The New York Dolls presented me with a dilemma when I was Melody Maker’s man in America. My predecessor in that role, Roy Hollingworth, adored them, declaring them the future of rock’n’roll, and such was his enthusiasm that it seemed churlish for those that followed not to share it, to some extent anyway. There was much to admire about them, not least their us against the world attitude, a stance that was respected by all music writers who harboured a militant streak, but at the same time they could be very loose, almost to the point of incompetence. 

They were social animals, hanging out in New York bars like Max’s Kansas City and Ashley’s where musicians gathered, and I got to know their singer David Johansen and his girlfriend Cyrinda Foxe, a beautiful blonde who left him for Steve Tyler, the singer with Aerosmith, whom she married. My pal Bob Gruen loved the Dolls too, and this only added to my dilemma when it came to writing about them.  

    Fifty years ago last week I watched them headline over Elliott Murphey at the Academy of Music in New York, and this was my rather orthodox review for MMs Caught In The Act page, dated February 23, 1974. 

A noticeable aspect of the current rock scene here is the number of artists who are very directly influenced by musicians from the sixties. Generally, these fall into two schools – those with Dylan leanings and those with Rolling Stones leanings.

    The Dylan school encompasses a string of “thinking” lyric-writing electric guitar players who front their own bands and seem to be reliving Dylan’s Blond On Blonde era. The Stones school includes hordes of bands who are out to shock and outrage and whose musical ability is far surpassed by their physical appearance and apparent enthusiasm.

    Elliott Murphey belongs to the former school and the New York Dolls to the latter. Both appeared at the Academy of Music on Friday evening, the Dolls headlining in front of a sell-out crowd that was partisan to say the least.

    Enough words have been written about the Dolls in these pages recently to encircle the globe, but it seems only fair to point out that their prowess as musicians does seem to have increased since the last time I saw them – four months ago at the Whiskey in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, of course, there isn’t a shadow of originality about their entire performance, based so obviously on the Rolling Stones that one tends to think that maybe it’s some kind of Mike Yarwood of rock and roll up there on stage.

    The early half of their set – which began with a film of themselves – was surprisingly tight. They’ve obviously been rehearsing recently and taken instant courses on how to play guitars. The latter half, however, descended into a deafening musical abyss, all stemming from David Johansen’s vocal work which gradually lost its pitch amidst his enthusiasm. By the end he was yelling his head off.

    But the Dolls are the Dolls and in New York it doesn’t really matter how well or badly they play.

    Elliott Murphey, on the other hand, had to work hard but even then his music seemed lost on the Dolls aficionados. While Murphey’s band does have its flaws, the man himself has star quality. He plays an electric guitar well, writes some good songs and stands squat about the stage as if he means business. 

    Murphey’s band includes an excellent drummer, his own brother on bass and a keyboard and rhythm guitarist. The second guitar player might as well not have been there – his contribution was a big zero – while the organist, too, seemed held back. Murphey, in white suit and shades, is the obvious star of the proceedings and some of his guitar licks were both tasteful and original.


JOE COCKER, Sheffield, January 1971

Fifty-three years ago last month Melody Maker got word that Joe Cocker, who’d spent most of 1970 on the road with Mad Dogs & Englishmen, had returned to his home town of Sheffield and, unlikely as it might seem, was back living with his mum and dad. Editor Ray Coleman suggested I drive up to Sheffield, find out where ma and pa Cocker lived and pay him a visit. 

Joe was a big star then. In the current era it is unheard of for a music writer to simply roll up at a big star’s home uninvited and knock on the door. It was taking a bit of a liberty even then but Ray liked to subvert convention so I did as he suggested. I drove up the M1 very early on a Saturday morning, discovered his address in the Steel Bank area of Sheffield by inquiring at a music shop where, luckily, someone knew him and knocked on the door. He was still in bed but his mum and dad roused him. While his mum made him breakfast, we spent about an hour chatting before strolling down the street to his local pub and chatting some more. I left him on the corner of the street where he lived and drove to Skipton, spending the night at my dad’s house before driving back down to London. Back in the office on Monday, this is what I wrote for the January 16, 1971, edition of MM. It was trailered on the front page as Joe Cocker: What Can I Do Next? 

Joe Cocker’s turned full circle. Los Angeles, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the Woodstock nation and bad trips are a far cry from the backstreets of Sheffield. But Joe’s come back. He’s living at home with his mum and dad and that’s where he’s content to be – for the time being at least.

    Tasker Road is stretch of terraced houses. Mr and Mrs Cocker and their son Joe live at number 38. There’s a brand new Rover 2000TC standing outside. The shiny new motor looks a bit of out of place against the shabbier ’64 models parked around it.

    Joe’s dad answers my knock. He is surprised to see me which isn’t surprising because he didn’t know I was coming. Neither did Joe, who is in bed, and is equally surprised that Melody Maker is visiting him at his Yorkshire home. “He was a bit late in last night,” explains father Cocker. “Went to a friend’s house. Unusual for him. First time he’s been out in a while.”

    Five minutes, a chat with dad about the weather and Joe appears, grinning. He’s grown a beard and his untidy curly hair reaches his shoulders. The pot belly is still there. He seems genuinely pleased to see Melody Maker on home ground. In his red polo neck sweater and blue cords – no familiar tie-dyed vest up here – he confesses he hasn’t much to say. 

    We’re in the small living room, huddled around a gas fire. It’s one of those houses where the front room is reserved for weddings and funerals only. MM interviews aren’t in that class.

    “I came home about three weeks ago,” Joe tells me. “I had been in the States since March. I wanted to come home for Christmas. I don’t know why.”

    “Tell me about Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” I say.

    Joe lights a cigarette, his first of the day. “Well, the reports in the papers about it were pretty true,” he says. “I just went to America to meet Leon Russell with the intention of getting a group together. I met Chris Stainton and Leon and they got all their buddies to join. It finished up with us all going on tour together. Somebody filmed it and they are supposed to be putting this two and a half hour film out. They had 60 hours of film.

    “I don’t know how many cities we visited. We just worked seven days a week and kept going. They kept putting in dates here and there. The band kept changing because nobody could stick it all the down the line. At times there were about 40 of us, musicians, socialisers and choirs going from place to place in a plane. A girl in the choir had a dog that used to come up on stage with us most of the time.

    “After the tour we made the album. Somehow, I can’t think it about now but everyone made a big fuss about it at the time. I liked the idea of getting a big band together to make a living with but everybody got too closed in about it.”

    Joe sits in silence, his mind somewhere far away. It seems he doesn’t really want to talk about the Mad Dogs. It’s over – according to Joe – and it won’t happen again. After Joe’s mum had served us another cup of tea I asked Joe about his plans for the future?

    “I’ll be living in England for a while now,” he says. “I’m looking for a house near London and I’ll be rockin’ on all right. Right now, I’m having a rethink. I seem to have gone the full circle and now I’m back in Sheffield.

    “As far as playing goes, I’m just not there at the moment. These days everyone seems to analyse lyrics and that annoys me. I start singing and people pick up the lyrics and make side-waves (sic) from them. I despair when people are thinking too much about what you are singing. Audiences will say anything, no matter what you are. I’m going to try and sharpen up my diction a bit so people can hear me. I don’t know when I’ll go back on the road again. I’m getting my own things together but there’s a bit of a delay. Just before I came back to England I was in the studio at Muscle Shoals doing some new stuff with Chris. There as Wayne Perkins, a nephew of Carl, on guitar and Jim Keltner on drums. We just composed as we went along.”

    Any chance of you teaming up with Leon on his upcoming British tour?

    “No, there’s not much chance of that. I don’t fancy the idea of just getting up and messing about. He’s touring right across the country and I’m sure to see him somewhere along the line. There was talk at some time that Leon and the whole Mad Dogs crew would all fly to Britain for some shows but it didn’t work out. 

    “The feeling at the end of the tour was entirely different from the start. My attitude changed a lot. If you have a group of five people, they are all on the same thought wave but when you have that many people on stage everybody is thinking different. I mean some people’s heads weren’t on stage at all times. When it was finished I was quite happy it was all over.

    “The change in me will show eventually but I’ve got to sit down and think about it first and I don’t know how long that will take. I know I don’t want to go out and do the same songs again, although the audiences expect me to sing them. I want to write some new stuff. We must have performed some 60 dozen times and that’s too many times for me.”

    By now it was opening time and the pub down the road seemed inviting. Joe is no stranger to the Mason’s Arms. Old men twice his age greet him over the racing pages of the daily papers, puffing at pipes and frowning into the froth on their pints.

    “Now then Joe lad, o’reet?” says the chap behind the bar. 

    “Aye, not so bad,” Joe replies.

    “On ‘oliday Joe lad?” asks another gent.

    “Aye, that’s right,” says Joe.

    We take our pints to a corner table and talk about the current music scene. Joe doesn’t seem to have any favourites at the moment. “Nothing has zonked me out recently,” he says. “Although I saw Procol Harum and they made a big impression on me.”

    We discussed a few bands, the Who, Deep Purple, Beatles and the wave of heavy groups who all seem to sound like Led Zeppelin. Joe doesn’t say much, just nods, grins and smokes cigarettes. After three quick pints he’s ready to go. He used to play in Sheffield pubs like this before the world heard about him.

    I don’t think he’ll ever sing in places like this again. In fact, it may be a long while before he sings anywhere again. But don’t worry about Joe. He’ll get by – with a little help from his friends.


The Last Dinner Party – Prelude To Ecstasy

I am far more than 10 minutes fashionably late for this particular dinner party but until I read about The Last Dinner Party, a quintet of women who perform, dress and behave most extravagantly, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘industry plant’. Turns out it is a derogatory expression meaning an act that has been calculatingly nurtured for instant success by power brokers in the music business, managed by a heavy hitter, signed to a label with clout and given the sort of VIP fast-lane treatment that assured wealthy Tory spivs of lucrative contracts to supply PPE equipment during the 2019 Covid outbreak, the most prominent of whom is the shameless Baroness Michelle Mone. 

    In my day ‘industry plant’ was called hype, and once this label attached itself to an act they had a hard time overcoming it. It took Brinsley Schwartz several years to live down the decision to fly music writers to New York to see them at the Fillmore in 1970, and among others that spring to mind are Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Transvision Vamp and Gay Dad, all of whom fell by the wayside pretty quickly. Then again, when you look at the circumstances surrounding their arrival, Led Zeppelin had all the advantages of an ‘industry plant’: powerful management, Atlantic Records and plenty of publicity. The big difference, of course, was that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were seasoned musicians. And they did it the hard way, by gigging like fuck. 

    The members of The Last Dinner Party sound like seasoned musicians too. Their guitar player Emily Roberts paid her dues in a Queen tribute band while keyboard player Aurora Nishevci – and I hope to hell that’s her real Christian name – sounds like no stranger to the conservatoire. The focal point, however, is singer Abigail Morris, a Helena Bonham Carter lookalike, who channels Kate Bush and Florence Welch in athletic grace while reaching for high notes like Dusty, who always seemed to me like she was plucking them from the air above her beehive. 

    They’ve been around since 2021, sensibly putting in the work – and gathering a following – before recording Prelude To Ecstasy, their debut album, which was released to some fanfare earlier this month, and it’s shot into the album charts at number one, hence the ‘industry plant’ allegation. By all accounts, however, they honed their craft during Covid lockdown and emerged as fully-grown birds of a feather, drawing attention to themselves with their flamboyant period dress sense, all flounce and ladylike, Bennet Sisters meet Emma Stone in Poor Things, with added quirkiness.

    The music they produce is as flamboyant as their look, a careful blend of prog rock, sweet(ish) harmonies and songs with unexpected twists and turns, Sparks meets early Roxy Music with Kate Bush taking over from Russ and Bryan. The first time I heard ‘Nothing Matters’, their single rising in the charts, however, I thought it was Abba, or at least Frida, letting loose on a variation of ‘Our Last Summer’, until it reached the chorus, a rip-roaring singalong that’s quite irresistible. “I will fuck you, like nothing matters,” sings Abigail, and I’m still trying to work out whether this means she’ll do so with extreme vigour or without a second thought, or both. Either way, it’s an impressive, seductive debut, and for safety’s sake they deliver a more decorous G-rated version – “I will hold you, like nothing matters” – where appropriate.  

    I first saw TLDP performing ‘Nothing Matters’ on Jools a couple of weeks ago and was struck by their look as well as its hook. I’ve now invested in the album and I’m not disappointed. It opens and closes with dramatic, orchestral fanfares, a bold start, like arriving on stage on a zip wire, which I wouldn’t put past them, or something like that. The songs that follow are produced to an exceptionally high standard of clarity by James Ford, whose CV reads like a Who’s Who of the best of this century’s British pop, and who has injected a dollop of Florence Welch’s melodrama into TLDP. There’s a gothic, slightly tragic quality to the lyrics, plenty of blood, some throat ripping, and while none of the choruses are as immediate as ‘Nothing Matters’, it’s growing on me, especially ‘Our Lady of Mercy’, ‘Burn Alive’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’, with its lilting melody and a touch of Godfather soundtrack in its haunting intro. Gjuda’, sung in Albanian, is a choral wash that leads directly into the pulsating Sinner, another likely stage favourite. 

    A glance at TLDP’s website tells me they’re booked up to October when concerts at what used to be the Hammersmith Odeon (it’s called the Eventim Apollo now and holds 5,000) are already sold out. Before that they’re touring heavily in Europe and the US, all of which leads me to believe that they are approaching their calling by performing anywhere and everywhere. I take my hat off to them for doing it the hard way. As Led Zeppelin and a few of their peers knew, nothing matters beyond gigging like fuck.