My Pop Life #165 : My Love – Paul McCartney & Wings

My Love   –   Paul McCartney & Wings

my love holds the other key to me…

 I bought the Wings LP Red Rose Speedway in the spring of 1973 because of the single My Love which had got to number one.  I thought it was McCartney’s best effort since the Beatle’s split – or to be fair at least as good as Another Day from 1971.  The album Red Rose Speedway was vilified and booed from the rafters.  Critics scorned it.  Schoolkids in the 5th year weren’t having it.  Pink Floyd & Led Zeppelin had taken over.  Roxy Music had arrived. David Bowie was blowing our minds.  Elton John was on the Yellow Brick Road and Genesis were Selling England by the Pound.  Everyone was still growing their hair.  Wearing loons, stack heels, denim, embroidered shirts, tear-drop collars.  Were we hippies, greasers, bikers, rude boys or what.  Marvin was Getting It On and Stevie was having Innervisions – I wouldn’t hear that until the following year.  The Isleys had a summer breeze on.  And Hawkwind were delivering Sonic Attack (see My Pop Life #159).  Confusing.  Which tribe to join ?  All, and none.  This photo is from early ’73 :

Ralph, Andrew, Paul, Rebecca 1973

and henceforth I will use any excuse to place it into the blog.  You can see the clash of fashions already.  Hippie with a fringe ?  Macca influenced.  Hippie with a teardrop collar ??  Be your own judge.  I love this picture.  Happiness, innocence, time frozen in an instant.  1973 was a big year for me.  I turned 16 in June.  Took my first LSD trip (see My Pop Life #133), lost my virginity, joined a band (see My Pop Life #80).   But I didn’t join the army, get married or go to prison.  My uneventful pop life.  

Paul McCartney has always made me feel comfort, happiness, sweet feelings, those fleeting safe feelings that major chords and harmonies can bring.  This LP has no edges of any kind.  I think the harshest moment is on the song Single Pigeon when Paul sings

“did she throw you out?  Sunday morning fight about Saturday night”

Which is entirely not harsh in any way.  Otherwise my loves, it’s My Love, Lazy Dynamite, One More Kiss, Hold Me Tight, Hands Of Love and probably my favourite Wings song Little Lamb Dragonfly.  I should have chosen it as the song, but it’s not as good as My Love.  It’s a little indulgent, a little long, and little soft and gentle.  That’s why I love it.  This LP is like a big barn bed covered in a warm blanket with a log fire, a view of the valley and warm slippers with a cat or three lying around.  And what’s wrong with that ?  I’d like to know.  Cos here I go again…

Denny Seiwell, Linda McCartney, Paul, Denny Laine, Henry McCulloch

McCartney was always derided by groovers for being too pop.  Too soppy.  Too lovey dovey.  “Lennon gave him the edge” is the concept.  Together they were great, they lifted each other to higher standards, pushed each other and then when they split and wrote as solo artists, apart, well we all moved on didn’t we ?  Nothing to see here.   It’s like a permanent talent show with judges stroking their chins, thumbs down for that, naaah mate.

But you miss so much music that way.  Let it be.  Let him be.  After the Ram LP, which critics hated, Paul and Linda made two edgy singles that were both banned : Give Ireland Back To The Irish which was a political response to Bloody Sunday and which was referred to on the chart countdown (#16) as “a song by Wings“, and in December ’72 the raunchy sex’n’drugs boogie Hi Hi Hi  which contained the line

gonna make you lie on the bed get you ready for my body gun

except that Paul always insisted, and still does, that the lyrics actually say  “polygon” but such was the BBC in 1972.  The song also certainly claims that he is

“going to do you, do it to you sweet banana, like you’ve never been done…. ” 

Whatever that means.  The B-side C Moon got the radio airplay.

I love this early period Wings/McCartney stuff.  They were having fun.  I love that the band were named after the difficult birth of Stella, Linda and Paul’s 2nd child, which was touch and go at the time and a worried Paul had visions of angels protecting his child, and Wings came from that moment of panic, faith and trust.  I love that they toured England in the spring of 1972 without a tour being booked, they drove up the motorway in a van and phoned Nottingham Students Union and said “can we play there tonight?”  This was repeated up and down the country.  Great scenes.  Didn’t play any Beatles songs.  At all.  But the music of this period is joyous and lovely.  For example – the harmonies of Linda McCartney on Red Rose Speedway are a wonder on almost every song – not the expected thirds and fifths but way more adventurous and unexpected.  Lovely.  Lennon and McCartney did have this much in common as they left the greatest group of all time to strike out on their own – they didn’t want to do it on their own.  Yoko and John worked together musically right up to his untimely death in 1980.  She was his confidante, his editor, his collaborator.  And famously, Linda joined Wings along with Denny Laine from The Moody Blues and was given a keyboard and shown middle C.  And despite ridicule (from males mainly), her contributions are really excellent.  Linda sings the high harmony on Let It Be by the way pop fans…

Ram is a fantastic album, credited to Paul & Linda McCartney

…while Red Rose Speedway is credited to Paul McCartney & Wings.  Gentle, undemanding cosy beautiful songs from people in love.  I don’t need all my music to thrust and challenge and have edge.  I don’t need my life to feel like that either.  I play it all the time.

My Love starts with a long sustained A natural, then ‘falls’ into a Bb major seventh chord for the opening line

“and when I go away I know my heart will stay with my love”

which musicians will know is actually a semitone UP from A, which means that it rises, but it sounds as if it falls.  How does this work ?  The A is the major seventh of Bb – a favourite chord of Bacharach – but that’s the magic of music.   Beautiful chords on this song.  When they recorded My Love McCartney had planned to play the guitar solo after the bridge, but Henry McCulloch who’d joined Wings after playing with Joe Cocker, (and who wouldn’t turn up for the Band On The Run sessions in Lagos, Nigeria which followed this LP), insisted (as far as one can insist with a Beatle I’m imagining) that Paul allowed him to play the guitar solo.  And the result is rather marvellous.  In fact the production on this song is outstanding, understated horns and strings, a lovely clipped guitar, harmonies from Linda, prominent fat bass as ever on a Paul song, subtle tasteful drums.  It’s a beauty.  He may never have surpassed this song since 1973.

with James, Stella and Mary later in 73

I’ll find out for myself on Sunday since we have two tickets to see McCartney at Meadowlands in New Jersey.  Been a long time since I saw him playing live.   1979 at Wembley.  Live and Let Die was the standout that night, recorded during the Red Rose Speedway sessions but produced by George Martin – all lasers and smoke – while at the other end of the scale a solo acoustic I’ve Just Seen A Face followed by Blackbird was breathtaking.  He didn’t do much Beatles in those days, still looking over his shoulder, running from his legacy,  and trying to create a new one.  These days he plays for three hours and crams them all in, Beatles, John songs, George songs, the lot.  Can’t wait.

This is Jenny’s favourite Paul McCartney song.   She thinks it matches God Only Knows and Just The Way You Are (Paul’s favourite songs that he wishes he’d written).  High praise indeed !   I share a birthday with Paul McCartney.  And I Love Him.

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My Pop Life #159 : Sonic Attack – Hawkwind

Sonic Attack   –   Hawkwind

In case of sonic attack on your district, follow these rules
If you are making love it is imperative
To bring all bodies to orgasm simultaneously

Do not waste time blocking your ears
Do not waste time seeking a sound proofed shelter
Try to get as far away from the sonic source as possible

Not all music is the food of love.  Some music is challenging, ugly, vicious, cruel and cold.  Many of my friends like certain bands who perpetrate these kinds of musics.  There is almost a family tree which runs from The Velvet Underground throughout guitar music which is bleak and discordant.  Deliberately so.  It’s not for me.  Not much anyway, which is why the vast majority of this blog has been melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, beautiful in one way or another.  But of course that’s not the whole story, of my life or any other.  Music has been used for war and torture ever since the trumpets sounded out against the walls of Jericho.  Eminem was used extensively in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, as was Christina Aguilera.  There are theories that early hunters used music to lure animals into the open.  Guitars are strung with catgut – the word for sheep or goat intestines.  Horn instruments originally were the actual horns of beasts.

I first heard Hawkwind’s Space Ritual when I was tripping in the early summer of 1973.  Andrew Taylor – Tat – had bought it – and invited a group round to listen, handing out the microdots first.  Tiny little black dots which I knew from experience (see My Pop Life #133 ) were powerful.  I’d already done acid – once.  I was just sixteen years old, it was 1973, I was in Lewes, East Sussex, with Tat, Martin Elkins, Jon Foreman and Pete Smurthwaite.   Adrian Birch declined to trip and thus became the steady hand on the tiller of the next 12 hours.  Always a good idea we found.  We ‘came up’ sitting around and smoking joints in Tat’s bedroom and Hawkwind were playing live.  When Sonic Attack blistered through the speakers into my warping brainwaves I was fully tripping and I almost freaked the fuck out.  Perhaps privately I did because I can still remember the flickering light and vibrating forms of my friends who seemed unfeasibly OK.

 The hollowed-out voice of Robert Calvert, entirely lacking in compassion but brimming with arch, vitriolic & dripping disdain shattered my illusions of hippy bliss, sharing, getting stoned with mates…

Think Only Of Yourself (yourself)

A horrible little elfin voice echoed the first one – is it Nik Powell the sax player or Dave Brock the leader of the gang ?  Chilling, evil, wrong.  Ice trickled down my spine.  Some of the lads found it funny, especially Jon Foreman who’d also laughed hysterically at The Exorcist which we all went to see that summer (for another post)…  Tat chuckled knowingly to himself and poked a biro down a circular rizla tube, evening-out the tobacco and hashish mixture.  We only smoked hash in 1973 – it was all we could get.  Afghani black, Red Leb or Moroccan Gold mainly.  With tobacco.  Old Holborn, Golden Virginia or occasionally a Number Six.

Every man for himself…..
Statistically more people survive if they think
Only of themselves….

Was this some kind of test ?  Does taking LSD always have to invoke some kind of demonistic energy ?  Calvert’s english voice haunts this LP, and it does not comfort the listener at all.  It stares out at the void of Space and finds it to be NOTHING.

We walked out of the house after a while, perhaps a cup of tea had levelled things off (always calming) and climbed the steep downland path above Tat’s house.  He lived on Southover Street, at the end of Cliffe High Street and below the great chalk cliff which looms above the River Ouse at the east end of Lewes.  Up we went towards the golf course, and found a grassy outlook point overlooking the river, the whole town, what felt like half of East Sussex.

Perfect.  I remember little of what happened after that, except that we wandered through Lewes, hallucinating gently.  But I never forgot the chills of Sonic Attack, and they were to reappear the next time I took acid too, on Kingston Ridge with Andy Shand, in the middle of the night.

The great mythology around LSD was that everything that happened to you came from inside you, that if you can’t handle acid, you can’t handle yourself.  Your own fears, your own demons.  You wanna see them ?  Actually see them ?  I realised too late, sitting high on the hillside with Andy at 2.00 a.m. that yes, he relished this aspect of the drug.  As the few cars on the A27 echoed into splinters of sound pierced by starlight, he announced without protocol or reason two words :

Elephant’s Vagina

He didn’t laugh, and neither did I.  I suddenly found him to be rather weird.  He said it again.  I think I might have asked him why he’d said it.  His answer was equivocal.  We walked down the hill and he sang a few lines of Black Sabbath :

what is this that stands before me ?  A figure in black who watches me…

Again, I wasn’t full of joy at this image either.   My vulnerability increased.  I was panicking really.  We were in Waterlilies that night, home of The Ryles (see My Pop Life #47 ) and for some reason Tat was sleeping in Conrad’s room with Elvira his girlfriend.  At one point I couldn’t stand Andy’s incessant embrace of the darkness any longer so I woke Tat up.  Must’ve been about 4.00am  He glowed a pale lilac in the moonlight.  Even as I tripped I was aware that he was tired.  He counselled me words of wisdom :

It’s just the acid.  It will wear off.  

At which point Andy came in with the cat in his hands, put it down and said :

Urgh… I can feel all it’s bones and innards…

I felt vindicated by this public display of uncool dark glee and drifted back to the kitchen for the apparent organic downer of orange juice as Tat went back to sleep.  I was convinced that I had unearthed a vital precious stone, a clue to my so-called friendship with Andy Shand.  We had absolutely nothing in common.  Christ !

Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, loved ones
You have only a few seconds to escape
Use those seconds sensibly or you will inevitably die

Do not panic…

Hawkwind were based around the figure of Dave Brock, a spaced guitarist from Notting Hill in West London, and neighbour of the writer Michael Moorcock.  Full-on greatcoat-wearing acid-casualty hippies, the band were pioneers of the Stonehenge Free Festival, (which happened to be the next time I took acid the following summer) and they also pioneered a smoky but eerie space rock sound.  The only bands that sounded remotely like Hawkwind in 1973 were Can, Neu! and Amon Duul II, German garage rock now seen as seminal.  We didn’t listen to them.  We didn’t know them.  Masters Of The Universe was our big Hawkwind record, and of course Silver Machine, the single from 1972 which allowed them to mount the huge Live experience which was The Space Ritual Tour, with synths & electronics courtesy of Del Dettmar and DikMik, dancers like the legendary Stacey, lights and smoke, weed and the words of Michael Moorcock, the walking bass guitar of Lemmy Kilmister and the thundering drums of Simon King.

Michael Moorcock I did know,  for Tat and I were immersed in the world of Jerry Cornelius, hero of a quartet of Moorcock novels :

The Final Programme

                    A Cure For Cancer

                 The English Assassin

              The Condition of Muzak

which I thought (aged 16) were flipping marvellous, but I didn’t make the connection to Hawkwind – or at least I certainly didn’t realise that Moorcock had written the words to Sonic Attack.  Would I have forgiven him if I’d known that ?  He was my hero.   I know now it was a chilling spoof of the public information films which polluted our screens in the 1960s, the feeling that an official death was awaiting us all in some soulless nuclear bunker.  Peter Watkins‘ The War Game had covered similar ground, made in 1965 but had never been shown on television.  BBC bosses felt it was too realistic.  We all grew up in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which my parents actually witnessed on the cinema newsreels.  My father was in CND (Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament) in the early 1960s and carried me on his shoulders on the first Aldermaston March.  Unsafe, safe.  Now I was left, alone and abandoned, with my mum & brothers and sister, but fine enough to listen to Hawkwind on LSD without disintegrating into the nearest mental hospital.  Unsafe, safe.

On the album Space Ritual, Sonic Attack is on side 3, immediately after 7 By 7 which is a marvellously evocative Space Odyssey-type journey through a meteor shower and a swirling galaxy with “my astral soul” by my side, and includes another spoken word interlude by Bob Calvert as your friends and companions slowly melt beside you, quivering, vibrating softly, juddering into infinite glistening spiderwebs and droplets of mirror, chuckling gently into infinity as their smiles remain like the Cheshire Cat.  “A doorway, to which I must go”

My Pop Life #133 : Sun King – The Beatles

Sun King   – The Beatles

Questo obrigado tanto mucho cake and eat it carousel

After 18 long and eventful months after being asked by John Lennon to imagine there’s no heaven I dropped my first acid trip.  It was the beginning of summer 1973.   School had almost broken up and the fifth form was abuzz with the plans.  We’d all completed our O Level examinations at Lewes Priory and there was a sense of freedom in the air.  Most of us would stay on for the sixth form, not all.    Before the summer holidays started, Tat’s girlfriend, the mysterious gypsy-eyed Elvira, invited what felt like the entire school to her house in Ashdown Forest for a midsummer night’s dream.  We travelled by bus then walked.  It was balmy and dry.  We were stoned and happy.   I travelled with Simon Korner I think.  Also present were Conrad Ryle, Pete Smurthwaite, Patrick Freyne, Chris Clarke, Martin Elkins, John Foreman, Adrian Birch, Andy Holmes and some older kids.  We lay around on the vast lawn of Elvira’s parents’ house.  Presumably they were away, but they may not have been.  A large set of speakers on the terrace blasted out The Beatles’ final album Abbey Road.  It was everyone’s favourite LP.  It seemed like an impossible piece of confectionary that went on forever and had the most satisfying last piece.  It still feels like that to me.  It has been varnished by time into a shiny antique pop marvel, but at the age of sixteen it was just 4 years old, and already a classic, an album for the ages. It was perfectly natural to be selected to play as the sun went down over a raggle-taggle gang of groovy student wannabees smoking dope and nodding wisely at each other’s amusing observations.  It was uncontroversial and universally admired by the cognoscenti.

The Beatles : Abbey Road

Elvira and Tat were like the alternative hippy royal couple that summer.  They both had curtains of long hair, flared jeans and embroidered tops.  They should have been on an album cover.  Elvira wore dark kohl eye make-up and flowing beaded skirts and she looked at everyone with witchy suspicion and a twinkle.  Her party was guaranteed to be a hit.  Tat – or Andrew Taylor – played guitar in the band Rough Justice (see My Pop Life #80) and wrote songs, had a sweet easy-going nature, a dry and pleasantly absurdist sense of humour, laughed easily and was slow to anger.  He’d become a closer friend of mine when he introduced me to his favourite band Gentle Giant, (for another post naturally).   He lived with his parents on South Street in Lewes, under the chalk drop of The Cliffe and the Golf Course which would be the location for our second acid trip.  Elvira was mysterious to me yet friendly, I can’t remember having a conversation much longer than a minute with her.  Who were her parents?   We didn’t talk to each other’s girlfriends much to be honest.  She was Tat’s girl.

There must have been food at the party but I can’t remember it.  Perhaps a barbecue.  The sun was starting to set.  We drank cider and lager.  Wine. Then the acid was handed out.  Tiny black microdots of  LSD.  We all took one and swallowed.  “It will last twelve hours” someone said.   Perhaps Space Oddity was playing…Memory Of A Free Festival

“the sun machine is going down and we’re gonna have a party…”

Before the light disappeared completely we all walked into the forest.  About a 20-minute walk ?  I do remember that Patrick still hadn’t arrived and we wondered how he would find us.   He did.  We found a small clearing, a small stream, a few rocks amid the trees and made a base camp.  Something weird was happening.  I felt nervous.  I looked around.  Someone winked.   Someone laughed.  It echoed with a ghoulish chuckle.   Shit – what?    A host of golden daffodils were flowering inside my stomach up through my veins through my fingertips, an unmistakeable rush of gold surged through my nerves, my skin, my eyes, like a huge chord with an impossibly large number of notes swelling lifting quivering getting louder and louder like a motorbike coming straight towards me.  Rather like falling off the top of a fairground ride with no brakes or a bunjee jump, except going upwards.  Can be fun.

here comes the sun king?

It’s entirely possible that not everyone was tripping, that we had a guide vocal, but I can’t remember who it was, even if I knew at the time.  Later on, in subsequent acid adventures we always used to have a guide on hand to hold our hand in case things went weird.  When things went weird.

because,

well,

they always did.

But not this time.  This being my first trip I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted hallucinations mainly.   I remember laying down on the rock in the stream to get a stereo effect of running water.  I remember looking at the trees dancing at dawn for about an hour, their branches wavering together in choreographed vibrations.  I remember staring at my hand for about an hour.  My eyes couldn’t focus properly for hours.

everybody’s laughing

       I remember laughing a lot with Conrad, Pete, John, Simon and Patrick.

everybody’s happy

It felt safe.   We smoked and drank.

Here comes the Sun King

There was undoubtedly speed in the acid which kept us keen.

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice corazón

It wasn’t cold, and we had sleeping bags and coats.   I can’t remember any music, amazingly.

Mundo papparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol

Just the wind in the trees, the stream, the birds, the snatches of conversation.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

 It didn’t change my life.  But I would do it again, and I did.

Sun King, like most of Abbey Road, is inspired by the music of the late 60s.  The Beatles had their ears open for the people around them, and this song is inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross with its heavy dreamy guitars.  Lennon put the chords together and he and McCartney added the nonsense lyrics at the end.  It is the second song on the medley which completes side 2 of the band’s last LP.  The story goes that Paul McCartney, keen to leave the legacy on a high, spent hours in Abbey Road studios with producer George Martin polishing and reworking the “Huge Medley”as it was known on the tapes and later bootlegs.  But the studio out-takes, some of which are available on Youtube, show a band working together to learn each other’s songs, as they had been doing for years. Both versions are probably true.  The Huge Medley,  almost all ‘Paul songs’, opens with You Never Give Me Your Money the song about the break-up of the band, and what Ian MacDonald (in the magisterial Revolution In The Head) called “the beginning of McCartney’s solo career”. It contains the immortal harmony and lyric

Oh that magic feeling : nowhere to go

and the song finishes with a spiralling guitar lift into

one sweet dream

and the three chords:   C   G/B   A  which will return at the end of the Huge Medley for the finale, but this time we have a whispered

one two three four five six seven, all good children go to heaven

and a bluesy guitar solo fades slowly into the faint sounds of an organ and bells, gongs and cicadas, a lush exotic other-worldly sound which ushers in the lazy guitar shape inspired by Peter Green and Albatross and played by George Harrison.  Sun King is a minor John Lennon song which can’t be imagined outside of the context of the Huge Medley, but which is quite magical inside it, especially the G 11th chord which bridges the E major section and the C major section – very lush, very Beach Boys.

The song ends abruptly and punches into Mean Mr Mustard, another Lennon snippet which wouldn’t stand on its own as a single or album track, but which gives the Huge Medley its charm and delight and keeps us interested and entertained.

When The Brighton Beach Boys chose to perform Abbey Road live at the Brighton Festival in 2011, Sun King presented a variety of tricky problems and we spent a fair amount of time on the 2 minutes and 26 seconds of this song, not least the vocal harmonies, particularly that G 11th chord on 52 seconds.  I actually bought a small gong which played a shimmering E from the percussion shop Adaptatrap on Trafalgar Street where I used to get the kazoos for Lovely Rita and bought the tambourine for Polythene Pam.  Good shop.  Since The Beatles are largely unrepresented in their original form on youtube I will post a version of  by the Fab Faux who are the best Beatles tribute band out there I believe, having not just the accurate notes and tempos but the feel too.  Tribute bands, so low in status, will be the classical music players of late-20th century pop in the future.  We always played in black suits for that reason.

It wasn’t the most difficult song on the album, but it was close.  But for me it’s less about the song, more about the feeling and the memory.  I can’t remember how we got home from Ashdown Forest that midsummer night’s morning, but Andy Holmes remembers a group singalong of Here Comes The Sun at 5am.   I suspect I caught a bus in Uckfield and ended up in Kingston with Conrad Ryle and his family.  Buzzing faintly, getting shivery electric echoes of the vision interference.  Strange taste in my mouth.  Slept all day Sunday.   Was this the same Uckfield bus trip that Simon Korner and Patrick Freyne took, or were they on the bus in front ?  They were threatened by a man with a large head, a kind of combine harvester of a neanderthal, who, taking exception to their stoned and strung out giggling, told them that: “If you don’t shut up, You’re Gonna Die.  BY ME.

The following acid trips wouldn’t be quite so simple.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

*lyrics websites hilariously have this as “Que Canite” rather than “cake and eat it”…

My Pop Life #110 : Dreams – Joe Walsh

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Dreams   –   Joe Walsh

…off to waste the day plunging headlong…

For some reason it always feels indulgent to write about Lewes Priory school 1970 -75  and my teenage musical passions.  See for example My Pop Life #78 – a eulogy to Blue Öyster Cult.   I’m not embarrassed about any of the music I listened to then – or since – and I deride the notion of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to music, as if there is a canon of excellence that we must worship publicly and then privately enjoy our own rather suspect taste.  The Alan Partridge joke about liking Abba and Wings – because they’re “not cool”.   In this scenario the supposedly “cool” bands are usually skinny white guys playing atonal miserablism.  My taste has widened considerably since 1973 but my enthusiasm for The Velvet Underground (and those they influenced) still hovers around ‘lukewarm’.

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But this song is still an unalloyed joy for me.  The Joe Walsh LP  “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” was released in america on my birthday, June 18th 1973, and three months later in England.  I have no idea from whence it came among my friends, perhaps the opening track Rocky Mountain Way caught somebody’s ear, or perhaps Andy Holmes just went ahead and bought it after sitting on a beanbag with headphones on in Virgin Records at Brighton Clocktower.  Or perhaps I did – but where I got the idea who knows ?  I don’t remember Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh’s most famous song) being played on the radio.  Anyway – there is was, this amusingly-titled LP which acknowledged our new favourite past-time (getting stoned) with a brightly-coloured cover design and a selection of rather brilliant songs.  I associate this whole LP with happiness.  Sitting somewhere rolling a joint on the LP cover, glueing rizlas together, burning hashish  (invariably – grass was very rare in 1973) into little brown worms and sprinkling them evenly among the Golden Virgina, Old Holborn or Players Number Six cigarette broken down.  The music washing over us as we pass the joint among us, people nodding, agreeing on stuff, giggling, being witty and honest.  The best kind of getting high, when there’s simply nothing else to worry about.

Featured imageThere’s a section in the middle :  “she’s easy on my mind…she thinks my jokes are funny, makes me feel fine..” which reminds me of Miriam Ryle whom I started going out with halfway through the lower sixth.  My first love.  She wore Diorella and flower-print dresses.   I think that’s a great lyric, the idea of a girl being “easy on your mind”.   But the lyric also reminds me of my wife now, Jenny, who still laughs at my jokes.  I try to make her laugh every day, and if we’re not having a punch-up I succeed.  Makes me feel fine.

The song is a beautiful homage to being relaxed in a way that seems impossible today.  Having nothing to do.  Sitting on the grass somewhere.  Going for a walk.  Going for a drive, nowhere in particular.  The music has a marvellous lazy laid-back feel, minimal instrumentally but hugely effective and evocative of an endless summer’s day when time seems to stop and allow you to step off for a while.  Where did those days go?

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Joe Walsh’s band at this point were called Barnstorm – they’d done one album previous to this which is also brilliant, called “Barnstorm” and also produced by the great Bill Szymczyk.  How do you pronounce that? Kenny Passarelli played bass. Rocke Grace joined on keys. But Joe Vitale on drums, synths and flute was a particularly important collaborator for Walsh, and wrote and co-wrote some of these songs.  His influence is very musical, as opposed to the rocky flavours of some of the rest of the LP – but to be fair, Joe Walsh has a huge musical palette and always has.   He emerged from various east-coast bands to join The James Gang in 1968, recording three studio LPs with them including the tracks Funk#49, Walk Away, Collage and Ashes The Rain & I.   All tremendous.   After The Smoker You Drink LP, Walsh was asked to join The Eagles and they proceeded to record Hotel California, Walsh sharing guitar theatrics on that song with Don Felder.  I saw this line-up live in 1976 at Wembley Arena, thrilled to bits to be witnessing one of my teen idols live.  They played Rocky Mountain Way and possibly one more (Time Out?) but it was an Eagles concert and so they remain the only two songs I’ve ever seen Joe play of his own.

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However I just bought two tickets to see him at The Beacon Theatre New York City on October 1st 2015.  Unbelievably he is re-united with Joe Vitale for this show. This is a big deal.

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Joe is a hugely likeable person by all accounts – he visits the same AA group in Hollywood as one of my friends – and his other big hit “Life’s Been Good” is testament to his sense of humour about money, fame and success.  As a rock guitarist I don’t think he’s ever been bettered with the sole exception of Jimi Hendrix but like Jimi he also has a gentle lyrical side and a beautiful delicate touch, none more so than on this song, a wistful evocation of plunging headlong into a relaxed endless day where you will do absolutely nothing.  Taking the time for dreams…  

My Pop Life #80 : Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley

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Heartbreak Hotel   –   Elvis Presley

the bell-hop’s tears keep flowing and the desk clerk’s dressed in black

They been so long on lonely street they never can go back

and they’ve been, they been so lonely baby, they been so lonely

they been so lonely they could die…

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By the time I was 16 I had learnt the rudimentals of the saxophone, I could play a tune, I could ‘tongue’ the notes, bend the notes and more or less join in with a jam.  I could only play in a handful of keys though.  And better jokes were to come.  When I joined school band Rough Justice – my friend’s band which starred Conrad Ryle, Andrew ‘Tat’ Taylor, Andy Shand and Tigger on the drums – it was as a saxophone player.   I arrived at Waterlilies in Kingston village, sax in hand, having hitch-hiked from Hailsham, sat down, had a cup of tea, perhaps a joint was smoked,  knelt down and opened my sax case, red-velvet-lined, the horn came in various parts which had to be slotted together, then a reed selected and placed onto the mouthpiece (Selmer C) and tightened, a sling around my neck and we were off.  Give us an E said Tat.  I blew a nice clear bell-like E.   Wow that’s high.  All the guitarists tightened their strings to the right pitch.  Saxophones cannot be tuned (much*) so the more flexible instruments – the guitars, including the bass, must be.   I can’t remember how many rehearsals this went on for, but at every rehearsal someone – often two people – broke strings.   Then one day, weeks later, possibly months later, someone – who knows – maybe it was me, perhaps Andy played an E on the piano out of curiosity.  Clearly none of us had perfect pitch !     It was lower than my E.  Way lower.  It was my C# in fact.  I consulted my book “How To Play The Saxophone”.    I had an Eb Boosey & Hawkes alto.   I don’t actually know what this means even today, but I think it means that it is pitched 3 semitones above middle C – ie Eb.   What this meant for my bandmate’s guitar strings, not to mention their fingers, was that when they asked me for an E, I was giving them a G !!!  No wonder strings broke – three semitones higher than concert pitch, I got blisters on ma fingers !   I felt stupid, humiliated even, but they were all relieved.   Next time someone asked me for an E, I blew a C# and we were all sweet. *

*Muso’s note – to tune a saxophone you must move the mouthpiece up & down the cork.

– After a few more rehearsals it became evident that no one wanted to sing.   No one.   So guess who volunteered.   I’ll give it a go.   Someone who would become an actor one day.  Now, this meant learning the words to the songs which Tat and Conrad – or Crod as we all called him in those days – had written, among which were Tat’s song Muster Muster Monsters which required a kind of Vincent Price delivery, and Crod’s song about Mevagissey in Cornwall where he’d been on holiday camping with Spark and Fore and possibly Martin Elkins (“wake up with the sun run down to the sea…”), which was a basic pop vocal.  More tricky though were the choice of covers – basic 12-bar rock songs which the nascent guitar players could play with confidence – and which included THREE Status Quo songs and THREE Elvis Presley songs and Birthday by the Beatles from the White Album.  I’ll discuss the Quo in greater depth another time, for I ended up meeting them years later, but this seems like a great opportunity to put Elvis into my pop life.  Aged 16/17 I sang 3 Elvis songs, kind of unaware of his legendary status, he was just a good rockin’ boy to us East Sussex lads.   I wasn’t overawed like I would be now if I sang an Elvis song.   It was just rock’n’roll.   But the songs were 15 years old even then in 1973.

Most of the Rough Justice set were rockers, so true to form I’ve picked the ballad to represent.  It was the hardest song to sing with the exception of “Birthday” which is a scream-fest.  Two of us sang that I think.  We would perform at Kingston Village Hall, Grange Gardens for some private party, Lewes Priory school dance, not that many actual gigs.  The gigs were good, but my main memory is Crod’s bedroom, amps and speakers, fags, instruments including Crod’s homemade lemon-yellow electric guitar, carved from some tree and wired up by hand.  In my recall it went out of tune on a regular basis, but Crod didn’t seem to mind.  In fact Conrad didn’t seem to mind about much it seemed to me.  He had a gentle giant atmosphere around him, smiled a lot, was very forgiving and understanding, had a good left foot on the football pitch, came to the Albion with his brother Martin or with us, enjoyed a pint of cider and a smoke of weed, is a committed socialist even now and still lives in Lewes with his wife Gaynor Hartnell.  Lovely people whom I see all too infrequently.  Along with Simon Korner I would say he was my best friend at Lewes, since I had spent so much time with both of those families as my own family slowly disintegrated amid dysfunction and doctors and drugs.  They’d both reached out a hand and invited me into their homes.  They’d saved my sanity and my future probably.  I cannot really measure it, but I will always acknowledge it.

We had fun with Crod one day – me, Spark, Fore, Martin, Tat.  Crod fell asleep early one night.  Too early.  Wankered on cider.  Someone wondered aloud whether we should lift his entire bed with him in it outside and place it carefully in the garden, without waking him up.  Much laughter.  I think we tried it.   Of course the bed wouldn’t fit through the door.  So we settled for completely re-arranging his bedroom, moved the bed to the opposite wall, moved the bookcase and wardrobe and amps and speakers.  Then we fell asleep too.   Hadn’t worked that out – that we’d have to stay awake all night to get the juicy climax to our prank.  Then someone woke Crod up to get the joke.  He looked blearily around, said “oh you’ve moved the room around” then fell asleep again.

Matthew Wimbourne would turn up to Rough Justice rehearsals too.   He was younger than us and smaller too.   Wispy beard-hairs and glasses, hippy scarves.   Carried a set of bongos.  Sat on the floor and played along without ever really being heard.   I hope he had fun.   Tigger the drummer didn’t go to our school.  He looked a bit like a kid from fame, mullet and all.   We made a logo for his bass drum.  It said Rough Justice round the rim and had a hangman’s noose in the centre.  We wore whatever we wanted on stage which was mainly denim, although Crod had some interesting shapeless clothes, and I had my Mum’s pink blouse (glamrock!!) and a pair of stripéd pants (see MacArthur’s Park!) that were red, blue and yellow and a pair of wedge-sole AND wedge-heel shoes.  I thought I was in The Sweet !!  Singing Elvis and Quo !!!  hahahahahahahaaaaaaa…

Featured imageAs for Heartbreak Hotel, it’s quite a song.  I think people used to dance even when we played it.   It was Elvis Presley‘s first million-selling single.   Not the first thing he recorded, by any means – he walked into Sun Records in Memphis aged 18 and recorded That’s All Right Mama for producer Sam Phillips which is totally fantastic, as are all the sides he cut for Sun Records.  But once he got signed by RCA Records who bought out his Sun contract thanks to new manager “Colonel” Tom Parker, the sky was the limit.  In essence they tried to bottle the lightning of those first magical two years.  And, sadly, they did.  Bottled it, labelled it, mass-produced it, gave it a haircut and sent it to the army.  They couldn’t quite smooth out all of the rough edges but near as dammit that’s exactly what happened to Elvis.  The famous episodes of him being shot on TV only from the waist up were a real threat, not a joke – a white man dancing and singing like a negro, mixing black and white music with ease, conquering both with charm, rockabilly and sex.

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He was a powerful dangerous young man in the mid-fifties, and those first two years at Sun Records are the best of Elvis.  Not to say that the other stuff is bad – hardly that – and I have favourite Elvis songs from every period of his life.  In The Ghetto.  Are You Lonesome Tonight?   I Just Can’t Help Believin’.  Lawdy Miss Clawdy from the comeback gig.  There are two wonderful books that have all the details, all the gossip and all of the stuff you need.  Peter Guralnick wrote both – Last Train To Memphis goes up to the army, Careless Love takes it from there.  Highly recommended.

I visited Graceland in Memphis in 1989 on my way out to Dallas delivering a car for Auto-Driveaway.  Really that’s for another post, but Graceland is everything you want it to be.

In other news Kenneth Cranham (see My Pop Life #6 and My Pop Life #46) or Uncle Ken had thrust a pair of C90s into my grubby little paws one night entirely made up of original material covered by Elvis, followed by Elvis’ version.  In pretty much every respect the Elvis versions are better.  And of course they were huge hits too.  Parker and Elvis demanded half of the publishing for any song they covered, and most writers (though not Dolly Parton) agreed.

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I knew very very little of this in 1974.   Just as well I think.   I was an innocent singing rock songs for kids to dance to.    I didn’t want to be stepping into a legend’s shoes.

Featured imageAnd yes, the legend of Elvis would flourish and bloom in later years and become a kind of religious touchstone and a musical crossroads too.    There’s so much myth and bullshit written and spoken about Elvis.   I’ve heard tons of it.   Make up your own mind.   Did you know, for instance, that Elvis used to wear eye make-up in the early 50s?   There’s some amazing photos of him back then, on the cusp of his power, under arrest for an assault.   He was a tornado.    I’ve spoken about my conversation with Bristol trip-hop pioneer Tricky (My Pop Life #61) regarding the Public Enemy “Elvis was a hero to most…” lines on Fight The Power.   But whatever, he was one of the original rebels.   A white working class kid in Memphis singing black music in 1953.   He was it.    There’s two clips below, the original single from 1956, the young man aged 21 making his first million dollars, below that the ’68 comeback gig in Las Vegas where he appears to be taking the mickey out of himself and his schtick.  He was a complex man in some ways, a very simple man in others.  I’ve got a lot of time for Elvis.

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and live at the comeback gig in Vegas ’68 :

My Pop Life #47 : The Great Gig In The Sky – Pink Floyd

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The Great Gig In The Sky   –   Pink Floyd

There are no words.    Just the wonderful sound of Clare Torry‘s voice rising and falling like the pure instrument it is over the shifting chords of Floyd’s keyboard player Richard Wright.    Track 5 on their magnum opus Dark Side Of The Moon, released in 1973, it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and probably always will.    This was a monster LP by any standards, probably the only LP at Lewes Priory School to rival Abbey Road in school corridor sightings per day.   Others had their moment and faded, these two giant records were beyond fashion and cool, beyond fortune and even taste.  They just WERE, like the stones of Stonehenge.

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Dark Side Of The Moon became a cliche quickly due to ubiquity, but it never stopped being good.   We all loved how sonically rich it was.  We loved how it took its time.    It was anti-war and anti-money, had wisdom in the mouths of fools and mental patients, it was druggy, paranoid and alive.    We all loved the muttering voice at the beginning of The Great Gig In The Sky, “And I am not frightened of dying…why should i Be, there’s no reason for it…you’ve got to go sometime..” mainly because, of course, we all are terrified of dying;  we loved a character who returns chuckling at the end of the LP on Brain Damage “the lunatic is in my head…” ;   we loved the early electro wobblefizz of On The Run which appears to end in a helicopter crash;  the line in Time which would have meant little to a group of teenagers: “…and then one day you find, ten years have got behind you….” but which haunts every adult I know.   The production is immaculate: those liquid slide and pedal steel guitar chords, blissful Hammond organ, crisp drum breaks, whispered cymbals, tasteful vocals and major sevenths in abundance.  The Great Gig In The Sky was added right at the end of the LP sessions, when the band decided to append an instrumental track of 4 minutes.

The opening chords are rather lush  :     Bm     F(-5)     Bb     F/A

play it on the piano then you can almost hear that pedal steel guitar  Gm7 to C9  sweeping in which is the bulk of the song.

But of course the reason why it stands out is the voice.  Clare Torry was a songwriter and session musician (ie paid by the session, or by the day)  and the original song was just a group of chords.  Pink Floyd’s engineer Alan Parsons suggested Torry,  she said no, she had tickets to see Chuck Berry, but came back a few days later and improvised over two and a half takes the track that we hear today.

We listened to it straight, we listened to it stoned, we listened to it tripping.   I’ll always associate it with the Ryle’s house “Waterlilies” in Kingston where I had taken refuge from my family, was playing in a band called Rough Justice with Conrad Ryle and going out with his sister Miriam.   Miriam was tall, elegant and beautiful, and when she smiled at me it was like the sun coming out.   They had a shiny wooden record player with large speakers that you could lie down between if you so desired.  In the summer of 1975 Miriam decided that we could not go on dating, mainly due to her parents splitting up – I had become “part of her past” overnight.   Miriam and Conrad’s mother, dear Rosemary Ryle (who sadly passed away in 2013) in retrospect took pity on me and said I could stay on at Waterlilies, since I had a summer job at Sussex University Library just down the road in Falmer, but some 30 miles from Hailsham where my family were.

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From Kingston Ridge towards Waterlilies, Juggs Lane, and Lewes

 Miriam wanted to stay friends and didn’t object, the house was quite a large bungalow so we weren’t exactly on top of one another, but it was a strange and melancholy summer, sprinkled with contentious trips home to Mum, Paul, Andrew and now, aged 3, my new sister Rebecca. “You treat this place like it’s a hotel, only coming back to change your clothes”.   Change clothes and pick up that Jimi Hendrix single.    Back to work on the train to Falmer.    Back to Waterlilies.    I remember lying down between those two speakers one afternoon and playing The Great Gig In The Sky at Top Volume when everyone else was out, tears streaming down my face.   Miriam was my first love, and she’d broken my heart.

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Clare Torry in 1973

But hey, I survived to listen to another Pink Floyd LP.  1995’s Wish You Were Here was the last one of theirs I liked.   Call me weird.    I spoke to Clare Torry a couple of years ago in relation to a documentary I was trying to raise finance for about Session Musicians – she was reluctant to speak of this song on camera again after so many years, a court case, regular interview requests and so on and so forth.    But she was very sweet about it.    It’s not hugely unlike what I do for a living – the session musician, the character actor –  the Lee Van Cleef image of the hired gun – ride into town, hitch the horse, set up in the saloon, shoot some bad guys, ride into the sunset with a bag of coin.   Not the whole bank.   No glory.  Hit and run.    And then the chance, now and again, to really nail something with some great people, play a lick, set up a groove, do a twirl, hit a bullseye.   Then glory, then love.   Then.    Then wait for the phone to ring.   Feed the horse.   Keep your eye in.

This really is the most incredible performance.

The Making Of The Great Gig In The Sky

Clare Torry being hilarious on making The Great Gig In The Sky

My Pop Life #41 : Poor People – Alan Price

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Poor People   –   Alan Price

It’s no use mumbling.
It’s no use grumbling.
Life just isn’t fair-
There’s no easy days
There’s no easy ways
Just get out there and do it!

So smile while you’re makin’ it-
Laugh while you’re takin’ it-
Even though you’re fakin’ it-
Nobody’s gonna know.
Nobody’s gonna know.

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I was 16 when Lindsay Anderson‘s film O Lucky Man was released onto an unsuspecting general public.  Five years earlier he’d directed the anarchic anti-public-school revolutionary film “If…” also starring a young Malcolm McDowell and in many ways, O Lucky Man is a sequel, a kaleidoscopic canter through Great Britain with all its class, corruption, sycophancy, greed and – yes – fun, seen through the eyes of an eternally hopeful everyman (Travis) who only sees good in people, and is thus used, abused, beaten up, arrested and generally crucified.   McDowell was everyone’s favourite actor in 1973 – because of “If…” and  “A Clockwork Orange”, and in this film you can see why…

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Eternally appealing, he is used by Anderson to wander through this green and pleasant land and lift the lid on the truth.   At every turn our hero meets corruption, cheating, bending the rules, selfishness and dishonesty.  It’s rather like as told from a left-wing point of view.   It’s a top five film of mine not least because the soundtrack – all by Alan Price and his band – is perfect, and each song is treated like an interlude;  thus when a song starts to play in the film, we dissolve to the studio and watch Alan Price playing the song before picking up the story again as it finishes.   I’ve never seen this done before or since and it’s brilliant.   As is the music.

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Price is from County Durham, and went to school in Jarrow, south of the city of Newcastle in North-East England.   A piano and organ player, he formed blues pop band The Animals in 1962 (House Of The Rising Sun, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood), then left in 1965 to form the Alan Price Set (House That Jack Built, Don’t Stop The Carnival) before turning his hand to a TV show with Georgie Fame (Fame and Price together!) and introducing Britain to the music of the great songwriter Randy Newman (rather like Harry Nilsson did in the US – but Nilsson would be Alan’s US equivalent though, not Newman).  There was a stage musical in the late 70s : Andy Capp – which I saw purely due to Price’s involvement – on the Aldwych.  Tom Courtenay playing the lead as a cuddly giggly sexist git – it didn’t work.   But before that he had written the songs and played himself in this dark political comedy of manners – which for me at 16 was a blueprint for understanding the world.  I already knew the world was corrupt.  I knew we were being shafted.  I knew everyone was lying.   And I knew that essentially I was on my own.   I loved this film and this music – I bought the vinyl LP shortly after seeing it for the second time.  Here was a director, an actor and a musician speaking for me.

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Christine Noonan, Anna Dawson, Malcolm McDowell, Arthur Lowe

Not to mention that many of the finest and my personal favourite actors are involved – many of them playing more than one role, which also lends the story-telling a theatrical arc, a surreal edge as Travis (McDowell) thinks he recognises people – and sometimes has.  From the great Arthur Lowe playing a northern mayor who demands a “chocolate sandwich” at a live backstage sex-show, an African dictator from an un-named country buying “honey” to decimate his own population with, to Rachel Roberts, Geoffrey Palmer, Graham Crowden, Helen Mirren, Philip Stone, Dandy Nichols, Mona Washbourne, Peter Jeffrey, Warren Clarke, Brian Glover and Ralph Richardson among many others.  A feast of acting chops all at their peak.  So many exquisite moments – but I must mention Richardson near the end : “Hold this.  Wait here.”

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At one point Travis escapes from a weird frightening hospital and hitch-hikes to get away – and who should pull over to pick him up but Alan Price and his band.  The music is uniformly excellent and provides an extra wry commentary on the lessons we – and Travis – are being shown.  I’ve chosen Poor People because I think it’s the best song on the LP, and it’s a beautiful moment in the film as Rachel Roberts invites Travis to sample the coffee…

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