29.3.22

JUST BACKDATED - ANOTHER ROLLING (MILE)STONE


While I was posting those memoirs last week I failed to notice that Just Backdated had notched up 1,250,000 hits, another milestone which – like other big round numbers along the way – I will comment on with a bit of analysis.

        JB reached one million hits in October 2020, at which point I’d notched up 828 posts which averaged 1,207 hits per post. There are now 908 posts which means that figure has risen to 1,377 hits per post, so it seems more people have discovered Just Backdated in the past 18 months, probably as a result of lockdown and folk spending more time surfing the internet.

        With one notable exception, the top 20 of posts with most views hasn’t changed much. The surprise is that my rejected proposal for ghost-writing the autobiography of Mandy Moon, Keith’s daughter, has leapt into second place with 20.3k hits, easily dislodging the story about Moonie with John and Paul Beatle in Santa Monica in 1974 which slips to fourth place, with the post about Jimmy Page’s houses sneaking in at number three on 14.7k. In the last survey I did the Mandy post had 6.07k kits, so over 14,000 hits in the last 18 months makes it the most popular recent post. Quite why is anybody’s guess.  

        Equally oddly, while the synopsis post has had over 20k hits now, the actual sample chapter I wrote (and posted three days later) has had only 797 hits, which implies that less than 5% of those who read the synopsis went on to read the actual chapter. Explanations on a postcard please… 

        With 6,000 fewer hits, Jimmy’s impressive real estate is unlikely to challenge Mandy, who’s obviously on a roll, for second place, let alone top spot which, as ever, is my review of the CD of The Who at the Fillmore East in 1968, with a still magnificent 49.7k hits, the same evened-up number as 18 months ago though it’s probably a bit more now, just that the computer doesn’t register increases of less than 1,000 hits at this level. Whatever… almost 50k hits is still well more than twice its nearest rival, a massive lead unlikely ever to be contested. 

        The remainder of the entries in the top ten are pretty much as before, with 16 Who related, two Led Zep, one Deep Purple and the wild card, my story about the North of England Beer Drinking Contest in 1968. I’m well pleased that this tale of gross intemperance still holds on to fifteenth spot. The top 20 now reads: 

1) The Who Live At Fillmore East CD review – 47.7k hits

2) Mandy Moon book treatment – 20.3k

3) Jimmy Page’s residences – 14.7k

4) John, Paul & Keith Moon at Santa Monica – 14k

5) Jimmy Page meeting Robert Plant – 6.6k

6) Palazzo Dario, Kit Lambert’s Venice Palace – 5.59k

7) News of Who UK tour (2014) – 5.16k

8) Keith Moon & The Pythons – 4.29k

9) Launching Dear Boy – 4.15k

10) The Who, My Hidden Gems CD – 4.15k

11) Deep Purple in Jakarta – 3.91k

12) The Who in Hyde Park, 2015 – 3.59k

13) Keith Moon’s residences – 3.01k

14) John Entwistle Tribute – 3.22k

15) The North of England Beer Drinking Contest – 3.14k

16) The Ox (John Entwistle) book review – 2.91k

17) Pretend You’re In A War (Who) book review 2.83k

18) ‘Underture’, Keith’s Great Triumph – 2.82k

19) Pete Townshend Interview (1974) – 2.75k

20) The Who at Stafford in 1975 – 2.7k

        No change in where the hits come from either, USA followed by the UK followed by Russia, and while hits from Russia (on 123k) have tailed off in the last few weeks for obvious reasons, Canada, in fourth place with 37k, has a long way to go to challenge for the bronze medal. I’m mildly suspicious about all those hits from Russia, especially as they have fluctuated wildly in the past two years, like 5,000 one week and zilch the next. 

        Anyway, thanks once again to all who visit Just Backdated and I’ll try to keep it up for as long as I can. 


24.3.22

NEWMAN PASSAGE 5

By this time, mid-1982, I had written books on David Bowie, The Who, Pete Townshend, Deep Purple and Cat Stevens, plus my book on guitarists, but I was conscious that this way of making a living wasn’t sustainable. I was adamant I wouldn’t write a book purely from secondary research, aka a ‘cut and paste’ job, or on any musician I hadn’t met and interviewed personally, and I knew that sooner or later I’d run out of acts sufficiently popular to warrant a publisher being interested in a book on them. Either that or other big acts I’d written about a lot on MM, John Lennon, Elton or Led Zeppelin for example, had already been the subject of book or two. Rock books had yet to become the flourishing business they soon would, in part thanks to me – though I didn’t know it yet. 

Things were also going pear-shared domestically. Jenny and I weren’t seeing eye to eye on a number of fronts and towards the end of 1982 she opted to move out and live with two friends of hers in Earls Court. I guess it was a relief for both of us, but we stayed on good terms and are still in touch. A few years later I even went to a church in Chiswick for the christening of one of her sons with her then husband Hugh Stanley Clarke, an A&R man at EMI. She’s now the widow of Pete Way, the former bass player in UFO, whose solo career she managed until his death in 2020.

She left on a Sunday and, with no hard feelings, I helped her move her things to Earls Court. Returning home on the tube that evening I was slightly apprehensive about living alone for the first time in almost three years, and I stopped off at a Youngs pub close to where I lived, the Thatched House in Dalling Road, for a pint. Inside I found a couple I knew from the neighbourhood, and they introduced me to some of their friends. The Thatched House, whose landlord was Bedford ‘Beddy’ Jezzard, a former player and manager at Fulham FC, would become my home from home for the next ten years.

Through the Thatch, as the locals called it, I expanded my social network no end. Like many couples wedded to the music industry, Jenny and I had tended to socialise only with others in the same game, as – by and large – I had done for the last decade really. It was now time to change all that and before long I’d become part of a group of regulars that included a property developer, a bus driver, a nurse, a photographer, a biker who lived on a boat moored at Twickenham, a designer of the BBC’s TV graphics, a girl in the advertising industry, two architects and a school governor who in the fullness of time would write books about Leonard Cohen under the pseudonym of Maurice Ratcliffe. It was a cross section of society as diverse as it was intemperate, and before long I was known to them all as ‘Chris the music’. 

While my neighbourhood social life was on a roll, the book commissions were drying up but Miles came to my rescue by asking me to write one on Slade, another group I’d written about extensively in MM. The timing was right. After a doldrums period in the late seventies they were undergoing a sort of renaissance sparked off when they blew everyone else off the stage at the 1980 Reading Festival. Back in 1970, I was one of the first music writers to proclaim Slade’s merits and during their heyday I’d become very pally with them. Happily, they welcomed me back into their midst, so researching and writing the book was a pleasure. 

        As with Deep Purple, I contacted their manager, my old pal Chas Chandler, and we negotiated a deal whereby his company would own the rights to the book in exchange for complete co-operation. Their PA Keith Altham, another old friend, helped me fix up interviews with Noddy Holder, Jim Lea and Dave Hill, and he and I spent a couple of nights with them in and around Wolverhampton. I spent an evening at the Trumpet, the pub in Bilston where “the four members of Slade and their attendants have retired to celebrate the many milestones on their remarkable career, and many is the night when they have left the premises in a horizontal state,” as I put it in my intro to the book.

        Drummer Don Powell lived in Hampstead in those days and I spent time with him at his local wine bar, where he was a valued customer. He explained that a legacy of that terrible 1973 car accident was the loss of his sense of taste, so cheap brandy tasted the same as expensive brandy and even a hot vindaloo was fairly mild. As with DP, the group and their tour manager Graham ‘Swin’ Swinnerton were unusually frank about their lives, holding nothing back when it came to discussing the misfortunes that befell them in the late seventies. Louise Lea, Jim’s wife, was also refreshingly honest about this era and the period when the group lived in New York, which she hated, so the book, though ‘official’, was far from bland. 

        We even arranged a photo session specially for the book’s cover, and to emphasise its ‘official’ nature a picture of the group with its author appeared on the first inside spread. On the back cover there’s a shot of Slade holding the book; in reality they held a piece of white card and the designer dropped the cover into place later. 



        A launch party was held at the Spice Of Life pub in Cambridge Circus where I found myself at odds with a BBC crew who downed far more than their fair share of free booze and demanded quiet while an interviewer, a girl whose name I forget, talked with the band. Meanwhile, her crew took up half the room with their lights and cameras, getting in everyone’s way. To rub salt into the wound, the interview with Slade on Mike Smith’s early evening TV programme Show Business didn’t even mention the book, implying instead that the party was thrown by the group themselves to celebrate being together for 25 years. After it was broadcast I was livid and wanted to complain to the Beeb in writing but our PR cautioned me against that by warning me they wouldn’t touch Omnibus if I did. As if I cared. I refused all requests from the BBC for several years afterwards as a result. 

        Much loved by their fans, Slade: Feel the Noize! was overprinted and some unsold stock had to be pulped, but it still fetches around £50 on Amazon. The rights to it are now owned by the heirs to the business interests of Chas Chander, who died in 1996. I have little doubt that the reason the book hasn’t been reprinted is because those who hold the copyright in the current era of NDAs would have censored it, given the chance. In 1983, Chas couldn’t give a toss and neither did the group. 


In September of 1983 Miles called to tell me he was leaving Omnibus Press to write a biography of Allen Ginsberg, the American beat poet, a specialist subject of his. This looked like being a disaster for me. With Proteus no more, Omnibus had become my most consistent source of income. No Miles, no Omnibus, I thought. Then the sun shone through the clouds. 

        “Would you like my job?” he asked.

        “The only thing I’d like more would be a weekend on an atoll with Miss World,” I replied. 

        A week later I had lunch with Bob Wise, the hands-on owner of Music Sales, and it was done and dusted. I would be the Managing Editor at Omnibus Press for the next 33 years, overseeing the publication of almost 1,000 rock books, far more than anyone else in the world by the proverbial country mile. The remainder of my working life was sorted. 

        Thanks Miles.





23.3.22

NEWMAN PASSAGE PART 4


Even though it was often a struggle getting what I was owed from them, I maintained my relationship with Proteus Books and in 1982 Michael Brecher asked me to write one on Cat Stevens, a singer songwriter I’d seen on stage a few times and interviewed more than once for MM. I told them I would do so only if Stevens – or Yusuf Islam as he was now known – would co-operate in some way, and to this end set about finding him. 

        This time my first port of call was the London Central Mosque in Regents Park where a helpful chap in a shalwar kameez told me that Yusuf worked out of offices on Curzon Street in Mayfair, running an organisation called The Companions Of The Mosque and a children’s charity that was funded largely by his ongoing royalty stream. He gave me the address, which I recognised as being the same as where his one-time manager Barry Krost once had offices. I wrote Yusuf a letter, enclosing my phone number, and hoped for the best.

        Sure enough, within a few days Yusuf called and invited me to meet him there. When I arrived, I walked up three flights of steps, left my shoes at the door and was ushered into a small office. Yusuf, with his long beard looking quite different from the man I had known as Cat Stevens, joined me there a few minutes later and I told him about the proposal. Our meeting was interrupted by prayers – he went off into another room to join colleagues while I twiddled my thumbs – but he consented to help, within limits, on condition that Proteus made a donation to the charity he headed. 

        Yusuf agreed to read what I would write, and correct any errors, but declined to be interviewed about his music career. The only other interviews I did for the book were with Mike Hurst, his first manager, who produced Stevens’ early hits like ‘Matthew And Son’ and ‘I Love My Dog’, and Alun Davies, his regular accompanist on guitar. Tony Brainsby, who’d done his PR in the seventies, had several huge scrapbooks of cuttings that I borrowed. I wasn’t able to contact Barry Krost, who’d moved to LA, though in retrospect I realised I should have talked to Paul Samwell-Smith who produced Stevens’ most successful LPs, among them Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat

        Yusuf was as a good as his word, reading my manuscript and changing the odd word here and there. I knew he was a bit of a ladies’ man in the past but thought it best not to go into this, nor that he enjoyed a life of indulgence in those days. I think he respected this discretion on my part. Our relations were friendly. 

        After a couple of these meetings I persuaded him to talk to me a bit about his life after he left music, his day-to-day routine as a Muslim, which he did, in part because he wanted to dismiss the popular notion that he was some kind of eccentric recluse. He was also a bit miffed about having become a sort of unelected ‘spokesman’ for Muslims, this because whenever there was a news story about Muslims he was the one the press turned to for a comment, for no better reason than they knew of no one else else to approach beside this former pop star

        “There’s no equivalent of the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury or Chief Rabbi in Islam,” he pointed out to me. Often, the stories were negative which meant he was forced to defend Islam, and he didn’t feel comfortable having to do this, time and time again.

        I sympathised with him. When it came out, the book, simply titled, Cat Stevens, was only about 26,000 words but for years afterwards was the only source of biographical information about him. After Proteus went bankrupt – see below – and was unable to reprint it, it became rare and valuable. I once saw it advertised for over £1,000 on Amazon. I saved two copies for myself but many years later Yusuf asked me to loan him a copy. Now I have only one.  

        By this time, I was having immense difficulty getting paid by Proteus. As with the merchandisers, I took to arriving at their offices and refusing to leave until I had a cheque in my hand, then cashing it as quickly as possible. Clearly the writing was on the wall, though that didn’t stop me from answering an ad in the Guardian when they needed an editor. I was fed up of chasing money and wanted another full-time job. Proteus’ never even got back to me on the editorial job, a blessing in disguise in the light of subsequent events. 

        It was around the same time that I was in their offices, probably chasing money again, when a designer there showed me the cover for a book on Bob Marley they were about to publish. 

“How come didn’t you use the colours red, green and yellow?” I asked.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because that’s the colours of many Caribbean flags, and Bob Marley wears them all the time.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

No surprise they went tits up, then. 

        They had actually commissioned me to write a fourth book for them, a sort of almanac of British rock in the sixties, which I had almost finished by the time they went bankrupt. I never did finish it (or get paid) and it was never published, though they cobbled together a cover and it appeared in one of their sales catalogues. I threw away my manuscript in disgust. 

        In retrospect, the best thing about my relationship with Proteus Books was getting to know Johnny Rogan, who became a lifelong friend*. He’d written a very good book on Neil Young for them, which I’d nicked from their offices and read, and I think he’d helped himself to a copy of my Townshend book. We met for the first time at Proteus’ 1982 Christmas Party at a church hall in Paddington and since both of us had good reason to distrust Proteus by then we opted to take full advantage of their largesse, the free wine, until it ran out, whereupon we decamped to the nearest pub and got sloshed together for the first, but certainly not the last, time. 

        The next time Johnny and I met was when we sat together at the bankruptcy hearing for Proteus held at a hotel on the Aldwych. There were about 100 people present, writers, photographers, designers, typesetters, printers, distributors, everyone involved in book production, and the mood was sombre. I got the impression that some were owed a lot more than the few hundred quid they owed me. 

        After an accountant bored us all to tears with a breakdown of Proteus’ finances, or lack therefore, he asked if there were any questions. Finn Costello, the Irish rock photographer whom I knew from my days in New York, rose from his seat. He didn’t mince his words. 

        “Yer a fuckin’ cunt Brecher,” he shouted angrily, much to everyone’s amusement. His thick Irish brogue was particularly effective in conveying his feelings towards the hapless MD of Proteus, who was sat behind a table on a rostrum at the front of the room. “And I’m going to leave now because there’s a nasty smell in this room and it’s comin’ from you.” 

        Johnny and I joined in the cheers as he stormed out.**

_________

* Johnny died in 2021. Here’s a tribute I wrote on this blog, expanded from my obit in the Guardian. https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2021/02/johnny-rogan-1953-2021.html

** Two years later, after I’d become the Editor at Omnibus Press, Music Sales, our parent company, bought up Proteus, and I was given the task of sorting out the mess. In one of many tea chests full of documents, I found my letter applying for that editor’s job. I figured there was some kind of divine justice in my being given this task. 

22.3.22

NEWMAN PASSAGE PART 3

 


Back in the flat on Nasmyth Street, invigorated by seeing them again and the fun and games in Stratford-on-Avon, I got to work on my Who book for which I enlisted the help of Ed Hanel, who was introduced to me by Miles. Ed had already written his Illustrated Discography of The Who for Omnibus and, being a Who nut, we got on like a house on fire. Who fans come in all shapes and sizes so it didn’t strike me as odd that he was an American who lived in Hendon in North London and worked as a lawyer for the US military while his wife Lynne was an officer with the US Navy, stationed near the Embassy building in Grosvenor Square. What mattered was that he had the biggest collection of Who records I’d ever seen, shelves of them from all around the world, even the rare old High Numbers’ single, and had a huge stash of magazine cuttings that I borrowed. Ed and Lynn’s travels have since taken them to San Francisco*, Japan and Hawaii where they currently live and we’re still in regular touch.  
Once again, I raided MM’s files and called a few people – among them Pete Townshend who declined to help, politely, because he was committed to two other Who books. This was my fist intimation of the forthcoming books by Richard ‘Barney’ Barnes, Maximum R&B, and Dave Marsh, Before I Get Old, both of which benefited from the co-operation of the group and would be published shortly after mine. Indeed, Barney’s book, the first to arrive, was published by Eel Pie, the publishing company that Pete owned at the time. Faced with this kind of competition I knew my Illustrated Biography would only ever be in the running for the bronze medal. All I really had going for me was that mine came out first but despite the bold text chosen by the designer, which I hated, I’m still quite proud of it considering the disadvantages I faced. It sold quite well and was reprinted so it’s by no means rare and therefore cheap as chips to buy second hand. 
Dave Marsh came over to London to research his book, which to my mind was very much slanted towards Pete who helped Dave a lot and put him in touch with members of the group’s entourage. I helped him too. One evening we drove up to Greenford so Dave and I could have a drink in the Oldfield. I wanted to show him where, one Thursday night in May 1964, Keith Moon staggered up to the stage and played with The Who for the first time. 
        I delivered my Who book to Miles and my A-Z Of Guitarists book to Michael Brecher at Proteus who promptly commissioned me to write a biography of Pete. This was fairly easy as I’d just done a heap of research on The Who but I tried to make it a Townshend book as opposed to a Who book, and to this end researched his family tree back to Pete’s grandparents, Horace and Dorothy, ne Blandford, Townshend, and Maurice and Emma, ne Hindley, Dennis, and discovered that Horace was part of the Jack Shepherd Concert Party that entertained holidaymakers on the sea front at Brighton. I got all their birth certificates so knew the names of Pete’s great grandparents too, and even found an expert on early 20th Century Concert Parties who lived in Bayswater and showed me a photo of Horace. Until then I wasn’t aware that Pete was the third generation of the Townshend line to make a living from music. 



        Meanwhile, Miles asked me to spend an afternoon with Toyah Wilcox and turn what she told me about herself into a short book, which I did, and then he commissioned me to write another Illustrated Biography, this one on Deep Purple. After failing to get much help from the group with my Who book, I figured I’d get the band, whom I’d interviewed many times for MM, onside this time. By now, I’d got to know Miles pretty well and we often met for a drink at the Newman Arms. He agreed it was a good idea as most Omnibus books in those days didn’t have any input from the subject. 
        My first port of call was the offices of HEC Enterprises at 25 Newman Street, just over the road from Omnibus, where John Coletta, the group’s original co-manager, looked after the affairs of Whitesnake, one of the many spin-off groups that Deep Purple would hatch. He agreed to help me on condition that the copyright of the book was controlled by HEC, which Omnibus conceded. I next spoke with their second co-manager, Tony Edwards, who ran Safari Records, and he too agreed to help. He and Coletta still had Ian Gillan’s handwritten resignation letter, dated 8 December, 1972, almost six months before his departure from the group was announced, which I Xeroxed for the book. 



        Coletta’s new partner was Rob Cooksey, who’d been Deep Purple’s tour manager, and both helped me contact Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and his successor on bass, Glenn Hughes, all of whom agreed to be interviewed, the latter two answering written questions into a tape recorder and mailing me recorded cassettes. For reasons known only to himself Ritchie Blackmore declined to cooperate which disappointed me because during the period when I wrote about the group for MM he and I always seemed to get along quite well. A planned interview with David Coverdale fell through because his disagreeable tour manager wanted to set conditions that I found unacceptable. I also interviewed their record producers Derek Lawrence and Martin Birch and another member of their road crew, Ian Hansford, whom I knew back in the day. 
        I spent a day with Ian Paice at his huge mansion in a village near Henley, and was surprised to discover that Alvin Lee, down on his luck, was living in a converted barn on his land. Jon Lord lived nearby in an even more imposing detached house and I spent a day and night with him too, and in the evening he and his wife Vicki took me to a Chinese restaurant in Henley where we met up with Ian and his wife Jackie. Both former models, Vicki and Jackie were twin sisters. 
        “I rang George and Olivia and asked them to join us,” Jon told Ian when we arrived at the restaurant. “Unfortunately, they were busy.”
Unfortunately indeed, I thought. 
        When we got back to Jon’s house, he and I stayed up very late, drinking and smoking, and the ‘relaxed’ atmosphere contributed to what was an unusually forthright interview about the ups and downs of life in Deep Purple. He even told me the story of their third manager, a financier who unknown to them was the biggest fence on the Sussex coast, a story John Coletta persuaded me to bury. At around 3am Jon turned down the lights in his spacious sitting room, sat at his white grand piano and, with moonlight streaming through the picture windows, played me Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, better known as the Moonlight Sonata.** 
        No one from the Purple camp vetted my final manuscript and, thanks largely to Jon’s willingness to tell it like it was, the book was and remains remarkably candid, far more so than most ‘authorised’ biographies of the era, perhaps because at the time no one thought Deep Purple had an afterlife beyond the split in 1976 and there was therefore nothing to lose by holding back information that at one time might have been deemed confidential. Among the book’s more startling revelations was a complete gig list which, because it was supplied to me by the group’s meticulous accountant, also included the fees paid to the group for almost every show they performed.
        The DP book was printed in Japan where a translated edition was also published. Here’s a page from that edition, together with the Japanese translation of my name which I once practiced and memorised. Unfortunately, the printers there went bankrupt and the film for the book – this was long before digital technology – was lost, so it was never reprinted. As a result, it’s quite rare now and usually fetches three figures on Amazon, but Rufus Stone Books are planning an enhanced limited-edition reprint with different illustrations in the near future. 




        A couple of years later I bumped into Jon Lord near Oxford Circus and he told me how much he enjoyed it. I heard on the grapevine that Ritchie felt differently. Oh dear. 

------

* In the Bay Area Ed and Lynne lived at the US Naval Base Treasure Island HQ, a detached mansion on an island in the San Francisco Bay that during WW2 was the HQ of US Pacific Fleet. I was delighted to note that the study where the admirals of the US Navy planned their revenge for Pearl Harbour was now a Who museum. When I next saw him, I told Pete this and he was delighted too. 

** By a pleasant coincidence, in November of 2012 I found myself sat next to Amy Lord, Jon’s daughter, and her husband at an event at the Roundhouse where Jon was being presented with a posthumous award by Classic Rock magazine. I reminded her that we first met when I was researching my DP book, interviewing her father at the family’s home in Henley in 1982 when she was a toddler.

21.3.22

NEWMAN PASSAGE PART 2

Becoming a writer of music biographies was not something I’d planned. It was chance that led me into writing rock books instead of more articles for the music press which was where I thought my immediate future lay. Still, I did write one or two features for Melody Maker, one on The Skids which involved a boozy trip to Amsterdam where I befriended their managers Alan Edwards and Ian Grant, and also for Smash Hits who needed someone to write about acts from my generation that made the charts, as opposed to their staple diet of bright young pop stars with angular haircuts and Regency clothes. No one on Smash Hits knew much about Ritchie Blackmore, so when Rainbow’s ‘All Night Long’ reached the top ten I was their man. 

        In between times I also contributed several pieces to a rock and pop part work called The History Of Rock, published by Orbis, and connected with a concert promoter who employed me to write the text and help with the layout for rock tour programmes, often at the behest of merchandising companies. This invariably involved chasing what I was owed. Told a cheque was being “put in the mail today”, I’d say, “No, don’t do that, I’ll collect it. I’m going to be close to your offices later today anyway.” Of course, I wasn’t. It would be a deliberate journey on my part, but always worth it for an outstanding £300, almost twice my monthly mortgage. Often, I’d arrive in a reception area and refuse to leave until the cheque was forthcoming, smiling sweetly. They paid me to get rid of me. 

        The money from mags and tour programmes was chicken feed compared to the advances for books, of course. That said, I soon discovered that when Proteus owed me money I had to chase it, but when Omnibus Press owed me, the cheque arrived promptly. It was an important lesson. 

        When I wasn’t chasing money, I got on with writing my books about guitarists and The Who. For the former I decided to write to as many guitarists as I could, addressing my envelopes to their management companies and hoping for the best. I enclosed a form with a series of questions like, ‘What was the first guitar you played?’ or ‘What is your favourite guitar?’ or ‘How many guitars do you own?’ or ‘Which guitarist do you most admire?’, and a surprisingly large number responded, among them JJ Cale, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke, Dave Davies, Dave Edmunds, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher, Mick Green, James Honeyman-Scott, Steve Howe, Jorma Kaukonen, Mark Knopfler, Alvin Lee, John McLaughlin, Phil Manzanera, Hank Marvin, Brian May, Ted Nugent, Mike Oldfield, Bonnie Raitt, Mick Ralphs, Robbie Robertson, Todd Rundgren, Neal Schon, Chris Spedding, Steve Stills, Richard Thompson, Pete Townshend, Bert Weedon, Paul Weller, Carl Wilson and Frank Zappa. At the end of the book were a few pages on bassists and those answered my questions included John Entwistle, Roger Glover, Lemmy, Nick Lowe, Carl Radle, Noel Redding, Sting and John Wetton.

        All of these musicians wrote out their answers on my forms in longhand, often signing them, and I wish now I’d kept them all but like so many of the bits and pieces of rock memorabilia that came my way over the years, they were lost, probably in a house move when space was at a premium. Still, their response immeasurably enhanced the book which is long out of print now but available on Amazon, £32.75 for a rare hardback yesterday, much cheaper in soft cover. 

        Far more satisfying was writing my book about The Who. Jenny and I went to see them at the Birmingham NEC on March 5, 1981, the first and only time I watched them on stage with Kenney Jones on drums. I suppose I could have wangled my way into one of the earlier London shows with Jones but something held me back. For a long time, I was convinced that without Keith Moon they weren’t The Who I loved any more, and I simply didn’t have the urge to see them without him. But Jenny wanted to go so I caved in and blagged a pair of tickets. 

        We sat up on Pete’s side, but he was partly hidden behind speakers and I couldn’t watch him as closely as I would have liked, and watching Pete cavorting about, spinning around and windmilling, was always a great element of Who shows, at least in my book. They sounded OK, very loud, very persuasive, like they still meant it, but something was missing, maybe Keith’s abandon or his sense of humour, maybe that sense I used get that anything could happen at a Who show, that what wasnt planned was what made them great. Jenny, experiencing them for the first time, thought they were the greatest rock band she’d ever seen. “Told you so,” I said, probably a bit smugly, knowing that once upon a time they really were the greatest rock band in the world.

At an after-show party I chatted with John who was his usual down-to-earth self. He seemed pleased to see me, as if I was a figure from the past who’d deserted them but decided to come back on board. Pete was friendly too. There was no sign of Roger. I wouldn’t see them again until 1989.

        Jenny and I stayed the night in a hotel near the NEC and, because it wasn’t far to drive, on the way back we decided to spend a night in a hotel in Stratford-on-Avon for no better reason than neither of us had been to Shakespeare’s birthplace before. It was memorable in other ways too. 

        After we checked in we mooched around the town, then returned to the hotel where we’d decided to eat dinner. Jenny opted to take a leisurely bath while I read a newspaper on the bed. I called room service and ordered some cold beers and then skinned up an attitude-changing cigarette which I shared with her when she emerged from the bathroom. 

        What with the beer and the Old Nick’s Navy Cut and her smelling nice and wearing only a towel that tended to slip off if I gave it a yank, one thing led to another and before long my clothes were on the floor and we were going at it on (not in) the bed like a pair of rabbits. Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm for the task in hand I had neglected to put the Do Not Disturb sign outside and since we were deeply pre-occupied neither of us heard the light tap on the door that signalled the arrival of a chamber maid to turn down the beds. In she came, saw us banging away at full throttle on the bed and just stood there, rooted to the spot with embarrassment. I looked up at her and was lost for words, so I simply blurted out, “Please do not disturb”, whereupon Jenny burst out laughing and so did I. The girl, evidently unused to the sight of guests coupling in their rooms in the early evening, muttered an apology and left, giggling also. Indeed, so overcome were Jenny and I with our fits of giggles that we were unable to finish what we had started.

        We didn’t think this would be the end of the matter and we were right. The maid had evidently shared the details of what she saw with the rest of the staff as that evening, when we went down to dinner, we sensed them all staring at us, whispering amongst themselves and grinning. It stretched to the next day too, as when we checked out the receptionist made a particular point of saying how much she hoped we’d enjoyed our stay, with just that little bit too much emphasis on ‘enjoyed’. 

        Never a dull moment whenever I see The Who. 


20.3.22

NEWMAN PASSAGE PART 1

Newman Passage in central London’s Fitzrovia is a fine example of what London alleyways might have looked like in Victorian times. Connecting Newman Street with Rathbone Place, it was once noted for a crooked lamp post that Arthur and Terry from Minder tried to straighten but that is long gone now and the walls have been painted chic grey. Nevertheless, this narrow, cobbled little lane will forever remind me of that transitional period in my life, between 1980 and 1983, when circumstances obliged me to become a freelance music writer. 

        On Newman Street, at number 78, was Music Sales, the parent company of Omnibus Press; in the alley itself were the offices of a music publishing company called Leosong, where my girlfriend Jenny rented desk space; and at Rathbone Place end of the alley was the Newman Arms, a small pub that dates back to 1730 and, if its website is to be believed, once served George Orwell. 

        It was in the Newman Arms that I befriended Barry Miles, known to one and all by his surname only, and discussed books I might write or edit for Omnibus, of which he was the editor. Jenny and her friend Fiona used an office in Leosong to run TNT, their rock’n’roll PR company. That Omnibus and TNT were located so close together was simply a happy coincidence, but it meant we could all meet up in the Newman Arms after work.

        In the late summer of 1980, RCA Records made me and several other employees, Jenny among them, redundant, justifying the decision “because of trading conditions resulting from the economic policies of the government,” ie Thatcher. I was never a fan and this politicised me leftwards for life. I was pretty much apolitical during the 1970s, largely because I spent almost six years in the US and never lived anywhere long enough in the UK to register to vote. Being made redundant changed all that. 

        Nevertheless, RCA generously gave me £3,000 as a settlement, which is over £14,000 in today’s money, so I wasn’t going to starve. I can’t recall what Jenny got but it wouldn’t have been as much as myself because she hadn’t worked there that long. Within two months I’d exchanged contracts on a one-bedroom garden flat in Nasmyth Street in Hammersmith which cost £18,000, a tiny sum by today’s standards. Some of RCA’s payout went as a deposit and my former boss there lied to the Halifax Building Society, saying I was still employed and on a salary, so the mortgage went through without a hitch. 

        I bought the flat from a beautiful Japanese Bunny Girl who worked at the Playboy Club, and she had a ridiculously handsome live-in black boyfriend who was a DJ somewhere in the West End. They were a handsome couple, very exotic, but seemed in a bit of a hurry to move. I never found out why but I suspect it had something to do with immigration. 

        In October, when the lease of our spacious and slightly swanky Gloucester Road flat ran out, Jenny and I hauled our stuff, which included my record collection by now shipped back from the US, to the less swanky Hammersmith basement. The downgrading of our living standards didn’t sit too well with her upwardly mobile aspirations but for the time being we were reasonably content.

        The problem of what to do next was partially solved when, quite out of the blue, I was approached by a Manchester-based company called Savoy Books who offered me £500 to write a book about David Bowie. I hadn’t foreseen a career as a rock biographer but, in the event, it was life changing, not for the book itself but for unlocking the door to the future. 

        The £500 wasn’t forthcoming, though some time after I’d started writing the book – which was only about 30,000 words – an envelope arrived with £50 in used fivers. It was all I got, an early indication that the freedom offered by self-employment was precarious, and that chasing money would take up as much time and energy as actually earning it. 

        In the meantime, I started work, visiting Melody Maker’s offices on Meymott Street to Xerox their Bowie files, which included stuff written by me, then talking to a few people who might help in my research. I cheated a bit by including, almost verbatim, two longish MM pieces of mine, one the show review of the Diamond Dogs Revue from Toronto in 1974, the other my long interview with David, undertaken in Detroit in 1976. I typed it all up on the same Olivetti typewriter that I had brought back from the States, the one I took there in 1973. I must have written a million words on that little portable. 

        Jenny owned a car, a red Honda Civic, well used, and decided to swop it for a green VW Sirocco, quite sporty, and we installed a powerful Pioneer stereo system to play cassettes wherever we went. We drove to Skipton together, to see my dad, and Bournemouth, where Jenny was raised, and stayed with her mum. We settled into a routine at Nasmyth Street. She usually got up first to shower and fix her make-up and I’d drive her to work in the VW, then drive back and do some writing or whatever. The traffic wasn’t too bad in those days, and I soon learnt to navigate the backstreets of Bayswater and Mayfair, there and back within an hour. Most days I’d go and collect her after work too. 

        I was in bed in the flat on the morning of December 9 when Jenny shook me awake. “You won’t believe this but John Lennon’s been shot,” she said. At first, I didn’t believe her, but when I heard the radio it sunk in. I was numb. I threw on a few clothes and went out and bought some newspapers. I drove Jenny to work and when I got home I just sat there listening to the radio. At lunchtime I went to the Anglesea Arms pub across the road for a sandwich and sat on my own. Two men at the bar were discussing John’s death and I felt like telling them that I knew him once. Then I didn’t because I figured they wouldn’t believe me.

        A day or two later a reporter from the Sunday Mirror rang and asked me to help with their coverage of John’s murder. I guess they’d found my name by reading my interviews with him in Melody Maker. One of their reporters took me to lunch in Covent Garden and it soon became clear to me that he was keen to dredge up something controversial. I didn’t much like him and decided to ask for what I thought was an outrageous sum for my services, £5,000. To my astonishment he agreed. I should have asked for more. 

        Unlike almost everyone else who’d followed John’s life, the man from the Sunday Mirror didn’t seem to know that John and Yoko had separated briefly in 1973, reuniting the following year. He thought it was a scoop. I told him it was old news but he took no notice. Similarly, he seemed surprised when I told them that there were times when John and Paul disagreed, especially as The Beatles were collapsing, and he stressed this in his coverage too. I told him nothing he couldn’t have found in the Mirror’s own clippings file if only he’d bothered to look but he seemed to think that because I’d met John a few times I was a veritable oracle in all matters Lennon. I like to think that John would have found it wryly amusing. I certainly did. Still, I felt a bit guilty when the cheque for £5,000 arrived so I gave some of it to a charity that Yoko was promoting. 


        The publishers of my Bowie book, titled David Bowie Profile, had a co-publishing deal with a London-based book publisher called Proteus whose offices were in Praed Street near Paddington Station, so I made an appointment with the MD there, a guy called Michael Brecher, to try and find out a bit more about Savoy and why they hadn’t paid me. 

        He wasn’t able to tell me much and I got the impression that he wasn’t too surprised that Savoy hadn’t come through with the money. Still, I wanted to check out this Proteus company for myself and, just maybe, offer my services in some editorial capacity. The upshot was that they commissioned me to write a book called The A-Z of Rock Guitarists, the first of four books I would write for Proteus over the next two years.

        More advantageously in the long term, the Bowie book also brought me to the attention of Miles, who called and asked me to update a book Omnibus had published called The David Bowie Black Book. So it was that I got to know Miles, meeting him in the Newman Arms, where one evening in early 1981 he asked me if I’d like to write a book on The Who. 


11.3.22

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME, 2022


As is usual around this time of the year, I have received my ballot form for nominating those from a list of names that I wish to see inducted into America’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is not a particularly onerous chore but it becomes trickier for me each year because more and more names on the list seem to me to be less deserving of the honour as each year passes.

        This, as I have noted before, is due largely to the R&RHoF’s insistence on inducting five acts every year, year in, year out, in order to perpetuate interest in the institution itself and satisfy the commercial interests that regard the induction ceremony as a nice little earner, this due to the exorbitant cost of tickets. The downside, as I have also noted, is that this philosophy brings the eligibility of many of more recent inductees into question. 

        But enough carping and on with the show. This year we have no fewer than 17 nominees, many more than usual. They are Beck, Pat Benatar, Kate Bush, Devo, Duran Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, Fela Kuti, MC5, New York Dolls, Dolly Parton, Rage Against The Machine, Lionel Richie, Carly Simon, A Tribe Called Quest and Dionne Warwick. 

        Several of the artists (Benatar, Bush, Devo, Kuti, Dolls, MC5, Rage, Warwick among them), have been nominated before but not inducted. It is unusually varied in terms of their music, but to my mind it brings into question the definition of Rock & Roll. 

        Without casting any aspersions on the quality of their art, I would question the inclusion of Kate Bush, Fela Kuti, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, Carly Simon, A Tribe Called Quest and Dionne Warwick on the grounds that they are not Rock & Roll. Dolly, for example, is a great performer who brought the house down (or up) at Glastonbury in 2014 but she’s Country with a capital C, and was no doubt inducted into the Country & Western Hall of Fame eons ago. So, if she’s eligible for the R&RHoF, then The Who should be eligible for the C&WHoF – but they aren’t, of course, and neither ought they to be. Ditto Tribe Called Quest into a RAPHoF, if there is one. Similarly, I find myself wondering where the line should be drawn between Popular Music and Rock, and this is why I question the inclusion of Kate Bush, Lionel Richie and Carly Simon. Surely, if Kate Bush can be nominated then why not Tomes Jones, who although not to my taste is far rock’n’roll than her and Carly Simon? With this in mind I will therefore eliminate these seven acts, not on the grounds that they’re undeserving of recognition somewhere or other but that they don’t belong here. 

        Which leaves me with Beck, Benatar, Devo, Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, Judas P, MC5, the Dolls, and Rage, so it now comes down to personal choice. I was never of a Heavy Metal fan so I’ll rule out Judas P, and Devo always seemed a bit too artsy-clever for me; Duran too, and a bit too clothes-horsey as well, if you get my drift, and I was never convinced by Pat Benatar. So I’m now down to Beck, Eminem, Eurythmics, MC5, the Dolls and Rage. Eminem is Rap, so my final five are the others. 

        To a certain extent I’m voting for the Dolls and MC5 (both of whom I've voted for before) on political grounds insofar as they held true to the spirit of Rock as being something rebellious, old fashioned and clich├ęd as that may sound in 2002. I’m voting for Eurythmics because I liked them, saw them twice and still play their music (even though Annie Lennox once tried to sue Omnibus Press on questionable grounds, but thats another story). Tom Morello seems like a good guy and he’s a pal of Bruce, which makes him OK in my book. I’ve got a couple of Beck CDs and liked them, although I haven’t listened to them in ages. 

        As ever, I’m willing to be swayed if any Just Backdated readers can direct me to a truer path. And, by the way, when I do send in my nomination I will yet again make a plea for Richard Thompson and Slade to be on the list next year, and the next, and the next.