Rock's Backpages Writers' Blogs » Chris Welch Rock reviews, rock articles & rock interviews from the Ultimate Rock'n'Roll Library Mon, 20 May 2013 00:14:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SWINGING LONDINIUM – THE TRUTH Tue, 22 May 2012 12:30:15 +0000 Chris Welch POP STARS AND BUZZ BOMBS

Engrossed in a bestselling history of London, I was fascinated by the tide of events, artfully narrated in scholarly yet readable fashion by a man who clearly knew his subject. I was grateful to a friend who had sent it as a Christmas gift, himself an author and one who appreciated the effort and skill involved in assembling such an impressive piece of research.

All the hail Romans! See, here come the Saxons, Normans and all those noblemen, merchants, soldiers, peasants and artisans who expanded the settlement by the Thames. Gripping tales of wars, sieges, revolutions, plagues, fire and intrigues held my imagination. Until we arrived at the modern era and I was impelled to toss aside the book with an oath and curse.

Such was my fury I could no read any further. Why? Well on examining the 20th century, the scholar chose to curtly dismiss the notion of ‘Swinging London’ and claim it barely existed outside the experience of a handful of folk and was an exaggerated phenomenon mainly devised by distant American journalists.

Well that’s odd because I lived through those years and in my experience, for better or worse, the decade of the Sixties was one long party that impinged upon thousands of people from all parts of the globe.

I met a German businessman in France a few years ago who joined me in a holiday resort bar for a drink. He began to reminisce about his student days in London in the Sixties. I was astonished that he knew more about the music, fashion and night club scene than even I could recall.

“Ha ha! What fun we had at Le Kilt Club with Animals in Soho and ach – those nights at the Cromwellian with Rod Stewart! And The Beatles, every night we drank with them at the Ad Lib!’ Actually, he didn’t say ‘ach’ as his English and grammar was flawless and he was able to correct me, pointing out that there’s no ‘e’ in Edgware Road.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that a young German would have headed for London in the Sixties, as it was so much fun and there was so much great music to behold. Apart from students there was continuous stream of young girls in min-skirts arriving from Holland, France, Greece and Spain, all heading for Soho, the West End and Kings Road. I know this because many of them ended up staying at friends’ flats. Despite being penniless the girls enjoyed a diet of champagne and chips largely at the expense of all those roadies and musicians who took them clubbing twice nightly.

It wasn’t just the chips and pop stars. It was the whole cultural experience of a time when creativity boomed in every field of the arts and media.

To say suggest that London wasn’t ‘Swinging’ in the Sixties is patently ridiculous. It would be like saying Roman London was entirely devoid of Romans and that really it was a Celtic enclave largely constructed of mud huts. If an historian can portray such a distorted view of recent events that live large in the collective memories of hordes of survivors, how much faith can we place in his reconstructed view of the more distant past?

Perhaps the much vaunted Norman Conquest was a publicity stunt devised by a handful of French monks and the Middle Ages were unaffected by war, plague or famine. During the Black Death only a handful of peasants caught rather bad colds and the Great Fire of London was confined to a small blaze, quickly extinguished by a fish monger with a bucket of wet eels. Pshaw and phooey, one is tempted to expostulate.

Of course it could be argued that the ‘Swinging’ phenomenon did not touch the rural inhabitants of Wells Next The Sea in North Norfolk and passed entirely unnoticed by peat collectors in the Outer Hebrides. But then you wouldn’t expect New Jersey gas inspectors to have paid much heed to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Jazz Age’ in the 1920s. There are always people living blissfully unaware of the tumultuous whirligig of events crashing around their ears.

A bad tempered baggage handler at LAX airport once curtly informed me (as I stumbled sleepily off an 11 hour flight) that the Flying Bomb attacks on London in 1944 were a myth that never really happened. God knows why he should think it important to raise the subject, when all I wanted was for him to find the bags he’d lost.

I said nothing at the time, but thought about this surreal one way conversation for years afterwards. Maybe I should have told him about the Flying Bomb I saw droning over my parent’s flat in Stratford that we later discovered had completely annihilated half a street and all our local shops. But I guess like most self-appointed historians, he wouldn’t have believed an eyewitness.

But do believe me Swinging London wasn’t a myth. It may now be a blur and a cloud of dust like the aftermath of the buzz bombs, but it really happened. My ears are still ringing.

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BACKSTAGE STUFF Sat, 25 Jul 2009 09:30:40 +0000 Chris Welch Continue reading ]]> BACK STAGE IN THE SIXTIES

Life back stage at pop shows in the Swinging Sixties was always a hoot. Looking back it’s fun to recall how casual and relaxed it all was in the days before laminates, security men and ‘approval.’ For example, all I had to do to gain access backstage at the Slough Adelphi to see the Rolling Stones was to utter the secret pass word ‘Hello I’m Chris from Melody Maker’ . I’d promptly be given the freedom of the building by a disinterested bloke, probably reading the Slough Gazette’s pigeon racing page, sitting in a cubicle at the stage door.  ‘They’re in the dressing room mate. Tell ‘em to turn that racket down will you?’ The racket would be the sound of Brian Jones scampering about, laughing loudly and discussing the art of nose picking. Not something that would make a front page MM story granted but an insight into the less salubrious side of Rhythm & Blues.

Having seen the blond haired pop idol indulge in his favourite past time, I never quite shared the nation’s affection for him again. But hey, Slough on a wet Thursday night, how else are you going to pass the time?

Much more entertaining was going back stage at the Finsbury Park Astoria, that later became the Rainbow Theatre. I was there in 1967 to report on an amazing pop package show that included the Jimi Hendrix Experience,  Cat Stevens, the Walker Brothers, Traffic and Englebert Humperdinck. Quite what sort of brain storming session decided these artists would make a good match, is hard to imagine, and yet somehow it all worked. The audiences screamed and yelled and the theatre was packed. But then most of the fans were 15 year old girls who had seen the acts on ‘Top Of The Pops’ so it was a true ‘People’s Pop Fest’  as our former Prime Minister might have sagely observed.

The grandly named Astoria was a vast,  gloomy and dusty old cinema and I roamed the labyrinth of corridors and tiny ‘dressing rooms’  searching for stars to interview. More like undressing rooms as far as the Jimi Hendrix Experience were concerned. I found all three clad only in their underwear engaging in what looked like an American college fraternity initiation ceremony. They were chasing each other,  spraying clouds of deodorant and giggling like schoolgirls. Meanwhile, my old NME pal Keith Altham was busy plotting with Chas Chandler to set Jimi’s guitar on fire with the discrete use of cigarette lighter fuel.

After a chat with Jimi (who kept his incendary plans secret), I found Scott Walker hiding behind the huge stage curtains and avoiding his manager. ‘Offensive isn’t he!’ he proclaimed loudly within earshot of the said party. Leaving Scott grinning mischieveously I said ‘hi’ to my old drinking partner Cat Stevens. (We used to down slugs of vodka in the Red Lion, years ago Guv’nor). I’m exaggerating for comic effect. In fact Cat and I only drank the odd Black Russian  and thereafter he became teetotal and a highly spiritual person. I like to think I may have had some influence on his future life choices.

Escaping from the gloom of the Astoria (it was late afternoon and they hadn’t switched the houselights on), I went with Englebert Humperdinck to a transport cafe  where we had egg and chips and mugs of hot sweet tea. A far cry from the luxurious life style he later espoused. I had first met Englebert at a Belgian talent contest where I judged him the winner and set him on the road to stardom. It was my ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ moment. So ‘Bert’ and I rubbed shoulders with the local bus drivers as we devoured slices of burnt buttered toast and discussed his future. ‘Go for the rock audience Bert,’ I advised. ‘Set your trousers on fire with lighter fuel.’ Mercifully he ignored my admonitions and became the balladeer we know and love to this day.

I was shocked when at showtime Jimi’s guitar really did catch fire and it wasn’t until years later Keith owned up that it was all his idea. Incidentally the London music press folk were all mates in those days, with no rivally at all, except in terms of getting exclusive stories like ‘Elvis to tour’ and ‘Rockin Berries Cancel Boston Glyderdrome Fest’.  Back to the guitar burning. I remember the audience staring in wonderment as the compere Nick Jones rushed on stage in a panic, getting his hand burnt as attempts were made to put  out  the flames with an extinguisher. No worries about health and safety in those days.

But  ‘back stage’ was not always such a riot of flames and underwear. James Brown at the Brixton Astoria sat quietly in his dressing  room and courteously answered my questions, claiming that – sure he screamed while singing: ‘But I always scream in tune.’ He told me this while crouched over the glowing bars of a red hot electric fire. (It was a warm summer’s day). I only realised the significance of this eccentricity later at showtime, when sex machine James came rushing on stage – already dripping in sweat. Showbiz- doncha love it?

Sometimes being ‘on stage’ was actually more entertaining than grovelling about in green rooms that hadn’t been decorated by the theatre owners since 1934. In the era when rock stars had fun (when they were still poor and unburdened by OBEs) it was not unknown for impromptu jam sessions to break out. And so Robert Plant and I invaded the stage at the Royal Albert Hall and began hammering out an Elvis Presley rock’n'roll medley to a bemused audience one drunken night out. No I can’t quite believe that happened either.

Well you see your honour Led Zeppelin had a box at the Albert Hall to watch Iron Butterfly’s show where several cases of champagne were consumed, courtesy of Atlantic Records (thank you Phil). As the Americans  finished their wildly acclaimed set it seemed only good manners to storm on the stage and congratulate them. And if I started to play Butterfly’s drum kit and Robert snatched the mike and began singing at the top of his voice, who was going to stop us? Only an extremely angry Iron Butterfly road crew.

So that was another ‘Britain’s Got Talent’  moment, ended amidst a barrage of metaphorical hooting. Thrown off stage at the Royal Albert Hall with Robert Plant…at least it wasn’t the O2.

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FESTIVAL FUN Sun, 14 Jun 2009 09:07:33 +0000 Chris Welch Continue reading ]]> ISLE OF WIGHT MEMORIES

Wow – did you see the giant, gaily coloured Ferris Wheel at the 2009 Isle of Wight Festival, not to mention the fantastic stage, incredible sound  and huge number of excellent bands?

There was good old Razor Light, sadly without  drummer Andy,  but still cooking and the blitzkrieging Stereophonics played with almost frightening power. The whole site seemed alive with great music and good vibes. But it wasn’t always like that. Certainly not at the very first Isle Of White Festival I attended way back in 1968, some 41 years ago.

Let me take you down…to Hells Field…and the darkness. Yes it was freezing cold, pouring with rain and pitch black, with a stiff icy breeze blowing across the festival site in the early hours of an August morning where hundreds of ‘pop fans’  lay in advanced stages of starvation and exposure. It was the night Jefferson Airplane came to the UK to perform along with the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

 When the sun shone in the afternoon is was bearable with John Peel doing his best to create a good vibe. But as night fell and the bands over ran, the site quickly became a disaster area. There were no facilities, no food and nowhere for the fans to shelter. When Arthur Brown’s fire hat blew  out, that was the last hope of any warmth gone in a puff of smoke.

Airplane were grumpy but at least performed despite problems with  their sound and light show. All I remember about it now is Grace Slick barking at the sound man in a grating American accent. There was no escape from the field until 8 a.m. when a fleet of buses turned up. The last band to perform was Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation and when the buses were mobbed and anarchy prevailed, it was Aynsley who kindly offered to give me a lift in his band wagon to his hotel. Except it ran out of petrol after a few yards and we all had to walk a mile in the drenching rain.

Despite all these privations I went back to the next two IoW festivals including 1969 with Bob Dylan and 1970 with Jimi Hendrix. Dylan’s management delayed his appearance by hours – or so it seemed – by demanding the press enclosure be cleared of press and filled with his own entourage. So all the people who needed to see him – photographers and reporters couldn’t and hordes of nameless foreign celebs took up all the space. So more bad vibes. The finest festival moments came the following year with The Who’s magnificent performance and ELP’s grand debut with blazing cannons. Joni Mitchell and Ten Years After were great but we could have done without Tiny Tim and Miles Davis was a disappointment (showing off and making desultory noises on his blue trumpet), Jimi Hendrix, sadly was also a washout.

But this was understandable given the conditions he was expected to work under. He just needed a proper manager and producer not to mention  a good band and all would have been well for another two decades. But these festival moments have a way of fixing defining moments in the memory and  such events aren’t necessarily just about music, so much as the desperate need to congregate and celebrate the communal spirit that for so long rooted the true meaning of rock. If you know what I mean. So where’s the loo, where can I get a burger and beer and how can I escape this hell hole? Lead me to the nearest Hovercraft!

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UP MY SLEEVE Mon, 20 Apr 2009 12:10:20 +0000 Chris Welch Continue reading ]]> Is the sleeve note dead? Not quite. It’s just getting harder to read on those miniscule CD booklets when the text is often printed in blue on a black background and in a type so small, only a powerful electron microscope can decipher the erudite words of rock wisdom (i.e. ‘George Bulstrode plays electric washboard on track 19′).

I’m impressed Fred Dellar was paid a whacking £7 for his first sleeve note. My first offering was the notes for the magnificent debut Graham Bond LP ‘The Sound Of ’65′ commissioned by the band’s manager, Mr.Robert Stigwood. I remember nervously delivering my typewritten script and Robert giving me a crumpled ten shilling note. I guess times were hard in those early days of the Stigwood Empire.

The last time I saw Robert he was sailing up the
Thames in an ocean going yacht, worth I believe many millions of guineas. Tower Bridge was opened especially for this grand occasion.

Since then I’ve written enough sleeves notes to
fill whole filing cabinets, floppy disks, Zip Drives and Memory sticks. This priceless archive will one day be offered to a grateful nation, for rather more than 10 shillings I hope.

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