Wednesday, 28 March 2012

That reminds me of the time...

That reminds me of the time…

Rock and roll has had many heroes, villains and court jesters during its relatively short history and nobody fits the bill more than The Who’s drummer and all round hell raiser Keith Moon. Today’s tale is from the memory of another rock icon, Bill Wyman (ex-Rolling Stones bassist) who late one night after a few drinks on the tiles with Moon decided to crash the night at his flat, only to be woken soon after due to the noise of Keith and his wife rowing and arguing furiously about his now nightly behaviour. Not wanting to get involved in the middle of a domestic argument between a husband and his wife he turned over and drifted back off to sleep. In the morning while making breakfast Wyman saw Mrs Moon in the kitchen nursing what looked like some very recent scratch marks all over her usually pretty made up face. Perhaps out of guilt for not stepping in and calming the argument down the night previous or just out of friendship he asked what had happened. He had to keep a straight face and excuse himself as she explained that during the row Keith had stormed out of the flat... but not before launching the sleeping pet cat at her from across the room!!!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Damage Done...

Drugs have always been involved in the world of music, through generations and across genres there have always been various substances taken to keep awake the guys and girls who work the clubs and after hours circuit, a little something to help calm the nerves of stage fright or keep them from passing out due to the workload heaped on top of them by uncaring record companies.

In the 30’s and 40’s heroin was the drug of choice and a lot of the many great artists of that time, including Billie Holiday, couldn’t escape from the grip of the poppy throughout their whole lives. Before Pete Doherty was picking out his first trilby, the likes of Charlie Parker were living hand to mouth to feed their monumental habits while also finding time to influence generations of jazz musicians. He died early and from the doctors report they were amazed that he lasted as long as he did due to the overall amount of neglect and self abuse he’d gone through in such a short period of time.

The posters and photographs will be there forever so all the great iconic rock and roll stars that went the way of the dodo due to rock excess and blindly believing that it actually lead to the valley of wisdom tend to be the ones that crash the hardest when the party is finally over.

It seems that with drugs of any kind in music it’s really a case of ‘different strokes for different folks’, while a drug like heroin destroyed many a great man and woman in music and cut their careers drastically short either by death or killing the talent and inspiration stone cold, for others it is a way of forming a womb like barrier between reality so that the essence of creativity and the muse can be channelled more directly. Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones spoke about this when discussing the making of ‘Exile on Main Street’, it seems that while everyone else was flagging, looking to call it a night and head home, Richards would be retuning and playing variations of the same riff and musical passage for the 1000th time to make sure it was exactly what he was hearing in his head. Listening to the outcome it’s hard to argue with his game plan.

Another example of using drugs to help push the creative aspects of an artist to almost breaking point that I can think of would be Bob Dylan during his meteoric run of 5 star work in 1965-66 where he managed to write and record ‘Bringing it all Back Home’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and the groundbreaking ‘Blonde on Blonde’ (a double album no less). During this period Dylan survived on a diet of speed and marijuana to take the spiky edge off and eventually keep his sanity on an even keel.

‘Speed’ itself or amphetamine sulphate has been one of the cornerstones of the rock and roll underbelly even since the conception in the early 50’s. Artists from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash would regularly purchase over the counter ‘diet pills’ from their local friendly chemist and gulp down handfuls at a time to keep the party going and reality at bay. During their teenage initiation into the world of showbiz the young Beatles were given the same pills by the waiters and barmen in the clubs of Hamburg to keep the flagging and tired group stomping and singing through their mammoth 4 hour sets completely wired and frothing at the mouth. George Harrison later recalled these times “ah those were the days” he joked.

Please don’t misunderstand me I’m definitely not in favour of artists abusing their minds or bodies and do not for one single minute believe that hallucinogenic substances some how open some hidden well of creativity within. Although there seems to be the opinion that drugs are medication that help the artist widen their viewpoint and perception to a greater spectrum of that of the mere mortal, I see this as a complete fallacy created by drug dealers and drug addicts in denial.

John Lennon wrote ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in spite of influence of LSD rather than because of it. This seems to be the thing that most second rate druggie rocker stars miss. You have to be talented in the first place before you can use any outside influences for your artistic expression. This is the reason that a bona fide drug casualty like Syd Barrett would dose himself with LSD and Mandrex and wander off to Cambridge to live in his mother’s basement and likewise Jimi Hendrix would do the same thing and blow Cream off the stage with his abilities and natural talents.

For some artists it only takes one moment of indulgence to throw the ship so far off course that there can be no turning back. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys founder, songwriter and producer) used marijuana as a way to channel his song writing inspiration, as well as using it to help calm his nervous disposition and listen more intently to the ideas inside his mind. He created the album ‘Pet Sounds’ while in this frame of mind. He later joined the generation freak out and heavily medicated himself with LSD before attempting his biggest concept, a musical “teenage symphony to God” and begun working on the (until recently) ‘unfinished’ album ‘SMiLE’. While a small fraction of music and song ideas were wonderful he couldn’t concentrate his thoughts enough to actually fit them all together in a rational arrangement. In his own words, the influence of acid ‘shattered his mind’ and he lost some of his peak years living as a virtual recluse, eating and abusing himself out of commission. Wilson, like contemporaries such as Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, the intake of LSD awoke previously dormant aspects of schizophrenia which would trouble each of them for the rest of their lives.

There have been many artists that took one trip too many and never made it back around the sun again. The rock and roll history book is littered with the names of dead young people that slipped from the road of their chosen career only to overdose in a dingy hotel room or the back seat of a car. Names such as Gram Parsons, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bon Scott, Phil Lynott, Keith Moon, John Bonham and more recently Amy Winehouse, proving that generation after generation the world of drugs will always be attracted by a certain type of person. Unfortunately for us although these are the people that have so much to offer artistically they are also the ones that walk a daily tightrope between greatness and oblivion.

*originally on CALMZINE magazine

*photo of Syd Barrett

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Of course you’ll get a credit Mr Dylan…

The fickle world of music and especially the music business has always been one that happily stands in the way of artistic expression by waving contacts at arms length and taunting the victim with their own signature like musical keys to their own jail cell.

Whilst labels all sit under an umbrella of a few massive corporations these days there was a time before where artists who wanted to contribute to other bands/artists recording sessions were not mentioned due to fear and reprisals of a gaggle of lawyers and cigar munching suits screaming about the integrity of the artists career!

Sometimes the more maverick of our heroes have managed to fly under the radar and play on their contemporaries work without worrying about the consequences either by using an alias or simply not being credited at all…

Here are few of my favourites

BadgeCream – Featuring the chiming guitar of co-write and Eric Clapton ‘husband in law’ George Harrison going by the pseudonym “L’Angelo Misterioso” to keep Apple Records happy.

Nutbush City LimitIke and Tina Turner – Although more than proficient on the electric guitar himself Ike gave the job of the chunking fuzz guitar hook to none other than bopping elf Marc Bolan for this session. Un-credited.

FameDavid Bowie – A bit of an obvious one but for those not in ‘the know’ the backing vocals and guitar lick is performed by ‘Dr Winston O’Boogie’ who was more commonly known as John Lennon.

I’m the Urban SpacemanBonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Their most successful single released back in 1968 was produced by none other than Beatle Paul McCartney and future Elton John Producer Gus Dudgeon under the pseudonym ‘Apollo C.Vermouth’. The writer of the song Neil Innes later repaid the favour to McCartney by writing all the songs for Beatles parody The Rutles (much to the anger of McCartney, happiness of George Harrison and flattery of Lennon)

Something In The AirThunderclap Newman – This song originally titled ‘Revolution’(but changed due to The Beatles own hit ‘Revolution’ about to be released) was co-performed and produced by Pete Townsend who clearly thought that his given name was a bit of a mouthful and preferred to use ‘Bijou Drains’ instead.

Wonderwall MusicGeorge Harrison – Here we have a whole albums worth of secret players involved as the lawyers would have had a field day if it’d had got out that ‘Richie Snare’, ‘Eddie Clayton’ were in fact Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. Peter Tork from The Monkees was also involved but I guess he couldn’t think of a partially amusing name so he simply just wasn’t credited at all.

As well as famous musicians helping their buddies out on recording sessions there are also a fair amount of future stars appearing on sessions of famous songs where they were simply paid union scale wages and given the chord sheet when they arrived as a bona fide session musician.

All Things Must PassGeorge Harrison – With the gargantuan production by Phil Spector there were many musicians involved with building the famous ‘wall of sound’ and on a wet Wednesday afternoon getting bongo players wasn’t that easy. On that particular day a young Phil Collins was given the leg up and chance to show his professionalism and abilities. He later remembered that after 4 hours of playing his heart out and smashing his fingers to a pulp on the bongos a voice come over the talk back mic from Spector who said simply “ok,ok for the next take can we add the bongos in the mix?” and then switched ON Collin’s microphone.

Remember (Walking in the Sand) – The Shangri-Las – For this classic song of heartbreak and melodrama from production wunderkind George ‘Shadow’ Morton from 1964 you are in fact hearing the young piano playing of Billy Joel playing the main theme and rhythm. Joel was a few years away from getting his own big break and was a gun for hire. He later said he didn’t even get the money he was owed for the session from Morton ($67 union scale).

On BroadwayThe Drifters – A classic of the early 60’s from the stable of Leiber and Stoller and featuring a barely on solid foods future production legend Phil Spector taking the guitar solo.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Story Books - single review

Ladies and gentlemen the record I present to you today is 'All Those Arrows' and it's b/side 'Glory & Growth' ( also about to be released as a 7" single itself) by new young upstarts Story Books. The single itself although the most commercial out of the 2 tracks I present before you doesn't really tick all the boxes for me and while it's pleasant enough to listen to (even on repeat listens) it doesn't manage to get into 3rd gear as a great song.

While starting promisingly enough and with some cleaver turns of phrase within the lyrics the whole thing seems too small for a band with this many members and guitar players going all out. It seems that the band played there hearts out in the studio only for some commercially minded producer to mix the life out of it due to some misdirected judgement about keeping it radio friendly. It's too soon to judge the whole package as I'm sure their live show is a different kettle of indie fish and hopefully the album will let the band play with more sonic colours and shades.

The single is bookended with B/Side 'Glory & Growth' is a more restrained track and although with more folk licks it still keeps it's moody feel with the low notes anchoring the melody. Again just as the A-side just when you think it's going to kick in it simply fizzes out. There are great sounds captured within and if they were capitalised fully and truly realised the benefit would be ten fold. Must try harder.

Monday, 12 March 2012

30 years and 322 days old...

In just over a month I will be 31. I’ve broken the barrier of the ‘30’ milestone and have actually begun the 30’s as a decade. Time is definitely ticking with more prominence than it ever did in my teens or even twenties for that matter and it’s slightly worrying that as the years go by I get less and less worried about the whole thing although part of me still thinks I probably should be. Maybe your body releases some kind of internal sedative that keeps you calm as you gradually wear out and lose track of your dreams and goals until one day you wake up aged 70 and feel nothing but apathy for the past, present and future. The 3rd decade isn’t all bad though, I definitely have a better understanding and viewpoint of ‘who’ I am as a person and am unashamed about my likes and dislikes without trying to shoehorn some kind of popular trend into the mix as well as a barrier to keep a modern head on my ever greying shoulders.

Let’s just say that Harry Nilsson and Gram Parsons will always be cooler than Two Door Cinema Club and that’s just how it is. Not to say they are without merit at all but who really cares one way or another? Surely we’re past tip-xing out favourite bands on our school bags?

It’s definitely an era of reassessment and more importantly deciding what is genuine and what are just pie in the sky goals that you were only ever half interested in when it actually came down to it anyway. Teenage dreams when examined under the microscope of time tend to show that they were simply means to an end and the true aims were probably a lot less interesting i.e. to make money, to meet girls, to not have to settle down and get a proper job. They might have been hidden beneath the blanket of art and creating something for future generations but I don’t believe that music is an industry for fakers and sooner or later the hustlers are found out. Or maybe I just run out of steam and have got to the finish line and can see how futile it all is for those that don’t crave the constant attention and love from strangers on a daily basis.

The hump is approaching and once at the top of the mountain it’s a lot easier to survey the land below and make a true decision. Writing is easier, no practicing, no remembering what I wrote the day before and continue to remember for the foreseeable future. No having to stand on stage and re-read my stuff exactly the same way as the readers first read it to themselves. It’s instant. It’s full of the contradictions and general pointlessness of the daily grind but at the same time it seems to have more genuine heart involved than churning out another 3 chord wonder. There is now definitely a line in the sand for music and although I’ll ‘talk it’ constantly and listen to it just the same I’ll no longer feel the need to try and ‘walk it’ any more.

Berlin - Lou Reed (the version on his debut solo album not the 'Berlin' Album version if you please)

Sweeter Memories - Todd Rundgren

Live with Me - The Rolling Stones

Nude - Radiohead

Country Home - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Red Light Indicates The Doors are Secured - Arctic Monkeys

Friday, 2 March 2012

'R U Mine?' - review

Since the introduction of downloads in the online music world there has been a split between the music makers and minstrels, on the one side you had the old guard that fought against the turning tide and tried in vain to stop their music being available at the click of a mouse. On the other side you had bands that realised that it was just the format that had changed rather than the end result and that fighting a battle they were destined to lose was a pointless task and instead embracing the new wave opened their music up to millions of people that may never have initially have heard of them.

Arctic Monkeys have released a new single ‘R U Mine?’ (Domino records) and no this isn’t a pre-lead up to a new album or anything they’ve done it well…simply because they want to. It’s an old ideal that bands released singles that weren’t always included on albums, in some cases singles and albums were separate entities all together and I think this is a lost trend that was great value for the fans back in the day and also stopped you forgetting about bands while they took a year off to record a new album or have a break from the so called ‘pressures’ of being a rock and roll star.

In 1970 John Lennon had the idea of writing a song, recording it the same day, mixing and pressing it the day after then putting it out in the shops the same week, the song was ‘Instant Karma’ and although this was the premise 42 years ago now in 2012 a band like Arctic Monkeys can record, mix and with a few deft keystrokes send the file world wide the same hour to the fans if they so desired. We the fans are the lucky ones and this is a truly great song for us to devour until the tour starts. The track itself is a definite evolution for the bands sound and one that proves that time away in America has refuelled their creative juices ten fold, they sound like a band having fun and riding the crest of their current creative wave and preparing the world for their own great leap forward and next musical phase. POW!