18.7.17

PINK FLOYD – THEIR MORTAL REMAINS



At the start of the V&A’s Pink Floyd exhibition there is a photograph of the first ever van that transported the four-man group and their equipment from gig to gig. It’s a fairly ordinary black Bedford van that Syd Barrett chose to decorate with a white stripe. It cost them £20 and Nick Mason, seen in the picture unloading his own drums, describes it as ‘unreliable’.
With this in mind you can be forgiven a sharp intake of breath when, towards the end of the exhibition, in a room dedicated to the Division Bell tour of 1994, we are informed that for this undertaking the now three-man Floyd required one Antonov military freight plane, two Boeing 747 cargo planes, eight tour buses, 18 production trucks and 53 additional articulated lorries. Such was the scale of this final Pink Floyd tour that three separate but identical stages were required. While one was in use another was being set up and the third taken down, all three leapfrogging one another along the way because of the time required to construct and dismantle them.
I suppose this is as good a way as any of measuring the extraordinary career progress of this most inscrutable of groups, a bit of a national treasure in many ways, whose shows became increasingly gargantuan in scale while its individual members chose to disappear into relative obscurity, at least while Roger Waters was at the helm. With all manner of distractions going on around them, Pink Floyd sang about alienation, British reserve, space travel, the futility of war, madness and death, the combination of which set them apart from their peers yet earned them a devoted following worldwide. The session singer Clare Torry certainly sounded as if she was in mid-orgasm during ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ on Dark Side Of The Moon, but – unlike every other artist you care to name – courtly romance was absent from the music of Pink Floyd.
Neither did they dress up. Jeans and t-shirts, usually black, was their preferred kit, nothing remotely ostentatious that might distract from the music, films and props, and this was another distinctive Floydian trait. The David Bowie Is and Revolution 1966-1970 exhibitions at the V&A were chock full of clothes, the Ziggy outfits and more for DB, the Sgt Pepper Beatle uniforms and Roger Daltrey’s fringed Tommy coat in the latter. But as far as Pink Floyd are concerned, they might just as well have performed naked on stage for all that this exhibition reveals. In many ways, however, this was part of their charm. As John Peel is famously quoted early on in the exhibition, “They could have joined the audience at one of their own gigs without being recognised.”
So unlike those other exhibitions we get no stage clothes on showroom dummies. Instead we get Fender guitars, enough to stock a high end music shop, and amps, and gadgets, stage props galore, some of them gigantic, posters and flyers, photos, some handwritten lyrics and lots of that magically surreal Hipgnosis artwork, most notably the famous refracting prism from the cover of Dark Side, the burning man of Wish You Were Here and the flying pig that slipped its moorings and caused such a fuss in the skies above Battersea Power Station.
It’s a shame, then, that my old pal Storm Thorgerson is no longer around to admire so much of his handiwork. Knowing Storm as I did, however, I have no doubt that had he not left us in 2013 he would have demanded a key role in staging this show, and in the process made life hell for everyone involved. I published his books at Omnibus Press and as a result happen to know that this exhibition ought to have been staged a good deal sooner than now. Countless delays occurred because Waters and David Gilmour don’t often see eye to eye and to get them to agree on anything is as vexed an issue as sorting out the endless squabbles in the Middle East.
No matter. An accord was reached and the exhibition subtly avoids any mention of the internal struggles that rent the Floyd apart after The Final Cut in 1983. Waters was livid when after a four-year hiatus the other three opted to continue without him, not least because the fans didn’t seem to miss him either, so he would have had to swallow a bit of pride to accede to this exhibition’s latter rooms, when Gilmour led a Pink Floyd with Mason on drums and Richard Wright on keyboards, augmented by session musicians.
Quite rightly, due space is given to the group’s founding mastermind Syd Barrett whose blue Telecaster with small round mirrors attached can be seen in a display dedicated to this most famous of acid rock casualties. This early tableaux serves to remind visitors of the time when Pink Floyd was a pop group just like any other, appearing on Top Of The Pops and having their photographs taken kicking their legs in the air dressed in Carnaby Street finery; floral shirts, stripy trousers and Edwardian jackets long ago consigned to the trash.
Once Syd was out of the picture the group’s main pre-occupation was to distance themselves from all that, simultaneously drawing attention away from themselves as people or, heaven forbid, personalities. This served to establish Pink Floyd as a brand, as distinctive as it was enigmatic, recognisable only by their props, the weird artwork and Gilmour’s sustained guitar lines. This modus operandi reached its logical conclusion during The Wall concerts in 1980 and ’81 when four lookalikes briefly took Floyd’s place on stage, a neat sleight of hand represented in the exhibition by the four face masks worn by the imposters. ‘We are not really here,’ was the prevailing message from a group whose members quite literally turned their backs to the camera.
Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols famously wore a Pink Floyd t-shirt on which he had scrawled ‘I hate’ before the band’s name, a dig at the group’s perceived pretentiousness, and this too makes an appearance, though it is made clear that Lydon, as he became, later admitted to liking Pink Floyd after all.
So did I and millions of others, and I was pleased that the final room showed footage from the last (and, subsequent to 1981, only) occasion when Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright performed together, the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in the summer of 2005. Somehow that day the hatchets were buried and Pink Floyd’s final performance was as emotional as it was out of character for them. As I wrote at the time: “Bereft of their usual crowd-pleasing props and light show, Floyd’s music, clearly well-rehearsed, seemed to take on an added warmth as the night drew in. The moving sight of this much-loved British band together again for the first time in 24 years was made all the more poignant when Waters dedicated ‘Wish You Were Here’ to Syd Barrett, their founding genius.”
In that final room they perform ‘Comfortably Numb’ behind a brick wall that falls away, and at the close, hesitantly, they put their arms around each other in an uncharacteristic display of brotherly affection. Perhaps behind their moody music and magnificent stage props Pink Floyd had a soft centre after all.





16.7.17

ROLLERCOASTER – Surrey’s Top Wedding Band




A couple of Saturdays ago I gate-crashed a wedding. Well, perhaps gate-crashed is too strong a word. Like Miss Pamela, I was With The Band, and I took my assigned role of 'front of house mixing engineer' seriously, standing at the back with a contemplative look on my face as if gauging the quality of the sound mix, then making a gesture that was intended to convey that the drummer’s vocal mike was too low or the violin was inaudible. It was fun, especially as fulfilling this task enabled me to observe Rollercoaster, Surrey’s finest ‘function’ band, at work, and then write about them on my blog. 
Time for a disclaimer. As a general rule Just Backdated concerns itself with the music and careers of artists that headline Glastonbury, Wembley or the O2. However, just to ring the changes, I am stepping out of that rarefied zone and into a different – but not necessarily inferior – one, and all because one member of Rollercoaster, the guitarist, happens to be a friend of mine. It’s also an interesting story.
Imagine, if you will, that one of our most popular and successful groups, anyone from The Who to Coldplay via The Smiths, fell by the wayside after their second album, and instead of scaling the heights became just another also-ran, left with a few press cuttings, a few cult fans and fond memories of a time when the future seemed bright and blazing. Nevertheless this group is equipped with the same vocal and instrumental skills of those that did become rich and famous, of those who have headlined Glastonbury, Wembley or the O2. What to do, they ask themselves. They have no interest in becoming plumbers, middle-managers or even working in guitar shops. They are, after all, musicians, and good ones too.
So they grit their teeth, cut their hair, put on suits, change their name and become a function band, one of the best in the business and, when they ply their trade, performing immaculate covers of ‘Twist And Shout’ or ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ or ‘500 Miles’, the wedding guests or corporate clients on the receiving end have the time of their lives, little knowing that the group on stage has another identity and could, if they were so minded, abandon the covers and become a different group entirely, and play original material that to my mind sounds a bit like Nirvana crossed with Radiohead, not that it would go down anywhere near as well as ‘I’m A Believer’ or ‘Pretty Woman’.
That Saturday night, as Rollercoaster, they could be found in the barn adjacent to a 16th Century stately home near Guildford, playing one of the 70 or more weddings and corporate events they do each year. Depending on requirements they can appear as a trio, quartet, quintet, sextet and more besides, and can even provide music during the ceremony, maybe a Bach cantata, as well as rock up a storm after the reception. On Saturday they were a quintet: guitar, bass, drums, violin and girl singer, who happens to be the wife of the bass player, though the fact that everyone sings at one time or another gives them a choral reach any band would envy.
Their repertoire is as broad as it is eclectic. It can veer from fairly conservative country music – ‘Nine To Five’ – to the carnal delights of Kings of Leon – ‘Sex On Fire’ – and takes in fifties rock’n’roll – Chuck, Elvis – and ‘classic’ rock – Beatles, Stones, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ – and ballads, first waltzes being a specialty, at this particular wedding Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. Since everyone dances when wine is flowing freely, modern R&B is another specialty, so Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and Amy’s ‘Valerie’ go down a treat, as does anything with an Irish or Scottish flavour, being as how Rollercoaster’s violinist isn’t the only man in the room wearing a kilt tonight. The other one offers us a swig from a hip flask containing malt whisky that’s older than himself – or so he says – and a lady of advanced years who looks like she’d be more at home in a pew at tomorrow’s Matins seems to know all the words to a Killer’s song. Old folks these days, tut tut.
So what’s the story here? How come musicians as technically accomplished as this lot are grinding out covers on a Saturday night for an upmarket wedding knees-up. How come a band as tight as this isn’t performing their own songs in front of 10,000 fans somewhere? How come, how come, as the guitarist used to sing when he covered that Ronnie Lane song in The Hurricanes, a duo that performed in my local when I first settled in these parts and where we first encountered one another.
The Rollercoaster story begins 30 years ago when two teenage boys, Alistair Cowan and Rob Blackham, met at Bishop Vesey Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield. Both were hooked on rock to the exclusion of everything else, so Alistair took up the bass and Rob the guitar. By the early nineties they had teamed up with Alistair’s guitarist brother Angus and Guildford-born drummer Chris Hughes in an alt-rock group called Redwood that was active for the rest of the decade. Alistair sang lead and, with Rob and Chris on back-up vocals, they released an album called Colourblind in 1997 and a second, Redwood, in 2000 before splitting up amidst the usual mountain of debts that bands without fortunes accumulate. After briefly changing their name to Lazydog, they stopped working together and did their own thing, a bit of production here, a bit of session work there and a solo album from Alistair. Then Alistair and Chris saw the financial wisdom of aligning themselves in a function band and, eventually, Rob – who’d been playing in a CSN&Y tribute band called Goldrush – came on board as well, thus effectively bringing Redwood back together under another name.

Al

“Redwood has always been there and never disappeared,” says Alistair, known to his mates as Al. “The problem is that Rollcoaster gigs come up all the time and they pay the bills.”
Al has a businesslike demeanour that befits his status as the group’s de facto leader, the lead singer and the one who takes care of business. With his neatly trimmed beard and dapper blue suit he reminds me a bit of Gary Lineker. He does the deals – charging clients between £2,000 and £5,000 a night, depending on the type of show they want – and he runs a tight, professional ship.
It is the hiatus between the set-up, a complex two-hour operation that involves connecting dozens of cables, amps, speakers and coloured lights, and the show; the time when speeches are made, and the band has nothing much to do. Holly and violinist Jason Dickenson, he in the kilt, disappear to drive to the nearest petrol station to get food, a communication breakdown between client and caterer having somehow left Rollercoaster off the meal rota. Al, mindful that maintaining cordial relations with the clients is only marginally less important than singing in the right key, is loathe to complain.

Rob

Rob strums idly on his acoustic guitar. “Every wedding is unique but essentially exactly the same,” he says enigmatically, and Chris the drummer nods. In his pork pie hat, dark suit, white shirt and shades, Rob looks a bit like one of the Blues Brothers, and it’s fitting that on stage he plays a Cropper-like cream Telecaster. Chris, a wiry fellow, doesn’t say much but like Al and Rob he is very techno-savvy and as well as playing the drums, a hybrid kit with electronic cymbals, and singing, he triggers pre-recorded keyboard parts or synth washes into songs. The result is that Rollercoaster’s instrumental backdrop sounds virtually indistinguishable from that on the records of the hit songs they play, only much louder and with a live feel. The vocals and guitar solos vary a bit, of course, but not much. Wedding guests don’t want too many surprises.
“That’s the truth of it,” says Al, agreeing with Rob’s inscrutable logic. “We’re lucky to be able to do this. We know that what we do in Redwood is good because it’s taken us 30 years to get that sound, but it’s Rollercoaster that pays the bills. It’s like any job this. I mean, it is work but there are some moments in the gig when, well, it really is worthwhile and not just for the money. How can you not enjoy watching the fun people have when we are playing?"
          Rollercoaster have pre-sequenced set lists that can be viewed (and heard) on their website, “really rocking versions of sixties and seventies tunes,” as Al puts it. “In the history of the band we have played hundreds and hundreds of different songs but it all boils down to certain songs that just work. They’re gonna want ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Once you’ve played the 40 hits there’s really not much room for anything else. We have to do things like ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ which I would happily never ever play again but people really do like it.”

Chris

He’s not wrong there. The old Foundations chestnut, a number two hit back in 1968, seemed as popular with most of the twenty-something guests as anything Rollercoaster serve up from the past five years. Maybe it’s because it was on the soundtrack of There’s Something About Mary.
“Sometimes you end up learning something and it’s a waste of time,” continues Al. He thinks for a minute. “What was that song we did?”
Rob: “‘Lightning Bolt’?”
Al: “Yes, ‘Lightning Bolt’ by Jake Bugg, a massive, massive song. We put a lot of effort into learning that and you think it’s going to be really good but no, didn’t work.”
This is the reason why they discourage requests, cunningly – and cleverly – segueing several songs together so that guests can’t get a word in edgeways between songs. In the unlikely event that someone does request a song they feel unable to perform off the cuff to their usual standard, Chris, who can act as a DJ if called upon to do so, has access to a computer, one of many on stage, from which he can select just about anything to play in the break between sets.
“The thing is,” says Al, “we know what works and sometimes a request doesn’t work.”
“When you book the band you get our expertise in knowing how to do it properly,” says Rob. “The core of the band is the three of us that were in Redwood together and we’ve been doing it for years. We know how each other plays, how we work, and now there are bolt-on options. Ideally we’d do all 70 gigs a year as the seven piece… that’s the aim because we have to progress or it gets stale, and it’s more fun with more of us on stage.”
Holly Cowan might not appreciate being described as a bolt-on option but there can be no question that she’s a huge asset to Rollercoaster, sometimes singing lead, more often back-up, always with sass and style. A session singer and MTV model, she looks great in her short black dress, arms waving away like a Supreme, a match for any girl band member you care to name. Still, she’s careful not to outshine the bride, a terrible faux-pas for any wedding band.

Rob, Holly & Al

            Al is keen to stress that Rollercoaster isn’t all he does. “I manage the band as well. I run open mic nights, I work with Holly and I write library music, which is really creative, music used in films and TV. Still the main thing is Rollercoaster but we never intended it to be.
“As an original band we used to sneer a little bit at covers bands but when you look at it realistically, how many people in a band that’s touring actually write the songs? If you don’t write the songs you’re just playing covers anyway. We didn’t write the songs we’re playing tonight but when we do an Elbow song we’re doing the same job as Elbow, and if you think about it, in that respect there actually isn’t much difference between us – just that we’re playing everyone’s songs and not songs by one act, like a tribute band.
“At times it’s work but then you have to remember that some people get up at five in the morning and catch a train into London. It’s not a bad life, well sometimes you don’t get the meals you’re promised…”
He looks around. Holly and Jason still haven’t returned with the food. Al grins sheepishly.
It’s no secret that rock and roll bands, some of them anyway, have a reputation for hedonism and Al is keen to stress that whatever the long-haired, grunge-like Redwood might have got up to in their youth, Rollercoaster are now mature adults. “People want a rock’n’roll band, not a band that behaves like rock and rollers. We conduct ourselves properly. The clients like us. We’re, I guess you could say, a high end function band but there are levels that are even higher. We’ve played at Old Trafford, Sandown, even Gleneagles. We know that function bands are not cool so the art of marketing it is to associate it with Redwood. The thing is that one thing allows you to do the other and although sometimes we feel Rollercoaster is a bit of a pain you have to remind yourself that it’s better than catching that train to London every day.”
We are outside behind the barn on a warm, sunny evening and when Holly and Jason arrive back with sandwiches everyone munches away. Then Rob picks up his acoustic again and for no apparent reason plays the chords to ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, and Holly, much happier now that her appetite is settled, sings along until she forgets the words. There is a bit of a delay as the speeches take longer than anticipated but the clients want to synchronise the cutting of the cake with the first waltz, so after a sound check that takes slightly longer than usual because they’re using a new, computerised monitor set-up, Rollercoaster take up their positions, as do I, standing at the back with a hand-held device, effectively faders on a tablet. The chords of Elton’s first hit ring out sonorously and the bride and groom take the floor. “It’s a little bit funny,” sings Al, and the coaster is rolling.
“It’s a warm night so they’ll be outside for most of the first set, but they’ll come inside later,” Al had told me earlier. He was only half right. The older guests do head outside, probably to escape from the noise, but the younger ones dance away in between trips to the bar. At one point, though, he is 100% right, and I’m the only one listening. Jason, who isn't required for every number, joins me to assess the sound balance and we agree that Chris and Holly's vocal mikes are a bit too low. We adjust their levels accordingly. I'm getting the hang of this but it's a bit late for a career change now. Then the guests all come back in a rush, probably because they recognise a song they all like – I think it was ‘You Really Got Me’ or maybe ‘Summer Of ‘69’ – and when the group takes a break there’s a collective groan because no one wants them to go.
During the half hour break between sets Rollercoaster do get fed, bacon baps as it happens, so everyone’s smiling again and so are the clients and their friends who by now are gagging for the band to return. Before the second set Jason of the kilt demonstrates how to do some Scottish reeling which gets absolutely everyone, young and old, onto the floor while Al, Rob and Chris vamp away in 4/4 time. Jason acts as a caller – ‘gentleman turn your partners’ – but it doesn’t really work because the floor is far too crowded, so it’s back to rock and pop, this time around a bit more extreme than before.

Jason

‘Mak show,’ Bruno Koschmider used to yell at the apprentice Beatles on stage in Hamburg, and Rollercoaster do precisely the same as the night draws on; Al bopping away in the centre with his Fender Precision, looking as though he’s starting to enjoy himself; Rob stretching out here and there on his Tele, a touch of the guitar hero that inspires some air guitar histrionics from at least one wedding guest; Chris snapping at his kit in perfect time, unfussy like Charlie in the Stones, and taking a measured vocal as required; Jason fiddling away in his kilt, his tall stature adding a touch of the absurd as he swoops down from time to time; and Holly, smiling like a sunbeam, dancing on the spot, heels tight together, cool as hell, like all the best girls on big stages everywhere.
About halfway through their second session, perhaps sensing that romance was in the air, Rollercoaster take the tempo down slightly and play a simply gorgeous arrangement of ‘My Girl’. Listening closely to a song I’ve always loved, I would defy any group, and that probably includes whoever nowadays comprises The Temptations, to perform as harmonically satisfying an interpretation of this spectacularly beautiful Motown song as Rollercoaster do tonight. The subtlety of their four-part harmony was probably lost on the wedding guests, but for me it was the highlight of the evening. Chris, the drummer, sang a high lead, joined on the chorus by Al and Holly, all three interweaving with Rob who added a bass harmonic – ‘talking ‘bout’ – before playing that tidy little octave riff, and to cap it all Jason added a touch of the orchestral strings that grace the Tempts’ 1965 original.
            And then it was back to Kings Of Leon and The Killers and, finally, ‘500 Miles’, the perfect closer, which accelerated wildly until it reached a break-neck climax. This inspired the wedding guests to form a circle, dashing around the bride and groom, quite dangerously so, all of them singing along at the tops of their voices. Watching from the back I couldn’t help but think that these deliriously happy men and women in their wedding suits and designer dresses don’t look like the kind of people who go to many rock gigs, so the fact that it’s Rollercoaster and not The Proclaimers who are ‘coming home to you’ doesn’t matter one iota to them. It sounds like The Proclaimers so it might just as well be – and that’s the whole point of it. It’s a gig they’ll all remember for a long time; the bride and groom for the rest of their lives.

Rob & Al

You can visit Rollercoaster's website here: http://www.rollercoasterband.co.uk/



12.7.17

ROGER DALTREY, Melody Maker Interview from April, 1973


Towards the end of March 1973 I was driven by Who PR Keith Altham to the village of Burwash on the Kent-Sussex border where Roger Daltrey occupied The Manor House. My interview with Roger was part of the promotional exercise for Roger’s first solo album, Daltrey, released that April, and in many of the interviews surrounding its release Roger was referred to as ‘Squire Daltrey’, which evidently displeased him. Keith asked me not to do this, nor to write about the estate that Roger owned and I was happy to go along with this.
Nevertheless, I remember looking around the estate, the land, the lakes, the outhouses and, of course, the Manor House itself. Above the fireplace in the spacious living room was a huge oil painting of Roger’s head and shoulders, the Roger of the Tommy years, all golden curls, bare chest and suede coat with long tassels. Unlike the other three members of The Who he was a picture of health, tough-looking, without an ounce of fat, his skin healthily aglow, clearly a man who preferred the outdoors to the smoky clubs favoured by his bandmates. In this regard I remember thinking that Roger was the odd man out in The Who, slightly apart from the other three, but it was his drive and ambition that kept the wheels turning, a bit like McCartney in The Beatles and Jagger in the Stones. If Pete was the brains in The Who, John its musical muscle and Keith the engine room, Roger was its pilot. Someone had to keep a clear head up there on the bridge to steer the ship.
This is what subsequently appeared in Melody Maker, dated April 7, 1973 under the headline: GIVING IT ALL AWAY.


Next week Roger Daltrey follows in the footsteps of his Who colleagues Pete Townshend and John Entwistle by releasing his first solo album.
Most of the material on the set is written by David Courtney and Leo Sayer, and there’s little resemblance to The Who in any of the songs. It’s a quieter, relaxed Roger singing over strings and acoustic guitar. The album is called Daltrey, and there’s also a single, ‘Giving It All Away’.
“It was the Tommy opera we did with Lou Reisner that made me think seriously about a solo album,” said Roger. “It was just nice to get out of the group environment for a change and learn more about singing. I wanted to sing other people’s songs and this gave me, as a singer, a lot more scope and when I get back to signing with The Who it can only help the group.
“I definitely wanted it to be different from The Who, and I don’t think The Who would touch anything that’s on the record so therefore it doesn’t take away from The Who. I couldn’t touch any  rock and roll on the record because I can’t do that any better than I can do it with The Who, or if I could then it should be done with The Who.”
Adam Faith has produced the album – a partnership that stemmed from Faith visiting the Daltrey homestead to take advantage of the studio Roger has built in his barn. “He comes from the same area of London that I came from and you could say we’re old mates. We really got on well.
“I haven’t written any material for the album myself because I wanted to see what it was like singing other people’s stuff. Hopefully I might write some for my next album, but I will really have to force myself because it doesn’t come naturally to me. Through learning things from this album, I hope it will come a lot easier.  I’ve tried writing and come up with some ideas, but usually with me they never get any further.”
It’s doubtful whether the songs will ever get a live airing unless The Who try them out. Roger doubt that they will. “I feel if I did a live show with them I would be betraying The Who. The stage part of me belongs to The Who and I feel strongly about that because the main thing I care about is The Who. The songs don’t really suit chucking the mike around my head, do they?”
Roger is confident the album will sell, even though John Entwistle’s albums haven’t broken any records in this country. “I think it will do the Who some good if it’s a hit, and I think there’s a market for my album. There’s a very narrow market for John’s kind if stuff, but if mine gets airplay then I think it will do well.”
Conversation turned to The Who’s current activities – or inactivity – and Roger explained the silence we’ve experienced from this one mighty power of rock. “We’re waiting to finish the studio we’re building and then we’ll do our new album. Then we’ll be back on the road but not until we finish the new material.
“We’ve really got to change because the last few gigs we’ve done have felt meaningless to us. We’ve enjoyed them but we’ve milked all the material so much now there’s nothing more to come out of it. We’ve been criticised for playing the same stuff over and over again, but I know that whenever we do play it we do it bloody well. The other week in the Hague when we played with various other top bands I know that we showed them we were the governors.
“And you’ve got to remember that journalists who criticise see us, maybe, three times a year. The kids see us probably once in two years and that’s hard for us to understand as well.
“We needed a year off to follow our noses and we took it to do things we wanted to do on our own. We’ve been on the road for seven years now and because you are so tightly knit within the group, you lose track of things happening outside of it. It’s probably going to be difficult to get back together but I’m sure the break will have done us good.
“Whatever people say, there’s no possibility of The Who ever breaking up. We’re probably tighter now than we have ever been and more determined to do things as a band. I don’t think the kids will forget about us because we haven’t worked because we’re not that type of band.
“Even if they have forgotten I think we’ll grab them back gain. It hasn’t been that long really. Zeppelin didn’t work for 18 months once upon a time, and there’s a few others who haven’t worked for a while.
“We’ve done a bit of recording in the past year but we weren’t getting the sort of thing we were after. That’s why we built our own studio. We weren’t really happy in most of the studios we’ve worked in in London. Hopefully our own will work… we’ll have to make it work because it’s our last chance.
“I think maybe we’re a bit choosy but that’s Pete for you. I don’t give a toss where we work but I’m sure we’d be happier in our own place. We were getting an ‘Olympic’ sound with using their studio before, and I think for The Who to have an ‘Olympic’ sound is a bad thing to happen. Most bands aren’t as fussy as The Who when it comes to making records.”
The Who’s actual output over the years has been pretty small compared with some bands, but Roger maintains that everything they have recorded has been worthwhile. “That’s more than you could say for a lot of bands. We don’t believe in churning them out as quick as we can.”
Of all the artists who took part in [Lou Reisner orchestral version of] the [Tommy] opera, Roger seems to have come out the  best, probably because it presented more of a challenge to him than any of the others and because he played the title role. He still talks about it with genuine enthusiasm.
“I really loved doing the opera and had a good time making it and singing it live. It was great to work with that many people. The only bad thing about it was having to do it in the Rainbow.
“I’ve always liked orchestras and this was the first time I’ve worked with one. I’ve got an offer to go to do Tommy in Australia but I don’t want to go there because I don’t like Australia. There’s a charity performance of it in New York at the end of April and I’ll do that one. The whole cast is going, I think, even Pete. I think the whole affair did an awful lot for people’s careers.
“I suppose Tommy is dragging on a bit at the moment, even though I still like it. I’d still be happy to play it on stage with The Who because for a singer it’s the most perfect piece of music to sing, but I can understand why the group got bored with it.
“It’s been dragged out by our management which isn’t our fault, but it’s supposedly for our own good, our own financial good, but is that everything?”
Lastly, I asked Roger whether he had any views on the current teenybop revolution – and whether it would overthrow groups like his own.
“Good luck to them. It’s very healthy for the business. A kid has to start somewhere and this guarantees that rock and roll is going on for another ten years. Even if they’re not singing rock and roll, it will go to rock and roll.
“Slade are rock and roll, and I think kids will move along to a gradual process, along with people like [David] Cassidy, moving to Slade and ending up at groups like the Floyd and The Who. Slade are a good band.”

29.6.17

JOHN ENTWISTLE, Melody Maker Interview from December 23, 1972


In the third week of December, 1972, I visited John at his semi-detached house in Ealing to do an interview for MM. By this time I knew him reasonably well and had met his wife Alison a few times too. Aside from the fact that the house was packed with curios, it was the kind of home you might expect a moderately successful businessman to live in with his family, comfortable but not ostentatious, perfect for the character in The Kinks’ song ‘Well Respected Man’.
I remember two things in particular from the visit. John had just bought a table lamp with those swishy frond-like tentacles that lit up at the ends and I’d never seen one before. Nowadays they’re very kitsch but I was fascinated by it. Even more impressive was the first video machine I’d ever seen, a massive grey box with lots of knobs and cassettes the size of cigar boxes. John demonstrated it for me, and then took me upstairs to admire his guitar collection. Outside of a music shop, I’d never seen so many guitars in one place.
Here’s what I wrote for MM:


Boris the spider sits in a glass case behind John Entwistle’s private studio control panel, and the ten little friends that inspired the opening track on Whistle Rymes flank him on either side. The spider in the case didn’t actually inspire the early Who favourite: it was bought later, along with all the rest of the bric-a-brac that makes John’s house part museum, part instrument gallery, part studio and part home.
Entwistle’s castle really is impressive. If the £14,000 custom-built Cadillac resting outside in the drive (it’s too long for the garage) doesn’t hold your attention, then the suits of armour, gun collections, swords or goldfish will.
And if you’re still not satisfied there’s no fewer than 32 guitars of different makes, shapes, sizes and uses waiting to be plucked. There are a couple of rare Gretschs that Chet Atkins must have been reluctant to part with. There is an acoustic bass with an outsize body to make the notes hum and there are guitars that are simply there because John was given them by eager manufacturers, anxious to use the Entwistle seal of satisfaction in their advertising copy.
There are Gibson basses with Fender necks and Fender basses with Gibson pick-ups, and all manner of combinations of bodies, fretboards and electronics. There are as many brass instruments as there are guitars, and the studio offers facilities for every home record maker. The electronic drum beater provides constant rhythms to play to, and a couple of muses (musical computers) provide a steady supply of notes in ever-repeating patterns.
There’s a grand piano and a couple of Keith Moon’s cast-off drum kits. And there’s a Moog synthesiser proper that’s guaranteed to keep anyone with the slightest interest in music occupied for hours.
John plays the lot. And when you glance around at this array of goodies it’s not surprising that he’s constantly looking for further musical outlets than The Who can offer. Playing bass for The Who has enabled John to experiment and his recent output of solo albums has outnumbered the output of Who albums by three to one.
Whistle Rymes, a collection of his own songs, was released a couple of months ago, and already there’s another in the can ready for release next February. In the case of this last album John has formed a new group so strictly speaking it’s not really a solo album. The group is called Rigor Mortis, and the album is called Rigor Mortis Sets In.
Instead of being a collection of John’s songs, it’s a selection of rock standards in the main, with two new Entwistle compositions and a new version of ‘My Wife’ which The Who recorded – and John didn’t particularly like – on their Who’s Next set.
So what made John  decide to put out an album of rock standards after two albums of his own songs? “Well,” he says, relaxing in his living room, “I like rock and roll and after a while I start to run out of new numbers. My co-producer John Alcock had been wanting to do a rock and roll album as well as the solo stuff so I promised him I’d write two numbers as an exercise. It worked out alright so I write some more and used some oldies too.
“I was writing more up-tempo numbers as well, so they wouldn’t all fit on one album anyway. The only thing to do was to put out two albums. It’s more fun doing the rock album but I get just as much satisfaction out of writing and recording the Whistle Rymes material.”
Rigor Mortis includes Tony Ashton on keyboards and Alan Ross on guitar and it’s just possible that along with John on bass there may be some live performances on the cards.
“I think we’ll probably do a second Rigor Mortis album and then try a few live shows but this might take us through to the year after next. Next year will be very busy for The Who so I won’t have as much time as this year. The Who have to do an album and a couple of American tours and some gigs in England and Europe.
“I’m not really moving away from The Who but trying to get my name known as a separate entity to The Who. It’s too late for me to get my name pushed forward within The Who so I have to try and do it outside of the group. I have never written songs with The Who in mind, and even ‘My Wife’ was written for a solo album.”
John’s lyrics are notoriously for their pre-occupation with evil. A glance through the Entwistle song book over the years is a ride through terror. Even his contributions to Townshend’s Tommy were tinged with unsavoury characters, the school bully Cousin Kevin and the predatory pervert Uncle Ernie. Whistle Rymes features lyrics about prostitutes and sticking pins in photographs.
“I didn’t write them as nasty numbers,” says John. “They just end up that way. It all depends on what kind of mood I am in or what I have been watching on television. I am a great television addict.
“The song about the peeping Tom came out of an incident when someone was watching my wife working in the kitchen. It’s been in my mind for some time. The one about sticking pins in  dolls is about what someone would do if they were in a temper because their chick had left them. I’m not really nasty inside. I’d better try to write some nice songs next or people will get the wrong idea.”
John feels that his solo efforts have achieved their purpose and made him recognised as more than just the bass player in The Who. In America this is especially so. “People over there seem more willing to accept a solo artist but here it’s different. The record buying public play safer. They will go out and buy a Who album but if there’s only twenty-five percent of The Who on an album they will think the album is only twenty-five per cent as good as a Who album.
“Pete was alright with his because he’s the accepted Who writer, and the title of his [Who Came First] helped a lot too.
In America John’s single ‘My Size’ sold in large quantities because many fans were under the impression it was the latest Who single. “I put them right on that but I’m a great disbeliever in singles. I’ll put one out from the Rigor Mortis album because that’s more a new band than anything else.
“I know Rigor Mortis has nasty associations but the reason we’ve called the band that is because I think rigor mortis has set into rock and roll. There’s no new rock and roll coming out. All the old numbers are being reincarnated and brought back again. The sleeve of this album is like a coffin with a gravestone and the inscription ‘In Loving Memory of Rock and Roll, 1950 to Infinity.”


Conversation turned to the orchestral Tommy show, and John admitted to being petrified when making his contribution to it. “It was alright for Roger. He’s used to standing there with just a mike. I’d have been OK with a bank of speakers set up behind me but I was petrified at the thought of it. I didn’t think I’d be able to hit the right notes in ‘Cousin Kevin’ because I’d written the song very high deliberately. I didn’t want Roger singing it on the original record so I pitched it up for myself and was cursing because of it. When the Who did Tommy we never used to play ‘Cousin Kevin’ because it was so high. The worst thing was finding something to do with my hands.”
The Who’s activities during 1972 have been kept to a minimum and John admits that the group have gone slightly stale as a result. Their only tour was a trip around Europe and it took a few gigs before the group came back into form.
“American tours always help the band because they’re such hard work. On the European tour I had forgotten how to control the volume on my bass because I was so used to playing in a studio, and on the first night Pete did his knees in because he’d forgotten to put on shin pads for his jumping act.
“We all miss not working, and in a way this year has been a drag. It’s nice to be at home and be able to go off on holidays but when you don’t work on stage you lose your identity. I went off on holiday for three weeks in the States just because I like it out there.”

23.6.17

THE TEX PISTOLS – ‘There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Swears He’s Elvis’


Phil Rambow and I go back a long way, back to New York in the mid-seventies when he was exploring the limited prospects offered by a career in the catering trade. He was the best buddy of a mate of mine who was kipping on my couch, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. In the eighties we played together in a cricket team, the Old Ruffians, made up from employees and hangers-on from the Rough Trade record shop in Notting Hill, and since Phil is a Canadian it says a good deal about his powers of concentration that he managed to master the labyrinthine Laws of Cricket. Keith Allen, our demon fast bowler, used to bring his toddler daughter Lily to watch the games.
Phil’s band The Winkies somehow slipped between the cracks during that unsettled period when pub rock begat punk, releasing one album on Crysalis before splitting up, Phil heading for New York and the kitchen apron. Then he found his way back to the UK and a solo career in the new wave, an ‘almost famous’ cult figure who released a truly great single (‘Fallen’) in 1979 and, much more recently, the ironically titled album Whatever Happened To Phil Rambow. He’s appeared here and there on records by others, always with distinction, at one time alongside Kirtsy MacColl with whom he co-wrote ‘There A Guy Works Down The Chip Swears He’s Elvis’, a UK number 14 hit for the much-missed Kirsty in 1981.
That same rousing, wry and unforgettable slice of rockabilly whimsy is the lead song on a newly released five-track EP by Phil’s latter day berth, The Tex Pistols, a quintet of fellow travelers from the same era as himself, all with impeccable CVs but less to show for their honourable toil that they perhaps deserve. Phil takes care of vocals and rhythm guitar – he used to enjoy strumming mine back in that NY flat – alongside Paul Riley (vocals, bass), Geraint Watkins (keyboards), Martin Belmont (lead guitar), Bob Loveday (fiddle) and Pete Thomas, the world’s tallest drummer. Sarah Jane Morris adds backing vocals. The previous of all these characters ropes in a list of convictions as long as your arm, and includes sharing a cell with a couple of Beatles, a Stone, a Zep, Van The Man, Elvis Costello, the Cash family (father and daughter), Randy Newman and that distinguished posse of outlaws lassoed into service by Nick Lowe.
As you would expect, the Tex Pistols serve up a seriously appetizing ‘Chip Shop’, complete with a couple of cheeky ‘Elvisisms’, sounding a bit like Los Lobos to me, with Watkins’ accordion adding a mouth-watering touch of Cajun gumbo to the pot. Elsewhere on the EP we have ‘Cold Cold Heart’ with Phil doing his best to emulate the sorrowful melancholia of Hank Williams; a lively ‘Train Kept A Rolling’, the 1951 blues rocker that was once a staple in Yardbirds’ setlists and on which Zep cut their teeth during their first ever get-together; more crawfish bayou on ‘Louisiana Blues’; and, finally, a superfast live (from Depford, not Baton Rouge!) ‘I’m Coming Home’, another zydeko workout on which Martin Belmont steals the show, throwing down a feisty challenge to Albert Lee and maybe even James Burton.
The EP has been released to launch a fund and awareness in support of UK Prostate Cancer, so you’ve no excuse not to dip into your pockets and splash out a fiver, not much more than the price of a pint in these parts. Go to https://www.rdjrecordings.com/Shop/DownloadDetails?rid=RDJ_RE_15
for a CD or a download at a mere £3.50.
In the meantime, The Tex Pistols can be experienced live at The King and Queen, Wendover (July 2), Nell’s Jazz & Blues Club, London (July 4), London’s Balham Bowls Club (July 7), and the Cornbury Festival (July 9).


18.6.17

THE STONE ROSES, Wembley Stadium, June 17, 2017



To Wembley Stadium for my second exposure to Big Rock in only as many years, my companion my daughter who acquired two tickets as a surprise treat for her dad but declined to tell me who we were going to see until we caught the train at Marylebone Station when it became obvious from the hordes of passengers wearing Stone Roses T-shirts. They’re a band whose records I love and whom I’d always wanted to see but never had the chance.
Olivia somehow got the seats in a charity raffle and mighty good they were too, a few rows back from the pitch around the halfway line, immediately behind the VIP box where David Beckham, who must have felt at home in these surroundings, and two of his sons took their seats a few minutes before the Roses hit the stage, Posh no doubt staying at home to catch up with the ironing. There was a palpable sense of occasion in the huge arena, the sell-out crowd of 90,000 basking in the warmth of the evening, a perfect night for an outdoor stadium gig. This was the first time I’d been inside the ‘new’ Wembley which towers up far higher than the old one, not that all the seats were filled – just that so many had come down on to the pitch, a massive throng of Roses fans crammed in closer and closer as they neared the big stage. They gave support band Blossoms a decent ovation too, probably for their bravery in facing down a partisan crowd intent on being adored or feeling the earth begin to move. We heard only three of their songs but I liked what I heard and the singer looked a dead ringer for the sort of bands I used to write about the seventies. Earlier The G-O-D and Sleaford Mods had played as the crowd filed in, a thankless task if ever there was one.
Heralded by The Supremes singing ‘Stoned Love’, the Roses arrived on stage at 20.54, ambling on as if they’d just got off the Wembley Park-bound 206 double-decker. They are a no-nonsense outfit, making little effort to endear themselves to their vast audience, though they do so anyway; none of that ‘Great to be here at Wembley’ nonsense, a total absence of grandstanding as they treat it like the back room of a Manchester pub and, very sensibly, open up with ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, track one side one of the wondrous album that rocketed them to greatness and which, with ten of its 11 songs performed tonight, formed the backbone of the evening’s set.
Ian Brown resembles someone looking for a fight, his dour countenance made all the more menacing by his relatively short hair, now turning grey. He’s wearing a white bomber jacket with a logo that says ‘Research And Destroy’ but it still looks like something he could have picked up in a charity shop for less than a fiver. He walks around the stage a lot but doesn’t communicate much, introducing one song – I forget which – as ‘one for a mate who owes me fifty quid’ and another – I think it was ‘This Is The One’ – as ‘for my mum’. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the bloke who owes him the bullseye. Brown’s voice, never the most tuneful arrow in their quiver, hits the right notes around 95% of the time, but its often rather grim monotone can be overlooked amidst the hooks and all-round contagiousness of the catchy choruses in almost all the songs they play.
Bassist Mani is another character I wouldn’t want to mess with at closing time, a beefy fellow with tough looking lines on his face who leans back slightly as he plays, like one of those Russian dolls that won’t fall over, alternating between two Fender Jazz basses that he plucks with a plectrum when a prominent bass line demands it, then switches to plucking with his fingers when a more rhythmic feel is required. Like John Entwistle, he keeps a low profile stage left, rooted to a spot a few feet in front of his sturdy bass cabinets, deadly but far from silent.
Renni is a tour de force at the back, his drum patterns a key element in Stone Roses songs that veer from the funky dance workouts redolent of the Madchester era to the power pop and tougher stuff that enabled this group to rise above bands like Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets. For the first half of the gig he wore a black turban which must have been awfully hot on this balmy June evening, switching later on to the white bucket hat he always used to wear and which many in the audience do too. He added a welcome second tier to the vocals, singing through one of those tiny microphones attached to a clip from beneath his turban.
Finally to John Squire, for my money the star of the show, an effortlessly skilled yet unshowy guitarist who simply gets on with the job, reproducing all those sinewy little guitar lines that underpin the best of the Roses’ songs. Not for him the ostentatious pomp of so many of his peers, none of that bending a sustained note on the top strings a few frets above the 12th and looking as though he’s in agony doing so, no windmills, guitar punching or left-hand-only stuff with added wiggly bits. Squire employed four guitars, two Strats and two Les Pauls (but no big white Gretch or Jackson Pollock dappled ES35), some with capos on the neck, and it was pleasing to note that it was him and him alone playing; no additional touring guitarist to beef up the sound, just him alternating lead lines with chords and riffs, a dazzling display modestly assumed. On at least three songs, ‘Waterfall’, ‘Begging You’ and, of course, ‘I Am The Resurrection’, he played extended groovy codas but didn’t even bother to take a bow, just smiled a little behind the hair and beard that obscured his face.


As stated, the meat and potatoes of the evening’s set was The Stone Roses LP, ‘Adored’ followed by ‘Elephant Stone’ and all the rest bar ‘Bye Bye Badman’ given an airing as the night progressed. From elsewhere we got ‘Sally Cinnamon’, ‘Mersey Paradise’, ‘Where Angels Play’, ‘Begging You’, ‘Fools Gold’, ‘Love Spreads’, ‘All For One’ (the only song with which I was unfamiliar) and ‘Breaking Into Heaven’. It was high energy all the way, and if there was a low point it was in those songs from Second Coming that descend into a sort of sub-Zeppelinesque bluesy thump as opposed to the springy ingenuity of their earlier material. I don’t include ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ in this but I’d have welcomed ‘Ten Storey Love Song’, a huge favourite of mine, over ‘Begging You’ and ‘Love Spreads’.
They were fabulously loud and rightly so. The crowd favourites – ‘Elephant Stone’, ‘Waterfall’, and the five-song closing sequence of ‘Made Of Stone, She Bangs The Drums, Heaven, This Is The One and, inevitably, I Am The Resurrection, inspired mass sing-alongs and air punching, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it theres something awfully uplifting in watching so many people having such a wonderful time while music as good as this is pumped out of massive speakers at a volume we can only dream about at home. The solo on She Bangs The Drums, always a high point for me, was executed perfectly by Squire, so much so that the audience sort of sang along to it, a kind of ba-ba-ba ba-bi-ba-ba sound, and as they did so it struck me that that this marvellous little guitar part in one of the Roses’ greatest songs might just be a great-grandchild of Townshends riff in So Sad About Us, remade and remodeled by the Roses.
Resurrection', of course, was the only possible climax, 90,000 voices singing the Dont waste your words lines until, after three verses, the song explodes into the title line and chorus at which point the stadium was lit up on all sides as Squire eased into the funky coda to which all of us danced the night away. This was daughter Olivia’s first ever stadium show and from the look in her eyes I know it won’t be the last, though it’ll be her boyfriend and not her dad dancing alongside her next time.
And then, quite suddenly, it was over. The gig ended rather abruptly at 22.23 after the false ending of Resurrection and there was no encore. The Roses had been on stage for just less than 90 minutes, quite a brief set by stadium standards though it didn’t seem so because they’d played so many songs, 17 in all, that so many fans wanted to hear so much. Oddly enough, no one asked for more either, and in front of us Beckham and his boys legged it as fast as he ever did advancing towards the goal area on Wembley's pitch. In truth, it was hard to know how the Roses could follow ‘Resurrection’ so they didn’t try. There was, of course, a rational suitability in ending the night on the closing song of that sparkling album, just as its opener had began it.
Finally, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Roses haven’t been booked for Glastonbury. Now match fit and geared up for gigs this size, they’d surely be a better bet than Foo Fighters for the Pyramid stage on Saturday night. This is the one they’ve waited for Michael.


15.6.17

CAUGHT IN A TRAP: THE KIDNAPPING OF ELVIS


Last October I announced that I had written a novel, a mixture of fact and fiction that purported to reveal the truth about the 1975 kidnapping of Elvis Presley, and that I would be publishing it privately as an e-book, available in time for Christmas. It didn’t happen because I was persuaded by some friends who had read it that this was the wrong approach, and that I should seek a ‘proper’ publisher that would put it out as a ‘proper’ book, ie one with a cover and printed pages. It was, one friend told me, ‘a bold literary conceit’. I rather liked that.
To this end, in the early months of this year I approached several publishers, both in the UK and USA, only to be told that they only read manuscripts sent in from literary agents. So I approached several agents, all of whom I had dealt with as Editor-in-Chief at Omnibus Press, a position I held for 33 years until the beginning of last year. None wanted me as a client. I was told by those that had the courtesy to respond that they weren’t seeking any more authors right now or that my Elvis book wasn’t the kind of thing in which they were interested. The vast majority simply didn’t even bother to get back to me at all, quite a contrast with the reaction I used to get when I ran Omnibus. It also occurred to me that if someone with my track record in music journalism was unable to get anyone to even read my work, let alone publish it, then what hope for anyone without my background? If that sounds like sour grapes, then so be it, but at Omnibus I always made a point of acknowledging unsolicited proposals and, although the vast majority were turned down, in most cases I tried to offer some guidance to would-be authors. It was a matter of civility.
Chastened by the absence of interest from the book publishing world of which I was once a member, by the end of March I was resigned to going back to Plan A, the e-book route, and had even made inquiries with a company called Matador that prints your books for you and tries to sell them – but at some cost to their author. I wasn’t enthusiastic about this and was also keenly aware that the optimum time for publishing my book was August 16 this year, the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death, when the King’s profile might just go up a notch or two.
Then a miracle happened. My friend Neil Cossar, whose company Absolute PR had at one time handled the Omnibus publicity and promotion, read the book and brought it to the attention of another of his clients, Red Planet Publishing, which publishes quality rock books. Their MD read my book in one sitting, couldn’t put it down he said, and made me an offer. I had lift-off at last.
So, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the book will be published in time for August 16, now re-titled Caught In A Trap: The Kidnapping Of Elvis. (ISBN: 978 1 9113 4658 6, extent: 304 pp, dimensions: 198 x 129mm, paperback, price: £8.99 or $15.95.) A front cover is being designed as I write and an advance information sheet for the book trade reads as follows:

Caught In A Trap draws back the veil of secrecy on the most dramatic event in the life of Elvis Presley. In October of 1975 Elvis was abducted and spirited away to a cabin in the Kentucky mountains where he was made to sing for his supper. After a week in captivity a ransom was paid to ensure his release, a bizarre episode that was hushed up on orders from the White House, no less.
       This psychological thriller not only reveals the dramatic details of how Elvis was snatched but also delves into the innermost thoughts of the King of Rock’n’Roll. How does Elvis react when he is treated like an ordinary person, told to sweep floors and chop wood? How does he interact with his kidnappers? Will his songs grant him his freedom? And how do those close him, among them ex-wife Priscilla and manager Colonel Tom Parker, respond to the crisis?
       Caught In A Trap is so believable you’ll be asking yourself why it has taken so long for the real story to get out.

Last year I posted a couple of extracts from the book on Just Backdated, together with news about it, under its working title Elvis Kidnapped, but since that has since been changed these can now be found here under Caught In A Trap. The book has been revised quite a bit since then. I will post another extract closer to the publication date.

12.6.17

THE OX – An On The Spot Report



On Sunday December 8 1974 I was at the City Hall in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to watch the debut performance by John Entwistle’s Ox, reporting on the show for Melody Maker. Here’s what appeared in the December 14 issue of MM under the headline: ENTWISTLE’S £25,000 HOBBY.

“This has cost a bomb so a few more quid won’t make any difference,” murmured John Entwistle as he signed a bar bill for slightly over £8 at the Five Bridges Hotel, Gateshead, on Sunday evening. “I Mean… what’s money for. You can’t take it with you so I might as well spend it while I can.”
Entwistle’s money is currently being spent on his latest passion, The Ox. Apart from being his nickname, The Ox is a rock’n’roll band of four, augmented by a saxophone player and two girl singers, who made their public debut in front of a sparse audience at Newcastle City Hall a few hours before John signed that bar bill and threw back several large brandies.
About 300 tickets were sold for the event which is one of three warm-up gigs planned this year. Next January they’re embarking on a 14-date British tour, mostly universities, and in February – all being well – they’re off to America where demand for Entwistle and his music is greater than in his home country.
The fact that so few people bought tickers for his opening show didn’t appear to worry John in the slightest. In fact, he seemed surprised that 300 people had bothered to cough up £1.25. The Ox is, in fact, a very expensive hobby. How much? “Oh, I dunno. About twenty-five grand,” said John
As a band, they’re pretty hot though a few rough edges need straightening out, and something has got to be done with the volume. For some reason, John chose to completely shatter his audience with the loudest music I’ve heard since Slade played Earls Court.
They were certainly a lot louder than The Who, a fact confirmed by sound man Bob Pridden, The Who’s regular sound mixer who’s just finished a sting with Eric Clapton. Bob’s one of the best in the business, and when he grimaces over the volume, then something is very wrong. Actually, John chose to use most of The Who’s equipment and most of their crew for the show.
The smallish city hall stage contained enough gear to equip several bands. “Next gig I’m gonna leave some of them speakers behind,” said Bob. “It’s bleedin’ daft. I’ve been arguing with him all week over the bleedin’ gear. There’s enough stuff for a band to play an open-air gig in Hyde Park and be ‘eard in ‘Ounslow.”
The Ox played for just over one hour and their material was a mixture of tracks from Entwistle’s solo albums, including one by The Ox due for release shortly, and the and guitarist Robert Johnson began the show by cracking out the chords for ‘I Can’t Explain’. Other Who songs featured were ‘Boris The Spider’, Whiskey Man’ and ‘Cousin Kevin’. They’re rehearsed ‘Heaven And Hell’ but didn’t play it as John completely forgot.
It doesn’t take much to realise that John is an old rocker at heart. The set was liberally spiced with some beefy rock and roll, and he encored (yes, the 300 demanded an encore) with Cochran’s ‘Something Else’ and Little Richard’s ‘Keep A Knockin’’.
One of the new songs was called ‘Cell No 7’, apparently written on the occasion when The Who were arrested in Montreal following a hotel fracas.
The bass was turned up throughout and if the band does nothing else it enabled John to show off his bass technique splendidly. He really is one of the best bass players in the business. His runs are often stunning and his finger plucking technique is quite breathtaking, unbelievably fast. His lines ripple out like machine-gun bullets and, at the volume he chose to use, have an odd effect on an audience. Shell shock, I guess.
Robert Johnson is a good guitarist too, but he was frequently lost in the mix. I kept waiting for him to spin his arm around, but he didn’t. The band doesn’t really need a drummer – Entwistle’s bass is a one-man rhythm section – but Graham Deacon fought manfully on, often unheard.
The Who numbers went down the best, but requests for ‘Postcard’ went ignored. They did a knockout version of ‘Not Fade Away’, and a curious instrumental called ‘Jungle Bunny’ which featured backing tapes and appeared to come unstuck towards the end. It was a dull tune anyway.

‘Cousin Kevin’ – with girl singers – was a highlight, but ‘Whiskey Man’ didn’t come off as well as it could have done. John is best doing straight rock and roll: his grating voice suits the classic 12-bar structure. He’d make a suitable replacement in The Wild Angels or their ilk anytime.
I think they were a little under-rehearsed. In the bar of the hotel before the gig the saxophone player was busy copying down chords on scraps of paper. “Just to make sure,” he said after thanking me for a mention in the Raver* column several years ago when his horn was pinched.
I enjoyed myself and I think everyone else did, not least the fetching Miss Doreen Chanter (one of the two chick singers) who attracted much attention back at the hotel. Her sister Irene went to bed early as she had a session at Trident Studios in London the following day.
One more point: it was refreshing that John laid himself open in such an unpretentious fashion. None of that bleating about keeping the press away from the opening concert from The Ox, and all power to him for it.


* This was Melody Maker’s gossip column but we often did musicians a favour by using it to try and trace stolen gear.