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.