Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Musical Epiphanies #1: Levitated in Paris

The initial expectation on the music scene surrounding the band Levitation was enormous, featuring as they did indie-guitar maestro Terry Bickers fresh from great hopes the House Of Love. There were tales of pharmecutically induced money burning in the back of the tour bus before he was unceremoniously dumped at a train station to make his own way back to reality.

Early solo demos showed a great deal of promise that not only did he have a great singing voice, but that he could write soft appealing songs too. It could almost be the House Of Love continued. The record company guys were drooling with anticipation, waiting to hear more, and queuing up with their chequebooks (in the days when record companies HAD chequebooks ha ha).

However....something profound (and pretty beautiful ?) must have happened to turn this plan off course and instead when Bickers emerged after a year or so blinking into the spotlight, it was with a bunch of self-styled `angry hippies' whose purpose was nothing less than to leave the planet, offer their souls to the cosmos and probably NOT be home in time for tea.

At the tail end of 1990 they played their first gig at The White Horse in Hampstead, a regular haunt of ours. It was likely to be as packed as a box full of bees, so I gave it a was going to be so busy that you couldn't even get tickets for the pavement outside the venue.

They alienated almost everybody instantly ! "Prog Rock" wailed the NME, "write a tune" whined the Melody Maker (...and from later on, Steve Lamacq talking about our other good friends `Eat': "Eat exist at the frontiers of rock, but SENSIBLY so, unlike the orbiting Levitation") Owners of chequebooks expecting House Of Love MkII quietly slunk away...leaving them to begin their career on the `less than major label but with a heart of gold' Ultimate Records. (Oh how Maurice Bacon laughed when they asked him to bike over a copy of the newly pressed `Coppelia' E.P.)

I didn't hear Levitation live until the Honey Smugglers supported them on a couple of dates in April/May 1991 as Ultimate label-mates. The biggest of these dates was at La Locomotive in Paris right underneath the famous Moulin Rouge.

Honey Smugglers Paris May 1991: L-R Steve Cox, Ged Murphy, Steve Dinsdale, Chris Spence

Being in a district where much important business took place, the club had a strange arrangement with the surrounding offices that soundchecking for that night's show would take place BEFORE normal office hours. At 7-9am ! IN THE MORNING. This is something I have never encountered before or since. Imagine the scene, a huge club, tables groaning with coffee, croissants and orange juice, my bandmates barely awake after three hours sleep and unused to rock and rolling at such an ungodly hour, looking upon the ravaged individuals of Levitation, who it seemed had beaten the pain of the early start by simply choosing not to sleep at all.

Towards the end of their soundcheck, they're basically dotting the `i's and crossing the `t's (there are a couple of each in `Levitation') and they play through a tune I later learn to be `Attached'. Then one of them, probably Terry, suggests that they play `Bedlam' and finish up. If `Bedlam' were a three minute pop tune during which the final level checks could be made then fair enough, but no....what I was about to witness was a musical epiphany which had me rooted to the spot, wondering if this was really happening. It is perhaps also the only time I have ever wanted a band to keep soundchecking at the expense of our time.

The piece is based around a slow, spacious, mid-paced bass theme with Terry's trademark soft vocals intoning the instruction "don't question everything".... except that in the middle, there is a section where the song literally takes off into the most controlled, determined, frightening attempt to leave the ground. In that moment I understood why they were called Levitation. A glorious droning cacophony of jet engines, with Dave Francolini one step nearer to demolishing his drum skins at every stroke, getting faster and faster as they hurtle towards the vortex, with Bic Hayes running around frenetically mouthing strange languages to the gods, and Terry B swooping in the centre stage. It took over the whole building which I swear was about to lift off the ground. It was an out of body experience which seemed to last for a glorious eternity, like the best orgasm, before finally returning, spent, back to the relative calm of the song's conclusion.

Such was the intensity that I was speechless for several minutes, I could only shake my head in disbelief. I then had to remind myself that this was a 8 o'clock in the morning.

When the Smugglers finally got their turn to I approached Dave Francolini to pay him the courtesy of thanking him for the use of his kit, which we were sharing. He had about an inch left of a large bottle of Jack Daniels and generously offered me a slug. It was a bit early, even for me.

L'Hotel Du Rock'n'Roll, Paris May 1991:

L-R Terry Bickers, Lawrence O'Keefe (Levitation)
Mark Browning (Belltower), Hungover Road Manager,
Bic Hayes (Levitation)

Check out the fearsome studio version here then go buy their albums if you can get them.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


The unforgivable deviation from the steady stream of rock'n'roll tales from the past, and indeed lack of entries of any kind can only be excused by one thing...a busy present. I am glad to report that part three of the saga which started in the summer on the 30th year anniversary of Age Of Berlin, continued through the reunion with Mark, Rich and Sandy, has now manifested itself in a completed new album by a project we have named `Pata-Particles'. It ain't in Fearnleys or Tony's Records just yet, but plans are afoot to release it to the world (on an LP !) It's all chopped together now and sounds amazing.

I picked a weekend in September at random and Mark said "that's cool, I'm playing with Damo on the Friday". What better circumstances in which to meet up again and begin a weekend's recording with Mark Spybey than a Damo Suzuki gig ? Damo gets everywhere....he says the same thing about me. I'm not in the band but turn up early anyway, and to have Damo to myself while the musicians are doing what musicians do at soundchecks is fine. There we are sitting together on the only two chairs in the place. He has a great pair of white sunglasses. I tell him he won't be needing them much longer, but he smiles back with "I am in Switzerland next week". I am amazed to learn that this show in Newcastle is his first in the city since 1972 with Can. A great night is had at a superb venue (The Star and Shadow). The backstage area is a lively throng of musicians,partners and friends gathered around a table of veggie food, and conversation is freely exchanged by people who have just met. Damo may sit there and observe most of the time but he is the reason these people are together in the same place. It really is a network in every sense, and to be valued and cherished. There's something wonderful about sitting in a tatty backstage space with 20 other souls and no television.

Out in the venue it's filled up to capacity and the Network roar through an improvised set of nearly two hours for a stunned audience, most of whom I would think have never experienced this before. Afterwards the night slowly dissipates, and I find myself heading for Warkworth Northumberland, in the pitch dark, with Mark's cousin the amiable Matt, following on his motorbike. A few whiskies and a great sleep later and we're into the late summer sun of a Saturday morning in Warkworth. We take a stroll arounfd the village to buy fresh bread, have a fantastic breakfast, Mark prepares the studio for occupation, Matt records a couple of cameos before roaring off on his bike back down South and we're off.....

24 hours later, I'm heading back to Yorkshire and Mark has a bag full of joint explorations, drum tracks I did when he took the dog out, filmic pieces recorded whilst watching Polanski's Macbeth, and all manner of other spontaneity. Mark's philosophy is `press record'. I heartily agree.

I send a bunch of half finished pieces I'd been working on in August, to which Mark adds vocals and other things , and Rich Sanderson who has been anxiously waiting in London for news from the North, sends his own contributions up to Mark who works tirelessly over the following weeks to blend the whole thing together until I get the call at short notice to come and help him finally nail it down. I find myself unexpectedly back up at the other end of the country from the RMI trip to Hampshire the weekend before, (with a week's work inbetween) in the first week of November. An overdub here, a drum track there, and much more besides and it is now nailed down.

It's good to make things a reality and carry out something we "always meant to do". It opens doors to the future. Even a 30 year gap isn't too fact it's better, because we now know what the hell we're doing .

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Power Of Independent Blogging

When I wrote the entry 3 or 4 weeks back about my first band `Age Of Berlin', it was largely to mark the occasion and get some of that nostalgia I am regularly plagued with out into the world. Certain significant dates in my life will always be there lurking in my memory, and will always be marked or remembered internally at least. There are many people I've met who place no value on what they did ten, twenty, thirty years ago, live for the day and take no delight in retracing old steps, but for me it is not only a source of quiet joy, it helps provide an understanding of how we all got to where we are now. It helps to make sense of things, and much amusement comes from memories of just how different things were back then.

The piece actually became a catalyst for some of the people from those days finding the motivation to get ourselves to the same place at the same time for 2-3 hours and spend a sunny afternoon reminiscing, jogging those memories and indeed seeing how we all turned out. So it was that last Sunday last I found myself in the Cleveland Bay Hotel in Redcar East, having hot-footed it up from Harrogate, anticipating the arrival of 3 friends who I hadn't seen for 10, 26 and 28 years respectively.

Rich Sanderson has lived more than half his life in London now, and was on a two week annual trip back to Teesside with his family, (he wasn't in Age Of Berlin, but his presence was felt at the time) the other two, Spib and Sandy, are in the North within striking distance, so it was the ideal opportunity to make it happen. They set it up, and I was happy to join them. Their histories together go back far further again than my mere thirty years, they formed their first band `Solaris' in 1974, so it was amusing to feel like the newcomer in their midst. The three have known each other since infant school, but had not all seen each other for some 17 years.

It was a special and affectionate 3 hours which only lifted the lid on detailed conversations which could have lasted days. I'm sure it won't be another 17 years before it happens again.

L-R Mark (Sandy) Sanderson, Mark (Spib) Spybey, Rich Sanderson

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Tunes I Never Tire Of #6: Public Image Ltd `Death Disco'

I am one of those music nuts for whom bands can lie dormant in the collection for long periods, only to bloom in all their glory once again, triggered by a single track, or a magazine article, becoming an obsession once again for a few weeks to the exclusion of just about everything else.

As I wrote my previous entry, I inevitably dug out a bit of PiL to refresh the senses. Here I am a couple of weeks later driving everyone in the house mad with `Careering' at 8 o'clock in the morning, and the criminally ignored and vastly superior single version of `Memories' for elevenses. It's one thing to catch up with a band via their recordings when their prime has slipped past (on account of not being born soon enough in the case of too many of the artists I love), but quite another to live through a band's development in real time, and between 15 in 1978, and 20 in 1983 when I left home, and they lost it, Public Image Ltd were one such band for me. Their debut single in late '78 had been a corker, and despite sniffy `king's new clothes' jibes from journos hell bent on hearing the Sex Pistols mkII, (yawn) the debut album acquitted itself pretty well, without being a masterpiece, it was certainly a statement of intent, and it certainly wasn't "goddam awful rock'n'roll either" as John Lydon would say.

However, nothing could prepare anybody for the shock of `Metal Box' as it slowly unfolded over the pivotal year of 1979 via advance singles and a couple of legendary TV appearances until it finally arrived as 3 x 12" 45's in a heavyweight film cannister towards the end of the year. It was £7.49 which I couldn't afford, so I taped it from the scary acquaintance who had once thumped me for liking Yes (see previous entry !). I eventually bought the LP version`Second Edition'. It wasn't the same, but at least it didn't turn to rust like the boxes apparently did, although that in itself was pretty cool really I suppose.

The calling card was `Death Disco' which emerged in the summer. A true cacophony was the only word for it. When I first heard it I wasn't sure if it was the worst thing I'd ever heard or the best, but I had to have it. The incredible thing about it was that it was played on daytime radio. Imagine that ! I don't think many of the poptastic DJ's of the time greeted it with anything other than indifference or incredulity, but played it certainly was. It reached the Top 20 ! Economics dictated that it was the 7" single I bought, which came in a scary picture cover with, strangely, the slot to get the single out at the bottom of the sleeve rather than the top. I never knew if this was deliberate or not.

There had been chart songs before about dying (the sickly sentimental `Seasons In The Sun', the comic strip `Leader Of The Pack' or `Tell Laura I Love Her') but nothing like this. This was a catharsis of stark, honest, harrowing reality as John Lydon lost his mother to cancer. "Watch her slowly die, sorry in her eyes. Choking on a bed, flowers rotting dead"; to a disco beat, with a bastardisation of `Swan Lake' as the guitar theme ! For sheer subversion it must be the greatest thing ever seen on `Top Of The Pops'. What a glorious racket, and note Jah Wobble's frankly deranged grinning throughout. These people were genuinely frightening.

Check It Out here:

P.S. Speaking of `Check It Out', PiL's July 1979 appearance on the dismal Tyne Tees `yoof' programme of the same name, is possibly my TV highlight of all time. My brother and I watched in awe (twice !), in the pre-VCR days, my Mum was less than impressed. Most of it is viewable across these two links, although neither are complete despite claims to the contrary.

The hapless berk with the `Sid The Sexist' hair arrangements is one Chris Cowey, who rightly disappeared into obscurity very shortly after this farce. Hang on, no he didn't, he became the producer of `Top Of The Pops'. You couldn't make it up...

For the full story/transcript behind events which led to what you see here, have a read of this from the magnificently authoratative `Fodderstompf' PiL fansite.

PPS: A couple of years ago I was down in London to see Van Der Graaf Generator with my friend Russell. I was in the midst of my last major PiL `phase' and had been hammering `Death Disco' having discovered the full 10 minute take which had just been issued. Being a cheery sort of soul, who knows how to show somebody a good time, Russell suggested a walk in the enormous cemetry between Archway and East Finchley in North London. As we ambled along chatting I was somewhat stunned, when out of thousands and thousands of graves I came across this one quite by chance: "In Loving Memory of Eileen Lydon. Wife and Mother. Sadly Missed".

Life can sometimes floor you.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

It Was 30 Years Ago Today: Age Of Berlin

June 1979 was the month when `O' levels were completed, school was out forever, (until sixth form college at least, and you could wear denim at sixth form) and a long summer stretched out ahead of us. We didn't look back or give a thought to those who we would probably never see again, which in the case of some of the girls was a shame. Karen Mustard where are you now ? Many of us who'd done `O' levels were on course to bag a couple of `A' levels and eventually fly off from our Teesside enclave to a university somewhere to start our own adventures in halls of residence and 'Young Ones' styled student houses in cities like Sheffield, Manchester and even Bromley. Others were destined to spend their whole lives in Marske-by-the -Sea. We saw no reason to spend the rest of our lives in the place where we happened to be born.

I recently saw an old female classmate in `The Ship' on one of my regular visits to my hometown. It came as quite a shock to me, she looked well over 50, and like she'd had a pretty rough life, no doubt with a pretty rough bloke or two. We were sitting next to her for twenty minutes before the penny dropped as to who she was. I'm sure she was even in my `top ten' back in Mr Hebden's class. I immediately revised any plans I had to attend the impending 30 year school reunion. Too scary, and let's face it, if you haven't tried to keep in touch with someone over the last 30 years, then maybe you never had a thing in common in the first place. I left Marske 26 years ago and never wished I'd stayed there. I love the place dearly, but only to come back to.

Of far more significance to me than leaving school, the summer of 1979 also marked the beginning of a magical and fun process which continues to this day; getting together in a room and making a purposeful noise with other people. I did it as recently as last Sunday and it was still fun ! In fact it was amazing. We kept the next band waiting outside 10 minutes while we finished up a most unholy and hallucogenic racket, and when we finally finished one of them had the grace to ask us who we were influenced by, "on that performance... I would say the devil" I could only reply, as the sweat dripped off me onto the floor.

Back in July 1979 when Duncan and I took our seats at the History table during our prospective sixth form's `meet the students' open day, it was actually our own personal histories we were unwittingly setting in motion. One of the students who'd volunteered to tell all about `A' level History was Mark Spybey. As was `de rigeur' in those days among 16 year old boys, I had my haversack on display lovingly painted with the names of my musical heroes, and discussion soon turned away from History and to their relative merits..."don't like them, don't like THEM, they're OK..." Duncan piped up that he'd been messing about with audio generators and tape machines at home. "Wow ! like Dik Mik from Hawkwind ?" said Mark. We all agreed Hawkwind was good. Mark then uttered the immortal words which would change our lives forever: "the college has a synthesizer you know".

So somehow before we had even properly enrolled at the place, we managed to blag their most precious educational tool, the Roland SH1000, on long term loan. We could scarcely believe it as it sat in Duncan's front room making random noises at us. Spybey brought his old friend Mark Sanderson round to marvel at Duncan's tape echo skills and give us his best robot impression to test them out. We formed a band right there and then. For me it was the moment we ceased to be schoolkids and moved up into a new world. They were only a year older than us, but it felt like a lot more.

A rehearsal was arranged for July 23rd, at Joe's parents' house at 81 Hummershill Lane, Marske-by-the-Sea. If you drive past it today you'll not notice a blue `English Heritage' plaque commemorating the event. Joe was going to be the vocalist but hadn't really got a clue, hadn't written anything, and spent his time farting about, eventually rendered speechless by the racket which ensued from those gathered in his unknowing parents' house. The rest of us meant business in a 16-17 year old kind of way. On guitar was Jon Davis, Led Zeppelin fan and ego-maniac, who brought his tape machine along too, placing it right next to his amp, so all he could hear on the recording was himself. His nemesis in terms of musical taste and personality was Spybey who was a tidy assured drummer. Sandy played Bass. Spib and Sandy had worked on a collection of riffs which we used as a starting point....and indeed a finishing point.

Then there was Duncan and me. Duncan had an Audio Generator and real tape echo for making swooping noises (that Ferrograph machine weighed a ton), and because I could almost pick out a tune, I got to play the synthesizer. Duncan and me had comically transported everything to Joe's house about half a mile away balanced precariously on Duncan's red Go-cart, after our primary mode of transport, a speed frame, had collapsed under the weight of the synthesizer, the aforementioned Ferrograph tape machine, and a flight case after (according to Duncan) "about 4 foot".

Mark Spybey had come up with a typed manifesto: "Harmony is Harmony. Noise is Noise: This is the noise" and a band name: AGE OF BERLIN (How thrilling to be IN A BAND, particularly one with pluralistic undertones, it would be another ten years before the wall came down) "Space-Rock, Psychedelic Renewalism" it continued. I'm not quite certain what the latter was exactly, but we have certainly become well acquainted with the former in the ensuing years. As we made our way precariously to that first rehearsal, we felt like we had arrived into a new world. Boy, did we have fun ! Duncan and I went through the same 18" speaker, which didn't stop Duncan being twice as loud as anyone else, and terrorizing us with everything from echo sounders ("Don't ! it kills yer !" I can be heard begging for mercy on the tape) to pneumatic drills ("Aaaaaagh ! Woooo!") as I wazzed around on a synthesizer for the first time; literally a kid with a new toy. Before the afternoon was out that speaker would already be well on the way to premature burn out.

It was also the first time I'd been within touching distance of an actual drum kit, and when Spib handed me the sticks during the lunchtime pastie break, it was the moment I'd been waiting for all my life. I already knew I was going to be a drummer, and this just confirmed it. He was also kind enough to let me have the kit on loan for the next couple of years when he went off to college, and I taught myself to play, to the joy and delight of all at 8 Wanstead Close and surrounding properties.

You could therefore say that July 23rd 1979 was one of the most significant days of my life. It was the first time we heard ourselves as part of a band and at full volume, the glory of a huge vibrating racket, and I immediately knew that nothing else could compare, we had a purpose in life !

Over that summer we spent evenings round at Spib's in Redcar, full of exciting ideas for the band while he played us all sorts of stuff from an impressive contemporary record collection: Gang Of Four, Joy Division, The Specials' debut single Gangsters, John Cooper-Clarke, Alternative TV, `Pop Musik' by M and er...Tubeway Army, but you can't win them all. Things were moving fast musically in the UK, the old guard had been jettisoned (by him not us, I was still listening to Genesis) but we found common ground in the likes of Peter Hammill, Hawkwind, Here and Now and Hillage. Before the summer was out Public Image Ltd unleashed the mighty `Metal Box' which changed things for everybody including me. Sandy actually handed over £7.49 for this artefact. I think he must have had a paid job, as it was an outrageous sum for us to contemplate as penniless students, fantastic though it was.

I had no problem ignoring the less savoury trends of the time like the godawful `New Wave Of British Heavy Metal 'which gave us Saxon, Iron Midden, Lef Deppelin and the likes, and I stuck to a core of all things progressive, who many of the `New Wave' bands liked anyway as it later turned out. (It was a sweet moment many years later when Keith Levene, guitar `enfant terrible' of Public Image Ltd admitted his favourite album of all time was Yes' `Tales From Topographic Oceans', idolised Steve Howe and had even roadied for them as a schoolboy ! Ha Ha Ha. I was once hit for liking Yes by a PiL fan !). I loved the humour, originality and DIY diversity of some of the wayward souls that the `new wave' threw up into the spotlight, there's never been a time like it since; totally non-corporate. I listened to and absorbed everything anybody cared to throw at me over the airwaves and in their record collections (apart from The Clash with their ugly sloganeering and joyless posturing. Of course, they inevitably became my younger brother's favourite band as is always the case in sibling conflict) .

One Sunday night at Spib's, his friend Russ Walker brought Gary Houghton round. He was learning the guitar, and happened to be in the process of moving to Marske from Redcar. Jon Davis slid off the radar sometime around Zeppelin's last stand at Knebworth, and Gary became our new guitarist. Age Of Berlin finished after nearly a year's apprenticeship, during which we rehearsed, never gigged, but learnt a lot (photos here taken in April 1980 at Zetland Church Hall). Spib went off to study Music Therapy, and eventually moved to Vancouver, surfacing back into our lives many years later with a highly impressive musical CV. Our reunion with Mark as a member of Michael Karoli's band in 1999 at the Can Barbican solo gigs was quite an occasion ("Yes I remember playing Redcar, where is there more booze ?" Michael Karoli)

Duncan, Gary and me had already started recording with the synthesiser at Duncan's by the end of 1979, and here we still are 30 years later, 30 and more albums later, having established Radio Massacre International as a way of musical life which has taken us to places we only dreamed of.

Here are a couple of tunes from the day when it all started, big cheers to Mark Spybey for being a mighty catalyst.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Worst Day I Ever Spent In The Music Biz or Why Promo Videos Are The Work Of Satan.

When I think about developments between the two eras of the 1970's and 1980's, perhaps the most marked `step forward' is the music promotional video.

February 1991, I'm standing in an enormous disused warehouse somewhere in South East London within striking distance of Elephant and Castle. There is a single three bar electric heater for warmth in a freezing building the size of a football pitch and outside us on the wasteland there has been a substantial snowfall. Snow being a London video director's dream, we four Honey Smugglers find ourselves out in the white stuff in a spirit of what could initially at least be described as fun. With a couple of lunchtime pints and a shot or two of whisky, this is all a bit of a first.

Ged, Stevie C and myself, are acting unconvincingly (being largely unconvinced about what the hell we are supposed to be doing) and are but a sideshow to Chris the singer's lip synched close-ups, which he does carry off extremely well in his leather fur-lined hat. The rest of us don't have instruments with us to pretend to play, so we look like a right bunch of aimless charlies as we piss about under the freezing afternoon sun, taking vague instructions like "it would be really good if you all walked off in different directions".

The outside shots finally under wraps, the wind blowing ever colder and the novelty having worn off along with the effects of the whisky, we return to the warehouse. Inside, the other star of the video is a child actor in a multicoloured hammock looking (for reasons which are never explained) through a telescope, while a record spins on a turntable. The song has a storyboard involving us trudging through snow, our singer reading a book about Hollywood and leaving a photo frame in the snow...... while a kid looks through a telescope in a hammock. An obvious BAFTA candidate I'm sure you'll agree.

As the kid's solo scenes are filmed , (he's been hired for a couple of hours only, probably to comply with child cruelty laws), we become gradually conscious of the fact that an hour or two in the snow has taken it's toll on the lower trousers, socks and shoes of us assembled would be pop stars. The temperature in the open sided warehouse is decreasing by the hour as the winter dusk descends, and it begins to dawn on me that making pop videos is perhaps a pain best endured only once. Or at least to not be so stupid as to let a director mess you about in sub zero temperatures when you could be at home on this Sunday from hell enjoying a warm and soft time in bed with your lovely young wife to be.

Standing around (there are no chairs, who do we think we are ? U2?) for hours in a freezing warehouse with wet shoes, trousers and feet, no warmth and no food or drink: this is the life ! I'm sure Duran Duran felt the same, being kept waiting in the sunshine on that luxury yacht off the Brazilian coast no doubt being fed champagne, canapes and cocaine by leggy models while they re-did Simon Le Bon Bon's hair for the umpteenth time.

On an hourly basis we treat ourselves to ten minutes huddled together in Steve's car with the heating on, until between visits the car is broken into by some `Sarf London' urchins, thereby creating unwanted ventilation through the hole where the side window used to be and defeating the object of us trying to use it for respite from the biting winds chilling our marrows in the warehouse.

I know making videos isn't easy, but there were whole hours where nothing appeared to be happening at all. Surely it can't be that hard to point a camera at something. It was made worse by a complete lack of communication from the video guys. Hanging around is one thing, but it's the not knowing for how much longer which really gets you down. This became an endurance test of mammoth proportions and was about as interesting and rewarding as standing at a bus stop for 12 hours.

It's evening and even colder by the time we Smugglers line-up for inside shots of us dancing amid glittery strips of foil hanging from the roof while Chris once again lip-synchs the lead vocal to cut to and from the snow shots. It takes an absolute technical eternity to get Stevie C, Ged and I lined up in one shot, why I don't know....there's this farcical passing of a photo frame from one person to the other (mine ended up on the cutting room floor) and then there are some shots of each of us reflected in a chunk of mirror.... until finally, late that evening, with food and drink but a distant memory of some 12 hours ago, we were mercifully done.

An end to the misery finally in reach, and having no money for a cab, (I naively thought we'd be finished while the buses were still running) and with barely a clue as to where the hell we are anyway, I beg Stevie `Vox Continental ' Cox to take me home to my door about 3 miles away in Camberwell. Our keyboard man is the only one of us smart enough to have a car to deliver us from this god-forsaken place, even if it does now have a busted side window. I've rarely appreciated a lift as much as I did that night. "One of the most testing days of my life", says the diary.

About a month later, one Monday, my friend Sally Wooly says she saw the video on MTV the night before and that she didn't quite know how to say this but........she couldn't really see me in it. That's right kids ! I had stood around freezing my toes off and starving for 13 hours for nothing. The video director, who we never saw again from that day to this, hadn't even seen fit to include a couple of token shots of the insignificant long haired drummer guy as some small reward for his misery.

In the 70's the only thing that mattered was the music. You heard new bands on the radio if you knew where to listen, and there was a magic and mystery about only hearing them and not seeing them. If you liked them so much that you wanted to find out more you generally went to your local city hall or university and caught them in the flesh. When I first heard such obscurities as Seventh Wave on my local radio station in 1975, they sounded like they were from the moon, and what's more I didn't give a second thought to what the buggers looked like. Who cared ? The music was the soundtrack to your imagination. Imagination is not a pre-requisite for listening, but it happens because by listening rather than watching, the music is given a chance to "conjure up images of sacred spaces" as my friend Archie Patterson once so eloquently put it. Archie may have been talking about the great Kosmische Musik but it applies equally to say, `Tangled Up In Blue'. Can you imagine the pointlessness of shooting a promo for this song, when every one of the millions of people who have heard Bob Dylan's masterpiece have their own set of images in their head, to be added to as every nuance makes itself clearer.

Then MTV reared it's ugly corporate head, and it soon became the norm that some fool would be employed at great expense (the artist's expense of course) to make a video for the `marketplace'. All of a sudden lame storyboards, exotic locations (not if you're the Honey Smugglers), punishing shooting schedules, and protracted editing sessions become another exciting way to waste vast amounts of money you'd never recoup...and in all honesty the net result of all this indulgence ? many great music videos can you name ?

Although I can see the lists forming in your heads already, I can't think of one I really ever want to see again. I just don't think they work as an artform. They chain a song down to an association with a repeatable visual image, and that in my view defeats the object of music in principle, whilst one can listen to the same timeless song for a lifetime, who would want to watch the video more than once or twice ? Visual information becomes very boring very quickly, but for some mystical and magical reason music bears repeated listening in a variety of moods, circumstances and over vast timespans.

The other long term effect on the culture of popular music, entrenched today, was that bands were just as likely to be signed if their faces were video friendly, as if their music was any good. Ben Wardle admitted as much in his recent blog about the ubiquitous Ms Boyle. That's why today we have endless bands who are more bothered about the way they look than writing any remotely memorable or ground-breaking music, although even this theory doesn't explain or excuse Coldplay.

I'm with Jimi on this one. When, in the 60's, Hendrix was innocently asked what he had thought of an early oil slide lightshow in the golden days of London's UFO club his response was "Man, I've got better pictures in my head". If he'd lived long enough to witness the advent of the promo video he'd have been very grateful indeed for what he'd seen that night.

Suffer with me one time, I'm in there somewhere if you don't blink, and it's not a bad song.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Been Solo Without You

As any music fan will tell you, the highlight of any album or live performance is the drum solo.

There is usually a mass exodus to the bar during the inevitable medley of a band's best known and loved numbers in order to stock up on drinks in preparation for the highlight of the night.
A wonderful 10, 15 even 20 minutes where the star of the show gets a chance to shine leaving the underlings in the band (guitarist, singer etc) enviously nursing a scotch and coke in the wings, secretly wishing that they were the drummer and could get all the girls, while our hero has the audience transfixed in a world of paradiddles, mummy/daddy rolls and triplets.

How many of us from punk rockers to folk fans have rushed home with a newly purchased triple live LP and gone excitedly to the longest track secure in the knowledge that between our favourite verses on what was once a 3 minute song, there will be 15 minutes of drum heaven from the smallest cowbell to the largest gong, with every single thing within the drummer's reach being hit at least once ? Including the bass player.

Here is my humble contribution to God's own form of musical expression, recorded exclusively for this blog just two days ago (actually Martin had gone to pick up Glynn and I found myself in the rehearsal room with just my kit for company, and rather like finding yourself alone with a woman I thought I'd better at least attempt to do something creative with my hands).

Sit back, relax and enjoy, lighters at the ready and don't forget to clap along kids !