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COLD RESPONSE

At the weekend I visited friends who live in an apartment that overlooks the large Western Harbour at Leith Docks. Thanks to redevelopment over the last 15 years or so, the Western Harbour has a number of newbuild apartment complexes, it’s home to the former royal yacht Britannia and it has a large shopping mall called Ocean Terminal, designed by Sir Terence Conran.
Leith Docks aren’t as busy as they used to be – changing patterns of trade, containerisation – but they’re still a place of work, albeit underemployed given the available quay space. Vessels related to the North Sea oil industry come and go, vessels carrying scrap metal, the occasional survey or research ship, grain is shipped in to the adjacent flour mill, the Scottish government’s marine protection vessels – formerly called fisheries protection – appear from time to time and cruise liners in the summer. Now and then, a warship might berth up for a few days, Royal Navy or otherwise. I recall seeing French, Canadian and other navies making brief visits to Leith in the last few years.
This weekend however, there were five warships in the Western Harbour: three frigates, Danish, Norwegian and Turkish, a German corvette and a French patrol boat. I have never seen this concentration of seagoing military hardware in Leith before. The house party I attended was in a second floor apartment and looked out directly on the sudden burst of naval grey. People at the party did remark on the vessels (“Is that a Swiss flag?” “Swiss? Don’t be daft! It’s Danish.” “Oh yeah…”) but conversation soon turned back to the usual Scotland-in-2014 natter: George Galloway, independence, how bad Hibernian have been this season, how the kids were doing at St Andrews or Glasgow.
I’m not going to go into the arcana of how five different navies define the difference between a boat and a ship, so I’ll just use the generic term warship, but I was curious about why these warships had all turned up at once. What were they? How much firepower did they have? Did the Turkish Navy – Türk Deniz Kuvvetleri – often bob about in the North Sea so far from home?
Given that all the warships were sporting national flags and had identification numbers painted on their hulls, feeding that information into Google took seconds and – thanks to Wikipedia and a couple of other sites – the details were easy to access. That’s why I know there were three frigates, a corvette and a patrol boat. Nosing around in the Wikipedia entries for each, you could get lost in the detail of each warship’s construction, date it entered service, its role, armaments, engine, range, class of vessel and more besides.
The Turkish frigate for example, the TCG Gaziantep, is actually quite old. It was built at the end of the seventies for the US Navy, launched in 1980, commissioned in 1981 and was originally called the USS Clifton Sprague. It had a sixteen-year career in those colours then was sold on to the Turks in 1997 who renamed it. According to Wikipedia it has a 76mm gun, two triple-tube torpedo launchers, it carries a couple of helicopters and has more firepower besides. Apparently, the main 76mm gun can lob a shell weighing over 12kg a distance of least 16km, and possibly more depending on which sub-type of the weapon sits on the Gaziantep’s foredeck. That means it could be berthed in the Western Harbour at Leith and shoot the crap out of Edinburgh Airport to the west of the city.
Having established which warships these were and what they could do – which was hardly the apex of investigative journalism – my next question was, “Why are they all here?” I’m no military expert, I’m not even by any stretch a weapons fanboy, but surely it had to be some sort of exercise? Maybe a NATO exercise. So I Googled that.
NATO has a website – well, why not? And there in black and white was news of COLD RESPONSE, a bi-annual, international Arctic gadabout. It’s not just naval – I found a film report on the BBC from 19 March which focused on the land and air elements of the exercise in northern Norway featuring sexy footage of helicopters and tanks in the snow, 400km from the Russian border. I’d guess that part of the reason the BBC sent a reporter to COLD RESPONSE this year was because of the tension over Ukraine and because it was a NATO exercise conducted very close to Russia.
MARCOM, NATO’s maritime command, also has a website and it says COLD RESPONSE featured sixteen countries and 16,000 soldiers overall, “the biggest joint combined exercise in Europe”.
Named warships from the exercise turned up in Leith immediately after so I’m guessing they were either on their way home or popping in for some courtesy or liaison visit.
The reason I write all this is that aside from the BBC film report lasting a few minutes, some footage on YouTube and stories on specialist sites like NATO, MARCOM, the Royal Navy and the Barents Observer, no one in the mainstream media seemed to think it was interesting or important – unless Afterworders can find links I missed. This perhaps reflects the same frame of mind at the house party I attended on Saturday when a posse of people looked out the window at goodness knows how many millions of pounds of military hardware from five countries sitting in a Scottish port and said, “Oh ships. Hmm. These falafels are lovely!”
The moral of the tale? It reminded me how far out of whack our sense of newsworthiness can be – both media professionals and the public. Massive expenditure, armed forces from sixteen countries, ships, aircraft, land forces, 16,000 personnel, all happening in the Arctic just over 90 minutes’ helicopter flight time – at cruising speed – from Russian airspace, while tensions are high over Ukraine. Generally we said, “Meh.”
This is something I’m going to come back to when I post something else about #indyref because think it applies there too.

Picture shows the frigate Thor Heyerdahl of the Kongelig Norske Marine and the corvette Magdeburg of the Deutsche Marine at the Western Harbour, Leith, on Sunday 30 March.

Louisiana Red

The ongoing discussion of favourite blues artists has prompted me to post this. It was written in 1996 for the Orbis series The Blues Collection which all came with appropriate CDs. I'm sure many here will recall seeing them in WH Smith and like. Due to its lengthy nature I have omitted the four pages discussing material on accompanying CD. The jokey sub headings given by the series editor!
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Louisiana Red has, from his earliest recording days, been a master of biting blues songs. He has also adapted the styles of such blues greats as Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Jimmy Reed to critical acclaim and the approval of fellow musicians. Yet after more than 30 years’ sweat on the blues circuit widespread recognition of his work still eluded him.

The year was 1964 and half a dozen Pye International compilations of Chess blues material had reached the British Top 20 album charts. R&B had hit the headlines of the British music press in a big way. New Musical Express declared, ‘It’s Rhythm-and-Blues that’s booming now.’ Melody Maker enquired, ‘Just what is R&B?’ and Record Mirror was debating at great length the subject of ‘Genuine R&B’. Riding the crest of that R&B wave was the release, in May that year, of The Lowdown Back Porch Blues, by Louisiana Red on the Columbia label, licensed from Roulette Records of New York. It captured the imagination of the music press in such a way as to propel it to cult, rather than hit, status. One critic ecstatically proclaimed, ‘He has a refreshingly individual approach to the blues, a fine earthy voice and accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica.’ Another enthused, ‘In a blues field which has been dominated by the same artists for a long time, he strikes a note of originality and freshness, which one is liable to under-estimate on first hearing.’ Jazz Journal, normally dismissive of anything slightly avant-garde, also added its approbation, ‘He is a very modern blues singer, but by no means uninteresting. He sings and plays in two styles, high and frantic, and low and controlled. His guitar playing in particular alternates between single string bass patterns and wild clusters of chords. Seriously, what this young man shows a great deal of talent for is the invention of extremely unforgettable guitar riffs.’

RED’S THREAT
It wasn’t necessarily the riffs that astounded the popular music press but the topicality and outspoken ‘protest’ element found in some of the material. Two songs in particular, ‘Red’s Dream’ and ‘Ride On, Red, Ride On’, drew much comment. The former because of the implied threat of using Nikita Khrushchev’s head for a ball, ‘Georgia shaving’ Fidel Castro and demanding of JFK that ‘soul brothers’ Ray Charles, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and Big Maybelle be installed in the Senate. The other song was hailed as confronting the Civil Rights issue by openly stating a desire on the part of the singer to travel with the freedom riders to rid the Southern states of America of racism: ‘Ride on to your freedom, make the Northern states your home.’ One highbrow reviewer, overwhelmed by what he was hearing, labelled Louisiana Red ‘the first Kennedy-line blues singer’, which doubtless would’ve left Red bemused and Kennedy, had he lived, speechless.

What most were not aware of was that the material had been recorded in 1962 and that those two numbers (not actually composed by Red) had been released as a single in the USA. Apart from dedicated blues collectors in Britain buying the record by mail order, the songs escaped notice or comment on both sides of the Atlantic at the time of their original release. Ironically, the popularity of the album in Britain two years later brought it all back home to Roulette Records in New York, who originally recorded the material, prompting a renewed interest Stateside. Up until then much the same could be said of Louisiana Red’s fortunes. Born Iverson Minter on 23 May 1936 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Red spent his earliest years with his grandmother in New Orleans, his mother having died of pneumonia a week after his birth. When he was five, his estranged father became the victim of a Ku Klux Klan lynching in Harlan, Kentucky. At some stage an aunt, Corrine Driver, who lived in Pittsburgh, took the orphan to live with her, but due to his tender years at the time, Red’s memory of those events is rather hazy and confused. As he explained when interviewed in 1973,’1 spent most of my young life on the railroad, going to and fro. I was only a little kid. I stayed there until my aunt and uncle would get worried and she’d (the grandmother) come and get me. I had relatives in Alabama and New Jersey.’

WATERS ON THE WAVES
Sometime during his early teens he mastered harmonica and guitar by playing along to the radio and the recordings of Muddy Waters, which he slavishly imitated. In 1949 or 1950 Red left Pittsburgh and headed for Michigan, hoping to find work at General Motors. ‘They were hiring at the employment office in Pittsburgh and we were hired on. We worked for the General Motors Oldsmobile plant in Lansing, Michigan,’ recalled Red. Lansing not being that far from Detroit, a car-owning friend was persuaded to drive him to see John Lee Hooker performing at the Harlem Inn. ‘Unfortunately that night John Lee was down South on a tour. So I met Eddie Burns.’ Red also made friends with the owner of the club, a Mr Wilson, who ‘allowed me to play there but I wasn’t allowed to have no (alcoholic) beverages’. He performed under such pseudonyms as Rockin’ Red, Cryin’ Red, Rocky Fuller or Playboy Fuller. The nickname Louisiana Red, acquired during his childhood, due to his predilection for Trappey’s famous condiment, Louisiana Red-Hot Sauce, wasn’t used for professional purposes for some years to come.

MAKING THE BREAK
When Red was 16 he managed to join the army by claiming to be a year older and was shipped out to the Korean conflict, where he was attached to a labour battalion. However, his military career was short-lived and upon being discharged he made it his business to get acquainted with Detroit’s Joe Von Battle, who ran the JVB and Von labels. Von Battle informally recorded him several times, in different settings, in the backroom of his Hastings Street record shop, which doubled as a studio. Red’s material from that period was blatantly imitative of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker or Lightnin’ Hopkins, although he was still searching for his own style. A solo session of eight songs produced just one release, via a licensing deal made with the Chess label, as by Rocky Fuller and His Guitar. ‘Soon One Morning’ was a John Lee Hooker-type blues, the flip side, ‘Come On Baby Now’, a Hopkins-style boogie; a good example of one release being aimed at two distinct markets.

A BOLD CHALLENGE
Joe Von Battle also recorded Red on a couple of occasions accompanied by harmonica, piano or drums. Two numbers, ‘Gonna Play My Guitar’ and ‘Sugar Cane Highway’, were highly evocative of the early Muddy Waters band style. The former title, with its slashing bottleneck playing, contained a cocky challenge warning Muddy that when he got to Chicago there would be a ‘guitar battle’. To the victor the spoils, Muddy’s women; or so the song would have listeners believe. Almost true to the sentiments that were expressed in the song, that was just about how the meeting with Muddy Waters came to reality. Recalled Red, ‘When I met Muddy Waters it was through a telephone conversation. I says, “Look I’m coming to Chicago and I want you to learn me how to play bottleneck.”” Surprisingly, Muddy agreed. Red boarded a Chicago-bound train and he was allowed to sit in on one of Muddy’s club appearances with the result that Red’s performance produced from Muddy Waters the comment, ‘Well I’ll be damned, that boy sounds just like me. How do you manage that, son?’ Quite an accolade coming from the then King of Chicago Blues.

An introduction to Len Chess was effected and Red recorded some demos, including ‘Funeral Hearse at My Door’ (a remake of ‘Soon One Morning’) and ‘Rollin’ Blues’ with Little Walter and an unknown guitarist as accompanists, but the songs were never issued and remained so for almost 40 years. The instant fame and success that Red had hoped for never really materialised, and after six months in Chicago he returned to Pittsburgh a somewhat sadder and wiser man with regard to the commercial reality of the record business. In 1960 Red moved to New Jersey, met a girl named Ealease, who was later to become his wife, and took a day job. However, so determined was he to play blues that in the evenings he performed in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with James Wayne and the Night Hawks, using the billing of Louisiana Red. Tommy Robinson of the New York-based Angletone/Atlas Records recorded and released one single by the group, as well as recording two numbers by Red in his own right and putting them out as a single.

A SPIN WITH ROULETTE
At this point he decided to make New York his home and soon became part of the city’s thriving blues scene. In 1962, probably at the suggestion of Champion Jack Dupree, whom he had known for many years, he made the acquaintance of record producer Henry Glover, who not only recorded a full session with him for Roulette but also wrote the two remarkable songs that were to cause all the furore. ‘My favourite is “Red’s Dream”. Henry Glover was the writer of the song but I was the one who put the music to it,’ said Red 30 years later. All other compositions were his. Despite the great popularity of both single and album in Europe, Red’s career didn’t take off as he might’ve hoped and, although it made his name known, it certainly didn’t get him on the package tours which took artists like Muddy, Lightnin’ and John Lee to Europe. However, between 1965 and 1973, independent record producer and former Atlantic staff member Herb Abramson took it upon himself to record Red at Atlantic’s old New York studio, which produced a massive tally of 78 songs. ‘He has the ability to make a guitar talk and a harmonica cry in the manner of the great bluesmen of the past,’ enthused Abramson in 1972. But for all that, Herb Abramson had released just two songs, on the Laurie label, in five years and it was only in 1972 that a selection from the sessions was released as an album, Louisiana Red Sings the Blues. Every so often, a new compilation culled from those tapes appears in the market place, but more than three decades after his debut a vast amount of Red’s recorded material remained unavailable to the blues public. Throughout the late 1960s and the early 1970s, in addition to his studio work for Abramson, Louisiana Red continued to appear at venues in and around New York. In May 1973 Ealease died of cancer, leaving him with three children to support. When interviewed later that year, he sounded very philosophical about his lot, especially concerning the recording industry which, up until that point, hadn’t done well by him. ‘I pretty near have to be a father and a mother to them. So I take my guitar and try to make a living for them. This recording business is a chance you have to take. It’s like a roulette wheel. You may win, you may not. Like the game of life.’ That roulette wheel finally turned in his favour and in 1975 overseas booking agents took an interest in Red following the release of two excellent solo albums, Sweet Blood Call and Dead Stray Dog, on the New York based Blue Labor label. The recordings had found favour with fans in Europe and he was invited to perform at that year’s Montreux Blues Festival.

EUROPEAN TRAVELS
Over the next year he was kept busy gigging in New York under the watchful eye of the city’s Grande Dame of the blues, Victoria Spivey - ‘She’s my mama, and I go with her everywhere she goes.’ Then the European bookings began to roll in and over the following two or three years he extensively toured France, Germany and Switzerland. Despite several false starts, Red eventually made it to Britain, under the aegis of JSP Promotions, some 14 years after the initial ‘craze’ for the music of Louisiana Red. The 1980s and 1990s were very busy for Louisiana Red. In 1982 he moved from the USA to relocate in Hanover, Germany because, as he later explained, ‘I got tired of just doing the same things, just going to the same places, and I hadn’t seen Champion Jack Dupree in many years and I went to see him in Germany and he got me an apartment in the building he’s in.’ So, Louisiana Red, like Memphis Slim, Curtis Jones, Willie Mabon, Eddie Boyd and others before him, became a European-based bluesman. In 1996 Louisiana Red celebrated his 60th birthday. While mention of his name in the world of rock music may not have quite the same impact as say Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker or Robert Cray, one of rock’s most famous sons has certainly been moved by Louisiana Red’s music. As Red is quick to remind us, ‘The write-up Eric Clapton wrote about me, really thank him for it. That I was the greatest blues player he saw in many years.’

Football on the Radio

I don’t know if there was, or ever will be, a ‘golden age’ of radio football commentary, but having been an avid listener for more years than I care to remember, I’d be willing to posit the view that we are not living through it right now. The continuous deployment of shrill hyperbole appears to be the industry standard among the commentating fraternity, while any analysis invariably has ‘triumph’ at one end and ‘disaster’ at the other, leaving little room for subtlety or nuance. It could be that the sheer number of games being covered has led to a lowering of the qualification bar. Alternatively, we could be going through the kind of cultural decline that I’d be willing to expand upon, but only after another couple of drinks.

Many commentators appear to think that shrieking at every goalmouth incident will convince listeners that something exciting is happening. They will routinely describe events at a 2-2 draw between, let’s say, Motherwell and Kilmarnock as ‘astonishing’ or ‘incredible’. In my book, ‘astonishing’ takes quite some doing, while a word like ‘incredible’ should only be used if, for example, Dundee United bring on a two-headed transsexual substitute who scores a late winner and then gets sent off for defecating in the centre circle.

Back when I was a lad (and it was all fields around here), there was not that much football on the radio, which somehow made it seem just a bit more special. Commentary, even on big games, would not start until the second half; to get the midweek football results, you often had to wait until a brief ‘sports desk’ at 10.15pm. By contrast, today’s wall-to-wall coverage leaves nothing to the imagination. Every incident, however mundane, is analysed, picked apart and debated as the pundits (aided and abetted by their phone-in punters) take the same forensic approach to an offside decision at Easter Road that the Warren Commission took to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Amidst all this babble and burble, wherein every single incident is deemed to be ‘incredible’ or ‘sensational’, it becomes difficult to spot something that genuinely is incredible or sensational.

In addition to the rationed coverage, one of the features of the old days of radio commentary was the frailty of the technical links, particularly when the game was being played abroad. Nowadays everything is digitally pristine, to the extent that a commentator at a game in Uzbekistan will sound like he is broadcasting from your back garden. That is probably a very good thing, but there was something thrilling about tuning into a crackly old analogue line that seemed liable to break down at any moment; the fact that the commentator was often just this side of legible made it all the more gripping. A game from Eastern Europe (a.k.a. ‘behind the Iron Curtain’) sounded like it was being broadcast from the moon, but what mystery and excitement those precarious signals evoked.

I recall once sneaking a transistor radio into school to listen to England losing 2-1 to Czechoslovakia in a European Championship qualifier. I can’t remember why the game was being played in the middle of the afternoon; perhaps those Iron Curtain commies didn’t want to waste good socialist electricity on decadent westerners. For a brief moment, I was the toast of an admittedly very small section of the geography class who gave a toss about whether or not England got a result in that tricky away tie. It was quite a tough Glaswegian school, so I was taking a bit of a chance by volunteering to be the bearer of news. My fellow pupils were delighted that the English had lost, but had I reported that they had won the game, there might have been a danger of them adopting a ‘shoot the messenger’ policy. I could have found myself hung up on the school railings by the hood of my duffel coat. Again.

In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that I was rubbish at playing it, I was a football nerd in my teens. One of the reasons that I don’t complain about my kids playing computer games is that I have enough self-awareness to acknowledge that, had FIFA or Championship Manager been available when I was a lad, I would never have left my bedroom; my parents, in fact, would probably have had to feed me through a drip. Tragically obsessed with football facts and figures to an extent that would nowadays invite a diagnosis of mild autism, my Saturday nights would occasionally be spent trying to tune into a German radio station, trying to ‘work out’ what was happening in the Bundesliga games. I should point out here that I could not speak a single word of German.

Now perhaps you’d like to pause for a moment to take in the enormity of that last statement.

A boy who didn’t speak German trying to listen to a (very weak) radio signal from Germany, trying to interpret what was going on in a game between two German teams. On a Saturday evening. I think it is safe to say that that would have earned me quite a high score on the ‘you’ll never get a girlfriend-ometer’.
My greatest triumph in interpreting-dodgy-radio-signals-in-German was when I ‘worked out’ that Bayern Munich had got an absolute pasting in a game against Kaiserslautern. The commentator was going mental –in German, obviously- as goal after goal seemed to fly in. As the very weak radio signal swirled about, hovering intermittently somewhere between German football and what sounded like the Belgian pop charts, I knew that Kaiserslautern (or maybe Bayern) were scoring a barrow load of goals in a short space of time; either that, or I was listening to a ‘highlights of the season’ show. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, so I had to wait a day or two to have the amazing news confirmed: Bayern had indeed been roundly thrashed and I was –probably- one of the first schoolboys in Scotland to know about it, thanks to the miracle of crackly medium wave radio. I still count that as one of my greatest achievements in life, right up there with the birth of my children and the time I almost got a nine-letter word on Countdown.

Having started this piece by complaining about ‘shouty’ football commentators, I’m now going to eulogise about a ‘shouty’ bit of commentary. When used sparingly, near-hysterical excitement is a legitimate weapon in the commentator’s arsenal. In Star Trek, Captain Kirk and his crew had their phasers on stun most of the time and only switched to the full bhuna in exceptional circumstances. I would recommend a similar approach for commentators. My advice would be: don’t simulate noisy orgasm when Queen of the South equalise with three minutes to go in a Ramsden’s Cup tie against Partick Thistle. If you behave like that when normal stuff happens in a normal game, where can you go once extraordinary stuff happens in an extraordinary game?

This clip (using TV pictures, but with the radio commentary) features the Dutch radio commentator Jack van Gelder and provides a wonderful example of how to invest a description with the appropriate degree of awestruck wonder. It is minimalist in terms of its vocabulary, but the context renders this entirely appropriate.
The occasion was the 1998 World Cup quarter-final between Holland and Argentina. In the last minute of a tense game, Dennis Bergkamp scored a stunning goal to take Holland to the semi-finals. It was remarkable enough that Frank de Boer could play the 80-yard pass that he did; it was remarkable enough that Bergkamp could control that pass, flick the ball past the defender and then place a shot, with the outside of his foot, beyond the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net. But to do all of that in the last minute of a World Cup Quarter Final? Now that, my friends, is astonishing.
It will take 38 seconds of your time to watch the clip. In that time, you will hear the joy and wonder of the commentator, but you will also witness sporting excellence, incredible spatial awareness, geometrical precision, astonishing technique and breath-taking guile, all condensed into one incredible, poetic moment. Jack van Gelder rightly judged that this extraordinary moment was beyond ordinary words. In truth, the only thing left for him to say was: Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp!! DENNIS BERGKAMP!!!

David Wright's picture

Commuter

Watching the drama the 7.39 on BBC1 this week, reminded one of my commuting days back in the mid nineties. It was during 1996 and 1997 that I commuted every day from Scarborough to Leeds, at the time about an hour and 20 mins each way. Nothing exciting happened to me on my commute, apart from the usual delays at least once every fortnight and the strange life you enter when you become a commuter. I was once rushed out of a toilet cubicle at Leeds Station by a Policeman during a bomb scare, but nothing else springs to mind, just the same old groundhog day routine: Waking up at 6.30am each morning, breakfast, a lift to the station and securing the usual forward facing seat in the same coach every morning. The same old faces in the same old seats, but I never developed a commuting relationship with anyone , apart from the odd nod of recognition or a“morning” to a few and some banter with the cheery plump catering man and his trolley, as he shouted : “TEAS, COFFEEEEEEEES, LIGHT REFRESHMENTS ” to his weary audience. I remember the smart business lady, immaculate in black and red lipstick who caught my eye most mornings at York. She was out of my league and only sat near me once. I plucked up all my courage and said absolutely nothing to her when she did, but remember her perfume and dainty features well. My rucksack contained a pack lunch, paper and a ever changing selection of tapes for my Sony Walkman. Artists that remind me of this time are The Verve, Pulp, Massive Attack, Oasis and Blur and a selection of regularly changing compilation tapes. Although it was a tiring existence, life seemed good and full of promise. It was marvellous to hear good bands and good songs back in the charts again. I remember leaving my desk one raining grey evening and popping into the MVC music shop in the city centre to buy Radiohead’s Ok Computer on its day of release. This album always reminds me of this time, it’s never dated and has been my soundtrack to overcast weather ever since.

I’d normally drift into sleep twenty mins into the morning journey, just before Malton station when the quiet coach would descend into chaos as schoolchildren lept on chatting and played pranks until they disembarked at York. Forty minutes later, the train would be on the edge of Leeds. I remember the terror on my first morning of commuting as we rumbled past my new work place, the D.S.S. at the Leeds “Kremlin” red bricked building. Twenty minutes later I was inside this monstrous building, waiting at reception to be taken to my new desk and a high flying position as stationery clerk for the Personnel And Development Branch.

It all soon became a familiar pattern and in a strange way I kind of miss the buzz, travelling to a city in the day and returning to the seaside and country in the evening. I’d look forward to the train journey home, walking through the rush hour city. Sometimes I would catch a later train, if I met friends or colleagues for a drink or two, or three or four, or maybe more on a Friday after work. I remember some evenings sat in the bar at the station when it was know as The City Arms and would pass the time with a few gaspers, a paper or book, as I waited for my delayed train.

Station bars are always full of characters and sometimes lonely people. Some pretend to be waiting for a train, and are just glad to be in a bustling bar and a journey that will never be made. A couple of years ago, I found myself back on the same train as I undertook jury service in York for a couple of weeks. Nothing had changed, but it felt good to be travelling on the train every day. One day, I shall become a commuter again and know I will need to travel on the train to work. (But only if bloody ticket prices ever come down in price!)

Atomic Rooster: A History

INTRODUCTION

During 2004, following the compilation of a 2CD for Sanctuary, I suggested the label reissue the five original (1970-74) Atomic Rooster albums with bonus tracks (B-sides, BBC sessions) where available. In addition to the primary sources - and Vincent Crane was, thankfully, a man often interviewed by the British music press in his heyday - I decided to interview one person associated, well four times out of five, with each album: Carl Palmer (drummer); Donal Gallagher (roadie); Pete French (vocalist); Chris Farlowe (vocalist); and Kevin Rowland (subsequent employer).

I recall another writer saying at the time, 'You seem to be writing a book in instalments...' I wasn't - but I thought I might as well put the five notes in one place, back to back. So here they are.

The only known film of Rooster Mk1: Carl Palmer (drums), Vincent Crane (organ), Nick Graham (bass/vocal) -'S.L.Y.' - GERMAN TV 1970

FIRST LP: Atomic Ro-o-oster

Between 1970-1974 five albums and a handful of singles were issued under the name of Atomic Rooster, charting the singular musical questing of pianist/organist Vincent Crane for a kind of music - perhaps achievable, perhaps not - that would weld together the funk and soul of black American artists like Stevie Wonder and James Brown with the power and angularity of British progressive rock. Brave or just foolhardy, there was nothing else like it at the time - no road marks or reference points. Members would come and go, most of those who left being ‘let go’ by Crane, sacrificed in the pursuit of his musical grail - a decision that would often, whatever the commercial repercussions, be made in the gap between the recording and release of an album. One of the first to go would be legendary drummer Carl Palmer, although his departure would - perhaps uniquely in the Rooster’s history - be his decision, and not a decision driven by musical or personal differences or taken lightly. For this was a band whose formation was as much down to Palmer as it was to Crane.

Crane (whose classical education and subsequent training ground in jazz and pop is detailed in the notes to the Sanctuary compilation Heavy Soul) and Palmer had met in America in 1969, in the context of backing the momentarily phenomenal rise of UK showman Arthur Brown.

The album, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and its attendant UK No 1 single ‘Fire’ - co-written and arranged by Crane - had taken the UK and US charts by storm during the summer of 1968. By autumn ’68 Crane was effectively musical director for Arthur on the first of two US tours, in quick succession: ‘In America,’ Crane reflected, ‘the record had got us a gold single and number one album and we were in the position where you’d think nothing could go wrong: but by the time we got over there it was all mistimed and for a lot of it the management was at fault.’

The pressure, however, had affected Crane in a worrying manner: suffering a nervous breakdown midway through the first US tour he spent ‘three or four months’ at Banstead mental institution in England before returning to the same fray that had clearly contributed to the problem. Manic depression, reflected in almost all his lyrics by a particular neurosis about life passing one by, would remain with Crane for the rest of his life. By the time he returned to Arthur’s group its original drummer, Drachen Theaker, last seen walking out to sea holding a guitar above his head, had been replaced by Carl Palmer. In Crane’s view, it was a big improvement:

‘I was with [UK white soul sensation] Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds,’ says Palmer, ‘and Chris Farlowe’s tour manager, Mel Baister, had gone over to Arthur Brown, on his first tour of America, and it was during that tour that they lost Drachen Theaker. At that stage Mel said, ’There’s this one particular guy we could get…’ So they asked me but I couldn’t at the time because I was in the middle of a tour with Chris. But within about three or four weeks their single and album were at No.1 at the same time - and that’s when I went over and played with them! From then we did a six week tour and then we stayed on for another six weeks doing nothing. The original drummer was good, but not great, so he was holding them back - plus, he took a lot of drugs.’

Both men would remain with the Crazy World until June 1969, by which time they’d resolved to abandon Arthur’s quite literally Crazy World and return to England with a view to getting their own group together.

‘Basically, what happened,’ says Palmer, ‘was that after the first tour - which was highly successful, no doubt about it - I said to Vincent, ’I think its pointless hanging around in New York. I’m going to go back and put something together. If you want to do it together, let’s look at a three piece band.’ That’s all I was interested in at the time - I was fanatical about the Cream, the Hendrix Experience and all that stuff. At that time, though, Vincent wasn’t well. He’d been in Banstead mental home a couple of times, so it was a little bit tenuous. I said, ‘Look, I’d be very happy to work with you again, you’ve been a gentleman, you’ve been upfront, but it would only work if I can control what we’re doing. He said, ‘Well, that’s fine. If you want to take care of the organisation of it, maybe I’ll just concentrate on getting the right music for us and then we can sit down and talk about the direction…’’

Leaving America and Arthur, however, was easier said than done: ‘Friday 13th [of June 1969] was the day we left America,’ says Palmer. ‘But to get the equipment to the airport we had to actually trick one of the American road crew to pick the stuff up from the warehouse and drive it to JFK. We were explaining that we had to send the equipment to another state, setting things up for future rehearsals and the beginning of a tour - saying we wanted to be closer to the first date. We gave this whole cock and bull story that Vincent was already there and that I’d meet him at the customs area to sign the stuff on. So we took everything back as excess baggage on the same plane. At that stage Arthur had been gone for weeks - he had left the band and gone off with his wife to live in some commune in New Jersey. We’d tried to get numbers for him and we did manage to locate him but he just wouldn’t pick up the phone. So the two of us were stuck in New York, waiting and waiting for Arthur. I think Arthur at that stage had really lost the plot. But we had enough money to pay the bills in the hotel and get back to England.’

Courtesy of the US touring experience Palmer already had a name for the new venture: Atomic Rooster. ‘One evening in New York,’ he explains, ‘about a week after we’d decided that we were leaving Arthur, we went out together, with Vincent’s girlfriend at the time, down to the village in Manhatten, where all the artists hang out, and went to this girl’s apartment. Now, Vincent’s problems all stemmed from him taking too much acid and the reason we took him down to this apartment was to see this girl because she was going to explain what she’d seen and heard and how bad it was and that he should stop taking it, basically. So we were trying to do that indirectly. Anyway, the person she chose to talk about was the bass player in this group called Rhinoceros. He’d taken a lot of chemical substances and at the end of the day started calling himself ‘the atomic rooster’. I heard the name and couldn’t help but laugh - it’s a great name. When we eventually got back to England I said to Vincent, ‘Why don’t we call our band the Atomic Rooster? You’re never going to become it, but we could all be part of it.’’

On the pair’s return to England, Crane’s manic depression reared its head again and he went back into Banstead for about a month. ‘By the time he came out he was completely well again,’ says Palmer. ‘It wasn’t entirely to do with drugs with Vincent - he was mentally ill. When he came out I’d already got the Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO) lined up as management. Actually, Robert Masters within the RSO had called me to do a couple of sessions for them, which I did - I didn’t really want to do them, but I kinda needed the money. They were for really weird and wonderful people - I won’t even disclose who it is! But that led me into discussing management for our new band with them. I explained who it was, the main writer, who’d just had this No.1 single in America, which of course they thought was fantastic.’

Having failed to secure Brian Jones, Jack Bruce, Ric Grech or John Paul Jones, and seeing final choice Greg Ridley throw in his lot with new ‘supergroup’ Humble Pie in April ’69, Crane and Palmer resorted to putting adverts in the English music papers. Consequently, the pair conducted between two to four weeks of auditions with, as Crane later recalled it, ‘some of the worst people I’d heard in my life’. Carl Palmer agrees:

‘It was really bad,’ he says. ‘Steve Howe came along - the guitar player from Yes - and we thought he was shit, you know. We played some stuff together and he played kind of abstract, which was nice - it was off the wall, not the general stuff - but we really needed to have a jazz/blues side to the Rooster. We wanted to have a Jimmy Smith kind of thing going on. And when we tried to play some jazz and blues with him it fell apart miserably. At that stage, instead of going for a lead guitar player and have Vincent using bass pedals, which he would have done [and did in later Rooster line-ups], we decided we should concentrate on getting a full-on singer and bass player, who maybe plays another instrument - because the guitar players [in England] just weren’t that good in the late sixties. So I suppose Steve Howe was the best of a bad bunch. In America they were really hot but we didn’t really want to go back to America to look for a guitar player - we wanted to be a European band.’

When Nick Graham, a civil engineering student from Southampton, turned up at the eleventh hour, sang one song and played some flute the duo were sold. Present only on the first album, Graham would prove to be the only bassist Rooster ever had.

‘Nick had never been in a band before,’ says Palmer, ‘the odd youth club thing, but nothing on a professional level - and he was at university. In at the deep end. But he came along, we rehearsed him to death and there it was: a completely different trio to the Cream, very underground, a very distinctive hard-edged voice, a flute…’

Bolstered, then, by Cream’s former management and the musical reputations of the two key members, Atomic Rooster took flight:

‘We did incredibly well that first year,’ says Palmer. ‘It was like falling out of bed. We had a cult following. We could play in London, at places like the Roundhouse, every weekend. We went everywhere except America - everywhere in Europe. The band was huge in Scandinavia for some unknown reason. In Gothenberg and places like that we were playing to 1500 people at a time, just a colossal amount of people. It was a word of mouth thing. There were very strong club and theatre circuits everywhere in the world then - live music was booming. And of course with anything that had come off a successful album like Arthur’s everybody wanted to see what you would do. Of course, the first time is the honeymoon, lots of people turn out; the second time usually not so many - but we were lucky, the people stayed with us.’

However unusual it may have been at the time, the lack of a guitar in the group was hardly a problem: ‘There were,’ says Palmer, ‘only two keyboard players in England the time: Keith Emerson and Vincent Crane. And Brian Auger, maybe. Vincent had a great keyboard sound, and was an incredible arranger. He wasn’t an incredible ‘solo’ player but he was a very good writer. His musical knowledge and vocabulary was very broad.’

After initial rehearsals at The Black Horse in Walthamstowe, Vincent’s wife, Pat (whom Palmer credits as being a key influence, to the eventual detriment of her own health, in sustaining Vincent’s emotional and professional well-being during the Rooster‘s early period) found an ideal base for the band: three apartments, above a car showroom in East London, in an area called Stratford-by-Maryland Point, where the basement of the car showroom could be used as a rehearsal room.

‘We could rehearse till 4 o’clock in the morning and it wouldn’t bother anyone,’ says Palmer. ‘So we were well and truly oiled as a band. We met the standard and superseded it at times. What Vincent and I listened to was very similar - jazz, classical, R&B - so we were musically very compatible. [And Pat] kept him on the track. I can truthfully say that all the time the Atomic Rooster was together Vincent was always right on it - always at rehearsals, always on time, always creative, businesslike, understanding. I couldn’t fault him at all.’

The band debuted officially at the Lyceum, London, on August 29 1969, with the newly formed classic ‘Mk II’ version of Deep Purple supporting. There was seemingly a dry run for this prestige booking at The Fishmonger’s Arms, one of a healthy circuit of rock clubs around Britain at the time. Sadly, in Britain at least, Rooster would never quite outgrow this level to become a genuine concert act.

Having road tested the repertoire that would comprise their first album, Rooster went into the studio in December ’69, and that same month recorded what would be the first of seven studio sessions for BBC radio, this one for Alexis Korner’s World Service show Rhythm & Blues and including the forthcoming single ‘Friday The 13th’ along with album tracks ‘SLY’ and ‘Decline And Fall’. (Sadly, this session no longer exists in the BBC archive.)

Largely written by Crane, and lyrically reflecting his darker preoccupations, material for a first album had come together very quickly. Titled Atomic Ro-o-oster, and released on progressive label B&C in February 1970 - sneaking briefly into the UK Top 50 at No.49 - it was a mixture of prog workouts, brass arrangements revamped from the Crazy World album and deceptively pastoral passages. Crane’s doomy approach to life – never really addressed in his impressively upbeat press interviews of the Rooster era – was already embedded in his lyrics.

‘Well that was part of where Vincent was,’ says Palmer. ‘That was one of the problems. You can hear it, can’t you? He was troubled but a lot of people kind of liked it at the time - slit-your-wrists lyrics. And Nick Graham was kind of that way inclined too. It was a very dark band - and that was part of its appeal at the time. But it was also a very funny band. So long as you kept Vincent off smoking the dope he was fine - but as soon as he did that he was quite wacky.’

Despite this narrow focus in his lyrics – too often, on subsequent albums, revisiting the ‘what is the point of going on?’ template of ‘Winter’ - there would always be gems, like the disarmingly powerful opening couplets of ‘Banstead’, which would harness the creative energy of depression into a compelling artistic form. ‘I think maybe some of our lyrics could use some humour,’ Crane admitted, to Zigzag prior to the first album’s release. ‘Most of mine seem to be gloomy or foreboding, something terrible’s going to happen, you’re growing old, etcetera. There’s not much humour in it.’ Indeed not.

Shortly after the single was released, in March 1970, Nick Graham left (resurfacing as a member of Skin Alley a few months later), and was fairly promptly replaced by guitarist/vocalist John Cann.

‘Nick didn’t realise the pressures you have to go though [as a pro musician],’ says Palmer. ‘He was also being pestered to go back to university - which he didn’t. I think he thought being in a rock band was an easy living but it’s not. If you want to maintain a standard, keep something going, build and each year be bigger it takes a lot of time and work and Nick didn’t have the same work ethic as us. We were trying to keep a certain standard and we did both keep on at him. John Cann was much better [in that respect].’

Cann, a veteran of several recording acts including Andromeda and Five Day Week Straw People and very much a man with a hard rock ethos, joined the group in April 1970: ‘John was the first guitar player we’d tried,’ says Palmer, ‘who could play the power chords, solo well enough and sing. He was really good, and a very nice guy. So a breath of fresh air really. I remember thinking that we should have got him at the beginning but I guess he wasn’t really around then.’

This line-up of the Rooster, however, would only last a matter of weeks - but they were productive ones. A second BBC radio session, for Mike Harding’s Sounds Of The Seventies, and a Radio 1 In Concert broadcast were recorded before Carl Palmer himself left, on May 31. An off-air recording of the concert survives, but both of the tracks - ’Friday The 13th’ and ’Seven Lonely Streets’ - recorded for the Harding session, literally five days before Palmer’s departure, remain in the BBC archive and are included here.

Palmer had already acquired enough of a following for his final gig with Rooster to be advertised as such. He was moving on to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer – a bass/drums/keyboards trio superficially similar to Rooster but inclined in a very different musical direction, where the outworkings of individual virtuosity had a greater prominence to ‘the groove’ which would increasingly become Crane‘s musical focus.

Palmer had already turned down an overture from Emerson and Lake (formerly of The Nice and King Crimson respectively) to join their new ‘super group‘ but in the end the opportunity became, financially and musically, one he felt unable to resist:

‘The management for King Crimson, who were managing Greg Lake,’ he recalls, ‘wanted me to go along and do some stuff with Bob Fripp - which I never did - and I went along and [instead of Fripp] when I got there it was Keith and Greg in the room, and that was how that started. Vincent thought I was going off to do a session with Bob Fripp, which is what I thought, but it was just a trick to get me down there, because I’d said in some interview that I thought Fripp was good… [Also] I was looking at going further into classical adaptations. Vincent had all the musical knowledge to go into that stuff, but Emerson had already started doing it so it kind of enticed me musically.’

The band which became Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) would, of course, go on to enjoy phenomenal worldwide success, but for a while Palmer regretted his decision to leave the first real band he had formed:

‘The Rooster had incredible success when I left,’ he admits. ‘I mean, I did the demo for ‘Tomorrow Night’ [the next Rooster single, which went on to significant UK chart success]. I said to Vincent, ‘I’ve got this opportunity to do this thing [with Emerson and Lake], there’s more money in it, I think I’ll have to do it’. So they obviously re-recorded it with Paul Hammond, their new drummer, and then of course it was a big hit and I’m thinking that I’d made a big mistake, ‘cos there I was sitting in a rehearsal room with Greg and Keith! I thought I’d shot myself in the foot!’

Carl’s departure, however good-natured and amicable in manner, was undoubtedly a blow for Rooster as a band and as a concert attraction, but it also drew a very clear and definite line under phase one of their career. The band that would make the next album under the name of Atomic Rooster, Death Walks Behind You, would have its own identity - more obviously moving towards harder, more straight-ahead rock, although this too would be but a stop along the way in Crane’s search for his ideal sound.

‘The Rooster would definitely have gone in a more funk direction [had I stayed],’ says Palmer, ’but that wouldn’t have been a problem to me. Vincent was very good at scanning the marketplace and seeing where the hole was. So it would have been something we’d have sat down and discussed. I mean, there was nobody playing like ELP so we had that particular hole covered. So Vincent was being quite clever there. It might have been a bit more drowsy and not to everyone’s taste but Pink Floyd had a kind of groove going and I think Vincent was trying to bounce on the brighter side of that, with a rock edge. Once the guitar had taken the place of a bass guitar that would automatically lead to stuff being a bit more funky.’

Carl Palmer, still to this day working in a trio format, retains great affection for his time with Crane and the Rooster, and even tried to acquire the rights to the album at one point:

‘It was the first time I’d really got involved in forming a band,’ he recalls, ‘and it was great to have somebody as talented as Vincent to let me get on with it. It was an amazing amount of success in a very short period of time and in a very underground way. It wasn’t success like being on the radio or people running down the street after you - it was success from the point of view that we were a ‘guys’ band’ and the public were looking to latch on to some different things. We came from the right stock. The Crazy World was a great psychedelic band, playing the Roundhouse and the UFO, and when I joined them it went up a notch, became a global entity. And then coming back and forming the Atomic Rooster was great. It all added up. The time was right for it to happen. And, you know, if I’d stayed in the band ‘Tomorrow Night’ would have still been a hit and we’d have had that kind of commercial success.

‘So it was all there, all in the making - so long as Vincent stayed well. Unfortunately he didn’t. He committed suicide [in Maida Vale, in 1989]. I went to his funeral. Very sad. His death letter was ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you all down but I’ve got to go now.’ When I speak to other keyboard players a lot of them refer to Vincent. He had a nice touch - he wasn’t the greatest technician but his musical vocabulary, what he knew, was really extensive. His arranging was just out of this world. And then he wrote the hit single ‘Tomorrow Night’. So he had it on all levels, musically, but he just had these personal problems which held him back. Unless you’re an ‘up’ person like I am you could get quite down with Vincent. So he could be hard work, but because he was such a nice guy and so talented it was always worthwhile.’

Within six months of Palmer‘s departure, Atomic Rooster secured a US deal with Elektra - in addition to their ongoing UK/European deal with B&C and subsequently with Pegasus and Dawn. Given that the band’s sound had changed significantly with John Cann having replaced Nick Graham, Cann added, for the US release, guitar parts (and, in the case of ‘Friday The 13th, a new vocal) to three of the first album’s tracks: ’Friday The 13th’, ’SLY’ and ’Before Tomorrow’. The running order of the tracks was also changed for the Elektra pressing (although, curiously, some original UK copies of the album feature what we’ve called the ‘US running order’ on the sleeve but the ‘UK running order‘ on the actual vinyl).

ROOSTER MK3: Vincent Crane (organ), John Du Cann (gtr/voc), Paul Hammond (drums) - 'SLEEPING FOR YEARS' - AUGUST 1970

SECOND LP: Death Walks Behind You

Vincent Crane was sanguine about the decision by Carl Palmer, his co-founder of project Rooster, to leave for the no less ambitious shores of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) at the end of May 1970. It was a mere two months after the release of Rooster’s eponymous first album. ‘I think he was right for the group when we first formed,’ Crane reflected, a couple of years later, ‘and if he wasn’t then it was my fault for not knowing exactly what I wanted to do. Carl isn’t a funky drummer, he’s more of a jazz/rock drummer and we’re not doing that.’ Often asked about his views on Keith Emerson’s keyboard style, however, Crane was forthright: ‘I don’t personally like him,’ he told the Melody Maker, shortly after ELP’s launch. ‘He’s afraid to put the accent in and then have a silence – he’s got to have everything going all the time. It’s what you don’t play half the time that makes it interesting.’ And in any case: ‘I tend to listen to drummers more than organists.’

Finding a drummer to replace the already iconic Carl Palmer was a tough call, and after a series of deps to ensure immediate bookings weren’t blown, first go was given to Ric Parnell, son of big band jazz leader Jack Parnell. At sixteen Ric had been in a band called Horse who, ‘much to everyone’s surprise – including the band’s’, as a Rooster press release would later put it, had had an album released by RCA. Ric joined Rooster fresh from a purgatorial American tour with Englebert Humperdink, undertaken on his dad’s advice in order to gain experience. Ric’s tastes were, of course, elsewhere: ‘He always carried on about Jimi Hendrix and what I believe is called the underground,’ said Jack at the time, while nevertheless endorsing the Rooster opportunity.

Ric Parnell (who later enjoyed some level of fame, if not irony, as drummer for Spinal Tap) would indeed become a splendid facilitator of Crane’s vision, but not yet. His first stint in the group lasted only three months. As Crane explained later: ‘He was the right sort of drummer and the only drummer I’ve come across who really fitted the style, but there were a lot of hang-ups with him and he was a bit unprofessional in the early days. I felt that in a year’s time Ric would be a first-class drummer but I couldn’t wait.’

Duly dismissed, Parnell was replaced in August 1970 by Paul Hammond. His illustrious forebear, Carl Palmer, by now on the verge of debuting ELP at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival, made himself available to provide a little help: ‘When Paul came in I helped him a little by calling up the people who were supplying Hayman drums, which he wanted to play,’ he explains, ‘and asking them to endorse Paul or give him a discount. The UK suppliers would be Arbiters of Edgeware, and Ivor Arbiter was a neighbour of mine and knew I’d been in the band.’

Within weeks of his arrival Crane was telling the Melody Maker that ‘Paul will be recognised as one of the top drummers in England in, say, six months.’ Similarly tempering his optimism for the band as a whole with a healthy caution, he went on to suggest that ‘given time we could make it big, but it cuts a corner if you have a good record that sells well. The danger is that you mustn’t drop from the position a single puts you in.’ These were wise words indeed. This would be the Rooster line-up - Crane on keyboards, Hammond on drums and the similarly recently recruited John Cann (aka John Du Cann) on guitar - to score two hit singles in fairly quick succession and thus give the band a viable chance to move up from the clubs to the concert halls.

Alas, a combination of bad advice (a perceived credibility danger in having a third hit, or the perceived failure in releasing a third single and not having a hit) and foreign touring commitments would stall their momentum in the UK – but hindsight alone is a definite science. For the moment, Crane felt he had the ultimate band: a trio without a weak link and a very healthy bookings sheet of ‘about five gigs a week’. Following a triumphant festival appearance in Munich (and a performance of ‘Friday The 13th’ on German TV’s Beat Club) Europe was fast opening up for them. ‘It’s great to play,’ said Crane. ‘I don’t think I could survive if I came off the road.’

During the year or so preceding the release of the Death Walks Behind You album in January 1971, one of Rooster‘s regular road crew was Irishman Donal Gallagher, younger brother of guitar hero Rory Gallagher, with whom he worked as loyal roadie and, subsequently, as manager. During the latter half of 1970 Rory’s band Taste were in the process of fulfilling contractual dates before splitting, on December 31st, but Donal had already been moonlighting as roadie and driver for both Graham Bonnet’s band The Marbles and, having met both Carl Palmer and Vincent Crane in previous bands, for Atomic Rooster:

‘There weren’t a lot of road crew guys around at that time to be honest,’ he recalls. ‘Once or twice when Taste were busy in the studio I helped out on Atomic Rooster gigs. After Taste split Rory and I found our way back to London and while Rory was getting up and running [as a solo artist, recording his first solo album from April to August 1971] I was asked would I go out on the road with Atomic Rooster. In fact, it was just two of us - Vince’s brother-in-law was the other guy, but he didn’t drive. So I had the task of doing backline and driving.

‘They had quite a lot of equipment. Everybody in those days had a small transit and if you were in the big time you had a double wheel-based transit! They had a big Mercedes truck which carried the band and all its gear - and they seemed to be going through road crew like flies because of the stamina needed to deal with all that. There weren’t too many acts with keyboards - probably because there was nobody stupid enough to carry the damn things! I particularly remember the Liverpool Odeon - so many flights of stairs to get the kit up… That was the dread of any roadie - if you heard there was a keyboard you’d hope to God it wasn’t a Hammond! And particularly with Vince because he had all the bass pedals - which sounded fantastic - but to hear those bass notes meant an even bigger PA system. In those days bass players used to go through equipment that practically farted, that couldn’t hold the bass notes. But with the pedals it was like a direct injection. It was as if there was a bass player on the stage - this huge, clean, heavy sound.’

‘I want to keep it as a trio,’ explained Vince, to the Melody Maker in September 1970. ‘We are lucky in having two lead instruments, and playing the bass lines on the pedals and with my left hand I can play exactly the lines I want. We were playing at a club the other day and when we finished our set a guy came up to me and asked who was playing the bass. He suggested maybe we had someone behind the cabinets. That was a real compliment. It’s things like that that keep you going through all the hang-ups.’

‘I think what isn’t generally appreciated,’ reflects Donal, ‘is that Vince had degrees in music and was very fastidious about the music he made. He was almost like a conductor in an orchestra - everything was very intense. After a gig - a bit like Rory in a way - if Vince wasn’t happy with the way it had gone there’d be a sullenness, an aura of depression would descend. They’d have gotten a great reception, you’d go in and say, ‘Brilliant gig guys..’ and be met with this sullen, ‘Yeah? Did you think so…?’ from Vince. It wasn’t that he was being hard on the other musicians but more his way of inspiring them and getting more out of them, getting them to raise their game. And I think it probably worked. Certainly, they’d spend a lot of time at early soundchecks - which weren’t that common then. They’d use them to rehearse a lot and work things out.’

Although the members of the band were no longer living semi-communally in the flats above the car showroom in East London, which had been the case in the Carl Palmer era, they were still using the showroom’s basement as their own personal rehearsal space - a luxury few other bands in London had at the time, when even rehearsal spaces for hire were rare.

Donal recalls no rivalry between Crane, the only founder of the band now remaining, and his new guitarist/vocalist and front man John Cann: ‘They played well off each other,’ he says. ‘Vince had a cape, and John was quite stylish - he may also have had a cape for a while. Vince was the proverbial mad wizard, like a character from The Lord Of The Rings, so they were quite a visual act and of course Vince was such an incredible musician - the improvisations he could go into had you at the edge of your seat most of the time.’

Around the time that Crane was sharing his on-the-road contentment with the Melody Maker, in September 1970, the single ‘Tomorrow Night’ was released. It had been presciently cited in a Melody Maker concert review that same month as ‘a curiously commercial sound that made amends for all we had heard previously’ – the reviewer being unimpressed with the ‘incredibly repetitive’ nature of the show’s first half which had consisted of ‘the long and laborious presentation’ of both new and old material. After ‘Tomorrow Night’ had broken the spell of earnest tedium, felt the reviewer, Michael Benton, things became more engaging:

‘Songs like ‘Can’t Take No More’ and ‘Gershatzer’ really shone. ‘Gershatzer, a Vincent Crane composition and a track from their next album, was without doubt the best example of what Rooster can do individually as well as collectively. Crane played a stunning organ solo and new recruit Paul Hammond on drums played a cool, confident solo which, although it could not compare to his predecessor, earned him great applause. When they left the stage they were accompanied by cries for more…’

That particular performance had taken place at Margate’s Dreamland Ballroom - a typical venue for the band, as Donal recalls:‘ There’d always be a bunch of hippies at the front, in these ballroom places,’ he says, ‘sitting on the floor, nodding along all night. But others at the back, wanting more of a rock element, would drift. It was almost like a recital sometimes. There were a lot of ballrooms and town halls turned over to rock music at that time and they could be very echoey - and Atomic Rooster were a loud band. The PA systems they used would have been a high quality for their time. But sometimes it felt like they should be playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall or somewhere like that.’

However impressive their ongoing success as a live draw in Europe, Atomic Rooster never quite made it beyond the clubs, colleges and ballrooms in Britain. Sustained success with crossover hit singles could well have made the difference, and it wasn’t beyond their capabilities. Indeed, this was to be the line-up to score two UK hits in rapid succession. The first was Vince’s composition ‘Tomorrow Night’, and rarely can there have been a more slow-burning chart success. As the Melody Maker put it literally six months after its release, when the single was peaking at No.9 in the NME chart (No.11 in the charts later used by the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles): ‘A sleeper for a couple of months, the lower reaches of the 30s for a while then, in under a month, straight into the Top 10... A funky little song with a definite melody line above the funk. The sort of line a postman sings on his rounds and housewives hum after the Jimmy Young Show.’

ROOSTER MK3: 'TOMORROW NIGHT' - TOTP 1971

The single’s success allowed Crane to feel, justifiably, that he had shaken off the shadow of his previous associations with Arthur Brown and Carl Palmer. He put ‘Tomorrow Night’s slow progress down to a conspiracy of DJs not willing to play it (though it had, entirely out of character, been supported from an early stage by sensational soul man Tony Blackburn), but applauded B&C for pushing it for so long.

Rooster’s BBC profile was actually reaching a high at this stage: a particularly monolithic version of the single had been recorded for John Peel’s show in January 1971 while tracks from the new album were featured in a Sounds Of The Seventies broadcast in March with an In Concert (their second) around the same time and at least one appearance on Top Of The Pops, on March 19th. By the end of the month the new album, Death Walks Behind You, had shifted a healthy 15,000 copies and would peak at No.12 in the UK album chart.

Rooster’s schedule was frantic: on the day of an NME interview at the single’s height the band had just returned from a European tour, had already that day given local radio interviews and a location photo-shoot, were on route to Top Of The Pops, would be in a German TV studio by 10.30 the next morning and fly immediately thence to Scotland to begin a short tour. A week later Crane could inform the MM that 1600 people had turned up at the first show - mostly ‘teenyboppers’ whom he wryly suggested might have been ‘a little surprised by what we were playing’. To his credit, though, Crane welcomed anyone into his audience. To do otherwise, he believed, was ‘musical snobbishness’.

While the single was certainly a toe-tapper, much of the album – barring the very beautiful, if typically downbeat, Crane ballad ‘Nobody Else’ - was indeed an exercise in rather doomy heavy rock. The use of William Blake’s paranoic depiction of the mad king Nebuchadnezzar on the gatefold produced a definitive slice of seventies sleeve art and a compelling illustration to the bone-crunching title track - an initially startling if ultimately somewhat plodding Crane/Cann co-write. As ever with Vince’s lyrics, there wasn’t a great deal of light to the shade:

‘He was obviously channelling a lot of negativity,’ says Donal, ‘like a classic ‘Neil from The Young Ones’ type figure. He alluded to me that he’d felt very hard done by with the Arthur Brown situation, having done all the arrangements and orchestrations for the album and Arthur getting all the credit, and then the usual claims of lack of royalties and so on. It had left a bitter experience with him. And then I think there was always the feeling that, for all his degrees in music, he wasn’t properly appreciated by the media as the capable musician he was but rather as some kind of weirdo. I remember telling Vince [with regard to a recording] that he should add marimbas to one particular track, to bring out the lovely musical passages in it. It became very heavy going to listen to a lot of the music on recordings and even at gigs people could get a little restless…’

On a musical level, taking the album as a whole, John Cann had put his hard-rocking stamp on the group’s sound. Paul Hammond, always at Crane’s heels in the ‘looking evil’ stakes (and this was definitely an image cultivated by the group), tipped the balance in favour of the heaviosity. As Crane mused much later, during this line-up’s brief early eighties reunion, Paul ‘sort of accepted the Rooster philosophy through the lyrics, which freaks me and John out a bit.’

Much of the band’s vibe was based around a culture of soft drug use, which had not been something Donal Gallagher had experienced with Taste: ‘One thing that did concern me was driving what was quite a large truck for its time with the band in the back rolling up,’ he reflects, ‘particularly if you were stopped by police on the motorway, where I would have been ‘in charge of the vehicle‘. But it was a chance I had to take to keep the gig. I recall at one point we were staying at a large guest house in Manchester, which I’d used during the Taste period and which had a late bar. We had a Sunday night off there and the main focus on the Sunday was where they could score something to smoke - John going one way, somebody else going another. Nothing materialised and they went back to the hotel in a sea of depression. I started to give the lads a talking to, trying to say they’d be better off with a drink! I went down to the bar and they proceeded to drift in one by one, because there was little else to do, and started having shots of whisky and beers and so on - and actually became quite merry. It ended up being quite a fun night because they obviously weren’t used to drink - and I was pretty hardened by that stage. I remember the next day realising that some of them had never had a hangover in their life. It was like the Devil’s answer!’

The non-album single ‘Devil’s Answer’ – a wonderfully catchy pop/rock offering from John Cann – was swiftly recorded as a follow-up to ‘Tomorrow Night‘, with a Vince Crane brass arrangement adding zest to the hard rock. Indeed, it may have been already in the can back in March (a ‘single-in-waiting’ cryptically referred to during one of the many press interviews of this period). The B-side, however, demonstrated more clearly where Crane was seeing the group going. A fabulously languorous groove-based instrumental with clipped, funky horn-section stabs, ‘The Rock’ reflected several comments Crane had been making in print of late: ‘You know, you really can learn a lot from James Brown,’ he’d mused on one occasion; on another he stated emphatically that the group was ‘moving towards structural music, with a hypnotic feel over a steady beat.’ Clearly, this was news to the rest of the band.

ROOSTER MK3: 'DEVIL'S ANSWER' - TOTP - JULY 1971

‘Devil’s Answer’ entered the UK chart on July 10 1971, eventually reaching No.4. Seemingly only a couple of weeks earlier Rooster’s line-up had been bolstered by the addition of vocalist Pete French, previously a member of various bands including the highly collectable Leafhound and the entirely forgotten Big Bertha. Rooster’s third album, In Hearing Of…, was presumably completed during June and early July for within days of ‘Devil’s Answer’ entering the charts Crane asked Cann to leave. He did so, taking Paul Hammond with him – the pair regrouping as Hard Stuff, a name almost retaliatory in the light of Crane’s soul/funk preoccupation. ‘I knew there was a danger that if I asked John to leave the band Paul would go with him because of their friendship,’ Crane later recalled. ‘I thought it was necessary to take the risk because if John stayed I couldn’t do what I wanted with the group and it would just have been a waste of time… I would never get rid of anybody for personal reasons. It’s the music that was wrong and that’s why John had to go.’

Following a 1980 comeback album featuring Crane, Cann and drummer Preston Heyman entitled, a tad confusingly, Atomic Rooster, the trio of Crane, Cann and Hammond would come together as Atomic Rooster once again (and once again for only a matter of months before musical or other differences got in the way). They would release two singles, ‘Play It Again’ and ‘End Of The Day’, the 12 inch versions of which would boast, as bonus tracks, new recordings (in a more powerful if less funky ’New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ style) of ‘Devil’s Answer’ and ‘Tomorrow Night’ respectively.

But back in that summer of 1971 Crane was hardly to know that, however profound he felt the musical problems to be, imploding the line-up that had delivered two British hit singles would prove the undoing of Atomic Rooster as a commercial force. Donal Gallagher, as roadie, would also take his leave from the Rooster around this time. But not before engineering what, to this writer’s knowledge at least, would be the only Vincent Crane guest appearance on another artist’s record during the whole Rooster era. The occasion would be two largely acoustic tracks on his brother Rory’s first album, Rory Gallagher, recorded for Polydor during August 1971:

‘Rory was looking for somebody who could do a barrelhouse piano style,’ says Donal, ‘and there weren’t many piano players around at that time who could do that. I suggested Vince. At that time our agents, Gaff/Masters - Billy Gaff and Robert Masters, which later became Gaff Management - were also Vince’s agents. So Rory and Vince were basically in the same ‘stable’. I chatted to Vince about it and he was very sceptical. He took a bit of convincing, that he could play in the right style, but I explained it was more about getting a certain ’feel’ and he eventually said he’d give it a try. There was a similarity somewhere there. I saw it, certainly, because these were two people completely obsessed with their music quite intense about it. So there was a healthy respect there.

‘I remember going down to Stratford to collect Vince for the session. It was my 21st birthday and his wife Pat produced this cake, which had been ‘maturing away‘, shall we say. I felt I couldn’t decline a piece, but it was almost the undoing of me. I remember driving up to Advision Studios, just off Oxford Street, and completely losing the plot - while Vince was looking over at me, smiling a lot!

‘But there was also a kind of spiritual side to Vince. At the terraced house he was sharing with Pat they must have had about 20 or 30 cats living with them. I was always dumbfounded because they knew the name and the dietary likes of every one of the cats - separate tins for each cat. I mean, some of the bedrooms, which had double beds in them, were given over to the cats. It was quite something. I found it quite spooky, this witchcraft vibe it seemed to represent. He also carried Tarot cards around with him and had this party trick where, half way through a conversation, he would produce a card and show it to someone and say, ‘That is the answer!’ or something like that. Not fully understanding the whole thing myself, they all looked quite frightening!’

Nevertheless, Donal always retained a fondness for Vince and in later years kept in touch to some extent via Andy Heath, a mutual friend and long-time publisher of Vince’s musical copyrights: ‘I just found Vince a very pleasant soul to be with,’ says Donal. ‘I wouldn’t say it was easy but because Rory was also a stand-alone type of person I’d kind of grown up with the protocol of knowing when to be there and when not to be there, when they needed their space. I found that was what Vince required. So we got on. When Andy told me [in the late 80s] that Vince was seriously ill with depression, a while before Vince died, he was trying all he could to see what he could do for him. We had chats about Vince and I’d suggested to Andy that I’d like to help him but Andy was saying, ‘You don’t want to bring that on yourself…’.’

ROOSTER: MK4 - Vincent Crane (organ), Pete French (vocal), John Du Cann (gtr), Paul Hammond (drums) - 'BREAKTHROUGH' - From the LP 'IN HEARING OF'

THIRD LP: In Hearing Of… Atomic Rooster

Having set out their progressive rock stall in 1970 with an ambitious first album - doomy lyrics and pastoral vibes with virtuoso workouts from a singular trio of bass/flute, drums and keyboards - and having moved onwards and upwards in first half of 1971 with two British hit singles and the mercilessly focused hard rock of Death Walks Behind You, Atomic Rooster were in a position to make the leap from being a hard-working clubs and colleges act to a first-division British rock export, alongside the likes of Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Deep Purple and the rest. In spite of making the leanest, meanest, best and best-selling album of their brief, five-album existence - the halfway high point, in retrospect, on an uncannily symetrical rise and fall graph - the Rooster would only taste the hors d’ oeuvres of a truly international career before sliding under the table, leaving their visionary, Vincent Crane, to re-group for the umpteenth time and wonder where it all went wrong.

While the non-album single ‘Devil’s Answer’, written by John Cann, did the business as a follow-up to Crane’s breakthrough UK chart hit ’Tomorrow Night’ it was, however, its B-side which demonstrated most clearly where Crane was seeing the group (and it was, without doubt, his group) going. A fabulously languorous groove-based instrumental with clipped, funky horn-section stabs, ‘The Rock’ reflected several comments Crane had been making in print of late: ‘You know, you really can learn a lot from James Brown,’ he’d mused on one occasion; on another he stated emphatically that the group was ‘moving towards structural music, with a hypnotic feel over a steady beat.’ Clearly, this was news to the rest of the band.

‘Devil’s Answer’ entered the UK chart on July 10 1971, eventually reaching No.4. Seemingly around this very time Rooster’s line-up had been bolstered by the addition of vocalist Pete French.

A hungry young rocker from Battersea, French had made his first commercial recordings at the height of the ‘British blues boom’ as vocalist with the Brunning Sunflower Blues Band, on their 1968 Saga album Bullen Street Blues - on which he had also co-written half the tracks. Joining another London-based blues-rock outfit, the only semi-professional Black Cat Bones, he fronted their 1969 album Barbed Wire Sandwich, for Decca subsidiary Nova. Pete’s cousin and writing partner Mick Halls was also drafted into Black Cat Bones, as guitarist, and by 1970, with gigs in Europe under their belt, the pair were calling the shots - which meant a name change (to Leafhound) and a move towards a Led Zeppelin-esque style of hard rock, a style which suited Pete’s voice down to the ground.

Leafhound’s sole album, the cult classic Growers Of Mushroom, would end up receiving its belated UK release on Decca - ironically, a few weeks after Pete’s first (and last) album with Atomic Rooster. The delay in their album’s release - with Leafhound in the frustrating position of touring Scandinavia and Germany and going down a storm, but with nothing to sell, to build on for next time - had effectively sapped the will from the band and it had dissolved by the time Pete was brought into Rooster.

The backing tracks for what would become the band’s third album, In Hearing Of, were presumably completed during June and early July, for within days of ‘Devil’s Answer’ entering the charts Crane had asked Cann to leave. More or less, apparently, on the very day Pete French was invited to join:

‘It was a very strange set-up,’ says Pete. ‘I got a phone call from Robert Masters, the manager, because Vincent had heard Leafhound and liked the vocals - would I care to come down the studio and do some tracks…? So I went down the studio - Trident, round the back of the old Marquee Club - and met the boys, Paul Hammond and John Cann, and no sooner had I seen them than they disappeared and I was left with some headphones yelling over the tracks!

‘It was a most bizarre situation to walk into because all the tracks had been laid down and I realised that Vincent was taking out John Cann’s vocals and rubbing out a lot of the guitar. It was over-busy though, a lot of overkill. I can see now why Vincent wanted to curtail it a bit. It’s hard for me to say, because I came along after the events, but it does seem apparent that there was a definite contest of wills over keyboard and guitar. It got messy. I think John wanted to do millions of guitar parts and Vincent was saying, ‘Hang on a minute…’ It was, he felt, too much guitar and he wanted a ‘proper singer’. John wasn’t really a singer - like a lot of guitarists he can get by, but Vincent’s interpretation was that he wanted someone who could ‘project’. We got talking later on, as soon as I got taken under the wing, if you like, when he’d heard the vocals I was doing, and Vince said, ‘Right, well, listen, John’s going, Paul’s going ‘cos I’m sacking John…’ And I’m thinking, ‘I don’t believe it…!’

‘So there I was looking at Vince and he’s going, ‘Well, look Pete, like the vocals, you got the job, blah blah blah…’ And suddenly there’s no John - and I kinda like John’s guitar, the madness of it. I actually went to see them play in Richmond about two years previous and upon leaving it I was attacked by a gang of thugs and put in hospital for six months - fractured skull, broken nose, broken collar bone, the lot. That was my introduction to Atomic Rooster!

‘But I hit it off with Vince - a very professional musician. He made me feel a bit inadequate, to be perfectly honest - this cheeky cockney singer, me, and this very articulate keyboard player. I was trying to get on, as you do when you’re younger, and of course I didn’t even know about the American tour and what he had planned for the future. Rooster was big in England but they hadn’t had any world tours…’

Cann accepted Crane’s marching orders, taking Paul Hammond with him, and the pair subsequently regrouped as Hard Stuff, a name almost retaliatory in the light of Crane’s soul/funk preoccupation. ‘I knew there was a danger that if I asked John to leave the band Paul would go with him because of their friendship,’ Crane later recalled. ‘I thought it was necessary to take the risk because if John stayed I couldn’t do what I wanted with the group and it would just have been a waste of time… I would never get rid of anybody for personal reasons. It’s the music that was wrong and that’s why John had to go.’

There were expressions of bad feeling from John at the time, but whatever his limitations as a musician one has to question Crane’s timing: a Cann-fronted, Cann-written hit single was currently rising up the charts, a new album featuring his playing would be released in August and having just secured a US deal with Elektra the group were on the verge of their first American tour. Not only that, but because of previous line-up changes Cann had already overdubbed his guitar and (replacing Nick Graham on ‘Friday The 13th’) his voice on three tracks from the first album for its belated US release, while the imminent tour would be specifically to promote the just-released-there second album, Death Walks Behind You. There were only so many albums and line-up anomalies a nation could be expected to catch up on in one go. The non-album single ‘Devil’s Answer’ was also scheduled for American release to coincide with the tour. In the event, Pete French would be invited, mid-tour, to overdub his voice on the track for the US market. (‘Tomorrow Night’, sung by Crane, would also get a US release and while neither single caught on, the Death Walks album did scrape into the US Top 100 at No.90 – a pretty reasonable feat for a second division British rock band.)

The American tour – a coast-to-coast affair scheduled to last up to mid-October - began early in August 1971. Only two or three weeks earlier Crane had recruited Steve Bolton, a twenty-two year old guitarist from Manchester (whose London-based group Wide Open had just split in a manner akin to their name) and, for the second time, drummer Ric Parnell, who had played with Rooster for a couple of months in between Carl Palmer and Paul Hammond, in the summer of 1970. At that stage, Vincent had felt that Ric had the potential to become a great drummer within a few months - but that he, Vincent, couldn’t wait that long. With perfect timing, Ric - who went on to a certain level of immortality as the exploding drummer in spoof rockumentary Spinal Tap - was now back. The personnel to move from hard rock towards a kind of simmering hybrid prog/funk was at last in place.

‘I loved Ric,’ says Pete, ‘he’s a diamond, a great guy, laid-back, perpetually on something…! He played in a certain style, good timing, really laid-back snare. Other drummers would play very on-the-beat but he’d have it just a little bit held bit and it was really good.’

Pete wasn’t so sure about the new guitarist: ‘I didn’t rate him as a guitarist, after John, to be honest. He was perfectly adequate - good but not manic [like John]. But then again Vincent had decided that was what he wanted, and this was his big shot at making it big time [in America].’

'A SPOONFUL OF BROMIDE HELPS THE PULSE RATE GO DOWN' - Vincent Crane (organ), Steve Bolton (gtr), Ric Parnell (drums) - BELGIAN TV 1972

Debuting at the Van Dike Club in Plymouth, the new line-up received a panning for it in Sounds - a review to which Vincent sought, and received, a right to reply with the magazine a few weeks later: ‘I felt that, considering it was the first gig the new band had done,’ he said, ‘and that we’d only had a week’s rehearsal, it was a pretty good gig. The audience seemed to like it a lot - it didn’t seem to upset them at all. It was virtually a new group - that was the most important thing as far as I was concerned.’ it always was.

While Rooster were never likely to be darlings of the music press back home, Crane saw the US tour as their big chance: ‘Several people have said it’s a bad time for us to leave England just when the record is doing so well,’ he told Julie Webb at the NME, by phone from St Louis, ‘but I’ve waited for two years for this tour and it wasn’t going to be put off… And this time, as far as I know, there’s no chance of the group splitting!’ Alas, if anyone should have known not to tempt fate with such talk, it was Vince.

Meanwhile, housed in a wonderfully quirky Roger Dean sleeve design – replacing the monochrome message of Death Walks Behind You with colour and wit, and putting in caricature form four people who had barely ever been in a room together for a photo to be taken - In Hearing Of reached No.18 in the UK. It was to be Atomic Rooster’s best UK chart placing. Considering that the group were abroad for much of its lifespan, that its British reviews were strangely unsympathetic (‘dreadfully under-rehearsed and soulless,’ said the MM), this was very creditable.

Arguably Rooster’s most consistent album, it featured - most curiously, given that he wasn’t actually in the band at this stage - four co-writes between Vince and Ric Parnell. Musically, it was an exquisite, flab-free blend of Crane’s inimitable piano motifs and soulful grooves with Cann’s muscular riffing, Hammond’s perhaps surprisingly funky drumming and French’s magnificent, quintessentially English rock voice - a blend which would remain sadly unrepeated on record and underexposed in concert. Perhaps if there had been a UK single from the album - an edited ‘Breakthrough’ or ’Break The Ice’, perhaps - and if the band had been available for serious UK promotion of their work, the Rooster story may well have been different. But Vince’s focus was on America, and who could blame him?

‘We did a couple of universities in Britain,’ says Pete, ‘and then we went to Italy - went down a storm in Italy. So, a couple of little excursions and then it was the big one: the States, and Canada as well.’

Vince had already toured in America, with Arthur Brown’s Crazy World in 1969, but for Pete French it was to be a new experience and a great training ground: ‘It was like driving a high-speed motor car for the first time,‘ he says, ‘going out to address an alien audience for the first time, who expect an awful lot ‘cos they’ve seen everything. We were going onstage with Alice Cooper, with Cactus, with Yes - top acts. And you’ve got to be as good.’

The live set included both of the UK hits and selections from the two most recent albums: ‘We did ‘Tomorrow Night’, that was good fun,’ says Pete, ‘and ‘Breakthrough’, ‘Breaking The Ice’, ‘Decision/Indecision’ - I really liked ‘Decision/Indecision’. My favourite on the whole album though was ‘Breakthrough’. We also did ‘Devil’s Answer’ and ’Death Walks Behind You’; ‘Head In The Sky’ was a good rocker; ‘The Price’… Actually, I hated doing ‘The Price’. This line, ‘You can take my soul - do it, do it’, singing this on a regular basis didn’t taste too good. It sounds corny, but I really didn’t like the intention. It was bleedin’ morbid. I could deal with all the rest, but not that one - I like rock’n’roll, looking on the bright side, really.

‘But of course doing those songs live things get a little more exciting, you extend things a little and so on. And Vincent had his featured spots in the show - ‘Gershatzer’, ‘The Rock’, ‘Black Snake’… It was actually very good in America - I never left ‘cos I thought the band was crap onstage. Vincent was doing a whole showbiz trip, like [Keith] Emerson. It was a good show.’

Part-way through the tour the band slipped into Elektra Studios in Los Angeles, with the purpose of recording Pete’s vocal over the backing tracking track to ‘Devil’s Answer’. Clearly, Vince had been thinking ahead. Pete, meanwhile, was tickled just to be recording on the same microphone as Jim Morrison.

Things were rolling along pretty well, but Pete was having nagging doubts about his long-term future with Rooster on two levels: musically and personally.

‘What really hit me,’ he says, ‘was that, basically, I’m a rocker and when we did gigs with Cactus and I saw their rhythm section - Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, who are astronomically good, legends in America, and their guitarist was great - I was thinking, ’Our band just can’t cut this’. I’ve got nothing against Steve Bolton, a nice guy, but he wasn’t like Jim McCarthy of Cactus, not one of those kind of players. There are guitar players who knock you off your seat and there are guitar players who play a part, and Steve wasn’t one to knock you off your seat. He played very adequately, but he didn’t sparkle. The album stands up on its own, but [offstage] Vincent’s attitude didn’t let a lot of sunshine in. I liked the guy, but I couldn’t see us being bosom buddies, down the pub having a laugh. He didn’t seem to want to socialise - and you can’t make people what they’re not. We’d do the gig and then Vincent would be in his hotel room, while the other guys would want to go out. So when I saw this rock’n’roll band playing their arses off and they said, ’Would you care to join us…’

Pete would keep such talk to himself for a while yet, but from their new vocalist’s perspective things in the Rooster’s garden we not getting appreciably rosier:

‘Talking with him and Robert [Masters] at the time,’ says Pete, ‘Vince said, ‘Look Pete, the first tour we’re gonna lose money; the second tour hopefully we’ll at least break even; and the third tour we’ll make money.’ So he was projecting very positively - as one should, if you’re a professional, ‘cos it costs a lot of money to take a band to America. But I think Vince had a falling-out with Robert on that tour.’

Just because you’re a little paranoid doesn’t mean everyone’s out to get you - but Vince was taking no chances: ‘I think he’d had a bad experience with John,’ suggests Pete, ‘where John was trying to steal Vincent’s thunder - intentionally or otherwise. So he curtailed John and then he went into a shell, which made it very, very difficult to work with him. And without a team, you’re not a player, are you?’

While there were no BBC recordings made of the French line-up, the band did return home for a few days in the middle of the US tour to grasp probably the biggest UK concert opportunity of their career: third on the bill to The Who and The Faces, with an audience of 31,000, at a one-day festival at the Oval Cricket Ground, in aid of George Harrison’s Bangladesh appeal, on September 18th 1971.

‘I don’t want to say anything bad about Vincent because I did like his ability as a musician,’ says Pete, ‘but he was rather shrewd with his pennies, which didn’t make it easy for me. I was on a wage, but it was a small wage and it could get a little bit tight. When it came down to us doing this big return-home gig at the Oval with The Who and all that, I was left to get a bloody bus to the gig! It’s just not how you should treat your team. If anyone’s got any talent they’re not going to stick around and be treated like serfs - they want to be given some level of respect. I think it must have been to do with his depression.

‘[But] the gig was wonderful. And hearing Keith Moon saying to Rod Stewart, in his leopardskin pants, ‘Get your big fairy’s arse up there you faggott,’ as he’s walking onstage - it was so funny! The whole vibe was wonderful, a bit of magic, a big buzz of excitement - and I thought we did a bloody good show. We had some PA problems though I suspect the people who were headlining had control of the volume, shall we say - and you can’t argue with that!’

Rooster returned to America to finish their tour, but after the Oval fiasco Pete - a writer of songs, in every other band he’s been in, as well as a singer - had probably seen enough to make him wary of committing to Vince’s team for the long haul. He was still there when the band were reviewed (in a not terribly enthusiastic fashion) by Melody Maker at a Thursday night show in Newcastle, late January 1972 - but not for much longer:

‘In some ways, in retrospect,’ he suggests, ‘I think maybe I should have followed it through with Rooster, but I was getting negative vibes from Robert Masters - I don’t think he was managing the situation very well - and Vincent was very depressed, possibly because of that as well. You’ve got to get really close to the individual if you’re writing together, and if someone’s closing themselves away it’s very difficult. And this is where I thought I might have a bit of trouble - ‘cos you’d have to sit around that piano with Vincent and I’m like, ‘Yeeeahhh!!!!’ and Vincent’s sort of like, ‘Hmm, well, wait a minute…’ ’

Pete decided to accept that offer to join Cactus in America. People leaving Atomic Rooster was a pretty regular occurance - but not when it was their own choice:

‘Vincent didn’t want to lose me. He said, ‘Who the bloody hell do you think you are? You can’t go to America!’ And I said something like, ‘Watch this space…’ I can’t knock the guy, but he didn’t help me stay with the band - and then he resented the fact that Cactus had asked me to join. I saw Vincent afterwards though, after I’d left. Some time later I went over to see him, again at Camden and we dabbled on a few ideas at his piano. So we were still mates, still talking.’

Momentarily wrong-footed perhaps, Crane pulled himself together and simply called up Chris Farlowe - veteran British soul man and, for good or ill, destined to be the only vocalist in Rooster to last for two consecutive albums. The first of those albums, Made In England - written, recorded and released (in June 1972) with amazing speed - probably came closest of all the Rooster albums to realising Vince’s soul/prog fusion nirvana and, though commercially unsuccessful, still stands alone as a truly unique work of the progressive rock era.

By then but a casual observer, Pete French’s view of such a radical change in Rooster’s sound was presumably - given the inarguable deterioration in their record sales - reflected in significant numbers among their fan base:

‘I thought it had lost direction,’ says Pete. ‘I thought, ‘That’s not Rooster’. There were some ideas we were kicking around as a four-piece which were sounding quite promising - that to me was Atomic Rooster, young, energetic, good image. Farlowe’s a unique artist - I’ve seen him at gigs, he’s done some great stuff, he’s a great showman and I’ve respect for him as anyone should have. But he’s not in the Rooster idiom.’

Sometimes divided, in people’s minds, into the ‘John Cann era’ and the ‘Chris Farlowe era’, the Rooster story is in fact a more subtle one. In between each of these totemic versions of the true Rooster was the Rooster that might have been king - the virtually ex-pat Rooster, with Pete French their Daltry, Plant and Gillan. Regrettably, it was the potentially world-beating line-up of Rooster allowed to wither on the vine for the sake of a cab fare and a smile or two from Vince. But then, for all his obsessing on ‘the right people’ and ‘the right sound’, Vince wasn’t a well man. He remains, however, a man of great musical value and primacy - as Pete French is only too willing to acknowledge:

‘I liked Vincent, he was a truly interesting person. He had his own sound, a beautiful sound, and he was an original. You can never take that away from him. Sometimes I listen to the music we did and I think to myself, ‘Bloody good, yeah!’ And I did enjoy doing it - it was so original. Bands like Cactus, they rock it about, throw it from wall to wall but there’s nothing really original, nothing like ‘Breakthrough’ or ‘Tomorrow Night’. So you’ve got to give him the credit.

‘I remember Jeff Beck once said to me, ‘It’s not what you put in, it’s what you leave out that makes it interesting’ - because you‘ve got space, you can hear what’s going on. I was always impressed with the production on In Hearing Of and I think quite a bit of it was down to Vincent. I couldn’t put a lot of my identity on it because it was John Cann’s feed lines and the keys were already established - I was singing in John Cann’s key. But as it worked out I think I did quite a good job on it. Vincent made it a more sellable sound, because it left some space. It’s lean - which is great for vocals.

‘The only thing I found difficult with Vince - and it wasn’t his musical integrity, I can’t fault that at all, it was a very good education for me - was that he was very depressive. When we did the American tour he was a very shut-off guy to try and get to know - not impolite or rude, but very inside himself. He had a mad act on the stage, and we could have a good laugh with that, but [offstage] he was incredibly serious and very withdrawn and it’s very difficult to get on the warm side of somebody when they’re like that - you don’t get a lot of feedback. Which was a shame.’

ROOSTER MK6: Vincent Crane (organm), Chris Farlowe (vocal), Steve Bolton (gtr), Ric Parnell (drums) -'BREAKTHROUGH' - GERMAN TV 1971

FOURTH LP: Made In England

By the end of 1971 the dominant sound in British and American rock was the boozy clap-along boogie of The Faces, and those they inspired. Still striving for his dream-fusion of welding British progressive rock to the funky grooves of Afro-American soul, Vincent Crane was already in danger of becoming an anachronism: ‘We’re not really doing any beats that are particularly clap-along,’ he confessed to Sounds at the time. ‘I think it’s better to put on a musical show that they [the audience] can’t join in with too much than sort of have a party and everybody go home thinking they’ve had a good time.’

An open air festival at The Oval in September 1971, with the earnest Rooster third on the bill to the barnstorming people-power of The Faces and The Who, seems in hindsight to embody a kind of watershed moment in British music: on the one hand, no-nonsense swing-a-longsters like The Faces, The Who and, further down the bill, Lindisfarne and Mott The Hoople; and on the other, somewhat po-faced (by comparison) hang-overs from the sixties like Quintessence – a band ‘in their own little world, oblivious to reality’, in the words of one Oval reviewer. In spite of the powerful, London-geezer vocal style of Pete French, Atomic Rooster were in danger of slipping into the latter category in the eyes of the press (certainly) and the public (possibly). They had enjoyed two UK chart singles in the first half of the year, but by the time of the Oval gig - with an audience of 31,000 the biggest Rooster would ever play, at home or abroad - the line-up was already unrecognisable from that which had tasted chart success.

Already tempted by an offer to join big-league American stadium rockers Cactus, one not insignificant element in the factors which finally persuaded Pete French to quit Rooster the fact that Vincent Crane, or those managing him, had been too mean to give him a cab fare to the Oval gig. Also, there was the unavoidable personality difference between the cheery rocker and the perpetually distant, somewhat doom-laden pianist/band leader. For people travelling and, potentially, writing these things matter. Around February 1972 Pete accepted that offer from Cactus and left. Momentarily angry and wrong-footed, perhaps, Vince soon focused, as ever, on the practicalities and called up Chris Farlowe.

‘I was with Colosseum then Colosseum broke up,’ says Farlowe, matter-of-factly, ‘and a week later Vincent Crane called me and asked me if I’d like to join Atomic Rooster. I’d only heard their records, but I went along to the rehearsals, sang a few songs with them and he said, ‘Yeah, alright, you’re in…’’

A veteran of British soul and R&B, Farlowe had been gigging since the fifties and had enjoyed a 1966 UK pop/soul hit with ‘Out Of Time’, after which his pop career rapidly dissolved. His recent membership of jazz-rock fusion pioneers Colosseum had already raised eyebrows and his resurrection, once again, with Rooster seemed even more bizarre. As Ray Telford noted for Sounds, having met the man complete with corduroys, anorak and beer belly at Rooster’s publicist’s office in May ’72, he ‘looked like an East End fruit stall holder… even less like a rock and roll singer than he did at the very beginning of his career.’ But as Telford came close to discerning, Farlowe really didn’t give a toss: he did what he did, and the backing band was barely relevant.

As Chris puts it today: ‘I left Colosseum and walked into a job straight away.’ It was as simple as that. But, for Rooster fans, Farlowe’s presence in the band meant that it had already – aside from whatever Vince would write with such a distinctive sounding front-man in mind – become a very different animal to the whimsical prog musos of their eponymous first album, the pile-driving power trio of 1970’s Death Walks Behind You or the lean, funky rock machine of 1971’s Pete French-fronted In Hearing Of. The new sound would, in simple terms, see the funk outweigh the rock, and the vocal stylings outstripping the riffing. It would certainly be unique, but would it be popular…?

Concert recordings, including a third and final In Concert for BBC Radio 1 in June ’72 and a half-hour Belgian TV gig around the same time, reveal Farlowe as a swaggering, vivacious singer, teetering on the verge of parody with an irreverent take on the actual lyrics of the back catalogue, a propensity to throw soul-fried vocalisings wildly about and, on the TV concert at least, to wander about eating sandwiches during the instrumental bits. Even Farlowe, looking back on his Belgian buffet (currently available on DVD), has to admit: ‘Yeah… that was a weird one!’

Yet, for all his singularity and lack of the traditional posturing associated with rock singers Farlowe had an irrepressible stage presence and in Europe at least (where Rooster’s success would always be greater than in Britain or America) he was a star. His first undertaking with Rooster was a European tour and, as a publicity handout for the next Rooster album pointed out, ‘at his debut appearance with Rooster in Dusseldorf, on the announcement to the audience of his joining the band, several thousand people rose to their feet and cheered with joy’.

‘Was that with Deep Purple?’ says Chris. ‘Yeah, I think it was. We played in Germany a lot with Atomic Rooster - Colosseum were very big out there, still are. That was the sort of music the Germans like. They were all into that hippy-culture stuff. I mean, Vincent looked really strange, with his long hair and his headband and his Jimi Hendrix jackets and all that lark. Vincent was a strange cat, you know. [The rest of the band were] nice guys - I can’t remember much about them now. Ric Parnell, of course, on drums; Steve Bolton on guitar… They were not exactly in my sort of ilk - young guys, young hippy-type musicians, whereas I was the complete opposite of that. [But] I think they needed a distinctive voice. The Rooster fans loved it as far as I could see.

There were differences in lifestyle too, with the band espousing a pretty obvious druggy vibe. As ever, Chris didn’t really care: ‘I let things go along, it’s nothing to do with me, I’m not the manager of the band, you know? If someone wants to take drugs - I mean, we’re in the music business, what else can we do?’

‘Some people hated what Chris did to the band,’ admitted Crane, years later, ‘but it was me who wrote the music specifically for his voice. You can’t change the personnel and not the music.’ If Crane conceded in hindsight that Farlowe may not have been quite right for the band, he had no such qualms at the time: ‘I think he’s one of the top four singers in England,’ he told Sounds in July ’72. ‘He’s a very funky singer and so he should be with a funky band… I think there has been a habit of not taking us seriously by the press. I don’t know if this is due to all the personnel changes. [But] I am tempted to feel this is the first time Rooster is as I’ve wanted it to be, and this album we’ve got out now is so much better than anything else we’ve done.’

The album in question was the group’s fourth, Made In England - as if underlining their pride at having finally achieved a full-blown, unique fusion of English prog and American soul. Released in June 1972, Bolton and Parnell contributed two songs apiece with Crane providing six – songs and arrangements of a quality at odds with how quickly it must all have been written and recorded. ‘Things are really beginning to take shape,’ opined the Sounds reviewer. ‘The songs are infinitely better than his [Crane’s] earlier offerings.’

Most of Crane’s songs, as ever, had rather doomy, downbeat themes. Titles like ‘Time Take My Life’, ‘People You Can’t Trust’ and ‘Don’t Know What Went Wrong’ hardly need hearing to drive home their bleak message – although the quality and invention of Vince’s arrangements provided an exhilarating counterpoint to his message.

While his predecessor Pete Fench had certain qualms about fronting one or two of Vince’s lyrics, Farlowe was, typically, relaxed about the whole business: ‘Never bothered me,’ he says. ‘If someone wants me to sing a song, I don’t care - so long as they’re not silly lyrics, like pro-Nazi or something like that. I wouldn’t do it.’ Which raises the question about seemingly pro-Satan lyrics: ‘Hmm, I’ve never really thought of it like that,’ says Chris. ‘It wasn’t really Satan was it, really? But I don’t believe in all that stuff anyway, so it doesn’t bother me.’ Ah, well, that’s alright then.

'INTRODUCTION/BREATHLESS' - From MADE IN ENGLAND 1971

One song, the lyrically relatively innocuous ‘Stand By Me’, was released as a single from the album in both Britain and America but didn’t succeed in matching its forebears’ lofty achievements. It was a year too late. In Britain, Marc Bolan was the latest thing - much to Crane’s bewilderment, who felt he was ‘totally mediocre in every respect’. Nor could Crane, now name-dropping the Temptations as well as James Brown, understand how British soul had apparently fizzled out: ‘I feel Rooster are in a way the nearest thing you’ll get to what soul could have changed into.’ All of which was much too confusing for the average seventies rock fan – and, not until Crane was drafted into a last-gasp version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners towards the end of his life, would there be any obvious respect from the British soul community.

Part of this lack of acceptance as a soulful act must surely have been down to Vince’, and the band’s, by now deeply-ingrained image. No soul-boy in his right mind was going to invest in an album called Death Walks Behind You, let alone a gatefold-sleeved artefact with a Roger ‘Mr Prog-Rock’ Dean illustration on it (In Hearing Of). In modern terminology, if Rooster wanted to compete in the Stevie Wonder/Isaac Hayes/James Brown ballpark they needed re-branding on a monumental scale. But it was surely already too late, and Rooster were becoming something of a joke in the wider British rock world. Indeed, by way of example, when future Stealer’s Wheel mainstay and solo star Gerry Rafferty broke up his first band, The Humblebums, around this time, the direct impetus to do so was turning up at a college booking to find themselves supporting Atomic Rooster. The ignominy was simply too great.

In spite of two contemporaneous BBC studio sessions, the BBC In Concert and the record’s initial release in a green denim sack, Made In England – Rooster’s fourth album and their first for new label Dawn – sold poorly. Never one to panic, at least not in public, Crane looked forward to the possibility of a solo album (Farlowe was reportedly doing likewise) which would allow his creativity to venture into ballads and classical areas which he felt were unsuited to Atomic Rooster. The prospective album, he told Sounds, would be trailered by a solo single – an attractive piece of melancholia entitled ‘Can’t Find A Reason’ featuring just himself, an admirably restrained Farlowe and a string section. The single, confusingly credited to ‘Crane/Farlowe’, eventually appeared at the beginning of 1973, backed with a beautiful instrumental piano piece ‘Moods’, but there would sadly be no sign of a solo album. Indeed, Farlowe recalls no-one at Dawn actually offering him the possibility of a solo album and has seemingly no knowledge – despite its undeniable existence - of the single!

Around the time that Made In England was being promoted, in the summer of ’72, Crane dispensed with the group’s management. Seemingly still Robert Masters (business partner to Billy Gaff, who looked after Rod Stewart), there had been a strained relationship there since the band’s one and only American tour, of the previous summer.

‘He probably thought he could handle it better than anybody else could,’ suggests Farlowe, ‘and I don’t blame him. Managers are a pain in the arse most of the time.’

As Vince put it to Mark Plummer at Melody Maker in February ’73, in a feature ominously headed ‘Vincent Crane does his sums’: ‘A manager is a salesman a group who’ve made it don’t need.’ This was a questionable view even allowing for its premise that Rooster had ‘made it’. In a nutshell, Crane’s decision to take control of his group’s business as well as its musical direction was the product of regret at not having followed up ‘Devil’s Answer’ through management advice (and consequently not making the leap up from club level to concert hall tours), growing irritation at paying out ‘thirty per cent of everything’ to someone else and also the way in which management could frustrate creative decision making.

Illustrating his point, he told Plummer that a notion to revamp ‘Friday The 13th’ as a new British single drenched in wah-wah guitar, brass section and a barnstorming Chris Farlowe vocal had been conceived, executed and delivered to the record label’s door in three days flat. ‘A manager can’t spend three solid days on one idea and I can,’ said Crane, emphatically. A decent manager would, however, have examined the pros and cons of such an idea more dispassionately and Crane’s argument was undermined by the fact that the now-renamed ‘Save Me’, released in November ’72 and supported by a seventh and final BBC radio session, had failed to set the charts alight. Plummer was nevertheless impressed with Crane’s potential on a general level, and his critique deserves repeating:

‘Crane is one of the few musicians I’ve met who has an understanding of how to run a business and coupled with that he has a high intellect that verges on madness. At times he certainly looks mad, his long hair hanging limp and greasy past his shoulders in a strangely sinister manner and his face has an uncanny look about it, echoing the intensity of his character. A wispy moustache adds a touch to the prince of darkness look and he has long fingers, artistic and thin with dirty nails. Talking about his move into managing himself the word destiny frequently creeps into his conversation…’

‘He was into black magic and all that lark,’ says Chris Farlowe, shedding a little light on Crane’s darkness. ‘I suppose you would be a bit morose if you were into that sort of stuff. It wasn’t just an image - him and his wife were really into it. I went and had dinner with them one night, at their house, and it was like going into Dracula’s castle! I mean, I walked in the front door and the first thing I saw was about 50 cases - 24 tins to a case - of cat food, piled up against the wall. I mean, I like cats, but I thought to myself ’Good God…’ [But] musically he was quite a genius at what he was doing, a great player, and definitely an original. I loved singing with him. He was a great musician.’

'EAR IN THE SNOW' - From 'NICE'N'GREASY (ROOSTER MK6 or 7 or 8...)

FIFTH LP: Nice’n’Greasy

By the time their fourth album came around, in the spring of 1972, Atomic Rooster mainman Vincent Crane was causing eyebrows to be raised among the British progressive rock community - a community which had supported his band loyally through its first three (obviously rock based) albums, two hit singles and any number of line-up changes. Having unleashed a daring fusion of soul/funk and rock on Made In England (their first album for the progressive Pye label subsidiary Dawn), Vince was now name-dropping the likes of the Temptations and James Brown in his fairly frequent press interviews.

‘I feel Rooster are in a way the nearest thing you’ll get to what soul could have changed into,’ he’d mused on one occasion. All of which was much too confusing for the average ‘70s rock fan. Not until Crane was drafted into a last-gasp version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners towards the end of his life, would there be any obvious respect from the British soul community - although Chris Farlowe, in his own bloke-ish sort of way, knew he was dealing with an eccentric, but class, act: ‘Musically, he was quite a genius at what he was doing,’ says Chris, ‘a great player, and definitely an original. I loved singing with him.’

In spite of its strong (if stylistically controversial) content, two contemporaneous BBC studio sessions, a BBC In Concert and the novelty of its initial release in a green denim sack, Made In England had sold poorly.

Never one to panic, at least not in public, Crane was looking forward to the possibility of a solo album with his new label, which would allow his creativity to venture into ballads and classical areas which, he felt, were unsuited to Atomic Rooster. The prospective album, he told Sounds, would be trailered by a solo single – an attractive piece of melancholia entitled ‘Can’t Find A Reason’ featuring just himself, an admirably restrained Chris Farlowe (for whom it remains his own favourite song from the Rooster era) and a string section.

The single, confusingly credited to ‘Crane/Farlowe’, eventually appeared at the beginning of 1973, backed with a beautiful instrumental piano piece, ‘Moods’. Sadly, the exquisite ’Moods’ would be as far as the idea of a Vincent Crane solo album would ever get. (Intriguingly, it was reported at the time that Chris Farlowe was also looking forward to a solo album with Dawn; Farlowe has, today, no recollection of this project at all, and has seemingly no knowledge – in spite of its undeniable existence - of the single.)

'CAN'T FIND A REASON' - BELGIAN TV 1972

Around the time that Made In England was being promoted, in the summer of ’72, Crane dispensed with the group’s management. Seemingly still Robert Masters (business partner to Billy Gaff, who looked after Rod Stewart), there had been a strained relationship there since the band’s one and only American tour, of the previous summer.

‘He probably thought he could handle it better than anybody else could,’ suggests Farlowe, ‘and I don’t blame him. Managers are a pain in the arse most of the time.’

As Vince put it to Mark Plummer at Melody Maker in February ’73, in a feature ominously headed ‘Vincent Crane does his sums’: ‘A manager is a salesman a group who’ve made it don’t need.’ This was a questionable view even allowing for its premise that Rooster had ‘made it’. In a nutshell, Crane’s decision to take control of his group’s business as well as its musical direction was the product of regret at not having followed up ‘Devil’s Answer’ through management advice (and consequently not making the leap up from club level to concert hall tours), growing irritation at paying out ‘thirty per cent of everything’ to someone else and also the way in which management could frustrate creative decision making.

Illustrating his point, he told Plummer that a notion to revamp their very first single ‘Friday The 13th’ as a new British single drenched in wah-wah guitar, brass section and a barnstorming Chris Farlowe vocal had been conceived, executed and delivered to the record label’s door in three days flat. ‘A manager can’t spend three solid days on one idea and I can,’ said Crane, emphatically. A decent manager would, however, have examined the pros and cons of such an idea more dispassionately and Crane’s argument was undermined by the fact that the now-renamed ‘Save Me’, released in November ’72 and supported by the group’s seventh and final BBC radio session, had failed to set the charts alight. Plummer was nevertheless impressed with Crane’s potential on a general level, and his critique deserves repeating:

‘Crane is one of the few musicians I’ve met who has an understanding of how to run a business and coupled with that he has a high intellect that verges on madness. At times he certainly looks mad, his long hair hanging limp and greasy past his shoulders in a strangely sinister manner and his face has an uncanny look about it, echoing the intensity of his character. A wispy moustache adds a touch to the prince of darkness look and he has long fingers, artistic and thin with dirty nails. Talking about his move into managing himself the word destiny frequently creeps into his conversation…’

‘He was into black magic and all that lark,’ says Chris Farlowe, shedding a little light on Crane’s darkness. ‘I suppose you would be a bit morose if you were into that sort of stuff. It wasn’t just an image - him and his wife were really into it. I went and had dinner with them one night, at their house, and it was like going into Dracula’s castle! I mean, I walked in the front door and the first thing I saw was about 50 cases - 24 tins to a case - of cat food, piled up against the wall. I mean, I like cats, but I thought to myself ’Good God…’

One can forgive Chris alighting on this ‘into black magic’ notion with Vince - after all, one hardly needs to play his records backwards to hear the odd negative vibe (and Rooster must hold some sort of record for the appearance of Satan in song titles) - but the assumption that Vince and his group were ‘into black magic’, while a pretty reasonable one, is worth pinning down once and for all. Vince’s childhood friend, performance poet Paul Green, spent most of the Rooster years in Canada but he returned to England in the mid ‘70s and remained Vince’s closest friend almost right up to his death in 1989. He has this to say on the matter:

‘A lot of people assume very superficially that all the members of Atomic Rooster were card-carrying Satanists, carrying out human sacrifices in the back garden - well, this is not the case! Vincent, on one level, was fascinated by the paranormal. He was very interested in the Tarot, performed Tarot readings in the garden [of the post-Rooster house he bought with second wife Jean in Maida Vale]. He’d read quite widely in eastern and western mysticism rather than magic and witchcraft - though he did know a bit about that. But at the same time he was incredibly sceptical. For him the Tarot was a scientific experiment: here’s a belief system, let’s see if it works. In his darker moods, though, I think he would make connections. But if you talked to him about people like Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley he would say, ‘They’re a bunch of charlatans, frauds…’. So he was fascinated with all sorts of questions: the nature of reality, consciousness, whether the mind could control matter, survival after death… But I think some of the pessimism in the music is possibly because some of the apparent avenues to higher consciousness didn’t materialise.’

A week before his February ’73 interview with the Melody Maker Vince had given a similar interview to Sounds. His message here was that while the past six months had been a difficult time - restructuring the group’s business arrangements and suchlike - things were now in place for a fresh start: ‘It feels like a whole new band and I’m very enthusiastic about it,’ he told Penny Valentine. In fact, it almost was a whole new band: guitarist Steve Bolton had left to pursue a journeyman career in numerous bands (eventually hitting a career-profile high in the expanded 1989 reunion version of the Who), to be replaced by one Johnny Mandala, who would later gain attention as John Goodsal in fusion band Brand X. Crane was freely admitting to past mistakes, like ‘changing the personnel at an odd time’ (not least on the very eve of a major American tour and album campaign, for third album In Hearing Of) and undertaking what was to be a promising but ultimately stillborn American tour, but he still felt that the main reason Rooster had never quite caught on in Britain was a musical one: surely the new line-up would finally convince the punters?

‘The old numbers sound so much better on stage now that I feel like re-recording them,’ he enthused. Perhaps a killer live album – in an era when live albums (preferably doubles or triples) carried weight and good ones bestowed gravitas – might have made a difference. Certainly, Johnny Mandala was the first conventional ‘lead guitarist’ as such that Rooster had had – as Crane put it, ‘the first we’ve had that’s seen the gaps I write in and realised he’s got to fill them in.’

But rather than a live album, Rooster dived into the studio in February ’73 and recorded Nice’n’Greasy - a rag-bag of sounds and styles. The sound was yet more dense and langourous than Made In England, but with less of its disciplined arrangements and certainly not its consistency of material. In short, it sounded like a band who had recorded too soon, too quickly with too many spliffs going around. That impression was underlined by the presence of the singles ‘Save Me’ and ‘Can’t Find A Reason’ – both a year old by the time the album appeared, in a singularly unappealling UK sleeve, in September 1973. Curiously, the album seems to have appeared in a variety of sleeves: in the UK it was a cigarette stubbed out on a plate of greasy food; in Europe, a bizarre piece of art depicting members of the band astride phallic rockets; in America (where it was retitled, erroneously, Atomic Rooster IV), it was a piece of macho fantasy art involving a somewhat bionic depiction of a rooster.

Even a committed fan like Jerry Gilbert, reviewing the work in Sounds, could not but conclude that this was ‘a backwards step… a decadent rut… [with] very little room for that old Vincent Crane magic to weave through.’

Presumably dropped from Dawn at this point, a one-off single appeared on Decca in March 1974 as a coda to the Atomic Rooster saga. Credited to ‘Vincent Crane’s Atomic Rooster’ (as if there could be any doubt at this stage) ‘Tell Your Story, Sing Your Song’ was a valient attempt at a breezy pop single, backed by the paranoic ‘O.D.’ – both sides of Vincent Crane on one handy disc. (Both sides of this single can be found on the Sanctuary Atomic Rooster 2CD compilation Heavy Soul.) Later that year, or perhaps limping into 1975, Crane called it a day.

Fending off the bailiffs (at one point applying the crazed logic of bricking up his front door to avoid writs being served), Vince moved into theatre, working as musical director for various productions at the Shaftesbury, Old Vic and Vaudeville Theatres and meeting future partner Jean through moving in such circles. Divorcing his first wife Pat in 1976 he married Jean the following year, though back in ’75 they had written a twenty-two minute concept piece together, Taro Rota, which Crane hoped – in vain - to record with full orchestration and Arthur Brown on vocals. Thankfully, Jean has recently made a wonderful solo Vincent piano/vocal demo version available on CD, which is (albeit by default) probably the closest we will have to the once mooted Vincent Crane solo album.

During the late ‘70s he also scored a couple of radio dramas for his friend Paul Green, even teaching recorder at a school in Battersea: ‘He was quite proud of his teaching,’ says Green, ‘and very professional, though he wasn‘t in the best mental health. They were desperately getting money together because he and Jean had taken a very short lease on this enormous block of flats in Maida Vale and they had to refurbish it or they’d lose the lease, lose everything.’

Vince and Jean finally achieved their purchase of the property and, as Green - their lodger for a period in the early eighties - testifies, they had many moments of great happiness. But the winter of 1977/78 was touch and go. Vincent decided to sort out a national fire service strike by releasing, as Green Goddess, a single called ’Fire Fighter’: ’When it failed to make an impression he thought it was a plot by the Callaghan government,’ says Paul Green. ‘It was a real crisis for Jean. Vincent had had 5000 copies pressed and I remember on Christmas Eve he said, ’Right, we’re going on a publicity tour of Devon’. His mania could be infectious!’ That was the weekend that he decided he had to have a tour in Northern Ireland to sort out the troubles…’

Perhaps inevitably, Vince reformed Rooster in 1980 with John Cann (guitarist on the ‘original’ band‘s second and third albums, Death Walks Behind You and In Hearing Of) – unashamedly on the back of the ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’, and with this aspect of their old sound to the fore. An album, Atomic Rooster, appeared on EMI that year and, for a brief period in 1981, Paul Hammond (drummer on the aforementioned second and third albums) was back in on drums. ’Vincent Crane looks and performs exactly as he did all those years ago,’ wrote one concert reviewer in 1981. ’And I’d swear he was wearing the same headband.’

Although there was modest success with two singles from this reunited trio, Cann mysteriously quit that year. These were, though, generally happy times for Vince and Jean. They would often host entertaining soirees and jam sessions for their lodgers, where Vince’s party tricks would include elaborately staged demonstrations of ‘telepathy’ (wherein he had, in fact, memorised complete paragraphs from scores of different books scattered around the flat). ‘When the children from my first marriage would come to visit,’ says Paul Green, ‘Vincent would entertain them for hours with bizarre conjuring tricks and juggling and impressions.’

KATMANDU - 1985 - 'CRANE'S TRAIN BOOGIE'

Meanwhile, a curious side project had come along in between Vince’s Rooster revivals: a ramshackle but delightful old-style R&B record (as Katmandu), with lost legend Peter Green and Mungo Jerry mainman Ray Dorset. ‘What is insane to some people is can seem pretty normal to me,’ says Dorset. ‘So Vincent and me got on like a house on fire, ‘cos we shared the same humour, had such a great laugh together. He was a one-off, a person I’ll never forget. Though for someone who smoked a lot of grass he was very ‘speedy’. I guess the grass slowed down the manic side of him - but then it probably added to his paranoia.’

Over the winter of 1982/83, Vince willingly roped in near neighbours Tubular Bells producer Tom Newman (trailing wires from his mobile studio, on the street, into Vince’s front room) and Pink Floyd man Dave Gilmour into creating what would be the last ‘Atomic Rooster’ album Headline News - released on the pitifully obscure Towerbell label, but revealing exciting new possibilities in Vince’s music. It was promoted on what was to prove the very last ‘Atomic Rooster’ tour, of Germany, with guitarist Bernie Torme on board alongside old comrade Paul Hammond. Jean Crane has made a recording from this tour, Live In Germany, posthumously available on CD.

Following the tour Vincent became dejected about his musicianship and stayed at home for months practising at his grand piano. By autumn ‘83, Jean spotted an ad in the Melody Maker for a ‘name band’ wanting ‘soulful players. Somehow she knew it would be Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and encouraged Vince to make the call. He did.

‘We’d seen a lot of people,’ recalls chief Dexy, Kevin Rowland, ‘and they all had a little bit of soul, a little spark, but just couldn’t go to that extra level. But I was just taken by Vince from the off. When I first saw him he was wearing a denim waistcoat, cheesecloth shirt, tight jeans flared from the knee, thick belt. After about six months I said to him, ‘Vince, how the fucking hell do you find cheesecloth shirts and flared trousers in 1983?’ And I know about clothes! And he said, ‘I have to go to Balham - there’s one shop that still sells ‘em’. Now, I respected him for that: ‘This is me’.’

With Vince hired, Dexy’s began working towards their commercially suicidal masterpiece, Don’t Stand Me Down - an ensemble piece, to be recorded as live and with no singles planned. ‘It was so big, so hard to do,’ says Kevin. ‘[But] Vince completely got the vision, from the off. He just knew how to play it - a genius.’ Recording would take place in the summer of ‘84 in Montreux.

While the eventual album has subsequently come to be regarded as a classic, its recording was a high pressure situation, and Vince - while delivering the goods musically - went over the edge on a personal level, in terms of his mental health. Getting himself together enough to tour with Dexys and to contribute to a handful of additional singles tracks (including the hit single, and theme song to TV sitcom Brush Strokes, ‘Because Of You’) in 1985, his marriage to Jean was nevertheless on the rocks. Although there was talk of further Rooster reunions, Vince’s mental health was continuing to go downhill and - having been in and out of various institutions at various times over the previous 20 years - he was rejecting the advice of Paul Green and other friends to seek help.

By the end of 1988 Kevin Rowland, having navigated his own band’s demise, was still largely unaware of Vince’s long-term problems: ‘I don’t know who phoned who,’ says Kevin, but one night we decided we’d go out for a drink together, to the Zanzibar in Covent Garden. I dropped him off on the way home and as he was getting out of the car he says to me, ‘Oh, thanks a lot for that drink, Kev - that really cheered me up no end…’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I hadn’t realised you were fed up.’ ‘Cos the whole evening he hadn’t seemed like he was.’

A few weeks later, on a stormy St Valentine’s Day 1989, Vincent Crane - momentarily convinced that he’d let everyone down, that his music had somehow failed and that his wife, Jean, would be better off without him - took 400 Anadin tablets and died.

Convinced that all he could do was play the piano ‘and not very well at that’, he was in fact a great adventurer in music – a man of vision and integrity to an extent that those factors alone, and not any musical shortcomings, had possibly cost him career opportunities and wider exposure when such things had been all but within his grasp. In the grand scheme of things that is a mark of achievement, not of failure.

ROOSTER c.1981 - 'THROW YOUR LIFE AWAY'

The Afterword Top Albums of 2013 in Full

With huge thanks to Afterworder Bungalow Joe, who has tirelessly compiled the following from 1,232 votes, and thank you to all those who contributed their favourite LPs of 2013.

You voted for almost 450 different records, which only goes to show just how much flippin' music there is out there and how hard it is to form a consensus on what the best stuff is.
Suffice to say if anyone is wondering if they've missed any good records this year, you might want to tick off some of these before you spend the Record Tokens you got for Christmas.

So here, is that list in full starting with your Top 10:
1 David Bowie : The Next Day
2 Prefab Sprout : Crimson/Red
3 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds : Push the Sky Away
4 John Grant : Pale Green Ghosts
5 Daft Punk : Random Access Memories
6 Goldfrapp : Tales Of Us
7 Steve Mason : Monkey Minds In The Devils Time
8 Arctic Monkeys : AM
8 Public Service Broadcasting : Inform Educate Entertain
10 Vampire Weekend : Modern Vampires Of The City

After that things get a little messy with lots of records vying for equal places so here is the next 40 to make an Afterword Top 50 of sorts.
11 Elvis Costello & The Roots : Wise Up Ghost
11 Jonathan Wilson : Fanfare
11 The National : Trouble Will Find Me
14 Laura Marling : Once I Was an Eagle
15 Mogwai : Les Revenants
16 Billy Bragg : Tooth and Nail
16 Chvrches : The Bones of What You Believe
16 Jason Isbell : Southeastern
16 Matthew E White : Big Inner
16 Midlake : Antiphon
16 My Bloody Valentine : MBV
16 Paul McCartney : New
16 Pet Shop Boys : Electric
16 Phosphorescent : Muchaco
25 Agnes Obel : Aventine
25 Duckworth Lewis Method : Sticky Wickets
25 Janelle Monae : The Electric Lady
25 Sigur Ros : Kveikur
25 Steven Wilson : The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
30 Arcade Fire : Reflektor
30 Laura Veirs : Warp & Weft
30 Richard Thompson : Electric
33 Dawes : Stories Don't End
33 Kathryn Williams : Crown Electric
33 Suede : Bloodsports
36 Kurt Vile : Walkin on a Pretty Daze
36 Lloyd Cole : Standards
36 Manic Street Preachers : Rewind The Film
36 Primal Scream : More Light
36 Savages : Silence Yourself
36 Valerie June : Pushin' against a stone
36 White Denim : Corsicana Lemonade
43 Caitlin Rose : The Stand In
43 Dadub : You Are Eternity
43 Johnny Marr : The Messenger
43 Wire : Change Becomes Us
47 Boards Of Canada : Tomorrow's Harvest
47 Boz Scaggs : Memphis
47 Franz Ferdinand : Right Thoughts, Right Words
47 James Blake : Overgrown
47 Lorde : Pure Heroine
47 Low : The Invisible Way
47 Parquet Courts : Light Up Gold
47 Queens Of The Stone Age : Like Clockwork
47 Roy Harper : Man & Myth
47 Steve Earle : The Low Highway
47 Strokes : The Comedown Machine
47 Tegan & Sara : Hearthrob
47 Turin Brakes : We Were Here
47 Wooden Shjips : Back To Land

and here are the remaining runners up! We did ask for only LPs released in 2013 and no re-issues so please mentally edit out any which shouldn't be there.
61 Atoms For Peace : Amok
61 Bill Ryder Jones : A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart
61 Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita : Clychau Dibon
61 Disclosure : Settle
61 Dutch Uncles : Out Of Touch In The Wild
61 Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo : Dear River
61 Everything Everything : Arc
61 Foals : Holy Fire
61 Fuck Buttons : Slow Focus
61 Jagwar Ma : Howlin
61 John Murry : The Graceless Age
61 Joseph Arthur : Ballad of Boogie Christ
61 Josh Ritter : The Beast in its Tracks
61 Lisa Knapp : Hidden Seam
61 Mazzy Star : Seasons Of Your Day
61 Nick Lowe : Quality Street
61 The Strypes : Snapshot
61 These New Puritans : Field of Reeds
79 Big Big Train : English Electric Part 2
79 Bill Callaghan : Dream River
79 Bob Dylan : Another Self Portrait
79 Bombino : Nomad
79 Boy George : This Is What I Do
79 Edwyn Collins : Understated
79 Eels : Wonderful Glorius
79 Graham Parker & The Rumour : Three Chords Good
79 Israel Nash Gripka : Rain Plans
79 Joanna Gruesome : Weird Sister
79 John Fullbright : From the Ground up
79 Jon Hopkins : Immunity
79 Kacey Musgraves : Same Trailer Different Park
79 Luke Haines : Rock N Roll animals
79 Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle : Perils from the sea
79 Mavis Staples : One True Vine
79 My Darling Clementine : The Reconciliation
79 Okkervil River : The Silver Gymnasium
79 Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris : Old Yellow Moon
79 Ron Sexsmith : Forever Endeavour
79 Sting : The Last Ship
79 The Beatles : On Air Live At The BBC Vol 2
79 The Haxan Cloak : Excavation
79 The Leisure Society : Alone Aboard The Ark
79 The Silver Seas : Alaska
79 Thee Oh Sees : Floating coffin
79 They Might Be Giants : Nanobots
79 Throwing Muses : Purgatory / Paradise
79 Unknown Mortal Orchestra : II
108 Alasdair Roberts & Friends : A Wonder Working Stone
108 Anna Calvi : One Breath
108 Au Revoir Simone : Move in Spectrums
108 Barrence Whitfield & the Savages : Dig Thy Savage Soul
108 Bonobo : The North Borders
108 British Sea Power : Machineries of Joy
108 Carthy, Hardy, Farrell & Young : Laylam
108 Charles Bradley : Victim Of Love
108 Daughter : If You Leave
108 Deafheaven : Sunbather
108 Donald Fagen : Sunken Condos
108 Editors : The weight of your love
108 Elton John : The Diving Board
108 Empire Of The Sun : Ice On The Dune
108 Endless Boogie : Long Island
108 Forest Swords : Engravings
108 Frank Turner : Tape Deck Heart
108 Grateful Dead : Sunshine Daydream
108 Gregory Porter : Liquid Spirit
108 Haim : Days Are Gone
108 Holly Williams : The Highway
108 House Of Black Lanterns : Kill The Lights
108 I am Kloot : Let It All In
108 Iron & Wine : Ghost On Ghost
108 Jackie Oates : Lullabies
108 Jake Bugg : Shangri Lia
108 Jimmy Webb : Still Within The Sound Of My Voice
108 John Martyn : The Island Years
108 John Mayer : Paradise Valley
108 Josh Rouse : The Happiness Waltz
108 Julia Holter : Loud City Song
108 June Tabor, Iain Ballamy & Huw Warren. : Quercus
108 Kanye West : Yeezus
108 Karl Bartos : Off The Record
108 Ketil Bjørnstad : La Notte
108 Linda Thompson : Won't Be Long Now
108 Lissie : Back To Forever
108 London Grammar : If You Wait
108 Lord Huron : Lonesome Dreams
108 Matt Berry : Kill The Wolf
108 Moby : Innocents
108 Nils Frahm : Spaces
108 Nrsb-11 : Commodified
108 Olafur Arnalds : For Now I Am Winter
108 OMD : English Electric
108 Polica : Shulamith
108 Pure Bathing Culture : Moon Tides
108 Rhye : Woman
108 Robyn Hitchcock : Love From London
108 Samuel Purdey : Musically Adrift (re-release)
108 Sandra St. Victor : Oya's Daughter
108 Stornoway : Tales From Terra Firma
108 Tamikrest : Chatma
108 The Band : Live At The Academy of Music 1971
108 The Civil Wars : The Civil Wars
108 The Necks : Open
108 The Waterboys : The Complete Fisherman's Blues
108 Thea Gilmore : Regardless
108 Time Is A Mountain : Time Is A Mountain
108 Vatican Shadow : Remember Your Black Day
108 Wolf People : Fain
108 XTC : Nonsuch (remix)
108 Yoko Ono : Take Me To The Land Of Hell
171 !!! : Thr!!!er
171 *AR : Succession
171 Aaron Neville : My True Story
171 Aaron Parks : Arborescence
171 Adam Sutherland : Squall
171 Admiral Fallow : Tree Bursts in Snow
171 Alela Diane : About Farewell
171 Alice Borman : Skisser
171 Alice Russell : To the Dust
171 Alison Moyet : The Minutes
171 Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer : Child Ballads
171 Angus Lyon : 3G
171 Anna von Hausswolff : Ceremony
171 Arve Henriksen : Places Of Worship
171 Ashley Monroe : Like a Rose
171 Atom Tm : HD
171 Autechre : Exai
171 Avett Brothers : The Carpenter
171 Baltic Fleet : Towers
171 Basia Bulat : Tall Tall Shadow
171 Baths : Obsidian
171 Beady Eye : BE
171 Bella Hardy : Battleplan
171 Belle & Sebastian : Third Eye Centre
171 Biffy Clyro : Opposites
171 Big Deal : June Gloom
171 Black Sabbath : 13
171 Blood Orange : Cupid Deluxe
171 Blowzabella : Strange News
171 Boothby Graffoe : NOMAD
171 Boy & Bear : Harlequin Dream
171 Brandy Clark : 12 Stories
171 Brokeback : Brokeback And The Black Rock
171 Buika : La Noche Más Larga
171 Calexico : Ancienne Belgique Vol 2
171 Calexico : Spiritoso
171 Califone : Stitches
171 Camera Obscura : Desire Lines
171 Camper Van Beethoven : La Costa Perdida
171 Candy Claws : Ceres & Calypso In The Deep Time
171 Carlton Melton : Always Even
171 Cate le Bon : Mug Museum
171 Charlotte Church : Three
171 Chelsea Wolfe : Pain Is Beauty
171 Chris Morphitis : Where To Go
171 Chris Wood : None The Wiser
171 Chrome Hoof : Chrome Black Gold
171 Claudio Abbado and Orchestra : Mozart's Clarinet, Flute and Bassoon Concertos
171 Clive Gregson : This is Now
171 Clock DVA : Post Sign
171 Cloud Boat : Book of Hours
171 CocoRosie : Tales Of A Grass Widow
171 Comedy of Errors : Fanfare and Fantasy
171 Corduroy : Very Yeah
171 Crumbling Ghost : II
171 Czarface : Czarface
171 Dale Watson & His Lone Stars : El Rancho Azul
171 Daniel Avery :
171 Danny & The Champions Of The World : Stay True
171 Darius Rucker : True Believers
171 Darkside : Psychic
171 Darwin Deez : Songs for Imaginative People
171 David Ford : Charge
171 David Lang : Death Speaks
171 Dead Can Dance : In Concert
171 Dean Wareham : Emancipated Hearts
171 Deep Purple : Now What?
171 Deerhunter : Monomania
171 Depeche Mode : Delta Machine
171 Diana Jones : Museum of Appalachian Recordings
171 Dianne Reeves : Beautiful Life
171 DJ Koze : Amygdala
171 Drenge : Drenge
171 Ducktails : The Flower Lane
171 Duncan Reid : Little Big Head
171 Earl Sweatshirt : Doris
171 Earth Wind & Fire : Now, Then & Forever
171 Eleanor Friedberger : Personal Record
171 Emiliana Torrini : Tookah
171 Eric Church : Caught in the Act
171 Ethan Johns : If Not Now When
171 Ezra Furman : Day Of The Dog
171 Fay Hield, Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, Seth Lakeman, Ben Nicholls : The Full English
171 Filthy Boy : Smile That Won't Go Down
171 Follakzoid : II
171 Four Tet : Beautiful Rewind
171 Foy Vance : Joy Of Nothing
171 Francis Dunnery : Frankenstein Monster
171 Francoise Hardy : Midnight Blues (London\Paris 68-72)
171 Frisk Frugt : Dansktoppen Møder Burkina Faso I Det Himmelblå Rum Hvor Solen Bor, Suite
171 Function : Incubation
171 Garrett Lebeau : Rise To The Grind
171 Golden Suits :
171 Goran Kajfes/Subtropic Arkestra : The Reason Why Vol.1
171 Grateful Dead : May-77
171 Grateful Dead : Dave's Picks Vol. 8
171 Greg Haines : Where We Were
171 Harold Budd : Jane 1-11
171 His Golden Messenger : Haw
171 Holden : The Inheritors
171 Hookworms : Pearl Mystic
171 Hospitality : Hospitality
171 Houndstooth : Ride Out The Dark
171 I Am The Center : Private Issue New Age In America 1950-1990
171 Ian McNabb : Eclectic Warrior
171 Icona Pop : This is ...
171 Illuha : Interstices
171 It's A Beautiful Day : Live at the Fillmore 1968
171 Jacco Gardner : Cabinet Of Curiosities
171 Jah Wobble & Marconi Union : Anomic
171 James Blackshaw & Ludomyr Melnyk : The Watchers
171 James McVinnie : Cycles
171 Jan Lundgren : Man In The Fog
171 Jess Roden : Hidden Masters
171 Jesse Dee : On My Mind/In My Heart
171 Jessy Lanza : Pull My Hair Back
171 Jim James : Refions Of Light And God
171 JJ Grey and Mofro : This River
171 John Foxx & The Belbury Poly : Empty Avenues
171 John Lees' Barclay James Harvest : North
171 John Parkes : Bleeding Edge
171 Jose James : No Beginning No End
171 Josephine Foster : I'm A Dreamer
171 Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker : Fire & Fortune
171 Judge Smith : Zoot Suit
171 Julian Cope : Revolutionary Suicide
171 Justin Hayward : Spirits Of The Western Sky
171 Justin Timberlake : The 20/20 Experience
171 Karl and the Marx Brothers : Angry Folk
171 Karl Hyde : Edgeland
171 Katy Perry : PRISM
171 Ketamines : You Can't Serve Two Masters
171 King King : Standing In The Shadow
171 King Krule : 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
171 Kitchens Of Distraction : Folly
171 Kolsch : 1977
171 Lady : Lady
171 Lady Lamb The Beekeper : Ripley Pine
171 Laura Mvula : Sing To The Moon
171 Laura Stevenson : Wheel
171 Lily & Madeleine :
171 Linden : Bleached Highlights
171 Little Green Cars : Absolute Zero
171 Lo Griyo : Mogador
171 Local Natives : Hummingbird
171 Magenta : The Twenty Seven Club
171 Marc Bolan : At The BBC
171 Marc Romboy & Ken Ishii : Taiyo
171 Mariam The Believer : Blood Donation
171 Marianne Faithfull : Broken English
171 Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood : Black Pudding
171 Mark Mulcahy :
171 Martin Rossitter : The Defenestration of St. Martin
171 Martin Simpson : Vagrant Stanzas
171 Martyn Joseph : Tires Rushing By In The Rain
171 Matt Deighton : Wake Up the Moths
171 Mayer Hawthorne : Where Does This Door Go
171 MIA : Matangi
171 Midnight Juggernauts : Uncanny Valley
171 Mikal Cronin : Moi
171 Millie Jackson : The Moods of Millie Jackson
171 Monoganon : Family
171 Morning Bride : The North Sea Rising
171 Mudhoney : Vanshing Point
171 Mulatu Astatke : Sketches Of Ethiopia
171 Natasha Kmeto : Crisis
171 Neko Case : The Worse Things Get
171 Neon Neon : Praxis Makes Perfect
171 New Model Army : Between Dog & Wolf
171 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds : Live From KCRW
171 Nilsson : The RCA Album Collection
171 Nine Inch Nails : Hesitation Marks
171 Noah & The Whale : Heart of Nowhere
171 North Mississippi Allstars : World Boogie is Coming
171 Oblivians : desperation
171 Otis Redding : The Complete Stax/Volt Singles
171 Paper Aeroplanes : Little letters
171 Parlour Flames :
171 Pearl Jam : Lightning Bolt
171 Philip Glass : Visitors
171 Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin : Mynd
171 Pistol Annies : Annie Up
171 Placebo : Loud like love
171 Pokey Lafarge : Pokey Lafarge
171 Portugal The Man : Evil Friends
171 Prurient : Through the Window
171 Quickbeam : Quickbeam
171 Rene Marie : I Wanna Be Evil
171 Riverside : Shrine Of New Generation Slaves
171 RJD2 : More Is Than Isn't
171 Robert Vincent : Life In Easy Steps
171 Rock Candy Funk Party : We Want Groove
171 Rockingbirds : The Return Of The Rockingbirds
171 Rod Stewart : Time
171 Roly Porter : Lifecycle Of A Massive Star
171 Rudimental : Home
171 Ruts DC : Rhythm Collision Volume 2
171 Sagor & Swing : Botvid Grenlunds Park
171 Sam Amidon : Bright Sunny South
171 Sam Baker : Say Grace
171 Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion : Wassaic Way
171 Scott Morgan : Three Chords and a Cloud Of Dust
171 Scud Mountain Boys : Do You Love The Sun
171 Senking : Capsize Recovery
171 Shifted : Under a Single Banner
171 Shovels & Rope : O Be Joyful
171 Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt : Night
171 Sons of Kemet : Burn
171 Sound Of Contact : Dimensionaut
171 Special Request : Soul Music
171 Speedy Ortiz : Major Arcana
171 Spider Bags : Singles
171 Stacey Kent : The Changing Lights
171 Steeleye Span : Wintersmith
171 Steve Gunn : Time Off
171 Straw Bear : Black Bank
171 STRGTHS : SHXCXCHCXSH
171 Surfer Blood : Pythons
171 Suzanne Abbuehi : The Gift
171 Tedeschi Trucks Band : Made Up Mind
171 Teeth Of The Sea : Master
171 Terje Rypdal : Melodic Warrior
171 The Baptist Generals : Jackleg Devotional To The Heart
171 The Besnard Lakes : Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
171 The Bombay Royale : You Me Bullets Love
171 The Breeders : LSXX
171 The Clash : Hits Back
171 The Clash : Sound System
171 The Cults Percussion Ensemble : The Cults Percussion Ensemble
171 The Deer Tracks : The Archer Trilogy: Part 3
171 The Dirtbombs : Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey!
171 The Electric Soft Parade : Idiots
171 The Field : Cupid's Head
171 The Focus Group : Elektrik Karousel
171 The Icarus Line : Slave Vows
171 The Icicle Works : 5 Albums Box Set
171 The James Hunter Six : Minute by Minute
171 The Knife : Shaking the Habitual
171 The Liminanas : Costs Blanca
171 The Lucid Dream : Songs Of Lies And Deceit
171 The Magnetic North : Orkney: Symphony
171 The Naked and Famous : In Rolling Waves
171 The Phoenix Foundation : Fandango
171 The Staves : Dead & Born & Grown & Live
171 The Wave Pictures : City Forgiveness
171 The Woollen Men : The Woollen Men
171 Thomas Dybdahl : What's Left Is Forever
171 Thundercat : Apocalypse
171 Tiny Leaves : A Good Land, an Excellent Land
171 Toad The Wet Sprocket : New Constellation
171 Toby Walker : What You See Is What You Get
171 Tom Brislin : Wake Up and Smell the Roses
171 Tomasz Stanko New York Quintet : Wislawa
171 Tomorrow's World : Tomorrow's World
171 Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats : Mind Control
171 Underground Lovers : Weekend
171 Unicorn Hard-On : Weird Universe
171 Van Dyke Parks : Songs Cycled
171 Various : Now 85
171 Various : Philly Re-Grooved 3: The Tom Moulton Mixes
171 Various : Sweet Dreams: Where Country Meets Soul Vol 2
171 Various : The Beautiful Old Turn-of-the-Century Songs
171 Veronica Maggio : Handen i fickan fast jag bryr mig
171 Vile Electrodes : The Future Through a Lens
171 Walter Becker : Circus Money
171 Washed Out : Paracosm
171 Wayne Hancock : Ride
171 William Onyeabor : Who is William Onyeabor?
171 William Tyler : Impssible Truth
171 Willis Earl Band : Nobody Knows
171 Wings : Wings Over America (reissue)
171 Yasmine Hamdan : Ya Nass
171 Yes : Close to the Edge remix
171 Yo La Tengo : Fade

After Quintessence... there was Kala

Quintessence were one of the great live attractions on the British and European scene between 1969-72: getting a record deal with Island within weeks of forming, in April 1969, for whom they would record three fabulous LPs, and disappearing equally swiftly after the second of two LPs for RCA in 1973. In many ways - musically, aspirationally, philosophically - they were the last hurrah of the '60s. But there was a bit of intrigue towards the end...

Flautist/band-founder Raja Ram decided to sack two members: Phil Jones (voice) and Dave Codling (rhythm guitar) around June 1972. Thus, while the rump quartet Quintessence made their disappointing final LP, 'Indweller' for RCA, Phil and Dave pulled together a new band, KALA, and recorded as largely overlooked album for the Goodies' label, Bradley's. As you do. Kala didn't exactly set the charts alight, but their year of activity was full of intrigues of its own.

Back in 2010 I had the great pleasure of being involved (mastering, design, annotating etc) in a first-time resurrection of the KALA LP on CD, for Hux Records, with bonus tracks and the involvement of both Phil and Dave.

It's still an underappreciated gem. So here's part of the notes, adapted to stand alone as a feature from the footnotes of rock...

AFTER QUINTESSENCE: KALA

During the period spanning late 1969 - 1972 Quintessence were one of Britain’s most powerful and most popular live acts. A six piece band brought together from five nationalities in the hippie cauldron of London’s Ladbroke Grove area at the height of the ‘underground’ movement, the band implanted themselves in the hearts of a gig-going generation in Britain and Europe, notched up serious press coverage and grazed the UK album charts before something odd happened around May/June 1972. Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones and Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling - respectively, the lead singer and the rhythm guitarist - were sacked. By the flute player, Raja Ram. To be fair, he was the chap who had started the band, via the classic method of an ad in Melody Maker. But it was, nonetheless, a pretty stupid thing to do. It spelt the end of the road for Quintessence, who limped on as a four piece making one more album, in 1973, before drifting below the radar of the national music press and on into an obscure fizzling-out somewhere in Germany a couple of years later.

Raja Ram spreading the word in 1970 - Swami Ji can be seen at 1:09-1:14, with Quintessence recording at Island's Basing Street studios

The Quintessence story can be followed in detail in the two-part notes to the Hux albums Cosmic Energy: Live At St Pancras 1970 and the 2CD set Infinite Love: Live At Queen Elizabeth Hall 1971, to the glorious soundtrack of the band in their prime. But what about Phil and Dave - what did they do next? Well, in short, they formed a band called Kala who lasted a year or so, cut one LP, released one single and were caught live on a couple of tracks on a various-artists LP. Poor Dave, ingloriously and undeservedly, didn’t even make it to the end of that little adventure. As far as the casual observer of the music world was concerned, even at the time let alone since, Kala was but a backstage corridor that allowed Shiva Jones and his sidekick Dave to leave the building. After Kala, nothing would be heard from either for a very long time indeed. That story, thankfully, has a happy 21st Century ending. But before getting to that, we’d better hear something of Kala: a band which has struggled to enjoy the status of a footnote for nearly 40 years. Unlike Quintessence, for Kala there was no press coverage to speak of, so we shall rely instead on the memories of its two founder members…

‘It was formed pretty quick,’ says Shiva. ‘I had to scramble because I was dismissed from Quintessence overnight, as was Dave - there was no notice, no opportunity to prepare for anything. So suddenly I was without an income - which was never very much anyway, just enough to support my family at the time. So I’d say within a couple of months we had the options of different musicians; we’d practiced with different guys. And as Dave was my buddy and lived right next door [in Blenheim Crescent, off Ladbroke Grove] I said, ‘Why don’t you jump on board with me and we’ll see what we can get happening here?’. Within a couple of months we would have had a working operation. It was definitely word of mouth - when you’re in a musicians’ scene everybody knows everybody. You put the word out, somebody shows up, they say, ‘Well, I know somebody…’ and eventually you find people you think are good enough for the operation.

During those couple of months of roughly May-July 1972 in which Shiva was scrambling to pull something together, the Quintessence machine motored on. There was no official announcement in the press. It was only in late July, in an interview with the Melody Maker, and then again in September with the NME, that Quintessence leader Raja Ram let it be known, in a somewhat disingenuous fashion that Shiva and Dave had left - suggesting that the pair had chosen this path, and had done so only after soul-searching conversations over cups of tea at Ram’s place.

‘The weird thing was they were just a few blocks down the road in Ladbroke Grove,’ says Shiva, ‘and they had a big operation with a truck - that was a symbol, I guess it still is, of success with a band. If the truck pulled up out front with the gear and then the van with aeroplane seats, if you had that you were a well-working band. Quintessence had all that, I had none of that. When I was dismissed from the band I never got my keyboards, I never got my congas, never even got a microphone - I had zilch! So within a week of getting the advance from a new record deal [for Kala] I had the truck parked out front, the van with the seats…! And I’m looking out the window thinking, ‘Hmm, I wonder if they’re driving by checking out what’s parked in front of my place?’!’

Nevertheless, in the short term the manner of Shiva’s departure - or, rather, the fact of it - from Quintessence caused his reputation some problems:

‘Quintessence never made any official announcement that I had left. They kept that quiet. They’d show up at gigs without me and promoters would say, ‘Where’s the singer?’ And the feedback I got was they’d say, ‘Well, he hasn’t shown up tonight…’ So when Kala were trying to get bookings I got feedback from my agent saying, ‘People think you don’t show up for gigs’. ‘What do mean?’ I’d say. ‘I’ve never blown out a gig in my life - I’ve even gone onstage with tonsillitis’.

These minor difficulties aside, as Shiva has suggested, Ladbroke Grove was a musicians’ scene in those days and in retrospect the time between Quintessence ejection and a record deal for his new band seems remarkably swift. Shiva remains a little hazy about how it happened:

‘I don’t know how this came about, but Michael Caine’s manager at that time somehow connected with me and he became like a personal manager/silent backer of the band - I don’t know how I made that connection! I actually had a walk on part in one of Michael Caine’s movies, a spy movie I think. It was like, ‘Come down and meet Michael’, you know, so I came down and said, ‘Hello’, felt like an idiot…’

To which greeting, one immediately wonders, did Mr C say those immortal words, ‘My name is Michael Caine’?

‘He didn’t need to: I think everyone knew who he was!’

Anyway, getting back to the story…

‘On the film, all I did was walk on and walk off,’ says Shiva, ‘they just wanted someone with long hair. But the funny thing was, this guy, the manager, had a white Rolls Royce, like the Beatles had. And I remember this guy driving me round in this thing. So one day I’m sitting in the passenger seat with long hair, maybe looking like I was one of the Beatles or something, and we’re driving around somewhere in London past this big hotel and standing out the front was Sammy Davis Junior. So we drive by, he’s looking into this Rolls Royce - and he starts waving at me! And I said to Michael Caine’s manager, ‘Hey - that was Sammy Davis junior - he must think I’m somebody!’ It was really funny.’

So much for a silent financier and upmarket chauffeur; next we come to the record label connection. Bradley’s Records, a fairly short-lived mid ‘70s offshoot of ATV Publishing, is today best known, if at all, as being the home of The Goodies when the boys were having a run of hits on the back of their TV tom-foolery. For a while, though, when it began Bradley’s was looking at a whole different market:

‘Signing with Bradley’s,’ says Phil, ‘that came about through a guy who had always been a friend of Quintessence, Alan Reid. When I left the band he came round and said, ’I’m A&R man for this new label. We’re looking for bands who are album bands, we’re not interested in Gary Glitter type acts, we want serious musicians.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s us’. I went round and had a meeting with the CEO, got on real well with him and he said, ‘Alright, let’s do it’. So he signed us up and I think three or four other people were on the label [at that time]. So we lined up a tour, went into good studios, put the tracks down…’

Shiva’s broad-brush recollection here doesn’t, however, convey the thinking he had put into his new band. In a sense, as a working musician, it was back to ‘business as usual’ for him, but the new band was also an opportunity to consciously revamp his approach to music:

‘Quintessence was a very ‘loose’ band,’ he recalls, ‘onstage the songs had a beginning, and an end and the middle was a no-man’s land, you just explored where you wanted to go. As much as I love improvising - and as a vocalist I’m good at it - I wanted a little more structure. I wanted specific lengths for solos, specific dynamics and within that enough room for people to express themselves and feel good about their solos. But I was never really into extended, lengthy jams - it wasn’t my thing. But that was the genre that Quintessence was in at that period, where everyone just jammed out, and that was fine. I figured, ‘Now’s the time to get back to a more formalised structure’. I’d still be getting my message across, whatever it was at the time, but within a tighter format.’

The resulting album certainly bears that out, with some of the songs harking back spiritually - with both a lower and upper case S - to Quintessence and others nodding towards the popular no-nonsense boogie and country-rock of contemporaries like the Faces. ‘Well, we didn’t intentionally do that,’ says Shiva, ‘but maybe it was subliminally influenced in that direction. Personally I liked the Small Faces with Steve Marriott - I thought he was fantastic!’

Everything on the album was tightly arranged and lengthy jams are conspicuous by their absence. True, the production sound, while luxuriant, lacks the power and majesty of the John Barham-produced material on the first three Quintessence albums, but partly this reflects the way production sound had softened in general in those few years at the start of the ‘70s, and at least Barham himself (absent from half of the third and all of the fourth Quintessence albums) was back, this time credited with brass and cello arrangements. Raja Ram had been responsible for side-lining Barham from Quintessence; Shiva was delighted to bring him back:

‘I always liked John. I thought his contribution to the first couple of Quintessence albums was brilliant - he’d worked with Ravi Shankar, he worked on [George Harrison’s] All Things Must Pass, knew all those guys, and he was a brilliant classical musician and really easy to work with. He was kind of our George Martin! I was happy to have him back on board.’

The production on the record was credited to Shiva - who, to his regret, overcompensated and believes to this day that he mixed some of his vocals too low (a perception which modern mastering can certainly help to alleviate) - but he was happy to have some song writing contributions from Dave. Dave’s ‘Thirsty Generation’, to these ears, vies with Shiva’s own ‘Sun’ as the album’s stand-out track, while his other contribution, ‘Travelling Home’ was the album’s lead track and Kala’s only single.

‘None of us had any individual writing credits in Quintessence,’ says Shiva, ‘we all had to write under the group banner for certain legal reasons, and on the basis of that I thought we’d all write equally, but we didn’t. Some people were getting royalties but they never wrote a thing! But Dave’s great contribution to Quintessence was ‘Vishnu Narayan’ [aka ‘You Never Stay The Same‘], a great song...

'Vishnu Narayan' by Quintessence (1971)

'And when he came into Kala I said, ‘Listen, we should put a couple of your songs down - I’d like some variety, I like your writing, you’re a buddy and it’ll give more colour to the album’. I didn’t want it to be just me. So we went through his repertoire and I said, ‘Let’s do ‘Travelling Home’’ - a straight ahead rock song. I put the repetitive hook on the end with that one, which I’d also done with ‘Vishnu Narayan’, adding the chant at the end. And the other one, ‘Thirsty Generation’, I thought was a great song, so we did that as well - in fact, again, I put a repetitive thing on the end! That ‘ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh’ bit. But the lyrics in both those songs of Dave’s are really good…’

Having set the scene for the new band being an ocean of bliss, there was, alas, a resurfacing of that old Quintessence demon of backstabbery at some point during the making of the album. Once again, Dave ended up being fired.

‘Lead guitarists, they tend to be somewhat competitive,’ says Shiva. ‘They’re usually competitive with the lead singer. But in this case… We brought in this American guy, pretty laid back, Perry Sinclair, and after a while he said, ’You know, I don’t think Dave’s cutting in - I think we need a new guitar player’. And I thought, ‘Aw, I can’t do that - he’s my buddy…’ But the pressure kept coming on me and I think it got to a point where he said, ’If you don’t sack him, I leave’. So he caught me at a vulnerable time and I said, ’Alright, we’ll change players, it’ll keep the band going…’

Finding himself sacked from Kala, just as he had been from Quintessence only months before, can't have been a barrel of laughs. As Dave puts it, ‘Everything went pear-shaped overnight again!’ He takes up the tale from there:

‘Confused and wondering why this had happened, I suppose it took me a couple of weeks to get organized. Word had got around that I was looking for musicians and sure enough, along came ‘Creepy’ John Thomas. We quickly formed Samsara and did a few gigs - the Roundhouse, Ally Pally, etc. We managed to record during that time, but we didn't manage to impress enough people, I guess.’

Dave hung around London getting gigs for a while with fluctuating personnel before decamping to a muso friend's villa in Spain for nearly a year: ‘I had a great time, went to Marrakesh and so on, but a lack of inspiration eventually brought me back to London.’ Back in town, initially ‘living above a hippy clothing boutique in Golbourne Road’, Dave was neighbours with Paul Kossoff and Pete Bardens – two other former rock stars who were looking for a way back to the big time. He was soon back in Blenheim Crescent once again, living above his brother-in-law, Gopala. After a still-born attempt in the mid '70s to resurrect a version of Quintessence (without Phil) in Germany, Dave finally locked into a more positive musical path that took him to Los Angeles for the better part of the next 20 years and involved a handful of appearances on vinyl, before winding up back in his home town of Leeds in 1994.

'I don’t feel good about it,' reflects Phil, on the question of giving in to the pressure to let Dave go from Kala. 'But I would have explained to him that I didn’t have much choice. When you’re in that position, wanting to present the best that you can to the public, should you stick to friendship and loyalty or should you be a totally professional musician and put feelings aside? It’s a fine line. What do you do there?’

‘[After Dave was fired] Perry then says, 'I’ve got a great guy we can bring in, his name’s Les Nicol...' My first meeting with Les was quite amazing. I was so excited to meet this guy who had been given such a big build up by the other guys in the band. I remember hearing a knock at my door and, and as I opened the door, I saw this guy who looked remarkably like Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver. I should have seen that resemblance as a sign of things to come - Long John Silver / Mutiny! Well, leading with my chin, I reached out my hand and said “Welcome, mate”. He proceeded to give me that Long John Silver sideways look and pronounced, 'So, you're Shiva, the cosmic wanker!' I was sucker-punched - down and out for the count. Breathless and emotionally cut to the quick, I replied sheepishly, 'Ah, yeah that's me.' I should have known, at that initial meeting, it was going to be a bumpy ride...'

Les Nicol doing his thing in 2010

For Dave at least, the arrival of straight-talking Les from up north did at least bring a certain piquancy of sangfroid and schadenfreude, as Phil explains: 'So Les comes along and he was a phenomenal player. But it wasn’t too long before he said, ’You know, Perry’s not cutting it…’ I said, ’What do you mean?!’ He said, ’We don’t need another guitar player - I’ll cover it all’. And he was right: he could. So then Perry got the boot!’

Both Dave and Perry do, however, feature on the album. While Perry lasted long enough to feature on the whole record, managing a particularly fine lead solo on ‘Sun’, with Les uncharacteristically playing the acoustic parts, Dave managed to play on four tracks: his own two compositions plus ‘Meditations’ and ‘Honey Of Love’. ‘Meditations’, incidentally, had been a song performed live but not recorded by Quintessence, as had the ’Hari-Om’ chant at the end of ‘Pearl’ (both can now be heard on the Queen Elizabeth Hall live recordings referred to earlier). ‘Sun’ was also a Quintessence-era leftover, albeit not featured on any recordings, including the posthumous live sets, although it would turn up in fabulously reworked form in 2006 on the Shiva’s Quintessence CD Cosmic Surfer - a studio collaboration between Shiva and Swiss keyboardist Ralph ’Rudra’ Beauvert. (A compilation of material from the Jones/Beauvert ouevre, including the revamped ’Sun’, will be available on Hux in due course.)

'Cosmic Surfer', fabulously re-recorded by Phil Jones in the mid 2000s as 'Shiva's Quintessence'

‘Had I stayed in Quintessence I would have recorded those pieces with them,’ says Shiva, ‘but as I didn’t, I took them with me. As the album illustrates, there was definitely a Quintessence influence in there but there’s also much more of a rock aspect too - Quintessence a la rock rather than Quintessence a la jazz, let’s say.’

The one major downer about the Kala album for Phil was its outward presentation. As well as bringing back John Barham from the Quintessence glory days Shiva was keen to re-engage with Gopala, the artist who had created such striking images for the first two Quintessence albums - before, of course, being side-lined by Raja Ram. This time it was Bradley’s doing the side-lining:

‘I never wanted my picture on the front cover,’ says Shiva, ‘it was a horrible photo. The record company had actually commissioned Gopala to do this psychedelic Tibetan painting of the God Kala, a manifestation of Shiva. It was brilliant, and they promised to give him a lot of money. He lived upstairs from me and he was Dave’s brother in law, so we were all pretty tight in this area we lived in - Dave next door, Gopala above me, and [our guru] Swami Ji in the flat above Gopala. I went away for a short period - to Cornwall, just a week off - and while I was away the A&R man went to have a look at the painting and had a huge argument about it with Gopala. [In the event, no money ever changed hands for the commissioned painting.] I come back to find this sleeve with a pink tinted photo of me had already gone to press. They knew I would have said no.’

If this all sounds like one annoying, faintly Spinal Tap-ish episode after another, Shiva’s travails were not over yet:

‘Around the time the album was finished Bradley’s had booked us a major college tour. And at that point Les got the band together and created a mutiny. He said, ’If you don’t pay us a bigger retainer we’ll quit.’ I think we had maybe two or three weeks before the tour started and there were a lot of dates booked. I thought, ’Jeez, what am I going to do?’ I couldn’t get them any more money - they were getting a few hundred pounds a week to do nothing but rehearse and that was coming from my backer. They thought I was getting more money than them - I wasn’t - and they said, ‘We want the same as you’. We were all getting 300 quid a week, which was a lot of money then - to do nothing but be available to rehearse and being committed to do the tour. They were free to do other gigs. But still they said, ‘Well, if you don’t get any more money we quit’. I was really backed up against a wall. So just at that moment my old school buddy Chris Brown, from The Unknown Blues [Phil‘s hit-making mid ‘60s band from back home in Australia], calls me up one day and says, ‘Hey Phil, I’m in town, what you doing?’ I said, ‘Any other Aussies in town…?’ He said, ‘Yep, the whole band’. I said, ‘Listen, I’ve got this tour coming up - you think we could pull a band together in two weeks?’ He said, ‘You’re kidding - ‘course we can!’ So I went back to the other guys, who figured I would cave in to their blackmail, and I said, ‘You know, I’m really sorry to say this guys, but I gotta let you go’. Stunned looks on their faces. So Les walked out the door and Chris and the boys walked in the door. It went to real straight-ahead rock once those guys came in.’

Phil Jones & The Unknown Blues circa 1967 with Aussie hit 'Pick A Bale Of Cotton'

The evidence for Shiva’s recollection is abundantly found in the two tracks recorded live at one of the dates on that tour - a triple-header with two other Bradley’s acts, virtuoso guitarist Paul Brett and soft-rock trio Hunter Muskett - on March 25th 1973 at London’s Marquee Club. Released as Bradley’s Roadshow, at the bargain price of 95p, it was a fine attempt at doing something similar to the more fondly recalled and ultimately more successful early ‘70s Island Records compilations on which Quintessence had featured: the likes of You Can All Join In, Nice Enough To Eat, El Pea and Bumpers. All the material on Bradley’s Roadshow was exclusive to it, the Kala set not only featuring a version of the band not otherwise recorded but two songs it didn’t otherwise record: the Zeppelin-esque ‘Come On Round To My House’, written by Shiva, and the Mick Cox cover ‘Before You Leave’.

Chris Brown, from the 'Continuity Kala' line-up, with his mid 70s Australian band Ayer's Rock and their Aussie hit 'Lady Montego'

Shiva had pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in recruiting his old mates from Oz for the tour, but this was Kala: the good luck couldn’t last. And it didn‘t.

‘I can’t remember what the length of time was,’ says Shiva, ‘but some time after the tour the CEO of the record company got fired, by ATV [who owned it]. They called me in and said, ‘Look, we’re rearranging the whole label: we don’t want album bands any more - we want hits, pop tunes, no more serious musicians. And I said, ‘Oh yeah? Well, we can put some singles out…’ ‘Ah, but we don’t want the band, we just want you - we don’t need the band. You can be the next Gary Glitter. We’ll put you in a glitter suit and we’ll stuff a banana down your pants.’ These guys were serious! ‘Just go home and write a couple of hit singles. Oh, and by the way, we’re going to take all the equipment back…’ So they pretty much shut the band down. That was it.

'I guess the whole life of the band was maybe a year, year and a half. But I wrote them a few songs that I thought were pretty good. I wrote this great song called ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’ which was not that different from the song of the same name that U2 put out [30 years later]! Anyway, I gave it a go, wasn’t getting much feedback from them and said, ‘Okay, that’s fine, you don’t like what I’m doing, why don’t you let me go so I can pursue my career elsewhere?’ But they said, ‘No, we’re not letting you go - ‘cos you might come up with something really good’. ‘But I want out!’ ‘Well, you can take us to court but it’s gonna cost you more money than you’ve got.’ So basically they shut me down. They wouldn’t let me out of the contract and they weren’t going to use anything that I had. So that was that.’

In retrospect one has to raise an eyebrow at the short-term-ism of the label - these were the days, after all, when many other labels, large and small, in Britain were allowing artists two or three albums at least to find their stride (many of whom would reward such patience with years of strong sales for their benefactors). Even within the brief career which Kala were allowed, one has to ask whether the people involved in the label were maximising the potential of their artists. Quintessence were still a hot property and a hip name in 1972, regulars in the music press of the day. Shiva Jones was the front man and public face of that group. Yet not one interview with his next band, Kala, appeared in any national title that I‘m aware of.

Shiva can only agree: ‘They never really capitalised on the Quintessence momentum when Kala came out. Only people on the inside knew it was me. Shortly after the band finished I moved to Earl’s Court then to Gloucestershire so I didn’t see much of Dave after that. When I moved to Gloucestershire I worked in a dairy - a hell of a job, a lot of physical labour involved. Definitely character building.’

In summary, Shiva remains pleased with the sole album from Kala, and pleased at its reappearance for the first time on CD: ‘I think there’s some beautiful songs on there in terms of the Quintessence vibe,’ he says, ‘I think there’s some great rock songs and one of my favourite tunes is ‘Still Got Time’ where Les does this ripping solo. And he put some really nice acoustic guitar on ‘Sun’ - Perry plays the solo on that one. I think there’s some great songs on that album that would have gone down really well with Quintessence [if we‘d carried on]. And I think it also matured into some other areas that I wanted to express myself in vocally, musically and lyrically that I don’t think I could have done in Quintessence.’

The story does, though, have a happy postscript. Largely as a result of the activity around the Hux Kala/Quintessence CD releases of 2009-10, Phil and Dave got back in touch - as well as with original Island era producer John Barham - and performed a genuine one-off reunion with Quintessence material at the 40th Anniversary Glastonbury - having been the first band onstage in 1970. BBC Yorkshire chronicled the get together in a mini documentary, while John Barham mixed an album of the event (with new studio material inserted) 'Rebirth: Live At Glastonbury 2010'. And this time Dave didn't get fired!

tiggerlion's picture

Searching For The Soul Rebels Of 2013

Soul Music is primarily a blend of Gospel and the Blues, an intoxicating mix of the sacred and the profane, a spiritual expression of the desires of the flesh. The best performers stand in front of a microphone and sing from their guts, allowing their deepest feelings pour forth. The listening experience is emotional and moving. There is no music as human, earthy and profound.

It's a music whose heyday was in the sixties and seventies. It soundtracked my adolescence, that most turbulent of times, so it is ingrained on my psyche. I love it beyond reason.

I refuse to accept Soul Music has died and turned to fellow Afterworders to help me find modern day Soul artists. Since then, I've been searching for the young soul rebels of today, that is albums released in the last twelve months, and here is my report on twelve of the best.

Sandra St. Victor, sadly, cannot be described as 'young'. In the eighties, she was a backing vocalist for Chaka Khan. She was the lead vocalist for The Family Stand but her career has stuttered since with false starts and dashed hopes. She is soul from the top of big hair to her pretty toes. Her smokey tenor cracks with heartbreak and earthiness, yet she retains a cheeky sense of humour. She may be better known as a songwriter, having come up with material for Prince, Tina Turner & many others. Oya's Daughter, her first release after bringing up a family, is a gem, reeking of the maturity of Bobby Womack, Donny Hathaway and Anita Baker. Like many modern soulsters, she wears her influences lightly and is more than happy trying on different styles for size. There are plenty of funky grooves amongst the big ballads and, on WTF Opus Pt 2, she even performs a full-on George Clinton wig-out. Oya's Daughter is rewarding, defiant, moving, witty; everything a Soul album should be. Thanks to Morrison and art vanderlay for pointing me to her direction.

Cody ChestnuTT has spent ten years making a follow up to Headphone Masterpiece, a DIY, sprawling, eclectic epic album, the Hip Hop equivalent of the White Album. Landing On A Hundred is sweet soul, evoking the spirit of Marvin Gaye, recorded with a ten piece band, partly in the Memphis studio where Al Green did some of his best work. The band is a well-oiled unit with strings and horns and a slinky rhythm guitar driving some cool funky grooves. The production is old-fashioned analogue and feels warm with greater depth as a result. The songs deal with redemption, the power of enduring love, loss, drug addiction, cultural heritage and the adoration of his mother. Cody is charmingly lost in the joy of singing his heart out, so much so, he continues to sing even when the band has stopped. Landing On A Hundred was released last October but it is such an engaging, pure Soul album, I'm compelled to include it on this list. I'd say it is one of the albums of the 21st Century. atfc recommended him, even posting a clip.

Gregory Porter is a big bear of a man with an eye-catching taste in facial hair and headgear. His voice is a delicious, creamy liqueur of a baritone. Some people categorise him as Jazz. His third album, Liquid Spirit is released on Blue Note and he is backed by a traditional jazz trio (melodic piano, brushed drums and plucked stand-up bass) with scattered brass embellishments. However, his songs are packed with the weary world experience, lost love and stoicism of Soul. He often taps into the rich, dignified, story-telling style of Bill Withers. Plus, he pulls off an unusual cover of The "In" Crowd. Liquid Spirit is fabulous, seeping through the listeners' pores and nourishing the heart. Alias highlighted his Soul credentials.

Nicole Willis is of a similar vintage to Sandra St. Victor and, like her, lives and works in Europe. Nicole has settled with Jimi Tenor in Helsinki. Afterworders may remember her as a backing vocalist for The The but she is probably better known for her work with Curtis Mayfield and Leftfield. She has surrounded herself with Finnish musicians, The Soul Investigators. They clearly love Soul music with a passion but are less committed to popping the one than the 'tight' Stax and Motown house bands. On Tortured Soul, there is a lot of the flavour of Curtom, burning with cinematic strings, punchy horns and fuzzy grooves. Variety comes in the shape of skittish, uptempo frivolity, moody balladeering and, even, a Northern Soul number. Best of all is On The East Side, which smoulders into a mesmerising, Hammond-led instrumental at the halfway mark. Tortured Soul's enthusiasm and laid-back grooves are infectious. Thanks to Aah_Bisto for the heads up on Nicole.

Troy 'Trombone Shorty' Andrews has spent quite a few years experimenting, as most young people do, trying to find himself. He has a great band, Orleans Avenue, with a muscular rhythm section, a rock guitarist and a couple of meaty saxophonists to support his sparkling, fluid horn playing. On Say That To This, he teams up with Raphael Saadiq as producer and between them they have put together a tight, lean, exuberant album lasting only thirty-six minutes and consisting of ten tracks, four of which are instrumental. The headline is that the actual Meters are back together for their own Be My Lady but it's the weakest number here. The other songs fizz with disco-funk despite Troy's somewhat thin sub-Kravitz vocal. The true revelations are the four instrumentals, each of a different character, in which Troy displays his full range of skills from gentle blues to emotional balladry to overwhelming power to ecstatic joy. The future looks very bright for this young man.

Janelle Monáe has everything; she has the chops, the pipes, the strides, the locks, the moves and the bonkers concept. Electric Lady is part IV and V of a seven part suite that soundtracks her adventures on earth as an alien android. I know. The album starts off brilliantly with two collaborations, one with Prince that makes me yearn for a new Prince release and the other with Erykah Badu. Maintaining that standard is tough. She does reach some wonderful heights, but there is too much messing about with the concept and she falls into the Beyoncé trap with a few too many similar ballads. I do hope next time she gets Raphael Saadiq to instil some discipline and quality control. Then, she would shake the world. Mike_H & colrow26 encouraged me to persevere with Janelle.

Minute By Minute is full of the Southern grit of Stax Records in the sixties and, if released by Wilson Pickett, would be lauded as a classic Soul album. In fact, James Hunter is from Colchester. It is credited to The James Hunter Six in recognition of the band he has been touring and making records with for decades. It is produced by Gabriel Roth and released on his Daptones label. Roth and the Six suit each other perfectly. The songs are beautifully crafted, the band spark and bounce and the brass and vocal are given a lusty swagger. If this is mere nostalgia, I need a whole lot more. It is easily their best album and it is in glorious mono.

You've got to love a diva in feathers. Giovanca sports a beautiful headset on the cover of Satellite Love, her third album. The Dutch singer, songwriter and model has a light, gentle voice reminiscent of Diana Ross around Love Hangover. Satellite Love is disco in style and delivery with Latin flavoured strings and horns. There is even a harp and a vibraphone. Just like the best 'disco' albums, the quiet ballads are intimate and smoochy. It is a sumptuous listen. Check out Moose the Mooche's Nights In. Surely, there is always room for a disco diva in the pop pantheon.

Electronic Soul, anyone? Jessy Lanza has released a debut produced by Jeremy Greenspan, called Pull My Hair Back. It is full of Soul melodies and beautiful, poised vocals set to spacious, skeletal electronic noises. When the instrumental track is so spare, the songs have to shine and the songwriting is never less than intriguing. Mostly, the album is mesmerising but it even has a disco tune, Keep Moving, including club-ready guitar. James Blake's Mercury winner was described as soulful but he's nowhere near as soulful as this Canadian lady. Jessy Lanza is quite something. She may not use many human musicians but Pull My Hair Back is as much Soul as any other album on this list. Don't be put off by the miserable cover. SimonL first spotted her charms and soul nflections.

Who could believe that a simple piano man, John Legend, would need twenty-five different producers? The result, Love In The Future is remarkably uncluttered and consistent. There are plenty of touching moments, as you would expect from such an honest vocalist, especially when the songs and the backing are kept straight forward. However, the songwriting is sometimes laborious and there are times that the album, at thirteen tracks and three brief interludes, feels overlong. Overall, it's a smooth, glossy, very soulful listen. If John Legend wants even more love in the future, I'd recommend he sticks to just three or four producers. Still, there is no doubt he carries the torch for Soul Music in the 21st Century. Moose & SimonL were both keen advocates.

There's plenty more. Charles Bradley, at the age of sixty-five, has just released his second album, Victim Of Love. His is quite a tale, having been born into poverty and starting off in the music business as a James Brown impersonator, he was spotted by Daptones only a couple of years ago. His material, co-written with his producer, is authentic soul in a pre-Brand New Bag way mingled with Norman Whitfield. It glows with positivity. He knows that this is his moment and he has to make the most of it. It is a joy to behold. Catch on to his coat-tails while you can, as commended by colrow26.

Earth, Wind & Fire are veterans from the early seventies whose latest album, Now, Then & Forever, is their best for decades and probably their most soulful ever. They are a touring twelve piece band and the album benefits from keeping almost all of the writing and producing in house. There are still the characteristic uplifting ballads and the visits to the dance floor are dignified and ooze class. It is a hard heart indeed that can resist Bailey's soaring falsetto, the pulsing bass and the funky horns.

Soul Music is actually thriving in 2013. It's just under the radar and needs a bit of digging out. It may be a lazy shorthand to liken modern artists to a Soul legend, one of which I'm guilty, but it does convey the overall tone of a record to someone who hasn't actually heard it. However, all of these acts have influences from the broad spectrum of Soul and bring their own unique flavour to the genre. Take for example James Hunter. His songs are new and personal to him. I mention Wilson Pickett but he could never perform, let alone compose such a sweet love song as If Only I Knew. Even the most 'retro' of these albums are no dusty relics. They are all speaking of now, the 21st Century and how it's great to be alive no matter what shit gets thrown at you, delivered by passionate, genuine musicians and vocalists. All this, excluding Frankie Ocean because channel ORANGE, an album so full of Soul it oozes with loss and disappointment, was released in the middle of 2012. My search for young soul rebels might not have unearthed many youngsters but I've discovered many great albums that are rich, complex and life-affirming. As a consequence, 2013 has been my best year listening for decades. All I need next year is for Prince to release something new.

Mark Lewisohn: Tune In - Interview

Mark Lewisohn is the world's foremost Beatles authority, so we were delighted when he agreed to answer our readers' questions.

The first volume of his book "The Beatles: All These Years" has just been published. Ten years in the making, based on decades of original research, hundreds of new interviews and unrivalled access to archives and other first-hand resources; it's the first true and accurate account of the band. This first volume, Tune In, begins with all their family backgrounds and ends on 31 December 1962 with the Beatles on the cusp of their breakthrough.

Here's Mark's answers to everyone's questions; you can view the original Q&A thread at: http://theafterword.co.uk/content/mark-lewisohn-afterword-webchat.

Question
I've read George Martin was dismissive of George Harrison's musicianship and got frustrated with him many times...Is this true? and who did George Martin think was the best Musician in The Beatles?
(from ablewalker)

Mark's Reply
George Martin should be answering this question, not me, but I don’t think it’s correct, no. I do know he’s talked of having paid less attention to George Harrison’s songwriting than John and Paul’s, which is understandable in the context of those years and events.
I’m also not sure he’s gone into detail about who was the best musician. All depends on how you define ‘best’. But it’s hard to imagine him concluding it was anyone other than Paul.

Question
There's the special edition of Tune In to come out shortly, with umpteen additional words in it.
Was that the original version and did you then take the scalpel to it to come to the 'regular' version, or was it the other way round? I'm really interested in the process behind coming up with two such different versions.
Which one is your preferred version?
(from molesworth)

Mark's Reply
My book contracts called for 250,000 words (already a lot), and I wrote 780,000. My UK publisher (Little, Brown) read it and said they wanted to put out the entire thing. My US partner, Crown Archetype, remain undecided still, why is why it’s only out in Britain. Both publishers required the mainstream book for which I’d signed the contracts, so I had to set about creating it from the 780k version. I was aiming for 250k and got it down to 400k, which was pretty good going, and enough for both companies to accept the length and publish. The editing task was mine – I'd not have allowed it to be done by anyone else.
It was never my intention to create two different products, but that’s the way it worked out. If you have the mainstream edition, you’re not missing anything truly vital – I made sure it’s all in there. But the Extended Special Edition (ESE) has more layers, more levels, more context, more anecdotes, more Beatles.
Both editions achieve the goals I set for them, but the ESE is the full, fullest story, everything I wrote just as I wrote it.

Question
Absolutely loving the 1st volume on Audible. Have got as far as 1958 and apologies if it gets answered later but in terms of Liverpool's football divide, where did each of the four stand - and to what extent did they care?
(from Vorgongod)

Mark's Reply
Pete Best was sporty, John, Paul and George barely gave a toss about it, certainly not about football, and when they invited Ringo to join them they were bringing in just about the only other male on Merseyside indifferent to it.
Paul leans slightly towards Everton because his dad and some other relatives followed them, but I’m not at all sure he could name their current starting XI; John, George and Ringo never expressed a football-club preference at all, not seriously at any rate.

Question
Of those released on Parlophone or Apple up to and including 1970, how many Lennon/McCartney songs were genuine co-writes? Are you willing to provide a list?
Why were the songs on the first album originally credited to McCartney/Lennon?
On the original songs, McCartney makes a strong showing on the first album, which is in keeping with a long history of collaboration prior to that, despite being a bit younger. How come, he rarely leads on vocal for the next three albums?
(from tiggerlion)

Mark's Reply
Lennon-McCartney songs that were genuine co-writes? For the period covered in this first book, quite a few. After that ... I’ll get there in due course. The fact is, and I didn’t really have a strong sense of this before researching Tune In, John and Paul were already writing songs separately when they met. Then they decided to write together, then they wrote separately again, and so on. The pattern prevalent in the visible years, 1963-70, was a continuation of the way they’d operated in the less-visible years.
Lennon-McCartney or McCartney-Lennon? Actually, there’s anther big surprise about this in Tune In, with more to come in Volume 2. Turns out that the songs on the first 45, Love Me Do and PS I Love You, were credited to Lennon-McCartney in error: Brian Epstein made specific written instruction, after discussing it with John and Paul, that they should be McCartney-Lennon.
The lead vocal on Beatles songs, as is pretty well known, generally reflected the main or sole composer, and John’s clear hot streak as a songwriter in 1963–64 gave him vocal domination on With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles For Sale. These things always fluctuated, though.

Question
Do you think Brian Epstein has received his due recognition and, if not, does your book (including future volumes) attempt to redress this?
(from AndyK)

Mark's Reply
In these books I’m not attempting to redress anything, or to right any wrongs or debunk myths or go out of my way to prove things different to how they’re known – I’m just reporting history, straight, starting from scratch and telling anew a story that’s been told not very well far too often. All I would say is that the perception of Brian Epstein is sure to be different when everything is looked at evenly, from all sides.

Question
Can you provide any details about the Christmas party at Savile Row, the one in which John & Yoko dressed up as Father & Mother Christmas and gave out gifts to the kids and some Hell's Angels turned up (sort of) at George's invitation? Allegedly.
The reason I ask is that I was at that party. I got a fake beer mug from John! I was aged 9 or 10 at the time and now I only have very vague memories of the event but when I tell people about it most of them don't believe me! Confirmation that I haven't gone prematurely senile, plus the ability to regale people in some detail would be much appreciated.
One of the Beatles was absent that night. I think it was Paul. Is that right? Thanks in advance.
(from Billybob Dylan)

Mark's Reply
The party happened, with John as Father Christmas (fake white beard, real white plimsolls) and Yoko as Mother. It was held in 3 Savile Row on 23 December 1968. John gave you a beer mug but he handed another then-child I know a Churchill crown (the five-bob coin).
Accounts by at least three credible witnesses (Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor, Richard DiLello) all have the California Hell’s Angels introducing a measure of menace to the family gathering, especially when the biggest roast turkey in all London was brought into the main room – so I don’t doubt that it’s true.

Question
My kids (5 & 9) love The Beatles. They were my parents' music. Why do they endure across the generations?
(from Ahh_Bisto)

Mark's Reply
Music, wit, talent, originality, look, trousers.

Question
Where does it end? When is the end of The Beatles Story?
That final photoshoot at Tittenhurst?
The I Me Mine session with the sarky press statement?
The legal dissolution of the Beatles partnership?
8\12\80?
End of the Real Love session?
Or given the length of time it may take - with the deaths of Ringo n Paul?
I don't blame you if you haven't decided yet!
(from dogfacedboy)

Mark's Reply
I don’t need to decide this yet, so I haven’t. To quote F. Crisp (via G. Harrison) the answer’s at the end.

Question
Obvious sort of question. Any particular favourite tracks you'd care to mention?
(from sven garlic)

Mark's Reply
I could narrow it down to about 210 contenders. After that, I’m struggling.

Question
Have you got a copy of the 30 minute Helter Skelter I can borrow?
Loving THE BOOK (Paul n John have just met - I think they might get on)
And thanks for the peerless 'Recording Sessions' book that only made me hungry to gobble up all those illicit bootleg discs. You made the 1st take of 'Tomorrow Never Knows' so enticing
(from dogfacedboy)

Mark's Reply
Thanks. I preferred my mix of Tomorrow Never Knows (unreleased) to the one on Anthology 2.
I’ve no long Helter Skelter, sadly, but if I did I’d definitely lend it to you.

Question
Do you get sick of listening to the Beatles?
Bearing in mind the huge research you've done into their recordings, and into their lives, do you ever reach the point where you can't stand them any more, and perhaps reach for the ELO?
(from Mavis Diles)

Mark's Reply
I always loved 10538 Overture, Roll Over Beethoven and A New World Record so you won’t catch me knocking ELO. But to answer the main question ... no, not a chance.

Question
Does it annoy you that from now till the day you die (and probably beyond) you'll be known as The Beatles Biographer?
Have you actually written about anything else that you'd like us to know about?
(from Sniffity)

Mark's Reply
How could that annoy me?
I wrote two editions (1998 and 2003) of Radio Times Guide To TV Comedy, a UK/US TV comedy encyclopedia. I wrote for Radio Times every week for 15 years. I wrote a biography of Benny Hill (Funny, Peculiar) and I used to write about Association Football for Match Of The Day magazine.

Question
Dear Mr Lewisohn
Will your book fit on my shelf?

(from drakeygirl)

Mark's Reply
If it's any sort of self-respecting shelf, yes.

Question
Did you interview ...
... my 90 yr old Godmother for the book? She shared an office with Stu Sutcliffe's mother when working at Liverpool University, but you probably know that already ;-)
Regarding the book, I am wading through the audio version, I was a bit skeptical, but it is a sensational offering.
(from dai)

Mark's Reply
I didn’t, and might have talked to her had I known.

Question
What do you think of the Stones?
(from retropath2)

Mark's Reply
Fantastic, always fascinating. The Stones are in Tune In and their story will continue to be told pretty thoroughly in volumes 2 and 3, along with so much else that was going on in music. The Beatles never existed in isolation. Things make best sense when seen in context. These three books must tell the broad (but detailed) story of all popular music of the period.

Question
On the issue of yellow submarines ... on behalf of my five year old niece I'd like to ask …“Is Thunderbird 4 the same yellow submarine that the Beatles live in?”
I had never heard such a thing suggested before, but I told her I would find out ...
Thunderbird 4 first appeared quite some way into the first series in an episode originally aired in the UK on 30th December 1965. That first series ended on 30th March 1966.
Ian McDonald has Paul writing the song in bed one night in early May 1966, and the recording began later that month.
So, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, and on behalf of my niece, I would like to formally put forward the theory that ‘Yellow Submarine’ was inspired by Paul having watched Thunderbirds - I’ll explain to her in a decade or so what he might have been smoking at the time.
(from Steven C)

Mark's Reply
I know of no connection, but the possibility has piqued my curiosity. I'll look into it.

Question
Got any untold stories about Magic Alex? I think he is a fascinating character and I reckon a factional book/play/film based on his Beatles period would be very entertaining. Although, I suspect he is a little too litigious for the truth to out.
(from BigJimBob)

Mark's Reply
I’m still hoping for a proper face-to-face interview weekend with him, over which there’s been sporadic correspondence since 2006. None of us is getting any younger, Alex, so how about it?

Question
I've been obsessed for years with finding The Beatles' 'tipping point' - at what point do you think that they go from being one of dozens of equally capable 'beat groups' covering obscure American material to being THE BEATLES!!!!! - the full blown cultural phenomenon that they became. And Would you agree that The Beatles were significantly more melodically gifted than the majority of their peers? If so, why?
(from ian s)

Mark's Reply
I don’t know about any ‘tipping point’. 1960 was the year everything changed for the Beatles – they began as no-hopers, amateurs without a clue about where to go or how to get there; they ended as the hottest group in Hamburg and Liverpool, their star steeply on the rise. As for the rest of the first question, if you read Tune In you’ll see that this isn’t really how it was.
Question 2. Melody is everywhere and there’s always an abundance of melodic songwriters. Comparisons of ‘gift’ are subjective. The Beatles were never the only talented people around, but it’s clear they used their talents for melody spectacularly well.

Question
Why the Beatles and not, say, Gerry and the Pacemakers? What set the Beatles apart from all their peers? And do they have more street cred than the Stones for playing places like Hamburg and being rough and tufty boys?
(from Fiction Romantic)

Mark's Reply
Gerry and the Pacemakers were Gerry Marsden, Fred Marsden, Les Chadwick, Les Maguire. The Beatles were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr.
Measuring ‘street cred’ is not my department.

Question
I was wondering why you didn't investigate the alleged Mimi/Michael Fishwick affair? Did you not feel this was relevant?
Reading the book (and enjoying it immensely), again and again what strikes is Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and on his parallel track Ringo's collective and individual sense of dogged purpose and righteousness. Stu and Pete didnt have a chance in the face of such steely inner resolve. Do you feel this relentless self-belief was the ultimate key to the bands success - as well as the recurring serendipity of the 'stars aligning' at crucial moments?
Fantastic book! Any chance you could put out the next edition next month? ;)
(from slotbadger)

Mark's Reply
Well, the Extended Special Edition came out a month after the first. (Though perhaps this isn’t quite what you mean.) The Mimi and Michael Fishwick situation is mentioned in that edition, though I didn’t think it necessitated much space.
The extraordinary resolve/determination/dedication of the four Beatles, individually and collectively, was surely a major factor in their success, and this began long before they were famous. Stuart Sutcliffe left the Beatles of his own volition having already given plenty.

Question
Volumes 2 and 3? Despite reading more Beatles books than is healthy for anyone over the last 20 odd years I was engrossed by Tune In...a fantastic story well told.
Just curious what the timescale is for the follow ups?
(from carabara)

Further Question
Ages! I'm sure I've read that that it will be years between volumes! Tricky one this, but us baby boomers need to read this stuff before we shuffle off!!
(from Nigelt)

Mark's Reply
(to carabara) Just as soon as I can get there, and I’m working flat out
(to Nigelt) The sole purpose is to get this story right, or as right as humanly possible, and to not cut any corners. That mitigates against hurry. But I also need to finish it before I shuffle off, so you can rest assured I won’t be resting assured.

Question
What's your favourite band?
(from Michael)

Mark's Reply
I favour Japage 3, a little-known trio from the late 1950s.

Question
I'm curious about the relationship between Pete Best's mum and the Guy With The Hat (Aspinal, I think his name was - the guy who ran Apple for them until he died in recent years).
They had a kid together during the 60s, Pete's half brother, Roag.
Given what went down with Pete being sacked I'm curious how this whole situation affected everyone involved (Aspinall, Pete, Mrs Best, other Beatles...). Did Aspinal just give her a few quid for maintenance every month or was there ongoing active involvement, and therefore ongoing contact between the 'Beatles camp' and the 'Pete Best camp'? It must have been a bit awkward, certainly a bit weird.
I've never come across the dynamic of that situation being discussed at all in any book - presumably it was a no-go area, which people respected during Aspinall's lifetime, and admittedly it is a bit of a tangent in the Beatles story.
Also, is 'Roag' a name that anyone else has ever been called?
(from Colin H)

Mark's Reply
I did my level best to get this as right as possible in Volume 1, and will be telling it as well as possible in Volumes 2 and 3.

Question
I worked with Pete Shotton briefly in a previous life - I'd be interested in any anecdotes about his relationship with Lennon, as I suspect Mr Shotton exaggerated some of it for comic effect....
(from jockblue)

Mark's Reply
I’ve never had that impression. Pete Shotton always strikes me as the genuine article, still down-to-earth, no bullshit, interested only in the truth.

Question
What do you think would have happened if National Service hadn't been scrapped in 1960? Would the world have been robbed of The Beatles.
(from noisecandy)

Mark's Reply
Yes, it seems so. They were meant to serve from the age of 18. Even after that rule was relaxed and the entry point became 19, this would have meant Richy Starkey and John Lennon serving from 1959 to 1961, Paul McCartney 1961 to 1963, George Harrison 1962 to 1964. Paul would have been polishing army boots instead of wearing the Anello & Davide flamenco numbers on Ready, Steady, Go! George would have been on the parade ground at Aldershot instead of the Ed Sullivan Show in New York. So no, those four guys could not have been Beatles in those years, and you can probably imagine the huge sighs of relief all around Britain in May 1957 when news of the abolition of conscription was announced.

Question
As I read Tune In more and more (and it is rather fantastic) I get the sense that the coming together of the Beatles was a unique, fortuitous occurance that couldn't have happened anywhere else or at anytime else.
In your opinion, was the world THAT close to not ever having the Beatles, and by extension the last 50 years of popular music as we know it? You mention that Liverpool itself was exceptional for the amount of groups that were birthed in the aftermath of skiffle and rock n roll. So, if it wasn't those four, could it have been four others, do you think? [Maybe Brian Epstein would have chosen to manage someone else...]
(from Noise Annoys)

Mark's Reply
I agree with your first conclusion. And no, I don't think it could have been anyone else. There was no one else like them, and it needed those talents and that attitude, and Brian Epstein's management, to succeed. Brian did manage other artists but never with the same effect, because there was only one Beatles. As I said earlier, the Beatles had John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr; other groups didn't.

Question
Thinking of The Beatles as songwriters rather than performers, are there any of the thousands of cover versions of Beatles' songs you actually prefer to the originals, or conversely, do you think every single Beatles' track is fundamentally unimprovable? Thanks!
(from metal mickey)

Mark's Reply
I don’t know about ‘prefer’, but some covers are brilliant. Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends is one, and there are plenty of others. Beatles songs have always lent themselves to every kind of interpretation, and with the amount of talent in the world, there are some great ones.

Question
Just loving the possibility of No Romford, No Beatles. I've been boring everybody in my home town with the fact that Romford had such a big role to play in the story. Providing not only a father figure to Ringo but also his first full drum kit. We learn that this was purchased second hand in Romford following the breakup of a local band. His stepfather singlehandedly managed to transport the kit by train, from Romford Station to Liverpool Street, around the circle line to Euston and from then onwards to Merseyside. Its facts that these that bring the book to life.
My Question - What was the fact that you uncovered that you ”personally” found to be the most amazing in your research?
(from TheArtfulBlogger )

Mark's Reply
Harry Graves’ dad was once described in the London Evening Standard as a former Romford United footballer. Does anyone out there know more? When the Beatles played Romford in 1963, all four of them dropped in to meet Ringo’s step-grandparents.
As for the ‘most amazing facts’ question, truly, there were so many I wouldn’t know where to begin.
[thinks]
Oh alright then, just one. Many of the discoveries had me roaring with laughter or shaking my head in disbelief, and one that achieved both was when I turned up details of a remarkable little hitchhiking trip to London made by Paul and a girlfriend in October 1962, just when Love Me Do came out. Some of I Saw Her Standing There was written on this trip. They needed a bed for the night, and of the millions of places in London where Paul could have bunked down, it was in the same apartment block where George Martin, some years earlier, had been for oboe lessons from Margaret Eliot, mother of Peter, Jane and Clare Asher. Paul lived with the Ashers in Wimpole Street from late 1963, but a year earlier was in the place they’d lived before that, and where George Martin had been (and, of course, he didn’t know it).

Question
We all know how much the Beatles were influenced by music coming over from America, and by the music they grew up with. But to what extent did their British peers influence their music in the early days. Did any of the other Cavern bands, or early peers from other cities make them sit up and take notice or were they always too far ahead of the rest?
(from blueboy)

Mark's Reply
They watched everyone and checked out everything – the Beatles were always aware of life going on around them. But though they recognised and respected certain talents, they generally did their own thing – and, musically, the influences in the rock and roll period were almost 100% American.

Question
Seven Years! My God, Mark Lewisohn must have a dream relationship with his publisher. It's such a long time to wait that you have to ask who is this book for? We assume the target audience is oldies, but not necessarily goldies, like ourselves. But many of us may well be dead by the time Mr Lewisohn delivers the next Beatle dreadnought. So my question is simply who is the book for?
(from Martin Hairnet)

Mark's Reply
It’s for anyone, just like the Beatles.

Question
Isn't three breezeblock-sized tomes about this band - already the most written-about band ever, a band who have had more words written about them than Newton, Mozart and Michaelangelo combined - taking the piss just a teeny bit? I mean, come on.
(from bob)

Mark's Reply
Read some or all of the book and make up your own mind. No pressure!

Question
So many people in Liverpool, London, New York, and elsewhere who had their brush with the Beatles have inflated that experience and exaggerated their knowledge and access to the band. And their memories of the Beatles as people are unavoidably tainted by latter-day events. For example, they may not have actually liked John Lennon in 1966 but after he was murdered and martyred suddenly they're talking about how "close" they were to John and changing the view they present now. I'm sure the same would be true if Paul had been murdered and John was the one still with us.
As a writer, how do you get around the realities of people's faulty memories and their tendency to inflate their own importance and role in the story? Isn't it dangerous to quote someone speaking today about how they thought about the Beatles 50 years ago? Their memories can't possibly be accurate. How do you deal with all of this in a book that is intending to be scholarly in approach?
(from Martha)

Mark's Reply
Yes, I’m very careful. No matter how amusing or amazing an anecdote might be, I won’t use it if I don’t believe it and/or it doesn’t stand up to proper scrutiny.

Question
I believe you're one of the few people who has heard 'Carnival of Light' which must surely be one of the very few unreleased recordings that hasn't been bootlegged. What's the best Beatle recording we've never heard?
(from Dr Volume)

Mark's Reply
Probably one we don’t know about yet.

Further Comment
Ooh carnival of light! That's the grail for me.......
(from Vorgongod)

Mark's Reply
You wouldn’t say that if you’d heard it.

Question
Tune In devotes a great deal of attention to the death of John's mother, Julia. Most Beatles books do. But there is a disappointing lack of information in Tune In about the death of Mary McCartney. You quote Mike McCartney saying Paul was a different person after she died, but then the book does not elaborate on that at all. Some people (as Paul seems to) internalize grief but are just as traumatized emotionally, as the people who show their loss more overtly (as John seemed to). So I was curious about why the book offers so little detail about Mary's death and its impact on Paul.
(from Martha)

Further Comment
I haven't read the book yet but this comment made by many people on a forum I frequent. And it went further than that. These folks felt that John and Ringo's childhoods got a lot more attention than Paul and George's.
The only thing I can figure is that Paul and George both had stable, loving families wheras the others grew up under more difficult circumstances. When it comes to the death of Paul and John's mothers, the difference could be that John was the type of person who tended to act out (which he did A LOT after his mother died) while Paul has always been more buttoned up. He has even said that he learned to put a shell around himself after his mother died.
Anyway, it's an excellent question.
(from eastcoast)

Mark's Reply
You say you’ve not read the book, which is fine. The other comments posted on the forum would seem to insist that those people have read it – so let’s hope they have. Anyway, my conscience and hands are clean on this. I’ve no bias of any kind and make that very clear in the book’s introduction – my mission statement, if you like. The biographer takes stories where they must go with the materials available – and there happens to be more evidential-based research for some of these childhoods than others. What to do? Wantonly delete essential text about John and Richy so they all get the same space? Pad out the Paul’s and George’s stories with unessential or unavailable information to achieve a certain word-count? I’ve written what I felt needed to be said or could be found to say – and everything balances in the bigger picture.

Question
Ringo's pre-Beatles name? I notice that you refer to Ringo as 'Richy' rather than 'Ritchie' as some other books have done. Does this mean other authors have been spelling it wrong? How did you make the decision of which spelling to use? Also, when did the name 'Ringo' first begin to be used?
(from AndyK)

Mark's Reply
He’s always written his name as Richy. Still does. And he’s had to watch every writer get it wrong for 50 years.
The professional name Ringo Starr was first put in print in January 1960, and seems to have been brand new at that time.

Question
What was John's favourite cheese?
(from Neil Dyson)

Mark's Reply
Venezuelan Beaver Cheese?

Question
You wrote about Paul and John deconstructing songs by trial and error to find out how they went correctly, but I was intrigued, given how hard it was to even get hold of a guitar and the lack of guitar tutors etc, as to how they actually managed to work out how to tune a guitar. Do you know how they managed it? Was it totally trial and error or was there a pre-Bert Weedon guitar tutor?
(from Carl Parker)

Mark's Reply
Good question, and I don’t know the answer, whether they used a pitch pipe or perhaps tried to tune their guitars to other instruments.

Question
It intrigues me that Paul and George started in the band as close friends (going on holiday etc) and must have jammed together early on. At any stage did they ever write a song together or work on any that later became L&M songs?
(from kb)

Mark's Reply
In Spite Of All The Danger was a McCartney song originally credited to McCartney-Harrison because, as Paul once told me, George wrote the guitar solo(s) and they thought (in 1958) this merited a co-composer credit. But I’m not aware of any time Paul and George consciously sat down together to write a song. Paul did it with John (of course), and George did it a little with John, but not Paul and George. Around 1989–90, Paul did some interviews in which he said he and George might start writing songs together, and George publicly scoffed at it, saying, in effect, we’ve had all these years when he could have said that, and didn’t.

Question
A bit of an impossible question but how do you think popular culture would have developed without the Beatles - would the pretty boy crooners have continued to hold sway? Would black music of Satax, Motown and so on have had such an impact in the UK without the Beatles championing and covering it? Without the British Invasion would Dylan have gone electric?
Is that why they are still one of the most powerful cultural forces and why people are still writing and finding new things to say about them 50 years later?
(from dogfacedboy)

Mark's Reply
I’m not close mates with “What if?” questions. Who can know? But it’s clear that the Beatles revolutionised rock music and changed pretty much everything for pretty much everyone, and they also championed black music to white audiences.
As for why they’re still being talked about after 50 years, that’s a combination of very many factors, led by the music, and it’s why I wanted to write this biographical history afresh, to answer the basic questions ‘Just who were these people and how did they DO that?’

Question
Given that Ringo was drafted in because he was a vastly superior drummer to the unfortunate Pete, how did he feel about being relegated to tambourine on Please Please Me?
(from fintinlimbim )

Mark's Reply
He hated it, and he hated George Martin for it, and held a grudge against him that lives to this day. In most senses they’ve got well beyond it, of course, to form an enduring and genuine friendship – but still Ringo hasn’t forgotten the pain and isn’t shy to remind George what that felt (feels) like.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to talk to us, and to Michael from The Afterword, and Emily from Little, Brown for setting up the chat. "The Beatles: All These Years, Volume One – Tune In" is published by Little, Brown in both traditional and ebook formats, with a special extended edition too.

Roy Harper: Flashes from the archives of some old newspapers

Just some old newspaper and magazine pieces that some here may enjoy...

Roy Harper: The Dream Society
Album review: originally published in Mojo, July 1998

The Sophisticated Beggar, the Valentine, the Loony On The Bus... Roy Harper has worn these and other Lifemasks for more than 30 years now and with this new, remarkable instalment the real Roy stands up. Not in one easy motion, of course - this is the first part of a two-volume autobiographical song cycle. Accessible, yes, but rather in the same way as Lewis Carroll. Are all these densely wrought worldviews and achingly poignant recollections from the same cornered, vulnerable little soul? Apparently so. For anyone who has struggled with Harper’s work in the past - the swings and roundabouts of his vitriol and tenderness never allowing for an easy relationship with the casual listener - this could be the one. The abiding thoughts from even a handful of listens is not only the intensity of Roy’s passion, even after all these years, but the deeply emotional content of his own history that he succeeds in crafting mercurially and believably into songs with beautiful, instantly memorable melodies and appropriate musical settings as required.

A ponderous opener aside, this is an album so taut and focused it could snap. When Roy builds up a head of rockabilly irony on ‘Psychopath’ and sings the refrain, ‘I wanna leave this psychopath behind’, you know he means it. But likewise he’s still wowed by the libido-drenched young man memories of ‘Songs Of Love Part 2’, pumped out in suitably sensual Zeppelin riffage. Not in contrast but in complement the ‘no more pain’ simplicity of ‘I Want To Be In Love’ and the desperately sad ‘Dancing All The Night’, where Roy’s desire to waltz with the late mother he never knew is executed with a sincerity and artistry that few others could master. Exploring a whole life’s experience, the sentiments of this record are far, far too complex to file under... whatever. Repeat plays are compulsive. It’s as if, after all these years we thought he was a nutter, Roy Harper is the only sane man left alive and this his brilliant memoir. Nightfighter? Songwriter.

'Roy Harper'
Originally published in The Independent, 30 October 1998

Circa 1984, and during one of those latterday sojourns in the course of the once Old and Grey Whistle Test’s sleepy history when it found itself enjoying a prime time slot, we were taken on a field trip up some windy hillside in Wales. ‘Where else,’ said breezy pundit Mark Ellen, ‘would you expect to find seventies rock stars consulting the muse?’ And so an unforgiving generation of pop fans were given a televisual precis, in the form of Roy Harper and Jimmy Page twiddling away portentously in the gale, of what they’d missed in the previous couple of decades. Frankly, it didn’t seem they’d missed very much. ‘It was a set-up!’ says Roy, with customary hint of rage and conspiracy.

It may have been. But then the eighties were something of a lost weekend for all manner of ‘dinosaur’ types. A decade on and the seventies giants - Page & Plant, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull - are striding the world once again or, at the very least, hobbling around with some degree of digitally remastered dignity and respect. Even The Incredible String Band have toyed with the comeback scenario. And guru to them all, peddling his musical dreamscapes, folkish philosophising and singular reputation for ire and outrage consistently and irregardlessly through bad times and better, is Roy Harper. He kicks off a UK tour today, promoting The Dream Society. It’s the best album he’s made in years. Still, the question has to be asked: is this bloke not just an irrelevant old hippy? ‘Well,’ says Roy, ‘how can I put this concisely? There’s no smoke without fire...’

An hour’s drive to the west of Cork city, down exactly the sort of dark and winding back-roads one would expect, one arrives at The Old Convent, a fabulous Gormenghast-ian pile amidst the pitch black of the unillumined landscape in which it resides, combining candle-lit charm, a dependable wall of dictionaries and the sort of modernist home studio and internet attachments essential to the far-from-retired, rurally-inspired rock survivor. Roy Harper, like his neighbours Noel Redding and Donovan, is clearly still getting it together in the country. I marvel at his home. ‘Hmm, well it’s getting there...’ says Roy, somewhere between gruffness and modesty, and twiddling a moustache that pitches its hammock somewhere between Colonel Saunders and Fu Manchu. ‘Curmudgeonly’ is the man’s reputation and yet it seems but a superficial aspect of Harper’s character: ‘Curmudgeonly - yes, that’s what my reputation is,’ he admits, matter-of-factly. ‘But I met Van Morrison once and he was far worse than I’d ever dream of being. I’m nothing like that.’

He never did get on Top Of The Pops but Roy Harper has, by stealth, found his way into the affections of English pop’s brightest stars - Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Pete Townshend and the like. And who could forget, on Led Zeppelin III, the suitably impenetrable ‘Hats Off To Harper’? ‘I went up to their office one day and Jimmy said, “Here’s the new record”. “Oh… thanks,” I said, and tucked it under my arm. “Well look at it then...!”’

Roy also sang lead on Pink Floyd’s ‘Have A Cigar’ and he’s still a bit miffed that his chosen fee (a season ticket to Lords’ for life) has never been honoured: ‘I asked Roger for sixteen years but it never came. And then I moved house. I must say, I am noticing a distinct lack of invitation to Pink Floyd events these days.’

Perhaps it’s this tenacious candour that gets Harper his fearsome reputation but, this mild grudge aside, his talk is full of warmth and humour. Could be the pastoral lifestyle: ‘I get up early, walk for a mile and half and that blows a few layers off,’ he says. ‘I know what’s living round here and I always check on them. I have a roll call when I go outside and it starts with this little goldcrest that’s nesting in the garden. At the larger end of the scale there’s foxes, badgers and deer. In fact, there’s this chattering magpie I’m thinking of putting on a record.’ Could this be the end of the raging muse of yore? ‘Ah, well, what happens after I’ve been out is I’ll take in the news and it’s nearly always farcical - a heinous joke, full of conceit and deceit and people who are self-important, from Joe Bloggs to the Prime Minister to...’ So no worries there then.

When he was fifteen Roy ran away and joined the RAF, ended up in a mental hospital, did a spell in prison for a succession of minor misdemeanours and eventually wound up - like Donovan, Bert Jansch, Billy Connolly and other great names - a doyen of Soho’s vibrant mid-sixties folk club scene. He speaks long and fondly of all his contemporaries as a virtual brotherhood and even at the height of his anarchic celebrity for every rambling, dope-sozzled ode there would be a fearless, razor-sharp observation on modern society - ‘I Hate The White Man’ (South Africa), ‘Government Surplus’ (Thatcherism’s rejection of youth), ‘The Black Cloud Of Islam’ (no prizes for guessing). And on that score, like the cricket ticket, he’s still waiting for his fatwah.

Profound moments aside, if there’s one tale that guarantees Harper a perennial notoriety it is the one involving the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of a sheep: ‘A total fabrication!’ he says, with surprising good humour. ‘The most public of all my stories and there’s not a single grain of truth in it! A lot of that stuff came from BP Fallon [his erstwhile publicist] and also a lot from this particular breed of TV producer I used to run into in the seventies. These fragile, effete individuals - the moment anybody brought anything like a challenge in the door then suddenly that person became, er... curmudgeonly!’

Media luvvies notwithstanding, communicating with all ages on equal terms is at the core of Harper’s artistry, and it’s something he learned in his youth from the late Alex Campbell - a melancholy Scot, and pretty much the first professional, travelling folk singer in Britain: ‘Alex and I did a gig together at the Marquee and we were chatting afterwards. He looked at me with a kind of knowing smile and said, “Ah, ye young whippersnappers - ye’ll be the death o’ me”. It was like he was saying, “Okay, you’re here now, you’re taking the reins, so get on with it”. He was a lovely guy. He could relate to his own generation and to mine and I’ve never forgotten that. I never patronise young people. You could be meeting a kid who’ll be the next Pablo Picasso and all he’s got to remember you by is the one time he met you. Every time you meet someone, you meet them historically.’

So, 31 years after his first album, with virtually his entire back catalogue available, admirably enhanced for CD, through his own Science Friction label, does the Artist Formerly Known As The Loony On The Bus have anything left to offer? ‘What I do have to offer,’ he says, with rigorous precision, ‘is a lot of what’s gone before, but also a wisdom that unfortunately only comes with age. It won’t be easy - I’m not an easy person to come and see, unless you know me. And then I’m very easy. If you’ve been to a Roy gig three or four times then you’re likely to become a heckler, likely to plumb the depths of your own imagination. Like, “Show us your bum Roy”!’ And there, in mutual hysterics, the conversation draws to a close, the magpie chortles and somewhere, far away, a young man picks up a paintbrush and thinks of Roy.

Roy Harper
Vicar Street, Dublin
Concert review: originally published in Mojo, January 1999

Roy assures me that it only happens in Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin. ‘It’ being the verge-of-chaos spectator sport and crowd participation version of what would elsewhere be termed a concert. Every time I’ve seen Roy ‘it’ has happened - an auditorium full of lunatics, drunks, ostentatious people with dodgy substances. The biggest and loudest tosser in the building was sitting next to me. But not for long. This is Roy’s first tour in four years and one wonders where these people go when he’s not touring. No matter, it’s all part of the experience of a Roy show and, foibles aside, one cannot but admire the performer for keeping the whole thing on the road for two hours, weaving merrily around, but never quite diving headlong into, the verge. At a Roy Harper show one may be surprised to find that the most reliable person in the building is usually Roy.

‘I grew up, as a lot of us did,’ says Roy, ‘with a lot of bollocks...’ Immediately the fun begins. ‘Where’s your hat?’ shouts someone. ‘Where’s my hat?’ says Roy, somewhat wrong-footed from what was undoubtedly going to be a pithily amusing polemic. ‘Er, what are you talking about?’ A stirring rendition of ‘Tom Tiddler’s Ground’, from 1970’s Flat Baroque and Berserk, provides a temporary halt to the nonsense and despite regular bursts of vocal requests and people passing notes up to the stage (‘She’s The One’ and ‘Another Day’ being the big hits in Roy’s Dublin constituency), it will be one of the few established classics in the set. ‘Next time...’ says Roy, more than once.

This time around is very much a showcase for his exceptional new album The Dream Society, conceived as part one of a two part autobiographical work examining his life and experiences in loosely sequential order - growing up, love, being branded a loony, meeting his late mother in a dream state, heartbreak and other stories. It had the potential to be a self-obsessed disaster area, but both on record and in the commitment of his song performances tonight - in difficult circumstances - Roy has crafted a work of some profundity, accessible and subtle yet charged with great emotional investment. ‘Hmmm, I went too deeply into that one,’ says Roy, opening his eyes and emerging from a particularly delicate moment. ‘You’re not in Glasgow now!’ comes, on cue, another plainly irrelevant yell. This is the real performance artistry of Roy Harper - being able to deliver heartfelt, serious and alternately delicate and raging music in between submitting himself to lengthy barrages of surreal, ludicrous badinage with his fans. Few in his position - and this is not a small crowd - would put up with it, but Roy is a generous host. Eventually though, even Roy has to cry, ‘Enough, enough,’ and finish on his big new epic, ‘These Fifty Years’, a beautifully melodic, intriguing and compelling dream-meeting between God, Roy and Tom Huxley, the father of modern agnosticism. It lasts a good fifteen minutes. A very good fifteen minutes. The show may not be for the faint hearted, but there are truly gems in the quagmire.

Roy Harper
The Errigle Inn, Belfast
Concert review: originally published in The Independent, 6 November 2000

Releasing his thirty-sixth album, and still best-known to the world at large as a bloke who once sang on a Pink Floyd record (‘Have A Cigar’), who inspired a song on a Led Zeppelin album (‘Hats Off To Harper’) and who had all sorts of outrageous goings-on attributed to him in the seventies (all down to an over-zealous publicist, apparently), Roy Harper begins his UK tour in Belfast – truly the mark of an independent man. Indeed, such is Roy’s independence that the new album, The Green Man, will only be available directly from himself or his website. Nevertheless, anyone fearing that this integrity might lead to a road marked ‘oblivion’ should be comforted that a big-push compilation is on its way from EMI America, heralding Roy’s star-studded sixtieth birthday concert in June at the Festival Hall. He ain’t heavy, but he certainly has some heavy friends.

Tonight, though, it’s Roy solo. These days, having not-entirely-wittingly come to symbolise the last bastion of the sixties troubadour ideal – a one-man encapsulation of Tim Buckley’s drug-sozzled hedonism and cartwheeling vocalisations and Nick Drake’s pastoral and deeply English fragility – the Roy Harper live experience is a trip to the edge. Young men and hippy chicks, high on something (maybe just enthusiasm), mix expectantly with middle-aged couples and boozy groups of men with moustaches out to relive their youth. From the moment Roy emerges – a quizzical, gentle demeanour only slightly at odds with a facial hair situation borrowed from Colonel Saunders - people start yelling for favourite songs, usually the once-notorious ‘I Hate The White Man’. Roy decides to premier five songs, in a row, from the new album. The mischievous war of attrition between performer and audience, a trademark of Roy gigs, has begun. And, as usual, Roy wins – just.

All Roy really wants to do is communicate his songs. Many of them are delicate and exquisitely crafted things (strangely at odds with his audience’s behaviour) richly textured with pathos, humour, rage and poignancy, and sometimes all in the one song. New songs like ‘Glasto’ and ‘Midnight Sun’ concern moments rather than the monumental concepts of earlier works – welcoming little worlds to be entered and left, with Roy as our guide. The response to the debuts of ‘Rushing Camelot’ and ‘Sexy Woman’ suggest classic status is assured while ‘No One Left To Vote For’ not only struck the populist chord but made one realise, with multiple ironies, that we were all listening to a once-institutionalised madman singing a song to a roomful of weekend loonies about the inexorability of everyone else in modern society going insane. Roy may not be able to change the world, but he can still challenge the way each individual deals with it and, more than ever, we surely need someone like this to rail against mediocrity, hypocrisy and voyeurism. Once again, hats off to Roy Harper.

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