Off we go again on another romp through the annals of Allan Jones, the music writer who never refused a drink yet somehow remained sober enough to set down his intemperate adventures on paper so that we might all enjoy them. This is Allan’s second volume of memoirs which, like the first, features a cast of rock stars who plied their trade from the mid-seventies to around the turn of the millennium, a period that encompassed Allan’s tenure on Melody Maker, where he rose to become editor, and Uncut, of which he was founding editor, remaining until he retired in 2014.

        Allan again offers up stories on many of his favourite musicians, both friends and foes, some of whom appeared in his previous book with some new faces this time around and the results are much the same: bad behaviour on the road and elsewhere, exhausting trips abroad that become feats of endurance and interviews wherein ideological disagreements over music and/or career status are exacerbated by alcohol and lead to meltdown. There are 45 chapters on characters as diverse as Elton John, Screaming Lord Sutch, Peter Cook, Joe Ely, Oliver Stone and Jon Anderson, lately ejected from Yes when Allan tracked him down to a mansion in the South of France. They vary in length from three or four pages to about a dozen. 

        As before, Allan’s sympathies lean more towards the post-punk generation than the heroes of the sixties and early seventies, and he’s unafraid to confront anyone whom he feels might be outstaying their welcome in the rock trade. In this regard he coaxes Anderson and Robert Plant to admit to being baffled at the negative jibes they encountered from punk rockers, while at the same time subtly implying that both have been so insulated by their lofty status that reality is simply beyond their comprehension. 

        While a common theme of Allan’s work tends towards hilarious escapades that involve consumption of booze on a heroic scale, these pieces confirm how wrong it is to assume that this is all you get. Longer pieces on Sting, who’s full of himself, Elvis Costello, a particular favourite, Chrissie Hynde, ditto, and Jerry Dammers, initially hesitant when it comes to disclosure, are both revealing and fact-packed; revealing insofar as Allan gets to grips with the nature and temperaments of those about whom he writes, while allowing the facts to pile up naturally as he goes along. In this regard he’s never, ever, boring. Sting, by the way, comes across as a someone you’d cross the street to avoid, while Bryan Ferry’s ranting about the way he is perceived by the media is almost certainly provoked by his reliance on a “tastefully patterned earthenware dish piled high with cocaine”. 

        Reading through, it is possible to discern how the differing drug and drink habits of those Allan encounters are reflected in the music they produce. By and large, the more they drink, the more he enjoys their music. Those with relatively abstemious habits come across as a bit dull, not just as interviewees but in the music they produce. Nevertheless, even those unlikely to stimulate Allan’s sympathy are whipped into life by his prose, like Ian Anderson, cod-piece favouring leader of Jethro Tull, who, believe it or not, opens their conversation by asking, ‘Are you in good cheer?’ “like a knighted thespian declaiming something shouty by Shakespeare”.

        I’m envious that Allan spent an afternoon with Peter Cook, our greatest ever comedian, at his house in Hampstead, discussing the bawdy language on the Derek And Clive albums he made with Dudley Moore, and also that he spent a day with R.E.M. in Athens just before Christmas 1999, cajoling them to wear Santa outfits for an MM cover. I particularly enjoyed his encounters with John Cale, clearly one of his heroes; also his interviews with Little Feat, delayed after they were frisked on arrival at Heathrow. Nothing was found. “We sent everything ahead of us,” says Richie Hayward. “It was all waiting for us when we arrived.” 

        In the book’s moving final chapter Allan catches up with guitarist Joe Carrasco, an old pal, who’s playing at The Cavern in Raynes Park, an evening that brings out in him hitherto uncharacteristic nostalgic reminiscences, not just about the Tex-Mex music he loves but fellow music writers who have left us, a roll call of names I recognise. As the final chords of ‘Little Queenie’ fade away Allan thinks back to… “other times, a hundred places like this. The years peel away, time in retreat. It comes back to you then, all of it. The music, the girl on your arm. Small rooms, lit up with guitars, feedback, love and laughter. All those bands, all that beautiful noise…. Where did they all go, and so many people with them. Talk about smoke through a keyhole.”

        Too Late To Stop Now is another very funny book by a very funny writer who, at the last moment, switches elegantly to poignant mode that made me think as well as laugh. Only someone who loves the music as much as he does, and whose life was so enriched by it, could do that. Thanks Allan. 

1 comment:

Jimmy Holcomb (Treblephone) said...

I greatly miss his back page in UNCUT every month. Bought the first book and can't wait for the second to be released here in the US.

Sidebar: I live in Mesquite, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Years ago, Allan wrote about an encounter with The Blasters, who were playing a Dallas gig but were lodged here in what was a seen-better-times motel. From his description, I figured out which one it was (it's been in business since 1958)--and not only was he able to confirm that I had it right, but was also incredulous that it was still in business in 2023!