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Tuesday 7 February 2017

My Best Gigs of the 90's. Back to England and a Change of Direction.

The Nineties were a funny decade for me. We moved back to England (except son Sam), I went back to working with children with emotional and behavioural problems, getting several promotions and ending up as Head Teacher first at a residential school in the New Forest and then back where I started teaching in North Devon. I did go to a few concerts and managed to play some gigs and went to one very good festival, but mainly my professional life took over. This led eventually to a heart attack in 1998 and when I got let out of hospital, I went to live in France again, joining my wife and youngest son who were both living in a small village in SW France. And it was while living there that I went to see one of my all time favourite concerts.

Massive Attack main guys back then.
12. Massive Attack, Toulouse, '98.
To get to this concert it was a hundred mile drive, my first long drive since my heart attack and a sign that I was over it. Over the nineties I got into the rave and dance scenes with the accompanying drugs and I had been visiting son Sam in Bristol and liked the city more and more, particularly the music scene, including triphop, drum'n bass and dub. I knew Massive Attack and loved their dark music. So to get a chance to see them live I wasn't going to miss.
I went by myself, the tickets were not cheap and nobody in the village had heard of the band. And it would seem that the same was generally true because the sports hall the gig was in was far from bursting. But there were enough people there to make a response, and they all obviously loved it. It was one of my fist band gigs where there were few musicians on stage and where sequencers, samplers and drum machines were the order of the day. Also, the idea of different vocalists appearing for different numbers and virtually no guitars. But an incredibly big sound in contrast to the minimalist stage presentation, just people performing in the shadows of mainly dark blue lighting.
I was coming to all this a bit late perhaps but it brightened up my perspective of what could be done on stage and on record (CD).
I was very stoned, no one around to tell me it was bad for my heart, found a quiet corner with great sound and a perfect view and got immersed in the whole experience, loving every minute.
And I got to talk to some of the band after the gig, a relationship that continued off and on when I lived in Bristol over an eleven year period, starting about two weeks after this gig.

And this started a period when I was getting into the range of dance music in a big way. I was seeing DJs a lot, they were in nearly every bar in central Bristol but I still wanted to see bands and one of them was playing not far from Bristol and I had to go see them along with a DJ friend, Sez.

Maxi Jazz and Sister Bliss of Faithless.
13. Faithless, Newport, Wales, '98.
Newport, a rough, steel town with high unemployment, about an hour's drive from Bristol over the toll Severn bridge. I forget the name of the venue but it seemed to be a small old theatre with a large dragon's head to one side of the stage (a dragon is the emblem of Wales) and where one of the bar's was actually underneath the stage.
Faithless, self-described as trip-hop meets techno, were touring their 2nd successful album, Sunday 8pm which contained the mega club hit, God is a DJ. So, their reputation having come before them, even in sleepy Wales, the venue was sold out and heaving both with typical clubbers and heavy rugby playing, unfashionable men. We settled in smoking spliffs and drinking in the wee understage bar until the excitement in the main hall told us the band were coming on stage.
And it was a real band!! Bass, drums, percussion, guitar and 2 sets of keyboards, all being played at a high level of skill and volume. The sound of the rythmn section was a battering ram that made your spine tingle and your feet rock and the overall sound with the synths was trippy-hoppy. And then came the vocals with the excellent Pauline Taylor singing female lead and the charismatic, bare-chested Maxi Jazz, singing-rapping the male equivalent. Sister Bliss on main keyboards is a superb player (and main composer) and the guitarist was a real surprise when he changed from electric rythmn guitar to lead acoustic.
Visually exciting as well as providing music everyone could dance to as well as blowing out your ears and then your mind, Faithless provided a total experience of quality and left me feeling I had seen the future.
(I think I did end up on another planet, having returned to my son Sam's where i was staying, and there was a party in progress. I took some offered coke and then was graphically ill before collapsing immediately after.)

Underworld hard at it.
14.  Underworld, Newport, Wales, '99.
Virtually a year later,  I returned alone to Newport, to a more modern, tailor-made venue to go and see Underworld. I love their music, dance music but also ambient and with lots of clever keyboards and intelligent (not always) lyrics. I hadn't a clue what to expect but found a raver-type audience, drugged up and ready to enjoy the sounds. On stage there were 2 DJ types busying around extended mixing desks and the guitarist-vocalist, the only person in clear view in front of a multi-screen set.
The sound was clear and very loud, particularly the continuous beats and the need to get on the dance floor very insistent. It was the right place to see them, fairly intimate with a good not too crowded dance floor where all communications were with big beaming smiles.
All in all, not as good as Faithless, but a lot better than most of the rock acts I saw in the nineties for their overall sound and the energy and the good feeling the whole experience engendered. I still have them playing regularly on my Mac because a lot of their music is timeless, interesting, foot-tapping and very 21st century.

Coming next, three favourite gigs from the new century, all in Bristol and not a white guy in sight!!

Monday 30 January 2017

My Best Gigs of the EIghties, all in France.

I spent all of the 80's living in south-east France in two rural situations, one in a small holding which we tried to live off selling our vegetables and poultry and one in a modernised farmhouse from where I ran my language services business. Alongside these main activities, I also played in bands which provided a second income, particularly necessary in the first house. We were quite a long way from anywhere that had concerts so they had to be quite special for me to make the effort.
But the first of my eighties great concerts was in fact not too far away and by someone I knew so a no-brainer.

8. Motorhead, Montelimar, 1983.
I heard about this one by seeing a huge poster that suddenly appeared not far from my market stand in our local town of Valreas. And I told my son Sam and he said could he come and some of his mates; he knew about Lemmy and the Hawkwind connection and presumed I would be able to get some free tickets. I knew I would be able to if I could find out where he was staying so I drove into Montelimar, famous for nougat (and a line in a George Harrison song) and went to the Tourism office to find out about hotels in the town likely to receive a visiting rock band. They gave me three addresses and I struck gold at the second, an old, stylish place just outside the town centre. There I immediately bumped into a guy with long hair and sked him where Lemmy was and he took me up to his room which was very old-world dainty and not a  place where one would expect to find one of the world's most famous hard-living rockers. He was sat at a desk reading a magazine but welcomed me with a smile and offered me a glass of Jack Daniels. We chatted for a while and he asked me if i was coming to the gig so I explained that I was hoping for a few free tickets and I ended up with two all area access and 5 other free tickets.
Another father helped me drive all the boys (14 year olds) to the sports field on which was pitched the huge marquee in which the gig was happening but during the support band, Sam and I headed for the front. After the usual wait between bands, Motorhead's guitarist and drummer came on stage and launched into the first number at amazing volume but then Lemmy came on, hit the bass and the guitar and drums were completely drowned out. It was spine tingling, stomach churning volume and I was used to that having toured the States with Dave Brock's guitar amp just behind my left ear. But the crowd loved it and were soon jumping around like idiots and this continued for the whole set. This was a 90% young male crowd who wanted this sort of music and nothing else. Lemmy had found a formula that worked in the post-punk world. It was a long time since I had seen this level of enthusiasm at a concert.
After the gig, Sam and I went back stage and Lemmy gave us quite a bit of his time, particularly answering my son's questions, which was nice of him, particularly in view of the loud party happening in their bus a few yards away. It was to be the last time I saw him play. Definitely my loudest concert!!

With the change of daytime activity to teaching English and then running a successful language services business and with the children being both old enough to be left (although often Sam came with us) we had the money and possibility of going to lots of concerts. And we did, and sometimes I went alone. And I had discovered that by phoning the appropriate office I could usual get myself on guest lists by using the Hawkwind connections, which is something the three remaining eighties gigs have in common, free entry for me plus one.

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics
9. Eurythmics, Big Audio Dynamite, Roman Arena, Frejus, France, 1986
This was a summer concert in the stunning, circular, Roman arena in Frejus, an historic town but perhaps best known for the 1959 Dam burst disaster which claimed 400 victims.
It was heatwave hot and there were queues everywhere as I parked illegally and jumped out to find the guest ticket office leaving an unconvinced wife in the car.  Tickets claimed, we went in and managed to get allowed into the protected area round the sound desk, often the best place to be. BAD came on and played a good set to a largely unresponsive crowd. Eurythmics attracted a mainstream crowd because they had become a hit producing machine, and BAD were definitely 'alternative', with their mix of drum machine beats, samples and sequencers, heading towards a hip-hop sound.
Then suddenly they were gone and there were the Eurythmics, quite a large band with their brass and backing vocalists. From the first note, the audience went quiet, wanting to hear each note of this very classy and well-rehearsed outfit. With Dave Stewart at the heart of things, using his guitar to maximum effect around the synths, Annie Lennox was in total command with her physical presence and superb voice.
As they pointed out, this was the last date of their highly successful world tour, an outfit on top of their game as they played hit after hit to loud applause. It was a pleasure to see such a well-honed act playing their own compositions so well and to such an appreciative crowd. Quite frankly, it was what one expected of Americans and it was great to see Brits showing they could do it too.
We went backstage after the gig and I had a quick word with the lads from BAD and then I was dragged over to get us near to Annie who was obviously totally knackered but still friendly whereas Dave Stewart quite obviously wanted out of there as quick as possible.

The nearest place for us to go to see big concerts was Montpelier, about an hour and a half away on the autoroute to Spain. There is a big open space there often used for concerts and my next two both took place there a year apart and in both cases I got special guest tickets.

U2 strutting their stuff in 1987.
10. U2, The Pretenders, UB40 and Big Audio Dynamite, Montpelier, 1987.
This was one for me and my son Sam and a couple of his friends. This was back when U2 were still alternative and rather punk. I loved Chrissie Hynde and her crew were also pretty punk. UB40, in spite of the hits were basically rather punk and BAD were definitely not mainstream. All this was mirrored in the audience which was young and rather punk too. As usual when I took my son to concerts (he was now going on 17) we tended to split as soon as we arrived so we didn't have to embarrass the other with our individual dope smoking.
I went back stage straightaway and discovered that 'All Area Access' meant everywhere except U2's Green Room which was off limits to even all the other bands, word being that it was so nobody could see they weren't as clean as they were supposed to be. Had a quick chat with Don Letts before BAD went on stage and I watched them from the side: they had definitely improved since the previous time I had seen them. I gathered there was some panic because UB40 had lost a couple of their members who had apparently gone off to see the sea whilst waiting which, although only a few miles away was a few miles of busy city streets and although the sea was well signposted, the way backk to the stadium was not. Anyhow, they arrived just in time and the band were off and running to the first big reception of the day, their reggae giving a happy, sunny mood which matched the day.
I had moved out front during their set and got down the front centre stage, aided by my photographer's badge. And Chrissie Hynde spotted my camera, I was one of the only ones, as soon as the Pretenders came on stage. and she was playing to my camera right throught their set allowing me to get some of my best band photos ever (sadly lost when my marriage came to an end). I'd always liked the band and totally enjoyed their set and Miss Hynde's posing.
By now the crowd was well warmed up and ready for the headliners who, as so many do, made the crowd wait just a little bit too long. And they were buzzing, the crowd were pushing hard towards the stage and I was forced to put my camera away for a bit and help protect some young girls who were getting pushed over in the crush. Then they were on stage and launching into the opening number to an incredible reception. This was rock stardom personified and keeping my feet became quite a task as this youngish crowd tried to get as near the front as possible. Bono had already mastered the rock star thing whilst Edge came to the front of the stage to join him in appropriate places leaving Adam and Larry to keep the drum and bass rocking steadily in the background.
The whole thing was masterful, and this was back before Bono had become so annoying with his mission to save the world single-handed, so I was mightily impressed. Intelligent songs, great anthems, a defined and unique sound and a public that knew all the songs, sang them all along with the band and took me to another planet. And, this was the Joshua Tree album they were touring, for me, probably their best work.

Oink Floyd on stage 1988.Lemmy,
11. Pink Floyd, Montpelier, 1988.
The following year I managed to get VIP guest passes to the Floyd gig in Montpelier and took my wife who was also a big fan. Another sold out gig at this big venue which holds around 16000. This was to be my seventh Floyd concert and my first since the famous exploding plane gig at Earls Court about 12 years earlier. With our VIP passes we were taken to a small raised section of seats which also contained the famous Mayor of Montpelier and his party who looked at us rather askance as if we didn't belong and it soon became clear it was really just us and them in this well appointed viewing place.
There was no support band just recorded music to entertain the large and very congested crowd and I think there could have been some trouble if the crowd had been as young as the U2 one. The Floyd didn't rush to start, obviously waiting for dusk so that their lights etc would be seen in the best light (sic) and people on the ground began to boo us people in our favoured position. Some people began to make signs to me about helping them climb up to join us so I did and soon we had been joined by a good dozen people dressed like us and not in suits like the mayoral group. And I was quickly handed a large joint in thanks for my action. There was still lots of spare room so we all helped some more people up: the security were all down the front and couldn't get near to what was happening except for two guys guarding the steps up (which is where they stayed). And the crowd realising what was happening began to cheer as each new person made it up to join us. Oh what fun and the band hadn't even started yet.
Then with no announcement the band started. It was a very big Floyd with great black backing singers, some brass and extra keys and guitar and percussion. After a few glitches in the opening song, the sound was loud and perfect but the mayor used the cover of the opening song to leave the closeness of the great unwashed, to be escorted elsewhere by the two security guards. So by the middle of the second song, the VIP seats were all full of ordinary punters determined to enjoy a) being seated and b) having a perfect view. And the band were good, almost too perfect, with few deviations from the recorded versons of the songs but they played for over 2 hours (not counting the encores) and with some clever pyrotechnics and other such.
For me the highlights were the solo voices of the black singers and some of Gilmour's solos and it was definitely the best I had seen of what was for a lot of my life one of my favourite bands.
A foot note : as we were leaving the stadium down a long lane with stalls selling food and souveniers, the CRS (French professional riot police) decided to hurry the crowd up by attacking people who stopped to buy items with their night sticks. This caused the opposite effect as people stopped to help those being attacked and in fact engendered chaos.....a bit of the dark side.

Next post, my three favourite concerts of the 90's, back in England again.

Friday 27 January 2017

My Best Gigs of the Seventies.

With the 70's came adulthood, marriage to my French girlfriend having moved to Bristol, then a further move to North Devon, teacher training, teaching in a school for maladjusted boys and two children. But amongst all this there were some good festivals and concerts, three of my favourites being during the seventies.
When we lived in Bristol, for a lot of the time we were both working and saving to go to India, a trip that never happened. So we didn't go out that much, most of our entertainment being acid taking at home. But amongst the few concerts we saw was a great one.

5. FREE at the Colston Hall, Bristol, 1971.
Andy Fraser who started his career with John Mayall when he was 15 and sadly died in 2015 aged 62.
I had already met Andy Fraser, the fantastic bass player of the band about 18 months beforehand when I roadied for Alexis Korner at a gig at Bristol University and where he was accompanied on bass by Andy. It was this gig that made me decide to move to Bristol as it seemed to have a cool population and a shortage of one thing I could supply, namely acid. All through that gig when I was standing around with nothing to do, I kept getting approached by people asking if I had any so I thought, good way of financing a move to the west and out of huge London.
Anyhow, we bought tickets down the front and a bit to the right of the stage and I was totally gob-smacked by the power of the quartet; there was the strength of Paul's vocals, the pounding of Simon's drums, the driving riffs of Kossoff's guitar, all underpinned by the rock'steady bass of Andy. He was without doubt the bass player who first got my attention and made me realise the importance of this instrument in a band: just listen to the break in Alright Now, their huge hit. Equally, after this concert, the future of the 4 piece rock band was carved into my mind, making a place for others like Led Zeppellin to follow.

Then, once in Devon, in the wilds and with young babies, most of my nights out were to play with the band Ark. But I did get to see a few concerts and the standout one was when I was away on a course about Behaviour Modification at London University.
THIN LIZZY on stage in the 70's.

6.  THIN LIZZY at the Marquee Club, London 1977.
I had read about this gig in the music press and was determined to see Lizzy who had impressed me on the radio and on the Old Grey Whistle Test. I missed an important workshop and slipped out down the Tottenham Court Road and into Soho and my old haunt from the 60's. And was I glad I did!! This band were not yet international stars but were gathering a huge following and were a quartet having recently been joined by the very long-haired American, Scott Gorham.
I got myself positioned near the front centre so I could be battered by the sound and study how it was being created. I loved Phil Lynott's vocals, his vocal tone, his phrasing and his lyrics and how he sung like that and played a steady groove of a bass line at the same time was beyond me. It was so different but then he was black and you didn't see many black people in rock bands back then. The songs were all good, short on their records but longer on stage, letting the guitars rip. And they were beginning to develop part of their hallmark sound, the twin lead guitars in harmony which really worked and got the crowd going. A wonderful evening which removed all thoughts of teaching from my mind.
It was soon after this that I stopped teaching having played with Sonic Assassins and been asked to join Hawkwind for their 78 tour of the USA. (See elsewhere in my blogs.) And it was during this tour that I saw favourite gig number 7.

Daivd Bowie on stage in 1978.
7.  DAVID BOWIE, The Forum, Los Angeles, 1978.
As you will know if you've read my blog about the Hawkwind tour, I got to meet David Bowie when he invited the band for a meal to apologise for having nicked Simon House thus giving me a job. Then a couple of weeks later, Simon King and I spent an enjoyable evening with members of the band in their hotel suite during which we were given tickets to go to the huge arena where they were playing in LA. Our seats were pretty good, near the stage but just off to the left and with a perfect view of proceedings.
The first thing that struck me was the stage lighting, something that was gaining its place as a necessary feature of rock concerts. It was just white on black with not a drop of colour, the first time I had seen lighting used in such an unusual way. The sound was excellent, particularly considering the awkward shape of the arena, and the band were perfect with the black trio of Denis, George and Carlos on bass, drums and rythmn guitar providing the bedrock. Adrian Belew was getting some amazing sounds out of his guitar, Simon's violin was spot on and the keyboards were magnificent. But what made the show so good was Bowie himself, his voice, his showmanship and the songs themselves, whether they were the anti-pop variety from Low or stunning anthems like Heroes, definitely the best song they did.
This was a different world from straightforward rock I was used to and the enthusisatic crowd showed I was not alone in recognising that we had watched and heard something quite special.

The next post will be 4 more of my top concerts, all set in the 80's and all in France where I spent that decade.

Monday 23 January 2017

The 20 Best Gigs I have Been At (as a member of the crowd).

 I've been to loads of gigs over the years and must have seen hundreds of acts, from the very famous to the hardly known. Going to listen to live music is something I love doing and continue to do even out here in the wilds of SW France. Nowadays, it's mainly festivals I go to, outdoor events, with second and third division artists. But they are mainly very good even if sometimes they don't really appeal to me. I'll probably do another blog about my favourite festivals at some point.
I'm presenting my favourites in time order which is a lot easier than trying to put them in order as favourites. Mind you, I will name my top three when they come up. So, off we go from 1965 to the present day, the gigs that have pretty much eased their way into my top twenty.

Number 1. 1965.  The Steampacket at the Marquee Club, London.
What a way to start!! I remember this clearly as it was when, with two mates, we stayed at one of them's aunties on our way up to a summer camp on the Norfolk Broads, breaking our rail journey in London. We were 17, had a bit of money in our pockets and were determined to have a night out whilst up in the capital from sleepy old Devon. We had checked out the NME and found that their was a recommended gig on at the Marquee which finished at 11 in time for us to get the bus back to the aunties house before curfew, midnight.
We all had our mod boys gear on and felt rather cool when we got to the queue outside the club in sexy Soho but it was a really long line of mods plus a few beats waiting to get in. The word was obviously out that this band was good. Over the coming yeaars, the Marquee would gain a reputation for being a stepping stone a bands career's with just about every famous British band having played there in the early days of their careers.
This band didn't become particularly successful but some of its members did as you will see. They were called Steampacket. It was basically a backing band with three lead singers. The band was led by organist Brian Auger who had a successful career with his Trinity a bit later on. The singers all went on to success and all shared bluesy and raunchy voices but all were very different. First there was Long John Baldry, a very tall guy who had great presence just by standing there. he went on to have number one's and a long live career. Then there was Julie Driscoll, a pretty packet of feminine power, you have all heard her singing the theme tune for Absolutely Fabulous. This was one of her many hits. She married top jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett and they work together at their place north of Bristol. I had the pleasure of meeting them in the bar of a concert hall once and they both seemed humble but with fire back there somewhere.
Our only previous examples of 'live music' were local covers bands or folk groups so they seemed amazingly good. As a keyboard player I kept a good idea on Brian Auger and I think I could blame him for starting me off wanting to do something with my piano playing. The rhythms were so tight, th songs powerful and the 3 voices absolutely sublime, soul and blue at their best. And I've kept the best till last. The final vocalist, the youngest and newest, was Rod Stewart, the rebel with his haircut and his attitude and that voice, I voice I loved over the years of The Faces and his solo career. And his joy over football, and his succession of blond floozies......No, I'm losing track. Back then, in that smokey club, that band and those voices firmed up my growing love of RnB and Soul, a& love I still have today.

Number 2. 1967. Jimi Hendrix and The Nice at the Marquee Club, London.
1967, I had left home and was living and working in London whilst waiting to go to university. I was paid weekly and once a week I could afford to go out and most weeks it was to the Marquee Club, still one of the best (and cheapest) places to see bands. And I would buy a music paper every week to see what was on. So this one week in the early autumn, I saw that The Nice were playing there so this was a must for me. I was always looking out for bands with good keyboard players amongst all the guitar only bands, and The Nice were one. I'd heard their weirdly titled first single on the radio and loved it so that was my only possible destination. I was working in Portland Place, not too far away from Soho and would walk down there after work having time for a quick plate of something before queuing to get into the club. One night when I was in the line, maybe not this particular night, John Lennon and Paul McCartney walked past quite slowly, forced into the road by the queuing music fans who all noticed them but were all too cool to say anything: that was the sort of person who went to the Marquee.
That night the place was completely packed, in fact I heard that a lot of people were turned away. Good for The Nice I thought. I knew there would be another act on first but support bands were generally unknowns, providing the backdrop to late arrivals and the puchasing of drinks to be consumed during the main act. Now, London was beginning too be hit by psychedelia; mods going a bit flowery and starting to grow their hair out (including me) but the drummer and bass player who came on stage were taking that a bit further; And the guitarist was a riot of colour and was black!! Now, I had seen a few black musicians already but they generally had had their hair straightened and wore suits whereas this guy had a full-blown Afro and looked cool but menacing.
And when the Jimi Hendrix Experience started to play there was universal stunned silence. I heard their first record, Hey Joe, on the radio the following week but that didn't really portray the range of sounds he got from his guitar on stage; Everybody went mad once they got into it. This was the moment we all realised that the guitar could make a lot more noise than we were used to and could be used as an expressive instrument and be played with teeth and feedback over a solid rhytmn section and a voice that portrayed that side of life we knew little about, raw sex, true emotion and fearless masculinity. End of set, stunned silence followed by screams, whoops and heavy applause.
Then the Nice came on, still as a quartet with guitarist David O'List still part of the band. They rocked and rumbled along but it was their hit, America, based on Bernstein's tune from West Side Story, the famous musical, that really got the crowd yelling and stamping. Keith Emerson rocked his organ on its side bringing the strangest of sounds out of it and attacked his instrument with knives too. This was revolutionary rock on stage and almost frightening to see and hear.
These two showmen, Hendrix and Emerson, let us see the future of rock, outstanding musicianship allied with new sounds and showmanship at high volume. I know I was never the same after that.

Number 3. 1967.  14th November at the Royal Albert Hall.
The expensive ticket to this great show was my birthday present from the Uncle and Aunty I was lodging with out between Penge and Beckenham. They asked if there was anything I particularly wanted and, having seen this show advertised, I wanted nothing else. Back then in 67, tours were still generally a couple of well-known bands with a couple of less well-known artists and a couple of newcomers on their way up, and they'd all play for 20 minutes with the headliners getting half an hour. By '69 this method had been replaced by the headliner/support act or 2 method where everyone got to play for longer.
When I saw this line-up, I knew I had to go. Eire Apparent (who became Taste), Amen Corner, The Move, The Nice, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. The last 4 were all getting well known, so the running order would change as the tour moved on round the country but this, the London date, was how it started. I went to other gigs at the venue over the years and got used to its magnificent space and high balconies but for a first visit, I was very impressed and had quite a good seat on the left side of the first floor balcony with an excellent side-on view of the stage. Every act were good and each one was better than the last. The first three were new to me although I had heard the Move's successful singles and I had seen the last three once before, 2 at the Marquee (see above) and the Pink Floyd at the freshers' ball at my college. But they all had improved and all were determined to blow the others off the stage. They didn't succeed and the crowd just got more and more enthusiastic. For me, I had just had the best evening of my life so far and it was to be a while till it was bettered.

Number 4.  1969. All-Nighter at the Lyceum, Charing Cross, London.
With my mate Nigel, we went quite often to these all night concerts, a part of the burgeoning underground scene in London in '69 and I remember seeing various good bands there. But this night stood out, partly because it was a mix of the best the UK and the US had to offer and partly because, after the show and breakfast in Covent garden, we took the train down to Bromley North where we lived and got home just in time to see the first man walking on the moon, truly psychedelic.
We would take some pills to help us keep awake and the atmosphere was a mixture of the hippy vibe and something a bit more urgent, no doubt caused by the skinheads who supplied the pills. But I always felt relaxed, enjoyed the music and even found the courqge to speak to a famous actor I found myself next to at the end of one song.
FAMILY, almost as many different members over the years as Hawkwind!!
The evening started with the English group Family, who became big favourites of mine, and had lots of famous musicians in their ranks over the years. Their singer, Roger Chapman, had a strong voice and a rather particular style/ he still performs and I saw him in Bristol maybe 6 years ago and he still has a wonderful voice and still sings his most recognised song, The Weavers Answer. There was generally an acoustic act while the stage was getting ready for the next act and I have a feeling it was the original Tyrannasorous Rex, the folky two-piece.
Then, onto the stage, in complete contrast, came American band Steppenwolf, which was pure biker/bad man rock with their songs such as Pusher Man and The Dealer. All black leather, shades and metal chains, they were in complete contrast to their mainly hippy public and played hard music to go with their look. Excellent if a bit scary back then. Nearly as scary as landing on the moon!

Friday 20 January 2017

An Interview with the French Press, a while back. A (Very Minor) RockStar in the Bastide.

I recently re-found the notes I had been sent, typed up, by a French journalist who had interviewed me for his paper and wanted to make sure there were no factual errors. I have translated what he sent me with some corrections.
Q:  Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
A:  I grew up in South East London, post code SE25. We lived in three different places but they all fell in that post code which was really the eastern limits of Croydon, a big suburban part of London.
Q:  And what did your parents do?
A:  My dad came back from the war and, like millions of other men, needed to find a job. The London Police Force were looking for candidates fo he joined and became a street policeman. That was good because he had a job, got a police flat, had a reasonable income which meant he could get married and have children (me and two and a half years later, my sister). My mum had been a nurse but, due to poor health which she had all her life, had become a part-time secretary for an insurance company. Soon after we were both born, dad left the police and became a London City Missionary, trying to bring to the Lord the poor sinners living in London's slums.
Q:  Did you have music lessons when you were young?
A:  Oh, yes. I started at the Mathers School of Music when I was 4 and continued until I felt I could say NO which was when I was 15. I then started lessons agin when I was training to become a teacher at Exeter University when I was 22. My instrument was the piano and I was considered to be pretty good but not as good as my sister who got a scholarship to Dartington Hall to study harpsichord when she was 16. then a scholarship to the Royal School of Music and then was offered a job teaching there.
Q:  Who were your favourite bands when you were young?
A:   Well, my dad refused to have a TV in the house till I was about 14 so, to compensate I think, my mum bought us a Dansette record player which gave us hours of pleasure. She bought us an album of American military music which was a big turn off, but soon, through presents and careful saving of pocket money I bought my first three singles by, hold it, Russ Conway (piano maestro), Frank Ifield and Adam Faith. Then the Beatles arrived, all clean and suited and my mum bought us one of their first albums. With the arrival of the Rolling Stones, I really preferred them but the first album I bought was 5,4,3,2,1 by Manfred Mann. Then at 15 I really got into the idea of being a mod and loved Motown music alongside the Spencer Davis Group and the Small Faces who were really my fashion idols.
Me at IOW Festival 1969
Q:  Where did you go when you left home?
A:  Well, we had moved to Sidmouth in Devon when I was 13 which was a great change and rather good at first but then became rather boring. So, I left home when I finished school after getting 3 moderate A levels (equivalent to the Bac in France) when I was nearly 19 (1967) and moved back up to London to go and study for a degree in business studies, one of the first sandwich courses where you spent half of each year studying and the other half working in a business. Mine was Courages, a big London brewery by Tower Bridge.
Q:  So you were in London when flower power and hippies arrived. How did that affect you?
A:  Well gradually. Firstly, I was a regular at the Marquee Club in Soho and saw lots of up and coming bands there including early Hendrix and The Nice. Then I went to a couple of festivals, got introduced to Cannabis, went to the IOW Festival in 69, was growing my hair long, moved to Chelsea World's End next door to a big LSD dealer and slowly forgot my studies.
Q:  And when did you start playing in groups?
A:  We started a group based on the Small Faces when I was at school but it never got far. Then we had a group with some young friends in Penge and, during our period of hippydom in Chelsea, a friend persuaded me to audition for a group called Sam Gopal I think. I went along and Lemmy was also there auditioning to play rhythm guitar. I got the job and Lemmy didn't but I couldn't afford the Hammond organ they wanted so nothing came of it.
Q:  And your first proper group?
A:  That was a few years later. I had left London and moved to Bristol with my French girlfriend. We got married and she got pregnant, an acid baby, so like lots of Hippies, we headed for the countryside, North Devon, and I started to train to become a teacher, mainly cos I had read that if you were a teacher you didn't have to send your children to school. We got to know a lot of fellow freaks including musicians. We met often at Barum Market, an alternative shop and cafe run by Chris Kausman and his partner Mary Sims: their son Dan is now a well-known drum'n bass DJ, DJ Die.
Reg Meuross doing his thing.
And it was with Chris and a mate of his, Reg Meuross, that we started the band Ark. Reg is a successful singer-songwriter and on the list of Brit musicians who played the most gigs in 2016.
The band grew and grew with at one point Colin Mitchell on lead guitar, Harvey Bainbridge and Martin Griffin, later of Hawkwind, on bass and drums, Alistair Merry on percussion, Harry Williamson, son of the writer of Tarka the Otter, on guitar and vocals and the lovely Lois as our dancer.
Q. Were you successful?
A.  In a small way. We built up a good local following, recorded a couple of tracks, appeared on TV once and ended up supporting Gong and Hawkwind on tour.
Q.  Now; they were successful and you played with them I believe?
A.  Yes. Firstly, along with Harvey and Martin, I played in a Hawkwind offshoot called Sonic Assassins, still fondly remembered, in 77. Then I toured the USA with Hawkwind in 78.
Q.  So, you became a rock star?
Me playing with Ark.
A.  In a small way, yes. We played to quite big crowds, had a lot of fans, many of the Hell's Angels variety, and visited the accompanying worlds of drugs and groupies plus getting into concerts for free. Plus, meeting other bands on the road such as Van Halen, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and best of all, David Bowie, who took us out for a meal to apologise for having poached my predecessor, Simon House. We certainly led a bit of a rock star life.
Q.  But you didn't continue and moved to France I believe?
A.  Yes. I had gone a bit over the top during the tour and took a few months to get back to normal. I'd missed my kids and didn't like some of the things that went on and decided it was a good time to keep to an idea I had shared with my wife from the start, to bring up our kids multi-cultural. We bought a cheap van, fitted it out as a low-grade camper and with our two boys, dog and cat and my musical gear in the back, set off around France visiting some friends old and new.
Q.  And you settled in the south-east I believe. What did you do there?
A.  Yes, we lived always in the north Vaucluse, 5 years just outside Richerenches and then 6 years near Vaison la Romain. I played in loads of different bands through this period but also had a day job too. Firstly, at the farm we were smallholders, growing vegetables and some fruit plus poultry. And I sold our products in local markets. To make up money in winter I also did buidling work and became really fit. Then I discovered teaching English and ended up with my own language services business.
Q.  Now, tell us about the music side.
Off to France.
A.  Well, I started a few bands of my own as I developed my song writing and vocals, very alternative rock, but difficult to find gigs in France at that time. With a friend, Peter, we formed a band called Legend, mainly playing our versions of The Beatles, Stones, Animals, Kinks and a couple of our own songs. We got quite a lot of gigs and recorded a single for play on the local radio stations. Then, in order to earn money, I joined a rock band that had become a Dance Band called Stradivarius, in order to earn money too. In France, every town and village has fetes where they get dance bands to play, old favourites early on and the latest hits later. We played 4.5 hours a night with a good meal and drinks thrown in and I earnt as much a night as I had earnt with Hawkwind in a week! It was good fun and really improved my keyboard playing but no opportunities for playing your own tunes.
Q.  And I seem to remember you met another famous rock star at this time?
The fabulous Stradivarius!
A.  Yes, Topper Heddon, who had been the drummer of The Clash during their best period. I had a half Scottish friend who owned a night club out in the country, a favoured place for late night grooving because they were one of the rare clubs who didn't play hits all night. People came from miles away. It was a nice place to be and he received bands who wanted a good rehearsal place where they could live. All he charged them was to play a set at 1 in the morning the two nights of the week he opened. Well Topper was rehearsing there and I got to meet him and we hit it off. Also in the band was Henry McCallough who played at the first Woodstock with Jo Cocker and then played in Paul McCartney's Wings. Next thing I was playing in his band at the club and he was in a local studio playing drums on a couple of my songs. Then, whilst in London, Topper got arrested for a drugs offence and sent to prison for a few months....the end of that project.
Q.  Then you returned to the UK. What happened musically?
A.  Yes, I had had some financial problems and I moved back to Devon, eventually joined by my wife and youngest eldest stayed behind with his girlfriend in Marseille. We moved to the New Forest in 1990 and I worked again with disturbed young people. At first the only music was joining in with a local rock and blues band when I could. I had got a decent keyboard workstation and started writing songs again or, at least, tunes. Then, at a pub out in the Forest, eventually owned by the bassist of Dire Straits, I met a couple of punk-types who played in a band called The Cropdusters which was a punky folk band come out of the rave scene. We got on well and they suggested I come to one of their rehearsals. That was fun but a bit strange, a bit out of my comfort zone. They had a
My room for composing.
whizz of a violinist and they played rather like The Levellers. It was agreed I would only play on certain of the more rave-like songs but they liked a tune I had written and programmed in my workstation and started their set with that. And I played some great gigs with them to big crowds with mad crowd surfers and a hard-core following. And in some good venues like the Underground in
Camden, the Mean Fidler in Kilburn, the club owned by the Savoy Blues band in the Midlands, a huge old church in Salisbury, a 700 people sell-out and us letting more people in through our dressing room. All good fun. But they had tours to do abroad and too many gigs for a deputy-headteacher in a residential special school! The end of that. Then we moved back to Devon where I had been offered the Headship of a similar school, where I had started back in the early 70's. And then there were 9 years where music was on the backboiler except for a bit of composing, due to the pressures of my day job, first in Devon then in Bristol. And then I had a tumour that put me totally out of action for nearly 18 months.
Richard Nowell in the mastering studio.
Q.  So how did Lastwind come about?
A.   I was recovering from the removal of the tumour and couldn't do much but, with the help of my sons, I had a web site where I put up the music I was creating. Out of this came two things. Firstly, a friend, Richard Nowell, who happened to have a small record label in Bristol where I was living, wanted to record some of my music and had found someone, Sonic, a Bristol DJ/MC, to provide the vocals. Doing this I met several musicians which gave me good feelings about getting a band together. And then, out of the blue, Dave Brock, the leader of Hawkwind, phoned me out of the blue and asked me if I would like to be the support act on some of the gigs of their autumn tour with my band. Great but I didn't even have a band at that moment. But I had a tour to do so I would have to find one. And I did. And the tour was great!!!

You can find the story of LASTWIND elsewhere in this blog.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

LASTWIND Mark2, Live at The Fleece, Bristol.

After Lastwind's tour supporting HAWKWIND in the autumn of 2006 and a session in Avignon tidying up the live tape, 2007 was a year of inactivity on the music front as was the first half of 2008. I had pretty severe financial problems and relationship problems which took up virtually all my time. I started to solve the financial side by getting back to a full time job, getting a post as teacher in the Bristol Language Centre and then getting promoted a few months later to Centre Manager, when the owner got to see my CV showing I had held senior management jobs in education for about 15 years. Although round the year, most of the students in the school were adults and serious students, a lot of them trying to get their level of English sufficiently high to be accepted in British Universities, in the summer we were full of groups of school-age young people. And, although the Chinese, for example, were very well behaved and accompanied by their own teachers, the European students were mainly there at the behest of their parents and were quite peeved to be in a 'school' during their summer break and could be quite difficult and unruly. I was just what was needed to sort them out being used to deal with young criminals. And sort them out I did!!
With one of my Saudi students. And what good dancers they are, even in an unsuitable suit!!
But after the summer in 2008 when the school was back to normal older students and everything was running smoothly, my mind began to focus on my music again. I had put together an album which we called Red Brigade, a few tracks from the live recording at Derby from the 2006 tour, and a few instrumental tracks. With the help of my talented son, Sam (DoseProd), we made a hundred copies of this to test the market. putting it out under the umbrella of Feel The Quality Records (many thanks to Rick who ran the label). But I felt we needed to play at least one gig in order to create an event where the CD could be sold and to put Lastwind back in the news so to speak. The obvious place to play such a gig was Bristol, so I contacted the venues where I knew somebody and got offered two dates, 2 days apart and, rather stupidly, I accepted both. The Fleece, well-known and long-standing rock venue, offered me their Tuesday night free entry slot for October 28th where I could choose my own support bands and have the free use of the sound and light system. Then Mr Wolf, well-respected promoter and owner of two Bristol clubs, offered me a paying gig (based on the number of entries) on the 30th, where again I could provide the support bands.
The excellent Rita Lynch Band
We knew we would get a good crowd at the Fleece and did, including a lot of my students, but were less sure about the Thursday night, relying on good publicity. Unfortunately, except for a couple of posters (well designed by Sam), there was none so numbers were not as good as hoped but just sufficient for me to be able to pay my band members a bit and give the other two bands something towards their expenses. But, I am jumping the gun a little. Having got the gigs lined up, I found out that OBNY was not available to come over from France for the gigs so I had lost my brilliant guitarist. Having asked around, I was recommended Jo Wilkins, a young guitarist thought to be the next best thing on the Bristol scene. I went to see him play, was impressed, asked him and he agreed to do the gigs and a couple of rehearsals. I thought another person on stage would be a good idea and asked Laurence de Loes, a young lady of Belgian/Ivory Coast heritage and who had sung on an EP we had put out under the name of This, That, The Other on Feel The Quality Records. She has a lovely voice and a good sense of rhythm who could provide both backing and some lead vocals and add some percussion.
The excellent Laurence de Loes.
Then I had some new songs which I needed to rehearse as much as them and we had a couple of long and quite difficult rehearsals but I felt we could carry it off, particularly as the drums, bass and some synth parts were already programmed in my lovely Roland Phantom. The day of the first gig at the Fleece arrived and it was pouring down, a typical autumn deluge, the sort of night tha makes everyone say,"I'm not going out in that!" Still we got there, got to know (again) the venue's excellent sound engineer (who recorded our set off the desk), and our sound check went well although Jo, the new guitarist's nerves were palpable. Dan Butcher, who was meant to be the first support act, had had some sort of accident (again) and had had to drop out but this just meant that the excellent Rita Lynch and her band could do a longer set. I really like her punkish sound and songs about the life of a woman in modern times. My son Sam had once played drums for her (and for Dan Butcher). The venue was quite empty when she started her set but by the time she ended the crowd had swelled, particularly a good turn-out from my language school, students and some staff. I was raring to go, quite hyper in fact, and have rarely enjoyed a gig so much, Ny vocals were in tune and well delivered even tho I had to often look quickly at my lyrics resting in sight. Jo, the guitarist froze on some numbers but did well on others and it was great fun having a second vocalist. Laurence sang confidently, with quite a lot of improvisation, and rarely got the words wrong. And she excelled on the 2 numbers where she sang lead. Bravo Laurence and I must admit I missed her on the next Lastwind tour (5 years later). I was pleased with my keyboard playing too and the pre-programmed drums, bass and sounds worked well even if the drums sometimes sank a bit too far in the mix on a couple of songs. Listening to the tape, my confidence shows through by the amount of chat I did with the crowd between numbers, mostly kept out of the mix of the recording. We were well received and played 11 songs, an hour's worth just about, before we got the signal from the manager that it was time to stop, leaving us no time to finish with our usual favourite Monster Trucks.
Our young and nervous guitarist, Jo.
So it was over. I chatted with friends and students for a bit, checked to see how merchandise had done and we packed up ready for Thursday. That gig I can hardly remember playing because just before we went on I had a phone message to say that my mum had been rushed into Exeter Hospital and that my presence was required. I remember it wasn't a big crowd but that we earn't enough so I could pay at least a minimum to the people who merited it. Then I was off down the road to Exeter and that was that. I remember getting sent a copy of the live, off the desk, recording and much later a copy of the film (lost at some point) but then all was forgotten as I was getting health problems, cardiac and diabetic, which began to dominate my life. In 2010 I stopped work and moved to Seaton in Devon (new home for Hawkeaster, the yearly Hawkwind fans festival),was started on insulin, got very involved in caring for my very ill and immobile mother and, although I kept writing and recording my music, had forgotten Lastwind. Until, in 2012, Frenchy of Flicknife fame, suggested putting out a Lastwind album. But that story is for another time. I have finally got round to re-mastering the live gig recording which is nearly an hour long, consists of 12 songs and is my favourite recording of Lastwind, mainly because of the energy but also because it is the best reflection of the range of music we played. Yes, there are some mistakes, some rawness, but we did it OK, not bad on the back of 2 rehearsals. This live set contains 6 songs which don't appear on any other Lastwind recording plus some old favourites like Paris-Marseilles and Slots.I would like to get this out as a final Lastwind CD and will be working on ideas how to do so. But for the time being, I will be putting it up on SoundCloud from where it will be streamable. And I think it will please a large number of the space-rock, psychedelic-loving freaks out there. And for fans and collectors, look out for, at best the CD and, at worst, it becoming downloadable.