Category Archives: Music

Uncommon People

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Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”

David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.

Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.

A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”

Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.

To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.

But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.

Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.

To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”

Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.

Let alone talent.

As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”

Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”

Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.

It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.

David Marx

The Treasures Of Queen

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The Treasures Of Queen

By Harry Doherty
Forewords by Brian May and Roger Taylor
Goodman/Carlton Books – £30.00

Such was their uniqueness – hard rock meshed with glam; compositions ranging from grandiose productions to pure pop sensitivity; lyrics that demanded attention; a rare intelligence underpinning it all – that many did not know what to make of Queen when their debut album was released.

I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend – Freddie Mercury

I’m quite a considerable fan of these Carlton Box-Sets on bands.
Apart from containing an array of terrific photographs and the veritable (odd) assortment of souvenirs, cut-outs, lyrics, ticket reproductions and posters, they convey the artist(s) in such a way most books don’t.

Or at least in a different way.

This is primarily the case due to the all-round lay-out and inclusion of very well put together photographs – many of which are quite large. Therein bequeathing the general reader and avid fan alike, with something of a fresh perspective. It is after all, it’s not everyday one comes across black and white, sepia tone as well as colour 10x8s of rock bands – let alone rock bands who occasionally dress in women’s clothing (as on page 60 of this fine collection).

Indeed, aspects of the band’s unique over-the-topness is invariably and magnificently captured throughout The Treasures Of Queen; all of which, was of course, always underlined by the band’s soaring, idiosyncratically individual sound.

Not to mention robust, musical work ethic – that of guitarist Brian May in particular.

Compiled in chronological order, these (high quality) 95 pages traverse every aspect of the band, by way of working through each of its albums. On the way, there are pull outs of the aforementioned tickets and lyrics, and a closer look at each four members of the band.

There’s also a section entitled ‘Queen at the Movies’ which perhaps for some, sheds indelible new light: ”Their penchant for cinema first became apparent when they were commissioned by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to provide the music for the over-the-top sci-fi movie Flash Gordon. Both Brian May and Roger Taylor loved this legendary comic-strip hero. ”We really wanted to do it,” Taylor said.”We wanted to make music for a movie that was not about music, and would be an integral part of the whole experience.”

In all, this collection captures the eccentricity as well as some of the humbleness of a great band, which for many, will no doubt trigger many a musical memory.

I know it has for me.

So if you’re a fan (or even if you’re not) and you’re looking to recapture an era when popular music actually meant and counted for something, then I’d strongly recommend The Treasures Of Queen.

You absolutely won’t be disappointed (darling).

David Marx

The Age Of Bowie

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The Age Of Bowie –
How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference
By Paul Morley
Simon & Schuster – £9.99

The most honest way of writing about David Bowie and all the David Bowies he became in the 1970s as he turned his entire existence and his musical technique into a collage of impressions, memories and experiences is to create a collage in response, to exaggerate the exaggerations and the excess.

Paul Morley has always been a writer to be reckoned with.

Whenever it’s brought to our attention that he’s written a new book, one instinctively knows it’ll be very well written, thought provoking, idiosyncratically incisive, and will probably venture into subjective areas not entirely expected.

Such was the case with the most outstanding The North: (And Almost Everything In It) which I reviewed on this site upon publication. And totally unsurprisingly, such is also the case The Age Of Bowie – How David Bowie Made A World Of Difference. For not only is Morley a huge Bowie fan, the prospect of him writing about him, was always going to be a wholly satisfying, literary undertaking. Continue reading

Don’t You Leave Me Here

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Don’t You Leave Me Here – My Life
By Wilko Johnson
Little, Brown – £18.99

‘I want her back.’ I could not speak or even think these words without breaking down. I would break down in tears in the street and have to find some corner to hide. A song on the radio would hit me like a blow. I walked through crowded places feeling like a ghost in an unreal world, lost to everything but my sorrow. I thought of her every waking moment and of course she haunted my dreams – sometimes those lucid dreams where you know you are dreaming; then I could really be with her and hold her in my arms for precious moments before

     I waked, she fled and day brought back my night.

There are times throughout this provocative and occasionally heartbreaking book, in which Wilko Johnson writes with the most penetrating tenderness (as that depicted above from the book’s seventeenth chapter). The sort of which invariably grips the reader and just won’t let go – because we’ve all been there.

We’ve all broken down in tears on the street; somehow caught in the harrowing slipstream of no longer wanting to continue with this cruel and complex thing we endeavour to call life.

And for such a morass of fraught feeling to be so delicately and densely captured within a book, is wholly commendable; simply because it falls within such (a humanistic) place.

The sort of which, warrants appreciative applause. And respect.

As such, I cannot recommend Wilko Johnson’s Don’t You Leave Me Here – My Life, more highly. It’s real, it’s invigorating, and I should imagine the following excerpt on Glastonbury (on page 207) is excruciatingly spot-on:

”The atmosphere backstage was wretched – the food was as bad as a microwave can warm up, and I swear I waited twenty minutes for a cup of lukewarm coffee that tasted like cardboard. You couldn’t take two paces without somebody hassling you for a pass (Your papers! Your papers!). Two of the festival staff approached me. They said they wanted to deal with my complaint, since I had given the stage manager ‘an emotional mauling.’ They explained how difficult a problem security was, how the vast area of the festival site was a ‘state within a state’ (they got their own Gestapo too), and how it was necessary to do these things to keep order. I listened in disbelief as they expounded this proto-fascism. They were quite unaware of the implications of what they were saying. Did they really believe that I should abandon my civil liberties – liberties that millions had laid down their lives to secure – just for the honour of appearing at this grotesque, overpriced fairground?

Whale-saving Green fascists! I hope they all get eaten by Moby Dick.”

I very much like the fact that Wilko Johnson tells it as it very much needs to be told. Admittedly, I could’ve done with a whole lot more about his former band Doctor Feelgood – his relationship with singer Lee Brilleaux especially – but this book is what it is: tough, heartbreaking, real.

What more could you ask for?

David Marx

Images Of England Through Popular Music

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Images Of England Through Popular Music –
Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976
By Keith Gildart
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

[…] the Sex Pistols themselves were the personification of particular aspects of Englishness that could be found in working-class radicalism, humour and populism. They shared Orwell’s view that England remained ‘a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly.’

The tension of class, authenticity, stardom and recognition were a constant source of tension between Lennon and McCartney in their formative years and throughout their subsequent career.

And so it came to pass that popular music as we once knew it turned into huge, regular dollops, of mere money-spinning horse manure.

Where once upon a time England actually had exciting, rebellious, inventive artists and rock’n’roll bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among many others), we now have far too many wailing tarts with microphones of whom all rather fancy themselves as Etta James; but are in fact, pure hogwash of the first degree (the ghastly Pixie Lott of whom, surely wails at the vanguard).

In essence, the country no longer has a music industry any more.

That there are but three main record companies left in London (Universal, Sony and Warner) should come as no surprise. They all subscribe subscribe to the ideology of Satan himself, Simon Cowell – which is to say, here today, gone tomorrow, who gives a toss about what it sounds like, so long as it generates money – and they all behave in such a way that is detrimental to music as we once knew. As depicted in this very readable book by Keith Gildart.

Its eight chapters capture something of a magical, bygone period in British music, a time when artists and bands weren’t being groomed by accountants, but by musical instinct (and in some instances, intellect).

Indeed, Images Of England Through Popular Music – Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976, not only traverses the musicality of said time period, but also the degree to which class and geography played a part: ”In the post-war period, North West England in particular became closely associated with popular music and produced a multiplicity of groups and solo artists. Some performers retained particularly northern traits in terms of accent, style, humour and an identification with the broader working-class that purchased their records and danced to their rhythms (‘Coal, Cotton and Rock’n’Roll’).

In three parts (‘Teddy Boy England,’ ‘Mod England’ and Glam/Punk England’), the book as a whole casts an intrinsically ideological net, which goes some way in deciphering how and why things came about the way they did.

A good example being John Lennon’s position within all of this, as addressed in the chapter ‘Liverpool, The Beatles and Cultural Politics: ”Lennon’s ambiguous position within the class structure of Liverpool was familiar to a generation of working and lower-middle class children who experienced social mobility through eduction, but retained an affiliation to aspects of working-class structure. His rebelliousness was rooted in his negative reaction to formal schooling and the class nature of the English education system […]. The division between rock’n’roll and jazz was demarcated through class lines in Liverpool and other English towns and cities. Some writers have tended to focus on Lennon’s art school experiences as his entry point into the more esoteric elements of American rock’n’roll […]. Yet they underestimate the resilience of class and locality in the roots of English popular music. Lennon personified the complexity of class identity with his bridging of both working and middle-class cultures.”

To say the above is a mere tip of the literary dissertation that this most worthy critique of (English) youth culture has to offer, is an understatement.

The more it unfolds, the more one is compelled to both read and investigate ever further.

David Marx

Shock and Awe

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Shock and Awe –
Glam Rock And Its Legacy
By Simon Reynolds
Faber & Faber – £25.00

In his 1969 book Bomb Culture, Jeff Nuttall recalls the mid-sixties moment when art-school attitudes filtered into the beat-group scene: ‘Shoes were painted with Woolworth’s lacquer. Both sexes wore make-up and dyed their hair… ”Kinky” was a word very much in the air. Everywhere there were zippers, leathers, boots, PVC, see-through plastics, male make-up, a thousand overtones of sexual deviation…

SAHB’s combo of musicianship, ‘cartoon violence’ and Harvey’s charisma made the group one of the major concert draws of the British mid-seventies. They stole the show at the Reading Festival in 1974, performing ‘Anthem,’ one of their crowd-pleasing numbers, with a troupe of bagpipers coming on-stage. ‘Framed’ was staged as a crucifixion, Cleminson recalls, with Alex ‘pinned up somehow on a cross we’d dragged on-stage.’ When they played ‘The Faith Healer’ – their greatest, hardest-rocking song – the sun was going down. ‘Alex just stood there, singing, ”Let me put my hands on you,” and you could feel the atmosphere going electric. Just one of the most magic moments I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’m amazed that a really great book addressing the musical idiom that was Glam and all its tremulous trajectory, hasn’t been written until this one. Unless of course, there is one (or perhaps two) I just don’t know about.

Either way, Shock And Awe – Glam Rock And Its Legacy is a lively, entertaining and altogether fascinating read. It sheds oodles of light on a musical era that was as idiosyncratic as it was influential, and in so doing, sets numerous records straight in one literary swoop of profound, nihilist nostalgia.

Indeed, all the main players – plus a few more besides – are here.

Everyone from David Bowie to Marc Bolan to Mud and Mott and Slade and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, are herein discussed and regally brought to bear amid all the pomp and brazen bravado that they did bequeath. As author Simon Reynolds declares in the book’s Introduction: ”I felt the pull of a time when pop was titanic, idolatrous, unsane, a theatre of inflamed artifice and grandiose gestures. This long-gone, real-gone era seemed the opposite of what pop had become in the post-punk eighties: adult, responsible, caring and socially concerned.”

One absolutely cannot help but agree here.

The idea of Slade’s Noddy Holder discussing the plight of Ethiopia, just wouldn’t, and couldn’t have been taken seriously; whereas Paul Weller aligning himself with the Red Wedge Movement a mere decade later, was not only taken seriously, but in some accounts, wholeheartedly acted upon.

That said, there are numerous sections throughout these twelve chapters, where the writing might well be considered sonorous. Semi-serious even.

In the chapter on Bolan, ‘Boogie Poet,’ Reynolds confronts the whole idea behind Mod when he quotes and writes: ”Mods were effeminate in certain respects – some even wore make-up – without necessarily being in touch with their feminine side or having much time for actual women. Bolan’s ‘The London Boys’ captures the male-dominated vibe of the movement, which was all about boys dressing to impress other boys, not attract girls. Modettes were peripheral figures, never faces. Boy mods ‘simply were not interested… too self-absorbed,’ writes mod scholar Kevin Pearce. Pills played a part, overriding libido (along with other biological needs like food and sleep) in favour of self-admiration and a tribal feeling of collective glory.”

While in chapter four’s ‘Teenage Rampage,’ he not only addresses the comparative validity of the band Slade, but also delves into some of the history of the Black Country: ”In their heyday, though, Slade were taken very seriously. ‘In a few years’ time we may all be saying that Slade are the most important rock group to have emerged since The Beatles,’ wrote their biographer George Tremlett shortly after the release of their film Slade in Flame […]. You can hear the Black Country’s distinctive ‘sing-songy’ accent in the between-song banter of Noddy Holder on Slade’s biggest-selling album, Slade Alive! The stronger retention of Germanic words and unusual expression like ‘Ow bist?’ (How are you? via How be-est you?’) reflect the insularity of the locale, which includes towns like Dudley, Sandwell, Smethwick, Wolverhampton and Bilston, where Don Powell grew up. ‘People always used to say that we came from Birmingham,’ recalls Powell, ‘and we had to explain that although Birmingham is only ten miles away, it might as well be a totally different country.”’

Already the author of seven books (among them Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 and Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music And Dance Culture), Simon Reynolds can stand back and be mighty proud of having written a true gem in Shock And Awe – a book that is essentially, un-put-down-able.

So if you’re looking for that perfect gift for anyone who was around at the time, this is it.

David Marx

Small Town Talk

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Small Town Talk
By Barney Hoskyns
Faber & Faber – £20.00

Let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to think of Woodstock without thinking of one of two things – Bob Dylan and/or the Woodstock Festival.

With the exception of Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and The Who’s performances (stunning, terrific all three), the latter has never really held much fascination for me – let alone any inspired sway. Regardless of the fact that the Woodstock Festival was responsible for having triggered many a menagerie of (oft dodgy) festivals in its wake.

In my book, Woodstock quintessentially means one thing, and one thing only: Bob Dylan. Admittedly, replete with a tremendous trajectory of varying off-shoots such as The Band, Van Morrison and Graham Parker to name but three.
Yet, Woodstock still remains Dylan, who, as the one thing/person/artist/whatever, has ceaselessly peaked my interest in the area – which in turn, drew me to Barney Hoskyns’ Small Town Talk.

That Hoskyns is a terrific writer, who has perhaps written the finest ever book on Tom Waits, Lowside Of The Road: A Life Of Tom Waits, further qualifies as a prime reason to read what is, a most colourful read.

From ‘Folk Songs of the Catskills’ to ‘Hundred-and-Forty Dollar Bash,’ to ‘Some Way Out of Here’ to ‘The Ballad of Todd and Albert,’ these eleven chapters (excluding a List of Illustrations, Prologue, Epilogue. Coda, a more than interesting section entitled ‘Take Your Pleasure: Twenty-Five Timeless Tracks, Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Notes and Index) are a superlative traipse through the endearingly rich tapestry of everything Woodstock has come to represent.

But if it’s a fix of Dylan you’re after, look no further than the fifth chapter, ‘Boy in the Bubble’ (among others), where, in relation to that most feisty of Dylan compadres, Bobby Neuwirth alone, Hoskyns informatively writes: ””It was a synergistic relationship. Dylan was not exactly a chameleon, but there was a number of people that he drew from.” Dylan himself would compare Neuwirth to Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On The Road, writing in Chronicles that ”you had to brace yourself when you talked to him” and that he ”ripped and slashed and could make anybody uneasy […].” ”I could never figure out whether it was Dylan who’d copped Neuwirth’s style or vice versa,” wrote Al Aronowitz, one of their many victims. But Al Kooper, who go to know the duo the following year, was convinced that ”Neuwirth was actually the personality: he was the creator of the image and Dylan just jumped on it.”

That said, there really is, and perhaps clearly is, a whole lot more to Woodstock than that of the most brazen Bard of Minnesota; as is somewhat swiftly pointed out by Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue in the book’s Prologue (which benefits from the most Van Morrison of influenced titles, ‘Into The Mystic’): ”Woodstock has a way of down-shifting you from high gears into neutral. It’s not a coincidence that it is a strange attractor for the Tibetans and the Zen people. The Buddhists would have a word for ‘neutral’ – the void. All of that is there, from ages earlier than Dylan. I don’t want to get too mystical about it, but there’s more to Woodstock than it being a cute little town in the mountains where Bob had a place and some funny things happened to The Band on the way to the Forum. It is that place, at least to me – the creeks and the winding roads and the pitch-black nights – but all of that is on the inside. It’s the mountains of the minds.”

”The mountains of the mind,” now there’s a thought!

Throughout Small Town Talk, Hoskyns does indeed recreate Woodstock’s confined community of (sometimes rather brilliant) dysfunctional musicians, opportunistic hippie capitalists, scheming wheeler-dealers and erstwhile freaks; all of whom are unsurprisingly dazed and intermittently confused by their own difficult quest for spiritual truth.

So naturally, depending on point of view, this is a book that is idiosyncratic and informative in equal measure. Entertaining too.

David Marx