Introducing This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash

It’s finally out there, nine months after I delivered the majority of the words, and a year and three-quarters after my first online hint about the project. This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash is available from Amazon or online/in store from Blackwell’sFoylesWaterstones and W.H. Smith, in time for Christmas and already being shipped out in encouraging quantities.

A few factors out of my hands put it back a little, but that at least allowed me to add an interview with Joe Strummer’s widow Lucinda and good friend Gordon McHarg, on the back of the JS001 boxset and archive project. Given the chance I’d add a review of that and the exhibition that followed, and more on Paul Simonon’s latest LP and live dates with The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the wondrous Merrie Land. But you have to draw a line somewhere, press the button marked ‘print, publish and be damned’.

Early on, I felt a bit of a fraud. Why me? I’m certainly not an insider on The Clash camp. But maybe that counts for more, arguably helping me see things a little clearer, not too close to the subject, able to make independent judgements.

If there was – I admit – an initial fear that taking on this mighty task (and I’m grateful, believe me) might colour my love for the band negatively, that hasn’t happened. In fact, I reckon I love and appreciate the band even more, and not once along the way did I regret getting involved. Granted, I only re-listened to Cut the Crap a couple of times, but even that, I felt, helped get a handle on the whole story.

What’s it all about, in a nutshell? This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash details the band’s rise from roots in bands such as the 101’ers to their memorable emergence, and beyond, their place in music history secured even before London Calling took them to a whole new level, putting them on the road to global success before the spark that ignited them ultimately burned them out.

But it’s about far more than that, appraising and examining the studio output, how they broke America, looking closely at the many tours and interviews, and how they fell apart at the height of success. I’ve also sought to detail individual members’ stories, examining post-split careers and the heartbreak surrounding Joe Strummer’s early death, profiling other key personnel involved in a group celebrated for their political stance, rebellious outlook and influential experimentation as much as their music, their legacy intact long after the classic line-up – Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon – last shared a stage.

The question I felt I had to answer from day one was, ‘Why even bother with a new Clash biography?’ Esteemed past works by biographers Pat Gilbert, Marcus Gray, Chris Salewicz and Keith Topping, plus film-makers Don Letts and Julien Temple, and former roadie Johnny Green told the story so well, while there are numerous in-depth online resources and quality pieces from magazines and newspapers over the years – from dedicated websites to a wealth of great features and interviews with key and fringe personnel, archived and more recent, out there from many respected writers.

But many of those publications are harder to find these days, and this is my attempt at lovingly compiling a ‘best of’ tome, fully crediting those who put in the hard graft before me. A lot of thought went into what should be included, and as well as an in-depth history of the band and its members – before, during and after The Clash – I’ve added insights from those on the scene and those inspired by the band to get out and do their own thing, including recollections of personal encounters from many of my own interviewees, while Damian O’Neill was good enough to give me his time for an introductory chapter in which he reflects on how The Clash inspired The Undertones and reminisces about their time together in America on such a landmark tour.

Then there are profiles of those around the band and who played their part – from earlier and later bandmates to management, producers and engineers, session men, key videographers, and those who toured with or knew Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper from other projects. There are also appreciations of each album, key moments like the early gigs, Rehearsal Rehearsals and Westway era, Rock Against Racism, the Vanilla and Wessex sessions, the Bond’s residency in NYC, the end of The Clash Mk. I and the painful tale of The Clash Mk. II. I compiled a ’50 Finest’ tracks section (that certainly wasn’t easy) and a piece on The Clash’s London landmarks too, and discuss the main books and films, adding a detailed discography, timeline and links elsewhere.

Hopefully you’ll glean from all this that this is no attempt to write a book replacing all that came before. It’s more my attempt to marry lots of that together, point you in the right direction or help fill any gaps, creating an all-encompassing go-to publication that sits nicely alongside the other Clash and punk rock books on your shelf, including plenty of fresh copy. Think of it as complementary to the rest of the best.

I also go into more detail about my own personal journey with The Clash, and regular visitors here will know there are clues to my love for the band in many of the interviews published on this website, not least in the title itself, and the piece I wrote to mark the 40th anniversary of ‘White Riot’ early last year.

An official endorsement? Well, I’d love to have talked to Mick, Paul and Topper over a pint or a cuppa, not least to explain how this isn’t just another Clash book and it has something fresh to offer. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hoping they’ll look kindly on the result, and interviews will finally follow, not least with a second book planned, he adds tantalisingly.

Mucky Duck: The Black Swan in Sheffield, later rebranded The Boardwalk, 42 years after The Clash made their live debut there, supporting the Sex Pistols (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Did you catch The Clash’s debut live appearance at the Black Swan in Sheffield supporting the Sex Pistols in July ’76? Unlikely, I know, but it’s worth asking. Perhaps you got to see ‘the only band that matters’ during those early years anyway, or at the height of their success, or even in the later days when Mick and Topper had departed. Either way. I’d love to hear your story, in the hope of putting together The Clash – The Day I Was There.

If so, when did you see the band, and where? And what stood out for you? Who were you with? Were you already a fan? Were you still a student or working? Were you a regular on a certain scene? Did you get a photo with your heroes? Did you keep your ticket or other memorabilia to mark the occasion? How did you get to know about the band? What was the spark that made you sit up and take notice?

Ever get to meet Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon or Topper Headon? Or do you go back to the earlier days, or through to Terry Chimes’ return or The Clash Mk. II? What sticks in your mind about those conversations?

If you’ve got a Clash-related story you’d like to share with me, for potential future publication, please drop me a line via thedayiwasthere@gmail.com

For this website’s appreciation of The Clash, in a feature marking the 40th anniversary of the release of debut single, ‘White Riot’, head here

 

 

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Old, new, hallowed and true – back in touch with Slade legend Dave Hill

‘Omeward Bound: Dave Hill, back out on the road with Slade this Christmas

If it’s December, Slade must be doing the rounds again, in the post Holder/Lea configuration they’ve worked in for 25-plus years.

And it’s not long after ‘Super Yob’ guitar hero Dave Hill calls me from his home in the Black Country that he mentions ‘that song’, as bandmate and fellow original, Don Powell, puts it, the festive classic that’s come to define Wolverhampton’s finest at this time of year.

All I did, by way of an ice-breaker, was ask whether Dave (guitar, vocals) was looking forward to his latest festive live outings with Don (drums), Mal McNulty (vocals, guitar) and John Berry (bass, vocals).

“Yes, it’s something that’s always a pleasure and I’m comfy to be doing. And not just because we have the biggest Christmas song ever. I think also it’s all to do with the history of the band.

“It’s 45 years now since 1973, which gives us an immense history in existence as Slade. And I’m still   performing – really I never stopped – carrying on regardless … like an old Carry On film. Ha ha!”

That yuletide smash was of course ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, one of six UK No.1 singles and 16 top-10 hits for Slade (added to three No.1 and five top-10 LPs).

In fact, 45 years ago Slade became the first band since The Beatles to go straight into the UK singles charts at No.1, a feat they managed three times in ’73. The first time was with ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ (four weeks at the top), followed by ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’ (three weeks), and then – having just missed out with ‘My Friend Stan’, which peaked at No.2 – for five weeks with a Christmas ditty recorded in New York City the previous summer, shifting half a million copies in the first week of release. And there wouldn’t be another British chart-topper until The New Seekers got there on January 19th, 1974.

What’s more – and these were the days that record sales really counted for something – that ‘straight in at No.1’ feat wouldn’t be repeated again until The Jam managed it – also three times – with ‘Going Underground’/’Dreams of Children’ (1980), then ‘Town Called Malice’/‘Precious’, and their swansong, ‘Beat Surrender’ (both 1982).

Live Presence: Slade, 2018 style. From the left – John Berry, Don Powell, Dave Hill, Mal McNulty.

But let’s get back to Slade, and last time Dave and I spoke was three years ago, when he told me he was working with Anthony Keates on a project that would became So Here It Is: The Autobiography, sub-titled How the boy from Wolverhampton rocked the world with Slade, published by Unbound in 2017. So a lot’s happened since, I’m guessing.

“It most certainly has, and in a very good way. Anthony was a brilliant choice. It wasn’t on my radar, but it’s a bit like so many things that have happened to me in life. You’re going one direction, when actually it’s the other way. And what Anthony did was help me find my way as to exactly how I would do it.

“I’m quite a good talker and people like listening to me, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have a book that sounds like me having an evening with you where I tell you a story’. I’ve got my own accent, and people like that, and I thought that was the way forward. I could record it all, and I had quite a journey with Anthony. We spent quite a lot of time finding people out to help with their personal stories of me at the time. And there was a lot to get through and a lot we discovered.”

It sure beats therapy, and it’s probably a lot cheaper than having your own shrink.

“Well, I think it is therapy. There are some things that weren’t quite explained, like the business of finding your Mum and Dad had a fake wedding, trying to make it look right for the pair of us (Dave and his sister Carol) when they couldn’t actually get married. But I find it quite romantic actually, what they did.”

I’ve only recently read the book, and while I’m familiar with a lot of the back-story, I learned a fair bit about you that I wasn’t aware of.

“And it’s out in paperback now too.”

Ah, good plug, Dave. With an extra chapter too, I see.

“Yes, and two different covers. Sainsbury’s have got an exclusive silver cover for their shelves, and there’s the red version – like the version you’ve got – elsewhere. Red’s always nice for Christmas, and silver’s nice as well … part of my stage clothes were silver, of course.”

Indeed. As Stuart Maconie put it in 2004’s Cider with Roadies, he had a ‘jumpsuit made of the foil that you baste your turkeys in and platforms of oil-rig-derrick height’.

While we were on the book, I also mentioned to Dave the number on the spine of my hardback version, wondering what it related to, prompting him to look at his copy, then admit, ‘I don’t know what the story of that is mi’self!’

So how would Dave best sum up his 2018?

“Well … how can I put it? It’s been a year of playing the regular places I do, but also Israel, doing a show in Tel Aviv. That’s not a place that was on my radar either, but it turns out there’s a promoter out there who’s an absolute fanatic of us. And I couldn’t believe they knew the songs.

“I didn’t particularly think of Israel having Slade’s music pumping out of the radio, more associating it with religion, tourism, and all that. But when I got there, Tel Aviv was like any other city, a very vibrant place, and so enjoyable.”

So was there a love for your music there back in the ‘70s?

“It definitely had an impact, as it did in Russia, where they weren’t supposed to listen to our music. It was frowned upon. Western rubbish, I suppose. But I’m afraid the Russians didn’t listen (to that advice), and thankfully we have many thousands of fans there too.

Garden G-Strap: Dave ‘You Write ‘Em, I’ll Sell ‘Em’ Hill takes a turn around his back garden

“It was interesting hearing from this Israeli person discussing with me his memories of the past. And he knew so much about me, not just the regular questions, but probing back to my first guitars, obviously having done his homework. It was great.

“Having said that, I went to the Falkland Islands many years ago, wondering how that would work too, playing to the troops. What would we do? Would we be ‘entertainers, playing to the boys’?”

Dave writes about the band’s South Atlantic visit in So Here It Is, and I seem to recall it was quite soon after the Falklands War.

“It was still tender, a subject you didn’t really bring up with them. Not so much, ‘Don’t mention the war!’ It was more personal than that. Someone had lost his friend, and there was that sort of feeling.

“Our job was to play their club for a full week, staying on the base while they entertained us, taking us out on the helicopters and all that. It was a hell of a long flight, but it was worth it.”

That’s the closest Slade got to playing South America, it turns out. But who knows, maybe they also have a big Argentine following that they’ve yet to discover.

“Possibly. It’s never cropped up.”

These days, is it a family affair when you tour? I don’t mean the immediate 21st century Slade family of yourself, Don, Mal and John. I know your son has travelled with you in the past. How about your beloved, Jan? Or do you prefer to keep those parts of your life separate?

Late Bloomer: Dave Hill gets himself some family time back in his beloved Black Country

“With regards my wife, you’ll see a picture in my book of us and the whole family, and that’s the greatest achievement we could ever really have. In a sense, my wife met me before fame, so she’s been through it all, and she’s more private.

“I’m a very tactile person, so people approach me and I’m very friendly, while my wife’s a lot more reserved and cautious about people.

“I suppose my real answer would simply be that there are two sides to me. There’s the man who walks on the stage, and for that period of time I’m more focused than in anything else I do. That’s when I lose myself in it, the actual experience of entertainment.

“Then, when I come off the stage, I go back to the hotel and go to bed, looking forward to the next date. I treat every show as if it was my first. I don’t under-play and don’t go through the motions.

“When I come home with bits of stories, I send pictures of the action we got, but then it’s usually, ‘That hedge needs cutting down there!’ And when I go out walking locally, people see me and it’s like, ‘Morning Dave. Alright? Where you been?’”

I should imagine that’s what always kept you grounded, and the same goes for Nod, Jim and Don too by all accounts.

“Yeah, Noddy and myself are the most recognised, but I think people see us as friends as well as famous people. Also, we’re not a band people associated with politics or making a point. It’s nothing to do with music being used for a purpose of opinions or reactions. Our music has come from the stable of good records and meaningful songs – a rock’n’roll band.

Over the years you were perhaps seen as an escape for people from everyday concerns, I suppose.

“Well, I’ve probably been escaping the system ever since I got out of that job!”

Fringe Benefits: Dave, Don, Noddy and Jim back in their Slade ’70s heydays

He’s alluding to his time at Tarmac in their offices in Wolverhampton there, when Slade’s predecessors The Vendors, later known as The N’ Betweens, were starting to make an impact. If 72-year-old Dave had stayed in the day-job, how long does he think he would have been retired by now?

“Well, let’s put it like this. It’s no longer Tarmac. It’s now an Indian school (the Ettingshall site is now home to a vocational training centre and the British Sikh School). I did for a period of time before I made it see people still walking the same walk though.

“And let’s not be wrong here – my place was not there. It never was. But I had to have a job and had to start somewhere, and it was a fiver a week. I was an office boy, and three years later I still was. I hadn’t improved. It was a bit like a school report. ‘If he could concentrate … he’s disruptive in the class …’

“The thing is, life is life, and I can’t say what’s right for anybody else, but being involved in something which is not just about the money – if money was the reason I did it, I would have failed dismally on that score, as there was never a great deal of money. It certainly never came my way anyway.

“But I see it now the same way as when I first went professional – it was about a freedom of travel, and the journey continues, and I’ll take it as far as I can in this life, because the purpose is still important to people. If they didn’t want it, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Some of those you worked with at Tarmac probably saw you on Top of the Pops and told their mates the next day, ‘I see Dave Hill’s still got that same job. Did you see him last night on telly, wearing that metal nun get-up?’

“Well, yeah! Probably saying, ‘Get a proper job!’ At Tarmac I was told, ‘Stick with the job, it’s a proper job, musicians don’t always make it’. That was true, but years and years later I was in the Tarmac monthly magazine!”

Dave’s had his health battles in recent years, and my most recent interviewee was with his old adversary-cum-ally, Andy Scott of The Sweet, who’s had his own run-ins as well as losing two bandmates far too early.

“Oh yeah, Andy’s a mate.”

Superyob Splendour: From the March 2006 issue of Guitarist Magazine

So how’s your health these days ?

“Well, I’ve experienced serious depression, but got over that, and the stroke was not planned, but is it ever? I’ve always been a jogger and things, but who knows what led to that? I really don’t know. That was quite a time ago now – 2010.  I’m eight years on and on medication for that, but quite happy.

“Andy had prostate cancer, something our bass player, Jim Lea, had too, and of course Jim suffered some bad health towards the end of the original band. We were in America and he caught hepatitis. That knocked him around. In fact, we never worked together again really. We were having a hit record at the time.

“I’ve not seen anything of him. I see more of Nod, even though Jim only lives up the road, while Nod’s in Manchester. But the point is that I’m thankful to Jim, Nod and Don for their contributions to my life. Without each other … it certainly wouldn’t have happened in the configuration we had.

“I’ve had a brush with stuff, and my wife’s had a brush with cancer this year – a minute form of breast cancer – the surgeon said if anybody was going to have cancer, she had the best type.

“That was something that happened that we dealt with together, and marriage is a friendship and a partnership, and it’s about supporting each other … until you pop your clogs, I suppose.”

If he sounds rather dismissive of his issues with depression and his stroke in that answer, I can assure you that’s not the case. He goes into it all in far more detail in So Here It Is.

And again, we come back to Dave and his bandmates all being very grounded. What’s more, the time he’s been with Jan and the time Jim’s been with his wife Louise seem to defy the cliché about rock’n’rollers, temptation, and long-term relationships.

“I don’t think we were quite like that. There were bands spending lots of money, being flash, and while we were flash in the clothes, I felt quite uncomfortable with some of it.

“When I bought my first house in Solihull I thought, ‘Do I deserve this?’ Going from a humble council house across to that situation felt a little unreal, where people weren’t really like those I grew up with. It felt sort of empty somehow. Nevertheless, it was a good experience, living there, and I certainly did work for it.”

Fasten your seatbelts, dear readers. Dave’s about to get philosophical, even quoting a line from William Wordsworth’s Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought.

“I walk across the meadows in the mornings and think about those things, poetry and all that. We all need to earn money, but there are so many things that give you the trueness of life and what really matters in life. It’s about family and it’s about yourself. As Wordsworth put it, ‘We feel that we are greater than we know.’

“I read a book by a Norwegian explorer (Erling Kagge) who crossed the Antarctic and wrote, Silence: In the Age of Noise (2017), about stillness of mind, a very spiritual thing in a way. And there’s a Tyrone Power film, The Razor’s Edge (1946), where a guy goes up to the mountains, up to a teacher. He leaves him there for months, where he has an experience with the morning sunlight and something touches him in a way that sends him back to civilisation a completely different man, and he starts to help people. And that also  struck a nerve in a way.”

You mention Erling Kagge, and you mentioned in our last interview how there’s something about Norway that draws you in. Meanwhile, Don has his special link with Denmark, where he’s based with his wife and family.

“Yeah, I love it in Norway, and my son proposed to his wife there. It’s a love affair with a country where the scenery is awesome.”

Dave also reiterated that now he’s finished the book, he’s hoping a Who Do You Think You Are? appearance might reveal even more about his family roots, saying, ‘There are one or two subjects that still haven’t been uncovered.’ And he’s got plenty of other future plans.

“I also know they possibly want me to do an audio version of the book, and I’d like to do ‘an audience with’ type format show, playing a bit of acoustic guitar. The book has opened up a few doors for me, and there was also talk of a movie, a drama. I’ll be promoting the book well into next year. But right now there’s work to be done with this tour.”

I should imagine the process of writing the book and dwelling on your past has added a few more years to your life. You seem to be a man at ease with yourself more in recent years.

“I think so. And it’s not selfishness, as some might think. You’re the only person who can help yourself, although people can help you along, give you kind words … as my parents used to do. But when it comes down to the existence of us all, it’s more about an inward contact, rather than talking about God and religion and being dictated to. It’s about self-discovery.”

He might even have a solo album project lined up somewhere down the line.

“It might be a bit too personal, but then again it might be an important journey for me, never mind anybody else.”

Interesting. Would we hear H’s singing voice?

“I’d attempt that. I don’t particularly like my voice, but often you get guitar players – even Clapton – who have a feeling in their voice, not trying to be anyone else. Mark Knopfler’s the same, a guitar player with the voice around it.”

For the first time in a dozen or so years, I watched Flame all the way through over the weekend. It still makes for great viewing, 43 years on, and not just because of that cracking soundtrack. But one thing that’s struck me today and last time we spoke is that you’re definitely not Barry, the character you played in that film. He was a bit of a diva, and a moody one at that.

“Well, I suppose I’ve been a bit of a negotiator. I’ve never been a businessman, but I’ve been someone who probably talks people into something. The idea of manipulating to get hold of a van for the band in that film … well, gosh, I think we were all a bit like that.

“Dad would call me a jammy bugger. He said, ‘If there are no spaces when you come around the car park, there would suddenly be one there!’ I’ve never thought of myself as lucky as such though, and I don’t think anything’s ever come easy. I saw this all as a ticket for a lifetime. It’s not about money, and it’s more than a job. It’s a way of living.”

Grass Roots: Dave Hill takes it back ‘ome

You’ve shared bills with Status Quo too, and I recall the late Rick Parfitt mentioning in his XS All Areas joint-autobiography with Francis Rossi about occasionally driving back to his childhood home in Woking and sitting outside, contemplating his past.

“I’ve done that.”

And I don’t mean going back to Flete Castle in Devon, where your story started, but Rindleford Avenue, the old estate in Penn, Wolverhampton.

“Yeah, I do. I sometimes park outside, where nobody knows I’m sat in the car, with this vision in my mind of the boy from Wolverhampton sat on the grass in front of the house, as it was, this boy with a wind-up record player, putting the needle on. I can still see it all.

“Because you live in an area where you grew up, as John Lennon said (‘In My Life’), people and places, ‘Some have gone and some remain.’ That’s basically what it is to me. The cinema’s gone, where I had my introduction to movies, but the youth centre’s still there, the old school’s been pulled down, and supermarkets have come along and spaces have become car parks. But in my memory it’s all still there, in that personal computer in my head.

“And because I wrote this book in Wolverhampton, I was surrounded by the memories of it. I could walk around this council estate and see the kid that got his first guitar. He might not still be alive, but I’m still here and I still walk around the streets where I rode my bike. Ha ha!”

You did move house at one point, mind, as we discussed earlier … all the way to Solihull.

“Yes, I did. Ha! That was a brief encounter!”

And where will Dave and the Family Hill be spending this Christmas?

“There’s only one place to be … ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’!”

And does anyone dare put that song on over Christmas dinner?

“Well, I’ll keep the radio off. I usually put the Ronettes on!”

Noize Abatement: Slade legend Dave Hill takes some time out at home

Slade’s December UK tour continues at Liverpool 02 Academy (Saturday, December 8th, 0151 707 3200, and online here), Wrexham William Aston Hall (Sunday 9th December, 0844 888 9991, and online here), Oxford O2 Academy (Friday December 14th, 0844 477 1000, and online here), Hull Welly (Saturday December 15th, 01482 221113, and online here), Leicester O2 Academy (Sunday December 16th, 0116 223 1181, and online here), London ULU (Friday December 21st, 0844 477 1000, and online here) and Manchester Academy 2 (Saturday December 22nd, 0161 832 1111, and online here). Mud2 are the support for Oxford, Hull, Leicester, London and Manchester, with more details via www.vmstickets.co.uk.

For July 2018’s WriteWyattUK feature/interview with Slade’s Jim Lea, head here. To catch up with this website’s previous feature/interview with Dave Hill, from December 2015, head here. And for our conversation with Don Powell from December 2017, try here. You can also check out the lowdown on Noddy Holder’s live show with Mark Radcliffe from May 2013 via this link, and find a WriteWyattUK appreciation of Slade from December 2012 here.  

The official Slade Facebook page can be found via this link, while the Slade Are For Life – Not Just For Christmas Facebook page is linked here

 

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Sweet inspirations, five decades on – the Andy Scott interview

 

Four-piece Sweet: Andy Scott, second right, and his fellow Sweet bandmates (from the left – Bruce Bisland, Pete Lincoln and Tony O’Hora), out and about again in December 2018

Can it really be half a century since the pre-glam incarnation of The Sweet threw their first chord shapes, and 45 years since the era-defining ’Blockbuster’ saw the band in their pomp top the UK charts?

What’s more, it’s been 55 years since Sweet guitarist Andy Scott’s first gig, back in his native Wrexham, North Wales.

To help mark those mighty milestones, Andy’s out this month with the latest Sweet line-up – also featuring Bruce Bisland (drums, vocals), Pete Lincoln (lead vocals, bass) and Tony O’Hora (guitar, keyboards, vocals) – to celebrate an outfit that managed 10 top-10 hits between 1971 and 1978 and were key players in the glam-rock movement.

To get in the mood for The Sweet Blockbuster Glam Christmas Party, I had a nostalgic morning on my metaphorical dansette, spinning ‘Teenage Rampage’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’, ‘Action’, ‘Hell Raiser’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’, to name but half a dozen Sweet inspirations.

And while Andy wasn’t in the band from day one, he provides a link threading past to present, having made vital contributions throughout Sweet’s journey, adding vocals and keyboards as well as those memorable six-string licks.

Based ‘where the Ridgeway and the Vale of Pewsey join’ in Wiltshire since leaving London in 1991, it was ‘absolutely hacking it down’ when I called Andy, his hopes of catching the cricket from Sri Lanka on the box scuppered by bad light there too. But he was about to get out on the road again, attentions once more focused on The Sweet, as they have been so often since 1970.

So, in the immortal words of Brian Connolly on ‘Ballroom Blitz’, are you ready, Andy?

“Yeah.”

Alright, fellas, let’s go!

Actually, it’s been 40 years since vocalist Brian quit the band, and 21 since he died, way too young, the same going for drummer Mick Tucker, who passed away in 2002 after a battle with leukemia. Did such moments ultimately inspire Andy to make the most of life?

“Kind of. As you get older what you thought when you were 30 changes. All of a sudden survival instincts kick in. Eric Clapton is probably one of the big survivors, alongside Keith Richards. I wouldn’t put myself in that league, but I had a couple of hell-raisers in the band who aren’t here anymore, and that probably says enough, doesn’t it?”

Guitar Man: Andy Scott, still out there, still the main man, wanting a piece of the action

Do you think you gave it as much as them, socially, at times?

“Not in the same way. My bit in the band was the music. I was the producer and most of the songs we wrote – or every song – has my starting point or input. From the moment of the ideas you need to write a song, it usually falls on a guitar player if that’s the only chordal instrument in the band.”

There are those who might think Sweet were more a creation of the Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman pop factory production team. But you were songwriters before, through and after those years.

“Well, yeah. I came out of a group called The Elastic Band in the late ‘60s, and while we were touring, I bumped into Sweet once on the road. We were doing a BBC session live in some coastal resort, Great Yarmouth or maybe Weston-Super-Mare, and Sweet came along with one of their early EMI singles.

“They had a couple that got played a lot on the radio, but it just wasn’t successful. Then I had a problem in a band where the lead singer decided to leave and join the Love Affair, a bit of a kick. So my brother (Mike Scott) and I joined a band down in London, Mayfield’s Mule, which is why we ended up down there … and within six months I was in Sweet.

“Even though my brother and I would have loved to have been in a band together again, we decided whatever came our way we would take.”

Mayfield’s Mule recorded three singles, their self-titled album released in Uruguay of all places. But more wide-scale fame was just around the corner. What does Andy remember about his Sweet audition (which according to bandmate Steve Priest involved him blowing a fuse in front of the rest of the group and their joint-managers)?

“I was living in Shepherd’s Bush, and they chose a rehearsal room – I think it was The Cabin in Golborne Road, just a couple of hundred yards from where I was, and they knew me there. We kept some of our band equipment there.

“It was getting to dusk that evening, and I asked Mike Chapman – who immediately recognised me, he’d been in a band called Tangerine Peel – if I could go in next, in case somebody sees me. The band I was in weren’t doing anything, but nobody had told me we didn’t exist anymore. And rather than cause friction, he said yeah.

“I went in and there was a Marshall stack there. I didn’t realise it was turned full on. I certainly woke up the room, let’s put it that way. Mick (Tucker)’s comment was, ‘Mm … you’re in, I think,’ pleased to see a bloke who didn’t mind hearing his guitar feeding back.”

Early Days: The first Sweet single Andy played on, from 1971

Early Days: The first Sweet single Andy played on, from 1971

Is that right that your live debut with The Sweet was at the Windsor Ballroom in Redcar, late September 1970?

“D’you know, I’m not sure, although I’ve got a couple of guys who do our statistics and they’d know. If you’ve seen that, it could be right.

“In Redcar they had the Jazz Club as a gig, where all the major acts played – like Led Zep and Queen – and I played there many times with The Elastic Band. The same promoter, when he heard I was in Sweet, booked us, but for a hotel gig rather than the jazz club, a Saturday night in a big hotel on the seafront.

“A couple of years later we went back, having had hits by then. It must have been like their version of a Mecca Ballroom, with the support act The Government, whose lead singer was David Coverdale. We had a good long chat. We’d met before. He came to Elastic Band gigs as a very young lad, then showed up at The Sweet gigs, saying, ‘I’m a better singer than him. You should get me in!’ And quite frankly he had a fantastic voice. He was singing Otis Redding material in that band.”

As I understand it, your very first show was almost seven years earlier back in Wrexham, playing bass at St Peter’s Hall with The Rasjaks in November 1963 – 55 years ago.

“Oh, that may well have been the very first gig, but one I remember was on New Year’s Eve. We had an older guy as singer and ended up being his backing band. We had no real name, but he knew someone at the chemical works on the outskirts of town, and they had a New Year do.

“He said, ‘You should book my band’. They agreed. Little did they know we were so inexperienced. We hardly had enough material. With the half-dozen instrumentals we knew and half-dozen vocal songs, we barely had enough time for a 45-minute set, let along four hours.

“When we got there, the microphone wouldn’t work, so we ended up playing the same instrumentals twice. We took a break and by then people had eaten and wanted to dance a bit. We were mainly playing Shadows songs and (Nero & the Gladiators’ Edvard Grieg-inspired) ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, played rather badly.

“This guy came up to us as we were about to launch into the same songs a third time and said, ‘How much are you getting paid?’ We probably told him £1.50 or two quid. He said, ‘If I give you a quid, will you not play anymore?”

What did that do for your ego?

“Well, we were too young. I think I was barely 15.”

Settling In: Andy Scott during his days with the Silverstone Set (Photo copyright: http://www.andyscott.info)

There were also formative spells with fellow North Welsh bands the 3Ds, Guitars Incorporated, Missing Links, Saints, and ForeWinds, before – three and a bit years after his Rasjaks debut – a defining moment while playing with the Silverstones (originally the Silverstone Set), supporting The Jimi Hendrix Experience in Manchester, January ‘67.

“We were in the best band in Wrexham, and there was a lot of good talent there in the early to mid-‘60s, but there was one band slightly outside town, heading towards Shropshire, called the Silverstones, gigging in places like Birmingham, Manchester and South Wales, as well as the odd gig in Wrexham.

“They had ambition, and the lead singer was later in The Elastic Band with me, his mother the manager. They had proper equipment too. When I joined they had Gretsch guitars, Rogers drums and Vox amps. I was thinking I’d not been in a band as together as this.

“Before then it had always been a bit more makeshift, but we went on to win Opportunity Knocks half a dozen times, and from there we were picked up by one of the major agencies in Manchester and used to do this gig in the centre there, at the CIS building, above a Burton’s.

“It was a big venue, the New Century Hall. I don’t think it’s there anymore. It was like a soul night every Thursday. Because Jimi Hendrix was black, someone – not very bright – decided to get his band up for this soul night. He was just having a hit with ‘Hey Joe’.

“The week before they’d had The Drifters and the week before that The Four Tops. But then – here we go – Jimi Hendrix comes on and almost kills half the audience stone-dead, while I’m in absolute raptures, thinking, ‘What the hell is this? This is fantastic!’ I’m trying to tell people not to leave, just stick with this.

“But the hall half-emptied and the singer and I decided there and then that the Silverstones were no more, so long live whatever band we’re going to form. And that was the catalyst.”

The new outfit, The Elastic Band, became prime movers on the UK psychedelic rock scene, Andy joined by his brother Mike on bass, Ted Yeadon (aka Gus Eadon) singing, and Sean Jenkins on drums, splitting in 1970 when Yeadon accepted an offer to replace Steve Ellis as the Love Affair became L.A. They did get to record some singles and an album though, Expansions of Life, making another LP as The Cool, Pop Sounds.

“Three of us were left – me, my brother and Clive, the drummer after Sean decided to join Love Affair with Ted. I couldn’t blame him. Years later I remember him saying we should never have split that band. But these things happen. What can you do about it?”

A spell with Mike (bass, saxophone) followed in the backing band for The Scaffold, working with Paul McCartney’s brother Mike McCartney, aka Mike McGear. Do they keep in touch?

Elastic Trickery: Andy Scott with The Elastic Band, prime movers on the UK psych rock scene (Photo copyright: http://www.andyscott.info)

“I was in touch with Mike earlier this year. He did something at the Portmeirion Hotel, where they shot The Prisoner, an evening there promoting his book, doing readings, answering questions. So we had a little chat.

“The guy I’ve kept in touch with more from that band was Roger McGough, who lived in Barnes, not far from where I was in Maida Vale. We met a couple of times and the year before he came to Devizes, near where I am now, for a book festival.

“I said to him, ‘Next poet laureate, then?’ and he just said, ‘Carol Ann (Duffy) does a fabulous job’. But I hope he gets the next one.”

That would be good … if the position doesn’t go to John Cooper Clarke.

“Oh yeah, he’s out there, isn’t he! Wasn’t he doing something with Hugh Cornwell?”

He certainly was, including a rock’n’roll covers album. And who knew he had a singing voice on him?

“Yeah, it’s called turning the world on its head. All of a sudden, we are the establishment!”

Talking of heroes, going back a year I was lucky enough to speak to a close associate of yours over the years, another of my childhood heroes, Slade’s Don Powell.

“Oh, I love Don!”

A lovely fella … although I had to hold the phone a bit further from my ear for him.

“Well, he’s verging on that area of deafness. I just get him to face me when I talk to him, fed up of him going, ‘Eh? What?’”

Time Out: QSP, Andy Scott’s live and studio project with Suzi Quatro and Don Powell

Andy, Don and fellow ‘70s glam legend Suzi Quatro have played shows together and recorded an album as QSP, which seems like a lot of fun to me, and very bluesy.

“We wanted to get together and go back to our roots. You all start somewhere, and you never forget that. It was down to Suzi’s husband, Rainer (Haas). I produced a couple of her albums and we’ve done TV shows in Germany.

“He said, ‘You should do something together. But you’re gonna need a drummer. And the two of us went, ‘Well, it’s got to be Don!’ It took 10 years to get us all in the right place at the right time, but I thought we made a remarkably good album, considering how quickly we did it.”

Any chance of some dates together over here?

”Don and I talk about it, and I think Suzi’s up for it, but she’s a very busy woman, and a workaholic. She wouldn’t mind me saying that. She calls me a diva, and I just call her a bossy so-and-so!”

That banter between you comes over in the footage I’ve seen. You seem very much at ease with each other.

“Yeah. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and neither do I.”

Looking back, how important do you think the glam rock label was to you? You were kind of lumped into all that, but seemingly gladly so. Yet later your more rock leanings shone through, as they did with Slade.

“I keep trying to say to people, if you weren’t there you won’t realise how short-lived that era was. It didn’t last long. I think Marc Bolan towards the end of ’71 – whether you give him credit or whether he’s to blame – that’s where it kind of started, when he decided to stand up off his little cushion, go electric. Then there was the outrageous sparkly stuff, which only The Tiller Girls on Sunday Night at the London Palladium used to look like.

“Also, David Jones – Bowie – tried lots of things in those first couple of years, and in 1969 had that fantastic hit with ‘Space Oddity’, and before that him and Marc had been in a band. Someone tried to put the two of them together, and that ain’t gonna work – they’d both want to be the front-man.

Inspirational Album: David Bowie's Hunky Dory

Inspirational Album: David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, from late ’71

“But then he did that album, Hunky Dory, and … well, that was never off my turntable. So all of a sudden, Sweet, in our second year, ’72, when ‘Little Willie’ and the tongue-in-cheek stuff was being released, that’s when we started getting involved with the dressing-up box.

“By then Marc was off and running, while we – a little more cynically – thought this is one area that has a little bit of legs. But it only lasted for us until the end of ’73 and the beginning of ’74. By the middle of ’74 anybody jumping on the glam-rock bandwagon, to my eyes, looked a little bit yesterday.”

Prime contenders Slade were soon moving into motion picture territory, their 1975 film Flame not quite what the fans expected. But it’s stood the test of time.

“That was ahead of its time. And there was that film with David Essex, Stardust. They wanted us to do a film, but we were being shoved in with other bands. There were people wanting to make films like Rock Around the Clock, more of a showcase.

“There was one with The Rubettes and a couple of other bands. By the time any others were being made – and Brian really wanted to be an actor – I remember saying, ’Offer us something different’.

“There was also that Dave Clark Five film – brilliant! When you think where they came from in the ’60s, that film was really good. So it was possible to make a film like The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Help – they were different from just being your bog-standard, ‘Set up over there lads and mime a bit’.

At this point I mentioned a complimentary discussion on a friend’s Facebook page that morning about the might of the band’s output during that period, a run of impressive singles.

“Your friend has good taste! And one thing I have to say is that we probably made some of the best records of the era.”

You’re not always given kudos for that.

“Well, (we are) in Germany and Scandinavia and Australia. And to a degree America – where everyone knows the songs but don’t really remember the band. Steve Priest kind of summed it up. He said our manager at the time didn’t want us to do too much TV at the beginning. He wanted to keep it in a kind of bottled-up way, so we could got to the point where we could demand a TV special rather than just be guests on a show.

“But by keeping out of it, nobody really knew what we were about. In hindsight, we should have bloody done everything we could!”

I was watching the ‘Teenage Rampage’ promo before I picked up the phone. That really takes me back … despite me being barely six at the time of its release as a single.

“Well, we‘ve got somebody very organised now in Germany, a company called Aviator who have put together a YouTube Sweet official page, where you’ll get all the high-quality, original footage.

“A lot of that footage was missing. Whichever way you look at it, the band paid for all those promos in one way or another, so they’re all lying around gathering dust, probably since RCA shipped out of their Central London offices. A lot of stuff went in the skip.

“People like Nicky Chinn would probably have said, ‘What do I need that stuff for?’ And nobody told us. It’s scandalous. So when I travel around the world and do TV shows, one of the first things I ask is, ‘Where’s your archives guy?’ I have a chat with them and they say, ‘Whatever I’ve got, I’ll stick it on a super-HD DVD for you’. That’s how we’ve found some of our footage.

“A good friend, one of my partners in crime with video footage and some of the productions I do, also works in archives alongside companies dealing in missing TV shows and that, and sees some of the things that have been unearthed recently. It’s scandalous what the BBC did, for the sake of a piece of tape. Granted, it was expensive in the beginning, but …”

Seeing as you mentioned him before, I have to ask – is there animosity between you and former bandmate, Steve Priest, who has his own Sweet line-up?

“There’s certainly no animosity … I don’t think … between us. Steve sent me an email a couple of weeks ago. He’s had his issues, and I’ve had mine, but … If the moment was going to happen it should have been this year for the 50th anniversary. It didn’t though, and I can only say that if we do anything in the next year or so, so be it.

“We did a big 50th anniversary event in Berlin in June, but I have a feeling that people have an inflated view of what The Sweet possibly were. We’re not The Beatles or the Rolling Stones. It’s a band that realistically should still be around and still doing it, and I’ve always maintained that if you’ve got all four members of your band still alive you’re mad not to at least give it another go.”

And how about Andy Scott at 69? Have you slowed down? You’ve had your health battles, not least kicking prostate cancer into touch. Did that give you a different world view or change your approach?

“It’s bound to. I was just about to turn 60 and was invited to play on stage with Spinal Tap, alongside Justin Hawkins from the Darkness and Keith Emerson, another who’s no longer bloody with us. So sad.

“We were all playing bass on the song, ‘Big Bottom’. And our next foray was to do a festival in Malta. That was cancelled, but we decided to go anyway. It was swelteringly hot, and I’d been suffering diverticulitis, which is not very pleasant, having deep stomach pains.

“I went to see a specialist, who took loads of tests, and a week later found myself in front of a cancer specialist. They found my prostate had a tumour. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be here now. I had no symptoms for that, but maybe a few years previously, perhaps I had and hadn’t noticed. Leave it any longer and it would have spread and be barely treatable.”

We mentioned anniversaries, and it’s now 40 years since Brian left the band, although it wasn’t made official until the following January, 1979. What for you was the lesser-known highlight of all those years?

“Well, I’ve got to say, Brian’s last appearance, on ‘Love is Like Oxygen’. We’d been having real problems – and this is one of the reasons why Steve and I were singing more on albums – trying to get a performance from Brian and keep him away from the gin or whatever it was.

“I said to our tour manager, ‘If you’re going to bring him in, try at 11 in the morning and we’ll see what we get’. That day he arrived looking fresh and clean, had a cup of coffee, went in and within a couple of takes … I sang a lot of other stuff, but the verses are Brian’s, and it was a fantastic performance.

“It actually made my heart sing, thinking, ‘Great. Maybe we’ve turned a corner.’ But then we went on tour in America. The rest is history. He was starting to be more pissed than Jim Morrison on stage.”

Away from The Sweet, you still wear many other hats. Are you still involved in producing artists?

“I am. But right now we’re doing this tour of Britain, which over the last three years has turned from four or five gigs to six or seven, and now 12. I’m starting to think we might well have a tour of the UK every December now.

“It’s mainly small halls and rock clubs, including one in London, the old Irish Club, The Hibernian in west Kensington, now known as Nell’s Jazz Club. Last year we sold it out, and this year sold the first night out almost straight away so put a second on (December 19th/20th). It’s fantastic there, with a really great vibe. It takes you back.

“But yeah, I’m still producing. We’re doing what we call ‘the biggest smallest festival in the UK’, behind my local pub, Rock against Cancer.”

You’ve had some big names there too.

“Oh yeah, some stellar stuff. We had Brian May one year, Roger Taylor the next, and he brought Jeff Beck along. We’ve had 10cc, we’ve had the Boomtown Rats and Squeeze, last year Billy Ocean, Paul Carrack, The Stranglers. They were brilliant.

”There was also a band last year from Bath, Novatines, who I’ve taken into Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath, for an album, and we’ve a couple of things lined up. They’re going to perform with us at Bilston at the Robin 2 (December 17th), and next year are lined up for the Northern part of Germany when we tour there next year.”

Cover stars: Sweet take the front by storm for SuperStar '73. From the left: Mick Tucker, Andy Scott, Bruan Connolly, Steve Priest.

Cover stars: Sweet take the front for SuperStar ’73.  From the left – Mick, Andy, Brian, Steve.

Talking of that Black Country venue, I had a very pleasant chat this year with someone else who’s played there in recent years, another Slade legend, Jim Lea, another prostate cancer survivor, like yourself.

“Jim and I were captains of the Great Rock’n’Roll Tribute Quiz in the late ‘70s, like Pop Quiz but on the radio. But I’ve not seen him in years.”

You’re a family man too, aren’t you?

“Yeah, I’ve got a granddaughter. And my son is The Sweet sound engineer as well as being involved with a big conferencing company, being sent all over.”

Do you get back to your old North Wales roots often?

“I’m still involved at Wrexham Football Club, an unofficial ambassador. And I’ll talk about Wrexham until the cows come home.”

He proved it at that point, not least when I revealed I’d made a few trips of my own to the Racecourse Ground to see his side take on my beloved Woking. And I later learned via http://link2wales.co.uk that in 1977 a Sweet appearance on Top Of The Pops coincided with one of his club’s famous FA Cup runs, Andy playing with a giant red and white rosette on his jacket.

Finally, I told him that I thought I knew the other reason he’s out and about this month. I mean, he couldn’t let his old pals Dave Hill and Don Powell’s Slade – also gigging this December – have Christmas all to themselves, could he?

“Well, theirs is a whole different ball game. We never had a Christmas record, although we did record one about seven years ago, a version of ‘Let it Snow’, and it’s just starting to appear on some compilations.”

Live Wires: Sweet, 2018 style, with Andy Scott, left, joined up front by Pete Lincoln, centre, and Tony O’Hora.

The Sweet’s 2018 festive UK tour continues at Wylam Brewery in Newcastle (December 5th) and runs through to the Welly Club in Hull (December 22nd), including visits to Blackburn’s King George’s Hall Windsor Suite (December 8th) and Warrington’s Parr Hall (December 21st). Tickets for the last mentioned shows are available via 08444 780 898 or the Gig Cartel, with more tour dates, ticket details and much more about the band on their website. There’s also some great background about Andy Scott via his own site.

And make sure you come back to this website again this week for the latest WriteWyattUK feature/interview starring Andy’s old pal, Slade’s Dave Hill. 

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Christine and the Queens – Manchester Apollo

Moving Story: Christine and the Queens in live action

She may be less than five feet tall, but Héloïse Letissier commands a mighty on-stage presence, endearing and quirky yet very much in charge and assured.

I’m guessing that state of mind only came with life experience, but her worldly-wise sensibilities remain couched in that innate sense of fun, her professionalism still wrapped up in natural charm.

And the current eye-catching Christine and the Queens show works on many levels, as much a theatrical performance as a dance production and as much an intimate evening with a highly-skilled chanteuse as a master-class in empowerment, one extolling that proud maxim of being yourself.

Song-wise, we got the majority of her first two albums – 2014’s Chaleur Humaine and 2018’s Chris – and brief snippets of Janet Jackson’s ‘Nasty Boys’, a perfect bolt-on to ‘Damn (What Must a Woman Do?), and brother Michael’s ‘Man in the Mirror’, concluding a celebratory acapella ‘Nuit 17 à 52’.

That Jackson sibling spirit was there from the start, but this was no tribute show, Chris – choreographer as well as singer, musician and producer – and her half-dozen Queens putting their own stamp on acrobatic, multi-paced, highly-physical moves that are perfectly synchronised yet seemingly free-form.

Maybe I’m just taking into consideration Héloïse’s heritage, but I see something of French-Canadian theatrical troupe Cirque du Soleil in there, and even Royal de Luxe, the tour company from her home city of Nantes behind the Giants production that recently thrilled Liverpool. And it’s a cliche maybe, but seeing as that’s a French word too, I sensed an accomplished air of Gallic flair throughout.

The latest LP’s first single, ‘Girlfriend’ saw her soulfully shift up the gears on the tail of energetic opener ‘Comme Si’, while later on further Chris 45 ‘Doesn’t Matter’ smouldered, Wendy & Lisa style, en route to that album’s finale ‘The Walker’, our freak-pop auteur and star-turn building to a mighty finish, providing the same vocal might she gave us earlier on the surging, gender-bending ‘iT’.

On ‘Le G’, as with ‘Girlfriend’, I heard traces of Scritti Politti, circa Cupid and Psyche 85, and while her nationality and stagecraft brought to mind Nouvelle Vague’s Camille Dalmais and her inner chanteuse put Edith Piaf in mind, there were also hints of Dolores O’Riordan, Sinead O’Connor and the inventive spirit of Kate Bush for me.

There were many more moments to savour, Héloïse – with Jeanne d’Arc-like short-cropped hair – playing to her vocal strengths on a solo ‘Paradis Perdus’, then shedding her red top, her back to us in her black bra as she sensuously gyrated at the rear of the stage, building to a climax on ‘Here’, seemingly lost in her own world. And at no point was she out of breath, for all her moves.

The shifting stage made for a mighty spectacle too, the band split into two like a battered ship in a tempest, the crash of the backdrops – first a mountain valley, then a wild sea – and the fall of snow then sand adding further drama, as if any more were needed.

Yet the cinematic and theatrical touches would be merely gimmicks without the songcraft and between-number conversation, her pre-amble about giving up the urge to fit in before launching into ‘Tilted’ a nice touch.

And the latter, her finest musical moment so far, is clearly a state of mind for Héloïse’s alter-ego, Christine and her team moving as one, the entertainment factor notched up another level after one particularly smoking scene with that night’s dream Queen, Chris storming back on stage to rage, ‘Hey, I’m not joking anymore! Who can give it to me?’ before lustfully launching into ‘Damn (What Must a Woman Do?).

All night she teased and flirted, but above all she endeared herself to us, a truly positive role model in the bargain. And while she’d just sold out a prestigious Manchester venue twice over, she was determined not to come over as self-congratulatory or self-indulgent, successfully retaining a level of intimacy, revealing, ‘I feel I can trust you more now’ late on.

Then came a memorable encore, inspiring double-takes a-plenty as she climbed the stairs to join us in the Circle, making towards the balcony, her Queens sat behind catching collective breaths, as she charmed us with ‘Sainte Claude’.

Then she was off again, bounding up the steps, inspiring a Mexican wave of sorts, a veritable tsunami of smiles, before disappearing from view again, heard chatting over the PA, eventually reaching the throng of the floor, where she worked out to intense yet intimate show-stopper ‘Intranquillite’. Think musique maison, our special club girl giving it her all among adoring fans before clambering back on stage, her entourage duly following.

Next year, apparently, she promises not only tenderness and empathy but also continued craziness. And I think it’s fair to say we’re all up for that. Au revoir, Chris. Adieu, Héloïse. Come again soon.

Raisin’ D’Etre: Christine and the Queens in live action

Photographs courtesy of Christine and the Queens’ Facebook page. You can also keep in touch via Chris’ Twitter and Instagram addresses. 

  • Brought to you with a respectful nod to Rob Kerford at Sonic PR.
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The Members – The Star and Garter, Manchester

Sweet Suburbia: The Members, 2018 style. From the left – Calle Engelmarc, JC Carroll, Nick Cash, Chris Payne.

If you’ve seen The Members on a bill recently, it’s understandable if you felt sceptical about a line-up without lead singer Nicky Tesco, that voice and charismatic energy a key component of what this band were about.

But there in that particular four-letter word – band – is the reason why this set-up works so well in his absence. The Members were always a proper band … or team if you like. So think of it as the top scorer having nipped off the field and a touch of good old-fashioned camaraderie (Was that the Italian boy?’ as Trigger asks on Only Fools and Horses) kicking in, his team-mates raising their game, showboating their ability to fill the gaps.

Kevin Keegan would probably give it some baloney about the remaining quartet giving 150% effort, but maths was never his strong-point. But stalwart co-vocalists JC Carroll (guitar) and Chris Payne (fairly recently returned on bass) plus Swedish nippy winger Calle Engelmarc (lead guitar) create a three-pronged attack on the senses, while Nick Cash (drums) – who took over from Adrian Lillywhite in 2009, then rejoined after a spell of The Damned’s Rat Scabies sitting in, in 2014, when Calle also signed up – tidies up at the back, keeping his team-mates covered. And they still know all there is to know about barnstorming performances.

No offence intended, but they’ve also lived life a fair bit judging by the look of this 2018 incarnation of the band. Yet they’re clearly all still sparking off each other, as musically tight as JC’s finances back in that Kilburn bedsit in ‘77, an accomplished collective, their music keeping them young. Perhaps you’re only as old as your Gibson SG guitar man.

And while Tesco’s distinctive tones are missed, Chris and JC – plus Calle on backing vocals – more than pull their weight in the vox department, for my thinking more so live. And long may that continue.

Have I mentioned my dodgy knee? I’ve been struggling the past few months (thanks for asking), but I’m off crutches and away from the bags of ice, on this occasion happily letting the train take the strain and heading to Manchester Piccadilly, the venue clearly visible from platform 14. Yet my ligaments were wrecked by the time I’d negotiated Sunday night traffic chaos, taxi gridlock and two flights of wooden stairs to find the upstairs room of this traditional Manc boozer, Guinness in hand.

But it was worth it, arriving in time to see the main act (missing supports Kid Klumsy and 4 Past Midnight – sorry fellas) warm up in traditional style, heading up through the gears on tremendous early B-side ‘Handling the Big Jets’.

There was further quality nostalgia with a track also recorded 40 years ago and still as fresh, At the Chelsea Nightclub‘s ‘Soho a Go-Go’, transported back down the decades, the party definitely up and running by the time they led us through their reggae-reggae sauce-flavoured blast at the money-men, ‘Offshore Banking Business’, its message as relevant as ever, Bahamian flavour bringing warmth to a dark, dismal night in Cottonopolis.

It’s not just about the legacy numbers, a gloriously-raucous ‘New English Blues’ boasting more than a little Mott the Hoople power surge before one of the two songs that defined the band, Stiff single ‘Solitary Confinement’, a memoir to the realities of city living with little money, shifted by way of JC’s amended lyrics to Manchester for the occasion.

I grew to love the third album every bit as much as the first, but just one track got an airing, ’Working Girl’ offering a masterclass in what the Americans would call ‘power pop’, while from the second album Chris gave us an impassioned ‘Muzak Machine’.

The punky reggae party vibe was always important for Camberley’s finest, and an inventive take on John Holt’s ‘Police in Helicopter’ was next, earmarked for a Members covers album next year, I understand. And there was a further indication of the retention of the band’s writing gen(i)e with their mighty hymn to empowerment (if not English grammar), Ain’ Gon’ Be Yo’ Bitch No Mo’’, the second of three fine selections from 2012’s InGrrland.

It was only a matter of time, ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’ next, smiles on faces all around, this Guildford boy based in Lancashire since 1994 feeling a swell of pride as JC told the assembled on the lead-out, ‘We’re The Members and we’re from Surrey’ and met with a respectful roar, suggesting universal recognition of frustrated suburban living.

They nipped off and quickly returned, JC’s Black Sabbath-like run through ‘Midlifecrisis’ followed by 1980 – The Choice Is Yours‘ Larry Wallis cover, ‘Police Car’, its scene shifted for a high-speed chase back down the M6, our guests leaving nothing but vapour trails and a crowd eager for more.

I think they timed it just about right personally, not out-staying their welcome, leaving me able to get my train home and the audience hungry for another North West visit … whenever that might be. Top entertainment all round.

If you missed this website’s feature/interview with The Members’ JC Carroll from June 2018, now may well be the time to catch up, with a link here. And for all the latest on the band, from live dates to merchandise, head to their official website.

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The Cardigans: from indie roots to Gran Turismo and beyond – the Nina Persson interview

Nina Persson was between rehearsals with The Cardigans at home in Malmö when I called, getting set for four UK dates revisiting the band’s best-selling album Gran Turismo in full, 20 years on.

Including the singles ‘Hanging Around’, ‘Erase/Rewind’ and ‘My Favourite Game’, this was arguably the record that catapulted the band to the next level, going platinum in the UK, shifting more than three million copies worldwide, and seeing them nominated for seven Grammi Awards back home.

Word has it that this will be the first time the Swedish outfit have properly toured in 11 years. Have the songs come back to them easily enough, I asked vocalist/lyricist?

“Yeah, and we’ve played those songs since, so it’s not that tricky. We’re familiar with them. We played this album in full for a festival in Hultsfred a few years ago (in 2012). And we’ve rehearsed quite a bit in the last two years, so we’re not too rusty. We know what we’re doing and when we do a new set of shows we want to do it the best we can anyway.”

When you’re back up on stage playing those songs, does it take you right back to how it was first time around with Gran Turismo?

“The thing is that it was 20 years ago when we played these songs when they were new, and I actually don’t remember much from that time. They were very different times. I also didn’t feel very well at the time, and the songs were so current to me and were open wounds almost. It’s easier to perform them now. I have thicker skin!”

Early into our conversation, Nina broke away for a quick word with her son, just back from school, eight-year-old Nils another indicator of how much her life’s changed since the last Cardigans album in 2006, Super Extra Gravity.

Within a year she’d starred in her first movie, Swedish romance Om Gud Vill, and had a hit guesting with the Manic Street Preachers on the splendid ‘Your Love is Not Enough’. But in 2009 Nina was diagnosed with cervical cancer, undergoing surgery, Nils safely arriving the following September after three attempts at in vitro fertilisation.

Solo Act: Nina Persson’s last most recent LP was released in 2014

Since then there’s also been a solo album, 2014’s Animal Heart, and a year later Nina and husband, American songwriter and author Nathan Larson, relocated back to Malmö after a long spell in Harlem, New York City.

But let’s go back to 1998 and Gran Turismo. I saw that album and 2003 follow-up Long Gone Before Daylight as far darker than those that came before – Emmerdale, Life (which included five songs revisited from the first album for wider release) and First Band on the Moon, the first Cardigans record I splashed out on, inspiring me to go back and properly catch up on the earlier tracks I’d missed. And all three albums had a lighter, quirkier air.

“Mmm. Yeah.”

Was that just an indication of where you were at the time that the songs got slightly darker?

“Yes. Very much so. And we also felt that after First Band on the Moon and the song ‘Lovefool’ became such big hits, we had to spend so much time talking about those, that we really felt tired of them. When you have a big hit like that, you can really get connected with one song, and the image of us then was happy-go-lucky, funny, ‘60s looking, whatever … which was not at all something we identified with very well, that perception of us.

“And we started to use different ways of recording. That was the first time we started to work with computers, early in the days of Pro Tools. So that was really inspiring too. We started to think of bands like Depeche Mode and that type of music as well.”

I loved those early albums, but this was seen in some circles as a bit of a step up to the big time.

“Yeah, and we wanted to really do something different.”

Yet that band creativity was always there. You were a competent outfit from the start.

“Yeah, and now we had a new approach with a whole new set of toys, which was fun.”

If Gran Turismo was about trying to find their place in the world, as Nina has suggested, the band certainly seemed to be accepted further afield and taken more seriously with that record.

“Erm, I don’t know. I think with First Band on the Moon things really exploded, but this was almost something where we felt we were taking a sideways step rather than upwards.”

I see that. You could have easily written another album of ‘Lovefool’ type songs, but chose not to.

“Exactly, even though very vocally record companies were requesting such!”

And there were no signs of any Black Sabbath covers on this one.

“No, that was something we’d happily done earlier, but then … as soon as someone starts to expect things from you, you stop doing it. We did two, and people were like, ‘Ooh, what’s the next one going to be?’ And we were like, ‘Fuck off!’”

Have you got good memories of past UK visits. Only I’m guessing you were spending as much time here as at home at one stage.

“Oh yeah. Very much, and we formed the band, sort of, because of British bands. That’s what we all had in common. The British scene was fantastic at the time, and we were all about it.”

I was going to ask that, because if you go back to Emmerdale and the early recordings, you had a style recognisable to yourself from the start, but ‘Rise and Shine’ and ‘Over the Water’ in particular have the air of WriteWyattUK favourites The Sundays for me.

And at other times on the first couple of albums I hear several other influences, such as The Sugarcubes and also Catatonia in places. What were you listening to then?

“Well, the reason I was accepted into the band, basically, was because I owned a Stone Roses and a Sundays record.”

Was the latter Reading, Writing and Arithmetic?

“Yes, but shortly after their second album came out. And they’re still one of my favourite bands ever. And collectively we were huge Smiths fans. Very much, and The Charlatans, The Stone Roses, and Blur of course.

“When we made Gran Turismo, I remember sitting and listening to the last Sundays record. That record came out about the same time. Harriet Wheeler meant so much to so many women in my generation.

“And there’s also the Swedish artist, Stina Nordenstam, her record came out around the same time, and if you listen to her music you’ll totally hear what I copied in it!”

I was surprised looking back to see that while your albums clearly sold well at home, like here it was the previous LP’s ‘Lovefool’ that was your first big hit single in Sweden. Was your own nation slow to catch on?

“Well, ‘Lovefool’ was released twice, first when that record came out, when it did okay, then around a year after it was included in the movie, Romeo and Juliet. That’s when it was released in the US and that’s when it really reached a whole different level, even in Sweden. And that film was obviously popular everywhere.”

Incidentally, that late 1996 film soundtrack album also included a track by the afore-mentioned Stina Nordenstam and fellow Swedes The Wannadies too.

Am I right in thinking it was barely two years between you first getting together and that first album?

“Yes, we formed in 1992 and that first record came out in ‘94.”

So you were around 18 when the band formed?

“Erm … yes.”

How did you get to be in that position where the band saw your record collection and took a punt on you as their singer?

“Well, the town we lived in was quite small – it’s grown quite a lot since – so I guess we all knew of each other and went to the same high school.

“Me and my friend, who was in the band in the beginning, we started to just sit in his house, making up songs and listening to records. He heard about these guys forming a band and wanting women singers and we sort of auditioned together.

“But I knew most of them. I didn’t know Peter (Svensson) but knew most of the others. In our town it was a little like if you were listening to something like contemporary rock, rather than Christian music, you got together, because there weren’t many of you.

“Me and my friend came with two songs – we came with ’Rise and Shine’ and another, ‘Pooh Song’ (which featured on the ‘Rise and Shine’ CD single).”

I’m not sure who the friend she mentions was (I know – I only thought to ask later), but it was guitarist Peter Svensson and bassist Magnus Sveningsson who founded The Cardigans, with both more into hard rock when they joined forces. If I sound vague there, I did try to check up later, watching a documentary on the band online, but it was in Swedish with Japanese subtitles, so I was a bit lost. There were some images of the band Kiss in the introductory interviews though. Maybe someone could help enlighten me.

Word was that the founding duo grew tired of metal and decided to form a pop band with Nina, an art-school friend who had never sung professionally, plus keyboard player Lars-Olof  Johansson and drummer  Bengt Lagerberg. The rest is history.

Nina’s not credited on that first album as a lyricist. In fact, the first songs with Persson co-credits are on Life, including the single, ‘Carnival’. But there was no stopping her from there.

“I gradually wrote more and more. By the time of Gran Turismo I would pretty much say that if I don’t get to write all the lyrics, I’m gonna quit! I felt I had to talk so much. I understood at that point there was no getting away from having to do all the interviews, so if I can happily do those, I should get to write everything so I had something to talk about.”

Journalists are notoriously lazy with their research. How long would it be in interviews with foreign reporters that they’d get round to asking you about Sweden’s most famous musical export, Abba?

“Ah, it happened all the time. It was inevitable. At that point also Roxette had made a dent on the world, and Ace of Base. In a country like Sweden where we’ve had a limited output of music, of course. I mean, if you were Dutch you’d have to talk about Shocking Blue!”

Although, I guess where you were based you were perhaps closer to Copenhagen than Stockholm.

“Well, we moved together as a group to Malmö, where we still live, just across the water from there. But Agnetha (Fältskog) from Abba was from the same town as we were, Jönköping.”

Nina first moved to Malmö with her bandmates in 1994, returning to her adopted coastal city after a decade in America, three years ago. What inspired her move back?

“It had very much to do with the fact that we had a kid, when it was time for him to start school. We started to navigate the school system in New York, knowing we had really good free schools here … and healthcare and everything.

“We were also isolated a little in New York. There’s more of a community here, which I like. This sounds kind of silly, but me and the drummer and the keyboard player of The Cardigans live in the same building now.”

Now I’m imagining something a little like The Beatles in Help – seeing you all enter the building by your own front doors, but it’s shared living space inside. Am I right?

“Erm … we each have our own apartment in the same building!”

I’ll believe her. And going back to that relationship with British culture and specifically the inspiration for the name of the first album, do you still watch UK soap operas to pass the time between band practises?

“No, I haven’t seen a British soap in ages. But it wasn’t too long ago that I was somewhere where there was a TV and Emmerdale was playing and I watched an episode. Is it still running?”

I believe so, 46 years after the first episode. I’m probably not the best person to ask though. It’s been a while since I caught up. I still delight in calling it Emmerdale Farm, annoying people by asking if Annie, Pat, Sam, Joe and Jack Sugden are still around, with Amos Brearly and Henry Wilks behind the bar at The Woolpack, and Alan Turner and Seth Armstrong still working the estate.

Okay, that’s not strictly true. I’m aware of the Dingle family, and know that Paddy the vet is a big Evil Blizzard fan on his days off. But that’s about it, so I change the subject, in case Nina is expecting an update.

So where do you go from here, after these four UK dates? I can’t see you as some legacy band, happy to just play the old hits. Is there new Cardigans material coming together? Or will it be a case of ‘back to the solo career’?

“What we’ve been doing for the last few years is a couple of shows every year, and that’s been really great. We all have different musical projects and different day-jobs.

“And there won’t be any more Cardigans records, I’m pretty sure. But we’ll keep doing little tours and shows as long as it’s fun, as long as we can do it well and feel that it’s something that’s current to us.”

Meanwhile, the material has stood the test of time and still sounds fresh all these years on. Was there a Cardigans record you felt for one reason or other slipped the net and deserved to be far better known or received?

“Not really, but I really liked our last record, Super Extra Gravity. I think that record really came out and got a little lost in that time of transition between records and streaming and that. We weren’t used to that kind of new marketing you had to do, and I think of lot of things played into it. I think that deserved a little more.”

And does having Nils around make life different for you?

“Yeah, it does. Very much. But also I think it makes me realise how much you can still do. I’m going away tonight to do a show, and he’ll probably come along, because he thinks it’s fun. So it’s all very different, but you can do much more than you think.”

Live Presence: The Cardigans, seen here live in Finland in 2015, and all set for a UK return in early December 2018.

The Cardigans’ December 2018 UK dates are at Manchester Apollo on Monday 3rd, Glasgow Academy on Tuesday 4th, Birmingham Academy on Thursday 6th, and London’s Hammersmith Apollo on Friday 7th, supported each night by Moto Boy and Jenny Wilson. For ticket details go to the band’s website or follow this Facebook link

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The Comeback: Elvis and the Story of the ’68 Special by Simon Goddard – a WriteWyattUK review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Comeback: Elvis and the Story of the ’68 Special at first. I felt I already knew plenty about the event and circumstances surrounding it, even though I was barely a year old when this landmark NBC TV broadcast as good as saved Elvis Presley from the brink of cultural oblivion after a decade in the wilderness.

I’ve been put off in the past by the more intimate music and film biographies, unable to see old stars in quite the same light again. And there was a danger here that any rose-tinted shades-wearing vision of Elvis as mere innocent rock’n’roll sensation would be coloured purely negatively. But despite plenty of warts’n’all detail, I took from this book a degree of empathy and sympathy for the subject.

The ’68 Comeback Special was aired during an era that’s long since interested me, yet I’d not really put the whole picture together the way Simon Goddard does in this Omnibus Press publication. Not having truly experienced that scene first-hand, it hadn’t struck me to equate all that was happening in America and overseas at such a key time with the dwindling relevance of Elvis Aaron Presley, something of a yesterday man by then.

Before his GI service and early forays into Tinseltown, this kid from Tupelo, Missisippi, meant so much, but the promise of those seismic recordings at Sun Records in Memphis as a 19-year-old in 1954 and iconic early albums for RCA Victor were soon sacrificed in favour of a second-rate film career.

I first shelled out on the vinyl version of the ‘68 Comeback Special in the mid-‘80s, when I was around the same age as that truck driver who recorded for Sam Phillips, an extended CD version following sometime in that next decade, while a VHS version taped off the telly was later converted to DVD. Picking up this book, I expected little more than a companion piece. It is too, but 300-plus pages later I felt I better understood the subject matter, enriching that listening and viewing experience all the more, 50 years after the King’s triumphant return.

The younger, pre-Army, pre-Hollywood Elvis always interested me more, but this was a key part of the tale, signaling a masterful re-emergence of an icon of whom John Lennon bluntly asked three years earlier, ‘Why don’t you go back to making rock’n’roll records?’ And while Goddard’s colourful style had me unnerved initially, he’s as good as nailed it. I half-expected a straight rehash of what was already out there with extra historical hindsight, but this goes deeper, early perseverance with the style paying off.

It’s difficult now to imagine just how much of an impact Presley made on a captive nation … and world. According to Lennon, ‘Before Elvis there was nothing’. And as Goddard puts it, “The thing called Elvis Presley had blown up over 70 million American homes in the Great Cathode Ray Apocalypse of 1956. A white-hot fireball of thermonuclear sex, joy and abandon, turning the same television screen that once framed Lassie, Lucille Ball and The Lone Ranger into a weapon of mass destruction.”

By March ’58, however, he’d become ‘just another shaven-headed schmuck in khaki’, losing his mother ‘just four months after an Army barber sheared off her baby’s sideburns’. And as the author puts it, ‘Something of Elvis that would never grow back died with her. Her middle name was Love and he’d know no greater’.

By the time he’d left the Army, two years on, Elvis was well and truly off the pace, as seen in his somewhat awkward input for ‘It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling’ on The Frank Sinatra Show alongside the host and his daughter, Sammy Davis Jr., and comic Joey Bishop, a sergeant’s uniform seemingly not the sole reason for his stiff approach. As the author put it, ‘This was not Elvis Presley. This was his cadaver laid out in the wrong clothes. a confused zombie in military dress.’

While I agree with that, I’m rather partial to his duet with Ol’ Blue Eyes on the same show, Frank tackling ‘Love Me Tender’ with his own sense of swing, while Elvis pitches in with ‘It’s Witchcraft’. I’d say there’s chemistry there. As Sinatra put it, ‘We work in the same way, only in different areas.’ And I’m pretty sure you could go through those early ’60s years and find more examples of a performer occasionally on his game. But Goddard’s viewpoint still rings true.

Touted as a ‘genre-busting modernist rock’n’roll fable’, this claims to be ‘the definitive account of how it took Elvis eight years on the big screen to lose his crown, but just one magical hour on a small one to win it back’. That’s fair comment, and he certainly takes an original approach, often-hyperbolic imagery helping us become flies on the walls amid Presley’s palatial surroundings, immersed within that suffocating bubble, better able to examine just how it must have felt for the King of Rock’n’Roll to struggle to re-find his relevance amid an ocean of pill-popping wasted opportunity.

His was a stratospheric career climb strangled in its infancy by a dodgy Dutch immigrant turned despot – described herein as ‘the psychopath Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in his masterful disguise as Colonel Thomas Andrew Parker’ – who should never have been allowed past US customs, let alone beyond his circus freak-show roots and given access-all-areas opportunities to steal Elvis’ fortune from in front of his nose.

Goddard tells the story in often-garish detail, the reader strapped into one of Presley’s dodgems as he suffers his great fall from rock’n’roll sensation to GI drop-out, a miserable existence proving the notion of riches not bringing happiness. We follow the trail from Army discharge to iconic black leather resurrection, the horror of all those poor movies finally discarded as a truly special performer got back to what he did best, re-discovering his freedom in the process and ultimately disarming the Colonel.

Elvis was never strong enough to do that on his own though, and that’s where the true heroes of the tale come in, with director Steve Binder and producer Dayton ‘Bones’ Howe prime players in a TV production team – also including exec. producer Bob Finkel, plus writers Allan Blye and Chris Beard – that somehow managed to hoodwink Parker into believing he was getting what he asked for while privately inspiring performances of a lifetime from the man himself. For it was this NBC collective that had the bottle to somehow work their way into the cold heart of the Presley enterprise and cajole the King into returning to the place where he rightfully belonged.

Many probably felt it a lost cause. The world had moved on a few cogs. Surely there was no place for this poor white Southern boy and ‘50s relic in a world where we’d just lost the inspirational Martin Luther King and influential Bobby Kennedy, and where the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte and major players in hippie culture and the Civil Rights movement were redefining expectations in late-‘60s America, a vast nation soon unravelling and waking up to the horror of Vietnam and backward domestic policies, its regional racist identity finally challenged.

Amid all that Elvis had become – to use more modern parlance – a tribute act to himself, piling on the pounds, increasingly popping those pills, alienating his young bride while bedding co-stars and generally drifting, working his way towards an early grave, confused en route in his bid to find answers and true meaning, growing less and less relevant.

Various factors are given due credence in examining Elvis’ slip away from the real world, not least increased habit-forming reliance on pharmaceutical help – his uppers and downers going with him everywhere. The author writes, ‘Elvis picked the colours of his chemical rainbow with a scholar’s care but a gastronome’s appetite’.

While acting roles continued to roll in, one he truly craved – West Side Story, playing Tony alongside his ex, Natalie Wood – was denied him by the Colonel at a time when ‘The Sixties were becoming THE SIXTIES’, Elvis instead ‘stood in Studio B of Radio Recorders on Santa Monica Boulevard singing about marsupials’ (referring to 1963’s ‘How Would You Like To Be?’ from It Happened at the World’s Fair).

He continued to look elsewhere for kicks, a love of reading blossoming, favourite books including Bette Davis’ The Lonely Life, ‘because it sounded a lot like his own’. Meanwhile, ‘The Girl He Left Behind’ at the Rhein-Main airbase in Germany was now at Graceland but largely ignored, Elvis’ extra-curricular activity including plenty of time with Ann-Margaret (‘the sex of a thousand bordellos concentrated in four foot and four inches of Swedish-American’), who secured his lustful attention after being cast as ‘Rusty’ in Viva Las Vegas. Yet while ‘they peeped and hid and purred and crawled in their infatuated Eden, in the real world they’d left behind half a million feet marched towards the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC,’ where Dr King delivered his historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

Then came November 22nd, 1963, and JFK’s murder, Goddard remarking how ‘six days later the film Fun in Acapulco opened its invitation to Americans pole-axed with grief, to take what solace they could from Elvis Presley singing ‘(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car’.

Meanwhile, a continued search for definitive answers and true meaning saw Elvis seek out a new guru, stylist Larry Geller, while escalating interest in communing with God, the King barely 30 yet already suffering mid-life crises while the Fab Four stole his thunder, considered in some circles ‘bigger than Jesus’ and accordingly inspiring a cherry-bomb firecracker attack during a visit to Elvis’s adopted home city, Memphis, the Liverpudlian visitors quickly convinced of a need to retire from live performances.

Every few pages new Elvis obsessions are introduced, the animals he collected notoriously including Scatter the chimp, aka Coconut Head, Goddard earlier musing over the shallow sadness of ‘a 27-year-old millionaire film star getting his kicks from watching a sex-crazed alcoholic chimpanzee made to hump a stripper on his living room floor’.

As time went on Elvis was knocking out even worse movies, songs like ‘Old Macdonald’, ‘Yoga is as Yoga Does’ and ‘Smorgasbord’ seeing him sink to new depths. But Goddard concedes that there was the odd gem, rightly citing his take on Bob Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’, the South Wales-born writer also stressing the importance of the emerging Tom Jones’ own stage presence on Presley’s road back to relevance.

Marriage to Priscilla followed, influential players in Presley’s life seeing fearing conservative America might turn against him if she ‘continued living with Elvis in ungodly sin’. Yet Elvis’ version of settling down involved ‘impulsive horse-buying’, building ‘a seven-room house at the rear of Graceland’ for a stable barn. Goddard writes, ‘He called it his ranch but it was more a retreat, a landlocked ark to fill with friends and horses, away from the flood of unbearable reality.’

Around then the idea of the TV special was floated, Nancy Sinatra’s Christmas ’67 special, Movin’ With Nancy, leaving the Colonel imagining his own boy’s version, involving ‘Silent Night’, fake snow and carol singers, Elvis in the glow of a hearth, hanging a bauble on a branch, smiling at the camera and wishing viewers a wonderful New Year. One hour of old rope. Goddamit, for a million dollars if they wanted he’d even make the boy dress like Santa Claus’.

And yet his co-star in that year’s Speedway had moved on some distance, Goddard noting, ‘Seven years earlier Nancy had been there at Fort Dix to welcome him home from Germany: a decorous daddy’s girl with short brown hair and modest make-up dressed like a Fifth Avenue secretary. Now she was the Summer of Love’s Pussy Galore; a platinum-blonde sex kitten purring sly putdowns in dominatrix boots’.

A big-money deal followed, but Parker’s safe, cliched vision was far from the end product. For 1968 was around the corner, Goddard setting the scene perfectly, homing in on Dr King and Bobby Kennedy’s murders, and examining in detail an earlier example of Binder’s behind-the-scenes influence, working on a show with Petula Clark and guest Harry Belafonte, the pair’s duet and Pet’s spontaneous arm-linking with the Civil Rights activist for ‘On the Path to Glory’ leading to issues with Plymouth Motors’ ad manager, in turn provoking a creative stand by the artists and director to defy their racist sponsor’s attempt to throw the scene out. Yet all too soon, events overtook, the world rocked days later by a far bigger moment, the murder of Martin Luther King’s murder.

One of the more intriguing scenes retold is of Binder encouraging Elvis during the planning stage for his show to leave their office suite and take an unsupervised walk on the Strip, the King incredulous at the fact that he wasn’t subsequently mobbed, seemingly going unrecognised, Binder’s gamble paying off, providing all the ammunition needed to ensure this fallen star had a point to prove on national TV,  the ‘Ghost of Sunset Strip’ vanquished.

By the time they were ready to film, Bobby Kennedy was gone too, nine weeks after Dr King and four and a half years after his brother. I’ll shy away from the detail from there, but there’s plenty more technicolour detail to come, not least the story behind Earl Brown’s ‘If I Can Dream’, the songwriter – to the Colonel’s chagrin – perfectly taking up Binder’s brief ‘to write something with a social message, much like he’d done for Harry on Petula, strong enough to make its point yet not so strong that it wouldn’t get past the nervy network censor and even nervier sponsor’. And he adds, ‘Earl knew exactly what Steve wanted, and what Elvis needed’.

Goddard gives insight into the recording too, not least the importance of a reunion with Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, and throughout this story the author tells it all in such detail that you get the idea he might actually have been there at Graceland and on the studio set. Yes, I found the style jarring at first – obsessive, almost drooling at times in describing the main man’s sex-god status – but that’s a key part of it all, and you get real insight into the shabby detail, picturing Priscilla mooning around this vast tomb of a property while Elvis is up to no good with his hangers-on, yes-men and various leading ladies he shared much more than those film sets with.

Somehow though, I ended up appreciating Elvis as much as before. Even when wincing at his misguided and misled actions, he generally has your sympathy, however many wrong turns are taken, coming over as a victim and underdog you’re willing to back rather than some distant, vaguely-notioned, easily-led, ignorant yet powerful demi-god, right as that description is too.

We’re talking cries for help, from a vulnerable character still grieving for his mother and flailing around in a desperate attempt to find that elusive true purpose. And thankfully that amazing voice was heard again. I’m not sure if it was properly heard beyond ’68 in quite the same way (although the From Elvis in Memphis LP that followed stands up to inspection), the whole story famously over within another decade. But it was heard all the same, despite those damaging years in which chances were that he might not even have come out of his creative coma.

Both the restored film and audio versions are testament to the fact that this did all actually happen, and those performances still ring true. And now we have the underbelly of that story examined, enough to leave me keen to catch up on Goddard’s own back-catalogue, which also includes works on David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Morrissey and The Smiths, and Simply Thrilled, his take on the Postcard Records story.

The Comeback: Elvis and the Story of the 68 Special by Simon Goddard is published by Omnibus Press, priced £18.99 in hardback, available from all good bookshops and online.

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Forever switched on – back in touch with Andy Kershaw

Two Johns: Andy Kershaw reliving his days at Broadcasting House with John Peel and John Walters at a 2012 event.

It’s been 35 years since Andy Kershaw left West Yorkshire’s Radio Aire, redundancy from his promotions manager role in November 1983 proving the catalyst for a wealth of  adventures in rock’n’roll and broadcasting.

“Was there ever a more productive sacking, Malcolm?”

The former University of Leeds ents sec. started the next phase of his career as singer-songwriter Billy Bragg’s driver, roadie and tour manager, handed the keys of manager Pete Jenner’s battered Volvo estate in early 1984. Happy days?

“Very happy, yeah. I look back at those days with a lot of fondness.”

Which musicians did you have most fun working with in those days? Billy? Or (in his Roundhay Park, Leeds, concert promotion years) with the Rolling Stones (1982) or Bruce Springsteen (1985)?

“Well, I wasn’t working with Bruce and the Stones as closely as I was with Billy. I was working on their gigs rather than with them. But in their different ways they were all extraordinary experiences.

“We’re going back 36 years with the Stones, and even then it was the most extravagant operation in rock’n’roll. And I dare say it’s become even bigger, more extravagant and more preposterous since. That was 1982, and I now categorise it as the most farcical fortnight in my life.”

Flicking back through No Off Switch before picking up the phone to speak to you, I was reminded that you worked on an Ian Dury show at Leeds at one stage too (December 1980). Another amazing performer and artist.

“Oh yeah. There were some characters in rock’n’roll then, and by God we could do with some now.”

Go on. Admit it, dear reader. You were reading those responses in your own take on Andy’s distinctive accent, the 59-year-old from Littleborough, Rochdale (younger brother of fellow BBC radio presenter Liz Kershaw, or ‘Our Elizabeth’, as he’d have it) instantly recognisable on the box and the wireless, having become a TV regular since joining the revamped Whistle Test in 1984 then co-hosting the BBC’s TV coverage of Live Aid the following year, when he also joined Radio One and started his long association with that medium.

Along the way, he became close to fellow presenter John Peel and producer John Walters, and – he left Radio 1 in 2000, by which time he’d also featured on Radio 4 – over the years also served Radio 3 and the BBC’s World Service.

Did he realise it’s now been 14 years since we lost Peel and 17 since Walters’ departure? And that both would have been turning 80 next year?

“Would they now? Crikey. I still expect the phone to ring at 2.15 every day, Walters on, ‘Did you hear The Archers?’ straight after. I miss them both, still. Everyone forgets that about Walters, not just a great producer but a great broadcaster in his own right. They were both great eccentrics of broadcasting.”

And do you keep in touch with your first proper rock’n’roll employer, Billy Bragg?

“Not really. I suppose our lives diverged. He sits in his castle on a cliff in Dorset, while I’m still scrabbling around for a job here and a job there.”

Home for Andy is Todmorden, just six or so miles from his roots but now on the White Rose side of the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. Last time we spoke, I reminded him, his vast vinyl record collection was in storage and he was working on the shelving to move it in. Did that finally happen?

“Err, no, not yet. We had to come to an uncomfortable decision that if the vinyl’s going to come home, I’m going to have to build an extension. I’m serious. And the problem is getting the money together to do that.”

Bush Craft: Andy Kershaw in the Kalahari, Namibia, 2010, for BBC Radio 3’s Music Planet (Photo: Marvin Ware)

Andy’s lad Sonny’s now 21 while daughter Dolly’s 19. Have either followed his lead into broadcasting of some description?

“No indications of that at the moment. Dolly’s at Sussex University doing zoology and Sonny’s working as an administrator for Centrepoint, the homeless charity in London.”

And you’re proud of both, no doubt.

“Very.”

Getting back to that proposed new extension, the occasional pay-slip from his contributions to BBC 1’s The One Show now and again must help.

“Yeah … the roving reporter.”

And this summer you became a regular correspondent for that show from Coniston Water in the Lake District.

“Well yeah, I took the idea of the Bluebird restoration to them when I found out it was nearing completion. I’ve made three films about Bluebird now, and become deeply involved in it … emotionally involved, even.

“I’m afraid I’m old enough to remember the moment when Donald Campbell was killed, hearing the news. And when I was a kid, he was a fairly big figure in British life.”

Beach Boy: Andy Kershaw takes time out near Nouakchott, Mauritania, 2005 (Photo: Roger Short)

Although I was born during the year of the Bluebird disaster, I’d later tell people – perceiving street cred from a Campbell connection – that I was named after Donald’s father, Malcolm Campbell. Fact was that it was more likely composer, organist and conductor Malcolm Sargent though. And only later did I discover more about Campbell Sr.’s loathsome right-wing politics.

“Well, Malcolm Campbell – for all the research I’ve done – there’s hardly anyone who’s got a good word to say about him. He was a thoroughly horrible man.

“Donald on the other hand – and of course there are far more still around who knew him – everyone I spoke to who knew him speaks of him with nothing but warmth and affection, saying what a lovely bloke he was.”

He obviously had that drive of his father’s, if nothing else.

“Oh, he did, but he also had charm and consideration for other people, which his father didn’t have.”

What do you think it was about the Bluebird story that really grabbed your attention and so many more of us? I suspect it was something we also saw in that same era with the Apollo and Soyuz space programs.

“Exactly. you’ve hit the nail on it. It was a time of human endeavour, and adventure and achievement, and people doing implausible things like that. Now of course we live in a country that is ‘risk-averse’, I think the phrase is. And boring.

“Everyone will now think of reasons why things can’t be done rather than thinking of ways to make things happen. They were very different times and very different characters. And I have huge admiration for those kind of people … including the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.”

Real Buzz: Andy Kershaw meets and interviews another hero, Buzz Aldrin, on The One Show, 2015 (Photo: BBC)

Andy was set for a return to Coniston the weekend after we spoke for a Sports and Social Club event, another of his The Adventures of Andy Kershaw shows, the next of which is at Sale’s Waterside Arts Club on Friday, November 23rd (see details below). So what do the punters get on these occasions?

“It’s an audio-visual presentation, about two hours of significant moments in broadcasting and life on the front-lines of rock’n’roll over 35 years, and almost as long on the front-lines of some of the world’s most extreme countries.”

He’s also returned to promoting gigs of late, it turns out, putting on a recent date with The Oldham Tinkers, the stalwart folk band with whom he’s enjoyed a long association, at a venue not far over the Yorkshire border from his home.

“Yeah, only as a big Tinkers fan though. They’d come in and do sessions on my programme on both Radio One and Radio Three. John Howarth, one of the founders, rang and told me they wanted to do a gig in Hebden Bridge, and asked where they should play.

“I told him there was only one place they could really, the Trades Club, a really nice venue too. He asked me to see if they’d have them. I rang up, and when I was asked, ‘Who are the Oldham Tinkers?’ I said, ‘Listen – if I’ve got to explain … let me hire the venue’.

“So I’m still promoting after all these years. I booked the venue, got the posters printed, and spent two days plodding around Hebden Bridge getting them in loads of shop windows.”

At this point, I talk to Andy about another shared interest, that of The Clash. in fact, I’ve used a quote from his No Off Switch biography in my (warning – blatant plug alert) soon to be released biography of the band (available for pre-orders via this link), in which he talks glowingly about the band’s appearance at the University of Leeds in January 1980 on their 16 Tons tour, marking the release of London Calling, concluding, ‘After that gig I came to realise anything that followed in the name of rock music was by definition, at best second-rate, and probably pointless.’ Does he still stand by that assessment?

“Generally speaking, with one or two notable exceptions … and there will always be Springsteen and the E-Street Band. Because there’s no greater embodiment of not just the spirit of rock’n’roll but the history of American popular music in one concert than you get with a Springsteen and E-Street Band concert.

“But certainly in terms of British rock’n’roll, I’ll stand by what I say in the book. It all seemed rather pointless after The Clash split up. Who could you go and see for that excitement?

“There’s nothing shaken me for a long time. I wish there were something to shake me. My ears are certainly not closed. My radar is always on. But I’ve not heard anything that’s thrilled me to the core. The last act I came across that I thought, ‘Wow!’ was when I came across Tinariwen at the Festival in the Desert, 100 miles north of Timbuktu, in 2003, when nobody outside of the Sahara had ever heard of them.”

Korea Opportunity: AK with a 90ft tall bronze Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang, North Korea, 2006 (Photo: James Parkin)

Talking of past influential moments, I’ll go back a little further. Does Slade’s ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, the ex-jukebox single you bought off a stall on Oldham Market for 30p in September 1972 and made such a huge impression on you back then, still get aired at Kershaw HQ?

“Oh, from time to time. It’s still a good loutish record … and by God we could do with some loutishness in rock’n’roll now. It’s all so bloody polite.”

And isn’t it time we had a follow-up of some description to 2011’s No Off Switch?

“Ha. Yeah, you may be right. There’s certainly enough material.”

Continuing the story, or trying something completely different?

“Well, I was only able to put a fraction of those foreign adventures in No Off Switch. I decided to concentrate on four very significant places – Zimbabwe, North Korea, Haiti and Rwanda. So I suppose the follow-up book would be a collection of foreign travels.”

And is there a game plan these days, with life and career ambitions still to tick off?

“I just love reporting. I always have. So at the moment as a roving reporter for The One Show every day is different. I’m in a different place, meeting different people, covering a different story. I’ve always been driven by curiosity and a need for stimulation. And it satisfies both.”

Well, that certainly comes over. I mentioned your recent Coniston reports, and there was definitely an excited schoolboy out there by the lake, mic. in hand. In fact, it could still be that fresh-faced lad – this John Noakes for a new generation – I first saw introducing the video for The Long Ryders’ ‘I Had a Dream’ on Whistle Test in early 1985.

“Ha. Oh, nothing’s changed. No. I’ll never grow up.”

Dune Rider: AK tries to recall where he parked his bike, Algeria, 2010, for BBC Radio 3 (Photo: Tim Parkin)

For a link to the previous WriteWyattUK feature with Andy Kershaw, from October 2013, head here.

The Adventures of Andy Kershaw calls at Sale’s Waterside Arts Centre (0161 912 5616) next Friday, November 23rd. For ticket details try here. And for all the latest from Andy, head to his website and keep up to date via his Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Hugh Cornwell – Clitheroe, The Grand

 

Grand Evening: The Grand, Clitheroe, the night Hugh Cornwell came to town (Photo: Peter Gresty)

Apparently, four punters needed St John Ambulance medical attention in Kendal the night before I got to see Hugh Cornwell and his band’s two assured sets in not so far off Clitheroe.

With that in mind, Hugh told the audience at The Grand to keep an eye on those around them during part two of the proceedings, suggesting we might step in and loosen any clothing if need be.

Thankfully there was no Death by Strangulation this time around, a dose of honest, old school r’n’r proving just what the doctor ordered (and I don’t necessarily mean Hugh’s recent comrade-in-arms, John Cooper Clarke). Besides, as the headline act continues to claim in his defence, ‘The worst crime that I ever did was play some rock’n’roll’.

It’ll be 38 years next February since I first caught him live, at that point already in his seventh year with The Stranglers, their 16th single on its way to becoming their biggest hit.

If there was a level of thinking then that the success of ‘Golden Brown’ suggested a slip towards the mainstream, that was quickly kicked into touch. And neither Hugh, who remained on board until 1990 (10 more top-40 hits following) or his old bandmates have shown signs of mellowing since.

More to the point, he remains a creative force, as proven by the strength of his most recent releases, his continued love of the three-piece on this occasion seeing him with his latest learned ‘tag team’, Pat Hughes (bass) and Windsor McGilvray (drums), lecturers at Guildford’s Academy of Contemporary Music when not touring with their Wiltshire-based main-man.

From the walk-on music – a glorious brass-led instrumental ‘Totem and Taboo’ (is that available for general consumption, Hugh? Only I want one of those, so to speak) – there was a real buzz of anticipation at a cracking venue among the Ribble Valley’s more culturally clued-up clientele and a few cross-Lancs border stragglers.

The headliner said later he found the crowd a tad too polite, disinclined to get raucous, a little hard work. I’d like to say in their defence that a fair proportion of the assembled were getting on a bit, but our special guest had a few years on most of us, yet shows few signs of flagging at the grand age of 69.

Best Seat: Hugh Cornwell’s drummer takes in the view at The Grand (Photo: Windsor McGilvray)

On this occasion, he took a seemingly-brave step of playing an entire set of solo material before whipping some old Stranglers numbers into shape. And it worked so well, both parts of the evening proving his continued relevance.

This quality locked-in trio took off with ‘Pure Evel’, Hugh’s hymn to Butte, Montana stuntman/ ‘70s TV showman Evel Knievel, the opening track of his new LP followed by ‘Leave Me Alone’, one of two selections from 2000’s Hi Fi, then ‘I Want One of Those’ from my favourite of his solo works, Totem and Taboo.

New album title track ‘Monster’ was next, his tribute to godfather of special effects Ray Harryhausen surely a hit in any other decade than this.

He returned to 2012 for the Kinks-like ‘Stuck in Daily Mail Land’, while we headed back 30 years for ‘Getting Involved’ from first solo outing, Wolf, at that point deemed a side-project, then bang up to date again for ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood’, honouring classic movie bombshell Hedy Lamarr.

Hugh’s heroes and villains theme was not confined to 1977’s No More Heroes and the new album, as proved by his respectful nod to Love’s Arthur Lee and his five-plus years in stir in ‘The Prison’s Going Down’, another 2000 cut.

Then came an impressive final section, Monster’s nostalgic ‘Bilko’ (‘Psycho Wacko Bilko, Sergeant Ernest Bilko’) leading us to a mighty three-song closing salvo, 1999’s ‘Black Hair Black Eyes Black Suit’ leading into 1979 Nosferatu cut, ‘Mothra’, with Hugh and Pat prowling the stage and Windsor calling the beat, Ginger Baker-style, this shit-hot trio somewhat joined at the hipsway.

And although lumbering Monster closer ‘Duce Coochie Man’ (‘I’ll make the trains all run on time, I’ll drain the Pontine Marsh. Believe me, it will work out fine, life won’t be so harsh’) conjures up the vote-winning spirit of Benito Mussolini, you can’t help but draw parallels with a certain modern-day excuse for a US president.

Signing Off: Hugh Cornwell practises for another night signing anything we care to put in front of him

The crowd response was always going to be more animated in set two, ‘Strange Little Girl’ and ‘No Mercy’ leading the way before Hugh’s trio slip up a gear for ‘Hanging Around’ and ‘Nuclear Device (Wizard of Oz)’, decades peeling away.

Yes, I’d like to see Jet back there, I’ll never tire of JJ’s bass throb and showmanship, and it’ll never be The Stranglers without Dave Greenfield’s keyboard majesty … but you can scheme all that into your mind’s eye. And this format also works so well.

‘Golden Brown’ was a revelation, more Nouvelle Vague than the original yet somehow more atmospherically fitting, that defining moment followed by a glorious run through the timeless ‘No More Heroes’.

It was a blast to hear ‘Skin Deep’ too, Hugh soon strolling back down the years again, rather unlikely 1980 choice ‘Thrown Away’ followed by another major highlight in (Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, like ‘Hanging Around’ recorded 42 years ago yet still so fresh.

Dispensing with the standard notion of slipping off stage, waiting for shouts for more and duly returning, our guests stuck around up there, finishing with 1978 Black and White statements of intent, ‘Nice’n’Sleazy’ and ‘Tank’.

While there was no sign of the enemy cutting down all the power, there was a curfew after all. But instead of kicking off, the more committed instead took up Hugh’s offer to ‘sign anything you put in front of me’, more than happy to wait patiently in line for a few minutes at his side. Yep, times have changed, but he’s still the man.

Three’s Company: Hugh Cornwell on stage at The Grand in Clitheroe with ‘tag team’ members Windsor McGilvray and Pat Hughes (Photo: Peter Gresty)

For this website’s most recent interview with Hugh Cornwell (and links to past features with the former Stranglers frontman) head here. For the WriteWyattUK take on Hugh’s visit to Preston’s 53 Degrees in 2013, head here. And details of the remaining dates on Hugh’s tour can be found here.

  • With thanks to Windsor McGilvray for a reminder of the full set and his photo, and to Peter Gresty for his images from the night. 
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Behold what she has done – back in touch with Hazel O’Connor

Glass Structure: Hazel O'Connor in her breakthrough role as Kate back in 1980

Glass Structure: Hazel O’Connor in her breakthrough role as Kate back in 1980

Hazel O’Connor was at home in County Wicklow when I caught up with her, after a long haul from a gig in Taunton, Somerset, including a late-night Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire ferry.

“My boat got me in about half past midnight. It’s quite a palaver, but I don’t like flying, y’see.”

That followed eight shows in two weeks for the still-busy 63-year-old, me asking what happened on the ‘Eighth Day’ when ‘machine just got upset’, and Hazel turning Dalek-like as her mobile phone reception plummeted.

But she soon walked to a different part of her house, telling me, ‘Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring!’ And this being Hazel – our last call in 2014 lasted over an hour and the next bill made for startling reading – a long conversation about her dogs followed.

‘How did I end up with two girl dogs? Last time we spoke I had three, and the other was a boy, a good calming influence. Now I’ve got two crazy women, one’s a Labrador-boxer – with that kind of trembly bottom lip, that really kind of upset face – and the other’s a black Lurcher, who likes to hump and kill … which is not great, because I’m a vegetarian!”

Welcome back to the world of Hazel O’Connor, our next segue heading into more canine talk from both of us, her sweetly telling me, ‘Ah, thank you for giving a rescue dog a home. That’s what I end up doing all the time. He must be so happy.’

While hailing from Coventry, Hazel’s been in the Irish Republic since 1990, and has a base in the South of France too, handy for regular European dates.

“I always try to do a show nearby, where there’s a really nice arts theatre, but it’s hard work organising it sometimes. I love being in France though, and love hanging out at my place.”

Now Hazel has another run of shows over here, involving screenings of a digitally-remastered uncut version of her breakthrough film, Breaking Glass, followed by a Q&A, a live band performance, then a special ‘meet and greet’, after just a few days back home.

“It’s quite extensive. We’re up in Scotland, and all over the bloody place! The last two weeks it was myself, Clare (Hirst, saxophone, who’s also played for The Belle Stars, The Communards, and David Bowie) and Sarah (Fisher, keyboards, previously with The Eurythmics). We were doing what we were in the first part of this year – an up close and personal thing, and we’re back out on the road in 12 days.”

This time it’s the same trio, but with percussionist Josh Blackmore too.

“I got involved in more acoustic music after seeing Elton John with Ray Cooper, which was bloody amazing, featuring all the songs I loved of his, the percussion and piano working so well together. So I wanted to do that this time with tracks like ‘Eighth Day’ and a couple from my new album.”

The new album is Hallelujah Moments, set to be available (on download only) shortly, but this month’s shows are all about the film that led to Hazel’s big break and changed her life, not only making the lead role in Breaking Glass – released just after her 25th birthday – her own, but also writing the songs. Yet last time she told me she’d barely made a penny from it. Is that still the case?

“Pretty much, yeah.”

And yet the tie-in LP went double-platinum over a 38-week chart run, songs like the powerful ‘Eighth Day’ and ‘Will You’ still resonating. The interest clearly remains. It’s had a long shelf-life.

“Yeah, it’s just a shame that the amount of royalties that came from it would have really reached their peak in the first couple of years, and the record company I was in litigation with for so long kept reaping the benefits of Breaking Glass, even though they went into liquidation in 1987 and had been totally dissolved by 1992.

Eighth Day: Hazel O’connor in Breaking Glass, 1980. ‘In the beginning was the word’.

“I’ve just been looking at all the contracts, because I’m having a bit of trouble with something else they did back then which has had repercussions. They hadn’t told A&M Records, who put out Breaking Glass, that they were insolvent, so they kept taking the royalties that should have come to me, putting them in their own pockets I presume. It was only in 1996 that I started to get royalties from Breaking Glass, by which time it had peaked.”

Do you remember the first day of filming? Only it was a huge leap for you at the time.

“Jeez. I can’t even remember the first day. I do remember the first day we recorded a music scene though. We did many music scenes in the first few weeks, I reckon that was so (writer/director) Brian Gibson could make me feel safe and relaxed. But they called in about 200 punk extras from Brixton to this production village where we were in Cricklewood, and they built this pretend pub, giving the young ones alcohol from 8.30 in the morning.

“By the time they were ready to film the first shot at around 11.30, the assistant director said (adopts posh voice), ‘Okay everybody, do something really punky’. That sounded a little patronising, and when they heard the words ‘rolling’ and ‘action’ they did just that, destroying the set, which then had to be re-jigged until about half three in the afternoon. Of course, after that they weren’t given alcohol again!”

What were your first impressions of your co-star Phil Daniels, by all accounts a Jack the lad back then, fresh off the set of previous hit, Quadrophenia.

“I thought he was great. They’d already chosen me as the lead and were giving me the benefit of viewing my potential leading men, so I sat in on auditions for the guy who would play the manager. They told me Phil Daniels was coming in, and I’d seen a print of that film.

“He came in wearing one of his Quadrophenia suits, as that was his last job and he’d got his wardrobe, so he had his Mod suit on. He quickly scanned the script he was supposed to speak from, which included the line, ‘Voila, Kate – a new flat!’ And I understand this as I’m dyslexic myself, but he stood there and went, ‘Viola, Kate – a new flat!’ And everyone cracked up laughing. He did it with such aplomb.

“Yeah, he was something else – very witty and funny and a clever actor, and he was very kind to me. He took me to his acting school in Islington (the Anna Scher Theatre) and helped me a lot with my acting, trying to be up to his standard.”

Live Presence: Hazel O’Connor as Kate in Breaking Glass. Phil Daniels’ viola not pictured.

How about Jonathan Pryce? There was another big name in the making.

“My God – Mr Perfect Actor! They were both perfect actors in different ways. And bloody hell, Jonathan just became ballistic from there in his acting. He too was wonderful and lovely. I just had to keep watching how those guys – really, really good at what they did – did it, trying to learn from them. A great experience. I really benefited from them.”

When was the last time you watched Breaking Glass from start to finish?

“Mmm. Quite a while now. I get a bit upset.”

Was it a bit too close to home with its subject matter, drawing on a few of your own experiences?

“No … just because I was slimmer then. Ha! It’s just a woman thing really.”

I suppose I get that. We all look back at photographs, wondering where the years have gone. And with moving images …

“It’s terrifying! You can really whip yourself about stuff like that, so I tend to be careful about what I look at, what I believe … including press. Good or bad, it’s just subjective really. It’s the same being in a film as a young woman. And now I’m not a young woman now.”

Hands Up: Hazel O’Connor gives it her all on the stage.

Last time we spoke, you were out on the road with old friend Hugh Cornwell, the former Stranglers front-man, who funnily enough was another former interviewee I spoke to again just a week or so ago. And like you, he’s still doing the rounds and coming up with new material all these years on. Neither of you are wholly reliant on past material.

“I think it’s great if you can make you money as a legacy act. I’ve got nothing against that, but again I haven’t had that fortune to do that. I have to just get on and work.

“And I’ve been very lucky to be able to work with Clare and Sarah for 10 years now. I could get lazy, but they push me, and Clare will say, ‘When are we gonna make another album?’ I need that.

“This year I made my album in Ireland, because I wanted to do duets with different people, and I invited them to come over and play on it, doing a gig over here to justify them doing that. It was something I wanted to do, and I was off my feet for three months after a foot operation. I wasn’t allowed to walk and was going crazy.

“I like to be busy and the fact that I could just sit there on my sofa watching box-sets with my foot in the air for three months was all too much for me. But my neighbour is a really good record producer with a lovely little studio, and I decided to make an album, and he was kind enough to come and fetch me then bring me home after around two sessions a week. And I was really thrilled with the results.”

That got me thinking about Tony Visconti, who produced the Breaking Glass soundtrack, which kind of inevitably brings me on to the loss of his good friend and collaborator David Bowie since we last spoke. A huge influence on her, and someone she got to know (see the previous WriteWyattUK interview with Hazel for details, not least her past role as ‘hairdresser to the stars’).

“Yeah, the whole idea of the evolvement of that artist in Breaking Glass was trying to follow the Ziggy Stardust story in a way, and how the characters slowly become what they’ve created, having lost themselves in the characters they are portraying.

“We watched lots of David Bowie stuff just to get ideas, and having Tony Visconti produce the album was just like my dream come true.

“But yeah, very sad, and of course Clare played with David, and when it happened she told me, ‘I just thought I’d play with him again’. And with me, I always thought I’d see him again. It goes to show that you can never take anything for granted.

Breaking Glass: Hazel O’Connor as Kate in the film that made her name

“The more you experience in life, the more you have to get clued into the idea that it’s not forever and you have to treasure every single person that you treasure – good and bad, warts and all. Otherwise, you might blink and it’s gone.

“And that was such a weird time. Some of the best people, or those I consider the best, disappeared – David, Prince, George Michael … so it’s carpe diem, all the time.”

Talking of those we’ve lost, I was thinking about Joe Strummer back in 2002, someone I’ve written a lot about in recent times …

“Joe was amazing. I thought he was lovely. And he shouldn’t have died. I could sit here and say that about so many people, but … we’re all gonna bloody die!”

Well, I was going to ask about you and the Roxy scene in Covent Garden, seeing as The Clash played their part in that, the first to play there on New Year’s Day, 1977.

“I wasn’t part of that, actually, but the guy who ran the Roxy, Andy Czezowski, and his wife were friends of mine. They managed The Photons, also including Steve Strange, a band that included an ex-boyfriend of mine.

“Andy and his wife were so kind to me. That’s my Roxy link, but I’d go to the 100 Club and The Marquee. I wasn’t an original Roxy-goer. I wasn’t in that first draft of amazing people. I was a follower.”

You had a link with fellow Coventry outfit The Specials too, at one point managed by Bernard Rhodes, as per The Clash. It always seemed quite a small scene to me.

“Yeah. But there again, once I’d been plucked for the film, the scene kind of disappeared from me. My experience of those Covent Garden days was because of this ex-boyfriend really. Otherwise I’d just go out and see people. I was a fan. I wasn’t part of a scene.

“Then I signed with Albion Records, and they paid Glenn Matlock, Rusty Egan and Steve New … well, Clive Langer did. He produced my first single, and those were the lads he’d always employ. I knew them anyway as my brother Neil was in The Flys, who supported the Buzzcocks and The Rich Kids. So I knew them from Neil really.”

When was the last time your home city, Coventry?

“Oh, a couple of weeks ago! I go in and out all the time. My Mum’s buried there, so I stick flowers on her grave and see a few friends. It’s like a central stopping point for a person who doesn’t fly. When I drive to England, like at the beginning of this tour, I’ll go to Coventry first.”

With time for a few words at the graveside?

“Always. I don’t think people are where their graves are, but they seem to be a good focal point.”

Have you unearthed much family from your Dad’s side since your Irish move.

“I’ve loads of family over on the West of Ireland, but I so rarely get over there. I guess what happens in life is that your friends become your family though. I’ve still got a half-brother in Coventry, and it’s lovely when I see him. Apart from that, my family are my friends. I haven’t seen my brother Neil for nearly a year now, after he came over to play on my tour last autumn. That’s a bit sad, but we get what we get in this life.”

While we can’t get you to sit down and watch Breaking Glass, what for you would you say was the best music film ever made?

“The best music film ever? Cabaret. I don’t like musicals and hate when people burst into song … unless there’s a reason, but Cabaret kind of fulfilled all those reasons and I thought it was really stylised and really cool.

“And the other one would be The Rose. I thought Bette Midler was outstanding. Beautiful. And then I’m thinking of This is Spinal Tap. Ha! Actually, I love any films about a band, and any musical films where they’ve made sure the music is not just, ‘I’m going to start singing now!’ is fine by me.

“Except I have to allow for West Side Story. There are always exceptions to a rule!”

Time Out: Hazel O’Connor, enjoying a few moments to herself before the next set of dates.

To look back on my November 2014 interview with Hazel O’Connor, head here.  And for details of the Breaking Glass tour and news of the new LP, head to Hazel’s website and Facebook page.

 

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