15.11.17

MY BOOK OF GENESIS by Richard Macphail


In between other projects last year I helped Richard Macphail, school friend, aide-de-camp and tour manager of Genesis and, later, Peter Gabriel, to write his autobiography. For almost five years Richard was the glue that held Genesis together, and in his affectionate memoir My Book Of Genesis he tells his own unique story of the group’s early years.
Richard was the singer in Anon, the Charterhouse school group that included Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, which would merge with Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks’ group The Garden Wall to become Genesis. Recognising their needs, Richard became their one-man road crew, shepherding them from gig to gig, providing a cottage where they could live and rehearse and offering much-needed support when it was most needed.
            As Neil Aspinall was to The Beatles and Ian Stewart to The Rolling Stones, Richard became the nearest thing to a sixth member of Genesis, and although he went his own way in the eighties, carving out a successful career in the alternative energy sector, Peter, Mike and Tony, together with later arrivals Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, were never far away. Though it dwells on the group’s early years when they were finding their place in the hierarchy of prog rock, My Book Of Genesis is in reality the touching story of a close and valued friendship that has endured for over 50 years. 
            In this first extract we join the earliest line-up of Genesis in the summer of 1970. After a shaky start involving an album now largely forgotten that was produced by Jonathan King, the group has signed to Charisma Records, recorded their second album and now face an endless series of small-time gigs. Then comes a bombshell. 



Trespass was due to be released in the autumn and lots of gigs were coming up, including the early ones at Friars, but another problem was looming, a massive problem known only to the inner circle. Ant [guitarist Anthony Phillips] had developed the most incredible stage fright and was really struggling with it. He talked about having had an out of body experience on stage it was so bad. We’d played a college in Hackney one night with an audience of around 25 people but he was terrified out of his mind, so terrified in fact that that he developed glandular fever. So the stage fright was making him ill. It affected his ability to play too. He didn’t have an actual breakdown but he was close to it. He told Peter he just couldn’t go on, and Peter called a band meeting to tell us. 
The meeting took place one night after we’d played at the Marquee, in the van parked at the back of the club in the spot where you loaded the gear. We’d done our set and when the other band came on Peter told us we had to go sit in the van and have a meeting. That’s when he announced that Ant was leaving. Of course I knew Ant was struggling but Trespass wouldn’t have been anything like the album it was without him. So there was me, Peter [Gabriel], Tony [Banks] and Mike [Rutherford] in the back of the van, no [drummer] John Mayhew which was significant. Everyone was in shock when Peter told us. What are we going to do next? The three of them were actually for giving up. They thought they couldn’t do it without Ant but I wasn’t having it. I said, ‘For God’s sake, we’ve come this far, you can’t give up now. It’s too good. You have to go on.’
When Ant left the group I thought, “That’s going to be it”,’ remembers Tony. ‘I thought that because Ant was Richard’s closest friend in the group that he would go too. Obviously we were quite dependent on Richard. I thought that Ant was the most dominant person in the group, the leader in a way. He was the one that made us do it. Peter and I would never have done it, and Mike followed Ant. So I thought that’s probably it. I remember a conversation with Peter and Mike and Richard and you were saying, “You really must keep going.” And I thought that if you were saying that, as Ant’s friend, that made a big difference to me. Peter and Mike… we weren’t sure and we talked together, and then decided, “Yes, let’s find a replacement” and we know how difficult that was but we did it.’
I like to think that I persuaded them not to give up that night but it was Tony, the voice of reason, whose argument carried the day. He was the last one to speak. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘We’ll go on but we have to get a new drummer.’ 
Tony recalls this crucial decision as if it happened yesterday. ‘We had to get a good drummer and I think we all agreed with that,’ he says. ‘That was a very important thing to me because I felt that we needed a drummer who was creative and someone that we didn’t have to tell him what to do. In fact, finding a drummer turned out to be a lot easier than finding a guitarist.’
Many years later, in an acceptance speech when he won a Prog Rock God Award in 2015, Tony mentioned this in his acceptance speech, saying that without my encouragement they might well not have gone on after Ant left. He never actually said it to me personally but suddenly there we were at this awards show and he remembered that incident after all that had passed between us all. 
I think we all knew deep down inside that John Mayhew just wasn’t up to it but only Tony was prepared to say it out loud. Tony is a very smart guy and he saw past the problem with Ant and realised it was an opportunity to get a better drummer. If they were going to make one change they might as well make two was his thinking, and quite right he was too. So the decision was made. We climbed out of the van and went back into the club, me to get the gear to load into the van, Peter, Mike and Tony to give John Mayhew the news. The problems were solved, or so we hoped. 
A day or two later we told the people at Charisma that Ant was leaving the band and that we were also going to get another drummer. They were worried but mightily relieved we weren’t going to split up. Trespass had been recorded and was about to come out, and they wouldn’t have wanted to release an album by a non-existent band. I don’t know how much we owed them by then – a few thousand quid maybe as they’d picked up the studio costs and, like the wages they paid, it was all an advance against future royalties. (I do remember we were in the hole to the tune of £300,000 by the time of Foxtrot, the third Charisma album, came out.)

The book can be ordered here: www.mybookofgenesis.com

10.11.17

BEATLES MEMORABILIA


Aside from my postcard from John, my stash of Beatles memorabilia is memorably slight and most of it was picked up on a whim in 1975 from a shop in Greenwich Village for $20. I wasn’t sure what motivated me to invest in two pairs of Beatles ladies’ stockings (still unworn, incidentally), two Beatles wigs (also unworn), a scrapbook of at least 100 bubble gum cards (mostly Dezo Hoffman pix from ‘63/4), an orange plastic guitar (smashed by my kids), a yellow submarine (intact, just) and a few other odds and ends (badges, hair clip, tour programme, plate etc), but they have followed me around for years now and to my immense disappointment are, with the possible exception of the stockings and wigs, virtually worthless.

Now reduced to one, above. Back in the eighties I gave one of each to a rock-mad pal as a wedding present and he was delighted. His bride, however, was not, no doubt preferring a pop-up toaster or six wine glasses. The marriage didn’t last, and the groom tells me he hung on to the stockings and wig but was unconcerned about retaining any glassware or kitchen appliances. 

The disappointing valuation of my little collection is the viewpoint of Pete Nash, editor of The British Beatles Fan Club magazine, to which I am an occasional contributor. Unlike mine, Pete’s stash of Beatles memorabilia is memorably gigantic and a good deal of it, some 2,500 items, went on sale this week. Not to put too fine a point on it, this may well be the most valuable Beatles’ collection to hit the market this century, containing as it does some of the rarest and most sought after items that interest Beatle collectors. 
Top the list is a one-sided test pressing of The Beatles’ second album With The Beatles, an unassuming relic to be sure, especially as its label (pictured below) does not offer any information as to what the grooves contain. This is priced at an eye-watering £5,500.


Most of the items that follow, at least those that need a buyer with a fairly deep pocket, are test-pressings, promo discs and interview recordings distributed only to radio stations. I was particularly intrigued by a 10-inch shellac record of ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ b/w ‘Tell Me Why’ which was released on a red Parlophone label in India in September 1964, priced at £3,500 which, if it were being sold by an original purchaser in its country of origin, might feed its owner’s family for a decade. Two other Indian singles (‘Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’) in a similar format are a bit cheaper, probably because – unlike ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ – these songs were released as singles everywhere else.


A small selection of Pete's collection. I have a plate similar to those on the right and the orange guitar looks suspiciously like the one my kids destroyed. 

Only 14 of the 2,500 items are priced in the four figure range, with the vast majority, ie over 2,000, at less than £100, and most of those less than £50. About 300 cost less than a fiver. Bottom of the list is a bog-standard 7-inch of ‘I Feel Fine’ at a very reasonable 49p which, taking inflation into account, is probably cheaper than when it was released in 1964. I bought it then, for six old shillings and three old pence, but I must have lost it along the way, though I do still have four of my Beatles singles, all bought when they were released: ‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘Day Tripper’. Since all four are irredeemably scratched due to excessive use on purchase, I estimate their value at 10p each tops, and even my Twist And Shout EP, again much played, is probably worth less than a tin of dog food. 
Long before the internet and e-Bay the best place to acquire Beatles memorabilia outside of specialist record shops was at fan festivals, the first of which – called Beatlefest – was held at the Commodore Hotel in New York City in September 1974. I went along to see what was happening and whilst there bumped into May Pang, with whom John was living during his sabbatical from Yoko. I’d met May once or twice before and she told me that John had sent her along with a wad of cash to pick up stuff for him from the traders in bootlegs and other Beatle bric-a-brac. May confessed that she didn’t really know what to buy for John and asked me for advice, so I chose half a dozen bootlegs that I thought he might like, and drew her attention to a picture of him in Hamburg, standing in a doorway and dressed in a leather jacket, taken in 1961 by Jurgen Wollmer. That picture, of course, ended up on the cover of John’s Rock’n’Roll LP, released the following year, and I have good reason to believe that my intervention played a role in this. 



Pete Nash’s bumper Beatle sale can be accessed here: 




6.11.17

BOB DYLAN – Rolling Thunder, It Was 42 Years Ago Today



In an era when tickets for concerts by major rock stars go on sale anything up to nine months before the show, it beggars belief that on Thursday, 6 November 1975, two hours before it commenced, I bought two tickets at face value ($7.50) for a 5pm Bob Dylan show from the box office at the 10,000-seat Civic Centre in Springfield, Massachusetts, and two tickets from a tout outside for an 8pm show for $10 each, opting to pay the extra $2.50 in order to get seats closer to the stage. 
Dylan was leading his Rolling Thunder Revue on the fifth stop on the tour, the dates of which were advertised only locally and not in advance. One ticket at Springfield – which was actually the tour’s biggest venue – was for myself, the other for my friend the photographer Bob Gruen who’d driven north with me for four hours from New York. Before both shows Bob stripped down to his briefs in my rented car and taped his camera equipment to himself, then dressed again in loose fitting dungarees and a sweater so the bulges wouldn’t show. Photographers weren’t allowed in but this was never going to stop Bob who, once inside, went to the bathroom and retrieved his camera, lenses and film. He disappeared once the shows started, edging his way towards the front, and six of his pictures accompanied my lengthy report on the shows, stretched across three pages of Melody Maker of November 15, 1975.



During the break between the first and second shows we went to a nearby diner which was packed full of Dylan fans and in there met Larry Sloman, a writer from New York, who ended up writing a book about the tour. He was following the tour everywhere it went and, because Bob knew him, I was able to pick Larry’s brain about it all. Some of the tour’s road crew were in there grabbing a bite too, and I remember chatting with them as well. 
“You need more than a weatherman to know which way Bob Dylan blows,” was my opening line in a review that, sentence for sentence, was the longest show review I ever wrote for MM. The concerts were, after all, ‘revues’ in the accepted sense of the term which meant everyone got a go, and the bill also featured Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Arlo Gurthrie and others, all of whom played at least one song of their own alongside the band that accompanied Dylan who, naturally enough, grabbed the lion’s share of stage time, both solo and in combinations with the others. 
He was magnificent too, playing and singing not to make money or even to promote a new record but simply because he wanted to. After the hullabaloo surrounding the previous year’s tour with The Band, which was Big Corporate Rock, Dylan had opted for something completely different, a folksy down-home feel, almost like a Hootenanny, and he was happy to chime along with everyone else though there was no doubt who was the star of the show. Some of the songs he sang would appear on Desire, not yet released, and I was spellbound by ‘Sarah’, his homage to his former wife. The shows ended with the ensemble gathered round several microphones for ‘This Land Is Your Land’, Woody Guthrie’s alternative American National Anthem, a fitting finale to an evening of music in which Dylan explored his roots, mused on his past and offered a glimpse into the future. 
The tour wound up at Madison Square Garden on December 8, a benefit show for Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a boxer wrongly imprisoned on a murder charge who was eventually freed. Dylan had recorded a single protesting Carter’s innocence, and I was at this show too, way up in the seats behind the stage, but it wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable as the smaller shows in New England. The ‘review’ format didn’t suit a big arena and the audience was unsympathetic to the other musicians. Nevertheless, the two Rolling Thunder shows at Springfield remain two of the best concerts I ever saw during my three-year stint as MM’s man in America.

3.11.17

STICKY FINGERS: The Life & Times of Jann Wenner & Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan



The image of the brooding, avaricious, power-hungry newspaper proprietor was set in stone by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane and through the ages many in this line of work have conformed to the stereotype. Jann Wenner, a fan of Kane, is no exception. Joe Hagan’s biography, Sticky Fingers: The Life & Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone, paints a portrait of the man behind RS as obsessive, unscrupulous and unlikeable, a man forever on the make who for all his money and success seems strangely unfulfilled. 
The book was sanctioned insofar as Wenner initiated it by inviting Hagan to write it and submitting to 100 hours of interviews (and enabling access to his archives), but not ‘authorised’ insofar as Wenner did not have final approval of the manuscript which he evidently did not read before publication. Wenner did, however, try to influence Hagan’s work by putting a positive spin on matters and shrugging off that which might seem detrimental to his character. Similarly interviewed – Hagan undertook 240 interviews in total – was Jane Schindelheim, who was married to Wenner from 1968 to 2011, though they separated in 1995 after Wenner came out as gay and thereafter lived with male model Matt Nye to whom he is now married. Jane, whose own flaws are ruthlessly exposed, has good reason to dislike the book too, but in her case the ugly truth is tempered by her ongoing loyalty towards her husband, boundless charm and innate warm disposition. 
In this respect – the Wenners’ personal lives – the book reads a bit like a melodramatic novel. To say it is ‘explosive’ or ‘sensational’ is an understatement, and since its publication Wenner has described it as ‘deeply flawed and tawdry’. He hasn’t spoken to the author since June. Hagan doesn’t seem surprised by Wenner’s reaction, and nor am I for Sticky Fingers chronicles rampant drug abuse and promiscuity with both sexes that would make Caligula blush, profligate spending on superfluous luxuries to gratify Wenner’s gargantuan ego and an abysmal lack of moral values in which his word is as worthless as a bent roach clip. 
It will come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that Wenner has a propensity for making enemies, among them John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Jimmy Page et al. Lennon never spoke to Wenner again after the publication in 1971 of Lennon Remembers, the series of interviews John gave to Wenner for RS on the expressed understanding they did not become a book. Dylan was angry that RS published a photograph his daughter against his wishes. Jagger felt Wenner ripped him off by naming his magazine after his band (and might now be equally pissed off that the title of this book borrows a Stones’ album title). Simon received unfavourable coverage because he slept with a girl who Wenner fancied but who’d turned him down. Page was furious at negative coverage of Led Zep. And while we’re at it let’s add Jackie Kennedy who took a dim view of Wenner ‘pouncing’ on her daughter Caroline. 
The only A-grade rock stars that Wenner seems not to have alienated at one time or another seem to be Springsteen and Bono, and although an understanding is reached with most of them it’s an uneasy truce that might fall apart at any time. In short, no one trusts him and with good reason. 
With ugly confrontations run of the mill for a man whose skin seems as thick as an elephant, you have to wonder how Rolling Stone survived. The answer is Wenner’s dogged determination to rescue it against all odds despite hovering on the brink of bankruptcy, enduring staff mutinies, tolerating wildly delinquent behaviour, especially on the part of Hunter S. Thompson, and simply picking himself up time and time again regardless. Much of the time he has the long-suffering Jane to thank for easing social situations, though the burden drives her to an addiction to Quaaludes and periods when she stays in bed for days at a time. 
Of course Sticky Fingers also chronicles the rock scene of the era from the inside, the shift from pop groups to rock bands, the corporatisation of the music industry, the way in which its fortunes are reflected in the circulation of Rolling Stone. Wenner was old school. He liked The Beatles, Stones, Dylan and The Who, and he disliked glam, metal, punk, disco and electronic dance music. He had to put up with it, of course, accepting only grudgingly that RS should cover changing styles. Thankfully he employed editors and writers who knew better but sooner or later almost all of them come up against his authoritarian ways and are fired or quit. Similarly, for someone with his foresight, he was curiously slow to adapt to MTV and, more importantly, the emergence of computers and the internet. He lost fortunes on launching other magazines, US Weekly aside, and nearly lost everything in the financial collapse of 2008. 
        In many ways Wenner’s role in the establishment of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame – slightly dubious actually – allowed him to rise above the controversies that dogged his position in the music business. Here he could indulge his groupie tendencies and promote the acts with whom he felt comfortable, but this placed him alongside many in the industry – both performers and executives – that he had wronged in the past. Still he rode it out, even a nasty spat with Paul McCartney. In 1994, when Lennon was inducted as a solo performer, McCartney agreed to give the introduction speech on the understanding that he (Paul) would be inducted the following year. Wenner reneged. McCartney was furious and it wasn’t until four years later that he was inducted, which explains why daughter Stella, who accompanied him on stage, wore a T-shirt with the slogan ‘About Fucking Time’. 
There’s plenty more aggro in Sticky Fingers, plenty about RS’s coverage of American politics, current affairs and drug-related issues, plenty about its famous writers, notably Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, plenty about the libidinous deeds of top RS photographer Annie Leibowitz, and plenty about Wenner’s social climbing and reckless spending on mansions and private aircraft to impress his peers. And sometimes I had to laugh, like when Hagan draws attention to Wenner’s weight problems and Jane’s attempts to slim him down. “Jane had cleaned the house out of anything that was good to eat except frozen foods,” literary agent David Obst tells Hagan. “Jann, hungry beyond his comfort point, went to the freezer and actually ate the frozen foods without thawing them out and they expanded in his stomach and he had to go to the emergency room.”
There, in a nutshell, is Wenner’s greed an impetuosity perfectly summarised. Sticky Fingers is a terrific read; unputdownable if, like me, you were part of the music scene in the era on which it dwells, and literate, entertaining and enlightening in the extreme wherever you were.