THE McCARTNEY LEGACY VOLUME 1 – 1969-73 by Allan Kozinn & Adrian Sinclair

It wasn’t much fun being Paul McCartney in 1970. Portrayed by the media as the Beatle who tore the group apart, an offence for which he would be pilloried without mercy, his only solace was his new wife Linda, herself the subject of unwarranted abuse from female fans. “Fuck Linda,” someone scrawled on the wall across the street from Paul’s residence in St John’s Wood. The arrival of their daughter Mary in the summer of 1969 would seem to indicate he took that advice to heart. 

Until very recently Paul had John, George and Ringo to turn to when things went wrong, a snug alliance of all-for-one and one-for-all protection. Not only was this no more, but John, in particular, was sniping at him in the press and on record. “The only thing you done was yesterday,” was one of many lyrical taunts in ‘How Do You Sleep’, from John’s Imagine LP. As if John’s barbs weren’t enough, the press, too, were increasingly unkind about his new music. 

Meanwhile, lawsuits were flying around like angry wasps and unimagined fortunes were slipping through the Beatles’ fingers. Allen Klein, the wedge between Paul and his three old mates, was a constant thorn in his side. “Fuck you,” wrote Paul in one terse message to the American businessman favoured but ultimately dumped by John, George and Ringo.  

Under attack from all sides, Paul and Linda, with her daughter Heather and newly born Mary, went to ground, hiding out at his farm in Scotland, where creature comforts were thin on the ground, and to America, where anonymity was easier, especially behind the style of beard favoured by rustic backwoodsmen. Paul (and Linda) got stoned a lot – his fondness for marijuana and belief that it should be legalised is a running theme of this book – and embarked on a tireless round of DIY recording sessions, with songs pouring from him as never before. Soon, he would perform them with a new band, Wings, but find it impossible to shake off his past. 

This, in a nutshell, is the gist of The McCartney Legacy, a weighty volume inspired no doubt by the diligence that Mark Lewisohn brought to Tune In, the first in his trilogy of mind-bogglingly detailed books about The Beatles. Following a similar route, Allan Kozin and Adrian Sinclair leave no stone unturned in their book about Paul’s struggles to find a place for himself after the break-up of the group to which he’d devoted the last 12 years of his life. 

It’s a massive book yet it covers only four years, the period between Paul’s first solo LP, simply titled McCartney, and Band On The Run, his fifth post-Beatle LP credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, released in 1973 and still widely regarded as his best post-Beatle work. In between, theres three other LPs, the formation of Wings, shows in the UK and Continental Europe, heaps of business dealings, press interviews galore, a drug bust or two, the arrival of second daughter Stella, confrontations with fans who, as ever, assemble outside his St John’s Wood home, a TV special, and meetings, friendlier than you might expect, with his old mates. 

        The bookonly real fault is that the second half is far and away more interesting than the first, largely because more was happening in Paul’s world during 1972 and ’73. Unfortunately, interminable analysis of song structures and meticulous details of recording sessions for Ram and Wild Life become wearisome in the early chapters, no doubt the contribution of co-author Kozinn, a graduate of the conservatory. Fortunately, in the later chapters such details are punctuated by fascinating, fly-on-the-wall reportage of Wings’ progress and their early tours. 

Much of this comes from the diaries of American drummer Denny Seiwell and his wife Monique, and interviews with their first tour manager John Morris, also American, the same man who went on to manage London’s Rainbow Theatre. Tellingly, Denny Laine – the other member of Wings with form – is missing from the lengthy list of acknowledgements at the end, unless, of course, he’s one of those who asked to remain anonymous. 

        From them and others, we learn about how the group was assembled, how Paul’s aim to be ‘just another member of the band’ was hopelessly optimistic – a bit like Bowie and Tin Machine – and how and why Wings Mark 1 fell apart, the root cause being Paul’s overbearing manner in the studio, the same issue that caused George to walk out of the Beatles’ Let It Be sessions. Being told what to play was too much for guitarist Henry McCulloch, who quit after a heated exchange, taking Seiwell with him. It didn’t help, either, that they (and Laine) were paid a mere £70 a week, considerably less than the individual members of Brinsley Schwartz received when they supported Wings on their 1973 UK tour. 

        With the group in disarray Paul showed considerable character in ploughing on with plans to record his next album, the record that became Band On The Run, in Nigeria, with this adventure – in all senses of the word – and the LP’s subsequent acclaim bringing the book to a fitting climax. It’s a testament to Paul’s stubborn, occasionally impulsive, nature that even with two men down he persisted with the African trip. “I’ll show ‘em,” was his attitude. “I don’t need you.” He needed a bodyguard though, for he and Linda were lucky to survive an unpleasant mugging during an ill-advised late-night stroll. 

A book of this size is loaded with evidence for both the prosecution and defence of Paul’s methods and temperament, as well as trivial gems galore that fascinate. Here’s a sample: Paul was holidaying in Scotland and unable to respond when Apple received a telegram inviting him to play bass on a session with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis in New York; he paid $100,000 (then £40,000) for the Buddy Holly song catalogue; Paul and Linda sent the contents of one of Stella’s nappies to the odious journalist (and future Daily Mail editor) Paul Dacre in response to his negative coverage of Wings for the Daily Express; EMI offered Paul a miserable £5,000 advance for Band On The Run; and Jet was the name of a black pup, one of seven birthed in Scotland to Paul’s and Linda’s Labrador Poppy. 

Furthermore, the book is not without humour: on August 10, 1972, in Gothenburg, Paul and Linda, drummer Seiwell and Paul’s secretary Rebecca Hinds found themselves in jail at the city’s police station, charged with possession of cannabis. A package containing the drug, posted from the UK and addressed to Seiwell, had been intercepted by Swedish customs who’d notified the local narcotics cops.

“I went down to the police station, and they had put them all in separate rooms,” recalls tour manager Morris. “And you could hear Linda saying, ‘I want the American ambassador! I know my rights!’ I was working it out with the prosecutor… we posted a bond, which wasn’t a hell of a lot of money, and I said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. I’ll give you twice as much if you keep her.’ He said, ‘No, no. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll make it four times as much unless you take her.’” 

The McCartney Legacy is a great achievement, thorough in its research, fascinating in detail, albeit designed primarily to appeal to dedicated Macca (or Beatles) fans and unlikely to interest casual admirers. Illustrated with appropriate black & white pictures throughout, it lacks an index, unforgivable in a book of this scope*, and costs just over £15 on Amazon, which is a cheap for a 712-page hardback. 

* I am informed by co-author Adrian Sinclair that the lack of index was due to industrial action at the publishers and is a sore point between them and the authors. 



“One of my keenest memories of the Marquee in the sixties,” says David Bowie, “was having a permanent erection because there were so many fantastic looking girls there.” Among the girls who no doubt caused this reaction in David was Dana Gillespie, 15 years old with plenty of front, who was standing at the back of the club brushing her hair when David snatched the brush from her hand. His hair was blonde, straight and even longer than hers in those days, and it evidently required brushing. “David taught me a lot…” says Dana.  

        This little gem is extracted from Marquee: The Story Of The World’s Greatest Music Venue by Robert Sellars with Nick Pendleton. Broadly speaking, the story runs parallel to the rise of rock in London, initially for those groups and singers whose music stemmed from rhythm & blues but later pretty much every genre you care to name. Celebrated Scousers aside, just about every major UK artist of the sixties and seventies played there on their stairway to stardom, so the club became a sort of rite of passage along the way, like blistered fingers, uncomfortable Ford Transits and sacking the drummer who always seemed to disappear when it was his round.

        I arrived a bit late for the Marquee and certainly left too early but between 1970 and 1973 it was a regular haunt of mine. I’d wanted to go inside since August of 1968 when, on my first unsupervised visit to London, I saw a queue stretching up Wardour Street towards The Ship. “What’s on?” I inquired of a long-haired bloke in loon pants and a great coat. “Tull,” he replied. I was none the wiser.

        Two years later, newly appointed as News Editor of Melody Maker, I knew precisely what Tull meant, and before long I was very familiar with the club at 90 Wardour Street, grandly described here as the World’s Greatest Music Venue. It’s hard to argue with that really because for decades it was the crucible of British rock, its stage playing host to the Stones, Who, Bowie, Floyd, Jimi, Elton, Faces (Small and Rod-led), Zep, Slade, Queen, folkies, prog rockers, punks – including the Pistols  the cream of UK metal, U2, goths, a host of aspirational Americans, Metallica, R.E.M. and G’n’R among them, and scores more besides. 

        I suspect this book has had a long gestation period for I lost count of how many times I was approached at Omnibus Press with proposals for a book about the Marquee. I usually sent would-be authors away with a request for a sample chapter or two before I’d commission them. Either I never received anything back or their sample was insufferably bland, little more than a listing of acts who’d played there. If this book had crossed by desk, however, I’d have snapped it up as it’s a fine tale, well told, with just the right amount of entertaining, often enlightening, anecdotes to moderate what is essentially a chronological name drop.

The brainchild of Harold Pendleton, father of co-author Nick, the Marquee opened in 1958 as a jazz club at the slummy end of Oxford Street before moving in 1964 to its best-known location in Wardour Street. This was where the fun really began and 90% of the book is devoted to fascinating accounts of how bands and singers, many destined for the big time, hauled their gear into the Marquee through the back doors in Richmond Mews. To a man (there aren’t many women, unfortunately) they iterate in interviews old and new how important the club was to them and their careers, with an agreeably large number first entering the venue as fans. After 24 mostly glorious years in Wardour Street, the club moved to a disused cinema in Charing Cross Road, and seven years later the franchise was sold to others who ran two clubs with the same name elsewhere until 2006, though not much space is given to the post-Wardour Street era. 

Also featured are tales of Marquee spin-offs, most notably the National Jazz Festival which morphed into the National Jazz & Blues Festival, launched at Richmond in 1961, moving to Windsor, then Sunbury, then Plumpton and, finally, Reading. The changes in venue are attributed to nimbyism, while overzealous policing was a constant, unnecessary burden the mostly trouble-free festivals had to endure. Then there was Marquee Studios in the basement, the Marquee booking, publishing and management agencies and La Chasse, a members-only drinking den above a bookie’s shop midway between the Marquee and The Ship, fondly remembered by this writer. This was where bands and their retinues liked to tank up before and between sets, being as how only non-alcoholic drinks were available at the club, at least until 1970. Phil Collins was surprised to find Keith Moon behind the bar one night. “I bought a round from him and he gave me back more money than I’d handed over,” he recalls.

Listings at the end, as well as the index, offer a comprehensive guide to the sheer number of great acts who played the Marquee. There’s also a list of live albums recorded there (over 40) and a chart of who holds the record for the number of Marquee appearances (Long John Baldry on 200 tops the list, followed by Manfred Mann [and derivatives] on 99, with The Who way down on 30). 

        Finally, I began the first paragraph of this review with a quote from Dana Gillespie, mischievously (and deliberately) omitting 14 crucial words for effect. In reality Dana is quoted in the book as saying: “David taught me a lot of my first chords on the guitar, and he taught me a few songs.” 

        An explanation. On March 23, 1971, I was among the crush of fans crowded into the Marquee – official capacity 700, but there were probably over 1,000 that night – to watch Led Zeppelin, who the previous summer had attracted over 150,000 to the Bath Festival. The gist of my review in Melody Maker was that it was ill-advised for a group of Zep’s stature to play a venue this small. However, on page 129 of the book an unidentified MM writer (which was me) is quoted as writing: “The Marquee in all its long history has probably never seen a night like it.” In reality the quote went on to say: “… but I still doubt the wisdom of choosing the club in favour of a larger venue.” 

The authors of this book omitted these 16 crucial words, just as I did with Dana. Just so you know, Messrs Sellers and Pendelton, two can play at that game. Here’s proof: 

Grateful thanks to my friend Dave Lewis, the worlds foremost Led Zep historian, for finding this among his archives, even if he did chop my name off the end. 

The book costs £22 (£18.60 on Amazon) and can be obtained from http://www.paradiseroad.co.uk/marquee-the-story-of-the-worlds-greatest-music-venue



To the Electric Theatre in Guildford to hear Lucy O’Brien talk about Karen Carpenter and listen to a trio – keyboard player and arranger Janette Mason, bassist Simon Little and singer Jo Harrop – perform their interpretations of Carpenters songs in a lounge bar style, a bit jazzy, a bit cocktails-at-six, a bit Hotel Ritz. 

        I reviewed Lead Sister, Lucy’s book about Karen Carpenter, on Just Backdated at the end of January* and in her talk she was keen to stress how, in her opinion, the female half of the Carpenters had more potential, and more imagination, than she was permitted to display. This came across more in her talk than it did in her book, and gave her address, which was punctuated by readings, more weight, and, for those who attended, something to think about on the way home. 

        Exhibit number one, of course, was the solo LP she recorded in 1979, produced by Phil Ramone, that A&M declined to release, ostensibly because it lacked a ‘hit song’. To add insult to injury, A&M charged the $400,000 recording costs to Karen’s royalty account.

        “Karen was deeply hurt at this complete rejection,” writes O’Brien. “She had made a female soul album, her first compelling statement as a solo artist. Listening to the record over forty years later, what comes through is Karen’s own fresh, funky aesthetic. She sings in a higher register than on the Carpenters albums, weaving throughout her own intricate vocal arrangements. Her approach is intimate, light and upbeat, a conscious departure from the low, lush overload of songs like ‘Solitaire’ or ‘This Masquerade’… This is an album of nimble, sophisticated soul; classy and smart like Teena Marie’s Lady T or Patrice Rushen’s Pizzazz.”

        The album, which was finally released in 1996, featured on its cover a photograph of Karen in black leather, a departure from the carefully constructed image of her as the girl next door. Reading between the lines, it seems that when Karen first delivered the LP she was a victim of the ‘don’t rock the boat’ syndrome that afflicted record companies in danger of losing an established cash cow. Paul Simon, of all people, suffered the same treatment after the demise of Simon & Garfunkel when Columbia was strangely lukewarm about his first solo LP. They’d have much preferred an S&G follow-up to the multi-million selling Bridge Over Troubled Water, of course. 

        Furthermore, O’Brien suggested that Karen was much happier as the drummer in the Carpenters’ band than being promoted to up-front singer. Cubby O’Brien, who became the Carpenters’ drummer when Karen was obliged to abandon them, recalls her missing the drums terribly. “She loved playing, she was one of the first female drummers who got recognition as a good player,” he says. There seems little doubt that Karen’s subsequent anorexia was in part brought on by the need to project a slimline image of herself in keeping with the general assumption that this was what audiences demanded of girl singers – but not necessarily girl drummers, not that there were many role models to follow in the 1970s. 

        Similarly, O’Brien pointed out that when Karen wasn’t being smothered by her brother, her family and those who sought to gain from the Carpenters’ success, she enjoyed behaving in a manner quite unlike the carefully cultivated, wholesome image foisted on the public. “She could talk like a truck driver,” O’Brien informed us, leaving our imagination to work out what she meant.

        As I mention in my review, in 1973 I interviewed the Carpenters at their home in Downey, south of Los Angeles, and Lucy O’Brien quotes me in her book. During a Q&A session that followed the music and talk last night I asked her what co-operation, if any, she had received from Richard Carpenter. Turns out he ignored her emails but didn’t seek to prevent others from speaking to her. “He’s very private,” she added before informing the assembled crowd of about 60 that the bloke in row H who asked the question had spent time with the Carpenter siblings. They all turned to look at me. After all, I was the only one present who’d met them, albeit 50 years ago this September. 

* https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2023/01/lead-sister-story-of-karen-carpenter-by.html



Here we go again. Yesterday’s mail brought my ballot form for nominating five from a list of 14 singers and/or groups whom I would like to see inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As I have noted in the past, this task becomes trickier for me each year because I become less familiar with the work of some of those on the list while more and more names on it seem to me to be less deserving of the honour. This is a result of the R&RHoF’s insistence on inducting a minimum of five acts every year, year in year out, in order to perpetuate interest in the institution. 

        In the early years many more than five were inducted, and to date there are 345 of them, ranging from Elvis Presley, who was among the first batch to be inducted when the institution was launched in 1986, to Pat Benatar, inducted in 2022, but far be it for me to suggest that Ms Benatar is less worthy than Elvis. 

This year’s list features Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Iron Maiden, Joy Division/New Order, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, The Spinners, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes and Warren Zevon. I believe this is the third time Kate Bush has been nominated but others on the list have all been nominated before at least once too. 

Furthermore, since artists cannot be inducted until 25 years after their first record was released, it is immediately apparent that the majority of the names on this list have been eligible for induction for many years. The Spinners, aka The Detroit Spinners, have been eligible for induction since 1986 and Willie Nelson since 1987. Warren Zevon was fist eligible in 2001, Soundgarden in 2003. Of the Brits, George Michael was first eligible since 2002, JD/NO since 2003, ditto Kate Bush, and Iron Maiden since 2004. Indeed, only Missy Elliott, whose first record was released in 1997, is being nominated at the earliest opportunity. Also, unless I’m mistaken, the nominating committee have jumped the gun with The White Stripes whose debut LP came out in 1999 and who, of course, didn’t become popular until 2003 after the release of Elephant. By my reckoning, this means they’re not really eligible until 2024.

        Lots of acts have jumped the queue in the meantime, of course, but the list does suggest the committee are playing catch-up by nominating acts they either missed or deemed unworthy in previous years, not to mention the paucity of newcomers and an increasing need to fall back on those who’ve been nominated but not inducted before. This suggests that to keep the ball running it is necessary to add less worthy nominees to the list; an inevitable lowering of standards. 

        For those unfamiliar with the R&RHoF protocol, a somewhat secretive committee of experts selects those who will join the list, and this is circulated to about 500 lesser experts around the world, of which I have been one since the early nineties. Justifiable criticism has been levelled at the nominating committee for a dearth of women and artists of colour, and a bias towards US acts. In this regard, it’s instructive to note that the standard bearers of Britpop, Oasis, Blur and Pulp, have not been inducted into the R&RHoF. I can’t recall whether they’ve even been nominated. Similarly, I have long advocated for the nomination of Richard Thompson and Slade, and Nicky Hopkins in the sideman’ category. 

So, who to vote for this year? In the past I have eliminated nominees because they were not what I would deem to be rock’n’roll acts but I’m inclined to waive this stipulation this time around so as to vote for Willie Nelson, a grand old dope smoker whose heart has always been in the rock’n’roll camp, even if most of his music is country or MoR. I’ll vote for White Stripes because I was an early convert and think Jack White’s a sound guy. Ditto Warren Zevon, a great songwriter who somehow escaped the stardom to which he was entitled. 

I’m going to vote for Joy Division/New Order because in their music and attitudes they somehow represent an antidote to the philosophy of the R&RHoF, and I’m all for rocking the boat, and because it’ll be interesting to see if avowed enemies Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook will share a stage at the awards ceremony. They probably won’t get that far anyway because, aware of the bad blood, the powers that be will no doubt somehow proscribe their induction. 

Cheryl Crow gets my final vote because she played bass for Elvis on that wondrous spoof Radio 2 advert, alongside Moonie on drums, Jimmy and Noel on guitars, Marvin on back-up vocals and Stevie on keyboards. Her and Noel are the only ones in that sensational line up not to be in the R&RHoF and both deserve to be.



My post about Keith Moon appearing in Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels movie inspired comment about Frank being pushed from the stage at London’s Rainbow Theatre. As it happens, I was there that night and, indeed, witnessed the incident from a perfect vantage point. 

I’d become friendly with the Rainbow’s manager, John Morris, a friendly American whose vast concert experience included stage managing the Woodstock Festival. As Melody Maker’s News Editor from 1970 to 1973, I wrote plenty of stories about the Rainbow and generally did my bit to promote what I viewed as a top-quality rock venue in London, great for fans and the rock world in general. John appreciated this and gave me an ‘Access All Areas at All Times’ pass to the theatre, truly the Platinum Amex for rock fans. 

On December 10, 1971, a couple of months after the Rainbow had opened, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention opened the first of four scheduled shows there, twice a night over a Friday and Saturday. Because my pass enabled me to come and go as I pleased, I’d turned up for the end of the first concert, intending to have a beer or two in the backstage bar in the break between shows, maybe even grab a quick interview with one of the Mothers, before catching and reviewing the second show.

        In the event, because I could roam anywhere I’d wandered down towards the front on the right side and was leaning against the wall by an exit door watching Frank and the Mothers do their encore, a tongue-in-cheek cover of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ during which a photo of the Fabs was beamed on to a backdrop. This was a tribute to The Beatles who, at the end of 1963 and start of 1964, had played a 16-night Christmas season at the theatre when it was known as the Finsbury Park Astoria. 

        Frank and his Mothers no doubt had fun rendering this old Beatles’ song, the first of their singles to grab America by the throat. Singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, late of The Turtles, were as good as it gets in the vocal department and clearly inspired by playing on a stage where JPG&R had once trod. 

        What happened next happened really quickly, just as the song finished. Frank was acknowledging the applause when, from the very front row, this bloke ran up the side stairs, onto the stage and gave him a hefty shove from the rear. Into the orchestra pit he went, guitar and all. The man rushed off stage but was grabbed by members of the audience who handed him over to Frank’s road crew to deal with, no doubt harshly. Meanwhile, an ambulance was called and Frank was stretchered out of the stage door.

        I’d been in the perfect position to see all this – I actually climbed on stage after the incident – and was now in the perfect position to observe the aftermath. The audience was asked to leave, which they did in an orderly manner, but not before a rumour spread that Frank was dead. The departing crowd, probably 3,000 plus, mingled with those outside waiting for the second show, another 3,000 plus, so there was a huge mass of people outside on Seven Sisters Road, most of whom believed Frank Zappa had been murdered by a crazed fan who, it later transpired, was jealous because his girlfriend was attracted to him. 

        “The band thought I was dead,” Zappa later recalled in his 1989 book The Real Frank Zappa Book. “My head was over on my shoulder, and my neck was bent like it was broken. I had a gash in my chin, a hole in the back of my head, a broken rib, and a fractured leg. One arm was paralysed.”

        Frank spent the best part of a year in a wheelchair. John Morris was mortified. Not only had one of the world’s most gifted and popular rock stars been savagely attacked in his theatre but the losses on the cancelled shows, all sell outs, was critical. Ticket money had to be returned and this might cause the theatre to close. It didn’t but John told me it was touch and go for a while – he needed to sell out three shows a week just to break even – so I doubled my efforts to help in any way I could.

        Meanwhile the fan, 24-year-old Trevor Howell, appeared in court the following March charged with assault. “I did it because my girlfriend said she loved Frank,” he said before being sentenced to 12 months inside. 

A live recording from the show on three vinyl LPs was released in March last year, its cover the illustration above.



A 52-year-old copy of Melody Maker reproduced last week on a Facebook page devoted to old MMs reminded me that in February 1971 I was invited by Keith Moon to watch him appear in Frank Zappa’s movie 200 Motels, which was being filmed at Pinewood Studios, and Keith suggested that beforehand I meet him at the Castle Hotel in Windsor where he was staying with the rest of the cast. 

As it happened, Keith’s chauffeur in those days – Peter ‘Chalky’ White, this being before the redoubtable Dougal Butler took over – had been given the day off, leaving Keith stranded at the hotel when an unexpected call came through to say he was required on set. He was in a bit of a panic when I arrived but I saved the day driving Keith to Pinewood myself. Fortunately, my orange Mini had an inbuilt cassette player and a copy of The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits was lurking in there somewhere, so Keith wasn’t too bothered at having to ride in a car somewhat less well-appointed than the lilac Roller to which he was accustomed. He was a bit heavy on volume, as I recall. 

It was this cassette that I had in my car. 

Half an hour later we pulled up at the celebrated film studio and I spent an agreeable afternoon watching him, Frank, Ringo and assorted cast members doing their thing in a surreal movie that in many ways foreshadowed the rock videos that about ten years later would become essential for bands with chart ambitions. 

This occurred the week before The Who began a series of unadvertised shows at the Young Vic Theatre near Waterloo Station, which were to be filmed and recorded for Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse project, and it is likely that Keith mentioned to me that The Who would be “rehearsing” there the following Sunday while I was with him that day. As a result, I went down to the Young Vic on February 14 to see for myself, only to be greeted by Pete yelling, “What’s fucking Melody Maker doing here?” He told me not to write about it because the theatre would be swamped by Who fans if the group’s presence at the YV became public knowledge. I was as good as my word

        Here’s what I wrote about Keith in 200 Motels for MM

Keith Moon, dressed up as a nun with a painted white face, was chasing Ringo Starr through an orchestra pit set in a concentration camp. Ringo was carrying a harp and Keith’s wimple was poking out of the eyes of a violinist. The whole scene was surrounded by barbed wire so there was no chance of escape, and machine guns from the timpani level were trained on the conductor. 

Sounds rather bizarre, even in these days of Monty Python mania – but it’s all part of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels which was being shot at Pinewood last week. 

The part of the nun was to have been played by Mick Jagger but Moon took over principally to get some experience of appearing before film cameras before work started on the Who’s own film on Sunday. 

It was fortunate that I met Keith at his Windsor Hotel at the appointed time for his genial chauffeur Chalky, who had been wrongly informed that he had the day off, was nowhere to be seen – and Keith wanted to get to the studio. An emergency call had come through to say he was wanted on the set but Keith was penniless and stranded at the hotel.

“We’ve been filming all week and last week and it’s just like being on the road again,” he told me as I drove him hastily towards Pinewood while he played my cassette of his beloved Beach Boys. “I was only supposed to be doing two days filming but it turned out to be much longer because I keep cropping up in crowd scenes as well. 

“The whole movie is based on a group’s life on the road so those with experience of that are used to what is going on. We had Wilfred Bramble in one part but he gave up in despair because he didn’t know what was going on. Ringo’s chauffeur took the role instead.”

Pinewood is situated in the green fields of Buckinghamshire near Iver Heath. Hidden from the road, it encompasses acres of film sets, both inside and out, linked by corridors resembling tube stations. It is centred on what was once a rambling country home, which today houses offices, dining rooms and bars. 

The film set for 200 Motels was street in “anytown” USA. Keith showed me round, explaining who was what and apologising for his late appearance. Shooting starts very early in the morning – at a time when most pop people are midway through their night’s sleep. 

Someone suggests Keith pits on his nun’s costume for a procession scene and I am left to watch the action. Ringo is eating a custard pie and leaning against a wooden hut. He’s made up to look like Frank Zappa, with black hair everywhere, moustache and tiny beard below his bottom lip. The real Frank Zappa is rushing around with directions. Director Tony Palmer is not on the set. He’s in an office with monitor TV sets showing him what’s going on and speaking through a closed-circuit radio to the stage director.

Various members of the Mothers are wandering around in bizarre costumes, in particular Mark Volman who is wearing a black bra, panties and girdle. Girls taking the parts of groupies are in abundance.

Half an hour later Keith returns in his nun’s outfit with his face painted white. There’s a delay while a dance sequence is being shot and Keith shows me the orchestra set where his chase with Ringo was filmed. 

“I was rushing around there and it was no joke with half a ton of denim around me,” he said, indicating his nun’s habit. “I think I poked out the second violinist’s eye. They were all clutching their Stradivari in horror in case Ringo’s harp smashed them.”

I asked how this scene fitted into the plot but he didn’t seem to know. He did mention something about being raised from the ground on wires and flying into the sky.

“We had Tony Curtis down on our set yesterday and I was chatting with him,” Keith continued. “He does all his own stunt work and apparently he did a death-defying act yesterday but they discovered the camera wasn’t working properly. He didn’t want to risk his luck by doing it again.”

At last the procession scene is underway. To a background of ‘Penis Dimensions’, just about the entire cast walk down the street carrying lighted torches. There were about 20 guys dressed as Ku Klux Klan and their torches create enough smoke to reduce visibility down to a few yards. For effect Keith makes a big show of picking his nose during the scene. Nobody seems to mind.

At 5.20 exactly filming stops. Film technicians are strict union men and everything shuts down with remarkable speed. Keith changes and most of the cast make for the bar where talk centres of the organisation of the party on Friday night, the last day of filming. Not surprisingly, Keith figures pretty high in the organisation of the party, directing Chalky – who has since reappeared – to purchase bottles by the dozen and arrange music for all. 

Back at the hotel over dinner Keith talked about his role in the film and the Who film. “I’m really only doing this film to get the hand of working before cameras. I’ve never been on a film set before so the experience will come in useful for our own film. I’m not doing this for the money and I suppose anyone could dress up as a nun and do what I do. But it’s great to do and nice to get out of London for a while. I am thinking of buying a house near Windsor too.* 

“With our own film, each of us in the group is being given a section to write for themselves so I’m thinking of having my bit shot in Bermuda so we can all go over there. I don’t know what the film company will think about it though,” he added, with some doubt.

A few drinks later and I’m in no state to drive back to town. The spare bed in Chalky’s room looks inviting and the next thing I know it’s Friday morning. Keith is already down for breakfast, looking as if he’s never been to bed at all. Maybe he hasn’t but he has as much energy packed into his frame as three of me. It’s always been evident in his drumming and it now looks as if it’ll evident on the movie screen too.

*About a couple of months later Keith would buy Tara House on the outskirts of nearby Chertsey. It would become the playhouse of his dreams.  





You make up your mind, you choose the chance you take

You ride to where the highway ends and the desert breaks

Out on to an open road you ride until the day

You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay.

All is not well in the Bruce Springsteen fan community. Dismayed at the exorbitant price of tickets for his current US tour, which hits the UK this summer, the much-admired Springsteen fanzine Backstreets reacted by announcing its closure after 43 years of loyal service. 

        I, too, am dismayed. The cheapest tickets for two Hyde Park shows in London – both of which are now sold out – hovered around the £350 mark, of which 100,000 were on sale for both shows which adds up to a gross of £35 million for the cheaper tickets. Add to that 5,000 or so tickets for the ‘gold’ area at around £1,2000 (another £12m), plus VIP tickets that when I went on to the site yesterday could cost as much as £8,653 each (yes, really), then what we’re looking at here is around £50 million quid having been banked by the organisers five months before the two London concerts take place in early July. There are also shows in Birmingham and Glasgow, and a further 26 elsewhere in Europe. 

        The cost-of-ticket situation has been much the same in America where, unless I’ve misunderstood the concept of ‘dynamic’ ticket pricing over there, the cost varies according to demand. In other words, the more demand the higher the price, so for Bruce they inevitably went through the roof and this – tickets costing between $4,000 and $5,000 – is what led to the imminent closure of Backstreets (to which I once subscribed).

        The system is supposedly designed to beat touts – by ensuring they must pay exorbitant prices for tickets they intend to resell – and to ensure more money ends up in the hands of the act. That fans most also pay more, however, seems to be an unavoidable consequence. 

        I first saw Bruce in early 1974, two shows in Virginia on the East Coast of America a year and a half before Born To Run was released. Since then I’ve seen him further nine times, albeit not recently, but I’ve seen plenty of shows on TV or YouTube clips and he’s never been less than brilliant, giving his all for anything up to three hours, loads of songs performed with all the expertise, swagger and emotion for which he is justly celebrated. Having acquired every one of his albums either on vinyl and CD, all sorts of live ones too, a few bootlegs and a slew of 12” singles, I’ve kept the faith but I’m disappointed by Bruce’s response to the ticket price controversy. Reacting to fans’ anger, he was unrepentant, flippant even. “I know it was unpopular with some fans,” he has said, “but if there’s any complaints on the way out, you can have your money back.”

        This isn’t very Bruce-like. He’s always positioned himself as a man of the people, supported the Democratic Party and many worthy charities. The word on the street was that the individual members of the E Street Band have always been paid the same as him for shows. On the current tour, I think the band numbers 13 (three guitarists, including the Boss, bass, drums, two keyboards, Mrs Boss, violin and four brass). So, they all have to be paid and with so many on stage the share probably won’t be as equitable as it once was.  

        Whatever. In announcing its closure Backstreets editor Christopher Phillips claims that fans have been “thrown to the wolves, pushed aside in a way that seems as unfathomable as it was avoidable”, adding: “This so-called premium, algorithm-driven model violates an implicit contract between Bruce Springsteen and his fans, one in which the audience side of the equation appeared to truly matter – and in fact was crucial.

        “These are concerts that we can hardly afford; that many of our readers cannot afford; and that a good portion of our readership has lost interest in as a result.” 

        I haven’t lost interest but I won’t be at Hyde Park.



Diplomacy, discretion and discernment were the key skills required by Tony King in his role as artistic advisor and PA to assorted Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elton John, among others. Blessed with abundant charm and film stars looks, he was his convivial self when I bumped into him during the last week of October, 1973, in the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Los Angeles. 

        “Is Elton here?” I asked, assuming he was among Elton’s entourage, as he was the last time I saw him. 

“I’m working for John now,” he replied.


“Lennon. He’s over there. Would you like to meet him?”

According to Tony’s book The Tastemaker, just published, one of the duties he’d assumed on John’s behalf was to make the most outspoken Beatle more palatable to the American public after his flirtation with left-winger Jerry Rubin and the sloganeering unevenness of his 1972 LP Some Time In New York City. To this end he was doing a bit of PR as well as minding John, so my arrival in the Rainbow, where John was carousing with May Pang that night, was a welcome happenstance for both of them, though I didn’t know this at the time. 

This unexpected introduction to John paved the way for a lengthy interview with him the following week and a familiarity that lasted about three years. Now, almost 50 years later, I cherish my brief acquaintanceship with John Lennon as a highlight of my life, and I will forever be grateful to Tony King for his role in setting it in motion. 

Tony was one of those music industry insiders with undefined but crucial roles, charming, well-travelled, well-tailored individuals who never lost their cool, and seemed to know everyone, to know where the action was and how to get there. They were indispensable to the smooth running of the industry yet at the same time slightly shadowy and, like Tony, often gay. Always, but always, they were fun to be around.

Now turned 80, Tony has decided there’s nothing much to lose by revealing all, probably because much of what he knows has leaked out elsewhere anyway. Still, The Tastemaker is a fine read, breezy, chatty and enlightening, a bit like those old showbiz memoirs wherein almost everyone is wonderful and, dead or alive, he wants them to stay that way. 

The book opens with the inside details of John’s appearance during Elton John’s concert on November 28, 1974, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. To my utmost regret, I was in London at the time, on a break from my job as Melody Maker’s man in America. Tony was instrumental in setting up what was John’s last appearance before a live audience and it’s nice to know precisely how it came about. Thereafter Tony’s book follows his story from working in a record shop in Eastbourne, where he was raised, to becoming an office boy at Decca Records in London, the launch pad for everything else. He worked for the Stones, for George Martin, for The Beatles, for Elton, and in all these roles encountered and befriended other major stars. Principally, he fixes things for these stars, like recording sessions, album artwork and concert staging, but more importantly he acts as a sounding board on artistic matters and is seemingly unafraid to speak his mind, even if his opinion doesn’t necessarily chime with that of his employer at the time. 

        In choosing to arrange his chapters largely by subject, as opposed to chronologically, the book skips around confusingly at times but Tony tells gossipy tales galore, almost all of which show the participants in a good light, even Phil Spector and others who are no longer with us. Indeed, barring a few awkward moments when John Lennon became troublesome, Tony doesn’t seem to have had many unpleasant experiences at all, at least within the rock world, but he writes movingly about losing friends, prominent among them Freddie Mercury, to AIDS. 

        After the hedonism Tony describes during his early eighties stint as Disco Promotions man at RCA Records in New York, it comes as no surprise when he decides to join AA but his conversion to Catholicism was certainly unexpected, especially for someone who spent many of the following 20 years on the road with the Stones and, later, becoming Artistic Director for Elton’s Vegas stint and ongoing farewell tour. Among his adventures with Mick & Co was a spat with Donald Trump in which the future occupant of the White House was declined a photo opportunity with them. In the light of this, playing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ against their wishes at his rallies was probably petty retaliation, not untypical for this repellent man.

        To have worked for all these acts requires a good deal of warmth and understanding, gifts that come across well in Tony’s book, and he doesn’t flinch at revealing personal tragedies, not least being diagnosed with AIDS himself, now contained with drugs. More heart-warming, though, is his close friendship with Charlie Watts who, as ever, comes across as a truly honourable gentleman, and how he’s managed to retain the friendship and respect of all those for whom he has worked. In an industry not known for loyalty towards old retainers, this is unquestionably Tony King’s greatest achievement. 



“I can’t believe it,” sang The Who in A Quick One. “Do my eyes deceive me?”

        It’s like a dream to see Abba again, but the truth is I didn’t see them. I saw a virtual reality Abba show that recreated them on a stage as if they were flesh and blood, achieved through the mystery of modern technology, smoke and mirrors, a slightly weird adaptation of what special effects boffins do with pixels in movies like Star Wars, Toy Story and Avatar. For most of the show I was fooled, captivated, compelled like everyone else to join in the charade, and when it was over I stood and cheered, not quite sure whether I was cheering Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida or the skill of those whose expertise brought them to life again. 

Most of the sell-out crowd – 3,000 but it somehow seemed more due to the scrum in the dancing pit – were no doubt cheering Abba’s legacy, “the songs I’m singing, or simply expressing their genuine love for the group’s evergreen music. For 90 minutes it was performed, with precision alongside giant screens and a spectacular light show, at enormous volume by a live band accompanying the same vocal tracks, perhaps enhanced, recorded by Abba in their prime. Meanwhile, in the centre of the enormous stage, the four of them, Björn with his guitar on the left, Benny on his keyboards to the right, Agnetha and Frida in the middle, delivered 20 of their songs, mostly well known ones, including a couple from last year’s Voyage album. Extraordinary! 

Let’s begin at the beginning. We were searched with airport-style scanners as we entered the specially constructed Abba Arena. There’s lots of staff in matching outfits, all of them smiling and wishing us a good time, and plenty of opportunity to spend our hard earned on food and drink, which isn’t cheap, not to mention memorabilia, especially the £15 programmes, in shops, one of which, believe it or not, is located in the Pudding Mill Lane DLR station opposite the venue. The tickets weren’t cheap either. The promoters of this extravaganza, not least Abba themselves, clearly want a good return on their massive investment. 

Inside, the audience was as broad a demographic as you could imagine, mums and dads with children, teenagers, groups of women in their twenties sipping Prosecco, middle aged parents, right the way up to a handful that looked even older than myself. The vast majority, however, weren’t even born when Abba quietly called it a day at the end of 1982, let alone when they won Eurovision in 1974. Many had dressed for the occasion, glitter tops and pants, vague recreations of the ice-blue costumes that Abba once wore, a sprinkling of lookalikes. 

        There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air as the lights dimmed. After a stern warning that photography was not permitted and miscreants would be asked to leave, a fanfare struck up. The mesh curtain across the front, a depiction of Scandinavian pine trees, snowflakes gently falling, was drawn back and four slim, dark figures rose from trapdoors beneath the stage. One stepped forward, the signal for lift off: the recreated Frida singing ‘The Visitors’, the title track from their final album, an ominous, synth-driven song about paranoia, not the most obvious opener but reflective of the more mature, late-period Abba; an indication of the way the group prefers to be perceived in the 21st Century. The volume was deafening, as loud as any band I’d ever heard, with a booming bass and sharp, piercing vocals. 

        Thereafter the songs came thick and fast. “Hello London,” screamed the Benny hologram (henceforth in this review the members of Abba will be referred to as if they were real) before ‘Hole In Your Soul’, not one of Abba’s better-known songs, followed by a couple of belters, ‘SOS’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. The dance floor took on a life of its own, like a turbulent ocean, twisting and churning, the first few bars of these songs eliciting warm ripples of recognition. The tempo slowed for two more crowd favourites, ‘Chiquitita’ and ‘Fernando’, played back to back, the former backlit with a glorious golden sun, eclipsed slowly by the moon, and enlivened by singers from the house band dancing in the aisles, their arms waving, encouraging everyone to do the same, which they did. The latter was performed before a twinkling sky, bright stars shining for liberty, for ‘Fernando’. Agnetha and Frida sang their parts as per the records, stepping forward on cue. Someone had taken a lot of trouble over presentation, and it worked. Then it was back to energetic dancing for ‘Mamma Mia’. 

        It was heady, non-stop stuff. Abbatars – or whatever we choose to call them – don’t need to pause for breath, neither do they perspire. They blink like humans, though, their hair bounces realistically and they smile at one another encouragingly, looking as though they are enjoying themselves. The girls dance and occasionally embrace. The one with the guitar appeared to play it, mostly a blue semi-acoustic 12-string, and there was even a lead connected to one of those radio boxes attached to his belt. The one on piano appeared to play too, his fingers sliding down the keys for a characteristic glissando right on cue. By now these two had both addressed the audience. “Who’d have thought it?” was the tone of Benny’s droll comments, while Björn thanked everyone for coming and explained that he needed to get changed while the band and their on-stage singers took over during ‘Does You Mother Know’. 

        With the Abbatars taking an extended break ‘Eagle’ accompanied an animated film, a pilgrim progressing through desolate landscapes, the Voyage of the show’s title no doubt, hints of Lord Of The Rings or a Nordic folk tale of some sort. Then the foursome reappeared in those tight black outfits with neon trims, a bit like Kraftwerk, for ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, ‘Summer Night City’ and the disco throb of ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’, a triple dose of deafening dance delirium for the mosh pit. 

        There was more animated film footage while ‘Voulez Vous’ rang out – I’d have preferred to see the group – before Frida stepped forward to talk about female empowerment, quite apt in view of her particular journey. To my delight she sang a favourite of mine, ‘When All Is Said And Done’, the rousing song of heartfelt regret from their final LP that somehow, undeservedly, went largely unnoticed at the time.

        Agnetha introduced the two songs from their recent Voyage LP, ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ and ‘I Still Have Faith In You’, the former sounding like a throwback to their glory years, the latter suggestively autobiographical. (The much-watched video for ‘... Faith in You is extracted from the Voyage show.) ‘Thank You For The Music’ triggered a mass singalong, albeit largely unheard above the booming PA, before Björn took us back to Brighton and ‘Waterloo’, accompanied by the only old film footage of the night, the Eurovision look, the big cat dresses and outfits that no doubt still bring on nightmares for Benny and Björn. 

        Freshly attired while nostalgia ruled, with Agnetha now in a flouncy white gown, they gave us the inevitable ‘Dancing Queen’, which brought the house down, and returned for one encore, the equally inevitable ‘The Winner Takes It All’, nowadays their most admired song, sensibly saved for the very end. It was a superb, well considered, conclusion. Finally, unexpectedly, after the Abbatars had left the stage waving, the real Abba, or at least Abba as they look now, returned for a quick curtain call, or was it simply aged Abbatars? By this time, I didn't care. 

As they appeared at the end

        It wasn’t flawless. Close scrutiny of the screens revealed tiny imperfections in the lip-synching. The superb light show, scores of illuminated discs and ribbons ascending and descending from the ceiling, may have been designed to distract from this. Either way, at a distance they looked far more real than on the screens. And I’ve have preferred ‘One Of Us’ and/or ‘Take A Chance On Me’ to some of the selections, also maybe ‘The Day Before You Came’, their wondrous swansong. 

        There will come a time when all rock and pop musicians born in the 20th Century will no longer be with us, but thanks to the technology pioneered by Abba, of all people, in this extraordinary show, they can, if they choose so to do, perform forever. Don’t ask me to explain how they did it but for most of the 90 minutes, while the four members of Abba appeared to perform at their custom-built East London arena, I was fooled into thinking it really was them up there on that stage. It was fabulous, emotionally charged and utterly captivating. 


US AND THEM: The Authorised Story of Hipgnosis by Mark Blake

… And after all, we’re only ordinary men. Well, not according to Mark Blake. There was nothing ordinary about Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, ying and yang, friends and enemies, partners in the design team Hipgnosis, responsible for some, if not most, of those magically surreal LP covers designed for close scrutiny after smoking something unavailable at the corner shop. Back then cover art conveyed a message about the music inside and those who created it, an intrinsic component of the package that is dearly missed by those of us a bit long in tooth. 

“Storm was the rough and Po was the smooth,” writes Blake. “Storm’s maddening, brilliant artistry was enabled by Po’s practical nous and Olympic gold medal-standard hustling. Had you removed one or the other, the whole thing would have collapsed.”

        “The double act was amazing,” recalls Robert Plant. “The charming, amiable bonhomie of Aubrey and the belligerent ‘Do I have to deal with these scum musicians?’ approach from Storm. It was marvellous.”

I can vouch for these sentiments. Twice I tangled with Storm, over the books Taken By Storm and Mind Over Matter, the former a Hipgnosis retrospective published by Omnibus and the latter a Pink Floyd art book that Omnibus acquired and updated through buying out its original publisher. In both cases, negotiations, production and delivery were fraught with issues brought about by Storm’s intransigence, his often maddening I Know Best stance that, admittedly, worked out in the books’ favour in the long term. 

        As Us And Them makes clear, all those weird, surreal, thoughtful images created for Floyd and everyone else weren’t done by Photoshop or by faking it as computers enable today. They were real photographs for which he’d assemble the props, the models, the lighting and the backdrop, which invariably involved travel to exotic locations at considerable expense, and it often took him ages, like weeks, to get it right. He was a stickler, a perfectionist, an artist, and that’s why it was both a privilege and – occasionally – a pain in the neck to work with him. I probably wasn’t the only one to mutter ‘Storm by name, Storm by nature’ under my breath. 

        So, Mark Blake’s illuminating book tells Storm’s story, which begins in Cambridge where he befriends some of those who will become Pink Floyd, and that of Powell, born in Worthing but raised largely in the Middle East where his dad served with the RAF. Both had uncommon, Bohemian upbringings and, separately, discovered abstract art, beat poetry and cool music. They met in Cambridge and bonded at a party that was disrupted by the unwelcome arrival of policemen looking for drugs. Most of the guests fled but Storm, his girlfriend and Po stood their ground. “By staying behind, I’d passed a test,” says Po. “After that, I seemed to spend every other day with Storm and his friends.”



        They got into a good deal of trouble, especially Po who narrowly avoided jail over a financial scam, but in 1968 were asked by their friends in the Floyd to produce a cover for their second LP, A Saucerful Of Secrets. Storm’s belief that there was nothing more boring than a photo of a band on a record cover was Hipgnosis’ mantra. “All of us, including the Floyd, shared the same interests,” he said. “Atmosphere, emotions, space, politics, the war, drugs, girls…” 

        The Saucerful design, which looked a bit like the bottom of a fish tank, was sufficiently weird to cement a relationship that lasted years and led to everything else. The two non-Cambridge Floydians, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, were as nonplussed by the duo as everyone else. “There was one slightly oddball character in Storm and one slightly more measured character in the shape of Po,” recalls Mason. “And it stayed that way for the next fifty years.”

        While the early chapters of Us And Them double as a fairly detailed study of the comings and goings of those connected with the early Floyd, to a certain extent reiterating the same material found in Blake’s definitive Floyd biography Pigs Might Fly, the next fifty years become the meat and potatoes of his book. Alongside his accounts of the weird and wonderful ways of Hipgnosis, we read about other developments in the realm of LP cover art, and interactions with their many clients, prominent among them Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney, the cue for page after page of inside stories, all of them hilarious, eye-opening and, often, unflattering. The same applies to Hipgnosis’ involvement in making a promotional movie for Now Voyager, the 1984 solo LP by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. Without giving away too much, Storm threw a wobbly over Barry’s beard.

        In their heyday the money rolled into Hipgnosis’ coffers and both Po and Storm drove Porsches but in 1985 they fell out over debts incurred by their film company and didn’t speak for 12 years. What finally got them back together, loosely, were offers from publishers to compile books of their work but the friction was still there. Storm had the same careless disregard for money as our last-but-one Prime Minister, and was wilfully reckless when it came to selling off potentially valuable artwork. “Storm was selling loads of Hipgnosis’s work to collectors,” says Po. “People were wandering into the studio – ‘Can I have this?’ ‘Yes, five hundred quid, please.’” When he sold some Led Zeppelin artwork that the group owned – or thought they owned – Jimmy Page was not pleased.

Nick Mason, for one, was probably aware of Storm’s predicament. When Taken By Storm was published in 2007 an exhibition of Hipgnosis’ work was held at a gallery near Denmark Street. On opening night Mason arrived in his leathers having biked in from somewhere and wanted to buy a book. I was manning the sales counter at the time and told him he could have it for free because he was, well, Nick Mason. He wasn't having it. From his bulging wallet he produced a £50 note, handed it to me and said, simply, “Its for Storm.” 

        Storm died in 2013 but Po is still with us and contributes a Foreword. Like many of the best rock books, Us And Them recalls an era long before corporate interests had the final say in what they now call ‘product’. As Po points out, it was a time when nobody ever said no. It was better then, believe me. 


LEAD SISTER: The Story Of Karen Carpenter by Lucy O’Brien

If ever a girl seemed destined to marry her childhood sweetheart, have 2.7 children and become a ‘home-maker’, it was Karen Carpenter. Unfortunately for her, it didn’t happen that way. Blessed with a deep, honey-drenched and distinctively pure contralto voice, and a natural talent for the drums, she became one half of the Carpenters, the brother and sister easy listening duo that in the 1970s sold over 100 million records and rallied behind the Stars & Stripes for Republican America when all around them the rock world was bent on delivering something entirely different, musically, politically and socially. This brought renown and anguish in opposing measure, and when anguish won Karen died from anorexia, aged just 32. 

        This, in a nutshell, is the story adeptly conveyed by Lucy O’Brien in Lead Sister, the first biography of Karen Carpenter that I have ever read so I can’t compare it with others. Judging from the diligence reflected in her earlier work, however, and the list of interviewees at the back, among them myself, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s the best yet. 

        Among them myself? Yes. In complete contrast to the kind of music to which I was inclined, the first substantial interview I did when I arrived in Los Angeles as Melody Maker’s man in America in the autumn of 1973 was with Richard and Karen Carpenter at their family home in Downey, a conservative suburb south of LA. Then aged 27 and 24 respectively, I was astonished that they still lived with their parents in this comfortable detached house, at the back of which was their own recording studio and music room where we sat down and talked for an hour while Agnes, their mum, delivered tea and biscuits. 

        Lucy O’Brien spoke to me about this encounter and it’s relayed in her book. “They were really sweet people,” I told her. “They struck me as the kind who got dressed in their Sunday best and went to church. Karen looked like a bank teller, not Hollywood flash at all, no glamour, no tights and plunging neckline. At that point I was immersed in the rock scene, men in denim shirts unbuttoned to the waist and girls flaunting themselves. Richard looked like an estate agent. They seemed like a suburban couple, even though they were brother and sister.”

        Sweet as they were, they seemed strangely naïve about the rock world, set apart from it yet rubbing shoulders in the charts with the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Stones. In this respect they were the American equivalent of Abba*, creators of precisely produced pop perfection that catered to a large but undemonstrative constituency discomfited by the vigorous sedition of long-haired musicians in faded jeans with wailing guitars and sleazy habits. 

Lucy O’Brien traces the Carpenter family’s upwardly-mobile journey from the East Coast of America to the West when Karen was 13, not an age when girls appreciate being separated from their friends, as I learned myself when we yanked our 14-year-old daughter from West London to deepest Surrey and all hell broke loose. But I digress. Karen was on the timid side and, even then, concerned about her weight. A bit of a tomboy, she found a life for herself through the drums, which she played in her school’s marching band. The vocals came later. Richard, meanwhile, was a musical prodigy, expected to become the star of a hard-working, all-American, Christian family keen on self-improvement. 

As with any determined act, there are false starts but eventually their hard work and talent win out, and by the end of the Sixties they have secured a contract with A&M Records for whom they would record their most successful work, which OBrien analyses comprehensively. Richard and Karen befriend the strata of musical families you would expect, the Boones, the Jacksons and the Osmonds, one of whom, Alan, ‘dates’ Karen when the pair meet in Las Vegas but it’s unlikely the dating went much further than simply holding hands. 

While this is no rags to riches story – the family’s work ethic ensures a degree of comfort from the outset – it seems to enact the American Dream insofar as honest toil, clean living and deference to the Flag will be rewarded. Unfortunately, the family, especially mother Agnes, smother Karen who feels unable to break away, “like a bird in a gilded cage”, even as her star rose and the money rolled in. Boyfriends are kept at arm’s length, not least because Agnes believes they must be gold diggers. In the meantime, Karen worries about her image, her looks, her clothes and – most pressingly – her weight, even though in realty she has no need to. 

        With the benefit of hindsight and medical texts published since Karen’s death, O’Brien addresses the cause of her demise perceptively and in ways that leaves readers in no doubt that the need to conform to an unwritten law that female entertainers must be thin leads to her undoing. “I never thought of her as fat but she had that complex,” says video director Clare Baren. “Now you can have a big ass and be a huge star, like Lizzo. But it was different for women in the 1970s. All those handling her career were men. I’m sure she got told, ‘You have a big ass’ by the wrong people, many times.”

        Similarly, friends note that when Karen did finally manage to break away from the family home, moving into a luxury apartment building at the age of 26, she appeared to suffer from OCD. “Her clothes were hung exactly a quarter of an inch apart and rigidly grouped according to type,” notes one, while her pal Olivia Newton-John says her apartment was “always immaculate. She was very clean, very tidy.” Compulsive tidying, notes O’Brien, was reminiscent of Agnes. 

        In a more enlightened age, better advice would have been sought and given but when the Carpenters were on top of the world this wasn’t available. It’s no surprise, then, that the second half of Lead Sister charts Karen’s foreseeable decline, a sorry tale exacerbated by brother Richard’s increasing dependence on sleeping pills. Psychotherapy proved ineffective – she’s economical with the truth about the medication she’s taking – and the failure of her brief and somewhat hasty marriage to Tom Burris seems to have been the last straw. When the end came, it was sudden. On the morning of February 4, 1983, Karen awoke at her parents’ house, went downstairs to make coffee and returned to her bedroom where she suffered a cardiac arrest. She died in hospital shortly afterwards.   

        While acknowledging that Karen’s death will forever dominate her story, O’Brien concludes Lead Sister by returning to her theme of how outside pressure was its prime cause. “Karen kept her battle secret,” she writes, “but many younger female singers – like Taylor Swift, Kesha, Halsey and Lady Gaga – are critiquing that cultural idea of thinness. What contributed to Karen Carpenter’s isolation was the belief that anorexia was shameful and taboo. Younger women, emboldened by Third Wave and MeToo feminism, are calling for more support.” 

        Lead Sister, a salutary tale, offers just that. 


*While both acts chose to sweeten one of their most popular songs with a children’s choir to an extent that would see off an entire hospital ward of diabetics, there are notable differences between Abba and the Carpenters. Abba relied exclusively on their in-house songwriting team, principally Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, but the Carpenters cast their net wider for material, reinterpreting tested classics alongside Richard’s own songs, and the ratio of ballads to up-tempo material is much higher in the Carpenters’ oeuvre than it is in that of Abba. Perhaps more importantly, the Carpenters are Conservative with a capital C, while Abba, musically bolder, sexier and more visionary, are apolitical. Nevertheless Universal, which by the turn of the millennium owned the catalogues of both acts, saw fit in 2000 to release a hits compilation called Carpenters Gold, no doubt hoping to emulate the extraordinary success of Abba Gold eight years earlier. In a further bid to attract a similar demographic, the packaging was identical.