Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Almost An Apology

Well folks, I feel I gotta say I'm just a little sorry for that last really rather dull Big Star/Alex Chilton post. Facts and references aplenty but not really much of a story to the actual Alex meeting itself was there? Clutching at straws a tad methinks - keen to let y'all know "Hey, I met Alex Chilton" - but little more to it than that and I'd like to think HOTTC can provide a little more glitz and glamour (or even grime).

After all you come to this blog for tales of edgy encounters with eccentric individuals, and not for repeated namedropping and transcripts of mundane meetings.

So eventually, we do realise we've got to give them what they want.....


Too Much Junkie Business with the late great Johnny Thunders.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Here's A Little Thing That's Gonna Please Ya.....

To a generation of 20 and 30 somethings, the name Alex Chilton probably attaches itself more to The Replacements than to the man himself, from their song "Alex Chilton" :

"If he was from Venus, would he feed us with a spoon? If he was from Mars, wouldn't that be cool? Standing right on campus, would he stamp us in a file? Hangin' down in Memphis all the while. (chorus:) Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round They sing "I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song. "Cerebral rape and pillage in a village of his choice. Invisible man who can sing in a visible voice. Feeling like a hundred bucks, exchanging good lucks face to face. Checkin' his stash by the trash at St. Mark's place. (chorus) I never travel far, without a little Big Star. Runnin' 'round the house, Mickey Mouse and the Tarot cards. Falling asleep with a flop pop video on. If he was from Venus, would he meet us on the moon? If he died in Memphis, then that'd be cool, babe.(chorus)"

I am pretty sure that most folk who hear that song investigate a little further and have the joy of discovering the wonders of Big Star. There was though, in the late 80's and early 90's, a period of a couple of years when Big Star was the band to namecheck. Be you Primal Scream, REM, Teenage Fanclub or any number of music writers, "Radio City" was an album of great influence and a useful reference point for anything loosely resembling (hate the term, love the genre) powerpop. Trendsetters as ever, me and my friends were listening to them many years before that, having re-diecovered the early 70's albums in the early 90's. To this day, Alex Chilton and Big Star are constantly on rotation round these parts and I reckon it's about time I did my bit to spread the word a little further afield.

What spurred me into action was Alan Yentob's "Imagine" documentary on the BBC a week or so ago on the Memphis born photographer William Eggleston, whose famous "Red Ceiling" picture adorned the "Radio City" album and whose "Dolls On A Cadillac Hood" was on the cover of Alex's solo album "Like Flies On Sherbert".

"Red Ceiling" by William Eggleston

"Dolls On A Cadillac Hood" by William Eggleston

It was Alec Chilton's 1978 solo single"Bangkok" that I first heard in 1980, and 'twas through the auspices of Mr Epic Soundtracks that I (as were many others - Bobby Gillespie and Alan McGee amongst them) was introduced to the wonder of Big Star. Firstly "Radio City", then "#1 Record" and eventually "Third" - as fine and varied (have you heard "Third"?) a trio of albums you could hope to hear.

Weirdly, it was through Tav Falco's Panther Burns, specifically the 1980 "She's The One To Blame" EP (and a still treasured copy of the first release of only 250 copies with 8" silk screened sleeve on Frenzi Records) that I came back upon Alex's solo work. As did much of Tav's considerable output, this featured one LX Chilton on guitar.......but let's talk about the charismatic Tav Falco some other time.

Possibly recognising he'd peaked as a song writer in the late 70's, the larger part of his recordings these past 25 years or so have been covers, and since the mid 90's, aside from the odd Box Tops reunion (did I mention that it was a 16 year old Alex Chilton singing lead

on million seller "The Letter" back in 1967?) it's been the new version of Big Star that's been his main focus. With original drummer Jody Stephens, Alex teamed up with the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to tour as Big Star. Great excitement preceded their London dates in August 1993, not least for myself. I certainly remember seeing Bobby Gillespie in attendance, and the word was that pretty much all the great and good of indie rock at that time gathered at the Clapham Grand. Of course it wasn't Big Star 1973, but there was magic in the air that night, as the Zoo Records release of the live "Columbia" album confirmed.

Anyway, we're hear to reminisce about my encounters with rock's elite, so, when Chris met Alex....it was just the one time, and it was (gulp) nearly 24 years ago. Alex and his band played a (slightly disinterested) show at London's Mean Fiddler on 16th October 1985, we were there and after the show Epic and I approached Alex for Epic to undertake part one of a planned interview which was completed a few days later at the house in Brixton where Alex was staying. A wide-ranging chat, it was the centre-piece of (and cover story - great picture by Bleddyn Butcher - for) issue 6 of my What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen magazine which was published in 1986 (and came with a 17 track compilation (vinyl) album.....copies still available folks).

Notoriously diffident, verging on awkward ("ornery" may be appropriate) he was both these that evening but to be fair, as an interviewee, pretty damned co-operative, and Epic got some mighty fine stuff out of him. I played my usual starstruck role and observed rather than involved, took a couple of photos of him and Epic, got him to sign a couple of original vinyl Big Star albums, my copy of the "Bangkok" single and various solo singles, and wallowed in listening to his lazy southern drawl. The cliche is that you should never meet your heroes lest they disappoint - Alex did nothing but live up to his reputation as rock's outsider, did not in any way disappoint and I loved him all the more for it.

For a fine, thorough telling of the Big Star story, get hold of a copy of Rob Jovanovic's "Big Star - The Story Of Rock's Forgotten Band".

Pleased to have played a small role in it's creation, having met up with and lent Rob my and Epic's collection of press cuttings, rare discs and photos (by the way Rob, still waiting for you to return the Jim Dickinson "Dixie Fried" album cover and one or two other bits and pieces....) it's somehow supposed to be being made into a film - the mind boggles.

More certainly, and I for one cannot wait, mid September this year sees the release of a box set by Rhino (God bless this label....) called "Keep An Eye On The Sky", 4 CDs including, of course, unreleased stuff as well as classics from the three original albums.


Many folks have covered Big Star tunes but there was one in particular I was keen to get hold of, and a few years ago I bought through eBay a copy of an album called "Love's Melody" to get a version of "September Gurls" by The Searchers (as in "Needles & Pins" etc.), recorded towards the end of the 70's. Of course it's now on CD ("Sire Sessions: The Rockfield Recordings") but here's my rip from the vinyl.....

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Music In Memoriam

It was a relatively new album to me at the time, but Laura Barton's review in the Guardian last year of Bon Iver's “For Emma Forever Ago” for some reason struck a chord.

I guess it was primarily her observation that time spent doing things other than listening to that album felt like time wasted. As is the wont of proper journalists, this is inevitably an overstatement, but not by very much. I know what she meant. This is an album I have grown to love in the last year or so, and one I've yet to tire of.

It's 18 month long part in my life has coincided with high levels of emotion for me and my family, losing my mother, my uncle, my uncle's partner, one of the family dogs and my boss in that time. Almost inevitably in such circumstances, and coinciding I guess with a modest advancement in years, I've found myself increasingly inclined to listen to music that might be best described as morose, maudlin even, prone on occasion to inducing tears.

Furthermore my mind has turned to selecting the music I want played at my funeral.

I guess I've always felt it was important to have the right music for the right occasion. To a degree it's about being in control – it used to be that I knew that I knew best – you were very much mistaken if your musical likes differed from mine. Eventually I descended from such high self regard, and grew to accept that I was not actually the sole arbiter of taste (though I still knew better than most....) and am now able to embrace (even) the fact that some people like modern so-called r'n'b, heavy though it maketh mine heart.

For me, this focus on getting it right started with mix (we used to call them compilation) tapes for teenage holidays, moved on to CDs for wooing the ladies (well, lady...my wife...) and then working out DJ sets for my brother-in-laws band's gigs. For some years now, as an extra, very personal (and admittedly low cost) Christmas present, I've been putting together a “Best Of The Year” CD (some years, a double CD) for family and friends. Like I say, I've always enjoyed foisting my musical taste on others – the rare party held at our house invariably ends with me plugging the iPod into the stereo and regaling all those present with a wide variety of sounds – not that there's much chance of more than a minute of any one song as there's always another great piece of music I want everyone to hear....and so little time.

As much as this though, it's the planning process itself I enjoy. Any collection of songs has to flow just right and/or be appropriate for the occasion for which it is compiled. My wife Wendy would no doubt confirm that before our wedding back in 1999, I was (perhaps a little to her frustration) more concerned with selecting the right music for, firstly, our wedding ceremony (if you're interested I went with “La Cavelleria Rusticana” by Mascagni,

“The Lonely 1” by Wilco and Semisonic's “This Could Be My Year”) and for the reception (for which I created four CDs worth of music) than any other marriage related issue. Though I'm sure that getting this right played no small role in making the ninth of the ninth ninety-nine the very best day of my life.

Whilst the beautifully crafted eulogies bring a tear to my eye
It's the music that's played that really makes me cry

So to the emotionally charged surroundings of a memorial service and the selection of appropriate music. As I say above, I've had more opportunity in the last year to consider this than anyone would choose.

For my mother, whose interest in music had never been especially specific, the family chose a selection of popular classical pieces to accompany the one especially relevant choice of “Jerusalem”, the hymn of my mother's beloved Women's Institute. Words and tune I have always loved and as ever, it extracted a powerful and stirring rendition from the many friends and family gathered to remember her.

At my uncle's magnificent memorial service, alongside Fairport Convention's elegiac “Meet On The Ledge” (Excuse me, I've a little dust in my eyes....)

and a traditional Irish drinking song, once again “Jerusalem” was played, this time as the old school hymn, and of course a tune I will now forever associate exclusively with my mother. Tears flowed freely – not least because the date of the service coincided with the anniversary of mum's passing.

At my uncle's partner Marie's funeral it was Sandy Denny singing the exquisite “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” that brought us all to tears.

My concern in making sure the music suited the magnitude and mood of the occasion of a memorial service probably began a few years ago when as well as being asked to deliver the eulogy (the proudest and at that time most moving experience of my life) I was amongst those asked to suggest a piece of music to play at my friend Kevin Godfrey's (Epic Soundtracks) funeral service – his own song, the gorgeous “There's A Light Up In The Sky” was the consensus choice, and never more fitting. Some years later, I suggested for his brother Nikki Sudden's funeral a song from his last album, “Green Shield Stamps”, a paean to more innocent and childish times, but was, thankfully, over-ruled as the wondrous “Stay Bruised” (from the “Treasure Island” album) prevailed and resulted in truly one of the most moving five minutes you could ever imagine.

So I know what song I want played at my funeral.

“Re:Stacks” by Bon Iver.

It's a song about gambling. Cards in particular. I have rarely gambled and certainly never played cards for money so it's lyrics have no relevance to my life. But it is the most beautiful song I have ever heard and invariably sends a shiver through me if it hasn't already reduced me to tears. Really. It is a hypnotic sparingly constructed tune beautifully played and hauntingly sung by Justin Vernon, and you must listen to it. It cannot fail to move.

There may be other songs yet to be heard to add to the list of preferred funeral music, but I know that "re:Stacks" will remain a constant.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

More Self-Abasing Bollocks

For an hour or two, generally just one evening a week, I trawl my way through the world of blogs, mostly music oriented, partly with a mind to keeping up with what's new and what's happening – a desperate last hurrah for someone nearing 50 perhaps, but there you go – and partly to see what I'm up against. Oftimes not a lot, though one or two provide inspiration - check some of the links in the sidebar. But I'm wearying of what I've seen a fair bit recently – bloggers moaning that noone is leaving comments – all those hours spent lovingly crafting another epic post and nothing coming back from their readers - bloggers threatening to pack it all in if such disinterest persists. Pitiful really. Bless.

From my perspective though, whilst it'd be cool to think someone might be reading this, truth be told I'm doing it, when suficiently inspired, for myself and nobody else – writing this all down with a view to creating a reasonably professional looking record of me wittering on about some of the more interesting things I've been involved with over the years, interspersed with the odd clip or piece of memorabilia to provide some perspective and, dare I believe, a touch of gravitas. That's not to say that interaction wouldn't be unwelcome, but given my own reluctance to comment on other folks' blogs, and it has to be a pretty special piece for that to happen, I can hardly expect it myself. Dig the humility, huh?

This is my baby, it's probably only me checking it out every day, and I'm certainly not living in expectation of feedback. We'd all like to be loved and appreciated, but that's not really what these postings are all about and I can't believe I'm the only blogger who thinks this way. I'm sure to be one of many who will talk about but probably never get round to writing a book, so poor substitute though it may be, this will more than likely have to do. It will be as good as I can make it and I'll enjoy every minute I spend writing it even if it ends up being for an audience of one.

So I guess this makes “HOTTC” little more than a vanity project – no surprises there as you are reading the words of someone who compiled his own “Vanity CD” of clips of me and my magazines and records being mentioned on the radio, me being interviewed on the radio, me interviewing rock stars and them saying nice things about me – yes, I've previous in this field. One of life's more harmless vices I'd say, and best just leave me be.

So, and I'm probably just talking to myself, the blog continues. Let (intermittent) service resume.

(Anyone out there though?)

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Michael Eavis & Halitosis

Hell, it's Glastonbury 2009 all over the BBC, so felt I should share my Michael Eavis tale. It's a few years ago, and I went to Birmingham's NEC Arena to see Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino. Alas, Fats was too ill to perform, but Chuck duckwalked, Little Richard queened, and I sat next to Michael Eavis. He was there, he told us, to check out Chuck for the traditional "what the fuck are they doing at Glastonbury" spot peopled by the likes of Tom Jones, Neil Diamond and Rolf Harris. Believing we could play a part in the line-up decision for that year's festival, we did our best to encourage him to book Berry - wouldn't you rather hear the original "Roll Over Beethoven" than some derivative indie act aportioning sections of it for their hot contemporary sound?

Obviously Mr Eavis failed to agree as Chuck was never to appear, and ever since all I've ever told people is that nice chap though Michael Eavis obviously is, that night he had breath that could strip a car bonnet from a yard away.

Hence halitosis.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Breaking The Silence

"Where have you been?" cries no-one.....

Despite earlier protestations to the contrary, I became horribly conscious of how this blog might be coming across - all "did I tell you about the time I met....?". Okay, so the blog title itself drives me in this direction to a degree, but I'm planning to break the pattern of virtual self-aggrandisement if only to spark a fresh interest in this thing for me.

Just in case anyone was wondering......

In the meantime, here's a song for you.


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

How Do You Say I'm Lonely To An Answering Machine?

Jim Walsh's "biography" of the Replacements, "All Over But The Shouting"

Lest any of you think this blog is my first foray into the "Did I ever tell you about the time I met...." style ramblings of which, you'll by now have gathered, it comprises, well, you'd be wrong. I have previous in this field. Back in 2001, I posted the following on The Skyway http://www.theskyway.com/ If you read on, and please do, remember this was aimed at those more than a little familiar with the Replacements, though I've added a couple of notes and references for (shame on you) the uninitiated.

"Way way back, we're talking mid 1980's here, I dabbled in the world of fanzines, released a couple of compilation albums, and basically, as I had no musical talent, got my kicks by association with a number of "leading" members of the alternative rock revolution.

Some of you guys may know that at one time Paul was a big fan of a band called the Jacobites, especially of Dave Kusworth, and in particular their album "Robespierre's Velvet Basement" and name checked them regularly in interviews etc. They were at this time signed to Glass Records, run then by good friend and guiding influence Dave "Elvis" Barker. Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth were and are to this day The Jacobites and I'd known Nikki since 1980 when he rang me as a local-to-him saddo fanzine editor in the heart of England.

Nikki's brother, the late Epic Soundtracks, and I reckoned ourselves to be the only fans of the Replacements in the whole of the United Kingdom, but Nikki, despite knowing Paul's fondness for his music, did not reciprocate, and just couldn't get the Mats. So as Epic and I trumpeted the magic of the Mats to anyone who'd listen, I made contact with those very generous folk at Twin/Tone who furnished me with all manner of Replacements goodies (including THAT TAPE)


and other bits and pieces that Twin/Tone released. Inevitably I eventually confessed to the folk at Twin/Tone that I knew Nikki and Dave, and I was asked to act as some kind of unofficial representative in approaching them on behalf of Twin/Tone who were keen to release what eventually became "The Ragged School" by The Jacobites on Twin/Tone.


Now, and no disrespect to my good buddy to this day Mr. Nikki Sudden, (who sadly passed away in March 2006) the real thrill of this for me was the reciprocal step taken kind of on my recommendation for Glass Records to release the very first UK edition of a record by The Mats, namely "Boink" which came out in 1986, and included the then unreleased "Nowhere Is My Home" produced by that other hero of mine, L X Chilton (but that's another very long story).

Now where is this leading us other than to universal recognition of the importance of my role in the career of Paul Westerberg...?? (I jest, of course.....). Well, leading up to all this, I was in fairly regular contact (by post and phone) with Lori Bizer at Twin/Tone (later for a period Mrs Paul Westerberg) in the hope that I could get a solo track, "Pour Little Kim", (which I never got to hear) from Paul for one of my albums, though this was proving a little difficult as the band had just signed to Sire......and so it came to pass one night somewhere in Minneapolis that Paul Westerberg was getting merrily plastered, and decided to make a transatlantic phone call. I was living with my parents at the time, and 6.30 am one morning, I'm dead to the world when my mother wakes me up with the news that someone called Paul is on the phone....still half-dead I pick up the phone to hear this distant echo of a voice announcing himself as Paul Westerberg calling to say Hi and to find out more about that man Kusworth....

I've always been a little in awe of musical heroes when I've met or spoken to them and this was no exception. 16 or 17 years later, the details of the call are no longer recalled, but suffice to say, I dined on the tale a coupla times over the years. Anyway, "The Ragged School" did okay in the States, "Boink" very well over here, Dave Barker of Glass Records

no doubt getting the better side of the deal, and no doubt failing to pay money (lovable rogue that he is) owed to Twin/Tone before he eventually joined up with Alan McGee at Creation.

I'll happily write more Mats related stuff, but in conclusion just say that I will always love them, and whenever I listen to their stuff, I will always think of my great friend, much missed, Mr. Epic Soundtracks.

Play it for Epic.

Chris 17"

I never did write any more about 'em, still listen to and love 'em, and never travel far without a little Replacements.....

John Weller - 28th November 1931 - 22nd April 2009

Paul Weller and his father John Weller

The fourth release on Terri Hooley's Good Vibrations Records was the legendary Undertones "Teenage Kicks" EP, but the very first in 1978 was "Big Time" by Belfast's very own Rudi.

Lead by Brian Young they later released the I-Spy EP also on Good Vibrations and then two singles on Jamming! Records, the label set up by Tony Fletcher (biographer of Keith Moon and editor of Jamming! Fanzine http://www.ijamming.net/Moon/KeithMoon.html) and funded by Paul Weller.

Rudi never released an album and split up late in 1982, though not before supporting The Jam on several dates of their Transglobal Unity Express Tour in March and April of 1982.

I'd been in touch with Brian for a while and interviewed him (by phone) late in 1981 for issue four of my Stringent Measures fanzine, and continued to keep in touch, receiving an invite to meet up with them at Leicester's De Montfort Hall on 22nd March 1982.
Arriving at this fine venue, I picked up my ticket and backstage pass at the box office, and proceeded to seek out the band. Blithely wandering round behind the stage, I tried this particular door, and found myself in a room full of guitars – very soon after entering though, I was accosted by an irate middle aged gentleman asking me what the fuck (probably more “what the fack”) was I doing in there, that I should leave at once and, by the way, hand over my backstage pass. Which I did, and thus began and ended my one encounter with Mr John Weller, father of Paul Weller, who sadly died in April.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

U2 - Postprandial At The General Wolfe

It may have been September, it may have been October 1980 but it was definitely on the A429 between Warwick and Wellesbourne where I first heard U2's “I Will Follow”. To these immature ears this was a thrilling tune, an anthem they'd call it these days, that hurtled along at 90 miles an hour, with what was to become the Edge's trademark guitar sound setting the pace. It was a pivotal moment signposting the direction my musical tastes were to go in for a few years to come, flying in the face of the tastes of many a friend and acquaintance, as I became an oft ignored advocate for the group.

Between 1980 and 1992, I saw them 14 times in concert, hung around backstage for autographs on innumerable occasions, got to interview Bono for my fanzine Stringent Measures, met him on a couple more occasions, joined the official Island Records approved fan club (membership number U2133), and eventually, fell out of love with the band – no longer were they my band, they now belonged to everyone else. I've not bothered much with their last four or five albums, but I wouldn't shoot them down in flames. True, there's many other folk out there today making vastly more stimulating and challenging music than these four middle aged guys (who are the same age as me, to be fair), but back in the day, they really did matter to me.

Above & Below - U2 at the 77 Club in Nuneaton 6th June 1980
(previously unpublished)

I had initially planned “doing” U2 in several chapters, dragging out my encounters with the world's biggest band along the lines of “Chapter One – The First Time”, “Chapter Two - My Bono Interview” etcetera, but, the Lord save us from such bragadaccio, I've decided instead to tell all in one fell swoop.

Chapter One – The First Time (....cough, cough....)

I first saw U2 at the General Wolfe Public House in Coventry on Saturday 6th September 1980. This was before I'd heard and fallen for “I Will Follow”, and was a fairly spontaneous attendance. I guess I'd read about them in either the NME or Sounds, but went along with little in the way of expectation – my regular evening DJ John Peel never ever liked U2, refusing sessions from them on more than one occasion, indeed they didn't record their first Radio One (Richard Skinner) session until a year later, and the BBC rarely played songs that weren't in the charts (the internet of course was still in the future).

The General Wolfe is a dominating Victorian building just over a mile north of the city centre on the corner of the Foleshill Road and Station Street West, in an area now, and then, replete with Asian Restaurants, Sweet Shops and General Stores. It was not, in 1980, the most salubrious of hostelries, but its back room was a popular venue for developing bands, mostly of the local persuasion, who'd perform, as U2 did this night, to no more than 100 people.

I reviewed the show in my first ever fanzine OneOff;

“They came on about 10.45 – a 4 piece comprising: blonde bassist in specs (good looking): lead guitarist in paint stained jeans: drummer with earring: vocalist in leather with mass of hair. They play a very powerful set with few bad numbers. When they play fast and loud they're excellent – hard hitting drums, powerful multi style guitar breaks, solid bass and eccentric vocalist obviously enjoying himself. But the slower numbers dragged on a bit. Much of the vocals were inaudible but the lead singer's antics and enjoyment did a lot towards nullifying that complaint. They were on for an hour and did two encores. The national music press says they'll be the next big thing and for once they could be right”

Certainly prescient to a degree if somewhat short of being a rave review, but what I really remember now of that evening is that as I'd promised her parents I'd get my girlfriend home at a respectable hour, we had to leave as soon as U2 left the stage after their two encores. The layout of the back room meant you had to go out through a door to the side of the stage, which we duly did, following the band as they too used the same exit. There was no indoor back stage area for the band to hang around and wallow in the applause, just the small car park to the rear of the pub and so we had to pass them as we walked out onto Station Street. A cheery “Goodnight” from us as we went by, got a friendly “Thanks for coming guys” from the nameless and rather sweaty lead singer.

Whether or not such bonhomie had any impact, before the month was out, I'd seen them again at Coventry Polytechnic and within a couple of months, U2 were my new favourite band. By June 6th 1981, I was fan enough to travel south to Aylesbury, with my girlfriend and my sister Sue, to watch them at Aylesbury Friars, arriving early with radio cassette recorder in the hope of getting an interview with the band for the second issue of my fanzine, Stringent Measures. A three page transcription of the best of a 20 minute chat starts thus:

“Waiting patiently outside the back door to the Civic Centre, as Bono walked out into the loading bay, I seized my chance and pounced, shaking him by the hand and asking him if he'd mind answering a few questions. Clad in torn sweat shirt, pedal pushers and flip flops, apologising for smelling, he indicated he didn't, and we stepped outside to commence the interrogation.....”

An excerpt from the interview tape 6th June 1981

Support for the gig were (unusually) the Hungary vs. England make or break 1982 World Cup Qualifying game which was won 3 - 1 by England kick-starting their eventually successful campaign.

and the loveable Altered Images, and I reviewed the show (football included) alongside the interview in the magazine.

I'm not planning to go through every show of theirs I saw, though in October 81 at a much bootlegged show at Warwick University
I managed to get the whole band to sign a copy of Stringent Measures 2 (see above) and later post gig backstage hanging around got me my various scrapbooks (though I tend to publicly mock these “sad” archives, I secretly still treasure them all) signed by all or some of the band (Larry Mullen often choosing to be absent).

Serious hobnobbing though had to wait until June 1992, and specifically the ZooTV show at Birmingham's NEC. Around this time my friend Nikki Sudden was spending a lot of time with Radio One DJ Annie Nightingale, a relationship that gave him the opportunity to meet and befriend some fascinating folk, and to attend some interesting events – not least later in June as Nikki and Annie suited up (in the background) as U2 protested for Greenpeace at Sellafield

That's Nikki in the middle at the back, U2 members up front

I tagged along on occasion as the opportunity arose and so it was that, on the understanding she and Nikki could stay over at my house in Coventry, and that I'd provide the transport, Annie wondered whether my girlfriend and I like backstage passes to watch U2 at the NEC? Go on then.

Having persuaded her to record a pretty cool answerphone message for me, we set off for Birmingham, parking the car right outside the back of the hall at the NEC (no half mile walk from the car park tonight) and there we were, watching a show on a tour that is seen as genuinely ground-breaking, from the official photographer's pit. Meandering post gig through a maze of subterranean corridors beneath the stage lead us to the backstage area and the aftershow gathering, where Bono took pity on my girlfriend, cradling her broken hand whilst we reminisced (really, we did) about our previous meetings, which he admirably claimed to remember, not least that first encounter some 12 years earlier in Coventry, a gig he recalled particularly for an Indian meal he'd had before the show in a restaurant round the corner from the venue.

Hence, postprandial.

Coming Soon - Alex Chilton's Awkward And Alienating Genius

Thursday, 7 May 2009

John Peel, Kid Jensen, And Peter Powell Says Fuck

I spent many pre-satellite TV and pre-internet hours listening most evenings to BBC's Radio One. This was some while before it was regularly broadcast on FM, so 8.00 till 10.00 pm was the muddy medium wave of “275 and 285” and David 'Kid' Jensen's show. Admittedly come 10 pm, Radio One transferred to the John Peel show on the somewhat more glamorous stereo FM frequency, and truth be told it was here, in the late 70's and early 80's where I picked up on much of the music that holds me in it's clutches to this day. I was one of those who heard John Peel play the Undertones “Teenage Kicks” EP for the very first time, was genuinely captivated, and the second time he played it, had tape recorder at the ready to record it for repeated, and I mean repeated, listening, until getting hold of the actual record itself.

Radio One First XI including Jensen, Peel & Powell

So these inevitably were the two shows to which I sent the various Stringent Measures and What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen fanzines I came up with. Whilst John Peel was generous enough to mention them on several occasions, the more enthusiastic response came from Kid Jensen, who from the first issue of Stringent Measures on would regularly read out the address for folks to send off for copies, as they did, in their tens....so I got to thinking I'd write in and ask him if I could come down to the BBC studios in London and sit in on a show. To my complete surprise, a few days later he called in person (Mum - “Chris, someone called David Jensen on the 'phone for you” was the shout. only bettered some years later by “Chris, someone 'phoning from America – Paul Westberg or something?” (yup, an early morning call from an inebriated Minneapolis based Paul Westerberg of The Replacements......yeah yeah yeah, some other time) and all of a sudden I'd got myself an invite to visit Broadcasting House on Tuesday 6th September 1983.

I drove down to London, arriving at Egton House around 7 pm, strolled hesitantly into Broadcasting House, approached reception, introduced myself, announced the purpose of my visit, and some 10 minutes later was greeted by “the Kid” himself. The relevant passes were produced and I followed him through the rabbit warren that is the BBC up to the studio itself. Peter Powell was coming towards the end of his show in the next studio, I'm full of nervous chatter and looking forward to watching how the BBC broadcast to the Nation. Shortly before the handover at 8.00 o'clock, having spoken to his producer, Jensen poses the question “Chris, would you be up for doing an interview on how you go about producing a fanzine?” This genuinely wasn't what I'd expected – yes, I'd hoped he might acknowledge on air that I was there so all the folks I'd told would hear proof of my presence, and I had taken an album with me from which I'd hoped he might play a track, but a live interview, no way Jose. But, when the British Broadcasting Corporation comes calling, you do your duty, so I agreed and thanked the Lord I'd asked family back home to record the show, just in case.......

Front Page of Production Details booklet for 6th Sept 1983 Show

So, as the show starts, if I wasn't a little anxious before, I am now. Kicking off with the ShangLas “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”

one of three tracks during the show from them, then a touch of A Flock Of Seagulls. Session-wise I guess I got a little unlucky – the night before it had been a classic Smiths quartet:

Accept Yourself (Kid Jensen 5/9/83) [Hatful of Hollow]
I Don't Owe You Anything (Kid Jensen 5/9/83) [Sign Here boot]
Pretty Girls Make Graves (Kid Jensen 5/9/83) [The Smiths at the BBC]
Reel Around the Fountain (Kid Jensen 5/9/83) [The Smiths at the BBC]

This night though, it was The Farmers Boys and The Farenji Warriors in session, neither especially memorable. And so it was that I was told we'd chat just after the 8.30 news, and as we got nearer that time, so nerves increased and my tongue stuck ever faster to the roof of my mouth. No doubt sensing my anxiety (ever the professional broadcaster) the Kid delayed the moment and I calmed down a little, until as a Farenji Warriors session track fades out and we're off.

After about 7 minutes of me expounding on the art of editing a fanzine, it's time to play the track I'd requested (which had been tested for suitability by the producer) and with my spontaneous dedication “Play it for Epic”, it's “You Get What You Deserve” by the mighty Big Star – remember, this was a long long time before the likes of Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, REM et al claimed Big Star as their own and the song and band meant nothing to either DJ or his producer. In the same way he later introduced them to the likes of Bobby Gillespie I'd got good old Epic Soundtracks to thank for a full introduction to the genius of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell – as the song finishes another 4.5 minutes of chat, thank-you's and goodbyes said on air, and it's “Good Technology” by the Red Guitars. I play along with the tradition of guests departing on air by going nowhere and sit there through the rest of the show. Andy Peebles (most famous as the last broadcaster to interview John Lennon) wanders into the studio to say hello to David Jensen, and as we near 10.00 pm, in comes the mighty John Peel himself to read out the football scores.

6 September 1983
Liverpool 1-1 Southampton
Coventry City 2-1 Notts County
Ipswich Town 3-0 Everton
Luton Town 2-2 Norwich City
West Ham United 3-1 Leicester City
Birmingham City 1-0 Stoke City
Arsenal 2-3 Manchester United
Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Watford

Plonks himself down next to me, says hello as I'm introduced to him, acknowledges he's familiar with Stringent Measures and the (more recent) first issue of What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen, and much as I'd love to report of how I joshed with him about the respective results for my team Coventry City and for his beloved Liverpool, I didn't, as that's about all she wrote: having read out the scores he wanders off into the next studio to prepare for that evenings show.
Dropped from the playlist as a result of my inclusion were “This Is The Day” by The The, “Warriors” by Gary Numan, “High Noon” by Two Sisters (?), “Bruises” by Gene Loves Jezebel and “Chance” by Big Country – so nobody got short changed there......the show finishes with “Robot Man” by The Gymslips

and I'm out of there, beginning a two hour drive back up the M1, listening, of course, to John Peel.

Listening back to a tape of the show, whilst nothing too embarrassing pases my lips, I hear a very nervous and just a little too precious soul, though truth be told, it's a pretty reasonable introduction to producing a fanzine, not that I'm suggesting it's that technical a procedure. Ultimately I guess it was good practice for sitting one Saturday afternoon a couple of years later in a self operated studio at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham for a live interview with a London based Andy Kershaw (......the tales just keep on coming).

Oh, did I mention hearing drive-time DJ and ex-Mr Anthea Turner, Peter Powell say (admittedly off air) “Fuck”? Hard to explain how shocked I was at the time - shocked enough to remember to this day and to recall, fast forwarding a few years to the U2 Zoo tour, backstage at the NEC with the rich and famous, and there's our foul mouthed friend again, effing and jeffing to Paul McGuinness while I chat with.........(and on and on and on he goes). Talking of which.....

Coming Soon –U2 - Postprandial At The General Wolfe

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Late Night Shopping For Pets With Sonic Youth

Seeing the nigh on ageless Sonic Youth on Jools Holland this week – great new song “Antenna” and the classic “Teenage Riot” (with Steve Shelley excelling on drums) – it takes me back to a couple of encounters with them in the mid to late 80's.

Epic Soundtracks - Photo by Valery Lorenzo

I was good friends with Epic Soundtracks who was in turn pretty close to the band – viz their 1988 John Peel session of Fall songs which Epic guided them through, being the only one who properly knew all the songs through – going as far as to sing (mixed very low) vocals on one track – (This session was released as the 4Tunna Brix bootleg EP) and Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore all played on Epic's 1992 Rough Trade album “Rise Above” (...as did Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis....). And so it was that Epic acted as conduit for my “adventures” with the influential New York Alt-Art-Rockers.

Two evenings stand out, the second of these in September 1990, when Epic's band These Immortal Souls (with Rowland S Howard, brother Harry Howard and Genevieve McGuckin) http://theseimmortalsouls.anteeksi.net/
were supporting Sonic Youth at the Hummingbird in Birmingham and with a guest list invite coming my way, I hung around backstage. Although I'd met SY before, I was hardly inner circle material, so chose largely to keep out of the way – though I did boldly venture in to the crappy graffitti ridden dressing room to partake of a paltry rider – and eventually enjoyed Sonic Youth's performance from behind the stage. Once again, it was Steve Shelley on drums who stood out – Epic, himself an exceptional drummer (check out his performance on the Jacobites “Shame For The Angels” as an example) rated Steve very highly and it was he that Epic was closest to in the band, as members of the drummers union I guess. I've always liked the rocky Sonic Youth rather more so than the experimental side and it was a rare privilege to witness close up as Steve knocked out a pulsating rhythm on the likes of Silver Rocket, Kool Thing and Teenage Riot.

It had been 1986, 13th May to be precise (confess I had to look up the date), a Tuesday night, when things had got a little weird. I wasn't feeling at my best as I had the most excruciating toothache and but for having promised a lift to Epic, would probably have ducked out of traipsing east to check out Sonic Youth. But, a promise is a promise, and so it was that, dosed up on paracetamol (me, that is) we took the short drive from Coventry to Leicester to check out the Youth at a place called The Fan Club. This would be the first time I actually met the band, and, a creature of habit where such meetings were concerned, was a little anxious at the prospect of talking to the four hip New Yorkers. Inevitably of course all of them turned out to be perfectly charming. You've only got to look at Kim now, some 23 years later and still the archetypal rock chick, to imagine how cool she was back then. Lee was pretty quiet, Thurston charismatic and Steve, the new boy to the band, extremely approachable.

Although I've a vague recollection but cannot be sure, that the support was Pavement, eventually it came round to Sonic Youth taking the stage. Unfortunately, painkillers have a tendency to wear off and so it was that I proceeded to endure the extremely loud and shrill intensity of the likes of Expressway To Yr Skull (how apt......) through a fog of sheer pain –eventually a second dose of tablets kicked in, senses numbed a little, and I was ready to wander the streets of Leicester with a hyped up post show band reluctant just yet to return to their digs.

With a vague knowledge of the centre of Leicester (from day release studying at the Polytechnic), I acted as some kind of tour guide. Now the East Midlands is not the Lower East Side of New York, and this dissimilarity became clear as the band tells us how in New York you could go into an all night pet shop to buy a snake in the early hours of the morning, and, not that a serpent was on their shopping list, but did they not have such facilities in England? Needless to say, bar a late night off licence or two, everything was closed and our search would be in vain. The band masked their disappointment well.
There's no doubt that wandering the streets of Leicester with (probably) the coolest alternative rock band in the world put all thoughts of toothache to the back of my mind, and having walked them back to their hotel, I drove Epic back to Coventry on a mixture of natural and painkiller induced high.

Coming Soon: John Peel, Kid Jensen, And Peter Powell Says Fuck

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Nikki Sudden: The Sex Pistols “Spunk” Cassette

You have to realise that I was a naïve and somewhat immature 20 year old, and this was my first actual contact with a professional musician, a (forgive me Nikki) “minor” star in independent music circles, and what was more, he'd sought me out.
(Picture, left, shows Nikki & bother Epic on Swell Maps last tour, in Milan on 31st March 1980)
Somewhat in awe at first, as I was for some time to come, I spent the first of many evenings over many years in his engaging and charmingly egocentric company. My specific memories of that first meeting include mild astonishment at the number of books and records crammed into his room, in particular his mighty collection of T Rex records, tapes and of the books of both Captain W E Johns (Biggles et al)

and of Franks Richards (Greyfriars/Billy Bunter).

But what stands out most was learning that I was in the company of someone who'd actually seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club and The Screen On The Green back in 1977.

Sitting here nearly 30 years after that first meeting, it's hard to relate how important the music of the Sex Pistols and specifically the Never Mind The Bollocks album was to a 20 year old self confessed part time punk. It had been the very first LP I'd bought when I'd gone in to gainful employment, and I make no pretence of the childish satisfaction received from taking over my father's Bang & Olufsen music centre and playing “Bodies”, for the sheer thrill of hearing the “language”. Many better tracks of course on that timeless album – go on, listen to it again if you've not heard it for a while; a classic rock album, born out of and taking inspiration from the punk rock movement, but a timeless rock album through and through – but hey, I was busy “rebelling” against my parents (albeit in a relatively inoffensive fashion....).

Not only had Nikki been part of the scene at the gestation of punk rock, he actually had a copy of the Pistols infamous “Spunk” album, the bootleg of Dave Goodman produced pre ...Bollocks demos featuring Glen Matlock on bass, and what was more, he was happy to do me a cassette of it. Remember I'm living in sleepy mid Warwickshire, such items were unobtainable outside London, and this was verily the Holy Grail of Punk. And so in the early hours of the morning, I leave Harbury in my Austin 1100,
tape player blaring out what were, truth be told, poorer versions of the NMTB album, not that anything could then diminish my delight at hearing this historic bootleg.

Though Nikki would later introduce me to all manner of (possibly, probably, no definitely) more crucial music, this very first “gift” could not have been more thrilling. Moreover, there was the prospect of further advancing my musical education with a promise to compile a tape of the best of T Rex and, the first of many, a various artist compilation tape both of which he'd drop round on his first visit to my home a few days later. The “Spunk” cassette has long gone – eventually got a copy on vinyl myself – but I still have the other two near on 30 year old cassettes, the first of which introduced me to lesser known T Rex gems such as “Venus Loon”, and the second, to the likes of The Desperate Bicycles

of Big In Japan, of Can and, for the very first time, “Bangkok” by Alex Chilton
– whose band Big Star would eventually nigh on dominate my world. But that will be a tale for another time.

It wouldn't be long before there would be a Swell Maps compilation, and all manner of other delights, along with the inspiration to take my fanzine, eventually, to a slightly more ambitious and certainly a higher level.

Coming Soon - Late Night Shopping For Pets With Sonic Youth

Thursday, 30 April 2009

My First Fanzine

.....wasn't really very good and, given the stated remit of the blog, I only bring it up as it started a friendship that lasted more than 25 years until an untimely death in 2006. Late in 1980, Nikki Sudden was visiting his parents who then lived in the village of Harbury, a couple of miles from Leamington Spa. Earlier that year, his band http://www.furious.com/perfect/swellmaps.html Swell Maps had split – not, to be honest, that I was aware of this, the Maps being a band I'd only vague John Peel associated memories of, and I then owned none of their records. Setting out on a solo career, he was chilling out for a while, far from the buzz of London, in leafy Warwickshire where he knew no-one, and had sallied forth into Leamington itself to check out the local record shops. Of which there was one, Rentons Records, who I'd persuaded to stock my fanzine One Off.

Pompously subtitled “The Leamington Fanzine”, I guess he bought it to get an insight into what was going on in the Spa Town. As Davy Jones (almost) sang, disappointment haunted all his dreams, as this very personal fanzine fell some way short of being anything near where it was at. Still, he decided to track me down, 'phoned me out of the blue one evening, and introduced himself as a local musician up for an interview with a local fanzine.

As a glance through the hand written photocopied One Off now confirms there was neither hint nor prospect of actually speaking to or interviewing anyone. Instead, it was full of reviews of local gigs by the likes of The Dangerous Girls http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNKvtO7jtjY, The Selecter, Stiff Little Fingers, The Piranhas (!) and U2, the latter playing at the General Wolfe on 6th September 1980 (excerpt from the review: “....much of the vocals were inaudible but the lead singers antics and obvious enjoyment did a lot towards nullifying that complaint. They were on for an hour and did two encores....” Yup, I didn't even know the singers name – plenty more on encounters with this band in future posts.)

Add to that stuff on local record releases and local fanzines, a moderately embarrassing rant on “The State Of Radio” and to finish (and I'm quite happy never to show this to another living soul) a treatise on what's wrong with the Leamington scene and how I would put it right. I sold a few copies locally (memory says fewer than 50) and was so taken with seeing my own work in print, that it wasn't long before I came up with a second fanzine, called (imaginatively) Two Off – more content (still no interviews though) but too much naïve ranting, and hardly a step forward. Roll on Stringent Measures.....

But, as I say, without One Off I would never have met Nikki, his parents Trevor and Lois, and a year or so later, his brother (the also very much missed) Epic Soundtracks. My life would be very much the poorer not to have known the Godfrey family and though my two best friends are no longer with us, there's memories aplenty of the two people mostly responsible for my adventures in music. Of which more anon.

Coming Soon – Nikki Sudden: The Sex Pistols “Spunk” Cassette

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Start Me Up

Skittling through the early years, I was born August 1960, eldest of four children, brought up in a home of limited musical content – my father liked James Last, Acker Bilk and, his saving grace, Nat King Cole. http://www.nat-king-cole.org Funnily enough it was my grandmother on Mum's side who was largely responsible for what was to become, at times, an all consuming love of music. She worked in the record department of Warwick electrical store Bonel & Curtis, and passed on to me the occasional 7” single, most memorably “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” by Middle Of The Road, and “Mouldy Old Dough” by Lieutenant Pigeon http://www.lieutenantpigeon.co.uk/

This latter platter featuring on piano Mrs Hilda Woodward, great aunt of one of my class mates at Leamington College For Boys and the choice of Jarvis Cocker as one of his Desert Island Discs back in 2005. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/desertislanddiscs_20050424.shtml
At the age of 13 I was introduced by a school friend, alas name long since forgotten, to the delights of Buddy Holly http://www.buddyhollyonline.com/ and, much as his music had influenced Lennon & McCartney some 15 years earlier (...hey, if you're going to make a specious comparison, make it a big one.....) so I too never looked back.

A year later, and possibly my most shameful admission, a visit to Boots record department, acting as the stooge on look out and diversion for a thieving school friend, saw me own my first album, his slightly scratched copy of Lou Reed's “Berlin”, our (well, mostly his, m'lud) illegal actions providing him with a replacement mint copy. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20213002,00.html How cool it is to be able to report that as the first album I owned? I'll confess though that I failed to love it much then, appreciating none of its references to depression and drug addiction, though it went on to become an important part of a significant collection of albums by junkies and dope-fiends alike.

My first real passion was 10CC's “Sheet Music” http://www.minestrone.org/zigzag44.htm which I was given on pre-recorded cassette for my 14th birthday in August 1974, and which I listened to on permanent repeat for the best part of a year. I remember every word to at least half a dozen of the tracks, and will never tire of listening to this innately clever pop masterpiece.

Otherwise, odd songs stand out as being ever present throughout my mid to late teens - “School's Out”, “My Sweet Lord” and “Telegram Sam” spring to mind, but truth be told, from 15 to 17, music took a back seat to the “study” of UFO's , (fear not friends, as passionate a believer as I then was I am now as sceptical) http://www.conspiracyarchive.com/UFOs/UFOs_Aliens_Contactees.htm On recovering my senses, my love of music and all the ensuing consequences returned with alarming vengeance when I left school and started earning a living, the princely sum of £15 a week in my pocket, most of which I'd spend on records. Which I continued to do for the next 22 years....

Following the time frame, you'll have worked out that it was the glorious year of 1977 when life took a moderately interesting turn, setting in motion a series of events, experiences and encounters, some of which I'll deign to share through this blog. I'll apologise in avance for what might seem like a bunch of (wholly essential) name dropping, as I ofttimes lead my life vicariously through the action and adventures of others - it might just be fun.

Coming Soon - My First Fanzine

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Living Life Vicariously

Irregular ramblings on my loose associations and brief encounters with the movers shakers and risk takers I secretly longed to be brave enough to emulate....but with whom I chose instead to discretely (for the most part) tag along for the ride.

We'll start at the beginning but thereafter will flit backwards and forwards as the mood or relevance suits, sharing one man's musings on both the glamorous and the (occasionally) mundane events and occasions I've experienced and spent with people far more interesting, more talented and more dangerous than I in my wildest dreams ever could be.

As I've never kept a diary, dates will be vague, but I hereby promise that though for literary purposes there may be some verbose embellishment, everything I write will be grounded in truth and be a report of a real event, encounter or relationship. Where available I'll reproduce souvenirs of the time, some very general, some very personal, which I trust will add to the tale be it tall or short.

Weekly. at least, I'd hope though I'm anticipating an initial surge of enthusiastic outpourings - feedback fair or foul welcomed.

Chris 17