large choir. 

        I enjoyed both concerts. RIP Gary. You were to Procol what Jagger is to the Stones. 

(I found the above picture the internet, credited to the Daily Express, not a newspaper I would recommend. The pic of the older Gary looks like he did on my train.)



Today’s Guardian lists ‘50 Gigs that Transformed Live Music Forever’. Here’s a few that they missed.

The Beatles

Litherland Town Hall, Liverpool, December 27, 1960

Newly returned from their first gruelling Hamburg stint, The Beatles capture their home town. Writes Mark Lewisohn: “As the curtains shuffled open and Paul launched himself into Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’, everyone suddenly and spontaneously crushed forward to the front of the stage, swept away by the group’s sheer magnetism. Five hundred hours on stage in Hamburg had forged a style that would conquer the world. [They] were an absolute powerhouse, creating an inexplicable and unprecedented frenzy among the spellbound teenagers… they too were bewildered by the incredible scene they were invoking. Beatlemania was enjoying its birth pangs.”

The Who

Railway Hotel, Harrow, July 14, 1964

Billed as The High Numbers, The Who are seen by future co-manager Kit Lambert for the first time. Lambert: “They were playing there in this room with just one red bulb glowing and an extraordinary audience that they had collected. They were the loudest group I'd ever heard and they gave the whole thing a satanic quality. It just seemed to me that this had to be the face of the late Sixties. There was Keith Moon, the drummer, raised on a high stool dominating the group, battering away for all his life was worth. The rest of the group was playing on a stage made out of beer crates. And the ceiling came right down on top of them so that when Pete Townshend – the lead guitarist – was playing, he’d bang his guitar against the ceiling, and one night he physically poked a hole through the ceiling because it was getting in his way. It was only made of paper and cardboard, and he went straight through. This went down tremendously with the audience. And that's how the whole thing started.” 

Led Zeppelin

Tea Party, Boston, USA, January 29, 1969

The birth of head-banging at Led Zep’s legendary four-and-a-half-hour show, probably their longest performance ever. John Paul Jones: “As far as I’m concerned, the key Led Zeppelin gig – the one that just put everything into focus – was one that we played on our first American tour at the Boston Tea Party. We’d played our usual one-hour set, using all the material from the first album and Page’s ‘White Summer’ guitar piece and, by the end, the audience just wouldn’t let us off the stage. It was in such a state that we had to start throwing ideas around – just thinking of songs that we might all know or that some of us knew a part of, and work it from there. So, we’d go back on and play things like ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Please Please Me’ – old Beatles favourites. I mean, just anything that would come in our head, and the response was quite amazing. There were kids actually bashing their heads against the stage – I’ve never seen that at a gig before or since, and when we finally left the stage we’d played for four plus hours. Peter [manager Grant] was absolutely ecstatic. He was crying – if you can imagine that – and hugging us all. You know with this huge grizzly bear hug. I suppose it was then that we realised just what Led Zeppelin was going to become.” 

The Rolling Stones

Hyde Park, July 5, 1969

The Stones come of age. It was the requiem for Brian Jones and the debut of Mick Taylor, the concert where The Rolling Stones began their new life as ‘The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World’, as they were introduced, for the first time, by Sam Cutler, who worked for the concert’s promoters, Blackhill Enterprises. Mick read a poem, butterflies were released and the crowd numbered over 250,000, the biggest crowd assembled in London since the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, but the Stones were not at their best. “We played pretty bad,” Keith confessed later. “We hadn’t played in years.” In Melody Maker, Chris Welch wrote:  “[It was a] a nostalgic, out-of-tune ritual that summed up a decade of pop.”

Elvis Presley

International Hotel, Las Vegas, July 31, 1969

Elvis returns from the dead(end world of crap movies), playing his first truly live show since before he went into the army. Las Vegas bows to the New World Order. Writes Peter Garulnick: “With his own handpicked band behind him, he simply rocked, and almost in that instant, the whole room exploded. … It would have been a scene of rare abandon in any setting, but for Las Vegas, the ultimate repository of blasé show business values, carrying with it an implied embrace of genuine spontaneity on the performer’s part.”

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Harvard Square Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 9, 1974

Bruce becomes ‘the future of rock’n’roll’. Jon Landau, Springsteen’s future manager, then a writer for Boston’s Real Paper, sees his protégé for the first time, and writes: “I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. I saw something else: I saw rock and rolls future and its name is Bruce Springsteen… There is no one I would rather watch on a stage today.

David Bowie

O’Keefe Centre, Toronto, June 16, 1974

The birth of rock theatre. After the tour, David never repeated this kind of concert and, of course, it never reached the UK. CC wrote in Melody Maker: “A few thousand lucky Canadians witnessed a completely new concept in rock theatre last weekend … It now seems likely that Bowie WAS speaking the truth when he announced his retirement from rock on the stage at the Hammersmith Odeon last year. For the act that David presents on this tour has as much to do with rock and roll as Bob Dylan has with the gloss of Las Vegas. The one-and-a-half-hour, 20-song show is a completely rehearsed and choreographed routine where every step and nuance has been perfected down to the last detail. There isn't one iota of spontaneity about the whole show. It is straight off a musical stage – a piece of theatre complete with extravagant mechanical sets, dancers and a band that stands reservedly to stage right and never even receives so much as a cursory acknowledgement, like an orchestra in the theatre pits.”

Bruce Springsteen

Wembley Stadium, July 4, 1985

Bruce shows London that he really is The Boss. The middle concert of three at Wembley Stadium, all of which I attended. I simply enjoyed the first night so much I didn’t want to miss any of them. CC writes: “On the 4th – American Independence Day – Bruce walked out alone, armed with only an acoustic guitar and sang The River track ‘Independence Day’, a ballad, to a crowd of 80,000 or more who’d been waiting around for hours and were gagging for rock’n’roll. That takes sheer bottle, I thought. Then it was into a blistering ‘Born In The USA’. On one of the shows – I can’t remember which – Bruce played the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’, doubtless because it refers to ‘London town’. After three hours or more, all the shows closed with gloriously delivered renderings of ‘Twist And Shout’ – lasting about 20-minutes. It wasn't the first concert at Wembley Stadium but Bruce showed how it should be done.


NO ONE ROUND HERE READS TOLSTOY: Memoirs Of A Working-Class Reader by Mark Hodkinson

This is a book about books, acquiring them, reading them, learning from them, collecting them, reviewing them, publishing them, selling them and even loathing them when it’s necessary to recycle piles of unsold ones. Mark Hodkinson, newspaper reporter turned music writer turned football correspondent turned novelist, has written a love letter to them, for they have shaped his life, hauling him from a book-free upbringing to his present home, which he shares with no less than 3,500 of them. 

        I have known Mark since 1989, when I commissioned him to write a biography of The Wedding Present, the Yorkshire band led by David Gedge. Thank Yer, Very Glad was published a year later and I was sufficiently impressed by his work to ask Mark to write several more books for Omnibus Press. They were an eclectic bunch – Marianne Faithfull, Simply Red, Springsteen, Prince and Queen’s early days – and I soon realised that Mark was a bit different from most writers I hired. It wasn’t just his emerging literary skills or willingness to get stuck into fairly deep research, more a sense that his ambitions went quite a bit further than rock biographies or even the football reports and related features he wrote for The Times. No, Mark sought a higher calling, to become a novelist, and to write literary fiction at that, to join the club that included those writers he most admired, the ones from working-class backgrounds similar his own who brought harsh lives to the page and, through their fiction, exposed injustice brought about by systems of government that all too often rewarded those already privileged. 

        This thinking – and these kinds of books – inform No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy, its title an observation uttered to him one day by the proprietor of a second-hand book shop in his home town of Rochdale, where he still lives. Part autobiography, part idiosyncratic literary criticism, part primer to the world of book publishing, its principal message is that even if the house in which you were raised contained only one book you can rise above inbred apathy with imagination and persistence. In Mark’s case the one book his parents owned was a leather-bound volume of questionable merit called Folklore, Myths, and Legends of Britain. “Dad treated it with reverence,” writes Mark, “keeping it on top of the wardrobe with other items of great worth such as their wedding album and my Cycling Proficiency Certificate.” Mark’s book is chock-full of droll memories like that, and often had me chuckling, not least when he enters the world of local journalism, a field I know from long ago.

        Running parallel to Mark’s journey – the kind of word he despises, by the way – is the story of his grandpa, John Duffy, whose descent into dementia is movingly told, all the more so for its lack of sentimentality. We are left in no doubt, however, that in moments of clarity John, a born storyteller, influences his grandson not so much to find a life beyond the grim backstreets of fading Lancashire towns but, more importantly, to discover a better life within them. 

        The bulk of the narrative follows Mark’s progress from school, where the education system deems him suitable only for manual work, through the hurdles he leaps on the way to reporters’ offices at various northern newspapers, and to Omnibus Press, where our lives become briefly intertwined. In the meantime, he’d discovered music, fallen for The Smiths, bought a guitar and formed a band that once memorably supported The Stone Roses. All the while, though, he’s seeking out books, more and more books, mostly old, reading them and forming opinions about their authors. It comes as no real surprise that JD Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye exerts a powerful influence, along with the social realism of the ‘kitchen-sink’ writers like Barry Hines, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney and many more.

        Neither does it come as a surprise when he forms his own book publishing company, Pomona, a risky undertaking at the best of times, and though Mark’s heart is in the right place in regard to the type of books he wants to publish, including his own, there’s an element of noble idealism about the enterprise. He reprints books by some of his favourite writers whose work has gone out of fashion – and, unfortunately for him, remains so – and comes up against harsh reality when the one book that might make his fortune – a biography of JD Salinger that, fortuitously, coincided with his death – attracts problems not unconnected with greed that oblige him to relinquish valuable US rights. His wry, often comic and always sincere observations about the authors he meets through Pomona and elsewhere are a highlight of the later chapters, along with some carefully researched facts and figures about the future of the book trade. Like me he loathes Kindle. 

        Mark is now a respected novelist himself*, with many admirers in the sphere of literature. This pleases me immensely, not just because I played a small part in it but, more importantly, because he deserves it. In No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy he has written a wonderful, beautifully sculpted, heartfelt book about climbing a ladder to that place he loves the most, a comfy armchair in which he can lose himself in the imaginary world of a printed page. 


*Among them The Last Mad Surge Of Youth, about a fictitious rock star, reviewed here: http://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-last-mad-surge-of-youth-by-mark.html