July to December 2017 – the writewyattuk review: the second six months

Frantic Revival: John Coghlan at the rear, with Rick Parfitt, left, and Francis Rossi, live in Stuttgart in 2014

Former Status Quo ‘frantic four’ drummer John Coghlan on the key moments that will always stay with him: “Those six weeks at Butlin’s were an eye-opener, doing it – in a sense – professionally, getting to play to people and them coming up saying how much they enjoyed it. Then you think back to that stage in ’68 with our first hit record, Pictures of Matchstick Men, and playing places like the Royal Albert Hall, Glasgow Apollo, doing the live album there, Hammersmith Odeon, Manchester Apollo …”

Pop Impresario: Pete Waterman at the controls at BBC Coventry and Warwickshire (Photo: BBC)

Pete Waterman sings the praises of his old Coventry associates, The Specials, and their evocative 1981 No.1, Ghost Town: “Absolutely perfect. Jerry (Dammers) for me was the best songwriter in that period. For all the youngsters who want to know what the ’70s were really like, go and listen to Jerry’s records. He summed that period up perfectly.”

Woodland Wonder: Nick Heyward takes it easy, and waits for the plaudits (Photo: https://nickheyward.com/)

Ex-Haircut 100 front-man Nick Heyward on how his love of The Jam inspired his breakthrough band’s debut hit: “Fantastic Day was written when I was pogoing to The Jam! I’d go home inspired by them and others around that time, ending up buying a practice amp and guitar. I locked myself in my bedroom and kept playing D major, C major and G. I had to sing something over those chords, which just happened to be, ‘It’s a fantastic day’. I then thought, ‘Actually, that sounds like a song. I should write one of those other things you have in songs – a verse’. But I didn’t know any other chords, so just played C and G. Later, I learned another chord – F, so put that in just before the chorus. I then had this song I played in various bands, although it didn’t pop out until it was suggested in a rehearsal to play to a record company. So we did, and they decided to sign us.”

Jackson Four: From the left, Tito, Jackie, Marlon and Jermaine are still shaking it down to the ground

Tito Jackson on how he likes to remember his brother Michael, eight years after his death: “The first thing I think of is of him being my brother and the love we had for each other as brothers. That’s what I miss more than anything. Then I think of how brilliant he was as an entertainer, one of the greatest entertainers that ever held a microphone and hit a stage. I can’t deny him that just because he was my brother. I have to recognise he was a great. I tell people Michael would have been a leader in anybody’s band, even if he was in The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. He will definitely be missed. He was magical and different and very brilliant, he was a genius and I miss him tremendously. And the whole world misses Michael Jackson.”

Going Underground: Ian Snowball with Rick Buckler at Bond Street tube station (Photo: Tony Briggs)

Jam biographer Ian Snowball on the first recording he splashed out on: “The first I bought with my own money was That’s Entertainment, when I turned 11 in 1981. The record hadn’t been long out and I bought it with some birthday money. I marched off down to Woolworth’s in Maidstone. It was a picture sleeve, and I remember getting home, realising – as with many 7” singles around then – there wasn’t a middle bit. I can almost picture myself racing back down there to get an adapter so I could play the record. I’d have then played it over and over, as you did. The kids of today are missing out, aren’t they?”

Happy Holidays: Rowetta in Lake Garda (Photo: Angie Wynne)

Happy Holidays: Rowetta takes some time out in Lake Garda (Photo: Angie Wynne)

Rowetta on her enduring relationship with Happy Mondays: “I watched (Tony Wilson’s) programme on Granada, and remember him saying in 1976 about the Sex Pistols being the greatest band in the world. Then he was saying the same about the Mondays in 1989. I decided I had to see this band. When I did I just went, ‘Oh my God, I can see myself on stage with these!’ It took me about six months to persuade everybody else though. I sat in the office all the time. I was managed by Elliot Rashman, and his office was opposite Nathan McGough’s. I’d see mine, then pop in to see theirs. Eventually I persuaded them they needed me! I could see myself doing a T-Rex type of thing, when Gloria Jones was involved. I wanted to be in a punk band but didn’t have the right voice. This was the closest I was going to get, apart from working with Hooky on Colony. That’s where I’m really at home, it’s just finding the opportunity to do things like that. As a kid I could never see how I could be in a punk band, but the Mondays found that role for me.”

Rich Pickings: Richard Houghton stands proudly with his latest publication, The Who – I Was There

Richard Houghton on the basic concept behind his The Who – I Was There book: “I’m trying to tell the story of the band in the words of the people who were there and in the process, give a different take on a story that has been told many times before. I’m hopefully capturing memories that might otherwise be lost and preserving something that is part social history, part pop history. Seeing a band live isn’t just about the band – it’s also about the people, the venue, how the crowd interacts. I’m trying to take the reader back to what it was like to see The Who at the Railway in Wealdstone or the Trade in Watford during the height of Mod.”

Travelling Man: Andrew Roachford was out and about and visiting a town near you in 2017

Andrew Roachford on how he ended up being a pop frontman, despite initial, nervous reluctance: “I started as a piano player, and it was down to people like my uncle, Bill Roachford, who brought the rest out of me. He was a saxophone player who played a lot of clubs from the late ‘50s through to the ’80s, known well by the likes of Ronnie Scott, a bit of a legend in muso circles and rightly so – a truly amazing musician. He heard me singing in a bedroom and was the one who said, ‘Right, we’ve got to get you singing out there’. For me, singing was something very personal. It was like being naked. Doing that in front of an audience was an absolute nightmare. But he pushed me and pushed me, eventually settling the nerves a little. That said, I remember when I got signed how the record company came to the first gig and were horrified because I was surrounded by keyboards and you couldn’t see me! They said, ‘We want you to be a pop star! Can you at least take away one keyboard?’ They had to literally wean me off these keyboards I hid behind.”

Commuter 23: Neil Arthur, looking back and forward and discovering new platforms with Blancmange

Neil Arthur on compiling Blancmange’s 2017 boxset collection, The Blanc Tapes: “It took a lot of persuasion, but I decided if we were going to do this it would have to be done properly. I really wanted to get locked into it. What was difficult at times was listening to all those cassettes. That’s all we could record on in the beginning – all those demos on quarter-inch tape, reel to reel. And the first time I listened back it wasn’t the music that got me – it was the air just before the first sound. As soon as I heard it, I knew where it was. Whoa – that’s a proper big memory, that! There’s a really early demo of Waves, where we were trying to get the synth going, because Stephen was doing the organ bit. The mic. was open and I coughed. Normally you‘d edit that out, but I decided to leave that on. There’s also chatting at the end of one track. We hoped those sort of touches would draw people in. You see the journey we took – this experimental band who then started forming slightly more structured songs, then the more polished end results that came out. It was a relatively short period – from around ’78 to ’86 – and It’s a long time ago now, but there’s still a hardcore of fans who enjoy all that, and they’re absolutely wonderful.”

Band Substance: Cabbage at The Ferret, Preston, Lancashire, 2016 (Photo copyright: Richard Nixon / rich pictures)

Cabbage’s Joe Martin on his debut festival experience, at Leeds: “I first went when I was 16, with Ian Brown playing. I’d never taken ecstasy before but felt this would be an appropriate time. I was at the front with identikit Manchester look and bucket hat. He said after in an interview it was great and there was this bunch of 17-year-old kids at the front, digging the tunes. Years later I ended up on BBC North West Tonight being interviewed after a Stone Roses show. I have no recollection, but it was quite a stern interview actually. I’d like to dig it out of the archives.”

Casio Royale: Hannah Peel as her alter-ego, Mary Casio (Photo: Stormy@ Rebel and Romance)

Hannah Peel explaining the concept behind Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, another 2017 highlight: “Mary is a character that encompasses how we look at life and view mortality and time, and how at any age we can have dreams and still achieve those dreams. In my mind over time I developed this lady, who lived in Yorkshire, probably worked in a post office all her life, who in her back garden had a shed full of inventions and things she created that nobody knew about – kind of like a Delia Derbyshire or Daphne Oram.”

Guitar Man: Singer-songwriting legend Graham Gouldman was taking the long way round with a Heart Full of Songs

Graham Gouldman on writing songs with Eric Stewart for 10cc, and their almost-telepathic relationship: “I’d play guitar and Eric would play keyboards, and the sound of the keyboards and instrumentation you use can affect the song you write. Pretty much every song we wrote together was done that way. Definitely we had it. It’s something you can’t manufacture or buy. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. I’ve written with many other songwriters, and most of the time we’re on the same page. But sometimes you can be writing with someone and it’s driving you mad that you should be writing the greatest song ever … but you’re not. That takes nothing away from the other writer, but you’re just not gelling. It’s like with people. It’s like love.”

Wilder Still: Belinda Carlisle under the spots, having her command met – those lights left on again

Belinda Carlisle, asked which of today’s bands are worthy of The Go-Go’s Rolling Stone ‘best female rock band’ crown: “There’s nobody worthy of that crown today. I can’t think of anyone who did the exact same thing. Maybe I’m not really that much in touch with the music going on now, but you’d think I’d know about one … but I haven’t seen one. I don’t understand why there haven’t been a lot of girls’ bands that haven’t been doing that, other than The Bangles, L7 and a few of them, but not really that many. Especially nowadays, things are pretty much homogenized and not really that authentic. It’s a different ball game now, for sure.”

Dave Rave: Jason Byrne taking to the streets for Don’t Say It, Bring It for the Dave Channel

Jason Byrne on his ‘fictional wife’ and how the real version is often way off: “Basically, I have a fictional wife and my real wife, and they kind of cross over. A lot of the stories definitely come out of my wife for a start, and I just fucking jazz it up. People who have met my wife will say, ‘Oh, she doesn’t look like your wife’. I say, ‘What are you talking about?’ and they’ll say, ‘I always imagined this very stout woman with really bad hair, waving her fingers’. My wife’s a very attractive, skinny lady, who does a lot of training. But she does come out with some cracking lines. I recently got a new show on Dave (Don’t Say It, Bring It), which was recorded and ready to go, and I was launching it, and the day after I got a phone call asking me to do Ireland’s Got Talent. Well, I got loads of congratulations from family, friends and colleagues. Then I got a text from my wife, and all it said was, ‘You could have put that fucking bin out before you left’.”

Team Selecter: Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson, back to back by design (Photo: Dean Chalkley)

Pauline Black on what she gets up to when The Selecter aren’t recording or playing live: “I’ve always performed in multiple ways, either TV, radio presentation, writing or theatre acting. I like to practise a lot of different disciplines when it comes to performance. Each then complements and helps develop the others. That way I’ve managed to constantly move forward and not get stuck in a rut. Writing Black By Design was a defining moment in my life and took me 18 months to complete. I’m very proud of the story I told and hope some of my insights might help other adopted people who had to come to terms with the inherent racism in our society. And if all goes as planned, it looks as though a film about 2 Tone based on my book will soon go into production.”

Live Presence: Tom Robinson was back with TRB for the Power in the Darkness 40th anniversary tour in 2017

Tom Robinson on memorable meetings with PIL and ex-Sex Pistols front-man John Lydon: “Lydon was alright. I don’t think the other Sex Pistols liked me very much, but he took me off down the Speakeasy. We then met at the Music Machine, and he said, ‘Tom Robinson – don’t give up! Don’t ever give up! Don’t give in to the bastards!’ Then he was sick on my shoes! About 10 years later I bumped into him at the Britannia HoteI, Manchester, wearing a Mambo suit that must have cost the best part of a thousand quid, his hair in knots on his head, dyed orange, with a pair of Woolworth’s sunglasses. He said, ‘Tom Robinson! You’re with that Red Wedge, ain’t ya!’ I said ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘Fackin’ champagne socialists!’ He always managed to annoy everybody. He never conformed to one viewpoint or doctrine. He went his own sweet way. And I love him for it.”

Tour Mates: Robin Ince, Professor Brian Cox, and a monkey, yesterday … ish

Comedian Robin Ince explaining the difference between sharing a stage with Professor Brian Cox and fellow comic Josie Long: “Well, I don’t have to interrupt Josie because I think the audience are no longer understanding her. That’s one of the things. There’s Josie, my friend Michael Legge, and Brian, and that strange mix where I have a very solitary performing and creating system, but also various different adventures, impromptu double acts. You don’t even realise they’re double acts until others tell you. People talk about the relationship Brian and me have, but it’s something I’ve not really thought about. As long as all of you have your ego under control, it seems to me it’s down to naturalism. It’s the antithesis of the Mick Fleetwood/Samantha Fox Brits relationship, or any award ceremony where Tom Selleck would come on with Heather Locklear and compliment each other. As long as you can get away with impromptu and you’re united by different fascinations – artistic or political. Brian’s far smarter than me, but we’re united by certain kinds of philosophical ideas about how the earth should be.”

Strings Attached: Grace Chatto says hello with cello (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/cleanbandit/)

Grace Chatto on how she sees herself primarily, and whether she could one day go back to just being part of a string quartet: “A cellist probably, and also a music video director. That takes up most of my time. A producer as well. Jack (Patterson)’s the primary songwriter and writes for piano and voice, then we produce together, think about all the sounds. Going back to a string quartet? Yeah, maybe. That would be lovely. I want to try and start doing more string quartet stuff now, try and integrate that back into the band. It kind of worked quite well, and I think now the strings are a bit more of an afterthought, because we’re so focused on everything else. It would be good to get that back into the core of what we’re doing.”

Essex Symbol: Phill Jupitus will be heading to a town near you again in 2018 … probably


Phill Jupitus on his mid-‘80s involvement with the Red Wedge musicians’ political collective, which he said he got into ‘20% because he believed in the cause, 30% because he loved Billy Bragg, and 50% because he wanted to meet Paul Weller’: “The ideology pulls you in, but having worked at close quarters with the day-to-day functioning of politics, you realise you need so much commitment. I also found that everyone who works for a political party has an agenda they’re pursuing. When people talk to you or interact with you, they’re looking at you not for your views, what you’re saying or your hopes and dreams, but how much you as a commodity will help their agenda. That’s why I don’t really get on with politics. There are so few people who do it with a good heart, and you have to interact with people where you’ve got to really tip-toe around them. It’s just exhausting.”

Tour Party: Wolf Alice were back on form on the road and in the studio in 2017

Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on encouraging young people to register to vote, and fronting a Labour Party video: “I think you slowly come to terms with your power of influence as someone who has a small to medium-sized following online. It’s a scary thing to speak out, because there are always people you’re going to offend. But once you realise that’s never going to change and you can never satisfy or please everybody, you can start to move past that and do what you think is potentially helpful and what is right. You have to do everything you can to stay hopeful. Nothing will get better if you’re without hope.”

Live Wires: The Undertones, back out there for your humming, leaping and erm, listening pleasure. From the left – Billy Doherty, Paul McLoone, John O’Neill, Damian O’Neill, Mickey Bradley.

Mickey Bradley on getting back in the same room with his fellow Undertones: “It’s a good craic, and whenever we play again for the first time, it’s usually good. It‘s not like you have to crank up an engine or something. Then you do it a couple of times and it’s slightly better. For the physical songs, Billy always feels it and thinks he should practise more. Damian and John as well, with quite fast guitar. But the bass is never a problem … it‘s very sedate. It‘s a sedentary musical occupation, playing the bass guitar. As long as Paul can remember all the words …”

Lining Up: Jeffrey Daniel, Carolyn Griffey and Howard Hewett, in perfectly soulful synchronicity

Howard Hewett on seeing bandmates Jeffrey Daniel and Jody Watley perform live on TV, not realising he’d later feature alongside them in Shalamar: “Ah man, when Soul Train first came on, I was about 14, and had done music since I was around 10. By then I had a little r’n’b group in Akron, and on Saturdays at noon, like the rest of the country, we’d be in front of the TV watching it. It’s crazy – I’d watch Jeffrey and Jody, not knowing who they were nor that we were going to hook up years later, be in a group together. There was a club where all the Soul Train people used to come down on a weekend. Looking out at the audience, you’d see Lionel Ritchie, Richard Pryor, Chaka Khan – everyone used to hang at Maverick’s. It never had a liquor license, either because the area was so crazy or (owner) John Daniels was a little too cheap to get one! They used to make fruit smoothie drinks in the back. That didn’t deter people from coming to the club though. It was good times! A couple months after I first got down there, I met John Daniels. I helped him put together this group called Beverly Hills. Every time we had a show we wanted to try out, we’d play at Maverick’s Flat. That’s when I met Jeff. I was a fan of his and he says he was a fan of mine. It still took a couple of years, as I went overseas with the group first. I was over here for a little less than a year and a half. It was cool, but it was definitely meant to be.”

Youthful Vibe: Richie Malone added fresh vigour to Status Quo in 2017 (Photo: Christie Goodwin)

Francis Rossi, coming to terms with the death of fellow Status Quo veteran Rick Parfitt, and where the band goes from here: “It reminds oneself of one’s own mortality. But it’s interesting that some years ago when Richie used to come and see us with his dad, we met him at a soundcheck somewhere in Ireland, looked at him, and Rick said, ‘If I die, we should get him in’. We laughed, and he said, ‘No, I’ve got a better idea. We find a lookalike for you too, put them two out there, and we can stay at home and watch telly!’ That was Rick’s humour, something not everyone understands. People think we’re being irreverent or whatever. (On stage) we’d laugh about that, say how one of us might keel over. And it’s still possible. I’m at that age. My generation are dropping like fucking flies! But we burn the candle at both ends, and Rick had one burning in the middle as well!”

Seasonal Gift: Roland Gift, looking back and forward in 2017 and into 2018

Former Fine Young Cannibals front-man Roland Gift on how The Clash inspired him to get involved in music, initially through first band Acrylic Victims (later Akrylykz): “We supported The Clash at Bridlington, around 1980. Me and some mates went hitch-hiking, following them, then I got a job doing back-drops for them, down at the Music Machine. This fella I knew, Roger Hudson, knew tour manager, Johnny Green, and we’d turn up at gigs and get free passes. I was more of a fan than a contemporary. They were kind of the biggest of the bunch really. But I just liked being around it. You’d see gigs and people you’d seen at other gigs. You felt some sort of camaraderie. Also, The Clash played reggae as well. When punk started, people weren’t so sure, because of the swastikas and that, with the National Front on the rise. So something like The Clash playing reggae was a good invitation for someone like me to be a part of it.”

Band Substance: The Bootleg Beatles in live action, taking us back to 1967, with Steve ‘Bootleg Paul’ White, left

Bootleg Beatles bass player Steve White on swapping from right to left-hand playing to emulate his hero, Paul McCartney: “I was a right-handed rhythm guitar player in a John Lennon type role, but we’d turn up at venues and people would say, ‘You’ve got to be Paul, yeah?’ I wouldn’t say I look too much like him, but there’s a nod to that. So me and the bass player decided to swap over, leading to months of restructuring, learning harmonies and basslines. Then the audiences would ask if I was left-handed. So I thought I’d best have a go at that, teaching myself left-handed. For a while it was difficult, but over time it’s got easier. I can play left-handed now, and you’d never know I wasn’t, but it‘s always nice to go back. When I’m at home, playing for leisure, I’ll pick up a right-handed guitar and … well, the only way I can describe it is that it’s like putting on a comfy pair of slippers, as opposed to your work shoes.”

Bass Instinct: Peter Hook in live action (Photos by http://www.fb.com/connorgriffinphotography)

Peter Hook on the wild days of punk in Manchester, going to see the Sex Pistols: “We went to the Electric Circus, and it was bedlam! All hell had let loose. It was full of people outside, and they weren’t fans. They were just there because they’d seen the furore about Grundy. I remember all the punks queuing outside, and in the flats opposite these yobs were on the roof, throwing things over. It was absolutely bizarre. There was a set of railings, and they were removing spikes from them, throwing them like javelins. When we came out afterwards, it was the same, like a football crowd waiting. I remember the police were called. All the punks were saying, ‘Listen, we can’t get to our cars, up the road, can you help us?’ The police said, ‘Alright, run behind the van and we’ll escort you back.’ We all started running, and then the van just drove off and left us all to the mercy of all these football fans! Luckily, my mate’s car was pretty close. That was Terry Mason, who became our tour manager, so we managed to scramble in and get to safety. Then they came back about two weeks later and there was a sizeable crowd then – 600 to 800, something like that. The football supporters had come in by then, I suppose you’d say!”

Nobody’s Fools: 21st Century Slade. From left – Mal McNulty, Don Powell, Dave Hill and John Berry

Slade drummer Don Powell on the point when he realised it was time to finally give up the booze: “I haven’t (drunk) for 32 years now. I know, it’s incredible. I stopped drinking when Sharon Osbourne came after me and Ozzy with a shotgun. And she actually fired it at us. We just managed to get out of the way. You can imagine, can’t you, when your drinking partner is Ozzy Osbourne, it’s like … say no more.”

Reading Matter: On the shelf with writewyattuk.com in 2017 and beyond (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

That’ll do for this year then. Happy New Year to all our readers from the team at writewyattuk.com (yeah, I know, just me then), with far more fun and frolics to follow in what promises to be a happening 2018. Stick around, one and all, and thanks for your on-going support.  



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January to June 2017 – the writewyattuk review: the first six months …

Welcome Strangers: The Blue Aeroplanes, touring in January 2017 around the UK

Blue Aeroplanes frontman Gerard Langley on the band’s early days: “When we started out, we got out of Bristol as much as we could, but would often be third on the bill, playing without a soundcheck. We thought we’d just run around a lot and make plenty of noise. You couldn’t hear yourself anyway. That’s kind of how all that started. Then there was having lots of guitarists on the last song – the most we had was 16 on Breaking in My Heart.

Looking Up: James Taylor, still out there, striving to move the room in 2017

James Taylor on John Peel’s support for the James Taylor Quartet and their 1987 breakthrough: “It was a good time, wasn’t it? It was nowhere near as saccharine and fascist as it is now. As long as you were doing something interesting and exciting, that was enough. These days it’s about kids coming out of college with PHDs in writing pop songs, which completely misses the point. Peelie was amazing, and got us started … completely.”

Band Substance: Rose McDowall gives her all at The Continental in Preston (Photo copyright: John Middleham)

Rose McDowall, on a tricky work/life balance relocation dilemma, leaving Glasgow in 1983: “It was Orange Juice who said, ‘Look out for Strawberry Switchblade’, and everything happened really fast. It was pretty exciting. We were very young, but I was married with a child, which meant a wee bit of extra work, as opposed to being a footloose, fancy-free teenager. When you’ve a child who’s already started school, it’s way more of an upheaval. But it was all good. I moved to London about two months before my daughter and husband moved down for definite, until we’d found a place to live.”

Tunnel Vision: Den Davis with Paul and Nicky Weller, About the Young Idea, Liverpool (Photo: Den Davis).

About the Young idea exhibition co-organiser and Jam fan Den Davis, on his most treasured item of memorabilia: “I find it hard to part with anything; I’ve kept it all so long, in such great condition. There’s so many items, but my autographed Skegness train ticket from 1981 is a fave. There will be a time I let it go though, as my kids don’t want to inherit it from me. They’re just not into collecting and nostalgia.”

Strictly Glamour: Brendan Cole, out on the floor, in mixed company in 2017

Strictly Come Dancing star Brendan Cole on swapping roofing and the building profession for ballroom dancing in his formative days in New Zealand: “I left (school) at 16, knowing I probably wasn’t going to follow an academic career – all I really wanted to do was get out there and look after myself. I didn’t want to have to ask Mum for $8 a week for my scooter petrol money. I wanted to earn my way up. I was always driven in that respect. I probably would have gone on to be a builder, have a building firm, run my own business. Instead I decided to try the dancing dream. That sounds weird, but I played lots of sport and was into everything. But the dancing was consistent.”

City Slickers: The Chesterfields tick off New York City … then contemplate Preston – Helen, Andy, Rob, Simon.

Simon Barber on the ‘magical mystery tour’ that set Somerset band the Chesterfields on their way to indie success: “We’d never played outside Yeovil, but a friend of ours was running a fanzine called Screed in the area and putting gigs on, bringing Bogshed and others down. He was asked by the Big Twang Club and Especially Yellow fanzine, run by Johnny Dee in Brighton, to organise a gig in a pub in the middle of nowhere. That was The Railway Inn, Templecombe, with two coachloads of indie kids from Brighton taken on a ‘magical mystery tour’ one Saturday. They didn’t have a clue where they were going, but visited Stonehenge and the Cerne Abbas Giant, then arrived for this gig featuring The June Brides, The Shop Assistants and us. Nobody had heard of us, but Johnny Dee and Martin were there, and I think Phill Jupitus was in the bar doing his Porky the Poet thing. We had the whole Brighton scene in this pub, plus all our mates. It was a fantastic night, and we were great. Davey was really on form, everyone loved him and us, and Martin pretty much signed us to Subway straight away.”

Truck’n’Roll: Doug Perkins and the Spectaculars take it easy (Photo: Dave Brown)

Jose Jacobs, aka Slim Spectacular, on how Doug Perkins & The Spectaculars got their name: “The original name was going to be The Spectacles, but we decided we needed something more ‘50s, and for some reason looked up who was the CEO of Specsavers, learning about Doug and Mary Perkins. We felt we couldn’t get a more rock’n’roll name than Doug Perkins. In fact, Doug became a big fan, the band having played the high street optician chain’s annual party at his Guernsey HQ before now, even writing the track, Love is Blind to mark the occasion. And talking of high-profile backing, BBC radio presenter Mark Radcliffe said on his Radio 2 folk show, ‘If you saw that name outside a pub, you’d probably go in, wouldn’t you?’”

Cole Deliveries: William and Lloyd Cole in liaison at Preston Guild Hall (Photo: Michael Porter)

Lloyd Cole on discovering punk as a sixth former at Runshaw College, Leyland, Lancashire: “I remember the day Never Mind the Bollocks came out. Two of us played hooky to get to the record shop first thing to buy it on the day of release. We both paraded our copies around college. Trevor Morris, however, ripped his up, then taped it back together first. That was how we met, and he pretty much taught me to play guitar. Our band, Vile Bodies, threatened to perform several times, but never did. We rehearsed in the front room of the Chorley two-up two-down I stayed in, gratis, courtesy of the lady who ran a funeral home across the street. She was a member at the golf club my parents worked at, and when they moved to Glasgow, I needed somewhere to stay to finish my A-levels.”

Wild Wood: Trembling Bells, still out there … in the big outdoors in 2017

The Trembling Bells’ Alex Neilson on how his older brother turned him on to underground acts like Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band: “I hated that music and pounded on the bathroom door when he was playing Trout Mask Replica, thinking he’d completely lost the plot. But then I grew to love it, and it kind of ruined other types of music for me. There’s no real going back to bands like Pavement from there.”

Stage Craft: Howard Jones gets stuck in, keyboard style (Photo: Jose Francisco Salgado)

Howard Jones on his recipe for surviving recent UK and US political shifts: “Whatever form it takes, we need to work together if we’re going to solve the global problems we have. Really, we have no choice other than to work together. That can take many forms and I believe people feel they need a say in what goes on all over the world. I totally respect that and think that’s a good thing. Above all that, we really need to collaborate and work together, and that’s hard to do if we’re separated, putting up walls and all that stuff. Philosophically, that’s where I’m coming from, but feel there are many ways of doing that. We have to find them though, otherwise we’re kind of doomed.”

Telecaster Strut: Katrina Leskanich, Wave-free, in live action (Photo: Sara L Petty)

Katrina Leskanich, on shooting 1985’s Walking on Sunshine video on a winter’s day by Tower Bridge: “It was bloody freezing! It was February 3. We had £1,000 to make this video with Chris Tookey, who’d previously directed a TV show called Revolver. It was the first we ever made and we didn’t have a clue. They told us, ‘We’re going down to the docks’. I didn’t know where that was. At the time I was living in Norfolk, near the military bases by the Suffolk border. We came down to London and were walking around what’s now an area of luxury condos and flats. At the time it was dilapidated, and I don’t know how we got permission to jump around in that warehouse. I remember people saying, ‘Mind when you jump, the floor’s really rotten and you could fall through’. They also kept saying, ‘Act like it’s really hot, but there was steam pouring out of my mouth, so I was told to sing but don’t breathe! It was crazy, but we filmed the whole thing in about an hour then did the inside shoot. I don’t even know where that was. I think by then the Jack Daniels had come out, and we didn’t really care. I was frozen to the bone. I just wanted it to be over. Of course, the boys are in big army surplus overcoats. They always had it so easy. I had to do all the dirty work, freezing my ass off!”

Guitar Man: Denny Walley in action, way back. And still a live force to be reckoned with.

Denny Walley, of The Muffin Men, on Frank Zappa suggesting he joined Captain Beefheart: “At the end of the tour, Frank suggested I played with Beefheart, trying to get him to get a band together again. Frank gave me the Trout Mask Replica album to listen to, which I’d never heard before. I went home, put it on, listened, and I’m going, ‘What the hell? Frank must be pissed off at me or something, man! Why’s he doing this to me? We’re friends! I think it took me until around the third time, when I really started to hear how deep the blues influence was. The most difficult thing for me was trying to find out where my guitar part was. What am I playing? Which way was up!”

Valley High: Public Service Broadcasting’s Messrs Wrigglesworth, Willgoose and Abraham in South Wales

J. Willgoose Esq. on the Manic Street Preachers’ support for his band, Public Service Broadcasting, and how that led to James Dean Bradfield guesting on Turn No More: “They’re such an incredible band and have been for so long. It kept getting more and more unreal. First, Sean (Moore) spoke very nicely about us in the NME, then we got asked to play with them a couple of times, then again at Swansea last year, when I’d already started thinking about this album. I decided to ask, thinking he can only say ‘No’. Even when he said, ‘Yes’ I thought he was being polite at first. I gave him ample opportunities to tell me ‘No’ for real, but he kept answering the phone!”

Song Craft: Russell Hastings, still in awe in 2017 (Photo: Warren Meadows)

Russell Hastings on mixing with the stars, and how From The Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton remains awe-struck by it all: “You sort of get used to weird things happening. We played a festival last year where Leo Sayer was on the bill, and he came and chatted to us. Then two months later we’re in Sydney, played this amazing gig, came off stage and after about five minutes the dressing room door burst open and Leo ran in. We had photos with him, then when he went, Bruce was asking, ‘Did that just happen?’ He has no concept of stardom! He doesn’t really get it, and is always quite surprised when he gets stopped. We’ve been all over the world and sometimes when you get stopped by people you have to take a second look and think, ‘Are they talking to me?’ Walking down the street in Perth, Western Australia, 9,000 miles from home, you think, ‘How can anyone possibly know me here?’ But it’s a joy really, a pleasure.”

Ritual Confrontation: Neil Sheasby, left, and co-founder Neil Jones, up close and personal with Stone Foundation

Neil Sheasby on Paul Weller’s support, input, and words of advice for Stone Foundation: “A lot of the time the tracks we recorded came together very quickly. And what you’re hearing, a lot of it is probably two or three takes. The five of us played together and added horns and strings after. Sometimes Neil (Jones) and I look at each other, thinking, ‘Was that right? Maybe we should do it again, fix this bit or that bit’. But with Paul it was like, ‘If it sounds good, it probably is, you’ve probably got it there’. I think what we learned was to trust our instincts a little more, and it was akin to the old soul records we like. We had a couple of days a week with a session booked, and we’d record the first batch of four tunes then go down again and do another two days, more or less live. He brought that feel to the project.”

Lining Up: Blondie 2017 style., four decades after their self-titled debut album

Blondie guitarist Chris Stein’s reaction to being described as the band’s ‘conceptual mastermind’ and to whether the New York outfit ever had a big plan: “I don’t know! I just try to put in my two pence here and there. I was always very optimistic and always felt things were going to work out. There never was a grand plan, but I think people liked the do-it-yourself aspects of Blondie. That was part of the appeal.”

The Author: Carl Magnus Palm, having delivered his latest mighty ABBA tome.

Abba fan and biographer Carl Magnus Palm on the moment Benny Andersson realised he had a bright future in music: “Benny tells this story of sitting alone in this dressing room before a Hep Stars concert, in some Swedish town, coming to terms with having this No.1 song. Apparently not only was he able to play the keyboards but was actually able to write songs that communicate with people and go into people’s hearts. He was only 19 and decided that if he could write one of those songs, he could probably write more. That’s the moment he decided that whatever happens with The Hep Stars, however many years that goes on, he’s going to continue in music. That’s going to be his career.”

Dream Rider: Ron Sexsmith, all the way from St Catharines, Ontario, and back in the UK in 2017.

Ron Sexsmith on how handy occasional royalties are from the likes of Rod Stewart, Katie Melua and Michael Buble covering his songs: “Yeah, it’s almost a living. I just bought a house. I never owned anything like that in my life, so that’s pretty huge. I have a lot of financial stress, and some records have done better than others. But every now and then you get something like Buble doing a song. I hope to get a few more of those! In my situation I’m living off publishing advances, but haven’t got one in a few years. I’m ‘unrecouped’, you know. I’m ready for another Buble cover!”

Anniversary Return: The Skids’ 2017 incarnation, with Richard Jobson centre (Photo: Stephen Gunn Photography)

Richard Jobson on an October 1977 visit by punk pioneers The Clash to his Scottish hometown, with The Skids supporting them at the Kinema Ballroom: “An amazing night! The Clash in Dunfermline? Come on! They were one of the few bands that came from the London scene that actually stood by some of the principles of punk and played places like Dunfermline. Others were a bit more aloof. I think we established a scene here, playing here a few times, with a cult following. All of those things together made it a viable place to come and play, and that was one of the great nights. (Joe Strummer) was a good guy, and never changed. I saw him not long before he died, had a coffee. He was always very generous with his time, and always very supportive of what I was trying to do. He was a hero! Yes, that was an amazing evening. And the idea that we managed to convince The Clash to come to Dunfermline, and were their opening act … although we were on stage before the doors opened!”

Live Wire: Justin Currie, out on the road with The Pallbearers in 2017

Del Amitri front-man Justin Currie on how Orange Juice and indie label Postcard inspired him to form a band: “I don’t think I would have formed a band without Orange Juice happening in Glasgow. That changed everything, and almost overnight Glasgow went from being this pub-rock backwater no one in the music press or record industry had any interest in, to being this place perceived as being incredibly cool. That was really just down to the four people in Orange Juice and Alan Horne of Postcard Records.”

Tour Masters: The Searchers, still out there. From left – John McNally, Scott Allaway, Frank Allen, Spencer James.

John McNally on how The Searchers missed out on being signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein, but soon made the big time: “Brian later called us the ‘band that got away’. When he came to see us, we were all ‘pizzicatoed’, having been in The Grapes all night when he came to see us at The Cavern. We were on last and weren’t very good, acting the goat with a few drinks down us. We didn’t make the impression he wanted, so he passed on us. It was Les (Attley) who pointed out that everyone was being signed up and we didn’t want to miss the boat. He asked if we wanted to make a demo at the Iron Door, organising a company to nip in with all the gear. We did 11 tracks and he sent them around the companies, and luckily Tony Hatch at Pye Records picked up on it. We were on our way back to the Star-Club to do another stint when he asked us to come and record Sweets for my Sweet, which we did ahead of the ferry!”

Innovative Offerings: Alt-J pondering the writewyattuk verdict on mighty 2017 LP Relaxer.

Gus Unger-Hamilton on how Alt-J won’t be blinded by hype, despite more than two million sales from their first two LPs alone: “I think it does add expectation, once you’ve got to that level. You become nervous about maintaining it. Ultimately though, we’ve cultivated a large fan-base who enjoy our expertise and eclecticness … and they get it. That in itself gives us a freedom to do whatever we want and feel free to experiment.”

Rock & Rant: Ian Hunter, back out there with The Rant Band in 2017 (Photo: Ross Halfin)

Ian Hunter on what it was about Mott the Hoople that inspired the likes of Clash guitarist Mick Jones and Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott to love his band so much: “(Tony) DeFries managed us and David Bowie and wanted us to be like them – like we were from another planet, very distant, not speaking between songs. That’s what he wanted but that’s not what he got! We didn’t feel any different from the people watching us. And if someone was a bit short of money we got them in the back door. That’s what happened with Joe Elliott, and Mick Jones, and a few people like that. They had no money and would maybe jump off a train before it came into a station. The least you could do was let them in.”

Heading Off: Erasure’s Andy Bell, left, and Vince Clarke, in the driving seat (Photo: Doron Gild).

Former Depeche Mode and Yazoo synth star Vince Clarke on forging a successful working relationship with Andy Bell in Erasure: “We’d been auditioning people all weekend and when he came along his voice just shone. With regards to his personality we had no idea. It took us a while to get to know each other. But it turned out we are pretty similar, with similar political views for one thing. He’s an incredibly laid-back person and super-easy to work with. The other good thing is he’s totally not interested in computers, while I’m not so interested in recording vocals. We have our own little corners, and it’s a match made in heaven.”

Mirror Men: Ron and Russell Mael reflecting on their longevity in 2017

Ron Mael on how Sparks differed from so many other American bands in the early ‘70s, inspired by a number of ‘60s ‘British Explosion’ groups: “It was a dream. We always pretended in our own minds we were a British band, and really didn’t go along with the whole American sensibility of it only being about music. We thought that flash element was tied in, really loving bands like The Who and The Move. We were kind of aware of what we were trying to do. They aren’t traditional songs but in general we’re working in song structures. As strong as we want the music, it all came back to what the song is, and we’ve never lost sight of that.”

The writewyattuk review of 2017, part two, will follow very soon. Don’t touch that dial-up. Bet you can’t wait.

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Takin’ Me Bak ‘Ome – talking Slade with Don Powell

Nobody’s Fools: 21st Century Slade. From the left – Mal McNulty, Don Powell, Dave Hill, John Berry. Clearly, Dave hasn’t quite pulled off The Clash’s late-’70s Rauschenberg-inspired paint-splash look.

Christmas was way into the distance when I tracked Don Powell down in Denmark, but the legendary drummer – on a rare break from the live circuit – soon brought the subject up.

As I properly introduced myself and mentioned interviewing long-time Slade bandmate Dave Hill around the same time of year in 2015, he butted in, asking, “You mean about that song?”

What could this genial 71-year-old drumming legend possibly mean? Surely not a certain seasonal ditty that became the legendary Black Country outfit’s third No.1 of 1973. I’m surprised anyone even remembers that track. It’s hardly got any airplay since.

“That’s what we call it – ‘that song’. It’s amazing, y’know, Malcolm. We’ve had something like 24 hits, but people only remember that one! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting it down. It’s just so funny.

“I don’t know if you know the story, but when we recorded that in 1973, we were on a world tour, in New York in a heatwave, around 100 degrees. Yet there we were, recording that song.”

I understand it started life as one of Noddy Holder’s more hippy numbers, Buy Me a Rocking Chair.

“It was, and it’s amazing how these things come about. I love stories like that, but never knew that until a few months after we recorded it.”

At that point, Don – a big Beatles fan – got on to how Lennon and McCartney often helped each other out with songs, sometimes fusing them together, giving the example of 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night, with John stuck part-way through and Paul suggesting a tune he’d been working on as the bridge. And with that, I suggested there were clear Beatles influences on 1969’s Beginnings, when his band were called Ambrose Slade.

The Genesis: Ambrose Slade's Beginnings, from 1969

The Genesis: Ambrose Slade’s Beginnings, 1969

“Yeah, especially with the harmonies. But I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been influenced by The Beatles. Recently I was re-watching the Anthology DVDs, and talking a while ago to Gerry Marsden at a charity show, he was saying how people didn’t realise all that incredible worldwide success came in such a relatively short space of time. What they did in seven years was unbelievable!”

There’s another parallel between The Beatles and Slade – you both had those amazing ‘apprenticeships’ in Germany.

“Yeah, it happened to us twice. The first time with a group Dave and myself were in, doing a month in Dortmund, playing eight hours a night – 45 minutes on, 15 off, starting about eight o’clock, going on ‘til four in the morning. But that’s the way it was in those days.”

The second stint was in Kiel in early ’67, by then with Noddy and Jim Lea also involved. That whole experience must have sharpened them up as a musical unit, I suggested.

“I think so, but the biggest thing for Nod, Jim, Dave and myself was when we got stuck in the Bahamas. That really brought us together – our four personalities. We were stuck with an incredible hotel bill, which we didn’t realise we were going to pay for, and no money. All we had were our return flights, and our equipment as excess baggage. We were still paying for it. We couldn’t leave that. It was on HP. We had to get that back.”

I should fill a gap there, explaining how Don and Dave were with club circuit blues band the Vendors, later renamed the ’N Betweens, while Noddy with The Memphis Cutouts then Steve Brett and the Mavericks. But the trio met on a ferry to Germany en route to separate engagements in November 1965 (Dave and Don to Dortmund, Noddy to Cologne and Frankfurt), and not long after their return to Wolverhampton, a chance meeting led to Nod deciding to take up Don and Dave’s offer – at the second time of asking – to join them.

Bass player and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea, three years younger, was already on board by then, with history in the making, the band soon down to a four-piece, in time becoming Ambrose Slade, then – with ex-Animals bassist and Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler in charge – simply Slade, going on to enjoy stratospheric success.

While we’re talking history, the ’N Betweens actually saw chart-topping success five years before Slade, albeit on a local level, with December ‘66 single, You Better Run a No.1 for six weeks in Wolverhampton, keeping Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home off the top. But it’s clear that they worked hard to reach the top.

“Yeah, but that’s how it was in those days. We were just playing anywhere and everywhere, just to play, basically. When we first started we were doing birthday parties and weddings, youth clubs, and that just carried on really.”

By the end of 1971 they’d truly broken the UK and much of Europe and Australia, their summer cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down and Get With It cracking the top-20 and followed by first UK and Irish chart-topper Coz I Luv You that autumn. Usually, I’d go into a potted biography there, but it seems pointless with Slade. Surely you’ll know all that. I’ll add a few more UK chart facts though, because they speak volumes.

That Song: Because it's the time that every Santa has a ball

That Song: It’s the time that every Santa has a ball

In just over 20 years, Slade amassed six UK No.1 singles, the last of which was ‘that song’, straight in at the top this week in 1973 and staying there five weeks. In fact it was in the top-40 come February, and has returned many times since. As I finish this piece, it’s No.62 in the charts, 44 years on.

That was their third single entering at No.1 that year, and on their own shores they’ve had 16 top-10 singles and 24 separate top-40 hits, managing 20 weeks at the top and 213 in the top-40. You can add a few LP stats too, with three No.1 LPs and 12 top-40 hits and a total of 153 weeks on the chart.

The original Slade story ended in 1992, chief songwriters Nod and Jim moving on to other projects. But Dave and Don were soon touring again, initially as Slade II and since 2002 back under the old name. And they haven’t stopped rocking up at venues all over the world since. It’s now been 25 years in this format, the pair joined by Mal McNulty (vocals, guitar, ex-Rockin’ Horse, Paddy Goes To Holyhead, Sweet) since 2005, and John Berry (bass, vocals, violin, ex-Mud) since 2003.

But let’s go back to the early ‘60s. Am I right in thinking Don, who started out playing drums with the scouts in the late ‘50s, was 15 when he first sat in with The Vendors?

“Yeah. I was a member of this youth club, and Johnny and Mick from The Vendors came down, asking me to join. I hadn’t a clue about anything, but borrowed some drums off a schoolmate, Dave Madeley. I don’t think he had them back for about five years! Come to think of it, Malcolm, I don’t know what happened to those.”

Don’t say that. Someone’ll have them on EBay as soon as this goes out.

“Maybe. I’ve got a picture of me playing them, probably when we were doing a wedding.”

You were at school with Swinn (long-time Slade associate and road manager, Graham Swinnerton, who inspired 1974’s The Bangin’ Man, and died in 2015 after battling cancer), weren’t you?

“Yeah, in the same class. We went through together. I met him when we were 11, at secondary modern school. Many years later, when Slade came off the road, he went on to tour-manage Saxon and a few American bands, and occasionally we’d bump into each other. That loyal thing between us never waned. We always had that. We were the best of mates.

“Apparently (when he grew ill) he didn’t want to see anybody, but I said to his wife, ‘I don’t care what he says, I’m going to see him.’ And we had a laugh. It wasn’t long after that. He was poorly. It was the worst thing I ever experienced when the doctor at the hospice said, ‘Will you help me put him back to bed?’ I never thought I’d be doing that. It was only about two days later that his wife called and said he’d gone.”

Early Biog: George Tremlett’s 1975 Futura band biography

At least you got to see him.

“That’s the thing, and my wife instigated that. His spirit was fine but he was very poorly, and my wife said, ‘Why don’t you go and see him one more time?’ He was a different person that time, and was gone within the space of a week, but I’m really glad I went.”

Talking of key components of your success, I was thinking of another who’s been gone since 1996,  Slade manager, Chas Chandler.

“That was another sad case. I went to see him too, not long before he went, and he also looked pretty poorly. But we’ve a lot of lovely memories with Chas, and he was so integral in what happened to us. He really believed in us, even though it took a few years before it happened. He kept on slogging away.”

I’m guessing his experience with The Animals taught him a few lessons about the industry.

“And with (Jimi) Hendrix as well. He’d been there, done it, got a t-shirt.”

Don’s been based in Denmark for around 12 years, which on the face of it seems at odds with his long-term dream – as  shared with music writer George Tremlett in 1975’s Futura band biography The Slade Story – saying one day he wanted to run a small farm in the Staffordshire countryside, not so far from his Bilston roots.

“It almost did. I found a small place, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, perfect for what I wanted, but basically got ‘gazumped’. I went back to sort a few things out and there was this guy there with a big sheepskin coat on and a Range Rover. I could tell by the people who lived there, he’d probably offered a little more than me. I’ve seen it since and there’s a new house, but it’s still got all the land.

“As it was, after that we were touring non-stop and never at home, so I just bought myself a flat in Wolverhampton. I could just lock it up and forget it, as we were away around nine months of the year.”

So where’s home now?

“Just on the outskirts of Silkeborg, quite central. It’s a beautiful place, near Aarhus, with two airports close by. I can go more or less anywhere in the world. The world’s become a small place today, with four or five flights available from here to the UK every day. It’s become so open now, with travel.”

Slade always went down a treat in Scandinavia while touring.

“It was great. Also, and not a lot of people know this, our very first hit was in Europe – in Holland with Get Down and Get With It, before the UK.”

Time Out: QSP, the side project featuring ’70s glam stars Andy Scott, Suzi Quatro and Don Powell

It’s clearly a rarity to be home for Don, whose busy 2017 included a spell touring Australia and recording with side-project QSP, alongside fellow ’70s glam stars Suzi Quatro and The Sweet’s Andy Scott (with loads of details of that on Don’s website) to be home. Can he describe his surroundings there in Silkeborg?

“I’m right on the lake, with a forest behind me and the lake in front. And (Don’s wife) Hanne bought me a lovely motorboat for my 70th birthday, so we spend a lot of time up and down the lake. It’s wonderful, I tell you. Beautiful.”

Remind me how you got to meet Hanne, and ended up moving to that part of the world.

“It was actually when we played Silkeborg. She came up to me to get some things signed and said, ‘I got one of your drumsticks when I was 14 years old.’ And we just hit it off.

“She has three children from a previous marriage, two girls who were teenagers when we got together, and a son who was seven. They were willing to move to England, but Andreas didn’t know any English then and I thought it would be easier to move here.

“And when she can, Hanne comes with me a lot when we’re traveling in Europe, getting the overnight train or driving down.

Do you ever get back to Bilston?

“Yeah, my two sisters are still there, and my parents are buried there. Every time I get back, I see old schoolmates and all the others, have a walk round, see if I can find Mick, who was in the band when I first started. In those days it was me, Mick Marson and Johnny Howells. We’d keep our equipment in the hallway at Johnny’s place, shared with his father. Across the road from there was a chicken bar, always open late.

“We were playing pubs and clubs, and as we were getting back they’d be getting ready to throw stuff away, so we’d buy it all for pennies, with loads of chips. And it’s still there! When we played The Robin last year I went across and got myself pie and chips, and that brought back a lot of memories.”

Word has it that Don, Dave and Nod visited Jim Lea at home in Codsall on March 12th, 1966, to invite him to join their quest, going on to the Three Men in a Boat pub in Walsall to seal the deal, his official debut following a week later at Walsall Town Hall. Meanwhile, Mick Marson had left by mid-March ’66, and three months later Johnny Howells was also out, ahead of that following month’s booking at the Star Palast, Kiel, where the newly-slimmed band shared the bill with a certain Paul Raven (if I put his later stage name, Gary Glitter, in brackets, will that be more acceptable?).

Early Days: The Vendors. From the left – Cass Jones, Dave Hill, Mick Marson, Don Powell and Johnny Howells (Photo: http://www.donpowellofficial.com)

Don has a great archive of his live performances through the years, and much more, on his website, his information also suggesting Dave and Don’s first gig together was also at the Three Men in a Boat, in early January ’64, and that the band first went out under the name The ‘N Betweens at the Ship and Rainbow, Wolverhampton, that November. I’m always fascinated, I tell him, by the Pete Best type characters who just missed out on the big time, and Johnny – as the last man out – was perhaps the closest Slade had to that.

“He was, and it was very sad when Dave and myself decided to make the break. It was very hard, because I’d started with Johnny and Mick, to break away. But while I haven’t seen Johnny for a few years, me and Mick often see each other and have a laugh. I understand Johnny looks after a school for under-privileged children in that same area.”

Incidentally, for far more detail of Don’s amazing career, I recommend his excellent Look Wot I Dun autobiography (Omnibus Press, 2013), lovingly put together with help from his Danish friend and established writer, Lise Lyng Falkenberg.

“Ah, Lise did a great job there!”

I mentioned George Tremlett’s earlier biography of the band, and his dates don’t always tally up. For one thing the party line was that you were born in 1950, four years later. Were you all pretending to be younger?

“I think that was the case in those days, for things like Jackie magazine. The usual things – we didn’t have girlfriends and we didn’t smoke or drink!”

Dun Thing: Don Powell’s 2013 version of events, with a little help from Lise Lyng Falkenberg

Which was true, of course.

“Oh, of course!”

Then there’s confusion over the date you met Noddy on that boat to Germany. He suggested 1967, while I got the impression it was October ‘64, outside a snack bar somewhere between Ostend and Dortmund …

“I think it was November ’65, and we’d got our old van, when Nod was with Steve Brett. They were going to Frankfurt and we were going to Dortmund. We were driving overnight from Ostend, all the way through Belgium to Germany. And no SatNav in those days!”

I’m guessing you already knew each other by then.

“We would have known each other, but were on the same boat. Probably had a cup of tea together, know what I mean? But we did bump into each other again in Wolverhampton in early ’66, when his band were breaking up and Dave and myself were disillusioned. We headed to this coffee shop and started talking about getting together. But we had to continue with Johnny as lead singer. We still had quite a lot of bookings for the band.”

You’ve been in bands with Dave for nearly 54 years now. Did you hit it off right away?

“I tell you what, we used to rehearse in Johnny’s front room, and it was Dave who reminded me of this – I don’t think we even spoke to each other for a few weeks! It’s strange when you think back.

“But we did hit it off, wanted the same thing, and were getting a bit disillusioned with what was going on. That’s when we decided to break away. I remember Nod in the Memphis Cut-Outs, then with Steve Brett, and it worked out he was disillusioned too. Soon we were auditioning for a bass player. That’s when Jim (Lea) came along.”

Was that the audition at the Blue Flame Club?

“That’s it! It became the Lafayette Club after, a late-night drinking place. The Blue Flame was more like a village hall.”

I understand Jim was already a fan, and guess you were already big news as a local band by that stage.

“Well yeah, apparently Jim would come and watch us at different places. We’d play quite a lot of blues in those days, and he was a big blues fan.”

House Mates: 1982’s Christmas tour was this scribe’s first trip to see Slade in person, at the age of 15

While I was only six the year that song first topped the charts, my older brother loved Slade and got me interested at a very young age. I finally got to see you – aged 15 – in December 1982 at Hammersmith Odeon on the We’ll Bring the House Down tour. And what a night that was.


Yet somehow 35 years have passed since, while it’s been 25 years since Jim and Nod went their own way.

“I know, it’s frightening. I can’t believe how quick the time’s gone. Unbelievable.”

And I see Dave’s followed you down the autobiography road now, having published So Here It Is in time for Christmas.

“Yeah, he’s taking a different tack to mine. I don’t really understand that pledge situation.”

I look forward to reading that.

“Yeah, so do I!”

And you’ll be able to get a copy of that on Slade’s ‘Christmas Shindig’ tour as well as online, talk of which prompted Don and I to talk about their North West dates – at Manchester Academy 2 and Liverpool’s Hangar 34.

“Actually, I was in Manchester a few weeks ago, for a big drum event. You can imagine what that was like, with drums bashing around all over the place! It was deafening! I was just showing my face and saying thanks to a few of my sponsors. But I met a few nice people I hadn’t seen for long time, like Paul (Burgess) from 10cc.”

We talked about your work ethic before, and I was thinking how taking that chance of being with a band professionally must have been a big decision. You could easily have given up that dream and settled for the 9-5 world.

“Well, I was scared. Dad had to sign the papers, because I couldn’t afford to take on the HP payments and was too young. But I told him, ‘I tell you what, Dad. I’ll give you my first gold record.’ He just laughed, but I kept the promise – giving him that first gold in 1973.”

Fine Tuning: The pared-down ‘N Betweens in ’67. From the left – Dave Hill, Don Powell, Jim Lea, Noddy Holder (Photo: http://www.donpowellofficial.com)

And when it mattered your parents supported your dream. That counts for something. Dad was a steelworker, wasn’t he?

“Yes, he was on the factory floor, working there all his life, basically.”

If you’d stuck with your job at the local iron foundry, you’d be retired by now, or most likely laid off many years before.

“Yeah, and I’d probably have about 20 grandkids by now! Then again, if you’d have told me even 20 years ago I’d still be doing this, I’d have laughed in your face. And the thing is, over those last 20 years we’ve been able to go to places like the old Eastern bloc. We’d never been to Russia in the original years, but have quite a few times since.

“It’s been fantastic. It makes you realise how big that place is. We flew from Moscow to Vladivostok on the east coast and it took us 13 hours. That’ just one country! That’s like flying from London to Los Angeles.”

Of course, a lot of column inches have been devoted to Dave Hill over the years and his fashion sense …

“Ha! Now, if I said to you he was colour-blind, would that make more sense to you?”

Well, I was going to bring up your own natty dressing. There was a lot of velvet in that wardrobe of yours, for a start.

“Oh yeah – a lot of velvet and satin trousers, y’know!”

But there just happened to be someone stood in front of you, who the cameras went to first. You were a couple of peacocks, really.

“That’s it!”

When was the last time you watched 1975’s Slade in Flame? (which included starring roles for all four band members as the fictional band in the title).

“Erm, that’ll be some time ago now.”

Super Yob: Dave Hill’s newly-published autobiography, available online and at Slade’s December 2017 Christmas Shindig shows

It’s stood the test of time for me, its appeal growing over the years, despite its gritty take on the glam rock era largely being seen as a failure at the time.

“I’ll tell you what – it has, and it’s had a lot of great reviews, especially from the Barry Normans and people like that.”

Indeed, including fellow film critic, Mark Kermode. Who called it ‘the Citizen Kane of pop films’.

“Yes, at first we thought it would go against us, with how true it was. But you’re right, it has stood the test of time.”

While clearly fictional, there were a few stories in there pretty close to things that happened to you.

“Oh yeah, like with the management situation and being manipulated, all that sort of thing.”

You certainly came over as a natural on camera (although it would be 25 years before his next role, a small cameo in a BBC TV adaptation of Lorna Doone).

“I really enjoyed it. I loved every minute, and didn’t mind the early mornings or anything like that.”

There must have been a lot of hours standing round, getting cold, waiting for filming to start around Sheffield.

“It’s amazing. About two minutes’ shooting takes about five hours, what with the setting up and all that. I was okay with that though. The only thing is that it spoils you for going to see a film, seeing how things were done and hearing stories from the crew about previous films they’d been involved with. It completely shatters the illusion.”

Lots of great stories tend to have two-thirds points where everything briefly goes awry, and for Slade that twist came at the height of their fame, three days after a show at Earl’s Court on July 1st 1973, just after Skweeze Me Pleeze Me became their second single to go straight into the UK charts at No.1 (becoming the first band to achieve such a feat since The Beatles in 1969).

On July 4th, Don was in an accident in his white Bentley S3 in Wolverhampton, with his 20-year-old girlfriend Angela Morris killed and the Slade drummer in a coma, serious multiple injuries leading to a long stay in intensive care, finally coming round to major short-term memory and sensory issues, which remain with him to this day.

Later that month, Jim Lea’s brother Frank filled in on drums as the band played two pre-arranged shows they didn’t want to cancel on the Isle of Man, and by the end of the summer Don was back, first having to be lifted on to his kit, playing dates in America and recording that Christmas single out there.

As it was, the diaries his doctors suggested he wrote to aid his memory would provide a rich archive when it came to his autobiography and website. And the interest generated by that tragic story proved how much love there was out there for Don, the world eagerly following his recovery. Is that whole period still a blank?

True Grit: Slade In Flame, the 1975 film soundtrack

“Do you know, that concert (Earl’s Court) means nothing to me, Malcolm. It was actually filmed, and I still want to see if I can get a copy of it … just so I can see what it was like.”

How’s the memory these days?

“It’s still sort of the same. I mean, I still have to keep the diary. That’ll be for the rest of my life, I’m afraid. But it’s part of my life now. It’s like my bible, if you like.”

Those diaries must have proved a great help for Lise when she was working on your book. Few people in your position have such meticulous records of that period.

“Great for her, and for me as well. We were sat down for about a month before, and she said, ‘You’ve got to open up for me, Don, otherwise people who know you will know there’s things you‘re missing out. So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Lise, I’ll give you all my diaries. Take them all, and everything’s in there, and that’s the way it was.”

There were plenty more painful memories to come, alongside the many further highs in the years that followed, not least Don’s battle with the bottle. Does he drink at all these days?

“I haven’t for 32 years now. I know, it’s incredible. I stopped drinking when Sharon Osbourne came after me and Ozzy with a shotgun. And she actually fired it at us. We just managed to get out of the way. You can imagine, can’t you, when your drinking partner is Ozzy Osbourne, it’s like … say no more.”

I’ve said it before on these pages, but for me you had a boys-next-door feel that Bolan, Bowie and Ferry – much as I loved them – couldn’t quite pull off. You were far removed from the art school acts and the more self-important songwriters of that era.

“I think we were. We couldn’t be anything else, Malcolm. Our manager, Chas, tried to make us a little bit like Rod Stewart and the Faces. But we ain’t like that. We couldn’t do it. It wasn’t in us. We were just who we are and that’s it. We were always first to a party and last to leave.”

So has Don still got the best job in the world?

“What? Traveling the world? I always say I’m doing what I always loved doing, playing drums. It’s incredible. I’ve been round the world four times, especially over these last 20 years with the amount of times we’ve been to Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and places like that where we couldn’t go in the ’70s. It’s been an amazing rollercoaster ride. and it still shows no sign of waning.”

Slade’s December 2017 tour continues tonight on Saturday, December 16th at Wrexham William Aston Hall (0844 888 9991), then moves onto  Manchester Academy 2 (Sunday 17th, 0161 832 1111), Oxford 02 Academy (Thursday 21st, 0844 477 1000), Liverpool Hangar 34 (Friday 22nd, 0844 477 1000) and Hull Welly (Saturday 23rd, 0844 477 1000). For more details head to http://www.slade.uk.com/ or follow the band via Facebook. And for more about QSP, try here.

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A man of Substance – the Peter Hook interview


Bass Instinct: Peter Hook in live action (Photos by http://www.fb.com/connorgriffinphotography)

‘I’m here now … sorry,’ read my text message, and after a couple of days struggling to locate Peter Hook, it seemed I finally had my chance. We’d missed each other a few times, but seeing as it was a rare Saturday afternoon when my football team weren’t playing, I was happy to finally get through.

The legendary Joy Division and New Order bass player was in Belfast for that evening’s Peter Hook and the Light performance at the Limelight, and clearly enjoying himself across the water.

“We’ve sold out all three nights, which is pretty fantastic. We’re certainly riding the crest of an Irish wave!”

I told him he seemed to have swapped venues with The Undertones, the Derry outfit having played the Limelight the previous night and moving on to the Dublin Academy that night, just after Hooky’s visit.

“Well, it just goes to show – 39 years apart, we’re all still playing. They were with us on our first tour. They were 15, we were the princely old age of 22. The Undertones, Joy Division, and The Rezillos, would you believe.”

Wow. What a bill.

“Yeah, it seems a great bill now. After supporting the Buzzcocks before, we were moving up. We’d gone from bottom to middle!”

I should point out that The Undertones, who’d just released debut single, Teenage Kicks, weren’t really 15. Youngest member Damian O’Neill was 17, his brother John was 21, the others somewhere between. Perhaps they just looked more youthful. Also, as it was a Sire tour, I reckon Joy Division were actually first on for the few dates that survived. For that was the tour when Rezillos singer Fay Fife had to pull out because of vocal scarring, her band soon imploding and splitting, the rest of the shows scrapped.

Either way, Joy Division were making an impact, audiences somewhat mesmerised by Ian Curtis’ striking stage presence. Saying that, my brother and his mates saw the Buzzcocks on tour with Joy Division the following year (Guildford Civic Hall, November 1st, ‘79) but missed the support, only realising later the magnitude of their actions in pursuit of an extra pint in the White Horse Hotel.

“Well, let’s hope that taught them a lesson then!”

Does Peter remember much about that tour?

“I remember pretty much all the Buzzcocks gigs. It was such a delight to blow them off completely, which was really weird, because they were being very radical and experimental, dumping all their old stuff, just playing new material. And the fans hated it. I must say, we were at our youngish best, and managed to cream them every night. Strange. They’d disappeared up their own arses. I think they were probably one of the first bands to do that.”

I’m guessing he meant dropping old material rather than Houdini-like tricks involving their posteriors. There were plenty of examples of that on the scene before.

You’ll no doubt know about Peter’s music past, but I’ll add a brief résumé. Born in 1956, he formed the band which became Joy Division (previously called Warsaw) with Bernard Sumner in 1976, the pair inspired after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester.

Hooky (bass) and Barney (guitar) soon recruited charismatic lead singer Ian Curtis, and later drummer Stephen Morris, the band soon drawing the attention of Manchester TV presenter Tony Wilson, who signed them to his fledgling independent label, Factory Records. They went on to complete two highly-acclaimed, influential albums before the death of Curtis in 1980, the remaining trio drafting in Gillian Gilbert on keyboards and reconvening the following year as electronica indie crossover outfit New Order.

The original New Order quartet stuck together until 1993, then reconvened in 1998, working through to 2007. Yet while Peter’s been out of the picture ever since, the other three originals got together as a reconstituted five-piece in 2011, bringing out new album, Music Complete, in September 2015.

Two months later, their former bass player sued Sumner, Morris and Gilbert, claiming they set up a new company behind his back and it had generated £7.8m in four years, while he received a fraction of that. His old bandmates insisted they’d treated him fairly and his stake in band royalties was reasonable, the judge ruling there was ‘at least a reasonable prospect’ of him proving he was not getting a fair share, urging the parties to come to an agreement rather than suffer potential legal costs of around £900,000 if a case came to court. And on September 20th, this year, a New Order official website post announced a full and final settlement had been reached.

Captain Hook: Peter Hook, enjoying it all more than ever in 2017 (Photo: Craige Barker)

Back to the beginning of the story, though, and while it seems Peter’s been asked time and again about witnessing the Sex Pistols’ two Lesser Free Trade Hall shows in ’76 (supported by Buzzcocks), how about the two Electric Circus shows on the Anarchy tour that followed, 41 years ago this month?

“Oh, God, don’t remind me! Do you mean when The Clash played with The Pistols?”

Yes, two of the few gigs that actually survived on that tour, with the Buzzcocks taking over from The Damned, who’d been kicked off by Malcolm McLaren.

“Was that before or after the Bill Grundy thing?”

It was after, hence all the cancellations, The Filth and the Fury headline, and the backlash that followed.

“Yeah, it just seems so tame now, doesn’t it? But it was a bit of a shock for us, having seen the first Lesser Free Trade Hall show with barely 40-odd people there …”

With all of those attendees about to play an important part in the music business too, if you’re to believe the hype.

“Well, yes, then for the next gig there were about 200, about 60 of them coming in a coach from London and about the same number from Wythenshawe to support Slaughter and the Dogs. The others were probably those who’d gone on the first night.

“Then we went to the Electric Circus, and it was bedlam! All hell had let loose. It was full of people outside, and they weren’t fans. They were just there because they’d seen the furore about Grundy. I remember all the punks queuing outside, and in the flats opposite these yobs were on the roof, throwing things over. It was absolutely bizarre. There was a set of railings, and they were removing the spikes from them, throwing them like javelins.

“When we came out afterwards, it was the same, like a football crowd waiting for you. I remember the police were called. All the punks were saying, ‘Listen, we can’t get to our cars, up the road, can you help us?’ The police said, ‘Alright, run behind the van and we’ll escort you back.’ So we all started running, and then the van just drove off and left us all to the mercy of all these football fans!”

He’s laughing at it all as he recalls that chaotic scene, but you can imagine his terror at the time.

“Luckily, my mate’s car was pretty close. That was Terry Mason, who became our tour manager, so we managed to scramble in and get to safety. Then they came back about two weeks later and there was a sizeable crowd then – 600 to 800, something like that. The football supporters had come in by then, I suppose you’d say!”

I got the impression the Pistols came back purely because this was just one of five venues – as it turned out – that would allow them to play on that tour.

“Yeah. I’m not sure the promoter was. I’ve never found out who put the Electric Circus gigs on. But they had their bus and it paid for that. They were stuck really, struggling to earn enough to pay for it all. So, infamously, the Sex Pistols played four times in Manchester in a very short period of time.”

And I’ve since spotted that there was another show at Didsbury College as well as two each at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and the Electric Circus. At this point, we talked briefly about The Clash and the impact they had, not least as it’s rumoured Hooky got his own low-slung bass stance from watching Paul Simonon. He’s of the opinion that The Clash’s ‘strange image’ didn’t go down well with the North West ‘homegrown grass root punks’, but added, ‘I think musically they were a far better group, without a shadow of a doubt, but it was so anti-fashion led’.

“I think Bernie Rhodes was one of those old-fashioned mangers who took advantage of the group. Malcolm would make no bones about the fact that it was his group, while Bernie Rhodes led you to believe it was your group, but was in charge. When you see the Svengali aspect of it, it’s not really pretty. It’s really just taking advantage … the business has never changed! But they were fantastically exciting.”

And that whole scene inspired you to go forward with Joy Division, didn’t it?

“Yeah, although by the time we saw The Clash we were an established group. We’d been going for months! We were almost old hands at it! It’s quite odd looking back. The saddest thing for me was when they sacked Mick Jones, and got rid of Topper Headon. Sadly every group acts exactly the same, and it’s all just a terrible cliché.”

Of course, the other sad thing is that we lost Joe Strummer so early, just when he’d properly re-found himself with The Mescaleros.

“Yeah, I liked the Mescaleros. I only met Joe once. I met him in Groucho’s in the late ‘90s and he was a little bit the worse for wear. He took us over to Soho House. He was a member and took us in … then went home! So I didn’t really get much of a chance to talk to him, but he was a hero to a lot of people.”

A bit late, perhaps, but I should explain my excuse for talking to Peter is that after his band’s widely-acclaimed world tour playing in full the Substance albums of Joy Division and New Order – taking in North and South America. Europe and Australasia this year – they’re off to the Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton on Thursday, December 14th, have a homecoming at Manchester Academy the following day, reach Wakefield’s Warehouse 23 on Saturday 16th, and then finish at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London, on Tuesday 18th. And at time of going to press, it seemed that tickets remained for just the Manchester show, but were limited.

And what of the albums featured in their set? Released in August 1987, New Order’s Substance compilation became the band’s best-selling album on its release, the double album going on to sell two million copies in America alone. Factory Records’ 200th release featured 12″ mixes of the singles as well as re-recorded takes on Confusion and Temptation, running from 1981’s Ceremony up to that year’s True Faith. Then, released the following July 1988, Joy Division’s Substance featured all the singles which didn’t appear on their albums, as well as B-sides, tracks from the An Ideal For Living EP and a Factory Records sampler. Factory Records’ 250th release began with Warsaw, taking in the band’s development right through to the final tracks.

Peter Hook’s band have toured Joy Division and New Order’s albums extensively since debuting Unknown Pleasures back in 2010, with dates around the world well received by critics and fans alike. But it’s not always been about those two outfits, and while New Order were on hiatus in the mid-’90s, Hooky recorded albums with Revenge and then Monaco, and in more recent years with Freebass (with fellow bass players Andy Rourke of The Smiths and Mani from The Stone Roses). And it will be 20 years now since debut  Monaco LP, Music for Pleasure, one of the first CDs I bought (unfashionably slow to move on from vinyl). In fact, I’ve a bone to pick with him there, on account of a hidden message on the CD’s run-out after last track, Sedona, and the amount of times that frightened the shite out of me. I tell him this and he laughs.

“Yeah, that nearly caused our A&R woman to crash her car on Dartmoor, because of that voice. It’s so dry. It sounds like someone really close to you, and she swerved off the road and only just got it back on. So yeah, that was a great little trick, that … it could almost kill people.”

I think it’s just the right amount of time after the last track, so even if you know it’s coming, it’s still a shock when it does.

“The idea was that I noticed when you left a CD running, the last track gave you no warning, so I thought about a minute’s silence. I guess it was one of those wonderful moments where I was exploiting being allowed to do whatever I wanted to, without being in a sort of democracy, shall we say. My experience allowed me to railroad Pottsy (bandmate David Potts), and I didn’t have three other members to argue with.”

Is that how you view that period now – with Revenge and Monaco? Because the latter project certainly resonated with me.

“Well, Revenge was very much a learning process. I sort of realised that while New Order taught me a lot, it hadn’t taught me how to do everything. Barney did it the other way round. He did Electronica with established musicians, while I did Revenge with complete beginners. Then we turned that round, and I did Freebass with established musicians and he did Bad Lieutenant with beginners. The thing was, I was learning, very much so, and by the time I got to Monaco I’d learnt, and it was a great album.”

While it’s surprising that was 20 years ago, I find it even more surprising that just 10 years had passed between New Order compilation, Substance, and that point.

“Yeah, it’s amazing the way time flies. It’s my wife and I’s 20th wedding anniversary, and we were like, ‘Where the hell did that go?’ Then suddenly you realise that playing with The Undertones was 39 years ago! But I’m very lucky I’m still doing what I love and enjoying it as much as I do. It’s been wonderful. It’s the same with the Hacienda, getting the name known and for it to be so successful, the way it is with the Classical, is such a compliment to everybody involved … maybe apart from the accountants!

“But everybody creative who helped do both should really give themselves a pat on the back. And it’s the same with all three bands. What we call New Order nowadays is on hiatus, but people are still digging the records, they’re still brought to people’s minds, and obviously it’s very important to a lot of people, which is great … because it keeps me in a bloody job!”

There’s been a great response from fans and press alike this year, to your shows with The Light and your Hacienda dates.

“Yeah, we had to earn that though. When I first broached the idea and put the first gig up, which we did for charity, there was a lot of keyboard banging, shall we say. That’s the thing that cost me all the singers, who were scared off by the expectation. God bless her, but it was Rowetta who said to me, ‘You’re going to have to do it’. And I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ I’d never considered it for one moment. My ego just never wanted to go there.

“I was happy being the bass player, and really looking forward to that. But to have my son (Jack Bates) do that is almost like being able to live with it. And definitely as a musician, my one love is bass playing. If anything, singing has made me sympathise more with Bernie. When I got to Revenge and Monaco, I sympathised with him a lot more, but you do tend to forget very quickly.”

I recall seeing a clip of you playing live with The Light, somewhere in South America, and you look absolutely knackered come the encore. Is that just another night?

“Ha! Yeah, I keep myself fit and that sort of helps. Being an alcoholic in remission, I spend most of my time in the gym now. But it’s wonderful!”

It’s a long show too.

“Yes, we play for two and a half to three hours. I’m the Bruce Springsteen of Salford! And the weird thing is that the passion you put in is mirrored by the passion the audience gives you. It has to be. The reaction we get playing is fantastic, and that really spurs me on … in the same way that when we toured with The Undertones, I had that passion. And I’m lucky to have kept it.

Hacienda Daze: Peter hook in action on a Factory shift

“I have to say I enjoy it more now than I ever have. I say that without fear of contradiction. And I have to thank … God (laughs) that I’ve actually ended up like this, which is wonderful, because it wasn’t always that way.”

When you’re out revisiting the back-catalogue of Joy Division and New Order, do you get moments where you’re suddenly back in the studio, something coming back that you haven’t thought about for ‘x’ amount of years?

“Yeah, watching Jack play as you get a song together is the most evocative. It’s those learning bits and that seeking that transports me right back. Not the playing of the finished song, but the bit where you’re putting it together. That’s the most evocative.

“And I’ve been very lucky with an LP like Closer that I actually got to play it, whereas the others – to my knowledge – hadn’t, other than the odd track or two, but not the entire LP. So that was a wonderful moment, because we were so cruelly denied it.”

Did you get the impression there’d been just the right amount of distance between then and when you first got to that?

“Yeah, although I don’t mean about Ian Curtis. I mean by fate. Ian unfortunately had reached the end of his tether, for one reason or another, and we were too young to help him. The saddest thing was that he worked so hard on that record, and was so optimistic and looking forward to getting that record out. I do feel it was denied him, in many ways.  So one of the nicest things was to be able to play it, and watch the reaction on people’s faces when you did it. It was amazing.”

You point out in the introduction to The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club (Simon & Schuster, 2009) that Joy Division are somehow still huge, all these years on, and perhaps even bigger in a sense. Ever tried to put your finger on why?

“It has to be down to the music. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve since realised I was definitely in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions. And the Hacienda actually added to our myth, shall we say, because of acid house, Manchester, post-punk … We really were in the right place at the right time. I do feel very blessed to have done that, and I’m not sure that many musicians will ever be that blessed again. I don’t think those happenings will happen again, if ever. If anything does, I can hardly wait.

“I do feel for modern musicians, because these young kids have so much competition. It’s really difficult. Then, lo and behold, not content with bringing two bands back – as in playing Joy Division and New Order’s back catalogues – as well as going forward with the newly-called New Order, they then drag the Hacienda up, doing classical interpretations of the songs!

“I think the very reason no one’s seen most of these songs performed ever, captures a vibrancy and also strikes a chord with these people who spent their lives in the Hacienda, from first going out as a young teenager through to mid-life crisis.”

And you’re probably reminding a few of those turning up what the hell they were actually doing during that period.

“Oh God, yeah! My daughter did the guest list at the Apollo in Manchester last week, and said, ‘Oh, my God, Dad, I’ve never seen so many old people off their heads!’ I said, ‘Love, it was like that in the Hacienda every night!’”

Getting back to 1987, somewhere in this house, there’s a less than pristine cassette box version of New Order’s Substance.

“That’s a collector’s item, that one, mate. You better get it found!”

True. Mind you, it tells you a fair bit about my slow embrace of technology, seeing as Anthony H. Wilson supposedly wanted that compilation put together and released on CD so he could play your songs in his car’s brand new CD player.

“Yeah, he did. He bought a new Jaguar, an XJC, which he had modified to look more like Steed’s. And it was one of the first cars to have a CD player in it.”

Well there you go, and that suggests how far apart Tony and I were at that stage. I had to settle for a tape player in my Ford Escort Mk.I.

“Well, yes, but don’t forget I still had a cassette player, mate. Don’t worry about that. But yes, his idea was to put it together just to do that. And I only found out when I was writing the New Order book that he wanted a new single on it, so they could market it in America. Him and Rob (Gretton) cooked up the idea of getting Stephen Hague – the pop producer of the time, doing the Pet Shop Boys. He didn’t tell us any of this, and only suggested it to us in quite an off-hand way. We actually went for it, even though it proved to be very difficult. It was really our first undoing, those sessions, I have to say.

“It was very much concocted by him and Rob. We were definitely in the dark. But it worked, Substance was our biggest-selling record. We tried to emulate that with the Joy Division compilation, but of course the tracks were much darker. But it had a great feel, and playing them together, as we do, it’s a toss-up which one’s going to go down best.

“And I have to say, and I don’t know what this means, but I’d have to say the Joy Division Substance goes down better than the New Order Substance.”

That does surprise me. That said, I love them both. And only yesterday was playing 1963 from the New Order collection, taking me back to driving round with that on my cassette player.

“It’s a fantastic record. I think the biggest mistake we ever made was giving that away as a B-side of True Faith. We’ve done some monumental cock-ups, and there was another. That could have been another huge hit single. But never mind, it’s all done now.”

Substance was a favourite, and the first of your products I actually owned, even though I was 19 by then. But I guess there was always someone to borrow from before … or I’d tape you off John Peel. By the time of Technique and Republic, I was definitely buying the albums though, catching up.

“Well, we’re playing Technique and Republic next year. I’m looking forward to that. Those were both 1989. When we get to them it’ll be 10 and 11, and we’ve just got three left. Then I’ll have to start again … unless I retire.”

If those numbers are confusing, I reckon the first seven shows (before the two Substance sets) were for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and New Order’s Movement, Power Corruption and Lies, Low Life, Brotherhood, and the So This is Permanence – A Celebration of Ian Curtis show. But I may be wrong. Whatever the case, is retirement ever likely to be on the cards for Hooky?

“According to my wife, no. She told me I’d never retire, because I like it too much. I suppose once you get over 60, it’s one of those things you long for, then unfortunately you don’t know what you’re going to do. I don’t know. The thing is I’m very happy. I really enjoy it and it’s a fantastic thing to do.

“I’d probably drive my wife mad if I was at home all the time. So it’s not something that’s on the cards. The first thing anybody says to me these days is that I don’t look 61, so I suppose that’s what I have to bear in mind … and carry on being that 22-year-old kid touring with The Undertones in 1978!”

Dare I ask the last time you properly spoke to the rest of New Order? At least without solicitors.

“Mmm. When did we speak? Erm … 2011 was the last time. And they were very unkind words. Yeah, I mean the argument is over. We’re both just picking up the wounded from No Man’s Land at the moment, bringing them back for medical attention … shall we say (laughs). I don’t expect a reunion any time soon, so … erm, we’re both getting on with doing – in our own ways – what we want to do.”

Who came closest to the real Peter Hook with their film portrayals – Ralf Little in 2002’s 24 Hour Party People, or Joe Anderson in 2007’s Control?

“Definitely Joe Anderson. The thing is, he was schooled by Anton Corbijn, who wanted it to be as real as possible. I must admit, everybody’s portrayal in Control made me go, ‘Ohh, God! That was very alike!’

“The difference was, Ralf Little was playing it for laughs, because Michael Winterbottom felt the whole thing was a bloody farce. And in many ways he was absolutely correct. So yeah, he just hammed it up … to good effect. That film, my God, it’s been popular around the world. 24 Hour Party People was a great success.”

Oven Gloves: Inspired by Joy Division … and Half Man Half Biscuit

You know you’ve truly arrived when your band are name-checked in a Half Man Half Biscuit song. Just ask Len Ganley, Ted Moult, Vitas Gerulaitis and Tommy Walsh. Do you own any Joy Division oven gloves?

“Ha! I don’t think there ever have been any. But I still think Joy Division oven gloves would be very popular. I think Joy Division tea towels would be even more popular. Maybe I’ll save that for my retirement plan.”

There’s another job for Hooky too, as he’s involved with the Music Industry Management and Promotion courses at my old seat of learning, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. So where does he keep his certificate for his honorary Fellowship from UCLan?

“Oh, that’s in the office. I still work there, because we have our course at UCLan. The boys and girls I mentor have just been down to a Hacienda Classical show – 13 students coming down to help us, and they’re coming to the (Manchester) Academy for Peter Hook and the Light when we play there.

“When you go for a job, the first thing people ask is what experience you’ve got, and I felt that was something lacking from most college courses. There are things you can’t teach, like dealing with a drunken drug dealer at midnight in a club – easy enough to learn in a classroom but very difficult to deal with in real life. But these kids now get to go to Fac 251, get to work there, do projects there, encouraged to work in a proper working environment, working with Peter Hook and the Light and the Hacienda, getting a much more hands-on experience.

“In educational value, it’s worth its weight in gold. It’s wonderful, and (course leader) Tony Rigg is an old hand, who used to work at the Ministry of Sound. He knows what he’s doing. And whether they like it or not sometimes, his kids are getting that. It’s usually a safe environment, being in a classroom. Regardless of what they want to do, stick them in a position where it’s a lot more imposing and frightening. And there’s a lot of responsibility. That really sorts out the chaff from the wheat. I do believe in that, and you’re actually teaching people something they will be able to use and can then take to an employer, saying you’ve had experience.”

I got my Master of Arts there six months earlier. Perhaps I should have put my date back and waited so I could have to walked across the stage the same day as you.

“Well, there you go! That’s strange, innit! Ha!”

Were your ears burning back in the summer when I was talking to Rowetta (with a link here), when she was saying nice things about you and Mrs Hook?

Soul Survivor: Rowetta, busy as ever in 2017, and coming to a town near you (Photo: Angie Wynne)

Soul Survivor: Rowetta, Hooky’s Hacienda inspiration (Photo: Angie Wynne)

“Rowetta’s a wonderful woman, and without her there’d be no Peter Hook and the Light, to be honest. I do owe her that. It was wonderful to work with her on the Hacienda show. I think she’s going to have a break from it now while concentrating on the (Happy) Mondays. But she’s a great, great talent, and works so hard at what she does. She’s an incendiary character, shall we say. But talent burns bright, don’t it, mate!”

It does indeed. One of the things I talked about with Rowetta was the Manchester Arena bombing. She told me more about your personal link, with your daughter there that night. How’s she doing now. Do you often talk about that with her at home?

“Yeah, we do. The thing is, both me and my wife are always on at her to be careful. It’s a terrible world our children are being left with, and much as I hate to say it, it’s becoming something you have to be aware of and something we’re going to have to live with for a long time.

“So yeah, you have to look after yourself. We all do. The thing you worry about with your kids is that they don’t have the experience you think you have. That’s what scares you. It’s a big education for them as well.”

Finally, I haven’t quite managed to collar John Cooper Clarke, Mark E. Smith or a certain Bernard Sumner yet, but I’ve interviewed Elkie Brooks and Graham Gouldman, now you. Broughton, Salford, is clearly a rich area for talent. Why’s that then?

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but I’m from Ordsall, mate. Not far from Broughton, mind, and Barney was from there. We used to go to North Salford, which was the Broughton youth club, where we mispent our youth.

“But, you know, Manchester had always had a rich heritage, and the thing that used to piss Tony Wilson off was that Manchester stole all the Salford musicians. Alan Wise, the great impresario and presenter, would also get really annoyed we were all lumped in together as Manchester. The thing is, we’re so used to it, so when I say Manchester, I mean Manchester and Salford, so it doesn’t confuse the rest of the world.

“But what a great musical force. It’s waned off a bit lately for the first time in 30 years. I don’t know what’s happening to the youth of today. They need to buck their ideas up in Manchester. Too many tourists, mate!”

Ritz Cracker: Peter Hook in trademark low-slung bass action at the Ritz in Manchester

An Evening with Peter Hook & The Light, performing Substance By Joy Division and New Order, visits Manchester Academy on Friday, December 15. For tickets try here and for full tour information and other news about the band head here. You can also keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Meanwhile, Hacienda Classical are back in 2018, in a show being prepared by Peter Hook (executive producer) alongside DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, and musical director Tim Crooks. Featuring Manchester Camerata and the AMC Choir, a five-city tour visits Glasgow’s Braehead Arena (Saturday, May 19th), Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl (Saturday, June 30th), Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Centre (Saturday, August 18th), London’s Royal Albert Hall (Friday, September 28th), and Leeds’ First Direct Arena (Saturday, September 29th). For ticket details head here.

Meanwhile, if you step across to the excellent RetroMan Blog, you’ll see a nice piece by photographer Paul Slattery about his 1979 photo session with Joy Division and the Strawberry Studios Exhibition.

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Following in the Fab Four’s footsteps – The Bootleg Beatles feature

Band Substance: The Bootleg Beatles in live action, taking us back to 1967, even though Steve White, left, can't remember it.

Band Substance: The Bootleg Beatles take us back to 1967, even though Steve White, left, can’t remember it.

Granted, it’s not necessarily the best way to start a conversation, telling an interviewee who plays in a tribute band that I’ve always felt there are so many great groups out there that it’s pointless featuring such acts.

But while Steve White’s possibly wondering how to respond to that, I tell him that if I’m going to break my own rule and speak to one tribute act, then it should be The Bootleg Beatles.

“Ah, that’s amazing. I feel quite honoured!”

Yes, The Bootleg Beatles are back out on the long and winding road, heading to a town near you, seeing off 2017 in style, after another remarkable year for one of the most successful tribute bands on the circuit. The Fab Four copyists (I can’t call them The Prefab Four, because that’s clearly The Rutles), complete with their string and brass ensemble, are visiting 15 cities, and after 37 years perfecting their art, it’s fair to say they know what they’re getting into.

Since their inception in 1980 they’ve performed thousands of shows around the world, with recognition and respect from many involved in the inner circle of the original group.  By way of example, Sir George Martin described The Bootleg Beatles’ experience as ‘A terrific show’, and George Harrison even shared a few stage secrets with the band.

And as far as Steve – who takes on Paul McCartney’s role – is concerned, it’s been Getting Better and better this year, a run of memorable concerts marking the 50th anniversary of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP including a rather special date at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and two performances at Glastonbury Festival, including a Pyramid stage set. But they’re not quite done yet, their current run featuring an extended Sgt. Pepper section to further celebrate that iconic 1967 album.

Formed from the original cast of London’s West End show Beatlemania, The Bootleg Beatles have become something of an institution in their own write, as John Lennon may have put it, through their note-perfect recreation of hits from every era of the original band’s treasured song catalogue. The detail is somewhat meticulous, from costumes to authentic period instruments, and from the Liverpudlian banter to the inflective vocal mimicry. What’s more, there’s an uncanny resemblance to the Fab Four, not least Steve, out there as Paul for the past five years.

He was back home in Nottinghamshire when I called, after a month touring Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. But as he put it, ‘A few days home, then we hit the floor running!’ And while the 48-year-old’s only been part of the story for the last half-decade, and never got to see the original Beatlemania show, he’s certainly made up for lost time.

“I was a bit too young to travel down to London back then! But as I understand it, an American company came over, looking to do a show, wanting four UK hopefuls to learn the roles of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The show was a hit in the West End, but after a period of time when that came to an end, the guys didn’t really know what to do, having taken all that time and effort to learn to be The Beatles. They thought, ‘What shall we do now?’ and went on to try this, thinking they’d give it six months, see how they’d do. And all these years later we’re still going strong.”

Steve, who sings, plays bass and keyboard for the band, is the third ‘Bootleg Paul’ in 37 years, with the first, David Catlin-Birch, there for the first seven years, then a later 11-year stint, while fellow originals Andre Barreau (Bootleg George) and Neil Harrison (Bootleg John) went on to put in more than 30 years’ service each, and are still involved behind the scenes. But these days, the stage dynamics are shared by Steve, Adam Hastings (‘Bootleg John’ – guitar, vocals, keyboard, harmonica since 2011), Stephen Hill (Bootleg George – guitar and vocals since 2014) and most recent addition Gordon Elsmore (Bootleg Ringo – drums, percussion, vocals, since last year).

I see there was a bit of a crossover, with Steve getting to work with both David and Andre in the early stages. Did they talk a lot about the band’s early days?

“They did, because fundamentally we’re all massive fans of The Beatles, and I don’t think you can do a job like this unless you are. You wouldn’t be able to do the performances whole-heartedly if you weren’t. The original line-up – Andre, Dave, Neil Harrison and at the beginning, Jack Lee Elgood – were lucky enough to play some of the places The Beatles played, such as The Budokan in Japan, and also did the 30th anniversary show at the top of the Apple building in London.”

Incidentally, Elgood soon made way for Rick Rock, aka Ricky Goldstein, formerly with Sham 69, who also put in more than 20 years’ Bootlegs service. And while I’m playing a Michael Caine-like ‘not a lot of people know that’ game, word has it that the Bootlegs looked to copy their own 1999 performance on Apple Corps’ rooftop at No.3, Savile Row, Mayfair, 10 years later (a tribute to a tribute act, maybe?), but health and safety concerns prevented them.

“That‘s right. They wouldn’t let it happen! And for Andre to regale us with all those kind of stories was just so brilliant. I also did a couple of shows standing in for David towards the end of his second stay, and was lucky enough to get time on stage with him, just the two of us. And it’s great to talk to a like-minded musician.”

They say if you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there, and seeing as Steve was born between the release of the Ballad of John and Yoko and Something singles, at the ‘back of the ‘60s’, he definitely falls into that category.

“I just scraped in, but don’t remember anything of it! I was born on June 1, however, and this year that date marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper album!”

Standing There: The Bootleg Beatles get down to it, with Steve and Stephen harmonising on the left.

While my own birth date was five months after the release of Sgt. Pepper, Steve’s was three months before Abbey Road, which for me is up there with Revolver as the best of so many great albums (of course, I might change my mind in a few minutes and cite a couple of different ones, not least Rubber Soul, Help, and The Beatles).

“I can’t say I really favour one more than any other, but If I had to, I’d say Abbey Road too. I like the cleverness of the fact they didn’t really have any songs – they just kind of cobbled together loads of good stuff together, that made for such a great medley. And the production is so good. It blows me away when I hear that album.”

So what was this Beatles fan’s route into all this?

“It was all really a happy accident. I was in a band doing ‘60s music and we were all Beatles fans so started to learn a few songs. Pure self-indulgence. Then someone saw us and asked if we’d play their 60th birthday, but just as the Beatles. We learned lots of songs and did this party, and someone there said they had a wedding anniversary coming and asked if we could play that. In time our Beatles bookings kind of overtook our others, and the ‘60s show dropped by the wayside as we ended up being a Beatles cover band.”

But his abiding love of The Beatles and his dedication to the cause went even further, as it turned out, with Steve taking his music obsession to a new level.

“I was a right-handed rhythm guitar player in a John Lennon type role, but we’d turn up at venues and people would say, ‘You’ve got to be Paul, yeah?’ I wouldn’t say I look too much like him, but there’s a nod to that. So me and the bass player decided to swap over, leading to months of restructuring, learning harmonies and basslines. But then the audiences would ask if I was left-handed. So I thought I’d best have a go at that, teaching myself left-handed. For a while it was difficult, but over time it’s got easier.

“When I left that band. I became a floating Paul McCartney, as it were, helping a lot of Beatles covers bands out across the UK, which was good fun. Then I got a call from the Bootleg Beatles, asking if I could help out, and that happened several times over the course of a year as David had an on-going condition. After a year of that they asked if I’d be interested in doing it full time. David had a long time in Beatle boots and felt it was the time to call it a day.”

Well, the original band barely lasted a decade, so David hadn’t done so badly, service-wise.

“Exactly – technically, the original line-up of our band lasted way longer!”

Mop Tops: Twisting and shouting, Bootleg Beatles style – From the left – Steve White (Paul), Stephen Hill (George), Gordon Elsmore (Ringo), and Adam Hastings (John).

At that point we get on to left-handed guitarists, and how I’d always used the fact I was left-handed for not being a great bass player and guitarist, despite the likes of McCartney and Jimi Hendrix spectacularly showing me up. And seeing as Steve’s been to all that trouble to learn ‘the wrong way round’, I told him I’d class him as an honorary left-hander.

“Ha! Well, I can play left-handed now, and you’d never know I wasn’t, but it‘s always nice to go back. When I’m at home, playing for leisure, I’ll pick up a right-handed guitar and … well, the only way I can describe it is that it’s like putting on a comfy pair of slippers, as opposed to your work shoes.”

I can’t quite believe at this point that I’m talking about comfy slippers in a complimentary way with a rock’n’roller, but there you go. Perhaps there’s something in that old baloney about the comparative social qualities of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not least which you were more likely to be able to get away with taking home to meet your parents.

On a similar front, I tell Steve that my older sister and her husband are big fans of the competition, a tribute band going by the name of The Counterfeit Stones. Does he know them fellas?

“Ah yes, we’ve worked with them a few times.”

So is there a good bit of rivalry there?

“I think there’s got to be, hasn’t there!”

Oddly enough, my first experience of seeing a recognised tribute band live came via Australian ABBA act, Bjorn Again in Blackburn in 1998, and I was suitably impressed by their between-song banter, playing out intricate insecurities between members and the increasingly broken relationships within the unit. Do The Bootleg Beatles tend to go in for such stage drama?

“Yeah, what we try to do with the show is recreate The Beatles, but we know we’re not The Beatles, so we don’t try to speak like them, verbatim, for example. It’s almost a slight mockery of it, really. At first it’s all smiles, and we’re all best buddies. Then, as it progresses we tend to have little digs at each other. But it’s all humorous, There’s no animosity. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, done in good taste.”

I have to ask, are you a fan of The Rutles?

“Oh, gosh, yeah! Absolutely fantastic!”

Poster Boys: How it all began. The original show that ran at the Astoria Theatre from late 1979 to early 1980.

Is there a bit of Dirk McQuickly (Eric Idle’s McCartney-like character) in your act?

“Ha! Yeah, and he can probably play bass better than me! We’re all massive fans of The Rutles. That’s really what we tend to do, and they capture that beautifully. True to form, yet very tongue-in-cheek. But while we’re under no illusion that we actually are The Beatles, it’s nice to put a show together to the degree that you’re doing enough acting and character gestures that you can fool people into thinking they’re seeing the real thing.”

Now , there’s a thought. Do you think I should go out there and form The Replica Rutles? My half-baked ‘leftie’ playing might be seen as an advantage, after all.

“Yeah! A tribute to the Rutles! Great!”

I’ve seen nice words from both George Harrison and Sir George Martin about the show. And there’s a quote on your website from Paul, saying, ‘I’m gonna come to your next gig and heckle ya!’ Have you spoken to the man himself, or got any feedback on your portrayal?

“I’ve not heard directly from him, but I’ve heard comments from close friends of the original band, and the original line-up were lucky enough to actually meet them on a number of occasions. Actually, there was one tale where Andre and Neil were carol singing up in Liverpool in the late ‘60s, knocked on a door, and Paul McCartney opened the door. They had no idea! It was around the time of the Let it Be album, and Paul – with long hair and a beard at that stage – invited them in, playing them I’ve Got a Feeling when it had yet to be released, while sat at the piano!”

“I know. It seems more like a couple of years. Andre met him quite a few times, the last time around the release of Free as a Bird. The Bootleg Beatles were booked to play a venue and George turned up. They sat down together and exchanged chords – George told him the actual chords he was playing on the records. It turned out that Andre was doing them slightly wrong. George pointed him in the right direction, which was wonderful. He also asked who the ‘Bootleg Brian Epstein’ was, as he reckoned he would have all the money!”

Talking of anniversaries, we lost John 37 years ago (this week), the year The Bootleg Beatles started. He would have been 77 now, and I often wonder where he’d be at now, if he hadn’t been taken away so young, and how much more great music he might have shared with us. Such a shame.

“Definitely. The mind could run riot over what could have been. Sadly, it was something we were destined never to find out.”

Phab Phil: The line-up for the Summer 2017 Bootleg Beatles and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra shows. (Photo: http://www.liverpoolphil.com)

But Paul is still going strong, and he’s made them some great records in recent years.

“He has, I think my favourite was Memory Almost Full. A great return to form. He’s had a run of great albums recently. His last four or five have been really good. And I really can’t imagine a time without him.”

Is that right that the first Bootleg Beatles gig was at a student gathering in Tiverton, Devon, in late March, 1980?

“Yes, and Andre’s told us many stories about those days, where more often than not, members of the audience would laugh at them, ridiculing them for dressing up, trying to pretending to be someone else. It’s difficult to believe people would find it quite so silly. There are so many tribute acts now, and you can’t imagine a time when there weren’t. That term wasn’t even recognised then.“

Well, more than 4,000 gigs later, I think you’ve had the last laugh on the doubters.

“Yes, and both Andre and Neil remain heavily involved with the production, behind the scenes. And The Bootleg Beatles are still really Neil and Andre in that sense.”

It must have been really something, playing the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and playing Glastonbury Festival’s Pyramid stage this year.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic. To work with an orchestra of that scale is absolutely fabulous anyway, and then with the added bonus of performing start to finish the entire Sgt. Pepper album with that 70-piece orchestra – incredible!

“And there was another bonus on top of that – to be able to do that at the Royal Albert Hall … and on my birthday, again with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, playing one of the best albums ever written! It doesn’t get any better!”

December UK dates: Tue 5 – Cardiff St David’s Hall (02920 878 444), Wed 6 – Bradford Alhambra (01274 43200), Fri 8 – Harrogate Theatre (01423 502 116), Sat 9 – Leicester De Montfort Hall (0116 233 3111), Sun 10 – Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (0151 709 3789), Mon 11 – Edinburgh Usher Hall (0131 228 1155), Tue 12 – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (0141 353 8000), Thu 14 – Sheffield City Hall (01142 789 789), Fri 15 – Birmingham Symphony Hall (0121 345 0600), Sat 16 – Newcastle City Hall (08448 11 21 21), Sun 17 – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (0115 989 5555), Tue 19 – Bristol Colston Hall (0844 877 1500), Wed 20 – Manchester Apollo (0161 907 9000), Thu 21 – Plymouth Pavilions (0845 146 1460), Fri 22 – Brighton Centre (0844 847 1515). Tickets, subject to a booking fee, can be booked at www.ticketmaster.co.uk. For more information about the band, head to www.bootlegbeatles.com.

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Notes From a Cornish Shed – Another Shedload by Pete Cross – a writewyattuk review

Beach Boy: Pete Cross’s latest best-seller gets the Porthcurno sand-blast treatment (Photo: Pete Cross)

Trepiddle’s Finest is back, and it’s like he’s never been away. Perhaps that’s because he hasn’t, but that’s not the point. Pete Cross has a new collection of scribblings out, and now it’s December I’ll throw in my first festive cliché and tell you it’s a perfect stocking-filler. And even Devonians may be tempted to splash out, because while he’s bleddy proud of that St Piran flag tattoo on his chest (actually, that’s just a rumour), Pete’ll still give most of us up-country buggers the time of day.

Described as ‘another choice selection of Pete’s ‘Backalong’ columns for Cornwall Today, (here’s my review of the first) he carries on where the last left off, proving (if he needed to) he’s no one-trick Levant pit pony. Just looking at the cover, I was laughing. Not because of his profile pic, but an anti-endorsement from Minty Fumble, who those who read part one will recall as the acclaimed author of A Puffin on the Aga.

As a Cornwall Today subscriber, I’d read most of these pieces, but all are worth revisiting. What’s more, some of the earlier columns were new to me, left out last time and pre-dating me receiving that reassuring monthly thud on the doormat (that sounded better in my head).

While Backalong had its roots in his return to Cornwall after his London years, it’s not the tale of some over-paid executive quitting the Big Smoke and heading for a slower-paced life among amusing yokels, ‘finding’ himself. Pete’s premise was more about returning to a county he loved but had changed immeasurably (for good and bad), giving accounts of his findings. If you want a modern take on Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, maybe look elsewhere, but that format’s been done to death.

Of course, the Cornwall some ‘incomers’ crave might not actually exist. It’s one seen in Doc Martin (Pete describes Portwenn as ‘a place blissfully free of the vagaries of 21st century deprivation, where a dim-witted full-time policeman has nothing to do and everyone lives in a lovely whitewashed cottage with a sea-view’) or that thankfully short-lived Dawn French/Catherine Tate sitcom Wild West.

Equally, Pete’s Cornwall doesn’t seem to be the one Caroline Quentin gushes about on ITV travelogues, featuring over-priced bijou b’n’bs and twee craft concerns. If you want that, you’ll find plenty of examples on the shelves, just right for those wanting to wind down from a busy week in the city at a novel-writing seminar with Richard and Judy in Portshallow Bay. But maybe I’m wrong. Besides, as he puts it, ‘Living in Cornwall is idyllic. It says so in all the magazines.’

I get it that, as the author admits, Cornwall for many is ‘just that place with the pretty beaches, and pasties, and pixies, and that nice Rick Stein.’ But the county he writes about is more like the one I know and love, a place I’ve been visiting for nearly 45 years.

He’s got five years on me (Pete’s weathering better, but I put that down to his dream location) but started a family later, and much of what he mentions I can relate to. Okay, he prefers rugby and spent much of his youth skateboarding, but we’ve plenty in common. He’s well-travelled, having seen a fair bit of the world, and now he’s home, I can equate to all that through visits with my young family, having put my own wider travels aside for a while, revisiting childhood haunts and discovering new ones.

Would-be columnists should note, there’s an art to talking about yourself and not being too revealing. We don’t want to see pictures of your tea and daily selfie. But Pete comes over as humble, self-effacing, understated and funny (subtly so, not sledgehammer funny), and can also write. That last point may seem obvious, but the more print, online and social media columns and opinion pieces I read, the more I appreciate an ability to turn a phrase and write with colour, understanding less is more.

His columns are tongue-in-cheek, not to be taken too seriously, the author laidback enough to resist adding gags every couple of paragraphs. In short, to read his column is to like the bloke and know you’d happily have a pint with him, even if you might not fancy a day helping him dig out his furzey bush (not a euphemism) or joining him on his annual fishing trip if the sky’s looking a little odd.

Enough waffle. This time the subject matter includes PC’s take on how the county’s changed since The Life of Brian was banned in ’79, the best way to tackle your overgrown garden, an account of Kernow’s kick-start that ensured the success of the 2012 London Olympics, mispronunciation of place names, the abundance of lifestyle books on the market (hats off to Minty Fimble again), sheds, 21st century weather, and updates on his beloved chickens and geese.

Then there’s the joy of outdoor festivals and quoits, lots about bird-watching and the wondrous chough (as also featured in his 2007 children’s story, Shadows in the Sky, as reviewed here), musings on Cornish tartan (yep, you heard right), tree echiums, the heart-warming tale of Keith the Robin, media hysteria over shark-infested waters, how to survive camping and van holidays, an appreciation of parsley (not the lion from the Herbs), and the basic principles of living an idyllic Cornish lifestyle.

Bay Watch: Pete's latest volume of Backalong columns has even been spotted in Mount's Bay (Photo: Pete Cross)

Bay Watch: Pete’s latest volume of Backalong columns has even been spotted in Mount’s Bay (Photo: Pete Cross)

Throw into that mix talk of beer, pasties, the struggle to master social media, the resurgence of Cornish cuisine, observations on drifting into middle-age, scary statistics about gastropods, and you’re even closer to understanding PC’s DNA. Then there was his horror at being mistaken for a tourist once. Boy, did I laugh at that, waking up my better half, who wasn’t best pleased.

There are also insightful deliberations over the East-West divide (not just a North-South thing when it comes to comparing areas of UK affluence and deprivation), Cornwall’s official recognition as a national minority group (whatever that really means), Truro’s bid for capital of culture status, thoughts on the Tate St Ives and the gasometer it replaced, and how the Race for Space might lead you to St Mawgan in the future.

Finally, factor in taxidermy, couch grass, and celebrations of our national sport of queuing, the pleasures of coastal walks, Christmas memories, pipe smoking, the victory of books over e-books, The Archers, and Cornish identity, and Poldark of course. Mr and Mrs Pete are huge fans of the latter, and over the course of several pieces on the subject you sense relief that the BBC reboot was not only a success but also truly respected Winston Graham’s literary legacy.

I remain jealous of the fact that Pete can sod off to the beach when his lads finish school, gazing into rock pools at low tide and plunging into those invigorating waters. Granted, there’s lots on my doorstep in Lancashire I don’t always appreciate, and I know the grass is greener elsewhere, but it certainly appeals. That doesn’t make it idyllic. There’s hard graft involved, and this is real life, not postcard romanticism. But all the same …

It’s not just about locations, culture and proud history either. There’s no pretentiousness,  the author happy enough just inspiring an ‘approving nod or even, on occasion, a chuckle’ from these pieces. Similarly, he’ll not claim guru status when it comes to surviving modern life (he can’t even tell you where his other flip-flop went), but I prefer Pete’s steer on philosophy to most.

But I’d best let you go now, because it’ll be selling like hot saffron buns down at Goon Gumpas this month, so you’d best get in there quick. Just one note of caution – if you do feel the need to then read it on the loo, don’t let him know.

To track down a copy of Notes From a Cornish Shed – Another Shedload by Pete Cross, head along to his Facebook page or his website.

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Still Holding The Flame – The Roland Gift interview

Good Thing: Roland Gift is back, set for a 12-date UK tour showcasing solo material and the work of Fine Young Cannibals

Good Thing: Roland Gift is back for a UK tour showcasing his solo material and Fine Young Cannibals days

It was an appreciation of the soulful voice of Otis Redding that helped inspire Roland Gift to seek out a life as a performer.

The Birmingham-born singer and actor was only six when Redding was killed in a plane crash in Wisconsin, but when a neighbour passed on three of his albums, it proved a key moment.

And the night before the 50th anniversary of the Stax legend’s death, Roland will no doubt pay tribute to his vocal hero at Manchester’s Club Academy, at the midway point of a 12-date UK tour showcasing more recent solo material and highlights from his time with best-selling outfit Fine Young Cannibals.

I was 17 when I first heard his band, around the same time I was properly discovering ’60s soul – from Motown to Stax and the Northern Soul scene. They fell at the right time for me, not least with that debut self-titled album and its singles in 1985. It never struck me back then that he might also be a big Otis fan. Now it seems obvious. You really hear that in his voice.

“Well, sometimes people do sound more or less like their influences. I remember Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) saying Psycho Killer was influenced by Otis, that ‘Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa’ line, but you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on that. I do remember Otis Redding being on the radio when I was very young, and then a neighbour, who half the time was nice to me and the rest of the time was a real bitch, gave me some of his albums, which I’ve still got and became sort of a template for me … in a big way.”

Incidentally, those LPs were Otis Blue, Otis Sings Soul Ballads and a hits collection, Roland’s musical route soon mapped out.

“I’d heard  him, when I was a kid, and my sister was a fan. To say it changed my life would be a bit dramatic, but it did have an effect on my musical development. And we all shared a love of the Stax sound in the Cannibals.  That was the thing that brought us together. Otis was probably my favorite singer, and still is, so those influences will definitely be there.”

Roland, who moved to Hull at the age of 11 but made London his home around a decade later, retains a passion for acting too, having appeared in several films and stage and small screen productions over the last 30 years. His most recent release on that front is Brakes, a dark comedy also starring Kerry Fox, Noel Fielding and Paul McGann, among others, out at selected cinemas right now.

“When I started, I wanted to be an actor. That’s one of the reasons I came down to London. But most people I know have been in a group sometime in their life.”

His first group was punk band the Acrylic Victims, later Akrylykz, with an added ska dimension, releasing a couple of independent 45s en route.

“We got a bit of notoriety, released a couple of singles, and my music focus grew from there.”

That was chiefly down to Andy Cox and David Steele, fresh from The Beat, inviting him to sing for their next project, the band that became Fine Young Cannibals, Roland’s group having previously supported them in Hull. In the summer of 1985 the new combo released debut single, Johnny Came Home, the first of five UK top-10 hits in the next four years, two of those – She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing – becoming US No.1s in 1989.

The 56-year-old father of two – his lads are now 26 and 23, with one at art college and the other a circus performer – who spent his pre-teen years in the West Midlands before moving to Hull, has been based around North London since the early ‘80s, but still occasionally returns to the UK’s current Capital of Culture. What took Roland, one of four children, and his family to the East Riding in the first place?

“My Mum grew up there, and houses were cheaper. I think she bought our house for £1,100. It needed work, but you could get a five-bedroom house for that price, get more for your money. I think people get drawn back to where they’re from. Mum had a second-hand shop there.”

At that point I bring up the subject of further Hull retail outlet Everything But the Girl, the furniture shop that inspired a band name for Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt when they got a music project together in Hull in 1982. You may also recall that Everything But the Girl were named by The Housemartins, self-styled ‘fourth best band in Hull’, among the three outfits supposedly better than them at the time – along with The Red Guitars and The Gargoyles. But that’s another story.

“I remember the shop, and did travel up to Hull once with a woman whose family owned that shop. We just happened to be in the same carriage.”

I’m guessing he means a railway carriage, but I reckon I could see Roland in period costume, riding in an 18th century coach, being rightly resentful of race and class prejudice directed against him.

Talking of his work in front of camera, I tell him it seems that I’m forever talking anniversaries with interviewees, and much as I loved the first two Fine Young Cannibals LPs albums, his films also offered an important snapshot of my 1980s’ landscape. It’s been a while since I revisited 1987’s Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, but I put to Roland that there seems to be a correlation between that period, eight years into Thatcher’s premiership, and now. History repeats.

“Yeah, when I was a kid, black people were demonised, now it’s Muslims. But it’s the same noise people made about blacks, or the Irish. When people feel short of money or are short of money, they look to simple explanations as to why. It’s always slightly different, but more or less the same old stuff.”

That Stephen Frears film – also starring Shashi Kapoor, Frances Barber, and way down the list, Bad Manners’ frontman Buster Bloodvessel – proved to be Roland’s breakthrough role. Was he aware of the director’s work then?

“Yes and no – there were a lot of things I’d seen and really liked which I didn’t realise Stephen directed, like his TV work and his first film, Gumshoe. It’s easier now, with the internet, to find that all out, but not in those days. But all these things I’d really liked, it turned out he’d directed. So I was aware of him, but not consciously.”

While set a quarter of a century earlier, 1989’s Scandal was another film that seemed to characterise that era. And from the Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler link to Roland’s character, Johnny Edgecombe, and his subterranean world, including a visit to the legendary Flamingo Club in Soho, that was a side of London that intrigued me.

“Yeah. It’s kind of … it’s the margin, isn’t it? Those people who co-existed in those worlds, slightly hidden.”

Did you get to meet Johnny Edgcumbe, whose spat with ex-lover Christine Keeler kick-started the chain of events that ultimately exposed the Profumo Affair?

“I did actually, much later at a Windrush event at Alexandra Palace.”

What did Johnny make of your portrayal of him?

“I think closer to the film he wasn’t best pleased, but by then he was alright, not taking it so personally. That’s the thing about films depicting real events. The writer chooses what they write about, the director chooses what they film. It’ll never be the truth. Every frame’s chosen by another person.”

I wonder how different that film would be if told again now, with the makers not subject to so many potential legal writs (and this week, I saw on the news further revelations of an earlier Profumo affair, this time with a pro-Nazi in the 1930s, which MI5 had a file on).

“I’m sure it would be. Quite a lot of the family were still alive when that was made. There’s a lot more to be said.”

I know you weren’t involved, but I also equate another Stephen Woolley production with that – as Mandy Rice-Davies was cast as Ray Davies’ wife in the half-brilliant, half-car crash 1986 film musical of Colin MacInnes’ classic late ’50s novel, Absolute Beginners?

“Yeah, and in fact we were asked to do some music for that, which is why we ended up doing the song Blue. They wanted a song with that in the title. Soon, it became clear we wouldn’t be contributing, but we carried on.”

Had The Style Council got in there before you with Have You Ever Had It Blue?

“I think everyone was being asked around that time. Anyone who had anything kind of retro about them … which we did.”

Getting back to that first Cannibals album, there are some nice touches on there from The Beat sax player Saxa (Funny How Love Is) and Jimi Somerville (Suspicious Minds), and it had such a great sound, not diluted by ‘80s production techniques. I was listening the morning I called Roland for the first time in ages, and – considering it dropped slap-bang in the middle of the ‘80s – it’s stood the test of time for these ears, sounding just as fresh 32 years later.

“Well, thanks. One of the things when we got together was … well, the stuff we were listening to back then was at least 25 years old, and we wanted to make something that people could listen to 25 years later. That was one of our objectives. We didn’t have a mission statement, but that was one of the things we wanted to do. And we still get radio play, so people are still listening.”

You bridged indie, soul and jazz, with added political undertones, and were a key component of my personal life soundtrack for at least a couple of years. Also, you were effortlessly cool, and I was intrigued from first single, Johnny Come Home, seeing those sliding steps from bandmates Andy Cox and David Steele when you appeared on TV.

“I was just as surprised when I first saw that!”

Were they doing that in their days in The Beat? I can’t readily recall. Or maybe they just didn’t have as much space on the stage then. It was a bigger band after all.

“I think David was. He was called ‘Shuffle’, so that might have been to do with his dancing style. In fact, the first time I really saw it was when we did the video for Johnny Come Home. I looked around and the rest of them were doing it!’

Despite my occasional exclamation marks, I should mention that Roland rarely gets beyond softly-spoken here. A man named In 1990 by People magazine as one of the ‘50 Most Beautiful People’ in the world seems quiet, shy almost. He’s no Geno Washington.

He also seems to deliberate before answering questions. Perhaps he’s been at the wrong end of a few tabloid interviews before now. But Roland – also a guest singer with Jools Holland’s band in recent years – comes over as open and warm. Is he still in touch with Andy and Dave?

“I see Andy from time to time, but never David. They hadn’t spoken for a while, until the saxophone player from The Beat died recently, meeting up at the funeral.”

Lionel Martin, aka Saxa, died in May, aged 87. I mention to Roland how, on Funny How Love Is, when you hear him, it could be no one else. Such a distinctive style.

Fine Young Cannibals officially dissolved in 1996, after struggling to complete a third album, long after after the mega-commercial success of second LP, The Raw and the Cooked. Instead, they brought out The Finest, what Roland called ‘a greatest hits set plus three new tracks that didn’t have a home to go to’ , including their final hit, The Flame.

At one point he joined Jools Holland’s big band as a guest singer, touring with them for a year, a move that inspired him to want to take his own group out to play again.

“The group didn’t stop with a bang. It was like a freeze-frame that stopped and stayed and stayed, then eventually faded. But nobody said, ‘OK we’re going to end this.’”

Part of the solution came with Roland’s self-titled solo LP in 2002, described as ‘a sophisticated blend of pop and soul with jazz and even gospel flavours’. Is that far from where he is now?

“Yeah … although that could mean anything. I like the term, ‘pop music’. Actually, Andy’s wife, (writer) Malu Halasa, came in the dressing room after a gig at the Cafe de Paris, and said, ‘I really love that black psychedelia!’ She was referring to a number of songs that had that kind of feel So, yeah, everything you said there, but also black psychedelia!”

The Roland Gift album was recorded at various locations, from demo studios to front rooms to Mayfair Studios. Was it a case of fitting it around other paid projects?

“This is where you’ve got music and you’ve got business, and they kind of need each other, but sometimes the business becomes the bigger thing. When the Cannibals split up, I was still signed for America but free for the rest of the world. I ended up doing a deal with Universal, who already had me in America.

“While a couple of people were keen, a lot weren’t. It wasn’t a deal they’d gone and got, but something they’d inherited. It was a kind of loveless marriage. I was kind of tied up with a company that weren’t really in love with what I was doing. But that’s not an unusual situation.”

As well as his live shows, he’s also been working on a stage musical, Return to Vegas, with Bob Carlton, who created the show, Return to the Forbidden Planet. It was set to premier in Hull as part of the city of culture celebrations, but that didn’t happen for some reason or other. Yet, Roland added, “I’m pleased by the way the Return to Vegas songs have been received in the live set, sitting nicely alongside the FYC classics.”

And while we haven’t heard much from him of late, tracks like 2009 single Crushed and Return to Vegas teaser This Broken Heart, first shared in 2015, suggest there’s still plenty of soul in that great voice, as you can experience for yourself over the next three weeks, with Roland’s pre-Christmas tour,

I mention at that point – as it was something I’d been writing about – long term deals, particularly the one Bernie Rhodes negotiated with CBS for The Clash, a 10-LP deal when they thought they had a five-album deal. And that took Roland back to his musical roots.

“They were my ‘coming out’ band. The Clash were the kind of band I was into at that impressionable age!”

Were they part of the inspiration behind Acrylic Victims and the Akrylykz ska band they became?

“Well, that was an art college band, and while they were there they moved from using oil paints to acrylic paints, hence the name. But yes, we supported The Clash at Bridlington, around 1980. Me and some mates went hitch-hiking, following them, then I got a job doing back-drops for them, down at the Music Machine. This fella I knew, Roger Hudson, knew their tour manager, Johnny Green, and we’d turn up at gigs and get free passes.

“I didn’t get to know the band. I was more of a fan than a contemporary. They were kind of the biggest of the bunch really. But I just liked being around it. You’d see gigs and people you’d seen at other gigs. You felt some sort of camaraderie.

“Also, The Clash played reggae as well. When punk started, people weren’t so sure, because of the swastikas and that, with the National Front on the rise then. So something like The Clash playing reggae was a good invitation for someone like me to be a part of it.”

So how did your link with Andy Cox and David Steele come about. Did your band also support The Beat?

“Yeah, they came and played in Hull. The keyboard player gave them a demo tape, and they invited us to support them. That was great.”

We mentioned Saxa, but how about your own sax playing back in those days?

“Ha! A while ago I bumped into somebody in Hull at a friend’s party, who’d bought my first saxophone for her son. When I left Hull for London I sold it. So I bought it back!  She’d had it refurbished, and I bought some reeds, but they’re a little bit stiff. I don’t know if I really want to go back to that, but it’s nice to have it.

“I only really bought it because a mate said I’d look good with a saxophone! My dream back then would have been to be the sax player in The Clash, a bit like Clarence Clemons with Bruce Springsteen.”

At this point I tell Roland – whose film career also included 1987’s Tin Men, for which FYC also supplied the music at the request of director Barry Levinson, and 2001’s The Island of the Mapmaker’s Wife, directed by Michie Gleason – that at least two of the songs on The Raw and the CookedShe Drives Me Crazy and I’m Not the Man I Used To Be – appear on another soundtrack that hasn’t quite dropped yet. But that’s because no one’s taken up the rights to a film version of my own first novel. I won’t go into that here though.

We then got on to how the Cannibals somehow managed to pull off a couple of unexpectedly-corking covers, Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds and Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), somehow making them their own, not so easy to pull off successfully.

“Well, again it’s that thing about not knowing what’s going to happen. I like that kind of knife-edge thing. It could go completely the wrong way. But they’re really good songs, and for me everything’s at the service of the song. You don’t put a trill in just because you can. But I think if you follow the song, you can’t go wrong.”

And while he never became Clarence Clemons, he’s certainly lived the dream, both in the studio – working with the likes of producers Robin Millar, Jerry Harrison and David Z – and on the road, all over the world. I mentioned the first LP, as that was the best for me. But the second was a huge seller of course, with some great songs on there – not least the two personal favourites I mentioned before – going on to top the UK, US, Canadian and Australian charts. But it was a long time coming. Was that down to the acting taking off?

“Well, She Drives Me Crazy took quite a while. We didn’t even settle on the title until we were in the studio. Whereas Good Thing was written in five minutes. But both became No.1s. So there’s not really one way of doing it. People say to break America you have to tour and tour, but we didn’t. That’s one thing I got from all that – when people tell you, ‘This is the way,’ it’s not necessarily so.”

Something Soulful: Roland Gift, out and about again, around the UK, in December 2017

Roland Gift’s December UK tour starts this Saturday, the 2nd, on old home ground in Hull, playing The Welly, moving on to Wakefield Warehouse 23  (3rd), Leamington Spa Assembly (5th), Norwich Waterfront (6th), London  ULU Live@Student Union (8th), Manchester Club Academy (9th), Bristol The Fleece (11th), Cardiff The Globe (12th), Brighton Concorde 2 (14th), Southampton Engine Rooms (16th), Reading Sub 89 (17th), and Exeter  Phoenix (18th). For more details, head to Roland’s Facebook page. 

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