Posts Tagged ‘no off switch’

As I say in my book, for some of us working on the concerts at Leeds University in the early 1980s, The Blues Brothers was more than a cinema (and music) classic, it was a way of life. Indeed, alongside one or two of those on my Stage Crew, Jake and Elwood looked like dilettantes and amateurs.


I never tire of this film. And the music is just outstanding, helped by the band having Steve Cropper and other soul and r&b maestros in its number. And this cover of a Taj Mahal song is one of those rare examples of an improvement on the original. It also provided the soundtrack for the unforgettable opening to the film. A lesser band would have played this much faster.

The Katy was the affectionate name given to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. (Long gone).



Of course, I’d been aware of Neil Young for a while. (Everyone had a copy of Harvest, didn’t they?) But the point at which it became unconditional love, and a life-long relationship, came when I was at a Christmas or New Year party, in the mid 1970s, at the home of my great friend, Jonny Barnes. In one of the living rooms at Jonny’s house, one of those Whistle Test all-nighters was on the television, playing to no one when I walked into the room. Whispering Bob was introducing this very footage. Within seconds – to use Neil’s own words – I was gettin’ blown away. I stood transfixed, and quite alone. That bloke who sang those nice songs, with an acoustic guitar, on the albums I’d heard, was now whipping up an electric gale, with some inspired but always melodic astral guitar. And I’ll never forget his hair flying and standing on end as the passion and romance of this intensified. (And he dressed like me!) Forever after, in school assembly, I could never again hear the line of that hymn, “Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire – oh, still small voice of calm,” without thinking of this. Do I get in Pseuds’ Corner?


Seeing the film of Woodstock, in a cinema in Rochdale in my early teens, was another formative moment which, again, somehow I managed not to mention in my book.

I remember sitting there, on my own, feeling a rush of exhilaration. Woodstock, for the naive AK, embodied so much – a sense of possibility, the potential and invincibility of people-power, defiant anti-authoritarianism, a lot of tremendous music and a huge number of that type of girl who would never even notice me. I was thrilled too by the sense of event, one which was staged almost spontaneously, and made a huge cultural and political impact, despite having been a shambles from beginning to end. I wished so much I’d been there. It was possibly in that cinema that afternoon that my appetite for staging big gigs was ignited.

And Country Joe was an absolute revelation. That he could get up there, alone with his guitar, and get half a million people to shout, and spell, “fuck” (for which, if I’d just whispered it, I’d have got a week of detentions at school) and then sing along to an anti-war anthem so it could rattle windows in Washington, well… he became my instant hero. (Notice how the whole crowd rises to its feet towards the end). And I left the cinema a convert to counter-culture – a pretty lonely position for the son of headteachers in early 70s Rochdale. Anyway, all together now…

Shamefully, I just plain forgot to mention in my autobiography – and I don’t know why – the importance to me of The Byrds, not just for their own fabulous music but for the musical directions in which they pointed me. Hearing their 1968 LP, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, in my teens in the mid 1970s, alerted me to the possibility that there was more to country music than the deadly dull George Hamilton IV, who was a fixture on UK television at the time.


SOTR was a genuinely groundbreaking album – an established “pop” group defying the prejudices and hostility of its own audience by making a record celebrating the band members’ country enthusiasms. It created the genre of “country-rock”. Released in the summer of ’68, it was made by a Byrds line-up (ever-shifting) which included, briefly, Gram Parsons (more from him to come, here…) and, as a session musician, the ridiculously hot bluegrass lead guitarist, Clarence White (The Kentucky Colonels).

Already, in March of ’68, The Byrds had stunned the rock world by playing on the Grand Ol’ Opry at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the spiritual home of country music.

Gram Parsons, who wrote One Hundred Years From Now, sang the lead on the original recording but, in post-production, his vocals were removed and replaced by those of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman.

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For much of my childhood and youth I’d fled from folk music because of the constant presence on television of The Spinners – a group of cardigan wearers who did much to smother the form with comfortable blandness.

Then I heard The Oldham Tinkers, whose songs were, I guess, the first UK folk recordings I really liked. (They were also local heroes when I was growing up in Rochdale and going to school in Oldham). Earthy, humane, often bloody funny, the Tinkers were also – and remain – singing social historians.

I still find this song very moving, recalling the massacre, by mounted cavalry, of peaceful pro-democracy, anti Corn Laws and free trade protesters at a rally of working people on St Peter’s Fields in Manchester on August 16th 1819. The Free Trade Hall was later built on the site and named in memory of their sacrifice.


Today (Sunday 17/02/13) is the 70th birthday of John Howarth of the Tinkers, who sings this ballad. Happy birthday, John. Long may you run! And the Tinkers.

And well done, whoever put together this instructive little video.

Now, run along and buy my book via the BUY THE BOOK link up there on the top menu bar.

“Sensational. Wildly hilarious. An amazing read.” – Stephen Fry.

Hearing the double album, Willie & Family Live, in 1979 was my introduction to Willie Nelson – and a real ear-opener. The quality of the songs, the musicianship of the Family Band, Willie’s casual – almost off-hand – delivery, and the self-evident humanity of the guy made me an instant convert and evangelist for this maverick giant of American music. There are few artists I admire as much as Willie.

In May 1998, I invited him, via his record label, to come and perform live on my BBC Radio 1 programme, never expecting he’d agree. He said yes. (Radio 1 management then tried to stop his appearance on the grounds that Willie was “too old.” I told them to fuck off). The full story is in my book but – in short – he came on and played throughout the two hour show, with the whole band. And he was just as I hoped he’d be – a lovely bloke. When he walked into the studio, – small, wiry, humble, serene – I swear he had a saintly glow around him. What followed is still one of the real high points of my 29 years in broadcasting.


The photo above was taken that afternoon, with my original copy of the album. The song (below) is a track from it – the jaw-dropping Till I Gain Control Again, written by Rodney Crowell, and with Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. This is soul music!

Please share it if you agree.

Unavoidable this week, really. A track which did much to fire my enthusiasm for English folk music. Almost a hit single in 1978 and – implausible but true – a Simon Bates Record Of The Week at the time (that outbreak of good taste did not last long). In the chorus is a Who’s Who of UK folk music. Facebook friend, Graeme Taylor, plays some wonderful lead guitar on it too. Lead vocal by the great John Tams.